Climbing Mountains – personal learning and growth

As some of you might know, my ‘other job’ is as a British Sign Language / English interpreter.  It’s an amazing role and often teaches me so much that benefits me in my role as a holistic wellbeing coach.

One recent example of a crossover learning came from reading the interpreting journal that I subscribe to: Newlsi.  A woman called Christina Healy was commenting on growth and learning within the interpreting profession, but it struck me that it could be about so many things, including personal growth.

She wrote:

“[It’s] a bit like we’re climbing an enormous, multifaceted mountain.  We reach summits, gratified to see the distance we’ve come, we traverse plateaus, relaxing into needed rest and rejuvenation and we climb ascents that challenge our perseverance and commitment to growth.”

To me, this describes perfectly the journey of personal discovery, leaning and growth.  Sometimes it does, indeed, feel like a steep climb with lots of rocks and challenges along the path.  At other times we might find the going easier, allowing us to rest and build our strength for the next uphill section.

Another valuable analogy was that we can think the summit is in view only to find, when we reach that point, that there is another, higher peak ahead:

“It can feel like we’ve climbed miles up the mountain, finally breaking through the cloudbank in exultation, only to see [others] ahead who have climbed higher than we imagined possible.  We’ve opened a new Zone of Proximal Development.  We can see the next summit above the clouds, but we don’t yet know how to get there.”

I hadn’t come across the term Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) before so I looked it up:

The zone of proximal development refers to the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner.

https://www.simplypsychology.org/Zone-of-Proximal-Development.html

It’s similar to the concept of the Conscious Competence ladder:

Ms Healy also explained why we can feel competent one day, and the next, feel that we have lost all our skills – and possibly that we never really had them in the first place…

“… the ground that seemed far below has vanished beneath the clouds.  The lowest spot we can see is only inches beneath our feet.  It feels like incompetence has appeared from nowhere!  But perhaps it’s just that we’ve been Unconsciously Incompetent in some aspects of the work, and our new Conscious Incompetence indicates advancement despite the sense of regression.”

I think it is so important to be aware of this!

Often, we are our own worst critic and when we feel moments of doubt our inner voice compounds our discomfort by beating us up about our perceived shortcomings.

I’ve often heard people say that they thought they’d ‘dealt with this issue already’, feeling that they must have failed in some way because it has suddenly ‘reappeared’ in their life.  To me, it can be a positive indication that the person has actually moved to a point where they’re now ready to address a new aspect of the issue – a further peak (challenge) that they now have the strength and skill to climb.

I also regularly encourage clients to pay attention to their self-talk and to catch it when it is being critical.  The first step in making a change is awareness but then we also need to take action.  Knowing that this sense of self-doubt and feeling de-skilled is normal, and that it doesn’t actually mean that we’ve become incompetent, can be so helpful in redirecting our thoughts towards being more self-supportive again.  We can use this information to talk to ourselves as we would to a good friend, reassuring ourselves that this is just a part of the process, and in reality probably means that we’ve moved further along the path than we were yesterday.

As Ms Healy goes on to say, this is uncomfortable and yet valuable, in that it can prompt reflection on our motivations, values and beliefs.  This in itself can be of great assistance in our personal growth, allowing us to reassess Who We Really Are and how we can step more fully into this essence of our deepest Being.

The concept of our ZPD also shows that there will be times along our journey when we can benefit from support and help from others who have more experience.  They can help us to develop the knowledge, skills and resources we need to reach our next peak.

So if you find yourself feeling that you’re stuck, or even going backwards; or that you’ve lost your way and you’re not sure on what your next step should be; or that you just don’t have the strength to move forward, don’t be afraid to reach out for help!  Remember that it’s perfectly ok to feel like this.  It doesn’t mean that you’re weak in any way.  Probably all those ‘successful’ people that you see around you have been right where you are now!  In fact, without these ‘dips’ we wouldn’t feel the challenge that motivates us to change and grow!  Remember that ‘you got this’ – you have the resources within you – and it’s great to ask someone to give you a bit of guidance.  After all, this could be just what they need too, since we really do learn and grow from helping others to find their way:

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The journey

Exploring ways to align with authenticity, integrity and congruence

This journey of Life is such an interesting thing, isn’t it?!  Full of twists and turns that bring lots of opportunities for growth and change.

Some time ago, I would have described things differently!  I would have said that Life was full of ups and downs, and probably many more ‘downs’ than ‘ups’; that it was a struggle and often difficult and uncomfortable.

But I’ve changed 😊

My journey has slowly taught me – or at least my learning and beliefs have taken time to shift – that Life just ‘is’, and it’s my response to it that determines my experience.  Therefore, I can actually choose whether my life will be one of ‘struggle’, or one of valuable learning experiences.

In my ‘other job’, I’ve recently been involved in an ‘ACTivate’ course, here in South Wales.  I’d never heard of this before, but basically it is a 4-week course to support people through learning mindfulness techniques and helping them to develop the skills of Acceptance and Commitment to new practice (the ACT of ACTivate stands for Acceptance Commitment Therapy).

I’ve attended 2 sessions so far, and we’ve been looking at the concept of ‘You are not your mind’ – ie that the mind is only one part of who we are.  It talks to us constantly and it’s impossible to switch it off, however we don’t always have to listen to it.  It has a tendency towards negativity, often being critical and cautious, or even fearful.  But by practicing mindfulness and conscious awareness of our thoughts and responses, we can choose when to listen to our mind, and when to make a different choice on how to act.

I’ve also learnt the truth of the saying that:

Both physical and emotional pain are part of Life.  They can be helpful because they give us information and can help us to avoid further injury, and to learn and grow.

Suffering, however, comes from our response to the pain.  When we fight the pain, trying to resist it, it often actually makes the pain worse, and can add new pain to the original hurt.  If, instead, we can accept that the pain is there, and explore it with curiosity to see what it can teach us, then the suffering is greatly lessened.  We can, in fact, end up being grateful for the pain and the growth that it brings.

Learning and change can be challenging though.  We can find it difficult to change our beliefs and habits, sometimes not even seeing a need for the change.

A recent example of this for me has been highlighted by our move to this new rural location.  It has challenged me in many ways to be more reflective on my choices and to be more conscious of how I ‘walk my talk’, particularly in regards to my relationship with Nature, as this is so much a part of what I do.

I’m exploring ways to be authentic to Who I Really Am, and to live in congruence and alignment with my beliefs.  This is obviously a very individual thing, but the more we can do this, the more we are in balance and can feel comfortable in our own skin, knowing that we are being true to ourselves.

For years I have gradually been trying to be more ‘eco-friendly’ and I thought I was doing pretty well.  Isn’t it interesting how these things happen?  It’s a process really.  You make some changes and think that you’re doing the best you can do, but then as those changes settle in and become your new ‘norm’, you become aware of further adjustments and begin to explore these and eventually take them on as well.

One example is my use of plastic.  I’ve been using my own bags and travel bottle / mug for years but I’m becoming more conscious of other things, such as my toothbrush, plastic vegetable bags at the supermarket, plastic bottles and jars for toiletries, cling film, etc.  As a result, I’ve done some searching and made some new purchases.  The following are some of my recent acquisitions:

coconut fibre pot scrub

alternative to plastic bags

alternative to cling film

alternative to cotton buds

bamboo toothbrush

There are lots of great websites available now for eco-friendly products.  One of the best for avoiding any plastic that I’ve found is: https://www.plasticfreedom.co.uk/ . And if, like me, you’re looking for animal-friendly options, they have a dedicated Vegan section.



Another good site is https://www.nirvananatural.co.uk/ though their range is quite small.



And there’s https://www.peacewiththewild.co.uk/



So Life, to me, is a journey of change, learning and growth.  It’s about exploring our thoughts, emotions and experiences and seeing which ones resonate and support who we want to be – who we really are – and which ones take us further away from this.  We can then choose which ones we want to have more of, and give our energy and attention to these, and which we no longer want to engage with, allowing them to fade out of our lives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you have an experience that you’d like to share, please post in the comments below.

Why are ‘old’ friends so important?

Good friends are just so valuable, aren’t they?!

A much-loved friend of ours, who we haven’t seen in way-too-long, came to stay the night last Friday… and didn’t leave until Monday morning!

Don’t you just love how that can happen?

The original plan was for a catch-up and to show him our new place, but it ended up being a whole weekend of laughs, reminiscing and creating wonderful new memories to treasure.

This got me wondering – what is it about ‘old’ friends that makes them so special?  New friendships are great, but there’s a precious extra dimension to being with someone that you’ve known for years…

I think that, particularly as we get older, it’s nice to have friends that we’ve known for years, who are still in our lives.  It gives us a sense of connection, both to each other and to the past – our past – a shared history.  And if that history involves lots of silly antics and ‘foolish’ things that we might not do now, but can laugh at the memories, all the better.

Human beings are a social species.  We are wired for connection.  Our brains naturally seek patterns, making comparisons and looking for similarities.  Having a shared interest can bring us together and help us to create lasting bonds.

I think too, that the world is ever changing, and as the pace of that change seems to be speeding up, we can easily feel that we are being left behind.  It can be comforting to have friends of the same vintage who share a similar framework of memories, for example the music of the 80’s, fashion trends and major news stories.

TV programmes and things that we learnt at school can also be common frames of reference.  I was travelling home on the train yesterday and heard a conversation behind me between a woman and the man selling refreshments from the trolley.  She told him that he had arrived at just the right time as she was half-way through her journey and really fancied a cup of tea.  He replied that it was ‘Kismet’ that he had come along to serve her at that moment, but she was unfamiliar with this word or its historical reference.

Having ‘old’ friends is like being part of a ‘school gang’ – you can use your own ‘in’ vocabulary, talking in a kind of short-hand, because you know the other(s) will get what you’re talking about.  This also separates you from those who are ‘outside’ the gang – those who are ‘other’ – helping to give you that important sense of belonging.

Having a friend who’s known you since your younger days, and sharing a history of fun times, silliness and various life events, gives us that ‘warm, fuzzy feeling’.  If some of these stories are mildly embarrassing, even better!

But it’s not just about the good times.  Friendships are tested and strengthened by going through challenging times together.  Here too, it is sometimes good to know that we don’t have to explain ourselves.  The other person immediately knows and understands.  With new friends we might have to tell the story again, or choose to keep it to ourselves, but an ‘old’ friend gets it because they were there with us and felt our pain right alongside us.

We are becoming much more aware of the importance of friendships for our health and wellbeing.  I recently read an article which said that:

“Loneliness is as big a mortality risk as diabetes.  Research links social isolation to dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression and a 29% greater risk of dying. … recent research shows the quality of friendships also helps keep us alive…”

www.theguardian.com

So, treasure your ‘old’ friends.  If you haven’t seen them in a while, call them up and reconnect.  The internet is a great tool for this as we now have Facebook, Messenger, Skype, Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp and all the other wonderful ways that we can stay in touch.

Share the memories and the laughs – so simple to do and so good for our souls!

Positive thinking – is it always a good thing? (part 1/4) – Repost for Mental Health Awareness Week

As #mentalhealthawarenessweek2019 draws to a close, I thought I would take this opportunity to reshare a blog that I wrote a while ago on why I think we should exercise the ‘3 C’s around #PositiveThinking :

– Caution

– Care

– Conscious consideration

Sometimes I think that the trend for advocating Positive Thinking has got a little out of balance, where people are pushing themselves to feel happy all the time and then feeling that they’ve failed when they fall short of this impossible expectation.

Equenergy

Our lives seem to be full of contradictions!  On the one hand we’re bombarded by news that is often negative and full of doom and gloom, while on the other we’re encouraged to be positive, smile and avoid negative thoughts for the sake of our health.

So what’s the answer?!

Well, first of all let’s look at why positive thinking can bring great benefits.  The cycle goes like this:

The thoughts that we think create the perspective from which we look at things.  This influences the filters through which we interpret the world around us.  This determines our experiences, which help to form our beliefs about that world.  Our beliefs are what our thoughts are based upon, and so the cycle continues…

Obviously if we think positive thoughts, and can carry this on round the cycle, then we will be happier than if we are plagued by negative thoughts, however…

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