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Thursday, September 30, 2010

What are you reading?

I often get asked which books I draw the material written about in the Updates, and the truth is that I gather material form many sources - I read a huge amount of both lay and scientific material, I pull much from clients and colleagues and even just from observation.

There are though, a number of key books that I work through each few months that are real "keepers"; pieces of writing that appears at just the right time to feed your mind with the material of most interest to you. Here is my most recent list:

"If you have to cry, go outside" - an amazing insight into the mind of Fashion PR guru Kelly Cutrone and some honest views of life, meaning and business.

"How to love" by Dr Gordon Livingston - a bible on the key character traits in others we should embrace and avoid to thrive and avoid emotional heartache where we can.

"Open" by Andre Agassi - one of the best books I have read for a long time - a candid tale of the mind and life of a champion.

"Feel good body" by Anna-Louise Bouvier - a must read for women wanting to get the most out of their body, every day.

"The Biology of Belief" - Dr Bruce Lipton - a little heavy on the science but supports a growing amount of evidence about the effect of emotions on muscle memory, health and well-being.

"Loving what is" - Byron Katie - a classic psych piece on the role of perception in managing challenging situations.

"Excuses Begone" - Dr Waybe Dyer - if you are a "but" or "next time" person, this is a must read for you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

How many times would you have said sorry today? Sorry for being late, sorry for bumping into someone in the line for your coffee. Sorry for offending someone when you did not mean to. Sorry to your partner for nagging, again.Chances are, you said sorry many times but it is also highly likely that on many of those occasions you did not really mean it. Along with “fu*k”, “how are you” and “ok”, sorry would go close to being one of the most frequently used words in our vocabulary, yet the one which is also most often used mindlessly, ultimately undermining its value.

The ability to say sorry and mean it, at the right time, with authenticity is a crucial skill and one which emotionally intelligent people possess. Such people know the power that a authentic “sorry” delivers, allowing temporarily fractured relationships to be healed quickly as well as give the opportunity to express genuine regret about a behaviour or action which has caused another person grief, hurt or sadness.

The crucial components of a genuine “sorry” include an expression of sincere regret, an ability to imagine what the situation has been like for the other person in order to show empathy and it will demonstrate active attempts to rectify the situation. Most importantly, a sincere sorry must not include the inflicter attempting to justify their behaviour for any reason. All this does is again distract from the apology, undermining its value and sincerity.

Recently I witnessed a sorry that was said with regret, but not sorry for the grief that thoughtless behaviour had caused but sorry for finding themselves involved in a situation in which they then needed to say sorry. Such a sorry is easily recognized as inauthentic, and ultimately considered worthless. In fact, such a sorry tends to do more damage than good as an already damaged relationship is further broken down by more disrespectful behaviour.

And then there are the people who cannot say sorry - those who feel saying that word leaves them vulnerable and liable for something they are not prepared to take responsibility for. For the self righteous among us, those who remain stuck in an ego based existence, the inability to say sorry and really mean it is ultimately the thing that will prevent their relationships growing and flourishing as they are unable to empathise with others, to really consider another human being, to take responsibility for their actions. The sooner we can all move past this ego state, and really mean that we are sorry for the grief we have caused inadvertently or not, the sooner we can move on and ultimately rebuild relationships that are important to us.

Next time that you find the need to say that you are sorry, for a minor indiscretion or for a major hurt, take time to consider the power of these words. Practice saying sorry and really mean it, express your words with honesty and humility and issue these words as soon as you are aware that you have caused another pain. Not only will those around you appreciate it more than you can know, you too will ultimately feel better about yourself as a human being.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The mirroring effect

"We are entitled to receive what we are prepared to give"

We all want to be loved and accepted. To be in a good relationship, to get on with our peers and colleagues, to find that deep and meaningful life-changing love. To feel included, to be "in the group" and at one with those around us. To exist in peace with those who hold a place in our lives via both our intimate and non-intimate interactions.

When things do not go to plan in these relationship domains, rarely do we hold ourselves accountable for things not working out. In more cases than not we become resentful, jealous, spiteful, bitter; cognitively fighting situations which have not played out the way we believed they should have.

Angry at the lover who we feel has betrayed us; furious at friends who have not included us, aggressive towards colleagues who have not given us the respect we feel we deserve.

If you subscribe to the theory that all people who cross our life path do so in order to teach us the various lessons that we need to learn to move towards a higher level of consciousness, it can be argued that every one of these interactions simply develops as a way of teaching us that when it comes to relationships, we get what we give.

Generous people flourish when around other generous people, as do emotionally open individuals when they are teamed with other, equally as open partners. Pessimists build momentum when reinforced by other, equally as pessimistic people, while tight people, feel more comfortable with others who also prefer to keep a close handle on their wallets.

When key personal characteristics are unequal in any relationship, over time resentment will build, and eventually the relationship will crumble. Friends will eventually get sick of always making the effort, while lovers will tire of not being fed emotionally the way they need to. Employees will eventually become resentful enough to find another position while family members will become frustrated enough to stop making the effort they need to in order to keep the family together.

So, in instances of unfulfilled relationships, as psychiatrist Gordon Livingston so aptly stated, it may be useful to consider that......

"We are entitled to receive what we are prepared to give. That is why there is truth to the adage that we all get partners we deserve and why most of our dissatisfaction with others reflect limitations in ourselves"
and in fact, it may be time to look within and no longer speak of what others have done to us, as opposed to reflecting ourselves on what we have or have not given them.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why focusing on food is the worst thing that you can do

So, you want to lose weight and follow an eating plan that helps you to feel more energized. You want to get things right, say on track and do everything you possibly can to get this weight off, as quickly as possible. While our natural instinct is to focus solely on our food intake during such desperate dieting times; diarizing everything, counting calories and fat and measuring and weighing every piece of food that crosses your path, there is evidence to suggest that this may be the worst thing we can do.

While being more aware of your food choices, balancing your carbs and proteins and making sure that you are eating mindfully is important, becoming obsessed with every morsel that goes into your mouth may be doing more harm than good. When we are focusing on one small aspect of life, it actually results in the brain becoming limited in its ability to see the bigger picture (think buying a new car and then seeming to only seeing the car you are thinking of buying constantly). In turn, we over-analyse, think about food more and as a result are much more likely to eat more, go off track and think the dietary changes we have made are not working and then give ourselves permission psychologically to go off track.

If you have been trying to make dietary changes and find that the more you concentrate on your food intake, the worst it gets it may be time to make sure that you are also balancing your dietary changes with other lifestyle shifts that will help support your new healthy eating regime.

Are you dedicating enough time to exercise and to your relationships? Are you keeping yourself busy at times when you are more likely to overeat? Are you putting your dietary changes in the context of your life? Surprisingly enough, in more cases than not, weight loss comes into place once we work towards being happy in all areas of our lives, not just within the health and fitness domain.

So, if you are avoiding social and family eating situations, cutting back more and more and yet still not getting results, it may be time to relax a little. Once we let go of our need to control every situation and live a little, things tend to fall into line pretty quickly once we keep the basic diet and exercise principles on track.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Seeking relationship balance

Whether it is a relationship with a partner, colleague, employee or sibling – the daily trials and tribulations of interacting with others tends to powerfully influence our day to day mood, emotional state and well being in general. We all wish that we could be one of those people who are innately good at not letting others “get to us”, but the reality is that these resilient people tend to be few and far between.

As we grow older, it would also provide some comfort if we knew we were becoming better at interacting with others; better able to manage challenging situations and ultimately getting better at not allowing people to “get to us”. Again this is not necessarily the case. In fact, as we get older, and personality traits become more and more deeply entrenched, so too do patterns of behaviour which include interacting in less than ideal ways when familiar situations and scenarios present, with old friends and foes, as well as with new ones.

A general relationship principle which may prove useful as you seek to develop better functioning relationships is the simple concept of balance. In an ideal situation, a relationship will be balanced – a 50/50 split in terms of emotional, physical and psychological variables. In this case you give as much as you get, you compensate for each others weaknesses but respect each others strengths and ultimately exist in a well balanced team.

If you examine situations in which relationships have turned sour, in more cases than not, relationship balance has not been maintained. One person wants the relationship much more than the other, and as a result over-extends themselves to compensate for the other persons lack of involvement or interest. While such a fix may allow the relationship to continue for some time, over time, whether it takes week’s months or even years, resentment and disease sets in, eventually completely destroying many friendships, intimate relationships and even families.

Knowing this, as we enter new relationships the most important thing we can do to avoid this situation is to be exceptionally mindful when we begin to compensate for the other persons behaviour. Idesally we need to quickly identify it and then determine if we want the relationship to continue. It is at this early stage that you do have the opportunity to reframe, evaluate and re-position a new relationship in your life, without getting rid of it completely.

When it comes to already damaged relationships, a reframe is much more challenging and the harsh reality is that is it you who has to do the work to turn things around, as it is you who has identified that you have overcompensated and allow the relationship to continue – the other person is not at fault - remember, we teach people how to teach us. You do though; have the choice of deciding whether this person is worth keeping in your life or if it is better to cut your losses and leave.

Now, perhaps the harshest truth of all – if this is a pattern in your life that is repeating, you may actually have some serious work to do. Do people in your world continually let you down? Do you continually find yourself in relationships not getting what you need? Do you regularly seek relationships with someone weaker, not at your level to you do not have to give so much and control the relationship instead? In all of these instances the 50/50 split has not been respected and potentially rewarding relationships have grown toxic and diseased because you have let them.

In this very short life, all of our many relationships give us much pleasure, joy and love on a daily basis. Relationships are what make life worth living but we all ultimately need to remember that if those who we seek relationship fulfillment within relationships that continually fail to “match our generosity of spirit and meet our emotional needs” that we are ignoring the most basic principle that defines relationship success – the 50/50 split. Once you commit to this in all of your relationships you will find that things will run a lot more smoothly, naturally and you will be happier, more relaxed and far more stable emotionally as a result.