Are you an overthinker?
Of course, we’re all thinking all the time – whether consciously or unconsciously. Our mind never really stops spitting out thoughts, therefore thinking itself is not the problem. Rather, it’s the kind of thoughts you’re engaging in and the amount of energy you’re giving to really unhelpful thoughts that will get you into trouble.
I’ve come to recognise a few common culprits that fall into the ‘overthinking’ category and cause you the most distress. Here I’ve listed my top three and given you some tips for how you might overcome them.
This is the very definition of overthinking. It essentially means to obsess over a problem and to keep thinking about it from every angle without doing anything productive to solve it. You know how they call cows ruminants because they keep regurgitating their stomach contents and chewing over it again? (I know.. gross!) Well that is essentially what we are doing when we ruminate. Chewing the same stuff over and over – but not the contents of our stomach, the contents of our minds.
This kind of unproductive, obsessive problem focus is a massive time-waster and strongly linked to increased rates of depression and anxiety. There are various ways to break the habit of rumination:
- When you notice yourself going down that path, imagine a stop sign in your head and tell yourself STOP. Then immediately switch your thoughts to something more pleasant, more present focused or positive.
- Give your mind a distraction. Call a friend, read a book, play music, start a new task. Find out what works for you to keep your mind from wandering back to the problem
- Remind yourself that what you are doing is NOT problem solving and is in fact, likely making things worse. Don’t let yourself be fooled into believing this thinking is productive.
This is when you question everything you do and say, and every decision you make, never trusting yourself to get anything right. It could come up when you’re making decisions about what job to take or what outfit to wear. If it’s about things you’ve already done, you might rehash it wondering if you’ve said or done the right thing. Every little thing is subjected to your own harsh scrutiny, constantly wondering if you should have done something differently. Here’s what to do about it:
- Practice being more comfortable with uncertainty. Second-guessing yourself is a type of anxiety caused by needing to be 100% sure you’ve done the right thing. Of course, nothing in life is 100% guaranteed (and even if something is right for a short time, things can change in an instant!) so learning to live in a world that is inherently uncertain is essential for your sanity.
- Challenge your ideas about the importance of some of these decisions. Will it matter in a year? Does it matter to anyone else but you? Is this decision entirely irreversible such that you will live with devastating consequences for the rest of your natural born life? Probably not. So relax.
This is when you obsess over what other people might be thinking or will think about you. It has elements of rumination and a bit of second guessing which makes it doubly torturous. It is often highly self-critical thinking because you assume other people have negative thoughts about you or your decisions. Mind reading is one of the worst kinds of over-thinking because at the end of the day, it’s pure fantasy. Not only are you taking the worst, most judgmental thoughts about yourself but you’re attributing them to someone else without any way of checking the validity of your assumptions. Bad idea!
- When you notice yourself fixating on what you think other people are thinking or guessing what other people’s objectives or motivations are, use all the skills I mentioned in Point 1 to stop and shift your attention.
- Remind yourself that your mind’s inbuilt negativity bias means you will always assume the worst. This is part of your biological make-up but you are can take control of those thoughts.
- If possible, simply let go of those thoughts. If not, try coming up with several more positive scenarios to replace your negative assumptions and remind yourself that since you’re only guessing anyway, the positive options are just as likely to be true.
Of course one of the best ways to manage all the unhelpful thinking traps we all fall into is by practicing mindfulness. When you can learn to watch your thoughts with curiosity (or even humour!) instead of being consumed by them, and you finally are able to stop believing all the terrible stories you’re telling yourself, you open up to a whole new way of living.
If you’re keen to learn more about mindfulness and how it can help you, hop on my mailing list (below) or better still, consider joining me for my 8-week online course, Mindfulness for Busy People.READ MORE
Meditation has long since dropped its reputation as a weird hippy past-time and firmly established its place in the mainstream as a foundation for optimal physical and mental health. There is research demonstrating that the benefits of mindfulness meditation include, but are not limited to:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Boosting immunity
- Slowing the signs of ageing
- Reducing depression, stress and anxiety
- Enhancing relationships
Improving attention, memory and focus
The list is long and perhaps you’ve already heard people espousing the many benefits of maintaining a meditation practice. What you may not have heard is that some of those benefits can directly and indirectly support your efforts to lose weight and create a healthier lifestyle.
See, this is where people become interested because for all the talk about accepting ourselves and loving our bodies, most women are still quite preoccupied with weight and body shape. If trimming down and toning up is a priority for you, below are three very specific ways that incorporating a bit more mindfulness into your day might help you to more quickly shed that excess weight:
1. Reducing stress
Stress causes your body to produce cortisol. A little cortisol is normal and healthy but when you’re continually stressed, you can have an over-production of cortisol. There are lots of negative consequences to that and one of them is that it stimulates overeating (particularly high fat and high sugar foods) and also causes your body to hold onto fat. We know that being stressed also impacts the quality of your sleep. Sleep deprivation messes with the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which are known as the hunger hormones because they regulate your feelings of hunger and fullness.
So in a nutshell, if you’re chronically stressed you’re more likely to crave junk food, eat more of it, and store fat. That’s a triple whammy when it comes to weight gain and we haven’t even touched on the psychological aspect of emotional eating which is a hindrance to weight loss. Practising mindfulness meditation has been proven to reduce stress and improve sleep so from a purely physiological perspective, it’s well worth devoting time each day to maintaining a meditation practice.
2. Curbing unhealthy habits
Mindfulness involves bringing your full awareness to what’s happening as it’s happening (without judgement). Most of us move about our days on autopilot, and our thoughts and behaviours are very habitual. If you think about it, how often do you reach for a snack, finish a whole bag of chips or stand staring into the fridge without even consciously thinking about what you’re doing? Anything can be a trigger for this kind of automatic eating, e.g., the time of day, feeling bored, or another (linked) habitual activity like watching TV.
By developing an increased capacity for mindfulness, you bring yourself into the present and realise what you’re doing. When you’re actually aware of what you’re doing, you realise you have a great number of other options available to you! You also learn to know what your triggers are for mindless, compulsive or emotional eating and you’re more able to catch yourself before you fall into those old bad habits.
3. Learning to tolerate discomfort
Stress and boredom can certainly be triggers for emotional eating and sometimes a little awareness can be enough to help you curb that behaviour. But sometimes your difficult emotions can be a lot more intense than a few moments of frustration, and in those situations sometimes you don’t care about what you’re eating because your main goal is to take away the pain you’re feeling. We all have various strategies we use to avoid, suppress or numb emotional pain and food is definitely one of those strategies for many people.
Practising mindfulness meditation, contrary to popular stereotypes, is not about emptying your mind or taking yourself off to a happy place where you can take a lovely break from your real life. Mindfulness is about showing up and being fully present to what is happening, without needing your situation or your feelings to be any different from what they are. By developing the capacity to sit with your discomfort rather than run away from it, you’re far less likely to use food (or alcohol or shopping) as avoidance. This is one of the most powerful benefits of a meditation practice. If you know you use food to suppress your emotions, I highly recommend you explore how mindfulness can help you break that pattern.
Where to start?
If you’re interested in exploring meditation, there are a lot of free apps you can download that include guided meditations. But if you’re serious about learning mindfulness properly, I’d love you to join my online course, Mindfulness for Busy People. It’s an 8-week program based on the world renowned Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and teaches you step by step how to build mindfulness into your daily life.
Hundreds of people have benefited from the program and you can get on the waitlist to be first to hear when doors are open again (plus get in on any special earlybird offers!)READ MORE
You’ve no doubt heard the Serenity Prayer. It’s the one where we ask for…
“the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can
and the wisdom to know the difference”.
Being a practitioner and teacher of mindfulness, I’m always talking about the acceptance part. Things in your life may not be ideal but futile resistance to circumstances outside your control is the very definition of suffering. You might not like it, but sometimes your best option is to drop the struggle and let it be. The important thing to know is that acceptance is not defeat – it’s a wise redirection of your time and resources.
Of course, the other very important part of the prayer is the part where you ask for ‘the courage to change the things you can’ and there is plenty that you do have control over. In fact, happiness researchers suggest that almost half of your general happiness in life is determined not by the circumstances of your life but your intentional thoughts and actions. That’s huge!
I thought this week I’d share three very simple things you can change, which have the potential to make a big difference to your mindset and mood.
1. Change what you focus on.
Our minds are like velcro for negativity and teflon for all things positive. This is because of your inbuilt negativity bias and you’re not alone in having this unbiased perspective. It’s built into our DNA. But when you realise how much you fixate on the negative while you ignore, deny or dismiss the positive, you can make a conscious decision to switch your focus. Instead of seeing only what’s going wrong, shine a mental spotlight on everything that’s going well. When you notice you’re zeroing in on your perceived flaws, make the decision to focus on your best qualities and dial up the self-compassion. If you’re assuming the worst about other people, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Regularly make a note of all the things you have to be grateful for.
2. Change your language.
Just as you can choose where to direct your mental energy, you can also take charge of the kind of language you use and the conversations you engage in. Check yourself if you are using negative, critical words to describe yourself or other people. Try to steer clear of complaining and the gossipy conversation that often gains traction in workplaces and social groups. Negativity breeds more negativity so wherever you can, do your bit to raise the tone of conversation by injecting comments that are more optimistic, encouraging, and positive.
3. Change your social circle
They say we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with and I think there’s some truth to that. If you spend your time with people who are negative, cynical, apathetic or have a victim mentality, it can be easy to adopt the same way of thinking or for them to sabotage your efforts at positive change. On the other hand, being around people who are goal-directed, optimistic and enthusiastic can also be infectious. We all have some friendships we’ve perhaps outgrown, or people in our lives who might drain our energy or undermine us in subtle ways. It’s not that you need to cut all of those people out of your life (though you might decide to do just that) but you do want to make sure you’re making an effort to connect and nurture relationships with people who uplift and support you.
Decide right now the one thing you can change to shift your mood from crappy to happy.
P.S. One of the most effective ways to improve your mood is mindfulness. I’ve spent years learning, practising and teaching it and have just created my very own 8-week online course, “Mindfulness for Busy People” so you can learn these skills from the comfort of your lounge room! Hooray! If you would like to know more, please get your name on the waiting list.READ MORE
If you’re like most women, you’ve probably been on a diet at some point in your life. In fact, you’ve probably been on several. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey in 2011-12, 15% of women over the age of 15yrs were on a diet at the time of the survey, with half of them reporting that their diet involved restricting calories for the purpose of losing weight. Other surveys have found that up to 50% of people will diet in any given year.
No-one would blame you if you’re among the many millions of women who believe that being thinner would make you happier. Women and girls get the message loud and clear that thin is the only acceptable and desirable body shape, and it’s this messaging that fuels a weight loss industry worth billions of dollars every year.
One survey in Australia found that only 22% of women were happy with their weight, with 74% wanting to lose weight. Of the three quarters of the female population who wanted to lose weight 68% were in a healthy weight range and 25% were underweight.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The fact is that undertaking a regime of restricting calories for the purpose of making your body smaller has been proven over and over again to not work. Dieting is, in fact, bad for your body, bad for your mind and really, really bad for your self-esteem.
Here are just a few reasons why I discourage dieting:
- When you restrict calories, your metabolism slows down. This means the longer you diet, the less you can eat if you want to continue losing weight. This slowing down of your metabolism doesn’t reverse when you start eating normally again! This was demonstrated by a recent study that followed Biggest Loser contestants for six years and found their bodies fought to regain the weight. After a period of dieting, as soon as you resume your normal calorie intake, your slower metabolism ensures you gain weight much more quickly. This is the yo-yo effect we all know so well.
- Failure to lose weight despite your best efforts causes you to feel badly about yourself. Again, the mistaken belief is that if you’re not managing to lose weight and keep it off, you’re just not trying hard enough or you’re somehow lacking discipline. Feeling badly about yourself is a trigger for many people to eat more.
- A couple of now famous studies have highlighted the psychological effects of food deprivation. In the Minnesota Starvation study, healthy weight men were required to drastically limit their caloric intake to mimic the effects of starvation during the war. They quickly became obsessed with food and even after the study was over, many of them chose to put themselves back on a diet as they’d become so preoccupied with their body weight. In the ‘milkshake’ study [Herman, C.P. & Mack, D. 1975. Restrained and unrestrained eating. Journal of Personality(43), 647–660] dieters and non-dieters were given the option of eating ice-cream after already drinking a milkshake. The dieters were repeatedly shown to eat more ice-cream than non-dieters. This is thought to be due to the all or nothing thinking (or the “in for a penny, in for a pound” effect) that occurs when you ‘blow’ your diet.
What’s the alternative?
It’s hard to shake the firmly entrenched thinking patterns around food and weight that form in your earliest years. But for your physical wellbeing and for the sake of your sanity, it’s important to start shifting your thinking away from the idea of dieting and weight loss and focus instead on optimal health and fitness.
Rather than focusing on calorie restriction and numbers on scales, try making these small changes:
- Throw away your scales.
Weight is no indication of health, beauty, strength or fitness. Constantly weighing your body can wreak havoc on your mood and undermine your motivation.
- “Focus on the fit, not the fat.”
Set yourself goals around strength, flexibility and fitness rather than numbers on scales. Celebrate your body for what it can do, not how it looks.
- Eat for nutrition and pleasure.
When you demonise food or certain food groups, your mind closes in around what you ‘can’t’ eat and wants it more. Rather than eating (or not eating) for thinness, educate yourself on the nutritional value of food and eat for energy.
Changing your attitude around weight and dieting is especially challenging if you do have excess weight to lose, or if you’ve been told by a medical professional that you need to lose weight for your health. Still, the shift in mindset away from shape and size towards energy, health, mobility and longevity will help you to be fitter, healthier and happier in the long term, even if it takes a little longer to get the results you want (or if it means you never reach the ‘ideal’ body shape, which is unrealistic for many people).
The verdict in regard to dieting is very clear, so please don’t waste another day of your life on a diet.
P.S. Tiff Hall and I recorded a whole episode on this very topic in our Crappy to Happy podcast. If you’d like to listen to it as well as a whole lot of other really useful stuff to help you live a happier life, you subscribe on iTunes HERE.
P.P.S. If you think it would be awesome to join a whole lot of like-minded women throwing away the scales and getting HAPPY-FIT, strong and healthy in a body positive way, get on over to www.tiffxo.com and join us for next month!READ MORE
Achieving goals is as much a mental battle as a physical one. You need a clear, compelling goal; the willpower to follow through with action; and an unshakeable belief in your own ability to achieve your goals. This is where mindset matters.
Recent research by Stanford psychologist mindset can be a powerful determinant of whether or not you will persist towards goals especially in the face of setback. There are fundamentally two different mindsets that we develop in our early years:
- A fixed mindset refers to the belief that your character, creativity, intelligence and performance is pre-determined and static, i.e., that you are born with a particular set of capabilities that are unchanging.
- A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the belief that those qualities can be developed and cultivated with consistent effort.
People who have a fixed mindset rely on consistently getting positive feedback and validation to reinforce their self-belief, so they tend to stay within their area of expertise or ability, where they can prove themselves over and over again. They expect certain things to come easily to them (e.g., if they believe they are clever, study should come easily) and if something doesn’t come easily, they will give up quickly assuming that it’s outside their skillset.
People with a growth mindset, however, assume that achieving better performance is simply a matter of applying more effort and practice. They view failure as useful feedback to help them stretch and grow and they look for opportunities to continue learning and developing new skills.
Your mindset is cultivated from a very young age, often by the messages you receive and how you’re praised (hint: don’t praise your kids for their ability, praise them for their effort!) but the good news is that you do have the capacity to change your fixed mindset to a growth mindset and reap all the benefits that come from willingness to step out of your comfort zone and grow.
Here are five great ways to start adopting a growth mindset:
1. Start using the word ‘yet’.
I can’t do this… YET.
I’m not much of a runner…. YET.
I’m not very good at selling myself… YET.
Feel the difference a simple ‘yet’ makes to your ideas about yourself and your capabilities.
2. Remember progress not perfection.
A growth mindset celebrates every small step towards achieving a positive change and uses feedback as a springboard for growth; whereas a fixed mindset assumes getting it right “first time, every time” is the only option or you might as well throw in the towel.
3. Unhook from criticism and praise
If you have a fixed mindset you rely on external approval for validation of your ability and see criticism as evidence of your inadequacy or failure. There is no room for taking risks and stretching yourself if you are hooked on criticism and praise.
4. Celebrate effort, not talent
Our culture and media tend to glorify ‘natural talent’ and we love an overnight success story. This has the effect of making the hard work of success seem not very fun or sexy. Remember that there is no such thing as an overnight success, only committed, determined action.
5. Learn to love the process
A fixed mindset is very attached to outcomes. Achieving a goal validates their self-worth. Goals are great but achieving them often involves a few setbacks along the way! A growth mindset enjoys the experience. There will be ups and downs, but every setback is useful feedback, not a dead-end or a reason to quit.
This article first appeared in the online member community of www.tiffxo.comREAD MORE
Have you ever sat down to work on an important project and had the sudden overwhelming urge to tidy the pantry or re-organise your sock drawer? It could be a work project, assignment or mundane admin task that you keep putting off in favour of something else more immediately compelling.
Procrastination is a mysterious phenomenon, and we’ve all experienced it. It creates frustration and guilt when you realise that there is nothing other than your own self-defeating behaviour getting in the way of that glowing feeling of accomplishment that is waiting for you when you finally stop avoiding things and get on with it.
There can, of course, be much more serious consequences to procrastination than just feeling a bit guilty; for example, if you postpone important medical checks, fail to perform essential tasks on the job or avoid financial obligations. We make light of it but procrastination can be a serious problem. So what causes procrastination and how do you overcome it?
Partly, it’s the desire for instant gratification that causes you to avoid tasks you perceive as difficult, tedious or uncomfortable. Getting up and looking for something better to do when there’s a boring task in front of you is the same avoidance strategy that has you pulling out your phone and scrolling when you have an empty moment in your day. Perfectionism also plays a role in procrastination, when the pain of not doing something perfectly is enough to not want to do it at all.
If you’re at a loss to know how to overcome your perfectionism, I thought I’d share a few tips for how to ignore the call of the sock drawer and get things done:
1. Connect with your future self
When you procrastinate on a task, you essentially delegate it to your future self. Studies have shown that many of us perceive our future selves in much the same way that we perceive another random person who is unknown to us; therefore, we tend to lack empathy for the poor sucker who is going to be lumped with this task later (that would be you!) Engaging in mental imagery exercises where you picture yourself in the future feeling satisfied and accomplished by the work you do today can help to increase motivation to get on with what needs to be done. If you have trouble connecting with a future you, perhaps trick your mind by imagining that you’re helping out a friend by making a start on this task now. (We sometimes are more motivated to do good for others than for ourselves!)
2. Create inch-pebbles
Getting started is always the hardest part and usually once you get going, you wonder why you waited for so long. The worst part of procrastination is realising how much more you could have achieved if you’d only allowed yourself more time. With that in mind, break your task down into bite-sized chunks and aim to just get through one tiny chunk at a time. Each little milestone achieved (or inch-pebble if that feels more manageable) will give you a sense of satisfaction and increase your motivation to keep going. Until that intrinsic motivation kicks in, it can help to use extrinsic motivation by planning some rewards for each little inch-pebble you achieve.
3. Don’t wait to feel good
If a task seems unpleasant now, there’s a fair chance it’s going to feel just as unpleasant when it’s still waiting for you to do it tomorrow. Somehow we have the deluded idea that we need to feel like doing something in order to do it, and nothing could be further from the truth. What’s required here is not more motivation but more capacity to tolerate discomfort and do what needs to be done. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be the most conscientious character by nature, distress tolerance is a trait that can be cultivated and strengthened with mindfulness meditation.
So sit down and practise some mindful breathing before you get started on your task. Notice the feeling of resistance to the task and simply allow that feeling to be there. Also notice any negative thoughts you’re having and remember thoughts aren’t facts. Remind yourself of your small goal and your future self, and resolve to make a start.READ MORE
As much as 40-45% of what we do every day is done out of habit. It’s a bit scary just how much of our lives happen on auto-pilot, but it also makes perfect sense when you consider how much time and energy we would waste if we had to decide every day what to do, when and how to do it. With repetition, our brain develops a ‘shortcut’ so that we no longer have to think consciously about what we’re doing, and our thinking mind is freed up to focus on other more important things. Perfect!
Unless, of course, some of those habits aren’t very good for you and you’d prefer to break them or replace them with a healthier habit.
From studying the neuroscience of habits, we know that every behaviour has a ‘cue’ or a trigger that instigates it, and is followed by a reward. Rewards give us a strong hit of dopamine (that’s the feel good neurotransmitter in our brains), so that after a while just thinking about the behaviour triggers the release of dopamine. This means that the first few times you do something, it might very well be a conscious decision; but after only a few occurrences, that combination of trigger, behaviour and reward becomes quite automatic and is instigated by a part of your brain that has nothing to do with conscious choice. With these processes going out outside of our conscious awareness, unhelpful habits can seem impossible to break.
This is why, when it comes to breaking a habit, it’s not enough to just focus on the behaviour itself but to look at all three factors in combination. Here are five tips to help you over-ride your impulses and establish healthy habits instead.
1. Practise mindfulness
Being mindful is like pressing a pause button between the stimulus (the craving you feel or the urge to do something) and the response (i.e., your habitual behaviour). This gives you a moment to consider a different response when you are hit with that craving. We psychologists use the term ‘surfing the urge’ to describe how mindfulness can help you ‘ride out’ those strong sensations in your body without giving in to them.
2. Identify your triggers
The trigger for your craving might be a time of day, particular places, people, emotions or even other behaviours that become paired together (such as having a cigarette every time you have a coffee). It can be helpful to keep a log of every time you experience the urge or the habit you’re trying to break. You should fairly quickly identify a pattern and know what your cues or triggers are.
3. Choose a new reward
Once you know the trigger, it’s important to also get clear on the specifics of your rewards. If your habit is to have a sweet snack at 3pm, the reward might be the quick energy boost or satisfying your hunger or alleviating boredom. Sometimes part of the reward is social connection (gathering in the tea room at work). Once you know that your reward is, you can find other activities that will help you to achieve it that don’t involve engaging in your bad habit.
4. Use repetition to your advantage
Just as your old habit started off as a conscious choice and quickly became unconscious, by repeating your new preferred activity every time you experience your trigger, the new behaviour will also start to become automatic. Eventually the new pattern will become habitual and the old associations will be suppressed.
5. Remember – progress not perfection!
Habits aren’t formed overnight, nor are they broken so easily. If you expect immediate success, any slip-up can feel like a failure and send you straight back to square one. By forgiving yourself for slip-ups, you’re more likely to get back on track quickly and eventually ditch those bad habits for good.
This article was first published inside the member community at www.tiffxo.comREAD MORE
We humans tend to be creatures of comfort. Familiarity and order gives us a sense of security and we feel most at ease when there is minimal stress or uncertainty in our environment. This is the psychological definition of our comfort zone and we all quite like to hang out there.
The problem is that if we never step outside of that zone and open ourselves to risks and uncertainty, we miss important opportunities to learn and grow.
Stretching yourself to achieve new goals requires you to be willing to get a little bit uncomfortable. A healthy level of stress that pushes you forward in a positive way is called ‘optimal stress’. Too much novelty or challenge can be overwhelming and have a negative effect so it’s important to not compare yourself to others when deciding what is going to push you slightly out of your comfort zone. One of the benefits of pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone is that gradually that zone will expand so that you’re more comfortable with new experiences.
As children, we are constantly learning new things and tend to be more open to taking risks. As we get older, we prefer to stick with what we know and our comfort zone will shrink as we get older if we don’t keep pushing those boundaries. Fear of failure or of being embarrassed or feeling incompetent can be paralysing but the only way to achieve what you’re really capable of is to learn to tolerate some of that discomfort and not let it get in the way of what’s most important to you.
If you’re a person who tends to stay inside your comfort zone, here are some ways you might challenge yourself to get a little bold and push those boundaries outward:
Do something different
Look at your own life and the things you do routinely and out of habit and resolve to shake things up a bit. It could be anything from trying a new food, going to a different restaurant or driving a different way to work. If you want to push yourself further, learning a language, applying for a new job, joining a club or volunteering for an organisation are great ways to challenge yourself to try something new. Not only do novel experiences make you happy but they might even improve your learning and memory.
Set more challenging goals
We’re motivated to work harder towards goals when they push us a little beyond what we think we’re capable of. Of course, there’s something to be said for making goals realistic (that’s the R in S.M.A.R.T. goals!) but all too often we tend to sell ourselves short or put limits on what we think we’re capable of. Whatever you think you’d like to work towards, just ask yourself whether you might be able to increase it a little. Trust your gut on this one. It should feel a little bit exciting and slightly anxiety provoking but not ridiculous or impossible.
Take small steps
Remember that going too far outside of your comfort zone can create an unhealthy level of stress and actually hinder your opportunity for growth or performance, so start small. If you want to develop more assertiveness, start by speaking up with your partner or your kids before you tackle that difficult conversation with your boss (for example). If you want to be more social, start by smiling and making eye contact before you venture into striking up a conversation with a stranger. Take it slowly but keep pushing yourself to get a little uncomfortable.
The most important thing to remember is that what is challenging for you will be very different to anyone else so let go of the tendency to compare to anyone else when setting yourself the challenge to get out of your comfort zone.
And after you’ve challenged yourself, give yourself a high five and come back to your comfort zone where you can process your experience before you pluck up the courage to venture out again.
This article was first published inside the member community at www.tiffxo.comREAD MORE
“You are enough”.
It’s a simple enough statement but for many of us, it bears no ring of truth. It always feels like there is more to do, more to become, more to achieve, and more to improve upon before we will feel ok about ourselves.
The reality of feeling that we are not doing enough, being enough, or have enough is that we are engaged in a constant struggle to improve upon who or what we are, pushing ourselves to burnout, moulding ourselves to fit others’ expectations, working harder to prove our worth, and perhaps even attempting to compensate with our outward appearance for what we feel we are intrinsically lacking. If we can just look like we have it all together maybe nobody will realise how flawed we really are.
The truth is that happiness is not found in doing or being more, but in finally learning to be at peace with who you are right now. This doesn’t mean that your efforts to improve yourself should stop; indeed, there is great satisfaction to be found in striving towards meaningful goals. But it does mean that your sense of self-worth should no longer be measured by any external metric – not your body shape, your income level, your spiritual practice, parenting expertise, or how clean your floors are. It also means being completely comfortable with your lifestyle choices, opinions, personality traits, and your perceived flaws.
There is a Buddhist saying I love which is, “Beware the subtle aggression of self-improvement.” In other words, be careful that your striving towards goals is not driven by a core belief that you are inherently unworthy of love or happiness just as you are right now.
If self-acceptance is difficult for you, trust me – you are not alone! But if there is any goal worth striving towards it is to increase your capacity to love and approve of yourself exactly as you are right now.
Here are a few suggestions that might help you to slowly let go of the idea that you need to be better and accept that are whole and worthy just as you are:
- Catch yourself every time you notice you are placing conditions on your approval of yourself. Beware thoughts like “If I could just fix X problem, I’d feel really great about myself” or “When I finally master Y, I’ll be happy.” Also notice how frequently you shy away from expressing a different opinion to others’ or try to mould yourself to fit in with a crowd. Simply notice. The act of increasing your own awareness of the subtle ways you communicate messages of disapproval to yourself is the first step towards letting those ideas go.
- Forgive yourself. Maybe use a journal or write a letter to yourself forgiving yourself for past mistakes or current shortcomings. Express to yourself the unconditional positive regard you would to a child or loved one. Acknowledge and validate your strengths and your positive intentions even if you have occasionally made poor choices. Let it go.
- Take a self-discovery tour. Perhaps take a strengths test online, survey your friends about what they perceive your best and worst qualities are (remember they love you anyway!) or study your personal horoscope. Dig deep into what makes you tick and start to embrace the uniqueness that is you. The more you own your particular quirks and character traits, the more you can feel free to show up in life as the real, authentic you – and therein lies true happiness.
This article was first published inside the member community at www.tiffxo.comREAD MORE
Stress! We’ve all experienced it, sometimes as a short, sharp burst like when you’re rushing to meet a deadline; and sometimes for a longer period, like when your workplace is perpetually understaffed or you’re supporting a sick relative.
Stress is an inevitable part of life and that’s ok because sometimes it’s what motivates us to get things done. But chronic, unrelenting stress can have negative consequences for your physical and mental health.
Stress or anxiety causes your body to release hormones that have the effect of preparing you for ‘fight or flight’. This means your heart rate and blood pressure increase, blood flows away from essential organs to your arms and legs, and “non-essential” physiological functions (such as reproduction and digestion) shut down. Chronic stress can cause headaches, stomach aches, digestive issues, weight gain, fatigue and insomnia.
In our cave-people days, our physiological stress response was handy for survival. These days, we are not so much in danger of being eaten, but we are constantly juggling commitments, dealing with complex relationships, worrying about finances and racing to meet deadlines.
In addition to the negative effects of too many stress hormones flooding your body, the coping strategies we use to manage stress – such as eating sugary foods or drinking alcohol – can also contribute to health problems. So how do we keep stress under control?
Here are some ideas that might be helpful:
Create a Not Do list
If you’re chronically busy and never getting to the end of your To Do list, perhaps it’s time to write a Not Do List and offload a bunch of ‘urgent but unimportant’ tasks. Realistically appraise your current commitments and obligations and delete anything that is creating undue stress in your life. Breathe a sigh of relief as you feel the weight lift.
We think we’re so clever with our multi-tasking but the truth is there is no such thing. What we are actually doing is switching between tasks and every time we do, it takes longer to re-focus our attention on what we were doing, wasting precious time and mental energy. It’s time to re-learn the lost art of ‘mono-tasking’ i.e., putting your full attention on one thing at a time. Turn off email notifications and put your phone away while you focus on getting that report written. Notice other ways you are splitting your attention and work hard to keep your mind on just one thing.
Nurture positive relationships
Social hostility is major cause of stress, whether it’s an argument with your spouse or a falling-out with a friend or colleague. Do what you can to let go of negative, toxic relationships and put your energy into nurturing positive connections with people who support you. Social support is a great buffer against stress. Make time to be with your people and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Change your self-talk
Sometimes your own self-talk adds more distress to an already stressful situation. Saying things to yourself like, “It’s too much. I’ll never get it done” causes a stress reaction in your body. Similarly self-criticism only adds to an already difficult situation. Try being a bit more positive and optimistic, e.g., “This too shall pass.”
Deep diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) activates the parasympathetic nervous system and induces the relaxation response in your body which is a counter to the stress response. Take time out of your busy day to take full deep breaths and feel your body relax. You might go one better and incorporate daily mediation into your routine, as there is ample research to support its positive physical and emotional benefits, including reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
Of course one of my favourite stress-busters is practising mindfulness and that’s why I created my 8-week online course Mindfulness for Busy People. If you’re keen to find out more or get on the waitlist to be first to hear when the doors open, you can do that HERE.READ MORE
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