My website has moved!

Just a quick note to all my readers and followers that my blog has now moved over to www.the-art-of-being-happy.com. No further content will be posted on this blog, but I’d love for you all to come join me on the new site.

A couple of my more recent articles out are:

Visualise your highest self: 5 GENIUS Strategies To TRANSFORM Your Life Starting TODAY

Overcoming Anxiety: 3 Proven Steps to Changing Your Life

Please check them out! I’ve been working hard to produce good content which hopefully helps those out there who are struggling.

Thanks everyone for your support so far.

Why you should read and reflect more

She stood idle in a desolate, never ending wasteland with no promise of escape. She was searching for a bump in the landscape, a movement in the distance, a reflection shimmering at her but saw nothing. She was alone and lost. No one would find her here, no one could help. She’d somehow carelessly stumbled upon this land, not paying attention to where she was going. She had been daydreaming, seeking comfort in her mind which had been a far more pleasant place to dwell than in reality. She had become numb, but that was okay as there was a certain comfort to be found in that numbness. But now she had awakened suddenly; it was as if she had been in a dream and had begun to fall only to jolt awake and catch herself, to be met with a feeling of relief as it wasn’t real. But no relief came, she was lost and knew no way out. And so she had stopped walking, stopped moving forward. She was now paralysed in fear, in anticipation, in regret, in a rapidly depleting well of hope. She closed her eyes and begged the numbness to take her back, for in that suffering, in that numbness brought familiarity, and so she felt safe.


“If you stay in one spot, the view never changes, but if you keep moving forward, then new landscapes are revealed, and along with them, new potential.”

Shannon Lee: Be Water, My Friend

Becoming Stuck

Often in life we can feel stuck; we might recognise we want things to change but we don’t know what those things are. We want to lose some weight, so we begin training but are quickly met with huge amounts of resistance and it becomes too difficult.

The first time we ran, it felt easy. The physical act of running might have been a challenge, especially if we lacked fitness, but the forward momentum of making a positive change carried us forward. Like a rock strapped to you that had been flung forward, propelling you onwards on your runs.

However, the more runs you went out on, the slower that rock travelled and the harder it became to keep going, until it eventually just stopped. Now, each time you try to run you are weighed down by this rock, which seems to be increasing in size each time you try again. You are stuck again, but this time you have a rock pulling you down further. Another failure, another defeat. How will things ever change?

It’s easy to feel lost in these situations and feel like you will never make it, that you will never achieve your goals. The desire for change is present, but you’ve tried so many times with no success, or, you don’t even know where to start with a new goal. Here enters action paralysis. Action paralysis occurs when you overanalyse and overthink a solution or a way forward so much that decision making becomes ‘paralysed’. You don’t know what to do next. You consider trying a new option, but then the ‘What ifs’ creep in. What if I can’t do it? What if I give up again? What if I don’t like it? What if I try my hardest but I’m still not happy?

You want to make a change, but time and time again that simple desire for change isn’t enough to carry you through it.

So, what practical steps can you take to continue moving forward toward your goals?

Read more books

Books are often an under tapped source of knowledge, filled with a wealth of experience and lessons learnt. More often than not, you can find someone who has been through a similar struggle, or at least a similar thought process to yourself.

Through Ant Middleton’s trilogy I started to learn the value of taking more risks and taking accountability for my own life. It was a refreshing read and whilst I couldn’t relate to his own experiences, such as going to prison or climbing Mount Everest, the lessons he spoke about in his book proved invaluable for me securing the job of my dreams.

Through David Goggin’s book Can’t Hurt Me I learnt the value of never giving up on exercise. In particular, he spoke of an idea of callusing your mind; this is to expose yourself to small and manageable amounts of suffering over and over again, such as going out for a run each morning, until the suffering decreases and it becomes more normal and you become mentally more resilient. With this idea in mind, I lost 10kg of weight in 2020.

Through Shannon Lee’s book Be Water, My Friend I learnt about Bruce Lee’s philosophy and the benefits to being more open, more flexible, like water. Throw a rock in a stream and the water simply adapts and moves around it. A part I particularly related to was that of an old Chinese proverb:

“A tree that is unbending is easily broken”

Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher, writer and founder of Taoism
Instagram: @theartofbeinghappy_art

The idea being that in the wind a tree that is strong and rigid, such as an oak tree, does not move with the wind, and so it will be knocked down. However, a tree that is flexible and bending, such as a bamboo tree, will remain intact. Being rigid and inflexible in life will lead to disappointment and stagnation. Being flexible opens up many doors.

Consider books as little moments of insight captured throughout the ages, ways to help provide a guiding light when you feel lost. As Bruce Lee so rightly put:

Remember, I am no teacher; I can merely be a signpost for a traveller who is lost. It is up to you to decide on the direction. All I can offer is experience but never a conclusion, so even what I have said needs to be thoroughly examined by you. I might be able to help you to discover and examine your problem by awakening your awareness. A teacher, a good teacher that is, functions as a pointer to truth but not a giver of truth.”

Bruce Lee, Chinese-American martial artist and philosopher

Reflect regularly

Quite often we don’t realise the power of self-reflection. There’s a common misconception that keeping a diary or a journal is writing “Dear Diary, today my boss gave me a funny look and I think she now hates me”. Sure, this kind of journaling might have its place, but this isn’t what I’m referring to. Keeping a journal, a log, of common thoughts that crop up in your mind or writing down things when something negative happens can help you work through the problem and help you spot patterns in your thought process. This will in turn help you understand more about yourself.

For me, I felt numb. I couldn’t understand it, the world just seemed completely and utterly grey to me. Previous activities that I had enjoyed, I could no longer find enjoyment in. In particular, I noticed I no longer enjoyed drawing, which was a big hit to me as it’s something I’ve always loved to do. I spent a while thinking about it and trying to force myself to enjoy the process and then I noticed a thought that kept cropping up in my mind “You’ll never be able to make money from doing this, why are you doing it?”.

Just like that I realised my problem; I had turned a fun activity into work. I spent hours searching for things to draw that would get me likes on places like Facebook or Instgram and ended up entering ‘action paralysis’ when I felt so overwhelmed over what to draw that I just dropped drawing altogether.

I was no longer drawing what I wanted to draw, but rather what I thought other people wanted me to draw. And I didn’t want to draw those things, nor did I know what other people wanted me to draw. Guilt and unhappiness took over the process and drawing became stressful. When I switched back to drawing things for me, I noticed my enjoyment for drawing begin to creep back in. It wasn’t an instant process and I had to work at it, but eventually I got there and my love for drawing has returned.

“Leisure is not the absence of activity, it is activity. What is absent is an external justification. You can’t do leisure for pay; you can’t do it to impress people. You have to do it for you.”

Ryan Holiday, Stillness is the Key

This is a lesson that was reaffirmed when I listened to Ryan Holiday’s book, Stillness is the Key. Remember how I said books can provide small insights? This one helped guide me and helped me accept that it is okay to do things for me. Not everything is about making money or progressing my career.

Summary

In summary, if you combine reading with self-reflection you will begin to uncover the way your mind works and common thought patterns which make you feel ‘stuck’ in life. Books provide the ideas for you to consider; you might not agree with every suggestion made but it’s important to keep an open mind when reading. For years I wrote off yoga and mindfulness and I didn’t understand how simply being present in the moment and doing a few stretches could change your life. It took me a good few years to come back round to it and really consider what I could take from these practises to help me move forward.

Likewise, I’d always written off journaling as it felt embarrassing to keep a journal and whenever I tried to write I felt like I had to write carefully, as if someone was over my shoulder reading everything I wrote. I couldn’t be as honest as I wanted to, but over time I opened my mind to the practise and learnt to use it as a tool for expressing myself. Worst case, if I really did feel conscious about what I was writing, I would write it in a Word document to get it all out, then delete it. Find what works for you.


She rose to her feet and began to put one heavy foot in front of the other. She didn’t know where she was headed, but she knew she could no longer stay here for if she did, that would surely be the end of her. Days past with no clue, no sign to reassure her she was going in the right direction. She began to question her decision, but it was too late to go back now so she persevered forward until she noticed something in the sand. It was faint, indistinct, which made it easy to miss but she was paying attention now; it was a footprint. She gazed forward and noticed more footsteps disappearing into the distance and her heart lifted. For the first time in a long while, she felt hope for the future, hope she would find her way out of this inhospitable land. She did not know where the footsteps led which brought a sense of unease, but she was ready to see where they might taken her. And so she walked, she kept moving forward, open in mind to what lay ahead for her.

Achieving Your Goals: How to Form a New Habit

Habit: bring my camera with me on every walk so I can increase the number of photos I take to improve my photography skills (Instagram: @therunningshutterbug)

Have you ever had those days where, try as you may, you cannot bring yourself to fulfil a task? You tell yourself “I should do the washing up as I’ll appreciate walking into a tidy kitchen later on”.

You consider the thought for a moment, before a feeling of dread and discomfort overwhelms you and you find yourself sitting down to scroll through social media, or turning on your PC to play a game, or doing anything but the washing up.

Come the next day, you find yourself in a similar situation, with more dirty plates mounting and with that your desire to do something else ever increasing. So once again, you leave the dishes and find something easier and more fun to do. You feel guilty but come to the conclusion the process of doing the washing up would be far more unenjoyable so ultimately, you’ve made the right call.

Fast forward a few days, maybe even a week or two and every time you walk into the kitchen you are overwhelmed by the mess. You feel stressed, claustrophobic by the mess piling around you and unhappy with the task ahead. The thought pops into your head to do something else again, but this time you can’t; you have to take action. You tidy the whole kitchen and feel a sense of relief wash over you. You tell yourself “Next time I will do the washing up as it comes and not let it build up so much.” A week later, you find yourself in the same situation feeling stressed and overwhelmed and you are left wondering how you’re ever going to get on top of this undesirable habit.


The Theory

As humans, we have evolved to take the easiest and most gratifying course of action. Whether that be watching TV instead of doing the washing up, playing a game instead of going to the gym or scrolling through Facebook instead of writing that blog post you’ve wanted to write for a while.

It is speculated that this tendency to gravitate toward an easy and instantly gratifying task comes from our Nomadic ancestors who lived their lives in the moment. Their focus was on survival and any actions which didn’t give them an immediate advantage could jeopardise their survival as it was energy they didn’t need to expend. Nowadays, most of us don’t need to worry about walking out our front door and having a bear jump on us so we spend a lot of our time thinking about goals and what we want to achieve. However, our brain has evolved to keep us focused on survival, and therefore decisions that give us an immediate satisfaction or comfort. This can cause an internal conflict as we know what we want, but if the reward isn’t immediate our brain gravitates toward the easier option even if that isn’t in line with our ambitions.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear describes how often the more immediately gratifying the decision, the more negative it is for us achieving our long-term goals. Whereas the more resistance we have toward a decision, the more in line with our future goals it will likely be. For example, your long-time goal might be to lose weight.

However, when the opportunity arises to make a positive decision toward that goal, such as choose to cook a nutritionally rich meal instead of snacking on a chocolate bar, you often find yourself leaning toward the chocolate bar. The more you think about the positive decision, the more resistance you meet. Negative thoughts creep in about how much effort it’ll take to make dinner, how hungry you are, how you just want to sit down. However, when met with the decision about eating the chocolate bar, you might feel guilty, but the mental resistance you feel to picking up that bar is often far less than to cook yourself a dinner.

So, how do you train yourself to follow better habits?

After spending the morning working at my laptop, I noticed the time hit 12pm so put my laptop down and walked toward my kitchen. As I entered the kitchen, I noticed my shoulders tense up and a wave of dread overcome me. I looked around at the dishes pilled up, the sink full of pots and pans that I had ‘put into soak’ and empty cans and wrappers left carelessly on the kitchen top. I decided I’d had enough; whilst my lunch was heating up, I was going to do the washing up and tidy the kitchen.

Without realising, I had created an implementation intention.

An implementation intention is a plan you make with yourself which specifies the time and place you will complete a task, therefore increasing your likelihood of completing that task.

E.g. If/when situation occurs then I will perform this action

So, if I use the microwave to heat up my lunch, I will do some washing up.

Previously I had told myself “I need to tidy the kitchen” but, whilst true, it wasn’t specific enough. However, when I told myself “When I heat up my lunch, I will wash up some plates” I set a specific task and time for me to complete that task.

Okay, so I know what you are thinking; how does simply telling yourself when and where you will complete a task increase the chance of you doing it?

A study completed by Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999) on Implementation Intentions deducted there were three core reasons why an individual might not follow through on a goal-oriented behaviour, that is a behaviour that an individual has told themselves will help then move closer toward achieving their goal (e.g. keeping the kitchen tidy)

Forgetting to Act

Have you ever had the best intentions to act on an intention but simply forget? Taking your medication with the end goal of helping you get better, doing yoga after work with the end goal of getting stronger, tidying up your desk at the end of the day with the end goal of keeping a clean, uncluttered workspace?

One factor of why I never was able to keep the kitchen tidy was that I forgot to wash up my bowl after I’d finished with it. I forgot to take my mug through to the kitchen once I was done with it. I forgot about my goal to keep the kitchen in a better state. By setting an implementation intention, I created a trigger to prompt myself to complete my goal-oriented action. I knew every time I turned on the microwave, I should wash up a few plates and bowls. I eventually extended this out to when I turned on the kettle and was cooking on the hob too, so created more triggers to prompt me to keep the kitchen tidier.

Not seizing an opportunity to act

It’s true that sometimes you can simply forget to complete an action, but many of us will know the all too familiar struggle of not finding a good time to complete an action. For me, every time I walked into the kitchen, I knew I should wash up a few bowls, however I also knew I should get back to work so I failed to identify a good opportunity to act on my goal. However, when I identified that using the microwave or boiling my kettle was effectively dead time as I just went on my phone and browsed through social media, I identified a good opportunity to act on my goal-oriented action. I didn’t feel guilty about getting back to work as I wasn’t spending any extra time in the kitchen than usual; I was just utilising the time spent in there better.

Having second thoughts in the moment of acting

When you leave acting on an opportunity to chance, often if you meet some resistance to completing an action you will decide to take the easier option (remember, this is how our brains are wired – we tend to avoid short term cost even if it leads to long term benefit). However, by having already identified a clear opportunity to act and assigning an action to that time I removed all uncertainty about acting in that moment. I didn’t need to consider if I should complete the action as I had already assigned a plan of action to that moment of uncertainty.

The Philosophy

The great Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, once wrote:

To make anything a habit, do it; to not make it a habit, do not do it; to unmake a habit, do something else in place of it.

The reason why so many of us never progress toward our goals is because we are not consistent with the habits which help progress us closer toward our goals. Often, we try to do too much too soon which makes being consistent difficult and that default mindset of choosing the easier option kicks in as we are faced with too much resistance.

Our end goal may be to lose 10kg of weight by the end of the year, so we tell ourselves we’re going to go from doing no exercise to going to the gym 5 times a week.

Or our end goal is to learn a new language, so we tell ourselves instead of watching TV in our spare time, we’re going to spend two hours a day studying.

Or our end goal may be to eat healthier, so we tell ourselves instead of snacking between meals all day, we are going to cut out all snacking completely.

The problem isn’t with our end goal, but with the big habit changes we try to enforce in our daily lives. We expect to be able to go from doing no exercise to living a very active lifestyle of attending the gym 5 times a week; ultimately the mental (and physical!) resistance is too much and we quit. We try to go from spending no time studying to committing to two whole hours of study a day; our concentration wavers and the idea of studying becomes an unbearable task as two hours is too hard. We try to eat healthier and not snack but when hungry strikes we give in as it’s too difficult to go from snacking to no snacks at all; we feel like we must cut it out completely instead of, for example, replacing it with a healthier alternative or smaller snack.

When you set out your implementation intentions, keep them small at first until they become easy. Then you can increase difficulty. If I had told myself every time I turned on the microwave I had to do all the washing up it would have been too much, so instead I committed to washing up a few plates each time. Keeping your new habits easy will help with keeping them consistent; consistency will ultimately lead to a new habit forming and you a step closer to achieving your goals.

Keep it simple, be consistent and be patient. You will get there.

Finding your roadmap to happiness and success

We spend so much of our time trying to find original ways to live our lives and find our way to a successful life. We’re taught from a young age that copying people and ideas is cheating and is always bad. Yes, I would agree that if you copy your friend’s exam results then you’re cheating yourself more than anyone else and it will hurt you in the long run. Likewise, if you download cheats for a competitive video game to reach the higher ranks, you’re depriving yourself of the experience of learning and improving your skillset.

 However, whoever said it was a bad thing to copy successful habits and learn from other people’s experiences to take what’s helpful to apply to your own life? To immerse yourself in their experience and knowledge from mistakes and successes they’ve had? Too many of us at some point in our lives, myself included, have felt like they need to find their own way to a successful life. Well, after a couple of years of finding inspirational figures and watching their interviews, reading their books, watching documentaries made about them I feel I can now confidently say that our journey to a successful life, to find a way out of any hardships we are going through has already  been laid out by many who have come before us. The roadmaps are there, now let’s delve a little deeper in how to find them.

What do you value most right now?

This seems like an obvious question, but so many of us don’t consider it when we make important decisions in our lives. Should we go for that managerial job that’s just popped up? Should I sign up to the gym and commit to getting in shape? Do I quit my job and focus on writing my blog?

It’s taken me a while to understand what I value, but now I know it drives a lot of my decision making and I feel like I’m finally making progress with things that matter to me.

I spent a long time feeling very unhappy about weight I was putting on and how unfit I was. I was also terrified by the idea of having to spend time alone for an extended period as mentally I wasn’t in a good place. However, I didn’t know what to do about it. I would search online for answers but often came up empty. One day, when speaking to a counsellor she encouraged me to reflect upon what I had achieved each day and what I had enjoyed (I talk more about in my post about Finding a balance in life) but the crux of it is that she was trying to encourage me to make an active effort to reflect on the day gone and see what I did well and what I struggled with.

I found myself scoring high in the feeling of achievement after I had done some exercise. Likewise, I found a lot of peace and enjoyment in drawing. I did this task for about two weeks (I’d encourage longer as self-reflection is a great tool for understanding your mind) and identified I needed to fill my spare time with exercise and drawing.

So, what did I value? I valued leading a healthy lifestyle and to be in control of my own mind so I could enjoy leisure activities, so that’s what I started to focus on. All of the smaller objectives, such as learning a new coding language, setting up a side business with passive income and bettering myself as a gamer became less of a focus as they weren’t in line with what I currently value. I still want to achieve those goals so I’m not saying I’ll never work toward achieving them, however I had little drive to do them because they weren’t in line with what was currently important to me. In addition, they caused me a lot of unhappiness through guilt as I felt I had to work on them but felt too demotivated to.

It’s important that when you identify what you value, to only choose one or two projects to focus on at a time. If not, you’ll likely end up feeling quite burnt out and will struggle to achieve them. There are exceptions of course, some people thrive from being busy but even they will know their own limits for what they can take on. Whatever your limits are, try to be honest about them and not over stretch yourself too much.

So, I now know what I value. What next?

This is a tough question. It’s one thing to know what your focuses should be, it’s another completely to know about how to begin to work toward them.

This is where your inspirational figures come in. Becoming a fit and healthy individual with a strong mindset was very important to me so I began my research into inspirational people who had overcome tough physical and mental experiences, and completed amazing sports achievements to learn about their experiences and what lessons they’d learnt and troubles they’d have to overcome. There’s no set formula for finding these people, just open up Google and start searching. Likewise, I found talking to my friend who is a Personal Trainer was helpful as he was able to recommend some really good books.

For the world of sporting, so far I have three inspirations (I’ve proved links to their books for anyone interested):

Ant Middleton
David Goggins
Ross Edgley

Each of these individuals have a wealth of knowledge dispersed through books and interviews that I jumped on reading and listening to.

For Ant Middleton I learnt the importance of being completely brutally honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses and how to avoid pitfalls like having a victim mentality. I also learnt the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people and how to ignore those more toxic individuals in your life.

From David Goggins I learnt the importance of callusing your mind, that is to expose yourself to suffering so you can grow from it. Whether that’s running 2.1 miles instead of your initial goal of 2 miles when all you want to do is give up as you sprinted the last half mile and have a massive stitch. Or if it’s making yourself get up at 5am each day, despite how tired you feel and how much you’re suffering in that moment to wake up, to get used to waking up earlier and making the most out of your day. I learnt you can use suffering to make progress toward your goals.

From Ross Edgley I began to learn a lot more about my body from a sports science perspective and how that voice in your head and the tiredness in your arms and legs are telling you to give up else you’re going to collapse. However, they are just trying to maintain the status quo in your body (homeostasis) as a way to protect you.

As well as reading books, I also entered myself into several challenges to provide a good short-term focus for myself. Running is something I absolutely hate but wanted to build on, and I was really struggling to push myself. So, I signed up for Miles for Refugees and committed to running, walking and swimming 76 miles in a month. As I couldn’t do more than 2-5 miles per run it meant I had to run most days and swim or walk on ‘rest’ days. I’m still getting over my second ear infection from the amount of time I spent in the pool.

That was my September challenge, my October challenge is a drawing on. Inktober, where you are given a broad theme each day and draw it.

Inktober – Day 3, the theme is ‘Bulky’ so I drew the bulkiest villain I knew

Challenges are important as they give you a good short-term objective to focus on. It’s much easier to commit to a month of drawing, instead of telling yourself “I will get good enough to draw original artwork and sell them online to make a passive income”. That second one is damn near terrifying and seems so far in the future it’d be difficult to obtain. Inktober allows me to practise my drawing each day and focus on finding a style I like. That seems like a logical first step into achieving that much larger, more intimidating goal.

In conclusion, the roadmap to success and happiness isn’t always obvious but it’s there out for you to find. Nothing you are going through isn’t where someone has been before you and, for those brave individuals who never give up and keep pushing, there’s a lot of content out there to help you along your journey. Sure, you can read a self help book on the theory of happiness in principle, or you can learn from and relate to real life examples of people having to overcome those problems.

You may think “well this person hasn’t had the same experience as me so what they say isn’t relevant” but I encourage you to keep an open mind and take what you find useful. I am likely never going to climb Mount Everest, but it didn’t stop lessons from Ant Middleton’s book being helpful to aid me growing as a person.

Reflect each day. Think about what you feel like you’ve achieved and what you have enjoyed. If you notice you get a lot of enjoyment or a high sense of achievement from a certain activity, do it more. This is likely an area in your life you value a lot. Be honest with yourself about it, else you won’t find what you really value.

Find your own roadmap. Look for those inspirational figures that have produced content you can learn from. Do you want to become a more fair and balanced individual but have a problem with getting too angry over things? Read Nelson Mandela’s book on his struggle in life and how he had to learn to accept his anger and forgive his oppressors. Do you want to lose some weight? Read David Goggins book about how he went from a should have been failure in life to a highly successful athlete. Once you know your values, you’ll find those people you can relate to and learn from.

Challenge yourself. It can be difficult to keep pushing so find ways to keep yourself engaged. Enter a competition which forces you to learn a skillset or improve on an existing one. Get competitive with yourself and never stop challenging yourself to be better. You will improve.

Never stop learning. Absorb all the knowledge you can get. You don’t have to apply it all, but you do start to build up an arsenal of tools and habits that will shape you into the person you want to be. Never accept that your current reality will be who you are for the rest of your life. You can do it, trust me.

How not giving up led to me achieving weight loss

I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed – Michael Jordan

Exercise can be one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome, especially when you’re struggling with low mood. You recognise exercise is something you’d like to introduce to your life, but you have no energy or motivation to do it. For me, it has been a battle for the last 10 years to try and motivate myself to consistently exercise.

Over the years I’ve gradually seen my weight increasing, but I told myself it was because I was still growing. 10.5 stone, 11 stone, 12 stone… 14 stone. I would look at myself and wouldn’t be happy with the way that I looked, but I never considered myself overweight. That is, until I sat down one day after just getting a shower, saw my reflection in the TV screen and realised. I had a sizable amount of fat flopping over my sides and my stomach now had three rolls unwelcomely overlapping each other. I was overweight.

I think I had subconsciously known I was overweight but didn’t want to accept it and lose the image of how skinny and in shape I used to be when I swam. I already felt low; I didn’t need to add another problem to the list.

In more recent years I decided to try and commit to exercising. I signed up to a gym and planned to go at least three times a week. One visit to the gym later and a week had passed, and I was left feeling very demotivated. A couple of months had passed and I had built up the courage to try again but was met with the same disappointment. I just couldn’t bring myself to go, whether that be from feeling low or from lack of energy.

For months on end I felt a growing frustration within me and despair at the idea I would never be one of those people who gets in shape, has a great body and actually enjoys exercise. However, one day after failing to go to the gym again I noticed myself planning to start again next week. I reflected on how, historically, it had taken me a few months to get back on track and try again, however it was now taking me a week.

“Okay”, I thought, “it’s taking you less and less time to get back on it and try again. That’s progress.” I remember feeling a lot of relief when I acknowledged my progress, it wasn’t much and I still felt so far away from where I wanted to be, but over time I was able to change my habits and be more persistent with exercise.

I decided to set myself a challenge; something that would push me but also was achievable. I set myself the challenge of doing 30 days of yoga. This was beginner’s yoga so I knew it wouldn’t be hugely taxing on my body – turns out because I had little to no strength and fitness it was much more of a challenge than I originally anticipated, but it was still manageable.

However, as usual, I gave up; I got to day 5 and decided I was too tired to do day 6. But then come a week or two later I tried again. I got to day 10, then day 14; I was getting there. Then, finally, I did 30 days. It was tough and on multiple occasions I didn’t feel like doing it, so I would substitute the days routine for one in the series that looked a little easier so I would still be keeping on track, but was able to accommodate how I was feeling that day.

I wanted to give up multiple times, but I had been there. I had gotten to day 14 and given up and felt disappointed in myself. I was so tired of not achieving my goal, I used that negative emotion to drive me forward and push me to the end of the 30 days. I felt very proud of myself for achieving that goal, but I had to make sure I didn’t lose my momentum. The yoga stopped but going to the gym started up again. Two times a week, then three.

Fast forward a few months and I’m 5kg lighter, starting to see real progress with my strength and fitness and feeling good about myself. Now, I sometimes find it harder to not do a workout or push myself because I remember all the times I have failed or given up and how I have felt when I have. I use that negative energy to drive me forward, even if it’s just pushing that little bit harder than I did before. I wouldn’t have that if I hadn’t kept trying and failing.


Persevere

Start adding some exercise into your routine; this is probably the hardest part of your journey, when you’ve just started and are trying to make the change in your life.

Choose something you think you will be able to keep to; I found running wasn’t for me initially. It is a very tough sport to start from scratch and those first few runs aren’t pleasant. I found it put me off doing exercise a lot. Walking, however, was something I could get into more. Walks along the beach or in a nice area, listening to a book I found worked for me. Increase the length of your walks or visit hilly areas if you want more of a challenge.

I also tried using the gym, but if you can’t afford to then there is so much you can do with just your bodyweight. I gave up a lot, but I kept trying. When I was at the gym and had completed I workout I usually felt good, the hardest part is re-training yourself to go out and do it, especially when you really don’t feel like it.

You will struggle, you will give up, but you need to keep going. Allow yourself time, gradually you’ll begin to fall into more of a routine.


Use your experiences to drive you

Don’t let the challenges you’ve faced, the negative emotions that haunted you go to waste. Use them to drive you forward. I remember going out running one day when I really didn’t feel like it. I was two laps from the end of my run and was concluding I was going to give up and walk.

However, I’d been there before. I’d given up too early before; I knew I could complete the run, but mentally I was giving up. I remembered how I felt from times before and used that to take away the option of stopping. This didn’t happen immediately, but I’d given up to many times that I was fed up of doing it. The sense of achievement I got from completing the run was huge, and I learnt I have more control over my mind and my body that I thought I had. Since then, I push myself just that little bit further than the time before, because I can.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.

Mary Anne Radmacher, American author and artist

Being in Limbo

I’ve been going on walks recently to clear my mind and appreciate the now. Find me on Instagram

Mind racing, head spinning, I can’t sleep. I lay there in bed regretting the day gone, dreading the day to come. Sleep is a gift I have not been given this night. Sleep is a mercy, an escape but tonight I stay in a prison of my own creation.

I search for the darkness to consume me and relieve me of my thoughts, but I get pulled back to the disappointment of the day that has gone. I’ve been in a trance all day; focus is sporadic, joy non-existent.

I’m in a state of limbo, where my future is uncertain. I slipped into the all too familiar pattern of distractions. Starting a new game or continuing with a newfound hobby all seem to tiresome to me, so I give in and watch TV; mind numbing TV.

I’m paralysed in the moment, unable to move forward or backwards as I no longer know what the route ahead of me is. In the next few weeks I will find out if I have gotten my dream job. In the next few weeks I’ll find out if I have to begin the job search hunt again.

Being in limbo is something I have never recognised as having a big impact on me, until now. I am struggling to keep with my routines, with exercising regularly, with making time for my hobbies and for finding time to relax. This is because my whole world, right now, is focused around my future. The days drift by me, like unwelcome clouds in the sky concealing the sun. I can see the light in the distance, but right now I’m in shade; I’m in the unknown.

I want to look around me and acknowledge grass on my feet, the wind on my skin, the cat pawing at me who wants an early dinner. Instead, I stay fixated on the sky, worrying that if I lose sight of the sun, I won’t find it again. I am not living, I am existing.

But then my head kicks in:

“You’ve been here before Lisa; you know you shouldn’t distract yourself. You know you need to begin to plan your days again to add some structure, some certainty.”

I take my eye off the sky for a second, but panic and look back up again.

“Trust yourself, you’ve spent countless days looking at that sky but it’s only when you stop looking and focus on the present that the sun comes out.”

Reluctantly, I look away and take a moment to acknowledge my surroundings. I feel scared, I can feel my thoughts returning but I resist the urge to look back up again. It’s dark around me, colourless. However, when I take a second to just be in the moment, I see a glimmer of colour trickle in.

Being in limbo is tough, whether you’re waiting to find out about a new job, your exam results, if the person you like likes you back… it’s easy to surround yourself with distractions and take your mind off the problem. You may feel okay whilst you’re distracted, but as soon as the distraction isn’t there anymore you feel low.

In these times, it’s important to stop yourself from defaulting to numbing yourself to how you feel. It’s important to stop gazing up and start looking at what’s around you, what opportunities you have that day because they’re there. Whether it be reading that book you’ve wanted to start for a while, taxing your car that’s due to run out next week and has been bothering you or writing a blog post.

It’s important to take a moment to be mindful, that is to take a moment to appreciate, without judgement, what is around you. To quieten those concerns in your head and take a moment for yourself.

For me, that moment of silence and not rushing into my next mind-numbing activity helped me to recognise that I need something certain in my life right now. I need some structure, so I can be certain about what is going to happen in my day. Drifting through the day without a plan so far has left me susceptible to distracting myself playing games. Distracting myself with games means I’m not progressing forward which makes me feel unhappy, so I then can’t enjoy things I would usually enjoy.

Recognise when you are distracting yourself from your reality, it may take you a few days, maybe even months, to do anything about it but it’s important you recognise you are doing it.

Try to take away those distractions and let yourself be in the moment. Don’t be discouraged if you find it too difficult initially and go back to distracting yourself. It’s difficult to break a habit. Acknowledge how you feel and don’t forget it, one day you will have had enough of distracting yourself and those feelings of disappointment and regret will help you break the cycle.

When you take a moment for yourself, it’s okay to feel scared or unsure of what to do next. You’ll work it out. You may find some peace in the moment or you may not be there yet. Keep persevering. Don’t be discouraged if you’re still at the start of your journey with this, you will get there.

The sun will come out again, trust yourself.

The Fear of Failure

You can call it failure; I call it life.

Ant Middleton

It has been a while since I have written a post, so I must admit it is a little intimidating coming back to it again!

A lot has changed, the world is looking a lot brighter.

www.instagram.com/theartofbeinghappy_art/

When I wrote my first blog post I was very motivated after a long period of feeling low and enjoyed the experience, but the more I wrote the more I began to feel like it was a chore to do it. That is not what I wanted from my hobby, so I decided to have short break and explore some other hobbies.

Now, I have always been terrified when it comes to investing money into things, especially when I don’t know a lot about them. My husband and I ordered a hot tub (one of those blow up ones that probably looks a little more expensive than it really is). I remember looking in my garden and seeing so much potential for what I could do to make the hot tub area a nice area to be in. However, as soon as I thought about the possibility of putting in decking myself and designing an area in the garden, I felt terrified and immediately put that crazy idea to bed. I had never done it before so it would be a little risky to give it a go and potentially waste time and money.

Or would it?

I began thinking, contemplating over the idea of who I want to be. I considered the idea that a characteristic of the person I wanted to be was fearless, well somewhat anyway. I had just finished a book by Ant Middleton called The Fear Bubble (I highly recommend it). It talks about how so many people live their life in their own safe corridors. Opportunities come up to open new doors and see what is out there but ultimately most choose to retreat to the comfort of familiarity and certainty, their corridor. It is something I’ve been doing for the last few years.

Learn a new skill? I could but if I am not good at it, I’ll feel demotivated. Go for a job I’m really interested in? Maybe, but if I don’t get it then that’s it, I’m doomed to be a failure. Sounds crazy when you hear someone else’s thought process right? Of course as an outsider you’re able to see things in perspective.

“Just because you don’t get that job doesn’t mean you’re a failure!”

“Practise makes perfect, if you’re committed enough you will get better”

In all honesty, the reason I chose to commit to renovating my garden was because I was fed up. I was fed up of saying “I wish I could craft things”. I have too many wishes I’ve sat on for a while.

“I wish I could lose this weight that’s making me unhappy”

“I wish I could draw better”

“I wish I could write a successful blog”

No, I wasn’t having it anymore. Fail or not, I was going to build some decking and plant boxes for my hot tub area. I jumped in the car and went to Homebase to scope out how much it would cost me. Cost was something I had to consider but I had decided it wasn’t going to be a reason I didn’t go through with improving my garden. If it was too expensive to buy decking, then I’d buy used wood and sand it down and put decking together with that. Ultimately fear of failure was the driving factor behind all of my doubts, as soon as I recognised that’s what was triggering the doubt I pushed forward.

The fact is, if you want things to change you have to do something about it. Staying in my corridor wasn’t working. I felt stuck in life, demotivated and ultimately very bored. I would rarely push myself out of my comfort zone and give something a go, therefore nothing changed. The moment, and I really do mean the moment, I began facing my fears and having the courage to try new things my whole world changed.

It’s wasn’t some magical feeling, where you feel like you’re on top of the world and can do anything (not at the start anyway). I felt terrified, constantly doubted my decisions and was wondering if I’d just wasted a few hundred pounds of our hard earnt money on something I was going to give up on. However, I kept going. If I failed I would try again, as ultimately all failure is, is a lesson.

“You bought partially premade decking slabs which cost more than anticipated. Next time consider looking for used wood and making your own from scratch. You’ll learn more and save money.”

“You didn’t support the wood when you were cutting it so when it got weak it splintered the end. Next time, balance it between two equally high supports.”

“Okay, you sawed your finger so maybe next time buy some gloves.”

I’m still a novice when it comes to gardening and DYI, but I have learnt a huge amount in such a short space of time. I didn’t look at any of my mistakes as failures, I looked for the lesson in them.

A story I find inspiring is one of Mandy Harvey. She is a singer and songwriter who at the age of 19 lost her hearing. Mandy had every right to give up and accept the hand she was dealt, but instead she began to practise and learn again. Now, she’s not only a professional singer and songwriter, but also has a book and has several tours where she speaks about the hardship she overcame.

In her book, Sensing the Rhythm, she speaks about how most people stay inside their own boxes, their comfort zones, similar to the corridors Ant Middleton describes. She describes how she went through a period of feeling very low and her life and dreams had fell apart. However, one day her dad asked her if she’d like to sing along to him playing guitar. Naturally, she thought it was a crazy idea because she was deaf and things wouldn’t be necessarily be able to. However, from that, she was able to see a world of possibilities open up for her again as she was able to sing along and keep in tune and rhythm. Mandy recognised she wasn’t hopeless in her situation; she could change it.

Mandy goes on to talk about saying yes when the time is right. If she’d said no to joining her dad in what seemed like a hopeless cause she may have never climbed out of her box and grown as a person, opened that new door out of her corridor.

Since I made it my mission to work on my own self development, I have pushed myself towards saying yes and opening myself to new experiences. More recently, I have not let fear of failure dictate what I can and can’t do.

I thought I was going to fail miserably at my garden, but I’ve done a good job that I’m proud of and have learnt a lot – I’m now progressing onto making some garden furniture.

It’s not fully done yet, but I’m proud of the progress made so far!

I thought I’d fail at my first interview for a job as historically I’ve never made it when I’ve looked to pursue my dream, but this time I passed it. I learnt from my previous experiences and used them to inform me this time round.

I had the courage to step out of my comfort zone and the resilience to take the positives from my failures. I honestly believe progression leads to happiness, which is why so many of us are unhappy as we feel stuck. Don’t let fear of failure stop you from growing as a person. The more you fail, the more you’ll learn and grow.

Sure, it may be uncomfortable and you may mess up, but next time round you’ll do better. I have had some awful experiences failing but I wouldn’t change them. I have learnt a lot and I’m beginning to feel happier as I’m not the same person I was a year ago, even a few months ago. The idea of failing may be terrifying, but the idea of never trying and letting your life drift by you, that is what is truly scary.

Things turn out best, for people who make the best of the way things turned out

John Wooden, American basketball players then Coach

Finding a balance in life

River_1

It can be difficult to know what to do some days; sometimes you feel like there is so much to get done and not enough hours in the day, at other times you have nothing to do and filling the void of nothingness in your day can be daunting. This blog post is going to look at what you can do to find a better balance in your days and feel more content with how you’ve spent your time.

PACE Yourself

Play time is an important element to factor into your day; doing something that gives you a sense of enjoyment. Whether you enjoy going out with friends and family (albeit virtually at the moment with current Covid-19 lock down measures) or reading a good book, it is important to have time in your day that is just for you. You don’t need to necessarily be achieving anything or have an aim to what you’re doing, you are there to enjoy the experience.

For people like me who are very goal orientated and struggle to relax, knowing what to do to relax can be a challenge in itself. Something I have found helpful is to, at the end of every day, write down 3 things you did that you enjoyed that day and rate them on a scale of 1-10. My observations are below:

I worked past 5pm because I was enjoying my work

Scale: 7/10

I contributed work towards my blog

Scale: 8/10

I watched an episode of a documentary about Michael Jordan and  found it inspirational

Scale: 9/10

 

From this, you can begin to look at what you enjoy doing the most and start to plan time into each day for these activities. You won’t always be able to fit them in each day, but it’s important you try to keep as much balance as possible.

For me, I really enjoyed writing. However, I did not enjoy stressing about what to write about. So, I made a conscious effort to not set myself any goals for writing a blog post. I told myself that I may not even publish the post, that it was just for me to write and reflect on how I was feeling. When you take your focus away from all your goals and things you need to do and just focus on the experience of doing what you enjoy, it’s a moment of complete bliss.

Achievement is the next thing we’re going to look at. For many people, whether you’re goal orientated or not, it is important to feel like you have achieved something. From my personal experience, I need to constantly be achieving something every day to feel like I’m progressing forward. If I don’t, I feel very low and demotivated. However, people often make similar mistakes when trying to find what gives them a sense of achievement:

  • They look online at suggestions other people make, such as doing the washing up or tidying the house but those suggestions aren’t personal to them
  • They set unachievable goals for the day and feel demotivated when they cannot meet them

Similar to understanding what makes you happy, it’s also important to understand what is important to achieve for you personally. You may have a big end goal of earning lots of money by 30/working your way up to your dream job/going from being a complete slob to keeping the house perfectly tidy and that’s okay. However, you need to identify smaller, more achievable tasks you can complete to get closer to your goal. I began to write down 3 things each day that I did that helped with my sense of achievement that were personal to me, as small as they were.

I did the washing up and brought some washing up from downstairs

Scale: 8/10

I ate in line with my diet

Scale: 8/10

I wrote part of this blog post in HTML instead of using the normal viewer

Scale: 9/10

 

It may not seem like you’re achieving much, but slowly you are performing behaviours that are moving you closer toward your goals. Something as simple as keeping the kitchen tidy has done me a world of good with feeling less stressed. Slowly but surely, I am becoming less of a slob. Try to plan small amounts of time in your day to complete these activities.

Care for yourself. It is so easy to become flustered and lose track of your routine. Weekends/time off work can be particularly challenging as there is not a set routine you need to follow. You may choose to sleep in, but then become overwhelmed with guilt for not making use of the morning. You may treat yourself to a bar of chocolate but feel like you’ve failed at eating healthy for that day. You may go out for a walk but cut it short because you feel tired and feel like you’ve let yourself down.

Let yourself off the hook for those times; often they are indicators that you do not have enough balance in your life. It is okay to not meet every goal in your day; you can get back on track by focusing on your next one or reassessing and considering if you need a bit more ‘me’ or ‘achieve’ time. Beating yourself up about missing targets is that negative voice in your head trying to hold you back, but that isn’t you. Be kind to yourself.

Energy to achieve your goals or to engage with things you enjoy can sometimes be challenging. There will be days where you don’t feel like doing anything or feeling positive, however by keeping to your plan and doing it your mood will improve.

I had an awful day a few weeks back, where I had decided “Today is a write off” and that I didn’t have any energy to write a blog post. I began to lay down and close my eyes to escape from my reality but pushed myself to go outside and sit in the sun. Initially, I felt rubbish and couldn’t see how sitting outside was going to help my mood. However, I put on an audio book (something I enjoyed listening to) and laid there listening to it. After a few minutes, I felt the tension in my shoulders go as I just enjoyed the experience of relaxing.

Half an hour later, I sat up after having listened to enough of my book and pulled out my laptop and began writing my blog post. I actually wrote my best blog post to date and ended the day feeling so positive and like I’d overcome a big hurdle. I would never have managed it if I’d let myself accept that nothing was going to be accomplished that day.

It’s important in life to find a good balance that works for you between caring for yourself and achieving your goals. If you swing too far one way you may feel stressed and anxious all the time, or too far the other you may feel low and depressed. Reflect on each day as it comes and build a plan that works for you, one you know you will make you feel happy and will bring a sense of achievement to your days. Pace yourself, you can do this.

This blog post is based off of a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy PACE plan I’ve been trying to implement, you can find a link to it here.

When it feels like you’re not progressing in life

Today is a day of not feeling good enough. Today is a day of feeling so far away from all of my goals. This is a post written in the middle of me trying to figure out what’s going on in my head.

First mistake of the day, I played a video game – I know, I know, if you’ve read any of my previous posts you know this was a terrible idea for me. I was already feeling a little low as I went out for a walk yesterday but wasn’t able to capture any good photos. I had some okay photos, but nothing any average photographer couldn’t take. I tried to then do some drawing but had the same thing, it was a pretty average drawing. Given my more recent drawings were quite good I felt like I needed to progress forward and not stay in my comfort zone.

Second mistake of the day, I had some chocolate. I’m trying to lose some weight at the moment and so far, I’ve lost 5kg. Last night I got myself some fish and chips as my husband and I have ‘take out Friday’. However, I really wasn’t that hungry so essentially forced myself to have it. I went way over my calorie goal for the day when I really didn’t need to. I didn’t even enjoy what I was eating so it was a completely wasted day of progress. So, I was feeling a little discouraged from that this morning so had some chocolate to feel better. 400 calories I did not need to be eating. Of course, today is now a total write off as there’s no way I can keep to my calorie goal when I’ve eaten 90% of them by 4pm. Might as well eat some more.

Third mistake of the day, I wrote a bad blog post. Or rather, I wrote a normal blog post but didn’t feel like I’d progressed my writing skills since my last post so of course it’s a bad post. To sum up, so far today as been a day of no progression so I feel quite low. I seem to have a problem with not progressing.

I had an interesting conversation with my CBT counsellor last Monday; we were discussing the importance of down time. I had said how I’ve gone from not doing anything and feeling very low, to doing far too much and feeling quite tired and overwhelmed. Bottom line, I was very concerned that it didn’t matter if I was doing nothing or if I worked hard toward goals, I still wouldn’t be happy.

My counsellor asked me what I thought of relaxation time and I said I recognise when I need to have it, so I can recharge and start working toward goals again. She was taken back a bit by how I perceived down time; a way to recharge and refocus. She pointed out that often people don’t have an objective with down time, they just want to relax and enjoy themselves.

Whenever I have down time, I feel like I’m wasting time I could be using to progress my skills. Therefore, I feel unhappy as I’m not progressing. However, if I don’t have enough downtime, I feel overwhelmed and like the quality of what I’m doing isn’t good. Again, I’m not progressing my skills.

Raft

So often we can fall into the trap of not having enough balance in our lives. It can feel like we’re on a float out to sea with sharks circling around us. We need to be sat in the middle to evenly distribute the weight, however we find ourselves leaning one way or the other. The more you lean one way, the quicker the float starts to sink beneath you. Before you know it, you’re slipping off the float, so you scramble your way to the other side to try and stop the float from flipping. However, now that side begins to sink so you once again race to the other side. Getting back to the middle feels impossible so you continue this pattern until you’re too exhausted to continue and fall off and accept your fate.

Down time; time to just be content with things that you enjoy that don’t necessarily work toward a goal is important. Today I am being unkind to myself. I enjoy playing video games as a way to unwind, however as I’m not progressing forward with anything, I bring a lot of guilt into what I’m doing. I feel like a day has been wasted.

As a result, I lose motivation to keep with my weight loss goal. I overeat and feel bad for it.

I force myself to write a blog post which I just can’t get into, so the end result isn’t what I want it to be. I feel bad for not writing a good post.

I have done so well this week with my weight loss goals so needed a break today, to just unwind and enjoy myself. If I eat more than I need to, that should be okay as I’ve actively lost weight this week and kept my fitness routines going, even when I didn’t feel like it. I have achieved things this week, just not today. That should be okay, but somehow in my head it’s not.

However, I recognise the guilt is there and it shouldn’t be. I guess the next step is to figure out how to move past it. No answers in this blog post today I’m afraid, just frustration.

You won’t always have days where you can find the answer to something, let alone know what to do about it. This is still quite a new realisation to me, that I punish myself for down time if it’s not achieving anything. So today is a day of reflecting on those feelings of guilt, acknowledging them and trying to understand what I need to do to help myself deal with them. I don’t know how to deal with this one yet, however I do know that if I keep paying attention to it and recognising when it happens, I will find a way.

University, Stress and Mental Health

It can be terrifying growing up nowadays as there is so much choice around. The possibilities are endless, yet you feel trapped and like life is closing in on you forcing you to decide on what your career should be.

GothicSculpt
“The hardest battles are fought in the mind, not with the sword.” – Hellblade, Senua’s Sacrifice. This was a model I did in my third year. It had absolutely nothing to do with any project I was working on, but it really captured how I felt. Alone and in the dark, trying to find my way out.

What subjects do I study at school?

Do I go to college?

Will it look bad if I don’t get a degree?

For me, I had never really had any doubt in my mind I was going to University. I had always had a passion for graphic design and art, so it seemed natural to go to University to study Animation. It was exciting; I’d secured myself an unconditional offer at Ravensbourne University and couldn’t be happier.

My first year was great; I was living away from home, looking after myself and studying a subject I found fascinating. I had lovely classmates, not that I was particularly social myself, but it was a great atmosphere and one I look back on fondly. However, come my second year I began to notice I felt a mounting pressure growing on me. I still felt like a novice in things I was doing, and I wasn’t excelling at anything. I would look at classmates around me knowing what they wanted to do, and they’d chase after it.

You’re so far behind them, they’ve spent a lot more time learning than you have. You’ll never catch up.

It’s funny how thoughts creep up on you; they start off relatively quiet, a whisper in the back of your mind. However, it becomes skilful at creeping and you become blind to it approaching. Your body knows it’s there; headaches and tension become a familiar feeling, screaming at you to notice the stress that is mounting up. However, you carry on until it gets to a point where you cannot ignore it anymore. By this point in time, fight or flight kicks in. You either run away from the situation, you decide University isn’t for you and drop out or let your grades slip. Or you face the thoughts head on.

For me, I ran. Come my third year I had been ambitious and wanted to take on lots of different projects so I could really try and secure myself a top final grade. I was still stressed out about what I was going to do after University, but I had my focus with all my projects. I had noticed that I had started to need my partner a lot more and I found myself crying quite often.

However, it didn’t occur to me how stressed I had become until one day when I went in for a routine check-up for my Crohn’s disease (a chronic health condition that, for me, was triggered off by stress). I was told the severity of the inflammation that had occurred due to the build up of stress and not paying attention to how my body felt. I was in pain every day, whether that be headaches from tension or stomach aches through my illness, but I had learnt to live with it being a part of my life.

Due to the severity of the inflammation, I had to go into hospital for around a week. I can honestly say this was the best thing to have had happened to me at University. It was a huge wake up call and reality to check into how I was coping with things and how my mental health was declining. I remember my first few nights in hospital, I felt relief. I was stressed that I had just started my third year of University and now I was in hospital, falling behind in my work but I was also relieved as I had a reason to give myself a break (not just from University work, but from being wrapped up in my own little world, or rather nightmare, for the past couple of months).

Now, I could have chosen to carry on my University work from in hospital and continue to be distracted by my work and goals for the future, however my dad helped me recognise that I needed a break, some time to take a step back and gather some perspective on my situation.

When I look back now, I could see I had gone into autopilot, my brain shut off and me falling asleep at the wheel. I was rapidly rolling down a hill heading to an inevitable crash at the bottom. However, the passenger in my car, my dad, tapped me on the shoulder to wake me up and I applied the breaks and pulled over. There, I was able to think about what had just happened and how I’d gotten to the point of falling asleep. I was able to recognise the negative thought patterns that had exhausted and numbed me to what was happening around.

University can be a very stressful experience and can make you question why you decided to go there in the first place. However, what I have learnt from my experience is that self-reflection can be one of your greatest tools to success. Had I not listened to my dad, my mind, my body whilst I was in hospital, I feel sure I would have ended up back there again, possibly ruining my chances at achieving a good grade at University.

However, from taking a step back from my situation I was able to identify that the thought of getting a relevant job after University was stressing me out no end.

My partner and I want to live together after University, but I’ll likely need to be based in London and he’ll be in Chichester, the commute will be too much.

…I don’t know what I want to specialise in, I feel like I have to choose a speciality to get a job after University.

…I don’t have enough time to get my skills up to scratch before I finish my third year.

The combination of all these thoughts (and many, many more) was making it impossible for me to focus on any of my work. I had to drop a project as I just couldn’t deal with the stress of doing it, thinking about how it wasn’t going to help me to develop any skills to get a job after University. This shift in perspective made me realise that, for me, the best thing to do was to not set any expectations to go into an animation job after I finished my third year.

In actual fact, I lined up an easy job at an energy provider so I could give myself a break after I finished my studies. That job turned out to be great; I got to use my creative skillset and learnt a whole lot more which has made me into a bit of a jack of all trades – master of none, sure, but boy do I have a desirable skillset (check out this TED talk if you don’t think you’re designed to just specialise in one area!).

I couldn’t focus on my third year as I was dealing with the stress of getting a job straight after University else I’d be behind everyone else or, worse yet, never make it as an animator. However, that thought was impacting my ability to do my coursework as I would spend so much time thinking about how I needed to use this time to work toward getting a job, I ended up not doing anything as I felt so exhausted.

I would never have realised this had I not accepted a break when it presented itself. It’s easy to think that you need to be using all your time to do something practical or work toward a goal; however, the value of doing nothing, letting yourself just think and just be in your own mind, is invaluable. I ended up with a First-Class Honours and learning a lot about myself and how I work.

If you’re struggling right now and feeling like you can’t find a way out, take a step back and really acknowledge those thoughts running through your mind. They will tell you a lot about what is best for you. Take away those pressures and expectations and take care of yourself, you’ve got this.