Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Category: Life Lessons

The Musical Chairs Post (or how I’m coping with change at work)

IMG_2966On Tuesday morning I got a lift into work with C, feeling slightly sick at the prospect of the day ahead. It’s been a while since I felt this bad about going into the office. I felt disappointed in myself, irrationally so, and then got cross with myself about that, too.

So why was I worried when I woke up? Well, we had a team meeting scheduled for that morning. Nothing unusual about that, but this particular meeting was to discuss our upcoming office relocation announced last week.

The prospect of imminent change to my “work home”, so to speak, has triggered my anxiety.  After five years’ sitting at the same desk I’m literally moving up in the world. Currently divided over two floors of our building, my colleagues and I are destined to go higher and join the rest of our team. A move has been on the cards for some time – so long, in fact, that I’ve settled into my space over the years.  As such, I presumed talk of reuniting my team was simply another public sector promise; a “nice to have one day” but not likely happening anytime soon.

Anxiety is a funny thing. Admittedly, it’s not so funny when you’re in it. However by “funny” I mean that it’s strange how anxiety appears and disappears so quickly. Sometimes coming on suddenly, and at other times, it seems to sneak up and catch me unawares. Like fire, anxiety rises seemingly out of nowhere. Also like fire, if left unchecked it can cause some real damage. I’ve already spoken about this on a previous post where I talk about my worst Summer ever.

Though this nascent nervousness around moving desks is relatively mild on the anxiety scale, I’m conscious about needing to take care of myself. In writing about my most acute anxiety attacks a few Summers back, I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have turned out had I been better prepared to take positive action earlier on.

As you’ve probably picked up on by now, in creating Project HeatherED I’m looking for ways to become better, which I define as becoming happier, healthier, and emotionally wealthier.  Drawing upon my experiences with stress management strategies over the past ten years (well, thirty four, technically, but you catch my drift) I made it through what could have been a really rough day relatively unscathed.

Reflecting back on what I did to achieve this, I’ve devised the following plan of action for anyone looking to become better at managing their anxiety. This is exactly what I did in the space of twelve hours to work through my own anxious feelings around my upcoming office move. I hope this helps whomever else might be reading this and feeling similarly stressed out.

IMG_2892My Seven Strategies to Stick-It to Stress

#1 Tell someone I trust how I’m feeling.

This was the very first thing I did. Only slightly from a place of of panic, I carefully crafted an email to my managers to tell them I felt worried about the pending move. I think I managed to come across professional (I read, re-read, and edited before pressing send). After that terrible, anxiety-filled Summer, I made a resolution to be honest abut my feelings, with myself and others. Basically, I learnt that I must stand up and risk sharing what I feel – and what I want to feel – if I wish to be helped in the precise way I need.  

As expected, my managers have been nothing but supportive and kind. I received a thoughtful reply from the big boss later that day, which straight away helped me feel loads better. Rationally I understand that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ is correct in saying “change is the only constant in life“, however this knowledge doesn’t seem to get through to my nervous system. As anyone with anxiety knows, reassurance only does so much to stem the nerves. It’s a temporary fix and it doesn’t take long for the unease to resurface.

#2 Be mindful and stay as present as possible.

My personal experience of mental illness is that it takes me away from the present moment. Depression dwells on past mistakes, whereas anxiety makes negative assumptions about what the future may hold. As yogis and modern-day “mindfulness gurus” like to remind us (frequently condescendingly IMO), the present is the only moment that counts. Reminding myself of this as often as necessary helps me from wandering in the maze of my mind. If I do disappear, then as soon as I’m aware of this, I can choose to returning my attention to the here-and-now. This whole “bringing yourself back to the moment” is the essence of mindfulness. No candles, incense, or mantra required.

#3 Play up the positivity.

Admittedly, it sounds cheesy (because it is cheesy), but I have repeatedly make a conscious choice to adopt an “attitude of gratitude”. Contrary to appearances, I’m not a naturally “glass-half-full” kinda gal. Of course, if you’ve known me for some time, you’ll be guffawing as you read this blog, or watch my vlogs over on Facebook, and wonder what’s happened to me. I get it – it still surprises me at times – but I’m learning that underneath the veil of mental illness, I’m much sunnier than I ever really knew. I’m discovering new elements to my personality; things like my inherent hopefulness, positivity, and gratitude for the small things in life.

IMG_2900Getting back to the whole office move scenario that prompted this post in the first place, one of my best strategies for neutralising my nervousness is to intentionally focusing on what’s good about the move. I came up with the following within a few moments of seeking out the positives:

  • sitting near my best work buddy again,
  • a fresh start at keeping my workstation clean,
  • a reason to clear out my clutter (which inevitably helps me get into a better headspace),
  • I’ll get to know the girls upstairs better by proximity,
  • an opportunity to redecorate – to go for a more grown-up look and update my cork board with pictures of the people I love, and symbols of my hopes and dreams,
  • and, being higher up, we’ll have better views of the park.

There’s always more than one perspective we can take on any situation and we can choose to take the most positive. Consciously focusing on the positive assures me that there’s plenty of good to be gained from my move, too.

#4 Take my medication. That’s what it’s for, after all.

Prior to our Tuesday team meeting, I took an anti-anxiety pill which I carry in my purse for such occasions. Again later in the day I took another. It sounds overly dramatic – to medicate for meetings. I feel silly even talking about it, envisioning eye-rolls from those who might reasonably wonder why I’m medicating to manage general life situations. My partner, C, would have been with them, too, before he took one of my meds (without asking me or his doctor – not to be recommended, folks) seeing the effects for himself.

Medication helps me. Accepting this has helped me learn to ignore the voice of the inner critic so I can do what works for me. I still clearly worry about what others might think of me, but it doesn’t prevent me from acting in my own best interests. These days it’s a rare occasion when I need to take one, but knowing there’s medicine I can take which will “lowers the volume” on my physical symptoms is a real life-saver in emotional emergencies.

 #5 Write my heart out.

When I feel anxious one of the things I regularly rely on to help is to write things down. Writing is an excellent tool that works well for most people as a way of untangling thoughts and feelings, likely because there are so many ways of making it work. For me, I journal by hand, type thoughts online at 750 Words, or list gratitudes. It’s another tool which helps me stay mindful, taking copious notes in work meetings (that I’ll never need) to focus my mind on the here-and-now. Bonkers maybe, but it works.

#6 Get moving. Literally

Quite frankly, I’ve been pants at sticking to my regular workout routine of late. Not so unusual – pretty normal, in fact – for most people whose commitment to their monthly membership peaks and troughs with the seasons (i.e. upping their game before Christmas party season and Summer swimwear). However for me, I’m usually at the gym to where it borders on obsession and so I’m feeling a bit out of sorts.

Having habitually attended class on a Tuesday after work for four years, I try to turn off my brain and follow my feet. This way, I’m getting into the gym at least once and it’s helping me to remember why I go in the first place: for fun, friendship, and freedom from my racing mind. Logically I know that once I’m there I feel fine. Chatting with classmates beforehand puts me at ease and helps me get into a happy headspace.

Unlike so many other experiences in life, I’ve never regretted a workout and this week was no different. Coming back to what I know works, exercise genuinely calms both my mind and body.  It’s a healthy way of channeling nervous energy into something productive, releasing muscle tension along with any frustrations. Back home I’m tired – but no longer wired – and I feel grateful for having trusted in what I know at heart is in my best interests.

IMG_2914#7: Let go of perfection. I’m perfectly imperfect.

Giving myself permission not to be perfect is one of the most important acts of self-care and compassion I can imagine. It seems so simple – and it is – but it’s certainly not easy and, for me at least and recovering perfectionists like me, is a perpetual practice. It’s an on-going challenge to scale down my expectations and be happy with “good enough”. This makes ever-more sense in reading “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve learnt that I’m an Upholder personality type, meaning I live up to the expectations of myself and others pretty easily. It’s great for when I have to get stuff done, but not so much for engendering a sense of personal happiness and fulfilment. I’ve always got that nagging feeling that I could do or be more. Choosing to consciously release myself of this perpetual pressure – particularly when already anxious –  is another way I can practise being kind to myself.  

Still shaken by the prospect of changing desks, I decided I’d allow myself to eat whatever I wanted for my post-gym dinner. Rather than eating a pre-planned, balanced meal of an evening when I’m anxious, I instead find it soothing to turn to childhood comfort foods. Namely, eggs, soup, buttery toast, rice pudding, kids’ cereal, chocolate, and  – of course – cake. Admittedly this doesn’t sound particularly grown-up and healthy-minded of me, and it’s probably not.

There’s a part of me which still feels guilty for not making a “proper” evening meal. I’m hesitant to admit to having these 1950s mental mantras of “I’m a poor excuse for a housewife”, “I’m neglecting to care for my man”, and “what kind of woman are you?!” amongst others playing on repeat.. Despite C being a way more capable cook than I, on days when I’d rather eat cereal these kinds of thoughts inevitably race round my mind.

Still, I went with my gut – literally – and had eggs on toast for Tuesday tea. Fighting the feeling that I’m somehow letting C down, I knew it felt like the right thing to do for me in that moment. Over time I’ve learnt that sometimes when I have a mini-mental health wobble – which will happen, no matter how hard I try to prevent it –  being a little bit selfish is okay. Indulging in a self-centred whim once in a while releases feel-good hormones, providing a much-needed quick-fix to feeling happy.

So there you have it: My seven strategies to stick-it to stress. When used together this helped me better handle my anxiety around our upcoming office move. I’m sure I’ll need to refer back to several steps of this self-care strategy to staying sane. Hence having it here – in writing – will undoubtedly act as a reminder for me, as much as I intend it to share what works with you.

Perhaps sensing that something was up (I’m terrible at keeping my feelings to myself), C offered to pick me up from the gym; an offer which I gratefully accepted. Throwing my bags into the boot, I sat beside him and began to tell him about my day.

When we pulled up the drive, I could see D running from the far end of the back garden to greet us. Shouting in his loudest kitty voice (don’t ever underestimate the power of a 4.2 kilo ball of fur with teeth), he shared his kitty news, pleased to see us home. As much as he’s a pain in the furry butt, that cat brings me so much joy I couldn’t help but feel better.

IMG_2890I came home feeling pretty pleased with how I’d handled my nerves around the whole change of scene at work. Yet still, something felt off; I didn’t quite feel myself. Hair sticking to my neck, my overheated, lycra-clad limbs just desperate to get out of my gym gear and jump in the shower, I understandably felt icky. So much for self-care strategies, eh?

As I walked in the door, bags sliding off my sweaty shoulder, there C stood, his arms wide open and welcoming. “Come here,” he said in a tone I recognised as being genuinely sympathetic, pulling me in for a bear hug.

It was perfect; turns out a hug from the person I love most was exactly what I needed.

Suddenly everything feels alright again.

 

 

 

 

The Worst Summer Ever Post (or my experience of living with acute anxiety)

Two years ago I experienced the worst bout of anxiety in my life. It started with my (not unreasonably) becoming upset at what I later learnt were massive, allergic reactions to flea bites which appeared all over my body. Thanks to an unfortunate combination of humid weather that Summer, and Frontline’s failure to work in an area overpopulated by cats, not only was I in physical pain but I was also hurting mentally.

IMG_3018Much like my body, my mind itched and burned. I felt like there was always something irritating me; prickling just under the surface. As I scratched my brain trying to figure out what was causing these hideous hives, I tied myself in knots with worry. It wasn’t long before this grew into a series of regular panic attacks. I recognised them from their occasional appearance during my university years, only this time the anxiety was on a whole, new, nasty level. Not only did I feel sh*t, but I then developed obsessive tendencies which made my anxiety all the worse.

OCD for me was an incessant need to check and re-check, assure and reassure, and then start again because I couldn’t trust my own judgement.

It was unlike anything I’d been through before. I was permanently tired, it was so mentally draining.

As is often the case with mental illness, mornings especially became nightmarish. Waking up already dreading the day, the first words to run through my head -before I’d even really opened my eyes – were “oh God…” At the time I couldn’t imagine not feeling that way at the start of the day. Frequently C would have to coax me to the car, me frantic, late getting out of the front door.

Simultaneously crying and trying desperately to keep my mascara from running (“waterproof”, my arse!), I’d drag myself out of his car and into the office. It hurts my heart to say it now, but C would sometimes have to literally push me out of the car door so he could get to his work.  I know for a fact he felt terrible about it. It was a hellish time for us both. For me, worse still than how I felt was knowing the effect I was having on the man I love, and yet feeling utterly hopeless about being able to stop it.

Once in the office I wasn’t much better. At least, not until the day got going and I was able to imitate some semblance of normalcy. For the best part of a year I couldn’t speak first thing for at least a half hour. It took time to choke out even simple words like “hello”. “How are you?” would send me into meltdown. Some days I cried for an hour before I opened an email.

I mistakenly believed that I had to push myself to keep going in. No matter how much it hurt – both myself and those around me – I felt pressured to keep showing up. Like many people who are mentally unwell, I was afraid of what other people might think were I to “give in” and take time out. Buying into the rumours, I was terrified that being signed off for “mental health reasons” would somehow blacklist me as a hopeless case.  I had a sinking feeling that, if I were to stay home from work, I might never go back.

IMG_3032It took a long time for me to recover from this particular episode. From the bites alone, my skin took a few months to start to heal. The house took us at least a month of exhausting, repetitive, after-work cleaning routines to get it back to normal. My mind took months to feel something like my own again. I was prescribed anti-anxiety tablets to be taken three times a day for several months to restore my “fight or flight” response back to something resembling a regular reaction to stress.

Unfortunately, it’s only in retrospect that I can see just how unwell I had been. In my last round of therapy with a rather special NHS therapist I finally understood what happened. I’ve since been able to articulate to C what I felt at the time; he regretfully says he should have seen it coming – especially as he’d through similar experiences with a previous partner.

However it isn’t so easy – mental illness is cruel that way. From the outside you seem to be alright much of the time, and yet you’re incapable of decision-making. I’d be processing millions of pounds worth of payments at work, and would break down over whether to have cheese with my beans on toast.

What I hope he now knows – and indeed anyone else going through something similar – is that it’s almost impossible to see a mental breakdown coming until it’s well and truly here. It’s an incremental process whereby those closest to us are also often unable to see it happening. Still, it’s important to remind him – and others – of the role they played in my becoming better. Testing their patience and kindness often, I look back and feel lucky, knowing so many lovely people genuinely care for me.

Even so, I wish I’d had the wherewithal to be able to see that I needed help sooner. Specifically, I needed someone to help me to allow myself the time, space, and patience to recover. I dug my heels in and insisted I kept going “as normal”, despite being anything but. Well-meaning colleagues tried to persuade me to take time out, but I couldn’t hear it. Sadly, in my anxious state of mind I wasn’t able to differentiate between a suggestion and a recommendation. I felt blinkered to anything other than what was most obvious.

 

It took longer than necessary for me to recover, but I did recover and I’m here telling you this tale in the hopes I can help someone else become better, too.

To give this story it’s sort-of happy ending, I’d like to share some of the lessons anxiety had to teach. Despite the darkness around this particular life phase, there are still several positive take-aways I’d like to share. Thankfully, there always are.

Regular readers of this blog may have been a bit thrown by the tone of this piece. If so, I hope this will bring you back on board. As you know, my becoming better sees me looking for gratitudes in just about every area of life. As such, I’ve come up with the following:

IMG_3037The best of things I learnt from the worst of times

#1 Never give up. If you look around you’ll see that us humans are capable of awesome achievements. Whilst mental illness undoubtedly sucks a**, it’s possible to come out of this period of time. Not only this, but it’s true that our struggles shape who we become and the influence we go on to have in the world. Had I not had such a sh*tty time with anxiety, I’d not be writing this blog, which brings such happiness and joy to my life today.

#2 Trust in the inherent goodness of people. Given half a chance, most will do their best to be kind and supportive. You just have to give them a chance, forgiving the stupid mistakes we all make as we fumble through the mental health minefield. My mind told me that people were only being nice to me because they felt they “had” to do so. Yet my mind wasn’t well, and so why was I listening to it?! Instead, I could have taken others by their word, accepted their help, and felt grateful, rather than guilty.

#3  If you can’t make a decision, then don’t. Ask for help. Like I said, when you’re mentally unwell – however that may look for you – it’s only rational to place your trust in those whom you believe to be more emotionally stable than yourself just now.  The pressure to choose often threw me off, proving the last straw in a day filled with last straws. If you’ve got people you love and trust around you, then let them love you and trust them to help you choose what’s in your best interests for now.

#4 Act. I implore anyone in the kind of mindset I was in to take action and do something – anything – other than stand still, and to do it as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter how small the action to begin with – small is good; it’s a great start. Just don’t let it go on without trying to change the situation, and if you can’t see how, then ask for help. It’s everywhere if you’re looking for it – so look!

#6 Take your health seriously. No matter how much you love your job, your family, your home, it’s no good if you’re falling apart. Before you can truly live, you need to make sure you’re at your mentally most fit, and doing that might mean taking time out from regular living. Whether it’s a visit to the doctor, regular therapy, a holiday, or being signed off sick for a while, it’s worth considering all available options and leaning on whatever help you can get to decide what’s best.

#7 Also, consider how much you’re willing to tell your employer about what’s going on for you. Despite having my manager present during times I was falling apart, I’ve never formally gone “on the record” with my own mental illness. I feel embarrassed admitting to it, but I’m still nervous as to what the implications may be. However I’ve known people who’ve sworn by it as having helped them to get back into work after some tough times.

#8 Finally, a practical tip: Always go for the prescription flea treatment and buy from the vets. Seriously. It’s worth the extra money and effort it takes to go pick it up every few months. We spent weeks – months! – spraying the house with Indorex and vacuuming like crazy people (literally) to get rid. Whilst it did the trick in the end, it was exhausting. Add this to the pain of being bitten, fear of sleep, and shame at being covered in ugly blisters, coming home from work to clean the house top-to-bottom over and again was truly testing.

So that was my most terrible Summer. Pretty sh*t, if I say so myself. What’s most sad to me is that C and I spent that time together, and yet apart, lost in our own minds. Changing the past isn’t an option, and in truth, I don’t actually regret it having happened this way. What I learnt that anxious Summer ultimately played an important role in my becoming better. In time, I hope I can use my experiences to help others live happier, healthier, and emotionally wealthier lives, too. Or at the very least to remember not to scrimp on their pets’ flea treatments.

The Mental Hall of Mirrors Post (or why I’m working on body acceptance)

MirrorImage_IvanObolensky_Pexels

Source image

So, a little while ago, this happened during an appointment with a physiotherapist about a persistent back pain:

[Mid-diagnosis] “…and when you’re petite this injury tends to happen more often…”

I instantly felt myself blush. I had an urge to correct her; to tell her she was mistaken – I’m not a petite person! She must be thinking of someone else.

Instead I bit my tongue and walked away from the appointment feeling confused, proud and ashamed – all at the same time. Her words kept playing on my mind long after I left the GP surgery.

And then not long after this incident, this happened:

During a routine check-up the nurse asked me to “hop on the scales” so she could check my weight. After asking whether I shouldn’t take off my coat and shoes –  and being told it didn’t matter –  I stepped cautiously onto the “sad step“, as Joe Wicks (AKA The Body Coach) calls it.

Cheerfully announcing its verdict aloud, she tapped the numbers into her computer before gently inquiring “whether my weight fluctuates very much?” It took me back a moment. When I mentioned having lost a considerable amount of weight these past few years, I saw her breathe a sigh of relief.

Congratulating me on my success, the nurse proceeded to ask questions about how I’d changed my food and fitness habits. She seemed genuinely pleased for me; interested in how I’d achieved such a dramatic lifestyle change.

 

And yet.

Whilst on the surface I was part of this seemingly sunny, light interaction between two almost-strangers, inside I was squirming; cringing because the number she’d so casually “thrown out into the air” had come back and smacked me full-on in the face.

Being told I’m just a few pounds heavier than the scales say at home made me feel instantly uncomfortable in my skin. My mind immediately reinterpreted these both of these strangers’ well-intentioned remarks, twisting them into criticisms and negative judgments. Rather than accepting the positive compliments being offeredby people for whom there’s no feasible agenda (other than being kind), I fell into a mental black hole.

Years after recovering from disordered eating (at least, as far as I believe one can recover from such things), it bothers me that a number on a scale, or a well-meaning comment from a stranger, still has the power to affect my day, and how I feel about myself. I jump on it as proof that I’m not good enough, instead of seeing the truth: that I’m still a work-in-progress, like every other human being who ever walked the planet’s surface.

It’s frustrating and disheartening to recognise that inside my mind, there are times when I still walk through a mental hall of mirrors, my distorted image reflected back to me from all angles.

However. No more.

I cannot emphasise strongly enough how much hard work it’s taken to recover. There was no quick fix; just years of graft and a lot of therapy. I’ve gained and lost over a hundred pounds in the past ten years or so. My body and I have been through a lot of sh*t together! Still, I’ve become so much happier, healthier, and more emotionally resilient in this time that I’ve decided:

I’ve had enough of feeling bad about myself.

I’vehad enough of not feeling good enough.

Evoking the spirit of my self-help guru, Tony Robbins:

“If you want to change your life you have to raise your standards.”

Tony Robbins

Though I’m becoming better, I’ve continued to hold myself to the wrong kinds of standards; those which prove unhelpful and out of alignment with my beliefs and values.  Instead I need to raise my standards of self-acceptance, which requires intentionally tuning into the myriad positive influences which already surround me. I don’t need to accept negativity – not from others, and certainly not from myself.

And look!

Despite everything, here we are – body, mind, and soul – writing this post and feeling pretty damn healthy and happy! When I consider how much progress I’ve made in improving my relationship with food, fitness, and body image, I want to celebrate – not denigrate – my achievements.

HeatherGymJune18

In the spirit of vulnerability, I’m daring to publish this minimally made-up post-gym selfie of myself

Hence why today I’m sharing my “Declarations of Sheer Fabulousness”; my personal manifesto of why I’m proud of my progress in the area of health and fitness. Even just putting the word “proud” in the same sentence as “health and fitness” makes me cringe a little and that’s precisely why I’m making this public statement: I believe that we all deserve to speak out about our successes rather than pointing out our own imperfections. In so doing we’re modelling to the next generation that it’s perfectly okay to be happy with who you are, and what you’ve accomplished; that we’re all already enough.

 

HeatherED’s

Declarations of Sheer Fabulousness

Declaration #1: I’m inspiring because I’ve become my own role model

After spending the month of May working on my Role Model Challenge (RMC) I’m thinking about modelling success more often. Listening to Ashley Graham – who happens to be a model professionally – recommend we work on becoming our own role models, I now feel confident saying that I’m becoming this for myself. When I stop to consider all I’ve achieved, I’ve set myself some pretty stellar examples of how to become better; there’s a positive precedent for future me.

Mentally and physically I’m a fit, healthy, and happy thirty-something woman. My body and mind are my own creation; the result of my personal efforts, determination, commitment, and hard work. I’m incredibly proud of myself for having sought out support to help me get into great mental shape, and at the same time working on getting into great physical shape, too. Independent of any weight-loss group, personal trainer, and definitely no personal chef (!), over the past four or five years I’ve taken action and radically improved my lifestyle.

Still, in situations like those described earlier I’m uncomfortable with how I think strangers see me. Other people only see the end result; not the graft that’s gone into getting to my goals which is what can frustrate me. What’s more, they only see the physical stuff. They don’t even begin to see the effort that’s gone into becoming mentally better. Yet by focusing on being a positive example for myself, I know what I’ve done and that’s enough.

Declaration #2: I’m fabulous because I’m a body builder

(Like Arnie. Sort of.)

As I’ve said, I’ve literally built myself a “new” body this past few years. It’s taken time, and by no means have I achieved perfection, but what I have done is sculpt a slim, muscular, and feminine body. Through fitness I’ve discovered I’m a strong, powerful woman. I’m excited when I lift heavy at the gym because I know I’m becoming better. I can walk up steep hills that previously left me breathless (and not because I was loving the view…). I’m actually proud of what I can do in this body rather than focusing solely on what it looks like.

I’m giving myself permission to take the full credit for my transformation, so to speak. Having taken responsibility for my prior failings around food and fitness, it seems unfair not to give myself the credit for the good stuff, too. This process of learning to accept my accomplishments is phrased poetically by Geneen Roth; my most favourite writer on women’s relationships with food, fitness and body image:

“You will never stop wanting more until you allow yourself to have what you already have. To take it in. Savor it. Now is a good time to do that . . .”

Geneen Roth

 

Declaration #3: I’m amazing because I’ve learned to love the process. 

Essential for long-lasting change, I’ve learned to enjoy the process of being healthy and fit. In the past I’d pursued wellness only as a means to an end; that end usually being to become as thin as possible. I believed that thinness equalled perfection, purity, and somehow would make up for my never feeling good enough. This is a  faulty thinking pattern often found among those with disordered eating habits, but also surprisingly common within the population at learge.

After repeatedly falling into this particular mental trap one time too many, I was delighted to find myself falling in love with fitness for its own sake as I hit my thirties. Genuinely wanting to exercise because it makes me feel good, and not simply because it fulfils my eternal quest for thinness, is a completely new experience for me. I luxuriate in the day-after aches that signal a good workout. I appreciate how great it feels to push my body, testing its limits in a healthy way.

Learning to love the process of becoming fitter and healthier is a gift of greater self-confidence. I stand taller, less afraid of making mistakes and secure in the knowledge that if I can improve my skills in one area, I can improve in every area of my life.

 

 

Declaration #4: I’m powerful because I’ve achieved the Holy Grail of balance. 

Okay, so let’s caveat this by saying I’m by no means perfectly sorted, but in general terms I’m pretty balanced in my approach to wellness. As someone naturally inclined to extremes, I’m proud of toeing the line on this one. No longer a couch-potato , nor coming from the “clean-eating” brigade, I’ve learnt to occupy the middle ground. In pursuing this path, I’m pleased to say that not only am I becoming mentally fitter, but my body is also finding its own equilibrium.

In all honesty, it’s a bigger challenge for me to live a balanced lifestyle than it is to exist at either end of the healthy-living spectrum. Without over-indulging I don’t get the (temporary) relief that comes with giving in to a binge. Without heavily restricting myself, I don’t get the (equally temporary)  sense of pride that comes from demonstrating a superior capacity for self-control. Practically-speaking, at least for me, it’s actually harder to execute the carefully calibrated control needed to make balanced choices. It’s a struggle to stop myself leaning towards either extreme and instead hold the middle position.

However having tasted life either side of the fence, I truly believe that greater personal power comes from creating a balance that works for you. Accepting that I’ll never again be in my teens or early twenties, looking like a “Love Island” contestant in my bikini, is actually more freeing than it is disappointing.

My body’s not perfect, yet I’m still perfectly happy with who I am.

I’m working on loving my perfectly imperfect self, which I reckon means I’m already successful at taking a more balanced approach to life.

 

Declaration #5: I’m true to myself because I keep my promises. 

Being honest with myself about where I’m at is something  recovery taught me to practice. Some refer to this as authenticity or being true to yourself. As I’ve already said, appreciating who I am in the here-and-now is a lesson I’m still learning, but one thing I am grateful for is being able to trust that I will keep promises I make wholeheartedly to myself.

Trust is something that must be built. I’ve broken my body’s trust a million times in my life, and therefore it continues to be a long, slow process of rebuilding. Yet having already fulfilled my commitment to myself to make healthy, positive changes to my body (and my brain, come to think of it), I’ve re-started this process of trust-building. I’ve shown that I can rely upon myself to take my promises to heart. By repeatedly taking action over time I’ve made steady progress towards my health goals. Step-by-step I’ve achieved my ambitions and kept my promise that I would take better care of myself. It’s a massive achievement (pun totally intended)!

 

Declaration #6: I’m awesome because I’m becoming the master of my mind. 

In my experience, mental mastery proves significantly more challenging than physical change. There seems to be a time-lag in adjusting mentally to significant physical shift. When I first developed an eating disorder I’d see myself as far bigger than I truly was, whereas when I was overweight I frequently went into a state of denial as to how poor my health had become. Taking a more balanced approach to my well-being has necessitated giving my mind the time it needs to catch up and learn to see things from a more realistic perspective.

Not only is it challenging for our minds to play catch-up in this way, but our mental habits also prove significantly harder to break than their physical counterparts. I don’t think I’m alone in piling on the criticism, and judging myself way more harshly than anyone else ever would. Particularly when it comes to my body, I’m my own worst critic and can pick myself to pieces in record time.

Knowing how my mind works, I made a conscious (albeit reluctant) decision to loosen my control around food this year. I’ve a huge fear of fatness and worried that if I let go a little, I’d become immediately overweight. Specifically, I’m afraid the negative emotions I associate with “fatness” (such as depression, anxiety, and rejection) will come flooding back the moment I cease to control every aspect of my diet. At the same time, it takes a lot of time and energy to maintain a strict food and fitness regime; precious resources I could be investing in other important areas of my life like my relationships and in writing extremely long blog posts like this! Acknowledging the impact I have upon the people I love, I once again took Gabrielle Bernstein’s advice and chose love over fear.

Understandably then, I expected to feel devastated if – and realistically, when – the scales crept up, however slight that movement may be. In fact all the mental work I’ve done this past ten years to build my mind muscles has paid off. Speaking truthfully, whilst getting into better physical shape was and is a fantastic accomplishment,  what I really needed was to reshape and rebuild my mind. I needed to prove to myself that I can both do and be more than I ever thought possible, and the field of food and fitness has been a great place in which to practise this.

An awesome example of how I’ve become mentally fit is via working on my physical fitness. When I first attended a Body Max class as my local gym I hoped for a better body, but what I didn’t expect was to train my mind. I became a regular because I found a supportive environment; people with whom I felt safe to try and push myself, even if the first few (hundred!) times I fail. The pride that comes from doing my first proper push-up, or completing a hundred tricep dips alongside my classmates, makes me feel a million dollars! As I’ve become physically stronger, so too is my mind. Working out has given me faith in my own strengths, to be unafraid to things a try, and has ultimately helped me build emotional resilience. By mastering my physical health I’ve also mastered my mind, proving that physical and emotional fitness are intrinsically, positively linked.

OrangeRoseJune18

The first roses opening their petals to the Summer sun inspire hope in me.

Phew! That’s one heck of a declaration to make!

So to bring this post to its conclusion, I’m working on making my mental hall of mirrors a little less scary. Though I still occasionally doubt what I see, more often these days I catch a glimpse of  my true self. I’m even starting to think I look like someone I might like to befriend.

One day I hope I won’t notice casual comments on my appearance. Perhaps I won’t be taken by surprise the next time I’m thrown an image-related curve-ball.  Until then, I’ll focus on how proud I am of myself – my body, mind, and spirit – because I made me – and I’ve done an exceptionally amazing job of it!

In sum, I’d stand by this beautiful quote from Geneen:

“It’s never been true, not anywhere at any time, that the value of a soul, of a human spirit, is dependent on a number on a scale.”

Geneen Roth

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The Integrity Post (or how I’m learning to become the person I want to be)

Nervously clutching my cup of tea, I waited for my manager to arrive for my mid-year review. Subconsciously, I’d primed myself to be on the defensive. In my mind, I’d already seen the meeting go badly and expected to walk away, feeling overworked, overloaded and underappreciated.

And then, guess what?

Nothing bad happened.

Nothing! In fact, the meeting couldn’t have gone much better! Not only did I receive great feedback from my manager, but also from other team members and company partners. Instead of being burdened with extra tasks I didn’t want, I walked out excited about my new projects! Furthermore, I gained some genuinely helpful suggestions for how I can grow, both professionally and personally.

Coming out of the meeting, I was elated with how well it had gone – but I also felt terrible!

How could I have thought this meeting would end otherwise?! What on earth made me think that someone – who has always been kind and supportive towards me – would be any different today? What’s wrong with me?!

I felt so guilty! Urgh.

After giving myself a mental kicking, I stood back and tried to look at the situation objectively. Like everyone, I’m a perfectly imperfect person. This was a simply prime example of how we, as human beings,  should know better, but still sometimes behave badly. Inevitably, there are going to be times when I’ll mess up like this again, so deciding to forgive myself had to be the first step to getting out of this mental funk I found myself wallowing in.

Preferring to think of myself as an enlightened and evolved self-help junkie (try saying that after a gin or three!), I made a further decision to take whatever lessons I could from this experience. If I can’t always be the better person, at least I can be in the process of becoming better.

In the spirit of sharing my new-found knowledge, upon reflection, here’s what I learnt:

Lesson #1: Take responsibility. My thoughts, actions,and emotions are always mine to control. 

Emotions often feel unmanageable, as they seem to arise spontaneously.  An unconscious reaction to a given situation, we can fall into an emotional habit loop. Before we know it, we’ve spiralled into a state of self-hate.  Going into this meeting feeling anxious and apprehensive, I’d unwittingly set myself up for a negative experience.

While it’s true that many emotions seem to “just happen”, it doesn’t mean they have to stay this way. My morning Hour of Power ritual has taught me that I’m absolutely in control of my mindset. In the time it takes to walk to work, I create my emotional state for the day, whether that’s feeling energetic and excited, or creative and caring. Taking responsibility for my mindset is a choice I’m making regularly, by applying the skills and knowledge I’ve taken from Tony Robbins’ books and videos. Though Tony insists that he’s not our guru, thus far I’m finding mounting evidence to the contrary!

What’s more, I’ve learnt that I can change things in a moment. There’s no need to wait. Before I even finished listening to Mel Robbins‘ audiobook, “The 5 Second Rule”, I’d already used her simple technique to help me break free from my disempowering preconceptions about my appraisal. As I relaxed into the conversation, I made a conscious effort to focus on the positive and it changed how I felt almost instantly. Whilst I didn’t literally count 5-4-3-2-1 to myself beforehand, it was a moment where I chose to act differently, and this choice turned the experience around.

Lesson #2:  Choosing and living by my own values all areas of life, I’m genuinely being myself.

Another of Tony Robbins’ top tips for self-development is to make decisions about the person I want to be, rather than the person I think I am, or think I have to be. Having always held very firm boundaries between “work me” and “home me”, I was surprised to be praised by my manager for qualities and skills I thought I’d kept well under-wraps.

“From quite early on, I had this idea of compartmentalised identities – ‘this is how you are when you are with your mum, and this is how you are when you are with your dad’ – so it seemed like I could never absolutely be myself. And the image of myself as compromised and inconsistent made me want to withdraw from the world even further.”

Russell Brand

I can relate to the quote above from comedian Russell Brand. Rather than living by my own values, rules and beliefs, – and being the person I want to be –  I’ve accepted those which evolved unconsciously over my lifetime. Also like Russell, I’ve been plagued with an uneasy sense of incongruity; never fully being myself and instead, only showing those parts of me I thought people would find acceptable.

Taking Tony Robbins’ advice to consciously choose the values by which I want to live has changed who I am in every area of life. Creating my new values lists, has shown my true self to be someone who prioritises my physical and mental well-being; values giving and receiving love; and living with integrity above all else. What’s more, I’ve learnt that values permeate boundaries, and so in focusing on living my values, I’m no longer wasting energy in trying to build false walls between myself and others.

Not only is a values-driven life significant for its positive impact on my self-esteem, it’s also crucial in setting a positive example to the people I manage at work. More importantly still, I don’t ever again want to be anything other than a brilliant role model to the people I love. Years ago, my sister told me she never wanted to be like me, and while I know she feels differently today, I’ve never been able to forget it. I want to be the kind of person of whom my sisters, nieces and nephew can be proud.

So while I’m certainly not here to preach positivity, I’ve definitely found myself feeling happier thanks to practising self-development. Other people are also noticing it, too.  In my appraisal, my manager told me how pleased she was to see me feeling excited and enthusiastic about work, and life in general. It’s boosted my confidence in risking a little more vulnerability, and through living my values, sharing more of my true self – even at work.

Lesson #3: You become like those with whom spend most time, so choose your friends (and colleagues) wisely. 

Whether via the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame, binge-watching reality TV, or in hushed whispers by the photocopier at work, it seems that we’re all sometimes tempted by the magnetic pull of gossip. Working in an office, it’s pretty standard to have a natter,  and an occasional moan, at the tea point.

By creating connections between colleagues, who often have little else in common other than work itself, gossip can perhaps be justified as helping build relationships. But I don’t want to be someone who can only connect with others in a negative way. Bonding over bitching isn’t cool. I may sound a bit like a broken (BBC Grange Hill) record (Just say no! Anyone?!), but it’s true. I’m ashamed to admit my part in gossip, to , despite rationally knowing that it’s immature, unprofessional and it’s generally shady behaviour.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Jim Rohn

Before I went to my appraisal meeting, I made the mistake of chatting with disgruntled colleagues. As Jim Rohn’s quote above states so succinctly, who you spend time with influences the kind of person you become. Allowing myself to be carried along by the tide of negative influence certainly affected how I felt. Reflecting back, my pre-appraisal anxiety and apprehension was totally unjustified. Unconsciously absorbing other people’s bad vibes, adopting their worries as my own, I’d shaped my expectations of the meeting around the unhelpful attitudes of others.

To truly live my values, I realise that I need to choose my company more wisely in future. Selecting the people by whom I want to be influenced by is my decision and my responsibility. Looking at the mindset I took into my appraisal, I’d made a bad decision to engage in gossip with people living in a negative state.  So while I’m trying not to be too hard on myself, I’m taking this opportunity to draw a line and “raise my standard”, as Tony himself so often says.

Lesson #4: When in doubt, feel grateful.

“Without gratitude and appreciation for what you already have, you’ll never know true fulfilment.”

Tony Robbins

Hearing news of colleagues facing redundancy got me thinking about my own good fortune at work. As I’ve mentioned before, gratitude is key to many self-improvement programs. My appraisal reminded me how lucky I am. I have a job where I’m valued, I can make a real difference, and my being there matters.

Not only am I appreciated for my work, but for how well I manage and motivate my team. Overcoming social anxiety, I decided to focus my energies on showing I care; that I’m genuinely interested in my employees as individuals. Making their days better makes me feel like I’m doing a good job, and more importantly, I’m being true to myself.

Further proof I’m making a lasting, positive impact arrived in the post this week: a parcel from a former student. I’m touched that she thinks enough of me to keep in touch, even in such a busy new phase of life. By helping people progress to bigger and better things, I’m able influence their future positively, if only in a small way.

Personal development requires appreciating my existing skills and qualities, as well as the contributions I’m making through my work. As a professional adult woman, I know I’m more than competent at my job.  With years of experience in my sector, I’ve tons of market knowledge and have developed excellent relationships with key stakeholders, who regularly feedback to colleagues how efficient, effective and helpful I am.

What’s more, I’ve grown to become a brilliant teacher, presenter, and motivator. Whether I’m speaking at training events, or working one-on-one, my personal passion for self-help shines through. Looking at my work from this perspective, I’m proud to have made what I love part of my regular day job. I’m excited to explore opportunities to grow and expand my skills, with the support of kind colleagues. Whilst I dream of future career greatness, for now at least, I figure why not be the best person I can be in the job I do now?

Self-development is ultimately a process of becoming the best version of ourselves. By taking to heart these lessons, this experience has taught me that I can feel like the best version of myself right now. My thoughts, emotions and actions are all within my control. It’s a scary yet empowering concept that I’m still getting my head around.

In seeking self-improvement, I’m always going to be a work-in-progress. I’m grateful to be surrounded by people, like my manager, who want to help me build my confidence and grow. By learning from my mistakes and accepting my flaws, at work and in all other areas of my life, I’m already making progress towards becoming a better, truer version of myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The UPW Preview Post (or what I learnt by stepping out of my comfort zone and attending a free self-development workshop)

This weekend I attended one of two Unleash The Power Within (UPW) Preview workshops in Manchester. UPW is a huge four-day group seminar, led by Tony Robbins himself, in stadiums around the world, and it’s coming to London Olympia this April. It turns out that a preview workshop is an energetic, whistle-stop taster of a group seminar like UPW London, only on a much, much smaller scale. Essentially, these are free, three-hour tasters sessions, delivered by an experienced Tony Robbins-trained speaker. It’s essentially a sales tool, whereby the organisers hope that participants will buy tickets for their event by demonstrating the power of a group experience, in the presence of a skilled, inspirational speaker.

Upon arrival in the hotel bar, I was pleasantly surprised at how many people had also given up their Saturday afternoons to sit in a hotel conference room. There were around 60 people, of all ages and cultural backgrounds, and a pretty even split of men to women. As the event unfolded, I learnt that that some participants were looking to UPW as a kind of “last-chance saloon” to turn their lives around. Others, much like myself, were there out of curiosity; drawn to Tony, having seen his work on YouTube, or from his many books and tapes, because of their passion for self-development.

Leading the workshop was a man called Allen Kleynhans; a very experienced speaker, teacher and coach, who had clearly modelled himself on the main man. When I first saw him, I was struck by his physical similarity to Tony, albeit on a smaller scale – even down to the same shiny high-tops Tony sports in the life-size cardboard cut-out, stage left! He couldn’t be more similar if he tried – and it was clear he’d tried very hard indeed. His presentation style also mirrored that of Robbins. Through carefully considered hand gestures, and changing the pace and volume of his voice, Allen told his compelling life story with the maximum drama and energy it deserved.

Over two and a half hours, Allen gave an overview of the practical psychology taught by Tony at his UPW event. Most material covered at this preview (and even much of that covered at the main event itself) is already “out there”, either for free or low-cost. If you really want to change your life under Tony’s guidance, you can follow his advice on the web (via YouTube or Soundcloud, for example) or by studying one of his many door stopper-thick books.

The workshop incorporated many of the audience participation techniques I’d seen Tony use in his seminars online, such as his famed “whoa clap”, and high-fives. Admittedly, this was awkward in a half-full room of Brits. Had I not already been in a receptive state of mind, I doubt I’d have been able to engage in this kind of activity. I’ve been implementing Tony’s Hour of Power ritual for a month now, and have already experienced massive positive changes to my day-to-day life. I know for myself that this stuff works – however silly it feels at first. Encouraged by Allen to “go all in”, I jumped, yelled and clapped with the best of them!

It seemed like the UPW workshop was intentionally crafted to resemble Robbins’ style as closely as possible to sell tickets. In my view, Allen delivered this successfully and this added another dimension to the experience for me. Allen’s perspective emphasised the vibrational transference of energy as evidence of universal interconnection. A little more “law of attraction”, a little less hard-hitting, I gained a new perspective on familiar material.

As expected, the last thirty minutes of the event was focused on selling tickets. A pleasantly soft sell, as promised, there was no pressure to buy. Ticket prices were the same as the best I’d seen online at £999 for the basic “gold” ticket. Expensive, but not totally unreasonable, when you consider it’s a four day, twelve (or more) hour program. Bonus gifts for preview participants included two tickets to the March 2018 Millionaire Mind intensive course; two CDs/DVDs and a £200 discount to help towards travel costs. The organisers value the total package as worth around £4,500. Whilst I’m doubtful of these calculations’ accuracy, if you’d already decided to buy a ticket, then it’s worth holding out to purchase it at a workshop.

The only point at which I felt a little uncomfortable was towards the end of the seminar. Allen urged us to sign up to one of Tony’s live events sooner rather than later, citing medical concerns with losing his voice through decades of speaking. I felt pushed towards making a decision, the unspoken assumption being that he may not be doing this for many more years and playing on our Tony Robbins FOMO.

Above and beyond what I learnt in the workshop itself, this was a great opportunity to observe an experienced speaker at work. I even saw him deal with a heckler! In this case, it was clear from both the way in which he accurately representative Tony’s brand, and in telling his own story as to how Robbins’ work impacted his own life, that Allen has a genuine belief and passion for this work. As someone keen to grow my own presentation skills, I felt inspired that speaking with integrity and openness comes across so clearly to the audience.

Committing to a Tony Robbins seminar is a huge investment, not only financially, but also emotionally, and time-wise, to be able to attend. I believe the real value of attending a UPW preview workshop is to work out if you’re ready to do this. It’s an opportunity to discover:

  • Whether the programme content meets your expectations,
  • Wether the American-style of delivery style works for you, and
  • Whether you feel that fellow participants will be like-minded; the kind of people with whom you’d like to share a potentially life-changing personal experience.

This also confirmed my belief that attending in-person live events is as much to absorb the inspirational atmosphere as it is to hear your role models speak out. Surrounded by thousands of like-minded people, learning together and supporting each other, this sheer mass of positive energy at an event like UPW is likely to induce major life changes in those who are truly ready.

I’d already decided beforehand that I wasn’t going to sign up for anything at the preview workshop. I’m not yet in a place to invest myself, having only discovered Tony’s work a few months prior, and with any spare money currently tied up in home improvements. Besides which, I’m not sure if I could go home and look my partner C in the eyes, having given into his fear of my giving away our life savings to worship at the Alter of Robbins.

So I walked away from the event, empty handed, but feeling empowered and optimistic. I may not have a ticket this time, but if I do choose to go see Tony speak live in the future, I’ll be making an informed decision to commit to investing in my personal development. After the Manchester UPW preview, I’m still a Tony Robbins acolyte.

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

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Image source 

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

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Image source

“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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