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Donegal Revisited

Some of you might remember that last year I was in Donegal, with my husband and our German Shepherd, Annie.  We had an amazing time.  So good, in fact, that we booked the same house for the same week this year.  I couldn’t wait to get back there.  I spent the weeks running up to it day dreaming about all the lovely, long walks we would take, and reminiscing about the bright blue skies we had had.  I found myself buying the same wine we had last year, and planning to hit up the same eateries.  I was essentially trying to recreate what had been a truly fabulous few days.

I should know better.  I should know by now that when you try to recreate an experience it never really works out.  It’s like when you have a great meal in a restaurant, and when you go back the chef is out sick and you end up with cold beans on toast!  I am so familiar with this recreation disappointment that I normally try to avoid encountering it.  However, where Donegal was concerned we decided to take the risk, and I am glad we did.

We loaded up the car, popped the puppy (all 40kgs of her) into the back seat and off we went.  With a stop for a bite of lunch, the drive took about 6 hours.  We arrived in the early evening and got settled in right away.  We sent out for pizza, the same one we’d had last year, naturally, and set about the serious business of relaxing.  Annie was so much more chilled out this time.  Last year she insisted on walking backwards around the place for the first day or two.  There was no moon walking this time and she seemed right at home.

The next day, in much the same fashion as last year, we set out for a long walk along the beach.  The humans hit 10,000 steps with ease, and the dog must have clocked up about 50,000!  She even had a little tussle with another dog at one stage.  When we got back to the house we were all worn out but happy.  It’s amazing the restorative effect the sea air can have on the soul.  That night, however, we noticed that Annie was limping a little.  She had no doubt overdone it, so we resigned ourselves to taking it a little easier.

As it happened, the weather was pretty miserable for the rest of our stay, so were we not anywhere near as active as we had been last year.  Initially I was a bit upset about it.  This wasn’t the plan.  I wanted to whine about how it wasn’t “the same,” but I didn’t.  I decided to re-frame it.  If I spent all my time thinking about what the trip wasn’t, I would be missing out on what it was.  I won’t be getting another break for ages and I didn’t want to waste it, even if it wasn’t going exactly to plan.  Just because it wasn’t the same, didn’t mean it couldn’t be great.  In the end, it turned out to be just what we needed.  A few quiet days away to rest and spend some quality time with our furry baby.

I am sure we all have a tendency to succumb to this way of thinking.  Our plan hasn’t worked out exactly as we wanted it to, so it’s all ruined.  We get so caught up with chasing the fantasy, that we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Sometimes, as Ryan Holiday says in his brilliant book, “The Obstacle is The Way.”

I will give you an example.  My sister and I started recording a Podcast a few weeks back.  My younger brother is acting as producer, editor and general “making it all happen guy.”  None of us have a notion of what we are doing, but when has that ever stopped me!  We were pretty happy with how the first few episodes went, but there was an issue with the sound, that we couldn’t quite get to the bottom of.  It was really irritating, as it was making the Podcast seem less polished than we wanted.  We sat down last week to record and my poor brother’s computer decided to have a complete melt down.  No amount of ctrl+alt+delete could persuade it to cooperate.

Eventually we decided to fly up to my sister’s house and get her computer to use instead.  Of course her machine didn’t have the software we had been using, and we when tried to install it, we got nowhere.  At this stage we were all getting tired and more than a little frustrated.  We managed to find different software, downloaded it and praise the seven, it actually worked!  What’s more, we didn’t have the issues with the sound anymore.

The problem had been with the software all along, but of course we just assumed it was something we were doing wrong due to our lack of expertise.  If we hadn’t had the computer malfunction, we might never have figured it out.  What seemed like a complete disaster at the time, ended up being a big help.  Proving that good can come from just about any situation if you allow yourself to be open to it.  Be well xxx

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Sober October!

So long Scroll Free September, make way for Sober October!  I have been looking for a playful euphemism or a colourful metaphor to dress this up, but the truth of it is, for the last while I have been drinking too much.  Not in the “drinking problem” sense but simply in the “this is not good for my overall health” sense.  My husband and I have been planning to take a break from alcohol for ages now, but there was always some reason (read excuse) why it wasn’t a good time.  There was always a wedding, holiday or other occasion on the horizon, which made the idea of going tee total a daunting prospect.  We now find ourselves at the closing of the year.  Christmas is fast approaching and party season will be here before we know it, so it was pretty much now or never.

Those of you who are regular readers will know that 2018 has been a bit of a roller coaster for me.   Between my full time job, of which I have had three, and my side projects, I can end up feeling like I am working all the time.  There have been a lot of changes and often by the time the weekend comes along, I am too exhausted to attempt anything more energetic than binge watching Netflix in my pjs with a glass of wine or a nice cold beer.   Alcohol became a way to differentiate weekend nights from week nights!  I wouldn’t describe myself as a binge drinker, I rarely, if ever get drunk.  However, two or three drinks, a few nights a week quickly adds up to way more than the 11 unit safe drinking limit (17 for men.)

These habits crept in over the space of about a year.  What had once been limited to Friday and Saturday started creeping into some of the other evenings too.  I was definitely starting to feel the effect on my energy levels.  It’s never as easy getting up in the morning after even a couple of drinks.  As well as that, I am not getting any younger.  I will be turning 37 next month and it’s time to stop taking my health completely for granted.  I am well aware of the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, especially for women, and I am not arrogant enough to think I should be lucky enough to escape them.  From this week I will be teaching an extra Zumba class.  This brings the total to 4 per week, and with the stress this will put on my body, I need to do all I can to mind it.  Alcohol certainly will not help with that!

I am sure there will be lots of other benefits of having a dry month.  I am looking forward to having more energy and to waking up refreshed on the weekends.  I am also looking forward to having a little more money in my purse.  But mostly I am looking forward to the challenge.  I am sure the first weekend will be difficult.  We Irish are notorious for having our social lives revolving almost entirely around a pint!  Like many Irish families, ours has not escaped the effects alcoholism.  I am acutely aware of this, and of its tendency towards heredity.  This makes it even more important for me to get my drinking under control before it actually does become a problem!  Who knows, it might become a permanent change.

As always, feel free to join me in my latest challenge.  Wish me luck (and please send cinema recommendations) I will keep you posted on my progress.  Be well xxx

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In Praise of Uni-tasking!

Has this ever happened to you?  You go to unload the washing machine, only to discover that although you loaded it and put in the powder, you neglected to actually switch it on?  It happens to me with frightening regularity and always when I have an overflowing hamper and can ill afford the time to wash clothes, I thought had already been washed!  Unfortunately this isn’t limited to the washing machine.  I routinely leave tasks half done, because I had become distracted by some other, seemingly more pressing thing.

I went to a Catholic Secondary School.  Not because my family are particularly religious, but because there was little choice in Ireland in the nineties!  I remember having a religion teacher who was a nun.  Her mantra, which she recited daily, was “you can’t do two things at once.”  She would go on to say that you can of course try to multitask but that everything will suffer.  In essence you can’t do anything properly unless you give it your undivided attention.  I spent 5 years in that school and remarkably, that lesson is one of only a handful of things which has stuck with me.

Of course, at the time I gave her wisdom little merit.  I was a typical teenager who assumed I knew better.  I did not credit this woman, who must have been in her seventies, with any life experience, and so twenty years later I am learning her lesson the hard way.

We live our 21st centuries lives at a breakneck pace.  We boast about how busy we are, how little spare time we have and how frazzled we feel.  We read books like “The 4 Hour Workweek” in an attempt to boost our productivity.  We are always striving to be able to fit even more in.  Lately I am beginning to ask myself is there a trade off between quantity and quality.  Is multitasking a myth?  Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we are achieving more, when in reality we are leaving a trail of half finished jobs in our wake, which will come back to bite us in the ass before long?

There are some things which I won’t even attempt to try to do simultaneously.  I cannot have two conversations at once (so if I am on the phone and you try to talk to me, don’t expect a polite reply!)  I also can’t text and talk.  Past attempts at this have resulted in my typing what I am saying or vice versa, neither of which ends well!  Similarly if I am driving and need to concentrate, I have to turn the radio down.  Whatever way my brain is wired, auditory stimulation overrides anything else.  Happily as we get older, we usually learn to recognise these limitations in ourselves and work around them.

Those of you who follow me on social media will know that I have been getting into meditation lately.  It started off as a challenge.  I wanted to see if I could commit to daily meditation for 100 days.  (As I write this I have clocked up 74)  However, as the days tick by, I am noticing just how much it is helping me.  I fully intend to make it a part of my daily life, for the foreseeable future.  As well as helping me to combat the stresses of modern existence, the meditation is helping me to understand the importance of being mindful in everything we do.  Being fully engaged and present in our activities, not just going through the motions like deranged zombies.

When you start to take notice of it, you will be amazed at how many things you do on complete autopilot.  For instance, have you ever driven somewhere and when you arrive at your destination you have little recollection of how you actually got there?  I have, and it is scary as hell!  Surely something as potentially perilous as driving should be given our undivided attention.  But we don’t do it.  We might be chatting to our passenger.  Singing along to the radio.  Doing a detailed postmortem of the meeting we had with our boss, or planning a future conversation (yes, I actually do that!)  This is especially true on a familiar route.  We don’t need to actively concentrate and so the mind wanders.

I am reading a book at the moment called Thrive and in it Arianna Huffington recommends taking one task each day that we do routinely, such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower and doing it mindfully.  Actually pay attention to what you are doing, and be engaged.  I tried this while brushing my teeth a couple of times this week and I am telling you it is so much harder than you think.  I was thinking about pretty much everything apart from the task at hand.  It’s a simple exercise, but it really opened my eyes to how much I am not present in my life.  I am often times merely going through the motions.  Is that what I truly want.  To sort of half experience life.  I don’t think so.

In an age where multitasking is prized and we are measured on our productivity, being mindful and doing one thing at a time is not the easy option.  Added to this, we are surrounded by devices which constantly vie for our attention.  We feel like we need to react to them instantly, no matter what else is going on.  I am so guilty of this.  Sometimes my husband will come home and I will be in the middle of a text chat, or scrolling through Facebook and when he comes in I will distractedly ask how his day was.  Invariably, when I put the phone down a minute or two later, I will ask him the exact same question.  It drives him insane and I don’t blame him.

It is not going to be easy to break the habit of a lifetime, but my attempts at multitasking have been so disastrous lately that I am going to try to stop myself from doing it.  I am going to attempt to complete one task at a time.  If and when I catch myself starting something when I am in the middle of something else, I will gently guide myself back to the task at hand.  I am interested to see if this actually makes me more productive.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but I wonder if in starting less tasks, I might actually finish more.  I wonder if by uni-tasking and concentrating on what I am doing a little more, I might be able to get through it more quickly.  As well as that, I am pretty sure it will help me to combat the feelings of overwhelm and burn out, which I often experience.

As I write this, I have been tempted to check my phone about 27 times.  Which brings me on to my next challenge.  Scroll Free September.  That’s right.  For the month of September, I will be logging off Facebook and Instagram (I don’t use Twitter because it confuses me too much.)  My blog posts automatically upload to Facebook, so when you see that happening, don’t think I am cheating.  I am not under any illusion that this is going to be easy.  I am a social media junkie, but I think a digital detox will be good for my overall well-being.  Oh dear, FOMO is setting in already!  I will let you know how everything is going.  Wish me luck and be well xxx

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Just Say No!

I would consider myself to be a fairly articulate person.  I have always loved language, and with my degree in English to help me, I don’t usually struggle to express myself.  Except, in one particular situation.  When it comes to saying no.  It is such a simple and inoffensive word, yet it sticks in my throat somehow.  So much so, that I will tie myself in knots looking for ways to turn the no into a yes, even if it means attempting the impossible.

There have been times when I have ended up being so hopelessly over committed, that I find myself thinking “please just let me get through this day.” “Just let me survive”  “Just let me find the energy to do all the things I couldn’t say no to, and I promise not to take on so much next time!”  I used to think this was because I was a chronic people pleaser.  Afraid to say no. lest I should let anyone down.  A while back, however, an aunt of mine challenged me on this.  Her exact word were “I wouldn’t take you on!”  It’s not often that you get to see yourself through the eyes of another, but this was one such moment of clarity.  It began to dawn on me, that my fear of saying no is not about other people, in fact, it is all about me.

Firstly, I hate conflict.  Not many people love it in fairness, but I absolutely cringe at the thought of it.  I have this awful habit of trying to avoid it and invariably it ends up causing more awkwardness.  You know how it is, you should call the person, but you chicken out and send an email, and then they don’t respond so you end up having to call anyway and now you have made things even worse!  Yeah, I do that stuff all the time!

Secondly, I don’t like accepting my limitations and I certainly don’t relish having to admit them.  Vocalising the fact that I simply don’t have time to take on anything else is tantamount to admitting defeat.  Why can’t I squeeze one more thing in?  Why wouldn’t I want to explore the next challenge?  In a society where we seem to score points based on how tired and over extended we are, just saying no seems like you are not willing to play the game.

One of the great things about having good friends, is that they are willing to call you on your shit.  Even when (and especially when) you don’t want to hear it.  I was chatting to a friend of mine recently, and I was full of excitement about starting the new job.  He warned me to be prepared for it to be more demanding and to take more out of me than I anticipated and to plan accordingly.  I joked that perhaps I should delay my plan to learn Urdu, but in truth he hit the nail on the head.  No sooner had I accepted the job, than I was looking up gyms in the area and wondering if I could squeeze a Pilates class into my lunch break.  This is classic Arwen, why walk when you can run while stumbling blindly!

Another example of me being crazy happened a few weeks ago.  I got a message from a school wanting me to teach a Zumba class for them, in September, as part of their adult education program.  I didn’t want to take it on.  Not that I don’t love teaching Zumba, because you know I do.  However, I am already teaching 3 classes a week.  I am still pretty new to teaching, so learning the choreography and practicing takes up a lot of my time.  There were plenty of other reasons why I didn’t want to do it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say no.  The weird thing was, this girl had sent a text to ask about the class, I don’t know her and am unlikely to ever meet her.  All I needed to do was reply and say unfortunately I am not available, but I am not kidding when I say it took me days to build up to it.  I even thought, briefly, about saying yes and then trying to get out of it closer to the time.  Absolutely lunacy!  Eventually, I did reply to the lady, and told her I couldn’t do it.  Amazingly, nothing bad happened.  She was very sweet about it, in fact.

The one good thing about getting older I find, is that you learn to recognise when you are being nutty and even laugh about it.  The truth of the matter is unless I want to spend my whole life being over committed and stressed, I need to get a whole lot better at saying no.  I don’t want to feel like I am surviving my days.  I want to able to enjoy and appreciate each new experience and even allow myself some time to reflect on them, instead of being distracted by the next shiny thing.

Those of you who follow me on social media have probably seen me talking about Headspace.  It is a guided meditation app that I have been dipping in and out of for a couple of years.  I have set myself the challenge of meditating daily for 100 days, I am currently on day 9.  Posting my progress towards this goal helps me to stay accountable.  It only takes about 12 minutes, but there has been at least 3 occasions since I started when I have thought to myself “I don’t have time for this!”  The irony of course being, these are exactly the days when I need it most.  It has opened my eyes a lot to just how busy my mind can be.  How difficult it often is to just let it settle and rest.  This has really underlined how critical it is for me to resist the urge to fill every available portion of time with “stuff.”

Rudyard Kipling famously wrote “If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with 60 seconds worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it” I am starting to believe that the most important distance to run is the space between yourself and your peace of mind.  Be well xxx

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Pain is Built To Last?

For the last few months, I have been having trouble sleeping.  Not insomnia as such, just difficulty drifting off.  I have been putting it down to having a lot on my mind, and too little down time.  On the nights when I teach, I am always pumped full of adrenaline and can have a hard time coming down.  It isn’t a huge problem, but for someone who loves their sleep as much as I do, it can prove hugely frustrating.

While my husband was away, I was convinced I would have the best sleep ever, but sadly that wasn’t the case.   I tried my side of the bed, his side of the bed.  Inside the covers, outside the covers.  I practiced breathing techniques and meditation.  Nothing worked.  Lying alone, in the dark, replaying every bad decision and awkward conversation of my life, I became aware that the position I was lying in wasn’t just uncomfortable, it was actually painful.  It struck me as odd that I was so in my head, I had failed to even notice what was going on with my body.  Since then, there have been several other occasions when I have noticed the same thing.  Whether it be sitting in work, or standing funny and generally being oblivious to the signals my body is giving to me.

It made me start to wonder just how often we put up with discomfort or even pain?  How many times have you ignored that niggling tooth?  Are you guilty of down playing injuries in the hope they would magically resolve themselves?  Have there been times when you have postponed a trip to the GP, which eventually became unavoidable?  I know I certainly have!  Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we should run to the medical professionals at the first sign of discomfort.  Not many of us have the time or money to allow us to do that, even if we wanted to.  What I am hinting at, however, is that our bodies are probably smarter than we are.  Pain is a sign that something is wrong.  Dulling it and ignoring it, are not long term solutions.

Physical pain isn’t the only thing we are experts at compartmentalising.  We often sweep psychological and emotional issues under the giant rug as well.  We put up with shitty relationships, unfulfilling jobs, and even terrible friendships for far longer than we should.  I know for me, the reason for this is usually stubborn pigheadedness.  To walk away from something, even if it isn’t working, feels like admitting defeat.  It makes me question myself “what is wrong with me?” “why can’t I fit in like everyone else?”  This examination is so uncomfortable, it’s often easier to just ignore the elephant in the room.

The biggest example of this in my own life is probably my academic career.  As a child, I was always told I was bright and clever.  Destined for great things.  It was pretty much preordained that I would go to University.  So, I got in and off I went.  The trouble was, when I got there, I absolutely hated it.  I studied English, which is my first love, and absolutely enthralled me, but college life definitely was not for me.  I didn’t fit in.  I didn’t make friends.  The ten or so contact hours a week, were far too few to keep me engaged.  In short, I was completely miserable.  Determined to be “successful” at it, I stuck it out.  Three years later, I achieved my degree (which I have never “used”)  By that time, I was also deeply depressed, and looking back on in now, I believe this time to be the root of my disordered relationship with food.  But that’s a story I not quite ready to tell!

To this day, I strongly believe in the merits of follow through.  It’s so important to do the things you say you’re going to do.  I can’t stand flaky people and find them essentially impossible to deal with.  A friend of mine once gave me the mantra “Decide, Commit, Succeed.”  I think she borrowed if from some gimmicky exercise program, but I identified with the message.  However, the older I get, and the more experience I have dealing with uncomfortable situations, the more I realise “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away and know when to run.”  Walking away from something which no longer serves you, is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.

This philosophy of mine has been tested lately.  I was offered a new job.  The new role sounds exciting and challenging.  It presents opportunity for growth and development, as well as stimulation.  The trouble is, I am comfortable in my current job.  It’s close to home.  My gym is around the corner, which means I can train on my lunch break.  The people are lovely and there’s no conflict.  However, it doesn’t present the same opportunities.  Should I sacrifice my current comfort for the sake of potential future growth?  It was a really difficult decision.  As is always the case with hard choices, there was no obvious “right” course of action.  There was an opportunity cost associated with both options.

In the end, I decided to accept the new job.  I am excited to get started and really looking forward to the challenge.  Of course, there are a few other things going on!!  Impostor syndrome is kicking in.  My inner critic is shouting so loud, she is almost drowning out everything else.  She is telling me I won’t be able for it, and who do I think I am to even try!  She’s a bitch!  There is also a tiny seed of doubt in the back of my mind.  Questioning if I am doing the right thing.  Wondering if I will live to regret my decision.

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter.  I fully expect the new job to be awesome, but if it turns out to be a complete disaster, who cares?  I am not entering into indentured servitude.  If it’s not for me, I can go back to the drawing board and try again.  We all have within us, the power to reinvent ourselves as often as we want or need to.   I think it is really important that we make time to check in with ourselves on a regular enough basis.  Ask yourself how everything is going.  Is there any area of your life that needs to be changed, or even just given more attention?  It is so easy to keep going through the motions and not even notice that there is a stone in your shoe.  Be well xxx

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The Productivity Trap!

One of my husband’s oldest friends is getting married in May.  This week saw the lads all jetting off for his stag in Lanzorote.  We are still struggling to get Annie’s seizures under control and I decided to take the time off work, so that she wouldn’t be left home alone for too long.  We have a busy couple of months ahead, with three weddings, a hen party, some renovations in the house and our own summer holiday all happening at once.

Seeing as I was going to be off work for three days, it seemed like as good a time as any to get some “stuff” done.  We were getting new carpet fitted so being here for the fitters early Wednesday morning was the first thing on the agenda.  Alas, it wasn’t the only thing.  There was so much to be achieved, in fact, that I decided to make a list.  The problem was, every time I ticked one item off the list, I added at least two more.  It was becoming a little overwhelming.  I joked to my friend that I had enough on the list to fill three weeks, never mind three days!

No sooner had the carpet guys left, then I was on to the next thing.  Getting my badly overdue hair done.  With the crazy weather we have been having the last few weeks, it’s like everything is having to happen out of sequence (this does nothing for my inner control freak.)  When I got home from the salon, I had to deal with the mess the carpet fitters had left.  Two huge bags of off cuts were waiting in the hall for me to deal with.  They were never going to fit in the wheelie bins, and I knew if I stashed them somewhere for the “time being” that they would still be there the next time we get carpet!  A trip to the dump was the only thing for it.

Now, a sane person would have just thrown the two bags in the car and made her way to the landfill.  But not me, oh no!  I decided to go to the shed to see what else was in there that could do with being dumped.  Our shed was packed to the rafters with crap, which we had put there for the time being, throughout the decade we have lived here.  So, I began to load up my car with empty bottles, broken blinds, Styrofoam from every appliance we have ever owned, or so it seemed.  It was only at the point when I was trying to stuff an arm chair into my already full Fiesta, that I started to think perhaps this was ill advised!

It struck me that the armchair into the Fiesta debacle was sort of an apt analogy.  Our 21st Century lives are incredibly full.  We balance demanding careers, family, running a home, our health and fitness etc., etc.  However, instead of standing back and congratulating ourselves for achieving so much and managing to keep all the plates spinning, we constantly ask ourselves “what else can I fit in?”  How can I do more?  How can I be more “effective?”

We never seem to be satisfied, and social and main stream media don’t help.  Any time you log on, someone is extolling the virtues of the next thing we should all be doing.  This week it could be journalling, next week it might be meditation.  Practicing gratitude and colouring in were the big ticket items last year, along with finding fun new ways to use coconut oil and tumeric!  It’s so easy to get caught up with it all.  It’s easy to feel like if you haven’t been up since 5am to do a sun salutation and drink a green smoothie that you are somehow failing.

We even wear devices to track and monitor our sleep.  Both the quantity and quality can be measured.  Anyone who knows me can tell you I love my bed.  All my life I have been told I can sleep for Ireland.  So, imagine my surprise when at age 36 my FitBit tells me I am doing a crappy job!  I rarely get more than an hour of deep sleep a night.  Surely this can’t be enough?  How can I get more?  How can I do it better?  Rationally I know worrying about this is ridiculous.  Sure, I can TRY to control how much sleep I get, but the quality of that sleep is a little more complicated.  But my distress around this poor metric really underlined our obsession with personal effectiveness.

Are we taking it all too far?  Have we forgotten how to just be in the moment?  Do we even know how it feels to be relaxed anymore?  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good list as much as the next girl.  I have dozens of notebooks (some of them are too pretty to actually write in, but that’s another story.)  I believe in setting goals and strategically, methodically doing the work required to achieve them.  However, I am increasingly aware of how important it is to have some time to just chill!  Your day off shouldn’t feel like harder work than a day at the office.  We are so addicted to being busy, that we are afraid to admit we take our foot off the gas, even for a moment.

As human beings our time, energy and inclination are all finite resources.  The irony is that I took this time off work so I could be with my puppy, but on Wednesday evening I was so exhausted that I found myself being impatient with her.  The people, and puppies, in our lives deserve the best of us, not whatever is left over when we get to the end of our list.  Personal effectiveness is, of course, important, but even dynamos need a day off.  Be well xxx

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Breaking Up With The FitFam – It’s Not You, It’s Me!

Loneliness is an awful emotion.  It drives us to behave in ways, which make it difficult to recognise ourselves.  It can make us feel simultaneously self conscious and invisible.

It was 2012.  I had just finished my accountancy training and had started my first “proper job.”  I was working for a huge American Corporation.  My days were filled with SOPs, KPIs and every other acronym you can think of.  Like a fish out of water, I just did not fit it.  I started to wonder if I was even in the right career, or had the last 5 years of study been completely wasted?

It was a really low point for me.  I never had a huge social circle to begin with, and the years spent doing ACCA had distanced me from a lot of the friends I did have.  I was so lonely.  The worst thing about it, was that I felt guilty for feeling this way.  I had a loving partner, a wonderful family and truly appeared to be living the dream.  I had absolutely nothing to complain about.  So, I did what any self-respecting overachiever would do, I pretended to be fine!

Not long after starting in this “proper job” I discovered Crossfit and Paleo.  This seemed to be the answer to all my prayers.  Finally something had come along to fill the void.  I threw myself into it with the same single minded determination I had put into getting qualified.  I spent up to 3 hours every night in the the gym.  When I wasn’t training, I was thinking about it, or reading about it, (I read the entire back catalogue of The Crossfit Journal in a month) or talking about it!

I was completely focused on training, and to be honest, I became an asshole!  I was so fixated on this one aspect of my life, that I lost sight of pretty much everything else.  My husband would plead with me to come home, to spend time with other people, to be more present in my life.  But, all I could think was “he just doesn’t want me to succeed.”  I kept telling myself that the next gym milestone, (the body weight back squat, the handstand push up, the kipping pull up) would make me happy.  It didn’t.

My obsession was having a terrible effect on my overall well-being.  I would train straight after work, for hours.  I would come home so hungry and depleted, that I would be shaking driving the car.  Everybody warned me I was heading for trouble, my family, my partner, even my colleagues, but I ignored them all.  I knew better.  I was “dedicated.” I distanced myself from everyone who was being, as I saw it, negative.  I took something healthy and positive to an unhealthy and dangerous place.  I risked losing everything.

In my efforts to cure my loneliness, I only ended up more isolated.  The irony of this is not lost on me!  Finally, I reached a turning point.  I slowly began to realise the error of my ways.  I found a job I love, which is both challenging and engaging enough to not allow for outside obsessions!  I began to remember other things I enjoyed doing.  I started reading again, and seeing people.  Far from being a light-bulb moment, I very much clawed my way out of the darkness.

In this digital age, we are very much at the mercy of the social media Gods and gurus.  We are bombarded hourly with images of people living seemingly perfect lives, with wonder partners, exciting careers and most of all, flawless physiques!  In my desire to feel part of something, I bought into all of it.  I so desperately wanted to be part of that #fitfam.  I needed to prove myself worthy of acceptance by showing I could train as hard, prep as well and basically obsess as much as they did.

The funny thing is, there is no membership policy.  You never receive an email, text or tweet to say “Congratulations, you are now ENOUGH, welcome on board!”  Seeking validation from an online “community” is a fool’s errand.  So, I have decided to stop.  I have come to learn that my own self-worth is far more important than the acceptance of anyone online.  I have also realised, that chasing recognition from strangers not only damages my already fragile self image, it is just plain stupid.  These people don’t care about me.

In the last few months I have discovered that exposing myself to the #fitspos, is a real trigger for me.  One glance at a woman with abs, and I launch into a full on body comparison.  What is she doing?  How come she has a 6 pack and I don’t?  What’s her secret?  How can I get to look that way?  It’s relentless and damaging.

When it comes to social media, there are some great voices out there.  They are promoting health and fitness in a sensible and sustainable way.  Unfortunately they are in the minority.  It seems for every 1 intelligent and insightful person, we will encounter 10 idiots.  I was at The Better Life Project’s Empowered Women Workshop this week, and just one of the wonderful pieces of advice Sarah offered to us was “If someone in your news-feed makes you feel bad, unfollow them.”  Simple as that!  We can’t control the amount of negativity and bullshit there is online, but we can choose to limit our exposure to it.

As for my training, I still do and probably always will, love the gym.  But, crucially, I am approaching it now from a much kinder place.  I exercise because I love my body, not because I want to beat it into submission.  I am slowly learning to accept my limitations and to listen to the voices of those who love me.  Most importantly, the choices I make with my training and nutrition and for me, not to please the Fitfam.  Be well xxx

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The End is No End!

Back in January, I launched a corporate wellness program, for a well-established engineering company in Dublin.  The participants were very diverse, and had a wide range of personal goals.  The program set about improving overall health and wellness by addressing nutrition, hydration, sleep, exercise, mobility and stress.  It also sought to foster a sense of community and establish an accountability network for the group, in which, to support each other.

This is the sixth and final week of the challenge, and the men and women who have stuck it out have seen some phenomenal results.  Some have lost weight, others have seen improvements in health markers, while still others are seeing the benefits of mindfulness in their everyday lives.  I check in with the group everyday and visit them on site every two weeks. When I met them last week, the difference in everyone was immediately noticeable.  They all stand taller, exude more energy and just seem genuinely happier.  I could not be any more proud of them.

But what now?  These people have had strict guidelines in place for the last six weeks.  They have had daily contact with their coach and they have had the support of each other.  What will happen when the program ends?  This is a problem with all programs of a fixed duration, and let’s face it, nothing can go on forever.  Every plan, be it a 28 day cut,  21DSD, Whole 30, or a program like mine has an end date.  One day you are on the plan and the next day you are off it.  So, what do you do?  How can you avoid walking, lemming like, off a cliff and back into all your old habits?

It can be a tricky enough transition.  On the one hand, it is not realistic to live in such a regimented and restricted way forever.  On the other hand we don’t want to end up back where we started.  Making a plan for how you are going to manage this phase is absolutely essential.  Without clear intention about what you are going to do after the end date, relapse is almost guaranteed.  Believe me, I speak from bitter experience.  As much as we may not want it to happen, if we don’t guard against it, the old familiar ways quickly return.

If you think about it, this really isn’t surprising.  You were practicing your old behaviours for years, or even decades.  Our new habits, only really budding after a few short weeks, haven’t a hope of competing.  They need to be continually nurtured, so they can take root and become part of the landscape.  But of course, there has to be balance.

My guys have been really working hard for the last few weeks.  Eating whole, unprocessed food and exercising daily.  I have been giving them bonus challenges and truly putting them through their paces.  I absolutely expect that come Sunday they will celebrate.  I fully expect that there will be take aways ordered and beers opened.  In fact, I encourage it.  It is really important to let your hair down, once in a while, especially after a period of restriction.

I have asked them to take some time this week to reflect on the experience.  Try to identify aspects that they found helpful, and come up with a plan for incorporating those elements into their lives going forward.  If any of you are currently working a program, or planning on starting one soon, I encourage you to do the same.  Say, for example, you are currently doing a program that requires 20 minutes of daily exercise.  You might enjoy that, and decide to continue with it.  If you don’t make a plan for how that is going to happen, it simply won’t.  Similarly, you might decide to continue eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods, but if these items don’t make their way onto your shopping list, they definitely won’t make their way into your diet.

To my mind, programs of a short duration are essentially reset points.  They act as a Ctrl+Alt+Delete for the body.  Purging you of junk and rubbish and helping you to lay the foundations for a healthy future.  They act like stabilizers on a bicycle.  When your program ends, that isn’t the end of your biking career, you just continue on with two wheels.  Yes, you may have the occasional wobble, but with planning and perseverance you will gain the confidence to go it alone.

We live in a world where everyone wants the next quick fix, the magic tea or the simple solution.  The reality is that if you want a healthy life, it will take effort and intention to get it.  Once you have achieved it, it will take just as much effort and intention to keep it.  We make dozens of choices every day, which can either bring us closer to our goals, or steer us further away from them.  So, if like my guys, you have a Sunday coming, make sure you don’t wake up on Monday morning wondering “what now?”  Make a clear plan, write it down, and commit to it.  Remember, the end of the program is really only the beginning.  Be well xxx

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Why Losing Weight WILL NOT Make You Happy

At the kick off meeting for my Lifestyle Re-Engineering Program last month, I gave a short presentation.  I naturally wanted to outline the program to the participants, but I also wanted to give them a little bit of insight into my own journey.  I have talked about my struggles with my weight on the blog a few times, but I have never really talked about it in public before.  I was standing in a room full of strangers, telling them about where it all began and I was amazed by how emotional I felt.

In that instant I was back there.  All the sadness and feelings of worthlessness came flooding back to me.  It was as raw and as real as if it were yesterday and not five years ago.  I remembered what life was like for me all those years ago.  I was an extremely troubled girl.  I hated my job.  I worked long hours, had a crazy commute and was going to college at night.  All of this left little time for self care, let alone self improvement.  There was no fun in my life and I was really just existing.  To top it all off, I was overweight.  I had no confidence and couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror.

In time, I began to lose weight.  I honestly thought this would be the answer to all my problems.  I would tell myself “just lose another five pounds, then you will feel good.”  Those five pounds would shed, and I would feel the same way, so I would convince myself that the next five would definitely do it.  On and on this went.  I continued to drop weight, but I was still miserable.  Even when I was approaching “goal weight” I still struggled with negative self image.  I was terrified that if I took my eye off the ball for a moment, that I would end up back where I started.

I had fallen into a very common trap.  I had treated the symptoms of the problem, without addressing the root cause.  I was, in essence, doing the easy thing.  Counting calories and hitting the gym, while it does take effort, is fairly straight forward.  You have a clear set of parameters to work within, and if you do what you’re supposed to, you will get results.  Easy!  The hard thing, the thing which I was avoiding doing, is to look for the cause of the problem.

What was it that was making me so unhappy, that I did not care what happened to my body?  What had made me give up on myself?  Why had I resigned myself, in my 20s, to a lifetime of feeling undesirable, unsexy and unwanted?  Why did I feel that I didn’t deserve to be happy?  These were the questions I needed to ask myself.  Nobody could do if for me.  There was no YouTube video to show me the steps, no ten minute miracle cure.  It definitely was not going to be easy.

I needed to re-engineer my life.  I set about identifying everything, which was not working for me, and trying to change it.  The first thing I did was quit my job.  I vowed never to stay in a job I hated again.  Life is too short to spend 40 hours a week in a toxic environment.  It took a couple of attempts, but I finally found the right fit.  I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to your overall well-being to be happy in your work.

During this time, I also finished college.  This had a huge impact.  My stress was massively reduced, and I now had time to do the things I enjoyed (if only I could remember what they were!)  I had spent 5 years studying at night and on the weekends, and my single-mindedness had allowed it to become almost all consuming.  I was in suspended animation!  When it was finally over, I spent two months sitting on the couch watching soaps (we will call this recovery.)  I then had to set about rediscovering what it is that makes me happy.

It was at that time when my love of fitness was born.  I needed to escape Coronation Street and the gym was as good a place as any to go.  My workouts became my outlet for a number of years.  I love training, but in hindsight it was probably foolish to put all my eggs in one basket.  Injuries and issues inevitably cropped up, and without something else to put my energy into, I became frustrated.

It is really only in the last year that I feel I am beginning to find balance.  I have rediscovered a too long latent love of reading.  Meditation and mindfulness are of huge importance to me now.  I invest more time and energy in my relationships.  The effect of all of this, is that I am happier now than I have ever been.  The happiness and confidence I have gained allows me to prioritise my health and well being.  In other words, being happy is helping me to maintain my weight, not the other way around.

The process is by no means complete.  I believe we are all on a journey of self discovery that lasts a lifetime.  I definitely do not have all the answers and  I want to continue to learn about myself.  I wasted far too many years being unhappy, I don’t want to let another moment be lost.

For anyone out there who may be struggling, feeling unhappy or lacking self confidence, I will say this; nothing changes if nothing changes.  The first step in addressing the problem, is to face it head on.  This may be scary and painful, but I promise you it will be worth it.  If your weight is problem for you, then loosing weight is naturally a good thing to do.  However, just be aware that it won’t solve all your problems.  Be well xxx

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Food, Fallacy and Foolishness!

As a society we have become completely spoiled when it comes to food.  We consume it with hedonistic abandon, and treat it with very little respect.  During the last couple of decades, our attitude towards food and eating has become completely skewed.  In short, we take it utterly for granted.

Growing up in Ireland in the 80’s, money was short and people learned to make do with what they had.  A pot of stew supplied four meals (two dinners and two lunches.)  Sunday’s roast was refashioned into casseroles, curries and sandwiches.  Nothing was wasted and nobody ever complained about eating the same meal two nights running.

I am now in the second week of a Lifestyle Coaching program I am running with a company in Dublin.  When we launched the program, I decided I would take part along side them, and “walk the walk,” as it were.  It came to the first weekend, and I was about to set off for my grocery shopping.  In readiness for this, I was standing at the fridge, with a thrash bag in my hand, preparing to throw away all of the uneaten food from the previous week.  To my astonishment, there wasn’t any!   We had eaten pretty much everything.  This is probably the first time EVER that this has happened.

My initial reaction was “oh my God, we nearly ran out of food, I better buy more this week.”  But then it dawned on me, this was the first time I had actually gotten it spot on.  If your fridge resembles Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard come shopping day, you’re doing it right.  If, like me, you end up having to throw away a black bag of food, just so you can fit the new food, you are getting it terribly wrong!  When the realisation of this sank in, I felt both shame and stupidity in equal measure.

So where does this wanton wastefulness stem from?  I certainly wasn’t brought up with it, that is for sure.  I am beginning to think our generation is plagued by the paradox of choice.  So many available options causing us to devalue what we already have.  It is the classic thing of going and buying €200 worth of groceries and then hitting up the McDonald’s drive thru on the way home.  All of the food which was too tempting to leave of the supermarket shelves, instantly obsolete once a “better,” more convenient option has been presented.

Perhaps it is the remnants of our Celtic Tiger hangover, which has completely inverted our value system when it comes to food.  At its most fundamental level, food is fuel.  It powers every function in the human body from respiration to reproduction.  Should it be enjoyable, yes of course it should.  But pleasure is not its only function.  We, as a collective, to have managed to completely separate food from its utility.  We increasingly seem to want to eat purely for pleasure.

Clever corporations have cottoned on to this.  It is impossible to turn on your TV, scroll through your phone or even walk down the street without a barrage of advertising messages assaulting you.  Never before has overly processed, highly palatable, nutrient deficient “food” been so cheap or so readily available.  Fast food outlets churn out obscene amounts of food to us, while we let our fresh produce rot in our fridges.  It is not uncommon for typical families to be eating take out 2-3 nights a week.

We are being fooled into thinking that outsourcing our nutrition is the easy option.  Believe me when I tell you, it ain’t.  I brown bag my lunch every day, and have done for a good few years now.  I have a few tried and tested menu options, which I know will fill me up and fuel my training.  It does not bother me to eat the same few things all the time.  I know what I need to buy each week, I prepare it quickly and I don’t have to think about it.  It’s easy.  If I didn’t bring lunch with me, I would spend the morning wondering what I was going to eat.  I would have to go out to get it, which can be a pain in the ass.  I would create stress worrying if what I was eating was supporting my goals, and I would be spending a fortune.  The complete opposite of easy, if you ask me!

You might ask “do you not get bored eating the same thing?” and truthfully the answer is not really.  Breakfast and lunch, for me, are utility meals.  High quality food, in well constructed meals, designed to get me through the day.  I know only too well that I a have limited supply of both decision making ability and creativity, so I prefer to use these for pleasure meals.  Dinners with my husband and meals out with friends.  Not every morsel we consume needs to be worthy of a death row dinner.

The last few weeks has given me a real opportunity to evaluate my own food behaviours.  I have had some exposure to the homeless crisis in our Capital and wasted food really bothers me.  However, I honestly believe that unless we revert to the old ways, we will keep on filling up those black bags.  Unless we begin again to appreciate food and all that it does for our health and well being, we will keep allowing ourselves to be sold to.  Big corporations do not care about our goals.  It is up to us to be the gatekeepers of our own refrigerators.  Be well xxx