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Category: BE WHO YOU ARE, LOVE WHO YOU ARE

  1. Life Lessons from Helen McNicholas, Age 43 and 30 minutes

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    It's my birthday today. 43 glorious years on this planet. My 30s were mostly about building a family – I had 2 beautiful babies and watched as they grew into incredible young people. Now that they're older, they don't need me in quite the same way. So my 40s so far have been a journey about building myself again and trying to listen to the niggles inside that are trying to guide me in the right direction.

    The last few years have been one hell of a journey – driven by a rather frightening amount of self-reflection, self-discovery and self-doubt! And an impressive amount of mistakes. But I have also learnt an awful lot – and I would like to share some of my words of wisdom with you now (and I have got very grey hair which means I am incredibly wise so you should listen!).

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    So, here are 5 life lessons from Helen McNicholas, age 43 and 30 minutes.

     

    1) You've got to make friends with making mistakes.

    I was a high achiever at school and this meant that I always had an audience when grades were given out or exam results released. This also meant that I piled a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself to never be seen to do anything wrong or to 'fail'. I struggled with swimming lessons because I didn't like the idea of being watched while I was unable to do something and I learnt to ride my bike on my own when no-one was watching.

    This fear of failure was crippling – a massive trigger for my overthinking which went into overdrive with thoughts of all the things that could go wrong and all the bad things people would say about it. Letting myself leave this old, mistaken belief behind and embrace the idea of 'failing' has been one of the most important factors of me moving forwards and acting on my own dreams and ambitions.

    Over the last few years, as I've thrown myself into the adventure of building my own business, my own brand, and I have made some massive mistakes – and I have done them in full view of friends, family and Facebook! Now this still doesn't come naturally to me and it has taken many deep breaths and leaps of faith to keep going. But every time I have made a mistake or tried something that hasn't worked, it didn't kill me. And there weren't queues of people lining the streets to point and laugh at me. In fact, most of the time, most people didn't even notice. And those that did didn't mind. One thing is for sure – every mistake I have made, in the solace of my studio or loud and proud on Facebook, has taken me onto something better or helped me learn a valuable lesson. If I hadn't made all these mistakes, I would still be where I was years ago. And I don't want to be there.

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    2) Some roads you take will be dead-ends

    Part of embracing any new adventure in life involves taking paths never trodden before. And to fully embrace these adventures we have to be willing to try some roads that might take us where we want to go, but also might not – but we won't know that until we try. It is much easier to stick with what we know but then we will never go anywhere new – and that doesn't just mean new places, but also new thoughts, ideas and experiences.

    So, sometimes coming across a dead-end is ok – it is a valuable part of the journey. Or even if it's not a dead-end you might just decide you've had enough of travelling in that direction and want to turn around.

    In my work, I have tried many new ideas and products and not all of them have worked. Not all of them took me in the right direction. And it is ok to change things, get rid of things or stop doing certain things as you adjust your direction to get you where you want to go. As long as you are moving, towards whatever your goal may be, the dead-ends and the u-turns won't stop you, they'll eventually help you towards your destination. Only if you stop will you go nowhere!

     

    3) Don't wait until you're ready!

    Think about the iPhone. Now if Apple waited until they had perfected it we would still be waiting. In fact, the iPhone would probably never make it to market. So they launched it when it was 'good enough' and they keep on updating and improving it as they go.

    The same goes for us. We keep changing and evolving as we go through life so waiting until everything is perfect to make a big decision, to take a leap of faith or to have the confidence to just be ourselves could take forever.

    We need to take action now – and keep updating and improving as we go. Progress is better than perfection, action more powerful than just dreaming about something. The time will never be right, conditions will never be perfect. Whatever it is, do it now!

    deniro quote

     

    4) Ask for help when you need it.

    I wouldn't have survived on this journey as long as I have without the help and support of my friends and family. Again I have to admit that I do still struggle to ask for help sometimes and this is because of the same fear that makes me worry about failing or taking a dead-end – it is the worry about what other people think and I truly believe that this is at the heart of a lot of overthinking for many people. It is this fear that makes me think I can't show weakness, or worry or need because people will think less of me. But I have done and more importantly they haven't – even having some very uncomfortable conversations with people about money when things got really tight (no, I mean, really tight!)

    Whether it's some small, practical stuff or something massive, embarrassing or awkward – asking for help can be so hard but can make the biggest difference. And you will find that with very few exceptions, people are ready and willing to help. In fact, they would be devastated to think that they could have helped and didn't because they didn't know the help was needed.

    They say it is often a strong sense of pride that stops us asking for help but I disagree. It is the fear of being judged, of being seen to have failed or of being thought less of that often stops us. But true friends and family won't judge or pity, they will help just as they know you would help them.

    And I can't stress this enough – especially in our recent times of increasing mental health problems and people coming under constant stress and worry – there is someone who is ready to help. Always. Please, please ask them.

     

    5) We all need to give ourselves permission to be human

    All of the above, plus many other lessons I have learnt along my crazy journey, all seem to culminate in one main message – we need to go easier on ourselves.

    The crux of all my overthinking lies with a concern about what other people think. I want to please people and yes, impress them and make them happy and I'm devastated if I ever feel I have let someone down. But the danger of this is that I place a number of impossible demands on myself to never do anything wrong, to never show weakness or require any help. And this is just bonkers (but may sound familiar?)

    The minute we give ourselves permission to cock things up sometimes, to not have all the answers and sometimes need help, we immediately allow ourselves to live a fuller life, a more authentic life. We are humans, not robots, and none of us are perfect. We live in a world where we feel like we have to live up to impossible standards and match some non-existent ideal – but we don't.

    Who we are is enough. It's more than enough. But the real us, with flaws, weakness and cock-ups galore. That's where the wonder is. Not in a restricted version of ourselves, one which edits what the world sees and overthinks every step we take.

    We need to shake off the self-imposed shackles of 'robot' and start dancing the imperfect dance of real, wonderful human life. 

    So before I sign off to spend the rest of my day eating cake, I will leave you with this reminder...

    cockups included

     

  2. Watch Your Diet (And It's Nothing To Do With Food!)

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    One of the most important factors in building - and keeping - a positive mindset is the influences that help mould it. To make sure we keep a healthy mind we need to make sure it is fed on a carefully controlled diet. In fact, a huge part of the entire journey towards becoming a happier and more confident person is keeping a very close eye on what we 'feed' ourselves every single day.

    And I am not talking about food.

    Every person we spend time with, the things we browse on social media, the things we read and the programmes we watch all form a continuous stream of nutrition for our mental appetite which, whether we are aware of it or not, helps form our opinions and beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.

    The voice in our head is the product of all our influences, often moulded more by the negative things we have seen and heard and often quick to remind us of our limitations and fill us with self-doubt. Our beliefs about our own abilities and strengths are often formed by things we have heard from others, rather than the absolute proof of what we see we can achieve and our version of the world is shaped by news bulletins, Facebook posts and newspaper headlines.

    The more we become aware of how our influences feed our mental map of everything, the more we can adjust the balance of it. The more positive the flow, the more positive the product. What we think, we become – so if we are fed with a constant stream of messages about what we can't do and how we are failing at life, we will continue on a downward path as this belief becomes truth. If we are surrounded by people who build us up, celebrate our victories (however tiny) and remind us that we can do great things, well, we really can do great things.

    So, from this moment, watch your diet. Feed yourself with things that build you up, grow your confidence and remind you of all the things to be grateful for and limit your access to negative influences as much as you can. And here are 5 ways you can start doing it right now:

    1) Pick your friends wisely!
    Just because we grow up, doesn't mean we suddenly have lots of confidence in who we are and what we do – in fact, the opposite is often true! And just as children often need reassurance, thrive with praise and sometimes need a little encouragement to take a big leap into something new – so do we! We need to be surrounded by people who are on our side, who can support us when we need it and remind us of all the wonderful things we can do when we lose faith in ourselves.

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    Life is far too short to spend time with people who want to belittle us or bring us down. 'Friends' like this, who compete and behave with jealousy, can be really damaging to our own happiness. So, walk away from them and invest your energy in friends who are loyal, honest and on your side.

    The people we spend most of our time with have a huge impact on our own inner voice and our own opinion of ourselves, possibly more than anything else, so make sure it's a positive one!

    2) Remind yourself that social media isn't real life!
    A quick look through your many social media feeds will no doubt fill you with glamourous pictures of friends (and famous people and people you vaguely know!) working out at the gym, enjoying an exotic holiday, demonstrating some impressive parenting feat or polishing their new car in the drive of their new house. It can become a barage of things you haven't got or haven't done.

    I believe that we all spend far too much time on social media for our own good, and although I think there are a lot of positive things about it, I do think limiting our time on it in favour of more 'real life' influences is a massive step towards more positive mental health. We miss so many moments of 'ordinary joy' because we are looking at the world as presented on a phone screen – and it is these small moments that we keep missing that can remind us that the life we are in, at this very moment, has so much to be grateful for and shows us so many things we should be proud of. Yeah, we might want a bigger house, a nicer car, an exotic holiday somewhere – but rather than reminding ourselves constantly what we haven't got, let's spend a bit of time appreciating what we have got.

    So, enjoy social media and all the good stuff it brings whilst always reminding yourself that real life happens right in front of us, not on a timeline, or in an app, and that if we stop competing and comparing we often become instantly more happy and satisfied with our lot.

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    3) Skip, block or turn off!
    Now this step is an important one – especially for my fellow overthinkers! Overthinkers are often very empathetic and can often tie themselves in knots working through how a given scenerio is going to make everyone else feel and then exhausting themselves trying to make it better for everyone! Empathy is wonderful gift to have, but it can be overwhelming when faced with a seemingly never-ending stream of sad, worrying or tragic stories and events.

    The amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis, an hourly basis even, is just huge – too huge. Between news reports, front page headlines and posts popping up on every form of social media we see war, abuse, child cruelty, animal cruelty, illness, trauma, homelessness, suicide, missing people and countless other negative stories every hour of every day. And each time we see one, we will feel the pain, feel the guilt or feel the responsibility to solve it.

    We really can end up with the weight of the world on our shoulders.

    So edit that stream. I hate seeing nasty pictures on Facebook, especially if they involve animals or children, so I scroll on by. I don't look, I don't read. I haven't read a newspaper for a very long time and I rarely watch the news. I stick to lists on Twitter that focus on friends and people I am particularly interested in rather than being swamped by the full feed.

    And does this mean that I don't care? No, maybe the opposite. Sometimes I care too much and it is too much to cope with. When I see these stories, I feel the panic a mum might feel, I feel the loss that a wife might feel and I feel an almighty sadness when I think what some people are going through. To live like that every hour of every day would be suffocating, and I fear for some, is suffocating.

    So we need to stop carrying the world around with us. We need to care, be kind and do what we can within our own world, our own life and within our own limits. That is where our responsibility lies and where we can have the biggest impact.

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    4) Read some good stuff!
    One of the great things about the internet is that we now have at our fingertips an abundance of helpful and inspiring stuff to read. In between the funny cat pictures, amusing memes and the google answer for everything there is a huge resource of inspiring blogs, informative articles and downloadable books – many of them free. You can find new skills, learn about starting a small business or be motivated to feel more confident.

    Use a bit of your social media time to browse some of this more inspiring content instead. Even if it is just for a few minutes a day it can have a massive impact on the positive diet we are trying to create – especially if that blog post replaces ten minutes you would have spent feeling inadequate browsing mansions over on pinterest!

    Building and retaining this positive diet is about finding a stream of influences which all carry a positive message, and introducing a small amount of reading (of the right stuff!) into your daily feed is an incredibly effective way of doing it.

    5) Tell yourself that you're doing ok!
    We are often experts at telling ourselves we have done something wrong, or beating ourselves up for saying something daft or talking ourselves out of doing something because we're not good enough. Well, we need to build up the habit of reminding ourselves that we're doing ok. Every day.

    You got through the day at work without punching anyone – you're doing ok! You fed the kids today – you're doing ok! You got out of bed today – you're doing ok!

    Sometimes, just getting through the day is a massive achievement. Other days we can take on the world. But every day, you must remind yourself – you really are doing ok.

     

    During June 2019, I am challenging you to 'change your diet' - to take control of every influence which feeds into your mental appetite and to take steps to make it as positive and fulfilling as you can. Join us over in the Beyond The Crumpled Paper Facebook group where, during the month, I will be sharing more exercises, prompts and tips to help you do this...