Investing in yourself is the biggest gift to your loved ones

In this article I explain easy to adapt alternatives for making a difference with your close ones and how you can yield surprising returns on your personal investments.

The end of year is the time to reflect on your SELF. Questions like “Was I successful in achieving what I wanted?” And “How content am I with the way I have lived?” can be a good starting point. However, gaining insight into how you are socially perceived is a much more powerful and transformative effort. What do people around you say about your conduct, energy, balance and presence? And how do you want to be seen and perceived in your interactions with others going forward?

People in our proximity are affected by the different states we are operating in. And often not in a good way. Clinical psychologist Paul Gilbert* differentiates three emotional regulation systems: DRIVE, SOOTHE, THREAT. Each system is associated with the activation of different regions of the brain and a signature brain chemistry. These operating systems can be seen and felt by others around us. The chronic and exaggerated activation of a system often strains individuals and relationships in families, marriages, friendships and at work.

People I am working with report to be most satisfied with life due to motivation and achievement …

  • when they perform using their strengths and feeling in their element
  • when they feel excited, focused and curious
  • when they pursue activities together with likeminded others

My clients also emphasise the contentment that arises …

  • when they get out of their heads and connect with their senses
  • when they are slowing down, taking care of their minds and bodies
  • when they bond emotionally and physically with partners, friends and people

Most people show an under-development of the soothe system and an over-reliance on the drive system which often leads to an imbalance that goes hand in hand with the activation of the threat system.

Although the threat system aims at protecting us from physical danger, it also gets activated in less helpful ways …

  • when we worry, procrastinate or experience anger and frustration
  • when we try too hard to succeed or get into a frenzy
  • when external events and adversities trigger fear, anxiety and unrest

Each individual’s emotion regulation map is unique. The first step to reach noticeable results is to map and understand in detail what your individual system-triangle looks like. The next and most important step is to implement sustainable improvements. It is recommended to address both steps with professional and emotionally safe support.

Although the following measures are commitments to self-care and self-development, the benefits go beyond individual well-being and performance.

Coaching for performance

With Coaching you will carve out what drives you and how rewards can help you to achieve. A Life Coach supports a healthy relationship with your motivation, values and strengths. Coaching is a relationship based on respect and challenge with an eye on realistic and organic growth that enables to stay open and with clear intentions.

Mindfulness for insight and attention

Becoming aware of the different experience in each of the three systems is essential for a more visible balance. Certified mindfulness teachers are able to instruct and guide formal and informal practices to train the attentional ‘muscle’ and foster self-awareness and insight through skilful enquiry.

Counselling for stability

The activation of threat is often a focus for counselling. A Counsellor helps to explore threats can be be triggered. For example by unhelpful personality patterns and maladaptive beliefs, by older or more recent trauma, by adversities in the environment (economical downturn, political crises, …) and through adjustment that comes with biological and psychological changes of the living situation (i.e. meaning, empty nest, …)

Groups for blank spots

Joining a group of likeminded people outside your usual circles is a great way to get familiar with how you are perceived by others. Participants of encounter groups seldom regret the challenge and almost always testify personal growth and gratitude for their peers.

*Paul R. Gilbert (2009) The Compassionate Mind: A new approach to life’s challenges. London: Constable and Robins

Marital Analysis – self-test intended

In my counselling work with individuals and couples my clients often address their closest committed relationships. Amongst them are typically marriage, parent/children, partnerships, siblings and friendships. When I ask people to describe the way they relate to each other, I hear for example “loving”, “explosive”, “happy”, “disciplined”, “authoritarian” or “caring”. And while we could leave it at that, I often wonder if those are really descriptions of the relationship or rather characterising the style, behaviour and personality of one or both persons involved.

It is much more difficult to hone in on the qualities of the connection or disconnection that we have with one another. In particular in couples counselling and marriage therapy it is absolutely worth to invest some thinking effort and to carve out and define what we have created with the other person. How we relate, how relations shift over time and the difference in relationships we form provides valuable insight into our live patterns, struggles and worn-out comfort zones.

A deeper analysis and understanding of the qualities and nature of a relationship with another person helps us to better manage dynamics and boundaries. Taking marriage for example: describing the marital state as “broken”, “dysfunctional, “close”, “intimate”, “illicit” or “unhealthy” seems to be valid, as neither of the partners has to be “unhealthy” or physically close to be in a close or unhealthy relationship. Or take “platonic” for that matter. Your relationship might not be sexual but rather friendly close, but that does not mean YOU are not sexual about the very same relationship.

Most adjectives are broad and remain superficial with regard to their level of information gained. Think “healthy”, “troublesome”, “beautiful” or “committed”. However! We start to gain value and insight exactly here. By asking further questions and allowing ourselves to be curious with an open heart. Can you allow yourself to be that way?

Besides the validity of your description, how precise is it? I like to think of any relationship as a bridge and when I look at my own bridges, I am often describing them very visually and in technical terms. That doesn’t mean a bridge can’t be symbolic, metaphoric or even poetic in your own words. Check for yourself from the following list of pairs and decide in each case towards which side you are leaning to.

absorbing – unforgiving

balanced – imbalanced

close – distant

natural – high-maintenance

heavy-travelled – via ferrata

historical – modern

longstanding – makeshift

romantic – functional

stable – shaking

solid – troublesome

weatherproof – season

Here are a few of my favorites (also thinking of real bridges)

convenient – life-saving

enabling – risky

exciting – boring

reciprocal – unilateral

safe – dangerous

symbiotic – differentiated

New Year’s Resolutions will fail

5 Reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail

This is the time of year when many of us take time to reflect on the past year. We think about making adjustments to life or to set off to new endeavours. Some of us are sitting on the same list of things to change year after year. We realise that another year has past without significant alterations or growth.

Why is it, that change seems so difficult to implement and what’s more, to make it last?In my work with clients I come across the following five reasons that make change very difficult and often impossible to happen.

1. You are over-promising

We think we found clarity in what we “need” to change, which spurs enthusiasm. Now with this sense of commitment that quic. our drive for action we over-promise. We declare to ourtselves and others that “…from now on, I will hit the gym 5 times a week” or “…will renovate the apartment in one weekend”.

2. You are idealising the big bang

The idealisation is often hidden in a thought pattern that goes like this “If only I have all of such-and-such in place, THEN I can finally pull the trigger and realise the change I aspire”. Does that sound familiar? “In order to write my first novel, I need a quiet office space with a desk and a brand new computer.” Or “If only I could find the perfect support (Yoga studio, Mandarin teacher, Nutritionist, …), then I could finally start living healthier.”

3. You are lacking an understanding of your motivation

I often hear people say “I need to do more workout”, “I should drink less” or “I must go to bed earlier”. Really? Do you? Using this nagging language tends to increase your sense of self-blame. It chore-izes whatever you actually wanted to do. Ask yourself instead: “Do I have to do this or do I want to?

4. You are not managing your time

If your ambition is to take on an MBA, to get some overdue paperwork done or just to declutter your desk, you need to plan for it. The time you need for each task can’t be found in the your days or weeks as you live them. You have to make it. If you fail to make time appropriately, your projects will fail or leed to dissatisfaction in other areas – like lack of sleep, increased stress, weight gain and social isolation.

5. You are being too harsh on yourself

Procrastination feeds on our inner conflict of knowing the waiting task and deferring the doing. In our minds we don’t allow the things to be just the way they are. Instead we constantly want things to be different than they are. With a rigid mindset it seems impossible to give ourselves permission to rest or to do things differently.

In order to make personal growth sustainable it is inevitable to understand the roots of your motivation – the values and preferences for life, that you carry. Furthermore, it is essential to transform and replace bad habits with good ones. In order to do so, we must understand fully what holds us back, what keeps us stuck and what it is inside of us that works against us.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

May you be happy and well.