Welcome to this weekly online resource. Wellness professional Jo Foster, offers self care tips through her insights on mindfulness and positive psychology, her weekly online yoga classes and nutritious recipe recommendations.
This week we will be considering the importance of choosing our words carefully. Enjoy!
I hope that this week you are all feeling well rested after hopefully practicing some of last weeks tips on sleep. Keep that up!
Last week we explored how our explanatory style can be permanent or temporary. We identified that recognising bad events as temporary, enables us to develop hope in our mindset and that sleep is vital for reinforcing a positive state of mind. Good sleep is one of the single most important things we can do to improve our overall state of health.
It is one thing knowing what is good for us, but doing it, is another matter. Following through on our good intentions with the right actions can be simple, especially if it's something as enjoyable as a warm bath before bed. But motivating ourselves to adjust behaviours that are deeply ingrained and automatic is of course much harder.
The gremlins that live in autopilot
We all know what "autopilot" feels like or "going through the motions", it can kick-in in all sorts of realms in our lives such as, our diets, our routines, our relationships or our careers and when it does, we do ourselves a disservice. In addition to the aforementioned areas, autopilot can also develop in the way that we speak to others. Here, a careless conversation can create distrust and a void which is filled with assumptions, misinterpretation and hypersensitivity.
Consider the tired parent who shows disproportionate frustration, impatience and disapproval of their children's behaviour, through comments like "I'm sick of tidying up after you, you never pick up your toys!". Or the unnecessary judgement and criticism of family members or friends; "you're always too busy to answer your phone". Statements such as this, leave a void with the recipient that I can be filled with hurtful thoughts, especially in children. But it doesn't just take harsh words to send negative messages, sometimes the lack of words is even more hurtful. A lack of engagement or interest in another person can come across as uncaring, confrontational and abrupt. There is nothing more hurtful than making someone feel like they are undeserving of your time and efforts. These behaviours are our "gremlins".
The fact is, sometimes we get it wrong. We allow a judgement of a single or series of events to create a shift in attitude, where we make negative assumptions and conclude conversations without motivating positive change or resolution. Or, we allow matters that are unconnected to the unfolding event to pervade into our moods and sour our interactions. No matter what the source of the issue, it needs to be identified and acknowledged as specific so that it doesn't become pervasive.
If pervasive gremlins are left unchecked in autopilot, they will run riot and leave a trail of self destruction. Should you recognise a phase like this, in any of your relationships, it's time to take action and put the gremlins back in their box and "optimism" is just the right tool to do this. So whilst we are working on a shift in mindset, we need to support this reform by tweaking what we project outwardly also.
Choose your words wisely
It sounds simple, but it is extremely powerful. If you want to start feeling more positive and optimistic about life, then speak in a way that projects this. This means choosing to acknowledge progress rather than failure, avoiding words like "always" and "never" in a negative context.
Yes it sounds simple, but it isn't easy! I don't know about you, but I slip up on this point regularly. Just the other night I was discussing with a friend a qualification that I am embarking on, when my dear friend complimented me saying she was "impressed'. My response to this kind gesture was to launch into a stream of self deprecation, to reassure her that it was not impressive, saying "I'm probably biting off more than I can chew" and "It's madness really". Perhaps you could interpret this as modesty, but these words in an instant turned my excitement into apprehension and doubt, and all from my own words!
Some slip-ups, like this one, are relatively innocuous and easily circumnavigated with a self delivered pep-talk, but some can be truly harmful and not just to ourselves. There are particular conversations where we have to choose our words especially carefully, for example when delivering feedback. Shining a light of optimism in to shadows of adversity, doubt or failure is transformative for all parties involved in the conversation. At these times, be impeccable with your word and be sure you accurately reflect the reality, especially when you are overlaying your own judgement on a situation. There is no benefit to overly harsh judgements or comments in any situation. Remarks to a colleague such as, "I'm always correcting with your mistakes", will not inspire improvement on any level. Why not try "on this occasion I had to handle a few mistakes", followed with a discussion that draws from your own experience. This is a more respectful and empathetic way of addressing an issue.
Empathy and respect
To "shame" another person is show a lack of respect of their personal self worth, perhaps through being dismissive, sarcastic or through betraying someones trust. This not only can diminish another persons self esteem but it is where learned helplessness begins and pessimism breeds. Shame creates fear and pushes the "recipient" of the shaming, closer to giving up and reduces their chances of achieving their goals. It also shifts the "dealer" of shame in the same direction. Achievement will not result in fulfilment or happiness if valuable relationships have been trampled in its pursuit.
So use empathy and optimism hand in hand; To the struggling colleague try "When I started out in this job, I turned up to a meeting with all the wrong documents. Mistakes happen, you'll impress me with a sharper piece next time". This shows a personal admission demonstrating that we all have our own challenges and that there are other opportunities to excel. This small show of vulnerability has instantly enhanced a relationship, given hope and earned respect.
To the messy child; "I'm so grateful when you help tidy up. Maybe if you have another go at that we could both feel proud.".
To the busy friend or family member; "It's lovely to hear from you. Are you winning at life? Tell me how you are?".
We all instinctively know that these are the kinder and more caring ways of conversing and these are no doubt the overriding intentions in most our interactions, but we're human and sometimes we don't get it right. The mouth engages before the brain and the emotional gremlins pop out. So we must get comfortable with saying sorry and admitting our mistakes. We're stronger for it. Vulnerability is not a weakness, it's where we create empathy and optimism.
In my mind, there is no one more convincing and illuminating on the subject of "vulnerability" than Brene Brown. She has written many books now and on audible her series of talks are witty, hard hitting and compelling. As a starter for 10 check out her TED talk.
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