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The Break Through Post (or how I realise I’m still stuck in diet culture – and how I plan to get myself out!)

Hello! It’s been a while, right?

Well, before I hit publish, my pride pushes me to caveat this by telling you that I’m intentionally sharing this relatively unedited piece on my website. I desperately want to overcome my anxieties around writing here. I can’t think of a better way to do this than to face my fears – and just go for it.

So I’m asking you to forgive me in advance for my imperfect post – my imperfect self. I shouldn’t need to do this, but bear with me. As you’ll read, I’m working on it!

Here goes nothing.  

The Break Through Post

(or how I realise I’m still stuck in diet culture – and how I plan to get myself out!)

I gained weight this year.  For the first time in five years, I broke my hard-won “healthy” habits.

It began when we moved into our new house back in November 2017. Expected disruptions  meant I wasn’t in complete control.  Having held on tightly for so long, I was scared of relaxing my regime. What disaster might unfold?

Turns out, relaxing my rules wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, my new-found freedom around food and fitness came as a pleasant surprise! I enjoyed the novelty of an impromptu dinner out with C, or a slice of homemade cake, without having to plan for it days in advance.

Sure, I gained a few pounds, but my clothes still fit. For the most part, I adjusted to my body’s new status quo. Mentally and emotionally, I was holding it together. I felt okay.

Then it all went awry.

When my beloved cat, D, died in September, something snapped. Already home from work mid-mental meltdown, on truth, I wasn’t exactly in the best headspace to begin with. Which explains why I spiralled so quickly into a “f**k it” mentality around food.

After all, what’s the point of dieting when –  at any time – I could lose someone I love?

On some level, this way of thinking made sense. Obviously, the people – and pets – in our lives are way more important than weight. Yet logically, there’s no rational connection between grieving and eating. Emotionally, I didn’t care – I simply needed something to soothe the pain.

Because I was hurting. Badly.

D might have been a cat – a scruffy, shouty one at that – but when he died I lost more than my best buddy. I also lost my most reliable source of happiness. No matter what, D could make me smile. Whenever I looked at his face, I’d wonder at the perfection of nature; at how something so cute could ever exist! And then suddenly, he was gone.

A guaranteed source of comfort, I turned to food. It’s been that way throughout my life. Love – at least from humans – has not been so reliable. So it makes sense that I’d look for something consistently soothing: Enter my faithful friend; food.

As my anxiety spiralled, I also stopped exercising. I lost confidence standing front-and-centre in my gym classes. Honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable around anyone anymore. I withdrew. At first I took a few weeks’ break, but the longer I left it, the scarier it became. Eventually, I felt so much body shame, I didn’t want to go back to the gym at all.

I was well-and-truly “off the wagon”.

Turns out, I’ve been dieting all this time.  

Only now as I slip and slide through another weight cycle* do I realise this.

Only now am I starting to accept that I’ve lived another half-century restricting to control my weight.

* I recently learnt this  modern terminology for  “yo-yo dieting”.

Whether a super-strict version of the Weight Watchers’ plan, or basic calorie-counting to maintain my BMI, it was a diet. My “balanced lifestyle” meant meticulous meal management and pre-planned workouts to counter calories. All the while becoming ever-more disconnected; unable to even enjoy the body that cost so much – in time, money, and sheer sweaty effort. Especially time – oh, the time I’ve spent thinking about this sh*t! I’m heartbroken and exhausted even thinking about it.

Frankly, I’m embarrassed.

Yet again, I’ve fallen prey to diet culture. How gullible am I?! I can feel my Inner Critic, rolling its eyes at me as I type.

Because I’m still “in it” in so many ways! Literally and figuratively, being thin is a part of my psyche. For as long as I can remember, it’s been my ultimate – sometimes only – aspirational goal. To me, being thin is a sign of success. The logic goes: If I’m thin, I’ll be attractive, and therefore acceptable.  It’s been my personal Holy Grail.

Thinness is a physical manifestation of being “good enough”.

It’s about more than the weight (gain).

I noticed negative self-talk sneak up on me as I gained weight. Hideously ugly feelings of guilt, shame, and self-hatred abound. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see it), I can’t ignore it this time. Years of therapy, personal growth work, and self-help have me hyper-aware of what’s happening inside.

I recognise these feelings from before. Looking back, my memories of the last time I gained weight after a loss are hazy. I’ve blanked much of that traumatic time. I don’t think other people commented on it – at least, not to my face – but I felt certain that behind closed doors there’d be whispers. After regaining thirty-plus pounds, I found myself standing on a Paris train platform willing myself to step off. To end the battle inside my mind.

For as long as I can remember, there’s a nagging voice in the back of my mind that tells me how much happier I’d be – if only I were thinner. Thing is, I’ve been thinner. I’ve objectively had my “best body ever” whilst still feeling depressed and anxious. Nothing ever changes – at least, nothing real.

It’s all superficial. I’m still me irrespective of my body size. 

Pre-Paris, I’d lost a huge amount of weight, only to look in the mirror and see myself as fat. A fleeting glance in the mirror, I saw my body was finally thin. Yet I was about as unhappy as I’ve ever been.

The disappointment – more accurately, devastation – was so utterly unbearable, I brushed it away as quickly as possible. I looked back and there I was again – fat. It felt safer, somehow, to continue to believe I’d always be big; someone who could afford to lose a few pounds. Only then could I be happy.

Back to binge-eating

Within a few days, I’d started bingeing again. I remember the first sneaky bag of cookies, eaten in secret. They were delicious. Simultaneously, sheer relief and utter disgust washed over me as I swallowed the last bite. 

I still feel confused and conflicted.

Thoughts around food and my body continue to infiltrate my daily life. Sometimes overwhelming, my obsession with appearance veers from all-consuming to an annoying nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I’m not yet free of diet culture. Perhaps, living in the world that we do, I never will be 100% free of feeling bad about my body.  

Weight gain feels so shameful; it feels like a devastating personal failure. Which is why I found myself bemoaning my body to Mum via WhatsApp this week. She says I have a beautiful body, and in the same sentence, tells me all about her recent weight loss. Apparently, pre-diet she’d been at her heaviest; a number she shared that still falls below my personal heaviest by a good stone. Urgh. 

Even with the acute awareness of body issues I have today, this hurts my heart.  I know it’s not Mum’s fault; it’s not mine either. This is a societal problem whereby we, as women, are raised to relate via this kind of body bashing.  That our weight – quite literally, the force of gravity we have on this earth – is a topic deemed interesting enough for discussion is baffling. Whilst it’s hardly a shock in a culture where thinness equals goodness, it’s still super sad. 

It got me thinking:

Do I really want to get to my sixties, like my Mum, and still be thinking about my weight?

Do I really want to spend another thirty years or more of worrying about my body? Thinking I’m not – nor likely ever will be – thin (read: good) enough?

Or would I rather get on with living my best life, irrespective of the body I do it in? Even if that body happens to be bigger than that which – in an ideal world – I’d effortlessly maintain?  

Honestly, I’m now questioning whether that “ideal world” is even mine to begin with, but this is beside the point, which is:

Do I want to be thin – at any and all costs – or do I want to be happy, in the body I have, right now?

I surprised myself by concluding I want to be happy as I am.

I am decidedly sick of feeling shitty about myself.

 

And that’s enough encouragement for me to try to find another way of being in my body – and with food – in 2019.

 

I don’t want to wake up in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time and find myself having another mental meltdown because I can’t fit into my jeans. Forcing myself onto yet another diet would be like kicking myself in the teeth when it feels like I’m already in the gutter. (And yes, it feels this dramatic.)

If not a diet, then what?

Which is why I’m exploring intuitive eating, health at every size, and body positive culture.** I’m effectively coming full-circle since heading into recovery. Back then, Geneen Roth’s books spoke of similar curiosity and self-compassion.   

Still, entertaining thoughts of giving up dieting forever scares me sh*tless. I don’t honestly know any other way of being. Even in recovery, I secretly believed that once I’d fixed my brain, I’d get “back on track” and “fix” my body. Eventually, I’d be thin.  

But I don’t like who I am in this relentless pursuit of perfection.

Case in point:

  • It adds to my anxiety, changing how I feel about myself.
  • My insecurities grab onto any sign of “success” (read: weight loss). I develop a “superior-than-thou” persona to cover up my nerves.
  • I’m increasingly afraid of people whilst hyper-aware of their food and fitness habits.
  • I’m no fun to be around.
  • If you think I sound judgemental towards others, then you should hear the sh*t that goes around my head about me. I’m most cruel to myself.

Those of us with disordered eating issues know that the awkward, difficult, and downright mean person we seem to be on the outside is nothing compared to way we behave inside.

And I don’t want to be that person. Not anymore.

I’m thirty-four – nearly thirty-five – and this has to stop.

There are too many good reasons for this.

I have two simply fabulous young nieces who look up to me – and I don’t want to let them down. Then there’s you. If you’re reading this, then I know you’re looking for an honest insight into what it really means to become better.  And then there’s me – and I truly believe I deserve to give myself the gift of respect.  To become better.

Even if it doesn’t look exactly as expected, I know happiness feels fantastic.

 

 

**If you’re curious about these topics yourself, then I list below some of the resources I’m exploring right now, or have been useful to me thus far in disordered eating recovery. I hope these help you – let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

 

The Geeky Corner

“Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating” by Geneen Roth 

My first ever book on eating disorders; the one that changed everything. A must-read. She’s a regular on Oprah and I’m sure you’ll find her in online knock-offs of the Oprah show. 

“Body Positive Power: How to stop dieting, make peace with your body and live” by Megan Jayne Crabbe. 

I’m currently listening to this on Audible and I’m really enjoying Megan’s story. She is really relatable – and I adore that her online name is bodyposipanda! Makes me happy just to say it aloud!

“The Goddess Revolution” by Mel Wells

Recommended to me by a friend, Mel reminds me of Geneen only for a new generation. You can see her in her awesome TEDX talk

Isobel Foxen Duke

Specifically, her “Stop Fighting Food” web series (free when you sign up for her email list) really hit home for me. That, and this article, are what led me to: 

“Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

The original IE how-to guide, I’m about to embark upon this book myself. 

“Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight” by Linda Bacon

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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 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

x

The Eleventh TWIG Post (or why money matters)

At long last I’m finally sitting down to write my eleventh gratitude post after a busy couple of weeks. I’ve therefore more to give thanks for today; a twofold increase in my happiness quota, which is a welcome bonus of publishing this post later than originally planned. 

As I head out of this Bank Holiday weekend straight into the run-up to pay day, I’ve been thinking about the links between money and happiness. I’ve been asking myself whether there’s a monetary price on happiness, and if it is something we can buy, can it ever be morally acceptable to do so? This sounds like I’ve spent my weekend engaging in esoteric philosophical debate. Yet in all honesty, what I’m specifically musing on is whether or not to buy a MacBook laptop. #firstworldproblems #shameonme

It’s often said that money can’t buy happiness. Many leading thinkers have been quoted as saying that the things which truly matter in life cannot be bought. This generally refers to our relationships with others, that we have with ourselves, and the degree to which we feel personal fulfillment in our lives. It’s ultimately how we feel about each of those things which determines our experiences of them, and whether or not they are happy ones. Being uniquely subjective, happiness in itself isn’t easily valued, at least not in monetary terms. Both relative and intangible, happiness as a concept is difficult to define. As an amateur psychologist, my clumsy attempt at a definition is that happiness can be most closely understood as an overall positive emotional state of being, and is thus unavailable for direct purchase.

Following this line of thinking, it makes sense to me that pursuing financial wealth will not necessarily result in a happier self. Instead there’s truth in the old adage  that it’s often the small things which bring the most happiness, or that which claims that some of best things in life come for free! Having spent most of my Bank Holiday Monday catching up on Gary V’s podcasts whilst scraping moss from our patio (my poor excuse for gardening), I feel tired but genuinely happy. Doing no-cost activities like these not only help to alleviate anxiety and stress, but also give me emotional satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

“Money is not the only answer, but it makes a difference.”

Barack Obama

Yet it’s undeniable that the value of money goes way beyond its literal financial worth. Obama refers here to the power and influence that money can afford;  the “fiscal lubrication” which accelerates the pace of change. The idea of money “greasing the wheels” of action is probably most notable in the political sphere, but also applies to our personal lives, increasing the speed with which we can take positive action towards our goals.

“Wealth is not about having a lot of money; it’s about having a lot of options.”

Chris Rock

Having access to finance opens up opportunities. Comedian and actor Chris Rock makes this clear here, in that money gives us access to creative solutions to problems that otherwise may not be possible, but it also gives us a means to buy into  experiences which add value to our lives, as is most obvious in education. Personally, I’m re-thinking my relationship to money to be a tool by which I can potentially create more happiness. Probably the best example to illustrate how I’ve recently spent money to make myself happy is in purchasing this incredible antique collection of exotic insects (note: there’s no filter on this image; I wanted to show you their natural vibrancy):

BugBox

My not-so ugly bug ball!

 

Instantly captivated by this Victorian-era artifact, I was enchanted by its ability to evoke contradictory feelings of amazement and disquiet simultaneously. I fell in love with this unique piece of history, speculating on the tales of the brave Victorian adventurers who brought home these specimens; forever frozen in all their glory to travel across time and space to reside above my mantle piece. I’m hit by waves of humility and awe whenever I look at it. Proving I can wield my personal power by using money to buy something worth more to me than its monetary value, it’s got me thinking about the potential “happiness factor” of any future purchases..

Say, for example, if I were to consider my current dilemma of whether to buy a shiny new MacBook. Despite this deeper understanding of what money can do in terms of helping me create greater emotional wealth, I’m still uneasy with the idea of “buying happiness.” I maintain the belief that using money to buy something that makes me happy suggests I’m lacking in the emotional capacity to be happy with less. It seems shallow and selfish to chase after material possessions when so many people in the world have nothing to speak of, and yet experience an enormous amount of happiness.

“Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.”

Benjamin Franklin

It’s an up-hill battle, but I’m working on eliminating shame around spending. Instead, I’m consciously enjoying and appreciating those purchases that make me happy. I’m not “buying happiness”; I’m simply using the tools at my disposal to increase my overall happiness. Unless I’m prepared to give away all worldly goods (I’m not that altruistic, I’m afraid), then not spending money and keeping it in the bank doesn’t impact positively on anyone else. Ergo investing my money in something with the potential to bring significant happiness gains isn’t an inherently “bad” thing.I’m working on getting that straight in my head.

As of yet, I’m still undecided as to when exactly I’ll invest in a MacBook, but I’m pretty certain it’s the best writing tool for me. I’m working out whether to buy now or later, depending on our current levels of disposable income, which is something C and I can figure out together. Seeking advice from those in the know (namely, other writers, colleagues, C and his techie work buddies), I’m confident that the MacBook would prove it’s worth, improving my experience of writing, making the most efficient use of my time, and generally making the writing process more fun!

I’m actually proud of myself for even contemplating such an expensive purchase. It’s a sign that I’m opening my mind, heart – and wallet! – to making investments in my emotional well-being, which is far more valuable than cash. In this spirit of being more openly grateful for all I have, today’s lists are an amalgamation of thanks from the past fortnight.

 

Last week I’m Grateful For:

DaveBig

As always, I’m grateful for this handsome fella!

  •  I’ve talked about this a lot already, but for the geekiest among you, you may be interested to know that my “bug box” is part of a collection from French entomologist Charles Oberthur, who died in the twenties in possession of the second biggest collection of insects in the world. In time, my tiny piece of his mammoth collection found its way to the Natural History Museum in London, and from there has relocated to live with me. It’s just amazing!
  • Creating renovation plans for our home. I’d already planned on painting the living room a dramatic shade of Farrow & Ball blue, but my bonkers bug buy fits perfectly with the eclectic explorers theme I envision. Filling the space with bonkers artefacts, vivid colours, and unique touches, we’ll eventually relocate the TV to this room and create a kind of “luxe cinema” vibe. I’m excited to curate a room that inspires fun, energy, and smiles (or gasps!) that will ultimately become our cosy Winter den.  In contrast, we plan to redecorate what was originally the dining room (but has become a second living room) as a calm, neutral, nature-themed space in which to read and relax. Overlooking the garden, it’s perfect for sitting and appreciating how fantastically lucky I am to have my dream home.
  • Buying new Summer clothes. As is always the case, it gets to this time of the year – too warm for Winter workwear – before I realise I’ve nothing appropriate to wear.  Somehow every single year I end up feeling frustrated at my lack of inter-seasonal planning – but not this year! Thankfully this past weekend I not only bought a box of bugs, but I also made another happy buy courtesy of FatFace: a capsule wardrobe that’ll see me through the coming months comprised of a couple of summer dresses, trousers and shirt. Job done.
  • Locally-made, delicious Thai food C  and I rediscovered recently. We’ve eaten at this restaurant a couple of times already, but had forgotten just how lovely it is to eat home-cooked food at a family-run restaurant. As a couple we spend a disproportionately large amount of our income on food, and I feel a little less guilty if it goes into local businesses.
  • Having the opportunity to practise reframing. A commonly-cited CBT technique whereby I consciously seek out the positive in any situation, I’ve been exercising this mental muscle in the past few weeks as booking my favourite gym class has become increasingly frustrating. Focusing my attention on enjoying the freedom that comes from being able to organise my fitness regime around my life, rather than the other way around, has helped me to feel cool, calm and in control.
  • Reclaiming the weekends! No longer doing DIY in every spare moment means that C and I can finally go on fun days out! This feels like a real treat, and I enjoyed spending my free time walking round sunny Bakewell this past weekend. I’m looking forward to a Summer of day trips, exploring the countryside that’s on our doorstep, and pottering in our beautiful garden with the cats.
  • Finding bargain books. Perhaps one of my greatest joys in life, sourcing second-hand books in charity shops brings an inordinate amount of pleasure. In donating money to a worthy cause, I’m also adding to my self-help collection. It’s win-win.
  • The swell of pride and love that comes from seeing my gorgeous nephew G learning to walk on video.  He’s only just coming up to a year old, and seeing just how much he’s grown and changed in this short window of his life is incredible to witness. I’m a seriously proud Aunt.
  • A positive prescription review with my doctor. This is something I’ve debated about discussing on my blog, but I feel strongly that it’s important I’m open and honest if I want to influence positive change in the public discourse around mental health. Whilst I’ve had periods of mental ill-health since my teenage years, it’s only been around a year since I started taking medication for my depression and anxiety. A complex of reasons held me from seeking this particular form of help, not least of which was the stigma associated with taking “mental meds”.  Attending my annual medication review, my doctor was so pleased with my progress that he said I could consider stopping taking my pills if I felt ready. He thinks they’ve probably done their job by now; chemically “resetting my brain”, so to speak, and he assured me I’d be fine without them. Still, with my doctor’s full support I’ve chosen to stay on medication for now at least. Memories of how I used to feel remain that bit too raw to feel entirely confident in living without additional chemical support. I did, however, feel safe in the knowledge that I’ve got the right human support system in place for me to ensure I’m taking exquisite care of my mind.
  • Embracing a new hobby: gardening! After my introduction to planting last weekend (and with just the one casualty in our herb garden), I’ve seemingly caught the gardening bug. A couple of times this past few weeks have seen me take up my trowel and gloves, and turn to the turf as my newest means of stress-relief. In my (sort of futile) quest for weed-free crazy paving, I’m making a whole new job for C (who gets the pleasure of re-pointing). Yet being in touch with the soil, taking in the scent of the earth, I feel happy and reconnected with the world.
Chives

Garlic chives grown in my own garden

This Week I’m Grateful For

  • Positive health news from family members who are now thankfully cancer-free. This is a gratitude way bigger than I can express here, but it’s safe to say that this has brought a massive sense of relief and happiness from their loved ones.
  • Completing my Role Model challenge! Four weeks earlier I set myself a month-long challenge to seek life advice and inspiration from the world’s most successful people. Reaching the final chapter (literally!) of this experiment was a real achievement and I’m excited to share the results in the coming weeks. For now, you can catch up via my introduction, week one, two, and three posts. I’m currently writing up what happened in week four, so watch this space!
  • Making plans for family to move nearby. C’s sister and her brood sold their house this week, meaning my nieces are definitely coming to live round the corner from us over the Summer. Never really having family live nearby as an adult, it’s really exciting to see this come to fruition. Having the space in our new place to be able to host a last-minute visit from C’s sister, S, this past weekend was fantastic. I’m thankful that we’re able to support her in making their move a reality.
  • A long Bank Holiday weekend, including an extra afternoon off work.
  • The opportunity to wear a new dress to work. The weather stayed sufficiently sunny to be able to rock my new denim dress. Feeling like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”, it was amazing the difference I felt in wearing something totally different than my usual skinny-jeans-and-jumper uniform. Demonstrating my new dress by means of giving people a twirl, it was fun to feel girlish and cute – and unbelievably comfortable!
  • Yet another opportunity to wear my other new dress of a sunny Sunday. Being able to slip on a cotton sundress and enjoy feeling the heat on my skin was almost as delicious as the Bakewell tart-flavoured ice cream I ate this weekend.  I felt super glamourous and pretty, channelling fifties summer vibes in my straw hat.
  • Indulging in my biggest weakness – home-made cake! A slice of spicy carrot cake covered in lashings of sugary buttercream made my day.
  • Making a mini-speech at a work social took a few braves this week. Although I knew I’d be fine when I did it, I was a bit nervous beforehand. Bringing myself to this event, I even went as far as to use the word “love” in a work environment which for me, is a personal achievement of sorts.
  • Reflecting on my life experiences to help others came up this week as something I feel glad to be able to do. With the gift of time, it’s possible to use what I learnt from my own past failures to help someone else make progress in their own lives. Supporting one of our students to prepare for his job interview, I felt really positive about passing my life lessons onto someone for whom it may make a difference.
  • Genuinely feeling happy at work. If you’d asked me some years back when I was experiencing crippling anxiety, I’d have struggled to name a single positive thing about my job. These days, however, I can have a string of awesome days! Being able to relax and bring my whole self to my work has made a huge difference in terms of what I get out of it. Choosing to take a “can-do” attitude and determining to act from a place of love (rather than fear) has made such a positive impact on my working life, which rubs off on those around me.

Phew! A mega-post, as promised, so I’m truly grateful if you made it to the end with me!

x

The RMC: Week 3 Post (or why being open to love makes us stronger)

Read my introductory post to my Role Model Challenge (RMC), or if you’ve not yet caught up, you can read my findings from Week 1 and Week 2

So it’s third time lucky with this week’s RMC and I’m delighted to introduce my #RMCsquad3:

In the third week of my RMC I was lucky enough to have a second opportunity to be a “Keeper for the Day” at a local zoo. Having previously had an awesome time caring for the giraffes, I gratefully accepted my Dad’s kind offer to return in the Spring sunshine to work with rhinos. A belated joint Christmas-and-birthday present, my zoo day had finally arrived!

The morning before I was due to meet the rhinos I was really nervous. I needed my partner C and good friend D (via text) to remind me how much happiness my last zoo experience brought me to get me up and ready to go. As much as I adore animals, my social anxiety kicked into gear, determined to prevent me from enjoying my day before it had even begun.

Anxiously waiting at the zoo gates, I made the decision once again to choose love over fear. Reading Gabrielle Bernstein’s “The Universe Has your Back” reinforced that how I react in any given moment is a choice; I have control over my emotional state. Taking her guidance to heart when faced with fear, I silently repeated her mantra myself: “I choose to learn through love.” In so doing, this brought me back to a place of quiet confidence from which I was able to relax and be myself.

Realigning with gratitude in this way helped me make the best of a unique experience. Getting up-close with some of the world’s most endangered animals was truly humbling. Feeding the Bongo in particular was a stark reminder of just how privileged I am to meet these creatures before humanity potentially destroys them. I can honestly say that there’s nothing quite like scratching a rhino behind the ear to make you feel lucky to be alive!

I learnt that it’s hard to feel afraid when in awe of nature. Even when confronted with inappropriate, sexist comment I still consciouslychose love and had a brilliant time. This newfound self-assurance continued to influence other areas of my life. Upon my return home I felt empowered to speak out against the casual misogyny I’d witnessed. I feel strongly about young women not having to handle this kind of negativity, particularly at work. I believe the Universe had my back when I needed it this week, which gave me the inner strength to have other women’s’ backs in turn.

Proud of myself for my progress in becoming better, I’m excited to share my findings from this week’s RMC with you.

Fundamental Findings #1:  Build emotional fitnessimg_0045-1

Many mentors this week recommended cultivating emotional fitness as crucial to achieving success. Jocko Willink suggests we seek to “be emotionally strong”. He believes this to be more important than physical strength, which given his physically demanding former career as a U.S. Navy Seal, is really saying something! Jocko says that if we have the psychological strength to handle life’s challenges, we can build physical strength. This strikes a cord with me of late.

I truly believe that my body’s physical condition matters far less than my mental health. When I’m in a good mental state, then not only am I far more likely to take care of my body, but I can handle pretty much anything life throws at me.With emotions directing my behaviour towards my body, this implies that it’s emotional fitness which trumps all in my quest for holistic wellness.

Taking a slightly different perspective, Mike Maples Jr recommends you “be kind to yourself in your own mind.” Through the practise of self-care, this version of emotional fitness emphasises our individual capacity to build strength and resilience. To me, being “emotionally resilient” means using kindness, compassion, and self-respect to strengthen our ability to handle whatever difficulties life throws at us. In so doing we avoid the common trap of treating ourselves unkindly or cruelly in the misguided believe that bullying ourselves will drive change. This simply doesn’t works and will never achieve success.

I’ve been working on building this kind of emotional resilience for at least fifteen years now. Not something I learnt growing up, adversity has forced my hand to teach myself. I’m actually grateful to have had this opportunity to learn and grow. I now coach myself to be emotionally happier, healthier, and wealthier. In working on becoming better, I hope one day I can help others do this for themselves, too.

I heed Tony Robbins’ advice to take advantage of good times; using occasions when I feel emotionally fit to pursue my dreams. When I have this extra energy I up my mental training so that during those times where I don’t have this strength, I’m able to draw on skills I’ve already practise. Just this week I had cause to use self-care techniques and tricks to help myself recover from a “mental wobble”. Prioritising rest and sleep, seeking support from people who love me, and and alleviating the pressure having to “do” anything all contributed to a quick recovery.

For me, this is really what life is all about: As human beings we’re always on a path to becoming better. Our emotional strength lies at the heart of our ability to realise our life’s goals and dreams. Sometimes we’ve just got to put ourselves first to renew that strength.

Fundamental Findings #2: Find your purpose

img_0046Another theme in the advice from my #RMCSquad3 thought leaders this week is to “find your purpose”, which chronologically precedes #RMCSquad1’s guidance to “follow your passion”. Taking his typically military perspective, Jocko describes this as “finding your mission”; essentially accepting responsibility for the outcomes of your actions.

I define “finding my purpose” to mean discovering for myself who I really am and what positive change I wish to bring into the world. I’m pretty confident that Tony Robbins would agree with me, believing that “the purpose of a goal is WHO you become.” This reminds me to keep in mind what’s truly important when setting gaols and pursuing my ambitions.

So how do you even start to think about finding your purpose? This week’s mentors had plenty of advice to share on this, too. For example, author Soman Chainani suggests we consider our favourite childhood books and look to uncover the reasons why we loved to read them over and over again. He thinks that “somewhere in that book is the clue to not only what makes you tick, but also your life’s purpose. ”

My personal favourites are classic novels including “Jane Eyre”, “Little Women”, and “A Little Princess”. These books all feature female leads and share personal traits I admire: emotional strength, creativity, independence and bravery. Each leading character was eventually successful in their own right, entirely on their own terms. As an adult this is exactly the kind of woman I want to be: successful in my creative endeavours, and confident that I have the physical, mental, and emotional strength to handle whatever life throws at me.

Tony Robbins recommends we spend time finding our “why” by asking ourselves why something is a “must” to pursue. He believes that acquiring this deeper level of self-knowledge helps to sustain momentum in pursuing our dreams. As it happened, on the day I tested Tony’s theory my mood was really low. Coming out of nowhere, this depressive feeling knocked me off my feet. It took me a moment to stand up, dust myself off, and carry on, but having my “why” to focus on did make this a little easier. I refocused on my work, mentally eased up on myself, and actually achieved more than I’d have done on difficult days like this in the past.

When thinking about our life’s purpose, most of us automatically connect this to our career aspirations. I’m no exception in presuming that personal meaning ought to come from my paid work. When this isn’t necessarily the case I’ve felt frustrated, but Soman Chainani recommends separating those actions which earn money from those we do to fulfill our creativity.  Having a business (tutoring college students) that generates an independent income stream reduced his reliance on writing to earn a living, whilst also removing any potential pressure on his creativity. Instead of writing to live, he lives to write, which he values highly enough to keep his business going long after his writing career took off.

Inspired by finding my purpose, I’ve spent more time working on my writing and received some fantastic feedback on my blog. It made my day! Through writing I’m free to share my life’s lessons in the hopes of helping others. It’s where I find my flow, feel fulfilled, and re-energised. I’m grateful to have found that thing which makes my heart beat faster.

Fundamental Findings #3: Dare to be open-minded and open-hearted

img_0047-1Whilst many mentors talked about strength and purpose, just as many spoke about matters of the heart. Having an open heart and mind towards yourself and others is highly valued as a route to success. Possessing these qualities is thought to inspire greater creativity, a willingness to embrace new opportunities, and the potential to build positive relationships.

Being someone who approaches life with an open mind and heart sounds great, but that’s not to say it’s easy. Researcher Brene Brown’s work focuses on the “wholehearted”, whom she defines as people with a strong sense of self-worth; those who truly believe they deserve love and belonging. She focuses on understanding how they differ from people who struggle with shame.

Indeedopenness requires a degree of vulnerability and risk that makes most people uncomfortable. Instead of metaphorically “putting on armour” to protect ourselves from the world, we must instead make ourselves vulnerable to emotional pain. Ironically, it’s only by taking risks like this that we can hope to experience closeness and connection with others.

Brene sums up this dilemma in this quote:

“Our capacity for wholeheartness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted”. Brene Brown

Obviously Brene isn’t suggesting we tell just anyone our deepest secrets. When deciding to open our hearts up to others it makes sense to choose to take a calculated risk. This means making ourselves vulnerable to those whom we already love and trust; those that love and trust us too, and whom we believe deserve our faith. This lesson hit home with me this week when I realised that the actions I take to protect myself from hurt are the same things that sometimes limit my experience of love and connection.

Relating closely to the work of “spirit junkie” Gabrielle Bernstein, Brene’s research backs up the idea of making a conscious decision to choose love over fear. She emphasises that this is something we can work on – that we’re not stuck in a fixed mindset and can seek to become more open in our heart, mind, and soul. I’m confident in pursuing Brene’s approach because of her background in academia. She takes a scientifically-sound approach to her research, which I find reassuring.

However in spite of my skepticism I must admit to having what some might call a “spiritual moment”. Watching Brene’s video, it dawned on me that to feel loved and belong I have to allow myself to show my vulnerability. I must make a repeated choice to live in love and not fear, by which I mean those negative emotions including anxiety and depression which so easily overwhelm me.

This realisation hit me on Sunday morning and quite literally left me shaking. It could be a coincidence, but I chose to interpret this as a positive sign from the Universe that I’m on the right path for me. It started me thinking about whether I’d benefit from reading one of Brene’s books to study this subject in depth. Turning to find my Kindle in the middle of the bed (I’d not read it in weeks), I followed my intuition and bought the book immediately. Turns out that it’s exactly what I needed to read.

I like to think this week’s RMC has encouraged me to be open to whatever opportunities come my way. Yet in writing my words read like much of the “woo-woo spiritual sh*t” to which I’m normally averse. I’m a bit embarrassed to own them, if I’m being totally honest. Still I have to admit it feels good to trust that I’m coming into alignment with what I need right now. It shows in my choice of mentors, going with whomever I’m intuitively drawn to; whomever I believe has the capacity to help me become better.

I was pleased to learn the incredible Dita Von Teese backs me up in being open-minded to achieve my ambitions. Dita takes this advice one step further in her conviction that “…those of us who have intense desire but lack natural God-given talent sometimes find roundabout ways of realising dreams”. Essentially, she says if you want something badly enough, you’ll achieve this by whatever means necessary.

This perspective assumes knowing what we want and where to go. In line with the principles of the “Law of Attraction”, being clear in what you desire creates the possibility of finding a way to get there. Actor Jim Carrey supports this idea, citing his own life as evidence that miracles do come true if you believe in them strongly enough. Moved by his passion but not entirely convinced of its scientific accuracy, I think it’s more likely that our beliefs shape our behaviours, which in turn direct our lives. Hence positive thoughts lead to positive actions and yield positive results.

Overall Observations: Week 3

My #RMCsquad3 worked out well in delivering the guidance I needed this week. At difficult times I turned to thought leaders I already trust and admire; the Tony Robbins’, Gabby Bernstein’s, and Oprah Winfrey’s of the world. At the same time, it was exciting to be inspired by new (to me) successful people. Some mentors in this week’s line up were people I’d never heard of before, like Mike Maples Jr and Jesse Williams, whereas others had careers I’d heard of, but as people, I knew very little about them before taking on this RMC.

To date, my RMC has helped build my self-confidence. Reaffirming I’m on the path to my true purpose, this experiment has encouraged me to seek out even more role models than those I’ve studied in this challenge. Specifically I’ve been listening to Evan Carmichael’s audio book and found my one word: become. I’ll talk more about this in future posts, but it’s yet another exciting consequence of this challenge.

Even more importantly, following my passions with conviction helped lift me out of depression this week. It’s given me a way to positively channel my energy into developing my emotional strength. as opposed to reassuring my fears by controlling my body. Instead I’m taking a chance on opening my heart and mind to whatever opportunities come my way.

In following Jada Pinkett-Smith’s lead to “go with the flow” I’m genuinely becoming happier. As I head into the last week of my RMC I’m excited to see what more I can learn. With an inspiring list of thought leaders I’ve yet to turn to for guidance {including several female role models), I’m looking forward to the final week of this month’s experiment. Much like in this elegant and articulate quote from Jada, I hope to continue in m\\y pursuit of positivity, where “what I look for is the power… and the beauty in all things.”

The Tenth TWIG post (or how I’m speaking my story of thanksgiving in 2018)

I’ve reached a milestone this week: I’ve published my first ten TWIG posts – that’s ten weeks where I’ve put my gratitudes out into the Universe!

YellowFlower230518

Whilst having a gratitude practise isn’t new to me – I’ve been making lists I’m my journal for a few years now – being publicly thankful is new to me. As you’ll know if you followed my first challenge (it starts here, if you’re interested),  this year I began to practise speaking my gratitudes aloud as part of my morning walking to work ritual.

At first, voicing my reasons to be grateful felt false, and more than a little awkward.  I cringed inwardly whenever I audibly uttered my thanks, checking over my shoulder for whether anyone was within earshot. I was anxious about being overheard for fear of attracting judgement. When I realised I’d been self-censoring, I had a choice: hold myself back, or go all in, risking a bit of embarrassment. Committing myself to writing about my experiences for this blog, I chose to care more about my opinion of me than that of a stranger.

With practise, thankfulness has become my new norm in a relatively short period of time. I’ve found that, much like depression, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle: the more thanks I give, the more thankful I feel. The greater my gratitude, the more I find for which to be grateful. As I hear myself articulate my thanks, and the more I see my positive perspective published here, the more connected I feel to this side of myself.

Gratitude has quite literally changed my mind. It’s moved from residing in a predominantly negative place, to resting most often in a state of positivity. I’m seeing life through a different lens. When I look to the world, I’m generally searching for reasons to be glad. Despite how this sounds, I’m still no Pollyanna, but this “Happy Heather” version of myself is no longer a stranger. I hear her voice when I talk to myself on my morning commute, and also through her words here. I’m even starting to genuinely like her. I mean, me…

Giving myself permission to be happy is a process, much like anything worth pursuing in life. Still, by slowly allowing myself to become more openly optimistic I’m learning that it’s okay to be okay, and that’s… well, it’s more than okay.

In celebration of reaching this tenth TWIG post, I’ve written a top ten gratitude list for this year to share today. Admittedly, we’re not yet half-way through the year, but I feel like this is a timely opportunity to look back and see how far I’ve come. As Fatboy Slim said in his 1998* hit “you’ve come a long way, baby!”

*I have to just point out – this song is now twenty years old! I’m starting to feel really old, guys…

My Top 10 Gratitude List of 2018 (so far)

As it’s the tenth TWIG post, I thought I’d add a little “bonus” TWIG list and share with you my top ten things I’m grateful for this year (so far!). Here goes (in no particular order).

  1. YouTube. 

PurpleFlowers230518Okay, so I know it’s been around forever and I’m coming late to the game, but I have to speak out about YouTube, which has proved itself to be an awesome resource. For a self-help junkie like me, it’s like having free access to an online university featuring the most inspirational speakers, leaders and teachers in the field of self-improvement.

What’s more, YouTube integrates extra learning opportunities into my daily life. Playing videos in the background (often listening to them, rather than watching the screen), I’ve learnt loads whilst getting sh*t done. It’s turned daily chores like washing up, weeding, and even washing my face into opportunities for growth. I’ve even discovered new role models, thanks to the site’s ability to suggest videos I might like based on my viewing history.  I’d highly recommend YouTube as a tool for curating your own “University of Life” education. Just make sure you’re on WiFi (or have unlimited data) before you go all in!

2. Tony Robbins’ and my Hour of Power (HoP)

No, not a new Harry Potter spin-off series; it’s only the most useful tool I’ve build into my life this year!

My HoP is essentially the priming process which Tony speaks about a lot in his work, and which I’ve already talked about it detail in this post.  It’s down to personal preference as to what’s included in a priming ritual, but for me, I follow Tony’s advice to:

  • Move my body;
  • Change my breathing patterns;
  • Express gratitude for all I have;
  • Dream big about what I most want;
  • Plan for a positive day;
  • and finally, speak out my daily incantation.

I’ve got my HoP ritual down to perfectly fit my forty-five minute walk to work, and there’s never a day that goes by where I’m not glad to have taken the time to give myself this motivational mental massage!  It works so well for me that I feel confident in saying that Tony Robbins is an absolute hero. He insists in his Netflix documentary that “I am not your guru“, but he’s definitely one of the biggest influences upon me.

3. Spending our first year in our new house.

It feels like a million years since I bought my first-ever house with my partner C, but it was actually only late last Summer when we spent just fifteen minutes viewing the biggest purchase we’re ever likely to make. An empty bank account and seven months later, I can honestly say it feels like home.

And I’m so grateful for it! Every day when I look out of the window, I see more gorgeous flowers and plants coming into bloom. I hear birdsong and can open our French doors to let the outside in, and wander in the grass barefoot and in my pajamas! We no longer have to squeeze around one another because the new house has terrifically tall ceilings. We’ve tons of room for our things in a four-bed house with just us two (and the cats), so I’m no longer stressed about space. It’s perfect for us to host friends and family, and we’ve already had several people to stay. Whilst it’ll be a huge undertaking to renovate and make it into our dream house, I believe it’s already proving to have been worth every penny.

4. Getting to know my family.

Partly as a result of moving house, and partly down to intentional effort (on all of our parts), this year I feel like I’m getting to know my family better. Spending more time with my baby nephew, my two nieces, and with both C’s and my respective siblings has proved to be a real blessing.

I’ve learnt that whilst friends are the family we choose, I can choose to creative positive friendships with family. Getting to know my own two sisters has been a pleasant surprise, in that we’ve all got so much more in common as adults than we ever did when we lived together. We’re all way more alike than I’d have ever realised, had I not taken the time now to spend time with them. I appreciate how we can all accept each other as we are today, unlike when we’re with our parents and they generally refer back to us as we were as kids.

I’m also thrilled to be a part in the lives of the next generation. I absolutely adore being an Aunt! I never expected I would be that fussed, but it turns out that I am a natural children’s’ entertainer – though I suspect that’s partly down to my willingness to make an absolute fool of myself to get laughs. Not having children ourselves, and not knowing whether they feature in our future, I think both C and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to play a more hands-on role in the lives of the littlies than perhaps our own Aunts and Uncles played in our own.

5. My physical health.

This year I have a new appreciation for my body, knowing that people we love and care for are having to handle some serious health problems.

My body has been my personal battleground for many years. During times when I’ve fought with myself, I’ve essentially been seeking relief from emotional and mental pain. Using food and fitness as my weapons of choice, I’ve conducted this battle with my body through either self-harm or self-control.

However hearing of those whose bodies are suffering from ill-health has given me pause for thought about my own body. I’m grateful that my worries are merely superficial. I realised that it’s actually really hard to hate my body when it’s doing everything I ask of it. In objective terms, my body has worked hard to remain healthy, despite periods of self-inflicted abuse and neglect. Like most people, I take my healthy body for granted sometimes, because it’s easy to do whilst you have good health. Not so easy when you’re faced with illness and the very real, very difficult challenges this poses. Knowing of others in this position, I’m reminded of my good fortune to have my health, and also to appreciate what I don’t have, as well as all that I do.

6. Learning to let go of perfection.

YellowWhiteFlowers230518Okay, so I can’t take all the credit on this one, because in truth, I’m not entirely sure I made it a conscious decision to ease up on myself. Yet somehow I’ve let loose a little, specifically in the area of  food, fitness, and my body. As I’ve already said, this is a challenge for me, and one in which I continue to work on becoming better.

After reflecting on this, I believe this to be the result of a practical change in life circumstances (i.e. moving house),  and a slowly dawning realisation that my constant striving for perfection – and not my body –  is limiting my happiness.

Rather than allowing myself to be driven by fear, I’m trying to choose to act according to what will make me happy. That’s to say, not shaping my life around what will “guarantee” that I maintain a particular number on the scales, but instead seriously considering what my heart wants. It’s not comfortable – I’m not sure when , or if, it will become so – but I do feel happier. I’m braver, I feel more beautiful and I’m emotionally stronger today than when I was last at my “fighting weight”. I feel in my heart, as well as (intellectually) in my head, that I’m genuinely less attached to the idea that my worth is tied up in being thin. That is a perfectly imperfect accomplishment, in my book.

7. Spending more quality time with C

Making a major life decision – like buying our first home together – necessitates change.  Practically-speaking, living in a new place means tweaking my daily routine, which has been challenging for us both. C has to drive a new route to work,  learning to traverse the winding country lanes, finding new short-cuts (and traffic jams) en-route.

For me, it’s been more of a mental shift, and one that’s taken a little time to adjust. Realising the impracticality of attending my regular Sunday fitness class, I made the decision to stop going and incorporate more exercise into my working week. Having religiously shown up to class for a good few years now, it felt hard to give up. At first, I missed it a lot and found it hard to adjust to a weekend with no formal fitness.

Instead, I spend my Sundays with C and I think this time has been one of the most valuable investments I’ve made this year. If I’m honest, at first it wasn’t so much fun. From February, our weekends were filled with a seemingly endless stream of cleaning and DIY as we worked on “Project 171”; the renovation of our old house in preparation for its sale. However I now believe that having this joint project brought us closer together. In spite of the moments of frustration, annoyance and general tiredness, I learnt a lot from C and (I hope!) vice versa.

Now our old house on the market, we’ve reclaimed our weekends – and it’s amazing! Whiling away our newfound time together we’ve been pottering in our beautiful blooming garden; having family and friends to stay, and simply spending our days together visiting places we love. When I really think about it, such a simple change of routine makes such a huge impact on how connected I feel to my partner.

This year has confirmed to me the value of investing quality time and energy into my relationship. I already knew this to be the case intellectually. However seeing in practice how much happier we both are as a result of changing my routine has me reconsidering my priorities. I’m therefore in the process of learning yet another major life lesson this year: making my relationship – our love –  a priority.  Already I’m thinking about designing another month-long challenge, and I suspect it will focus on this area of my life.

8. Learning new skills

PurpleDaisy230518Since completing “Project 171” I feel a new level of respect for my partner C. I mean, I knew he was a smart cookie – I wouldn’t have held out ten years had he not been more than a pretty face – but what I don’t often get to see is how he is in a “work-like” environment. It reminded me why I instinctively felt safe and trusted him from the get-go; he’s a quiet but brilliant teacher and leader.

Working on this project, I took the role of project planner, but as I don’t know anything about DIY, I had to rely on C’s instruction to actually get the work done. In a couple of months, he taught me all sorts of new skills, from how to prepare walls for painting to how to regrout tiles. His hard-working attitude carried us through times when my attention had long-since waned (normally when the cake had run out). My positivity, enthusiasm and energy was balanced by his rationality, consideration and patience, not only with the project but with me, too, as a newbie on the DIY scene!

Another new skill I’m learning this year is to garden. Having poured our life savings into a house with a massive mature garden, it’s kind of a must that I get involved in its maintenance. However I’m genuinely surprised to be finding this much pleasure in it! Being outside amongst the rainbow-coloured flowers, surrounded by green grass and blue skies (my favourite colours of late) makes me feel happy and relaxed. When I came home from work this week feeling a little stressed, I decided I’d spend an hour or so scraping moss (don’t ask) in the sun, and it totally recharged my body and mind.

9. Feeling happier at work.

Retuning my mind towards the positive has enabled me to become better at my job. I’ve embraced my strengths and in so doing, I’m more inclined to seek out opportunities in which to use my best skills. Speaking out at meetings front of senior colleagues, leading training seminars, and using social media to motivating those I manage in their work, I feel like I’m really making a difference in work these days.

Being more fulfilled in my day-job has given me a greater level of confidence in pursuing my personal passions outside of work. I’ve got more faith in my own talents and abilities, which has helped me gain momentum in writing this blog. I’m even using my down-time more productively – not simply surfing the web, or scrolling Facebook!

And last, but most certainly not least…

10. Writing this blog. 

Perhaps the thing that’s given me the most joy to date is writing this blog! It sounds rather dramatic, but I feel like I’m becoming the person I was meant to be. Whilst publishing my writing makes me vulnerable to public criticism, it made me more determined to keep my commitment, not only to the blog but also to myself. Finding the thing I truly love to do, I’m no longer willing to let myself down. I’m keeping my promise to myself, writing often, which gives me pleasure and has a positive cyclical effect, meaning I’m spending more time writing and creating.

Through writing I’ve found my personal passion: sharing what I’m learning to help myself and others become our best selves. Motivating me to pursue my personal ambition of becoming better (by which I mean becoming happier, healthier and emotionally wealthier), this is an invaluable discovery that’s improved my quality of my life.

Since publishing my writing, my mind’s opened up to being more creative generally. Working on the blog inspired me to start writing my book, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. Inspired by the creative momentum of writing regularly, I’ve even had several new ideas for potential business ventures!

As we approach the middle of this year, I’m feeling optimistic about the coming months. I’ve a lot to be grateful for so far. Whether I do that when marching to work out loud to myself, or in sharing my thoughts in posts like this, I’m excited for what the future holds. I’m learning that positivity is a genuinely good feeling and I think I’ll stick to this positivity malarkey a little while longer.

x

 

 

 

 

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 Ninth TWIG Post (or how I’m defeating my fears by choosing love)

After taking an extra-long May Bank Holiday break, having to go back to being in the office – even for just two days – felt like the longest (short) work week ever. This was amplified by my shockingly sharp slide into a state of depression. Heavy and dark, it felt like someone had thrown a thick Winter blanket over my head on a hot Summer’s day. With lethargy, hopelessness and despair tugging at my sleeve, it took all of my energy to get through the day. Slowing down to where my body felt like lead, walking to the bus stop took an extraordinary effort. Even  being outside in the sunshine felt painful.

Even to me, this description sounds overly dramatic, but I intentionally use these words because that’s exactly how it feels. In my experience, depression is incredibly dramatic and makes me behave in a seemingly self-centred way, which only adds to the feelings of shame that come with being afflicted by this negative mental state.

Waking up the next day with only a mild anxiety hangover as proof of the previous day’s drama, I started thinking about how different my emotional life is today. Most days, I wake up happy, without worry, and believing that I have future that’s worth living for. If I were a religious person (which I’m not), I’d cite this as miraculous; the polar opposite of my experience living in depression for most of my life.

I’ve learnt that our mindset is a choice.  It’s a choice available to all, and we can choose to change at any time. By choosing to have a positive and optimistic mindset, by practicing choosing love and happiness over fear, then this is the state in which I find myself most of the time.  I’m a different person because I’m making different choices. 

Reminding me how awful life feels with depression, this week I’m thankful to have had the opportunity this week to prove to myself how emotionally resilient I am.  Still, knowing for certain that these particular feelings would pass – that I can have a few “wobbly” days and return quickly to a state of  happiness and joy – is still a miracle to me.

So, in this spirit of renewed appreciation, here’s my thank you list to the Universe for this week!

This Week I’m Grateful for

Zebra

Getting up close with a herd of zebra, like you do.

  • Being a zoo keeper for the day again! After an incredible experience taking care of the giraffes last year, my Dad kindly gifted me another day as a keeper at Chester Zoo. Working alongside the rhino team, I had the opportunity to get up-close and personal with some of the world’s most endangered species. I had the privilege of hand-feeding two rare Bongos, of which there are just 150 of these beautiful deer-like animals in captivity, and only around the same number in the wild. I also got to hang out among zebra, and make friends with a rhinoceros named Benny, who happens to be the same age as me. Scratching a rhino behind the ears, I had to wonder – how many people in the world are lucky enough to be able to say that?!

    Heather&amp;Bongo

    Feeding a rare Bongo (I hadn’t heard of these before either) with cabbage.

  • Having a super short working week.
  • Being committed to fitness as a lifestyle. Determined to re-establish my exercise regime – regardless of how many times it’s been disrupted of late – I went to the gym after work on Friday. I appreciation of how crucial working out is to my mental and physical fitness, so whilst I don’t want to go to the gym in the moment, I do it anyway. I felt good about acting in my own best interests, and doing the next right thing.
  • Publishing my Week One Role Model Challenge (RMC) post. Unusually for a blog, it’s a long-form article and I was inspired by Tim Ferriss to have confidence in my own style and the readers would come. I’m really proud of it as it’s so authentically me, I didn’t care whether or not people liked it because I like it.  I was therefore delighted to get positive feedback from readers. It made my day!
  • Having the confidence to take up the feminist cause. This week I came across a man whose attitude towards women at work was positively prehistoric. Grateful not to have to work alongside him myself, I was acutely aware of the young women who do. This drove me to speak out today so that other women don’t have to put up with this kind of sh*t in future. Now in my mid-thirties, I feel capable of standing up to misogyny. I’m proud to have the emotional strength to handle any fall-out from complaining about the immature behaviour of a grown man.
  • Being with a man like C, whose kindness, compassion and consideration for me, and others, seems to be above and beyond that of most ordinary humans. Despite terrible toothache (resulting in a painful extraction – ouch!), he put me and my he my (mentally) fragile state ahead of his needs by cooking us chilli for dinner, boiling my breakfast eggs for work, and downloading a superhero film for Thursday night movie night. I suspect he even made me my supper cup of tea (because tea always tastes better when someone else makes it). These seemingly small individual acts of love helped massively to get me out of a depressive state and confirm for me that he’s my hero – just don’t tell him I said so!
  • Receiving an invite to my nephew’s first birthday party! It’s not for a couple of months yet, and I’m already excited to be part of his first birthday celebrations.
  • Making plans to spend more time with my sisters over the next year. Already having spent more time with them this past year than I have for most of my twenties, as I’ve said in previous posts, I really appreciate the chance to get to know each other as friends.  We’re creating experiences and memories together, which is priceless.
  • Writing all Saturday afternoon. Having this time to myself to write was a real treat. Borrowing C’s mega computer, with its clinky-clunky noisy keys, I really enjoyed getting into my “flow” and accomplishing my goal of publishing my latest blog post.
  • Fitting into my leather jacket. Okay, so this is a slightly superficial gratitude, but bear with me here. Not having put this on since last Summer, I was afraid it might be too tight for me after letting go of the super-strict food and fitness regime I’ve lived by for the past four or five years.  I’m proud of myself for seeking greater balance, and as a result I’m happier and more relaxed. As a consequence, I’ve gained a few pounds and in all honestly, I’m not entirely comfortable with that. It’s brought back painful old stories of my being not thin (read:good) enough. Slipping on my jacket to find it fits fine helped prove to me that being a little heavier doesn’t equate to my being fat.
  • Receiving my Psychologies magazine in the post. Arriving this weekend and as if manifested by magic – this month’s issue features the very topic of working on rewriting our stories in an empowering way.
  • Rediscovering Brené Brown via her TED talks this weekend, it feels like the Universe is working to bring me that I need as I came across her work at precisely the right time.  I needed to hear her message about vulnerability being a sign not of weakness, but of courage and strength. I bought one of her Kindle books after the Universe called me to action. Feeling inspired by her videos, and debating whether to buy her book, my Kindle appeared on the bed out of nowhere – I’ve not read on it in weeks! I take this to be a sign from the Universe and went with my intuition to invest in her work. After all, buying a book is never a bad purchase.

    StreetMarket13May18

    Sunny Sunday at the street market

  • A sunny Sunday morning at a local street market. In perfect pottering weather, C and I visited a new local street market for the first time. Collecting a ton of business cards and ideas for our creating a terrarium for my garden living room, I came away with a tiny knitted turtle (to live on my desk), home-made cake and C bought some local art. We also ate delicious Caribbean street food, and I even had peanut butter and jelly gelato for dessert!
  • The pleasure of a good charity shop find. We bought a green glass vase and a small ceramic pot for under £2.50, which perfectly fit with my vision for our garden room. I filled the vase with bluebells from our garden, and it looks beautiful.
  • A glass jellyfish paperweight ornament. It sounds bonkers, but it’s a truly beautiful find.
  • Tea and cake on our patio of a sunny afternoon.

    HerbGarden13May18

    Our herb garden and my very first attempt at grown-up gardening!

  • Filling my home and garden with plants. Neither being an indoor or outdoor gardener by any means, I adore being surrounded with greenery and thus am taking steps to become more of a horticulturalist. This weekend I began to realise my vision of a plethora of plants overtaking our back living room by buying its first few potted plants. This room we refer to as the “garden room” because its French doors open up onto the garden, and I’m excited about bringing a bit of the outdoors in.

Let’s hope for another week of sunshine!

x

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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