Lighten Up

Andrew’s Blog: You Need to Lighten Up

It’s often said that when someone is lying on their deathbed, they rarely mention, in those last moments, that they wished they’d worked more. Maybe they wanted to have seen more, travelled more, loved more but rarely, if ever, worked more.

 

Humans are extremely capable of adapting and evolving. We learn to listen to our bodies and respond accordingly in many ways. Fire burns, so we keep a safe distance. If you’re feeling thirsty, drink some more water. However, when it comes to our work, we stop listening to our bodies. We push through with things that make us uncomfortable. We feel we have to stay longer at our desks, work weekends, check our emails before bed and generally go against what our bodies tell us. Your work is better when you are happy, but this fact, we ignore. It is as if getting as many sadness points as possible will make us somehow seem braver and more hardcore to our peers.

 

When I think back to school and the learning I embarked on, it is not often the lessons in the classroom that stick with me but the ones I learnt on the playground.

 

That break time when I saw the new kid sitting eating their sandwiches on their own, and some and my mates went over and asked them what their name was and if they wanted to play with us. We didn’t want to be friends with them. We were being nosey and needed a goalkeeper.

 

I think about the kid who isn’t at the top of the class when it comes to maths and science but can beat the school 100m record by 3 seconds and the pride they took in that.

 

I remember itching for the lunchtime bell to ring because we knew after sitting at our desks for what felt like days we would soon be able to laugh and run but, most of all, play.

 

Those games we used to play at break time were so important, but as we got older, those games, that playfulness we’d see only on the occasional or non-existent “away days”. The time we spent away from the desk when we were young was as crucial for confidence, development and happiness as any correct answer in English. So what changed?

 

We grew up. I, somewhat reluctantly, due to a combination of playing street hockey regularly and the general pressures associated with adulthood which I saw reflected in the grown-ups around me.

 

When I was younger, I was very competitive. I bet I was more competitive than you. See?

 

I became an athlete and a business leader, so it is clear I never lost that competitive edge that began when I was little. My goalposts moved from coming first on sports day to winning gold medals as a coach at global sporting events, but as the prizes got more prominent, the rewards seemed smaller and more than that, they cost me dearly.

 

Success is not the prize in the end. Often people start a job because they are passionate about it today.

 

Think about how many children want to be an astronaut or a footballer or a dinosaur in my son’s case when they grow up. It is not because they want to be acknowledged by NASA or win a playoff final after a long season of injuries or live near a volcano. It is because those things are cool and exciting. It should be the work that brings you joy, not the end goal.

 

It’s not holding the statue at the Oscars that means the most, or else everyone would stop after they’ve won one. Actors continue being actors after receiving the highest honour they can get because they love their craft, so they carry on. Thinking about it, the only person who should have stopped after they won an Oscar is Nicholas Cage.

 

When I think of success, it’s hard to ignore the incredible achievements of Bill Gates.

 

Bill Gates said, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”

 

There are two things I want to say about that.

Firstly, if it’s true, it clearly shows that Bill Gates has a sense of humour, and I doubt that he has got as far as he has without one, which is the whole point of me talking to you today.

Secondly, I think this quote made me smile so much when I read it because of its truth. It’s not about staying at your desk longer than anyone else. It’s not about how family engagements you missed show your dedication. It’s not about working harder. It’s about working smarter.

 

There was a reason we had so many playtimes at school when we were younger. Yes, it’s because teachers were sick to the death of children after just minutes with them, but also because setting time aside for play, for laughter, for fun is all part of success. We need to get back to the playing.

 

I’m going to tell you a story about a friend of mine who is an actor. She was doing a show and was nervous. The show was about her being an actor and following her dreams to become one. It was a comedy, and she knew she could make people laugh but had a couple of slip-ups during the show at the start. Then she made a mistake. She said the wrong line ultimately, and everybody knew it. She stopped, acknowledged it, made a joke about how she couldn’t even tell her own words correctly. No wonder she couldn’t get an agent, and it got the biggest laugh of the night.

 

We like it when comedians mess up jokes and own them. We want it when a waiter drops a tray of food and bows when the restaurant claps because they haven’t taken themselves too seriously. Unless it is our tray of food and we are hungry, then it sucks.

 

We like to laugh. And it is good for us.

 

A 2011 study done by Dr Ursula Beermann, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Innsbruck, looked at how different people reacted to themselves when they saw their reflection in a funhouse mirror. Those who laughed at themselves the most had the fewest negative emotions and were more prepared to acknowledge they were “not the centre of the universe.”

 

That’s why I have installed a funhouse mirror in my office.

 

That’s not true, but I do try and laugh at myself more. I try not to take myself as seriously and have reluctantly discovered I am not the centre of the universe, nor do I have the world’s weight on my shoulders. This allows me to stand a little taller and smile a little more as I do so.

 

A 2009 study conducted in Maryland found that people who laughed more were less likely to suffer from heart disease. Not only that, research has found it improves short term memory and increases your pain threshold. This means, presumably if you fall overย andย laugh about it, you are far less likely to hurt yourself when you do it. I am not, and I can not stress this enough, telling you to run at walls to see how funny it can be, but next time you trip, and you think nobody’s seen you know that almost certainly somebody did, and they found it funny, so you might as well too.

 

Next time it’s raining, and a car drives past through a puddle and splashes you, swear at them, by all means, but then, when they are out of sight, laugh about it, but make sure they’ve gone. You don’t want to give that horrible driver the satisfaction. And get out of those wet clothes, so you don’t catch a chill. It is essential to laugh at yourself, but it is harder to laugh when you have pneumonia.

 

Put, laughing at yourself makes you live longer and makes you better to be around.

 

Your career is a marathon, not a sprint unless you are a sprinter, and then your career is exactly that. Of course, targets, goals, awards and medals are important, but there should be other measures by which we judge ourselves and each other.

 

If you get to the end of the day and you feel like you’ve not laughed yet, you’ve been too careful. Invest in a funhouse mirror. Dance like nobody’s watching, or if this all seems too much like hard work, you can fake it until you make it.

 

Research has shown that the body gets as many benefits from fake laughing as it does from a genuine one. Sitting for three minutes with a pencil in between your teeth, forcing you to smile, has an immediate and positive impact on your mind and body. Also, you might be less likely to be bothered at work because people don’t want to talk to the strange person at the desk who is chomping down on their HB pencil.

 

These are jokes. I hope they have made you laugh. And if they haven’t, laugh anyway. It will make me feel better. And I promise it will make you feel better too.

I can make your life longer and more enjoyable.

All you have to do is lighten up.