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Feel with me, not for me…

I recently watched a YouTube clip of Brene Brown, and in it she discussed the difference between empathy and sympathy. This is something that really resonates with me of late.

Often, I share with people the fertility struggle that we have been going through for the last two and a half years and the first response is one of the following:

          Try and fix it (have you gone to see… have you tried…)

          To minimise it (well at least you have…)

          Offer me an example of someone they know (their cousins, uncle’s, neighbours, doctor’s, friend’s daughter) who has gone through something similar (note: not the same) and how well things turned out for them.

          Tell me it will happen when the timing is right.

I don’t want to seem horrible, but please don’t do this! This is sympathy. It is standing from afar, and feeling FOR me. I know that it is coming from a place of good intention, but it means people can keep their distance. They can keep their barriers up and not let their own vulnerability show. By ‘making me feel better’, they don’t have to really feel the space I am in, they don’t have to deal with my feelings, and possibly their own. At a time when I am sharing a very personal, emotional and frankly bloody hard piece of me, the last thing I need is emotional distance. When you repeatedly get sympathy from people it makes you feel really lonely, because it seems as though no one understands what you are going through. In this particular example, this loneliness adds to the loneliness I am already feeling that society has created for women without children, and the loneliness I am feeling when I can’t engage with my friends in this space.

What I need is connection. I am sharing this with you because I want you to be with me, to feel this with me, to be angry with me, to cry with me. I want, and need empathy. Rather than feeling for me, I need you to feel WITH me. It doesn’t mean you have to have gone through what it is I am sharing, just walk beside me, stand with me, be present in my feelings. Brene Brown talks about how the simple gesture of touching one’s hand without speaking is more powerful than a sympathetic verse, and I agree. It is ok, to just say how shitty this is, that you don’t know what to say, to shed a tear with me, or to simply provide an affectionate touch. I will feel that you get what I am going through, that you are with me through it.

I also understand that no one wants their friends being upset and feeling shit, people want to make it better, but here is the thing…you can’t. Just as a friend who is going through a relationship break down knows I can’t change his behaviour, or the cousin who has a child going through sickness knows I can’t make the child better, you can’t change our situation, and that is not why I am sharing it with you.

I am of course only speaking my truth, and others may feel different, though I suspect there are many who would agree with this. But for me, here are some simple tips to remember when a loved one is being vulnerable with you and sharing something causing pain:

          Be present. Obviously don’t be on your phone, or checking other devices, but also don’t be thinking of what to say, what questions to ask. Just listen and be present.

          Avoid comparison. This is similar to being present, but something I have noticed a lot which frustrates me. Situations are unique, and so comparing could make it worse, it could remind the person of how much harder their situation is, how ‘hopeless’ it is for them.

          Match the vulnerability. If that means crying with them, or showing other emotions then do that. You don’t need to ‘be strong’ and try and make the person feel better all the time, because in all honesty there are no words you can say to me that will lessen this heartache.

          Don’t offer an “at least..” comment. Brene Brown talks about this too, and I have to say I laughed out loud when she said it, as I have heard it many times. “At least your marriage is strong” “At least you are healthy” “At least…” Really. Not. Helpful. This again avoids the vulnerability, minimises the experience of the person and although I am all for gratitude (and practice it daily), it really pisses me off. Please just let me feel what I am feeling.

I know this sounds like: just don’t be positive, but it is not about positivity or negativity. I am actually a really positive person, contrary to what you may think after reading this blog. It is about being with people, feeling with people, being vulnerable and letting me feel all the range of human emotions that come with life’s struggles. I know this is hard, it is hard to let people just feel, and often it is hard to just let ourselves feel (this is something society has drilled into us, but that is a whole series of blogs on its own!)

But if you really do this with others, really let them feel, and feel with them you will give them what it is they want and need at this time…to connect, and isn’t this what we really look for as humans?

Mel H x

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To my 20-year-old self…

As often happens around birthday time, you reflect on getting another year older. This year I was thinking about how much I love being the age that I am. I often heard growing up that your 30’s are the best years of your life, and I have to say I agree. I have learnt a lot, experienced my share of things (maybe more than my share to be honest), but still have youth on my side to put this learning to a lot of use. I thought I would write 13 key points (one for each year) that if I could go back in time I would tell 20-year-old me…

  1. It goes on. You will experience times that are hard. Times that are really hard. And at the time it will feel as though your world is caving in, that things are useless. They are not. This will pass. Wake up each day and start again, and slowly but surely things do get better. What was once all consuming will eventually become a distant memory. So even during those tough times, remember to keep waking up, it gets better. It goes on.
  2. Keep moving. During those years of late nights, too many drinks and too much fast food exercise fell down the priority list. As you get older it gets harder to build muscle, and increase cardio fitness, so keep doing it throughout. You know you are a much happier, peaceful person when you are exercising so keep it as a priority. Because it really is keeping you as a priority.
  3. Do you. People will push and pull you throughout your twenties and early thirties, placing expectations on you, giving you advice and influencing your decisions in a range of ways. You will want to impress some, not want to hurt anyone and be worried at what others might say about your decisions, behaviour and actions. The thing is, people will leave your life, there will always be someone who disagrees, and you are not that important in another person’s world. No one lives with your choices, except you. This includes attending events out of obligation, even when they make you feel shitty. Don’t go. Who says you have to? This goes for everything that comes your way…Worry about yourself first. Do what makes you happy.
  4. The good and the bad. It is important you surround yourself with people that lift you, inspire you, make you think or challenge you, ultimately spend your time with people you want to be more like. Ensure you have friends who are there for you during the hard times, but also the good times. Some people struggle to be happy for you when things are going well, notice this. These people thrive on negativity and prefer to have you pushed down in order for them to feel good. Weed these people out. You have so many amazing people in your life, you just do not have time for people who aren’t positive, share your energy, contribute to your growth and just simply make you feel good. You know who needs to go.
  5. Don’t try and fix people. This is different to supporting, guiding and helping people. But you need to accept people for who they are, what they bring, the experiences they own, their insecurities and vulnerabilities. If you can’t accept them for who they are, this is on you to decide the position they hold in your life. This is also the same for not trying to fix all situations. Some things are just shitty and all people want and need is for you to be there and to understanding this. You will learn this through your own journey when people want to offer you positive words of “it will happen when the time is right” and telling you about the people they know who have had positive outcomes, this frustrates you beyond measure, because they can’t fix it, but they can be there. Apply this learning yourself.
  6. Feel. All your feelings are valid, they are not good or bad, they just are. Enjoy the happy times, excitement, sense of pride with achievements and light bulb moments. Simultaneously, you need to lean into the discomfort, reflect on the anger, understand the guilt, use the sadness and feelings of it not being fair…and learn from it all. Even when you are not feeling good, the fact is you are feeling. This is part of life.
  7. Say it. Often you will think you don’t want to offend anyone, or ‘rock the boat’ etc. by telling people how you feel. But do it. Tell people how you feel. If you love someone, tell them. If something is said or done that upsets you, explain why something hurt you. If you don’t communicate honestly, it is pretty unfair to get angry or upset with others for repeating the behaviour they have no idea is hurting you.
  8. Understand. You can’t always understand what people are going through, but you can always be understanding.
  9. Don’t compare. Do not waste your energy looking over your shoulder, this energy would be better invested into growing yourself. Our situations are all different so there is no point in comparing, and as you will learn, you never know what is really going on behind the external façade that people put up. Often those that present the picture of perfection are those who are struggling the most.
  10. We are different. Oh it is such an obvious three words, yet you will continue to be confused, shocked and mixed up by people’s words and behaviours because you project yourself onto them. How one person reacts to something is different to another, and unless someone explicitly tells you why they said or did something, all you have is an assumption. So don’t over think, don’t project, don’t make assumptions, and just ask. Appreciate the differences in people. Actually appreciate them, don’t make them be, or want them to be like you.
  11. Listen. The older you get the more you realise that listening is so much better than talking. You already know what it is you have to say, so listen to what others say, and learn from them. Give attention to others, their ideas, their stories and their truths. At the same time, listen to yourself, what is it you really want, what is your body telling you, what is your gut saying – give attention to all of this too.
  12. Dogs heal. The best thing you will do is get your dogs. At a time of heartache, they help ease the pain, make the rollercoaster a little more bearable and give you the sense of what it is you are missing.
  13. Live a pleasurable life. I was going to say “Have fun” or something similar, but then I realised that is not what I want you to do, it is too narrow. Getting pleasure out of life means to ignore the housework and lay in the sun with a book, cancel that early morning run because you are going to dance until the wee hours, soak in a hot bubble bath, laugh with your girlfriends, watch romantic movies and cry with your besties, drink too much wine, talk until the sun comes up, jump on a plane just to be with someone you love, and yes, very importantly make sure you physically get pleasure! Whatever it is for you at the time, make sure you are getting pleasure from life.

 

I really could list so many more things, but those are the 13 that really came through strongly when thinking about what I know now that would have been helpful 13 years ago.

What would be the one thing you would tell a younger you?

Mel H x

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Self-perception

Self-perception

My sister took a photo of me recently, while we were joking around. She looked at it first and said, “aww I love this photo of you”, she turned the camera to me, and my first reaction was “eww I don’t like it.” I am sure many of us had this exact situation many times. My sister then said, “You look so happy” which has stuck with me and led me to write this piece on perception.

Perception is to perceive. Perceive means ‘to use the senses to become aware of, know, or identify.’ By using our senses, it is subjective. It is not necessarily fact, and often in the case of perception towards ourselves it is not fact at all.

What my sister saw, or perceived, when she looked at the photo was completely different to what I did. It seems that when it comes to ourselves, no matter what we are presented with it is very common for us to be searching for the flaws or focusing on the negatives, while we skim over, or downplay the positives.

I come across this often with other people, particularly during coaching sessions. People will always list more weaknesses then strengths, will often turn a strength into a weakness or frame what could be a strength as a weakness (Bossy, rather than a leader, strong, assertive OR over-sensitive, rather than empathetic, caring, able to read people or situations).

Even after you tell people a strength, or focus on what you perceive to be a positive, how often does that person just take the compliment, thank you, or agree with what you have said? From my experience, sadly, this is rare. More often, a person will deflect the compliment (“well it’s because the environment made it so easy”) down play it (“it was just..”), brush it aside (“that is just part of being human”), or they simply disagree (“that isn’t really a strength”).

Why is it so hard to accept we are good at things, have strengths, are liked, looked up to? Even as a matter of probability, we are bound to have some good features and be strong in some areas. But more than that, we are all unique individuals with amazing abilities, talents, and strengths.  There is obviously a bigger piece here on self-confidence, which is what it boils down to, but I just wanted to focus on that perception element first.

Think about this when you look in the mirror, when someone gives you a compliment, when you achieve something, or when you fail a task. What are you telling yourself in these moments, what is your perception of these things, of yourself? And how is this perception holding you back, making you fearful, avoiding something, basically affecting your life?

It is time we address the perception we have of ourselves, and I am doing that right now by posting this photo with this blog. I am choosing to perceive it as a photo of happiness, which is a photo of beauty!

selfperception blog

Mel H x

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Are you tied to a twig?

‘The Elephant and the Twig’ is a story that came about from watching captured infant elephants, tied to a strong tree, one that is strong enough to withstand the baby’s attempts at pulling and trying to escape.  Over a period of time and repeated unsuccessful attempts at escape, the elephant loses hope and thinks that no matter what it does, it will never be able to escape.  The elephant holds on to this mindset so that even as a fully grown beast, it can be tied to a very small tree and it will not even try to escape, though it could easily do so.

 This might seem like a silly story and you may be wondering why the elephant doesn’t realise that it’s now bigger and stronger and could easily escape, rather than letting it’s past experiences prevent it from trying.  However, this is something we do too.  Our past experiences, negative thoughts and our mind as a whole, cloud our reality and form such strong beliefs that it can stop us from achieving our goals, or even attempting to achieve them. 

From birth, we begin taking in information from the world, organising this into schema, like files, in our brains.  As we have more experiences, information or data that reinforces a particular event is added to this ‘file’ and we form a belief.  The young elephant in the story continually reinforces the belief that once tied up, he can not escape. 

Beliefs form a framework of how someone would see and understand the world and once a belief is formed, one tends to take this as fact and will persevere with this, accepting information that supports the belief and rejecting any information that contradicts it.  The elephant grows bigger and is tied to comparably tiny trees, information that logically should tell the elephant that he can now escape.  However, it’s mind rejects the contradictory information it’s receiving and sticks with the belief that it can’t escape.  This highlights how strong our beliefs really are and they show how much they can affect our lives, while it also demonstrates the power of self-talk. 

No doubt you’ve had times where you didn’t even bother to give something a go because you ‘knew’ you were going to fail.  Or you sabotaged your progress in some way because you ‘knew’ that you weren’t going to get the results you wanted.  It was pointless, and you told yourself this.  This has all come from a belief that has been formed based on past experiences, including what others have said to you, as well as your own negative self-talk.  These self-beliefs can be so strong that you 100% believe it, no matter what the real truth may be.  The self-talk of not being good enough, not being able to do it, why bother etc. outweighs any logic that might show you that you can, in fact, achieve something.  Conversely, you may have watched in disbelief as someone you know, didn’t try for that promotion, or try to reach that goal, even though you know they are extremely competent, and then listened to them explain it away.  You might have sat there and thought “what the…how do they not see how amazing they are?”  I can assure you that others have thought the same of you. 

So, what do we do about this?  The first step is to identify the beliefs we have.  Notice what you say to yourself as you begin a task, what you hear internally when you get feedback (positive or negative), somebody asks you to do something, when you react strongly to a perspective or simply when you’re chatting with others.  Try to catch this and note it down.  This will highlight the frameworks that you have built.  Once you have identified the beliefs that you hold, you can start addressing the negative self-talk and start working on those beliefs that can be changed.  This is something we can all do, though most of us will require support to do it, whether it be through a counsellor or a coach.

Start catching these thoughts and don’t let yourself be the strong elephant, constrained by the tiny twig. 

Mel H x

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Stand for Something

I, like most, have had a few experiences of people in my life bringing negativity, drama and causing a lot of hurt and conflict. Because of this I do reflect often on the people I spend my time with, confide in and love. I thought that I would do a few scattered blogs on some of those inspiring people I am fortunate to have in my life. This is by no means going to cover all those that I am blessed with, but I want to share some of those people who, for a range of reasons, inspire me.

I met Jessica Rose in January of 2015, as we had both started new roles in a new team at Unitec. Although I have only known her a short period of time, it is a friendship of real substance and depth. She is one of those people I am drawn to and I always feel energised, motivated and inspired to take action after being around.

When thinking how to summarise Jess into a one liner, as a title for the blog, I could not go past “Stand for Something.” A few years ago, I heard an inspirational speaker talk about being kaitiaki, or guardians of this world, and the most important thing we can do in this role for future generations is to stand for something. Her key points around this were to find what sets our soul alight and fight for it; help in an area that needs our help; give back; and if we don’t stand for something, we will fall for everything. I think all of this applies to Jess, and her energy and focus in this space is what really inspires me.

She is knowledgeable in a lot of areas, but really focuses in on those close to her heart, and puts so much into them. Sustainability, animal rights and equity (in particular around gender and sexuality) are what she stands for. If we all had the passion, commitment, energy that Jess did for at just one cause, this world would be a MUCH better place.

What immediately stands out with this woman is her passion. Her energy and commitment for her causes is something that I find incredible! She volunteers A LOT of her time to organisations that align with her vision of creating a better place to live for all Aucklanders. Some of these are; Bike Auckland, Frocks on Bikes, Auckland Tweed Run, Bike Rave Auckland and Velociteers. She works fulltime as the Transport Planner for Unitec, and in 2016 was elected onto the Albert-Eden local board. Did I also mention that she is superwoman?

jess6

Jess immerses herself in areas to enhance her knowledge and really understand all that she can about issues. She is then willing, and eager, to share this information. I tell you I have learnt HEAPS from her in the last two and a half years. Because of this, she has been asked to do presentations, write pieces, and do radio interviews on cycling (as an alternative method of transport, for health, saving our green space, sustainability overall and females cycling) on top of everything, and of course she does it…and does it well!

She is selfless. If something needs to be done, money needs to be raised, timelines change or someone else does not fulfil their task, Jess will step up, roll her sleeves up and do what is needed. She is always focused on the bigger picture, the vision, and so will do what is needed, and put herself to the side to help achieve it.

I could talk about her loyalty, her intelligence, her ability to reflect, her open-mindedness, her work ethic, her authenticity and just what an amazing friend she has been to me, but I wanted to focus on one part of her that inspires me and that is the fact that she stands for something. She stands for it, puts everything into it…she walks her talk.

Mel H x

 

If you are interested in reading more, check out the following links:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessica-rose/

http://cityvision.org.nz/our-people/jessica-rose-albert-eden-local-board/

https://www.bikeauckland.org.nz/lady-bike-advocate-jessica-rose/

 

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No-one is born a great cook, one learns by doing…

During our wedding speeches, there were numerous comments about my lack of domesticity, particularly around cooking; did I know where the kitchen was, did I own certain kitchen utensils, would I give everyone food poisoning etc. At this point my husband did all the cooking, as I was teaching I just did not have the time to do it every day. This meant I really did not have a clue what I was doing, and for me, that meant I just avoided it rather than looking like I couldn’t do something. I would tell people I hated cooking, but the simple truth was; I didn’t even know!

After leaving teaching I was now at home first every day, and so it seemed fair that I was the one to now cook. This started with keeping safe and sticking to the basics (even learning some basics), but over time I have branched out and am learning all sorts of things: zucchinis are full of water and need the excess squeezed out, chicken bakes better with something on it, you can make chocolate mousse using avocado, and my potato salad really is the best.

Learning little tricks, new recipes, ways to sneak vegetables into my husband’s meals and the timing to put a meal together have all been documented in a recipe book my Nana made me last Christmas. I have to document these creations these days, as now I don’t even use recipes. I have learnt enough about flavours, cooking times and textures to put new things together – who would’ve thought!?

I found that when I was working 80 hours a week, cooking simply was a chore, and something that I viewed as taking up work time. Looking back at this, it makes me sad that my priorities were in this order. Now that I am working from home, have decreased my stress, exercise daily, and have reprioritised my life I have discovered not only do I have the time to cook, I have the head space to enjoy doing so.

This journey has also reminded me it is ok to try something and fail. Things can burn, taste wrong, be ill-timed, it is all part of the learning journey. This is how we learn! And lets be honest, how many amazing things in the kitchen were discovered with an “Oops..”

I would love to hear what new things/skills/hobbies people have taken up or learnt, or what your favourite recipes are!

Mel H x

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All I have to do is dream…

I saw the quote recently:

“Dream what you dare to dream. Go where you want to go. Be what you want to be”. – Earl Nightingale

After thinking about it for a while I had mixed emotions. I felt happy for the space I am now in, and the space I know a few others are also in. Having a dream, following it to the desired direction and ultimately feeling as though we are who we want to be. On the other hand, I thought about many people I know who are not in the direction they had hoped, are not happy in their career, are going through the motions…have lost touch of their dreams.

As we get older, it seems we stop dreaming. We have bills to pay, mouths to feed, we find ourselves juggling so many responsibilities. So, we move through life, pay check to pay check, doing what it is we ‘should’ be doing to meet the needs and demands of a life we think we want with things we think we ‘need’. This is what I see and hear with a lot of people, and I admit, this was me too at a point!

Fortunately for me, due to other circumstances, I had time to stop and reassess what it was I really wanted out of my life. I reflected on what exactly it is that lights my fire, discovered what my strengths are, what skills and knowledge I want to add or learn… and I dreamt! What did my dream life look like? What did I see myself doing there? Funnily enough, turns out that dream was not that far out of reach. I figured it was something I could turn into a reality. Setting myself some realistic goals, and working hard to achieve those goals, I believe that I can live that dream, and be the person I’ve aspired to become for some time… the person I want to be.

I have an interest in the things that stop us from dreaming those dreams and achieving our goals, and think for most people it falls into one or more of the following:

  • Money pressures us to take on roles based on financial gain until we end up so far from our dream that we can’t even remember where our passions lie, what drives us, and what truly makes us happy. When the carrot of more money is waved in front of us, it’s easy to follow it. And due to other circumstances in our life we find ourselves forced to make decisions based on our financial situations.
  • A lack of belief in one’s self. People often feel as though they’re not qualified enough for something (particularly women), wouldn’t be good at it anyway, or would fear failing somewhere along the way.
  • The fear of what other people will think or say. This may be linked to the fear of failure as well, as often the fear is not of failure itself but of how other’s perceive us.
  • The fear or unacceptance of change. It could be the fear of taking a step back from a career and going back in to study; or beginning study for the first time; a change in environment; working structure or style, family changes, etc.
  • Being good at something. This sounds strange, but often we are told, “you are so good at X”, that we convince ourselves it is the right thing for us. For the record, you will be good at heaps of things, but what exactly is it that makes you good at something? Can this be something you can adapt and transfer to something else that actually makes you happy and feel accomplished?
  • Not really knowing what our dream is. Feeling confused and overwhelmed with everything else in life, that we become unsure of what our dreams and aspirations really are.
  • Not knowing how to set goals. Not knowing where to start can be quite challenging and inhibiting, and can often throw you off setting your goals.
  • Going off track and in the opposite direction to what our true goals should be, hindering us to achieving a desired outcome.

What is your dream? Are you living it? If not, why? Contact me if you would like to explore this further, and would like some help in this space.

Mel H x