Tag Archives: motivation

What do you do when the wheels fall off the bus?

23 Mar

Failure_Freeway (Photo credit: StormKatt)

To say that I’ve had a tough past couple of weeks would be an understatement of epic proportions. I won’t go into all of the details, so suffice to say that I’ve been on the proverbial emotional roller-coaster, and that life has decided to chew me up and spit me out for yet another attempt at trying to get my shit together. I’m not going to make any excuses, and whatever the reasoning is won’t change the fact that the past couple of weeks have been a write-off in terms of diet and exercise.

Yes, somewhere along the journey I fell off the wagon… well, perhaps not completely off the wagon, and it wasn’t entirely falling off either. It is more like I went and took a running leap to try and get off the wagon, only I’ve tripped, got my foot caught, and ended up being dragged along by the wagon with my foot still on it and the rest of me bumping along the path while I lie there thinking to myself “WTF am I doing?!!”.

So where have I failed?

  1. I haven’t been drinking nearly enough water. I am probably mildly dehydrated, and have probably been this way for over a week now.
  2. I haven’t paid much attention to my food, so I haven’t been eating nearly enough vegetables, nor have I been eating a wide enough variety of colours or types of vegetables.
  3. I’ve been lazy about getting my exercise. The last workout I put any effort into was when my kids were here about 3 weeks ago, when I went for a run with my youngest son. Since then, I’ve ignored my weights, bands, routine, gym clothes… all of it.
  4. I’ve not been getting nearly enough sleep. Waking early, and going to bed late.

These don’t appear to be very good signs for a future personal trainer do they. I mean, how can I expect people to take my advice seriously if I can’t even stick to it myself? What do I expect is going to happen, how am I going to make a success out of my new career, and what will become of all of those future clients that I want to help?

The last couple of paragraphs show you how easy it can be to create a negative mind set around a problem area in your life, and is really the culmination of all of the negative behaviours that we learn as children, and which are reinforced as we become adults. Yes, all of this negativity is learned behaviour, and we all know that negativity can be a bad thing when it becomes a focal point in your life and in how you deal with the challenges that life places in your path.

So what can you do to prevent negative emotion having it’s way and bringing your life to a standstill? How can you ensure that negative emotion won’t either send you or return you to an emotional place where you don’t wish to be, and how can you create an emotional environment for yourself that will help you to keep yourself focussed on your goals and ultimately motivated to achieve them regardless of the emotional hurdles which you face? I believe that the answer to these questions is really all about understanding your priorities, understanding where you are emotionally, and deciding for yourself how you wish to live emotionally.

Yes, what I am saying here is that you can actually choose to exist in a poor emotional state, and when you live in a place where you surround yourself  with negativity, you yourself have chosen to be there. No one made you do it. Nobody is forcing you to live that way. It is something that you have deliberately chosen to do – even if only subconsciously – and all because it is your response to life’s challenges which you unfortunately learned from your parents, teachers, bosses, and others who all seem to believe that teaching through failure means to hold up failures as examples to be made and to feel bad about, rather than examining how failures occur in order to better understand them and to learn from them.

negative feedback system

negative feedback system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clinging to negative examples in life doesn’t teach you to learn from them. It instead sets up a negative feedback cycle that gains strength with every additional failure, and it encourages you to behave in a manner that is consistent with feelings of guilt, poor self worth, and depression. The longer you live your life in this state of mind, the more attractive negative thought and emotion becomes, the more normal it seems to be in a negative state, and the more learned and ingrained will negative behaviour become. So much so that you can reach a point where you and can feel as if a negative state of being is normal and that you can’t remember ever living any other way.

As I mentioned, I believe it comes down to a question of priorities. I’m talking about choices here, and how it’s up to you to choose how you wish to live your life. Do you choose to live your life surrounding yourself with negative emotion, feeling negative, and focussing only on your negative thoughts? Or, do you choose to take each moment in life one at a time, to face your problems and your negative feelings, and to use those negative emotions as a teacher rather than as a torturer? Or to put it more simply – and perhaps a little less dramatically,  do you strive to be happy or do you choose to give up and be unhappy?

For me personally, I find it difficult to maintain a positive attitude all of the time, let alone when life keeps sending me curve-balls and sliders, when all I want is a good fast ball that I know I can hit. The thing is, you need to accept in life that you don’t always get what you ask for, and there is no point getting all pouty and depressed when you aren’t getting things all your way. I do like to believe though that like the song says, while you don’t always get what you want you will often find that you get what you truly need, and often you won’t realise this until a lot of time has passed and with the benefit of hindsight you can appreciate how things eventually ended up.

I consider myself very lucky to be able to recall two very profound moments in my life where I found myself aware enough to recognise in that moment that I was getting something that I truly needed. In both cases they were words of advice which not only changed my outlook in life, but which also came to be incorporated into my own core values. The first happened about 5 months prior to separating with my ex-wife back in 2007, and while the advice given was something I already strived for in myself, I don’t believe I truly understood it or recognised it until it was spoken to me.

Sadly I don’t recall the name of the guy who I was speaking with. I do remember that he was a psychologist at the time, working as a marriage counsellor with Humaneed in Carlton, Melbourne. I had travelled to see him to engage his services as a marriage counsellor, and to help me find a way to try and recover the shreds of a very sad and tattered marriage. While his advice and work didn’t get me the result I had asked him for, he did give me some very good advice that has stayed with me for many years now, as well as some tools to recognise how unrecoverable my marriage was, and how I could survive those awful days after separation when I didn’t get to see or hear from my sons for several weeks.

What this psychologist said to me was the following:

“When it comes my time to die, I’d like to think that I will end up standing before the gates of heaven, and that in order to pass in I will be asked a single question… ‘What have you learned?’ “.

This single statement has had a profound effect on my life. While I’m uncertain whether I should believe in a heaven, pearly gates, and white-winged folk with little gold halos, the mental picture that it created for me was such that it has stayed with me as something to reflect on whenever I am faced with a negative moment, and sometimes it’s something I reflect on during some of the more positive moments as well. For me this has grown as a concept, so that when I personally reach that inevitable moment in my life where it is time for my own journey to end, I’d like to be able to reflect not only on all of the things that I have learned, but also on the number of lives I will have been able to touch in a positive way.

The real message behind this story however, is that it was a very timely piece of advice that came to me when I needed it most, and that in some ways continues to come to my aid in those moments that come from time to time where I fail to get what I want, and when it is this reminder of something that I truly need, and that is to learn from all of my experiences in life so that my life can be enriched by all of those experiences, and by that I mean both the positive and the negative ones.

The second really profound moment for me is both about some words of advice, and also about a way to approach everything in a way that really reinforces the lessons which I learned through my earlier experience. it was another psychologist by the name of Rob Cunningham who I went to see when I  found myself dealing with an emotional breakdown round the middle of 2011. I have written before about how it is thought which creates emotion, and it was Rob who taught me about this by getting me to keep a thoughts diary, where I only needed to write a couple of lines to note how I was feeling, and what I was actually thinking about as I felt it.

Rob also taught me about another concept called mindfulness, which I have more recently learned is a practice inherited from Buddhist tradition that has been a very useful tool in the Western psychologist’s bag of therapeutic tricks. While Rob help me to learn to become more mindful – that is more self-aware – as a means to treat anxiety and depression, he may not have realised that he was also giving me a tool which is also very useful in helping me to find enrichment in my life through all of the experiences that I encounter.

As I was learning to become more mindful, it was like I was having one of those light-bulb moments of pure clarity, where something very profound and difficult to understand has suddenly become easy and so meaningful that it makes you wonder how you could have been getting by in life without having realised it before. I could see at the time that I had a long way to go to learn to employ mindfulness effectively, and yet I could also see that being mindful was not simply a way to distract me from my negative thoughts, but was rather something I could use to examine thought in such a way that I didn’t need to focus too heavily on it to understand it, and to learn from it.

Even better for me was the realization that I could enjoy the benefit of learning just as well from my positive experiences and thoughts as I could from the negative ones, and in some ways it was this process that not only set me firmly on a path towards recovery from long term anxiety and depression, but which also taught me to open my mind to greater possibilities in life and to be more receptive to them. So much so that I don’t believe I would have found my desire to become a personal trainer had I not allowed myself to be mindful and open to the possibility that I could do something else quite fulfilling in my life.

So as I often do I start one story, yet I end up telling another. The thing is that the two are intimately related. You see, it’s because of these profound experiences that I had – a kind of “spiritual awakening” if you like to think about these things in such terms – that I feel gives me the ability to look back over recent events on my life quite objectively. And just as I prefer it to be, I have remembered to be mindful, to reflect on my recent experiences, and to see what I have learned.

Yes, I slipped into a bad habit of neglecting my dietary intake of water, and yes I’ve been lazy with some of my meals and maintaining a good dietary balance, yet I have also experienced something very positive, and that is that I have maintained the quality of the foods which I have been eating, and I have not slipped into a habit of binging on processed foods. I can be proud of myself because I’ve changed some habits and I no longer seek comfort in food, nor do I use negative experiences and emotions as an excuse to go off and cheat on my diet. I have also been paying more attention to my fluid intake, and I have nearly returned myself to the strict hydration habit that I was trying to instil in myself before my “March Madness” began.

Yes, I have been lazy about my workouts. I have however been moving a lot of furniture and other things about the house, and when I have found myself in places where it is customary to sit, I have learned that sitting for extended periods of time has now become incredibly uncomfortable for me. So much so that my legs kind of “hurt” in a way that encourages me to stand up and move around, and when my back starts to feel sore, I do my little hula exercise, and a couple of Psoas stretches, and after a short while the pain goes away.

Even though I have skipped out on the exercise, by maintaining my diet, and encouraging myself to stand more often, I have also continued to lose excess body fat, and a recent weight measurement shows that I am now at least 1 kg lighter without any additional effort required. In other words, my journey hasn’t really stalled or failed, it has simply gone into a temporary recess, awaiting the return of my more positive and enthusiastic self.

Yes, I also found myself not getting enough sleep, and this is probably because my water intake became quite low. The thing is that I am recovering in this area also, because I recognised the problem, I connected the cause with the symptoms, and I have taken action to correct the problem. In other words, I have become proactive about dealing with each of these things that I have seen as negative symptoms of the events which have been occurring in my life.

So what do you do when the wheels fall off your personal “bus”? You stop the bus, get out, step back, and look at the problem from a distance, look at each wheel in turn, and if a wheel has fallen off take action to put the wheel back into its place, and when the bus has all of it’s wheels again, get back on the bus and continue your journey.

photo credit – theboringrunner.com

For those of you who hate metaphors, I’ll spell it all out with a little psycho-babble thrown in for good measure: You take a moment, try to be mindful of your situation and how you are reacting to the situation in your thoughts. You take each problem that you face, examine it mindfully, accept that it has happened, see what you can learn from the experience, and then take steps to return yourself to a place where it doesn’t matter what the problem is or whether it happened, and you permit yourself to move forward from the experience with an open mind. You deal only with those immediate problems which you feel are barriers to your self-improvement or life journey, and you leave the others until you actually need to address them. Then, you simply return to travelling your life journey one moment at a time.

I have also learned that I don’t necessarily need to maintain a positive mindset all of the time, and that’s it’s OK to have negative thoughts from time to time. No emotion is truly bad, yet how we respond to those emotions and what we choose to do in response to those emotions is important and something that we need to be more mindful of. In reflecting on all of this, I have reminded myself of the things that I feel are most important to me, and I have remembered that I would rather learn from my failures than sink back and wallow in them.

In my own recent experience, while it may have felt at the time that I had thrown myself under the wheels of the wagon I should have been on, the reality is that things were only feeling so bad because I allowed myself to feel that way. I learned that I was mistaken, and that I didn’t need to feel this way. I learned that my journey hadn’t ended, but rather that it simply took a detour and that it was up to me to determine the length and quality of the detour. I learned that even while I felt myself failing at some of my goals and tasks, I was also succeeding at most of my other goals and tasks.

Something else that I’ve taken away from all of this is that the purpose is not to balance successes against failures to determine how well or how badly I have done. Instead, the purpose is to either try alternate strategies when a failure occurs and keep trying until I feel comfortable that I have reached a point of success, or to reflect on the failure, learn from it, and to identify if my goals are sensible and achievable, or if I should be redefining my goals to better reflect my abilities and my needs.

What all of this means is that I don’t need to feel guilt, or low self esteem simply because I have failed to achieve my goals. I don’t need to allow myself to become depressed. I can instead choose to take something positive out of every negative experience, because no matter how tenuous the positive connection may be, it is still a good thing and something to feel good about. So for every negative experience and thought you might have, remember that there is something positive to learn, and that in itself is a small goal that you can set yourself to achieve every time something occurs in your life, regardless of how you might otherwise choose to feel about it.


An easy way to change how you think

5 Mar

Reblogged from www.the1bigthing.com:

An easy way to change how you think

I’m seriously proud of my family members, and in particular those that take the big risks and do everything they can to really make the most of their lives and those who try to enrich the lives of others while at the same time enriching their own. My cousin Karen for example is a good example of what I’m talking about here, as she and her partner Paul are on their life journey together, making their living far from the maddening crowd and at the same time working on a campaign to bring people together to make a real difference in the world through their Global Help Swap program.

Karen posted an article on her blog today that gets to the heart of a matter that I’ve written about before, about how our thoughts that define how we feel and how we react to the events which impact on our daily lives. Now it’s easy for me to say that you need to use a positive mind set in order to effect a positive outcome in your own life, but Karen takes this concept further and poses some very poignant questions that I think we should automatically be asking ourselves every time something happens in our lives in order to ensure we are giving ourselves the positive reinforcement needed to encourage that ever so important positive mind set. From all of this positivity will ultimately spring our happiness, so it really should be a priority to ask ourselves these questions which Karen suggests we ask ourselves.

I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to turn your life around and bring about positive changes in yourself in terms of your habits and mind set, and I particularly like how Karen suggests asking questions which reflect on the impact of your perceptions on other aspects of your life. This is why I think that Karen’s article is a very good place to begin when you are on your personal development, fitness, & weight loss journeys, and in particular when you are feeling that the events in your life might risk challenging your perceptions of the positive aspects of any situation that you might encounter.

Today is “some day”

3 Mar

This article is for those of you who are living in a constant state of emotional pain within yourselves, and if you’re tired of feeling constantly down or depressed, consider this a kind of kick in the ass to recognise your emotional pain and to get up and do something about it. So I’m going to focus on the beginning of a journey, away from self-denial and towards self-acceptance, and as with any journey where you are in a strange or uncomfortable place, you will often need a guide to set your feet upon the path.

For this particular journey I am offering to be your guide, and I hope that for those of you who choose to begin this journey, that you will be willing to accept that the journey will be long, and will present you with as many disappointments as it will successes. I urge you to accept the disappointments not as punishments, but rather as teachers that will give you opportunities to learn more about yourself and how to manage yourself so that you can recognise the difference between genuine failure and poorly understood self-expectation. As with any journey this one begins with a single step, and that first step is to understand a little bit about weasel words.

Weasel words are those statements which are made that allow people to back-pedal when they are caught somewhere between a lie and a truth. Carefully worded phrases which allow us to effectively lie and then say later that we weren’t really lying, but that something has changed in the universe that makes our statements false now, yet were essentially true when we uttered them. Words we say that are intended to sound very real, authoritative, or sincere, yet when closely examined turn out to be of less real value than the hot air that breathed them.

We’ve seen politicians make a living out of weasel words so that they can promise us the Earth before the election, and then make us pay for that same Earth after the election. I’m sure you’ve also heard people making promising sounding statements at work creating certain expectations, only to have those expectations come to nothing as the weasel words are used as a fall back to justify why those expectations weren’t met:

Boss at the beginning of the year:

“We’re tracking well to pay big bonuses at the end of the year”

…and at the end of the year:

“Our circumstances have changed”

“We took a big hit “

“Our end of quarter results did not meet our expectations”

Even worse is when someone uses  uses weasel words to convince you of their sincerity, even while being completely insincere.

Employee at the beginning of the week:

I should be able to complete this task by Friday

…and at the end of the week:

Too many other priorities prevented me completing the task you asked for, and in any case, I told you that I “should” be able to complete the task, not that I would prioritise it over my other work.

The real problem with using weasel words is that it can become habitual. So habitual that you might not realise that you are using them all of the time. For some, weasel words can become a kind of crutch that you might use to lean on as a way to justify why you never want to join in or do things that would be to your benefit, and the habitual use of weasel words can lead to others thinking you might be unreliable or untrustworthy. If this is the sort of image others perceive, imagine then the emotional damage such an image might do over time to a person’s own self-image, to their feelings of self-worth, and their ability to face any of the challenges that life sends their way. It’s bad enough that people use weasel words with others, but what about when you are using weasel words with yourself. Does any of this sound familiar:

“I’ll start getting fit as soon as I have dealt with this other thing”

“I’d like to be healthy, only I don’t have the money|time|knowledge|energy|something else”

“One day I’ll achieve [my goal]”

“Some day I’d like to achieve [my dream]”

Weasel words. All of it. If you keep telling yourself that you’ll do something “some day”, then you and I both know that the chances that you’ll ever actually get around to doing it will be lessened every time you added of a weasley “some day”. Weasel words allow you to fail without the responsibility of learning from the failure. “Some day” really means “never” and yet nobody ever wants to admit to themselves that they’ll never achieve their dreams so they’ll add the weasel words so that they can feel less guilty or less down on themselves if they don’t reach their goals, and so that they’ll feel justified in the failures in their lives that they don’t want to take responsibility for.

Yes, I’m being harsh, and with good reason. I myself was one of these people, allowing myself to use weasel words in order to avoid my own responsibilities towards myself. I allowed myself to exist for years in a bad place within myself, and I was foolish enough to convince myself that it was OK to live in this way, and to put up with living in a continuous state of emotional pain, and all because I allowed myself to buy into living for “some day” rather than for today.

If you want to live life without emotional pain, if you want to experience the satisfaction of achieving your goals, and if you wish to experience the joy that comes from embracing each day of life as the gift that it truly is, then you need to teach yourself to stop using weasel words to create a disconnection between yourself and your life. Accept failures as opportunities to learn, and start changing your focus from negatively reinforcing to positively reinforcing language and thought. It’s not easy to change all of this about yourself, and I know this from hard earned and sometimes painful experience.

So for those who are starting out on their self improvement journeys, and for those who wish to reboot their journey’s, or to inspire themselves to push a little harder, I urge you to stop worrying about a some day that will never happen, and instead to choose today.

“Some Day” is TODAY.

Print that out in big letters and stick it up in lot’s of prominent places in your home. On the fridge & pantry doors, in the bathroom and in the bedroom. Put it above the TV, and on the back of your front door so that you will be reminded every time you are about to leave the house. If you won’t go to the mountain, and if the mountain is “some day”, then I am bringing “some day” to you and telling you that it is today.

Every time you start to say something about the future that is indefinite and couched in carefully phrased statements that make the future a mere possibility, STOP TALKING!

Take a deep breath, and take a risk. Think it through and then be real specific and rephrase so that “Some Day” has a date and time. Make it a goal instead of a wish. Make it specific and real instead of a mere fantasy. Make yourself accountable for the success or failure of that goal, be willing to accept the failure if and when it happens, and to learn why the failures might occur so that you can aim towards avoiding the same failures in the future. Whenever you learn from a previous failure and use that knowledge to overcome the next obstacle, the victory becomes so much more satisfying, and teaches you more about what you CAN do, instead of the things you think you can’t.

Stop yourself from using weasel words like could, might, can, possibly and maybe, and instead choose to use the positive word Will. Whenever you find yourself saying that you will do something , you will often need to justify When you will do it. This give you not only a goal to work towards, it also provides you with an opportunity to either achieve or fail in your attainment of the goal, and by presenting opportunities to fail you permit yourself to have opportunities to learn so that you can try again and achieve your goal the next time, and make the successes so much more valuable to you as a result.

Using Will and When permits you to show yourself the value you place on both your goals, and on your own desire to achieve those goals. It teaches you to be specific and realistic in how you set your goals. When you are willing to accept your choices and their consequences, you become more willing to accept yourself, and you show others that you value yourself.

I’m a great believer in the ability of a body to heal itself when given an appropriate human diet and sufficient exercise to stimulate the metabolism. This is a belief sustained by having myself experienced the lows and highs, and having learned for myself the difference that can be made by changing my own lifestyle,  allowing me personally to experience how powerful a few simple lifestyle changes can be. I’ve also been at the receiving end of all of the well meaning advice by doctors and psychologists telling me that I need to embrace a positive mind set, and to recognise when I am being negative. It’s all well and good to be told that I need to eat better and to exercise more, and to think positively and all of that other really important stuff. Where most of these good people have failed their clients however is that they are very rarely ever good at explaining to you how to get there, and where to find the strength to do all of the stuff that they suggest.

So for me, I believe that my journey would have begun much more effectively if there had been someone to set my feet on the path at the beginning of the journey, and not somewhere further along where I had not yet developed the skills to show me HOW to learn from my failures and to achieve my goals. I would have benefited from the advice of someone who really understood that the problem starts with how you express yourself not only to others, but also to yourself, and that the path towards a more positive mind set really begins with the abandonment of the weasel words, and by embracing the power that comes from the use of a single positive word… Will. In the setting of a couple of small, easy to achieve and realistic goals in the beginning, and allowing the creation and attainment of goals to slowly snowball over time.

A positive mind set grows from a humble beginning, by making a choice to change one little thing in your life, and that is to swap out the weasel words and upgrade your thinking to embrace the use of will and when. It’s a choice that you make to give yourself the permission to believe in yourself and to realise that you no long need to wait for the unattainable “some day” to work towards your dreams, because your “Some Day” will always be “Today”.

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