Tasting the future?

I think there may be a need to re-assert some control. The last time I had a full week off, an entire week with no work, was September last year. I checked. That surprised me.

Now don’t get me wrong, several of the intervening weeks were by no means full and there have been plenty of days which have been entirely empty; some planned, some not. But I think the point is that if I am living and earning the way that I do in order to reap the rewards of partial working, then perhaps my work-life balance isn’t.

There’s too much randomness in the sections that ought to provide that balance and now that there are more consistencies in the success that’s bringing home the bacon, perhaps there needs to be a more deliberate part of my life which isn’t out there constantly hunting slices of cured ungulate, metaphorically speaking.

Perhaps my mind is wandering over these issues because today is the end of my third year of running my life as a business, encompassing therapy, learning and training. Another vaguely inspiring thought is that this phase represents 10% of my entire working life. That surprised me too. In a good way.

I’m also about to add Mind Coaching  to my skill set and I’m looking forward to it immensely. It should help to embed the three disciplines I currently embrace and weld them together into a more or less cohesive whole. Onwards and ever upwards, perhaps.

I find myself looking for a counterbalance and so am currently embracing more mindfulness in my daily routines. It appears to be paying off, although I’m still too close to it to be able to properly articulate how. Suffice it to say that sleep (which was generally good, though occasionally disturbed at peak workflow) is now a calmer and smoother pastime. I’m also more able to insert myself in that tiny sliver of time that exists between stimulus and response. Life is becoming a smoother and calmer pastime too. Mostly this was successfully addressed as part of my transition from full time financial services professional to my part time therapeutic self. Somehow though, I lost the focus on the slice of time which is the only bit that’s real. The Here and the Now. (Notice how I deftly avoided having to mention the FatBoy again)

So here I am.

Given that I intend to go and collect some Elder Flowers to convert into wine for later this year, I may just have to pause and leave you to ponder on what might be around the corner. I feel that there are some perspectives about to shift. The paradigms will just have to take their chances.

Time, subject of many such chance or deliberate distortion, is finding that I’ve become less its slave and more its coach, so there’s always the possibility of more being done in less which is helpful if you’re trying to get the balance restored. On the subject of more to do, the website is up for a revamp over the next few months and I may even have to review the how and the why of downloads. They are still being bought but I can’t help wondering how to encourage more people to use them. Those that do, really seem to find benefit. I just haven’t found the way to expand. Yet.

Technology could well have more of a part to play and I definitely get the feeling that Skype and Facetime have more ability to expand the quest for well-being than they are letting on to me at present.

Anyway, whether these changes that may or may not happen actually do or don’t, there’s an important job to be done the end result of which means that there’s a future me out there toasting your health and well-being with an aromatic semi-sweet swirling around a glass. It might or might not be Christmas. The vagaries of sugar and yeast lend an imprecise end to my alcohol based venture but time dictates that the start is pretty imminent, especially due to the inclement weather. So, being ever more mindful, it’s time to begin.

And there’s no time like the present.


An Alternative View © Tony Burkinshaw 2014

An Alternative View
© Tony Burkinshaw 2014


Learning to Reduce Stress

You know how I write a monthly column for ‘Only Peterborough’ magazine? It’s the Understanding You, mental-health well-being column. Well, this is the article I wrote for the November edition. I thought you might like it.

It’s about my other interest in life, helping people learn how to learn.

These days, qualification never ceases and people have to take  professional qualifications for much of their career.

All of a sudden, you find yourself trying to use the same study methods you used at school or University except this time you’re also trying to hold down a career, keep a family happy, not to mention earn a living and desperately search for that mythical work-life balance.

Strangely enough, almost no-one gets taught how to learn.

How to use the way you, as an individual, relate to the world and other people. Take the way you do the things you love. You just do them. It just happens. It flows. And all the effort is worthwhile.

What I do is uncover these aspects of you and show you how to use them to learn everything in that same way. Learning becomes fun again – no matter what the subject matter.

Anyway. Here’s a high-level version of that other side of what I do.

Learning to Reduce Stress

Have you ever seen a toddler achieve some mighty task such as saying a new word, taking their first steps, kicking a ball. Notice that immense concentration followed by the pure joy and delight at learning something new. The human brain is designed for learning and not just in early childhood. Constant challenge can keep it functioning at is best.

So why as we settle into the new academic year or undertake professional qualifications can learning become such a challenge, filling so many of us with anxiety and self-doubt?

Given the choice we’d rather find something that grabs our attention and feeds our preference for mastering things we enjoy. Think about the huge variation in what people choose to learn. Some learn a sport, others become XBox experts, yet more will learn to cook, surf, speak another language, make clothes, take photos, design apps for iPads (other good tablets are available); the list is endless.

But when we’re required to learn, we revert back to our early days of homework and find ourselves trying to learn in that same way again. Without meaning to, we end up recreating a classroom every time we have to ‘study’ whether it suits our learning style or not.  Add in the expectation of having to pass and it’s no wonder that taking exams becomes one of the most stressful things you can do.

So what is the alternative? Uncover what you do when you’re learning something you enjoy and then learn everything else in that same way. If you delight in being with others, then learn in groups or with friends; if you love to sing or play guitar, put it to music. Colours, movement, sounds or shapes, even textures and smells can all be built in to help you learn the way your brain prefers to learn.

It can take a little time and may need some guidance. But once you’ve found your way, learning ceases to be a chore and you just might feel that burst of pure delight at achieving something new once more.


Only Peterborough Magazine: website

Tony Burkinshaw Cognitive Hypnotherapy: Learning & Memory Coach

…and if it’s all too much: Mindfulness Meditation mp3

Memory, learning, mindfulness, stress

Mindful of the Stress

Standing Fate on its Head

So there I was, complimenting a work colleague as you do, (or perhaps don’t depending on where you work I suppose), as part of the feedback I was giving and encouraging him to think about where he could use similar verbal communication techniques to maximum effect.

Obviously, in an effort to ensure that all relevant future-scuppering spirits were appropriately warded off by my apparent blasphemy at actually telling him he was good at something, (which he really was by the way), he spake unto me thusly: ‘Oh now you’re tempting fate! It’ll never go like that again’. He paused for a moment. ‘Mind you, if I pretend you never said it, maybe I’ll get away with it. Touch wood.’

Now I could ramble on here about the origins of wood touching and fate tempting but that’s not really the point. Habits are habits and depend an insanely large amount on cultural heritage. Being from the UK, my cultural heritage includes seeking safety from the vagaries of the eternal Fates by hugging trees, although these days that’s been diluted into finger tip contact most typically with dead trees which have been turned into furniture thereby saying little for the fate avoiding ability of the tree sprites and spirits of dead ancestors whose power we’re trying to evoke, seeing as the particular tree in question couldn’t. Avoid its fate, that is.

I’m not entirely certain how well touching wood travels in terms of its warding off meaning. It’s entirely possible that in some places touching wood carried other connotations entirely, given that getting wood doesn’t always entail stocking up your fireside fuel store. At this point I find the teenage boy in me smirking. Never mind. Maybe I’ll grow up one day.

I find myself wondering, (and as you already know, in Cog-Hyp Land, it’s good to wonder), why we are so bent on trying to avoid or control fate in whatever manner is appropriate to your heritage, although personally I draw the line at pretending my own head is the wooden object in question unlike some I know. It’s one of the relatively few things which really bug me. Trust me. It’s not endearing. Your head is not made of wood. Please cease and desist. I know the confidence leaching power of self-deprecation even when it’s supposedly humorous.  (I apologise if I seem to be talking about you. I really ought to find out why it bugs me. It could be quite enlightening. Maybe I should get some therapy).

What’s actually going on, now that I’ve stepped off the mini soap-box, is a couple of making-sense-of-the-world tactics. We humans love patterns, event sequences which make sense of our lives. Cause and effect. Complex equivalence. Our brains are designed to seek them out. Without them we’d be lost. Even when they don’t exist we see them. They’re everywhere. If you’re late for work, its red lights and traffic-jams tail-backs all the way; if you take a chance on the weather, it’s sure to rain; I’m British, I have to talk about the weather; successful people are always lucky; bad things always come in threes; I always find a parking space, even though I’ve repeatedly tempted fate by telling you.

Some are so deeply ingrained that they’ve become folklore. Broken mirrors, black cats, Friday 13th. They all help us make sense of the purely random. They help us feels as though we can predict the future. And here’s the strange thing. They’re almost always negative. A reason for something to go wrong. Why is that? Weird isn’t it? Why haven’t we developed a folklore for making everything go right?

Well there are potentially loads of future posts wrapped up in that one so suffice it to say that for now, I’ll go along with the notion that from an evolutionary point of view, most of us are better off if we can be in control when things go wrong. If you feel prepared for the worst, because lets face it according to old wives tales most everything you do or say could herald some negative potential, then you are more likely to survive and pass those genes on to the next generation. If you’re only ever prepared for the good times then you’ll die at the first sign of frost, or the appearance those not-so-cuddly toothed beasties of yore.

And in this light perhaps it makes some sense. If we seek out patterns, cause and effect sequences, then even if a lot of them are red herrings and totally unreal, some of them will turn out to be absolutely for real.

It’s far better to take avoiding action many times for things that turn out to be irrelevant and totally uncontrollable, (if you were going to live or die, you’d have done so anyway, whatever you did), so that you actually do take avoiding action for the one thing that could be controlled. In this one vital case, you live. Onwards with those genes.

Interestingly, our protagonistic chappie at the beginning of this post was covering both cheeks so-to-speak, so that whatever happened he would prove himself right all along. If he tried his smooth-talking verbals out and it all went wrong then of course that was entirely my fault for tempting fate, wasn’t it?

But if he tried it and it did work, well hey, he’d touched-wood hadn’t he? (Stop smirking). So of course it was going to work!

In a way, this double-control tactic actually let’s him try the techniques out again without taking any personal responsibility for its success or failure. If it works it’s all down to calling in the tree spirits and if it fails it was all my fault. And therein lies the rub, to coin that somewhat Elizabethan phraseology once more.

Whilst evolution gave us a cognitive ability which ensures we seek out patterns to over-sensitise us to taking avoiding action in order to ensure that the one time we really need to we actually do, it has also dropped us neatly into our relatively secure, (for most of us with access to WordPress blog-posts anyway), present with the propensity to see doom laden options all around us. Maybe this is why newspapers are so much more interesting when they’re full of bad news. Maybe this is why governments somehow ensure that whilst there is always a fundamental threat to our way of life, they somehow seem to be able to ration them out to having only one enemy at a time. Maybe this is why most of us feel as though the world is happening to us. It absolves us of responsibility for what goes on, for how we decide to deal with our lives. It quite simply isn’t my fault. It’s nothing to do with me.

External Locus of Control.

For most of us, if we’re stuck in a job we don’t like, we feel we have to keep it because let’s face it, we need the money. If your partner does that weird thing they do of ‘looking at you in a funny way’ it can ruin your day, make you angry, insecure, worried. You walk into a room and people stop talking and look at you, you know they’ve been talking about you. If you’re ill, it’s up to the medical profession to fix you except they can’t because you’ve got a chronic illness which just isn’t going to go away. The world decides how we feel, how we live our lives. It’s just not fair. Really.

As always, there’s another way. A paradigm shift if you will.

In a very real sense, (sense being a very appropriate word), the world is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. (Well Morpheus hasn’t said much for quite a few posts and needed to get in again). Emotions are the interpretation your body gives to the ebb and flow of multi-peptides slooshing their fundamental communication between every single cell you own, each letting all the others know what’s going on. It’s how your entire body knows whether it’s living in a healthy, growing, secure environment or is hunkered down in protection, focussed on getting past the next threat that’s on its way. Each and every cell reacts to the environment it’s living in and behaves accordingly, letting every other cell know how it’s behaving so that they can do the same. Majority rules in this complex flow.

There are peptide receptors everywhere. Organs, intestines, brain, blood, muscle and bone. Each cell sends and receives. It’s thought to be the most fundamental communication method of living creatures. The brain controls most of the relatively recent electrical signalling but everything controls the peptide flow. Your body affects your brain because of how it feels. You know this to be true. You think differently when you’re angry or scared or sad or happy, hungry or full.

Here’s an interesting thing. How you think affects how you feel. If you try to deliberately relax, a conscious process, you can with practice or guidance not just relax your muscles but your mind and vice versa. You can take an anger or a fear and sooth it. Change the peptides flows within your body. With practice and guidance you can take some fundamental beliefs which have guided how you react to life and change them. These fundamental beliefs, if they’re negative, tend to keep your body in protection mode, vulnerable, constantly on the lookout for threats. And that pattern hunting skill will seek out everything it can to confirm that it’s view of the world is right. And trust me, it will find whatever proof it can.

If you could find a way of turning it on its head. Realising that if the world is how you interpret signals, then perhaps there’s a way of choosing what reaction is best for you and your future. Consider the options and discard the ones that work against you. Move from protection into growth. After all, most of our threats are emotional rather than life threatening. Give your mind and body a chance to reconnect and start deciding your own future rather than leaving it to the profound negativity that exists out there in digital communication land.

Even if there’s a real problem, an illness that won’t go away, perhaps there’s a way of deciding how you live with it. Defining your world by how well you are, rather than how ill. With practice and guidance, you can change which parts of your life get your full attention, so that by the end of the day looking back, the snapshot memories of your internal photo-album are mostly of the things that went your way and the ones of the times that were less than good are fewer and stored as faded images that carry less power.

Even chronic pain can respond. Pain is your body’s way of warning you that you are in danger. It’s a vital signal. It keeps you alive. Pain is your friend in a very real way. It keeps you alive.

Here’s a thing though. If you can let your body know that you know that it’s been in danger. If you can let your body know that the danger has either passed by or is under control, let it know that you know and that there’s nothing to be afraid of, then that pain begins to understand that it has done its vital job. It isn’t necessary to alert you because you already know. The signals can reduce, returning only when the situation changes and you need to be alerted again. It can take time because by its nature chronic pain has been around for some time. It may take time to set up something that convinces a process that’s become embedded that it has done its work. But it can be done.

Where does all this lead? Internal Locus of Control.

Whilst you can only influence your surroundings and what happens to you to a limited extent, you absolutely can decide every single time how you choose to react to it. In a very real way, no-one can make you angry, sad or happy. You really can choose. This doesn’t mean that you will live the rest of your life in some blissfully ignorant nirvana, rather sometimes it will be absolutely the best thing for you to decide to become angry or sad. Or happy.

The point is, you really can choose instead of letting everyone else determine how you feel about your life.

It might take some practice or guidance. It’s one of the key changes that I look for in clients. It’s a key indicator that the work is almost done. Once you take your life into your own hands, your destiny becomes your own. Once that happens, therapy has done its job.

Your world becomes exactly what you choose it to be.

If you like, I could show you how.

Choosing where to look © Tony Burkinshaw 2013

Choosing where to look
© Tony Burkinshaw 2013