This week I heard a saying. One that is pretty simple when you first hear it, and only consists of two words. But these two words hold so much meaning when you really sit and think about them. You may be thinking ‘how can two words hold so much meaning?’. But that is just it. How we all interpret things in our daily lives will differ from person to person. One person will see something in one way, and another person may see it in a completely different way. But that is the beauty of being an individual. The world would be a pretty boring place if we all had the same opinions, and all looked at every situation from the same view point.
We are the Information Age. Never has it been so easy and so quick to get information, and we are bombarded with all sorts through each day. Now don’t get me wrong, in our modern world this is key, and information and knowledge are power. However, there is a ‘but’, and to me it’s a pretty big but. Our lives now revolve around technology, games, social media, television, computers and the list goes on and on and on. It is so incredibly easy to lose hours of our days consumed by technology. Don’t get me wrong, I am guilty of this. I often find myself reading through news, checking emails or messages, or just browsing the internet because ‘it’s there’. There is often no real purpose, but because it is there and occupies my mind, I will just instinctively do it. I believe that without even realising it, our brains, our unconscious mind will take us down the easy path, all in an attempt to provide comfort and safety as all it wants is to protect us.
This is where these two words come in. These two little words, 6 letters in total that have really made me think what life is about. It’s as simple as ‘look up’.....
Is that it? I’ve read all of this for ‘look up’? Well yes that is it. These two words hold so much more meaning in our modern day lives than ever before. Think about it. All the technology I mentioned earlier drives us to look down and become consumed. It is slowly making us a lot more unsociable as a species. Isn’t that ironic how social media might actually be making us more unsocial. Anyway, my point is that if we all take some time everyday, to simply ‘look up’ and take in the world around us, it might just do us all the world of good. This could come in many forms. Why not set a goal to have an hour a day where you don’t use any technology? Go for a walk, talk to your family, spend some time outdoors. We will get so much more benefit from this time than we even realise. Just remember to ‘look up’, and I am sure we will all be surprised about what we see.
A guest entry from Harry Pankhurst, Chartered Physiotherapist, and Property Investor. Harry states: I am a great believer in having a positive outlook on life and I am constantly working on trying to better myself as a person.
Why Bother being present?
There is so much talk about the benefit of being present in the moment.. at the moment… and I think it’s fair to say that if we asked ourselves, “would we like to be more present in the moment?” we would say yes… but why? What do we want?
Quite often when we say we want to be more present in the moment we unsurprisingly often think about good moments.. beautiful moments, sunsets, walks on the beach, conversations with people we love...
Its possible we may rarely think.. “you know where I want to be more present? Difficult moments…” But the cost of not and the rewards of being present still apply to these moments too.. in fact… could it be just as important to be present when situations are difficult and unpleasant?
OK so if you are not present what happens.. well you miss out on things, and NO ONE likes missing out on things… SO if we are not present… where are we?
Caught up in Thought
Regardless of the type of situation, we could get caught up in our thoughts and prejudgments about ourselves, about other people, about ‘last time’ or similar situations we have been in before or anything relatable. This however, would mean that we are not seeing what is in front of us. We are spending time wrestling with these thoughts, trying to disprove them, make them go away.
“Don’t say that you will look stupid”…”Don’t say anything stupid” “They don’t like me”….”Last time I was here X happened”…. “I’ll never make anyone laugh like they can…” “I don’t like them anyway” “I have to get out of here..” “ooo a text..” “better check Insta”…
Why does this happen? Our minds are very good at amplifying pain and discomfort in the pursuit of protecting us. They don’t want us to experience the potential, inevitable pain of the world. They want to keep us safe! it is our old ancient cave-person instincts of avoiding potentially threatening situations. But what feels good in the short term, the ‘relief’ from a potentially uncomfortable thought, can have long term implications… we miss out…
So what do we miss out on? We miss out on the opportunity to do what matters to us. If we are spending our energy getting caught up in all these unpleasant thoughts based upon past experiences, future worries, rules and judgments we are missing out on connecting with what really matters to us right now.
Imagine if we could truly see what was going on around us. A true awareness of what we are engaged in and what is going on right here right now. This is one of the most powerful choice making tools you can have. This awareness means allowing these potentially difficult thoughts to have less impact on us, giving us an opportunity to in this moment check in with what really matters and take action in that direction. So there it is… one of the number one benefits of being in the present…
So we can actively choose what we do next based on what really matters.
Taken from my own journal written the night before facing the Black Ferns in the Women's Rugby World Cup Final 2017.
I keep a journal to capture my minds ramblings. I write what I am grateful for, what has been on my mind, and what I might be struggling with. I am a work in progress and I find a journal helps me see the whole picture, which can be really important when I start to feel stuck. Going into the World Cup I was learning to accept and diffuse from the anxious thoughts I get when competing, I was also learning about what really matters to me, what I want to stand for and my core values. I wrote this entry the night before we played in the final as a cumulation of so many lessons. The World Cup journey for me had been particularly rewarding but also challenging, and this final game was our last as a team after a gruelling two weeks playing three pool games, and a physical semi-final against France. We had also found out that there wasn't going to be 15s contracts for the women's side (this has since changed!) I was experiencing my usual and very familiar 'monster thoughts' of self-doubt and not feeling good enough. Writing my thoughts really helped me see that going out on the pitch and being the brave version of myself is what really matters to me, I had to hold the hand of my 'monster thoughts' and run out onto the pitch, feeling the most vulnerable and the most alive at the same time.
‘It would be easy to just sit back and become a passenger. Moan about the small unfair things and the politics but that never makes change. That never inspires, makes movement, causes things to move forward. I have an opportunity to inspire the muddy, tree climbing, wild girls like me out there want to be themselves, embrace challenges, enjoy pushing themselves physically and mentally.
I want to show that strength doesn’t need to be aggressive, physical or force. Strength is persistence, it’s reflecting and learning, it’s building a team and asking for help, it’s trying again, it’s believing in yourself, it’s having faith in your spirit, it’s allowing pain to hurt but not to define you, it’s holding the people up around you, it’s passion, love & family, it’s calm, it’s ready, it’s turning up when needed and rising, it’s accepting not everything is perfect (that’s life), it’s seeing the amazing people around you, it’s searching for your purpose, it’s embracing the journey, it’s saying thank you.
I am strength.’
Lydia Thompson x
Dedicated to my Mom and Aunt x
Compassion literally means “to suffer together.”
We can all feel alone sometimes. We can feel that we are the only ones that are messing up. That everyone else has got it together. That no one could understand what this pain is like… but is that really the case? Are we alone in these thoughts? Are we the only ones thinking like this?
You are not alone
There is one thing that can unite us all… and that is, suffering. The word Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” All this suffering comes from the same place. The ancient brain neurology that kept our ancestors alive. This is what is causing pain in you, me, your neighbour, your friend and all the people on social media who seem to have it all sorted out... (yes even they are suffering at times)
It does seem like an odd comfort to draw upon until you think of it like this. Our brain was designed to keep us alive, to remember things that could potentially harm us, so in future we could avoid them and stay alive... How kind of us.
Imagine, while walking one day our ancient ancestors came across a boulder. That boulder happened to have a tiger behind it. Fight or flight was triggered, they ran.. they managed to somehow, escape and return back to their cave alive. You can bet the brain would make sure they fear boulders in future, and just incase they have any tigers behind them, trigger fight or flight before you find out! It wants to protect you...
Now, most of us are lucky enough to not have boulders with tigers behind them to fear… our boulders often take a different form… feelings of not being good enough.. societal pressures… media pressures… whatever your burden, whatever makes your brain feel threatened.
For example, it is all too easy to feel down when we scroll through the endless waves of “perfect” looking relationships, bodies, experiences, homes etc.. that clog up our feeds on social media. This is just a snap shot of a moment in time. We need to define our own versions of happiness and success and try to resit the urge to judge our lives on these snap shot moments of many other peoples lives in comparison to our own one life.
Yes the thoughts may come in.. whatever your story, but this is where we need to offer compassion to ourselves. Of course we are going to feel this way, our brain wants to keep us safe. Thank you brain. Now how can I take action despite these feelings toward the person I want to be?
When you feel alone, be sure to know that you are connected. We are all connected, we are all suffering in someway big or small, have compassion for your fellow humans and for yourself. Check in with what really matters to you, and get perspective on your ‘threats’ are they a Tiger? A boulder? Or is it your brain just trying to protect you?
The Comfort Spiral
“I’m a ball of comfort today… Warm shower, heater on in the car, I come into the office and there is a load of brownies tea and coffee, I am so unproductive right now…”
“I’ve got my chair fully reclined- I am supporting zero of my own body weight, its so warm in the office, ...Be right back I’m just about to go and melt some chocolate in warm milk…”
“the thought of my foot on a cold floor actually fills me with fear!”
Welcome to…. The comfort spiral…
What you witnessed above was an actual conversation with a highly qualified, usually highly motivated corporate employee who has fallen deep into the comfort spiral…. We’ve all been there…
Once in the comfort spiral your body will want to do whatever it takes to keep you there. It will, avoid anything that requires much concentration, that is difficult, challenging, energetic, uncomfortable and lead you to a warm, easy, low energy point of basic functioning…
Ok you’ve noticed where you are…thats the first step. Awareness. You are in the Comfort Spiral.. but you don’t have to stay here.
Your mind might want to stay here and be giving you all the reasons why you should… “I worked hard last week.. I had a late night last night… I did a big run a few days ago…. everyone else is doing it”….
Through all the cloud of reasoning to stay in this comfort spiral, can you hear the potentially very quiet voice of the ‘real’ you? “Come on, we are better than this… We’ve got stuff to do… we have a race to train for... is this the kind of partner you want to be?
The solution.. Get Present and take Tiny Actions.
What is the smallest action you could do right now that would better align you with the person that you want to be? Check in with your body, get into the here and now, look around the room, check in with your values.
Perhaps you could… Drink a glass of cold water? Stand up and stretch? 6 Deep breaths? Walk around the office? Look at a picture of something that motivates you? Get outside? Do 5 Air squats? Get creative! We are starting some positive momentum. But.. Most importantly.. be proactive…
Plan for it… It will happen.
Getting a plan dialled in that can help get you back on track before you get stuck into the comfort spiral is essential. Having a catalogue of Tiny Actions that quickly bring you back into the present moment and in line with your values and goals means you can act without having to think in the moment. Once we are in the comfort spiral having to then think of a plan to get out of it can be overwhelming.
Why Tiny Actions?
Set the bar low, get a small win and start that ball rolling. We want to create non-intimidating momentum. Quite often it might be the overwhelming thoughts of the massive things we ‘want, should or have’ to do that can trigger the comfort spiral. A great way of distracting ourselves from doing what matters….
Having a plan for when we will inevitably find ourselves in the comfort spiral is so important. Get creative, write a list on your phone, on a post it note, stick it on your desk, on your fridge, of tiny actions that you can do to create some positive momentum, to get you back on track.
Failure to Launch
Can any one relate to this?
You're lying awake at night wondering ‘who am I and what am I doing with my life’. You may eat yourself up with these thoughts and big questions. You feel like there should be a lightbulb moment where you feel some inspiration and have your big idea. The path might be really clear and before you know it you have landed your dream job with no money worries and all your negative thoughts have gone … or you might not… so you stay there lying in bed mulling over your life.
Lets just check in with ourselves here… we all have an amazing purpose and something to offer the world. I do truly believe that. However, when we let our thoughts spiral in our heads we are offering no one, not even ourselves, anything. Today is actually the only day we have any influence on. The actions we take today are the only ones we can have any control of. The thoughts we have today we have absolutely no control of, but how we react to them we do.
I now ask these questions as a daily guide:
What do I want from today?
What tiny action can I take today towards being the person I want to be?
Little by little the small committed actions I take each day moves me towards the person I want to be.
There is a lot of talk about goals going on at the moment, and so there should be. Goals make the world go round. If we don't set any goals we are directionless and at the mercy of external circumstances which dictate and change our life course like the wind getting us nowhere fast.
What happens though when we measure our total success, our value, and self worth on achieving goals?
1. We can become obsessed with achieving, completing and on the outcome of goals.
We may set goals and go out of our way to achieve them, sometimes at any cost. As an example someone who becomes obsessed with completing fitness goals may rush ahead to do a longer distance run, or to lift a heavier weight before their body is ready, and cause themselves to get injured. Or they may become blinkered to other areas in their life and neglect them such as time with family and friends and even sleep!
2. We will get hurt and low when we miss or don't achieve a goal.
If we put all of our focus, energy, self worth, value into achieving a goal and something completely out of our control happens and prevents us completing our goal... we are going to feel pretty bad.
3. We won't set any more awesome goals!
If we put a high value and emphasis on goal completion and have experienced the pain of not achieving a set goal in the past, we may be scared to set any goals in the future. Or perhaps we may only set ourselves small very safe, uninspiring goals, that we can achieve with ease and that won't contribute to our growth as a person.
So what do we do?!
We need to change our perception of goals. When we set a goal instead of putting all the focus on the end point, the finish line, we should pay attention to the journey.
The journey is where life is. When we set goals, if they are in line with our values, interests and are taking us closer to the person we want to be (emphasis on the word taking). The experiences, events and learning along the way should be our focus.
The journey can teach us and give us far more than the completion of the goal ever could, and to think we would have missed it if we were only looking at the finish line.
So go! Set awesome goals, but pay attention to the journey, that's the real goal, that's where life is, right now.
Bad Guys Can be Useful
But they shouldn’t be essential.
‘Bad guys’..... I use the term loosely, implies a kind of everyday negative situation/circumstance/person that shows up and that although unpleasant, sometimes can offer us focus, purpose and drive.
This however, can only last us so long and only get us so far. What happens when the ‘bad guy’ goes away?
We are all looking for that place to work from, for some meaning and direction in this busy confusing world and sometimes we find a place of certainty and place to ‘push off’ from in the form of a ‘bad guy’. Feeling directionless can for some people feel quite unpleasant, so having a clear obstacle in the form of a 'bad guy' to overcome might feel quite comforting at the time.
What happens though when we place all of our focus and drive on these external factors? They change, they disappear and therefore so does our purpose, direction and focus. Once we feel we have settled into a clear direction and into something that we can push against, the 'bad guy', could just as soon be gone, leaving us in the wilderness of directionlessness once again.
Ok, the ‘bad guys’ gone, how can this be a bad thing I hear you ask? Well if this has been your chosen, accidentally habitually trained, method of working in the past its possible we may want to seek out another ‘bad guy’ to overcome, or create one from an otherwise non-threatening scenario in order to feel a sense of direction again and thus a connection to the world around us.
This can distance us from our values
A reliance on having a ‘bad guy’ to overcome in order to find some direction, may mean that our actions are actually not in line with what matters most to us, but lie in external circumstance. When our attention is focussed on overcoming a ‘bad guy’ we may lose sight of what it is we truly care about and how we want to act.
We should all be aware of, or be working towards finding what it is in our lives that we genuinely value and hold dear to us. We want to work from a place that allows a sense of internal traction and direction. So that ‘bad guys’ can come and go and we can recognise them, be aware of the messages they hold, values they might illicit, but not feel we have to fight them and base our meaning and existence in this world upon them.
Bad guys aren’t all bad.
In fact they can be a useful beacon. When observed correctly ‘bad guys’ can offer us a level of insight that we can use. If something is causing us discomfort or pain, chances are behind that pain is something we genuinely care about. A perspective shift to overcoming that ‘bad guy’ to ‘make it go away’, to a perspective of working towards the value behind that ‘bad guy’ means that even if you over come that particular obstacle, the things that matter to you in life are still there for you to work towards. Your direction in life becomes yours, not ‘bad guy’ dependent.
It takes a lot to complete an Ironman Triathlon. You can expend around 10,000 Calories whilst undertaking the 3.8km Swim, 180km bike ride and the 42km marathon. Some describe it as one of the hardest one day events in the world. I recently completed the Wales Ironman 2017 in Tenby which has been rated as one of the toughest Ironman events on the calendar (although I didn’t know this until after I had signed up!). My training started with just over a year before the event so to achieve my goal of becoming an Ironman I had to pull upon all the resources I had. Including being an Occupational Therapist. So how did Occupational Therapy (OT) help?
1. Information gathering. The big goal was set and I needed to find out what was involved with completing an Ironman, I needed to become an Ironman sponge. I gathered information from online, from my fantastic JEMS Physiotherapist on movement, listening to invaluable podcasts such as the “Kona Edge” and the Tim Ferriss Show and from joining my local triathlon club and spending time with the Ironman triathletes there. This process is continuous throughout the entire journey.
2. Self awareness and Grading. It was all well and good collecting this information but just as important was how applicable it was in relation to my current level of ability, time, and other resources I had available. I needed to find a suitable starting point that would allow me to progress quickly without it being too advanced and difficult and being discouraged.
3. Motivation. Now I was aware what it takes in order to complete an Ironman and have decided what my training will consist of and how it will progress, I have to ensure that I stick to this program religiously to ensure I get to a suitable level within my relatively small time frame.
4. Sub goals. I set smaller sub goals strategically around the calendar which gave me a target to work towards and to ensure I kept myself accountable. These smaller sub goals, included club triathlons, bike sportives and personal training challenges, often progressing in difficulty. Once completed they gave me an overwhelming enhancement in confidence.
5. Values. Knowing your values can be an extremely powerful tool in ensuring that you maintain focus and motivation. Knowing your values is the foundation to creating the person you want to be. If we don’t know what we value in life we are at risk of being motivated by external factors. This can be extremely distracting. Whereas when we know what it is we value, our motivation can be focused on that, helping us to be the person we want to become, not what someone or some other external factor may want us to be. It enables you to find your Why.
6. Forming Useful habits. “We are what we repeatedly do” (Aristotle) and along side feeling motivated to engage in my training it was essential as someone with a full time job that it practically became part of my life without causing major disruption to other areas. I made it part of my role and identity to be training for an Ironman, saying it out loud and sharing the idea, I made it so people would ask me how my training was going and what my next training session was - I created ownership and accountability. The aim is to always maintain quality in all aspects of life in order to not create dissonance between them and the training. It can be incredibly distracting observing that other areas of your life are suffering.
7. Routine Change. I structured my ironman training into my daily routine, I exchanged aspects of my life which were not in line with my Ironman Values such as spending too long watching TV or being on social media after work for my training sessions. However, I was getting something out of TV and social media, so in order not to feel deprived and resentful I moved that routine/reward to a part of my training. On my indoor bike sessions I would watch videos on Youtube and on my runs I would listen to podcasts and audiobooks.
8. Know your rewards through your values. I am someone who strongly values growth and I could use this to enhance my motivation and create beneficial habits. I found some of the training apps such as Strava, Training Peaks and Zwift incredibly beneficial for this as it would give me either live data showing how I am working or a summary of my training and offer comparisons to other sessions. This was a big dopamine hit for me!
9. Environment. In order to achieve my potential I had to ensure that my environment reflected this. I made my home a healthy space, my home reflected my identity. I signed up to receive emails from triathlon blogs and websites, I followed triathlon accounts on twitter and instagram. I spent time with people who were also training for triathlons and were interested in training.
I am happy to say that on the 10th of September 2017 I completed Ironman Wales. It was brutally hard and beautiful all at the same time. I truly believe that without knowing who we are, what our values are and without the ability to cultivate positive habits, we cannot maximise our potential in life. In this example it was meeting the significant demands of training for and completing an Ironman Triathlon, but it doesn’t matter what it is you want out of life, Occupational Therapy has the potential to help you be the person you want to be.
Tom Cowdale - Occupational Therapist, Ironman.
We are what we repeatedly do. Could this concept be the underpinning we need to help us define our profession to enable the everyday person to understand what OT is? Everything we do is an action, OT's work with the individual to enable them to carry out the actions they want, in the way they want, to move them toward the person they want to be.