Can Writing Keep You Well?

20 07 2010

“The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.”

(Robert Louis Stevenson) 

Today’s piece is written in response to the question: “Can Writing keep us well? The relationship between writing, health and well-being.” A question that was posed here with the invite to different people to respond with their own experiences and opinions.

There is a Zen story about two travelling monks, one was younger and less experienced who looked up to the older brother. On their travels they came across a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. The younger monk hesitated, as their order strictly forbid relations with females. The older monk quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.

As the monks continued on their way, the younger one was brooding and preoccupied. After several days and unable to hold his silence any longer, he spoke out. “Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!”

The older monk looked surprised and then laughed, “Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her.”

During my school years I occasionally would write a diary. Not the scheduling type of diary but the “dear diary” variety. It wasn’t something I would do as part of any routine so it normally would only have a couple of entries and then there’d be huge gaps until I was next compelled to write.

Normally it was a something that was so fantastic that everyone else was sick of listening about or something I’d found incredibly infuriating that proved to be the spark that provoked an entry. I haven’t kept them but being a teenager I suspect that there were quite a bit of each of those in there  :)

There was no intended reader other than myself, it was simply a case of getting stuff from out of my head and onto paper – stopped me going over and over something, blowing it out of proportion and stressing over it all. In fact I remember on one occasion, physically destroying what I had just written to let it go completely – Although I certainly wouldn’t have phrased it in that manner at the time, it was simply a way of looking after my emotional health and well-being.

Now-a-days the only diary I keep is of the scheduling variety but I do use writing for a number of different reasons and many all begin with just being intended for my eyes only. This allows me to write what I really mean rather than initially focusing upon communicating with someone else.

This week I invite you to play with using writing that is intended for your own eyes only to “get things off your chest” rather than carrying them around with you.

The exercise that follows is specifically for relationships with other people but you can always modify and adapt it to cover other scenarios you want to let go of.

  1. Choose a relationship that you would like to be improved.
  2. Write that individual a letter. Be totally honest about how you feel. This is not a letter intended for them to read so get everything down into this letter.
  3. Put the letter somewhere safe for at least 2 days and carry on with your daily life.
  4. After 2 days you can decide if you want to keep the letter, destroy it (in what ever fashion you see fit to safely do that) or send/give it to the person concerned. If you decide that there is more to add to your letter then do add more and then put the letter to one-side for another couple of days  before deciding what to do with it.

Have a week of writing and letting go




It’s in your imagination

15 06 2010

“Live out of your imagination, not your history.

(Steven Covey)

You may have noticed that there is a small football (or soccer depending upon where you are) competition happening in South Africa. Certainly where I am the media is full of football related contents. Which is how I came across a professional footballer giving his guide to taking a penalty shot.

The first thing he said was that you needed to visualise the ball going into the net. You’ve probably heard that sort of advice before, because it’s not just confined to football – or sport for that matter.

I know that to some people visualisasing sounds a bit “woo-woo” and new age. But don’t get caught up in the “label” of visualisation. I can ask someone who refuses to do any visualisation to tell me what they think will happen at an event coming up and they are more than capable of giving detailed answers.

Regardless of how you want to label that process – visualisation or thinking through what could happen, the outcome is often the same. Those who tell themselves a story about an event going badly often feel nervous/bad about the prospect of that event.

Often the “argument” or reasoning for doing this is that they are basing it on past experiences, with the logic that if it’s happened like that in the past, that it will always happen like that in the future.

This often means that what is being imagined ignores the possibility that things may naturally go differently (it’s like imagining a tossed coin will always land heads and ignoring the 50:50 chance it may land tails). It also eliminates the opportunity to come up with solutions ahead of time if things don’t go as you planned.

This week I invite you to play with something that you have planned in the future.

  1. Imagine that this event goes well, from start to finish
  2. As this is possibly an unusual way of you imagining the event, repeat that a couple more times!
  3. This time imagine that everything doesn’t run smoothly but you handle the situation calmly and successfully regardless.
  4. Notice the difference this makes when you come to the event in reality.

Have a week full of  fun imagination




Today’s post may contain themes of peril

4 05 2010

“The best way to find out where you are from is find out where you are going and work backwards.”

(The 4th Doctor, played by Tom Baker from the Doctor Who TV story “City of Death”)

I happened to watch an episode of a “classic” sci-fi TV show recently. Although I didn’t recall seeing this particular story before, it was from a series I’d seen as a child and remembered that it could be quite scary to my eight-year-old self. In fact, a warning that “the following program contains themes of peril” preceded the recent TV airing I saw!

As I watched I found myself laughing at certain points I’d have considered just a little scary as a child. After all, time’s moved on and as an adult I now have a different perspective and knowledge.

The passing of time and things which once seemed important, stressful and perilous becoming inconsequential is not something that just applies to childhood television shows. There’s no doubt occasions you can think of from your past that appeared important at the time, that once some time had passed you can’t recall why that seemed like such a big deal.

This week I invite you to play with that concept to make a difference in the present.

1. Pick something to play with, which when you think about it at the moment seems like it’s a big deal. Maybe it’s a situation that appears stressful, draining or perilous!

The next stages involve playing with imagining things so don’t pick to do that when it is safer for your focus to be elsewhere – for instance when you are driving a car!

2. As I started by talking about a sci-fi program, imagine that you time travelled 2 months into the future – so that it is now July 2010. Look back on the situation that you thought of as big. Notice, now 2 months further on how you think about it now.

3. Once you’ve done that time travel a bit further so that you are two years into the future and it is now 2012. The London Olympics preparations are in their final stages and as you look back to May 2010 and that thing that you thought was big, notice how you look at it now with the benefit of 2 years extra experience and knowledge.

4. You obviously have got the hang of the time travelling because you have now travelled 10 years into the future, to the year 2020. Look back at 10 years ago, to the situation that seemed so important then and become aware of how important it is now in 2020.

5. Before we finish our time travelling, visit your “twilight years”, surrounded by loving family and friends, look back at that event, all that time ago. How significant is it to you now? With all that time that’s passed what advice or comment would you have given that younger you back in 2010?

6. When you’ve finished travel back to May 2010, bringing back any and all the valuable and useful information you gained by travelling through time.

7. Some people find that wiggling their fingers and toes, blowing raspberries and/or generally stretching is an ideal way to end a time travelling experience and making sure they are fully back in the present :)

8. Now you are back in May 2010, and armed with the benefit of the perspective of the future you may become aware that the situation you choose to play with is now different. You may even have inspiration of what your next step could be when previously you were stuck.

Have a week with time travelling adventures and decreasing perils.




Self-care, who has time for that?

20 04 2010

This is the second of three pieces concerning self care. If you missed last weeks, or just want to read it again, you will find it here.

Self-care, who has time for that?

“If ants are such busy workers, how come they find time to go to all the picnics?”

(Marie Dressler – Academy award winning actress 1868 – 1934)

This week I want to address the response that can often come up when people would probably benefit the most from including self-care into their routine. The “it’s a lovely idea but I haven’t got time to do anything else, everything else is just so important and urgent …” response

Sometimes taking action in a genuine emergency can be a form of self-care in itself – e.g. I highly recommend you remove yourself to safety if there is a fire alarm sounding!

However, sometimes we push ourselves by treating everything as urgent. This fire-fighting attitude generally focuses upon purely the short term – it misses the longer-term implications.

If you’ve ever done any first aid training you’ve probably had it well and truly hammered home that the first thing you do is check your own safety. The longer term focus being that you are very little use to anyone requiring your help if you take yourself out by injuring yourself first!

Likewise if you make yourself ill by not taking care of yourself you’ll take yourself out of the “game”.

While you may agree with this in theory, it doesn’t solve the issue of feeling that taking a bit of time to prioritise self care isn’t easy, even if it ultimately means you get more done long term.

Everyone’s commitments and schedules are different so this week I invite you to play with a question designed to assist you to identify specific ways that would work for you. This is a variation of a question I first heard Michael Neill use:

  1. If you knew you were going to be paid £1 million* for finding time and doing self-care, what would you do differently to go about getting it?

* By all means adapt this question so that both the currency and amount means something for you.

Remember that what you do for self-care is something that makes a difference for you. Here are some examples of what I’ve seen others use and even done myself:

  • Get up 1 hour earlier to do some exercise
  • Write a shopping list before going shopping so you don’t get distracted and just buy junk food
  • A carer talked to a family member/friend and arranged a set regular time for them to take care responsibility while they recharged and did something creative.
  • Replace 30 minutes of watching TV to have a relaxing bath

The answer and self-care itself can be unique to you.

I invite you to commit for 1 week to using your new solution(s) and see the difference it makes to you. When I worked in the corporate world I found that although it appeared counter intuitive, getting up 1 hour earlier to go swimming before work actually resulted in me having more energy and was far more productive.

For most people 1 week is long enough for you to assess how this works for you. At which stage you can decide if you want to keep this as a regular event, amend bits or do something different. Just notice the difference this makes for you.

Have a busy week filled with more self-care




Do you care?

13 04 2010

“Remember that children, marriages and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.”
(H. Jackson Brown Jr)

One of the questions I often ask clients, particularly when they report that they are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, is how much self-care have you been doing this week?

The most common responses I get are:
1) What do you mean self-care?
2) Yes I know what you’re going to say but I’ve got so much to do that’s really, really important and urgent that I haven’t got time for such niceties.
3) ”Doah!” or some other admittance that they hadn’t been doing any or it’s been much less than normal.

Over the next couple of weeks I will talk about all of these responses but for now let me concentrate on what I mean by self-care.

Out of curiosity recently I did a web search on the term self care and came across the following:

“Self care skills are the needs to manage day to day life. They include washing, dressing, cooking and housekeeping.”

Admittedly this was in reference to caring for someone else, and those things do all fall under self care, but when I ask my clients about self care I’m referring to much more that physiological needs.

In the 1940′s and 50′s psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a theory of needs – you may have seen it represented as a pyramid, with the largest and lowest level of needs forming the foundations for the others to build upon.

There is scholarly debate about the order that the levels are placed in, or even if there is a hierarchy at all. And rather than get involved in that discussion, I’ll invite you to glance at the following synopsis and consider the emotional, physical and even spiritual effects and benefits that taking care of your needs for each category would have.

Physiological – What we, as humans, literally require to survive as a species. Needs that are seen to fall in this category include food, breathing, sleep and sexual activity.

Safety – In today’s society this does not only mean physical safety but can also include employment/financial security, health and security of property etc.

Love and Belonging – This category of “needs” covers aspects of feelings of belonging and building relationships, such as friendship, family and romantic.

Esteem – This heading covers needs such as self-esteem, confidence and respect – both of and by others.

Self-Actualisation – This, Maslow theorised, is the top of the pyramid, and is the section that covers what a persons potential is and fulfilling that potential. Dr Wayne Dyer describes it as:

 i) to be free of the good opinion of others,

ii) to do things not simply for the outcome but because it’s the reason you are here on earth.

I include these not because I necessarily agree with every single aspect of Maslow’s theory myself, but to encourage a broader look at the things that when you take care to include in your daily routine you feel more alive and generally have a better day.

This week I invite you to play with the following:

1. Make a list of all the things that when you do them, you have a better day. What are the things that when you do them you feel more alive and are more productive?
Now the things that appear on such a list varies from person to person. Some of the answers from clients and myself include:
· Eating fresh food rather than pre-packed fast food
· Taking 10 minutes in the morning to appreciate the view from my kitchen window
· Connecting with family
· Taking the longer but less crowded route to work
· Walking by open water
· Spending a few minutes to register my achievements and what I’m grateful for
· Having a relaxing bath rather than rushed shower
· Doing something creative

2. Once you have your list, notice which ones you do this week. You are allowed to keep adding to your list as you notice even more things that when you do them you feel more “alive” and better in yourself. How you do this is up to you but some people like to keep a visual record and note of what they have done.

Remember, I’m not asking you to deliberately do anything more than notice which ones you do this week. If you want to include any into your daily routine than by all means do so but know that’s an added bonus. You may also become aware of how self-care is reflected in different areas of your life.

If you read this and thought a variation of “I haven’t got time to do that” or “I get the theory but remembering to do that in practice is easier said than done” then rest assured I will talk more about those in the next couple of weeks.

Have a week full of noticing self-care,



Let it go day

23 06 2009

“Let it go, let it go, let it go
‘Cos it’s out of my control
Let it go, let it go
Don’t have to have it all
Grips so tight it shatters the only thing that matters
I only got one life
Heaven knows what I’m stressing for
Just let it go”

(Lyrics from Will Young’s “Let it Go”, written by Eg White, Jeremy Gregory and Karen Poole)

I’m told that today (June 23rd) is “Let it go day”. So it seems an appropriate time to write something about letting things go :)

I thought I’d share just a couple of the ways that I know to make letting go easier.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as accepting that the meaning that you had given an event is not necessarily true.

Maybe it’s a generalisation that because something happened once it will always happen. What if, there was no bigger meaning then it happened once?

An example of this is:

“because I ‘messed up’ speaking in public before when I forgot a line in a school play, it means I’ll always mess up public speaking.”

There are things you can learn to make speaking in public easy. (See my PS for a recommendation.) What if, there is no other meaning to that past event apart from you once forgot a line?

Sometimes it’s about letting go of mind reading what someone may or may not have thought.

For example, maybe you think a work colleague doesn’t like you based solely upon the fact that they didn’t come and talk to you at a busy social gathering.

While they may not like you, it’s also equally possible that they didn’t speak to you because they didn’t see you, they were stuck in a conversation they couldn’t get out of maybe they thought that you not talking to them meant that you didn’t like them …

What if, you let go of guessing and making up a reason, and let it just be that you didn’t talk to each other at the event?

If you are playing with this particular technique and you notice that you are getting caught up in a story behind an event etc, firstly congratulate yourself for noticing.

Then ask yourself the following: what if you allowed yourself to let go of that story?

You may find that when you let go of the reason behind you are inspired to take some action.

Sometimes it’s about letting go of a feeling.

For example maybe you want to want to let go of the feeling of disapproving of your body.

The following is loosely based upon the work of the abundance technique:

1. Notice where in your body you are feeling that feeling – e.g. in your stomach, chest maybe even your throat.

2. Imagine that you can open a door above that feeling

3. Open that door and let that feeling out

4. Notice the colour of that feeling as it all leaves your body

As today is let it go day, I invite you to let go of anything that is holding you back. It’s just for the day – if you want you can always pick it up whatever you let go off again at the end of the 24 hours!

Use either of the ways I mention above or one of your own. If you are then inspired to take action by all means feel free to do that.

Have a lovely freeing week



PS If you want to learn more about developing your public speaking skills (including banishing any fear) then I highly recommend Jonathan Altfeld’s course coming up in London in a few weeks (With dates being scheduled periodically around the globe.)

Click here to read more about what I have to say about the course and for a special offer for my readers.


The Rules of the Game

20 05 2009

“My Life is my message”

(Mahatma Gandhi, in response to journalists questioning about his message to the world)

As I sat down to start writing this weeks message 2 Tabby cats arrived to tell me that it had been thundering and I should be admiring them.

Now, these are 2 cats who do share (or should that be rule) the house so I perhaps shouldn’t be surprised. Though I was slightly bemused by the connection between thunder and me admiring them. (In retrospect it may have been more “I’m awake therefore you should be admiring me!”)

While obviously paying them attention, it reminded me of the expectations and rules that we often live by and impose upon ourselves.

The stories that we tell ourselves about why something has happened, or we have done something. The thing is it may seem perfectly natural and obvious for that story to be true – Ask my cats, its perfectly obvious to them that I should be spending time admiring them.

One of the exercises I occasionally do in smaller group trainings involve a lot of ping-pong balls and a bucket. The instructions I give is that they are not allowed to move from where they are sat (or throw the balls until after I had given the instructions and moved – something I added after the first time I ran the game :) ) The aim is simply to get as many balls into the bucket.

Depending upon the group we will have a range of success of getting some balls in the bucket but there is always some that do not end up in the bucket. When I ask the reasons why there wasn’t 100% success rate I would get a variety of reasons including:
overarm vs underarm techniques
Lack of practice
thrown from too far away
the bucket blended into the background so it was difficult to aim
and there was always some gush of wind from air conditioning or an open window to blow the light balls of target :)

I’ve done this game with hundreds of people and the list always included things that were under the direct control of the participants and things that were not. For example, I told the group that one of the rules was that they could not move, so how close they were throwing from was not in their direct control.

They did, for example, have control over the technique they chose – either over or under arm and to notice the ones that worked for them in that situation.

The thing that became obvious to me is that, when working with teams who’s performance I knew about, the ones who focused more on the things that were in their control were the ones who got less stressed when change happened. For example, in a business context new legal regulations being introduced were outside of the individuals direct control. The individuals and teams who coped the best with such change were the ones who accepted it and worked with them. The ones who focused more on what was outside of their control got far more stressed. It was as if they kept trying to run through a brick wall and were surprised when they came to a sudden stop.

The other interesting thing to note is that although some thought of the idea after, not one group has ever thought to pass the balls to the member who is closest or the most accurate thrower. So many thought that even without the instruction being given that they have to do everything themselves.

My sister often accuses me of cheating if I cross something off my to do list that I haven’t actually done myself. She seems to think that the important thing is doing it herself. I happen to think that the important thing is that it gets done. If someone else can do it better than I can, or enjoys it more so I can spend my time doing other things then even better.

At this stage each week I invite you to play with some exercise or experiment. This week I do the same and literally invite you to make it into a game.

If there is something in your life where you think you are stuck I invite you to play with this, otherwise you could always use your entire life.

As always the key words here is play and being lighthearted. If there is something that you feel you need extra support with then do go ask for help with that.

If you were going to teach someone else to play this situation or your life what would the rules be? If it helps you may want to write these rules down.

To help identify these rules use these questions as a basis:

What should they do?

What must they do?

What have they got to do?

Are there any secret rules that only you know about?

How do you know when to feel stuck?
Is there anything to do with the environment that you need to see, hear, feel, smell etc?
(For example, I once had someone say that the times when they felt stuck in their job was when they smelt egg sandwiches in the staff room!)

What skills/capabilities do you need to play this game? Are there any that you can’t have?

Does a player have to play this game using any particular behaviours?

What else is important for others to know about this so that they can play? Anything that they need to believe or things they need to value?

Is there a particular label or identity that the player has in this game? If so are there any rules connected with that?

When you have all the rules have a read through. You may notice that some are in your control and some are not.

You may notice that some are not useful or you may just want to laugh at.

Like the person with the smell of egg sandwiches, there may be things on there that are a complete surprise that are important to the rules as you were playing the game.

Remember we are only playing and if you wanted you could always change the rules to make it a different game.

You may be happy to leave some there “just because”.

Who or what do you know that could make playing this game easier?
Who or what do you know that could make playing this game more fun?

A Bonus, extra part, to play with:
This can be particularly powerful so do allow yourself to be gentle when playing with this bit.

The label you use for this is entirely up to you as its potentially unique for each person. Some people like to call it their inner knowing, wisdom or spirit. Others like to call this a higher power or being, some like to think of it as God. Use what ever works for you and take a moment to do whatever you know or need to do to connect with that.

Once you are connected notice what extra insights you get for the rules of this game.
What’s important to notice?
What’s not important?
When you have become aware of everything to be aware of with this you may want to say thank you and bring that knowledge back to where you are now.

Have a fantastically playful week



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