Sometimes we find ourselves holding so tightly to the people we’ve always been. Maybe it’s because we are scared of change or perhaps we are scared to distort or modify other people’s perception of us. There are some parts of us that are so hard wired that even we don’t notice how much baggage we are holding onto that no longer serves us.
As I’ve gotten older some of the layers I’ve put on have become tighter, like clothes that no longer fit. And I’ve started to realize that not all layers that we wear are meant to last forever. Some we grow out of and others no longer serve the people we want to become. I liken it to being a hoarder but not of material things instead of our mistakes, identities, expectations, beliefs and thought processes. Have you ever thought over and over an event or situation that happened in your past? I’m sure we all can do so from time to time. But like Chinese whispers, a memory can become so distorted that even we can’t quite differentiate fact from fiction. But yet we still berate ourselves, trying to change the past whilst wondering why we can’t carve out a different future.
Shedding these layers can be painful, and letting go isn’t an easy process. What layers are you still holding onto? What no longer serves you? Is it a friend, an ex, a job, a mistake? Perhaps some of the layers have become wrapped around others, like tangled scarves or necklaces. Unravelling them will be hard but liberating too. We all wait for a new year as it represents a clean slate. But remember you don’t need the clock to strike at midnight on the 31st December to change. You have the opportunity every single day if you choose to do so.
Some layers have served you and protected you, it’s ok to acknowledge that too. But not all layers will go together, not when we grow and take on new ones.
So, to the layers that are starting to feel a bit tight, maybe it’s time to let them go.
We are creatures of habit, and our brains love it. Why? Because it takes the guess work out of what we are doing. So, when we try to change and our brains have got to do a little more thinking (even if it is for the good), we can find it hard. People tend to talk about how to build new habits but I want to talk about the importance of deconstructing an old (usually bad) one.
When you want to form a new habit typically it will be because you are looking to break or replace another. But I don’t think you should just sweep the old one under the carpet. Because just like putting a plaster on a wound, the wound is still there underneath no matter how many layers you put on top of it. And while plasters help wounds heal, if we seek to understand the source of what hurt us in the first place, we are less likely to do it again. Alas deconstructing an old habit. ‘Old habits die hard’ is a saying for a reason.
So, how do we deconstruct a habit that we have held onto for years? Here are a few things I’ve found useful.
Acknowledge that breaking bad habits won’t be easy
When we are trying to change a behaviour or thought pattern that we’ve held onto for a long time, it’s not going to be easy. That is not to say it won’t be possible but you need to be realistic from the offset. It’s also important to understand that habits are not usually just one action or thought. They will be wrapped up in a lot of other things like a ball of elastic bands. At the centre you’ll have the actual habit i.e negative self-talk and wrapped around this might be years of emotions, memories experiences and maybe even traumas. All of which are associated with your habit. In summary, habits are complex and usually hard to break. But it is when we start to understand our habits, we can begin to uncover why we no longer want to engage in them.
Focus on why you want to change
Your WHY is important. Why do you want to change this habit? This is where you can start to unravel the elastic bands that I referred to earlier. Sometimes ‘why’ can be quite a big overwhelming question, so let’s break it down…
Think about the way you feel when doing said habit. Think about the times where it’s not served you, and the emotions that have come up. Think about the ways your life will be better when these thoughts, feelings and emotions are not there anymore. Once you start to answer some of these you’ll start to pick apart (deconstruct) your habit(s), and help break the cycle and identify triggers that are keeping you swept up in it.
Let go of the ‘all or nothing’ mindset
Earlier I referred to the saying ‘old habits die hard’. The reason I believe this to be true is because it’s easier to live in a polarised world (i.e we do or we don’t do something), rather than accepting that sometimes we live in the middle, the gray area’ is what I like to refer to it as.
When it comes to changing our habits, it’s difficult to wake up one day and decide we will never do it again and follow through with this. Some people can go cold turkey, and I admire those who can but the majority of us know what it’s like to try the all or nothing approach. This is why deconstructing an old habit is important, so you can work through why you want to change it. Because when we truly know why we do something or why we no longer want to, it gives us the motivation to keep going. Also, remember no one is perfect and slip ups do happen, and it’s important to forgive ourselves when we do.
Good or bad our habits make up our past and it’s impossible to re write that. However, you can take what you’ve learnt from the past (by reflecting and journaling) and start to carve out what you’ll do differently in the future.
Slip ups happen because no one is perfect
Repeat after me, no one is perfect. We slip up, we make mistakes, we say we are going to do something and then we don’t, hey we are all human. Remember when you are making a change and breaking out of an old habit, you are essentially rewiring pathways in your brains. Some of these have been strengthened over years and years. Would you expect yourself to be fluent in a language after just a few lessons? No. So don’t beat yourself up if you slip up. The important thing is always the direction and as long as you’ve got your eyes on the road and not in the rear view mirror you’re going the right way.
Trigger warning: this blog post contains references of suicide
Have you ever noticed when something is on your mind, you seem to see subtle signs of it everywhere? Whether it’s someone talking about it, the news reporting on it, or you stumble across a book that catches your eye, it seems to crop up everywhere you go. Recently for me, that has been grief and vulnerability. For someone who isn’t afraid to share the highs and lows of life, this blog was one of the hardest to write and it’s taken a lot to press publish but this week I felt so strongly to share.
On the 1st of July 2016, I received a call that will forever be etched in my mind. My mum called asking where I was and if she could meet me at my house. I was at the gym at the time but stopped my treadmill and left straight away. I immediately called my best friend who was staying at my house that night and was already there. “Something is wrong,” I said in a panic. She reassured me that it would be ok and probably nothing. My mind settled for a moment by her reassurance. I know I can catastrophize situations so perhaps this was one of those times where my mind was playing tricks on me. I got home and sat at the window waiting. My mum only lived 15 minutes away but it felt like hours that I was waiting at the window. I was pacing up and down the living room, my best friend telling me it would be ok. I was doing my best to believe that was true. My Mum finally pulled into my drive with my uncle and at that moment I knew something was off. We all stood in my living room, and I asked her what was wrong. After what felt like the longest few seconds of my life my mum said something that would change my entire world in less than 10 words. ” Your dad is gone, he’s killed himself”.
A nightmare that you desperately want to wake up from. I still can’t comprehend it, so many questions, “no no no no no” is all I could respond with. How could he be gone? How is it that I’ll never speak to him again, never see him again? I still ask myself those questions 5 years on. Do you know what’s so hard for me about grief? It’s not just the death of that person it’s what dies in you when they go. A whole chapter of my life ended in less than a minute and I wasn’t prepared for it – I still grieve that now.
I spent a long time afterward in denial, not in denial that he was gone but denying myself the ability to feel the emotions that come with such a sudden death. I spent years on the outside looking like I was coping with the suicide of my dad, when in reality I’d never let myself face it. I kept busy and took my mind off it by throwing myself into self-improvement. But two years of suppressed emotions was going to come out at some point, right? And one day it did. I woke up and felt like the whole world had been taken from beneath my feet. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t see the wood through the trees, and I also couldn’t understand why I felt this way.
I felt embarrassed to admit that after 2 and half years of seemingly being ok with what had happened, I’d found myself in a pit of depression. How was I not over my grief? And worst of all, I felt as though I couldn’t use my dad’s death almost 3 years later as an ‘excuse’ to explain why I felt on the verge of tears every single day. I finally spent 6 months in counselling and it helped immensely. But I wish I’d been more open about it.
That’s the thing about grief it can be so isolating. I still find myself struggling to talk about my dad’s death to others now. I’ll ask my myself “have I gone on about this too much? Am I bringing the tone down? Do I sound like I’m playing the victim? I’ll then compare what I’ve gone through to others and convince myself that others have it worse than me. However, I am trying to let myself accept that life is not a comparison of who has it worse when it comes to grief and loss. I’m allowed to admit that what I went through was a huge deal and was pretty f***ing bad. I heard a quote recently that resonated with me when it comes to owning my grief.
“The worst loss is always your own”
Accepting my grief has allowed me to process it too. It’s helped me find a way to live with it. It will always have a place in my life but it’s now tucked neatly away with all my other emotions. It still comes out sometimes, it’s just not weighing so heavily, suffocating me like it used to. Therapy has helped with that.
There’s an analogy on grief called the Ball & The Box that has also helped me.
Imagine your life in a box, and the grief you feel is a ball in the box. Inside the box, there is also a pain button. When the grief is at its peak the ball fills the box and is hitting that pain button constantly. As time passes the ball gets smaller and hits the button less frequently, but when it does it hurts all the same.
This has been the best way to describe grief for me. Not seeing my dad’s name on cards still hurts and I’ve not even brought myself to delete his number from my phone. However, the ball inside the box has got smaller.
There’s a saying that goes “life doesn’t throw at you what you can’t handle” and although I believe this to be true, life also has the ability to crush you, and you’ll have to pick yourself piece by piece off the floor. However, I do believe life does go on, and happiness can be found again and that’s what’s given me hope over the last few years.
I guess I now see life as a book. I still sit and revisit previous chapters often, especially those with my dad. However, I’m trying to live more in the current ones and get excited for what’s ahead because there’s so much happiness to be found in new chapters, only if you allow yourself to turn the page.
We all want to achieve success and avoid failure. It hurts when we fail, perhaps not necessarily physically but it can carve a dent in our ego, one that makes it hard to give it another go. I’ve always struggled with getting things wrong, and to protect my self I tend to hold myself back when it comes to getting out of my comfort zone. I also find I procrastinate and play it safe, especially when it comes to starting something new.
On top of this, I’ve spent a long time believing that I’m not ‘good’ at anything (how sad is that?) It was only when my coach recently asked me to list out all of the things that I’m ‘good’ at, I noticed how few things I perceived there to be. I’d say, “well I guess I’m OK at them but wouldn’t say I’m good at them”. My coach then surprised me by listing double the amount of things they thought I was good at and it got me thinking. Why is it that others can see our potential and strengths when we can’t? Am I subconsciously sabotaging my chances of success? And how much does my fear of failing really hold me back?
Through working with a coach I’ve come to realise, we aren’t born with a fear of failure we learn it and that’s a good thing. Why? Because if we can learn it, it means we can ‘unlearn’ it and replace it with habits and belief systems that are more productive for us. All of our experiences shape how we respond to life but that doesn’t mean they determine it. While I could list out all the reasons why fearing failure is counterproductive it doesn’t make it magically disappear, well not for me anyway. Instead, I’ve had to define what failure truly means to me, and spend some time outlining my strengths.
My journey to care a little less about how I’d feel if it all went wrong or what people would think, and a little more about how I’d feel if it went right, has led me to a few ways to help face the fear of failing:
Get clear on why failing is so important to you
We all have different definitions of failure as we all have individual benchmarks, values, and belief systems. For me, I don’t like failing because I’m a perfectionist, I don’t like doing things wrong, I don’t like letting people down, and I care far too much about what other people think. Starting with why will help you in overcoming it.
Failure is feedback whether you see it as negative or positive
Sometimes rather than asking yourself what went wrong ask yourself what went right? Creativity can be born from failure. When things haven’t worked out the first time use what has to inform how you’ll do it differently next time.
Use examples of when you’ve got through difficult times to motivate you
It’s probably not a surprise that I use the difficult experience of losing my dad to guide a lot of the ways I respond to life. It’s taught me that when times get hard not only can I deal with them but I can get through them.
Take ownership of your strengths and successes
It’s not a one-off, it’s not luck, it was down to you. We all possess a wealth of strengths but sometimes instead of championing them we focus more time on improving our weaknesses. Spend time writing down all the things you are good and if that feels hard instead outline your achievements. From this, you’ll be able to see all that was required from YOU to make it a success.
I’ve always liked the saying the comeback is greater than the setback because I love a comeback story. I find them far more inspiring than when someone has been successful the first time around.
Something commonly linked to how we react to setbacks is resilience. But actually what is resilience?
Resilience can be defined as “the ability of a substance to return to its usual shape after being bent, stretched, or pressed”. Essentially it is how quickly we bounce back from situations that cause us stress, and highly resilient people tend to find a way to change course, emotionally heal, and continue moving toward their goals amid adversity.
I’ve become fascinated with resilience ever since I lost my dad to suicide five years ago. Before then, I always admired those who’d gone through tragedies and could remain optimistic and hopeful. I’d ask myself how do they do that? It was only when I was thrown into my own life-changing event that I learned the true importance of resilience and how to build it.
Here are a few practices that have helped me become more resilient.
Be accepting that life is filled with challenges but that doesn’t make it any easier.
Life does and will always throw us curveballs. We can’t control everything and we can’t predict life either. It’s also important to recognize that it is impossible to react well to everything that happens to us. When we are facing a difficult situation hearing advice to be positive, grateful, or to look at it in perspective, can be worse to hear. It’s ok not be to be ok, we’re human after all but don’t dwell in that place, rely on the skills to make it better. Resilience.
How you feel about yourself matters.
Whether you say you can or you can’t you’re probably right. It’s important when facing challenges to not let them knock your confidence. It’s easy to blame yourself or your abilities when life throws you unexpected challenges. Having a strong sense of self-belief along with knowing the strengths you possess will help you use failures, and challenges to grow and learn from.
Seek out opportunities for growth.
Don’t always take the easy road, it’s comfortable and safe. Take opportunities that push you out of your comfort zone to see how far you can go. You’ll find you can deal with a lot more than you think you can.
Don’t go it alone.
While not everyone can spend quality time with their close ones right now, it’s still important to reach out to your friends and family, even if it’s a regular call or Facetime. We were not meant to do it all by ourselves, even when we feel like we can be a burden to others.
Ask yourself is this harming me or is this helping me?
If the way your acting isn’t helping you, it’s most likely harming you and pushing you further away from where you want to be. Telling yourself you’re useless and not worthy won’t bring you closer to self-acceptance. Scrolling through your social media, or reading the news right before you go to bed isn’t going to help you sleep if you’re struggling to switch off. Find control over your decision-making.
Maintain a hopeful mindset. It does get better but it takes time.
When you’re going through a challenging time, one of the hardest pieces of advice to receive is “it gets better”. It took me years after my dad died to finally see that light over the horizon. Try to hold on to the belief it gets better because it does, and when you’re ready you’ll see it too.
We tend to go about our goals focused on what and how. What do we need to do to make it happen? And how do we get there? But most of what we do in life is underpinned by three things. What, how, and why. The first two seem easy, and I’d argue take up most of our thinking time. The last one, not so much. Explaining why we do things is difficult for two reasons. One, defining your why takes effort, and two, we do a lot of things without even questioning it. It’s easy to go about our day on autopilot, never questioning our habits or actions because they’ve been apart of us for so long – even if some do more harm than good.
Finding your why
When I talk about finding your purpose, some will think it’s woo woo kind of stuff, and you’ll need to go to a retreat in Bali, or India to find it. But it’s much simpler than that. It comes down to asking yourself the right questions. What brings me joy? What does success look like for me? And on top of that why?
When we have a clear list of things that truly makes us tick, we start to fine-tune our expectations and step away from the ones society sets upon us. Finding your why gives meaning to goals and actions. It’s what kicks in and gives us momentum when motivation is low and it’s what keeps us moving in the direction we want to head.
Without unpacking what you love doing and why, it’s easier to compare your life to others. Now I like social media and believe it’s a valuable platform. However, it’s an easy place to compare. So, when we don’t define what happiness or success looks like for our lives, it’s easy to use other people’s benchmarks to measure up against. For example, you could be having the best day but then someone puts up a photo of their new car, holiday, or promotion, and just like that you instantly compare your situation to theirs. But what if cars, holidays, and being CEO aren’t what’s important to you? Then why compare? Someone will always seem more successful or happier if you haven’t defined what those things look like for you. When you know what brings you joy you’re less likely to waste time seeking out things that seem to bring it to others. Goalposts will always shift if you’re not the one setting them.
So, find out who you are, find out who you’re not. Find out what makes you happy but most importantly find your why. Life’s filled with opportunities but not all of them are destined for us- be ok with that. Weed out the things that don’t feed the person you are because once you’ve done that, you’re left with so many that do.
It’s been almost five years since my dad died. To think it’s been that long is pretty terrifying. However, anyone who’s lost someone knows how deceptive time can be when it comes to grief. On the one hand, you can’t believe how fast the time has gone. On the other, you can feel as if it goes incredibly slowly.
I wanted to share with you a story, one that has inspired the theme of this blog.
I can remember the night after my dad died, I finally got into bed and put my headphones on loud. I lay there listening to A Message by Coldplay on repeat all night. I don’t know why I chose that song or band, but I do know that the noise seemed to give me an escape from reality for a brief moment. I continued to do this a lot over the next few months while struggling with my grief. In hindsight, I was probably doing damage to my ears, but at the time it seemed like a good way to distract myself.
Since then, I’ve drawn parallels to other occasions in my life where I have used noise to distract myself from how I’m feeling. It might not necessarily have been through listening to loud music but instead through filling my life with noise. For example, I’d always want to be around people, as I didn’t like to be alone. Or, I’d spend too much time on social media because of wanting to feel constantly connected. Having some form of buzz around me meant I spent less time alone and less time having to sit with my thoughts and feelings – something I wasn’t ready to do.
However, what I’ve learned about life is that escapism and distractions only go so far. From years of self-development, and digging deep in understanding my grief, I’ve probably gone the other way. I now really enjoy spending time alone and have found an appreciation for slowing down and enjoying the silence.
So, here are a few other things that I’ve found have helped me find calm and quiet in the busy world we live in.
Information detox – We now live in a time with endless information at our fingertips. Whether it’s through our phones or TVs, it’s impossible to get through the day without absorbing it in some form. However, it’s important to be mindful about what information you take in and how it makes you feel. Whenever I take in too much information at one time, I never feel like anything sticks. For example, if I read a book whilst listening to music, I have to read the same page two or three times. Too much information can be overwhelming and affect our productivity. So, limit what you absorb, and spend time away from the devices that prevent your brain from switching off for a minute.
Skip the white lies – Agreeing with people’s opinions or going along with something you don’t stand for because it’s ‘easier’, takes you further away from who you actually are, and can lead to even more time overthinking at the end of the day. It’s so easy to say “I’m fine” when you’re not, but sometimes being open and honest is the best way to find peace knowing that you’ve told the truth.
Don’t overbook yourself – In the past, I’ve felt guilty for saying no. I’ve thought declining an offer or an invite was rude and always wanted to please everyone. Turns out I’d end up being overbooked and have to let down people anyway. When you can’t do something say no. It’s so much easier in the long run rather than saying yes and having to explain why you can’t further down the line.
Be prepared the night before– There’s nothing more stressful in the morning when you’re late, you can’t find anything to wear, can’t find your keys, and it’s all going wrong before 8 am. Spending less than 10 minutes getting things organised the night before can save you time and a lot of rushing around (and headaches) the next morning.
Yoga, mindfulness, meditation – I’m not going to bang the drum about these because they are brilliant ways to switch off but you’ve probably been told that 100 times before.
From the day you’re born you start to acquire different hats. From a son or a daughter to a brother or sister to a friend, colleague, parent, the list goes on. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The range of hats we wear throughout our lives is unique to us. However, one thing for sure is we wear many of them.
Some hats we switch in and out of with such ease, we do it unconsciously. Some hats take less energy like the ones we wear with friends in comparison to the ones we may wear at work. Some hats we struggle to take off and switch off from. One thing is for sure though, the pandemic has caused us to strip back and reassess some of the hats we wear and take on others, more than we are used to. And I don’t know about you but the absence of some of these hats can make us feel lost. And why wouldn’t it? Our hats are like our clothes they make us who we are and shape us. But in a world overflowing with opportunities, it can sometimes feel as though we are competing to see who can juggle the most hats without faltering. It’s no wonder we can feel stretched, and struggle to find a ‘balance’ in life.
So, what am I getting at here?
There is a time in our day or week where we don’t wear any hats. When we are alone. Many of us over the past year have experienced so much more time alone than ever before. Whilst this has been hard, it’s also given a lot of people (myself included) time to re-assess some of the hats we wear. Does this hat make me happy? Do I give too much time to it? And most importantly underneath all of it, am I happy?
Remember at the end of the day when all the hats are stripped back, it’s just you, your thoughts, and the way you feel about yourself. Your achievements, friends, success, family are all wonderful parts of life but they are not the only things that define you. The way you see the world, the way you talk to yourself and truly feel inside your head does as well. So, take the time to check in with yourself, and that person underneath all of the hats.
Something I’ve learned over the past few years is, that it is very possible to use our hats to mask how we feel underneath. And when they are taken away what’s left can be an uncomfortable place to be or face. So, try each day to take the time to lean into your thoughts and spend some time without any expectations or hats. I know it can be hard with families, and commitments but it’s so important.
On the outside, we can perceive people to have absolutely everything to live for because of the many hats they wear. But if you’re unhappy underneath all the exterior, it will slowly manifest itself. I’ve learned that the hard way.
When you board a plane, they always tell you “put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others” and why is this important? Because it’s impossible to pour from an empty cup. So, when you sit down at the end of the day stripped back of all your hats, ask yourself this, how do I really feel?
Firstly, happy new year (even though we are at the end of January and still not sure if happy is the right word).
There’s no denying that it’s been a tough year, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty ahead of us. The global pandemic has caused me to think and reflect even more so than usual. While my usual go-to has always been to pen my thoughts on here, my little blog feels a little neglected (yet again). However, on the flip side, the notes on my phone are overflowing with thoughts and ideas that have spurred me on to start a new blog series, ” The Sunday Series”. Inspired by my Sunday morning coffee when I do most of my thinking ), The Sunday Series will be a collection of blogs surrounding wellbeing, mindset, resilience, and generally just a candid conversation on some of my struggles.
Every Sunday morning, I’ll be uploading a new blog, starting this weekend. For you to enjoy your Sunday Coffee moment, and take five with me.
I sit here writing this in the living room of our new house in Scotland . Up until last week, we had no furniture and were using a cushion fort as a makeshift sofa. Not to forget the mug I was using to drink coffee, water and Prosecco from. Despite all of the above, for the first time in a while, I’d felt the urge to start writing again. Nothing forced or inspirational just my honest thought reel that I wanted to get down on here.
There’s something about the challenges of 2020 that have taken me back to the year my dad died. Although very different circumstances, I still find myself drawing parallels between the two with one common denominator, change.
Although we experience change daily like the change in weather or our schedules. Many of these minor adjustments to our day to day life are expected and don’t really affect us. But what about the big (sometimes unexpected) changes in our life? Like the new jobs, the breakups, the losses, and the big events that hit us with no prior warning. Whilst some of us thrive off change and take it in our stride when life throws a curveball. Others (me) are lovers of routine, and absolutely hate things not going to plan.
Whatever life throws at us we deal with it differently. The last four years have been filled with so many changes and challenges. They’ve taught me that it’s not the circumstances or events that happen but it’s how we handle them that dictates how they’ll affect our lives. It’s also taught me not to be fearful of what’s to come but instead accept that all good things (and bad) come to an end. I like to think I have some sort of control over my life but also accept that much of the big stuff I don’t and that’s ok.
Whilst this year has brought a fresh new set of challenges, there are a few lessons I’ve learned about change, especially unexpected ones, that I wanted to share on here.
Life really can change in an instant, so don’t put things off. I’m not talking about the washing or your household chores but the big things. Like taking that course you’ve been talking about, going on that trip, or reconnecting with an old friend. We really cannot predict what’s around the corner or how much ‘time’ we have. I don’t think many of us will ever forget the day the entire country went into national lockdown, over a virus that last year sounded like a sci-fi film plot. Or for me the day I found out my dad had died. We think we have time, and sometimes we don’t.
The only constant in life is change. Nothing stays the same. Our friendship circles, our houses, our jobs. We were built to evolve, adapt and move on. The good times do end, but so do the bad times. If it weren’t for change none of it would be possible.
It’s really hard to be prepared for the ‘un-prepareable’ so don’t waste your time trying to do so. ( I wrote a blog a while ago on this topic). You can’t predict the future, so getting worked up over worst-case scenarios that haven’t even happened yet is a waste of energy. Try to only focus on the here and now. While the thought of not knowing what’s to come can be scary, it also means that some of the best days of our lives are still to come and we don’t even know it yet.
Control what you can, but accept there is far more that you’ll never be in control of. Make peace with that.
Life never goes the way you plan it to and that’s actually a good thing. 5-year plans, 10-year plans give us the illusion of control. But what we think we want in the future very rarely pans out that way. I look back on what I thought I wanted 5 years ago to now and it’s drastically different and in a way I’m grateful for it.
So before we write off 2020, it might have taught us more than we think.