How to Stay Calm and Present Regardless of What Life Throws At You

Photo by Robert Wnuk on Unsplash

Engaging life challenges us to be fully present and actively involved in our moment-to-moment experience, without clinging to joy and without resisting sorrow.

~ Toni Bernhard

Equanimity.

The act of greeting whatever confronts us with an even temper and steady reaction.

Cultivating this state is how we stay calm regardless of whatever confronts us rather than adding on top of our suffering with the emotions that come from clinging to joy and resisting sorrow.

When we face particularly difficult emotions or situations, without any training, it can be very easy to pile suffering on top of our experiences without realising it.

Toni Bernhard says:

Grasping at what is pleasant sets us up for impermanence dukkha because change is inevitable.

Resisting what is unpleasant serves only to add stress to what is already a difficult situation.


When I was first told by my doctor that there wasn’t much to do about my pain, I came home and was so angry I kicked a hole in my door.

During a summer, I had a few days when I didn’t experience any pain and it was so strange but I became extremely happy thinking that my pain had solved itself.

In both of these situations, I didn’t treat them with an evenness of temper. Rather, I allowed myself to become overly consumed with them which led to suffering later down the road.

 

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Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

 

Calm in the pleasant

Please don’t mistake what I’m saying to mean “evenness of temper means to kill hope”. It does not. As Martin Luther King Jr says:

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Rather, it means that we allow ourselves to fully experience the good times but not to expect it to last forever. When we remember that pleasant moments don’t last forever and they’re simply one of the ten thousand joys we’ll experience, it gives us the opportunity to savour the present more!

If anything, it’s simply a reminder of the truth. However, it’s not a depressing one when we come to understand that when one joy ends, it means another will come again! If I worry that the happiness is leaving, then I’m only adding to the extra sadness that I’m going to experience. It’s a funny little paradox.

“I’ll enjoy this experience while it lasts, knowing that, like all phenomena, it will pass and another experience will take its place”

Calm in the unpleasant

Now, this is more difficult.

Tough emotions tend to bring out sadness, fear or anger. All of these emotions have the uncanny ability to pull us into the darkness they create and keep us there. While we remember that these emotions will change and leave, it still seems hard to keep ourselves out of its gravitational pull.

However, in order to explore your emotions, you will first need to have some kind of calm and the ability to look inwards.

The main thing to realize is that the emotion won’t going to last forever. It never does.

How to stay Calm during pleasant and unpleasant experiences

This is tough stuff. To start our practice, we can begin with meditation and a few personal sayings. (Click here if you want a short beginners guide to meditation.)

  1. Meditate

Sit down with some alertness. If it’s more comfortable, lie down.

Asking yourself “what emotions am I experiencing right now?”

Then describe it neutrally. If you’re angry, try saying “Anger is present”. If you’re sad, try saying “sadness is being experienced”. If you’re happy, try “Happiness is in the air”.

Whatever it is, your aim while meditating isn’t to solve anything.

While we meditate, we want to acknowledge how we’re feeling and simply experience it. If you find your mind running away again (because that’s what minds do), calmly bring yourself back to the moment and see what happens.

If we go in with no expectations, then it’s going to make the entire process smoother. If we go in with expectations that we’re going to screw up or that we’re going to come out an enlightened person, we’ll only be disappointed.

This releases us from the burden of trying to keep sadness from ever infiltrating our lives and from straining our best to keep happiness from leaving. They both leave. They’ll both return at some point.

2. Utilise Positive Self-talk

Meditation is like practising before kick-off. What about when we become angry or sad, what do we do then?

  1. Describe emotions neutrally.

Like mentioned above: Take yourself out of the equation and just describe the emotion. This removes the force that personal attachment has when thinking about how we feel.

“I am sad” -> “sadness is happening”

“I am in pain” -> “pain is present”

“I’m really happy” -> “happiness is in the air”

2. Acknowledge ups and downs come and go.

A common theme recently – emotions come and go. To remind us of this, we can say the following:

  • “May we accept with grace both our successes and disappointments”
  • “This is only one of the ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows”
  • “We can experience things without needing to fix them”
  • “Let’s not get lost in this moment but engage with it meaningfully”

Talking in terms of “we” rather than “I” helps reinforce the idea that I can talk to myself as though I am my friend. It’s worthwhile.

Equanimity is a small practice on the face of it but also remarkably difficult. It’s not something I have down completely but I can thank myself for the small times when I do manage to get it done because it helps me enjoy happier moments and not add suffering to the times I’m in a lot of pain or remarkably tired.


Some days it’ll go well, some days it’ll suck. Other days we’ll forget about it completely. We don’t hate ourselves for these fluctuations in progress. We treat these realizations with calm then move on. With time and practice, it becomes easier.

We’ll appreciate more that we’re simply a working draft with flaws, mistakes, sorrows, and joys.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

How do you remain calm during difficult times? 

Comment down below :)

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

How to Find Peace in Sadness

Avoiding difficult emotions is a normal reaction.

If we’re sad, we want to be happy.

If we’re frustrated, we wish we weren’t.

If we’re disappointed, we want to feel fulfilled again.

When the blues come calling, we want to get away from this state as quickly as possible.

How do we confront these difficult emotions instead of letting them generate fear and anxiety? How do we watch them and accept that they’re a normal part of our lives?

1. Accept different emotions are normal

This seems painfully obvious but it’s worth the reminder. We can’t be happy all the time nor can we be extremely peaceful all the time.

Accepting this can be key to feeling OK and feeling satisfied. It’s all part of the ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.

When we slowly come to accept this, we offer less resistance towards ourselves in moments of difficulty. This can actually cause these negative emotions to leave us quicker.

We’ll experience different emotions all the time. And that’s perfectly fine.

2. Greet your sadness as a friend

I first came across this idea from Toni Bernhard who recommends that we see our emotions as friends that have come to stay – usually uninvited.

Even though we may be annoyed by this in real life, we can still treat them with kindness and in turn we treat ourselves with kindness.

The idea behind this is simple: if we treat our emotions as friends, we treat ourselves with compassion. Sadness feeds off sadness. With compassion, sadness gets bored and leaves. Maybe next time he won’t stay as long!

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Quiet contemplation I suppose. Maybe he’s saying hello to sadness. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

3. Don’t order yourself around

“I shouldn’t feel sad!”

“I shouldn’t feel angry, it was a meaningless interaction!”

“I shouldn’t feel this or that – I should only feel that!”

Now imagine saying this to a child about happiness … or anything else.

Why should we feel any kind of way? We can literally just experience emotions without trying to invalidate them.

Plus if we order ourselves to stop feeling a particular way, it’s just a first class ticket to feeling sad again!

Try removing the word “should” from your sentences when talking about how you feel. Accept them and with time, it’ll leave.

(That’s why stuff like “just be happy!” is pretty meaningless or worse yet, detrimental to actually feeling happy. Who wants to be under pressure to smile!)

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“I’m not a human… that’s pretty cool. I also don’t know why I’ve been included here but that’s fine.”

4. Let yourself be vulnerable

Often, a reason why we struggle to accept different emotions is because we’re trying to present ourself in a particular light. Whether that’s to our friends or family. Or towards ourselves.

But with some privacy, we can experience whatever we want.

Dismiss the “I must be strong” mindset because sadness, crying, frustration aren’t signs of weakness!

If you fall, we’ll catch you :)

And with this, we can find some peace in sadness. We don’t exhaust ourselves running away because that just means it’ll keep chasing us. Rather, we accept it’s a normal experience and most importantly:

Sadness, like all moods and emotions, are impermanent.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

How do you handle sadness?  Do you think it’s healthy?

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

Will I be OK? – Accepting and running away

I’ve maintained a journal for over three years.

Every day I sit down and write something. Usually about my day, a topic that’s interested me or thinking about how I’m feeling. The main topic tends to be about pain because I tend to write these words late in the day when my energy is low and my pain is high.

A theme that continuously appears in my journal is this: Will I be OK?


I’ve noticed that being in continuous pain and face to face with my bodily limitations on a day to day basis feels like a personal failure.

I wasn’t the one who caused this pain nor was I the person who asked for it. Yet, being in pain and lying in bed for hours or struggling through work feels like I’m doing something wrong and it feels like I am staring failure right in the face when I think about how I am in the present moment.

I’m exhausted even though I’ve barely left my room. I’m sad even though there are many reasons to be happy. I’m disappointed even though I’ve reached difficult goals in the past (like completing a Masters degree).

So, when I’m in pain, I feel as though I am also experiencing failure however irrational that might be. Perhaps you feel the same way.

Despite the belief that I’m “failing”, why do I still believe I’ll be OK? How do I know I’ll be OK?

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Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

What does it mean to be OK?

Maybe a strange question but it deserves some attention. Generally, it’s defined as something that is simply acceptable. Perhaps not good but not bad either.

We say it to our friends all the time:

“Don’t worry, you’ll be OK, alright?”

“We’ll be fine, we’ll make it through”

“You’ll survive this tough patch”

Should a life of pain be “simply acceptable”? Is it simply acceptable?

There isn’t much to like about chronic pain. However, that doesn’t mean that living a “simply acceptable” or even good life is impossible despite the challenges.

Experiences in life and relationships with others are thankfully a bit more complicated than the following argument:

  1. Life with chronic pain is bad
  2. I have chronic pain
  3. Therefore, I have a bad life.

There are many other people, experiences, relationships, gifts and so on to find richness in. To “be OK” is a reasonably personal definition because only you know what you find acceptable or which areas of your life are worse than others.

We can be OK in some places, worse in others. Upon reflection, we build an overall idea of whether we’re OK.

Engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult.

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I don’t know

Let’s look at it differently.

Perhaps I don’t know at all. Perhaps any time I say to myself or to my friends “you’ll be OK” is simply a leap of faith.

Perhaps I won’t be OK.

When faced with uncertainty, could it be best to believe it because it’s the most helpful option? Admitting we don’t know if we’ll be OK doesn’t mean we should definitely believe we won’t be.

Instead we believe it anyway because it helps inspire action that will help us walk in the right direction.

It reminds us that engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult. It is unlikely to be life threatening and can help us in the long-term with a healthy approach to addressing emotions we usually avoid.

Reminding myself that I’ll be OK started off as a near meaningless chant that I simply really wanted to be true.

Only telling yourself that you’ll be OK isn’t how to begin to believe it. It comes from slowly working through emotions and trying to address them any time they come in.

Anger, frustration and sadness are akin to unwelcome visitors. It is best we welcome them in and let them leave on their own.

Otherwise they’ll pick the lock and let themselves in.

Will I be OK?

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This doesn’t have much to do with the post. But I like it. Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash

And we’re back to the main question and my answer is this: maybe I will be. Maybe I’ll be good or even brilliant!

But that starts with slowly and softly giving ourselves a way to address and accept our difficult emotions instead of running from them. This way, when they come up in the future, we have practiced and know how to handle them.

We can start with a few things:

  1. Give ourselves a place to be vulnerable

Sometimes, everything just becomes overwhelming. And you know what? That’s fine. Having a physical place we can relax and simply experience our emotions is useful.

For me, it’s lying in bed or the yoga mat. For others, it can be a park they know they’ll have privacy.

Whatever it is, it’s a place for honesty. Over time, it may even become a place of strength. A place where you can say to yourself “I’m not running from this”.

2. Let the fear pass

The fear of the negative emotions approaching can be just as bad as the experience you’re hoping to avoid.

It can be difficult to notice but with some mindfulness training, it becomes easier. You may find that your body becomes tense or you crave junk food (not personal experience…).

But the fear won’t bite. We just sit and focus on something small. With time, the fear will subside and we will have the focus to engage with the tough emotions.

Like many skills, emotional acceptance is one to be developed through practice. We may not know we’ll be OK (whatever that means to us) but sometimes it’s helpful to believe that we will be.

Then, with time and practice we can answer the question of “Will I be OK?” meaningfully. Maybe we’ll accept that we do not know the answer.

Will I be OK? Perhaps.

Will you be OK? I definitely hope so.

Whatever it is, let us appreciate that we’re developing the skills to help ourselves along when times are difficult.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Do you have a sacred place to be vulnerable? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

 

 

Can You Accept Yourself Without Being Complacent?

If there’s anything close to a bible in the self-improvement sphere, I’m sure there will be two verses which seem completely contradictory.

1. Accept yourself.

and

2. Never stop trying to improve.

Acceptance doesn’t seem to mesh well with the desire to improve.

Acceptance gives us the impression that we can be happy with how we are now.

Improvement implies there is something wrong with us and it needs to be bettered. If we accept ourselves and our flaws, then we reduce the motivation to become a better person at the same time.

A large reason why “acceptance” of personal flaws and so on may be taught is because it reduces the amount of needless self-criticism we throw at ourselves. Many efforts to improve ourselves come from a dissatisfaction with how we view ourselves. I’ve tried to show that it’s helpful to practice self-compassion and forgiveness.

But, if we accept ourselves, how do we stop ourselves from becoming complacent?


Are acceptance and complacency the same?

I view it as scale. If you have Dissatisfaction on one end and Complacency on the other, Acceptance is around the middle:

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Scott Miker makes the subtle difference clear (he uses content instead of acceptance):

Being content means being happy.  Being complacent means refusing to work to improve.

There’s more to this than meets the eye – I believe you can accept your situation without being happy but that’s for another blog post.

However, it is helpful enough for now. With the definition above, complacency implies reaching a comfort zone and taking it for granted. We may even see something that we dislike about ourselves or the external situation, but because we are just comfortable enough, we refuse to do anything about it.

We can liken it to choosing to stay in bed all the time, while disliking the idea that we aren’t being productive.

Acceptance on the other hand is an active emotion. It involves gratitude and honesty. And, quite frankly, it can be incredibly difficult to accept things. It’s normal to resist things that don’t go 100% our way even if all it causes is more mental anguish.

Acceptance is tough because it forces me to see the limits of my days and the limits of my abilities (at the moment).

We don’t always realise it but failure to accept things is often a problem with the ego. “don’t want to accept that am finding this more difficult than expected.” Really, there isn’t anything wrong with that and it might help us to address these problems if we accept they exist first.

Returning to the main topic:

Improvement is just what you do. 

To understand what it is like to mesh acceptance with self-improvement, imagine yourself as a plant.

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Photo by Daniel Hjalmarsson on Unsplash

Plants just grow. They look at the sun, ask “hey can I have some food”, then stretch as much as they can to get it. The sun says “yeah sure, just give my human friends some oxygen” and bam, the plant grows.

If the sun is taking a day off, the plant chills for a bit. It’s just fine being a plant.

I may be off with a few details. I haven’t taken biology since 2011.

The point is, you can accept yourself at each stage of your development while continuing to grow and better yourself. It’s just what you do.

Self-improvement (and I’d hope, improving the world comes along with it), does not need to stem from negativity or hatred centred around a particular aspect of your life. It often starts that way, but it doesn’t need to continue that way.

Like a plant, you can just enjoy being a plant.

Like a plant, you can also just keep on growing.

I’m going to leaf the plant analogy alone now…

How can I accept myself without becoming complacent? 

Now we can appreciate what it means to practice self-acceptance without becoming complacent and never choosing to improve.

What does this look like in practice?

1. Leave the ego at the door

Your ego will tell you, in all sorts of ways, that you’re perfect and shouldn’t find things difficult.

It doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in some kind of narcissism. You can prevent yourself from improving because you refuse to see yourself make mistakes. It’s safer to never try if you never want to make a mistake.

We’re all working drafts. Making mistakes is often fine.

2. Focus on the process, not the goal. 

 The end goal doesn’t always define you. Sometimes, they’re out of your control. What you can control to the best of your ability is the process you use to reach your goals.

If I’m trying to lose weight, I can set a goal but place all of my attention on ensuring I have a good diet and workout regime.

If I’m trying to become a better writer, I can set a goal of some kind but I can make sure I sit down and write every single day. When I write every day, I can make sure I keep on challenging myself.

3. Take time to be grateful 

Intertwined with acceptance comes gratitude.

You can find something, however small, to be thankful for. So despite our challenges and moments of difficulty, we can still find people, events or things we value deeply.

It helps us stop becoming overly disappointed with every tough time we experience and blame everything either on ourselves or something external to us. When we do this, we yearn for our comfort zone because it’s the easiest place to be. It shields us from potential failure and criticism.

Yet, when we take the time to be thankful for something, we open ourselves up for the opportunity to acknowledge something we want to improve and accept ourselves for who we are.

A person who keeps growing.

Acceptance to me is seeing the limits you have at the moment and using them to your advantage.

Complacency is giving up in face of them.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

What progress have you made towards accepting your flaws? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

How Do I Stay Mindful When the Present Isn’t Pleasant?

“If you notice any uncomfortable feelings while you’re trying to meditate, just invite them in”

Now why on earth would I want to do that?! That’s stupid. 

“Inviting discomfort is one way to learn how to stop fighting against them and accept them”

Well I don’t want to accept this – that makes me feel like I’m giving up. Plus, it’s just shitty. 

That was my thought process while listening to a guided meditation during a group session. Thankfully all of these thoughts stayed in my head – otherwise I would have disturbed a lot of people… and insulted the teacher.

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Photo by Carmine De Fazio on Unsplash

Sometimes, the present just sucks.

My last post gave us four reasons why we should try to live in the present moment. I pushed against the idea that mindfulness always leads to a special kind of calm – especially if you only meditate once, for example.

The little dialogue above demonstrated the personal resistance I had towards living in the present when the present becomes difficult. It’s normal to mentally check out of difficulty when we come across it because it’s normal to want to do the easier thing.

However, it isn’t always better for us. It can quickly lead to more stressful thinking patterns that make us feel worse. If I feel sad, it might be easier to start thinking about why I feel sad and what could have caused it and dig our way down that rabbit hole. Or I may try to distract myself and never address the thinking that consistently causes me to feel bad about something.

For example, you may begin to feel bad at school or work because you’re unknowingly comparing yourself to others. Even though it rests on a mistake.

You may become angry because you feel that you should be able to control something but with a bit more thinking, you’d find that most of it was out of your control.

And it goes on. How do we manage this?

How to stay mindful when the present isn’t pleasant

  1. Acknowledge it’ll feel uncomfortable 

You can say this aloud if you want. Negative emotional or physical feelings suck but we often begin our resistance here by refusing to admit that sometimes you’ll just feel uncomfortable.

It’s not always fair nor does it always have a grand lesson at the end. Acknowledging the discomfort is the first step to prevent our mind from running away from the uncomfortable.

This does not mean you’re giving in. It’s like observing a fact that’s simply happening.

“I’m in pain, yes but this does not mean I want to be in pain”

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Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

2. Remove yourself from the story and remove judgement – make everything neutral

Toni Bernhard in, How to Live with Chronic Illness, teaches a skill that I’ve found simple but useful.

Stop judging the moment and just describe it.

If you’re in pain try saying “pain is happening” rather than “I am in so much pain”.

If you’re sad, try “Sadness is present” rather than “I am in the darkness again”.

If you’ve experienced disappointment, try “Disappointment is present” rather than “I was really let down by my friend”.

I’ve found this takes away some of the bite from the negative emotions that arise and reduce the suffering that we can easily add-on top of ourselves. It gives us the opportunity to watch the emotion rather than feed it with more negativity.

This isn’t lying to yourself.

3. Ask yourself these four questions (and another one at the end): 

To help halt stressful thoughts, it may be worthwhile to asking yourself these questions offered by Byron Katie:

  1. Is the thought true?
  2. Am I absolutely sure it is true?
  3. How do I feel when I think the thought?
  4. Who would I be without the thought?
  5. Then turn it around – what if something else is the case?

This helps us respond skillfully to stressful thoughts that make the pleasant moment uncomfortable. Let’s go through this together with an example:

My thought here is that I am incapable of creating good work so I should never try.

  1. Is the thought true?

Yes, I’m writing this right now and it’s terrible – so many mistakes!

2. Am I absolutely sure it is true?

Perhaps not – I have a bad habit of being a harsh critic who refuses to see the good. 

3. How do I feel when I think the thought?

I feel disappointed and angry. I’m trying my best to create high quality work but my efforts don’t pay off. I become angry because I seem to be wasting my time. 

4. Who would I be without the thought?

A person who creates without expectation. A person who tries their best because they believe that is the most useful way to stick to their own values. 

5. The turnaround – how can the story be changed?

Here, we change the story slightly just to see what other possibilities are out there. Then think of reasons why it might be true.

Now, what if I’m a person who creates helpful work and has the ability to get better if he keeps trying? 

  • My blog posts have improved from a few years ago and I’m more comfortable in my own voice. 
  • If I never try, I’ll never have the opportunity to improve. 
  • My academic writing is better than it was when I started. 

Will you always believe this turnaround? No. Sometimes you’ll need someone else to tell you these things. But it’s a start – and a reminder that the negative thought you have now isn’t the only possibility in the world.

4. Remember, it takes practice. 

I’ve written these pointers in the hopes that you’ll be able to live in the present even when it’s difficult. With time will come acceptance and a clearer mindset to make useful change happen.

Yet, it doesn’t all come instantly. I try to remind myself of points like this regularly because negative thinking, when times get tough, is a difficult habit to break out of.

We all have positive and negative thinking habits. This does not mean our ways of thinking are permanently broken.

And finally… 

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

(and shake it all about)


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

How do you handle unpleasant feelings? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

 

 

4 Actual Reasons Why We Should Live In The Present

Live in the present – be mindful – meditate – be grateful  and so on.

It’s great that “mindfulness” had enjoyed an explosion in popularity. You can now find colouring books and apps that will help you stay grounded in the present moment.

But with this rise in popularity comes over-saturation. We’re told to live in the present moment to reduce anxiety. To appreciate the world more.

Does this still hold much weight when we’re all told the same thing over and over again?

Mindfulness isn’t a cure – it’s a practice

Given the way it’s marketed, mindfulness practice can be seen as a cure.

Meditation, colouring books and the like are no silver bullet. It can be wonderful the first time we make a deliberate effort to calm down but there’s often little use in that if we do it once and move on the exact same why we were before hand.

There are many reasons to be stressed and rarely does it all come down to a lack of mindfulness. Job insecurity, long hours at work, lack of autonomy are all reasons. It’s difficult to say all you need to do is breathe for these problems to have little impact on your well being.

So this is why being mindful and grounding ourselves in the present moment need to be practiced regularly if the stresses of life are also regular. It won’t cure everything but it might make things a bit easier.

But why practice living in the present at all?

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Maybe she’s living in the present – Photo by Delaney Dawson on Unsplash

 

  1. We stop living in explanation

One of the main themes in The Obstacle is the Way is to take action.

Worry less, act more.

It is easy, when faced with a mundane problem, to spend the majority of your time thinking about what to do and all of the possible outcomes in the future.

Of course, there might be tens or hundreds of possible outcomes (if you think for long enough, I suppose) which all seem equally likely and catastrophic. Yes, we need to think about future consequences before acting. Doing otherwise would be foolish.

However, if that’s all we do then our minds become a theatre for worry rather than measured consideration of the future.

Indecisiveness is an easy way to never do what you enjoy.

When we live in the present with purpose, it’s easier to understand the challenges that we’re impacted by right now. From there, it’s easier to take intentional steps forward to making a solid decision.

We reduce the stress of feeling as though we have control over nothing by realising we can control the something in the present. No matter how small it is.

2. We stop thinking about whether “it’s fair”. 

Holiday writes:

“We aren’t content to deal with things as they happen. We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, what’s “behind” this or that, and what everyone else is doing.

Then we wonder why we don’t have the energy to actually deal with our problems. Or we get ourselves so worked up and intimidated because of the overthinking, that if we’d just gotten to work we’d probably be done already”.

Maybe I’m hypocritical for talking about this because I have a bad habit of thinking about the fairness of my pain. It took me a year to agree with Nietzsche when he says people hate meaningless suffering more than suffering alone.

However, most problems aren’t existential. Even so, I’ve noticed that in the moments I’ve stopped thinking about whether it’s fair for me to be in pain, I’ve found a bit more peace. Maybe it just doesn’t matter but a problem to be dealt with.

Fairness does matter. However, when that’s all we think about while doing nothing but worrying about it, perhaps we’re causing more suffering than we need to.

So we bring ourselves to the present moment. How can we get past this obstacle and use it to become better?

3. We become better friends with ourselves

Practicing mindfulness and meditation regularly for the past four years or so has taught me a few things. The most important one is that thoughts pass and emotional states leave.

Emotions and thoughts are best thought of as “phases” rather than permanent states of being. Even in the large overall states of being like depression, personally, I’ve noticed that emotions aren’t constant. Even if I’m a bit less sad than a few hours ago – that’s a change. To me, it demonstrates that change is possible.

This is enough to keep slivers of hope around.

Because of this, we can remember that the hatred we have for ourselves based on the past or the future can leave when we return to the present. If the hatred continues in the present, we can try shifting our focus to starve our ego of attention or ride the wave and watch the emotion leave.

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Photo by Joshua Clay on Unsplash

4. It teaches acceptance

The present moment is not always pleasant. The present can suck just as much as thinking about the past can – not every moment grounds you in peace or happiness.

What if you’re in pain? What if all you can hear are sirens in the background while you’re stuck in traffic? There are many ways we can simply dislike where we are no matter how present we try to be.

To me, this is where a big mistake comes from in the marketing of mindfulness – the idea that mindfulness solves all stress.

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Sitting on rocks all the time is uncomfortable anyway – Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash 

I wish we focused more on acceptance. Plenty of the discomfort that comes from uncomfortable experiences is the mental resistance against it. Nancy Colier writes:

[…] as long as we are “checking out” on the moments that we don’t like, we are an extra step away from being able to change them.

We may not be able to change the sirens disturbing us on the drive home but we can begin to accept that it’s difficult to be there. Acceptance does not mean losing the will to change.

Living in the present helps us accept what is may not always be what we want. That can be painful and disappointing. But it’s a worthwhile realisation that will be forgotten and remembered again and again as we continue the practice.

And finally… 

Living in the present moment can be difficult. Sometimes it’s just better to escape into fantasy or light conversation.

But it’s also remarkably helpful. It can reduce stress and anxiety, help us act on problems rather than think about them endlessly.

Most importantly, it can help us practice acceptance. And with that comes more peace, more compassion and more engagement with our everyday lives.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Do you find it easy to live in the present?

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

It’s Important To Do the Things You Enjoy

It’s obvious. But it’s really important

You’re not bored, you’re not happy – you’re mindless.

One thing that I’ve said about being addicted to your phone is that it’s just a really bad habit but unfortunately, a really effective one.

A basic model of how habits are formed are the three Rs – Reminder, Routine, Reward. (I didn’t come up with this myself – Charles Duhigg is my best source). The easier these are to come about, the habit is much more likely to stick.

For our phones it’s this:

  • Reminder(s): notifications, the phone always being in arms reach, needing it for certain tasks (like alarms)
  • Routine(s): scrolling through social media, texting a friend, watching a video
  • Reward: The small pleasure centre in our brains reacting to some kind of approval.

The problem is that these rewards you gain from social media and watching videos may not be deeply satisfying. Instead, it’s just enough to stop you from getting extremely bored but not enough to entertain you significantly.

You’re hovering just above boredom but nowhere near happiness.

I fall victim to this all the time. I spend time doing things that don’t really interest me. They entertain me in the short-term but leave me feeling like rubbish quickly afterwards.

Given that I’m in pain a lot of the time and that impacts my concentration, I want to fill the time that I have with more enjoyment than superficial rubbish.

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Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

What do you really enjoy? 

All of this seems mighty obvious. To be happy, do things that make you happy.

However, it serves us well to actually think about what makes us happy then think about whether we actually follow through with that.

For example, we might want to think more often:

  • What are the things that make me happy in the short-term but guilty in the long-term?
  • What leaves me feeling really satisfied with myself?
  • Do I spend more time on things that are simply easy or do I challenge myself?
  • Am I doing the same thing over and over again?
  • How often do I end the day feeling satisfied?
  • How often do I start the day feeling encouraged by the plan I have set out?

These questions have helped me better understand what I actually enjoy rather than those activities that are simply easy to do. Rather than going to the path of least resistance, you spend more time carving out a life that you really want to live.

As a result, you may find that after answering these questions that finding happiness in your day requires a bit more self-discipline than you may have expected!

Being satisfied and happy isn’t simply a case of doing “whatever you want” because that can be quite difficult to judge. Rather, we need to think more deeply about the things that we enjoy, then experiment with ways to fill our time with more of it.

The benefit of this approach I’ve found is that it stops everything turning into an obligation. Rather, you want to do certain things because you’re confident that they’ll do good things for your mental health. For example, why would you miss a workout if you know you’ll feel good after and during it?

You wouldn’t. Exercising is something that has a much greater potential to make you happy than sitting down and eating Pringles like they’re going out of fashion. (I promise this does not come from personal experience…)

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Photo by Chris Brignola on Unsplash

Seneca writes that one of our biggest problems is that we “live as though we’ll live forever”, waste it on meaningless things then complain that life is too short.

Ok, but what if I don’t have the energy? 

What do you do when you want to do something you’ll enjoy but simply can’t because of something like chronic pain?

It’s easy to do the easiest thing (like watch videos mindlessly for hours) because you lack energy. So for me, all of these mindless activities tend to come in the evening after a day of being active in some way.

Here are two things I’ve found help:

  1. High energy and Low energy activities

Split the things you enjoy into high energy and low energy activities. For me, it goes like this:

High energy: Writing, reading non-fiction, exercising

Low energy: Reading fiction, calming yoga, Netflix

2. Don’t worry about it

Worrying about how you spend your time is likely to tire you out even more and make you feel extremely guilty. Sometimes, you just don’t have a lot of energy and you just want to watch videos for a while.

Set a good intention for yourself and enjoy the time you have.

It’s important but think about it, don’t worry about it.

When I was reminded of this concept, I began to feel guilty about how I spend my time (I’ve been like this for years). It’s because I turned the things I want to do into things I have to do.

If you don’t reach an obligation you feel bad.

If you make everything an obligation, you’re likely to feel bad because you can’t do everything.

Not everything is an obligation. Remind yourself of that when you find yourself saying “I should do this and should do that”.

So set out to fill more of your time with the things you enjoy doing. Be mindful of this intention because it is a helpful reminder that our time is often limited by things out of our control.

It sounds ominous but it’s true. Seneca writes that one of our biggest problems is that we “live as though we’ll live forever”, waste it on meaningless things then complain that life is too short.

Perhaps life isn’t too short. Regardless, let’s take the time to do things we enjoy.

If anything, we deserve it.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

What do you enjoy and what do you want to do more of?

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

(Happy 100th post to meeee!)

Equal relationships | The Sunday Monday Post

One of the values that I have kept in my yearly integrity reports is:

To make the world better for others.

The world would be boring if I only cared about myself. I’m not interesting enough to entertain myself for my whole life so I look outwards and try to make other people’s days better.

To do this, you can lend an ear and listen to people. To do so without concerning yourself about how to respond in the best way or thinking about the best time to interrupt them.

Another is to offer a hand and help them reach a solution to a problem they might have.

Another is to simply provide good company and care about them the way you’d care about any important person you have in your life. You can be the person who’s always able to make them laugh or make really good food.

The one thing all of these have in common is this:

To treat them as equals.

Equality is important but it’s usually thought of in terms of things like money and making sure everyone gets fair access to healthcare (It has definitely been a huge mainstay of political philosophy).

What about how we view ourselves in relation to other people? This is a much easier starting point for more people to reach the Good and Equal Society but easily overlooked because it doesn’t seem to have a grand impact you can read about in the news.

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I can’t remember exactly why I chose this picture but it doesn’t matter. That dog is having the time of its life and that’s awesome

Elizabeth Anderson, a political philosopher, wrote an article titled What’s the Point of Equality?

She argues that it is up to the government and its citizens to create a society where people have equal social relationships. An equal society is one where we treat others with respect, don’t marginalise, oppress and so on.

Why is this important for me?

Anderson’s argument was in relation to the state more specifically and creating institutions which promote social equality. However, there is an important message for individuals like you and me.

When we treat people like equals, we make everyone’s life better.

And that’s what I love about it.

Seeing the person next to you as an equal rather than someone you look down on with contempt or someone you view as flawless, you appreciate them for both their positives and their flaws.

Of course no one is perfect, but it’s easy to get into the trap of thinking that regardless. Even if it isn’t explicit. Everyone hurts, cries, laughs, smiles at some point. It’s important to make sure that we appreciate these things.


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Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

A story

I attended a political … “thing” two weeks ago.

…I call it a “thing” because it wasn’t rally but it wasn’t calm. It was bizarre. I’ve never been part of something where everyone is just following one person around getting pictures of a political candidate looking “human”.

Or in a place where security needs to be sassy for no reason. Or in a place where little children present perfect picture opportunities instead of the child just… being a child. There wasn’t much wrong with it. It was just weird, you know?

I decided to go because I wanted to help my dad. I kept on losing him though but I have no idea how because we were in a town centre where the only interesting thing is a KFC and a Subway that closes whenever it wants.

I’ve said this a few times but it was just so weird. But I’ve decided that if I’m ever a celebrity, my bodyguards are going to be a flurry of cute dogs because they’ll distract everyone while I walk around in peace.

Back on topic:

With the idea of equality running around in my head, I decided to talk to people just to talk to them. I learned a lot.

A lady called Caroline spoke to me about her work with people with learning disabilities. She was complaining that she needs to log indecent things about the people she helps (like frequency of bathroom breaks) otherwise her funding gets cut. Interestingly enough, she’s still there and wants the best for them. She wants to take a level three qualification (like an A level) so she can do more advanced work.

She called herself a fighter. I have to agree!

A man called Mark spoke to me about the political disagreements we had. And it was probably the most civil 5 minute conversation I could have asked for.

The child I met, Ruby, was just cool. She has no sense of direction. But she’s cool.

To me, just talking to other people and hearing what they had to say reminded me that listening is an act of humility. Treating other people as equals instead of assuming they’re better or worse than you opens up an enlightening conversation and often makes the world a little better.

Bit by bit equal social relationships are fostered. To me, it also strengthens your personal character and your resolve to improve yourself personally.

To make the world better for others and to try improving your own life, start with an emphasis on equality.

An equal relationship between you and me. You and your friends and family. You and the stranger you see on the train.

A relationship without contempt, condescension, idolisation or oppression. And with that comes a better world for everyone.

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Equality of the best kind…

As always, thank you for reading!

The Sunday Monday Post is a slight stray from my usual style of writing. It’s more of a stream of consciousness on a topic that interests me. My question for you is:

What do you do to make your relationships more equal?

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

Sadness | The Sunday Monday Post

If you’d give me the chance, I’d like to talk about being sad. Lost. Frustrated. Depressed.

But first, I want to celebrate a few things.

I have a friend who is currently transitioning (or “transforming” as she now says) and says she’s the happiest she’s ever been. I’m happy for her.

I have a friend who, after a year of multiple applications, crude bosses and near overwhelming responsibility, managed to get a job directly related to her field. I was there when she got the job offer and believe me, her smile was as big as the sun. I’m happy for her too.

Ms Improving Slowly (or Arguably Honest) had a mighty relaxing holiday and a break from all of my terrible jokes. I’m happy for her too.

My dad got a job rather quickly after his previous position ended and I can always see a small pep in his step after things like this happen. I’m happy for him too (although, it hasn’t motivated him enough to use the exercise bike we have!)

There’s a lot to be happy about when I really attempt to practice appreciative joy. That is, taking yourself out of the equation and simply enjoying the happiness that other people are experiencing. To me, that is one of the greatest upside of empathy. While it is often used in the context of trying to help people who aren’t in a good position, it can also be used to celebrate the positive!

I find, when you care about the important intensely, you begin to share the moments of happiness as you do the moments of sadness. And that is OK. In fact, I think that makes relationships that much richer. So much more valuable. 

When you’re around, regardless of the highs and lows, you’ll experience some good moments. Happiness comes along and it feels good.


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LoboStudio Hamburg

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned publicly, but I’ve dealt with depression for about three years now. In that time, there have been many many low moments. Currently, I think I’m in one of those spirals where everything you hold onto seems slippery and you retreat into yourself.

Just waiting for it to pass.

Of course, it’s difficult to imagine that it ever will! Even with the evidence that happiness has come about before, the hill always seems difficult and impossible to climb. Especially with the fact that a lot of my mood is tied to my pain. And that doesn’t want to leave me in a hurry.

In a “recent” post, I asked myself what the purpose of this blog is. What does Improving Slowly mean? The first principle was to accept that we’re all working drafts. That also means we’re far from perfect. And most definitely our thoughts aren’t always perfect, true, helpful or even valuable.

You may have these moments of extreme self-doubt – the same way I do. Doubting your skill set, what you add to the world, wondering who cares about you and asking yourself whether you should even take another step.

It would be best if you do take the next step. Even if it’s the tiniest step possible. Towards a small moment of peace where you are free of continuous self-judgement and vitriol.

I always say when I’m stressed that there’s always time to take two breaths to yourself. While this doesn’t solve my sadness, it helps me slow down and return to the present instead of dancing in the frenzy of the future.

One.

Two.

With time, even if it takes weeks, I begin to remember that sadness does pass.

The depression may stay around but that’s a much larger battle to tackle one step at a time.

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Jake Thacker


Relationships are important. I’m appreciating that more and more.

It gives me the opportunity to remember there’s more than myself in the world. I don’t need to get lost in my own thoughts all the time. I can enjoy the experiences of others.

Or I can help and be helped.

Being lonely is difficult and stigmatising. It’s something I want to explore in more detail so I won’t do it here. However, if there’s one thing to take from this post, I ask that you tell your friends and family that you appreciate them.

If there’s someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, maybe say hello again (you can probably skip the small talk and just ask something interesting – everyone is “good” or “fine”).

And that’s about it. Sadness happens. It also stops at times. Being sad isn’t a defect – it’s just an emotion.

And they pass.


As always, thank you for reading!

If anyone asks, I’ll be alright. I’m just trying to be more honest and show I’m not perfect but making steps to improve myself.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!


If you are depressed or anything of the sort, here are some resources (for the UK):

NHS DIRECT
Provides 24 hour access to nurse advice, information about healthcare and about local health services. Contact NHS Direct for help with a current health concern, to ask about out of hours doctors’ services and for emergency health advice.

Helpline: 0845 46 47, every day, 24 hours a day
Websitewww.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

SAMARITANS
Samaritans provides confidential non-judgemental support, 24 hours a day for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide.

Telephone: 0845 7 90 90 90, every day, 24 hours a day
Emailjo@samaritans.org
Websitewww.samaritans.org
SANE
SANE is one of the UK’s leading charities concerned with improving the lives of everyone affected by mental illness.

Helpline: 0845 767 8000, every day, 1:00pm-11:00pm
Emailsanemail@sane.org.uk
Websitewww.sane.org.uk

ACTION ON DEPRESSION
Supports the running of self help support groups in various parts of Scotland which offer the opportunity for confidential local support and contact with others in a similar situation.
Provides an information service offering support and information on depression to individuals, their families and friends and professionals working with people who have depression; a quarterly members newsletter and a range of helpful publications.

Telephone: 0808 802 2020 Information Service, Wednesdays, 2:00pm-4:00pm
Emailinfo@actionondepression.org
Websitewww.actionondepression.org

Please go to Depression UK for more detailed links.

I’m finished | The Sunday Monday Post

Ok, it’s a Tuesday. Sue me.

I’ve been occupied. I finished my Master’s degree last week and I didn’t know how to process it. I suppose I was satisfied with myself because writing my dissertation towards the end became extremely tiring and, quite frankly, boring. A lot of the time was spent on trying to fix small details and occasionally being overwhelmed with self-doubt.

“If I quit, will I get a refund?”

“No. That’s never been the case.”

“Are you sure?!”

“I’m certain – you can’t just get a refund from a course you’re 1 week away from finishing.”


I’ve been asking myself: What is the best thing I took from it?

Aside from the stress, self-doubt, hatred of misplaced commas and overdosing on Pringles, I didn’t know how to process the entire MA. The education was great in parts, and just fine in others. UCL is a nice enough university. London itself is pretty cool too.

My friendships.

The people I met and the relationships I got to experience was the best thing I took from the entire MA.

I often wonder whether that’s just me being overly sentimental or whether that speaks to some craving for attention I have but I’ve dismissed those as my thoughts trying to sabotage my happiness.

I asked the course director, James Wilson, his advice for doing as well as possible. He told us that the cohorts who seem to have done the best and enjoyed their time while doing it were those who had a good sense of community among them.

I seemed to take that to heart and so did everyone else.

We all became good friends incredibly quickly. Even though nearly everyone has moved away again (some across the world!), I’m unbelievably happy that I met all of them, learned from them and just had fun. I believe they all made me better as a person in some way or another.

To all the lovely people who were apart of the MA, thanks for existing. You’re never not being my friends because we’re in this forever.

To everyone else who just read that, I’m not weird, I just like good people, I haven’t kidnapped any of themI just want to stay friends, ok I can’t make that sound not weird. Maybe I shouldn’t have said it.

But I’m keeping it there. I love all of them.


My final dissertation was on illness, ignorance and the society of equals. The main aim was to show how ill people are treated unequally in society and how we might want to rectify that.

I will explain it in more detail in the future. In a more conversational tone. But I learned a lot about my relationship with my own disability (chronic pain). I’ll definitely write more about it in terms of relationships because it’s healthy for me to share my own experiences. After all, I never know who is struggling out there but doesn’t have the words, or confidence, to tell the world their experience.

There were many times when I worried that what I was attempting to argue for (structural ignorance of ill persons experiences) was too ambitious. I suppose I’ll find out when I get my mark back. But I’m glad I gave it a shot. It definitely stretched me intellectually. It invited me to think about what it means to be ill and live in a world with other ill and healthy people.

Illness is multilayered and the questions it invites are tough because they’re personal. One of my “favourites” is whether well-being is possible in illness. Not because I believe it isn’t. I believe it is.

So much of being ill is immensely difficult and it often feels suffocating (if not literally). Asking if it’s possible to live well with illness asks me whether it’s worthwhile trying when things can be so difficult.

And coming back to my friends, it gave me a stronger reason to appreciate that I have them. So I want to become a better friend and rekindle friendships that I’ve let fall to the wayside. That is, of course, if I’m invited back in.


Sorry this has been all over the place. You can probably tell I still have no idea how to think about the past or what to do about the future. Perhaps I don’t need to think much about it.

It’s all been interesting but now a break from academia is calling.

I don’t know what’s ahead of me but that’s OK I suppose. I’ll figure it out eventually.

As always, thank you for reading!

For more updates, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter!