Do you need more margin in your life?

Managing yourself in an overloaded world

So much to do and so little time to do it! That seems like the cry and experience of our day and age. With such an explosion of choice there is no limit it seems to what I can, have, do and fill my time with. But where do I put the limits? Should there be limits? How do I decide what is really important or trivial? What should I do now or leave for another day or time? That is why the concept of margin is so vital.

For me with a recent fracture of my wrist, and needing to take time off work, I have had to slow myself down considerably.  What seemed urgent and essential on one occasion feels less so now. At the same time I have started to slowly appreciate the importance of having margin or space in my life. It is something I find myself continually having to remind myself about. As my pace gradually begins to pick up I am reminded of the words of King Solomon (who certainly had a lot to occupy and distract him!), "Better one hand with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 4:6)

So what is margin?....

Podcast #041: How can faith and prayer enhance mental health?

I was recently pleasantly surprised to be invited by a prestigious financial institution to speak on the subject of how prayer and faith can enhance mental health. It was a wonderful privilege.

On this podcast I unpack the main elements of my talk along with exploring how money is such a helpful analogy in pointing to understanding spiritual treasure.

In particular we explore:

How faith and prayer enhance mental health as I am able to delight in God for who He is rather than what I can get out of Him.

The key to this is understanding and experiencing grace in my life.

How faith rather than being a vague and nebulous concept is actually incredibly specific. Indeed our entire global financial system is based on faith.

Why faith can only enhance mental health if it is based on something specific and reliable.

How the highest form of prayer is delight.

The problems with defining mental health.

How the Hebrew word 'shalom' conveys the highest form of mental health as complete wellbeing or multi-dimensional thriving and fulfilment.

For more on this also see:

How can faith and prayer enhance mental health?

Podcast #033: Practical ways to find joy through disappointment.

Podcast#032: How to know joy when life feels tough.

Podcast #013: How to grow in resilience.

Podcast #011 Money.

Why does a loving God allow pain and suffering?

Podcast #007 Religion

Podcast #018: Spiritual Maturity.

The power of the right question

Learning from a skiing accident

I now suspect it was bound to happen sooner or later. I was recently on a skiing holiday and managed to break a bone in my left arm.

As I write this I am plastered up with a sling and can just about type with a single finger! At this point it would be so easy to get frustrated and disappointed with life, myself and the universe.

I could ask myself questions like, "Why am I such a bad skier? Why did I allow myself to go on that slope? Why did I not stay back that afternoon and rest rather than going out to ski again? How am I going to deal with all the inconvenience and hassle this will cause? I haven't got time to be unwell. Haven't I got more important things to do than just stop to recover? What have I done to deserve this?"

The problem with questions like that is they are focused on the past or outside of anything I can control. They put me at risk of getting into a negative defeatist spiral. By putting me in a victim mindset they can so easily lead to depressive thinking.

The human brain is so powerful that asking questions like that to myself will only cause me to find reasons to reinforce my situation. In other words what you focus on will only get bigger. Argue for your limitations and you will invariably be right. Argue for your possibilities and options, then you will be right as well. The choice is yours. There is a much better way.  This does not just apply to skiing accidents, but to so much else in life.

Fortunately I was able to not go down that negative road and instead ask myself a better, more future focused question: What does this now make possible?

In addition to that I was able to join that question with two true statements:...

Preventing permanent solutions to temporary problems

Challenging 4 myths about suicide

I have a friend who over 10 years ago made a serious suicide attempt. His wife had called me at around 8.30am saying he had left home very early without speaking to her. She knew he had a lot on his mind and was worried about him. He had not responded to her repeated calls or texts. He was not at his office. We agreed the police needed to be called. Thankfully his attempt was unsuccessful and all these years later he is in a much more positive place.

Sadly that is not the case for the people mentioned in this short 1 minute video below:

The tragic fact is that 84 men commit suicide in the UK every week. Suicide is the leading cause of death in the UK for those under 50.

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a U.K based charity dedicated to preventing male suicide. They offer support and focus on changing the culture that prevents men from seeking help when they need it.

Here are 4 myths about how to respond to someone who you suspect may be considering suicide:....

An unspoken and hidden epidemic?

A permanent solution to a temporary problem

One of the great tragedies of modern life is the increasing numbers of people who feel life is not worth living. It is a difficult subject that gets relatively little coverage and yet when you look at the statistics it is quite staggering how widespread an issue it is in our increasingly complex and challenging world.

According to Dr Catherine Le Gals- Camus, a former WHO Assistant -Director General, Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health,  "Suicide is a largely preventable public health problem, causing almost half of all violent deaths as well as economic costs in the billions of dollars. World-wide, more people die from suicide than from all homicides and wars combined. There is an urgent need for co-ordinated and intensified global action to prevent this needless toll. For every suicide death there are scores of family and friends whose lives are devastated emotionally, socially and economically."

I find the quote that more people die from suicide than all homicides and wars combined staggering and will need to verify its accuracy, even though it appears to come from a reputable source. The World Health Organisation quotes worldwide approximately 1 million people die by suicide every year and that this is set to rise to 1.5 million by 2020. Even so there can be no doubt of the tragic consequences of such a final act. (See Rick Warren and The Secret Anguish of Major Depressive Disorder).

Suicide rates tend to increase with age, but there has recently been an alarming increase in suicidal behaviours amongst young people aged 15 to 25 years old, worldwide. With the exception of rural China, more men than women commit suicide, although in most places more women than men attempt suicide.

Suicide is now the leading cause of death for men aged 15-49. Men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives. They accounted for four out of five suicides in 2015.

Key factors associated with suicide in men include:...

Podcast #040: Celebration!

How far have we come! We have reached 40 episodes on this journey at the  Making Sense of Life Podcast! Its time to celebrate and give thanks.

On this special episode I especially want to thank:

  • You the listener for entrusting me with your time and attention. In a world of such overwhelming choice and distraction I trust these episodes have truly helped you to make sense of life in an increasingly challenging and complex world.
  • My co-host Andrew Horton for his work both back stage and front stage. This has been behind the scenes with the technical aspects of the podcast and then publically in interviewing me with insightful questions as we have discussed such a wide range of topics.
  • Jeff Brown of the Read To Lead Podcast who inspired and taught me back in 2014 how to make podcasting not just a nice idea, but an actual reality.

In a world that focuses so much on the externals , the Making Sense of Life Podcast is a reminder that a meaningful life is actually an inside-out adventure. Inward change precedes outer transformation. Being bigger on the inside rather than the outside is the path to true success and impact. If we get that reversed and are actually greater on the outside than we are on the inside then disappointment, frustration and failure will not be far away.

One important aspect of focussing on the inside before the outside is being real and authentic about our internal struggles and challenges.

Our journey started back in 2012 with this blog, particularly around the subject of depression and negative thinking that appears to be reaching epidemic proportions around the world. For more on this see:

A 15 minute video called Just As I Am that gives my personal journey through depression and negative thinking.

Podcast #004 Combatting Depression where I interview the author Jo Swinney who has written about her own personal journey in her book 'Through The Dark Woods'.

Podcast #003 Stress where Andrew and I discuss the challenges of stress and how to not just survive, but actually thrive. (Also see the video How To Make Stress Your Friend).

Podcast #027: Beating Burnout where we look at not just the cost to ourselves of burnout, but how we can set up safeguards and protective measures in our lives.

Over time we have shifted our emphasis in looking not just at the negative, but understanding how to positively flourish in the world through resilience (Podcast #013) and develop grit (passion and perseverance for long term goals at Podcast #021). How do we do that with all the other challenges in our lives so we can live in some form of balance? (Podcast #034).

At the same time I have become convinced that it is not possible to authentically make sense of life without reference the Infinite Creator God of the Universe. As we have advanced in our understanding and grasp of the world what has become increasingly evident is that in spite of all our achievements and technology, the amount we know and understand is not getting any less. Indeed with an infinite reference point it is inevitable that no matter how much we know we have to come to realise the less we actually know!

On Podcast #007 we discussed how religion has significant limitations when it comes to grasping the world in all its complexity. What our hearts long for is relationship. In Podcast #018 we looked at spiritual maturity as being about getting to know God through silence. solitude and the Biblical scripture.

Another wonderful privilege of the podcast has been the opportunity to interview book authors and those who have lived inspiring lives. A small selection of those interviews include:

  • A grandson of Steven R. Covey, author of the classic bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit. It was reading a quote from p.308 of that book in 1995 in Delhi, India that had a profound impact of my life. Little did I realise it would become a recurring theme of my life:

"The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mould men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behaviour, but Christ can change human nature." (Podcast #010)

  • Baroness Caroline Cox who is now over 80 and doing remarkable humanitarian work in some of the most dangerous places of the world. Her courage, determination and resilience are truly extraordinary and a great inspiration as to what can be possible in our lives. She also candidly shared with us about her personal struggle with depressive thinking and what she calls 'faithless fearful dread.' She is able to say:

"During my work with the persecuted church I have met many people who are suffering for their faith and I always return from my travels humbled and inspired by their courage, faith, dignity and miracles of grace. Many stories of those living on the front lines of faith illustrate spiritual blessings such as joy, peace and love in ways which are far from depressing." (Podcast #019 and Podcast #020)

  • Rahil Patel whose life story as a Hindu priest to spiritual awakening shows how truth is stranger than fiction. And what does that have to do with Harry Potter? You will have to listen to Podcast #016!

Finally we have also been fortunate to interview some leading authorities on deeply important topics that affect us all:

Professor John Wyatt on what does it mean to live and die well at Podcast #017. The reality and brutality of death was brought home to  me with the sudden loss of a good friend of mine on 17 March 2016. (For more on that see here).  An understanding of how life is finite should not leave us with a morbid sense of fear, but a deep privilege of how all we have is a gift. How can I live in a way that honours my creator?

Chris Wright and discussing the mysteries of when God doesn't make sense in our lives (Podcast #028) as well as what the Bible has to say about what will happen at the end of the world (Podcast #029).

All this is only a taster of the journey we have been on with the podcasts since May 2015. I trust this recap and celebration will inspire you to go back and listen to some you may have missed or re-listen to another one again. Such is the power of technology and your future self may well thank you for investing in yourself in this way!

How to get better at almost anything

4 lessons from sport and music

This short 5 minute video helpfully illustrates what is needed to get better at practically any skill. While the focus is on physical activities such as playing an instrument or throwing a ball, the same principles are assumed to apply to any field of endeavour you might want to get better at.

In a fast changing and increasingly complex world the need to learn new skills and to be able to get better is vital if not essential. Hence practice becomes very important if we are going to improve in any skill and do that with speed and confidence.

To help us understand how our minds work, the speaker helpfully distinguishes between two kinds of brain tissue - the grey matter and white matter. It is the grey matter that does the 'work' in terms of processing information and directing signals and sensory stimuli to the other brain cells. Meanwhile the white matter is made up of mostly fatty tissue and nerve fibres. When we move our bodies then information needs to travel from our brain's grey matter down our spinal cord through a chain of nerve fibres called axons to our muscles.

So what happens to the inner workings of our brains when we practice a skill?....

Everybody dies but not everybody lives

This 6 minute video by Prince Ea, who is an American spoken word artist, poet, rapper and filmmaker makes some challenging points about what it means to live life with purpose and passion.

His entertaining style and vivid imagery challenge us to think deeply about living life with a higher and greater perspective than what we may necessarily see in front of us or how we feel about ourselves. He emphasises the dangers of living with regret for not having been more appropriately ambitious, or without courage and living instead with self-doubt.

My take on this?

3 prescriptions for lifting depression without pills

This 16 minutes talk by clinical psychologist Susan Heitler provides helpful insights into dealing with depressive and negative thoughts without the use of medication. What she proposes is looking first at what in your life may be causing you to feel the way you do.

The analogy of the common cold is helpful. While a common cold can be quite mild, in the short term it can leave you feeling quite miserable. There is also the risk of the cold developing into something more serious like a sinus infection or even pneumonia. For these reasons it is important to pay attention to when you find yourself persistently discouraged, with low energy, self-critical and irritable with others. Our modern assumption to quickly assume such feelings are due to a chemical imbalance has led to an over-diagnosis by doctors of depression, (See Is The Rate Of Depression Actually Increasing Or Not?)

The reason this is so important is the tendency in our modern world to look for a quick fix. This has become hugely important as the prescription for antidepressant medication has dramatically increased over the last few decades with no clear evidence that clinical depression has actually increased. For example from 2011 figures at least 1 in 10 Americans are on antidepressant medication and for women in their 30s and 40s this figure is around 1 in 4. (See Why Has There Been a 400% Increase In The Prescribing Of Antidepressants?) I  also write about my own experience of how your lifestyle can be leading to depressive thinking here).

Susan Heitler expands on her Conflict Resolution Theory of depression, or more simply 'Bump Therapy'!

The first step or prescription is to identify the particular hurdle or obstacle in your life that you find yourself feeling disappointed about. The more specific you can be then the more likely you are to find a solution or way through that challenge.

The second prescription is what she calls 'pump up' or identify the resources or tools at your disposal.  Dr Heitler gives an example on the video of this with a client of hers called Julie. You may also find of interest the article and video with Amy Morin called  Are You Looking For Inner Strength?

The third prescription is then by looking at potential solutions to the challenge you are facing and deciding on which is most appropriate for you. For more on this see What Fills You Up And What Drains You Down?

In combination these three steps can significantly reduce the risk 'the common cold of mental illness' does not develop into something more serious or insidious in your life.

What in your own life have you find helpful to deal with depressive thoughts and feelings?

You may also find of interest:

Could Your Lifestyle Be What Is Getting You Down?

Podcast #004: Combatting Depression

The Scale Of Mental Health Problems And What To Do About Them

What Do I Say To A Loved One Who Is Struggling With Depression?

My own personal journey with depressive thinking in my late teens at Just As I Am

Podcast #039: Overcoming Failure

"Everyone has their own Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb." (Seth Godin)

Failure. How do you handle it? The 2 minute video below by Will Smith is an encouragement to view failure in a positive way. As he says - fail early, fail often and fail forward.

In this podcast my co-host Andrew Horton and I discuss how failure is not something to be feared, but actually an opportunity to grow and learn.

Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball play of all time has said:

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been entrusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Do join us on this podcast as we discuss:

How everyone has their own story of failure along with our own personal examples.

What is the relationship between failure and guilt or shame? Is failure necessarily a bad thing?

What can we learn from some famous examples of failure such as Abraham Lincoln and J K Rowling?

Why it is not as simple as just saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

What is the secret to turning failure around?

How can we see our failures through the eyes of faith?

How understanding failure is part of inside-out transformation?

You may also find of interest:

What Can J K Rowling Teach Us About Failure?

Failure and Depression: The Other Side of Lincoln's Life

9 Ways To Look At Your Failures With The Eyes Of Faith. Especially #7

How To Fail And Lose Well Part 1

How To Fail And Lose Well Part 2

Podcast #021: Grit

Podcast #013 How To Grow In Resilience

Podcast #030 Do You Need More Sleep?

Podcast #031: How Can I Live With Hope Today?