philosophy of happiness and success

Blog Post No. 55

6th January  2018

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2018

Renata’s Coaching Blog: A philosophy of happiness and success for 2018

Five powerful quotations that change people’s lives!

Here’s a selection of treasures from the past which strengthen us in the present

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Introduction

Some simple words and phrases, created by others, can help us to survive in this complex world that is saturated with excessive information and bad news. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all interconnected.  And some insights from profound thinkers can change the way we think-feel-act.  For this reason, if you change your philosophy of life, you can become happier, healthier and more successful, at home and in work.

In this blog I want to present a brief range of profound insights which have woken me up, and which can awaken you to a new way to think, feel and act in your new year of opportunity: 2018.

These quotations are like a dose of medicine, strong and powerful, (and without side effects); which can ground you in your body-mind and your actual surroundings; and awaken you to the stunning world in which you live; thus recharging your energy, and providing optimism for the year ahead.

These insights have worked wonders for me – and I hope they help you to be happier, healthier and more successful in the period ahead!

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Teddy Roosevelt quotes

Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt was an American president who had strong views about how to live. He won a Nobel Peace prize and entered political office in 1901. The following quotation from him is magnificent – because it forces us to reign back our minds from fantasies and re-orient ourselves to the reality around us, and our limitations. We aren’t superhuman; and we need to manage our bodies, and our environments, carefully, and not exhaust ourselves. This is it:

Roosevelt-1

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The next quote by Roosevelt was one that I heard for the first time at a Landmark Forum, (or Personal Development marathon), in Leeds, many years ago. And I was blown away by it. It states, very eloquently, the warning message that, whatever we do in life, there will be people on the side-lines criticising us, and trying to demotivate and divert us from our goals. But to live our lives fully we need to be in the arena of life, striving to find our way forward. (Imagine a massive football stadium with you in the centre, dealing with life and its challenges).The glory doesn’t go to the critics, sitting in the stands; but to the millions of heroic people who struggle through life to achieve their goals.  Here are the words that moved me:

Proper-Roosevelt-critic-quote

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We now move on to a statement by Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese sage, who created Taoist philosophy, and who lived in the 6th century BCE. His profound insights were written down and put in to a book called the “Tao Te Ching”, and I strongly recommend that you read this book, many times.

Lao Tzu 

This is the bit I mean:

Lao-Tsu

In this quotation, Lao Tzu is advising us to work at accepting reality and accepting change as a constant part of our lives. (But please remember, it’s okay to try to change those things which are changeable, as we will see when we look at Epictetus, below). And Lao Tzu is also saying that blocking change is not a constructive thing to do. This is not easy to accept, and at times it can seem overwhelming. However, it is, he implies, the wisest way to live our lives.

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Epictetus and the question of control…

This leads us into one of my really top quotes, which I use myself, by reminding myself of its wisdom, whenever I become upset about the nature of reality. I also mention it to my coaching/counselling clients, because of its simple clarification of our personal boundaries. It comes from an ancient Greco-Roman philosopher called Epictetus. He was born in 55 CE in Turkey and was one of the most famous Stoic philosophers. (I advocate the use of the moderate elements of his philosophy, but I reject, and warn against using, his extremist views: such as the one where he asserts that we are not upset by what happens to us! [All our heroes have feet of clay!])

This quote, below, states that there are some things that we can control and some things that are definitely beyond our control. This sounds glaringly obvious, but it isn’t! Lots of human suffering arises when we try to change something which we can’t – because we haven’t got the power. And all too often, humans continue to try to change things which are beyond their control – and this makes them very frustrated and unhappy. To be really happy we’d better actually work at sussing out what we can control, and forget about trying to change those things, events and people which we cannot change or affect in any significant way.  Here’s that relevant statement:

Proper-epictetus

The question of personal change…

Finally, this last quote explains why there are limits in the control that we have over other people. Marilyn Ferguson was an American author, editor and public speaker who specialised in personal and social transformation. She was born in 1938, and died in 2008. Her quote describes the truth that people can’t be forced to change – it’s up to them and they are (often) firmly in charge of their own growth processes (in those areas which they can control! This is what she said:

Proper-marilyn-ferguson-quote

Conclusion

Reading the views and ideas of thoughtful and wise people, who have lived before us, can be very helpful – as indicated above. They can broaden our view of life; and help us to manage our emotions in difficult circumstances.  They enrich the wealth of knowledge that can be passed down in our families, and can be therapeutic for us and our nearest and dearest.

Their views can act like compasses or road maps, and help us make our way through life more easily. The quotes I have selected above are some of my favourite, treasured principles; and I strongly recommend that you look for your own, which will nourish you when times get tough. (But please remember, all our heroes have feet of clay.  So we’d better read their writings critically, and try to avoid following their errors or unhelpful thoughts.

As a lifestyle coach/counsellor, I am always looking for examples of the practical and useful wisdom of others, which can strengthen my clients as they make their courageous way through life. I hope you find this blog post helpful; and I hope you also search for and find some really good wisdom quotes for yourself.

That’s all for today.

If you need to clarify your thinking or feelings, call me to arrange a conversation.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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Sleep, meditation and relaxation strategies for greater quality of life

Blog Post No. 54

13th November 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017


Renata’s Coaching Blog: Developing resilience when you’re working on the front line in your job:

Coping with stress, anger, anxiety and depression…

Sleep, diet and exercise are critical…

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Introduction

Front cover, 8Dealing with people is very enjoyable, and very demanding at the same time, isn’t it? Especially when you are dealing with people who are suffering from all the trials and tribulations that life has thrown at them.

How do you stay strong? You need all your energy to communicate with them and not become drained. And three of the most challenging conditions to deal with are the problems of anxiety, anger and depression, whether it’s experienced by yourself or other people.

My work is about helping others to grow in strength, creativity and happiness.  I do that in several ways: face to face coaching; and writing blogs; and (more recently) writing books.

What I have done most recently is to co-author a book with my husband, Dr Jim Byrne, which shows how our emotions of anxiety, anger and depression are very strongly affected by the food we eat, and the physical exercise we take, or fail to take!

We’ve put in some significant and surprising research findings which are therapeutic, because they show how we can better manage our energies and emotions so that we are stronger in ourselves. But also these findings can be used to help others.

I’m just about to begin the final proof-reading of that book, and then it will be available to you, via Amazon.

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Moving on to sleep, relaxation and mediation

Sleep-book-coverBut as I mentioned in my last blog, I have now been reading Matthew Walker’s book called “Why we sleep”, which was published in September of this year. And I have been so shocked and stunned – by the many research findings that he quotes about why sleep is so important – that I have decided to write about his key findings, and to summarise them for everyone. I have also identified several other books which must be taken into account, and I have begun to do that research work and note taking.

I also intend to include research findings about the power of meditation and relaxation techniques in the book, because those three strategies are closely related; and support each other.

The benefits

Sleep, meditation and relaxation techniques can transform our experience of anger, anxiety and depression. This book will describe the ways that our resilience can be greatly enhanced by adequate sleep, daily meditation, and sound approaches to relaxation.

I’ll let you know when both books become available.

The Sleep/Meditation/Relaxation book will not be finished until I have found several ways to help you to put some new strategies into your life, to strengthen you, and to enhance the quality of your life.

Here is part of Walker’s message:

“Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day”. (Walker 2017).

In the meantime, I strongly recommend Walker’s book, because, as he states, the importance of our sleep hasn’t been properly communicated to us by scientists. And when you look at the bare facts of the negative impact of the lack of sleep on us, it can be a real shock!

Conclusion

So if you want to live your life on a full tank of gas, then improving the quality of your sleep will make a big difference. If you have teenagers, the section of his book where he explains the needs of teenagers for more sleep than adults, is excellent and very helpful.

Sleeping -baby

See what you think of his book (and I swear I haven’t got any shares in his publishing company!)

So now, I must get back to proofreading our Diet and Exercise book; and then back to the sleep research!

renata-taylor-byrne-lifestyle-coachIf you need any help or support, you know where I am!

Happy snoozing,

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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Sleep, learning, health and happiness

Blog Post No. 53

14th October 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017


Renata’s Coaching Blog:

Do you want to feel better tomorrow morning, at no cost? The amazing power of sleep can transform your life

Introduction

This blog is a rave review of a book review I read, two weeks ago, in the Sunday Times Culture Magazine (October 1st 2017). It was written by James McConnachie.

He was reviewing ‘Why we sleep’- a book written by Matthew Walker, who is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Berkeley, California.  The book was published in September of this year.

Sleeping -baby

Vital facts about sleep

McConnachie has done a very clear and fluent analysis of this book, ‘Why we sleep’, and has picked out some fascinating facts about why sleep is so important, and how we could all benefit from being more aware of its importance. In this blog post, I will present some of these gems so you can have the latest findings on sleep and how it makes you feel better.  Of course, to gain the benefits, you would have to take on board the implications of the research findings. They really clarify, on the basis of sound research, the importance of sleep for our well-being.

Sleeping-man

A vital fact: We need a minimum of 8 hours sleep every night!

If you think you can get by on less than 8 hours sleep a night, then you are most likely wrong.  According to Matthew Walker:

“You have forgotten what it is like to function properly”.

Sleep-book-coverWalker estimates that 2 out of 5 people in the UK are not having the sleep that they need, and he points out the consequences of not having enough sleep, which you may not be aware of. I will now present some of those consequences.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Short sleepers eat an average of 300 calories extra per day, adding up to 10lb to 15lb of weight gain over a year! This is because people who don’t get enough sleep tend to eat more. (Their bodies produce more ghrelin, which is a hormone that makes you feel hungry. They also produce less leptin, which is the hormone that makes you feel full up). You also become vulnerable to some of those medical conditions which sleep protects us from.  What are those conditions?

Appetite

Sleep protects us from:

According to Walker’s research, sleep protects us from:

# Influenza

# Infections

# Dementia

# Heart disease; and:

# Mental ill health. (Walker states that: “There is no major psychiatric condition in which sleep is [found to be] normal”.)

Adequate sleep also protects us from car crashes. (Drowsiness, resulting from sleep deprivation or insufficiency causes more road accidents than drugs and alcohol combined).

Walker also states that adults of 45 and over, who sleep fewer than 6 hours a night, are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke!

So what are the benefits of adequate sleep, apart from removing the risks listed above?

What having enough sleep gives you

The research results show that, adequate sleep will help you in the following ways:

# You will have more energy (and be more productive);

# You control your weight better;

# It makes you more creative;

# It makes you more emotionally intelligent and able to pick up vital, subtle, non-verbal and verbal cues from people in interpersonal communication; and:

# It makes you look younger!

Some ‘killer facts’ mentioned in the book

Matthew-WalkerIn addition to these benefits, Walker mentions two other important facts.  The first concerns sleep, and the other learning and memory (of particular interest to students).

Firstly, it has been discovered that a single night of inadequate sleep (of just 4 hours) destroys 70% of the ‘natural killer cells’ in the immune system!  Those killer cells are what protects us from various pathogenic invaders of our bodies.

Secondly, if you are a student trying to learn new information, Matthew Walker has some great advice for you:

On his ‘You Tube’ talk entitled ‘Why We Sleep’, he shows the power of sleep in relation to learning and memory:

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What All-nighters do to your learning efficiency

As described in the video clip above, Walker did some research on sleep and learning.  One of the things he investigated was this: If we go to an all-night party (or cram for an exam all night), and have no sleep, would it affect our ability to learn the following day? Dr Walker wanted to test the hypothesis (a testable statement), that “Pulling an all-nighter is a good idea”, so he set up a research experiment:

Two groups of healthy young adults were split into a ‘Sleep’ group and a ‘Sleep Deprivation’ group. The ‘Sleep’ group were going to get a full eight hours’ sleep, and the ‘Deprivation’ group were going to keep awake all night, under supervision, with no caffeine or naps.

Then the following day, the members of each group were placed in an MRI scanner – (which can monitor their brain functioning) – and were asked to learn a whole list of new facts, as snapshots were taken of their brains’ activities. Following that, the participants were all tested to see how effective the learning had been.

When the learning efficiency of the two groups was compared, there was an amazing 40% difference in the ability of the brain to make new memories as between the two groups. So all-nighters have to pay a mental price tag in terms of almost halving their ability to learn!

If you are a student, or learning new material of any kind, then this has to be ‘a wakeup call’ for you (if you will pardon the paradoxical pun!).

Matthew Walker made the following statement in response to these findings, about the impact of sleep on our ability to learn new information:

“This should be frightening considering what we know in our education populations right now about what is happening to sleep. It would be the difference between ‘aceing’ an exam and failing it miserably”

He goes on to say:

It’s been recently discovered that you need sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, so it’s almost like a dry sponge, ready to soak up new information.

Sleep after learning is essential to hit the ‘SAVE’ button on those new memories so you don’t forget them”. 

He then also goes on to state that:

“Without sleep our memory circuits effectively become waterlogged and you can’t absorb information.”

So, to be clear, we need adequate sleep to prepare to soak up new information; and we need adequate sleep afterwards to consolidate the learning (in the form of memory traces in the brain).

Conclusion

This evidence about the importance of sleep has emerged over the last 20 years, and has massive implications for our health, and our ability to learn, to interact with others effectively, and to enjoy life.

Since I read the review by James McConnachie, I have been religiously making sure I get at least 8 hours’ sleep per night, and intend to get Matthew Walker’s book. I strongly recommend it, and also watching him talking on ‘You Tube.’

But please bear in mind: This blog has given you some of the latest information about sleep from an expert. I’ve just given you some declarative knowledge (which means that you’ve now got some information that can be retained or stored; or articulated or stated to another person). This has to be distinguished from what we call ‘procedural knowledge’.  That is to say, knowing how to tie shoe laces is not at all the same thing as being able to tie shoe laces.

If you want this information about sleep to improve your quality of life – your health and relationships, your learning and memorizing ability, and safety when driving – then you need to turn this information into procedural knowledge.

You need to actively change your sleep patterns, which are most likely well established habits!

You need to be able to stick to your commitment to change your sleep habits, and assertively alter them in the face of possible pressure from others. As Dr Phil said, “This is when the rubber hits the road”.

renata-taylor-byrne-lifestyle-coachIf you want support in doing this, that’s when coaching can be a great moral and practical support. So contact me if you want to take on board these findings and change your sleep patterns for the better.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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Sleep,

A self-coaching exercise: Happiness audit

Blog Post No. 52

25th August 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

A Self-coaching exercise which can improve the quality of your life:

The “Haversack and Balloons” exercise

Introduction

In this blog I am going to introduce you to an exercise that you can do, which is like a visual ‘balance sheet’ of your life at the moment.  It will help you to see if you need to bring more happiness into your daily life!  And it will help to balance self-support against the pressures of life.

I came across this exercise many years ago and found it to be really helpful for lots of people – in particular with students on my stress management courses and counselling courses. It’s a very simple and effective way of checking out whether you have a good balance of pleasurable and nourishing things in your life at the moment.  It’s important to watch that balance, as you need adequate resources to keep you going as you do all those daily tasks at work and/or at home.

Method

Print off a copy of this four-step exercise – shown in green – and follow the simple instructions:

STEP 1: Burdens and responsibilities (tasks, etc)

Write in the white spaces on the haversack those things that weigh you down at the moment:

Haversack image

(If you need to continue on a separate sheet of paper, then please do so.)

STEP 2: List the things that lift you up or raise your spirits

In each of the balloons, write in one thing which makes you feel good, and enriches your life, and keeps you happy on a daily basis.

Ballons image

(Again, if you need to continue on a separate sheet of paper, then please do so.)

STEP 3: Review

Weigh up your stressors and the supports (or balloons and burdens)

As you look at the two different aspects of your life at the moment, (your haversack and your balloons), see what proportion of problems and challenges you have weighing you down, and what proportion of daily pleasures and uplifting experiences you have filled in.

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STEP 4: Your action plan

For a happy and contented life, you need to make sure that you have a roughly equal balance of pressures and supports – or challenges and pleasures.

Your balloons will keep you going (and sane) as you handle all the aggravations life throws at you!

So decide what action you might need to take to increase your ‘daily balloons’ or reduce some of your mental burdens or pressures.

Make a list and commit to take action.

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Review

Reviewing this exercise carefully will show you immediately if you have lots of problems weighing you down, like an invisible knapsack that you are carrying round with you all the time.

It will also show the number of daily pleasures or supports which you have – (your balloons) – to balance those problems out. This balance does affect the quality of your life.

Of course, too little pressure and strain can be almost as bad as too much. You could (theoretically) be having lots of self-nourishing experiences and pleasures, but  too little in the way of challenges to keep you mentally engaged in life, and stimulated. Boredom can be stressful.  We feel happiest when we experience ‘flow’, which means that the challenges in our lives are balanced by our coping capacity.

A valuable way to do this exercise is to share what you have put on your diagrams with a trusted friend or colleague, and if you take turns to talk about your lists, you will both benefit from expressing your current problems, and finding out if you are both taking care of yourselves by having daily pleasures and supports to balance the work you are doing.

Your balloons

As explained above, your ‘balloons’ are the daily experiences which keep you happy and motivated, and supported, either outside of work, or within the work situation.  A helpful list of balloons might include: Solid breakfast; slow and relaxing journey to work; planned daily activities so work load is balanced; tea break or dinner break with friends or work colleagues whose company you enjoy; sipping water at fifteen minute intervals during the day; avoiding sedentary lifestyle, which means get up and move around ever fifty minutes or so; daily physical exercise; listen to relaxing music; dance; write out your problems every day; and so on; and so forth.

Let’s take one example:

Music as a daily ‘Balloon’

Book-cover

Caroline Webb, in her book ‘How to have a good day’ (2016) describes how one doctor (Rakesh) uses music as an essential strategy (one of his daily ‘balloons’) to keep him going when he is on duty in the Emergency Room of the hospital where he works. Describing his job, Rakesh told her:

“You’re constantly handling problems. You don’t have much time, and you never stop moving. In one hour you’re probably making perhaps one hundred or two hundred decisions: which tests to order, where to send a patient, and what interventions are needed. You’re on different shifts – sometimes morning, sometimes nights. A 12 hour shift can turn into a 14 hour shift if something bad happens with one of your patients.”

Rakesh confirms that the job is emotionally draining as well as mentally and physically challenging… And so what he does to keep going throughout a long shift, is that he uses music to shape and alter his mental state.  He says:

“You know that you are going to walk into a full waiting room, and as soon as you walk in you’re going to need to spring into action. So I pump up my energy levels on the drive to work, with music that will do that for me, like some Linkin Park.

”Once I arrive I switch to Reggae music and we have it playing in the background for everyone. It’s sort of happy but also relaxed, which is how I need to feel to perform at my best under pressure.”

His use of music to keep him happy whilst doing a very demanding job, impressed Caroline Webb, who stated:

“One thing I’ve noticed about people who are able to sustain their energy in gruelling jobs is that they know themselves really well. They understand what causes their peaks and troughs, and they know the quickest way to lift their spirits when needed.”

The power of music to uplift you

What is the evidence that music be effective in improving your day? And what does it improve? A review of 23 studies covering almost 1,500 patients found that listening to music reduced heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety in heart disease patients (Bradt & Dileo, 2009: Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0014029/.

If you doubt that music can change your state for the better, then let me suggest that you have a listen to the following extract from Mozart’s piano concerto No. 23 (second movement) played by Helene Grimaud:

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How did you feel after listening to that short extract? The value of listening to Mozart’s music has been very carefully researched.

Listening to Mozart’s music can help reduce high blood pressure

Mozaet-pictureAccording to a new research report, listening to Mozart and Johann Strauss’s music can help lower hypertension, which means really high blood pressure. Listening to Mozart can not only soothe your mood, but also help lower blood pressure as well as stabilise the heart rate.

The findings showed that listening to classical composers,  Wolfgang Mozart and Johann Strauss (the younger), for 25 minutes, could lower blood lipid concentrations and heart rate.

The study analysed 60 participants who were exposed to 25 minutes of music by Mozart, Strauss or ABBA — a Swedish pop group formed in Stockholm in 1972. Another group of 60 participants were allocated to a control group that spent their time in silence.

The participants who listened to Mozart lowered their blood pressure.  (Specifically, Mozart lowered their systolic [upper reading] BP — the pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats – by 4.7 mm Hg, In the case of Strauss, by 3.7 mm Hg; whereas no substantial effect was seen for the songs of ABBA.  Diastolic [lower reading] blood pressure — when the heart rests between beats — also fell by 2.1 mm Hg for Mozart and 2.9 mm Hg for Strauss.)

Here’s what the researchers said:

“It has been known for centuries that music has an effect on human beings. In our study, listening to classical music resulted in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. These drops in blood pressure were clearly expressed for the music of Mozart and Strauss,” said Hans-Joachim Trappe and Gabriele Volt of Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

But Mozart’s music had the strongest effect,” they added.

In addition, after exposure to the music of Mozart and Strauss, cortisol levels (which are stress hormones) were found to have dropped more in men than in women.

Quiet music of a slow tempo, and long legato (meaning that the notes are played or sung smoothly and connected together), are regarded as beneficial for the cardio-circulatory system, according to the paper published in the Journal ‘Deutsches Arzteblatt International’.

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I love to do Chi Kung exercises to Mozart music in the mornings; but I also find other forms of music to be uplifting balloons.  Here’a good example:

“Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson

Kids-cover-of-Uptown-FunkA fortnight ago I heard an amazing sound on Zoe Ball’s BBC Radio 2 music programme, and I enjoyed listening to it so much that this is one of my daily balloons, as it is full of energy and movement.

Here’s Mark Ronson’s official music video for ‘Uptown Funk’ performed by Bruno Mars. By the number of views of the video you can see that it’s pretty popular: (2,623,758,877 views on You Tube).

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Conclusion

If you try the ‘Haversack and Balloons’ exercise, you might find it to be a useful, quick self-coaching tool that can help you search for ways to enhance your daily life-balance. It can help you to produce an Action List for ways to reduce the pressures under which you labour, and to increase those experiences that uplift you and keep you going under pressure.

And if you need some help with this process, please contact me.

Best of luck.

That’s all for now.

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: Renata Taylor-Byrne

01422 843 629

(Or 44 1422 843 629 from outside the UK)

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Happiness and relationships research

Blog Post No. 50

10th July 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching and Counselling blog: What really makes people happy?

A ‘rave review’ of Robert Waldinger’s TED talk

Introduction

It’s very easy for us in the west at the moment, to imagine that having more money, or a better house, more foreign holidays, a great new sports car or higher status at work (like getting to the top of an organisation), will make us really happy.

Bugatti-car

And if we have the right physical appearance, as defined by our culture, this can give people a feeling of confidence and self-assurance. So we obviously put a lot of investment and energy into trying to look our best!

KardashiansBut we did not make up these materialistic beliefs ourselves.  All the relentless advertising messages, and propaganda from the media, create this illusion: Having new possessions will really make life better for us, and guarantee our happiness.

But the truth is that they won’t!

Obviously, if we are desperately short of money, have nowhere to live, or no food to eat, then food, money, shelter and clothing are crucially important for our survival.

But if we do have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, and a way of providing an income for ourselves, then some small improvements may make us slightly happier, but more material stuff is not going to make us a lot happier!

So what really does make us happy, after we have the basic means of survival?

Robert-Waldinger

In this blog, I will give a short account of Robert Waldinger’s TED talk in which he describes a major research study which provides powerful evidence for the conclusion that material things won’t make us happy. This conclusion is based on research that started in 1938, and is still ongoing.

The Harvard Study of Adult development

Picture-of-HarvardSeventy-five years ago, ‘The Harvard Study of Adult development’ was established.  A group of researchers started studying 724 teenagers through to their old age. The participants were from two very different types of backgrounds:

# One group was from the poorest part of Boston: from the most economically deprived and distressed families; and:

# The other group was more prosperous, from Harvard College, and was made up of second year students.

These two groups are asked to respond to questionnaires every two years; are interviewed in their homes; have brain scans; have medical records examined; and have blood taken for testing; and they have been videotaped (as adults) talking to their partners about what is really concerning them. And (in time) the researchers talk to their children as well.

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The research project is still ongoing.  Three directors of research have come, served decades in that role; and the project is now being conducted by a fourth director: Robert Waldinger.  And Dr Waldinger has presented a TED talk which explains the research findings.

So, what does the evidence from this study tell us about what really makes people happy?

Elderly-peopleHere’s what Robert Waldinger states:

“Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75 year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Good relationships!  Not cars, or cash, or status, or houses, or holidays, or any of that ‘popular’ materialistic stuff.

Waldinger goes on to say that the researchers learned three big lessons about relationships:

Firstly, the more socially connected we are to people, e.g. family, friends, and the community, the happier and healthier and more long-lived we will be. And the opposite applies: Loneliness is toxic. People who are less connected to people than they would like to be, suffer from declining health as they reach middle age, their brain functioning becomes less efficient and they are less happy.

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Secondly, it doesn’t matter what type of relationships you’re involved in; or whether you are partnered or not; or whether you have a large or small number of friends. The research results show that the crucial aspect of our close relationships is the quality. If we are living in the middle of conflict, then it’s really harmful to our health. Waldinger gives the example of high conflict marriages: If there’s no affection present in high conflict marriages, then they are really bad for our health, and are possibly worse than getting divorced.

Happy-coupleHe then states: And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.”

That is to say, protective of our health, of our life expectancy, our happiness.

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Thirdly: The final important lesson that the researchers learned was that not only do good relationships make us happier and healthier, but they also protect our brains. He gives an example of someone in their eighties: If they are in a securely attached relationship, and can count on their significant other person being there to help them in times of need, then their memories stay intact for longer.

And conversely, when people who were in relationships where they felt they couldn’t really rely on the other person to help them, they fared badly, in that their memories deteriorated sooner.

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Happiness reduces physical pain

Couple-kissingIt might seem that physical pain is physical pain, and that is that.  But we have always known that physical pain and emotional pain are mediated through the same nerve networks.  Here Waldinger explains how pain can be experienced in different ways:

“Good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80’s, that on the days that they had most physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days that they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain”.

That is to say, physical and emotional pain are either additive or subtractive.  So, if you work at achieving a happy relationship, that happiness will be subtracted from any physical pain you subsequently feel.

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Predicting happiness in senior years

Another insight from the research findings was that (on the basis of the information they had accumulated about the men, up to their entering their eighties), when the men had reached the age of 50, the researchers were able to predict who would grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wouldn’t.

They discovered that the people who were most satisfied with their relationships at the age of fifty, were the healthiest at age 80!

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Conclusion

The bottom line of this research is this: If you want to have a life that is happy, now and towards the end, make sure you invest in building happy relationships – or at least one good, happy relationship – now!

Waldinger’s message at the end of his TED talk, is this:

“…Good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being…this is wisdom that is as old as the hills. Why is this so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, we’re human. What we’d really like is a quick fix, something we can get that will make our lives good and keep them that way.”

In our western societies, developing relationship skills comes way down our list of priorities: after academic skills, money-making skills, technological skills, medical skills, selling skills, entertainment skills, sports skills, construction skills, accountancy skills, legal skills, creative skills etc. As Barbara Sher said (referring, critically, to American values, which are not dissimilar to those which dominate at the moment in the UK),

If it don’t make money, it don’t count!”

That is to say, all the propaganda of the neoliberal age emphasizes money, money and more money.  And organizational power, or dominance.  And none of these things will actually make you happy!

We now know, unmistakably, from 75 years of powerful research, that what will make us happy, and healthy, is good quality relationships – at least one!

So how do we develop quality relationships?

Traits of a healthy realtionshipAlthough maintaining the quality of our relationships is the key to health and happiness, there ain’t no quick fixes.  You have to work at building relationships!  You cannot buy them ready made!

Werner Erhard used to emphasize that “Successful relationships are based on agreed on goals!”  Yes, that’s right.  Agree on!  That means negotiated between equal individuals.

And Professor John Gottman stresses that you have to work at maintaining a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative moments in your relationships.  So you have to learn how to do that.

As I mentioned in my last blog, Robert Bolton identified twelve specific roadblocks to communication, which, when used, are likely to negatively impact on our relationships with people.

And John Gottman was able to pinpoint four distinctive ways of interacting that can destroy a relationship and he called them the “Four horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Again, you have to learn those insights, and I teach them to my relationship coaching clients.

There are many valuable techniques that we can learn to keep our relationships of a good quality, perhaps the simplest and most apt being the one that Werner Erhard mentioned in one of his seminars on relationships:

“If you want to have a really powerful relationship with anybody, you have got to stop making the other person wrong!”

(Immediately after he said that, someone in the audience piped up: “But Werner, I don’t make them wrong. They are wrong! I just point it out to them.”  You will never achieve a really powerful relationship with anybody unless you learn to stop being critical, sarcastic, condemning, judging, and so on.  And I teach those lessons to my coaching clients).

Creating good relationships can be difficult at times, because it is an art form, and one you have to learn.  And Waldinger states:

“Relationships are messy and complicated, and the hard work of tending to family and friends is not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong.”

But he finishes his presentation with this message:

“The good life is built with good relationships”.

If we were very lucky, we learned great relationship skills from our parents and other family members. If we didn’t, it’s important to not beat ourselves up because of that. But we then may have to learn the hard way, through trial and error and repeated experimentation, until we develop the people skills we need. And it is often impossible to learn what we need to know in this way.  It makes more sense to seek out teaching or training or coaching in these skills, and learn from people who know what works and what does not work.

That’s what my partner and I did, beginning in 1984, attending couples therapy; studying assertive communication; and Werner Erhard’s relationship and communication skills; and then on to studying Dr John Gottman’s approach to relationships, including marriage relationships.

Based on our experience, of learning how to have a really powerful, happy relationship, I can tell you: the effort is well worth it.

We now know, based on the rock-solid findings of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, that investing time and money and energy in developing relationship skills is the most valuable investment that we can make, and will give us the benefits of health, happiness and brain longevity for the rest of our lives.

This is a really great TED talk and I strongly recommend that you watch it in full.

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If you want to learn some of the techniques and skills that various specialists have developed, so that you can enrich the quality of your relationships, and you can have a happier life, then I would be very happy to help you.  Please contact me to discuss possibilities.

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

Here is a link to the Adult Development Study website, and there is an interview on it with Robert Waldinger, at CBS ‘This morning’, the television news programme.

http://www.adultdevelopmentstudy.org/

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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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