Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Tag: Self-care

The Writer’s Block Post (or why I’m giving my broken brain a break)

Writing is most definitely a skill. You write daily – at least, that’s the intention – and over time you become better at it. Even editing gets easier; the whole process speedier.

Persist with your practise a little longer, and eventually you find your own writing style. Something magical happens and you “sound like” you on the page.

It all sounds so romantic – and it is! When ^this^ happens, it’s the most wonderful feeling! This year I’ve fallen back in love with writing; I’m completely and utterly enamoured of it.

But like anything worth having, writing doesn’t always come easily.

Thus far I’m proud to have published here at least once a week. Oftentimes, I’ve simply shared a story around my weekly gratitudes, but I’ve kept my promise to myself – and you, my readers.

Regular posts have arisen naturally – I’m not holding myself to any publishing schedule. I haven’t needed to do so.

Writing itself makes me happy. It’s when I feel most connected with my “authentic self”; a “woo-woo” way of saying the version of me that feels most myself. Whether here on this blog, behind-the-scenes on my Google Drive, or on a scruffy piece of paper stuffed into my backpack, writing is how I sort through the contents of my mind. It slows down my thinking and brings me a sense of peace.

If that weren’t motivation enough, then there’s you – the reader. Sharing my story has created opportunities for connection that might otherwise have gone amiss. Relationships have grown – or in some cases, been rekindled – as a result of a single moment during which I felt brave enough to share Project HeatherED with the world. A world which, albeit, small, has grown exponentially, thanks to the power of the written word.

Which goes some way to explain my frustration of late at losing my publishing mojo. If you’re following along, you’ll likely be aware that I’m mid-mental meltdown. Held firmly by anxiety, and it’s close companion, depression, I’m not in the best frame of mind for making creative decisions. Writing – at least, writing for eyes other than my own – is its own challenge.

This beloved blog has therefore become something of a struggle. It feels like my broken brain is trying to break my heart, too, by keeping me from what brings me joy. I’m increasingly irritated when words won’t come, which ironically only makes things worse.

Like Keiko cat, I’m chasing my tail and getting nowhere quickly.

So after much internal debate, I’ve decided to give myself a bit of a break. Lift the pressure off. Like I said earlier, I’m not technically committed to regular publishing days or times, but I’m subconsciously setting standards. My perfectionist tendencies don’t need publication schedules to hold me to a habit. Used to writing weekly, my mind makes anything “other” feel like a failure.

Which is why I’m making a conscious decision not to publish here for the next month.
I recognise my need for clear boundaries if my brain is to relax, rest, and recover. Enforcing recovery, in a way, I hope will give me space and time recharge my mental batteries.

To do the actual work of recovery, rather than trying too hard to record the process as it happens.

It’s kind of missing the point, don’t you think?!

At the same time, I’ve literally just gone back to work. Five half-days, to be exact. I’m on “staged return”, which means I’m currently working part-time because my mental health issues leave me physically and emotionally drained. It takes a lot of energy to recover – yet another good reason to take it easy on myself.

And so I’m pressing pause on publishing posts. Just for a moment. I’ll take a few breaths, regroup, and come back better than before. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that, having decided to step back, my brain will step up a gear and find its way back to itself. I hope so. I’m kind of counting on it.

Because I love writing. Truly, I’m head-over-heels with the whole process! Beyond the mental peace writing brings, I’m creating honest, open-hearted connections with like-minded people like you. My world is bigger and brighter as a result.

Anyone who reads this blog will know how much it matters to me. It matters too much for me to ruin its magic by forcing myself to write when words aren’t forthcoming.

Which is why I’m hoping you’ll bear with me whilst I focus on recovering my mental health.

In the meanwhile, subscribe for my email updates by entering your address in the box at the top right of this page. You’ll be the first to know whenever there’s a new post on Project HeatherED. I’d also love you to connect with me over on Facebook.

I’ll be back soon to share more stories!

Heather
x

The Back to the Future Post (or how I’m planning a mentally healthy return to work)

This morning I spoke with my line manager to arrange going back to work from the middle of next week. Just mornings, to start, and – only if they go well – then slowly building back to my usual full-time hours.

Phone calls, I find, are particularly challenging when I’m unwell. I think most people my age and younger feel the same way, though this is amplified when my mental health isn’t tip-top. Today it felt especially hard to speak on the phone. I didn’t know what to say.

When you’re mentally unwell, being asked “how are you?” takes on another level of meaning. Even when you’re physically sick, it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint how exactly you feel at any given moment. You can 10X this for someone with a mental health issue. Honestly, it feels like I have to find something positive to tell the well-meaning inquirer at the other end of the line. I find myself saying something that boils down to “Look! I’m getting better!” I can almost feel the forced smiles. Reassuring others that I’m going to be okay, when I don’t actually know this myself, is scary.

It’s over an hour since we spoke. Whilst I know that my planned return is rationally a good decision, I feel anxious about it.  Not having felt much of anything in the past few weeks, it’s unsettling to suddenly feel familiarly unpleasant sensations. The tightness in my jaw and my chest. I realise I’m not breathing properly – I’ve been holding my breath – so take a few deep lungfuls of air and relax a touch as the oxygen revitalises my brain.

For the first time in a few weeks, I’m overwhelmed. Plans to walk to the shops slowly disintegrate. It feels too much to put away the washing, to bake pretty pastel-coloured cupcakes for my nieces, even to tackle the washing up. I just don’t want to do anything any more. No, thank you.

I don’t like how this feels. I remember that this is what it’s like to have a mental meltdown. I need to stop; be still and see what comes up for me. Wait for my emotional self to catch up with the rational part. Knowing my back-to-work plan is the right thing to do motivates me to take action. I’ve metaphorically opened my mental first-aid kit, tapping into tried-and-tested tools at hand that I hope will help me become better. I’m here writing to you, for one.

Immediately after hanging up the phone, I went to take a shower (and yes; I’m aware that this is lazy behaviour at 10.30am, but I have been writing for much of the morning). I find this to be a perfect place to tune into what’s happening in my body and brain. With the sounds of the shower drowning out my self-consciousness, I talk to myself aloud, heart-to-heart. Talking myself down from the metaphorical, anxiety-fuelled ledge, so to speak. Like any conversation with someone I love, I literally ask myself questions out loud – and I answer from the heart.

To anyone else, this talking to myself would look like utter madness. It feels that way to me, too. However I’m learning to care less about what others might think. If anything helps me feel better – closer to a healthier, happier version of myself – then I’ll give it a try. Taking the decision to be completely open about being on sick leave for mental health reasons helps. It feels authentic; to be true to myself and my values. And as far as I know, so far, so good.

This week I’ve sought comfort and companionship from Russell Brand’s book, “Recovery”, on Audible. Logically, I know I’m not alone in experiencing common conditions like anxiety, depression, and disordered eating. In practise I find I need to remind myself over and again that I’m not the first to struggle this way – nor will I be the last – and books like this helps. I recognise myself in their stories – and those of others, who also find themselves in a dark place.

More than ever, I find myself drawn towards self-help and recovery stories. Right now, I need to hear tales of people who’ve come through the other side of mental meltdown. Russell is an extreme example of this.  I accept I’m a little obsessive about this stuff. C finds the whole genre uncomfortable and would rather I read something else: a bit of sci-fi or fantasy, perhaps? However I find I enjoy spending time technically on my own, but via books and podcasts, simultaneously surrounded by people who’ve walked a similar path.

These “non-experts” – “leading learners”, as described by the Fizzle guys – are especially interesting to me. With experiential – rather than academic – expertise, these people successfully manage their minds. A mental mind-field, they’ve dug themselves out of the proverbial dark hole that bit sooner than the rest of us. We keep scrabbling at the sides of said hole, getting a bit of traction, only to find ourselves sliding back.

Ahead on the road to recovery, these Leading Learners choose to turn back and offer us a hand, sharing said experience and strategies which have worked for them. As I tentatively step forward, I hope to become someone who can, in turn, offer this crucial support to someone else, whether in person or virtually, via this blog.  It’s a virtuous circle, I suppose, and one of which I’m striving to be a part.

As a responsible adult, I know it’s important that I return to work. I’ve got a mortgage to pay, a partner to support, and two kitty mouths to feed. Still, I’m scared. Not of the work itself, but of what being in work might do to my fragile state of mind. Taking time out has shown me how imperative it is that I prioritise my mental wellbeing. I’m conscious of not going back too soon and sliding backwards.

Though I’m returning to the same environment – the same job – I don’t want to return to being the same person who left, a shadow of herself a few weeks prior. I’d incrementally become disinterested, despondent, depressed. I recognise this person from previous troubled times and I’m afraid that this version of myself might be back for good.

I still don’t know why I had this mental meltdown. I’m not yet able to pin down exactly what’s not working, other than my mind. It’s a complex knot to unpick, and it’ll take time to unravel. Whilst I’d love to resolve any and all issues immediately – perfectly – first time around, I accept this isn’t how things work. I’m learning to be okay with slowing down, being patient, and creating more balance.

I’m confident that I’ve devised a sensible strategy to get back to some kind of normalcy. As the person who knows me best, I’m taking the lead on my return to work, at a pace I can handle. I know it’s a good plan; I’ve checked with those who love and understand me most. Although I’m trying to cut out reassurance-seeking as part of my recovery, it’s a hard habit to break.

So I’ve made an exception in this case because work matters, not only financially but emotionally, too. It’s an important factor when it comes to self-esteem. I want to feel like I’m contributing; like I’m pulling my weight and making a positive difference. I have to make clear here that paid work isn’t the only way to do this. It’s only one part of the bigger picture when it comes to living a happy, healthy, and emotionally wealthy way of life. Volunteering, creative work (blogging anyone?!), and taking care of those we love are all valuable ways to contribute.

Yet work continues to be an important part, which is why I’m trying so hard to go back to work sooner rather than later. In any case, right now I feel better about my return to work after a liberal application of the Three Ts – hot tea, toast, and telly! Sometimes I find that the best way to take good care of myself is by doing the most simple things.

P.S. I sense that I’m starting to drift off-topic, so if this particular post feels rather disorganised, then that’s most likely because it is. I hope you’ll forgive me – after all, I’m still a bit mental, remember?!

Much love,

Heather x

 

The Confidence 101 Post (or what we can do right now to build self-belief)

Having  self-confidence has to be one of the most – if not the most – commonly-cited challenges to living our best lives. Courses and classes abound on the subject, yet it continues to be an issue for even the smartest, most successful among us.

Inevitably, it’s harder still to believe in ourselves when we’ve got mental health issues. On top of the usual challenges that thrown at us in the course of the average day, we’ve got bonus bullsh*t echoing around in our heads.

I mean, we only need look at this dictionary definition of self-confidence to see where our problems begin if we’re also conscious of managing our mental health:IMG_3231

Self-confidence: “[a] feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement

Sounds great – an ideal state of being  – but feeling self-confident is the complete opposite experience of anyone who’s ever contended with depression and anxiety. For me, when I’m in the former mindset, I search the recesses of my mind to find proof-positive of my failings. In the latter, I can’t even think about the future without feeling utterly petrified.

Whichever way I turn I’m mentally tying myself up in knots, setting into motion a vicious cycle of self-criticism and doubt, chipping away at what little confidence I had in the first place.

I’ve been musing on this and here’s my two-penneth, for what it’s worth.

What we need is to build a base level of self-belief that’ll carry us through those days when we’re just wrecked with worry. From my experience, mental health doesn’t deteriorate overnight; it creeps up, worming its way insidiously into my mind until I’m no longer certain of what’s me, and what’s it working through me.

Hence I’m proposing we pursue a slowly-slowly-catchy-monkey approach to creating genuine confidence.

I’ve come up with a plan, people! Let me explain.

My theory is that if we embed a few healthy habits into our regular routine, we’ll become more resilient and better able to handle situations where our confidence is challenged. We’ll be building our emotional strength and will have that “bounce-back-ability” to overcome whatever barriers to self-belief are put in our way.

So here’s a few simple strategies that have helped me to become more confident and start to reverse the spin on the vicious cycle of poor self-esteem. I hope they’ll do the same for you, too.

HeatherED’s Three Things to Start Building Self-Belief

#1: Make decisions up-front.

IMG_3396In my experience I’ve found that my confidence grows the more I experience success. Hence this first strategy is all about creating enough head space for us to learn how to handle moments of self-doubt. As is the case with taking good care of our bodies, it requires time and energy to establish a healthy emotional fitness regime.

Our brains are literal thinking machines.  We humans do a lot of this thinking malarky. Adults apparently make around 35,000 decisions each day, and the more decisions we have to make, the quicker we reach what’s called “decision fatigue”; explained in the New York Times as “the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.” It seems even thinking about thinking’s pretty exhausting.

This got me thinking: how can we free our minds from minutiae that doesn’t matter? I suggest that we front-load our decision-making. How, exactly? Well, by making as many choices in advance as possible, minimising how often we need make choices, and reducing repeat decision-making. This way we’re saving time and energy that we can instead invest in the more important stuff of life.

Ways I’ve reduced decision fatigue include pre-planning packed lunches, advance booking gym classes, and sticking to my morning routine. I find that when I’m mentally “wobbly” my conviction in my own capability wavers and I become stuck in indecision.

Sometimes, when we’re in this mentally dubious place, dithering over daft decisions, then it makes most sense just to rip off the plaster and choose something – anything – and move on. Ironically, it’s only in the choosing that we can get out of a sticky spot and move forward.  In life there’s often no “right” decision. By not deciding,  we’re just wasting what little energy we do have on stuff that really doesn’t matter.

#2: Get grateful.

If you’re reading this then you likely already know how I feel about gratitude. Read any of my TWIG (“This Week I’m Grateful”) posts and you’ll soon get the picture. IMG_3239

Starting a daily gratitude practice sounds cheesy, I know. For anyone uncomfortable with the idea of navel-gazing, this is going to be a bit of a hard-sell. However I cannot state strongly enough the positive impact this one strategy has had on improving my own confidence. 

As a result of getting grateful – actively looking for all those things I already have to be thankful for, and consciously stating this for myself – I’m happier, healthier, and emotionally more fulfilled. It’s not magic; it’s simply self-awareness and showing appreciation for what I have, in the here-and-now.

Self-awareness and self-esteem are intrinsically linked, so this is where a regular gratitude practise can help build confidence. The better we know ourselves, the more compassion we’re likely to find for ourselves when we fall upon hard times.

How you go about this can be tailored to the individual. I started by writing lists in my journal – in classic self-help style, jotting down three things I felt thankful for about that day. Gratitude made its way into my Tony Robbins’-inspired priming ritual on the walk to work, becoming a habitual practice. These days, anyone who follows me on Facebook (hint, hint!) gets to see me share my daily gratitudes.

However you choose to do it, the more you find to be grateful for, the more confident you’ll likely feel. It has cumulative impact, lifting mood incrementally. As we see ourselves living happier lives, we rack up the positive achievements which ultimately boosts our self-belief.

#3 Be a copy-cat.

When my mental health isn’t in its finest shape, I can’t trust myself to know which way is up, let alone feel confident enough to make important decisions. Rather than forcing myself to try, if all else fails then I’ll turn instead to someone I do trust and instead copy them.

If in doubt, I role model it out!

(Ack! So cheesy I made myself cringe!)

I’ve followed this “fake it ’till you make it” strategy for building self-belief before, particularly in recovery from disordered eating. I lost touch with what “normal” eating even looked like, so I’d watch those around me and quite literally copy them.

The “someone” we choose to imitate matters a lot with this strategy. It’s got to be a trusted friend, partner, or family member. Someone whose judgement you believe to be reasonable, rational, and whose approach to life is generally balanced and healthy, particularly in relation to whatever issue we’re looking to address.

IMG_3395Looking around me to see whose attitude to food most resembled that I wished to have myself, I chose to emulate my little sister, C. That Summer, if she was having baked potato with beans and cheese for dinner, then so would I. If it was okay for her to say yes to an ice cream on a day out, then I accepted it might be okay for me, too. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in my case it meant more than that. It was a way of becoming better and building confidence in myself and my body again.

Deferring to someone else in this way is a short-term strategy to self-confidence. Still, in my experience it’s been really helpful to pull myself out of a mental rut. I might have heard the playground taunt of “copy-cat, copy-cat, sitting on the doormat” in the back of my mind, but it helped right my path and restored at least some of my self-belief around food.

And that’s it. In sum, we can become more confident by applying the following simple strategies:

  1. Make decisions up-front.
  2. Get grateful.
  3. Be a copy-cat.

Having practiced this stuff, I know it works for me but there’s always more to learn. I’m looking to grow in this area, too, so I’d love to hear from you:

What helps you become better at building self-confidence?

What are some of your strategies for strengthening self-belief? 

Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

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 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.
FluroPinkRose_090718
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 4 Post (or why it matters to care for and be myself )

Read the introductory post to my Role Model Challenge (RMC) if you’re new to the blog. If you’ve not yet caught up (where have you been?!) you can also read my findings from Week 1 , Week 2, and Week 3.

For the fourth and final time I’d like to introduce this week’s role models:

My #RMCSquad4!IMG_2890

I select my role models by reading the next chapter of Tim Ferriss’ “Tribe of Mentors” book and then I consciously choose a second mentor from YouTube. Thus far I’ve used only videos from Evan Carmichael’s channel, which feature life and business advice taken from the world’s top thought leaders.

However in this last week I broke this habit, venturing into other video content to fulfil my desire to study my heroes. This proved to be a bit more time-consuming in the short-term because it wasn’t specifically designed for my purpose. It takes thought and effort to translate footage into practical, actionable advice. However it was worth it to model those people whose work has most impacted upon me personally.

Reviewing my findings across the week identified three main strategies for success:

  1. Be yourself
  2. Be brave
  3. Prioritize self-care

Let’s now take these one at a time and explore them in detail.

Fundamental Finding #1: Be yourself

Most mentors this week believe wholeheartedly that being yourself is key to success in work and in life. Given the strong individuals who comprise my #RMCWeek4 squad, this is somewhat unsurprising. However what I didn’t anticipate was how honest they would be about the practical challenges of fully being themselves.

“Showing who you really are – being vulnerable – requires a willingness to be open, both in and with the rest of the world.”

Heather (<—That’s me! My first quote!)

Though technically impossible to be anyone else, it requires courage and confidence to consistently be yourself. It can be genuinely scary to live your truth. Directed to the core of who you are, criticism and negative comments from others can hurt all the more.

Thankfully I had many amazing examples of how to be myself among this week’s thought leaders. For me, Lionel Schriver stood out as someone who truly who embodies the principle of staying true to yourself. Both in her work as an author and in her personal life she stands by her conviction that “we can be whoever we want to be.” At just fifteen she made a huge decision to change her name to Lionel. Not wanting to be confined by gender, this was an extraordinarily brave move at a time when gender fluidity wasn’t common parlance, much less understood.

I’m starting to genuinely value being myself  for the confidence and self-respect this engenders. Lionel showed that it’s possible to gain respect for being unapologetically yourself, even if others dislike or disagree with you personally. Many find Lionel’s awkwardness and unwillingness to submit to convention unsettling, yet for me it’s these very qualities which I most admire. As a childless woman writing on motherhood and the degree to which parents are responsible for their children’s actions in “We need to talk about Kevin”, she faced a barrage of personal and professional criticism. Yet never once did she contemplate changing her book to appease others, instead pursuing agents and publishers who would understand her work.

Similarly, Michelle Obama strongly believes in being authentic, which she explains as follows:

“…as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values, and follow my own moral compass, then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”  

Michelle Obama

In this sense, both Lionel and Michelle imply that there’s a freedom to be gained from being yourself. Whilst I agree with this in principle, I recognise the difficulty of putting this into practice. “Hip Hop Preacher” Eric Thomas explains how exactly to apply this advice, recognising that being authentically yourself requires first knowing who you are and what you believe. Eric says that knowing who we are comes from understanding our values; namely those rules to which we hold ourselves accountable and which subsequently set the direction of our lives. Clarifying my own values and belief systems has been a huge part of my personal development practise this year. It’s not easy to put into words what essentially makes you who you are, but in so doing I’ve found I’m able to act in alignment with what matters most to me. Investing my time and energies into writing this post is a perfect example of how I’m learning to be true to myself and my dreams.

IMG_2985Personally I find the real challenge is in being consistently authentic. I’m fine with being myself until I’m in a situation where I feel uncomfortable or anxious; when it goes against my natural instincts to choose vulnerability. For example, I’m often scared of either saying or doing the “wrong” thing when networking. I easily slip into protection mode, avoiding conversation and instead retreating inside my own head. Not only is this embarrassing but it’s incredibly frustrating when I know that the “real” me is someone who genuinely loves to make connections.

I turned to this week’s role models for guidance on overcoming the fear and being yourself and wasn’t disappointed. I took heart from Emma Watson who implores us to love ourselves not in spite of – but because of – our flaws. This requires being honest with ourselves; acknowledging even those parts we’d rather deny. Emma believes that accepting our inherent human imperfections empowers us to be kind and compassionate towards each other. Easier said than done, it’s a beautiful principle that takes a lot of practise. I suspect I’ll be working on this particular flaw for some time.

I liked Mel Robbins’ practical suggestion that we stop using the “F-bomb” (the word “fine”) to describe how we feel, instead being honest and speaking our truth. She believes this then gives us the choice to act differently and be whoever we want. Since I stopped using “fine, thanks!” in response to any inquiry as to my well-being, the world didn’t fall apart. I did however feel considerably better for not pretending to feel something if it’s not what I actually felt.

However it’s not only what we think and do that affects our willingness to show up. Other people have a huge influence on whether we decide to be fully ourselves. Richa Chadha recommends carefully critiquing advice before acting on it. She says that even those closest to us can “…set invisible limits on how much you can achieve in you life and pass those limitations on to you inadvertently.”

This is something I relate to, having historically taken on my parents’ anxieties as if they were my own. By not following my heart and pursuing my dreams, I’ll never know whether I’ve potentially missed out on life-changing opportunities. Having heard Richa’s eloquent description of the effect others can have on our decisions, I plan to question my perceptions and their origins more closely in future. This week’s female thought leaders in particular inspire me to be myself. Following Michelle’s advice I plan to “stay true to the most real, most authentic and most sincere parts of [my]self.”

Fundamental Finding #2: Be brave

Success requires we act bravely; willing to face fear and take action to move in the direction of our dreams. I noticed there are three main ways in which my #RMCSquad4 advise we act courageously.

Brave act #1: Daring to face our fears

Role models Emma and Michelle challenge us to do what scares us in order to grow. Despite their different professional and personal backgrounds, they both agree that having the courage to face one’s fears can positively impact the world. Both of these extremely accomplished women exemplify this behaviour.  In her early twenties, Emma made an impassioned speech about gender equality before the leaders of the United Nations. Conversely, whilst used to the political spotlight, Michelle had to face a barrage of criticism and personal comments directed at her family when they moved into the White House. In particular, I admire that both their replies have taken on a calm, dignified manner in response to fear.

There’s a contradiction in facing our fears, in that it requires learning to trust ourselves, and yet also requires us to take action despite our feelings. It’s not easy to have the courage to bet on ourselves; to follow our hearts and trust our gut instincts in the wya Mel describes. At the same time she says pursuing our dreams can sometimes only be achieved by “…by forcing ourselves to take small steps in the direction we want to.”

Our challenge is to combine our need to push beyond our perceived limits and have faith in our own judgments. I believe this is what leads us to achieve more than we believe ourselves capable. Looking to the talented artists and entrepreneurs in my #RMCSquad4, creativity is clearly the reward for facing fear. This makes sense because creativity necessitates bravery in order to push boundaries and explore new ideas. As Lionel puts it “I instinctively want to enter perilous territory. That’s when it gets interesting.”

Brave act #2: Standing up for our beliefs

IMG_2983Richa warns that the courage to stand by your convictions often comes at a cost. She says that “… no matter where you are, you have to pay a price for voicing your concerns.” Being brave by making ourselves vulnerable to others is inherently risky. It’s human nature to judge others and so Richa recommends we “be provokable”, meaning be ready to defend yourself

A more extreme example of this kind of courage, Lionel prioritises her artistic integrity above all else. She stood by her decision to write a novel based on her own family dynamics, despite the pain it caused her relationships. Neither option seems particularly appealing to me, but I can appreciate how being brave enough to stand by your beliefs can mean mean making difficult decisions.

Brave act #3: Stepping out of our comfort zone

Matthew McConoughey demonstrated this kind of bravery by taking time out from the film industry to reinvent his career. It takes courage to turn down lucrative job offers and risk not working again in what’s a notoriously difficult industry to break. Yet this brave strategy worked out in the long-term. By stepping out of his comfort zone, Matthew’s career as a serious, dramatic actor blew up and took him down a totally new path.

For me, writing this blog is stepping out of my comfort zone. I’ve read other people’s blogs forever and longed to start my own, but had no idea where to begin. Having a spark of an idea earlier this year pushed me to face my fears of judgment and start to publish my writing publically. I believe that sharing my story and speaking my truth might help someone else to become better, hence why I’m working on getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. After all, it’s only by taking brave action that we move forward.

Fundamental Finding #3: Prioritise self-care

My final finding this week relates to the subject of self-care, which I broadly define as paying attention to our needs and acting in our own best interests. There are physical, emotional, and psychological approaches to self-care which Neil Strauss described as doing “…anything healthy that gets you out of your mind and into your body.”

Like many mentors, I deploy a range of strategies to ensure I’m my happiest, healthiest self. Some of my examples include:

  • Getting enough good-quality sleep.
  • Working out with like-minded people.
  • Reading for fun.
  • Time with the people (and feline friends) that I love.
  • Consistently taking my medicine.
  • Organisation strategies whereby I prioritise and plan projects, both at work and at home.

I notice that most self-care strategies fall into categories of organisation, balance, relaxation and seeking support.

Self-care strategy #1: Organisation

IMG_2912Organisation requires planning and preparation that most mentors acknowledge is key to success. By planning ahead to take care of our present and future needs, we’re literally directing our lives. Being organised is psychologically beneficial, reducing stress, helping us sort any mental clutter, and creating the headspace to better handle whatever life throws at us. It also permits us to prioritise how we use our time.

Self-care strategies often work best when we use the most appropriate organisational tools. This week’s mentors recommend using Post-its, notepads, and techie tools to apply their favourite self-care techniques: Journalling like Richa, list-making like Veronica Belmont, and Post-it planning like Mel all of which make sense to me as a writer. Putting my thoughts out of my head and onto paper (or screen) is a great way for me to slow down and clear my mind.

Planning in time for self-care is essential for me. I take action up-front to give myself the space, time, and energy I need to relax, have fun, and connect with the people I love. For instance, I schedule my workouts for the week in my calendar, generally go to bed at a decent time, and use task lists to help me focus.McConoughey refers to this organisational approach where one plans and executes as much as possible ahead of time as “creating your own weather.”He can “…then blow in the wind – or at least appear that way.”

This gave me a different perspective on those whom I envy for having their sh*t together; for making life look so easy. If hugely successful actors like Matthew are hustling behind the scenes, then it’s pretty safe to assume others are also having to work hard to get what they want. It’s worth remembering that all I’m seeing is them blowing in the wind.

When I think of it this way, I consider being organised the most important act of self-care. Not only does the process of planning and preparation help me feel a greater sense of control, but it allows me to create the balance that’s right for my own life.

Self-care strategy #2: Balance

It seems I’m not alone in seeking balance. Many mentors took this macro-level perspective of self-care, speaking about their individual approach to work-life balance. It was refreshing to hear such extraordinarily accomplished people talk about striving for balance in their own lives. For example, former First Lady Michelle speaks openly of her belief that balance matters more than status:

“I’ve never been the kind of person who has defined myself by a career or a job. I just never have.”

Michelle Obama

In a capitalist, Western society it’s hard not to define ourselves by how we pay the bills. Even when we meet new people, one of the first questions we typically ask is  “so, what do you do?” I relate to Michelle in not seeing myself in such limited terms.

Having a strong, successful female role model like Michelle gives me confidence in creating a balanced life on my terms. For instance, family is always her highest priority but it’s also important that she can pursue her passion for social projects. Whilst this isn’t my idea of balance, I respect her self-awareness in recognising what’s right for her.

Reviewing my own work-life balance, I’m grateful to have clear boundaries between my paid work and my free time. Managing this time is still a work-in-progress. There’s so much I want to do, like pursuing my passion for writing and connecting via social media, spending quality time with my loved ones, and importantly, taking care of myself. This can feel a little overwhelming, but I’m excited and feel inspired to enjoy the balance I’ve built into my own life.

Yet there’s also a misconception that a balanced approach to self-care should come easily. In reality  it takes work and requires our focused attention – much like anything else worth doing in life. As Veronica says:

“My downtime is just as valuable as my uptime, and I have to schedule it in accordingly.”

Veronica Belmont

Taking an organised, holistic approach to managing our time is important in creating balance. This is something Lewis Cantley mentioned this week. Acknowledging that doing what you love requires energy, he thinks it’s important we don’t spend it all on work. I’ve never had much trouble keeping my work and personal life separate. However as more of my free time is taken up by personal projects, the lines between work and leisure are becoming a little less clear.

Self-care strategy #3: Relaxation

Crucial to our physical and mental well-being, relaxation is closely linked with organisation. In fact, planning is what creates the space and time this element of self-care requires. Relaxation-focused self-care generally refers to those activities which promote health, fitness, and general well-being. It’s essentially what most people think of when they think about what self-care comprises.

Examples of relaxation strategies from this week’s mentors include Richa’s recommendation to take regular breaks, or to walk the dog like Veronica as a way to unwind.  Being with animals is something I personally find therapeutic. My recent zoo adventures and my obsession with my cats probably gives this away. Whilst they sometimes drive C and I up the wall, for the most part they’re a huge reason to be happy and relaxed!

An interesting lesson from my #RMCSquad4 is that acting in our own best interests sometimes means not doing something. Neil Strauss describes the mind as like a computer, with overwhelm a sign that our memory is full and we need to shut down, recharge and reboot. Richa explains how she handles this; by going on a life or career detox:

“A life detox is me delegating my responsibilities to an assistant or manager for a while, and seeking help, before I turn off my phone and wander and think and relax. A career detox means I turn my phone off, don’t read about how my films, shows or plays are faring, and be a regular person.”

Whilst most of us don’t have the means to follow her advice exactly (!), we can all adapt Richa’s detoxification strategy to suit our circumstances. For example, if we’re over-reliant on devices, we can switch off and undergo a digital detox. When work takes too much time and energy away from our relationships, we can realign with our values and adjust the balance accordingly. Admittedly, prioritizing my mental wellbeing and knowing when I need to step back and take a break is still a challenge. While I’m getting better at understanding where my head’s at, this week’s RMC has got me thinking about what’s important and my mental health is most definitely up there!

Self-care strategy #4: Supportive community

Finally, my #RMCSquad4 seem to view self-care as building connections and seeking support.  Richa wasn’t the only person to speak of the importance of having someone to turn to for help; Mark Zuckerberg is also unsurprisingly in favour of developing strong social bonds. He believes friendships matters so much that our education systems ought to reflect this, developing social skills alongside academics.

Being naturally shy, I’d have likely benefited from adult support in building my confidence, creating and nurturing connections. As an adult I recognise I’m not so much shy as I am introverted. I’m a confident, eloquent public speaker, but social situations leave me easily exhausted. Recognising when my energy is low allows me to apply the relaxation recommendations I discussed earlier in this post.

Taking this idea further Neil believes “the secret to change and growth is not willpower, but positive community.” He explains how being part of a group has helped him achieve his best-ever physical shape. Returning time and again to classes for the sheer fun of it helped Neil maintain this healthy habit. Getting to know my fitness classmates these past few years, meeting like-minded people with whom I’m comfortable – even in Lycra! – helped me make fitness a regular part of lifestyle. Being around the right people makes a huge impact upon my mindset.

Overall Observations: Week 4

If you’ve been following my RMC week-by-week, then you’ll likely have noticed how much I’ve grown in the short time I’ve spent modelling my mentors. Regardless of their industry or path to success, each and every thought leader has taught me something of value.

Specifically, during this fourth week I’ve become better at noticing nuance in my mentors’ advice. Even when hearing from someone or something I think I already know, I’m learning to identify what’s new to me; those things I’ve perhaps overlooked or not yet tried. Moreover, I’m intentionally seeking out fresh facts, tricks, and tips to apply to my own life.

Reflecting on this challenge, I can confidently say that this month has been one long exciting, eye-opening experiment. I’ve learnt so much that I think my final conclusions deserve their own post (plus I think I’ll likely lose the plot – or you will – if I keep writing!). My plan is to return with a “special edition” post in a few weeks’ time, once I’ve had time to step back, gain a little perspective, and muse on my findings.

Until then, thank you for joining me for my second month-long challenge. I look forward to experimenting with something new in the not-so-distant future!

x

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 Twelfth TWIG Post (or why self-care is most definitely not selfish)

Unusually hot and humid, the first week of June has been a weird weather week. I’m pretty sure that offices across the country are stuffed with sleep-deprived, grouchy, and uncomfortable staff. I know mine’s been no exception; despite a shorter working week we all agreed it felt incredibly long and arduous.

fullsizeoutput_369For some unbeknownst reason, I’m particularly sensitive to changes in temperature. Hence this week’s left me feeling especially tired, irritable, and dispirited. You seen I’m not physiologically built for extremes of weather. In Winter I get Raynaud’s Syndrome, my hands and feet becoming numb when it’s cold out. In Summer I’m prone to heat rash, putting a damper on many a holiday.

More importantly, my not feeling too great exacerbates my psychological propensity towards burnout. I feel more susceptible to this kind of mental pain in the Summer months after having an anxiety-fuelled breakdown a few years ago. It left me hyper-vigilant for any signs of stress because I really don’t want to sink that low again. Hence my consciousness around the potential need to do something to prevent this kind of emotional breakdown happening in future.

Recognising my vulnerability this week I took immediate action. On an especially miserable morning, I decided I’d look at my remaining holiday allowance for the year and plan in my breaks for the next few months. Unlike C’s employer, mine has a generous holiday allowance which means I can take more paid time off. I used some of my leave to create a series of long weekends throughout the Summer, and made plans to visit my teacher sister (and gorgeous nephew, of course) during her long break.

Pre-planning periods of rest and recuperation made me feel instantly more relaxed. Knowing I’ve booked days off work gives me something positive to look forward to. I’m excited to have time to myself to do the things I love. For example, I can’t wait to take my new MacBook (more on this later) to my favourite cafe to write. Even rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck into the gardening sounds preferable to being stuck in a stuffy office.

Knowing C will have to work whilst I’m taking time off does make me feel somewhat guilty. I want him to have what I have, or at least to be able to share in my good fortune holiday-wise. Thankfully in reading Brene Brown’s book, “Rising Strong”, I’ve a new understanding of what it means to feel guilt and shame. I recognise whilst it’s irrational to feel guilty for something outside of my control, it’s a learned response for which I can show myself compassion.

Prioritising my well-being means not permitting uncomfortable emotions to stop me from acting in my own best interests. For example, though I can’t control C’s holiday allowance I can control what I do with mine. I can be grateful for what I have and can choose to use this gift of time to my advantage. Putting my money where my mouth is, I made a last-minute decision to take an afternoon off work this week. Turns out this was exactly what I needed. Those couple of hours to myself made all the difference to my mood, meaning that by the time C brought family home for dinner I felt re-energised and relaxed. I was better able to enjoy spending an evening with my excitable nieces.

fullsizeoutput_364Taking steps like this towards self-care proves I’m becoming better at recognising when I need to step up and take responsibility for my well being. To be the best version of myself I have to acknowledge and respond to my needs. It’s not always easy to work out exactly what that is and how to give it to myself, but the more I practise, the easier it becomes. Hence I’m thankful for this opportunity to exercise my self-care muscle this week.

Speaking of thanks, I think it’s time I share my gratitude list.

This Week I’m Grateful For

  • Taking self-care seriously by booking an afternoon off work. As I’ve spoken about this in length already, I won’t repeat myself here. Still, it’s important that I acknowledge that prioritising my well-being is a personal achievement of which I can be proud.

 

  • Online supermarket shopping. It’s not always the cheapest way to buy groceries, but it’s an absolute life-saver when it comes to catering for last-minute family visits. This week was a prime example – within less than twenty-four hours I’d stocked up on supplies without once having to step into a shop. When I look back to my student days of struggling to walk home with overstretched bags, I’m especially thankful for the privilege of having my groceries delivered direct to my door.

 

  • Free cake! Always a bonus however it comes about, it’s the second time I’ve received free cake from Ocado because the frosting had been smudged in transit. As neither my nieces nor I mind a squished bun, it didn’t matter that they were a little less elegant than intended. Still, I was happy that the kind delivery man didn’t charge me for these delicious treats !

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  • Being with my nieces. A last-minute visit to view houses meant hosting C’s sister, her husband, and our two fantastically fun nieces for the night. Despite a very early start to catch their train and a whole day walking, I had two delighted little girls bouncing round my garden because they were happy to make it to Aunty Heather’s house. I can’t express strongly enough how much I love being a part of these little lives!

 

  • An excuse to get me cooking! Having relied heavily on Dominoes to cater for previous family visits, this time I felt it necessary to cook a meal from scratch. Surprisingly, rather than feeling stressed and under pressure, it felt really good to create a healthy, homemade dinner. I felt proud that I’d made something delicious for the people I love. Reminded that cooking itself can be enjoyable – when I give myself the time and headspace for it – I’m feeling motivated to do it more often. Instead of seeing cooking as a chore, I’m grateful for this reminder that it’s actually an act of love I can regularly show to myself and others.

 

  • Securing a place in my favourite gym class. It’s been a challenge of late to book classes, but I’ve now made three bookings in a row. Having worked hard to embed fitness into my lifestyle, I’m thankful for this because classes help me keep up my momentum. With my instructor pushing me on, and with the support of the other regulars to my class, I lift heavier and go harder than I would on my own.

 

  • Working out despite my body wobbles (both literal and figurative). As I’ve tried to become less controlling over my food and fitness, I’m eating a bit more and exercising a bit less intensely. This has lead to my gaining a little weight, which isn’t unexpected but is uncomfortable and unnerving. I’m tempted to shy away from the gym, avoiding myself in the mirrors and not wanting others to see I’ve changed. Yet I’m proud of myself for not allowing my wavering self-confidence to stop me from working out. Doing what I know is good for my mind and body is my way of showing myself that I am enough; I am worthy, whatever the size and shape of my body. I’m grateful to have the resilience to overcome my insecurities and not let anything hold me back.

 

  • Fresh cut flowers. It’s a real privilege to be able to cut flowers from my very own garden and bring them indoors. It feels really special to see my beautiful blooms take pride of place on the mantelpiece, and know that they were grown just outside my window.

 

  • Having French doors has felt like a real luxury of late, letting the breeze cool us down and also bring the scents of Summer into our house.

 

  • Getting into flow. Since writing regularly I’ve been lucky to get into a “flow state”, by which I mean being so absorbed in what I’m doing that not only does time fly by but I also forget to eat or drink. Losing myself in something so completely feels fantastic and it’s proof positive that writing is good for me.

 

  • Buying a MacBook! Arriving sometime next week, choosing a new laptop turns out to have been more exciting than I’d have expected. Technological purchases are generally more C’s realm, but I’ve been enthusiastically seeking out perspectives of just about everyone I could think of who might be able to offer helpful advice. With C’s support, I decided to invest more than just money in my MacBook; I’m investing my faith and hope in myself, my writing, and my creative ideas for an exciting future.

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  • Last, but by no means least, we’ve accepted an offer on our house! Aware that house sales can fall through at any point, we’re happy – and relieved! – with the price and hopeful that we’ve found the right buyer for the house. It matters to C that we do right by the house and our neighbours because it’s meant more to him than just a good financial investment. It’s where he grew up, because if we’re honest, most of us only really start becoming adults once we’ve left formal education and have to figure out how to take care of ourselves and those we love. I’m therefore really glad the buyer put in a sensible offer that C feels happy to accept; one that reflects the two to three months of time, effort, and sheer graft we both put into renovations. Not only am I glad we can start to make plans for updating our new house, I’m also happy to know that someone who loves the house and the local area will bring new life to the place. She’s even bringing two feline friends with her, so I just know she’ll fit in!

The RMC Week 2 Post (or why I’m making happiness my #1 priority)

Read my introductory post to my Role Model Challenge (RMC), or if you’ve not yet caught up with my Week 1 findings, you can read the post here

Okay, so it’s week two of my RMC and I’m proud to introduce yet another awesome line-up of extraordinary people! My #RMCsquad2 looks like this:

It’s a pretty eclectic collection, and you might be wondering how I’m choosing my role models each day. As I come to the end of week two, it feels like I’ve found a natural sense of balance in this process. This results from a combination of luck, mindful intention and intuition.

The mainstay of my RMC is in reading a chapter from “Tribe of Mentors” (which I’ll refer to for brevity from here on as ToM). My first teacher for any given day is simply whomever’s chapter is next up in this book. The “surprise” element of my experiment, ToM connects me to inspiring people from a cross-section of society and culture that I might never otherwise have encountered.

Conversely, I intentionally select a contrasting daily mentor from Evan Carmichael’s YouTube channel. I generally choose someone whose background, career or world-view differs from whomever I’ve drawn from ToM. Sometimes it’s simply a case of following my heart and trusting my intuition, which explains the mash-up of some of the world’s finest business minds, scientists, entertainers and leaders that make up my #RMCsquad2.

Fundamental Finding #1: Prioritise happiness

Underpinning this week’s advice is the theme of happiness. Tony Robbins believes that “happiness is a choice” and it’s the responsibility of each of us to “decide to be happy”. Many mentors support this focus on in valuing happiness, from celebrities like Victoria Beckham and “The Rock”, to spiritual teachers like Gabrielle Bernstein. This got me considering what makes me happy, and whether I make “joy and happiness my top priority in life”, as Gabby advises us to do.

I’ve learnt that happiness is a more complex concept than that for which I’d previously given it credit. Rather than a permanent state of being, Tony sees it as a particular state of mind we can choose to step into at any moment. Alternatively Naval Ravikant sees happiness as  “..a skill you develop”, suggesting that not only can it be learnt, but there’s also room to increase our current levels of bliss. Khloe Kardashian emphasised how happiness is something we create for ourselves, rather than relying on others to do it for us.

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Happiness necessitates action. It’s a practise, and each day I choose to act in small ways that bring me greater joy. Consciously taking time for activities I love contributes to my overall feeling of well-being. Spending more time reading, playing with my cats, and learning to garden from my partner C generally makes life better. I’m also writing more because it’s what truly I love to do. I’m learning to make my passions a priority because they bring me genuine happiness.

Depression previously conditioned me to think that happiness was out of my reach. I believed my thoughts were somehow “pre-programmed” to have an underlying negative “tone”; that was simply the way I was. This week’s RMC has reaffirmed for me that this is not the case. Happiness is a decision we make and commit to on a daily basis. As a result of this week’s RMC I feel empowered to choose to live in a beautiful state of happiness more often.

Fundamental Finding #2: Put yourself first

We’ve all heard the advice to put yourself first many times. “Help yourself before you help others” is commonly cited in all kinds of situations, from emergency evacuation procedures on-board aeroplanes to preachers of all denominations giving sermons in churches, mosques and temples all over the world. I came across this exact phrase again just this week from Ayaan Hirsi Ali in ToM.

Depending on whom you choose to listen to, “put yourself first” can be interpreted in myriad different ways. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson defines it as being a “trailblazer” ; someone who steps out and leads the way, up-front and centre. Going first involves a significant amount of courage and self-assurance. In this respect, putting yourself first also involves a degree of risk and vulnerability which isn’t always easy to overcome. I know in my life this has held me back from fulfilling my potential on more than one occasion.

Tim Urban describes putting oneself first as choosing to “be a chef, not a cook”. By this he means us to direct our work and live life like a chef, heading up their kitchen and leading their team in experimenting with creative new ideas. Acting “like a cook” means working to realise someone else’s vision. It’s a perfectly fine career path, but it seems to me that being a chef in my own life is a wiser path to a more successful, fulfilling existence. Linked to last week’s musings about the difference between intelligence and wisdom, Tim reaffirmed my desire to become a wiser woman in my life.

Putting yourself first also requires standing up for yourself. Khloe Kardashian calls us to “ignore the naysayers” in our lives – and she should know! On the receiving end of brutal, frequent public scrutiny, Khloe is a true role model, proving it’s possible to handle extreme negativity whilst maintaining one’s self-confidence and self-esteem. If Khloe can handle the amount of sh*t thrown her way, then I’m sure I can cope with an odd off-hand comment thrown my way.

Another way of looking at the concept of putting yourself first is to put other people’s needs and desires after our own. Graham Duncan advises taking other people’s perspectives lightly. There’s no “right” point of view on anything, so why is it that so many of us prioritise others’ views above our own? Practising putting myself first this week, I’ve risked ridicule from not only C, who has a significant aversion to anything he deems “woo-woo”, but also myself for engaging in “magical thinking”. Drawing an inspirational card each day from my pack of Gabrielle Bernstein’s “The Universe Has Your Back” cards, this ritual reminds me to choose to think positively , which makes me happy.

Thinking deeply about what the idea of “putting myself first” really means, I realise that it can mean whatever I want it to mean. As such I’ve created my own definition of what this means to me:

Putting myself first means prioritising myself, in terms of my health, wellness and happiness, and also rating my own opinions of myself and what I do above those of others.

Thinking about it this way, putting myself first is a way of empowering myself to become happier, healthier, and generally better in any area of my life. At work I often play the role of “cook”, taking action to realise other people’s visions. In contrast, when I’m reading, writing or researching my own passions there are no limits to my creative thinking. I feel truly free. This week taught me that it’s okay to practise prioritising myself and my interests. By making time and space to write, for example, I’m more fulfilled and am a much nicer person to others as a result.

Fundamental Finding #3: Successful people are often readers and writers

Citing reading as a key passion in their lives, this week’s role models assured me that it’s actually pretty cool to be a reader. Naval insists we “read for love”; a phrase that stuck in my mind because it reflects exactly how I feel about reading. Coming back to books as an adult, I still feel a bit embarrassed to admit I’m happiest curled up with a book and a brew. I’d honestly rather read than go on a night out these days. With several successful mentors sharing my love of reading, I feel more confident accepting myself for who I am and what I enjoy.

Already a vociferous reader, I was encouraged this week to read even more. Matt Ridley suggests that I can increase the number of books I read by listening to audio books. Having recently re-subscribed to Audible, I’ve enjoyed listening to authors read their own books in their authentic voice. To me, it’s not like reading a book but is an entirely different experience. Whilst I generally prefer reading paper copies, I’ve actually found some books that I think work better as audio, like Robert Webb’s autobiography, for example.

This week’s thoughts leaders had plenty to say about writing, too. Up until I started this blog, I’ve been guarded about letting others know how important writing is to me. I hadn’t really shared my work with anyone before as I felt scared of being judged. However by publishing my writing on a regular basis and putting my work “out there” into the Universe, I’ve gradually gained confidence in my skills.

Specifically, I’ve begun to find my own authentic voice as a writer. I’ve taken the advice of mentors like Tim Urban, who suggests I “write for myself”, and Matt Ridley, who recommends specialising in writing about whatever most fascinates you. They agree that tailoring your creativity to appeal to the masses is unlikely to make you happy. Putting across my passion in my writing, it then requires that I trust those readers whose interests align with my own will eventually find – and love – my work.

Thus far, I’m grateful to have received some amazingly positive feedback from friends, family and even strangers on my blog. These kind words of encouragement and support drive me to positive action, where I’ve then found myself intentionally dedicating more time and effort to my writing. Of course, there are no guarantees my writing will connect with an audience in the way I hope. I know I’ll make plenty of mistakes in pursuing my writing. Yet I’m glad to have learnt to act on my passion for writing simply because doing so makes me happy.

Prioritising creativity isn’t easy when there’s so much else in life vying for our attention. However this week’s RMC encouraged me to take practical steps to make time for what matters to me. When I’m writing I lose all sense of time and I’m utterly in the moment. I know I’ve hit on something good because when I write is one of the rare occasions I even lose interest in food! Tuning out the radio, I put on my “mental blinkers” and focus on the words on my screen. I get in the “effortless flow of where I am”, as Graham Duncan puts it. Artists like Demi Lovato, Victoria Beckham, and Matt Ridley also commit to their work with this kind of intense concentration. Spending more time and energy thinking about writing has brought home to me quite how important it is to me.

Overall Observations: Week 2

Getting into a habit of selecting role models, I’m becoming better at identifying  those teachers and though leaders with whom I’m likely to instinctively connect. In the past two weeks, I’ve found that a positive connection is essential for me to really understand the lessons they have to share. For example, discovering Naval Ravikant in ToM and reading his eloquent, considerate responses to questions posed by the author, along with his love of writing and reading (of course!), made me like him immediately. Inversely, it’s nearly impossible to be unaware of the Kardashians. As a recovering reality TV junkie, Khloe was already my favourite of all the Kardashian “klan”, and so I was drawn to her success rules video. Subsequently I’ve a whole new level of respect for her. I aspire to attain even a modicum of her body confidence and unwavering self-belief!

Yet despite having access to a million motivating mentors at via the magic of the Internet, there have still been days where I’ve sought out guidance from familiar thought leaders. It feels comfortable and safe to engage with the teachings of people like Tony Robbins and Gabrielle Bernstein. I already have respect for them and their work, and I’m likely to return to them for inspiration time and again.

In virtually “meeting” such a broad range of successful people, I’m becoming better at being both intellectually open-minded and emotionally open-hearted. My mindset seems to be moving towards what’s called a “growth orientation”, whereby I’m willing to welcome wisdom from any and all spheres of influence. A good example of this is my gravitating towards Gabby Bernstein, whose spiritual teachings run contrary to my not having any religious leanings whatsoever. In this growth mindset I’m less likely to pre-judge and instead approach life asking myself: “what can I learn from this?”

Moreover, I realised the importance of maintaining a positive mindset if I want to learn as much as possible from my RMC.  One way I’ve achieved this is by continuing the priming process I taught myself to do whilst walking to work. It sets me up for a great start to the day by literally driving me forward to take action. Creating positive momentum, my RMC is thus far helping me grow in brilliant, yet unexpected ways.img_0743

 

 

 

 

Next up: Week 3 #squadgoals

Now half-way through this month’s experiment, I feel confident selecting mentors whose advice challenges me to become better. As I said at the start of this post (if you can remember that far back!), I’m following the order laid out in Tim Ferriss’ ToM book, accepting whomever he proposes as my first teacher of the day, then carefully curating a contrasting hero for my second.

In the coming week I plan to spend time learning from the legendary Steve Jobs. He’s quoted time and again by successful business people as having influenced their careers and lives. Being the self-help junkie that I am, I’ve heard clips of his most famous speeches, and seen many a quote of his when reading other people’s blogs. Yet I’ve not intentionally sought out his wisdom for myself before and think the RMC is a great opportunity to do this.

I also aim to continue seeking out strong female role models this week. In general there seem to be more inspiration videos of men online, so to address the balance I’ve chosen some women with whom I’m not especially familiar. Having learnt something from everyone thus far, I’m more open-minded to mentors whom perhaps I would have previously overlooked. This includes those whom I may have previously gossiped about, which is sh*tty behaviour on my part, I know, but I’m human and I’m learning to accept that I sometimes make these kinds of dumb mistakes.

By reserving my judgement and opening my heart to receiving wisdom from whomever I come across this next week, I hope to “meet” more brilliant role models in the second half of this challenge.

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

Bluebells

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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