Tag Archives: Effort

Lessons Learnt During Lent

24 Apr

Fourty days of Lent have gone by, which for me means the end of a fourty day vegan and alcohol-free diet. Whilst my normal diet includes regular meals with meat, dairy products and wine, lent in the Christian Orthodox tradition involves giving up animal products, alcohol, cigarettes and all other ‘unhealthy’ products (and habits) for fourty days. This is intended to be a detox for the body that creates a detox for the soul. Although I have not felt any major spiritual changes by limiting what I eat, there are several things that I learnt thanks to my fast that will no doubt have a positive effect in the long-term…

No Exceptions: by the second week of lent I was already thinking “And what if I was to have just a small glass of wine tonight? It won’t do any harm; I won’t really break the fast because I won’t do it often”. Luckily, I didn’t take action on this thought, because it passed through my mind at least twice a week. Had I listened to it the first few times, I would have ended up not fasting at all! If we

There are few things that we truly need

set out to do something, we cannot allow ourselves to make exceptions (except for reasons such as health, of course), because these will prevent us achieving our goal.

Making an extra effort is worth it: seeing as I couldn’t eat anything that is a ‘quick-fix’, such as sandwiches, pizzas or ready-meals, which all contain meat or dairy products, I always had to make an effort to prepare my meals. Even in the hungriest of states, when I wanted to devour everything in sight, I made real meals; this took more time, but my food was healthier and tastier.

It’s easier than it seems: once past the starting period, new habits become second nature. Fear tells us that what we want to do is hard or even impossible. Yet once we get started, we realise that we are more than capable of doing this.

The right to say ‘no’: it is easy to say “Oh, go on then”, when someone offers us a cake when we’re dieting, a cigarette when we’re giving up smoking or a drink when we’re cutting out alcohol. In most cases, we say ‘yes’ because we’re scared that the other person will judge us negatively or consider us ‘boring’. By saying ‘no’ in such situations, we are being honest and respectful to ourselves. Fearing other people’s judgment will cause us to live life by other people’s rules.

Fun Without Alcohol: yes, we can have fun without alcohol. Yes, we can enjoy an evening out without alcohol. Yes, we can relax without alcohol. Yes, we can enjoy a meal without wine. Yes, we can chat, laugh, joke and dance without alcohol. For some, this is obvious; for others, this is ridiculous. Either way, it is true.

We CAN have fun without alcohol...

Do you need what you want?: most of our consumption is for pleasure, not for necessity. There are few things that we truly need, all the rest are things we want.

Limitation Increases Appreciation: today, in Western society, the majority of people live in abundance, where they can have almost everything they want at any time. There is a huge choice of food, clothes, entertainment etc., and we rarely have to restrict ourselves in our consumption. By limiting myself in my range of food, I was able to appreciate the special meals more: a dinner in a restaurant (which made a difference to the classic meals I was making at home), a non-alcoholic cocktail (with more taste than the water I was drinking all week) and, of course, the Easter meal which included delicious meats, wine and creamy deserts. When we constantly spoil ourselves, we no longer get any pleasure from pleasure. Living more simply makes special occasions all the more special.

~

I wish you all a Happy Easter and a beautiful spring!

Climb the Tree, Get the Fruit

22 Apr

There are those people who sit under a tree waiting for the fruit to fall down, and there are those who climb the tree to get the fruit themselves. The former group is passive: these types of people expect life to give them everything they want without making an effort to get it themselves. The latter group is active: they do not wait for opportunities – they make them; they see possibility in everything.

I have known both types of people. I had an acquaintance who spent his days regretting giving up the guitar: he was one of the most talented students in his music school, but decided not to pursue a musical career and picked a more academic subject to study at university. His regret for giving up a musical path would send him into depression every time he watched someone play the guitar. However, despite his ‘grief’, he did nothing to get himself onto the musical path once again. He had several guitars at home – he would never practice; he had connections with many musicians – he did not ask them for gig or concert opportunities; he had perfect pitch and a great knowledge of music theory – he did not try to find students to teach. In short, he expected opportunity to fall into his lap from the sky; he wanted to wake up one day and be a successful guitarist without the effort that goes into it. The people who expect miracles without putting in any work believe that they are victims of an unjust fate. Spending time with these people leaves you tired and lacking in energy, you start to become blind to the beauty of life.

As for the second group, I have been lucky to know many people who make their own opportunities and create their own fate. One friend choreographed and taught a dance for our university dance show, whilst having almost ten essays to write during the same time period of time – she managed to do both brilliantly. Another friend applies (and gets selected) to do unique programmes abroad each summer: Israel and Zimbabwe are two of the places where she has done study and research projects. A friend from school took a year out of university to live in Columbia and perfect his Spanish; “I want to plan my life in my own way. I don’t want a university course system or anything else to tell me that I can’t take great opportunities to do things like this”, he said. Other friends have run marathons, written plays and cycled across Europe. These people are full of energy, full of hope and full of optimism. It is not their ‘achievements’ that inspire so much as their love for life. It is their belief that life is abundant, life has given them everything and that all they have to do is just make the most of it.

I myself have been both of these types: there are times when I jumped at every opportunity and made opportunities for myself. But there were also times when I lacked motivation and energy, when I wanted to change aspects of my life, but took no action to do so. Now, during moments like these, I always try to think about the active people that I know:they would get their asses up and do something to create change. It could be the smallest change, but it is still something that gets life into motion, that stirs the universe and turns the wheels of our destiny. Thinking of these people reminds me that I have absolutely no excuses not to be living the life of which I dream.

Whenever you are feeling unmotivated, lacking in energy or in hope, think about someone who has inspired you, be it a friend, an acquaintance or a famous individual. Remember that one must climb the tree to get the fruit; the height may be scary and the braches may scratch you along the way, but the view is so much better from the top.

Form One Good Habit at a Time

11 Mar

Forming one good habit at a time is the best path to the lifestyle that you desire. When we have a list of things we want to improve in our lives (eat healthier, do more sport, get more fresh air, spend more time with family, learn an instrument…), it is very easy to be overwhelmed by all of the changes we need to make in order to make them happen. This can paralyse us into not doing anything at all, because we can’t imagine being able to manage everything at once.

Yet when we form one good habit at a time, we allow ourselves the time to introduce a small change into our lives. Our everyday life isn’t overthrown by this new habit, which makes it easier for us to integrate it into our current routine. A month ago, I stopped drinking coffee in the morning; two weeks ago, I started eating a healthier breakfast; and last week I started doing regular exercise. Giving myself time to get used to these changes made it easier for me to keep them up.

Modern trends advertise fast results, that require extreme changes in our lifestyle. However, a study carried out by Phillippa Lally showed that, on average, it takes around 66 days for us to form a habit. Lasting results come about from continued effort. If we persist, slowly but surely, with a new good habit, we will benefit from all the positive things that this brings into our lives. And to make this easier, we shouldn’t try and achieve everything at once, but take it one step at a time.

The Extraordinary Ordinary

23 Jan

“If I died today, I’d be happy with the life I’ve had,” my friend said at the age of eighteen. “I’ve had everything I needed: a good education, a roof over my head and food in my belly”. Her words have stuck with me since. At that age I had never heard anyone be grateful for such ‘basic’ things; most of the young people around me measured their happiness in clothes, in popularity, in money, in parties, in status, in partners. In my school, students avoided being ‘average’ at all costs. Now, this trend is spreading like a disease across the continent.

In Western society, being ‘happy with what you’ve got’ is often interpreted negatively as ‘settling for less’. Leading a life of calm contentment and simple pleasure is considered as lack of ambition, laziness, cowardliness and generally being a bore. We have become obsessed with the idea of ‘a life worth living’, which has come to mean living fast, achieving lots, having wild adventures and ‘trying everything once’. With so many opportunities and options open to us, we have come to believe that the way to enrich our lives is to fill them up with as many things as possible. “Quantity, not quality” seems to be society’s current motto.

The American golfer Walter Hagen famously said: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way”. He recognised that we should make the most of life, but his vision of the way in which this can be done is very different to what we witness today. His quote evokes a life of slow and calm movement. The pleasure he portrays of ‘smelling flowers’ is one that represents the simple pleasures of life. Hagen is encouraging us to appreciate the everyday things, and in doing so to turn something ‘average’ into something amazing.

Those who have tried this know that it takes effort, patience and courage to love the smaller things in life. Yet the rewards are much greater. When we realise that even plain objects are beautiful, that even ordinary events are meaningful and that even (so called)  ‘unexpeptional’ people are precious, we learn that everything we experience is a gift. Nothing and no-one is average – everything and everyone is exceptional. When we see the miracle in everything around us, we begin to love everything around us. Calm contentment and simple pleasure become our saviours; they are what give us energy, hope and happiness.

Most of our life is made up of what we call ‘everyday’, ‘mundane’ or ‘routine’ things. Therefore, we may as well make friends with these constant companions. When we stop taking things for granted, we realise that the ordinary is actually quite extraordinary.