Right, OK. Here we go – it’s time to sit up straight and concentrate. We’re about to become HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE. Oh yes.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey (once described as the American Socrates) is one of those self-help classics (20 million copies sold in 38 languages) that most people know the name of but nobody has actually read. At least not past chapter one.
I’ve had this book for nearly ten years and have never got past the first few pages of the 300 page textbook – even though I’ve tried a couple of times. Every time I try my eyes just slip right off the page and into a deep meditation about what to eat for dinner. Or how spotty I am. Or whether I should sell some dresses on Ebay. It makes me the very opposite of Highly Effective.
When I was in the midst of my financial meltdown – otherwise known as August – I did what you’d expect from a woman who’s spent six months trying to improve herself. I ignored the problem, watched hours of television and drank litres of wine. I engaged in what Brene calls ‘numbing’ behaviour.
I also did something else that Brene says is very common when we’re ashamed of ourselves: I BECAME A B*TCH.
I grabbed any opportunity I could to put other people down. I’d criticise people on the telly, moan about my family, get annoyed with friends and even people on the street: Can you believe the way she looked at me? What is her problem?! etc etc.
It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that this blog has been driving me nuts over the last couple of months. Not proper-need-medical-help nuts but ever so slightly losing the plot nuts.
Shock horror, it turns out that analysing your feelings and facing your every weakness is a recipe for crazy. There is now hardly a minute in the day when I don’t think – Why did I say that? Why did I do that? Am I self-sabotaging? Am I scared of being vulnerable?
I am over-thinking everything.
It’s making me unhinged. I now cry at almost anything – X Factor, Nationwide ads, a sideways look – and am fast becoming that person you’d back away from at parties. The one who gives a two hour answer to the ‘How are you question?'; an answer that involves therapy speak about my childhood and inappropriate details about my issues with men.
Last year mum made a vanilla and strawberry cake for my sister’s birthday.
I carried it from Surrey to my sister’s place in East London, via two trains and a bus. Mum didn’t have a tupperware container big enough for it so it was on a plate and there was some strange net thing put over it, the kind of thing that you put over food when it’s outside on a summer’s day. Something to stop the flies.
This made travelling in rush hour pretty challenging – I kept thinking someone was going to bump into the cake and send it flying but they didn’t. Rush hour that evening was like no other rush hour I’ve ever experienced. People smiled at me, people moved out of my way, people even chatted; ‘That looks nice,’ they’d say, looking at the cake. Their face would soften. The hard, tired, determined, ‘I hate life’ look most us adopt on tubes would melt.
It was really weird. It was like everyone become human again.
Happy Thursday… Just thinking that I’ve been a bit messy on this vulnerability stuff, I only really skimmed what the book is about before delving into my own various back stories… so this post is a cheat’s guide to the book so that you actually know what Brene Brown is saying as opposed to just knowing the inner workings of my mind (and immune system).
It’s a wonderful wise non-self-helpy book that touches on every aspect of life so I really do recommend you read the real thing but even for my own clarity of thought, here you go:
WE LIVE IN AN AGE OF SCARCITY
Brene starts by arguing that we live in an age of scarcity. In our media dominated world nothing we do is ever enough – we’re never rich enough, successful enough, beautiful enough etc… Even when we wake up, our first thought being ‘I didn’t get enough sleep,’ followed by the fear ‘I don’t have enough time…’ We go to bed thinking ‘I didn’t get enough done today…’
This is a post about friends – the ones who matter and the ones who don’t – i.e. the people who are not really your friends at all.
Brene Brown says that in order to have the courage to Dare Greatly, be vulnerable and go after what we want in life, we need the support of a couple of very good friends who will encourage us, cheer us on and pick us up when we fall.
We then have to stop worrying about what everybody else thinks.
“I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles. You have to love and respect that I’m totally uncool.’
I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability and how nearly two years ago it changed me life.
In the last post I gave you a lot of back-story about being sick throughout my twenties. I hated putting up that post. I felt exposed, embarrassed and like everybody would be judging me. I have always felt that getting sick is a huge weakness, something to be ashamed of.
I experienced what Brene Brown calls a ‘vulnerability hangover’ – which is where you cringe about what you’ve just shared. You want to run away and pretend it didn’t happen. It was like when you say something stupid in front of a guy and just the memory of it makes you feel hot and sick weeks later.
Anyway, no doubt I’m heading for another vulnerability hangover but I’m going to finish the back-story…
Well, as some of you on Facebook might know, I’ve sick for the last ten days and counting. At first it was fine – an excuse to stay in bed and watch TV (after a solid three days watching Gossip Girl, Netflix is now asking me ‘How often do you watch teenage drama? Often/Very often…’) but I’m bored and fed up now.
It’s just a virus, according to the doctor, who says these things take as long as they take etc but I’ve been doing a right number on myself – beating myself up for having such a crap immune system and trying to find the psychological cause of all this.
You see, in self-help land you’re never just sick – there’s always some sort of emotional/psychological problem at the root. One friend suggested I might have an ULP – which apparently stands for an Upper Limit Problem. This is when things get too good (Brazilian book deal good) and we self-sabotage. Could be true.
Wow, thank you so much for all the lovely comments yesterday. It was a good day and with your encouragement I let myself be properly happy.
Every time a ‘Who do you think you are?, this is all going to go wrong, you shouldn’t have told people’ voice came into my head I told myself that this is an old pattern of thinking and that it’s not being big-headed to celebrate and share good news.
In our house the worst thing you could ever be is ‘full of yourself’ (a very Irish thing) but while modesty is charming to a point, if we don’t celebrate the good stuff, what is the point of life? The other oft-repeated phrase in our house was ‘Pride goes before a fall….’ so I always associate rare moments of being proud with the dread that something bad is going to happen. But apparently that’s normal.
I wrote a bit about this yesterday but Brene says that one of the most terrifying emotions we have is joy.
She says: ‘How many of us have thought, “Work’s going well. Good relationship with my partner. Holy crap, something bad’s going to happen.” So what is that? It’s when we lose our tolerance for vulnerability. It’s when joy becomes foreboding. We think, “I’m not gonna soften into this moment because I’m scared it’s going to be taken away. We dress rehearse tragedy to beat vulnerability to the punch.’
I have news! Really exciting news. The piece of paper I am holding in my hands is not a bill, nor a bank statement… it’s the contract for a BRAZILIAN BOOK DEAL. Yes, a BRAZILIAN BOOK DEAL. Shall I say it again, in CAPITALS?! OK, I won’t.
This little baby dropped through the letter box at around 11am. The contact is for ‘a literary work entitled “Help Me!” by Marianne Power (‘hereinafter called ‘the Work’).’ It’s me! And I have ‘a literary work’. It’s so weird, wonderful and bloody random, I can’t quite believe it.
Some of you might remember the post I did about not going ahead with a UK book deal (http://helpmeblog.net/2014/06/27/say-fk-it-to-a-book-deal/). At the end of it I mentioned that a publisher in Brazil had expressed interest but I didn’t quite believe it. Even when a contract arrived in May for me to sign, I didn’t believe it because the Brazilian book lords hadn’t counter-signed.