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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 put yourself first: Meeting your own needs

Meeting our own needs is something that we all struggle with. For some people it’s just mystifying, for others it gets messy when they are in a relationship. It can be really difficult to put ourselves first. The first question we need to ask ourselves is, how were our needs met when we were growing up?

Our needs are the fundamental things in life, the way we were fed, the comfort, the support we were given and how we were treated when we were frightened or upset. It’s also how we were encouraged, or allowed to make choices for ourselves. For instance, if we were always told what to do, what to eat, denied an opinion, had our choices ignored or worse, we were belittled, then we become very used to others making the decisions and providing for us. We might even start to become fearful about making a choice or expressing a need because of the reaction we might get from someone. These patterns then become ingrained in us, they become second nature and we don’t realise how we’re operating. It means that we start to rely on others to either make these decisions or choices for us, or we learn to read others and second guess what they might want. The problem with that is, is that other people can be very unreliable and we end up feeling frustrated about not having a say, without really knowing why. Sometimes we might actually know what it is we want, but instead we give clues to other people hoping that they will pick them up. If they don’t, it then becomes frustrating and it reinforces the idea that we are invisible or we don’t matter, suddenly we don’t know how to put ourselves first.

It can be really infuriating when we are actually presented with a choice, but we have no idea what to say or do. We really beat ourselves up about it. It can also make things quite limiting, if we can’t make a choice and always defer it to others, then we can’t protest if we don’t like the outcome. When we can start to recognise this and notice what our patterns of behaviour are, then it becomes easier to spot them and it gives us an opportunity to work on them. Some people find that they are quite good at meeting their own needs when they’re on their own, but this then gets disrupted when other people get involved.

So how can you put yourself first and start meeting your own needs?

Our needs cover so many different areas of our lives, so it’s easier to break them down into smaller chunks to explore. Emotional needs can feel a bit daunting as a starting point, they can also be more complicated and affected by a lot of different things. If we start with a need that’s easier to pin down and quantify, this can be a good place to begin working on them.

If it’s not too much of a triggering subject, then you could start by looking at food and your relationship to feeding yourself:

  • Firstly, you can look at how you can tell when you’re hungry. Are you eating at set times, because that’s what you’ve always done, or are you eating when your body is actually telling you it should eat?
  • Do you eat differently when you are alone? If so, how differently and is it the way you like it?
  • Do you cook more and make more effort for others, more than you do for yourself?
  • Are you making what others would like?
  • Are you eating the amount that is right for you, and at a time that suits you, or are these things regulated by others? In other words, are you putting others needs before your own? If so, then you are minimising your own needs.

We can take a moment to just be curious about that

  • Consider what it would look like if you put your needs first. What reaction do you have to that prospect?
  • How much sleep do you need?
  • What time would you like to go to bed and what time would you like to get up?

What’s getting in the way?

If the reality of what you actually do is long way off from what you would like, then it’s worth wondering about what’s getting in the way.

  • When it gets to the time at night you have identified, what stops you going to bed?
  • If it’s cold, do you put the heating on exactly when you need to, or do you wait until it’s freezing? Would you put the heating on earlier if someone else was there?

If we really struggle to identify our own needs, knowing what is right for us and why, then putting boundaries in place is going to be really difficult. If other peoples needs take priority, then we will have our boundaries dismantled really easily. It’s very easy to get lost and end up feeling controlled, or even just insignificant, which does nothing for our self worth or self esteem.

It’s really beneficial to consider what our needs are and what our relationship to ourselves is like, it allows growth in so many different areas. We often do things in a certain way just because that’s how it’s always been, when we take some time to consider different options and choices, it can open up all kinds of possibilities.

Some people express a worry that this will be seen or lead to selfishness, it won’t. It’s not self-obsessed or self-indulgent, it’s about getting the right balance and getting a say in what is right for us. It’s about taking responsibility for ourselves and not needing to be so reliant on others. It’s never selfish to discover more about ourselves and grow in confidence, it just makes our lives and the lives of people around us easier.

Our body work course that recently went live is packed full of different ways you can learn to recognise your own needs and build a strong, connected relationship to your body. It’s the best way to learn how to put yourself first and meet your own needs. We designed it to make it accessible and easy for everyone to use and do, and we wanted to create something affordable for everyone. To check it out, click the button below.