Like me some of you will have children that are away at University or are just going. My eldest Ben has been back in Manchester quite a while as he went back to work when the bars reopened, and then my youngest Jack joined him in Manchester about a month ago, as they are sharing a house so he thought he may as well settle in and try and find a job, as he was already paying rent on the house.
So that was difficult enough saying goodbye to both your children and coming back home without them for the first time. Then this week we start hearing about lockdowns and the virus spreading among university students with over a hundred students testing positive at Manchester Metropolitan University and 2 halls of residence building quarantined. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the parents of those young people and the young people themselves in those residence. Well I can imagine, and what I am imagining makes me feel incredibly sad. All we want to do as parents is to protect your children, so leaving at university is heart wrenching as it goes against your instincts, so leaving them during a time of international crisis is so distressing. They are after all still children learning to be adults. But we have to let them learn to be adults, we have to let them experience independence.
This morning when I started to feel sick with worry, and go into a mild panic, I had to stop myself. First I had to acknowledge why I had that reaction. I obviously reacted that way because I love them. This love is the very reason why we brought them up to be loving, resilient and independent young men. Because we love them, they deserve the our respect, that they can support each other, and keep safe. We will support them if they need us, and we both worry about them. But being a loving parent means you have to let them experience life on their own two feet, even through an international crisis. To be honest they have as much experience of this as we have. Therefore they are just as entitled as us to make mistakes, and they are just as entitled to be as scared as we are.
We have to allow our children to experience the world as an adult even when the world is upside down. The desire to go and get them and keep them safe at home is very strong, and in the short-term might help, but in the long term it can make it all the harder for everyone. The realisation that we cannot keep our adult children safe is hard to swallow, but we have to trust that our parenting up to this point has equipped them to keep themselves safe.
When we grew up and left home we thrived, even though our ability to keep in contact with parents and school friends was limited to conversations in telephone boxes and maybe letters. We can now communicate with each other, with ease, via a multitude of platforms, and we can either track each others movements.
So lets fight that urge to put a protective shield around them and allow them to flourish into the amazing, incredible adults you raised them to be.
If I am honest (you may have guessed) this was a little pep talk to myself, but I hope it helps some of you.
If you are struggling and want to learn to resist the urge to jump in the car and bring them home, then get in touch, I do coaching sessions for parents of young adults, as well as coaching for young adults that are finding it harder than they thought.
“Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” Many of you will remember these words of wisdom from Baz Lurhman’s song (more spoken to music) Everybody is Free (To Wear Sunscreen). What a lot of people don’t realise is that this was originally written by Mary Schmich, a Chicago Tribune columnist for a speech she gave to graduating students. The speech in itself is a piece of advice, with the explanation of what advice is given at the end to illustrate what advice really is.
Advice put harshly is a form of dishonesty, mixed in with a smattering of self-aggrandizing. When we go into advice mode we are attempting to position ourselves as more superior than the recipient of our words of wisdom. Our initial intention no doubt was to support and help the person in front of us. This is especially acute if we like the person and want them to like us. Our drive to be accepted and be a useful senior member of the tribe is so strong that before we know it we are searching our memory bank for something useful, something that has happened to us, something we did that sort of worked. Once we find it we rearrange it and maybe add some new bits to make it more useful and more impressive, before we offer it to the poor helpless soul in front of us. For a moment you are the benevolent, wise chieftain dispensing advice to your faithful brethren. It feels great, we have been helpful, showed kindness and preventing them from making a terrible mistake. The recipient is grateful and feels loved, more importantly for that moment they have put you on a pedestal. That is of course if they have not been on the receiving end of words of wisdom in the past, or they have experience, or they don’t trust you. This is the problem with advice giving, it is not really designed to help the recipient. Its’ primary function is to help you look and feel good.
Don’t feel bad if you are a serial advice giver, most of us are. We all want to be accepted, we all want to be useful. Giving advice feels like a quick win, we receive an instant reward with the release of endorphins that make us feel good. We all remember that feeling so go to advice mode automatically to receive our treat, just like an obedient puppy. On many occasions we all like to get advice, as it requires a lot less effort being advised than thinking of a solution for ourselves. Being on the receiving end of kindly advice full of good intent makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. Someone loves us enough to share their wisdom with us. We all enjoy being a child and letting others make decisions for us from time to time, and we also all enjoy being the kindly parent supporting our grateful children. This is why advice giving is a default setting for many of us.
The problem with advice is that it is based on our memories of events we were involved in. As we have mentioned before our memories are notoriously unreliable. The older the memory, the less factual it is. Our minds are not reliable recorders of fact, our minds will always add or takeaway to confirm our view of the world.
Now this is not to say that advice is not useful or is somehow destructive. It needs to be bookmarked though as your experience. If advice is framed as a story, a tale of success or a cautionary tale, helps the recipient consider that experience and apply it to their view of the world. They can then accept or reject it without offending you, all they have to do is pay attention and show interest in your story. If they find it useful they can then decide to ask you more questions or find out a bit more about similar situations. The responsibility then lies with you to make sure the story you are relaying is not a complete fiction and is based on actual events. Telling stories is a wonderful way to impart knowledge without you appearing to have power over the individual. There is still a requirement for them to raise their own awareness about their capability before they can try any nuggets of wisdom they may have extracted from your story.
Overtly telling people what to do should be confined to instruction when emparting new skills or techniques that have very clear rules, that if are not followed will end in the failure of the activity. This is not advice, this is instruction. Once the knowledge has been shared, we must desist from giving advice, and instead provide feedback and ask questions that enlighten the individual into realising their own capacity to achieve the activity more effectively.
Timothy Gallwey in his book The Inner Game of Tennis describes this perfectly. When we learn how to play tennis, we are taught the rules and techniques of playing tennis. This he says is the outer game. Once we have mastered the outer game, constantly being instructed about it is not going to improve our performance. Galwey suggests now that it is important to explore the inner game of tennis. This is paying attention to what is limiting us. This might be what we believe is our limit or that our back hand is our weakness, or how we are unable to beat a certain opponent. These are limiting or inhibiting thoughts, something we all have that can be challenged by asking questions that raise our awareness and reduce the effect of these limiting beliefs and increase our enabling beliefs.
Another way of looking at this is to consider how we think. It is suggested that we think in terms of questions and statements. Our questions and statements are based on recalled memories or projections of our future. We make sense of our world in terms of questions and statements we make based on either recalled memories or projections of what we perceive our future to be. Now the vast majority of us have a mixture of helpful and hindering questions and statements that dictate how we see our world.
As mentioned previously in this book we do have a tendency to default to hindering more than helpful questions and statements. When people have experienced failure in the past, they generally tend to focus on this when recalling memories. So what if, by simply asking people a couple of question you could change their hindering thoughts into helpful thoughts. When they tell you they cannot do something, based on a recalled memory of a previous failure. What if you asked them what is the most helpful statement they could say about their chances of success? Or what question could they ask themselves that would be more helpful. They might fail again but a shift in mind-set may well help them pick themselves up review what they need to improve on to improve their chances of success. A shift in mind-set from hindering thoughts to helpful ones can change the way they see the world and improve their chances of success. This will not be achieved if you tel them what to do. All that does is confirm to them the hindering thoughts they have about themselves.
The next time someone comes to you with a problem or for some advice, ask yourself what would be the most helpful response I could give, that will give the results that both myself and the recipient require. Having flexibility along the directive/non-directive continuum takes practice but will change the way you connect with others.
Now we have explored our tendency to want to give advice, instead of listening and supporting people to improve themselves, we can now examine whether the people we are connecting to the right people in the right way, for both parties to get the most out of the relationship.
The theory of transactional analysis developed by Eric Berne, might help us understand why we connect with certain people and not with others. This theory maps interpersonal relationships into 3 ego states. The parent, the adult and the child. Now typically we are conditioned to be comfortable and seek 2 ego states. You have guessed it, we are most happy in parent or child states, as they give us a warm and fuzzy feeling as described earlier in the chapter. It is often unusual for both people in a relationship to be in an adult state.
Now the non-directive, non-advice giving approach that I have described is really helpful and has great benefits on a relationship (either personal or professional), however this requires both of you to be in an adult ego state. When people come to you with a problem most of the time they are coming to you in a child ego state, and are looking for a solution to their problem. They may well be expecting to be the parent, and might be confused and resistant to you in an adult ego state, listening and asking questions without doling out the usual advice. This is where the offering of stories of your experiences in similar circumstances can help, alter the mindset of your friend shift to an adult ego state. Especially if you follow up with some questions about how your experience compares to theirs and what they might use, which then brings them back to their experience and how they will solve it.
The aim is to make connections in an adult ego state and therefore have more mutually beneficial relationships instead of one of you being dependant on the other, which can often lead to a toxic drama triangle where one of you is always the victim and one of you plays the role of the rescuer, that just breeds resentment and a breakdown in the relationship.
So as an exercise map out your relationships, with you in the middle and all your relationships, both personal and professional branching out from you. Once you have everyone mapped out, using the transactional analysis ego states decide what type of relationship it is. On the connecting line between you an them write the initial of your ego state in the relationship nearest to you and their ego state initial nearest to them (like below).
When you have mapped and analysed all your relationships, consider all of them that are parent to child. Would they be improved if they were adult to adult relationships? Are you willing to change your mindset in that relationship? If not, is the relationship worth maintaining or is it time to end it? This seems quite harsh but if the desire to improve a relationship is not their or if there is no necessity for that relationship then maybe it would be more helpful to both of you to end it.
There is one last thing to add to your map, and that is the people that are in your world that you do not have a relationship with. Put them on the edge of your map. What could you gain from connected with these people as an adult to an adult? What is currently preventing you from connecting with them? Are you willing to attempt connection? Seeing relationships through the lens of an adult ego state, instead of a child or parent state can dramatically change how you map appears and what is useful for you, both personally and professionally.
Over the past few weeks and months I have been reading and writing a lot about transition and change, mostly the work of William Bridges. You may recognise his name I have quoted it a few times on various blogs. He is a Professor, writer and consultant on Transition and his model on transitions is widely used and very easy to follow, and that is why I use it a lot, as it seems to make perfect sense. His model consists of 3 parts: ending, losing and letting go; the neutral zone; the new beginning.
So I have been doing a lot of thinking about change and the amount of change we are going through, right now. We are all used to change to some extent, most workplaces go through change on a regular basis, so the discomfort and confusion caused by change are emotions we are used to. However what is different this time is the global nature of change we are experiencing. Change has permeated into every aspect of our lives. Some of the changes we have created, some have been started at work and other have been initiated by government, but they are all driven by one huge change that is happening everywhere to to everyone. The problem with this change is, that we have no idea what the new beginning is going to be like, and we are not sure how much of a say we have in what it will be. This change comes with a massive dose of uncertainty. Feeling uncertain makes us feel unsafe. Certainty, along with options, reputation and equity are core social needs, when any of these are missing or threatened we can feel very unsafe.
The pattern of our lives has been disrupted we are in grieving for the certainty we once had. We keep on trying to apply the patterns of our old world to the world we are currently in, but it does not fit and that makes us feel more unsafe. If we apply Bridge’s transition model above, that is why I think we are just at the edge of the neutral zone. We are still coming to terms with the loss of the old ways of doing things, some of us have let go of some things and are struggling with others. We are all trying to decide what we can take with us and what from the old way of doing things we have to leave behind.
This morning I was listening to Brene Browns wonderful podcast “Unlocking Us”, in this episode she was talking about what she calls Day 2. Day 2 is the neutral zone, she describes it in terms of a three day training program that she used to run, where day 2 was always the difficult day, you were passed the excitement and enthusiasm of day 1 and too far away from the satisfaction of completion on day 3. Nothing ever seems to make sense on day 2. There is a lot of information being thrown at you that is difficult to understand, that will all make sense on day 3. I can relate to this, the Clinical Supervision Course that myself and Janis run has that very same difficult day 2, where everyone is huffing and puffing and trying really hard to make sense of it all. The thing is to complete our Clinical Supervision course you have to do day 2. What we are going through at the moment is that difficult day 2, but without the choice of dropping out.
We are in this neutral zone whether we like it or not. Our lives will never go back to the way they were. Somethings we will be able to take with us, but at the moment we are not quite sure what they are, not until we have traveled further through this zone. So how do we keep ourselves safe whilst travelling through this?
We have to accept that we are in transition and not try rush our way out
Be honest with ourselves and name the emotions we are feeling
Build temporary structures that we know our temporary, to replace old rules and ways of doing things to keep us safe
Be purposeful in everything we do (be clear as to why you are doing what you are doing, for instance working from home to keep your family safe, or going into work to support your community)
Be creative with what you have, ad stop chasing things you don’t have.
Accept that things will go wrong, that you and everyone else will make mistakes, so be kind to yourself as well as others.
I suspect that this neutral zone is very wide and that we will be in it for a long time, that is why it is so important to recognise where we are and not force the new beginning until we are certain we know what that is.
Change never happens immediately, there is always a difficult, confusing, and unsettling period where you are not quite at the new way, and at the old way.
This hinterland is often where changes fail. We often think that whatever we wanted to do is not working and go back to the old ways of doing things.
For instance take my weight loss plan. In reality I started trying to reduce how much I weigh over a decade ago. All I succeeded in doing during that time was get heavier.
This time I decided to apply William Bridges principles of transition, something I have talked about here before. I know it works, because I have used it before to give up smoking.
So this time I started with preparing for loss. The loss of crisps, chocolate and comfort over eating. To do this I created a compelling vision of the future I want. The reason why I want to lose weight. This reason why has to be more appealing than chocolate, crisps, biscuits, cakes….. you get the idea. Being ill during March, April, May and June, along with footage of overweight middle aged men on ventilators due to COVID-19, was and still is a very strong motivation. That alongside this desire to have a fulfilling and active retirement hopefully with Grandchildren in the years to come creates a rich compelling future that is far more compelling than fatty, sugary foodstuff. Just like smoking this was not about giving something up is was about gaining a lifestyle, a lifestyle that meets my values and answers my reason why.
Now I have this vision I still need to protect myself from the temptation of slipping back in to old habits. So I allow myself treats in moderation, something from my old life that I can take with me into my new lifestyle.
That brings me to the transition bit. Wanting to lose weight does not make you lose weight. It takes ages. Some days are easy others are really horrible. Sometimes I am not as dedicated as others. I am kind to myself when this happens. I hold myself to account, rather than being ashamed of the setback. I have started weighing myself daily. I have found it really helpful to keep myself in check without feeling terrible when my weight sometimes goes in the wrong direction. It was hard at first, but now it keeps me focused and reminds me to look at the bigger picture and the trend downwards rather than the fluctuations. I have an initial target and then an overall long term target to work towards. I am expecting ups and downs but most of all I am focused on the reason why I want to lose weight.
As I get closer to my goal I will start to develop a consistent approach to sustaining my success. So this time in transition well spent experimenting and starting to form new habits that will create the pattern and habits that will keep me at a weight that is healthy.
If you are planning on making a change in your life, it is important to look beyond the short term gain of moving away from something that is negative and concentrate on the long term benefits of your future. Move towards your goal rather than moving away from the discomfort. Don’t kid yourself it will be really hard, things will go wrong, you will feel rubbish. So prepare yourself for that by creating a goal that is more attractive than your status quo. We are all much more capable than we think.
I provide coaching via zoom to help with creating a compelling goal with regular check ins to support you through the transition and in creating a sustainable new beginning.
Message me or email me if you are interested my coaching is more affordable than you think.
The most important thing about falling is how quickly you get back. To live our best life we have to accept that there will be times when we fall, if want to continue living life to it’s full we have to keep picking ourselves up dusting ourselves down, learning from our mistakes and trying again.
When I Fall will explore how we can learn to dig deep and carry on when all we want to do is give up.
Yesterday we took Jack to Manchester, he has gone a month early to settle in an look for a job before he starts his studies in September. He will be sharing a house with his big brother who goes into his 2nd year. Surprisingly it was a lovely day. We spent the afternoon with both our boys around the centre of Manchester, before taking them shopping and then heading home, so they could watch the Charity Shield. It was lovely to spend some quality time as a family all 4 of us, something we have not done since lockdown.
On the journey back myself and Lisa were reflecting on parenthood, and Lisa pointed out parenthood is so full on and how we spend so much energy preparing for the next stage, when they are babies you look forward to weaning, then walking and talking and then pottie training. The next is nursery then school, then riding a bike, then high school, then GCSEs then A levels, then work or university. Then that is it, they have gone.
The house seems so big this morning. I remember my mum telling me how she felt when I left home, as a if her right arm had been cut off. I feel a bit numb, I am not quite sure how to explain how I feel. I am so immensely proud of both my boys. I know Jack is more than capable and him and Ben are going to get the most out of living in Manchester and I am excited for them, at the same time I miss having them around the house. Ben has been gone a while, but I am really going to miss the chats me and Jack have about music ( Jack has expanded my knowledge and taste in music immensely), and football.
I have not been as emotional as I thought I would, apart from yesterday morning, I stood in our dining room looking at all the pictures of us as a family over the years that are on display in there, and a wave of sadness came over me, and had a little cry to mark the day passing of an era and the beginning of a new one. That is I suppose the reason why I don’t feel as emotional today. The sadness would just be for me wanting my boys to stay young. This is really at odds with the purpose of parenthood, which is to create adults that contribute to society. We have achieved that, so rather than sadness I feel pride and excitement when I think of their achievements and what they will achieve in the future.
As I keep talking about making changes in your lifestyle, and the importance of a plan and then having a clear reason why to get through the difficult days, I thought I might share my personal challenge. On Monday 10th of August I vowed that I would embark on losing weight down to a healthy weight. I am really aiming to do this over a year as I have a lot to lose. I have a clear image of what I want to be and feel like rather than focusing on the loss of weight. I have a compelling vision that I have drawn on already. As some days I feel pretty miserable. So far I have lost nearly a stone. But there is a long way to go and there will be days when it does not work out but I have a clear vision of being healthy and being well and happy is age more appealing than a cream cake. Change is hard, the first thing to do is to be very clear what you want achieve and why you want to achieve it.
If I am honest I feel quite vulnerable sharing this story but, I am convinced I will succeed and wanted to share that you can make changes to your lifestyle and mindset.
To get started is never easy and that is where coaching can really help. A coach will help you decide on whether the change in lifestyle is right for you, then help you shift your mindset from one that is entrenched in your status quo to a mindset that is prepared to view your world with a transformational eye. Once you have shifted you mindset it is far easier to see your goal in front of you.
If you keep trying and failing to change your lifestyle, send me a message and we can start shifting how you see your world.