How to change for life

New Year resolutions are just the best aren’t they? And the worst. It’s such a motivational time of year for new beginnings and life changes, both big and small. Yet, if we stumble our way through January, without being derailed, we think we’ve done well! Habits are hard to change and some have been with us for decades. So how do we make a change for life?

Stopping and starting

There are two types of behavioural change that we might want to make:

  1. Stopping (for good) a behaviour that we don’t want any more.
  2. Starting (and maintaining) a desirable behaviour.

Stopping and starting require the right mind-set to begin (that’s the bit that welcoming in a new year provides for us), but the hardest part for most of us, is the maintaining

Take my relationship with exercise. I understand that exercise is a great habit to get into. I know that when I exercise, I feel great, as endorphins cascade through my brain. I know that it helps me to maintain a reasonable weight, or if I am trying to lose weight, it gives me a boost. I know that it helps my body to stay supple and ache-free. So why, oh why, do I find it such a hard habit to maintain?

change for life

I had an active childhood, walked hospital wards as a nurse, took three children out and about, and walked a myriad of dogs (for pay), yet I would describe myself as someone who finds it hard to exercise. I have almost zero motivation and real envy those who actively want to go out and ride their bike, jog, swim or go to the gym.

Over the years I have discovered that I really enjoy (once I am doing them) walking, dancing, weight training, kettle bells and yoga But if any of these things are actually going to happen, I need to make it easy for me to do them, and increase the ongoing motivation to do so.

Change for life

Creating a change for life hinges on two things:

  1. Increasing motivation.
  2. Reducing obstacles.

Both of these aspects need to continue over time to be successful in establishing your new habit or behaviour.

Although true depression can greatly reduce motivation, relationship loss can often have the opposite effect. Emotions are often flowing fast and hard, and emotions are great motivators. I remember using my anger to fuel my ‘walking for weight loss’ in the last couple of years of my marriage. It got me out there and pushed me forward, and helped me succeed over time. As did frustration and shame and sadness. Don’t be afraid to feel and use your emotions.

Motivation is also increased and maintained by:

  • Making one change at a time and giving a significant part of your attention and energy to that aspect of your life.
  • Having a goal, the more visual or tangible the better.
  • Breaking up the journey into small steps, and keeping the timescale for achieving them realistic. Set yourself up for success.
  • Writing some kind of record of what you intend to do and when.
  • Keeping a journal of your progress.
  • Being accountable to someone else, and (particularly if your are a outgoing person), finding a group of other people, who are on a similar journey.

Reducing obstacles means removing the things that naturally occur to derail you. If you are trying to get more sleep, for example, keep your bedroom uncluttered, fresh and dark. Don’t start ‘addictive’ type behaviours mid evening (computer games, box sets and the like) and reduce your caffeine intake from late afternoon onward.

change for life

Other obstacles we all experience are stress and fatigue. It is very hard to maintain will power or find motivation in the midst of stress and exhaustion. When we are at our lowest, we are in greatest need of comfort, and this need can be anticipated and met, before it drives us to do the opposite of what we really want. Meeting comfort needs with food or alcohol are commonplace, but all of us can find other comforters if these would ambush us. A pampering bath, head rub, back massage, really good coffee/tea, pyjamas, a warm bed, yoga, or snuggling my dog can all help me to unwind. Create your own comfort list… you’ll need it!

Reducing obstacles can also include:

  • Making it really easy to do the thing you are trying to do.
  • Making it much harder to do the things that will derail you.
  • Avoiding people who will tell you not to bother; that there’s no point in trying as you will only fail. And those who will try to ambush you.
  • Avoiding triggers for the behaviour you are trying to change. If I’m driving home after a relentless day, I often feel triggered to go to buy something comforting to eat. It helps me to have a plan for what I intend to eat when I get home. It also helps to take hunger out of the equation, by having a healthy snack to eat before I drive home. This is the worst possible time or me to go food shopping.
  • Forgetfulness is a big obstacle to creating new habits. You can overcome this, by attaching the new habit to another habit, that you already do regularly. Make it something you don’t have to think about. For example, before I have a shower I will do 20 minutes of yoga. Since you won’t forget to take a shower, you can use that to prompt you to do the yoga, perhaps even leaving a post-it note on the shower door. This is called habit stacking.

Change for life – change for today

change for life

Much of our ‘coming undone’ is because we get fixated on the past (what has already been said and done), or over invested in the future (what may – or may not – happen next), and we fill our present up with these two anxieties. Today, right now is all we ever have. It’s all we can ever ‘make happen’ and it’s where we succeed or fail. Moment by moment.

The beauty of this is two fold:

  1. It is truly liberating to realise, that time spent raking over the past (which won’t change a thing) or obsessing about the future (which we can’t control) is simply wasted time that only fuels our anxiety and pain. The now – today – is what we can alter, and if we focus all our energy into the present, we’ll not only alter our future, but we will feel much less pain about our past. This is a decision made in the mind. It is a habit all of it’s own that we can develop. I allow myself to feel what I feel in any given moment, but the second my mind takes over and invites me down memory lane to find some terrible wrong to rake over, or goes off into the “what ifs” of the future, I simply refuse to entertain any such thoughts. This takes practice, but the literal peace of mind that comes from not thinking backwards or forwards, is an amazing reward.
  2. If we give ourselves to the now, all that energy that we used to spend worrying and re-living events and conversations, can then be focused into the present. That gives us a huge advantage in terms of making a change for life. Will-power is known to be a finite resource. It gets tired through overuse, just like the rest of us. The more focused we are – and the less depleted our energy is, by anxious worrying – the more will-power we will experience.

So start small and make a commitment to one change for life. Then, wait until you have fully established that change – so that it’s not a huge effort to maintain – before you make another change. Finally, log your successes, so that you can appreciate and celebrate change over time.

Let me know how you get on, in the comments below.

Alison x

Success and how to find it in the everyday


If you were to ask me about my 25 year marriage, and whether it was a success, I would be pretty sure to answer in the negative. It was far from successful by most of the standards I could use to measure it. Even finding the courage to leave, felt like a failure of sorts.

I am sure this sense of failure clings to most women, and especially those who experience relationship breakdown or loss. There are so many ‘what ifs’. Often we internalise this as deficiency; “I am not enough”, “I am a failure”, “If only I was more…”,  “I am not worthy of love”.

Feeding failure

We talk in terms of relationship failure, and in many respects we feel and experience ourselves as failures too. This can create a climate in our lives of misery and low self esteem. It’s so easy to try to counter this by pursuing unhelpful behaviours, such as fixating on the lost relationship, eating excessively or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

I used online dating sites to seek sexual encounters with younger men for about a year after I left my husband. There was some good in this, because I needed to rediscover my buried sexuality without embarking on a conventional relationship. I wanted to experience the joy of sex again, and in that much, I was successful. But I can’t deny that this part of my journey was also born out of a need to prove that I was still attractive, still compelling, and in many respects, I was shoring up my tattered self-esteem.

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Choosing success

Maybe it’s necessary to self-destruct a little as part of the recovery process that follows relationship loss. But the quicker we can change our minds and turn towards building, rather than tearing down, the more we will succeed in truly starting to heal.

Choose to redefine the way you label yourself

Five years on and a series of false starts later, I have learned a little about success. It’s clear to me that success has to be an active choice, something our heart must learn to desire and something our eyes must be opened to. It’s so commonplace for women to define themselves in terms of failure and inadequacy, that it almost seems to be the norm. In all kinds of ways, from our appearance to the management of our homes, we are taught to experience ourselves as “not enough”. As a result, our lives often go into overdrive, as we try to prove that we are, indeed, capable of perfection. Talk about being set up to fail!

No-one is perfect, no-one looks like the women in the glossy magasines (not even the women themselves), no-one is always cheerful towards their children or loving towards their partner. No home is always pristine, no garden, always weed-free and no plan is ever without glitches. That doesn’t mean that we are failing, it simply means that we are human.

Seeing ourselves in terms of success, rather than lack, is an active choice. Whatever the nuts and bolts of the life you choose, consider choosing to see yourself in relation to your successes, which are many. Try keeping an achievement diary. I don’t mean recording passing a major exam, or reaching a thousand would-be clients via your business email list. What I mean is something like this:

  1. Set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour throughout your waking day.
  2. Each time the alarm sounds, take a moment to think of one thing that you have achieved in the last hour.
  3. Write it down.
  4. Be real. It may be that you got through an hour without crying, or that you washed the dishes. It may be that you read to your child or dropped something without immediately calling yourself a clumsy cow. It may be that you went out for a walk or filed a tax return. It may just be that you managed to keep breathing.
  5. Practice seeing yourself as successful until it becomes a habit. Until it becomes the norm to define yourself in terms of all that you manage to achieve, rather then the few things that unravel each day.

Set yourself up to succeed


Whether you are establishing a new habit, re-programming your self-talk or learning a new skill, you can take steps that will ensure your success.

  • Be realistic – try not to fill your head with crazy images of success and perfection.
  • Remove the obstacles – think about what stops you from doing what you set out to do. If I want to get fitter and I enroll at a gym, after the initial enthusiasm wanes, the effort (and time) taken to get there is too much and I stop going. If I can do an exercise dvd or online class at home, I’ve removed the major obstacle and can easily fit the routine into my daily life. Success!
  • Record progress – it’s much easier to maintain something over time if you can see your evolution day to day, week to week and month to month.
  • Maintain momentum – once you are successful in the small things, build on your success and take the achievement to a higher level. If you’ve gone out for a 15 minute walk most days this week, increase the time to 20 minutes next week.
  • Feed your well-being – choose to be successful in something that will add to your well-being in other ways. This is a double whammie! In the walking example above, not only can you achieve success by walking every day, but you can improve mood and fitness at the same time.
  • Baby steps – choose success in something that will be relatively easy for you to begin with. Don’t try to establish 20 habits all at once. Change one thing, and your attitude to your achievement, then build on your success.

Let me know how you get on, and we can celebrate our forward flow together.

Alison x

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The life I choose – what stops us living it!

Is it really possible to change a life? Live the life I choose? Make any real choice at all? While these are deep philosophical questions, I do believe that we can take baby steps towards understanding how a life can be changed.

the life I choose

True choice is not deciding between available options. You can have 10 flavours of ice cream on offer and still not be able to choose your favourite.  All you can do is decide between alternatives, none of which are what you actually want! This methodology seems to fall short, when it comes to the way we live our one life.

Real choice involves making a decision based on what our heart desires, and then removing obstacles, until what our heart desires becomes one of our available options. Obviously, there will always be some desires that are beyond the realms of possibility for each of us – whatever I do, I’ll never be 5 foot 8 – but most things, however distant they may seem, are actually within our reach if we choose to pursue them.

Obstacles and constraints

None of us can be entirely unfettered when walking through this world and not everything that ‘holds’ us, can (or should) be removed. Most of us probably have something that makes us feel trapped from time to time; these things I would call constraints. Some constraints can change over time and some will remain with us for decades. If you are hampered by lack of money, you can change this over time, but if your constraint is (like mine) someone you want to care for, then you have much less control over the duration of the situation.

It was an enlightened person who said:

“grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change.”

We are wise, when we make friends with our constraints. Some things are not ours to change, but they impact us profoundly. Every constraint can be examined, and it is useful to ask questions such as:

  • Is this something (or someone) that I truly want in my life?
  • What is my responsibility?
  • Is there anything that I can do to make this less of a constraint?
  • Is there anything I can change for the better (however small)?
  • What would make it possible for me to achieve my hearts desire regardless of this constraint?
the life I choose
“I was moving mountains long before I knew I could…”

I found it so much easier to live alongside the constraints in my own life when I found a way of looking at them – and thinking about them – that led me to gratitude.

Obstacles are different! They are the things that get in our way, that we often have to let go of in our lives. When I decided to take a sabbatical year in my motor-home some of the obstacles that I had to clear out of the way first were:

  • The dogs that I had coming into day care and boarding in my home for their holidays. This work was built on relationship (with both humans and canines) and was extremely difficult to give up.
  • My personal sense of inability. I was terrified of dealing with things (especially mechanical things) on my own.
  • All of the stuff I owned that cluttered up my life.
  • The fear of not having enough money.
  • The fear of failing. After all, I didn’t even know how to do the things I wanted to get done that year – such as, publishing an ebook.

As I set my face towards what I wanted, chose a departure date (4th January, 2016) and began planning to make it happen, the obstacles began to melt away. Some were mountains that I had to climb, but none were insurmountable. Sure enough, January dawned, and an excited me climbed up into that cab, leaving the safety of my home behind. Sometimes the way to change a life is to just start walking in the direction that you want to go.

The life I choose

Many of us humans live for decades in a prison without walls, simply because we have no idea what we really want from our lives. i think it’s improbable that any one of us, would arrive at our heart’s desire purely by accident. Choosing is an active verb, a doing word…

the life I choose
The fear of making the “wrong” choice often paralyses us. You can try every door, one after the other, if you choose to.

It’s important to realise that we do not choose a life, make it happen and that’s it! Choosing your life is not a once in a life-time task, but rather a way of life. The life I choose is fluid. If I arrive at what I thought was the destination, only to find that nothing is as I thought it would be, then the wonder is that I get to re-choose. As many times as I like.

So what stops us choosing? Why aren’t we all pursuing our heart’s desires? What stops us dreaming ‘big’ and then calling our dreams into reality?

Primarily FEAR, backed up by a sense of INADEQUACY.

Our self-talk assures us that we don’t deserve to be living our heart’s desires, and even if we can convince ourselves that we do – at least in principle – deserve it, we are punched in the belly by a certainty that we are not enough to make it happen.

If you want to do some work within yourself to help you realise that you are indeed both worthy and enough, I would encourage you to check out the work of Brené Brown. Please let me know in the comments how you get on…

Need more help with creating positive self belief?

You are enough (note to self)

I start this blog on the back of last year’s “try it and see” idea, which was to create a support business for people who run pet care companies. I did create the business, but it never felt ‘right’ to me; the fit was tight and constricting. After 9 months of building, my interest waned and I knew this was not the life I choose.

What followed, was a period of self doubt, malaise and lack of direction. I should point out, that I run a thriving dog services business myself, and that this – plus the rent on my house – give me my necessary income. What I am seeking is a ‘heart’s desire’ kind of work; something to help grow me, and a place where I can benefit and encourage other people.

The truth is, those months of ‘doing nothing’ were actually time spent doing the most important work of all. Moving my internal position from self-doubt to purposefulness, from “I can’t” to “I’ll try”. And in the end, trying is all that we can ask of ourselves.

Free pdf Tool Kit  – How to change your mind

You are enough

You are enough
We are bigger than we think. You are enough!

You see, I have known for a long time the premise of what I want to do, I just doubted my capacity to do it, and felt like a fraud, an impostor; a person pretending to be something else. Of course, I wasn’t any of those things, I was just at the mercy of my own inability to look myself in the eye and say, “You are enough!”

What my heart desires to do, is to grow people. To enable people to choose to be whoever they truly are, and do whatever they wholeheartedly want to do. To move myself and – by example – others, from a place of “not enough” to a place of “you are enough”. To a place of trying. So here I am!

Do you feel ‘stuck’ and directionless? Do you struggle to believe that you are enough? The chances are you have a heart’s desire that currently feels too big for you, so you keep it buried. If this resonate with you, then let me know what you think…

Alison x