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

Therapy Talk

At the beginning of 2015 I had a strange and unsettling episode that harked back to my days as a stressed out third year in university. It was a panic attack, full blown and frightening. Brought on, I think (it’s always hard to pinpoint), by a lack of direction in my life at the time. I had moved to Brussels with my boyfriend and was loving life in Belgium, but my nine month maternity cover job contract was coming to an end and I didn’t have anything else lined up. I was also conscious that my status as a girlfriend rather than a wife in this international setup was somewhat lacking in security. And so, after weeks of internalising my emotions, they built up and burst out of me in a tidal wave of fear. I hyperventilated myself silly, cried and panicked for the best part of an hour. Fortunately my then-boyfriend (now-husband – as it turned out I didn’t have to worry about that part) was on hand to offer words of support and encouragement. I calmed down. But I knew something inside me had awakened, and that I would need to find the courage to face it.

And so I did something I never thought I would actually do: I found a counsellor. And I went to my first session feeling embarrassed and stupid, like I was wasting her time and my own. And thinking surely counsellors are for people with real problems, not women whose biggest issues are which job to choose next and whether their boyfriends will decide to pop the question. But as I sat and talked, in the first session and the next, I realised this was about so much more.

We humans are like onions. When you start to peel away the layers you find layers you never knew existed. Each represents experience, and emotion. And until you have uncovered them all it’s hard to appreciate why you are the way you are, why you interact the way you do with others, with the world. And, most crucially of all, how you can adapt your behaviour to bring about positive and lasting change.

Almost eighteen months later I had my final session. It was tonight.

My counsellor asked me what three things I had learned from our sessions. I said, firstly, I’ve learned how to get some perspective. When I feel myself getting anxious, I now have the tools to dissociate myself from the stressor – even if just for a moment. I can then ask myself how big the problem is, really. If it will matter in three weeks, three months or three years. If it’s worth fighting or losing sleep over. And the answer, of course, is usually no. Secondly, I said I’ve learned some valuable coping mechanisms in response to specific situations. The best one was the victim-perpetrator-rescuer scenario, which I have used successfully to navigate occasional tricky patches in relationships. Finally, I’ve learned to be more empathetic towards others, to appreciate they have layers of their own (layers sometimes even they don’t know about). I have a propensity to be oversensitive, but now I have the capacity to realise that people don’t do things with the aim of upsetting me. It’s just the way they are, the way they have been conditioned. Just as my response to their behaviour is the way I have been conditioned.

It’s been a great experience.

I’ve learned a lot: About the person I was, the person I am and the person I want to be.

Now it’s time to take back the reins.

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Life Lessons

As Mary Scmich once wrote (and Baz Luhhrman subsequently recorded), in life one must accept certain inalienable truths. One of those truths, in my own meandering experience, is that people are apt to let you down. Rarely will they act a certain way or say a certain thing because it is the kindest response; because it would make you feel better. No, humans are inherently selfish creatures so, more often than not, they will say what makes them feel better, even if that same thing will make you feel worse.

The key to coping with this is learning to accept without internalising; don’t allow the words and actions of others to hurt you; to affect your belief system about yourself and your place in the world. Easier said than done if, like me, you are a sensitive soul who does take things to heart. Even the smallest off the cuff comment meant as a joke can cut deep to the core of you, and make you question yourself. But don’t.

When others react badly it is often a sign of their own insecurity. If they are rude, or they ignore you altogether, so what? It says more about them than it does about you. You are the bigger person. You have love and compassion in abundance and you know who you are, warts and all. Never allow someone else to call those facts into question. You are you. You are unique. And the only thoughts, words and deeds you have any power over in this life are your own. The rest is out of your control.

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Why We MUST Remember

On Saturday I went to see the incredible First and Second World War exhibitions at the Armed Forces and Military Museum of Brussels. Being the day before Remembrance Sunday in the year that marks one hundred years since the outbreak of World War One, the visit was both timely and especially poignant. I’ve always felt passionately about ensuring we remember the monstrously large number of people killed in service ‘for their country’ in the two world wars, and as each year passes and more veterans of those wars die I feel even more strongly that my generation has a duty to each and every one of those fallen soldiers, without whom we might now be living in a very different society.

It is beyond me that anyone could fail to be moved by their sacrifice, though I am painfully aware we do live in a world where people all too often turn the other cheek, caring only about themselves and their own selfish endeavours. Such people doubtless fail to comprehend the bravery and suffering of those soldiers – many of them little more than children – who went to war all those years ago, knowing in their hearts they might never see their loved ones again, that they would likely die in the dirt, riddled with bullets and alone, their lives snuffed out like the candles they huddled around for warmth on those countless and interminably long nights in their bunkers.

It saddens me that wars are still going on around the world, that children are still being used on the front line and that, in some respects, we seem to have learned nothing from the atrocities that happened in the two world wars. But this is a personal and not a political post, the point of which is not to refute the age old arguments for war but rather to remember those who have fallen in it – not just in the first and second world wars but in every war that has, and is, taking place around the world. Because in forgetting those people, in allowing war and its ghastly and tragic slew of victims to become an acceptable loss in the pursuit of a ‘peace’ that never seems to come, we are, fundamentally, denying our own humanity. And without humanity there is no hope at all – and all those sacrifices will, ultimately, be for nothing.

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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.

School’s out

A slight technological hitch meant that yesterday’s post didn’t upload, so here it is….

This morning I attended a training session in the new database system that’s being implemented in my charity. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I reverted to my old schoolgirl ways: Sitting at the back, allowing myself to be distracted, even scrawling notes to colleagues on pieces of paper (both to get their attention and validate our mutual boredom). I’m not proud of my behaviour, but as I did manage to take in most of what was being taught I don’t feel it was too much to my personal detriment (or to the detriment of those in my immediate vicinity-trust me, at school I could be significantly more disruptive when I wanted to be).

In a sense I was just drunk on the nostalgia of it all; sitting in rows in a classroom, a bespectacled and suitably harassed teacher at the front who was desperately trying to keep everyone’s attention. The conditions were ripe for reverting to childhood type, and I’m afraid I rather predictably did just that.

There were even jammy dodgers at break time! I just didn’t stand a chance….

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.