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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Quagmires, Self-belief and Sunscreen

Humans are contrary creatures. We spend our whole lives seeking happiness, meaning and validation, but in the process somehow manage to repeatedly get dragged into the toxic quagmire of anxiety, comparison and ‘never enough’ thinking.

I’ve been languishing in the quagmire again myself this week, worrying about my son’s health – as usual – but this time also about money. We are hardly on the breadline, but we are managing on one income this year. It was a decision we took together that we were – and still are – confident in, but nonetheless there are moments when we waver. Like when the bills are more than we’d anticipated, or when we check the account and realise that we’ve been more frivolous than we should have been for the past few weeks. We knew that moving back to London on one salary would be painful and so it is proving to be.

But it’s important to keep in mind the bigger picture. We made this choice because it’s best for our family that I become self-employed. And the career I have chosen – coaching – is one that is still largely unregulated and full of amateurs. To stand out amongst the crowd I need credibility, and to build credibility I need credentials. The path I have chosen begins with further study, which is why I am taking this year to return to my MSc in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology at the University of East London. It’s not been an easy road so far this year with my son’s ill health hampering my ability to study, but nonetheless I am managing to forge ahead. Some people have commented that perhaps it’s too much to have a one year old and study for a degree, but keeping up the momentum is critical for my confidence and self-belief.

On that note, I have a tattoo on my right arm which says ‘Believe’ (or ‘Belieber’ as my husband takes great pleasure in saying to wind me up, due to the curly script in which it’s written. But I digress..), in a nod to my writing ambitions. I got the tattoo some years ago when I took the decision to accept a four days per week role in order to devote one day a week to my writing. For a while it went well, I got some commissions for features, was shortlisted for a fiction competition and really felt I was on the right track. But for myriad reasons I got demotivated, lost my confidence, and before long my writing day had turned into an extra day of weekend. I have always regretted this, and, ironically thanks to my tattoo, now have a permanent reminder of what happens when you don’t believe in yourself. But you know what? It spurs me on to never make the same mistake again. This time around I’m older and wiser, and I know in my heart that coaching is what I want and need to do. It will take time and require sacrifice, but I am now in a place where I am able to accept and embrace those truths.

All that said, I still have moments of weakness and self-doubt. I’m only human, after all. But life has a funny way of showing you the way, if only you look for the signs. Take this morning, for example. After a bit of a rough night/morning with my son (bad conjunctivitis, yet another cough, pre-toddler mood swings) I got him to nursery later than planned and was running late for my Body Balance class at Studio Society (I know I sound like such a Hampstead Mum, but I cannot tell you how much this class sorts my head out, it’s literally balm for the soul). I was rushing along the road, battling with my brolly against the wind and the commuters, checking my watch every two seconds to see how late I was going to be and feeling general sense of stress and unease. Then I consciously took a moment to check myself, noting that checking my watch was pointless as it wouldn’t get me there any faster. I decided to let go of the anxiety and trust that my legs would carry me there as fast as they could. If I was a few minutes late to class, so what? The world would keep on turning. And in the end, not only was I only a couple of minutes late, but for the first time today the teacher was ten minutes late! There seemed a certain serendipity in that outcome, and certainly a life lesson.

I have one final point to make in this meandering but cathartic post. In 1999, the year I left school and started university (literally showing my age here), Baz Luhrmann’s song Sunscreen was released. In the years hence I have often found myself returning to the lyrics, and this morning was reminded of these ones specifically:

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
never crossed your worried mind
the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

When I’m in the quagmire of anxiety, comparison and ‘never enough,’ I try to remind myself that none of the things I am worrying about are actually significant. All that really matters in life, at least as far as I’m concerned, are love (loving and being loved by friends and family) and health. I’m at an age where it’s becoming harder to convincingly wear the cloak of invincibility. Several people close to me have experienced cancer in the past year, and right there are the real troubles that Baz Luhrmann talked about. So for as long as I’m fighting for my lifestyle rather than for my life, I will try to remember how very lucky I am.

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No More Apologies: Why I’m proud to be me – and why you should be proud to be you, too

I care too much what people think of me. I always have. You would think by now I would have grown a thicker skin, especially given how prolific I am on social media, which opens every one of us to ridicule and scrutiny. But I like to share and actively participate in this crazy thing called life. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. I can’t be what I’m not. No matter how much others might prefer me to be.

I thought long and hard before writing this post. I’ve been close to writing it a number of times before, but always chickened out at the last minute. Why? Because it’s difficult to admit we are vulnerable, and that the opinions of others bother us. And yet, it’s human nature that they do. Only the thickest skinned people are able to ride the waves of others’ judgement and come out unscathed; the rest of us find ourselves shipwrecked, time after time.

It’s amazing how cutting a comment can be, how deeply it can slice into your psyche, revealing all your insecurities, making you question everything about yourself. But if you can get past the sting and consider the motive, it says a lot more about the person who made the comment than it does about you. If you’re comfortable in your own skin and believe not only that you are a good person with pure intentions, but also that you have something positive to offer the world, then why shouldn’t you be exactly who you are, all of the time?

Maybe your Instagram posts aren’t to another person’s taste. Well, guess what? They can unfollow you! Maybe they feel you hog their Facebook timeline with pointless updates. Here’s an easy solution: They can turn down the frequency of your posts. Hell, they can even unfriend you if it bothers them that damn much. Nobody has to engage with another person if they don’t want to.

My point is, you shouldn’t have to tone down who you are because someone else doesn’t like it. Ever. It’s taken me almost thirty six years to realise this, but thank God I finally have. That’s why I choose not to listen to the voices of negativity. I choose to trust myself and my path and my calling. I choose to breathe. I choose to be exactly who I am meant to be. And you have every right to choose the same.

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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

Update from Gare du Nord

Last week I didn’t go to the Gare du Nord for what has become my weekly visit. I had a cough and wasn’t feeling myself, and as it’s so vital to bring positivity to that situation I decided to stay away. Tonight I knew for sure that was the right decision, as I felt recharged and was looking forward to going back. I had the last five sleeping bags from my fundraising effort to take down there, along with a bag of brownies, oranges and fruit that I picked up on the way to work this morning. As soon as I arrived the food was hoovered up in seconds! On Tuesdays the charity provides hot drinks but not hot food, so people were hungry. As it took some time for the drinks and donations to be handed out, I stood to one side with the sleeping bags. I got chatting to a man called Abdamune Sidiq [sic] from Sudan. He told me how last week the police took away his blankets, and since then he has got sick. This made me really angry, and even more glad that we created this petition last week to try and stop the police taking away people’s sleeping bags, even though I don’t know if it really made an impact.

Tonight, in addition to the normal donations there were 100 goodie bags for St. Nicholas (here in Belgium they celebrate Sinterklaas coming on 6 December – our office is full of chocolates!) from the students of ISB Service Learning/CAS. They were full of sweets, and it was so lovely seeing people patiently queuing up and then sharing the contents of their bags with others – I was given sweets by three people, they must have thought I needed fattening up! There was a happy atmosphere despite the cold, and some new faces too, although I didn’t see my friend Bakare, which has worried me a little. I hope he’s okay.

So all in all another positive experience, although it’s true that people are getting sick now that the temperatures have dropped, and even though we try to bring as many sleeping bags and warm clothes as we can, there is always a need for more. I’m worried for these men as winter progresses, what will they do and where will they go when it starts to snow? Surely they can’t sleep in the park then? All we can do is try to keep their spirits up, their tummies full and their bodies as warm as possible, and hope this is enough to get them through. I’m so happy that from January they will have more support from Unless, the wonderful new non-profit organisation which has raised money to rent a nearby building, where people will be able to have hot showers and get their clothes laundered. Hot food will also be available five times a week instead of the current twice a week arrangement, which is just fantastic. They are seeking donations to raise the monthly running fee of 5,000 Euros, so if anyone is feeling generous as Christmas approaches, I can personally guarantee this would be a brilliant and worthwhile cause.

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Back to Basics

I have somehow managed to put my back out. Again. The frustration is almost too much to bear, though I know I need to put it into perspective. It is not (yet) as bad as the last two times, which means that if I’m careful there is a chance it could recover without going into full blown paralysis mode. And although in the current (acute) phase, it is somewhat debilitating, it is far from a life threatening condition. I must, I know, stay positive, although when you’re not yet 35 and it takes a full three seconds to straighten up each time you stand, plus you have shooting pains down both your legs when you walk, it’s kind of hard to keep that top of mind. Still, I must try, because nobody likes a whinger – least of all me.

I’m realising now more than ever the correlation between physical and mental well-being. When I’m feeling stressed with work or life it doesn’t take long to manifest itself in my body. This time has been textbook. Two boozy weekends, a patch of work stress and a ridiculous ongoing drama with our cleaner (of all things) have taken their toll on me mentally, and bang! There goes the back. I have also, I admit, become complacent with my core strengthening exercises of late, doing increasingly watered down versions each morning to afford myself additional, precious moments in my bed. This, combined with increasingly prolonged periods of desk sitting, has once again proved to be a recipe for disaster.

I know this is my body’s way of telling me to sit up and take notice, to find a way to redress the imbalance that has been created. My recently ended counselling has helped me to clarify the things that are important to me. Now I need to start taking active steps towards achieving them. Because if I don’t, I fear back pain will be but the tip of a very big iceberg.

So it’s time to make some changes – physical and mental. Firstly, I must get the stand-up desk my boss sanctioned weeks ago that I haven’t got around to sorting yet. Secondly, I will sign up for the eight week mindfulness course I have found, to try and get my mind back into alignment with my body. Hopefully with a bit more commitment and a bit less complacency I can get back to full health more quickly this time around.

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NaNoWriMo Day 19: Hope Restored

It’s 9.27pm. I have been to the gym (20 minutes, but still), cooked dinner (nuggets-and what?), written 1,800 words (GO ME) of my NaNo novel (arguably the best 1,800 words I have so far written, in fact) and am sitting on the sofa with a glass of red wine and some tiramisu watching Made in Chelsea. This situation is nothing short of brilliant, especially when you consider how today started, with a blog post so miserable I couldn’t bring myself to post it, and feeling so tired I was on the verge of tears on my way into work. It really is amazing the difference a day makes. Or rather, the difference a productive evening makes.

Doing NaNoWriMo really focuses the mind and makes you realise that it IS possible to find more time in your day, no matter what excuses your jaded mind will try to throw into your way to veer you off course. Despite my tiredness I’m also remembering how much I love the escapism writing offers, the way you can dive straight into a world of your own making and get lost in the antics of your characters (mine, by the way, were involved in a terrifying assault situation tonight, which was tremendous fun to write. For once my daily word count flew past). So yes, once again I find myself thinking that it might be rather a good plan to extend this daily writing beyond November, and to make it something of a habit. Here’s hoping this time it lasts…

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