Updated: Sep 8, 2021
“Life is fragile, be kind to yourself and tolerant with others.” Gareth Robinson
People have been asking themselves what the point of life is forever, and because I lost a close friend to suicide just over a week ago, I’ve been examining that question to process his death and find some clarity.
I’ve known my friend for as long as I can remember, he was one of my best mates for over four decades. We spent our formative years together, I lived with him in four different houses, three different countries, he was one of the best men at my wedding, the Godfather of my son, and someone I expected to be seeing for a long time in the future. Losing Rich has been hard, it's been harder for his family, it’s been hard for all of his mates (he had a lot of good mates), I’ll be processing it for a while to come.
During difficult times, I find writing cathartic (if you’re grieving, I recommend you give it a go, because it might help you too*). As well as helping me process my mate’s death, I hope that this series of articles will in a small way, help others cope better with whatever it is they’re coping with. We all need a little help sometimes... And, I guess that is the point of life:
To make a positive difference — just like my mate did — in your own, and other's lives.
*Studies have shown the positive impact that journaling can have on your life, including improving your happiness and helping you achieve your goals. Check out this article here from Psychology Today if you’re interested in learning more.
Over 500 people turned up to Rich's funeral, with more of us dialling in because we couldn’t travel to New Zealand. If he knew how many people he had helped, and importantly how he had helped them — often with just his words and time, he might still be here now.
So, the meaning of life, the point of it all, is to contribute to your community. To make a positive difference in the world — no matter how small — because every little bit counts.
I want to share what Rich taught me with his last and final act. An act that was out of character, a sad and irrational act that has taught me a lesson (he’s given me plenty of them over the years). An act which brought into sharp focus for me what is important in life and the best way to live it.
In this series of 4 articles, I’ll be covering:
1. The Power of Narrative and Storytelling
2. Memento mori
4. Why being insignificant is a good thing (unpublished)
Each article provides lessons on how you can develop a more positive mindset, and reduce stress and anxiety levels, so that you can live a happier and healthier life. The first cab off the rank is about the stories we tell ourselves. How to control the narrative, and tell yourself stories that help, rather than stories that will potentially kill you.
Remember that if you really want to help people you need to help yourself first… It's like the emergency briefing from the flight attendant before a plane takes off:
“Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”
If you can’t look after yourself, you won't be able to look after others.
IMPORTANT: The information in this article is not a substitute for medical advice, nor is the content intended to be used for diagnosis and treatment. You, or anyone you are concerned about, are encouraged to seek professional advice and treatment from doctors and/or qualified healthcare professionals in specific cases of need. If you, or the person you are concerned about, appear at risk of self-harm or harm to others, please seek immediate professional assistance.
“Don’t lose hope because when the sun goes down, the stars come out.” Unknown
PART ONE: The Power of Narrative and Storytelling
On average people speak at a speed of about 125 words per minute, most of us can understand 400 words per min. When talking to yourself — what is known as ‘inner speech’ — you process up to 4,000 words per minute.
Why should you care?
Consider for a minute the sheer volume of content you get through when talking to yourself. The stories, the crap your imagination makes up, the future scenarios that don't exist yet, that can create stress and anxiety in your life.
Often inner speech (or self-talk) is negative, and the volume alone shows how important it is to be aware of your inner speech, to learn how to better manage it.
You need to learn how to speak more nicely to yourself 😊.
The remainder of this article is split into three sections; the Past, Present and Future. In each I’ll look at how you can speak more nicely to yourself, change the narrative, and create better stories about, and for yourself.
“Past is a memory, future is imagination. Nice places to visit, but you don’t want to live there.” Dan Millman
You cannot change the past, however, you can change your view of it, your perception in other words. No matter what has happened, anyone can change how they view a past event to see it in a more positive light.
If you look hard enough, there are always positives to be found. They are sometimes small and difficult to discover, however, they’re always there — little golden nuggets of positivity.
Even when you have suffered a tragedy, which on the surface looks like it does not have any good to come out of it, you can always find some good…
TIP: When all else fails, use this technique from the Stoics to find a positive where there doesn’t look like one exists. Be brave and consider how your response (what you say and do) can help others cope better.
It’s as simple (but not easy) as that.
When all else fails, think about how you can respond so that others, who have also been affected by the tragedy, can better cope. How can you behave, what can you say, or do that will help your friends better cope?
Importantly, by focusing outside of your own pain and helping others, you’ve found a little golden nugget of positivity! The added bonus is that by helping others, your actions will likely help you too.
Moving on from tragedy (I’m a positive kind-of guy), when considering the past remember that it doesn't have to define who you are today. Change is the only permanent state. It’s not just in business that we see change and disruption. To state the bleeding obvious; your whole life is change, you are born, you grow, live, and then you die.
Importantly, once you realise that you do not have to be the same person you were last year, month or even week, you realise how many options you have to create your own present-day narrative.