Self-help books have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. I hide them on my Kindle so no-one need know that I’m reading about mindfulness, or clean eating, or tidying up, or how to love cooking. I hide them because I don’t want to be seen as the kind of person who needs them – I have a reputation to keep as an independent woman (albeit a slightly geeky and weird one). However, there is something in all these books that I have an aspiration to be and I always believe, at least at point of purchase, that they’re a magical route to calmness and health and happiness.
They are also part of a multi-million £ industry that seems intent on telling me that I’m not quite good enough. In fact, it’s not just self-help books, it’s the media in general and you see this most acutely every January. The endless articles about how to look better, cook better, think better, be better. The endless counter articles on how resolutions are worthless, how you’ll fail, how you’ll regret them. It’s exhausting and boring and all they do is add to the sour voices in your head that are quite loud enough already.
For me, the biggest question is how do I make the most of the good advice given to me without also falling headfirst into the failing trap. It’s a tough one, you want to change (the voices in your head REALLY want you to change) but it’s all so hard being ‘good’.
My answer (and let’s be honest, this came from a magazine article, I didn’t discover this myself) was to start liking myself more. Yep, I know it sounds a little hippy, however I’ve discovered that if you’re happy with yourself, you don’t have an urge to change things. Therefore, those little voices in your head that always seem so angry or disappointed start to pipe down a bit. And it’s so much easier to find your happy place when you’re not arguing with yourself why you shouldn’t have eaten / said / done something.
I’m not going to lie to you, it does take a bit of concerted effort but we do all know (from reading those self-help articles) that the best things in life can take a bit of effort. However, it’s not as hard you think and with practice it really does become easier. Here’s how I do it.
Step One – Constantly reminding myself that nothing in this world is perfect. Think about it…the cutest cat will murder a bird, the most beautiful painting is prohibitively expensive (and probably drove the painter mad), Oscar winning actresses work damn hard to look that good (it’s not all good genetics). There’s a ‘not so great’ side to everything, you sometimes just need to spend a little bit of time working out what it is. And once you realise this fact, those magazine articles and books with their holy grails of perfectness have significantly less power over you.
Step Two – Now you need to actively acknowledge the good things about yourself. I mean, if you’re going to take the time to bitch about your abilities the least you can do is go a little ‘cheerleader’ on them too. Yes, the house is messy however this is because you were out, laughing hard with friends last night. That stomach is waaaay too flabby however you’re really proud of it for keeping your babies safe for 9 months (or in my case it’s the successful result of enjoying rum cocktails). You’re aware that your ‘people pleasing’ attitude of yours can cause problems however it does bring some honest to goodness satisfaction. Let’s face it, you’re not perfect but you’re not that bad, just remind yourself of this a bit.
If you can understand those two concepts; that nothing is perfect and that there’s always some good in there, then you’re changing the voice inside your head to be a little less harsh and to think more objectively. It’s then so much harder to fail and hate yourself because your standards weren’t so bloody high in the first place and that, in turn, will make you feel good.
Step Three – Now go distract yourself to stop yourself from over thinking. Doesn’t matter what it is; watch some TV, go for a walk, tidy the mess on the table. Just actively try and focus on something else because the strange and unfamiliar high you feel from recognising something good about yourself will make your next actions happier. And that, I’ve decided from reading all of those half hidden self-help books, is what we’re all aiming for.
Here’s how I make it work in practice. Take today for example, its felt like a long week and I was frustrated that my meals hadn’t been eating as healthy as I had planned. I could see some uneaten banana’s mocking me. Urgh. Yet a quick reminder to not be so hard on myself, I thought fuck it! make Banana Bread for the husband, he loves eating that. So, I did. Those banana’s get eaten after all AND I get to do something lovely for someone else AND I enjoyed the act of baking. #winwinwin
As I mentioned, it does take some effort to make into a habit and let’s face it, that voice in my head can be a capricious bitch. But its lovely to have a Saturday morning where I’m not worrying about what I ‘should be doing / cleaning / sorting’ and actually just enjoying myself instead.
Banana Loaf Recipe
- 140g butter, softened, plus extra for the tin
- 140g caster sugar
- 2 large egg, beaten
- 140g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 very ripe banana, mashed
- 50g icing sugar
1– Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Butter a 2lb loaf tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment.
2– Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then slowly add the eggs with a little flour. Fold in the remaining flour, baking powder and bananas. Pour into the tin and bake for about 30 mins until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 mins, then remove to a wire rack.
3– Mix the icing sugar with 2-3 tsp water to make a runny icing. Drizzle the icing across the top of the cake and decorate with banana chips.