Friday, 6 July 2018

10 Signposts to Living a Wholehearted Life


A synopsis and personal reflection on reading the book
‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ by Brené Brown (2010).

I want this to be right, to be appreciated for the sentiment I intend….so I'm sitting here thinking about how to start it and not starting anything for fear of getting it wrong and what you might think……so I'm just going to take a deep breath and begin…..

(I wrote that about a month ago, now I’m feeling a little sick, finding it hard to swallow and noticing a fluttering in my chest as it comes closer to publishing….AND I’m still going to do it! Tonight!).



Does ‘getting it right’, doing what you ‘should’, people pleasing and ‘being liked’ ever govern your behaviour choices? You're not defective, you're not alone, you're human! I was given ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ by Brené Brown after talking to a friend about this.  I've finally made time for me to read it, perhaps because a similar trigger is looming ……THE BIRTHDAY CAKE! I like to make birthday cakes for my family as a way to show them that I love them.  I enjoy researching and thinking about the cake to make, but when it comes to actually doing it, it can be a bit stressful; I want them to love it, for it to be good, as good as the last one, if not better!  A colleague shared how for her children she’d bought a cake and ready-made icing and the kids had done it and had had a great time!  Wow!  It really resonated with me that that was what it's all about.

It's taken me a while to read and write about the book, as I said because I want to ‘get it right’!  As I start to write I'm noticing my mind (she’s called Poppy), going on about making sure I do the author’s work justice, that I convey key messages and invite you to read more and whether I'll get that right AND I'm just going to write because if I don't it will have no chance of being any of those things….

In this book Brené talks about three gifts that enable us to live wholeheartedly; courage, compassion and connection.  She uses the metaphor of swimming to introduce the idea of learning these things by doing them.  Courage is defined as speaking from the heart and through sharing our imperfections we realise that we are not alone.  Compassion is described in terms of being with pain without blaming or fixing, accepting yourself and others from a point of shared humanity.  Connection is introduced as reciprocally being seen and heard without judgement or hierarchy.

Brené describes how Love and Belonging are fundamental needs for us all to thrive.  Their importance and fear of absence means that we get hooked into performing, perfecting, pleasing and proving ourselves worthy, when we are actually already worthy right now: we are enough just as we are.  Love is about allowing both our vulnerability and strengths to be seen, it's about trust, respect, kindness and affection.  Genuine belonging is about authentically being your imperfect self.  If we think of these as actions and not feelings we can practice them i.e. show it not just say it.

So what is driving us to perform? to ‘hustle for worthiness’? shame.  Shame is the sense that we are flawed and unworthy.  Please don't stop reading, I know it's uncomfortable but not talking about it is what keeps it going, that fear of judgement, disappointment and being pushed away.  Shame Resilienceis the alternative route, acknowledging that you (we) are imperfect (not inadequate), AND still worthy AND that we can still be authentic sharing our story and asking for what we need.

In the book Brené introduces 10 signposts for an alternative shame resilient route:

1.     Authenticity; allowing yourself be seen as you are, letting go of the fear of what people think of you and the need to be who we think we should be 
2.     Self Compassion; tenderly embracing imperfections and being open and authentic, letting go of paralysing ‘other-focused’ perfectionism, that weight that holds us all down
3.     Resilient Spirit; having hope and belief that you can do something that will help, using skills such as reality checking, problem solving, seeking help and letting go of numbing avoidant behaviours ‘leaning in’ to experiences instead
4.     Gratitude and Joy; practicing gratitude by actively acknowledging what we are grateful for activates joy, giving us sustenance for inevitable times of difficulty, letting go of chasing the extraordinary and the fear of losing what we have casts shadows over what we already have that is already sufficient
5.     Intuition & Faith; courageously being with uncertainty, willingly trusting our instinct and letting go of reassurance seeking or rushing in
6.     Creativity; express originality and contribute through making - from cooking to painting, singing to building (it's not indulgent it's necessary!), letting go of comparison, conforming and competition, the need to be like everyone else - just that little bit better
7.     Play and Rest; play for the sake of play and let go of exhaustion and over scheduling being your status symbols by resting
8.     Calm and Stillness; cultivating a place of perspective where you can be aware of thoughts, emotions and urges not controlled by them, a position where you can respond from and not (over)react
9.     Meaningful Work; share our unique gifts and talents, letting go of self doubt (criticism and comparison) and ‘supposed to’ rules of behaviour by acknowledging them and doing what makes you come alive, your career does not define you, it is part of many meaningful things you do
10.  Laughter, Song and Dance; connect by embracing vulnerability and do all freely, letting go of inhibition and the need to be in control and ‘cool’

This sounds like a pretty obvious list, but it turns out insight isn't enough.  How can we take this knowledge and use it?  In the book Brené talks about ‘digging deep’ DIG being an acronym for getting Deliberate, Inspired, and Going, setting an intention for meaningful behaviour change.  I wanted to share with you what I intend to do, to inspire you …..

RESILIENT ROUTE

1.     Authenticity; write this blog (and keep writing blog posts) letting myself be seen to show others the possibility of being with inner experiences in a different way 
2.     Self Compassion; writing and practicing my own befriending meditation, a personalised practice to help foster an environment where I can be empathic to myself as well as others  (see below)
3.     Resilient Spirit; at certain points ask myself ‘Is what I am doing helpful or healthy for me?’ and adjust behaviour accordingly where possible and where I have to be with difficulty asking what I can do for myself/with others to get through it?
4.     Gratitude and Joy; add things daily to my gratitude jar (and move behaviour towards these things).  Also invite those in sessions with myself to add to a shared journal to aid personal noticing and reflection and inspire others
5.     Intuition and Faith; actively use the Serenity Prayer, at certain points again reminding myself to accept the thing I cannot change, have the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference
6.     Creativity; protect time every week for a creative activity e.g. making a picture or baking
7.     Play and Rest; setting boundaries, realistic ‘to do’ lists (based on meaning and enjoyment not ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’) and say ‘no’ e.g. limiting the size of lists and not doing all the things I should/want to if that would be unhealthy
8.     Calm and Stillness; taking a breath before I speak (especially when noticing strong emotions), protecting quiet time everyday without stimulation (iphones, TV etc) e.g simply walking and really connecting with that sensory experience through noticing what I can see, hear, feel, smell and taste and letting go of mental chatter
9.     Meaningful Work; create a Facebook page of my imperfect creations (pictures, baking, sewing etc) and offer my skills to friends to give them and myself enjoyment 
10.  Laughter, Song and Dance; set a music/dance/games night at home where we listen to music, dance and play games without the tv/social media etc and get Spotify or similar to listen to more and new music

My ‘BRAVE AFRIAD AND ALIVE’ Befriending Practice

Mindfulness introduces a new way of being with ourselves and others, by inviting us to befriend our experiences through curiosity, kindness and compassion.  This acceptance of ourselves and others, just as we are, cultivates an environment that is nurturing and that allows for flexible and healthy emotional processing. Here is the practice I have written for myself, try it yourself or better still create your own!



May I be courageous and allow my imperfections to be seen
May I make room for the fear of judgement and shame and let go of the need to be perfect
May I be kind and understanding to myself, remembering that I am not alone 
May I have hope, self-belief and the willingness to ask others for support when I need it
May I be grateful and see the extraordinary in the ordinary
May I learn to trust my intuition and embrace uncertainty
May I find meaning in creating
May I learn to say yes to play and say no to ‘to do’
May I find perspective from a place of calm and stillness
May I do more of what makes me ‘come alive’
May I let go of the need for control and sing and dance like no one is watching!

So as an update, the birthday has been and gone and I changed my behaviour! I had lots going on at the same time and I still wanted to make my daughter a special cake.  So I asked my mum for help, she baked the cake and I iced it (I did ask my daughter but she wanted me to do it – she was with me and did put the extra sprinkles on though).  Through doing this I saved myself the distress and shared the love.  I’ve created the Facebook page and a friend saw the cake and asked about how to make it for her loved one and so I’ve spread the love even wider than I could before!


If you’d like to find out more check out Brené Brown check out her TED Talks 


To follow up on this blog I am currently developing a workshop to run at the end of summer, please contact me if you are interested to find out more about this.


P.S. If there are typos, that’s OK, I’m only human!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

5 Reasons to Choose Me

I went on some excellent experiential training recently. The speaker asked us to imagine that we wanted to learn how to surf and asked us what kind of instructor we would like to see....one who'd watched a lot of clips on YouTube, one who'd read loads of articles and studied the science, or one who'd had actually been on a surf board and learnt through experience. So what about when choosing a psychologist? If you've seen my website www.aheadpsychology.co.uk you know I've got the theory down, there's even a link to YouTube and 'Passengers on a Bus' but what about me? Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is about developing skills in becoming aware of, and open to, the internal experiences (thoughts, memories, emotions, sensations) that drive our behaviour that often gets in the way of the things that are important to us.  These skills enable us to notice these obstacles and choose to continue to pursue our values.  I want to be a good psychologist and help you, so I'm going to share with you some of my passengers, so here's 5 reasons to choose me:

1. I often feel different, like I don't fit in and that I'm an outsider and wonder what people think of me
2. I have thoughts about not being good enough and needing to do things perfectly
3. I feel driven to be always doing, and can feel that I'm chasing my tail as I go through my 'to dos'
3. I get cross with my daughter and then feel a failure afterwards and that I should know/do better
4. I'm lucky that people I love are still with me, but I'm dreading a time when they're no longer here
5. I've had experiences of being consumed by reactions to difficult personal relationships

You might recognise some unhelpful thinking and behaviour like your own in this list? You might even be thinking why would I want to see someone who struggles with the same stuff as me? Here is where I can offer you a different way to be with your experiences.  Think about the things that you've tried to do to get rid of, control or avoid these experiences, and ask how they have they worked out? What I do differently, and what I'd help you develop skills in too, is to let go of this futile struggle, by learning to notice these passengers, make room for them, and even be kind to them (they're often based in fear and are only trying to help).  Once we can unhook from these unhelpful inner experiences, and simply see them for what they are, we can stop reacting and start responding, being guided instead by who and what's important to us.