It’s a question I‘ve been asking myself in the past months: how should I live? If I live as long as my father, I’m going to be here for another 30 years, and I want to live a good life. I’ve set out some rules for myself here, in the knowledge I will break them most days. But I will also try to build on them each day.
1. Be grateful: I thank my coach supervisor Alison for reminding me of the simple practice of noting three things I am grateful for each day. It could be the sunlight on the window in the morning, the song of a robin, or a bigger picture appreciation that I live in a country where most people are safe, housed and fed (but not all). It’s especially useful when I am feeling blue or just grumpy when not everything in my life is sunny side up.
2. Accept what I am and what I will never be. I notice how much time I waste beating myself up for failing to do something to the high standards I set myself. Being patient with myself is something I find even harder than being patient with other people. But I have learned in 15 years of coaching the benefits of being slower to judge others, I can apply that learning to myself too.
3. Be kind. I was sitting next to a beautiful woman at a Thanksgiving dinner, who was much older than she looked. I asked her how she thought we should live, and her answer was to be kind. Kindness sits alongside acceptance, but she meant something more active, reaching out to understand what burdens other people bear. The stories other people share (her own story was of childhood in care) reveal humans’ resilience and creativity.
4. Pause: hold off on the reactive response, and take time to reflect. I know social media encourages my reactive self, lots of Love, Wow & Angry. Maybe this year I’ll try to stick to Like & Sad and stay away from comments. But my reactive habits are deeply engrained: an old friend reflected that our school’s ethos was to do things, to sort things out, a habit intensified in my 20 years of urgent doing as a news producer. I know I will get better results if I pause or procrastinate.
5. Keep a sense of proportion: pausing does help me gain a better sense of proportion, and understand how something matters in relationship to another. I can take myself and my actions far too seriously, when my failure or success can only make the smallest difference. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth my acting, but birdsong and the scent of a flower surely bring more daily joy into the world.
6. Be persistent. Not in an annoying toddler like way, but it helps to have the resolve to stick to my goals when I am not reaching them as fast or even as steadily as I’d like. Another coach friend told me she’d been watching a spider outside her bathroom window remake its web each day whatever the wind and weather, just like the spider which inspired Robert the Bruce. It can’t always be a sunny day and the prevailing wind may not be in my favour, but I can still hold to what I know.
7. Be hopeful: people are kinder and more good-hearted than the crazy world of Brexit and Trump would have me feel. So don’t let the uncertainty of the times stop me looking for others to work with on the issues I care about.
8. Be brave: the courage of the women who have spoken out against sexual harassment in #MeToo these past months has been amazing. It gives me renewed heart to continue my work on human rights, especially disability rights. Being grateful, accepting and kind doesn’t mean becoming a pushover.
9. Keep up the regular practices that support all the above: yoga, meditation and journalling, swimming and walking, enough sleep, moderate drinking and a sensible diet work for me. I have recently become a vegetarian and I didn’t miss the turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I discover even bacon is resistible, despite everyone telling me it’s not!
Lastly, another friend reminded me of the oddly named but throughly excellent website Brainpickings which provides ample and more eloquent food for thought than me.