Be Strong!

Why is it so hard to ask for help?

I really don’t enjoy asking for help – and I am not alone.  Many people prefer to struggle on, even to risk failure, rather than seek assistance from friends and colleagues.

Why is it so difficult?  People like to help, it makes them feel good.  In fact I like to help other people but I still don’t always give them the opportunity to help me.  Over the last couple of years a health problem has deprived me of a driving licence.  I have travelled the county by bus and on foot.  Every Tuesday afternoon I have to travel to a town 12 miles away, this would be a 20 minute car journey but it takes me an hour and a half on two buses.  Why don’t I just ask friends for a lift?

According to Taibi Kahler (1975) it is because I (and many others) have a “be strong driver.”  Kahler identified that most of us are motivated in our behaviours by one or more of five central drivers; be strong, be perfect, please others, try hard and hurry up (more on these other drivers in future blogs) and they form a central tenet of Transactional Analysis.

Drivers are considered to be an aspect of personality and are believed to stem from messages received in childhood.  People with a “be strong driver” may have heard messages such as “you can do it, go on, you don’t need help” as they learned new skills.  Supportive parents, who encourage independent children, tend to raise independent adults.  And it is important to note that drivers are not inherently bad.  A drive to be strong is a great motivator, it fosters independence, resilience in the face of adversity and a desire and ability to get things done.  These are all things that I value about myself.  These are all things I would not change.

However, there is a theory (supported by a number of psychologists) that a weakness is simply an over-used strength.  This is a prime example of that theory.  For some reason we haven’t all learned when to turn “be strong” off and so we continue to be wilfully independent beyond the point at which it becomes unhelpful.

By this reasoning, the ability to be strong is both my strength and, when taken too far, my weakness.

If Yellow Dot Women is to be a success I will need to put on my warrior face and be strong, I will need to be independent and I will need to just get things done.  However, I will also need help.

This week I resolve to contact some people who can help me with my business, people whose advice I appreciate, whose counsel I respect, people who have skills and knowledge that I might need along the way.

What about you?  What help are you going to ask for this week?

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter SyndromeHave you ever felt as if you are a bit of a fraud?  A fake?  That it is only a matter of time before someone finds out that you are nowhere near as competent as everybody seems to think?

Well you might be suffering from Imposter Syndrome.  But don’t worry too much – you are in good company.

The original study (Clance & Imes, 1978) focussed on women but subsequent research has found that men are affected too and it is generally thought that around 70% of the population experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives.  There is still some debate around the extent to which it affects women v men – the general belief is that it is fairly equal but that men find it harder to express their vulnerability.  It has been found that women are more likely to experience symptoms if they work in male dominated fields or in teams with a strong male bias.

This is not a complex or a mental illness – in fact it is not really even a syndrome.  Pauline Clance, who coined the term, has since said that she wishes she had called it the Imposter Experience.

So, what is it?

Imposter syndrome is essentially a deficit of confidence.  It is most likely to be experienced by high achievers, by people who are striving for excellence.  As these people are continually pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones it is perfectly natural that they feel out of their depth or lacking in confidence.  Others can see that they are achieving great things but the individual feels only a looming sense of imminent failure.  Positive feedback on performance causes some anxiety as the gap widens between personal confidence and the confidence other people have in them.

The experience can manifest itself in perfectionism, over-working and a fear of failure.  Fear of being found out often results in an attempt to work even harder still.

So, if this is you, what can you do about it?

First ask yourself if you want to do anything about it.  A mild case of imposter syndrome can motivate you to work hard and achieve great things.  It can work for you as well as against you and it is the brake that stops you from becoming arrogant and over-confident.  If you are confident in some areas of your life but experience occasional wobbles then well done, you are doing really well.

If the lack of confidence is causing you some stress and anxiety you might want to consider taking your foot off the accelerator and allowing yourself to catch up a little.  If this doesn’t help and you find yourself becoming less confident across other areas of your life too, you might want to consider working with a coach or mentor to help you get some balance back.

If you feel anxious and overwhelmed all the time you should get some help sooner rather than later.  Speak to a coach or counsellor and you might need to consult a doctor too.

But what if you have never experienced Imposter Syndrome?  What if you don’t really know what I am talking about?  Well, this may also be of concern.

On the positive end of the scale it may be because you are appropriately confident at all times.  This would be unusual but it is at least theoretically possible for people to always operate at a level of stretch that eases them out of their comfort zone gently and allows them to consolidate learning and achievement before moving on.

Alternatively, it may be because you have never stepped out of your comfort zone, because you under achieve and don’t stretch yourself at all.  If you are happy like that it’s not a problem but under achieving can bring about low confidence and depression.  Seek help if that is the case.

You may not recognise Imposter Syndrome because you know you are an imposter!  This is rare but some people really are lying and cheating their way into jobs that they have neither the experience nor the qualifications for – think Frank Abagnale Jr. in the Leonardo DiCaprio film “Catch Me if You Can” – Abagnale worked as an airline pilot, a doctor and a legal prosecutor despite being qualified for none of those roles.  Such people would be considered to be sociopaths.

Sometimes, people don’t recognise Imposter Syndrome because they suffer from the Dunning – Kruger Effect.  This is essentially the opposite of Imposter Syndrome; it’s a condition where people are over confident in relation to their abilities, where people fail to recognise just how incompetent they are.  It has (somewhat cruelly) been described as a condition where people are too stupid to know that they are stupid.

Essentially, the vast majority of people suffer from variations of confidence in their ability throughout their lives, it’s perfectly normal, until it’s not.  As always, the real problems exist at the extremes of the continuum.  If your experience doesn’t feel normal to you, if you are getting feedback from others that seems to be very different from your own experience then consider seeking some help.  Get in touch if you would like to discuss this further.

For everyone else, just keep ticking along with your own beautiful but imperfect, roller-coaster lives.

Please let me know if any of this seems familiar, it would be good to demonstrate how common Imposter Syndrome is.

 

Where are you going? Where have you been?

Where are you going?It is difficult to have an interest in personal development without being exposed to multiple truisms, often accompanied by beautiful photos.  Books, magazines and, particularly, social media platforms are full of these compact (but slightly obvious) statements.  I may even be guilty of posting one or two myself (ahem).  They are designed to engage us, motivate us and set us on a path to enlightenment.  At their best they make us think, reflect and make changes in our daily lives.  At their worst they lull us into a self-satisfied belief that, just by reading them we become more enlightened, by sharing them we make the world a better place.

One such truism, which crops up repeatedly in my newsfeed and Pinterest stream is “Life is a Journey not a Destination.”

Essentially it is telling us to be present in the moment, that happiness lies in the here and now and not in some distant future and there is much of value in such a philosophy.  But it is not the full story.

The Past

People have a tendency to live in the past either because they were happier there or because the past holds the source of their current unhappiness.  It is not particularly helpful to remain stuck in your memories as it is very difficult to move forward if you are constantly looking behind you.

However, it is also unhelpful to move forward without reflecting at all.  The secret to who we are now lies in the past, along with the lessons that we need to learn from our personal history.  Happiness and well-being require us to look back and learn from our experiences and, in some cases, to forgive ourselves and to forgive others for past trangressions.

The past has a value today and some elements of it should be packed and labelled as “needed on journey”.

The Future

It is not helpful to focus on the future if it stops you from appreciating today.  A life can be wasted whilst you wait for that “rainy day” on which you have pinned all your expectations of future happiness.  There is no point in focussing on your future destination if the journey makes you miserable.

But the future matters.  It may be more helpful to think of “a” destination rather than “the” destination but it matters.

When people are stuck in their present and filled with despair, it is only the hope of a better future that motivates them to continue, it is the setting of a future goal that allows them to plan an exit strategy.  It is only when they can see the promise of better times ahead that the despair can be lifted enough for the present to be a happier place.  Without the ability to see beyond this moment you can expect to remain stuck in an unfulfilling and unhappy life.

Even if your present is not unhappy, a sense of achievement is essential to well-being.  Some good things are worth working for but those good things necessarily lie in the future.

The Present

Of course, the meaning of “Life is a Journey not a Destination” lies in the challenge to make every moment count.  This is great advice.  Be present with your friends and family.  Engage fully with your children.  Focus on that great book, film, run, music etc.  Work hard and play hard.

But take time to reflect and to plan as well.  A life lived entirely in the moment has the potential to be a stunted life, a life without growth.  The present is not an isolated island free from distraction and interruption but a bridge between what has been and what is yet to come.

As you cross your own particular bridge take a moment to examine the view in every direction.  And next time you read a motivational quotation take a moment to ask yourself what it really means.  What learning lies beneath the obvious?

Why Yellow Dot?

Yellow Dot Women

In the month since I first started this venture, the question I have been asked most is “Why Yellow Dot?”  I hope that you will be relieved to know that it is not an entirely random name, the “yellow dot” is at the core of most of my strongly held beliefs.

It is well over 20 years since I first started training as a counsellor.  People outside the field may not know just how many types of counselling / psychotherapy there are (and why should they?) but my initial training was as a client or person-centred counsellor and this particular discipline was based on the work of the humanist, Carl Rogers.

Rogers talked of the “organismic self” or the “real self”.   The idea is (and scholars will have to forgive me if I over-simplify but this is not an academic blog) that we are born with a perfect sense of self and with the innate desire to grow and develop (to self-actualise).

Just as a flower needs a balance of water, nutrients and sunlight to grow effectively, so the organismic self needs a nurturing environment if it is to grow to its full potential.  According to Rogers the core conditions of growth are Congruence (genuiness & openness), Unconditional Positive Regard (complete acceptance for who we are) and Empathy (to be listened to and understood).

When the conditions for growth are good, when we are surrounded by people who love us and listen to us and try to understand us, then we are able to be our real selves and are able to achieve anything we set out to do – our potential is limitless.

When the conditions for growth are poor, when we are surrounded by judgement and criticism, when our relationships are limited by conditions (I will only love you if…), when we are not listened to or understood, then we focus on other people’s values rather than our own – it becomes important to fit in and be liked rather than to be ourselves.

I have always imagined that the organismic self is a dot, deep inside me.  When the organismic self faces difficult times it is still there, small and still, waiting, like a seed waits for spring.  When the conditions for growth are right the dot can grow inside us, filling us with warmth and sunshine.

The dot I imagine is yellow because, in psychological terms, yellow is the most noticeable of colours, it represents optimism, light and positivity.  It is the colour of energy, enthusiasm and cheerfulness.

I use yellow dot stickers on random items to remind myself that I am on a journey, to grow and learn and develop.  When I see a sticker I ask myself a question – “is this helping me to grow into the person I want to be?”

This is not a test.  The answer isn’t always yes.  If I see a sticker when I am vacuuming the house I ask myself “Is this helping me to grow into the person I want to be?” the answer is an unequivocal “NO”, but it is making the house clean and I kind of like that so it’s ok.

More importantly, when I am feeling unhappy, seeing a yellow dot reminds me to question why I feel that way.  Am I being genuine?  Am I feeling judged by the people I am with?  Am I being mis-understood?  What can I do to change that?

When those feelings last I seek help.  I surround myself with people who do not judge me, I go for coffee with someone who will be open and honest with me, I talk to someone who will listen to me.  When I get stuck I visit a coach who can help me to get unstuck.  When unhappiness won’t go away I visit a counsellor who helps me to accept and understand myself.

I hope that this Yellow Dot community will do the same for you.  My aim is to always be non-judgemental, to listen to you and your views, to try to understand you, to be genuine in everything I write and to help all of you to grow.

Please let me know what you do to nurture the Yellow Dot inside you.  I love reading your comments.

Maybe you could also tag those people in your life who help you to be the best person you can be – that friend, partner, colleague or family member who can name your faults but love you anyway, who can always see the real you, that person who listens and always tries to understand.

Thanks for reading.

Failure

Failure

It seems odd to be writing about failure just two weeks into a new venture.  Surely that kind of negativity has no place on the Yellow Dot Women page?

But, actually, failure is a really important topic to consider when you start something new.

If the new thing is worth having then there will be some element of risk inherent in it.  Whether or not we succeed will depend on how well we manage that risk.

Most of us make small risky decisions every day.

When you buy a new book there is a risk that it will be boring.  When you cook a new meal for the first time there is a risk that you won’t enjoy it.  When you watch a new television programme there is a risk that it won’t be as entertaining as you hoped.  But you manage the risk by choosing a book in a genre you have previously enjoyed, by cooking a meal using ingredients that you know you like or by reading reviews before choosing to watch a new television programme.

But sometimes you get it wrong.  You fail.  Now is the time to learn.

Perhaps you have discovered that, although you like aubergine when it is diced and spiced and cooked in a curry, you don’t like it raw in a salad.  That’s good learning.  You can still experiment with your cooking but you have become more discerning about what works.  Perhaps you really enjoyed reading the Harry Hole books by Jo Nesbo but failed to enjoy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.  You have learned that you don’t necessarily like all Scandinavian Crime novels.  You have honed your reading taste.

The point is that you need some element of failure in order to learn, in order to become more discerning, more nuanced.

Of course, the risk involved in choosing the wrong book is low, the cost of failure is negligible but the principle still holds when taking bigger risks.

In starting a new business I have calculated the risks.  I understand the cost of failure on a grand scale but I have managed the risks which are within my control (I am using my skills, I am communicating my ideas, I have a business plan and a marketing plan and I am involving other professionals when my skills don’t cover my needs (a graphic designer and a web developer for example).

Am I guaranteed success?  No.  Because there are so many factors outside my control.  All I can do is face those factors each day, be flexible and learn from my failures.  And No again because anyone can have a bad day and bad days lead to mistakes.

Culturally we are not very good at failure in the U.K.  We like to point the finger of blame.  When something goes wrong we want someone to be accountable.  When M.P.s get something wrong we expect them to resign, we are pleased to knock celebrities down from their pedestals and, at work, it is always someone else’s fault when things don’t work out as planned.

There are a number of problems that stem from living in a blame culture:

  1. People stop taking risks. They stay in their comfort zones and only do what they have always done.  Progress becomes a thing of the past.
  2. People hide their mistakes and their failures. They do not learn from them and they do not give others the chance to learn from them so mistakes are repeated ad infinitum.
  3. Dishonesty, secrecy and fear become the norm and teamwork becomes a thing of the past.
  4. Stress, depression and anxiety are allowed to flourish.

Do you recognise any of these elements in your workplace?  Or worse, in your home?

Are you allowing your employees, your colleagues or, indeed, your children to make mistakes?  Do you support them to learn from their failures or do you simply criticise?

So far, in two weeks, I have avoided any major failures but I know they will come.  And when they do, I will tell you all about them.  That way, we can learn together.

And, of course, if you would like help to combat a blame culture or to learn from your personal failures please get in touch.

But, just for now, please tell me what failures you have experienced over the years and what you have learned from them.  Maybe other Yellow Dot Women can learn from them too.

How do you Respond to Uncontrollable Situations?

How do you respond to uncontrollable situations

Two weeks ago I started clearing the kitchen ready for decorating. I had successfully piled most of the contents of the kitchen up in the dining room and had cleared the decks to start painting the following day.

The next morning I reached in to turn on the shower and somehow, in that simple, often repeated movement, I did something very painful to my back. Ouch! No painting for me.

So, basically, I had a clear plan and unexpected events threw a spanner in the works – nothing new there. I am guessing that many of you are experiencing something similar with the weather at the moment. You had a clear plan to go to work, meet friends or take the children to school but suddenly, snow happened, quickly followed by storm Emma. The roads are treacherous, schools are closed and your plans are thwarted. Chaos abounds.

What happens next depends on you.

Can you live with the chaos? Or do you feel a need to impose order on an uncontrollable situation? What happens when you can’t?

A quick look at social media tells me everything I need to know about the range of responses people make to a forced change in circumstances. Those who embrace it are out having fun, sledging and playing in the snow. Others have taken the opportunity to batten down the hatches and relax by the fire. There are people who are determined that a bit of weather won’t stop them so they get in their cars and carry on regardless (some of them succeeded, some of them made the situation worse for themselves and others). Some people focussed on helping the lonely, the old, the homeless and the generally vulnerable. Some people moaned. A lot.  They got angry with the “stupid snow” and with everybody else.

We can learn a lot about ourselves from the way we respond when we aren’t completely in control.

As for me, the kitchen remains unpainted, the dining room is still in chaos. I have felt frustrated at times but a bad back has also been an opportunity to sit by the fire, to read, to write and to plan. I have had time to think which, these days, can be something of a luxury. The pain is receding now (hurrah) so I’ll get on with the painting – carefully.

What about you? What strategies do you use when the world decides that it’s time to shake things up a bit? Are you a moaner or a do-er? How resilient are you when the chips are down?

Please let me know how you responded to the challenges the weather brought this week. I would love to hear your stories.

Start Where You Are

Start Where You Are

“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

I have been thinking about Yellow Dot for some time now. Media focus on wage disparity and the #metoo campaign tells me that there is still room for a safe space where women can learn and grow in a non-judgemental, supportive environment.

I have spent over twenty years working as a counsellor, coach and trainer with individuals and businesses across the UK and beyond but I still sometimes need to remind myself of the lessons I have learned and have taught to others.

Today‘s repeated lesson is a quotation from Arthur Ashe:

“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

I have been procrastinating like mad about this venture, telling myself that I need a website, some design work, a logo, a marketing plan and the list goes on. In reality I need myself and I need to tell people that I am here – everything else will happen when it needs to.

So with a little bit of my own (very basic) design work (yes I used PowerPoint), an iPhone selfie and half an hour on Facebook I can hit the road running. As of now I am “doing” instead of “planning”

Please like and share the page even if you are (dare I say it?) a man – you may still find something relevant in the content. I will use this page to share some of my thoughts on personal growth and to advertise workshops etc.

Watch this space for some more professional additions. In the meantime, please tell me what development needs you have and what workshops you would like to see Yellow Dot offer.