Breaking the Chains of the Subconscious

It’s been said that human consciousness is like an iceberg, where only 10% is conscious thought and 90% unconscious (or sub-conscious) thought. That’s a helpful analogy when we consider why making life changes can be so hard to do. Our conscious minds may be determined to do something, but our subconscious minds are creatures of habit – many old and ingrained habits that are difficult to break.

The first step to breaking the invisible shackles of the subconscious mind is to bring conscious awareness to them. In my own life, I see this moment as a critical turning point to do just that. For too long I have allowed my inner critic to (consciously and unconsciously) sabotage my attempts to make changes. I’ve always dreamed of making a living out of writing and helping people, but have somehow always managed to put barriers in my way. Not anymore.

Tonight I made a commitment to myself. A commitment to keep my goals and motivations above the line of my conscious thought. A commitment to try and stop talking myself down, comparing myself, worrying what others think, telling myself it’s all just too big to be achievable. A commitment to following through, no matter what it takes.

I had a long bath and thought about what I would like to do more of in order to be closer to who and what I want to be. And instead of the usual suspects a new list came, unbidden (perhaps from my subconscious?):

  • Educate myself in my chosen profession (read about different coaching approaches and styles, commit to continued learning and professional development)
  • Find my Tribe (attend networking events, listen to Podcasts etc.)
  • Document my journey (write more blogs/personal diaries)
  • Read for pleasure (actively search for books I will enjoy, instead of reading any old thing that comes along)
  • Have compassion for myself, trust the process/journey (read more literature in this area)
  • Self-care (more long baths, less screen time, more exercise – especially outdoors, regular massages)
  • Live more mindfully/environmentally

So there I have it. A new list of Things to Live By. A list that sits so perfectly with my values that it must have come from my subconscious. I know the path to change is never easy, but for the first time in a long time I feel confident that I am taking big strides in the right direction.

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Speaking Shame

Today I am feeling discombobulated and out of sorts. Tiredness is making it hard to process my emotions, but I am trying to allow myself to feel them instead of burying them; to appreciate that, in this moment, this is how I’m feeling, and whilst it may not be that pleasant to feel this way, it’s okay, and it will pass. I have learned through my studies that acknowledgement without judgement and self-compassion are essential when dealing with negative emotions, so as well as doing my best to practice those I’m trying to rebalance my mind and body with gentle exercise classes like Pilates and Body Balance (particularly the latter with its mix of Pilates, Tai Chi and Yoga).

As part of my Master’s research I’m reading a book called Daring Greatly by shame researcher Brené Brown, in which the author stresses the importance of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in order to become resilient to shame. In the spirit of this teaching, the following is a snapshot of the things currently swirling around in my brain:

  • I’m worried about the world my son is going to grow up in.
  • I’m worried I’m not doing enough to make it better for him.
  • I’m worried I’m not a good enough mother, that I’m too selfish to ‘do motherhood’ properly.
  • I’m worried about having another child, and whether I would cope.
  • I’m worried about having another miscarriage, or not being able to have another child at all.
  • I’m worried that sometimes I’m not a sensitive enough wife.
  • I’m worried about my ability and motivation to succeed in my chosen field.
  • I’m worried that this venture will fail like others before it, and that I will let this failure eat away at me until there is nothing left.
  • I’m worried about money.
  • I’m worried about (everyone’s) health.
  • I’m worried about death.
  • I’m worried that even when my life is damn near perfect (which it is) I still manage to find things to be worried about.

Many of the things in this list elicit feelings of shame, but as Brown herself says, speaking shame is the first step in defeating it. When we keep these kinds of emotions secret, they send us into a negative spiral, preventing us from connecting and empathising with those around us. They gain power over us, making our focus turn inwards and closing us off from the world. But when we shine a light on those emotions, admit to having them, share them with others, we realise that we aren’t alone in having them, and their power dissipates into the ether.

After writing my list I already feel lighter. What’s on yours?

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Running (out of motivation)

Exercise is good for us. Not only does it burn off calories so we can continue to eat chocolate to our hearts’ content without turning into fat lumps of lard, it also releases endorphins that are physiologically proven to make us feel happier. So, seeing as exercise has so many benefits, why oh why (oh WHY) is it so difficult to find the motivation to get off our lazy behinds and do it?

Given my current (pitiful) state of reticence to go out for a run, new readers of this blog might be surprised to learn that less than two weeks ago I completed a half marathon (in a very respectable one hour fifty six minutes, I might add). In the ten weeks leading up to the race I managed to (virtually) stick to a training plan consisting of four weekly runs. And you know what? It felt good. Not always in the moments before or immediately after the runs, of course, but overall. I felt fit, healthy and energised. Now I feel fat, unhealthy and utterly lacking in the joie de vivre that an active lifestyle induces.

The problem, to my mind, is no longer having a goal. When you have an event to train for it’s harder to let yourself off the hook where training sessions are concerned. Sure, you can miss one here and there without too much drama, but if you miss too many you know you’re just making it harder for yourself on the day of the race. And so you train – come rain or shine, whether you are tired or not. You do it because you have that finish line in mind at all times, and because, well, you’d ideally like to not collapse and suffer cardiac arrest half way through (not a good look for the official photos).

It’s fair enough to have a few days’ rest after an event, but it’s vital to get back on that horse before the motivation ups and leaves for good. In my case I’ve left my trusty steed a bit too long – taking a full week off after the race and only getting out twice at the beginning of last week for short runs – and the bloody thing’s bolted. But the situation is not beyond redemption. As I write this I am gearing up for a thirty minute run around Clapham Common to get the blood pumping again, and a return to running club mid-week is also on the cards (group motivation being a great way to re-discover the benefits of regular exercise).

And then there’s next year’s London Marathon. I have to admit when I crossed the finish line two weeks ago I swore to myself I wouldn’t even consider doing it, but no sooner had I recovered than I felt the stirrings of enthusiasm for another, bigger challenge (and let’s face it, the London Marathon’s about the biggest challenge there is). The ballot results are out in a couple of weeks and all of a sudden I find myself crossing everything in the hope I’ll bag one of the few hallowed non-charity spots. If not, I can fight for one of the two spaces my charity has paid for, though this does come with the added pressure of a fundraising target (all in good cause…).

Challenges are good because they push us to the limits of endurance and give us goals to focus on. Without them we weak-willed humankind are prone to drifting on a sea of lost intent. So it’s with this in mind I don my running gear and venture out. Wish me luck…

Best foot forward

Tonight, after a day of attempting to eat healthily but still succumbing to several Reese’s peanut butter cups and a handful of Minstrels (what? I’m the new girl, I couldn’t possibly say no on day two; that way enemies lie), I decided enough was enough and hauled my super-sized arse (New York has a lot to answer for) to running club for my first run since the sixteen mile hell run a week and a half ago. I was dreading it, but as soon as I got there and saw some familiar faces I was – as always – fine. Despite talking the whole way (and taking on a sizeable hill) we even managed the 8k distance in a respectable 46 minutes.

Since I got back I’ve been ruminating on how great it is to be part of a club, which is ironic as at school I was always the fat kid who had no interest whatsoever in being part of anything remotely club-like, especially if it involved physical exercise. But the more I go to my running club the more I feel inspired to keep on going. Not only is it great motivation to know other people will be there and you won’t be exercising alone, my club is also free-and they provide juice, fig rolls and custard creams (also for free) at the end, which is obviously a huge bonus in my (and anyone’s?) books.

So now my first big run is behind me I have no intention of quitting running club; far from it. I’ve signed up for a half marathon in September so will soon be training again, and in the meantime I’ll continue to attend the club and keep my motivation as well as (hopefully) motivating others.

My other motive for continuing to attend running club is the cost. Much as I love being a member of a gym it’s pretty expensive in London, and now I’ve started a new job where I’ll be earning – in the short term at least – considerably less (not that you’d know it from my spending spree in NYC and today’s post-work shoe shopping binge) I’m not sure gym membership is a priority over, say, eating. Actually, I’m quite certain it’s not. So, for the time being as I concentrate on reducing my outgoings and paying off my now sizeable credit card debt I think I’ll keep up running as a reliable, sociable and free means of keeping fit. And I’ll also keep praying one day soon it might be warm enough to do it without being swaddled in ten layers of clothing…

What’s life without a challenge?

In September last year I competed in my first Olympic distance triathlon, having tested the water with two sprint distance races in 2009 and 2010. To ensure I was fit enough to get round the course I joined a triathlon club. The first two sessions were so tough I cried, and it didn’t get much easier as the weeks went on.

By far the worst part of triathlon training for me was the swimming. As the fat kid who was always picked last for team sport at school, swimming was my arch nemesis. What could possibly be worse for a body conscious ten year old whose puppy fat stubbornly refused to disappear than shoving said fat into a tight, unflattering swimming costume and belly flopping into the pool in front of her classmates?

Fast forward twenty years and I still lack confidence in the water. Even after numerous lessons and triathlon club drill sessions I couldn’t shake the feeling I was the uncoordinated whale of the group, bringing up the rear behind the graceful, frolicking dolphins before me.

But nonetheless I fought my fear. And, whilst the mile long swim on race day felt like swimming the Channel itself rather than a lap of the Docklands, the fact is that I not only did it, I finished the race in a very respectable three hours and thirteen minutes.

Now I can’t say I’ve been back to the lido since the race (it has been winter!) but, just over three months down the line, I can feel the beginnings of that familiar fire in my belly; the seed of desire for another challenge.

When I think back to the pain of those 90 minute spin sessions, the stress of fitting training around work and social life and the general exhaustion that comes with taking on a massive sporting challenge as an addendum to normal life, I wonder if I’m mad to want to do it all again.

But then I think back to my chubby ten year old self and tell myself I’m doing it for HER-I’m making up for all the shame and embarrassment that she felt because she wasn’t good at sport in a school that valued being good at sport almost above being good at academia.

It may be time consuming, stressful and exhausting taking on extreme physical challenges, but it’s also exhilarating, motivating and a great way to keep fit.

And with this post I think I’ve just convinced myself to sign up for the sixteen mile run I’ve been deliberating over for the past few days. Here we go again…

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Okay, I’ll admit it, I didn’t come first. This was an opportunistic leap onto the winners’ podium post-race. But I was so elated in that moment that I may as well have won the race. It certainly lay a few childhood demons to rest.