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How to nurture your creativity (and why you should)

June 17, 2019
creativity

Are you one of those people who believes you don’t have a creative bone in your body? Do you envy those talented souls who can paint or sculpt or write compelling fiction? Perhaps you remember being creative as a child and somewhere along the way, you’ve lost touch with your creative side as the serious business of adulthood has taken over all your available time and attention.

The truth is we are all creative in our own ways and making an effort to tap into that creativity can be profoundly beneficial to your success and happiness, no matter what you do for a living. Creativity is about expanding your thinking to include intuitive and abstract ideas, making connections between seemingly disparate topics and coming up with new solutions to challenging problems.

If you work in an environment where things are done just because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’, creativity can mean coming up with new, more effective approaches. Innovation (necessary for business success) is entirely about new, creative thoughts, ideas and processes. It’s not just about making art. If you find yourself struggling with creative inspiration, you might try giving your logical left brain a break by incorporating some of these habits into your routine to help you tap into the well of creativity that exists inside you:

1.    Be quiet

Spending time in silence is a proven way to enhance creativity because normally the endless chatter in your busy mind drowns out the voice of inner wisdom and intuition. When you turn the volume down on all that noise – whether through a formal practice like meditation or perhaps just by going for a walk in nature without your phone – often new insights and ideas emerge without any effort from you at all. The more regularly you take time out to be quiet, the more space you allow for those creative ideas to bubble up into your consciousness.

2.    Play

Hobbies are designed to be fun and non-competitive. When you take the focus away from striving and achievement and do something with a focus on play instead of work, you break out of the perfectionist mindset that normally stifles your creative potential. You might decide to learn a language or take up macramé or pottery. Playing board games, charades or Pictionary are great ways to tip into a fun and playful side of yourself that is normally locked away. As much as possible, try to be non-competitive and do it purely for fun.

3.    Take yourself on a date

In her bestselling book, “The Artist’s Way”, Julia Cameron recommends spending two hours every week in your own company doing something you love. It might be a visit to a gallery, a walk on the beach or going to breakfast or the movies. The point is to allow yourself time to wander and simply reconnect with yourself, to get to know yourself with the same kind of curious interest and attention you might have for someone you’ve just met for the first time. This is a great way of befriending yourself and cultivating the kind of self-acceptance and self-worth that is essential for taking creative risks.

4.    Create a vision board

Lots of people recommend creating a vision board as a way of bringing to life the dreams and goals you have for your life. The idea is to find words and images from magazines or the internet that resonate with you and inspire you dream bigger about what’s possible for you. The act of cutting, glueing and pinning is a really fun way of connecting to your inner four-year old. The digital version is to use Pinterest to pin the images and quotes but I quite like the tactile process for engaging all of your senses.

5.    Read for fun

If your reading material normally consists entirely of industry journals and text books, make time to read fiction. Escaping into a fantasy world unlocks closed doors in your mind and introduces new, different, exciting landscapes. The break away from your own reality means you re-emerge with a clearer mind and a new perspective.

Ultimately, tapping into and expressing creativity requires the willingness to make space in your mind and your life for unstructured activities, and then to be prepared to take a risk in sharing ideas. Giving yourself permission to be wrong, to lighten up and let go is a great place to start.

Cass Dunn signature - Black

Read next article: Is forgiveness the key to your inner peace?

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How to Find your Missing Mojo

April 29, 2019
Finding your missing DOJO

Sometimes life feels a lot like Groundhog Day. Day after day and week after week, you go through the same old motions, eat the same food, shop at the same place and watch the same TV shows. Maybe the spark has gone out of your relationship or work isn’t very challenging or meaningful. Perhaps being home with kids leaves you wanting for some adult conversation and intellectual stimulation.

When life gets a little monotonous, it can easily feel like it’s you who is uninteresting with nothing much to offer the world. Being stuck in a rut drains your energy and puts a big wet blanket on your mood.

So how do you find your missing mojo? As tempting as it may be to run away and start a whole new life, that is usually not practical, nor is it required. There are some things you can do to start livening things up a little and the good news is they don’t require you to trade in your current life for a whole new one:

1.    Change something in your environment

When the scenery never changes, we tend to tune out, which means we stop appreciating the things we see and do regularly. Our brains respond favourably to anything new and novel. Re-arrange the furniture, paint a feature wall or splash some new accessories around the place. By introducing something new to your world, you wake your brain up so it starts noticing things again, which can be a little bit like seeing the world with new eyes. This can help you start to see the possibilities in other areas of your life.

2.    Do one new thing

When life is all a bit same-old, it’s a great idea to engage in something different, fun or challenging. It might be trying a new gym class that you’ve previously avoided, going to a new restaurant or enrolling in a ceramics or art class. Mix things up and give yourself the opportunity to do something you’ve never done before. What’s even better is making a commitment to trying something new on a regular basis and if you can get a friend or your partner on board to share the experience, that’s even better.

3.    Meet new people

The world is full of people looking to meet other people. Joining a club or a meet up group (or perhaps a kids group if you’re a parent) might be a huge stretch out of your comfort zone but when your ‘comfort’ zone is actually very uncomfortable, stifling and restrictive, it might be just the thing you need to add some new personalities into your social mix.

4.    Look for possibilities

When you’re stuck in a rut, your mind tends to be very closed, seeing only what is in your immediate surroundings and circumstances. Hop online and start scanning the job ads, online courses, holiday destinations, volunteering opportunities or houses for sale or rent. Open your mind to the possibilities that exist in the world.

5.    Think bigger

Sometimes the only limitations that exist are the limitations in our minds. What are you telling yourself is not possible? Want to sell up and move to Bali? Want to leave the city and move to the ocean or the country? What is actually stopping you? So many people stay stuck in situations they find unfulfilling because they tell themselves there’s no alternative while meanwhile, many other people are doing that exact thing, every single day. They say you only regret the things you don’t do.

And if, after you’ve given serious thought to selling up and moving to Bali you decide it’s out of the question, maybe joining a meet up group or taking a salsa class doesn’t seem so hard after all.

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Five unhelpful thoughts you’d be better off to let go…

February 18, 2019
change unhelpful thoughts

Every day you have upwards of 60,000 thoughts and most of them you’re not even consciously aware of. Many of the thoughts you have today are in fact the same ones you had yesterday, and a decent amount of those habitual thoughts are probably unhelpful to your mind, motivation or mood!

Considering what we know about how much of our mood and behaviour is influenced by our thoughts, it’s worth paying a bit of attention to those thoughts which are supporting and empowering you and which are, in fact, potentially undermining your happiness and success. When you take them off auto-pilot and bring them to your conscious awareness, you’re in a better position to decide whether you really want to put your focus on those thoughts, or if you’d be better off to swap them out for something more helpful, or just let go of them completely.

Here are the top 5 thoughts that you might want to re-think or let go:

1. I’ll be happy when…

We know from happiness research that the circumstances of your life account for a very small amount of your overall happiness; so if you believe you can’t be happy until things in your life improve, that would be faulty thinking. The time to be happy is right now and the place to find it is within you, not outside of you.

2. I’m …. hopeless, stupid, undeserving… (insert insult of choice)

Most of us, by default, are high on self-criticism and low on self-kindness. We focus a lot of attention on our flaws and mistakes while we dismiss the things we do well. Try making a list of your good qualities, your strengths, the values that are important to you and what other people appreciate about you. Catch that voice of self-criticism and replace it with something a little kinder as often as you can.

3. What will people think?

Here’s the thing – most other people are too busy worrying about what people think about them to be thinking anything much about you. But unfortunately, we are so self-obsessed that we give far too much attention to worrying how other people might perceive us. When you start noticing you are holding yourself back, changing yourself to fit in or making life decisions based on how you perceive other people will judge you, it’s time for a reality check. The truth is, even if people do have an opinion about your choices, your own opinion (and your authenticity) is what really matters. People will think what they will think and life will go on. Focus on doing what makes you happy.

4. It’s all their fault

Whether it’s your partner sabotaging your diet, your boss making your work a living hell or your parents who screwed up your childhood, staying in blame mode takes away all of your personal power. Taking responsibility for your choices or your life circumstances can be confronting but it’s the only way to truly take charge of your destiny. Try not to fall into victim mode. As the saying goes, “Your past might not be your fault, but your future is your responsibility”.

5. What if….?

I’m not talking about contingency planning here, I’m talking about the endless stream of ‘worst case scenario’ thoughts that drive you into a frenzy of worry. Your mind fools you into believing that your worry is serving a useful purpose (such as problem solving or preparing you for the worst) when in fact the only thing your worry is doing is sucking the joy out of your life. If you know you’re prone to worry thinking, try ‘postponing worry’. Tell yourself you don’t need to think those thoughts right now and allocate a time later in the day or week to devote to worrying. You’ll probably find that when your worry time comes around, those thoughts aren’t important anymore – and even if they are, at least you’ve contained them to a limited time and taken back control of your racing thoughts.

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Three changes that will make you happier

November 20, 2017
3 ways to be happier now

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.      

Cass Dunn signature - Black

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

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Why diets don’t work

September 11, 2017
diets don't work

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.

Yoga teacher Jessamyn Stanley
Yoga teacher Jessamyn Stanley promotes yoga and self love for every body
  • 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.

Cass Dunn signature - Black

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!

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Is it time to get out of your comfort zone?

August 14, 2017
life begins at the end of your comfort zone

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.

Step out of your comfort zone
Image via CanstockPhoto / PixelsAway

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.

Cass Dunn signature - Black

This article was first published inside the member community at www.tiffxo.com

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Love yourself: You are enough

August 7, 2017
Love yourself

“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.
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This article was first published inside the member community at www.tiffxo.com

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Simple tips to manage stress

July 31, 2017
how to manage stress

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.

Single task

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.”

Breathe!

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.

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Don’t let comparison steal your joy

November 29, 2016
comparison

It’s almost impossible not to notice how we’re doing relative to other people, whether in terms of our career success, financial position, relationship status or physical appearance. It’s so common, in fact, that psychologist Leon Festinger came up with the term ‘Social Comparison Theory’ back in 1954 to describe our human drive to gain an accurate self-evaluation by comparing ourselves to others.

This kind of social comparison can sometimes be useful: Making upward comparisons (comparing yourself with people doing better than you are) can encourage you to work harder towards your goals; and if you’re feeling down about some aspect of yourself or your life, downward comparisons (comparing with people who are less well off than you are) can give you a sense of perspective so that you feel better about your own situation.

Too much comparing isn’t good for anyone though. Back in Festinger’s day, we were probably only comparing ourselves to our immediate family, friends, neighbours and co-workers. These days, social media has made it possible for us to compare ourselves and our lives to hundreds of ‘friends’, strangers and even celebrities online.

Women, in particular, seem to be in more danger of being negatively affected by social comparison because of the media images we are continually exposed to of other women who are thin, beautiful and fabulously wealthy.  Those carefully edited and posed photos filling our Instagram feeds and the photoshopped magazine covers have made us feel that the ‘ideal’ is actually the norm, and so we judge ourselves more harshly by comparing ourselves with an impossible standard.

stop self comparison

It’s not just physical comparisons that make us feel we’re not measuring up. There are the professionally styled living rooms, spotless kitchen benches upon which are served organic, whole-food meals and daily green juices. Spouses are always smiling – never arguing. Children and pets are perfectly groomed and well behaved. Not to mention that everyone is having fun ALL THE TIME. The more you engage in upward comparison, the more likely you are to experience its negative consequences of envy, self-criticism and lower self-esteem.  If you find yourself falling into the trap of comparing yourself with others and feel like you’re coming up short, here are some tips to help you keep things in a little perspective:

Remember it’s your ‘behind the scenes’ vs. their ‘highlights reel’

When comparing, we are seeing an edited version of a person’s whole life but often we fail to take into consideration that this is really their ‘highlights reel’ and that everyone has their own stuff going on behind the scenes, regardless of outward appearances. Not that I’m suggesting we hope anyone else is secretly miserable (!) but we do want to remember our common humanity. What you see is a snapshot, not the whole picture.

Focus on what’s important

Social comparison frequently tends to focus on outward, observable features of a person’s life such as their financial status, physical appearance, career achievement or lifestyle.  There’s enough research now to support the fact these are not the things that bring us deep and lasting joy in life. A life that is lived with intention and purpose, good quality friendships, good health and the savouring of small pleasures are all the things that make life worthwhile but they’re usually not what you’re focusing on when engaging in social comparison. Remembering your own values and practising gratitude can help to move you out of the comparison trap.

Have an abundance mindset

If you’re feeling jealous about other people’s success, you can fall into the trap of being mean-spirited or stingy with your compliments. This happens when you start slipping into ‘scarcity’ thinking; which is the idea that there is a finite amount of success and happiness to go around like a pie with limited slices. It might help to remember that the pie is unlimited and that someone else’s success doesn’t take anything away from you. In fact, you can choose to see others’ success as evidence of what is possible for you if you keep working towards your goals!

Resolve to actively and enthusiastically express happiness for other people’s progress. It will make you feel good and the positive support and encouragement will be returned to you tenfold.

Finally, remember that no-one else has your unique biological make-up, lifestyle or personal history so it makes no sense whatsoever to compare yourself with anyone else. Run your own race and you’ll always be a winner.

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Three ways to manage worry

November 24, 2016
manage worry

If you’re a worrier, you’ll know exactly how much time and energy you can potentially waste on that terribly unpleasant mental habit of imagining real or potential problems. To some degree, we all worry about different things at different times but the propensity to imagine risks or worst case scenarios falls along a spectrum. Basically, some of us worry more than others.

When you worry, your mind is performing the task of trying to control something that is uncertain. We all feel safer when we can plan and predict an outcome but when there’s no way of doing that, your mind can tend to go over and over the situation trying to come up with a solution. If worrying prompts you to come up with a solution to a problem, that can be a positive outcome, but usually the only result of your worrying is that you feel more stressed, anxious and tense.

While worry shares some of the same characteristics with the more serious problem of anxiety, worry tends to create a lower level of distress, can be focused on a specific situation and is more temporary in nature. Still, when you’re worrying a lot of the time it can affect your mood and your physical wellbeing and it’s worth learning some strategies to get it under control.

To help you out, I’ve listed three simple, useful strategies you might be able to apply when you find yourself being consumed by worry:

Postpone worry

This is a technique used in cognitive therapy where you simply decide to postpone your worry to a later time when it’s more convenient for you, say 5pm for 30 minutes. Each time you notice a worry thought pop into your mind, you simply remind yourself to postpone it until later. Then when your designated time comes, try to apply constructive problem solving to your worries.

The Downward Arrow

When you find yourself worrying about something, use the downward arrow to drill down into the worst possible outcome. Simply ask yourself “What would be the worst thing about that, if it came to pass?” And then what would be the worst thing about that? And what would be the worst thing about that? Usually, whatever you are worrying about (even if it were to happen, which it may not) isn’t going to lead to anyone’s death, homelessness or bankruptcy. This can help to bring some perspective to whatever you’re worrying about.

Breathe

When you worry, the ‘fight or flight’ part of your brain (downstairs brain) is activated, which means the cortical regions (upstairs brain) are offline. It’s the upstairs brain that helps us apply rational problem solving, whereas the downstairs brain is only concerned with our immediate survival. Taking slow deep breaths sends a message to your brain that you aren’t in danger, and therefore deactivates the ‘fight or flight’ emotional response and allows you access to your upstairs, rational brain. The other advantage of focusing on breathing is that your mind can’t be in two places at once, so focusing on counting breaths can provide a distraction from your worry thoughts.

The most important thing is to learn to notice when your mind is wanting to anticipate all the things that might go wrong or all the worst case scenarios. If you’ve “always been a worrier” that mental habit can be hard to break but the more you can bring mindful, non-judgemental awareness to that habit pattern, the better chance you have of retraining your brain to do something different.

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