As I begin the new year, I thought it was time to re-start my blogs and podcasts having taken some time away from these outlets, but as I looked back at the previous year, I was disappointed to see that I hadn’t just taken some time off, I had taken a whole year off from writing. My last blog was January 2022, how could that be, where had the year gone and why had I not written anything… I must admit I became angry with myself until I read my last blog and one line jumped out at me. “If you stumble, be your own best friend. Do not beat yourself up”
Well, I did stumble, in many ways, but I am not going to beat myself up I am going to get back up and start again.
The fact that I had neglected my writing outlet meant it was a harder year than even I thought, but that is what new years reflections are all about, what did you learn and what can you do this year to develop and more importantly enjoy yourself.
2022 was a year of considerable growth for KOAP and for me personally, but with growth comes change and the inevitable associated mental stress of coping and trying to keep pace. We launched our group in the USA and incorporated a number of brilliant people across Europe who are now representing our brand in a way I never thought possible.
My challenge was to understand how we deal with this expansion and the responsibility of ensuring everyone is looked after, both clients and the people that collaborate with us. At this point I will be totally honest and say that because of the increased pressure and work I had mental challenges through the year, some related to not fully getting over covid, some just me and the way I think and the pressure I was putting on myself. My personality changed and I became increasingly unhappy with the way things were going, my thoughts became confusing, and I struggled to deal with some of the simplest tasks, to the point that I was forced to take a “time out,” towards the end of the year.
I say that in a way that sounds like I made the decision for the “time out”, but in truth it was my wife Stella who forced the time out and sent me to an island in the Scottish Highlands that had the grand population of twenty people and nothing else, as an attempt to recentre my thinking and deal with my mental challenges.
Being alone disconnected from the internet, and mobile world did help me. It helped me ground myself and slow down which allowed me to get back to doing the things I love, reading, painting, and writing my book. The book by the way I have been working on for five years now and no-one believes I will finish it, but I added another ten thousand words so, in my mind I am getting there, and I am stubborn enough to prove the doubters wrong.
So, what did I learn from my forced exile?
Mostly that being gentle with yourself psychologically is incredibly important and can have several benefits not least of which is helping to reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety, that I did not even know I had.
It is an embarrassing thing to say that even though I teach people how to manage and deal with stress, sometimes you spend so much time looking out for others that you neglect yourself, and it seems that is what I had been doing.
So why don’t we know that we are stressed?
There are a variety of reasons why people may not realize they are stressed.
- Stress can manifest in different ways for different people, so it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms.
- Some people may be in denial about their stress levels or may not be aware of the signs of stress.
- Stress can also manifest gradually, so people may not realize they are feeling stressed until they are already in a state of high tension.
- People often equate stress with external pressures, such as work or family responsibilities, and may not realize that stress can also come from internal factors, such as thoughts and beliefs. In this case people might not think they are stressed as they do not see any external pressures.
For me it was a combination of all of these things, mostly I was in denial, and I had missed the internal tension that crept up on me over a period time because I had focused on the external world and the challenges I needed to overcome. My internal voices were telling me “When I have finished this I will take time to relax…” “just one more project…” “if we miss this opportunity, we will fail….” All things that in the cold light of day I know are wrong, but in the midst of my emotional state make perfect sense to me. The worst thing for me however was that I was supporting others who were going through the same things, but because my focus was on their challenges, I made the basic mistake of not focusing on my own thoughts. I had forgotten the basic tenant of my work… “put your own oxygen mask on first!”
How could I be stressed? I love what I do and wake up every morning wanting to go to work, but more than this I had become so accustomed to feeling stressed because, it had crept up on me slowly and I did not realize it and it had become a normal part of my life. It may sound strange, but it was like meeting an old friend. I knew the feelings and I subconsciously connected them with a younger me who was full of nervous energy, but again it was Stella that also recognised that side of me that had long since been controlled but was now resurfacing. There is something to be said for spending over forty years of your life with one person. They start to know you better than you know yourself, hence the decision to send me away to sort myself out.
Understanding one’s own internal state and trying to deal with internal difficulties is like choosing a casino game – plunging into a world of internal conflicts and trying to find a way out or a strategy that will bring success. Overcoming internal obstacles can be analogous to choosing the right strategy for playing in a casino, where the player must decide what is more important to him – his own needs or external challenges. Casino promotions and bonuses can be analogous to external influences on our lives, when we are excited by the possibility of getting something more than we expected. Similarly in life, such “bonuses” can lead us to make decisions that can be important for our emotional state and well-being. The variety of casino games can correspond to the variety of emotional states and inner experiences that we can experience at different moments in life. This is an analogy of how different games can evoke different emotions and impressions. In the ice casino world and in life, we often find ourselves in situations where we need to focus on our own needs and inner desires, and not just on external circumstances. Trying to understand your own inner state can be as important a task as finding profitable solutions in a casino game.
On my island in isolation, it became clear that my own internal pressure to be constantly busy, always on-the-go and always having to be productive was having a negative effect on both my mental and physical health.
Being harsh with myself was not the answer. When your harsh with yourself you can experience a lot of negative thoughts and emotions such as guilt, shame, and self-doubt. These negative thoughts are like a weight that can drag you down and make it difficult to move forward or see a way out. These thoughts become a script by which you label yourself, that inner voice is constantly reminding you of all of the things that you are doing wrong until eventually you believe it and label yourself as “a loser”, “stupid”, “weak” and eventually you can be too tired to even try to change or move on.
Being gentle with yourself however can help you to let go of these negative thoughts, and focus instead on self-compassion, self-care, and self-love, which can bring you a sense of peace and well-being. In addition, being gentle with yourself will help to improve your self-esteem and self-worth and change the voice in your head to be more positive which can have a positive impact on your overall well-being. When you are gentle with yourself, you are more likely to be forgiving of your mistakes and flaws. This self-compassion and forgiveness increased my motivation and reduced my feeling of failure.
In short, being gentle with myself lead to reduced stress and anxiety, improved self-esteem and self-worth, and increased motivation and willingness to take on the challenges, but it is important for me to keep in mind that being gentle with myself is a continuous journey, taking time and effort to develop a habit of self-compassion and self-care every day.
So, as I start a new year and look to set goals for the future, I am now even more mindful that it is important to be present and mindful of the present moment. I will appreciate what I have, rather than constantly striving for something more, and if I slip up or fail instead of looking at it as a setback I will focus on my slip as an opportunity to learn and adjust my approach and start again.
To help me stay true I will blog more often and share my experiences and force me to confront my voices and maintain my rhythm of selfcare.
So here are a few tips on how to start the new year by being more present and mindful of what you have in the moment, and they are all things I will be practising in 2023.
- Practice mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation is a simple practice that can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings in the present moment. I will start by setting aside a few minutes each day to sit in a quiet place and focus on my breath. As thoughts or distractions arise, I will simply acknowledge them, and gently redirect my attention back to your breath. I have practised this form of relaxation for many years and find it useful especially when I am traveling as I can practice it anywhere, from sitting on a plane to chilling in a café bar. You may think that cafés are not necessarily quiet places, but I find the bustle and background hum of noise and conversation somehow relaxing when you focus on your breathing and tune it out. So, find your place, your zone and give it a try.
- Live in the present: It is easy to get caught up in the past or worry about the future but living in the present is key to being mindful. I will focus on the task at hand and be fully engaged in the moment. Especially when I take a walk or work on my paintings. I love noticing the sights and sounds around me, the smells, and the colours of nature as the year changes. When I cook dinner the smells and flavours make the entire process totally relaxing for me. So, find your focus in the present and be mindful of everything you do, it helps you let go of the past.
- Practice gratitude: Being grateful for what you have is a powerful way to cultivate mindfulness. I intend to take some time each day to reflect on the things I are grateful for, whether it is a roof over my head, my loving family, or just a delicious meal simply reflecting on the good things in my day will help. I will also start writing in my gratitude journal again each day saying thank you to others more often. Consciously focusing on personal gratitude and being grateful to others reprogrammes your brain to see more good in the world. So, try it!
- Be kind to yourself: Mindfulness is also about being kind and compassionate towards yourself. I going to stop being hard on myself when I get caught up in negative thoughts or emotions. I will practice purposeful being gentle with myself and recognise how far I have come and what I can learn from the situation so that I reduce my “stumbles.” Simply recognising the feelings and stopping and saying to yourself, “its ok you are not perfect, you will make mistakes. Just stop take a breath and let us start again.” This inner dialogue helps you to recentre and get back into a routine.
- Make time for physical activity: Physical activity is a fantastic way to stay present in the moment. It is hard to worry about the future or dwell on the past when you are focused on your body and breath. For me, the challenge of the pandemic and covid have meant too many hours sat at a desk looking at a computer screen. 2022 opened the doors again and I have begun to travel, but not taken the time to be outside as much, so 2023 is the year for walking. In the hills or in the forest but somewhere in nature. My isolation in the Highlands of Scotland reminded me of the pleasure of hills and the sound of the wind and the power of the waves crashing on the shore. Nature can be very settling for the mind especially when you are stressed. So, this year I will be out more and as part of my blogs I will post more pictures and share my experiences to help me commit. Find your outdoor space that inspires, settles or sooths you and commit to visiting it each month, or more often if you are able.
Starting the new year by being more present and mindful of what you have in the moment can help you appreciate the little things in life and lead to a happier, more fulfilled existence. Remember to start small and be consistent, these practices will become easier over time, and you will start seeing the results in your daily life.
I am committed to looking after my mind and spirit this year, are you?