I was walking over Richmond Bridge, many years ago, when I saw a well-dressed man in his twenties walked briskly past me, talking animatedly to himself. I was puzzled because he didn't look at all mad. Then I realized - he was using a phone and earplugs, and this was the first time I'd seen that. But that got me thinking, is it really mad to talk to ourselves? Or is it the essence of sanity?
I think the latter, though it's best to do it silently. One of the problems with our ultra-busy lives is that most of us act too much and think too little. As the poet W. H. Davies wrote:
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?--
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass ...
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
To stop and stare is really to reflect and think. And though it is therapeutic to let our thoughts meander where they will, it is also good to "talk" to ourselves, to ask whether we are doing the right things, how we are, what we are feeling, and how we could be more relaxed and happy.
I find the best time to do this is before doing anything, first thing in the morning. Then we can also ask what we are going to do today - including just enjoying ourselves - to be of greater value to ourselves and the people around us. Like anything else, it helps if we make our little conversation - I call it having a cup of tea with our emotions and thoughts - a habit, done at the same time and if possible the same place each day. There are many ways to do this, but here are some suggestions to pick from or modify:
• Find a peaceful place where you won't be disturbed. It could be a room, a garden, a spot with a view, a seat outdoors, or anywhere you like being. If it takes you a few minutes to reach your peaceful place, so much the better - you can feel yourself on a little trip to tranquillity.
• Start by asking yourself how you feel. Are you calm and happy? Anxious and preoccupied? What is stopping you from feeling good about you and your life?
• Alternatively, go for some gentle exercise - a stroll perhaps, or an easy cycle ride.
• Remind yourself of what you are good at doing, and what you have achieved. Take pride in who you are, the obstacles you've overcome, the people you have helped. Shut out all thoughts of failure and guilt. They are not helpful. They do not belong in your peaceful place.
• Think what gives you hope - the good things that lie ahead, what you may work towards, the pleasures you can share with a friend or a group of friends, whatever you look forward to. We are often told to live in the moment, but happy anticipation is a wonderful thing, because you get the pleasure twice, once in your mind now, and once when it "really" happens. If you can visualize future bliss, you not only bring it forward without using it up; you also make it more likely and rich in meaning when it happens.
• If you are working today, select one thing to do that passes three tests. It must be:
- Enjoyable; and
- Valuable - something that will make a difference to you and other people; and
- Quick and easy - it must not take too much time or energy. It may take a bit of ingenious thought. But choose something that will not bog you down, or prove beyond your powers and ability to finish within, at most, a couple of hours.
• If you are not working today, select an activity that will also be enjoyable, valuable, and easy to do. What is this world, if full of care, we don't have fun, with others there? Enjoyment is valuable, especially if it shared. Time spent enjoying ourselves is not time wasted.
• Use a notebook to record your thoughts and intentions. Writing something down clarifies our thinking and makes it easy to go back and see how we have developed. If you believe in the power of goals - and I do, though they are not for everyone - you can remind yourself and calibrate your progress towards the goals.
Once you have left your peaceful place and set out on the day's voyage, take an inspiring book - anything that you find interesting and that makes you think - to read in odd moments - on the bus, at lunchtime, whenever you have a spare five minutes. I find it's best to take a book you can dip into briefly, or one that you've highlighted so you can quickly find the bits that encourage and galvanize you best. In next week's blog, I'll share five of the books that I have used recently to provide momentary calm and stimulation.
You may think you are too busy or too confident to set aside a few minutes each day to talk to yourself. But the truth is, we all need buoying up, we need to appreciate ourselves, and we need to reach deep within ourselves before sallying forth into the outside world. If we don't talk to ourselves to gain inner calm and optimism, we are quite likely to get thrown off course. If we do talk to ourselves, we can become the best and happiest person we can possibly be.