The stories we spin

We go through life believing certain things about ourselves and about the world around us. We can convince ourselves of all kinds of things: That we’re unlucky, we’re not as smart as everyone else, men can’t be trusted, women always cheat, the world is a dangerous place… the list goes on.

But where do we get these beliefs from?
We usually develop these ‘stories’ over time. I use the term stories because that’s all they are, they aren’t facts, they’re totally subjective and aren’t necessarily true. They are simply beliefs we’ve often put a lot of time and effort into creating – and they’re not always helpful! Once we unpick them, the good news is that we can change them. We simply have to be open to noticing what ‘s going on.

Let’s look at an example:
Story: “People think I’m stupid and they’re right.
Where has this belief come from and how can you un-believe it and believe something different instead? Let’s start by looking at how we develop these beliefs in the first place…

Part 1 – Planting the seeds of your belief
This belief could have started to develop years ago. Perhaps your brother repeatedly called you stupid growing up. Then you failed exams at school because you didn’t study hard or listen in class. You saw friends open their exam results and delight in their grades and you remember the disappointment and embarrassment of seeing your results. Maybe not even consciously, but you decided there and then that you must be stupid because you didn’t get the grades you wanted. Perhaps your brother was right all along…

Part 2 – Collating evidence to support your new belief
You say something silly at a party and people laugh at you. You use this as further evidence that you are in fact stupid. That’s now three pieces of evidence you put into your metaphorical bag to carry around with you. Then you fail your driving test because the nerves take over and you made mistakes you wouldn’t usually make. This also becomes evidence that you are stupid. You pop this evidence into your bag. It’s getting heavy now. With all this proof building up you must be stupid right? Wrong. Finally, you go for a job interview. There are loads of other applicants with more experience than you and you don’t get the job. You use this as further evidence that you are stupid. It’s undeniable!

Your bag is now weighing you down so heavily that you can’t carry on moving with as much energy and enthusiasm as before. You become less ambitious, stop applying for well paid jobs as you don’t think you’re worthy of one, you avoid conversations with people, as you think they’ll be judging you – and start to take things people say the wrong way, always assuming they’re speaking down to you. You are so busy spinning this story about who you are that you have tunnel vision and only see things that support your belief that you are stupid. You miss the vital evidence to the contrary. You missed that a friend saw a piece of artwork you did and complemented you on your creativity. You failed to notice that you contributed the most answers in the pub quiz, which your team won. You also missed that you came up with a brilliant strategy for a task at work and got promoted off the back of that. And you didn’t recognise that you put across some very intelligent and well reasoned arguments over a dinner debate. It’s time to let go of your story and put the bag down.

Once you’ve unpicked a story you can replace it with a new one, something more positive that serves you well – and find evidence for that instead. For instance believing that you’re a smart and engaging person. You have to believe things about yourself and the world around us so why not believe things that feel good and encourage you to live a full life and experience great things? Stop the negative stories and instead find evidence for, and embody a new and better belief.

How vulnerable are you prepared to be?

A while back I watched an inspiring documentary on Netflix entitled Brene Brown: The Call to Courage. I didn’t recognise the name so I looked her up. Brene Brown is a Research Professor and best-selling Author from the US, she works at the University of Houston and for two decades has studied empathy, courage, shame and vulnerability. Having watched the documentary I should add that she’s an incredible public speaker – engaging, funny and likeable.

In the documentary she talks about the content of a TED Talk she was invited to give at TedxHouston; where she went a little off-piste with her content. Rather than giving one of her usual, more academic and well-rehearsed presentations she talked about her personal experiences of vulnerability and what she’d learnt from them. Essentially the message was this, you cannot be courageous without being vulnerable. Period. The more I consider this the more this makes sense to me. If you want big results you’ve got to be prepared to take big action, despite the self-doubt and potential judgement or criticism from others. I’ve put myself out there as a direct result of what I’ve learnt from this film and have started to experience the rewards of doing this.

I won’t give anymore away as I think you’ll get much more from watching it for yourselves, so please do!

The Benefits of Minimalism

Early on in lockdown I watched a documentary on Netflix called Minimalism, I’ve since also watched some episodes of the series ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ AND ‘Get Organised with The Home Edit‘ (also on Netflix). A few nights ago I found what seems to be a follow up to Minimalism, called The Minimalists Less Is Now, so I watched that too!

These shows have given me a better understanding of what minimalism is, how to be more organised and some strategies to ditch the clutter – but most importantly have made me stop to think about what I’m buying and whether I really need SO MUCH STUFF. They have inspired me to be more conscious about what’s around me and to make positive changes in my life – and what better time to do it than while we’re all stuck at home!

A bit about me and why this matters…
I grew up in a nice family home in the suburbs however my mum has always been pretty messy and a bit of a hoarder, and my dad would start work on the house doing various DIY projects and often jobs would be left unfinished for years. I hated the mess and I hated people coming over and seeing it. I have memories of my mum manically tidying up before guests would come over to visit and grew up being rather disorganised and messy myself; falling into similar habits of building up clutter then desperately trying to hide it before people would come round. I knew I didn’t want to live this way anymore so have worked hard over the past few years to become really well organised, to have regular clear-outs of my stuff and to try to be tidy on a consistent basis so that I can enjoy my home all the time, not just when guests come over.

Small things I’ve implemented over time that have helped me be more consistently tidy include: Getting into the routine of making my bed in the morning, not allowing huge piles of clothes to build up on the bedroom floor, doing a ‘sweep’ of my flat every night before I go to bed, which involves things such as filling the dishwasher, putting my paperwork in a neat pile, that sort of thing.

The shows have taught me useful lessons too, for instance Marie Kondo talks about only keeping items that bring us joy, which frees us up to make choices about what to keep, as we all know deep down when we look at an item – or hold an item if that’s the case or not. The minimalists talk about removing items from their homes which they don’t use or forgot they owned and that’s something I’ve been doing more and more, and it feels great. Yesterday I threw away a garlic crusher because I have two and no one needs two, I threw away some chop sticks that have been in a drawer for a couple of years that I have never and will never use and a cheese grater I don’t need.

The Home Edit has encouraged me to categorise items and label boxes, and now that I have fewer items I can access the ones I have more easily, meaning I’m now using the things I have (which bring me joy) far more frequently. I have labelled containers in my bathroom for medicines, sanitary products, nail varnish etc. to keep these tidy and easy to access. I also identified that I rarely used my scarves, hats and handbags because they were previously shoved in a wardrobe and would all fall on me when I tried to get them out! I have therefore given most of them to the charity shop and the rest are now neatly in labelled containers so I can see what I have and actually use them.

I hadn’t fully appreciated how shackled our belongings often make us feel – or the need we have to keep consuming all the time and what this is doing to us. It’s bad for our wallets, our homes, our mental health, our creativity, our connection with others and our environment. It’s not sustainable for us to keep buying products at the rate we currently are and this obsession with always having more is leaving us empty. There’s a real sense of freedom in getting rid of items we no longer need, or not buying unnecessary items in the first place and instead recognising that purchasing is not the route to happiness. Not only does it physically free up space and money to cull the spending, but it frees up space in our minds to concentrate on other things; things that are meaningful in our lives. That well known line from Fight Club really is true “The things you own end up owing you” so let’s take back control.

I also learnt that minimalism doesn’t mean you have to throw away all your clothes and get rid of your TV. It means different things to different people. Some people keep functional items and get rid of all else, others just reduce their belongings down so they can keep their homes, and minds, relatively clutter-free. It’s about simplifying, but you can interpret that however you like. The key seems to be about being intentional with your choices so that you can say no to the marketeers who’s job it is to make you feel inadequate. You are fantastic just as you are regardless of whether you have the latest gadgets, the perfect mascara, the designer moisturiser or 100 pairs of immaculately displayed shoes. I’ve also observed some other benefits of simplifying. By having fewer items cleaning is much quicker and having a tidy home is easier to maintain. Sometimes less really is more. Know that you don’t have to sacrifice anything, just ask yourself what is essential and what brings you joy or brings value to your life. Anything else can go. Choose contentment.

How to make new year’s resolutions work for you…

It’s the beginning of another year and I imagine there are a lot of you who have (yet again) set yourselves new year’s resolutions; although deep down you’re wondering whether they’ll just become more failed attempts a couple of months down the line (like every other year). But why is it that resolutions are so hard to keep? Why is it that we can’t seem to stick to them?

Here are some things to look out for:

  • Be realistic with goals
    Often we set ourselves numerous, incredibly challenging goals and while it’s great to think big and have high expectations for ourselves, sometimes we try to do too much too fast, then often give up when we start to feel overwhelmed. My advice would be to prioritise just one or two goals that are most important to you, and yes, set big targets but break these down into smaller targets/milestones where possible, to help keep you on track. Some people find it helps to write these down in a journal or note them on a wall calendar.
  • Stop trying to be perfect
    One of the reasons we all like to start goals on a Monday, or at the start of a new year is because we feel like it gives us a clean slate. We want to start from scratch and be perfect moving forward, but this approach is flawed because we will never be perfect and circumstances will never be perfect either. There will be a day you miss a run or forget to study, or you’ll smoke a cigarette, or eat a burger – and that’s ok. Setting goals is about your self development, it’s about improving, about having direction and moving forward in areas of your life. You are not making a commitment to be perfect so remember that. My advice is to start on a Tuesday or a Friday or do something ‘imperfect’ early on then carry on working towards your goals knowing you’ve got the obsession with doing everything ‘just right’ out the way.
  • No guilt, just responsibility
    When we make a decision that we later regret regarding our resolutions, we tend to give ourselves a hard time and the guilt sets in. This doesn’t help us continue working towards our goals and can affect our confidence, so my advice here is to remind yourself that the decision you made takes you away from your goal rather than towards it, acknowledge that you intend to make a different decision next time, remind yourself that you are strong and capable of achieving your goals then move on! You are of course responsible for your actions but don’t equate responsibility with guilt.
  • Be prepared to feel bad
    We all know what it feels like to be inspired by something or someone, to feel a sudden rush of motivation. We’re excited and want to take action immediately and that anticipation/excitement/energy lasts a while but then gradually tails off… you slowly begin to feel flat, the motivation dwindlers and goals you’ve set seem like they’re fading into the distance. We’re so enthusiastic about our goals at the start, we feel powerful and driven and we don’t plan for feeling anything else – and that’s a mistake. My advice is to prepare yourself in advance for feeling bad. I’m referring to the rough bit, the second stage where our thoughts change, self doubt creeps in, this is the time where the novelty wears off and the hard work really begins. This is the wall of pain you need to push through. If you can plan in advance for this then when it happens you can tell yourself “It’s ok that I feel this way, this is supposed to happen, this is normal.” This is when you want a good motivational quote/positive belief on hand to help you through. Use something that is positive but it also needs to be something you can believe about yourself. For example if your goal is to run a marathon and you’re currently building up to running 10k, there’s probably no point choosing a belief like “I’m the fittest and fastest runner on the planet” instead I’d recommend choosing something like “I’m capable of becoming a strong athlete”. Select something that resonates with you and repeat it at the start of each day.

The Prison of Indecision

I’ve decided to write a post about indecision because it’s come up a few times in my coaching sessions recently and I think it’s an issue that affects many of us. We can become stuck in indecision, seemingly confused and unable to move forward. We can get caught up in the belief that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ decision; which only adds to the worry, pressure and/or anxiety we may experience.

The good news is that often there isn’t a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ decision, but instead a number of different options, all with their own pros and cons. Some will require more time and consideration, some may involve research or obtaining recommendations, but once we have all the necessary information to make a decision, we should get on and make one – and fully commit to it.

To clarify, I’m not advocating impulsive decision-making (well at least not for the significant decisions in life) but staying in the world of indecision is sometimes hiding the truth that we are fearful of taking action; we often use it as an excuse, an avoidance tactic. We can’t make a ‘bad’ decision if we don’t make any decision at all right? We can’t fail if we don’t try, surely? It can feel easier to wallow in uncertainty, to not make any big choices. It feels safe and secure… or does it?

The problem is two-fold:

  1. In-decision can feel repressive and stifling. Sometimes the worry and anxiety comes from the feeling of being in limbo, rather than from the choice itself
  2. By not making a decision you’re putting up a barrier preventing you from moving forward. You may be blocking your own success!

Making a decision can feel liberating so once you have all the information you need, make a choice. Or at least set yourself a deadline, a cut off point for when the decision must be made. Be courageous, take control and avoid this form of procrastination.

Accept and Release

Meditation is sometimes misunderstood as a practise where it is necessary to remove all thoughts from the mind until it is completely clear; however this isn’t quite how it works. Open monitoring meditation encourages the focus on either internal or external sensations, where there is an awareness of the sensations but you don’t react to them. Externals may include the sound of birds singing, a river running and trees blowing in the wind. Mindful meditation or focused-attention meditation on the other hand requires the focus to be on one single thought or sensation – and to bring the attention back to this particular thought whenever the mind wanders. Rather than trying to actively block thoughts from your mind, you gently accept them coming in, then swiftly release them and regain your focus. Meditation has a number of benefits but the key function is to calm the mind.

Apparently this ‘Accept and Release’ (or Accept and Dismiss) strategy is also used in yoga and although I’ve not heard of the term being used in a life coaching context, I think it’s applicable here too when we’re focusing on emotional acceptance. Let me explain…

Coach and Motivational Speaker, Tony Robbins said he’s often asked if he ever gets angry or frustrated and he explained that of course he does! He has access to the full range of human emotions just like everyone else, however he doesn’t let them take hold of him. If he’s angry about something he recognises that but lets it pass quickly, he doesn’t allow it to fester. I think this idea of accepting or acknowledging emotions as they come up is important because we are supposed to experience a breadth of emotions, repressing them isn’t healthy and they can help us to navigate situations, but we should be ready to release them when they are no longer serving us well.

Lockdown: How to rise like a phoenix from the ashes

Life Coaches often refer to the term ‘reframing’. Reframing is a technique used to create a different (and usually more positive) way of viewing a situation or circumstance – or even a person; it can be applied to almost anything. The situation hasn’t changed of course, but the way you’re viewing it has altered, you’re just changing the frame around it so you can see it in a new way. Simple!

Example:
Initial thought – “I got furloughed during lockdown and have now lost my job because of Coronavirus. This has ruined my year and now I have to find a new job which sucks.”

Reframe – “Being furloughed gave me a break from my usual routine and now that I’m not committed to that job anymore I have the opportunity to find a new role and gain experience in a different company, or try something new altogether.”

OR

Reframe – “Losing my job has been tough but this experience will make me stronger and once I have a new position I will never take a pay cheque for granted again!”

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine the other day.  We were talking about the impact of covid and the lockdown on our lives and she offered that everything happens for a reason, but I said that I don’t believe that. I explained that I’m uncomfortable with the idea of fate because it implies that everything’s already mapped out for us and brings up the connotation for me of a predetermined script we’re all blindly following like robots. I explained that although I don’t believe things happen for a reason (or that there’s a higher power running the show) I do believe that we should seek out the positives in everything that happens and that there is ALWAYS something we can learn or take forward no matter how bad the situation may seem.

The truth is though that it doesn’t matter whether my friend is right (that fate exists) or whether I’m right (that it doesn’t). What matters is that we both believe something that serves us well; we believe something that allows us to move forward. What we have in common is that we share the attitude that we all have control over how we view the events that take place and can choose to see the opportunities and find the positives, and now more than ever I think this is particularly important for all of us.

Finding the silver lining or having a healthy outlook doesn’t mean pretending to be happy all the time or constantly telling everyone life’s great, for me it means accepting what’s happened (remember my blog post on resilience), acknowledging how we’re feeling about it, then taking the time to identify the opportunities that situation can offer.  Ask yourself questions like: What can I learn from the situation? How has this made me stronger? How has this made me more resilient? What am I grateful for? What opportunities does this bring? Reframe. Reframe. Reframe. This is how to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

What it means to be resilient

While absentmindedly clicking through content online the other day I came across a TED Talk about resilience, from August last year, by Researcher Lucy Hone ‘3 secrets of resilient people‘. I wanted to share what I learned as I think it will be useful to so many people right now and it’s something you can start to apply to areas of your life immediately.

Hone not only discusses the findings of her research in this talk, but opens up about an incredibly painful event she has faced; explaining how applying her understanding of resilience to her own life has helped her cope with the horrendous loss she has experienced.

According to Hone’s research there are three strategies common amongst resilient people. Those who are particularly resilient:

  1. Accept that bad things happen. They understand that suffering is part of life, for all of us and there’s no way around this
  2. Are good at focusing their attention on the positives rather than the negatives, putting their energy towards the things they can change rather than the things they can’t
  3. Reflect on whether the things they are doing are ‘helping’ or ‘harming’ them – and this can be relevant in so many different scenarios. For instance if you’re trawling through negative comments on social media you may want to ask yourself “Is this helping or harming me?” or if you’re holding a grudge or regularly criticising yourself or others you may want to ask yourself the same question and change your behaviour accordingly.

An exercise that can help you build up your resilience is to spend a couple of minutes each day reflecting on what you’re grateful for. Hone’s research demonstrated (over a six month period), that those who found three things to be grateful for each day showed higher levels of  happiness and gratitude and lower levels of depression.

The good news is that the research indicates that we can learn resilience with practise; it’s a skill that can be developed using the strategies above so whether you’re concerned about your job, your holiday has been cancelled, your wedding’s had to be postponed – or perhaps you’ve lost a family member due to coronavirus now may be just the right time to start practising.