La Bella Venezia

Yesterday we returned from a week in Venice. Yes, that’s right, a full week in the place most people visit for two or three days at most, pausing only long enough to tick off the main sites (Rialto, St. Mark’s Square) and do the main tourist attractions (gondola ride, selfie in front of the Bridge of Sighs). But if you take the time to spend longer than the average tourist in this amazing place, you will really reap the benefits.

Besides being beautiful, with its labyrinth of canals, colourful buildings, lively squares and narrow passageways, Venice is steeped in history. One only has to stick their head into the stunning Frari Church or Scuolo Grande di San Rocco to get a flavour of what the city has to offer. And it doesn’t stop there. The different areas all have their own unique charm, from San Polo (where we rented a lovely Airbnb property and found a gorgeous sandwich shop/bar which we frequented for a beer and glass of Prosecco most evenings) to Castello (where we returned to a wonderful restaurant near to the famous Arsenale – former ship yard and armoury – where we dined on our honeymoon last year) to the Jewish Ghetto and Giudecca, which both have a completely different, but no less charming, vibe compared to the other parts of the city.

This year, the Venice Biennale festival includes modern art, with a huge display of artworks to explore in both the Arsenale and Giardini. A two day ticket costs only 25 Euros, which is well worth the money. There are also a huge number of other galleries and exhibitions (both permanent and temporary, to coincide with the Biennale) running across the city, including new exhibitions by Damien Hirst and David Hockney (neither of which we saw, sadly, as we ran out of time).

And then there is the beach. On my previous two trips to Venice, both less than three days in duration, I didn’t make it as far as the Lido. But with a few days more we were able to hop on the Vaporetto (water bus) and make the half hour journey on two occasions. It’s not the best beach in the world, and it is very busy during the summer, but there are still plenty of sun beds and umbrellas available to rent and it offers respite from the searing heat and busy streets in the city, when sightseeing gets too much.

I need not linger on the food (it goes without saying Italian food is divine); suffice to say if seafood and ice cream are your bag, you will not be disappointed in Venice. I’m pretty sure I’ve come back at least half a stone heavier, but I don’t regret a moment of it!

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Reflections at a milestone / mini lesson in Cognitive Behavioural Coaching

I just finished my twelfth hour of coaching, a core component of my Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology.

Frankly, I feel elated. But when I thought “I’ll write a blog about this feeling,” my inner critic leapt up and shouted “OI! You should be doing coursework! Don’t let one victory make you complacent! You are still WAY behind!”

This reaction made me laugh, because the aspect of coaching that has resonated most with me so far is the concept of ‘performance inhibiting thoughts’, or PITs. We all know them, those cranky little digs we give ourselves about the things we ‘should’ or ‘must’ do, or the reminders that we are ‘always’ doing this, or that someone else is a big fat so and so, and as far as you’re concerned that’s that.

Since I’ve learned about them I’ve been calling myself out a million times a day. The above examples are just a few of the many ways our inner critics seek to sabotage us on a daily basis.

The key to moving past them is as follows:

  1. Notice when you do it – all the times you label yourself or someone else, the times you overgeneralise or catastrophise situations, the times your views are rigid. Just catch yourself, make a mental note, or even write it down if you like (that’s a great way of internalising it and means you are more likely to succeed in conquering it).
  2. When you have a quiet moment, sit down and read through the list of PITs you have picked up on.
  3. For each one, challenge the assumption, and reframe it in a positive way. Write the new thought down beside the old one.
  4. Next time you catch yourself doing it, recall the associated Performance Enhancing Thought (PET).
  5. With practice, you will re-train your brain!

Thus ends today’s lesson in Cognitive Behavioural Coaching. You’re welcome 😉9c02a298faaebec58a66b077659828b0

Riding the Hamster Wheel

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After the success of my sitcom writing course (writing a 15 minute script and having it acted out by a Game of Thrones actress does count as success, right?) with the City Academy I have once again grasped the nettle and signed up for a 7 week summer course in crime writing, this time with the City Lit. This will run concurrently with the screenplay idea I’m working on with my amazing writing mentor, so I’ll have lots to keep me busy!

You see, what I’m coming to realise is that being busy is always best – or at least that’s the case with people like me, who are creatively minded and enthusiastic but tend towards laziness and phases of paranoid inactivity. Deadlines are key to productivity, and without concrete plans (submit essay by x, write plot outline by y) it’s all too easy to drift out with the tide, never to return to shore. So whilst I will quite often bitch and moan about not having enough hours in the day, I know deep down without these goals and targets I would lack the momentum to achieve anything at all.

Discipline, however, is a different beast entirely, and one that’s far more difficult to tame. You can set all the goals and targets that you like, but if you don’t ‘show up’ regularly, as a good friend recently said to me, the game is lost. And the fact remains that whilst I’m full of good intentions and prone to bursts of fervour, showing up regularly is still something I struggle with. That, and the idea that you don’t have to be in the ‘right’ mood to ‘write,’ nor even must you know where the writing will take you. You just have to sit down and do it. No but-I-have-to-hang-out-the-washing-then-go-to-the-gym-and-make-dinner excuses.

And on that note, I’m just off to the gym and to make dinner before I sit down with my laptop for the evening…..

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Just B

As today is my 32nd (gulp) birthday, I thought I’d entertain the idea that time travel was possible, and write a letter to the ‘Me’ of ten years ago:

Dear 22 year old Belle,

This is your older (and far wiser) self, writing to tell you a few things that might help you in the years to come.

Right now you are happy and believe you have found love, but things will take a turn for the worse four years from now. It will be the toughest time you will have faced up to that point, but it will be the making of you in ways you couldn’t previously conceive. You will find a strength you never knew you possessed, and you will discover what it is to be truly happy in your own skin, without the claustrophobic need for companionship you currently experience. One day, after your fragile heart has healed, you will meet someone with whom you can be entirely yourself, someone who treats you with a level of respect you never thought possible, who will show you what it feels like to be truly and unconditionally loved. Wait for that day in good faith, and trust that you need to experience the hard times to truly appreciate the amazing ones that will follow.

But enough on that, now a few words on your career: As your future self I feel duty-bound to tell you it seems possible you may never know what you want to be when you ‘grow up.’ You’ll drift from job to job and never quite feel you belong. The only constant in your life will be writing, and this is something you must do at every opportunity. Don’t doubt yourself or your ability, simply write and see where it leads you. Never give up, for it is only in persistence that success can be found.

Some general life advice: Don’t have regrets or harbour grudges; all they’ll do is eat you up inside. Instead please trust that things will happen as they should. ‘What’s for you won’t go by you’ is a phrase that you should heed. Love your family and your friends with all your heart. Be honest, open and sincere. Don’t let the bad times cancel out the good. Be adventurous, bold and brave. Love life and live it to the full, for every soul who didn’t have the chance to.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Help people. Read widely. Travel the world. Make a difference. Believe in yourself. Live. Love. Pray. Be.

Yours,

32 year old Belle.

Through the eyes of a child

At lunch time today I walked over to the river and sat down beside the water feature, which spurts jets of water intermittently out of the ground. As I watched, a little girl and a lady who was presumably either her mother or carer came over to look at the water feature. At first the girl, unsure what to expect, was hesitant to get close to it. But as soon as the water shot out of the ground she ran away, squealing with pleasure and clapping her hands. Moments later she was back in her original position, her gaze fixed intently on the spot where the water had originally exploded from. She did the same thing several times over before they eventually walked away, and during that time it struck me there’s a lot that adults can learn from children. Like, for example, the following:

  1. Delight in simple pleasuresChildren can derive pleasure from the simplest of things; a ladybird, a spurt of water, a feather on the ground. If adults took some time each day to appreciate little things in the same way, might it not alleviate some of the stress their busy lives create?
  2. Look at everything as if for the first timeThe older we get, the more of that childish wonder about the world we lose – wouldn’t it be nice if every day we tried to look at things we regard as ordinary and imagine it’s the first time we ever saw them? Not so ordinary now, right?
  3. Don’t waste time on things/people that/who bore youIf a child is given a toy to play with that isn’t very interesting to them, what do they do? Play with something else. Similarly, if a play partner doesn’t make the grade they’ll wander off and either find one that does or simply play alone. Why, then, do we adults put up with things and people that bore us?

Of course there are also many lessons children could learn from us (“Don’t throw your toys out of the pram” among them – didn’t we all learn THAT the hard way). Food for (childish) thought, anyway.

Change

The following fictional post was inspired by the certificate ceremony I attended today with work at a youth centre in Islington, where teenagers from four of the schools my charity works with were commended for their participation in the Teens and Toddlers programme:

Change

I never thought I’d amount to much. Why would I? My parents told me every day that I was useless. Then even my teachers started giving up on me. It’s like a downward spiral, see. You start acting up to get attention, but all too late you realise it’s not the right kind of attention you’re getting. You wanted to be popular, not the class clown – the one the other kids laugh at and the teachers label as a troublemaker.

Things at home weren’t great. Dad’s drinking was getting worse and Mum, well, she was so doped up on depression pills she hardly knew what day it was. I pretty much did everything; cooking, cleaning, looking after my baby brother. If I hadn’t been there I don’t know what would have happened to him. He’d probably have been taken into care. Sometimes I wondered if that would’ve been best for the both of us.

When my teachers told me about this mentoring programme that paired teenagers with toddlers in a nursery I wasn’t interested at all; I had enough experience of looking after children with my baby brother, why would I want more? I only agreed to do it ’cause it got me out of school one afternoon a week, and gave me something to do apart from hanging around the recreation ground and causing trouble with my mates because I was bored.

But when I started the programme things started to change. My toddler was a challenge, mainly because he was like me; hyperactive and angry. We even looked alike, with wild hair, dark skin and brown eyes. He didn’t trust me at first, but after a few weeks he started coming up to me when I walked in and holding my hand. It made me feel special, and in those moments the big ball of anger I carried around inside me would get a bit smaller.

I’ve learned a lot about myself through the programme. I realise now the consequences of my actions on others, and I’m not so hell bent on trying to hurt people, mentally and physically. I feel more responsible, more in control. I want to achieve in life. I want to be a success. But above all else I want people to look at me and, instead of seeing the clown, the troublemaker or the joker, I want them to see the responsible man I can and will become.

The beautiful sunset on the last night of my recent trip to Italy.

Past Post: Montessori nursery article

I recently stumbled across some articles I wrote as part of my Freelance and Feature Writing course with the London School of Journalism a few years back, and thought I’d share this one about Montessori teaching today:

The truth about Montessori teaching

Maria Montessori’s work with special needs children in the last century led to the development of a new and unique approach to teaching, with the learning environment being carefully planned from a practical standpoint to better equip children for adult life. In recent years it has come under criticism for impressing discipline at too young an age, but few people have a true understanding of what Montessori teaching actually involves.

Nicola Greer is the co-owner of the One World Montessori Nursery in Brook Green, West London. She explains: “Two fundamental aspects of Montessori teaching are cleanliness and order, with order being particularly important. Montessori is all about teaching the child to be self-sufficient – an important part of which is learning to take care of their environment. But it is also a child-centred philosophy that allows the child to progress at his or her own rate. They are given choices and are not pushed beyond their readiness. If you push a child it is counter-productive, but it is equally important not to hold a child back.  They should progress at the rate they need.”

Montessori nurseries differ from mainstream nurseries in that children are able to choose what they want to do.  Practical life tasks involve such activities as learning to dress and clean using scaled down versions of adult materials.  Sensorial tasks involve the use of geometric blocks, fabrics and smelling bottles to name but a few.  Cultural tasks utilise globes and science materials, and mathematical tasks incorporate number rods and counting beads.

But surely, if given a choice of activity, most children will persistently gravitate towards their favourite activities, ignoring all of the others? “Without guidance they might,” admits Nicola, “but children don’t have a long attention span and are therefore unlikely to spend too long on any one activity.  If they do, the teacher will introduce something else.  Practical life activities are generally very popular.”

So what would Nicola say to the critics of Montessori, who feel that children are encouraged to learn discipline unnecessarily early?  “It does work,” she says, after a moment’s hesitation, “that’s what I’d say.  Generally speaking, children at Montessori nurseries tend to do well.” But why is it so important for children to learn practical tasks like cleaning at such a young age?  “It teaches them the accomplishment of performing a task with a beginning, middle and end,” she says, “and children love to imitate adults, for example by pretending to cook with a toy kitchen.”  Wasn’t Maria Montessori very grounded in reality though? “Toy kitchens aren’t entirely in keeping with the Montessori philosophy, in the sense that Maria Montessori was opposed to anything fantasy based,” Nicola concedes. “But I feel that as the nursery is open from 8am to 4pm it is too long a day for a child not to have any fantasy at all.”

Nicola agrees that not all Montessori schools follow the original teachings exactly.  “The majority do,” she says, “although you can’t be too rigid because Maria Montessori lived a hundred years ago and we must move with the times and adapt accordingly, as well as complying with Ofsted regulations.  We are not a ‘pure’ Montessori nursery as such, because we have had to adapt to the requirements of the Foundation Stage where there is a greater emphasis on creative play. Montessori would say that children learn through doing.  The generally accepted modern philosophy is that children learn through play, and I think it is essential to encourage role-play to some extent.”

So to what extent does the One World Montessori Nursery follow traditional Montessori teachings?  “Well,” smiles Nicola, “essentially we are a pure Montessori nursery, but we also have a role-play corner which is definitely based in fantasy.”  The wizard costume just visible through the door of the tiny wardrobe beside us bears testament to this.  But as I leave the nursery, I can’t help feeling that Nicola has interpreted the original philosophy very well, and despite my own initial misgivings about Montessori methods I find myself wishing her all the best.

Remember these? I used to love mine more than anything (and yes, I did try to put the plastic tray in the REAL oven like the girl in the advert)