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Do you feel like you’re going nowhere?

If someone asked you where are you heading, what would your reply be? Might it be going nowhere?

That’s not intended as a frivolous question, though many right now might feel tempted to reply with variations around “get lost!”. It could be something around, “don’t ask me questions I can’t answer”. Because such is the state of the world right now that there don’t seem to be answers and many people feel incredibly uncertain and anxious about the future, and even focusing on the immediate can be really hard work and tiring.

What’s your state of the world?

In the UK, there is a decision pending about Brexit, but there’s no sense that things will get better and if anything could get a whole lot worse. In other countries, there’s a lot of unrest, even in places a sense of near-revolt, or continued concern about President Trump or whoever, or a general dissatisfaction with one’s lot, or a wondering if you will get by. Then we hear of the dire state of the climate and how humanity’s future could be in doubt if we don’t change course. We read of stock market crashes, the rising price of fuel, the risks of a trade war, or disasters of one kind of another. The mind, once aroused around fear, will quickly focus on more things and we start to catastrophise, like something dreadful might happen, or going through “what if” scenarios. Just to check, ask yourself: have you over the last week been predominantly optimistic or pessimistic?

One way such uncertainty can show up is in how we feel, like feeling tired, exhausted, low energy, low morale, or struggling to get motivated. It’s like pushing water uphill and not having a sense of achieving anything. Some report waking up at night feeling very anxious, but with no particular reason.

Disempowerment: not being in control

People don’t feel like they can get on with their lives. It can manifest as a sense of disempowerment, or, to borrow a phrase much used at present, “not being in control”. Anger can spill out every now and again, like the Gilets Jaunes protests in France. People need to express it somehow because otherwise the powerlessness gets channelled internally.

I used to work with this state a lot in organisations going through major restructuring which could seriously impact people’s jobs, especially when awaiting announcements. It was the “not knowing” that really did it for them. It was hard if not impossible to plan ahead, to get a sense of direction. People would experience a loss of purpose, even of competence and self-esteem. They didn’t feel valued.

I used to call it a “limbo” state, being in limbo.

It also happens when people are awaiting a health diagnosis. They know something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is or, crucially, what is to be done about it. Will it be serious – or not? Will they be OK – or not?

It’s the not knowing, the state in between, a void, which we try unsuccessfully to avoid.

Afterwards, it’s different. Once people know, they can plan, prepare and get on with their life. Now they at least know where they stand. It might not be that pleasant, but at least they can get on with things.

What can you do?

So it’s important to remember that this is a passing phase. It does not last. Life goes on. Remember the famous John Lennon quote,Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Or the Buddhist understanding that all is impermanent, all in process, and that nothing stays the same. So too, we move on. If we allow it.

So, if you are faced with uncertainty in some form, while it isn’t necessarily nice, you can do something. After all you are a responsible being, if you so choose. So, you can act as one.

One is to look after yourself. This is crucial, since stress levels can rocket. So breathe and meditate, take exercise, eat healthily, every day. Remember your values and what and who you love, including crucially yourself! Love endures despite all things.

Two, have options. There is always a choice, even when we feel disempowered. Find things to make choices over, things you can control. Be prepared, at least to cover possible scenarios. Once you’ve thought it through, put it away somewhere and don’t mull over it.

Three, manage your mind, deliberately, intentionally. After all, we are what we think, and life turns up accordingly. So, by managing our minds, we can keep or regain the focus we want. We can manage and let go of anxiety. This is true taking control. This means, as this blog explains a lot, pausing, stepping back from your stream of thoughts, becoming fully aware, in the present moment, letting thoughts go, being in the Now. And stay there a bit, letting anxiety shift from thinking to feeling to dissolving, so that all you are aware of is Now.

Such present moment awareness allows you to shift from going nowhere  to being now here.

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Has change just disrupted your view of the world?

How much are you being affected by change and uncertainty right now? Both in and outside of the UK many people are thinking their lives have been turned upside down recently due to the Brexit vote. It’s not necessarily about the politics but more the impact on their lives and their plans. It’s like a major event has serious disruptive results. This isn’t the only kind of change that disrupts our settled view of the world.

Change occurs for us in all sorts of ways, some welcome, some less so. You might be getting divorced, you might have lost someone, your children might have left home, you might have just got married, you might have just given birth, you might be menopausal, you might have taken on your first mortgage, you might have moved house, you might be recovering from a major illness. The list goes on.

It might be positive and it might really hit you

It might seem like a positive, but you still feel unsettled and uncertain and all over the place. You might be badly affected. It might be really good, for example, getting your first house, but then you get hit by all the responsibilities and the stress and wonder what you’ve let yourself in for. You might find your job is going, there’s nothing you can do about it, and all your hopes and plans are wrecked.

People grieve. It’s well-known: they can be shocked, angry, upset, or depressed, and take time to process the change and come to terms with it and move on. This can be brief or it can take a long time, depending on what’s happened for us. It can affect us emotionally and physically and leave us facing a new world with all the familiar navigation points gone.

Do you feel sad as times change, or do you feel good for what is coming to pass?

It’s worth looking at how you regard change.

Note my words: look at how you look at what your mind does. At one level we can be caught up in some emotion about change, and we can also, mindfully, be aware of what occurs, of what our minds do. We are thus in a state of awareness about what our mind is doing.

Sometimes we adjust happily to change and sometimes it gets to us. Ask yourself: is the glass half-full right now, or more like getting empty?

Change is a constant. It happens. Life is impermanent. Everything is in process. You might be feeling OK and handling change, until something comes along and really hits you. You might just get down, and stay down. Then we moan about things that are happening, and that glass gets emptier still.

Step back and notice what’s happening

It can be useful to step back and notice what changes have been going on, and allow ourselves to really notice how we are allowing ourselves to respond. It can be useful to honestly grieve for what we’ve lost, what is passing, and then see what we can learn, and let go of.

It’s also useful to cultivate your inner core, the part of you inside that never changes, the ever-knowing, ever-seeing, ever-loving, ever-aware self. Then when change occurs, know that you know. It’s a further step that we take, using awareness to re-connect with our inner knowing. Inside, we’re always OK.

Change happens. It can be hard. It can be joyful. It can be sad or painful. Part of you, the real part we might say, is still here, and always is. The real question might be, do you connect with that part?

I work with people who are impacted by change and need to work out a new way forward.

Contact me

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Change invites us to change our attitude

It is often remarked that the one constant in life is change. So it is perhaps remarkable that it is also one thing so many of us resist. People tell me how they dislike change and wish things would remain as they are, not necessarily noticing that they themselves are changing, as are the people around them and also their surroundings. It can be sudden and immediate and it can be slow and subtle, almost invisible.

Curiously change is built-in to our way of life. Many advocate and welcome it, seeing advantage in something being new, as contrasted with the “old”. Thus commercial marketing is built around change. We expect people to make changes and generally want them to be beneficial. People can get bored with the same thing, and look for something new. Innovation is praised in technology. It can be part of philosophy and belief: for example a key doctrine in Buddhism is impermanence.  Some would say it is a “given”, a fact of life. Thus some say that there are three givens to life, you are born, grow old and die. Those would add that what matters is what we do with the time in between! Here we have choice and free will.

As too with how we perceive change. It is possible to get locked into seeing change as a negative, usually those things we don’t want. Thus many of us don’t welcome being made redundant – well, generally! We dislike the ageing process. Some see the negative in moving house if they are attached to where they are. Many would react strongly to adverse results of illness or accidents that leave them physically impaired in some way. Most of us don’t welcome the upheavals that come with separation in a relationship, let alone the loss of one’s partner. The reaction to change is associated with grieving and, as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously showed, we go through a whole process of adjustment over time to what has occurred.

No wonder therefore that many of us can resist change. It doesn’t have pleasant associations quite often, and stirs up memories. Some change can be quick, but other changes can be long and drawn out. Sometimes it can seem like we have been in the midst of change forever. When, we wonder, will it get better? When will things “normalise”? Or is this new situation actually how things are and will be in the future? It begs the question about what we’re struggling to let go of, which is the other side of the process. Arguably this is where the real learning lies, in letting go and accepting what is, and being in the moment.

Which brings us to the whole question of being in the moment, surrender, allowing, and acceptance. When we let go and be present, we allow other possibilities to be present too. After all, in the quantum moment of now, there are multiple simultaneous possibilities, differing interpretations of “reality”, and different choices about how we experience it. According to various traditions, we can instead draw positivity to us by changing our attitude. One is to give thanks for what we have, to be in a state of gratitude for what occurs in our lives. Thus we can draw different experiences to us.

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New start or same old stuff and not moving forward?

Are you looking forward to a new start with eager anticipation, or do you find you’re quickly back where you were, with the same old stuff going on and you’re no further forward? It can be a hard one, as everybody else can seem all fired up and we aren’t. Who likes to be a party pooper? And so we suffer in silence.

This can be a seasonal thing for many of us,  like a new year supposedly brings new hopes and yet we can still feel we’ve got the same problems. It’s even like positive thinking is for others and not for us. Thus times like January can be the graveyard of many hopes and aspirations as we get deterred by the obstacles that were already there before.

There’s short-term remedies, a new exercise routines, distractions and diversions, entertainment, getting out and seeing people, booking another holiday, reading a self-help book…the suggestions can be endless – and in themselves can be useful. But is it enough?

One question can hover in the background, what real underlying issue are you not addressing?

You might just no longer be grabbed by that job of yours. You just cannot get along with that boss you’re now stuck with. Your relationship has brief revivals, but you wonder how long you can keep going with the same person when there’s an unpleasant truth you don’t want to have to face. You yourself have been getting increasingly negative about life, other people and even yourself, and your partner is getting fed up with it – or you’re beginning to ask whether the real problem is you. Life is passing you by and you wonder when you’re finally going to get up and grab it and say that it’s time you had your turn now. You’ve passed some major milestone in your life, and you are asking, “Is this it?”

You might have some prevailing pattern going on, which you seem stuck in. It might be a cycle, that you keep going back to, and “it” isn’t getting fixed. You might know what “it” is, but until now haven’t plucked up the courage to address it.

When people do finally decide to make the move, and address the underlying issue, it can be the real change that changes everything. And that change might simply be the decision to do something, something real, tangible, and yet life changing. This sort of choice is an act of will. “I am now going to do something about this”. It has the quality of no going back. There is only forward.

When people really make these kinds of moves, they can be transformative, although they don’t seem it at the time. There is however a crucial element of hope. And it has the power of intention with it. You will now move forward.

And then go and get that real, solid help that will support you in fulfilling that intention.

Like come and get some coaching, that addresses these underlying goals and supports you in taking action towards meeting them. Then you can really change your life.

To talk to me about how my coaching might help, contact me here.

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Time to have those change conversations

It’s holiday season and many of us are now headed to nice places on long-anticipated breaks. Despite the desire to de-stress and get some leisure and family time it can often also be time to think and reflect on where you’re going in life too. We might seemingly need to leave work well behind us, and yet for those for whom work hasn’t been so good recently, or that simply the change signals are cropping up, we might have some questions to ponder on. That long-needed break can be when we can just allow our minds to wonder more creatively over what might be possible. This can also apply in other areas of our life too, where we might need to have those long-postponed change conversations with our partner, or think about making some change in our personal life in general and have our own change conversations with ourselves too!

In my line of work I often get to hear about how people are mulling over making changes in their lives. This process comes around every few years, as we grow older, as life changes come along, as people have children (or decide they want them), or as children leave, as we form new relationships, or split up, or as we decide we want to live somewhere else, or a move is long overdue, or as change occurs in work forcing us to re-evaluate where we’re going and what we want. These and other change points are part of the process of life, and sometimes we welcome them and sometimes we don’t. Yet we do need to face and deal with them, before life has a way of thrusting them into our face and saying, “Now deal with that one”.

I was hearing recently how one couple were planning both to get married and to make a move, in one person’s case back to where she was born and grew up, where her friends were, and where she would now like to have children. Her partner was coming out of a major career and was thinking of taking a uni degree course. Both would be leaving jobs that they had been in a while. It was a lot of change, and it looked like it could be both exciting for them but also challenging for them both too. Would they both get what they really wanted and how would their relationship stand up to the test?

So it’s when we get breaks from the usual routine that we might find ourselves thinking about and discussing our needs and our aspirations and how this fits with other people and commitments. I think that with the recession many people are finding this process is long overdue, as people have in many cases had to put plans on hold. Thus the frustrations can build up. Sometimes too people don’t like to talk about change and can avoid it for the difficult emotions it can bring up. Yet, as I said, if we aren’t open and address these issues, they can come back to bite us. So despite all that stuff about getting away from it all, having a good review while on holiday can be very healthy. Change needs to be faced head on. Put yourself at the head of change and it follows and supports you.

I help people work through change issues that are coming up in their lives. Click here.

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Does change make you feel anxious or optimistic?

As things change, there can be a point of poignancy when there’s perhaps an awareness of regret for what is going and mixed feelings about what is to come. Autumn is one such time.

We’re in this time of autumn here in the UK where the trees are turning golden brown, almost red, and leaves are piling up on the ground, in gutters and on pavements. The air is damp with a chill in the air and the grass is wet with dew in the mornings. Depending on how you are feeling, walking among trees can be a bit sad or beautiful or both. There’s a growing a growing carpet of golden brown or bright yellow. As I write there’s a fog hanging around on the hills here in Wiltshire. Sunsets even seem to echo this trend, as with this one, which looked like the horizon was on fire.

Splendour in the west - October sunset
Sun setting in autumn

Now autumn is an annual event but it is a change none the less and it can serve as a reminder of what we’re like around change. It’s worth noticing what your reactions are to change. Do you find yourself feeling regret, almost instinctively, like it’s a knee-jerk response?

This can be how we tend to deal with change. Some changes we resist, others we welcome. I often find some people have these patterns of responding, whereby change feels uncomfortable, and people can tend to resist it. This can be an inheritance from past unwelcome changes, which stick in the unconscious memory.

It can be important to be aware of this, since change is arguably an inevitable part of us as humans. Nothing stays the same, all is in process at some level. What we need to learn is change flexibility, using awareness to notice our reactions and yet be able to hold on to our centred state which never changes.

This is the big challenge, getting to know that centred state that dwells within each of us and, once we’re anchored there, we’re not easily thrown by what life has to give to us. Because at our essence, all is permanent. Then we see change as an illusion. While we’re still anchored in the ego world, all is uncertain, full of flux, anxiety, unpredictability. Finding and knowing our centre of awareness enables us to step aside from all that and be as a Witness to it.

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Getting that you are going through change in your life

Getting that you are going through a change in your life can be the hard part. Humans can be fundamentally very conservative creatures and we a lot of us don’t like change. Particularly at the moment with such a sense of insecurity in the air. We don’t see what’s really going on till we’re  right in the thick of it and things aren’t going as we’d like.

Change can come in clusters, and this can be a clue that it’s more fundamental. So if I take midlife crisis as an example, as described in the last post, we might experience a loss of a job, a break-up in a relationship, a move of home, financial difficulties, significant illhealth, loneliness, loss of a sense of role and self-esteem and so on. On the Holmes-Rahe stress scale, these are high-stress items on their own but in a cluster it’s serious stuff. If you really work through the list in the link just given and put in the items I refer to in this paragraph, with their various sub-categories, you can easily be in the “high-risk” category. So, this is no laughing matter.

Other examples of change clusters can be classic life events like going to college or uni, getting married (yes!) or a major relationship breakup with family and home implications, retirement, or serious illness. People can report that they lose a job, their relationship breaks up, they have an accident, they home is repossessed, they go bust, etc. It all seems to come together. Or you might be reaching retirement age and you notice most of your friends have moved away or retired and gone abroad, your children have left home, your health isn’t good, you are wondering what to do with yourself and perhaps you need to move house. You might be wondering what it’s all about and where are you going, both literally and metaphorically.

One point in all this is to acknowledge that change in your life is happening. You are in a transition of some kind, and it needs to be embraced and not resisted. Resisting it can pile up problems, when we probably need to work through how we can address the issues that have arisen. Only then can the benefits of change be realised. While we hang on to the past, all we get is what we don’t want. This is where people need to let go and move on themselves and work out a whole new direction, meaning and purpose for the next phase in their life. After all, nothing is without a reason, at some level.

I coach people going through a change or transition in their lives. To learn more, click here.

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Midlife crisis needs to be embraced not denied

Those who haven’t experienced it often express amazement or cynicism about the difficult transition men in particular can go though in their late ’30’s and early ’40’s. The cynics call it a “midlife crisis”, although that’s a misnomer since mid-life in the advanced industrialised countries is arguably now somewhat later and also that some experience this transition even in their early ’30’s. In fact it has been calculated that the suicide risk for men goes up markedly after the age of 30.

So, just as you might be thinking as you reach for the mouse that “I don’t need this” on a wet and windy Monday morning (in the UK, that is), it is important to look at how we respond. People might be in denial and they might be cynical, but the transition is a very real one and needs to be accepted and addressed in order to avoid or minimise the drawbacks.

The transition or change process can involve issues like a breakup of a relationship and/or redundancy or ill-health for example, and it’s worth noticing where there’s a combination of factors. For example, job loss can bring relationship breakup in its wake, a move of home, difficulties seeing the children, depression, worsening health, low self-esteem and a whole clutch of issues together. Then, as the article in the link above makes clear, for men in this age group there’s a whole change been happening in the role of men, which many haven’t yet caught up with and arguably haven’t the skills to deal with.

It can take a lot to work through and some buckle under the strain. As the article in the link above shows, the job loss can link to changes in the person’s field of work, which can create a much wider sense of being redundant (“on the scrap heap”) used to be the phrase. Hence the need to re-appraise one’s career, retrain, get new experience, etc. For a man out of a relationship it can be a very hard time. Everybody seems to be in a couple and you can feel very alone. A whole new social life needs to be built up, and if you have children then there’s the constant reminder of the old relationship at some level. Then you may need to work on your own morale, self esteem and self belief. Men can very easily start to look “past it”, even though they aren’t, and there’s probably work to be done to improve self-image, dress well and get fit and healthy.

Actually if you embrace the transition, as I said above, this whole process can be rejuvenating and we can discover a whole new sense of purpose. Like all change, we have a choice as to how we respond. Here management of the mind is key, re-framing our perspective, and developing a whole new more positive outlook on life.

I provide coaching to help people manage transtions in their life and work. To learn more, click here

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In adversity it’s time to get resourceful

With lots of change going on in the work-place, people will very likely be finding things difficult, especially as for lots of people at present the workplace is very stressful, along with financial cutbacks. As we’ve discussed in this blog, change often comes to people in bunches. They’ve got lets say a change at work when parallel to this is a lot happening on the home front too. Or a parent dies and you’ve just split up with a partner and been told you’ve got a serious illness.

Flexibility is a hard one if you’re confronted with a change you don’t like and don’t want. This is when people can dig in their heals and resist like mad. The trouble is that the change ends up happening and the only ones who seem to be suffering in the end is us.

When we get scared, we tend to put up the barriers. Too much of our energy is invested in holding on and surviving. Thus we don’t have the openness to alternative possibilities. We’ve shut down on our right-brain thinking and our creativity. So we don’t necessarily see the options in a situation. We also fear for the future and don’t always think that things could work out as we want.

If we went into a situation imagining we had multiple possibilities, we might then be able to work out different ways of dealing with it. We might see alternative scenarios working out for us, and can plan alternative strategies, each for a different eventuality.

Flexibility is a crucial change management skill. With flexibility, your beliefs are more open to things working out. You may be more positive in your outlook towards life and other people. You might be more optimistic, and believe that whatever happens will be for the best. I’ve always been struck how things work out well for people with this orientation to life. They tend to be more resourceful and have ideas to deal with situations. They are less invested in the fear of things going wrong and more in what they might do and how it will benefit them.

Flexibility can be cultivated. One might for example deliberately teach oneself to breathe and let go of fear, and deliberately have the intention that things will work out. One can teach oneself to think in terms of developing options. One can train oneself to challenge the negative, doubting, fearful side.

More is possible than we might think. So, if you’re feeling up against it at the moment, maybe this is the universe telling you to get resourceful.

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We can move on

It is curious, were it not also so painful, to see how absorbed we can get in our own misery. It gets a perverse fascination, such that we keep on and on at it, even though we know, in part, that it doesn’t do us any good.

I was reading a story about that great mythical Indian character, Sheikh Nasruddin. Stories about him are often told by gurus, to illustrate a point they are making. Here’s one from Swami Muktananda. Sheikh Nasruddin had noticed people buying chillies in a market and had seen that they were very popular. In fact they are only eaten in very small quantities but Nasruddin concluded that since so many people bought they must be very tasty. So he bought a whole stack and went away and sat under a tree to eat them. Very quickly his eyes were streaming and his mouth was hurting and his nose was running, and he was in agony. But he carried on, finishing one and starting another, thinking that surely at some point they would start tasting good. All the time he was suffering, but as he went on he thought, “Surely at some point it will get better”. After a while someone who had been watching him came over and pointed out that one only ate chillies in very small quantities, and usually in cooking. Hearing this, Nasruddin carried on eating. Asked why he was doing this, Nasruddin replied, “I bought these chillies and I have to finish them. I’m not eating chillies any longer. I am eating my money!”

It’s not doing us any good, but we carry on with it because we’ve made the investment. Perverse, isn’t it? We keep on, hoping that what we do will lead us to fun, enjoyment, satisfaction, contentment. But we get more hell. It reminds me of the old saying that since you’ve made your bed, you have to lie on it.

Well do we?

Yes, we can change direction. We can stop. We can let go. We can drop it. We don’t have to carry on what we’re doing. We can move on. But it’s when we want to, when we choose, when we really commit. Till then, as the Chinese saying goes, “If you don’t change direction, you’re likely to end up where you’re headed.”