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Why we need to practice self-compassion

June 26, 2019
self-compassion and why you need to practice it

Ever ruminate over something you said, which you could have said better? Or beat yourself up over how you could have dealt with a situation differently? 

Do you tell yourself you should be further ahead than you are? Be more confident/quick-witted/have the body of a 20 year-old when in reality you’re 44?* 

*I appreciate the last one might just be me… 

Well, it sounds like you need to practice self-compassion. 

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is the practice of extending compassion and kindness to yourself in instances of perceived inadequacies, failure or general suffering. 

It’s talking to yourself kindly and being more mindful of your inner voice.

Self-compassion means talking to ourselves in a way that we would to a friend.

Are you your own worst critic? 

There is absolutely no way I would talk to a friend in the same way, I talk to myself. It would be cruel, hurtful and I would have no friends left.

I’m not analysing their every move and criticising everything they do. I’m not listening to every word they say questioning whether or not they used the right terminology or phrasing. Neither am I listening to them talk about things that have gone wrong and thinking, well you cocked that up again…

But for some reason, we think its ok to beat ourselves up and give ourselves a really hard time. And it’s ridiculous.

Understanding the difference between bad decision making and being a bad person

There is a massive difference between making a bad decision and being a bad person.

I for one, have a tendency to confuse the two. I can literally take one bad incident, apply it to the whole of my life and tell myself I have a character defect.

Yet if my friend had made a mistake, I wouldn’t automatically think, you’re a terrible person who sucks at life. You know the whole person and all their good points. You understand they’re human and things happen. In those instances, I want to make my friend feel better and reassure them they’re doing ok.

However, I can spend hours ruminating over my choice of words and criticising myself for getting them wrong. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

Self-compassion doesn’t mean overlooking your mistakes and not taking responsibility for things. It’s not a way of shrugging your shoulders and acting like things haven’t happened or ignoring someone’s feelings. It means recognising those mistakes, dealing with them, then building a big old bridge and getting over it.

Learn to love yourself

If you can't love yourself, how in the hell can love somebody else?
Wise words from Rupaul

I remember in my single days reading a lot about the importance of loving yourself before getting into a relationship and it’s so true. 

The reality is if you treat yourself like sh*t; then how can you expect someone else to come along and treat you better? You’re telling yourself continually that you don’t deserve love.

This is why self-compassion is so important. 

It’s not just romantic relationships but all areas of life: family, friendships, work etc.

I sometimes look back at things that have happened in my life and think why did you let that happen? I had no idea what boundaries were, never mind know how to set them.

However, I’m learning to be kinder to myself when looking back at the past. I didn’t have the tools then to be able to deal with certain situations, and to a degree, we need these things to happen to in order to grow. 

So how do you start practising self-compassion?

  • Recognise in yourself that you deserve better.
  • Think of areas or issues that you give yourself a hard time over and write down how you would approach the same situation with a friend. Would you use the same language? Would you be kinder?
  • Change your inner voice to the one you would use to speak to a friend.
  • Appreciate your successes as well as situations that don’t go your way.
  • Remember, it’s not always about you… Didn’t get the job? It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible interviewee; it just means there was someone who was a better fit. Someone doesn’t like you as much as you like them? It doesn’t mean you’re a deeply unattractive person; they just don’t feel the same way and that’s ok. It happens and it’s not personal.
  • Appreciate that change is incremental. We don’t simply become better humans: we evolve and grow. Stop giving yourself such a hard time.

It’s all about the journey, not the destination

I often think we have strong ideas on the type of person we’d like to be or think we should be and then get cross with ourselves when we fail those expectations.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. So don’t give yourself a hard time because you’re not yet the perfect you. Be kind, pick yourself up and start again.

Tomorrow is a new day.


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

How to stop being a victim and take responsibility for your own life

April 22, 2019
Stop being a victim and take responsibility for your own life

Stop being a victim

Confession time: I was the world’s biggest victim. I felt everything was stacked against me.

The reason why my relationships failed? That was down to my turbulent childhood and not having good role models. Why I never got promoted at work? That was because no one appreciated my efforts. If someone spoke down to me, well, that was because there was something about me that made them think it was ok. I didn’t come from money and had no safety net to fall back on so I couldn’t follow my dreams.

I felt life wasn’t fair.

Life isn’t fair

The truth is, life isn’t fair. Some people are born into exceptionally difficult circumstances. Sadly, the situation of our early years wrongly has a massive impact on our life chances. Our health: mental and physical can also be a lottery and completely outside of our control.

I’m not saying this to try and illustrate life can be much harder for other people so just suck it up. If someone had said this to me, I would have felt even more useless and misunderstood. Plus, there was truth to how I was feeling.

I’m using it to illustrate that we all will deal with issues: some people more than others. It’s what you do afterwards that really counts.

Please note, afterwards is a very long time so don’t use that to beat yourself up either.

Truth in your feelings

The truth is a lot of my feelings were valid.

It’s harder to understand what a healthy relationship is when you didn’t grow up around many of them. I had quite a black and white view: relationships are either good or bad and I didn’t really understand they require work.

I also had zero confidence so whilst people speaking down to me is absolutely their responsibility, I just didn’t know how to navigate it.

I had the self-awareness to realise these issues were the root cause of most of my problems.

What I didn’t realise was they were things I could change.

Changing the narrative in your head

Where I was going wrong was to use how I felt as the story of my life.

I would never do well because I lacked confidence. I was really good at identifying situations or events that backed up how I felt. However, I never reflected on when I’d done well.

The reality was that on paper, I was reasonably successful. I perhaps hadn’t fulfilled my full potential, but, I wasn’t doing too badly either. I just didn’t realise it.

I was letting my feelings dictate the course of my life by telling myself they were fact.

Take responsibility for your own life

I was a bit late to the party in realising the only person with responsibility for my life was me.

I started to stop searching for someone to come and look after me and decided to make myself happy instead.

The biggest and most simplest change I made was my gratitude practice. I’ve written about this in previous blogs and how it completely reframed my thinking. I stopped focusing so much on what was wrong with my life and saw what was good.

I also realised there were certain things I was telling myself that maybe weren’t true anymore. I’d always said I was bad at public speaking and so avoided it like the plague. I would always let other people take the lead at work and pull out of job interviews if they had presentations involved. I decided to stop saying no, and you know what.. it’s really not that bad. Yes, I still feel self-conscious but the narrative in my head has changed.

This made me realise there were more things I was hiding behind that were no longer the case.

I always think it’s important to think of change as a sliding scale involving small incremental steps.

We would never expect to run a marathon overnight without any training; yet we expect to become different people overnight and then have feelings of self-loathing when we don’t.

Change is gradual and often there is progress where we don’t even see it. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s a journey.

I’m never going to be the world’s most confident person and that’s ok. I think about it far less and look at it when it’s an issue.

I also recognise the buck stops with me. I’m no longer waiting for someone to pluck me out of obscurity. I don’t need the external validation as much as I used to. Plus it’s up to me to manage my own life.

Sometimes it’s worth drawing a line in the sand to say, this was then, and this is now. The past is the past. It doesn’t determine your future.

mind

Why self-doubt isn’t always a bad thing: turning our negative patterns around

April 15, 2019
why self-doubt isn't always a bad thing

It might seem bizarre that I’m writing about why self-doubt isn’t always a bad thing given that it’s plagued me my whole life. Self-doubt has affected my decision-making, stopped me from pursuing potential opportunities and held me back no end. I spend a considerable amount of time second-guessing myself and overthinking to the point that it can be exhausting.

I’d like to give you a happy ending here with some advice on what I’ve done to turn this around. However, I can’t. Self-doubt is something I work hard on and more than likely will always be part of my life.

Yet, I was thinking recently about how we’re always very quick to complain about our negative characteristics and how they hold us back. But what if there are some positives to being this way too?

I always say life is about balance and like yin and yang, there is darkness and light within everything. Can we look at some of our ‘negative’ traits and see something good?


Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Brene Brown

Humans aren’t wholly good or wholly bad. We’re complicated and unique. Our backgrounds and experiences shape how we react to situations and events. We also tend to see ourselves quite differently from how other people see us. Are they also seeing our negative patterns in a different way?

So here are 6 reasons why self-doubt isn’t always a bad thing

  1. Self-doubt means you care. Have you ever had a sleepless night worrying about whether you’ve done a good enough job or that you said the wrong thing? Well, at least you care. Of course, you can care too much. But surely it’s better to care than be apathetic and lacklustre?
  2. It’s often a way we protect ourselves from what we regard to be challenging situations. Often we use self-doubt to hold us back. However, there are occasions where it’s right to be doubtful because we’re being realistic. We’re having feelings of self-doubt because it’s just not the right time or situation for us.
  3. People who suffer with self-doubt tend to be hard workers in my experience. They work harder because they question themselves, rather than thinking they don’t need to make any effort.
  4. Self-doubt can make you more open because you ask others for advice and guidance. Whilst we shouldn’t judge ourselves by the court of public opinion, it can help to ask other people for input. We don’t always have all the answers.
  5. Personally, I see nothing wrong with a bit of humility. Us self-doubters tend to have it in spades. The opposite of humility is arrogance and I would much rather be around someone with humility than a know-it-all who’s always right.
  6. Brene Brown delivered on of the most popular Ted Talks of all time on the power of vulnerability. Our self-doubt can make us vulnerable, but we can use that vulnerability as a power for good helping us to open up and make greater connections with others.
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

The pre-mortem technique (and how I use it on my overthinking brain)

February 17, 2019
The pre-mortem technique and how I use it on my overthinking brain

I recently went on a leadership training course with work. Admittedly, we did one exercise on how to evacuate a village, but the rest of the time was spent on management skills and decision-making abilities. This is where I learnt the pre-mortem technique and realised how I could use it on my overthinking brain.

What is the pre-mortem technique?

A pre-mortem is opposite of a post-mortem – where you look to see what went wrong after the event. With a post-mortem you do it before. You take a scenario, pull it to pieces, write down everything that can go wrong, then choose the top 2 or 3 and put solutions in place.

For someone with overthinking, worrying tendencies like myself, the pre-mortem technique has helped me work through some of my negative thought processes. We (as in me and my family) have been thinking about moving house and the mere thought sent me into a tailspin of anxious thoughts. What if my son gets bullied at his new nursery (my son is 2)? What if we don’t like the area (we’ll still be in London..)? And even, what if there isn’t a Turkish grocer nearby (erm.. I’m not Turkish)?

I get annoyed with myself because moving to a new house is a privilege and I shouldn’t look for the negatives. Equally, the last time we did it, I found the move to a different area so much better. I end up feeling really frustrated thinking why I am like this?

Writing down my thoughts has really helped me understand what’s whirling around in my overthinking brain. Even though those thoughts may be somewhat irrational (Turkish greengrocer, anyone?), it’s good to address them head on.

I have found the pre-mortem technique useful, particularly when feeling overwhelmed. I always knew my brain worked at double speed, I just didn’t know how to separate my thoughts out and work through them one by one. Challenging my thoughts, understanding what’s going on and writing it all down has alleviated most of my worries. And I now feel positive about our plans to move.

mind

Setting intentions with kindness

December 22, 2018

Setting intentions with kindness (instead of a stick to beat yourself with)

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post about setting intentions. They were areas I wanted to achieve, not actual resolutions per se, but a kinder, intentional approach that I would use as a focus and not beat myself up about.

Reader, I lied. I did everything I said I wouldn’t.

I’ve been writing my resolutions/intentions for years now. They’ve spanned my life from a binge-drinking, hot mess to a calmer mother of one. The approach has always been similar: some were things I wanted to achieve such as places to travel and others to try and implement some self-control. I genuinely had a resolution at one stage saying ‘only drink one bottle of wine on nights out – two on special occasions’. Bridget Jones was an amateur in comparison to me…

Yet I also can see a trend. When I wrote down a desire to travel to interesting places, then it happened or if it didn’t, there was a good reason why. But, when it was self-criticism wrapped up in the form of self-improvement, then those resolutions rolled over into yet another year of self-loathing.

Changing language into one of kindness

If I look back on my intentions from last year, then I haven’t really achieved any of them and that makes me feel bad about myself. However, if I reflect on the year, then I’ve made some good things happen. My relationship with my son just gets better, my job has changed to one that suits me personally and I have travelled to some amazing places. Yes, I could have done more yoga, eaten more salads and blogged more regularly but in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter?

So, this year, I’m changing the language. I’m setting intentions with kindness.

My intentions for the year ahead

  • I plan to nourish my body – this might be with good food, yoga, running and sleep.
  • I want to deepen my spiritual practice. I might do that through mindfulness, yoga, or taking a walk in my local park and simply enjoying nature.
  • I want to create more content – and enjoy the process. I’m enjoying learning new creative tactics through work and I love feeling my brain is expanding.
  • And most of all, I want to focus on enjoying the everyday. A little kiss from my son. My morning commute saying hello to my fellow early birds. Seeing the love my child has for my mother. A cup of coffee from my husband. Recognising and feeling gratitude for the tiny moments because they are what makes a life.
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