How Understood Do You Feel?

A recent blog post caught my eye. It asked: if you speak multiple languages, do you need multiple therapists?

Language Is Cultural

The conclusion was that there are some things which can only be said and understood in a particular language with a cultural background to match. Therefore, only someone who speaks the same language can fully understand you.

This idea that some words just don’t translate goes part way to explaining why English has adopted certain foreign words outright. For example, Zeitgeist is ‘the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time’. Or Schadenfreude: ‘pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune’.

Now, you may be saying that, given we adopted these words, we have the same experience. Is that true, though?

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Hospitality

Let’s take the example of hospitality. Yes, English has the word, as do most languages.  What do you mean by it, though?

In certain cultures and times, hospitality has meant that you should offer to wash your guest’s feet, or allow them to sleep with one of your wives. At other times, in other cultures, it includes allowing a stranger to camp in your garden, or offering tea and sandwiches in the parlor to people you have already been introduced to while strangers may get some broth in the kitchen with the servants.

These kind of cultural differences can even be seen within a single country. Hospitality in London is surely a different beast to hospitality in the Outer Hebrides.

I would argue that it goes further than this, though.

Loyalty

Imagine a close friend who considers loyalty a paramount value. To him, this means always supporting friends and family.

While you may respect loyalty, what if independence is a more important value to you? That might mean following the dictates of your beliefs, whether those agree with your friend’s or not.

If your friend ran for an election, he would consider that you must vote for him out of loyalty. However, if you believed another candidate would be better for the job, you would vote for them and consider this good sense, rather than disloyalty.

What you mean by loyalty and what your friend means by loyalty are different, even though you come from the same culture.

Misunderstood

The point is this: even if you speak the same language as someone else, you still may not mean the same thing with the words that you use. A lot of misunderstandings come from this.

Whether this is two partners who mean different things when they say I love you, or a work colleague whose notion of ‘soon’ doesn’t match your expectations, language can be a strange barrier.

Clarify

Getting clear about how and where misunderstandings are happening can be really liberating. Realising that you can work things out by changing your language, or explaining what you mean by a particular word, can seem silly and simple. Yet, sometimes simple is the best way to go.

It can be interesting to have a coach or therapist whose first language is not the same as your own, precisely because you become more aware of this potential for misunderstanding. Still, you don’t need to find someone from another country to benefit from coaching.

The Meta-Model

The Meta-Model is a theory of language used as a coaching tool, and a way of exploring what is really going on for you. Digging into what words mean, for you and for others, can help you find a better way to move forward. It can also be extremely powerful to help you understand what your core values are: so that you can then get them met.

After all, if you don’t truly understand what you want, you don’t know how to go about it, and may not even recognise when you find it.

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Imagination

Another factor is actually being able to communicate without unhelpful emotions or inner dialogues getting in the way.

Hypnosis is a wonderful way to tame your inner demons so that you don’t sabotage yourself. For example, it can help you to change a belief like “I have no luck with job interviews”. In part, it can do this through exploring what you mean by not being lucky, and by boosting your self-esteem and self-confidence. It can also help you to rehearse interview situations and practice how to show yourself to best effect, all within your imagination.

To take another example, that of a romantic couple. In hypnosis you might explore how something your partner says that really upsets you is linked to events in your past. You can heal that past event by revisiting it in your imagination and applying resources from the present day. These resources will then serve you in your current situation.

Success

Successfully communicating what you really mean, and not falling into misunderstanding others, can make your life go much more smoothly. The first part of this is to clarify where the issues are arising, finding the linguistic and cultural aspects that have led to issues. The second part is to change how you interact with others, by changing your perspective and approach. In this way, you understand yourself and others better, and achieve your goals in a more satisfying way.

 

 

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Top Nine Reasons to Write

How often have you thought about a question, come up with an answer in your head, and then written something else entirely?

There is something about the act of writing that triggers a different perspective on what you are considering. As one academic has put it: scribo ergo cogito – I write, therefore I think (Kaufman, 2013).

Writing shapes the way you see the world and yourself. And you can write for a variety of purposes.

  1. Therapeutic writing – for example, journalling and autobiographical writing.
  2. Writing for social change – you see this in journalism (well, the good kind), and even when people write letters of protest or advocacy.
  3. Emotional writing – such as writing a love letter, or a hate-filled rant.
  4. Aesthetic writing – great literature and poetry fall into this category.
  5. Business writing – far more prosaic, but an important part of many people’s lives.  This can be a combination of writing to inform and to persuade.
  6. Note making – be it a to-do list, or a shopping list, or writing down information from a presentation, this isn’t emotive writing, but it’s still important.

All of these encourage reflection, they encourage you to think while you write.

A lot of people, though, have been put off writing by experiences at school, or by the fact that they find it easier to express themselves in different ways: through words, music, art, video, the possibilities are seemingly endless. There is a strong case, though, for including writing in your repertoire.

Here are the top 9 reasons why writing is a great practice:

  1. Writing improves your mood – this isn’t just the case with something like a gratitude journal, though that’s an excellent place to start. There is evidence that this can occur with journalling and blogging, too (Grant and Dutton, 2012, King, 2001)
  2. Writing promotes cognitive and intellectual growth – (Sullivan and Brown, 2015, Bean, 2011).  While both papers are talking about students, this is also relevant to everyone. After all, if you want to stay mentally active all your life, continued mental stimulation is vital, and writing is a great way to go about this.
  3. Writing improves your memory – anyone who worries that their memory is not what it was can use writing as a way to practice their memory. For instance, writing a daily gratitude journal, as well as improving your mood, also asks you to remember what has happened over the last 24 hours. Or if you write something autobiographical (see the point on hard times – 5), that asks you to work your memory about far further in the past.
  4. Writing helps you communicate more clearly – writing helps you clarify your thoughts. This doesn’t just lead to better writing, but also helps you to speak your thoughts, too (Miles et al., 2016). Interestingly, learning to write is also associated with doing better at maths – communicating mathematical ideas and concepts, and being able to think creatively and rationally.
  5. Writing assists in hard times – you definitely don’t just have to write about the ‘good’ stuff.  Numerous studies have shown that writing about traumatic experiences, although difficult, leads to improvement in mood after as little as two weeks. Admittedly, you may feel worse for those two weeks, though (Tausczik and Pennebaker, 2010, Pennebaker, 1999, Pennebaker, 1997).
  6. Writing clears your mind – it’s a bit like having too many tabs open in your browser.  Having too many ideas running around your head drains your productivity.  So, getting those ideas down on paper frees you up to actually think creatively about them and act on them.
  7. 7 Styles of LearningWriting improves learning – most people are aware that there are different learning styles (see the infographic above).  However, while you may use one more than the others, all of them will influence you.  There is evidence that people who are literate learn more easily than those who aren’t. It may simply be that they have an extra way of learning, and an extra symbolic system on which to hang any new understanding they have. Whatever the case, if you can write something down in your own words, you have a far better chance of learning and truly understanding it.
  8. Writing improves your relationships – Pennebaker did some more research (Slatcher and Pennebaker, 2006) around writing about your relationship.  He found that people who took the time to reflect in this way were more likely to express positive emotions to their partner, and more likely to still be with them three months down the line.
  9. Writing lets you move other people – there are only so many people that you can reach in person. These days, there are many other ways to extend your influence. However, writing is definitely still an important one. Consider journalism, blogging, books. If you want to make a difference to a large number of people, being able to write your thoughts is a great place to start. Whether it’s a business blog or a piece of poetry, the written word is far reaching.

As a coach, I often encourage my clients to make writing a part of their life, to help boost their mood, their creativity, and their ability to communicate with others.  Here are some writing games you could try to get yourself fired up:

  1. The six-minute write: write whatever is in your head, without censorship, don’t stop for six minutes, don’t worry about grammar or quality, just write anything.  Remember, in this game, whatever you write is right. And you don’t need to re-read it unless you want to 😀
  2. Journal about gratitude: make it real, specific, and emotional.  For example, rather than saying “I am grateful for sunshine,” you might write something like: “I am grateful for my eyes, which allow me to enjoy the spring sunshine dappling through trees with their bright green, new leaves on my morning walk. I feel alive when I see the amazing quality of the light, and think of the new growth and potential there is right now.”
  3. Use visual cues to spark your creativity. Google a particular word and look for images. Find one that speaks to you, and then write about it. It could be a poem or a story, the main point is to allow your creativity to flow.
  4. Write a haiku. This simple form of poetry is a lovely practice to try out. You could open a book and find the first word that catches your attention, then write a haiku based on it. At its simplest, a haiku is made up of three lines with a 5/7/5 syllable structure. For example: sensuality/ brings joy and inspiration/ in moderation.

If none of these rock your boat, do a google search for writing exercises, or ask friends what they do. You’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy, and there are so many ways it can benefit you. So, just write!

References:

BEAN, J. C. 2011. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. , San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

GRANT, A. & DUTTON, J. 2012. Beneficiary or benefactor: are people more prosocial when they reflect on receiving or giving? Psychol Sci, 23, 1033-9.

KAUFMAN, P. 2013. Scribo Ergo Cogito. Teaching Sociology, 41, 70-81.

KING, L. A. 2001. The Health Benefits of Writing About Life Goals. PSPB, 27, 798-807.

MILES, K. P., EHRI, L. C. & LAUTERBACH, M. D. 2016. Mnemonic Value of Orthography for Vocabulary Learning in Monolinguals and Language Minority English-Speaking College Students. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 46, 99-112.

PENNEBAKER, J. W. 1997. Writing About Emotional Experiences As A Therapeutic Process. Psychological Science, 8, 162-166.

PENNEBAKER, J. W. 1999. Forming a Story: The Health Benefits of Narrative. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55, 1243-1254.

SLATCHER, R. B. & PENNEBAKER, J. W. 2006. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Words: The Social Effects of Expressive Writing. Psychological Science, 17, 660-664.

SULLIVAN, A. & BROWN, M. 2015. Reading for pleasure and progress in vocabulary and mathematics. British Educational Research Journal, 41, 971-991.

TAUSCZIK, Y. R. & PENNEBAKER, J. W. 2010. The Psychological Meaning of Words: LIWC and Computerized Text Analysis Methods. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 29, 24-54.

How Ready Meals Keep You Addicted to Sugar, or Why the Third Princess Inherited the Kingdom

Life is so busy, who has time (and the skills) to cook food from scratch for every meal?

Who Cooks For Whom?

It’s not just in our modern day that people have turned to other people to make their food.  Street food exists in most cultures that are even vaguely urban.  And the rich of every society has enjoyed the benefits of paying people to cook for them, be they Pharoahs, Roman citizens, or feudal lords.

Now, getting other peope to make your food for you has become incredibly affordable.  Possibly even cheaper than trying to cook for yourself, given economies of scale.  It’s a strange irony that it is now corporations who make money from people buying food made by others, rather than it being just the wealthy who pay for their food.

Whether it’s a takeaway from a local restaurant or a ready meal from the supermarket, food prepared by someone else is now within the reach of almost everyone.  However, is that a good thing?

What’s In Your Food?

There’s a fairytale in which a King asks his daughters to give him the most valuable thing in the kingdom, to decide who should become Queen after him.  He is very unimpressed by his third daughter, who gives him salt.  Until, that is, he has to eat food without salt.

Now, you may have noticed that over the last decade there has been a huge upsurge in foods that mix salt and sugar.  For example, all those yummy salted caramel chocolates, or sea salt chocolate, or salty and sweet popcorn.  These are just the obvious tip of the sugar and salt iceberg.

Salt is a flavour enhancer, and it can even enhance the already powerful (and addictive) delights of sugar.  Sweet and savoury are no longer seen as things to be kept separate, but are often combined.  And even when the two aren’t sold as complementary flavours, most prepared foods do combine them.

For example, look at the label on any ready made sauce, like a bolognaise or a thai green curry.  There is sugar in practically all of them, and plenty of salt, too.

It’s Not Just Ready Meals

In fact, it’s not just ready meals and other processed foods.  If you look at a cookery book from fifty years ago and compare the recipes, you’ll find they contain a lot less sugar and salt than the equivalent recipes in a book today!  So, even if you’re cooking at home, you may be putting quite a bit of salt and sugar into your food.

So, what’s the solution?

Eat More Real Food

Eating real food is faster, easier and cheaper than you may think.  Even if you don’t want to change everything, just adding a few elements of real food will make a difference.

For example, alongside something you get from the supermarket, you could steam up some fresh veggies.  Or cook your own rice to go with a takeaway.

A great mantra for cooking real food is KISS: Keep it Short and Simple.  Depending on your diet, you could have pasta with steamed veg and either some tofu, some almonds or some salmon.  Just add a little oil and some herbs (or chili, if you’re so inclined), and you have a healthy meal in minutes.

Fall In Love With Fruit

If you have a sweet tooth, try substituting fruit for some of your sweet treats.  Medjool dates, for instance, are incredibly sweet and juicy.  Or try dipping some chopped fruit into dark chocolate for a choc-fix with less calories and more nutrients.

The Flavour Point Diet

This is a fascinating concept.  The basic idea is that humans recognise only a limited number of distinct meta-flavours, such as sweet, salty, spicy.  When you eat something, you need to keep eating that meta-flavour until you are satisfied.  So, if you eat something that is sweet and spicy, you will need to eat more to satisfy both of those flavours, than if you were just eating something sweet.

In a simple version, plenty of studies show that if you have a limited number of food types/flavours in any given meal, you naturally eat less, and feel more satisfied.  So, for example, surf-and-turf, buffet meals, or a tasting menu of seven courses, are about the worst thing that you can go for.  At any meal, try to stick to just one or two dishes.

Another fun fact is that if you can make the shape and colour of the food on your plate similar, this also reduces how much you eat.  So, can you have all green (or yellow, or red) foods and chop all of it in the same shape?  Having a single sauce for the entire dish will also trigger those satiety messages.

How Hypnosis Can Help

Hypnosis can help by increasing your motivation to eat and cook better.  It can help you de-stress, so that you feel like you have more time and energy to spend on your food.  Equally, it can make sure you notice just how quick and easy it can be to make delicious meals.  And hypnosis can bring to the fore the part of you that savours and enjoys healthy food.

You can also use hypnosis to look at old baggage that may be getting in your way.  For instance, messages from childhood about what you should or shouldn’t eat, or about what food means, may be sabotaging you.  Finding and changing these messages can make a huge difference.

 

 

S-T-R-E-S-S and 6 Ways To Counter It

Who hasn’t said, “I’m so stressed right now!”  Seems like our lives and society are set up to stress us out on a fairly regular basis.

What is Stress?

In fact, stress isn’t all bad.  A degree of stress is good: it helps you grow and develop, to gain strength, and it encourages you to make necessary changes.  For example, doing exercise that challenges and strengthens your muscles, be it your biceps or your heart, causes your body some stress.  Taking on a new job, or starting a new relationship, are also both stressors.  Stress is a physical response to allow you to respond quickly to situations around you.  So, it encourages you to make changes, which can be vital and life-affirming.

However, a lot of people end up chronically stressed, because they get no down-time from life’s stressors.  A little stress is good, but a lot of stress is terrible.

Chronic Stress

You may not even put the name to it, but that doesn’t change the effects.  Chronic stress can lead to a whole host of physical and mental issues, ranging from poor sleep, to overeating, and even to depression.

To assess whether you might be suffering from stress, you could consider whether you have any physical symptoms, and how often you get them: headaches, sleep issues, dizziness, muscle tension or pain, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain.

Additionally, consider how often you’ve felt stressed over the last month: never, occasionally, often, constantly?  How about feeling angry about situations you can’t control?  Overwhelmed, anxious, or lacking in self-esteem?  Thoughts whirring, difficulty concentrating and making decisions?  Have you been drinking or smoking more, snappy and irritable, avoiding things or people?

The Effects of Stress

When you are stressed, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol.  In the short term, these hormones give you a boost of energy and wake you up.  In the long term, they keep your body wired way past the point of usefulness, and into ill health.

A new study also shows that a brief episode of stress causes relapse in cocaine-addicted mice.  As ever with science, more studies are needed.  However, it is suggestive that any addiction you have might see a relapse from even a brief stressor.  In even worse news, the relapse lasted far longer than the actual stressor, for days, in fact.  The scientists are looking into what medications can switch off those brain synapses triggered by the stressor, but there are certainly things you can do right away.

What To Do About It

There’s a great acronym to help remember the six keys to beating stress: S-T-R-E-S-S.

pinky-swear-329329_640S – Social Connection

As the song goes, no (wo)man is an island.  Having a network of people that you can be with is incredibly supportive.  We are social animals, at heart, and need to feel cared for and understood.  This doesn’t mean you need to be at the centre of a group of people all the time.  However, you do need at least one or two people you connect with regularly.

Part of this is chemical – oxytocin is released when you have positive social contacts, and is great for counteracting stress hormones.  Another part is that caring for others helps you get outside of your own head and concerns.  And you can also be positively influenced by others, seeing different perspectives, and being encouraged to adopt good, health habits.  So, it’s great to have friends, and even better to have friend’s with healthy habits.

meditation-1384758_640T – Therapy/Meditation

Both therapy and meditation stimulate reflection, attention and forethought.  These are ways to help get a handle on your stress, and to calm your automatic negative thoughts and your emotions.  They also stimulate the brain at a physiological level, leading to increased blood flow.  That, in turn, helps clears out the effects of cortisol and adrenaline, ‘washing’ them away.

Therapy has the added benefit of being a form of social intimacy, with several studies showing the release of oxytocin being stimulated in the therapy environment.  However, if you don’t like sharing your feelings, then meditation gives you many of the same effects, and may have more benefits in terms of creating a calm and relaxed state.

massage-1237913_640R – Relaxation

In itself, relaxation is another stress-buster.  You may find that listening to calming music helps you.  Laughter is also a great medicine in this regard.  Then there are things like getting a massage, or even natural stress reducing substances like spearmint or chamomile tea, or lavender and other herbal essences such as bergamot, clary sage or ylang ylang.

Or consider doing some breathing exercises.  There are so many studies on the benefits of breathing that it’s impossible to deny this is a major game changer.  Somewhat harder to define is which type of breathing may be ‘best’.

Fundamentally, any type of slow, deep breathing is calming.

You can try deep abdominal breathing as a first step.  This is just getting in touch with your breathing, and making sure that your diaphragm is getting involved.  A good way to start out is to lie down and place a hand on your stomach.  When you breathe in, your hand should rise.  This shows that you are breathing deeply.

The next step would be to keep breathing into you abdomen, and start trying to lengthen your inhale and exhale.  It’s a good idea to count your breaths.  You might start out just trying to extend the count.  You can also check that the inhale and exhale are of equal duration.  Or, better yet, extend the exhale beyond the inhale.  For instance, it’s great to try to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in.

After that, there are plenty more breathing exercises that you can explore.  I’ve mentioned the 4-7-8 breathing technique before.  And there’s also alternate nostril breathing.  In fact, there are so many options that they really deserve a post (or a video) all to themselves, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

white-male-1856182_640E – Exercise

Physical exercise is another great was to relieve stress.  It’s not just kickboxing workouts that act as a pressure release valve (though imagining kicking or punching someone or something that has been stressing you can be very cathartic).  Any kind of physical exercise has stress benefits.

Cardio workouts get your heart pumping and stimulate the release of seratonin, a happy hormone.  This could be cycling outdoors, or a static bike in the gym.  It could be an aerobics class, or dancing around your bedroom.  It could be a brisk walk or something more energetic.  Extreme cardio workouts cause an increase in cortisol, though, so don’t overdo it.

Weights workouts focus more on your other muscles, while also stimulating human growth hormone and testosterone.  These counterbalance cortisol, and it has been shown that your body can tolerate higher levels of cortisol so long as these other hormones are also strongly present.

And yoga has some of the benefits of a weights workout, while also boosting your relaxation levels.

So, find something you enjoy that gets you moving.

cat-2209105_640S – Sleep

This is a biggie, and not all that simple, I know.  It’s really important to get enough good quality sleep.  Yet, so many things in your life work against this.  Here’s another heading that deserves a post of it’s own.

Basically, try to improve your sleep hygiene.  Reduce caffeine and sugar in the evening, ditto to blue light screens (the new iPhones have a setting called NightShift so that you can still look at your phone without getting that melatonin-suppressing glare).  Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool, and that your mattress and pillow are comfortable.  Try establishing a relaxing bedtime routine.  And as often as possible, go to bed at about the same time – you can get a mini-jet lag from varying your bedtime too much!

0c2b7-bf-breakfast1S – Substitute Snacks

It’s one of those bitter truths that being stressed triggers cravings for sugary, fatty, carby foods.  And that those self-same foods aggravate stress, causing inflammation in the body.  So, this is a negative cycle that can easily develop.

The best advice here is to substitute healthy snacks for junk food.  In time, your body will adapt, and thank you for it.  Of course, that’s easier said than done.

How Hypnotherapy Can Help

Hypnotherapy is a great all-round helper for stress.  It is a clear way to bring relaxation to both body and mind.  It is also a talking therapy, helping you to deal with automatic negative thoughts, and to reflect on your situation.  Hypnosis helps promote change, and with the therapeutic relationship, it gives you a social connection oxytocin boost.

Indirectly, hypnosis has been shown to benefit sleep, even when that isn’t the aim of the hypnotherapy.  Though you can also specifically work on sleep disturbances very effectively with it.  And of course, hypnotherapy can be used to target habit changes such as exercising more and controlling what you eat.

The bottom line is that hypnotherapy can help with all six of these proven ways to target stress.  If you’re interested in trying it out, why not get in touch?