I have a number of things printed out and blu-tacked to the back of my home office door. The most recent addition has been a four-point list entitled ‘Rules to live by’.
Avoidance is rarely the correct option
Transparency is the best policy
Perfect is the enemy of done
Listen to what people actually say
This list came out of the CBT sessions I’ve been attending since last September. A combination of things made me realise I needed some help:
Death of a good friend
Stressful situation at work
Burden of volunteer responsibilities
As I’m sure most people say after going through therapy, it’s something I should have done years ago. Not because I’m weird, broken, or had anything other than a happy childhood. Just because as I approach middle-age, it’s good to be able to jettison some mental baggage and ways of thinking that aren’t helpful.
The list seems simple, but follows some fairly deep excavations into the reasons why I act the way I do, and the causes of anxiety flare-ups. The four points are my response to a prompt by my therapist to think first of all of the implicit rules I’m teaching my kids, and then writing down explicitly the rules I’d want them to live by instead.
My 10th therapy session is on Friday afternoon. After that, we’ll be moving to maintenance sessions every few months. I’m spending my own money on this, because the NHS had too much of a backlog. I realise I’m in a privileged position to be able to spend money on my mental health, but it’s definitely been money very well spent. The sessions have made a tangible (and hopefully long-lasting) effect on my life.
If you’re reading this and dealing with some stuff, I’d highly recommend a course of CBT. That’s especially true if you already think you should have the tools / strength to deal with it by yourself. Therapy has made me a better person.
Ben is an energetic five year-old on Easter school holidays whilst I was ill and off work. It rained most of the week meaning that there were fewer opportunities for him to get out of the house with my wife and Grace (our one year-old daughter). The temptation to let him just watch films and play on the iPad was quite high, to say the least.
Thankfully, we’ve already laid down some ground rules for him that help manage his behaviour.
Young children can be inordinately grumpy if they’ve got low blood sugar. Actually, I’m inordinately grumpy if I have low blood sugar.
The first job for my son every morning is to eat some fruit. This is usually a banana. Given that he usually rises at around 6am, it stops him being super-grumpy before his breakfast at 7.30am.
I don’t care what anyone says about children and sugar: too much is bad for both their teeth and their mood. Ben gets that wild look in his eyes when he’s had too much. Fruit, however, contains fructose which seems to be a useful compromise.
2. Screen time
I have to admit, the notion of limiting children to a certain amount of ‘screen time’ seemed slightly ridiculous before we had Ben. But, oh my, you have no idea how more than 15-20 minutes on the iPad (or watching TV) has on his behaviour.
The rule in our house is that he’s not allowed on the iPad until after lunch. This means that at weekends and during school holidays he usually wants lunch at 9:30am!
Whilst Ben has got some games that are purely for entertainment (like Smash Cops which he got as a birthday present, or Gravity Guy and Sonic Racing), most of what he plays has a puzzle element.
He has periods where he’ll just focus on one game to the exclusion of the rest. And that’s fine (for 15 minutes at a time…)
Partly from necessity, partly from principle, we ask Ben to go away and play by himself every day.
We live in an age of mass entertainment when it would be easy to find him something for him to passively consume. When I was young I read books and played with cars because there was nothing more exciting to do. Now there’s a million TV channels, apps and digital distractions fighting for our attention.
I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”
It was only later that I realized the value of being bored was actually pretty high. Being bored is a kind of diagnostic for the gap between what you might be interested in and your current environment. But now it is an act of significant discipline to say, “I’m going to stare out the window. I’m going to schedule some time to stare out the window.” The endless gratification offered up by our devices means that the experience of reading in particular now becomes something we have to choose to do.
In a way, therefore, by insisting on analogue play (including reading and writing) we’re teaching mindfulness. It also reinforces the role of my wife and I as parents as opposed to mere babysitters/entertainers.
Are you a parent? What rules do you have in YOUR house? Do they work?
I’ve learned (from sometimes bitter experience) that there are five golden rules when it comes to technology purchases of any magnitude:
Don’t impulse buy.
Buy stuff that has a positive effect on your productivity.
Set out the minimum spec for what you want at the start of the process (and don’t retro-tinker!)
Don’t buy without having a hands-on (or if that’s impossible, watch lots of video reviews)
Get recommendations from friends, your network, or relevant others.
The most important element in any technology purchase is design. It’s extremely unlikely that there is only one example, one model, one company that makes the technology item you wish to purchase. Why is good design important?
It can make the technology more than the sum of its parts (e.g. iPhone)
Your quality of life can be negatively impacted if you have to constantly fix things and be frustrated by a poor UI (e.g. Windows)
Good design can make you more productive – if only through time-saving – and actually improve your quality of life by providing an integrated approach to the way you deal with digital stuff (e.g. Dropbox)
I’m going to apply these 5 golden rules to my next purchase – a point-and-shoot camera. I shall, no doubt, blog my findings. 😉