Pay It Forward Day

Today is Pay It Forward Day in the UK. The movement was inspired by a book of that name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. The book is about a boy who was challenged along with his classmates by a teacher to come up with an idea to change the world. The book was made into a film starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Hayley Joel Osment.

The boy’s idea was that he would do something good, kind and generous on a large scale for three other people and that they in turn would do the same for three more people, and so on. What would follow would be a tidal wave of selfless and generous acts of kindness.

In celebration of the day and the idea, how about giving it a try and doing 3 things you would not otherwise have done today? Here are a few ideas if you need some inspiration:

  • Write a letter of appreciation to someone who plays an important part in your life
  • Smile at some people you don’t know and say good evening
  • Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while
  • Tell someone how much they mean to you and why if you haven’t done that in a while
  • Appreciate someone at work for a task well done or for having a really good attitude
  • Buy treats for the office (sorry this a bit late in the day – you could delay till Monday!)
  • Buy a stranger a drink if they are waiting at the bar with you
  • Stop and have a chat with a Big Issue seller as well as buying a magazine from them.
  • Help someone with their shopping, with a pram or with their luggage 
  • Thank someone for good customer service
  • Write an email to a company or club which you feel do a great job
  • Pay It Forward at a cafe or pub – leave some extra money with the staff and ask them to use it to buy a drink for someone who looks like they need cheering up that day
  • At a restaurant, ask for the bill of another table from the waiting staff and pay it for them, and write on the bill that it’s a pay it forward gift
  • Make a donation to charity or sponsor someone

Not only will this make someone else’s day, it will also contribute to your happiness so it’s a win-win concept. What have you got to lose?

Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns.  ~ Author Unknown

Marathon Euphoria

I am a marathon runner.

I really never thought I would say that, and how wonderful it sounds. I think I may even become a serial marathon runner, which is even more unexpected. I had it in my mind that one would be more than enough, when in fact I loved every minute of it. Having said that if you asked me to run another one today, I would politely decline. There is a significant amount of grunting and groaning going on whenever sitting down, standing up or going downstairs is involved.

I got up on Marathon Sunday knowing that large part of my challenge was already in the bag. With the generous support of my friends and family I had already exceeded my £2,000 commitment for the Samaritans through sponsorship alone. That made the day all the sweeter.

Marathon 1

The day got better and better as it went on. The preparation of those long runs, sometimes in pretty harsh conditions, paid off. I paced myself well, slowing myself down initially, and ran between 7.92 to 8.68 km per hour throughout. This really helped as I had plenty left in me by the time I got to the 20 mile mark. That famous wall didn’t hit me at all.

The crowds were brilliant. There were so many people out and so much encouragement  along the way. Wearing a vest with my name on was definitely a bonus. When I felt that I needed a boost I ran closer to crowds and smiled, and immediately got a response with people calling my name and telling me how well I was doing. The only time this didn’t work was when a rhino, Andy Pandy or Super Man was running near me – I didn’t get a look in then!

Marathon 2

There was some fabulous music along the way – steel, brass, and rock bands as well as my personal favourite – the Taiko Drummers. There’s something primeval about that sound, along with the great memories it evokes of the time I spent living in Japan, that always moves me. It was the only time in the race that I felt near to tears. Emotion welled up inside me. It was a feeling of joy; of great connection with people; and gratitude – for the chance to experience such an incredible race.

People were so generous along the way with their endless clapping, cheering and smiling, as well as many who must have spent a lot on jelly babies, Haribo, Starbursts, oranges and bananas, all of which were very welcome. The volunteers on the fuelling stations were also really enthusiastic, shouting words of encouragement as they handed over the water or Lucozade.

I’m so grateful to my friends who came out to support me on the day. I didn’t manage to see all of them which is a shame although it helped my time – I stopped for a sweaty hug about half a dozen times and am blaming that for not getting in under 5 hours! It was worth the stop every time – I felt euphoric to share that moment with people dear to me. I didn’t even feel daunted by starting off again which I thought I might. I was excited to finish, which I did after 5 hours, 2 minutes and 45 seconds. I expected to cry and didn’t. I hugged the lady sobbing next to me and felt alive and invigorated.

The Samaritans had taken over the Playhouse Theatre and my friends had gathered there to see me and it was a great feeling to walk out on stage to a welcoming cheer. That first pint of lager shandy was amazing, as was the hot shower, the massage and the second pint.

I wore my medal with pride for the rest of the evening, and wore it again last night at the Bedford Harriers induction evening for new runners. And I will again this weekend when I see some other friends. It was hard earned and I value it all the more for that.

If you ever had even the smallest desire to run a marathon, I urge you to stop procrastinating, join a running club and set yourself a target. The sense of achievement is unbeatable.

£2,295 of my £2,500 target raised so far and still time to sponsor me here!

 

Ten Days to Go

Ten days to what?

My first ever marathon – 26.2 long miles of running – in London.

It is the biggest physical challenge I have ever undertaken and until about 18 months ago I had always said to myself and others that I could never do it. Strangely enough, once I decided that I was going to enter then it immediately entered the realm of possibility.

I had set myself a goal. I  then went about reading up on training plans and made one for myself. In doing this, I broke down the goal into small achievable chunks. I wasn’t focussed on running 26.2 miles but on adding 2 or 3 miles onto each long run. This made it seem far more manageable and as each week passed the end goal of the marathon became more and more achievable.

Next, I thought about what else I might need in order to motivate myself to keep going with the training. One of the things I came up with was joining a running club. I had always run alone while training for previous shorter runs. As a result I had always trained for an event and then immediately after I had stopped completely – such a waste. I had the belief that all people who run in clubs are elite runners. Thankfully I decided to go anyway and find out for myself rather than make assumptions.

Sandy 10m 2012

Joining Bedford Harriers was the best decision I have made in my running career. Not only has it kept me running regularly during what has been a challenging winter for running (see photos below), it has also introduced a variety of training sessions into my routine which I didn’t previously use – intervals, tempo runs, and hills (previously consistently avoided). I have also made some good friends who are a great source of motivation and encouragement and I liked the club so much I decided to join the committee.

Lazy Gang in the Snow

So now it’s countdown to the big day. I am tapering, thinking about my nutrition and rest, and hoping that I don’t catch a cold or get a ridiculous, badly timed injury. I pick up my number next week from Excel in London and get a taster of the atmosphere and excitement of marathon day itself. I have my shirt with my name on it so others can shout for me. Many people have said that it’s this that will get me through those last few miles.

I am very excited and at the same time a little worried about what to focus on next. This has affected my life decisions for the past 4 months – not going out, not drinking, spending many whole Sundays running and travelling to races. I have a feeling I’m going to feel a bit bereft. And I am wondering if this will be my first and last marathon or whether after a few weeks to forget the pain, I will be looking to book my next one.

I am running for Samaritans and many of my friends and family have been extremely generous in contributing to the fund which is now almost at £1500, for which I am extremely grateful. Should you feel like you want to sponsor me this is the link:

Caroline Clark’s First Marathon

The Golden Rule

On April 18th I am going to hear Karen Armstrong speak at an Action for Happiness event. I was not aware of who she was before I was sent the details of the talk. What a fascinating woman and what a mission she is on. I watched a video of her speaking and it really resonated with some of the things I had been mulling over myself for a while.

She is a former nun who believes that religion has been hijacked and at the same time that the central tenet of the main religions has great relevance for society. According to her, that message is compassion.

She talks about Christianity, Judaism and Islam and describes how each of them has a similar core principle of compassion which boils down to ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’ or on the flip side ‘ don’t do to anyone else what you wouldn’t want done to you’.

She also points out that each of the religions specifically mentions that this golden rule of compassion should not be restricted to your own group, whatever that might be, but that strangers should be honoured.

She points out at one stage that believing is easy but consistently practising compassion is difficult, and that sometimes very religious people prefer to be right than compassionate. I guess the same might be said of very anti-religious people – as soon as there is entrenchment it becomes more about winning that being kind, open minded, or generous.

She is on a mission to reclaim religion and to make it a source of peace in the world, and to move people from toleration to appreciation. I thought this was a very good point. The first is passive and the latter active and therefore takes more effort but will have a greater impact on peace.

In order to achieve this mission, she has set up the Charter for Compassion. The project used a unique web-based decision making platform, thousands of people from over 100 countries added their voice to the writing of the Charter. In a six-week period, thousands of submissions were entered which were then read and commented upon by over 150,000 visitors. These contributions were then reviewed by the Council of Conscience, a multi-faith, multi-national group of religious thinkers and leaders, and incorporated into the final document.

You can read it and also sign up to here:

Charter of Compassion

If you’d like to hear her speak you can get a ticket for the event on April 18th in London here:

Action for Happiness Talk – 18th April 2013

 

Smiling helps….

We all know that smiling is usually a result of feeling happy or good. What you might not know is that it can also work the other way round. Check out this item I found from the BBC:

It reminded me of the practice of ‘acting as if’. Rather than waiting to feel a particular way as a result of some future outcome, and it then affect our thoughts and thus our behaviour, we reverse the process. We can choose to act as if we feel that way already. We start with our behaviour which will affect our thoughts and our feelings.

You see this happening in the video – you smile, you think and feel you are happy. Simples.

This technique can be used for other emotions too. It may well be possible to affect your feeling of calmness by slowing down your actions, breathing and speech to act as if you are calm. Alternatively if you have to do something which you are not all that excited about, you could try getting physically excited about it and seeing how that change your feelings about it – jump around in an excited fashion like a small child, cheer, or do whatever you might do if you really were excited.

Sometimes I do this before a long run if I feel a bit sluggish – I do a few loud whoops while jumping around and punching the air in a Rocky style. Of course many people choose the Rocky theme tune as a backing track to their work out. It has very strong associations for anyone who knows the track and the film with energy, competitiveness, drive, passion, and commitment to success. When people hear that music it will often bring up those kinds of emotions and would likely make it a lot easier to ‘act as if’ they really want to do that 20 mile run in the snow (harsh personal experience talking there).

So if you can do something as simple as making yourself smile for a few minutes in a fake fashion (with or without a pencil in your mouth) to activate those all important facial muscles and give yourself a happiness boost, then why wouldn’t you?

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I would often think about this saying – ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ – while living overseas. I took its meaning to be about people, and recognised how I thought more often, and perhaps more nostalgically, about the people I was separated from than I did when I was with them more often.

In the past year I have returned to live in Bedford, where I grew up for part of my childhood, and for the first time in my adult life I live very close to my parents. So for the past 10 months I have become used to seeing them at least once a week. This is quite a change from the past 20 years when I saw them only intermittently on visits home from or when they came to visit me. I have quickly adapted to this change in circumstance and what was new and exciting for a while is now my new normal. I confess I am already in the realm of taking their constant presence in my daily life for granted.

Recently, however, there has been a disruption in my new comfort zone. My sister now lives in Australia and my parents have gone to visit her and her family for a while. How very dare they? That wasn’t into the unspoken agreement I had written and signed in my own mind about how this would work. My sister wasn’t given access to parents anywhere in that document by the way.

I am reminded in a timely fashion, by their temporary absence, to appreciate and be grateful for the fact that I am able to choose to live close to them, that we get on so well, that they are fun to be with, and that they are a tremendous source of love and support in a plethora of ways.

As for my sister and her family so far away on a permanent basis, it’s also a reminder to make time to write the letters I promised to write, which have become a little intermittent of late; and to catch a few minutes here and there with them regularly either on email or Skype rather than waiting for the right time for a long chat. Little and often fills the heart (I slightly made that up, and I think it works).

The absence of things in life, as well as people, can lead to a new and more intense appreciation for them. Having spent long periods of time living in India, I appreciate more of the simple day to day things which I previously didn’t give any thought to. They were normal, my right, expected. When we feel that then there is little pleasure to be gained from those things. And obviously the more that we have the more we will adapt to having, and the more we will take for granted.  However, when they are taken away from us we learn how much they mean to us and how far they contribute to the comfort and ease of our lives.

So pretty much on a daily basis I am thankful for the following simple things – running hot water; bath tubs; drinking water from the tap; brown bread; hummus; trees and flowers; central heating; and fast wifi.  It’s not a definitive list; there are others. These are my regulars.

These simple things get mentioned in my gratitude diary along with my family, friends, home, nature, the weather (on occasion), hobbies, literature, movies, food, drink, things that make me laugh. It’s become a bedtime ritual now to recall the day or the week, depending on how often I write it and a great way to keep appreciating what’s around me. The intention is that there will no longer be the need to deprive myself of things in future in order to appreciate them.

Collecting my Pay It Forward Surprise

Back in January this year my friend Haydn posted this message on his Facebook wall:

2013 Creative Pay-It-Forward: The first 5 people to comment on this status will receive from me, sometime in this calendar year, a gift–perhaps a book, baked goods, music–a surprise! There will likely be no warning, and it will happen whenever the mood strikes me. The catch? Those 5 people must make the same offer in their Facebook status. Pay it forward!

I was already a fan of the concept of paying if forward – if you don’t know the concept or the film then do check both out. The idea is that instead of waiting for someone to do something kind for you and then paying them back, you pay a kindness forward, either to someone you know or to a stranger. Just Google it and you’ll find the movie which stars Kevin Spacey and Holly Hunter and a lot of sites promoting the idea including http://www.payitforwarduk.net/

So I added my name to his wall and posted it on my wall. My friends Rosalie, Arian, Kim, and Naomi signed up on my wall, and reposted on their walls. And so the idea spreads.

Anyway, back to the collection of my gift. Haydn contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked what I was doing on 28th March. I asked why, and he said that he wanted to take me out in Brighton. It turned out as we haven’t seen each other in a while, that he presumed I had done what I had told him I was thinking of doing and moved to Lewes, near Brighton. I haven’t! Anyway I have a dear friend in Lewes and this gave me a fine excuse to spend a couple of days with her as well.

So my Pay It Forward treat was dinner and a concert. He didn’t immediately tell me what concert it was, so I decided not to ask and just be surprised as part of the fun. I asked about dress code, and he said flamenco. I was pretty excited about that and was all set to get involved. Those of you who know me will not be shocked to hear that. Then he told me he was joking #alittledisappointed #joking.

I took the train on Thursday from Bedford and he got on the train in London and we began the mammoth task of catching up on the past 10 months – that would be a challenge normally but it had been quite a time for both of us – he had bought his first home with his partner John, had proposed to John in New York at New Year, and has changed jobs. I had moved twice, set up a business and am training for my first marathon. There was a lot to cover. He thankfully had the foresight to bring beer for the journey.

He took me to Pho in Black Lion Street in Brighton. I had never been to one before (it’s a chain) and loved it. Wonderful flavours and super fresh. Delicious and speedy which we needed as we had to be at Concorde 2 at 8.15. We jumped in a taxi got to the venue just as La Roux was starting her set. I have to be honest, I hadn’t heard of her. However, her style is very 80s and therefore pretty familiar.

I had a great evening firstly as I got to spend time with Haydn (pictured below with delicious Pho food) after a long time, secondly as he treated me so generously and kindly, and thirdly as I experienced some new stuff – Pho and La Roux. So thank you Haydn for initiating the idea and for creating such a lovely Pay It Forward gift for me.

Nice idea isn’t it? So how about posting the message on your Facebook page and seeing how you can Pay It Forward?

Warmly,

Caroline