Articles

All The Lonely People

In a time when we are more connected than ever before, it is hard to understand why so many of us are experiencing chronic loneliness.  Through social media, email and messaging apps, barely a waking hour goes by when we don’t reach out and touch someone.  Why is it then, that we feel more isolated and alone than at any other stage in our history?

Recent studies have shown that up to 50% of adults report feeling lonely sometimes or always.  When asked the question “how many people truly know you?” many respond with “no-one.”

Researchers, such as Johann Hari and Brene Brown, to name but two, have clearly shown the link between social isolation and depression, anxiety and even addiction.  In Brene’s words, “we are hard wired for connection.”  What is it then that is stopping us from forming and maintaining the types of connections we so desperately need?

Doped on Dopamine:

We have all heard of the hormone dopamine.  Dopamine is often associated with pleasure, however, it is more closely related to the reward center in the brain.  Every time we hear that ping announcing the arrival of a new email, or signifying a “like” has been achieved, our brains receive a little shot of the drug.  It lets us know that something good just happened.  It encourages us to try to do it again.

We chase these little rewards throughout the day.  Often to the extent that we ignore the real, human connections in our lives.  We sacrifice our most sacred relationships to answer the Siren call of our tiny devices.  When we hear the beep, we feel like we have won a prize.  We instantly abandon whatever else is going on to attend to it.  Even though, we know on a rational level that it is most likely spam.  Of all the hundreds of thousands of emails I have received in my life, exactly none of them have been telling me I have won a prize.

A simple way to mitigate this is to simply go through your apps and disable all non critical notifications.  Every single one of them is constantly vying for your attention, so cut them off at the pass.

Set rules for yourself.  No phones in bed is a good place to start.  Some of the most important conversations I have had with my husband have been just before we go to sleep at night.  Sometimes these are about serious topics, but equally important are the silly moments.  The ones when you nearly choke because you are laughing so hard, but can’t remember what was so funny.  These are the moments of real connection.  They seldom take place with a smart phone in hand.

Competitive Disadvantage:

Another unfortunate side effect of living in the digital age is our compulsion to compete.  Anything you can do, I can do better.  As I write this, it is Pancake Tuesday in Ireland.  The day before Lent begins.  Originally it was Shrove Tuesday, the last day of feasting and getting rid of luxuries from the home, before 40 days and nights of fasting.  Now, however, it is national day of showing the world how big and impressive your stacks are.

There are a couple of things that amuse me about this.  (That’s not to say I haven’t done the same myself, I have)  Firstly, pancakes need to be served hot.  Any time you spend faffing around with lighting and filters, will only serve to detract from the overall pancake experience.

Secondly, Pancake Tuesday is such an institution that it can be assumed you have had pancakes, even if you don’t tell me.  I don’t need you to tell me you have brushed your teeth this morning either, I will just give you the benefit of the doubt.

Lastly, does anyone really care?

This is a simple example but I hope it illustrates my point.  We are spending an inordinate amount of time highlighting how amazing our lives are, instead of just living them.  We seem determined to elicit envy from our “friends” at every opportunity.  It’s hardly surprising that in doing so we alienate people and create even more loneliness.

So, the next time you want to show someone how awesome your pancakes are, why don’t you invite them around to try some?

Yes, no and maybe:

I have spoken at length, both on the blog and on the podcast, about how important it is to be able to say no.  We are so overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities that we barely have time to draw breath.  It’s vital for our well being that we know when to draw the line, or we risk stress, overload and eventual burn out.

However, I fear we are saying no to the wrong things.  We do it automatically without considering the consequences.  Studies have shown that people will only extend an invitation to you seven times.  If you refuse the seventh invitation, they will be unlikely to ask you again.  Let’s face it, nobody is going to keep on putting their hands out to be slapped.

This could be your friends inviting you on a night out, or your colleagues asking you to join them for lunch.  The next time it comes up, before you refuse, ask yourself how you would feel if you weren’t invited.

Most of us have probably experienced the feeling of being left out.  I know I certainly have, and it’s awful.  If this is a situation you want to avoid, try to ensure you don’t unintentionally create it.  Make a habit of at least occasionally saying yes!

The road goes both ways:

I am someone who tries very hard to keep in touch with the people who are important to me.  I make an effort to send a message, suggest an event and generally reach out, especially when I am aware that it has maybe been a while.

Occasionally though, I find myself thinking that perhaps I am not being met half way.  I start feeling like I am doing all the running.  When this happens, I have two choices.  I can either continue to make the effort with that person, or I can disengage and see what happens.

What I decide to do will depend a lot on the person and on the situation.  If they have a lot going on in their life, or if they mean a lot to me, I can usually let it go.   But if I find myself feeling resentful of the un-reciprocated effort, it can be difficult to maintain the relationship.

If you have a person in your life and you are aware that they usually initiate contact, try to buck that trend.  Take action straight away.  When you find yourself thinking about the person, reach out.  If some one is important to you, don’t allow them to drift out of your life from sheer neglect.

I don’t claim to be an expert on avoiding loneliness.  But I am someone who has both experienced and researched it.  As the planet prepares to reach a population of 10 billion, is is astounding to me that we can still feel utterly alone in the world.  Be well, together xxx

 

 

Articles

Being Enough

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.        –  C.P. Cavafy

Do you ever get the feeling that you should be farther along your path than you are?  Do you ever get frustrated by set backs?  Do you tire of hearing yourself talk about starting over, again?  Yeah?  So do I.

As I sit writing this, it is “Blue Monday.”  I am looking out at a black night.  Neither of these however, is the source of my malaise.  I feel depressed and down due to the sisyphus condition I find myself in.  The near constant roundabout of a little progress followed by a big backslide, has started to wear me down.  Just like in the Greek myth, I am beginning to wonder if I am destined to carry the same load up hill for all eternity.

I am not writing this because I want to host my own pity party.  Or to elicit sympathy from my readers.  Instead, I write because I promised you and myself, almost exactly three years ago, that I would always be authentic.  It is extremely tempting to show only the highlights.  To invite you in, only when my house is tidy and everything is in order.  However to do that, would be to fail to honour the relationship we have built.  The trust you show me, each time you turn up to read my words.

Late last year, I was invited to resign from my job.  I watched a career that I had spent over a decade building crumble in the space of a single conversation.  The words “you’re not right for the job,” have echoed in my mind many times since then.  Reverberating and repeating.  Their message clear, you are not enough.

I had always known that a lot of my self worth was tied up with my job.  I am a natural striver, always obsessed with the next thing.  An upward career trajectory was good way for me to channel this.  What I had not known, was that when the label of accountant, professional and general good girl was taken away from me, I would struggle to recognise myself.

I wish I could tell you that this was limited to my professional life, but sadly that is not the case.  I am routinely plagued by the curse of more.  If I am fit, I want to be fitter.  If I am thin, I want to lose more weight.  When I fail it is all my fault and when I succeed it has nothing to do with me.

Lately I been doing some writing for another blog.  A couple of weeks back, I did an interview with an up and coming athlete.  My editor messaged me the day after it was published to let me know it had been the most read interview on the site.  As a writer this should have thrilled me.  Instead I immediately started to catalogue all of the possible explanations for the article’s popularity that didn’t involve its author.  Conversely, when we publish an article of mine that doesn’t do so well, I am crushed.  My inner demons launch into a chorus of “you’re not good enough, why would you even try?”

Daring Greatly

I have a small library of personal development literature at home.  I have just finished Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  Rarely has a book so profoundly affected me.  I was literally moved to tears as I listened to her telling her stories.  Her struggle to connect with vulnerability seemed to mirror my own almost exactly.

In her book, she asks so many important questions.  But the one that struck me the hardest was this;  In a world where enough is never enough, how can we cultivate a sense of worthiness?  How can we learn to feel loved and lovable in a culture that values exhaustion and burn out over communication and connection?

I remember as a child and even into adulthood challenging both of my parents.  I distinctly recall screaming at them “Why can’t you just be proud of me!”  They would always assure me that they were.  As I look back, I can see that was the truth.  The chronic need for achievement came from inside me.  Any words of support and encouragement they gave me were at best, a temporary balm.

As I have gone through life, the need for approval, the desire to be seen has remained.  However, now it is not just my parents that I seek it from.  The need to be relevant, to feel like I am enough, has brought me to some dark and dangerous places.  I am caught in the vicious cycle of “I will be happy when… ” When my blog is a success.  It won an award and still I wasn’t soothed.  When the podcast reaches more listeners.  How many will it take?  When I am doing well at work.  I am now a finance manager, and “successful” by any objective measure, but still nothing.

It is slowly dawning on me, with the help of those supporting me, that the feeling of being enough will never come from outside.  It will not come from being athletic.  It will not come packaged in skinny jeans.  A good hair day, an orgasm, or a promotion will not conjure it.  It can only come from within me.  A truly terrifying prospect.

Becoming Enough

As I draft this post, the words of an Alanis Morissette song have been going through my head.

I’d be productive and still it would not come
I’d be celebrated still it would not come
I’d be the hero and still it would not come
I’d renunciate and still it would not come

I take comfort from knowing that if someone as wealthy, talented and accomplished as she can have these same sentiments, perhaps it is merely part of the human condition?  Maybe we all have demons to slay.  Perhaps the hardest thing is to set down the need for pleasing and perfecting, to just allow ourselves to be.

I know that I have a lot more work to do in this area.  I have enlisted the help of a therapist as I set about unlearning the habits of a lifetime.  Over the past few years I have driven myself to the point of exhaustion several times.  The “not enough” feeling is impossible to out run.  The only solution is to try to meet it head on.

I am committed to dealing with the shame that losing my job brought.  To shining a big, bright light on it.  Because shame loves the dark.  It delights in festering in unlit corners, gaining strength and power.  As I try to shed the pounds I gained when I was eating my feelings and too depressed to exercise, I am determined not to allow my self worth to depend on this.

At various stages of my life I have weighed less than 50kgs and over 80kg.  I was not happy with my body at any stage.  I am going to turn that narrative on its head.  If my weight can’t make me happy, why should I let it make me unhappy?  Brene Brown tells us that when we own our story, we get to write the ending.  That fills me with great hope.

I am imperfect.  I have flaws beyond counting.  But yet, I am worthy.  I am capable of giving love and receiving it in return.  I have gifts to offer this world.  I will enter the arena and fight.  Overcoming these demons may turn out to be my life’s work.  I will learn to be okay with that.  I will not hurry the journey at all.  Be well xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Articles

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

Articles

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

Articles

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

Articles

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

Articles

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

Articles

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

Articles

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

the-its-not-you-its-me-mistake-L-h7o6M5

Articles

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