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

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Thoughts from Brussels

Exactly one week ago we woke to the news that 129 people had been murdered in cold blood by terrorists in Paris. These were ordinary people like you or I, who were letting their hair down after a busy week, enjoying a few drinks, dinner or a concert on Friday night. But the terrorists had other ideas.

It has since transpired that one of the masterminds behind the Paris attack came from the Molenbeek district in Brussels, one of the most deprived areas in Belgium, which is purported to be an easy target for Islamic State (ISIS) militants trying to recruit young Muslims. It is also, incidentally, where my office is located.

Belgium is coming under fire for its lax security measures where tracking terrorists is concerned. For a small country a disproportionate number of people have been recruited to ISIS and left to fight for them abroad – indeed some reports claim Belgium has supplied the highest per capita number of fighters to Syria of any European nation –between 350 and 550, out of a total population of 11 million that includes fewer than half a million Muslims.

These are worrying times, made more worrying still for those of us residing in Brussels by the news this morning, exactly one week on from the news from Paris, that the threat level in Brussels has been raised to very serious, with metro services suspended all weekend, concerts cancelled and a warning not to go to public places.

I feel conflicted by this latest threat. A part of me is defiant and wants to continue exactly as I always would, because to do otherwise, to change our way of life, is to show them they are affecting us, to let them win. But obviously there is also a part of me that is concerned for my welfare, for my partner’s and friends’ welfare. A portion of my daily commute involves taking the metro. Should I now avoid it, in case of an attack? Or carry on taking it and trust in the security forces (and statistics that would probably say my likelihood of being caught up in an attack is small) to protect me from harm?

At any rate, I can’t help but feel the terrorists would be stupid to do anything now the threat has been raised. Far better to wait until it has subsided, until people are less scared and come out of their shells to resume normal life, and do it then. We must remain vigilant. But, beyond that, what can we do?

The bigger issue does of course tug at my heartstrings every day. The ignorance, bigotry and racism shown by so many in the face of the refugee crisis is not only dividing communities but playing directly into the hands of the terrorists. I am not so naive to believe this situation can be resolved purely with love. Sadly now we have let it develop this far the only way it can be addressed is with more violence and bloodshed. But I do believe it is essential that people are tolerant, and that they seek to be informed about the situation instead of believing the hateful bile reported in the tabloids.

In the West, until now, we have been largely protected from the terrible things that have been happening across the world for decades – many of which were, ironically, brought about by the actions of our own governments. Our hands are not clean, and it’s time we stopped pretending that they are, that what is happening now in Europe is nothing to do with us. We funded terrorism for our own economic gain, and it backfired. Now those terrorists have become strong, and they are striking at the heart of the freedom we hold dear. They are also, let’s not forget, driving terrified people from their countries, terrified people who now reside at refugee camps across Europe. These people are like you or me. They are not, as the idiotic Republican hatemongers in the US would have us believe, ‘rabid dogs’ seeking to kill us all.

We started this, it is our responsibility to finish it. And beyond the guns and rhetoric, it is all of our responsibility to bring about a society that is centred around tolerance, hope and love. If we can succeed in this the world, and humanity as a whole, may yet be saved.

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NaNoWriMo Day Three: Finding Time

Every time I do NaNoWriMo it strikes me afresh how there seem to be more hours in a day in the month of November than in all the other months of the year. Clearly there are still almost never enough hours to fulfil my daily word count, or to do more than one important life task alongside said novelling challenge (wash self or wash clothes being a particularly tough dilemma), but still.

Take tonight, for example. I finished work at 6pm, went to the gym, sat down with the other half for dinner and  managed to bolster the word count up to a very respectable 4,441 words (taking me, I might add, to almost where I should be at this point – though still finishing, according to the doomsday NaNo counter, four days after deadline. Pah). All that before 10pm, leaving (just) enough time to squeeze in a cheeky episode of Sopranos before bed.

Granted, bedtime is later during NaNo month, but that alone doesn’t account for this feeling of extra time. When you’re up against the clock you are forced to use your time more effectively, pure and simple. The time I spend staring at inane posts on social media is, for example, vastly reduced in November. As is the time I spend staring forlornly at my ever growing to do list (because frankly there just isn’t time to do anything on that list this month, so I may as well not look at it).

So yes, this is a positive of NaNo and something I’d do well to remember the other eleven months of the year when I profess to be far too busy to do any writing at all. Tonight alone I’ve written 1,666 words as well as this blog. Proof it can be done. I might put a wash on to celebrate.

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Celebrating Life – and Good Friends

Today I went to Birmingham for the funeral of my good friend’s dad. It was sad and uplifting in equal measures, sad because Brian no longer walks amongst us and he will be sorely missed by those who loved him, and uplifting because so many people turned out to pay their respects. Brian was a larger than life character, and it’s always those people who leave the biggest hole when they pass away. I didn’t know him well, but I knew him well enough to know he would have thoroughly appreciated every moment of today, from the sympathetic vicar who delivered the ceremony in exactly the way he had specified before he died, to the inordinately large volume of champagne that was drunk in his beautifully sunny garden afterwards. I know he would have loved the fact that everyone had come together to raise a glass in his honour, and above all else I know he would have been hugely proud of his son, my friend, who has borne his father’s untimely passing with such strength and courage, helped in no small part by his gorgeous fiancé and wonderful family.

It’s on occasions like today I realise how important it is to count blessings. When I looked around me in the crematorium, which was lined wall to wall with people, I really felt the value of the life that had been lost. I like to think I live my own life well enough to ensure a decent turn out to my own send-off, whenever that might be, but that’s not to say I can’t do more in whatever time I have left on this mortal coil to positively contribute to others’ lives, to make them feel valued, supported and loved as they have me. I felt particularly grateful today at the wake, when I recognised the fantastic and extensive support network of friends I still have from university – not something everyone can claim to have sustained a decade after graduation. This friendship group is special and, despite not getting together nearly as often as we’d like, it is also lasting. I know I’m being a soppy cow but sometimes it’s just nice to take a moment to reflect on all the good things. And I’m sure that somewhere up there in the ether, glass of champagne in hand, Brian Simonite is doing just that too. Cheers, Brian.

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Psychosynthesis Essentials course – Reflections on day one

It’s been hard deciding what to write about today, because I’m at the start of a process I don’t yet fully understand and I’m not sure even as I write this that I really want to share my feelings about it. And yet, as my feelings about it are all I can currently focus on I find in actual fact I have no choice. So, for better or worse, here goes…

Today was the first day of a four day intensive course I’m taking in Psychosynthesis, which is a type of transpersonal psychology that’s focused very much on the concept of the whole “Self” as a product of its past, its present and its future potential. As this was day one I won’t even attempt to explain the principles behind it further. What I will do, however, is touch upon how it’s made me feel.

As I’m taking this course through work (the founder of  the Psychosynthesis Trust is also the CEO of my charity, Teens and Toddlers) and others have come to it for more personal and profound  reasons I initially felt a bit of a fraud. But after the initial sessions I realised just how much I could benefit personally from the experience.

At the end of each day we have the opportunity to observe our fellow students having a counselling session with a psychotherapist and we, in turn, each have the opportunity to have a session ourselves. My session is tomorrow – I chose not to do it today because I was nervous about going first, and because I wanted to learn more about Psychosynthesis before I did it.

But I found I learned such a lot just by observing the two sessions this evening. The therapists were so skilled at navigating their way through the maze of the clients’ minds and feelings, all the while making them feel respected and understood. They knew when to tread further down a path and when to step back. They didn’t lead the clients into discussing anything they weren’t comfortable with, and yet the clients still revealed so much-and were often themselves surprised by their own revelations.

I’m not sure I want to say much more than that this evening. It’s been such a long day and I’d just like to process what I’ve learned, seen and experienced. Suffice to say it’s been a tremendously rewarding and enriching day, and I’m looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.