Confronting Challenges with Resilience

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My scars remind me that I did indeed survive my deepest wounds. That in itself is an accomplishment. And they bring to mind something else, too. They remind me that the damage life has inflicted on me has, in many places, left me stronger and more resilient. What hurt me in the past has actually made me better equipped to face the present.
Steve Goodier

In the gratitude and generosity journal that I am writing at the moment, Navigating Change with Gratitude and Generosity, I have created a template to make it easier for my readers to incorporate gratitude and generosity into their lives. With “generosity,” I am referring to small acts of kindness rather than to huge donations to charity. Time, acceptance and attention can be as precious a gift as mountains of money.

My template, of course, includes a picture and a short description of the day’s inspiring stallion, gelding mare or foal. One of the prompts concerns the challenge(s) the reader faces that day. It looks like this:

Biggest Challenge Today – Name the biggest challenge that you are dealing with today and note what you are learning from this challenge.

Yesterday, I came across a very good article on the Mindful.org website, about how to cultivate resources for resilience. Resilience seems to be the buzzword of the moment. No one has enough of it, everyone wants to know how to develop more so as to cope more effectively with the challenges that come their way. I tend to agree, the more resources we have, and the better these resources are developed, the more resilient we will be.

Becoming more resilient is not difficult. One way to do so is to use what we have learned from experience to increase or develop our current resources. In his new book, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakeable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness, Rick Hanson, the writer of the article mentioned above, talks about how to turn passing experiences into lasting inner resources. This makes a lot of sense to me and that is why I have added this “Biggest Challenge Today” prompt to my journal. We all have to face challenges, often daily, but do we actually learn everything there is to learn from each challenge, whether we succeed in dealing with it or not? Especially if we do not manage to handle a crisis well (it happens,) there is potentially a lot to be learned from the experience. Instead of trying to forget our mistakes or failures as soon as we can, we could look at the experience in more detail, to see what resources we can gain or develop further to help us be more resilient when the next challenge comes along.

Confronting our challenges, big or small, can help us identify resources that we can acquire or develop further to make ourselves more resilient.

Take patience, for example. Many of the challenges I have to cope with involve a lot of sitting around and waiting. Or it would have, had I not decided to develop my patience resource further. I can wait, patiently, if I have to. I live with 5 great role models who show up every evening an hour or two before feeding time and then wait around patiently and more or less passively until 6 o’clock for their evening hay to arrive. But I have too much to do, I do not have time to sit around patiently. So, I decided to try to wait actively instead of passively. I can make a gratitude list while I wait for my turn to pay in the supermarket. I can write a blog post in my head while waiting in traffic. I can practice mindfulness while I wait for a friend in a restaurant. I can wait actively and productively. These days, whenever I wait, the temptation to grab my phone for mindless entertainment online is nearly irresistible. I try not to do that anymore. If I do use my phone while I wait, it is to send a message or make a phone call.

The list of resources that we can use to make ourselves more resilient is long: compassion, kindness, patience, perseverance, gratitude, awareness, understanding, insight, generosity, confidence, courage, knowledge, assertiveness, the ability to forgive, to let go of resentment…Looking back at an experience you can ask yourself, “Would it have helped if I had been more patient, more determined, more generous, more confident etc? Or you can look towards a challenge that you have to cope with deciding to be more patient, more determined, more generous, more confident etc.

Self-confidence is a resource that can make you much more resilient. My book Self-Confidence made Simple: 16 French Women’s Confidence Secrets introduces its readers to a variety of confidence-building techniques.

Self-awareness, being mindful of yourself, is just as useful a resource as self-confidence, if not more so. In my book Mindfulness and Meditation Options, you can find out how to become more mindful, with the help of 5 mindfulness masters, my horses.

The most effective way to put mindfulness into practice and significantly increase your self-confidence would be to attend one of my Connect with Horses Personal Empowerment workshops here in the south of France. Consider yourself to have been personally invited.

 

If you read both these books and found inside one or more ways to make your life easier, it would be great. Even greater would be if you enjoyed the stories about my French friends in Self-confidence made Simple and about my horses in Mindfulness and Meditation Options.

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Travelling with a bag full of boisterous emotions

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“Travelling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
Cesare Pavese

It is always the same, every year. For some reason or another, I am incapable, as other people are so effortlessly, to disconnect from the life I leave behind when I travel. When I leave those I love behind in the northern winter cold to go and visit those I love under a southern sun, I have to divide myself in two. Part of me stays with those I love in the north and part of me is present with those I love in the south. Luckily, this does not stop me from fully engaging with life and everything it has to offer wherever I am going, but I do find myself lugging around a heavy bag full of contradictory emotions that has, over the years, become a characteristic part of this journey for me.

Gratitude

The most prominent and present emotion when I travel is always gratitude. I am grateful that I can once again make this annual pilgrimage, that I am well enough to travel, that I can still see enough to find my own way and feast my eyes on the never-diminishing beauty of this sweet and savage land. I am also sincerely grateful that modern technology allows me to stay in contact with those I leave behind.

Wonder

It is a long journey, nearly 24 hours door to door. It feels much shorter because what I see, hear and feel fills me with wonder. I have been making this journey for four decades. I am still amazed, as always and yet again, by the onslaught on my senses of riotous colours, violent sounds, disturbing sensations and unsubtle smells. Often, I have to stop, stand and stare to make sense of what I see. To take stock, to re-orientate myself, with so many people around me, all jostling to get to wherever they are in such a hurry to get to. So alarmingly different from the peaceful and familiar countryside I have left behind.

Fear

When I travel on my own, as I did this time, I feel uncertain. I no longer see well enough to take for granted that I will find my way. People are generally helpful, they answer my questions and help me down steps, but not always. Sometimes they get impatient, sometimes they think I must be mentally retarded not to be able to see what is right before my eyes. Then I long for the safety of my own home, for the guidance of those who know my limitations. I miss my friends, their reassuring presence, suddenly so very noticeable in its absence.

Anticipation

I look forward to going on this journey, I look forward to coming back home.  To see my family again, to sit outside in the sultry evening air and talk about everything of importance and of nothing that matters. To sleep for hours uninterrupted at night and even during the afternoon, something I never do at home. To be loved unconditionally, to be accepted without reserve. To be understood, without having to explain. To hug and be hugged, as often as it feels necessary. At the end of my visit, I look forward to coming home, to be with the horses again, to horse hugs.

Sadness

Every goodbye saddens me. Saying goodbye to those I leave behind at the start of my journey, saying goodbye to those I leave behind at the end of it.

My Coping Strategy

When all these feelings threaten to overwhelm me, I find somewhere to sit down and catch my breath. Literally. For a few moments, I concentrate on breathing only. Breathing in, breathing out. The sensation of air flowing into my lungs, the release as the air escapes again. I am aware of my emotions, but I do not interact with them. I acknowledge their existence and I name them: “This is Fear,” “This is Anticipation,” “Insecurity,” “Sadness,” and “Joy.” My emotions do not own me, I own my emotions. I can, therefore, decide to be mindful only of what I am grateful for and to let the other emotions go.

Mindfulness anchors me in each moment of this journey, in the good moments as well as in the bad moments. It helps me to hold onto every second, experience it fully, whether it makes me happy or sad. Mindfulness enables me to acknowledge the contradictory emotions in my bag, without having to react to them, without allowing them to interfere with my enjoyment of the current moment.

To travel is to change and coping with change is not always easy. Many of my friends are distressed by the Brexit threat and are lugging around bags full of riotously contradictory emotions themselves. I want to help, so I thought I would share my coping strategy with them, as a gratitude and generosity journal. At the moment the working title is “Navigating Change with Gratitude and Generosity.” I have written 14 000 words so far. There is still a long way to go, not least trying to figure out how one publishes a book with pictures in it – of horses, of course! I’ll keep you posted.

“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.”
Alain de Botton

Don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list so that I can let you know when I have written another blog post, have early bird or last minute discounts on my workshops or publish another book – and to get your 10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence Guide – straight from the horse’s mouth!

Choosing Your Role Models to boost Your Self-Confidence

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Every woman needs a role model in her life. Not just when she is a teenager or a young adult, but every day of her life, for as long as she lives. We need role models as we get older more than ever, as our conception of what is and what isn’t possible as we age is changing. Ideally, we all have at least one role model, but the more role models you have, the better. It might be someone you know personally, but it doesn’t have to be. It should be someone you admire, who has walked a similar path to the one you find yourself on now and who has succeeded in coping with the challenges that your chosen path presents. Knowing that someone has coped with and solved problems similar to yours is a great confidence-booster. Their situation does not absolutely need to be exactly the same as yours. You will find inspiration and motivation to succeed by choosing any female role model who has conquered her demons, despite the odds.

Confident women know how infinitely precious the example of a successful role model can be. Research shows that our confidence increases when we find out that other women have succeeded in reaching similar objectives as the ones we have set ourselves. We realise that it is possible to make our dreams come true, no matter how insurmountable the obstructions we face may seem. Even though we can be inspired by any successful woman, modelling ourselves on women who are similar to ourselves, has the greatest impact on our self-confidence. We end up thinking, “if she can do it, then so can I!”

If you want to start your own business, your role model may be a successful businesswoman (older or younger!) working in the same field as you. Same goes for artists, students, parents, teachers, carers, actors, athletes, musicians…no matter what you are trying to achieve, having a suitable role model will make it easier. Open your favourite browser and do a search. If you are a businesswoman, you may try “successful women entrepreneurs,” for example. I did a search for “successful women writers” and found loads of entries, including a very good article about “The 10 most powerful women authors.” The introductory paragraph hit me full-frontal in the gut: “The women selected for this list are powerful because of their ability to influence us through their words and ideas. Collectively, these women hold readers captivated with stories of fantastical worlds, suspense and drama, insights into the complexities of minority experiences and cultures, and fresh takes on societal issues and expectations…not to mention, book sales of up to 800M copies sold and a wealth of prestigious awards and recognition including Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes.” Yes! This is the sort of writer I want to be! Some of the women mentioned I already admire and use as role models: Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Atwood, Isabelle Allende, Maya Angelou… To identify more role models, I do a search to find out more about the other writers mentioned, to read about their lives and the obstacles they had to overcome to be the successful authors they are today. Very difficult not to be inspired. Now it is your turn. Go and do a search and then come back here because I want to make a few more hopefully helpful suggestions.

When you have identified your ideal role models, follow the ones who inspire you to be the person you are striving to become, on social media. Many successful women have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube accounts…some even have blogs. You can read books, articles, blog posts etc about what these women have achieved but the best way to learn from them is still directly from the horse’s mouth. We live in a digital age, where we have access to other people’s daily thoughts, we might as well use our opportunities.

Do take care, though, not to fall into the intimidation-trap. Look up to your role model, by all means, but try not to be blinded by their achievements. Don’t think, “I’ll never be able to achieve what she has achieved!” Remember, like you, she had to start at the bottom. Remember that you are a very special person in your own right and you have your own talents, experience and skills. You might have to walk a path parallel to hers and might not be able to follow in her exact footsteps. Learn from your role models, make their skills your own but be your own woman.

So, choose your role model carefully. It needs to be someone you can relate to, who found themselves in the same situation initially and who had to face the same challenges as you do. One of the most important criteria in choosing a role model is that it should be someone who has the same values as you have and who makes decisions in line with her values. Choosing someone you cannot relate to, who do not hold the same values dear as you do, can result in feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, envy and a dramatic drop in self-confidence. And if your role model should disappoint you, move on, find another. No one is perfect, we all make mistakes.

‘I think the best role models for women are people who are fruitfully and confidently themselves, who bring light into the world.’ Meryl Streep (definitely one of my role models)

I have recently updated and republished two of my books: Self-Confidence made Simple -16 Frenchwomen share their Confidence Secrets and You ARE Good Enough – 10 Simple Steps to Stop Sabotaging Yourself. In both these books, you will find several more effective confidence-building strategies. Of course, the most effective way to significantly increase your self-confidence would be to attend one of my Connect with Horses Personal Empowerment workshops here in the south of France. Consider yourself to have been personally invited.

 

and now there is also:

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What horses can teach us about breathing mindfully

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We have recently added a new coping strategy to our Connect with Horses personal empowerment workshops.  As with equine-assisted experiential learning, equine-guided meditation and equine-led walking meditation, it is an activity that participants practice in the presence of our horses.

A lot has been written about how horses use breathing to connect and to communicate. Horses tend to breathe slower and deeper when they need to either calm themselves or another herd member. The question arose: “Could we possibly connect and communicate with horses by regulating our breathing?”

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Not only can we calm a distressed horse by breathing slowly and deeply, but we can also be calmed ourselves by paying attention to a horse’s breathing pattern and speed when the horse is at ease and at rest. The effect is most powerful in the presence of our herd.

Before we can benefit from such an experience, we must first become aware of our own breathing, an automatic process most of us pay very little attention to on a day-to-day basis. Take a minute or two now and observe how quickly or slowly you are breathing. Is your breathing low (you are breathing from your belly), or high (you are breathing from your chest)? Is there a pause between your in-breath and your out-breath? Do you breathe through your mouth or through your nose? It will be easier to determine your breathing speed and pattern if you put one hand on your chest and the other hand under your bellybutton. This way you can feel which part of your body mostly moves up and down every time you inhale and exhale. Become aware of your breathing in a non-judgemental way – there is no right or wrong way to do this exercise, it is merely about observing what is happening naturally.

This is probably one of the best mindfulness exercises I know, while doing it you are 100% present in the current moment.

This is how our workshop participants start each mindfully breathing exercise with our horses. I first ask them to become aware of their own breathing, without trying to regulate it in any way. They may be breathing slightly faster than normal – if they have never been in the presence of a herd, it is perfectly normal to feel somewhat anxious.

When we are anxious, we change the way we breathe, without realising. Both our breathing rate and pattern change. Instead of taking deep breaths, into our lower lungs, we start to breathe superficially. We take quick, shallow breaths, into our upper lungs only. It feels as if we cannot breathe and we say that we cannot “catch our breath.” This expression is not entirely accurate, because we manage perfectly well to breathe in, even if only in short, sharp breaths. The problem is that we do not breathe out properly, we also breathe out in short gasps. This can lead to a condition called hyperventilation.

When we breathe, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Fast, shallow breathing can cause the carbon dioxide levels in your bloodstream to drop too low. This, in turn, can cause quite a few uncomfortable and alarming symptoms. You may

  • Have palpitations – your heart feels as if it is racing – and tightness in your chest or chest pain. This is why panic attacks are often confused with heart attacks.
  • Feel lightheaded, weak, faint, dizzy and unable to think straight
  • Have tingling or numbness in your fingertips or around your mouth
  • Experience a sense of terror, or impending doom or death
  • Have a dry mouth and feel sweaty, hot and bothered or you may have chills
  • Feel nauseous and have abdominal pain or bloating
  • Feel as if you are losing control

If this should happen, you can avoid a full-blown panic attack by mindfully doing breathing exercises. Below are some breathing exercises which will help you avoid hyperventilation. It is important that you breathe in and out at a steady rate.

Exercise 1: Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Imagine your lungs are divided into three parts. Breathe in gently through your nose. First, imagine the lowest part of your lungs filling with air. Next, imagine the middle part of your lungs filling with air and then your lungs filling with air right to the top. Relax your shoulders. Gently and slowly exhale fully and completely. Repeat the exercise three or four times.

Exercise 2: Take a deep, full breath. Exhale slowly, fully and completely. Inhale again and count from 1 to 4 (or for as long as feels comfortable). Pause for 4 seconds. Exhale slowly while counting from 1 to 4 (or for as long as feels comfortable). Pause for 4 seconds. Repeat the exercise three or four times. This is also called square breathing.

Exercise 3: Resting the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your top front teeth. Keep your tongue in place throughout the practice. Start by exhaling completely through your mouth. Next, close your mouth, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head. Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath. Exhale from your mouth for eight seconds. This is called 4-7-8 breathing. Repeat at least 4 times. The held breath (for seven seconds) is the most critical part of this practice.

Once our workshop participants are fully conscious of their own breathing rhythm and depth, I ask them to pay attention to the horses’ breathing speeds and patterns. This accomplished, I encourage them again to notice their own breathing, to find out if there has been a change. They often report that their own breathing slows and becomes deeper as they concentrate on the horses’ breathing. They also say that they gradually start to feel more and more relaxed. Many report a profound feeling of connection, with the horses and with each other.

Whenever you feel anxious, I recommend you do one of the breathing exercises above. My personal favourite is square breathing. It will help you to relax and can also help you fall asleep. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, do the exercise of your choice at least twice a day. If you would like to experience the profoundly calming effect breathing with horses can have, join us for a personal empowerment workshop here in the south of France!

For more information, send an e-mail to welcome2 gascony[at]gmail.com.

Finding Your Way

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I have long been convinced of the impact a well-constructed vision board can have on our ability to realise our objectives and ambitions. I included the concept is the first book I wrote, nearly 10 years ago now, Horse Riding Confidence Secrets, helping horse riders to regain their horse riding confidence after, for example, a fall. Vision boards have played a pivotal role in my own life as well as in the lives of many of my workshop participants. I would go as far as to say that a carefully constructed vision board can dramatically increase our chances of succeeding in attaining our objectives.

For those who may not know, a vision board is a collage of images, pictures and affirmations of one’s dreams and desires, designed to serve as a source of inspiration and motivation. One of my favourite authors, Jack Canfield, writes about it extensively, both in his books and on his website. He says, “Your brain will work tirelessly to achieve the statements you give your subconscious mind. And when those statements are the affirmations and images of your goals, you are destined to achieve them!”

One of the simplest ways to make a vision board is to collect a good number of images that represent your ideal life, stick them together on a board, add emotionally moving affirmations and spend a few moments every day looking at your vision board and visualising your ideal life. I will not go into further details here. There are many articles on- and off-line that explain how to make a vision board and I have also covered the process comprehensively in my book “You ARE good enough,” with links to the best articles and websites that will enable you to make a powerful vision board yourself.

What I do want to mention here is why it is beneficial to make a vision board:

  • Vision boards help us to focus and think about where we want our lives to go from here. If you are looking for a new calling, if you have an empty nest, if you have just retired or if you have lost your spouse, a vision board can help you chart a new path.
  • A vision board can inspire you on days that you feel a bit low and it can help you overcome obstacles and stay motivated to make the changes needed to stay on course and advance on the path you have chosen.
  • A vision board enables you to share your vision for your life with others in a practical and easy-to-understand way. Sharing your vision for your future with others can engage support from friends and family.
  • As a vision board dramatically increases your chances of success, it can make you feel good about yourself and increase your self-confidence.
  • Reviewing your vision board and visualising your ideal life can reduce stress. The simple act of quieting your mind and visualising your chosen future reduces the amount of stress you are constantly bombarded with.
  • A vision board can also make you feel happier. Visualising events and situations that give you joy is a very powerful mood enhancer.
  • A vision board and visualisation can have health benefits. If you encounter a health-related obstruction to realising your dream life, you can visualise yourself getting better and ending up fit and healthy. You can add pictures of fit and healthy people, or pictures of yourself when you were healthy, to your vision board. As the act of visualising reduces stress and lifts your mood, it can enable your body to heal itself and function more effectively.

As I mentioned, creating and reviewing a vision board is a visualisation exercise. Psychology Today reported that the brain patterns activated when a weightlifter lifts weights are also activated when the lifter only visualises the process of lifting weights. Your mind cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imagined. When you visualize yourself doing something, your ability to do it improves as if you are really doing it. Many athletes such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Wood, and Usain Bolt visualised and mentally rehearsed winning many times before they actually won.

Over the last 10 years, I have learned a thing or two about vision boards. These days, I encourage my workshop participants not only to make a vision board about their desired outcomes but also to journal their journey until they reach their goals and beyond. There are so many different ways we can make vision boards and journal now, it is easier than ever before. We all have mobile phones, so a photographic or even a video journal is within easy reach of all of us. There is a myriad of websites where you can make a vision board online and either download it or leave it on the website and adjust it as you go along. There are as many websites offering the possibility of journalling online.

I have learned, from personal experience, that making a vision board is not enough, even if we mindfully review it daily. Further action is needed. Journalling mindfully, especially if it includes expressing gratitude for what you already have, substantially increase the power of your vision board to realise your dreams.

I have also discovered that a vision board should focus on how you want to feel once you reach your goals. Vision boards that evoke positive feelings are many times more powerful than vision boards that do not involve your feelings.

One of my blogging buddies, Jennifer Rochette Koshak, who has a great sense of humour, is a vision board expert and vision board coach. She also presents vision board workshops. She blogs at Unfold and Begin. When time permits, my Connect with Horses personal empowerment workshops include a discussion about the benefits of making a vision board. There rarely is time to go into the process in depth, as most of our time is taken up with equine-guided meditation and equine-assisted experiential learning.

While reading Jennifer’s work, I had an idea. I could present a stand-alone vision board workshop myself, at home here on the farm or wherever there is a demand, lasting a half-a-day or even a full day. As I said, there are already many websites offering this service, so how can I make my vision board workshop unique? The answer is obvious. Most of the people who come to my workshop are attracted by the presence of the horses, it is the horses’ contribution that makes these personal empowerment workshops unique. Many people find horses inspiring, even if they are a little scared of coming face to face with one in the flesh! A vision board workshop incorporating horses’ inspiring and motivating influence could be, I should think, not only very effective but also great fun and hugely entertaining.

At the moment this is still only an idea, a lot more work will have to go into making it happen. Maybe I should create a vision board about it! If you are interested in attending a vision board workshop inspired by horses, please write to me on welcome2gascony[at]gmail.com. If you have any ideas or advice on how I can make these workshops more worthwhile, please share them with me!

Have a vision. It is the ability to see the invisible. If you can see the invisible, you can achieve the impossible.
Shiv Khera