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How to successfully manage your extreme behaviours

I realised recently how much I work on ‘extremes’ with people, managing their extreme behaviours in multiple areas of their lives, a real ‘all or nothing’. One of the areas of extreme behaviours they struggle with is eating. This looks like them either trying to eat a totally clean, organic, healthy diet or finding themselves in a loop of fast food, ready meals and snacks. This can then ramp up to fluctuating between eating practically nothing or binge eating.

Another extreme is exercising, where they really go for it, fitting in as many sessions as possible, or they do the opposite, doing nothing, maybe just thinking about exercising, then watching Netflix instead. Alcohol is another extreme they struggle with, either drinking way more in the week than they were planning to, or going for abstinence. Smoking and any form of drug use also falls into this subject, either doing loads or trying to abstain totally.

There will be all sorts of places in our lives that we can see the same kinds of patterns. If we name the clean abstinence and highly motivated phase as ‘Phase 1’ and the other end of the spectrum as ‘Phase 2’, we can look at how they play out.

The problem with extreme behaviours, is that we end up swinging between the two phases, sometimes slowly but sometimes rapidly. It’s then easy to feel defeated, unmotivated and negative, as we don’t feel like we’re making any progress, or if we do make any progress, we can’t maintain it.

If we are in Phase 1 and we’re really keeping on track with our plan, but then something comes along to interrupt it, it can throw us off course completely. Sometimes one little slip or diversion can send us back into Phase 2. Internally, this might sound like, ‘well I messed up yesterday so I might as well just start again next week’. The more often this happens, the more time we tend to spend in Phase 2. We plan to get out of it but will find various reasons to delay the big shift it takes to move all the way over to Phase 1 again. During this time we’ll be very negative about ourselves. We might be making plausible excuses to tell ourselves and others why it’s too difficult, but we end up just berating ourselves.

So how can we make a change?

Deep down we know that this process isn’t really working, that we’re just going in constant cycles, yet we keep doing it anyway. Most of us have heard things like ‘diets don’t work’, ‘it’s about making changes in our lifestyle’ but it can be really hard to do things differently.

I can relate all these things to regulation issues. Our nervous system doesn’t operate well when we’re in extremes, we work best when we are balanced and in control. Sometimes we know when we need to be more activated and energetic, and then when we need to be more relaxed, we need to recharge our batteries and settle. It’s the same way we go about meeting our needs and managing ourselves. If we know we have a tendency to live in extremes, then we have to be prepared to start building some middle ground, a place where we stop bouncing from Phase 1 to Phase 2, and back again.

To really start to do things differently, we have to be realistic about the things we really want to abstain completely from, the things we honestly know we can’t have moderation with. This is different for each of us, but it requires being honest with ourselves, and it usually includes evidence from our past experiences. We might want to be occasional smokers or drinkers, but if we know that one slip sends us into the extreme again, then we maybe have to accept that we can’t be occasional with it.

We also have to look at what we think or feel about the idea of a middle ground. Could it be that we consider it dull or boring, or not enough? Do we think of it as too easy? That things that are worth having, have to be hard-earned? Do we believe that unless it’s extreme, it might not work? Are we too impatient to build a middle ground? Do we just want fast results?

We have gotten used to a very immediate way of life, we rarely have to wait for anything anymore and can feel quite outraged if we are expected to wait for anything. To create change, we have to know what we really think about building that middle ground, as our thoughts will creep in at any opportunity, urging us to do more or less, telling us it’s a waste of time or not working. We then have to decide what our middle ground will look like, how much flexibility we can have in it, and what signs would be there that tells us that we’re slipping into either Phase 1 or Phase 2. We also have to consider what support we might need to help us build our middle ground, and to maintain it until it feels like the normal. It will be a struggle at some points, but we need to expect that. Regulation takes work, whether it’s keeping us in a settled functional state, or making big changes in our lifestyle. Therefore, we need to know what’s going on in order to help and what isn’t. If we are trying to do less of something, then we need to know what we are going to fill the gap with. We might need to have a bit of structure planned in. If we are forcing ourselves to do something, then we have to accept that it won’t last. Relying on others doing things with us is also precarious, in case they drop out.

The more balance we can get into our lives, the more regulated all round we are going to feel. If we are constantly stressing about not doing something, or doing too much of anything, it’s going to be really hard for your nervous system to keep in balance. A holistic approach is always the most successful and actually, the easiest! Making little tweaks in several different areas can make an overall big difference over time, but we need to be patient and keep an eye on our extreme tendencies. This way we can successfully manage our extreme behaviours.

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How we can celebrate our small wins to achieve big goals

When it comes to achieving goals, sometimes it can seem as if we just aren’t making any progress or it feels like a really slow, long slog. There could be a number of factors that contribute towards this. For one, society throws us very conflicting messages. We are expected from an early age to do well, to try to win and get the best results, but we are also not supposed to be too joyous about our achievements. It’s very frowned upon to say that we’re good at something or to talk about our achievements, as we are then accused of bragging or being big-headed. We’re praised for being humble or by down-playing our accomplishments, especially in the UK, it’s a very British thing. If we then do achieve something, we are usually asked what’s the next thing we’re doing, so the pressure to move on and keep doing better becomes the norm.

There are several downsides to this, firstly, if we don’t win but we’ve had a great personal best, it’s usually dismissed and we end up feeling very devalued. Secondly, if we need some encouragement or validation from others in order for anything to have value, then we’ve stepped into precarious territory, as we might not get it. If we get no recognition, then it’s easy to feel invisible or of low worth.

How can we start to make a change?

When we are trying to make changes in any area of our lives, then we have to look at it as a process. Hardly anything just changes overnight, most things take work and will progress in stages. If we can’t put any value on the first stages, then we also can’t build on those stages. Often these first steps are the most important, they are the foundation stones of what is yet to come. When everything seems overwhelming and it feels like a struggle, but we still manage to get one thing in the day done, even if we don’t finish it, it can be hard to put that in the positive pile. It’s more likely to get devalued by things we say to ourselves like, ‘it’s nothing’, ‘other people managed twenty things, I only did this’, ‘I’m never going to get anywhere if that’s all I can do’. This mindset makes it hard to try working on the same task the next day, as it seems of little or of no value. If however, we could do that one small task every day and we celebrate it, then at the end of the week say we can say, ‘I did that four times this week, maybe I can do it five times next week!’ We can then make progress. If we hold any progress as a positive, then it’s got a chance to develop or become the norm of what we can do. We can build on it. If we keep dismantling the first foundation steps, we won’t be able to build anything. We have to learn to celebrate small wins.

For example, if we were to train for a 10k run, we would never expect to do the whole thing in the first day. We will however, be pleased that we ran to the end of the road. We know it’s a process but we often don’t apply the same principles to other things.

It’s much easier for us to look at what we can’t do and end up feeling less-than. In the last two years, we have had much less at our disposal to make us feel good and uplift us. It becomes very hard to value the little things when we have lost so many of the big things. However, this gives us a great opportunity to start from a foundation level. We can find things that we value and make a point of praising them, giving them the value they deserve. Whether that’s the plants you have grown, the lunch you have prepared, or just that you got showered today. No matter what it is, practice giving it value, celebrate all your small wins. If the inner-gremlins show up to minimise or devalue what you’re doing, then remind yourself of the good qualities, make it important. It’s surprising how differently we can feel about the small things. It’s similar to the idea of having gratitude, it makes us look at things in a positive way rather than a negative way.

We also have to be able to do this for ourselves, as it’s unlikely to come from others. If we are dependant on validation externally, then it can be taken away just as readily as it’s been given. When we hold it ourselves, then no-one can take it away from us because our value is solid, we know why we value the little things. If we can start to do this for the small things, then it naturally becomes easier to value the big things without the fear of ridicule, or fear of being made to feel vulnerable because of what others might say. Celebrating our small wins enables us to achieve our big goals.

All of this is a process and it takes work, but it’s a journey that is well worth doing. It’s something we can all do without much at our disposal.

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How to stop negative thoughts

Since I began my own experiment with working on my own judgments and negative thoughts, it’s opened up all kinds of things for me. My first task was to really check out in my daily life, how judgmental I was towards others and to myself. My next task was to then observe a judgmental thought came up when it came up, and question what it was about, what I was basing it on and where it had come from. It was such a revealing and freeing experiment as I realised the judgments and negativity I had about certain things were very limiting and not conducive to curiosity at all. I realised a dismissive judgment about something would shut the door on that subject and not let me wonder about it, so I payed special attention to those things.

Just talking about my journey with judgmental and negative thoughts again feels quite vulnerable and exposing, it’s good to acknowledge that. If I wonder about that, then I see that I am assuming a judgment from others that as a psychotherapist I should be judgment free, therefore I shouldn’t be exposing this side of myself. That’s also shutting another door and would mean me pretending that I’m not like every other human on the planet, so instead I’m putting this out there to widen my own curiosity and others.

How our judgements have impacted us

The vastness of what we don’t know is mind-blowing. Everything from the brain, to the body, to the cosmos, the universe, quantum physics, spirituality and so much more. My sense of the world right now is that it is becoming more polarised, and for a lot of things we’re being asked to pick a side, one being right and one being wrong, then we are defending those positions. If, as a species, we could learn to be less set in our beliefs and judgments and be more open to hearing others beliefs. We could allow ourselves to learn things that could be so eye opening, that in turn there would be less disagreements.

If we hold any negative judgments about the way we look, it’s because we have believed other peoples views or opinions about the way we should look, we’ve held onto that and chased that ideal. This makes acceptance very difficult and if we hold those judgements about ourselves, then most likely we’ll hold them about other people too. The same goes for intelligence, the type of job we do, our relationship status and where we live, etc. Just being able to catch a negative thought or judgment about something or someone can really begin to change those set beliefs.

If we are having a conversation with someone and we hear something we strongly disagree with, then we stop listening to what’s being said and just wait for the opportunity to say our bit. We all do it and we have all had it done to us. We can begin to change the way we do things by starting to observe ourselves and be more mindful about what we do or say next.

How addressing our negative thoughts can make a real change

My curiosity and observation of myself has allowed me to look at all kinds of things in more detail, from astrology, astronomy, religion, biology and energy, etc. It’s also made me much more friendly and sociable, as I now want to chat to people more and be curious about them. I’ve learnt loads about my surrounding area and things that are going on, just from speaking to people as I go for a walk along the river during the day.

As a being, we are made up of a small amount of matter. Each cell in our body is mostly a liquid jelly substance, water and energy are mostly what we are made up of. It makes so much sense to then start to pay attention to our energy and positive vibrations. If we are being judgmental, we are then being negative and that emits a flat, dull energy. When we are open, curious and enthusiastic, it means we are vibrating at a much higher frequency. This is not only felt by us, but by everyone around us.

We need to learn to be more open, there is so much we don’t know. The universe is made up of so much dark matter, which we know so little about right now, we are still learning. The connection to ourselves, leads to better connections with others and the whole world around us. We should be prepared to be amazed, not stay in the trenches of what we think we know, and stay in our cycles of negative thoughts. Raising our consciousness means we can be open to learning and having new experiences. I’m aware this is a very big journey, but I’m up for starting it and I’m excited about what comes next.

To read about the beginning of my journey with judgemental and negative thoughts, click here. If you’d like to start your own journey of exploring your judgemental thoughts, to learn how to begin observing, we created a resource to help you. Our Body Work Course, will take you through step-by-step, so you can begin to learn so much more about you and your body, you can find the course here.

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Different ways to change our energy levels

We all have days where we feel depleted, where we can’t be bothered to do anything or we’re a bit fed up. For some of us that feeling can go deeper and we can get really down, wanting to shut ourselves away, cancel plans and want to just hibernate. The longer we are in this state, the harder it can be to get out of it. Our head will join in often with negative thoughts to match why we are feeling low, looking for reasons, things or people to blame. We might get very critical of ourselves for not being productive and list all the things we should be doing. All of these things make us feel worse. Some of us will force ourselves to do things and hope it helps. Sometimes it really does help and we feel more energised and awake, other times it can feel like wading through sludge.

External factors play a huge role in how we feel, we get affected by things happening around us all the time. Think about when we wake up in the morning and look out of the window, if it’s cold, dull and rainy we usually sigh and won’t feel like getting up. If it’s bright and sunny, we feel much more inclined to get up and get out into the sunshine, or even just enjoy looking at it through the window. Our mood and energy levels are very affected by the environment around us.

We can’t change the weather or the world around us, but we can have a say in how it affects us. There are so many things we can try, we are all different so it’s important to find the things that work for us. The way we can tell what works is by taking note of the signs that our mood is low and our energy is flat.

Some signs you can use as a measure

  • Notice what your posture is like, is it slumped?
  • When you move your shoulders are they heavy?
  • How are you breathing?
  • If you think about walking outside, what response do you get?
  • What are you doing right now, how have you been behaving today?

Just get some things to act as a guide or measure so you can really tell if there is an improvement.

Now we can try a few things to change our energy levels:

You can sit or stand for this one. 

  1. Starting at you toes, with both hands begin to make circular movements in one direction, moving up your legs at what ever speed feels right, making circles all the way up to the top of your leg. Then do the same with the other one. If you’re uncomfortable touching your legs, then hover above them, making the same circular motion.
  2. Next, do the same circles with your hands but this time do it on your arms, begin at your hands and just travel up in spiralling circles all the way up to your shoulder. Make sure you do each side. Now just take a measure of how you feel.
  3. Next we’re going to reverse it, going back down to your legs, this time starting at the top and repeating the circular spirals all the way down to your toes. Do the same on the other leg.
  4. Then you’re going to reverse the arms by starting at your shoulders, making circular movements with your hands all the way down to your hand.
  5. Now just take a moment to notice if you prefer the upwards motion, or the downwards motion. If you have a preference, repeat that one.
  6. Next we can do something with our core energy. Sitting or standing, begin by imagining an invisible line from your belly button up to the top of your head. Using your awareness, follow the line starting at your belly button, follow it up to the top of your head and then move it out of your head. Speed this up and do this a few times.
  7. Now you’re going to reverse it. Imagine the line coming in from the top of your head and travelling down to your belly button, do this a few times.
  8. Notice what you feel, do you prefer going up or going down? Whichever one you prefer, go back to your starting point and this time instead of going straight, let your awareness make little spirals as it moves either up or down. Do it a couple of times and see if you prefer going straight or adding the swirls in.
  9. You can also trace these movements with your hands, allowing the hand to trace the line your awareness was following to see if there is a difference.
  10. We can move this out a little and do the same again, by imagining a line where your waist is, a few feet in front of you. Let your eyes and awareness follow this line from waist-height up and above your head. Do this a few times, speeding it up. Now reverse it and start at the top, trace it downwards, do this a few times.
  11. What is the difference, which one do you prefer?
  12. Now we can move it about a bit, going in the preferred direction instead of imagining a straight line in front of you. Let it go either up or down, making spirals as it moves. What works best?

If you notice that the upward-motion works best for you, then you are probably at the bottom of your window of tolerance and need to raise your energy or activation in your body. If the downward-motion is the best, then you may be near the top of your window and need to come down or ground a bit.

We can sweep our energy up or down with not much effort. We’re not the same every day, so try each one to see which one works best each time.

What’s important, is to actually have things that you can do to help you counteract the impact of what’s going on around you. The more you can work with your body to make changes, the less you have to be fearful of what’s going to happen next. The brilliant thing about body work is your body will tell you what works and what doesn’t, you don’t need to work it out, just try things. This will really help you listen to your body.

If you liked doing these, you can purchase our first body work course, where you will find so many different techniques to try so you can really get to know yourself and build a good relationship with your body.

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How to build a better relationship with your body

Most of us have a lot more critical things to say about our body than positive things. The more critical we are, the less we want to pay attention to it, we would much rather ignore it. We are bombarded by images of perfect bodies, we are surrounded by information about nutrition and exercise. We measure ourselves against other people and usually find ourselves lacking. We will have received a lot of criticisms throughout our lives, maybe even insults. All of this makes it hard to have a good relationship with our body.

However, it’s in our body that everything to do with action or feeling takes place. We feel emotions through our body; that flush of warmth when we feel a deep connection, we talk about things warming our heart or things that makes our blood run cold. Our body is how we experience feelings and life events, and we need it to work as well as we can. Our memories are largely based around things that affected us emotionally. We remember how we felt at the time and the events associated with it. The more we can feel what our body is telling us and how it’s reacting, the easier it is to ground, regulate, feel safe and connected.

We can find out so much by listening to what our body is doing right now, in this moment.

  • If you take your awareness to your breathing, how are you actually breathing right now? Try not to be judgmental, just be curious.
  • Follow a few breaths in and out, how slow or fast is it?
  • How deep or shallow is your breathing?
  • Where can you feel the movement as you breathe?
  • Do you notice any criticism coming up? Any negative thoughts like, you should be breathing deeper? Try to put any negative thoughts to one side. Your breathe is working, it does this all day and never stops, without your help.

You can also try thinking about something that you really like:

  • Picture it, remember all the things you like about it.
  • Now follow a few breaths as you picture it, has your breathing changed?
  • Has it deepened or expanded? If it has, would you be willing to give your breathing this nice image once a day so it can breathe deeper?
  • If not, why not? Ask yourself what’s stopping you? It could give you a clue about your relationship to yourself and your body.

If you don’t want to give your body something that resonates as a good experience, then you may have beliefs about not deserving good things. You may believe that anything good has to be earned the hard way. Whatever your response is, it may reveal a lot about your relationship with your body and therefore yourself.

Building a relationship with our body is about finding ways to connect and feel into it, getting used to noticing and paying attention to it. The more we can listen, the easier it becomes to look after it and know what it needs. The better connection we have with our body, the easier it becomes to improve our relationship to it.

Our senses can be a good gateway of waking up the connection in a mindful way. By mindful, we mean something being felt purely as a sensation rather that what we think or believe about the sensation. When we use our senses it’s easier to be curious. If we take temperature, and use hot and cold, we can close our eyes and feel the sensations of hot and cold through our hands or feet. We can feel how these two sensations gets relayed through our body to our brain. You can then ask yourself how you know if you prefer one to the other. What is it about these sensations that is comfortable or not so comfortable? We can do the same with smell. Being curious what it is about certain smells that we like or don’t like. We can notice how our body responds and reacts to different smells. Our relationship to these things can help us explore the whole concept of a relationship, why some things are pleasurable and some are not, all of which is experienced through our body.

If we can learn to read and trust what our bodies are telling us, then it can really help us know what’s good for us and how we really feel about certain decisions we are making. It’s such a different and clearer process than just trying to work things out in our head. Often we make a decision but have no idea how we will feel when we act on the decision. If we could visualise the enactment, then we will have a much better idea of how we’re going to feel once we’ve done it.

So many phrases are based on body experiences, that’s no coincidence. ‘It sent shivers down my spine’, ‘it made me sick to my stomach’, ‘I should have listened to my gut’. If we really want to listen to our gut, we have to be able to listen to what our gut is telling us. The better relationship we have with our body, the more likely we are to trust it, and not just let our head override what we are feeling.

This doesn’t dumb us down or take anything away from our clever brains, it’s the exact opposite. It’s a bit like, instead of having a two dimensional take on things, now you have three or more dimensions. Who wouldn’t want that?

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Exploring our own judgemental thoughts

By Catriona Morten

I remember when I was doing my social worker training and being told we had to be non-judgemental. We all agreed and then all agreed that none of us were judgemental anyway, we were all going to be really good social workers. I couldn’t help noticing however, that I found several people in my group to be very judgemental, they just didn’t seem to be aware of it. We weren’t actually taught what that really meant or how to work on it, just that it was a bad thing.

As I began working I realised that I myself had judgements and it was ridiculous to pretend that I didn’t. I tried to be as aware of them as I could, especially when making decisions. In my later therapeutic trainings I learnt way more about my judgements, where they had come from and how much they actually affected me. I realised the only way of really working on this was by being truly honest about them, pretending was not going to be helpful if I wanted to learn and develop. It proved essential and invaluable for my clinical work, enabling me to take myself out of the equation and be fully empathic and really able to listen.

As with any kind of growth, change, development or healing, whichever journey you are on, it’s not a linear process. It has many layers which reveal themselves the more work we do on ourselves. When it comes to being judgemental, whether they are judgements about ourselves or others, they can be very limiting. They can be so ingrained in us they can be hard to spot let alone challenge.

This year has been really tough and completely mad in a lot of ways. Everything has changed, we could never have imagined any of this. I realised my motivation was slipping a bit and I was feeling a little jaded and more negative than I wanted to be. I did grounding work and energy work and tried to be kinder to myself, but it wasn’t really working so I thought I would try an experiment. I decided that I would try and catch myself every time I had a negative thought about myself or about other people. I would be curious about it, ask myself why I thought that and try and reframe it into something more positive, less judgemental and kinder.

I became really surprised at how many times I would tell myself off for forgetting things, not doing things or how often I called myself a muppet. I had to keep checking in with myself in the beginning so I could really observe what I was saying to myself. As I did it that, it became easier and I noticed them more and more each time, wondering why I had said or thought that and what would be kinder.

What really surprised me was how many times when I was just going about my daily life, going to the shop, going out for a walk, driving my car, I was having negative or judgemental thoughts about people. Usually just little things, like why would no-one let me out of a junction, how rude and selfish that was because I’d been waiting ages (especially in London)! Another would be, wondering why a person walking in a field was wearing a mask, what did they think they would catch? I caught each judgemental thought, reflected on it and asked myself why this thing bothered me so much. Then I reframed it into something different like, maybe they were all in a rush, they probably didn’t even see me. Maybe the mask-wearing field walker felt much safer with the mask on.

I actually enjoyed my experiment! As in the true nature of setting an experiment, I had no expectations, set no goals, but just allowed myself to be curious about it. What I didn’t expect was what a difference it made to how I felt. How much my mood improved, how my outlook on life and my motivation was different. Because I was observing myself more and being really curious, it really helped me be more present and engaged with everything I was doing. I looked at things with genuine joy, noticing how fab spring is, and I wanted to be out in the world more. I realised, (obvious with hindsight) that the less I judged myself and others, the less I feared their judgement. The more we judge, the more we assume others do the same and judge us, it’s very limiting. It’s so much more freeing the other way round.

When I thought about writing this, my first thought was that maybe I shouldn’t put this out, therapists are supposed to have all of these things totally sorted, what would people think of me? I then caught that and realised that was just my self-judgement and the projection that others will do the same. I told myself it was more important to embrace being a normal human and all that goes with that, we can’t have growth without honesty.

What started as an experiment has now become something I love. I want to keep growing and developing in this positive direction. I accept that things will make me mad and expletives will be necessary sometimes, like when it snows in the middle of April, that’s just a step too far, but this is a journey I’m now really excited to take. I encourage you to now try the same, try it and see what happens!