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?



Ten Key Ways to Happier Living

How much of our happiness is within our control?

When asked what they want most in life, people across the world put happiness at the top of their list. Happiness is one of the most vital, momentous things we can do for ourselves and others. And yet, how many of us spend any time thinking, talking, planning or taking action on our happiness?

So what do you think makes you happier?

  • Losing weight, looking good, looking younger?
  • A nice car, big house, fashionable clothes?
  • Getting married, having a child?
  • Getting a promotion or a salary increase?

Interestingly culture, society, education mostly tell us that these types of things are our access to happiness. In fact, research shows that none of these will make us substantially happier for any length of time. The things we believe will make a huge difference in our lives make only a small difference, while we overlook the things which really will affect our happiness.

Research has established that:

50% of our happiness is genetic

We each have a unique natural set point for our happiness. When good or bad things happen in our lives, the level will either increase or decrease, and after time it will revert to its natural set point.

10% of our happiness is affected by our personal circumstances

A surprisingly low figure influenced by things like your home, car, appearance, job, income, marital status, even health.

40% of our happiness is affected by how we behave and think

The great news is that we have the power to control this 40% of our level of happiness.

What can we do to increase our levels of happiness?

Research has shown that there are there are a number of ways of thinking and behaving which indisputably affect our happiness. The wonderful thing about these is that they are generally free, easy to do, and not necessarily time consuming.

My ten key ways to happier living are:

  • Connect with people
  • Be kind to others
  • Be curious and keep learning
  • Take time to regularly appreciate the world around you and your life
  • Be part of something bigger – get involved with your community in a way that makes you happy
  • Take care of your body
  • Set yourself goals to look forward to and achieve
  • Find ways to help you bounce back
  • Practice using positive language and having a positive attitude
  • Give yourself a break – get in control of that inner critic and acknowledge yourself for the good stuff

Free Hugs Delivered

It’s Saturday March 16th and I am back at home after delivering free hugs to people in Bedford. I was joined by Hannah, Lynda, Roshan, Ann, Becks, Beth, Ian and another girl whose name I didn’t get.

We hugged for an hour – people of all ages, shapes, sizes, genders, races, nationalities, creeds and colours. There were toddlers and pensioners, people in wheel chairs, groups of people, single people, couples, and some came back for more.

It was lovely to see people smile and to hear people say ‘thank you’ or ‘I needed that’. And we all had fun, laughed and enjoyed some really moving hugs.

Thank you Bedford – that made me really happy today and I will remember it for ever.

Free Hugs Flash Mob for Happiness

March 20th is the first UN World Day of Happiness which gives me a great opportunity to do something which I have been wanting to do for a while – Free Hugs.

I’ve seen a few people in London doing this on the South Bank. They stand with a sign saying Free Hugs, and wait for people to take them up on the offer. I always have and invariably felt very warm and fuzzy after the experience. There is something strangely touching about getting a hug from a random stranger in the street.

If you haven’t ever experienced it or seen it, here’s a video from Australia.

The other thing I have always wanted to do is take part in a flash mob, so I decided to do both and attempt to do a free hugs flash mob.

So on Saturday March 16th in the centre of Bedford where I live, in front of Marks and Spencer’s and Clinton’s Cards at 2pm I am inviting people to gather discreetly bearing a Free Hugs sign which can be as large or small, simple or extravagant as you like.

At 2pm all flash mob huggers will take out their signs and offer hugs to other mobbers as well as unsuspecting passers by. I have no idea how this will work. It would be amazing to see a crowd of huggers, and it may just be me there. Whatever happens, I’m going to have fun and I will have done something which I have been thinking about doing for some time. I love to tick things off my life list!

Come along, spread the word, make a cool sign, wrap up warm. Be ready to hug, laugh, spread some happiness and get connected with people.

By the way if you want to know more about UN World Day of Happiness and get involved, here’s a link UN World Day of Happiness

Bring Me Sunshine

I have been thinking about Happiness tunes – ones which refer directly to happiness and also those which make me laugh, smile or want to dance.

The other day I decided to get on iTunes and buy a few and then listen to them on my way into London and see how they affected my mood. I started with iconic theme tune for the Morecombe and Wise show. You know the one (if you’re old enough or watch the Christmas Specials they still show after all these years) which they would exit the programme to every week skipping away from camera, waving their arms in the air.

‘Bring me sunshine, in your smile.
Bring me laughter all the while.
In this world where we live there should be more happiness.
So much joy you can give to each brand new bright tomorrow.’

Brilliant lyrics and the melody just makes me smile, and sway a little, which is what happened on the East Midlands train from Bedford to London. It was crowded and I was standing in the alleyway in front of the toilet, swaying and mouthing the words and smiling away. I caught one lady’s eye and she beamed at me thankfully instead of wondering if I needed medical attention.

It’s extremely evocative music which anchors me to a joyous, fun childhood. Wow, I loved that show and, more than the show itself, I loved those Saturday evenings watching TV with my parents and sister in the snug with some kind of chocolate treat.

The next track to be added to my Happiness Playlist was Monty Python’s classic ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.

‘If life seems jolly rotten,
there’s something you’ve forgotten,
and that’s to dance and laugh and sing.’

Surely as profound as anything written by any philosopher. And the title is a ready made mantra for life – Always look on the bright side of life. I have decided that this is one for my funeral, so I have added it to my special requests in my will! In fact, I am going to add ‘Bring me Sunshine’ too as the music to play when people are leaving – genius.

So what next? Well as I am a child of the 1970s then Ken Dodd has to be on there with his wonderful song ‘Happiness’.

‘Happiness, happiness,
the greatest gift that I possess.
I thank the lord that I’ve been blessed,
with more than my share of happiness.
To me this world is a wonderful place,
I’m the luckiest human in the human race.
I’ve got no silver and I’ve got no gold,
but I’ve got happiness in my soul.’

I also now have Judy Garland’s ‘Get Happy’ and of course the classic ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin.

Then there are the tracks which cant’ fail to make you want to dance. For me it has to be ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast, and ‘Love Shack’ by the B52’s.

Sol that’s what I have come up with so far – it’s a work in progress. And I am looking for others to contribute some inspiring suggestions.

Nothing is Wrong

In the words of William Shakespeare – ‘Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

Well said Mr S. How much time do we spend making ourselves and others wrong for all kinds of thoughts, words and actions? How much better could it be if we remembered these words and realised that they are just thoughts, words and actions. They only become ‘good’ or ‘bad’ once we choose to give that meaning to them.

I have those words, along with the title of today’s blog,  ‘Nothing is Wrong’, stuck up on my window frame, in front of my desk, so that I am sitting looking out of the window my eyes will glance regularly at that message.

I am setting up my own coaching business, and currently most of my days are filled with learning how to do new things, or learning new stuff. That means that quite often I have no idea what to do, never mind how to do it. 

This is a dangerous space within which lies a lot of potential blame and wrong waiting to be attributed. It is manna from heaven for that voice in my head, my inner critic. ‘Why aren’t you doing more?’ ‘How come you don’t know how to do that?’ ‘I can’t believe it’s taken you so long to complete that piece of work?’ ‘Other people are so much more creative than you.’ 

And then I am reminded of the message that nothing is wrong. Today is what it is, and if I need some space to think more slowly and indirectly about the many things that I am dealing with at the moment, then so be it. That is what I need and that is fine. 

Making myself wrong will in the end make me less productive. If I ruin my day by struggling through something and at the same time blaming myself for not being good enough to do it quicker, better, or more creatively, then I will be more demotivated to start again tomorrow.

So I divert myself to doing something else, something which in my current mood I will find easier or more interesting. I do that and I enjoy it and do it well. It restores my faith in my own ability and returns my equilibrium.

Learning to be as kind to yourself as you would be to others is a key step to happiness, especially when you are your own boss and manager. Remember – nothing is wrong.