Have a Bouncy New Year

176 - FireworksSometimes courage is simply saying, “I will try again tomorrow”.

Mary Anne Radmacher

Happy New Year.

Two words of advice if you’re making plans or resolutions for the coming year – ‘Don’t rush’.

We all enjoy the prospect of a new start, to move on from the mistakes of the past, apply the lessons we’ve learned and start afresh. We get excited by the first blank page in a new notebook or by the start of a new year, but deep down we know that beginnings are easy.

“This year I’ll lose weight”.

“This year I’ll save some money”.

“This year I’ll change the world”.

We put too much pressure on ourselves at the start of the year – all too often still bloated and worn out by the excesses of Christmas, the dark and cold mid-winter isn’t necessarily the best time to begin our mission to run 10 miles a week, sort out the garden, or lay off the crisps! If we set-off with an all or nothing attitude, it’s perhaps not surprising that we so often fail.

The truth is we can decide to start again anytime we want, and as often as we want.

There’s nothing wrong with the symbolism of a new page, or a new year, but we’re more likely to be successful in putting our best intentions into practice if we treat every day as a potential new start.

We all get tired, unmotivated and fed-up from time to time, and we should just cut ourselves some slack, accept we’re only human and not give-up at the first hint of failure.

Sometimes change takes a little time.

Work on your ‘bouncebackability’.

[Extract from my ebook The January I Saved the World]


Photo Image used under Creative Commons Licence from Nigelhowe, via Flickr

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Can Most People Be Trusted ?

173 -  TrustA few questions for you.

Do you think most people can be trusted ?

What percentage of people do you think, believe most people can be trusted ?

Have you given money to charity in the last month ?

What percentage of people do you think, have given money to charity in the last month ? 

Have you volunteered your time at least once to help others during the last year ?

What percentage of people do you think, have volunteered their time at least once to help others during the last year ? 

There’s a theme behind these questions – what we do is influenced in part by what others are doing.

The fact is that most of us, most of the time, feel more comfortable when we go along with the accepted social norms, than when we don’t. No one wants to be the only person at a fancy dress party not in fancy dress, or the only one wearing it at a black-tie event.  It’s all about fitting-in and living-up to the expectations of our peers and the wider group.

Of course, it’s not that we always unthinkingly follow the crowd, but just that we tend to conform unless we have especially strong views to the contrary . . . we follow the path of least resistance. This tendency affects our beliefs and behaviours to a surprising degree; from what music we listen to and what we wear, to what newspapers we read and how we vote, and the study of social norms, how they form and develop and how they may be influenced and changed, has become an important area of research.

But the really interesting thing is that in fact it doesn’t much matter what people are actually doing, it’s what we think they’re doing that matters !

If we think everyone else is helping themselves to the office stationary, we might be more tempted to ‘borrow’ a stapler ourselves. If we think everyone else is evading paying their taxes, we might be more tempted to do the same.

And it’s not only our behaviours, it’s also our beliefs.

It we think everyone else is upset about ‘illegal immigrants coming over here, abusing the system’, or that ‘wind-farms are a terrible blight on the landscape’, then the evidence suggests we’re more likely to conform to those views ourselves.

And of course, we mustn’t forget, that in fact most of the time we don’t actually know how everyone else is behaving, or what their beliefs or opinions are.

For example -

How much does the average person give to charity ?

Most of us simply don’t know.

So we tend to either project our own opinions onto the wider world, and assume that most people broadly do the same thing we do, or we rely on our recollections of media headlines we might have spotted recently, which of course puts us at risk not only from their slant and bias, but because we tend to self-select our news sources, often only reading things we already know we’re going to largely agree with.

Needless to say we get things wrong much of the time as a result !

I think this is an important issue – it shapes opinions, actions, policies and ultimately lives.

So I’ve set myself a challenge – to try to distinguish more clearly between facts and opinion, both in others and in myself – we’re all entitled to our own opinions after all, but not our own facts! I’ll also try to challenge untruths being presented as fact wherever I can, or at least ask ‘what’s your evidence for that?’ more often.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ll try to be a little more open and talkative about the various ‘good’ things I do; from organic gardening and buying my clothes in charity shops, to recycling and giving money to charity – if you all do the same, we might start changing a few social norms . . . in a good way.

Let your good be visible. 

And finally, the answers:

What percentage of people, do people believe most people can be trusted? What percentage of people do you think, have given money to charity in the last month? What percentage of people do you think, have volunteered their time at least once to help others during the last year?

(41% of people believe most people can be trusted. 74% of people gave money to charity last month. 72% of people have volunteered their time at least once during the last year)

How much does the average person give to charity ?

(The answer to that last one is £16 a month; with poorer people and Muslims being more generous – who knew?)


Similar articles – From Petrified Forests to Poor PeopleChoice is VoluntaryBe Your Own Choice ArchitectGood BehaviourAre You Well Informed?

Photo by James Cridland (creative commons), via Flickr

Random Acts of Kindness

163 - Kindness“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted” - AESOP

Not such a long time ago, in a toll-booth not so very far away,  a woman in a red Honda full of Christmas presents, about to cross the San Francisco Bay Bridge, paid the toll not only for herself but also for the next six cars.

One after another, the drivers of the next six cars were told they didn’t have to pay, as a lady in a previous car had already paid for them. It turned out the woman in the Honda had earlier read the phrase “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” written on a card stuck on a friend’s fridge, and liked the idea so much she thought she’d give it a go.

Another woman, Judy Foreman, saw the same phrase graffitied on a wall and mentioned it to her husband, Frank. Frank was a teacher and also liked the phrase, putting it on a notice in his classroom to help inspire his pupils. One of the pupil’s parents was a columnist at a local newspaper and after being told about the phrase, decided to use it in a short article in the newspaper.

After reading this article, the writer Anne Herbert was so inspired by the idea she decided to write it on a table mat in a Sausalito restaurant – and, this convoluted and unlikely sounding story is often cited as the origin of the phrase random acts of kindness‘.

Unlike the origin, the idea itself is straightforward – by practicing more kindness to others in our everyday lives, we can help create ‘cycles of kindness’.

We’re probably all familiar with the idea of ‘cycles of violence’, that violence perpetrated on one person by another increases the chance that person too will too go on to commit violence against others. This is considered a factor in both armed conflict and domestic violence, there is a strong desire to ‘get even’, and if not with the one who harmed us, then someone else.

There is plenty of evidence that many other behaviors can be learned and spread the same way, including kindness.

Deliberate kindness seems to be an idea whose time has arrived, with many individuals, families, groups and communities around the world actively trying to be kinder in their everyday lives:

In the Bay Area, the Haswell family have brought together over two hundred volunteers to spread kindness at local events.

Just before Christmas a customer in a Canadian coffee shop brought a coffee for the person behind them in the line, who then went on to do likewise for the person behind then. Amazingly, the next 228 people did the same !

Instead of having a party, Syed Muzamil Hasan Zaidi decided to do 22 random acts of kindness across Islamabad, Pakistan to celebrate his 22nd birthday.

Bob, founder of the Million Acts of Kindness website is currently spending a year cycling around the perimeter of the USA, visiting schools along the route to promote kindness between pupils.

A Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has been set-up, promoting the virtue of being kind, and is now running educational workshops in Colorado schools.

The comedian Danny Wallace wrote a best selling book promoting the concept, and suggesting that people commit to carrying out one random act of kindness every Friday.

And any internet search will find hundreds of people interested in doing more random acts of kindness, or offering suggestions for kind things to do.

If you think this sounds just a bit too soft and fluffy, there is also a lot of serious investigation ongoing into understanding and teaching kindness, amid evidence that experience of kindness has a definite positive effect on public health and pro-social behaviors.

The most interesting and amazing thing is that it boosts not only the person receiving the kindness, but also the person being kind.

Something to think about when you have the option to give way at your next road junction on the way home . . .

“Ask yourself have I been kind today ? Be kind everyday and change your world” – ANNIE LENOX

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in The Year I Saved the World]


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Photo by Katerha, via Flickr

Putting Things Right

159 - SunsetI hope you all had a good Christmas.

The next and final stop on the festive roller-coaster is the New Year. Amid the traditional parties, celebrations and singing of Auld Land Syne, most of us will also find time to make some plans for the year ahead, perhaps including promises or resolutions to ourselves or others.

In thinking forward to the next year, we of course review the year that has gone – both what went well, and not so well.

Earlier in the year I heard the progressive liberal Rabbi Pete Tobias give a short Yom Kippur talk on the radio. Yom Kippur is typically a time of looking back and also often referred to as The Day of Atonement: atonement meaning righting wrongs, making amends, putting things right, reflection, reconciliation, restitution and reparation.

I thought his words were probably apt for us all.


Let us ask ourselves hard questions – for this is the time for truth

How much time did we waste in the year that is now gone ?

Did we fill our days with life, or were they dull and empty ?

Was there love inside our home, or was the affectionate word left unsaid ?

Was there a real companionship with our children, or was there a living together, but growing apart ?

Were we a help to our partner, or did we take them for granted ?

How was it with our friends, were we there when they needed us, or not ?

The kind deed – did we perform it, or postpone it ?

The unnecessary jibe – did we say it or hold it back ?

Did we live by false values – did we deceive others, did we deceive ourselves ?

Were we sensitive to the rights and feelings of those who worked for us ?

Did we acquire only possessions – or did we acquire new insight as well ?

Did we fear what the crowd would say, and keep quiet when we should have spoken out ?

Did we mind only our own business, or did we feel the heartbreak of others ?

Did we live right, and if not have we learned . . . and will we change ?


Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.

Photo by Jebulon, via Wikipedia

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Secret Miracle Cure ?

What if I told you I have a secret something that can extend your life ?

Something that will make you feel better. Reduce your stress, your blood pressure, and improve your emotional stability, anxiety and impatience. It will probably also reduce your risk of depression.

Something that has been shown to reduce levels of bodily inflamation linked to heart disease, stroke, arthritis and diabetes, and that will actually increase the rate your body repairs itself. It also improves your resilience to colds !

Something that also amazingly improves your memory, sharpens your attention, makes you more alert and more creative, increases your willpower, regulates your appetite, improves sporting performance and willingness to take part in exercise. It also magically makes you a safer driver.

It also makes you happier !

Sounds unbelievable ?

It’s real, it exists, and is yours for free.

If you haven’t realised already, it’s sleep. Type ‘benefits of sleep’ into Google to see for yourself.

Sounds great, but the bad news is that we’re all sleeping less. It’s not because we magically don’t get tired anymore (despite self-medicating with caffeinated energy drinks), it’s because there’s so many other things to do – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

It wasn’t that long ago there was no breakfast TV and once the national anthem had finished around midnight, there was only a little white dot on the screen. Most shops were closed by six, or by lunchtime on Wednesdays, and virtually nowhere was open on Sunday.

If you’re 30 or younger you might find this hard to believe. Our lives are so different now – we can watch, work, shop, play and communicate 24/7 in endless different ways. This digital world is so enticing – why would we waste our lives sleeping ! Many of us have a tendency to sacrifice sleep for work, family or personal enjoyment such as late night surfing the internet, we think we’re maximising our time or productivity, but we’re probably doing the exact opposite.

There’s no getting away from it – if we want the happiest, healthiest life we can we need to ensure we get enough sleep.

Prioritising sleep and ensuring we get enough will likely do wonders for our concentration, mood and energy levels, and will make it easier for us to find the motivation, willpower and commitment to achieve everything else we want to do in life.

I’m as guilty as anyone.

Sleep has never been something I’ve been terribly good at – but improving my sleep is my mission for the new year.

My solution will be to build a habit of a regular bedtime, spend a little less time looking at screens, especially in the evening, and generally organising my routine to include more sleep. It will also involve finding the willpower to simply stop what I’m doing more often, and go to bed.

You might want to join me on my journey to more sleep – or if you’re there already feel free to tell the rest of us your secret ?

Photo by dannyelbrazil, via Flickr

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