The War We Wage With Ourselves and How to Squash It In One Blow

There is a war raging on inside our heads each second of everyday.

A barrage of duplicitous dialogue and thought that consumes the battlefield of our mind. Worse yet, it’s of our own doing and invariably dictates our actions.

Now that is something worth thinking about.

Amidst the everyday goings-on, it barely registers what’s happening inside our heads, or we choose deceptively to pretend it doesn’t matter.

“I hate going to work. … I feel guilty putting the kids into care…… What happened to that dream of mine working freelance from home? It’s never gonna happen now…… Wow, my skin looks terrible this morning…….

 Man, I need to lose some weight …….. maybe this green smoothie will be the start of a new regime. ….Crap, I forgot to buy bloody eggs… again! ……Jeez, I need to get more organised….. I can’t wait to get a coffee and muffin on the way to work …… screw the diet.”

We know how it goes. Everybody does. The trouble is, it’s a habit. It’s an ongoing battle to berate ourselves for all that we haven’t done, can’t do or don’t like about ourselves.

And if it’s not that, then we’re chastising ourselves for the fact that we continually do this to ourselves!

“Don’t say you’re stupid,…..you just forgot…….. It’ll be ok, the world won’t fall apart because you didn’t buy eggs…… Stay positive….think positive…… I’m feeling great! Oh stop it, you sound ridiculous!”

Our days are punctuated with nano-second thoughts, a blow-by-blow account of what we think of ourselves, our experiences, our lives and the people in it.

Life is busy.

Life can be tough.

But we need to save ‘us’ somehow, from this war we wage with ourselves!

The How and Why?

When we are so consumed by our existence, our responsibilities, our ‘to do’ jobs, it feels like there is no time for us to stop and consider the battle raging on inside of us.

It’s just always there.

But, if we were able to do just one thing for ourselves, surely it should be this; to stop the war and broker an amicable peace deal.

We’re all prepared to put a lot of time, effort and money into all other aspects of our lives: our physical fitness, our jobs, our wardrobe, our relationships.

But how much time do we commit to considering how we can better understand and maybe even change our thoughts and in turn our experience of life?

“Know yourself” Socrates

 

If we did, how much of everything else (our actions, behaviour, relationships, everyday experiences) would begin to follow a more ‘peaceful’ path?

Now, I’m no experienced soldier on this battlefront, but I have become curious and more conscious of my war. In the last 18 months I’ve taken up the challenge and begun to grapple with my thought processes.

Me the Guinea Pig

So the good news is that research confirms what we possibly already know; what we tell ourselves, directly influences the experiences we have.

It is, according to ‘Flow’ author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (no I didn’t make his name up!)  all about perception. Control the way we view things and we dictate the life we lead.

“How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from living, ultimately depends directly on how the mind filters and interprets everyday experiences”.

Powerful stuff, but easier said than done, I hear you mumble. And you’re right.

From as far back as we can remember, we’ve pumped our minds with thoughts; all kinds, with little attention given to the quality of them or the helpfulness of them.

It would certainly require a great change in our thinking habits and a quiet dedication interpreting the inner workings of our minds. Daunting and deep stuff I know!

“We are too scared to stop and think because it is in those moments of quiet we realise that we are not living the lives we would like to, worse yet, we are not even trying” M. Csikszentmihalyi

Meditation, yoga, self-help books aside, it’s clear to me that I needed to throw our whole self into this fight.

Ultimately, if we want to be more than the thoughts that we let infiltrate the battlefield of our mind, we have to want to think differently first, then take action. DO something.

So in an attempt to quash my own war and in an effort to find a method in the madness, the last 18 months have been quite experimental.

I’ve read, I’ve taken courses, I’ve had deep conversations with those around me, I’ve listened to experts, I’ve reflected and I’ve written a lot of these thoughts down, … here in this blog as well as in my personal journal.

And that’s been, dare I say it…..life changing.

The chance to read, reflect and record my thoughts in a journal or more aptly referred to as a ‘Commonplace book’, has been….. enlightening.

Nothing revolutionary you might say! Not especially time-consuming or particularly draining. In fact quite the opposite; practical, immediate and worthwhile.

Reflecting on our thoughts and recording these down has been an undertaking many great and ordinary people alike, have committed to; Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius kept one, Thomas Jefferson kept one, Napoleon kept one. Bill Gates keeps one.

And this is why….
  • Reflection: Asking the big WHY questions matters. Being strong and still long enough to listen properly to the answers is key to understanding why we think and behave the way we do. Reflecting gives us a chance to sort through our confusion, review our perspectives and reassess our priorities. What could be more worthwhile than that?
  • Doing: it’s not enough to simply think about things. It is in the DOING after all that we achieve actual change. In committing my reflections (fairly regularly, usually daily) to paper or text I am letting them loose and I have a tactile, retrievable point of reference. In doing this act, I’ve taken the first step in beginning to solve some of my personal dilemmas or at the very least, acknowledged their existence.

It could well be more complicated than this, but for me, for now, this is working. I’m making good ground on the battle front.

I’m no saint; some days I let my emotions drag me about, other days I just don’t want to think, and I’m ok with that.

But just like healthy eating keeps our bodies in order, I’m attempting to cultivate a habit. I’m trying to make my thoughts count, my perspective healthy and my experiences of life meaningful.

All great change starts with a small step, repeated regularly, until it becomes habit.

Committing to writing in a Journal or ‘Commonplace Book’ is one way I’m attempting to master the way I view things and think about them. And if I can do this, then I might just be closer to dictating the quality of my life and shaping the experiences I have.

It’s worth a shot!

In next week’s blog, I’ll run through what my Commonplace book looks like, what goes in it and how you can start your own.

The True Value of Friendship in a Facebook World

Friends pretty much rock our world. In fact they often are the proverbial ‘rock’.

They are the ones we share our life with, our trials and tribulations, late night philosophical discussions (when too much wine has been consumed), the laugh-out-loud moments and our deepest, darkest fears.

If, as esteemed philosopher A C Grayling claims “relationships are central to what constitutes the meaning of life”, then friendship is at the core of our existence.

As social creatures we all seek that sense of belonging and friendships offer us that security and comfort only to be found in another.

But in a ‘Facebook’ world, I wonder if the quick and easy claims to ‘Friend’ are fast blurring these lines for what constitutes this most valuable of relationships?

Has friendship lost some of its lustre, meaning and even value for us?

‘Friendfluence’

We can look at our own friendships over the years and readily admit that they have affected us in a multitude of ways.

Friendfluence is the powerful and often unappreciated role that friends—past and present—play in determining our sense of self and the direction of our lives” CARLIN FLORA

The fact that we find ourselves caught in a connection with someone who was at one point a stranger, is remarkable, but a testament to the value of friends in helping us to thrive and grow.

Aristotle believed friendship to be a virtue….

‘most necessary with a view to living … for without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods’.

The Greeks extolled friendship and saw human love of another, as one of the richest and highest forms of existence.

I know times have changed since Aristotle got about in an off-the-shoulder-cloth, but his words resonate today just as clearly.

All the wealth in the world could not sustain us in the way true friendship does. The sort that is unguarded, honest and heartfelt.

“In friendship there is nothing fictitious, nothing simulated and it is in fact true and voluntary” -Cicero

Aristotle who studied and wrote profusely on the topic, presents three types of friendship: Perfect, Pleasure and Utility

  1. Perfect Friendship  is as the names says; perfectly founded on the best of intentions for one another.These are the kinds of friends you’d do anything for and are happy to share your deepest secrets with.
  2. Pleasure Friendships are those we often like to have fun with, but wouldn’t necessarily share our problems with.
  3. Utility Friendship is based on the usefulness of the friend. The relationship lasts only as long as two people find each other useful.

So, right now you’re probably busy categorising each of your ‘friends’. But herein lies the question; surely each of these ‘types’ of friendships have their role to play in our lives and us in theirs?

Surely all our friendships should be valued?

Numbers game

Aristotle thought you could only have a small number of true ‘Perfect’ friends, as these were the type that took time to cultivate and develop, while ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Utility’ friends could be greater in number.

One very recent and interesting study by a social anthropologist Robin Dunbar, suggested that the average number of friends a human can sustain is around 150. This is inevitably made up of a range of different types of friends and can include members of our family.

Interestingly researchers who also analysed 3 million Twitter users, and 380 million tweets, found a corresponding number – 150 people seems to be our limit when it comes to ‘Friends’.

Numbers aside, friendship’s true value lies not in how many we have or the type, but in its power to help us thrive in a crazy world, to heal our unease about who we are and to ultimately make us better people.

The ancient Greeks revered it and today still, friendship offers us real value in our lives; emotionally, physically and mentally.

So it seems reasonable to argue that friends are not only of significant value to us, but vital to our collective existence.

Not to be taken for granted, we quite simply need each other.

For some more interesting theories on Friendship read this.

Most Famous Real-life Friendships in History #infographic

 

You can also find more infographics at Visualistan

The Zombie Episode and Time

The other morning at 2 am my body was thrust upright, like a Zombie woken from a deathly sleep.

Arms flung forward, voice screeching like a Banshee… ‘38!

Needless to say I was momentarily dazed, distressed, somewhat stiff. What the heck was that all about!

My mind was awash with thoughts and visions all shuffling about like a stray deck of cards thrust into the air.

Once I calmed myself down and realised the Apocalypse was over, I began to order the cards and find some reasoning behind this Zombie-like episode.

I confessed to myself that it was no doubt a reaction to my all consuming thoughts of late. You know, those thoughts about all the things you still have yet to do with your life; the dreams yet unfulfilled.

And Time, ever pressing us on.

Hang on… wasn’t it only yesterday I was 28… living a different life, and still thinking about all the things I’d like to do and be?

How did 10 years effectively melt into my memory like that? And why does the thought of this scare the living daylights out of me?

Time’s Power

Time wields this power over us all, this is true. None of us are immune to its force. It’s an innate part of our lives and propels us forward in motion, regardless of our preparedness.

So why can’t I accept this? Why is there this driving urge to fight against time, to stem its flow?

The Zombie Apocalyptic episode was a reminder that I’m not winning any battles on this front.

The burning desires we have to do more with our life, in the time we have, constantly batter away at us.

That novel I’d really like to try writing, the on-line course I hope to complete, those days I need to find to simply ‘play’ with my kids, the shelved business idea I’d really like to explore, that trip abroad, the need to sort out once-and-for-all, those irrational fears that follow me around.

Like a drug, life always seems so ripe for the picking. There’s a virtual bounty of opportunities on offer out there, everyday and the sense of urgency to grab on to them, ever present.

If only Time would just damn well stop for a couple of days…. weeks… (ok a year at least), maybe I’d feel more at ease.

More in control.

Of course that’s what it’s really about. I am fearful of Time. It is so precious, constant and yet not.

We assume there is so much of it and yet, we can not possibly control how much we are entitled to.

I like to think that I am in control of my life, but deep down, it’s Time that is our measure of existence.

Our momentary existence at that.

“To realize that you’ve lived a certain number of hours and the hours ahead of you are not guaranteed as the ones you have lived. When I think of this I realize that everyday truly is an opportunity to improve, not in a cliché kind of way, but to learn to honestly appreciate what we are capable of achieving and how we are very responsible for the quality of our lives.” Paul Jun

It’s not just me

The Stoic Roman General, Marcus Aurelius must have experienced similar Zombie-like episodes.

He wrote in his now famous journal ‘Meditations’ to “Stop wandering about!… Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue – if you care for yourself at all- and do it while you can”.

Zombie-like episode aside, I’m beginning to appreciate this obstacle that Time poses for me.

The dream to live a life that matters, that has purpose and meaning, is rooted within us all. This is good.

Maybe we just need to appreciate that Time is in control and that some of what we ‘wish’ or want for, is exactly that.

We can’t do it all and trying to only makes us miserable (or keeps us up at night). We have ultimately to limit ourselves to the present and be content in knowing we at least have control over that.