"You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” Maya Angelou
Photo by Laurie Ray
As you move through countries you might notice that your identity shifts and changes. Maybe gently, maybe drastically and you might find yourself comparing your tastes, values and way of living to those of the country you’re in.
While you do so, you might move through some, or all, of these common stages of culture adaptation: curiosity, surprise, shock, rejection and acceptance.
One of the most important things when relocating abroad is to be able to maintain a certain level of flexibility, as things often don’t go as planned.
When I first introduced the idea of Positive Realism to one of my clients Saskia, I didn’t manage to finish the phrase that she begged me “please don’t tell me to just think positive thoughts – I’ve heard that piece of well-intended advice enough times already”. As a worrier, Saskia, quite rightly, had simply had enough of people expecting her to just ‘not think about bad things.'.
The thing is, we all do. We all have negative thinking tendencies. We have over 50,000 thoughts each day, and it's estimated that 70-80% of those thoughts are negative.
We don’t have to choose between either following our worrying thoughts or initiating happy rainbow thought
We can choose a third way and intentionally switch between being realistic & optimistic so that we can harvest the best of the two worlds. We can generate thoughts based on a realistic evaluation of a situation while also being guided by our best ideal scenario.
Needless to say that Saskia found relief in the fact that she could be true to herself and keep planning for potential problems to arise. We focused on how to address the issues by listing them and how to overcome them. By focusing on what you can control supports you in ‘thinking powerful thoughts’ rather than just ‘happy thoughts' so that you can take action and do something about it.
HOW TO PRACTICE POSITIVE REALISM
With their feet solidly on the ground and their eyes looking up at the stars, positive realists have the powers to make good things happen in their lives, even in adversity.
PAUSE & REFLECT: Bring a challenge you are working on at the moment to the front of your mind. Then answer the questions below one by one.
1. What is it that you want to accomplish?
2. How will you know when you got there? What success would look like? Imagine yourself achieving it. You nailed it. You did the dang thing - just like you knew you could.
3. Snap back to reality: What challenges will be on the way? List max three realistic challenges
4. Build on your realism with another sprint of optimism and break down the steps you’d take to overcome each challenge. See yourself trusting your power to get through them.
5. Make some moves & get closer to your dream. Start by:
To discover other ways to stay flexible in your mind AND body download my guide: How to Feel at Home Anywhere in the World
When visiting a place do you take a moment to reflect on its personality or do you focus on the experience the place will give you - pleasing/comforting /exciting?
It was only after moving away from my motherland that I realised that the natural environment, not just the social one, has its own personality, traits and characteristics AND that these influence and shape me to the point that they modify my personality.
In the same way that living, dreaming and working in another language shapes the way we form my thoughts, communicate and interact with others; so does the landscape.
The climate of the UK has changed my inner qualities as well as my body much more profoundly than I would have ever imagined.
Am I surprised? No, not really.
In Awe? Yes.
The book: “My body, My Home” has a couple of pages on the similarities we have with Earth.
It is with nature that we have the most symbiotic relationship: our bodies mirror nature in such a precise way. Everything we feel and create, the Earth reflects.
Picture in your mind: a raindrop on the window, it’s just the same as a tear down your cheek. Take your fingerprint, it looks like a galaxy or a tree ring. And the list of mirroring images is infinite.
We are one with nature and with our environment and so it is no surprise that our bodies might change depending on where we live.
Since I moved to this island, my body has changed to better adapt to its climate. My hair has turned wavy and curly – due to the humidity in the air; my cheeks have widened – the battering winds of the North, as well as motherhood admittedly; my olive skin has faded – doesn’t need to produce as much melatonin anymore.
My body has changed in response to the new climate I live in – these changes are somehow visible and therefore easier to recognise.
What about my inner qualities, my personality?
I have embraced new ways of being because I spend so much time walking, camping and getting lost in the Dales, Scotland and Wales rather than because I have become a British Citizen.
Of course, the socio-political environment has a profound and clear impact on us. The cultural adaption we all negotiate with the host country can also have a significant impact on us.
For instance, the language we use shapes the way we communicate with others around us.
I organise my thoughts differently in Italian or in English for instance. In Italian I am not required the same level of repetitive structure: consistently spelling out the subject, verb and object. (These might be included in in the verb or articles or are simply not required), leading to a more poetic, fluid and open to interpretation language.
The language you speak modifies first the way you organise your thoughts, then the way you communicate and subsequently the way you behave..
Similarly, culture has a very strong impact on us. And what is considered to be acceptable in one country might not be in another country. To give one simple and yet fundamental example, I had to learn to recognise the invisible queues forming everywhere in the UK. Similarly I I had to learn to apologise for inadvertently 'invading' someone’s personal space when picking up a can of tomatoes from a shelf at a supermarket. At first I crossed personal space and jumped queues all the time, not because I was disrespectful I was simply used to physical proximity and disorganised queues.
We have been trained and educated in recognising the difference that a language and a culture have on us personality: being more structured in the way you speak or more respectful of invisible personal space are just two easy example.
While we have been trained in recognising that the social environment can impact us, we have not been shown how the natural environment may shape or alter our bodies as well as our personalities.
Each place has its own traits and characteristics.
Some hills can give you a sense of peace and calm while others are so barren and wild that they evoke a sense of desolation and bleakness. If you walk on moors or through woods at the end of the day different feelings will have been teased out of you.
In the same way that a river can erode a rock so the landscape can modify your personality. Think about the potency of a river that month after month, and year after year slowly and consistently mould and reshape a rock. Similarly the natural environments imprint their own traits onto your personality – which is much softer and receptive than a rock.
What does the park near you looks like?
Are there any dense woods where to shelter if it rains? Or do you have a steep hill near you home where you can climb up and scan the surrounding area? Depending on what the natural enviroment near you looks like you’ll have the opportunity to develop new skills and new personality traits. If you have woods you might go mushroom foraging in Autumn andor if you have a steep hill you might learn to recognise how fast a storm takes to reach you as well as you’ll be used to be visible, and exposed.
The landscape near you will encourage you to bring out some traits of your personality more than others and by doing this will mould you in the same way a river erodes a rock.
Places sometimes carry underlying emotions and feelings– that are very palpable for some and are completely obscure to others.
The landscapes of the North of England affect me as I am in them or on them, and as they offer me the primary sensations of touch and sight. But, what about the landscapes of my motherland? Those are landscapes I bear in myself in absentia, those are places that live on in my memory, long after my last visit.
Do you feel alienated or distant from the natural environment that you live in?
Know that this is something that can happen often when relocating and that you are not alone in this! When relocating to another country, it can be challenging to enter an intimate and satisfying relationship with the new territory and the longing for the motherland can persist for far longer than any other aspect.
Yet if you invest a little time and energy in getting to know your surroundings you will meet not only the innate human desire of being in nature but you will also be rewarded with an infinite expansion of your sensory vocabulary.
Practical ideas to become an apprentice of your landscape
BE LIKE A CAT
The first suggestion I give to clients who have recently moved to a new country is to adopt the exploring style of cats who have just been relocated to a new home. Give yourself the time to properly land and just enjoy being indoors or in the built up areas as much as you need to,, consolidating your roots. Then explore your natural surrounding in concentric circles. Get familiar with circle number one then come back home. Then explore circle number two then come back home. Slowly and gradually explore the hills, the rivers and the woods. Identify new natural landmarks and trace the paths in your memory until you have memorised them in your bones.
MAPS MAPS MAP
Having an OS map or one of those fancy 3D maps on the wall can also help with remembering where things are
To discover other ways to become an an apprentice of your landscape download my guide: How to Fell at Home Anywhere in the World
Thank you to Laurie Ray for these beautiful photos from our walks.