Transformational writing for success and happiness

Blog Post No. 175

By Dr Jim Byrne

15th September 2018

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Transformational Writing: How I wrote a new life for myself – and how much better I feel as a result…

Writing Theapy book coverI’ve been using ‘expressive’ or ‘therapeutic’ writing for many years: resulting in priceless personal and professional insights.  Most recently, I’ve been writing on a daily basis for many weeks now.  Before that time, I wrote in my journal perhaps 3 or 4 times per week, for many months.  And before that time, I wrote intermittently – sometimes being regular and frequent, and sometimes being more hit and miss.

But overall, I’ve had some significant degree of therapeutic writing in my life for many years now.

The benefits over the years have sometimes been obvious – as when a new creative idea comes out of my Morning Pages – gets developed in subsequent pages, over a period of days or weeks – perhaps writing for 30 minutes each day.  This process has resulted in many blog posts; web pages; articles; academic papers; books; as well as answers to difficult questions; and creative problem-solving solutions.

Most recently, I’ve had a breakthrough in getting an insight into a fundamental problem with my personality-structure:

My *DRIVERS* – (‘Be Perfect’; and ‘Hurry Up’!) –

resulting in  a new degree of *mastery* over those stressful drivers of my feelings and behaviours;

and a growing sense that, the more I slow down, and the less perfectionistic I am, the more productive, creative and happy I become!

To get to this point, all I had to do was to utilize a couple of the (more than 20) techniques that I wrote about in my book, *How to Write a New Life for Yourself*.

To read some more, please take a look at the information page, by clicking the following link: *How to Write a New Life for Yourself.***

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PS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

BlueLogo13CDr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

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Writing therapy and business success

Blog Post No. 172

By Dr Jim Byrne

8th September 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: How to use Writing Therapy for business success

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, September 2018

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Introduction

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)Every day, I discover some new problem that I have to solve, for important, self-defined reasons.

No matter how many problems I solve, I still find new challenges to grapple with.

This is our human nature.  We are problem-finding and problem-solving creatures.  We move forward in life by wrestling with difficulties.

If we do not wrestle with difficulties, we get stuck at some unsatisfactory point along our path through life.

Navigating the turbulent seas of stressful life

Man-writing3My Writing Journal is my *anchor* and *compass* in the turbulent seas of life. At least when it comes to processing my negative experiences.

For example, yesterday I was feeling quite unhappy because one of my major goals was not being achieved to any significant degree. Nothing I did seemed to shift my unhappiness about that sense of stuckness.  To be clear, it was a goal about business success…

I had worked hard to define that goal, and to work out a detailed action plan.  But progress was so far below par that I felt greatly discouraged.

Writing Theapy book coverSo I sat at my desk with my journal, and reminded myself of the writing therapy processes that I have written about in my book, which are designed to help in this kind of situation. I used the section on self-management skills, and pretty soon I had identified something that I can do to maximize my chances of achieving the goal in question.

Pursuing business goals

On this particular occasion, I was concerned about a business goal, and so I made a commitment to write it in my journal every morning, and then to review progress against that goal, also in my journal, at the end of every day.

I was also remained of the very important principle that “success cannot be pursued”.  Success, like happiness, is something that happens as a by-product of following your conscience in doing your life’s work.   So I began to write about my life’s work, and how to pursue some elements of that today, and not how to translate that into material success!

As I wrote, the *writing therapy process* itself began to resolve things, and throw up new ideas.  I now have a daily strategy to follow which should take care of the problem for me; and if it does not; then I can go back to the ‘drawing board’ (or writing therapy journal) and do some more work on this problem.

Conclusion

My book on Writing Therapy teaches these points (among the more than 20 strategies I include); and also the principle that you have to “think on paper” – (or *perceive-feel-think* on paper) – otherwise you will get washed out into the turbulent sea by the stressful waves of life, and lose your connection to your anchor in life (which should be your life’s work, dictated by your conscience!).

Draft cover jimnearfinal (2)

For more on this approach to living consciously, please take a look at the page of information on the subject of *How to Write a New Life for Yourself*, by clicking this link: https://abc-counselling.org/how-to-write-a-new-life-for-yourself/

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A Kindle dBooks imagePS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

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Reading, writing, literature and self-healing

Blog Post No. 168

By Dr Jim Byrne

15th July 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Literature, personal writing of fiction, and therapeutic healing of the heart and mind

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

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Introduction

Call out about LiteratureIndividual Life is a gift, bestowed by Collective Life, upon fragments of Living Stuff.  Life is a rolling floor-show of life living itself!

We come into existence knowing nothing; and guessing what life might be about.  We stumble through childhood, suffering the blows of negative treatment, and savouring the kiss of good fortune.  We float into adolescence with the naiveté of a baby encountering its first crocodile! And, if we are fortunate, we encounter love in our late twenties, or our early thirties, and feel the full range of emotions: from ecstatic and sweet joy, to fearful and angry insecurity.

Often, we need to encounter the possibility of love in more than one relationship before we can make sense of this ennobling and devastating emotion.  We seek words for our experiences of love and hate, joy and devastation, only to fall back again and again into the void of unknowing: the wordless pit of unconsciousness.

If we are fortunate, we will discover some aspects of the great literature of those who traversed these trackless voids of human beginnings and developments before us; and we may feel in our hearts and guts the pains and pleasures, the defeats and victories, that those who went before us felt and described.

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On being human

DrJimCounselling002The highest calling of a human being is to make sense of our own life, as moral beings, and to share that understanding with those who follow along behind us, so that they might avoid – or traverse more smoothly – the swamps and volcanoes that we had to endure.

Whether we are born in the smallest village in Ireland, or the largest suburb of the largest city in the United States of America; or somewhere in South America; or South Asia, or Central Africa; there is nothing to say that we may not have the latest parable of human suffering and divine love on the tip of our tongues!

Full cover 3

So speak to the world of your journey, that you might know where you have been; and that others might benefit from your journey!

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Regarding literature

Donna_Tartt_The_GoldfinchThe reading of good quality literature – from any and every era of the novel and the stage play – is emotionally educating, and healing of traumatic past experiences.  You can recover from sadness and depression; anger towards the world; and defeatist timidity: Just by exposing your mind and heart to the stories of others who went before you.

The writing of semi-autobiographical stories – with some, little emotional distance from direct, personal experience – is a great way to indirectly digest past traumatic or difficult experiences.

A good semi-autobiographical story, built on fragments learned from the insights of generations of novelists and other authors, is a great way to pass on personal healing examples and therapeutic gifts.  And that is what I have tried to do in my story about Daniel O’Beeve.***

I would like to encourage readers to begin to write short pieces, stories – in semi-autobiographical form – about their own difficulties in the past.  It will help you enormously to grow your emotional literacy (or EQ).

Please take a look at my story if you need a template, or some guidance on how to fictionalise a life story.  Link to Daniel O’Beeve’s story.***

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PS: About an hour after I posted this blog, Daniel’s story became available on Amazon, here: Daniel O’Beeve’s story at Amazon.co.uk.***

And here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1722816821/

And here: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1722816821/

For more links, please go here: https://abc-counselling.org/2018/07/15/reading-writing-literature-and-self-healing/

That’s all for the moment.  I hope you try this therapeutic writing approach, and gain enormously from using it!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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Creative writing and the therapeutic journey

Blog Post No. 155

18th July 2017 – Updated on 22nd January 2019

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2018-2019

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Recent books

If you have come to this page looking for recent books by Dr Jim Byrne (with Renata Taylor-Byrne), then here is the list of the latest books: on Lifestyle Counselling; Writing Therapy; and Diet and Exercise linked to emotional functioning; plus building successful couple relationships.

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Book Descriptions:

Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: 

Or how to integrate nutritional insights, physical exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy

Front cover Lifestyle Counselling

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications

Available at Amazon outlets.***

The contents

In this book, you will find a very clear, brief, easy to read introduction to a novel approach to ‘counselling the whole person’. This emotive-cognitive approach does not restrict itself to mental processes.  We go beyond what the client is ‘telling themselves’, or ‘signalling themselves’; or what went wrong in their family of origin. We also include how well they manage their body-brain-mind in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, and emotional self-management (including self-talk, or inner dialogue). And we propose that it is better for counsellors and therapists to operate in a primarily right-brain modality, and to use the left-brain, cognitive processes, secondarily.

The most important, and novel, chapters in this book are as follows:

Chapter 4, which summarizes our research on the impact of diet/nutrition and physical exercise on mental health and emotional well-being.

Chapter 5, which reviews the science of sleep hygiene, plus common sense insights, and presents a range of lifestyle changes to promote healthy sleep, and thus to improve mental and emotional well-being.

Chapter 9, which explains how to incorporate the learning from chapters 4 and 5 into any system of talk therapy or counselling.

There is also a chapter (8) on counselling individuals using our Emotive-Cognitive approach, in which there is a section (8.3(b)) on using the Holistic SOR model to explore many aspects of the lifestyle of the client.

For more information, please click the following link: Lifestyle Counselling book.***

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How to Write A New Life for Yourself:

Narrative therapy and the writing solution

Writing Theapy book cover

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications

Available as a paperback at Amazon outlets.***

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In this book, we set out to show you how you can quickly and easily process your current psychological problems, and improve your emotional intelligence, by writing about your current and historic difficulties.  (Chapter 8 contains a detailed introduction to the subject of how to understand and manage your emotions).

This approach to writing about your emotional difficulties in order to resolve them has a long and noble tradition.  Many nineteenth century poets were seeking to heal broken hearts or resolve personal dissatisfactions by the use of their poetry writing activities; and many novels are clearly forms of catharsis (or release of pent up emotions) by the author.

But not all writing is equally helpful, therapeutically speaking.  If the writing is too negative; or too pessimistic; or simply makes the reader feel raw and vulnerable, then it is not going to have a positive effect.  Later we will show you how to tackle therapeutic writing, (within the two main disciplines of writing therapy – [the scientific and the humanistic]), in order to make it maximally effective.

For more information, please click the following link: Write a New Life for Yourself.***

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How to control your anger, anxiety and depression,

Using nutrition and physical exercise

Front cover design 4

By Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications.

Available at Amazon outlets.***

1. Introduction

What we eat has a very powerful effect on our bodies and minds. And knowing and understanding how our body-mind reacts to the substances we feed ourselves is a crucial part of self-care.

For instance: depression can be caused by psychological reactions to losses and failures.  But it can also be caused by certain kinds of body-brain chemistry problems, some of which can begin in the guts, and be related to bad diet, and lack of physical exercise.  For example:

“If you are depressed while you suffer from regular yeast infections (like Candida Albicans), or athlete’s foot, or have taken antibiotics recently, there is a connection. Our brains are inextricably tied to our gastrointestinal tract and our mental well-being is dependent on healthy intestines. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and a host of other mental illnesses from autism to ADHD can be caused by an imbalance of gut microbes like fungi, and ‘bad’ bacteria”.  (Source: Michael Edwards (2014))[i].

And when we take antibiotics, we kill off all of our friendly bacteria, and often what grows back first is the unfriendly stuff, like Candida Albicans, which can then cause depression, anxiety and other symptoms, as listed above.

Also, we can really benefit from knowing some of the latest ideas about where – (in our diets) – our depression, anxiety and anger can originate from; as provided by specialists who have devoted their lives to years of investigation into the workings of the human body and mind (or body-mind).

[i] Edwards, M. (2014) ‘The candida depression connection – How yeast leads to depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental disorders’. Available online at:                https://www.naturalnews.com/047184_ candida_ depression_gut_microbes.html#

For more information, please click the following link: Diet, exercise and mental health.***

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Top secrets for

Building a Successful Relationship: 

Volume 1 – A blueprint and toolbox for couples and counsellors: C101

By Dr Jim Byrne

With Renata Taylor-Byrne BSc (Hons) Psychol 1543762369 (1905x1383)

The full paperback cover, by Charles Saul

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On this web site, you will find enough information about our new book on couple relationships to inform your decision about buying it.  We have posted the full Preface; plus the full set of (revised) Contents pages; plus a brief extract from each of the main chapters (1-13).

Pre-publication review

“I have recently finished reading Dr Jim Byrne’s immensely useful book (about love and relationship skills).  This book is full of cutting edge thinking and priceless wisdom about couple relationships; which inspires us to believe that we can undoubtedly shape and improve our most important relationships.  The approach is comprehensive (despite being Volume 1 of 3), covering as it does: the nature of love and relationships; common myths about love and relationships (which tend to lead young people astray); some illuminating case studies of couple relationships that have gone wrong; and very helpful chapters on communication skills, conflict styles, and assertive approaches to relationship; plus a very interesting introduction to the theory that our marriage partnership is shaped, for better or worse, in our family of origin. I particularly liked the chapters on how to manage boundaries in relationships; and how to change your relationship habits. I can highly recommend this ‘must read’ book to couples and counsellors alike”.

Dr Nazir Hussain

Positive Psychology and Integrative Counselling Services, Whitby, Ontario, Canada.

September 2018

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Here’s a quick preview of part of the contents of Chapter 1:

This book has been designed to be helpful to two main audiences:

1. Anybody who is curious about how to build and maintain a happy, successful couple relationship, like a marriage or civil partnership (civil agreement), or simple cohabitation; and:

2. Any professional who works with individuals and couples who show up with problems of marital or couple conflict, breakdowns of communication, or unhappiness with the couple bond.

For more information about this book, please go to Top Secrets for Building a Successful Relationship.***

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Recent publications

Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons:

How to process old traumas, and eliminate undigested pain from your past experience

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Holistic Counselling in Practice:

An introduction to the theory and practice of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy

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Daniel O’Beeve’s Amazing Journey: From traumatic origins to transcendent love

The memoir of Daniel O’Beeve: a strong-willed seeker after personal liberation: 1945-1985

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Or take a look at my page about my top eight books, here: Books about E-CENT Counselling and related topics.***

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Introduction to first draft of this blog post

Cover444It is now more than three months since my previous blog post was published.  The delay was down to how busy I’ve been, largely because of writing my latest book, which is now available at Amazon: Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes: The case against Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.***

My main role in life, as a doctor of counselling, is to see individual clients who have ‘problems of daily living’ which they cannot resolve on their own.  I help people with problems of anxiety, depression, anger, couple conflict, attachment problems, and other relationship problems.  Dr Jim’s Counselling Division.***

drjim-counsellor1However, I also write books, blogs and web pages; and articles or papers on counselling-related topics.  And I help individuals, from time to time, who are struggling with their creative or technical writing projects.  Sometimes I help individual writers to stay motivated, or to process their repeated rejection by an unreceptive and uncaring world.

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The frustrations of writing

It is far from easy being a creative writer.  Frustrations abound, from conception of a new and useful writing project; doing the research; writing early drafts; then polishing, editing and publishing; and then trying to sell the end product in a world which is awash with information-overload.

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In my book on REBT, I wrote about that period like this:

“As early as August 2003 (and probably earlier), I was writing about the fact that stress was a multi-causal problem.  That idea contradicts the ABC theory, which asserts that all emotional distress (including the common manifestations of stress: which include anger, anxiety and depression) are caused exclusively by the client’s Beliefs (B’s).  Here is an example of my writing from August 2003:

“I have developed a stress management programme consisting of fifteen strategies which help you to work on your body, your emotions, your thinking, and your stress management skills. This programme allows you to develop a stress-free life.

8-physical-symptoms-of-stress

“You may also be affected by many life-change stressors, e.g. Moving house; death of your spouse or other loved one; divorce; marriage; redundancy; bullying at work; promotion; demotion; change of lifestyle; etc.

“Your stress level also depends upon such factors as your diet, exercise, what you tell yourself about your life pressures, and so on. (What you tell yourself about your pressures is called your “self-talk”).

“And a lot depends upon your sense of control. Can you control your workload, your work environment, and/or your social life? Are you confident and assertive enough to at least try to control your workload, your work environment, and/or your social life? Are you wise enough to learn how to stoically accept those things which you clearly cannot control? The more control you have, the less stress you feel, according to the Whitehall Studies, conducted by Michael Marmot, beginning in 1984.” (Original source in footnotes)[1].

However, the frustration was this: Although I had expertise about managing stress; and although I had packaged 15 different strategies for getting your stress under control, very few people bought my book!

And today, I believe, most people do not understand stress: How it destroys their happiness, damages their physical health, and causes all kinds of emotional problems.

Tough stuff! This is the lot of the creative writer.  The world most often seems to not be ready for our insights!

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People love simplicity and side-tracks

While my stress book was not selling to any reasonable degree, the simple books about the ABC model of REBT, produced by Dr Albert Ellis, were selling much better.  Those books presented an exaggerated claim that they could help the reader to quickly and relatively effortlessly get rid of any problem, simply by changing their beliefs about the problems they encountered.

My REBT book demonstrates that there was never any solid evidence that this claim is true.  It also demonstrates that, in the process, the REBT/CBT model blames the client for their own upsets, thus excusing the harshness of current government policy in the US and the UK, where the rich are enriched and the poor are squashed!  That squashing process hurts, and causes emotional distress and physical health problems.

Here is the evidence that it is not the individual’s beliefs, but the social environment that has the most impact on mental health and emotional well-being:

While psychotherapists like Albert Ellis tended to emphasize the role of the counselling client’s beliefs in the causation of anger, anxiety, depression, and so on, Oliver James, and his concept of ‘affluenza’, tends to emphasize living in a materialistic environment. As Dr James writes: “Nearly ten years ago, in my book Britain on the Couch, I pointed out that a twenty-five-year-old American is (depending on which studies you believe) between three and ten times more likely to be suffering depression today than in 1950. … In the case of British people, nearly one-quarter suffered from emotional distress … in the past twelve months, and there is strong evidence that a further one-quarter of us are on the verge thereof.  … (M)uch of this increase in angst occurred after the 1970s and in English-speaking nations”.  People’s beliefs have not changed so much over that time.  This is evidence of the social-economic impact of the post-Thatcher/Reagan neo-liberal economic policies!

Oliver James (2007) Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane.  Page xvi-xvii. (63).

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Conclusion

If you are a creative writer, and you want to write your own autobiography, or autobiographical novel, or you need support with any aspect of your creative writing process, then I can help you.

Coaching, counselling and therapy for writers.***

Or you could take a look at my current books in print.***

Or take a look at my page about my top eight books, here: Books about E-CENT Counselling and related topics.***

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

 

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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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”

Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit

Blog Post No. 42

27th December 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

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

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

Introduction

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

brexit

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

Headline: “Dons in distress get Brexit therapy”

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

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

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

stages-of-change

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

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

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

Resilience workshops

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

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

The difference between declarative and procedural knowledge

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

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

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

 Building our resilience.

ancestors

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

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

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

T-V-screen.JPG

Handling bad news

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

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

stress-loop

Taking action to build resilience immediately

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

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

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

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

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

belly-breathing-frog

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

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

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

The second technique: using assertiveness strategies

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

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

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

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

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

barbara-berkhan-book-cover

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

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

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

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

The-Artists-Way.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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Conclusion

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

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

# Assertive communication skills;

# Daily writing in a journal or diary.

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

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

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

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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References:

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

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

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

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

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