Ten reasons to get a lifestyle coach

Blog Post No. 45

22nd March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Ten reasons why having a coach makes you stronger and happier

Introduction

RihannaI like lists, and I thought you might like to see this list I have created about the value of having a coach. Some people may well feel that they are not entitled to have a coach. I don’t think Rihanna, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Serena Williams or Andy Murray would agree with them.

It may be difficult to believe that coaches can strengthen you in the face of your current problems, and get you on track in your life, or you may be convinced that having one won’t help you to make you happier or achieve your goals. But here’s a list of what they actually do for people:

When you have a coach

  1. You now have an ally – someone totally focussed on helping you identify the goals you want to achieve, or skills you want to develop, so that you can be much happier about what you are doing with your life. They provide a secure, benevolent mirror, to help you ground yourself in an ever-changing world. This immediately can be reassuring and reduce stress.
  2. They bring their skills and knowledge with them, and those assets are now available for you. You have the benefit of their years of experience and tried and tested learning strategies.
  3. They get you speaking about your vision for your life, or the changes you want, in a way which you can’t do very easily on your own. We find it very hard to “get out of our own minds” and see our lives objectively. A coach can help us do that.
  4. The coach has solved a lot of their own stress problems and can show you how you can make life less stressful for yourself.
  5. They listen to you and respect you in a way that you may not have experienced before. It’s like being a plant and suddenly the sunshine comes out, and you can feel yourself growing and getting stronger. That’s how I felt with two of the American Forum leaders who coached me as part of the Landmark Education courses. They were priceless experiences!
  6. Coaches tell you the truth about your skills and how you are utilizing them. Unlike your friends, they don’t need your approval, and have no reason refrain from being quite factual and scientific in their observations about your behaviours and attitudes. They tell it like it is. But they should always be constructive and supportive when giving feedback.
  7. At times, life can be very tough and we can forget the problems we have faced in the past and successfully overcome. We can become discouraged and lose hope.

But a coach is there to show you that your motivation can be re-energised in a flash, by reminding you of your successes in your life so far. They can also show you how your thinking may become one-sided, unscientific, and failing to acknowledge all the good things there are in life that can help you.

  1. A great coach will discourage you from being an escapist. They will spell out clearly the lifestyle choices that you will need to make to achieve your goals, and to become stronger mentally and physically, so that you have the energy to achieve them.
  2. Coaches research and analyse the latest information being released about how our brain works, new problem-solving strategies, how crucial nutrition and exercises to your mental and physical well-being, and how to protect yourself from social and environmental hazards.
  3. Your ‘Inner Critic’, if it is not controlled, can sap your energy and hijack your attempts to change your life for the better. Your coach can help you to become aware of it, and to develop ways of stopping it undermining your self-confidence and self-concept, and shrinking your life.

Renatas-coaching-div2That’s all for this week.

I hope you find a good coach to help you to become all that you could be.

Take care,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

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Self-confidence through self-acceptance

Blog Post No. 44

17th March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: How to develop more self-confidence by accepting yourself exactly as you are

The Oxford dictionary definition of confidence is:

 “A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement”.

~~~

Introduction

Confident-peopleMany of us would like to feel more self-confident than we are at the present moment, and in this blog I want to outline a simple technique which will increase your level of self-confidence, if you experiment with it.

What this technique will do is to bring about a change in your attitude towards yourself as you live your life, and as you perform all the necessary tasks that you have to do, in order to survive. Why don’t you give it a try and see if it changes your view of yourself?

The technique for greater self-confidence: ‘One conditional self-acceptance’

Ellis-video-imageIn the 1980’s, when I first came across Dr Albert Ellis’s concept of USA, (Unconditional Self-Acceptance), I thought that this was a very therapeutic way of helping people to stop giving themselves such a hard time when they failed or behaved poorly in work or in life. One of the ways in which people give themselves a hard time is this: They create lots of rules for themselves, like “I must achieve this goal!” Or “I must achieve highly in life!”  Or: “I must never fail in any way”.  And so on! In this kind of way, they can really upset themselves (and frequently do!) because they are not as rich/ talented/ skilled/ academically successful/perfect in all the areas that they want to be.

All around us we can see and hear people passing judgement on themselves, and this is an enormous waste of their vital life energy. (Except in one area, which is to do with morality.  It is important that we, and they, judge the quality of our moral actions, and refrain from harming others!)

Callout-5

Here is an example of such negative self-judgements: Many people have problems accepting themselves when they remember mistakes they made in the past, (as if they should be able to perform skills really well, immediately, without any failures or slipping back.  And as if they should be able to be perfect).

Our judgemental attitudes begin in early childhood.  Although we accept ourselves when we fall down when learning to walk, we then, sometime later, begin to fault ourselves when we fail to do something which is new to us.

School experiences are a case in point.  We can all remember examples of not being able to perform as well as others, in classrooms, and this can start the formation of a sense of ourselves as failures; and our abilities as lacking; or our skills as being not as good as other people. And by the time we are teenagers our self-concept can get fixed and set in stone in our minds.  We have learned to rate ourselves on the basis of our failing attempts to learn.

Albert Ellis taught that we should not rate our selves, but rather our behaviours, and to distinguish between ourselves and our behaviours.  In this way, we can preserve our good judgement of our self, and only criticize our behaviour or performance.

Callout-2For example, “I am not my mathematics ability (or my skiing ability; or my socializing ability).  I am an error-prone human, like all other humans.  And I have some areas of high skill and some areas of low skill development.  But my high skills do not make me Great!  And my low skills do not make me a Worm!
Ellis called this ‘unconditional acceptance’ of ourselves (or other people, or the world).

So unconditional self-acceptance of ourselves, in the context of our mistakes and imperfections, seemed to me to be a great idea, when I came across it in the 1980s.

But I hadn’t taken into account human nature. I had assumed that people would mostly behave morally and ethically towards each other. Therefore, it seemed to me to be okay to address a class of 15 or 20 individuals and tell them it was okay to accept themselves exactly the way they were (without realizing that at least one of them might be a serious criminal or amoral abuser of others!)

This was rather naïve of me, given that, according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The line between good and evil runs right down the centre of the human heart!

~~~

Somewhere along the way, Dr Jim Byrne, who had agreed with me that Albert Ellis’s USA was a great idea, began to have second thoughts.  After examining and researching the full implications of unconditional self-acceptance, he came up with the concept of “One-conditional self-acceptance’, as he realised the flaw in Albert Ellis’s view that people should accept themselves unconditionally (without spotting that they should not do this in the case of immoral actions on their part). (See Byrne, 2010, in the References, below). Dr-Jim-Self-AcceptanceEllis’s USA approach, at least implicitly, and unfortunately, gives people permission to abuse others and to not feel bad about it afterwards.

So Dr Byrne proposed that we accept ourselves as imperfect humans. But we should not (and that is a moral should!) give ourselves permission to go out and behave badly or immorally towards others.

Jim distinguished between three areas of human activity as follows:

  1. Performance competence;
  2. Personal judgements;
  3. Moral/immoral actions.

His argument was this: It is perfectly reasonable, and indeed desirable, and certainly self-helping, to always accept yourself when you fail to perform competently; or you make poor personal judgements.  You should forgive yourself in these contexts, try again.

But with regard to item 3 above: moral and immoral actions; we owe it to our society to act morally, and to refrain from acting immorally.  And we morally must not accept ourselves as being okay if and when we behave immorally.

This means that you can practise the technique of accepting yourself as you are – an imperfect human, who makes mistakes occasionally just like everyone else. But you must not accept yourself as being okay when you act immorally!

Accepting yourself under one condition

So you can accept yourself as being totally okay on one condition – that you behave morally and ethically towards all other human beings. Treating others as you would wish them to treat you is the basic contract people have in a civilised society. It’s called following the ‘Golden rule’ and enables people to live together in a decent and safe way.

Why is giving yourself “One-conditional self-acceptance” an important factor in self-confidence? Because there are all sorts of skills which we are all learning, and practising, every day of our lives. And we inevitably make mistakes. Realistically there can only be a few skills that we are very, very competent at, in our lifetime.

Callout-4But in our cultures we will face criticism for our imperfections, as if we had to be perfect all the time. What nonsense – but it’s very powerful pressure. Just look at the pressure in the UK culture to look ‘good’! In 2015 (according to the British Association of Aesthetic plastic surgeons) 51,140 people had treatment to improve their appearance.

Most of those people could have kept their dignity, and their cash in their pockets, if they had practiced one-conditional self-acceptance.  (And we also know, from Maxwell Maltz (Psycho-Cybernetics, 1960), that having plastic surgery will not change your self-concept reliably [for a significant proportion of those surgery patients], because it’s our inner self-appraisal that affects how we feel about ourselves, and not our objective appearance.  For example, Marilyn Monroe thought she was ugly!)

However, we can learn to accept our physical appearance, even if it is ‘perfect’, by telling ourselves: “I am not my face.  I am not my nose.  I am not my balding head.  I am not my fat; I am not my skinniness; I am not my social skills.  I am not my socially disliked characteristics!”

We’ve got a moral responsibility to ourselves to reduce our contact with people who try to put us down, and destroy our sense of self-worth. But the most crucial factor in relation to our confidence is our own (one-conditional) self-acceptance of our imperfections.

“One-Conditional self-acceptance” – What does this mean in practice – in real life?

It means that if you make mistakes, you make mistakes. End of story. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad or evil person for having done so. Obviously you will need to apologize and make amends if the mistakes are very serious and (accidentally) harm others physically or emotionally. But as an imperfect human being, you are bound to make mistakes. We all do – all the time!

What happens if we don’t give ourselves permission to screw up in one way or another? Our resilience and physical energy will be badly affected. Albert Bandura stated in 1966:

There is no more devastating punishment than self-contempt.”
Psycho-CyberneticsRefusing to make allowances for our humanity and imperfections will wreck our confidence when we are trying to learn new skills.

Practising “One conditional self-acceptance” (OCSA) means that you have to extend compassion towards yourself. As the Buddha said:

Compassion that extends itself to others and not to yourself, is incomplete “.

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Taking action

Trying out this technique (OCSA) means that you have a much kinder and much more accepting attitude towards yourself when you make mistakes; form poor judgements; or act incompetently.

This helps you to feel much stronger when it comes to handling criticisms from other people (and internal criticism from your ‘Inner Critic’).

Callout-1If you practice this one-conditional acceptance approach to yourself, you will be taking a huge burden off yourself – one that you may not have realised you were carrying.

And guess what? If you have children, they will see you accepting your own humanity and imperfections, and not mentally beating yourself up for being imperfect.  And they will copy what you do, and accept themselves more. Do you remember the quote about what makes a great leader? “Example, example, example!“

How happy do you want your children to be?

This change of attitude towards yourself – of accepting yourself one-conditionally – will take time to become part of your approach to yourself as an imperfect human. (It can be very hard for us to accept ourselves when we make mistakes – especially when we screw up in front of other people).

Teaching is a very public job, and I found during my early teaching career, that making mistakes in front of others as I learned my job, was very challenging and emotionally threatening. But accepting my mistakes and learning from them really helped me to recover and keep my equilibrium, so I had the energy to keep learning and trying to improve my performance.

For these reasons, I strongly recommend practising “One-conditional self-acceptance” in your daily life and especially if you are learning any new skills, or have got problems in any of your relationships.

Callout-3.JPGCan you imagine how much less stressed you will feel, if you give yourself permission to be an imperfect driver? Or mother? Or husband? Or worker/professional? (So long as you are doing your best, and not acting immorally or unethically, or disregarding the possibility of harming others!)

This then gives you the mental space to realise that, if you wanted to, you could slowly learn new behaviours to improve your performance, and your judgements, but without your inner critic nagging away in the background.

This would amount to treating yourself with respect and consideration, just as you would treat your best friend if they were in the same situation, with undeveloped skills which they wanted to improve on.

If you experiment with this self-permission, this self-acceptance, you could find it a real life-changer!

That’s all for now,

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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References:

Byrne, J. (2010) Self-acceptance and other-acceptance in relation to competence and morality. E-CENT Paper No.2(c).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

Maltz, Maxwell (1960). Psycho-Cybernetics. Simon & Schuster.

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Physical exercise for emotional and physical health

Blog Post No.7

14th October

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: Why bother exercising? What’s the point?

Introduction:

sparkIn this blog I am going to explain why we gain so much from exercising, and how it can be very helpful for you in high pressure situations; and to briefly describe one type of exercise which you may not have come across before.

Humans are designed for a primitive lifestyle. We are designed by nature to go out hunting and keep warm, every day. We’re human animals, whose design has specifically developed to have daily exercise and activity as an essential part of our lifestyle.

Many of us in the UK no longer have to go out hunting for food. We can get the food we need from the supermarket, and warmth from a heating system, instead of searching for fuel for a fire.

But our bodies have specifically evolved (in the past) to go out and get what we need in order to survive. So we have to continue to provide our bodies with the daily physical exertion that is a built-in necessity, in order to function properly.

What happens if we don’t exercise?

If we don’t exercise, then, sadly, our muscles start to deteriorate.

Here is some information on this point: In only 24 hours of inactivity your muscle tone starts to deteriorate. Let a year go by without exercise and 50% of the health (and age control) benefits you may have gained from a lifetime of sport are lost!

Our minds also deteriorate from lack of exercise, because we do not have ‘separate’ minds, but rather we have a body-mind! Depression and anxiety will normally increase if (1) we experience stress, (2) we don’t exercise (to get rid of it), and (3) we do nothing else to reduce the stress hormones in our bodies.

But our bodies have evolved a natural way to deal with the stressors we face as we go out into the world every day. I mentioned in last week’s blog post that we have an immediate alerting mechanism called the ‘fight or flight’ response, designed by nature to protect us when we are faced with threats and dangers.

As soon as the danger is passed, the fight or flight response switches off, and our bodies switch into the ‘rest and digest’ mode. In this mode we go into recovery, unwind and relax; and our digestion returns to normal.

The problem is that many people don’t allow the ‘rest and digest’ process (of the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system) to do its job of slowly restoring the body back to normal.

A lot of people know more about the inside of their local supermarket than they do about their own body-mind and how it functions.

So they get stress, piled upon stress, piled upon stress, in their bodies (and minds). They don’t give their bodies time to recover, and end up feeling tired and strained all the time.

Stress hormones are reduced when you exercise

What exercise does is to help you to use up your stress hormones (of adrenaline and cortisol) which have been released in your body to help you fight the threat that your body-mind thinks it is facing. Our body tenses up in preparation for ‘fight ‘ or ‘flight’, and subsequent exercise helps the muscles use this energy up and also relaxes the muscles and lowers your heart rate and blood pressure as well.

Stress has negative effects upon your digestive system (such as ulceration); damage to your arteries (as platelets are released you’re your bloodstream); but it also pushes up your cholesterol level, and has a knock-on effect on weight-gain.

When you’re feeling stressed, your liver produces extra fuel (glycogen and glucose) for the ‘fight or flight’ response. At the same time, your liver’s cholesterol production increases. But exercise helps to remove this excess cholesterol, which helps with both your arterial system and your waistline (by reducing it).

Exercise makes us more resistant to stress because it protects us from the impact of cortisol (one of the major stress hormones). This means that we don’t get as wound-up by annoying events as we used to when we did not exercise. This is good news for those of us who get impatient sitting in a traffic jam, or waiting for significant others to finish a long and rambling description of their day! (Stress gets into everything and makes it worse!)

There are lots of benefits from exercising

Did you know that if you exercise for ten minutes (going out for a brisk walk; walking up stairs, etc.) that this will reduce your physical tension for up to four hours afterwards?

It’s important to understand how stress over-arouses your central nervous system, causing you to feel strained, irritable, and nervous; and making it difficult for you to think clearly (because of the cortisol filling your body-brain-mind).

These negative effects of stress are what make it difficult for you to engage in job interviews or exams, presentations or special events.  These kinds of events can be much less of an ordeal if your body is well rested and exercised.

If your body is less tense, the negative, self-frightening messages from your mind, about the forthcoming challenge, won’t be able to exert the same power over you.

The vicious circle of a tense (stressed) body responding with even more stress to an anticipated future event – which you see as a scary challenge – will be short-circuited to the degree that you exercise and relax. Relaxed muscles will reduce your stress level!

This is a fast and effective way to greater self-confidence!

Additional benefits

Research done with different populations shows that you have a 50% lower chance of developing bowel cancer if you exercise.

Exercise also reduces inflammation in the body; and much recent research suggests that all major illnesses begin as inflammation.  The mechanism of reduction here is that exercise strengthens the immune system, which then repairs damaged tissue and reduces and eliminates inflammation.

But what sort of exercise is right for you?

Different individuals thrive on different forms of exercise. It can involve a long search to find the sort of exercise that is really right for you. But exercise that you enjoy will help your body release feel-good hormones, called endorphins, which will quickly change your mood if you are feeling anxious or depressed. So try some different forms of exercise to find out what works best for you.

My favourite forms of exercise are as follows:

The first one is called ‘Chi-gong’ (or Qi Kung), and is a type of T’ai chi. It consists of very simple movements, which you do every day. If you go to China you will see people doing the exercises in the parks, in the early morning. (You can see a demonstration here: # Qigong – Chi Kung – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qQKCB1At3k&feature=related)

The great thing about Chi-gong is its simplicity. No special equipment is needed, and you can quickly feel the benefits to your body. And millions of ordinary Chinese people can’t be wrong! J

Tao Porchon-LynchMy second favourite form of exercise is dancing, and the benefits to the body are very obvious – here’s a picture of Tao Porchon-Lynch. She does ballroom dancing (and entering competitions) along with being a yoga teacher:

By the way, she’s 95, and she’s one of my top role models.

Finally, here is a link to a great book which Jim and I reviewed, called ‘Spark’ about how exercise  affects our brains and improves mental performance and stimulates brain growth. www.abc-counselling.com/id373.html

I’ll finish with a quote from Dr John Ratey, who wrote ‘Spark’ with Eric Hagerman:

The better your fitness levels, the better your brain works’.

Ratey and Hargerman (2009, page 7)

They also mention that: ‘Population studies which have included tens of thousands of people of every age show that fitness levels relate directly to positive moods and lower levels of anxiety and stress’.

That’s all for now. Happy exercising!

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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Problem solving strategies

Blog Post No. 43

17th February 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Magic models – how to get back your energy quickly after you’ve had a setback!

Coping with setbacks
skilled-helperThere are lots of things that we have available in our popular culture to lift our mood after we’ve had a setback or hit a major problem which is stressing us. We’re often advised to do retail therapy, eat chocolate, get down the local for a drink, book a holiday, buy a DVD, get our hair done, go and watch the latest film, eat exotic take-out food, and so on. The list is endless. Generally, we try to do something which will take our mind off problems and distract ourselves. But does this approach work?

Actually, these popular solutions have a few drawbacks:

  1. They cost money (what if we have none spare, and are struggling to survive?)
  2. They may have a physical cost for us (a hangover, or weight gain, for examples).
  3. They are short-term palliatives, but they do not work in the long run. (They produce short-term pleasure, but they leave us open to longer-term pain!)

Basically, their effect doesn’t last very long – it quickly wears off. Have you noticed how soon we can forget a brilliant party that we went to, or how rapidly we get used to that new outfit we bought?

When I am fed up, or feeling low, I personally like to use techniques that I can use anywhere, work quickly, don’t cost anything financially, are easily understood, and quickly bring me back to that state of happiness and deep appreciation of the marvel of life and of human beings that I usually have!

Here’s­­­ an example of a way of ‘re-framing’ your problems, which can be really helpful at times.

smoky-robinsonThis was said by Smokey Robinson’s mother:

“From the day that you’re born, till you ride in the hearse, there’s nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse!”

Good, isn’t it? Perfect if you’re stuck in traffic and you’re trying to get home for your tea after you’ve been grafting away at work all day, and there’s no way out of the situation. But the situation could always be so much worse than it is.

My approach

In this blog, I want to share with you two great models I use when I have a problem or setback and I’ll explain to you how they work and hopefully you’ll find them of value to you in your own life.

Actually, to be completely honest, they don’t cost anything financially, but there is a price. The price is making a mental effort to open your mind and try them out. Are you up for that? Or have you dismissed them already? We’ll see – here are my two favourite models:

The first model: The ‘Six Windows’ model

honetpieThe first one was created by Dr Jim Byrne, and is called the ‘Six Windows model’. This, like the Smokey Robinson quote above, is a way to re-frame your problem or difficulty so that it shows up as less stressful.

It consists of five perspectives which Jim borrowed from Buddhism and Stoic philosophy, plus one which I contributed!

How to use the ‘Six windows’ model

Six-windows-model3

  1. Firstly, you think about the problem or hassle that is getting you down at the moment. Have you got a clear picture of it in your mind?
  2. Secondly, holding this problem firmly in your mind, you look at it through each of the windows in turn (see the diagram above).

At the top and bottom of each window is a statement that is a viewpoint on life, or a world view – or what some people would think of as a helpful belief. Now experiment with taking on this view of life for a few minutes, as if you decided to agree with the statement for a short time.

Read the statement and then think about your problem, from that viewpoint. Or, to say it another way, try the idea on for size like you would if you were getting a new suit from a shop.

As you look at your problem through the perspective of each of the windows, see if the statements have any effect on how you see your problem. Do it slowly and carefully, finishing up with Window No.6.

By the time you get to window No.6, if you have really taken the ideas on board, there should be a change in the way you see your current problem. And window No. 6 emphasises the ‘pay dirt’ that is in every problem that we have – the reward that we get for having it. Problems strengthen us in different ways!

These viewpoints, or world views, have been created over a long time. You don’t need to know their origins in order for them to work. This process is a bit like the way we use electricity. Most of us don’t know how electricity works, but we still can use and benefit from it.

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The second model:

robert-holden-bookRobert Holden’s STOP technique

The STOP technique is very simple, and the four letters stand for the following words: Strengths; Teaching; Opportunities; and Positive.  The idea is to ask yourself the following questions:

Strengths: What strengths do I have that could be used to help me to cope with this problem?

Teaching: What is this problem teaching me?

Opportunities: What opportunism arise through this problem?

Positive: Putting the negative aspects on one side for the moment, what positive things could come out of having this problem?

How to use the STOP technique

Here are some general guidelines on how to use it. Sit down in a quiet place with a pad and pen.  Then work through this checklist:

  1. Think of a problem or hassle that you have at the moment. Check out how you feel about it.
  1. Now write down a list of the strengths that you have developed in your life as you have coped with all the challenges that you have had to face. There will be a lot. If you have no idea, ask a family member or good friend who has seen you go through various dilemmas or difficulties. Ask them for some suggestions. These strengths will help you cope with the challenge you are now facing. It is good for you to see what resilience skills you have developed.

montapert-quote

  1. Then when you have finished the list, and have read through your strengths, return to your problem and ask yourself, “What is this problem teaching me?” 
  1. The next step is to look again at your problem, and ask yourself, “What opportunities am I getting from having this problem at this time?” There will be new skills or experiences that you can’t gain any other way than having to deal with the problem. “Problems are sent to test and teach us!”  Humans are problem seeking beings! 
  1. Finally, we come to the “Positive” bit – What have you got so far from having your problem? What have been the positive gains from having it? Search hard and there will be positive gains if you keep looking. The worst case scenario might be that having this big problem has taught you that you can endure big problems; that they don’t have to defeat you! But they can also make you a better problem-solver.

Einstein-callout.JPGNow return to how you originally felt about your problem before you took it through the ‘STOP’ model. Do you see the problem in the same way or has there been a shift in your view of it?

Conclusion

In this blog I have described two models, or mental strategies, which you can use as a way of tackling a problem that is getting you down, or you want to resolve in some way.

Both models work by getting you to see your problem from a different viewpoint, and if you try them out, you will get the benefits of being less affected by your problem than you were. You will have some hope and sense of possibility that wasn’t there before, and your mental ‘load’ will be lightened.

Also, you’ve got the models there to use again and again in the future, when life throws up another challenge, as it inevitably will. The more often you use the models, the quicker you will get at recovering from an unexpected problem.

Book-cover-frontThe models are taken from “Stressbusters” by Robert Holden, and “Holistic Counselling in Practice” by Dr Jim Byrne, if you want to know more about the origins of the models.

And if you want to learn a range of such models, you can also consult me for coaching/counselling in the area of problem solving and decision making, using thinking skills: including the Skilled Helper model from Gerard Egan.

Happy thinking!

~~~

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit

Blog Post No. 42

27th December 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit:

How do we become more resilient in the face of bad news?

Introduction

In this blog, I will briefly describe some strategies which have been adopted by several universities to help their staff handle the disruption and uncertainty around Brexit – the impending withdrawal of the UK from the European Union – and the possible (probable?!) end of research funding for projects which are being undertaken by university staff all over the UK.

brexit

Then the effectiveness of these strategies will be considered, and alternative ones described.

Headline: “Dons in distress get Brexit therapy”

This “Dons in distress” statement is the title of an article that was written in the Sunday Times on the 4th December, 2016. The article describes the emotions (of “uncertainty, grief and anger“) that university staff are feeling because of the Brexit vote. Research funding has been disrupted and/or stopped, and in some cases people are totally uncertainty about their future employment prospects.

Nottingham University, the article explains, is now holding resilience workshops to help the staff understand where their huge amounts of stress originate from. This is so they will have an increased sense of control over what is happening to them.

Leeds University staff counselling department and the Psychological Services have created a written guide which clarifies that the feeling of grief, anger, depression and anxiety are stages which are part of the process of handling change.

stages-of-change

They explain to staff that if they don’t call a halt to their constant checking of the news, then they will continue to feel bad. “If you receive a lot of news shocks, your body is likely to experience fear”, they state.

In addition to feeling fear, another result of constant checking of the bad news is that the ability of the academic staff to get a decent night’s sleep would be reduced.

As an alternative to anxious worrying, the guide helpfully recommends exercise, resting and eating well.  (They could have added that “news fasting”, for long periods of time, would also help).

Resilience workshops

Offering workshops and printed guides to staff is a very constructive way to help them get a new sense of control over their lives. However, one of the major drawbacks are this approach the fragility of human memory: Because of the way human memory works, only about 20% of the information from the workshops will be remembered on the following day. And then as the days pass less and less detail will be recallable.  A special effort to record and retain the information would be needed: such as frequent reviews of the same helpful material, to get it into long-term memory.

The same applies to books and booklets: unless they are analysed, and notes taken and transformed into action steps, then their value is limited, and not fully realised.

The difference between declarative and procedural knowledge

Knowing all about how to handle change and the stresses that go with it, is a good start. And this type of knowledge is called ‘declarative knowledge’. Here’s an example:  many heavy smokers are very informed and knowledgeable about the risks of smoking. Does this knowledge help them to give up smoking? Not in the slightest!

To start new habits, or change old habits, we need ‘procedural knowledge’. We need to know how to do something, which is a very different matter. (If you look at my blog on habit creation this will show you a summary of the process).

How, then, do we cope in the face of life’s uncertainties; to manage our resilience levels; and to develop procedural knowledge of the process?

 Building our resilience.

ancestors

One thing that is easy to forget is that we are all human animals. We’ve evolved from our pre-human ancestors, which evolved into our African hominid and human ancestors. We humans originally lived in the trees and then descended from them onto the plains of Africa. Our ancestors lived and raised children in small groups, and were biologically shaped to adapt to an environment in which each day’s food had to be searched for.

Otherwise, as vulnerable humans, we would not have survived as a race. The innate ‘fight or flight’ response – an internal, non-conscious, physiological (appraise and respond) mechanism – kept our ancestors alive and able to flee from dangers, or to try to fight animals that threatened them.

We’ve got exactly the same mechanism within us as our ancestors had, and we have a need to handle threats and dangers through physical activity. Our ancestors dealt with their own problems as they arose. But now the resilience and energy of people is being sapped by a background of continuous bad news, as people try to work, and raise their families in a turbulent world.

T-V-screen.JPG

Handling bad news

Each day the most distressing news is carefully presented to us, and endlessly repeated, and our bodies register the negative information, and react to it physically. Unless we take action on a daily basis to burn off the stress hormones created by this endless newsfeed, we will get saturated with those hormones.

The Leeds University guide warns against news addiction, and recommends that staff manage their exposure to news. Apparently, according to the article, dons are having news programmes on continually and checking the news in the middle of the night.

stress-loop

Taking action to build resilience immediately

As a former lecturer at a FE college for approximately 35 years, I would like to share with you the three top techniques I used to survive in an educational environment which had a lot of waves of changes and uncertainty. Managing to emerge relatively unscathed, I’d like to recommend these three invaluable strategies for you to try out for yourself; and to experience the benefits of them yourself (assuming you don’t practise them already).

The first and foremost technique, in my opinion, to deal with massive change and uncertainty in the workplace, is daily exercise, which will burn off stress hormones from the previous day’s hassles. And not only does it quickly reduce feelings of anxiety or depression (or implosive anger) – our bodies make sure we find it a pleasurable activity, and release feel-good hormones.

Firstly I would recommend that you give up watching the evening news, and/or breakfast news on television each day, and instead do a bout of dancing, jogging, yoga, Chi-gong or any other kind of physical activity that you really enjoy. This is a great way to burn off the stress created by the previous day’s hassles, and it also releases endorphins, which are happiness chemicals, which lift your mood.

According to Robert Parry (2001) – in his book on Chi-gong – when we do exercise which involves deep breathing, like Chi-gong or yoga, then this type of breathing actually stimulates the parasympathetic part of our nervous systems, which is the part that helps the body rest, and restore; and renew itself through the digestive process. (This is called the ‘rest and digest’ part of our nervous system).

We activate this process by breathing from our bellies, not our chests. (That is to say, we breathe into the bottom of the lungs, which pushes the diaphragm downwards, and the belly outwards).

belly-breathing-frog

This means that if we deliberately breathe deeply (from our diaphragm, expanding our bellies) as we do our exercises, we are able to influence our physical state: our body then switches from a stressed state to the parasympathetic relaxed state.

Parry states that: “Tests measuring the electromagnetic resonance of the brain confirm that our brains shift into what is termed the ‘Alpha’ state of relaxation and deep rest during Chi-gong breathing exercises, a state in which not only the digestion but the body’s immune function too can operate at its optimal level. This is why Chi-gong helps us feel more in touch with our emotions and thoughts.” (Page 125).

For these reasons, I strongly recommend that workers need to exercise most days of the week in order to handle stress at work.

The second technique: using assertiveness strategies

In addition to physical exercise, I also recommend assertive communication strategies.

Robert Sapolsky wrote a fascinating book called ‘Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers’, which I strongly recommend. And the reason they don’t get ulcers, fundamentally, is that they can run away very swiftly from predators who want to eat them for lunch.

If we come across predators (or threats) at work, for example in the form of challenges to our sense of dignity and competence (like being insulted, harassed verbally, or shouted at by a member of staff [or told our funding has been removed!]), we can’t really run away. We have to stay in this stressful situation, and handle these sorts of problems, because we need the income to support our families and keep a roof over our heads.

Because we cannot abandon our jobs when the going gets tough, and because not everybody we work with will be charming and gracious, and good negotiators, life at work can become very difficult.  People can make our lives miserable if we don’t learn how to handle them skilfully.

So my second recommendation is this: Start learning assertiveness techniques to strengthen yourself in the workplace. Learning specific assertiveness techniques, and using them to communicate with colleagues, will mean that you will develop a strong sense of control over your life. This reduces your stress levels.

barbara-berkhan-book-cover

But how are you to learn to be more assertive?  Some good ideas can be found in books – as in Barbara Berckhan’s book on Judo with Words.  Or you can watch videos on assertive communication on YouTube.  Or you can go on an Assertiveness Training course, if you can find one.

A more available option is to go to a good coach-counsellor for help.  Role-plays with a supportive coach or counsellor (like yours truly) can really help to strengthen you. These techniques can be used immediately to create a better working environment for people, or help them come to terms with a situation in which their options are limited.

With role-play you can get descriptions of the techniques to use; coaching on how to do this; and immediate, constructive feedback on how you are communicating.  And it is a very powerful way to help you learn to protect your energy (and your dignity!) For example it gives you practice in expressing yourself confidently, handling requests and complaints, etc., and gives you very useful phrases to use to do your job effectively with reduced wear and tear on your nervous system. You quickly learn to ask for what you want; to say ‘No’ to what you do not want; and how to communicate your needs, wants and feelings to others.

The third recommendation: ‘Daily pages’ or a diary.

The-Artists-Way.jpg

The third recommendation is to write daily reflections on how your day went at work, or at home; and how you experienced events. The daily accounts are called “Daily pages”; or “Morning pages”, by Julia Cameron. She uses this technique to unblock creative people who have lost touch with their authentic selves and creative energies. She recommends writing three sides of A4 paper every morning. (This can be stream of consciousness, or deliberate, reflective logs of specific challenges at work, or at home) If this seems a lot, then aim to write at least one side of A4. This daily discipline works for the following crucial reason: our brains are designed to deal with incoming information – we are problem-solving creatures.  Ruminating in our minds, without committing our ideas to paper, simply causes us to go round and round the same old track, without learning or changing anything very much.

If we’re faced with challenges which we can’t handle, or need to ‘get (something) off our chests’ then we can write down what happens and our reaction to the events. This is externalising the information, and putting it out there on the page. Once the information is down on paper and out of our heads, we can see it. And because we can see it, our brain can then go into problem-solving mode and slowly a solution will appear from your brain-mind, magically.

philippa-perry-quoteLetting worries and fears about the future go round and round in our minds without expressing them in some way, is really bad for us and can affect our immune systems. Writing about what’s bugging us has an immediate therapeutic effect, and there is lots of evidence of its value.

It’s also private, with no financial cost, and it builds resilience in people because it puts them in touch with themselves and helps them learn about their own bodies-minds and responses to outside stressors.

~~~

writing-therapy-bookIf you wanted more details about the value of writing, then a really good book written by Dr Jim Byrne, details the benefits and research findings which show what a very effective technique it is. You can find it here: The Writing Solution.***

~~~

 

 

Conclusion

If you want to become more resilient in the face of constant change and challenges, then start to practice these three techniques on a daily basis:

# Physical exercise (preferably something like Chi-gong or yoga);

# Assertive communication skills;

# Daily writing in a journal or diary.

Immediately, and increasingly, these strategies will make you stronger physically and mentally, which is what you need to survive in the face of an incessantly changing society.

Daily exercise, assertive communication and daily written reflections are the foundation stones of self-care. With these three mind-body practices, you hold the key to protecting yourself and your energies in this crazy culture, so that you can survive and do your best for your family and loved ones, and get more enjoyment and relaxation out of the time that you have.

I hope you give them a try and enjoy the benefits!

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

References:

Sapolsky, R. (2004) Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers.  New York: St Martins Griffin.

Berckhan, B. (2001) Judo with Words: An intelligent way to counter verbal attacks. London: Free Association Press.

Cameron, J. (1992) The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity.  London: Souvenir Press.

Byrne, J. (2016) Narrative Therapy and the Writing Solution: An emotive-cognitive approach to feeling better and solving problems (Narrative Therapy Series Book 1) Kindle Edition. Available: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Narrative-Therapy-Writing-Solution-emotive-cognitive-ebook/dp/B01LNE73L0 

~~~

A rave review of Dr Carol Dweck’s book – ‘Mindset’ – which is about mental attitude, resilience, achievement and success…

Blog Post No. 21

Posted on 27th November 2016 (Previously posted on 5th February 2016)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A rave review of Dr Carol Dweck’s book – ‘Mindset’ – which is about mental attitude, resilience, achievement and success…

Introduction

carol-dweck-bookIn this blog I will explain a simple model based on the findings of Dr Carol Dweck and her university research team.

Then I will describe some of the ways in which the model has proved to be effective, plus some useful questions that can help children and adults maximise their potential and enjoy their talents and skills more.

The bottom line is this:

Most of us have been persuaded (falsely) by our educational experiences in the past:

  1. That intelligence is innate, and fixed.
  2. That some people are just innately more intelligent than others.
  3. That you cannot change your intelligence level.
  4. That ‘really intelligent’ people never make any mistakes in the process of studying new material.
  5. That people who struggle to learn are ‘losers’ – and, the corollary – that people who we believe to be ‘winners’ never make any mistakes.

But there is no really good evidence for any of these historical prejudices!  And most of them have been shown to be false by Dr Carol Dweck and her research collaborators.

Who is Carol Dweck?

carol-dweckDr Carol Dweck is a world famous Stanford University psychologist who has done many years of research into achievement and success in learning.

At the start of her book on ‘Mindset’ she describes going into a school to do research with children.

She gave them puzzles, some of which were easy to solve, and some which became increasingly hard for the children to solve. She wanted to see how the children would handle the challenge.

She describes one child, a ten year old boy, who did the following:

“He pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips together and cried out, ’I love a challenge!’ ”

carol-dweck-quote

She then went on to describe another child who was sweating with the exertion of solving the puzzles, and who looked up at her and said, with a pleased expression on her face, and with authority in her voice:

You know, I was hoping this would be informative.”

Carol Dweck was fascinated by their reactions and thought to herself, “What’s wrong with them?”

She couldn’t believe that they enjoyed learning, and didn’t get discouraged when they made mistakes.

She then went on to say:

“I, on the other hand, thought that human qualities were carved in stone. You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you weren’t. It was that simple. If you could arrange successes and avoid failures (at all costs) you could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, and perseverance were just not part of the picture.”

So these children became her role models, and she created a theory based on what she found when she started investigating the attitudes of children towards learning.

The two mind-sets:

She discovered that there were two identifiable and distinct mind-sets (or perspectives) which affected how children (and grown-ups) learn.  One of these mind-sets (or viewpoints) assumes that we are fixed entities who cannot grow and develop significantly; and the other one states that we are growth-organisms who change and develop through experience and practice.

And she explains that: “For twenty years my research has shown that the view (or mind-set) that you adopt for yourself, profoundly affects the way you lead your life”. (Page 6)

~~~

Here is a video of Dr Carol Dweck explaining her ideas and research findings:

What this means, in practice, is that:

(1)  if you hold the fixed mind-set (regarding the possibilities of your own life) then you are stuck being the way you are today.  No really significant growth will result from that mind-set. Or:

(2) that if you hold the growth mind-set (regarding the possibilities of your own life) then you can set goals and struggle persistently towards those goals, without being dragged down by the fear of failures along the way towards success!

I will now present those two mind-sets in brief:

  1. A ‘Fixed’ mind-set means that:

# You think your qualities, skills and talents are carved in stone.

# You feel you have to prove your ability over and over again.

# You think that skill and talents should come naturally – that you shouldn’t need to make any effort. (Dweck considers that this is one of the worst beliefs anyone can have).

# You believe you have to hide your mistakes and deficiencies from others.

# You think you have to run from errors as quickly as possible.

# Basically, you are convinced that your traits are just givens: that you have a certain amount of brains and talents and nothing can alter that.

Questions that children ask themselves when they have this mind-set are:

‘Will I succeed or fail?’

‘Will I look smart or dumb?’

‘Will I be accepted or rejected?’

‘Will I feel like a winner or a loser?’

~~~

And now for the second mind-set:

  1. A ‘Growth’ mind-set means that:

# You think that your intelligence can be developed through receiving teaching, mentoring, and by applying yourself to what needs to be learned and practised.

# You know that making an effort consistently will lead to an increase in ability over time.

# You accept your mistakes and confront your deficiencies.

# You realise that being talented is just the starting point.

~~~

How do children get these mind-sets?

Dweck and her researchers wanted to find out how these mind-sets were transmitted to children. Over the course of fifteen years of research they discovered that indiscriminate praising of children’s behaviour was unhelpful. Praising them, and telling them how brilliant and talented they were, led to the children developing a ‘fixed’ mind-set. It made them avoid and fear challenges. They didn’t want to take risks because they wanted to ‘look good’ to others.

So how can parents help children develop a ‘growth’ mind-set?

Dweck recommends that praising the process that the children are going through, as they work at developing their skills, will be very constructive for the child.  So the take away message is: Don’t praise another person’s results or outcomes.  Praise their approach to the problem.

When children in a Chicago school were unable to pass a unit, instead of the grade saying ‘Fail’, it said, “Not yet.”  This kept the child on the learning curve. They had not been classified as ‘a failure’, but rather as ‘still learning’.

A question she recommends that parents ask their children round the dinner table is: “Who had a fabulous struggle today?”

She recommends that if the process of learning is valued, and acknowledged, then struggling and making mistakes is accepted as a crucial part of the growth process.

So she contends that a ‘Growth’ mind-set:

  1. allows students (or learners) to embrace learning;
  2. helps them understand the role of effort in creating intelligence, and:
  3. also helps them maintain resilience when they are faced with setbacks, instead of running from their mistakes.

~~~

An experiment conducted with 7th grade students in the US.

Carol Dweck describes, in her presentation to the Royal Society of Arts, in 2013, an experiment conducted with 7th grade students, who were assigned to two different groups:

# Group 1, the ‘Growth mind-set’ students, were given eight sessions of study skills.

They were also given one session on the growth mind-set which involved them reading an article entitled, ‘You can grow your intelligence’, which described facts about how the brain works and how the brain can be developed like a muscle.

Then they were assigned a task e.g. ‘Write a letter to a struggling friend using a growth mind-set’.

# Group 2, the control group, were given eight sessions of study skills, without the extra session on the growth mind-set.

After the input to the two groups, the maths grades of the two groups were tested and analysed. The results were as follows:

The control group, who had only had study skills tuition, continued to have declining maths grades. But the students who had the study skills input plus the ‘growth’ mind-set session, showed a sharp rebound in their maths skills.

This is one example of the value of using this approach, and Dweck mentions other research studies in her presentation, which also confirm that the students’ learning is powerfully enhanced by teaching the growth mind-set.

~~~

Conclusion

How can Dweck’s theory and her research help children and adults?

Children have a very tough job of developing their skills in the hothouse of a school environment, with the spotlight of the teacher and their peer group on them most of the time. Who can blame them for forming (closed mind-set) limiting views of their abilities, when they are surrounded by judgments and constant evaluations of their progress (rather than their efforts and persistence)?

But they can be strengthened in their resilience and determination if the teacher and/or their parents use the growth mind-set when asking the children about their school work.

Here is a visual summary by Nigel Holmes of the two mind-sets and their differences:

>>>

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For adults, the rewards of experimenting with the growth mind-set would mean that they persist in the face of difficulty, and keep going until they learn a way forward.  Instead of seeing their errors during learning tasks as something that they have to flee from, they would see their mistakes as something that they could learn from.

They would give up rating themselves as a winner or a loser on the basis of the fact that it takes time to learn new knowledge and skills.

They would come to see the belief that we are a ‘winner’ or a ‘loser’ (during the learning process) as a dysfunctional belief based on a lack of understanding about the way the brain-mind actually works.

Here are a few questions which can develop our own ‘growth’ mind-set, which are suitable for children and adults:

Growth questions:

“What can I learn from this result?”

“What can I do next time when I am in the same situation?”

“What opportunities are there for my growth today?”

“What do I need to do to maintain and continue my growth?”

~~~

I strongly recommend Dr Dweck’s presentations and books, and hope you find them very useful for yourselves.

~~~

If you feel stuck in a situation where your current skills and knowledge will not take you forward, and you have the fixed mind-set, then you can’t make any progress.

Unless you figure out how to develop the growth mind-set, you cannot move forward.  I can assure you, despite what you have been taught, that you can grow and change and develop.  If you need help with that process, I can point you in some productive and constructive directions!

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843629

~~~

Reference:

Dr.Carol Dweck (2006) Mindset. London: Random House.

~~~

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Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach: no glucose – no willpower!

Blog Post No. 41

4th November 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach!

callout-1-shopping-image

Introduction

My last blog was about habits – changing them and starting new ones. But to make any changes in our behaviour, we need willpower. And willpower is fuelled by the glucose in our bodies that we get from our diet. Food is much more important and powerful than we realise.

Our willpower is strong if we have a good supply of glucose in us. But when we face the challenges of our daily lives, and the constant decision-making that we have to do throughout the day, slowly our level of glucose drops, and this can strongly affect our behaviour.

Yes.  Decisions take energy, which is provided by blood-glucose, which is provided by the foods that we eat.

In this blog I’m going to give you some amazing examples of how our mood and behaviour is affected by low blood sugar, because of lack of food. Also in the blog are some brief summaries of the research into how willpower, energy and self-control are dependent on the food we eat and what we drink. I’ll also mention some suggestions that show how you can benefit in your daily life from the valuable insights that researchers have identified in this area.

Let’s look at one experiment:

The ‘Radish’ experiment

callout-2-radishes

This experiment was conducted by Roy Baumeister (1996).

A group of students, who’d been fasting (so they were all about equally hungry), were asked to enter a room which was filled with the smell of warm, freshly-baked cookies (biscuits).

The students then had to sit at a table which had 3 different types of food on it: warm cookies, some pieces of chocolate, and a dish of radishes.

After that they were split up into 3 groups:

# The first group was a control group of students, who were not offered food of any kind.

# In the second group, participants were invited to eat the cookies or the chocolate, which was on the table.

# And in the third group, the participants were only allowed to eat the radishes.

To increase the pressure on the students, the researchers left the room, and, from a private vantage point, watched the students as they ate their food.

A few of the students in the ‘radish’ group picked up the cookies and smelled them, but then put them back again, and didn’t give in to temptation, even though it was clear that they really wanted to eat them.

callout-3-cookies

Then all the students were taken into a room where there was a selection of puzzles laid out. These puzzles were actually unsolvable, and the researchers wanted to see how long the students would work at attempting to solve the puzzles before they gave up.

(Apparently the value of giving them this task, which is used by many stress researchers, is that it’s a very useful indicator of people’s general level of perseverance).

The results were as follows:

1. The students who had been allowed to eat the cookies typically worked on the puzzles for twenty minutes.

2. The control group of students also managed to work on the puzzles for twenty minutes (even though they had no cookies or radishes to eat).

3. What about the radish-eating students? They gave up after only eight minutes! This is a large and significant difference by the result levels of laboratory experiments. The researchers concluded that the temptation of looking at the cookies and having to control their desire to eat them, had affected their energy levels considerably.

The value of the ‘radish’ experiment

This experiment shows that people’s ability to keep going at a task is reduced by being frustrated beforehand. Baumeister called it “ego depletion,” meaning that people have a reduced ability to manage their thoughts, feelings and actions if they have had to use their self-control repeatedly. And the radish-eating students had had to control their feelings about the cookies and chocolate!

When frustrating experiences take place, it causes a slow-down in a specific part of the brain (called the anterior cingulate cortex). And this is the specific part of the brain that is essential for self-control. So too many frustrations results in slower brain activity and people then can’t control their reactions to events as well as they normally could. The result is that they struggle to do things that normally wouldn’t be a problem for them.

How our relationships can be affected by ego-depletion

couple

A marital therapist called Don Baucom, when he heard about this research experiment conducted by Baumeister, stated that this helped him to understand a common pattern that he’d observed in the dual career couples that he had been counselling for many years. But (up to that point) he hadn’t understood the meaning behind the pattern.

What many couples had reported to him was that as soon as they got home from work, they would start having arguments about really insignificant things, and this took place every evening. This naturally was causing the couples a lot of unhappiness.

And what he had done sometimes was recommend that they try to go home early from work. He’d realised that the long hours at work were badly affecting their energy.

When they got home after a tough day at work they’d got nothing left to help them handle their partner’s irritating habits. They had no energy left to be generous or considerate with their partner, and had no energy to stop sarcastic comments being said.

dont-thrash-out-serious-probs

Baucom realised that the couples would really benefit if they left work early while they still had some energy left. He could see that when the stress levels at work were high, it had a serious effect on people’s marriages. People were using up all their willpower on the job and had nothing left when they got home.

One of the most revealing examples of the effects of low blood sugar – (a low level of glucose in the bloodstream) – was the research that was done into the decision-making patterns of Israeli Judges.

 

The Israeli Judges

A team of psychologists, led by Shai Danziger of the Ben-Gurion University, and Jonathan Levav  of Columbia University, reviewed over a thousand decisions that Parole Board judges made over a period of 10 months, in an Israeli prison, in 2010.

After hearing appeals by the prisoners, each judge had to then listen to advice from criminologists and sociologists on the parole board, in order to decide whether they should allow the prisoner to go out on parole or not. They had to bear in mind that there was a risk that if parole were to be granted, then the prisoner might go on to reoffend.

israeli-judgesEach judge, on average, granted parole to one out of three prisoners. What was apparent was that there was a pattern which emerged in the decisions made by the judges and it was this:

If a prisoner appeared in front of the judge in the early morning session, they were granted parole approximately 65% of the time. And if a prisoner appeared later in the day, they got parole less than 10% of the time.

graph

Another pattern emerged in the judges’ behaviour half-way through the morning.  Before 10.30am, the parole board would stop for a short break, during which the judges would eat a sandwich and a piece of fruit. This would give them a boost of energy, in the form of glucose, into their bloodstreams.

Apparently the prisoners who appeared just prior to the break, had a 15% chance of getting parole, but the prisoners who were seen immediately after the break had a 65% chance of being granted parole.

Then, amazingly, the same pattern emerged after lunch. Around 12.30 pm the likelihood of being granted parole was only 20%, in this period of time, before the lunch was served. And if you were seen by the judge immediately after lunch, the likelihood of being granted parole increased to more than 60%!

callout-4-same-willpower

Why did their decision-making follow such marked patterns?

Roy Baumeister and John Tierney (2012) are of the opinion that when we make decisions, we use up energy (in the form of glucose). This would have meant that the judges became drained of energy after a morning of decision-making, and that if there were any doubt in their minds about the wisdom of granting parole to a prisoner, if they had very little energy, the judges would opt to maintain the status quo, and play safe and keep the prisoner in jail.

Decision-making reduces our willpower, (by reducing the fuel that it depends upon!), and if we are making decisions all day, then as our energy gets depleted, we then choose easy options, or avoid making decisions, to escape from the hard labour of thinking.

Watching a video with words flashed on the screen

Another experiment measured the glucose levels of participants before and after they did a simple task of watching a video. As they watched the video, at the bottom of the screen were words, which were flashed onto the screen at varied intervals. There were two groups, as follows:

# The first group of people were told to pay no attention to the words on the screen, and they could just relax and watch in any way they wanted to.

# The second group of people had been told that they had to avoid reading the words. When the glucose levels (of this second group) were checked, they had a big drop in their brain’s glucose levels.

students-watching-screenWith regard to the first group, the levels of glucose had remained constant in these people, who had been told to view the screen however they wished.

So it was apparent (from the second group, by contrast with the first) that having to make mental efforts to avoid seeing words flashed on the screen, used up the glucose levels in their brains.

But scientists have to be very careful about the conclusions they form, and go back and check their inferences using additional experiments.

Checking out the accuracy of the research results

A later experiment, using lemonade, was conducted, to make sure that there really was a connection between decision making and a reduction in glucose levels in people.

The ‘lemonade’ experiment

Researchers gave out drinks of lemonade to two groups of people:

# One group were given lemonade drinks with diet sweetener in them.

# The other group were given lemonade with a small amount of sugar, to give them a quick shot of glucose.

lemonade-glass

When these two groups of participants started playing a computer game, the differences in the drinks they had consumed became very obvious.

To reduce the participants’ willpower, the computer game had been rigged, and after a while it became apparent that it was very difficult to play.  Slowly the participants began to get annoyed. But the participants with the sugar in their drink just moaned a bit and kept going.

The other participants (with the diet drink) started swearing and hitting the computer. And when an insulting (scripted) remark was made by one of the experimenters, then the people who had not got any glucose in their drinks became angry at the experimenter’s provocative remark.

This led to the following insight:

“No glucose – no willpower: the pattern showed up time and time again as researchers tested more people in more situations”, stated Baumeister and Tierney. (Page 49)

The implications of these findings for us

What can we learn from these experiments?

If our willpower is greatly reduced, then this can result in low levels of self-control. And this can cause us major problems.

Here’s an example: When we go shopping, because of all the different types of offers and goods on display in the shops, we use up lots of energy (glucose) paying attention to many different things, which are often potential choices to make, which are also potential decisions to wrestle with.  As a result, we can suffer from decision fatigue, just like the people in the research experiments.

Here’s an example:

Choosing an outfit

 swatchesCompanies selling goods know about the energy-draining effects of decision-making and can use it to their advantage. Here is an account by a Columbia University psychologist called Jonathan Levav. He had to buy a bespoke suit (made-to-measure by a tailor), for a wedding that he would be attending.

At the tailors, he went through all the different choices of fabrics, style of linings, style of buttons and other aspects of his new suit design.

How did this affect him?

By the time I got through my third pile of fabric swatches I wanted to kill myself”, Levav said. “I couldn’t tell the choices apart any more. After a while my only response to the tailor became: ‘What do you recommend?’ I just couldn’t take it.”

As it turned out Levav didn’t go ahead with the suit purchase (partially helped by the $2,000 price tag).

But because he felt overwhelmed and exhausted by all the choices he was given, and the decisions he was asked to make, this gave him an idea for some research experiments. One scenario for his research, conducted with other colleagues, was to observe what happened at car dealerships, specifically a car dealership in Germany.

The researchers surreptitiously observed real customers who were asked to make choices about their design options for their new sedan cars.

car-forecourt

At first the customers took the choices they had to make very seriously. Here are some of the options they faced. There were:

~Four styles of gearshift knobs

~Thirteen kinds of tyres and rims

~Twenty-five combinations of the engine and the gearbox

~Fifty six different colours for the car’s interior.

Slowly the more difficult choices wore out the buyers’ energy, and they ended up choosing the habit-based, traditional route, and they thereby “settled for the path of least resistance.”

Levav and his researchers discovered:

# The salespeople seemed to consciously manipulate the potential buyers, by overloading them with information;

# the net result was that the buyers abandoned all apparent choices open to them, and left it up to the salesperson to decide what they should have; and

# the customer ended up being ‘given’ a more expensive option than they could have got, if they’s had the energy (glucose) to compute the available options.  ( And the average difference totalled more than fifteen hundred euros per car (which was about $2,000 dollars at the time of the observations).

Another example

Sometimes shoppers get fed up making decisions, and stop buying things. But this doesn’t stop the marketeers. Have you noticed that in supermarkets, after people have used up their decision-making energy – looking at the different special offers, price reductions and varied choices of food and drinks, etc. – they finally arrive at the checkout area, where they have another range of choices?

check-out-at-supermarket

This is where the customers with decision fatigue (low glucose levels) are at their lowest ebb, and most vulnerable (especially if they have young children with them, clamouring for sweets). The sweets and chocolates are deliberately there at the checkout for anyone desperate for a glucose fix.

So what can we do in the face of this information about how our bodies and brains work – information which has been used, and will continue to be used, relentlessly by big (and small) businesses, to get our money? How can we get stronger?

no-glucose-no-willpower

Eat your way to willpower

As always, information is power, and Roy Baumeister and John Tierney (2012) make some very helpful suggestions so that we can benefit from their findings. They mention the key insights from all the willpower research that has taken place with thousands of people inside and outside the lab:

1. Firstly, we have a limited amount of willpower(which is fuelled by glucose!)

2.Secondly, we use the same store of willpower for a wide variety of tasks. So if you check your mobile phone about once every 4.3 minutes, as one recent study has found – (Sunday Times, October 30th, 2016,  Page 29) – then don’t expect to have much energy later on in the day for other decisions or uses of your willpower (like communicating with your loved ones at home at the end of the day!)

How can we use our store of willpower effectively?

Baumeister and Tierney recommend that you keep your level of glucose as constant as possible:

“Glucose depletion can turn the most charming companion into a monster. The old advice about eating a good breakfast applies all day long, particularly on days when you’re physically or mentally stressed.

“If you have a test, an important meeting or a vital project, don’t take it on without glucose. Don’t get into an argument with your boss four hours after lunch. Don’t thrash out serious problems with your partner just before dinner.”

(Very briefly, do not take this emphasis on the importance of glucose for willpower as advice to eat white sugar.  White sugar, and other sugary foods, like white bread and pasta, will give you a quick spike of glucose, but your insulin will then shoot up, and suck the sugar out of your system, leaving you with less blood glucose than you had before you had your quick sugar hit).

Making glucose work for you

healthy-food

In order to have a steady level of self-control, these authors advise people to eat foods which have a low-glycaemic index. This means that the food is converted into glucose at a slow and steady rate throughout the day. Suitable food examples are fish, meat, nuts, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, cheese, olive oil and other beneficial fats.

The evidence of the value of this type of diet is shown in the research findings from the behaviour changes of many teenagers held in detention centres. After the centres swapped sugary foods and refined carbohydrates with vegetables, fruits and wholegrains, there was a steep reduction in attempts to escape, violence and other behaviour problems.

Making sure you get enough sleep has a beneficial effect on your glucose level

If we don’t get enough sleep, we have less self-control and less ability to perform related processes like decision-making! Lack of sleep also interferes with the body’s ability to process glucose which can, over a longer period of time, create a higher risk of diabetes.

sleeping-child

And by resting, we reduce the body’s need for glucose, and we improve our body’s ability to use the glucose that we have in our bloodstream.

Changing your habits

These authors recommend that if you want to make a big change in your life, keep it simple:.  This is what they say:

“Focus on one project at a time…if you  set more than one self-improvement goal, you may succeed for a while by drawing on reserves to power through, but that leaves you more depleted and more prone to serious mistakes later.

“People who are trying to quit smoking, for example, will have their best shot at succeeding if they aren’t trying to change other behaviours at the same time”.

Don’t make any New Year’s resolution lists!

new-years-eve

The final insight from this book that I want to share with you is this wise advice:

“Above all, don’t make a list of new year resolutions…by February 1st people are too embarrassed to even look at the list.

“But instead of lamenting their lack of willpower, they should put the blame where it belongs – on the list! No-one has enough willpower for that list. Because you’ve only one supply of willpower, the resolutions all compete with each other. A better plan is to make one resolution and stick to it. That’s challenge enough.” (Page 38)

quote-on-eating-regularly

Conclusion

In this blog, I have looked at how our willpower depends upon our blood glucose levels; and how vested interests in the market use this against us.

I hope you find this information useful! Soon all of us will be exposed to intense and powerful marketing techniques and high-pressure sales bids, as we start to look for presents for our family and friends in the next month, leading up to Christmas. So don’t forget your glucose level, keep yourself as well-fed as you can afford, and it will keep your self-control strong!  (But always go for slow-burning fuel, and not quick spikes of refined sugar products!)

If you need support as you attempt lifestyle changes, contact me. Some changes are much harder to bring about in our lives than others. There’s no substitute for having a good coach, as I’m sure Andy Murray will agree.

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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References:

Willpower: Rediscovering our greatest strength By Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, (2012) London, Penguin

‘Driven to Distraction’@joshglancy (30.10.2016, page 29) The Sunday Times, London.

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