How to choose an apple over chocolate

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I’m sitting in a room surrounded by mess.

An hour ago, the room looked tidy. But it wasn’t. Behind the cupboard doors, there was chaos. The mess was out of sight but not out of mind. I opened the door, and now I’m dealing with the consequences.

I’m not generally a messy person. I like a place to look lived-in, but not cluttered. However, even with the best of intentions, things can build up. The problem with ‘stuff’ building up over time is that it results in you having to invest significantly more effort to put it right later on. ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ as they say, whoever ‘they’ are.

And yet, even though this requires effort, and the messy in-between stage can be unsettling, there is something oddly therapeutic about de-cluttering and reorganising; identifying what is worth keeping and what is just ‘baggage’. It clears my head. I’ve read that we make healthier choices when our surroundings are de-cluttered. (Something about participants in a study choosing an apple over chocolate – that’s powerful stuff!) 

People Voodoo is all about taking good care of yourself and others, so I‘m all for making healthy choices easy. If de-cluttering is good for you, let’s get stuck in. Here are a few ideas for you to have a go at.

Idea 1 – Weed the garden

This is the easiest place to start (assuming you have a garden). A weed is a weed and you’re unlikely to feel any emotional attachment to something that popped up uninvited, unless your tortoise will suffer dandelion withdrawal problems. You get all the de-clutter benefits without any tough decisions.

Idea 2 – Discipline your desktop

If you’re more into computers than compost and clippings, then this might be the one for you. Filing isn’t just for paperwork you know. If you can’t count the icons on your desktop out loud without taking a breath, it’s worth a review. Anything you don’t open at least once a week could be filed away.

If that feels a bit too ruthless to begin with, try setting up a folder called ‘do I really need this’ and put everything in there. Anything you take back out in the next 2 weeks can stay out, the rest you need to find a new home for.

Idea 3 – Wade into the wardrobe

This may cause a sharp intake of breath for many of you. Depending on the size of your wardrobe, this could be quite a big job. If you think you’ll struggle due to scale or emotional attachment, I suggest you start with something small, like socks.

Divide everything into 3 piles:

  1. Love & wear as often as possible
  2. Can’t remember when I last wore and/or not sure I like this anyway
  3. What was I thinking!

Pile 3: This pile is about to leave your life. If everything you own has moved to pile 3, slow down. What will you wear? Maybe try pile 2 for a few items.

Pile 2: If pile 2 is substantial, either because you can’t bring yourself to move things to pile 3 (come on, you can do it!) or because you’ve been overzealous and it all just came over from pile 3, shove it all into bags and store it all somewhere out of sight. Set a calendar reminder for 1 years’ time (I like to allow for seasonality), and anything you haven’t gone looking for before then belongs in pile 3.

Pile 1: If it’s all in pile 1 and the pile is taller than you, enlist help!

Oh and before you start, just remember that it might get worse before it gets better, but it’s in a good cause and you’ll thank yourself for the mental and physical space you’re created in your life.

So, Can I offer you an apple or some chocolate?

Did you hear that?

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I just closed my eyes for a few minutes – and listened.

I expected silence. Instead, I heard tweeting, rustling, banging, scraping, voices, humming and clinking.

I recognised the sounds: birds singing; the rustling of the wind through the tree outside; the banging of a drawer; the scraping of a chair; my toddler babbling; the humming of the bathroom fan and a motor in the distance; and the clinking of cutlery.

I consciously chose to hear ‘rustling’ rather than ‘the wind in the trees’ because I’m being mindful. I’m hearing and experiencing sounds without labelling or judgment. It’s part of my wider mindfulness practice which I’ve been gradually building into my life since the beginning of the year.

I love mindful listening because I can do it in 5-minute bursts; in the car before a meeting, in bed, or sitting on a bench outdoors. Although I find other mindfulness activities easier and equally powerful, I started to sit still and listen because I want to be a better listener. I’m not judging myself as a poor listener, I’m acknowledging that I focus more on what I see, rather than on what I hear.

It didn’t take many sessions before I started to notice, even with my eyes open, just how much sound there is around me. It was a bit like watching a film I’d seen 100 times and finally hearing the soundtrack as well as the dialogue.

Apart from enjoying an increased awareness of how many different birds sing in the trees around my home, I’ve also found some really practical benefits. I am now more alert to gravel announcing a visitor and seem to be better at hearing the sounds of officials over my team mates when playing sport.

The best part of this exercise is that although it heightens my awareness, it also teaches me to let things pass rather than feeling that every sound requires interpretation or immediate action. I’m now less easily distracted.

It’s unfortunately not a quick fix for everything. I do still get rattled by the sound of loud chewing, nails on a chalkboard and fingers being dragged across the surface of a balloon. Why do that? Maybe with time I’ll be able to let those wash over me too. Watch this space.

If you’d like to benefit from any of this, why not have a go?

To get started, you need to get comfortable sitting or lying down somewhere safe (you’ll be closing your eyes). You need to be both alert and relaxed.

Set an alarm for 5 minutes and gently close your eyes.

As a sound reaches you, try to hear it rather than naming it. This takes practice. It’s normal to hear a thud and interpret it, so don’t be surprised if you need to stop at the thud.

When you notice a thought, whether it’s a description of a sound, something to add to the shopping list or how silly you must look on this bench with your eyes closed, just notice it. Then give it a polite mental nod and let it go by, turning your attention back to hearing.

Sometimes I spend 4 of my 5 minutes taking myself mentally by the hand and leading myself back to the purpose of hearing. On other occasions, time flies by without much distraction. Both, are normal.

When the time is up, you might find that you’re calmer and more aware of, and in tune with your surroundings. If that isn’t reward enough, you just gave yourself 5 minutes or quality time!

Lucky you.

 

 

 

 

 

Wind in your hair

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This week I went for a run. I was up early, before the rest of my house woke up. The world was peaceful and beautiful. I felt the wind in my hair and watched the clouds drift by and the waves lap against the beach. It was perfect.

Going for a run might not be a big deal for many of you, but it was for me. It was my first run in 1 and a half years. I was medically advised almost 4 years ago to stop running regularly, ideally altogether.

It might not seem in line with the People Voodoo approach that you’ve become accustomed to, to defy medical advice and do something I knew could end in pain, but I assure you that it was in the spirit of compassion. For those 30 glorious minutes, before the pain started, (which is when I stopped running and walked home) I felt GREAT.

Although I knew it was kinder to my aching hip to give up regular running, I resented it, partly because I don’t like being told what to do, but mostly because running was ‘me’ time; time to think, to clear my head. I felt robbed. I sulked for some time before strapping on some roller skates, falling in love with roller derby and leaving running behind. But it’s during challenging times that I miss it the most. 

It will be five months this week that my son arrived. Only, on paper my son is not my son. The adoption process is long and emotionally challenging, and in our case, after 2 years, still ongoing. I know others wait longer, but for me the process has already overstayed its welcome. It’s been wearing me down. I needed to feel the wind in my hair in a way that a hairdryer just doesn’t deliver!

For this coming week my advice is short. Spend some time doing something that makes you feel GREAT even if just for 10 minutes. You owe it to yourself.

The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.

Richard Bach

When performance is a performance

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How many times have you seen someone desperately trying to be something they’re not, whilst running themselves into the ground? Are you guilty of this?

Although pretending to be someone or something you’re not, as a creative pursuit, (think theatre), can be both challenging and good fun, it doesn’t always win you awards off stage.

As the great anonymous Vood-arian once said;

The greatest advantage of speaking the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said.

The belief that you should ‘fake it until you make it’, is alive and well for plenty of people. If your behaviour is a constant performance, it could get exhausting. When you then revert to type it could also land you with some trust issues.

So why do we do it?

There are so many reasons that we put on a performance; trying to protect ourselves or others from hurt for example, or believing it is necessary to get ahead. As none of us are perfect, there’s also our ‘dark side’ that might need to be kept in check. (Anyone denying it?)

This week I am encouraging you to review your own level of performance when performing the various roles in your life to make sure you’re getting the balance right between ‘mask’ and ‘me’.

Question 1 – When do I perform?

Honestly and without judgement, can you think of any situations recently where you put on a bit of a performance?

Maybe you were exaggerating a bit, or consciously choosing to play down your opinion or play up your skills? Perhaps you tried to look enthusiastic when you felt the opposite or suppressed your true feelings?

Question 2 – Would it win a People Voodoo award? 

There may be times when a performance is the most humane approach. A hurt child needs reassurance. Blatantly ‘faking’ that everything is OK might be just what they need until they get patched up and calm down.

Putting on the same kind of show for your boss when asked for a project update could get messy.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to assess when it’s best to drop the mask, or at least lift it up a bit.

  • Do I know when I’m doing it?
  • Why am I performing?
  • Is that a good enough reason?
  • Is everyone in this situation being treated with dignity and respect?
  • Is anyone, including me, going to get hurt now or in the future because of it?
  • If I had to sustain this kind of performance longer term, could I keep it up without exhausting myself?
  • Is this a skill I am working on that will feel less like a performance when I get better at it?
  • Does it feel dishonest?
  • Would those whose opinion I value, see it as dishonest?
  • What would happen if this came to light?
  • Is there another way to get the same result without performing?

As so often in my blogs, this exercise is all about self-awareness. Once you have the awareness, when and how much you perform is entirely up to you of course.

3 Steps to top up your gratitude levels

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Gratitude is good for you. There’s evidence!

As People Voodoo is all about looking after ourselves, I started 2016 (not a typo, it was a while ago) with the intention of collating a Happy Jar to top up my own gratitude.

I wanted to become more conscious of, and grateful for, the good things in my life. This jar was all about recording funny moments, achievements, memories to treasure, surprise compliments, activities I enjoyed, etc. You name it, I was going to record it, and with every day that went by, it was going to make me happier and more grateful!

It didn’t last long.

Why? Because I am not a ‘do something every day’ person. Who was I kidding? I can’t even eat the same thing for breakfast 6 days in the row without it feeling repetitive. Motivating myself to write on a piece of paper every day for 365 days was pure torture. It also felt a bit shallow.

I am, however, very grateful for my Happy Jar revelations! Every cloud has a silver lining and mine is that I find it easy to be grateful for lessons I’ve learnt. Since then, I’ve been in search of another way to top up my gratitude levels. Something that’s both satisfying and sustainable. Interested?

I now write a gratitude journal. But before I encourage you to start a journal of your own, you need to be willing to make 2 very important commitments.

Commitment 1 – ‘Decisive’ over ‘daily’

It’s important to keep this activity guilt free. You need to commit to writing when the mood takes you. If that’s every 2nd Thursday or when your team plays a home game, then so be it. There can be no forced daily ritual – just a clear decision to top up your gratitude. Of course if you want to do it daily, that’s OK too.

Commitment 2 – No listing, but lots of learning

Anyone can throw together a list of positive things. This journal is not about list-writing the obvious, it’s about digging deep and challenging yourself to be grateful for the tough stuff and the fire of experience, as well as the shiny, sparkly bits of life.

If you’re willing to make these 2 commitments, then here’s what to do.

Step 1 – Reflect (Thanks to Anna Kane for the 3 points of reflection)

Start off by taking a few minutes to think about things that have happened to you since you last wrote. These do not need to be life-changing events, but you do need one for each of the following three categories.

  1. something positive

  2. something challenging

  3. something interesting

Step 2 – Look for things to be grateful for in this situation or experience

If, for example, your ‘challenging situation’ was an argument with your partner about whose family to spend the weekend with, then ‘things to be grateful for’ might include:

I’m grateful…

  • that we both have a family we love,

  • that I have a partner I care about,

  • that I feel secure enough in my relationship to express my true feelings,

  • that s/he feels secure to do that with me,

  • that we don’t have bigger things to argue about,

  • that we don’t argue often,

  • that we are both generally willing to compromise,

  • that the children weren’t home to hear it,

  • that we both get weekends off work together,

  • etc.

Keep going until you run out of things to be grateful for in each of the 3 situations. Properly run out, not just when you’ve done a few.

Step 3 – Review the lessons

Now that you are in a more grateful place, consider the impact of what you’ve uncovered and actions you might take as a result.

  • What have you learnt from this scenario?

  • Have you changed your attitude or perspective on anything following this reflection?

  • What are you drawn to doing as a result of your learning?

Have a play with it and do let me know if it works for you.

Happy journalling xx

A frog by any other name

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I’ve not posted for a while. To be honest, I’ve been struggling to find the words.

So much has changed in my life. I feel a bit like I fell under a spell and woke up a frog. (No disrespect to frogs!) I don’t expect a fairy tale kiss to return me to normal, so after a few months away I’m embracing that ‘frog’ is my new normal and it’s time to hop back into action and put some text into my blog.

As demonstrated by my recent absence, life events really can give you an identity shake-up, regardless of whether the event was long planned and hoped for or catches you square in the ribs when you least expect it. If your experience of this is anything like mine, then you’ll remember times in your life when you just brushed yourself down and carried on and other times when you knew you’d have managed better with a few months in a remote cabin.

With that at the forefront of my mind and spring now properly ‘sprung’ outdoors, it feels instinctively right to spend some time identity spring cleaning. In People Voodoo terms that means dumping the judgement, ripping out the dead and decaying beliefs that no longer serve you and making space for the stuff that really matters and deserves some space to breathe.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Activity 1 – Who am I?

This exercise is very simple. It’s one of those, ‘you get out what you put in’ situations.

Just take a few minutes to quickly and instinctively finish the phrase below a minimum of 10 times. If you’re tempted to stop at 8, do 12, some of the most interesting stuff happens after we hit resistance!

I am …

Now reflect on what came up for you.

Was it about…

  • gender?
  • race?
  • religion?
  • nationality?
  • colour?
  • ethnicity?
  • sexual orientation?
  • age?
  • marital status?

Or was it about…

  • personality traits?
  • physical features?
  • health status?
  • hobbies?
  • political beliefs?
  • achievements?
  • talents?
  • your job?

How we describe ourselves can tell us a lot about our priorities, our state of mind, or even the messages and priorities from those influential in our past or present.

Is that really you? Are you happy with that description? If not, then why are you giving that trait, feature, or ‘box’ so much power? Now is as good a time as any to refresh what matters most in your life. Get your ‘self ‘in order. Literally!  Yes, it’s your job but if it’s not your life purpose and the most important thing in your life, then why is it at the top? It’s your list, you decide what matters right now. It’s not for life, it’s for now. Life will give you reasons to reshuffle soon enough.

Activity 2 – What do “I “really think?

Social media alone throws 100’s of messages your way every day. How often do you comment or react to something on instinct? Do you ever give your view without having any idea why you hold that view or where it came from?

‘It’s what I think!’ I hear  you cry.

Yes, but why? and not every opinon is for life either. Let’s tidy up a bit.

  • Do you really, honestly, believe that?
  • Where does that belief/opinion come from?
  • What does holding that view say about you?
  • Is that who you want to be?

Pick some opinions you hold and give them a good brush down to check if their for keeps or for the bin.

Activity 3 – Go on Go on Go on (best said in an Irish accent)

We are, mostly, creatures of habit.

If you know you don’t like getting your feet wet you’re unlikely to take your shoes off and jump in a puddle. The only problem is, when did you last check to see if it’s still true?

When is the last time you actually ran barefoot across the grass in the rain?

Yes, you may be a closet barefoot puddle jumper!

This week, test yourself on some foods, some conversation topics, some shops you don’t normally go into. Maybe even some puddles. (You too may have some frog in you.)

Oh and if you disagree with anything here, please tell me about it. I’m spring cleaning my views of the world too.

Um… I think maybe I need help

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A few days ago I was asked some challenging questions. One of them was this:

What do you do to support yourself during difficult times?

I knew the answer.

Do you?

I know, not because I am somehow emotionally more robust or superior than other people, but because I’ve had practice, LOTS of practice.  My husband and I are currently blinking into the light at the end of the adoption tunnel, where these sorts of questions are the norm rather than the exception. When you get asked often enough, and are expected to know the answer, it focuses the mind.

Although there is no perfect, one size fits all, answer to this question, some answers are definitely more People Voodoo than others. “I don’t do emotions, thanks” doesn’t cut the mustard, nor does, “I just eat chocolate”, “I hide under the duvet” or “I take the next flight out of here”. Not that there is anything wrong with self control, chocolate, a nap or a holiday, but not for every size of problem. None of those are a healthy longer term strategy when the issues are emotionally overwhelming, complex or multiple and others are relying on you.

Life does like to offer up surprises, and not always in the form of a chocolate egg with a toy inside, (note to self about the second reference to chocolate) so it’s good to know if your support mechanisms are robust before the storm strikes.

As today is as good a day as any to mull it over, I thought this week I’d pose 3 questions you could ask yourself about your own needs and support systems.

Question 1: Do you know what your emotional needs are?

If you are lucky, your emotional needs have mostly been met in your life and you’ve not had to give this much thought. Do you know for example if you need regular hugs to feel loved and supported, or time alone, or time together, or to be told you are loved, or to be made cups of tea? If you could only have one of those, what would you prioritise? If you were suddenly forced to choose, could you live without the hug or the being told you are loved?

If you don’t know what you need or you instinctively know but you can’t quite explain it, I recommend the 5 love languages, as a good starting point. This is also great for trying to work out the needs of others you care about so that you can support them.

Question 2: Do you express or suppress emotion?

When emotion strikes, do you go with the emotion or try to contain it? I went to boarding school, where at that time, the solution to homesickness or upset was to be strong and keep busy. It has taken me many years as an adult to break this habit of suppressing emotion by denial and distraction; the pretending I’m fine, working late or cleaning the house rather than just getting angry or upset. Emotions are definitely better out than in and serve a stress relieving purpose (yes, there’s evidence).  20 Things To Say To Your Child Instead Of “Don’t Cry” is a great way to make sure children learn to accept and manage emotions. This article might be aimed at parents but I’ve tested it on adults and it works just as well on us too.

Question 3: Do you put all your eggs in one basket?

Now think about the last 3 emotional challenges you’ve faced (relationship break-up, bereavement, badly delivered feedback, job loss, health issue etc) and how you handled them.

  • How soon if at all did you ask for help to process feelings or thoughts?

If you did ask for help:

  • Who did you ask?
  • How did you make your choice? Did you have choices?
  • If that person wasn’t available suddenly, where would you go?
  • How big would it need to be, or how bad would it need to get before you seek professional help? and then do you know where to look?

It was only a few days ago but I can’t remember exactly what answer I gave to What do you do to support yourself during difficult times? I imagine that acknowledging and expressing feelings rather than letting things build up was in there somewhere. Sharing with others and getting professional advice as early as possible also featured, as did accepting help.

Oh, and chocolate!

 

 

Once upon a story time

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I read an exceptionally powerful story this week that I’d like to recommend.

It’s only a short story, about 4000 words, (that’s 8 pages in Arial 10). It’s deeply sad and still magically beautiful. It’s about community and identity, bullying and loneliness but mostly it’s about personal transformation. You probably know it, at least know of it, because it’s been retold again and again since it was first published in 1843. It’s the story of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen.

I’d not heard or read it in full since I was very young and reading it again now, I was reminded of the ability of a good story to do 4 extraordinary things:

  1. To explain what is right without preaching.
  2. To share complex feelings without elaborate vocabulary.
  3. To highlight and debate difficult subjects without getting too personally involved.
  4. To allow us to re-live memories and dream dreams in the company of those who were never there and might not be coming with us.

I love stories, and there are so many of them to help us navigate life. Sometimes the moral of a story is subtle and deep, sometimes a bit lighter and more direct. Although I personally love the deep and meaningful ones, this one is always on the tip of my tongue.

(Caution: swear warning!!!)

The Lesson of a Bird

Once upon a time, there was a nonconforming sparrow who decided not to fly south for the winter. However, soon the weather turned so cold that he reluctantly started southward. In a short time, ice began to form on his wings and he fell to earth in a barnyard, almost frozen. A cow passed by and crapped on the little sparrow. The sparrow thought it was the end. But then the manure warmed him and defrosted his wings. Warm and happy, able to breathe, he started to sing. Just then a large cat came by and hearing the chirping, investigated the sounds. The cat cleared away the manure, found the chirping sparrow and promptly ate him.

Now, it may seem that there are no lessons here, but there are. In fact, there are three:

1. Everyone who shits on you is not necessarily your enemy.
2. Everyone who gets you out of shit is not necessarily your friend.
3. If you’re warm and happy in a pile of shit, keep your mouth shut.

Source (I’m told but I’m not 100% sure): “The Advantage in Your Disadvantage,” from The Healing Power of Humor, by Allen Klein

It may have 3 lessons but I’ve always loves it for the 2 lessons that aren’t highlighted.

  1. Make sure that wanting to be different is about being yourself without ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ or just hurting yourself if you didn’t need that image (great analogy  though- love that!)
  2. It’s good to question and challenge things, but sometimes things work for a reason, and if you can’t see a better way, then fly south until you do.

So how can we use stories like this to build our People Voodoo muscle?

Option 1 – Read and reflect

When you next read a story, look out for the less overt lessons and messages.

  • How do you react to this story?
  • What does your reaction tell you about yourself and your view of the world?
  • How does that view of yourself and the world affect your behaviour?

Option 2 – Listen and learn

Ask someone who has known you since your were much much younger to tell you a story about when you were small and listen to how they tell it.

  • What does their description tell you about their beliefs and their opinion of the world?
  • What does it tell you about how they feel about you?
  • What does this tell you about yourself that you didn’t know or have forgotten?

These stories can be very revealing and great for some bonding time too.

I rarely make a  request of you but this week I’d love to get some more stories to add to my collection so please share if you have a favourite.

 

The 3 step progress review

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Last Thursday I was standing in the rain with someone who was smoking his first cigarette of the week, angry with himself for giving in rather than giving up. I stopped smoking more than 10 years ago and can still remember the effort involved.

Even though I’m no addiction expert, when someone asks me how I gave up, I like to think I can help. This was one of those days and I gave my advice confidently and without hesitation.

Removing the smoking reference the advice sounded a bit like this.

‘Don’t beat yourself up. It’s just a bad day. It’s so easy to beat yourself up and tell yourself you’ve failed because of a blip. Acknowledge the blip and keep going. Focus on the progress.’

He thanked me, I wished him success and we both moved on with our day. An hour later, that conversation was still playing on my mind, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

Today someone gave me exactly the same advice.

I may have been kind to myself when I gave up smoking, making allowances for bad days and cutting myself some slack occasionally, but I’m clearly less generous with myself in other areas of my life. I’m also frequently less generous with myself than I am with those around me.

Hands up anyone who could do with taking their own advice a bit more often!

As a coach I believe in goal setting. I see the value in visualizing success and aiming high, but I also question the rigid approach that is often applied to the process. question-1713304_1920

The path to success is often presented in neat steps, a bit like this staircase, where you gradually and systematically work your way to the top. In reality it’s nowhere near as tidy. There are blips; we trip up, slow down or stop and sit to catch our breath. There are days when it feels too far or too high or we just don’t want to take another step!

The staircase also assumes ostrich-571457_1280we can see what is ahead when that is rarely the case. No matter how carefully you try to plan it all out, there will always be surprises. At times you catch yourself nervously peering over the edge hoping nothing will poke you in the eye.

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Whether you are giving up smoking, have career aspirations or sporting dreams, it’s important to acknowledge that no matter how well you plan, it’ll always be more like a hilly landscape than a perfect staircase. Dips are part of the journey; they don’t mean you are going backwards, they are just bumps in the road.

This week take these 3 simple ‘and kinder’ steps to review your progress in any area of your life where you are prone to beating yourself up a little.

Step 1 – Look back at where you started

Go as far back as you need to in order to see progress, to see how far you’ve come. If you struggle to see any progress and you’ve been putting a lot of effort in, then ask someone who was there when you started to help you with this. They often see what we don’t.

Step 2 – Acknowledge the progress

If you have moved 2 steps along a 20 step path then celebrate the 2 steps. You’re on the right path! That’s 2 steps further than you were when you started. It’s a positive trend and you are on the right track even if there are another 18 to go. Pat yourself on the back! (Get help with this if you are less flexible!)

Step 3 – Keep going

Now that you can see things are going the right way it’s easier to motivate yourself to keep going. So do it, keep going!

Oh, and the next time you find yourself standing in the rain, telling someone who is struggling with something not to beat themselves up, just remember that sometimes the best advice you can get is the advice you give to others.