Glass half empty or half full?

Freedom

If I were to ask you how you view your life in general using a metaphor of a glass of water. Would you see it as half full or half empty?

My definition of seeing life as half full would be trying to see the positive in everything and any situation I encounter. As opposed to half empty which would mean to me seeing the negative and worst possible outcome in any situation or experience.

A while ago a client asked me if I perceived life as either half full or half empty. I immediately replied, “definitely half full”. This has always been my preferred default setting.

I used to take pride in myself for being the most positive person I know. The trouble was that deep down I really didn’t feel positive at all, it was just a front or persona to hide my insecurity and the loneliness of who I thought I was.

Even in times of self-doubt, when my life seemed like a dark place to be in, I would kid myself in trying to believe that everything was ok.

It would have been easier and more honest to see my life as half empty, but I never could really go there in myself and accept this outcome. Instead I would fill my head with books explaining techniques and strategies on how to become positive and cling on to what I was reading as if it was a life ring supporting me in turbulent water. Even though, the action of trying to be positive never seemed to work as I kept on experiencing the same fluctuating emotions of sadness and self-doubt within myself.

The problem for me with the glass half full / half empty scenario is that, although it seems an interesting way to monitor how one would view life, it never managed to resonate or feel completely true to me on a deeper level. There was always a huge gap between what I wanted to experience in my mind and what I was actually feeling in my body.

I know it’s not a good idea to get stressed and anxious within myself and that calmness is always the preferred feeling; but as I have experienced, it’s not so simple to just change one’s thoughts and feelings in an instant, although it would be lovely to be that way.

It would be like telling myself not to get stressed out and immediately feel calm?

What I found interesting from the original question was that I surprised myself with my initial response, because as quickly as I replied: “I see life as half full’, somehow this answer didn’t resonate with me like it once used to. Something had changed within me on a deeper level. I started to become curious into how I would now truthfully answer this question.

Whether I see my experiences and interactions in life from a negative or positive view point, I’ve come to realise that sometimes things work out for me, and sometimes they don’t, but the deciding factor is always going to be:

Its only ever my interpretation of the events unfolding that determines my response whether something is good or bad.

I have noticed that whether a situation appears negative or to be the worst possible outcome in one moment, can seem like a blessing in the next moment, or at some point when my perspective on the situation changes.

About 5 years ago my wife was involved in a serious car collision that has left her unable to walk properly for the foreseeable future. In an instant our family life took a dramatic turn in a different direction. At the time, if I am honest, I probably perceived life as half empty but through the passage of time and reflection, my perspective on how our life was before the accident, how it is now and will unfold in the future is that we are traveling on a different road or life path together. I see it as neither good nor bad. In fact, for me this experience has enriched me on a deeper level, and I can honestly say that I am a different person to who I used to be before the accident. I feel contented with the realisation that:

It’s not what happens in life that’s important, but how we react to these life events that’s going to be a game changer.

We seem to live in a mind full of fluctuating feelings, ranging from desperate to joyful and everything in between.

While there is nothing wrong with experiencing these different states of mind, in fact it’s perfectly normal that our mood will change throughout the day, the problem I find with experiencing these different states of mind is that I am always trying to favour one over another, which creates a duality within me. I have a tendency to want to chase the good feelings, the happy state of mind, the calmness over feeling anxious, frustrated or insecure within myself. While I can think of completely validated reasons for wanting to feel good over feeling low in myself, it’s the chase between favouring one state of mind over the other and constantly analysing how am I doing which creates turbulence and uneasiness within myself.

Another way of saying it would be:

Getting attached to one state of mind over another would be like trying to change the weather system, by blowing the rain clouds away to experience the sunshine.

While this may sound like a good idea to me, I also know that it’s impossible to do and would create a lot stress in the process.

What I have come to realise from my own personal coaching journey is that in any given day I’m probably going to experience a variety of different mental states. Whatever I am feeling or experiencing in my head is neither good or bad, but it will appear or feel real for me physically and in my emotional response.

At the centre of the pendulum, I call it my natural state of mind, or the real me. This is my most instinctive and optimum state of mind I was born into.

The qualities of this state of mind are calmness, clarity, openness, ability to see the bigger picture, a sense of inner knowing and connection to my intuition. It’s generally a space we human feel most comfortable and at ease to be in, and a space where we experience love and connection with others.

At either end of the pendulum swing is a space where we experience disconnection with our true self. This imaginary pendulum of my state of mind is constantly swinging back and forth, allowing me to experience at one end moments (or even hours) of feeling angry frustrated or annoyed to then experience feelings of happiness, contentment, and clarity.

Knowing and expecting to feel these various fluctuations within my thought patterns throughout the day is helpful. It’s also good to know these emotional states can be an internal warning system to let me know that I am momentarily off track with my sense of reality and probably a good time to take it easy, have a cup of tea or get some fresh air.

Saying it in another way, when I feel upset, angry or frustrated with myself, it’s an opportunity to go easy on myself, providing I’m not venting my anger or frustration on anybody else or object or even my cat, I can then accept the fact that it’s ok to feel off balance. I’ve realised (but sometimes I do and will forget) on a deeper level that whatever I am thinking, and feeling right now won’t last forever, the nature of our thinking pattern is always in a constant state of change. So just as the pendulum swings my mind into frustration, in time (you never know how long it will take) eventually the pendulum will swing back to a state of calmness because:

Feeling calm in our heads and relaxed in our bodies is the most natural and optimal functional state we are designed to be in.

Glass half empty or full? Depending on what ever mood you are in at the moment, will be always dependent on what your answer is going to be.

The trick is seeing and understanding on a deeper level that what we are currently experiencing is just like the weather system happening right now outside. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or stormy, nothing is ever permanent, at some point the clouds will clear allowing the sunshine to break through because although we may not see the sun is always shining, Just like our calm, centred self, it is always within us, it’s just that the stormy thoughts in our mind is obscuring our current vision or take on reality.

Your thinking, normal or familiar!

What is normal, and what is familiar? Experts estimate the average person is said to have about 60,0000 thoughts a day. It is said that a majority of the thoughts we have today are the same ones we had yesterday, and the day before that and so on. So, if I were to ask you, “Does your thinking express itself as a familiar habitual pattern, such as worrying or feeling stressed, agitated or keeping busy?” Do you have personal thinking that appears to define who you are, i.e. I’m an anxious person or I’m a worrier? Are your thoughts preventing you from feeling motivated? Do your emotions fluctuate throughout the day?

With so many thoughts that we think on a daily basis, it’s impossible to be aware of them all. But it’s the recurring thoughts which leaves an uncomfortable feeling, that deserves attention – not for their importance, but to point out the familiar pattern with which they seem to arise in our everyday thinking.

With life being so busy with many distractions to occupy and overload the mind, we can easily fall into the habit of believing that the stressful, fearful or agitated mind we have is a normal state of mind to be in, because we experience it every day!

Which way to go road sign

The brain likes familiarity and since we are also creatures of habit, daily worries or any other thoughts that we think repeatedly can start to create a pattern or recurring loop in our thinking. They start to feel like normal patterns of thought. Is being agitated, having excessive worrying or becoming continually stressed out over a prolonged period of time normal? The answer is no.

Since we are all uniquely different, so is our personal thinking. We will react to life’s circumstances in our own individual personal way; and this is exactly the same for how we respond and react to stress, agitation or any other state of mind we are in. We will create over time, our own individual habitual thinking pattern, based from our own personal experiences and circumstances. Can we notice our own patterns of thought arising within our self? If we can be aware of patterns we have created at some point in our lives, then we have the ability to create new ways of reacting and responding OR can we be comfortable ignoring the thinking altogether? Ignoring deep-rooted thoughts and patterns can create the space for new thinking to occur and lead to greater freedom and new opportunities.

Our mind still operates in many ways from survival instincts, e.g. the fight or flight response, but we can learn to override this system. We do however come with a few quirks:

The mind can’t distinguish between

what is real or imagined.

The mind is always evaluating – even though we may not consciously be aware of this – if what we are thinking and seeing is real and a threat or a reward; physical responses from our thoughts are instantly felt in the body, this is an automatic response to our thinking. For example, a simple thought about a future scenario can activate feelings of anxiety or anger, thus triggering more thoughts, and create physical reactions within the body, e.g. we might start feeling our heart racing. Since all these thoughts create physical symptoms, the fear or the anger can escalate because it now feels very real.

So, what do we do about the stressed, busy mind? As little as possible. I know this may sound strange but the more we engage in our thinking when our mind becomes busy, the worse it seems to get. For some people, the simplistic route out of a busy mind is self-awareness; the point to remember is to be aware that in this moment we are not thinking straight.

In a car there is a temperature gauge regulator, if the engine gets too hot or another part malfunctions, a red light appears warning us to stop and take action. Similarly, in the body we have warning signals to alert us when the body is finding it hard to cope and needs to calm down. When we encounter extended periods of stress physically as well as mentally, its effects can be felt anywhere throughout the body such as fatigue, tiredness, agitation, or any other symptoms that cause discomfort. The problem and solution is that we have to be aware enough in ourselves to feel and notice our own warning system.

Fortunately, we don’t need any fancy equipment, one of many ways to check in with how we are doing is to be aware of what we are thinking and feeling. What is our body trying to tell us? For example, if you feel tired then try and rest, or take some time out, if you can. If you feel agitated then can you find a way to take this agitation of your mind? Take time in nature, go for a walk, turn your phone off for a while, listen to music, you know what works for you. The reason for taking time out is to allow ourselves to move from a state of confusion to a state of greater clarity. We can always think better when we have less on our mind, and it’s surprising that a stressful situation can often look very different when experienced from a different perspective.

Now for the good news:

 We never know and have no control over what thoughts we are going to think, but we can learn to be more responsive to the positive affirming helpful part of our thinking and less reactive to the negative, critical, menacing thoughts which tend to stick and become a pattern.

As a little experiment, think about your day so far, how have you been feeling? Have you been feeling angry, sad, anxious, excited or happy?

In a given day it is quite normal and natural for the mind to fluctuate through different states from sadness to joy and everything in between.

Think of these states of mind as clouds that come and go, sometimes we have rain clouds and storms, sometimes the sun may be shining without a cloud in the sky.

When we become attached, either consciously or unconsciously, to any particular thinking or feeling states, believing it to be normal, we can start to live in this feeling, day after day after day. We can get so used to being in this mind state and it can become so familiar that we really believe that it is part of our character or identity (i.e. “I am a worrier”). With this familiarity of thought we can easily forget that:

 You don’t have to react to what you are

thinking or feeling.

Imagine for just a minute that you can see yourself wanting to do something, you’re really excited and feel so alive, but whatever you would like to do creates anxiety and stress within you that stops you from doing it. Now can you imagine what it would be like to still have the anxiety thoughts, but this time the thoughts don’t cripple you with fear, you choose not to listen to what your head is saying, in fact you almost feel comfortable within yourself.  Now you feel the freedom and do the things you wanted to do, you feel the joy and gain confidence in yourself and it makes you feel alive.

Substitute the above situation with whatever is happening in your life and imagine being able to accomplish what you want, you may still hear the voice of negativity but allow yourself the freedom to not react to whatever your head is saying. You feel stronger in yourself and able to pursue your dreams. Your imagination can and will become your reality if you choose it to be.

You never know and have little control over what thoughts you are going to think, but you can learn to be ok and accept whatever comes to mind.

In my life and for many years, I listened to my inner critique and believed it. I adopted negative beliefs, these thoughts became my habitual thinking. Without question my body language and behaviour mirrored what I was thinking. In all the years of dedicated listening and believing that voice in my head, I never realised that I had a choice, a choice to not listen, a choice to not trust what felt so real to me at the time. This new-found freedom to choose not to listen hasn’t stopped the talking in my head, but I hear it more as background noises these days. Am I still reactive to my thoughts and beliefs, of course yes, but the difference now, is that I don’t feel trapped by what my thinking wants me to believe.

Is your thinking normal, that’s most definitely a wrong question to ask. Have you had enough of feeling a certain way? Are you feeling motivated to do something about it? Can you change your thinking?

It’s not so much about changing your thinking but more about not engaging with those stressful thoughts.

With practice you will learn to regain who you really are and have more freedom of choice: to choose not to be frightened of those negative nagging thoughts. Once we gain awareness, it is like shinning a light in the dark, we start to become awake to ourselves, we start to question our actions, our beliefs, we start to move from a state of tension (such as anger, anxiousness, sadness and so on) to a state of calmness and joy of being connected with our own self.

If you would like to find out more or explore your own patterns of habitual thinking, please do get in touch. 

 

 

 

The past always fades

Over the weekend I was reminded how far I have come from the person I once was. It seems to me that my past, i.e. my bad memories seem to constantly fade and disappear into thin air, just like the contrails from a plane.

Two thoughts I had (which almost passed me by) seem almost insignificant now, but still resonate within me for they represent a small step in me evolving and learning. These two events and the thoughts that ensued, aroused my curiosity to self-reflect over how far I come the last few years.

If I try to think back to who I used to be, I was someone who was very insecure, felt a failure and generally saw life as a struggle. I experienced feelings of jealousy because everyone around me, or so it seemed, appeared to be generally happier than me. Drinking always seemed a good option because my life seemed considerably easier and happier after a few drinks.

Today as I write this I haven’t had a drink for a few years. I experience a greater sense of calmness in my head, I don’t argue so much with my family, although my daughter might have a different view on this. My day to day thinking is much brighter and when I do get gloomy days in my mind, I am learning to let the storm pass without my interference. I feel a strong sense of direction and purpose that I want to take my life in, which resonates from deep within me.

ripple water

I’m not going to say I’m more positive as I’m not chasing those positive thoughts anymore, I am just becoming comfortable, or sometimes uncomfortable, experiencing my own array of thoughts and emotions; doing my best to not get involved in believing what my thinking wants me to believe.

These days I try to not take myself so seriously, laugh at my mistakes, apologize when I mess up and accept the fact that I’m probably going to mess up again in the future. I am starting to have a very different relationship with myself. It’s safe to say I am a different person to who I used to be.

Why am I saying all of this?

Certainly not to shout out about how well I have done, but more to convey that the change which has happened inside of me, has come about by putting into practice what I talk about with clients.

For me being an effective coach means firstly applying the same principles that I have learnt and integrate them into my own life, then see what happens. This leads to learning and progresses into sharing. These are the same principles that I talk about in a session with a client. How can I speak about change, choice, acceptance, letting go if I haven’t experienced it myself?

Be the change you want to see in the world.

What we individually experience in life is going to be different for everyone but there is one universal law,

People or circumstances can’t control how you feel or react, you always have a choice.

 So, getting back to my inspiring thoughts. The first thought was instant, the second thought took some time for me to realise.

My wife and son were watching a movie, I had to stop watching it half way through. Afterwards I said to my wife “I didn’t like it, that movie made me feel agitated!” This was a simple statement that rolled very quickly out of my mouth, almost immediately what I said just didn’t feel right.

Then I remembered, it wasn’t the movie making me feel a certain way, although it really did look and feel convincing. No, the movie wasn’t the cause of my frustration and it had no way of making me feel agitated! It was my own thinking and interpretation of the movie that caused me to feel agitation.

I know you could say big deal, what’s the problem and I can guess that you probably already know this already, but I do think it is important. The more I am reminded of my emotions / feelings coming from me rather than you or it, or that, or them; I have a better chance to navigate myself to being calmer and seeing whatever maybe bothering me from a different perspective.

This is a big deal for me because if there is a chance of experiencing a situation from a calmer state of mind rather than being stressed out and getting caught up in all that stressful, unhelpful thinking, then I am going to have far less on my mind. When I have less on my mind, I can then think clearer and generally feel better in myself.

The second thought {and after massive amount of thinking} was about the guttering on the side of the house. I noticed it was starting to leak at a certain point. Now this might not even begin to bother anybody else but for me it started a cascade of anxious thoughts such as:

How am I going to fix that?

Its going to be really expensive!

Im a man, I should be able to handle this.

The house is starting to fall apart!

Im going to have to sort this out.

Nobody is going to be interested in fixing it.

Well have to get scaffolding for such a small issue

Its going to be so expensive!!

This anxious thinking went on for about an hour, the more I tried to put it out of my head the more the problem became bigger and bigger. Then as I looked at the steady stream of water cascading down from the guttering, it occurred to me that this leak didn’t have the power to make me have all this thinking. In fact, all the noise inside my head was coming from me, or more to the point, the thought that I’m going to have to ask for help: i.e. get someone to fix it.

Asking for help as always been difficult for me as an old belief pattern of thought still appears sometimes, and it goes something like this:

Asking for help means that you have to depend on someone and they can and will always let you down.

 This old thought pattern became rooted in my belief system when I was young. I now realize that this belief is totally not true, but for many years I believed it to be true; and it shaped my whole internal world and formed part of my identity.

After realising that my thinking had just run away with itself, and also really pleased with myself that I had become aware of an old belief pattern, which now I can change, the simplest solution appeared in a thought,

“just call someone and get it sorted”. Almost instantly the anxious noise in my head dropped away and I landed back into a calmer happier state of mind.

So, the way I see it is I have two options of reacting when something either good or bad happens:

  1. Blame the external event / person for making me feel the way I do,
  2. Or realise it’s only my interpretation of the event playing out in my mind.

Sitting here writing this, I know I have a choice about how to react, although sometimes I just can’t see it in the moment when it happens, when my mind is busy. It’s still a work in progress and I have to practice this new awareness on a daily basis.

The more moments I am reminded of this, the greater sense of feeling empowered and free I feel, this helps me to feel more grounded in my life and gives me a sense of curiosity, love, wonder and excitement about being human.