Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Tag: love

The Twentieth TWIG Post (or making a mental health confessional this week)

So, I have a confession to make before I get into my gratitudes.

My mental health isn’t in the best shape at the moment.

IMG_3431I’ve been able to tell for few weeks now that I’ve been sinking a little. Some signs I’ve picked up on include:

  • No motivation to get into the gym. Something pretty standard for most people, but not for me. I’ve described it as my “happy place” on many an occasion since I found it helpful for my mental health. It’s therefore ironic that the first thing to go the moment I’m a little low is my drive to work out.
  • Disproportionate tiredness. Not only do I feel super sleepy, nearly falling asleep on the bus on my way home, but my body feels physically heavy. It’s a cliche but it I’m getting the whole “walking through treacle” thing as I drag myself leaden-like about my daily life.
  • Irrational irritability. C might argue that I’m always a bit annoyed (or is that annoying?!), but I’m especially ready for a fight just now. Even if only in my head.
  • More frequent negative thoughts. I can tell in conversations I’m a bit more moody; more likely to bitch and moan over otherwise insignificant issues.
  • Getting especially teary when watching movies. Okay, so I’m a cryer when it comes to watching telly and am likely to burst into tears at the sight of a small animal or human in crises. However I’ve noticed I’ve a particular propensity to water-works of late, which given my medication suppresses my emotions in that regard, says there’s something up.
  • Inability to focus. I’m not great at paying attention at the best of times, but I’m especially scatter-brained just now. My least refined communication skill – listening  – is proving to be an extra effort.
  • A generally “noisier” brain. Prior to taking mental health meds, there was a permanent undertone of chatter murmuring away in the background of my brain. Since then, it’s been much more library-like. Yet recently I’ve heard a few rebel voices in there, piping up without my permission.

Honestly, it sucks. I hate feeling this way.

Frustratingly, my mental health isn’t entirely within my control. Sometimes depression rears its ugly head. If I’m particularly unlucky, it brings anxiety along with it and they work together to make me miserable.

What’s more, mental illness affects not only me but those around me. Even when I mostly keep to myself, the people closest to me usually sense there’s something wrong. Their sadness at my suffering only makes things worse, adding guilt to the emotional mix.

IMG_3447Yet I am genuinely grateful to be able to share this with you. I don’t want to bring you down, but I do want to be unapologetically honest here. Besides, I can’t be bothered to cover things up. It’s taking what little energy I have left not to beat myself up for my broken brain.

As you can probably tell, the tone of this post feels different to others I’ve written. I’ve worked hard to train myself to pursue a positive perspective on life. For the most part, this strategy has been successful. Yet becoming better is not a linear process. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m a perfectly imperfect human being. I don’t have all the answers to becoming mentally fit and healthy, but I am working on it and I can promise to share the results of my experimentations here with you.

So, yeah. I’m having a sh*tty few weeks. And I’m still here, with a long list of reasons to be thankful.

This Week I’m Grateful for:

Another whole day to myself. Being fortunate enough to have more annual leave than my partner, C, I’ve spaced random days off throughout the Summer. After I heard about this idea of operating from different styles of thinking, I read a little more on the Fizzle blog about what it means to be in “CEO” versus “worker bee” mode. This meant I could declare a “CEO Monday”; devoting my day to the kind of “big picture” thinking most of us normally skirt over in the course of everyday life.

A timely reminder about a helpful way of Getting Things Done (GTD). Intrigued by the CEO-worker bee dichotomy, I took an online productivity course. I know: “work about work” – the basic premise of productivity –  doesn’t exactly sound thrilling.

Yet it’s something I’m surprisingly grateful that I spent a few hours of my hard-earned leave doing. I’d recently given up on GTD; a productivity management system proposed by David Allen in the early 2000s. It started to feel more work than the work I was meant to be doing itself. Learning from this course, the creators made it far less complex, more flexible, and easier to implement. It inspired me to tweak it for myself. Just because something didn’t work for me in one way, doesn’t mean it can’t work for me in another.

IMG_3425Treating myself to ice cream. A small – but not insignificant -development, one of the “quirks” of my eating disorder has been not allowing myself to eat particular foods when alone. In spite of being in recovery for many years now, I’m still sometimes plagued by food fears. In this case, I’m afraid of opening Pandora’s box and binging my way back to obesity.

Recognising this irrational thought-process, I keep working on becoming better. Turns out this includes buying myself ice cream even though there was no one else around to join in with me. It’s kind of like the whole “If a tree falls in a forest…” thing; if I eat ice cream by myself, does it mean I’m destined for an unhealthy future?

So when I left my local cafe last Monday on a scorcher of a day, I bought a scoop of Bakewell tart-flavoured ice cream (in a waffle cone, of course – none of that soggy wafer nonsense). I sat on a bench outside, listening to my podcast, and enjoyed every short-lived lick. De-licious! Admittedly, I do still feel a wave of guilt wash over me around this food stuff. I’m not sure if that feeling will ever go away entirely. However being able to do these things  – even just sometimes – feels like a win.

Good questions. They lead to good answers, after all. Over the past week I asked women within various Facebook groups a few questions about working whilst managing their mental health. Within moments, I was inundated with replies and within twenty-four hours I had over fifty replies. I’ve been wondering how I can use my experiences and interests to actually make a difference, and this boosted my confidence in my idea no end!

On a similar theme, I’m chuffed that my questions have appeared twice in recent newsletters, giving me a little confidence boost. It’s proof that I’m asking interesting questions that provoke conversation with other entrepreneurs,  too, which feels good. I’m finding my place in this community and it’s lovely to feel like I belong.

C being a total hero – so much so, I think he deserves his own TWIGlet list:

  • Awesome partner that he is, C took charge in the kitchen when my mental energies weren’t up to it. Having taken it upon himself to do the weekly supermarket shop, C came home with several exciting dishes planned, including this new concoction: Fish goujon tacos. Neither of us have had fish tacos before, but being fans of the ol’ classic fish finger sandwich it made sense to give the Mexican version a go. He’d even gone so far as to lovingly prepare his own salsa for us! They were yummy.
  • C has been a bit of a hero when it comes to meal planning of late. He made us dinner more than once so that I’d be able to get other things done. For example, responding to all the Facebook messages I received. Knowing how much these connections mean to me, he quietly played chef without comment, where he’d otherwise have been tempted to chastise me for spending too much time on the Internet.
  • Last Wednesday C drove out of his way to give me a lift home after work. I’d mentioned that I was feeling off that afternoon, and the next thing I know, there he was. It was a hot day, and it turned out that C just wanted to be kind to me! C even affectionately called me “wifey” as I got into the passenger seat, complimenting me on my sundress. He’s got a real talent for giving me an emotional lift.
  • C being willing to sacrifice TV time to make me happy. As we get closer to the “Love Island” final, he’s been so good about watching it real-time that I’d almost assume he liked watching the show himself…  Sitting through two hours of ITV2 catch-up sounds really trite, however it means so much to have a partner who is so kind and considerate of my needs – however bonkers –  when I’m feeling low.

IMG_3445Attending my first Fizzle Office Hours. Beforehand I wasn’t entirely sure how this would differ from the usual group coaching. It was more of a quick-fire session, by the end of which I’d made four pages of notes and learnings, so it was an hour well-spent.

An awesome annual appraisal. It was worth investing time and energy to writing-up all I’d achieved over the past year at work. A productive conversation with my line manager helped me better understand myself. It confirmed I lack confidence in being perceived as an “expert”, even after seven years in my job.  Emotionally, I don’t connect with the confidence this experience ought to provide.

Though technically negative, this self-knowledge is actually a positive revelation. Coming away from my meeting, I felt hopeful and optimistic. I’ve ideas for strategies to start to challenging this self-depreciating self-image, and good people around to support me in becoming better.

Rain – and lots of it. We’ve had buckets of the stuff after what’s felt like a desert these past few months. Opening our patio doors and being able to smell the deliciously fresh atmosphere has been a real joy for C and I. I love the sound of thunder and lightning; stormy weather somehow brings a sense of cosy comfort.

Making new friends when you’re thirty-something. After sharing with you the story of my sudden gym-phobia… and the conversation I had with my colleague that convinced me it was okay to take it easy on myself,  To be frank, social anxiety is a b*tch. I’m grateful this only really kicked in for me in adulthood. It’s made making – and keeping – friends hard work, which sometimes really gets me.

Still nervous, I met my colleague, M, for coffee and a catch-up as planned. Rather than a quick half-hour meeting, it was over an hour later before we headed back to our respective offices. We still had tons to talk about, and I’m so thankful she was brave enough to invite me out. Next time it’s my turn.

Making my first-ever home-made nachos. Memories of “Bungalows and Bears‘” nachos playing on my mind, I decided to experiment with cutting up and baking our leftover corn tortillas. With cheese, salsa, guac, and jalapeños, it made for a deliciously crispy,chewy light Friday-night meal.

Being there for my nephew’s first birthday party. Okay, so he’s too young to understand the significance of the occasion. He was mainly grumpy; overwhelmed by us overly affectionate adults. Honestly, it’s highly unlikely he’ll have any memories of the event at all. Still, I’m grateful I could be there – for him and for my sister – after having difficult family relationships in the sort-of recent past. It means a lot – to them and to me.

Speaking of which, I’m thankful for birthday cake. In fact, any cake, really. As anyone who follows the blog will know by now, home-made cake is my most favourite food of all-time. Luckily I had the common sense (read: shame) to pass on the gorgeous-looking garden centre blueberry cake prior to baby G’s party. My brother-in-law had baked deliciously moist chocolate cupcakes, each covered in a generous swirl of buttercream frosting. I ate two.

IMG_3441Relaxing in a clean and tidy home. Pulling together as a team, C and I worked hard to get our house in shape  this Sunday. It’s mentally soothing to live in a clean, calm environment. The external organisation does something to my brain, creating a sense of calm.

Finally, I’m grateful to have spent my Sunday afternoon on the sofa with C to watch a movie. Admittedly, “Dunkirk” wasn’t my choice of film, but I got sucked into the story, sobbing my way through to the end. Finding it especially hard to focus of late, it felt good to be able to concentrate because it’s lovely to connect with C over a bowl of popcorn and a healthy cry.

Until next week.

x

The Nineteenth TWIG Post (or why it having good friends and happy cats matters more than a flat stomach)

After much debate I’ve decided to go on hiatus from the gym. This has come as a bit of a shock – especially to me! For over four years now I’ve been regularly attending classes, reliably turning up, rain or shine (or snow) at least three times a week. But over these last few months I’ve skipped several sessions, too tired to be bothered.

fullsizeoutput_596I’ve lost my workout mojo.

With nothing specifically sparking this change of heart, my immediate worry went straight to my mind. As anyone who’s ever experienced depression will appreciate, that’s one place I never wish to return to, if I can help it. Still, I don’t think I’ve felt particularly down about anything of late. On the contrary, I’m more enthusiastic about life than ever: I’ve several exciting projects on the go, we’re about to conclude our house sale, and we’re enjoying our first long, sunny Summer in the new garden.

So why this sudden turnaround?

Why does the thought of a workout leave me feeling… well, meh?

Okay, so I have to point out the elephant in the room here: me. C would be really cross if he heard me be so self-flagellating, and I don’t actually mean it, but I’m acutely aware of having gained a few pounds. I can’t deny it when I look in the mirror, even if it’s only really noticeable to those closest to me.

Gaining weight obviously doesn’t make me feel great about myself – but neither has it brought me down in the way I’d have expected. My self-worth being tied so closely to my body image for pretty much my whole life, this apathy feels weird. I don’t care as much as I think I should and I have to admit – it’s unnerved me.

Overwhelmed by this gym guilt, I reached out to my colleague, M, to enquire whether she’d be attending class this week. Since my house is en-route to hers, she’s kindly been giving me a lift home and we’ve become friendly. Moaning about my lack of motivation, I learnt my fitness pal is actually recovering from an injury. After telling my tragic tale I felt myself blush, embarrassed to be making a massive fuss over nothing. After all, I wasn’t the one who was hurt, was I?

Well, actually yes; I was hurting. The difference being that my mind was the specific cause of my pain.

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Emotional pain can be as acute as anything we feel physically.

Both reside within our bodies.

Whilst our capacity to feel physical pain is limited (admittedly, it can get pretty physically painful), our minds have no depth of darkness to which they cannot sink. 

Empathising with my mental health worries, M suggested I consider taking time out from workouts. A break might help me figure out my feelings about fitness; build a better relationship between body and mind. Whilst we agreed a regular routine benefits an anxious mind like mine, it’s sometimes healthy to step back and reassess things.

There’s no rule that says I have to do, or be, anything – let alone “make up” for my lack of interest in exercise just now. At least, none other than those self-imposed rules we use to hold ourselves up to impossible standards of perfection.

M suggested getting rid of guilt by thinking about how I’d prefer to spend my time. What matters most to me? A flat stomach or having fun with favourite fluffs? Given the brevity of their time on this planet, wouldn’t I rather spend more of it playing with my feline friends?

When I look at it this way, I’d much rather cuddle my cats than spend an evening sweating in a stuffy studio. Decision made, I cancelled my class, breathed a sigh of relief, and planned to head home.

Before I logged out for the day, M suggested we catch up over coffee and immediately booked a time in our calendars. As it’s me who usually has to make plans with friends, it felt good for someone to invite me out for a chance. I’d been feeling so bad, this small kindness actually brought tears to my eyes – despite my medication making crying a challenge!

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I’m touched and tremendously thankful that someone has seen my vulnerability, recognised my pain, and still wants to befriend me. 

Even talking about making new friends feels a bit uncomfortable. In our modern Western society it seems we’re conditioned to feel embarrassed about our having needs. Yet it’s in our nature to need human connection.

What’s more, as adults we meet fewer new people in general so making friends becomes even harder. Hence whilst I’m sure social anxiety will creep in when it comes time for that coffee, I’m thankful for the chance to  get to know my new friend.

This Week I’m Grateful For:

*The velvety texture of C’s hair when it’s just been cut. Running my hand the wrong way up the back of his head, it feels soft and spiky against my skin. For the next week it’ll look that bit too short, but it’ll feel fantastic. C has what he himself describes as Chinese hair: straight, dark and ridiculously dense. Unlike the majority of his peers, C’s got a full head of hair. – something for which we’re both grateful!

*Still another new dress from the Fat Face sale. It was meant to be two dresses, but it looks like perhaps my credit card has been saved by the other selling out. Oh, and a cardigan. You never know when I might need one.

*A mid-week Paperchase binge. Aware I’m nervous about the impending office move, my colleague K asked if I fancied a trip to town to treat ourselves to some new stationery.

She returned with lunch boxes for her little girl, whereas I came back with a whole new organisational system (in co-ordinated pastel shades, of course).

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My former desk buddies have returned home after seven years.

Given this chance to change my work space, I’m re-decorating. Going for more grown-up vibes, I plan to update my vision board.  To help me manage my mental health at work (where it inevitably sometimes gets stressful), I created my board to remind me of all that I have in life which brings me happiness.

I’ll be working on this for the next few weeks, collecting new inspirational quotes and images, and updated photos of all those whom I love. Next weekend it’s my nephew G’s first birthday, so I’ll take new photos with him, my sisters, and maybe even C. Our nieces will soon be moving into their new Sheffield home (it’s even got a treehouse!), so I’ll be able to add their pictures to the pile.

I have to admit, it’s kind of exciting, which leads me perfectly onto my next thanksgiving.

*Coming into work of a morning and finding postcards left  on my desk. Turning them over, I found a message from K bestowing positivity, love, and luck for our move. I’m so lucky to work with such kind-hearted people, and it’s times like this when I’m reminded to be thankful for my job.

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I found these on my keyboard. I think I can re-home them on my vision board. 🙂

*Building confidence in my business skills. Taking advice from those further down the road success, I put myself “out there” and offered my help for free. Volunteering to read, review, and feed back on other women’s work has taught me so much about my own strengths.

Creating anything of value takes confidence; something I sometimes admittedly lack. However helping other women make their businesses better actually helps me – and myideas – feel more worthy. It reminds me of the point of pursuing my passions and gives me hope that I’m moving in a positive direction.

*Being brave, I switched on my webcam for my first “Fizzle Friday”. I was anxious about asking my early-stage questions, given that most participants in these weekly coaching sessions are so much further ahead in creating their businesses.

Yet I need not have worried. Not only did Corbett reassure me that I’m on the right path,   but combining his comments with others’ feedback will help me make constructive, positive progress in the coming weeks.

*Freshly-squeezed orange juice. It’s impossible to ignore its delicious scent when walking into our local grocers. I have to admit – it’s incredible! I can’t recall when I last drank anything this good. We’ll definitely be keeping our refillable bottle to go back for more.

*Guido’s chocolate flapjacks. How the topping stays Nutella-like runny – never going hard – I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not sure I want to know! Still, they’re totally treacly and utterly umptious. Served in tiny fairy cake cases, they’re slipped into a paper bag, the flapjacks’ sheer stickiness turns it transparent.

*Magazines as my weekend treat. Ever since I can remember this has been one of my most favourite pleasures. Popping open the plastic, I love to smell their glossy pages packed with promise before anyone else has touched them. Odd, but true, I’m afraid.

*An extra day off this week. Whilst I’d prefer proper holidays with C, his lack of leave means I’m taking some time off work alone. Still, I’m feeling rather smug about having several extra-long weekends over these Summer months.

*C and I have booked our September staycation in Seahouses, Northumberland once again. Wearing waterproofs to wander across the sand to Bamburgh Castle, browsing the shelves at Barter Books, and cosying up in a pub sharing a bag of crisps: These activities may sound rather dull but for us, it’s one of our happy places.

*An unexpected visit from a rather smiley, sticky little boy, and his equally messy mother. My sister and my nephew, baby G, came for lunch today. I’m definitely biased, but I’m 100% convinced that G is the happiest, loveliest child in the Universe.

x

The Medication and Me Post (or why medicine is part of my toolkit for mental fitness)

Okay, so…

PinkYellowRose_090718This is a potentially difficult subject to discuss. It’s one I’ve been thinking about posting on for some time but held back, unsure as to whether it’s helpful or counterproductive to share my views. Unsure, I’ll leave it with you to make up your own mind as to whether my opinion on this subject is of interest. As such, I promise not to take offense if you choose to skip this post!

Medication, and the whole concept of medicating for mental health reasons, is a hugely controversial subject. Scientific evidence exists to support both sides of the argument; namely, those who believe medication “works” in terms of making improvements to mental health issues and those who don’t believe it’s a medical issue in the first place.

Yet despite the plethora of research, there’s nothing concrete to say which perspective on medication and mental health is “right”. Are those in favour of medicating for mental illness correct? Can we treat a broken brain – objectively-speaking a bodily organ much like anything else – with modern medicine? Or should we reconsider our Western obsession with finding chemical solutions to what might be considered a natural (albeit an uncomfortable) feature of the human condition? Not being a scientist, I can’t say.

Given that lived experiences of mental illness vary so much between individuals, it’s hard to prescribe solutions that’ll work universally. Hence the issue of medication becomes incredibly subjective – to the degree that even medical professionals aren’t best keen to take on the responsibility of whether to medicate or not on their patients’ behalf.
“It’s entirely up to you”, say most doctors before printing and signing any prescription, “whether to try medication or to wait for talking therapies, or both.” Respected medical bodies, such as the NHS on their web pages and in the media, generally suggests a combination is more likely to be effective. Yet even they don’t stand confidently on either side of pro-or-anti-medication the fence.
Ironically then, the decision around whether or not to “pop a happy pill” is often placed in the hands of those very same people whose minds are causing them issues in the first place. In the name of “patient care and autonomy”, we’re asked to choose a path for our own recovery at a time when many of us feel unable to trust our own judgement around simple things, like what to eat for breakfast. It’s no surprise then, that decisions made around medicating mental illness often prove ineffective and it takes a long time to get to where something works.
WildFlowers_090718For me, it took me over ten years to even try medication. Though once prescribed something years back, I took one tablet, got scared, and threw away the package.  Prior to my more recent foray into medical intervention, I’ve tried most other readily available therapies for my broken brain, with varying degrees of success.
In brief:
  • I’ve seen almost as many different therapists as I have fingers to count,
  • I’ve read a mini library’s worth of self-help books, magazines, and websites,
  • I’ve attended support groups, as well as trying to create my own mini peer support meet-ups,
  • I’ve tried online courses,
  • I’ve bought meditation apps,
  • I’ve written pages and pages in my journals,
  • and of course, there’s the good ol’ methods of ignoring and indulging my afflictions.
Why wait so long to try a pill, then? A reasonable question to ask, but I’d seen and heard of people whose mental health deteriorated as a result of taking pills.

I was afraid. I couldn’t bear the idea of it being any more painful inside my mind than it already was.

Emotionally, I was already such a mess. Dragging myself through my days, I was at least getting by, albeit so miserably sometimes I wondered how long I’d be able to stand it. I didn’t believe I could cope if medication made me worse, whereas I’d coped thus far. I hedged my bets with the devil I knew, so to speak.
PurplePansy_090718Fear held me back from medication. Yet in the end love helped me move forward and give it a try. I realised it was never about medication alone. The right combination of people, circumstances, and my own increasingly positive, rational mindset came together to make medication a manageable method of mediating my mental fitness.
An incredible CBT therapist helped me find the inner strength to decide what was right for myself – based only on my experience and my feelings. A fantastic doctor spoke of medication in such rational, and yet positive terms, he made it easy for me to trust that I stood as good a chance as anyone that it might work. My ever-patient partner, C, stood by, nervously waiting to see what repercussions there might be, but choosing to overcome his fears around mental health meds, standing by me nonetheless.
As it happens medication turned out to be my missing puzzle piece. Taking a mild dose of Prozac helps me feel like a better version of myself: a happier, more positive, and generally more peaceful kind of Heather.
The endless chatter inside my mind was turned right down almost instantly. The exhausting, rebel-rousing thoughts that led me to behave in self-destructive ways stopped bothering me quite so often. At long last, I had the mental space to regain the energies I needed become better. After years of working on recovery, reading self-help, dedicated to self-development, and making positive change, the marvels of modern medicine seemed to bring all the pieces together into a coherent picture of a perfectly imperfect person.
As expected, medication isn’t a guaranteed cure-all in the case of our minds. Our brains being such complex organisms it makes sense that chemical conditioning alone will only do so much. It’s almost impossible to understand how our minds definitively work, even for the most intelligent among us.
What’s more, I’m fortunate that the medicine’s side effects are minor for me. Most people have to try several different tablets before something has enough of a benefit to outweigh any potential problems they might cause. My first fortnight felt a little disorientating at times as I got used to the internal quiet. Then the excitement – sheer exhilaration – of living without the “black dog” hanging over me, as Churchill put it, was such that I became hyperactive.
PurpleHydrangea_090718I still get moments of giddiness now and again, but after years of depression it’s rather a relief to know I can feel such joy. After all, this could be my “real” personality without the shadow of mental illness looming large – who knows?! Other than this, I’m relatively restless, toe-tapping and sometimes kicking C in my sleep (or so he says), but all things taken into consideration I’d settle for these minor irritations over perpetual gloom, doom, and self-hatred any day.
My experiences lead me to lean towards the camp of those in support of trying medication for mental illness. Provided it’s taken under suitable medical supervision, and the person has appropriate emotional support in place, I’d certainly give it some serious consideration. It worked so well for me that for a while after first starting my pills, I felt sad because I wished I’d tried it much, much sooner.
Yet discussing this with C at the time helped me to appreciate how medication will always be a bit of a gamble. It’s rather like the “chicken or egg” dilemma, in that I’ll never know whether my becoming better was down to the pills in and of themselves. It’s likely to be a combination of timing, mindset, chemical alchemy, and the blood, sweat, and tears I poured into my recovery those ten years prior.
Having build up my own mental fitness over many years no doubt added to my arsenal of weapons against my mental demons.  And still I sometimes wonder whether I’d be writing at all had it not been for the tiny green-and-yellow capsules that sit on my bedside table.
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I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Let me know in the comments or over on my Facebook page.

The RMC Week 1 Post (or how I’ve set about building my #squad)

If you’ve not yet read my introductory post to my Role Model Challenge (RMC), you can find out more about the thinking behind this month’s challenge here.

So how did week one go, I hear you cry?!

Before I spill the beans, let me introduce my role models for week one #RMSquad1. The line-up is as follows:

 

First off, I’d like to say that I’ve loved putting this challenge into action and testing out the role model theory. Combining my passion for learning, reading and writing with an element of experimentation, this challenge is totally “up my street”,  as we like to say up North. Having recently finished reading Gretchen Rubin‘s “The Happiness Project“, it fits with my desire to bring more happiness into my life. Much like Gretchen’s commitment to “be Gretchen” and live authentically, I’m excited to “be Heather” by creating this RMC experiment.

With such an awesome #RMSquad, it’s really difficult to choose which pearls of wisdom to feature in this post. In my desire to share the best of my weekly lessons with you, I’ve organised them into “Fundamental Findings”; the advice that’s moved me, got me thinking differently, and ultimately has, or will have, a significant impact on my life. My theory is that if it’s sparked something in me, then I hope it might do the same for you.

Towards the end of this post, you’ll also find some of my “Overall Observations”. In addition to bestowing the wisdom of this week’s thought leaders, I’ll comment on how the experiment itself is going, sharing what’s been most or least challenging thus far. I’ll then conclude this mega-post with a few notes about how I plan to approach the second week of the RMC, in light of what I’ve learnt this week.

So here goes…

Fundamental Finding #1: Follow your passion

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The most impactful advice from this week was to “follow your passion”; the idea being that most people do their best work when they truly love what they do. If you adore your work, then it doesn’t feel like hard work. Instead, it feels natural to invest time, energy and passion in something which holds true meaning for you.

Though worded differently, the majority of mentors placed this as one of their most highly valued tips for success. Being implored by such incredible thought leaders to “invest in your heart” (Steven Pressfield), “follow your bliss” (Kyle Maynard) and “love what you do” (Arnold Schwarzenegger), I felt inspired to pursue my own passions.

After some intensive naval-gazing over the past year, I can articulate this as follows:

A devoted student of health and wellness, self-help, personal development and  growth, my mission in life is to share these lessons with other people, through my writing and speaking. I aim to help as many people as I can to become happier, healthier and emotionally wealthier. I’m passionately committed to making mental wellness as much of a priority as physical wellness in our society, and to broadening the definition of “health, fitness and wellbeing” to include mental and emotional health as standard. 

Sounds impressive, right?!

It sounds so simple to “do what you love” (Karlie Kloss), but it’s actually the most challenging practice I came across this week. It’s surprisingly difficult to “make your life fit your passions”, as Susan Cain suggested. Working full-time to pay the bills means my attention is necessarily divided between what I want to do, and the myriad demands life places on our time and energy.

This dilemma clarified a key question for me, to which I’m yet to find an answer:

How can I balance doing what I love, with my desire to meet the needs and expectations of the people I love?

Seeking answers, I intentionally sought guidance from successful female writers, Susan Cain and JK Rowling. It was reassuring to discover that it took them time to transition to doing what they love, and writing full-time. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that their road to success was not the “all or nothing” kind of approach I’d expected of such extraordinary achievers.

For example, Susan recommends that you ensure you can make enough money elsewhere, so that the time you spend on creative projects “… can be all about focus, flow, and occasional glimpses of joy.” The implication here being that monetising one’s passion can lead to it diminishing if you’re not careful.

Whilst it would be amazing to make writing and speakin my full-time career, I’m fortunate that my current work supports me in pursuing my passions in my free time. This empowers me to pursue my love of learning and writing for its own sake, without financial pressure. This gives me the creative freedom to experiment without external expectations censoring my output. At least for now, I can enjoy following my passion primarily for myself.

Fundamental Finding #2: Make time for what mattersWhiteFlowers

As if preempting my concerns about practising the first finding, this week’s role models also direct me to make time for what matters most. As someone who’s organised and conscientious (as confirmed by the skills audit Gary V suggested I take this week), I like to think I’m someone who manages her time pretty well.

And yet, like just about everyone I know, I feel time poor. With only twenty-four hours in a day, I feel torn between using my spare hours of an evening to read, research and write, whilst still fulfilling my commitments as a partner, friend and family member. Sometimes, it feels like we’re all too busy to even think about being busy!

In this world, where busyness is worn like a badge of honour, it was refreshing to hear from some of the most accomplished people on the planet confirming my suspicions that our citing busyness is really more of an excuse not to act.

I can definitely see how this plays out in my own life. I’ve only very recently allowed myself to think about the future. Giving myself permission to have dreams – let alone pursue them – has scared me because there’s a real chance of failure. A recovering perfectionist and chronically risk averse, it’s felt safer to simply not try; to live a small life rather than strive to be more.  Overcoming these mental barriers to success will likely take me more than a week, but simply acknowledging their existence  feels like a step in the right direction.

Still, no one ever said that it would be easy to make time to pursue one’s dreams. Conversely, It takes a lot of mental and physical effort get sh*t done. Schwarzenegger is a great example of someone who’s “walked the walk” on this. He talks about how in his early career he maximised every hour in the day, explaining how hard he worked to make the most of every opportunity to develop and grow. That’s the kind of person I aspire to be.

But how?

As Debbie Millman says, “busy is a decision“. Everyone has the same number of hours in the day and it’s up to each of us to invest our time wisely. Learning from this week’s thought leaders, it’s clear that I need to make my passion for writing a priority by establishing some kind of consistent practise. Rather than simply thinking about acting, I must actually get out there and make things happen.

This process won’t be easy. Kyle Maynard recognizes that following your bliss will require courage, resilience, bravery, and risk-taking. But it’s worth it, if it’s something you really love. Writing truly is my passion project, and making the time to write every day, however little, is important to me. Initially, I plan to establish a routine in which writing is a regular habit. I’m good at creating habits, so this makes sense as a starting point. This week has reaffirmed that it matters to make what I love a priority.

Fundamental Finding #3: The most interesting and least expected advice

PinkFlowersPerhaps the least expected, yet most interesting, guidance I received this week was from Terry Crews, someone whom it’s unlikely I’d have come across without the RMC. Terry got me thinking about there being a difference between intelligence and wisdom.

 

 

 

He defines this as follows:

“Intelligence is like following a GPS route right into a body of water until you drown. Wisdom looks at the route but, when it takes a turn into the ocean, decides not to follow it, then finds a new, better way. Wisdom reigns supreme.” Terry Crews (Tribe of Mentors)

Appreciating the subtle, but critical, difference between these two important qualities allowed me to recognise occasions in my own life where I’ve acted with intelligence, but have not necessarily made wise decisions. My relationship with food is a prime example.

Acting with intelligence as regards the science of weight management, I’ve successfully achieved my weight loss goals. However this has involved investment of significant time and energy into meal planning and scheduling fitness. This seems acceptable, until I consider how much time and energy this has taken from my most important relationships.  Specifically, the many social occasions I’ve avoided where I’ve also missed opportunities to connect with family and friends, and the mental focus that I’ve given to worrying about my weight, rather than being in the moment with my (long-suffering) partner, C. Whilst acting intelligently from the perspective of my physical health, I’ve neglected not only my mental health but also potentially contributed negatively to the mental health of the people I love. Not wise.

Armed with this new knowledge of the fundamental difference between intelligence and wisdom, I’ve reconsidered my allegiance to intelligence

Holding up my intellectual intelligence as a key strength isn’t wrong, as such (I’m a bright button, if I say so myself). Terry’s simply made me think about how I value this in comparison with other kinds of intelligence, such as emotional or spiritual (intuitive) intelligence, and with the wisdom of making the best choice in any given situation. Whilst justifiably proud of achieving a healthy weight, I question my intelligence leading me to prioritising this over the quality of my relationships. How I look and feel in my skin matters to me, but it feels unwise to prioritise skinniness over the experience of giving and receiving love. Life’s too short and time too precious. This lesson taught me the importance of developing the wisdom to make better choices in the moment for the long-term happiness of myself and those I love.

Overall Observations: Week One 

Generally, I found that the easiest advice to follow tended to be the most prescriptiveHaving a few of these “easy wins” helped me build momentum for the RMC this week.  Some thought leaders provided clear instructions quite literally giving me practical steps to follow. This eliminated the need to “translate” the guidance I received into actionable steps, which is what I found myself frequently having to do. Finding the gems of wisdom in their stories, and then interpreting ways in which I might live by this guidance takes time. Hence it was helpful to have mentors who sometimes simply told me what to do. Examples of quick and easy-to-follow advice this week include writing goals into my journal (Samin Nosrat) and doing a personal strengths audit (Gary V).

Other strategies that were simple to apply included those I’d already built into my day prior to this challenge. For example, Karlie Kloss described her morning routine, talking about the importance of starting her day right. I’m already on the same page here, as you’ll know if you’ve been following my blog. I got this one down during my Walking to Work Challenge a month or so ago. This also boosted my confidence in what I do. After all, if it’s good enough for Karlie, then I’m pretty sure it’s good enough for me!

If there’s any downside to the RMC, it’s that it’s been more time-consuming than expected. Outside of reading and listening to the day’s heroes, which of course takes a little time away from other things, I think what’s draining my time is my propensity to take copious notes. As you’ve probably gathered, I love to write and note-taking is actually something I love to do, even when reading non-fiction for fun.

Gretchen Rubin writes about having this very same note-taking obsession in her book, “The Happiness Project”, which I’ve recently finished. Taking comfort from our shared passion for penmanship, I decided to embrace it and put it to use in my RMC. Taking notes isn’t only the best way I absorb knowledge, but for me, it’s also a source of fun. While it takes time and energy in the short-term, I think it’s worth doing, both to maximise what I learn from spending time with influential, inspirational people and also simply to make me happy.

Next up: Week 2 #squadgoals

Looking ahead, I plan to make a few changes to my #squad line up for my second attempt at implementing the RMC. Noticing that I learnt new things about myself this week by intentionally selecting a wide range of people to model, I will look to continue broadening my sphere of influence in the coming days.

Specifically, my aim is to seek out a wider variety of female thought leaders. I want to focus my attention on learning from more women in general.  Aware of my inclination to hand over the decision-making power to the men in my life, I’d like to expand my perspectives of women’s capabilities, and hence my personal power. Women on my “hot list” for future RMC weeks include: Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Gabrielle Bernstein, Mel Robbins, and Lionel Schriver, to name a few.

This week, I randomly chose some videos without too much thought about who they featured. Some role models, I expected to adore. I felt Susan Cain and JK Rowling to be kindred spirits, both introverted women who love writing and prefer taking a measured approach to risk-taking, like me. What I didn’t expect, but was delighted to discover, was finding some of the most impactful advice coming from models Karlie Kloss and Ashley Graham. Indeed, Karlie was really the only person to focus on caring for one’s physical body alongside one’s mental health, which is a crucial part of overall well-being.

Of course, I’d also like to spend time with some of my favourite mentors, like Tony Robbins, Gretchen Rubin and Geneen Roth. These teachers whose work I already admire, and who have proven ability to move me to action are always worth my time. These are people whom I have deep respect and love for, and will likely always turn to for advice and guidance when times are tough.

Surprisingly, my curiosity was sparked by hearing from mentors whose careers, experiences and lives differ so widely from my own. I was intrigued by Elon Musk, for example, and his passion for changing the world on such a dramatic scale using cutting-edge science and technology.  After listening to a range of role models this week, I’d like to spend some time learning from people like Steve Jobs and Steven Hawkins, whose interests are so far from mine, and yet have so much to teach me.

Finally, I’d like to learn more about the personal perspectives of people in the public eye. These “celebrities” whom we think we know through their work, may be completely different people in real-life. I found this to be the case with Reese Witherspoon this week, and look forward to getting to know people like actors Jim Carrey, Matthew McConaughey in the coming weeks.

With so much potential to learn and grow, I’m excited to pursue this challenge. Wish me luck in the next three weeks!

P.S. If you’ve made it this far, you’re worthy of a place on my list of heroes!

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