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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Reduce stress – increase energy

Blog Post No. 48

1st May 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: A star technique for saving your energy: Wiping the slate clean each day

Introduction

Every day we all are involved in the business of energy management, (physical and mental) whether we are aware of it or not, as we juggle different tasks, time pressures and negotiating with other people. We are all expected to engage in ‘multi-tasking’, which is actually virtually impossible, but the pressure of life is certainly intense.

1-Man-workingSo how, in such a demanding environment, do we manage our energy successfully? So that we optimise our productivity, but conserve our energy and protect our physical and mental health.

What I know is that if we don’t manage our energy carefully, we become the victim of burnout and stress, and unhappiness and ill health, and who wants that?

One successful energy-management strategy

Here is a great suggestion from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in.

“This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterday”.

When I was a tutor in a college, I had a variety of challenges to face every day in my job, just like everyone else has to face in their jobs. I needed a very high energy level to keep going in the face of the challenges at work, and to adapt and adjust to the needs of the different learners I worked with.

To preserve my energy, so that I could face the following day’s work feeling refreshed, I developed a strategy that served me well for a long time and I want to pass it on to you.

Whiteboard-image-6Each day, at the end of the final teaching session, I would wipe the whiteboard clean of all the information that was on it, and I would remember all the outstanding events of the day, good and bad, and wipe them away in my mind at the same time.

I wiped away my hopes for successfully getting information across to people, and disappointments and mistakes.

This left my mind, and the whiteboard, empty and this action created a calm, white, clear mental space on which I could start anew, again, the following day. After all, I couldn’t change what I had done (or hadn’t managed to do). I could only learn from my experience.

I call this my ‘blank slate’ technique.

Goethe-2The other aspect of this approach was this: I was asserting my boundaries with my job. In other words, I was taking responsibility for managing upwards.  I was not allowing myself to develop ‘leaky boundaries’ through which outside forces could use up my precious reserves of energy!

The ‘Blank slate’ technique is a very powerful, effective visualisation process. It requires effort, determination and  insistence that ‘it’s over!’  But it works only if you work it!

Quality recovery time

Once we have finished work, (if we want to return to our work the following day with strength and vigour), we are then into ‘Quality recovery time’.

Swimming-athlete-3 Some years ago I found this idea was used by Olympic athletes. After they had been working on the skills they wanted to develop, then they needed time to rest and recover. The human body needs proper recovery for sustained and improved performance, for development, and even for preventing injuries.

For those athletes, the athletic skills practice time and the recovery time were a partnership – they were absolutely intertwined, if you wanted to become really accomplished in what you were doing. Their conviction was that, if you neglected your recovery time, your ability to sustain high levels of energy to achieve your goals would quickly run out.

Quality-recovery-4

Part of quality recovery time is mentally and physically completing the day’s work, whether paid or unpaid, and then moving into regeneration of our energy: getting the most nutritious food we can afford; having a decent night’s sleep; having a mental break; spending time with our loved ones; and generally recharging our batteries.

Boundaries between work and quality recovery time are essential, and people can be very vulnerable if they don’t create boundaries. Their employers will not do it for them: I recently read of an American estate agency that has moved into London, and insists that its staff answer their mobile phones in the middle of the night, if a client wanted to speak to them or make an enquiry about a house purchase.

The agency is proud of their customer service! What about the mental and physical health of their employees? This is arrant exploitation of people’s need for a job.

Far from being a good form of work/life balance, this employer is only interested in work/work imbalance.

Work-life-balance-7

Conclusion

If you want to have a good quality of life; to have real work/life balance; and to preserve your physical and mental health in the process, then there is no alternative but to create our own boundaries between work and recovery time.  This is also necessary if you want to be creative and productive in your work time!

Thinking back to my ‘blank slate’ (or ‘blank whiteboard’ technique), if you learn to use this technique at the end of each day, this will ensure that you don’t leak lots of energy away when you need to be into quality recovery time.

What you need to create is some physical representation that the end of the day’s work has arrived (like my cleaning of the white board).  An example would be creating a clear desk; or unplugging a piece of equipment; or putting your diary in a locked drawer; etc.

There is a lawyer in a novel by Charles Dickens who, when he got home after a day’s work, would spend a long time washing his hands, getting rid of the accumulations of the day’s work from his body and, symbolically, from his mind.

Reflection and leaky boundaries

Leaky-boundaries-image

Reflecting at regular intervals on how happy you are with your work/life balance will give you valuable clues as to whether you are managing your life energies in the best way for you.

If you are aware of leaky boundaries in your life, and are giving your energies away to others, (without your full consent), then you could consider the strengthening skills of assertiveness and negotiation.

Strengthening these skills will make you happier and more confident as you manage your life in the face of pressures from others (and pressure from your own Inner Critic).

Brene-brown

Contact me if you want to learn some very useful techniques for managing your energy for better work/life balance; for increased creativity and productivity.

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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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Handling conflict skilfully: Knowing your personal style…

Blog Post No. 47

12th April 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Handling conflict skilfully: Knowing your personal style…

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Introduction

The-Satir-modelIn this blog I am going to do a ‘rave review’ of a short and simple quiz that shows us how we handle conflict in our current relationships. Some quizzes don’t give us many insights about ourselves when we’re interacting with other people, but this one strikes me as giving us a clear mirror which shows us how we deal with pressure from others.

The quiz, created by Virginia Satir, outlines the five main ways of handling conflict with others. She created a system of conjoint-family-therapy, and was a pioneering therapist who showed that families play a significant part in the development of the problems of individuals, and that blaming individual family members for their problems was unfair, because the problems the client showed up with were learned and created in the family.

Understanding how we deal with conflict at the moment

The great thing about this quiz is that it shows you a range of patterns that people play out when they are dealing with interpersonal conflict. The strategies used vary from constructive to really unhelpful and ineffective.

If you complete the quiz below, and you look at your results, you’ll be able to see your current favourite approach, and how to change your behaviour if you are not happy with the result.

The Satir Personal Styles Quiz

Here are the five ways of handling conflict which Satir identified:

The-conflict-styles

PLACATING – Pacifying, calming or appeasing behaviour. (Appeasing means to make someone calm and less hostile by giving in to their demands).

BLAMING – Holding someone to account, condemning or accusing them.

DISTRACTING – Diverting, changing the subject, cracking a joke for entertainment, etc.

COMPUTING – Assessing, analysing, and theorising about what you are experiencing.

LEVELLING – Being frank, open, honest, and above board. Telling the truth as you see it.

So this quiz tests how you react when life gets difficult: particularly during interpersonal conflict.

Your ‘blaming’ score shows how far you are liable to blame other people when under stress.  Your ‘placating’ score shows how much you tend to placate or appease.  Your ‘distracting’ score shows how much you tend to distract yourself and other people from the problems being presented.  Your ‘computing’ score shows how far you tend to cut off from your feelings.  Your ‘levelling’ score shows how far you tend to react creatively and flexibly.

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Here is the quiz: Read through this list of 20 statements.  Write down the statement number of any statement with which you strongly agree. (You will need these numbers to mark your resulting score).

Choose as many statements as you like from the list if you think they reflect you or your views.  You should choose at least seven statements.

  1. Conflict is something I try to reduce as soon as possible.
  2. If someone’s going to tell me something I don’t want to hear, I’ll quickly and smoothly try to change the subject.
  3. Conflict is healthy if it means the people involved solve a problem.
  4. It’s important that people know who’s responsible for a mistake.
  5. Catching people off-guard with a compliment is a good way to ease tension.
  6. I’ve been told I can be unemotional.
  7. I’ve been told that sometimes I let people take me for granted.
  8. I can get stressed but I try not to let it affect my life too much.
  9. Avoiding taking responsibility for my actions is a good way to shift blame.
  10. In the past, I have taken the blame for something when it wasn’t my fault.
  11. I can keep my head clear by distancing myself when those around me are getting edgy.
  12. Hopefully, people know that once a conflict with me is finished, we can then move on.
  13. I’ll fight my corner at all costs to make sure I can hold my head up high.
  14. I dislike being shouted at, so I’ll usually try to soothe the situation.
  15. If I’m clever and funny enough I can keep conflict at bay.
  16. If something bad happens, I cut off from my emotions; it feels safer to not let my guard down.
  17. I’m not scared to confront someone – but I do to do so without making the other person feel bad.
  18. Getting over-emotional during conflict is no way to solve problems.
  19. I have a long memory when it comes to remembering others who’ve crossed me in some way.
  20. If I’ve forgotten to do something I said I would, some ‘social flirting’ keeps people off my back.

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Now that you’ve chosen at least seven statements as being ones that you agree with, please draw a grid like the one below, and write in the numbers.  Then tick those numbers you’ve chosen above.

Here is the grid, containing a worked example.

Satir mark grid, Worked example

Scoring

Which column has the highest score?

The one with the highest score is your favourite strategy, followed by the next lowest number.

In the example in the grid above, we can see that  ‘distracting’ is the style most often chosen, followed by ‘placating’ and ‘blaming’.  So this person would be called ‘a distractor’, for shorthand description.

Satirs-five-freedomsVirginia Satir’s conflict categories:

When things get tough in our lives we choose one or more of these personality patterns. Here is more of an explanation of these styles of behaviour:

Placating

Step on a placator’s foot and they will be the one to apologise.  Placators know that peacemakers get blessed – or at least don’t get trashed.  And so a typical placatory will soothe, please and pacify.

More females than males tend to be placators. They tend to dislike disagreeing with people – even if they are being criticized.

The aim of the placator is to get others to be nice to them – and, as placators tend to be externally influenced, they’ll therefore probably go along with whatever the other person wants.  They’ll hold eye contact, smile a lot, and nonverbally ask for forgiveness.  They apologize a lot.

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Blaming

If a blamer steps on someone’s foot, they will expect the other person (whose foot they stepped on) to apologize. This is because a blamer’s classic move is to shift the responsibility away from themselves, and there are many ways of doing this: They can nag; they can sulk; they can shout; and they can hit out.  Or they can pretend that it’s not a problem and then launch a surprise attack a few hours later when everyone thinks the worst is over.

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Distracting

Did they step on someone’s foot? No. A distracter will state that they weren’t even there.  They’ll smile, or crack a joke, or say what lovely weather it is today, and do everything in order to deflect attention.  Their favourite phrase is this: ‘It wasn’t me’.

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Computing

When a ‘computer’ steps on someone’s foot, they simply won’t register the fact.  They are the one who just doesn’t seem to feel anything, and doesn’t respond emotionally to what’s happened.  They simply shut down their feelings – and can’t understand the suffering of others, if it is (or seems to be) illogical or irrational.  Or just plain ‘emotional’!

A computer style used by a person may seem like they are responding calmly to a crisis. But they are panicking just as much as anyone else.  It’s just that they are trying to handle their panic by cutting themselves off at the neck.  And actually, that’s just as bad an idea as placating, blaming or distracting, because they are missing out on the information or motivation their body is trying to give them.

So they will take action, but over-rationally.  They’ll respond, but insensitively.

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Communication-quoteLevelling

A leveller who steps on someone’s foot will notice.  Then they’ll move back.  Then they’ll ask if there’s anything they can do.  They won’t grovel, dump or look the other way – and they won’t cut off from their feelings.  They’ll be genuinely regretful – but unlike people who run the other four personality sub patterns, they   won’t go into a spiral of defensive responses.

So a leveller is going to be the one to hang in there under stress or in conflict, and simply get things sorted.  They will strike a balance between thinking and feeling – and that means that they will:

(a) Face up logically to the problem; and:

(b) Have the emotional energy to sort it out.

Whether at home or away, they’ll have the space to listen to other people, take into account everyone’s needs and find a solution.

Anyone who works with a leveller, marries a leveller, or has a leveller for a friend, therefore has an easy life.  They know exactly where they stand with a leveller, and consequently feel secure. They know that if any problems arise in their relationship then the leveller will tell them. (They will not whine, sulk, push the problem away or deny their feelings).

The bottom line is that the more positive your upbringing, the more likely you are to be a leveller. (Or you could have some corrective experiences, in social relationships or therapy, later in life).

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Learning to level

It might now be obvious that all of the ‘types’ could benefit from learning how to level with others: or to speak up and describe what is happening, and how they experience it.

Being a heavy-duty placator, blamer, computer or distracter isn’t a particularly good idea.  Not only do these personality sub-patterns feel uncomfortable to actually use, but they will not be appreciated by a boss, or by friends or close family.

First-Satir-callout

Of course, everyone runs a bit of the four more unhelpful personality sub-patterns, at least some of the time. This is not surprising, because we learn ways of behaving when we are young that seem to work. And at school, skills at maths and English and other subjects are rated much more highly than the ability to deal with people effectively and skilfully.

IQ (or the ability to take logic tests) is rated much higher than EQ (or the ability to read one’s own emotions; the emotions of others; and to communicate about both).  But when we’re an adult, the limitations of our lack of skill in handling conflict start to become much clearer. Virginia Satir’s therapeutic advice was to shift your behaviour towards helpful ‘levelling’.

Some tips

The limitations of the different ways of handling conflict will now be outlined:

  1. If you tend to be a placator:
  • You may think it’s a good sub pattern as it seems to smooth things over.
  • In fact, you won’t get what you want – plus you can drive people crazy by always apologising.

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  1. If you tend to be a blamer:
  • You may think it’s a good sub-pattern because at least no one shouts at you.
  • In fact, it alienates people – plus by shifting responsibility, you give away your power.
  • Instead, to move towards being a leveller, learn that the world’s not out to get you and that temper tantrums don’t work.

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  1. If you tend to be a distracter:
  • You may think it’s a good sub-pattern because it gets you off the hook.
  • In fact, you never get to face problems – plus you never take responsibility for things. (And taking responsibility is the first step in solving most of our problems!)
  • Instead, to move towards being a leveller, learn to face up to it when other people challenge you. Then either take their criticisms on board, or stand firm in believing you’re OK.

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  1. If you tend to be a computer:
  • You may think this is a good way to behave, because it keeps you clear of messy emotion.
  • In fact, you miss out by ignoring feelings – plus you may come across as hard hearted. If you cannot read another person’s emotions, then you cannot really understand them or communicate effectively with them.
  • Instead, to move towards being a leveller, allow yourself to pay more attention to what others are feeling; and take their emotions into account. (You might need some coaching in the labelling of emotions; and understanding how to manage them in yourself).

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Second-Satir-calloutLearning new behaviours

As you can see from the quiz above, the behaviour of someone who is a ‘leveller’ is the ideal style of communication that we can work towards, if we want to work well with other people, and have loving, healthy relationships.

But it ain’t easy! We never stop learning how to deal with people, and this quiz should help you to know the strengths and weaknesses of your personal style.

The ‘levelling’ approach reduces conflict; and also reduces stress in our bodies, because we are dealing with problems as they arise and are facing up to them.

The reality is that we can’t change other people – only ourselves! (And that, as you most likely know, is not easy!)

But we can earn our own self-respect – (which as Lord Roseberry said, is worth fourteen times more than the approval of other people) – and be a really good role model for our children and other people in our environment.

Virginia Satir’s model helps us see where we are operating from; and also what works and what doesn’t, when it comes to dealing with conflict constructively.

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Conclusion

In my opinion, this quiz, presented above, is very useful.  It raises our self-awareness, and gives us specific ways of behaving which are very useful for us if we spend a lot of time dealing with people in the work environment, or in our family life. These insights are very helpful for our own personal development, if we want to take on the challenge.

See what you think. Try the test out and see if it’s any use to you. Consider whether you could benefit from moving towards levelling.  And if I can help, you know where I am!

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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Exercise for emotional and physical health

Blog Post No.7

Posted on 13th March 2017 – (Previously posted on 14th October 2015)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

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

Introduction:

In 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

My 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:

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

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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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Daily Resilience–boosters for you

Blog Post No. 46

31st March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

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

Introduction

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

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

An explanation of micro-resilience at work

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of ‘mini-recoveries’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micro-resilience techniques to help us stay in control

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

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

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

1. The Yoga ‘Death pose’

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

Benefits-death-pose-callout

2.The  seated Tin Soldier/Rag Doll Relaxation Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4. Have a short walk

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

5. Write it Out!

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

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

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

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

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

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6. Using your sense of smell

Cinnamon

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

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

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

hardcastle-crags

7. Images from nature can calm us down

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Best wishes

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

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References

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

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

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Continue reading “Daily Resilience–boosters for you”

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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