Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Self Belief

Imagine you are a sculptor.  Not a painter.  A sculptor.  Now imagine someone asks you to paint a giant scene over 1,100 square metres - roughly one sixth of the size of a football pitch.  The scale required will be massive, so it will be impossible for you to see what is developing as you paint.  You are asked to paint this scene over another painting made by an old master, but are assured this will not be a problem because the person who owns this believes your painting will be better than the one already there.  Remember, you are not even a painter, let alone a great painter.  Leaving aside the ethics of destroying a valuable piece of art, and just thinking of the challenge before you, would you do it?  Or would you react by saying "I am not a painter, I'm a sculptor!  I cannot do this!  Even if I manage to complete this mammoth task, what I paint won't even be as good as what I will be replacing!".  Would you have as much faith in yourself as the man who has asked you to do this clearly has in you?

You may well know the story I am telling here.  The painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City by Michaelangelo.  At the time Pope Julius II commissioned this work Michaelangelo was not a painter but a sculptor.  Yes, he was an artist, but of a very different kind.  He had never before done anything like the work Julius was asking him to do.  It wasn't even ordinary painting, but rather highly specialised fresco work on a curved surface high above the ground.  But the Pope believed in him and so Michaelangelo also believed in himself, despite initial doubts and worries.  When he was a third of the way through the job, Michaelangelo saw mould spreading over his work, spoiling the painting before it was anywhere near completion.  So he had to stop what he was doing, remove the mould, and change the way he was painting so the mould did not reappear and destroy his work.  If he had succumbed to his very natural initial self doubt we would now not have one of the most beautiful frescos in the world.  Yes, he had doubts and worries.  But, encouraged by the Pope who believed in him, he also had self belief and completed the task, taking nearly 5 years to do so.

If Michaelangelo had asked his friends whether he should attempt this impossible task, what do you think they would have advised?  Probably not even to try!

Let's imagine something else.  Imagine you were born without arms.  But you have decided you would like to be a pilot.  Impossible?  You would think so, wouldn't you?  Especially given the requirement to pass a pretty stringent assessment of your flying skills before you are given a pilot's licence.  It might seem impossible, but if you have self belief you can do it.  That is what Jessica Cox did.  Jessica wanted to achieve her dream of flying.  She believed in her ability to do so even though nobody without arms had ever learned to fly.  All she had going for her was her self belief, but that was enough.  Jessica became the first person in the world ever to gain a licence to fly.

If you had been born without arms and knew that nobody without arms had ever flown a plane, could you have dreamt of becoming a pilot and then done everything necessary to get your licence?  Jessica did, because she had self belief.  I can imagine her family and friends told her she was crazy.  It would certainly have seemed that way.  But Jessica never gave up, and now she flies planes using just her feet!

I want you to spend a few moments thinking about what you want to achieve in life.  Don't worry whether or not it seems to be achievable.  All that matters is that it is something you really want to achieve.  Write it down.  Not as something you want one day, but write it as though it is something you have already achieved.

You will probably now hear all the voices in your head telling you why you can never achieve it.  But think about it for a moment.  Is it really so much more difficult than having no arms, yet obtaining a pilot's licence - at a time when nobody else thought this was even possible?  Believe in yourself just as Jessica Cox did and you can achieve your dream.

You will probably face obstacles along the way that you had never expected, even when you first thought about your dream and recognized how difficult it would be to achieve it.  Michaelangelo knew he was attempting a near impossible task when he began painting the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, but he didn't also expect his painting would start going mouldy when he was only part way through.  He didn't give up at that point, but simply found the right way to tackle this new obstacle.  You must do the same.

Finally, having decided what it is you want to achieve, take the first step, then the next, and then the next.  Don't simply sit there waiting for it to happen.  It won't unless you take action!  Having agreed to paint the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, Michaelangelo didn't just sit down and wait for the fresco to appear.  He got on with it.  Having decided she wanted a pilot's licence, Jessica Cox didn't sit there waiting for someone to give her one.  She started doing all that was necessary for her to earn it.  So must you.  Start with self belief.  Know you can achieve it.  Then get on and do whatever is necessary for you to get there!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Meditation

Why meditate?

Funnily enough, this is not a question I hear very often.  I get the "why" question about a lot of things, but not about meditation.

I say "funnily enough", as I know the reality is that very few people really seem to practise meditation.  They apparently know why they should, but just never get around to it.

But I am now going to give some good medical reasons anyway.  Don't skip them!  Don't say "I know why I SHOULD meditate" unless you regularly practise meditation.  If you don't regularly practise, then you really need to remind yourself of exactly what you are missing.

According to "Mind", a large and well respected mental health charity, one in four people in the UK will suffer with a mental health problem this year.  Read that again: one in four!  You may not live in the UK, but the statistics are probably very similar in your country.  Probably not publicized, as to far too many people "mental illness" is a dirty word, so the problem tends to be brushed under the carpet.  Just think about it for a second - if you have a spouse and two children then the statistics say it is very likely one of you will have a mental problem in the very near future.  By far the commonest problem is a condition consisting of a mix of anxiety and depression.  Roughly 10% of the population suffer from this.  Over 2.5% will suffer from severe clinical depression.  Around 17% will consider suicide at some point in their life.  Are these statistics surprising and disturbing?  They certainly took me aback!

One of the best answers to this very prevalent problem is to practise meditation.  In January 2014 an assistant professor of medicine at John Hopkins University, Madhav Goyal, published a paper in the American Medical Association's journal of internal medicine, reviewing the results of properly conducted scientific studies on the impact of meditation on anxiety and depression.  Goyal found good evidence that meditation was as effective in countering and controlling anxiety and depression as was a properly administered and controlled drug therapy regime.  He also found that there had been far too little proper research of this kind, and the suggestion was that meditation would most likely be found to be even more effective if anyone bothered to research it more thoroughly!  What an inditement!  But also, what an endorsement of the power of meditation!

Another study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, showed that a meditation program resulted in a significant reduction in anxiety and panic attacks in a group of patients with anxiety and panic disorder.

A study by neuroscientists at Harvard University, headed by Dr Sara Lazar, showed that regular meditation resulted in a significant increase in the grey matter of the brain in areas that controlled memory, learning ability, regulation of emotions, compassion, self-awareness and the ability to put things in perspective - and that these results were obtained after only 8 weeks of meditation.  Please read this sentence again!  Regular meditation even for a fairly short period has been demonstrated in a controlled scientific experiment to increase your ability to learn, to control your enotions, become more self-aware, become less concerned about problems, and even simply to be more compassionate.  Look at that list!  If you are at all interested in self improvement you should certainly be including regular meditation in your various practices.

The more the cerebral cortex of your brain is folded, the better your brain becomes at processing information.  In other words, you make better decisions if your brain is folded more.  Well research by the UCLA Department of Neurology in 2012 showed that people who meditated regularly experienced greater folding of their cerebral cortex.  This means meditation improves your brain in a way that means you can make better decisions.

An article published in 2010 in "Behavioural and Brain Functions" showed that even novice meditators were able to perform tasks significantly better after just a short course of meditation.  The research also showed that there was an apparent reduction in the need for sleep in the group practising meditation for a longer period.  So the evidence suggests you should be able to work more effectively, whatever that work might be, and either sleep less or gain greater benefit from sleeping for the same number of hours.  Do you think this might be beneficial for you?  If so, you need to meditate!

In the Journal of Neuroscience, 6th April 2011, a group of researchers reported on a study which showed meditation significantly reduces the effect of pain.  They measured two factors - pain "unpleasantness" and pain intensity.  The research showed that after just 4 days of meditation, the volunteers showed a reduction of 57% in the "unpleasantness" of a pain sensation, and a 40% reduction in the intensity of the pain.  Apparently this is a greater impact than a normally prescribed dose of morphine would give, but without the potential side effects of severe constipation and even possible addiction if too much morphine is required.

There are many more proven health benefits of meditation, but let me finish with just one more.  A study by scientists at the Institute for Psychological Research and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden University, showed after a very short period of meditation (three 45 minute sessions every 10 days) the meditators became more creative.  When researching a problem we all have a tendency to follow one train of thought and then miss all the other possiblities which might otherwise have occurred to us.  This is termed "convergent thinking".  The opposite of this, "divergent thinking", allows us to consider lots of different ideas instead of being trapped in just one way of thinking.  What the researchers found was that the meditation exercises promoted divergent rather than convergent thinking.  So if you meditate you are much more likely to come up with different, productive ideas.

I suggest you read this again and again.  Meditation has scientifically proven, medically confirmed benefits.  It changes your brain physically in ways that:

  •   reduce anxiety, depression and other mental health problems
  •   increase your ability to learn
  •   improve your memory
  •   improve your ability to control negative emotions
  •   reduce your worries about problems
  •   improve your abilities to find the right answers to problems
  •   increase your compassion
  •   increase your self-awareness
  •   improve your ability to make the right decisions
  •   improve your ability to complete tasks properly
  •   reduce the intensity and "unpleasantness" of pain
  •   improve creativity

Is this list long enough for you?  I hope so, even though it has only just scratched the surface.  Perhaps now you will be more ready to start meditating properly and regularly so you can gain all these great benefits!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016


How suggestible are you?

When I ask people this question, the typical response is "I am not suggestible at all!"  Fortunately that is not true!

Fortunately?  Why am I suggesting that it is a good thing to be suggestible?

The reason I believe it can be a very good thing is that you can take advantage of the suggestible quality of your mind to create changes you really want to see in yourself.

Take creative visualization for example.

Many people, myself included, believe when you use visualization to manifest something, you are using the power of the Universe.  But I also believe that power of the universe is within me if only I will make an effort to use it!  By focusing properly on whatever it is I wish to achieve, by putting it in a setting that generates warmth and happiness and that reminds me I have already achieved it, I am in a sense "tricking" my subconscious mind to utilize that inner Universal power.

When you use affirmations, you are doing the same thing.  You are "tricking" your subconscious and making it believe you have reached your goal and all that remains is to bring this inner reality into the physical world.

In both cases, the main reason this works is because you are suggestible.  If you were not at all suggestible, then your subconscious would ignore your visualizations and affirmations and simply retort that they do not accord with what it sees in the physical world.

Sometimes, though, that DOES happen.  It happens when your subconscious becomes aware that you ARE tricking it.  Allow that to happen and for that moment in time you are no longer suggestible, which means your visualizations and affirmations will not work.

Typically, this will occur when you approach manifesting techniques in a half-hearted manner.  Perhaps you begin affirming but at the same time keep thinking this is probably not going to work.  If you do that, then I can guarantee it is NOT going to work.  Your subconscious is not going to respond, as it knows you are trying to trick it.  It is almost as though you are first sending it a message saying "don't believe what I am going to say next - it isn't true!".

One of the secrets of manifesting properly is to leave all your doubts to one side.  You may simply be able to do this without using any other techniques.  Or you may need to bring those doubts to the surface first, and address them one by one, setting each aside as you answer it.

You should also try to get yourself into a suggestible state.  Relax!  Allow your mind to drift and reach your "safe haven".  This is a place where you know you are perfectly safe no matter what.  Where you are nurtured by the Universe and feel really happy and comfortable.  I cannot describe this place for you, as the reality is we each have our own safe haven which is not going to be exactly the same as anyone else's safe haven.  You should spend some time meditating and exploring your inner world so you can find your own safe haven.

Use these techniques and you will find you are much more suggestible and your visualizations and affirmations work far better.

Be aware, though, that suggestibility can work against you as well.  Not in your safe haven or when you are using these techniques.  But when you are just living your normal life it is possible for others to take advantage of your suggestibility.  I don't want you to worry about this, as your own suggestions will be far more powerful.  But I do want you to be aware so you can counter any negative influence.  Make sure you associate with other positive people, not with any who are negative and will consciously or unconsciously send negative messages to your own subconscious mind.

Recognize that if you are a human being, then by your very nature you are suggestible.  Use that knowledge to reduce the power of negative people to influence you, and use it to harness the extraordinary power of the universe to change you and everything around you to what you really want for yourself.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Abundance and Religion

We live in an abundant world.  Abundance surrounds us.  Never doubt it!  Abundance of things, of relationships, of happiness - of everything good.

If you are at all religious you will most certainly find references to the abundance all around you in the holy writings of your religion.

For my Moslem friends, refer to Chapter 108 of the Quran, the shortest chapter in your holy book.  It says "We have given thee abundance of good things."  This was written at a time when the Holy Prophet was facing what seemed a very gloomy future.  It looked as though his mission was about to fail, and he would have been justified in feeling complete despair.  Yet the message he received was that there was an abundance of good things all around him, he didn't despair, and his mission certainly didn't fail!

For my Jewish and Christian friends, the Bible is absolutely full of references to abundance.  Perhaps the clearest example, loved by both Jews and Christians, is Psalm 23.  The entire Psalm reminds us that no matter how bad things may seem to be ("Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death") we are provided with everything we need.  We are living in an abundant world, looked after by God (or the Universe, if you prefer a non-theistic approach) who "prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies".  You need fear nothing, as God (the Universe) is with you every step of the way, ensuring there is an abundance of everything you need.

For my Hindu friends, Section 4.1.5 of the Yajurveda Samhita says "You are the unchanging direction, make unchanging in me children, abundance of wealth, abundance of cattle, abundance of heroism."  If you want to experience abundance, look at the goddess Lakshmi.  Lakshmi personifies the abundance of our universe, and her four hands show us the goals on which we should focus if we want to achieve that abundance: Dharma (right behaviour), Kama (right desire), Artha (right goals) and Moksha (self realization).

For my Buddhist friends, consider the Buddha Ratnasambhava.  Like the Hindu Lakshmi, Ratnasambhava personifies the abundance that is there for all of us if we approach life in the right way.  Ratnasambhava removes the feeling of separation we have from all other life, and which makes us blind to the abundance all around us.  When we recognize the interconnectedness of all things in the universe, we have to recognize the abundance that surrounds us.

For my Sikh friends, the Guru Granth Sahib says "God has produced everything in great abundance. Granting His Grace, God has satisfied all. Bless us with Your Gifts, O my Great Giver. All beings and creatures are satisfied."

Some adherents of these six world religions try to claim their religion forbids them from seeking an abundance of anything.  This is not true.  They are all rooted in the abundance of good that surrounds us and that is intended for all of us to receive in our lives.

If only one religion told us that abundance is all around us for us to enjoy, then we could be forgiven for thinking this does not apply to us as we do not believe in that religion.  When all the major religions tell us this, then perhaps we should listen, whether or not we are normally religious.

Recognize that this is an abundant universe and that you are intended to enjoy that abundance, even if (like the Prophet Mohammed) you are at the centre of despair and it seems there is nothing good awaiting you.  Know that if you behave in the right way (Dharma), encourage and develop your desire for the good things awaiting you (Kama), set proper goals to obtain those things (Artha) and continue working on your self development (Moksha) you will be able to share in the abundance which is all around you.  Become grounded in the abundant universe and allow that abundance to flow through you.  To do anything else is to disrespect the universe and its creator who wants you to enjoy all the good things created just for you.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Self Sabotage

Do you have a goal you want to reach and it always seems just out of your reach?  Or perhaps, even worse, even as you reach the goal you find yourself slipping back.  It was right there in your grasp and then it was gone again.  Or you achieve a goal, are happy that you have got there, but then you find the whole world is conspiring against you to take it away again.

For the big goals in your life maybe this doesn't apply.  They are so big you are nowhere near them yet, so they are not "just out of reach" and you don't find you have achieved them and then they are taken away again.  But you will probably agree this does happen to you with at least some of your smaller goals.  Perhaps those goals you need to reach in order to get closer to your big goals.

So who is that goalkeeper who is so efficient at keeping your ball from passing between the goal posts?  Whoever it is, they must be really good at goal-keeping, as you never seem to score!

If only you could make that goalkeeper switch sides just as you are approaching the goal, how easy it would be.  You would achieve exactly what you want to achieve!

Let me reveal exactly who that goalkeeper is.  It is you!  Yes, that is right!  You are the one who is making it impossible for you to score your own goals.  And I agree that goalkeeper is good.  Really good!  As for switching sides?  Well, now you know you are the one standing in the way and stopping you getting to the goal it should be easier for you to reverse this.  You don't need to make the goalkeeper change sides, just recognize he or she has mistakenly been playing on the wrong side all this time.

Enough of the sports imagery though.  Let's have a closer look at what is happening and what you can do about it.

You are guilty of self sabotage.  This is not another metaphor I have made up, but a recognized psychological issue.  We all do it.

Some of us do it in very noticeable ways.

If, for example, you are trying to get healthier and lose weight you may find you are also a "comfort eater".  You have a bad day at work, so the moment you get home you attack a big bowl of ice cream.  You feel a bit depressed (perhaps even depressed about the fact that you are not losing enough weight) and so you reach for the biscuit tin to give yourself some comfort.

Or you are trying to reach a goal of cutting your credit card debt, perhaps even losing that debt completely.  You have the right plans in place and know you can get there.  Then you suddenly find you have gone on a shopping spree, which has dug a deep hole in your debt reduction strategy.  It is almost as if a different person came along, grabbed your credit card, and put you right back to the beginning again.

I have known sales people, good sales people, who have gone along to one of their most important, big sales ever and have completely screwed up the sale.  Not because they were nervous.  Not because they didn't know how to swing the sale.  But because they found themselves saying things that they knew would mean their prospective client would not buy.  Why did they do this?  Not because they no longer believed in what they were selling.  Not because they thought it was wrong for the person in front of them.  They still believed passionately in the product or service they were selling, and they knew it was right for that person.  They seemed just deliberately to sabotage their own sale.  Why?

I have known business owners who, just as their business was really growing and starting to give them the return they had always dreamed of, started taking actions that any good business consultant could have told them would destroy the progress they had made in the business.  They didn't do this because they hadn't taken the right advice from a business guru.  They did it even though if they had stopped and thought carefully about what they were doing, they would have known it was a disastrous strategy.  So why did they do it?

The answer in all these cases is self sabotage.

Your own self sabotage may not be as obvious as these examples, but I can almost guarantee somewhere along the line you are guilty of committing self sabotage.  And that may be the very reason you have not yet reached your desired goal.

It may be as simple as knowing the right way forward but allowing yourself to go in a different direction.  If you are reading this blog it is very likely you understand very well the concepts of positive and negative thinking.  You know if you focus on the negatives you will never get there, yet still those negative thoughts keep coming into your mind and you don't seem able to stop them.

Why we self sabotage is a deep and complex subject.  I could write a whole book about it, and I guess there are a number already written.  But there are just a few reasons behind most examples of sabotage.

Perhaps one of the commonest reasons is that although you think you want to achieve the goal, deep inside you are afraid of getting there.  You may be afraid of changes it will inevitably trigger in your lifestyle.  Maybe you have got into a comfortable rut and subconsciously you want to hang onto that comfort even though you know it is a rut and you cannot afford to stay there.  You may recognize that once you reach your goal many of your "friends" will be jealous and will no longer want to be your friends.  Notice, though, I put "friends" in quotation marks.  The reality is that your true friends will be happy for you if you do achieve what you want to achieve.  Those who are jealous were never really your friends in the first place and you are better off without them!

Another very common reason is that you have some doubts, which may be genuine concerns, and then you surpress those doubts.  But you have not rid yourself of the doubts, just repressed them.  They are still there, and they are now making you sabotage your efforts to reach your goal.  Instead of repressing them, you need to recognize and address them.

Linked to this is what I, and many other coaches, refer to as "blocks".  Often these arose many years ago, perhaps in your early childhood.  They are usually irrational, but that doesn't stop them making you sabotage your progress towards your goals.  The key to dealing with blocks is to recognize they are there, to identify them.  Sit quietly, focussed on your goal, and allow repressed doubts and objections to arise.  This might not happen immediately.  It might not even happen the first few times you meditate in this way.  But keep trying and you should find they do eventually arise.  Even better, let one of the many good coaches who specialize in "blocks" guide you through the process.

There are many reasons for self sabotage, and there are many ways to counter it.  But the very first step is to recognize that, just like everyone else, you are guilty of sabotaging your own progress from time to time.  Once you recognize this you can work on unearthing the reasons and then finding out how to remove them.