How optimists live longer and three tips for joining their cheerful ranks

How optimists live longer and three tips for joining their cheerful ranks

‘We are all I the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,’

Oscar Wilde

Star-gazing like Oscar, pondering ‘what if…’, dreaming of your possibilities… they’re all excellent signs of longevity, according to research recently released by Harvard School of Public Health, whose study reports that optimists live longer. Considerably longer.

The project has concluded that optimists live a whole 11-15 per cent longer and are 50 to 70 per cent more likely to reach 85 years old. 

Defining optimism as ‘a general expectation that good things will happen, or believing the future will be favourable because we can control important outcomes,’ the survey followed 69,744 women for 10 years and 1,429 men for 30 years. The research subjects were surveyed on their levels of optimism as well as health habits.

According to the researchers: ‘The results were maintained after accounting for age, demographic factors such as educational attainment, chronic diseases, depression and also health behaviours, such as alcohol use, exercise, diet and primary care visits.’

This suggests that if we sally forth with a firm conviction that we can live long, fulfilling lives it is far more likely to be so.

We will, of course, be living our lives with that expectation. Planning for our future, living engaged, active lives that nurture our health, mind and inner world. So, yes, optimists are more likely to eat their vegetables, avoid existing on junk food, get plenty of rest, exercise and everything else we know is good for our physical and mental health.

But, of course, every life is touched with trauma, loss and major illnesses are not necessary a result of life-style choices. So could optimism play a role when life plays rough?

The Harvard research group says there’s much more study to be done, but it appears that optimism helps us bounce back faster, because the belief of a fulfilling future supports recovery in the now.

And that is interesting; if optimism can be built as a mental health muscle, then living and loving longer is achievable. Change your mindset and you’ll live longer.

Not sure how optimistic you are?

Take a test! The Life Orientation Test is just 10 questions which helps you assess just how optimistic you are.

Three tips for building your optimism muscles

Deal with your issues
If you’re troubled by past events, get help letting them go if you’re struggling. Holding on to resentment may feel ‘just and fair’, but think about how that feels in your body when you replay those moments. You’ll be happier in the long run when you’re free of their weight on your shoulders. Forgiveness is not for them, it’s for you. It frees you. Their guilt is theirs. Not yours.

2. Work on your mindset
From inspiring biographies to life coach gurus, there are more books than you can poke a stick at out there, all aiming to inspire you to live well and let go of what isn’t in your power to change. Look for what resonates with you, because everyone comes to building optimism from a different place and a different background.

3. Meditate
There is scientific evidence that mindfulness-based therapy can help you shift from a ‘rainy day’ to a ‘sunny day’ person. And, according to experimental psychologist, Elaine Fox, that’s basically learning to meditate. It takes time and it takes effort, but it does work, according to Elaine who has conduced research with pessimistic students and measured their brain states.

So are you an optimist?
How did you score on the optimism test? I came out at 23, which to me suggests I have room for improvement and to you should reveal my over-achieving is a work in progress. But then, isn’t everything?

How to overcome anxiety making choices: three steps to moving forward with confidence

How to overcome anxiety making choices: three steps to moving forward with confidence

How do I know if he’s the one? What if I don’t like it when I get there? What if I’m wasting my time?

Trust in our selves. In others. It’s not always easy. And when the anxiety levels rise, choosing the right path only seems to get harder.

I’m no stranger to decision stress either; we’re all caught by it at some time. But there are ways to work through it and move forward with greater confidence. You are particularly likely to face anxiety over making decisions when:

  • you’re no stranger to what Oprah describes the ‘disease to please’
  • you’re a perfectionist
  • there’s something from the past that’s triggering your emotional response to your present bout of indecision.

Letting these three go

1. The disease to please

If the ‘disease to please’ rings a whole tower full of church bells for you, working on faith in yourself will serve you very well. It’s easy to blame others for what happens to us when we’re only ‘trying to please’, it’s much harder to accept that the one to blame is us because if trying to please is our primary focus, we are giving away our power. Pleasers get taken advantage of and being a victim is no way to live when you can choose. And frequently you do have choice, you just can’t see it yet.

I know; that’s a bitter pill to swallow. But that’s truth for you.

I was a ‘pleaser’. Useful for getting an education, not so useful in other situations. I speak from sobering experience here. Pleasers can be taken advantage of and that will not serve you. You will not be always be treated with respect. You may be patronised and you may be seen as easy meat for the wolves. Do you want to be someone’s metaphoric lunch? No? Then learn how to say ‘No’.

2. Perfectionism

Wanting to get anything right is human nature and it’s no bad thing to want the best, but perfectionism can paralyse you and any project you’re involved in. In a way, it’s a form of procrastination because, if you’re waiting for the right time, version, colour, hair length, waist size, day, week, month, year… you’re not taking action. And taking action is what moves you forward.

‘Decision is the ultimate power,’

Tony Robbins

Waiting for the perfect day is not powerful. And that song by Lou Reed… it’s about heroin. Let ‘perfect’ go. Taking massive action is powerful. Be powerful; it’s the Way.

3. Emotional triggering
If you’re faced with a scenario and you find yourself feeling disproportionately angry, teary, replying in a mean-girl tone you know is not your default; you’re being triggered by your past. If you’re stepping towards the cocktail cabinet, the carbiest thing you can find in the pantry or the thought of smoking suddenly seems appealing and you gave up years ago, you’re being triggered. It’s easy right now to tell you, you are not your past, but when emotion has the reins the thinking, mind isn’t in charge. Take a breathe, go outside, move and breathe. Phone a friend. Hug your partner, cat, hamster… go for a run… change your state. You are in charge of you, no one gets to dictate to you how you feel. Recognise that and shake them off… Which leads me to…

Instinct and intuition: can you trust them?

Big questions. Our instinctual reactions are designed to save us from danger, fine if we’re facing a very real and vivid threat but what if we’re highly stressed and flooded with fight, flight or freeze hormones?

Instinct is often accompanied by high emotion. So if you’ve had a ‘how dare he/she?!’ Moment and you suddenly find yourself staring into the fridge, craving sugar… you’re acting on emotional instincts from the past.

Our intuition is something more subtle, almost a superpower. Vasilisa the Beautiful is a fine example of a children’s story inspired by the power of intuition, but for many of us our connection to our intuitive self is vaguer.

What about intuition over logic?

‘My head says ‘no’ but my heart says ‘yes’.

What about blending the two? Intuition is a gut knowing; it’s a different way of thinking, for sure. But the two are not mutually exclusive. What if you use them both? 

Whether you have the confidence in this statement or not; you know yourself better than anyone. You can have faith in what’s right for you. You are brilliant, in all your uniqueness. You can have confidence in your inner knowing to guide you.

In October I’m running a day retreat for the first which aims to help women get into contact with the power of intuitive knowing to shine a light on future potential. Creating that, and blending it with a yoga practice, was an intuitive ‘yes’ when it the idea struck me. Had it been done before? I couldn’t find anything, but I’m sure someone has; original ideas a far and few between. But developing the idea into a full-blown retreat proposal involved much more than intuition and searching the internet to see what else is out there.

I mapped out potential practices. I blended the best matches – using both intuition and logic. And then I trialled the practices on a completely non-yogic, hypnosis doubting guinea-pig. (She’s a woman, not a small Peruvian cave-dwelling mammal). I did costings. I thought about how I could work collaboratively to create weekend retreats, full week retreats…

Blending intuition and logic is my preferred decision method but I also use this, ‘what if’ tool…

What if the worst happened?

This is a Stoicism practice designed to help you in two ways;
 

  1. there’s always a solution, no matter how bleak you can imagine the repercussions
  2. if you can find a solution to the worst possible outcome, no matter how unlikely, then why not try?
  • Write down everything that could go wrong with your situation or choice, no matter how outlandish or extreme; 
  • Give it 10 minutes, but really go for it. As fast as you can. All of it. Homelessness. Losing all your money. Being shunned by society. Laughed at by your friends… after 10 minutes stop. You’ll have quite a list of worst case scenario badness, hopefully (or unhopeful);
  • And then… find solutions. If you were broke, who could help you? What could you sell? If you were homeless, who would give you couch room? If your friends laughed at you, who could you go to for help? (And frankly, if your friends do laugh at you, get new friends. Those friends aren’t friends. At best they’re frenemies).

Getting the ‘what if…?’ Catastrophising out of your head and on to paper will help you in several ways. You’re ready for the Worst Case Scenario so your anxiety levels should drop, because your mind knows you’re ready for disaster. It doesn’t need to keep reminding you. You’ve got a plan.

How likely is WCS? And if you can deal with that you can handle anything else. Right? So what if you took action?

There’s risk involved in any decision but the truth is, if you can deal with complete failure you’ll be able to handle anything that goes wrong.

How do you define success?

Decide what your KPIs are going to be. Not everything is about financial profit. Will be you learning? How? How will you benefit if you make this choice? Will you grow? Will you explore, develop, become stronger mentally, emotionally or physically? 

This is your life. You get to decide what success looks like to you and for you. Be ready for it, because when you take action good happens.

Define what’s a win for you and celebrate when you achieve that win. You’ll be building grit and resilience for the next challenge. And that is success, as far as I can see.

Photo by Ian Wagg on Unsplash

Who influences your life choices? What’s the story?

Who influences your life choices? What’s the story?

Ever wondered from where we get our attitudes? What influences the big decision we make in life – not just how we choose careers, but how we choose our partners, our friends, our lifestyles. What’s a conscious choice? What’s a subconscious influencer?

I was talking to my partner the other day (long story how we chose each other, but there were false starts aplenty along the way on both sides, I assure you) about how I’d noticed our friends from different countries had different ideas about relationships. Some go with the flow, some are incurable romantics, some take a more strategic view. If your parent’s marriage was an inspiration for you, you have a starting point. But what if it’s not? And even if it is, what and who else is influencing some of the biggest choices we make?

I was asking my partner what he thought about this puzzle: why is it that in our culture we critically view other approaches to life relationships when, given our divorce rate, we might justifiably be accused of throwing stones in a glass house?

I’m not suggesting there’s a ‘right’ way, but the messages we take in from our culture do impact our expectations, and from an early age.

As you might know, if you’re a regular reader, I’m particularly interested in myths and folk stories and how they teach us lessons but can also serve the needs of an over-culture, rather than our personal needs as a free-thinking individual.

Cinderella v Vasilisa

Take the classic story of Cinderella; the young woman facing adversity in the face of her dreams, mostly in the shape of a mean stepmother and two equally mean and ugly step-sisters.

Now this story is ancient, and it appears in many guises in different countries. The magnificent Jungian therapist and folklore expert, Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks about this story of emerging womanhood spanning thousands of years and many cultures, even cropping up in myths that predate those of ancient Greece.

Interestingly, in other cultures, this story has evolved in different ways to the one we know in Western Europe and the US. For instance, in the Russian and East European versions, our heroine Vasilisa faces a quest with far more frightening, challenging milestones than her Western counterpart. She goes deep into a forest looking for a cannibalistic witch, finds her, gets over her fears, solves tests put to her by the witch and returns to vanquish the mean girl gang her father’s brought into their home.

Bit different from the version I wondered at as a child with rapt admiration. Remember Cinderella in the Ladybird books? My favourite shade of blue comes form the dress she wore on one of her incognito dates with Prince Charming.

Disney princess

And then there was the Disney princess version. How influenced have you been by that animated classic? Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo! Bet you can hear it already… 

Because when you look at Walt Disney, genius he may have been, he was working in interesting times. Cinderella was released after World War II in 1950. When men came back from fighting and women, who had been manning the fort and doing men’s jobs, were expected to step back and be happy with a more domestic role. Cinderella was a huge hit with its homely values. Do a bit of sewing, be meek and mild even when you’re hurt by others, pretend to be someone you’re not to win your prince charming… oh and have tiny feet and wear glass shoes. Because you’re so dainty, presumably, they won’t shatter under the (non)weight of your delicate step.

Interestingly, Cinderella’s blue dress prevails in most remakes and film adaptations of the classic fairytale. Blue as a symbol for the Virgin Mary’s robes, perhaps? 

But what Vasilisa has, that Cinderella lacks, is her doll. The doll is a gift from her dying mother. ‘Feed her a little, give her a little water,’ says the mother, and she will help you in times of crisis.

When Vasilisa comes to a crossroads in the forest she asks the doll for help. The doll signals the way forward. Time and time again, when Vasilisa faces a test, the doll shows the way.

Intuition

I’ve seen various explanation as to what the doll represents but I agree with Pinkola Estes on this one; it’s our intuition.

Remember her? The intuitive knowing. The inner guide?

For some reason, Cinderella has lost her doll, but Vasilisa is all the stronger for hers. No one gives her anything after her mother dies. She solves her own problems by listening and acting. She faces her fears, she takes action and she is rewarded with triumph. And then she gets on with the business of being Vasilisa.

I know which version I’d want a child to hear and be inspired by. What about you?

Can you remember how to get in touch with your intuition? Have you fed her throughout your life? Heard her and acted or have you closed your ears to please others and ‘done the right thing’? Do you nurture that super power, the inner knowing what is right for you? If you do and you have a practice, please share. I’d love to hear from you.


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Nine reasons why yoga is your midlife wellbeing hack

Nine reasons why yoga is your midlife wellbeing hack

Yoga is good for our health and in multiple ways, with age being no barrier to seeing wellbeing results on multiple fronts, according to multiple science research projects.

If you’re approaching midlife, or you’re right in the thick of it, you may well be aware there’s a whole host of physical, emotional and mental health issues that can accompany life now.

Not only is menopause taking us women through a physical, mental and emotional change process but our bodies can be showing a few wear and tear issues. 

I had a hip replacement a few months before my 50th birthday. Now in hindsight maybe that kickboxing obsession in my early Thirties wasn’t my brightest idea, but I know yoga helped me in a huge way as I dealt with the 24-7 pain of the arthritis and a joint that needed constant mobilisation attention in the run up to surgery.

Yoga works for you on multiple levels, it’s not just about flexibility and strength. Yoga can help you breathe more effectively, better nourishing your body with the oxygen it needs. It can also support mindset, mental health – the original wellbeing hack!

My advice; I highly recommend going to a yoga class. Although the research projects mentioned here don’t refer to it, as a long-time practitioner (I went to my first class at 14) and now a yoga teacher, I can tell you that from both ends of the room, the class experience is special. 

As a student, not only will you enjoy tuition and help in getting the most out of your time, but you’ll be surrounded by people doing the same thing. That collective experience is quite different from solo practice. Yoga friends are very special.

What do you think about the power of community in yoga? I’d love to know if your experience of class v personal practice. Do drop your thoughts in the comments below before you tuck into these science research findings.

Better breathing
Yogic breathing, pranayama, is a whole arm of yoga on its own. Yogic breathing seeks to improve lung function, improving oxygen intake and so better feeding the body’s cells. A 2009 study showed yoga improved the lung capacity of mild to moderate asthma.

Chronic pain
Yoga can help reduce pain and improve mobility of joints affected by osteoarthritis and has been linked to improved strength and pain reduction for people with carpal tunnel.

Can cut your health bills
Yoga does so much for your health it cuts medical bills. In the United States, studies show people who do yoga use 43 per cent fewer medical services, and they save anywhere from $640 to more than $25,000, according to Harvard Medical School.

Improved flexibility and balance
Both these body assets are useful at any time of life, but especially as we age. A 2013 study found yoga helped improve the balance and mobility of older adults and another found yoga had lasting results for elderly people, four times more than calisthenics. And 15 to 30 minutes is enough, apparently.

Inflammation
Yoga may reduce inflammation.Researchers have looked at groups of yogis v non-yoga regulars and discovered that after strenuous exercise, the yogis had lower levels of inflammation markers. Inflammation is a normal immune response, but chronic inflammation is linked to diseases like diabetes and cancer.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
A 10-week long study of a 64 women with PTSD, who took part in one yoga session a week, discovered the group reported a drop in symptoms. More than 50 per cent no longer met the criteria for PTSD, their symptoms had so significantly reduced.

Stress, anxiety and depression
Several research studies have monitored groups undergoing 10-12 week yoga programmes and have seen significant reductions in the stress hormone cortisol for those test subjects. We all need cortisol in our lives, it’s an essential hormone, but when it’s too high it’s a health issue, impacting not only your mental state, but potentially your physical too. High cortisol is linked to low levels of serotonin, often linked to depression, but also osteoporosis and weight gain.

Weight loss
In one study, 79 people did 24 rounds of sun salutations six days a week for 24 weeks. Both men and women lost body fat and gained strength, endurance and weight loss. (FYI – 24 sun salutations is a lot! Yoga is impressive, but it’s not literally magic!!)

References

https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/cortisol

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/guide-to-yoga/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/yoga-benefits-beyond-the-mat

How to find balance in the Midlife fire 

How to find balance in the Midlife fire 

‘What are the most challenging experiences for midlife women?’ they asked.
‘Balance,’ came back the chorus.

If you’re a midlife woman who feels she’s wading through the seven circles of hell – with the thermostat turned up to 1,000 degrees – you are not alone.

Maybe you weren’t aware of that. Here’s why…

Women are highly trained to perform to the ‘everything is all right’ school of public persona. My mother was. I expect her mother was. I know I was and frequently slip into that, ‘everything’s great’ performance when people ask me how I am.

For many of us, our time in our social circles – when we can find the time to escape – are largely spent perpetuating the ‘everything is all right’ myth. Work is great. The family are great. The house is great… It becomes a mantra.

A mantra that’s a lie.

Because here’s a truth, according to research recently published in the United States. Women in their midlife are the most over-stressed, over-stretched, over-relied-upon adult female demographic. 

Younger women have no idea what’s coming (and why would they, because we’re running around doing jazz-hands) and older women have us to rely on (more jazz hands – yay).

Midlife women are so overwhelmed the word ‘menopause’ rarely gets mentioned as a major stress factor. Strange, you might think, considering the 40-65 age group are experiencing major physical change, peri-menopause, menopause or trying to adjust to post-menopause life and all that brings physically, psychologically and socially.

But no. Menopause and her two sisters Peri and Post, were not cited as  major factors by the group. So either these Midlifers have become so disconnected from their bodies that what’s going on with it doesn’t register or they are battling with much greater external stress factors. Night sweats and brain fog hardly register on the ‘what fresh hell is this?’ scale. Maybe a blend of the two?

Researchers in Seattle have been watching the world of midlife women for years, focusing on women age 40 to 65 and the challenges that present during the menopause years, whether they be biological, psychological or social.

‘What are the most challenging experiences for midlife women?’ they asked.
‘Balance.’ Came back the chorus. 

Midlife women wear multiple hats: wife/lover, mother, worker, home manager, carer to aging parent and sometimes grandkids too.

And then we sit at the perfect point where unravelling begins to unfurl – health issues, failing relationships, death, children leaving home.

Dealing with any of those events, or frequently multiples of them, would be bad enough, but there’s the time-sucking, energy-leaching cabaret going on as the stage set for the dramas that unfurl. 

So what can you do to get more balance?

Be ok with being vulnerable
Stop pretending everything is all right. Put down the jazz hands and talk to someone. A therapist. A friend. A neighbour you see facing the same or similar issues. As a culture we’re becoming increasingly isolated. Our work is less social and we talk less, looking at something ironically called ‘social media’ more. Loneliness is endemic. Reach out and keep reaching out.

The solution to your problems is not doing more
It’s easy to do more of the same, I get it. It’s familiar. But it is not solving your problems. It’s stoking the fire. Your body needs rest. Rest. REST. Rest can be a yoga class. Pick one that’s restorative and supportive, check it out before you go. Remember; balance is key.

Understand your mental health is a priority
You are no use to anyone if you run yourself into the ground and wind up sobbing in bed. You have to take action and that action is going to get uncomfortable because you need to take care of you first. Not someone else’s crisis. Yours. Because here’s a shocker, no one else will.

Eat well
Eating and drinking junk will not help you in the long term. Eating real food (the stuff that grows) will. Food that’s got vitamins and minerals in it, the protein that your body needs to help build healthy cells, create energy, balance your brain’s chemistry. More real stuff, less processed stuff. 

Look at who you spend your time with
There’s a saying, that you are the average of the five people you spend most time with. If the people you’re constantly with aren’t adding to your life, change that circle to include people who lift you up. 

Feed your mind
Read what inspires you, not what depresses you. Look for books by women you admire, or fiction with strong female characters who make you smile. Who you can relate to. Here’s three I love just now, featuringwomen who hold strong and are not ‘pleasers’:
Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gayle Honeyman

Dare to dream
This is the planning time; according to other cultures this midlife time is where we consider what ‘the big work’ is going to be. It can be. If you carve out the time for it. You have the wisdom now. You’ve seen enough as an adult to know what’s right. In your heart and mind. When you’re walking, lying in bed at night not sleeping, think about your big dreams. Where would you like to be in five years time? Let your imagination run riot. No problems from today’s stress maelstrom. What could that look like? Daydream like you did as a kid. Where would you be? Who would you be with? What would you feel? Put some flesh on the bones of your ideas.

If you’ve got questions about any of the above, fire them into the questions below. Or message me. I’ll help where I can.

And if you’ve got great ideas for inspirational books, do share those. Books are inspiration magic we can all enjoy.

References

https://womensmidlifehealthjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40695-018-0039-9

Image by: Victor Rodvang at Unsplash

Who are you? How to free yourself for success

Who are you? How to free yourself for success

“RD Laing the brilliant British psychiatrist said, ‘the clinical hypnotist often knows what he is doing. The family hypnotist rarely does’.”
Gil Boyne, modern hypnotherapy pioneer

 

How do we come to believe who we are?

Big question. I know. You’re probably still pondering the quote above and trying to work out who was the Paul McKenna in your family that nobody mentioned. Hold that thought and read on… all will be revealed.

Let’s start with a simple exercise you may find enlightening.

If I were to ask you to describe yourself, not in terms of your professional skill or your role within a family, but who you see yourself as being, what would you say? Difficult, isn’t it, because we’re very used to describing ourselves within our context to others. But let’s just focus on you.

Who are you? Close your eyes and think about who you are. How would you describe yourself? 

I’m willing to bet that as you form these sentences, on at least one occasion an emotion will flit through your body. You may feel it in your stomach or your chest, maybe in your throat. 

And if you’re experiencing an uncomfortable feeling it’s likely this attribute you’ve just described has been with you for a while. Perhaps you recall an incident when you were criticised, scolded or shamed over a particular behaviour, perhaps you can’t recall the occasion when the seed was sown. When you accepted this label. But whether or not some of the roots of your belief are known to you, it’s likely this episode and then several like it have created a negative fixed belief that has carried on into adulthood.

The celebrated hypnotherapists’ trainer and pioneer in modern hypnotherapy, Gil Boyne, described the forming of fixed ideas very succinctly. It’s almost an equation.

Incident of behaviour + authority figure + emotional response x repetition of linked incident + authority figure + emotional response = forming of fixed idea

The initial incident of behaviour can be anything that leads to you being vulnerable to criticism – anything from failing a maths test, to not fitting in your summer dress to missing a goal in an important sports game.

Authority figures are parents, certainly, but they can be friends or teachers or anyone we, as children, listen to and respect.

So how does this play out in practice?

Say mum asks her daughter to try on her summer dress and discovers it’s too tight. Mum tuts and comments on her daughter getting ‘bigger’. The daughter senses her mother’s disapproval and that she’s somehow let her down. For a child disapproval represents a loss of love. There is no critical reasoning available to children, at least not until they’re about 11. Instead of concluding ‘I’m a year older, of course I’m bigger’ the child feels a loss of her mother’s love and concludes that she’s ‘too big’.

Add more instances of weight or body size-related comments and the fixed idea starts to take root in the mind. ‘I’m too big. I need to be thinner. I’m fat. I need to eat less.’

More often than not the parent is only trying to help; parents very rarely set out to harm a child’s development. But here’s one sentence that’s extraordinary powerful and will compound the fixed idea until it becomes a limiting belief: ‘You’re just like me…’ 

The parent is only trying to show empathy but the child being literal-thinking assumes they have literally inherited a character trait. And they’re now invested in the fixed idea because it makes them more like the parent whose love they crave. So if mum says ‘You’re just like me, you’ll always be on a diet’, the child may now believe she’s inherited an inability to eat for health and she’s condemned to be overweight or forever watching calories. If she takes on this label, she’ll be just like the parent she needs, that’s a strong emotionally-driven incentive to do so.

Yes, logic tells us she is not an exact facsimile of her mother but the emotional responses that fix these ideas into her subconscious are very powerful. Much more powerful than logic.

So who is the Paul McKenna of the family? Yes, it’s the authority figure, and in this example, mum.

Of course the million dollar question is, do we want to change? 

Fixed beliefs can become part of our armour, ones we use to protect us from the vulnerability of being truly seen. What if we were truly seen for who we are? Without the armour we use as a barrier between us and others. Complete authenticity could lead to full intimacy… that’s scary stuff!

Some people use emotions like anger as a barrier to hide their vulnerability. For others extra pounds will serve that purpose.

Accepting that change is possible and the negative fixed ideas formed in childhood can be righted is accepting a challenge; a hero’s challenge.

It can be a difficult journey, yes. But isn’t that reason to celebrate? All the more reason to go on. 

The journey is one of self discovery. Of self connection, of developing the ability to forgive yourself, love yourself and find peace in yourself, while having the adventure of discovering who you truly are. This is a hero’s journey and you’ll be the hero. 

And one who’s hopefully already considering that they have much more power to evolve their life than they once imagined.

Further reading:

Transforming Therapy by Gil Boyne
Self-Hypnosis by Gil Boyne
Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
https://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html

And my current top three literary heroes, embodying women who hold strong:
Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gayle Honeyman

 

5 tips for stress-busting Manic Mondays

5 tips for stress-busting Manic Mondays

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.  Bertrand Russell

So here’s the scene…

You want to be pounding your keyboard, but inspiration has fled and is apparently engaged in a passionate affair with someone you don’t know, because he hasn’t so much as texted for weeks now and you’re beginning to panic that you’ve broken up permanently.

There are several important phone calls to be made but you can’t bring yourself to pick up the phone… and then there’s that spreadsheet and the emails need checking and you’ve a vague recollection that something that’s probably very important needs doing today, but you can’t remember what. Your To-Do List is the size of a Victorian novel and you now feel more than slightly nauseous even though the fridge is calling you like a Siren and carefully pushing all the ultra-carbs right into your eye-line.

Welcome to my Manic Monday.

I’m not kidding. 

Well, maybe a little bit kidding, but not much.

Even therapists get stressed. Even yoga teachers get stressed. Even therapists who teach and practice yoga daily get stressed. But here’s a few tips that work for me and I pass to you. With love. Which is more powerful than chocolate. (Yes it is).

1. Stop.
Sounds counter intuitive, I know, but winning is a strategic game, not a 100 metre dash. Just 10-15 minutes engaged in another activity will change your brain state and give you a more than fighting chance. Being in a stressed state will not solve anything. Your brain is flooded with stress hormone rubbish. Taking time out and getting your head back together will shift that feeling.

2.  Step away from the fridge or wine rack
Do something calming that won’t give you a regret-over later. Take a walk, have a bath, do some yoga, smell the flowers in the garden, open the back door and feel the breeze, do some ironing if you like… Inspiration is a complete lightweight when it comes to cortisol (stress hormone), runs a mile and does not phone in. Try a 20 minute stroll and a ‘eureka’ moment may pop up. 

3. Power pose
Trapped in an office with no hope of escape? Bernie Clark, incredible Yin yoga teacher with a wickedly dry sense of humour, recommends what he calls The Superman Pose. You could quietly slide off to the loo and stand in a cubicle for a couple of minutes and no one would know you’re resetting your power buttons. You just adopt the stance of Superman in full cape-fluttering into the breeze mode. Two minutes of this and you’ll feel a great deal better, if not heroic. Simply stand tall, hands on hips, chest up and broad, nose lifted, noble chin raise if you find it comfortable. And breathe… Research has shown just two minutes of this cuts cortisol by 15%!

4. Square Breathe
There are many yoga breathing techniques for banishing stress and bringing calm and one of the easiest to practice is a basic breathing technique called Square Breathing. Entrepreneur Chris Reynolds of the Business Method Podcast recommends square breathing, and it is very easy. Chris says it stops the release of cortisol, brings you into a relaxed state and helps the body release positive neural chemicals. Your count is your choice, but this is not a competition so start by counting how long your natural inhale is. Say you breathe in for the count of 5 then hold your breath in for 5, exhale to the count of 5, hold the breath out for the count of 5. A few minutes of this (set your phone’s timer so you don’t rush) and you’ll feel the benefit.

5. Laugh!
Laughter Yoga is real. It began in Mumbai in 1995 and basically combines laughing with yoga (on purpose, not when you crash out of an asana). I’ve seen grown yogis quake in the face of Laughter Yoga and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s also not immediately available to you when you’re sitting at a desk. But the principle works. Watch your favourite comedian on YouTube for 10 minutes. A complete mood shifter. Do it!

And there are other delicious ways to shake off stress. Grab a hug or eight (your daily minimum, apparently), for an oxytocin boost. Get outside and drink in the sunlight that help top up your serotonin reserves.

These are my current favourite five. My walks now involve barefoot walking on grass which seems to be improving my energy levels no end (research to be done on this, leave it with me) but what are your top stress busters? Do you practice any of these already and do they work for you? Thoughts in the comments below, all ideas very gratefully received. Shared wisdom serves us all.

 

References and further information

Bernie Clark, Yin yoga teacher, on Power Poses and their gifts
https://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/10/power-posing-viramudra-jayamudra-bernie-clark/

Laughter Yoga people in the UK
http://www.laughteryoga.co.uk

Building health habits – in action

Building health habits – in action

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about habit building: 5 good reasons to stick with your new habit commitment.

Very easy to give advice.

Much harder to take.

I do think practising what you preach is only right. Authenticity is a core value for me. So I’ve been busy in my home lab forming healthy habits.

This first healthy habit I’ve created sounds easy and theoretically it should be, but it involves two exercises I find very challenging, but I also know will greatly aid my need for more physical strength. Press ups and an excruciating core exercise from my Darcey Bussell Pilates for Life DVD.

Like most people I’ll cheerfully do what I love and I’m good at. And I’ll avoid what is hard for me. Once upon a time – 20 years ago, now I think about it – when I was a kickboxing obsessive, I could do press ups for hours. I’m still on my knees doing press ups today, but I’m doing them and that’s what counts. Every morning I do two minutes of each. Press ups and the Darcey killer core moves. As many as I can in the time set. 

So it’s just four minutes. Should be easy, right? Oh you’d be surprised… And I record the total for each day. My goal is to do 10% more each week.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

1. We’re not All the same. Pretty comfortable with this revelation. I am now just over two weeks into my new healthy habit practice but I’ve done it every day, although it doesn’t feel like cleaning my teeth yet, in terms of being a daily ‘must’ so there’s definitely time yet before I’m wedded to my new habit yet. 21 days to form a new habit? And the rest…

2. Failing isn’t failing, it’s just another rung on the ladder. I’m still on track with what you’ll probably think is a pretty lame healthy habit, but when I do fall off the wagon, knowing one slip up does not ruin everything will keep me moving.

3. Not all habits are created equally
I think I’ve been pretty canny here. I’ve tied this habit into my morning routine. I must do these two exercises before I do anything else (except go to the loo. I’m a midlife womn, let’s be sensible here). It’s the rule. No cup of tea. No sneaking onto Instagram. Before anything. End of.

Surprisingly, this is working. Oh my mind will resist, but once I’m down there with the timer going, I’m off. Because it’s just four minutes isn’t it. No excuse.

4. Your circumstances for giving up can be different
Certainly I’ve noticed mindset is everything. When I began, the first burning sensation in a muscle struck me as a reason to stop. What I’ve now come to realise is your mind is highly protective and this burning sensation is just your body telling you it’s working. Pretty soon that burning sensation moves from one muscle group to another; from triceps to pectorals… just keep going.

5. Tell yourself you love it, even if it’s a lie
When the burning (I’m now calling it ‘warrior heat’ because that makes me almost welcome it… almost) kicks in I repeat to myself over and over ‘I love this, I love this’. This, of course, is absolute bull, but apparently if I keep that thought out of my head and bang on with the ‘love’ mantra it becomes easier. Conversely, my brother’s cat died in her sleep last weekend and as soon as I think about that my arms nearly give way. Do not think sad thoughts when you’re doing your healthy habit, especially if you don’t want to face plant.

6. Measure and record
If I wasn’t recording these numbers I would have had no idea how quickly I’m improving. It’s truly satisfying, to see the numbers go up. The 10% increase goal is sneaky because it’s never ending. And I’m blowing it out of the water so far. Mind you, I’m only two weeks in.

Am I obsessed? Not quite. I haven’t got the mindset right yet, but I am enjoying the challenge and I feel stronger already.

So does that healthy habit advice hold water? Undoubtedly. I’m looking forward to the day I wake up and discover I ‘have to do’ my 2×2 minute bursts and then I’ll know where my habit-forming sweet-spot is. More updates to come.

Enjoy finding yours.

5 good reasons to stick with your new habit commitment

5 good reasons to stick with your new habit commitment

How long does it take to change a habit? 

If you think it’s 21 days, because you’ve read that stated as a fact somewhere, there’s some good news, and some, perhaps, more sobering news.

So first the myth-busting…

Contrary to what you might have read, if you want to make a life change, after 21 days you do not magically have a new habit on autopilot.

I know, wouldn’t that be wonderful. But it isn’t so… except for maybe a few people and they’re as rare as hen’s teeth. Here’s why…

  1. We’re not all the same

You’re unique, I’m unique. So why would it take us all 21 days to form a habit? When scientists have looked at habit formation they have discovered it takes people very different time periods to adopt the same new habit. Just 18 days was the least but the average was 66 and the other end of the spectrum was more than 250! So have patience, there’s nothing wrong with you. You are you, in all your glorious uniqueness.

2. ‘Failing’ isn’t failing, it’s just another step on the ladder

If you slip back/up/over in this quest to form a new habit, that is not the end of your new habit’s potential. You’ve just learned something. And that is all. 

Look at what happened objectively. Shake off any emotional attachment to this moment and see it for what it is, a miss-take. Just like your favourite film, creating a habit is made up of scenes and there will be habit challenges. Heard of Jackie Chan, the martial arts comedy film actor? He’s legendary for retakes; 2,900 in one film, apparently! The director Stanley Kubrick is said to have reshot one scene in The Shining 148 times. So if you fall off your healthy eating plan for one day, remember Jackie Chan. He doesn’t consider himself any less of a human being because he doesn’t nail it first go; neither should you.

Or put simply; stop catastrophising! 

3. Not all habits are created equally

Some habits are a lot harder to change than others. Scientists have been delving into habit formation and change for a long time and they’ve discovered the truth is much less clear cut than we’ve been led to imagine. 

Take flossing (teeth, not the dance)… UK scientists looked at two scenarios for introducing a new habit. One group were told to floss after hanging up their shower towel. Once they’d flossed their teeth they could then clean them. The other group were instructed to floss after cleaning their teeth. Both groups followed instruction during the monitoring period. But those who stuck with the habit, when the scientists followed up afterwards, were in the latter group. The scientists think that’s because the new habit was tagged on to a related, already established health habit. Establishing autopilot is easier for the brain if it’s like ‘apple + pear’ (i.e. really similar) rather than ‘cauliflower + pear’ (not similar).

So if you want to create a new habit, tag it on to one you already have that fits it.

4. Your circumstances for giving up can be different

One smart academic pointed out that walking and texting becomes very easy to give up if you’ve been hit by a car while doing this and had your leg broken. It’s funny how a near death experience can ramp up our determination.

5. Motivation is your starter; obsession is your finish post driver

If you want to succeed in habit changing, amplify your ‘motivation’ until it’s a more like burning obsession. Why? Motivation is a great starter, but it’s not going to propel you onwards when the doing gets tough. And the going will get tough. You’ve got to shrug off the challenges if you want it. Change pushes all sorts of buttons you might not be ready for…. Yet. Here’s a tip evolved from podcaster and author, Tim Ferriss’ fear facing technique.

Plan for all the things that can go wrong along your quest journey. Write them out. All of them. You know yourself; what are the weak spots that could trip you up? Then write out what you’re going to do when those scenarios come up. See yourself there, meeting your hurdle and clearing it with ease. Trying to cut back on drinking but you know you’re a ‘pleaser’ and don’t like feeling ‘different’? Practice what you’ll say when someone offers you a drink and you don’t want alcohol. What’s your reason for refusing wine? What’s your new non-alcohol drink? Practice until it feels natural. Visualise the scenes.

As a hypnotherapist, I can help you ‘give up’ a habit relatively quickly, but I can’t be there when you’re tempted at every turn so I ask clients to come to a session with a full list of their Achilles heels and I weave their positive actions into their programming recording so when the hurdle emerges they know what to do. And with their recording, they’ve rehearsed it so many times it feels like a familiar success.

Knowing all of the above is going to give you a strong head start in meeting your goals – happy habit forming.

And if you have great tips for breaking bad habits or taking up new ones, I’d love to hear them. Drop them in the comments below.

PS Oh by the way – the 21 days to create a habit myth? It originated with a plastic surgeon who ‘noticed’ it took people ‘about 21 days’ to get used to their new feature. No research. No control groups. Just one guy’s opinion. Yup, about as factual as lemmings committing mass suicide. No. They don’t. Although they will apparently eat each other if they get really hungry. Nice.

Further reading and references

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/201310/you-can-develop-desired-health-behaviors

(Judah, G., Gardner, B., & Aunger, R. (2013). Forming a flossing habit: an exploratory study of the psychological determinants of habit formation. British journal of health psychology, 18(2), 338-353.

Fear setting: the most powerful exercise I do every month
https://tim.blog/2017/05/15/fear-setting/

Here’s How long It really takes to break a habit
https://www.sciencealert.com/how-long-it-takes-to-break-a-habit-according-to-science

Lemming Suicide Myth: Disney film faked bogus behaviour
http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=56

 

Your story is your power

Your story is your power

‘We all have the ability to come from nothing to something,’
David Goggins, ultra marathon runner, retired navy SEAL, author

 

We all have a story.

It’s the story we tell ourselves when we sense we don’t measure up. When we want to give up. When we blame others for what is happening to us.

Our inner critic loves our story. Perfect ammunition for keeping us in the comfort zone of mediocrity. No one thinks they want to be mediocre, do they? But I see a lot of people on social media clearly invested in their victim status, which suggests that’s exactly where they’ll stay.

And I do understand that. Stepping away from what’s comfortable and leaving it behind is not the easy choice. 

Risk of failure can be daunting. Imagining others’ judgement can be paralysing. Putting energy into swimming up stream needs focused, constant determination. The Story becomes a way to rationalise clinging to the comfort zone.

Our story’s roots usually drill right into our childhood. ‘I’ve always been the world’s worst speller.’ ‘I was a fat kid.’ ‘I was useless at running.’ And we use that story to explain why we are like we are now. Under-achieving on detail jobs at work. Overweight. Not getting any exercise beyond pushing the remote buttons.

So how do we take our story and make it work for us?

You flip it. You look for the positives and you move forward. I’ll tell you two stories from my teenage years which may help you see this concept more clearly.

I fell on this ‘bad can be good’ idea quite by accident. And then, of course, as I grew older I discovered I hadn’t invented anything and Nietzsche was far more articulate on this subject than I was. But I understood ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ very well.

When I was in fourth year, about 14 years old, I was a geek swot who loved learning. I was plump, shy and my parents weren’t getting on. Basically, I had ‘bully me’ tattooed in invisible ink on my forehead. Bullies have vulnerability radar and mine showed up to claim me pretty quickly. We’ll call my bully Julie.

Julie had a great technique for hurting; she walked behind me and step on the back of my heels. That is painful, as anyone knows who’s been caught by a supermarket trolley in the back of the ankle. And so she did this every day, as often as she could. She walked behind me , stepping on my heels and taunting me, trying to inflict physical and mental pain. And I took it, until I couldn’t. I was heavily invested in achieving at school; I endured this for weeks. But everyone has their limit.

Julie’s first lesson – do your homework. Don’t mess with a girl whose dad wanted a boy.  When I was about seven had Dad taught me to box. He’d kneel down and she me how to jab and defend. The results were I could punch. Effectively.

I knocked Julie off her feet with the first punch to the nose. She went down and she left me alone from then on.

So that was that. I realised standing up for myself was a good thing and I went on with being a geek and did my A-levels.

Just before I was due to go to move away to college I was sexually assaulted. 

He stopped me on a quiet country lane and asked me the time. Then, while I was distracted looking at my wristwatch, he lunged at me. I know. Subtle.

Almost on autopilot now, I took aim and punched him right on the nose, and then stood, side on, guard up and ready to fight. He got up and fled. 

I looked down at my dress, which was a mess, stomped off to the police station and only when I got there did the tears start. 

What I took from being bullied had made me stronger. 

Yes, I could have nipped that school bullying episode in the bud earlier, but I stopped it in the end. I didn’t see failure, I saw strength. And what I learned served me later. Ok, as would-be sex attackers go he was no Ted Bundy, just a mixed up kid with half a plan and no sense. The police picked him up a few days later on the same stretch of road, looking for his next ‘victim’. Thankfully he pleaded guilty and got a two-year supervision order. I really do hope he learned his lesson and got the help he needed.

Fight, flight or freeze

When we’re confronted with danger, it’s the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ part of the brain that kicks in and takes over to remove us from danger. Back in our ancient past, when we were hunted by predators that came with fur and big teeth, this part of our brain developed. Running wasn’t wise, couldn’t outrun these predators. Fighting was the last resort solution. Freezing was your best tactic, it’s very hard to spot a target that keeps very still or plays dead. This is why people freeze when they’re attacked and then question why they didn’t run or fight back; a part of their brain that’s purpose is to protect has taken over and is in charge.

Now you might think I was foolish to fight back, but for me it was the natural reaction. I didn’t make a conscious choice. And of course it gave me an element of surprise and I had that confidence in my physical power. I’ve worked to maintain that.

3 tips for developing your power

Yes, fighting is rarely the solution, but if you move with confidence and walk with power in your step, a potential attacker will sense that. They’re looking for weakness in your presence, not strength.

1. Learn how to defend yourself

If you don’t feel confident in your physical power, go learn how to feel more powerful. Take some basic self defence classes. Learn a martial art (amazing for making friends and learning the power of team support, by the way), but take control. Using these skills is not the goal. You’re not looking for a fight on Saturday night, but moving with confidence is a great deterrent.

2. Practice communication skills

If you regularly get into arguments (verbal fighting) learn techniques to communicate effectively without being emotionally triggered. You’re an adult now, you’ll have much more powerful, lasting relationships if you’re not treating every disagreement as a playground confrontation or a shouting match with your siblings.

3. Work on your body language

Predators are looking for easy victims, not difficult ones. Walk with confidence. If you’re lost, go into a cafe and check where you are, don’t wander around looking at your smart phone for directions. Most people are walking like they know where they’re going. Anyone who’s loitering and then starts moving towards you is likely to be after something, either your loose change or something else. Be aware.

What’s your story?

Bad things happen to good people all the time. Life is unfair. Being prepared makes sense. Using the bad times as reasons to achieve your goals makes sense, but using them to keep you from achieving your potential is not.

We all have stories. I have heard far worse than these two, I have far worse myself. I’m sure you do too. But you can use them as an excuse, or as your catalyst for change and growth – if you really want it.

Think about the stories you tell yourself. The incidents that you bring up as your reason for not moving forward when you know you want to or need to. In that story are positives that can spur you on. If you look for them.

If you want help with that, get in touch.

The choice is yours. 

Further reading:
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl argues we cannot avoid suffering, but we can endure it and find meaning within it, which gives us a stronger power to endure and more purpose as we move on. In this book he talks about his time in concentration camps, where he lost members of his family, including his pregnant wife.

In David Goggins’ Can’t Hurt Me you’ll discover how he pulled himself back from poverty, depression and a no-hope existence to become the first man to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger and Air Force Tactical Air Controller. This one comes with a language warning though; he swears like a sailor denied shore leave.