Project HeatherED

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Tag: self-help (page 1 of 2)

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 First-in-a-Fortnight Post (or why I’m struggling to share my experience of a mental meltdown)

As anyone who follows me on Facebook already knows, I’m currently on sick leave for mental health reasons. Though there’s never a simple explanation for these things, in my case, depression and anxiety are once again on the scene.

It’s the first time I’ve ever taken time off work like this. It’s not at all like I expected.

I imagined that if I were to ever “give in” and stay home – and yes, that’s how I’ve thought about it; at least as it applies to myself –  I’d have to be at my very worst.

Emotionally uncontrollable; my life falling apart at the seams; borderline suicidal.

Closer to self-destruction than ever before. More so than even my twenty-something self who found herself standing at the platform’s edge at a Parisian station wanting so badly to put an end to her pain.

You’ll be pleased to hear that nothing so dramatic brought me to this place. I simply found myself overwhelmed and overloaded by everyday life.

Eventually, it’s like my mind simply switched off. Refused to reboot.

Long story short, I tried to carry on as normal. I briefly existed in a zombie-like state, staring at my computer screen. However I couldn’t keep up the pretence of being okay. After a meeting with my manager, we agreed I needed to head home, rest and relaxation to temporarily replace to-do lists.

Turns out that sick leave after a mental meltdown looks rather different from that of any other illness.

Unlike being home with the flu (or, more likely, a cold), being absent from work for mental reasons doesn’t mean you’re housebound. On the contrary, getting out and about is a sign of being en route to recovery. Coffee dates with friends, going to gym classes, taking long walks in the countryside.  In theory, I can do whatever I like, whenever I like, and go wherever I wish. Sounds idyllic!

Yet this is at odds with the reality, at least in my experience.  

Whilst I’m not technically limited as to what I can do, I’m mentally restricted by how much I feel I can handle. Which isn’t anywhere near as much as I’d like. Effectively burnt out, my brain seems to have gone into hibernation. Physically, I might not be tucked up in bed, but my brain seems to have retreated, metaphorically tucking itself in with a hot water bottle to wait this thing out. 

Like when a computer hasn’t been properly shut down, I feel like I’ve restarted in “safety mode”. Only the most basic programs are running , and even they have limited functionality. Sleep, eat, read, TV, repeat. 

Concentration compromised, I can only focus on one thing at a time. Single-tasking is the order of the day. This I’ve found to be frustratingly slow going. Like most women, I’m a prolific multi-tasker so it’s positively painful to have to relearn this skill – and it is a skill – which isn’t as easy as you’d think.

Even then, my brain refuses to entertain anything complex. This thwarts any ingenious ideas as to how I might maximise my time. Learning anything new (like much-needed skills in web design) falls to the wayside, requiring a depth of thought of which I’m not currently capable. 

Instead I’m forced to stick to the most simplistic, surface-level subjects. Superheroes series are proving to be especially soothing to my tired mind. I can escape into Marvel (always, over DC) movies for a few hours.

Reading about recovery from depressive illness, it turns out I’m unintentionally doing the best thing to give my brain a break:

“The answers are to find any way that you can of keeping your brain just idling, to avoid any challenging activities wherever possible and to do what you have to do in very small chunks. Best of all, be passive. The ideal would be an undiluted diet of Australian soap operas, if you can stomach that sort of thing. They allow you to sit and not ruminate – a sort of mental wallpaper, filling up the space and covering over the cracks.”

Dr Tim CantopherDepressive Illness: The curse of the strong

(2003, p.38)

 

Whilst I’ve zero intention of reviving my interest in “Neighbours” or “Home and Away”, I am partial to a bit of reality TV.  “Made in Chelsea” is currently topping the bill of tolerable TV trash, but other firm favourites include anything “Housewives”, and pretty much everything on TLC (“Say Yes To The Dress”, anyone?!).  This is one time when even C deems reality TV acceptable, though I’m saving him from the very worst of this by indulging during working hours.

On a more serious note,  I’m finding it frustratingly difficult to do the things I love most. Ironically, these are the same things that are most likely to help me heal. Take writing, for example. It’s taken me more than a fortnight to create something I feel comfortable publishing. This is the longest I’ve ever left between blog posts. Not feeling able to put words to my experience hurts more than just about anything when it comes to being mentally unwell. My throat tightens just thinking about it.

So, in an effort to overcome this particularly painful obstacle, I’ve pushed myself to publish this imperfect post today.

To give you an idea as to how challenging this has been, I started to write over a brew that C Kindly made for me before leaving for work. On a Monday morning whilst the rest of the world is working, I’m still sitting on the sofa, typing away on my Mac, unwashed in my PJs.  I finished the first draft around midday – over three hours later! Honestly, it’s taken me most of my day to create something that spans just a thousand words.

As you can tell, it’s frustratingly, painfully, s-l-o-w progress and it certainly isn’t the best piece I’ve ever written. (Those you can find here and here!)

However it’s important to me to write and share this with you. By putting my words into the world again, I’ve achieved something today for which I can feel proud. I’m not back to my best just yet, but I am making moves to counter my mental meltdown. I’m working towards become better, which is ultimately the essence of the recovery process.

In publishing this very post, I’ve taken a tiny step in a positive direction – and Reader: 

I’m grateful to have you with me. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeatherED’s Three Things to Start Building Self-Belief

#1: Make decisions up-front.

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

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

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

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

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

#2: Get grateful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

#3 Be a copy-cat.

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

If in doubt, I role model it out!

(Ack! So cheesy I made myself cringe!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What helps you become better at building self-confidence?

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

Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

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

Okay, so…

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

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

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

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

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

Emotionally, I was already such a mess. Dragging myself through my days, I was at least getting by, albeit so miserably sometimes I wondered how long I’d be able to stand it. I didn’t believe I could cope if medication made me worse, whereas I’d coped thus far. I hedged my bets with the devil I knew, so to speak.
PurplePansy_090718Fear held me back from medication. Yet in the end love helped me move forward and give it a try. I realised it was never about medication alone. The right combination of people, circumstances, and my own increasingly positive, rational mindset came together to make medication a manageable method of mediating my mental fitness.
An incredible CBT therapist helped me find the inner strength to decide what was right for myself – based only on my experience and my feelings. A fantastic doctor spoke of medication in such rational, and yet positive terms, he made it easy for me to trust that I stood as good a chance as anyone that it might work. My ever-patient partner, C, stood by, nervously waiting to see what repercussions there might be, but choosing to overcome his fears around mental health meds, standing by me nonetheless.
As it happens medication turned out to be my missing puzzle piece. Taking a mild dose of Prozac helps me feel like a better version of myself: a happier, more positive, and generally more peaceful kind of Heather.
The endless chatter inside my mind was turned right down almost instantly. The exhausting, rebel-rousing thoughts that led me to behave in self-destructive ways stopped bothering me quite so often. At long last, I had the mental space to regain the energies I needed become better. After years of working on recovery, reading self-help, dedicated to self-development, and making positive change, the marvels of modern medicine seemed to bring all the pieces together into a coherent picture of a perfectly imperfect person.
As expected, medication isn’t a guaranteed cure-all in the case of our minds. Our brains being such complex organisms it makes sense that chemical conditioning alone will only do so much. It’s almost impossible to understand how our minds definitively work, even for the most intelligent among us.
What’s more, I’m fortunate that the medicine’s side effects are minor for me. Most people have to try several different tablets before something has enough of a benefit to outweigh any potential problems they might cause. My first fortnight felt a little disorientating at times as I got used to the internal quiet. Then the excitement – sheer exhilaration – of living without the “black dog” hanging over me, as Churchill put it, was such that I became hyperactive.
PurpleHydrangea_090718I still get moments of giddiness now and again, but after years of depression it’s rather a relief to know I can feel such joy. After all, this could be my “real” personality without the shadow of mental illness looming large – who knows?! Other than this, I’m relatively restless, toe-tapping and sometimes kicking C in my sleep (or so he says), but all things taken into consideration I’d settle for these minor irritations over perpetual gloom, doom, and self-hatred any day.
My experiences lead me to lean towards the camp of those in support of trying medication for mental illness. Provided it’s taken under suitable medical supervision, and the person has appropriate emotional support in place, I’d certainly give it some serious consideration. It worked so well for me that for a while after first starting my pills, I felt sad because I wished I’d tried it much, much sooner.
Yet discussing this with C at the time helped me to appreciate how medication will always be a bit of a gamble. It’s rather like the “chicken or egg” dilemma, in that I’ll never know whether my becoming better was down to the pills in and of themselves. It’s likely to be a combination of timing, mindset, chemical alchemy, and the blood, sweat, and tears I poured into my recovery those ten years prior.
Having build up my own mental fitness over many years no doubt added to my arsenal of weapons against my mental demons.  And still I sometimes wonder whether I’d be writing at all had it not been for the tiny green-and-yellow capsules that sit on my bedside table.
FluroPinkRose_090718
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Let me know in the comments or over on my Facebook page.

The 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 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

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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&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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