Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Bless You" is not just for Sneezing!

We often say “bless you” when someone sneezes, but in reality the ancient act of ‘blessing’ involves a whole lot more than just a few throw away words given in response to a bodily function!

If you look up the dictionary meaning of blessing, you will find a number of different definitions. I particularly like this one: 

‘Something promoting or contributing to happiness, well- being or prosperity’.

This implies that when people are regularly ‘blessed’ they become happier, healthier and more prosperous.

It is helpful to look at a culture that actively uses 'blessing’. The Jewish people are one such group. Their blessing involves five main elements:

1.       Meaningful touch
2.       Spoken words
3.       Expressing high value
4.       Picturing a special future
5.       An active commitment

Meaningful Touch

The image we often see when thinking of a Jewish blessing is that of ‘hand on head’.  To the Jews it was a powerful image of transference from one person to another and was seen when a father was passing on ‘his blessing’ to his son (as well as in other contexts). Even today physical touch is a powerful communicator of love and blessing (see The Language of Touch for more on this)

Spoken Words

In Jewish tradition the blessing is not just written down or mystically 'passed on'. It is specifically SPOKEN. There is no doubt what the blessing is about as it is clearly articulated. Children are blessed weekly at the family ‘Shabbat’ meal and this regular input of words must make a huge impact on the child. Spoken words can inspire, encourage and communicate love and affirmation in a very tangible way. (For more on 'Love Languages' see Speaking the Languages of Love)

Expressing High Value

It is interesting to note that the root of the Hebrew word ‘to bless’ means ‘to bow the knee’.  The act of bowing before someone immediately gives a picture of showing honour or giving value. These days we only tend to bow before dignitaries or royalty. In the Jewish culture ‘blessing’ involves attaching a high value to the one being blessed. This is often done through the use of ‘word pictures’.

A ‘word picture’ connects with a character trait, an emotional meaning or points to future potential. E.g. ‘You are going to be as strong as an ox’ or ‘You are like the heather growing on the mountainside. Wild and beautiful’. 

I remember my daughter giving me a powerful word picture. She made a drawing of herself lying in bed with a thought bubble which said ‘my mum is like a river to me’. It immediately made me think of all that I associated with a river, like strength, flowing life, beauty, etc. and it made a deep impression on me.

Picturing a Special Future

Children often daydream about their future, but how many receive words that picture a special future for them?  Jewish fathers tell their children what they see in them in regards to their future e.g. ‘You will grow to be a strong man, your work will prosper and your children will be blessed’ 

Obviously care needs to be taken that this picturing of a ‘special future’ is not manipulative in nature. If you want your child to follow in the family business and insist on telling them ‘you WILL take over the business…..’ it be will manipulative and defeat the purpose of true ‘blessing’. 

I have used this particular element of ‘the blessing’ with my children, picturing success and calling out of them the things I see that they are naturally good at. They always smile and I can sense the delight and re-assurance it brings them.

An Active Commitment

Doing all of the above is no use without showing an active commitment to the one being ’blessed’. There must be follow through. This will involve time, finances, study and consideration. 

You cannot picture a special future as 'a great piano player' without committing to buy some piano lessons, and if you want to accurately asses potential you need to truly 'become a student’ of the one you want to bless. So the final element of the Jewish blessing involves following through with the kind of support that is required to realise success.

I hope you can see that this ancient form of blessing can be brought into our culture today and used as a wonderful tool to bring about that happiness, healthiness and prosperity defined at the start of this blog.
Next time you say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes, let it be a reminder of the value of true blessing and whether it’s your kids, co-workers or employees that you wish to bless, determine to use some of the elements I have outlined here. I guarantee they will be lining up for more! 


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mind Games: 3 keys to keeping a healthy mind in a media mad world

We all know that if eating fast food all day everyday will not make you a healthy bunny, but do we think about our minds in the same way?

In today's internet world we are daily bombarded with images, stories and global news and can access more information than most of us 'ingested' in one week just a decade ago. If you are finding yourself lacking in peace, with your thoughts taking you down a route that makes you agitated, anxious or sad it might just be that you are not feeding your mind in a healthy manner. (Please note, I am not talking about clinical depression or mood disorders here and if you suspect you might be struggling with that, then don't hesitate to talk to your doctor).

When it comes to our minds it will be helpful to consider these three keys:

1. What you focus on, you empower

When focusing on learning a new skill, your constant attention to it will enable you to improve and master that skill. However, if your focus is constantly on reading about every weird symptom your body is currently manifesting, the result is likely to be increased anxiety and agitation!  Likewise, reading about difficult circumstances in other parts of the world can shift you from 'concerned and empowered to help' into 'overwhelmed and overcome' if you are not careful.

2. Fail to plan and you plan to fail

If you were changing to a healthy diet you would make a plan, work out daily menus and consider what isles in the supermarket you should avoid! If you want to have a mind that is more at peace then you can't allow your eyes and mind to roam wherever the internet 'takes you'. A strategy needs to be considered which includes 'what isles you need to avoid'! This can also include giving yourself some internet/media breaks where you indulge in something radical like taking a walk or talking to someone! Try deciding what your limit for the day should be and maybe even set an alarm to help keep you to it!

3. Do a regular 'mind check up'

In the same way that you would step on the scales or consider how your body is feeling whilst in 'diet mode', remember to do a regular 'mind check up'. Ask yourself:
  • What have I been thinking about for the bulk of my day?
  • What have I been reading or watching?
  • Did I really need to think, watch or read those things?
  • Do I feel better or worse as a result?

I'm not suggesting you become ignorant of current issues or refuse to become better educated on matters that interest you, but I do think you need to figure out for yourself what your  'media tolerance' level is and be careful to guard your mind. After all, you won't be able to step into the world's problems and release your own unique brilliance if you are so soul weary from constant feeding on it. 

Some thoughts to ponder!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Better Responses

In my last blog 'You Just Pushed my Button!' I touched on some of the ‘fear buttons’ that we all have. I also highlighted some of the unhealthy responses we fall into when those buttons are pressed. Its one thing to recognise our unhealthy behaviour patterns, but it is altogether another thing being able to break free from them.

Here are four things you can do to respond in healthier ways:

1. Take control of your thoughts, feelings and actions

Before you react, take a breath and think! Say to yourself ‘my button just got pressed and normally I would do x, y or z, but this time I’m going to…’ Work out some things you can do instead, such as being honest to the one who pushed your button. E.g. you could say ‘I need to be honest with you right now. You just hit a button and I’m feeling rejected/angry/confused (fill in the blank).’ This at least gives the other person the chance to explain themselves and you might discover you are not seeing things clearly. It might simply diffuse the situation, as the other person sees that their words have not been helpful. There are any number of better responses you can choose from, so think through some options ahead of time.

2. Don’t give others the power to control your feelings

We all tend to say things like ‘he made me mad’ or ‘she just went too far and I snapped’. In essence we are saying that other people control our feelings. Of course I’m not suggesting we should be made of steel and be unmoved by hurtful or abusive comments, but we need to develop a healthy self-esteem and learn what it is to put boundaries in place.  Remember, in a tug of war it only takes one person to drop the rope for the war to end.

3. Don’t create unrealistic expectations of others

Stress is the gap between what we expect to happen and what is actually happening, and the more valuable an expectation the more intense the stress when it’s not being met. Having some random person be nasty towards us at a bus stop is not going to bother us as much as if it were our spouse or best friend speaking like that. We naturally ‘expect better’ from them. However, if your expectations begin to take you into the realm where you are demanding more than they can reasonably give, you create impossible standards for them to keep and the relationship will quickly fall into stormy waters. When is the last time you talked through expectations with those closest to you? It might be a worthwhile exercise.

4. Choose forgiveness

Of course this is easier said than done, but it is said that choosing to hold onto un-forgiveness is a bit like taking poison and hoping the other person gets sick! Challenge yourself to always make the first move towards forgiveness and remember that most people who offend you are probably doing so out of their own hurt. Forgiveness may be the right response for them to begin the healing process in their own life.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

You just pushed my button!

You may have heard is said that the definition of insanity is ‘doing the same things over and over and expecting different results’. 

In relationships we tend to repeat the same sorts of behaviours and wonder why we end up with the same problems. We all have ‘fear buttons’ that get pushed from time to time e.g. fear of rejection, of looking foolish, of being controlled etc. and often we resort to well-worn patterns of reacting when someone pushes them.

Here are 5 ways people tend to react when a ‘fear button’ is pressed

1. Withdrawal 

You retreat and avoid resolving the issue, often using ‘the silent treatment’

 2. Escalation 

Your emotions spiral out of control; you argue and can become physically or verbally aggressive

3. Defensiveness 

Instead of listening you defend yourself by providing ‘an explanation’ for things

4. Manipulation 

You use controlling behavior to try and manipulate the other person to your own advantage

5. Sarcasm 
You  resort to devaluing and name 
calling in order to dishonour and bring shame 

These behaviours are 'effective' to a degree, in that they may give the immediate desired outcome. For example, after someone has hit your 'fear of losing control' button, you may use some manipulation and find you regain a sense of control. Of course the long term result of this behaviour is ultimately disconnection and mistrust and a relationship based on manipulation can never be a healthy one.

They key is recognising both your 'buttons' and your usual patterns of reacting, then finding new and better ways of responding. I will be blogging some more on this topic in the days to come.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Delving Deeper

In my previous blog 'You Gotta Ask Yourself Some Questions' I asked six questions which should have stimulated some reflective thinking. I'm going to ask some more questions here and you'll need to refer to your previous answers, so find that notebook and get going. The elephant picture will make sense, just keep reading, this is leading somewhere I promise!

1. From the list of the things that make you feel alive, how much time do you spend each week doing these things? 

Beside your list literally write the number of hours on average you spend each week doing these things.
2. From the list of things that drain you of life, how much time do you spend each week doing those things?

Once again literally write down the number of hours on average you spend doing these things

The balance between those lists should be eye opening. If the bulk of your time is spent doing  life draining things then it is no surprise that you are not fulfilled or feel in your element. All of us have to do some tasks that are less than thrilling, but if your list of things which bring you joy has only a few hours beside it then you need to consider making some changes. 

3. From the list of what makes you angry, can you work out why these things anger you and can you identify areas where you could be part of the solution to the issues? 

Usually the things that anger you have some personal trigger. Maybe you experienced an injustice in that area in the past or someone close to you did. Sometimes you can feel helpless to do anything other than have rant about it occasionally, but I believe there is always something you can do. Maybe a letter to a local politician or a discussion with another 'official' would be a place for you to get your views across. perhaps you could assist in fundraising or raising awareness concerning the issue. If your anger tends to be destructive then look at the deeper issues behind it and resolve to seek help to manage it in healthier ways.

4. From your list of what hinders you, are you able to identify ways of moving forward? 

Sometimes it’s about being courageous and just taking a step to do something new. If you want to improve your fitness but are too fearful of joining that class by yourself then try asking a friend to go with you. If it's a financial obstacle then you could talk to someone who is experienced in that area and see if you can put a manageable plan in place to deal with it. Solutions often become more apparent when we talk things through with someone and the act of opening up can make the obstacle seem smaller as our perspective on it often changes.

5. From your list of skills/abilities, what are you doing to use them or improve them? 

Plenty people have raw talent but without adding skill to that talent they never progress. There are simply loads of ways you can learn these days. Sometimes it's as simple as reading a book or watching an instructive youtube video. Another really effective way of improving is to connect with others who share your passion. Not only does learning within a group context heighten your skills, it can also be a lot of fun!

6. Finally, look at your ‘dream/ambition’ list and ask yourself  'what you can I pursue right now and how can I do it?'

Obviously you need to consider your current life circumstances and responsibilities first, but I can’t state emphatically enough how important it is to make some movement in the right direction. We often look at the gap between where we are and where we aspire to be and become overwhelmed. However, as the saying goes, 'the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time'. Your brilliance is way too precious to stay locked up or dormant so even if you can't quite handle acting on all of these questions, pick just one, square up to it and take that first bite! 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

You Gotta Ask Yourself Some Questions!

Reflective thinking can be a good starting point when looking at personal development. Most coaching sessions centre round questioning and although I can't be with you face to face to develop where you go with your answers, the following questions will form a good springboard to start you thinking about your life. 

1. What are you doing when you feel most alive and fulfilled?

This is the place where time seems to disappear, anxiety melts away and your sense of engagement in the activity you are doing is complete. Whether it’s working with little kids, translating Russian poetry, skydiving, busking, cooking or even cleaning, write them all down.

2. What skills/abilities do you have?

Often when we are asked what we are good at we will just shrug our shoulders and say ‘oh I’m not that good at anything really’. We tend to take for granted the things we are good at and imagine that everyone can do that thing too. Nothing is too insignificant to write on this list, so even if its being able to follow a recipe effectively or being a great listener, write down all the things you do well.

3. What dreams/ambitions do you have?

You must forget about the ‘reasons why it’s crazy’ here and just search your heart. If you've always wanted to learn how to speak Chinese or fancied backpacking in Nepal write that down. If your ambition is to leave some kind of legacy in life, ask yourself  ‘what exactly does that look like?’. We all long for significance and for some that will look like reaching a place of influence in society and for others it may be providing a stable home for their children.

4. What things do you do that drain you of life?

Many of us spend way too much time doing things that drain us of life. These are the activities that tend to leave us feeling tired and very low. It can be anything from answering emails to spending too much time with people, or for the extroverts, spending too much time on your own! For some it may even be your job or the many commitments you have made. 

5. What angers and frustrates you?

I’m not talking here about someone who cuts you off on the motorway or takes too long at the supermarket checkout! Most people will have at least one issue that will really get them going when they hear about it. Suddenly you’ll see a facebook rant from them or they will talk very passionately about how wrong this particular thing is. There are a myriad of issues that can provoke an impassioned response from us, so write down yours.

6. What things hinder you the most?

This is the place to make an honest assessment of what holds you back. It may be a lack of some kind or most often a fear. Health issues, finances, fear of being alone, fear of rejection, etc. are just some of the things that can hinder our forward movement.

In my next blog I will give you some ways of further analyzing the answers to these questions and give suggestions on how you can use this reflection to move forward in your life.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Where's my Gift?

Gift giving is found in all cultures. When children reach a certain stage they will begin presenting their parents with gifts. Whether it’s a flower from the garden, an ‘interesting’ stone they found on the ground or a roughly drawn picture on a napkin, the gift will communicate love. When you receive a gift it is not so much the intrinsic value that is important, rather the fact that someone thought about you and took time to pick out a gift that they hoped you would like.

Whilst it is true that most people appreciate gifts, for some people this 'love language' will speak far louder than others. The person who particularly responds to gifts really sees them as visual symbols of love and without these symbols they may question your love. For an overview of the five love languages read Speaking the Languages of Love.

How to figure out if someone’s love language is gifts:

If it is a child, they will tend to hold onto things given to them in a way that other children wouldn't. They would proudly take you round their room and show you various things on display and tell you exactly who gave them the gift and where it came from. Even things like little shells or leaves will hold significant importance to them and as a result, the idea of having a ‘clear out’ may provoke an extreme emotional response!

As an adult, it will be similar and often can look a little bit like ‘hoarding’. Many times their home will be full of trinkets, pictures, pens and even fridge magnets that were given to them over the years. They will remember who gave them the gift and will emotionally connect the item to the one who gave it, and as with the child who loves gifts, the idea of clearing out will not compute!

Some things to remember about giving gifts:

1. Price is less important that ‘value’ 
Ask yourself ‘will it be valuable in the mind of the one to whom I’m giving?’

2. Give with sincerity 
As with all the love languages it will very quickly become clear if the gesture is sincere or whether it is casual or manipulative in manner.

3. Use your imagination 
Anyone can give a box of chocolates or flowers and although those gifts are lovely, if you can really tailor your gift in a special way to the one receiving it, then you will increase its impact.