Reflection & Patterns

The Mindset Breakthrough: Shifting from Guilt to Gratitude

Over the festive holidays, I visited my in-laws to reflect on the year, open presents and share good food. I find spending time with people over the holidays always sparks great conversations, because they often have a different view from my own experiences. Conversations are great for questioning our mindset.

While discussing a soon-to-born-baby in the family, my mother-in-law said something that really got me thinking about the self-development idea of ‘shifting your perspective’ and re-framing in general.

An Emotional Situation

The story was of two pregnant women, with similar due dates. They bonded on the shared milestones and supported each other throughout the pregnancies.

When the first lady gave birth, one of the second lady’s response was “she’s got her baby, I want mine now. I’m tired and exhausted and I want to hold my baby now like she can.”

We are trained to compare and contrast experiences: it’s how we learn.

But this friend’s baby as unwell. It had been born prematurely, and the child actually died young due to a medical condition. When the second lady had her baby: a healthy boy, she continued that friendship with the other mother; yet there was obviously a difference in the milestones and experiences.

Through this story, sitting with a warm tea on a cold winter’s day, I shivered. My brain instantly rushed forward, imagining how that relationship must have brought such guilt at having a healthy child when this lady did not.

But my mother-in-law didn’t say that. She smiled, looking at an image of her sons, and simply stated: “It made me so grateful for my baby’s health, and I never forgot, never took for granted that my family was healthy.”

Whoosh.

Where my mindset labelled “guilt” and my stomach felt uneasy at the awkwardness of such a friendship with continue holding… her mindset only saw gratitude. I could feel it, of course any mother would be so grateful for their child’s health when she’d experienced that.

Perspective is Not About Lying to Yourself

This is not “oh, I should feel grateful. let me re-frame this horribly uncomfortable situation.” This was her natural response. And having not experienced childbirth myself, I can only imagine those kinds of experiences. But from visualising the guilt and unease, I found myself really able to listen to her viewpoint, and focus on how she expressed the situation.

And that unease in my stomach, just dissolved. 

I don’t instantly believe anyone can just think there way out of illness or focusing their thoughts will make them win the lottery. But my thoughts about this event were causing my body discomfort and my heart pain.

Yet, guilt in this instant was not a fact. Focusing my attention on the gratitude completely shifted my experience of the situation, although all I actually did, was shift my mental focus.

Sometimes, shifting our attention can really cause a change in our feelings. It’s just a case of perspective.

Reflection & Patterns

How to Train Your Brain Like you Would Teach a Child

A few years ago I worked for Children’s Services as a Family Support Worker. I taught boundary-setting skills, educated parents and schools on brain development, and essentially used all the brain-training hacks I’d learned in my degrees.

I didn’t have children at the time, but I was paid to support parents with… parenting.

Let’s say I met quite a bit of resistance, but I did my research and I knew my ‘stuff.’ My colleagues, with children of their own, or even just looking old enough to have children, were not questioned as I was. These days, I would let the results speak for themselves, but I’m a bit of a scholar. So instead, I did the research, and I quoted it at them.

But the more experience I have of living as a human being in this world, the more connections I see between the “how to parent” advice, and the neurobiology of a human thriving at *any age*… So many of those “hack your goals” or “habits of highly successful people” follows the same patterns of the behaviour I was trained to encourage as a support worker.

So. Let’s think about how this can be applied to brain-training in your life.

Applying the Lessons

For example, a key focus in parenting classes for toddlers and school-aged children is that of structure and routines: of giving the child some sense of stability and predictability.

No humans like uncertainty, and the way we slowly forget to give ourselves at least some semblance of structure always fascinates me.

Think about your general daily routines.

brain-training-teaching-child

Do you have a ‘bedtime’ aim? Do you have meals around the same time? How about a set of tasks you do the same each morning to get ready for the day?

Yet, programming our bodies with these kinds of primers can be so helpful in feeling well, rested and balanced across our days.

Of course, we all have different levels of structure that works for us. Some people are night owls while others are morning larks, so it pays to reflect on which routines will best support you in your daily life.

Similarly, when you make goals, do you give yourself reminders, reward the positive actions, and review your progress regularly, like you would with a child’s sticker chart? Do you renew your commitment often? Because that seems to be one of the most common themes in the science of success.

Physical Space

Everything from setting daily routines to how we organise our physical space to can be applied to adults, and although the aspects often have different names, the concepts are often shared by highly successful people.

I’d like you to think about a pre-school classroom. If you’ve not seen one lately, any school setting from a movie should do the trick. 

What makes it easy for the children and teacher to navigate the space?

Often, there might be set “zones” for items. The dressing-up clothes are in a carpeted area in the corner, beside… you guessed it… the dressing up clothes.

In order to make things simple for a child, there are set rules and structure to their day:

  • Time for Dressing Up
  • Area to Dress-up In
  • Dressing up items kept in/near to that area
  • Defined end-point of Dressing up time
  • Expectation and clear space to put clothes away

Computer Simulations

I’m old enough to remember the original Sims video game, where you would ‘play god’ for some unsuspecting humans, choosing how they spend their days and trying to keep them healthy and happy (at least, most of the time).

One of the key understandings to make that game less stressful, if trying to keep everyone in a positive place, was the idea of flow in the house, which benefited the character’s energy levels.

In the kitchen, for example, I would follow the following order:
Fridge, workspace, cooker, workspace, workspace, sink, with the bin close-by.

Why does this matter?

Because if the simulated characters couldn’t do the next “task in their to-do list” it expended extra energy, and they became grumpy.

The typical ‘cooking’ act following the same steps:

1. Remove item from fridge

2. Chop items on work surface

3. Boil items in pan

4. Serve on plates (workspace 2)

5. Stand to eat/eat at table, then return to put dirty dishes beside sink (work space 3) or immediately wash up.

By organising the environment around my characters to follow their ‘flow’ of the tasks, I could keep them happier and more energised.

Flow is Important

We think about this with children, and with electronic people… why don’t we consider this idea for ourselves? Across the brain-training manuals, goal-setting worksheets and my neuroscience degrees, this wasn’t a clear area mentioned to consider.

How can we harness this?

  • Firstly, consider where you want to improve your flow, what aspect of brain-training you want to alter.
  • Place similar aspects together: put your gym bag by the door so you don’t forget it, or set a reminder to review your goals when you’d already be looking at your phone.
  • Consider how you arrange your physical and digital space. Re-arrange the furniture, if necessary, and watch how your sense of flow changes.

~

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Reflection & Patterns

Conquer Self-Development with the Right Practice For You

When it comes to self-development advice, we’re bombarded. Even I have a bundle of worksheets to help people find the tools which actually work for them. 

One thread comments on the importance of setting actionable goals. Another strand emphasises the role of visualisation and acting ‘as if.’ A third route professes the strength behind gratitude and just letting things naturally form in their own way: finding the opportunities and just saying Yes.

In reality, this is as useful as writing advice. The secret really is elusive amidst all the various advice and opinions:

What works is the tool or technique which ends up with you doing the thing.

Some writers need to plan ahead, to plot out the scenes and follow the map. Others find themselves inspired by hitting each crossroad and making the directional decision once they reach it. Some writers wake at 5am and do 3 solid hours of writing a day. Others stay up late, getting the words out in short, 15-minute bursts.

As for dieters, you know yourself best. I can easily stop eating chocolate by not having it in the house. I may crave it, but I’ll find honey or cocoa powder in a protein bar meets the need fine. However, if I have a 5-pack of chocolate bars in the house, I can’t just have 1 at a time. It’s not how I work.

In terms of self-development, the same rule applies.

Do What Works For You.

Now, this is mostly frustrating because at the beginning, its trial and error. And that includes that forbidden F-word: failure.

But equally, knowing which tools to try can be daunting. We’d all like to fail the fewest times possible before finding success, right?

The thing most people forget to do in this process, is Review each technique. Think back to the last goal or habit you attempted.

What ‘technique’ did you use:

  • an all-or-nothing approach
  • a well-planned strategy
  • small-but-steady steps of change
  • on-a-whim decisions
  • something else?

And did it work for you, this time?

Through reflecting on what worked for you, you’ll be able to learn which techniques are worth trying again.

Of course, we all change, and different situations may require approaches: but having an idea of what progress does or doesn’t look like for you, will speed up the process in both achieving your goals, and changing course as you notice things aren’t working.

It’s not the answer people necessarily want, but in reality, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We are all unique, and reflecting on our uniquity is the best way to discover what will lead us to the best results when it comes to self improvement.

 

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Reflection & Patterns

More Reflection: A Magic Key to Self-Improvement

There’s so much pressure in the modern day to be continually improving: to attain ‘success.’ And to feel fulfilment at every moment.

Defining Self-Improvement

As a millennial [defined very broadly as being born between 1980 and 2000], we’re expected to manage everything. From work, play, and having the perfect instagram feeds to being polite, never feel depressed, support a family, and de-clutter our lives all the time.

And yet, the price of food compared to our wages has a wider gap than it used to. We tend to work longer hours. Having access to work emails on mobiles doesn’t help us balance our time on things which will sustain us.

And yet, where on earth do you start on the path to self-improvement? With so many different theories to follow, never-ending research papers and variable results depending on the person, it’s hard to know how to begin.

The Inner Drive

I bought my first self-help book when I was around 12-years-old, and every step of my path has focused on the idea of improvement. Thinking back, I can’t remember a time I didn’t seek reaching some unknown potential. I was quietly obsessed with unlocking inner strength. Although I can’t explain where this unwavering faith in my possibilities comes from, I’ve had it for decades.

I’ve tried everything from CBT and taking up Karate (green belt, you know) to Desire-focused Planners, looking at my use of language and a regular practise of loving-kindness meditation to unlock this consistent sense of betterment.

A Key to Long-Term Success

It’s hard to advise what may work for different people, except via trial-and-error, but one method that’s at least worth considering is the idea of “Small Steps Add Up.” There’s a Japanese term described as Kaizen, which focuses on improving in 1% increments. The philosophy also considers the whole of self-improvement as a journey, rather than a destination.

As a seeker of my potential since I was young, I wage inner wars about this idea: that I can never truly reach my fullest potential because we change with life experience. Yet, it is through striving to be better that allows us to improve.

Remembering Your Level

This week, a friend and fellow write Ellie Di Julio posted about a multi-story car park sign, and the meanings associated with its message: Remember Your Level.

In the midst of that post, she wrote something that really struck a chord with me:

“But the key to leveling up is knowing where you are now.”

This is so often the missed-out-step in self-improvement. How can we measure if a 1% increase, collective baby steps, make a difference without knowing where we started?

I’m currently running my Bring About Balance group program, and it’s been interesting to watch how various people ‘take stock’ of their current situation, and what may be working well, as well as the perceived desires for change.

“Knowing where you are in relation to where you were is how you get to where you’re going.”

It’s time to reflect: What’s your level?

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Reflection & Patterns

The Myth of Fresh Starts: How to Stay ‘On Track’

There is a culture of wanting ‘fresh starts’, usually focusing on making new choices.

Most of us have experienced ourselves, or someone we know saying “oh, well I’ll start again tomorrow / next week / in the New Year” when that person has made a choice that does not fit in line with their overall goal.

People have a few ways of describing behaviour, but today I want to think about ‘falling off the wagon.’

Firstly, we have control over our actions.

Of course we have desires and fears, but in any one moment, most of us have at least some level of choice and control over what we are doing.

Part of that decision might be about facing the fact we’re no longer a five-year-old, and that actually we know better than doing this. We can control our impulses and desires, and actually, writing that book for five minutes a day will lead to a finished book in a year or two. Walking half a mile a day will support a level of fitness that allows you to run for a bus in 6 months time.

Sometimes, the longer-term gains are just worth that 5 minute decision today. 

Equally, we don’t need to pick a specific time to get back on track — if I’ve just had a chocolate bar before lunch, I can immediately go grab a glass of water and a salad to counter some of that, and to fill me up before I let the hunger control my next eating choice. You can get back on track immediately, and in a week’s time, that chocolate bar won’t even matter.

Every single choice can move us towards our goals, or away from them.

My personal choice is to “not make two ‘bad’ choices in a row.” If I just skipped a workout, I’ll go grab an apple instead of crisps. If I didn’t write in my lunch hour, I’ll go home and write for an extra ten minutes instead of watching television. If I had a salad, I can relax about taking a sweet from a colleague for their birthday.

And finally for today, to quote a friend “just because you’re not on the wagon doesn’t mean you can’t still walk the road.”

Being Realistic

It may be that life is full-on right now and you feel your potential self is decades away. You can’t flutter from productive writing hour to salad to social evening with friends… You may not be in that flow of progress, but thinking about the maths, each positive choice adds up, faster than a negative one.

For those interested, look up “the power of tiny gains” online.

Simplified, the main number thrown around is that across a year, where staying the same is equal to 1.0:

  • getting ‘worse’ by 1% a day leads to a total of 0.03 (0.99 then 0.9801 on day 2, 0.970299 on day 3…)
  • getting ‘better’ by 1% a day leads to a total of 37.78 (1.01 then 1.0201 n day 2…)

Each tiny choice will add up. You can make a difference.

Remaining the same on your goal keeps you at 1: stuck.

Those negative choices, moving you backwards from your goals, do add up, but they can be countered with each forward move.

Any “increase” will lead to a total above 1 in a year’s time.

Life happening does not change the fact your deserve to be happy, healthy or your inherent value. You’re an adult: don’t let your inner 5-year-old or the belief that your positive choices don’t matter hold you back.

*~*

Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!

Reflection & Patterns

Motivation to Change: Willpower and Asking Yourself Why

As a general rule, humans like things they are comfortable with. We like certainty, which is a common reason we experience worries: the unknown can be scary! Even if we know what is going to change, or have a change we wish to make, there is a massive mental block between wanting things to improve, and actually making that leap into the unknown of changing it. Motivation depends on energy, on how we perceive things improving an on what we might lose in changing.

Perhaps the very idea of a new experience excites you. Things seem better in this future – we know we can make the change, and that it will be worth it.

And yet, we hesitate.

Understanding Motivation

The first thing to bear in mind is that it’s normal and common to feel apprehensive about changes. Secondly, that realistic goals, where we can measure our progress and see the changes having a positive effect are massive for maintaining motivation.

We need to see progress – we want to know things are moving the right way, that this change is actually worth the time and effort.

But results can take time. We compare ourselves to others or past-us, or even to unrealistic versions of future-us. We feel discouraged, feel this is a waste and often, we fall back into those habits of familiarity. It’s easy – we don’t have to think and question and remember things – it’s just our natural rhythm.

And things remain; stagnant and unfulfilled; or whatever it was you wanted to be different.

Change isn’t easy, which means we need a really strong motivation, a key reason to remind you why you’re making changes.

The Why: Exploring the Deep

“Those who have a ‘why’ can bear with almost any ‘how.”
– Victor Frankl, quoted from A Man’s Search for Meaning.

We all experience that sensation of wanting to just… give in or do it later. To take an extra chance to rest or maybe even quit something. But when we re-connect with the ‘why’ of that task – finding the deep motivator can really help keep us on track.

Most people come up with some reason to begin a change – to be happier, to not feel this lethargic anymore, to avoid something bad happening (again), or because we’ve been told we should.

But those abstract concepts can be difficult to connect with. In that moment of routine habit or new choice, your Why needs to be powerful enough to guide you towards the positive choice.

The key to a strong motivator is depth.

Surface Level: “I know I should eat healthily.”

Well, so do we all. But we still remain stuck: comparing ourselves to other, unhealthier people who are fine. We feel we have time to change that later. We’re great at telling ourselves we deserve that cake. That fact alone is not strong enough for most people.

Shallow Waters: “I don’t have time to play with my kids, and I miss being with them. They deserve my time and energy.”

That’s a little deeper; you’ve made a personal connection and used another person as a reminder of why you want to make the change. But really, what is it that means you want this? What, deep down for you, is that reason coming from? Think about the beliefs that shape your world, the motivators for other changes you’ve made. What do you cling to when everything else isn’t strong enough?

The Deep: “Every day I wake up depressed, exhausted and I no longer love my life. I feel like a zombie, following the same old motions. I want that joy I used to have back, to make my mark on the world, to be a good parent, to see my children grow up and to support everyone around me. This is my calling, I just need to reach it.”

Much deeper. Specific to the person, with examples to remind them of what they don’t like now and what they will like in the future. We can see the journey this person wants to take; their current location of stuck and the destination they want to reach.

Do you have a dream that isn’t being realised?
Do you know where you want to go, or feel stuck where you are? Have a think about your Why.
What would you change if you have the power to?

*~*

P.S. If you would like some support to look at your Why, or if you feel motivated and would like some guidance to making those changes, sign up for a introduction session, where we can discuss motivation and realistic goals.

Reflection & Patterns

The Hidden Strength of Stories: Perception and Perspective

“Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

I disagree. Words are powerful.

Stories define us. Signed, verbal or unspoken – words can create and destroy. They have started wars, expressed love, changed beliefs and ended injustices.  Our language is powerful, yet often used carelessly.

Humans, in cultural history, seek understanding of the world around us and wish to share that knowledge with one another through stories.

These tales connect us to the world, and to each other: we’ve all been entranced by a poem, or the lilt of an unknown tongue? Told by body language or verbal – story is our natural state of sharing, and exploring our experiences.

The Falsehood of Facts 

We use language and tales to understand events and experiences. However, the way we think of, feel about or share a particular experience is filtered by our previous experiences. Our perception; the lens through which the world makes sense to us, is unique.

What happened is never 100% the same as the story we tell ourselves about it. And this belief in our own memories, trust in our self-talk or in that perception is often the cause of our struggles.

We experience so much pain because of the trust attached to our stories. But we only remember what our perception filtered into our mind, and another person’s view will often differ from our own.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy encourages us to question the stories we tell ourselves; just to think about the big picture.

“He always does this.”
Always? Every, single time? If not, that story isn’t 100% true.

“I should have prepared for this.”
Is it 100% your responsibility? Can you read minds? Why should you?

“She did it to hurt me.”
Where is your evidence for this? How can you know her aim? Could there be another explanation?

*~*

P.S. If you would like some support to look at your stories, or want to change the path you’re currently taking, sign up for an introduction session and we can discuss techniques to break down those stories and manage new thoughts more effectively: before they hurt too deeply. Find out more about my coaching sessions here.