Become Mindful4Life with me!

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Today marks the start of my favourite “challenge”- Mindful In May (MIM).  This will be the third time I have participated in MIM and the benefits for me have been noticeable, significant and sustained. For example, I find it much easier to deal with negative emotions within myself and also from others, I am able to “switch off” from worries rather than get caught up in them, I eat more mindfully which helps to recognise hunger and fullness cues, and I can achieve a state of relaxation within minutes.
What is Mindfulness?
Just like our bodies need regular training to keep fit, our minds need training too to function at their best. Mindfulness is really a form of mental training that supports the mind to be more focused, clear and calm and enhances our emotional intelligence.

Mindfulness is a particular type of awareness that develops through the practice of mindfulness meditation – a technique of paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment with openness, curiosity and non-judgement. Through the regular practice of mindfulness one develops more focus, concentration and capacity to respond effectively rather than react impulsively to life’s daily challenges.

There is now compelling evidence supporting the fact that mindfulness meditation when practised regularly, can lead to:
•   Structural changes in the brain associated with enhanced mental performance
•   Reduced stress and its negative impact on the body and mind
•   Improved physical and mental well-being
•   Reduced genetic ageing through its protective impact on gene expression and degeneration
•   Increased happiness
•   Enhanced immune function

How to join my team for Mindful In May:

  • It’s only a $30 fee to register for the challenge which gets you the entire one month online mindfulness program. Register through the website and you’ll get a daily educational email and meditation practice starting today
  • Join my teamMindful4Life so we can pool our fundraising efforts and watch our impact as a team. We can also keep each other motivated. If we’re amongst the top 10 fundraiser teams we’ll be featured on the MIM website and spotlighted on their social media as a Mindful in May champion. If you have already signed up but would like to be part of my team, send me a message and I will transfer you over.
  • Come June your brain will be re-wired for the better with greater clarity, calm and focus. You’re fundraising will have transformed the lives of thousands in need. It’s a win, win. Clear mind for you, Clean water for others.
  • NB: The registration fee is not a donation but helps to keep Mindful in May running each year. Donations to Charity Water are not tax-deductible outside of the USA. 

Competition

I have one free entry to give away for the wonderful Mindful In May experience.  For a chance to win, let me know your answer to the following question:
What is the one way you would like mindfulness to help transform your life for the better?

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Posted in Emotions, Mind, Mindfulness, Psychology | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Emotional intelligence series: Unlocking your realm of influence

keyhole

As many of my loyal readers would know by now, I work as a Psychologist for most days of the week.  Part of my role involves providing support to employees of various organisations around Australia, for any work-related or personal issues they may be experiencing.

Lately, I have been hearing a common theme during sessions – “I hate my job”, which in most cases is accompanied by symptoms of depression.

I won’t use this post as an opportunity to chicken and egg the depression/workplace scenario, but below is a quick snapshot of what happens when somebody is experiencing depression.

The Negative Triad

When somebody is experiencing depression, they often think negatively about themselves, things that happen in the world, and their future.  This is called the negative triad.  I’ll give you an example of how this plays out.

I am working with a young person experiencing depression, who has set himself the unrealistically high goal of obtaining high distinctions in each of his subjects at university, as well as accelerating his course by completing more than the recommended amount of subjects per year.  He intends to achieve this whilst taking on a promotion at work, in a job that he “hates”, where he feels it was “pure luck” that led to the promotion rather than hard work.  The promotion will require significant periods of travel away from home, ultimately leading to missed classes and potential problems with university attendance.  In many ways, setting this unrealistic university goal is setting himself up to fail, which has the potential to reinforce his strong feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, probably leading to him blaming himself if things don’t work out as expected.

In another example, I am working with a client who “hates” her job, but feels helpless and hopeless about changing things, expecting any efforts to either fail or lead to an even more miserable job or predicament.  Another common experience of depression is to negatively interpret past and present experiences and screen out the positive events in life.  In a recent session with this client, I asked how her week had been to which she replied ‘awful’.  After some digging around, I learned that in fact, this client has experienced a really positive week, being given some flowers to say thanks from a customer, getting a bonus from her manager for taking on some additional duties while she was on leave for the week, being taken out for a surprise dinner from her boyfriend, and catching up with some colleagues for a fun night out after work.  If you have read any of my other posts about the power of our thoughts such as here or here, you would recognise that this style of reasoning is part of the all or nothing/black and white thinking trap, which is also very common when somebody is experiencing depression.

So what can we do about this?

Unlocking your realm of influence

A simple activity I like to complete with my clients is the Circle of Influence / Circle of Concern activity, developed by Stephen Covey.  This activity asks you to draw two concentric circles, with the outer circle representing your circle of concerns, or all those things in your life that are worrying you or causing you to feel down, and the inner circle representing your circle of influence, or all of the things in your life that you can impact in some way.  With depression, quite often a person feels that there outer circle is all encompassing, and their inner circle is diminished to the point of non-existence. This can further exacerbate feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and ‘stuckness’.

Applying emotional intelligence

  • Think about how you can expand your inner circle – remember, only you can decide what attitude to take with you to work each morning, what attitude you bring home with you, how you enforce boundaries between work and home, what self-care you apply to your daily routine, who you interact with each day, how you spend your non-work hours, and what you do with any difficult thoughts and emotions.
  • Look for the shades of grey – acknowledge that our minds can often fall into the all or nothing/black and white/good and bad judgment trap, particular when we are feeling depressed. Make a conscious effort to look for the shades of grey, to create a more realistic viewpoint of your situation.
  • Recognise the negative filter – make a conscious effort to look for and appreciate the positives, rather than allowing our thoughts to fall into the depressed thinking trap of disqualifying the positives. A simple activity to help with this is to identify three things you are grateful for at the end of each day.
  • Externalise your depression – recognise the power of depressed thinking on your energy, actions, and mood. When you notice negative thoughts, tell yourself “this is just the depression talking” rather than owning and believing every word it utters.
  • Plan to do one thing each day – with depression, you can fall into the viscous cycle of not feeling motivated to do anything but what is essential (for example, going to work), which can lead to not planning to do fun and/or satisfying activities, which can further enhance the feelings of depression. A simple habit to get into is to set one thing each day that you plan to do, however small, that is a non-essential activity.  This activity has the potential of bringing you a feeling of satisfaction, joy or accomplishment.

If you would like some personalised assistance to develop your emotional intelligence or work through depression, contact me to discuss how my health coaching program or psychological services can assist you to create your own roadmap to success.

Posted in Emotions, Mind, Psychology | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Do yourself a favour – get to Ghost Hill Road!

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Exploring Ghost Hill Road’s walking track with happy Charlie

I have just returned from a blissful weekend away at Ghost Hill Road retreat in Bilpin, just shy of 2 hours’ drive from Sydney.  I am feeling super relaxed and grateful for the experience, and so decided to honour this with a blog post.

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First stop, wine and relaxation!

I first stumbled upon Ghost Hill Road when I was searching for a yoga retreat to attend with one of my best friends.  Initially I was drawn to Ghost Hill Road because it provided the perfect balance of yoga, relaxation, and free time, and owners Brenda and Alan were super accommodating in terms of creating a bespoke package to suit our needs, with as much or as little yoga and massages as we wanted.  I was also stoked to discover that Brenda followed a Paleo lifestyle, so I knew that my eating needs were going to be well looked after during my stay.  My first experience was so wonderful I vowed to return, and to take my partner along.

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Portia and Charlie becoming acquainted

Fast forward to December 2014, when I was clearing my emails one evening before bed, and I was thrilled to discover an email from Brenda informing me that I had won a Facebook competition where my prize was a weekend away at Ghost Hill Road for two people, complete with breakfast and yoga!!  To my absolute delight, Brenda also extended the invitation to our furry child Charlie.  So excited!

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Paleo Breakfast supplies

Turning up to the property on Friday afternoon with my partner and our cattle pup Charlie, I noticed myself feeling instantly relaxed, and it was like I was falling in love with the place all over again.  As soon as we entered the property, we were greeted by Portia, a gorgeous 7 year old Kelpie who was eager to meet Charlie (the pair became inseparable over the weekend), and then Brenda with her beaming smile personally welcomed us, making us feel like we were guests in her own home.

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Welcoming cheese platter

Enter the cottage…a luxurious, spacious home away from home, equipped with everything you could want for a getaway.  On the dining table was a welcome note along with a cheese platter, some dark chocolate, and some local Hill Billy Cider to kick the weekend off with!  Kitchen comes stocked with gluten-free and regular muesli; pancake mix; organic coffee along with coffee machine; a selection of quality teas; organic milk; and provisions for a paleo breakfast such as free-range eggs, bacon, mushrooms, parsley and tomatoes.  Lounge room with board games, heaps of magazines, television, a stack of DVDs, and a comfortable couch.  King sized coma-inducing bed where you are guaranteed a restful, blissful slumber, and then my favourite – the bathroom with a deep double spa, candles, and bath robes, all overlooking the luscious greenery.  You don’t even need to pack toiletries because in the cupboard is a brand new toothbrush and every essential bathroom supply you can think of.  For colder nights, there is a real log fire you can start up to keep yourself toasty, and air conditioning for warmer weather.

spa with a view

Spa with a view

There is a lovely outdoor area with table, chairs, umbrella and a BBQ which we fired up on our second night.  We ordered a BBQ pack from Brenda which was utterly divine and as I mentioned to Brenda, totally underpriced!  The pack consisted of organic, grass-fed steaks, garlic butter, baked potatoes, a fig and walnut salad made with ingredients from the retreat’s own garden such as mint and salad greens, and for the non-Paleo eaters, some rustic garlic bread.  Dessert was a glorious gluten-free walnut brownie, with fresh cream and strawberries.

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Seed cooking my dinner

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dinner Gluten-free brownie & yummy Paleo dinner

My partner and I both took part in Saturday morning’s complimentary 9am yoga class, which Brenda teaches on the sunny deck of the main home where she lives.  The view from the deck is spectacular, and you really feel the tranquility of the property which is set on acres of stunning bush land, with ducks frolicking in the property’s dam, and Charlie and Portia chasing each other around the spacious greenery which backs onto the National Park.  Brenda’s style is so adaptable, the class suits everybody from beginners (my partner’s first ever class) to advanced yogis.

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(Trying to) Downward dog

You could easily just stay on the property for the entire duration of your stay and feel adequately entertained and equally rested, but we decided to take Charlie on a bushwalking adventure in Mount Victoria, a 20 minute drive west from Ghost Hill Road.  Here we completed a 4 hour bushwalk and around half way through I realised we should have ordered a picnic pack from Brenda and Alan!  They really have thought of everything.

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Epic bushwalk in Mount Victoria

Although we really didn’t want to leave, and even Brenda suggested there was “no rush” in checking out, we departed just before midday on Sunday.  We decided to explore the local area before heading home.  There is an abundance of orchards, many of which you can enter and pick your own apples, plums, peaches and pears from.  We also stopped at a fig farm, a fresh apple pie bakery, and the apple bar – an atmospheric bar serving local ciders on tap, as well as regular drinks and a selection of food.

If you are thinking about embarking on a relaxing getaway, I would highly recommend Ghost Hill Road for peace and tranquility.  You won’t meet a lovelier couple who go out of their way to look after you during your stay.  I can’t wait to return, and I know Charlie is missing his new-found friend too.

Posted in Health, Heart, Mindfulness, Psychology, Relationships, Spirit, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sport Psychology Special: Understanding the power of your thoughts

I am just about to finish teaching a Summer School unit at the University of Western Sydney in Sport and Exercise Psychology, and so I have decided to share with you some insights to help you obtain a peak performance in sport, exercise, work, or with any goals that you have set for yourself.

This is a post I wrote to help out my Kung Fu buddies, but the ideas can be applied to any performance setting.

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This is Charlie, who seems to have an obsession with my left Kung Fu shoe. Every time i jump in the shower after training, he shoe-naps this and places it in random spots around the house.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes your mind is your worst enemy? In my 14 years working as a Psychologist with athletes and peak performers, I have not come across one person who does not, at one point or another, have self-doubts and self-debilitating thoughts.

“I can do that!”, “I’ll never get that technique right”, “what if I stuff this up” are common thoughts that enter our minds from time to time.  These negative thoughts have a bad habit of pushing us off our path towards goal attainment, and may make us question our abilities for the Kung Fu training we love doing.

What to do when you notice negative thoughts:

  • Try thanking your mind: “ah thanks mind, there’s another thought you’re giving me!” This helps you separate a thought from reality, rather than believing everything your mind has to tell you! Remember, your mind is not always your best friend, or based on reality.
  • Take a breath: Focus on taking a deep, nourishing breath in, and a slow, deliberate breath out. This type of breathing activates the relaxation response in your brain and helps your body relax.
  • Refocus: when we get lost in our negative thinking, we can become really stuck in our heads and lose focus for what we are at training to do. If you catch yourself getting stuck on a thought train going nowhere, gently refocus your mind on a technique you are doing, or give yourself a cue word or phrase such as “push/pull”, “relax my arm”, “ball and chain”.
  • Reframe: your mind has an incredible ability to make you believe it, whether it’s telling you the truth or just trying to freak you out! If you notice yourself saying things like “I’m so nervous”, reframe the thought into something along the lines of “I’m just feeling pumped up and excited!”
  • The Power of Positivity: our brain is hard-wired to protect us from danger, and as a result our brain is much better at looking for scary stuff in our environment, storing these in our long term memory bank, and remembering more negatives than positives.  Emerging research in brain neuroplasticity shows us that we can re-wire our brains to be more positive.  A good ratio to aim for is 3:1. This means every time you notice 1 negative thought, try to tell yourself 3 positives to counteract its power and build new pathways for positivity in your brain.  It helps if you create a success list so that you can readily draw upon some examples to help in pressure situations.  Statements could include things like: “I have come a long way since starting training”, “I feel my strikes becoming more powerful each week”, “I always put in lots of effort at training”, and “I love learning new usages”.

If you want some assistance with understanding the role that your thoughts play in boosting your confidence and self-esteem, reach out to me at: psyched4succcess[at]hotmail.com

Natalie Haider is a Psychologist, Health Coach, Workplace Wellness Facilitator, and University Educator with over 13 years’ experience helping people achieve their wellness and performance goals through a combination of sport psychology and holistic health coaching services.

Posted in Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Ode to Italy

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I love Italy.

I have holidayed there four times, and find myself missing the place, as if it was my home.

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During one vacation, I stayed in a luxurious 14th Century castle on a large Tuscan estate, with vineyard and olives, in Lastra. It was here that I attended a magnificent live-in cooking school called Tastes of Tuscany.  This recipe is reminiscent of my stay in Tuscany during this vacation in January 2010.

An ode to Italy

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Vegan Pesto:

Process the first 4 ingredients, or use a mortar and pestle for a more traditional pesto, and then slowly add the oil in a steady stream:

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 bunch basil
  • ½ cup cashews
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients:

  • ½ pack gluten-free penne pasta
  • ½ leftover roast chicken, shredded (omit for Vegan option)
  • Handful leftover roasted potatoes
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • ½ bunch English spinach, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen broad beans, shelled
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for frying

Method:

  • Bring a large pot filled with salted water to the boil. Add pasta and follow cooking directions (mine took 10 minutes for al dente).
  • Heat a frypan, and sauté zucchini until browned. Add chicken to frypan and stir until heated through.  Remove frypan from heat.
  • When pasta is half-way cooked, add potatoes to the cooking water.
  • When pasta is 2 minutes away from being ready, add broad beans to the cooking water.
  • Before straining the pasta, save a mug full of the cooking water (‘la goccia’). Add the English spinach to the pot, then drain combined pasta, potatoes, beans and spinach immediately.
  • Add pasta mix to the frypan; pour in the pesto and la goccia. Stir to combine and serve immediately.

For the dairy lovers in the house, add generous lashings of parmesan cheese.

Any leftovers make a great cold chicken pesto pasta salad for lunch the next day.

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Apple, Coconut & Almond Crumble

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Happy 2015 everybody!  I’d taken a short hiatus from blogging to relax and wind down over the Christmas period, but I’m back now and ready to share new recipes, health tips and psychological insights with you al.

This recipe was developed on a whim by rummaging through my fridge and pantry the other night.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Apple, coconut and almond crumble

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 apples, cored and cut into chunks
  • A liberal sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
  • 1/3 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup almond meal
  • 4 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 2 Tablespoons slivered almonds

Method
* Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.
* Place apples in a baking dish and sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and coconut sugar.
* Bake for 5 minutes whilst preparing crumble ingredients.
* In a medium bowl, mix coconut, almond meal and coconut oil together. Place mix on top of warmed apples then sprinkle with almonds.
* Bake for 15 minutes

Serve with your favourite ice-cream. I used the divine Zebra Dream vegan salted caramel flavour.

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Pre-Performance Nerves

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This morning, I had a mock Kung Fu grading which provided me with an opportunity to be assessed for readiness for the actual grading, scheduled for Tuesday evening.

Despite the fact that I have been training hard, doing extra sessions, and studying outside of class, I got nervous.  And even though I am a Psychologist who has been trained in Sport Psychology, I momentarily thought I was going to throw up before the mock grading began!

Why do nerves get the better of us sometimes?

  • I felt nervous because this upcoming grading is really important to me, and something I want to excel at. I wouldn’t feel nervous if Kung Fu didn’t matter to me, or if I didn’t care how I performed on Tuesday. This tells us that nerves are related to motivation.
  • Even if we are physically in the best condition ever, the pressure of a situation can create an experience of “choking”, which is where we freeze under pressure, and ultimately creates a failure in performance. An example would be a swimmer who has been training their whole life to make it into the Olympics, only to be disqualified for false starting twice.
  • Sometimes what we are telling ourselves about a situation can add to an increase in anxiety and an acceleration of the fight or flight response. For example, if I was saying “oh sh*t, I hope I remember everything” then this starts planting the seeds of doubt in my mind about my ability to recall the components of performance I need to remember.
  • Paying too much attention to mistakes (the past) or what’s ahead (the future) can trip us up because we lose focus on what we need to be doing right here, right now. For example, I became aware of an error today in my sword drill performance, and ‘beating myself up’ in my head about this led to another stuff up shortly afterwards.
  • Fear of failure: when we set ourselves a goal that is meaningful to us, such as obtaining the next belt level in Kung Fu, it can be associated with a fear that we might not reach it. This is known as fear of failure in Sport Psychology, and can be detrimental to performance as it can lead to giving up without even trying.

What can we do to deal with pre-performance nerves?

  • Breathing: when the fight or flight system is activated, we experience an increase in physiological arousal, and one of the specific changes that occurs is to our breathing. We end up taking short, sharp, shallow breaths which can lead to dizziness, light headedness, and a dry mouth. Get into the habit of taking slow, long, rhythmic breaths out, and try to breathe in through you nose as this forces a slower inhalation compared to mouth breathing.
  • Mindfulness: Remind yourself that any mistakes that have happened are in the past, and you can’t do anything to change the fact that they have happened. The future is not yet here, so there’s no point getting worked up about what the instructor might ask me to do once I’ve finished performing this technique. Pay attention instead on the here and now, what you are doing in this moment.
  • Self-talk: use cue words and phrases to help focus your attention externally (e.g. “focus on what the instructor is saying”, “pay attention to my footwork”, “energy!”, “low stance”) rather than internally (e.g. my racing heart, the butterflies in my tummy, my confused brain)
  • Reframing the experience of nerves or anxiety: Instead of telling myself “I’m so nervous I could throw up”, reframe the nervous energy to “I’m feeling ready for this! I’m excited and pumped! Let’s do this!” Remind yourself that nervous energy is a good thing, because it means you are motivated to perform well and this nervousness gives you enough energy to be able to push through when tired, sore or even injured.
  • Simulation training: create high-pressure situations in training so that when the real event takes place, you have practiced your performance and ways to deal with nerves already and that way there are less surprises. Asking a training buddy to test you on a random technique is a great strategy.
  • Physical Relaxation: When the fight or flight system is activated, the nervous energy can create muscular tension in our body. A useful technique is to use a quick body scan to mentally check where these tension points might be in your body, and then to perform a quick release by breathing into that area, or stretching that area out.
  • Pre-performance routine: create a plan of action to follow for the day of the event, and write it down. An example for myself for Tuesday’s grading would be: get an early night on Monday so I wake up feeling well rested; plan to eat healthy, energizing foods throughout the day; pull out one random study card each hour and test my knowledge on Chinese and English translations and meanings of different terms throughout the day; when I get home from work at 5pm, have a small snack; spend 30 minutes reading through my syllabus and doing some imagery (recreating in my mind, the techniques I will need to do for the grading, and ‘seeing’ myself performing them perfectly); have a glass of energizing Kombucha and a big glass of water; head to the venue early and do a 5 minute warm up and then 30 minutes of physical practice; use the bathroom one last time; give myself some encouraging self-talk (e.g. “you’ve worked hard, you can do this!”) and remind myself of a few key points that I want to focus on for the grading (e.g. “lead with toes” and “eyes up”).

I’m planning on taking my own advice and incorporating all of the above psychological skills to help me succeed on Tuesday night. I’ll keep you posted!  In the meantime, I would LOVE to hear your go-to tips for dealing with pre-performance nerves.

Posted in anxiety, Health, Psychology, sport | Leave a comment