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Journal writing is amazing!

journalYou don’t have to be a good writer to enjoy journaling.

There are many ways to write a journal.  The word derives from the French word Jour – day, and is a daily record of your thoughts, feelings and experiences, similar but different from a diary.  A journal is very individual and private. Journals can be shared as in student journals and reflective practise journals, but in this article I am looking at personal life journals that are useful to give you an overview of your life, to express yourself and to find your own way of coping and improving your self esteem.

 

My Experience of journal writing

I wrote a 5 year diary from the age of 15 to 20, dwindling entries the older I grew!  Looking back at it now is fascinating and gives me insight into how I was many years ago.  Even in this I can see themes, values and indicators of how I made decisions.  For many years I continued to write diaries, often only when in distress or when there was a huge momentous experience.  I found it helpful to write short notes and these have proved so useful in understanding myself later in life.  At the time the journal offered me a means of expression, to off load the harsh or strong emotions.  Reading later on it gives me so much more than I ever dreamed of:  a snapshot of events, people, communications that were important, that helped to create the person I am now.

 

Writing a journal helps you to know yourself.  It allows the unconscious to surface and be heard privately.  This is a release and can be a freeing and spiritual experience.

 

Start with your life story!

When working with clients I ask them to buy a beautiful book as a journal. Something they love and relate to as it will accompany them on their journey.  I suggest they think about their life in roughly 5 year chunks and write down the significant events, highs and lows briefly (without analysing too much), who influenced them, who they loved/disliked, what was happening, the peak moments, where they lived/went to school/uni/work etc.  A general view.

This takes some time and there is no rush.  There is no need to be a brilliant writer – just jot down words, phrases, there is no need to be perfect here! You can embellish the story with photos and mementos too if you like!

 

If you can’t remember, then if you feel happy to, ask friends or relatives about things, it all helps in connecting and remembering.  When working as an Occupational Therapist with older clients I spent hours creating Life Stories for patients with Alzheimers or Dementia with the help of their families.  These were so precious in honouring the person within and helping care staff to respect and understand them.

 

Other ideas

Journals are great for just about anything you have on your mind.  Use them as a depository to dump the thoughts and ideas, jot notes and lists.  Answers to questions or questions to find answers to.  I have a list of questions if people are stuck for ideas such as:

 

What am I most grateful for?

What were the 5 happiest moments in my life?

What was my saddest moment?

Who is really important to me?

What is my secret dream?

If I had all the money, time and energy I need what would I do?

 

There are 100’s of questions to get you flowing.

 

Make Space in your life for writing your journal

Create a regular time to write in your journal.  It may be daily at bedtime or weekly on Thursday evening – find a way that fits well for you.  In times of stress journal writing can be a fantastic relief and will help you focus and clarify where to channel your energy.

 

7 reasons to write a journal:

  1. It gives you an overview of your whole life
  2. You can see the highs and lows without analysing
  3. You understand how you make decisions and what influences you
  4. You can recognise your role models, inspirations and influences
  5. It helps you understand what you value, love and need in life
  6. It helps you to understand what you do not want in life
  7. It helps to give you clarity, focus and direction.

Alongside journal writing creating a visual representation of your dreams and goals is wonderful.  My next article will be on the benefits of creating a Dream Board (Vision board/Treasure Map).

If you would like to work on improving your self esteem I offer an individual course as part of my life coaching sessions in person or over the telephone.  This course has helped many people find out who they really are, accept themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin.  For a free 15 minute discussion just call me on 01803 847674 or 07779496240

The Importance of Self-Care

seaWhat is Self-Care?

Self care can mean so many things but put simply it is the ability to look after yourself.  Many things can interrupt our ability to do this basic task including illness, disability, pressure of time, lack of money, safe environments, motivation and self-love.

On a basic level self-care includes feeding, cleaning, dressing, organising our lives and our time.  On a higher level it includes nurturing our higher-level abilities such as our intellect, spirituality, and connectedness to loved ones, our environment and feeling our place in the world.

As babies we are born dependent on our parents or carers.  Gradually as we develop from the child into the adult we learn from them and others how to be independent and look after ourselves. If we are lucky our caregivers have role modelled the need for self-nurturance and we have this in our repertoire.   However many of us slip from the child into the parental role of carer and giver and seem to skip over the need to care for ourselves.

What happens when we don’t care for ourselves:

When we become overwhelmed, tired out and stressed it suddenly dawns on us that we have forgotten to take some time to look after ourselves.  It can be work that causes this lack of awareness:  perhaps we are starting a new career/family or business and are very focussed.  Time is stretched to the limit and deadlines loom daily. At times such as this self-care falls very low on our priority lists.  But, if we ignore our essential need for ‘time for ourselves’ we pay the price.  There is a fine balance between what is just about manageable and what will cause a breakdown or burnout. Many conscientious and extremely commendable people have gone on just that step too long and have ended up totally exhausted, drained or seriously ill.  Recognising the need to care for yourself is the best way to manage your stress long term.

Not only does is give you space to stop and think, review and adjust your life but it also allows you to check out the direction you are heading to ensure you are in line with your core values.  We sometimes find ourselves driven towards something that doesn’t hold the meaning it did when we first started.  Like all goal setting we need to recognise the necessity for flexibility and keep checking our goals are in line with our current life, hopes, dreams and values.

 

Here are six simple steps to improve your self-care:

  • Recognise when you are overburdened and stop doing something. This may involve making crucial choices to prioritise the most important things on your to do list.  If you have perfectionist tendencies this will be a challenge!  But the answer is the 3 D’s:  dump it, do it or delegate.  If you can’t do it, cross it off the current to do list.  Make a little space to stop.
  • Buy a special personal journal and start writing. Just let if flow, it can be your life story, how you feel, what you want, anything initially to get the juices going.  Life story work can be really helpful (more of this in my next article).  Writing ideas/problems/worries/successes down really helps you to express yourself privately and moves the barrage of thoughts onto paper where they can be released.  This is cathartic and freeing.
  • Learn to say “NO” nicely! Many of us tend to say yes when we mean no to all sorts of requests and demands.  Learn to take a moment to think before you say yes.  If necessary answer a request you are unsure about by offering to call back at a more convenient time. It is very important to value your own time and the telephone/computer can become the never ending time waster!
  • Set your self some boundaries on how you use your time. Review an average day and write down what you actually do.  An hourly time sheet will be useful.  Then analyse where all your time goes.  Decide what is important and what isn’t and then device strategies to save time in order to do the important activities.  E.g. if time with your children is important but you always finish work late and suffer regret and guilt.  Then make it your obsession to finish work on time.  Focus on the fact you will have that extra hour to spend with the kids and the joy for you and them. Recognise what is really meaningful to you.
  • What makes you feel good? Have a good think – it could be small simple things such as painting your toenails or walking in the countryside.  There are many small activities that helps us feel good – make a list of your happiness buffers and ensure you do at least one a day.
  • Decide to be mindful. Instead of rushing around at top speed, slow down.  Start by listening to your breathing, something we are often unaware of.  The breath is so important to being alive and we take it for granted.  By focussing on our breathing:  we can calm ourselves down, slow it down, make it deeper, just for a minute or two.  Look around you and really notice your surroundings.  Stop speed-reading through your life.

In my next article I will elaborate on the benefits of using a personal journal to enhance your life.  If you feel overwhelmed by a deluge of responsibilities and would like to find a way of easing your situation I offer an initial free session bookable on www.mentaline.com/kathrynharris/.

A few more boosts for your Self Esteem…

butterflyWhen you feel the sudden awareness that your self-esteem is dipping or crashing.
Stop!   ….. Breathe deeply and slowly in and out 4 times and try one of these savers:

    Self-talk is important.  Often the internal critic will fire off negative comments, be ready for it and counter this by saying to yourself:

“I am good enough!”

“I can stand this”

“I have my own opinions, thoughts and feelings”

“There are things about me that are likeable and things that are not so good  – just like anyone else”

“I have overcome more difficult problems than this in the past”

“I am not perfect and don’t need to be. I am good at some things and not so good at others”

“I don’t know for a fact that everyone is having a better time than me.  Just because they are busy doesn’t mean they are more happy”.

  • Remember life is full of choices and you make them, especially how you chose to think.  Prepare in advance by thinking of words that represent values you want to feature in your life from now on.  For example love, laughter, fun, integrity, calmness, kindness etc.  Search out experiences and thoughts to make these words live in your life!
  • Focus on what you do want rather than what you don’t want in life. Be aware of the language you use;  “try” is a word that implies something may or may not happen; instead say:  “I will” which gives a positive commitment that something will happen.
  • How would you like people to behave towards you?  Do people know how you feel?  Sometimes we expect others to read our minds.

Simplify life by letting your nearest and dearest know what you need.  Instead of saying “You make me feel ….  Come from the I.  I feel ………     Or I need …….…     This feels far less critical to the person receiving your comment and you clarify what you do actually feel and need.

  • Let go of anger and resentment.  It is your choice how you react to others; it may be a habit to break.

What would it be like to decide not to feel like this?  To not react?  How would life be?

If others tease you, frustrate you and make you feel criticised decide to recognise the feeling,  accept it and not react.  By giving them the attention they seek you are fuelling the fire.  Remove the reaction and the behaviour will stop over time. You will eventually find you can turn a negative situation quickly into a positive one.

  • Remember your own personal boundaries.  If someone pushes you too far and a situation is getting out of control. Stop, take a couple of deep breaths and tell them you can’t deal with this now.  Make a time later in the day or week when feelings will have reduced where you can discuss the issue calmly.  Then leave the situation.
  • Spark your enthusiasm.  Sometimes life can be become a bit humdrum, same old pattern or habits, people and places.  This is when you can feel bored and dissatisfied.  It’s time to fire your enthusiasm:  read inspiring articles/blogs, look for new things to do e.g. Holiday destinations, days out, galleries, exhibitions, country walks, historical houses, plays to see, new films to watch, books to read, book clubs to join, hobbies to investigate.  Consider something you have never tried before it might just be the spark you need

We all fall into negativie thinking patterns at times.  If this is problematic take some time when you are feeling OK to plan how to cope the next time you don’t feel OK.  A wise investment to reduce future stress and discomfort. Keep the plan handy and use it as a safety valve when you feel yourself slipping.

Six Ways to boost your Self Esteem

FlowersSelf esteem is a fundamental building block to creating a happier life.  If you experience dips in your self esteem this is quite normal at times of stress or change.  Some of the following ideas may prove helpful for you or someone you know:

1.  When you feel down, increase your activity levels.  Avoid sitting and thinking – this is  not the time to dwell on the past.  Get up and active.  Use distraction: play with a child, watch a funny film, put on some upbeat music and dance, go for a brisk walk, change a room around – seek a new perspective.

2.  Stop automatically saying sorry! Don’t assume everything is your fault.  If you have made an error, acknowledge it respectfully but don’t be the fall guy for everyone. Nobody needs to be perfect.

3.  If you meet someone in the street you know and they don’t say hello, try not to personalise your reaction and view it negatively. Think for some alternative reasons for their behaviour.  Perhaps they don’t have their glasses, they are focussed on something or distracted. What good does it do you to think negatively? Think of plausible reasons for their behaviour and you will avoid ruining your day!

4.  When you receive a compliment or someone gives you a gift or helps you.  Thank them and smile – show your sincere appreciation for the fact they care about you.

5.  Learn to meditate – allow time to create a peaceful space for yourself where you will not be disturbed for 20 minutes.  Close your eyes and focus on your awareness of your breathing to quieten your thoughts. Allow tension and discomfort to dissolve in your breath. Breath at a natural pace. If you slip into a thought just come back to the breath. When time is up stretch, open your eyes and come back to the room refreshed.

6.  Take a new view on problems and see them as opportunities. Rather than jumping to conclusions, looking at things in a black and white fashion or all or nothing thinking, think of problems as a voyage of discovery.  Unravel the other possible reasons for things happening or ask people for alternative views. Sometimes problems shared and solved lead to a new way of thinking and seeing the world.

Time to grow some healthy self esteem!

Self-esteem is the overall opinion we have of ourselves and our ability to live and lead our lives.

tree

When my self esteem is good I feel great: I smile, engage with people, talk freely, express my feelings, laugh, love and live life to the full. However, when my self esteem is low it’s a very different picture.  I worry about my appearance; I avoid contacting people, reduce my exercise, eat unhealthily, start mind reading and read people’s intentions incorrectly.  It skews my perception to a negative view of myself and others.  A really unhealthy place to be.

So to unravel how we end up in this uncomfortable place:

Our perception of ourselves is learned initially during our childhood by the experiences we have with people we come into contact with: our parents/carers, close family members, friends, neighbours, teachers and the media.  They have a huge and vital influence over our lives as they sow the seeds of our self-esteem.

I was lucky and had a positive childhood but it didn’t protect me from developing low self esteem during a relationship.  My significant other at the time was controlling and critical, both of which undermined my self esteem.

If you experience more negative criticism or very few positive comments at any age this tends to stick in your mind and affect the way you see yourself and your abilities.  A bit like a fore gone conclusion, an expectation of failure is set up.  Negative comments stand out and resonate for years to come.  These take root and invade your mind so that when facing a challenge or change in life you may doubt your ability to cope and avoidance starts to creep in.  It becomes rather a vicious cycle with the negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself, leading to a reduction in expectation and unwillingness to risk being wrong. You may make very relevant excuses for why you can’t do something.

For many people there is a low level background of feeling inadequate and assuming other people believe this too.  Worry about what other’s think can stultify us into inaction.  Keeping ourselves safely within the manageable confines we feel comfortable in – our comfort zone.  Here we sit, wasting the infinite potential every human being is born with until we have a light bulb moment and suddenly see the light.  We realise we have to change something if we are ever going to feel alive! Knowing what to change is the problem because by then it feels normal to feel negative and inferior.

There is a way forward:

The first step is to change the way you think. It has become a habit to think negatively about yourself, to hear the voice inside you saying ‘you cant do that, you cant cope, you’re not good enough.  You have believed this for some time and it is a habit that has not been challenged.  To change you need to weed out the negative thoughts and plant positive, kind and nurturing thoughts.  To start treating yourself how you would treat your best friend.  To become encouraging and supportive to yourself.  Quite hard at first but with assistance totally manageable.  Once started and practised like any new habit the pattern becomes established and a new you is able to emerge: now the seed can grow healthily and stand tall and proud.

Your positive thoughts will then create positive beliefs about yourself.  The internal critic is eradicated and replaced by the inner truth that encourages you saying:  You can do it, you are good enough’.  Strengthened with these beliefs your behaviour is then changed. You dare to experiment and even if you don’t succeed immediately you are supportive, flexible and forgiving of yourself.  You cut some slack and then try again.  Knowing that you are as good as anyone else and deserve to enjoy your own potential.  You then believe in yourself and what you can do.

Thankfully self-esteem is not fixed but changes throughout time due to internal and external influences.  Ongoing maintenance of our self-esteem is essential to maximise our ability to live a full and meaningful life.

Insight from Experience

Welcome to my new Blog! A new experience for me on my sparkling new website! Firstly thanks for deciding to read. I am happy to have you along and hope that the information I share will help you in your journey to happiness.

 

Why insight from experience?

Firstly as you may have guessed – I have lived a fair while now, and obviously have had lots of life experiences some good, some bad but mostly great.! I have a very optimistic view on life, even when I am in a difficult place I try to see the best in others.  That said sometimes you have to recognise that you are doing yourself no favours by persevering too long with a situation where you are losing your identity and ability to be yourself.  If you feel really stuck, having given it your best, then the best thing is to recognise that and move on.  There may be other factors influencing your perseverance but you must listen to your wise self for when it’s time for change.  You will know deep inside yourself that something needs to happen. Trust yourself and you will find the way forward.

The second reason is the same as the first that we all experience times in our lives when everything isn’t rosy.  We feel desperate, alone, out of control, overwhelmed.  When we are in the midst of this we are stressed and need support to cope.  If you have the support of friends and family this is a great help, if not, seek professional help before it’s a crisis.  People can be amazingly helpful when you really need them, showing the love inherent in humankind.  At this time you would probably not view it a useful experience.  But, after some time has elapsed and in retrospect you will be able to understand why things happened the way they did and learn so many valuable lessons yourself.  Hence you will have insight from your experiences.

My insight has matured over the last 25 years through a journey of self-development.

Early Influences

As a teenager I had no ultimate career goal and fell into training as a nurse.  My heart wasn’t in it and after a bout of glandular fever I left the course.  I knew then I wanted to help people and had worked alongside an occupational therapist who went on home visits.  This inspired me as the OT really saw people in the context of their homes – that made such a difference!  A truly holistic approach and for many years this ambition to be an OT was put on the back boiler only to be free to come to fruition about 12 years later.   I gained a place on a course locally and saw this as fulfilling my dreams.  I so enjoyed being an OT, the autonomy of creating my own appointments and sessions, the joy of seeing people recover after severe illnesses and resume their activities despite enormous challenges.  It was an enlightening and inspiring career.

My Inspiration

I had insight of the depression people felt after struck by disability from my own mother who had a stroke when I was 15.  She was a brave, strong woman but felt keenly the loss of mobility, dignity and freedom.  She was a great inspiration to me in all my ventures.  As an OT I worked alongside, encouraging and listening to people of all ages and walks of life.  One thing I always remember is the need to remember who they were. By that I mean particularly for the older clients: what they did and what they had experienced in their lives.  To not just see an elderly patient, sat in a chair but to get to know them personally and know their story.  This enabled me to respect them and treat them with the respect they deserved.  My insight from my mother’s experiences helped me to understand how difficult it is when people make assumptions about you without knowing you.

The importance of people’s story

This is another reason why I love life coaching and cognitive behaviour therapy both of which I combine in my current role.  Life coaching is so much about the person – it couldn’t be more client centred.  It is the one place I have found where you can spend an hour talking about your life story, your dreams and your goals and feel totally heard. The coach is there for you, focuses on you and her mission is to assist and support you in achieving your dreams.  What an amazing experience!

How to change the negative effects of the past

Coginitive Behavioural therapy is brilliant because it is also forward looking, positive and works!  CBT is a talking therapy that focuses on cycles created by past experiences impacting on the way you think, feel and act.  CBT breaks the vicious downward cycles and challenges negative thinking in order to give you the chance to experiment with new behaviour and see and feel the results of being just a little bit kinder to yourself.  I found myself as a mother in the position of using cbt for my child to lower her anxiety and give her back her confidence.  Through using the process myself I can talk with experience about the benefits of this approach.

I will be writing regular blog articles on subjects related to developing your self-esteem, managing stress and embracing change.