what would it feel like to drink again?

Had a major drinking dream last night. It came out of nowhere and was one of those ones that feel totally real, even to the point where I was writing to you guys admitting I had done it and reading the kind messages from people telling me to start over, and others from very upset and vulnerable people who were devastated I had let them down and started drinking again themselves.

 

All I did was pick up a glass of wine and drink it at a party, as simple as that. I picked the glass up and downed it like it was normal. Then had another. The feeling of ‘this is so easy to do’ was terrifying.

 

The feeling after the picking up of the two glasses of red of utter relentless disappointment in myself and the message I had sent to others by starting to drink after all this time was like a thousand cuts.

 

Then the relief on waking and of realising it wasn’t true hit the other end of the joy scale. I don’t know why these dreams happen, but I am guessing it is simply my brain reassuring me that if I restarted, the feelings would be unbearable, so don’t go there.

no drinking

What do you do with your evil twin?

swan

Hi, wanted to share with you some interesting thoughts about our ‘evil twin’ sent to me by my NLP coach:

Hi {Binki}
Have you ever had the privilege of baby sitting? Not something I do regularly but, the times I have, I am often amazed at the range of emotions a toddler can display in just a matter of moments.

Sure, a toddler or baby wouldn’t be classifying their experience in that way, and that my friend is, a real, if not the real skill! They have no concept of what we as adults categorise as an emotion, never mind the labels … think about it!

Adults all too often seem to forget this natural ability, to be able to experience a full range of emotions. As adults we often become accustomed to a less complete range (related to the concept of small ego, should not’s and should’s) and as one consequence, can experience what I will call emotional constipation. I think the term is very appropriate!

As a therapist, change professional or coach, there is often both a tendency to focus on our client feeling good at the end of a session and their outcome focus as some kind of completion. Both of these in my opinion have the potential to distract from the real generative process of change.

Joseph Campbell is very famous, among other things, for the phrase “follow your bliss”. There is another form of this and it is “follow your wound”. I first heard this wonderful statement from Bill O’Hanlon. The real skill here is using either your wound or your bliss to make a genuine and heart felt difference in the world and certainly your own well being.

This to me, means integrating and accepting pain, pleasure and your evil twin, Skippy! Who has a great deal of energy to offer you. If you will welcome them in.

There is a real power to be gained and it’s about acknowledging and welcoming, yes, welcoming your wound, or the parts of you that are pulling against the small ego. There are ways to many therapies and change processes that concentrate on the so called positive. So, what about acknowledging ALL your feelings be the bliss or piss? Welcoming your demons and angels.

Nietzsche said “Beware lest in casting out your demons you cast out the best thing that is in you”. Joseph Campbell said that “So many psycho-analised patients are like filleted fish” – The best part ( the guts ) is missing … Think about it and perhaps you can harness and integrate an incredibly powerful part of yourself.

Here is a little experiment for you to explore and internalise.

Let’s say you have a negative experience, like emotional pain, hurt, guilt, anger, rage, animosity etc … all of these are somatic and are within your body, the feeling is not a concept, it is a feeling!

First, acknowledge your own feelings (anything else will surely lead to a kind of dis association that is IMO ultimately unhelpful). That is feel it and then … welcome the physical sensation. Notice where you feel this sensation.

Notice I am already re-framing a labelled emotional response to a physical feeling.

Then concentrate on the sensation, notice if the sensation is moving or still, and BREATH and then BREATH in and out through the sensation. Welcoming this physical sensation. This is not a 30 second exercise.

What I want you to do is imagine you are breathing in through the place in your body your are experiencing the sensation. And keep breathing, in and out, through this place (or places) and notice consciously if the sensation is static or dynamic, if the sensation is changing or staying the same.

Do this until the sensation passes or until it is really, very different. Concentrate on the sensation and NOT on your descriptions of the sensation (anger, sadness, jubilation, sickness), this is way to conscious mind stuff. The whole aim here is to be mindful of your body sensations and not your conscious mind description of the emotion.

If the sensation moves to some new emotion (well a sensation really) repeat the process. This really is a very deep meditation and is intended to re-orientate us to a skill we all had access to as children. After all there are no pre-verbal babies or toddlers I know of who are sad, angry, depressed, happy, pissed off, expectant, disappointed, worried, anxious or you name it.

In fact, the naming process of emotions was ‘inflicted’ on all of us by someone else, our parents or care givers who were very well meaning. Time to re-write our own feeling interpretation systems?

 

Going over the basics

Thank you to another wonderful swan member for the following post.

I had a really great meditation session yesterday, I was the only one there, fate I think as it was what I really needed. I talked about how I’ve been feeling this week and she suggested going over the basics again, we practiced a simple meditation that I can do anywhere and she also suggested I wrote a check list for myself…so here it is.

1. Stop, breathe, calm yourself.

2. What is going on in my body right now? Where is the tension? What am I feeling right now.

3. Where did these feelings come from, am I aware of what caused them.

4. Challenge the thoughts gently, do not fight them. Feelings and thoughts can’t hurt me.

5. Stay in the present…not worry about what might happen, focus on some small manageable tasks.

6. Ideas for distraction and coping:

Meditate
Note 3 or 300 things I am grateful for
Eat chocolate
Light incense
Take a bath
Talk to someone
Light some candles
Take the dog for a walk
Hoover
Put some music on

7. Don’t be scared of yourself. Be confident that you have the ability to know what is right for you.

8. Remember the end goal! Freedom!

It felt good to just spend time writing this out and I’ve put it in the back of my diary so I can look at it when I need too. My aim this week is to stay in the present moment…there is absolutely no point worrying about what ifs.

seeing the wood for the trees

love

Few people who get into a habit of drinking to excess long term do so for the fun of it, or at least this is something I find when talking to people about the reasons why they drink or drank.  Mostly it was/is to blot out some kind of issue in their lives.  Drinking often starts out as fun/social then becomes a crutch as people get older.

Often having a ‘drink problem’ becomes the focus of the person’s life and they forget, or are not able to identify, what brought on the ‘drink problem’ in the first place.  All they can think of is the fact they are drinking, and the need to stop.  This thought process ‘I must stop drinking’ only ever acts as a superficial address of the real issues, and the original reason(s) for drinking can stay unresolved. The risk of going back to the drinking behaviour is still a factor. What I am trying to say is that often the drinking isn’t the original problem – it is the reasons behind the dependency that need to be tackled if any of us stand any chance of staying sober.

One way to tackle underlying reasons for drinking in my personal experience is to relentlessly focus on the competencies I do have, especially where some of the reasons I originally drank for cannot be changed any time soon (not at least, for now). Where am I doing good in my own life and in others? To think about what I CAN do and what I AM good at makes me stronger.  The smallest of things that work well in my life can be a great comfort when I feel the negatives crowding in.

Sometimes the problems we have in our lives, and we all have them, can seem insurmountable. It is not easy to notice or realise parts of our life where we are competent and doing good because our focus is our problems.  A tight focus on the negative can have a tendency to obscure and minimise everything else that is available to us in terms of feelings, thoughts, past and current experience.

There is a saying that:

‘the best way to hide a tree is to put it in a forest.’

Even the smallest competency can be seen as a basis for changing the apparently insurmountable and if we can realise this by ourselves, then we can and do have the capacity to make beneficial changes.

You may like to consider, like me, exploring that when you may be stuck or constantly recycling the content and meaning of your problems, your experience and perceptions are often confined within quite a tight frame or container.  What methods are available to reconnect to your competencies? In other words, seeing the tree in the forest.

Therapists and coaches often work with a client to ‘out frame’ a problem context and discover or more correctly uncover useful processes within a much larger frame. To facilitate the client developing a strategy enabling them to look at the ‘bigger picture’ or to ‘explore the territory, not just the map’.

They may encourage a client to explore ways to store a treasure trove of processes as resources to deal with perceived problem situations. So when X happens (again!) then I know if I do Y or even Z, I can deal with it.  I can recognise what is happening and bring forward the strategy which successfully worked before to deal with that thing, and use it again.  In terms of dealing with a craving for example, putting particular distraction techniques on repeat, because you know they resolved the cravings successfully in the past.

The had enough feeling

Hello hope you’re fit and well. I finally reached the had enough point with my seesawing weight and mood swings yesterday. It felt very much like the had enough point I reached with drinking, where I just got so fed up with my own behaviour around alcohol that something just flipped.

 

Quite a relief to get to that similar way of thinking about my enduring muffin and muffin attitude,constantly setting myself goals and not reaching them,constantly making fresh decisions and not sticking with them,constantly feeling I was letting myself down. I wrote down endless plans and then promptly ignored them. The only thing that has kept me relentlessly working on my thought processes is the faint hope that I have not completely given up on my health and wellbeing and have something very important to do which never quite goes away.

 

So I got really peed off and the switch just went over on to ‘on’. I realise the regime of quitting dairy, sugar and gluten for a period (not permanent) is really not ideal for a lot of people, but for me reading about the effect these substances may be having on my health has given me a kick really. So yesterday I tried it (just for a day, thinking, like with alcohol) and this morning I feel so very different already. I also take on board the advice about scales and chucking them out, very sensible I know, but personally I need the scales as accountability, and when I weighed myself this morning I was amazed at the results even just after a day.

 

The fact that I had such dramatic side effects and super hard cravings yesterday with not having those three things tells me there is maybe an issue there. Talking to others about food intolerances/sensitivities also suggests to me there may be something in it. So will be persevering and if I carry on feeling like this after just a day I will be a happy bunny. Not recommending this as an answer by the way, I know you know that, but for me it is a journey I am going to try, since nothing else has worked and the had enough feeling is strong right now xxx

 ps, I saw this advertised by Future Learn, a brilliant free online distnace learning platform. Idid their Drugs and Addiction course and it was incredibly informative, so looking forward to this programme too.

Demystify the complex and conflicting messages we hear about diet, health and lifestyle today, with this free online course.
futurelearn.com|By FutureLearn

Mindfulness and the Art of Managing Anger

mike-fisher-main-resized

Mindfulness is a term that has gained increasing awareness in the minds of people in recent years. It’s to do with dropping into yourself, becoming aware, finding a healthy balance between doing and being, becoming fully attentive to the present moment. Engaging fully in what ‘is’ (right now) rather than what ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to be. 
In the context of anger, allowing yourself to feel angry without reacting in any way, remaining open-hearted and empathetic – even though you want to strangle someone!

 Balance Through Mindfulness

By the time people embark on an anger management programme, their lives are so out of balance that anger is simply a manifestation of their state. In order to find balance we need to become mindful and through becoming mindful we create balance. We cannot have one without the other.

I have been holding anger management classes at the British Association of Anger Management (baam) for 15 years, and when I attended a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (mbsr) course in 2006, I discovered I was aligned to the practice and advocating its use to anger sufferers without even realizing it. In my workshops, I was already teaching skills in awareness – the key element of mindful anger management.

Finding the Middle Ground

The basic premise of mindfulness that I teach is to help people who suffer from anger to learn how to delay gratification and tolerate sitting in the discomfort of their feelings – especially anger! When eventually they’re able to do that, they experience a new freedom – the freedom of finding the middle ground. Instead of exploding, they can contain their impulses and express themselves cleanly; or they can find a way to be assertive rather than bottling up and imploding. It is by understanding how our mind works that we can control our anger, and mindfulness is the key.

My Path to Anger Management

I came to this work through my own struggle with one of my biggest issues in life – I could not tolerate conflict and arguments. Today this would be termed ‘conflict avoidant’. Despite my training as a counsellor I had no idea how to deal with conflict, anger or any other form of resolving disputes.

I began to realize that being angry and yet conflict avoidant was an effective way to avoid dealing with the depression I was suffering from. For years I didn’t even realize I was depressed. I had no benchmark or yardstick for determining whether I was depressed or not – I just seemed to be in a perpetual state of confusion, felt isolated, misunderstood, alone and often overwhelmed. Finally, Fritz Perls’ definition of depression being ‘anger turned inwards’ hit home – it struck a chord deep inside me, and I remember thinking that I couldn’t be the only one who felt as furious as I did. There had to be others who felt like me at some point or another. How come people never talked about their feelings of anger? Why were we so disconnected from our anger, considering the challenges we are faced with on a daily basis?

From Avoidance to Expression

It took me years to fully grasp the complexity of how my anger ruled my life. From being the archetypal conflict avoidant and expressing myself passive-aggressively by using provocative comments, or sarcasm, or winding people up, I went to being the full-on, explosive, in-your-face angry man. I won’t deny that I actually loved this new feeling of omnipotence. I had finally found my voice and boy, was I going to make sure everyone heard it. Of course it didn’t work. If anything, it polarized me even more. My inability to self-regulate became my demise. Those who had loved and respected me became afraid of me and started to avoid me. Others just ended up not taking me seriously, which angered me more.

In the end, it was the wise words of my mentor that shifted my perception. He quietly suggested that maybe I needed to experience the two extremes of anger in order to discover where I could stand, and I realized that I did indeed need to live in the centre of these two polarities. I needed to find the balance. I had become so out of control that in order to find this balance I had to experience the full range of expression. To me, that was an incredible revelation and the next big step towards becoming mindful. The fundamental discovery I made was that when I found myself imploding, I needed to navigate towards finding the courage to stand up for myself. When I found myself exploding, I needed to use my mindfulness strategies to contain a potential outburst by reminding myself of the negative consequences. These two polarities became my beacon towards being mindfully vigilant, just in time to pull me back from the brink of emotional and verbal violence.

Opening to Stillness & Solitude

Stillness is anathema to our Western civilization. We live in a world whereby the more activity we’re involved in, the more hip and cool we look and feel. However, the truth is more likely to be that no matter how much we do or are involved in, it will not change the way we perceive ourselves. We simply pay a massive price for our busyness, which is evident in how stressed we are, how exhausted, fatigued and – in more extreme cases – ill. Opening to stillness and solitude is a step towards overcoming this undesirable state.

The Challenge of Relaxing

I remember doing an assessment with a very angry young woman, and I asked her if she ever relaxed. She felt she did, and her partner nodded in agreement; but when I asked if that included switching off her brain, she seemed confused and perplexed as to why she would want to do that. I believe this reflects most people’s understanding of relaxing – it’s about being physically inactive. However, they overlook that while the body is inactive the brain is still racing at a million miles per hour, so they are never truly ‘switched off’.

Almost all the exploders I have ever worked with have absolutely no relationship with relaxation. They are usually highly strung, hot-wired and short-tempered. They get annoyed when you suggest they could chill out, and have zero tolerance for what they see as doing nothing. Obviously there is a correlation between this and their anger.

I completely identify with this position and constantly have to monitor my own urges to steam ahead. This has been one of my biggest hurdles to overcome. A constantly over-active central nervous system meant that slowing down and becoming still was more like an existential death to me than an opportunity to relax. Every time I tried, I judged myself as being too lazy, which then kick-started me straight back 
into ‘doing’ mode.

Mindfulness can allow us to be with the things we fear without being overwhelmed by them. By giving our fears and anxieties our attention, we can shift our relationship with them, rather than compulsively running away.

Meditation as Medicine for the Soul

 The most reliable and immediately accessible way for you to recognize how you are feeling – and therefore in turn make a judgement call on how well equipped you are to manage the day – is to tune in to your body. Being mindful of your energy levels, stresses and strains and general well-being gives you an indication of what you are, or perhaps will not be, capable of facing. All it takes is some time to train your brain and get into the practice of using your body sensations to guide you. Meditation is the ideal tool.

Situations will be ever more mismanaged if you cannot approach them from a place of being resourced and maintaining a certain neutrality. In an ideal world we would all love to be able to maintain that sense of calm and objectivity – but we are not in control of our external environment. We can, however, have a certain measure of control over our internal environment. So, when we find ourselves about to 
fly off the handle we have to bring our awareness to the situation and recognize that we have choices. I’m the first to acknowledge how difficult it is to step back and slow things down when your heart and body are surging with stress hormones and adrenaline.

By learning to manage your neurotic impulses through applying what you learn through mindfulness training and letting the noise settle, you will eventually become increasingly open to stillness and silence. I find it amazing that my whole being now yearns for this, and without it I would find it impossible to remain relaxed and happy. Stillness and silence have become nourishing friends, and solitude a welcome retreat.

Mike Fisher  Mike Fisher is a trained counsellor, facilitator and anger management consultant, and the founder of the British Association of Anger Management (BAAM). He is the author of Mindfulness & the Art of Managing Anger, published by Leaping Hare Press, £8.99.

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Is there a mathematical formula for happiness?

It would be so easy to achieve happiness if we could apply a mathematical formula. Like working out the area of a room in order to lay carpet. Multiply x by y and you end up with z. If only there weren’t so many variables requiring brackets and indices….

 
Yet there does seem to be a pattern or sequence of some kind relating personal happiness with congruence…the more congruent each area of our lives become, the more personal happiness we experience. While I am rubbish at algebra, I cannot help thinking that a better grasp of mathermatical equations would help me achieve the answers I am looking for.

 
A formula for happiness could be surprising yet simply revolutionary when one considers how much many of us put up with in order to ensure the happiness of others and sacrifice our own congruence in the process.

 
I suspect I may not be alone in brushing over areas of my life which are decidedly not congruent and yet I keep going because it is easier to stay unhappy than make major changes in my life. I blame myself for not making things work, not succeeding, when actually I am trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

 
Getting sober throws up a great many conundrums about congruence. In the drinking days it was a lot simpler – one got drunk to cover boredom, fatigue, frustration, disillusionment, took the hangover on the chin and kept going. As a sober person, the areas of my life which were/are not congruent become more obvious and less easy to ignore. No wonder a good many people experience the ‘fuck it’ syndrome and decide conscious awareness is just too painful/inconvenient/disappointing to bear sober.

 
Humans have a tendency to categorise areas of their life, and shun the overlaps, but compartmentalising does sometimes make it easier to identify where changes could be made to improve personal happiness. Some experts suggest:
• Career
• Relationships ( friends, partner, clients )
• Professional Achievements
• Parenthood
• Financial Freedom
• ‘Projects’
There are many more both general and specific categories which might apply to you as an individual, so these are not meant to be directive, instead suggestive.
From my own point of view I am doing a little audit currently and asking myself in each of my personal categories:

 

What do I want in / from ‘CATEGORY?’
What do I need in / from ‘CATEGORY?’
What do I expect in / from ‘CATEGORY?’

I am allowing myself any number of possible answers and considering the results, to see which feel most congruent. Which are wants and which are needs for me and which are to satisfy other people’s expectations, and indeed which may be a combination of both. If you are doing this, try grading your answers on a numerical scale (maths can be handy sometimes).

 
Be aspirational and allow yourself to dream. Where answers about ideal scenarios are above a 7 for example, that is a great place to begin asking some questions…How do I want / need / expect this to happen?

 
Where your scores in your personal categories are very low, you may wish to ask yourself…What is valuable to / for me in having this fairly low score? What personal values are actually being preserved?

 

Asking myself pretty searching and basic questions is really an exercise in unpacking previously undefined needs, wants and expectations. Things that have been buzzing about in my head for years but I have never managed to pin them down, because frankly, asking the questions has been too scary. Upsetting the status quo, no matter how unhappy that status quo makes me, has been a step too far. Yet are insights into wanting, needing and expecting not worth having, in order to achieve greater personal happiness? Might there by new and different ways to do things which could lead to more personal congruence?
What about you?

 

Warmest wishes, Binki

somethings, big and small

I have found a really great way to improve motivation and help me to realise my options is to check in, morning and evening – a little review, if you like. Some people have a routine called ‘morning pages’ where they write or verbalise their plans daily, and this routine can help to inspire and direct. The swan groups on Facebook have morning and evening check ins which are there to help people recognise behaviours which may or may not be helpful to them.

 

For most of us, not everything always goes the way we want or plan it to. There are times when we will think that we could have done better or wish we hadn’t done ‘something’ in a particular way. If I had a pound/dollar for each time I messed up, I would be living in a villa in southern Spain and swimming in my pool while staff looked after my every need…

We could all spend time beating ourselves up and feeling sad about what could have been. It’s a choice. Another way to deal with these ‘somethings’ both big and small are to treat them as learning opportunities. What we learn from our ‘somethings’ can very easily be transformed into something more important.

They can be transformed into new and different behaviours, options and responses that could make a difference in how we take on the world and the effect we have on others. From my own point of view, as part of my recovery journey I went through a stage of wanting everyone to just stop drinking, now, immediately, no compromise, no negotiation, no ifs or buts. My language was often harsh and my comments frequently cutting. I upset people. I still do, but in life there will be people who you upset no matter what you do…you can only try your best. It’s part of the territory when you learn to stop people pleasing and follow your heart’s desire.

 

I still believe drinking is not ok. I will never tell anyone it’s ok to drink the drug alcohol. However I am grateful to have added compassion and patience to my list of must haves – not consistently good at this, but I have learned not to push others when they are not ready to be pushed. I have learned that I have no right to put a time limit on other’s recovery or insist they do things ‘or else’… I have learned that I am not responsible for others’ recovery. I can be there, have infinite time for them, but I am not in charge of how they deal with their stuff. None of us are. We can only direct our own stuff.

You may already have your own review system, where you learn from your ‘somethings’. If not, I would recommend at the start and end of each day you watch your own movie…where you do good and where you would prefer a different option for tomorrow. It might only take a few minutes. Consider the interactions and behaviours you want to improve or change, and maybe rehearse mentally what the new behaviours and interactions feel like. Like I say, I am still learning how to do this, but daily check-ins make a massive difference to how I deal with life and my stuff.

Shedding the past to take on the future

Your past experiences are blinding you

How to take a step back and view the world without bias or judgement

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There’s a lot of articles out there telling you how to be the best person you can be: the most productive, the most creative, the best listener, the smartest self-marketer.

It’s natural.

We all want to be the best we can and will do anything to be that 1 or 2% better than the competition.

We read and experiment and try to learn from the past.

There’s so much time spent worrying about those few extra percent that it blinds us from seeing the potential for bigger change.

So here’s a different idea.

Why not instead of trying to push that extra bit we tear it all down and start from scratch?

Why you should lose it all

I’m a firm believer that most of life’s great lessons can be learned from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club:

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

You may feel like you’re pretty free in your current situation but I think it’s fair to say we’re all a little bit trapped. Trapped not only by the financial and social burdens we put on ourselves, but by the mental walls and biases we unconsciously build up.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes ‘the old South Indian Monkey Trap‘  — a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake with some rice inside that can only be reached through a very small hole. When the monkey grabs the rice his clenched fist won’t fit back through the hole and he’s trapped — not by anything physical, but because he just won’t let go.

In our lives, we’re all guilty of holding onto the rice — whether it’s ideas, emotions or beliefs — even if we know it won’t benefit us. We feel trapped by our experiences when all we have to do is let go.

A more scientific name for this is the Einstellung effect  — the idea that preconceptions and past experiences can blind us, literally, to the point of not being able to see better options.

To prove the extent of the effect Austrian psychologist Merim Bilalic ran a series of experiments where she presented chess masters with boards arranged to offer them two paths to victory: a well-known five-move option, and a more obscure one, requiring only three moves.

Almost every single master went for the more well-known, but ultimately slower route to victory. As Bilalic puts it:

“Even these masters couldn’t see the best way to win because the one they knew so well colonised their mind.”

Experience can blind just as much as illuminate.

The hardest thing about all of this is that it’s almost nearly impossible to see. We create our worldview through our past experiences and hardwire our brains to assume that future events will mirror the past.

In this way our experiences can easily become blinders, blocking us from seeing the endless (and often better) options just out of sight.

So how can we train ourselves to see again?

Forget about your ego

It may be an unlikely place, but Buddhism offers some key insights into how to let go of the ‘self’ or the ego you’ve built up through years of experience.

A core principle of Buddhism is to let go of our desires and attachments to material things and unhealthy relationships (both work and personal). The problem is that we become addicted to these relationships out of fear of the emptiness that will replace them if we push them from our minds.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar” Thich Nhat Hanh

But, like so many great authors have told us, that emptiness isn’t something to be afraid of, but rather an opportunity to face the world with fresh eyes and without the limitations of your past experiences.

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere. So just keep on rolling under the stars.” Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Leo Babuta’s Zen Habits blog offers some great advice on facing the emptiness and how to use it to your advantage. Check out this article on the Empty Container and this one on Letting Go to get you started.

Get rid of your judgments

When we create our unique worldview we fill it full of our likes, dislikes, opinions, morals and ethics and while these are important, they also are a huge part of what blinds us.

The way we unconsciously judge people before meeting them is the easiest way for us to reaffirm who we are instead of opening us up to new ideas. We draw from our past experiences and judge rather than allowing for the randomness and chaos of life.

It’s in this chaos where we become the most creative. As Maria Popova, the founder of BrainPickings.org, says, creativity is the ability to connect the unconnected.

Get rid of your judgements and let yourself be open to random ideas and connections.

Be a beginner again

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” Shunryu Suzuki

The zen principle of ‘Beginner’s mind’ talks about the advantages of experiencing life as a beginner again.

Think about if you’ve ever seen a toddler learn to walk: They stand, wobble and then fall time and time again but continue to get up with determination.

When you’re first learning a new skill you become absorbed in the basics. You experience each moment fully and live in a state of concentration and determination.

Once we become an expert in anything, we lose that ability to see so clearly what we are doing and go into a sort of mental autopilot.

Acting like a beginner means not throwing your experiences away and being naive, but rather looking at them as tools you can use when it’s to your advantage.

“Beginner’s Mind doesn’t mean negating experience; it means keeping an open mind on how to apply our experience to each new circumstance.” Mary Jaksch

Wander

Let your mind wander. Not just for an afternoon or a weekend, but for a week, or a month.

Mind wandering has been shown to not only help us plan for our own future, but also to boost creative problem solving by allowing ideas space to float freely and associate. It’s why so many solutions seem to ‘appear’ out of thin air (think Isaac Newton and the apple tree).

What you might ‘miss out on’ in the meantime will be more than made up for when you experiment and go down a different path.

Reflect on the hard stuff

Reflection is one of the most important tools we have for learning from our past, but it becomes even more powerful when we do it objectively.

Think of yourself as an outsider watching the actions and choices you made in the past. Why did you do that? What made you make the choices you did?

This can also have a powerful impact on our ability to learn new things. A Harvard study recently showed that those who take part in a dual-process of learning and ‘deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing’ improved their score in both lab and real-world experiments by nearly 23% over those who don’t.

Reflect on your biases. Reflect on the things that hurt you and ask why. Don’t just reflect to say you did the right thing. Use reflection as a means to really dig deep and discover what unconsciously causes you to act the way you do.


If there’s one major lesson to take away from this it’s that our past experiences can color how we see the future and blind us from the multitude of opportunities out there.

The weight we give to our past might help us react quickly and make decisions, but it also can trap us into going around and around in the same circle.

Break the cycle. Step back and give yourself a chance to look at things objectively without biases, preconceptions or judgments.

When you stop defining your future by your past you’ll be amazed at what you see.


This post originally appeared on the Crew blog.

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Image credit: Charles S., Made with Unsplash

How do you get into the right mindset for change?

by Binki

If you have ever made a lasting and successful change in your own life or helped someone else to do so, one of the things you will likely have noticed is that the change is created in some kind of altered or more powerful emotional state. We have to drum up big reserves of emotional energy to make the decision, and it can leave us exhausted.
This change in our way of doing things can be a completely new ‘understanding’ of a problem. A profound emotional release or a change induced in an altered state like we have gone into a sort of autopilot, almost. We know what we now have to do and we get on with in in a sort of determined trance. Thinking about it too deeply might give us an excuse to think our way out of the decision, find an excuse, and agree a reason to step down.

 

What are some of the ways in which you create change more easily in your own life and that of the people you care about? What mindset do you adopt to ‘get things done’? The same sort of determination to get a DIY job finished or get the shopping in, etc., can be harnessed for other areas of our lives too, to effect change.

 
One of the simplest and most effective methods to effect change is by creating a powerful and different state by some activity, say juggling for 10 minutes, or running, or meditating, and then introducing elements of the problem you want to change into your mind, so the surmounting of the problem becomes associated with the achievement of the activity you are smoothly continuing. You are adding neural connections which your subconscious associates with another activity – if I complete the activity, I also overcome the craving for a drink, for instance. Some might call it resource addition – when you start a specific activity such as meditating or running, that is your cue to overcome a craving for a drink, for instance. With me, it has been having baths (I had a long bubbly, reflective bath every night for months at to overcome my alcohol cravings). I need to apply similar thinking, attaching certain behaviours to craving management, to my overeating. I have recently introduced knitting and my allotment into the mix.

 

Add new resources (neural networks) to the problem state; a distraction of attention by introducing a specific type of activity when the cravings come, and make a new chemical brain cocktail. A complete new neural network takes some fifteen minutes to grow and solidify, so choose a distraction technique that will last at least that and repeat often.

 

Create and maintain some powerful state; juggling, meditation, breathing patterns, running, whatever you need to do, for ten minutes. Bring the problem and its context fully into the front of your mind and maintain the positive / powerful state for a further ten minutes. The problem state will never be the same again. Try this one at home!

Be more Dave

by Fiona

dave dog

Some thoughts occurred to me whilst out walking with Dave, my beloved hound and bestest recovery buddy, in the pouring rain. I was trudging along, slipping in the mud wrapped up in my usual dog walking garb of several layers,  hat pulled down, scarf pulled up doing that walk we do in driving rain and wind – huddled up, head down, hearing nothing, seeing only my own muddy boots.

 

Not so for Dave.  Dave does not give a flying rat’s arse about the weather. Dave doesn’t  give two barks  which, if any, paths he takes.  Dave doesn’t have his head down. Dave is alert to every sound, sight and scent-  all of which need thorough investigation. Dave misses nothing   – like the two swans looking very tranquil in the fast flowing river – a bit like af,  sometimes it looks so  easy  – well it’s not, there’s oft times when there is a great deal of frantic paddling just to stay afloat let alone move forward.  –  But this is Dave’s blog – always ready to help round up those ducks, ready to play with any other dogs who will put up with him and a few who won’t, immersing himself in everything including the odd ditch.  Dave knows the countryside where we walk better than I do and I’m the one supposed to be taking him for a walk.

 

The river, fields and woods really looked quite beautiful even in the rain – now that I had bothered to look, really properly look.    There was a heron on the opposite bank standing so still I would have missed it but for Dave’s radar.

 

We can miss so much, head down trying so hard reach our af goals. It’s not the destination but the journey for Dave and he takes in everything en route .

 

Dave lives in the moment and every moment is his best.

 

I’m going to try to be more Dave on our next walk, anytime in fact.

 

Walk tall and proud, chin up, deep breaths and really use my senses so as not to miss anything and really live in the moment, enjoy the moment and those moments add up and make days.

 

Try it lovely Swans – just for today – Be More Dave!

 

Woof  xxx

Self-hypnosis can help!

I am learning about self-hypnosis at the moment as part of my fascination with how the power of language affects our behaviour. I have discovered one of the most hypnotic language patterns involves pivot words, sometimes called pattern interrupts.
Pattern interrupts have the purpose of leading someone, anyone, yourself, to somewhere more useful, creating new neural pathways, possibly by confusing or derailing a train of thought you did think you believed, but when you look in more detail, you realise you can change how you think after all.

 

By interrupting a pattern of thought with something different to the predictable outcome, you can jog your subconscious into changing behaviour.
So if you can begin to learn to change your patterns of thought so that you deliberately introduce the unexpected, then it becomes easier to stay on track with your new intentions.
Patterns of words are of course a natural part of language and how we express a thought or feeling can change at the drop of a hat – or should I say at the drop of an expected sentence structure – one which is attractive to you at a subconscious level.

 

Any spoken or written sentences, as you hear or read them, are being processed to make sense at the same time, and our impressions formed even before the sentences have finished. What for example do you see in your mind as you read this sentence to yourself or someone else:

Walking down a road or a pathway, you may see a flower or a tree, which grows from a seed and evolves a life as you walk by…

 

Suggestion in the way you speak to yourself or others is a collection of experiences that can form our impressions. Language generates experiences that are then imbibed by the nervous system and to a large part create our subjective and individual version of reality.

 

So how to use the power of suggestive language to ensure we continue to stay sober, perhaps (or for any other use you choose)?
Here’s a pattern you may choose to use when a craving or self-destructive intention comes along…
Choose a sentences starting and ending in a noun. For example:

 

People do go out at night sober…

 

Then choose to take the last noun and continue the story, as it were:

 

…Sober makes for a great night’s entertainment…

Then continue the pattern, taking the last noun of each sentence to start the next, for example:

 

..Entertainment involves friends and conversation…

 

And so on, so you are effectively leading your subconscious through a series of positive thoughts which are embedded as ‘the truth’. Each of the nouns at the start and end of each sentence are the pivots which lead your brain to an expectation of certain outcomes.

 

As you read the sentence(s) you create in your subconscious a ‘script’ for yourself or others, and you can now believe something in a different way … Making this self-hypnosis technique work for you is all about experiencing something novel, new, weird, and unexpected. Remember the brain LIKES unexpected, weird, and different and is likely to remember it all the more this way.

 
You can then use this technique of pivot words at the start and end of your sentences to offer very helpful and well-meaning suggestions again and again, in all areas of your life…you might consider trying this method of language patterns on others too…it’s about communicating positive intentions. Write your positive intentions down and say them out loud, perhaps record them on your phone…

What do you love about yourself, now you are sober?

Sometimes when people behave in ways that I don’t understand or don’t grasp ideas that I think are obvious because they have a different view of the situation, I have a tendency to catastrophise. Like pretty much every person under the sun, from time to time I experience what people honestly call a ‘problem’ or two with the perspectives of others.

 
Something I find useful in trying not to panic about how a situation will turn out with someone is employing what NLP practitioners call an alternative perspective. It doesn’t necessarily change the problem, but it does change the way I look at it, and the sense of doom that something bad is automatically going to happen starts to recede.

 
I have struggled with anxiety about people and how they behave, and how people perceive how I behave, for most of my life, and sometimes it is simply agonising because I hate confrontation, and yet I have this deeply held belief about fair play which means I cannot walk away.

 
I have found a great deal of inner peace through studying CBT and NLP methods to manage my anxiety. For instance, to adopt the perspective of someone else when dealing with a problem can enable a different point of view which brings relief from anxiety about how things will turn out. If for example, you try to adopt the point of view of a doctor, a religious leader or guru, a psychiatrist, a teacher, an engineer – anyone you like. Then compare their perspective with your own.

 
It’s a very easy and cost effective way to get a second opinion and a third and…!
I find that when trying to understand why someone would behave in a certain way, seeing how they act from the perspective of someone else really helps. To see through the eyes of a teacher, for example, might show me that the person with whom I have an issue really needs educating and hasn’t acted in a selfish or thoughtless manner on purpose. To see through the eyes of a doctor might help me perceive that the person has a series of health issues that might alter the way they interact with the world. To see the person or situation through the eyes of a spiritual leader might help me develop compassion for their situation which may be affecting the way they relate to others.

 
Much of the reason why I drank was about anxiety around other people. I used it to calm anger and frustration, I used it to calm nerves about meeting up. I used it to squash emotions about people who I disliked but had to deal with. I used it to squash my instincts about the motivations of people who appeared to care but had really quite selfish interests. I used it to cover up what I suspected about myself.

 
Getting sober hasn’t just been about learning to deal with people without a chemical prop, it has/is about learning to cope with my feeling about myself and how I feel others perceive me. I am deeply insecure despite the bluster. What I do love about myself now I have got to get to know myself a bit better, sober, is that I am stronger than I knew. That’s quite exciting. I bet you are too. What have you learned to love about yourself? I would love to hear xxx

are you feeling stuck?

How we mentally cope with (or frame) issues in our life, like staying sober for instance, is very much about how we choose to define those issues and the kind of attention we give them. Some common ways to look at the issues around staying sober for instance might include the following. Maybe you have heard people talking about drinking in these ways – I know I am using several of them at the moment in my feeble attempts to deal with dependency on sugar!

 

• Stopping (this behaviour) is a problem for me because…
• I blame X/Y/Z for my difficulty in stopping…
• It’s as if I have no control over my own actions….
• I cannot see the outcome will be worth having
• No one can show me evidence that it is worth doing
• I cannot see a solution to X/Y/Z
• I keep having to start all over again so what’s the point?

 

Some therapists, when dealing with a client who is apparently ‘stuck’ in a certain way of thinking about an issue in their life, may choose to use a technique facilitating an understanding in the client about what type of ‘frame’ or perspective they are applying to their particular situation. That is to say, are they, often without realising it, applying thinking to the situation in which:

 
• they label it as a problem rather than an opportunity?
• they are blaming others?
• they are denying control over their own actions?
• they are not seeing the possible positive outcomes?
• they are expecting others to show them the benefits rather than seeking them out?
• they assume that past performance is ‘always’ an indicator of the future

 

 

It may be that the therapist suggests a series of questions we can ask ourselves to generate movement forward:

 

What is the problem?
Who is to blame?
If the problem was gone, what would it be like?
What then is your outcome?
When you have the outcome, how will you know?
So what are the steps (first step) to your outcome?

 

 

Framing issues around these thinking processes is a method of focusing attention on what is actually going on in our heads – why we cannot move forward. It is a kind of solution based work, rather than concentrating on the problem itself. All questions by their nature will frame an issue to an extent and as such will direct attentions and internal processes. If you feel you cannot move forward with a particular issue, using questioning can make a massive difference to your motivation.

 
So, what are some of the ways, as you think about this, that you can find new and different uses of framing; when you choose to deliberately think about an issue using a different perspective? That is to say, can you choose to frame an issue differently and see if you get a different outcome? In terms of my own sugar bingeing, I am very much about thinking ‘well I’ve never managed it before’ and also not focusing strongly enough on the final outcomes I ‘think’ I really want. I need to reframe how I approach my own issue and see if I improve my motivation. How about you?

stuff the mantras

I am learning a lot about NLP and thinking processes at the moment, and am finding that ‘brain training’ otherwise known as neuro-linguistic programming is capable of having quite a remarkable effect.

People trying to change their own behaviour may know there is great value in repetition of commitment to projects and goals over time. This is about training the mind and body to develop unconscious skills, through practice.

Repeating the same thing over and over can get monotonous however and the brain sometimes starts to automatically discount the ‘nagging voice’. I must, I should, I could, I choose, I need to, I have to…repeating the same phrasing stops working, if they ever worked in the first place. It gets to the point where as soon as you tell your subconscious to do something, it rebels against the instruction even before you’ve finished thinking the thought. A bit like a parent and a naughty child.

I have this thing going on at the moment where as soon as I tell myself I am going to quit eating excess sugar, all I can think of is finding sneaky ways to get lots more of it. I tell myself ridiculous lies to justify my consumption. Likewise, people telling themselves to stay off the drink can find that they start to obsess with the idea, because it has become forbidden fruit. The bliddy human mind. Whatever we tell ourselves we shouldn’t have, we want. So a whole cheesecake becomes for me the ultimate desirable dessert. Yet if I was presented with all the chemicals it is actually made of, in separate test tubes, I wouldn’t stomach it at all.

I have resolved to do something over the next week and if I find it of sufficient value I could of course make it a daily and nightly practice. I’m going to try it with my sugar addiction. Maybe consider trying it?

Questions focus attention and your unconscious will continue to search for more answers long after your conscious mind comes up with one single answer.

Mantras can be very useful, for example repeating “I am sober” over and over again may well add to and create more success.

What if we try going beyond mantras?

I am going to try dropping the positive affirmations which just don’t work for me and use developing questions that may challenge me to change my behaviour permanently and in a comfortable way.

According to NLP theory developing questions sets and directs your conscious attention away from the true intention of the questions. This is very different to mantras/positive affirmations! You ask yourself about your other intentions and motivations rather than focusing on the could/would/should repetition mentioning the very thing you know you need to move on from. It’s a kind of subtle game.

The questions suggested here for example are concerned with gratitude, creating opportunities and increasing perception.

For the next seven days you may like to join me to ask the following questions and where appropriate formulate answers. Ask these questions before sleeping at night and on waking in the morning. You might decide to create your own versions.

• What are three things I am grateful for and appreciate in my life right now?

• How can I create new and different opportunities in my life that will move me forward creating positive difference and continue to support my values?

• How can I be more receptive and open to noticing new and different ways of thinking, perceiving and acting in the world?

Our unconscious once tasked by our conscious mind will faithfully go find answers to these questions. I am treating this as an experiment by taking action and doing this for a week…it will be interesting to see if we notice positive change, whatever our issues?