July 24, 2014
July 16, 2014
I hear so many women say they struggle to find the motivation to exercise, but by moving our bodies in a way that we enjoy, we can start to break down some of the internal resistance we often come up against when we start to think about exercise.
July 9, 2014
In life, we can’t control what life throws at us, but we can control the way we respond and think about what has happened to us. I would say this is one of the hardest things to keep on top of in life, especially when you are going through a really tough time, but it is the one area that really is ‘make or break.’
Why? It is quite simple:
Your attitude to life will determine your happiness and your quality of life.
What attitude are you approaching your life with?
When you share your story with others, do you focus on all the negatives? What about the way you feel about your life within your own mind? Deep down do you feel you have been badly done by? Do you believe that bad things always happen to you?
The problem with these thought patterns is that they are self-fulfilling. What we believe to be true (even if it isn’t) is the truth we will live by. In the same way, we can shape our thoughts and actions and create a life of influence, happiness and empowerment by;
- Focusing on what has gone well
- Making the most of the resources we have available to us
- Celebrating our successes (even if it doesn’t match the standard of ‘success’ set by our society)
- Doing more of what makes us happy
- Seeing abundance rather than scarcity and helping others fulfil their dreams, live their best life, and experience more happiness
If we want to start living well and getting the most out of our life we need to start noticing our thought patterns and how they are shaping our attitude to life. If our thought patterns aren’t empowering then it is time to start challenging them and replacing them.
I will leave you with my all time favourite quote. Viktor E. Frankl survived the Nazi concentration camps, and his insight is moving, profound and life changing:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
What attitude will you go into today with?
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July 1, 2014
It seems nearly everyone you speak to has either battled cancer themselves, known someone who has, or knows someone whose life was cut short by the disease. It is shocking to consider the stats, but according to the Cancer Council “…it is expected 1 in 2 Australian men and 1 in 3 Australian women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85 and that an estimated 128,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Australia this year.”
While I have heard a lot about cancer I have never realised the real journey cancer takes a person on…not until I picked up a book called Never Stop Believing, by channel 7 TV presenter, Sally Obermeder.
41 weeks into her pregnancy, and due to give birth to her first baby, a baby her and her husband had fought hard for and successfully conceived through IVF, Sally received the news that she had stage 3 breast cancer. To say the news was shocking and heartbreaking would be an understatement.
In her book, Sally courageously invites us into her life, her thoughts and her fears during her time with cancer; from diagnosis, treatment, surgery, to recovery. With such raw honesty and clarity she shares the depth of devastation that cancer brings to the body, the inner resilience needed to endure, and the powerful impact support, love and humour plays when facing one of life's greatest challenges.
They say that your life changes forever when you’re diagnosed with cancer. There’s your life before, and your life after.
Cancer shows you things you cannot imagine you’d ever have to experience:
The grief, the fear.
Seeing your husband and parents crying at the thought of losing you.
Confronting the possibility that your baby might grow up without you.
The fear of losing everything you’ve worked for, hoped for, dreamed for.
And you’re sicker than you’ve ever been in your life: a sickness that affects your entire body —even your elbows, even your feet—and goes on for weeks and months and doesn’t end.
But you discover other things too: your strength. Your endurance. The pleasure of finding things to laugh about even in the darkest of times. The true force of friendship. The power of love.
It is this strength, courage, resilience and hope that shines through in Sally’s story. It is hard not to be inspired and humbled by her story and the attitude she has approached life with.
It got me wondering, “Would I be as grounded, focused and positive as she was if I was in the same situation?” It is hard to predict these things, and maybe we can never know until we are in them ourselves, but it is worth considering and asking ourselves, “Am I building resilience and positivity into my life on a regular basis?”
“Am I building an inner foundation that will be strong enough to hold me when the truly bad times hit?”
Sally’s story has inspired me to re-engage with my life with more vigour and more focus, because life is truly precious and it is also entirely unpredictable.
A near-death experience forces you to re-evaluate your life. Forces you to be honest. You think, if I live what kind of life do I want? You realise it’s precious; you don’t want to take it for granted and you definitely don’t want to squander it.
While having a chronic illness taught me this lesson over five years ago, it is easy to become complacent, it is easy to focus on what is still missing from your life and not all the blessings surrounding you.
Even in the worst situation you are still blessed…you still have your life, and that is something Sally’s story reminded me not to take lightly. Life is the greatest gift of all, the question is “What will you do with yours?”
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June 24, 2014
Why do we have so much trouble disentangling from our possessions?
I have just moved house and have come up against two concerning things;
1. How much stuff I have!
2. How hard it is to part with possessions
While I know I’m not alone, it baffles me why we feel we need so much. Why do we battle so hard internally to let things go?
I know the battle is psychological and fuelled by emotions more than rational thought, but why do we associate so strongly with the things that surround us? Why do we imbue so much meaning into inanimate objects?
It seems absurd that I can’t part with some knick knack (a.k.a. ‘dust collector’) or a pair of shoes I hardly ever wear, but for some reason I find it hard. These objects and the feelings around them have a hold on me.
It doesn’t help that many things I am gripping onto are things from my Dad and Nan who have both passed away, but I also know that my memories of them are truly not dependent on these physical reminders.
My Dad and I often went to the speedway to see the sprint cars. One birthday he bought me a bag and a t-shirt which he had signed by my favourite driver. I will never forget this birthday yet I struggle to give away the bag I never use, or to throw out the signed t-shirt despite it being manky and old.
I know I don’t need the shirt to remind me of that great night, yet it seems that by getting rid of it, I am somehow also throwing out that special memory or devaluing it in some way. I know that my memories and love for those around me are not tied up in objects, yet it is hard to let go without feeling some guilt or anxiety.
It has got me wondering…
“Do we grip so tightly to our possessions because we don’t trust ourselves to remember?”
“Do we think that by giving things away we are also giving a little of ourselves away too?”
I would love to hear your thoughts on this as I am really intrigued by our associations with objects and possessions. I look forward to your responses. Until then, I’m off to keep unpacking and sorting through more ‘stuff.’ :-)
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June 3, 2014
Is there an area of your life that needs ‘sprucing up,’ or even a complete renovation? Maybe some of your ways of thinking are outdated, too cluttered or simply no longer functional? Maybe your lifestyle has you running from pillar to post with no time for yourself, and you are feeling exhausted.
If your life could be improved, then today is as good a day as any to start a ‘life renovation.’ Too often we put off doing the hard work on areas in our life we know are looking and feeling a bit ‘shabby’ because we feel it is too challenging, overwhelming or we simply don’t know how to start.
While these are very real concerns, if we let these reasons and feelings stop us from moving forward, we will continue to live our lives knowing we are ‘just missing the mark.’ Not a great feeling. We know we will be falling short of what we are capable of, and the happiness and freedom we know we could be experiencing.
If you feel up to the challenge (and it is a challenge!) there is one thing you need to know before you start making big changes in your life. It is something I wish someone had told me years ago…
Getting Started Is The Hardest Part
This week I have been painting my home and was absolutely amazed at how long it takes to properly prepare a room before putting a brush to the walls! Life can be like this too. When we decide to tackle something big in our lives it is easy to feel overwhelmed and to lose motivation.
Knowing that the beginning of any change is always the hardest (and most time consuming), will help us not to loose heart. It will also prepare us for the ‘negative Nelly’ mental chatter that also happens at this stage.
I have found the little voice that pops into my head at the early stage of any major change or task sounds something like this;
“You are never going to get this done!”
“Who are you fooling, you aren’t cut out to do this.”
“What is wrong with you? Everyone else is doing this so much quicker and so much better than you are.”
Personally I think we all go through this at some time or another. The solution, however, isn’t to try to stop these negative internal conversations, but acknowledge them and not ‘buy’ into them or allow them to influence what you do or don’t do in your life.
These negative internal conversations always focus on our real and perceived weaknesses, making it hard to disentangle from them. While we all have weaknesses, we also have many strengths.
If we want to achieve real and sustained change in our lives, we have to consciously focus on our strengths, rather than fusing with our weaknesses.
Is there an area of your life where your negative inner conversations are stopping you from pushing through? What are you missing out on by allowing these negative views of yourself to dictate your current experience of life and your future direction?
While starting can be slow, it does get easier. You will begin to see progress. Stick with it. You aren’t doing anything wrong. You aren’t slower than everyone else, there is nothing wrong with your personality, stamina, or intellect…this is just how things go.
At times when I was painting I wondered if the job would ever be done. I am happy to say it is done and it looks fabulous. Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. As I have said many times before, quality takes time.
Patience, trust and self-belief are the cornerstones of building the life you want. Persevere and you won’t regret it. Start living your life, your way.
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May 27, 2014
If you could have your time again, would you live your life differently? Do you have any regrets or would you simply apply the insight you have acquired to get more out of your younger years?
Attending Yve Lavine’s Sweet 16 photographic exhibition a few weeks ago, I have been thinking a lot about the question which framed her exhibition;
“What advice would you give your 16 year old self?”
While intriguing and thought provoking, it isn’t an easy question. When answering this question it is tempting to try to ‘save’ our younger selves from the challenges we have faced, but there is a problem with this approach.The problem is this:
It is often through the failures and bad times that we discover greater depth and passion for life.
While logically I would like to spare my 16 year old self from some of the challenges I have faced, including heart break and health issues, I realise and appreciate that without these experiences I would not know what I do today. The insight I have gained from the tougher times in life have led me down paths which have increased my happiness and my purpose in life.
My message to my 16 year old self would be this:
In life there will be set backs. Nothing is ever perfect, and nor does it need to be.
As a younger person I was definitely a perfectionist.
The problem with perfectionism is that it doesn’t represent the real world and how life works, and often ends leads to burn out. Perfectionism is time consuming and illogical, as most activities don’t require perfection. It also inhibits adventure, as the ‘fear of failure’ is ever present. Perfectionism truly is a ‘high maintenance’ lifestyle.
If I had a chance to speak with my 16 year old self, I would tell her that her worth isn’t tied up in ‘being perfect,’ but in living a life of meaning and purpose, and in a way that is not harmful to herself or others.
I would like to tell her that it is okay to stuff up and make mistakes, in fact I would encourage it. I would like to tell her to enjoy the journey as much as the destination and to loosen up, to laugh daily!
Would my 16 year self listen to this advice? The chances are slim to none. She would have ‘known better’ or believed “Those things won’t happen to me!”
This reflective question is not about regrets, but about realising, appreciating and celebrating the wonderful wisdom we have gained along our own life journeys. With this wisdom we can shape our futures, and what inspired and bright futures they can be.
So, what would you tell your 16 year old self? Feel free to share in the comment section below, I would love to hear your answers.
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May 21, 2014
What does the word ‘success’ mean to you? Do you think you are living a successful life, or missing the mark in some way?
Last Thursday night I attended a wonderful photographic exhibition in Surry Hills by photographer, Yve Lavine. The exhibition was part of the Head On Festival and was called Sweet 16. Sweet 16 is a powerful project created around the responses women over 60 gave to the question “What advice would you give your 16 year old self?”
A fascinating question, and one that was discussed in a panel conversation and further explored during a question time. During the discussions an important issue was raised; what does being ‘successful’ mean? This got me thinking, “What does success mean to me and is ‘success’ different from living a ‘successful life’?”
When I started out in my writing career my definition of success was forever shifting. It started with “I will be successful when I get published.” Then it became, “I will be successful when I get regular feature articles published.” Then it became ‘I will be successful when I get published in this particular magazine.” Now it has become, “I will be successful when I have a book published.”
As you can see, defining success by specific goals or events is problematic. When we define success by achievements only, our notion of success always changes and our ‘success high’ is short lived. It also means the deep belief that we are living a meaningful life can seem elusive as the bar is forever shifting.
There is nothing wrong with working hard to achieve goals, but there is another more lasting and meaningful way, to determine success in our lives that provides a solid point of reference.
Living a Successful Life
Some of the people in the audience put forward the idea that no matter what you do with your life, your life is a success when you can say the following things:
“I live in such a way that I make the world a better place”
“I am a good person”
“I live the best life I can, with what I have”
What a powerful idea that a successful life is a life lived with meaning, purpose and compassion for others. What an empowering idea that success is not what we achieve by others’ standards, but how well we have used the resources available to us.
I have written a lot about this topic, and strongly believe that a happy, successful and meaningful life begins by making the most of what we have, not allowing our limitations to be a barrier to happiness or success.
Added to this discussion was a great comment made by Alissa Thibault, one of the women on the panel. Alissa believed that we needed to reframe the word ‘success’ with ‘fulfilment.’ She explained that living a successful life should be about living a fulfilling life, whatever shape or form that takes.
Defining success in terms of fulfilment means we can be successful at every stage in our lives, not just when we reach major milestones. Seeing success and fulfilment as intrinsically linked frees us to consider our past, our present and our future from a new perspective. We can look at our life from a perspective that is based on passion, purpose and meaning before we look at other common ‘success’ indicators like job titles, big figure incomes or homes in certain postcodes.
Defining success in term of fulfilment, passion and compassion, means we can move through life knowing that we can always be living our best life. We can move through life never feeling like a failure or questioning the value of the life we are leading. It also frees us to follow a life that brings joy not only to ourselves but to others also.
What are your thoughts about success? What does living a successful life mean to you?
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May 14, 2014
Do you ever stop to take stock of your life and reflect on what your life experiences have taught you? Do you ever take a moment to ask yourself “What have I learnt about myself and about life from this situation?”
When we take the time to step back and observe our lives we realise three things. Firstly that we are always learning, secondly that adversity is our greatest teacher, and thirdly that we are wiser than we give ourselves credit for.
Today is the last in the Happiness Today series. All that I have shared in this series I have shared from my lived experience. I have shared with you what I believe are the four steps to happiness, and along the way we have looked at how we must strive to do the hard work of being honest with ourselves regarding what has happened in our lives and what is unfolding currently. We have also looked at how sometimes that means grieving the losses in our lives and the realisation that our life may not have turned out as we expected.
Possibly a surprisingly ‘heavy’ series on what is usually a bright and bubbly topic…happiness! But the way I see it, denying the complexity and challenges of experiencing happiness only further exacerbates our negative feelings towards ourselves and our life. If we feel that happiness ‘should’ be easy then we start to wonder what is wrong with us and why we can’t ‘get it right.’ We end up baffled as to why happiness seems so elusive.
To close this series, this week I wanted to share with you what I have learnt as I have moved through the four steps to happiness, lessons that I have taken through into all areas of my life.
Life Lesson 1
Trust yourself and listen to your own inner wisdom about what you need to live a fulfilling life. You know more about your deep desires and passions than anyone else. There are a lot of people who will say or act as if they know more about you than you do, but trust that you already hold the wisdom you need to take your life to the places you truly desire.
Life Lesson 2
Listen to your body and actively support, nurture and care for it. As much as it feels that we control or dictate what our body does, it really is the opposite. Treat your body with respect and compassion, gratefully aware of all that it does for you day in and day out. Give your body and mind a break and laugh often.
Life Lesson 3
There is great healing power in accepting what has happened or is happening in your life. Acceptance is not about being happy about what has happened, but about releasing the desire to control and change the unchangeable. The opposite, resistance, keeps you stuck and in denial, unable to see what new opportunities await you. Acceptance keeps the flow of energy, ideas and inspiration moving through your mind and body.
Life Lesson 4
We all have limitations. The challenge with limitations is not to ‘fuse’ so much with them that you let them define or confine you. Where there is a will there is always a way. Take what you have and build, expand and grow from there. Great things happen when you use what is available to you.
Life Lesson 5
Your story is not over. While you still have breath, your story is unfolding and the possibilities are vast. No matter how you are feeling about your life, there is still time for change, renewal, healing, hope and new opportunities. Don’t lose heart.
What are your top 5 life lessons?
I hope the Happiness Today series has helped you think through some bigger questions underlying happiness. I hope it has allowed you to approach happiness in a way that is more grounded and real, and not just about ‘thinking more positively.’ I would love to hear what you have found useful and the successes you have had along the way.
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May 7, 2014
I couldn’t wait to get to this week’s topic in the Happiness Today series, because this is when the real fun begins. If we want to start enjoying more peace and happiness, we must be willing to stretch our brains, engage our imaginations and be willing to think outside the box. Step four in my four steps to happiness is about starting a journey of discovery and rebuilding.
Up unto this point in the Happiness Today series, I have said we need to hold off from putting a positive spin on the circumstances of our lives, because we need to give ourselves a chance to be real, to grieve and to feel all the ‘less ideal’ emotions and feelings of life.
Once we have done this (no easy feat), we can begin to rise from the ashes to set our lives alight again, re-capturing our passion and zest for life. This week we start to look for the positives in our lives and build our new foundations based on our capacity and ability. There is only one question we need to ask ourselves in this phase;
“What can I do with what I have?”
I read a book about five years ago which completely changed how I viewed my own limitations in the wake of being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. If you haven’t read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, do yourself a favour and grab a copy.
Jean-Dominique ‘wrote’ this book with the one ability he had left to him…the ability to blink his eyes. After suffering a stroke at the age of 43, Jean-Dominique was left completely paralysed in a condition called ‘locked in syndrome,’ a syndrome where the brain is active and functional but the body isn’t.
I couldn’t imagine a worse situation. Even in this horrendous state, Jean-Dominique was able to focus on his one remaining ability and make the most of it. He went on to ‘write’ his book, using a devised communication system where he would blink when an assistant read the letter in the alphabet he wanted to use in his sentence formation.
Jean-Dominique’s story is a very sobering one indeed…
If we focus on what we can’t change or on what we wish were different, not only do we deplete ourselves of our precious energy, but we also fail to see the possibilities and opportunities around us.
If we focus on our abilities, we remain open to wonderful opportunities for development and change, and more importantly, the chance to leave our unique mark on the world.
Tim Ferguson is another person doing just that. I just finished reading Tim’s book ‘Carry A Big Stick: A funny, fearless life of friendship, laughter and MS.’ Tim has a successful comedic career and only a few years ago shared with the public that he has Multiple Sclerosis (MS). There was one particular line from his book that sums up step four in our happiness journey well; “MS does not define me. I wish to define MS.”
There is great power in not allowing our limitations to confine or define us. There is great happiness and joy to be found in celebrating our capacity and what we can make from it.
When we realise that happiness does not lie in the things we don’t have but in the way we utilise and enjoy the things we do have, life becomes lighter, more joyous and more fulfilling.
How can you start to discover a more vibrant life based on what you have?
1. What is one limitation you get hung up on?
2. Does this limitation define or confine you in any way? How?
3. How would your life be different if you didn’t have this limitation?
4. What is your greatest strength and passion in life?
5. How could you use your strengths and passion in life to create the type of life you identified in question 3?
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April 30, 2014
Feeling tired, overworked, busy and stressed? You aren’t alone. It seems that most people are feeling low on energy, tense and like they are always ‘behind the eight ball.’ Stress is one of the biggest barriers to happiness, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Knowing how to release built up stress, anxiety and sadness allows us to move through life with more ease and more calm… and ultimately more happiness.
The solution? Find a couple of relaxation methods that you love, and do them daily or at least weekly. The trick is to have these methods become part of your regular routine so you don’t have to go searching for something that works when life gets tough and you are feeling stressed. Ever tried meditating for the first time when you are stressed? It is seriously hard work!
Back to Nature
If you are feeling stressed, a great way to unwind and support your body and your happiness is to get back to nature and enjoy connecting with the Earth. Think of wading in the ocean, walking barefoot through the sand, going camping, sitting under a tree with your shoes off and nestled in the grass.
As children we were always ‘grounding’ as we ran around barefoot and playing in the sandpit or the park. As adults, however, we spend most of our time in shoes and socks, on the carpet, or on concrete…we rarely enjoy direct contact with the Earth.
If you don’t enjoy ‘getting back to nature’ in this way, there are still so many benefits from going for a walk or sitting by the ocean, a lake or in a park with gorgeous trees and flowers. The Earth provides so many healing qualities, allowing us to slow our minds and connect with the largeness of life.
Exhale and Release
Quick and easy is what we are often looking for in life. This is one of my favourite yoga techniques for releasing the stress of the day and it only takes a few minutes and requires nothing but yourself and the floor.
Release all the tension, all the anger, all the sadness, all the tiredness, all the uncertainty that you might be feeling.
- Start by sitting cross-legged on the floor
- Take a big breath in
- Raise your arms above your head and as you do, exhale as forcefully as you can
- Swing your hands back down by your side as you inhale
- This sequence of movements looks like you are throwing something away over your head, using both your arms
- Repeat until you feel ready to stop
- Do this sequence as fast or as slow as you feel comfortable
- When you finish sit still with your hands resting on your knees and just breathe
I always feel great after doing this exercise. I feel fresh energy moving through my body, I feel a buzzing sensation and I feel much, much lighter. If, like me, you store most of your tension in your shoulders, this is also a great exercise to release some of that tightness.
Which activities provide you with the most relaxation, release and joy? Which activities leave you feeling lighter in your body and mind?
Not sure? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself.
Which activities allow you to:
- stop the incessant mental chatter in your head
- slow your breathing rate
- make you smile
- help you see a more positive view of your life
Aim this week to do one of the activities on your list each day, even if only for 10 mins. It is amazing what difference 10 mins can make, so try not to skip it even if you are super busy this week.
Still stuck? Try some of these ideas this week and see what works for you:
- Enjoy a long bath
- Get lost in a good book
- Get moving in some form of exercise
- Book in for a massage
- Meditate (there are heaps of YouTube clips to get you started)
- Spend some time in the garden
- Get creative: paint, draw, knit, cook
- Enjoy a coffee and read a magazine or book at a cafe
- Have a good chat and catch up with a friend or family member
Start where you are, and with what you have. It is usually the simple things in life which are the most powerful.
April 23, 2014
If you’ve ever asked this question you would know that it leads to a dead-end.
Dwelling on why keeps us stuck on what we believe ‘should’ have happened…it keeps us stuck in the past…it keeps us powerless and small.
If, like me, your life hasn’t ‘gone to plan,’ you too have probably wondered “Why me?” as you’ve tried to make sense of change, pain and loss. The problem with asking “Why me?” is that there’s often no rhyme or reason as to why things happen to us. Even when there is, asking “Why me?” doesn’t allow us to move on or to find happiness.
Holding on too tightly to a pre-determined ‘version’ of our life keeps us stuck, unhappy and unable to see new opportunities as they arise.
Step 3 in the Happiness Today series is about releasing. This step is about releasing our grip on the ‘story of our lives’ and making the hard decision to give up asking the question that is most damaging to our health and happiness; “Why me?”
Accepting that life is unpredictable and often takes us down unexpected paths, is no easy task. It is necessary, however, if we want to experience more peace and happiness in our lives. Alternatively, we waste precious energy and time trying to get life to ‘conform’ in ways it simply doesn’t…and never has.
The only thing we can control in our lives is our attitude and response to the things that happen to us.
While we can’t ‘script’ our lives, we can commit to a set of values and a life-perspective that will allow us to move through life with less angst and more inner stability.
When I reached this step in my journey, I knew I had to release my attachment to the ‘old Jess’ and all that I could do and achieve when I was 100% healthy. I had to release my attachment to the way I thought my life would pan out, and instead I chose a new life-perspective and set of values.
My new life-perspective was the decision to live well, no matter what my capacity was or wasn’t. Committing to self-awareness, to listening to my body, taking care of my physical and mental wellbeing, and living with gratitude formed my new set of values.
Deciding to release my hold on what ‘should’ have been, my life began to change and evolve in a more positive direction.To read more of my story you can click through to my previous blog post, where I shared why it’s important to never to give up.
Are you ready to release the ideas and perspectives that are keeping you stuck and unhappy?
- What has happened in your life that wasn’t what you’d hoped or planned for?
- Do you blame yourself for what happened? Can you release any blame you might still hold towards yourself?
- Are you ready to stop asking “Why me?” and start asking “What can I make of this situation?”
- What values do you want to take through with you into the future, no matter what is happening in your life?
Next week I will continue to look at releasing and how we can find more happiness and peace by letting go of the stress and tension in our bodies and minds. Until then, have a great week and I look forward to hearing from you.
xxx Jess xxx
April 16, 2014
Chatting with a wonderful woman on the weekend about my blog post last week. She said;
“I read your article but I couldn’t read it again because you were saying the opposite of how I felt. You said we need to accept and go into our grief but I just can’t…not at the moment, it’s just too much. You also said happiness is not just about positive thinking, so what do I do?”
Great question. What do we do when we can’t go into our grief at the present moment, but we are struggling with unhappiness?
It seems the topic of grief is touching a nerve and creating our biggest barrier to happiness, most likely because grief can leave us feeling hollow and deeply sad. Experiencing joy and happiness can be tricky, as the activities which used to bring happiness don’t seem to any more.
Accepting and processing our loss can also be more than we can manage. If this is where we are at, we need to be gentle and caring towards ourselves. Trusting that when the time is right we will move out of this phase, and into a space where we feel we can begin to process our loss and sadness.
We can help ourselves make this process easier and smoother.
Living well alongside our grief and moving towards happiness requires two things: being productive and finding meaning in our lives.
Feeling that we can’t change what has happened in our life underpins grief. By being productive and seeing what we can make, produce and achieve, we remind ourselves of our ability to shape the way we experience life. Enjoying a day of productivity allows us to shift our focus off the areas we can't change, to those we can.
Adding value to other people’s lives, adds meaning to ours.
Dealing with my sadness after my Dad died, I took up knitting. I knitted a blanket for one of the women who received surgery at Dr Catherine Hamlin’s Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. As I knitted the blanket I was able to focus on someone other than myself and my own sadness. Allowing me to find more purpose and peace, I was then able to build into happiness.
Being stuck in grief and feeling like our life is out of our control is not pleasant and is disempowering. Finding ways to harness our own power and to remind ourselves of our ability and resilience, is the way forward. So how do we do this?
MAKE, ACHIEVE, LEARN and HELP
By engaging in activities that are challenging, allow us to see results, and provide us with the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life, we will begin to rediscover joy and happiness.
15 Ways to Boost Your Happiness
Try some of these ideas this week or come up with your own:
1. Assist a family member or friend in a practical way
2. Try something arty- painting, crocheting, drawing, writing poems
3. Bake or cook a new recipe
4. Make a gift or a card for someone
5. Join a new social club/group
6. Say yes to an activity you would normally say no to
7. Knit for a charity
8. Set a goal and achieve it e.g.) Jog 1km a day, meditate for 10 mins a day
9. Watch an inspiring documentary
10. Sign up to a night time class or weekend workshop
11. Sign up to volunteer for a charity e.g.) Daffodil Day
12. Help a stranger in your travels
13. Expand you mind and read a book on a topic you know nothing about
14. Clean out your wardrobes and donate unwanted items to a charity
15. Re-vamp a section of your garden and plant something new
Have fun as you work through some of these ideas and let me know how you go.
xxx Jess xxx
April 9, 2014
Life is too complex and unpredictable to be ‘happy’ all the time. We shouldn’t be afraid of going into the less comfortable feelings and emotions that arise, because on the other side of the grittiness of unhappiness is freedom. But first we must first be willing to embrace our life with an attitude of acceptance.
By accepting ‘what is,’ we begin to free up the energy, focus, creative thinking, and resources we require to start re-building our happiness from where we are.
Acceptance is a conscious decision to acknowledge what is happening in our life, and to stop resisting it.Unfortunately acceptance is not just a matter of waking up one morning and thinking, “Okay, life is as it is.” To fully accept our unhappiness we often have to grieve our losses, both current and past. It is my experience that without this step, happiness remains elusive.
When we acknowledge, accept, grieve, and release our unhappiness and pain, our lives begin to change…we find inner peace and we can move forward.When we hold on tightly and resist our lives, the more happiness seems to slip out of our grasp. It is like trying to hold water in a clenched fist…it all seeps out. However, if we cup our hands we can hold the water easily. The shape we make when we cup our hands is an act of surrender…of acceptance. It is a symbol of receiving in openness the life we have, and the good things that are yet to come.
I find the image of cupped hands holding water a beautiful reminder to move through life with acceptance rather than resistance. To find happiness through truthfulness and openness.
How can you start finding more happiness and freedom through acceptance today?
1. What do I need to accept is happening, or has happened, in my life that is keeping me stuck and unhappy?This process is difficult and sometimes makes us anxious. If you’re struggling with anxiety, these following techniques may be useful:
2. What is the most difficult or painful part about accepting this reality?
3. What do I need to grieve in order to accept my life as it is?
This exercise is useful in slowing down a racing mind and bringing peace and calm to the body.
Breath in and out and count, ‘1’. Breathe in and out and count, ‘2’. Continue to 10 then repeat, starting at 1 again.
If your mind wanders and you forget what number you are on, start at 1 again. If it is too hard to stay focused on your breathing for 10 counts, start at 2, 5, or whatever is comfortable for you.
Repeat this exercise until you feel calmer, being conscious to relax your shoulders and jaw as you do this exercise.
This mantra is a great one to use at night if you struggle to fall asleep from an overly anxious and active mind. Repeat the phase until you feel more peaceful and calm.
“May I be well, may I be at peace, may I be free from suffering.”
Or alternatively you can repeat;
“I am well, I am at peace, I am free from suffering.”
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April 1, 2014
Are you unsure about your future? Maybe you are disappointed and frustrated that your life is not where you imagined or expected it would be? Maybe you feel trapped?
When we feel stressed, disillusioned, unsure or powerless, we struggle to feel the joy and contentment that we so desperately want and need. We struggle to feel happy. But is ‘thinking more positively’ the answer?
Many self-development coaches would say yes, that happiness relies on positive thinking, but I disagree. Positive thinking is vital to happiness, but at the wrong time in your journey, forcing yourself to ‘think positively’ can be only momentarily helpful, and at times detrimental.
If you haven’t been able to acknowledge and accept what is happening in your life, or what has happened in the past, positive thinking acts more like a band-aid over a gapping injury. Just like a band-aid, after a little while it gets mangy, dirty and drops off. So does your motivation around positive thinking when you are in the midst of pain and loss.
So if positive thinking is not the sole path to happiness, what is?
The Four Steps to Happiness
4. Discover and Rebuild
Over the coming weeks we will explore each of these steps, but this week we will start by looking at how we can begin to acknowledge what is happening in our lives…what is really happening.
“What we don’t acknowledge keeps us trapped, confined and small.”
What we don’t acknowledge we are actively denying. Not a great place to be. Denial is a big energy sucker as we invest time and energy into resisting what is happening in our lives. Unfortunately what we resist only becomes stronger, keeping us stuck, frustrated and unhappy.
So why do we sometimes deny what is happening in our lives?
Sometimes we just don’t realise what is happening at that deeper level, and sometimes our present reality (which also encompasses our past) is just too painful. The reason we feel so much pain is because we are experiencing loss. Loss of a whole gamut of things: health, self-confidence, youth, loved ones, innocence, certainty, financial security, relationships, employment…the list is endless.
“Trying to put a positive spin on distressing circumstances before we are ready is a backwards step. Putting on a ‘happy face’ cause us inner distress and it is exhausting! Being real with yourself is the only way forward.”
What does it mean to ‘be real with yourself?’ Being real is about acknowledging what is actually happening in your life, both on the surface and at a deeper level.
For example, you might tell yourself you are too busy to slow down and take time out for yourself. However, when you delve a little deeper you discover what is actually happening…you are to afraid to slow down in case it brings up uncomfortable memories or thoughts. You fear looking ‘lazy.’ You fear saying no, and looking ‘selfish’ or being seen to be a ‘bad’ mother, father, friend, colleague.
“The first step towards happiness is acknowledging what is at the heart of your struggles.”
“Once we know better we can do better.”
- What am I most stressed or unhappy about in my life at the moment?
- What am I saying to myself about this situation?
- Why is this issue or situation causing me so much unhappiness and stress?
- What is at the heart of this issue? What is actually causing me the unhappiness or stress?
Once you have acknowledged what is actually happening in your life, you can move to the next stage. Stay posted for my article next week, where I will explain why acceptance is the most powerful step in the happiness journey.
xxx Jess xxx
March 24, 2014
If you type “more happiness” into Google, you will find over 500 million hits. To say we are interested in finding happiness in our lives is an understatement. But what does it mean to be happy and more importantly, how can we begin enjoying more happiness in our lives?
Photo Credit: Jessica Stead
This post is the first in a series I will be sharing with you called Happiness Today. In this series I will share with you tips that will help you move from feeling stuck, anxious, stressed and unhappy, to feeling more in control, optimistic and motivated. Tips that have proven to have worked in my life..tips that I come back to time and time again.
What I have learnt about happiness I have learnt the hard way, through my experiences of illness, anxiety, depression and grief. The most important thing I have learnt about happiness I will share with you today;
Happiness is not a result of having a ‘perfect and problem free’ life. Happiness comes from knowing how to find inner peace, no matter what is happening in your life.
If you are striving to remove all problems in your life, I think you are fighting a losing battle. Experiencing challenges in life is the price we pay for living. We also learn the most from the challenges we face, so we shouldn’t aim to live a ‘problem free’ life.
But at times the challenges we face in life do rob us of our happiness. We seek happiness when we are unhappy, and we are unhappy when we feel we can’t find a way through our problems. We feel unhappy when we are overwhelmed, or simply too tired to put into practice the things we know we should be doing.
So how do we get through these tough times and find happiness again?
Instead of trying to ‘problem proof’ our lives, we need to develop an inner resource that is solid and stable. An inner resource which allows us to navigate our challenges without going under, getting stuck or losing our hope and happiness.
By developing a firm foundation of inner peace, we can move away from the ups and downs associated with inner turmoil, the feeling of being consumed day in day out by worry, fear and anxiety.
If you are struggling to find happiness and hope, then you aren’t alone. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In the Happiness Today series I will outline how you can develop inner peace in a step-by-step sequence, starting with acceptance which I will share in my next post.
Finding happiness is about learning how to successfully manage the tough times in life and building up your confidence to know that you have all the resources you need to get through, to ‘hang in there’ and to rise above.
The first step in this series is to take some time out to get your ‘life bearings.’ To discover how you are feeling about your life and what you think might need to change. The following questions will allow you to get started today on your path to greater happiness and provide the foundation for the weeks to come.
1. How happy are you with your life currently?
2. What would you rate your happiness from 1-10, if 10 is ‘extremely happy’ and 1 is ‘not at all’?
3. Can you identify the top 3 things which might be holding you back from feeling happier?
4. Next month, what score would you like to achieve?
5. What is one thing you would like to change about your life?
Even when life changes in ways that are challenging and difficult, we always have the ability to think and act our way towards greater peace and happiness.
Positive change begins with knowing better then doing better…it all starts with one step.
I look forward to you joining me for this series. If you don’t want to miss out on the Happiness Today series, make sure you sign up to receive email notification when new content appears on my blog.
P.S. Don’t forget to leave a comment in the section below, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Love and Gratitude,
xxx Jess xxx
March 16, 2014
Like a bird swooping, soaring, or coming to rest on your shoulder, grief comes and goes and changes its form. Grief can feel like a big black crow; its dark weight moving with you through the day. It can feel like it knows no bounds, like an eagle soaring and dipping. Yet at other times it can feel almost playful and light, like a sparrow or a Willie Wagtail, allowing you to reminisce with happiness and laughter.
You can never be sure which bird will visit, when, or for how long. One thing is for sure though…when you lose someone or something you love, that window to grief is always open. I don’t mean to sound morbid, or even to communicate that grief ‘traps’ you in some way, but grief is always there, it becomes a new partner in your life’s journey.
If you have experienced loss, you will know how horrible it is to hear that “time heals,” or that you can find a way to “move on.” It is true that we never want grief to ‘paralyse’ us and to leave us unable to continue living our lives, however, we also don’t want to forget. We don’t want to live as if nothing significant has happened to us.
The truth is that grief changes us. Grief cracks open the soul and the mind in a way we never knew possible.
We come to see how painful life can be. We touch that place where experiences are raw, unrefined, unconfined, and unknown. We can literally lose our breath when confronted by the depth of grief and the magnitude of our loss.
We also come to see with greater clarity what it means to ‘live.’ Grief cuts through and strips away all that is superfluous; we begin to see what matter, what truly matters. Interestingly, it is not always what we expect, nor is it always a reflection of how we are living our lives.
There is an opportunity within grief. That opportunity is to realign our lives; to realign our thoughts and actions until they reflect our new-found, and definitely hard-won, understanding and knowledge.
I wrote this post today because grief is real for most of us. It certainly is for me at the moment. Grief has surfaced again in my life…the black crow is circling...
In a few days it will be 5 years since I received a call, just after 9pm, to say my Dad had suddenly passed away… Not easy. It has also almost been 5 months since my Nan passed away, and her passing has left me somewhat traumatised. Not only have I lost someone I loved and admired immensely, but her suffering in the end stages of her life was highly distressing.
Losing my Nan, who was my Dad’s mum, has also compounded my grief for my Dad. I feel a sad intensity to losing two important people in my life. I hadn’t realised how much my Nan kept the memory of my Dad alive, until she is now no longer here to reminisce with.
Just like me, I know so many of you are facing your own grief. The thing is, sometimes we need a little guidance and reassurance along the way. Mostly we just need to be reassured that we will be okay and that we will get through. But we also want to be reassured that we are ‘allowed’ to grieve, and allowed to grieve in the way we do. We also want to know that there is no ‘acceptable’ limit to when our grief should be finalised.
If you are experiencing grief at the moment, my message is simple: respect this deep process. Your soul, mind and body are going through a profound process. You are consolidating your new experiences, feelings, thoughts and insights.
Don’t ‘judge’ your experience as ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Don’t judge your experience and determine if it is ‘taking too long’ or maybe ‘not long enough.’ Take care of yourself. Do what is right for you.
Also be honest…if grief is paralysing you, begin finding people and techniques that will allow you to find your way back to what it means to live, but to live alongside your grief.
As you move through your week, know that you are not alone in your grief. Know that grief is unpredictable, and whatever you are experiencing is where you are meant to be for now. Know that there will be days when the black crow and the eagle show you the depths of the darkness, but also days when the sparrow and the Willie Wagtail will also come to play. Enjoy those moments of respite, of hope. Relax…enjoy the moment and cherish the joy of your memories and experiences.
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contribution, and of unspeakable love.”~ Washington Irving ~
Xxx Jess xxx
Need to Connect?
· LifeLine- Call 13 11 14
· Beyond Blue- Call 1300 22 4636
· Make an appointment with your local GP or psychologist
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March 9, 2014
How many times have you pulled back from doing something because you felt scared? How often have you told yourself that you will feel more comfortable, safe or secure sitting on the sidelines? Surely it’s better than the horrible uncomfortable feeling that floods your body, or the anxiety that rises when you start to feel scared?
Or is it?
The biggest lie we tell ourselves when we feel scared is that by sitting on the sidelines we are safe. But what does ‘being safe’ actually mean?
We seek safety and security in response to a threat...a real threat. I have worked with refugees and know with certainty that there are times in people’s lives when fear is a result of very real threats, such as an imminent threat of death or violence.
However, we often misinterpret threat with the feeling we experience when life bumps up against our lack of self-belief.
Very rarely are our ‘every day’ fears related to real threats. How many times have you feared something that never happened?
The confusing part is that we experience fear as if it was a serious threat. What our experience is, however, is our response to being confronted by our own sense of limitations. “Am I smart enough to do this, or will I look stupid and be embarrassed?” “Can I cope? Am I strong enough, or will I fall into a big heap and not know how to get back up again?”
How we answer these questions shapes our lives entirely.
In life we are either expanding or contracting. We expand when we challenge our self-limiting beliefs and begin to step out and try new things. We expand our sense of self by challenging what we believe is possible. We expand when we accept that we will feel uncomfortable and that we will fail, knowing that this process is vital if we want to live our lives with meaning and depth.
We contract, however, when we continually choose to sit on the sidelines, believing that feeling scared is a sign to step back, believing that we are safer when we feel comfortable. The truth is we aren’t safer.
We aren’t physically safer, considering the most dangerous thing we do each day, driving a car, we do with little concern or anxiety. Our fears around physical safety are often overinflated. Our fears around emotional safety are also overemphasised.
While it’s never pleasant to be embarrassed or to get something wrong, it’s not a ‘life or death’ situation. In fact those unpleasant feelings can be a springboard into growth and expansion if we are willing to learn from them.
The more we expose ourselves to things that scare us the more confident we become. We begin to discover that we cope remarkably well and that our fears are often unfounded.
Letting fear define your life doesn’t make you safe it just makes you feel safe. The trade off is a life half-lived.
Your challenge this week:
What is one thing you would love to achieve this year if weren’t so scared? What is stopping you? Are they real reasons? What is one step you could take to start moving forward?
To get you started I will share with you my answer;
I would like to publish a book this year. What is stopping me is the fear that I won’t have the energy to do it and it won’t be successful. I know these fears are real possibilities but they aren’t real reasons why I shouldn’t get started.
My first action is to start looking into publishing options. I will also start talking with people who have successfully published a book and will start writing a book outline. These are fairly simple and easy steps and I am already excited about taking action on something I have wanted to do for years.
So how about you? Leave your answer in the comment section below...I look forward to reading them.
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xxx Jess xxx
February 26, 2014
Are you waking up and wondering how you are going to get through the day? Anxious about how you are going to find the energy and motivation to get through all the things you need to do…let alone the things you want to do? Are you just feeling ‘blah?’
It is very likely you are experiencing burnout.
But what is burnout? According to Helpguide;
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
Do you know this feeling? Most people will experience burnout at some point in their life. There is a solution, however; do less and do more. It’s not as contradictory as it sounds…
When you are suffering from burnout, you need to give yourself permission to do less by only doing the things that you have to do. You have lots of responsibilities, right? Doing less is not about dismissing those responsibilities. Doing less is about honouring those responsibilities, but not going that ‘extra-mile’ for now.
Is giving yourself permission to do less something you struggle with?
This is often the hardest part.
When you are used to doing a lot for other people, it can be challenging to your sense of self when you decide to back off. When notions of being a ‘good’ Mum/Dad/wife/husband/friend are tied up with how you care for others, it can be hard to allow yourself the time you need to restore your energy and enthusiasm for life.
It is hard…but it is necessary.
The quicker you intervene, the better. The longer you experience burnout the more it affects all other aspects of your life, and the higher your risk of becoming sick.
To start doing less, start thinking about ways to cut back your daily ‘to-do list.’
Maybe only iron the clothes you need this week and leave the rest till next week. Maybe cook a few meals from packet mixes this week instead of going all out with meals made from scratch. Try delegating some tasks to someone else. Begin to slow down.
No doubt as you think of doing less you will meet some internal resistance;
· “I don’t want to look lazy”
· “Isn’t it self-indulgent?”
· “My family will be upset”
· “I hate not feeling productive”
· “Everyone else seems to be dealing so well, why aren’t I?”
· “I can’t delegate, no one else can do it like I do it…they just don’t know how”
Sound familiar? Unfortunately when you are burnt out you need to let go of any controlling tendencies you might have, as hard as it is.You need to do what is necessary to start looking after you.
That is the first step of recovery. The second step is doing more…
Take more time out to reconnect, relax and rejuvenate. Once you are feeling reenergised you can hit the ground running again. Don’t feel guilty taking time out for yourself.
What things can you do today to start caring for yourself?
Would a walk along the beach help? Maybe a relaxed glass of wine after work and an early night? Maybe some time out at a café with a good book and a coffee…I know that always works for me.
By doing less on your ‘to-do list’ and more you of the things that relax you, you will be able to rejuvenate quickly and bounce back from burnout. There is a time for everything, and now is the time to take care of yourself…then you can get back into the world and give it your all.
xxx Jess xxx
February 17, 2014
There are times in life when it’s hard to believe that things are going to get better. When your life starts to go a bit ‘pear-shaped’ it’s easy to get bogged down in negative feelings and to feel completely overwhelmed. Don’t give up.
At times like this, we so desperately want to know it is going to be okay; that we are going to make it through. Sometimes it is hard to find that hope, that belief in our ability to be strong and resilient. I know this because I have been on the other side of happiness, health and hope myself.
Six years ago my life was unrecognisable.
Six years ago I lost my health, and with it my job, my independence and my sense of self. While I was optimistic about life, I wasn’t sure I would recover. Without recovery I feared I might not achieve the things in my life I so desperately wanted to.
After finding there was no cure for my illness, or any treatments that helped me, I had to accept that I might never work fulltime, travel overseas, dance or exercise again, get married or have children. This was certainly not the life I had envisaged for myself, yet this was the path I was on.
Despite what was happening to me, I was determined not to let illness rob me of my happiness and my chance to live a life I was proud of. So I made the hard decision to accept my reality…to let go of my monkey grip on my ‘pre-planned’ dreams.
Instead, I looked at my life from a new perspective. Based on the ‘new me,’ I looked at what capacity I still had, what I could still do to live a good life. I also understood the preciousness of life, and began doing more things that brought me joy and happiness.
What I didn’t know at the time was how this decision to shift my mindset would transform my life in so many wonderful ways. What I didn’t know was that life was going to get much better and that I didn’t need to wait for a cure to start living well.
Six years since my diagnosis, my life is again unrecognisable…but this time in a good way.
While I haven’t recovered fully, in the last few years I have been able to re-enter the workforce (although still not full time), I started salsa dancing where I met a lovely man who has been my boyfriend for the past two years. With this supportive and loving man I have been able to travel to some fantastic countries around the world.
I really couldn’t have pictured any of this happening six years ago. I never imagined that I would be standing under the Eiffel Tower, but in 2012 that was exactly what I did. Last week I celebrated my 29th birthday, and like all birthdays, it became an opportunity for reflection.
I am humbled by the life I am now living; I feel so much happiness and gratitude. I still have significant limitations, only this weekend I was back in bed feeling quite sick because I did too much during the week. But that’s okay because I have accepted that this is part of my life.
You see when you lose so much, anything you gain you feel so profoundly. The first time I put sneakers on to go for a walk I almost cried. It felt so great to be able to do something I hadn’t for years; something I wasn’t sure I would ever get to do again.
No one is immune to hardship, be it from illness or a whole gamut of other life issues. If we want to live well amidst our hardships, though, we must choose how we will respond to our life. German writer, Walter Anderson says it well;
“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”
Is it easy? No. At times it feels nothing short of horrendous. It can seem unfathomable that you will feel good again, but you will. It can feel impossible that one day you might wake up and not experience dread, fear, anxiety or sadness the second your eyes are open, but you will.
It’s not time to give up your hopes and dreams. Now is the time to commit to living as well as you can in the moment that you are in. Now is the time to “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” as Arthur Ashe an American tennis player so wisely said.
Hang on tight, it gets easier. Great things can come from some of the worst situations in our lives…happiness can break through.
Xxx Jess xxx