Couples Therapy Books

Blog Post No. 166

By Dr Jim Byrne

30th March 2018

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

THE NEW WRITING PROJECT: A TRILOGY ON COUPLES THERAPY AND HAPPY RELATIONSHIPS

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

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Introduction

In this blog post, I want to introduce you to my writing project – which involves three new books on couples therapy.

Couples therapy book, blog 166Writing is in my blood.  I have been writing since I was 19 years old, when I used to have to construct routine notices for military noticeboards!  (Who would have guessed it?!) But it took 11 years before I published my first two books.  Then another 39 years to figure out how not only to write meaningful and engaging material – (which I could edit adequately; and which I could publish and promote) – before I could claim to be a relatively successful author/editor/publisher.

But all of that is just too conscious, and agent-centred.  Perhaps it should not be seen in those terms.  Indeed, my current situation supports that view.  This is it:

Somewhere in the past 48+ hours, I began to write a three volume series on couples therapy, based on my twenty years of experience of helping many couples to improve their marriages, or marriage-like relationships.  But there I go again, expressing the viewpoint of ‘the agent’.  In practice, it might be more accurate to write that “a three volume series on couples therapy began to write me; or began to write itself, through me!”

The project begins

DrJimCounselling002Anyway, whether I, or my Muse, are responsible, the writing work has begun.  Not that you could call what I have done so far “writing a book”.  Why?  Because there is such a huge amount of material to be organized into three volumes.

The main reason for the three volumes is the sheer mass of helpful insights, techniques, models, experiences and processes that I want to share with fellow counsellors, therapists, counselling students, and self-help enthusiasts.

But if I have learned one thing in the process of trying to write books that sell, it is this: Readers want to read a digestible chunk of material which is clear, relatively simple (in so far as that is achievable), and not too broad in scope.  And my main motivation in writing, from the beginning, has been to serve the reader; to make their journey enjoyable, and as effortless as possible.

When I briefly reviewed the material on couples therapy that I have on hand, I found it was like being a gardener who has only three window boxes (the three ‘volumes’), but into those three containers s/he has to place the most important parts of a huge lawn, some colourful flower beds, a rockery, and a huge shrubbery.

How to narrow down the material to fit the boxes?

Volumes of 3 books

I had no idea! So, I slept on that problem, overnight, and the next day (yesterday) I had evolved a viable division.  (Again, the ‘agent’! Perhaps I should write: “’It’ had evolved itself into a more manageable shape, which has an internal consistency!”)

Over the weeks ahead, I will publish bits and pieces of Volume 1, so that interested individuals can get a sense of what is ‘coming down the (turn)pike’.

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The challenge of writing

The Lifestyle Counselling Book
The Lifestyle Counselling Book

Writing in general is a hugely challenging proposition.  I enjoy it enormously.  And it can be rewarding when the books begin to sell as well as our recent book is doing.  Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person is the first major breakthrough we have had in our publishing activities so far.  In the month of March to date, it has brought in about 40% of my gross income.

But please remember, it took me 50 years to get to this point, and the world will never be able to pay me enough for all the hours of ‘apprenticeship’ that I have spent on my loving care of the written word!  (Individuals who want to get help with their own writing projects can always tap into my writing experience, here: Authorship Coaching.***)

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And if you have an interest in couples therapy, for yourself, your clients, or whatever, I hope my new project will prove interesting to you.

PS: I also offer Couples Therapy and Marriage Guidance.***

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That’s all for today!

Best wishes,

Jim

 

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ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

01422 843 629

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

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Coaching for success

Blog Post No. 49

16th June 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

The power of coaching to transform your life, at home or in work

Introduction

In this blog I want to describe one of the advantages and one of the disadvantages of having coaching, and what the coaching relationship uniquely offers.

There are many advantages to having coaching but I want to mention one of the most powerful advantages.

One of the top advantages of being coached

Being listened to, fully and sensitively, by someone who will respect your boundaries, and not try to impose their world view, or values, on you, and who is a skilled and effective listener, is a wonderfully relaxing and stress-reducing experience. The deceptively simple process of being listened to properly (meaning actively) helps you to return to the confident person you once were when you were younger.

“To excel at the highest level – or any level, really – you need to believe in yourself, and hands down, one of the biggest contributors to my self-confidence has been private coaching.” Stephen Curry

You may think: “Surely most people listen to each other properly. What’s the big deal about being listened to by a coach?”

People-skills-coverWell, my research shows that most people do not know how to listen effectively.  They most often engage in interruptions of the speakers concerns.  Perhaps I should give you some examples of those kinds of ‘roadblock’ to communication.

Robert Bolton (1979) listed twelve of the most common ‘roadblocks to communication’ that people regularly use when communicating with each other. Here they are:

  • Criticising
  • Name-calling
  • Diagnosing
  • Praising evaluatively
  • Ordering
  • Threatening
  • Moralising
  • Asking excessive or inappropriate questions
  • Advising
  • Diverting
  • Using logical argument, and/or
  • Reassuring

handshake-imageThe first four responses are judging responses; the second four are ways in which people send solutions to you; and the final three responses are ways in which the ‘listener’ is avoiding your concerns.

These roadblocks are particularly unhelpful if the speaker is under any kind of stress; and these bad habits are used a lot of the time in conversation. So that’s why talking to friends and family has limitations. People send roadblocks in their communication with each other and don’t realise they are doing it.

Why coaching is different from ordinary conversation

When you hire a professional coach, you have the chance to fully express yourself, knowing that you will be fully listened to with no road blocking of your communication.

The specific active listening skills that the coach will use, are as follows:

# The coach reflects back to you what you have told them, to ensure accuracy of understanding and for you to hear what you have on your mind. The simple act of telling a coach what your current challenges or goals are, externalises what is going on in your mind, and is very good for reducing stress.

Mehrabian-picture

Our brains are designed to deal with incoming information, and to act on the basis of the information they receive. They are not designed for rumination (endlessly recycling information).

The act of expressing yourself is very good for you and frees up a lot of stored energy. Being understood by another person, and having your feelings felt by them, is therapeutic.  Reflective listening by the coach helps you to know yourself better, and to feel understood.

# Summarising the main points, is another aspect of the coach’s approach to active listening.  Your coach will summarize what you are saying at intervals, to keep you on track.

# Clarifying your concerns or goals also helps.  Some goals may become apparent as you express yourself, and clarifying what you want is an essential part of the listening process.

The process of active listening helps to build a relationship of trust between you and your coach, as the coach gives evidence of their attunement to you and their empathy. This is also an important constituent of the coaching process.

The listening skills described above can be found in one of the best books I’ve read in the area of human relationships. This is titled, ‘People Skills: How to assert yourself, listen to others and resolve conflict’, by Robert Bolton PhD. It took him ten years to write, and you can tell!  It is superb, full of wisdom, and an invaluable manual on how to communicate properly with people. I strongly recommend it.

What about the disadvantages of having coaching?

The conditions under which you may be offered coaching, (for example in the workplace), make a difference as to whether you will get the full benefits of coaching.

For example, you may be ordered to receive coaching as part of your job. But this won’t necessarily work for you, or for the company involved.  Indeed it may not even be coaching, properly speaking!

Jenny-Rogers-bookJenny Rogers is an executive coach with more than 25 years’ experience, and her clients are usually senior leaders from a wide range of organisations. She has also trained many hundreds of coaches and managers in coaching skills.

In her book ‘Coaching skills: A handbook’ (2004) she describes what she does when she is asked to coach someone in an organisation. She always makes sure that the potential client wants to have the coaching, and she has a half-hour meeting in private with the employee.

I cannot work with a reluctant client”, she states: (page 166).

The client needs to trust the coach, and she goes on to say:

I know how impossible it would be to create trust if the client believes the process is about assessment – a completely different process”.

Why won’t it work to have coaching if you are reluctant to take part, and see no value in the process?

Firstly, you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

Secondly, people read each other’s emotional state and intent non-verbally, using ‘mirror neurons’, and a coachee will know, non-consciously whether they are being deceived or manipulated!

Thirdly, people have told me that it can be a humiliating experience: because the lack of choice in the process indicates to the employee that their managers have little respect for the employee’s professional integrity and work expertise.

Fourth, a person who is ‘assigned to the role’ of coach is not the same thing as a person who is committed to the growth of others.

The process of coaching won’t work if you don’t want to try it out with all your heart; or if the coach is not a real coach; or the process has a hidden agenda! (The coach has to establish a trusting and supportive relationship with you for it to work).

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What coaching does for people

So what do the best coaches do?

jULIE-STARR-BOOK-COVERJulie Starr, a highly respected coach and consultant, wrote the book ‘The Coaching manual’, which was one of the set books on my Coaching Diploma course!  In it she states that:

 “If you imagine yourself being coached, you will perhaps appreciate why so many engage the services of a coach. This person, your coach, will listen to you with a curiosity to understand who you are, what you think and generally how you experience the world.

“Your coach will reflect back to you, with the kind of objective view that creates real clarity. What’s most important during that conversation is you, your success, happiness and ultimate fulfilment. Having worked to establish what exactly you want to achieve from coaching, these goals and objectives become the focus of the conversation.

“As a consequence, the only agenda happening in the conversation is your agenda, which your coach will often guard more closely than you do…

“When things don’t go well your coach supports you. When you experience success your coach celebrates your achievements. Your coach will also help you to pinpoint exactly what you did that worked so well, so that you can do it again.

“A coaching relationship is like no other, simply because of its combination of objective detachment and commitment to the goals of the individual. Little wonder then that so many people are finding that coaching relationships can help them develop and learn in ways that enable them to have or achieve what they really want.”

Conclusion

In this blog I have described one of the key skills used by a good coach: active listening! I have also explained the advantages of having a coach, and clarified why being coached has to be actively chosen by someone, or the trusting relationship, on which coaching is based, can’t develop. Finally, the unique features of a coaching relationship have been described.

Here is a great TED talk by Patti Dobrowolski called ‘Draw your future – take control of your life’ (‘Best TED talks 2015’) in which she explains a simple but very powerful way of finding out how you can improve your life for the better.

Please take a look and see if this is of any use to you.

Contact me if you want to experience the benefits of being coached, and to bring more happiness, peace and self-confidence into your life.

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Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

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Goal setting and achievement

Blog Post No. 50 (was No. 1 – Series B)

Posted on 4th May 2017 (Originally posted on 20th July 2016)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Why bother setting goals? Why not just go shopping instead – have a bit of retail therapy?

renata-taylor-byrne-lifestyle-coachPeople love to be distracted! Makeovers, new clothes, new cars or houses, holidays and other material goods or experiences can be very pleasurable distractions in the short term. But there is one big drawback which you’ll never hear about from the media.  Here it is:

# As human beings we get ‘habituatedto new things in our lives. This means that we get used to new things and the glow wears off very quickly, and we start to feel dissatisfied again.

Have you noticed how children quickly get used to having presents given to them? Have you noticed how soon you can adjust to new furniture, or a new car? Or a new relationship?

What a shame that is, after what they cost us!

Distractions are very poor substitutes for the achievement of meaningful goals!  Let me explain:

# Achieving goals is a deeply satisfying activity for humans, and research has shown that our brains release a feel-good hormone when we achieve them. We have that sense of achievement for the rest of our lives – no-one can take it away from us. Each time we remember it, we feel good and we know the hard work we had to do to achieve it.

Image result for image for brain tracey and goalsI have had the privilege for years of seeing the happiness and sense of achievement shine out of clients’ faces when they achieve their goals.  For example, I have helped many students to achieve their academic qualifications, at the end of a course which has been a tough battle for them; but they made it through! I was so proud of them, and they wisely took pictures at their presentation events so they could treasure the event for the rest of their lives and show them to their families.

That warm glow lasts for the rest of our lives! And you can’t buy it on Oxford Street or on any other high street in the UK or your local supermarket.

And this warm glow is experienced no matter whether your goal is related to your work, your home life, your relationships, your academic study, your hobbies, etc.

So how can we achieve our goals?

Athletes involved in sports or other areas of life have coaches to help them achieve their goals and win competitions. They know they can’t do it all on their own. They know the value of focus and constructive feedback, and how efficient and effective it can be.

But in ordinary life, people have just as many challenges, because they face the tasks of holding down a job, and/or raising a family, managing their relationships, and/or creating a career for themselves, handling health problems, caring for other family members, organising social events and many other tasks.

They also have information being bombarded at them, 24/7, from different directions. So it can be very easy to get confused and lose contact with themselves. That’s when hiring a coach/counsellor will help you focus on:

  • Where you are now in your life
  • What you specifically want to gain or change
  • What you can change and what you can’t
  • The specific steps you can take to improve your life
  • How to persist with taking those steps
  • Models and techniques you can learn to keep your head above water.
  • How to create the kind of life you want for yourself in the future.
Jim & Renata's logo
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

The coach/counsellor uses their skills and training to help you create a better life. With their support and knowledge of how to release your potential, you get to step out of your daily routine and figure out where you are headed.  And, also to check out with yourself if this is what you really want.

You may want to change your job, or some aspect of your relationships, achieve further training, or take a searching look at where you are going in your life. With the help of a coach/counsellor you can identify the experiences you want and make changes which will last the rest of your life.

And the effects will last longer than the new hairdo or CD you bought, or that new mobile app you wanted. Your warm glow of achievement, when you achieve a valued goal, will be a treasured part of your life.  And remember – you can’t buy it at Sainsbury’s!

Do you want to give it a try and find out the truth for yourself? We are geared up to work with you to bring valued changes into your life, so contact us for help and support.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

01422 843 629

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Daily Resilience–boosters for you

Blog Post No. 46

31st March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Daily resilience–boosters for you

Introduction

Do you want to be more resilient? To stand up to the pressures of your daily life more vigorously and powerfully and energetically?

Tennis-starIn this blog I am going to summarise some findings from research conducted on athletes, which can help us build our resilience in the face of all the hassles and challenges we can face at work each day.

An explanation of micro-resilience at work

Micro-book-coverBonnie St. John and Allen Haines wrote a book called ‘Micro-resilience’, and in it they summarise this research finding: Dr James Loehr (a sports psychologist) wanted to understand why there were hundreds of athletes who were on international tours, but there were only a few who regularly won the tournaments and trophies. He wanted to know what the difference was between these two sets of athletes.

Loehr put heart rate monitors on a selection of the two different sets of tennis players – the ‘winners’ and the ‘also ran’s’ – and discovered that the top tennis players were able to very speedily recover their energy and positive focus after having played shots.

As they were returning to the baseline in the tennis court, or to the side of the court, they used particular strategies to recover their energy, focus and motivation.

These top-players very quickly returned their heart rates to normal – much more quickly than their less successful competitors. Here was the crucial part of what Dr James Loehr learned:

The further he went down the list of seeded players, the more dramatic the differences were. Those at the bottom of the list (the less successful tennis players) employed none of these rejuvenating behaviours….”

“They stayed keyed up, tense and even distracted in the sixteen to twenty seconds that normally elapse between a point scored and the following serve.”

The power of ‘mini-recoveries’

He discovered that by the final set of a 3 hour tennis match, the player who had been using small, imperceptible ‘mini-recoveries’ in-between the points, was much more likely to succeed in the tennis game than the players who did not use such strategies.

So Dr Loehr created something called the ’16 second cure’ and this consists of focusing exercises and relaxation techniques that help the players, who are under intense pressure, to do the following things:

“…shake off mistakes, release tension, and project a positive image to their opponents…”

And this strategy has now been taught by tennis coaches throughout the world.

How this research finding can help people in all types of jobs

We can all use this research insight in any field of work.  Each day, any of us can experience periods of intense pressure, quiet times and a whole range of experiences in-between. We also have a constantly changing selection of people to deal with and respond to. How can we keep going so that we aren’t totally washed out by the end of the working day?

Power-of-full-engagment-coverDr James Loehr created the concept of the ‘executive athlete’ after these research findings, which he wrote about in his book ‘The Power of Full Engagement’ (2003) with T. Schwartz.

This very successful use of energy management strategies by athletes can be transferred to other working environments, if we adapt them appropriately.

Micro-resilience techniques to help us stay in control

If you experiment with using some of these strategies – listed below – to keep you going during the day, you will find that your energy level is higher and you won’t feel as drained.

I used these techniques during my career as a college tutor, and there are also techniques from Bonnie St. John and Allen Haines’s book. (Bear in mind that if you are working in exploitative work situations, you will need help from your union as well as these self-management strategies. The union’s specialist form of protection is necessary as it will be beyond your capacity to fully defend yourself if your energies are drained from: bullying management tactics; zero hours contracts; wages below the minimum wage, and/or unhealthy work environments).

Here is a little selection of just seven such strategies; and I teach many more to my coaching-counselling clients:

1. The Yoga ‘Death pose’

Picture-death-poseFirst, let us look at the ‘death pose’ from yoga practice.  This is an amazingly effective way to recharge your batteries, and is very good for your back. If you have you own office or there is a vacant room, simply lie on the floor for 10 minutes with a book (of, say, two inches thickness) under your head (as a ‘hard pillow’). Put your arms down by your sides. Clear your mind of any stress or strain, worry or preoccupation.  Breathe deeply into your belly, and relax.  Stay still, and close your eyes if you want to. Any ideas that arise in your mind should be gently brushed away.  After 10 minutes, very slowly sit up, and then stand up. This will refresh your body and mind at the same time.

Benefits-death-pose-callout

2.The  seated Tin Soldier/Rag Doll Relaxation Exercise

Whilst sitting at your desk, after about 30 or 40 minutes of intense concentration, you will need a break.  Sometimes you will need to get up and move around (as sedentary activity is very bad for you, physically and mentally!).  But sometimes you can relax while you are sitting down.  One way to do that is to use the ‘Tin soldier/Rag doll’ exercise.  This is how it goes:

Tense your body, arms, and face as much as possible for a couple of minutes. Really feel the tension in your body. Imagine you are made of tin, and are very stiff and unbending. (The ‘tin soldier’ phase).

Then slowly, slowly let all the tension drain out of your body, and change yourself into a rag doll. Feel yourself melt into the chair. Relax all your muscles – your thigh muscles, feet, arms, hands and fingers, stomach and jaw, and facial muscles.  Let your arms hang down by your sides.  Let your head fall, and your shoulder slump. (The ‘rag doll’ phase).

Sit with the feeling of complete relaxation for a few minutes (say, five or six).  This will be really good for your body and mind – to say nothing of your productivity, creativity and focus.  In the process, you will be switching on your ‘relaxation response’ which is (to get a bit technical) the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system.

3. Have a quick, healthy snack to boost your blood sugar level.

By eating a small amount of nuts and seeds (for example) you boost your blood sugar level which helps with willpower, and energy during late morning or late afternoon meetings or other challenges.

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4. Have a short walk

Get out of the building, to change your environment. Just a ten minute walk will put you in a different space (mentally), but in particular, it’s really valuable to get out at dinnertime (lunchtime).   You will feel mentally refreshed and have more energy for your work in the afternoon. Seeing trees and experiencing fresh air will boost your energy. Recent research shows that taking a stroll through a natural setting can boost performance on “tasks calling for sustained focus”: “Taking in the sights and sounds of nature appears to be especially beneficial for our minds.”

5. Write it Out!

If you’ve had a draining, difficult interaction with someone in work, and you are still reverberating from it, then when you are at your desk (or workstation), write down what happened and how you felt about it.  Writing it down will get it out of your head and give you a chance to cool down. Later you can then reflect on what happened.

(If you are unable to write anything down, simply name the emotions that you are going through, in your mind.)  This is a technique that is called “labelling” and there is a New England head teacher (whom St John and Haines describe in their book) who uses this technique when she has confrontations with parents and teachers.

“When she tried labelling, Kathleen noticed that it increased her sense of control. Now, unbeknownst to her guests, Kathleen’s notes during confrontational meetings not only cover action steps and follow-up items but also descriptions of her emotions during each encounter.”

Dr Daniel Amen, who is an expert on brain-scanning techniques, says: “Often, just naming a thought takes away its power”.

Or as Dr Daniel Siegel says: “You have to name it to tame it!”

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6. Using your sense of smell

Cinnamon

Scents are very powerful. Dr Joan Borysenko, who was one of the pioneers of  integrative medicine and worked at Harvard medical school, stated: “Certain scents can cut right through an emotional hijack. For example, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg.” These scents affect our limbic system and relax us very quickly. This finding was confirmed by Dr Daniel Amen, in his book ‘Change your brain, change your life’:

“Because your sense of smell goes directly to the deep limbic system, it is easy to see why smells can have such a powerful impact on our feeling states. The right smells likely cool the limbic system. Pleasing fragrances are like an anti-inflammatory”.

So, having small samples of spices, perfumes or sweets, in your work environment, which have really comforting associations for you, can give you a quick boost of energy.

hardcastle-crags

7. Images from nature can calm us down

Finally, having pictures of scenes from nature around us will have a beneficial effect on us, even if they are just on our screensaver or on a poster on the wall. Or in a frame on our desk or workstation.  Just looking at photos of nature in a quiet room can give us a greater mental boost than walking down a busy urban street.

Dr Marc Berman and researchers at the University of Michigan had participants take a break for 10 minutes in a quiet room to look at pictures of a nature scene or city street. They found that mental performance improved after the nature break, even though the images were  only on paper. Although the boost wasn’t as great as when participants actually took a walk among the trees, it was more effective than an actual city walk.

Conclusion

Balancing our stressful working days with micro-resilience techniques- like the seven outlined above – will make us happier, increase our energy, and improve the quality of our lives.

Why not experiment with them, and see if any of them work for you!

If I had more time and space I could teach lots more of this stuff to you.

Best wishes

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

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References

Loehr, J and Schwartz, T (2003) The Power of Full Engagement. New York. Simon and Shuster.

St John, Bonnie and Haines, Allen (2017) Micro-Resilience: Minor shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive and Energy. London. Piatkus.

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Continue reading “Daily Resilience–boosters for you”

Barbara Sher on finding and following your dreams before it’s too late…

Blog Post No. 34

27th May 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Barbara Sher on finding and following your dreams before it’s too late…

A rave review of “It’s only too late if you don’t start now: How to create your second life at any age”

Introduction

Barbara-Sher.JPGIn this blog I want to share with you some of the insights and useful ideas from Barbara Sher in this book on self-understanding and career development. I hope you find them of some use as you design or redesign your life. She did a lot of research into how we grow, and develop into completely unique human beings.

The reason I am sharing with you what Barbara Sher has written is because she has carefully analysed how we can lose track of ourselves in the first half of our lives. She has created powerful exercises to help us get back in contact with ourselves, so that we can create the best life for us: not the life that others think we should have.

Some people think that after 40, their future looks “all downhill”

Barbara Sher agrees with the view that life changes as you get older, but not in a negative way.  This is her view of life after 40:

“…You’re walking down a new street. As a matter of fact, this is one of life’s most significant turns. But the minute you step round that corner what you’re going to see will astonish you,” and she goes on to state:

“Your first life (before the age of 40 approximately) belongs to nature. Your second life belongs to you.”

Sher-quote-1If you have reached midlife, you may feel that your possibilities are more restricted than when you were younger, and this view is encouraged by our surrounding society. Employers, despite government legislation, still see older people as less employable than younger candidates for the same job.

Following America’s example, many more people have plastic surgery now to visually hide their age, and growing older is seen in a more negative way than it used to be. Instead of there being a social recognition of the positive aspects of growing older (which could mean wiser!), in UK society today aging is treated negatively: there is always more news about  the health problems people get as they grow older, and little about what they contribute.

Negative view of aging

Advancing years are increasingly seen as a descending path into illness, passivity, and disconnection from others. This view is a partial, inaccurate and very negative picture of what getting older means. It is also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Discrimination against people because of their age is also growing: and older people are often squeezed out of the labour market just because of their age.

Second-SherHow does this affect us? We are like sponges, and all the messages we get from our culture, including the media, soak into us. Some of these messages need looking at carefully, because they are poisonous, and very bad for our physical and mental health.

Example of prejudice about age

I’ll give you a concrete example: In the 1990’s I taught a Personal Effectiveness module for students who were on a college course which was preparing them for university the following year.

The student group were all mature candidates who were returning to education after raising their families.

I gave the students a simple exercise at the start of the module. It was taken from ‘The Brain Book’ by Peter Russell (1992). I drew a big graph on the whiteboard (as follows) and asked them to complete it.

Blank-russell-graphI asked the students to draw a line on the graph, showing how they thought mental ability developed– upwards or downwards (meaning improving or declining) – as we get older. I asked them to draw the line in felt tip from the left to the right hand side of the graph, indicating a rise or fall.

This graph was to represent their snapshot picture of how they thought our mental ability would develop as they grew older. One or two of the older students would groan, not knowing what the outcome of the exercise would be, but fearing in advance that their views on their reducing intellectual power, as they got older, would be confirmed.

EXERCISE: Why don’t you have a go and try out the exercise yourself?

Here is the graph again:

Blank-russell-graph

(By the way – DON’T scroll down this blog page or you’ll see the results of this quick quiz, and it will spoil the exercise for you).

Please copy this blank graph onto a piece of paper and then draw in a line which you think indicates what happens to our mental ability as we age. You might find that it helps to put in a series of crosses (‘x’s) and then join them up.

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Here’s what my students invariably produced:

Student-graphs001.jpg

And here is the accurate picture of the graph, presented by Peter Russell (1992):

Peter-Russell-graph001.jpg

Line ‘a’ shows the extent to which our mind can develop as we get older, and the small (insignificant) decline after the age of eighty!  Line ‘b’ shows the most common false ideas that many people hold about mental decline.

Review

Now have a look at what you drew as your guess for the way our mental potential develops and compare it with the graph above. My guess is that you will have exaggerated the degree of decline that is likely to occur in the average case.

Our beliefs are very powerful, and false negative beliefs can seriously harm us.  This is why factual information which cuts through cultural myths can be very helpful.

My students were always convinced that their brains would be deteriorating once they went past 40 (at the latest! Most thought it was downhill after 30!)

Barbara Sher’s findings:

Mary-berryNow to return to Barbara Sher’s key ideas: She considers that middle age is not a time for the start of decline.  This is what she says:

You’re not heading for any kind of decline. In fact you are about to embark on an amazing new beginning. The era you’re entering is so different from your first 40 years it’s completely justifiable to call it your second life.”

She has described what happens in our midlife as follows:

What’s coming is a gradual loosening of the hold that biology and culture have on you, and the arrival of your authentic self. You are losing nothing real by getting older.”

“In fact you are moving into a life that’s sure to be more conscious, centred, creative and energetic than anything you’ve known so far.”

She considers that if we can give up our illusions of youth and immortality, and quit wishing that we could stop the clock, then we can move into our second life.

What to do?

How do we do that? She suggests the following:

Elderly-Chinese-worker.JPG“…start paying attention to your dreams to see how you want to live. You begin to write the books that are in you, or go into the theatre and become an actor like you’ve always wanted, or you become an Arctic explorer, or a business owner, or you build a community you’ve always known was possible, or you head out to see the world you’ve always longed to see. In other words you start to live your life to suit who you really are.”

She explains that if you do this you reconnect with the self that you have had since childhood, before you hit adolescence:

It’s who you were, before puberty changed you forever and threw up a mountain range of aches and urgencies, so high that you lost the sight of the original creature that you were.”

“…and this time, when that side of you returns, you’ll have the know-how and independence that you never had as a child…”

Third-Sher-quoteShe considers that when we were young, in order to survive and fit in, we gave away a lot of our personal rights, because… ”You were struggling for love and status and you thought you had to…”

She explains the rewards of finding out your true self:

If you refuse to fritter away your future, trying to regain your past, you’ll see something amazing start to happen. You’ll find yourself looking forward to getting up every morning because it’s life you love, not a person you had a crush on.”

Learning through practical exercises

In this book she has a selection of powerful exercises which I strongly recommend that you do as a way of learning about yourself, and the lifestyle or career that could be right for you.

How we view getting older is very important, because it will affect us physically, mentally and emotionally, and the beauty of Barbara Sher’s book is that she helps you understand the journey that we are all on, and clearly shows that the best is yet to come – if we work on it. To get the benefit, we need to do the exercises and experiment with loosening up the false and fixed views of reality and ageing which our culture bombards us with all the time.

ConductorConclusion

In my opinion this book is a real gem – a gift to the world! I hope I have managed to give you a brief flavour of the practical wisdom which is in the book, and I strongly recommend the exercises.

What about the readers of this blog who, like myself, are in their sixties, or seventies or eighties or nineties? I want to remind you of the title of the book: “It’s only too late if you don’t start now!”

Can that be true?  Remember the author of The Camomile Lawn (Mary Wesley?).  She wrote several great novels.  But she didn’t even begin to write until she was 88 years old!  Don’t give up!

Finally, here is a great quote from Henry Miller which Barbara Sher presents at the start of chapter 1:

“It was only in my forties that I started feeling young”

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor-Tutor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843629

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Reference:

Peter Russell (1992) “The Brain Book,” London, Routledge

Barbara Sher (1998) “It’s Only Too late If You Don’t Start Now”, Delacourte Press, New York

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