Tim O'Rahilly Life Coaching

Archive for May 2015

Mindful Monday: Self-Confidence.

Do you lack confidence? When we are bombarded with negativity it is easy to wallow in it, either temporarily or over  the long term. Our self confidence can influence every area of our lives from work or study, to relationships and personal success. The way that you see yourself has a huge impact on the way others see you. The more confidence you have, the more others will believe in you and the greater your chance of success will be.

It may seem that many of the things affecting your confidence are outside your control. You may feel the need to get advice from someone else to help you out of this low place. A life coach is a good option as an impartial listener who can guide you towards a more self assured and successful future. There is also much that you can do to improve your own confidence levels and Mindfulness is just one of the many options. Some would say that goals oriented coaching is at odds with Mindfulness and it’s focus on the here and now, but I really believe that the two things can work very effectively side by side.

There are many strategies you can try to increase you self confidence. First and foremost, always have clear goals and visualise what it might look, sound and feel like being the new and self confident you. In order to do this of course you need to believe that you can be confident. Identify your limiting beliefs and negative opinions and be prepared to shed them. If you can only see negative outcomes you will simply reinforce you own well developed, poor self image.

Here are my 10 suggestions for action. Any or all of these will help to reinforce a powerful self image which others will perceive as your new found self confidence.

1. BE HAPPY. Personal happiness is essential to good health and well being. Seek out those things that make you happy and make them happen for you. This can be as simple as a stroll in your garden or park, or even a drink of tea from your favourite cup. Optimism too is a powerful tool that leads to persistence and ultimately to success. Think positively and distract yourself from any grumpy moods by visualising happy memories. Mindfulness meditation can be a powerful facilitator in this.

2. LOOK GOOD. Nobody is more aware of your personal appearance than you are yourself. When you don’t look good, your whole posture changes, as does the way you interact with others. Stand up straight, keep your head up and always make eye contact. This will make a positive impression on others and make you feel more alert and assured. Walking faster will also make you look and feel more important. Of course your appearance will also be enhanced by good grooming and good dress sense too.

“Hold your head high. Stick your chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes but morning comes. Keep hope alive.”

– Jesse Jackson

3. NOURISH AND REWARD YOURSELF. Do you usually vegetate in front of the TV at night? Why not turn it off and engage in activities that exercise your brain cells instead. Reading, crosswords, Sudoku etc. can all help. Eat well and healthily. Treat yourself occasionally, even if it is to your favourite calorie-laden chocolates. When you do, buy the very best you can and really enjoy the quality and flavour.

4. PERSONAL TESTIMONIAL. Be your own motivational speaker and develop your own commercial. Ever heard of a business tool called the Elevator Pitch? Write your own pitch highlighting your best attributes and strengths. Recite it to yourself (in front of a mirror?) whenever you need to boost your confidence.

5. BE GRATEFUL. Sometimes when we dwell on what we want, our minds start to create reasons why we can’t have it and then we start to accept our own weaknesses. The best antidote for this is to set aside time to focus on everything we can be grateful for. Recall happy successful times, great relationships and individual skills. We have all made mistakes and will do so again. Do not judge yourself on the mistakes but how you deal with them. Be careful not to dwell in the past but learn from it.

6 COMPLIMENT OTHERS. When we are in a negative mood ourselves it is easy to see others the same way and we can get drawn into gossip, prejudice and insults. This cycle is easily broken by simply learning to give compliments and praise others. You will become well liked and as you seek the best in others, you will also bring out the best in yourself.

“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”

– Old Irish Proverb.

Of course our relationship with others can be our greatest source of happiness and contentment. Try showing your friends how much you care about them through small, meaningful acts of kindness.

7. SPEAK UP. Public speaking is regularly cited as the biggest fear for most people, We fear making fools of ourselves but in any group, others will be feeling the same, so go for it and try to say something in every group situation. You will be recognised by others as a leader and you will become a better public speaker.

Likewise, how often at school or in the office do we head for a seat at the back, hoping not to be noticed? Choose the front row, feel more confident and be more visible to the important people in the room, e.g. the speaker.

8. LEARN SOMETHING NEW. Make a commitment to learning a new skill or some new knowledge and devote an hour a day to do it. Find time when you can focus without distractions from family, TV or mobile phone. Knowledge breeds confidence.

9. EXERCISE. In the same way as personal appearance can lift our spirits, physical fitness can have enormous impact on our self confidence. We are all well aware that being out of shape can make you feel unattractive, insecure and can be a drain on our energies. Working out or exercising can help in two ways. We can feel energised, have more stamina and improve our appearance. Secondly, the actual discipline of a regular workout will create a positive momentum of its own which helps in so many ways.

We should exercise daily for 20 minutes, in order to release feel-good chemicals into the blood stream. It is also important to get regular, good-quality sleep and daily doses of sunshine (or at least daylight), especially during the winter months.

10. MAKE A DIFFERENCE. It is easy to get caught up in our own desire and become self-centred. if we turn our attention outward and look at the contribution we are making to the rest of the world, it can distract us from our own worries. This could be helping in your own local community where there are many opportunities to volunteer or it can be in the wider global community. This contribution will reward you with personal recognition and success.

If you need any help with confidence issues or developing self-esteem, then these are areas where Life Coaching can definitely support you. Drop me a line, and let’s see what we can do for you.

Mindful May: Mindfulness Meditation

Many people have mixed feelings about the idea of meditation. Some see it as a form of escapism where you sit and empty your mind and think of nothing at all. Others view meditation as a mystical, quasi-religious activity. I was originally a sceptic and I still believe that there is a lot of misinformation about meditation and its uses. Mindfulness meditation however, has been studied closely for around thirty years now and has been well tested in clinical settings.

ccf0200a80a63ec85056662998e0a58eAlthough rooted in the Buddhist tradition, Mindfulness meditation can be used in a completely secular way without any reference to mystical behaviours. Far from training you to think of nothing, Mindfulness meditation teaches you to pay very careful attention to whatever it is that you have chosen to focus on. The first subject is usually your breathing, but once you can experience this attention you can move on to any of your other senses or body parts. As the technique becomes easier you can also begin to focus on your feelings and emotions.

There are two distinct types of Mindfulness meditation: Formal Meditation and Informal Meditation. The second of these may be the more useful technique for long term daily use. I would however suggest that you start with Formal meditation in order to train the mind in the habit of meditation.

Before embarking on any explanation of the two forms I want to clarify my use of the word ‘practise’ in this context. Setting aside all confusion about the use of ‘practice’ or ‘practise’, use of the noun or the verb, or the differences between English or American versions, I am more concerned with the meaning of the word. Yes, at first we will need to practise meditation in order to make the practice of meditation easier. In the first instance we are using the word to imply repeated training to reach perfection in the way that we do something. In Mindfulness meditation there is no requirement to achieve perfection. It is the quality of your experience which matters most. Therefore in this context I am using the word to describe the ongoing use of a technique where you actually engage with your own experience of the meditation.

Formal Meditation

In order to engage in formal meditation you will need to set aside some time to carry out the activity. Only by taking time out from your everyday life can you become more attentive to your own mind. Over time this will train you to be mindful for longer periods of time and to focus more deeply on any habitual behaviours with greater curiosity, tolerance and kindness towards yourself and your current experiences.

Formal meditation is best practiced sitting alone in a quiet,11f003ed73be04af584f36c8b8d03b48 comfortable place with your eyes closed. As previously mentioned it is usual to start by giving attention to your breathing. Focus on how your abdomen moves in and out as you breathe, or how the air flows in and out through your nostrils. Of course other thoughts will pop-up in your mind but you simply return to focusing on your breathing. Try to do this for 10 minutes each day to begin with and the more you do it the easier it becomes to really become attentive to your breathing. Once you are satisfied that you can regularly focus in this way, then you can expand your awareness to include thoughts, feelings or other actions in a mindful way. Formal Mindfulness meditation should be seen as mind training.

Informal Meditation

This is a very different style of meditation where you need no special time or place to enter the meditative state. You can focus your attention in a mindful way while you are carrying out your normal everyday activities. Whether you are walking the dog, cooking the family dinner, or pushing a trolley around the supermarket you can enter the meditative state at any time and in any location. This further trains your mind to stay in the present moment focusing your attention on the here and now instead of drifting back into the past or forward into the future. Informal Mindfulness meditation gives you the means to rest in a mindful state at any time and in any situation.

Now, at the start I mentioned research and those of you who know me will know that I am very much a science guy. If I am to believe in something like Mindfulness meditation I need to at least know a little about how and why it works. Mindfulness has been the subject of study for some thirty years now. It is however in the last decade that advances in imaging techniques have enabled an explosion in neuroscience and have allowed researchers to more accurately observe what the brain is doing during meditation.

In November 2011 a group of researchers published a paper in Perspectives on Psychological Science 6 . Here they suggested that Mindfulness meditation affected some components of attention regulation, emotional regulation, body awareness and changes in our perception of self. The group went on to say that neuroimaging techniques suggest that there were observable “changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network and default mode network structures within the brain”.

Don’t panic. You have not wandered into an episode of Bones, nor do you need to know this stuff. I am simply using this research exemplar to show that Mindfulness meditation does seem to cause observable changes in the brain. It is these kinds of neuroplastic findings which are now feeding into much more in-depth research relating to treatments for mental health disorders.

The current clinical point of view would appear to be that Mindfulness meditation is more effective than some supportive therapies  but perhaps not as effective as traditional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This of course assumes that there is some existing condition which needs treatment. I cannot help thinking that just like exercise or healthy eating, making Mindfulness meditation a part of your everyday life will contribute to the mental and emotional aspects of a healthier you.

Mindful May: Stress Management

“I’m having such a stressful day!”

How many times a day do we hear that said? With all of our worries about money, work and relationships, many people are having to cope with increased stress levels. As a Life Coach I get asked about this more than any other challenging situation. A coach will be able to help you manage your stress or even to harness it so that it helps you. There are also a great many things that you can do to manage your own stress.

Some stress is very important to us. We need to be stressed to some extent in order to drive us on towards our goals. This healthy stress can appear as excitement or enthusiasm, enabling us to achieve goals or meet deadlines. Positive stress is what lifts us out of our comfort zone and gives us the power to achieve greater things.

The negative side of this is not so much stress as distress! This occurs when you become overwhelmed by whatever challenges you are facing, the enormity of which can drain your energy. If not resolved through coping or managed intervention, this distress can lead to anxiety or depression along with a wide variety of physical manifestations.

There is clear evidence that the number of prescriptions for anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac have risen dramatically in recent years. It has been suggested that economic problems are fuelling this rise in depression, since GPs and charities are increasingly seeing people struggling with debt or job worries. Ironically, this increase has occurred alongside government initiatives to increase access to the kind of talking therapies that should in theory reduce the need for prescription drugs. Therapists are increasingly turning to elements of mindfulness in an effort to equip their patients to partially manage their own problems.

Stress is a well researched and well understood state triggering neurological and biochemical processes in the body. These changes must be reversed to defuse the stress and if left unresolved it can cause long term damage to both mind and body.

There are really only two ways to reverse the effects of stress, and ‘working through it’ is not one of them! Firstly, exercise can kick start the body’s return to its unstressed state. Secondly, and not surprisingly, good quality relaxation (including sleep) is a great treatment.

You can develop some simple stress management skills that will come in useful even when you aren’t stressed:

EXERCISE – This has so many benefits. Since stress triggers the primitive ‘fight or flight’ response in our bodies, it makes sense that physical exercise would reverse the process. Many experts agree that regular exercise is a great tool to manage stress. Alongside this, it is important to eat well. During times of stress the body needs the right fuel, but it is in times of stress that we all too easily slip into bad habits such as eating fast food ‘on the run’. Some may rely on alcohol, smoking or even drug taking to ease tension. This may help in the short term, but substance abuse actually induces stress and reduces the bodies ability to bounce back.

RELAXATION – The body does have a natural antidote to stress called the relaxation response. The biochemical benefits of relaxation are a sense of calm and well being which can easily be triggered by any one of a number of relation techniques. Simple breathing exercises in times of stress can help enormously. It is important to build relaxation into your schedule. Listening to calm music, reading a good book, spending time with loved ones or pets, working on a hobby, or having a soak in the bath can all work wonders. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to be of great benefit and I will return to this in another blog.

The most important relaxation tool of all is good quality sleep.

Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along listening to all the things you cant hear, and not bothering.

Pooh’s Little Instruction Book. Inspired by AA Milne.

There are many other techniques to help manage stress. Learn to say no, or know when to seek help with a task or challenge. Be realistic in your expectations of yourself and others – nobody is perfect.

A positive mental attitude can help a lot, so watch what you are thinking and modify your attitude. Develop a sense of optimism and learn to put your causes of stress (stressors) into perspective. One way to do this is to grade your stress on a line from zero to one hundred. Right now your email inbox may be a major stressor but, imagine instead that you are a victim of the Nepalese Earthquakes or living in a war zone such as Syria or Iraq. Where do these sit on your line? 90 to 100? Now where does that full inbox sit – less than 10?

Another approach with this is to look into the future. How much will the contents of your present email inbox matter in five years time?

Stress is a huge challenge for many people. If ignored, it can shorten your life at least as much as heavy smoking! However, it is  easy to manage and control before it deteriorates into physical illness, depression, or mental illness.

There are many examples out there of people who have overcome extreme stress, but if you want to be inspired by an outstanding example I recommend reading Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was sent to Auschwitz during  The Holocaust, and writes movingly about how the attitude of hope can overcome the most extreme forms of stress. I wrote a review of this book for The Coaching Academy online Magazine which you can read here http://www.timorahilly.co.uk/?p=592 When you read his words your problems will suddenly become very small!

If you have any questions or would like any help just contact me at anytime.

Mindful Monday: What is Mindfulness?

In the first Mindful May blog I looked at why I am a positive thinker.fd5202fbe18d1012d71d0450af419a99 In this second posting on that theme I want to look at mindfulness as an important element of that. If you follow my ramble through this coming month of positive musings, you will see that I do not subscribe to any one philosophy in isolation. Instead I draw on a lifetime of self development and pull together a variety of disciplines which help me not just to cope with the modern world but to live in it from day to day. I also firmly believe in moving forward using action oriented goals to work for a better future.

I do not subscribe to the way that mindfulness has been marketed in recent years as some kind of self help commodity. It is not the banal, all encompassing therapy that some practitioners would have us believe. It is no surprise that some critics have labelled it ‘McMindfulness’.

So what is mindfulness? My preferred definition was coined in 2009(Zgierska) as “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”. The word itself is actually derived from the ancient Indian word sati meaning  awareness, attention and remembering, and it is an essential element of Buddhist practice.

In this context, awareness is that aspect of being human which makes you conscious of your experiences. Awareness is what makes things actually exist for you. This awareness is then channeled by attention. This is the element of mindfulness that can be trained so that you are able to sustain your attention however and wherever you choose. The term remembering in this context literally means ‘to be mindful of’ (Latin, re = again and memorare = be mindful of). It is about remembering to pay attention to your experiences from moment to moment.

The practice of mindfulness is now being employed by psychologists to help with a variety of mental and physical conditions. These include stress, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’ve seen mindfulness wheeled out as a ‘cure’ for depression and for drug-addiction. It is not. In these particular cases, what mindfulness seems very good at is preventing relapse.

It would be fair to say that there are as many definitions of mindfulness as there are scholars studying it and for that reason the results can be somewhat subjective. Historically, mindfulness is associated with Buddhism and certainly the training has centred around mindfulness meditation. I do believe that this has an important role to play. However, the association with more esoteric beliefs and even religion may put some people off and put the benefits of mindfulness beyond their reach.

In order to make mindfulness more accessible to all, especially within the field of psychotherapy, researchers have sought to interpret the term into a more measurable form. David S. Black (2011) arrived at three possible domains for mindfulness which might make it more acceptable:

  1. A trait. a dispositional characteristic (a long lasting habit) which enables someone to easily enter a mindful state and to sustain it.
  2. A state. this is an outcome such as being in a state of present moment awareness (usually as a result of mindfulness training).
  3. A practice. This being the actual practice of mindfulness meditation.

So we see that the practice of mindfulness can be perceived as paying attention in a very specific way, as follows:

  • Paying attention: Whatever you choose to be mindful of, you must pay attention to it.
  • In the present moment: Grounding yourself in the here and now by being aware of the way things are, as they are, at this particular moment.
  • Non-reactively: We are conditioned by learning and past experiences to react to anything that we experience. This reaction is automatic and we have little or no choice in the matter. Mindfulness trains you to respond to an experience rather than react to it. Response is a much more considered and deliberate action.
  • Non-judgmentally: Past conditioning also leads us to judge our experiences as good or bad. We either like a thing or we don’t. Mindfulness removes these personal filters and allows us to see things as they are, without judgement.
  • Open-heartedly: This is probably the domain of mindfulness which many have difficulty with when we say that mindfulness is not just about the mind but about the heart too. Importantly mindfulness looks at our emotions and so this is as good a label for that as any other. Being open-hearted in this context simply means bringing warmth, compassion, friendliness and kindness to your experience.

I’ve found many overlaps between mindfulness and other philosophies and disciplines. This is especially so with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and other ‘talking therapies’. In the blog posts which follow I will look at a variety of tools and practices which I have found conducive to a positive outlook on life and a ready smile.

Mindful May: Why I am a positive thinker.

My friends and social media followers are all well aware of my belief in the power of positive thinking. The positive greetings that I post on Facebook every morning now have a regular following. Those messages have become important to me and I know from feedback that many people now look forward to reading them every day.

Capture

Some people have asked me how I always manage to be so positive, especially at six o’clock in the morning. How can I always be happy? The honest answer is that I’m not. Yes, my natural state is a positive and happy one, but I would be lying if I said that I was able to maintain that 24/7. There have been mornings when that positive message has been as important to me as it has been to my followers. Sometimes I need a prompt to get my mind in the right place and my day started on the right track.

Recently I’ve become aware of too many people around me being in a negative state even to the point of despair or depression. The reasons for this are many and I do not intend to go into any great analysis here. Suffice it to say that the fast paced world that we now live in lends itself to stress, frustration, sometimes a feeling of disconnect from the real world. The increase in mental disorders and the high rates of suicides are evidence of this.

Positive thinking is not a cure for these ailments but it can be a tonic that soothes the symptoms. More importantly I believe that positivity can delay or control the onset of real trouble such as clinical depression or some forms of dementia. I repeat however that it is not a cure and telling a clinically depressed person that they just need to be positive shows a complete misunderstanding of their condition.

Positive thinking takes time and effort. Being in a positive state is easy enough to achieve. Getting to the point where that state of mind becomes so natural that it is an ingrained trait takes a little more effort.

So what am I trying to do here? Well, I have devoted over forty years of my life to human development of one sort or another. If you Google ‘human development’ looking for a definition you will be faced with ideas about economic well-being and political maturity. There is even a Human Development Index. My personal definition of human development is something far broader than that. Both as a teacher and as a Life Coach I always believed that it was not my place to provide all the answers or to hand over information or solutions on a plate.

For me, human development is about creating an environment which allows people to reach their full potential and to lead productive, creative lives which are congruent with their needs and their interests. By definition then, human development is about expanding the options available and giving us the ability to make choices which allow us to lead the lives that we value.

All my training, qualifications and experience as a school teacher, counselor, trainer, life coach and NLP Practitioner have brought me to an important understanding. We need to have knowledge of the past but we should not dwell in it or be held back by it. We should look to the future and we must do that with optimistic, positive thoughts. We need to hope for a better future whilst accepting that hope is not a plan. The future we seek must have goals and we must understand the actions needed to move us towards those goals and away from the past. With past and future taken care of, what of the present – the here and now?

Ah, we’ve reached the Mindfulness bit. If we are to start making those wise choices we must be grounded firmly and confidently in the present. Mindfulness can give us the means to manage our emotions, thoughts and sensations as they occur in the present moment.

62e82c4ecdaa7adb73e8c1d4669aea19When I first heard about Mindfulness, I was almost put off it by the way that the New Age leanings of some of its practitioners seemed to be hijacking its real use. More recently, Mindfulness has gained world wide acceptance and popularity. It is used by psychologists in the treatment of a variety of disorders. I do believe that as a practice, Mindfulness has a place in everyday life as part of a battery of resources which can help us to truly know ourselves. Over the coming month I shall take a close look at these resources and see how we might employ them to help us to make some of the important life choices that present themselves to us. We need to be grounded in the here and now, in control, self-confident, positive about the future and mindful of who we really are.

Next time I shall be looking at the practice of mindfulness, its origins and its practical use today.