A Special Day

17 years ago today my life changed forever. I became a Dad!

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Ben had been late arriving and was nearly 2 weeks overdue, so Lisa had been booked to go in to Hull Maternity Hospital on the 9th April to be induced. As nothing much was going to happen overnight it was suggested I went home.

On Monday 10th April I was at the hospital early (I desperately did not want to miss the birth). I needn’t have panicked, apart from Lisa being in Labour since being induced the night before, Ben was nowhere to be seen, and Lisa was desperately uncomfortable.

By the evening it was clear he wasn’t coming out through the traditional route. As he was becoming distressed Lisa was taken through to theatre for an emergency Caesarian  Section. Surprisingly I was quite calm, it wasn’t a conscious decision, I just got involved in caring for Lisa, after all I was just a bystander and this was all happening to her, and I could not imagine what she was going through.

At 10:43pm on 10th April 2000, Benjamin Stephen Smith was born. I had never felt anything like it. It was love at first sight. To me he was the most beautiful baby in the world (I will spare you a picture of him on the day of his birth, he was not beautiful really, he was bright red  and huge 9lb 14oz). As I went to introduce Ben to his Mum, it was clear that she was not well, and had lost a fair amount of blood. However all was soon sorted by an expert team. After a blood transfusion Lisa was soon on the mend all be it quite weak and shaken for the next day.

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I went home that evening on cloud nine after crying down the phone to various relatives. I was a Dad! We had produced another Human Being! I had never felt anything like this, before. All of you parents will know exactly how that feels. I can best describe it as Christmas Day, my Wedding Day and winning the lottery all in one go.

The next day I couldn’t wait to see my boy, arrived at the hospital early, when the Midwife saw me she said “Well it is obvious who you have come to see.” When I saw him I chuckled as there was a mini Matt in the cot.

2 years later that wonderful, incredible feeling was repeated when Jack Samuel Smith was born.

Every day of my life since they fill me with pride and joy, even when they make me angry and sad I still love them more than I have ever loved anyone else. I don’t have a favourite son, I have my boys and they are handsome, talented and incredible.

Happy Birthday Ben!

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Do you have the determination?


Martin Selligman calls it grit or character. Just because you have a goal and a plan will not mean you will succeed. 

In a previous blog I asked the question can we be anything we want to be? The answer is yes, if you really want to be that and have the grit and determination to succeed.

So how do you determine if you have the grit and character to succeed? Well ask yourself how much do you want to achieve your goal? Close your eyes and imagine you have achieved your goal. What does it look and feel like? Can you clearly see yourself and your surroundings. Can you hear the admiration and congratulations of your friends and relatives? How much do you want it? If you want it more than anything, you are halfway there.

Now you have to build and manage the plan that is going to get you there. What do you need to achieve to get there? Map out all the steps you will need to achieve to get to your goal. Set yourself SMART goals for each step. Take care setting your goals to make sure they are challenging, but realistic and you know when you achieve them. All too often we set goals without having a specific measure and we end up losing focus and give up. Every year I would say to my self that was going to get fit this year. That would be the extent of my goal setting. As I didn’t have a measurable end point I would struggle on for a few weeks, not get a washboard stomach and give up telling myself that I don’t have the character to be athletic. 

What I am saying is, is that the goal setting stage is crucial. If you don’t have the time to set your goal carefully and map out the different steps you need to achieve your ultimate goal, then you have to ask yourself how much you want it. 

It is really important to not try to tackle your ultimate goal in one go. The sheer scale of it is likely to overwhelm and you will lose any determination you had very quickly. If you want to succeed point as many small performance goals in as possible. Spend your time focussing on achieving them. 

When things go wrong and one of your goals is not achieved, it is not the end of the world, it was just a performance goal. Allow yourself to be disappointed, but accept that it has happened and move on. Re-energise yourself by imagining life once you have achieved your ultimate goal. Remind yourself why you are doing it. Then reset your performance goal. 

Keep going until you reach your ultimate goal. 

You will have the determination if you want to achieve your goal enough.

Don’t put it off anymore make that dream a reality, you know you want to.

Having a coach really helps you focus on your goal and helps you keep focus.

Motivated?

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Are you like me? Do you initially throw yourself into activities and projects, only to lose motivation within a couple of weeks?

It has happened to me in the past few weeks. I started on a fitness regime in February and gave myself a goal to achieve, which was fine. The first few weeks went brilliantly and I was enjoying the feeling that exercise gave me. Then it started to get a little more challenging, then my birthday happened then I was busy working or coaching. Doing exercise started to move down my to do list. I found myself using the old excuse, if I had enough time. Then I started to feel guilty and bad about not trying hard enough.

On Sunday morning Foggy woke me up telling me I was a failure and I never complete anything. He told me I was destined to be a fat slob, so why bother exercising. I felt terrible. I thought to myself that Foggy had a point, so I could sit around and feel sorry for myself or I could do something about it.

So whilst I was walking the dog I asked myself why I wanted to exercise. I came up with a short list:

  • To be thinner
  • To be healthier

I told you it was a short list. The problem is with those two reasons is that it takes a while to see results. My original goals were to lose 10% of my bodyweight in 6 months and be able to run 5km in 3 months. Another problem is that running in the gym hurts and is boring. See the problem is I use an app that gradually builds up the length of time you run, and doing that on a treadmill is soul-destroying. However after exercise I feel wonderful.

By the end of the walk I had a plan. It was simple really. Don’t go to the gym. So I didn’t. I went for a run outside instead. I put my headphones on and listened to my app and some music running around Kirk Ella. It hurt, I wont lie, and I was fearful that I might get out paced by a dog walker (I am never going to be breaking any speed records). But I did it, and on the whole it was enjoyable. When I finished I felt fantastic.

So if you are losing your motivation, re-examine why you are doing what you are doing. Is your goal clear? Does it have a timescale? How do you know when you have achieved it? Is it possible to achieve it? Are there some short-term goals you could include to give you a sense of progress. Make sure you get some short term reward. Your brain responds well to rewards so if your memory associates an activity with a reward it will encourage you to repeat that activity. Conversely if your memory associates an activity with unpleasant consequences that are stronger than any reward it may give, then you brain will encourage you to avoid the activity.

Remember you are entitled to change you mind, if you decide that you don’t want to achieve that goal, then don’t feel bad about it, just choose to do something else that you want to do.

You always have a choice.

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Write a Letter of Thanks

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Continuing the theme of kindness and looking after your mental health, I thought I would talk about writing a letter of thanks.

This is something I read about in Martin Selligman’s book Flourish. If you have not heard of him Martin Selligman is a Professor of Psychology and one of the originators of Positive Psychology. His website Authentic Happiness is worth a visit. If you do visit have a go at some of the questionnaires, especially the VIA survey of Character Strengths. It is long, but definitely an eye opener.

Anyway back to the point. So this letter of thanks, is an exercise suggested by Martin to improve your level of happiness. As mentioned yesterday, Psychologists have proven that being kind and making others happy, has a profound effect on your own happiness.

This is what you do. Think about all the milestones in your life. Ask yourself, who helped you at that time. What part did they play in your milestone? Was it an action, or was it a word of encouragement? Then do you see them regularly? Do they realise that they played a role in that milestone? Did you ever get chance to say thank you? If you have answered no to the last 3 questions, then why don’t you write a letter of thanks to them.

Start your letter with: ‘I want to thank you for the positive impact you have had on my life. I never got the chance to thank you at the time, so I have decided to take the time to write down what you did for me.’

Once you have written your letter the letter, if you don’t know where they live find out. Now don’t post that letter. Deliver it by hand. Then when you meet them don’t just hand them the letter and walk away before they read it. Tell them you have written a letter to them, and if they don’t mind you would like to read it to them. Then sit down and read it to them. This is the important bit, sharing your appreciation for them, with them face to face is so powerful, you may feel embarrassed at first but that will pass quickly, then you will both be smiling, laughing a crying, remembering those times.

Life is to short to wait for opportunities to let someone now how much we appreciate, we should make the opportunities.

If you feel able try it out. Remember the people we overlook when giving our thanks are those closest to us, we don’t always have to look far to find someone worthy of our appreciation

Have you been kind today?

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Today in the UK is National Kindness Day. A day to celebrate all acts of kindness, to promote kindness to our fellow inhabitants on this earth.

As you expected this kind of day is right up my street. However everyday,  in my book should be kindness day, but I get why someone in the twittersphere decided we should have a day. Not that I think we are unkind, but I think we are often so wrapped in our own lives, we miss opportunities to be kind.

A day like to day challenges us to think about how we can be kind. You have probably heard on social media about grand gestures of kindness, but being kind should be a habit and not something saved up for one grand event.

Carrying out small acts of kindness is more likely to become habit forming. Something as simple as smiling and saying good morning to a stranger, or offering to help someone who is lost, are small but can have a lasting impact.

It is amazing how powerful an act of kindness can have on your own mood. I have been kind to 3 strangers today and on all 3 occasions I felt a lift in my mood.

Days like to day often encourage us to be kind to strangers, but don’t forget those people closest to you. We can take the ones we love for granted. I know I can be short tempered with my family and don’t always think about going out of my way to be kind. It is so important to do something simple to show them how you love them. Again not only will it make them feel happy, but will make you happy too.

Go out of your way to be kind everyday. Make it a goal each day. You will notice the difference in you mood almost immediately.

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Heads Together

Today the news has been covering the #headstogether campaign, showing celebrities talk about their mental illness or poor mental health. I found it immensely helpful.

Yesterday I shared a story about my own experiences. I now find it liberating talking about Foggy and his unhelpful habits, but I still have that worry that I shared too much at the back of my mind. Its probably Foggy being a prat. But it still gives me that slight unease. So hearing the likes of Andy Flintoff and Professor Green share their feelings is so helpful. It means I am not alone .

If you are suffering, don’t suffer alone, we all care about how you feel. Reach out to someone, talk about it.

Foggy

Let me introduce you to Foggy. You may remember Collingwood my imaginary friend from my childhood. Well Foggy is sought of my imaginary friend from my adulthood, only he is not as nice and helpful as Collingwood.

Generally his conversations with are often very negative, he has been known to call me useless, stupid, an idiot, lazy, you get the picture. Foggy is my Black Dog. He is that nagging voice at the back of my mind. No doubt most of us have a Foggy, some are more vocal than others, and some of us are able to tune him out.

Foggy has only recently been given a name, in fact up I didn’t even acknowledge his existence. I thought the all that negativity was the real me and I hated myself. The happy friendly Matt that everyone saw was just a show.

I was typical of many people I suppose as I didn’t want to acknowledge that I had poor mental health. I didn’t want to think of myself as Mental. I was possibly afraid that I was mentally ill. Therefore my mental ill health manifested itself as back pain or shoulder pain. The pain I experienced was real however. If you tense your back, neck, shoulders and jaw for 13 hours a day it will hurt, and if you dehydrate yourself with 20 fags a day. I was a mess. It was impacting on work, when I was there I was not performing and often I was off sick. I was not an easy person to be around. That made me worse and I hated myself even more.

My recovery started when I was listening to 5 live, Mark Ramprakash was being interviewed about his depression. It hit me like a sledgehammer, I started crying and couldn’t stop. It took me another 6 months to tell my GP, and then he started me on medication. That took the edge off things, but I still was not confronting the problem. I just made Foggy a bit groggy.  I was on the medication for a year. Just at the end of the medication I started my coaching qualification. That opened my eyes to positive psychology, and I started to learn about optimism. A few months later I started working with a friend on a Mental Health Awareness day, he is a Mental Health Trainer, and his explaination of mental health and mental illness raised my self awareness even more.

I then sought out my own coach, and named Foggy (and drew him). I then stopped fighting Foggy, and in fact I grew to quite like him. In fact now I love him.

See Foggy has only had my best interests at heart, the same as Collingwood. They are after all both me. Collingwood bigs me up, and tells me how great I am, which is nice but not always helpful. Now Foggy tells me I can’t do things or that I should be careful. The problem is that I tried to keep Foggy quiet and shut him up, so he would get louder and more abusive eventually drowning out Collingwood. The more he did that the more I fought him, and the stronger he got.

Now I appreciate both, I need Foggy’s realism to keep me safe, I need Collingwood to help me succeed.

It took me 40+ years to realise that feeling bad is just as valid as feeling good and we must never try to avoid negative thoughts, we should listen and take note, after all we are wiser than we think.

Don’t get me wrong Foggy still goes off on one most days, in fact most mornings he calls me a useless bastard, but now I dont try to stop him, I let him rant for 2 minutes then he shuts up. We are not morning people.

If you are struggling don’t suffer alone, talk to someone.

Writing this has been part of me looking after my mental health. It works, I have just realised that I have acknowledged that I love myself, which is a life first.