Category Archives: Ruth Armes Coaching

picture of a hole

The Rabbit-Hole of Future-Based Thinking

First things first – I have had some pretty big challenges to live through this year.

And like all the other difficult, painful and, let’s face it, frankly unwanted experiences of my life, they have been a reason for further development in myself. A deepening of understanding. An increase in trust. New insights and more uncovering of those old beliefs and embedded stories that kept me trapped in ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.

Don’t get me wrong – I’d rather not have had to walk on the coals – but there are benefits, and as I emerge back out of the tunnel I’ve been in for quite a while, I can see and feel them more clearly.

The benefit I decided to write about today is about some  new clarity around future-based thinking.

I knew I did it. I think I knew I did it a lot. But I didn’t know how much pain it caused me, or what a waste of energy it was.  I’m talking about all that endless talk in your head about…

  • what might happen when…?
  • what I’ll say to him/her….?
  • what if…?
  • what I’ll do/feel when…? what they’ll do/feel when…?
  • how can I prevent x happening?
  • how can I make y better?
  • How can I solve z?
  • What can I do about…?

It’s a rabbit hole that you can get really lost in. One imagined scenario leads to another and another. And in reality none of it has happened, is happening now, and may never happen. The mind has just made it all up.

And then I had my realisation!  Or more precisely realisations – plural.

  1. The human mind really wants to know what’s going to happen next. I mean REALLY. We are under the impression that if we can know, or at least plan for, what happens next we can be in control and safe.
  2. That is impossible – what happens next might be predictable, but often as not, it doesn’t work out that way.

Have you seen the movie ‘Sliding Doors’? I love that film. It explores how differently the path of our life can proceed because of one change. (In this case catching, or missing a particular tube train. In scenario one our protagonist just manages to jump aboard the train before the doors close. She arrives home to find her partner in bed with another woman. In scenario two the doors slide closed and she misses the train, arrives home later, and does not discover her partner’s infidelity. The rest of the film plays out the two trajectories based on that one moment.)

Now if one change can create a whole different trajectory, just think about how many sliding door moments we’re all experiencing every day unwittingly. And you begin to realise what a waste of time all that future-based thinking and planning is. You might create scenarios for 10 different possibilities, but what actually happens is the eleventh one that you didn’t think of in advance.

And all the energy you put into the thinking and planning, and all the pain and misery and anxiety you experienced as you imagined each difficult outcome, each hopeless, or frightening, or unhappy experience that might happen…… was all unnecessary……….because none of it happened.

  1. We humans are actually rather good at solving things as they arise.

Take Covid 19 as an example. If we’d been pre-warned about the April lock-down (working from home, no socialising, home-schooling, difficulties getting groceries, etc.) we’d have all put a great deal of anxious thinking in. How am I ever going to cope with…? What about…? I’ll never manage that…That’s going to be unbearable…. etc.

In reality we all just got on and coped. We found a way. In my case, if I’d have known how ill I was going to be with the virus I would have been pretty upset and frightened. As it was, I just got on with being very unwell and slowly recovering until I finally felt well again 3 months later.

Bad things do happen. And we live through them. We adapt. We learn. We incorporate the experience into ourselves. We emerge back into the light at some point. We are changed. We may have scars. We may have gifts. We may have more grey hairs or more wisdom. It’s okay.

Try spending the next week catching yourself engaging in future-based thinking.

Ask yourself how much use it is?

And then offer yourself a new way – just gently let yourself know that you can’t possibly know what’s going to happen, so you may as well just stop now!

It’s been an enormous relief to me. I don’t need to work it all out.

I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to tell me your experience, or if you’d like some support with this, or anything else which is a challenge in your life.

Dustpan and brush

Self-Care Part 3

In Part 1 we explored the underlying belief needed that you are worthy of, or deserve to receive, self-care.

Then in Part 2 we looked at how to spot that our resources are running out and need replenishing, and the tricky question of how to do that; in particular, what we would like to add in to our lives.

  • I wonder how you’ve been getting on with that?
  • Have you used any of the ideas from the table?
  • Have you kept a journal?

Today we’re going to be taking a look at what might need removing.

Take Away

Self-care also involves quite a lot of taking away. There will be things to let go of, and beliefs to drop.

A lot of our behaviours and beliefs are old – inherited from our families or created by our experiences, many of which happened a long time ago, and which we are far better resourced to deal with now than we were back then.

If you’ve been keeping a journal of self-care you may already be noticing a pattern of things that make life feel good, and things that don’t.

What might it be like to start eliminating some of the things that don’t make life feel good.

They might be objects, people, circumstances, behaviours or beliefs.

Here are some ideas:

  • De-clutter your environment – this helps you to feel clearer and more positive, as well as more able to tackle things.
  • Start saying no to things you don’t want to agree to, things that over-extend you, or fill you with dread, things that drain your energy, or simply bore you. When you begin to prune out in this way, your diary becomes clearer, your life slows down, you feel more peaceful and productive.
  • Spend some time off-line. There is lots of emerging evidence of the negative effects on mood, self-esteem and focus when you spend a lot of time on social media. Experiment with having screen-free time scheduled in.
  • Stop spending time with people who drain your energy, undermine, disempower or upset you.
  • Take a good look at the way you use food and/or drink in place of healthy self-care. If you are ‘rewarding’ yourself with chocolate or alcohol, try replacing this with what you are really needing.
  • Give up trying to control what you can’t. And hand-in-hand with this, give up the belief that you are responsible for anything other than yourself and your actions.

Give up believing you have to go it alone, and can’t ask for help.

SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change

COURAGE to change the things I can, and

WISDOM to know the difference.

Try saying this simple affirmation to yourself.

Some of these aspects of self-care are difficult to implement alone, and are probably embedded in past experiences and painful emotions. If you find yourself coming up against challenges that feel too big for you I would recommend working with a professional who can walk beside you as you make the journey.

hand holding apple

Self-Care Part 2

You may have already heard the often-used metaphor of the oxygen mask in the aeroplane. We are instructed to put on our own before we help anyone else, including children in our care. This is for the obvious reason that if we pass out, we are no longer of any use to anyone.

In our daily lives, if we keep on giving too much and receiving too little, this ‘passing out’ can look like many things: exhaustion, chronic ill health, migraines, back pain, on-going anxiety, feeling low, depressed or overwhelmed, over-eating, using coping or avoidance mechanisms such as alcohol or any form of addiction. Essentially, it’s a strong signal that your resources are running out, and that you need to replenish them by being as good to yourself as you would be to others.

If you’re struggling to believe you deserve to be good to yourself, bear in mind that the more internal resources you have, the more you have to give to others.

Last time I talked about the first step in avoiding ‘passing out’: Believing you have an equal right to the give/receive, work/play balance, and that you deserve self-care. I’m guessing if you’re reading this you already know how to do the first part of each equation, i.e. give and work! So the question is how, and what, to receive and play at?

What do I deserve?

The mind is a tricksy place. I was chatting to a friend yesterday about the times when she pours herself a glass of wine, telling herself she deserves it at the end of a long day at work. But there is an attached guilt, so that drinking it is not even that enjoyable!

We explored a bit, around what she deserves, and she came to the conclusion that what she really deserves is whatever it is that will make her feel good, cared for or nurtured.

A lot of clients, when they first come to work with me, are very good at identifying what they don’t like about their lives, and what they would like to change. But they are much less certain about what they would like instead. Even daring to imagine how we would like our lives to look (and by extension – what we deserve) is hard, and is one of the central reasons that we struggle to create something better for ourselves.

What if we dared to try giving ourselves the kind of care and love that we know how to give others?

In order to maintain our own well-being there will be things that we need to add in to our lives, and there will be things we need to take away, or reduce. This week we’re looking at things to meet our different needs.

Here are some ideas:

Physical needs

  • Ask yourself ‘ what would your body like?’
  • Go to bed early
  • Take some exercise or dance
  • Give yourself good nutrition
  • Have treatment such as osteopathy or massage
  • Have a rest, nap or bath

Emotional needs

  • Ask yourself ‘What do you need?’
  • Talk to somebody
  • Spend time with a friend
  • Write about your feelings
  • Do something you know you’ll enjoy or will make you laugh
  • Ask for or accept help

Mental needs

Ask yourself ‘How can I help you?’
Make a plan of action
Read/watch/listen to something informative or inspiring
Write down everything you need to do
Start something you’ve been putting off
Notice what you’re grateful for

Spiritual needs

  • Ask yourself ‘what would uplift you, or bring you solace?’
  • Walk in nature
  • Sit quietly, meditate or pray
  • Have time alone
  • Try experiencing silence
  • Make or do something creative
  • Take time away or go on retreat

A great way to keep track of how you’re doing is to keep a self-care journal

At the end of each day just make a simple note of the things you did which added to your life that day. And also jot down anything that happened that took away from the pleasure of life. You will learn a lot by watching the patterns that emerge from this simple exercise.

For more on this read the lovely ‘Sleeping with Bread’ by Dennis, Sheila and Mattew Linn. You can find it here on Amazon

Next time we’ll be looking at what we might need to eliminate in order to take care of ourselves.

self care spelt in scrabble tiles

Self-Care Part 1

I have been thinking a lot about self-care lately.

It’s quite a buzz-word, but what does it really mean, both in terms of practical implementation in daily life, but also in an inner sense of what you believe and feel about yourself?

Many of us are very good at looking after others, and may expend a great deal of love, energy and time in doing so, caring for children, partners, parents, other family members and friends, as well as working in caring professions such as teaching, healthcare and so on.

But when it comes to truly taking care of ourselves there seems to be a belief in many of us that we are being selfish or self-indulgent.

It’s a puzzling conundrum – the belief that ‘other people are important but I am not’.

I wonder why we might feel that it is more important for our guests to have a good time on Christmas day, than for us to enjoy ourselves?

Or why if the babysitter has let us down our partner’s night out is more important than ours?

Or why we might push ourselves to exhaustion rather than say we can’t give any more, but need to rest and receive?

When looked at this way, we must ask the question ‘what do I believe about my self-worth?’ Or put another way, ‘what do I feel I deserve?’

These are questions that are worth exploring more deeply.

  • Where did I get my beliefs from?
  • Who role modelled this for me?
  • Who do I feel I need permission from, and why?
  • What am I getting (unconsciously) from my giving/caring behaviour?

Often when I ask people about their self-care they will talk about making time for ‘having a long bath’ or ‘going out with friends’ or ‘sitting and reading a book’. Whilst these actions may meet our needs for relaxation and pleasure, they may not be going deep enough.

It is possible to engage in these acts of ‘self-care’ whilst still feeling guilty, that we don’t deserve it, or that we should be doing something else.

So I’m wondering, what do you believe you deserve, and who should be providing it?

I believe that for our lives to be in flow we need a balance of give and receive, work and play, and….(here’s the bit you might struggle with) we all have an equal right to have this need met.

In other words your right to this balance (work/play, give/receive) is as important as your partner’s, and your boss’s, and your child’s, and your parent’s and everyone else’s.

That, I have figured out, seems to be the essence of real self-care. To embody a belief in this equal right.

It is very illuminating to spend time pondering these thorny questions: ‘what do I believe I deserve? How equal do I feel, compared to the needs of others?

But that is only the beginning. Next time we’ll be starting to look at how to begin putting this new belief into practice.

the word 'no' in printers wooden blocks

What Are You Resisting?

I’ve been thinking about resistance quite a bit this week.

Try this little experiment with me:
Think about something in your life that’s painful. It might be physical, a thought or an emotion.
Now make a fist… keep it clenched.
Now notice what’s happened to your breathing.

Chances are you’re holding your breath and there’s probably some other tension. When we feel discomfort of any kind, we brace ourselves, we contract around it. We resist.

Make that fist again. Now breath into it. Notice what happens when you let the out-breath flow through the fist. It probably wants to soften and open.

I have experienced a lot of chronic illness and pain in my life. And I put a lot of energy into trying to understand why, and into trying to deal with anything that might be causing it, and therefore to make it go away. (By the way, I’m talking about physical pain here because that’s how it shows up for me, but maybe you experience more emotional or mental pain in the form of anxiety or depression for example. The same principles apply.)

What I didn’t give much consideration to is quite how much resistance I had to my physical condition, and how much discomfort this caused me. The primary pain, the physical one, gives rise to so much more suffering (mental and emotional).

Let me explain it this way. Imagine you have a bad back, (or panic attacks, or OCD, or…) . You hate how this makes you feel. You are angry that you’re suffering. You’re frustrated at all the things you can’t do because of it. You’re jealous of other people who are not challenged this way. You are afraid that you’re always going to be this way and never get better. You’re worried about who you’re letting down.

On and on goes the mental chatter. Thoughts such as “My life is ruined by pain” or “ I’ll never be well again” are very threatening to a brain concerned with survival. They result in changes to your biology – your muscles are tensing and your adrenals are putting out stress hormones which fatigue you further and increase your perception of the pain.

This is all ‘secondary’ pain. In fact, I realised, it is this secondary pain which is probably the real problem. There’s a saying “What we resist persists”. And there’s a reason for this. When neural circuits are repeatedly used, the nervous system actually starts to re-wire itself, so that it becomes more efficient at sending the danger messages to the brain. The result of this is that the pain experience becomes even stronger.

If, on the other hand, you engage in mindful meditation, stop resisting, allow your body to give itself to gravity, and use your breath to soften around the pain and your mental chatter, what happens is that the pain lessens and everything feels more possible.

It’s more possible to bear the present, more possible to remember that this will pass, more possible to appreciate those aspects of your life that are not this pain, and more possible to create positive images of the future. And yes, there is still some pain, but you begin to notice that it is a fluid experience. It changes, ebbs and flows.

It’s natural to want to fight pain, to want it to go away, even to hate it. But, unfortunately, resistance just makes things worse.

The good news is there are lots of ways to decrease resistance and reverse the over-sensitised nervous system, including letting go of the struggle, softening towards yourself and your experience, engaging actively in self-care, practicing mindfulness and breath-based meditation, and engaging in activities which support you and your recovery and growth.

Next Time: More on Self-Care

Colourful roses

Focus on Pleasure

We are, as a species it seems, predisposed to focus on the negative, and on what we perceive as stressful.

I suppose from an evolutionary perspective this makes sense. It’s pretty important that we pay sharp attention to whatever does us harm, and then strive to avoid such situations in the future. So staying alert to danger, and acting accordingly when it arises is a life-saving behaviour.

I like to think of this as my ‘meerkat’ – up on its hind legs, beady eyes peeled, ears open, constantly swivelling its head to scan for signs of danger.

Unfortunately my reptilian brain hasn’t really clocked on to the fact that actually I’m pretty safe in my cosy home with a fridge full of food, and no wild animals planning to eat me. It still seems to be on the look-out.

And I’m not alone. Estimates are that we have up to 70,000 thoughts a day. And the extraordinary thing is, we’ve probably had 95% of them before (nothing’s new huh?) and here’s the rub, 70%+ of them are negative.

I have spent a long time studying the challenging subject of human happiness, and how to get more of it. It seems we need to train ourselves to think, feel and act differently. That’s what coaching is all about really. Working out why we think, feel and act the way we do now, identifying what we want, and then figuring out how to get there. Here’s one of the simplest ways I’ve learned about.

Focus on the pleasure. And on what’s going right

It seems in our rush to stay safe, we forget to notice all the good stuff. And even when life is really tough, there is still good stuff. Stop right now, and begin to make a list. Pleasant things your senses can identify. Things you are grateful for. Things you’re looking forward to. Nice things that happened recently. Happy memories.

You can zoom your focus right in: the fluffy dressing gown I’m wearing right now and the nice warm feeling I have in my belly from the bowl of porridge I just ate (Yes, I am writing this in my pjs after breakfast!). And you can zoom your focus right out to the beauty of this planet we live on; and now I’m recalling the glorious sunsets I saw over the South China seas a few years back.

This week have a go at focusing on pleasure

  • Make a conscious effort to keep noticing all the things that please your senses, make you laugh, feel warm inside
  • Conjure up memories of past pleasures. Get out the old photo albums
  • Cook something delicious and savour it
  • Plan something to look forward to

Make a decision to do something that you know will be enjoyable, such as walking in the woods, having coffee in a café or listen to a favourite album.

It’s not as easy as it sounds to keep this focus. We are creatures of habit and we keep back-sliding into those negative thoughts, so what could you do to remind yourself? I like to put a pebble in my pocket, or a ribbon round my wrist. Then every time I see it, or touch it, I remind myself of my commitment to myself to focus on the pleasure today.