GAGging the voice of overwhelm

keep-calm-and-get-a-grip-18

I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth. Well, not quite; I’m certainly nowhere near Hamlet’s level of sadness and introspection, but I have found myself somewhat on the grumpy side recently. You know, that state where everything seems like a big deal, nothing strikes you as terribly funny, and life just feels like hard work.

The makings of such a mood can come from any quarter – professional setbacks, disappointments in friendships, money problems. For me, it’s been due to feelings of bog-standard overwhelm. I am coming up to the sixth month of my first pregnancy, and my husband and I are currently looking to buy a house and move just outside of Paris. Not bad when it comes to life-changing decisions, huh? Add to that our full-time jobs, families, friends, my writing and coaching, and it all seems like a mountain from which even the fearless Bear Grylls would run screaming.

The inconvenient truth

And the thing is, there’s not really much to be done about overwhelm. You can roll your sleeves up, make a plan, start a list, make a plan B, and discuss options with your partner ad nauseam, and those actions are practical and wise. But they’re not always enough to quiet the nagging little voice that pipes up at 2am and whispers some variant on, “It won’t all be ok; you shan’t get through this; you cannot manage”.

GAG thyself

It is my firm belief that the only thing to do in those situations is to GAG oneself. No, we’re not getting into 50 Shades territory here; GAG stands for “Get A Grip”. It’s an old expression that sounds rather shocking nowadays, doesn’t it? In an age that favours self-examination even to the point of self-torture over the old “buck up” attitude, exhorting someone to simply get a grip seems callous. But I maintain that sometimes it’s the only way.

It’s like a mental self-slap. A reminder that we really are dealing with first-world issues, here. My husband is fond of asking me to imagine how I would feel if the things overwhelming me weren’t happening – if I weren’t able to have children, if we couldn’t envisage getting a bigger home, if I didn’t have employment, friends that want my time, family who need me… The simple answer is: I’d feel pretty rubbish (he can be infuriatingly right at times)!

It doesn’t always work. Sometimes a problem really is a problem and needs talking through and solving, but it’s often just a proliferation of activity, obligations and, well, life that puts us in a tail spin. That’s when a self-shake and a firm “For God’s sake, Jo, Get. A. Grip.” works wonders for me.

Do try this at home

GAGging works best when performed using a specific accent. I occasionally hear a plummy-voiced Malory Towers- type Sports Mistress barking at me. You may prefer an American drill sergeant or even an exasperated version of yourself. Sometimes I like to hear my Scottish grandmother’s voice softly burring, “Now, now, dear, you know I love you, but do try to get a grip for goodness sake”. She never said anything of the kind to me, but somehow the vision of this strong, no-nonsense yet kind and loving woman works every time.

GAGging is also best achieved when used entirely on its own. No extra pep talk, no list of “examples of times when it has all been ok in the past as so will be this time too”, no reasoning or cajoling. Just a mental “No Entry” sign that brooks no argument.

It’s not easy at first, but if you GAG each time you head back down the road of ovewhelm, it eventually comes more quickly and more naturally. Give it a try. I’m interested to know how it works for you!

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When giving up makes you the winner

Seeing things through. Honouring your commitments. Giving your all. Noble thoughts, and laudable goals indeed, but are they always the best route to peace and happiness?

Stop pushing yourself

This week, as I was leaving the office after a hectic day, I faced a dilemma. I had a life coach networking event to attend and, boy, did I not want to go. All I could think about was a hot bath, a glass of wine and a comedy show that would relax my over-taxed brain. But wait, the type-A/achiever/self-motivator demon living inside me shouted: “You’ll regret not going and slobbing on the sofa when you could be making valuable new contacts!” I phoned a friend. “Don’t go”, she said, “You’ll regret going because if it’s anything other than insanely useful, you’ll just sit there wishing you’d listened to yourself and headed home”.

It took a lot of effort for me to overcome the dire sense that I was copping out – baling on something I’d said I would do. (Said to whom? Just myself and my diary!) And yet… as I unwound at home, I didn’t regret staying in one bit. It didn’t feel like laziness or doing myself out of opportunities. It felt something a little like… self-care.

Help those who would be helped

It has been theorised that when you decide to buy a red car, you start seeing red cars everywhere. In that spirit, a coaching client this week brought me a second example of when giving up is far from giving in. She was bewailing her failed attempts to help a friend, complaining that the friend just wouldn’t listen and was impossible to help: “I sometimes think my friend doesn’t want my help.” Ah, there it is. My powerful coaching question: “So, if this person doesn’t want help, what’s the result of trying to help him against his will?”

Cue fireworks, glass shattering, earth ceasing to rotate on its axis for a split second. “Yes”, said my client slowly, wrapping her mind around my unexpected enquiry, “I can only really help people who want to be helped. The rest is just a waste of energy.” When faced with intransigence and a lack of willing, insistence can only lead to frustration and even conflict; sometimes giving up is an act of self-protection and kindness.

Why shout them down?

I have recently been grappling with a difficult relationship with a work colleague. She does not listen. I don’t mean she hears what I say then ignores my recommendations. No, worse: she literally doesn’t let anyone speak – she cuts people off, talks over them; I even saw her get up and leave the room when another co-worker was mid-sentence answering a question she has asked. This kind of behaviour pushes all my buttons. A lack of consideration for anyone else’s contribution to the discussion (otherwise known as interrupting, not letting you finish, finishing your sentence for you) is a personal bête noire.

This week I realised (finally) that I was never going to change this woman (see my previous point!), and I am certainly not willing to shout in order to be heard. So I decided I’d just stop. Stop trying to make her hear, stop trying to give her my opinion, stop attempting to converse with her at all, in fact. And, oh, the relief! Essentially, I’ve decided that if she doesn’t want to hear me, I won’t waste my breath. I’ll give up, and in doing so, I’ll conserve my energy and spend it on someone who wants to listen and who shows me enough courtesy to deserve my precious time!

Obviously, powering through is sometimes the best course of action – who wants to be someone who doesn’t follow through or get anything done? But it’s essential to identify those times when the wiser course of action is to stop trying so hard, walk away from a damaging situation, or abandon a toxic project or relationship. Sometimes giving up is not equivalent to losing the war but to picking your battles.

 

The three-step guide to a glossier life

We all know a woman who seems to have it all, the kind that truly can run in heels and not break an ankle. She makes us all feel our lives are just a little shabby in comparison. But what if, instead of hating her, you could become her?

We all know one. You know, those women who seem to float through life, casually picking up promotions, planning parties and wafting around their pristine apartments, all the while remaining perpetually pretty and perfectly primped. Even as you’re reading this, you’re imagining the one you know, aren’t you? She’s that woman who just makes everything you do seem a little less fabulous, a little less cool, or just plain pointless. Her life is easier, more serene and, well, just – shinier – than everyone else’s. Doesn’t she just make you want throw something?

Well, instead of seething and breaking your favourite vase, what about applying the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” adage? What about becoming one of those glossy girls? “But that’s madness!” you cry? Why no, it’s all about attitude – and that, thankfully, is something that’s completely within your control. Here’s my guide to becoming one of those women in three simple steps.

You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.

The first thing to know about the Glossy Girl is that her sheen is an external characteristic. When you compare what she projects with how you feel, you’re comparing apples and oranges. She looks confident and joyful; you perhaps feel a little shy today, and slightly under the weather. But how do you know what she’s really feeling inside? She might be a bag of nerves and obsessing about her new haircut, which she hates, but she’s choosing (and I use that word intentionally) to be upbeat and outgoing.

Now, I’m not suggesting we all bury our emotions, or avoid sharing with our friends. Far from it. Healthy expression of feelings during low times is crucial. This is not about fooling the world. What the Glossy Girl has mastered is the art of fooling herself. Remember that scene in The King and I where Deborah Kerr as Anna Leonowens teaches her son to whistle a happy tune so no-one will know he’s afraid? The last lines are a masterpiece of self-help in musical form:

The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people
I fear I fool myself as well!

I whistle a happy tune
And ev’ry single time
The happiness in the tune
Convinces me that I’m not afraid.

Make believe you’re brave
And the trick will take you far.
You may be as brave
As you make believe you are!

Whether it’s fear, anxiety, discomfort, stress, self-doubt – whistle your happy tune, and along with charming everyone else at the party with your bright and breezy demeanour, you might just trick yourself into feeling rather better too.

Leave the victims for Law and Order

The second thing the Glossy Girl has mastered is the art of victimless living. It’s impossible to achieve her kind of charmed life while believing yourself to be a victim of circumstance or a helpless pawn in destiny’s cruel game of chess. Let’s think about why our Glossy got that promotion, or was asked to work on that coveted project that involves a monthly to trip to Rome/New York/LA (substitute much-dreamed-of city of your choice). I’m willing to bet that Glossy, instead of standing around the water cooler gossiping or complaining about her workload, rolled her sleeves up and got on with her job, working hard and – dirty words coming up – making the best of her lot. I know, I know, it all sounds very 1950s East End, but the merits of making do and mending, accepting the situation, putting on a brave face, cannot be overstated. In the short term, such an attitude can perk you up and help you through the day; in the long term, it shows the people around you that, even when life isn’t perfect, you’re going to get the most out of it and do your best. Why wouldn’t that kind of woman be first in line for promotion? I’d hire her.

Glossy Girl Power

The other result of casting off any “poor me” mentality is even more important. The minute you decide that you’re not a victim of life but its mistress, you take back all the power you were once attributing to – well, to what? To fate? Your parents? Your education? Your looks? Fine, you didn’t choose your family, nor did you probably have much say in your schooling, and your genes are your genes – but you are now an adult and every decision you make is your own. The Glossy Girl hasn’t always had a more privileged upbringing, or more opportunities, nor is she necessarily prettier than anyone else. But she has decided that what she is, what she does, what she thinks, is in her hands and hers alone.

A Glossy Girl does not bewail her single status; she sets up her internet dating profile, joins clubs, lets friends know she’s open to subtly orchestrated set-ups. If Glossy needs a dress for a fancy wedding but has no budget, she won’t decline the invitation or turn up in something that feels inappropriate and spend the evening hugging a wall; she’ll search her local thrift shops and find a friend with a needle to make adjustments. And if Glossy finds herself home alone on a Saturday night, she doesn’t throw a pity party, she takes the opportunity to do a home facial, finish the ironing, catch up on emails and watch a “guilty pleasure” film that she’d never admit to enjoying (we all have them, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about).

The thing is, Glossy really has no more control over her life than you or I; her advantage lies in her owning that power and never forgetting for a second that she’s in charge of her life and therefore responsible for her own happiness.

So, there you have it – for glossy tresses, I recommend a good hair mask once a week; for a glossy, glossy life: whistle a happy tune; refuse to be a victim; and own your power. Because you’re worth it.