Monthly Archives: March 2016

14Mar/16

How Available Are You?

EFFECT OFnot setting Boundaries

 

A couple of weeks ago, on a video blogging course*, I was catching up with a good friend in a break and she said something along the lines of, ‘I’ve decided to be less available to people’.

Now, she’s a very good friend who I respect hugely and have learnt a great deal from but my first thought was ‘Woah there!  You can’t say that!’  To me the phrase felt really…well ‘icky’.  It felt selfish and arrogant and ‘just not British’.  But my friend is not the slightest bit selfish, or arrogant, and she’s definitely British – so I knew that there must be something more to this statement. We chatted some more and I asked her questions, delving deeper into what she meant, and how she practiced not being so available.

By the end of the conversation I had come up with an explanation that didn’t challenge me – i.e my ego –  so much.  It was all about boundaries.  Phew, this was a concept that I was comfortable with, and one which I had been learning about over recent months with regards to my own life.

Setting appropriate boundaries around our time, demands and relationships is an important part of maintaining a strong, resilient, efficient and compassionate self.  In other words, happiness is only possible if we set appropriate boundaries.  If we are constantly doing things for other people without limits, without doing things that recharge and nourish ourselves, then we will eventually grow drained, resentful and possibly bitter – however much we love those who are doing the demanding, or however much we love the cause that we are giving so much to.   It’s like the safety warnings on aeroplanes: always fit your own oxygen mask before helping others.  Brene Brown has a wonderful video on this.

But over the next week I kept thinking about this conversation and started getting curious as to why I had had such a strong reaction to the idea of restricting my ‘availability’ to others.  The strong reaction was a clue that my ego was involved, and if so, then there was probably something important that needed to be explored here.

What my ego was saying when my friend said  ‘I’ve decided to be less available to people’ was: ‘Eeeekk, don’t say that!  Who do you think you are, choosing to put yourself before others!? You are here to please other people because that is how you get other people to like you, and approval is what keeps you and me safe! That’s how the world works. Don’t you dare do that Thea, or we are toast!’

Luckily, I knew my friend enough to be conscious to the fact that it was my ego who was the one I wasn’t in congruence with, not her.  As usual, my ego’s strong reaction was teaching me something.  I’ve learnt to take heed when I get a reaction like this.  What was going on?

What was going on, I realised, was that I do make myself available to people, especially my family, more than is perhaps healthy for me.  I don’t put in enough boundaries that would protect my energy, allow me to recharge, and enable me to create more fulfilment in my life.

One example of this is the after school routine.  Since my eldest son is 14 next week, the after school routine goes on till around 9ish when he goes to bed. So that’s 6 hours of being completely available for my children.  I don’t do much for myself in those hours and seem to pander to their every need. If you came to my house and watched me, it wouldn’t seem that I was ‘under their thumb’ so to speak because I do have enough boundaries in place to feel like I’m in charge, or at least things are running to my agenda.  I’m not a wet blanket, I expect my children to do chores, to listen to me and do as I say.  I stand up for myself when my kids are disrespectful. I always – I mean always – prioritise kindness in their behaviour.  But then, why am I so mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted at the end of the day, most days?   It’s because the boundaries I’ve set are not working for me.

I noticed this last week that I am so much more available for them than I realised, that my boundaries are clearly not strong enough.  I drop what I’m doing for them – accompanied by an irritated ‘Wait a second!  I’m just finishing this‘. [there’s a weak boundary clue] –  and am available for them within a minute or so.  I walk from room to room when they call me.  I let them interrupt me and gain my attention whatever I’m in the middle of.  And I let them negotiate and influence my decisions all the time.  All in the name of being nice. Of keeping the peace, not threatening the fragile harmony that might exist. This is because my ego and I have learnt over the years that conflict and arguments are uncomfortable and draining for me – but what I didn’t realise was that this constant keeping the peace and being available to their every need is draining me so much more.

And after this realisation I went to bed and lay there thinking.  I tried to do a quick gratitude mediation but kept getting distracted.  What was I thinking about?  Bloody Facebook.  What that friend has shared; how that article looked interesting, would I remember to read it tomorrow; what that person who I no longer see and don’t have much in common with was saying about her life.  Totally irrelevant and superficial stuff completely unnecessary to my life, especially at bedtime when I wanted to switch off, get myself relaxed and feel grateful for my life.   Why do I choose to let all these other people’s thoughts and opinions and lives come into my life?  Why do I give them priority over what I know is more important to me?

It’s all about setting appropriate boundaries and being aware of what we are letting into our minds.  Our thoughts are the most powerful things we have and we are letting them get hijacked by everything and everyone around us regardless of what we really want.  Yes, I do want to be available for my kids, but now they are older, this dynamic needs to shift.  Yes, I do want to keep connected to friends and find inspiration on Facebook but I need to work out times when doing so works for me rather than taking my energy and attention from things that really nourish me.

So that’s what I’ll be working out over the next few weeks – what new boundaries do I need to build to support and nourish me in the next phase of my life.

I’d love to hear what boundaries work for you, or where you’ve realised that you need to set new ones. How do you feel about the phrase ‘being less available for people’.  Please comment below or get in touch.

Thea

*For my new video series, Practicing Happiness, please visit my YouTube Channel. For more information about video blogging see The Vlog Academy.

 

 

Written at home, at my husbands desk, being pestered by two curious kittens while listening to Explorers, The Globalist, The 2nd Law, by Muse. That’s me, not the kittens listening to Muse. I have my headphones on.

very cute kitten

04Mar/16

The Secret to Inner Happiness that We Keep Ignoring

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The secret to inner happiness is very simple.  It’s such a simple concept but it’s really hard to grasp and understand with our heads and our hearts. We need to know this secret in our bones for it to work. That’s the difficult part, but the idea is simple.  Here it is:

There is Nothing Wrong with You!

Yes You!   You, the one who keeps trying to improve herself, thinking ‘If only I learnt how to do this, think this, lose this weight, earn more money, then I’ll be OK. Then I’ll be happy. Then I’ll be worthy.  Then people will approve of me. Then everything will be ok. Then I can be me.’

Please, for the love of God, let all that go!  It’s a load of shit!   None of that stuff will make any difference because the voice in your head that is telling you you are not good enough now, will still be there telling you you aren’t good enough when you’ve published your book, found your dream partner, been promoted or made a million pounds.

That voice is trying to keep you safe.  It’s not evil, but it is manipulative, cunning, sneaky and bloody determined to keep you small.  Every day you go about your day with good, kind, worthy intentions but get  bombarded with feedback which paints a picture of a You that is frustrating and disappointing.  You know it’s not the real you, because you have so many hopes and dreams. You know you are a good person, but the constant chatter telling you that you slipped up again, that you are not as thin and fit as X, and not successful as Y, and have children who behave far worse than about every other family you know, gets into your skin and bones. It begins to feel real, even when you know it isn’t.   Unfortunately feeling – because it is embedded with strong emotions – has a stronger effect on us than cognitive reason and intellectual knowing.

I can’t remember the number of times over the last few years I’ve said to people – friends, therapists, coaches – “I know it rationally but I don’t feel it. I don’t feel it in my bones*. My body doesn’t know it.”

For example I know that I am the best mum that my children could ever have.  No one else could do the job because they need ME.  I know that intellectually, rationally, even in my soul, but emotionally I keep getting pulled back to all those times the voice in my head (and perhaps other external voices) told me I wasn’t a good enough mum, and I believed that instead because the emotions make it more real. It’s like I have many emotional reference experiences of feeling like a bad mother, but not so many of emotionally celebrating and acknowledging being a fabulous, loving, perfect-for-my-children mum.

This is how our brains work. They are programmed to sense danger, to notice things that are wrong (it’s called the negativity bias in psychology circles – here’s an article about it and other things our brains have evolved to do.) so we mustn’t get annoyed with it. We just need to be aware of it, and accept that it is normal.  Then when it happens we can laugh and say: “Whoops, I’m getting all caught up in that one mistake because of the negativity bias. I’m forgetting all the good stuff that happened today, let’s focus on that instead.”

So how do we get to feel in our bones that there is nothing wrong with us?  How do we know emotionally that we are good enough already?   As I said, this isn’t an easy or prescriptive thing.

It’s taken me 5 years of mindfulness and happiness practice and courageous opening up to myself to get to the point where I could finally let go of what my ego was telling me would prove I was ok.  I got to the point where I had learnt so many things which had helped me in lots of ways, but still my ego was in charge of the feelings in my bones! What finally worked for me was to let go of all the things I was clinging onto.  I’d been desperately clinging onto the idea that having a successful coaching business would prove to me and the whole world that I was worthy and deserved a place on this earth. I had been playing rather unsuccessfully at running a business (or a few different businesses) over the previous 12 years, but always coming from this place of fear and needing to prove myself.  My business and ideas were good, but my motivation was so contaminated by fear and so chained by my fear of letting myself be truly seen that it was always bound to fail.  So I had to give up my stop/start business completely and accept myself without it before I was able to let go of that damaging fear-based ego belief once and for all.

I can honestly say, it was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life.  I felt completely naked. Just me. Just me as a mum and a wife. Just a mum. Just a wife. Shit! I’d been trying to run away from that label my whole life – even before I had children.  Scared the fuck out of me. But I did it because I knew I had to. And over the course of a couple of months I realised that nothing bad actually happened after I’d told people ‘I’m not working.’ ‘No, I have stopped my business.’ ‘I’m in transition at the moment. I need to take a break before I decide what to do.’   I was basically saying to the world:  Look at me. I’m a mum. I’m a wife. I’m me. And I’m ok with that! And I was.  I was ok with being me. Me with no bells and whistles attached proving my worth. Just me. And it felt – it feels – great. I feel liberated. I feel like my cage has gone.  I know there are other smaller cages that my ego still keeps me locked in that I will discover and free myself from as I move through life, but at the moment this has been such a shift in my whole being that I can hardly believe it.

But to be able to let go of this ego-driven goal and belief I also had to connect to my true inner self, so there would be something to take the place of my ego voice and goals. This connection to my true self has come through walking outside, listening to music, mediation and writing. Lots of writing.  I’m still learning to connect with myself – I’m a newbie – but I’m loving learning how to. And the rewards of doing so are so huge: a feeling of peace; increased flow and losing myself in what I’m doing; feeling light-hearted – less serious and heavy; and having more clarity around what I really want to do.

Now I can start my business again without the fear that if it goes wrong I will be a failure, or not worthy of love and belonging.  I feel free to be myself and express myself and try things that I would have been too scared to do beforehand.  I can now dare greatly knowing that I am still the same wonderful person whether I succeed or ‘fail’.  My flaws or failings don’t define me. They make me me.  And owning them makes me braver and ironically more able to succeed in the future. I am building my business from scratch again, but it feels so different to the striving that drove me before – and which wasn’t very successful.  I now feel more creative and expansive.  I am patient and doing this properly rather than desperately wanting everything to happen now!  I know how I want to make my difference and I know I can make it work. I know I can do it my way this time and be successful.

Wish me luck!

 

 

*Brene Brown introduced me to this phrase and I love it.

 

Written at The British Library, London while listening to Muse, Drones and The 2nd Law.