Thursday, 14 November 2019

Is it a threat or a challenge?

Have you ever missed the last bus or train home? You might have felt panicky, scared and flustered, telling yourself  ‘everything’s gone wrong’: or, you might have calmly started to think through possible solutions. Or, has your boss / teacher ever told you that you need to do a presentation to lots of people – tomorrow! Did you immediately start to run around like a headless chicken? Or did you decide you’d do your best and it’d be good enough? We are faced every day with events that we need to respond to, and choices about how to respond.

Is stress good for us?

Clients often ask me ‘Isn’t a bit of stress good for us?’ or ‘Don’t we need some adrenaline to get us going? I’d never get anything done otherwise’. And it’s true that a state of deep relaxation and calm – while lovely to experience – is not going to be the best state to be in when responding to situations like these. But what do we actually mean when we talk about stress or adrenaline? There is a lot of confusion that goes on here, because there are actually TWO states involved.

What many people refer to as ‘stress’ is that state where you feel threatened by a situation: the result is often feeling rushed, snappy, not able to think straight, not sleeping … Sound familiar? Ironically, being in this state does nothing to help us resolve a problem or be at our best!

But there is another much more useful option, a motivated ‘rising to the challenge’ state. And this is the one that enhances our performance, and enables us to think clearly and problem solve.

The key to which state we are in seems to lie in how we THINK about the situation, whether we see it as a threat or a challenge. This makes all the difference to how we respond and the results we achieve, but interestingly it also makes a difference to what goes on in the cells of our body.

So how do we know whether we are in the challenge state or the threat state? Here are a few pointers.

The threat state involves:
·       Focusing on the negative.
·       Imagining and fearing the worst that could happen.
·       Feeling like you can’t do anything about it.
·       This actually means that your performance gets worse just when you want to be at your best.

The challenge state involves:
·       Believing you will be able to find a way through.
·       Being curious: ‘How will I resolve this?’.
·       Then looking for solutions and opportunities, focusing on what you want.
·       You have calm energy, focus and concentration, so you are at your best.

The science bit

Interestingly (if you like science!) there is some new scientific evidence to show that your body produces different hormones depending on whether you think there is a challenge or a threat. In both, your heart rate increases, but in the challenge state adrenaline is produced, which expands your blood vessels to accommodate the extra blood; so your blood pressure does not go up. When you think you are being threatened, this sends different messages to your body, cortisol is the main hormone produced, and adrenaline production is actually inhibited. Without the adrenaline your blood vessels do not expand, and your blood pressure rises. Cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) is known to be involved in a range of health problems, especially when it is around long term.

All of this is your body responding to what you think about what happens to you!

Monday, 30 September 2019

Learning to be kind to yourself

We are often told to “Be kind to yourself” or “Love yourself”, but this can feel harder to do than to say. A client asked me recently “What does it MEAN to be kind to yourself? I try, but either I don’t know what to say, or I don’t believe what I say”.

This simple exercise had a transformative effect for her, so you might want to see what changes for you as you do it:

Think of someone who has been kind, supportive or loving to you in the past. Step into their shoes, and imagine you are them. How does it feel to see yourself through their eyes? What do they feel or know about you? What would they say to you, and how would they sound as they said it? How much do they know that you deserve this support? As your supporter, feel what it feels like to feel this compassion, love, acceptance and kindness towards you.

Then step back into yourself and hear what they have just said. Let it in, both what they said and HOW they said it (the non verbal communication which makes all the difference). How does that feel different from usual?

Another way of experiencing kindness and support is to imagine how you would talk to a friend or family member, and talk to yourself in the same way. So you can try this too.

What would it be like if we all treated ourselves like kind and supportive people treat us – or, as we treat other people? I would love to hear what you learned about kindness from this exercise.

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive." Dalai Lama

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Enjoying the whole walk

I love climbing hills and mountains. I love the fresh air, and the views which change every time I pause for breath and look around. I also love the feeling of moving and stretching my body, and even that great feeling when I take my boots off afterwards! I do it for fun. The view from the top can be wonderful, but it’s a small part of the experience and it’s the whole thing I enjoy.

But it is equally possible to treat climbing a mountain as hard work, by focusing on the effort required, or forgetting about the experience of climbing and fixing solely on the goal of getting to the top. Why would we do it like that?

It is so easy to approach life like a series of goals to be achieved. A list to be ticked off. If we have things that we want to change in our lives we can end up approaching our self-help tools like that too. Like a summit to be reached rather than a walk to be enjoyed.

The trouble with fixing on the summit is that we are only there for 5 minutes. Sometimes we don’t even enjoy that because we are focused on getting to the end of the walk – usually a road, pretty uninteresting!

It is always our choice where we look for joy, and if we look for it in the whole experience we will find a lot more of it than if we focus solely on the end result. I clearly remember the impression it made on me when someone reminded me that the end result of life is actually death!

What would it be like to approach the changes that we want to make in our lives like a fun walk, and to really enjoy the whole experience; the ups and the downs, and the views along the way?

“Don’t do anything that isn’t play.” Marshall B Rosenberg, Non Violent Communication

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Friday, 26 April 2019

What happens when you doubt yourself

A client sent me this cartoon, which reminded me how much self doubt can get in our way:

Friday, 22 March 2019

Sheep tracks and neuroplasticity

In NLP and the Lightning Process we talk a lot about how our brains and bodies works. It’s interesting that the inner processes that get us into trouble, are often also exactly what we need to get us back on track, living our lives well. One of these is the brain’s ability to change in response to how we use it. This is technically known as “neuroplasticity”.

My clients know that I often tell this story about sheep tracks as a way of describing neuroplasticity. Maybe it’s because I so enjoyed my chances to work with sheep on farms in my early 20s! Then one of my Lightning Process clients who is a farmer, Maria Greaves, sent me this photo which reminded her of my story. So I promised I would write a blog about it. Thanks Maria, I have finally written it!

Sheep tracks

If you are feeding sheep in a field every day, you might find that the path and the feeding place become muddy and churned up. So you decide to put up a fence to stop the sheep from going onto the muddy area, and feed them somewhere drier and more suitable instead. To begin with, the sheep won’t know where to go to find their food, but sheep are pretty clever when it comes to food and they will work it out pretty quickly! But there won’t be a track yet going to that new place, so to begin with they will be pushing their way through grass and heather. However, when you consistently give them food in this new place, it won’t take many days before there is a clear sheep track that goes there.

And the old muddy track? When it is no longer used it is surprising how quickly the grass will grow and the track will naturally disappear. Just as the mud of Glastonbury Festival returns to grassy fields again every year!


Our brains work in just the same way. Our nerve cells connect with each other to form neural pathways, and when we use a pathway it gets stronger, easier to go down, and more automatic. But when we stop going down those pathways they fade away. Your body doesn’t like anything to be wasted, so the materials are reused to build new pathways. (You can see new neural pathways growing in brain scans.) So you can retrain your brain as quickly and easily as those sheep tracks change, by “feeding your sheep” where you want them to go.