Kindness is Safety, To-do Lists Are a Privilege, on Failing Brilliantly and The Power of Being an Anti-Expert
Thanks to a mix between my inbuilt confirmation bias and recency bias, it's felt like each month has had a defined theme. What I mean by that is that each month, something has caught my interest and suddenly it seems to play out everywhere. That's just the mind starting to pay attention to whatever you prime it for.
It's a powerful bias as that's what can make people think that they're suddenly seeing a certain number everywhere, or that their newly purchased, unique coloured car is suddenly quite common and the same bias that makes you think you're unlucky and unlikeable if you've primed your brain to look out for such signs and the same that happens if you prime your brain to believe you're lucky and lovable.
Whatever you tell your brain to focus more on, it will.
This month, I've had many thoughts and focuses but there hasn't been one persistent theme. So, as the title indicates, I'll briefly touch upon many different themes:
How kindness is safety, that our to-do lists are a privilege, on failing brilliantly and on the power of being an anti-expert.
I use value work a lot with my clients. It's about identifying what personal/characteristic values/your needs are, so that might be that you highly value consideration or personal growth or fun and adventure or contribution. Gaining that insight can offer a lot of insight into how you live your life, your triggers, why you're feeling stuck or unhappy, how to create the life you want for yourself, the sticky points in a relationship and so on.
For as long as I remember, kindness has been my top value. It baffles me when it's not other people's top priority because kindness is everything to me... or, so I used to argue. If we're kind, we're also automatically considerate and we don't have to love someone to offer them kindness (for those who value love above kindness). Kindness is respect, kindness means wanting what's best for others and yourself, kindness is equity and generosity and it takes kindness to grow and develop (I could make a long, long list as to why kindness is everything). However, what can baffle some people is how they can have a top value that means the world to them and yet not always apply it towards themselves or others. That's just our shadow (a therapeutic term for our subconscious processes and/or that which we don't like about ourselves so try to ignore). So, of course, I'm not always kind. Of course, I get mad and say things I regret or do unkind things. You might call that hypocrisy but the thing is that we're all hypocrites from time to time. So, when I find myself disliking someone and wanting to gossip about them, it really annoys me because it's unkind.
I've had that discussion on and off with one of my friends and he's always amused by why I'm so intent on being kind. It's not his top value at all (something that also annoys me).
And then it clicked a few weeks back - my top value isn't strictly speaking kindness (well, there's another interesting thing about values work and that is that what one word means to one person, doesn't necessarily mean it has the same meaning for someone else). The reason kindness is so important to me is that for me kindness means safety.
If you value kindness above all else, if you show up in interactions with kindness at the core of your intentions, if you try and navigate the world from a kind-hearted place, you're signalling that you're a safe person. That other people's well-being is important to you, while also saying that you are important to you.
People who are unkind towards themselves tend to project their inner turmoil unto others, which isn't safe. And people who don't value kindness are, indirectly, telling me (according to my logic and feelings) that I can't trust them to treat me with kindness.
When I get annoyed with someone, I try to focus on what the kindest thing would be in response because as much as I'm annoyed, perhaps deeply hurt, it won't help the other person if I lash out and it won't really make me a safe person to be around either. So, kindness is an act of loving them, while also protecting myself.
I won't flog the horse (what a marvellous British saying!) and carry on. For me, it was an important addition to my user manual - that kindness means safety, so when I gossip, I show to the person I'm gossiping with that I'm not a safe person as I will talk behind someone else's back. When I judge someone for how they're showing up online, or how they run their business or live their lives, I'm showing up as judgemental, which isn't safe. But when I show up according to my own values, I'm much more likely to attract similar people by what I'm projecting into this world.
So, kindness is still my top value, or should I say top priority, but I now have more clarity about the specification of that word - it's about safety.
The second theme that dominated my life in April was my to-do list. I kept telling people that I had no updates, I was just working through my to-do list every day until I paused and actually reflected on what was on my to-do list and how privileged I am for having so many things to get on with in life. Even when we're annoyed that we need to arrange for a plumber, and the car needs its MOT and the garden is full of weeds that we want to attend to but we also want to fit in the gym and we need to buy a new phone... All of this is because we're so rich and privileged that we can even afford to have these luxury items on our list. But more than that, my list (mostly around running two businesses) is based on living my dream life - it just comes with more admin than I might want.
I wrote a lot more about that here.
A bigger focus this month has been on failing and reframing and reclaiming that big and uncomfortable word. It's part of the focus for my other business The Training ComPenDium and you can read more about that here, if failure and making that a brilliant thing interests you...
Last week I caught up with a dear friend and we talked about the power of being an anti-expert. It's kind of linked to kindness and safety to me. There are so many self-proclaimed experts out there and in my experience, the only thing they do is make others feel stupid, insecure and/or not good enough. They make us fearful of not knowing enough, they're the reason we believe there's such a thing as a stupid question (because they have all the answers, as experts), they make us insecure about our own knowledge and fearful of adding anything because, as experts, they'd already know it all, right, so what could we possibly add to the conversation?
It reminds me of a conversation I had with a client...
I'd promised them the week before to let them know when there were 5 minutes left of our session. But instead, I got drawn into their story and didn't notice the time until it was up! I apologised and explained my mistake and to my relief, the client laughed. They said it made me more relatable and trustworthy that I was a flawed human, willing to own my mistakes because previous therapists had come across as these perfect beings and it'd made my client nervous to let her imperfections show.
I also ran a workshop once and on one of my first slides it said that even though I was presenting the material (narrative practices), I wasn't an expert. For one, I couldn't possibly be the expert of someone else's narrative and secondly, being an expert meant I was closed off to learning new things and seeing things in a new light. One of the participants told me that once I got to that slide, he relaxed into the session. He realised he wasn't about to step into a session with an expert and authority and be told how to think but I opened up the workshop to everyone's thinking being valid and important.
As Adam Grant writes in his book Think Again, it's not about 'best practice' because that closes you off from curiosity and growth, it's about 'better practice' to always strive towards improvement.
And maybe these themes are all linked.
By being the anti-expert, we own our flaws and failures. We role model being kind and safe people to be around as we're not perfectionists but just normal humans. We make it ok for others to be human alongside us. It builds trust and connection rather than distance. And maybe our relationship with our endless to-do lists should be approached from a kind place, where we're showing up as safe for ourselves, instead of pushing some unhealthy, unsustainable idea of what it means to be an adult - an expert in adulting. Maybe if we allow ourselves to fail at our to-do list, we can add more fun and self-care and compassion - because isn't that the kind and psychologically safe thing to d for ourselves but also our bodies by reducing stress?
These are all lessons being added to my manual.
But what about you? Did anything here spark any insights for you and how you might progress on your Manual of You?
Eleanor Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy, and for a long time I agreed.
After all, how many of us know the feeling of comparing ourselves to someone else and finding ourselves lacking in some way, or having felt excited about something we bought until we saw someone else who had a bigger, shinier version of the same thing and suddenly we felt resentful of our stupid, ugly thing, or just being plain jealous of someone else and what they have – possessions, looks and life?
Then, in late 2020 in a Mastermind session I had with some other coaches, one of them said that jealousy was just inspiration.
I LOVED THAT!
What if every time I compare myself and I feel jealous, I see it as aspirational and inspirational instead? As a signal that they have something I want and now that I’ve gained that clarity it’s a lot easier to go for it, to create it or to move towards it.
And just like that, it took the sting out of comparison and I actually get a bit of a kick out of it when I feel jealous or when feeling ‘less than’ someone else because the feeling is now useful to me. It’s even more helpful when I take the time to go deeper into that comparison and wonder what it is that I really want. For example, when I long for the wealth of the Hollywood A-listers, I know it’s not actually about the money (have you heard what Jenna Otega’s daily routine was like while shooting Wednesday – I certainly wasn’t jealous of that! And I don’t even think the millions she was paid would have got me interested in following suit). I know that what I’m jealous of is the freedom I believe money would buy me – to work less, for example. I also envy their fabulous holidays. So, what I’ve learned is that I want to work less, relax more and that I like nice holidays. So, I work less and I relax more. I also have less money but I’m still getting what was causing me to feel jealous of the A-listers. And my holidays won’t be as fancy as theirs but I’d rather have my wonderful, budget holidays than have paparazzi following me everywhere – I’m not jealous of that part! I’ve also realised that I’m less inclined to go abroad on holidays the more I love the life I’m creating at home. I now don’t need a break from my life. And if I’m comparing myself to someone whose career and success seem bigger than mine, I now use that as a signal to work more and create more. And if I’m comparing myself to someone prettier or skinnier than me, I know it’s a signal to do the work to improve my self-esteem. I also used to compare myself and get jealous of digital nomads and internationally roaming coaches, until I realised that this was only because of adopting a narrative that wasn’t mine that this was supposed to be a desirable life. But do I really want to always be on the move, to not have a stable, safe and homely base? To constantly have to make new friends and move away from the ones I’d made? No thanks, not for me. So, this comparison and feeling less than others didn’t even belong to me!
And so, here I am, feeling all smug for having cracked the code of comparison and jealousy (for me… You may have a different relationship with it where my logic doesn’t work but this is my journal after all). So, it came as quite a bit of a shock when I discovered I was still comparing myself in a very negative way that had a detrimental impact on my mood.
And the person I was comparing myself to was… me.
While I was pondering where I’d misplaced joy, as I wrote about last month, I walked around with this image in my head that at the start of 2021, I was super productive (which, to be fair, I was – I started a new business, I started a daily blog, I started a coaching community, I wrote two, short e-books, I created a 2-day course for coaches that I delivered for a coaching school, I did a qualification coaching supervision, I started a podcast, I ran a mastermind and I came up with a new coaching model I got to talk about at a summit - and I was happy). Then things got turned upside-down and I moved countries and started a new life, and I was productive in other ways (creating a new home, setting up my business again but under Danish rules and law, making new friends, dating A LOT and enjoying life) but I didn’t feel I was all that productive in terms of my business and I wasn’t as happy as I’d been a year earlier. For months now I’ve carried this narrative in my head that I wasn’t doing as well in early 2023 as I was in early 2021, that I wasn’t as productive, and that I was being lazy and feeling stuck and in a rut. I also compared myself to early 2022 when I was a gym bunny and social butterfly and again I found myself lacking.
I tried so many things to get back into that creative groove. I wasn’t unkind to myself (thank goodness for all the work I put into improving my critical inner chatter and low self-esteem) but I was, however, doing a negative comparison and finding myself wanting, unsure how to step up.
And then, one evening I found myself reading through my old diary. Nearly every day, in early 2021, I write about waking up too late, feeling unmotivated, pushing through to do the bare minimum, and feeling unproductive and tired. In early 2022 I write about skipping the gym and cancelling on nights out.
I was comparing myself to a ghost, a vision, a Fata Morgana!
I am, realistically, doing less work right now than I was in early 2021, but you know what, I’m also living far more peacefully, I’m outside more and I’m in a much healthier place personally. I worked harder back then because it was during lockdown and I had nowhere to go and no one to see and my previous relationship had reached a point where working was a lot more fun than sitting watching Netflix in opposite corners.
The world is open now, and I have a lot of people to see and I loooove watching TV while holding hands with my boyfriend far more than working. And it’s not like I’m not still working and being productive but the output looks different because it’s far more meaningful what I do now. Before I was ‘following the joy’ and pursuing all sorts of projects to find out what I liked and what I didn’t and I started a lot of things and I didn’t follow through with almost as many of those projects.
Today, there are fewer things on my to-do list but they are far more important projects and demand deep work.
Back then, I worked under the principle of: Ready, fire, aim! It was fun and a great exercise to reduce perfectionism. Thanks to the work then, I’m far more ready and able to pick the right projects, but I’m now aiming and I’m taking my time to make these projects - not perfect - but worthwhile, beautiful and something to be proud of and I’ll shoot when I’m goddamn ready and it feels right. Because, why am I in a hurry? I have quite a few decades ahead and I sure don’t want to be bored heading in that direction. Wouldn’t it be boring if I had it all and it was bloody perfect already? What would I do with the next 5+ decades?
A friend recently asked me what my 5-year plan was and once I would have felt silly that I didn’t have one but if life has taught me anything it’s that it’s super pointless to plan for an unpredictable future. Back in 2020, I had great plans for just that year alone and we all know how that turned out! In 2021 I thought I’d live in Scotland for the rest of my life and now look at me. I told her that I have this thing that when I write fiction books, I don’t know the ending. If I know the ending, I stop wanting to write it as I’m already bored (that technique gets very interesting when writing crime books! Who did it?? I don’t know!!) and that’s the same when it comes to my “5-year plan”. If I knew what I was doing in 5 years, I’d probably stop right now and do something else or I know I’d quickly get bored and feel uninspired (neurodivergent brain!).
A friend shared something beautiful in a group I belong to about needing variety versus the need for certainty and the demons of ‘shoulds’ – I should do this, I should be more successful, I should be more productive, I should exercise more, meditate more, I should have a 5-year plan, I should focus more on earning money than having fun and feeling free, I should, I should, I should… Oh, there are so many shoulds we can hurt, haunt and taunt ourselves with, and for me, it’d become the ‘I should be more like my 2021 self’ but, thanks to my diaries, I now recall that she wasn’t actually as happy and productive as I thought. 2021 me was having a lot of fun, trying out a lot of things and achieving a lot but like a diet, it wasn’t a sustainable life, long-term and she still woke up feeling tired, unmotivated, grumpy, fed up and sad.
So, comparison can be the thief of joy – but it’s kind of up to you. It’s your feeling after all, so do with it what you like but why not choose something helpful and hopeful?
There's a saying in English: When you assume you make an ass out of u and me. That's because assuming something can very often lead to you being wrong and making the other person suffer due to this.
For example, how many arguments have you had with your significant other, only to discover much too late that you were making different assumptions about the problem and the words each one of you used to explain your position? (Or, if you haven't realised that this is a thing, this might be the reason you're always arguing with your partner and never reaching a resolution...)
So, what I've been pondering a lot over the last month and which I'm adding to my manual of me is the harm it causes to relationships when you come from a place of assuming and how to improve relationships by doing the opposite (this would also have been increasingly on my radar as I'm putting the finishing touches on my new e-book about ways we increase drama in our relationships and how to reduce it. It's out 1st of April on Kindle for a mere 99p!).
It all really kicked off when I had to cancel plans with a friend because I was feeling poorly. She asked if I hadn't just been ill and I said I often felt poorly when spinning too many plates at once. Now, her questions stopped there and instead I received a message telling me that there was a lesson to be learned and that I had to prioritise my health over my work and over earning money. That my body was more important that my bank account.
She's not wrong about any of these things but the problem was that she was assuming the plates were work related. She presumed I was prioritising wrong. She was assuming I wanted or needed her opinion. She was trying to 'fix' the problem she assumed I had.
Now, the biggest problem for me at that moment were her assumptions, because the plates I were referring to were, among others, her. Friendships and socialising at a time where I didn't feel like it. The plates were other people's expectations outside of work. She presumed the stress was work related (perhaps, because she's on sick leave with work stress and for a long time didn't listen to her body's signals).
I felt annoyed because I hadn't asked for her opinion or advice on how to live my life, because I felt she wasn't listening, or wasn't interested in engaging with my point of view and because I felt judged by her well-intentioned comments. Even if I was stressed due to work, it doesn't feel nice when someone tells you that your priorities are wrong.
To me, that's not what a good friend should do.
I told her that I was on top of my own choices, thanked her for her consideration but to not try and 'save' or 'rescue' me (if you don't know what that means, you'll enjoy my upcoming e-book where I go into great details about this).
But it didn't stop there. She went on to tell me that I had worth outside of my job and I was loved. Again, well-meaning words but based on assumptions that I rely on external validation to feel worthy or loved, which I (luckly) don't (after over a decade of hardcore self-development work).
To me, it now felt like she wasn't respecting my boundaries so I started to explain my point of view in greater details and told her that this was not a conversation to be had over text but in person.
She then messaged to say that over-explaining is a trauma response and that I was perhaps co-dependt. Again, she's not wrong that over-explaining can be a trauma response but again, by assuming she understood me and my intentions better than me, she missed the mark. You can also end up over-explaining when you feel someone is refusing to listen and understand you and, furthermore, over-explaining is something linked to being neurodivergent like I am (though, we NDs seldom see it as over-explaining - that's a neurotypical judgement on our communication style). And then she pondered if I was co-dependent. At this point, the assumptions bruised my ego! I have over 12 years of education within the human mind and have been practicing for over 5 years, seeing thousands of clients. It felt like an added insult to my professional self that I could be co-dependent without realising it.
Now, it could be easy to assume negative things about this person. And I know through my narrative here that I haven't painted a great picture. And though, it will go in my manual just how disconnecting assumptions can be, that's not the learning outcome here. After all, it's not The Manual of My Friend, it's about my user manual.
It's about me learning just how triggering I find assumptions. How unsafe I feel when people make assumptions about me, and, if I feel it's necessary, to look at my past and wonder why I find assumptions so annoying, disconnecting and unsafe.
The interesting thing isn't to judge my friend at all, but to examine why my ego got bruised by her assuming more knowledge about my mind and indicating I struggle with a pretty serious mental state such as co-dependency.
There was a lesson in there for me about what I'm looking for in a friendship and what I find unacceptable.
The conversation highlighted important values for me: Feeling heard, seeen, understood, accepted and respected and to feel safe and supported.
I do a lot of value work with clients and we often talk about how feeling triggered can indicate that one of our values have been ignored or violated.
However, the values I've just highlighted here are not unique. Most of us - if not all of us - want to feel heard, seen, understood, accepted, respected, safe and supported, including my friend - so how come two people can come from the same place, values wise, and yet end up upsetting each other or falling out?
So, it's not enough to know your values, you also need to understand how you and how others communicate or show them. You have to not assume that how one person feels respected is the same for another because that's, in essence, true respect. To honour differences.
A couple of weeks later, having a little moan to another friend about my boyfriend not being excellent at emotional communication, she told me how TikTok had taught her that the number one way to know you have a successful and long-lasting relationship is the ability to always have something to talk about, even after decades of being together. She then went on to tell me how she'd also been a relationship where she'd only dated the guy to feel safe after a bad break-up.
I was left flabbergasted.
She'd assumed that because my boyfriend wasn't acing in EQ (Emotional Intelligence), that we had nothing to say to each other at all and that I was with him for the wrong reasons, as well as telling me that some random person on TikTok knew more about relationships than me, as a trained psychologist and psychotherapist (can you tell, my professional ego was bruised again?)
Once more, I felt instantly disconnected, misunderstood, lonely and unsafe in sharing with this friend.
But just like with my previous friend, I believe her intentions were good. I believe she thought she'd made me feel heard, seen, understood, accepted, respected, safe and supported by being able to 'read' my unconscious processes, had been able to see through my denial, and offered a meaningful and helpful opinion to guide me.
Except, in both cases, the assumptions were not only wrong but hurtful and confusing.
I'm currently listening to a book about the dangers of advice giving as part of the research I'm doing for my own book. And in it, the author says that the irony hasn't escaped him, of giving advice about the dangers of giving advice!
I feel the same writing about assumptions, making assumptions about my friends at the same time.
Making assumptions are a natural and normal part of being human. We all do it, all the time. It may even an evolutionary hang-over of having to make quick, snap decisions all the time about our environment for survival. However, we all have the mental capacity to change, if we choose, and so assumptions don't have to override other behaviours like staying open and curious towards other people's opinions, perspectives, experiences, realities and truths.
I assume a lot, but I also tend to assume that I'm wrong about my assumptions. That makes me stay flexible in my opinions and more open to other people's realities (and boy, do I fail at this too! I'm just a flawsome human after all). But that's why The Manual of You is so important. It's about pausing and reflecting and making informed choices about who you want to be and how you want to feel. It's not about perfecting anything. For me, perfection is the opposite of progress. Thinking there is one right way, based on a very high, usually unattainable standard, is the opposite of open, flexible and curious.
But, not all assumptions are bad.
We can also make, what Brene Brown calls, the most generous presumption.
Did you boyfriend yell at you - will you take it personal, presume it's about you, presume he's a bad person, or could you presume he's struggling, he's hurting, he hasn't learned how to communicate in a safe and helpful manner?
Did you get cut off in traffic? Did you presume the other driver is a reckless a-hole? Or, perhaps they were in a hurry towards an emergency at home?
Did you colleague laugh at you at work? Did you presume she's a ruthless bully? That you deserved to be laughed at because you're stupid? Or that she's trying to feel superior because she feels so insignificant and that she learned how to be a bully by her bullying parents? That's she's desperate to feel respected but doesn't know how to achieve it in a healthy way?
One assumption isn't more accurate than the other. And being the more generous presumption doesn't mean someone gets off the hook for poor behaviour but what does it do for you? How do you feel when you make the negative assumption over the positive one? How does it impact your state of mind and your ability to engage with the other person, if you come from a place of judgement compared to a place of compassion for their pain?
I know my friends operate from a place of love and that they have my best intentions at heart. That helps me to not get unnecessarily angry or upset. However, the way they go about it, isn't OK with me - that's my responsibility. Just like, feeling triggered is my responsibility to own and examine and change, if I choose, not their fault.
So, what I'm adding to my manual this month is to be careful of making assumptions and stay open-minded and curious about someone else's story and perspective, to ask questions instead of giving unsolicited advice and when I do assume anyway, I'll try and make it the most generous presumption possible.
What about you? What do you take away from my stories and lessons learned?
And remember, it's not about agreeing or disagreeing with my opinions or conclusions. It's your life, so live it like you choose. Ignore what you find unhelpful and note that which you find interesting and supportive of your own journey.
Until next time - take care, stay safe - and sane - and make kind choice (or not. Still your choice).
My whole life, I've felt self-conscious about my dyslexia and spelling mistakes, so much so that it's held me back from doing what I love the very most - writing - or, at least, in sharing my writings. Just like photo filters have made me self-conscious about taking and sharing pictures of myself as I can't be bothered doing my make-up and hair, nor play around with filters to try and look as pretty as other people online, so I don't. But then there was a healthy movement towards sharing 'make-up free' selfies and to stop using filters all together. People who showed up real were celebrated for it. And I feel with all the chat of ChatGPT being able to write amazing articles, blog posts, essays and even whole books, I, at first, felt even more intimidated about my writings. Now, I had to compete with AI as well!! But, I've chosen to flip the narrative. All my glorious spelling and grammar mistakes and too long sentences and rambling points, will hopefully show you that I'm a real human and I've written this myself. That's, at least, the story I'm going to tell myself because it helps me, rather than hinders me. And that's the whole point of what I do - it's not about lying to yourself but how you can tell yourself better stories that help you in life rather than hinder you?
Take Joy by the Hand
In January 2021 I launched a new business. I was overwhelmed by the advice out there on how to run the most successful business and everything I absolute ‘had to do’ to ensure it'd thrive. After hitting my head against a wall (don’t worry, I only mean metaphorically), I made a decision to only engage in projects, and run my business in a way, that brought me joy. After all, I didn’t start as self-employed to dread going to work. I wanted to wake up and feel excited about the day ahead of me and make my job as joyous and satisfying as possible.
And it worked!
I got my business up and running, I was happy in the process and it was some really successful months.
Then, my world got ever so slightly turned upside down as my boyfriend of 8 years ended things very suddenly and I didn’t just lose my relationship but my home too. I decided to leave behind my 18 years abroad and the 12 in Scotland and move back to my native country Denmark.
That was quite the journey! And what a learning curve on all fronts!
But as January 2022 came to an end I found myself stuck once again. I felt pulled in so many directions and wasn’t sure what was the ‘right’ thing to do and I felt overwhelmed and confused. That’s when I remembered my old business mantra: Follow the joy.
What if I applied that to my private life too? It seemed such a simple concept – almost silly that I hadn’t already thought of it. And just like that, making decisions became easy: Did I go on a date with X? Well, did the thought give me joy or not? Easy, peasy decision. Did I want to go out tonight? Well, did the thought give me joy or fill me with dread? Easy-peasy decision! Did the thought of going to the gym bring me more joy than the thought of watching a movie? Decision made! And so on.
I’m naturally quite a joyful person. Even through some of the darker times of my life, when depression had me in its grasp, I knew I was wrapped in a heavy cloak that didn’t belong to me. Knew that underneath it, I was bubbling with joy and mischief and wonder. I’ve confused my exes many a time by cracking jokes and making them belly-laugh mid-argument because I couldn’t keep the joy down, even when angry. I smile at most things and even get into trouble for all the things I find amusing.
And it’s kind of easy because there’s so much that bring me joy that is so easily accessible: Sunshine, books, flowers, the sea, cosy blankets and a good movie, my soft bed, sleep, freshly baked buns, dogs - well, most animals really - writing, music (oh, wonderful, magical music!), the open road, a beautiful sunset, fireworks, my job, other people smiling, walks, good company, kissing, cuddles, sex, travelling, a good cup of coffee…. You get the picture. Lots of things bring me joy and some are really easy to come by.
So, when I found myself without joy in July, I was puzzled. But as joyless July became Average August, I took pause, and when Sad September became Oddly Unmotivated October, I started to get scared.
What the fuck was wrong with me? Where was joy? I’d tried looking for her so many places and in so many ways and then a dear friend said something profound which led me to write this.
She said, what if, instead of waiting for or searching for joy, you take Joy by the hand and lead her instead. Do - try things, practice, live life, go back to doing things you used to find joyful and eventually Joy might join you.
It made me think of Seth Godin who doesn't believe in 'writer's block'. He believes people might suffer from 'quality writing block'. He encourages you to practice - just keep at something and eventually you'll get better.
It’s not about waiting for inspiration to strike; it’s not about waiting till you ‘feel like it’; it’s not about waiting for joy. It’s doing it and doing it and doing it (whatever ‘it’ may be) and if you practice long enough, flow will return, creativity will return, satisfaction will return.
Kind of like a bad Nike advert – just do it! (but do it with kindness, compassion and patience!)
The day after, as I shared this story with another friend, she said: Well, perhaps ‘joy’ is a very high standard to set for yourself. We’re all chasing joy all the time – it’s exhausting. Can’t we just settle for something a bit less?
It gave me more to think about… Indeed, I used to teach a whole happiness course about the misfortunate of chasing happiness instead of finding it in the here and now. If we’re caught underneath the dark cloak of depression, or some other form or low mood, like grief, stress, overwhelm, heartbreak – we can hurt ourselves more by chasing or striving for joy, instead of learning to live with and be in the hard and dark feelings while they’re there. They need our attention and love too. Without them, joy simply cannot exist either.
But to settle, as my friend suggested… Oh, I’m not much one for settling.
For me, it became a Nice November (I turned 40 and had the most brilliant time) but a bit of a Dreary December and mostly a Joyless January. But that's OK. There have been pockets of joy and creativity and there's been overwhelm. I'm not good in the cold and dark but I'm done fighting that part of me. I'm done trying to motivate me to change. I'm OK with feeling the way I do, while being mindful of those who wants me to change because they're projecting their own discomfort of not always being productive and positive on to me. And there's a lot of joy in that too. It might not feel like butterfly-exciting kind of joy but it's a warming, calming kind of joy to give back to others what doesn't belong to you (such as projected feelings and unwanted advice - if you want to know more about that I've written a super cheap e-book called From Drama to Freedom that will be published soon).
Adding to my manual of how to human: Follow the Joy when you can but when it doesn’t show, practice the joy and it’ll eventually show. In the meantime, it’s OK to feel all your feelings.
What will you add to The Manual of You™?
The Manual of You™ is a one-stop-shop business run by international Teri Kansted, offering 1-2-1 psychology-informed, therapeutic coaching, workshops, courses, private and corporate programmes, free resources and much more.
Follow me on social media via @themanualofyou
Read my daily blog here
Download my freebie here
Sign up for my free happiness webinar here
Read my free articles here
This monthly journal entry was brought to you by the flawsome, dyslexic Teri Kansted - take what you like from it and leave the rest. After all, it's your life and, therefore, your choice what you consume and do with the information offered to you.
All grammar and spelling mistakes rights reserved The Manual of You™ 2023 ;-)
Each year, often on the 31st, I sit down and review the past year. Weirdly, it's not a tradition, or something I schedule, or something I do because of my job (or to publish on my website). In fact, I often think that 'this year' I won't because I find the 1st of January an abritrary date. I don't like the idea that because it's the first of a new month in a new year that suddenly we have to become new or better versions of ourselves or that we have to make massive changes. For decades I didn't even really celebrate New Year's Eve because I found it silly to put so much importance on one day a year. And for years I've passionately spoken against the concept of 'New Year, New Me'.
And yet, on the 31st of December every year, I've felt compelled to put down my thoughts about the passing year. And as much as I'm likewise not a fan of new year resolutions, it's hard not to ponder what the new year will bring and what I hope to achieve in it.
Over the past year, I've soften on a lot of my stances. I used to be in a relationship with this really rigid guy. He had some really strong convictions about stuff and I felt I had to be the same but as I noticed that his convictions were only skin deep and he didn't actually live by his own moral principles, I started to question my own convictions too and why I had them.
I'm a big believer in self-development and personal growth and part of that is learning - learning new things and expanding your horizon but the past year I've been really interested in the concept of 'unlearning' (technically, this isn't possible. You can't unlearn or erase things). So, what I mean by 'unlearning' is to reconstruct your relationship with existing concepts. To question what you have been taking for granted or presumed as truths - about yourself, others and this world. To examine beliefs and dare to be really honest with yourself around why they are your beliefs and whether they still serve you.
For example, I used to be an atheist. And to be honest with you (and I don't feel great admitting this), I found people who had any other kind of beliefs systems, silly (or a less kind word to that effect). To me, it was obvious that there wasn't any god(s) or spirits or a universe that could give and take. But with my 'unlearning' I had to face two truths: 1) I thought that people who had a different belief from me where weak or in denial. That they couldn't cope living in this world as it is and therefore had to rely on magical and made-up beings to cope with existence. I found this sad. I pitied people who couldn't accept (my) reality that there's no life after death, that life is simply random coincidences, that there was no meaning or purpose to our existence and that there are no reasons for why things happen. And then, with daring to look at my own beliefs and dare to question them, I realised that I was the one who was scared. I used data, science and research to calm myself, to make sense of the world around me, to feel safe in my beliefs. I had found comfort in thinking that there is no greater meaning to anything in this world, that there isn't any higher powers, that I'm not in control of my destiny due to some laws of attraction. My atheism and science-based beliefs were made up by the same ingredients as I attributed a religions or spiritual person. 2) It's arrogant of me to think I know that there isn't more to this world than what I can see and measure and logically understand. For me to think I'm so incredibly clever that I can know that there is no God, or gods, or any thing else makes me sound... unhinged, really. Quite grandiose.
I still can't convince myself, nor am I particularly interested in convicting myself, that there is a God, gods or any kind of spiritual interference in this world but I acknowledge that this belief offers me a sense of control and certain, so it's a belief that serves me and I also acknowledge that I don't know, so I call myself agnostic now. I don't believe but I also don't know.
That's my number one lesson from 2022 - to question my beliefs and to be open to other perspectives and the ability to hold my truth while also holding another person's truth simultaiously. It's made me a kinder and more compassionate person. It's made me less defensive, aggressive and unlikable. It has served me in my friendships, my romantic relationship, with my family and when I am online reading things or on social media, and so it's, first and foremost, helped me live a calmer and more loving life internally.
Whereas I thought it'd be scary to let go of my perspective, of my truth, it's been freeing. To have a disagreement with my future husband and instead of us growing apart in our differing perspectives, becoming defensive in our conversations or using dirty tactics, like gaslighting or playing the 'moral high ground' card, I can sit and validate myself in my perspective and know that I'm right in how I feel and think, while also validating his point of view and know that he's also right and allowed to feel and think as he does. It expands my horizon and it allows him to feel understood and accepted (but just for the record, I'm still learning and unlearning this stuff! I'm far from perfecting this attitude, nor is that my goal, as I don't believe in perfect. But even my growing awareness of how I show up in disagreements or how my beliefs can bully both me and others have been healing and helped create deeper connections).
There have been so many more lessons in 2022 around boundaries, trust, truths, friendships, shaming, acceptance, gaslighting, happiness, anger, hurt, freedom, guilt, escapism and avoidance, love (oh, so many lessons around love), kindness, growth and much more but my yearly review is private and personal, so they won't go on here but I did want to encourage you to look back at 2022 and ponder what you've learned and what you might want to 'unlearn' going forward to help you write the very best Manual of You™.
Sometimes when I work with people and they learn something new about themselves or how the world works and it gives them an aha-moment, they criticise themselves for not knowing already or not realising sooner. But you don't know what you don't know. It's not fair to beat yourself up over things you didn't know you didn't know.
And so, part of personal development and writing your own user manual is about learning, growing your awareness around how you function, how other people operate and how the world works. However, the longer I do this work, the more I realise how important the 'unlearning' element is (as in, to reconstruct the information you hold to serve you better). I had one client who, worriedly, said: "Isn't that just a form of gaslighting yourself? To lie to yourself to tell a better story?" I'm not asking anyone to lie to themselves or others or to paint a better or prettier picture to get off the hook from wrongdoing. It's really important to take responsibility for your feelings, thoughts and actions, however, we tend to never tell very nuanced stories. We tend to tell quite blaming, unkind and judgemental stories about ourselves such as "I'm a terrible partner or parent." I'm not suggesting that you try to convince yourself that you're a fantastic partner or parent, I'm encouraging you to say that sometimes you make mistakes but to also look at your intensions - where they to harm? To manipulate? To cause pain to someone else because it gave you pleasure? If yes, ok, maybe you are a terrible partner or parent but I'm sure you also have some learning and unlearning to do from the past which has shaped you into behaving this way. However, the people I work with tend to answer no. Their intentions aren't bad.
So, to tell a better story, I'm not asking for rose tinted glasses, I'm asking you to not use poop tinted glasses either and find a more balanced and honest story. "I yelled at my child, but I didn't mean to. I was under a lot of stress. I can now apologise. I'm not a categorically bad parent for having yelled at my child. I'm a normal, flawed, but trying my best kind of parent."
But it's also very hard to 'unlearn' because as much as we don't know what we don't know, it can be hard to question what we think we do know.
I worked with someone who said that they were being told they were 'too much' and they were 'too passionate and excitable' and 'too rambling' and they needed to change. And I pondered out loud if the change was to stop being those things or to change their attitude towards those things. Perhaps, they weren't 'too' anything but rather the people around them were 'too little' and the change was to feel sorry for these people lacking passion, excitement and the love for a good, long-winded story. Maybe their unlearning was to reject negative stories about themselves, offered by others and instead nurture those beautiful parts of themselves. Maybe there was something around unlearning a conservative societal message that isn't serving anyone.
So, looking at your user manual, what might you want to examine to learn more, but also what might you need to pause and ponder, to unlearn for growth and healing?
As for looking ahead and making a vision for your 2023 - by all means if that works for you, inspires and motivates you, go for it!
Over the years I've learned that I shift so much during the course 365 days that what I think might be awesome in January, I might find annoying or stupid by spring and that if I create too big a vision (like '2020 will be my best year ever' which I genuinely thought and planned for until the whole world changed in March 2020) I leave a lot of space for disappointment and for not meeting my expectations. So, I go soft and gently into a new year when it comes to expectations -- kind of going back to the whole 'New Year, New Me' concept which I totally understand the idea behind but I just think it puts too much pressure on us and it means we're starting the new year not accepting ourselves as we are, so I'm a much bigger fan of 'New Year - Same Me' and leaning into self-compassion and self-acceptance and if you want to lose weight, or drink less, or be a better partner/mother/friend/colleague then you can start on a random Tuesday in February as much as any other day but it should come from a place of love, not a place of self-loathing based on other people's beliefs that you've internalised such as what our toxic society dictates 'beauty' is. If you want a 'new you' I'd highly encourage you to create that new version based on healthy and kind beliefs about yourself, others and the world around you. Build this version on who you truly want to be, not what you think other people expect of you or what you think society/culture wants from you. And if you use the word 'should' ("I should lose weight", "I should be more tidy") it's a pretty clear indicator that this isn't your belief but someone else's that you're trying to apply to yourself. Stop 'shoulding' all over yourself, as I usually tell clients.
In 2019 my 'resolution' was self-acceptance and love - even during the hard and dark times. To understand that even when feeling very low 'this too shall pass'.
In 2020 my 'resolution' was building a life that worked for me, based on my needs and values. This did not play out the way I thought or had planned but, nevertheless, even during a pandemic, it became a helpful, guiding light.
In 2021 my 'resolution' was to 'follow the joy' (I'm trying to write a book about this concept) and it was both really directional while also being gentle. There weren't any strict set of rules or restrictions but simply a mantra to follow what felt good, what aligned with my values, what made my heart sing instead of moan.
In 2022 my 'resolution' was connections and I dedicated the year to meet new people and make new and wonderful friends. This was a resolution based on something that was healthy for my mental health rather than trying to change some part of me because I thought those parts weren't good enough.
I haven't solidified my 'resolution' for 2023 yet... I suspect I'll gain clarity as the bell tolls for a new year and inspiration strikes... or maybe it'll happen on a random Wednesday afternoon at some point over the next few weeks - who knows!
I hope my meandering thoughts were helpful. I hope it can inspire you to make some notes in your Manual of You™ and I hope to see you here next month for more musings.
Happy 2023 - may this and all future years bring you lots of joy, and acceptance of the difficult times as well.
Thank you for reading. As with everything I say and do, feel free to take what you find helpful and applicable and ignore the rest. You certainly don't have to agree with me but know that we're both allowed our various, and perhaps differentiating, perspectives. What you consume and what you apply is entirely up to you - it's your life and, therefore, your choice after all.
Also, I'm dyslexic so there are bound to be spelling and grammar mistakes. I'm OK with that - I hope you can be too.
Much love - T.
On the 1st of each month, I'll write a meandering journal entry about my biggest take-away from the previous month and what I'll add to my own manual of how to human.