You have the power to start feeling better NOW – that HAS to be worth smiling about!

I was looking at some pictures of myself and my partner, taken around 5 years ago, and I was disappointed to see how much my face had aged. I gazed at my straight-faced reflection in the mirror, and it suddenly struck me… what was missing was my smile! I grinned warmly into my own eyes, and then glanced back at the pictures… and was heartened to see that, actually, there wasn’t a huge amount of difference between the younger me, and the current, older me. Some ageing, yes; a plumper face, agreed – but the smile somehow negated enough of that to be reassuring!

Now, I understand, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a smiling face looks more alive and vibrant than one adorned with a serious or vacant expression: however, I suddenly became acutely aware of how my face felt, when I wasn’t smiling… and the word that immediately came to mind was droopy… and who the hell wants to feel droopy? It is hardly high energy!

So, I decided to check up on myself, every now and then, and ask, “what is my resting face saying about me right now?”. I already suspected that smiling wasn’t just about appearance – and my little experiment proved me right. When I recognised that I was sporting a switched-off or frowning expression, and swapped it for a comfortable smile that also reached my eyes (yes, you can feel your eyes smiling!), I actually felt more cheerful. And not only that, my head and shoulders automatically lifted a little – an instant boost that cost nothing more than a bit of self-awareness!

Okay, it is true that there are certain circumstances under which a smile is completely inappropriate (not too many, but some); and there are certain circumstances under which even the most upbeat individual would struggle to muster even the slightest twitch of the lips; I am not talking about those times – I am talking about general, every day life. And I acknowledge that a consistent, manic grin would be more likely to cause ourselves to feel a bit crazy and uncomfortable, and other people to avoid us like the plague. But, a small, relaxed smile, hovering at the corners of our mouth, just waiting to blossom into something wider and warmer, can genuinely do wonders for our state of mind! And when we feel that a smile is maybe not entirely appropriate at a given moment in time, we can still be consciously aware of how our face is sitting, and what message it is imparting. We can appear attentive, or curious, or interested, or fascinated, dependent upon the circumstances; all of these, and more, will actually help us to feel what we are expressing, whilst allowing our face to appear animated and lively. I am not a scientist, but online research appears to confirm that there is a growing belief in the theory that our facial expression and body language are recognised by our brain, which then responds accordingly, communicating that information back to the body.

Which brings me to the subject of how we consistently hold our body… and this cute cartoon that really makes me laugh, every time I see it!

depressedstance

Posture, like facial expression, speaks volumes to our brain, as does our consistent inner and outer dialogue. I have come across people who habitually slouch, and consistently communicate in a dismissive or cynical way… and none of them have been even remotely happy or satisfied. Circumstance is often blamed, and yes, it is true that it definitely does affect how we feel and behave; however, we have all witnessed individuals who have faced the most dreadful adversity, yet who hold their heads high, whilst approaching the world with dignity and warmth (we are so fortunate, to have amongst us those souls who are living proof of just what we human beings are capable of aspiring to!).

Where my own body is concerned, over a period of two years I put on around 28 lb in weight, most of which settled on my stomach and hips (one of the side effects of reaching a ‘certain age’!). I became discouraged, and for the first time really struggled to motivate myself to do anything about it. That wobble drove me mad, and I began to avoid any mirror that reflected anything below my chest… I felt fat. I managed to lose 7 lbs, but still, not enough to reduce the dreaded spare tyre. As it happens, my eldest daughter is a fitness and kick boxing instructor, who runs her own school; my youngest daughter also trains there, and teaches some of the classes. Several times a week I would drop her off and collect her, calling in to help put the equipment away after the sessions… but I always resisted taking part, because I was ‘too fat’ (yes, really!), which both of my daughters thought was ridiculous!

One evening, I stayed to watch the kick boxing gradings, from the toddlers all the way up to the adults, and I was blown away. The atmosphere was amazing, and I was totally impressed to see how much progress the students had made… and I suddenly really wanted to be a part of it! That evening, I committed to training, and there I was, at the very next session. At first, I felt like a galumphing (I think I just made that word up) elephant, and the idea of roundhouse kicks terrified me. I had a stiff, incredibly painful shoulder, and a dodgy knee, and I feared that they would hold me back… but the physiotherapist told me that actually, I was doing the very best thing for myself – and he was right! Almost three belts on, my shoulder is 90% better, and my knee just aches sometimes, and my roundhouse kick is coming along nicely! I even attend some of the circuit training classes now, in addition (last night I did three 30 minute sessions, one after the other!). I am still ‘fat’, but the weight is coming off, bit by bit. And I am not saying that it is easy, because it isn’t, and I am not saying that things don’t hurt after training, because they do. However, my body feels so much stronger, and I cannot emphasise enough how empowering that is! It has improved the way I hold myself, and more importantly, it has transformed the way I feel about myself… and that makes me smile!

So, if you recognise any of this within yourself, make an immediate commitment to yourself, to lift your spirits, your shoulders, your chin, and the corners of your mouth… until it becomes as natural as breathing!

 

The pain and anguish of female guilt… but maybe it isn’t ALL bad!

I know for sure that it isn’t just me; I am not the only woman who consistently beats herself up for a roll call of self-proclaimed ‘crimes’ that she just can’t let herself off the hook for. But I am working on it, and if you can relate to what I am wittering on about, I invite you to join me!

Here are the main sources of my guilt:

my children

my work

my diet and fitness

my lack of wisdom in the past

My children: I often think that they have developed into the amazing human beings they are today despite me and their father, rather than because of us! I have a gaggle of memories I dredge up every now and then (when I am in danger of feeling too self-satisfied!), to remind myself how easy it is to mess up. One of these sackcloth moments involves a shelf unit with plants on the top, water streaming down onto the carpet, and a plastic water pistol, which I angrily snapped in half… only to remember that I myself had not long since watered the plants – well, drowned them would be more accurate – and the soggy rug was down to me. In my defence, I had had to issue warnings about where the water pistol was being fired, but still… the sight of three disappointed faces broke my heart.

And I have just realised why, after all of these years, that this little episode still feels raw; whilst typing this, another memory floated up from the depths of my subconscious: an image of my domineering father, red faced with rage, jumping up and down on toys received at Christmas, and tearing up books… because he believed that one of us had opened his razor blades, and no-one would own up to it. And then he remembered that he himself had opened them, and tried to turn the whole thing into a bit of a joke. Uncomfortably, the biblical quote, ‘the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons’ (or in my case, daughters) immediately comes to mind. The ridiculous thing is, none of my children have any recollection of this event (well, not consciously, at least!), and I can see now that it has always been more about me than them… damn, something else to feel guilty about!

Then there has been the guilt attached to lifestyle: working full time when they were little; never having enough money to provide them with the things a lot of their friends had; moving house so many times; ending up in escalating conflict with their father; making decisions that were not always the wisest.  I remember a young woman once telling me that all she wanted was to have a baby, and to have no worries in the world; I laughed and said ‘good luck with that one!’. The second we give birth, we are signing up for a lifetime of love and joy, but also one of anxiety and guilt – because we are now completely responsible for the survival and well-being of another soul, another human being… and it is hard to know when to quit that anxiety and guilt! Even today, though they are in their twenties, if one of them is unhappy, my initial reaction is to feel responsible, somehow – which drives them mad! My daughters regularly tell me how proud they are of me, and how much positive stuff they have learned from me, and I am so, so proud of them, too (and my son, of course, but he doesn’t ‘do’ mushy conversations!). Unnecessary guilt is usually connected to our own feelings and beliefs about ourselves, and about not being good or adequate enough. I recognise that, and I have, I am pleased to say, already made a smidgen of headway!

As for the rest of the guilt, it isn’t all entirely bad. From a positive point of view, it has caused me to strive to become an even better version of myself, career and fitness wise (both still being a work in progress!). Career wise, I have had to consistently analyse my delivery and presentation, asking myself if I could do better, if I could have handled this or that customer in a more effective way… and if the answer is yes, then I have take it on the chin and learn from it. If there are aims and goals I claim I want to achieve (which there are, for sure!), and yet I am flopping around watching television, I need to feel guilty, for my own benefit, otherwise it all just boils down to hot air!

On the other hand, when someone expects of me the earth, the moon and the stars, and I am only able to deliver the equivalent of a small country, feeling guilty is misguided and destructive, and an immediate sense of perspective is required. And I promise you, there will be plenty of opportunities to put this to the test!

Where the past is concerned, I have to remind myself that the deal that life makes with all of us is that we can only ever obtain wisdom in hindsight, and that experience will always come first; and also, wisdom is not an automatic result of experience, it has to be sought out and allowed in. My children, and yours, are entitled to their own set of experiences, including disappointment and periodic unhappiness, so that they too can ultimately claim their wisdom! And as a wise man once said (I think it was Les Brown), if you know for sure that you wouldn’t repeat an act that you now regret, it hasn’t been a wasted experience, and you’ve come a long way!

P.S. By the way, I am not saying that men live guilt free lives… only that there is a certain kind of guilt that appears to be more common amongst women!

guilt