Stop Feeling Guilty for Relaxing

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A few years back I was working with my health coach Paige and was pretty deep in the self-development churn.

My husband was heading away on a business trip to sunnier climes so I joined him and mostly had the days to myself while he was at the office.

Paige emailed me between sessions to see how I was doing.

I had grand plans to relax on this holiday and my first day was blissful - a long walk, spa, a cold beer with lunch on the beach, reading all afternoon, but by the second day I was struggling … I told her I’d already powered through the goals we’d set at my last session and was itching for more to do.

She then asked me a question that has really stuck with me since - “Do you plan to spend a significant amount of your life resting?”

Um, yes, was my response.

Yet here I was on day two of my holiday sitting with uncomfortable feelings like boredom, guilt and restlessness.

Does this sound familiar to you? If so, here’s how to combat your phobia of relaxing:

Schedule relaxation time

A good type A personality trick right?

I found, for example, when I had ‘nothing’ to do on a weekend day, I felt quite guilty for lounging around. I think this was because none of it was very intentional and I hadn’t actually committed to my plan to do nothing - it was just happening by default.

So now, if I want to make plans, I do - brunch, walks with friends, shopping, all still fall into relaxation for me. Or, if I have a few errands and chores to do, I schedule them for the morning, then schedule in an afternoon of reading my book, watching Netflix or scrolling social media with no issues.

It feels better for me to relax after having been productive, or to relax with other people rather than alone.

Sit with the uncomfortable feelings

As I mentioned, I do struggle with the feeling of boredom or, more specifically, not being sure what I feel like doing.

We run around so much in our lives - working hard, running to appointments, keeping our houses in order - and when we do feel any boredom a device is there to distract us immediately.

Sitting with hard feelings is something Brooke Castillo taught me and it’s really about realising there’s nothing to fear in any emotion.

Boredom to me might feel a bit icky and might make me a bit restless but I can handle that.

Given everything else I have going on, the feeling of boredom is a good thing to come up for me once in a while and after I’ve accepted that I can move on to the things I think I never have time for.

We’re not living life on a points system

I absolutely love this concept (thanks Amy Young).

I’ve talked about it here on the blog before, but if we’re lucky enough, we’re always going to have a to do list, a bucket list and a bunch of cupboards that never stay cleaner longer than a week.

So when I have nothing to do, I can easily create something to do - but who is watching and who is going to pat me on the back for ticking these things off?

Life is much more interesting when lived with pleasure and enjoyment and compassion for ourselves, not when we’re churning through a to do list or adding to that list for the very sake of it.

I do plan to spend much of my life relaxing, and I’m ok with that. How about you?

How To Get Through A Tough Time

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A major purpose of this blog is to get real with you readers and to reassure you that you’re doing a great job, even if your life is not as perfect as you think it should be.

As I mentioned back in August, I was going through a tough patch - luckily something I haven’t been through in a long time.

While in the midst of one of these rough times, it can feel all consuming, like it will never end and like you never appreciated the ‘normal’ times.

It reminds me of when I get a cold - sore throat, runny nose, the works - and I realise I was never grateful for all the days I was healthy with a clear nose and fully functioning throat! 

So during this period I read, listened and soul searched through as much self-help collateral as I could find.

And you know what? There was no quick fix... sorry readers. 

But - I did pick up a few strategies that helped ease the pain and that I will remind myself of in future hard times.

Treat yourself like your best friend

When going through a tough time, it’s so easy to beat ourselves up and berate ourselves about getting over it as quickly as we can.

Negative self talk can come in - voices telling you that you're being weak, too emotional, too easily affected. None of this helped me.

What did help was imagining one of my best friends coming to me with a problem - would I tell her to get over it and stop being so stupid?

No, I would listen to her and make her cups of tea, and take her on long walks and hop on the couch with her to watch her favourite movies. So what did I do? I did all these things with myself.

Another thing I found helped was doing things that made me feel capable - getting involved in a tough work project or helping a friend or family member with a task I have skills in. It helped distract me and made me feel useful and worthy.

Don’t deny the negative emotions

Again, it’s so tempting to mock ourselves for feeling down and in turn try and bury any negative emotions.

Sure, thinking positively and expressing gratitude helped me, but fighting against the negative emotions did not. They were going to be there whether I kicked and screamed against them or not.

As Dr Russ Harris notes in his amazing book The Happiness Trap, we can make room for negative emotions even if we don’t like them, and they will often start to come and go without too much fuss. It also seemed at times that I was addicted to these negative emotions because I was constantly replaying negative scenarios associated with my problem. Again, fighting aginst that did not work. 

Molly Mahar also said a great quote that helped me with during this time and that was to ‘trust that when you are ready you will start to climb out’...

Accept the different seasons of life

I won’t post any frivolous quotes here but I’m sure you’ve heard the concept - how can we appreciate the positive seasons of life without the negative?

Not every year or season of life is going to be up, and if anything a slump makes us appreciate the neutral, so-called 'boring' times of life, or even better, the happy seasons.

It’s the nature of being human and I accept there will be plenty more crazy seasons to come. If you are going through a dark phase, I want you to know it will pass and one day you will look back upon it and it won’t seem as all consuming as it does right now.

Hang in there, be super gentle with yourself and put one foot in front of the other, day after day, and eventually it will be ok. I promise.

July Recap and August Intentions

And just like that, August is upon us…It’s the last month of winter here in Australia, but also usually the coldest month here in Melbourne.

I had a busy July, mainly due to work, and am glad to say things are quieting down on that front so I can get some more balance back.

So how did I do with my July intentions and what’s up next for me?

July Recap

Seek out winter warmers

As I looked over the last month, including my photos, I realised I actually had a lot of sunny memories.

We like to moan about the weather but chilly sunny days can be counted on here in winter and I can handle this season when there’s sun.

A weekend in Healesville was a highlight with country town fun including walks, wineries and a gin tasting - not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

I’ve also had some cosy dinners in the city with friends and even when it’s wet, Melbourne is still beautiful when slick with rain.

Put first things first

This one has made a big impact on my life in the last month.

As I mentioned in my habits post here, I’ve been planning my week and therefore having a much nicer balance of blogging, study, catch ups with friends and exercise (all alongside the busy work month).

I really encourage you to write down what’s ahead for the week on a Sunday, if only to get it out of your head and easily visible once the busy weekdays take off.

August Intentions

Interrupt the negative voice

Another habit I reinstilled during July was journalling before bed. It’s been insightful and slightly terrifying.

I’ve been tending to have (self-proclaimed) crazy ‘worst case scenario’ thoughts lately - mainly about what other people think of me and also around work situations.

I’m still not sure how to alleviate these negative thoughts but am going to do some digging this month and see if I can’t stop them in their tracks.

Up the training at work

Continued professional development has always been important to me, but it’s so easy for it to fall by the wayside in between the daily to do list and busy weeks at work.

We have a few products at work I’ve been meaning to learn more about for (ahem) over a year, so I’m going to try and be ruthless this month and block out time and headspace to up my knowledge.

What’s your intentional plan for August? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

The Genius of Brooke Castillo's Self Coaching Model

It's been a good few months for me and new discoveries. I spoke about my first encounter with Brené Brown here, and the other gem I've been wanting to share with you is the life coach Brooke Castillo

I discovered Brooke, as I do so many great authors and speakers, through The Lively Show, Jess Lively's podcast. Jess is a brilliant interviewer and always has fascinating guests on her show. I find lots of goodness through her podcast but rarely go too deep into the guest's work (remember my March intention to ditch too much personal development?). I only have so many hours in the day to read and listen, so I try to limit it to a few key people.

Well let's just say Brooke has taken over many of those hours. Her two interviews on The Lively Show (here and here) led me to Brooke's own podcast, The Life Coach School Podcast, which is full of so much goodness around managing thoughts, feelings and creating the life you want. 

Brooke's main principles are represented in the Self Coaching Model. Firstly I love the model because it, of course, implies you can do it for yourself. Secondly, it is genius and completely obvious and difficult and mind-blowing and crazy hard all at the same time. Let's take a look:

The model outlines the following (and excuse the dramatic examples but they're good to illustrate the cycle):

  • Circumstances are FACTS and everyone must agree on them being facts. e.g. I lost my job, I weigh X, I write this blog.
  • Thoughts are subjective and are what we create about our circumstances e.g. I am hopeless, I am overweight.
  • Feelings are vibrations (yes, just vibrations) in our body that result from our thoughts e.g. depression or guilt.
  • Actions are how we respond to our feelings e.g. I'm going to stay inside all day, I'm going to give up and eat a tub of ice cream.
  • Results therefore come from the preceding actions e.g. I remain unemployed, I gain more weight.

It may seem obvious but Brooke teaches that our thoughts really do create our reality and our thoughts are not necessarily the truth - they are just an interpretation of our circumstances.

As she said on The Lively Show,

“The world cannot cause our emotions. Our emotions are always caused by what we think.” 

Pretty amazing right?

So whatever situation you find yourself in - positive or negative - it is a result of the thoughts and therefore feelings and actions that you have created about a circumstance.

Brooke teaches that when we can learn to observe our thoughts, rather than take them as the absolute truth, we can really begin to create the day to day and ongoing life that we want - because we are in control. No one else. Awesome right?

I haven't nailed the model yet but am absolutely becoming more aware of my thoughts and feelings and how I get to choose my reactions to a circumstance.

...Now go and download Brooke's podcast and enjoy all the further goodness you'll get from it. 

Let me know your initial thoughts (pun intended) on the coaching model in the comments below. Are there any pressing areas of your life you can apply it to?

How To Deal With Negative Thoughts (My Review of The Happiness Trap)

I read The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris earlier this year, and it made such an impact on me that I’ve re-read it in the last month.

Based on the psychology of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), the book is centred on dispelling the widely sought after goal of chasing a constant state of happiness. It also addresses the belief that negative thoughts get in the way of happiness and need to be eliminated or controlled.

As the name suggests, ACT teaches us how to stop struggling with negativity and accept negative thoughts as part of the complexity of our minds.

Here are some revelations I had while reading the book, and strategies you can use yourself.

1. Your thoughts are not the truth

I literally shrieked this across the room to my husband when I read this (the things he puts up with…). The passage reads:

Thoughts are merely sounds, words, stories or bits of language. Thoughts may or may not be true; we don’t automatically believe them. Thoughts may or may not be important; we pay attention only if they’re helpful. Thoughts are definitely not orders; we certainly don’t have to obey them. Thoughts may or may not be wise; we don’t automatically follow their advice.

I think this struck a chord with me as I’d never really not trusted my own thoughts, even when I knew they might not be right. It felt great to acknowledge they are not the absolute truth and I don’t have to always believe or follow them.

2. Distance yourself from the thought

Dr Harris talks a lot about the ‘observing self’ throughout the book and I’ve found this one of the easiest strategies to implement.

When you’re in a negativity spiral take a step back and observe the thought from afar.

So rather than “I’m hopeless at XYZ” turn the thought into “I’m having the thought that I am hopeless at XYZ”.

It gives the thought less power and lets you view it in a more detached way.

3. Name regular negative stories (or give them silly voices)

Identify your mind’s favourite stories, then give them names, such as the ‘loser!’ story, or the ‘my life sucks!’ story, or the ‘I can’t do it!’ story.

Again, in the spirit of detachment (or cognitive defusion as it’s known), this is a good device for thoughts that come up again and again. Rather than following them down the rabbit hole, name the story. “Oh yes, the ‘I’m lazy’ story is back, I remember this one”.

Dr Harris also suggests giving your negative thoughts a silly celebrity or character’s voice.

When I use this one I put the thoughts to Eddie Murphy’s voice circa Delirious or Raw in the 1980s, and I literally cannot take them seriously anymore.

DR RUSS HARRIS

4. Make room for negative thoughts

The book goes into this in far more depth, but the purpose of this insight is not to fight the thoughts (as clearly that rarely works and they always come back).

Rather than denying the thoughts, acknowledge they are there and although you don’t like the feeling, make room for it. It will likely come and go if you accept it.

Basically, expansion means making room for our feelings. If we give unpleasant feelings enough space, they no longer stretch us or strain us.

5. Ask yourself these questions

Lastly, although there are many questions you can ask yourself when in a negative thought spiral, my two favourites are:

  • Is the thought useful or helpful?
  • Does it help me be the person I want to be?

If the answer is no (and let’s be honest, it usually is), I make room for the thought, give it the Eddie Murphy treatment and can often move on with my day.

Have you read The Happiness Trap? What strategies do you use to help work through negative thinking?

Five Ways I'm Failing At My Own Advice

 

Over the last few weeks, I've fallen off the wagon. Exercise has taken a back seat, my work stress levels have been ascending and the thought of meal prepping on a Sunday makes me want to lie down and take a wine-induced nap. But hey, that’s what this blog is about – being OK with where you are and taking it easy on yourself. It’s also about honesty and transparency, so today I present you with the five ways I've been failing at my own advice.

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Advice #1

When blogging about how to make the most of your commute, I offered catching up on emails on the train/tram/bus to really get you ahead for the work day.

Reality

I guess with this one I have been taking my own advice, but checking emails has been causing me more anxiety than is necessary. I’ll often see mail that I want to act on straight away but don’t have the right files available on my phone. Or I’ll see an email chain that’s taken place that I haven’t been able to chime in on, then start thinking about how I’ll word the email when I arrive in the office. Arriving at work flustered and stressed is not the aim, so for now I’m letting this activity go from my commute.

Fix

My work email is right next to my personal email so I've shifted it into a folder on my phone I never use (and is located on the last screen) so I can’t access it easily and I’m not tempted for a quick peek (this never works right?!). So far, so good, which makes me more relaxed on the commute.

Advice #2

Plan your work day ahead so you feel accomplished at the end of the day. Otherwise hours can slip away and you leave work feeling like you didn't achieve anything.

Reality

Um, totally failing at this one lately. I've been saying yes to a lot of meetings, putting out little fires everywhere and am glued to my email, rather than working on more important tasks.

Fix

I am totally guilty of this but I love to change the way I manage my to do list. Some weeks I like Outlook, some weeks I need to handwrite it and for the last few weeks I’ve been using Trello, a free online organiser. I freaking love it and I think it’s definitely made me more productive. I include all of my different projects or clients as lists, then add ‘cards’ for each task. I can add due dates, archive (so satisfying to move things off as you do them) and see that yes, I have a lot of tasks, but only some are actually urgent, not all.

Advice #3

Plan for a well-rounded week – allocate equal time to all the important areas of your life – career, relationship, friendships, family, leisure, hobbies.

Reality

Does coming home from work tired and watching House of Cards all night count as a well-rounded life? Yeah, the last month has not been great for this one. I've been letting exercise go, been zoning out in Instagram instead of talking to my husband and secretly feeling happy when plans with ‘semi-obligated-to-see-friends’ get cancelled so I can do nothing.

Fix

Turning this around is so important. Last week I made an effort to get to the gym two nights after work and I left with much more energy and motivation than I came in with. I've also been making sure to spend at least 10 minutes talking through our days with my husband in the evening, and have been going out with the friends that leave me feeling inspired and full. My mood and energy have definitely lifted.

Advice #4

Practise gratitude in the mornings – list five things in your head that you’re grateful for as soon as you wake up.

Reality

Or alternatively, pick up your iPhone, check your emails, hear the cat meowing for breakfast and before you know it you’re on your way to work.

Fix

Taking a few minutes at the start of the day is so important to me for setting up the rest of my day. When I start with positive thoughts, ease into the morning and do some yoga, I’m a much more relaxed human being. I feel less stressed, can plan my day better and am more zen all around. Time to get back to the morning routine.

Advice #5

It’s ok to feel negative emotions completely. When you’re spiralling with negative self talk, set aside time to feel it.

Reality

As with any new job, I've been suffering a little with imposter syndrome as I learn the ropes. I’ve also been focusing on plans for the year ahead (read: wishing I had more $$ to travel more and fulfil those plans) and sometimes I find myself in a real spiral. I push the negative emotions away and think ‘I should feel happy. I shouldn't feel like this’. And guess what? That doesn't work.

Fix

Read The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris. I've had so many epiphanies while reading this book, I haven’t even finished it yet as I want to give sufficient time for it all to sink in (he also recommends this – reading and practising the theories bit by bit). The crux of the book is a number of behavioural techniques from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Parts of it centre on allowing yourself to accept negative emotions and scenarios you dream up and accepting our thoughts for what they really are, just thoughts.

So although I’m revealing how I’m failing at my own advice, that’s really only a story I’ve made up. So here’s to accepting what is and making moves to get life back to where we’d like it to be – one non-judgemental step at a time.

To finish, a couple of great quotes from The Happiness Trap:

"The mind loves telling stories; in fact, it never stops. All day, every day, it tells you stories about who you are, what you’re like, what you should be doing with your life, what other people think of you, what’s wrong with the world, what will happen in the future, what went wrong in the past, and so on. It’s like a radio that never stops broadcasting."
"The bottom line is not whether a thought is positive or negative, true or false, pleasant or unpleasant, optimistic or pessimistic, but whether it helps you create a fulfilling life."

Have a great week lovely readers.