This blog is moving…

…to become integrated with my new website which you can find at http://www.colourinyourthinking.co.uk

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Thanks for reading!

Interviews with Inspirational Women

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you may recall that I run an irregular series of interviews with women that inspire me. It’s been a while since my last one but given that yesterday was International Women’s Day, what better time (other than yesterday, obviously) to add another interview to the pile?

This one is a bit different because it’s with my own lovely daughter, Frances (Franki) Hackett.

The Intrepid Miss Hackett

She has grown into an exceptional young woman and I am delighted to introduce her to you.

I hope when you read her interview you’ll see why I find her so inspiring.

Who are you and how do you spend your time?

I am Franki, I’m your daughter, and I’m just about to finish my undergrad degree in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford.  Largely I spend my time reading, writing, and obsessing over problems that most people would probably think are largely irrelevant.

What’s your philosophy for life?

A friend of mine has the motto ‘the best things in life leave you feeling a little bit sticky’, which I have to admit appears more apt the more one thinks about it.  However, I guess for myself my main philosophy is to try to make wherever I go a better place when I leave than how I found it, and that the only way to solve a problem is to properly understand it.

As far as I can see the only way we can give meaning to our lives is by affecting the lives of others; I try to make a positive difference.

What shaped that philosophy, and how has it changed over the years?

My philosophy has been shaped in part obviously by my upbringing; I was taught very early on that human beings are of equal worth and that all of our differences should be tolerated, if not celebrated.

I hate seeing people suffer and I have trouble ignoring it or forgetting it if I know it’s happening; in all my studies it has only become more clear to me that we have duties to everyone, regardless of our national or local affiliations, or the distances between people: if human suffering is a bad thing it is bad regardless of where it is, and that means we have a duty to do something about it.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been taught by some of the finest minds in the country, and by people who are very aware of their moral situation. I guess my basic philosophy has always been the same, but they’ve taught me how to act on it, and that not acting on it is not an acceptable alternative.

What’s your definition of what it takes to be a successful woman today?

This is a hard question, in part because the word ‘successful’ is so loaded.  The most basic criterion is, I suppose, to be accepting of oneself.

I think we will have achieved a lot as a society when to be a ‘successful woman’ fits within the same bounds as to be a ‘successful man’, but we’re certainly not there yet.  Similarly I don’t think that to be a successful woman you have to have broken through some glass ceiling, although obviously for some people that is a real success.

Each individual is going to have to define success for herself, and it has to be a definition that fits: if you hate mathematics, there’s very little point in deciding to be the chair of the Bank of England. You are the person who can know you best, if you have worked out your true potential in something you love, are following that potential, and can honestly say that, most of the time, you are happy with the choice you made, regardless of what other people might have expected for you, then you are successful.

I think that definition can apply to men as well as to women, but I think it’s harder for women; we are loaded with more guilt for not living up to what others would like us to be.

Facing up to and moving past that guilt is, I think, a real mark of success.

What do you think have been your greatest achievements so far?

I have a tendency to underrate my achievements, on the basis that I am determined not to get complacent: I’m rarely completely happy with the way I perform on the basis that I could always have done better, that’s what drives me to excellence.

But I think that getting to Oxford was a real achievement, no matter how much help I had along the way I had much less help than many of the students here.

And simply working incredibly hard for such a long time to get my degree has been an achievement, like they say it’s a marathon and not a sprint, and as my mother will tell you I had to work against my natural inclinations to run this marathon, as like her I’m definitely not a completer-finisher.

And finally, learning to stand up for myself has been a real achievement; I used to worry that I talked to much in group settings, particularly academically, and I have been very likely to agree to do things even when I didn’t have time because I hate letting people down.

Learning to say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands, and then to stand by that has been a real achievement (I won’t claim to say I’m perfect, some projects are just too tempting!).

At the same time, when I learnt that in group settings men do something like 85% of the talking, and almost 100% of the interrupting, I decided to change that statistic, even if I had to do it on my own.

If I have a reasonable point to make now I make it, even if I have to interrupt to do so, I won’t be broken off unless I’ve finished my point, and if another woman is having trouble getting heard I’ll stop the conversation to give her a chance.

At first I worried that this would make people think I was rude and obnoxious, but I’ve had nothing but complements: men saying how refreshing they found it to have a voice raising a completely different perspective and engaging with them by their own rules, and women saying how nice it was to feel that someone had taken the lead and given them cover to voice their own opinions without seeming ‘shrill’.  That has been a real eye-opener, and I consider it to be an achievement.

And what do you still have left that you want to achieve?

There are many things I still want to achieve, I feel that at the age of 20 that’s the right way to be.

As I summarised my life plan to a tutor a few days ago when he asked me if I was interested in doctoral study, I intend to do my masters, then go out and ensure that every woman in the world has access to decent maternity care, both post- and ante-natal.

Having achieved this and won my Nobel prize, I will then return to University to do my Dphil.

I also hope to have a family at some point, and I’d like to keep an allotment, since it’s the day-to-day maintenance of something like that which is much more of a challenge for me, and I think that growing vegetables is good for the soul.

What’s been the most important learning experience in your life, and what lessons did you take from it?

I can’t pinpoint one exact moment or experience, but several times during my life I have spoken with someone about something which I felt that I understood, and had them reveal an entirely different view of something that was previously very familiar.

The only example I can think of at the moment is my study of power: as a concept we all feel that we understand power and yet no one can really settle on a decent definition.

Most people define it as person A’s being able to get person B to do something which she would otherwise not do.  After centuries of this kind of definition, Foucault came along and said that power is not something that one person has or does to another, it is a set of structures around us which constrain us even if we don’t realise it, particularly in the form of knowledge.

So, for example, as certain ‘abnormal’ behaviours became defined medically rather than simply as ‘deviance’ in the middle of the 19th century they began to be controlled in new ways simply because people understood them as medical conditions, not simply as differences.

Those moments of paradigm shift are very important I think, and it’s a wonderful feeling, suddenly seeing things from a new angle like that.  It’s taught me to keep looking, from perhaps rather surprising angles, at the things I think I know.  That is the essence of creativity in a way, and it’s the only way we have of moving forward.

We celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day in 2011. What message would you like to give to the next generation of women?

Define yourself.  This is the only way to really achieve success, and if we insist on our own definitions of ourselves, then we are much less likely to be controlled by other people’s definitions.

Top Tips for Troublesome Relationships

We’ve all got them, or had them; relationships that started out well and have somehow ended up in a toxic stinking pile in the corner.

Relationships with parents, siblings, children, partners, friends, colleagues – people that we once liked and loved but can now barely bring ourselves to talk to.

And the guilt! In most of those cases we avoid contact with the other person partly because we want to avoid what we see as inevitable conflict, but also partly from guilt.

These are people we feel that we SHOULD love and like and spend time with.

What kind of a person am I, we ask ourselves, what kind of a daughter/wife/mother/friend am I that I can’t spend time with this person?

Or if the guilt is too much to bear we turn things round the other way and stoke up the fires of anger and resentment against the other person – it’s all their fault, if they weren’t so mean/rude/argumentative/stupid they’d see that it’s all their fault and they’d change and then things would be all right.

But we know that won’t happen, and so the easiest thing to do is to let it slide until years go by and you find yourself divorced or estranged or embittered or any one of the other unhappy circumstances that come about when we don’t take care of our relationships.

People often say that a marriage needs to be worked at if it’s to be a happy one. It’s good advice but it misses the point that actually ALL relationships need to be worked at for them to be happy.

It also fails to explain what “working at a relationship” actually means – so I’ve decided to do it myself.

All of these tips are techniques that good coaches use. If you adopt them as part of the way you go about interacting with the people in your life you’ll be AMAZED at the positive difference it makes to your relationships.

You will change how you think about, talk to and behave with the people in your life and as a result their behaviour and thoughts will change too.

You will find that you are working on your relationships without even really being aware that you’re doing it, and things will change for the better.

There’s no age limit for any of this and in fact if you teach by example your children will grow up with a really good intuitive sense of the best way to treat people and an innate sense of respect for others.

So here are my top tips – go for it!

Start to listen properly to what is said to you.

In day-to-day conversation we don’t really listen to other people because we’re so busy thinking about what we’re going to say next.

In problematic relationships we add on another layer of complexity by not wanting to listen and sometimes assuming we know what’s going to be said.

In order to break that habit, here’s what you do.

  • Give your full, undivided attention to the other person – look at them directly and get rid of other distractions
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Make it clear that you’re listening by nodding and making “I’m listening” sounds
  • Use the “You said/I heard” technique. After they have finished speaking, say to them something along the lines of “You said x“(summarise their words back to them), “and what I heard was y” (which is your understanding of what they meant including any subtext you think was going on). Finish off with “is that right?” This forces you to listen and to examine your own understanding, and ensures that you check out what the speaker ACTUALLY meant. Which brings us on to my next tip:

Check out your assumptions

We all make assumptions – it’s one of the ways we make sense of the world around us. But when things start to go wrong between people our assumptions start to go wrong as well and we can end up constantly assuming the worst about people. What then happens is that we start to look for evidence that our assumptions are correct, and we tend to see that evidence whether it’s there or not. Here’s an example:

Mum: “Hello darling, welcome home, how was school?”

Teenager: “God Mum, you’re ALWAYS on my back, why can’t you stop NAGGING and PRYING and just LEAVE ME ALONE?!” <slam>

(All characters and incidents portrayed are fictitious and in no way meant to represent any incidents in the writer’s own experiences)

Allow yourself the opportunity to be really honest about the assumptions you’ve been making about this individual.

Write them all down – you may find it difficult to get started but once you get going you’ll probably find that the floodgates have opened.

If you find it difficult, try finishing off these sentences in as many different ways as possible:

Person x always…

Person x won’t…

Person x can’t…

Person x thinks…

Change the way you think about them

Uncovering your assumptions gives you a very clear picture of the patterns you’ve fallen into when thinking about this person. You may well be able to spot your over-riding emotions about them as well from what you’ve uncovered, and it’s important to take note of that.

If your assumptions show that you think someone is useless or stupid or cruel or uncaring or whatever else, then you will have been behaving in a way that makes that obvious.

They may not know exactly what you think about them, but they will definitely know that you have a problem with them, and guess what? Their behaviour will have been affected by it.

So to change their behaviour, you first need to find a way to change your behaviour.

And to do that, you need to change the way you think about them.

So take the list of assumptions you made about them and replace them with a set of assumptions written as if you had unconditional love for that person.

So instead of “she always thinks she knows best“, you could write “she tries her best to give me good advice because she cares about me“.

Instead of “he’s always interfering“, you could put “he’s always finding ways to be helpful“.

Now it may be that you don’t want the advice or the help, but it makes it MUCH easier to cope with the behaviour if you have a charitable explanation for what might be causing it…

My final tip for now is:

Remember what it was like at the start of the relationship

Once upon a time you were 2 people who had just fallen in love, or you were a new parent with a beloved, miraculous new-born baby in your arms, or you were a tiny child who thought your parents were infallible gods.

Allow yourself to remember how that felt and to immerse yourself in those feelings.

Allow yourself to acknowledge the things you loved unconditionally about that other person at that time, and the unconditional promises you made to them:

“I’ll always love and look after you”

“I’ll keep you safe”

“I’ll buy a great big house for us all to live in when you’re old so I can look after you” (I haven’t forgotten, kids…)

And now allow yourself to remember the times when you enjoyed each other’s company and had shared interests. Start to look for opportunities, however small, to regain some of those feelings.

Time changes us all, inevitably, and it changes our feelings, but it is possible to remind ourselves of the lovelinesses that have got lost along the way.

Some relationships come to a natural end and some die or are killed by neglect or cruelty. But where there’s the possibility of life or a need for the relationship to be brought back to life, there’s a lot you can do to bring about a recovery.

 

 

Are You Ready to Make a Leap of Faith?

When I resigned from my career in the Civil Service to set up on my own it was a Leap of Faith. I had no safety net and no fall-back position.

I still don’t.

What I had then and still have today is a clear understanding that this was the ONLY right thing for me to do – this was my Purpose and if I didn’t follow it I would be dooming myself to a life of regrets and unhappiness.

And so, although it hasn’t always been plain sailing and there continue to be difficult times, I remain convinced that my Leap of Faith was unquestionably the right thing for me to have done.

Despite that Leap into the unknown, it didn’t take very long at all for what once seemed new and thrilling to become habitual and a tiny bit dull, and for me then to fall back into some of my old patterns and ways of behaving. That’s why I’ve recently been seeking out other challenges in an attempt to shock me out of my comfort zone.

(This is where I invite you to make a donation to Mind, the Mental Health Charity, by way of sponsoring me for my parachute jump on July 9th, by the way. All you need to do is click on the link over on the right…)

Susanna Liller, the Heroines’ Coach, spotted what I was up to and asked to interview me for her newsletter as she saw me as “an expert Comfort Zone escaper”.

I was honoured to be asked to contribute, and fascinated when I saw that Susanna was setting her readers a “Comfort Zone Challenge”. So fascinated, in fact, that after a short chat we decided to do it together and create “The Transatlantic Comfort Zone Challenge”!

And so, Dear Reader, here is how YOU can make your own Leap of Faith and challenge yourself out of YOUR Comfort Zone:

  • You do the first part, reminding yourself of the times you already left your comfort zone so that you’ll see that you can do this as you’ve done it before!
  • Then, you’ll fill out the second part—3 things you’ll do by April 30 that are out of your comfort zone (and what fears it brings up—might as well just acknowledge them right up front), then you’ll send it to me by March 24th cathy@colourinyourthinking.co.uk (Susanna will be doing this at her end.)
  • We’ll let people know what you’ve signed up to do in our respective April Newletters. Yes, it will be public…a motivator—on both sides of the Atlantic!
  • Next, by April 30 you’ll re-port out on how you did with your challenge via an email to me.
  • We’ll report to everyone in our May newsletters and we’ll celebrate!

Susanna and I are really excited about this joint venture, and we hope that as many of you as possible will be tempted to join in.

You never know what you can do until you try it so go on – take your Leap of Faith and see what you can accomplish…

What does “Getting out of your own way” actually mean?

It’s a phrase you’ll have come across fairly often if you read many self-help books or coaching blogs but in my experience it rarely comes with a translation into plain English.

I know I’ve been guilty of using it without an explanation myself, so I thought I’d take this opportunity of explaining what I mean when I use it.

And here’s the disclaimer – I can, of course, only speak from my own experience.

Your idea of what it means for you to get out of your own way may well be very different – and if what you read here doesn’t chime with your own experience, please join in the comments and let us know what it’s like for you.

There’s an old Chinese saying that I’m very fond of. It goes something like

The path is smooth, why do you throw rocks in your way?

and for me, that sums up the difference between life when I’ve got out of my own way, and life when I’m actively getting in my own way.

When I’m getting in my own way everything is a struggle.

I let the Saboteurs and Gremlins influence me and I doubt my own judgement. I talk myself out of ideas and I ignore my gut instinct. Everything starts to feel like a huge effort and if I’m not careful I can end up in a very dark place and feeling woefully out of control.

Not Nice At All.

Conversely, when I’ve got very firmly out of my own way life has a natural flow about it.

I have ideas and act on them and good things result. I follow my gut instinct and even better things result.”Coincidences” start to happen and undreamed of opportunities happen along. The Universe guides my hands and all is well.

And what’s the difference? Well for me it has to do with control, and specifically with letting my conscious mind or Ego take control.

When I’m going with the flow I’m acting on instinct. I know I can trust my gut instinct because it knows, for sure, the right things to do. I’ve called it The Universe before now and that has to do with it seeming to be connected with forces way beyond me in the way that apparently external things start to go right for me when I sit back and let The Universe take control.

When my Ego thinks it knows best is when things start to go wrong. That’s when the self-doubt kicks in and the Saboteurs come out to play and suddenly I’m stumbling over rocks that weren’t there before and everything goes to hell in a handcart.

So lack of control comes about from my Ego’s attempts to regain control from The Universe, and I end up the loser.

I’ve just been through a few weeks of being Ego-led and ended up dispirited, tired and unwell – but, as my dear friend Lisa said to me the other day, “at least when you’re ill it gives you the opportunity to think about what’s led you to this place!

And I can see that, as my Ego took over, so I stopped doing all the positive, nurturing rituals that were enabling me to keep put o my own way. My Ego decided I could do without them and persuaded me they weren’t necessary any more – one look in the mirror is all the proof I need that my Ego doesn’t know what it’s talking about (one is rarely so unattractive as when one has a heavy cold, I find…)

And why did my Ego step in?

Because it was feeling threatened. Again.

Because it knows that, for me to grow and develop and realise my potential, it needs to diminish and dwindle, and it doesn’t like that.

This kind of thing happens to all of us as we go through change – the habits and beliefs of the past can be like a ball and chain, holding us back and keeping us anchored in the ways of being that we’re trying to shake off.

We’re attracted to the familiar, even while we’re being tempted by the promise of more and better.

So while it’s frustrating I know that this past month is a normal part of the process.

I will shake off my ball and chain and I will get back out of my own way. It’s good to have had this reminder because it’s shown me that what was once a normal, comfortable, familiar way of being is now uncomfortable, unattractive and dispiriting.

I’m ready to clear the rocks from my path and stride back out onto my Journey again.

But first I’m going to have another Lemsip…..

Self, self, self…

I’ve been pondering the differences between self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem recently as I’ve been creating workshops and online packages on these topics.

It’s no wonder there’s so much confusion about the difference between them, some people see self-esteem and self-respect as synonyms while others think they’re poles apart!

The definitions I like best and that I’ve chosen to go with for my work come from Dr Elias H. Porter who created the Strengths Deployments Inventory and the associated Relationship Awareness Theory.

Dr Porter’s theory states that “everyone wants to feel worthwhile about themselves as human beings” and that this comes from having self-respect and self-esteem, which he defines as follows:

  • Self Respect is being valued by yourself for the things you wish to be valued for
  • Self Esteem is being valued by others for the things you wish to be valued for

Self Respect and Self Esteem lead to Self Worth – which is, to my mind, another way of describing Self-Confidence.

So – if you feel lacking in Self-Confidence it might be worth asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I know what I want to be valued for?
  • Do I actually value myself for those things?
  • Do others value me for those things?

If the answer to any of those questions is “No”  then why not email me at cathy@colourinyourthinking.co.uk and we can have a chat about how I can help you.

 

What to do when it’s all Too Much

Everyone gets days when it feels like everything you do is doomed to failure and there’s no point in going on.

Anyone who tells you they don’t is telling porkies. Trust me on this.

When you’re feeling that way it can also feel like life is going AMAZINGLY well for the entire rest of the world and that no-one has ever been such a useless heap as you are. It’s a bit like being zoomed straight back into the teenage version of yourself, where everything was sooooooo unfair and no-one had ever suffered like you suffered, and no-one would ever love you and see you for the, like, really amazing person you were….

When that mood strikes there are all sorts of things you can do. You’ll find lots of advice from people telling you to meditate, or go out for a run or buy yourself some flowers or tap or do any number of other worthy things.

But what if you’re having the type of day where you can barely get yourself out of bed? If you’re in that sort of state, all you’re likely to do is to start beating yourself up for not feeling able to motivate yourself to meditate or go out for a run or even get dressed – and that just makes you feel even worse about yourself.

So if your down days really really get you down, here are my top tips for how to cope.

  • Instead of fighting the negative feelings, go with them. Try to trace them back to their source. You don’t have to get out of bed to do this (which is a good start) and the simple process of pinpointing what’s happened to put you in this state can have an immediate galvanising effect.
  • Allow yourself to wallow. I find that if I allow myself time to wallow there comes a point where I get sick of feeling sorry for myself and I am able to kick start myself. Refusing to wallow and trying to plug on regardless tends to backfire and makes things worse for me in the long run.
  • Tell people you trust how you’re feeling. Sometimes all you need is to verbalise the feelings for them to go away. If you’re as lucky as I am you will have people around you who will reassure you of how much you are loved and valued, and that will help enormously.
  • Give yourself a treat – whether it’s time to indulge in your favourite weepy movie, a luxurious bath with lots of candles and bubbles, a box of chocolates when you don’t usually indulge or even a day in bed with a pile of undemanding books, do something to show yourself that “you’re worth it”.
  • Remind yourself that this feeling is temporary, it will pass and you will rise above it when the time is right for you to move on.