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wellbeing

365 days of happiness (or how to make yourself happy)

June 12, 2019
365 days of wellbeing

365 days of happiness

Jacqueline Pirtle believes happiness is a practice and wrote ‘365 days of happiness’ sharing daily guidance to help you be happy.

She teaches mindfulness, gratitude and visualisation techniques to help retrain our thought processes and create a positive mindset.

The idea is you work through the book doing one practice a day. The teachings are short, easy to digest and don’t require any pre-planning so they’re really easy to do each morning and help set you up for the day.   

Can you really make yourself happy?

Of course, there are times when happiness is harder and I fully believe it’s important to feel your feelings rather than trying to bury them. Pirtle agrees with this too and offers advice on how to look at those emotions and recognise their benefits.

However, there are times when nothing is going badly; it feels like nothing is going particularly well and life is just a bit blah. This is when a mindset change can reframe how you see life and help retrain our neural pathways.

And this is where ‘365 days of happiness’ comes in…

I’m generally a positive person by nature. However, I can spiral downwards when I’m tired; I eat bad food, avoid exercise and then feel miserable because I’m not looking after myself properly. It’s a chicken and egg situation and one I feel more motivated to change after reading ‘365 days of happiness’.

Anyway, enough about me…

6 lessons I learnt from reading ‘365 days of happiness’

How to be happy

  1. Remember that everything in our universe is vibrating energy. This includes rocks, trees, animals and ourselves; anything and everything you can think of. We may be vibrating different frequencies, however, we’re still all connected in some way. It’s quite incredible really and makes you realise that we’re all part of something bigger. Every thought, action, emotion and word is energy and vibrates at different frequencies. We can tune our energy to a different frequency and change our state of being with it.
  2. Wake up smiling and saying, ‘this is already and will be the best day ever’. Remember every day is a new day and a chance to start over. Making a decision that this will be the best day sets the tone and your intentions for the day. It shifts you into a frequency of excitement and creates lots of positive energy.
  3. Visualise how you feel when you’re happy. Ask yourself, ‘how do I feel in my high for life frequency’ and ‘how happy am I in my radiant frequency’? Visualise your answers often and it will shift you into a feel-good frequency.
  4. Pirtle also asks you to imagine yourself as a hotel owner and to think about how you would care for your guests, how you would check in with them and create an experience that they would enjoy. She asks that you recreate that experience for yourself. So check in with yourself and ask how you feel, what you need right now and how you can serve yourself better? This feels like the ulimate self-care and worth remembering for people who tend to put themselves last.
  5. Have a YES or No day where every decision you make, you make with clarity. There are no ‘probably’ or ‘maybe’ or ‘I’m not sure’ answers only YES or NO. If you can’t clearly say YES then it’s a NO. This will help you stop overthinking, second-guessing, or falling into the trap of catastrophising and help focus your thoughts to make decisions that are good for you.
  6. Take time out for yourself to be happy and create a moment of stillness to invite happiness into your life. This could be as simple as looking out of a window with a cup of tea. Give yourself a moment to think about how you feel and invite happiness into your day. Check into your happiness in the morning, afternoon and before you go to bed and remind yourself that it’s there.

365 days of happiness’ was gifted to me. However, all reviews are my own opinion. I don’t receive any commission if you decide to buy the book.

Want to read more on the science behind happiness?

https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/happiness/

and

mind

How to practice gratitude

May 6, 2019
how to practice gratitude

Gratitude practice changed my life

I’ve previously about how gratitude practice changed my life. It turned me from perpetually being a ‘grey sky thinker’ to seeing the positives in life.

I had gone through life feeling like the odds were stacked against me. 

Good fortune and luck were things that happened to other people. I was great at seeing the negatives in any situation which helped back up my theory (let’s face it, none of us like to be wrong…). My train was 2 minutes late: this always happen to me. Didn’t get the call for a job interview: that’s just typical. 

In pretty much any situation, I found it easy to dissect what was wrong about it, I just struggled with thinking what was right.

I first learnt about gratitude after reading the Secret and falling down a Rhonda Byrne / self-help book rabbit hole. I decided to give it a whirl for a few weeks and here I am 7 years later with my cup still half full.

For me, the greatest change has been to stop sweating the small stuff and to notice the positives more. I feel happy when I’m running late and my train is equally late too. I look for opportunities in situations, rather than being a naysayer and I’m much more in control of my feelings instead of being led by them. 

However, the main benefit is, I feel much happier overall.

Now, that’s not to say I find positives in every situation. When my Dad died very suddenly, I can’t say I found anything to feel particularly grateful about. I could barely function. However, a few years on, I can see the experience has changed me for the better. I have a deeper level of empathy and understanding towards other people, which just didn’t exist before. Obviously, I wish my Dad dying had never happened – but I guess as it did, I’m grateful I learnt something along the way.

What is a gratitude practice?

Gratitude practice involves regularly paying attention to the good around us, such as being around nature, meeting friends and time spent with family. 

It’s looking out for those small moments and feeling grateful for them. The cheery smile from a stranger or enjoying a really nice meal. 

Happiness is a feeling we can cultivate. So the more regularly we practice feeling grateful, the more aware we become of the good around us and the happier we feel.

Most of us take our lives for granted (a roof over our head, regular access to food, good health) and we forget to recognise it. Gratitude helps us remember this and all the other positives in life.

The science behind gratitude

There is a lot of science behind practising gratitude and the benefits it brings to both our physical and mental wellbeing. Researchers have found it helps with sleep, moods and overall physical health. 

There is also evidence that it retrains our neural pathways in the brain. Our neural pathways carry messages to and from the brain and are created by learnt behaviour so most of the time we don’t know we’re doing it. They’re not just physical responses, but emotional and behavioural too. 

Think about when you cross the road. In my case, I’m generally listening to music or a podcast and am pretty much in a world of my own. However, I still know to press the button and wait for the green man before I cross. I’m not diving into the road because I’ve done this task so many times my brain knows what to do.

Ever felt anxious when you know you’re going to have to navigate a tricky conversation? That’s because your brain knows this might result in conflict and so has sent that message to the brain and your emotions are heightened.

In the same way, if you’re always noticing negative events and situations, then your brain starts will send messages as soon as these things take place so you’re more aware of them. 

By focusing on feeling grateful when good things happen, then your neural pathways will send happier messages and you’ll be more aware of the positives in life instead. 

4 ways to practice gratitude

Here are 4 ways, I practice gratitude.

1. I follow a process I learnt by reading ‘the Magic’ and keep a gratitude journal where I write out 10 things I feel grateful for and the reasons why. I then read it back and say ‘thank you’ 3 times.

2. I use an App called Gratitude Plus. This sets a daily reminder, which prompts me to fill it in. This is great for being on the go and I use it on my commute.

3. I try to pause throughout the day and feel grateful for small moments. 

4. I reflect on the day before I go to sleep and pick out things that happened which I feel grateful for. It takes seconds and is a really nice way to end the day.

Please note, I’ve included links to Amazon for books that I’ve read. I’m not not suggesting you use this store over another – it’s just to be helpful. 

wellbeing

Retraining your neural pathways (and what that actually means)

March 5, 2019

What are neural pathways?

Our nervous system consists of neurons (nerve cells) that transmit nerve signals or messages to and from the brain. The path which this information travels along is called a neural pathway.

Our neural pathways are developed from childhood. As a baby, we learn to smile through our parents or caregivers smiling at us. We learn not to touch a hot pan from being burnt in the past. They help keep us safe and secure.

Our neural pathways aren’t just responsible for our physical responses but our emotional ones too. We develop habits through them: both positive and negative and they determine our responses to situations because of experiences in the past.

How do we retrain our neural pathways?

The brain is often described as a muscle and although biologically it’s not, it can be trained in a similar sort of way through repetition. This is in the same way as going to the gym or undertaking regular exercise.

So how exactly do you start?

The best place to start is to identify the patterns you want to change. This does take an element of self awareness and understanding patterns and behaviours you would like to create.

The next is to spend a decent amount of time practising the change you want to make. The perceived wisdom is it takes 66 days for a new habit to take effect and for your neural pathways to redevelop.

In the same way that it takes time for your body to change as a result of exercise, retraining neural pathways also doesn’t happen overnight. However, with time, you will see changes. I spent my 20s and some of my 30s feeling awkward and shy. I would clam up when I met new people but then laugh and joke with my friends. People thought I was standoffish and over the years I realised I was giving the wrong impression. I made a conscious decision to be friendly to new people. The more I did it, the easier it became. It’s now second nature to me.

Many of us go through life feeling like our confidence is holding us back and our previous life experiences have affected our future. Retraining our neural pathways gives us the opportunity to reset the balance. Yes, it takes practice but one that is potentially life-changing.

mind

How to make change happen

November 18, 2018
how to make change happen

In my professional life, I work in change communications. I help organisations move their employees through a change process often involving new ways of working. Yet, ironically when it comes to my personal life, a change agent I am not. I don’t like change and my tendency to overthink means I can struggle with indecision even when it comes to the smallest things. I worry about the outcomes and lose confidence in my own judgement. I’m convinced most people don’t like change, but it’s not something we readily like to admit to for fear of being seen as boring or stuck in our ways. However, it is something that needs to happen. We need to evolve and find new ways of doing things so that we can move forward in life. So how do we make change happen?

What is change?

Change is the process or act of doing something different. It broadly falls into two categories: change that we create for ourselves, and change that happens to us. Change we create for ourselves is thought to be the more positive version because we are in control. However, what if the thought of change causes us to stall? In some respects it can be easier to have change happen to us – we just need to react. However, in order to really feel happy and fulfilled, it’s important to take responsibility for our own lives and make change happen.

Why don’t we like change?

The reason why humans don’t like change seems to be in part down to the way our brains are wired. Scientists have shown we find a known negative outcome less stressful than dealing with uncertainty. We can also put huge investments of time, money and energy into our decision making. This makes it hard for our egos to walk away from a situation that no longer serves us. It’s why so many of us have stayed in relationships for longer than we should have done or overlooked opportunities in favour of the status quo.

There is also a school of thought that says unless change can offer twice as many gains as a loss, then people would rather stick with what they know. So our brains need to see something as being twice as positive in order to take action.

However, getting over the wrong decision is part of the human experience and something most people do very well. It offers us learning opportunities and helps us grow. This suggests that even when change doesn’t work, it’s still hugely beneficial.

Becoming more comfortable with change

In organisational change, we know that the process must be managed because people will not accept change overnight. It needs to be done slowly, communicated properly and thoughtfully.

There are principles within change management that can be applied to our own decision-making. We can carry out a pre-mortem exercise which is a technique where you think of all the reasons why something might fail. This helps identify areas to be aware of and put solutions in place before any activity begins.

We also need to be aware that so much of our decision making is based on past experiences and habit. This is one of the main reasons why organisations tend to invest huge sums of money into a change process and their employees go back to doing exactly the same thing they did before. It’s habit that forms our neural pathways and creates thinking patterns that mean we tend to do the same thing over and over again.

In order to really become comfortable with change, we need to create new neural pathways. We need to retrain our brains into new habits. So for the next month, try to do something a bit different every day. Rewire the brain to enjoy change.

5 ways to make change happen (and feel good about your decision making…)

  1. Recognise that change doesn’t have to be a right/wrong decision. You can change your job, house etc – and keep changing it until you find what’s right for you.
  2. Write a list of pros and cons so you’re really comfortable with your decision.
  3. Understand that not taking a course of action is actually a decision in itself. So by not doing one thing, you are making an active decision to stick with the status quo. There’s nothing wrong with that of course. It’s just helped me when I’ve felt in a comfort zone to recognise staying in it, is a decision too.
  4. Remember that change isn’t linear. We all go through ups and downs, and zig zag throughout life.
  5. We all change in our lives. The best thing we can do is understand life has a way of turning out for the best and ride the wave.
wellbeing

How to start the day on a positive note

June 13, 2018
habits to start day on positive note

Anyone else remember the phrase ‘start the day as you mean to go’ being used a lot during their teenage years? I would hear it muttered after finally dragging myself out of bed in the afternoon – no doubt following an evening of being on the cider and black. But pass agg (passive aggressive) comments aside, there is a lot of sense to it. Personally, I do feel a lot better about myself if I feel I’ve started the day well.

A lot of our actions are habits and putting the right ones in place can bring about simple and effective changes. Our habits are essentially patterns in our brains (neural pathways). It takes time and effort to create new ones. Getting into good habits to begin each morning is how you start the day on a positive note.

Of course, there are always obstacles and incidents outside of our control. However, for the majority of the time, it’s the way we deal with them that affects our mood. Starting the day positively helps frame our thought-patterns and emotions so life feels a bit easier to deal with. So without further ado, let’s look at the 3 habits you need to get into to start the day well.

How to start the day on a positive note; the 3 habits you need

  1. Plan ahead

My day goes much more smoothly if I’ve managed to iron my clothes for the day ahead – rather than picking out what’s clean and hoping for the best. If I’ve made a green smoothie and my lunch in advance, then I am literally winning at life (small things here).

2. Be appreciative and show gratitude

Say thank you for the cup of coffee, your train arriving on time, or getting a good parking space outside work. Feel the appreciation for things around you and events going your way. This helps frame your mood and you’ll start noticing the good things and not look out for everything that can go wrong.

3. Start creative thinking or problem solving first thing

Use the first part of the day to tackle more challenging tasks and save the more administrative, basic jobs until later in the day. Your brain should be less tired and you’ll start the day with a sense of accomplishment.

Be kind to yourself

We’re all human and life doesn’t always turn out the way we intend to. If you oversleep, don’t make yourself an instagram worthy breakfast or begin the day with yoga etc, then don’t give yourself a hard time. Start again tomorrow.

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