Men’s Issues: Stereotype #1 – Men Don’t Cry

I am going to write a few posts highlighting issues I often see in the counselling room that are common, but not exclusive, to men. In no way does this mean that men have it worse. I think it is important to raise awareness of these issues, especially if we consider the wider impact of such behaviour and beliefs on families.

I want to address the stereotype that men should not cry. Similar stereotypes are that men need to be tough and it is a sign of weakness to show emotions or to seek help. All of which interfere with men’s willingness to enter into the counselling room.

Even once they are in the room, certain stereotypes remain and it can sometimes take a while for the man to get in touch with his emotions. He is able to see the impact that his emotions are having on his life but might not feel comfortable sharing them with me.

Of those that do feel able to share, it can still be a difficult task – if men have learned to hide their emotions, they certainly do not learn the skill of understanding their emotions nor how to share their emotions with others. A number of tasks remain, then, in the counselling room.

First is to identify those unhelpful beliefs linked to ‘being male’ or to sharing emotions. It requires challenging those beliefs, which could also mean exploring past experiences – where did the belief start? Who/what added to or maintained that belief? And asking questions such as “is this helping me?” or “how is this impacting my life?”. Often, this sort of belief permeates into other areas, and could affect relationships, work, performance, satisfaction, health. We also have a duty to help young men to get rid of such stereotypes so they grow into men who feel comfortable to share their emotions.

Second, it is important to help men to develop their emotional vocabulary. This can be daunting and too abstract for some men; however, it is doable with persistence and self-compassion. I suggest glancing over an Emotions Wheel (search this online) become familiar with the range of emotions one could feel. Then, it is worth checking in throughout the day. Ask questions such as, “How am I feeling?” or “What emotion is most present right now?”. There are other tasks, such as linking thoughts and physical sensations to emotions; however, it becomes a bit trickier and often is more effective with some guidance.

With a new set of beliefs and an ability to recognise and express feelings (or even cry) the person in the counselling room moves into a position where they are able to process and explore other areas of their life. My hope is that relieving an obstacle in one sense, creates a positive shift in lots of ways.

I fully understand the reluctance to engage in therapy, and how difficult it is to challenge deep rooted beliefs. I was reminded recently that we create our own obstacles – this also means that we can remove them, too. I believe in the power of counselling, persistence and one-to-one guidance, and urge all men to talk. To a friend, family member or a professional – whatever feels easiest and most useful. And for all of us to challenge the stereotype that men don’t cry – the outcome is a better life for everyone.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

“But I have already talked about it. What good will it do to talk about it again?”

It is a common belief that once someone has talked about a traumatic event, they should not need to talk about it again. And I can completely see why it feels that way especially if they felt better or gained some relief from doing so. It feels as if the first time should have been enough, and in some ways it does feel like it is enough. And yet there are always instances in which those traumatic events, large and small, still follow the person into the present day.

I urge anyone who has had any sort of trauma in their life to challenge the belief that once is enough. It is important to give yourself the space to process any lingering emotion as many times as is needed. There is simply no ‘expiry date’ for such things. We need to be more compassionate to our trauma and how we are feeling.

In some ways, children show us how it could be done. They are prone to repeating stories endlessly – and it is so important that they do so. It is their way of processing what happened, and a way of organising their thoughts. Without the repetition and attentive audience, they are unable to properly remember what happened or to move past it.

To assume that because adults are older and wiser they do not need the same experience of repetition is detrimental to our emotional health. We owe it to ourselves to share the trauma and experiences as many times as we need.

As with children, it allows us a chance to organise things properly and to make sense of things. There is also the potential that something new is discovered along the way, with a slightly different perspective offered as a result of sharing again. With the right listener, whether that is a counsellor, friend or family member, the right questions will be asked that allows the person to reflect on their experiences. To make it even more meaningful, there might even be meaningful reflections that allow the person to feel safer in the present and looking towards the future. It might allow the person to feel more secure in themselves if they know how to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

Exploring past events more than once allows a space to empower ourselves so that we feel more in control of things, rather than feeling like our memories and feelings control us.

Give yourself whatever is needed so that you can move into the next chapter.

Photo by John T on Unsplash

“We Don’t See Things As They Are, We See Them As We Are”

This has been credited to Anaïs Nin, but supposedly found in other, earlier texts, too. I like it because it captures something fundamental about ourselves and the world. It reminds me that we see everything around us through a subjective lens, which has become such a part of who we are that we rarely reflect on it, let alone question it.

Part of counselling is about increasing our awareness of how that lens (or how our set of beliefs) affect the way that we interpret the world and see people’s actions. I often use the example of a friend walking past me and not stopping to talk. I could interpret that as my friend not liking me (if I believed I was unlikeable, or that others only spend time with me when it is convenient for them), or I could interpret it as them being so busy they didn’t see me (if I believe other people to be fundamentally good, and that I am not always at the forefront of people’s awareness). Same event, different interpretations.

How we interpret things is based on what happened to us when we were younger. Counselling is where you can identify those beliefs but it is also possible to do at home. The beliefs can be grouped into three areas.

The first set of beliefs is how we see ourselves. We can explore this through completing statements such as:

  • I am… (good, kind, bad, a hindrance)
  • I deserve… (good things, bad things, to be ignored, to be hurt, to be loved)
  • I should… (always try my hardest, come first place, love myself, put my feelings first)
  • I can… (do anything, try harder)

The second set of beliefs is about other people. Think about things such as ;

  • Other people are… (untrustworthy, reliable, unsafe, unpredictable, mean)
  • Other people should… (leave me alone, put my needs first, trust me)
  • Other people will… (let me down, betray me, see that I’m a fake, get it wrong)

The third set of beliefs is about the world and is more abstract – there is also a lot of crossover to the other areas. It’s best to reflect on the views of ‘the world’ without any specific statements or restrictions. It could be that the world is safe or terrifying; predictable or chaotic; confusing or reassuring; neutral or biased; free or determined. It might be that karma features in how the world is perceived, or that actions have consequences; it could be that the world is interconnected or completely separated. This helps to put context to the behaviour of the people in it, especially if there is a significant overriding ‘rule’ or set of expectations.

Once a set of beliefs has been established, it is worth spending some time looking at each of them and deciding whether those beliefs are helpful or a hindrance; healthy or damaging; accurate or outdated/biased. Focus on those three areas.

Questions you might ask could be;

  • Is this helpful to me / my well-being? Is it in my best interest?
  • What is this based on? Is there any evidence for this belief?
  • Is this my belief, or have I internalised this from someone else?
  • Was this true at one point but now needs updating / changing?

You will then have a set of beliefs that you are happy to maintain, and a set of beliefs you want to let go of or uproot. This is your plan of action. Work at it in whatever way suits you. You could focus on the positive ones, and keep repeating them; keep doing things that reaffirm those beliefs; give yourself mantras to repeat throughout the day. Or you could notice every time you think something that triggers one of the unhelpful beliefs, and ask yourself those questions – is this thought or belief helpful, accurate, healthy?

Counselling can be about exploring where those beliefs came from and it can be about challenging and replacing those sets of beliefs that are holding you back. I believe each and every one of us has the ability to choose how they would like to live by increasing awareness of how we live and taking small actions that move us closer to feeling better.

As always, get in touch if you want to talk about how counselling can help you identify those beliefs that are unhelpful, or to introduce more helpful beliefs.

Take care.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Difficulty sleeping?

It is important to state that this is not a replacement for an appropriate consultation with a medical professional who is experienced in managing sleep difficulties. What follows is what has helped me in my personal life and some of the clients that I have seen. After discussing what seems to be the most common issue and most helpful strategy, I will outline other things that have helped.

The most common obstacle to falling asleep seems to be the inability to ‘switch off’ – people talk about lying away in bed, feeling physically tired, but their brain is still racing. Of course, there will be other reasons that some people cannot fall asleep but this seems to be the most common. And what has helped them seems to be a variation of getting out of bed and addressing reasons that their brain is still racing.

A lot of people talk about the seemingly endless list of things they need to do the following day, and there is a part of them that is worried that they will forget one of the things on the list; they may be anxious that they will wake up late and miss the appointment or deadline; they might be anxious that they should be doing work instead of sleeping. Anxiety can be overwhelming in moments like this – especially when we need to sleep.

Counselling can help manage the anxiety and feelings of not being good enough. It helps to address core beliefs of not being smart enough, or never working hard enough, and helps people to see that, in fact, they are doing enough. Working on the root cause of the anxiety helps them to realise how much they are achieving, and helps them to feel more secure and safe in what they are doing.

Counselling can also be about outlining simple strategies to manage the anxious thoughts in the moment. Sometimes it helps to get out of bed and write down the list of things that need doing so that we don’t worry we will forget anything. It sometimes helps to plan the following day with what needs completing and by when. Spending a little bit of time with a visual representation of the tasks that are keeping you awake, brings a sense of calm and order into things. Anxiety can often feel chaotic, and if we gently introduce some order and boundaries, things can start to feel less overwhelming.

As always – get in touch if you want to discuss anything that has been mentioned. Counselling is a great space to work on those areas that directly and indirectly affect sleep. Sometimes it’s something simple, and other times it’s something deeper. With a little practice and support, it’s not an impossible goal to sleep and feel better.

And for other things that have helped me:

Physical

  • Physical movement – any exercise that gets my heart rate up, and pushes me a bit each time, in the first half of the day, seems to help. There’s also research that links increased physical activity with improved mood!
  • Magnesium – I take this daily for a number of reasons but there’s a lot of talk that it helps promote restful sleep. A lot of us are supposedly deficient in this, so worth looking into it!
  • Starting again – I find that if I haven’t fallen asleep within a certain (short) period, it’s worth getting out of bed and trying again a bit later. Spending that time doing something to relax my body and brain is important – deep breathing, light stretches – rather than forcing myself to fall asleep and then becoming frustrated when I don’t. Someone described it to me as not sitting at the dinner table and forcing yourself to eat when you are not hungry. Pay attention to the signals of being tired!
  • Consistency – Even on weekends, I find it helps to wake up at the same time every day (or as close as possible..). This apparently helps with sleep cycle and our internal body clock.
  • Avoid caffeine – not entirely, of course, but I avoid having caffeine later than around lunch time. The half-life of caffeine – the time required for the body to eliminate one-half of a dose – varies between individuals but can be between 3 and 7 hours.

Environment

  • Blue light – apparently the blue light from our screens (TV, laptop, smartphones) disrupts the release of melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep). I have a pair of the glasses that seem to help, and I have a blue light filter on my phone.
  • Low light – not only does this make the rooms more relaxing and appealing (personal preference) having low light in all the rooms apparently prepares the brain for sleep. If I surround myself with bright white light, I find it harder to fall asleep.
  • Bedroom – make this a quiet, calming and peaceful space. Avoid having clutter in the room; avoid TV screens if possible; avoid bright colours.

Reading also helps me to drift off to sleep. And be selective with what you read because reading non-fiction supposedly activates a part of the brain that needs to switch off for us to fall asleep!

Take care.

Struggling to reach a goal? Be SMART

As far as I know, the idea of having SMART goals came from the business world, and has found its way into other areas. Lately, I have found the concept of making our goals SMART more and more useful. And the more I speak to people in the counselling room, the more I find that using even one of the criteria is helpful in getting them closer to where they want to be.

You can search online for slight variations of it, but generally I use the following approach to setting goals.

Specific – make sure that what you want to work on is narrow enough that you can give your time and attention to that one thing. I often find people wanting to be ‘better’ or ‘healthier’, but often set themselves up because it is too broad. Being healthier could mean running 10 minutes three times a week; eating more vegetables; sleeping more. Feeling better could involve reaching out to friends; having a better work/life balance; engaging regularly with a chosen hobby. Counselling can help narrow the focus so that you make better use of your time and energy.

Measurable – it is important to measure your progress because you are more likely to release dopamine (the chemical in our body that gets released when we are doing the right thing). It is important to give yourself evidence that you are progressing and achieving something. This makes it less likely that you will lose motivation! There are plenty of apps to do this, or you can just resort to a pen and paper (or a whiteboard) – be proud of your achievements, mark them down and keep track of how you are moving forward!

Achievable – I like to push people to work just outside of their comfort zone! But think about baby steps. I can’t run 10km but I am more likely to achieve a 5km run. And then I will build up as I get better each time. Similarly, someone might not be able to manage their stress but could manage to focus on their breath once a day. Improving relationships could be about practicing being more honest or assertive. I often ask people, “if that feels too difficult, what feels achievable right now?” and build up from there. We fall short when we set our expectations too high and when we don’t reach the goal that is too difficult, we lose motivation. So it is important to be more realistic (and caring)!

Relevant – It happens too often that other people give us something to aim for, and in doing so we don’t develop that internal motivation. In the counselling room, it seems to be far more helpful if the person sitting opposite me comes up with something on their own. I might say, “OK, so what do you want to focus on?” rather than “it might be useful to focus on meditation to help with your stress”. Of course, I am there to offer guidance if needed but it is important to find the internal motivation or the thing that is most personal to you. This is better than allowing someone else to push you somewhere that isn’t meaningful. You know what direction you need to head in.

Time bound – rather than making the goal too restrictive (achieving it by next week) or too loose (no end date, or too far in the future), it is important to work out a date that you want to achieve something. You might even link it to a specific event (by the time your birthday comes around, or by the time the end of term happens). Having a fixed endpoint can help to focus some of the attention, and help you to aim for something concrete. And it allows you not to drift, or to not take it seriously – after all this is your happiness or well-being!

So to recap:

  • Narrow your goal down so that you know what to focus on – don’t waste time on a goal that is too broad.
  • Keep track of any progress you make – it is important to recognise how far you get.
  • Work at something realistic – it could be slightly outside of your ability or comfort zone but within your reach if you push yourself
  • YOU need to decide what is a meaningful goal – this increases your chance of keeping at it, rather than feeling like you are being told to do something.
  • Give yourself an endpoint to work towards – this avoids becoming too relaxed or too rigid

If you need support with achieving your life goals or to create a plan that works for you, reach out and see how counselling could help.

Take care.

How meditation reminded me to release the tension

As in my previous post – getting back into meditation has reminded me of two things. The first was addressing and working with the judgement of starting again. One of the types of meditation I do (and generally quite a common meditation) is simply focusing on my breath. And that’s never straightforward – I find that it takes me a while (weeks, if not months) to really get into the habit of it. And even then, it isn’t for a long period at all. But each time I refocus on my breath and start again; however, there has been something else that I noticed.

Even when I try and focus on my breathing, I might still feel tension in my shoulder or back or jaw. I’ve noticed that I actually have to focus, first, on consciously and purposely relaxing my muscles, starting with the main ones. And once I am physically relaxed (and I could always keep going with it) I then bring my attention to my breath. If I am able to do that, I find that the whole experience is more satisfying.

It reminds me that we carry a lot of tension in our body without even realising it. I could talk about the need to spend more time focusing on physical health and body posture, but for now it’s a simple reminder that tension needs to be actively addressed. We become so familiar with the tension that we don’t even recognise it until it grows into a headache or we become unwell.

Our emotional and physical states are so intimately connected. If we want to stand the best possible chance of feeling better emotionally, we need to remember to get ourselves into a physically calmer state. And if we can get into a habit of remembering to relax our shoulders, un-clench our jaw, un-furrow our eyebrows… we might notice that the emotions, too, become more relaxed. It is then that we can set our intentions – this could be focusing on the breath during a meditation, or it could be about addressing those other issues.

Don’t let the unconscious tension in your shoulders be a barrier to you meeting your needs and feeling better. When we are more aware of how we feel (physically and emotionally) we are more able to change our behaviour and bring attention to something more useful and more helpful.

Photo by Kelvin Valerio from Pexels

How Meditation Reminded Me We Can Start Again

I am a big advocate of meditation and have tried a number of apps over the years. I have settled on a couple that I use regularly, interchangeably, depending on which ‘narrator’ or theme I fancy that day or week. Sometimes I practice a Loving Kindness meditation (Metta); sometimes I find a great deal of usefulness in being guided to focus on my breath; sometimes I focus on the ticking of the large wall clock behind me.

Recently, when I have meditated I have been reminded of two things – one of which I will write about here. It is not a great epiphany, nor is it an original thought. But I have connected the dots between meditation and the idea of starting again.

One of the meditation apps includes discussions on meditation, and reiterated the idea that – if focusing on your breath – if your attention drifts to something else or you notice yourself thinking… you just bring your attention back to the breath. And, most importantly, start again with no judgement. Each time we find ourselves focusing on what to cook for dinner, or thinking about the deadline we have coming up, it is a reminder that we can simply bring our attention back to the breath. Each time we notice it, it is a chance to start again. No judgement.

This is a simple, yet overlooked mindset that we should apply to our personal lives. It is incredibly powerful to realise and remind ourselves that at any point we can start again. Or, arguably, we can simply start.

One of the common obstacles in the counselling room is the judgement that the person cannot start again with that goal they had; they can’t just change how things are; they do not allow themselves to do something differently; start again with a new project. The list is long. And I always notice – as does the person sitting opposite me – how much better things would be if it wasn’t for the judgement of starting again.

Yes – there might be practical elements to consider when starting again. And I do not minimise the struggle of doing so. What I argue for is challenging the idea that starting again is a negative thing, a sign that we have failed or that we are not good enough.

Some of the conversations that I have are about challenging the ideas and beliefs that someone might hold that prevents them from growing, moving forward, or being happy.

We create obstacles that, with a bit of prompting, we realise only we can remove. Counselling helps to challenge those beliefs and find a new way of being, and gives you permission to step into a new life – one that is free of judgement and constraint.

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Reparenting – What We Missed As Children

It is important to stress that this is in no way a criticism of anyone’s parenting – this is about acknowledging what we missed when we were young and finding a way to give it to ourselves. It might even be about giving ourselves permission.

It is also important to stress that parenting is difficult at the best of times – the simple act of managing the logistics and practical side of things, let alone making sure that we are addressing the emotional development of someone who is fragile, who depends on us for everything… is not a straightforward task. And that is why it is very likely that our parents (and we will) get things wrong.

In doing the best we can, and in putting our energy into a select number of things (we only have limited time, attention, energy), we are inevitably going to forget to do something else. Sometimes that means we forget to reassure our children; sometimes it means we forget to give them unconditional love; sometimes it means we scold them more than we would like. The list will grow the older they get. Similarly, our parents would have done the same.

Unfortunately, in doing what they thought best – in trying as hard as they could – they neglected a few things. And those things stick with us over time, and become our beliefs about ourselves (e.g. we need to be a certain way to receive praise) or others (e.g. people are unreliable). Until it becomes an issue, we don’t always have the space to question those beliefs, let alone choose new ones. And so we go through life compromising our values, giving in to those insecurities and needing approval of others; or we never allow ourselves to accept or receive love; or we pretend to be something that we are not.

Once we acknowledge what we didn’t have as children – which is a difficult task in itself – we can see patterns in our current behaviour. And from here we can start to make real changes. It is then about finding a way to give ourselves the very things we didn’t get as children – emotional warmth, praise, reassurance, acceptance, comfort, safety, love.

Counselling is the space to explore what we experienced as children from a compassionate point of view – it is never about blame. It is important to process the feelings that come up and then move towards giving ourselves that very thing we missed. What can sometimes manifest as unhealthy or unhelpful ways of coping, is simply our younger selves doing whatever it takes to get our needs met. With a new awareness, we can work through healthy and helpful ways to give ourselves those things we crave. There is often apprehension or resistance, but with practice it becomes a new belief and way of being.

It is vital that we pay attention to those feelings, those needs, and find ways to give ourselves permission to heal and feel satisfied and happy with who we are.

Why communicating with others can be so difficult

I am often reminded of the difficulty in communicating our needs, and getting the response that we wish for. I speak with a lot of people who talk about not feeling understood by others. Or they feel that their feelings are being dismissed, ignored or made to feel unimportant. It is a profoundly difficult task – to speak with someone we are close with and get the response that we are hoping for. My experience tells me that there are four main points where this could fall apart.

1. The first and second part are quite similar yet discrete. To be able to communicate our needs we need to first know how we are feeling. And that is not at all simple. It is all too common to be aware of what we are thinking but less common to know what we are feeling. I love working with people where this is the focus, because it is under-rated and overlooked. It often takes people by surprise. “I feel bad” — but what does that really mean? Is it loneliness, rejection, sadness, fear, concern? And how do you know that? How does it feel in the body? Counselling is a great place to build a useful emotional vocabulary and bodily awareness, which leads onto the second point.

2. Communicating our needs also requires the right words, timing and presentation. We need to explain it well so that someone else can stand a better chance of understanding us. You might know that feeling intimately, that it is a sadness that needs reassurance from a parent. But you can’t find the right words. This can often be quite straightforward – working out what to say so that there’s a clear explanation for how you feel and what you need. It could also be about developing perspective so that you know how and when to speak to someone. I always advocate for speaking with partners, family members or friends during ‘peacetime’, when things are calm and quiet – use that time to outline how you feel when they offer solutions instead of reassurance or just listening, and give them guidance of what would help you.

3. The other person (or people) now need to hear you, and understand you. And, at this point, there is not a whole lot we can do if we have already found the words that fit, and spoken to them away from highly emotional situations. This is definitely a point where the communication can go wrong, and it seems mostly out of our control. What we can do is to gently correct them. If they use words that we haven’t used, or label feelings that don’t quite sit with what we are experiencing then it is important to say so. The difficult part is that it is now about thinking on your feet, and avoiding phrases like, “No you got that wrong” or “No, you don’t get it”. This is about a collaboration, not about pointing fingers or widening the gap between the two of you. Work out where the misunderstanding is and help them to make sense of it.

4. We now hope that the other person will respond in a way that helps us to feel understood, important and accepted. There is a great video called “It Is Not About The Nail” that beautifully illustrates that, sometimes, all we need is someone to listen to us and not offer solutions. Being given answers for what we should or could be doing can leave us feeling disempowered. I saw a post from a father a while back (I wish I could link to it) that outlined the three ‘responses’ he offers his daughters: Do you want me to just listen? Do you want me to offer guidance? Do you want me to get involved? It is so simple but would solve many of the issues with communication. We think we know what the other person needs, but sometimes it is perfectly OK to ask them. Similarly, it is perfectly OK to tell someone what you need — “I have an issue that I want to talk to you about. I need you to just listen please”.

It is not an easy task, but if we can spend time practising how to do each of the steps, and involving a partner or family member, we stand a better chance of being understood and getting the response we are hoping for. Being in dialogue with others can be tricky, let alone when emotions are high. Try and find a way to express yourself and get the support that you need.

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

The Allure of the Easy Option

We are presented with options throughout our daily life – whether to hit the snooze button (again) or to tell the truth; whether to have another piece of chocolate or to ask that friend for that money that they borrowed. These may be small decisions or we could perceive them as significant. We could perceive them as non-threatening to our wellbeing, or we might fear that they are going to have an impact on us that we would rather avoid. Without thinking about it, we weigh up the option of doing or not doing something; of doing it one way or another. And it is a skill, to critically look at something and think – really think – about what the options mean for us, and why are those options made available and nothing else? We have a very subjective and narrow perspective on things, which means we interpret things in a very specific way, based on our own experiences and beliefs – and the truth is we are very prone to getting things wrong.

We do not always think or behave in our best interest. And this is one trick to making better decisions – we need to ask a better question.

We tend to ask questions like, “What do I want right now?” and often the answer is The Easy Option.

What we often want, in the moment, could be more food; to sleep in longer; to avoid that awkward conversation; to stay up later and play games; to check the lights are off one more time; to just watch one more video; to leave revision to the last minute; to not get ready until the last minute; to avoid going to that party.

Giving in to these primal needs often confirms the anxiety that we are trying to battle (avoiding something because it feels awkward or makes us feel anxious), or it allows us to give in to instant gratification and immediate needs (I’ll have one more piece).

It is often easier to have ‘one more’ than it is to refrain entirely or to eat in moderation. It is often easier to leave revision to the last minute than starting a few months before an exam. It is often easier to just avoid meeting new people than to put ourselves through the stress and anxiety of introducing ourselves and risk getting it wrong or being laughed at.

“What do I want?” often allows us to take the easy option, and avoid pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone; it does not give us the chance to flex our social skills or to develop our abilities along the way (resisting more biscuits, tolerating the discomfort of NOT checking the lights again, sitting with those awkward feelings). Because the truth is that we can sit with those feelings. Choosing the easy option fools us into thinking we are weaker than we actually are. Each time we avoid something, we trick ourselves that it really is that scary; each time we reach for that extra biscuit we confirm that we could not have resisted it. And the cycle continues.

So what can we ask ourselves if not “What do I want?”. I think healthier and better questions to ask ourselves are, “Is this helpful?” or “What do I need right now?”. Immediately, it bypasses the instant want for more sugar, less work, more social isolation.

What I want

VS

What I need / what is helpful

To stay in bed until the last minute

VS

To get ready with plenty of time so that I am not stressed

To have more biscuits and chocolate

VS

To moderate what I eat; to actively choose what I eat tonight

To avoid socialising or meeting new people

VS

To remind myself that meeting new people is good for me, and not that bad

To stay quiet and not ask for help because that would be embarrassing

VS

To reach out to that friend; to call someone; to ask for help.

To tell a lie, to tell a half truth, to avoid confrontation

VS

To be honest; to be assertive; to be true to myself

So is it as simple as changing the questions we ask ourselves and things will magically change? No. But it is a simple trick that will refocus our attention on something that is more useful. It allows us to focus on what is important rather than giving in to the anxiety or the instant ‘need’ for something that is not necessarily going to help us.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with another biscuit or having a lie in (I’m prone to both), but if we can be more reflective, it will allow us to consciously choose behaviour that is in our best interest. We need to find moderation, develop compassion, and be our own cheerleader and coach. Especially when times are hard.

It’s about finding a balance between forgiving ourselves and about challenging ourselves. So next time, just pause and ask yourself if what you are about to do is in your best interest, if it is helpful and what you need in that moment. As always, small steps.

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash