The Elixir of Confidence

To the anxious person the idea that there is simply a potion to quaff to give confidence is a compelling one. There are also ideas of potions of strength, luck and of invisibility. There are actually drugs that you can take to temporarily achieve changes in mental states. Often the anxious person feels trapped in their anxiety while ‘normal’ people seem to get on with their lives in a permanent state of self-confidence.

However anxious people are not permanently anxious and neither are ‘normal’ folk permanently confident and never anxious. It’s simply that anxiety seems the default setting, yet anxious people still experience the occasional short euphoric bursts of confidence. At such times I’ve often wondered what are the conditions that cause me to feel confident and could I replicate them regularly.

There is no complex alchemy involved. At a very basic level, it’s simply when you are enjoying yourself, or even more simply just happy. However such occasions are relatively rare. The real trick is make this enjoying yourself the default setting. This is perhaps a little more complicated.

That default happiness perhaps requires a couple of things to be true. You have to live somewhere you like, in surroundings and a community of people you like. You also have to work somewhere you like, somewhere you feel you are making a valued contribution and are relaxed doing whatever mundane tasks are part of doing that work. Whilst this sounds simple it can be very difficult to achieve. Very few people achieve this absolute dream situation, most of us have to make compromises somewhere in the attempt to be as happy as we can be.

It’s not that simple as we are social animals, we need to be told from time to time that what we are doing is worthwhile by people we respect and not have lots of people continually telling us that we are not doing anything worthwhile. People need affirmation.

Often it seems that the economy, our families and restrictions in how much money we can make all conspire to thwart our simple aim for happiness. As anxious people continually over-think things and have a negative outlook as they gather data and understandings of what is going on around them.

I felt rather depressed and lethargic last Sunday. It seemed crazy as I’d just spent a week working at the Urdd Eisteddfod in Cardiff. A week where I enjoyed myself, working at an event I have huge regard for;  and basically trying to make up for missing out on it when I was a child and I was a very anxious child. Whilst I’m still not fully fluent in Cymraeg,  living in the language somehow makes me feel more confident as I’ve written about previously. I caught the anxious me coming out to ponder why I was feeling bad after a happy week. Of course, it was just a come down and I needed rest and some me-time. I suspect most people who had lived on the Urdd Maes for the week were also feeling similarly down.

My point is that the difference between the anxious is that the feeling down and worried is the usual position and the happy worthwhileness of the Eisteddfod is the exception, while for the normal folk, this is the normal situation. Basically I think I suffered from anxiety for so long as I simply wasn’t doing something worthwhile, somewhere i liked with people thanking me for what I was working on.

Overcoming anxiety for me was realising that when you get everything right, you can be a normal confident person for sustained periods. During that period of revelation, there was a time when things hadn’t worked out well and I was feeling down. Everyone else in my group was feeling down too, it was strange to me to be in-tune with how everyone else was feeling and I perked up when others started to perk up. However the rest of the time I was exerting energy on finding solutions to the problems we faced, rather than dealing with my anxiety.

It’s like football. Part of the reason I like going to football matches is the tribalism, being in a team of like minded people, sharing the ups and downs together and the feeling of confidence of feeling accepted for who I am. Trying to match that situation in real life is a challenge to find, especially in a world where so many people seem to end up happy without any seeking of it out.

Hei Mister Urdd

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Failing the Tebbit Test

In Brexit Britain, one of the things being weakened often seems to be tolerance towards people who have different views on things. The most obvious one is that between Brexit Leavers and Remainers, yet it seems to go much wider than that. The craziest example perhaps being people getting triggered that a chain of shops started to stock vegan sausage rolls. This intolerance can be taken as simply being not liking the fact that other people like or are interested in different things. Or more strongly, an objection to people thinking through issues more than they are prepared to. A little flippantly, there is the view that the British were too tolerant, accepting rubbish coffee. Again I would argue that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, that it isn’t about tolerance levels, but rather a rejection of nonconformism, that there is some unstated worldview that we must all adhere to to be truly a particular kind of ‘British’.

A Victorian view of Britishness that a ‘Briton is any mans equal’, ‘Britons shall never be slaves’ suggests that to be British is to celebrate nonconformity, within the rule of law. Creating social politics of argument for those laws to be changed. However in recent times a rival view of Britishness seems to have emerged, of promoting conformity to the values of the British establishment, coming from the Brexiteer minority. This rival view of Britishness was exemplified by the Tebbit test…

I was never a great fan of Cricket when I was a child. However I became ill for a few days when a test match was on the telly and I ended up watching the whole match, between the West Indies and England. I began to understand the game and got more and more out of it as I learnt more about the game. As the days passed I found myself rooting for the West Indies team. By the end of the match there were my team.

Some time later, cricket came up in conversation. I mentioned that I support the WIndies [West Indies as it appears shortened on television screens] and was told that I also fail the Tebbit test. The Tebbit Test is a test of British nationality. To pass this test you must support the England cricket team. The test was a response to many people in England supporting the teams of family and cultural tradition. For example the grandchildren of immigrants to the UK from India, would support the Indian cricket team, despite being more British than Indian. Tebbit’s view of British nationality was that they should support England as it is the national team of the country where they live. Yet here I was a white person whose family have lived in Britain for as long as it is possible to tell, supporting a team other than England and failing the Tebbit test.

Generally, I do tend to support my own national teams, it’s the obvious first choice. There is no Welsh cricket team, so I felt myself to be a free agent. It was only later that it was pointed out that the England cricket team is actually the England and Wales cricket team, but the Wales bit is rarely mentioned. So technically I’m not supporting the Welsh team. Technically this is true, but support of sports teams is a commitment for me. I had already nailed my colours to the mast, I couldn’t change, even if I wanted to.

Supporting teams isn’t really a choice. You don’t sit down with a list of teams, weigh up the pros and cons of each team and make a rational decision. I feel that teams choose you, that there is some connection made that makes you scream “Yes, I am with you”. It often is the first team you are exposed to, which is why we tend to support our own national teams, the one that shows you what that particular sport is all about.

Yet here in Cricket, perhaps more so than in other sports these two rival views of Britishness clash [over five days of intense competition under a blazing sun]. The ‘Victorian’ view of tolerance within the rules and the ‘Tebbit’ view of intolerance of non conformity. I am very solidly in the ‘Victorian’ view camp. It may simply be being Welsh. Being Welsh we both love the whole of Britain and most of its people and culture yet oppose the British establishment that still treats Wales as a colony of England rather than an integral part of Britain. It may just be not being part of that white English conformist establishment, that the Welsh share with the descendants of migrants from the former British Empire countries, or those who fail to conform by being LGBTQ or Catholic and so on.

The cultural divisions of Brexit seem to have broken along these two rival views of Britishness. Sadly this isn’t a matter to be decided over a civilised game of cricket, with the honours won only until the next test series. It seems instead to be a political divide, quite different to the traditional left right spectra and one with the potential to turn ugly. Britain could be walking towards a disaster based on these two visions of what on earth Britishness is anyway clashing, whilst the Brexit debate seems caught up in the backstop debate over the UK border in Ireland. Worrying times