How to Develop (and stick to) a Health and Fitness Routine.

How to Develop (and stick to) a Health and Fitness Routine.

Changing habits and incorporating more exercise into your life can seem daunting at first. I’ve talked about change before and how challenging it can be, but I also know that it can be a really rewarding and worthwhile pursuit!

I know this because 6 months ago, I decided to change my lifestyle for the better, and since then I have felt the happiest, healthiest and sanest that I have felt for a really long time. It is amazing to see what an impact changing my diet, fitness and lifestyle has had on me. My migraines have become less frequent and less intense, I have become more present with my clients at work, my moods are more balanced, I am less reactive and less irritable with my loved ones, I have lost weight, and I am generally a happier and healthier version of myself. It’s a no-brainer, really.

Our minds and bodies are connected, and we need to nurture both of these to create an overall sense of balance and equilibrium. Taking care of your body by eating nutritious food and exercising regularly is the ultimate act of self-love and self-respect, but it’s not easy…. Developing (and sticking to) a health and fitness routine can be extremely challenging, especially if you’re a perfectionist. So I thought I’d shine some light on how I have managed to do it, and how you can too!

Take it slow.

I guess the first step for me was to set realistic goals. I was already exercising, but just not enough. I initially set myself the goal of running for five minutes and walking for thirty. I tried to do this three times a week, and do some stretching and yoga on the days in between. When I started off, I could barely run for five minutes. I was huffing and puffing and I honestly thought there was something wrong with me! Looking back on it now, I realise that I was just extremely unfit. I remember feeling pretty defeated that first time. At that point, I could have thrown in the towel and given up completely on the whole thing, but I didn’t. I thought about all the other big achievements in my life and that to achieve them I had to be persistent and consistent. I applied those same principles to this and simply slowed things down.

I also realised that it was unrealistic to think that I would be able to run non-stop for longer periods of time without increasing my fitness slowly. So, I increased my running by 1-2 minutes every time I ran, and I can now run for 25 minutes without stopping. For me, that is a massive achievement, and I’m so proud of my efforts. If you’re perfectionistic, it can be easy to start comparing yourself to other people, to feel defeated and to give up before you’ve even started. So don’t compare yourself to other people, just aim to be better than you were yesterday. Being healthy is a personal goal, so you’re only competing with yourself. Do it for yourself and in three months time, you will thank yourself.

Keep going. In three months, you will thank yourself.

Find out your “prime time” to exercise. Using a weekly goals planner can also be helpful for this. Look at your weekly schedule and see what days and times you can realistically fit the exercise into, but also when you know your body is going to want to. For me, I knew it would be easiest to achieve Friday-Monday when I have the evenings off, and more challenging Tuesday-Thursday when I tend to work later. I’m not a morning person and even when I try my hardest, I just can’t convince myself to wake up early to workout… it just doesn’t happen. I know this now, and don’t feel guilty about it anymore. Instead, I try to listen to my body and exercise when my body tells me that it wants to. It’s much easier to stick to the routine when you are doing it because you want to, and not because you’re forcing yourself to.

Be kind to yourself if you slip up. Changing habits takes time, so be patient with yourself. The “stages of change” theory in psychology dictates that when you’re actively trying to change a behaviour, you will go between the maintenance and relapse stages multiple times before you are able to sustain the change permanently over time. This is normal and natural! Relapsing doesn’t mean you are back to stage one. You haven’t gone backwards; so don’t beat yourself up for relapsing into old habits, it’s pointless and a waste of energy. Instead, figure out what went wrong for you to relapse in the first place, so that you can be better prepared for it next time. Most importantly, keep going and don’t dwell on it. Aim to be better than yesterday.

Think about how you want to feel, not how you want to look.

Think about how you want to feel, not just how you want to look. For me, this is a really important one, because aiming to feel healthy, strong, happy and fit is more important than aiming to look a certain way. Self-love is an inside job. Changing the way you look on the outside so you can feel better on the inside never works. If you haven’t done the work on the inside, there will always be something else you want to change or improve, and you’ll be stuck in a vicious cycle of jumping through hoops to get to some unattainable place. It also means that your motivation is extrinsic. Instead, focus on how you want to feel on the inside, and structure your health and fitness routine around this. For me, when I’m running, I feel invincible, strong, empowered and capable, so I focus on that feeling and that’s what inspires me to keep going. On days when I am lacking motivation, I remind myself of how I felt the last time, and that is enough to encourage me to move my body again. If your motivation to change is intrinsic, you will be more likely to sustain it over time.

Let exercise be your stress reliever, not food.

If you’re someone who uses food to regulate your emotions, start using exercise as your stress-reliever instead. The more you do that, the more you’ll start to see what difference it makes. Endorphins can be just as addictive as chocolate, but better for you, and you also won’t feel guilty afterwards. Get out of the guilt cycle by being kind to yourself. If you’re feeling sad, stressed, angry or anxious, do something NICE for yourself. Don’t feed the anxiety/depression with food; feed it with love, your body will thank you. The first step is to use mindfulness to notice when you’re using food as a way of regulating your emotions, and to create the space and time to respond effectively to what your mind/body needs in that moment. Observe your cravings. Use a journal to document your observations if it helps.

Get addicted to endorphins!

The more you respond effectively to your emotions, the better you will be at regulating them, and the more likely you will be to sustain the change over time. Short-term gratification is never worth it. Eating food to avoid distressing or uncomfortable feelings is engaging in a pattern of avoidance, and in the long run you will feel even more stuck and reduce your distress tolerance. Don’t give up what you want most (to feel healthy and happy) for what you want right now. It might feel like that ice-cream or chocolate will make you feel better, and perhaps in that moment it will, but remind yourself of your long-term goals and think about whether it fits in with those. Try some other distress tolerance skills instead. Take a few deep breaths, drink some water, go for a walk, draw, write, read…. Use whatever works for you. If you respond to your emotions effectively in other ways, the cravings will pass because you won’t be reinforcing them. And best of all, you’ll start to actually ENJOY your food instead of using it as a way of avoiding uncomfortable feelings.

Don't give up what you want most or what you want RIGHT NOW.

Change things up if you get bored. I’m someone who likes variety. If I do the same thing over and over again, I get bored easily. So to combat this, I try to do lots of different things, or the same things in different environments. For example, if I get bored of running on the treadmill, I go and run in a park or around a lake; I do yoga in the living room or in a class; I go to Zumba classes for a bit of fun and dancing; I do bike riding with my partner; I go up to the Dandenong Mountains to do the 1000 steps, to walk in beautiful gardens or try new walking tracks; I do strength exercises in the backyard; and next week I’m going to try swimming again. Basically, if you’re bored of the same exercises, change them. Changing your exercise routines also helps your body to adapt and to use different muscle groups, which is good for you!

Most importantly, have fun, believe in yourself and enjoy working toward your goals! Share your exercise tips with me on instagram!

P.S. Follow my blog and stay tuned to read about the equipment, tools and motivational tricks that I use to help and motivate me on my workouts.

Finding the Balance in Life: Overcoming Burnout, Procrastination and Perfectionism

Life only demands from you the strength that you possess.

Something I’ve realised over the last few years is that life only demands from you the strength that you possess. It’s really important to know yourself and to be realistic about your limits. Yeah, yeah… we’ve all heard the sayings, “nothing is out of reach” and “you have unlimited potential”, and they are true… but the saying we most often forget to implement in life is that you can’t run before you can walk. Your abilities and limits grow in small increments. It’s therefore so important to pace yourself if you want to work toward a long-term goal or dream, because if you throw yourself into the deep end of life, and you don’t even know how to swim, you will soon drown.

Welcome to burnout town, where you will run on empty, feel fatigued, foggy, irritable, anxious, overwhelmed and generally shit. It’s not a good place to be. This is the place you will end up if you don’t have the resources to meet the demand you are placing on yourself.

You can’t pour into all the areas of your life if your own cup is empty

 Let me get one thing straight here: your dreams are so worth any struggle, and without struggle, you will not move forward in life. It’s great to have ambition, to push past the fear and to reach for the stars, but it’s also important to be realistic about how much you can handle. The recipe for keeping everything in balance in life has to be just right. If the scales tip out ever so slightly, other areas of your life will be neglected, and more likely than not it will be your mental health that goes first. So, if you’re planning to take on more work, be aware of how much extra self-care you have to add to the mix to find the right balance again. Remember, you can’t pour into all the areas of your life if your own cup is empty.

What’s the difference between burnout, procrastination and perfectionism?

I think the fundamental difference between burnout and procrastination/perfectionism is fear. Procrastination and perfectionism are fuelled by fear, which can be paralysing, whereas burnout is a consequence of pushing yourself way too hard. Procrastination and burnout are both forms of self-oppression, however burnout is on the extreme opposite end of the scale to procrastination. When you’re burnt out, you have literally used up all of your energy and resources and you have nothing left to give; you’ve exhausted yourself either mentally, physically or both. You feel stuck and it’s not because you’re lazy or scared, it’s because you’ve pushed yourself beyond your limits and you have nothing left in your tank.

life doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be lived

Overcoming procrastination and perfectionism.

Overcoming procrastination and perfectionism involves addressing your fears: fear of failure, fear of things not being perfect, fear of missing the mark or fear of fear. It can also involve having to convince yourself not to give up what you want most in the long term for what you want right now. Working toward long-term goals therefore involves delayed gratification. Choosing your own aims in life can help to create a sense of motivation, but so too can creating SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Write your goals down and regularly review them. The top one per cent of successful people in the world do this, and it actually works… so do it. Overcoming procrastination involves FIGHTING for yourself to FREE yourself from fear… believe me, three months from now you will thank yourself. Freedom is on the other side of fear… social freedom, emotional freedom, creative freedom, financial freedom, time freedom and spiritual freedom. Sitting and worrying about whether something is going to turn out perfectly is quite frankly a complete waste of precious time, energy and resources.

When I was writing my masters thesis I lived by this motto: first drafts don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be written. This same motto can be applied to life generally: life doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be lived. Do you want to look back on your life and remember all the years and years of “thinking” about taking action, but not feeling ready, or do you want to look back and remember a rich, meaningful life full of intention and purpose, even if there were a few mistakes along the way? I think I know which option I want to take. The only things in life that can derail our efforts are fear and oppression. So stop making excuses for yourself and just start. Clear away all the distractions and make room for taking action!

Time is the currency of life and how you spend yours is YOUR choice.

How do you find the balance?

Overcoming burnout involves listening to yourself and your body and responding effectively. Hard-working minds and bodies need rest so build a regular self-care practice into your daily routine. Use mindfulness to pay attention to your energy levels and to check in with yourself on a regular basis. It’s better to notice and intervene early than to let yourself crash. Use tools to manage your time effectively and to ensure that you have a good balance in the life domains of health, wellbeing, social, work, family, relationships and spiritual life. All of those life domains are equally important, so don’t think you’re doing yourself any favours if you cut back on one area in order to make more time for another! The scales will tip out and believe me, you will notice. Be strict about how much work you take on. Learn to prioritise effectively and to say no to things that are not going to serve your long-term goals. You have limited time/resources/energy and you can’t do everything, so be aware of that and don’t overload yourself. Time is the currency of life and how you spend yours is YOUR choice, so take your power back and use your time effectively. If you’re spending too much time on something that isn’t serving your long-term goals, then stop. For me, it was my personal social media use, so this week I decided to scale back on it. Just like that, I created an abundance of time to use toward other endeavours, such as my writing, exercise, self-care and business planning. If you are willing to be honest with yourself and evaluate how you spend your time, you will be surprised by how easy it can be to create more balance in your life and to avoid burnout.

What helps you to overcome procrastination, perfectionism and burnout? Share your ideas with me on Facebook or Instagram.

Your Body Is Your Temple: Why You Should Move Your Body

Your body is your temple. Moving your body is the ultimate form of self-love and mindfulness

Moving your body is the ultimate form of self-love and mindfulness.

I have always loved to move my body. As a child I loved to swim and a dance (ballet and jazz), but over the past 5 years I have mostly moved my body through Zumba, yoga or walking. I started running about 6 months ago, and I can honestly say that it has changed my life. I have never been more present and aware of my body than when I am running. Running makes me feel alive in a way that no other form of movement ever has. It allows me to be in tune with my body; I can feel my muscles burning; I can feel the breath moving in and out of my body at an even pace; I can feel the momentum of my stride; I can feel the rhythm of my heartbeat and the rush of endorphins. For me, running is a form of moving meditation.

Running is a form of moving meditation

Running allows you to honour the process of change and transformation.

As I commit myself to moving my body, I am amazed by the gradual, but measureable, change that is happening to my body. There’s nothing more incredible than watching your body slowly transform. Every time I move my body, I feel stronger, leaner and more perseverant than the last time. I can run faster and longer but I’ve also learned to listen to my body. I’ve learned to trust myself and to push past the fear that was previously holding me back, but I’ve also learned to be aware of what my body is capable of in that moment or on that particular day. Thanks to running, I totally “get” the mind and body connection.

Moving your body helps you to honour the process of change and transformation

Unite with your higher self.

The word “yoga” makes reference to this. The root, “yuj” means “unity” or “yoke”. Yoga is one of my favourite forms of movement. Whilst running connects my body to my mind, I feel that yoga connects my body to my spirit. Yoga is special. It’s mindfulness in motion. I love it because it’s so grounding. With openness, curiosity and willingness, yoga can take your body to a whole new realm of experience. I feel so uplifted and in tune with myself after practicing yoga. One day soon I will write a blog post all about yoga.

P.S. I’m currently completing 30 days of Yoga with Adriene, which is really amazing by the way! You should try it!

How do you like to move your body? What helps you to feel in tune with your body? Tell me.

Dealing with People: Resolving Conflict and Fostering Connection.

I’m a fairly idealistic person at the best of times, but let’s face it: conflict is an inevitable part of life. We are all unique individuals with a unique set of needs, goals, desires, dreams and wishes in life. Whether it’s with your friends, family, spouses, bosses or colleagues, in any situation or context, there are going to be times when your needs and the other person’s needs are in conflict. It’s great when you can see eye to eye with the people who are around you, but what do you do when you want to eat Chinese for dinner but your partner wants burgers? Or when you want to design your website this way, but your colleague wants to design it that way? Or when you have strong opinions about how you want to live your life, but your parents have opposing views? Some conflict may be for BIG things, and some conflict may be for small things. Regardless of whether it’s big or small, there is great benefit in gaining skills in interpersonal effectiveness so that you have a way of communicating and asserting your needs to those around you effectively, but without damaging your relationship with them. I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of my thoughts on this topic and shed some light on how I have learned to resolve conflict effectively in my own life.

What is the importance of human relationships? Why do we need people anyway?

I guess the first thing I wanted to talk about is why maintaining a good relationship with others is so important.

%22We all need somebody to lean on%22Bill Withers

For our survival

As human beings, we are social creatures. It’s pretty simple, really. Humans need each other. We are highly dependent on others for our survival. Nearly everything we have in our life is made possible with the help of others – even life itself! There is no such thing as life without connection. Cooperation therefore gives us greater survivability. When people effectively cooperate with each other, great things can happen – we can go to the moon, advance science and medicine and be successful in our business ventures.

For our creativity

All of our current ideas, knowledge, tools and skills come from billions of years of interactions, relationships, exchanges, conversations, art and books. Our creativity would be stifled without other people. Other people can inspire us to achieve things that we may not have ever aspired to on our own! True learning doesn’t just come from reading textbooks and applying our knowledge – it also comes from learning the art of interacting effectively with people. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve learned more about human beings through the experience of interacting with them than what I ever did in my 6+ years of reading about them in academic journals and textbooks at university.

To meet our emotional needs

People play a crucial role in our lives – they make us smile, cry, laugh and think. Our interactions with others grow us. Having people around you that care about you can be a great source of strength and resilience. We also know that when people lack meaningful close relationships with others, they suffer. Being lonely therefore also creates a risk for developing mental health issues. We have a basic psychological need to feel connected to others. The research in this area suggests that people who have close relationships are healthier, less stressed and have a higher life expectancy than those who don’t. Close relationships also boost our immune systems! So, your family, friends, partners and community can all help you to live a richer, fuller and more satisfying life.

You can need people without being needy

Just because we need people, it doesn’t mean we have to be needy.

Needing others doesn’t make you needy. Western culture and society bombards us with this idea that we can be “self-made” individuals, that we can solve our own problems, remain emotionally detached and live completely independently without any help or support from others. It’s the classic “dream” and it’s used as justification to push people away. You know what? I call BULLSHIT on this. Maintaining a façade of complete control and independence isn’t strength of character; it’s avoidance – pure and simple. Anyone can shut other people out and pretend to be ok on their own, but it takes much more strength and courage to be vulnerable and transparent with others. No one is self-made! We live our stories together, and our stories become more meaningful and purposeful when they are shared with each other.

We live our stories together

It’s also true that some people need closeness, intimacy, attachment and love more than others, but in general we all need close and caring relationships. Personally, I’m an introvert by nature, so I get my energy from being alone or in smaller groups. Being in large crowds of people or spending too much time around others can be energetically depleting for me, whereas extroverts tend to want to spend more time around others, as they get their energy from being around other people.

Being needy, on the other hand, is when you don’t take responsibility for your own self-worth and wellbeing. It’s when you see yourself as the victim and blame others or your life circumstances. It’s self-judgment that creates the emptiness that leads to the neediness. So stop judging yourself! When you’re empty of self-love you expect others to “fill” you with their attention, love and approval. When your intent is to learn to love yourself and others and to learn to fill your own cup then you are better able to pour into others’ cups. This comes from an authentic need to share love and connect with others rather than a need to feel wanted. We need to connect with others, but we can’t do so when we are disconnected from ourselves. So forgive yourself first; show yourself compassion and kindness first. You will be way more likely to find the courage to ask for forgiveness from others when you can forgive yourself first.

To understand and connect with others we have to be open to learning about loving ourselves and others. To open up a genuine connection and sharing of love with others, we also have to open our hearts to taking responsibility for ourselves.

The importance of Empathy

We are able to successfully interact with and connect with others when are able to understand their feelings. To empathise with someone means to imagine being in their shoes and to try to understand how they might be feeling and perceiving the situation. Our ability to empathise with others falls on a spectrum. Some people are better able to empathise than others, but sometimes emotions can get in the way. Fleeting emotions, such as anger or fear, reduce our ability to empathise with others.

I would strongly argue that a lack of empathy is usually the root cause of most conflicts. Empathy erosion occurs when people fail to attend to the feelings, interests, thoughts, opinions and ideas of others. Narcissists, for example, are only able to see the world in relation to their own needs and desires. Narcissists do not see the intrinsic value of other people.

Fear and trauma can sometimes also create barriers in interpersonal effectiveness. When you have been repeatedly hurt, bullied or invalidated in your life, your defences are naturally going to be a lot more sensitive and reactive. When you’ve experienced trauma or abuse, you are conditioned to protect yourself against any further danger or threat – so things that are perhaps not such a big deal to others, may be perceived as a great big deal and major threat to you.

You can be a lover and a fighter

Learn how to be a Lover and a Fighter.

Some people think that in order to get along with others we have to always put their needs before our own. This is not true! You don’t have to subjugate your needs, be a passive people-pleaser or a doormat so that people will like you. In fact, people will probably like and respect you more if you are not always agreeing with everything they say, want and do. The good news is that it’s possible to be a lover and a fighter. It’s possible to assert yourself and your needs without damaging relationships. It’s all about the approach.

Get to know yourself and your needs first.

Understanding yourself is the first step. The more you can understand yourself and your own needs, the better able you will be to communicate them effectively with others. What is it that you want or need from this interaction? Can you meet this need for yourself, or is it something you need from someone else? Why do you need it? What do you have to do to get this thing that you want? Where does the need come from? Observe and describe your thoughts. Be curious about what you feel and need.

Notice and manage your judgment

Try to observe, but don’t evaluate. Take a non-judgmental stance with yourself, but also with others. Try to detach your opinions from the facts of the situation. Try to see the situation for what it is. And when you find yourself judging, don’t judge your judging! Let go of any vengeance, anger and righteousness that hurts you, and most importantly doesn’t even work! Stay away from thoughts of “right”, “wrong”, “should”, “should not”, “fair” and “unfair”

Preserve the relationship with the other person

 Act in such a way so that the other person will still like and respect you. Balance your immediate goals with the good of the long-term relationship. Remind yourself of why maintaining this relationship is important to you, both now and into the future. Ask yourself, how do you want the other person to feel about you after this interaction is over? What do you have to do to keep this relationship intact?

Preserve the relationship with yourself

Respect your own values and beliefs. Act in a way that is in line with your values and that makes you feel moral. Ask yourself how you want to feel about yourself after this interaction is over? What do you have to do to ensure you will feel this way? What will work?

Be dialectical

When you are using dialectical thinking, you are embracing the idea that there is always more than one true way to see a situation and more than one true opinion, idea, thought or dream. Two things that seem like (or are) opposites can both be true! Dialectics teaches us that all people have something unique, different, and worthy to teach that and all points of view have both true and false within them. You may be right, but the other person may be right also. Look for what is left out of your understanding of the situation. Open up to expanding your way of seeing things. Avoid assumptions and blaming. Get unstuck from conflicts and stand-offs. Find a way to validate the other person’s point of view. Let go of “black and white” thinking – bring a greater sense of flexibility to the way you see things.

In a conflict situation, it can be helpful to remember the DEARMAN GIVE FAST acronym from Dialectical and Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

Describe: Describe the current situation and what you are reacting to. Just stick to the facts.

Express: Express how you are feeling about the situation.

Assert: Assert yourself, asking clearly for what you want or saying no clearly. Assume that others cannot read your mind. Assume that others will not figure it out themselves unless you ask and don’t expect others to understand how hard it is for you to ask.

Reinforce: Reinforce or reward the person ahead of time by explaining the consequences. Tell them the positive effects of getting what you want or need and tell them the negative effects of not getting it. Show gratitude to that person ahead of time for doing or accepting what you want.

Stay Mindful: Keep your focus on the objective. Maintain your position and don’t be distracted.

Appear confident: Appear effective and competent. Use a confident voice, make eye contact, speak clearly and don’t whisper.

Negotiate: Be willing to give to get. Be willing to compromise and ask for alternative solutions.

Be Gentle: Be gentle, courteous and temperate in your approach. No attacks, no threats, no judging.

Act Interested: Listen to the other person’s point of view, opinions, reasons for saying no, or reasons for making a request of you. Don’t interrupt or talk over them. Be sensitive to the other person’s desire to have the discussion at a later time. Be patient!

Validate: Validate or acknowledge the other person’s feelings, wants, difficulties, and opinions about the situation.

Use an Easy Manner: Use a little humour. Smile. Ease the person along. Be light-hearted. Remember that you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Be Fair: To yourself and the other person.

No Apologies: No overly apologetic behaviour. No apologising for being alive or for making a request at all. No apologising for having an opinion or for disagreeing.

Stick to Values: Stick to your own values!

Be Truthful: Don’t lie, act helpless when you are not, or exaggerate. Don’t make up excuses.

Forgive yourself first

How I deal with conflict: My own journey in forgiveness

In my own life, I don’t always deal with conflict perfectly. I’ve found that using some of the principles from DBT in my own interactions with others has improved my life tenfold. We don’t realise how much negative energy we carry around with us when we are actively engaging in regular conflicts with others. Holding grudges against others is also pointless. Sometimes it means having to be the bigger person to apologise. Apologising doesn’t mean the other person is right, it just means I have more room in my heart for forgiveness, compassion and kindness. And regardless of what someone else has “done” to me, forgiving them creates more space in my life for peace and contentment. No one else is responsible for my life or how I feel. Only I own my own feelings so nobody can “make” me feel a certain way.

I’ve always believed in forgiveness. I was raised that way. I’ve always forgiven people for the hurt they have caused me to feel, no matter how major. The reason for this is because I recognise that other people are not actually responsible for what I feel. Nobody causes another person to hurt. Even if you had killed my entire family, you would still not be responsible for my feelings. The only person responsible for how I feel is me, and in order to be able to move forward after a conflict, I need to claim responsibility for my own feelings and actions. Likewise, I am not responsible for any anger or resentment that other people feel toward me. I am also not responsible for their actions, only they are, and vice versa.

I see my own parents, who’ve been married for 30 years, and the most important lesson I have learned from them is that people make mistakes, and sometimes, those mistakes lead to people hurting as a consequence. Yet, despite all the mistakes in the world, one thing has remained constant, and that is the fact that they care about each other and are able to appreciate each other for their positive and negative attributes. There are probably times when they don’t love each other. In fact, there are probably times when they hate each other too! But, they never stop caring. It’s not about giving people chances… it’s about recognising that everyone is on their own journey in life, and that during that journey, there will be many lessons to learn. Friendships and relationships are about attempting to walk down that journey together. The problem, however, is that in attempting to walk that journey there will still be individual lessons to be learned. Ideally you would want be able to learn from others’ lessons and therefore continue down that journey together… but often the individual lessons become a priority and the path splits into two. However, even when that path splits, there is still opportunity for it to meet at a crossroads again in the future and continue where it left off, but that can only happen if people choose to continue walking down the same path together. Unfortunately, not everyone chooses to do that.

In my life, I have walked down paths with many people, and there have been times when those paths have split and then met at a crossroads again. I have learned a lot about others and myself in going down those paths, and I still have much to learn on my own path in life. I have learned to heal from hurt by finding meaning and making sense of the things that have happened on my journey. It helps me to understand why things have happened the way they have, to learn from it and to forgive myself.

I hope this post has shed some light on your interactions with people and helped you understand that it’s possible to be a lover and a fighter. Feel free to share your thoughts with me!

Gratitude: The Force Awakens

Gratitude journal

Every now and then in life, you get those “goose bump” highlight moments… you know the ones? Only you feel them, only you know what those moments are and what they feel like. For me, it’s like a little spark of gratitude that I experience in that moment, like smiling from the inside. A feeling of contentment, inner peace and calmness washes over me, and in that moment I feel completely alive, whole, inspired and like I have unlocked a major piece of the puzzle of life. In that moment, it all makes sense. I feel connected to myself and to everything. It’s like feeling a sense of enlightenment, if only for a moment. In those moments I also feel really hopeful and I feel like I can tap into a source of unlimited potential. It feels like anything is possible and that dreams can come true.

Grateful for the trees.jpg

For me, gratitude doesn’t just mean reeling off a list of cliché things that I’m grateful for, it means genuinely asking myself what has happened in my day, week, month or year that has sparked up one of those moments that I described above. It could be as simple as the taste of my tea, an interesting conversation I had with someone, a philosophical reflection, a feeling of nostalgia or a fond memory, eating an ice cream, going for a walk with my fiancé on a warm summer’s night, cooking a meal, reading a good book, seeing a lovely piece of art, listening to an awesome song on my drive home from work, writing, the smell of spring, swimming in the ocean, a beautiful butterfly fluttering through a patch of pretty flowers, watching a gorgeous sunset, a good movie, looking at a nice photo, having an epiphany with a client or being in awe of their progress over time and the power of the therapeutic alliance, painting or drawing, going on a bike ride or run and listening to a cool track, being in nature, dancing and laughing at Zumba, a warm hug, a good coffee…

Grateful for a cup of tea and a macaron

But wait…. let’s be real here: it can be really bloody hard to focus on that fluffy stuff when life isn’t going well, or when you’ve had a shit day, week, month or year… but that’s probably when we also need it most. We don’t necessarily have to like or approve of what is happening, and sometimes we will never even understand why. Life isn’t all rainbows and sunshine, but without darkness, we wouldn’t really know what the light is. It doesn’t make it ok when bad stuff happens, and gratitude doesn’t take away the pain or sadness or hurt of those experiences… but I guess when we bring a sense of acceptance to whatever is happening and allow it to unfold as it’s meant to, without a struggle, we save ourselves a lot of suffering. You might get sucked into the void of darkness every now and then, and feel like you’ll never get out or experience the light again, but you inevitably do, and I find that to be reassuring when life deals me with shitty cards. Being grateful during dark times is like shifting the lens of your camera from the shitty stuff going on onto something that is a bit nicer… If life were a picture, it would be like shifting your perspective from the parts of the picture you don’t like, onto a part you do like – even if it’s only a tiny speck!

Grateful for a nostalgic moment

I recently watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had never seen any of the previous Star Wars movies and I didn’t really even know what it was about. I have to say, I was quietly impressed with the philosophical messages behind it.

“The Force, it’s calling to you. Just let it in.”

 Maz Kanata, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I feel like we all have that kind of “force” within us, and that we are all capable of tapping into it. It’s just a matter of learning how to and practicing. I believe gratitude is one of the ways that leads us to finding that force. It is that same sense of hope, resilience, strength and courage in the face of darkness that eventually leads us to the light. However, it’s also a choice, and one that is difficult to make when you’re overcome by the darkness. Sometimes you don’t even recognise that you have choices or options… but you do, you always do.

“The Force is neither light nor dark, master nor slave, but a balance between extremes.”

Lanoree Brock, Star Wars Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void

I love the above quote because it’s what dialectics is all about. Two things can be true, even if they completely contradict each other, and we can always find the middle ground or the balance between the two. It’s tricky, but when you do, you’ll find that it’s magic.

Grateful to be at the beach

If all of that still doesn’t convince you of the power of gratitude, the science behind it is also quite interesting. Did you know that “people who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems”?

Grateful for ice-cream and sunny days

Some people like to do a regular gratitude practice or ritual to help them tap into their light. Here are some ideas you might like to try:

  • Take a moment before eating your dinner to list 5 good things that happened to you that day.
  • Watch this TED talk on Gratitude
  • Keep a gratitude journal and write in it every night.
  • Do a loving kindness meditation.
  • Collect moments that make you happy by taking pictures of them and storing them in folder on your PC labeled “gratitude”.
  • Give compliments and show your appreciation when someone does or says something nice for you.
  • Start a gratitude jar: On January 1st write all the good things that happen to you on a little pieces of paper and pop them into a jar. On December 31st, empty the jar and read all the amazing things that happened to you during that year.

Gratitude Jar

Has gratitude helped you? Do you have any other gratitude practices that you do in your life? Please share them with me! I’d love to hear all about them!