Voodoo for wellbeing

Why we can all benefit from regular Loving-Kindness meditations.

 

Loving-Kindness Meditation

I’m currently reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living” , which was recommended to me as the best place to begin my mindfulness journey.

I’ve been reading it for months, a few pages at a time, as I gradually integrate mindfulness into my life. My progress is intentionally slow, as I stroll along smelling the flowers and enjoying the scenery, rather than racing to the finish line.

To begin with, I felt a self-imposed pressure to finish the book, but the more time goes by, the more it feels like an integral part of the growth process, and less like an item on the to do list. I no longer feel guilty picking up a novel knowing that I’m not even halfway through Full Catastrophe Living. Instead I’m enjoying making it last.

I’ve noticed that since expanding my mindfulness practice, my overall awareness of self-imposed pressures like this has increased. I hear that little voice in my head more clearly, and question it more quickly. This isn’t what I expected mindfulness to give me, but I’m not complaining!

However, heightened awareness isn’t all about peace, harmony and relaxation, as I discovered when I recently came to the section on Loving-Kindness Meditations.

The Loving-Kindness Mediation, also called a ‘Metta’, is about cultivating unconditional love with wisdom; a softening of the mind and heart to experience friendship, concern and warmth, regardless of whether we think or feel that someone is deserving.

I embarked on this mediation expecting to encounter resistance to wishing good things on those who have hurt me the most, but that wasn’t what happened.

The mediation began with the request that I repeat silently to myself:

May I be well,

May I be happy,

May I be peaceful,

May I be loved.

I stumbled over these phrases, and experienced an incredible rush of sadness and loss, as well as a powerful resistance.

Overwhelmed by the strength of my reaction, I delved into the internet to find out more about the origin of this meditation, and came across this quote:

The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself. If resistance is experienced then it indicates that feelings of unworthiness are present…. there is work to be done.

Buddha Dharma Education Association

It doesn’t matter which phrase I resisted, or why, or which you would find the most challenging, if any. Maybe you’d struggle more with wishing ‘May you be happy’ to someone who has recently hurt you. We all have our own challenges to face. You either acknowledge them or you don’t. I have revisited the Loving-Kindness Mediation many times since that first encounter, and it’s getting easier. Easier, but not easy.

Being kind to those who have hurt us the most can be an uphill struggle, if we even bother to try, but so can being kind to ourselves. The Loving-Kindness Meditation is the perfect companion on this path, when you’re ready to take it.

Here is an example of a guided Loving-Kindness Mediation for you to try at home.

May you be well

May you be happy

May you be peaceful

May you be loved.

I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else.

 

 

 

 

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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

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wish I was as strong as you.

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We all have values, whether we shout about them or quietly live our lives by them. Courage is one of mine. And yet, I’ve always seen courage as more of an ‘aspirational’ value rather than something I am living day to day. Being courageous is like a mountain that I’m climbing; I’m on my way up but there’s still a long way to go. Sound familiar?

Someone recently complimented me on my courage, and not surprisingly it was at a time when I felt vulnerable, weak and fearful. In fact, I felt pretty pathetic. I probably felt about as far from courageous as a lifelong vegan from declaring they want to ‘eat a horse’.

So what does it really mean to be courageous?

Courage:

‘Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty’.

Where venture means;

  • to go somewhere that is unknown, dangerous, etc,
  • to start to do something new or different that usually involves risk, or
  • to do, say, or offer something (such as a guess or an opinion) even though you are not sure about it

http://www.merriam-webster.com

How do you rate your own courage on a scale from 1-10?

Are you a top of the range, superstar, courageous individual – scoring a 10? or do you find yourself thinking that if we all lined up in courageous order you’d be shuffling towards the 1?

Maybe you are more courageous in some situations than others. Which of these, if any, raise your heart rate?

  1. Walking a worn out rope bridge across a 100m sheer drop.
  2. Telling someone you love them.
  3. Trusting someone with your deepest secret.
  4. Going to a party where you don’t know anyone.
  5. Standing up to a bully.
  6. Spending a big sum of money.
  7. Going into hospital for an operation.
  8. Handling a snake or a spider.
  9. Asking someone to give you feedback on your creative work.
  10. Doing something difficult in public.
  11. Facing your past.
  12. Getting into a 2-seater light aircraft with a newly qualified pilot.
  13. Stopping this list at 13.
  14. Learning to drive.
  15. Owning up to a mistake.

Maybe you are better at facing some fears than others? Which is harder?

  1. Starting something or carrying on when things get tough?
  2. Tackling big climbs or deep emotions?
  3. Not knowing what is behind the door or facing a known risk?
  4. Having to go it alone or having to work with other people?
  5. Saying the wrong thing or not being heard?

It is absolutely possible to be courageous in the face of physical danger but not at all courageous when facing our feelings.

Practicing People Voodoo is about being compassionate with yourself and others, but that doesn’t mean not taking any risks and avoiding the unknown; it’s about being kind to yourself when you are afraid and not just when you are strong.

It is important to acknowledge that it is just as courageous to seek out risk and face it as it is to tackle what life throws at you against your will.

And yes, no beating yourself up when you’re not quite there yet but you are at least trying. You know who you are.

As always, here are a few ideas to help you practice People Voodoo in the area of courage.

Be careful with comparisons

It is so easy to say ‘I wish I was a strong as you’ when we see someone doing something we find scary. That person’s deepest fear might be something that comes easily to you. There are some situations that we are innately programmed to fear, but tiger attacks aside, in day to day life, fear is very personal, and what gives you a fight/flight/freeze reaction might be very different to the next person.

Listen for and support acts of courage around you

Next time someone says they wish they had the nerve to do what you do, they are judging themselves as lacking courage. If it’s something that comes easily to you, or you’ve already faced it yourself, then this is your chance to offer support. It may seem terrifying to them, but only because they don’t know how to tackle it. With tactful questions you can get to the root of what they are afraid of and help take some of the fear out of it for them, with either practical or emotional support.

Recognise and reward courage in yourself

It’s easy to say that we should do something every day that scares us. If I faced a really deep fear every day, I’d be emotionally exhausted by Thursday. Life is not a competition to see who can scare themselves the most. BUT when you do consciously face your fears, reward yourself for your success, whether it was telling your boss how you feel or stroking a tarantula.

If this subject is close to your heart, I can also recommend a great book on the subject.

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

Good luck and please do share your success stories.

 

5 questions to ask yourself to get the full benefit of autumn.

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Today is the Autumn Equinox. It’s official, summer is over!

The days will start to get shorter, the nights will get longer, and the bright yellow of sunflowers will be replaced by the more mellow yellow of falling leaves. It’s a turning point, a time of change. Glorious isn’t it?

Growing up, I didn’t think so. To me, autumn was the wet, muddy, decaying mess that connected the summer to the winter. Autumn was when I mourned the carefree, fun-loving summer before being able to enjoy the crisp, soulful and magical coziness of winter. Autumn was something that required resilience and endurance and felt emotionally like wading through treacle.

I was really missing out!

Like many people, I could not see the beauty and magic of autumn because I wasn’t open to the lessons that autumn offers. I couldn’t see that autumn was an important time for me to look after myself and give myself the gift of reflection.

Here are 5 questions for you to reflect on to make sure you are getting the full benefit of autumn.

Question 1 – What do I need to let go of?

The trees are letting go of their leaves. Why are you holding on to stuff?

Never mind spring cleaning, autumn is the time that nature lets ‘stuff’ go, so don’t fight it. If it adds nothing to your life, or worse, drags you down and holds you back, it needs to go. This might mean a clear out of the wardrobe, your client list or just your crazy to do list. Deep down you know what you need to do!

Question 2 – What am I grateful for?

Autumn is the season of thanksgiving. You may not be a farmer giving thanks for the harvest that will sustain you through the winter, but it’s still just as important to be thankful for what you have. Write a list if it helps bring it to life.

And why not pick a day this autumn and make it your thanksgiving day. Use that day to say thank you to those people who have sustained you through the tough patches in the past year and also to yourself for the times you’ve looked after yourself well.

Question 3 – How far have I come?

It’s not until you look back that you see how far you’ve come. Take the time to acknowledge your progress, in any area of your life; career, relationships, family, hobby, education. It all counts.

I make annual photo albums to capture events of the year. When I feel that I am making no progress, I look back at where I was this time a year or even 5 years ago and I’ve always come further than I realised. Find a way that works for you and make time to acknowledge your progress, and celebrate it.

Question 4 – How can I grow?

This might not be the time of growth in the sense of flowers shooting out of the ground, but autumn is still a time of growth; inward growth.

With darkness descending earlier and everyone spending less time outside ‘doing’, you have more time to be inside ‘being’, not just inside the building, but inside yourself.

Autumn gives us time for reflection after the busy spring and summer. Use the time to take stock and set your goals for your inner growth. It’s also a new academic year, so that could include some organised learning.

Question 5 – How can I honour my shadow?

Last but perhaps the most challenging and powerful of the questions is about honouring your shadow. Autumn is all about darker nights, so there is no better time to reflect on darkness in general and in ourselves.

Not sure what that’s about? Look at what annoys you in others. That’s the best place to start.

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

Carl Jung – Founder of analytical psychology

Very (and I really do mean very) simplistically, this is about our ‘dark side’ (yes, like Star Wars but Carl Jung came first!) which we all have in us but are mostly in denial about and/or oblivious to.

I used to get really annoyed with people who over-dramatised things. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised how much of my life has been fueled by drama. Mostly the negative kind. I even went looking for it. When I realised this was happening it was one of those lightbulb moments. Now, when faced with the drama of others, I smile inwardly and rather than judging, I offer to help.

This autumn I invite you to face your dark side and benefit from what you find. It may be dark, but I promise it’s not dangerous.

 

 

 

 

3 ways to avoid empathy slip-ups

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Communicating with people who have a different outlook on or approach to life can be simultaneously challenging and rewarding. We’ve all met people we just gel with and empathise with more easily, and others we find more tricky.

I’ve spent many years helping individuals and groups become more aware of their own style and how it affects and can be adapted to improve their relationships with others. Along the way, I’ve witnessed many situations where the best of intentions led to misunderstandings, slip-ups, bad feelings and fallouts.

Always on the lookout for ways to help people be more empathetic and understand each other better, I was genuinely pleased when social media became flooded with lists of ‘5/10 things you should to know about….’ There’s really nothing better than a bullet point, whistle stop tour through the inner workings of a group of like-minded people to help raise awareness.

I’ve read every list that’s come my way, from ‘Things you should know about people with tattoos’ to ‘Things you should know about mothers that decide not to breast feed’ and there is some pretty useful stuff out there.

Sadly, as with all communication, this list writing can also present a communication ‘banana peel’ to slip up on. Slip-ups I’ve come across have included;

  • writers venting their frustrations at being misunderstood, whilst setting unrealistically high expectations of the people around them, with apparently little intention of adapting their own approach.
  • writers sharing stories of sadness and grief, and whilst asking for greater empathy of their situation, inadvertently or sometimes more directly, suggesting that their pain is somehow superior to the pain of others.

Even if you practise People Voodoo it can be hard to empathise with someone who throws accusations, downplays or belittles your own experiences or expects all the effort to come from you.

And yet, empathy is so incredibly important to good relationships, so here are 3 ways to build your empathy muscle to help avoid empathy slip-ups.

1.Try to separate the behaviour from the intention

Intentions are about who we are, behaviours are about how we are.

Yes, of course how we behave matters, and destructive behaviour needs to be challenged, but before you judge a person entirely on their behaviour, try to see the intention behind it. It is possible that they either don’t have the emotional resources or communication skills to express their intention in a more positive way.  Some well timed, tactfully constructed feedback might be all they need.

2 Be fair with the way you give your empathy

Not everyone shows feelings in the same way, and context and pressure can play havoc with our approach to expressing our feelings.

The person crying the hardest isn’t necessarily the one hurting the most. In fact, someone who has been brought up to look ‘strong’ might intentionally appear emotionless but, shaken up like a can of fizz, they will later explode to release that tension.

With your People Voodoo hat on, try to give your empathy and support equally, regardless of how feelings are expressed. The phrase, ” I can see you are finding this hard” can be appropriate to someone who is shouting or someone in floods of tears.

3.Be prepared to pay for breakages

Emotions are like crystal glasses. If you are going to get them out more than just on special occasions, (and you really should), then you can expect a few breakages along the way. It’s easily done. A scratch here, a chip there.

Be willing to accept your mistakes, apologise and try again, And be bold enough to expect that of others too.

You won’t get it right every time, but don’t let that stop you trying.