Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Month: February 2018

The Week 2 W2W Post (or how I’m striding into Spring with a whole new mindset)

“Focus on where you want to go, not on what you fear.” Tony Robbins

GardenSnowdropsI’m now officially half-way through this month’s walking to work (W2W) challenge and as the mornings are getting lighter, so is my mood. Spring is just around the corner! While I’m still in my scarf and gloves to keep warm, I’ve spotted blooming Spring bulbs reaching up through the grass, reminding me that brighter days are coming. This inspires hope, particularly having learnt so much about myself during my W2W experiment over such a short space of time.

Meeting a physiotherapist this week confirmed my expectations that by walking to work, I’d feel physically fitter for the rest of the day. Apparently, piriformis syndrome (an issue affecting my lower back and sciatic nerve) is often more acute in people who spend a long time sitting in desk jobs like me, interspersed with periods of intensive exercise. In my body’s best interests, it’s therefore sensible to add moderate daily exercise (like walking) to my weekday routine.

In addition to establishing this physically healthy habit, I’ve also developed a daily mental ritual which is making a huge difference to how I feel inside. I’ve designed my own Tony Robbins-inspired Hour of Power (HoP) ritual, where I’m essentially “priming” myself to be in a positive emotional state for the day.

“When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” Tony Robbins

One of the key ways I’m priming myself on my morning walk is by learning to visualise. Visualisation is essentially the ability to “see” events play out in your imagination before they happen. Being rather self-conscious and perfectionistic, I’ve previously felt so uncomfortable even trying to imagine what lies ahead for me, that I’ve been frozen in place by depression and anxiety. Yet this past fortnight, I’ve been surprised by how easily I’ve adopted this skill. Visualising my way into an optimistic state, my mind wanders freely, generating new ideas. On my W2W commute, I feel at my most creative and imaginative; I’m truly amazed at how much my mind has revealed to me about myself.

In this way, the W2W challenge is helping me get a clearer idea of what I want from life. I’m starting to have actual dreams about what I want in my future! Having regular, relaxed thinking time to myself of a morning, I’m creating increasingly detailed mental pictures of the person I want to become and the life I want to live. It’s been an  exciting and eye-opening experience!

Some of the dreams I’ve found myself exploring on my W2W this week include:

  • contemplating the potential benefits of parenthood;
  • exploring a viable career path as a writer;
  • generating ideas for future business ventures.

Through these my mental and physical morning rituals, I’m generating ideas as to how I might get what I want from life and achieve my dreams. Moving my body outdoors seems to give me the mental freedom to brainstorm. Perhaps this is because my mind reaches further for solutions under a vast expanse of sky? In any case, I’ve been arriving at my office with actionable plans I’m driven to fulfill. This past week, for example, dedicating more time to writing and persisting through  perfectionistic “writers’ block” has paid off. My creativity is on fire! I feel mentally awake and energized to achieve my aims.

Since starting my W2W habit, I’m even building better relationships with other people. Actively choosing my mood to be one of gratitude, joy and positivity at the start of the day is helping me create more meaningful, genuine connections. Priming myself like this has led to my starting conversations with colleagues and shop assistants, which I’d previously have avoided.  I’m greeting strangers I pass in the street and even talking to the ducks in the park!

“There is a powerful driving force inside every human being that, once unleashed, can make any vision, dream, or desire a reality.” Tony Robbins

Taking on this challenge, I expected to feel physically stronger and possibly a little happier from all the extra exercise. What I didn’t anticipate was developing a ritual which would lead to my having these mental breakthroughs. I’m primed to make progress towards a future for myself that I genuinely desire. I’m no longer simply standing still, letting life happen to me; I can honestly say I’m directing my own life.  As I stride into Spring, I’m excited to see what else I might learn over the coming weeks!

The Secret Skills Post (or how I’m working on literally talking up my talents)

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At a recent event, my manager went out of her way to praise my public speaking skills. I was flattered (and a bit embarrassed) she’d noticed and pointedly told me she’s got faith in my abilities. When I speak, apparently she “knows we’re in good hands”. It was such a huge compliment, it actually threw me a moment. I’d kind of forgotten that I’m actually good at this presenting malarkey! In a way, it’s a talent I’d hidden away. This got me wondering: how many other people have “secret skills”?  Why do we keep them to ourselves? And how much more could we do, be or achieve if we decided to use them?

By “secret skills” I’m referring to the abilities we have, but don’t use very often. My own hidden talents include figure skating, drawing, and being a qualified hairdresser! I rarely need to use any of these and I’ve intentionally stopped hairdressing, avoiding family requests for impromptu (read: free!) appointments. It’s strategic neglect of what was formerly helpful knowledge that eventually became a drain on my time and energy. Some skills we don’t even know exist, but given the right circumstances, we may discover something at which we could be truly great.

There are also talents we choose to hide for other, more complex, reasons. Sometimes we don’t want to know what we’re truly capable of doing for fear of what it may reveal about us. It may seem stupid, but there are always good reasons why we humans do anything. In my case, I avoid speaking opportunities partly thanks to my old pal; laziness. I think: If I step up, I’ll be in the spotlight; then there’ll be a ton of extra pressure. Mainly, I’m avoiding my fear of failure and rejection. The responsibility of living up to expectations just isn’t worth the risk of failure. If I put myself out there and totally f*** it up, I’ll be humiliated! That’s worse than if I’d kept quiet in the first place. Might as well not bother. 

On a deeper level, being a capable speaker doesn’t fit with my idea of who I am; it’s not how I’ve considered myself to be.Hiding behind my Mum’s skirt, as a child I was afraid of being noticed. I continue to see myself as shy and reserved, despite evidence to the contrary.  When I speak I project confidence, competence, and engage the audience. Rationally, I know I’m a good presenter, yet internally when I observe myself speaking, it can feel a bit like visiting a relative you see once in a blue moon: You know them, and have shared history, yet feel awkward around them because they’re just not regulars in your life. My old self-image is disempowering. It’s just not an accurate picture of who I really am today.

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” Sheryl Sandberg via GoodReads

Like Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg says in the quotes above, once you know something, you can’t un-know it: self-awareness inevitably leads to change. I’ve learnt that I’m a great speaker. So rather than squirrelling my speaking skills away, I’m questioning whether acknowledging this could be a first step towards empowering myself. How can I make the most of this talent? How can I use it to my advantage?

To really become an expert at something, we must first be curious enough to explore it further. Being the inquisitive knowledge-seeker that I am, I’ve definitely got potential to become better at speaking. We then need to believe we can improve at anything, if only we’re committed to regular practice. We need to be capable  – and willing – to learn from our mistakes to progress.

Two of my favourite educators – Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss – talk at length about role models and the benefits of learning from their errors to move ourselves forward more quickly.  I thought about talented speakers and the first people that came to mind were actors. I’ve often heard they can be shy and introverted in real life, but it’s hard to believe when you see their work. Which is exactly the point: At work actors are playing a part, and if done well, they can portray an entirely different persona. I’ve no dreams myself to take to the stage, but this sparked an idea that perhaps I can learn to “act” my way to becoming a better speaker.

 

Choosing to make my secret skill public ultimately comes down to whether I think the benefits of growth in this area serve my broader interests Presenting is undoubtedly a generally useful ability in any job, but getting specific about what it could really mean for me gives the emotional impetus I need to take action and speak. Like writing, speaking lets me communicate with others on topics which excite and intrigue me.  I may even better relay the emotional impact of my message through speech. There’s potential for me to vlog or podcast someday! Working on my presentation skills now, in other settings, can help me develop my skills for a higher purpose in the future.

 

Becoming aware of what I am capable, I’ve been actively working on upgrading my speaking skills this week. How? Well, I owned it at the next event, if I say so myself (and I do)! I planned ahead, using my morning Hour of Power to build my confidence and excitement about presenting. I went into the event expecting it to go well for me, and it did.

Celebrating my successes has also got me excited about speaking. This week I took in  helpful comments from my colleagues. I then held onto the feeling of a “job well done” that little bit longer than felt comfortable. At the end of the event, I got an email with positive feedback, not only from my boss, but from her boss, too! I intentionally looked to learn from others’ techniques. Making the effort to compliment people on their presentation styles, I received complimentary feedback in return and came away with new ideas to improve my own performance. I’d normally avoid rewarding myself with food, but I made an exception and enjoyed a congratulatory Creme Egg!

“[G]reatness exists in us all, waiting to be
 expressed.” Jillian Michaels via Shape Magazine

Ultimately, choosing to uncover my skills so that they’re no longer a secret, has given me the opportunity to become an even greater speaker. I feel genuinely proud of myself. By sharing my talents openly, I’m getting the practice and feedback I need to develop and grow. Celebrating my accomplishments makes me much more likely to want to speak out in future.If secret skills have taught me anything, it’s that we’re all far greater – and much more capable – than we know, and that’s truly exciting!

 

 

The Week One W2W Post (or how my walking challenge is going so far)

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It’s just over a week since I’d set myself a walking to work (W2W) challenge. With the exception of one particularly frosty morning, I’ve walked in every day and so far, it’s been enlightening.

Before I report back on what I’ve found, I want to clarify a few things. Firstly, I can’t be 100% sure that the walking alone is what’s influencing my feelings, so it’s not an entirely scientifically accurate experiment. I’m unable to control other variables, like the weather, or even the mood I’m in when I wake. Also, since I’m reading Tony Robbins’ book I’ve added another element to my W2W experience. I’m incorporating his suggestions for an “Hour of Power” (HoP) ritual – with some truly interesting results!

As C has repeatedly mocked Robbins’ evangelical presentation style, I’ve not gone into detail as this particular element of my daily stroll. I’m naturally rather skeptical of anything “alternative” myself, so I admit feeling a bit embarrassed to be practicing this in public.  But thus far, it works for me. So what’s this HoP thing anyway?

Well, technically it doesn’t need to last a whole hour; it’s just about reclaiming time first-thing to set yourself up for peak performance. Essentially, it comprises of moving your body ; expressing gratitude; and visualising what you want in the future as well as for the day ahead. It starts with changing my breathing patterns and finishes with repeating a mantra to myself, which I change to focus on what I need to feel most that day.

Here’s what I’ve learnt from the past week:

“See what daily exercise does for one.” Seneca

W2W Lesson #1:  Walking in the morning puts me into a positive mindset

By walking when I feel great, as well as when I’ve woken up feeling anxious, I’ve seen first-hand that morning exercise has a consistently positive consequences. Moving my body gives me a sense of achievement as well as an extra energy boost. Being an introvert, I value having taken this time for myself before the day has properly begun. It gives me the head space to prepare for my day.

I’ve noticed I’m generally feeling happier, more optimistic and more confident in my ability to manage situations. Any anxiety I feel lifts and loosens by the time I arrive at my office, and this has a huge impact on how I feel about work: I’m less overwhelmed by people and problems, and I’m much more comfortable around colleagues.

So far, my W2W challenge affirms what I read in Tony Robbins’ book:

“Motion creates emotion.” Tony Robbins

Listening to uplifting music and doing my HoP rituals as I walk, my whole body changes: I smile; I walk tall; I breathe deeply and bounce along the pavement to the beat. If I’m talking out loud to myself (yes, I’m that person), my voice sounds different: It’s stronger and I sound more certain of myself. With my body telling my nervous system that I’m grateful, optimistic about the future and happy, it’s really hard to feel sad or scared. As someone who experienced serious depression for most of my adult life, this is quite a revelation!

I’m hopeful for the rest of this experiment. It seems like intentionally taking time to move first-thing, and while I do so, choose the state I want to live in turns out to be a real game-changer. There really seems to be something in moving my body that changes my emotional state for the better.

W2W Lesson #2: Prepare the night before to make the morning run smoothly

Preparing what I need for work in the evening ensures I’m able to leave on time for my walk. Before I go to bed I’ll wash my hair; lay out my clothes; pack my bags and prepare lunch. I make sure to drink my tea and eat an egg prior to leaving the house so I don’t turn into a hangry beast (!).

Thinking ahead like this minimises my morning decisions. I’m far more likely to follow through with my plans if I don’t have to make any choices. There’s not much mental effort required, which is exactly what I need at 6am. Instead, I can listen to podcasts and focus on getting ready for the day.

W2W Lesson #3: Changing how I use commuter “dead time” reaps unexpected rewards

I expected exercise would help me better handle my working day. However I didn’t expect it to impact on how I feel about life more generally. I’ve uncovered an ability to visualise my future. Having dedicated time and space alone, I’m able to let go and allow myself to dream. I feel safe; free to explore my thoughts internally, not even committed to writing them in my journal.  Whilst walking, I’m relaxed physically and mentally, so visualisation comes naturally. I’m learning what it is I want that I didn’t know before. This matters, because for so long, I could barely picture the next week, let alone look ahead several years. In depression, there is no future. 

I’m getting clearer about what it is I might want for myself in the future. The mental pictures I discover become increasingly intricate as the days go on. I’m not actually trying to create anything; I’m not artificially constructing a vision for myself. Thoughts arise organically as I walk, and I’m open to whatever comes up, rather than what or who I think I should want to be.

Using the time I spend commuting in this way sets me up for a more productive day.  The intentions I set myself are better aligned with my future hopes and dreams. Instead of my day’s activities being tailored to meet other people’s expectations answered needs, I’ve designed plans to move me closer to what I really want. For example, I’ve taken advantage of opportunities in the office to practise creating deeper human connections because it’s a skill I value. This week has also helped me prioritising time to write, as the idea of being a writer kept coming into my mind.

At the end of week one, I’m genuinely looking forward to what I might uncover on my walks. This challenge is helping me find my purpose and then put it into daily practise. As well as benefiting from moving my body, I’m also exercising my mind. It’s sparked enough curiosity in me to motivate my continuing this W2W challenge. It’s been an exciting and uplifting start to my day and I’m keen to see what happens over the next few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

The Peer Pressure Post (or why I’m choosing to stand out)

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“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” Gretchen Rubin

Yet even the people closest to you, who you love the most, and who genuinely want the best for you, may unwittingly undermine your efforts. I’ve found that the negative reactions of other people to changes I’ve made in my life one of the most challenging aspects of personal development.

I was reminded of the power this can have over me when I started my Walking to Work Experiment this week. I excitedly shared my plan of action with C, and was surprised to see his shoulders sink and hear a quiet “But I’ll miss you”. I laughed awkwardly, assuming he was joking with me; being sarcastic. It’s what we Brits do with the people we love, right? However when I checked my phone later that morning, I saw a text which simply said “So lonely! :-(” There was definitely an element of teasing in there, but I also detected an an underlying truth.

Deciding to make changes – even relatively small changes – impacts not only on your life, but also on the lives of people with whom you have a close relationship. My deciding to change my routine also impacts on C, and this was his way of saying he’d prefer to keep things how they were.

Now whilst I know he can most certainly handle an extra seven minutes (!) of solo car time of a morning, C’s comments pulled on my heartstrings. I was flattered he cared; sad he felt lonely; guilty for causing that sadness; and frustrated with him for creating unnecessary emotional turmoil. This irritated me, because I’m generally proud of my ability to hold the line for myself;  I’m pretty “boundaried”, in therapist speak. I’m not easily influenced or knocked off course if I’ve set my own parameters for success. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten how uneasy it’d feel to resist the temptation of putting C at ease by doing what makes him (and me) comfortable in the short-term, in order to keep my promises to myself to try and increase my longer-term health and happiness.

The last time I remember facing this kind of challenge, I was in my late twenties and had reached a point where I was truly sick and tired (literally and figuratively) of being overweight. Being sensitive to my food and weight issues (more on this another time), I put a lot of time into planning how I would go about this sensibly and set about making change happen.

Friends, colleagues and family were generally  supportive as they began to notice my shrinking self. Yet there were still many times when someone would be visibly disappointed because I wouldn’t want to eat or drink something, or because I’d made myself a gym date when they’d rather than I went out or stayed in with them. I’d often feel awkward and guilty, and sometimes it was really difficult not to simply give in and give up my goals.

At other times, I’d have this raging anger towards them for putting me in the position of making uncomfortable decisions. I’d have this deep sense of shame that I had to go to these extremes and make difficult, unpopular choices in order to get healthy. It didn’t feel fair to have to put this amount of effort and energy into what I saw others do with effortless ease, and yet that was just the way it was for me.

So what did I do? Well, I learned to sit with the discomfort and tolerate squirming in my shoes enough times that I became less sensitive to other people’s reactions. Eventually, my new eating and exercise habits became just what I did; I stopped apologizing and excusing myself for choosing to change and the people who loved me learned to accept the new version of me.

No one who genuinely cares would intentionally put a spanner in the works of my trying to do something in my own best interests. I knew this rationally, so I learnt to try and put myself in the other person’s shoes to better understand the situation from their viewpoint.

Walking required me to choose not to travel with C in the morning, and I think he feels a little bit rejected and unneeded. He doesn’t get the emotional reward from helping me. At the same time, I suspect he’s a bit unsettled.  As human beings, most of us dislike change. We prefer routine and familiarity, from which we gain comfort. We naturally identify changes as threatening because this is how we human beings have evolved to survive. When someone close chooses to change something. you don’t know what’ll happen, how they will change, or how it will change your relationship. Taking this perspective, my heart softened and the anger I felt dissipated.

So how would I recommend addressing the challenge of change-related peer pressure? Well, I think to some extent it’s kind of par for the course of our being perfectly imperfect human beings. I’ve learnt to ride the waves of discomfort until they settle, and while it’s not pleasant, I can tolerate it. This morning as I waved to C as he drove passed, it felt okay to be doing my own thing.

For those particularly persistent pals, I’m ready with a come-back statement; something I can say when they try and tempt me. Sometimes, this involves an explanation, but other times it’s a simple “no”, even for those who won’t normally take no for an answer. I give myself credit when I stick by my guns because I truly value the defense of my own best interests.

Simultaneously, understanding, articulating and communicating your reasons for making any change can really help get people on-side. Recognizing what really matters to you – why you’re making this change – and how it’ll benefit not only yourself but also the people around you is crucial information to have to hand. Not only will this enable you to better explain your decisions, but it will remind you why you are making these changes for the most important person in your life: YOU.

“Knowing this purpose will help keep you laser-focused, and it will help get you through the rough times. If you create a strong enough “why” to keep you going, you will have the fuel to endure anything that comes your way. ” Tony Robbins

 

 

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