Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Question of Confidence


  1. The feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust: "we had every confidence in the staff".
  2. The state of feeling certain about the truth of something

I get told that I'm confident a lot and for a long time I would deny it. I would give all sorts of reasons why I wasn't - I had issues with anxiety, I felt full of doubt, I could worry like a pro. 

I would spend a lot of time comparing myself to others who I did see as confident. I just didn't measure up. They would have an air about them, an unflappable strength which I didn't believe to be true of myself. Until I started thinking about how we define confidence versus what it really is. 

A lot of people may initially come across as confident, but when observed over a length of time it comes to light that they actually lack confidence entirely. They may have a large ego or a sense of self importance, but these are not things to be confused with confidence. 

Self confidence is an inherent belief in our ability. A better word for it may be faith. Confidence is having faith that you have strengths and skills which make you awesome and capable. 

For example, the first day at a new job we may feel that we don't really know what we're doing. This isn't a lack of confidence but a lack of experience. If we are able to look back on our first day at any job we can see how we might have been a bit nervous or apprehensive - and rightly so. Any new experience is an unknown but our faith in our ability is where confidence comes into play. 

When we are confident we know that it's not about whether or not we are capable of doing something proficiently right away - it's knowing we are capable of learning. Confidence is stepping into a situation we might not be comfortable with or prepared for, but knowing we have the tools to make it through. 

A good example of this is stage fright. I love how people get told to 'not be nervous'. This is terrible advice! If you're doing a performance to an audience, even a small audience, it can and will be nerve wracking. This is O.K. It's totally normal. In fact, people who don't get nervous in spotlight situations are a minority. 

But that doesn't mean everyone who gets stage fright lacks confidence. It's because of confidence that they are able to take the stage and give it their best. 

I now embrace the fact that I'm a confident person. I may get upset, worried, anxious and nervous sometimes but because I believe in myself I know I will be O.K. - and that is what being confident is all about. 

I want to help you find your confidence. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Optimist and the Pessimist

'The Wheel of Fortune' represents not conditioning the world around us. 
24X36" acrylic on canvas

Pessimists drive me nuts. I get really irked when someone rolls their eyes and says, 'Typical.' Unsurprised by the disappointment of life and almost relishing in being right when things go wrong.

Optimists also drive me nuts. Chipper and cheerful almost to the point of denial, even when life gets tough. They can walk into bad situations and be bad judges of character because they so much want to believe the best about everyone.

I believe in finding a happy middle. Not the realist because realism is often just pessimism dressed up in another word.

I'm talking about dropping all those labels and just being.

Both pessimism and optimism are based on expectations formed about any given situation. It's easy to be disappointed when you expect to be and it's easy to turn a blind eye to something potentially harmful when you're not looking for it - or actively ignoring it.

When we embrace life as completely accidental - neither out to get us nor to make us happy - we can see that life is indifferent and any given situation is not necessarily 'bad' or 'good'. These are concepts we apply to them based on our opinions and experiences. By letting go of those expectations we can see our lives in an entirely fresh way. It's also a fun way to surprise yourself. When you practice letting go of expectations you can see where you might have become stuck or where you've been missing out on something truly incredible.

You'll also begin to notice little things you hadn't before. A greater sense of appreciation will come because your mind will open up when you look at the world around you without colouring it with your opinions.

My challenge to you (And it is a challenge to change the way you think) is to spend a day paying attention to your thoughts and notice when you determine if something is 'good' or 'bad'. Then try thinking about it in the opposite way. For example - you wake up and it's raining out.  If your first reaction is to think 'Oh no, it's raining' try thinking 'How lovely, it's raining!' and vice versa.

The rain itself is neither good nor bad. It's just rain, pure and simple - but our personal plans, opinions and tastes drive us to think about it in these terms. Try thinking about the rain just as it is. Water collected as condensation which forms clouds which make rain. Quite an incredible process really and part of the beauty of the world around us. Whatever you may think of rain for what it does to your plans or expectations, the actual existence of it is quite the thing to marvel over, or not, as the case may be.

All I'm asking is, what if rain wasn't a positive or negative occurrence? And if it's not, how does that change your feelings about a rainy day? Or a snowy day? Or a sunny day?

Give it a shot and if you care to, please share your experience below with a comment.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Multitasking Myth - a Follow On

After my last blog entry I received an email from a friend which said that she agreed there was no place for multitasking when in the work place but for her, when she was at home and doing personal projects, multitasking was actually the best way for her to get things done. But what she described as multitasking was more sequential tasking and this was when I realised I had made an error in my last entry. I didn’t actually define what I meant by multitasking. 
In the context of my previous entry, multitasking is actively doing two things at the same time. For example, talking on the phone while checking your emails. Talking to a co-worker while working on a spreadsheet. Or when you’re at home, vacuuming while reading a book. Cooking while sending a text message. 
Some things don’t necessarily fall into this definition of multitasking when you do them at the same time. For example, as I write this entry I’m listening to music - but that’s because music helps inspire and motivate me. I get energy from it so listening to music is actually part of the task at hand. It supplements it. I know of many people who are more productive if they have the television on in the background. Same sort of thing. They aren’t distracted by the screen and they can sit down and work on their taxes and get them done easily.
Personally I find the television to be a huge distraction so for me, watching TV and doing anything else, would definitely be multitasking because TV pulls too much of my attention. In the same way I know some people couldn’t possibly fathom listening to music while writing as they require absolute silence. 
But the point is that we shouldn’t do two things that require total focus at the same time. 
So what isn’t multitasking? 

Say you get home and you have a giant list of things to get done. You’ve got to get some laundry done and it’s garbage collection day tomorrow so you’ll need to empty all the waste baskets in the house. You also need to get dinner on and at some point you wanted to sit down to that creative project you’ve been working on. 

There is enough time in the evening to do everything and it doesn’t all have to be done at once. Nor do you have to do each thing from start to finish in one go. For example, you put on the laundry and while that’s washing you take out the garbage. Then you sit down to your creative project for five or ten minutes by which time the load of laundry is ready to be put on to dry. You make and eat dinner and then sit down to your creative project again. You work on it until the laundry is done and then you put your clothes away. 
Each task was worked on as planned and each task was the focus for as long as it had to be. Perhaps you’ve got a lot of creative projects you’re working on (Like me) and you want to spend some time on each of them each day. It helps to be specific, like ‘I will write for ten minutes every day’ or ‘I will finish one sculpture a month’ but when it comes to doing it the duration needs to fit your focus. Definitely focus on just one thing, but only for the length of time that suits you. 
There are no hard and fast rules about how long you should spend doing any one task and if spending five minutes per task a day suits your style, then fantastic! You’ve found a method of working that is effective for you. But make sure that for that five minutes that you are going to paint or write an email or work on your website or read a book is spent doing just that one thing. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Multitasking Myth

I remember there being a time when I would put 'multitasking' as a skill on my resume, include it as a valuable asset in interviews or whip it out as a talent. To be able to multitask is often seen as an incredible ability to accomplish many thing at the same time. This is, as far as I'm concerned, completely untrue.

For anyone who has been an ultimate taskmaster, checking emails while chatting on the phone and jotting down notes for a meeting later in the day, you probably know how overwhelming it can get. In an attempt to finish as much as possible in as little time as possible we will stretch our brains by forcing them to comprehend and complete a multitude of different tasks on the same timeline.

This isn't very effective, nor is it healthy. I speak as a true plate spinner. I'm the sort of person who wants to see things done, To Do lists ticked off and tasks completed. Sometimes this overwhelming desire to get stuff done means that I neglect my basic needs and how my body and brain function.

Our brains function much better when they have a single task to focus on. Within one task there may be a multitude of smaller activities which can be done in conjunction with one another, but if it's all related our brains are far better equipped to focus and do it well.

The problem with multitasking is that you may be able to finish many unrelated tasks at the same time but the odds of them being done well decreases with the number of plates you are spinning. It's also a great way to burn yourself out. If you have more tasks to do than is reasonable or possible in the time you have been given, it's up to you to say 'No'.

When you can focus on one task at a time you can accomplish it with skill and care, which means it will be more successful in the long run. How many times have you been working on a few different things at the same time and you find that something you thought was finished actually wasn't because you were distracted - so you had to go back and do it again or work on it some more when you'd already signed it off as complete?

But when you focus and work on one thing at a time you are not forcing your brain to switch gears rapidly. This is beneficial in so many ways. When you're focused you can complete one thing with greater ease, accuracy and skill. It also focuses your body. Your heart rate will remain calm. Your breathing will remain comfortable, instead of becoming shallow, which will give your brain more oxygen and help it to accomplish the task at hand.

Ultimately, you will be able to complete one thing well rather than a multitude of things not so well.

So next time you're feeling overwhelmed or panicky about needing to finish a multitude of tasks, stop for a moment. Consider if you are trying to do too much at once. Remember that your brain works far better when it can focus on a single thing and you are more productive when your body and mind are in a calm and relaxed state.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Original and prints available

The concept of attachment is a very interesting one. In Western society the definition of attachment seems to get mixed up with the definitions for desire, greed and wants. Attachment is not about longing or the accumulation of possessions.

By purchasing a thing one does not commit to attachment. Attachment is when we identify with our possessions in such a way that we grieve at the mere thought of losing them. One common meditation practice is to do a visualization which involves giving away or losing all your possessions. Imagine everything you own. Every item of clothing, all your shoes, books, DVDs, CDs, electronics - TV, computer, laptop, radio, GPS device, phone, mobile - dishes, decorations, appliances, furniture. As you picture each one imagine giving it away. Doesn't matter who to, just as long as it will no longer in any way be in your life. You could post it to a friend overseas or in another country, give it to a stranger on the street or hand it over to a homeless person.

You don't have to do this with absolutely everything you have but try it with a variety of different things because the level of attachment we have can vary greatly depending on our emotional connection to something. For example, giving away your microwave might give you a sense of apprehension but probably won't upset you as much as giving away something really personal like a journal you wrote or the only photograph you have of a beloved relative no longer with us in body. You may also find that the attachment you feel has something to do with your ego because you feel your identity is determined by the specific clothes you wear or the art you choose to hang on your walls.

The idea behind this visualization - behind any meditation practice - is to create a greater sense of awareness. By paying attention to how we feel about the loss of our possessions we can tune into our emotional responses and be guided by what they are telling us. This means we can take a more practical or objective look at our lives and the things we own.

As a result of doing these practices I have developed an agreement with myself. I don't like to work in rules because our brains tend to treat a rule as unchangeable where an agreement has the flexibility to fit in with the fact that our situations, ideas and opinions are constantly changing.

My agreement is to assess the things I own on a six month basis. I ask myself a few key questions:

1. When did I last use/wear/enjoy this item? Was it in the last six months? Was it longer than that?

2. Why have I not touched it? Is it seasonal? Specific to a project I'm not in the thick of at the moment?

3. Is it something I can feasibly see myself needing/wanting in the next six months? For example, am I likely to find a new painting project to do despite having not painted a lot since completing my Tarot cards?

The reason it's an agreement rather than a rule is because some things will take up my interest again even if they're not central to my life at the moment. Other things need to go.

There might a shirt that's been hanging in my wardrobe for eight months - it's perfectly nice, fits me and I quite like it but the occasion to wear it hasn't come up. When did I wear it last? Why has it been so long? Do I really think I'll wear it again? Would it not be better to send a perfectly good shirt to a charity shop where it can be appreciated by someone and help a good cause?

Why not try it for yourself? Give it a go and see what happens. Maybe you'll do it on a 12 month basis, or an 8 month basis. Find a measurement that works for you.

By purging regularly we can help improve the energy in our lives. Old, unused, unappreciated stuff creates clutter which can effect our ability to sleep, our energy when it comes to caring for the space we live in and our attitude towards change.

A regular purge can clear up space that can be used for a new project, a different look to a room or an opportunity to try something you haven't before. Plus you'll have a rewarding feeling by giving your unwanted items to someone who will appreciate and enjoy them.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Only one thing? How terrifying...

Years ago there was a mentality that you by the time you were graduating you should probably have made up your mind as to what you would do for the rest of your life. The importance of this was handed down and taught in such a way that it implied anyone who hadn't decided at the age of seventeen or eighteen was going to be unfulfilled and unsuccessful.

Times have changed and more and more people are embracing and understanding that few people will have a single career in their lives. You've only got one life and it's important to use it to the best of your ability.

I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who always told my brother and me that we could and should do everything we wanted with our lives. A thought which can easily become overwhelming, but take a look at the flip side.

How would you feel if you were told you could only do one thing for the rest of your life? Personally, the idea of that terrifies me. A single occupation? Only one interest for my professional life? A specialisation which I must commit to until retirement?

I think not.

To do only one thing with you life isn't impossible and there are a few who are content to find their niche and stick with it because it does fulfill and satisfy them. That's fine, and wonderful for them. But they are a very few.

Most of us have a lot of directions our lives could take. We may dip our toes in one interest or dive in head first to another - but our lives are not a single pool and the direction our lives go in is entirely up to us. We have as many options as we're willing to be open to. Life really is what you make it.

Impossible, you think? Too much choice and you lack focus or you won't get anywhere? Perhaps some examples from history can convince you.

Aristotle was a playwright and poet as well as a teacher of a multitude of subjects like physics, linguistics, and ethics, to name a few.

Maria Agnesi was a professor who was also a great linguist, logician, theologists, algebraist, mathematician and philosopher.

Sir Isaac Newton worked for the Royal Mint as a warden but he was also a philosopher, physicist, mathematician, astronomer, theologian and alchemist.

Amelia Earhart was a pilot, as a well as a nurse, author and women's rights activist.

and probably most famously,

Leonardo Da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, musician, scientist, architect, inventor, engineer, mathematician, writer, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and anatomist.

So, in the wise words of Mary Oliver: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Want support in taking on the adventure of life? Consider Me First Coaching - www.CreativeLifeCoachLondon.com

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Work vs. Life?

Representative of wisdom, self knowledge and openness

The new year is always an interesting time. People seem to be energised. Adults in the workforce almost act like students on their first days back to school. Things seem hopeful and fresh. Possibility is in the air.

A few weeks or a month later and energy generally wanes. Winter is dragging and there's a feeling of disappointment hanging over most people. Like they were cheated out of something because this year is turning out just like last year and the year before that and the year before that. Work continues to drudge along and your boss is still a numpty and you still have that really anal co-worker, that really lazy co-worker or that really peculiar co-worker who smells sort of odd and keeps staring at you.

Meanwhile you're busting with ideas, feeling your energy being crushed by a job which you may be good at, but which does not fulfill your wants or needs. Work/life balance seems to come up a lot in conversation. How do you balance the hours you spend in the office with the hours you want to spend writing, drawing, painting, travelling, doing photography, acting etc? 

Personally I've always found the work/life argument a bit baffling. This is simply because I don't understand the separation of the two. It implies that 'work' is one plain of existence whilst 'life' is another and the two cannot co-exist. You're either working or you have a life.

What a dreadful thought. 

And yet, for so many this is entirely true. At work they are a different person. They function to fulfill a role, perform a job and at the end of the day they garner little satisfaction from their accomplishments. They work for someone, helping someone else achieve their goals or dreams, forsaking their own as 'whims' or 'flights of fancy'.

I used to be a victim of such thoughts. To me, unless I absolutely loved everything about the job I had which paid the bills, I felt I was purely exchanging my valuable time for money. This sort of thinking has a devastating effect. It can make a person feel like a shell, a robot there to perform a duty to keep the cogs of some larger machine going. It's dehumanizing and it makes perfect sense then why the idea of 'work' and 'life' being separate entities is such a widely held belief.

But work is a part of life. Life is all encompassing and work is not. Life is constant and what we do with ours - for work, for pleasure, for personal growth - is entirely up to us. Yes, I know that, to survive we generally need some sort of stable income. I'm not disputing this fact at all. But there is a way to look at work as part of your life and not a separate plain of existence where our personalities, dreams and talents need to be ignored or put onto a back burner.

How can this be done? No matter what you do for a living - cashier, administrator, sales assistant, personal assistant - there are little ways you can bring your talents and the things which give you joy into your job.

For example, I have a friend who is a textile artist who worked as a cashier for about a year. He purchased a small sketchbook that fit in his pocket and when things were slow he could easily pull it out and make little sketches or jot down ideas.

Another friend who was training to be a Spiritual Counsellor was working in administration at a charity. Until her training was done she couldn't start up her practice but in the mean time she was able to practice her communication skills because she answered the phones for the charity. Many of the callers were bereaved so it was a brilliant opportunity for her to get real life experience talking to people in distress.

For me learning is a huge part of my personality and what feeds my energy. I love discovering new skills and trying new things which is why, in any job I have, I seek out opportunities to get involved in different projects. I look for things which may be missing or which could use development or improvement. As a result I have been able to expand my administrative duties at my current place of work to include social media marketing and graphic design.

Every little bit helps but one of the key factors has also been changing the way I think about work. When possible I have brought my creativity, imagination and desire to learn to most jobs I've had. Occasionally I've had the sort of job where this flexibility didn't exist. In these cases I knew it was better for me to seek an alternative. Either way, the choice was mine. You can either look at work as a place where your life is put on hold, or you can look at work as yet another experience of life itself in which there are a multitude of opportunities for you to grow, learn and express yourself.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I can't?

Prints available

As a child I was fortunate enough to have parents who told me that I was not only able to do anything I wanted but that I could do everything I wanted. I say fortunate because it's quite nice but also rare to be told from an early age that the world is full of opportunities.

From a different perspective this could also be seen as a bit of a curse depending on your personality. As it happens I am the sort of person who has a voracious appetite for knowledge. I love to learn and what interested me may seem quite broad and even unrelated. In fact, a lot of what interests me is unrelated, but I don't really care because if I want to learn something I will.

Sometimes I find myself filled with a desire to do everything all at once. It's almost as if I feel this incredible to do list of wants, desires and interests and I feel as though I must complete it all in the next week or I'll never have a chance to do it again.

The result is a sort of paralysis which causes me to accomplish absolutely nothing, during which time I am inclined to wallow in a lot of self pity because 'I can't' do everything. I know it's silly and my next step is generally to feel quite angry with myself for being childish, whingey or unreasonable.

All of this is hugely unproductive and also apt to turn into a vicious circle of self loathing and angst unless I take action.

The trick is to change the way I'm thinking about it. Rather than going 'I can't' I need to think, "What if I could?" and then "How would I be able to?" This opens up my options again and also reminds me that everything I want to accomplish in my entire lifetime doesn't have to get done right now. If that was even possible it would be quite unfortunate because, quite simply, what would I do then?

I have my entire lifetime to do all those things on my list of 'everything I ever want to do in my whole life' and that list is flexible. I might change my mind about something on there so I'm allowed to take stuff off as well as adding things to it.

It's all about choice. When you think you can't do something you've just taken a lot of options away. So remember to keep your options open by trying out 'what if I can?'

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why 'Me First'?

Original acrylic on canvas painting

Sometimes we just need to put ourselves first. We live in a society where this is often seen as selfish. However, by putting yourself first, you aren't making others in your life any less important. What happens when you put yourself first is an opportunity to lead by example.

I used to spend a lot of time trying to make everyone around me happy. I figured that, if all my friends and family were happy, I too could be happy. I also felt like it was my job to make people happy. I'd feel deeply crippled if I had somehow failed to light up someone's day.

It's all very well and good to go about life as a people pleaser. It gives one the sense of being noble, kind and selfless - but there is a flaw with the system. How we feel is ultimately our decision. There is no guarantee that a person is going to be happy and if I failed, which I often did, to improve the mood and outlook of someone close to me, I felt that failure twice as hard because I'd hinged my own happiness on that of those around me.

Rather than see this as a flaw and perhaps a sign that I needed a different approach, I spent years trying to perfect the ability to sway the moods of those around me in a positive way. I fought tooth and nail to make people smile by finding opportunities, encouraging them to take chances and giving them forums for personal expression. The more I fought the more I struggled with a growing anxiety problem. Every success I had was overshadowed by the multitude of failures. I was, quite simply, trying to please all of the people all of the time.

This is impossible. No one can do it and when you try to the result can be quite disastrous. In my case it eventually led to a full mental breakdown. I was unable to cope because the responsibility I'd given myself was impossible, and yet I still felt the need to make it happen.

My mental breakdown was just one of many life changing experiences. It led me to ask for help - something I'd always refrained from doing as I didn't want to appear weak or incompetent. This was the first step but it wasn't until several months later that I would begin grasping the idea of putting myself first.

I had built up quite a lot of expectations of what I should be able to do. My mental breakdown led me to start looking at my anxiety, but I still had an awful lot of ideas I was holding onto quite tightly which kept me from seeing that I was still trying to fix myself by fixing those around me. The next life changing event I experienced came in the form of heartbreak and this one gave me a whole new perspective.

I had built up quite the idea of what my life was about and where it was leading. When my partner of three years suddenly ended our relationship it was as if someone had pulled the rug out from under me. I was free falling and had no idea how far or fast. It was terrifying at first but it did something incredible for me.

Initially the failure of the relationship was like anything else in my life - a sign of my inability to make someone happy. But as I went into free fall it also meant I began to look at myself  first and foremost. I tried replacing the lost partner with best friends and family members, anyone to try and 'fix' so I could try to 'fix' myself. But something was happening naturally which I was eventually unable to ignore.

I began to pay attention to myself first. As I listened to what my anxiety and other emotions were telling me, as I focused on my wants, dreams and desires, my life began to change quite rapidly. My anxiety lessened. It wasn't so acute. I remembered what things motivated me. What my dreams were. What my passions were. I started to write again, to paint, to sculpt, to explore the world. I was travelling again, meeting new people, learning to let go of old stagnant or harmful relationships.

I gradually noticed that the people in my life all seemed to be happy, content and full of joy most of the time.

What had changed? I wasn't trying to fix anyone. I wasn't working myself into a frenzy trying to make a partner or friend see their incredible potential. And yet, the people in my life seemed to be quite positive and uplifted.

It's been proven that positive energy, just like negative energy, can be shared. I'd found myself again and as a result I was feeling better about my life. I was able to say 'No' to harmful people and 'Yes' to those who were willing to help themselves. The quality of my relationships improved because the quality of my relationship with myself had improved. Because I was paying attention to my wants and needs I was able to see more clearly when a relationship was unhealthy. I could appreciate when someone needed to be let go. I was also doing things which mattered to me, feeding my soul with writing and art, and therefore improving my energy levels and mood.

Was I being selfish? Certainly, in that I was looking out for my own interests and needs, but not because of a lack of consideration for those around me. I just had developed a profound level of consideration for myself.

When I decided to become a life coach my motivation came out of the knowledge I have of the inherent ability I have to help people. I have learned that the way I tried to do it before was harmful because my expectations were impossible to meet and I let people blame me for their own inaction. As a life coach my focus is still on bringing out the best in people but I've called it 'Me First' because my coaching method is about finding ways to get you to be your own best friend. It's about embracing the strengths you have at your disposal and learning to put yourself first in your own life.

When we come first in our lives we are more able to help those around us.

Visit: www.CreativeLifeCoachLondon.com for more information.