The Key To Unlocking and Accepting Change

The Key To Accepting Change

From the moment we are born, until the moment we die, our life is a series of highs and lows, gains and losses, beginnings and endings. It’s true that the only constant in life is change. Not to sound morbid, but one day we are all going to die – it’s actually one of the few things we can be completely certain of! Yet, we are actually programmed to deny our own mortality on a daily basis in order to maintain our existential stability. Can you imagine what it would be like if you walked around every day constantly fearing your own death? You’d be an anxious mess, and you probably wouldn’t be able to thrive or function. So, we become attached to things, people, environments, the past, thoughts and ideas to keep ourselves sane. It’s actually quite optimistic of us, when you think about it like that, and for the most part, it works…. except when it doesn’t, and that’s when things gets a bit messy and shit. So, today, I’m going to talk a little bit about change.

Change is happening constantly. It is happening within your body every single second of every single day. Your cells are constantly working, communicating with each other, multiplying, evolving and dying. Change is also happening outside of our bodies too, and our bodies are constantly adapting to these changes, however subtle. In fact, we’ve evolved to become so good at doing this, that most of the time we don’t even notice that we’re doing it. Our bodies adjust to light, temperature and atmospheric changes. Our bodies actually even have to rely on some changes in order to function. Biological rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a cycle. In fact, we all have a master clock inside of us that keeps track of all these rhythms and it is ticking away in your hypothalamus right now as we speak. Our sleep-wake cycle is dependent upon a circadian cycle and light changes; the reproduction of our species relies on a menstrual cycle and hormone changes; our ability to maintain our attention even runs on a cycle, the ultradian rhythm, which is 90 minutes in duration… I think you get the gist.

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So, you can already see how change is essential for life, and adapting to change is also essential for life. Not just for human life, but for all life. Think seasonal changes, think weather changes, think climate changes. Everything is interconnected, and yet somehow, it just magically works and flows. Things change at just the right time for the right process to occur. Just thinking about all that makes me feel in awe of the existence of life and its ability to evolve and thrive on this planet. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was the ultimate story of change, and I remember being so excited to learn all about it in Human Physiology 101. It also helped that I had a lecturer who was discernibly excited about teaching it.

The good news is that a lot of good stuff happens because of change. For example, if nothing ever changed, we wouldn’t have butterflies! When people think of change, they often think about the metamorphosis of the butterfly. The butterfly must struggle to come out of the cocoon, but did you know that if there were no struggle the butterfly wouldn’t be able to fly? This is because during the struggle, the blood flows into its wings, which allows it to fly. It gives purpose and meaning to the suffering when you think about it like that. We can sometimes find meaning and purpose in our own suffering, too. I did a lot of research on Post-Traumatic Growth when I was writing my thesis (which was on vicarious resilience in therapists and therapists in training working with clients who have experienced trauma or difficult life events, in case you were wondering). I know that I’ve talked a lot about stories on this blog, but the other cool thing about stories is that the more meaning we are able to attribute to the story of our suffering, the more likely we are to be able to cope with it. That’s what Narrative and Schema therapies are all about – changing stories. The experience of pain is inevitable, but our interpretation of the pain is what causes the suffering. In some ways, this can be empowering to know, because it means we have options in the face of change, suffering, loss and pain. Changing the way we think about it can sometimes change our perception of it. In psychology, when a story is helpful, it’s said to be adaptive, and when a story is not so helpful, it’s maladaptive. My job is to work collaboratively with people to help them change their maladaptive stories into more adaptive ones.

If nothing changed

Accordingly, you can see that we can create or unlock change within ourselves to help us deal with pain, suffering and loss. We don’t necessarily always have to change the story to cope, either. Sometimes it’s a more practical approach that creates meaningful change. In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, for example, clients learn that when they are faced with a problem they have four options:

  1. They can either identify what needs to change and solve the problem,
  2. If they can’t solve it then they have the option to change the way they feel about it,
  3. If they can’t change the way they feel then they have the option to accept it (which, once again, doesn’t mean liking or approving of it) or,
  4. They can choose to stay miserable.

Marsha Linehan is pretty blunt at the best of times! Thinking of problems in this way can sometimes help you to move into a problem-focused coping mode. It basically helps you to shift the focus away from the stuff you don’t have control over, and back onto what you do have control over. It’s directing your focus to what’s going to be most helpful and adaptive in that moment. It also allows you to take some responsibility and ownership over your life and whatever has happened or changed. When we have an external locus of control we are always focused on attributing responsibility to external factors and events (blaming others, for example), whereas when we have an internal locus of control we are able to focus on our own role within the system. Given we don’t really have much control over anything outside of ourselves, it’s obviously going to be more helpful to focus on what we do have control over rather than what we don’t. It allows us to be the change we wish to see in the world, as the famous saying goes.

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As a helper, I have learned that human beings can go through some really awful shit in life, and yet most of the time they can still manage to come out of it and not only survive, but thrive! This is because resilience is born out of struggle and we are a pretty resilient bunch. This is good news! The other good news about change is  that it means that the bad times don’t last forever. Of course, the flip side of this is that good times won’t last forever either, but being aware of this only makes you appreciate them more when they do happen, right?

Some people not only fear changes that are outside of their control, but also fear initiating positive changes that are within their control, and this keeps them stuck in a “comfort zone”. They don’t want to step outside of their comfort zone because they are scared of what might happen. But by not stepping out, they also miss out on the magic of life. Besides, the comfort zone is an illusion anyway. Bad stuff can happen even when you’ve created an imaginary comfort zone, no matter how high you build those walls. The comfort zone serves no other purpose besides convincing you that you are safe within it… it creates a false sense of security in a world where there simply is no certainty. Remember, taking well informed and calculated risks is a wise move, and increases your chances of finding success and happiness, too. You can’t control what happens, but you can believe in yourself and have faith in your ability to cope with whatever does happen. Everything you’ve ever wanted is usually on the other side of fear. It takes courage to take that leap, but what other choice do you have? To stay stuck? How boring!

 

“Sometimes your only available form of transportation is a leap of faith” – Margaret Shepard.

 

After a loss or change, you can beg and beg for it to go back to how it was before. You may feel that you need whatever it was that you lost in order to survive. You don’t. Whenever I have felt this way, it’s been because I was scared of letting go. It takes bravery to finally let go and say good-bye… but you do need to let go in order to welcome new beginnings. Every ending leads to a new beginning… it really does! You never would have believed me if you told you where I was this time last year and what I was going through… but here I am. It was hard…. really hard, but now I am in a better place. It’s powerful to realise that you are the only person who can save you. Other people can be there for you and support you, or even give you some ideas on how you might get through the change. But, I’ll tell you a secret, the only person who has ever been there for me through thick and thin, who has comforted me when I have been down, who has provided me with the strength I needed and who I have been able to rely on is me… It takes courage to love and nurture yourself through the process of change, but you are the one who is coping with whatever it is, so you need to be caring for yourself through that process.

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I have learned so much about myself and the world just by paying attention to the things I previously used to ignore. Of course, I had to learn all this the hard way. I stayed in a job I hated until I got sick. I stayed in a relationship that wasn’t making me happy until I had a break down. We all have life traps. We all fall down holes. It takes courage and strength to recognise when you’ve fallen into a hole and to be able to find the way back out…. but we always do, and when we do, we grow stronger and more resilient. My favourite social researcher, Brené Brown, talks about this in greater detail in her latest book, Rising Strong. Each time we fall, we learn something new about ourselves and the world. Knowledge is power. We can’t change what we don’t notice. So pay attention to what your body and heart are telling you…. and put it into action. You won’t regret it.

I’m starting to learn to listen to myself and my body more, and you should too. I used to be someone who would push myself and have unrelenting standards for myself… and I still sort of do. I am ambitious. I am a dreamer. I am idealistic. However, I listen to myself now. If I am tired, I rest. If I am feeling overworked, I delegate out. If I feel overwhelmed, I take a break. If I’m not enjoying something, I stop. I follow my heart now and I listen to my intuition. I listen to my body and my feelings and I respond appropriately. I no longer ignore the feelings. I respond to them and validate them. Our feelings are messengers and they are telling us something. If we ignore physical pain then we get sick. In the same way, if we ignore our emotions, we get mentally unwell. Therefore, I bring a greater sense of kindness and compassion to myself when I’m going through a difficult time or coping with some change, and this helps a lot.

In a world where everything is constantly changing all around us, we can maintain some consistency in how we cope. Look to your core values to guide and direct you toward the best way to cope. Everyone copes differently. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. You have to figure out what helps you, and put it into action. I believe in you and I know you can get through it, whatever it is that you’re faced with. You’re programed to, after all 🙂

How do you normally cope with change? Do you like it or loathe it? What are your thoughts on change? What helps? You can share them with me and each other, if you want 🙂

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Mindfulness: How to Be Here Right Now.

Be Here Now

Mindfulness is the latest sliced-bread of psychology. It’s all over the media. There are countless books, courses, journals, videos, apps and even colouring books on it! However, I thought it would be worthwhile to give you a summary of what the underlying principles of Mindfulness are, and how you might go about incorporating it into your own life and self-care practice.

Mindfulness has its roots in eastern and Buddhist philosophy. Jon Kabat-Zinn was the founder of the modern form of Mindfulness and he was also the founder of the Mindfulness-based stress reduction clinic. Weirdly enough, Kabat-Zinn is a Professor of Medicine and a Molecular Biologist. Although he has been trained in Buddhist principles, he doesn’t actually follow the Buddhist religion and prefers instead to think of himself as a scientist. He published this big fat bible-like book about Mindfulness in 1991 called Full Catatrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.  If you want a really deep understanding of Mindfulness and the mind-body connection, I’d highly recommend getting your hands on this book. However, there are some other books around now which are more concise and perhaps easier and quicker to read. I’ll suggest a few of my favourites at the end of this article.

What is Mindfulness?

So, you’re probably wondering, what is Mindfulness about anyway?

Kabat-Zinn reckons it means, “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. Well, that’s the bite-size version!

The purpose of mindfulness is basically to bring a greater sense of awareness to the present moment. When life gets busy, we get so caught up in thinking, planning, remembering and worrying that we often get stuck in autopilot mode and we forget to check in with the present moment. Mindfulness gives us the tools and skills to be able to do this effectively and to gently pull ourselves out of the vortex that is our mind.

It’s important for me to clarify a few points:

The goal of Mindfulness is not relaxation. Although relaxation can be a bonus benefit of engaging in a regular mindfulness practice, it’s not the goal. The thoughts that Mindfulness brings into our awareness are not necessarily always pleasant, however, Mindfulness does help to give us some distance from them, and it also brings a greater sense of acceptance to them.

Acceptance does not mean “liking” or “approving” of what comes into your awareness, it simply means, “sitting with” the thoughts, without a struggle. The struggle with your thoughts is what creates the suffering. Thoughts are just thoughts. It’s getting caught up in them, becoming preoccupied with them and consumed by them that causes problems. You see, as the saying goes, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. You don’t necessarily have a choice about what comes up, but if you notice it, you do then have a choice about whether you engage with it, struggle with it or simply allow it. You don’t have to control it or change it. If it changes by itself, that’s ok, if it doesn’t change, that’s ok too.

The goal of Mindfulness is not to stop your thoughts or to stop your mind from thinking. That is impossible. Not even Zen masters can do this. The goal is to simply notice your thoughts and to bring a greater sense of kindness and compassion to those thoughts. It’s about being open to, and curious to, whatever comes up.

You can't stopthe waves,But you canlearn to surf

Why should I practice Mindfuless?

 Well, why not? Struggling with painful or unpleasant thoughts is not fun! Besides this obvious point, stress is actually quite damaging on the human body. It stops your body from functioning normally. When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated in what’s sometimes referred to as the “fight or flight” response. This is an evolutionary response to a perceived danger or threat. Our body cleverly channels all of our energy into fighting or fleeing a danger or threat, and while it does this, the parts of our body that are not needed are simply shut down. This means that our digestive, immune, growth and reproductive systems are all hindered during stressful times. This is a pretty handy thing for our body to do, especially if a tiger is chasing us. It’s a system which is in place to protect us, except that, in our modern lives, this system is being activated by things such as deadlines, running late, fighting with your partner, being cut off in traffic, overworking and other such things. It’s basically turned into a sensitive car alarm, which is going off when it shouldn’t. We all need a little bit of stress to get things done, but when it’s happening too much and too often, that’s when it can be damaging to our mental health and general wellbeing. It can cause stomach ulcers, heart problems, lowered libido and other illnesses.

While stress triggers a fight-or-flight response, Mindfulness activates the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” system. Our heart rate slows, our breathing slows and our blood pressure drops. Mindfulness is therefore restorative and benefits our wellbeing.

The benefits of Mindfulness are also well researched and empirically supported. In fact, a scholarly search on Mindfulness brings up a wealth of empirical evidence to support its benefits, effectiveness and usefulness.

BePresent

How can Mindfulness help me?

Reduces Stress. People who practice mindfulness meditation regularly have reported feeling less stressed and more emotionally balanced, and, according to research by neuroscientists, as you continue to meditate, your brain physically changes! How amazing! The part of the brain that reacts to stress was found to be less reactive in those who practiced mindfulness regularly.

Increases creativity. Aside from helping you to feel less stressed, Mindfulness has also been shown to promote creative thinking and to help you to generate more ideas!

Enhances focus and concentration. Mindfulness helps you to focus and concentrate. Being able to focus and defy distraction is linked to our ability to control our impulses, emotions and achieve our long-term goals. Remember, being able to focus on your goals is one of the keys to finding success.

Improves your relationships. Finally, it also improves your relationships. Not just with those close to you, but also with everyone else you meet. As you become more comfortable with yourself, it makes it easier for you to get along with others, and you may find it easier to accept them as they are too. Mindfulness is therefore not only beneficial for you, but also for those around you!

Now that you know about all the benefits of Mindfulness, let’s get on to the practical side of it all…

 How do I practice Mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be practiced formally and informally. The formal practice is usually called Mindfulness Meditation, which I’ll get on to in a sec. Informal practice can be doing things like having a shower mindfully, brushing your teeth mindfully, eating mindfully, going for a mindful walk, or using tools such as the “5,5,5” or the “Stop Practice”, which I’ll also explain in a sec. The important thing to remember is that most of the research on the benefits of Mindfulness is based on the formal practice of Mindfulness Meditation; so scheduling in some time every day to do a formal practice is what’s going to be most beneficial for you. Setting a reminder on your phone may help you with this.

WithCuriosity

Mindfulness Meditation

 There are 3 basic components to most Mindfulness Meditations: your body, your breath and your thoughts. First, let’s talk about the body – which also involves our environment and how we set it up for our Mindfulness Meditation. You should be in a comfortable and safe environment. With practice, you should be able to practice Meditation anywhere, but to begin with, pick a relatively quiet space, which is a comfortable temperature for you and where you are not likely to be distracted by others. This may be your bedroom, for example.

Some people like to create a meditation space or “altar” and decorate it with pictures, photos, objects that mean something to you or your meditation practice. Sometimes people like to light a candle or burn incense while they meditate, too. All of this stuff is optional and not essential to engaging in the practice, but it may enhance it.

Before you begin, you may wish to set a timer or alarm. If this is your first time meditating, set it for 5 minutes to begin with. As you continue practicing, you may wish to extend this time to be 10 or 20 minutes.

Now that you have the space and time, you will need somewhere to sit. Some people like to sit in chair; others like to sit on a cushion. The main thing here is that your posture is upright but not too rigid. Your posture should be one that is conducive to alertness and awareness. Remember, it’s not about relaxation, so sit naturally and comfortably but ensure that your back is straight and that there is a natural curve in your back. If you’re in a chair, make sure your feet are flat on the floor. If you’re on a cushion, you can sit with them crossed underneath you. You can place your hands on your knees with your palms facing down, or if you’re trying to cultivate a greater sense of openness, you may like to have your palms facing up. Eyes can be open or closed. If you’re just starting out, sometimes having them partially open and focused on a spot can help to increase your focus and limit distraction from thoughts.

Begin by just sitting in this posture for a bit. Just be aware of your body and any sensations you are experiencing right now in this moment. Notice what you can see and hear. Notice what you are thinking right now in this moment. Notice what you are feeling. Just notice. Remember, your mind will wander. This is ok. When you notice that your mind has wandered, gently bring your awareness back to your body, without judgment.

Next, you will bring your awareness to your breath. Notice your breath flowing in and out. Notice it as it enters through your nose or mouth, fills your lungs with air, and then makes its way back out of the body. Notice your tummy rising and falling. Imagine that you have a balloon in your tummy and every time you breathe in, the balloon inflates and every time you breathe out the balloon deflates.

Just keep your focus on your breath for the next few minutes. Use the breath as your anchor to this moment. Once again, it’s normal and natural for your mind to wander. Simply notice the thoughts, acknowledge them and gently bring your awareness back to the breath. Your mind will wander repeatedly. Every time it wanders, notice it and gently bring it back. You can sit and meditate for as long as you like, or until your alarm goes off to signal the end of the practice. Come out of your meditation slowly and gently.

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When should I meditate?

You can meditate any time you like, but some people prefer to do it first thing in the morning to prepare them for the day, or just before bed to aid with sleep. It’s really up to you when you choose to meditate, how often and for how long.

Informal practice

As I said, you can also practice mindfulness informally…

Try eating a piece of chocolate mindfully. Pick it up. Look at it. Notice the texture in your hand. Bring it up to your mouth. Smell it. Place it in your mouth on your tongue for a few seconds. Taste it. Feel the texture. Bite into it slowly. Feel it melt in your mouth. Savour the taste.

Try going for a Mindful Walk. Take note of everything you see, hear, smell, taste, think and touch on your walk. Notice your stride. Notice the breeze against your cheek. Notice the birds singing. Notice your thoughts. Feel the ground beneath your feet.

Try taking a shower mindfully. Feel the water soaking your skin. Feel the temperature. Feel the texture of your hair as you shampoo it. Every time a thought enters your awareness, imagine it being washed away.

Try the 5, 5, 5. You can do this anywhere, anytime. It’s a grounding practice. Notice 5 things you can see, 5 things you can hear, and 5 things you can touch. So, right now I can see my desk, drink bottle, notebook, candle, pen. I can hear birds outside, the TV on in the living room, my sister’s laughter, my fingers typing on my keyboard, the clanging of cutlery in the kitchen. I can feel my laptop keyboard, the clothes against my skin, my feet on the ground, my hair touching the back of my neck, and the chair beneath me. This practice is really good for pulling your mind out of quicksand, that is, when you are ruminating or getting caught up in your thoughts about something.

Try the STOP practice. The STOP practice is really good for stopping you when you’re about to react to something – i.e. you’ve just been cut off in traffic. Instead of reacting, you can:

Stop: Literally stop whatever you’re doing.

Take: A few deep breaths.

Observe: Your thoughts, feelings and surroundings

Proceed: In the most effective way.

Try colouring in mindfully. This is the latest craze and it really is a great alternative to the formal mindfulness practice. Just make sure you choose a colouring book with repetitive and simple patterns, so you don’t get distracted easily by the pictures/design and can simply focus on colouring in.

With Acceptance

Some other tools.

My favourite apps on Mindfulness

Headspace is a UK-based Mindfulness Meditation App with guided Mindfulness Meditations.

Smiling Mind is an Australian Mindfulness Meditation App targeted to young people, but it is helpful for all ages.

My favourite books on Mindfulness

Mindfulness for Life by Dr. Craig Hassed and Dr. Stephen McKenzie is a helpful overview of Mindfulness.

The Mindfulness Journal by Corrinne Sweet is handy if you’re wanting to incorporate writing into your mindfulness practice.

The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris is the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy bible.

The Reality Slap by Dr. Russ Harris is helpful for when there’s a gap between what you want and what you’ve got.

The Little Book of Mindfulness by Dr. Patrizia Collard is small enough to carry in a handbag.

The Mindfulness Colouring Book by Emma Farrarons is handy if you don’t like formal mindfulness practice. Colouring in can be a helpful alternative.

A final note….

Mindfulness practice is not intended to treat acute stress in the moment, but rather, to be practiced daily over time to reduce your overall level of stress, which in turn will result in fewer acute episodes of stress. It is recommended that you practice these exercises daily even when you are not feeling stressed. If you only practice when you are stressed or anxious, you will not get the full benefit of it. Like any new skill, it takes practice to get the best results. Find a suitable time in your day to schedule in your mindfulness practice and commit to it as a daily part of your routine. Setting an alarm or reminder on your phone may be helpful for this. As you start to see the benefits of your daily practice, you are likely to want to continue with this.

Good luck and enjoy the moment.

Please let me know how you go with it and what you notice.

For bonus points: Go for a mindfulness walk and share what you noticed on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #mindfulnesswithkerry or #thekerryfiles

Authenticity: How your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe.

Authenticity

Being authentic, owning your own story and taking responsibility for your life requires you to let go of seeking approval from others for your life choices, opinions, style, taste and quirks. This is really bloody hard to do, for most people.

Being true to yourself means you must listen to the voice that comes from within that tells you what you like and don’t like and then follow through with that by communicating it, both to yourself and to others.

Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we'll ever do.Brené Brown

It’s really tricky because we all want to connect with others and be liked, but yet, if you constantly chase for other people’s approval, you are compromising your own needs and doubting yourself, which leads to you feeling fragmented. It also undercuts the conviction of your overall message or assertion and leads to other people also doubting you. When you are constantly trying to win fans by giving them what they want, your sense of identity starts to disintegrate. Your identity is what makes you unique and special and is ironically the very thing that will make people like you. It’s that perfect combination of personality traits, opinions, views, style and quirks that makes you, you.

Just be yourself.Let people see the real, imperfectflawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, magicalperson that you are.-Mandy Hale.

Authenticity fosters connection. When you have the courage to be yourself, it gives others permission to do the same. It’s nice, and it’s all well and good if you like yourself enough to do that in the first place. However, most people, at some point in their lives, go through the battle of wanting to be authentic, but also wanting the approval of their peers. High school is the typical time when this happens, but it can also happen during other points in your life. Most people have experienced some kind of rejection or criticism, and if it happens that it’s been repeated or consistent, it may starts to erode your self-esteem and confidence. It may start to impact on and change the story that you have formed about yourself. You may start to see yourself through the eyes of your haters instead of through the eyes of your fans. You may start to question and doubt your opinions and you may even try to change yourself to fit in with what you think is more likeable or acceptable. The voice inside of you that tells you what you like and don’t like may start to fade and become softer and quieter and you may even stop listening to it altogether. Indeed, you may even start to become preoccupied by all the things you have said or done, and become hypercritical of yourself. Basically, you may start to lose yourself and feel depressed and anxious because you’re forcing yourself to be someone you’re not. You may have gained yourself a few friends or fans along the way, but the constant appeasing and accommodating is so exhausting, and the connections you have made feel so fake and inauthentic anyway. A crowd of people may surround you, but you feel so alone and empty and it sucks.

One thing I’ve realised in my own life and experience is that not everyone is going to like me. In fact, quite a significant chunk of people don’t like me, and that’s ok. It used to really bother me when I was younger, probably because I didn’t rate myself that highly back then. I really, really, really wanted to be liked, but I also really, really, really wanted to be liked for being me. I was too strong-willed to want to change myself to be the version that other people wanted me to be. Besides, as much as you can try and fit yourself in to be what you think people want or need, it’s impossible to maintain over time; eventually, your true self shines through the façade. What I realised over the years is that the more and more I started to like myself and was comfortable to show my authentic self, the more and more I was able to attract people into my life who were more like me. My vibe was attracting my tribe, so to speak. It was awesome. I realised that I didn’t need to be anyone but myself to be liked. Instead of focusing on my imperfections and trying to change them, I realised that my flaws were perfect for the hearts that were meant to love me. The more I gave myself unconditional positive regard and acceptance, the more I started to attract other people into my life who did. The more I validated my own feelings, the more other people did.

TAKES

The point of this story is to share that sometimes we forget that we are all unique and special, and that instead of constantly trying to fit in or be liked, sometimes you just need to be yourself and have faith that the right people will come into your life and accept you for being that perfect combination of unique that makes you, you. When you do things from your soul, other people really dig that shit. So, let yourself be flawed, fuck perfection, fall in love with your life – all of it, and learn to celebrate yourself and love the crap out of yourself! If you want to find out more about how to do that, stay tuned.

How to Find Success in Whatever You Choose to Do

 

BeI often get people telling me how “lucky” I am that I have found success in my chosen career, that I get to do what I love, and that I get to choose the hours I work. Here’s a little secret: my “success” doesn’t come down to luck at all! It was an active choice and commitment, and one that I worked really bloody hard for. I thought I would share a few of my insights and reflections on success, and some ideas about how to be successful in whatever you choose to do.

Define what success means to you.

For some people, success means that they have a job that pays the bills, a roof over their head and food in their belly. For some people, success means they get to do what they love. For some people, success means being famous or having a certain amount of followers, subscribers or readers. For some people, success means earning a certain amount of money. For some people, success means getting a certain qualification. For some people, success means helping people or creating meaningful change in the world.

It’s really important to define what success actually means for you and to have a way of measuring your success. It might be based on monetary gain, it might be based on how it makes you feel, it might be a piece of paper, a publishing deal, a measure of popularity or it might be a combination of the above. It’s also really important that you define what success means to you because you need to know what you’re aiming for. It gives you a sense of direction and focus. It creates a specific and targeted goal to work towards. You may wish to also break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks or goals. As you meet certain benchmarks along the way, you may wish to then adjust your goal(s) accordingly.

While I was studying at uni, there were many times when I felt like giving up. It’s no secret that becoming a psychologist is a long and arduous journey with many hoops to jump through along the way. What kept me going was reminding myself of why I started in the first place. I wanted to understand myself better which in turn would help me understand others better and therefore hopefully help them. I also wanted to create meaningful change in the world and to give my suffering some purpose. Sounds a bit cheesy, egocentric and idealistic, but that’s pretty much the gist of it. The other major thing that kept me going was that I’d shared my goals with my late grandpa, who’d always encouraged me to pursue my academic dreams, and it was one of his dying wishes for me to complete my university education. This leads me on to the next important point, which is to….

Write down and share your goals!

According to a study by Gail Matthews, writing your goals down as well as sharing them with others, was shown to increase the chances of achieving them. As well as giving you a specific, measurable target or benchmark to work toward, writing your goals down or sharing them with others also gives you an action commitment and a sense of accountability. Seems pretty obvious to do this, but how many times have you set New Years Resolutions and then forgotten all about them a few weeks later? Write your goals down and check in with yourself every few months to see how you’re tracking.

Success isn’t a destination.

While I am quite content with where I am right now, I am one of those annoyingly ambitious and goal-driven people that dreams, believes and achieves. The sky’s the limit. If I want my dream job, I get it. If I want to write a thesis, I write a thesis. If I want to start a blog, I start one. Success is a journey, not a destination, so why place limits on yourself? It’s not about being insatiable; it’s about aspiring to be the best you can be. You can certainly accept yourself for where you are right now, but still work toward your next big dream or goal. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful and proud for all that I have already achieved, but I still have so much more that I want to achieve, and I truly believe that I will.

Persistence – “just keep swimming”.

If you really, really, really want something, you have to be prepared to put in the hard work. This means that you must persist! No matter what challenges, hurdles or barriers that you may have to face along the way, you MUST persist because persistence really is one of the most important keys in finding success. Keep going! Don’t stop! Put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Even if it is at a snail’s pace, it doesn’t matter! Life isn’t a race, so take it at your own pace, but just keep going! Or, as Dory from Finding Nemo says, “just keep swimming”.

Just-Keep-SwimmingImage Source

Having said that, make sure you’re swimming in the right direction! If you find that you’re no longer swimming in the direction you want to be swimming in then stop. Figure out which direction you need to be going in, and change your course. It’s one thing to be persistent, and another to be stubborn and unwilling to admit when you’ve made a poor choice or chosen the wrong path. It’s ok to re-evaluate your goals and change your mind about things.

Sometimes we have goals, but then when we actually dive in and pursue them we realise they were not right for us. That’s ok too! Sometimes it takes more strength and courage to recognise when it’s time to give up and walk away than to continue fighting a losing battle. It shouldn’t be that hard. You don’t have to stay in a job you hate, a relationship you’re unhappy in or a career that’s unfulfilling. You have options! One door closes and another opens, as they say. You just have to have the courage to make the change. I stayed in a job once that I hated for 6 months and almost sacrificed my sanity, but then the minute I left I found a job that I loved and it all worked out. Sometimes walking away is the best thing you can do because something better is waiting for you around the corner. However, you can never cross the ocean if you don’t have the courage to lose sight of the shore. Change is hard, but it’s also sometimes necessary, especially if you’re stuck in a “comfort zone”. Pip Lincolne talks about how to bounce back from failure in an article she wrote for Dumbo Feather.

You may be wondering, how do you even know if you’re on the right path? Well, it’s about trusting your own judgment, listening to your feelings and responding to them. Doing something you love should create an overall sense of flow, contentment and fulfilment. Yes, there will be challenges along the way, but if you are having more bad days than good that’s usually a pretty good indicator that you’re not on the right path. Also, get to know your limits and set realistic goals. No matter how hard I try; I know I will never be able to fly, for example. Also, sometimes it may be that you need to skill up first, gain a certain qualification, or do some research – so be aware of all the steps along the way, and commit to climbing one step at a time. In other words, don’t run before you can walk.

Consistence

Being persistent is one thing, but being consistent is another. Consistency creates structure, routine and habit, and humans are creatures of habit. I’ve been learning about consistence recently in Pip Lincolne’s Blog With Pip course. In the course, she shares her blog-to-book journey and insights with her students and she reckons that it’s all about consistency. If you want to write a book, for example, you need to commit to writing it Every. Single. Day. She suggests writing 750 words every day until you finish writing your book. Pretty simple, and pretty obvious, no?

If you are persistentYou will get itIf you are consistentYou will keep it

Take informed, educated risks.

This is an important point to clarify because not all risks are equal. People take risks every day in business and in life, however, some risks are well informed and educated, and others are just plain silly. The difference between an informed risk and a silly risk is when the upside outweighs the downside. Think about the best-case scenario for your risk and then think about the worst-case scenario. If the potential downside is limited and manageable but the potential upside is unlimited, you should probably take that risk.

For example, when thinking about starting this blog, I considered the best possible outcome or measure of success, which was for my blog to gain a significant readership, for me to share my ideas, connect with, inspire and help others, and to eventually perhaps write a book based on the ideas shared on the blog. The worst-case scenario was that no one would read my blog and that I’d wasted $20 on buying a domain name. However, I figured that even if people weren’t reading or following along, my time wasn’t being wasted because I still enjoying the process of writing regardless. So, I realised I’d still find some measure of success and enjoyment in the pursuit of this venture even if I didn’t meet all the benchmarks along the way. In this case, the potential downside is limited but the upside is virtually unlimited. It’s a risk worth taking. Steve Pavlina talks more about this, if you’re interested.

Have the courage to face your fears.

Finally, success takes courage. No matter what goal you’re working toward, it takes courage. To be successful you have to conquer your fears, doubts and insecurities, sometimes on a daily basis. It’s normal to feel scared when you’re trying to achieve something. The fear of failure is real, and it’s scary. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear and creativity in her new (and awesome) book, Big Magic. For Gilbert, whenever she attempts to pursue any new venture, creativity is always in the driver’s seat and fear is in the back. She reckons that if you let your fear jump into the driver’s seat, your life will be pretty boring. And she’s right, of course. Fear wants to keep us safe, and it has its place, but we can’t let it make all the decisions for us in life.

As Liz says, “Creativity and inspiration are the vehicles that will transport you to the person you most need to become”. – Elizabeth Gilbert.

Social researcher Brené Brown also talks about courage and vulnerability and how we must dare to show up and be seen; to walk into the arena of our lives, whether it be for work, relationships, a difficult conversation, a job interview, or whatever. When you show up authentically, you create the space for others to do the same. Authenticity is a form of vulnerability, but vulnerability is not weakness – it’s courage. So be authentic, be you and believe in yourself – you have what it takes!

Brené reckons that vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change, and I reckon she’s totally right. When I think of all the awesome achievements in my own life, I can definitely see how they were born out of vulnerability.

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené shares part of a speech by Theodore Roosevelt. It’s too awesome not to share…

theodore roosevelt quote

I hope you were inspired by some of my ideas, stories and reflections on success and I hope you find success in whatever you choose to pursue. Do you have any success stories you’d like to share with me? Feel free to comment here or chat to me on Facebook.

Buckets, Baskets and Self-Care.

Self Care

I’ve spoken about stories quite a bit over my last few blog posts. I like stories. I like telling stories and I like listening to other people’s stories. In my work, listen to a lot of stories. Sometimes, I wonder where I keep them all. A more accurate description for what I do would be “story keeper” because that’s essentially what I do. I listen to and keep people’s stories. I also sometimes (hopefully) help them to change their stories and write better endings. It’s a great job, and it’s very rewarding, but sometimes I feel like I have listened to, kept or changed so many stories that I might just burst or pop at the seams! The good news is that if I take good care of the vessel holding the stories (myself) then it’s less likely that those seams will pop. It also means that I can do a better job of holding all of the stories. It also helps that I love what I do.

#thekerryfiles

In my line of work, when your seams pop it’s called “burnout”, “compassion fatigue” or “vicarious trauma”. It’s not a fun place to be when you are all burned out. However, did you know that it’s not just people like me who are at risk of burnout? Yep, it’s true. Anyone and everyone can be at risk of burning themselves out by doing anything and everything.

Sometimes I tell people that life is a lot like juggling a series of buckets or baskets. You have a basket for your work or school, you have a basket for your family and loved ones, you have a basket for your physical health, you have a basket for your mental health, you have a basket for your home duties, you have a basket for your friends and social life, and finally, you have a basket for yourself. Phew! That’s a lot of baskets!

The problem is, you only have a limited amount of energy in your “self” basket, and, if you pour all of that into only one or two of your other baskets, it’s a lot harder to juggle them all! If your self-basket is empty, then you’re going to have an even harder time juggling all the other baskets. It sure is tricky, this basket juggling business!

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) we talk about life domains instead of baskets or buckets. We help people to clarify what their core values are (basically, which buckets are important to you), and then this helps direct the energy into your life’s buckets. We also help people figure out what buckets they actually have. After all, if you don’t even know what buckets you have, how can you even begin to fill them? Finally, we help to repair any damaged buckets, too. If your buckets have holes in them and they are leaking, no matter how much you try and fill them up, they’re just going to leak out again and be all sad and empty. I like the baskets analogy, because it’s an easier way of understanding values, life domains and all this fancy-schmancy psychology terminology.

Now that you understand the buckets/baskets analogy, I’m sure you can also appreciate the value of taking care of your self-bucket, because this is the most important bucket of all! In psychology, we call this process of taking care of the self-bucket, “self-care”. Self-care is really important. Not only for people in the helping profession, but for everyone else too! Sometimes people think it’s self-indulgent to pour into their own vessel; particularly people who always tend to take care of others (e.g. children, spouses, parents etc.). However, to these people I say: you definitely can’t pour into someone else’s bucket if your own bucket is empty! You’ll do a much better job of taking care of everyone when you are taking care of yourself. You’ll be calmer, more energised, more alert, focused, present and clear. It’s true! Some people argue with me and say “but I don’t have time!”. Ahh… this is the best bit! You will find that when you take a tiny bit of time out to take care of yourself, suddenly (and almost magically) you will discover that you have more time. This isn’t some magic trick or illusion, I promise. The reason why you will have more time is because you will be more efficient with the time you do have. Tired, grumpy and sad people are not efficient with their time; happy, energised and motivated people are!

So, now that you know about the importance of self-care, you might be wondering what you can do to improve your own self-care practice. Well, this is the fun part. You can do anything you like! That’s right, anything. That’s the beauty of self-care; it’s all about you. So you can choose whatever you want to do in your self-care time. If you are new to this self-care business, this might seem a bit daunting. So, I thought I might help you with some ideas to get you started and share some of my own self-care practices with you.

Usually the best place to start when you’re trying to find your groove with self-care is to ask yourself a few important questions:

What do you like to do? Are you someone who enjoys going for walks in nature or are you someone who likes cuddling up on the couch to watch Netflix or a movie? Are you someone who gets their energy from spending a lot of time with others, or just by yourself? Are you someone who is creative, or someone who is automated? Do you like structure and routine, or variety and change? What makes you smile? What makes you feel energised? Do you like to move your body by being active, or do you prefer to relax it instead?

If you answered all of these questions, I’m guessing you’d be getting a lot closer to figuring out what your self-care groove is. Me, personally, I’m a bit of a changeling when it comes to my self-care practice. It really just depends on my mood and what I am in need of.

A Walk in Nature

Sometimes I need a walk in nature.
Sometimes I need exercise.
Sometimes I need to indulge in some aromatherapy.
Sometimes I need a pretty manicure.
Sometimes I need to read a book.
Sometimes I need to write.
Sometimes I need to connect with others and have deep and meaningful conversations.
Sometimes I need to create something.
Sometimes I need chocolate.

Whatever it is that I do, I always make sure that it’s something that I enjoy in the moment, it recharges me, and it makes me happy. It’s easy to forget to prioritise self-care in your life when you’re juggling so many baskets, but remember self-care practice makes self-care perfect!


SELF CARE PRACTICE
So, tell me, what do you do for self-care? What fills your bucket? Leave a comment here or chat to me on Facebook.