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Can’t stop…too busy!

Being busy all the time is part of the way we live. But, whether gardening, reading or spacing out on the sofa, taking time to rest is just as important

I’m not very good at resting. More generally, if someone asks me how things are going, my stock answer is, “Fine, busy, too busy really.” But while this claim feels true of my life, how much is it also a claim to status? If you say you are busy, then it implies you’re important, you’re in demand. As the time-use researcher Jonathan Gershuny puts it, busyness has become “a badge of honour”.

In contrast to the 19th century, when the upper classes were happy to flaunt their idleness, in the 21st century it is work and not leisure that gives us social status. Think of celebrities constantly taking on new projects and posting everything they do on Instagram.

I’m surely not alone in yearning for a state where I’ve done everything I need to do, where all the items on my to-do list are neatly ticked off, and at last I can relax, with nothing hanging over me. Jobs done. Worries over. The problem is that I not only fail to reach this blessed state, but I constantly say “yes” to new projects and additional demands.

 We yearn for rest, but feel anxious that we’re being lazy

At the heart of our attitude to rest is this ambivalence: we yearn for rest, but then feel anxious that we’re being lazy. We feel we’re not making the most of our lives and really should be doing something. And these days, for most of us, “doing something” is defined very narrowly. It means, being busy. And not just some of the time, but all of the time.

Yet as far back as Socrates we have been warned of the barrenness of a busy life. If we’re busy all the time, life lacks essential rhythm. We miss out on the contrasts between doing and not doing. Of course, the art of rest does not lie in replacing constant busyness with total inactivity. If you are unemployed or have depression, enforced rest is far from relaxing.

The state we want to reach is where we’re active and engaged a lot of the time, but we have proper breaks away from it all. Rest without guilt, rest without stress.

I wondered whether other people found it hard to rest, too, and decided to find out not just what a few people thought, but what, as it turned out, 18,000 people from 135 countries thought. In 2016, a group of psychologists from Durham University designed a survey called the Rest Test, which was launched on the All in the Mind on BBC Radio 4 and Health Check on the BBC World Service.

They discovered that the sense of experiencing a rest deficit is widely shared. Two-thirds of the people who chose to fill in the survey said they would like more rest. When asked what rest meant to them, they often used words such as restorative, sublime or precious, but they also used words like guilty and irritating.

If a lack of rest is a shared problem, is there a common solution? Can we learn from each other how to rest more and rest better?

Sometimes it’s only by exerting your body that you can rest your mind

To make one thing clear, the rest I’m referring to is not sleep. I’m talking about any time while you are awake that feels restful. This could mean lying on the sofa staring into space, but it could mean something more active. The most popular restful activity in our survey was reading. Other people chose activities that might not be seen by some as restful at all. In the Rest Test survey, 38% of the respondents said they found walking restful, another 8% listed running. Sometimes it’s only by exerting your body that you can rest your mind. People who do more exercise believe they get more rest, and in fact they do – they reported more hours of rest in the past 24 hours than people who exercised less. The point is that a restful activity doesn’t have to involve lazing around; it can involve intense exercise, but crucially it must help to relax, refresh and restore you.

It was clear that I had to find things that were restful to me personally. I am more of an active than an inactive rester. I’ve never been one for holidays that involve more than one day lying on the beach or lazing by the pool. I soon get fidgety and want to do some sightseeing.

At home, my choice is walking. It does, of course, require some effort  and a little exertion but, I find being outside instantly restful. Within moments of putting on my trainers, stepping outside and feeling the sun (or more often than not, rain!) on my face, I feel better. By the time I’ve hit the corner of my street, I am relaxed and happy.

 I’ve reframed my resting time outs as a way of protecting my mental health

So now I prescribe myself at least 15 minutes of walking every day. In the past I would have felt guilty about being away from my planning, but now I’ve reframed the time out as a way of protecting my mental health and enhancing my wellbeing. Although I have slightly less time to work, I return to my task feeling calmer and I end up being more productive.

In fact, I probably should make myself take longer breaks, though it’s hard to prescribe the exact amount of rest each of us should have. In the Rest Test, wellbeing levels were highest in those who had rested for between five and six hours the previous day, with levels dipping again if people rested for more than that time. To me, five hours of rest seems like a lot.

Yet it might depend on how I am defining different activities. I spend quite a lot of time driving between classes. Now I try to view this time not as wasted, but as an opportunity to rest. Similarly, when I get into the long queue at the supermarket, I know reframe that as an opportunity to take a 10-minute break during which no one can demand anything of me and I’m free to let my mind wander. If all this time is counted, along with my obvious resting periods, such as reading, or listening to podcasts, (a personal favourtie!) then I’m getting closer to the optimal time.

I’m still busy, of course, and probably always will be, but I’ve learned to take rest more seriously, to view it not as a thing to do when everything else is done, but as an essential part of life.



Is it beginning to feel a bit like Stress-mas?!

The festive period is meant to be a time for getting together, enjoying each other’s company, exchanging presents and having a good time.  Unfortunately, this time of year can also be the most stressful for all manner of reasons. So, I would like to introduce you to my daily mantra “10 Commandments to Reduce Stress”. Repeat daily or, as often as required!!

  1. Thou shalt not be perfect or even try
  2. Thou shalt not try to be all things to all people
  3. Thou shalt leave undone things that ought to be done
  4. Thou shalt not spread thyself too thin
  5. Thou shalt learn to say “NO”
  6. Thou shalt make time for thyself
  7. Thou shalt learn to switch off and do nothing regularly
  8. Thou shalt be boring, untidy and unattractive at times
  9. Thou shalt not feel guilty
  10. Thou shalt not be thine own enemy

If you feel like:

  • there aren’t enough hours in the day
  • you can’t think of what day it is
  • you haven’t done anything that YOU want to do for ages
  • you can’t see too far into the future

…then these commandments are for you.


It’s time to move it, move it!!

As the nights draw in and the days get shorter, we may feel that our get up and go has got up and gone! We may feel a bit depleted energetically and find it harder to get ourselves motivated. Hands up if you admit to hunkering down on the sofa with a boxset instead of heading out to our regular class?! (Guilty as charged!!)

Moving our body throughout the day, regularly getting out of breath and incorporating some strength and resistance training into our week are all fantastic ways to maintain health and prevent future disease. However, increasing this to multiple hours of strenuous exercise on a regular basis does not necessarily magnify these benefits. More is not always better.

Here are some ideas and tips that may help you to find your ‘happy medium’ of exercise intensity and frequency. Whilst I don’t purport to have all the answers (who does?! I am not a fitness professional and am still on my own fitness journey), these are some of the things that help me keep myself on the right track:

  • Have at least one complete rest day every week, but also give yourself the permission to take a longer break if you feel you need too.
  • Try not to be too rigid with your training programme, and work on both emotional and mental flexibility with your plan. Remember the importance of the whole tripod of exercise, diet and rest. You need all three to be equally balanced.
  • Become aware of the messages your body uses to let you know if you are pushing yourself a little too much. Listen to them and adapt what you are doing accordingly. What works best for you will be constantly changing and evolving over time.
  • If you are suffering with stress or anxiety and feel overwhelmed by exercise instead of relieved, some periods of hyper-relaxation can be really helpful. Try guided meditations, breathing exercises, yoga, or other mindfulness-based activities. Even having a long, hot bath or just sitting in nature for 10 minutes can be so beneficial.
  • Make time for energy-boosting situations; spend time with friends and family, watch a comedy, go to the cinema. Remember that being healthy certainly isn’t all about training and nutrition plans.
  • Think outside of the box. Movement doesn’t have to mean formal exercise – walking the dogs, doing chores around the house, even going shopping (!), gardening, walking a few stops instead of sitting on the bus or tube can all contribute.
  • If you sit at a desk all day, consider switching from a normal desk chair to more active sitting (there are all sorts of options available online), or a standing desk. Things like moving your bin away from arms reach, always making your coffee on another floor and moving your printer to the opposite side of the room will prompt you to stand up more frequently throughout the day – small movements which really add up over the course of a year.
  • Give yourself enough time to adequately recuperate after illness or injury – your body needs rest to heal and build muscle.
  • Sleep is essential – the amount required varies from person to person, but in general, you need to get enough sleep to feel generally alert and wakeful for the duration of the day
  • Mix up your training to avoid over-stressing particular muscles and joints, but also to stop it getting boring or too repetitive
  • Be aware that other life stressors can add to the stress of physical training. Don’t be afraid to ease off training a bit during those periods. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is just to have a week or two off.
  • Eat to fuel your body properly – and that doesn’t just mean getting enough calories, carbohydrates or protein, but also making sure that you are getting all the essential micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids) too.

And remember, the clocks go forward on March 29th next year! Only another 158 days to go!!

Yoga; the fountain of youth?!

Yoga poses like the downward dog, inversions, and eagle arms are a struggle for many of us but not for the yoga teacher who’s 101-years-old.

Tao Porchon-Lynch is the world’s oldest yoga instructor and shows no sign of slowing down as she embraces her second century with the same can-do attitude that has shaped her life.

She says the secret to longevity is to live every day full of the “joy of life”… and she has no plans to stop teaching yoga!! What an inspiration.

Yoga has many benefits for all of us, no matter what our age and stage but, what I love about it is that it’s accessible to us, even as we grow older. When I was asked to teach a module on a yoga teaching course, themed Yoga through the aging process, I started to research this in more depth. And, I was astonished by what I found. So, if like me, you’re planning on continuing your yoga journey well into your golden years, here’s some inspiration to keep you going.

1.Yoga Increases Anti-Aging Hormones in the Brain

In yoga, we have a wide range of asanas, or postures. to choose from. One of the most important postures, in my opinion, is mediation.

recent study from the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine revealed that, “Regular deep meditation dramatically affects production of three important hormones related to increased longevity, stress, and enhanced well-being: cortisol, DHEA, and melatonin.”
DHEA is known as the “anti-aging hormone.” As we get older our body produces less of it, but when we practice yoga and meditation, we become our own fountain of youth! We naturally provide our bodies with this hormone as well as buffering our bodies from cortisol, the stress hormone.

Melatonin is the hormone that helps us get quality sleep. Increased melatonin due to meditation leads to increased well-being during the day and tranquil sleep at night!

2. Yoga Helps Us Cultivate a More Flexible, Limber Body

One of the more obvious benefits of yoga is a more flexible and limber body. As we get older, our bodies can stiffen, which begins a negative domino effect where we inevitably suffer the consequences of aches, pains, injury, fatigue, and more.

According to research, “At least half of the age-related changes to muscles, bones and joints are caused by disuse.”

If we begin this negative domino effect caused by disuse, we could worsen our posture and send undesired weight into our joints. But we can avoid all of this with a consistent yoga practice. Our practice allows the body to move, stretch, and lengthen out the spine, which results in a younger, more flexible and limber body.

Yoga, the union of mind and body, has many obvious benefits. Today, let’s talk about one of the more subtle, but extremely desirable, benefits of a consistent yoga practice. Yep! We’re talking about how yoga can help prevent, and even reverse, aging.

In life we can often feel as though time is slipping away from us, that there aren’t enough hours in the day, or that we’re constantly trying to “catch up.”

However, when we practice yoga, we reinforce principles and practices that can help us reverse the clock not only physically, but mentally as well.

 Muscle mass is lost naturally during the aging process. But with a consistent yoga practice, we can also achieve anti-aging benefits by encouraging the body to retain this muscle mass.

A well-named study, NAMASTE (Novel Approaches to Maintaining Muscle Mass and Strength), conducted a study using two groups of people.

The first group hadn’t exercised in at least a year, and the other group was comprised of yogis that practiced at least twice a week for over a year. The study revealed that, “The yogis had lower rates of protein synthesis and breakdown, which translates into more efficient muscle mass maintenance.”

4. Light Mind

As yogis, we learn to combine mindfulness and awareness in our everyday lives. As we travel through life, stress naturally pops up and, sometimes, we need a certain amount of stress to propel us forward into action. Other times, stress can become negative and unhealthy, leaving our body on the receiving end of that negativity.

As one WebMD article on Health notes, “Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. Distress can lead to physical problems including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain and trouble sleeping.”

All of these distress symptoms could lead to serious health problems that could be potentially fatal if not treated. We use yoga to treat our distress symptoms by learning how to relax amidst challenge. This anti-aging practice allows our minds to return to being light and free, something that can now be achieved at any age.

5. Yoga Heals Your Past

 One of my favorite benefits of yoga is how it can heal the past. A lot of times, past problems and what we view as failures can rob us of the present moment as well as future opportunities.

I heard someone recently say that, “Your past lessons are not your life sentences.” When we unify our mind and body through yoga, we know this to be true. Yoga reverses the aging clock by healing the past. We acknowledge it’s over with, and how it has helped us get to the present moment while allowing us to see the truth in the Now.

As Eckhart Tolle quotes, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” Through yoga and meditation, we realize this to be true as we bring youth and vitality to our lives.


Let it go!


It’s something we’re all familiar with. There’s been an argument, an accident, or something else happen that – whilst unpleasant – is over and in the past. Everyone is okay and you should have moved on, yet all you seem able to do is replay it in your head, worrying and fretting about what you could have done differently.

“The process of dwelling on past events that can’t be changed is called rumination,” says psychologist Niels Eék. “Some people are more likely to experience this than others, especially if they have an anxiety-prone personality.”

When people ruminate, they overthink or obsess about situations or life events. Examples include repeating in your mind negative experiences in the past, replaying conversations, dwelling on injuries or injustices or asking seemingly unanswerable questions such as “why me?” The key in all instances of rumination is that the person in question gets ‘stuck’ on a single subject, experience or emotion.

Rumination can be twofold. If you find that looking back over the past and assessing various situations can give you answers and closure, then the effect can be positive. However, if you find that you’re repeatedly going over and over the same situation without getting anywhere, both your private and public life may be affected and your mental health could suffer. Niels says:

“Rumination can have a number of negative effects on your mental health, is associated with anxiety disorders and depression and can even act as a cause for these conditions. Researchers at Yale University have been studying this phenomenon and found that women are more likely to ruminate than men, which also explains why women have a higher risk of depression. Additionally, the research also found that rumination prevents people from acknowledging and dealing with their emotions, as they try to understand the situation instead of the feelings that the situation has caused.”

  1. Ask yourself: Is it worth it?

If you find that your mind is fixated on a certain situation, decide if the dwelling is actually worth your time.

“Ask yourself if looking over a certain situation will help you accept it, learn from it and find closure. If the answer is no, you should make a conscious effort to shelve the issue and move on from it.”

  1. Set aside time

The thing with niggling worries is that they often remain at the back of our minds, always there but never given our full attention. By dedicating time to whatever it is that’s bothering you, it’ll be easier to face the problem once and for all.

“Whenever you start dwelling, write the thought down on a piece of paper and dedicate a time in the day to think about it, ideally a few hours later. This will give you some distance from the dwelling, which will likely mean that it won’t bother you as much in a few hours, as well as allowing you to focus on other, more important things throughout the day.”

  1. Worst case scenario

If you are constantly dwelling on something that happened, imagine the worst case scenario and how you would deal with it.

“It may sound like a terrible idea, but actually, having a viable solution ready will leave you feeling calmer and less anxious, as well as pleasantly surprise you if things turn out better than expected, which is often the case.”

  1. Find the cause

It’s possible that there is a pattern in your worries, and this means you can help identify potential causes and use practice preventative measures.

“For many of us, rumination will occur after a trigger, so it is important to identify what it is. For example, if you have to give a presentation at work and the last one you did didn’t go to plan, this can cause rumination and anxiety. Once you identify this trigger, make sure to set aside some time to assess your previous mistakes and make sure that you don’t repeat them again, which will then remove the stimulus of rumination.”

  1. Focus on the positives

More often than not, when we find ourselves dwelling, it is usually on negative thoughts, so a great solution for this is to focus on something positive in order to offset these worries.

“Every day, write down 2-3 things that make you happy and think of the list whenever you feel yourself starting to dwell. Sharing these with friends and family can also help reinforcement and prevent you from focusing on the negatives.”

  1. Communicate

A problem shared is a problem halved, which is why it’s important to get things off your chest when you feel they are weighing you down.

“A great way to stop yourself dwelling is to talk to a friend or loved one. Whenever we ruminate, we tend to lose perspective, only seeing certain aspects of the situation. Talking to a friend will not only make you feel better, but it can also provide a different viewpoint, thus actually resolving the problem.”

  1. Distractions

Taking on a task that requires your full attention can provide some much-needed relief from repetitive thoughts. Before you know it, you’ll have gone a whole day without ruminating once.

“Doing a chore you’ve been putting off, going for a walk or even listening to some music can help. Focusing on something else for as little as ten minutes can shift your focus and ease anxiety caused by dwelling.”

  1. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing on one’s awareness of the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. Anyone can do it, and it can be invaluable as a therapeutic technique.

“One of the main problems with rumination is that we don’t even realise that we are doing it, letting the negative and obsessive thoughts take over our attention. This is where mindfulness can be very useful – taking as little as three minutes to focus on your breathing and actually focus on what is bothering you, thus bringing you closer to a solution.”

  1. Learn to let go

It’s easier said than done, but learning to let go is one of the most important steps to take if you want to stop dwelling.

“Accept that everyone makes mistakes and that they are in the past, and only take away what you learnt from the situation. While difficult at first, the more you practice compassion and understanding, the easier this process will become.”


September surrender.

Long, warm summer days are behind us and the crisp scent of autumn is in the air. I love this time of year but, while a new season brings new beginnings, September can also spark high levels of anxiety for some.

According to Bupa, September can be an unsettling month and often bring new worries. Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, Medical Director at Bupa Health Clinics, says: “It’s not uncommon for us to suspend our usual routine and habits during the summer months, which can make it harder to adjust back to normality.”

“Much like how we used to feel as children when September saw us going back to school, this period brings a sense of trepidation and naturally we may feel a bit unsettled,” he adds.

“While September isn’t officially the start of Autumn, it does feel like a change of season, which can also play a part in our mood and mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.”


Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that comes and goes according to the weather. Often in autumn and winter, many people suffer from “winter depression” caused by a lack of light.

“The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but the main theory is that a lack of sunlight might affect a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the production of serotonin, the hormone that affects our mood, appetite and sleep. The lack of sunlight and lower serotonin levels can lead to feelings of depression,” Dr Arun says.

If you’re feeling on edge, Bupa has this advice…


1.Know what you’re dealing with
One of the most common causes of anxiety is feeling overwhelmed, often without a reason behind it. Talking to a medical professional, or even to a close friend, can help you to understand why you are feeling this way. Even just a 10-minute conversation can give you clarity and the tools you need to tackle your anxiety.

2.Keeping busy
Staying busy is a great distraction and can help to keep your symptoms at bay. If you find yourself feeling down or anxious, why not arrange to meet up with a friend for coffee or head outside together for a refreshing walk? Fresh air and a chat are bound to lift your spirits.

3.Getting some vitamin D
It’s no surprise that soaking up some sunshine boosts your mood, so why not head outside on your lunch break or sit in the garden one afternoon? Spending time in the sun, preferably surrounded by nature, can help to relieve feelings of anxiety, as well as boosting your energy.

This can be an excellent tool to manage the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Carving some time out of your busy day to reflect, relax and meditate has been proven to have a positive impact on your mental health. If you’re not sure where to start, there are plenty of apps like Calm or Headspace available to point you in the right direction. Or, even better, come to a yoga class to help you to calm the mind through breath work and slow, mindful movement!

5.Know when to get help
With many of us battling anxiety on a daily basis, it can be hard to know when to seek medical advice. If you notice your symptoms persisting and not getting any better, then ensure you head to your local GP. Your health and wellbeing is incredibly important, so it’s imperative to speak to someone who can help you further.



Not too hot, not too cold…autumn is just right!

September is a time of transition in nature when we transition into autumn. The warm and humid conditions of summer give way to cooler, more changeable autumn winds. The once lush green of leaves hint at yellow hues and there’s a distinct change in the energy around us. A slower pace awaits us in the coming months. This is when the plants pause their growth, animals retreat into hibernation, and it once again becomes acceptable to add cinnamon to practically everything! Before autumn arrives however, there’s a period of stillness and a sense of nature preparing itself for what’s to come.

A Moment To Pause

The fraction of time between late summer and early autumn may not be recognised in modern western seasonal perspective. However, ancient wellbeing schools of thought like Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Tibb or Sufi Medicine understand that this time of transition into autumn is a special season all of its own. This time is known by the Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners as ‘Dojo and as ‘Ritu Sandhi’ (the ‘junction’ of two ‘seasons’) by Ayurvedic practitioners. During these times, the world around us is neither too yin or too yang. As we move out of the fiery pitta energy of Summer towards the colder, drier air energy of vata in Autumn, nature is poised for change.

Preparing For Change

Within this roughly two week period of pausing, the advice is to release any excess Summer energy. It’s time to clear metaphorical and physical space for the season ahead. Summer’s Ayurvedic quality is pitta, made up of fire and water, creating acidity and irritability. If you’re currently experiencing inflammation, skin issues, digestive problems or emotional instability, this is the time to focus on self care and protocols to address these aspects. Observe your current diet; have you picked up unhealthy eating habits from summer holidays? Are you consuming a lot of hot, acidic or sugary foods? Are you pushing yourself too hard physically or mentally, or is there a relationship issue you haven’t dealt with yet?

Yin Season

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, we’re moving out of the ‘yang’ phase of Summer and towards a more ‘yin’ time of year. The element at play here is earth. Earth is linked to the stomach and spleen meridian lines, which need nourishing at this time and can be focused on with yoga postures that open the inner thighs, hips, stomach, throat and sides of the body.

The most important practice at this time is a connection to nature and a commitment to being present in everyday life. Notice what your body is naturally drawn to eating and doing. Opt for seasonal foods and time spent outside in the morning light. Spend time with those who balance and comfort you, consume meals in a mindful and quiet manner, and observe how the changes in nature are mirrored by the natural changes within ourselves on every level.

Good bye January resolutions, hello September solutions!

In her book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin writes: “Any beginning is a time of special power for habit creation, and at certain times we experience a clean slate, in which circumstances change in a way that makes a fresh start possible…” For me, September has this special power.

According to the calendar, September is just another month in the year. But according to our emotions, this time of year often feels particularly weighty.

With summer at an end, many people experience a pang of nostalgia for the good weather and days off (and sometimes regret that they didn’t make the most of them!) For parents and students, the back to school period is often a potent cocktail of relief, excitement, and anxiety.

But even if your summer was uneventful and you’re long past your student days, September often still feels important. After at least 13 years of experiencing the ninth month of the year as a new beginning, most of us have a hard time shaking the sensation that September offers a sort of reset button on life.

The scientific case for starting afresh in September.

‘Science of Us’ blogger Melissa Dahl has written an interesting post on the odd power of September, and there’s a good scientific reason why this should be so. Thanks to the academic calendar, she writes, September is what’s known as a “temporal marker,” a life transition when one era feels like it ends and another begins.

Even if a temporal marker is based on something flimsy like your recollection of your time as a student, it’s still a potentially powerful springboard for change, Dahl explains. Research shows that we tend to view these life shifts as a fresh start, a time when we have the freedom to become a new, better version of ourselves.

“People don’t just use these landmarks to organise the memories of their lives; we use them to organize memories of ourselves, too,” she says. “It’s a way of distancing your current, much more on-top-of-things self from past versions of you, who were maybe not so on-top-of-things.” In short, temporal landmarks, including the ghost of the beginning of school years past, are a perfect time to unveil a whole new you (even if just to yourself).

So if you’re thinking of starting a new routine, beginning a big project, or committing to learning something fresh and September feels like a natural time to get cracking, don’t think you’d do better if you waited until January. This month really does have its own weird power to help people begin afresh.

A word of caution.

One final word of caution, however: While the “fresh start effect” of temporal landmarks is scientifically validated and potentially useful, like that summer suntan, it does fade fast.

So while you can rely on that new-school-year feeling to get you started on your new project, don’t expect it to have enough force to push you through to its conclusion. Hopefully by then, you’ll be feeling the effects of your fresh start and that will be enough to keep you motivated!


The best is yet to come!

“I can’t do it.” “I don’t know.” “I’m not good at it.” “I don’t get it.”

From an early age, we are taught that our sense of self is inherently tied to a finite amount of innate talent, be it academic, athletic or otherwise. We are praised for exam results instead of effort, percentages over perseverance, with approval a currency only grades can buy. What this means is that, too often, we disqualify ourselves from a race before ever even signing up, having internalised a narrative that tells us there are things we can do, and things we can’t. That there are limits to our abilities that are as inflexible as our eye colour. These limits, we learn, are the hallmarks of our identity; the looming obelisks that serve as our qualifiers, and, more often, excuses.

“I’m not good at languages” is a hasty defence against a world of learning because, at some point, a struggle to conquer the slippery subjunctive or that rage-inducing rolling ‘rrr’became, not a signpost en route to achievement, but rather a warning sign of a chromosomal cul-de-sac ending in flushed humiliation.

“I’m not sporty” – born out of an inability to do a push-up or run 5km – cordons off a universe of athletic potential, shutting down any interest we might have had in pushing past the trauma of a PE class to find the right exercise for us.

“I don’t understand maths” is a learned identifier from one test, one experience or one inept teacher, precluding us from the many strata of a subject that underpins our lives in all manner of permutations and undulations.

What I’m describing is the insidious phenomenon of a ‘fixed mindset.’ Enmeshed, ensconced, mashed into our identities since childhood, a fixed mindset is the perpetuated belief that our intelligence, capabilities or talents are limited to preordained amounts. This manifests in a myriad of ways – from avoiding challenges to giving up easily – and is consolidated in an internalised fear of failure or, worse again, being seen to fail at something. With intelligence and aptitude intrinsically linked to our identity – ‘languages just come easily to her’, ‘he’s a science whiz’ – failure to grasp something quickly or easily is construed as a characteristic, instead of a challenge.

Except, what if failure is a perception instead of a fact? What if it is subjective instead of objective? What if we could change not only how we approach challenges but also our ability to overcome them? Failure, meet the power of yet.

Yet. This tiny, seemingly innocuous three letter word pulverises the limits of a fixed mindset, turning ability into something fluid and malleable, instead of a predetermined boundary never to be crossed. It is the emblem of a growth mindset – a way of thinking popularised by Carol Dweck – that believes aptitude and intelligence are things to be developed. Transformative, empowering, motivational, yet welcomes challenge and destigmatises failure, embracing them as natural and essential parts of the learning process rather than a negative reflection of our ability. The singular power this holds to transform our lives is profound.

I’d like you to return to the beginning of this article and reread those phrases that are ingrained in our consciousness, vocabulary, and self-perception – “I can’t”; “I’m not good at.” Finish those sentences in your own words; customise them with the things you berate yourself over, pine for, dream of.

Feeling tied up in your own inadequacies by now? Pressurised and belittled and hyper aware of everything seemingly beyond your capabilities? Yeah, me too.

Stop. Breathe. Now, add ‘yet’ to the end of each sentence you’ve tattooed into that space of fixed understanding.

“I didn’t get that promotion…yet.”

“I’m not good at public speaking…yet.”

“I don’t understand it…yet.”

Different, isn’t it? This simple addition is the key to a world of possibility, opening doors we have shut for ourselves in learned misappropriation. An indulgent drama queen and over-achiever, I love nothing more than lamenting the things I cannot do, chastising myself over the aspirations never realised, without ever making any effort to undertake practical measures to achieve them. “I can’t run a marathon”, I find myself bemoaning more often than is necessary. However, adding the magnanimous power of yet transforms that marathon from an intangible dream dangling tantalisingly on the periphery of my vision to a finish line brought firmly into the realm of the possible.

This is because ‘yet’ necessitates a roadmap – it creates a clear destination that demands a strategy and a studied course of action. It provides direction, removes emotion and ends this problematic confusion of identity with ability. Suddenly, being unable to run a marathon is not a damning illustration of my restricted abilities but a pragmatic inevitability contextualised by logic. Of course I can’t run a marathon now because I haven’t put in the adequate time, energy or planning into training for one.

It is important to remember, if you’re a better human than I and have trained, that ‘yet’ doesn’t always mean try harder (or, in my case, just try). Sometimes, it is simply an acknowledgement of the fact that there are obstacles in our way, that we are fed up and, while we can’t overcome them today, we will begin again tomorrow. Essentially, and if you’ll forgive the hardly coincidental analogy, the power ‘yet’ holds is the potent realisation that the hurtle towards any goal is indeed a marathon, and not a sprint.

The adoption of this mindset in relation to how we view and treat both ourselves and others is far-reaching. Women notoriously underestimate their abilities, and have been shown to react to professional rejection more adversely than men. When we look at the ratio of male to female representation in positions of power – given their capabilities have been proven to be on par (women usually even outdo their male counterparts) – I can’t help but wonder if these learned insecurities could be somewhat alleviated by the inclusion of ‘yet’ into our everyday vocabulary.

Excuse the uninspired observation but, in a society dominated by soundbites and snapshots, it often seems all emphasis is on an end result and none on toiling effort. ‘Slaying’, ‘winning’, ‘killing it’ – this hyperbolic praise only comes at the pinnacle of achievement and not during the long, arduous slog towards it. For all the insight we’re granted, for the reels of knowledge unravelling at our fingertips, all we see, fixate on, and worry over is the glamorisation of success – which is generally the smallest part of a much larger puzzle. The result is a pressure and existential anxiety that most of us mask by simply refusing to try. ‘Yet’ reminds us of the importance and beauty of trying – of the pivotal need to celebrate the journey of arriving at success, instead of fearing, dreading, and generally loathing it.

In this world of noise, introduce ‘yet’. It is the gift of time, of breathing space, and an allowance of understanding in a world of ‘now’.

A practical guide to succeeding better with ‘yet’:

Read Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success or watch her Ted Talk on the same.

Listen to ‘How to Fail with Elizabeth Day’ – a podcast dedicated to discussing how ‘failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour’.

Praise correctly. Bring the joy of ‘yet’ to your children, family, and friends by praising behaviour over result. Acknowledge their efforts to succeed, instead of the success itself.

Start small. Pick one example of where you have a fixed mindset in your life and apply ‘yet’ to it – notice the change and see how you can build on this.

Celebrate your achievements! Your journey belongs to you alone so, for one moment, stop looking forward and instead celebrate how far you’ve already come, and just how good the view can look from ‘getting there’.

When in doubt…do nothing!!

A friend of mine is taking early retirement from her busy job as a GP and, when I spoke to her recently, she was debating what to do with her new found freedom. She asked for my advice which was….do nothing!! This may have been something to do with the fact that I’d just read a really interesting article called ‘The Fertile Void’. This seemingly contradictory term, used in psychotherapy, really resonated with me as I’m sure it will be you.

Most of us seldom give much thought to who we are and what our life is all about. We manage to deflect any self-doubt, fears, and uncertainty by rushing about in ‘doing’ mode. We fill our lives with busyness, wearing it like a badge of honour.

For a time, this works . . . until the life we’ve mapped out fails to go according to plan or, like my friend, takes a new turn. We sense that something needs to change, but we’re not sure what. We may feel stuck not knowing which way to turn. In some cases, our life may go completely off the rails. We may unexpectedly find ourselves, for example, facing a major illness or the death of someone close to us. We may lose our job or our ‘life’ partner may leave us. Less dramatic but equally shattering, is the sinking realization that if this is all there is to our life, then we don’t want it. At least not in its present incarnation.

Whatever the circumstances that turn our world upside down, what eventually emerges is that, no matter how hard we try to hold on to what was, the life we’ve known will probably never be the same again. The next question begging to be answered is, “Now what?”

And the answer lies in not doing anything, at least in the short term.

For a culture on the go all the time, such a suggestion  may seem not only impractical, but also unachievable. Today, we measure our worth by what we do and how busy we are. Perhaps that’s why it’s so difficult to disengage ourselves from all manner of electronic gadgetry when we go on holiday. Losing touch with our workplace means losing touch with who we think we are.

Taking time out from our busy lives, then, particularly when forced upon us by circumstances, can be a truly unnerving experience. When we feel the familiar foundations giving way beneath us, this is usually a signal that some aspect of our life is changing or coming to an end. Fearful because the path ahead may not be clear, we feel out of control. Where we used to find stability in our ‘doing’, now we’re lost in a void that has opened up before us. And when we can tolerate the uncertainty no longer, our inclination is to act immediately, without plan or thought, filling ourselves up with people and things, and shaping our life into what we think it ought to be.

On the other hand, if we can resist the urge to rush into figuring out what’s next and simply sit with the confusion of not knowing, we may find ourselves in a void that is actually fertile with new possibility. Rather than being a contradiction, the fertile void is in fact a source of pure potential.

Think for a moment what it’s like to be stuck in the car during a traffic jam or on a train stopped between stations. In both instances, you most likely don’t know why you’re stopped or when you can expect to start moving again. All you know is that you are where you are – in the car or on the train – and there’s very little that you can do except wait. Being in the fertile void can feel like this. When we’re stuck or undergoing a major life transition, we’re plunged into this in-between place of not knowing what’s next; the space between two different destinations.

Rather than control and shape what you hope will happen next by imposing tried and true habits and beliefs, try letting go of ‘doing’ and enter into a place of just ‘being.’ This means paying attention to what you are experiencing right now in all its discomfort – the anger, the grief, the confusion, the overall sense of not having any control about what is happening. There is much to be gained by trusting that the ‘now what?’ will emerge from the creative energy of the fertile void.

When we consciously enter into these chaotic feelings from a perspective of not knowing what’s next, we allow the possibility for something new and fresh to emerge. In other words, in letting go of preconceived notions and expectations about how things should be, we open up to what might be. When we empty ourselves of what we think we know, we make space for the emergence of other possibilities and choices. Although experiencing our confusion to the utmost can be painful, something inevitably shifts in the process. The response to ‘now what?’ becomes clearer.

This is not to say the clarity we seek will come quickly. The fertile void is essentially a time of waiting, not acting. Of stepping outside our busy “doing” to rest in the stillness and quietude of our being. It is a time to become exquisitely aware of everything calling for our attention. It is a time to re-examine aspects of our life and let go those that no longer feel right. Ultimately, the fertile void is an opportunity to reconnect with the essence of who we are and how we want to be in the world.