The Value of Your Values


I wonder if you’ve ever thought about what your personal values are? Not many people have even considered it before, yet clarifying your personal values profoundly impacts career planning, decision-making, and the accomplishment of individual goals. There’s significant research over the last several years that indicates that clarifying personal values reduces stress, strengthens willpower, and aids in overcoming significant obstacles to achievement. Identifying your personal values is an essential and vastly under utilised tool for personal and professional development.

So How Do We Define Values?

Here’s one Definition: Values are deeply held beliefs about what is good, right, and appropriate.

Values are deep-seated and remain constant over time. We accumulate our values from childhood based on teachings and observations of our parents, family, friends, teachers, spiritual leaders, and other influential and powerful people.

Values can be defined as broad preferences concerning appropriate courses of action or outcomes. As such, values reflect your sense of right and wrong or what “ought” to be. “Equal rights for all”, “Excellence deserves admiration”, and “People should be treated with respect and dignity” are representative of values. Values tend to influence attitudes and behaviour. Types of values include ethical/moral values, doctrinal/ideological (religious, political) values, social values, and aesthetic values. It is debated whether some values that are not clearly physiologically determined, such as altruism, are intrinsic, and whether some, such as acquisitiveness, should be classified as vices or virtues.

Achievable goals can only be established and pursued if they are in synchrony with your personal values.

You must be clear about your values because they reveal who you are and what values are directly related to the quality and depth of your self-worth.

Some typical values explored in coaching are: harmony, balance, loyalty, achievement, wisdom, integrity, honesty, acceptance, happiness, inclusion, freedom etc.

A Values Assessment Exercise can provide you with:

  • A clear understanding of what is important to you and identifying your guiding principles
  • A map as to where you are and where you want to go based on your values
  • A clearer understanding of why you do what you do
  • A better understanding of how you can best interact with others
  • Better control of your life and ability to succeed as you clarify your personal values

Why Values Clarification Helps

People who are confused or unclear about their values often have difficulty making important life-decisions, because they tend not to weigh what is most important to them. This is an especially urgent problem today, with all the choices, noise, and mixed messages pulling us in a thousand different directions. We are living in a world of infinite options, which can be wonderful, but also more than a little confusing.

Think about how many decisions, big or small, you make in a day. This choice overload can be utterly overwhelming, especially for someone looking for career direction. This is why a values-based decision-making paradigm is an incredibly meaningful alternative. For instance, if you value organisation, you will work best in an organised work environment. Using deeply held personal values as a life compass will empower you and your clients, if you’re a coach, to make career decisions that are right for the individual.

After surveying the workforce in 142 countries, Gallup concluded that only 13% of employees are engaged at work, and 87% of those surveyed dislike (or even loathe) their jobs. Why, when we now have more career options and resources than ever, are so many people simply going through the motions, and working for the weekend? Why do so many surveys indicate that people are truly dissatisfied with their jobs?

It’s because they are compromising their personal values, most without even realising they’re doing it.

We can truly do meaningful work only when we are living according to our core values!

If you’d like get clarity on your personal values, work through the simple values assessment exercise below:

First, take a few moments to read through the list of values and make an initial list of any values that stand out for you, this will be your baseline to start from and this list may be 15-20 and that’s fine as Steps 1 & 2 will help you cut the list down. I’d also like you to write down your observations, thoughts and feelings about these initial values and why you feel they are important to you right now. remember that this is just the beginning of this process and the list will shorten and change, possibly quite significantly too, so just go with it and see what happens.

Values List

Values Exercise Step 1:

What I Value Most…

Value Assessment: From your initial list of values (both work and personal) select the eight – ten that are most important to you. Feel free to add any values of your own to this list if they are not there.

Step 2: Prioritise

Now that you have identified your top eight – ten, write them in order of importance for you from 1 being the most important to 10 being the least important.

Now read the bottom half of your list out loud . If you were offered a job or told that these were the values you were going to live the rest of your life by, would it feel right?

Now repeat this with the top half of your list, if you were offered a job or told that these were the values you were going to live the rest of your life by, would it feel right?

If you chose the bottom half then you need to redo your list or re-prioritise it. This in itself is a very important discovery and helps you to really connect with what is truly important to you, and, you can apply it to anything in life such as a buying a car, choosing a holiday etc.

However, if you chose the top 4-5 as values you felt most comfortable living by then you have done an excellent job in prioritising your values list

Some Guidelines:

  1. Using the Values List – name 3 values that you move towards and that are important to you (e.g., freedom)
  2. Name 3 feeling states you wish to avoid (e.g., rejection)
  3. What values or feeling states do you need to create your destiny? (e.g., self-determination)
  4. Identify 3 people who have had the greatest impact on your life? What special advice or values remain with you?
  5. List 3 peak experiences that have profoundly shaped your life/career direction

 

I hope you found this useful and my next article will be about beliefs and how they are tied to our values.

To your success.

Simon

 

The Use of Metaphors in Coaching


The word metaphor is from the Greek metapherein, which means to transfer or to change. For the purpose in coaching, I use the term metaphor as a symbol that captures or represents qualities of my client and of the journey he or she is making. Myths, archetypes, natural phenomena, animals, and common objects may all serve as metaphors. By way of distinction, metaphors are not are adjectives, literal descriptions, judgments, or assessments.

Metaphor is the language of archetypes, symbols, and essence. Because it is a language that is representative in nature, it simplifies and focuses perception. Our culture uses metaphors abundantly to capture an idea or essence. For example, we say things like: She has stars in her eyes; we are drowning in data; and, here’s some food for thought.

A a coach, I have found that using metaphors can capture the essence of the client and the coaching issue in a way that descriptions, cannot, because metaphors hold within them worlds of association and information. The pictures that metaphors paint are, indeed, worth a thousand words, because the images stay with us long after descriptions or data have faded from memory.

Application

Although there are countless ways to use metaphors in coaching, I share my experiences with clients using metaphors in two primary application areas: assessment and practice design.

First, an important distinction: I use metaphor to capture and explore the client’s issue, not the client as a person. A metaphor is but a lens through which to see. Just as it focuses perception, it also limits it (Morgan, 1996). If I confuse the metaphor for the person, I obscure from sight the person’s multidimensionality, the full mystery of who he or she is. When used as a lens on the coaching issue, the metaphor provides the coach with useful focus and depth.

Assessment

Metaphors have proven invaluable to me in gaining clarity about my clients and their coaching issues. For example, one of my clients had received feedback that she was seen as aggressive, arrogant, and prone to loss of control over her anger at home and in her workplace. Underneath this behaviour appeared to be an inability or unwillingness to yield, an orientation that she knew best and that her perspective was the right one. The metaphor we developed for the shift the client needed to make was to bring her from a dormant or dead oak tree to a weeping willow.

Another client came to me for leadership coaching. He seemed very together but had received feedback that he didn’t play the game according to the rules of the culture and didn’t connect well with peers and superiors. His superiors, however, thought he had the makings of a good leader. It was difficult at first to get any other impression besides how smooth and together this client seemed. Diagnostically, I used this feeling data” to uncover a metaphor that initially guided the coaching: tarp was the metaphor that surfaced. The shift that this client needed to make was to move from tarp: protective, tightly woven, and invulnerable, to tapestry: permeable, colourful, warm, yet solid.

These images were useful to me diagnostically, because they crystallised and simplified my understanding of my clients’ issues. Perhaps even more important about metaphors, however, is how much information they give back to us about the client issue. The oak to willow image was, first, a useful handle on my initial take. But what I found most amazing is how delving into the image itself could actually deepen my understanding significantly. For example, if we work with the image of oak, what else is true about an oak tree that might be true of this client? The oak holds onto many of its leaves in winter and even in death. What might this client need to let go of? The oak tree is associated with tremendous strength. Might this client be too strong, too forceful, for her own effectiveness? Then look at the weeping willow image. It sways in the wind. What might our client need to let move her? The willow weeps. Might grief be a component of the coaching journey?

Following the same brainstorming process, I began wondering about the tarp, metaphor. What was this image telling me about what I was seeing in this client’s dilemma? Tarp is efficient. This client was smooth, he did his job well, but he sensed that his superiors and colleagues were envious of him. How does that fit with tarp? That somehow they couldn’t relate? Couldn’t get through? Couldn’t see vulnerability? What else about tarp? It is useful when it is raining, but not that interesting to behold. Its texture doesn’t invite us in. What do tarps do that might relate to this client? It covers up, protects. Was this image pointing to the client’s need to raise the cover, go through life with less protection? Was this client efficient at the expense of being engaged in relationships? What is opposite of tarp? Tapestry. What does tapestry have that tarp, doesn’t? Rich texture, colour, a story, relief, warmth, weight. Can it still protect and cover? Yes, but in a different way.

As you can see, these simple images led me to many questions that might never have been explored otherwise, for metaphor is the language of our intuition. At once, it both captures reality and reveals mystery. It mirrors back to us what we already know about our clients’ issues and, yet, also shines a light on what else might be waiting to be discovered.

Practice Design
Metaphors have led me to ideas about practices that my left‑brain might not have revealed. For the first client, the oak‑willow metaphor itself was a very physical one and surfaced my intuition that the client herself might be very physically oriented. Therefore, I gave her the practice of learning aikido to give her a physical way to learn that meeting force with immovability was ineffective. In this case, I shared the metaphor with her and explored the word arrogance in the context the metaphor provided, since that was a major piece of the criticism she had received about herself at work. Arrogance comes from Latin, meaning absence of questioning. I asked her to look at the oak tree as more absolute in its stance and asked her to explore through the willow image where she might need to be more open to questioning her own assumptions or conclusions.

For the second client, the tarp, metaphor led me to develop a practice to help the client shed some of the protection that had been so vital to staying invulnerable. His first practice was a simple one of looking at the world through the eyes of others with whom he had significant contact each day. He was to imagine what they were feeling and to notice how he gathered clues about their reactions to him. He was also instructed to notice when he had a feeling connection to someone and to be as specific as possible in writing about how he thought that happened. As time went on, the metaphors proved invaluable, as I learned how much this client actually feared being in relationships with others and had found strategic ways to manage within them without giving himself away. The outcome metaphor, tapestry, helped me see a way to move forward with this client to help him create and embrace his own tapestry with its own rich colours, warmth, permeability, and stability.

The Metaphor-making Process
Metaphor making is fundamentally an intuitive process and for more intuitive coaches (for example, high Ns on the Myers‑Briggs Type Indicator), metaphors may come naturally and easily. However, I would like to make metaphors available to all coaches who would like greater access to their intuitive wisdom. The following five‑step process for accessing and working with metaphors id a great place to start.

Step 1: Be clear and open. The first step for any coach is to be clear and open when meeting your client. Listen, observe, notice your own internal reactions and what the client is not saying.

Step 2: Describe the client with regard to his or her issue. Bring the client to mind, and visualise them in the domain of life in which they are experiencing difficulty. Think about what they look like, sound like, and feel like to you. Think about their gestures, their posture, the sound of their voice, what they evoke in you when they describe their issue or their words. What three or four adjectives or phrases come to mind? If an image comes to mind at this point, you’ve got your metaphor. But if not, just work on getting a short description. Try not to censor what comes out. You’re done when you have three to four adjectives or phrases that feel like they really capture the client in their struggle.

Step 3: Free associate images with the adjectives. When you picture the client and the adjectives you’ve described them with, what images come to mind? Free associate. Don’t censor these. Note the first one(s) that come to mind. Try to work as little as possible in your rational mind. If nothing comes up, you can scan a few different areas: something from nature, characters from movies or books, myths from any culture, types of transportation, or household objects. Usually, your first images are good ones to work with. It often helps to come up with a ‘from’ image (one which captures the client as they currently relate to the world or their issue) and a ‘to’ image (one which captures the client operating as they would like to).

Step 4: Turn your focus away from the client and fully explore the metaphor. Now that you have your metaphor(s), forget about the client for a minute and simply delve into the images themselves. List all the attributes you can about them, What are the characteristics of your metaphors (for example, tarp and tapestry)? What characteristics distinguish the first image from the second? What would help something transform from the first state to the second? It is helpful to speak these associations out loud with a partner or write them down without worrying about making sense or expressing yourself eloquently.

Step 5: Bring the client back into focus. What did following the metaphor tell you about your client? In what new ways do you see the client and how you might work with them? What are the metaphor’s implications for the self‑observations and practices you will design?

Conclusion:

In working with metaphors, I have found a rich way to assess situations and design practices to help my clients. I have also experienced some lessons learned that I want to share with you.

First, be aware that the metaphor helps you to create a hypothesis about the client’s situation. It is not an absolute. As a coach I cannot claim to know what is best for my client. My job is to offer possibilities to my client. Sometimes the client rejects the possibilities that I offer them, and there is data to be gained from that experience. More metaphors may surface for you. Follow your metaphors confidently but lightly.

Second, to share or not to share?. I don’t suggest that you always share your metaphors with your clients. I don’t always share mine. In deciding to share, base your criteria on what will be useful for the client. In the oak‑to‑willow work, I shared the images and they were useful. In the tarp‑to‑tapestry work, I did not share the images.

I have shared metaphors in a few different ways. Once, I wrote a poem about a client. The metaphors surfaced in the writing. Sharing the poem with the client seemed a natural thing to do, for it opened possibilities for them. Sometimes I ask the client to watch a movie that has the metaphor embodied in a character or situation the movie depicts. I often ask my clients to read books for the same reason. Sometimes we draw the images that show up for us. Sometimes we just talk about them.

Third, if you use and share metaphors that are within your client’s current world, you may run into trouble. Why? Because the client may make it more literal than is useful. Also, you run the risk of swirling in the loop that had them stuck in the first place.

Fourth, the metaphor does not have to work completely to be useful. For example, when I thought of a weeping willow, I thought of grace, flexibility, air, and movement. That was as far as I needed to go with that metaphor as it related to that client. There are other properties of the willow, however, that may not lend themselves to understanding this client’s movement.

Fifth, it helps to talk through your metaphor with another person. I have found that my understanding of my clients and my own approaches deepens with each metaphor conversation I have. I make time to do this and it has proven to be incredibly productive for me as a coach and also as a parent to two young kids.

If you haven’t deliberately used metaphors yet, I highly recommend beginning to practise creating and applying them as often as possible and notice what effect they have on your conversations. Most of all, have fun with it.

Simon

What is Consciousness?


I have been fascinated by the human mind for as long as I can remember and in particular, what constitutes consciousness and how does it vary? How does this create and alter our reality? What influences our consciousness and how? There are so many questions that grabbed me early on and lead me to self study at first and then fall into formal learning of the subject.

The study of consciousness can be quite hard work, be it from either psychological or philosophical perspectives. The scientific consideration of states of consciousness that differ from ordinary waking consciousness is a path filled with hazards and booby traps. Tart’s (1975) publication of States of Consciousness was a game changer of the application of the philosophy and the discipline of science itself to a topic too often treated as an outcast within psychological science: Altered states of consciousness. It was Tart who created this term and applied a rigorous discipline of study for many phenomena of consciousness. Although States of Consciousness is widely cited in authoritative studies of consciousness such as that by Farthing (1992), as well as in current examinations of hypnosis and meditation phenomena of consciousness (Holroyd, 2003), unfortunately, the original publication has been out of print. The current edition was produced to provide the need for access to the original work.

In the Introduction Tart describes his book as “transitional” in several ways. One is social. This is because concepts of consciousness (like those of science itself) are based on consensus. We are living in an age in which standards and mores are rapidly shifting, and the process of consensus (as well as its value) is being questioned. A second transition is within the field of psychology itself which has alternated from the study of mind to the study of behavior and may be returning to the study of mind again. Tart’s book may also represent a transition for the author in the sense that in it he reaches out as a theoretician instead of as an experimentalist.

In Chapter One Tart orients the reader to a systems approach to considering states of consciousness. he theorises the necessity of basic awareness and structure in what he calls “discrete states of consciousness (d-SoC)” and identifies processes that are necessary for their stabilisation. he also defines the “discrete altered states of consciousness (d-ASC)” which are different from various baselines of consciousness. Their differences can be identified via ten sub-systems that show variations in d-ASC’s. These are: (1) Exteroception; (2) Interoception; (3) Input-Processing; (4) Memory; (5) Subconscious; (6) Emotions; (7) Evaluation and Decision Making; (8) Space/Time Sense; (9) Sense of Identity; and (10) Motor Output. Tart explains how one transitions from a discrete state to consciousness to an altered state through an interaction of disrupting forces and patterning forces.

In Chapter Two he focuses on the components of Consciousness which are Awareness, Energy, and Structure, and painstakingly sets up experiential criteria for detecting an altered state of consciousness. he reminds the reader that many structures interact simultaneously in the human being. The third chapter is devoted to examining conservative and radical views of the mind, with the former dedicated to the proposition that all mental activity is generated by the brains activity, while the latter admits to other influences upon the brain that come from outside the organism. Tart, the scientist, tells us: “I do not like the radical view” (p. 32). The radical view of consciousness runs contrary to all of what has been considered rational in nineteenth and twentieth century empirical science. The scientist who questions it faces the risk of being discredited within the field. Chapter Four examines ordinary states of consciousness in great detail, and Chapter Five defines discrete states of consciousness, explores how they may be mapped, and ties them to Tart’s operational concepts of ego states.

In Chapter Six the author explains how states of consciousness are stabilised, and in Chapter Seven he examines the induction of the altered states of going to sleep, hypnosis, and meditation. A very lengthy Chapter Eight scrutinises each of the subsystems set up in Chapter One in great detail, and Chapter Nine treats the topic of individual differences. Tart regards their inadequate recognition as a methodological deficiency that has retarded the progress of psychological science.

In the tenth chapter the use of drugs to induce altered states of consciousness is introduced, and in Chapter Eleven the author concentrates in the observation of internal states and introduces his operational concept of the Observer. This Observer is not a hidden one at all. It sounds very much like the rational, observing ego, postulated by Sterba (1934), that arises in the development of a therapeutic alliance. The next chapter expands on the complexity of consciousness states by dealing with various Identity States and considering how important they can be as adaptive, stabilising factors for discrete states of consciousness and ultimately, for the organism. Chapter Thirteen re-visits the systems approach in greater depth and presents certain useful strategies such as merging two discrete states of consciousness.

In Chapter Fourteen the author introduces measurements of the depth of states of consciousness; in Chapter Fifteen, State Specific Communication, and in the final chapters of the book discusses State Specific Science, and Higher States of Consciousness.

It is in the Chapters Eighteen, Nineteen, and Twenty, which comprise section Two of this book, that the author speculates on the implications of the five basic principles held in common by Physics and Psychology. This leads to a serious consideration of how our beliefs may alter reality. Tart confronts us with the proposition, held by so many religions and spiritual practices, that ordinary consciousness is a state of illusion, and he asks whether there may be some way “out of it” for us; that is, some way to live within the conflicting worlds and paradigms of our states of consciousness without reducing our own sense of being to the limits of the ordinary states. he explains that the experiences of altered states of consciousness, the dismantling of some of our cherished structures, and the practice of non-attachment can be helpful. Tart ends this book with the statement of the challenge that Western psychology faces: “…to apply the immense power of science and our other spiritual traditions, East and West, to search for a way out” (p. 286).

Are there any drawbacks to this book? The fact that it is information dense and requires close reading and reflection will make this quite heavy reading for anyone looking for “sound bites for the mind.” However, this is not a book intended for those who are not serious students of states of consciousness. Tart has used both acronyms and diagrams in his attempts to convey his complex concepts. At times I found it more difficult to keep track of the acronyms than it would have been to simply see the words spelled out in full, and quite a challenge at times to decipher the diagrams over and above understanding the text itself.

The re-publication of this classic work fills a genuine need in the scientific community. We live in the world of alternative therapies and shifting paradigms. Tart offers genuine ways for studying consciousness. he weds rigorous science and good logic in a systematised examination of consciousness and altered states of consciousness that is now a standard reference in studies. Studies of Consciousness remains a seminal source for those who scientifically study altered states of consciousness such as hypnosis, meditative states, mystical experiences, sleep, dreaming, non-local phenomena, Ego State Therapy, dissociative phenomena, and peak performance. It is a fascinating read and is a must for anyone studying consciousness and the varying fields allied to it.

References

  • Farthing, G. W. (1992). The psychology of consciousness. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Holroyd, J. (2003). The science of meditation and the state of hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 46(2), 109-128.
  • Sterba, R.F. (1934). The fate of the ego in analytic therapy. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 15, 1 17-126
  • Tart, C. T. (1975). States of consciousness. New York: Dutton.

Reframing Your Resolutions for Success


strength-doesnt-come-from-what-you-can-do
Have you ever been your own worst critic, especially at this time of year when it comes to your new years resolution about losing that fat that’s crept up on you and got you in that immovable bear hug? How many times have you made that same resolution, made some progress then got distracted, injured, fed up, pissed of, bored, confused with all the hype and bullshit out there and then completely de-motivated?

Trying harder is often not the solution. Making resolutions from a place of mixed emotions such as guilt, shame etc, and from a state of confusion will always end in failure. The way to make a resolution that will actually work is to let all that negative shit go for a while and work on forgiving yourself for being where you are and accepting you for who you are right now. Once you reach this point you can dive back in to pursuing what you desire for yourself. But if you want to succeed, it has to come from a place of compassion.

I don’t like using the word goal these days, it’s far too corporate, clinical and not particularly motivating. I much prefer the word desire. When you focus in what you desire it generates very different emotions, feelings and thought processes and these are much more capable of developing the behaviours and habits that will get you tow what you desire.

Now I am very well aware that this may be a completely alien concept to you and that you may feel that this is easier said than done. Finding self-compassion can be quite a challenge at first, particularly if you are used to kicking your own arse when you don’t achieve what it is your set yourself, and the idea of forgiving yourself for being in the same situation time after time seems ridiculous. Yet while it might take a lot more self-reflection and exploration than counting calories and drinking green juices, compassion and forgiveness are the hidden keys to successful achievement in any area of your life. Here’s a few top tips.

1. Be compassionate towards yourself and find acceptance of where you’re at.
Begin by identifying the area where you’re stuck or dissatisfied in your life and approach it with compassion. This step can be difficult for people who feel sure that shame about their weight was the only thing standing in the way of gaining more weight.

It takes a lot of courage, patience, and self-reflection to release and reframe the belief that self-shaming is helping you stay in control. If you’re struggle with this, I strongly encourage you to honestly examine how that tactic has worked for you so far. Has it really helped you reach your desired result? If your answer is no, then are you ready to try something new?

2. Cut yourself some slack and forgive yourself.
Once you’re able to embrace compassion instead of shame, it’s time for the most important step: Explore ways that you can reframe your situation and forgive yourself for being where you are right now. While reframing looks different for everyone, it can sometimes be painful and anchored with emotional baggage. Be prepared to face your demons and don’t be afraid to reach out for support during this phase.

Reframing in this context requires two things: acceptance of the objective facts and willingness to subjectively reframe those facts in a more self-loving way. People often think they’re accepting the facts when they apply guilt and shame for where they’re at, but they’re not.

First of all be crystal clear about the actual facts. Separate your subjective stories (for instance, “I’m lazy and need to get in shape”) from the facts (“This is my body today”) and work to accept the literal truth of where you are. Don’t be surprised if your objective list is short: You are here, in this body, right now. Try looking in the mirror every morning and repeating to yourself, “This is what I look like today.”

You also need to reframe the subjective stories you tell yourself about how you got here, why you’re here, and what that means about who you are. The story you’ve believed so far is entirely subjective, it is just the reality that you’ve created to justify it to yourself, and must be rewritten to be kinder and more self-loving. It can be helpful to talk to people who love you. Tell them what you’re working on reframing and ask for their help.

3. Ask yourself, “What if this were a gift?”
I know this sounds completely mad, how could an extra 20 pounds be a gift? Bear with me here for a moment as you search for the gift in your struggle. You might be surprised to find that staying stuck has protected you from something you weren’t yet ready to handle, or that the change you’ve been trying to make actually goes against one of your highest values. Do you know what your core values are? Check out my free PDF that will take you step by step through the process of figuring them out.

How To Achieve Your Desired Goals

How to Feel Great Even When You’ve Gained Weight
After weeks of contemplation and journaling, a client of mine came to me one day with an answer to that question. She told me that the extra weight she carried protected her from unwanted male attention, and that she was absolutely terrified of what would happen if she lost it and became (in her words) “traditionally attractive.” She also said that other women saw her as non-threatening, because she wasn’t skinny. The weight had helped attract a great number of kind and supportive women into her life. In short, those 20 pounds truly were a gift, and her subconscious was reluctant to part with them.

This is how rewriting your personal story gives you the opportunity to forgive yourself. Mt client began to see that no matter how hard she tried to lose weight, she was always going to fail, because she valued safety and connection too highly.

No matter what your guilt ridden resolution might be, I assure you there is a very good reason you haven’t accomplished it, yet. There always is. Once you find that reason, you will also find compassion and forgiveness and be able to see what really needs to be done in order to move forward. For my client, that work meant learning to feel comfortable and safe in her own skin, healing from an old trauma that made her believe male attention was dangerous, and trusting that losing weight wouldn’t drive away the female connections she valued so deeply.

Compassion and forgiveness aren’t only useful for getting you unstuck; you can also use them to help you set goals from the get-go. Ask yourself what gift your habit has been and offer yourself a replacement before attempting your goal.

Take smoking as an example. If smoking offers you stress relief and common ground with friends, you’re going to need to adopt some new habits to fight stress and social awkwardness before your subconscious will let go of smoking.

By goal-setting from a place of compassion, forgiveness, acceptance and understanding, you’ll be armed with the right tools that you need to actually succeed and achieve what you desire.

If you’re still struggling with reframing then by all means get in touch with me and we can figure it out together, just drop me an email on simon@simonmaryan.com to arrange a time.

Simon

When Life is Abruptly Put into Perspective.


strength-doesnt-come-from-what-you-can-do

Life has a strange way of shaking you up sometimes and not necessarily by directly affecting you but through family and friends.

The last 24 hours have reminded me of how fragile we as human beings can be at times. I’m not going to go into specific details here because that’s not appropriate, what I will say is that all is never lost. Even in what may feel like the deepest, darkest moment of your life there are people who want to help you, all you have to do is reach out and grab there hand and talk to them. You don’t even have to talk about the shit that is dragging you down, just talk to them, let them help you because they care about you.

Recent events have shaken me despite everything I know and what I do for a living and what I am reassured by is the old boy network and how hugely efficient it can be when combined with social media, because last night it helped save a life. It was awesome to see a group of people, friends from all walks of life, from all round the UK and abroad rally round and do everything they could to help a friend in need.

The other thing I want to say is if you have the feeling that someone you know and care about is in a bad way and may do the thing you fear the most and take their own life, make a call to organisations that can help and that includes dialling 999. This is ultimately what happened last night and they thankfully got their in the nick of time.

I’ve had a massive rethink about my business in the last few hours and the ways I can offer it to people and today, I will be making some significant changes so that my services are much more accessible to the people who really need my help.

Every day’s a school day and I’ve learnt a few very valuable lessons and for that I am extremely grateful.

So, look out for your friends and family, never dismiss other peeps feelings no matter how alien they are to you or uncomfortable they may make you feel and take action even if the person you help feels pissed off with you for a while.

You may just save a life.

Big hugs

Simon

Are You Designing The Life You Want?


It’s always struck me as an almost impossible decision to make when you’re a kid at school, that choice that’s thrown at you to decide your future at 16. How can you possibly know what you want to do when you’ve done bugger all at that point?

It has taken me until my 40’s to figure it out and with several attempts to find out along the way. Even though I have made my own choices as to what to do, mostly,  and I have enjoyed what I’ve done, I have never felt truly comfortable with the jobs I’ve had. It’s like there was something missing, something not quite right and it was purely a gut feeling.

As bizarre and paradoxical as this may sound, if you’re feeling the same way right now I believe that precisely because of that, you are on the right path. Because when you don’t know which direction to head in, when you feel lost, it is this simple yet powerful realisation that you are lost that enables you to actually begin to find yourself. It is only when you reach this point that you know what all those difficult questions about life are and you can then ask them of yourself and clear the fog to begin to reveal your path, your purpose.

I have been lost several times in my life and always experience the most amazing shifts in my consciousness as a result of it. It makes me feel so different in so many ways, and, these changes can feel uncomfortable at first and all I can say to that is enjoy it, embrace it and know that good things happen as a result of these kinds of shift, because you awaken to other ways of thinking and being and that you are responsible for your own life’s direction.

When you awaken to the responsibility you have for your own life, it can give you a sense of heaviness initially, it can even feel overwhelming, because you now understand that you are the only person who can be held accountable for the life you choose to lead. If you want to turn your dreams into reality, it is you who will have to take control and make that happen.

After realising your responsibility for your success in life, you may begin to experience a sense of doubt in the back of your mind; a fear that if you try to turn your dreams into reality, you put yourself at risk of failing. This fear can grow extremely fast when you reach the inevitable conclusion that you have no choice but to drive that change if you are to achieve the things you hold close to your heart. This is where your mental strength comes into it’s own and where you find out if you truly, deep down want what you thought you wanted.

When you make that decision that change is inevitable, it can be so easy to become intimidated and overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that you all of a sudden, want to change. If this happens just pause, breathe and remember everything else you’ve achieved in your life and how previously, you didn’t think you’d be able to handle so many things at once, and you did. Remember that you are capable of doing what needs to be done when you break them down into smaller bite sized pieces.

And do you know what, sometimes you can’t figure out a way to put your plans into action straight way, perhaps because you feel that time is not on your side. The weeks, months and years seem to fly by and you sense that you don’t have enough of them left to reach your ideal destination. This is just an illusion created by doubt and fear. The only reason time seems to alter is because we are either extremely busy or extremely quiet in our lives, the fact that it seems to speed up and slow down is just an illusion. You have the time you need if you plan your changes wisely. Even when your life right now seems so hectic to you and some days leave you feeling drained of energy physically and mentally. Putting in the effort to plan your changes wisely helps to set you up for success, and then you can look forward to your holidays and take a well earned break from life cycle of repetitive habit and duty.

These big shifts can leave you feeling unwilling to put up with two faced people whose words and behaviours betray their negative and hurtful actions. The best thing you can do now is put as much distance between them and you as possible, because their very presence can bring you down at times and steer you temporarily off course. Never let anyone or anything stand in the way of your dreams and just remember that the path is never straight and easy, it will throw challenges and detours at you and it is down to your strength of mind and commitment to you, that will get you where you want to be.

I don’t know about you but I can’t understand why so many people are obsessed with the way they look and the things they own. Of course it’s good to look nice, but there are so many people that I have met in my life that live for their designer clothing, fake tans, cosmetic surgery, bling, and many other traps of meaningless, materialistic bullshit. The way people look has no bearing on what they are like as individuals and more often than not, the people with the shallow, materialistic approach to life are the ones who are prepared to hurt others in order to get what they want. It’s a sad reflection of modern society and one that I’m sure most of you have no time for either. This is another reason that you can know that you’re heading in the right direction because all the crap and irrelevant bullshit has little or no meaning for you.

My perception of society is that it doesn’t appear to be heading in a positive, progressive direction. The modern world is creating more problems than it is solving, and that it is only a matter of time before things go seriously wrong, the markers are everywhere. I would love to see a fairer, more caring future where everyone has greater opportunity and wealth isn’t controlled by the richest 1%. I appreciate that this is a huge generalisation and that there are people out there and organisations that are doing some amazing things and we need more of them. I don’t recall thinking like this when I was younger and I am aware that it was part of a shift a few years ago and it has helped me refine my direction in life for the better.

Now as we all now society is changing, and among some there is a complacency and sense of entitlement. I have found that when we all try to do our bit to inject enthusiasm, positivity, a sense of responsibility and possibility and perhaps even a desire for adventure in people, that it makes a difference to some peoples lives. I hope that this injection of positivity spreads like a happy virus round the universe, because this would make our planet an amazing place to live if we can stop destroying it and ourselves in the process.

When you think about the universe it is easy to feel as though we are just a tiny, unimportant piece of an infinitely complex puzzle and that our achievements don’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things. Not true. The good things you do for others, as well as yourself, may not have any effect on Neptune or in the Andromeda Galaxy, but a small gesture of kindness can have a huge impact on the person you do that for, so keep doing it, because it does matter and it all counts and helps to keep shifting you in the right direction too.

And as rewarding as it can be to do nice things for people you don’t know, it matters just as much when it comes to friendships, because that is a genuine bond, one that isn’t necessarily founded purely on a long history of knowing each other. Even if you drift apart from those friends that you have this connection with and your circle of friends grows smaller because you’ve moved away for work etc. You will never lose those kinds of friends and you will meet new friends and create amazing friendships wherever you go. I have been fortunate to make friends with people in what are classed as some of the most dangerous countries on this planet, some who risked their lives for me. That I will never forget and I will never forget the ones who are no longer here. Respect for others is something that I think comes with age and experience, particularly in understanding who deserves it more than others.

I wonder of you’re like me and often like to take time alone, I enjoy that time to reflect on my life and sometimes those friends who have sadly lost their lives all too soon. I don’t do this to feel melancholy or depressed, I find that by spending time alone I can throw off the worries and anxieties of life and feel the freedom that this provides to reflect and take stock of things. It’s particularly useful and way more enjoyable heading out into nature and escaping the hustle and bustle of society where you can be at one with your thoughts and with yourself. When you get closer to your purpose you naturally appreciate different things, things you may not have noticed as much until now and this is a very good thing because it brings about positive changes.

Sometimes you can see yourself changing before your very eyes and this can be a little scary, perhaps because you have a sense that this change is now unstoppable and you’re afraid that the important people in your life – your family and friends – might not understand what’s happening to you. You worry that they will try to resist your change or even resent you for changing. And that’s ok because wherever you are on your journey, you can’t help but feel that there are pieces of the puzzle still missing. And you can sense that there is so much more to come, but you aren’t yet able to see what this may involve or whom. All you know is that what you have now, and what you can see of the future, isn’t all that there is.

It’s ironic that change is everywhere and so many people fear it. The thing is it almost inevitably involves some element of risk, and can give you an underlying sense of fear about what these risks are and what they mean for you and the people in your life. Whether they involve your physical security, your mental wellbeing, or your spiritual serenity, it’s natural to feel a little uneasy about the potential harm that might come your way. The funny thing is though, as inevitable the risk may be with change, the seriousness of that outcome from taking that risk is often far smaller than we imagined. We tend to err on the side of caution and make things worse in our minds as part of our self defence mechanism. It’s up to you whether you see this as a positive or negative element.

When this happens it’s important to have your say, even if you’re not sure how to say it. Stand up, be heard and make your vote and your voice count, be bold instead of hesitant and don’t worry how this might be perceived by others because this is about you finding your voice, who you are and knowing your purpose and telling people about it. And, that is hugely important in driving you and your life in the right direction and opening up new possibilities as a result of it. When you realise that laid out before you are the almost never-ending possibilities of your life, you can begin to figure out how you will choose between them. Each and every choice you make allows you to become even more aware of the endless possibilities that are yet to be realised by you, and this can either make you anxious about making the right decisions or excited at those possibilities. The choice is ultimately yours, I know what I would choose.

The thing is, knowing what you know now, you are able to look back on your past and see many things that perhaps you would do differently and that is an awesome realisation, because it means you have learnt from your mistakes and are all the wiser for them. And it’s not about feeling regret about how you acted, how you treated others or what your priorities were. You made your choices based on the information, knowledge, skills and experience you had at that time and you did the best you could with all of that. No one sets out to make a shitty decision, that’s pure madness, and as yet I have not met anyone who has told me that they got up in the morning with the intention of fucking everything up that day. Strange I know 🙂 All this means is that you appreciate your mistakes, you’ve taken the value from them and you know what to do should you ever be in a similar position, and you are definitely on the right track.

From time to time in our lives we can lose sight of the grand meaning of it all and we wonder whether there is any purpose to it whatsoever, and you know what, it’s actually ok to feel numb from time to time. In fact it’s completely natural and despite this feeling confusing, the reality is that confusion is a good thing because after the confusion has gone, we will have learned something new.

Sometimes in amongst all the frenetic hustle of life I find it such a relief to not know who I am, where I’m going, what I want to do etc, because not knowing takes the pressure off for a moment while I just allow my self wander through the curiously strange, meandering corridors of my mind and open some of the doors I haven’t opened yet. And the great thing is I know that I will walk back out of that crazy and wonderful maze with a clearer understanding of what I want and what I need to do.

My aim was to give you hope, let you take heart from my own experiences so far with losing my identity, direction and purpose because wherever you are in that process right now, know this. You will come out wiser, clearer and calmer with the knowledge that you need.

Happy trails

Simon

What is Mental Strength and Do You Have It?


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I’m fairly certain that most people would like to think that they have what it takes to succeed; determination, grit, Mental Strength, resilience.

But how do you know for sure? After all you can’t improve what you can’t measure.

Until recently Mental Strength (toughness) was generally subjective. We would look at a business person, an athlete, or an artist achieve great success in the face of adversity and say, “WOW…they must be really mentally strong to get through that!”

We would determine a person’s Mental Strength by their success. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a way to measure this.

So What is Mental Strength?

An excellent place to start is defining what mental toughness is. Until recently there hasn’t been a solid description of what mental toughness is. Then in 2012 after numerous case studies and research Clough & Strycharczyk developed this widely accepted definition of mental toughness.

“Mental Toughness is a personality trait which determines in large part how people deal with challenge, stressors and pressure …. irrespective of prevailing circumstances.”

It is also defined as:

“An ability to overcome adversity and persevere through difficult and challenging situations or circumstances, to remain focused on the process.”

What is So Important About Mental Strength?

Through research, several benefits of being mentally strong have emerged. They are:

  • Performance: Individuals perform more effectively in terms of volume and quality of work.
  • Positive Behavior: The higher the level of Mental Strength, the more the individual demonstrates positive behaviors.
  • Well-being: The greater the level of Mental Strength, the greater the sense of well-being.
  • Aspirations: Studies show that Mental Strength appears to be positively correlated with career aspirations and aspirations in general.
  • Employability: There is a clear relationship between an individual’s Mental Strength and their ability to not only get a job, but to get the job they want.
  • Completion Rates: A mentally strong person is more likely to complete a project on time and on target.
  • Other Considerations: Developing psychological or emotional resilience and Mental Strength is a very important life skill.

What Exactly Makes Up Mental Strength?

There are four major components of Mental Strength and they are:

Control – Control means having a sense of self-worth and describes the extent to which a person feels in control of their life and their circumstances. Importantly, it also describes the extent to which they can control the display of their emotions.

A mentally strong person will usually “get on with it” irrespective of how they feel and their positive approach can often lift the spirits of those around them.

Commitment – Commitment is about goal orientation and ‘stickability’ and describes the extent to which someone is prepared to set goals for what they need to do and make measurable promises that, once made, they will work hard to deliver on.

Control and Commitment, when combined, are what most people mean when they think of resilience. They are indeed a solid response to adversity, but resilience is largely a passive quality and is only one part of Mental Strength.

Challenge – Challenge describes the extent to which the individual will push back their boundaries, embrace change and accept risk. It’s also about how they see all outcomes – good and bad.

Mentally strong people view challenges, change and adversity as opportunities rather than threats and will relish the chance to learn and grow in new and unknown situation. Someone whose challenge score is high will typically enjoy new places, new people, innovation and creativity.

Confidence – Confidence completes the picture and describes the self-belief an individual has in their own abilities and the interpersonal confidence they have to influence others and deal with conflict and challenge. When faced with a challenge, mentally strong people scoring high in confidence, will possess the self-belief to deal with the situation and the inner strength to stand their ground when needed. Their confidence enables them to represent their view boldly and be comfortable in handling objections.

To be Mentally Strong there are four main areas in which you need to excel at. They are:

1. Control: Individuals who score high on this scale feel that they are in control of their work and of their work environment. At the high end of the scale they will be able to handle lots of things at the same time. At the other end, they may only be comfortable handling one thing at a time.

  • Control (emotion) – Individuals scoring highly on this scale are better able to control their emotions. They are better able to keep anxieties in check.
  • Control (life) – Individuals scoring higher on this scale are more likely to believe that they control their lives. They feel that they can make a difference.

2. Challenge (sometimes called change orientation): Describes the extent to which individuals see problems as opportunities. At one end of the scale we find those who thrive in continually changing environments. At the other end, we find those who prefer to minimize their exposure to change and the problems that come with that.

3. Commitment: Sometimes described as “stickability”, this describes the ability for an individual to carry out tasks successfully despite any problems or obstacles which arise whilst achieving the goal. Consequently, an individual who scores at the high end of the scale will be able to handle and achieve things to tough unyielding deadlines.

4. Confidence: Individuals who are high in confidence have the self-belief to successfully complete tasks, which may be considered too difficult by individuals with similar abilities but with lower confidence. At the other end of the scale individuals will be unsettled by setbacks and will feel undermined by these.

  • Confidence (abilities): Individuals scoring highly on this scale are more likely to believe that they are truly worthwhile.
  • Confidence (interpersonal): Individuals scoring highly on this scale tend to be more assertive. They are less likely to be intimidated in social settings and are more likely to cope with difficult or awkward people.

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Can You Develop Mental Strength?

Absolutely, yes you can!

Mental Strength is a malleable personality trait which means it can be developed.

Developing Mental Strength generally happens by teaching you to handle stress more effectively through making fundamental changes to the way you think about problems and by teaching you the tactics and strategies that mentally tough people use.

Either approach can work, although the program needs to be tailored as you will likely have a unique profile with different strengths and development needs. The Mental Strength Programme offers reflection and a conversation with an experienced Mental Strength Coach, you would commit to a purposeful practice using the appropriate techniques. These techniques fall into 5 categories:

  1. Positive Thinking: There are many techniques for developing a “can do” mindset which include self-talk and stopping or reframing negative thoughts.
  2. Mental Rehearsal: This involves developing your ability to first imagine something in your head to help you deal with a real event.
  3. Energy Management: Breathing exercises and relaxation techniques will enable you to deal with those panic moments when things seem out of control, producing a physiological reaction.
  4. Goal Setting: Tools and techniques that support the development of your sense of purpose and how to set about achieving it.
  5. Attention Control: Used extensively in sports to teach athletes how to focus better and longer, as well as developing mindfulness, which is learning how to notice what is happening around you.

How to Measure Mental Strength

Now that we know each component of Mental Strength, the next step is to measure it. This is done by assessing Readiness to Change and Emotional Intelligence.

These Questionnaires are a dynamic and revealing diagnostic test that identifies the resilience and mental toughness of individuals. The tool can be used to enable a program of interventions to help the learner change their Mental Strength, or it can show someone how to adopt the behaviours that a mentally strong person would have.

These Questionnaires are online assessments and are accessed via links and takes just 20-30 minutes to complete. Results are generated quickly and presented in Pdf reports that are emailed to you immediately ofter completion of each assessment.

Where is Mental Strength Useful?

Being Mentally Strong has been proven to be beneficial in improving performance, increasing positivity and aspirations, creating greater well-being as well as a calmer and lower stress response to change.

As a result, the Mental Toughness Questionnaire has many useful applications. Especially for people and organizations that are subject to pressures and challenges or wherever performance, behavior and well-being is an issue.

The Mental Strength Assessment is Widely Used in Businesses for:

  • Training & Development
  • Leadership Development
  • Coaching
  • Organisation Development
  • Performance
  • Talent Management
  • Career Transition and Outplacement
  • Work-Life Balance

The Mental Strength Assessment is Widely Used in Sport

The beneficial impact of Mental Strength is well understood by most coaches and athletes. The key areas are:

  • Performance
  • Positive Behaviour
  • Well-being
  • Aspirations

The Mental Strength Assessment is extremely effective in the Sports sector using language applicable in the sporting world. The results enable coaches, trainers and athletes to make better assessments and identify why they do or do not perform under pressure.

It can also explain why some athletes are better suited at contact sports and why some perform better in team sports than in solitary sports. It also explains why an athlete of lesser ability can often and will often beat an athlete of greater ability.

There are assessments for specific sports so your report can be geared precisely to give you the competitive advantage.

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In Summary

We have:

  • The ability to define and describe an important aspect of our personality – Mental Strength.
  • A concept which is accessible to everyone and which helps to explain performance, well-being and behaviour.
  • Psychometric assessments which measure an individual’s Mental Strength for readiness to change and emotional intelligence.
    A Mental Strength Development program which delivers measurable results.

 

If you feel you want to develop the level of mental strength you want/need in order to live life like a warrior being  kind, compassionate, ruthless in your determination to succeed yet remaining ethically and morally sound, resilient to failures and cheerful when the shit hits the fan. Then get in touch with me to discuss the options below.

  1. Self directed – go through the assessments yourself and the online course in your own time with no input from me
  2. 8 Week coaching Programme – go through the assessments and the online course, plus 8 weekly coaching calls to fine tune your progress and development and ensure you achieve your aim.

Whatever you decide I salute you for considering your options and making an informed decision for yourself and your future.

Here’s to your success and your mental strength.

Simon

How We Encode Our Success or Failure with Our Thinking


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“You can map out a fight plan or a life plan, but when the action starts, it may not go the way you planned, and you’re down to your reflexes – that means your [preparation:]. That’s where your roadwork shows. If you cheated on that in the dark of the morning, well, you’re going to get found out now, under the bright lights.”

Joe Frazier

Today that quote is proving invaluable to me because today is proving to be a challenging day, and for no clear conscious reason as yet. I woke up in the middle of the night last night, not from a nightmare or any dream that I can remember but with an ominous feeling of what I can only describe as dread. I didn’t sleep much after that and lay there in bed with my heart racing until my alarm went off.

The day so far has been spent wrestling with my mind as the darkness that I lock away tries to overwhelm me and, I know that I will win this battle today.

Now why am I telling you this?

Well I know that there are many people out there who have had, and likely will have similar experiences to this, it’s a natural part of life.  I am a highly positive person and I am also very well aware as a psychologist what is happening. My life has been full of unusual experiences, some fun and some terrifying and exhilarating. This mixture of positive and negative experiences are all part of who I am and sometimes the negative takes over and leads me towards a path I do not want to tread because it is dark, threatening and dangerous. This path is virtually impossible to brighten as it seems to absorb all light like a black hole encompassing anything and everything.

I am grateful that I have learned to side-step off that path early on and use what I have learned and keep myself focused on what I do want; how I do want to think, how I do want to feel and remain focused on those things no matter how exhausting that can be at times like this.

It’s extremely difficult to explain to someone that has never had this kind of experience because it’s not something you can see, or touch or hear, it is a purely kinaesthetic experience. This is purely thoughts and feelings that create the mental state and this intangible element is hard for some to grasp.

There has been a huge amount of research over the years into how our mindset; our thoughts, feelings, language and behaviour, and how that affects our physical health as well as our mental health, and a field of science called Epigenetics grew from it and has shown that our beliefs can affect us at the cellular level.

One of the best-researched books about our language and responses to both positive and negative events in life is Learned Optimism by Dr. Martin Seligman. In a 25-year research study, Seligman proved that our mindset, manifested in our language and behavior, is a predictor of our success. In other words, what you think and say (your words and language) is proven to manifest in your life.

I continue to be baffled by individuals who wonder why their life is a mess when their entire mindset is defeatist and pessimistic. They are blind to their own undoing.

Seligman proved that how we respond (think, say, do) to our circumstances, both successes and failures, directly correlates to our accomplishments in life. Someone might argue that it can’t be that simple, but from Seligman’s research, it is.

To push your thinking limits even further, Dr. Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief, has confirmed that our thoughts can actually adjust our DNA, at minimum, how our DNA decides to respond to different stressors or events. Contrary to popular understanding, it is not your genes that predict your predisposition to your health condition, but rather your thoughts that act on your genes.

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Your thought life is highly influencing your condition in your life, including, but not limited to, your health, relationships, career, and achievements. Understand that regardless of your background, Personal Style, personality, or environment, you can learn optimism, measure it, and teach it to yourself and others.

If we are going to live our lives on purpose with passion, it is going to take resilience and mental strength and those who give up easily are generally pessimistic in their mindset. They get caught in a cycle of hopelessness, and can’t see their way out of their troubles or challenges. However, optimistic individuals face identical roadblocks and they overcome them to realise their own success and victory.

There are three principles or factors that comprise the primary work for Dr. Seligman’s optimist and pessimistic framework.

  1. Permanent vs. Temporary
  2. Specific vs. Universal
  3. Personalisation (internal vs. external) Elements

1. Optimistic Mindset Item One: Permanent vs. Temporary
Failure makes everyone at least momentarily helpless. However, those who are optimistic bounce back almost instantly. Those who are highly pessimistic remain helpless for days or perhaps months, even after very minor setbacks.

2. Optimistic Mindset Item Two: Specific vs. Universal
The optimist believes that bad events have specific causes, while good events enhance everything they do; the pessimist believes that bad events have universal causes and that good events are caused by specific factors.

3. Optimistic Mindset Item Three: Personalisation: Internal vs. External
When bad things happen, we can blame ourselves (internal), or we can transfer fault to circumstances (external). People who blame themselves when they fail have low self-esteem as a consequence. They think they are worthless, talent-less, and unlovable. People who blame external events when bad events happen do not lose self-esteem when negative events occur. Overall they like themselves better than those who blame themselves. The optimistic style of explaining good events is the opposite of explaining negative events. It is internal, rather than external. People who believe that they cause good things to happen tend to like themselves better than people who believe that good things come from other people or circumstances.

The Importance of Hope
Whether we have hope depends on two dimensions of our explanatory style (the words and responses we use): pervasiveness and permanence. Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope – temporary causes limit helplessness in time, and specific causes limit helplessness to the original situation. On the other hand, permanent causes produce helplessness through all our endeavors. Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune is the practice of despair. People who make permanent and universal explanations for their troubles tend to collapse under pressure, both for a long time and across situations. In Seligman’s work, no item is more important as your levels of hopelessness or hopefulness.

It’s important to remember the three principles of Dr. Seligmans’ optimistic and pessimistic mindsets; how they apply to your life, and why being conscious of them will help you avoid (and reverse) the cycle of despair and hopelessness. Living a life On Purpose, by definition, is a life full of HOPE. When life throws you a curve ball, where does your mind take you? Are you a glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of person? Your answer matters, To You.

“Each of us has two distinct choices to make about what we will do with our lives. The first choice we can make is to be less than we have the capacity to be. To earn less. To have less. To read less and think less. To try less and discipline ourselves less. These are the choices that lead to an empty life. These are the choices that, once made, lead to a life of constant apprehension instead of a life of wondrous anticipation.  And the second choice? To do it all! To become all that we can possibly be. To read every book that we possibly can. To earn as much as we possibly can. To give and share as much as we possibly can. To strive and produce and accomplish as much as we possibly can.”

Jim Rohn

If this post helps just one person today then it has done it’s job and if you feel you want or need to talk in more detail then please get in touch.

Here’s to your mental strength and success.

Simon

Mind-Body Health and Your Vagus Nerve


For me, being a therapist, counsellor or coach is just like being a good host at a dinner party, because a client is a guest in my practice and they have come because they need something from me that I can give them so I invite them in.

If my guest is thirsty, I give them a drink. If they’re belly is rumbling with hunger, I give them food. This is a basic duty of being the host with the most. And in my mind, the same principle applies to a client suffering from stress (and almost every client I see is).

When treating a negatively emotionally aroused client, the first thing I need to do is calm them down.

Don’t get me wrong, calm empathic listening can take the wind out of the sail of rising cortisol. But sometimes clients need immediate help. Their level of stress has become an emergency, and until you apply therapeutic psychological first aid, other diagnostics and treatments have to wait.

It’s equally useless to try to get someone who is dying of thirst to think about their long-term finances, you won’t get anywhere by attempting to help a stressed person until you address their need for relaxation and calm.

But why do people suffer stress in the first place?

People become stressed when they are not meeting their needs, or fear their needs will stop being met. (What if he/she leaves me? What if I lose my job?) A great visual for our needs is this image below which is an adapted version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When these needs, starting from the bottom up, are not met we begin to suffer psychologically and then physically.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Emotional stress is a signal that needs are not being met adequately, just as thirst is a physical stress signal that the body is dehydrated. Knowing how to deeply relax stressed clients – offering ‘psychological & physical first aid’ – is a prerequisite skill to make any other therapy or coaching remotely possible.

Quench That Thirst 

Using talk therapy or getting all analytical when someone is crippled by stress is like giving salted food to a dehydrated guest. Quench their urgent thirst first, then work out how you can help them in the long term.

Stress is the one thing almost all psychological conditions have in common. Depressed people always have more of the stress hormone cortisol in their bloodstreams (1). Addicted people are stressed because they aren’t meeting their needs, and they try to relieve that stress through the escapism of addiction (2). People develop panic attacks when they’re generally stressed. Emotional problems are caused by stress, but in turn cause more stress.

So, to me, it seems almost unforgivable for any therapist not to be exquisitely skilled in the art and science of relaxation. And this is why I believe all people helpers should be able to heal through calm – and why I have always trained coaches and therapists to do this.

Here are three reasons why it’s not just ethical but essential to know how to relax your clients deeply.

1. You can’t help your client until they’re relaxed and ready

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Pete was clearly on the brink of either exploding or imploding, I wasn’t quite sure which one at first. His facial muscles were rigid, and the deeply etched creases in his face indicated long term tension and stress. Sitting in front of me his breath was shallow, fast and heavy, just like he’d run to my practice – yet he looked frozen in place. It was blatantly obvious that he needed help and right now.

Crucially, as I began engaging in conversation I found that he couldn’t think. Every time I asked a question I could see his mind wander off somewhere else. He did say one very important thing though.

When I asked what it was that he wanted, he looked straight at me and said “Not to feel like I’m dying inside!”

“I can’t relax, ever”, he said. Yet relaxation was precisely what he needed. Natural, mind-clarifying relaxation, that is, not the alcohol and sleeping tablet induced semi-coma that he’d become accustomed to.

We know that depressed brains are stressed brains. Pete was depressed because his needs weren’t being met. And the double bind was that in order to help meet his needs, he needed to become less stressed.

Long-term stress inhibits the function of the left prefrontal lobe, which generates feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction (3) and facilitates calm cognition (4). To put it simply, stress inhibits cognitive function. We can’t think or learn when we’re highly stressed.

Without wanting to overcook the analogy, you can’t teach someone calculus when they are desperate for water. And good luck trying to do cognitive therapy with someone whose thinking brain is crippled by anxiety.

I gave Pete what he needed in that first session, which was deep rest and relaxation. He was a different person at the end of that first session: clear, calm and hopeful. I didn’t just tell him he could feel different. I showed him how to feel different. Pete now had some clear space in his mind to really think about what else he wanted from therapy, beyond the relaxation.

Constant stress and failure to relax makes people feel hopeless, disassociated from their personal resources, and therefore helpless. From there it’s not far to go to reach crisis point.

Of course, we can’t disentangle body from mind – it’s a false dichotomy. Helping your clients relax will also greatly help their physical wellbeing.

2. You can’t heal the body without healing the mind

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For me, a good therapist, counsellor or coach should be able to improve the physical health of their clients by quickly improving their emotional health.

High levels of stress are correlated with increased risk of obesity and diabetes (5), and can damage immunity (6) and working memory (7). Prolonged stress (ongoing activation of the sympathetic nervous system or ‘fight or flight’ response) also increases inflammation in the body (8), which can adversely affect digestion (9).

Stress-induced inflammation is also implicated in the onset of some cancers (10), heart disease (11), and the physical manifestations of depression (12). This is hardly surprising, as depression is essentially a sense of nervous exhaustion from the stress of unresolved worry and rumination (13).

On the other hand, good immune function, clear thought, and feelings of wellbeing can all be promoted through an amazing mechanism that is closely tied to the relaxation response. Let me explain.

The Vagus Nerve and Your Mind-Body Health

As a therapist or coach, your job is to help people feel better, to give them the calm and confidence to pursue their goals. When the mind is troubled, the body is troubled – and vice versa. Fortunately for us, there’s something we can use to dramatically improve mental and physical health and reduce inflammation throughout the entire body. It’s called the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is an incredible meandering bundle of nerve fibres that extends from the brainstem, through the neck and thorax, and finally to the abdomen, where it supplies the gut. This is the widest nerve distribution of any nerve in the body.

The function of the vagus nerve is closely tied to your health, both mental and physical. It interfaces with your parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response) and controls the healthy functioning of the heart, digestive tract and lungs.

Low ‘vagal tone’ has been linked to higher levels of inflammation in the brain and body (14). Conversely, when the vagus nerve is stimulated and strengthened, inflammation is lowered throughout the entire body.

Social connections (15) and healthy diet (16) both stimulate the vagus nerve, but perhaps the most important and practical way of stimulating the vagus nerve is by practising deep relaxation. In fact, just the simple act of breathing slowly in and out (the exhalation needs to be longer than the inhalation) activates the vagus nerve (17).

Relaxation helps our clients feel healthier, not ‘just’ physically but mentally too. Relaxing distressed clients is not just dealing with the symptom – it’s also helping alleviate the cause. When people improve their vagal tone they become more able to make emotional, cognitive and behavioural changes.

But as well as all the benefits of relaxation in and of itself, the relaxed state offers a perfect medium for psychological change. It’s during relaxation that we can best help our clients by treating the cause of long-term distress – and here’s how.

3. Relaxation primes your client for inner work

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I remember a client coming to see me who used to have CBT. He recounted how the ‘therapy’ would make him feel so stressed (with all the health implications that entailed) because the practitioner would ask him to replay in the sessions by focusing on all that was and had ever been bad in his life.

He learned to schedule the sessions on Fridays because he’d tried other days but found he had to take up to three days off work to recover from the ‘therapy’. So his weekends were ruined which added more stress from frustration.

This is absolutely insane. Our clients should feel better after every session.

Pete found that after months of building stress, the simple act of relaxing was incredibly therapeutic in itself. But we needed to deal with the reasons for the stress to prevent it from happening again in future.

All coaching and counselling uses inner work and what I mean by that is that even if you just ask a client what they want or ask them to think about the past, you are inviting them to go inside their minds to find the answer, to forget the room for a little while and enter a kind of light trance.

As a therapist, counsellor or coach, you are using a kind of trance focus whether you know it or not. Relaxed trance (and note that not all trance is relaxing) is the gentle medium through which change work can be done more powerfully and quickly. The relaxation part of any session is also the perfect time for a client to psychologically process earlier work.

People make intuitive leaps when they are relaxed and the unconscious mind has a chance to form new possibilities and solutions. Sometimes a reframe won’t take when a person is too stressed, but can be offered and digested in the mind during a state of deep calm and rest. It’s during deep relaxation that we can encourage real insight by having the client calmly use their dissociated, ‘Observing Self’.

You can help your client inwardly rehearse new positive behaviours by talking to them gently while they are deeply calm, resting with their eyes closed. This kind of rehearsal makes it more likely a client will actually carry out the behaviours required to help them toward their goals. And there’s more.

Relaxation is also the medium through which severe PTSD and phobias are lifted. The brain works through association but sometimes, as with phobias, addictions or low self-esteem, those associations can be harmful. We can use relaxed trance states as a way to unhook damaging pattern matches.

To put it another way, relaxation isn’t just the part of the medicine that makes it ‘taste good’. This natural and wonderful mind/body medicine also packs a real ‘nutritional’ punch.

Pete learned to relax himself once I’d helped him do it a couple of times. We used deeply relaxed hypnosis to not only help his vagus nerve adjust to a new, more generally relaxed Pete, but also to de-traumatise an old memory so that his flashbacks stopped and his nightmares faded away fast.

It was during deep relaxation that I helped Pete rehearse new, healthy behaviours to help him meet his needs better in future. What he said as he left the final session was brilliant:

“I never knew therapy was so enjoyable – I actually had fun!”

This is why I strongly believe that every therapist, counsellor and coach must to know how to deeply, quickly, easily and conversationally relax their clients.

Never let a client leave a session in need in any way, ever.

References:

1 http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.2007.164.4.617
2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao8L-0nSYzg
3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907136/
4 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627301003592
5 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159103000485
6 http://www.nature.com/nri/journal/v5/n3/abs/nri1571.html
7 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10253890600678004
8http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/07/chronic-stress-health-inflammation-genes_n_4226420.htm and http://www.nature.com/nri/journal/v5/n3/abs/nri1571.html
9 https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/jas/abstracts/87/14_suppl/0870101
10 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159112001833
11 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399901003026
12 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322308015321
13 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24444431
14 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17192580
15 https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/gb-2007-8-9-r189
16 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17192580
17 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3216041/

Life Design


For a long time I thought I was happy with my job, I was doing what I’d set to do in joining the Royal Marines. I worked with like-minded people, got paid to stay exceptionally fit, got fed four times a day and was provided with a roof over my head. The trade-off was that I was expected to do what I was told do whether I liked it or not and, some of the things I was asked to do I really didn’t like. However I was still happy living my dream.

Or so I thought.

Continue reading Life Design