Let's Talk About Sleep

Sleep doesn't matter.  Would any of you agree with that?

Yet the interesting thing is, for most of us, our behaviour suggests just that.  We don't prioritise it.


Who Should Read This


This article isn't just for those who would identify as having insomnia.  Even if you think your sleep is ‘about average’ and you are coping ‘just fine’, I would encourage you to read ahead.  You may just be surprised.

Taking on board some of the advice and tips here could actually result in an improvement in your physical health and your emotional and mental wellbeing. It may improve your productivity, your concentration and your memory.  It could reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood and restore energy levels.  Have I got your attention now?


Here’s a shock


What if I were to tell you that even if you think you're getting sufficient sleep just now, you probably aren't? That's because the average amount of sleep that our population is getting has been gradually reducing year on year. But although this continues to decline, the need that we have as humans for sleep has not changed. We've not evolved past the amount of sleep we need,

By comparison, you may think that you get about the same amount of sleep as most people you know, but (NEWSFLASH) that does not mean that you get sufficient or optimal sleep. You may think that you function ‘just fine’ on five, six, or even seven hours of sleep. I'm here to tell you that simply isn't true.

Even a small shortage in your average required sleep can actually have quite a large detrimental effect on you. There are studies which have shown that this may have wide-ranging effects such as impact on cardiovascular, endocrine, immune and nervous systems!


Are you sure you are not drunk?


Not only that, I remember being very struck when I read one particular book on the topic of sleep, and they cited a study that looked at the reaction times of people who had only a very short amount of deficit of optimal sleep. So in other words, people who were probably considered to be ‘typical’ who would not identify as having a sleep problem.

 The results were shocking.  The reaction times were impacted significantly by just that average of one hour less sleep than what was needed.  To the extent that their reaction times were very similar to those that had been under the influence of alcohol!!

You may well be able to argue that you function ‘just fine’ with a bit less sleep than what is recommended.  But, although you function just fine, that does not mean that's what's best for you or what is optimal. In fact, based on the results of this study, it may be having more of an effect than you think.


Would you like to be healthier, happier and perform more optimally?


I'm sure many of us would say yes to at least some if not all of those. If you said yes to any of these, then there is one very, very simple thing to try first. Prioritise trying to get enough sleep.

For every single client that I work with, whether it be therapy or coaching clients, I always ask about their sleep. No matter what we are working on.  This is because it is a fundamental and foundational aspect of your life. Small tweaks to something as simple as your sleep habits can actually equate to quite a big difference in your life. Many of my clients have fed back that even when they've been sceptical at first, the simple act of working on improving sleep results in very positive changes in a short space of time.


So how much sleep do I need?


Now, the average person requires, as we know, about eight hours of sleep in order to be healthy, happy and to really support our bodily and mental functions. Now, although that's the average and this is generally what most people need, there are some variations in that as well to consider.

It could depend on the age.  Teenagers tend to require a bit more sleep than elderly people, for example. Elderly people don't usually need quite as much sleep. It can also depend on gender.  I've seen some interesting studies recently that show that women actually tend to require a bit more sleep than men.


It depends…


It can also depend, on other personal factors.   Some days you seem to just need more sleep than others. This could be because of health issues, changing hormones, stress, amount of exposure to daylight, exercise levels and so it goes on and on.  The key to knowing how much sleep you need is to essentially evaluate how you feel the next day.

Clear confirmation you need more sleep if you are feeling particularly lethargic and tired, lacking energy, and relying on stimulants to get through your day such as coffee, tea, or sugary or fatty things.  This is especially thought to be the case if you feel this way in the morning.  Feeling sleepy in the morning is a clear sign that your body probably isn't getting enough sleep and you could do with paying attention to that.


Step 1 – track it


Now, one of the very first things I suggest that people do is to start tracking their sleep. So in other words, you can't improve it until you know currently what your sleep is like.

 Even if you think it is not necessary to track your sleep, I still highly recommend doing so.  I guarantee you will most likely be surprised. How much sleep you think you are getting is most likely not the case.


How to track


There are many different and simple ways to track your sleep.  Find a way that works for you. Even if you just do this for one week, it can be an eye-opener and give you a starting point for making improvements.  The purpose of this is just to get a true sense of how much sleep you tend to actually get on an average week.


There are lots of apps out there that can help you. I know many of us also have smart watches which allow us to track our sleep too. There are debates about the accuracy of these, as it very much depends on the technology being used to monitor your sleep. However, using something is better than nothing.


You can keep it simple


Rather than using technology, there is a very simple, back-to-basics, way. Keep a notepad and pen next to your bed. Take note of when you go to bed, when you think you got to sleep, roughly what time you've woken up, and when you rose out of bed.


It is important to not only note the duration of sleep but also rate the quality of sleep.   Take note of how you are feeling the next day. How was your energy that day? How was your mood? That should give you a little bit of insight into the amount of sleep you are getting and how it is affecting you.


Tracking your sleep can be a really helpful starting point to figure out if you are indeed getting enough sleep or not.  It is hard to argue with the numbers. If you are getting enough sleep, congratulations, you are in the minority of the population!


You can also oversleep


Some have the opposite problem of oversleeping. Getting too much sleep is just as problematic as not getting enough. Once you have tracked your sleep for a week, you can identify if you are under-sleeping, oversleeping, or just right.  Then you can start to make a plan to improve things.


Start improving things


Let’s use an example:  L gets, on average, about two hours less sleep than they ideally should.  If their usual time to go to bed is midnight, they may try and aim for heading to bed by 10 pm as their end goal.  It is not a good idea to jump straight to going to bed 2 hours earlier, as chances are they will not be able to sleep.  So L may start bringing their bedtime back by 10 minutes every 2-3 nights until they finally reach the desired end point.  This allows their body to gradually adjust to the change.


In planning any changes to sleep you will of course need to factor in any lifestyle factors specific to you, so you can be realistic following your new plan. The best thing to do is to make small changes at a time.


Wind things down


Whatever your bedtime routine is going to be, I always recommend having a bit of a wind-down routine. Stick to doing the same things in the same order every night. That helps your brain to essentially get the signal that it’s time to start the shutdown processes. This means that it allows the chemical processes to start happening in your brain, in order to shut down for sleep.


No screens


Having a rule about no screens at least an hour before bedtime is also extremely helpful. That includes phones, I'm afraid.


Phones and screens stimulate the brain too much and can prevent the chemical shutdown process that we need to happen in order for us to fall asleep.


Look out for our next article for more helpful tips


I hope this article has been helpful in highlighting the importance of paying attention to your sleep and prioritising making improvements.  Such a seemingly small thing can make a big difference.


Make sure you look out for our upcoming article, which will give more practical tips on how to help improve your sleep.


Dr Clare Stone

Senior Chartered Coaching Psychologist

What is Your Superpower - How to Tap Into Your Fullest Potential

Ever wonder if focussing only on your weaknesses might not be the most effective approach or use of your time.  What if I told you that by spending more time harnessing your strengths you could reach new heights in your personal and work life?  Read on for more...

Click below for the link to Dr Clare Stone's recent Brainz magazine article.


Click here for the article

WARNING! Kindness May Be Good for Your Health!

Health benefits of Kindness


I was reading an article this week by Dr David Hamilton about the possible health benefits of kindness.  He was making the link between feelings induced by kindness and the release of a hormone known as Oxytocin.  This is our happy drug, which gives us a rush of love, also known as the hug hormone.

A study from the University of Miami found that oxytocin helps to prevent cardiovascular disease.  This is because the hormone is thought to help to keep blood vessels clear.

The negative physical impact of chronic and high levels of stress on the human body has been well documented.  Many of us have experienced burnout and know both the psychological and physical toll this takes on our bodies.  Over-exposure to the stress hormone known as cortisol has been associated with an increase in many health problems including but not exclusive to; anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, skin conditions, sleep problems, weight gain, memory & concentration impairment.

But on the flip side - the idea that kindness could actually be good for our health!  Well!  It’s not just nice to be nice, but it turns out that it can potentially be of benefit whether you are the giver or receiver.


The Kindness of Strangers

After reading this article, later in the day, in some kind of serendipitous moment, I rushed to the local supermarket as I realised I needed one extra ingredient for dinner that night.  I got there only to realise that I forgot my face mask.  I NEVER forget my mask as I have one in almost every jacket pocket and usually leave one in my car at all times.  It was an unusually sunny afternoon so I had no jacket, and the mask from my car had magically disappeared.

I stood outside the shop grumbling to myself that I didn’t have time to go back for my mask when a kind stranger overheard my troubles and offered to go into the shop to find a worker and ask if they had a mask I could use.  Like some supermarket hero, she emerged with a mask, which she handed to me.  This person could have just stood by and ignored my moaning, or continued on with her day.  But no, she saw someone had a problem and felt compelled to use some of her precious time to take action solely for the purpose of helping another.

I know that this could seem like a relatively small thing to do, and from the look on my rescuers face she really thought nothing of it.  BUT can I just reinforce that tiny acts of kindness like this mean a whole lot to the person on the receiving end.  It meant I didn’t have to rush back home and saved me about 30 minutes of time, it meant my kids would get their dinner on time, it meant that the foul mood I was in lifted because ‘there are some kind souls on this planet who care’.  Don’t underestimate the act of showing care for another being on this planet!


Being Kind IS NOT WEAK!

I know that sometimes we can be reluctant to show kindness as there is a misconception that being kind = being weak.  I am here to flip that on its ridiculous head and say that it takes real bravery to be kind.  It can show an incredible amount of strength and power of character to be kind to another, even when they are not particularly deserving of that kindness.

‘Does that mean they will take advantage of my kindness?’ – well the answer to that is, only if you let them.

Being kind does not mean being a pushover, or saying yes to everything.  Have you ever thought that sometimes the kind thing to do is to walk away, or to not give in to the other person’s desires?  What defines whether an act is kind or not has nothing to do with how NICE you are being, but more to do with the intentions behind your act.  If you are acting in what you perceive as the best interests of the person, well this is the best that any of us can do.  We do not always get it right, but all we can do is try.


 Being Kind Does Not Mean People Pleasing or Just Being Nice

It has always been an important core value of mine, to seek to be kind.  I am not pretending that I did not make mistakes and that at times I may have been unkind.  Of course, I have, I too am human.

I always remember a time of starting my first ‘professional job’ at the ripe age of 21 and at the start of a team meeting being asked what my intentions were.   I was flustered and felt put on the spot.  Quite frankly I wasn’t sure what they meant by this question.  So I simply gave an honest answer which was ‘to be a good person’.  I was promptly laughed at and told ‘that won’t last’.

Well, the joke is on them, because a good number of years later I would still give this same answer.  Initially, I was angered by their response because it had the undertone of ‘aw you silly little girl’, but I do understand why they laughed.  Being ‘a good person’ or kind person can be seen as being a pushover or weak.  Much like when I told a peer that I would love to live in New York at some point in my life, and I was promptly told that I was too soft and that they would eat me alive!  Gee thanks for the ego boost!

Although harsh, I think what she picked up on was my strong people-pleasing characteristic at that time.  It took me years to work on this aspect of myself, and I still need to keep an eye on it from time to time.  Back then I thought that I was being kind by doing things that encouraged others to like me.  This is a false type of kindness as it is more about you avoiding confrontation and needing to be liked.  This is not genuine kindness, as it is not really about the needs of the other person.

In my opinion, we should not confuse being kind with being weak.  Being unable to say no or defend ourselves and others is damaging to ourselves and those around us. 

“Genuine kindness means having the courage to stand up for what is right.  And to speak up when something or wrong or wicked.”  Stefan Einhorn


Why should we be kind?

There is a multitude of reasons to be kind, which benefits not only you but also wider society:

  • Health benefits of kindness (mentioned in the opening paragraph)
  • It is pleasurable for us
  • Positive impact on others
    • Restores faith in humanity
    • Sends the message that someone cares for them
    • They feel seen and/or heard
    • Perceive that they matter to someone
    • Confirmation that there are kind people who put others first
    • Send the message that they are liked or even loved
  • Rule of reciprocity – although it may not be the intention behind the kind act, people are more likely to want to show us kindness in return, or show their appreciation
  • Ripple effect – it leaves the receiver in a more loving and caring place themselves and therefore they are more likely to act in a kind manner going forward
  • We may live in a better world as a result. The ripple effect is more far-reaching than many of us could ever imagine.  Change yourself and you change the world!


How to Best Use this Information

Firstly I would highly recommend reading the book ‘The Art of Being Kind’ by Stefan Einhorn.  This is a short but very interesting read on this very topic.

Next, a challenge!  We have probably seen these on social media where you ‘pay it forward.  You could attempt an act of random kindness to a stranger.  That would be a start.

Or…… you could take things that little step further, rather than a once in a lifetime act, you could try to inject a little more kindness in all that you do.  When faced with situations of difficulty, try to look at them through the eyes of love, compassion and kindness.  Even if other people are being mean, choose the higher ground, rise above it all and retain those values.

It does not mean that you put up with endless crap though!  Walking away can sometimes be the kindest thing to do, not only for yourself but for the other person.  It shows them clearly that their behaviour is unacceptable and that they have lost you as a result.

I would suggest that if we want to succeed in life, then we have a lot more to gain by being kind than being aggressive and demanding.


“It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'try to be a little kinder. '”  Aldous Huxley

Stop it!  That’s my Friend you are Beating Up!

Consider the Most Important Relationship in your Life

If I asked you what is the most enduring and important of ALL the relationships in our lives……. What would you answer?  Like many, I would previously have answered some important figure in my life at that developmental stage such as my parents, best friend, boyfriend, partner, children, and so on. The fact that this is changeable through our lifespan is one of the signs that this is problematic for one simple reason.  Every single one of these people will leave our lives at some point.  Well, that is unless we leave them first.

Sorry to sound sad and morbid.  I know this is an evocative thing to say,  but it is true.  Can I first clarify that by ‘leaving’ I mean a variety of things.  I do not mean that they all get fed up with us and decide they don’t like us anymore.  I am simply referring to the concept of the impermanence of everything.  People exit our lives through choice, separation, relocation, divorce, change in circumstances, fallouts, losing touch, death, and so on.  We have all probably experienced friendships which have outgrown themselves, partners who choose to go their separate ways, or worse, being dumped (I hate that word), or losing loved ones through death.  It is the reality of life that we continue to move on and nothing stays the same.

A Change in Perspective?

I propose that pinning all your sense of safety, security, feelings of love and belonging on one external person means that when that person is no longer in your life for any reason or period of time, you are more likely to fall apart, and it is harder to adapt.  It also places a whole lot of pressure on any relationship if you rely on getting all of your needs for love met by this one mortal being.  They are after all only human, with their own unique set of needs, and naturally, they will make mistakes.  They will most likely let you down at some point whether they mean to or not.

I do not say this to be pessimistic.  Anyone who knows me would recognise that I am a ‘glass is half full’ kind of gal.  Or if I am practising gratitude ‘I am just happy to have a glass in the first place’.  What I am trying to point out is that to err is human.  If we rely on others to be the provider of our happiness, then this means we externalise our own happiness and do not have full ownership of it.  We essentially say that ‘it is your job to make me happy’, and ‘if I am not happy then it must be the other person's deficiency’.  We then have very little control over our own contentment.

What Does This Mean?

I am in no way suggesting that you never develop close relationships with others, or depend on people when you need it.  This would be pointless and harmful to you in the long run.  I make this point to simply emphasise that there is one relationship you may not have considered which is with you for your entire life, and has the biggest impact on your self-esteem, feelings of being accepted, loved and cared for.  Therefore maybe deserving of a good chunk of your attention.  Have you guessed it yet?

From the moment we are born to the moment we die, the one person who is guaranteed to ALWAYS be there is yourself! 

This is why, in my opinion, it is essential to make a committed decision to work at developing a healthier relationship with yourself.  As a Psychologist, I fully understand that for many people their relationship with themselves can be a complicated and toxic one, much like that of an abusive partner.  We are taught not to accept abuse from the people we love, but why do we accept or even sometimes encourage it from ourselves?

Cheesy as it sounds, and please do not roll your eyes and click away at this stage, but self-love and self-compassion are the two most important things you can gift to yourself.  I will share a story with you to make this point further.


A True Story

I had a very good friend who berated himself regularly and was incredibly self-critical.  One night I remember having a conversation, and I shared with him that he is being bullied.  He looked at me quite confused and responded with an amused ‘Huh?’.  I however was completely serious and shared that he has been one of my closest friends for years, and if I ever saw anyone being this mean to him I would feel the desire to plot and scheme to defeat the enemy who was hurting my dear friend.  But I was really stuck not knowing what to do, as the very person bullying him was himself. 

His face fell in recognition of my words and I could see tears filling his eyes.  I then instantly felt bad for bringing this up, because we were on a fun weekend away.  So I lightened the mood a little by saying ‘it’s not like I can beat you up to make you stop?’ which did make him laugh.  I also shared with him that I so wish he could see himself through my eyes and really appreciate all of the things that make him truly amazing.

I share this story as a beckon of hope.  Since having this intimate moment, my friend used this as one of the catalysts to make more of an effort to be kinder to himself and start a journey of not only trying to like himself more but even love himself.  I cannot believe his transformation since this initial conversation.  He no longer berates himself, certainly not to the same extent, he treats himself with more respect, is more forgiving of his apparent flaws, and accepting of who he is as a person.  He seems happier, and I could not be prouder of the bravery and hard work this has taken.  I know that he feels he still has a long way to go, but he has committed to the journey, and that is what truly matters.


Loving Myself – that is Cheesy Hippy Stuff Clare!

Yes, I hear you on this one!  The term ‘love yourself’ is banded around quite a bit, and can often evoke a gagging response for some.  I hold my hands up to feeling this way myself years ago.  However, my response was often to break down in hilarious childish laughter at the ridiculousness of this very concept.  This is because I confused it with resignation, or thinking you are the best and not wanting to develop or better yourself in any way.  What I didn’t realise is that this entirely misses the point.

Self-love is about developing an unconditional love for yourself, which means that ‘no matter what, I still love you’.  It doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to mistakes.  It means being able to forgive your mistakes, still love yourself, accept you are human, and figure out what you can learn from your experiences.

The other common misconception is that loving yourself means that you will turn into a person who is conceded and ‘full of themselves’.  Again this is highly unlikely for a number of reasons.  Loving yourself simply means that you consider your own needs, care for yourself, use more supportive and encouraging self-talk, and find value in your being.

I can only think of positive outcomes of self-love such as improved self-esteem, self-efficacy (belief in your abilities) and confidence.  It does not make you more prone to becoming an egotistical megalomaniac who thinks they are the best thing since sliced bread!  That would be quite an amazing jump if you are the type of person who already suffers from low self-esteem.



“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress”  Sophia Bush


How Do I Build a More Loving and Compassionate Relationship with Myself?

I am hoping by this stage I have persuaded you of the benefits of developing a healthier and more caring relationship with yourself.  So below are some thoughts and tips on how to start putting this into practice.  I am not saying this is easy.  I have been through exactly the same process as my friend in the story, so know from experience this does not happen overnight.  But all it takes is a commitment and intention to love and be forgiving of yourself.  Like learning any new skill, the key is practice, practice, practice.


  • Low self-esteem can make this journey more challenging, because you may not feel good enough to be kind to yourself. But I would counter this by saying - Since when do we have to DESERVE kindness?!  Surely everyone deserves some love and compassion in this world.  Even if you don’t feel deserving of the love, just give it to yourself anyway and see what happens.
  • Forgive your apparent flaws – see them as a part of what makes you who you are. Would you be you without them?  Commit to trying to change if they are unhelpful to you, not because it is someone else’s expectation you have adopted.
  • Make changes out of love for yourself – if you decide that you want to commit to a change then try and do so with the intention of a loving act and not one of hating who you are. (For example ‘I choose to go to the gym and get fit because I love my body and want it to be healthy’, as opposed to ‘I hate the way my body looks and need to force myself to go to the gym to change it so I can then like myself more’)
  • Be your own cheerleader – think about your internal dialogue and how you speak to yourself. If you wouldn’t speak that way to a close friend that you love, then do not speak to yourself this way either.  Try saying compassionate and encouraging statements to yourself daily.  This is not just about changing your mindset and affirmations.  Neuropsychology teaches us of the neuroplasticity of the brain, meaning that daily practice will adapt your brain chemistry so it gets easier to be more compassionate to yourself.
  • What would my friend say – if you struggle with knowing how to be more loving to yourself, then perhaps imagine a kind friend who would want to support you and what they might say for inspiration?
  • Catch your critic – be loving of your critic too. It is after all only trying to keep you safe or encourage you to make changes.  But, as research and experience tell us, ‘the stick approach’ is not the most efficient at motivating people to make lasting changes.  Don’t get me wrong it can work, but it erodes self-esteem in the process.
  • Recognise your worth – there are so many areas of life where you add real value to the world and to others, even if you do not yet realise this. Perhaps keep a list daily of the things you appreciate about yourself, what you like about yourself, even ask close friends or family that you trust what they most value about you for ideas.
  • Parent yourself - I know that I am instinctively the most compassionate version of myself when I am with my kids…. most of the time….when my patience hasn’t run out! I use this mode to my advantage when I catch myself being self-critical and judgemental.  I take a breath, recognise and acknowledge my critic and instead act as a nurturing mother to myself.  Giving the same care, love and compassion I would offer to my own children.
  • Use a role model – if the parenting one above does not work for you, then think of the most compassionate person you can imagine (this can be someone you know, or a role model who is famous, or even a fictional character). Embody their essence and what makes them so loving and compassionate.  Mimicking others, to begin with, is a helpful way of practising a skill if you feel unsure at the start.
  • Remember that it is not about always being nice to yourself and letting yourself off the hook - sometimes being more loving to yourself also means denying impulses and desires, because you know that what you are denying yourself is something that is unhealthy or takes you away from the life you truly want to be living.  Figure out what the true need is behind the desire and find creative ways of meeting this need in a healthier way.  For example your desire for chocolate could really stem from a need for comfort, soothing, or just plain hunger.  There are other ways to meet these needs.
  • Have an accountability buddy – talking to a close friend who will challenge your self-critical talk and help to model raising you up rather than beating you down can be invaluable. We live in a culture where berating yourself is a form of humour and almost expected in some social circles.  To break this cycle try and surround yourself with like-minded people to avoid being dragged back into self-loathing.
  • Try daily self-compassionate meditations – there are many great apps out there with guided meditations. So all you need to do is sit and listen.  'InSight Timer' is one I highly recommend.
  • Ask yourself what you need – a part of self-love is learning to attend to your own needs more. Recognise that because you are in fact human you do have needs too, and deserve to have your needs met.
  • Speak to a professional – sometimes this stuff is just too difficult to do on our own, and we all need a helping hand or listening ear at different stages in our life. If you have chronic low self-esteem or just cannot engage in self-love as much as you would like, then consider if seeking support with this could be beneficial to you.  It may help to explore what is holding you back.


Having a better relationship with yourself offers the greatest emotional security there is.  If you can love yourself, then you are not dependent on another person’s love for your own happiness.  Another person’s love will simply add to this as a wonderful bonus.  This person also does not then feel the weight of responsibility for your happiness and can focus on their own contentment as a result.

One of the biggest advantages of developing a kinder and more loving relationship with yourself is that you will begin to thrive in many areas of your life as a result.  You will feel happier and more content in general.  You will have a positive impact on the people around you.  You will inadvertently model this healthy internal relationship to your family, friends, children, colleagues, and so on, who are then more likely to adopt this as a result.  This is the ripple effect at play again!



“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked.  Try approving of yourself and see what happens”  Louise Hay

How to Overcome Your Fears and Find the Courage You Never Knew You Had


My daughter found this concept hilarious, the term ‘spread your wings and fly’.  She took it so literally, as 7-year-olds do, and thought it insane that we encourage people to believe they can fly.  To put it into context, she was listening to the R. Kelly song with this title, and was confused/entertained by the prospect of people trying to jump from hilltops and falling flat on their faces.  Her childish giggle and imagery, I have to admit, did give me some sniggers.  However, it did make me think about a more serious point.


Can you learn to fly? 



The image you see here is indeed of myself, yes Dr Clare Stone, bungee jumping from a cable car in the Swiss Alps.  My husband and children at the lakeside below watching and cheering me on.  This is my desktop image and for good reason.  Not only does it make me smile when I see this beautiful scenery, but it acts as a reminder of just what I am capable of.  It reminds me that I am brave, that I am adventurous, and that when I set my mind to something I can really go for it.  We all need to be reminded of this from time to time.  BUT I am NOT FEARLESS!  I chose to jump despite the fear.  I didn’t let fear stop me from an experience I know I wanted to have.

Many people look at this photo and make this very assumption.  Well actually,  ‘Clare you are nuts’, is often the first response I get from my loving friends and family.  Perhaps there is some Freudian Thanatos style death instinct at play here.  Each to their own I say!  But more importantly, I often have people comment that I must be fearless to do these things.  Now is where I do my hearty laugh and almost choke on my sandwich.

I clarify to these misguided souls that each time my heart was pounding, blood pulsing through my body, I felt nauseous, dizzy, had to run to the loo multiple times, and at least 20 times asked myself ‘what the hell am I doing!  Is it too late to escape!  What are the chances if I hide in this corner they will forget I am here!, What if I fall to my death right in front of my children?  Oh my goodness does this make me a bad mother?  Am I being irresponsible?’

I will let you in on a little secret that very few people will be honest enough to admit.  True bravery is not the complete absence of fear.

If you have no fear, then you have nothing to overcome.  Courage means accepting that the fear is there, acknowledging there is a reason for it, yet still making the conscious decision to take action.  Facing your fears can be difficult, however, this positive action will lead you closer to the life that you truly want.  THAT, my friends, is true courage!

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”. – Nelson Mandela

Can I also be very clear that I am not talking about blindly ignoring your fear!  This could be at best unhealthy and impulsive, at worst potentially dangerous.  Your fear is there for a reason.  What I am suggesting is a different relationship with your fear, and not automatically holding back from something you want because you are afraid.


How to Develop a Different Relationship with your Fear

  • Understand the purpose of fear – then you will not hate it so much

What is fear?  Fear is the emotion that our bodies experience as a warning that there is some kind of threat.  This could include a physical threat, emotional, financial, relational, and the list could go on. Here is a revolutionary thought……..fear is not bad!  It is trying to protect us, BUT sometimes it goes into overdrive, and rather than protecting us, it prevents us from living the life that we aspire to.

Fear is a useful human response – it alerts us to danger and encourages caution.  We need fear. It motivates us but gone unchecked it can also be crippling.


  • Be thankful for the fear

Sounds ridiculous I know.  But join me on this train of thought for a moment.  Imagine the next time you feel fearful of something you want to do.  Instead of wishing the fear away and despising its very existence, be grateful for that fear and the thoughts that come along with it.

A bit like an overbearing mother who tells their child – no you shouldn’t do that risky thing because..…..then follows a long list of all the things that could go wrong.  The child gets annoyed and thinks ‘they just want to suck the fun out of everything’!  But dig a bit deeper, why is the mum responding like that?  Most likely because of their love for you and their desire to keep you safe.  It doesn’t mean you should agree with their perspective, but you can appreciate that it comes from a place of love and care.

Our own fear is exactly the same.  It is a mechanism that we really should appreciate because it tries its very best to keep us alive and safe.  This is a basic human need.  However, the downside is that it is not concerned with some of the higher levels needs for actualising your potential.


  • Note your caution and judge if it is realistic or not

Make a conscious decision to pay attention to your fear.  Overcoming fear is not always about just ignoring it and putting it in a box.   Try to make a rational decision about whether you are being realistic or not.  Your fear is simply a messenger, but it is up to you to judge whether the information it is giving you is helpful or not.  For example, if your fear is around a business decision, perhaps there are valid points here, and that the resolution is to take some things into account, or make some adaptations to your plans.


  • Keep risk in perspective

We all have differing levels of risk aversion.  Some people are willing to take more risks than others.  But one of the very things that often prevent us from living our dreams, or aspiring for greatness is our fear of risk.  The biggest mistake we can make is confusing probability with possibility.  Just because something is possible DOES NOT make it probable.  When facing fears this becomes an essential distinction to be able to make.  Possibility means it can happen, probability refers to how likely it is that something can happen.  Pretty much everything in life is possible, but there are various degrees of possibility.  Probability can feel heightened if it is a highly emotive or feared consequence you perceive.  The key is to sit down in a calm state and think logically about it.  As yourself the following questions about it:

  • If I was a bookkeeper how would I work out the probability of this situation?
  • Ask a supportive friend, who knows what you are trying to achieve, what they think
  • What are the chances that the worst-case scenario would actually happen?
  • Are there things you can do to prevent the worst-case scenario while still moving forwards?
  • What is the most probable outcome of this?
  • What are the best things that could happen if I just try?
  • If the worst did happen, although it would be unpleasant, could I find ways to cope or move on?
  • Is this really going to matter to me in a year, 5 years, 20 years time?
  • What is the cost of listening to the fear and not continuing with my desired path?


  • Reframe the fear

Sometimes just the physical experience of fear can be overwhelming, and we choose to believe that it is our body’s way of steering us away from something. Sometimes it is not actually fear at all that we are experiencing, but anticipation or excitement.  They create very similar reactions in the body which can be confusing.  Instead of telling yourself ‘Oh I am so anxious/scared/nervous about this presentation’, try telling yourself ‘I can feel the anticipation’ or ‘I am excited’.  Big difference.  Reframe your fear as anticipation and consider it a healthy dose of caution.


  • Go for it!

There is a book I love in which the title really says it best; ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers.  I recommend this book if this article has sparked an interest in you.  Action is by far the best remedy for overcoming your fear. You don’t necessarily need to jump straight in the deep end.  Take a stepped approach if you need to and break your challenge down into smaller more manageable chunks.  Do practice runs if that helps?  Ask a friend for support for your first attempt if this makes it easier.  Taking small steps towards the life you want and the kind of person you want to be is better than staying paralysed or choosing a completely different path, which may feel safer, but does not take you where you want to go.


In summary.  Feeling afraid is not the issue, it is how you choose to respond when faced with this.  If you continue because you know this leads you towards the life you truly desire, then this is indeed brave.  Even if this is over seemingly minor – going for that promotion you really want, ask that person out that you are attracted to, travelling on your own somewhere.  There is real courage in going for what you truly want in life, despite how much it may also scare you.


"If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough" – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

You Make a Difference in this World Whether You Mean to or Not




An Uncomfortable Situation


This topic came to me recently when finishing up a group I was facilitating as part of my role in the Doctoral course at the University. The trainee Psychologists in the group spontaneously took turns to express their gratitude to me and reflected on the impact I had on them and their development. I was overwhelmed and quite frankly gobsmacked and a little bit uncomfortable, as it is indeed a rare and precious thing to receive such praise and recognition. But I also felt a bit of fraud.

Here I was being paid to be the facilitator in this role, but I recognised that I too benefitted greatly from it. Every one of those trainees was integral in changing me as a person and facilitator. I expressed this to the group members and this allowed me to see the importance of acknowledging the mutual impact we have on each other, and the wider ripples this can cause.


A Lifelong Pursuit


It may come across in this article, but I am very passionate about this subject. It is somewhat of a calling for me. The entire reason I became a Psychologist in the first place was that I wanted to be a part of making a positive difference in the lives of those I work with. I wanted to help people. I soon found that by helping people I not only help them but the lives of the people surrounding them.

Friends, family, work colleagues, Facebook followers, strangers we meet at the supermarket, all of the connections you make, no matter how small, can make a big difference in a person’s life. This is what is known as the ripple effect and is endless in its reach.


One Small Act – One Big Impact


When I speak of the ripple effect I am not just referring to this in the work you do, or that it has to come from grand acts of helping others. This applies to all of us, and in everything that we do.

For example, just think of a simple example of driving in rush hour traffic and someone is in the next lane trying desperately to get in. Your decision in that moment of whether to hold back and let the person in, or stay as close as you can to the car in front blocking their path, is one example of a small but important moment.  Whatever decision you make will have some impact on the other driver. It can mean the difference between the other driver feeling grateful and more likely to mirror the altruistic behaviour, or feeling angry and frustrated and projecting this on to others throughout their day.  

Any interaction we have with another has the potential for change in a person’s life, so it is important not to underestimate the influence you have. 

I have lost count of the times friends have said to me ‘it changed things for me when you said/did this', and I am gobsmacked because for me it was a seemingly minor thing that I would not have given much thought to. A smile, a piece of encouragement, expressing an observation, a text message, a wave, a gift, an act of kindness, the list could go on.  


How Best to Use this Knowledge of the Ripple Effect


Although we can sometimes feel small and insignificant, the ripple effect teaches us that we have more of an impact on the world than we think. Use this as a form of empowerment, not punishment. Do not fear any responsibility from this knowledge either, but do take it seriously.  

Perhaps this can lead to questions of an existential nature. Who am I on this planet, and what ripples do I want to send out into this world? You could think about your purpose, and how you are serving your community. It does not need to be some grand purpose, where we are rich and famous to have an impact.

Purpose coach, motivational speaker and former monk Jay Shetty speaks of his belief that the main purpose which leads to a more contented life is to be in service of others.   In his book ‘Live Like a Monk’ he says:


The highest purpose is to live in service. We seek to leave a place cleaner than we found it, people happier than we found them, the world better than we found it. Service is the direct path to a meaningful life.


For me, this does not necessarily mean living a life where you only attend to the needs of others by sacrificing your own. Been there done that! This only breeds resentment and burn out. It means to perhaps think about how you are best placed to serve your community in some way. This does not have to be through a job or volunteering, but can be through simple acts.


One Psychologists Personal Experience of the Ripple Effect


In my profession as a Psychologist, others often perceive me as being the sole person having an impact on my client’s lives. However, much like the opening example in this article, it works both ways. Every one of my clients has influenced and essentially trained me to be the psychologist I am today, and also changed me as a person.  For this, I will be eternally grateful. 

During my Doctoral training, I remember working in one of the most socially deprived areas in central Scotland, within an NHS addictions service. A pivotal moment for me was assessing a very mousy and anxious lady in her mid-30s, who was a recovering heroin addict and survivor of repeated childhood sexual abuse. To protect client confidentiality I will use the pseudo name Rose. I remember taking her history and being horrified at the hand this person had been dealt. Each card laid out in front of me was one horrific event after another. I remember thinking, ‘how can one person endure so much in one lifetime’ before they even reach middle age.  Rose was not alone or unusual as a representative of the kind of presentation this kind of service tends to see.  

The game-changer for me was recognising that if I have been in this person's exact shoes - brought up in the same environment and gone through the exact same life events, I would most likely have opted to shoot up too. Although I would like to believe that I am ‘just not the sort of person who would do something like that’, it seemed inescapable that in Rose’s situation heroin use was not only easily accessible but actively encouraged, a norm in her social circles and quite frankly the only route for escape from the pain of her abuse, other than taking her own life. I know this may seem controversial, and there may be some who disagree but bear with me and read on.


My Lasting Lesson


I sought out an addictions placement while training for 2 main reasons. Firstly I was fascinated with working in the trauma field and helping people to recover from some of the worst experiences humans could face. For me, this was my calling. But I also knew that addiction was highly correlated with trauma. In case you did not already know, addiction is a coping mechanism for dealing with physical and/or emotional pain. It is not a ‘disease’ in itself, but a symptom of a deeper trauma.  

When I was much younger, like many, I had stereotypical beliefs and judgements about those who abused substances. Having self-awareness of this meant that I sought out work in addictions as I wanted to challenge this belief. As I expected and hoped, working with this client group opened my eyes to the common misconceptions we hold concerning drug and alcohol abuse. It also highlighted my privilege to have grown up in a loving family and safe environment. I gained a deeper understanding of the barriers that social deprivation can create. 

I am still a firm believer that anything is possible, and that no matter how difficult a situation you are in, you do still always have a choice. BUT, like many things in life, it is never that simple. We must also recognise that although we do always have a choice, some circumstances in life make it so much harder, or even feel impossible to make the healthier choice.  

This experience was many years ago, but still, whenever I hear the song ‘A-Team’ by Ed Sheeran I always think of Rose and it reminds me of all these invaluable lessons. 


A Thank You to My Clients Past, Present & Future


Over a decade of working in the mental health field, and I am forever changed and continue to be affected by the clients I work with. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I do not think our clients give this fact much thought. As we end therapy or coaching I find the focus is often them reflecting on the impact they feel I have had in their recovery and development.   I always bounce back that I may have been the guide, but they took the steps.  I write these words hoping this article presents recognition that ANY relationship is a two-way process. 

None of us is immune from this ripple effect.  

We all make mistakes, none of us is perfect, and even if we could be so-called ‘perfect’, this would make for a VERY boring life! Rather than use this to guilt-trip yourself for any bad waves you feel you may have caused, park that and leave it in the past where it belongs. Apologise if you need to and move on.  

Just look at the fantastic cinematic example of this, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. If you didn’t exist would the world be different? Of course, it would! So you have to think, if I am indeed causing endless ripples in this life that I lead, then what kind of ripples do I want to be sending out there? 

You make a difference in this world whether you mean to or not.  So what kind of difference are you going to make?




“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” 

Mother Teresa


Developing a Daily Gratitude Practice Can Change Not Just Your Life, But the Lives of Others

What do we mean by gratitude?

Gratitude sounds like such a simple concept doesn’t it?  The Cambridge Dictionary definition is ‘the feeling or quality of being grateful’.  Or in other words, thankful.  We feel gratitude not only as an emotional state but also express it to others.  Apparently, the origins of this word are from the Latin word ‘gratus’ which means pleasing or thankful.  We often think about gratitude as the simple act of saying thank you to another person, for example when they have been of assistance to us.  But it goes much deeper than this.


Why is this important?

Gratitude essentially helps us to recognise the good in our life.  Appreciation of what is good can be beneficial for quite obvious reasons.  Firstly, gratitude is a positive emotion, therefore it is usually pleasant to experience.  When we are going through a dark time in our lives our minds tend to focus on all the things which are going wrong.  This is called the ‘negative filter’.  Practising gratitude is not about replacing these negative thoughts or pushing them away, but more a question of readdressing the balance.


What if I have nothing to be grateful for?

Even in some of the most difficult times in our lives, there are always things we can find to be grateful for.  I can imagine that some of you will be looking at this article shouting at the screen ‘what utter rubbish’!  But I only need to refer to autobiographies of people who have endured some of the most harrowing circumstances life could throw at them, and you will find that gratitude was one of the core things which helped them through.  I can highly recommend the autobiographies of Nelson Mandella’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and ‘Man’s Search for Meaning' by Victor E Frankl.  I assure you that things you can be grateful for are always there, we just need to look harder some days.  The more practice you have of this, the easier it gets.

Let me also be clear that this is a concept used to enhance your quality of life.  Not to invalidate, minimise or distract you from any pain you are currently going through.  Learning to practice gratitude, although understandably more difficult during your darker times, is not impossible, and could even help lighten the load somewhat.


What kind of things could I be grateful for?

I really find that this varies widely.  It can be specific things that people have done or said, things achieved, events that have happened, a treasured item or purchase, or really simple and basic things that many of us take for granted.  I will include a small list below of some of the things I have been grateful for this week as examples:

  • Walks with my dog
  • Seeing my kids progress in something
  • The smell of someone else cooking a delicious dinner
  • Lessons I am learning in business and in life
  • Catching up with a friend
  • Seeing progress in my clients
  • To have peace to read my book
  • A fresh cup of coffee
  • The sun shining and the feel of the wind on my face
  • A hug with my partner
  • Compliments I received

On harder days I make sure to remind myself of being grateful for some of the things that I often take for granted.  When we are so used to having certain things in our life we tend to accidentally devalue them.  I count myself fortunate that; I am alive, have my health and am able-bodied with full use of all my senses, have food in my cupboards, heat in my home, access to water, a comfy bed to sleep in, money in my bank, etc.


How do I start a gratitude practice?

One of my biggest suggestions to clients is to start a gratitude journal.  It doesn’t have to be a journal necessarily, but find a way to spend at least a little time every day reflecting on as many things as you can which make you grateful that day.  Doing it last thing at night, before you go to bed can be a nice way to end your day.  To fall asleep with gratitude still fresh in your mind; what a wonderful way to drift off into slumber.  Keep pen and paper next to your bed so that it is easy to remember to do this exercise each night.  In my experience, the biggest reason why people do not manage to maintain a daily practice is simply forgetfulness.  So find ways to make it easy for you to remember.

Expressing your gratitude more is also another way of enhancing your gratitude practice.  For example, you could express your gratitude to at least one person each day.  By rule of reciprocity this also suggests that, although this isn't necessarily your motivation, people inevitably start to fire some gratitude right back at you.  It can start small from just saying ‘thank you’ or ‘I really appreciate you saying or doing that’.  You could then take it even further and express to others how much they mean to you, all the things you appreciate about them, and what you love about them.  Even with people whom you may have a more difficult relationship with, you could attempt to view them through the eyes of gratitude and ask yourself ‘they are not all bad, what are the things I appreciate about them?’.

Above all, think about how wonderful it can feel to have deep gratitude directed at you.  Yes, it can be a bit uncomfortable or even embarrassing in the moment.  Some may even appear to brush it off entirely, but by expressing your gratitude you have planted a beautiful seed in that person which will start to flourish.  This can go on to have a positive ripple effect that is beyond belief.  Such a simple daily practice can indeed have a huge impact.  Why not try it?


“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things”
Robert Brault


Dealing with a Bad Day

‘I’m having a bad day’ – What can I do about it?


Clare’s bad day

At the start of this week, I was looking for an inspirational quote that encapsulates the message that it is OK to have a bad day, that it will pass.  Scrolling down page after page I realised that many of the quotes just didn’t fit.  They spoke of ‘fighting through it’, or ‘not giving up’ or ‘always thinking positive’.  None of these seemed helpful.  Particularly when in the midst of a bad day, or experiencing the aftereffects of one, ‘the hangover stage’, you just don’t have the energy for any of that crap!

I had a bad day on Monday.  I am not even really sure why, nothing in particular seemed to spark it off.  Perhaps the clocks changing and horrible noisy weather meant I was overly tired and lack of sleep made me grumpy, perhaps it was because I was feeling a little under the weather that day, perhaps all the seemingly small frustrations of life during COVID times had built up, perhaps it is because my youngest had a flare-up of a medical issue that we thought was resolved, or perhaps it had something to do with my hormones, or where the moon is in its lunar cycle.  Who knows!  More likely it is not just one of those things but simply an accumulation of them.  However, in the throes of the bad day, it didn’t feel helpful to try and figure out the why’s at this stage.  The more pertinent question was how do I deal with this?


What not to do

Previously I would have come from a place of thinking that because there was nothing really that bad going on in my life that I somehow had no right to feel this way.  ‘Other people have it so much harder than I do’, or the famous ‘it could be worse’, so why should I be feeling like this?  Sound familiar?  Comparing against others is often not a helpful remedy.  This basically invalidates the genuine emotions you are experiencing, and instead of engaging with them in a healthy way, this response tends to shut them down.  Don’t get me wrong it can be helpful to keep things in perspective, but there is no right or wrong when it comes to your emotions.  You feel how you feel.  Well-meaning friends can even dish out comments like, ‘at least you don’t have it as bad as Hugh!’.  The intention here is to show you that things could be worse in the hopes that you won’t feel so bad.  It is a common and natural response of those around us to try and lift us out of our bad day.  They mean well.  However, the unintentional result is that it can reinforce the belief that we have no right to feel the way we do and our response is to then try to push it all away.  Unfortunately what we resist persists.


What would be more helpful to do:

Below are some simple steps to help deal with your bad day:


  • Acknowledge & accept emotions

Our emotions are there to signal messages to us, and so it is important not to shut them down or discount them.  The first stage of dealing with a bad day is to simply accept the following:

'This is how I feel today.  It does not feel pleasant, but it is OK and I can manage'. 


  • Remember that it will not last forever

Everything in life is impermanent, and so it will change.  I use the famous quote from the film ‘Gone with the Wind’ as a playful reminder of this

“afterall……tomorrow is another day”.

I even have Scarlett’s voice and accent in my head when I say these words!


  • Ground yourself in the present moment

What can happen in the duration of your bad day is that you start to ruminate over concerns, or stressors.  We can get hooked by our negative thoughts which worsen our mental state.  Below are some examples of great strategies for getting you out of your head and bringing yourself back to the present time.

    • Mindful meditation
    • Breathing exercises
    • Relaxation practice
    • Going for a walk outside
    • Yoga
    • Engaging in any activity where you can fully concentrate on it, and enjoy it (such as playing an instrument, baking, playing with your kids, puzzles)


  • Remind yourself that life is a rollercoaster

We cannot expect to feel good all of the time.  This is not a realistic expectation of human life.  We are designed to have an array of emotions for a reason, and as such we have to take the good with the difficult.  We all experience good times and bad times, as this is what it essentially means to be human.  No one is immune to suffering.  Remember that other people often present only what they want others to see.  With these rose-tinted filters, we can assume that ‘everyone is coping so much better than me’.  But the likely reality is that many of us just don’t openly talk about our bad days.


  • Open up and talk about it

This leads me to my next suggestion; talking to people we trust.  This is helpful on a number of levels.  It allows us to release the emotions, to process what may be going on for us, and hopefully feel supported when we are struggling.  By opening up, you are not only helping yourself but you may also be helping others in the process.  As mentioned in the previous point, most people do not open up about their bad days as they don't want to lose face, portray vulnerability, or burden others.  In the simple act of talking about it, you normalise the fact that we all have bad days, and give permission for those around you to talk about their bad days too.  Feeling that we are not alone in our bad days can be so incredibly healing in itself!  If you feel you do not have anyone you can trust to talk to about this stuff, or it is just too big a step for you at this moment in your life, then one alternative is to write about what you are feeling and thinking in a journal.


  • Ask yourself what you need

Try and ask yourself regularly what it is that you need.  It can be such simple things as lying down in a quiet room for a while, moving your body, taking things a bit easier or slowing down, a cuddle with a loved one or pet, some nourishing food, the list goes on.  It doesn’t really matter what it is, but just that you are asking yourself the question of ‘what do I need right now, what would help me’.  I appreciate that this sounds simple enough, but if you have not been used to listening to your body and responding to your needs, this could be quite challenging.  In this case, often you will find that some of your typical self-care practices will no doubt be part of the answer.  Notice however that it is what you need and not necessarily what you want, as those are often two very different things.  For example, I might want a bar of chocolate, but this is not a need.  The need underneath this could be for food due to hunger, could be for comfort, could be a distraction, and so on.


  • Distraction if necessary

Sometimes the emotions we feel on our bad days are just so intense that some of the above strategies may prove to be too difficult.  If this is the case then try to find healthy ways to temporarily distract yourself.  Bear in mind that this is a short-term measure, as regular avoidance of emotion is rarely helpful in the long run.


  • Seek professional help if severe and/or prolonged

I am only talking about ‘bad days’ in this article and not mental health concerns such as depression or chronic anxiety.  If you find that your bad days are far outnumbering your good ones then perhaps it is time to contact your GP or seek out a mental health professional who can offer you further support with this.  There is no shame in this, it takes a brave individual to recognise that they are struggling and to reach out for help.  We cannot do it all on our own.  No matter how independent and proud you are, we all need help and support at some stages in our life.  Don't ever feel that you need to wait until you have hit rock bottom either before you seek help.  Recovery can be quicker when interventions are at an earlier stage.  Even if you have struggled for years, I am a firm believer that there is always hope.


I am pleased to report that my bad day started and ended on Monday.  I hope your bad days pass soon too, and with a little help from some of these pointers, you can be further equipped to deal with them.  This article was inspired by me trying to find a simple inspirational quote.  My dissatisfaction with what I found meant that I decided to write my own instead.  I hope this quote brings light to some of your darker days.



I hope you have found this article useful.  If so, please subscribe to our mailing list to ensure you do not miss any future blogs from Dr Clare Stone.

How to Overcome Your Fear of Making Mistakes and Reach Heights You Never Thought Possible.




One question to ask yourself, and be truly honest with your answer:

Is the fear of making mistakes holding you back?



My experiences with mistakes:
“Oh no, what have I done!  I’ve mucked up.  I can’t believe I did that.  I have made such a big mistake.”

We all know what that feels like, don’t we?  It’s horrible.  I get a sudden jolt in my stomach, a big knot of anxiety takes hold there, and the blood rushes away from my face leaving me feeling shocked and nauseous.  Sounds like an extreme reaction, doesn’t it?  This used to be my exact reaction to making a mistake.  It was a fear-based reaction, as my body would respond as though this were a threat to my very existence.  The idea of making a mistake was terrifying to me on a number of levels.  My profession as a psychologist being one factor that influenced this. Dependent on the mistake which is made, in my field it could literally be a matter of life or death.  I could also lose my job, get sued, or be stripped of my professional title and never be allowed to practice again.  There is a Cognitive Behavioural term for this type of thinking, it is called catastrophising, which means assuming that the worst-case scenario is likely to occur.  Although yes it is possible that this could happen were I to make a mistake so huge, however, there was always very low probability of this.  The fact that it was possible however was always enough to terrify me.

One has to learn how to continue in spite of this fear because allowing it to take hold can simply paralyse its victim and cause such heightened anxiety that it could end up affecting both mental and physical wellbeing.  I may be talking about an extreme example here, but it was not just in my work life that I was scared of making a mistake.  It was in most other seemingly small areas.  For example being afraid of saying the wrong thing to a friend and possibly hurt their feelings, cooking a new dinner and making a mistake with the recipe, or even being a new mother feeling unsure of the best ways to parent my child and terrified I would ‘mess them up' in some way.  Yes, this fear of making mistakes can indeed be far-reaching.  It is also closely married to people who have strong perfectionistic streaks, where making a mistake would be fundamentally unacceptable.


Where does this fear come from:

This can be multifactorial.  It can be modelled to us as children by the people around us, such as parents, other family members, friends, teachers etc.  Children learn many habits and beliefs from the people around them, so if those role models do not tolerate mistakes well, we learn that trait.  Or for example, if we are chastised for getting things wrong, we learn that mistakes are not acceptable.  Perfectionism, competitiveness, being overly concerned about what others think of us, and the desire for success can all contribute to this to some extent.  If you identify with the fear of making mistakes, then the next step for you would be in exploring what your own beliefs are around making mistakes, and whether this helps you or possible holds you back.


Mistakes are bad – aren’t they?

You may be wondering by this stage, so what exactly is the problem here Clare?  Mistakes are bad, it is not nice to make a mistake and it can cause problems when I do get things wrong.  However, I would challenge this very premise by sharing a story of an interaction I had with my 7-year-old daughter recently.

She had moved up to a more advanced level of maths as she was showing talent in this area, but was disheartened that she used to find the ‘old stuff’ so much easier, but the new maths homework was difficult and she was making many mistakes.  This led my child to start believing that she was ‘stupid’ and that she was ‘no good at maths anymore’.   Queue big huffy strop with homework being pushed far across the table.  Now any mature adult with common sense could understand the fact that she was making mistakes was actually a positive sign of growth.  If she did go back to the easier maths, yes she would get it all correct and rarely make any mistakes, but this would be doing her a disservice as she would simply be sticking with what was safe and familiar and not challenging herself.  I would say this is what mistakes mostly are, they are a sign that we are growing and challenging ourselves.

Looking at the huffy and understandably embarrassed child sitting in front of me, I decided to remind her of another situation where she felt the same and overcame it.  She is pretty talented at Taekwondo, and in the past year has earned her yellow belt on the adult syllabus.  She would learn one pattern, perfect it, go up a level, then start back at the beginning learning a new pattern and making lots of mistakes again.  I reminded her of how she felt when she was first learning the 4 directional punch.  We compared it to now and the fact that she could do it in her sleep.  She laughed, which lightened the mood, and reminded her that making mistakes is a part of learning new things and that it does get easier when we persist.  We even joke in our house that “you are making mistakes?  Great!  That means you are learning!”.



How Do I Stop the Fear of Making Mistakes from Holding me Back?

Just do it, to quote the Nike logo!

A book that hugely influenced me when I was younger was the book ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ by Susan Jeffers.  The premise behind this is that the only way to overcome our fear of something is to simply accept that the fear is there, do not let this fear stop us, and just go for it.  It is not about throwing caution to the wind and not caring about making mistakes at all.  Of course, it is always helpful to be aware of where you could go wrong, and plan for this.  Fear is there to warn us about potential danger.  It is then up to us to figure out if this is a real threat which means we should change our direction or just a perceived risk which is actually unlikely.


What if…....it all works out?

It is in our very nature to consider the worst-case scenario, this is instinctual and to do with the way that the human brain is wired.  But have you ever considered what the best-case scenario could be?  Or what is the most realistic outcome?  I want to be clear about one thing here; possibility is completely different from probability.  Often our fear of mistakes is completely out of proportion, as we are not thinking rationally about what the likely probability is of that actually happening.  Just the fact that we perceive it as a risk at all makes us quiver in our boots.

There is a risk of making a mistake and getting knocked down by a car when crossing the road, so does this mean we forever go through our lives avoiding crossing roads?  Of course not!  If I said you could pay £100 to enter a competition to win £1 million, and you have a 1 in 2 chance of winning the million, then I am pretty sure you would pony up the cash.  But if I told you that your chances were 1 in 300 million, I am pretty sure that £100 would stay safe in your bank account.  There is one clear message in this - probability really matters!  We often overestimate the probability of risk because our emotions are involved in this process.  So what we feel the risk is, and what the more realistic probable outcome is can be quite different.


So what if I do make a mistake

It can be helpful to ask yourself, ‘to what extent does it really matter if I make a mistake in this situation'?  Can you survive it, would you be able to possibly fix it, and can you learn something important from it even if it did go wrong?  Another question I find helpful to consider is ‘will this matter to me in a years’ time, 5 years or even 10 years?’  It helps to keep the mistake in perspective.

It is hard however when we repeat mistakes of things we feel we should be able to prevent.  The tendency is to give ourselves a hard time.  Be overly critical and unforgiving.  The reason for this is often that we believe that this will motivate us to be better.  Much like my high school Higher Chemistry teacher who took an ‘old school’ approach to teaching.  He believed that being overly harsh would motivate me to try harder.  On rare occasions that approach works and cultivates an ‘I’ll show you!’ type of response.  The more common reaction was the response I had.  I was lucky to scrape a pass in that class, despite getting top marks in my standard grades for this subject.  This was because I now believed that I was an ‘idiot’ when it came to chemistry and that the teacher just didn’t like me, so why bother trying!  I share this story because this is how we tend to interact with ourselves.  We make the repeated mistakes, respond in a critical way, this evokes negative beliefs in ourselves, impacting our sense of self-efficacy, and ultimately making it more likely we will make further mistakes.  You can break that cycle, and it starts with being more understanding and having a willingness to ask yourself ‘what can I learn from this moving forwards’.


Mistakes are wonderful – time for a paradigm shift

I think we partly have a misconception about making mistakes as being ‘bad’ which is related to our perception of people we idolise as successful.  We see the end product of years of work, dedication, sacrifice, self-doubt, tears, and yes… mistakes.  But all we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg.  We see the person's end destination, but have not necessarily been privy to the journey they have been on to get there.  The most successful entrepreneurs do not succeed in their chosen fields because they got it all correct the first time. Actually, we often find that the opposite is true.  These people are not afraid of making mistakes and will instead treat them as learning opportunities rather than a barrier, and persist.  They also treat failure as an event and not a personality characteristic.  ‘I failed at that’ does not equal ‘I am a failure'.


If you are making mistakes this often means that you are learning, developing and moving onto another level. If you are getting everything right in your life and never making any mistakes then something is very wrong in my opinion!  Firstly I don’t think this is even possible, as to err is simply human! But even if you could go through life not making mistakes, would you really want to?  The only way this would even be possible is if you always stick with what you know, and never learn anything new.  I think the famous quote by Henry Ford demonstrates this well:


 “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” (Henry Ford)


In conclusion, something I have come to learn is that it is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.  Mistakes do not mean failure, they mean growth.  And usually, I have more to lose from holding back and not following my dreams, than going for it and making a mess of things.  The good thing is that mess can be cleaned up.  But I know from experience that the vast majority of the time, things do work out better than you would predict.  So try not to be afraid of your mistakes anymore.  Embrace them, learn from them and carry on.

Are you as connected as you think?

Loneliness and the importance of connection


Funny enough this topic has come up in a number of different contexts for me in the past week.  Clients are speaking about increased feelings of loneliness, I notice it in the people around me in my own life, and to some extent I have been reflecting on my own experiences of loneliness.


What Exactly is Loneliness?

I want to be clear about something before I start on this topic.  Loneliness is not the absence of having people around us, although this can contribute to it.  Far from it.  An individual can be surrounded by people most of their day, and appear on the surface to have a good social network and communication.  BUT feelings of loneliness can still occur despite this.  Why?  It’s simple.  Feeling lonely is not just about being alone; it is the result of not feeling CONNECTED to others.  Connection is not measured by how much you speak to, or spend time with a person, but by the quality of the interaction and engagement with one another.


Don’t get me wrong, loneliness can of course occur from being on your own.  For example I have concerns about people who live on their own, and the elderly in particular in current circumstances.  Never in our recent history have we been told to stay away from each other, don’t hug or kiss, don’t hold hands, and sending the general message that other people could be potentially dangerous due to the possibility of carrying a virus.  The impact of the pandemic and social distancing rules means that people are most likely feeling increasingly isolated.  We can call, or visit from gardens, or doorways, but how is the quality of the connection?  I know I am not alone in saying that it is just not the same.


My observations of Loneliness


If I share a personal perspective on this one.  I have found that if I cannot get the ‘real deal’ of being around people, then I can become avoidant of people in general. When I spend some time reflecting on why this is, I can recognise that it is simply because it hurts not to be able to connect with people in a way that feels so natural and instinctual to me.  I miss it so much.  So the avoidance of being around people temporarily helps avoid this pain in the first place.  It is however a short-term measure.  Although it makes sense, much like most other forms of avoidance, it is unhelpful.  It could even become damaging if left unchecked.


It can also be the case that when we have many competing demands to deal with, or at times when we are struggling, is when we tend to unconsciously block people out.  We convince ourselves that we don’t have the time for social engagements, or we can’t be bothered because we are so tired.  Perhaps you feel the need to hide, even from the people who love and care for you, because it feels safer to close yourself away than risk exposing those parts which are just too raw.  Some of us have historical hurts from exposing our vulnerabilities, so we learn to keep people at a distance during those most difficult times.  The P!nk song comes to mind here ‘Leave me Alone, I’m Lonely’.  Conversely it is at those times that we most need social support.


The Way Forward

So what do we do about all this then?  Well as I said near the beginning of this article, loneliness is not just about feeling alone, but about lack of connection.  I would suggest that the first step is to start reaching out more, and arranging meet ups (even virtual ones) where you can connect to others.  Try and pay attention to how connected you feel, and increase this connection where needed by talking about things which really matter to you, not just the superficial stuff.  Remember you don’t always need to present a ‘got it all together’ image, and learn who you can trust to talk to when you are finding things difficult.

As a family member, colleague or friend you can also consider some points here for spotting someone who is feeling lonely.  It can be exceptionally hard for someone who feels disconnected to reach out, and so having someone in their life who spots this and opens the door for them to share can make all the difference.  When you ask how a friend is doing for example, don’t just accept the initial automatic answer ‘fine’.  Probe a bit deeper, ask follow up questions, show an interest, actively listen to try and understand, and reflect back your empathic understanding of what is going on for them.  You don’t necessarily need to solve their problems for them, or come up with resolutions.   Mostly people just need to feel heard and understood.  We feel more connected when it is perceived that the person talking to us cares, and is genuinely interested in what we have to say.  Even if the person doesn’t feel able to open up at the time, you have at least laid some groundwork for a closer connection.


One last thing ……

When you are spending time with someone, whether it is a partner, family member, colleague, or friend, give them your full undivided attention.  Switch that TV off, put your phone away, minimise distractions.  Yes I know we are all guilty of half watching the TV, or playing with our phones when around others.  But when you solely focus on that other person, this sends a message in that moment that they matter to you, that what they have to say matters to you.  What better and more simple way is there to connect than this!