Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Be as big as you dare to be

Last weekend I attended a conference hosted by 4es education. There was a terrific mix of speakers and delegates, and I had a great time meeting a whole bunch of wonderful new people. One of the speakers was the fabulous Robyn Moore, a lady who inspired me hugely about 11 years ago and this weekend was just as inspirational, she started her presentation with the statement of 'be as big as you dare to be' and set me off thinking about the stories we tell ourselves.

We are given 86 400 seconds every day and we have a choice to participate in our own life or to be at the whim of the circumstances and people around us. By not making a choice you are still making a choice. This does not mean that you won't have bad times or even bad days. It is about being aware of who you are being in a given moment and asking yourself "is this who I want to be right now?"... sometimes the answer will be yes. Sometimes we will feel angry, cynical, disengaged and down, that's OK, they are normal feelings and these feelings serve a purpose, but we need to look at what is the cost if these become our default feelings and overshadow our joy, love, compassion, enthusiasm, engagement and wonder. The cost is physical, emotional and spiritual, it can rob us in our work life, home life and social life.

There is evidence that negative mindsets can impact on health and wellbeing. Our immune, endocrine and nervous systems are linked so a deficit in one influences the operation of the others. Considering that stress can be a result of long term negative emotions (or even short term depending on the stressors encountered) we can use it to illustrate this interconnectedness and impact on health. If we are out of balance emotionally it diminishes the supply of 'feel good' chemicals or neurotransmitters in our brain which has a flow on effect, as an example serotonin (one of those 'feel good' chemicals) helps to manage our sleep which we know helps improve our immunity. Reductions in our brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) also impacts on our hormone balance. Our hormones (like neurotransmitters in the brain) are messengers for the body so if they are out of balance that can impact on digestive function, respiratory function and immunity among others. If we are unable to gain the nutrition we need then our muscles are less effective, and essential nutrients required for building up the tanks of neurotransmitters in our brains are in shorter supply. Ah, what a vicious cycle we have created!

As a recovering stress nut I can attest to the physiological impact and even more so the emotional and spiritual fall out. We all have days when we don't feel so good but if we become stuck in the loop of 'my life sucks', 'why does this always happen to me?', 'nobody cares anyway', 'whatever!' and so forth then we create this vicious cycle... negative thought creates negative emotion, negative emotion creates negative behaviour leading to isolation, disconnection, disengagement, procrastination, fear and so much more.

The good news is... we do have a choice.

As I said earlier we can let our circumstances define us or we can can define ourselves. If we are having a tough day we can be angry, or we can be angry at the circumstance and grateful for our loving family that we are coming home to. Robyn Moore talks extensively about who we are being and the power we have to choose in that moment. Some of the statements I have chosen at times are: I am tired and grateful, I am weary and happy to be home, I am disappointed and loved by my friends and family, I am nervous and excited to have the opportunity, I am vulnerable and free... the power is in the and.

Dr Tom Mulholland is all about Healthy Thinking and as an emergency doctor he sees the impact of avoidable illness daily. His Healthy Thinking approach encourages us to notice when we are experiencing negative emotions and identify the thought or thoughts that sit in behind it. Once they are identified then we can analyse them and act accordingly. For example if you are feeling angry after a fraught meeting at work, the thought sitting in behind it may be 'no-one ever listens to me'. Now we analyse this thought by asking ourselves the following questions:
  1. is it true?
  2. is it worth it?
  3. does it help me achieve my goal? 
If the answer to all three questions is a yes, then that thought is probably pretty accurate, so you work on alleviating or addressing the problem itself. However if there is a no response in the mix then we get to be the author and perhaps change the thought.
Using the example given, in response to the questions above:
  1. no, it isn't really true because they did listen to me last week when I suggested another solution. Things are rarely all or nothing
  2. not really, by saying this to myself it doesn't really make going to meetings more fun or fruitful
  3. this doesn't help me achieve my goal of feeling like a valued contributing team member, I can probably prepare better next time and make sure I have the evidence to back up my suggestions instead which might help. 
So I am now empowered to change my original thought, I get to rewrite the words in my head, which affects my emotions and hopefully I will feel more competent and secure in the next meeting I attend. If I kept the original thought I can almost guarantee the next meeting would be another miserable experience. 

We cannot be as big as we dare to be when we let our negative thoughts get in the way and hijack our dreams.

We can be as big as we dare to be when we harness the incredible forces of our own minds... at the very least we might just get to enjoy some more of those 86 400 seconds we get every day.

The opportunity to experience more joy, laughter, peace, compassion, love and enthusiasm really is too good to let pass. Enjoy participating fully in your own life.

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