This short post was inspired by none other, than my mother. “Don’t beat yourself up!”, four simple words that encapsulate years of wisdom and act as a gentle reminder that even in the midst of life’s most stressful moments, we should never be too hard on ourselves.
Although harmful and ultimately unnecessary, “beating ourselves up” is infact remarkably common. Have you ever had a moment of worry or doubt about something and then replayed or imagined the scenario over and over again in your head until you are stressed-out and worried? This exercise often takes place in the immediate aftermath of a bad experience, but can also be common before a situation has even happened, as we consider all of the possible ways in which it could go wrong.
It goes without saying that there is little to be gained by beating ourselves up. If a situation has recently occurred then it is by definition in the past and we cannot go back in time to change it. So we bombed the interview, or felt we could have done better in our presentation, the fact is that we cannot re-live that moment. However, what we can do is either to take what lessons we can from the bad experience or, if it is the case that we feel we cannot learn from a situation (almost impossible in my view), then we should try and forget about it. As an article I read recently reminded me,“it’s ok to have a shit day” and sometimes it’s best to just forget a bad experience and move on with our lives rather than to endlessly agonise over it. Not beating ourselves up becomes even more important if a situation has not yet happened, as doing so can actually create the experience we are hoping to avoid. If we are thinking only negative thoughts before an event then it is quite likely that this worry will disrupt our preparations and may even impair our performance on the day. The reality is that the event hasn’t happened yet and until it has we’ve simply no idea of how things are going to go, so why imagine the worst?
None of this is meant to suggest that feeling down or worried about something does not represent perfectly normal human emotion. Simply put, we cannot help it if we are upset about a situation that did not go well or feel nervous about a prospective one. However, “don’t beat yourself up!” is a reminder that whilst our feelings in these situations are perfectly natural, they probably aren’t rational and allowing them to snowball out of control is never likely to be helpful. Instead, we should try replacing them with other thoughts and feelings for example, determination to deal with a situation better next time, or positive thoughts about how we will perform in future. Doing this will help us to overcome these negative feelings and invest our emotional energy into more useful pursuits.
So next time you feel that you’ve let feelings of sadness or worry about a past or future situation build up remember, either let them go or re-focus your energies, the important thing, as my mum would say, is “don’t beat yourself up!”.
When I first made the decision to go travelling in South America there were a variety of thoughts that flickered through my head. These came in all shapes and sizes and ran the gamut from: doubt as to whether or not it would hurt my career, concerns over how I would raise the money and even questions over how I would maintain relationships whilst abroad. Despite these reservations, when I thought about how I would like to look back on my life, I decided that the experiences I would have and insights I would gain whilst travelling far outweighed any of these potential problems and so I resigned myself to go – no matter what. That was the best decision of my life and the decision to travel is one which I believe, given the opportunity, we should all make.
Whilst there’s no one good reason to pick up your rucksack and hit the road the following are, for me, some of the most important:
1) New perspectives – Travelling gives you a number of novel perspectives to view your life from. This is because it allows us to take a step back from the often hectic schedules of our lives and reflect on who we are and what we would like to become. It’s surprising how the ability to just pause for moment allows us to see our lives in completely new ways and establish new goals and objectives for the future.
2) New friendships – Another great reason to go travelling is the assortment of new friendships it allows you to create. Like nothing else, travelling exposes you to new people from places that you may not have even known existed or had only heard of. This opens up the mind to new ideas and viewpoints and there’s always the chance that should you choose to go to that new friend’s country, you have a ready-made tour guide and place to stay!
3) Lasting memories – Another great reason to go travelling is the lasting memories it creates. Whether it is partying with your friends for a week solid at Rio Carnival, or climbing up 1000 steps to the ascent of the iconic Machu Picchu, travelling allows you to have the most incredible, unforgettable experiences. When you return home these really keep you going through some of life’s more stressful moments.
Now! Next month! Or if not, at the earliest available opportunity. I can’t count the number of people who have told me that they would like to go travelling “once they finish this, or that other important thing” and many years down the line have still not ended up going. The fact is, that conditions will never be perfect to travel (they definitely weren’t when I went) and we can always find some other super-important thing we should finish first. It’s essential to remember however, that travelling is important too and is something to prioritise and make special provisions for if you want to achieve it.
It must also be said that there is also no perfect age at which to go travelling. I met people of all ages and walks of life on my travels from late-teens looking for adventure before starting University, to pensioners who had eschewed the safety of package tours for a chance to climb down the Potosi mines for themselves. The truth is that age doesn’t really matter, the most important things is that you go and preferably as soon as possible!
Whilst a lot of people have a genuine desire to go travelling, many are simply unsure of how to go about the whole thing – from how long to go for, what to see, who to go with and how much money to take. Admittedly these are difficult and ultimately subjective questions, however, here is some guidance that may help you come to some of these important decisions:
– How long have I got? – The first thing to decide is exactly how long you want to travel for. Most people have an allocated time period that they want to fit their travels into prior to some other important event in their calendar but if not, thinking about where you want to go will help you plan your travel time. For example, if you want to visit a certain part of a continent such as Central America or South-East Asia, 3-6 months might be sufficient ,however, if you would like to see whole continents or ‘continent-hop’ at least a year may be necessary to fit it all in. For me, 5 and a half months was perfect to cover most of South America – Not too short that I had to rush through countries and not too long that I became a nomad.
– What do I want to see? – Deciding what places you’d like to see and visit is also a great way of narrowing down your options and helping to structure your trip. You could for example, pick 3 wonders of the world you would like to see and plan your trip around them. Or you may plan your trip around festivals and other key cultural events – In this respect it’s worth checking backpacker calendars in the early stages of your planning. I mixed both events and wonders (e.g Rio Carnival, the Amazon, Machu Picchu) and found this was a great way to pick my destinations.
– Who shall I go with? – This is an important question and will have an enormous effect on the experience that you have whilst travelling. Friends can keep your spirits up and help you soldier through the toughest moments, but as a general rule, you won’t be as open to meeting new people if you are always with your best friends from home. Travelling alone is great and an increasingly popular option for both males and females, however, from my experience, sometimes you would like the familiar faces and comfort that your friends can provide. I was fortunate to be able to start off with my friends, which was great for settling in, and then go the rest of the 5 months alone which allowed me to meet new people and develop an open mind. I would recommend this mix and match approach, but In any case, I don’t think we should torture ourselves with these questions, plan your trip and who knows maybe friends can come and meet you out there or if you’d really like to travel with someone, tell them to come along!
– How much money do I need? – Time and again I’ve heard these financial concerns scupper peoples travelling plans and whilst in reality finances are important, we often need much less than we think we do. After spending a total of 5 and a half months in South America, I would say as a ball park figure from anybody coming from England a sum of 700-1000 pounds per month (excluding flights) is more than enough to visit South America and live and travel in comfort. Of course this depends heavily on where you go. South-East Asia for example is much cheaper and even within South America prices tend to vary greatly from country to country. It also depends what you want to see and do – Treks and specialist activities such as Paragliding and Scuba diving can cost a lot so you may need to budget separately for these.
All of the above represent important considerations for anyone looking to go travelling but one thing is for certain, despite the necessary planning and questions to ask yourself before setting out, travelling is something that you will never, ever regret so make sure you do it at least once in your life!
This blog was originally scheduled to be entitled, “The importance of a plan”, but when I began to think about it, whilst some people would advocate planning every step of our lives, experience has taught me that despite our best efforts, we can’t always stick to our plans. Life has a terrific tendency to throw us curve-balls and as we grow we often develop new ideas and perspectives that cause us to deviate from our original plans. That’s why I believe it’s important to have an overall goal; that way, no matter how much our original plans change, we have a firm grasp of what general direction we are heading in and can make decisions about what steps to take in order to get there.
What Type of Goal?
The first question you might ask is what exactly do I mean when I talk about a ‘Goal’? I believe that it’s a word that, although used by many people in everyday parlance, is worth re-defining here in order to get a clearer picture of exactly what is meant. The Oxford online dictionary defines the word goal as:
“The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result”
What’s immediately apparent is that this is a very broad definition. This reflects the way that I also believe we should set our life goals – as broadly as possible. Broad goals allow us to be flexible in how we pursue them and prevent us from becoming disheartened if everything doesn’t quite go to plan. To explain this idea, take the goal of “wanting to help needy people”. Now it’s clear that there are a number of ways in which we can help needy people: We can for example, make that goal an integral part of our working lives by becoming an aid worker, social worker or teaching in disadvantaged schools; or we could pursue that goal as an extra-curricular activity outside of our working hours, such as volunteering time working in a soup kitchen or providing free advice at a legal centre. We can see here that whilst there are countless possibilities of things that we can do, as long as our goal remains broadly to ‘help needy people’, we will be well on our way to achieving it by perusing any number of these avenues.
In contrast, let’s take the example of a goal such as, “I want to be the head legal advisor at Amnesty international”. Besides the fact that it may transpire that Amnesty International may no longer exist by the time that we have built up the credentials to apply for such a post, there is always the possibility that in a years’ time you might want to work for a different NGO, or maybe there is another head legal advisor at that time and the post isn’t open to applicants. In this instance there would be no possible way of achieving your goal and this failure is likely to lead to disheartenment and a loss of morale.
It’s important to note here that I am not ruling out ambition. If your goal is to be Prime Minister or to work for the United Nations then that’s perfectly fine and I would personally encourage ambitious goals, I would only caution against too narrowly defined major life goals, as these don’t permit flexibility and may lead to disappointment if not attained.
How many Goals?
This question seems really to be on a par with ‘how long is a piece of string?’. My answer is that we can set as many goals as we like in relation to the various different aspects of our lives. People may want to set goals for example, to help them manage their time better, to lose/gain weight or to learn a new language. In this sense, setting achievable goals can help in every area of our lives. Nevertheless, I’ve found that just having one overall life goal helps me to really focus all of my outlook and energies on achieving it. Too many of these risks clouding our perspectives and confusing our direction which can be akin to having no goal at all.
Whilst one major life goal is good to have, It’s a good idea to have many ‘sub-goals’ to help you achieve this goal. These should be more defined then your overall goal and it’s important that these are concrete and realisable so that you may track your gradual progress. Again by way of example, let’s stick with our goal of wanting to help needy people. Now we may decide that the way that we want to do this is through aid work. We might start by researching a list of non-governmental organizations that do the specific type of work that we are interested in, then set the short term sub-goal of securing an internship at one of these NGO. Once we have achieved this goal, we can then re-set our goals or if we do not achieve it we can alter our sub goal. The fact remains however that this is all helping us move closer to that broad overarching goal.
Protecting the Goal
Finally it’s important that we do everything we can to protect our goals. Whilst many people we come across might aid us in pursuit of our goals and may be able to offer advice and guidance, it’s just an unfortunate fact of life that not everyone will be inclined this way. Some people, who perhaps haven’t been successful at achieving their goals or perhaps who haven’t thought about setting any clearly defined goals for themselves, may cast judgement on our goals or sometimes attempt to convince us to abandon them altogether. Whilst I would not advocate simply dismissing the views of a host of individuals with a great deal of experience in the area that you are interested in, it’s worth taking people’s opinions in relation to your goals with a pinch of salt or sometimes better, simply not to disclose them to others at all. It’s better to live life in the pursuit of the goal and not achieve it, then to let the opinions of others stop you trying.
I will end with a quote from Andrew Carnegie regarding the importance of setting a goal:
If you want to be happy, set a goal. Goals commands your thoughts, liberate your energy and inspire your hopes. – Andrew Carnegie