For others to see that you have lived well, yes there may be outward achievements and accomplishments that make you shine, but more often than not people’s memories will be about YOU as a person .. who you were as a friend, a neighbour, a parent .. your ability to listen, to enjoy life and to spread joy. 

As much as we are impressed and appreciative of tireless effort, particularly for community and making a difference in the world, it would be sad simply to be remembered as a hard worker and a go-getter.  So the discussion we had at our Conscious Cafe Skipton evening in December about looking at whether our lives are being well-lived, called us into a self reflective enquiry. Questions about who we are, how we have become the person we are and how/what we feel about that, were more revealing than what we had actually done in our lives.

Not everyone is a naturally optimistic thinker, especially when to comes to opinions of themselves. It can be easy to hide behind a positive demeanour and still have a web of self doubt inside. The questions we discussed during our evening brought up many different issues for people: while some were at peace and reconciled with life now and who they were, others held threads of guilt, shame or regret that they are living a life of their choice but one which is at odds with their family’s or other’s expectations. It seems to take great personal strength, and pain, to create a life for oneself that is not necessarily one that others would like us to have. 

The inspiration for this evening’s topic came from Community member Richard Hayes who recently attended the funeral of an uncle, aged 103. That in itself is something to celebrate but Richard also noted that his uncle’s life had been judged to be one that was “well-lived”. When his wife died, after 76 years of marriage, his uncle had set out to reinvent himself in his twilight years, skydiving at age 100 and even holding a world age record for a tandem sky dive at age 101. Being inspiring is a massive contribution to others. When we hear of anybody grabbing life with both hands, each day, it can set off a thought in us .. wow .. maybe I could do that. It’s amazing how other’s courage, energy and joy can give us permission to embrace the same .. in our own way.

For this discussion evening, the community went through a series with self-reflective questions with partners. Conscious Cafe December 2019 Questions. You might find it stimulating. From the sharing these insights were forthcoming. I hope you find this interesting and helpful in your own self enquiry about living your life well.

20 key Insights from our enquiry

  1. Take time to reflect:  this valuable gift to ourselves really supports us in moving forward. Lifting your nose off the grind stone for a moment … or simply pausing and asking yourself a question can be quite alien to some folks. This pushing the PAUSE button might be a normal part of your routine but it is worthwhile building it in. This reflection time can feed us in some many ways. It may draw your attention more keenly to what is not working or it might affirm that “Yes .. I am on the right track.”
  2. The Full Stop: a good technique is to take a few minutes each day to feel a sense of completeness. What did I do today? What had been left undone .. to be continued another time? The most important thing is to feel complete with whatever happened and to celebrate everything that occurred. Do not berate yourself for that which has been left undone.  Simply acknowledge it. It is OK to let it go, breath it out and frame the day as being good, it is what it is. Put a full stop at the end of the day so that you let go of potential regrets before they have time to build up.
  3. Praise Yourself: OK so you did three things on your list and there are still 14. The list was too long or the time allocated too short to complete them. Be grateful for what you did do and if you say “Well done” out loud to yourself your brain hears the praise, almost the same as if somebody else said it to you. Everybody needs praise. It keeps us engaged in the game and helps us thrive.
  4. The Ladder of Success: Was your life one of climbing, of trying to do better and ascending some kind of organisation or system?  Maybe you did make it to the top? Hopefully you will have some sense of satisfaction for having done that .. some Cafe folks reflected on this and felt that they had climbed the ladder successfully, only to find that it was propped up against the wrong wall. That’s an interesting perspective to have on one’s life .. looking back and wondering  where your original motivations and choices came from. Yourself.. your parents .. your peer group?
  5. Nothing is ever wasted: the longer you live, and the longer view you have on your life looking back over many decades instead of just one, the more you realise that there was always some benefit from what happened. Yes that ladder may have been on the wrong wall but perhaps from that height you were able to step-change somewhere else. Most people who reflect on their ‘mistakes’ and seemingly ‘poor’ choices acknowledge that they did the best they could .. at the time …. and at the end of the day, they are who they are now because of those choices. If you unpick your history it would not necessarily reconfigure and allow you to be who you are right now.   
  6. Perfectionism is a killer: If you set yourself up for not moving forward unless everything is perfect you have set yourself up for a life of procrastination and stress.  I know all about trying to make things perfect and have now taken on a new mantra .. “It’s good enough”. It will do. It will get you started …. don’t let ideas of making things perfect get in the way of taking on a new challenge. 
  7. Setting the bar high enough: is it better to set the bar quite high, then perhaps feel some disappointment if you have not managed to get where you wanted .. or to set the bar low and get there (relatively easily), but feel “maybe I could have pushed myself more?”  I think we would concur that aiming as high as possible is the healthiest approach .. we just need the right encouragement and support to “Go for it!”. Grab life with both hands and see where it takes you and be happy with where you get.. then set the bar again!
  8. Motivation is key: why are you doing what you are doing, or did?  Some reasons can include “I’ll show them!” … moving forward in life out of pain, spite or fear is never a winning formula, at least for your mental health. It might be a good driver for achievement but at some point, there is usually a realisation and course correction. It’s always better to want something for yourself, or at least an inspiring vision for the world that has you entwined with it.
  9. Are you a black sheep?: quite a few Cafe attendees raised their hands for being a Black Sheep in their family. It’s an interesting identity to have …. been an outlier or outsider… a rule breaker. Quite a few of us who would identify with being curious about life, seeking answers, reaching out to others for deeper conversation, we are also perhaps those who look at what is considered ‘normal’ in society and feel “that’s not me.” Like those questers in the Close Encounters movie, answering the siren call of the alien ship … it can take us away from the “normal path” of family expectation just by wanting to follow our hearts and do what is right for us. This decision to be authentic takes huge courage. Then we find other black sheep along the way and we think … “I’m not alone!”
  10. Forget the Sandwich technique: most of us know about this. Give someone the good news and praise first, slip in the negative critique filler next and follow it up with another slice of praise.  Modern neuroscience tells us this is rubbish. Once your brain has taken in the initial criticism that is all it can think about and it is no longer listening receptively to anything spoken after that. It’s true isn’t it … we can have a tendency to hear something off and can let it take priority over the many things that are good. If you find yourself churning over negativity and having difficulty accepting the positive, do a deliberate mental shift and switch to thinking positively and productively. It will give a massive boost to your mental health. In the absence of anyone else doing it, patting yourself on the back, does you a world of good.
  11. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) has power: there is a well researched communication style that shows we respond better to the positive. For every negative inout, we actually need five times the positive input. The norm in society is probably to get five negative things off your chest (gosh that feels better!) then throw in a positive comment at the end for good measure. If you really understand the power of AI, then you will indeed start shifting into positive dialogue.
  12. Make space for yourself:  it has already been said that taking time is important but also note that you need physical space. Note that as you grow as a person and your life changes, sometime this does mean that you need more physical space. Not just for “stuff” but simply to be. Growing and evolving can mean that you develop a sense of needing to move to another home or location where you can feel more expanded.
  13. Making a fresh start: you can give yourself a big reboot by deciding to make a fresh start .. for many in the Cafe community that has meant moving house and/or moving location. Quite a few Cafe folks are relatively new in Skipton having relocated here for a fresh start in later life. Britain’s Happiest Town (2017) is drawing us in seemingly. It’s a brave thing to do and it affirms a strong survival instinct and desire to move onward and upward.
  14. Back to basics: its never too late at any age of life stage, to start again .. roll up your sleeve and go back to basics. See life through fresh eyes … add in the joy that was missing before .. whatever it takes, every day we are creating our lives as we choose. 
  15. Each day is a new start: as much as you can reboot your life and approach a new year with a new goal and fresh energy, you can actually do that any day that you wake up. I once heard an elderly person say .. “Any day above ground is a good day!”
  16. The need to stretch ourselves: if you pause and look at where you are in life .. if for some reason you feel you are languishing or parked up in one of life’s lay-bys .. it’s OK to set a new goal and stretch yourself a bit more. The next goal does not have to be huge but you can always decide to raise the bar for yourself… again. 
  17. Gratitude is a fuel: one way you can nourish yourself is to switch to being grateful. Gratitude is a very under-rated source of energy, you can switch how you feel in a heartbeat if you shift your focus from problems to .. “what have I got that I can be grateful for?”
  18. Permission: this is something can simply give yourself … permission to do something, to feel a certain way, to change your focus .. again, it’s another powerful tool to redirect your mindset in a more positive way.
  19. Let go of self-criticism:  instead, be in the enquiry for how you can see something differently. Ask yourself new (and good quality) questions, make new choices, look for different perspectives. Hold the assumptions that you are OK .. you are simply, like everybody else, a work-in-progress moving through life as best you can.  Why treat yourself less kindly that you would another person? It does not make sense. 
  20. What people think about you: this is their own business. You can never determine why people have the opinion’s they have, even what hurt or expectation they may be operating from. For sure you might be in a position to ask, if this feels right .. BUT .. you cannot stop people having an opinion. Not worrying about it is will give you a sense of freedom. This in no way means that you do not care for others. Stay true to you, operate from the best of intentions … it’s all you can do. It’s the best you can do.

And finally …

Golden January: this first month of the year is a perfect time to space for yourself. Technically it is the first month in a new year but in reality, no new energy comes in for the next cycle until the end of the month, around Chinese New year time (the Chinese are on the ball there) or February 4th which is a fixed for the feng shui new year starting.That is when we feel new energy coming in to help lift us through the next year. So January is actually the tail end of the last year and I usually take the whole month to complete the previous year and reflect on the future. New year’s Ice itself is too short a time to do this .. take a whole month to prioritise for yourself.

The Power of Joy:  being happy, joyful and bright is such an incredible contribution to the world. Whilst we might be tempted to believe that our actions are the currency the world needs, it’s our ability to be happy, cheerful, positive and engaged that touches the hearts of others. And it’s this heart to heart connection that is the most valuable gift we can give the world. That is what living well is all about.. being joyful and inspiring to others.

There’s a movie starring Shirley MacLaine called The Last Word. It did not get  particularly good reviews or ratings but the premise was amusing. Control freak Shirley wanted to oversee the writing of her own obituary so she got the local paper obituary writer to do this. Unfortunately, nobody had a good word to say about Shirley (it’s a Hollywood story!) so Shirley set out to do the good that would get her a decent write-up… and there’s your story of redemption. It’s food for thought and I found it amusing.