A lot of bad stuff is going on in the world at the moment.
And for some reason, I’m just now starting to truly realise that the longer you stay in this world, the more likely bad stuff is going to happen to you.
I’m much more of a glass half full than half empty kind of person, though I’d probably also be more inclined to just describe what the glass looks like and analyse the taste and smell of the liquid in it…
So let’s call me a positive, information-seeking, realist.
Recently, a lot of yuck has been happening to people I love. Medical disappointments, relationships dissolving, family members passing away, not to mention on a larger scale with the floods, cyclones and earthquake.
I want to know how to help and I’ve hated the helpless feeling that’s come from not knowing what to do.
I also started to become totally overwhelmed by some of these situations as I’ve been intensely feeling the pain that my friends have been feeling. Although it’s not even a tiny percentage of the sadness that they feel, it all started to combine into one until I began to feel like a sponge that had been sitting in an emotional puddle, and I was soaked to capacity and couldn’t absorb much more. Initially, my reaction was just to switch off. But being cold and clinical wasn’t going to help anyone either.
So I’ve drawn some advice from a book that my brother recently put me on to. It’s written by neuroscientist Dr Kerry Spackman and is a fascinating look into the human mind and how you can actually rewire both the logical and emotional brain circuits to work to your advantage. Among other things, Kerry has also been a long term consultant to several Formula 1 teams specialising in the performance optimisation of drivers. This great book is called The Winner’s Bible. (It’s obviously worked as a title because the book is a bestseller but I’ve got to admit, I find the name a little naff… sorry Dr S!).
Anyway, I think Kerry is a genius. Actually, forget what I think, he actually is. Check his credentials here. He also has his head screwed on about priorities, having a social conscious and living an authentic life.
He has a lot to say about overcoming disappointment and disaster, in fact, he’s dedicated an entire chapter to it. It’s really interesting, can’t-put-down stuff but it’s also involved, detailed and based on medical science so I’m not going to even attempt to summarise it here.
But one vignette that particularly stuck was his ‘Lessons from happy 100-year-olds’.
A group of researchers wanted to find out what key factors determined some people get unwell and die before they are 60 as opposed to those that are fit, healthy and happy at 100.
They conducted thousands of medical examinations and studied hundreds of factors, including genes, diet, wealth and exercise. The results were a massive surprise. The top three factors to stand out above all of the others weren’t biological (i.e. heart disease, cholesterol, high blood pressure) they were thought processes.
As Kerry explains in his book, this is excellent news because you can change your thought processes while your biology is largely down to genetics.
The three most important factors that the researchers found in happy, healthy 100 year olds were;
1. An ability to get over disappointment
2. An exocentric view of life
3. A passion that is actively pursued
Endeavouring to do those three things will no doubt set you up for a happier existence, no matter how long you live for, and that sounds good to me.
Disappointment often leaves us feeling deflated that things don’t always turn out the way we want. But I’m finding that the beauty of disappointment is on it’s flip side – it eventually offers you a bridge over to a nicer, kinder, more peaceful place. Somewhere calm that you can accept the reality that you find yourself in. Where you value every moment, taking nothing for granted as you appreciate the people and things that you do have.
The key word here is “eventually”. Overcoming a major knockback isn’t going to happen straightaway. That bridge away from disappointment might be a rickety, swinging suspension bridge, swaying hundreds of meters over a ravine. You’re scared and tired and would rather just dwell in disappointment a while longer.
But dwelling is merely surviving, not living. So at some point, it’s time to begin your journey across.
The first thing to do as you take those hesitant first steps onto the suspension bridge are to grip onto the ropes that are hanging on either side of you. They will steady you and stop you from falling. And then each step you take, even when you’re sitting on the bridge taking a breather, you stay hanging on to those ropes.
Those ropes are Kerry Spackman’s point 2 and 3 above.
2. An exocentric view of life – contact with your family, friends, work colleagues, community
3. A passion that is actively pursued - find YOUR passion – it may be sport, charity work, art classes, writing, music, cooking, fashion, gardening
So whether you’re the one who is battling disappointment right now, or the fortunate one who’s in the position to help, spending time incorporating these two factors into your daily life will help.
There will never be any instant solutions to overcoming adversity but recognising that your thought processes will either propel your forward to a better time, or hold you back in a murkier place, is as good a start as any.