The infamous New Year resolutions... They never work and are, therefore, pointless... What if they were a bit more fun? A bit less abstract? A bit more realistic? A bit more promising? It's the last post of the year, and I hope it may inspire you to get creative with your New Year resolutions for 2015. Go on, have a go!
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving; we get stronger and more resilient.” Dr. Steve Maraboli
Four years ago I booked to go to Iceland to catch the Northern Lights as a treat for my birthday. You may remember the dramatic snowfall in London around 21 December in 2010: there weren’t enough snow machines to clean the streets from fresh powder; flights were cancelled. I could not go to Iceland.
Determined to come up with a plan B, I bought a lastminute ticket to see Kings of Leon at the O2 arena. I loved the band, it was a great consolatory prize. On the morning of my birthday, the concert was canceled due to a fire in one of the trailers parked near the arena.
At lunchtime my boss forgot he invited me to eat out and instead grabbed a sandwich with another colleague in his office.
With friends having other plans, I ended up spending the evening on my own at a pleasant local pub. Ten days later I contracted pneumonia.
I am sorry if you expected a happy ending. The morale of this story is a little different.
Things often don’t go to plan. They range from a disappointment over a pudding in a recommended restaurant to having your life in ruins, as it happened to the main character in Russian film Leviathan I saw recently. You may find out your partner has been cheating on you or that you cannot have children; your contract may not get renewed and you may get injured just before a race you have been training and fundraising for. Some of these unfortunate things may eventually work out for the better, some never will. The question is: how resilient are you?
I am probably not very resilient because it seems I am being taught the same lesson over and over again. I am not religious, but others may interpret it as Buddhist karma or a Book of Job. I regard resilience as one of the core life skills we all ought to master. It is as important as empathy, self-awareness or mindfulness.
To be resilient is to be able to bounce back like a rubber duck pulled down then released in a bath. It’s the ability to make the best of things in difficult circumstances, to recover quickly after a knockout, to cope well with life’s challenges and to find ways to overcome tough problems.
When things don’t go to plan it is tempting to dramatise the situation to start with - I am guilty as charged. It’s an easy thing to do with social media and instant communication devices at our disposal. Ultimately, you are your own best bet. The crisis won’t go away, but here is a reassuring thought.
Can you think of friends and family or someone from your professional network who is resilient? I know I can. It may be a friend who has made the best of the dire personal circumstances or a business mentor who has led his company through a series of ups and downs. Once you think of them, your own pit does not seem so deep anymore.
Every one of us has survived a crisis or two. Looking back builds up confidence that this too will pass. Things will work out in the end.
In December 1970 psychologists Philip Kunz and Michael Woolcott conducted an experiment with Christmas cards. They sent cards to people, randomly selected from a local telephone directory. The researchers were interested in the concept of reciprocity. The majority of total strangers, who received their cards, sent their own Christmas cards to Kunz and Woolcott. The experiment, documented as “Season’s Greetings: From My Status to Yours” in Social Science Research in 1976, described how reciprocity can be used as a simple persuasion technique.
In his book59 SecondsProfessor Richard Wiseman writes about another experiment in 1970s, in which psychologist Dennis Regan invited volunteers to an art gallery to help rate paintings on show. In the gallery they met an assistant, who showed them around. In half of the cases, the assistant brought a volunteer a bottle of cola from a free drinks table. In other cases, the assistant only helped himself. At the end of the tour, the assistant asked a volunteer to buy some raffle tickets from him, priced at 25c, explaining that he only had a handful left and that he would win a $50 prize if he sold out: “Any would help, the more the better.” Even though the cola came from a free drinks table and did not cost the assistant anything, the small gesture of offering a drink prompted volunteers to buy twice as many raffle tickets than those who weren’t given refreshments.
Both studies show that apparently spontaneous acts of favour elicit a need to reciprocate.
Another effective experiment, described by Professor Wiseman, was published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology in 2002 by Strometz, Rind, Fisher and Lynn: “Sweetening the Till: The Use of Candy to Increase Restaurant Tipping.” During the experiment waiters in a restaurant were instructed to hand customers their bills with or without sweets. The group of customers, given a single sweet per person, tipped 3% more than the control group, which did not received any sweets. Customers who received two sweets each, tipped 14% more than the control group. Finally, in the fourth group, customers received a bill with one sweet each but then, as waiters were turning away from the table, they reached into their pockets and handed each customer a second sweet. The customers ended up with two sweets each as in the other group, but the ‘spontaneous' gesture delivered a much more powerful effect, resulting in tipping increased by 23%.
Psychologists are fascinated by reciprocity or back-scratching. It only takes a simple gesture (of offering a free drink or handing out a couple of sweets) to induce someone to buy raffle tickets or leave a generous tip. We like to help people we like. To put it differently, if you want to help yourself, perhaps it is worth offering to help others first.
Professor Wiseman remarks that not all favours result in reciprocity. “Favours have their strongest effect when they occur between people who don’t know each other very well, and when they are small but thoughtful. When people go to a large amount of effort to help someone else, the recipients can often feel an uncomfortable pressure to reciprocate."
Morris, Podolny and Ariel (2001) also wrote about “Culture, Norms and Obligations: Cross-National Differences in Patterns of Interpersonal Norms and Felt Obligations Toward Co-Workers”. "Americans were heavily influenced by the reciprocity rule (‘Has this person helped me in the past?’), Germans were more concerned about whether their actions would be consistent with company rules, the Spanish were driven more by basic rules of friendship and liking, and the Chinese were swayed by the status of the co-worker.”
There is no exaggeration in saying that Life Tonic has been instrumental in getting me from a wannabe writer to a published author (a self-published one, admittedly, but it makes me no less proud of my achievement).
I am incredibly grateful for you sticking with me, getting me into the discipline of writing and helping me learn the trade through my weekly challenge of putting together something readable, inspiring, thought-provoking and fun.
Babushka and Me is a collection of short stories, which are just like memories, dipping you into a different reality for a spell between a few tube stations...
Here is what I say in the preface:
"I was born in the Soviet Union, in a place called Sverdlovsk (which has since changed its name back to Ekaterinburg) in the heart of the Ural Mountains. It was, and still is, a large industrial city; a metal processing and manufacturing hub on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which connects Central Russia with Siberia and the Far East. To give you an idea of distance, it takes twenty hours to get to Ekaterinburg from Moscow on a high-speed train. The city is also a cultural and an educational centre, rivalling Moscow and St Petersburg (or Leningrad, as it was known back then).
The Soviet Union of the 1980s was a pretty closed place and, in hindsight, a fascinating one. I grew up in a country in which bananas were like gold dust, but where caviar was a treat that even people with a modest income were compelled to get hold of for special occasions. Otherwise they risked losing face.
The circus, nationalised in the Soviet Union, was endorsed by the Communist Party as ‘the people’s art form’. Sport was practised as a discipline, rather than as a recreational activity. Soviet children learned to read by absorbing stories about ‘Grandpa Lenin’ and joined the ranks of the young ‘pioneers’, who proudly wore their red neckerchiefs to school. When the Soviet Union collapsed and perestroika paved the way for a new Russia, we swapped our neckerchiefs for Orthodox crosses, and our history was literally rewritten.
My father taught chemistry at the Ural State Technical University (then called the Ural Polytechnic Institute), and my mother worked as an engineer at the state industrial planning department. While they were busy working, I was spending a great deal of time with my maternal grandmother, Baba Tonya.
Tonya is short for Antonina. My grandmother’s full name was Antonina Fedorovna Berseneva. For me, she was Baba Tonya or Babushka, which means ‘grandma’ or ‘nan’ in Russian and is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: Bá-bush-ka.
Her husband had died when I was still a toddler, and she subsequently poured her love into her youngest granddaughter, constantly spoiling me with her scrumptious cooking.
Babushka and Me is a collection of stories; a memoir of my childhood. It is a journey back in time and a tribute to the unconditional love of my grandmother, who would have turned one hundred this year.”
The book is available on Amazon. If you are not based in the UK, simply go to your local version of Amazon and type in "Babushka and Me" in the search box.
If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle app from the same page on Amazon and read the stories on your tablet, phone or on your laptop / desktop screen.
I would be honoured if you bought and read my book. Thank you very much and enjoy!
P.S. I got my first five star review!
"Babushka and Me is an entertaining read that affords a short, at times light-hearted glimpse into a Soviet childhood. In a collection of short stories the author tells the reader snippets of the life of a 6- to 10-year-old in Sverdlovsk/Ekaterinburg and more about the scrumptious cuisine of her late grandmother that made me hungry just reading about it!
As a European child of the 1980s my own first memories of political change are mostly about Gorbachev, Perestroika/Glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall so I could particularly relate to the last chapter of the book ... in particular, because my own grandmother, just like the author's, also loved watching "Escrava Isaura".