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Change Your Perspective: 5 Belief Shifts to Amplify Your Career Potential

Is your view of the world limiting your happiness and career potential? Here’s 5 hacks to see things more clearly (and kindly).

This may not be something you’ve ever thought about before. How your sub-conscious beliefs about the world govern each moment of every single day. Whether or not you believe it right now, just pre-suppose it’s the case for a few minutes while I show you why this is true; and how some simple shifts in thinking can have a profound effect on your life and career potential.

As a coach and NLP Practitioner, I work with my clients to challenge their beliefs about themselves and the world around them. This is because what you believe impacts how you experience the world and therefore the decisions you make.

If your beliefs about the world limit your choices, it’s important to consider that there is always a different perspective. Another lens through which to view life.

How You Experience the World

We all experience the world through our senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell and taste). Your brain constantly has to deal with millions of pieces of sensory information. Yet it is only possible for your conscious mind to process a handful of individual pieces at any one time.

Therefore, your brain filters through everything, sifting out the information it chooses to pay attention to. This is based on your values and beliefs, memories (and the emotions attached to them) and your cultural and social background. Taken together, this is our map of the world.

Every individual has their own unique map of the world based on their past experiences. Imagine two identical twins raised by different families in different parts of the world. They may be the same biologically, but their experiences are unique and so they will view the world differently.

The Map is Not the Territory

Consider that our sensory experience of the world is the territory and the way our brains process this information is our map. The sensory information is the truth and the map is our interpretation of the truth – not facts, just our own unique version of how we perceive them.

If your map doesn’t enable you to navigate the territory, you can upgrade it. Just like you might update your sat-nav, or in the old days when you would buy a new atlas each year to stay on top of how the roads change.

Image of atlas open to show the USA with a compass on top of the page. NLP pre-suppositions help you change your map of the world - and achieve your career potential

This is how NLP pre-suppositions work. They enables you to change your mental map of the world so you can understand and interpret what is going on more clearly.

In NLP, we treat beliefs as pre-suppositions – not as facts or truths. If you act as though a belief is true, it will change how you experience the world. And if you don’t like the outcomes you get from a belief, you have the flexibility to change it. Essentially, you have a conscious choice about what you believe.

You may have long term, deeply held beliefs which don’t serve you well, like ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘everyone else is smarter’, ‘I’ll never be happy’. For beliefs like this, working with someone else, like a coach is the best way to help you to change. However, applying the lens of an NLP pre-supposition can also profoundly change how you see and experience the world.

5 NLP Pre-Suppositions to Change Your Life (and Achieve Your Career Potential)

I commonly use NLP Pre-suppositions to help my coaching clients gain a fresh perspective and make better decisions based on greater flexibility of thought. This means when it comes to areas like career change, altering mindset and improving relationships, they have greater freedom in how they view the world.

There are many more than this, but here are my top 5 NLP Pre-Suppositions to change your life and maximise your own career potential.

1. There is no failure, only feedback

It can be too easy to get caught up in negative feelings when something doesn’t go according to plan. This can lead to a cycle of questioning whether you are good enough, which may deter you from challenging yourself in future.

Taking on the belief of this pre-supposition is really powerful as it means you always look for the positive in a situation where things didn’t go according to plan. It encourages a learning and growth mindset. You seek out feedback opportunities to enable you to do better next time. This may be through self-reflection, evaluation of data or from speaking to other people.

For example, if you don’t get a new job or promotion, you can ask for feedback from the interviewer. This enables you to attain a greater understanding of why you weren’t successful. You can use this information can help with future job applications and interviews. This is a much more positive and pro-active approach to your career than just lamenting on things and feeling discouraged from applying for other roles.

It’s also a great approach to project management, enabling you to be pro-active and remain solutions focused when things go wrong.

2. If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different

How many times have you repeated something that didn’t work, hoping for a different result the next time? And how many times did the same thing happen again?!

Accepting this pre-supposition doesn’t mean you just abandon what you are doing. It instead encourages greater flexibility in working out how to achieve your outcome.

This doesn’t only apply to tasks, it also impacts on your interactions with other people. Have you ever tried to get somebody else to alter something you don’t like about them? Instead of trying to change another person, ask yourself what you can you change in your own behaviour to achieve the outcome you are looking for.

3. Every Behaviour has a positive intention

Sometimes we take it personally when other people do things that have a negative impact on us. It’s as though what they did was specifically designed to make you angry or feel bad. What if you accepted that their motivation is to accomplish something that is important to them, however frustrating their actions may be?

By accepting that every behaviour has a positive intention, we operate with a deeper understanding of the other person. We are less likely to react adversely to what another person does. We have greater compassion and don’t allow other peoples’ actions to negatively influence our own state of mind.

Not only this, we can try to work out the positive intention and may even be able to help the other person to find a better way of achieving it.

This may apply to your boss, your team, your clients and also your personal relationships. In addition to other small interactions you have with people every day.

Every behaviour has a positive intention also links to…

4. People make the best choice they can at the time

Do you ever look at another person’s behaviour and question why they chose a particular course of action? Especially when you know there was a better way of achieving what they were trying to do.

How would it feel if you just accepted that based on their life experiences and the information they had available, they made what they believed to be the right decision?

It’s especially powerful in situations in which you were negatively impacted by that decision. It removes some heat from and allows you to see there are other factors that influenced what happened. It’s less likely to feel like the world is against you.

This pre-supposition also enables you to feel more self-compassion for bad decisions you’ve made in the past (something we’ve all done.)

The way to make better decisions is to have greater insight and a greater range of options available.

With deeper understanding and more choices, people will always make better decisions. Including you.

5. Individuals have all the resources they need to achieve their desired outcomes

This is a fundamental assumption of coaching. Everyone has, or is able to access, all the resources required to achieve the outcome they are working towards. They just need to ask right questions, either of themselves or by a coach.

They also need to feel sufficiently motivated to take action.

When times are tough it is easy to fall back into a position in which we feel we are not good enough. As though everyone else has all the answers except us. Once you accept you are capable of the outcome you are working towards, you will feel more confident and in control. Providing your goal is realistic!

Yes, some outside help may be beneficial, but this is a resource you are accessing to implement a strategy you decided for yourself. You are in the driving seat. Of your life and achieving your career potential.

Take this forward: achieve your career potential

So, what’s the best way to get started applying these five pre-suppositions?

Think of a problem you have right now, something you’ve been stuck on for some time. Apply each of these pre-suppositions to the situation and see how it changes the way you feel about things. You may also uncover solutions you hadn’t thought of before.

There is always an answer to every problem you face. Sometimes you just need to look at things differently.

Chris Cooper is a mindset and career coach based in Manchester, UK. He works with businesses to develop their teams for success. He also coaches clients worldwide by phone or video call to help them achieve their career potential.

Click to learn more about career coaching.

Do you want to make changes to your career? Speak to Chris more about how career coaching can help you.

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5 Signs Your Work-Life Scale is Off Balance

Is your work-life balance feeling a little out of alignment? Here are five signs to look out for.

Modern technology and alternative ways of working were meant to make work easier. Or at least that’s how it was sold to us. But due to smart phones, wi-fi and email, for many people it feels like the work day is never over, with no natural end point. Technology provides more opportunities and greater flexibility than ever before, but the pressure this places on people is taking a toll on our work-life balance and our wellbeing.

The latest research from the OECD’s Better Life Index ranks the UK 29thof 38 countries for work-life balance. 13% of the population reported working over 50 hours per week, with the research noting that long hours impair health and lead to increased stress.

This is backed up by recent findings by the Office for National Statistics. The data show that anxiety and depression are now the most common form of work related illness, overtaking musculo-skeletal disorders for the first time.

Is work stressing you out to the detriment of other areas of your life? Here are five signs to look out for that your work-life balance is out of alignment:

1. Being on constant call for work emails

Answering emails outside normal work hours is something many people do. Indeed, working through emails on your journey to and from work may be an efficient use of your time, especially if this means you can arrive late or finish early.

The problem occurs when you find yourself checking your messages all night, getting involved in protracted email exchanges until late and hardly ever turning your work phone off. This creates an expectation that you will always be available. Soon you feel like you can never switch off from work.

Image of business person checking emails on their smart phone

2. Developing unhealthy eating and drinking habits to cope with stress

This creeps into your daily routine when you use sugary foods and alcohol as crutches to help you deal with the long hours you are working. At the office, this can include ‘treating yourself’ to muffins, chocolate and other snacks to help you get through the day.

And when you finally get home from work, opening a bottle of wine or having a few beers becomes an ever more familiar habit to ‘help you unwind’ and reward yourself for your efforts. Pretty soon, this can turn into alcohol dependency.

Taken together, eating the wrong things and drinking too much will take a toll on your health. Negative impacts may include weight gain increased your risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and Type II diabetes.

Image of brightly coloured frosted donuts - junk food

3. Waking up during the night thinking about work

The more hours you work, the longer work is on your mind. If you’re working late, this means your brain will be processing information about work all through the evening. So there is little time to switch off before bedtime. This is especially true if you sit in bed at night answering emails!

Put simply, your mind is working overtime. This makes it more likely you will sleep fitfully and wake up during the night, worrying about what has happened today or what might happen tomorrow.

As well as adjusting your email working hours, try a short mindfulness exercise at bedtime to help your mind unwind and switch off before you go to sleep. These days it’s simple with smartphone apps such as Headspace and Calm. They provide short, tailor-made pre-sleep meditations you can follow easily.

4. Feeling tired and sluggish all the time

Are these habits familiar to you? The effects of working too many hours in the office, eating unhealthy comfort foods, not exercising enough, drinking on weeknights and not sleeping enough combine to create one much bigger problem. You end up feeling tired and sluggish all the time.

Not having enough energy to get through the day means you do things like increasing your caffeine intake and have more and more sugary snacks to get you through.

This creates a vicious cycle which could have a significant long-term impact on your mental and physical wellbeing. It’s something you need to address right now, by focusing on each unhealthy habit one-by-one, including the root cause: working too many hours.

Image of female commuter asleep on train resting her head on the table

5. Friends complain that they never see you

One of the first things to get squeezed out if you work too many hours is your social life. Soon, you find the only time you see your friends is on social media. Weeks and months go by without seeing the people you care about most. Your Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of pictures of your friends out and having a great time — without you.

The paradox is that seeing the people you care about regularly is one of the best ways to reduce cortisol. This is the hormone released by your brain during stressful times. Seeing and talking to your friends is a better way to deal with tough times than alcohol or comfort food. It’s time to start marking out more time in your diary to see friends and family.

Do you recognise any of these five signs of work-life balance stress? If so, it’s time to act now by re-examining the relationship between your career and the rest of your life.

Click to learn more about career coaching services.

Do you want to make changes to your career? Speak to Chris more about how career coaching can help you.

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Trouble Sleeping? 7 Tips to Help You Sleep Better

Most people at some stage experience trouble sleeping – and all the symptoms that go with it like tiredness, feeling irritable, depressed, exhausted and unable to do the things you want to do.

As we all feel better after a good night’s sleep, establishing a pattern of sleeping well every night of the week is a goal worth working towards.

A recent study by Cambridge University and RAND Europe found that getting less than 7 hours of sleep can have a significant negative impact on productivity. Participants who slept for 6 hours or less were noticeably less productive during the daytime than those who slept at least 7 hours. That extra hour makes a massive difference!

In terms of your health, benefits of sleeping well include reduced stress levels, better mood, an improved immune system and lower risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

Sleeping well is also important for losing weight. Lack of sleep can cause poor appetite regulation – meaning you are more likely to make bad food choices. Tiredness also negatively impacts on your motivation towards exercise.

All great reasons to make getting more sleep a priority!

If you are struggling with sleep, I can empathise as this is something I have worked for years to improve. The effort though is really worthwhile.

Sleeping Better: How to Do It

Consistency is key when it comes to improving your sleep quality. You need to examine your daily routine and tweak the things that negatively impact on your sleep

Here are my Super 7 tips for sleeping better – all based on research AND personal experience!

  1. Establish a regular bedtime – allowing enough time to unwind and fit in at least 7 hours sleep. Avoid sleeping in, so your time in bed is the same every day.
  2. Reduce your daily caffeine intake and cut it out completely in the evening. Drink water, herbal teas and other non-caffeinated fluids, but not too much to avoid having to get up in the night!
  3. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime: allow at least two hours for your food to settle after dinner.
  4. Reduce your exposure to light in the 1-2 hours before bedtime. Dim the lights, turn off computers and TVs and avoid back-lit devices: including tablets for reading.
  5. Allow time to unwind before you go to sleep so your mind is relaxed. Try the following:
    • Reading a book or magazine
    • Meditation or breathing exercise
    • Listen to relaxing music, an audio book or podcast
    • Take a warm bath
    • Prepare things for the following morning
    • Write your thoughts in a journal
  6. Avoid all social media, answering emails and watching TV an hour before going to sleep: all these activities stimulate rather than relax your mind.
  7. Have a strategy for getting back to sleep if you wake up during the night, such as meditation or a breathing exercise. Reading a book can help too. Allow your focus to be on relaxation rather than fixating on trying to sleep: let this happen when your mind is ready.

Changing long standing sleep patterns can be a challenge, but one that’s worth taking on. 

It’s a great long term investment in your health, happiness and productivity.

If you enjoyed this, check out my others articles.

Image of man at a crossroads trying to decide which career option to take

If You’re Not Happy with Your Career, Make a Change

Work is something we spend so much of our time doing. That means it’s important to feel happy, or at least satisfied with your career. If you don’t like what you do, there’s a good chance this will lead to negative consequences affecting not only your work, but other parts of your life too.

The idea of making a career change may seem scary. However, take a moment, close your eyes and visualise the remainder of your working life if you carry on doing what you’re doing now.

Right up to when you retire. Will you be happy if you stick with your current career path? Will these years feel rich and fulfilling? If the answer is ‘no’ then you owe it to yourself to do something about it.

There are lots of great reasons for choosing to do something different. Perhaps your lifestyle has changed, you may find your work boring or you could be experiencing too much stress. It may be the case that the longer term outlook for your industry doesn’t look good.

Or you could be experiencing burnout. You’ve been doing the same thing for years, perhaps at the same company, and it is wearing you down. You may also want to earn more money than you will be able to do if you stick with what you’re doing.

If any of this sounds familiar, making changes to your career now will serve you best in the long run.

Make Your Career Change Happen

Here are 3 steps to get going:

  1. Open up your mind to what you would like to do. Allow yourself to dream. Feel unbounded by what you are doing right now, consider all possibilities.

Make a list of careers you find appealing including, if relevant, working for yourself.

Once you have done this, do some research into what each career involves, including the skills/training required, what your lifestyle would be like and how much you could earn.

Through this process, some of your initial ideas will drop out, while others will seem even more appealing. The outcome will be a shortlist of careers you’d like to explore further.

  1. Using your shortlist, find other people who are doing what you are interested in. Speak to them about what is involved in what they do, what they enjoy and what they don’t enjoy.

Perhaps you have friends or friends of friends who can help. If not, do some research on LinkedIn and find relevant people to reach out to. Don’t be shy – you’ll find a lot of people willing to help. People generally love to talk about what they do!

Try to speak to 2 or 3 people for each career so you get more than one perspective. This step will narrow your list down further.

  1. For the remaining options, identify any gaps in your skills or educational attainment that you would need to fill for each career.

Explore what you would need to do in order to close the gap. How long will it take and how much would it cost? Can you fit any study in around your current job? Is it feasible to take a career break?

Also, thoroughly research salary expectations both at the level you could enter and in the future. If this is less than you currently earn, can you afford to do it? Ask yourself how the rest of your life will benefit from your new career, even if you are earning less.

These three steps will provide a good start to get you going.

But the best thing you can do is get yourself a coach. Someone completely unbiased and on your side to help you work out what you want to do (in your life and career) and who will help you create clear goals and actions to make it happen.

Would you like to learn more about working with me to make your career change happen? Click here to get in touch.

Image of man struggling with procrastination

Get Things Done: 6 Causes of Task Procrastination – and How to Beat It

Procrastination is the biggest killer of productivity. It saps energy, drains your motivation and stops you getting things done. Instead of moving forward, you’re stuck in the same place – unable to get to where you want to be.

There are two types of procrastination – one affects the overall pattern of your life, and may relate to your home or work life: sometimes both. It’s that feeling of being stuck, realising you want something better but not knowing what –  so you don’t do anything. This is the kind of procrastination you often need help with in order to get your life back on track. You need to get to a point where you understand what you want – and have a strategy to make it happen.

Task Procrastination

The other type of procrastination is what I call ‘task procrastination’. This is when you have a task to complete, but no matter how much you know you need to do it, you can’t seem to get it done. To the extent that you become amazing at doing other things instead, just to avoid completing the task at hand!

To help you beat task procrastination, here are six of the most common causes: together with solutions to help you beat them.

  1. Feeling Overwhelmed

Overwhelm is one of the biggest causes of procrastination. When it seems like because there is so much to do, you just don’t know where to start. And so you do nothing! It’s like finding yourself in the middle of a road, directly in the path of a fast approaching vehicle. Instead of moving either right or left to get out of the way, you find yourself frozen to the spot. Too much choice means you don’t know what to do for the best.

The best way to conquer overwhelm is to break your task down onto smaller parts, so it feels smaller and more manageable. And once you’ve worked out all the things you need to do, you can work out which component to tackle first.

A good way to do this is to grab a large piece of paper, some post-it notes and a pen. Brainstorm all the component parts and right each one down, one per post-it note. Next, re-arrange your post-its into a logical order, plotting the task from start to finish.

This will give you a clear structure and you can tackle each component individually, one after the other. Do this in the order that feels best to you.

No matter how many components you identify, tackling multiple smaller tasks will always feel much easier than trying to accomplish one huge goal. Isolating each part will also help you to identify if you need any other resources in order to get it done.

  1. Don’t Understand the Task

When you don’t fully understand what you need to do, an obvious thing to do is to just leave it. And leave it. Until getting it done can’t wait any longer.

This could be a task set by someone else, like your boss, or even a task you set yourself. Sometimes unrealistic expectations are place upon us by ourselves or others. There is no need to panic though, you just need to get hold of the information you need to get it done.

You’ll know yourself that putting off getting started won’t make things any easier in the long run. So take some action now. Work out the best way to get the information you need to fully grasp what you need to. If someone else set you the task, they may be the best person to consult. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness – it shows that you care and want to do a good job.

Otherwise, brainstorm all the resources you can call on to find the answers. Who do you know who could help? Can you find the answers online? Where is the best place to do some research?

Plan the best way to get hold of the right information. This places you firmly in control of completing the task and you’ll feel more empowered. It’s amazing how resourceful you are when you need to be! You might even find out something new about yourself in the process – as well as getting your task nailed.

  1. Don’t Find the Task Interesting

Who likes doing things they find boring? Not many of us. Unfortunately a lot of the tasks we need to do can feel uninteresting. For me, repetitive tasks like admin or paperwork are the things most likely things to slow me down. When tasks don’t stimulate us mentally, it is easy to turn our attentions elsewhere.

The best thing to do is find a way to make the task more interesting. Be creative and come up with ways for the process to be more fun. Put on a mix of your favourite music and crank up the volume while you do the housework; use bright colours on your spreadsheet while you do your tax return; get a friend to help you while you paint the spare bedroom.

There will always be something you can do to tweak a boring task and make it more fun.

  1. Too Many Distractions

Everyone’s ideal working environment is different; and it will also vary according to the type of task you are attempting. It may be something really creative, so accessing the right side of your brain, or it could be something more logical or admin related. It’s important to recognise if your environment is having a negative impact on your productivity, and if so do something about it.

This could simply be a case of taking yourself somewhere quiet – or perhaps finding a complete change of space. Before I set up my own business, I used to find my busy office environment very distracting and unproductive. Too many people around, loud conversations and telephones ringing. I actually used to find working on the train during long journeys to meetings really conducive to both creativity and productivity.

Now that I work mainly from my home office, getting a change of scene in a different way helps. Taking my laptop out to a funky coffee shop or a creative shared workspace gives me a fresh perspective when I feel stuck in a rut.

Invest some time to figure out what works best for you. You might be surprised by where (and when) you work at your best.

Another good thing to do is to turn off your phone, emails and social media. It’s all too easy to get distracted by calls, messages and updates. Switching these off for a few hours while you get on with the task at hand works wonders. And you’ll have even more to catch up on when you turn everything back on!

  1. No Incentive to Get it Done

There’s few things more demotivating than a ‘thankless task’ – spending time doing something that just feels pointless. Almost anything else will seem more appealing. If this is the case, take a few moments to work out whether the task really is important. We are all way too busy to waste time doing things that are ‘unimportant’. When working this out, remember that although the task may not be important to you, it might be to somebody else.

Once you’ve decided that your task is important and worthy of your time, you might already feel more inclined to get on with it. If you still need an extra push, decide on a reward for getting it done. Something small, but which will motivate you enough to complete your task.

If treating yourself isn’t enough incentive, work out what it will cost you not to get your task done. What will the consequences be? Trouble from your boss, looking bad in front of an important client, disappointing your partner or friend?

Layer on all the negatives you need to spur you into action. By human nature, we instinctually move away from pain. If you attach enough of it to not completing your task, this will give you the kick to get started.

  1. No Clear Timescale to Complete it

You are much less likely to get on with a task when it is open-ended, with no clear deadline. In goal setting, the ‘T’ of SMART Goals: making it ‘time bound’ is essential. This way you have clear direction for when you need to finish it.

If someone else set you the task, find out the deadline and this will give you something to work towards. If it’s something you set yourself, give yourself a deadline. And apply enough weight to it that it’s meaningful. So that it acts as a motivator. Let there be consequences for not doing it in time.

Once you know the timescales for completing your task, you can plan accordingly for getting it done.

Photo illustration showing a man experiencing anxious thoughts

Claim Your Calm: 9 Go-to Fixes To Crush Your Anxiety

Here are my 9 recommended fixes to try for tackling anxious thoughts whenever they come up. Each one will work as a quick fix when you need it. For greater impact, integrating some of these strategies into your routine will improve your long term wellbeing too. We're all different, so you may find some techniques work better for you than others. Having a choice of options means there are lots of things to try, helping you figure out what works best for you.

Read more

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Keep on Running: 10 Training Tips to Stay Motivated

The Spring is a great time to get into running. Or jump back in and start your running training again if you’ve had a break. The days are getting longer, the weather is improving and there are big events on TV like the London Marathon and the Great Manchester Run to motivate and inspire you.

So far so good. The trick though is to maintain your motivation to keep running after your initial rush of enthusiasm has passed. While other fun things are happening over the summer and when Autumn hits as the days get shorter and the weather less inviting.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to have some tools to help you stay motivated to keep going out there, getting fitter and improving your health. Before I became a Life Coach, I became a runner (I started training in my late 20’s) and later a qualified Athletics Coach. I would like to share with you 10 tips to help keep you on track with your running training when the temptation to stay inside starts to bite.

10 Running Training Tips to Help You Stay Motivated

Set Yourself a Training Goal

A great way to keep focused and give yourself a purpose to get out and run is to set yourself a training goal. There are a number of ways to do this, but one of the best is to enter an event to give yourself something to train for. You can also align this with improving your health and fitness as you progress.

There are lots of running events you can enter, and with most races or ‘runs’ you will find people of all levels taking part. You can tailor your running goal to what motivates you, whether it is to aim for a particular time, raise money for charity or ‘just getting round’. The fact that you have a specific date that your hard training is geared towards can be really motivational.

Be realistic when choosing an event. If you’ve never run before, don’t choose a marathon for your first race. It takes a lot of training over a prolonged period to properly get ready to run 26.2 miles. A 10k is much more realistic and achievable for the vast majority of people and this can be a stepping stone towards your marathon running ambitions.

If your event is a few months away, you can measure your progress in training by doing one of the hundreds of 5k Parkruns that take place every week for free at local parks across the UK and overseas. Seeing your personal best improve over time will quantify what your efforts are allowing your body to do. This will demonstrate to you how much fitter and stronger you are becoming and you’ll be able to appreciate that your hard work is paying off.

Try to Prevent Injury in Training

A surefire way to lose motivation for running is to pick up an injury. Running training will seem like a pain rather than a pleasure. Runners get injured for lots of reasons, but there are a few simple things you can do to try and avoid hurting yourself.

Firstly, make sure you have got a decent pair of running shoes that match how you run. The easiest way to do this is to go to a running shop and have a ‘gait analysis’ done. This involves jogging on a treadmill while a member of staff observes how your feet land, using a camera. This service is normally free of charge and the staff will be able to show you what type of shoe is most appropriate for you. And if you feel daunted about going to a running shop, then don’t be.

These days people of all abilities go to specialist running shops, they’re not just for experienced runners. This is the single biggest piece of advice I would give to any new runner who is about to start training. Getting some specialist advice at this stage is the best way to avoid needing specialist medical help further down the line.

My two other top running training tips are to allow yourself a proper warm up when you start running. This can be as simple as making sure you start your run really steadily before picking up the pace, right through to doing some dynamic moves and active stretches before you start running. For the latter, you’ll find lots of examples on YouTube. Lastly, allow some time to do some static stretches after you’ve finished running. Work all major muscle groups and hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds. Again, you’ll find lots of examples of stretches you can do online.

Running with a Friend or in Group

Having someone else to run with makes it much less likely that you will back out of a planned session as you won’t want to let the other person down. If you know someone else of similar ability, planning to do your training together will give you both the motivation to get out the front door. If you don’t have any friends to run with, try joining a running group or club. There’s lots to choose from and the vast majority will be really friendly and welcoming towards new runners. If you live in England, the best starting point for finding a group is www.runtogether.co.uk . You could also search for groups on social media, ask your local running shop or speak to a sports development officer at the council.

Create a Regular Routine

The best way to stick to anything is to make it part of your routine. So do it at the same time on the same day every week. This way it becomes a habit and just part of what you do, along with everything else. It takes a few weeks for a habit to become established, but once you’ve done this it will be much easier to keep going. It is much better than just aiming to run two or three times a week with no regular pattern, which will make it a lot more likely you’ll find an excuse not to do it.

Humans are creatures of habit, whether we like to admit it or not!

Put it in your diary

If you like to use the calendar on your phone or a traditional paper diary, make an appointment with yourself to complete your running training and treat it with the same importance as other things. Plan at least a week in advance. If you’re the sort of person who hates missing things they’ve scheduled, this will work well for you.

Alter your perception

Your motivation to do something, running included, will be heavily influenced by how you perceive it. If you hate going out running when the weather’s not very nice, because you don’t like being cold or wet, you will create a negative perception towards running training in these conditions.

The good news is that you can alter or ‘reframe’ your perceptions. If you switch the negative connotations to positive ones, you will increase the pleasure you get from running. So rather than dreading running in the rain, look forward to the feeling of training outside in the fresh air, feeling the invigorating sensation of rain beating down. Most experienced runners will tell you how much running in the rain makes them feel alive. Just make sure you’re dressed appropriately and there’s nothing to fear.

Running with music

This isn’t for everyone, but scientific studies have demonstrated the positive impact that running to really uptempo and inspiring music has on performance. Put simply, you can make yourself want to run harder and for longer in training. So create yourself a running playlist with enough upbeat songs to last the duration of your run, whatever type of music you like.

If you like running with music, this will enhance your enjoyment of training and create another good reason for you to put on your running shoes and go out. Please pay attention to personal safety though. Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings and only wear headphones when it’s safe to do so.

Inspiring books

Inspirational stories about running and about people who have had to overcome the odds to achieve their goals is another way to stay motivated while you are training. Reading about how people have overcome often great adversity to realise their dreams really lifts your mood. It will make your simple lack of motivation seem trivial in comparison.

Over the years, I have read lots of great books like this. Three that I recommend which have really helped to motivate me are ‘Inspiration’ by Steve Redgrave, ‘Paula: My Story So Far’ by Paula Radcliffe and ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami.

Reward yourself

You’re investing time and putting lots of effort in to get fitter and be healthier. According to the British Heart Foundation, over 20 million people in the UK are classed as physically inactive, so by running you’re doing something really great to reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease and other serious medical conditions.

It is recommended that people do a combination of training activities that are both aerobic and which strengthen major muscle groups. The good news is that running achieves both, so doing at least 75 minutes of running split into two or more sessions every week means you are meeting national exercise guidelines for adults under 65.

So reward yourself for your hard work. Not with chocolate or a takeaway, but something healthy or which you enjoy doing. You deserve it.

Inspire yourself

Always keep in mind the reason you started running. Whether it’s to get fitter, lose weight, meet new people, raise money for charity, or one of the other many great reasons for running, it is good to remind yourself why you’re doing it.

Write these reasons down or cut out pictures to represent them. Be as creative or artistic as you like to be. Stick your efforts on to a noticeboard, the back of a door or a wall that you will see every time you should be getting ready to go out for a run. Take a moment to have a look, remind yourself why you wanted to start running training and what you’re aiming to achieve.

You will find this a really powerful tool to help you get your running shoes on and get out there.

If your training would benefit from the support of someone who is both a trained running and life coach, check out the personal coaching services that I offer and get in touch to have a chat about how I can help.

Image showing a perfect place to practice mindfulness meditation - a beach on a beautiful sunny day with a bridge reaching out into the ocean

Introducing Mindfulness Meditation: Reasons to be Mindful

In recent years ‘mindfulness’ has crept increasingly into public consciousness. It has been widely championed as an effective approach for managing the stresses of modern day living, and the benefits of being mindful are talked of at length on television, radio and in newspapers and magazines. However, despite this, to most people mindfulness is still something that remains misunderstood and untried.

Although it may seem like a recent phenomenon, mindfulness has in fact been around for longer than many people realise. It dates back to the work of American Professsor Jon Kabat-Zinn, who in the late 1970s founded a stress reduction programme known as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). In the intervening years, there has been extensive scientific research into the effectiveness of mindfulness, with studies providing strong evidence that regular practice can lead to a range of benefits for practitioners, such as reduced anxiety, better concentration, improved memory function and enhanced mood.

Indeed, in the treatment of people with mental health issues, there is a drive within the medical community to encourage mindfulness techniques in place of drug therapies.

There is massive potential for industry too. Employers who encourage mindfulness among their workforce can reap many benefits, among them reduced absence, lower levels of stress, increased morale and enhanced productivity.

So what is mindfulness and how does it work?

Put simply, mindfulness is a mental state whereby thinking is focused entirely on the present moment. This is achieved by concentrating the mind on what is happening right now, rather than thinking about the past or the future. As thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations come up, they are acknowledged and accepted, before calmly being allowed to drift from consciousness.

A key outcome of mindfulness is the realisation that ‘you are not your thoughts.’ Thoughts are transient and will just come and go, so they are not the whole person. This is really powerful for people experiencing a lot of negative and potentially self harming thoughts. Through the heightened self-awareness that can be developed through mindfulness, it is possible to ‘catch’ thoughts as they come up and then make rational choices about whether or not to act on them. In essence, this means taking back control of your mind when it feels like your thoughts are running away from you.

It is this practice of being better able to control your thoughts that is the strongest benefit for people who experience anxiety. Feeling stressed and anxious is normally due to either worrying about what has happened in the past, or apprehension about what may occur in the future. Being able to train your mind to bring thoughts back to the present can help to alleviate this type of potentially life inhibiting anxiety.

How do I practice mindfulness?

There are a number of ways to incorporate mindful thinking and practice into day to day life, with some small changes potentially providing exponentially larger benefits. At the heart of mindfulness though is the practice of mindfulness meditation.

This is where mindfulness links back thousands of years to the teachings of Buddhism, which emphasises the importance of Dhyana, or meditation, which is a practice where the mind’s attention is focussed on one specific occurrence, such as the breath or a particular thought or mental image. Following this initial focusing, the aim is to maintain a calm mind while the person becomes more aware of their surroundings, letting go of any thoughts or sensations that might otherwise cause distraction or stress.

For people who haven’t previously attempted to meditate, the prospect of doing so may seem daunting. However, there are some simple and straightforward yet highly effective meditations that a beginner can start with. Perhaps the easiest to attempt first is a breath-based mindfulness meditation, a simple example of which is outlined below.

Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners

1.     Find a peaceful spot where you won’t be disturbed. Turn off all devices or appliances that may cause distraction and interrupt your meditation. The only thing you may want is a gentle sounding alarm set for when you want to end your meditation. 10 minutes is a good length to begin off with.

2.     Make sure you are wearing comfortable clothing and remove shoes or anything else that may be constricting.

3.     Sit comfortably, either cross legged on a cushion, or on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Straighten your upper body rather than slouching, but avoid your back being stiff.

4.     Close your eyes or allow your gaze to soften.

5.     Take three deep breaths. As you exhale, imagine you are breathing out all the stress and anxiety you have been feeling.

6.     Working upwards through the body and starting with your feet, survey where you may be holding any tension in your muscles. Particular areas to think about are the jaw, shoulders, back and pelvis. Anywhere you notice tension, relax your muscles to release it so that your body feels relaxed and heavier.

7.     Take three more deep breaths and then continue breathing in and out through your nose.

8.     Start to focus only on the present. If your mind interrupts and starts thinking about something else, concentrate on the sound of your breathing to help you refocus.

9.     The time between thoughts that come into your mind will start to lengthen. When you will feel your body physically relax further and your mind become clearer, this is a sign that your meditation has really started. By this point, you will be feeling a comforting sense of calm.

10.  Remain in this state for as long as it feels physically comfortable to do so, or until the alarm you set sounds. Open your eyes and reflect on how your body and mind now feel, compared to when your meditation began.

Try and take time each day to meditate, whenever feels the best time for you. Making it roughly the same time each day will help your practice to become a habit.

What else can I do?

In addition to mindfulness meditation, there are many other ways in which you can be more mindful and improve your quality of life. The most important considerations are making an effort to be kinder to yourself; and removing some of the distractions that may otherwise be present in your life. This will allow you to focus on the here and now. Here are six simple things you can try:

1.     Do one thing at a time: focus all of your attention on what you are doing rather than ‘multi-tasking’ and thinking about one thing while doing another.

2.     Slow things down: instead of rushing from one task to the next, take a moment and pause between things. Be more deliberate, take your time and focus on what you are doing, every time you do something.

3.     Make your day more manageable: try to avoid planning so many things that you have to either rush each task or do multiple things at once. Prioritise things and only plan in what you know you can get through. If you have time leftover, you can either reward yourself by resting or you could get a head start on the next day.

4.     Take at least five minutes each day to do nothing. This will allow some breathing space when you are not thinking, planning or remembering things. Within this time you can meditate, enjoy the quiet space around you; or listen to some soothing music.

5.     Practice Yoga. Yoga requires focus and concentration on your body as you move into, work through and move out of each posture. This keeps your mind focused on the present tense, and regular practice will also lead to physical benefits, such as improved strength and greater flexibility.

6.     Do things regularly that allow you to ‘switch off’. Something you enjoy doing that involves being kind to yourself and removes the distractions of other things in your life. This might be taking a long, relaxing bath; closing your eyes and listening to music; sitting quietly and reading a positive, uplifting book; or stroking and cuddling up to your pet. The key things are that the activity is pleasurable, involves focussing mainly with one sense; and it keeps your mind in the present tense.

Further Reading

There are lots of books and online resources to help you learn more about mindfulness, including mindfulness meditation and other activities that you can try. Here are two that I recommend for you to start with:

‘A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled’ by Ruby Wax, paperback RRP £8.99. This is an enjoyable and easy to read guide written by the comedian and actress, who is now a trained mindfulness practitioner.

‘Getting Started With Mindfulness on Mind’ on the Mindful website This page Includes tips on mindfulness and some simple, guided meditations for you to try.

Image of foods to eat well and live a healthy lifestyle

4 Steps to Conquer Your Food Cravings, Eat Well and Feel Better

For many of us, trying to eat healthily feels like a constant battle. Most people have the best of intentions, and will have some understanding of what they should be eating and what they are better off avoiding. So what are the reasons why we find eating well so hard? And when we decide we want to eat healthily, what can we do to stay on track?

There is an imponderable number of books available which pertain to have the answers, and which promise to be the elixir to help us eat well, manage our weight and be healthy. Approaches to healthy eating and weight management go in and out of fashion very quickly.

Over the years I have had more than a passing interest in this area, not least because I care a lot about my own health and fitness, but also because I am an athletics as well as a life coach.

I’m not a qualified nutritionist, but I see it as part of my role to be well informed when it comes to eating well. The approach of scientist Stephan Guyenet in his recent book ‘The Hungry Brain’ really struck a chord with me for two reasons. Firstly due to his scientifically based rationale for why we struggle to eat well; and secondly because of the very practical and easy to follow four step strategy he proposes we use to reduce our risk of over indulging in foods that are not consistent with a healthy lifestyle.

Guyunet proposes that we know we should eat healthier food, which implies a conscious, rational brain concerned about health, body weight and appearance. Therefore, the fact that we often choose not to eat healthily also implies the existence of a non-conscious, intuitive brain that cares more about immediate things – such as the big slab or cake or bowl of ice cream that may be in front of us!

It is this conflict between the conscious and non-conscious brain that explains the food choices we make and why we overeat even when we don’t ‘want’ to. As the non-conscious brain is more influential in day-to-day life, we need to raise our consciousness and understand our brain better to help it to make good decisions around eating.

The brain is in charge of appetite, eating behaviour, physical activity and body fatness. Guyunet proposes the following strategy to help the conscious brain win the battle that it faces with the non-conscious brain on a daily basis.

1. Fix Your Food Environment

The brain has a reward system that evolved in an age when food was harder to come by and finding enough calories to survive was often hard work. This reward system collects cues from our external senses and our digestive tract, guiding us towards fat, sugar, starch and salt – hence why we crave some foods more than others. Unfortunately, this reward system hasn’t evolved to cope with our modern environment, which is chock full of easy access, highly palatable, calorie dense foods.

In essence, we are hardwired to crave unhealthy food in excess, which drives us to overconsume. This explains the reason why when we walk past a bakery we feel hungry at the smell of freshly baked bread, pastries and cakes, and suddenly have a strong urge to eat. Yet if weren’t exposed to this stimulus, we wouldn’t feel hungry and need to fight the urge to eat fattening food.

The way to help our brain navigate this temptation is to reduce our exposure to food cues, and there are three simple steps Guyunet proposes we take:

1.     Ged rid of tempting, calorie dense foods that are easy to grab from your home and workplace. If these foods aren’t there, you can’t eat them.

2.     Reduce general exposure to food cues, such as adverts for food on TV or programmes that promote high fat, calorie rich foods – no more ‘Great British Bake-Off’!

3.     Put up barriers to eating. Only have food in your kitchen that you have to prepare in order to eat it. Or if you want to have ‘easy access’ foods to hand, choose things that are good for you, such as fruit or nuts.

2. Manage Your Appetite

Our bodies have a food regulating system, the lipostat, that has one job alone: to prevent our weight from dropping.

We also have the satiety system, which regulates food intake on a meal-to-meal basis. This make us feel full and reduces our drive to continue eating when we have had enough food.

The satiety system, as well as receiving information from the digestive tract, also takes cues from the reward system. It tends to shut down when we eat ‘highly rewarding’ foods such as pizza, cakes or ice cream. Therefore, our brain tells us that it’s ok to keep eating these foods and we can easily get to a point where we have had too much. Often paying the price by feeling bloated later on.

There is a way to help the brain understand that you’re not starving when you don’t need to eat. Choose foods that send strong satiety signals to the brain, but which contain a moderate number of calories:

1.     Choose foods that have a lower calorie density, higher protein and/or fibre content, with a moderate level of palatability.

2.     This means foods closer to their natural state as opposed to processed foods: fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, beans and lentils. And if you eat them, fresh meats, fish/seafood and eggs.

3.     Be careful with flour based foods as they are calorie dense, even when made using wholegrains. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans and oatmeal are better sources of starch.

4.     Try to completely avoid foods based on white flour, as these have a high calorie density and low fibre content.

3. Be active

There are at least two ways in which regular physical activity can help to manage your appetite and your weight:

1.     The more active you are, the more calories you burn. Therefore, you’re less likely to over eat as you are using more of the calories you consume. You’ll probably eat more when you are active, but studies suggest that the extra calories you consume will be more than compensated for by the amount you burn.

2.     Physical activity may help maintain lipostat levels in the brain. This positively impacts on our fat regulating system and encourages lower body weight in the long run.

Whether or not you have a goal related to weight management, regular physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Taking some form of aerobic or strength building exercise each day is one of the best investments you can make to maintain good health throughout your life.

4. Address Stress

For some people, psychological stress sharply increases cortisol levels, which impacts on the lipostat – our fat regulating system. This results in increased food intake and greater accumulation of body fat. This is especially the case in stressful situations over which we feel we have little control.

In addition, when we feel stressed we tend to reach for ‘comfort foods’ that help to dampen our stress response system by making us feel better.

You will probably be aware if you are a stress eater. Taking action to reduce your stress levels will not only benefit your eating habits but also improve your quality of life overall. Stress management is a topic in its own right, beyond the scope of this article, but three things you could try are:

1.     Look into what causes you stress and try to work out how you can make changes to this area of your life so you feel things are more under your control.

2.     When we feel stressed, it is normally things in the future that we are worried about. Using meditation or mindfulness exercises can help bring your mind back to the present.

3.     Rather than eating when you feel stressed, do something constructive instead. This could be going for a run or some other form of exercise; talking to a friend; reading; or doing something else you find relaxing.

My goal in writing this article is to help raise your awareness around the issues covered. It is based on one source, ‘The Hungry Brain’ by Stephan F. Guyenet, but I encourage you to read further from this and other sources so you can learn more about the impact of eating on your health and wellbeing. This will help you to make more informed choices about what’s best for you.

Eating better and leading a healthier lifestyle are popular areas to be coached on. If you would like to make some changes, this is something I can help you with. Please contact me by email at [email protected] if you’d like to arrange a free consulation.