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Do you feel depressed after Christmas?

Many of us feel depressed after Christmas. When the festivities are passed, we’ve welcomed in the New Year, or watched others do so, and the tinsel is put away, we’re left with ourselves and what is unfulfilled or not working in our lives.  It’s the post-Christmas let-down for some, while others may not really enter into the spirit of the occasion in the first place.

It can be a hard time. It’s like a massive bump back to earth, back to seeming reality. We get caught up in the pre-Christmas rush to buy presents, get in the food (“Get ready for Christmas”, people say), attend parties, maybe some of us sing carols, and generally get affected by this enormous rise in expectation. Then afterwards, when people have gone, or they seem to have had a good time and you haven’t, or you’ve spent time on your own, you’re left with your life and how it is. It’s like there can be a massive mismatch between hope and expectation on one side, and the seeming emptiness or futility or pointlessness or unfulfillment on the other side, and we flip from the first back to the second.

Traditionally Christians celebrate a new birth, the arrival of the Messiah, new hope and possibility. This lingers on in the Western psyche. then on the other side you’ve still got that life that in one area or another isn’t working as you’d want. It might be that we need to bring over the sense of spiritual wholeness from one side to infuse the other, but don’t know how we can bring hope and possibility and positivity into our lives to make it work for us, to find our own “heaven”. You don’t have to be a Christian to experience this dilemma. You just have it in the face with our culture and with the challenges you might face in life. It’s at this time that you get it in sharp relief.

I remember as a teenager crying buckets at this time, just after Christmas and having just finished a novel that had a sad ending, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. In the novel both the hero’s girlfriend and her baby die in childbirth. “Was there nobody there for me?” was my question. It was very existential: life seemed meaningless and all I wanted to have love in my life. There seemed to be this gap between me and love. Love was “out there” and I wasn’t getting it.

There’s this gap between how the world seems “out there” and how we are feeling inside. People have just been having a great time (or so it seems – many aren’t really) and the ego has just been having a wonderful time indulging itself in desire, in wanting. So we’ve been feeding our ego tendency till we’re totally absorbed in it, either in enjoying it or being aware of the want of it, of its lack. So we experience a very sharp polarity.

There’s a clue in the word “love” and our desire for more of it. The challenge is to bring our awareness inside, so that we can go within and feel the love that is there. It’s not gone away, but we may need to find it and connect with it. And find new purpose, direction and meaning.

I give coaching to people who are depressed at this time and are looking to bring joy, contentment and fulfillment back into their lives, whether it be in their work, their career, their relationships or their life in general. Read more here and you can contact me here.

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We fear taking action to make our lives better

We often know what we need to do to make our lives better, except that for one reason or another we don’t do it! Sometimes when I give people feedback in coaching they often respond with “Yes, I know.” So, why don’t they take action and deal with whatever it is and move on? One reason is the “comfortable discomfort” syndrome, where we know it isn’t really OK but we’ve found ways of living with it. The effort required to make changes is greater than that of the status quo. Somehow we fear taking action to make our lives better.

A colleague of mine used to call it “the fur-lined rut”, where it was comfortable, warm and cosy and though it was a rut we’d found a way of living with it. In Gestalt we talk of a “creative adjustment”, where we make a psychological adjustment to life’s circumstances so that we can carry on. Our lives are full of these, if you like compromises, where we learn to accept what we’ve got and find ways of being able to manage what occurs, more or less. Tony Robbins used to speak of the pain-pleasure principle: how we prefer what gives us pleasure and avoid what causes us pain. So we stay put because the pain of change seems greater.

However, we might ask, is the compromise with life working? Does it serve us? People stay in relationships in part through compromise. Sometimes the compromise is useful and then sometimes it actually isn’t serving us. Yet to break things up could cause massive disruption. So people stay put, unhappy and knowing they are unhappy. People put up with jobs they don’t like, in part because they don’t know what else to do but also because they can’t seem to deal with the potential lack of income that a voluntary change might bring. There are a lot of people doing this in the current Great Recession. I say “current” because although the economy has picked up a bit here, it hasn’t reached a very large number of people yet. And people have learned that it’s risky to make such changes, and we’re very risk-averse at present. We might think of making big changes in our lives, but shrink form what it might entail.

We might also find that we “just don’t get round to it”. Procrastination, putting it off, is one strategy for avoiding change. “I’ll do it tomorrow”, mañana. My client comes for his or her  next session: “Have you done it yet?” I ask, and then there the excuses.

There are those who say that, with John Lennon, Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making other plans. Talking about it is one thing. Having the courage to take action in those areas of life where it might hurt is quite another. Yet often this is what we need to do if we are to see real, positive change in our lives. It can mean facing our own resistances and dealing with our own excuses, and facing the fear – only to discover that what we feared was an illusion. Very often when we actually take the action needed, it all somehow seems so much easier than we thought: “the universe moves too.”

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Being committed can be challenging

One major but underestimated hurdle for people considering undertaking some kind of self development is making a commitment and sticking to it, remaining committed.  Being committed can mean we encounter all sorts of obstacles, often of a very real nature, or so it seems, and we find reasons and excuses to pull out or not get engaged with the challenge in the first place. To commit to something means we’ll get tested on that commitment and the reasons we come up with to pull out can include, or sometimes mask, the very reasons for getting the help in the first place.

The excuses are important

Coaches and other one-to-one practitioners see this a lot. In one example someone asks for help to deal with a career issue, but finds it next to impossible to get time off to get help with making a career change, or feels drawn to stay working later and agreeing to all sorts of work that’s put their way, when they were actually thinking of going to see their coach. Someone whose work involves helping others, lets say in nursing or social work, is suffering from stress and has discussed how they might do this, and its agreed that they need to better manage their time, and yet they seem unable to say “no” and limit their workload so as to manage their time better and thus get to do the activities that might help them with their stress. One seemingly rules out the other.

You might wonder what commitment has to do with this, and this is where it gets tricky, because very often it is us ourselves, at some level that we are not aware of, that get in our own way. In the above examples one theme is saying “no”. There might also be other reasons, like a strong underlying driver to lets say get approval by working hard and long. There might be the fear for some that to “take time off”, as they might see it, would attract unfavourable comments from others.

Not showing up

Another commitment issue can revolve around not showing up for meetings or courses, cancelling sessions, not doing the homework and other ways where the individual is perhaps actually struggling with the program itself. At one level it might not be the right one for them, or there may be chemistry issues, or other perfectly reasonable reasons. However another factor can be fear of undertaking the self development program itself as self development. It can throw up personal issues that we may not feel ready to face, and it can seem too scary to discuss them with the practitioners and work through them. It might be that part of us senses that we’re getting close to tricky ground, and the fear of meeting that ground, and staying on it, might be too much, whether we’re actually conscious of that ot not.

Further commitment issues can show after a while. For example, we may do some initial work and then feel better. So, since we feel better, why carry on? Yet, we may have only dealt with the superficial aspect of the issue and not got to the real challenge. Also people find reasons to drop out along the way like one’s partner is feeling unhappy with what’s coming up in their relationship  as a result, and so rather than deal with that, they pull out, when actually that might be part of the problem.

Subtle barriers to getting your result

Then again, there’s very subtle barriers to change that lurk around the corner for the unsuspecting. Let’s say the work involves going away and doing some home work, and yet a lazy part of them would far rather do something else and so they come to the next session not having done the work and start to question the value of the work. What they might miss is the function of resistance, where the ego starts to feel threatened by the change involved and creates these subtle ways in which we tune out of it, especially where there’s an emotional aspect that needs to be faced.

Thus, to commit to your path really can mean that for some of us, and that means a willingness to face the demons that come along. Facing those demons can be your real path to a breakthrough.

To get help with a challenge in your development, click here

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You can make yourself feel happier if you choose

In contrast to the conventional wisdom, the World Happiness Database has found that having goals doesn’t make you happier. Given that very many in coaching start with questions around goals, this can seem a challenging proposition until we reflect on the relationship between having goals and happiness.

The point that is being made in this research is that intellectual concepts like goals, meaning and purpose aren’t in themselves things that create a sense of wellbeing, although they can help. Goals help us move towards something that is life-enhancing. As is argued, it is in the action and thus the experience that one’s state can be said to be happy. Thus leading an active life, leisure pursuits, exercise, and being involved are more powerful. This is very important since activity is a powerful shift-maker in changing mood and in creating a more positive outlook. It is when we let go and allow ourselves to be that we can experience something more uplifting. As positive psychology has also shown, factors that are conducive include being in the flow, engagement, positive emotion, relationship, and accomplishment, as well as having meaning (Flourish, Seligman, 2011). What the above-mentioned study also says is that we can make ourselves happier, that it is something we potentially have control over.

We tend to assume that it is changes in our material circumstances that will make things better for us and thus we’ll feel happier. Thus when material conditions aren’t so good we stay caught up in negativity. Yet what really makes the difference is how we deal with what we’ve got, our ability to be in the moment, to experience joy in the moment, which is available to us at any moment, not necessarily at some point in the future when things “outside” us change. While we wait for such things to change, we create a distance between the that and the now, and keep joy away from us. Thus do we suffer, attached to wanting, to the want of it, to desire.

So it’s not for nothing that a great way of dealing with feeling down and depressed is to take action, to go out and for example get exercise and do something positive that shifts our state. Here we take control and affirm our ability to make a difference in our lives, to change our perception of what is, and allow more joy into our lives. It is a choice we have, at any moment.

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In memory of a very special person

I was very sad to learn recently that a major inspiration in my life, a very special person, has just died of a heart attack. Graham Browne led a very powerful program, Turning Point, that I attended at a very low point in my life in 1989 and it was through the work that followed that a very rapid transformation occurred for me. Many people have come out of seemingly nowhere to confirm what this man, with his fellow teachers, has achieved for them too.

It’s one of those very big occasions when people sense another turning point. When someone important for us like this dies, or for comparison a present or past leader or other major figure, we are likely to be very impacted and to stop and think very seriously about what the person has meant for us. How many of us for example had a sense of a major transition when Princess Diana died? It’s about what that person meant for us.

In Graham’s case, he was for me a very charismatic workshop leader who had a rare capacity to facilitate people’s process in a group such that he could identify exactly what was their “growing edge” in their personal growth. It was a brilliant example of insightful coaching in a group situation, well before the term was commonly used. Except that Graham’s work was more like therapy than what we might conventionally call coaching, although there is no clear or agreed demarcation. Rather like Fitz Perls’ “hot seat” approach in Gestalt, the work he would do impacted not only the person concerned but the group as a whole. Such is the power of this kind of group work. It is as if this person’s journey is our journey too. It was through watching Graham work that I was inspired to change my career from teaching and learn what I now do. What I learned and what I do isn’t the same. Graham’s skill was arguably unique to Graham, as each of us has their own style and way of working, although he very successfully trained his successors in his approach. I went my own way, but what I’m saying here is that it was Graham’s work that got me thinking.

I want to stress that it is very important to watch others at work and see how they do things. NLP would call this modelling. In turn you might then go on to explore and use other ideas too. I went on to study Gestalt, which also powerfully uses “in the moment” processing.

Graham also worked with the group as a whole from a Transpersonal perspective, and without going into detail, he accessed a whole range of techniques to help people to get in touch with and release emotional blockages and learn more of their real potential and of who they really are. It was during one of those processes that he led, a guided visualisation, that I had a extremely powerful spiritual experience, and it was perhaps this that has stayed as the most powerful moment I had in working with Graham. I had the enormous sense of God’s love beaming down, a great big massive ball of deep gold, vibrating with energy, with great strands of energy powering out all around, beams coming on every side of me, and such that All there Was was this deep, unconditional love. Everything seemed to dissolve into this love.

What more is there to ask for?

I feel tearful now, in a very positive way, remembering that moment, which seemed to go on for ever.

Thus can people be gifts for us, angels that come, as they come in many forms, and so did Graham that day.

So I thank him from the bottom of my heart, a true gift, acting in pure service, unconditionally, in love, for so very many evidently very grateful people. What more could people ask for?

So, let’s just pause and remember the gift of our fellow humans, and perhaps for yourself bring to your mind some special person who has been of service to you or helped you in some powerfully positive way, and give thanks to them, and give your love to them.

Om shanti.

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Being stuck in the past with unresolved grief

People can get such powerful upheavals in their lives that it can get very hard to move on as a result. They can be very stuck in the past, although it might not seem like that. The challenge can be very much about finding ways to let go of what happened, and bring it to completion so that they can free themselves up to move on.

A classic example of this is a bereavement, where someone might so miss say their dead partner that for years afterwards they feel unable to let go of the dead person. This might be such that they feel they cannot move on and meet and be with another. A famous example of this was of course Queen Victoria. At one level you might think, should they? Of course, it might work for them to be like this, and this brings up the important questions of it not being about what’s “right” but instead what serves them as individuals. Where this sort of matter becomes an issue is where the person concerned would like to move on, but feels unable to do so. It’s when they decide that it’s not OK for them.

Such a stuckness is what we would call a fixed Gestalt, unfinished business, where there’s grieving to be done and a process of letting go to be gone through, which can include facing and working through the pain, and embracing the feelings that can come up. Very often people have felt unable to go through the full grieving process. However, each in their own time. It can take years to work this sort of stuff through, and sometimes people don’t really deal with their loss and their grief until years later. We need to be gentle with ourselves and let healing take its natural course. For others, they decide they aren’t going to let it hold them up and they take hold of an opportunity, in a manner of speaking, and allow the feelings to come up and be released.

It’s worth taking an inner look and asking ourselves what stuff from the past we’re holding on to, where we’re stuck in the past, what we’ve not let go of. Otherwise it’s held inside, in the body, and eats away inside us, a life put on hold, held in a freeze-frame in the past, incomplete, unfinished, and yet unfulfilled, like a perpetual sadness (and perhaps rage too), and a held-on-to perpetual sadness too.

Thus we can prevent ourselves from embracing all that life offers us in each and every moment, the joy of aliveness and the love of life. Yet it’s always there, for whenever we choose to let go and go and enjoy it. We hold the key. We can open the door from the inside, and step out, and be who we really are. When we choose.

We work with people in life transition, both in our coaching and in our seminars.

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Weathering the depression in our minds to find new light

Sitting in a local Costa Coffee, I’m watching the rain pouring down. While no doubt typical in meteorological annals for May, it must be depressing to experience this day after day. People’s moods can seem to be linked to the weather, and prolonged bad weather may seem to contribute to depression, as a return to sunny weather can lift people’s spirits. So too can the sheer effort of getting about and doing things when faced with getting an utter drenching may seem to contribute to stress, let alone the prospect of being flooded out. While there’s a debate as to how weather impacts our mood to the extent of depression or stress, on an anecdotal level to look outside and see the rain pouring down might mirror back to us how we’re feeling inside.

Yet it can depend on how we interpret what we see. To one person’s depressed state, the weather might seem to be part of a depressed outlook on life, and yet to another the rain might be welcome relief after a period of drought. In another culture such as India, the monsoon is welcomed with celebration. There people go to colder, wetter climates as a relief from the summer heat. In another way what occurs around us can seem to confirm how we think, although it looks like it is the cause. A predisposition to depression or stress can be stimulated by what’s happening outside.

We can get so caught up in external stimuli, what is happening around us, that it can take an effort of will to turn awareness within and reflect on the ongoing inner dialogue, the ongoing attitude of mind, the state we’re in, how we’re viewing our lives at any one moment. It take a lot further work to go beneath that and become aware of the ongoing beliefs that hold such viewpoints in place.

Yet it doesn’t have to be like this. We do have choice, and we can re-interpret what is going on, and think again. It’s perhaps whether we choose to do this, to shift our interpretations, which can involve the will and being accountable for how we think. Sometimes our investment in our attitude and state of mind is too great, or that we don’t think we can do anything about it, that we’re a “victim” of what’s going on.yet there are things we can do, and it’s not so hard as it looks. It can be about finding ways through the morass to new light on our lives. It even empowers us to create a whole new possibility for ourselves and a new way of living that fulfills our real purpose in life.

I write about this challenge that we go through, and about how to turn our lives round, how to get out of states that aren’t serving us, in my free e-course, “The Seven Proven Steps“, which you can start receiving here.

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Not dealing with the real issue

Many are commenting that this is the worst recession they’ve experienced in very many decades. The tendency might therefore to be to “ride it out” in some way rather than invest in themselves and the future. It’s a common syndrome I see. It’s as though people think they can almost enjoy the relative slack. However they might be missing the opportunity to develop their resources.

At one level of course, why not enjoy it? There’s great merit in being in the moment and taking time to savour joy. If this serves as the trigger for that, well and good. We can and should do that at any time. What I’m thinking about here is a certain avoidance tactic. It’s where people don’t face up to where they are in their personal and professional lives. They can “make do”, as the old expression goes, thereby not dealing with the real issue.

Let’s take the person who is out of work. If there’s a financial cushion, it is often tempting to “take time off” to maybe enjoy the unaccustomed inactivity and do things they don’t usually get round to doing. If the working life has been very driven and busy, this can be quite an adjustment with positive results. However, the tendency is to then find it very hard to shake off the lethargy and get into job search mode. And potential leads might have gone dry in the meantime. Also they say that being out of work for a while can often result in it taking them a lot longer to get work. There’s a potential vicious circle in there.

Or the person whose business is not doing well in terms of volume of  sales. They might be tempted to coast along, and thus postpone and not address the weaknesses in their businesses which are perhaps being exposed, rather than reviewing their strategy and build new leads and new realtionships. One can laways find masses of admin to do, or design some new idea that they have no idea will sell, or tidy the place up, all no doubt useful but still not addressing the underlying issue.

So too in one personal development. There might be some ongoing pattern that keeps reoccuring and which one could argue is messing things up. But one can “get by” and tolerate things. One such example can be unfinished business, such as a loss. The upset from the loss doesn’t get expressed and worked through and as a result the loss and the accompanying grief festers away inside the system, impacting health and relationships. It’s as though the perceived pain of change is greater than that of living with the current situation. Very often such people wait until some crisis finally drives them into doing something about the issue, but not before some real damage has been done.

So, at the start of yet another week, what could you be dealing with in your life that isn’t working and needs resolving before it’s too late?

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Letting go when we’re really down

I was struck on Friday by how low morale was in a particular organisation. It had plummeted after the 2008-9 slump and subsequent restructurings and has stayed low ever since. Not surprisingly people wanted to know about ways of motivating their staff and seemed to have run out of ideas.

As individuals we can also get stuck in low points in our lives and when whole groups get like this too, the effect can seem like it’s magnified. This is when it is so important to have our own strategies for lifting ourselves up. This may well need to be a range of strategies.

Sometimes we can re-motivate ourselves quite quickly, which lends credence to the old advice given to people, “Snap out of it.” We just drop it. However, at the other end, we can go right down into a pit and feel very low. Then trying to “snap out of it” goes nowhere against the massive forces going on in one to really mope around the pit and almost feel justified being there.

So sometimes we perhaps shouldn’t give ourselves such a hard time of it. Sometimes bad hair days happen and rather than beat ourselves up for “not being positive”, or allow ourselves to receive the same metaphorically from others, maybe it’s more about giving ourselves a bit of permission to mope about in our pit. Sometimes we also need to have a good look at what’s got us there in the first place, and explore around. Never mind what others think. Then there’s also something to be said for simply allowing the phase, for phase it can be (and I’m not talking about real, long-lasting depression here), to work itself through and exhaust itself.

At some point, if we really practice the art of letting go, and know about that, our organism will exhaust the stuff going on, or know enough about the number we tend to run that there’s a point when it’s time to intervene and say “stop”. Also the aware part of us tends to know what we’re up to. So it’ll be calling us. The pit-behaviour can run out of energy or simply start to look like we’re getting overly attached to a pattern or a line of thinking. So, with this pit-behaviour, there’s a judgement call about when to start to “get off it,” and to choose how to manage your own morale.

So just be easy with yourself about when you do that.

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Heal your own pain if you want to help others

Have you used a skilled helper like a counsellor, a therapist or a coach and found during the work you were doing that the problem you were discussing with them was one they weren’t really comfortable with?

It might show in the body language or in the interventions they make, as they they don’t seem quite appropriate or too judgemental, or you feel the issue isn’t really getting addressed, you aren’t any further forward and your hunch is that they aren’t very comfortable with it.

This is a thorny subject but to trained, very experienced practitioners a key part of their work.

Basically, to guide and support someone along a particular path, you need to have, to some degree, trod that same path yourself.

Very often in particular schools of therapy it’s a requirement of the training, to be in therapy yourself. It applies in coaching too. For those hoping to become coaches there’s a big health warning that should be on coach training companies’ advertising, but isn’t always too obvious, that to train as a coach you need to get coaching yourself, to have experienced it.

However there’s more to it than just that. It’s also about really exploring your own personal material, developing your self-awareness, knowing your blind spots, seeing where your buttons get pushed and what that’s about, identifying and exploring the challenges you have faced in your life, especially if you are doing life coaching, and knowing what your underlying drivers are. This would include doing some work to heal your own past pain, or knowing how to manage it so that it no longer disrupts your life. The extent to which people do this work will vary, but the more you go into your own personal material and learn the courage to face your demons and find they are illusions of your own creating, the more you can be with someone else who is in pain. It’s really like, at some level, you’ve been there. You might not have experienced what they’ve experienced, but you know the process of inner exploration and where it goes and then you are better equipped to help another.

That’s not to say training doesn’t do that. Good training should. My point here is about having experienced your own journey for yourself. That way, you have your own inner road-map and you know what goes on for you and you know how to heal yourself or support yourself through the difficult times.

Thus, for example, if you are to help one who has lost a job, it helps if you know first hand about loss in some form, and the process you go through, as well as the theory of the grief cycle and the change curve.

There  are then many ways this experience can be of benefit. But one quickly stands out. You can then authentically be in a space of real empathy with another, right there for them. It is easier to put on one side whatever might be happening for you as you hear the challenges of another. The ability to resonate in this way is a powerful part of the healing process.