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The Living Wise Blog

HOW TO SPOT A COVERT NARCISSIST

September 23, 2021

A while ago I wrote a blog post called ‘5 Signs You Might Be Dating a Narcissist’. I thought if more people knew the signs to look for early in the relationships, it just might prevent them from investing so heavily in people who ultimately turned out to be destructive and even abusive.

But even if you know all the signs of the stereotypical narcissist, there’s another, more subtle kind of narcissism that’s quite a bit harder to detect. These people are often referred to as ‘covert’, ‘hidden’ or ‘closet’ narcissists.

In psychology we refer to their characteristic behaviours as Vulnerable Narcissism. They don’t necessarily display the behaviours you’d typically associate with narcissism like being extraverted, charismatic or successful, openly boasting about their achievements or being unashamedly egotistical and self-confident.

In fact, vulnerable narcissists can present as humble, shy and insecure. This is why they’re hard to spot! They can still be highly manipulative and exploitative but it often takes a whole lot longer for you to realise that what you’re dealing with is a form of narcissism.

Let’s run through a few characteristics or behaviours of closet narcissists.

Five typical features of covert narcissism

1. Their efforts to get attention are more subtle

Grandiose or ‘overt’ narcissists have no problem standing in the centre of a room gushing about their own achievements and assuming everyone will be enthralled. Their entitlement and arrogance is always on display.

Vulnerable narcissists also feel entitled to attention and validation but they tend to be introverted and insecure, therefore they’re more likely to use subtle manipulation to get recognition, support or sympathy. They’ll find ways to always turn the topic of conversation to themselves (and disengage completely or change the subject if they’re not the centre of attention).

Unlike the more boastful narcissist, the covert narcissist often talks about about how disappointed or lonely they feel because no-one understands or appreciates them. The vulnerable narcissist may present themselves as selfless, big-hearted and “giving without any expectation of return” and yet they’ll be the first to complain if they believe their kindness is not reciprocated.

While narcissists are often accused of lacking empathy, the closet narcissist will present themselves as caring and compassionate as a strategy to garner attention and praise, which means they’ll often make sure any generous act they perform is on full display.

2. They’re passive aggressive

Grandiose narcissists are known for their rage. They can be explosive if you confront or criticise them. The vulnerable narcissist, on the other hand, is more likely to use passive aggressive tactics because their sense of self is too fragile for direct confrontation. They might ‘forget’ to pass on important details about events or leave it until the last minute to share information that doesn’t give you time to prepare.

At work they believe they’re more intelligent and superior to everyone else so they might avoid doing work they believe is beneath them. They may have a pattern of not getting along with the boss because they don’t handle feedback well and always think they know better (in fact, they believe they should be the boss).

Another passive aggressive tactic is to give back-handed compliments or offer ‘friendly advice’ that is actually insulting or critical. They will always be the first to point out any mistake you make but they’ll wrap it up in a way that makes them sound like it’s really because they care.

3. They’re thin-skinned

Narcissists of all kinds don’t take criticism well. Nothing is ever their fault and they typically don’t ever apologise.

Covert narcissists are hyper-sensitive to criticism, and their emotional instability makes them prone to depression and anxiety. They’re wounded by any perceived slight, deeply insecure and extremely defensive, unable to take on board any kind of negative feedback. For this reason, they’re often referred to as ‘thin-skinned’.

Often they’ll pretend to brush off criticism as if they’re unaffected by it, using sarcasm or off-hand remarks to hide the fact they feel insulted, humiliated and angry. If they feel you’ve attacked them or said anything at all that portrays them in a negative light, they’re more likely to cut you off than have a direct conversation or be open to listening to your feedback.

Criticism evokes feelings of shame, which can cause them to be vindictive. They typically will hold a grudge and perhaps even spend time secretly plotting revenge.

4. They’re competitive and jealous

The vulnerable narcissist does not take kindly to someone else getting the attention or praise they believe they deserve. If the focus is on someone else, they might try to ‘one-up’ the person or else they might criticise, dismiss or devalue the other person’s achievement. Alternatively, they check out of the conversation completely, change the subject and probably simmer with resentment.

Just like the more obvious grandiose narcissist, they are obsessed with image and if you are famous, successful or popular, they will want to be associated with you because it reflects well on them. But if you don’t reciprocate their admiration, they will feign disinterest, devaluing and ignoring anything you do.

5. They’re uniquely miserable

The covert narcissist has a victim mentality and they believe that whatever struggle they are experiencing is unique and special. They are always more stressed, more misunderstood and having to deal with more problems than anyone else.

Because they fail to take any responsibility, their suffering is always someone else’s fault. Sometimes their unique struggle is that they’re just so much more sensitive, caring and giving than anyone else, always going above and beyond to be helpful to others (and then complaining that others let them down in their time of need).

They will often use their challenges as evidence that they would be achieving the success and recognition they deserve if only they had all the advantages that someone else has.

The line isn’t hard and fast

While it helps people to gain clarity by having a sense of the difference between an overt, grandiose narcissist and a sensitive, vulnerable one, the truth is grandiose narcissists can be vulnerable and vulnerable narcissists will have moments of grandiosity. For this reason, some professionals find it unhelpful to create sub-categories of narcissism.

It’s also true that many, many people (including you and me) possess narcissistic traits, without necessarily meeting criteria for what might be described as a narcissistic personality style or a full blown narcissistic personality disorder.

While we don’t need to run around categorising or labelling people, if you are in a relationship or a workplace with someone who possesses these traits, it definitely IS helpful to recognise the signs that will help you make decisions and perhaps give you some insight into the behaviours you’re dealing with. “Gaslighting” (or causing you to questions yourself and your own judgement) is common with narcissists and so, the sooner you recognise those signs the better able you’ll be to protect yourself.

For more on this topic, you might be interested in the work of W. Keith Campbell who wrote “The New Science of Narcissim”.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Drop me a comment below if you’ve ever had a covert narcissist in your life. It’s super helpful for other readers to get a sense of the types of behaviours to look out for.

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Five myths about meditation

May 17, 2021
mindfulness word cloud

I’ve been meditating regularly for almost two decades, have attended several long, silent meditation retreats and trained as a teacher of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy in 2013. In all my years of practising and teaching mindfulness and meditation to individuals and groups, I’ve seen the same common misconceptions and myths about meditation come up over and over again with students and clients.

Unfortunately, when you buy into some of these misleading ideas it can get in the way of your willingness to stick at it, so you may be missing out on the enormous benefits to be gained from maintaining a consistent meditation practice.

These days, you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of all the great reasons to meditate, but if you’ve tried and failed to establish any kind of consistency in your own meditation practice, you might need to dispel some of these common myths about meditation to give yourself the best chance of success.

1. Meditation is supposed to be relaxing.

As soon as I hear someone say that they don’t find meditation particularly relaxing (and therefore, “It’s not working”), I know they’ve bought into this very common [but false] belief. The objective of mindfulness meditation is not to achieve any particular state; not even relaxation. The only objective when practising mindfulness is to pay attention to your experience exactly as it is, without judgement, and without needing it to be something different.

If you’ve decided that meditation ‘should’ be relaxing and if it’s not, there must be something wrong with the technique or with you, then by definition you’re not being mindful.

Of course, some days you might find that taking time out of your busy day to sit and breathe feels very pleasant and relaxing. If that’s the case, lovely!

But if the next day you’re agitated, restless, bored or emotional, that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you or your new meditation practice.

Mindfulness is about being willing to observe everything that arises when you sit down to meditate – every thought, feeling, physical sensation, urge to do something, judgement or opinion you might have… all of it – without needing to change anything, fix anything or get up and walk away because you’re not enjoying it.

2. “I can’t meditate because I just can’t keep my mind still”

Oh, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this.

The good news is that you’re not alone because every one of us has a busy mind! Meditation is NOT about stopping thoughts. Thoughts will always come and go, sometimes at a startling rate. Remember what I said before?

Mindfulness is about learning to observe what’s happening as it’s happening.

That means observing all those thoughts without reacting to them, judging them, believing them or needing them to stop.

When you notice that your mind is busy, you might gently shift your awareness back to the movement of your breath, the feeling of your feet on the floor or silently repeat a mantra in your mind as a way of ‘unhooking’ from your busy thinking mind.

Inevitably, you’ll get pulled back into thinking.

Situation NORMAL.

Notice that you’re thinking… Unhook from the thought… Breathe.

*mind wanders*

Notice that you’re thinking… Unhook from the thought… Breathe.

*mind wanders*

Notice… Unhook… Breathe…

Sound boring? Remember, no-one said it was supposed to be relaxing!

Situation normal!

3. “If I meditate, I’ll be super chill all the time”

Sadly, no.

Practising meditation does help people to feel calmer over time but it is no magic cure for unpleasant emotions.

No matter how much you meditate, there will still be times when you feel cranky or stressed or sad. In fact, when you first start practising mindfulness those thoughts and feelings might be even MORE prevalent because for the first time in a very long time, you’ve stopped trying to run away from them and starting paying attention to what is actually going on with you.

But since you’re practising noticing your thoughts and feelings, you’ll be getting better at learning to be curious about them instead of believing every thought you think and reacting to every feeling you have.

With time, you will gain more emotional equilibrium because you’re not being hijacked by every random thing that pops into your head and you won’t feel a need to escape every unpleasant feeling you have.

You’ll start to catch your thoughts and feelings more quickly so that you can choose a wise response rather than reacting in old, habitual ways.

And sometimes you’ll still react no matter how much you practice and that’s when you’ll reap the rewards of all the time you’ve spent practising non-judgement because you’ll know not to beat yourself up for those human slip-ups.

4. “I’m way too busy to waste time sitting down and doing nothing”

I get it. You’ve got a busy life, a big job or young kids and there doesn’t seem to be a spare minute in your day. Sitting still and doing ‘nothing’ feels like an incredibly unproductive use of your time.

There are actually two myths embedded in this one. Firstly, that meditation is doing nothing. And secondly, that you don’t have time.

So first up, what most people notice (and science would support) is that the improvements in focus and productivity that you gain from meditation mean that you’ll easily make back the time you invest. Then there are the improvements in your mood and sleep and the wiser choices you make in every aspect of your life – all of which add up to increased energy, presence and attention.

Secondly, if you’ve got one of those screen time apps on your phone, no doubt you’ve already been confronted with how much time you lose every day staring at your phone. Even if you’re a master at managing digital distractions, the truth is we all make decisions about how to spend our time and we all waste plenty of it on unnecessary, trivial, or ‘urgent but unimportant’ activities.

It might feel like a pain to shuffle some things around or get up 10 minutes earlier or go to sleep 10 minutes later or turn off the TV or shut down the browser, but you’ve got the time.

If you still feel like sitting in meditation is not a possibility for you, there are plenty of ways to practise “informal” or everyday mindfulness by bringing more present, focused attention to your daily activities like showering, driving or eating. But I want to make clear that all too often I see people falling back on ‘everyday mindfulness’, not as a supplement to their meditation but as an excuse not to do the work of sitting down to meditate, which is where the real benefits are to be found.

5. “There are too many distractions.”

Meditating in a peaceful environment is certainly easier than trying to focus your attention when there’s a lot of noise around you. But remember, mindfulness is about paying attention to your experience even if the experience is unpleasant. If you notice feelings of irritation, or if certain distractions pull for your attention, this is all part of your mindfulness practice.

For a long time when my daughter was young, she’d wander into the room and sit in my lap while I meditated. Or my dog would lick my elbow. Or I’d overhear a loud conversation or the TV blasting in the next room from where I was sitting.

Mindfulness doesn’t require that there be no distractions. It simply asks you to notice the distractions, notice the stories you tell yourself about them, notice your internal reactions, all without judgement. This attention to your experience, without buying into your thoughts of needing your circumstances to be somehow different, is the very definition of mindfulness.

If you’d like more step by step instructions about how to begin and maintain a mindfulness meditation practice, you might want to check out my online course Mindfulness for Busy People.

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5 Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist

June 28, 2020

These days the term ‘narcissist’ is used fairly loosely, especially given the impact that reality TV and social media has had on our culture. But if you find yourself in a relationship with a real narcissist, you’ll soon realise that narcissistic behaviour is a lot more damaging than just posting a lot of selfies on Instagram and wanting to be the centre of attention. 

A diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder can only be determined in a proper clinical assessment, and it’s worth noting that people can have a lot of narcissistic traits without necessarily having a full blown personality disorder. At the end of the day, whether someone can be diagnosed clinically or not isn’t the most important thing. What’s usually more helpful is knowing the typical behaviour patterns that play out when you’re in a toxic relationship so that you can spot the signs early and save yourself a lot of emotional harm.

In my most recent YouTube video, I described five very typical behaviours you can expect to see if you’re dealing with a narcissist.

1. Love Bombing

In the early stages of a relationship, the narcissist will LOVE BOMB you. This is also known as the idealisation phase where they will put you on a pedestal, tell you you’re the most amazing, beautiful, special person they’ve ever met and that they want all the same things in life that you do. It’s much like the honeymoon phase of a normal relationship but it will be intense and accelerated. They might talk about engagement and marriage very early and  will convince you that they’ve waited their whole life for someone like you. The whole point of the love bombing is to get you completely and utterly enamoured by the narcissist’s charm; in other words, to get you on the hook and reeled right in.

2. Future Faking

“Future faking” is a term used to describe the narcissist’s tendency to promise you something you want in the future in order to get what they want in the present. It could be the engagement and the wedding that they dangle in front of you or it could be that you want to buy a house or take a special holiday or something else that’s important to you. They’ll talk about it, go to the open homes, pick up the travel brochures… but then they do absolutely nothing to turn that dream into a reality. In other words, they will lie to you in order to string you along.


You might want to watch my full video below or share it with someone you think might be in a relationship with a narcissist.

(Blog continues below video)


3. Devaluing

After a narcissist has successfully got you on the hook, they’ll fairly quickly show their true colours. The devaluing tactics might be subtle or they might be glaring. It might come in the form of backhanded compliments, a condescending tone, dismissing your point of view or being passive aggressive. It might be cruel, insulting, and hurtful comments, or belittling you and the things or people you care about (yes, all those things they loved in the idealisation phase). 

The narcissist might be inconsiderate, not bothering to consult with you about plans or they may give you the silent treatment. If you get upset, they’ll devalue your feelings by telling you that you’re being overly sensitive or too emotional. (Note: the narcissist has no real capacity for empathy so your hurt feelings are an inconvenience to them).

4. Narcissistic Rage

A narcissist can blow up over the tiniest thing. You’ll be left with your head spinning wondering how such a small thing created such a huge explosion. One of the most significant character traits of a narcissist is that they can’t cope with criticism at all, so if you should you do or say anything the narcissist perceives as undermining their position, challenging their false idealised sense of importance, or threatening their ego, you will likely cause a narcissistic injury and this can result in narcissistic rage.

5. They never apologise

Even with all their terrible behaviour, the narcissist will never apologise. In their opinion, every problem is really YOUR fault. Problems they bring upon themselves will be blamed on you. You can’t reason with them or bring your point of view to them in order to have a healthy adult discussion. There is no discussion with a narcissist; there is only the narcissist educating you on how things are.  

So, are you dating a narcissist? Maybe, maybe not.

At the end of the day, the most important question to ask yourself is whether you feel truly valued and respected and SAFE in the relationship, or if you feeling like you’re constantly being pepper-sprayed with micro- and macro-aggressions. Are you walking on eggshells or slowly losing confidence in yourself? Are you doubting yourself and wondering if it might really be your fault things are bad? Do you feel exhausted from ‘managing’ this relationship?

These are all signs you need to find the courage to leave and free yourself to find a more healthy, balanced partnership with someone who truly values what you have to offer.

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3 steps to bouncing back from failure fast

May 28, 2020
failure to success

We all know (at least in theory) that success isn’t linear and that no matter what you set your mind to achieving in life, the wise approach is always to focus on progress over perfection, no matter how slow or tedious it may feel. But still we can’t help but feel disappointed and deflated when we hit a setback along the path to achieving a goal. Those feelings of disappointment and the perception that you’ve somehow ‘failed’ can send you into a negative spiral that will turn a momentary setback into a total unravelling, so that if you’re not careful, you could lose all the momentum you’ve been creating.

Achieving anything, whether it’s finishing a degree, writing a book, running a marathon or even your first 5km requires you to face those challenges head on and to persevere even when things don’t go to plan. Being able to manage your emotions and quickly take action to get yourself back on track is the key to moving forward and getting to where you’re going faster. 

If you’re someone who struggles to pick yourself up when you hit a hurdle, you might want to try some of these strategies for bouncing back from failure:

Be a realist, not an idealist

In an ideal world, you’d decide on a goal, set a course of action and stay completely committed and motivated throughout the entire process, only pausing to bask in the glory of your achievements as you check off each milestone on your unobstructed path to success.

What a completely (ridiculously!) unlikely scenario that is, so why is it that we’re so surprised and disappointed when we don’t achieve these perfect results first time, every time? The more you’re able to set realistic expectations about real life issues getting in the way, inevitable slumps in motivation and all of your human imperfections, the less likely you are to wallow in feelings of self-doubt and defeat when those issues crop up. Even the world’s most successful people will go off track and get back on track many, many times.

It’s not the going off track that determines your outcome, but how quickly you’re able to course-correct. Click To Tweet

Be kind, not critical

We typically default to harsh self-criticism when we fail to live up to our own expectations (again, check those expectations!)

It might help to understand that this is part of the human condition so you’re not the only one who gets down on yourself. But ALSO understand that you can choose to not do it. Beating yourself up activates your own stress response. In other words, it makes you feel worse and will absolutely not motivate or inspire you to do better. Trust me, there’s plenty of research on this. People who acknowledge their struggles with kindness and who treat themselves with the same compassion they’d offer to a friend are far more likely to recover from disappointment and keep moving forward. So when you hear your inner critic slinging all the usual insults, tell it to pipe down and create a bit of inner cheerleader instead.

Remember the magic of micro-actions

Probably the most important thing you can do to get back on track fast is to take one, teeny tiny step back in the direction of what you want to achieve. The longer you stay stuck, the worse you feel and the more effort it takes to get going again. But when you take even the smallest action that reinforces your intention to keep going, your brain will reward you with all sorts of feel good hormones that will give you the boost you need to take one more micro step. The magic of micro-actions is that they are small enough to feel effortless, but they add up to a chain of actions that take you right back to where you want to be.

So… in the spirit of taking the theory and turning it into action – what’s one thing you can do today that will take you closer to achieving something that’s important to you?

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P.S. If you know you fall into the ‘All of Nothing’ trap, you might want to check out my YouTube video on how to overcome perfectionism!

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Quick ways to cut off an anxiety spiral

March 27, 2020
cutting of anxiety

There’s a lot to be concerned about right now. Even if your own health and family and income are safe, if you’re a human and you’re paying attention, it’s hard not to be worried about what’s going on in the world.

Sometimes, you might have a random thought pop into your head – the possibility of bad things happening in your future or even a decision you made in the past – which leads to another thought and another one, until before you know it, you’ve launched into an anxiety spiral.   Those negative thought loops consume your attention, flood your body with stress hormones, hijack your mood and influence your behaviours. You might find you resort to self-defeating behaviours to soothe yourself (eating or drinking more than you should), you might feel compelled to make rash decisions or become snappy and irritable with the people closest to you – especially when you’re in a confined space.

Because we spend most of our day operating on automatic pilot, it’s easy to become hooked into negative thoughts unless you’re deliberately and consciously working to shift the focus of your attention. Below are some step by step suggestions for how to interrupt the pattern so that you can cut off that loop before it begins.

1. Check your thoughts

We typically have around 60,000 thoughts running through our minds every day, most of them outside our conscious awareness. Many of those thoughts are fairly benign but when an idea pops in which causes you to worry or focus on something negative or rehash an event or conversation that’s happened in the past, it triggers an emotional response so that you fixate on that thought and expand on it.

We have little control over the kinds of thoughts that pop into our minds but in the current crisis when the overwhelming majority of media we’re consuming is unpleasant and frightening, it’s important to pay attention to how you feel, so you’re more likely to catch the negative thought train before it completely derails you. 

2. Come back to the here and now

Worry thinking is not based on what’s happening right now. It’s very much projecting forward and imagining the worst case scenario, or dredging up the past and using it to forecast what might happen in the future. When you pull your attention back to right here and right now, you’ll usually find that there is nothing terrible happening in this moment.

If you find it difficult to mentally ‘unhook’ from whatever disaster thoughts you’re having, a great tip is to focus on your physical body and your full five senses. Your body is always right here in the present which is why it’s such a useful anchor point. Reconnecting to something solid and grounded like the feeling of your feet on the floor and the person sitting across from you can be the quickest way to stop that thought train and get off before it takes you to anxiety town.

3. Just breathe

When your threat response is triggered into action, the part of your brain involved in useful and rational thinking goes offline. The most effective way to quickly bring it back online is to take long slow deep breaths, with a particular focus on the out-breath. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, signalling to your brain that you’re not in danger and allowing you to access more helpful coping strategies rather than being triggered into old, self-defeating patterns.

4. Shift your focus

After you’ve noticed your negative or anxious thinking, you’ve come back to the present and taken some slow breaths, you’re in a position to choose where to redirect your attention. It might be choosing to focus on positive news stories, acknowledging something you’re grateful for or just refocusing on the task that’s right in front of you. If you feel tempted to jump back into those negative thoughts because your brain wants to convince you that it’s doing something useful like ‘problem solving’, remind yourself that there’s usually nothing to be gained by ruminating (except a bad mood and maybe a compromised immune system – thank you, stress!)

5. Postpone worrying

There’s a big difference between effective problem solving and unproductive worry but sometimes your mind finds it hard to tell the difference. If you’re continually getting stuck in a pattern of worrying or ruminating, it can help to set a time each day for worry. Then, whenever you’re tempted to go back into those negative or anxious thoughts, you just remind yourself that now is not the time. This can often be enough to satisfy your brain that you’re not ignoring the problem completely and free up your mind to focus on other things.

Of course, while it’s useful to have strategies for cutting off an anxiety spiral in the moment you’re spiralling, it’s equally (if not more) important to have ongoing strategies in place to support your physical and mental health. A regular meditation practice will go a long way to building your emotional resilience and is proven to reduce anxiety, stress and depression. Eating well, exercising regularly and having a strong social support network are also essential self-care tools that will continue to sustain you, long after this moment has passed.

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P.S. Want to join my positive, supportive online community where you’ll get regular access to all my tools and tips based in mindfulness and positive psychology? Check out Beyond Happy.

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Why you need to ban body talk.

September 16, 2019
ban the body talk

When you’re among female friends, have you ever noticed how often the conversation turns to the topic of body shape or weight? You might mention the reason you’re passing on the cheese plate is that you have a few kilos to lose before your holiday. Perhaps you get into a discussion about someone you know who has lost loads of weight doing keto or fasting or some other plan.

Engaging in ‘fat talk’ is very normal and seems harmless enough, but the consequences can be far more damaging than you might think. A survey found that engaging in, or being exposed to negative body talk increases body dissatisfaction and yet 27% of women’s social interactions (according to this survey) involved fat talk and 70% of women made negative comments about their own and other women’s bodies.

The conversation isn’t always negative. Frequently, when we catch up with a friend we haven’t seen in a while we say things like, “Wow. You look great. Have you lost weight?”  But if you think about it, even when you give a compliment, you’re reinforcing the social conditioning that a particular body shape (i.e., THIN) is the ideal, not to mention that a woman’s value is in her appearance.

The amount of conversation that revolves around body shape and weight is a good indication of the mental energy we devote to thinking about how we look, how we’d prefer to look or what we can do to change our appearance in order to feel more satisfied. Surely there are more interesting things about us. (And what’s the message we’re sending our daughters?) If you know this is something you’re guilty of, you might try putting some boundaries in place to limit the ‘fat talk’ you engage in, either to yourself or when you’re with your friends.

1. Ban body talk

Try going a day and then a week without mentioning your body, weight or appearance or commenting on anyone else’s. A funny thing happens as soon as you put a ban on something – you begin to notice how often you have the urge to do it. Use this as an indication of how much mental energy you’re wasting on body thoughts/talk and a useful starting point to break the habit.

2. Become a ‘no fat talk’ zone

If you notice conversations are always turning to the subject of dieting and weight, start steering things in another direction. Depending on how comfortable you are, you might even tell your friends you won’t be participating in body talk anymore. You’ll all feel better for it and you might even inspire your friends to ditch the fat talk too.

3. Appreciate what matters most

Your self-talk is repetitive and habitual so it can be hard to immediately turn off the fat talk. If you’ve always trash talked your own body, try focusing less on how you think it looks and more on appreciating what it does. You don’t have to immediately embrace your cellulite or love your stretch-marks but you can acknowledge that your arms allow you to hug your kids and your legs carry you through life every day. Appreciating your body for its function is a great step away from our fixation on the thin ideal and learning to focus on what really matters – which is that your body is merely the vessel through which you share your gifts with the world.

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Five great reasons to meditate

September 9, 2019
woman meditating in nature

I talk a lot about mindfulness and meditation but if you’re unfamiliar with the how or why of mindfulness, it can feel like just another thing to try to fit into an already overloaded schedule.

Believe me when I say that the benefits of starting and maintaining a meditation practice are definitely worth the effort, even if you don’t see them instantly. In case you are still in any doubt or you need a friendly nudge reminding you that sitting still is actually doing something good for you, here are just five of the many scientifically proven benefits of a regular mindfulness meditation practice:

1. It’s good for your physical health.

Regular meditation has been shown to boost immunity and lower blood pressure. It helps relieve stress, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal problems. Some forms or mindfulness meditation have been shown to lengthen telomeres in your DNA. Shortening of telomeres is associated with ageing and age-related illness, so longer telomeres indicating a slowing down of cellular ageing.

2. It’s good for your mental health.

Practising mindfulness increases positive emotions and in some cases has been shown to be at least as effective as antidepressants in fighting depression. In the past decade or so, psychologists and psychotherapists have increasingly incorporated mindfulness meditation into the treatment of many psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, relationship conflicts, parenting struggles, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

3. It’s good for maintaining a healthy weight.

Mindfulness helps you tune into your body sensations, thereby sharpening your ability to recognise hunger and fullness. Practising mindfulness helps you to ride out cravings and can be effective in disrupting the automatic reaction of reaching for unhealthy foods. Studies have shown that people who meditate, even if they don’t lose weight, actually experience fewer weight fluctuations over time, breaking the unhelpful yo-yoing of weight gain and loss.

4. It’s good for your relationships.

Couples who learn mindfulness report being more relaxed and optimistic, more satisfied with their relationship and more emotionally connected. For parents, mindfulness also helps reduce perinatal depression, stress and anxiety, and parents report being happier with their relationship with their kids.

5. It’s good for your brain.

Meditation practice has been shown to increase the grey matter in your brain! After just 8 weeks of consistent meditation practice, the amygdala, which is the brain’s “fight or flight” centre appears to shrink. This part of the brain is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress. As it shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – which is involved with higher order brain functions like awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger. Amazing!

Are you convinced? Now, how to get started:

Meditation is simple, but not easy. It involves putting your attention fully on one thing – whether that be your breathing, sounds, sights or body sensations – and then trying to keep it there while your mind attempts to pull you away into thoughts and distractions. Over and over again, we simply gather our attention and bring it back to our object of focus.

  1. Download an app and spend time each day doing 10-20 minutes of guided meditation. I normally recommend the Insight Timer app because it’s free and has a huge range of different meditations. Other apps are Calm, Smiling Mind or Headspace.
  2. If you’re one who likes to read, check out “Mindfulness for Beginners” or “Wherever You Go, There You Are (both by Jon Kabat-Zinn). But remember you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming techniques. You have to get in the water!
  3. If you’re keen to learn from a trained teacher but aren’t sure where to find a class or when you’d find the time – I’d recommend you check out my 6-week Mindfulness for Busy People online course. Hundreds of people just like you have discovered the transformative power of mindfulness.

And remember, a little bit like planting seeds in a garden, you need to keep watering them each day and trust that something is happening beneath the surface before you see the first green shoots appear. And even then, you need to continue attending to those fragile new seedlings to ensure they grow into something lasting with deep, solid roots.

Cass xo

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5 ways to manage overwhelm

September 2, 2019
managing your overwhelmed emotions

We’ve all experienced times in our life when it feels like the responsibilities are piled so high on top of us, we barely have room to breathe. Or when the deadlines keep backing up so that just when you’ve got one important task ticked off the last, there’s another one right there to take its place. It can feel like being dumped by a wave over and over again. It might make you feel anxious and it can be difficult to concentrate on anything, which doesn’t help when you have a lot of things that need to be done!

Ideally, those times are infrequent and short-lived, but when you’re stuck in overwhelm it can help to have some strategies to manage your stress and get back in control more quickly. Try these tips for clearing your mind and relieving the pressure.

1.     Write everything down

Sometimes the best way to clear your head is to dump all those swirling thoughts onto paper. Feeling overwhelmed sends your body into fight or flight mode and when that happens, it’s difficult to access rational thinking and problem solving. When you write things down, you take that all that feeling of angst and turn it into something quantifiable. Everything from personal appointments, bills to be paid, work deadlines or nagging worries kicking around in the back of your mind. Once they’re out on paper where you can see them, you have a much better chance of making sense of them, prioritising them, delegating or even deleting some of them.

2.     Get started

Overwhelm can have the effect of keeping you stuck in a kind of paralysis, not knowing where to start (again, that’s the fight or flight response limiting your access to logical thinking!) The longer you stay in that stuck place, the more anxious you become. Once you’ve got everything out of your head and onto paper, choose some small things you can get done or delegate immediately, so you feel like you’re making progress. Then make a plan to tackle some of the bigger stuff. The best way to reduce the anxiety of a deadline is to take action.

3.     Do one thing at a time

 The temptation to multitask can be all too inviting when you have a lot going on but ultimately that is an unhelpful strategy. Switching your attention back and forth between tasks reduces your productivity by as much as 40% and only serves to keep your mind feeling stretched and scattered as you try to divide your attention. You might choose to allocate a period of time to work on one thing before making a start on something else if you have multiple projects going on at the same time but avoid the temptation to flick back and forth during the same block of time.

4.     Take breaks

Again, it seems counterintuitive. When you’re overwhelmed, it feels like you need to keep pushing through and get things done. But the longer you try to stay focused on mentally engaging tasks, the more likely you are to become distracted, zone out, make mistakes and reduce your overall effectiveness. (Besides multi-tasking, pushing through without a break is the biggest time waster there is!) Change the mental channel every 90 minutes or so to ensure you continue being focused and productive. Those brief recharge breaks will also help you manage your stress levels so you don’t crash and burn.

5.     Breathe

It’s the oldest and most effective trick in the book when it comes to managing anxiety. Long, slow breaths all the way into your diaphragm will help to switch off the fight or flight response in your brain. As soon as you notice your stress levels rising and your brain feeling foggy and crowded with too many things, come back to your breathing and spend a few moments getting centred again. Remember your priorities and get started again. 

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Stressed at work? Signs you might be burning out

August 12, 2019
girl stress at work

Recently, the World Health Organisation took the step of expanding on its definition of burnout and defining it as an occupational issue arising out of chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed. They characterise burnout as having three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

The factors which cause workplace stress are sometimes external to you (under-resourcing, unmanageable workloads, and lack of support) which means there isn’t always an easy answer or an immediate solution. However, it’s important to know the signs that you might be burning out so that you can take steps to manage your own self-care.

1.     Beware the exhaustion funnel

When you feel overwhelmed and have difficulty coping, usually the first things you drop from your schedule are those which seem non-essential, such as catching up with friends or getting to your yoga class.  You start off with a wide, full life that includes work, leisure, friends etc., and one by one, the activities that are most important for your wellbeing fall away. As you spiral down into the funnel, your world becomes smaller and narrower until the only thing left is work.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the most conscientious workers who are most at risk since they’re likely to pride themselves on a job well done and continue to work longer and harder to get on top of things.

The answer: It’s crucial that you prioritise getting enough sleep, doing things that support your wellbeing and that you resist the temptation to drop self-care activities in favour of getting work down. Make time to see friends and do things that bring you joy.

2.     Watch your self-talk

One common characteristic of burnout is being self-critical and doubting your ability to do the job. As you become more stressed, it’s common to become forgetful, to make careless mistakes or to be disconnected and distractible. These symptoms of mental overload are seen as evidence that you’re not performing and that you need to work harder to lift your game. When your sense of self-worth and self-confidence is tied to your work performance, you’re more likely to keep pushing yourself to the point of breakdown.

The answer: Take some time to practice mindfulness meditation (it should help you to slow down and think more clearly) and use mindful awareness to observe any negative thoughts and let them go. When you recognise that self-critical thoughts are symptoms of stress and burnout, you’re in a better place to detach from them instead of allowing yourself to be defined by them.  

3.     Keep perspective

It might be very clear to everyone around you that you’re reaching crisis point while you’re telling yourself you just need to reach this deadline or get through this tough period and everything will be fine. The problem with chronic workplace stress is that when you spend all your time in an environment where everyone is pushed to the limit, you adapt and begin to accept it as normal. When that happens it’s hard to step back and get the perspective you need to realise that the situation is not normal, the environment may well be toxic, and you are in danger of serious health issues.

The answer: Speak to people who you can trust to give you impartial advice and be open to listening to what they have to say. It might be a trusted friend or better still, you might want to seek support from your GP or a psychologist, who can help you get clarity on your situation and assist you with putting strategies into place to restore your health and happiness.

Available in stores now

When we spend so much of our time at work, it’s no wonder that workplace happiness is directly linked to overall happiness. That’s why I chose to write Crappy to Happy: Love What You Do. In it I’ve outlined 10 steps to finding more meaning at work. If you’re looking to experience more fulfilment, satisfaction and sense of purpose every day, you can pick up a copy at all good bookstores.

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The Art of Mindful Communication

August 6, 2019
women having mindful communication

What comes to mind when you consider the qualities of a good communicator? Being skilled at expressing your ideas, delivering a punchline or articulating your thoughts and feelings are all examples of great communication. But communication is a two-way street; therefore, it also means being able to read faces, pick up on non-verbals, ask just the right questions, and be a fully present and attentive listener. Sometimes great communication also requires you to manage your internal reactions to other people if a conversation is not going the way you’d like it to.

There are many skills cultivated through a practice of mindfulness that will help you to be a more skilled and artful communicator and thus build quality connections with the people in your life. Below are a few ways that you can bring more mindfulness to your interactions and increase the quality of your communication and your relationships.

1.     Be fully present

It should go without saying that being a good communicator requires you to be fully present to the person/people with whom you are attempting to communicate. You might think you’ve shown up for a conversation, a meeting or a lunch date, but it’s always worth checking in with yourself. Have you fully arrived, or is your mind still on the text message you received from your partner a few minutes ago or the work project that’s due tomorrow? Are you looking at faces or at your phone? Far too often we are there in body but not in mind, so this is an essential first step.

2.     Mind your judgements

Being mindful means taking the present interaction, as best as you can, for what it is; not what you think it is or what you want it to be. In our default state of auto-pilot, we typically carry around a whole load of pre-conceptions, opinions and assumptions about everything, and of course we bring all of that to our interactions with other people. How you interpret a situation can vary depending on the mood you’re in or the day you’ve had. Communicating mindfully means remembering that everything is perception and being open to the possibility that there are alternative perspectives and explanations for any situation. In mindfulness practice, we refer to having a ‘beginner’s mind’ which means trying as much as possible to let go of preconceptions and to see people and situations as if for the first time.

3. Be generous in your assumptions

If we can remind ourselves that we see the world through our own filters (our personal history, current mood, cognitive biases, opinions about this person etc.), we might also remind ourselves that so does everyone else. We can’t possibly know what another person’s experience has been or what kind of day they’ve had. Keeping that in mind can help us to not take things personally, and be a little less harsh and hasty with our own judgements.

I was taught a long time ago that the best way to manage difficult interactions was to always assume a positive intent on behalf of the other person. That is, don’t assume that someone is behaving in a particular way because they’re an awful person or they woke up this morning with a plan to piss you off. Being mindful helps you catch yourself when you begin going down the path of assuming the worst in people and instead, turn your thoughts to something more generous.

4.     Manage your emotions

Mindfulness is especially important when your buttons get pushed and you feel a strong emotional reaction arising with you. (Usually the people who tend to push our buttons most easily are the people closest to us.) A less skilled communicator might let themselves be run by that strong emotion and have it drive their behaviours. Whether it’s sulking, withdrawing, getting angry or going into blame mode – these are all examples of emotional reactivity that can be managed with mindfulness.

Alternatively, it might be that you are doing your best to be non-judgemental and to see the other person’s perspective but they’re not extending you the same courtesy. Whatever the circumstances, being mindful means being present to your emotions, noticing how you’re inclined to react and choosing to be thoughtful and considered in your response rather than allowing yourself to be hijacked by strong feelings.

5. Allow space

Whether it’s space for silence, space for people to process thoughts and feelings, or space for a whole range of different opinions and points of view to be heard, being mindful means having the ability to manage tension rather than needing to fill the silence, rush people to answers, or dominate discussions.

If it’s time you invested in cultivating your own mindfulness practice, you might want to get your name on the waitlist for my next round of Mindfulness for Busy People – an 8-week, evidence based, online mindfulness course.

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Read next article: Signs you might be burning out at work

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Cass Dun clinical psychologist
Hi, I’m Cass.

I'm here to help you find freedom from psychological struggles so that you can live your happiest, most meaningful and fulfilling life.

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