Note To Self, We All Have That Voice.

Dear younger self, not everything that you did was your fault. You were born to parents who did their best with what they had and what they knew. No one could have imagined that the first few years of your life would form who you are today. You had no control over that part of your life and the hand that was dealt to you was just the way it was.

When you were left alone to cry yourself to sleep, who would have thought that you would form habits such as rocking yourself to sleep, picking the fluff off a blanket, rolling your fingers on the corner of a sheet, and many other habits you continue with today. When you were left in the dark, who would have known that you would grow up fearful of the night. When your bedroom door was closed to stop you from coming out when woke from a bad dream, who would have known that you would have nightmares.

So, you began to talk to yourself to find solace, with that voice.

When you were two you became naughty and needed to be disciplined. Smacking, going to bed without dinner, and similar punishment was the way to teach you a lesson. Refusing to eat what was on your plate meant that you spent long hours sitting at the table until all the food was gone, despite you dry-reaching with each mouthful.

When you were naughty at school, you were slapped, smacked, strapped or caned. When playing with your 'friends' at lunchtime you hoped you were picked early for the team, you never wanted to be that last one picked. When you lost at sports you felt like a failure, when your exam results were poor you believed you weren't intelligent, when you were bullied you felt inferior and isolated.

That voice was there for you though, and you began to talk with it more and more.

At high school, all your mates had a girl or boyfriend, so you had to have one just to fit in. You wanted the latest gadget but your parents couldn't afford it so you did whatever you had to to get one. You began to worry - am I too fat or too thin, too ugly or too beautiful, to good or too bad - and why was I so different to everyone else.

But, you still had that voice to talk to.

As the pressure of 'the world' came down on you to achieve, you turned to alcohol and/or drugs to escape the pressure. In particular, to escape that voice inside your head that told you that the best you could hope for was to be 'normal'. That voice, the one that 'guided' you throughout your life; the one that comforted you when things went wrong, the one that made you feel guilty when you did bad things, the one that sought revenge on those who wronged you, the one who wanted you to be like everyone else, the one who....

That voice, the one that eventually took you down. The one that told you that you were a failure, a loser, not good enough to be around. The one that blamed you for everything that went wrong in your life. The one that you had relied on so heavily was now turning against you.

How could that voice, my only friend, do that to me? You were all I had and now you are also against me.

That voice. I wish I had not listened to that voice as much as I had, I wish I had known that if that voice talked to me too much that I could stop it, I wish I had known that I could control that voice, I wish I had been told that I could use that voice to help me, I wish I had been told that everyone has that voice. I wish.....

Imagine for a moment if someone had told us when we were young that we all have that voice and the only time to listen to it is when it is telling us good things. imagine if we could learn to control that voice and use it to our advantage. Imagine if we could turn that voice on and off like a switch. You can.

'If only', two words filled with guilt and regret, and we know that guilt and regret will take us down. 'It was what it was' which made it 'is what it is'. The good news is that you now know about that voice inside of you, that great news is that you can change everything from now forward, including your past self, from today.

That voice is there for a reason, to keep us safe, but only if you know how to use it.

Let's talk!

Bullying Can Kill

Bullying is killing people. I hope that got your attention, because it is. Bullying destroys lives.

To clarify, my focus in this post is not about those who troll the social media pages looking to denigrate those above them, nor am I talking about school children being ridiculed by their peers. While these bullies are also killing people, the focus of my work is in the workplace, it's where my expertise targets.

Supervisors who place their subordinates (I hate that word) under unnecessary pressure to perform to an unfair or unknown set of standards.

Those being bullied should also understand the difference between being asked to perform to the same expectations that others are being asked to and to which you have resisted, as opposed to those being treated unfairly for whatever reason. Being held to account to achieve a set of agreed standards, provided it is conducted according to policy, is not bullying unless it is done so in an overbearing manner.

Human behaviour, and the way in which we interact, has matured over recent generations. The way people spoke to each other around the workplace in the 1970's & 80's is no longer appropriate, if it ever was so. Humans have evolved to become more aware of what is and isn't appropriate. People have also become more 'sensitive' to the way in which we interact, emotionally caring for ourselves and for others, social media does have its advantages.

I have met many bullies, unfortunately, most of whom have similar characteristics - a distinct lack of social skills, the inability to communicate effectively, having a sense of self-importance, immature in their thought processes, low emotional intelligence - the list goes on. All of them believe that they are doing a great job and getting the best out of people by their behaviour. 'My way or the highway' is their favourite mantra.

If you recognise any of these traits in yourself, you need to change because you are causing real harm to others.

What should you do if you believe that you are being bullied, regardless of the reason;

  1. The bully MUST be held to account - ignoring behaviour does not change it. By ignoring the behaviour, the bully may believe that they are treating you fairly.
  2. Never confront it at the time - if you confront a bully at the time of the incident it often won't end well. When emotions are heightened we become defensive and find it difficult to discuss things rationally. Instead, write down what occurred, what was said and how you felt. The latter point is important should the incident go further.
  3. Talk with someone - ask a trusted colleague or friend what they think about your situation, they will bring perspective. When relating what occurred, leave emotions to one side and focus on just the facts. If the colleague or friend believes you are being bullied, you must take action to bring it to the bully’s attention.
  4. Can you do it - I am a firm believer that you, the one being bullied, should talk with the bully in the first instance. This shows that you have strength and will not tolerate bullying. Meet with the bully the following day and remind them of what occurred, tell them how it affected you, and ask them if they thought what they did to you was appropriate had it happened to them. If they react negatively, warn them that next time it happens you won't wait a day, you will bring it to their attention at the time.
  5. If you can't do it - bullying is an emotionally confronting event, if you feel that you cannot talk with the bully, have a colleague, support person, or a union delegate with you or to talk on your behalf. Employment courts generally take the approach - was it brought to the person's attention at the earliest opportunity and at the lowest possible level - hence the need to take a measured approach.
  6. One chance is enough - if the bullying behaviour occurs again, bring it to the bully's attention immediately. If they do not accept what they have done as inappropriate, it's time to step it up.
  7. Seek skilled help - if the behaviour continues, it is now time to go outside of the organisation and seek employment expertise. Why outside, because of the independence. Unions are a good start, or an employment advocate/lawyer.

This might seem like a lengthy process, it isn't. Here are the reasons I believe it is the right process;

  • It is a controlled, measured approach.
  • Courts will look favourably on you should it go further.
  • Meeting anger with anger never works, the harder you push on someone the harder they will push back. Additionally, your conduct might be seen as bullying.
  • Humility is not weakness, it is a true strength that empowers.

I am a firm believer that doing nothing in most situations is a valid option, not with bullies. Doing nothing is tantamount to acceptance and in some instances, may be viewed as an endorsement. If we see someone being bullied, it is incumbent upon us to also take action.

As to children and bullying, the same rules can apply. Bringing the inappropriate behaviour to the attention of teachers or parents to do something about it may not work. The actual bully needs to know that what they are doing is wrong, hurtful, and destroys lives.

As for trolls, they require a different approach. In this instance you should do nothing, biting back will only excite them because they want a reaction. Ignore them.

The media also have a part to play in bullying. Heightening rumour, gossip and scandal is a form of bullying. While it might sell, it also destroys.

Finally, don't treat people the way that you want to be treated, treat people with respect. It's that simple.

Let's talk!

Don't be Afraid, Use Fear To Your Advantage!

"Run to the fire" is one of many mantras I encourage people to start using. Why, because fear is often what holds us back from reaching our true potential.

To show you how fear works, let's look at the simple example of workplace change, when we are told that there is going to be a few changes at work. Most of us have common fears such as - fear of the unknown, fear of not coping, fear of losing our job, fear of losing colleagues, fear of no control over the process, fear of being uncomfortable - the list goes on.

Another example might be where we see an expression on someone’s face and we are unsure of the expression so try to work out the reason for the expression - did I say the wrong thing, were they laughing at me, did they understand what I said - and we continue to try and figure out the cause of the expression.

When we hold on to the unknown, our brain will tend to make things up, and most often it will turn to the negative. It's all part of the worry spiral that we know so well, if we worry about something for too long our brain will exaggerate the negative, catastrophisation is the term to describe this process.

Fear is designed to keep us safe, and like most things is part genetic and mostly learned. Research conducted at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the University of Greifswald in Germany examined the effect of polymorphisms (variations in genes which changes the way a particular gene functions) on what causes fear (and anxiety) is it genetic or learned and how that fear can be subsequently overcome.

Their findings show that fear can be overcome, mostly. However, this depends on, in part, to our genetics.

All of us have fears and most of our fears are learned from events that have occurred across our lives. Therefore, it is natural to assume that all fears can be overcome. Not necessarily so, the good news though is that there are ways to reduce our fears if we can't overcome them.

Here are five ways to reduce or overcome fears that have a solid scientific base;

  1. Take a tactical breath - stop, take a long slow deep breath, hold your breath while counting inside your head, then slowly breathe out.
  2. Face your fears - 'run to the fire', the more that you do something that you fear the easier it becomes. Immersion therapy in a controlled fashion allows us to unlearn what has become instinctive responses.
  3. Feel the fear - don't be afraid of the feeling of fear because that is all it is, a feeling. Basic physics tells us that the harder we push on something the likely greater the resistance. Feel fear, embrace it, get accustomed to the feeling. (A cautionary note, if the feelings of fear continue then stop this method)
  4. Think about fear differently - fear, and the accompanying feeling of nervousness, is designed to keep us safe by increasing our focus. Knowing that fear is merely designed to enhance our abilities, and nothing more, gives us comfort.
  5. What were the positives - once you have faced your fears, focus on the positives and celebrate your success. This will produce positive chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin as well as increase your desire to face more of what you fear.

Each of us have fears, some are rational while others not so. Nevertheless, your fear is very real to you and that must be acknowledged. Know that fear is mostly learned therefore can be unlearned over time. Whenever our amygdala fires up it scars our hippocampus, our memory bank, so that we will always be alert to the same danger should we have to face it again. That's the reason why it can take some time to smooth out the scar, to repair it.

Run to the fire, or perhaps walk first until running becomes much easier.

Let's talk!

Can We Grow Our Brain?

You jump in the car and find that you have left your keys behind, you see someone you have met occasionally and can't recall their name, you put something down and can't remember where you left it. "I am so forgetful these days" you tell yourself, "I wonder if I am getting dementia".

According to Gary Small, in his book 2 Weeks to a Younger Brain, memory peaks and declines with age. He asserts that brain aging begins at the age of 20 and declines to a point where at the age of 55, our visual memory is about equal to that of a 10-year-old. The good news is that another study of 70-year-olds playing video games increased their brain performance to that of 20-year-olds. Recent studies show that we can regress back in time. The decor of a rest home was transformed back to the 1950s, elderly residents became more active with their health and mind improving as a direct result.

There are three stages of brain aging; normal aging (begins around 40), mild cognitive impairment, and dementia. Surprisingly, recent research indicates lifestyle habits affect our brain more than genetics do. If we do nothing about the brain's natural aging process, chances are our brain will deteriorate faster than had we done something about it.

So, what can we do to stall the brain aging process? Here are a five common science-based things to help your brain stay healthy;

  1. Sex - (I bet that got your attention) a healthy sex life has been shown to reduce stress and stimulate the growth of new memory cells.
  2. Listen to music - listening to music the we enjoy improves mood and memory through the release of dopamine.
  3. Socialisation, Exercise, and Sleep - I cheated, these are actually three things, the three most important things that we can do to support our health and well-being.
  4. A healthy diet - our brains consume around 20% of all of the oxygen and nutrients in our entire body so eating healthy boosts our brain power. Eat well, hydrate well, be well.
  5. Train your brain - meditate, learn new things, do puzzles (Sudoku is best), watch interesting documentaries, pull something apart to see how it works, become curious about everything.

Here are five other techniques that are still science-based, just a little different;

  1. Become ambidextrous - do things, including writing, with the less dominant hand.
  2. Use different learning techniques - read, listen, watch and experiment.
  3. Memorise - by all means use lists but try remembering what is on the list before reading it. When you meet a group of people, try remembering everyone’s name.
  4. Break routines - doing the same thing every day leads us to a RUT so 'do the same thing differently'.
  5. Let your mind wander - mindfulness has its place yet may hold back your creativity. If you are contemplating a change, working on a problem, or just want to relax, letting your mind go to where it wants to may help find the solution or relax you.

The brain is like a muscle, use it or lose it, it's that simple. Behaving like your younger self is the best way to stay young. Just remember that your brain might think that you are young, but your body might not agree.

Let's talk!

Can I Stop Reliving Bad Events?

Neuroscience tells us that 80% of our memory is negative, full of the bad things we have been through. Apparently the only good memories we have are of holidays and significant events such as marriage, child birth, and the like. Even then, the memories aren't as clear as any bad event that happened to us.

In simple terms, evolution wired our brains to remember bad things to alert us to danger, to keep us alive. Additionally, our brain exaggerated the negative so that we could clearly see the danger to fix it, catastrophisation is the term.

It's all about emotions and that damn amygdala. When the amygdala fires up with negative events there is a lot more thinking involved, our brain processes information more thoroughly in bad events than it does with positive events. It is this additional processing that makes it hard for us to forget negative events, they are burnt into our memory.

Additionally, when we go through a negative event, our physiology is significantly impacted. Our heart rate rises, our breathing becomes shallow, adrenaline and cortisol is released into our blood, our mouth becomes dry, our skin becomes clammy, we may even become cold and start shivering. And when we recall that negative event, we go through the same physiological reactions as we did at the time of the event, thus reinforcing the event.

Hence, PTSD can occur as we continue to remind ourselves of that bad event and we relive the same feelings.

When we have a positive event in our life, dopamine is released into your brain, and we all know that dopamine is a feel-good chemical. So, can we use good memories to overcome bad ones? Yes, but it's not that easy, you have to focus hard. We can use the positive reaction from happy memories to lessen and bury the negative memory.

Replacing a negative memory with a positive one takes time; the good news is that it can be done and is probably the best approach provided you have a strong positive memory. Each time you have a negative memory pop into your head, go to your happy memory to replace it. When you remember a happy memory you will get a hit of dopamine which will lift your mood.

There are some other techniques that you might want to try when wanting to bury bad memories;

  • Psychotherapy works - I can personally vouch for psychotherapy, provided it is with a qualified professional, not a counsellor.
  • Avoid your triggers - Write down what it was that sparked the bad memory each time it occurs. Once you know your trigger, avoid it as much as possible.
  • Don't dwell on the negative - continually change your thoughts to break the neural pathway linked to the negative event.
  • Meditation and mindfulness - enrol in a meditation or mindfulness course which will show you how to control your thoughts.
  • Don't resist the feelings - For some people, forcing their thoughts doesn't work. Acknowledging the bad memory and feeling the feelings then letting the feelings go works better in the knowledge that the feelings aren't real.
  • Look forward to good things - Looking forward to goods things coming up is one that I use. Be in the moment but look forward to things coming up that give you a buzz, that shot of dopamine.

It is important to remind ourselves that bad memories make us who we are today, they have shaped us. Bad memories can make the good times even better. Finally, from adversity can come opportunity. I have many friends who have made successful careers out of their adversity. Perhaps you could do the same?

Let's talk!