How to live in a screwed up world (I don’t know)

Sometimes I’m actually not sure whether my sensitive soul can deal with living in this world. It seems that my heart (soul?) hurts more (when I’m exposed to the hardhships of life) as I get older, insted of less, as I’d expected.

When I was a child and I would cry about something like having a fight with my friend, or getting told off, or a small animal dying, it seemed like a fairly expected thing for a child to do, right? But as an adult, I find those things, and more, somehow even more painful than I used to.

I used to walk around cities, as a late teenager/early 20’s adult, and seem homeless people, and…I don’t know exactly what I did. I still offered them food, but I wasn’t so saddened by their existence. Perhaps I found them a bit scary or something. But now, my heart aches every time I go into the Melbourne CBD, and see the (many!) people sitting curled up under blankets and carboard, on the concrete. Last night I was standing on the footpath at the edge of the street, waiting to cross at a set of lights. Ont eh opposite side was a man, who looked as though he’d fallen down. He had a black bag next to him, and he was kind of sprawled/hunched over, and holding on to one of his legs. I saw multiple people glance at him, and walk past. I thought, what the fuck? What if he’s hurt? When I crossed, I stopped and asked him if he was ok, if he was hurt. Just after I stopped, a guy riding past on a bike also stopped and asked the same question. The guy on the street couldn’t really answer, he was slurring his words a lot and didn’t seem to understand much of what we were saying. I guess he was wasted. Eventually he asked to be helped up; bike guy helped him and I got his bag for him. He was staggering around and I was worried he would fall onto the road and get hit by a car. Bikeguy was helping him figure out where he was going (Coburg?) so I left him to it. I had someplace to be, you know?

I honestly didn’t know what I could really do to help, other than to ask if he was ok, to care just a little bit. As opposed to all the people who just walked past, and didn’t even acknowledge him as another human being. I don’t know what he needed, but I don’t think I could offer it. Certainly, I don’t personally have all the resources to provide food, shelter, emotional support for all the people living on the street in Melbourne. And yet my heart aches to just walk past.

The other day I stopped and bought a guy a Subway footlong (meatball, his choice). Because I was on my way to go buy some hiking gear, and I felt so guilty considering spending a couple of hundred dollars on something I want, but don’t need, while this guy was sitting there apparently cold and hungry. I say apparently, because I don’t know for sure what his experience is (was). That’s how he looked, and what he told me. I have also heard the opinion that you can actually make good money begging, and that some people wll do it even though they are actually alright, financially. Personally, I can’t see the appeal.

But is that enough? Can I buy a guy a Subway, ask another if he’s ok, and then just continue to walk past and do not much else to help? Does the fact that I managed to hold onto my sense of self enough to not get into drugs, to get a house to rent, to get a job, go to Uni, mean that I’ve earned all the privilege I hold and I shouldn’t feel guilty about it? In all honesty, seeing them makes me want to turn away. Because it aches?too much to see. But I keep being reminded of something that Glennon Doyle-Melton wrote (I love her blog), about the refugees in Greece recently:

“But let us not say: I can’t look at this. It’s just too much. That is not true. It is not too much for us. It is too much to be them, but it is not too much to look at them. Please look and remember that if that was our [family] (and it is) we would want good-hearted people to draw close and help – not to look away. We will not look away. We will not protect our own hearts: we will work to protect our human family

When I think of that quote, I think, I’m doing a disservice to the humans of the world by trying to protect my own heart from pain, by looking away and trying to avoid going into the CBD. How then, to see the pain of the world, but not get engulfed in it? How to witness it, to hold it, to use the pain as a prompting to do more good in the world, without falling over and getting trampled by it, until I’m just crying mush and can’t do anything at all helpful?

That is a question/s I don’t currently have an answer for, and I’m working on it. So far, all I’ve gotten to is this: just love. Just do as much as possible from a place of love, as often as possible. Put out more love into the world.

Working on it!

Big love,

xx

Ps – I’m anticipating some people might encourage me to volunteer. I have thought about this, and for some reason Im not sure about it. Mostly, although I see that volunteering to help serve (for example) a hot meal to people might be helpful to the person on that day, but would it contribute to a solution to the greater problem? Im not sure.

PPS – I originally copy-pasted this from a word doc, and all the formatting went weird. I rewrote the whole thing, and still wordpress insists on inserting some random characters into the preview and deleting other important bits – like apostrophes – even though it looks normal in the editor section. If you see some random characters that look like they shouldn’t be there, or apostrophes that are missing, please use your imagination to fix them and carry on.

Is this the end of The Mind Movement? (you tell me)

Hey there!

This note has been a long time coming, right? I haven’t written for some time. Due to a few different reasons, but there’s a couple of biggies. Namely the following:

  1. My life has changed a lot in the last 6 months. In a good way! I’ve quit my job, moved house, I’m doing new things. I’m really happy with how things are going.
  2. With this change has come a change in where my attention and curiosity are focused. I loved Elizabeth Gilberts talk on hummingbird curiosity and following these roads, so I’m rolling with that.
  3. Part of this shift in focus has meant that I’m less focused on the scientific world of exercise and mental health. Which was a big part of starting the blog.
  4. Part of the change in my life has also been a change in some of my theories/opinions on …life stuff. For example, I’m leaning away from our current western medical definition of depression as an ‘illness’ caused by brain chemical imbalance, and exploring other ways of seeing depression, such as that written about by Kelly Brogan.
  5. A big, big part of where my interest is going is into wilderness and nature. I’m very interested wilderness therapy, equine experiential learning, bushwalking/hiking, and I’m currently planning a long distance thru-hike for myself. I see all of this as very much related to mental health and wellbeing, as well as movement. But at the same time, I see it as a very different approach to the more traditional ‘gym workout three days a week for 12 weeks to see if your mood improves’ typical ‘evidence based’ exercise for mental health.
  6. I ended up being ‘depressed’ (I’m currently unsure how I want to frame that particular title) for much of last year, which left me feeling really depleted, and like I didn’t have much of anything left to offer to other people (including you lovely blog readers).
  7. I’m really, really, really over the whole online fame/instagram/marketing game at the moment. The idea of yoga poses in natural landscapes, pictures of lattes with props arranged just so and the like is just so not my game right now. (Totally fine for others to go ahead if thats what they’re into! This is not an attack!). I’m finding it difficult to fit myself in to current popular social media trends and would prefer to be a bit more dirty, gritty, swear-y and real. Not that I’ve been inauthentic in anything I’ve written, but I’ve often censored myself for fear of offending, and often feel the need to provide linked evidence whenever I state an opinion. And I’ve found myself, from time to time, trying to create posts or photos to be more like those peeps who have 1000’s of followers, coz that’s what the world says is a good thing for a blog and for a business. TBH, I’m a bit over that. I just want to write what I want to write, while giving zero fucks.

So there’re a few big changes, right?
What I’m questioning at this point is the following:

  1. Should I keep the blog going in its current form? Was it helping anyone? Was anyone reading it? Were people getting any meaning from it?
  2. Should I divert the focus of the blog incrementally towards the things I’m currently into (aikido, hiking, alternative ways of looking at mental health. Feminism, energy healing, horses. Sustainability. SLOW (seasonal, local, organic, whole) food. Tuning into the seasons and living accordingly.)
  3. Should I start a new blog about the non-movement related stuff I’m doing at the moment? (see above).
  4. Should I give up the blog altogether and just write things for myself? And not publish it?
  5. Should I just do what Ive been doing and avoid all these questions by not writing anything and leaving the blog sitting there?

I’d love your feedback on this, because as much as I have written this blog as place for me to record my own thoughts, I’d hate to shut it down if people were finding meaning in it. I just feel uncomfortable with it sitting here doing not much. It’s kind of like that nagging thought: Is there something I forgot? Did I leave the oven on or something?

Hope you are all making meaning in your lives and finding a way to move that works for you.

Big love,

Louise xx

Let’s get real

I’m tired of reading about people who have beaten their demons.

We get a story written about us in a newspaper or on a website?when the story is along the lines of: “how I beat depression”, followed by a saga of how shitty we used to feel, until we discovered xyz, and now look at us, we’re great! And Happy! And here’s five tips you can take away if you want to be like us.

“I used to be fat and unhappy, until I lost weight and now people want to hear my story because I finally fit the image of what society says I should look like!”

“I used to be sad and cry all the time until I started exercising and now it’s worth talking about me because I’m a well adjusted professional functioning as society says I should!”

“I used to work in a corporate soul sucking job until I started my own business and now it’s worth writing a story about me because I’m really attractive and happy and rich! I’m successful, just how society says I should be!”

The message we get from this? My story is only valid when I’ve dropped my baggage and imperfections, and achieved success.

I want to see more stories about the people in the trenches. The people who are living with being obese, and how that is for them. The people who are living with difficult emotions, and what its like trying to go through life with that. The people who are still stuck in the jobs they don’t really like, and how that affects them in their day to day.

But that wouldn’t be inspiring, would it. That wouldn’t be click bait-y enough to get published – “I used to be overweight and I still am.” “I was depressed, until for a while?I thought I wasn’t, then I realised I still was.” “I was working in a corporate, soul sucking job, until I quit and got a different, soul sucking job.”

But you know what that would be? Real. People are already commenting?on how social media presents an unrealistic image that we all compare ourselves to, by only sharing our happy photos and brag worthy status updates. But it’s not just social media. It’s all media. You are story-worthy once you’ve gotten over your shitty past, achieved something great, and shed your imperfections along the way.

I saw a story recently about a person who used to have depression, until?she ‘beat’ depression, and now she sits on various boards of influence and has started a not-for-profit to help others who are like she used to be. Which is awesome, we need more of that. But when I’m feeling down, it’s also just another way that triggers me to think that I’ve failed. That I wont be good enough until I can fix myself from being the way I am, and become something great; some Louise 2.0, which is all the great, funny, compassionate, likeable parts of me, without the tired, irritable, depressed, achey parts of me. The Louise who starts meaningful businesses with purpose, who makes a difference to peoples’ lives, who tells her story of how I ‘used to be’ and how different that is from how I am now.

But what if it’s not so different? What if I’m still dealing with a bunch of the same stuff??

A person called me the other day, wanting to work with me. She told me she resonated with what I’d written about my story, about using movement as a tool to improve my mood, about the struggle with apathy and hateful self-talk. She told me that I seem “perfect”. That I seem to have figured it out and she wants to be like me. I literally burst into laughter. And I told her that I still deal with those things, I still find myself thinking from time to time, that I’m a piece of shit. She was surprised. I told her, the thing that has changed is that I don’t necessarily believe it straight away now. I question it. (Sometimes – sometimes I fall straight back down the rabbit hole). I’m not saying that this is all there is to hope for, that one day I might be able to get to a point where I don’t ever have the thought that I’m a piece of shit anymore, but for now, I’m still right down in the shit with everyone else.

And I feel sad to think that people might read my story and think that I’ve passed through the storm, that I’ve made it to the tropical island and I live in peace and happiness. Because the reality is that I am still on the boat, and ride out storms with frustrating regularity. I’m tired of reading about other people hanging out on that island, drinking cocktails seemingly without a care in the world, because I can’t relate. I want to read more about the other people who are on a solo mission around the world, weathering storms, icebergs, ripped sails and giant whales. The other people who are feeling?the grit and the rawness of life. Who also, incidentally, get to see some pretty amazing rainbows out there on the ocean.

PS – where did that sailing/ocean metaphor pop up from? I don’t know.

What’s the difference between self-care and self-fixing?

Today I’m feeling hopeful. It’s the first time I’ve felt hopeful in a while, so I’m pretty excited about it. So excited that I rang my boyfriend to tell him – I thought it would be a nice novelty for him to get a happy phone call from me rather than a grumpy or crying one.

 

I’ve been feeling crappy for a pretty long time now. Not 100% constantly crappy, but up and down-y, when I think back over time I mostly see it as grey, forget-about-the-happy-days kind of crappy. And when I saw a long time, I mean months, not days. When I first started feeling consistently down, as opposed to just having a bad day (or a bad week), I had so much happy-and-well-ness built up in my tank, that I was ok about feeling shit. I was almost (not quite) looking forward to the challenge of depression (again) in a sort of yay, now I can try out all of those strategies that I’ve been talking about for so long! Put it to the test! kind of way. When I felt good for a few days in a row, I had this (very, very, tiny) sense of disappointment – oh, it’s over now, I didn’t even get to let myself get to the depths so I could write some really great depressed connecting blog post about depression and it’s shitness. But oh well, to be well is better anyway.

 

But then I wasn’t really well, for a long time. The happy streak didn’t last. Even the mildly cheerful didn’t hang around. The grey kept going (keeps going). And that big tank of happy-wellness that I had carefully cultivated over the previous few years slowly dwindled, as I drew on it again and again without ever really having the opportunity or energy to refill it. And then I found myself empty of it, completely. And shit got cray. And when I saw cray, I mean, bad. Unhappy. Crying-y. Life-has-no-meaning-or-purpose-y, why-do-I-even-bother-being-alive-y. And I dragged myself onwards, in this state, for weeks. I cried every day, often multiple times a day, often triggered by almost nothing. I raged and snapped at the people I love most in the world. I avoided my friends because it was too much effort to pretend to be ok, and if I let slip that I wasn’t ok, I was going to collapse with the outpouring of despair and sadness. And on the good days, I put on my shiny face and I laughed and worked and I did life, like a more or less normal kind of person.

 

And then eventually I took some drugs that a doctor gave me because it was either that or a slow rotten death of my life and my love and my relationship and my job. But unlike in the past, the drugs didn’t help that much. They helped enough that I didn’t cry every.single.day anymore, and I avoided my friends less. But I still had recurring thoughts of what the fuck is the point of my life?

 

Interestingly though, I fell for the story that this life pondering was a meaningful, legitimate question. I thought I was searching for a purpose, like all the good entrepreneurs and life-changers and move-makers. But, all of a sudden, after reading a line in a book a few weeks ago, I realized that all this pondering of purpose and meaning and point to life, while veiled in an illusion of ‘productive action-taking to define your mission and fire up your doing-ness’ was actually a destructive thought pattern that was triggering me over and over into grey-pointless-meaningless land.

So there’s that.

You think you’re being proactive and bettering your own life and then BAM! You realize you’re bringing yourself down.

 

Then, shortly after, I admitted another hard truth to myself. Somewhere along the way in between my tank emptying and now, all the strategies and things I was doing (there were many – like: going to integrative doctors ($$$), taking buttloads of supplements, movement, reading self-help, talking about ‘it’, doing things that made me laugh, etc) somehow ninja-ed without me even noticing into something they didn’t used to be. They started off as beautiful acts of self-love, where I cared so much about my health and my wellbeing that when I saw I was down, I was offering my love to myself through actions, in the hopes that I may accept those actions of love and feel better. Along the way though, unbeknownst to me, they turned into actions of desperation. A desperate, clawing attempt to fix my broken self, to rid myself of this fucking way of being. A product of disgust, despair, and dislike about who I was as a person, and a last-ditch attempt at escaping this horrendous way of life, which as many of you know, can be quite excruciating with its discomfort.

So there was also that.

My acts of self-care and kindness had become acts of self-loathing and fixing myself.

 

Farrrrrrout. Where does one go with these realisations? How to get back to a place where my self-care is about love and kindness and not fixing? How to fill up my tank again? How to accept myself completely as I am, and love myself through that, while simultaneously acknowledging that how I am is pretty fucking uncomfortable right now, a lot of the time? I don’t necessarily have the answers to these questions, but I am letting them marinade while I continue with life.

 

I also want to point out that I haven’t shared a lot about how I’ve been faring for months, as I really resonate with what Brene Brown writes about vulnerability. I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something along the lines of how sharing your vulnerabilities with people when you’re still hurting and healing isn’t being vulnerable, it’s over-sharing. She says, “I don’t tell stories or share vulnerabilities with the public until I’ve worked them through first” and goes on to say that sharing a vulnerable story in an attempt to meet a need for attention or care isn’t a great idea. All this to say that while I’m still going through things, as we all are, I want you to know that this isn’t a desperate cry for help, I’m doing ok. I deliberately haven’t shared it for a while, but now seems like a good time, for whatever reason. So there you go.

Medications: are they really helpful?

A cool part of my job is getting a lot of training in mental health related matters. Something I went to recently was a workshop run by Mind Recovery College here in Melbourne. The workshop was discussing psychiatric medications, and how we think about them.

The presenters included a psychiatrist and a mental health consultant with lived experience, and they discussed three different theories about medications and how they work:

  1. That depression and other diagnoses are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and that medication rights this. Interestingly, there isn’t actually a whole lot of supportive data to back up this theory, but just a whole lot of…theories, about how the inside of the brain is working. SSRI’s, for example, were originally developed to be used for another purpose (related to tuberculosis), but in the testing of them they realized people felt less depressed when they were taking them. That was what led them to come up with the theory that depression was an imbalance in serotonin levels. Not the other way around! Now the thinking is that in fact the SSRI’s have an effect on the serotonin receptors, and that has something to do with why they work. But researchers still don’t know exactly what exactly happens to the receptors, or why. Or if that is indeed even the reason that people feel better.
  2. That antidepressants and other psychiatric meds have a ‘psychoactive’ effect (psychoactive means that it changes brain function and thus has an effect on things like mood, perception and cognition). This one is spoken about in depth by Dr Joanna Moncreif – she basically proposes that psychiatric medications are like other, even recreational, drugs – they have an effect on anyone who takes them. The nature of antidepressants is to lift mood, decrease moodswings, etc – and it would do this to anyone, not just someone who’s depressed. The nature of valium is to create a sense of drowsiness and relaxation, and would do this for anyone who took it – but for someone with anxiety, this might be especially useful. I guess the main point here is that she proposes people who are experiencing mental distress are not lacking in any chemical in their brains – rather there is a distressing symptom occurring and the drug just helps to decrease the symptom. Rather like having a headache, and taking a paracetamol – but the fact that this drug works in this situation, doesn’t make a headache a paracetamol deficiency.
  3. The placebo effect – there is a lot written about the placebo effect, and how it can account for a significant amount of people’s improvement when they receive any number of different health care treatments – from sham surgery, to sham acupuncture, to sugar pills. (In case you’re wondering, sham surgery for arthritis in the knee was as effective as the real surgery, in a particular study). Thinking and believing that you’re getting something that will help you, can help you. Rather than this being an emabarassing reality about our gullibility as humans, I find it exciting – it gives so much hope that our own brains can help ourselves to feel better! Indeed, I’ve often wished for an ethically-questionable doctor who would prescribe me sugar pills without telling me. (Although in this day and age, perhaps a sugar-free pill would be more fitting. Hah! Joke.)

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As stated in the workshop I went to, these three theories are not the only ones. But it was a good reminder to me that the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory is just that: a theory. I believed this about myself without question when I first got a diagnosis of depression. If you’ve ever been to a doctor, or had a well-meaning friend or family member talk to you about whatever you’re experiencing, chances are they’ve mentioned chemical imbalances to you too. It’s a common explanation for depression and other mental distresses that is often assumed to be ‘true’.

I’m not trying to shut down anyone who does believe in an imbalance, or who finds any sort of comfort or meaning from that. What I do believe in, is people finding their own path through this crazy journey, and offering ideas about things that might trigger a new thought is something that seems to be a part of my path, right now. I accepted the chemical imbalance theory for many years, and it’s only recently that I’ve been reconsidering how I feel about it. I’m as yet undecided.

What do you think about all this? Do you believe in the chemical imbalance?

The one thing you need to do to be healthy (it’s not what you think)

The one thing I would suggest you do to be healthy, is stop reading articles like ‘the one thing you need to do is…’ and trying to apply them to your own life.

 

We are living in this somewhat crazy world full of social media and online marketing, and click bait is where it’s at. It’s also all about random people who have gained social-celebrity status by being attractive and flexible telling the masses how they should change their lives in order to be more healthy (skinny, happy etc). This could be by going vegan, working out in accordance to a particular guide which will whip your flabby body into a bikini-ready state (just look at all the before and after photos!) or drinking a particular bum-flavoured tea.

Can you tell this culture doesn’t sit well with me?

I was walking on the beach recently, first thing in the morning after waking up while on a solo camping trip (an aside – this is a great kind of trip for pondering life). As I strolled I was considering my own health and what I need at the moment. I came up with a few things that I’d like to change in my current lifestyle. I’m not going to tell you the nitty-gritty of the particular things I settled on, because you know what? They won’t be the same for you.

(Well, given that we’re all humans and many of us are suffering from similar afflictions of too much stress and not enough sleep etc, some of them might overlap, but you know what I mean – my prescription is not your prescription.)

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I really believe that people are their own experts.

I did some training recently in Recovery philosophy, which is a framework used in mental health. The philosophy is that everyone is on their own journey; that people already have what they need in order to be well; and that their recovery/wellbeing is up to them and what they want it to be, not what a mental health clinician or psychiatrist tells them it should be. I think the same philosophy should apply in the whole of health care. What you need to be healthy is best known by you, because you know yourself from the inside out. So much of the time people know what it is they need (more sleep, less stressful work, healthier eating, less drinking, the list could go on) and they don’t need someone to tell them that, they need someone to support them to make those changes. But when the decision comes from you, where you say ‘this is what I need’ the motivation is so much stronger to actually create the change.

This is not discounting the role of doctors or health professionals: what you most need, at time, might be to seek the expert opinion from a specialist or doctor or naturopath or exercise physiologist – but on your terms. Going at a time when you’re ready, when you’ve decided this is the best course of action for your own wellbeing.

What do you need to be healthy? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email instead!

How to work hard when you’re exercising

Here’s a common thing people ask me about in my work: how do I motivate myself to….?

And the answer is different, for different people and different situations. But today I wanted to talk about a particular situation with a particular client.

He is a young guy who wants to lose a little weight, get a little fitter, but mostly this: use exercise as a tool to improve his mood. As you can imagine, I am completely in support of this. Difficulty is, he’s depressed. And the nature of depression is such that it can rob you of your motivation and drive, leaving you feeling like all you want to do is sit around all day. This isn’t a case of people with depression being lazy – when someone is depressed the structure of their brain actually changes and this makes it very difficult for them to motivate themselves.

And this bloke I was working with wasn’t just sitting around all day, he was making a solid effort to get moving. He was on the treadmill for 10 – 15 minutes a day, walking. He wanted to start increasing his intensity, so we began with adding in a few short intervals of higher intensity (slow jog for 30 seconds or so). This was going well. We had another session, and he talked about wanting to increase the treadmill walking to 20 minutes – he identified that he wanted to get to the point of being able to go for a steady jog, and I reckoned he was on track with what he wanted to do. The following week he came back and told me he’d tried to go to 20, but gotten to around the 15 minute mark, felt really tired and couldn’t do anymore. He said “I think I need to do more, but I just get to that point and it feels hard, and then I stop. How do I motivate myself to do it?”

And honestly, I wish I had the magic pill to say “Oh, all you need to do is *** and you’ll be motivated as larry!” but unfortunately that’s not the case. So instead I asked him if he thought his body was legitimately exhausted at the 15 minute mark or if he thought it was more of a psychological thing. He reckoned psychological – so we tested it out. He jumped on the treadmill in the session and got going. At the 10 minute mark he looked and asked, “Should I stop?” and I responded with “No way buddy!” with a smile on his face, he kept going. He finished the 20 minutes with a huge grin, and feeling pretty happy. He said, “Now I know I can do it, I think I can do it at home”. The next week? He’d done 20 minutes daily.

Then he stumbled at increasing it to 30 minutes. He said, “It feels tiring”. We then talked about one of my favourite learnings (it’s a word, alright?) from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – that just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s true. We spoke about how even though he might be having the thought “This is too hard, I can’t do anymore” it didn’t necessarily mean he actually couldn’t. That perhaps it was just a thought going around because he was working hard.

This is not to be confused with direct messages from your body about working too hard and needing a rest. I asked him if he was willing to do the following: try it out. Try aiming for the 30 minutes and see what happens. When he got to that point where the thoughts start coming of “I’m tired now, I want to stop” – just question them. He didn’t’ need to decide whether they were ‘true’ or not – but just question their validity, in the context of his goal of staying on the treadmill for 30 minutes. If he decided that yep, it’s a direct message from my body and I actually do need to stop, that was totally cool. But if he decided that nah, this one is just a thought coz I’m working hard, then he could choose to keep going.

He was keen to try this. And yeah, to cut a 30 minute story short, he made the 30. He worked hard, he built up a sweat – but he also built up a pretty big grin. His plan is to now do 30 minutes a day. Now he knows he can do it.

The goal isn’t to ignore all the thoughts we have, and stop trusting our intuition and the messages we receive. But when it comes to changing long held habits or pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, sometimes it can be helpful to question our automatic thoughts and assumptions about our capacity. This is where it can be helpful to have external support to help challenge us – but you can also do this yourself. Keeping in mind your values, how you want to life your life and what you’re working towards, and getting some distance from passing thoughts, can be a powerful motivator.

 

Do you have a different way you motivate yourself to keep going when it feels hard? Let me know in the comments below.

The biggest gift you can give someone (plus three easy steps to make it happen)

I was at a small gathering of peeps last night, a very diverse bunch all brought together by a common interest. Most of the people there knew each other and had a history, and I (and my significant other) were new to the crowd. We were sharing some food and drink, and chatting a bit.

One of the people there talked a lot. About his experiences, travels and life. His stories were interesting and sometimes entertaining. However, when I left the gathering I found I was feeling a bit empty and even frustrated. Discussing this frustration with my significant other, I suddenly burst out “there was no CONNECTION!” and he responded with a resounding “YES!” We realized no one had asked us questions about ourselves, in an effort to include us or to know more about us. I’m still thinking about it this morning. To have the awareness and selflessness to feel comfortable directing the attention to others when in a group – not out of shyness but out of a desire for everyone to feel heard and included, is no small thing.

In the workshops and retreats I teach at, a common exercise we do is a three minute empathy swap with a partner.

This is where one person talks, for three minutes, and the other person listens – really, properly listens, paying attention the whole time – and tries silently to guess what the person speaking might be feeling or needing. In our exercise, as we are practicing identifying feelings and needs of others (otherwise known as empathy) we pull out cards which have the feelings/needs listed on them and put them down as we think we hear them expressed.

Have you ever tried to listen to someone, to give them your full attention, for three minutes?

Or even one minute? Without responding with advice (‘oh, what you should do is….’), or a story about your own life (‘that reminds me of when I….’) or even sympathy (‘oh your poor thing, that sounds so bad’). It’s actually really hard, as it goes against the way many of us have socially learned to ‘do’ conversation.

And on the other side –have you ever experienced someone just listening to you – really listening to you – for three minutes? Or even one? Without interrupting, without asking questions to clarify parts of the story, without offering advice? I’ve been the person who is doing the listening before – and I’ve seen firsthand the incredible connection and understanding that people can get when they are given the space to just go there, be listened to, and have that space held for them.

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I’m a human. I still struggle with this.

When I’m listening to my friends, I get so many ideas about what they could do to change things, what I think is the right course of action, wanting to tell them about the time that I suffered too, wanting to ask questions because I don’t understand a part of their story. But when I manage to hold onto these thoughts of mine and just give people the space to speak, that’s where the gift is. When they stop speaking and instead of telling part of my own story, I can say “Tell me more about how that is for you” and allow them the space to keep going, that is generosity.

You can do this for people you love (or like! Or don’t like!) too. Three easy steps:

1) ask someone a question (how are you? How do you feel about that? What’s been going on recently? Are you ok?)
2) Let them answer, and really pay attention. Try to guess what they are feeling, whether they explicitly use feeling words, or whether you are trying to guess the feelings underneath their words. Do this silently.
3) When they stop, reflect back what you heard, (‘wow, sounds like things have been really stressful/scary/fun/challenging/exciting/ for you’) then ask them if there’s more (‘Is there more that’s been going on?’ ‘how do you feel now we’re talking about it?’)

And maybe that’s it. Maybe the person doesn’t want to keep talking, maybe they’ve had enough. But giving them the space to keep going is such a beautiful, simple (but not easy) gift.

A warning: it can be really frustrating if you regularly offer this space to someone time after time but don’t ever get the space reciprocated.

If you want to try out this listening technique, and really want to be listened to as well, perhaps try asking someone to listen to you in this way – or offer to do a swap – one person gets three minutes while the other listens silently, then swap. You might be surprised by how much understanding you can get of yourself by just talking for three minutes without interruption.

I’d love to hear how you go trying this out. Let me know in the comments below!

Much love xx

Why exercising because you think you’re fat is ineffective

Fat shaming.

It’s a topic that I feel really strongly about. There is such a culture of ‘we are so fat, everyone needs to do whatever they can to lose weight’ in Australia. If you’re fat, people automatically jump to blaming and shaming (neither of which is helpful when it comes to making change). There is this underlying opinion that if you’re fat, you must be lazy. I once saw a post on Facebook where a ‘friend’ wrote that he was disgusted when he saw obese people on mobile scooters, because, he said, they were obviously so fat because they were lazy and didn’t like to walk (and rode a scooter instead). I don’t usually enter into debate with people on Facebook, but on this occasion I couldn’t help myself, and asked him if he’d stopped to consider that perhaps a person might have a disease, injury or disability that stops them from being able to walk far, and they put on weight after that because their metabolism was greatly affected? Telling overweight people that they are disgusting or lazy is just a way to shame and blame.

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Shame and blame are ineffective.

As I’ve written about before, shaming people doesn’t actually do much to create change. It’s an ineffective tool. Yes, there are a large number of people who go to the gym day in and day out because they think (or someone has told them) that they’re fat, and need to be thinner (if they want to get a partner/look good in a bikini/get famous on instagram…) However, I would argue that exercising from this frame of mind isn’t actually making you much healthier.

Your thoughts affect your body.

Your body is an intricately complex system, with all of its parts affecting all its other parts. What you think affects your physiology, and how you move affects the resting state of your body. If you’re exercising hard, pushing yourself too much, and feeling stressed every day because of how overweight you think you are, you are possibly putting your body into a state of chronic inflammation. Ongoing inflammation really screws up your body’s systems, and has been linked to everything from developing heart disease to cancer to autoimmune disorders. Michelle Bridges infamously wrote about how getting fit isn’t ‘fun’, and exercise professionals should stop promoting it as such. But in my opinion, if you’re hating what you’re doing when you’re moving your body, and you’re only moving because you hate yourself, you’ve got it wrong.

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Well, fuck it. I’ll stop exercising then.

Nope, that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Moving your body is one of the best ways you can look after your health – but I reckon that it makes a difference WHY you’re doing it. Regardless of your weight or weight loss goals, if you decide to move your body from a place of love and care for yourself, you are changing the internal environment of your body. There’s no doubt that being significantly overweight is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including heart disease and arthritis, but there’s no reason that you can’t begin to lose weight from a place of love and care, instead of from a place of fear and shame. Moving your body because it feels good and brings you joy is a world away from slogging it out on the treadmill even when you hate it. Check out this amazing video of real women moving their bodies because they love it – it’s super inspiring!

Map that shit out.

If you want to get more active, eat healthier food and even lose weight, getting clear on the why is super important – what your values are behind these choices. It’s also the way to make choices from a place of self-care, instead of self-hatred. I’ve got another blog post coming up about how to lose weight, with love, where I’ll go into this in more detail. For now, just know that knowing why you want to lose weight is key.

Why do you move your body? Is it because it feels good or because you think you’re not good enough? Let me know in the comments.

Why I’m writing my own prescription (and why you can too)

I often prefer to call myself a coach when I’m working one-on-one with people who want to make positive changes to become healthier.

Rather than being a health professional who tells someone what to do, I’m allowing people to tap into their own intuitive wisdom about what they really need to be healthy. Because while I know what works for me personally (or at least, I’m learning!) and I know what the Australian healthy guidelines are for topics such as eating and exercise, every human is an individual with unique needs, and they know themselves best. A football coach doesn’t think he could play the game better than the players themselves right? In the same way, I don’t think I know your health better than you do.

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 They already know what they need

Most of the people I work with have received at least somewhat of an education and have usually done their own reading and research into various topics, so they already know what it is they need, they are just having trouble doing it. Think about it. Is there an area of your life (moving your body, eating, work/vocation, finances, sexual health, spirituality) where you know intuitively that there is something that if you went about it differently, you’d have better health? I’m sure there is. So, it’s not a lack of knowledge that is missing. It’s a lack of motivation, understanding, action or knowing how to change that holds people back.

And that’s where I come in.

Often, people are looking for someone to be accountable to, someone to celebrate wins with and talk though challenges, rather than someone to tell them what to do. Of course, in my role as a health professional, if someone is really stuck, or asks me for advice on a specific topic, I am able to offer suggestions and ideas that they might want to try. But I don’t go in shouting ‘here’s an eight week plan I’ve made for you, off you go!’. It’s about sitting with people, helping them uncover their own desires, intuitive wisdom, and facilitate a deeper understanding of and communication with themselves. It’s quite a humbling experience for me, and one I’m grateful to be able to practice.

 I do this as well.

I’ve also been writing my own plan for living a meaningful life alongside depression. Writing this sort of plan for yourself requires some experience, knowledge and understanding of yourself. It’s necessary to spend time – days, weeks, months (years!) observing yourself and your habits. It also does take some discipline – sometimes the things we know are good for us are hard to do (stop watching TV, anyone?). However, the beauty of writing your own prescription is that you get to say what’s best for you. Because really, you’ve been around for your whole life – who else knows you better? Certainly not a health professional you’ve just met.

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 Doctors are still good, too!

There is no doubt that modern medicine has offered us many life improvements and saved many thousands of lives. Only last week I ended up with tonsillitis and was pretty happy about the existence of antibiotics. I’m not AT ALL saying that you should stop seeing health practitioners. If you have a complex or acute illness or injury, you need to get yo’self to a health professional, stat. What I am saying, is that you can start to take responsibility for your own health, and making movements towards changing it. You don’t need a doctor to tell you that you should exercise more before you start moving your body. You don’t need to wait until you are in the early stages of diabetes before you start making changes to your dietary habits. You can tune in to yourself now, and let your intuition guide to as to what you really need to be well. And if your intuition tells you that part of your prescription involves working with a health professional, whether a supportive coach or someone that offers specific treatment, then that’s awesome. Because that’s you, feeling empowered to do what feels right for your health and your body.

Do you ever have a hunch that you know just what you need to be well, but have trouble actually taking the action or making the change? Let me know in the comments.