Lesley Garner
Lesley Garner
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Seven Steps to Change your Life.
Daily Telegraph 24. 10. 06

Dear Lesley,
I long to change my life but have I left it too late? A despairing reader.

Dear Despairing Reader,
I have received this letter, in different forms, from readers in their twenties, their thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. It doesn't matter how old you are, you are never too young or too old to feel stuck or, hooray, to become unstuck. I have seen teenagers sobbing that their life is a failure and I have seen 90 year olds begin an exciting new life in a whole different country. To the 90 year olds I say, well done and thank you for being an inspiration. To the teenagers I repeat the 2500 year old words of the Athenian, Solon the Lawgiver, "Call no man happy till he is dead. "

That's not a permission to commit suicide. That's a wry comment on the fact that life is an endless unreeling of twists and turns, successes and reverses, that continues to the last breath. We can't really make sense of it till it¹s over and even then, it is left for those who are left behind to discern a pattern. This is not a matter for despair or joy, it¹s just how it is, so take a few deep breaths and remember the mantra murmured by a slave in the ear of triumphant Roman generals, "This also will pass." The good things pass and the bad things too. The important thing is to keep dancing.
Change is a subject I happen to have given a lot of thought to and, indeed, have written a book about, called "Everything I've Ever Learned about Change." As the book is published this week it seems an opportune moment to look at the way change works in a human life and how you can keep your head above water in the turbulence and even turn it to your advantage.

The first thing I want to say is that it is never too late to change and I'm going to reinforce that with the experience of a Daily Telegraph reader who has written to me with her own solutions. Mary found herself divorced at 76 when her 81 year old husband went off with a neighbour. I think that would flatten most of us into a state of perpetual semi-consciousness beneath the duvet. After all, at that age a lot of people would assume they'd had their last chance. It did flatten her, of course, but not for ever.
"I felt as if I was being consumed by all the negative emotions I was going through. I woke one morning with a decision filling my mind. I got up and cut about 25 small rectangles out of a piece of tissue paper. On each of these I wrote all the awful feelings ­ hurt, pain, betrayal, deceit etc ­ and put them in a plastic bag. Out came my climbing boots and I headed out to climb the fells. The sun was shining, the sky a clear blue and a frisky wind was blowing. When I reached a good height I stopped and, one by one, I held each piece of paper out in my hand and let it fly. I watched as each one lifted, fluttered, rose and flew. They blew out of my system and away. As I did this I thought, "this is just stupid", but since then I have changed. I feel released and relieved.
" I followed this by blue-ing some of my very scanty resources by going on an Arctic cruise and there, the space, silence, sea and, strangely, the lack of colour, brought solace to my soul.

" I came back from that trip determined to rebuild my life and I have! I have been accepted as a film extra and I am travelling the country, meeting lots of new people and new challenges and thoroughly enjoying myself. New beginnings indeed!2
Mary's story is so uplifting that it¹s worth looking at what she did right, so that those of you still sunk under your own duvets can get some directions for the path out of your misery.

First of all, when something really bad happened to her she didn't pretend that everything was fine. Instead of walking round like a lethal zombie, taking her suppressed emotions out on everyone around her, she acknowledged that she was feeling terrible and had enough intelligence and detachment to analyse and name the feelings, thereby reducing some of their power over her.
Secondly, she wrote the feelings down. If I recommend one thing in my books it is the power of writing things down. The act of writing down clarifies a situation, detaches yourself from it, reduces its hold over you and often shows you the beginnings of a way out.

Thirdly, she had a pair of walking boots ready to put on. If everyone had a pair of walking boots, and used them, how much happier we would all be. Poets, scientists, politicians, peacemakers, soldiers, artists have walked their way out of trouble and into new solutions over millennia. There is a formula for problem solving known as the three Bs ­ Bed, Bus and Bath. These are supposed to be the places where people traditionally loosen their minds enough for new connections to be formed and new thoughts to float in. I would add a fourth B ­ Boots. When in doubt, get out of the house and walk and I promise you that your thinking will change and lift.
Fourthly, Mary performed a ritual. As I once heard somebody say, "If you want to make a change, make a ritual." She created a symbol of what was troubling her ­ her pile of paper emotions ­ and she handed them over to something huge and elemental, the wind. The wind took them and absolved and released her. Some of you who write to me suggest your particular religious beliefs as the answer to all problems but you don¹t have to subscribe to a particular religion to experience the power of harnessing something bigger than yourself ­ nature, art ­ as a partner in your life. The state of despair and stuckness is a solitary and isolated state. Ritual can take you out of it by re-connecting you with the flow of the world.

Fifthly, Mary took a huge risk and expanded her horizons dramatically. She removed herself from her familiar surroundings and discovered a whole new world in the Arctic. She and I want you to know that this can be enormously liberating. In my book I describe the intoxicating effect that even a day away in unfamiliar places can have on your idea of yourself and your world. I recommend a day trip to Paris as a way of re-casting your idea of yourself. She chose Greenland. Somewhere there is a place that will work for you, but even more important than the place is the act of going.
Sixthly, she took another risk and knocked on the door of a whole new world of work. She doesn¹t say so but in applying to be a film extra she was brave enough to take the risk of rejection, which is extremely scary. But bravery was rewarded. She wasn¹t rejected. She stepped into a new and exciting life at an age when too many people assume it's all over.

Seventhly, please note that she changed her life in small steps, one at a time. This always works. For taking these seven steps to change and inspiring the rest of us she wins this week¹s Lifeclass gold star.

If you liked this piece, you would enjoy my book, "Everything I've Ever Learned about Change".

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