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How stress, fear and anxiety rob us of the ability to make good decisions

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We live in a world where fear, stress, and anxiety are normalised. While the news media is only partly to blame, making a killing of FUDGE (fear, uncertainty, doubt, greed, and envy), they are not the sole culprits. Each one of us chooses, on some level, to play this game. Or at least, we pretend that we have no other choices.

But, how do we make good decisions from a state of fear, stress and anxiety? In many ways, we’re hampered by tunnel vision, unable to see options broader than the scope of escaping the immediate threats that we perceive. We choose to move towards what we consider safe rather than seeing the wider opportunities available to us.

And so, we continue on this hamster wheel, continually fueled by our fears and making decisions in less than optimal mental, physical and emotional states.

I want to take a moment to explore the effects of fear, stress and anxiety on us, physically, mentally and emotionally. Then, we can explore the optimal states for decision-making. Finally, I will look at options for bringing in a form (albeit temporarily) in which you are calm and alert, allowing better decision-making.

The effects of stress, fear & anxiety

Fear, stress and anxiety are not the same. But I’m not going to delve deeply into the differences between them or the specifics of their physiological, emotional or mental effects. Instead, I will talk about generalisations. This has its drawbacks, but there are many overlaps in what happens to us in each of these states.

At a fundamental level, fear is the response to a present danger. Unfortunately, our minds are now quite adept at creating mental fears, presently with us, although blown out of proportion. Anxiety is fear for the future: the unknown and uncertain. And stress is our response to fear and anxiety: physically, mentally and emotionally.

Both fear and anxiety can send you into one of the following response patterns:

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze

Long term, if you fail to return to a state of calm, you end up in a state of chronic stress, which most of us have become accustomed to on some level. This is what I want to address and look within and consider the possibility of change.

There are short-term fixes to stress, fear and anxiety. But if you are living with chronic stress, then perhaps it’s time to make some lifestyle changes. Allow things to slow down and ease off. I’ll come back to this later.

Your inner life: embodied stress

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When you are under stress (responding to fear or anxiety), your body will strive to keep you alert, moving, motivated and ready to avoid impending danger. Because of this, it will change your physiological responses, shutting down some functions considered non-essential for survival while heightening others.

So, for example, your digestion is non-essential, which is why when we eat on the run or when stressed, we often end up with indigestion or reflux.

But the body also responds to stress by maximising and filtering your senses towards danger. So, your peripheral vision opens up, which is why when you’re stressed, you struggle to find the car keys that were “right under your nose”.

You become better able to spot hostility and aggression. Yet, when someone is simply calm and passive, you mistake this expressionlessness for hostility rather than as a friendly face.

Similarly, your ears become attuned to higher and lower frequencies, filtering out the normal range of human voices. So, you will notice and tune into high pitched voices (stressed) while ignoring those that are calm and in a normal range.

The ANS (Autonomic Nervous System) responses

The ANS is part of the nervous system that controls many of the body’s unconscious functions, such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and the like. It steps up and controls your fight, flight or freeze response by controlling your heart rate, breathing, vision, hearing, taste, smell, etc. The RSA centre of the brain filters these messages, choosing which information or data to pass on.

When you are fearful and anxious and go into fight or flight mode, your energy and blood are directed to your limbs, making sense for running or fighting. Of course, that\s not very helpful in your office fight, where you need your wits about you, rather than the use of fists. Unfortunately, after a particularly stressful day, you might also find yourself feeling fatigued, as well as aches and pains in your muscles, even though you didn’t use them for fight or flight.

Similarly, in preparation for a fight and injury, your blood thickens, making clotting easier.  This is an excellent response for a fight but a terrible reaction for heart disease and circulation.

Anxiety can also lead to insomnia, as you are kept alert to ward off predators throughout the night. This is not a particularly helpful response with inner-city living when your stress is work-related and what you need is a good night’s sleep and a clear head in the morning.

Other long-term effects caused by the ANS’s response to stress might include>

  • impact on your immune system
  • high blood pressure
  • digestive issues.

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Your emotional response to stress

Everyone responds differently to stress: I quickly lose my playfulness and curiosity while my sense of humour turns darker. If my daughter tries to joke with me, and I am easily irritated, I quickly start to look at the cause of my stress. It’s rarely my daughter, but my lack of playfulness with her is an easy indicator that something is amiss.

Common emotional responses to stress include:

  • intense emotions
  • reacting impulsively
  • irritability, hostility & aggression
  • sadness or depression
  • inner turmoil
  • feelings of dread
  • frustration
  • withdrawal
  • defensive or suspicious of others

All of these emotional responses make it difficult to connect and communicate with others. Stress impacts relationships in the immediate way that we interact and the long-term impact on trust. It is lost over time when we establish patterns of behaviour that are stress responses.

Your mental response to stress

Rumination is a typical stress response: replaying a situation or problem in our minds, but with a single or limited perspective and options. It feels like going around in circles, a loop on replay.

Unfortunately, with ongoing stress, there is an impact on our ability to think clearly. The stress hormones affect not only our nervous system and immune system; they also impact the brain in a couple of different ways.

Memory & problem-solving

Firstly, stress hormones will impact your hippocampus, where you store your long-term memories. This makes it difficult to learn anything new. Ever tried to study and cram at the very last minute? You can remember what you studied the next day for the exam (when you need it), but a week later, it’s all forgotten.

The second part of your brain impacted by stress is the frontal lobe, responsible for paying attention and focusing. It’s the part of your brain that allows you to stay in the present moment, but it does more than just that.

The frontal lobe also helps filter out irrelevant or unimportant information. It is also responsible for your ability to judge rightly and problem-solving.

So, when you are stressed out or living in fear, the part of your brain that you most need is disconnected:

  • it fails to filter out important/unimportant information, so you feel confused and overwhelmed;
  • it fails to concentrate and keep you focused;
  • and it switches off judgement and problem-solving abilities.

Is it any wonder, then, that when you’re stressed, decision-making is so tricky?

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The essential elements of good decision-making

I consider some factors essential, from a coaching perspective, when making decisions. It doesn’t matter when these are personal or business decisions.

Your ability to take these factors into account requires a state of calm and alertness. It’s not about being relaxed and disconnected but rather in a calm state – fully connected and present.

Heart

  • It’s easy to identify the values of what is essential and priorities at this moment in time. It’s not just what matters right now, but the ability to differentiate the urgent from the important and ensure that you have considered all priorities of what is truly important.
  • You can connect with your feelings and desires and notice the emotions and desires of others.
  • You account for your decisions’ impact on relationships and weigh the impact on yourself and other stakeholders. Are you able to calmly assess the effect on all relationships that matter, not just those immediately impacted? For example, if you decide to take on new responsibilities, how will that affect your relationship with your children? What importance do you need to give to that impact?

Head

  • Mentally, can you look at the multitude of options and choices from various perspectives and angles? When you are in a state of calm, you don’t suffer from tunnel vision but instead can engage curiosity to get a balanced or integrated view.
  • Another benefit of being calm is that you can become aware of your own biases or limited views. If someone calls you out or challenges your perspective, you won’t respond defensively but rather can entertain the possibility of another viewpoint. This creates opportunities to think outside the box.
  • Thinking of this sort also allows you to plan for the future, foreseeing potential obstacles and challenges, without falling into the trap of catastrophising or awfulising and becoming frozen as a result.

Gut

  • At a gut level, you’ll become aware of your gut feelings or any gut instinct that might kick in, rather than ignoring it. But, at the same time, you’ll also be more aware of that deep feeling in your gut regarding your identity. What impact will decision-making have on who you are?
  • In a calm state, we can evaluate risk quickly, looking at safety and security concerns objectively and subjectively, without blowing them out of proportion.
  • You can be courageous in choosing to move forward without being foolhardy.

Imagine a lion

Visualise or imagine a lion or cheetah sitting in the savannah, looking at the potential food supply and feast before them.

Notice the sparkle in their eyes: they are present and alert. Those eyes catch all the details of the scene before them.

But at the same time, when you look at the body, it is relaxed rather than tense. They are merely present and surveying the scene without wasting an ounce of energy. There is a sense of calm and tranquillity. It is not fatigue or a state of rest. They haven’t just eaten, nor are they sleepy and planning to rest.

This is the state we want to embody for decision-making: calm and yet alert—one in which we can see clearly, wherever we choose to focus our attention. We want to listen actively. And we don’t want to waste our energy unnecessarily on tension.

In this state, we can think, plan and ideate.

So, how do we change from stress to calm?

Consider for a moment the NLP model of the cybernetic loop.

This model shows that our thinking impacts our body (physiology) and emotions. Yet, at the same time, our thinking is affected by our emotions and our body and environment.

If we want to change the loop from stress to a state of calm, we simply choose a point of interruption.

Will we interrupt the environment/body, the feelings or the way of thinking?

breaking the cybernetic loop, interrupting your cybernetic loop, feelings, thinking, physiological, external behaviour, your feelings influence your thinking, physical state

While we process our thinking and emotions internally, the physical and physiological can be influenced internally and externally.  A physiological change is as simple as breathing differently or moving to a different room or space.

In any case, we can interrupt the loop of fear, anxiety, & stress by refocusing our thoughts, allowing emotion or feeling to pass through us, or making a physiological change. We choose a new path in which we rediscover what it feels like to be calm and alert to focus our attention on making better decisions.

The first step is self-awareness.

Know Thyself.

What emotional state are you in right now? How do you calibrate this state?

Notice your physiological state: how fast or slow is your heart rate? Are you breathing deeply into your belly, or are you shallow breathing? What is your posture?

And where are your thoughts focused as you read this?

You can use this same pause when you find yourself in a state of fear, anxiety or stress.

Just breathe takes on a new meaning!

Breathing works because it directly impacts our physiological state, and our breathing is a gateway into the ANS that allows us to influence our heart rate and bring us from a state of fight-flight into calm-alert.

A hurried and shallow breath tells our body to increase the heart rate. The blood thickens as hormones are released, and our pupils dilate to get better peripheral vision. But when we slow that breath down, we impact the heart rate, the release of hormones, and we can let the body know “it’s safe”.

But perhaps, like me, you rebound from fight-flight right past calm-alert over into freeze: this is a state of avoidance and dissociation. In that case, to move into calm-alert, you need more energy – which you can get through playing with your posture and your breath.

Practical breath exercise:

If you are feeling stressed and anxious, you can bring calm by extending your exhale. So, you might start with the 4-4-8 method:

  • inhale to the count of four;
  • hold for four; and
  • exhale to the count of eight.

On the other hand, if you are feeling tired and lethargic, you could do the opposite:

  • inhale to the count of eight;
  • hold for four; and
  • exhale to the count of four.

You only need to do these for a minute or two before returning to “balanced breathing”. Balanced breathing is the ideal state: your inhale and exhale are the same length and duration. For me, that’s an inhale for five and exhale for five. But you might find that you are more comfortable with a count of 4-4 or a count of 6-6. Find what is most comfortable for you.

In this ideal state of balanced breathing, allow yourself to relax, breathing in calmly, easily and effortlessly. This sends a message to the lungs and the nervous system, heart, and adrenal glands “calm down, it’s safe now”.

Using posture to take you from stress into relaxed

Another simple way to relax is to change your posture. Right now, you can roll your shoulders up and back and let them fall gently. Unclench your jaw and become aware of the muscles in your face and neck. Intentionally relax the muscles in your neck and then work down through your back, softening it while sitting upright. Uncross your legs if you don’t have both feet flat on the floor. And now notice what state you are in.  What changed with a simple change in your posture?

Over the coming week, take time to notice your posture when you are calm and present – relaxed. Notice your posture when you are sad or depressed – usually hunched over more, head bent forward.

One practice that I do daily is to sit in my chair and allow my head to drop forward, hunching my shoulders and pulling myself into a more fetal position while seated. I intentionally relax each muscle as I’m doing this. Then, I gently straighten up until sitting erect, with my feet squarely on the floor and my chin slightly raised. But I then take it further, and I lift my arms, a little above shoulder height and back enough to feel the stretch in my chest opening up fully. I allow my arms to fall gently, and roll my shoulders back and come back to an upright – calm, present and alert – posture.

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Notice the difference in how you feel between these three postures?

A simple experiment

Get curious:
Consider a decision you are trying to make – maybe something as simple as what to have for lunch.

  • Sitting in a semi-fetal position, consider the decision and your options.
  • Now, move your posture to stand and completely open, with your arms outstretched. Make it a power stance. Consider the same decision.
  • Finally, sit calmly and in a relaxed position, but upright and alert, and consider the options again.

Do you notice any differences in your decision-making perspectives? What did you notice?

Another simple way to change your physiological state is with exercise: which is why many people like to walk while they think.  Or, if you need to, do a full-on workout (boxing or a heavy run) – whatever it takes to burn off the steam and return to a state of calm.

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Practising mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation are other ways that you can “change state”. I find it particularly useful to do a body scan, where I sit down and, starting at my toes, just work my way through all muscles, skin & sensations, and even bones and joints, simply noticing what I notice.

  • Are there any aches and pains?
  • What tension am I holding in a particular muscle or group of muscles?
  • Can I relax them?

This exercise serves a simple purpose: it takes your focus and attention off the unknown future into the present moment.

Where attention goes, energy flows.

In Ditch the Diet & Face the Feelings, I ask my clients to practise mindfulness each time they eat – no matter whether it’s a meal, a snack or grabbing something on the run. Before they put anything in their mouth – that first bite – I ask that they simply breathe for 30 seconds and be present with their mind, body and emotions.  I ask clients to do the same again when they finish eating: practising a pause between eating and activity.

this creates a daily space of self-awareness, the habit of checking in.

How am I doing right now?

 

Interrupt your emotional state:

Perhaps all you need to break your loop and cycle of fear, stress, or anxiety is to give yourself a time-out. Take a break for five minutes, and step back and away.

In any case, no matter what the cause of your stress, remember to practice self-compassion and acceptance. It’s okay not to be okay all the time, and you don’t always have to hold it together perfectly.

But also notice that in all likelihood, right here and now – you are safe. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to read this article, and if the building were burning down around you, you would be running rather than reading. So, in this present moment, you have physical safety. Hopefully, you also have emotional security.

Take a moment and consider your feelings of fear and anxiety: what are the causes and stressors? How far away (in time & distance) is it?  Do you need to move further away from it physically?

Connection

While it’s hard to connect with others when we are in a state of fear & anxiety, it’s usually the remedy we require! The support of others is essential in returning a sense of safety & security, and it often also creates better perspectives in decision-making.

Particularly when we are chronically stressed, we need to take a good hard look at our inner circle: the five to six people we spend the most time with. When you look carefully at this group: are you getting support or merely giving support?

A supportive relationship does not mean that you are always giving-taking in the same ratio, and it is like the ebb and flow of the tides. But if you find yourself constantly giving but never receiving, it’s not a supportive relationship for you. And it should not be your “inner circle”. You might be part of their inner circle, but you need to redefine yours!

If you find yourself chronically stressed, I can bet you don’t feel supported.

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If you’ve never tried it – laughter is the best medicine!

Laughter is a great way to change from fear to joy. It can be obnoxious, silly or just plain comical. Find a video of a toddler or baby laughing for 2 minutes. Have a look at bloopers, one-liners, stand-up comedy or other jokes. Laugh until you cry if you need to.

After you’ve changed emotional states, look at what opens up and is available to you in your decision-making arsenal. What moved and shifted when you did?

Clearing your mind

I love the power of doing a brain dump before going to bed at night. There have been moments in my life when I’ve spent over an hour writing down everything that’s “on my mind” to be able to sleep peacefully. Sometimes, it takes a “to-do list” form, simply writing down all the things I “need to do” or should get done. At other times, it is merely dumping all my worries and fears onto the page.

I keep writing until my brain says, “that’s all, folks”.  When it has nothing more to add, then I’m done.  Taking that hour, even when tired, and writing down my worries certainly beats waking up at 2 am or tossing and turning throughout the night!

I find it particularly useful to ask the Great Creator & Divine Inspiration for answers overnight – writing down in my journal, after the brain dump, specific questions that I would like help answering in my decision-making process.

And then, when I open my eyes in the morning while waiting for the kettle to boil, I jot down the answers before starting my day. What new insights revealed themselves overnight?

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Morning pages

Another form of writing in a journal is morning pages. It is best done first thing in the morning, the first 45 minutes after waking up: when your ego still has a back-seat in your mind, and unconscious thoughts stream through effortlessly.

When you do morning pages, you sometimes find yourself writing down things that make you think, “where did this come from?”.  It could be a belief that you hold that you were unaware of. On the other hand, it might be an out-of-the-box solution to a problem you had on your mind for days!

Even if your morning pages are simply a stream of your fear and anxiety, over time, it breaks the loop, bringing you ever more into the present moment!

Mindful walking & thinking

Some people prefer (first thing in the morning or the evening before bed) to go for a mindful walk. This is where you focus your attention on your surroundings rather than getting lost in thought.

However, for others, there is joy in going for a walk specifically for thinking! In that case, make sure that it is a safe place to walk, where you don’t need to pay particular attention to your surroundings, and you can simply allow yourself to process your thoughts as you walk.

When I get into my day, it allows me to be present with what the day holds instead of what’s on my mind because I’ve already taken it out and put it on the paper. Okay.

5-4-3-2-1

A simple anxiety exercise that can be done “at the moment” to change the focus of your mind is this:

  • Five things I can see;
  • Four things I can touch;
  • Three things I can hear;
  • Two things I can smell; and
  • One thing I can taste in my mouth.

This simply takes the focus of your mind into the present moment and environment.

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Amplifying your decision-making ability

The best decisions are made in a state of calm. Wisdom – inner alignment & connection with others – is available when we are wholly committed to the present moment.

That doesn’t mean that the world and environment you are in are calm: but rather that your inner state is one of calm.  You create the calm within you need to look at the details as well as the big picture.

Wisdom comes to us when we are open to seeing more than just the fear and the cause of our anxiety: when we are not looking for an escape but an opportunity.  Fear will drive us to look merely for an escape route. But is that the direction you want to travel in?

Create opportunities – moments, days and a lifestyle – that allows you to find a balance between stress and relaxation.  In this place of being calm and alert, you will amplify your ability to make good decisions.

 

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Curiosity and engagement: challenging our perception

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As children, we have an innate curiosity. We look at the world around us with fresh eyes, always looking for the new and exciting. We ask “why” and “what” and “how”, ad nauseum. But somewhere along life’s journey, we dampen this desire to engage with the new.

Our ego, training and habits bind us to a limited perspective. Continue reading Curiosity and engagement: challenging our perception

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How to Create Freedom and Health for a Life you Love

How to Create Freedom and Health for a Life you Love

How quickly this year is flying past, despite the days that seem to last forever and drag by slowly. Perhaps, like me, you’ve had a chance in these last eighteen months to consider deeply what it means to have a life that you love. More importantly, have you noticed the roles that freedom and health play in your life?

This year has reminded me of the importance of my physical health and wellbeing. My physical health impacts my mental health directly. Coeliac Disease goes hand-in-hand with anxiety and depression when inflammation sets in.  It’s more than just the anxiety of not knowing how my body will respond and “play up”.

As long as I manage my inflammation and have a healthy gut flora, my mental health thrives. As my mental health thrives, so does my productivity and ability to build a life I love. Nonetheless, I have regularly ignored how this autoimmune disease affects me and limits my freedom over the past twenty years.

As we spent much of 2020 in lockdown, all the issues related to what I can control and what I cannot control came to the surface for me. There were months of deep introspection and noticing where I have healed and what I have left to heal. I noticed where I trusted the Divine to take care of me and where I sadly lacked trust!

So, I took stock of my life once again.

Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom.Henepola Gunaratana, health, a life you love
Mindfulness gives you time.
Time gives you choices.
Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom. Henepola Gunaratana

Defining values: freedom

One surprising effect of the crisis of 2020, ongoing into 2021, is how it impacted my values and what I consider important.

In my twenties, freedom would have been my primary value. And once again, I find it front and centre as the value which I hold most dear.  While wisdom reappears, laughter made an appearance for the first time since my teens! Mastery made an appearance, replacing ideas of commitment and being in the flow. And empowerment made an appearance for the first time: empowering myself as well as empowering others.

For 2020, my values were bold, committed, resilient, inspired, aware, intuitive, and flow.  I struggled most of the year with the flow and detaching from the outcome!  I’m not sure what happened to bold – other than being outspoken in my memes on social media to the extent that I got a few Facebook bans for sarcasm that was “fact-checked”.

But for me, freedom is more than just political freedoms or religious freedom.

Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.Albert Camus
Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better. Albert Camus

What does freedom mean to you?

personal freedom: freedom of the person in going and coming, equality before the courts, security of private property, freedom of opinion and its expression, and freedom of conscience subject to the rights of others and of the public
From Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary
Freedom is the state of being allowed to do what you want to do
“Freedom is the state of being allowed to do what you want to do.” From Collins online dictionary.

I consider freedom to cover many aspects of my life:

  • There’s an emotional aspect – the healing from baggage that I have perhaps carried for many years;
  • Financial freedom – the power to live a life that I love, having choices open up before me because I have built the financial wherewithal to finance my choices;
  • Religious freedom – to believe and have faith as I choose;
  • Freedom of speech and opinion; and – most importantly
  • The freedom to be yourself.

I hope that you are loved, accepted and valued as you are, for who you are, by the people that you value and love.

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.Charles Evans Hughes
“When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.” Charles Evans Hughes

The Health to Live a Life I Love

An essential element of my personal freedom is the health to live abundantly. This includes my emotional and mental health and a level of fitness that is high enough to do the activities that I love.

While my personal definition of great health is a body that does not rely on medicines or supplements to keep my organs and systems balanced and well, that is not currently my reality. I don’t have enough energy to do everything I want without supplements, and I don’t get to live pain-free. However, I don’t have to resort to medication for my health journey. That is a major step forward from where I used to be.

I exercise because I want to be strong enough to do activities that I love: paddle boarding, exploring the outdoors, travelling with active sightseeing. While my travel has been restricted these last eighteen months, I am focused on keeping a fitness level that affords me the confidence that I could leave at any time and be fit enough.

The goal, ultimately, is a life that I love.

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How do I identify my ideal life?

If you’ve ever done a “Passion Test”, you will know this phrase well.

“My life is ideal when I am…”

  • What are you doing when you are living your ideal life?
  • Who are you with, ideally?
  • What do you feel when you are thriving?
  • Where are you?

You might write down ten or twelve phrases of “my life is ideal when I am…”

At the beginning of the year, I write down fifty things that I do when my life is ideal. What are the activities that I am actively involved in? Who do I make time to visit and spend time with? It might be as simple as “make time to have coffee with ____”.

The goal throughout the year is to do as many of these 50 items – no matter how big or small – that are aligned with my values and ideal life.  These are fifty small stepping stones to an ideal life.

Designing my ideal life:

I am now exceedingly careful with who participates in the design of my life. Whoever calls the shots has the power. I insist on having the freedom to design my life and seek opinions from others with common interests.

What limits your ability to dream and desire? Of course, it depends on whether these limitations are real. Are these limitations beliefs that we have held in mind for years? How might I challenge these beliefs? Perhaps they are imaginary limitations.  If you’ve handed over the power to others, can you now take it back?

Do you have the freedom to prioritise (in time, money and attention) what is important to you?

When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw. Nelson Mandela
When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw. Nelson Mandela

The freedom of values:

For me, in the design of my ideal life, my values take centre stage. They are not simply empty words and ideas. Rather, they reflect the ideals of what I want to embody in my choices.

Whose values are you living and embodying each day? Perhaps your life and the design of it reflect the values of another generation. They might reflect the values of your inner critic rather than your deep sense of self.

If you feel empty and that your life is meaningless: this is a great place to start examining. Consider the values that your life currently embodies, and then consider whether or not these are your personal values.

The Freedom to Create:

Creating a life you love is more than ideation and design. It’s creating and then keeping to routines that support you. You take an idea, and you put it into action, allocating time and resources.

  • Do you have the freedom to create a life you love?
  • What limitations and obstacles are you facing?

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Health and Energy to Take Action:

For me, these past twenty years, taking action has been tied closely to my health. While I might use mindset to push through part of the obstacles, I’ve found that building a stronger, healthier body is easier and more effective than focusing on using my energy to push through.

How does your mental health impact your freedom?

I’m in an industry where we talk openly about mental health and our challenges with anxiety or depression. I’m blessed with an awareness of what “okay” feels like and can notice when I’m not doing well.  More importantly, I have a support network that helps me get back to fully balanced and in action.

Because when my health is great, I’m motivated and focused.

If you don’t have that support network: how can you build it? Having a life you love depends on this!

The joy of travel

With Coeliac Disease, one of my biggest constraints is where and what I eat. While that could limit my love of travelling, I refuse to allow that to be so! Airbnb has been one of my saving graces because it allows me to have a kitchen and make my own food. I typically pack one or two small pots (yes, I travel with my own pots) and then buy disposable cutlery and a ton of tinfoil when I arrive. The tin foil allows me to cover surfaces in the kitchen that might have gluten (like chopping boards).

Unfortunately, Coeliac Disease also constrains what I drink. It’s more than just avoiding beers and whiskey. Most powdered coffee and frappe mixes are either flavoured (malt) or contaminated with gluten. However, most leaf teas (unflavored) are safe choices.  So, I often order a tea with a meal rather than risk hot cocoa (because I don’t know which powder mix they use) or a cold drink.

On a plane, I assume that the only food I’ll be offered is a fruit salad and peanuts (which don’t sit well with my stomach and I avoid). So, I always pack my own snacks for planes and travel.

I’m not going to let dietary restrictions impact the joy of travel!

Eating out, however, is another story! I’ll join friends for celebrations but often find myself ordering vanilla ice cream. While it would seem that a fruit salad or a salad of any kind would be a safe choice: unless they have a dedicated gluten-free surface and knives, I won’t risk it. I prefer to go hungry for one meal than ruin my holiday for the next ten to fifteen days.

Steps and pacing yourself

You have to start wherever it is that you are at right now. There’s no point in waiting longer – till things get better – to get started. It’s unrealistic to think that everything is always fine – there are challenges and obstacles.

If you’ve never done it before, get clear on your personal values, and then define for yourself what freedom means and the health you need to have the life you love.

Your personal definition of freedom will differ from mine. Perhaps it is merely political and religious freedom. Maybe it is something more.

What is your personal definition of wellbeing? Does it include health and fitness?

No matter what your definitions, identify small steps that you can take this week, this month and over the next six months that allow you to build a life you love.  You might consider creating a plan for the next two years or even up to five years.

Review, revisit and revise your plans.

Plans are implemented over time: things change, and life doesn’t always go as expected.

I typically review my plans and progress in November and May of every year. Sometimes I find myself back at the drawing board, rebuilding the plans I had for my goals. Other times, I merely tweak and chunk down, delving deeper into the next steps forward.

It’s all about how I face the obstacles and challenges along the way.

Despite the challenges I’ve faced with health and well-being over these past twenty years, I still insist on being fit and healthy. This doesn’t mean that I give up on a goal or dream. Nonetheless, I regularly check what works and adjust my course.

You’re never starting from scratch when you revisit and revise your plans – you now have more experience and adjust for the current reality.

It’s tempting to throw away the goal and give up. But most times, the problem is not the dream or goal itself. Usually, it’s the plan we’re following or our half-assed efforts at implementation.

As much as I would like to say that I wing it and do everything going with the flow, I don’t. I use discipline and routines to keep the flow happening. They are my best friends in both planning and execution.

What do you value most in freedom, health and a life you love?

As you look back over the lessons you’ve learned in the last eighteen months, consider how your definitions of health and freedom have changed.

More importantly, what do you value most in creating a life you love?

What are you doing to create this?

introductory call, Beth Gray, coach, coaching packages, phone call, Zoom, Skype, online, purpose, expectations, value, fit

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Courage, motivation and action-taking: how to move forward

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It takes deep courage to live up to your potential from a place of authenticity. Most of us are afraid of how we might alienate others if we chase our dreams. We are simultaneously afraid of failure and success.

But in your commitment to moving forward and growth, I encourage you to use courage to drive your motivation. You will be rewarded by living in alignment with the best version of yourself you could be.

Courage to live the life of your dreams:

If you want to change the terms of your life, you will need to drum up courageous action and move forward. Living your best life requires moving forward despite the fear.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. E.E. Cummings, courageous, authentic, be authentic, living authentically, alignment
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
E.E. Cummings

Don’t get me wrong – you don’t want to use dumb courage. Allow compassion to soften your courage: for yourself, not just for others.  The invitation to courage is one lead by inner wisdom: courage that is both compassionate and creative.

Knowing your Heart’s Desires:

If you don’t have clarity on what you want to create, it won’t be easy to find the courage to take action consistently. You won’t benefit from the waves of motivation that sweep you along easily.

Courage to take action:

To drum up courage, you might consider starting with the heart: what is it that you desire to create? How important and valuable is this to you? Do your plans and goals align with your values?

Once you have done the inner work:

  • identifying your values;
  • embodying your heart’s desires;  and
  • creating goals and breaking them down into a plan

Then you can look at moving into action. When you put your plans into motion, you will start to get results. You might find that some of the actions don’t have the expected results. At that moment, you will need the courage to review your plans and recalibrate. In some cases, you will need to create new plans without giving up on your heart’s desires or values.

Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you. Bethany Hamilton
Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.
Bethany Hamilton

Taking action on your plans and goals is a process that goes hand-in-hand with facing your fears. You will not need to wait to feel courageous. Instead, you drum up the courage “from your loins” by moving forward. As you do this, your courage will grow.

Taking Action on your Goals Consistently:

If you want to feel courageous, then take consistent action despite the obstacles or challenges you face. As you choose to take steps all the time, you will find yourself overcoming your fears more easily.  It becomes less stressful to be outside your comfort zone and using your gut to move you forward.

You will need to plan out the necessary steps, even if the only step you know is the next right step forward. It’s not always possible to know the big picture, but you are more likely to take action if you have a clear path for your next step.

Courage builds up the motivation with us. While our desires might motivate us with a large flaming fire, it is the fire in your belly of courage that will truly move you forward.

Motivation Drives you Forward:

Think of motivation as paddling with the waves to get to a beach. Each time the wave hits you, it drives you forward. But if you fail to paddle between the waves, you can also get pulled backwards by the currents.

So, while you are waiting for the next wave of motivation to hit, keep paddling courageously! Allow yourself to be pulled towards your goals and passions by your consistent action.

Rather than allow fear to push you away from whatever pain you are trying to avoid, allow your desires and motivation to pull you in the direction of your authentic self.

Motivated to Create Opportunities:

When you live as your authentic self, you will find yourself motivated to create opportunities.  These might be moments to spend quality time with those that you love. Perhaps it’s merely the opportunity to create treasured memories or moments of your own, where you feel complete freedom and joy.

Most importantly, the awareness you create when you face your fears with courage opens up the possibility of creativity and playful exploration.  Rather than being driven by feelings of stress, fear and anxiety, you can become curious about possible outcomes in your decision-making process.

With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity. Mark Twain quotes, compassionate courage, wise courage, wise compassion, creative courage
With courage, you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity.
Mark Twain

As you listen to your deep inner wisdom, you will understand the difference between legitimate self-preservation needs and procrastination.  Look at the opportunities around you to take action, even small steps.

Taking Action:

The crux of courage is that taking action builds confidence and trust in yourself. The more you keep your promises and your word (to yourself), the greater your trust in your own inner wisdom.  This awareness of the connection between desires, expectations, and action will lead you into taking more small steps forward.

As you take action, you create more inner peace and a growing sense of self-worth.  Taking action is what creates certainty within your heart and mind.  You can truly be yourself when you are certain you will keep your word.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of taking action is that you begin to attract like-minded people into your life. Your fears of losing people may well be valid: you will leave some people behind as you move on. But you will also be rewarded with a new sense of belonging as your choices build new relationships and a network around you.

There is a special beauty in having deeper conversations about what truly matters to you: and as you learn to “know thyself”, you will build new connections and relationships. These richer relationships will allow you to feel fully supported: but be prepared for the fears that arise as you notice relationships dropping away.

Be brave enough to live the life of your dreams according to your vision and purpose instead of the expectations and opinions of others. Roy T. Bennett, courage, courageous, compassion, living authentically
Be brave enough to live the life of your dreams according to your vision and purpose instead of the expectations and opinions of others.
Roy T. Bennett

 

Courage allows you to push through the fear:

If you are committed to making changes toward living authentically, allow your courage to grow. We talk about people being spineless or growing a backbone. Allow your backbone of courage to grow, and come forward.

As emotions go, fear is typically felt and sensed at the front of the gut. Courage, on the other hand, is something we experience at the back, close to the backbone. So when we talk about “pushing through the fear”, it’s a metaphor for what we are physiologically sensing within. Courage literally pushes through the fear to mobilise us.

If you are looking to thrive, move forward with more action and small steps.

 

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Authentic: how to be your glorious self, not a people pleaser

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I always feel like I walk a thin line between being “nice” and being truly kind. Old me is a burnt-out people pleaser. To be authentic in relationships with people that used to know me before I started this journey is an ongoing lesson! See, with new acquaintances, it’s easier: they have no expectations of what I will be like or how I will express myself.  But in older relationships, I still have to catch myself.

Be authentic!
Stop acting and pretending, stop fawning and being “nice and polite” in socially acceptable ways. Instead, remember to show up as the kinder version of you.

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