Blog, self help, stress-busting

Meditation, Mindfulness and “Me-Time”…

After diagnosing us all with raging Imposter Syndrome and then trying out the cure, I’m returning to another subject covered on Sprint, the women students’ empowerment course provided in June by the University of Gloucestershire—stress busting. Making time for yourself is important whatever your age or gender .

Hobbies, especially sport, are a great way to either relax or burn off tension. But what if you need something more reflective? What if you can’t, or don’t want to, go out and about in search of “Me-Time”?

This is what happens if the boar get into your garden . Talk about stress!

Scroll back through my blogs and you’ll see we live in the middle of an ancient Gloucestershire wood. Sometimes it feels like we’re in one of those old black-and-white Western films. Tottering Towers is our Conestoga Wagon, circled not by furious landowners but by noisy boar and deer! It can be pretty stressful when the deer eat my plants and the piggies plough the footpaths. Days here are peaceful compared with the city. That doesn’t mean they are any less stressful.

Power cuts and the broadband going into trickle mode cranks up the tension. I’m studying for my Masters, my husband works from home several days each week, and our children are still living with us here. We all get on really well, but this is not a large house.

OH’s work also includes frequent conference calls. I prefer to work in silence, beyond birdsong and the occasional Noisli track. And there’s the problem. Much as I love my husband, his deep, booming voice can be heard for some distance through the house.

Several women I met on the Sprint course suggested meditation could help my stress levels. They introduced me to the Headspace app. I was sceptical about something which sounded so intangible, but this app appealed to me from the start. On their webpage Headspace makes a thing about being …committed to advancing the field of mindfulness meditation through clinically-validated research on our product. That sounded good to me.

Pic by Gerd Altmann

I got my first smartphone only a few days before starting the Sprint course. I loaded the app straight away and started using it. I found it attractive, and easy to use. There’s a free introductory course of meditation sessions which takes you through the basics. You can also sample short sessions of between one and three minutes to give you a flavour of the many things with which meditation can help, from anger management to attitudes to food (I’m working through that one myself at the moment).

You can use a certain amount of Headspace content for free but to get the most benefit from it you can subscribe. You can pay either by the month, or annually. Like many subscriptions it will renew automatically until you stop it. If you subscribe to Headspace, take care to make a diary note a week or so before your renewal date. Then you’ll have time to decide if you want to cancel it, before you’re charged.

I love Headspace. There are meditations in differing lengths to help with all sorts of situations. It teaches useful skills in a restful delivery style, with meditation sessions of varying lengths to suit the time you have available. There are mini videos, animations with cute graphics, and lots more.

I enjoyed the free introductory course and some taster sessions so much, I signed up for a paid subscription. This gives you access to tons more content: courses for anger management, sleep problems, stress, and ways to become more comfortable inside your own skin. These are all delivered in handy, bite-sized sessions.

My “Mindful Eating” will meet its match at the RNA York Tea in September!

The best thing of all is that the Mindful Eating course seems to be making a difference to me, although I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks.

I’d love to say I’ve gone right off cake and crisps, but that isn’t how meditation works. It guides you towards eating more mindfully. You are persuaded to consider how and why you’re eating. This can help to stop you not noticing that you’ve been continuously picking at food while watching the television (one of my worst sins).

Headspace explains that it’s important to set aside time to eat without any distractions from phones or screens.

Pausing for a few seconds before starting to eat, considering each mouthful in silence, and pausing for a few seconds at the end of the meal makes a real difference to the enjoyment I get from meals.

It felt weird for the first few days—like being back at school dinners. We always said Grace at my secondary school, and there was a strict “no talking” rule at mealtimes. We sat at tables of eight, and nobody was allowed to get up before everyone on their table had finished eating and all the plates and cutlery were stacked. I’d like to see teachers try that these days!

Blog, Book Review, self help

Is This A Self-Help Book That Actually Works?

I wrote here about a course provided by the University of Gloucestershire to boost the self-esteem of women post-graduates. Every one of us who attended the course learned we suffered from so-called Imposter Syndrome to a greater or lesser degree.

Imposter Syndrome is where you live in fear of being discovered as a fraud. For example, you believe you can only have been given your job or promotion through luck, because your face happened to fit, or the boss felt generous that day. It surprised us all to find out how common this feeling is. That’s because to sufferers, it’s a guilty secret. If nobody ever lets on to experiencing this, how will any of us discover that we aren’t alone in the way we feel?

We’re all in this together…

There was a resource table available during the course. It was full of articles and books about successful women, their career tips and research. There was also plenty of information about improving self-confidence and getting that dream job. The Imposter Cure by Dr Jessamy Hibberd was on the table, and it proved a popular choice.

I can never resist a self-help book. My favourite is The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. It’s the book that persuaded me to start writing again, when I had run out of inspiration and was feeling really fed up. The Success Principles put me back on the road to, well, success!

After flicking through The Imposter Cure , I ordered it straight away. The book didn’t disappoint me. Dr Hibberd is a fellow stationery fan. Anything that includes the instruction buy yourself a notebook to use alongside this book sounds good to me. That sentence on its own promised three enjoyable experiences. I had the fun of selecting a new notebook, using it, and then checking my progress against my notes afterwards.

This book is in three sections: Understanding Imposter Syndrome, Why You Are Not An Imposter, and How To Say Goodbye To The Imposter For Good! Part One reassures the reader they are not alone, and explains how and why Imposter Syndrome takes hold. Your definition of competence has an impact on what you expect of yourself, says Dr Hibberd.

She then goes on to outline the five accepted patterns of perfection which torture us all. These are; The Perfectionist, The Natural Genius, The Soloist, The Expert, and the Superwoman/man. Most people have problems under combinations of more than one of those headings. It was fascinating trying to decide which nagging perfectionist had its claws in me. Actually, I have one perched on each shoulder! I’m a combination of Soloist (unless I’ve achieved something completely on my own, it doesn’t “count”) and Superwoman (multi-tasking to exhaustion because I can’t bear to delegate).

A notebook, some resolutions, and off you go!

This is a chatty, informative book. The text was easy to read, and included plenty of real-life case studies, flow charts, bullet points and chapter summaries. I found it useful, and learned strategies to disarm the symptoms of my own Imposter Syndrome.

The most important thing is to remember that everyone feels insecure and uncertain at times. Study your own reasons for thinking you’re an imposter, one by one. Dr Hibberd has a cure for them all. For example it wasn’t “only luck” that got you that dream job. Luck might have played a small part, but think: you did the work to get the relevant qualifications and experience, sent in the application form, and turned up for the interview. Hundreds of others never got that far. You then went on to be the best candidate on the day. That’s not simply luck. It’s a winning combination of determination, forward planning, ability and charm.

Earlier on I said this book opened with a suggestion which gave me three enjoyable experiences. There was another one waiting for me at the end. I had the satisfaction of discovering that The Imposter Cure really did help me stop being so self-critical. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt insecure. And remember, as Dr Hibberd states on Page 253:

There’s a reason you haven’t been found out so far: there is nothing to find out.

Have you ever found a self-help book that worked for you?

Blog, self-esteem

Are You Afraid Of Being Found Out?

I spent some time last month in the company of a group of dynamic and forward-thinking women. It was a fascinating, uplifting experience—but it proved to me that nearly all of us is hiding a toxic secret.

Although we delegates were drawn from different walks of life and stages in our careers, we had lots of different things in common. Some of us found it hard to accept compliments. Only one of us could manage to say no to taking on too much work. Most of us said we would go out of our way to avoid conflict, and confessed to wasting too much time on our phones.

Over four days, post-graduate women on a personal development course offered by the University of Gloucestershire were shown techniques for coping with life and the workplace.

There was one thing that every single person in the room—guest speakers included— admitted to suffering at least once in their lives. It’s called Imposter Syndrome.

People with Imposter Syndrome can’t accept that they’ve succeeded on their own merits. They’re convinced it must all be down to luck, or that they are frauds. Convinced they’ll be exposed sooner or later, people with Imposter Syndrome can’t enjoy their achievements. They are always worried someone is going to “find them out”.

Nobody ran this personal best for me….

Life shouldn’t be like that. Once you realise almost everyone feels the same way you do, it’s a great relief. A little bit of shock and awe when you achieve something is natural. Just make sure you learn to accept that some things in life are down to your talent and hard work, rather than luck.

You were the best candidate who was called for that interview. Somebody spotted something special in your application form. Then on the day you proved you were the best person for the job!

Your book was accepted by a publisher, not because they were feeling sorry for you but because they thought people would love to read it. Everyone in business wants to make a return on their investment. You must have earned that contract!

You can shake off Imposter Syndrome, but it takes work. Try listing five of your achievements. Here are my five: I learned to swim, I learned to ride a bike and drive a car, I’ve sold nearly three million books, and I was accepted onto a post-graduate course last year despite leaving school at 16 (a long time ago), without so much as an A-level.

…And I got here all by myself…

Not everybody wants to be a writer, or go to university as a mature student, but most people learn to swim, ride and drive. Those are all great and useful achievements. The important thing about them (and many others) is that no-one can do them for you. There may be a dash of luck involved on the day, but 99% of your success in those skills will have been down to your hard work.

Fight back against Imposter Syndrome right now. Post a comment on here about something you’ve done that has made you feel really proud of yourself!

Blog, education

From School Dropout to University Student…

Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire

This has been quite a year for me. I was not looking forward to my son’s last university open-day of the season on June 29th 2018. I was due to spend the day as his taxi service, sitting around for hours while he tried out sample lectures at the University of Gloucestershire.

Twenty-four hours later I was studying the university’s prospectus myself, and wondering if they’d accept me as an undergraduate on the basis of my handful of mismatched O-levels, and a portfolio of written work. Twelve months later, and I’m looking into topics for my Phd.

Things happened so fast after I discovered UoG accepted mature students that I’ve hardly had time to catch my breath. I’m lucky that my hobby of writing is also my full-time job. The idea of doing a degree in Creative and Critical Writing as part of my continuing personal development really appealed to me.

It’s the chance to read all day and call it work…!

The first piece of good news was that the usual minimum requirement of a degree at 2:1 level or above was waived for mature students. Then I found myself fast-tracked. I had an interview, where it was explained that my publishing history suggested I’d be better off going straight onto the Masters course, rather than doing a first degree. The list of modules looked so interesting I agreed straight away.

It was only on my way home from the interview that I started to worry. I hated the idea of being the oldest student in the place (it turned out I wasn’t—not by about three decades!).

I hadn’t driven in a city rush-hour since I became self-employed, back in the nineteen-nineties. Going back to that would be scary (I got used to it).

Nothing to it! (Pic By Jonas KIM)

The university car park is small. It’s always a case of squeeze in where you can, and I wasn’t a confident parker (Last week, I had to take my son for one of his regular check-ups at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. The car park was packed and we were heading a procession of cars looking for a space. Suddenly I spotted one, flung the car into reverse and squeezed in with inches to spare. Son No. 1 was impressed. “It’s something else I learned at University!” I told him).

One of my regular lectures didn’t finish until 9:15pm. An hour’s drive home through wintry, pitch-black country lanes really didn’t appeal to me (I got used to that, too).

…except when boar or deer jumped out in front of me!

Somehow, I managed to enjoy my first year of lectures, workshops and assignments at university—and a whole lot more. That surprised me. Part of the reason I became a writer was because I like my own company. Going from an almost silent working life behind a keyboard to the full-on excitement of a campus was nerve-racking. The first time I spoke up in a lecture was scary, but as I had to attend two workshop sessions every week, it soon became second nature.

The more I did, the more I wanted to do. I’ve been interviewed about my job in front of a class of undergraduates, talked to a class of forty first-year students, taken a women’s empowerment course and completed a business start-up weekend. All that gave me the confidence to sign up for extra curricular activities, too. I haven’t been a party person since I got married, but I’ve been to two social events in this past month!

It’s party time!

I’ve got an amazing amount out of signing up as a mature student. I’d recommend it to anybody. It’s given me a whole new lease of life. Why don’t you investigate what’s available in your area? If there’s nothing on offer, try the University of the Third Age, or even the Open University. Blended learning, which is the term given to a mix of online activities, face-to-face lectures and tutorials make learning much more fun than it was when I was a teenager.

I’ve enjoyed all the things I’ve tried, especially the business start-up weekend. That was particularly useful. It’s made me wonder about setting up my own small business. That’s going to take a lot of thought and organisation, so follow this blog and sign up for my newsletter here to find out what happens!

Blog, Writing

Writing…and Publicity

The rain has been lashing down outside for a couple of days, and it’s cold and miserable. Whatever happened to “Flaming June”? On days like today I’m glad I’ve got a nice indoor occupation, with no heavy lifting. It’s a world away from toiling outdoors in all weathers.

The biggest problem with writing as work is the constant urge to move on to the next project. I keep a notebook to write down all the new ideas that pop into my mind while I’m busy with a project. That way I’m never short of inspiration. When one book is finished, I flick through my notes. That gives me plenty to think about. When one particular image or scene germinates well, that’s when I start writing again.

That’s the future mapped out. What about the past? I’ve got a sizeable backlist of historical and romantic fiction. As my university course means I’m having to concentrate on writing non-fiction at the moment, my backlist is a valuable resource.

The weather was too bad to work on my vegetable plot yesterday, so I was cooped up indoors. It was a day exactly like that when I started writing His Majesty’s Secret Passion. I needed to escape the miserable British winter. A luxurious spa in Greece felt like the perfect getaway. His Majesty’s Secret Passion was a lot of fun to write, and readers enjoy its take on the Cinderella-type story of an overworked woman passed over for promotion desperate to make a fresh start. I liked the idea of inventing a Prince Charming who wanted a real job as a doctor, rather than living an idle life of luxury as a king.

His Majesty’s Secret Passion went on to become the first book in my Princes of Kharova trilogy. All three books are full of secret desires, men who want change and women who know their own minds. I used yesterday’s down-time to create a book trailer on Animoto. I’ve only used it once before, to make a trailer for Struggle and Suffrage In Bristol (you can watch that here).

Talk about going from one extreme to the other! What do you think? Have you got any advice about using Animoto?