What we can learn from children

You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.” Franklin P Jones

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Big fun!

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Children – our future and our past.  We’ve all been a child, and many of us will also raise one.

As an adult, it’s easy to assume that this grown up, rational state we inhabit now is superior.  Yet, spend any time with children and you remember that kids have a lot to teach us.

1. Have more fun

Spend any time hanging out with a 2 year old and you’ll realist that they like to have fun.

It’s joyful to paint all over the kitchen table, roll around laughing at the funny cow in a can noise thing, climb through a play tunnel for hours, hide behind the door and play peek-a-boo.  In fact it’s a laugh riot.

Somewhere in the Laws of Adult, most of these games become verboten. We have to suppress our emotions, act stiff and try to protect our dignity.  Sure we can laugh at other people, preferably behind their backs.  However, good old fashioned innocent fun and play is banned.

I’ve spent a lot more time playing recently – just throwing out dumb word association games, dancing around singing into a hairbrush, a spot of tickling here and there.  Try it out for yourself – fight back against the fun ban!

2. You are allowed to daydream

Grown ups rarely daydream. The adult world considers them to be naively hilarious and a sign of weakness.  Here is what often happens when an adult shares their burning dream:

Person A: I’ve always dreamt of being a polar explorer and I think I’m going to go after it

Person B: Snigger.  Good luck with that – send my love to the polar bears.  See you back in the cube farm next week.

Dreaming is seen as childish and foolish.  Wasting time going after doing what you really want when you could be getting on with your serious, boring adult life.

Children love to dream.  They use their imagination and create amazing possibilities.

Dreaming is a healthy way of stretching ourselves.  It gives us a roadmap for making the life we want.  Reconnect to what makes you excited.

3. The world is infinitely fascinating

I was probably the world’s most annoying child.  I fired out questions like a machine gun to anyone in range.  “What’s that called?”, “How does that work?”, “Why did that person say that?”, “Where are my Christmas presents hidden?” etc.   Children stare in wild-eyed wonder at the world and want to know all about it.

As adults we are told that we should be very clever and already understand everything. There is a stigma about asking too many questions – we might show our weakness, reveal some ignorance, people might think less of us.  Horrors.

As we stop asking questions and getting stuck on the hamster wheel of life, the world around us can lose its sparkle and appear mundane.  We take the amazing people and things around us for granted.

See what happens when you start to be more interested in the world around you and engage with it.

4. You can express your emotions

When a child is upset, you know about it.  No wait, you KNOW about it. Same when they are happy, joyful, bored, angry, afraid.  Bottling up emotions is simply not an option.  When a child feels something, they tell the world.

The adult world teaches us that suppressing our emotions is important.  We shouldn’t inflict our feelings on others. Better to keep them locked up and spend time brooding over them.  Or suppress our natural joy over something in case we make a fool of ourselves.  Frankly a lot of the time, this leads to unnecessary suffering when simply expressing ourselves would be the better option.

Learning to express our emotions effectively is important.  I’ve really worked on understanding my feelings and being able to put them into words and actions.  Letting them out into the world as they arise has taken a huge amount of weight off me and I feel lighter for it.

5. You should live in the moment

Children are born with very little conception of time.  When you’re young, your only concern is what is happening right now at this very moment.  The past is quickly forgotten, and the future is of no importance.

When children play, they are absolutely absorbed in the game.  Just watch for a minute or two  – eyes wide open, face alert and active, attention unwavering on what is unfolding.  Kids are mini Zen-masters.

We are taught to analyze everything, to pore over the past for what we did wrong, and to constantly be setting out a better future for ourselves.  How often do you really live in the moment as an adult?  Try it and see how different the world looks.

Release your inner child

I know that I learn a huge amount when I let my inner child out to play.and try these things  It keeps me open to learning, joy, curiosity, authenticity.  I get back into living in the moment.

Over to you

How do you connect to you inner child?  What do you learn from doing so?  If you have children, what have they taught you?  What would happen if you spent the day living like a child?

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Further reading

Patty at Why Not Start Now on how to play more

Arvind Devalia on why we should laugh more

Photo credit : Ernst Moeksis on Flickr

Discover 5 ways to have an amazing day

Warning: This post contains 5 powerful ways to bring more energy, joy, confidence and influence into your life.

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Change your thoughts and you change your world” Norman Vincent Peale

How often do you try new things just to see what happens?

I love experimenting.  I am constantly looking for fresh ideas and ways of approaching life.  I like to dabble, try things out, spice things up a little.

I’m fascinated by the energy flows that humans have and how we can influence them.  In particular I’ve been playing with how our state of mind and physical presence can affect the energy of the world around us.

Here are some experiments I’ve tried with amazing results – they have helped me to increase my confidence, influence and presence.  If you’re interested, pick one and try it out – then leave a comment to share the results.

1. Fully Present

Spend a day fully engaging with everyone you meet.  Make it your intention to listen to everything they have to say.  Be encouraging and ask them open questions about what you hear.  Create space for the other person to express themselves.   Resist the temptation to bring the conversation back to you and your experience.

What was different about your interactions?  How did you change as a result?

2. Glitterball

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Walk around imagining that you have a glittering ball of energy and light floating just in front of your chest.  Let the light glow and shine in every situation.  Keep it present as you speak to people.  See how the world responds to you and your energy.  Try this in a crowded bar and see how long it takes to get served.

3. Eyes Wide Closed

Practice walking with your eyes closed.  Find a safe place away from traffic / danger (a path in the park or a garden is good), close your eyes and start walking.  Count your steps and see how many you can manage before your have to open your eyes.  Keep trying and see how far you can trust yourself to go.

4. Energy Field

A two-part experiment.  This one takes a little courage.  Next time you are walking in a city or busy place, try these two different approaches:

1)   Walk with a closed posture and keep your eyes to the floor.  Make yourself feel small.  Keep your energy inside yourself and at a low level.  Don’t get out of the way of oncoming people as you are walking.  See what happens.

2)   Walk with an upright posture.  Open out your chest.  Take up as much space as you can.  Slow your pace a little – feel at leisure.  Open your eyes wide and look ahead.  Make eye contact with everyone you see.  Walk in a straight line without deviation and don’t get out of the way of oncoming people.  See what is different.

5. Hat Trick

Imagine that everyone you meet today is wearing a funny hat.  They can all wear the same one, or each person can have a different one.  Jester hat, cowboy hat, viking helmet, policeman’s helmet, pirate hat, balloon hat, top hat, huge hat covered in feathers, tiara, royal crown.  As you talk with them, keep imagining the hat and seeing it sitting jauntily on their head.  What difference does this make to your interactions?  This works particularly well for uncomfortable situations, or in dealing with difficult people.

What other experiments have you tried?  Please share them with the LOL Community and we can play too!

Photo credit: Chez Worldwide, Fake Allowance (from Flickr Creative Commons)

What I talk about when I talk about running

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Always on the run

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“Why do I do this to myself?”

I ask this question at 7.32am on a Sunday morning as I stand on my front doorstep staring at the rain.  The marathon is 8 weeks away and the training schedule suggests that I run 18 miles today.

I nearly turn tail and head back inside to the warmth and comfort of bed, yet something makes me take the first step into the rain.  Three hours later I return, soaking, calves aching, hands stained black from the old gloves I’m wearing and starving.  But happy.

I’ve been a runner for 10 years now.  Before I got hooked, I didn’t really have a hobby or pastime.  Now I can’t imagine my life without running.

It is my passion, my outlet, a way to work out my body and stay healthy, a place to think, a ritual, a sanctuary, a whole new way of thinking, a challenge to my relationship with time, a way to learn about being with myself, an obsession, part of my identity.

For me, this passion is like a reliable friend – it is always there for me rain or shine, on good days and bad. Running never judges me, never gives me a hard time, never let’s me down.  Running is there to listen to what is going on in my head, and to give me time to reflect on it.  It’s a sanctuary from the storm and a place to celebrate success.  Running challenges me to be better, yet on my terms.

Running has taught me a lot about myself. I’ve found a new comfort with myself through spending time alone.  I used to struggle to spend 30 minutes alone, now I enjoy my own company.  I’ve found that time seems to melt when I’m out pounding the streets.  Hours fly by with barely a thought in my mind.  I sometimes enter a zone where time seems to lose any meaning and I feel a sense of genuine bliss.  I also find that my unconscious mind solves many of my toughest challenges on runs, and delivers the results later.

Most of all, I am a runner now.  It is part of my identity. Hell, I have 5 years of spreadsheets detailing every run I’ve done.  Running is not an option, it is an essential in my week.  I don’t run to impress or please anyone else, it is purely for my own enjoyment.  I couldn’t imagine being without my smelly old running shoes, the Goretex jacket and those ever so lovely Lycra tights.  Phil is a runner.

Reading this, I wonder if I’ve become dependent on running. Tracy Todd, an amazing blogger who had a car accident and is now quadriplegic wrote these powerful words:

There was a time in my life when I was living my dream.  Everything changed the instant I broke my neck in a car accident and was paralyzed from the neck down.  I was forced to change my dreams but I learned that is okay as long as one has dreams and hope.  I learned from personal experience that disappointment can be absolutely shattering if life happens to throw one a curveball.  It is important to have the ability to change one’s focus when necessary but even more critical is to have the emotional intelligence to make peace with it.”

How would I cope if my passion, my friend, my teacher, part of my identity was taken away from me one day?  How would I learn to let go?  How would I change as a person?

First, thinking about this helps me to appreciate what I have even more and to make the most of every run.  When I’m flagging and tempted to give up, it does sometimes cross my mind that “this could be my last ever run”.  That thought was a strong factor in me finishing 18 miles on Sunday.

Second, It makes me think about how flexible we need to be as humans living in an ever changing world.  Our certainties in life can disappear in an instant.  What we take for granted is fleeting and fragile.  Learning to change, adapt and continue making the most of life is a powerful ability.  However important my passion for running may be, it can never define me.

I’ve gained a new perspective on life through the appreciation and contemplation of running. My personal gratitude has grown through the gifts I have received.  If I ever reach the end of the line, there are no regrets, only happy memories.  And every time I lace up and head out into the rain, I do so with a smile on my face and thanks in my heart.

What things in your life that take you to another place, that bring you peace, fascination, release, happiness?  What do you talk about when you talk about your passions?  How do they enhance your life?  And what would you do without them?  Please leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the LOL community.

Others great blogs on passion:

Belinda Munoz at the Halfwaypoint on the Small Things that add Meaning.

Patty Bechtold at Why Not Start Now on Cloud Watching.

Stop taking life too seriously – 5 ways to enjoy the journey

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In pursuit of perfection

Have you ever felt like you are trying way too hard?  Are you stretching and straining every sinew striving for the happy life?  Waking at 5am to run 10 miles before an intense yoga session, then hitting the office and working flat out til 8pm.  Cooking that macrobiotic tofu stir fry, washed down with a superfood smoothie, before updating your seven blogs, tending your organic zen garden and finishing the reading for tomorrow’s philosophy class.

Things may not be quite that extreme, but trying to live life to the full all the time can be exhausting.  Perhaps even more importantly, it can also lack zing, spark, energy and just plain fun.

Fade to grey

I have had a fascinating time over the last few months working on improving myself.  I dedicated myself to a regime of meditation, have been training hard for a marathon and cutting back on my alcohol intake.  As a solopreneur with extrovert tendencies I was interested in exploring the concept of being self-sufficient and so spent a lot of time alone in my inner world.  Don’t get me wrong, this has all been great and I’ve learned a lot about myself.  Yet I woke up one morning and realised that somewhere along the way I’d lost myself.  I was trying way too hard.  I had shut down from the world around me and felt like a silent ghost fading into the background.  I’d forgotten to enjoy the journey and have fun.  Time to lighten up.

Back to Life

I took a deep breath and said b*ll*cks to it.  I started talking, laughing, bringing people into my life.  I started to be kinder to myself – if I’m tired I won’t run, if I’m not in the mood I won’t meditate just to tick a box, heck I might even enjoy a glass of wine or three on a school night.  All the pressure and stress I was feeling started to melt away.  It was like taking off a suit of armour.  Slowly but surely the smile has returned to my face.

The Middle Path

Once I stopped trying too hard, balance returned to my life.  I still have ambitions to live life to the full and am pursuing that.  Yet I remember that this means finding pleasure every day, not just chaining myself to a rock in Spartan self-denial.  Every day I’m looking for the middle path – doing something meaningful and enjoyable.

The best thing of all is that this change of attitude has had a big impact on the way the world responds to me.  It sounds clichéd, however when you smile the world smiles back.  Suddenly people are responding differently to me.  Before they stared straight through my ghostly apparition, now they are talking and engaging.  Things are flowing where before they were stuck.

So what have I learned from this?  Here are five simple yet important lessons:

1)   Life has a sense of humour – the world has an astounding way of playing with us.  If you take things too seriously this can be very stressful, if you play along and laugh about it life becomes delightful.  So lighten up and enjoy the joke, rather than being the joke.

2)   People matter – there is great power in exploring our inner-self, yet even monks live in monasteries.  People bring energy, creativity, joy and learning to life.  Surround yourself with great people and revel in it.

3)   Stress is a killer – taking life too seriously is extremely stressful.  All the expectation and pressure feels like wearing a heavy backpack.  Stress drains our energy, dampens our enthusiasm and makes us sick.  Lightening up takes the stress away and helps us live life.

4)   Let it go – there are some things in life that are fundamental and worth fighting for.  There are many more things that are trivial and we should let go.  Letting go of some of this weight brings more joy to life.

5)   Enjoy the journey – it is vital to have some long term vision and goals to motivate us.  Yet we need a balance with enjoying life each and every day to experience true enjoyment.  Life is precious, so enjoy it every day.

Wherever you are on your journey, I think these are valuable lessons to keep in mind.  If you find your face frozen in a grimace, if you can’t remember the last time you smiled (never mind laughed), if you feel like life is an endless hamster wheel, it might be time to ask if you are taking it all too seriously.  Please share your thoughts on these ideas with the world by leaving a comment – thank you!

Photo credit: Sasha W – From Flickr creative commons

Friends – Will they Really be There for you?

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Why do we have friends? This question was posed by the philosopher Mark Vernon at a breakfast I attended last week.  Humans are certainly social animals.  We have always lived in family units, which affiliated into small tribes in order to increase our chances of survival.  Our biology pushes us to put our faith in others to stay alive.  Yet in modern civilization, human interaction has become increasingly complicated.  Now we play a variety of roles – friend, colleague, lover, service provider.   What is special about friendship?

The Easy Relationship?

Friendship could be seen as “The Easy Relationship”.  On the face of it, there are very few rules or obligations relating to friendship.  It is a purely optional arrangement.  I have old pals that I haven’t spoken to in years, yet if I were to see them tomorrow, I know that we’d slip straight back into the old routine.  Friends can be seen as a low maintenance relationship, taking away some of the strong emotion that goes with a romantic entanglement.  Friends are there when you need them, yet there is no obligation to be there all the time.

Making friends

A friendship tends to develop built on shared experiences.  Many friends come from our time at school, college or work.  We share the great times and support each other in the tough times.  The time spent together becomes the foundation and glue that holds a friendship together.  We learn to appreciate our friends’ personality and quirks and to anticipate how they might respond to a situation.  This familiarity helps us to drop our guard and let another person take one step into our inner world.

Lovers kiss, friends talk

Yet despite this increased level of trust, a friendship is not monogamous. In a romantic relationship we tend to collapse the boundaries of our ego with one other person.  We trust them completely and share almost all our thoughts and emotions.  There is an expectation in most societies that this arrangement is mutual and exclusive.  With this added weight comes added responsibility.  There is typically very little separation between two lovers.  This can lead to thinking as a “we” rather than an individual.  When we seek advice from a lover there is almost always a lack of objectivity.   The response is within the context of the relationship and considers the potential impact on the couple.

By contrast, friendships rely on a degree of separation.  We look for friends who are can bring us something fresh and interesting.  Friends need shared experience, and also time apart.  We typically have different friends who fill different roles in our life; partner in crime, adviser, truth teller, insigator.  Friends are certainly not fully objective, yet they provide a broader perspective than a lover typically can.  We have a range of friends who fill in the gaps in our life, even if we have a romantic partner.

Keeping friends

Several research papers on friendship have suggested we should have at least 10 friends to get the support we need.  This allows us to keep friendships from becoming all-encompassing.  This way, we get a wider variety of inputs and perspectives.  Perhaps in the complexity of the 21st Century, this group is a proxy for our ancient tribe.  Our friends help us to make the most of life, as our ancient tribe helped us to stay alive.

Friendships are a vital part of our support system for navigating life.  Although we can rely on old friends, these relationships do need continued shared experience to evolve and grow.  I am determined to rekindle some of my closest friendships which have gone a little quiet recently.  I want to keep my tribal links strong.  There are a few good ways to do this –

  • Spending quality time together
  • Providing support to a friend in need
  • Asking for help when it is needed.

I’ll be looking for opportunities to appreciate the great friends that I have, and even for chances to develop new friendships.

What is your take on friendship?  How important are your friends in living your life?  What would life be like without friends?  Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Photo credit: Gwennypics (from Flickr Creative Commons)