We are living in a materialistic, commercial and money-orientated era and it’s hard not to get on the bandwagon of what it means to be successful, both financially and socially. We’re led to believe that success means having a ‘good’ career, a nice home and …
I recently started running again and I have noticed how some simple shifts in my mindset have been a game or should I say ‘race changer’ for me. A few years ago, my mental continuum around the 5k Park Run route was mostly ‘ugh! …
“Brrr it’s chilly out there isn’t it!”, “The traffic was horrendous on the way here!” What exactly is this all about? A chain of pretty insignificant details that we probably already know or don’t really care about. Maybe it’s just a British thing, or maybe there is a lot more to small talk than we think.
I work in a clinic where I regularly engage with patients about seemingly minor things like the local traffic, the weather, the news, and often wonder what we both get from this exchange. Is it just pleasantries and the following of social norms that makes us do it, or is it something far more than we realise? After all, why say anything if it doesn’t add any value?
Some of us like it more than others
There is something about the unnecessary drivel of small talk that compels us to reciprocate. Some of us like it more than others and actively choose to keep it at that small talk level, happy to play about with pleasantries, the ‘banter’ and laughs that come with it.
I for one, being an introvert, have never really felt comfortable with small talk, it has always seemed pretty trivial and meaningless and I actually just prefer to get straight to the real stuff with a no messing about attitude. However, being in an environment where small talk is a necessity, I can now actually see the value of this so called ‘Britishness’ and what it ultimately gives us.
So why do we bother with small talk?
We are of course social beings; we go stir crazy if we don’t speak to someone for a few days, or at least know that someone is in the same vicinity as us. We seek interaction, exchange and communication of any form but what do we REALLY get from this?
We use small talk to form bonds based on some common ground- the weather is an experience shared by everyone, no matter who we are. No doubt, evolutionary, this was how tribes first formed; they had some common goal that brought them together. How did we get to know the people, we know now, without that initial small talk?
I often observe patients start up conversations with each other about how bad the traffic was and which way they came to avoid the worst of it. So, where does it lead? Well often nowhere in particular, but just that very possibility of being able to start communicating with a complete stranger offers some comfort and solidarity that we’re all in the same boat; essentially we’re not alone.
I’m sure we’ve all been in that place where the only person you’ve spoken to all day is the person at the checkout and we’re grateful for having had the opportunity to speak out loud that day. For some people, especially elderly people, you might be the only person that they have spoken to. So that small talk, even though ‘small’, may be far more significant than you think.
Nowadays, many of us rely on text messages as a form of communication and I don’t know about you but now I’m a member of various whatsapp groups. Just the mere fact that somebody might remember something that you’re doing that day and have the kind thought to ask how it went, goes a long way. So even digital small talk can be significant. I do wonder though about the dangers of relying on this digital presence, rather than a physical face-to-face presence.
So, small talk can be enjoyable if you can get to feel comfortable with it, it can help form bonds, give us a sense of belonging on a very subtle level and be far more significant than I’ve perhaps given it credit for.
How to use small talk as a bridge to something even more meaningful?
While small talk in itself is far more significant than i first thought, it can also be the bridge to something else.
Small talk isn’t necessarily engaging conversation, but nevertheless we can still be aware of someone’s tone of voice, the intonation, their facial expressions and this can be the very doorway that can lead us into meaningful conversation, should we choose to take it.
Even in the most trivial of talk most of us can sense when something has irked someone or that they are feeling ‘off’. We might not necessarily dive in with ‘so what’s up with you today?’ but we might ask a little more about their day, or where they’ve been, which gives us more of an indication of the path the conversation could take. Sometimes we let others lead or we lead it ourselves.
What do we risk if we don’t take the bridge towards deeper conversation?
“How are you doing?”, “Yeah, I’m good thanks”… and that’s the end of that. We all have a choice whether to probe further or whether we want to be asked more about our day and that is what allows us the self-protection that we need at certain times in our lives. We might be too busy, too overwhelmed or just not want to engage with that particular person and that’s ok.
Sometimes we have a sense that someone doesn’t want to open up, sometimes we take the choice to ask anyway and other times we respect and don’t probe further. What is it that makes us want to open up to some people more than others and what do we risk by not piping up about something that’s crossed our mind? Do we risk not knowing that nugget of wisdom, the chance to build a friendship or a connection that perhaps is on a whole different level to the ones we have experienced before?
Small talk also allows for quick judgments, it does not allow for realisations. (Recently, I went to a talk by a Buddhist Nun and even she said she makes judgements, so don’t worry, you’re not alone). I have been amazed how quickly my view of someone can change upon further insight into someone’s life. The other day, I was with someone I don’t know very well and took a chance by asking more about a namedrop. I found out that the name belonged to his first wife, who had sadly passed away. Without asking more, I would have not have the privilege to be invited into his private world and the experiences he has had to face.
What happens when we cross from small talk to deeper conversation?
Just by asking that one question that perhaps catches someone off guard, mentioning something that we both have in common, or asking further about a name-drop, means maybe they have no choice but to offer something more to you than just the small talk that masks what lies beneath. This is the exciting bit. This is the edge between knowing and not knowing, between distance and connection.
Recently, I have been trying to make a real effort to talk to someone I know, who lost his wife only 4 weeks ago. To give your full attention to someone for just 15 minutes can make a real difference. We have chatted about how they first met, the trips they used to go on together and the way he wakes up crying after just having dreamt about her. It would be so easy to stick with small talk even in sensitive situations and avoid having to ask difficult or uncomfortable questions but for that person it may be their only chance to say how they are REALLY feeling.
There is a fine line that is crossed into the more meaningful side of talk which offers us the opportunity to get to know someone a little better, their motives, their cravings, their joys and if we’re really lucky, to know a little of their very soul and what really moves them.
Ultimately we strive for a deeper connection with others whether we really want to admit it or not. Of course we are careful who we choose to let into our world; after all, there is nothing more sacred than our innermost thoughts, wishes, desires which often we find hard to share even with our most intimate partners, friends or family. The possibility though that we could be invited into someone’s private thoughts or that they would allow us to know a little more of them is a very humbling position to be in. Sometimes we have to take ourselves out of our comfort zone – whether it’s to share our own thoughts or feelings with someone else, or it’s to ask someone more about themselves – that is what takes you into a place you wouldn’t have otherwise known. That’s the stuff of meaning!
During my research for this post, I came across this Ted Talk on ‘Big Talk’ asking questions like ‘What do you want to do before you die’?
Marianne Williamson quotes ‘We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually who are you not to be?’ and rightly so. We should challenge and believe in ourselves, but it is one step too far to ask ourselves to be perfect …
It’s no surprise to most of us, that we are suffering from some ‘dis-connect’. It’s everywhere in the news, but what are we actually doing to re-connect? As we spend hours staring at screens, scrolling through Instagram and Facebook, watching videos that have gone viral, …
Depression and anxiety – I made a promise to myself that I would make my life meaningful from now on
‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’- Neale Walsh
We’ve all been there at some point, blaming the world and others for what has happened in our lives. Some of us have had to break to realise that really the only person that can shape our lives is us. We make choices every moment of everyday in how we act, behave, react and live and yet sometimes we forget that those choices create the very life we live. Life can be a series of meaningful realisations, learning and growth if we are open to it.
Why I had to stop and challenge myself to make some changes
As you may know from previous posts I have suffered from anxiety and depression over periods of my life. I began to question why some people seemed to be more adaptable, confident, passionate and engaged than I was. I wanted to feel differently about myself because I was just stuck in a rut of comparison and putting myself down. I was miserable and depressed, yet I always tried to show my cheery happy-go-lucky side. My relationships suffered and I felt more detached from myself and others than ever before. I continued with life, doing what I thought I ‘should’ do, what society tells us will make us happy; get a job, find a partner, buy a house, travel, but none of this made me ‘happy’.
What happened for me to start making changes?
It wasn’t until 5 years later when a friend introduced me to NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) that I began to have the tools and understanding to question my self-perception and the choices that were available to me. I learnt that beliefs and values were powerful tools that I didn’t even know I had, they were so unconscious that I hadn’t even known to question them. I learnt that I could put myself in a better state with just visualisation and associating using all the resources I already had within.
I realised that my internal dialogue with myself was less than flattering and showed up a whole heap of insecurities. I recognised that I was beating myself up on such an unconscious level that I had come to believe it myself. After all, what you focus on is what you get. It was time to change the language I used – instead of ‘I can’t do that’ to ‘who says I can’t?’ and ‘what can I do to make sure I do?’
I won’t tell you that I am perfect (as I have come to realise that is an endless pursuit), that I am free of feeling bad about myself sometimes or that I have perfect relationships (I’m continually adjusting and trialling and developing how I ‘do’ relationships) but I’m much quicker to spot my habit thoughts and I know how to get myself in a better place with yoga, meditation and focusing on making a difference. I now see it as an exciting journey where I learn something new everyday and continually change my perceptions, judgements and attitudes. I’m learning what really matters in life, what to focus on and where to turn my attention. I’m living intentionally, making deliberate choices about how I spent my time, energy and money.
What does healing have to do with personal growth?
‘Personal growth’ is the buzz word used to describe what it is to start to make different choices, reflect and learn to be the best version of ourselves. To grow sometimes we also need to heal and unpeel layer upon layer of beliefs about how it is that we ‘should’ behave or how to do relationships and what we believe about ourselves. As children, we absorb ideas of how to live through our parents and guardians. We often unquestionably believe that this is the only way to do things, and why wouldn’t we? It is not that we should blame parents as they too learn their ways from their parents. This is where we have to step up and take responsibility for our own lives. We have to pave our own way, stumble when we make mistakes and get back up to rebuild and create a new path. It’s not easy and it’s not meant to be, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.
It’s a unique path
This comes to some of us earlier on in life and others much later and really it doesn’t matter when, but what is important is why you decide to start to make changes. We have all led incredibly unique lives with their own challenges that cannot possibly mean we all should believe the same thing or that we should all live the same way.
Where to start?
Life’s most important things: Relationships, Personal Growth, Health, Contribution and Passion. Take time to cultivate growth in all of these areas of life; if we were to work on just one area, the others would suffer. For example, if we just worked on our health and spent no time with loved ones, our relationships would crumble or if we put all our energies into our passion/work we could easily become complacent in looking after ourselves.
Time to Re-Root
- There’s always something to learn
The biggest idea that has made a difference in my life is be curious and learn more through reading books, blogs, articles and listening to podcasts and TED talks. I can still remember the day when I decided that it was something that I wanted more of in my life. One of my biggest fears was to be boring to others. I knew deep down that I wasn’t but I felt it was hard to portray that to people, being an introvert. My general knowledge was pretty shocking and even now I will miss jokes (thankfully now I’m more comfortable with this) and the only way to improve that was to soak up information. The important thing was it had to be interesting to ME, not anyone else. I was doing this for me, so why would I read things that other people thought I should read (although obviously I am open to recommendations). Since then I have read more books in the last 2 years than I have my whole life before then. I naturally began to make connections between new and old information.
- Get to know the good, the bad and the ugly about yourself
If you never question ‘why?’ or ask yourself ‘what the heck am I doing this for?’, it’s meaningless. Ask these questions and it becomes meaningful. Get to know the real reasons you do things, sometimes it’s not pretty and sometimes it might just reveal what you really are passionate about. Question your own beliefs, patterns and thinking.
- Do things you thought you couldn’t
I didn’t think I could write. I was told I was ‘not much of a writer’ at school and of course I believed this for many years. I am certainly no expert but I have my own style and with editing support from Helen I am much better and I intend to improve. ‘How to write better’ by The Minimalists is an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in writing.
- Do things you thought you wouldn’t like
It’s easy to brush off the unknown, but whether you do or don’t like it, the thing that really matters is experiences and that you’ve learnt something new. Be open and receptive, do things that make you uncomfortable and challenge you; you never know what might come of it.
- Ask questions, remain curious
We assume so many things about people, we mindread and we judge; we’re human. However, if we can be curious and ask questions, this automatically places us in a more accepting state. I’ve often dismissed ideas and concepts that I don’t think fit with my values as I can be very black and white, but I’ve come to realise there is some value in everything as long as I am open to it.
- Spend time with people that inspire you and don’t be afraid to let some people go
I spent a long time holding onto friendships and relationships that weren’t really adding to my life and often were more draining than anything else. Seek out people who make you interested in life.
- Model people
Is there someone that does what you want to do, really well? Watch them, ask them questions, find out their beliefs, listen to them and begin to model some of their behaviour in your own life.
- Keep fit, eat well
Without health we have nothing. I eat well so that I feel good. Remember food is fuel, first and foremost; it is not entertainment. Don’t diet, just eat well and don’t totally deprive yourself of treats now and then. Exercise so that you feel that buzz, that achy feeling knowing you’ve worked hard and keep up those serotonin levels that keep us happy!
- Question the conventional- there is always another way
I spent a long time thinking that there are ‘right’ ways to do things but in reality, people do things very differently but get the same results and it means do what is right for you and not anyone else. Trust in your own instincts.
- Work on your priorities
We have limited time, so make that time count. That time should include down time and time to focus on your priorities. Our relationships, work, health and passion should all be a part of this. If we simplify our priorities, we can focus on them.
- Be creative
There is no point in growth if it is not utilised- get creative, use your right brain and your left brain equally. Marry them up and see what can be created.
Want some more inspiration?
Check this article out for 50 ways living life on your own terms.
Happy Re-Rooting people!
For someone who spends a huge amount of time focussing on wellbeing and mental health, it comes as a shock to me to find myself signed off work with stress. I am a huge advocate of good mental health and actively practice many ways to …
Having suffered with depression and anxiety for periods of my life, I now recognise the importance of routine and habits in keeping those feelings at bay. I now have more get up and go, I’m fitter, I’m healthier, I look after myself and even more importantly for me, I have more time to create my purpose/passion in life. It doesn’t mean I jump out of bed everyday bursting with energy but it does mean most days I wake up, I do less thinking and more ‘doing’. I’m actively choosing how I spend my time so that my needs are met first before my day even starts. Guess what… this even means I now have an early night routine too with plenty of reading and down time!
I didn’t fully appreciate what is to live intentionally until a year ago when I had a break down. I had to stop, really listen to myself, pay attention to what I felt and re-evaluate. Living intentionally means to make deliberate choices that ultimately meet your values in life. By re-evaluating I knew I needed to re-root myself in who I was and decide how I was going to live my life day to day to reflect that.
Stop and re-calibrate
I had enough self-awareness by then through previous counselling to know that I needed to make some changes. I knew that I needed to take time off work and re-calibrate. I did just that. It was a few weeks in, that I made a conscious decision to honour myself and give myself time and space each day to reground myself and reconnect with where I was. I had never felt comfortable in my own space and would always look for something to do, something to distract myself. I was rarely just being. This was what I needed.
I knew I had to make this a regular thing to be able to sustain my equilibrium. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with more things I ‘had to’ do but I just wanted one thing that would give me this time. I started by choosing to do yoga for just 10 mins every morning.
One habit turned into a routine
This one habit turned out to be the best thing that I could have done. My routine turned into a longer routine (into a number of habits) and is now a lifestyle choice. At the end of my yoga session, I have added a 10 minute meditation and I also set an intention for the day. I then sit down for my breakfast, really taking my time and enjoying good healthy food to start my day.
Making exercise part of my routine
Everyone knows exercise is good for us, it’s everywhere in the news and on social media. Despite knowing this, I wasn’t doing regular exercise. I even knew how important exercise was for depression and anxiety from my psychotherapy training but I didn’t fully understand just how important until experienced this for myself.
Just by adding 10-20 minutes of yoga including stretches and abdominal exercises I feel massively better in myself. Abdominal exercises are so important for things like depression and anxiety to release the build-up of toxins. I’m no yoga or exercise expert but these particular exercises in this video really helped kick start me into feeling more myself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nq_SkQHmvA
Passion and purpose
In making time to feel healthier and more myself, I began to want to work on myself-esteem and this meant finding something I was really connected to and that I felt gave me a purpose. That’s where Re-root comes in.
Having seen myself, friends and the students I supported at university struggling with mental health, I wanted to find a way to help. I wanted to share different ways of thinking and living that might inspire people to make changes that will have a positive impact on their lives. So here we are- making time to write blogs has now become part of my routine. I’m working on making it a more regular habit so we’ll see how that goes. Experiment commences!
What else do I want to become part of my routine?
Humans are naturally social animals (even introverts) and it is important for us to belong to groups and quite often believe in something bigger than ourselves, so it is no surprise that many of us are drawn to giving back to our communities. The Minimalists, who both Helen and I listen to on a regular basis, call this ‘contribution’. Research shows that this can give us far more happiness than extrinsic things like money and stuff. So as part of my routine, I am working on building in time to volunteer at my local community farm, Burscough Community Farm (a fantastic place if you want to see people coming together to grow organic food and learn new skills).
To re-ground and reconnect with yourself, in whatever way, is to live intentionally.
These habits are all things I can control and I have a choice about. I have made myself stronger and healthier both physically and mentally and I now build in time for the things that give me purpose. To live intentionally is do things that add value to your life and purpose is what makes life meaningful.
While I want to share some of the ‘how to’s’ on habit forming, please be aware this isn’t a post about ‘how to’ recover from depression or anxiety as there are so many factors that come into play when working to treat this.
If you want the ‘how to’ and science of how to form habits, this blog post is excellent. He clearly explains how habit forming can be broken down into 3 R’s, the reminder, the routine and the reward http://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change.
Morning and night routines
If you want a morning routine to set you up for the day whether it’s just an extra 10 minutes of your morning, it will more than likely mean going to bed an extra 10 minutes earlier. I decided to go to bed at 10:30pm, read for 15 mins and get up at 6:45am but choose what is right for you. A night routine is as important as a morning routine. Scrolling through Facebook at night before bed or catching up on that last episode will only keep your mind active. Have an hour before bed of ‘no screen time’, have a bath, make time to read (get interested in something new) or just lie on your floor with some chill out music. Do whatever will give you down time so you get a good night’s sleep and feel fresh in the morning ready for whatever you CHOOSE to do with your time.
Good questions to ask yourself
- What do I want to do more of in my life?
- Is my motivation clear in my head?
- Why am I going to spend my time this way?
- What value will it add to my life?
- If I do this, what will it give me?
- How do I want to fill my time?
- What short terms actions can I take to meet my long term values? (The Minimalists)
- What habits do I already have in my life that I can use to remind me to do my new habit?
- We also have habit thoughts – are there some thoughts that you wants to change?
Remember these things:
- Start small, one habit at a time.
- Be patient with yourself, some days you just won’t want to do it (you’re human!) but don’t let that be your excuse for giving up on your ‘you time’.
- Remember that once you have formed a habit or routine that they don’t have to be set in stone and you can change and adapt them as your values and beliefs change.
- Accept that sometimes changes in circumstances or situations can interrupt routines – flexibility is key. Sometimes you gotta go with the flow and that’s ok!
- Happiness doesn’t start with a relationship, a vacation, a job, or money. It starts with your thinking and what you tell yourself every day- Marc Angel.
Please share any ways that you create habits or routines- we want to know how you do it too!
My journey into Minimalism has had many unexpected benefits, including making more intentional and deliberate decisions about purchasing the products I use, both around the house and the cosmetics I use. Whilst I am well aware of the detrimental effects of chemicals in our foods …