Mindfulness

My rainbow friend

This morning, as we blew away the cobwebs with our permitted daily trip out of the house, my youngest said to me. “Our colourful friend isn’t here today.” Curious, i asked who our colourful friend was. “The rainbow,” he said, as if it was obvious.

And so it should have been. Like the hazy warmth of the sun on our backs, rain glistening on wellies and racing down windows, the cool kiss of a snowflake, and the dancing twirls of wind; tossing, turning – strong hands ruffling the hair of a young planet.

The rainbow, it’s burst of colour a beautiful celebration of science and nature alike. Present yet fleeting. Reaching out yet unreachable. Always starting yet never ending. Symbolic yet personal.

What if it were a distant yet consistent friend?

Mindfulness, Solution Focused Therapy

Defining ourselves in a pandemic

Living in a pandemic can become all-consuming. So much so that we can start to lose our sense of self. Our days become punctuated by news briefings, our conversations are dominated by a swirling mass of assertions, predictions, disputes and commentary, spinning around the abuse of an uncertain future. R numbers, death tolls, new cases. We study these numbers for clues as to what happens next. It’s all very…defining.

We are defined by our level of risk, our postcode, our age, our medical history, our experience of tragedy, our role in lessening the pandemic, or managing its many consequences. We are defined by what we have lost or given up. The helpers and the helped.

And yet, even as we find ourselves gathered into categories as we attempt to organise ourselves out of a growing hole, there is still choice. We can choose how to respond. We can choose to search for what we can feel grateful for, and what we can find meaning in.

Perhaps it’s a greater sense of community we feel with our colleagues and neighbours. Perhaps it’s an appreciation for what we still have. Perhaps it’s a realisation of an inner strength we never realised we had.

Within our choice lies a solution focused opportunity to define ourselves by our gratitude and purpose. Our resources and our strengths on which challenge and adversity has shine a light.

So how have you managed? How have you coped?

Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

The power of choice

As the majority of the UK picks its way through yet another lockdown, shuffling past a Christmas that many would rather forget, the wise words of psychologist, best-selling author and Holocaust survivor Dr Edith Eger may offer some solace against the stubborn backdrop of uncertainty.

“The most damaging prison is in our mind, and the key is in our pocket.”

In her #1 New York Times bestselling book “The Choice”, and “The Gift” Eger recounts her journey from imprisonment at Auschwitz to liberation and then on towards her own mental freedom. In spite of the horror she and millions of others suffered, Edith nonetheless describes our minds as our biggest prisons, to which we already hold the key. It is liberation from our own negative, self-destructive incapacitating thoughts that brings us true freedom:

“When we escape our mental prisons, we not only become free from what has held us back, but free to exercise our own free will.”

We have the power of choice, and we can choose freedom, writes Eger. We can choose how we look upon what has happened to us. We can choose how we will respond. 

We can focus on the usefulness of our experiences. How have they been helpful to us? How have they nourished us? In the solution focused approach, we encourage our clients to focus on the nuggets of usefulness from their everyday experiences, with questions such as ‘What’s been better?’

And, writes Eger, if there is no such usefulness to be found when we look out, we can look within. In the solution focused approach, we encourage our clients to do so with questions such as ‘Given what you have been through, how have you manage to cope?’ ‘What strengths have you drawn on to keep going?’

As Eger points out, “It’s not what happens to us that matters most, it’s what we do with our experiences.”

When we are deep, deep down; our neurochemistry flatlined, the top – where all the mental freedom and inner peace hangs out – can seem a long way up. 

Likewise, when we are flying so high, so fast, too fast to think; too busy to check-in with ourselves – cortisol and adrenalin fuelling our way forward and blocking out everything (and everyone) else – inner peace and mental freedom might as well reside on another planet.

And yet, there is always choice. We can choose to look up, to stop, to breathe, to make a cup of tea, to practice gratitude, and to remember how strong we really are.

Eger, E. (2018). The Choice. Penguin Books

Eger, E. (2020). The Gift. Penguin Books

Mindfulness, Solution Focused Therapy

Seeking hope

Many of us in the UK are buckling in for a second lockdown, as the government attempts to bring soaring COVID-19 statistics back under a semblance of control.

It feels in many ways like a step backwards. A failure of sorts. A return to something we, as a community, were pretty happy to see the back of. Overwhelmed hospitals, social isolation, business shutdowns, furloughs, separation from family and friends. Uncertainty, loneliness, struggle, grief. Topped up with the grim reality that this is probably not the last COVID-19 peak. Probably not the last wave of furloughs. Probably not the last lockdown.

Against such a hopeless back drop, adopting a solution focused approach can offer some solace. In Solution Focused Brief Therapy, when we ask our clients “What are your best hopes from our talking together?” at the beginning of our first session together, we are presupposing that they have hope. No-one is without hope.

According to Snyder’s Hope theory (2002), hope is a state. We can do things to increase hope. We can do things to diminish hope. But we are never entirely without hope. 

We are never hopeless. 

Perhaps, at this challenging time, if we view ourselves, our family, our community, our society, through solution focused spectacles, we might start to notice the pockets of hope. Glowing embers of community, togetherness,  effort, empathy, creativity and growth. 

Snyder, C. R. (2002). Hope theory: Rainbows in the mindPsychological inquiry, 13(4), 249-275.

Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

Ending and beginning

This month has been one of endings and beginnings for me. I achieved my qualification in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy with Clifton Hypnotherapy Practice Training, having gathered the most awesome group of friends I could have hoped for. Set against the backdrop of coronavirus and uncertainty, CPHT gifted me a year of learning and growing together – supporting each other to help others. From that nest of support, Choice Therapies was born, and it continues to grow into a nurturing community for practitioners from all walks as therapy, as they learn and grow and strive to do their best by their clients.

This month I also had a big push on my Masters thesis, exploring the use of Solution Focused Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain conditions. For a few weeks I was wholly submerged in data analysis and write-ups, and thanks to the incredible support of my supervisor, not to mention my family, I’m returning to the surface, as a finalised report takes shape.

And yesterday, I waved goodbye (over Zoom) to a lovely bunch of solution focused practitioners from across the globe who I had learned so much with and from over the last four months, on the Intensive Solution Focused Brief Therapy course with BRIEF International. Discussing the intricacies of this transformative approach with the solution focused greats, Adam Forever, Chris Iveson, Elliott Connie, and Evan George, was an absolute joy, and has shaped how I work with clients for the better.

So here I am, winding down, taking a moment, taking a breath. Looking back down the mountain to admire the view. These moments are important. We take stock, we process, we gain perspective on where we are right now, in this moment, and nudge the tiller if needs be to help us along the path ahead.

There’s so much to look forwards to; collaborations, projects, research, learning. Choice Therapies continues to grow into a wonderful community. My own practice continues to allow me the opportunity and privilege of watching my clients grow in strength and confidence, finding ways to manage their challenges that work for them. Many of the ventures I am fortunate to be a part of, are in their infancy. The future is full and exciting.

But for now, in this moment, I am pressing pause. Reconnecting, celebrating, and feeling grateful.

Mindfulness

How does labelling emotions help?

“If we can name it we can tame it,” says Marc Brackett, Research psychologist and Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, in his inspiring book, Permission to Feel.

By giving words to our feelings, we start to possess their power. And yet, while there are over 200 words related to emotions in the English language, we only use about 7 of these on a regular basis to describe our inside selves. This meagre diet of emotional vocabulary is woefully inadequate to express, and therefore process our thoughts, worries and fears.

Labelling our emotions is an essential part of moving them from our emotional brain to our intellectual brain. When they are confined to our emotional brain, our feelings can be intimidating. Scary. Overwhelming. Beyond our reach. We know we feel rubbish but can’t articulate why, to ourselves or to anyone else. This isolates us from support because we don’t have the words to reach out. We may not even have the words to understand we need to reach out.

We have a responsibility, to ourselves and to our children, to label feelings accurately, to develop our emotional language in order to protect ourselves from this emotional bottleneck.

Words are there, and they are ours to use; to be curious, to explore, to investigate, to express exactly how we are feeling. Only then can we release, connect and write our own stories.

Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to feel. Unlocking the power of our emotions to help ourselves and our kids, and our society thrive. Celadon Books

Mindfulness

The school run

Every school morning we walk this way to school.

The pressure builds in our home as we rush around getting ready to leave the house.

Tempers start to fray, voices rise, jaws clench, until finally we tumble out into the fresh air.

And breathe.

This walk to school is our sanity saver. We slow down, we breathe, we process, we connect. We smell the rain, we feel the cool breeze, we hear the rumble of morning traffic.

We find calm in the rhythm of our footsteps.

How do you find your calm?

Mindfulness, Solution Focused Therapy

Snacking: how can we resist the urge?

It’s mid-afternoon. Working from home. Five meetings deep. Battling the post-lunch slump. Stifling yawns. Back aching. Attention slipping. The fridge beckons.

Once you become aware of your desire to get up and head to the fridge, your brain has already invested millions of neural connections into the decision to do so.

You now have 0.2 seconds to work with, from the moment you became consciously aware of being about to head to the fridge for a snack, to the moment you start to stand. This 0.2 second interval is long enough, with practice to notice the urge, and intervene.

And notice we must, as it requires ALOT more cognitive effort to stop ourselves from polishing off a tub of humous/a bag of Pom Bears/anything with chocolate in it, once we have already started the process of doing so.

We can’t control all of the neural signals sent out by our brains before we become aware of what’s going on. In any one moment a mind boggling 40,000 neural impulses are firing in between our ears, the vast majority of which we will remain blissfully unaware about. BUT.. we do have the power to consciously ‘veto’ urges that are sent to our awareness from the other 95% of our brain. We can choose whether or not to act on our impulses.

As Dr Jeffrey M Schwartz explains, us humans may not have much free will but we do have free won’t. Maximising the potential of these precious 0.2 seconds, to gain greater control over our urges, starts with awareness.

Once we can discern the small time scales that make up the process of each impulsive action, we can start to notice urges as they arise, and as they unfold. Author of Your Brain at Work, David Rock, describes this process as ‘Brain – signal – desire – movement’. Once we become aware of our desire we have a small window to inhibit our movement.

Holding on to this idea of how we might inhibit an urge takes up valuable space in our prefrontal cortex, an energy-hungry, space-limited resource. The limitations of our prefrontal cortex are never more apparent than when we are tired. When our intellectual brain is running on empty, and we are pouring vast swathes of our cognitive capacity into staying awake, there is little space left to notice, let alone stop the urge to snack.

Herein lies the importance of words. Language, as David Rock puts it,supercharges our ‘veto’ power. If we have the words to describe a pattern of thinking we will be much more likely to notice it.

Building our language around what on Earth is going on inside our brains, brings this once- mysterious processes into our conscious awareness where we have more control over how we manage them.

A key focus on Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is building this language to strengthen the network of connections between our intellectual conscious minds and our emotional subconscious minds. We learn that the process exists. We colour our understanding with language – words that bring the process into our conscious awareness. Then we draw on this understanding when we need to, achieving greater control over our urges when they strike.

So at 3pm on a Tuesday, when the fridge sounds it’s familiar calling hum and the cupboards subconsciously serenade us towards the snacks, we know that we have a 0.2 second slither of time. A gift of 0.2 seconds in which we can express our ‘free won’t and choose to refuse.

Rock, D. (2009). Your Brain at Work. New York: Harper Collins

Mindfulness, Uncategorized

Back to school – What have we gained? What have we lost?

Standing at the school gate (behind the freshly painted yellow line) I watched yesterday as my children skipped off towards their classrooms without looking back.

Seeing their school bags bob out of sight, ushered by smiling teachers, marked the end of 6 months of lockdown. Parents were shuffled out through the new one-way system, blinking in bewilderment as we stepped out onto the pavement. Everything was so strange and yet so familiar; we seemed to slip back into the routine so easily that in some surreal sense it felt as though lockdown hadn’t happened.

Standing in the drizzle, I was, for the first time in half a year, free. Free from what had begun to feel like an inescapable, chaotic dance of multitasking, entertaining, cooking, tidying and refereeing, Now I had the chance to look back down the mountain we had climbed.

Our little nuclear family experienced no tragic personal losses from COVID-19, beyond those we witnessed in the news, which we followed helplessly, until the numbers and the politics became too confusing. Our three boys are young. They hadn’t missed out on any milestones or rights of passage. In many ways they adapted into lockdown with as much ease as they adapted back out of it. Just like that.

Lockdown had its upsides. Our children bonded and their bonds grew stronger. They played together for hours. In the absence of schoolwork they had to do, they began to lead their own learning; crafting, drawing, painting, reading, writing stories. They explored every inch of the garden. They spent more time than ever before with their dad, who was working from home. They built genuine friendships with their grandparents. As parents we realised the strength of our support network.

But there were losses of a different kind and with these came consequences for the whole family. We lost routine and a stabilising structure to our day. We began enthusiastically enough, the children and us, following a timetable, keeping up with a ‘school day’ of sorts, juggling working from home with homeschooling reasonably well. The grandparents joined in with zoom lessons and virtual story time. But as the weeks went on, the novelty wore off. Enthusiasm waned. Bedtimes got later, school days got shorter. Keeping homeschooling varied and interesting for three different ages was a challenge. Fighting was relentless and inevitable. The children learnt about Netflix and how to use the remote control. Their methods of mischief became extraordinarily creative.

As parents we lost time. Time to invest in our own projects so that we could feel personally fulfilled and able to give more of ourselves. Time to invest in our own self care so that we could do a better job of caring for others. Time to focus on one thing at a time, whether it was work, a phone call, or admin task so that we could give others our full, unwavering attention.

As parents we also lost space. Amidst the unbroken noise of three boys, we lost space to think. Space to get out and go. Space to calm down. Space to have an uninterrupted conversation. We literally lost space to sit, as the couch became a fortress.

We tried to solve these losses ourselves, but ended up simply moving the loss from one place to another, like a sliding puzzle.

We took on new projects to mark our personal space. In turn we lost time to invest in caring for each other and for ourselves, and we lost patience with our children as we piled yet more on to our multi-tasking list.

We stayed up late to gain back some child-free time with each other and time for ourselves. In turn we lost sleep, and we lost both time and space the following day as we limped groggily through the day with tired brains.

And now, looking back down the lockdown mountain we have climbed with its steep slopes and craggy crevices, we have time and space to process the last 6 months.

I have time and space to ask myself – How much did our lost space and time as parents impact our family through lockdown? Could I have done things differently? What could I have done better? Will my family be ok? These questions are likely to lead me to negatively introspect about the past and negatively forecast the future, creating worry and anxiety.

We have waited a long time for this time and space. Too long to fill it with self criticism and doubt. So I’m going to fill it with gratitude. Gratitude is an immensely powerful tool we can use to situate ourselves firmly in the present. Consciously considering what we are grateful for connects us with the people around us, and with the present moment itself. So,,.

I am grateful for family.

I am grateful for friends.

I am grateful for home.

I am grateful for passion.

I am grateful for hope.

What are you grateful for?

Mindfulness

Fighting perfectionism


I remember when I was at college, perfectionism was actively encouraged. Being perfect we rewarded. The term perfectionist was widely regarded as a compliment. 

We were told to say at job interviews that perfectionism was our one ‘weakness’, being as it was, after all, a strength…😳

Perfectionism is so destructive. It destroys our confidence, it destroys our self worth. It destroys our relationships. It destroys our joy for life. 

These days, perfectionism has lost its charm – it has been outed by many, as everything from “the enemy of creation” (John Updike) to “a slow death” (Hugh Prather).

The campaign against perfectionism is so important. For students cramming all night for those last few top marks. For workers losing evenings and weekends to make those last few changes to a project. For parents drowning in parenting advice and desperate to give their child the perfect start in life. 

Debunking the perfectionism myth is important for everyone. 

So here is my contribution. It has all been said before, and I am saying it again:

Nobody is perfect.
Nothing is perfect.
Perfection is an unattainable goal
Imperfections make the world beautiful.
Strive for excellence.
Strive for progress.
Accept good enough.

Yours faithfully,

A recovering perfectionist.