Welcoming in 2019 with mixed feelings

Underwhelming

Many of my friends on Facebook, and many coaches whom I follow on Twitter, have described their  New Year celebrations and expansive plans for 2019. For myself, this New Year has been more than usually underwhelming.

I often say inwardly that I would prefer to spend New Year’s Eve reading a book at home, rather  than heading out into the cold to spend a few hours with friends at their home, partying, or down an ill-lit pub or club, downing Prosecco and champagne and other variants of bubbly. Invariably I get into the spirit of things, drink too much of the largely indistinguishable alcohols on offer, and wake up feeling the pain of hangover and the happiness of renewal of another New Year.

This year, and as I have done in almost all previous years, I ignored the urge to stay at home. I ventured out into the cold and down the quiet streets of my home town, ending up at the local Con Club. Unlike in all previous years, however, I really do wish I had just had a quiet evening in and read a book.

It’s not that the evening was an unmitigated disaster. Certainly not a car crash.

Apart from a half-hour argument about politics with a close friend, triggered by my anti-Brexit T-shirt, that lasted between 11.15 pm and around 11.45 (as far as I recall, from looking repeatedly at the clock) it was mostly quite pleasant. The conversation was lively, for the most part, and the refugees from another party towards midnight suggested we had not chosen the worst option in terms of the entertainment and company. The hugs and kisses at New Year were as happy and sincere as ever.

But definitely this year it did not go with the usual zing. My heart felt as if it were in another place from the crowded room, which smelt of spilt beer, and reverberated with the noise of the  post- middle-aged rock band. The argument before midnight racketed around in my head after the bells had tolled like a deaf bat, leaving a bad aftertaste. I felt a gaping distance behind every burst of laughter.

When I got home, finally, I felt that everything was tainted, even my closest friendships. I remembered my mother, who died exactly two years earlier, and I felt emotional that my kids were now grown up and had (effectively) flown the parental nest.

The lengthening shadows of Brexit swept me into a deepening gloom that has not yet shifted.

Underwhelmed

Why do I tell you this? I’m sorry if this is not an upbeat New Year message. Nor do I have any terrific new insights to draw from my somewhat sub-optimal experience, beyond that life does not always go with a bang.

Of course, I hope that 2019 will be a wonderful year for myself, my family and every single one of my friends. I hope it will be wonderful for you too. And I still hope that Brexit will not happen. But the reality is that it is more likely to be a mixed bag, and that Brexit is more likely to happen than not. As my late father said, we’ll just  have to find some way to “muddle through”.

At least this New Year has not kicked-off with  unrealistic expectations. I often feel we are fed a diet of saccharin self-satisfaction through social media, a distorting mirror in which the reflection is always more perfect than the reality.

Recipes for the good life abound. Bob Dylan once said, “Everybody wants you to be just like them”. Whether it’s the peremptory injunctions for self-improvement on Twitter or book-length manuals for higher levels of performance and achievement; whether it’s picture perfect Selfie images on Instagram or lengthy descriptions of the family achievements over the last year on Facebook; TV-ready Ted talks or the video of New Year fireworks in Thailand on Youtube — the message from Social Media can be relentless: Someone has it better than you.

I hope that my rather downbeat New Year narrative will, at least, help to stem this relentless tide of false expectation and inflated comparison. At a deeper level, I hope also that those who read it will realise that it’s perfectly okay to have ups and downs.

I believe that coaching can help us learn from these highs and lows, to achieve deeper levels of self-awareness and inner contentment. I believe it can help us to exercise the will to achieve our deepest goals, but also deepen self-acceptance so that we do not have to listen to the constant noise of self-comparison.

In that spirit*  I would like to leave you with the following thoughts:

Real life is often less than perfect, even at New Year, with all its hilarity and hope. The hand we are dealt contains spades as well as hearts, clubs as well as diamonds. Our moods are often positive, but sometimes not.  We make mistakes, so do our friends; we have regrets, so do they. The year ahead will have highs but also lows. Some will be our fault, others will be down to events beyond our control.

We will achieve some of our cherished hopes through character, attitude, hard work, spirit and good luck; but sometimes we will fail. We will overcome some fears, but not all. Hopefully we will feel happy, joyous, warm, excited, loving, loved; but we will also go through periods where we are sad, frustrated, impatient, angry, maybe even despairing at times. Hopefully, our friends, family, loved ones will give us comfort and support; but it is not unlikely that on some days, we will have to hold ourselves.

Whatever 2019 holds for you, my best wishes and warm regards.  

Final thought:

* I hope those who read this post will do so in the spirit in which it is intended, and not regard it as negative or depressing. Feel free to comment and I will certainly reply. Look after yourselves in the year ahead. Please do seek  help if you feel hopeless or unable to cope.

   

The Hazards of Tweeting

I have been Tweeting about Brexit. Being half Austrian, I feel passionately that the UK should not be leaving the European Union. The trouble is, I’m not sure that Twitter is helping my karma.

The trouble is that tweeting is an activity, just like walking to the railway station or hitting a tennis ball. But whereas activity creates a calm sense of agency in those involved in doing it, tweeting has exactly the opposite effect.

When you set off for the railway station, you usually know you will be there in a given time (whether the train leaves on time is a different matter).

Similarly when you are hitting a tennis ball, you roughly know where it will end up (not always, in my case).

But with Twitter you gear up to make a tremendous impact, and it never happens. You might get some likes or retweets, you might get trolled by those hostile to your point of view, but certainly there is not the bandwidth for a healthy two-way conversation in which what you say affects the person with whom you are discussing.

Today, I got a reply to my Tweet from my local MP. I had asked whether there would be enough NHS nurses after Brexit, quoting a study by a respected independent research institute that suggested there wouldn’t be. The response was fairly immediate, but defensive: a quick-fire stat to demonstrate to the world at large that what I had dared to suggest might be the case was, well, just wrong.

To be honest, I’d sent out my tweet before dawn, while still lying in bed, and before the walk to the station for work. And I honestly didn’t mind the MP’s response. But I was struck by the knee-jerk reaction to try to “put down” the question. The game seemed to be to win an argument against an opposing Tweeter, rather than discuss ideas and opinions in any meaningful way.

This is why it’s bad for karma. When you act, you expect the action to have a consequence. But like the name Twitter implies, whatever you say or do on Twitter has about as much impact as bird-song.

There is something deeply satisfying about conversations where one party changes their mind about an important issue. It makes the discussion worthwhile. It’s even better when a conversation you’ve had changes your mind about something.

It is the same feeling you get when you hit a tennis ball and for once it goes exactly where you wanted it to go. Or when someone you are playing against makes a great point and you lose the rally honourably.

Echo Chambers

But Twitter isn’t like that. The best you can do is to enjoy the Echo Chamber effect of the Likes and RTs and the feeling that everyone is on your side. But that’s the mind-set of the mob! As for those who don’t agree with you, all you can hope for is to niggle them and hope they are rattled enough to leave the field. But that’s a highly unlikely result. Because their own echo-chamber is egging them on, and they are listening to them, not you.

So it becomes a spectacle in which two school bullies blindly take swings at each other, each in their own little world, and only randomly making occasional contact.

So it becomes a spectacle in which two school bullies blindly take swings at each other, each in their own little world, and only randomly making occasional contact. The technologies that were meant to connect us become walls that prevent us seeing and hearing each other.

The effect that activity has on the body is well known. Faced with a threat, adrenaline builds up in the body. Whether you fight or take flight, it is discharged by acting. The build-up of stressors is eased by muscular exertion, and you end up with a sense of calmness and peace, rather like you feel after sport or a long walk.

But in Tweeting, the only action to discharge the tension is the twiddling of your finger and thumb. Small wonder that people feel such rage and impotence.