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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.


*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


What to do in an Emergency!


This morning while preparing a workbook for a client, I came across an old worksheet that I’d created for another client.  I was feeling messy, disorganised and overwhelmed and the questions on the worksheet hit me square in the face.  A little voice said ‘This is what you need – right now!‘  So I delayed work and took ten minutes to do the worksheet. Here are my answers.

Q1: Describe in one sentence what is making you feel overwhelmed.

I feel overwhelmed because I feel I have so much stuff to do but am not organised so don’t know what to do.

Q2:  When you are feeling overwhelmed what thoughts keep running through your mind? Identify words, phrases, ‘shoulds’ & ‘whys’ that you keep repeating to yourself.  What do you keep saying over and over to yourself when you feel overwhelmed? Write these down.

It’s all such a mess.

I’m so disorganised.

I’m wasting time and time is so precious.

What can I do?

What should I do?

I can’t cope with all the clutter.

I’m so useless.

Here I am again!

I’ll never have a successful  business if I don’t sort this out.

I’ll never sort this out!

Q3: Take each one of these thoughts and rephrase it in a more positive, accepting, compassionate way.  This will be difficult, and you will probably not want to do this.  Step over this resistance, and force yourself to do it. Tell your gremlins, or your inner critic to back off.  If you are still fighting it, just do one.  But make sure it is your most dominant thought in times of overwhelm. [I just did two combined into one]

Overwhelmed thought: ‘It’s all such a mess, I’m so disorganised.’

Rephrased thought: ‘ I’m feeling disorganised and overwhelmed with the mess around me and my To Do list – and that’s OK. It’s only natural to have times every now and then when things get chaotic.  Instead of running around like a crazy thing in a panic, I can remember to breathe.  I can notice the spring flowers and the blue sky, the bright sunlight streaming through my office window and the hum of a distant lawnmower.  I can let peace and gratitude into my heart in this moment. I can nourish my soul and use my intuition to take a first small step . Compassion and action will help me. When I feel stronger I can work out how to be and feel more organised and gain more daily clarity. For the moment I am feeling calmer and happier – and that’s OK too.

Q4:  Finally, look at your rephrased, kind and positive thoughts and try and pull them together into one general statement that you can use in times of stress, anxiety and overwhelm.  You can still use all the rephrased thoughts aswell but it is useful to have one ‘motto’ which you find easy to remember when you need it most.  Below are a couple of examples:

I don’t want to be perfect.                                          I am doing a good job, keep going.

Take your time and prioritise.                                  Take a deep breathe and be kind to yourself.

My motto for today: Take a deep breath, notice the moment, and the world around you and be kind to yourself. You don’t always need to be in control….let it go….

Strangely this worked wonders.  It took the pressure off and I started thinking and feeling ‘Oh, it’s ok to feel overwhelmed sometimes. That’s alright then. Maybe I can just start with making some notes on a new blog post.’

When we do feel low, anxious, stressed or overwhelmed we often get stuck in our negative thoughts which makes the situation worse.  Accepting the situation for what it is – not what it could lead to and what it means about us – and distancing ourselves from it allows the judgements and the pressure to dissolve.  Not completely perhaps, but reducing it enough for us to take care of ourselves and get back on track.



Pay Yourself First

It’s Sunday and my favourite treat is a lazy morning reading in bed before breakfast. My husband and our youngest son go off to rugby training around 9am so the freedom of a few hours to ‘get things done’ mixed with the spring temperature and nourishing sunshine is inspiring me to start on some long neglected household chores, while my eldest two children do their homework.

As usual my head is buzzing with all the things I could do which would make me feel so much better – more organised and in control and hence lighter, more confident and happier. I could crack on with ironing the pile of school uniform. I could sort out our bulging ‘bits and bobs’ drawer, or do a spring clean of my wardrobe. I could cook healthy snack for the week, or do a bit of gardening.

But something stops me. I have a question for myself. Is it time to pay myself first?

My latest book is about creativity, by Dr Eric Maisel and quite honestly it has led to a huge shift in my thinking about myself, my own creativity, my bouts of depression and ultimately my happiness. He believes that creative people – whether they are artists, sculptors, musicians, scientists, chefs, writers or indeed anyone who has an urge to create things and be innovative – have a stronger need to make meaning in their lives. When this need is not met, depression all too easily creeps in. For me this explains so much about what I’ve struggled with during my life.

It’s taken 41 years for me to realise I am creative. Duh!

It’s taken 41 years and a lot of heartache for me to realise that my constant striving to create a successful career/coaching business is not the result of me needing to ‘prove’ myself to others but a powerful need to create a meaningful life and make a difference.

It’s taken me 12 years to realise that my dreams of creating a happy healthy family are not just an element of my perfectionist behaviour but also an innermost urge to do goings my way, to create a new (maybe better?) way of bringing up a family. Of creating compassionate, courageous, emotionally intelligent children who are more confident and happy than I have been. It’s a sign of my creative side that I want to be rebellious and innovative and not just accept that just because this is how everyone else does it, that I should too.

Dr Maisel advises that if you are a creative person like me, and I’m sure like many of you reading this, you should get your creativity done first. Do it first thing, when you get up. Pay yourself first. Put your oxygen mask on first, in order to help others.

So this morning I paid myself first. I’d been thinking of how to get my children, especially my older two to raise their expectations of what a Sunday is for. After homework, their goal seems to be centred around how many hours they can link on Minecraft or Clash of Clans on their iPods. During my peaceful breakfast sitting outside in the sun, listening to the birds I created what my daughter Jasmine labelled as a ‘habit planning goal tool’. (Photo)

I then resisted the strong urge to get on and get stuff done and sat down to write this. I haven’t written much on my blogs over the last year, and it feels good. Very meaningful to me. And hopefully insightful for you. Thank you for reading.



How Could I Forget the Most Important Happiness Habit?

The trouble with being a perfectionist is that can make you very insular and inward looking.  Perfectionists are usually concerned with how well they are performing in their lives and how they look to others.  Sometimes we get so obsessed with ourselves and how to be perfect that we forget the basic priorities in our lives.

Over the last few months I’ve forgotten to make time for my friends.   It’s a basic happiness habit that I am well aware of.  People who spend time with friends and family, nurturing and enjoying their most important relationships are happy. However,  I seem to have withdrawn myself from my friends recently…not intentionally as such… but in an attempt to focus on my family, I’ve neglected my connections to my most important friends.

Last week however I got back on track.

On Monday I spent the day with a good friend taking the kids out for inset day. It was raining but we still had a picnic in the park, complete with fresh air and mud, wet bottoms and flasks of tea.

On Tuesday my husband worked from home and we popped out for a quick lunch together to plan the year ahead.

On Wednesday I spoke to an inspiring group of business women who I have become friends with over the last year, and who, when I announced I would be writing a book this year, gave me the most amazing support and advice.

On Thursday I spoke to my best friend in Australia for the first time in about 3 months. We are planning a trip to see them next month.

On Friday I went out to the local pub with a group of girlfriends that I love, but don’t see enough (my fault!), where the laughter, banter and support nourished my soul.

And finally on Saturday, I spoke to some other friends who have just moved to Perth, and caught up with all their news.  We are planning to see them next month too.

For the rest of the weekend I had a spring in my step, joy in my heart, and a seemingly never-ending supply of patience.  In other words, I was happy.

It was an important lesson that has reminded me to make time to nurture my friendships this year.


How Was it for You?

The Jolly-Bynes at The Olympic Park

How have your summer holidays been?

Some mums love the holidays, enjoying the freedom and lack of school runs, ferrying children to clubs, packed lunches and ironing school uniform.  Others dread the seemingly endless hours that need to be planned, organised,  and ‘got through’ without much of a break or time to recharge.  I seem to vacillate between the two, loving it one morning, frustrated the next.

The two things I struggle with most over the school summer holidays are the constant mess and the repetitive, needless arguments.

The never-ending mess that my children make, and the noise and anger they express when they are arguing really affect me.  However much I try not let it get to me it seems to tip me towards feelings of overwhelm and stress.  Basically, they make me feel like I’m out of control.

You would have thought that after 10 years of parenthood I would have got used to these feelings – after all children seem to be designed to make you feel out of control.  But I suppose I have to accept myself as I am, without judgement and keep trying compassionately to work out ways to improve.

Over the last year what I’ve learnt from my new mindfulness practice has helped me to react more calmly and carefully, and cope with noisy and messy situations better. I am also trying to ‘get comfortable with the discomfort’, which means acknowledging what is going on, and focussing on the feeling rather than trying to change it. This is as difficult for a beginner as it sounds, so I’m not having a huge amount of success!

Overall though, my school holiday’s have gone well. We didn’t kill each other and actually had some fun. The Olympics were amazing, and we were lucky enough to take the kids so see 3 events – although they did get fed up with me saying:  “But it’s the Olympics. In London! Never again in your lifetime!”

As always the summer flew by and I can’t believe they are back to school next week.

It would be great if you could comment below on what you love and hate about the school holidays and what strategies you use to get the most out of them.

Thank You.


Why Happiness is a Necessity for Mums

As a happiness coach, I’m passionate about the many benefits of being happy.

More and more research is showing that being happy leads to people being more creative, more resilient and more successful. Happy people perform better, have better social lives, longer marriages and are healthier too.

So why do so many people – especially mums – think that their personal happiness is not important?

I think this is because firstly our society doesn’t put a high value on happiness – prefering to measure success in terms of career, money, celebrity and power. Secondly, mums are used to sacrificing a lot for their children – sleep, time, social lives, careers, flexibility….the list goes on – so sacrificing their own happiness becomes accepted as just what mums do.  We tend to think of  actively seeking happiness as being an indulgence.

But things are slowly changing.  A new area of psychology- Positive Psychology  – is now looking at what makes people happy rather than how to stop people feeling ill & depressed.  What researchers have found over the last 20 years has been amazing. Not only is happiness evolutionarily necessary (it helped our ancesters invent new tools, be creative and develop more physical and mental resilience) but the key things that contribute to happiness are the simple, everyday things that are accessible to all of us.  You’ll be glad to know that money, celebrity and power are nowhere on the list.

Being a happy mum helps us to nurture happier children who have a better start in life, and develop a mindset and set of skills that help them throughout their lives.  So being a happy mum is not an indulgence, it is a necessity if you want your children to have a happy and successful life.   That’s all a mum really wants for her children isn’t it?


Stop Resisting

So, I was having a bad day. The car broke down and had to be towed away for the second time in a week. I missed a meeting, the kids were grumpy and argumentative, I felt guilty for giving the kids chocolate biscuits again, the fire alarm kept beeping and I couldn’t make it stop, and I found myself thinking that the whole day had been waste of time.

Try as I might I couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that because I hadn’t actually achieved anything, then it meant that not only did the day score low on the worthwhile scale, but so did I. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was somehow of lesser value because I hadn’t accomplished enough with my time that day. It sounds crazy I know, but trying to rationalise it away didn’t seem to help. The fact that I had a bad day meant not only that I felt bad but that I was bad.

Even when I told myself that actually, most of the component parts of the day (even the two hours waiting for the tow truck) were ok, and that I hadn’t got particularly stressed or upset or frustrated throughout the day it didn’t seem to help.

And when I told myself that actually I have achieved a lot today (fed, clothed, cared for and loved 3 children) it still didn’t make me feel any better about myself.

But then – eventually – I remembered what I’d learnt in my mindfulness classes about not resisting my negative feelings and thoughts, but simply letting them come and then go. To be able to experience them without judgement and let them pass through me.

So I said to myself: “I am feeling upset and a bit inadequate because I didn’t get done what I wanted to get done today, but that’s ok. I’m allowed to feel that.”

And do you know what? The bad feelings just floated away.

I accepted them without judgement and they floated away.


What are you Grateful for Today?

I was chatting to a friend after the school drop off this morning and we ended up talking about how lucky we are that we have children, and that they are healthy and happy.  Driving home I started to think more about what I was grateful for about my children and how – despite (or perhaps because of) all the challenges they provide – they help me to constantly improve and learn to become a better person.

Today I give thanks to my children for being feisty and funny, crazy and chaotic, sensitive and insightful, and for putting up with an often grumpy but ultimately dedicated and loving mum.

What are you grateful for today?


Want to Increase your Willpower?

Do you have much willpower? How easy do you find it to leave the wine unopened in the fridge on a week night? How often do you succumb to a sugary snack mid afternoon when you promised yourself you wouldn’t? Have you come to the conclusion that you actually don’t have much willpower at all?

Well, I’ve recently learnt that willpower is not something that we have lots of or not. Researchers studying willpower (which is another name for self-control) have concluded that it is like a muscle. It gets tired and it’s energy gets used up, which means that we don’t have access to the same quantity and quality of willpower at all times throughout the day or week, just like our physical strength varies at different times. So this will explain why we open the bottle of wine when we’ve spent the day trying not to lose it with an obnoxious work colleague, or why we shout at the kids when we’ve spent all day avoiding bad food. Willpower is finite. It needs to be recharged. So next time you shout at yourself for not having any willpower, pat yourself on the back and acknowledge all the ways you have controlled your impulses already that day, and focus on recharging your willpower batteries instead.

What recharges them – well sleep and glucose. But that doesn’t mean reaching for the sugar because the ensuing sugar low makes things even worse. Eat healthy slow release carbs and proteins and make sure you don’t go hungry.