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Monday, 03 June 2013 20:00

Keeping Balance

It is not so important whether you walk on water or walk in space.
The true miracle is to walk on earth.
Thich Nhat Hanh

In this funny old life, you can be happily going about your business when something outside of your control happens that completely derails you. Maybe it's an angry customer, a traffic jam, a mistake you made or a hurtful comment from a friend or family member that bursts your happiness bubble. But the bottom line is, our mood goes from happy to upset in the space of a few seconds.

The life we lead in our imaginations is often very different to the reality we experience on the ground. Books, movies, advertising and good old fairy tales have all played a role in creating some pretty universal, but none-the-less unrealistic, expectations about what to expect from life. And who doesn’t want the glossy airbrushed version compared to the rather messy awkward reality we sometimes find ourselves immersed in?

The tricky thing about unrealistic expectations is that they lay the groundwork for feeling awfully disappointed with our lot. We end up unable to enjoy and appreciate the many joys and blessings we have because our minds are so focused on what is wrong, or what is missing from the fairytale version of how it should be.

Restoring the balance in our thinking is a long term project that starts with noticing what is currently happening within us. At the end of the day, spend a few minutes quietly reflecting on your day. Ask yourself, 'Was today a good day or a bad day?'  Jot down your answer and then go through the day in more detail, recalling what went well and what didn’t. Categorize what happened quickly, according to your first response, without thinking too much about it.

You should start to notice that your initial emotional impression is not an accurate assessment of the day. When you look closely with a more mature systematic reflection, you discover that the day was a mixture of good and bad. Keep doing this exercise and gradually your balance will improve. You get better at remembering to respond rather than react. The magic comes when, instead of taking over the world and ruining your day, small irritation stay just that, small.

No matter how bad things are, paying attention to the good things that are already happening just outside your awareness, has got to be one of the best ways to cheer yourself up. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
Tuesday, 21 May 2013 08:07

Focus on what you want

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
Mahatma Gandhi

Focus on what you want sounds like such a simple instruction that I'm tempted to put a full stop and leave it at that! However, a glimpse at Ghandhi's quote gives an inkling that there is more to this story than originally meets the eye. The first session of coaching is wonderful, we sit together and talk about what you want to change or achieve in a specific area of your life, and the trouble often starts right here.

It's an interesting phenomenon but the moment we ask ourselves what we want, we immediately start thinking of reasons why we haven't got it. The first and very important step of the change cycle is realising we are unhappy with a current situation. Once we acknowledge this, the second step is to spend time thinking and deciding what changes to make and planning how to make it happen. Unfortunately, this is where we can so easily get bogged down in negativity. Instead of getting clear and connecting deeply with what we want, we often digress into thinking about what is wrong, why we haven't got it, how unfair it is or how it is definitely not our fault.

To really uncover what we want for our lives, our body, speech and mind need to be in harmony, or at least vaguely going in the same direction! Instead we often find each of these parts of ourselves has their own agenda and we become our own best friend and worst enemy in one confusing package. While inner peace is a bit beyond my scope in this short blog post, there are a few tricks of the trade that can help get you started in the right direction. How can I put this? Um... well, you really need to focus on what you want!

Pay close attention to the response you give when you ask yourself what you want in a particular situation. If it goes something like, I want my boss, husband / wife, metabolism, local government etc. to be different, it's a clue that you are focusing on what is wrong and not on what you want. Taking responsibility for our lives is a mammoth undertaking and the more clarity we have on how we want to live, the better chance we have of keeping our lives on track and moving in the right direction.
Monday, 06 May 2013 20:10

The Ups and Downs of Life!

Compassion is where the sunlight of kindness meets the tears of sadness
and a rainbow is formed.
Akong Tulku Rinpoche

Life certainly has its moments with some undeniably being better than others. Generally speaking the ride up doesn't cause half as much trouble as the down ride, so let's bravely tackle the enormous topic of negative emotions with the hope of bringing sunlight and rainbows into dark places!

I have a teeny problem with much of the wonderful, often uplifting good advice out there. It is fabulous and works brilliantly right up until the moment I have instantaneously transformed into either a seething mass of anger, a quivering wreck or been reduced to nothing but a puddle of tears. At which point, I entirely forget everything useful I have ever heard, or worse, find myself shrieking, sometimes out loud, "HOW exactly am I meant to relax / let go / cheer up / forgive and move on or focus on the positive etc.?"

It's incredibly hard to bear strong emotions without feeling you won't survive the tidal wave of sensations raging through your mind and body. Our instinct to fight or flee is deeply embedded in our neural pathways (or wherever these sorts of deeply embedded things lurk) and it takes practice to change the habits of a lifetime.

Luckily we come equipped with the perfect counter balance, our intelligence. Although there is an unfortunate design fault I should mention: there is a slight delay before it kicks in. This means that if we can buy some time before launching our reactive response into the world, we give our intelligence, our capacity for more mature, reasoned reflection, time to come to the party.

In moments of real danger, our bodies' defences can save our lives. The problem comes in with the long term effect of daily stress which can devastate our health and well being. By slowing our reactions down, we give ourselves time to think more clearly and through that, hopefully make better choices.

The solution is simple, take a deep breath in, exhale and repeat until you feel better! Funnily enough, when our defences are focused on preparing us physically for danger, by voluntarily changing our pattern of breathing, we influence the messages the body is sending to our brain and in that way, change the way we think and feel.

So next time your neck is knotted with tension and your jaw clenched, give it a try. I mean, honestly, how difficult can it be to remember to breathe!
Wednesday, 10 April 2013 12:31

Become your BFF!

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

A little while ago I was having a "Do I have to?" sort of day. I finally had time to do a task I'd been putting off for ages and still didn't want to settle down to it. After much procrastination, I slumped down at the computer to get started and to my delight there was a complete power failure. Making the most of a very lucky reprieve, I popped the dogs and husband in the car and went for a lovely walk on the beach. It was a beautiful day and I came back recharged and in a much better frame of mind to complete what I needed to.

The whole experience got me thinking about chores, those everyday things that we have to do whether we feel like it or not: cooking, cleaning, the admin part of our job, or anything we may love doing, just not right now and certainly not everyday. The question is, how can we overcome our resistance or resentment and fulfill our "must do's" in a joyfully enthusiastic way?

Human beings are driven by deeply instinctive forces to move away from pain and towards pleasure and the key is learning when to push and when to indulge ourselves. It's about finding the balance, and one way to do that is to become a trusted friend to yourself. Who doesn't want the kind of friend who is there for you, who listens and comforts you when you need a hug, but will gently and firmly tell you when you are losing the plot?

By becoming your own best friend you create the space within yourself to explore what is really holding you back. The diagnosis is all important; taking every cough medicine on the market is not going to help a headache, nor will tidy cupboards pass an exam! We spend so much time dodging or avoiding what we dislike when sometimes all we need is to sit ourselves down with a cup of tea and have a friendly chat, with ourselves, about what's going on.

Of course if that fails, I highly recommend bribing yourself with a fabulous reward. It doesn't have to be big or expensive, just something that associates pleasure with your task. It's the perfect time to do as Gandhi suggests, be the change you want to see in the world and become your best friend forever!
Tuesday, 09 April 2013 14:40

Getting the best out of yourself!

“In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.”
Daniel Goleman

So here we are, we've taken a good look at our lives and come to the rather startling conclusion that we are not quite living the life we want. Maybe you are one of the over achiever types who constantly strives to be good at everything, or you have swung to the other extreme and don't do half of what you need to because quite honestly, you don’t give a damn anymore. Or perhaps you are one of those creative types who has come up with a personalised programme of self-defeating behaviour unique to you and your life?

Whatever your modus operandi is, living the life you want starts with learning how to get the best out of yourself. And what does that mean? We all have bad days where nothing goes right and fabulous days where we are inspired and magnificent, but on many of the in-between mundane sort of days we are more likely to notice what is going wrong rather that what is going right. We mess up one small task, forget something important, or snap at an undeserving person and it is all too easy to remember every mistake we have ever made and berate ourselves for being a hopeless failure.

What we have done is taken the small ember of painful feeling in our heart and fanned it into a raging forest fire with our thoughts. Our mind that thinks and our mind that feels have worked together to take us in a direction that harms and weakens us. Instead, take a moment and imagine using the intelligence of your mind to balance and calm the emotions in your heart: how your life would be then?

It works both ways: at times when we get too critical or results focused, our hearts remind us to be kind and gentle with ourselves and others; we encourage ourselves to move forward, to take that next step. When we get too emotional, the coolness of our head calms and steadies us by reminding us of the consequence of our actions. So to get the best out of ourselves, we want our left and right brain, or heart and mind working together in a way that supports and benefits not only us but also the people around us.
Wednesday, 03 April 2013 00:00

Is what I am doing making me happy?

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone.
The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.
Lin Yutang

The question is simple, is what I am doing making me happy? Answering it however, is not! In fact it opens up a can of worms that, honestly, most of us would really rather not think about. In order to change something that we are unhappy with in our life there is a critical first step. We have to admit to ourselves that our life or an aspect of our life is not how we want it to be. "What me? Not coping? Don’t be ridiculous." my inner perfectionist grumbles in the background!

Sadly, the truth of the matter is that if we are going to make a change, and it doesn't matter what area of your life needs some attention: health, weight loss, taxes, procrastination, or too much on your plate, we have to start by truly deeply wanting to change. Otherwise you can read every self help book or article ever written, agree wholeheartedly but never take the steps needed to actually make the change.

Luckily, we have the most powerful resource to help freely available right within ourselves. One that if we allow it, will help us become far more amazing than we can comprehend right now. This resource is our own mind! However, to tap into and harness its power is a bit like, well… trying to ride a wild horse, or cage an untamed monkey. Marching up and giving yourself a piece of your mind won't work, for obvious reasons! Instead skill is needed, we have to get very clever, learn to become 'mind whisperers' to start getting the best out of ourselves.

One way to do that is to start building trust by gently and kindly asking the question, "Is what I am doing making me happy? Is it making the people around me happy?" Then, and this bit is important so please don’t forget to do it, you need to answer the question! Take five minutes before you go to bed at night to reflect on your day: what went well, what you can do better next time and what would be better not done at all? We have spent years doing things that harm us in the mistaken belief they will make us happy. By spending a few minutes of quality time with yourself, you create the space to discover what is meaningful to your life and what isn't.
Tuesday, 26 March 2013 10:48

Start where you are…Do nothing!

'What makes you worthwhile is who you are, not what you do'.
Marianne Williams

Do nothing! Pretty strange advice coming from a Life Coach whose business ethos is 'Action-orientated coaching to live happy, healthy lives', but I assure you there is method in my madness!

Most of us are bombarded by a rush of thoughts from the moment we wake up in the morning to when we collapse exhausted into bed late at night. Our days are packed with activities, meetings, appointments, deadlines and to-do lists that drive us relentlessly. More often than not, we are so busy just getting by that we don't take the time to stop and assess whether the many the things we are doing in our pursuit for happiness, are actually taking us in the direction we want to go. We forget that it is not all about taking action. To move forward and to live the lives we want, we need to take focused, effective, action.

Surprisingly, the first step in doing that is slowing down. Our instinct is screaming at us to hurry up, go faster, do more, try harder when instead, what we really need to do, is slow down, take a deep breath and look at what is going on inside and around us. Unfortunately this is not something that comes easily to many of us unless we are ill or craning our necks to peer at a passing roadside accident!

So, for this week, I would like to suggest you don't do anything differently... yep, I really meant it when I said DO NOTHING! Instead put moments of waiting or transition from one task to another to good use. If you start to pay attention you will notice natural breaks in activity as you go about your day.

While you wait for the kettle to boil, take a moment to look out the window, notice the first rays of sunlight filtering through the trees, feel the weight of your body as you stand and breathe in deeply. As you sit at a red traffic light, instead of drumming your fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, use that moment of stillness to get in touch with your body. Feel your back resting against the seat, notice the air moving across your face and connect with the sense of being alive.

Take it easy and let me know how it goes!
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