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Episode 178: How To Feel Alive

Over the years there've been a few variations on a question towards me. Occasionally someone would say “Are you always like this?” Or on rare occasions "What's wrong with you?" Or as an Amazon Audible reviewer in the US said last year
My Image
I mentioned this to my supervisor once, and she agreed with you all that in the politest possible sense I’m a bit out of the ordinary. Maybe I'm doing something right, so today I want to talk about my 5 tips for a happier and more enthusiastic life.

1. Find your passion.
If you're not sure what it is that your passionate about one way of figuring it out might be to look at what you did when you were younger. What made you feel enthusiastic earlier in life, before the world tried to change you? Music? Art? Cooking? Acting?
Often there's a reason why they pushed your buttons when you were younger, maybe you were quite good at something but your life went a different way. But just because you aren’t the best in there world at something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it and enjoy it. I help to run an amateur dramatics group and meet so many people when they first join who say things like "I've always wanted to do this but just never got around to it." Yhey've always known they'd like it but just never followed it up for some reason. The same goes for anything. Someone said to me once that their ideal career would be teaching, they did their work experience when they were 15 at their previous primary school and said it was the best week of their lives. But life took them somewhere else, they didn't get their degree, and being realistic were probably never going to be able to get one now. But once they remembered that their passion was in teaching helping and inspiring, they started volunteering at the local library, helping set up events, teaching silver surfers how to use the internet. They even helped to start up a Lego club for the local children. And they didn't need a degree to do that. They didn't need a new career to find enthusiasm in their life, they just needed something new adding in to their life.
He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
Albert Einstein
2. Look for the reasons to be happy. It was Albert Einstein who once said "He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed." Wow! Open your eyes, be alive, pay attention to the world and look for the things that you’d normally take for granted that can make you smile. Appreciate the simple things in nature, the sun going down, a squirrel running up a tree that sort of thing. Being fully present in the moment can allow you to feel truly inspired by life. It takes a bit of practice for it to become second nature, but if you just slow down a little and give yourself a few seconds more for things to be experienced a bit deeper you can find that food tastes better, clothes feel warmer, friends feel friendlier. You'll feel that life isn't quite so repetitive and unfulfilling after all.

3. Challenge yourself. You might be good at something but it doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. Obviously the more often you make spaghetti bolognese the easier it is, maybe the better it tastes. But if you only ever cooked the same meal you’re not going to be so proud for very long. Learn something new. Whether that’s through cooking, learning to play a musical instrument or a new language. Getting new skills wakes up the brain and knowing that each and every day, you are becoming an slightly improved version of yourself is a great way to create enthusiasm.
Sometimes simple little positive changes can create a huge amount of enthusiasm.

4. Keep moving. Sure, there's a time and a place for relaxation but don’t do it too much. you have more control over your energy levels than you think. Like all toddlers, when my son was young he would get tired easily. Especially if we were doing something he didn't want to do. When shopping he'd begin to walk slower and slower and I’m sure that he felt as if he had no energy at all. But if I said something like “Hey Billy, shall we have a race?” or “Shall we go to the playground after this?” Suddenly he’s awake, alert and full of energy. That’s the power of mind. even as an adult. Tell yourself that you have nothing to do and it tells you that you are sleepy, give it a task and it propels you forward with tons of energy and enthusiasm.

5. Be positive. Even if it feels forced, deliberately looking for evidence that things went well today has a great influence on us.
The brain likes to latch onto emotions, it's how we encode our memories. If there's no emotion attached to something then the brain doesn't stick it together quite so well, that's why enjoying learning a musical instrument has a significant influence on our ability compared to just practising and going through the motions. So if we can take as much of the negative emotions out of the stuff that goes wrong in our day then our brain will find it harder to remember the negative experiences.
We want the opposite to happen, we want our brain to find it easier to recall the positive stuff as it can be very powerful. Barbara Fredrickson is a psychologist who coined the term "The broaden-and-build theory" to explain this. She undertook quite a few experiments that showed the value in deliberately practising positivity and the effects it has on us even months after the experiment had finished. All because for only 3 consecutive days she had participants write about some positive experiences. 3 months later when you compare them to participants that did different exercises, those that had written about positive stuff once a day for 3 days had fewer illnesses and reported greater levels of happiness and wellbeing. 3 months later!

The effects of deliberately writing about positive experiences for 3 days started the ball rolling for it to become a part of their personality. And it's a great buffer for when things do go wrong. Life isn't always going to go according to plan, there are too many outside influences and we need to be ok with that. Similarly thinking about everything going wrong will train your brain to look for problems, it will train the limbic system to produce chemicals that prevent pleasure, and boost fear. So have an awareness that things can go wrong, but trust yourself that you can deal with it THEN, that you don't need to plan for the worst case scenario in advance just incase.
Have an awareness of the worst case scenario, yes, but don't make that the focus.