Humanity’s True Strength

May 22nd saw some horrific attacks against Manchester. Men, women, and children were injured, killed, and left terrified by these attacks. People lost their children, their siblings, their families and I really don’t have any words that can ease that pain. I can only say that my thoughts are with them.

What I want to talk about though… is the response. For as many posts I saw across my social networks with upset and fear, I saw posts of genuine altruism, of true human empathy. I saw Muslim men offering free taxis, I saw Jewish Rabbis bringing drinks to officers, I saw white women taking in and looking after children; I saw people helping people. Regardless of race, of nationality, of sex, of orientation, I saw a larger community coming together; I saw people helping people. When the attacks occurred we responded with compassion and aid, we came together regardless of arbitrary cultural boundaries and we helped each other. This is testament to our collective human spirit and it is the exact answer we need in the times of crisis. It’s the answer we need at all times, really, and whilst it’s upsetting it often takes these tragedies to elect this response from us, it’s still fantastic that it’s there and being shown.

There is often far too much focus on the ‘Terror’ caused by ‘Terrorism’, but I’m a firm believer that this only propagates more terror. When we respond with fear, or anger, or negativity in general, we are showing that these attacks are working. When we respond with love and care, when we help our fellow human regardless of our differences, we show that we can’t be broken and that their attacks ultimately serve no point. When we respond with chants of “close the borders”, or we respond by attacking people for being different, we only fall into an awful, vicious cycle that will do humanity more harm than good. We play into the hands of the aggressor and lose any power we have for ourselves. What we need in these times, and at all times, is to truly focus on the good that humanity can do, the love that we can show each other. When we respond by coming together that is true strength.

My image, my focus: Kindness Challenge Week 1

Imagine a figure, blurred. The background behind vibrant, bustling and ever changing; a wall of monitors displaying thousands of different images and flickering all at once. Each flashing image has a soundtrack, but each is simply drowned by the other; each a smaller part of the ever growing cacophony. You’d be forgiven, given the scene in view, that these countless images, that there is no meaning here; that each screen serves only to be part of the whole, and to perpetuate this mess of unintelligible information. Closer inspection of the figure in front, however, will show you that his eyes do shift briefly, that his attention does focus, and his own image along with it. The blurred figure, in fact, may not be blurred at all when his eyes focus, like a lens finding a focal point. When he sets his sight on one image, one dream, he aligns again. There is definition to him, shape. He has presence, and physicality where previously there was none… but it’s fleeting. It’s lost again to the next saccadic movement.

*****

This week was Self Love on the 2017 Kindness Challenge, my intentions, for which, can be found here: Setting My Intentions. This week we’ve been challenged to take note of all the ways we feel we have to earn our own approval. This sounded a good premise on its own, but then I saw the suggestion of ‘Create a self-portrait’. Now, I’m no painter, but I am a photographer. I was determined to build an image with my camera and use that as a statement ‘This is who I am’ or ‘This is who I feel’, and then counterbalance it with an image of ‘Who I would like to be’. I never had the time or resources to take the image, though. I had the equipment, but the setup was a little harder than I’d care to admit, I wasn’t able to achieve the vision I originally set out to portray – the irony isn’t lost on me, by the way. Then it occurred to me, I may be a Photographer, but I am also, undeniably a Writer! So, I turned the image into prose instead… and thus I started doing myself a kindness… I’ll explain.

See, the piece above is open to interpretation… but to me represents my feelings towards myself. You’re welcome to interpret my writing however you see fit, and I’d love you to share below if you see it differently, however I’d like to explain what it also means to me. The figure, if you hadn’t guessed, is myself… or, at least, the way I feel about myself. I’m fuzzy, undefined, intangible. The backdrop in the piece is a portrayal of my dreams, my many, many dreams. Unspoken, and unreferenced, there’s dreams of being a good boyfriend, being a good son, being a writer, being a photographer, being the best me I can be… I often feel I am struggling forward towards these dreams, but also that I’m making no progress, mainly because, more often than not, I am just sitting back and watching them pass me by. If you’re a regular reader you’ll know this lack of motivation is a constant topic I try to address; this piece is no different.

Early on, I realised that the Self Portrait I had in mind was out of my reach, my aim was too high, and it was unachievable. Rather than beating myself up about it though, I knew I still needed a post for Self Love this week. So, I adapted. By doing this, I achieved my dream image, but I painted it with words rather than painting it with light. I didn’t allow myself to become distracted (mainly because I had a deadline) and I didn’t allow myself to become disheartened (because I found a different route of approach).

My soul searching for this week has revealed that I feel lost when I am not working towards my dreams, but also that I am far too content to allow myself to get to that point. I have so many dreams I want to achieve, that sometimes I simply lose sight of the one for the many. The sheer quantity of them, and the lack of focus I have for them, encourages them to build up and encourages me, their viewer, to simply sit back and watch them play out without me. My dreams define me, for better or worse. I want to say “I am a writer!“, I want to say “I am a photographer!“, I want to say all these things, but I won’t allow myself to define ‘Me’ that way if I don’t achieve them. That’s how I judge myself worthy of approval, if I’m succeeding in these goals. I need to teach myself to understand that these goals and dreams may help to define me in some instances, but they certainly don’t define my worth. I need to learn that I am capable of loving myself even when I don’t meet my standards, and that through self-love I actually support myself in meeting these standards in future. If I support myself, if I focus on the aspects in my life that are worthwhile, that help build my future, then all the better. I need to focus on ‘getting there’, not focus on having ‘not got there yet’.

If I had to set a Mantra based on my discovery for this week, it would simply be: “Find Focus”.

When I’m down because I’ve wasted another day without creativity: Find Focus. When I’m feeling guilty that I haven’t spent as much time with my family as I could: Find Focus. When anxiety is building up inside of me at the thought of ‘putting myself out there’ and taking a risk: Find Focus.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Can you hear an Echo?

Can you hear an echo or is it just me?

When Brexit was on the horizon and the voting was due to take place, my Facebook/Twitter was rife with those saying “Remain!”. We know how that went. When the recent presidential candidacy was underway, the same Facebook/Twitter just ripped the idea of President Trump to shreds. We know how that went, too. Funnily enough, I was never surprised by these outcomes, having always feared the worst, and I never believed the chanting of my social media, despite how often I was in complete agreement with most of the points they make. I knew we weren’t in the majority. You can even read my response to Brexit here: Leaving the EU: My Thoughts.

The thing is, the way we construct our Social Media groups, the friends we interact with most, the people we choose to follow on twitter, the blogs we enjoy reading on here… they’re all Echo Chambers. As human beings we seek out those of a similar opinion, we don’t like the cognitive dissonance brought about by contrary facts and opinions. We’re far more likely to support claims that agree with our already held beliefs, and we’re far more likely to dismiss those that don’t. We see it from anything, from something as big and world changing as Brexit and Trump, to something as small as our favourite books and TV Shows. Many people are unwilling to even acknowledge criticism, let alone accept it, or worse – in their minds – be turned by it.

When I’m on my Facebook, scrolling down aimlessly as I do, wasting those precious, constantly mounting minutes of my life which, en mass, could be used for something more productive, I notice one thing. I notice how eager people are to share these acts of altruism, how eager they are to call out the government, how eager they are to support good causes. Of course, I see a lot of waffle too, a lot of ‘fake news’, celebrity gossip, or sharing of these ‘Tasty’ recipes everyone drools over but nobody ever actually tries. This is excusable though, we all get caught up in waffle, but I see so much good too. I have friends who are continually trying to better the world, who campaign or share articles of positive human development. What I don’t see, at all, is anything racist, homophobic, or even as simple as Tory (not holding those three in the same category – by the way). Whether these friends of mine just keep quiet, or whether they’re voices are drowned out by Facebook algorithms, or whether they’re not existent; it’s weird to hear a voice in such cohesion, only to realise it’s not a correct reflection of the world at large.

I do have a Trump supporter though. On Facebook, a long time ago, I was added by an American guy simply. We’ve never spoken, and it was a request I simply added because this was back when you added most people… Before so many fake accounts appeared, or spam messages were prevalent. Through this one connection I have a window into someone else entirely. He posts, with great frequency, his views on all things American; sports, guns, terrorism, Trump. Nearly every post he makes is a stark contrast to my own worldview, he believes Trump will save America, he believes Guns are necessary and nobody should be without one, he believes there are only two genders in the world. As one voice in my crowded Social Media, he looks alone, almost laughable; I accompany each sighting of him with a smug, self-important eyeroll. Then I read his comments on his posts, overcome with a strange curiosity, and I realise that he’s not alone. I realise that his friends and family all agree and support him. I find the voices in support of his posts outweigh those in opposition, if there is any. He has an Echo Chamber of his own.

This thought process was brought about by the Local Elections hosted here in the UK last week. Local Elections aren’t completely indicative of the National climate, in fact there was so little buzz about these I was worried nobody was turning up to it at all. However, it still surprises me how the things that get repeated over and over, throughout all my social media accounts, still fail to come true. It surprises me to realise my opinion isn’t the majority, despite how many people I meet that I agree with. It surprises me that the Conservatives won in areas I thought they’d be least likely to succeed. Is my opinion right? Not necessarily. It might be! I’d like it to be! But it certainly stands a chance that I’m wrong, or ill informed, or simply parroting what is expected of me within my peers. The thing is, the Echo Chamber convince us we’re correct, that there’s support for our ideas and beliefs. It’s great, in a way, for reinforcement and support, but it’s not good for challenge, for growth, and for unbiased information.  It’s also not a good predictor of the world at large.

That reminds me of a TED talk I watched the other day, by Simon Anholt who founded his website: Good Country – Global Vote. It’s a Website where anyone in the world can ‘Vote’ in elections in other countries, after being presented a, self-proclaimed, objective write up of the candidates. The votes are, obviously, not counted in the elections, but they are a real analyse of peoples opinions (albeit, with a specific sample of ‘people willing to click a website about voting’ – something to be wary of). I checked out both Brexit and Trump, and I personally agree with the results of this ‘Global Vote’ for both these elections, but neither of them are good predictions for the true outcome. In the video Anholt acknowledges that their website always gets it wrong… Which begs the question, is the internet, and those more likely to utilise it to ‘vote’ or even learn about world affairs, an Echo Chamber of its own?

This post isn’t meant to be offensive, so my apologies if any is taken. It is meant simply as a device to make you think… When you hear the voices of your social media talking in unison, are they the majority? And, more importantly, are they right? Or is it worth stepping beyond that and finding out what the other voices are saying? Is it worth breaking out of the Echo Chamber? Let me know in the comments below!

Setting My Intentions: 2017 Kindness Challenge

So, earlier this year I signed up for the 2017 Kindness Challenge, hosted by Niki on Richness of a Simple Life. Everything about the challenge appealed to me. I’m someone who values kindness, optimism, gratitude, and all those wonderful things, and this is exactly what the Niki is trying to encourage. The challenge itself is a 7 week focus on bringing more Kindness into your life, complete with weekly prompts and themes on how to do such. I’ll copy and paste the weekly themes below and, if they appeal to you, I highly recommend you hop over to Niki’s blog and take a look!

First things first though, we’ve been asked to Set Our Intentions… So, lets go!

sign-up

My Intentions for the 2017 Kindness Challenge

As I stated above I value kindness in my life. I also value happiness, optimism, and gratitude. I also don’t think any of these factors are exclusive; I think everything builds together to create a better lifestyle. I’ve had my times in life when I’m down, upset, and melancholy, my times when life just doesn’t seem to be going my way. During these times you tend to find one, or more, of these factors has slipped. Perhaps I’m not feeling grateful enough for the things I have, my place in life, and that’s leading to feeling unsatisfied. Perhaps I’m not feeling optimistic about things, expecting things to go wrong at any point, and that’s causing anxiety. It’s because of this that I try to blog when I’m feeling down, I try to analyse my feelings and I try to inspire gratitude and optimism within myself. Of course, these are only two examples out of a give four, and even that isn’t a comprehensive list… I feel there’s far more values that are out there, that are important to our well-being, so here I’m just summarising a few.

Why Kindness then? Why a Kindness challenge?

Firstly, I’d say a challenge to promote any of these pillars is beneficial, regardless of how familiar you are with them. If this was a Gratitude Challenge, or Happiness Challenge, I’d still be eager to take part. Persuading people to focus on these mind-set’s/behaviours is a positive thing. Kindness though, in particular, is something I’d like to be challenged on.

I’d call myself a kind person; I’m eager to help, I’m eager to encourage. I have my moments where I’m selfless, but I’m not without those moments where I’m selfish. Kindness is something I try to do with my daily life, but it’s not something I’ve necessarily focused on to the extent that I’ve focused on other things like gratitude (which I try to do semi-regularly here on the Clouds)

Also, if you take a look at the schedule below, many of the themes within this challenge are surrounding the topic of Self Kindness; things like Self Love and Self Acceptance. This is something I really feel I need to work on, especially when my confidence dwindles which it has done of recent. Honestly, this challenge couldn’t have come at a more apt time and really makes me think about Creating Coincidence once again… but, that’s its own separate post (it actually is – click the link).

So, to summarise, my statement is that I want to be kinder to myself, I want to gain more confidence through self love and be less judgmental of myself through self acceptance. At the end of the day, if this challenge just makes me think and reflect a little bit more, then it’s already of benefit. I’m a big believer in ‘Small Steps Towards the Future‘, you’ll have heard me say it before, and in my eyes any small step towards a kinder future, is a small step towards a brighter one.

Hopefully that serves as a good statement! Hopefully it’s something you’d like to join. The themes of the challenge are below, and you can find a link to the Challenge Sign up further down.

Themes:

  • Week 1 | Self-love
  • Week 2 | Self-compassion
  • Week 3 | Self-acceptance
  • Week 4 | Kindness role model
  • Week 5 | Choosing kindness
  • Week 6 | Kindness without expectation
  • Week 7 | Grateful for kindness

For the next 7 weeks you’ll be able to keep track of how I’m getting on every Thursday, and if you’d like to join the challenge yourself then head over to 2017 Kindness Challenge (it states 7th of May!). If you fancy commenting on my statement in particular, then please let me know in the comments below!

Thinking About Me

Recently I’ve been thinking About Me.

No wait, I’ve been thinking about my “About Me”. You’d be surprised how similar the two statements are though, despite sounding different. Both require a certain understanding of myself.

I’ve known for ages how old my About Me section is outdated. Hell, the photo I was using on it was from when I was between 19 to 21. To put it into perspective, I’m 27 now and 28 in less than a month! Time for an update, right? Not to mention I didn’t even have a beard back then… I’m not me without my beard!

 So, with thanks to Suzie’s post How to Create a Successful About Page, I’ve refereshed mine!

I’ve added a more current interpretation about who I am, along with what I’m trying to achieve in both life and on the Clouds. I’ve also summarised my Posting Schedule, in case you find yourself so inclined.

You can find it by clicking here: About Me

5 Simple Steps to Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed and Feel Productive Instead!

Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed? As though there is simply so much to do and there’s literally no way you can achieve it all? As though you’re drowning under a sea of never-ending tasks?

 

Forgive the hyperbole title but this has been a source of stress and anxiety for me recently. I’ve felt like life was drowning me. I’ve felt like I have had so much to juggle but no arms to do so with. The more I get stressed, the more likely I am to put off a task, and the more I put off the task, the more stressful it seems later on. As I described in Fridays Post, LINK, it’s a vicious cycle that continues like a malevolent ouroboros. I’m on my way to combat this, so I thought I’d put it into a post to help others too. Please understand I’m not speaking the gospel, my methods are not for everybody and we all live life our own way, these are just the ramblings of one man trying to make sense of his world. That said, if my words are even the slightest bit of help for you, then that makes them 100% more worthwhile.

1. Make a Plan!

In my eyes, making a plan is one of the single best things you can do; I recommend it wholeheartedly. When you make a plan you aid yourself by making your tasks look more manageable. Just by listing down your tasks, you make the tasks look more approachable. Our minds have a way of overthinking and things seem scary when they’re left to the imagination. By writing things down you give it more solidarity. Suddenly, tasks can seem a lot more manageable and a lot less intimidating. By setting yourself realistic deadlines too, if your plan goes to that much detail, you can start working slowly towards it. Plus making a plan is productive in itself! That’s a win!

2. Stick to Something!

Going hand in hand with Making a Plan, I would also advise you stick to something. You may be asking “Stick to What?”, but the beauty is it can be anything. Perhaps you decide to take five minutes of mindfulness each day, perhaps you want to go for a walk every Tuesday, perhaps you just want to read a chapter of a book each morning with your cereal… It could honestly be anything at all. It could be something you want to do, something fun, or it could be something you need to do. By Sticking to Something we form discipline, and by doing what we set our minds to do, even if it’s the smallest of the small, it’s a success…

Wait, you don’t think it’s a success? Well maybe we need to…

3. Redefine Success!

This is important. Often we feel overwhelmed because we think we need to do everything; you feel you need to write a whole book, you need to decorate the whole house, you need to fix every little problem all at once. This often isn’t the case, and it is often more to do with our mindsets, or our definitions of success. Really, success is anything you specify and we should treat it as such. If you’ve been struggling to get out of bed each morning, then it’s a success when you do. If you get up five or ten minutes earlier one day, there’s a big success right there and you’ve only just started your day! Don’t let anyone else define success for you, don’t let anyone tell you that your dreams have to be achieved this way or that, success is a personal, intimate thing and you do whatever spurs you on to keep reaching those goals!

4. Exercise!

Wow, I can’t believe that I’m someone recommending this one. The thing is, exercise helps you out of a rut, and it helps you feel more motivated in other areas. By going home each night and sitting on your bum, watching TV, you are just encouraging your body to become lethargic and tired. Exercise is great for refreshing your body and your mind. I find that, as counterproductive as this sounds, this actually works best if you don’t want to exercise in the first place… Why? Because you’re showing you’re stronger than your base instincts. If every part of you is saying “Come on, let’s give in, let’s have a McDonalds and watch Netflix all night”, but instead you force yourself to the gym, then you are showing that you are in control! You’re showing that you can overcome even yourself! Now if that’s not success, I don’t know what is. Not to mention, if this is the thing you want to ‘Stick’ to, maybe it’s a Monday Gym Session you’d normally put off, then you’re nailing all areas of my advice!

Speaking of which, my biggest piece of advice?

5. Breaking the Cycle!

If you’re like me, putting stuff off because of stress, only to stress later because you’ve put it off and therefore put it off some more… You need to break the cycle. You might feel like you need to do something drastic to break the cycle. Maybe you’ve been putting off writing a book and feel you need to write an entire chapter just to fix that. Wrong! Whilst doing that would be a great way to break the cycle, remember that doing anything is actually a break! There’s no need to get yourself worked up writing something as daunting as a chapter; maybe you write a page, or even a paragraph… Well done! You’ve broke the cycle. You’ve gone from nothing, to something, and that is a brilliant start. What follows is often a feeling a well-being, especially if we’ve redefined our meaning of success, and I can assure you that by taking the tiniest of steps forward, you feel better about taking the bigger ones. My mantra is: small steps towards the future.

All in all, if you really need to get out from under a heap of things, just take a single small step! If I’ve realised anything, it’s how much things snowball. By taking a small step, you’re more likely to take bigger ones, by making a plan, you’re more likely to act upon it. The more we put stuff off, the more stressed, more anxious, and even the more lazy we become. If this is you, and it certainly is me, start small and just do something! You’ll get there if you keep moving forward!

I really hope this post was helpful in some way, it’s something I’ve been trying to combat myself and thought I’d share my findings. Does this kind of thing work for you? Or do you maybe have some tips to share yourself? Let me know in the comments below!

Breaking the Cycle

Due to the success of the post I wrote for Monday – When Problems are their own Solutions. – I’m writing again for Today!

The thing is, the more I write the better I feel, the better I feel the more productive I feel, and the more productive I feel the better I feel… It goes on and on like that. I thought I’d utilise a Friday Feeling to get it all out in the open.

Mondays post mentions I wasn’t feeling great, that I wasn’t writing much, and I wasn’t feeling in a ‘good place’ productively. Thing is, I don’t often realise these things are amiss until they’ve already become a problem, and at that point I can reflect back and think: Fuck.

As I wrote before in 3 Steps to Help Combat your Anxieties!, we need to not just treat the smoke, but understand where the fire came from and how we put it out; we need to realise what is causing our feelings and how we can stop it before it even begins. My feelings of stress recently? My feelings of anxiety? They’re caused by having so much to do, and from having done nothing of it. If you’re interested, then please read on!

Last Saturday, Kirsty and I had a lovely day appreciating the sun. We had a brunch out at the Deco Lounge in Shirley, and we went to visit my parents. There, we started talking about all the things we needed to do to the house. We moved in last year, it’s one of the best things that’s happened to me, but due to a lack of activity on our part its now also a cause of stress. As we started to list all the things we needed to do, I started to panic. There’s not a room in our house that doesn’t need something doing; it’s a major source of anxiety for me. I wanted to end the conversation there and then, avoid it, not talk about it, and let it slide for a few months. Would this help? It might cure my immediate upset, but it doesn’t treat the cause of the problems. Instead, that night Kirsty and I made a list of the things we needed to do.

Yes, the solution was we made an actual list, on actual paper; not just talking and letting imagination get carried away. It felt so much better to have it written down; where we knew what needed doing. From there we made plans to treat the areas we can do first, we set a date to go to B&Q, which we’ve followed through on, and we set a date to get the garden sorted. It felt more productive and it lightened my stress. There’s still a lot to do, but we’ve taken a small step forward, we’ve engaged in productivity and it’s made things more manageable.

So, the house was causing me stress. I’ve talked before how it should be a Sanctuary in Seeking Sanctuary: A Monday Blog, but this was the opposite. It became a topic I avoided talking about, which in turn made it harder to talk about when it came up. Not to mention it made Kirsty feel I was disinterested, when it’s not the case at all! The thing is, it wasn’t just the house getting to me, the rest stemmed from somewhere else.

The rest of my stress stemmed from, as it often does, the chasing of my goals. It stemmed from my writing and my photography, or lack there-of.  The thing is, the past few weeks I’ve been feeling rubbish with toothache and dental surgery, and it’s hampered my productivity no end. Before that I was working a lot, working thirteen days straight with some twelve hour shifts thrown in. Since, I’ve been trying to relax and enjoy doing nothing, which normally would be a welcome break, but when you add it all together it’s just a month of zero productivity when I actually have so much I want/need to do.

As I’ve learnt from the house, the more I do nothing the harder doing something becomes; it’s that inertia. The more I do nothing, the more stressful something becomes for me, and the more stressful it is the more likely I am to put it off; a vicious cycle that continues like a malevolent ouroboros. How do I go about solving this? By breaking the cycle. When I was writing a post in time for Monday, it occurred to me that simply by writing I was feeling better, simply by being ever so slightly productive I was feeling less stressed about my productivity as a whole. The more I write, and as I write now for Todays post, the better I feel. Breaking the cycle is liberating.

How are you feeling this Friday? Let me know in the comments below!