Lists: Are They Helpful?

The only way to write this blog is in the form of a couple of lists:

List 1: Yes

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  1. Lists can help you to organise your thoughts and reduce the chance of forgetting things.
  2. Lists can be helpful in prioritising tasks, particularly if you use a priority rating system when making your list.
  3. They can help you plan ahead and organise your time well.
  4. Writing a list of worries can help you to see which ones you can problem solve and which ones are hypothetical.
  5. A list of pros and cons can help when making decisions.
  6. A list can keep you focused and on track. (If I didn’t write a shopping list I would return home with an assortment of interesting food but no actual meals!)

 

List 2: No

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  1. If you have too much on your to-do list you are likely to feel overwhelmed.
  2. Lists can be a sneaky way of procrastinating.
  3. If you over-rely on lists to prevent forgetting, you may not be giving yourself a chance to trust your memory.
  4. If you are constantly adding to your lists and never reach the end it could be contributing towards feeling stressed and frustrated or thinking that you are never doing enough.

 

So…

  1. Keep to-do lists short and achievable.
  2. Give a priority rating to your tasks.
  3. Try adding ‘take a break’ to your list (and give it top priority!)

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…Hesitation

Have you ever sat down to book something, to buy something or been just about ready to do something new and then hesitated?

Hesitation can strike when you are about to do something as day-to-day as getting out of bed or starting your workout. It could happen when you are making a small decision, about which film to watch or much bigger decisions about whether to change your job, sign up for a course or start a family.

 

So why do we hesitate?

I think there are a few main reasons why we hesitate:

1. To feel more certain

For example, when we ask ourselves: “Am I sure about this?”

2. To feel safe

When we hesitate we are avoiding taking an action that is outside our comfort zone.

3. To keep our options open

We are avoiding making a commitment because it feels overwhelming, frightening or too ‘final’.

 

What are the consequences of hesitation?

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1. Increased doubt

Rather than feeling more certain, taking time to think and second guess yourself may actually leave you feeling more doubtful.  Once you have allowed more thinking time and increased your feeling of doubt, it is easy to come up with a whole bunch of reasons or excuses not to act or to procrastinate.

 

2. The fight or flight response kicks in

When we take that pause before we step outside our comfort zone, the body’s fight and flight system kicks in because we have perceived a threat. This is going to cause anxiety, rather than a feeling of safety. Even though you are not yet out of your comfort zone, you feel just as scared anyway! When we feel scared, our natural behaviour is to avoid the scary thing, so this is also going to feed further avoidance or procrastination.

 

3. Our options do stay open: too open.

There is something nice about feeling like you have more than one option but without a commitment to one, it is difficult to make changes or move forward. In addition, with many potential options on the table, it is easy for a perfectionist voice to creep in and say ‘but which option is the right one?’

 

The truth is that there is more than one ‘right’ option in most situations.
There is more than one film you would enjoy watching.

There is more than one job you would be good at.

There is more than one interesting course.

There is more than one good time to start a family.

 

What is the Alternative?

Well, the opposite of hesitation would be action:

Just doing it! Go for it! Just pick one! Don’t stop to think!

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That may work fine if you are hesitating about something like getting out of bed, starting your workout, or choosing which film to watch. But when it comes to making important decisions that all sounds a little impulsive.

If we applied that ethos to everything it has the scope for some negative long term consequences of its own.

Realistically, it can serve us to stop and think before we take an action but how we stop and how we think may be what is important.

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Hesitation vs. consideration

When we hesitate through fear of leaving our comfort zone, our thinking will become biased and our actions are going to be less helpful.

If we pause to consider from a calmer starting point, it will be easier to come to a helpful conclusion and more helpful actions.

 

How to consider rather than hesitate

If you have hesitated and can feel the fear rising in your stomach and chest and you think you are on the path to avoidance:

  1. Acknowledge the feeling: notice it, notice where you feel it and label it. Is it dread? Is it apprehension? Is it doubt?
  2. Ground yourself: what can you see, hear, feel, smell or taste right now?
  3. Breathe: breathing from the diaphragm calms the fight and flight response and makes it easier to think in a more helpful way
  4. Weigh it up: what are the pros and cons of taking action? What are the pros and cons of taking no action?

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The consequences of consideration

1. More certainty

Actually weighing up the pros and cons in this way may help you to gain clarity and although we can never be 100% certain, it may help you to feel more confident in your decision.

 

2. Feeling more secure

Don’t get me wrong, committing to action is still going to be scary! It may not feel safe, but hopefully you will feel more secure in your decision.

 

3. You still have options

When you acknowledge the option to take no action, it becomes a choice rather than a default reaction to fear. Your options are still open but it may feel easier to commit to action (or to a strategic lack of action) having weighed it up in this way.

 

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Emotions About Emotions

I always remember learning about the concept of meta-emotions (emotions about emotions) at university and the lecturer making the point that we seem to be the only creatures that do this!

Lions don’t feel guilty about feeling happy when they caught the gazelle.

Dogs don’t feel ashamed of feeling over-excited on their last walk.

Fish don’t feel embarrassed about feeling anxious whenever they hear the song Baby Shark!

Actually, I’m not sure what the emotional experience of a fish is, but you get the point.

 

Adding to our emotions

I don’t know if it is technically correct that other creatures don’t have meta-emotions but it does raise an interesting point about what we humans do with our emotions.

Rather than allowing emotions to be there and to pass by, sometimes we will add an emotion in response to the first emotion.

Have you ever felt guilty for feeling happy?

Have you ever felt ashamed of feeling angry?

Have you ever felt sad about feeling sad or anxious about feeling anxious?

 

Judging our emotions

It seems to me that when we experience meta-emotions they usually come heavily laden with negative judgement. We are judging the primary emotion as being wrong, inappropriate or harmful in some way or judging ourselves negatively for having the emotion at all.

The difficulty is that when we judge our emotions and ourselves in this way, we are usually inviting in a whole load more negative emotion than if we had allowed ourselves to just feel as we felt.

 

The alternative?

The good news is that there is one meta-emotion that can end this cycle of negative emotions about emotions! And that emotion is…

Compassion!

If we learn to be compassionate towards our emotions rather than judging them harshly, trying to avoid them or suppressing certain emotions because we think we shouldn’t feel that way, maybe we would feel a whole lot better!

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Two simple questions you can ask yourself if you think you are judging your emotions or yourself too harshly are:

  1. What would I say to a friend in this situation?
  2. What would a compassionate person say to me in this situation?

 

Maybe then we can learn to feel compassionate about feeling angry, kind about feeling sad and understanding about feeling anxious.

If you have been spotting and naming your emotions since reading How Are You? maybe you can level-up and start spotting your meta-emotions!

 

If your workplace could benefit from an emotional resource building workshop, check out sessions here: Guided Relaxation & Workshops

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Grounding: Emotional First Aid

Grounding is a tool I often use with patients. In CBT it is usually used to help people who have been through a traumatic experience, for example to ground someone back in the present moment if they are experiencing a flashback.

However, in my opinion, you don’t have to have been through a trauma to benefit from this simple yet powerful technique.

 

What is grounding?

Grounding is a technique that can be used immediately in the moment when you feel your emotions are at a high level to help to bring them down to a more manageable level.

The aim of grounding is to re-connect with the present moment by using your senses.

In this way, it is similar to mindfulness.

An example might be to literally stamp your feet and feel the contact of your feet on the ground.

Other examples might be:

  • Rubbing your hands quickly together and feeling the heat you can generate.
  • Deliberately spotting all the green objects you can see around you.
  • Listening for the next 5 sounds you can hear around you.
  • Smelling essential oils/your perfume/your coffee.

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When to use it

Crucially, the aim of grounding is not to get rid of emotions.

Emotions are there to help you to make sense of your situation.

However, if the emotion is very distressing, unmanageable or overwhelming, then grounding can help to bring the emotion down to a point that you can cope with it and allow it to pass.

 

Emotional first aid

I like to think of grounding as emotional first aid.

We all know that from time to time, we might cut ourselves and bleed.

If the cut is small, we don’t need to do anything. We can leave it alone and it will heal itself.

This is the same with most of our emotions.

We will all feel difficult emotions from time to time but if they are at a manageable level, they will pass by without any need for us to intervene.

At this level, we don’t need to use a grounding technique to manage our emotions but we could choose to use relaxation techniques, meditation or mindfulness practices to boost our overall wellbeing.

 

If we cut ourselves a little deeper, we may need to cover it with a plaster so that we can get on with our day.

The cut is still healing itself underneath the plaster and it wouldn’t necessarily harm us if the plaster wasn’t there.

The plaster is helpful in that it is stopping the cut from bleeding all over the place and preventing it from getting caught on things that could hurt it or slow down the healing process.

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At this point, we might think of the emotional level as being difficult or distressing but not completely unmanageable.

Grounding could be helpful at this point to help to re-group (i.e. not spill all over the place).

Just as the plaster helps to prevent a cut from getting caught on things that could hurt and slow down the healing process – grounding yourself in the present can help to reduce dwelling, worrying, and over-thinking that could exacerbate the difficult emotion.

This is where I believe many of us could benefit from grounding.

 

However, from time to time we might be unlucky enough to sustain a serious wound that needs pressure applying to it until medical attention can be sought.

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This could be the emotional equivalent of flashbacks, nightmares or ‘zoning out’  following a traumatic event.

Here, grounding can be used to manage severe distress until you can receive help from a therapist or mental health professional.

Just as you would go to A&E with a serious wound, if you are experiencing these kinds of symptoms, it is important to seek appropriate support.

Your GP or your local Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service may be a good place to start.

 

Want to know more about grounding or building your emotional resources?

You can learn more about grounding at my upcoming Emotional Resource Building Workshop. Details of workshops and events can be found on my Facebook page here: Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing Facebook Page

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Building Emotional Resources

(Because sh*t happens)

When you first think of resources you may think about things like time and money. These things are undoubtedly important but I would like to invite you to think about your emotional resources.

If you were going about starting a practical project like building an extension on your house, starting up a small business or even a small project like baking a cake, it would seem very sensible to start by gathering your practical resources.

If you are building an extension, you need plans, building materials, experts to help you, money to pay for it, time to build it.

If you are starting a small business, you will need a product or service, somewhere to work from, insurance, promotional materials, a computer.

If you are making a cake, you need some ingredients, a mixer, a cake tin, an oven, and some time.

Yet people can often expect to be able to meet life’s challenges without investing anything into their emotional resources.

Even in the day-to-day life of working, parenting, caring for someone, being a friend, running a car, maintaining a home, there are bound to be many and varied problems along the way.

 

Just as you need building materials for your extension, you need emotional resources to deal with life!

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How do you know if your emotional resources are lacking?

Feeling drained?
Tired?
Irritable & on edge?
Tearful, fretful, harassed or over-stretched?

If it only takes a small thing to tip you over the edge or if you think you couldn’t possibly cope with one more thing going wrong, this is a sure sign that your emotional resources are depleted.

Even if you are OK, it makes sense to keep you emotional resources topped up and it certainly can’t hurt to have more resources available to you.

 

How can emotional resources help?
Let’s do a quick thought experiment to demonstrate the difference between running on empty and having good emotional resources…

Think for a moment about a time when you have felt really overwhelmed or drained.

  • Really picture yourself in this scene…
  • Notice how you stood or sat
  • What was the expression on your face
  • Notice your tone of your voice
  • How did you feel in your body.
  • Notice what kind of thoughts you would have when you feel this way.

Now imagine your car breaks down.

  1. How would you feel?
  2. What would you think?
  3. How easy or difficult would it feel to sort it out?

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Now contrast this by thinking of a time when you felt confident, on top of things, strong or competent. Picture yourself again:

  • Notice how you stood or sat
  • What was the expression on your face
  • Notice your tone of your voice
  • How did you feel in your body.
  • Notice what kind of thoughts you would have when you feel this way…

Now imagine again that your car breaks down.

  1. How do you feel this time?
  2. What would you think?
  3. How easy or difficult would it feel to sort out?

Which starting point would give you more resilience?

 

And…
When we invest in our emotional resources, it can save you other valuable resources too.

If you can solve a problem without worrying as much about it, you will save the time, effort and energy you would have put into worrying.

When you can think in a more constructive way about a problem, you could save yourself wasted time and effort chasing your tail on ineffective solutions or time spent dwelling about how bad things are or how difficult life is.

Whatever level your emotional resources are now, investing some time into building them is time well spent.
You can’t prevent sh*t from happening but you can build up your ability to cope when it does!

Did you know that Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing offers a Building Emotional Resources Workshop for the workplace?

Check out Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing Guided Relaxation & Workshops

The first step in building emotional resources is noticing and naming your emotions.

You may like: Why I Don’t Like the Terms ‘Stressed’ and ‘Depressed’

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