How Does the Act of Writing Affect Your Brain?

I came across this great article and infographic on “How Does the Act of Writing Affect Your Brain?.” It contained some really pertinent points for blog writing:

  • Tell a story over laying it out in point form. Point form will give the reader information whereas a story will activate the parts of the brain involved in physically re-enacting the story.
  • Avoid clichés. The brain becomes so familiar with the combination of words that it no longer evokes the thoughts/emotions that may have been intended.
  • Writing can have similar effects on the mind as meditation and can be a good method of de-stressing.

The final point is definitely true for me. Happy writing!

 

Cat Adventures – Lovedale Long Lunch

Tempus 2

I’m a massive fan of the weekend away. There’s just nothing like hopping in the car, bags packed and setting off on adventure. Any direction will do – it’s about getting out of the city and really making the most of the weekend.

Hunter Valley VinesThe other weekend we  headed 2 hours north west of Sydney for the beautiful Hunter Valley, and the famous Lovedale Long Lunch. Eight of us set out Friday evening to i villini, the cottage we had rented for the weekend.  The cottage was perfect – 3 bedrooms all with their own ensuites, and a living area complete with two fireplaces. There  was nothing to do but crack open a bottle of red, cheese up some biscuits, crank up some tunes and relax. Before long we were through the 12 bottles we had brought up with us and half a case of beer! True to form we had once again peaked on the first night, and needless to say everyone was slow moving on the Saturday morning… Our only problem was we still had to get through the main event!

After 20 years, the Lovedale Long Lunch organisers have it all sorted. Your $85 ticket gets you your (plastic) wine glass for the day, 2 glasses of wine, 2 meal tickets and a dessert/cheese ticket. All of the wineries involved have food stations, music and seating, and of course plenty of wine! A $25 shuttle ticket gets you unlimited rides between the wineries for the day, so as long as you can get yourself to the first venue  and home again, you’re set.

It was a stunning day – a fresh and warm spring day. We started off at Wandin around lunch time (did I mention that we were slow moving?) which had an reasonable band and a great DJ playing. With the doors opening at 10:30 it was clear that everyone else  had a head start on us. What I hadn’t expected was that people would turn up in costume. There were groups of story book characters, where’s Wallies, flapper girls. You name it – they were there and they were already tipsy!

photo 1After a bite to eat and a few bevvies (which were also relatively slow flowing), we eventually moved on to the next winery, Allendale, which was pretty much the first stop on the shuttle route. After another hour or two there our time was almost up and we needed to find our way back to our pick up point. We arrived back at Wandin with about 20 minutes left of serving time. That of course meant we bought another couple of bottles so we could sit back and watch the end all unfold. By this stage there were a lot of very funny drunks around and they were honestly the best entertainment of the day. People escaping security, people getting walked out by their friends, lots of dirty dancing and many costume crimes.

The girlsBack at our cottage we reflected on an awesome day as we settled back by the fire into another round of cheesy goodness, more wine (although nowhere near as much as we had the previous night!) and a few rounds of poker.

If you get the opportunity, I’d definitely recommend partaking in the Lovedale Long Lunch. It’s a great activity to enjoy with a few mates, a great little weekend escape, and I dare say always an adventure.

Seven steps to a happier me. And you.

A long time ago I decided that one of our jobs in this life was to do what we could to be as happy as we could be. Pretty simple right? It was my ‘Ah ha’ moment all those years ago, and I believe that it changed the person that I became.

You see, back then I was a dweller – one of those people who used to dwell on situations and interactions, replaying things back in my mind, questioning ‘why’, or more accurately ‘why me?’. I wasn’t miserable. Far from it. But at times I’d tie myself in knots trying to explain life to myself. It’s not that life was that hard for me either. My parents worked very hard to provide me with everything I needed and even a bunch of stuff that I wanted; they sent me to a good school where I had a good bunch of mates. For me, life was sweet. I had no excuse to why I leaned toward pessimism, except that perhaps it was hereditary or that it was chosen.

Disregarding the former as it was something beyond my control, I pondered the fact that, to some degree, I could be choosing to be mad, upset, disappointed and all those other things that come with a negative mindset. If I was unconsciously choosing to take an unhappy path, surely some good things could happen when I was making deliberate decisions.

So I made a decision to try and make the most of the things that I could control. An attitude adjustment of sorts. And it worked! I became more relaxed and happy-go-lucky, and importantly more positive. So here they are, my tips to becoming a happy chappy.

1. Respond rather than react. Although you don’t have control over everything, you can choose what happens when you’re presented with situations and circumstances. If your first move is a considered response, it is far more likely to be positive than what your first emotional reaction may be.

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Life is full of bumps in the road, and with any luck you’ll be presented with more small bumps than big. But if you choose to trouble yourself over the tiny, insignificant bumps, then unfortunately you’ll probably spend your life troubled. The key is to assess how much the situation really matters at the end of the day. If it’s merely an inconvenience or something you can live with, perhaps it’s better to let it slide. With time you’ll take small bumps in your stride, and with any luck eventually you won’t even notice them.

3. Forgive, forget and let go of the grudges. I discovered that it takes a lot of be happyenergy to stay angry at people, and even more to hold a grudge. It takes effort to hold in all that anger, and it will end up hurting you more than it hurts the other party. So take a step back and review whatever has been done to offend you. Use the same yard stick as above – how much did the action really matter at the end of the day? If the answer is not much, then consider forgiving the person. I’m sure by that stage they’ll know they’ve made a mistake and will be willing to make it up to you. If the action or mistake is unforgiveable, then you might just have to cut that person loose. It’s a pretty dire move, and sounds like a harsh action, but sometimes it just need to be done. The idea here is to set the burden free, so if you are going to get rid of the person you’ll need to be prepared to move on. That means no more dwelling!

4. Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s a sure fire way to tie yourself in knots or bring out the green-eyed monster. The thing is, there will always be people who are better off than you, and those that are worse off. You need to remember all paths are different, success is relative and can be measured against many different yard sticks. Pick your path and measure success against milestones. And be happy for others’ success and for your own.

5. Expect less. This one can be a bit of a balance, or it can be a complete false economy. I’ve found disappointment is often set up by our own expectations. If you put 100% into something – whether it’s work, relationships or any group activities – then there is a big possibility that you’d expect the same of others. The thing is that the others involved may not feel the same amount of passion as you do for that particular thing. Perhaps they put their 100% elsewhere, or maybe they’re not 100% type people. For me, adjusting my expectations (to whatever effort is required to achieve a reasonable result) means that I’m surprised and delighted a lot more often.

6. It’s okay to smile. Sometimes you can be so caught up in the negativity, whether it’s environmental or self constructed, that you forget to see the lighter things in life. Even if you are mourning a death or the end of a relationship, the world moves on and there are lovely things happening all the time. If you see one of these lovely things, (e.g. a brand new baby or a puppy) it is quite alright to notice it and to smile. Or if you see something funny, it’s okay laugh. These things will instantly make you feel better, and might even pull you out of whatever darkness surrounds you.

7. Sometimes there is no reason why. Sometimes things happen for absolutely no reason at all, and at no fault of others. Some people think that it’s all part of a bigger picture, whilst others believe in Karma or God’s design. That kind of thinking gives people hope, however I believe that it also puts people on the quest for answers. “Maybe it’s because I stepped on that cockroach yesterday”, or “It’s because I was an evil murderer in my past life”. If you can accept that sometimes things just happen, you can save yourself the anguish of the search for meaning.

Of course there are other things as well – like surrounding yourself with the right people, and ensuring that you’re grateful for what you have – but those were things that I personally didn’t need to worry about. I can’t tell you it was easy either. I was constantly having to force myself to let things go, to allow myself to laugh at the funny things and stop asking why. But eventually discipline turned into habit, and habit became nature. So if you feel like you could do with a positive change in your life, give it a go, even if you start with just one or two of the tips. It may not be for everyone, but it certainly made a difference to me.

When a role doesn’t fit

Woman inside a Cardboard Box

Responsibility is an interesting burden. It can be something to live up to, something to undertake, something to look after or even something that you did. It is ever present, and depending on how heavily in features in your values and ethics, it drives behaviour.

Think about when you’re growing up and your parents give you more responsibility – perhaps letting you walk to school by yourself, giving you your first house key, letting you take the car. In all these situations they’re looking for you to grow into the responsibility, to take it on and prove that you can be trusted. Or when it happens at work, where you’re given extra tasks, perhaps progressing to managing projects, people and whole teams and departments. Each time you take the opportunity to learn, to grow and to deliver.

But what happens when you have responsibility taken off you? Depending on your personality and your situation, I see three paths you can take:

1) Overachieve – Ensure you do the best damn job of the things you now have control of. Go above and beyond, provided you’re not stepping on people’s toes.

2) Take it easy – you’re getting paid the same amount, so just play the role you’re tasked with. It might give you an opportunity to achieve that work/life balance or to concentrate on other things, like professional development courses.

3) Leave – pretty self-explanatory, and probably not entirely unexpected.

I think if it was me, I’d go for option three… I get a bit bored if I’m not learning, so if the job description does not provide me with the stimulation, I’ll go and find it, internally or externally. However if circumstances mean I’d need to stay, then I’m a number one type girl. I’ll volunteer to take on extra work, help others, or find detail that needs understanding or problems that need fixing. It’s always nice if someone eventually notices and I get rewarded for the extra effort, but in the absence of that at least I have learnt something.

I do know a few people who’ve taken the middle path, which is not definitely not the wrong path. These people have had responsibility stripped from them for whatever reason and have ended up shrinking to fit their role. Perhaps they had other priorities, personal situations, or they’re just waiting for the right opportunity to come up. Regardless of the background, there are a few unexpected outcomes to beware of that can arise from choosing type two.  To borrow from the Arts:

Life imitates art. Shrinking to fit a role is akin to role playing. But if you do that for too long you might start to believe in your diminished capabilities and lose self-confidence. I’ve recently witnessed a similar situation, and it’s a little disconcerting to see someone who is extremely capable start second guessing themselves, and referring to someone who was essentially a peer for decision making.

You get typecast. You perform the role, putting in enough effort to ensure that you get by and you’ll risk being associated with that role forever. Well I might be exaggerating a little, but you get my drift. Opportunities for advancement will pass you by as you aren’t seen to step up.

No matter which path you end up taking, it’s probably fair to say that unless your old role was stretching you too far, the current role should be temporary. If you’re not in a role that challanges you, teaches you or stimulates you, you’ll become miserable very quickly. And you spend such a large portion of time at work, so when you’re unhappy, struggling or stressed out for more than half your waking time, it becomes very hard to turn off. If not kept in check the misery will start to infiltrate the other parts of your life. Even if you have solace at home, is it worth you being unhappy for even half the time?

My recommendation if you find yourself in a similar situation – extract yourself from it as best you can. Life is too short. Update your CV, apply for that transfer or that new job, reconnect with old colleagues and rebuild those networks. Once you get out you’ll find such relief. And the great thing is that this too will infiltrate into other parts of your life.