Month: April 2023

Spring has finally sprung!

It has felt like a very long winter. We endured the wettest March for 40 years after weeks of deep snow and frost in January and February. The gloom set in last November and has barely lifted: drawing the curtains of a morning has been to welcome another day of flat, grey skies.

And yet, the whispers of spring are upon us. Listen, and you’ll hear the brave tremor of birdsong. Our streets are filling with blossom – blackthorn first, but also the deepening hues of cherry and quince trees. The windier days scatter the petals on the wet pavements: nature’s confetti. And we celebrate longer days now the clocks have sprung forward. Head to the park before dinner and you’ll notice a shift: people out walking their dogs, or letting their children burn off energy before bathtime. How we’ve needed this blast of sunshine, how long we’ve waited for it. It feels, finally, like something new is afoot.

Spring has long been associated with a time of renewal. In Japan, where hanami, or the celebration of cherry blossom, is a national pastime, the academic year begins in April: generations of children have been photographed in box-fresh school uniform against candyfloss-like trees. From Passover to Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, many religions have built the return of spring into their calendar. Reach back into Pagan tradition and you’ll find three separate spring celebrations: Imbolc, in early February, to acknowledge the first lightening of winter; Ostara with the vernal equinox, when the length of both day and night are the same and, later, Beltane, heralding May’s abundance and that of the summer to come. The English word for Easter comes from either the Latin word for dawn (aurora), as one theory goes, or from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility (Ostara, also known as Ēostre), according to another.

Whatever belief system you ascribe to, it’s near-impossible to avoid the sense of positivity and new life that creeps in around the edges of the everyday at this time of year. Crocuses smother verges in purple and saffron-yellow, daffodils jaunt up roadsides and the lawns of housing estates. We are caught out by the sunshine and end up having to carry our coats.

It also provides a second chance, after the hype of new year, to take stock, make changes and try a more gentle kind of reset. It’s easier, after all, to fulfil a resolution to go running or play tennis when there are more hours of daylight and the weather is kinder.

Outside, the world is waking up. Whether you have a green space to tend to or not, there’s plenty to bear witness to. Look for the bright green of new leaves on the skeletons of trees and the fattening of flower buds. Keep an eye out for more frenzied activity among the birds, who will be mating, nesting and feeding as the breeding season kicks off. Even the most overlooked early wildflowers will be providing vital nectar for bees.

Easter gives us a moment to relish these things. Four long days with far less pressure than Christmas but an undeniable reason to celebrate. In gathering our loved ones, decking the table with spring flowers – a handful of daffs will do – and buttering a hot cross bun, we follow traditions that have been forged over centuries.

Five Easter resolutions to make this weekend

Get outside

The most obvious of springtime resolutions, but one of the most powerful: shed some layers and spend time outdoors. A 2019 study of more than 19,000 people published in the journal Scientific Reports found that spending two hours a week in nature had a significant positive effect on health and wellbeing. Another study by King’s College London found that hearing birdsong has a positive impact on mental health. Increased exposure to sunshine and natural light also increases your Vitamin D intake, which is linked to improved mood.

Reset your circadian rhythm

Sleep suffers in winter and we feel more lethargic when sunshine is in short supply. Light exposure affects our circadian rhythm (our inbuilt body clock), so if you’ve been feeling sluggish or not well rested, use spring to reset. Start by picking the time you need to wake up and moving it 20 minutes earlier each day to reach your goal, and inching your bedtime earlier each day over the course of a week so you get the sleep you need. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day is key for keeping your circadian rhythm in check, says Dr Guy Meadows, clinical director of the Sleep School. A dose of natural light soon after you wake up will help you feel more alert (studies have shown that 30 minutes of light exposure in the morning improves your memory and reaction times) and help you sleep better the following night.

Conduct a “joy audit”

While New Year’s resolutions are often about restriction and abstention, spring is the time to focus on “aspirations, rather than resolutions,” says Dr Marianne Trent, a clinical psychologist. She suggests a “joy audit” to get fully into the spirit of spring, “because life is supposed to be at least reasonably enjoyable,” she says. “Think about where you’re getting joy from: family, your intimate life, work, leisure pursuits, and whether they’re as full as you might want them to be … and if there are one or two areas that are lagging behind, are there tweaks you could make?”

Try “habit stacking”

There’s probably a reason those New Year’s resolutions always seem to fall by the wayside – we often try to do too much all at once. Trent advises clients to “habit stack”: essentially breaking down goals into bite-size chunks and focusing on small, achievable steps in the right direction.

Consider your purpose

Spring has always signified rebirth and renewal; the first signs of spring feel particularly refreshing this year after a long, bleak winter. Harness the power of spring, with the increased motivation and renewed optimism that comes with it, to consider the meaning of life and what you want from it over the coming season.

How to fail…..and keep failing!

We live in a culture where failure is seen as something to be avoided at all costs. But just as children should get chickenpox and be allowed to play in mud so a bit of bacteria won’t harm them later on, we must experience small failures to ready ourselves for the big stuff that can, and definitely will, go wrong.

Frankly, it’s a kindness to fail now. I’ve seen so many people – who have only ever known a charmed, secure, smoothly run life – go into full meltdown the moment even the tiniest thing has gone awry. Failure is not only inevitable, it’s essential.

The only true failure is not to learn from it. Failure is the most powerful way to learn lessons, evaluate what it is you really do and don’t want, and feel the incomparable sense of self-confidence in knowing you can pick yourself up off the floor, out of tear-sodden pyjamas and back into the world, harder and stronger than before.

There’s no use telling yourself never to fail, so see failure as an opportunity to make things right. It’s a crucial life skill.

Some are broken by failure and others make the best of it. A quick inventory of my closest friends demonstrates that I can only truly be close to the latter type. All have messed up, made the wrong decisions to dire consequences or just had really bad luck.

But none of us has let it define us; we’ve all picked ourselves back up and vowed to do differently next time failure comes around – because we know it always will.

Fear of failure is far more debilitating than failure itself. Trying to avoid failing stops us from succeeding, because no worthwhile success comes without risk. It’s invariably a case of the bigger the reward, the scarier the task. In denying ourselves the opportunity to fail, we’re actually stopping ourselves from experiencing the pure, undiluted joy of true success. Not to take the plunge is the biggest failure of all because we only regret the things we didn’t do, not those we did.

Full-time failures are really tedious company. There is no one duller than a person who wangs on about life having dealt them a cruel hand. Seriously, these people are impossibly draining and so comfortable at their own pity party that repeat failure is not only a foregone conclusion, but also a lazy way of never aiming for success. Don’t be that person.

Some failure is inevitable, but it’s never the beginning and end of your story unless you allow it to be.

“I have no regrets” is a phrase one hears often in everyday life, and I am generally mistrustful of anyone who lives theirs without ever admitting they wish they’d made another call. Who has lived such a flawless life that they don’t wish they’d done something differently? It’s the sort of throwaway cliché, much like “everything happens for a reason” (no it doesn’t, shush), spoken by people looking to live with as little personal responsibility and insight as possible.

My own regrets are infinite – from choosing to stay in a job way longer than I should have as it was a toxic environment, to making bad choices because I was an idiot, ignorant, young or unthinking. But my self-judgement over each of them has been essential to my principles and self-awareness thereafter.

Regrets are important in changing future behaviour and I’m not convinced anything does so as powerfully. They prompt you to do better next time, however insignificant they are in the broader scheme.

Instead of refusing to look backwards and harping on about living with “zero regrets”, we should give our regrets room for processing, without allowing them to overcome us.

Because ultimately, regrets should have a shelf life. Left to fester, they damage soul and body, taking away more than they bestow. There comes a point, after learning from our mistakes, when we must draw a line in the sand, forgive ourselves, pledge to do better and refuse to let life be governed by the past.