Sign Language

I count myself very lucky to drive a car with a built-in SatNav. Having moved house 3 times in 4 years, and one of those moves being over 8000 miles, as one might imagine, I rely on it heavily. Between Google maps, Waze and our vehicles’ onboard navigation systems, it’s like we don’t even see the road signs anymore.

But they’re always there. Silently telling us that we’re going the right way. Sometimes telling us we’re going the wrong way, if we’d only listen.

There are so many apps that have been developed to make life easier for us, and many of them are now so much part of how we do things, we can’t imagine how we ever managed before they’d been there. All the extra help we get ought to be affording us more time to spend on the really important stuff, but does it really work out that way?

Have you ever tried to get somewhere using one of the above mentioned methods, and found yourself driving along thinking:

“This doesn’t feel right,” but you’ve carried on because the voice on the SatNav told you to? We’ve all done it! I don’t believe you if you tell me you haven’t!

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The scary thing is that we’ve become so reliant on tech, we don’t even trust our instincts anymore.

I had a friend in my 20’s who was quite into the esoteric and spiritual stuff. She had been insistent that the universe was trying to tell me something by giving me all these “signs” and even bought me a book to prove her theory to me! I was a complete skeptic, but decided I should do my friend the courtesy of reading the book Signposts by Denise Linn so I could at least know what I was expected to be believing.

The book begins with a discussion about the signs and coincidences that occur in our lives, then follows on with a dictionary of signs and their meanings. I actually found it a fascinating read! Whilst I cannot say that I agree with the notion that specific things people see in their day to day lives correlate directly to the explanations given in the book, I did become aware that there were signals that I kept seeing that seemed to be speaking to me.

What does make sense to me is that the more in tune we are with listening to our subconscious mind, the easier these clues are to decipher. Our subconscious acts like the road signs that are crystal clear, and never wrong, but not always given the attention that they deserve. We will always look back in hindsight and see how easy it would have been to follow the directions, if we had just switched off to the noise around us (the back seat driver; the Google Maps lady; the radio) and read the signs.

There can be order in chaos and precision in randomness if you choose to see it. Sometimes the difference is found purely by looking from a different angle.

“Release” is a monumental sculpture created by South African artist Marco Cianfanelli as a tribute to Nelson Mandela on the 50th anniversary of his capture

I had quite a profound experience this week which I interpreted as a very clear sign that I am on the right pathway for me. And yet it was one that another person could have seen very differently.

I have been listening to Think Like A Monk by Jay Shetty. One might think by reading my posts that I’m an avid reader, but I really don’t think I am. I tend to feel like the only time I really have to read is when I get into bed at night, and I am generally so tired by that point that I cannot keep my eyes open for longer than a page. So for this reason, I have become a fan of audiobooks. I love that I can get on with the mind numbing tasks of the day, whilst doing the complete opposite and feeding and exciting my mind.

Jay had been relaying a tale about 2 monks who had been down at the river washing their feet. The first monk had noticed a scorpion that was drowning in the water and he had reached in to save it. Although he was quick when he picked it up and set it upon the bank, it had stung his hand. He resumed washing his feet. The other monk said,

“Hey look, that foolish scorpion fell right back in.” The first monk leaned over, saved the scorpion again, and was again stung. The other monk asked him: “Brother, why do you rescue the scorpion when you know its nature is to sting?”

“Because,” the monk answered, “To save it is my nature.” Jay says the monk is modelling humility. He does not value his own pain above the scorpion’s life. But the more relevant lesson is that to save is so essential to the monk’s nature that he is compelled and content to do it, even knowing the scorpion will sting him. The monk has so much faith in his dharma that he is willing to suffer in order to fulfil it.

Definition of the word Dharma:

According to wordhippo.com

Noun

  1. (Buddhism) The natural order of the universenatural lawcosmic order.
  2. (Hinduism) One’s obligation in respect to one’s position in society, one’s duty.
  3. (Buddhism) The teachings of the Buddha as one’s personal path to enlightenment.
  4. (Buddhism) The teachings of the Buddha as a practice to be promulgated and taught.

So coincidentally(?) a day later my daughter came rushing up to tell me that she’d found a bumble bee stuck in a spider’s web. I managed to free the panic stricken creature with ease, only to find that it’s back legs were so entangled with leftover web, that it couldn’t actually walk, and was getting stuck on the leaves of the plant that I had set it down on. I started trying to pull the bits of web off, but the poor bee thought I was trying to attack it. I was extremely conscious of not wanting to get stung, but purely because I didn’t want the bee to die as a result, rather than for my own pain. The bee struggled and I struggled, and as careful as I was, inevitably I got stung. I felt very sorry for the bee, but helpless about the situation, I went back inside and left nature to her job.

A few minutes later, I went to see if it had died, and found it was still struggling with it’s sticky back legs, and was very much alive. I then did a quick internet search and learned that it’s honey bees that die once they’ve stung you. Apparently bumble bees have no barb. So I resumed my rescue operation without a second thought about getting stung. Thankfully I managed to free him completely from his mess, and he managed to fly off home to tell his bumble bee family about his ordeal.

I just found it fascinating that whilst I was in the process of learning how to think like a monk, I had reenacted one of the stories in such a similar way!

Now for many people, if they had tried to rescue a bee and been stung in the process, they may have blamed the bee, because they were only trying to help, or been annoyed with themselves for wasting their time, only to get stung. But for me, in that instant I felt a wave of light and confidence that this was a sign.

This was a sign as light as day, that the things I am learning are in line with my purpose and ethos in life.

I really do believe now that there are no such things as coincidences.

The signs are all around us.

What are they trying to tell you?

Learning to Fly

As a small child I remember being convinced that I could fly. I could imagine so clearly what it would feel like, it was as if I had done it before. We had a driveway with quite a steep gradient which had a retaining wall. The wall started off tiny and got bigger towards the bottom of the driveway, and I used to practise jumping off the wall with my arms outstretched, first at the small end, taking bigger leaps each time. I have a memory of asking my sister, following a jump from the highest bit and a subsequent crash landing on the tarmac with grazed knees:

“But did you see me fly?”

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As we grow up and we are taught by well-meaning parents, teachers and others, this blind faith in our own ability becomes a little less reliable. We are told to be careful; to hold someone’s hand and we learn to rely more and more on people who are more experienced than us, until we no longer trust that we are able to do things on our own.

The next minute we are expected to be independent, fend for ourselves and to go on and be useful members of society. It’s no wonder so many young people suffer from anxiety!

As a horse riding coach with 25 years experience, I learned early on that I had an enormous responsibility to my pupils to ensure they did not become overly dependent on me. My job on the ground whilst teaching was to guide them and give them the skills to be able to ride the horse or pony for themselves. It didn’t help if the rider only thought they were able to do what they were doing if I was there standing in the arena with them.

I’ve always likened this to Disney’s famous flying elephant Dumbo and his feather.

When you’re learning to do anthing, there are always going to be moments when you are getting it right, and moments when you are getting it wrong. This is the essential feedback you need in order to stay on track to meet your desired goal. The minute you believe you can do it – you can do it!

Having some sort of Dumbo feather to give you the confidence whilst you’re learning is fine, but as long as you are reliant on something/someone other than yourself, you are in a vulnerable state.

True freedom comes from letting go of the belief that you need something or someone to be able to fly. Have the confidence of a child that has so much courage in their convictions that they will attempt something that has never been done purely because in their heart they think they can.

I see so many people held back by stories that they tell themselves and others, about how they will never be able to do/have/be a plethora of things. These stories are then given so much more power than they deserve, as each time they are told, they become more cemented in the narrator’s mind, until they are perceived to be the absolute truth.

Ultimately we live our lives according to our mindset. For some, that means they live a life of struggle and lack, as they believe that is how life is for them. There are people living with this mindset on the street with nothing but the clothes on their backs, but there are also people living with roofs over their heads, jobs and food on the table every evening, who are equally plagued by feelings of hardship.

And it’s not all about the money either. Many individuals are plagued by visions of ill health long before the cells in their bodies have been anything less than perfect. You can bring something on yourself by just thinking about it if you focus on it enough. That is a scary thought if you are looking at it through the eyes of a person who hasn’t yet awoken to the fact that it is not the feather that makes the elephant fly.

Equally, there have been countless cases of people who have managed to cure themselves of all sorts of dread diseases and ills without the use of modern medicine, simply because they have chosen to rewrite their story to have a happy, healthy ending, rather than the one that had been suggested to them otherwise.

Now I am not saying that we can do away with modern medicine because we can just “think ourselves well”, but I do want you to be more mindful over how what you say and what you think can influence what you feel.

What you see every day has to be congruent with what you believe, otherwise you would be in a state of constant confusion. That’s why glass half full kind of people (like me) tend to see the best in a situation, or look for the positives because it aligns with how we view the world. Naturally, the world mirrors that back to us because those things resonate on the same frequency as us. It drowns out the negativity, to the point that you know it’s there, but you forget about it as it has no use to you.

Conversely the glass half empty person will constantly be presented with further evidence of how things can go wrong, as that is how they have chosen to view their world.

We all live in the same world! It is just how we perceive it that makes it different.

Photo by Jan Kopu0159iva on Pexels.com

Being able to fly is not about holding that one feather; holding onto that one thing you think can do the job for you: it’s about spreading the wings that were on your back all along and having the courage to take the leap into the unknown.

Try it. Who knows where you might be able to fly to.

Gaslighting

A friend of mine recently asked me to write an article on Gaslighting, and I had to confess that I didn’t actually know what the term meant. You may not be familiar with the term, but when I explain what it is, I guarantee you’ll have come across it in one form or another in your life.

The film Gaslight was released in 1944. It is a story about an abusive husband who cuts his new wife off from her friends and causes her to question her sanity by (among other things) secretly dimming and brightening the gaslights in the house, and convincing her that it is in her imagination.

The term Gaslighting has been used to describe psychological abuse where a victim is made to question their mental health and stability, and becomes dependent on the abuser as the only person they can trust to make decisions on their behalf. It is mental manipulation to the max, and can take place over years.

Because of it’s insidious nature, a person seldom knows they are being gaslighted and so the psychological injuries can run deep.

So what causes a person to become a gaslighter? Well it comes down to the ego once again. When you can remove ego from any scenario, you can create peace. The gaslighter or abuser themselves has an overwhelming need to dominate an individual. This can stem from a fear of being abandoned. The gaslighter wants to be able to control everything their victim thinks and believes, and will undermine every little thing that their prey says or does to achieve this.

In many cases this is seen in a relationship between a man and woman, such as in the film. It can also be between a parent and child. Though parental gaslighting is most likely unintentional, it can still have a huge negative impact on the child. Effectively it is an abuse of power, and can be extremely difficult to deal with as there is already the notion that the parent knows what’s best for the child. Examples of parental gaslighting can be where the child is led to believe they are unwell, or that they shouldn’t struggle in school, because they are intelligent. When things are said often enough in front of those who are easily influenced, they can be manipulated very quickly.

Then there is gaslighting in the workplace. This may not be just one individual gaslighting another, but can be a group of people. It again comes back to the power struggle, where the victim has their work dismissed, is made to feel incompetent and uncertain of their worth, while the gaslighter may lie, contradict or deny certain truths and events to further discredit the victim. It is all incredibly harmful to the psyche of the person being gaslighted, and can lead to them quitting their job or worse.

“Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions, the victim is more likely to put up with the abusive behavior and stay in the relationship.”

Beverly Engel, psychotherapist and author

Signs you are being gaslighted:

  • The abuser denies something that you know occurred, whether that is words or actions.
  • They tell you that you are “too sensitive,” to make you undermine your feelings.
  • The abuser tells you that you’re crazy, and may tell people close to you that they’re concerned about your mental health to discredit anything you may say.
  • You are told you have a terrible memory. This is to make you believe that you cannot trust your own memory.
  • The abuser may say, “I’m sorry that you think I hurt you,” by way of a feigned apology, but all this does is make you feel like you have overreacted, and they are right.
  • Notice if you are being discouraged from spending time with friends/family who might have concerns about the abuser.
  • You feel a lack of confidence in general.
  • You don’t trust your own memory anymore.
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

The first thing you need to do if you suspect someone is trying to gaslight you is to make sure you are not alone with this person. Wherever possible have another individual who is neutral to the situation, so will be able to offer unbiased opinion if needed. Gaslighters have a hard time fleecing multiple victims at the same time, as people are inclined to talk amongst themselves, especially when something doesn’t seem right. There is definitely safety in numbers.

Secondly, if you are starting to feel like you do not even trust yourself anymore, or doubting your sanity, you need to book a session with a psychologist, even if it is just as a way of reassuring yourself that you are not in fact mad. Let the doctor make their assessment, and guide you as to how best you can build up your belief in yourself once more. It may only take one session, or it may take several, but there is a lot to be said for addressing things like this as soon as they happen, rather than waiting until secondary problems arise as a result of not having dealt with it sooner.

Keeping a journal can be a helpful way of viewing interactions with your gaslighter in an objective way. Write down exactly what was said, and then write how it made you feel. Note if there is a repeated desire to deny your feelings. This would be a strong indication that you are indeed being gaslighted.

Know that the feeling is only temporary, and that having gone through the experience you are way more prepared to manage any other gaslighter who may come your way, and will spot the signs far earlier.

Whilst you may not have invited the scenario into your life with open arms, try to recognise that in some way, shape or form, you needed this lesson to further educate you and make you an even better version of yourself. Every day is a school day and the more we learn the more we become empowered. Knowledge is the ultimate weapon and shield at the same time.

The final thing to remember about a gaslighter is that they are more fragile than they care for anyone to know. The person with the real problem here is not so much the victim but the gaslighter themselves. They are so afraid that they might be found out, and with one small blow, their light be put out for good.

Poof!

What doesn’t kill you…

I’ve always loved the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Kelly Clarkson made me love it even more, especially hearing it sung passionately, if out of tune, by a 3 year old Danica (in a tutu and nothing else).

I am proud to say that I’ve survived a few situations that have come close to killing me, but ultimately I have lived through, and I am most certainly a stronger person as a result. But we have to be careful of not using things that have happened to us in the past as excuses for how we are in the present.

The victim mindset seems to be more common now than ever, where everyone has a story to tell about how tough things have been for them.

I was watching First Dates Hotel the other night (one of my guilty pleasures), and there was a young girl and guy, getting to know each other over a meal. Whilst the young man was trying to find the courage to share something traumatic that he had experienced in his life, the girl was being very sympathetic, and was telling him that he didn’t need to say it if he didn’t want to, and that there was no pressure. She then went on to tell him, that she too had experienced trauma in her life, presumably to make him feel less alone, and she explained that she had been bullied in school.

When she elaborated on the bullying, it turned out that girls had ignored her, and called her names, like “fat” and “ugly”.

The young man then opened up and told her that his mother had been murdered by a family friend.

Now when I listened to the young girl talking about what she had experienced, I found myself thinking: “But that is just high school! All girls get treated like that at some point or other. That’s not what I would call bullying.” I acknowledge that it must have been a miserable time for the girl, but it’s hardly as traumatic as having your mother murdered!

But I am afraid we are living in a society where people, young and old, are celebrated for being a victim of something. The danger of this is that the victim mindset creates a vicious circle of blaming somebody or something else for negative experiences a person may have had. Whenever you are pointing the finger, you are renouncing responsibility and this leaves you vulnerable. The more you retell your story where you are the victim, the more you keep yourself in that perpetual state of reliving the negative feelings you had at the time. This in turn, keeps you feeling like the world is out to get you.

In 1998 when I was hit by an 18 wheeler whilst out on a horse, I came very close to being killed. It was a defining point in my life, without a doubt, but I didn’t want to live the rest of my life feeling, “poor me” for what I’d been through. Once I was literally back on my feet again, I decided when I told people about my accident, I would say that it was both the worst and the best thing that could have happened to me. To this day, I still say exactly the same thing, and by doing so I have very easily turned something that could have made me a victim forever, into something that helped shape me into the person I am today.

On a less dramatic level, you know those mornings when you’ve woken up feeling like death for whatever reason? Have you noticed how on the times you’ve decided to soldier on and go to work, or push through the discomfort to get on with your day regardless, that you’ve actually felt better as you’ve gone on, and even looked back later on in the day to think, “I can’t believe I nearly stayed in bed today!” Then compare that to the days when you’ve admitted defeat and have rung in sick, and stayed in bed. If you’re anything like me, you’ll notice that the minute you decide that you’re not well enough to get out of bed, your mind (and body) start telling you that you feel so much worse! It’s as though the universe puts everything in place to prove you right – whatever you may decide.

The next time you begin telling someone your story, check in with yourself to see whether you are telling it from a victim’s perspective, and if you are, try and find something in there where you can make the moral of your story: it didn’t kill me, it made me stronger. By rewriting the ending, you might just find you can free yourself from that victim mentality, and rise up, rather than allowing yourself to get dragged down.

F.E.A.R

I had a T-shirt when I was in my teens that read: F.E.A.R. – F**k Everything And Run. It was my favourite item of clothing, mostly for the fact that it had the ‘F’ word on it, and I felt super cool to be old enough to get away with wearing it.

It also tied in with the ethos of the man in my life at the time who happened to be a flighty 16hh ex race horse.

In more recent years I adopted new words for the same acronym that I’d seen in Susan Jeffers’ book Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway (which is a great read by the way), and those were: False Evidence Appearing Real.

What it really serves to tell us is that fear itself is just a product of something we perceive to be worth fretting over, so it is a problem of our own creation. And that means, if we made it, we can break it.

I find it interesting that we are constantly trying to find ways to understand, deal with and conquer our fears. After all, the existence of fear itself, as an emotion and a feeling, is to ensure our survival. Early man relied heavily on fear to be able to avoid being eaten, drowned, maimed etc. Those fears served him well, as we can tell by the fact that homo sapiens have made it all the way to 2021.

But the sort of fears you and I experience day to day are for the most part not helping to keep us alive. If anything, they are stopping us from living.

We are conditioned from an early age to “be careful” from well meaning parents (yes, I put my hand up: I am one), our teachers, our friend’s parents and more. We live in a society where people are so quick to point a finger and lay blame, that there exists a new type of fear, which is the fear of not being fearful enough, and deemed to be reckless or negligent.

What a mess!

No wonder we grow up not being able to differentiate between things that we genuinely should be afraid of, and things that are harmless.

My approach to dealing with fears has always been to break them down into smaller, manageable chunks, and see if they still seem scary. It’s a bit like a mental flow chart that I use to process them. I start with asking the following questions:

  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • And if that happened what would be the result?
  • And what would my life be like after that?
  • What would happen if I didn’t do whatever it is that I am feeling fear towards doing?
  • Would I regret not doing it more than if I did it and failed?
  • What if I did it and succeeded?

Admittedly, there are times when I don’t have the time to go through the checklist, and then it’s just instinct that kicks in, but it’s amazing how the more I have practiced the questions, the quicker my brain has arrived at the decision that I should just do it. You see the predominant fear we experience is that of failure, and failure seldom ends in death unless you’re a skydiver or similar.

I recall teaching a very nervous and fearful child on her own pony somewhere in the early 2000’s. She didn’t want to canter with him and I was trying to find ways to encourage and convince her that she was capable and should give it a go. Most children at this point in their riding have experienced a fall or two and generally really want to avoid another one because they tend to hurt, hence where their fear stems from. I was prepared to explain to her about how she had the correct safety equipment, and the arena was enclosed, so the pony couldn’t go far, and he wasn’t that big, so if she did fall it wasn’t too far to the ground, and it was a soft sand arena etc, etc. What I didn’t expect was that when I asked her:

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?” that she would reply:

“I might fall off and die!”

Well she stumped me on that one, because, let’s face it, it could happen. I mean it would be a complete freak accident if it did, but I couldn’t emphatically promise her that it was not a possibility. I’ve never been able to lie. I’ve always just felt much more comfortable with telling the truth, even to little kids, even when I’ve been told a little white lie wouldn’t hurt them…

I was amazed that kids that young even had thoughts of mortality! I am sure I had never considered that there was a chance something I did could kill me when I was just 9. I was still jumping out of trees and riding my bicycle at breakneck speed down narrow, winding country roads. Looking back, the pony I had when I was 9 probably could have killed me, but it never crossed my mind at the time. Even when he galloped away with me across Ickworth Park, little Abby pulled with all her might on the reins with zero effect, as 12hh “Bilbo Baggins” broke the sound barrier on his way back to the horsebox. No, I thought I was pretty much invincible even then.

And yet here was this child. Crippled by her fear of death by canter.

I can’t remember what I said to her after that, but I am certain she didn’t canter on that day. I do remember later down the line that she did eventually muster up the courage to canter the pony, and hopefully that would have served as a moment in her life where she managed to prove the fears in her mind to be unfounded.

The only way to squash that fear is to do whatever it is that you are afraid of, so it’s done. Imagine the fear is an obstacle in front of you (because that’s actually what it ends up being), and you are in an army tank. You are totally indestructible. All you have to do is drive over it. Once it’s behind you, and mangled on the floor, the next time you see that same fear, you’ll know you conquered it before, and you can do it again.

There is a real sense of elation when you’ve pushed yourself to do something that you’re scared of. When I lived in South Africa I used to love doing Obstacle Course Races. At the end of each race you had to climb up scaffolding and jump off an 8m platform into muddy water below. Now I don’t really have a fear of heights, but jumping off something that high was still daunting, I won’t lie. Yet the adrenaline rush you get when you have done it is so good, you want to climb back up that tower to do it again! Even as I write this, I can feel a faint sensation of butterflies in my stomach just reliving the memory!

That’s me, holding my nose with both hands!

The first time I took the jump was the scariest, but after that I looked forward to that part of the race the most, because I knew it was something that I could do, where others faltered. Some big strong men, who you wouldn’t imagine would be afraid of anything, couldn’t even do the smaller 6m jump. Yet every person who competed at these races and did the jump, went home at the end of the day, ready to race again at the next one. Which brings me to my husband James’ favourite question:

“But did you die?”

Any time my daughter is moaning about a scrape or a bruise or anything to be honest, he will ask her: “But did you die?” It’s brilliant, because it instantly puts whatever it is into perspective, and tells her, “you’re okay, you’ll live”.

Ultimately, we all have fears of varying degrees of a plethora of different things. We cannot eradicate the feeling itself. It still serves to keep us alive in certain dire situations. But we do need to be consious of keeping it check, and being positive that we don’t allow it to influence us negatively.

If there is a chance someone could ask you the question after you’ve done your fear inducing thing; “But did you die?” and your answer would be, “Yes,” then that is a legitimate fear, and you should probably keep a hold of that one.

Otherwise – acknowledge your fear and move beyond it. That’s where you’ll find happiness.

What do you want?

It’s a question we hear all the time. On the surface, it sounds pretty simple, and usually yields a quick response. My most recent reply to this question was:

“I’d like a G & T please.”

Because it’s Friday; because that’s my signal for the end of the week; because I’ve had a great day; because I’ve had a bad day; because I’m thirsty. There can be a variety of different reasons for the same answer.

That might be what you want right now, but what do you really want? What are you working so hard during the week for? It’s for more than a G & T at the end of it, I’ll bet.

In Jack Canfield’s book, The Success Principles, he asks the reader to make a list of 30 things you’d like to be, 30 things you’d like to have and 30 things you’d like to do, to help you to decide what it is you really want in life. It’s a really fun exercise to do. When I started it I thought there were so many things that I wanted that it would be easy, but it surprised me how after just a few minutes of frantically scribbling down my list, I was staring into the distance whilst gently rolling the end of my pen between my teeth thinking: “What do I want?”

There are many different techniques to help you get to the bottom of this question, but why do you need to know?

Well if you want to avoid a midlife crisis, it might be worth your while to have a go at finding out what you really want out of life sooner rather than later.

I mentioned finding my IKIGAI in a previous blog and I had a number of people ask me what the word IKIGAI meant.

IKIGAI Ikigai (生き甲斐, Japanese pronunciation: [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being”. The word refers to having a direction or purpose in life, that which makes one’s life worthwhile, and towards which an individual takes spontaneous and willing actions giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life.[1]

Wikipedia

So your Ikigai is essentially your “raison d’etre” or life purpose. I truly believe that as individuals we all have a reason for being here. I also think that there are a great many people who are not living their lives on purpose. There are those who are in the centre of the crowd, content to be carried along by the masses, with no direction of their own; then there are those at the front of the crowd, who have chosen to steer it to whatever destination they perceive to be the right way. Some will break away from the edges making choices to go where their heart tells them, and others might feel the need to fight their way through to go completely the opposite way, causing all sorts of chaos as they do.

By finding your Ikigai, you grow wings, and get to rise out of the melee below, and follow a totally new, completely unique pathway to ultimate peace and happiness.

It might sound quite deep, but let’s face it, the question itself is a biggy.

Until you actually know the answer, there will be numerous times in life where you’ll end up asking yourself: “What am I here for?” “What’s it all in aid of?” “Who am I?” “Why is this happening?” I have found huge comfort in the knowledge that I am living my life on purpose meaning that nothing that happens to me is by accident but is intrinsically part of the bigger plan. It prevents me from getting caught up in trying to understand the cause of events, and allows me to ascertain how the outcome may guide, shape or teach me.

So what if you already know what you want, but you don’t know how to get it? I make no apologies for using this cliche:

“Where there is a will, there is a way.”

Meaning just that: if you really want something, you will find a way. Having found your ikigai, you will find that it permeates every thought and action you make. You will naturally be drawn to people, places and situations with the same or complimentary ideas and ideals. It’s as though by discovering what you want to do with your life, you allow a map to be created, and it gets delivered to you with your own personal guide who lets you know when you’re going off course, and will reroute you when needed.

Be open to trying something new. Try not to let the fear of failure hold you back from having a go. If it doesn’t succeed, it still serves as feedback as to finding what will. It’s in listening to the response that we learn.

I have had to explain this to my daughter in relation to her riding lessons recently. As she is in a phase of exponential learning at the moment, there are a lot of firsts: her first show; her first oxer (a type of show jump for non-horse people); the first time she cantered without stirrups… Many of these warrant a feeling of real elation and accomplishment, but at some point a little later down the line, they go wrong. And when they do, it feels to her as though all the wheels have come off. But as I keep telling her, this is where the learning is happening. It is not in the experience of when it all goes perfectly, although there is obviously learning merit in those times too, but rather when there is an error that the inherent problem solving part of your brain kicks in to resolve the issue. This is when there are new neural pathways being paved, and when the most valuable lessons are being learned. A new tool for fixing issues gets added to collection, and the result is a better, stronger, smarter version of the person who has had to forge it.

I never lose. I either win or learn.

Nelson Mandela

I have always felt that there is power in knowledge, and in knowing what you want you definitely gain power over your life’s direction. The knowledge you have in finding your ikigai propels you to the next level and affords you super powers, that you might be able to shine your light into places where shadows have always been.

The benefits of finding out what you want in life extend far beyond the individual at the centre of it all. They emanate outwards like light catching a prism. As you become more certain and more determined, that light shines brighter and intensifies. You owe it to the world, not just yourself, to determine what it is you really want from life.

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In recent years, I began meditating regularly, mainly because I felt a bit lost at the time, and felt like I needed some direction. There are some brilliant guided meditations you can listen to on Spotify and YouTube and the like. I would strongly recommend trying this as a way of figuring out what you really want. Try Jess Shepard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyPvfDV1Z-s as an introduction.

So the next time someone asks you, “What do you want?” even if they are just asking for your food order, use it as a reminder to ask yourself the deeper question: “What do I really want?” and check that what you are doing is in alignment with what you’re aiming for in the bigger picture. Make sure you can answer with the conviction of these girls from the 90’s:

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want,

I wanna really, really, really wanna zigazig ah!

Wannabe by Spice Girls

Back to the drawing board

I have always been a creative person. From as far back as I can remember, I permanently had some form of drawing utensil in my sticky little hand, ready to create a work of art (or something to that effect). If the house was quiet, and my mother wasn’t sure where I was, all she had to do was follow the trail of glitter, paper cuttings and bits of ribbon to find me.

My art skills became more refined as time went on, and despite not having achieved spectacularly well in school, I managed to do well enough to sell my art internationally, and be featured in a very successful online art gallery. (A quick punt here: you can go and have a look at my artwork there if you haven’t done already https://www.artfinder.com/artist/abigail-long/ ).

When I was in my early 20’s and eager to conquer the world, I had lots of ideas and plans of things I wanted to own; things I wanted to achieve; places I wanted to go and people I wanted to meet. I sat down at my kitchen table one afternoon, surrounded by magazines, armed with scissors and a glue stick. I proceeded to page through the magazines like a magpie searching for shiny things, and whenever something twinkled at me, I cut it out and stuck it on to a large piece of coloured backing board. I accompanied the pictures with quotes from people I admired, and added a few of my own descriptions to clarify what the images represented.

After what was most likely a good few hours, I had finally completed my first Vision Board. Of course I didn’t know that was what they were called at that point. I didn’t know it was even a thing. It just seemed like a good idea at the time, and I put it up on my bedroom wall where it would be the last thing I’d see before I went to bed at night, and the first thing I’d see when I woke up in the morning. Over 20 years later, I can still actually picture where it was in my room, and I can even see one of the quotes I had put on it. Ironically, that same quote I used in my very first blog here on Internal Intention!

Fast forward to today, and I still have a vision board stuck on my bedroom wall. It has been a habit that has stuck with me throughout my whole adult life. The things on the board are always changing. I have very few material things on my current one versus the ones I made in my 20’s and even 30’s. They seem to have become simpler. Perhaps that is as a result of having achieved many of the things I wanted to already? Maybe it is because I am closer to a place of spiritual contentment having identified my IKIGAI and being on that pathway that will ultimately lead me to my life goal? Or could it just be that as a result of the pandemic there’s so little left for anyone to be able to do, so there’s not much to get excited about? (I’m just kidding with the last one – although where I had pictures of a snow covered Montblanc, and a caption that said: “Our anniversary trip to Chamonix!” I did have to paste over with a caption that now reads: “Places we will go…”)

What I find remarkable is the fact that when I look back at many of the things I’d put on my vision boards in the past, I recall a feeling of almost desperation, and thoughts of: “Do I really think this is possible?” Yet the visions have come to fruition time and time again. I have learnt to dream big, because it appears we are only limited by our own imaginations as to what we can achieve.

When I was still living in South Africa, I had made a board which depicted me earning a figure which was nearly double what I was making at the time. I recall feeling slightly uncomfortable with the amount that I had written in a box that read: “I am so happy to be earning X every month!” simply because I didn’t know how I was meant to achieve it. The same board had a picture of the BMW X4 which was my dream car. At that stage I figured the only way I’d get to drive one would be by taking one on a test drive, or if I won the lottery, but I still stuck the picture there with a note that said, “I just love driving my brand new BMW!” There was also a picture of a lady wearing a stunning dressage tailcoat, which represented a lifelong dream of mine to compete in tails.

These were all quite big dreams, and I didn’t have the first clue how to achieve any of them when I first put it on my wall. But this is the beauty of having a vision board in a place where you see it every single day: your subconscious mind begins moving the pieces of the puzzle into place to make things happen. Little ideas suddenly pop into your head, and you notice potential opportunities that you may otherwise have missed. It’s the same as when you hear a word for the first time, and learn what it means, all the while thinking, “I’d never heard of that before.” The next thing you notice, that word is everywhere! It’s on a billboard, it’s on the radio, your friend uses it in a post. It was always there – you just weren’t tuned in to it.

Within a year of putting that vision board up, I had not only competed in tails, but I had stood on the podium wearing them to collect my prize in my first Advanced dressage show, I had exceeded the figure on my monthly earnings, and thanks to my husband’s job, I now get to drive a brand new BMW of my choice every 6 months!

If you’ve never done one before, I urge you to have a go at making your own vision board. It is so much fun. I generally make a new one at the beginning of each year, but you can make one anytime. You should make one today. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain! Be sure to put at least one thing on there which is bigger than you think possible.

  • Make it colourful and eye catching
  • Use description boxes, and put everything in the present tense
  • Address all areas of your life: health, wealth, relationships, career, travel etc.
  • Stretch beyond your comfort zone when it comes to what you really want
  • Display it somewhere you will see it daily

This is the one tool that I really believe everyone should have. I’d love to know how many of you already use vision boards. Perhaps if you’re willing, you might like to drop me an email with your own success stories from using vision boards, and they could end up being featured in this section of my book.

Thankfully you don’t have to be an artist to create one of these. All you need is to be able to visualize what you really want, and what would make you happy.

You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision

Maxi Jazz, lyrics from the song Reverence by Faithless 1996

Of all the goals I’ve reached and dreams I’ve made reality from using my vision boards, the greatest success has to be having seen my daughter create her own vision board, and witnessing first hand those hopes and dreams coming true, daring her to dream bigger and better as she continues to reach for the stars.

I will encourage her to keep her old one when she is ready to make an updated version so that in years to come she will have a beautiful record of all the things she wanted to achieve, and did; and that it might serve as a reminder of how far she’s come.

What will you do with yours?

Imposter Syndrome

I felt inspired to write about Imposter Syndrome after a really great chat with my sister on the phone the other day.

We were discussing this venture I’ve embarked on and she made a comment about me being “brave” to do what I’m doing. It was in no way meant as a criticism, and neither did I take it that way, but it did strike a chord with something that I have struggled with in the past, and still have to coach myself on from time to time.

  • Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like people were putting their faith in you more than you thought they should?
  • Have you ever thought; “Who am I to be advising on this topic?”
  • Have you ever been worried that somebody will turn around and say that you’re a fraud, and not capable/good enough to be doing whatever it is you’re doing?
  • Did you ever think that there was someone else who could be doing your job way better than you?
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These are all thoughts that are associated with Imposter Syndrome. I had experienced all of the above long before I’d heard that there was a term for it. I think there are more people out there who have felt like this than you probably realise; and they are probably the people you would least expect.

According to www.medicalnewstoday.com Imposter Syndrome was first described by psychologists in 1978 (the year I was born… coincidence?). It is interesting to note that it is high achieving individuals, and people who are considered to be perfectionists that seem to be afflicted by it most commonly. I know that I fall into the category of the perfectionist, although it is something that I have learnt to manage over the years, but I would never have called myself a high achiever. Case in point!

Whilst there will always be someone better than you, it doesn’t mean that you are undeserving just because you are not the best. Ultimately, when you reach the top of anything, the only way is down! That might not sound like the most positive statement, but it is reality. No human is capable of reaching the top and staying there forever. The elite sportspeople who dominate their chosen sport are still only as good as their last race, match or test when they go out to compete the next time. I wonder how many of them have wondered if they are worthy of their wins?

In my sport of dressage, and in fact all the equestrian disciplines, I would bet that every gold medallist has at some point thought that they only achieved what they achieved because they were lucky enough to have been on the best horse at the time.

Some might argue that in certain cases it is true. I don’t believe that. I think that at Olympic level the margins are so narrow that everytime an individual wins a title, they are deserving and worthy.

So what happens if you don’t address the problem, and how do you deal with Imposter Syndrome? Well the biggest issue with experiencing these feelings is that they do not bring you joy. It stems from insecurity, and ends up being a reason for self sabotaging your plans for future success and further development.

If you allow the negative self talk to continue on loop in the background of your mind, it will eventually be all you hear, and will drown out the slightest hint of positivity that might otherwise have been coming your way. You are the only person who can change that. It can feel like it is so hard to rewrite that script when it has been playing for so long, but there is a trick you can play on yourself that can help:

“Fake it ’til you make it!”

Unknown

One of my favourite aphorisms is “Fake it ’til you make it,” and I use it all the time. Just ask my 9 year old what I tell her when she is complaining that she doesn’t know how to be happy (this is usually 10 minutes into homeschooling maths). She will tell you that I suggest she just pretends to be happy for a few minutes and see what happens. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, and within a short space of time she is genuinely laughing (even if it is because of how ridiculous her forced smile looks in the mirror), and able to get on with maths with a positive mindset.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that you should deny yourself of your feelings. Acknowledge they are there, let them have their say, and then quietly show them the door as you have a show to put on. I like the analogy of the stage here, because the “Fake it ’til you make it” technique does require a little bit of acting to begin with. But you’re dealing with an Imposter anyway aren’t you? So if it’s not really you, then it shouldn’t be too hard.

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The wonderful thing is, there comes a point when you don’t have to try anymore. This is when the incongruity in your mind levels out and you start to believe what everyone else already knew to be the truth:

You are deserving.

You are more than capable.

You are the best person for this job.

Now all that’s left to do, is go and be you, at what you do best.

What time is it?

It is time to start.

It is the right time.

The time is now.

This hasn’t always been my response to getting down to business. I have been guilty of procrastinating; haven’t we all? But I have learnt that the hardest part is just taking the first step, and that every single step you take after that feels easier and lighter purely because you are getting somewhere.

If you stand still (in Formula 1) you go backwards.

Adrian Newey, Aerodynamisist for McLaren F1 in early 2000’s.

Arriving at this point, where I am writing my first blog has come from many small steps on an undulating pathway that I wouldn’t necessarily have found myself on if I hadn’t made some pretty dramatic decisions.

I chose to leave a very comfortable and established life to emigrate and start all over again with nothing more than a feeling in my heart that said: “You have to do this now!” And I was pushing 40 at the time! Sensible people don’t do things like that. Not without large amounts of cash behind them anyway, and I certainly didn’t fall into that category!

But I did it anyway. And the twists and turns that this pathway has shown me have been varied and many. There have been obstacles aplenty that I have had to negotiate, and times when I have looked down to see only the narrowest footpath, with a steep mountainside to my right and a sheer drop to my left. In that moment, as I have paused to look around, I have been rewarded with a view that I thought only angels could see: beauty so great that it has taken my breath straight from my lungs and caused my eyes to leak.

This picture is actually taken at the highest point on one of my trail running races in Gauteng, South Africa

Those have been the points where I have been reminded that life is all about the journey, over and above the destination.

That said; the best journey is the one that you are taking on purpose, and not one that you have found yourself on by wandering aimlessly, or worse still, have been dragged along by someone else.

I take great comfort in living my life on purpose, with Internal Intention. I know that the choices I make are what will determine what I see around the next corner, and whether I will love the view or not. That accountability gives me the freedom from worrying about what other people think I should or shouldn’t be doing. It gives me the power to push on when the terrain is tough, and the satisfaction when I achieve my goals, to know that it was my own doing that got me there.

I recall as a tiny tot being on a family holiday in Europe. Still unsteady enough on my feet that I needed my hand held by my Daddy, I can hear his voice so clearly singing to me: “One step at a time,” as we headed down a large flight of stairs. This was almost certainly as a result of my having gone tumbling down a different set of stairs head first as I displayed signs of being impatient from a very early age.

Yet those words I have heard sung in my head on many an occasion, not always coming from a sentiment of taking things slowly, but sometimes from the notion of: just keep going. Even if it is only one step. One step in the right direction.

And it is possibly the best advice my father ever gave me for the benefits I have felt from following it. Which is why I chose to regift it to you today. The next time you are feeling that you don’t know what to do in a situation, or which way to turn, just say to yourself: “One step at a time,” and give yourself a minute to consciously take that step as a way of regaining control and being decisive once more. Use it to slow you down if you feel like you are running around like a headless chicken trying to get everything done, and stressing over what you should be doing next. If you have been putting off going for that run that you had been so enthusiastic about in the first week of New Year, but have subsequently sidelined; just put on your trainers and tell yourself, “One step at a time.” Then when you are hitting that first big hill and your chest is on fire, and your legs feel like lead:

One

Step

At

A

Time

Before you know it, you will be at the top of that hill, and as you look back you can say:

“I did it!”

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