True Personal Courage

There are many levels of what true personal courage looks like - facing our worst fears, selflessly supporting others when we don't have much ourselves, battling a terminal illness without complaint, deciding to leave a long-term relationship, making a decision to euthanise a dearly loved family pet - each requiring strength.

Other lesser recognised forms of personal courage might include - facing up to a bully, asking for a pay increase or promotion, making a speech in front of a large audience, apologising for an error on our part, or inviting someone out on a date - these things also take a certain amount of courage.

Daily personal courageous acts might include - trying a new food, deciding not to drink when those around you are doing so, meeting a new neighbour - acts that are meaningful to you as a person that you can undertake daily.

Each of these types of acts requires a different level of personal courage, but each example is still courageous nonetheless.

The military rightly recognises courage with medals. Medals are often awarded for acts of bravery while in the presence of the enemy. For me, and in no way to diminish the military honour system, this same definition might also describe true personal courage - bravery while in the presence of the enemy.

There are many people doing wonderful acts while in the midst of their enemy. Those who have faced domestic violence working with perpetrators of that violence, or those who have been sexually abused working to help the abusers, or perhaps those who tell their journey of mental illness in front of those who are struggling themselves with a mental illness.

Each of these people are reliving their worst nightmare so that others may not.

Perhaps this is true personal courage. Not only are they doing something courageous in the face of their enemy, they are doing so again and again, often without recognition.

No matter what your description of personal courage might be, we should all be encouraged to undertake something courageous at least once a month as a minimum, no matter at what level, to become stronger.

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Lucid Dreaming - Real or Unreal?

I was asked a question in one of my workshops recently, "How do lucid dreams occur and can I force myself to have them as they are really cool." A lucid (clear) dream is one where you know you are dreaming and in control of the dream. They are extremely vivid. The movie Inception is roughly based on lucid dreams.

From what I have read about dreaming, they are nothing more than events of the last day or two being consolidated into our memory, or they are our fears and/or insecurities. Bad dreams often occur when we are too hot, if we get too hot our brain awakes as we are in deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Common dreams such as falling often equate to a fear of heights or a fear of failure.

Lucid dreams occur mostly in lighter sleep just before waking or after waking and drifting back to sleep. The challenge that we have is that lucid dreams are often random, they come out of nowhere, and we when realise we are actually dreaming and can do whatever we want in them, we wake up!

There are known benefits to lucid dreaming - they can be good for our spirituality, people who have them tend to be more aware of their surroundings during the day than those who don't have lucid dreams, and you wake up more refreshed than from a regular dream.

Lucid dreams allow us to play with the dream, to become superheroes, to do things that we couldn't do in real life. It can also a way of ridding ourselves of recurring nightmares and of our fears but this needs to be controlled by a specialist in psychotherapy/psychology.

A note of caution, if you have certain 'mind' conditions such as schizophrenia, lucid dreaming may exacerbate your condition therefore do not mess around with sleep patterns or with dreams. In fact, my advice for everyone is to enjoy the lucid dream as much as you can at the time and then forget them.

On a final note, don't spend time over-analysing your dreams, lucid or otherwise. Analysing dreams can be helpful, over-analysing them (examining in too much detail) may cause us to angst rather than to relax. Happy dreaming.

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Extreme Thoughts, Are You In Control of Them?

I want you to be completely honest with yourself - have you ever had an extreme thought pop into your head and wondered where it came from or why you had that thought? Did it frighten you, maybe even freak you out a little bit? You tried to quickly dismiss the thought and move on with other thoughts but every so often you came back to thinking, why did I have such a bizarre, extreme thought?

What am I talking about? Have you ever stood on the edge of a tall building, bridge, or cliff and thought - I wonder what it would be like to step off, or, you feel drawn to just falling? When this happens, you jump back with a fright and don't trust yourself to go near the edge again.

Perhaps your thought might be more extreme - I wonder what it would be like to watch someone die, or, maybe to kill someone? Just a fleeting thought that comes and goes in an instant so you try to bury (excuse the pun) that thought deeply for fear you might be going crazy.

There are other similar thoughts about; religion and wanting to shout out something inappropriate during a church service, of harming children you love, of a sexual nature, hurting animals, and even about your own death. These are termed 'intrusive thoughts' and they are normal, truly they are. You are not going crazy.

Where do these thoughts come from, like everything with the brain there is no single nor clear answer for each of us. For some it might be genetics, biological, environmental, or a combination of these and many other things. The best I can come up with, and this is just my opinion, the intrusive thought is a survival mechanism designed to remind us of what is right and what is wrong.

More so, intrusive thoughts are to remind us that we are in control of our thoughts otherwise we would have acted on them.

So, what should you do about it if you have an intrusive thought, dismiss it as normal and quickly move on without another thought about it. This can be difficult to do if the uninvited thought hits at your core values. For example, you might love animals and you have this sudden thought that you could kill the cat laying asleep on your lap, the one that you love so dearly. Those thoughts are harder to dismiss because they frighten us to the core.

Nevertheless, you must move on quickly.

We know that we learn things through repeated actions, if you pay attention to that fleeting uninvited thought you are just adding fuel to the fire. Neurons that fire together wire together and you are forming a neural pathway that is hard to break. For example, if you have that fleeting thought about hurting the cat, we either become anxious about the thought and keep thinking about why we are such a bad person, or we over-compensate for that thought by lavishing affection on the cat.

Worse still, we might dismiss the intrusive thought and then every so often 'check back' with our thoughts to see if it is still there!

All of these responses will hold that thought in your head thus making it stick in your mind. Let it go immediately and know that it is normal, that you are normal. If you don't do this, that continued thought might eventually take you down.

Know this, the more that you think about something the more we start to believe the thought.

Rather than dwelling on the negative thought, replace the intrusive thought with a more positive one. Instead, start telling yourself that you are better than you think you are because it's just that, it's a thought that you aren't. Better still, start telling yourself (thinking) that you are stronger than you think you are, because you are, that intrusive thought has simply reminded you of that because you didn't carry it out.

Go with your heart, not your head, because your head is full of nonsense at times.

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Rumination, That Thought That Just Keeps On Giving...

Rumination is described as repeated thoughts about something that occurred or of a problem that we are trying to solve. Typically though, rumination is also about replaying a negative event arising from feelings of guilt and regret.

Ruminating over good things can be helpful as it allows us to find a solution. Conversely, ruminating as a result of guilt and/or regret is bad for us and will often lead to anxiety and/or depression.

The number one way of avoiding rumination, regardless of whether it is positive or negative, is to talk with someone about it. Why, because the longer we keep 'thinking' about something without some form of control the higher the chance that it will end in negative rumination as our brain goes into our memory to find the solution from past experience.

As we know, around 80% of our memory is of negative things which, evolutionary, was designed to keep us safe from danger.

Doing nothing is not an option when it comes to rumination. Doing nothing will only increase rumination. Research is overwhelming in the finding that socialisation, talking with others, is critical if we want to stop rumination and to move on with our life.

Socialisation is hardwired into our brains. If you want to see how socialisation operates, the next time that you are talking with a friend and in deep conversation, turn your head and look away as they are speaking. What happens, the other person stops talking or talks louder to regain your attention.

It makes no difference, apparently, who we talk to. A friend, a mentor, a spiritual adviser, a family member, or even a pet. All are helpful. I would suggest a good friend or family member because they may be able to give you both emotional support and solid advice whereas I doubt that your pet could give you any advice whatsoever. (No offence to pet lovers).

Talking may not make the problem go away but what it will do is lessen the emotional pain as it is never a good thing to hold onto negative thoughts. Holding on to negative thoughts only exaggerates them.

What if you don’t want to, or can’t talk to anyone about what you are ruminating over? There is another option described by Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The Myths of Happiness. In very new research, it is suggested that we should go through the event in our mind as though we are seeing it through someone else’s eyes.

Sonja terms it ‘the fly on the wall’ view. According to her findings, seeing an event from a distance allows us to replay the event without rehashing the emotional connection. Replaying an event in this way has the same effect as speaking with someone.

Essentially then, a problem shared is indeed a problem halved, whether it is with another person or with ourselves viewing it from a distance.

Let’s talk!

Annoyances Are Far Worse For Us Than Major Events!

Contrary to what we might think, it is the small annoyances in our lives that have a greater negative impact than do major events. In her book The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky describes why this is so.

According to her research, when a major event happens we tend to get motivated to quickly overcome the event. Additionally, we look to others for help and support more so than we would for minor annoyances. Furthermore, we conduct increased cognitive (learning & understanding) activity in our brain after a major event such as rationalising why the event happened, what was the reason for it happening if there was one, looking on the bright side of the event, and so on.

With smaller annoyances, we tend to try and dismiss the event as insignificant, trivial, and easily moved on from. We often try to ignore the event, or think that we did so, yet later that day/evening the annoyance returns to our thoughts. We also don’t tell anyone about what happened for fear that it won’t mean anything to that person or that they may ridicule us for getting hung-up on such a little thing.

When we hold onto any negative event in our head, the thoughts of it become exaggerated due to something termed as catastrophising. It’s our brain's way of expanding the danger to bring clarity so that we can fix the issue. Unfortunately, when we catastrophise we create a reality that doesn't exist.

If the annoyance has been and gone we are left with only two options; try and dismiss it or talk to someone about the annoyance to bring balance to our thoughts. We know that trying to dismiss something that is playing on our mind generally doesn't work so we are left with talking to someone about it. The problem with doing so is that the person we are telling might say ‘You need to put a bridge over it’, or ‘Just move on’.

There is a third option that you may wish to try - “Run to the fire” - is a mantra I coach. Bring the annoyance to the fore as it occurs. Research suggests that for the majority of us, we should deal with little annoyances at the time. The old adage of ‘not sweating the small stuff’ has now been largely dismissed, particularly so if the ‘small stuff’ is playing on our mind.

So, when things don't go as planned this holiday season, 'run to the fire'., ensuring firstly that you are in control of your emotions would be my advice.

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