Why This Government’s Stance On Mental Health Is Nothing More Than Tokenism

Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

Doubtless the Whitehall apparatchiks thought themselves terribly clever when they sold the Prime Minister the notion that using World Mental Health Day to launch the Government’s new mental health would be a brilliant PR coup.

Enter Jackie Doyle-Price, stage political right. A junior minister within the Department of Health, Mrs Doyle-Price is probably more celebrated for her apparently bottomless supply of hairstyles than for any great political achievement in her 8-year Parliamentary career to date.

Yet this week she finds herself paraded before the world as the UK’s dazzling solution to the problem of suicide. Sadly, though, our very first Minister for Suicide Prevention is unlikely to be the last participant in a very grand tradition of political tokenism and bureaucratic grandstanding.

Perhaps the sharpness of Mrs Doyle-Price’s haircuts is matched by her political acumen. She may be terribly good company at dinner parties, a raconteur of some repute over an amuse bouche or two, a selfless benefactor of good causes and a lover of defenceless animals.

What she most assuredly isn’t is the answer to the problem of suicide in your village, town or city.

I have found, over the years, that the sheer scale of the mental health crisis not just here, but across the world, is simply unquantifiable. No adjective yet exists to adequately describe the size of the problem this country faces in its ongoing provision of social and mental care. Choose any word you like – gargantuan, monstrous, enormous, huge, humongous, massive, colossal – and you’ll find it is a mere David to the Goliath that rains continuous blows upon a failing NHS system.

Equally indescribable is the amount of cold hard cash it will take to make even the smallest of dents in that problem.

The total Government annual spend is currently estimated at around £800bn (£772bn, if you want to be slightly more accurate). In the context of the true cost of treating mental health in the UK – as opposed to what the Government currently spends on it – that figure is chickenfeed.

To put it into some context, only a week or so ago the Health Secretary Matt Hancock was all over the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, like a well-cut but somewhat cheap overcoat, shouting about £20bn of new investment for the NHS. Money which, by the way, he intends to spend updating the service’s computers and reducing wait times for appointments.

So, when a junior Government minister is suddenly wheeled, wild-eyed and sporting a new haircut, into the limelight as the answer to all our prayers on suicide, you’ll forgive me when I ask just what Coco and his big-shoed friends in the dusty offices of Whitehall think the scale of the problem actually is.

Because if £20bn only allows one computer to talk to another, it doesn’t take membership of MENSA to work out that we’ll need a boatload more cash than that to even scratch the surface of the mental health issues that cause desperate people to take their own lives.

But I can hear you already. Oh Zoe, you’re saying, don’t be so negative! At least the Government has taken a positive step in the right direction.

Well yes, but only if the limit of one’s ambition stretches only as far as accepting that anything is better than nothing.

And by the way, just how positive is the appointment of a Minister for the Prevention of Suicide, anyway? No one will argue the fact that even one suicide is a tragedy, never mind more – and least of all me. But the fact is that 4,500 people committed suicide last year – and the rate actually falling.

So, it’s tempting, if possibly unfair, to conclude today’s news is a cynical attempt to make hay in the sunshine of World Mental Health Day and invest not very much in fighting a battle that statistics suggest is already being managed.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need to tackle the issue or that we should ignore the underlying causes – and in fact, this article argues for greater Government investment in that endeavour rather than less. But if you want only to further reduce the number of deaths by suicide, give the money to the Samaritans.

Jackie Doyle-Price was paid the thick end of £76,000 last year. The Samaritans could do quite a lot with that sort of money, I’d imagine.

More interesting, perhaps, is the question of why the Government has targeted the suicide rate specifically. It seems so incongruously arbitrary.  Why not a Minister for the Prevention of Alzheimers Disease (850,000 UK sufferers), or depression (6 million), or anxiety (3 million), or eating disorders (1.6 million) or any number of other, serious mental health issues that affect huge tranches of the population on a daily basis?

Surely the Government is missing the point here and ignoring the apparently obvious fact that something has gone terribly wrong long before someone decides to end their own life. If we’re going to prevent someone’s suicide, surely to goodness we need to be intervening much earlier in that individual’s mental decline, don’t we?

We need to raise awareness of the issues that sit behind the needless end of a life: generations of stepped down trauma, childhood trauma and other hidden triggers that lead to mental health issues, anxiety, depression and addiction from which suicide eventually seems the only escape.

Which brings us back to the tricky subject of money. The reality is that this Government and its predecessors of various colours have been either unwilling or unable to invest the necessary cash to support intervention where it’s needed – on trauma awareness, rapid support and ongoing treatment. So, and as usual, it focuses on a sticking plaster solution.

Whichever way you look at it, one can’t help but feel this appointment has come in the backwash of a passing bandwagon, a sop to ease the growing clamour for a plan – any plan – to deal with the mounting social care crisis. Something sporting an interesting haircut and which a beleaguered Government can point to and say, look, we’re really doing something about mental health.

When really it’s doing anything at all.

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, recently quoted a figure of ‘£40bn and counting’ when asked the cost to date of Britain’s painfully drawn-out exit from Europe. Compare that figure to the £215m investment in school mental health support which Theresa May announced this time last year. The Government spent four times that amount just on libraries last year, for pity’s sake!

Are we really to believe that the Jackie Doyle-Price represents an administration which is serious about arresting the parlous decline of mental health in this country? Or should we succumb to the nagging suspicion that her unveiling is redolent of a government which lacks both wit and wisdom and is busy pulling up a chair in the fast-emptying Last Chance Saloon?

There is no easy solution to the mental health crisis and those answers that may be options come at an eyewatering price. We should all be thankful for the myriad free services that do their best to meet growing demand for mental health services. It’s invidious to name some and not others, but whether for addiction, PTSD, trauma, depression, anxiety, the volunteer-led recovery and support programmes that are there to catch people when they fall do more every day to address the issues than a Minister for Suicide Prevention can ever hope to achieve in a lifetime.

And if you’ve made the mistake of interpreting this as a denouncement of Jackie Doyle-Price’s integrity as a politician, it’s absolutely not. The chalice from which she has been encouraged to drink is unquestionably poisoned, but there is no reason to question her intentions.

What is in question is the integrity of a Government that plays fast and loose with such an emotionally raw subject as suicide by stooping to grubby PR stunts with no hope or intention of matching its words with the budget required to be true to them.


Are You Dating From Defecit?

Um...no Picnic

In a shade over six months the UK will no longer be a member of the European Union. Whatever your view of that in principle, the matter of Britain’s membership is a debate that has long since been obsolete. Our love affair with Europe is in its death throes and come next March the political equivalent of a decree absolute will formally be signed by all parties.

Our departure is no longer about the financial terms of the divorce, either. 

Events over the weekend (which largely unfolded in The Daily Mail at the pen of Boris Johnson) and this morning, as it was revealed that at least 80 Conservative MPs will vote against Theresa May’s so-called ‘Chequers’ deal, have ensured that the immediate post-referendum arguments over whether or not the NHS would get another £350m a week are also now entirely moot.

The big question today is whether we will have any sort of formal relationship with the rest of Europe at all. 

And as we career toward the increasingly likely reality of crashing out of Europe without a deal, there is a growing clamour from the cheap seats to suggest the Prime Minister finds herself in the uncomfortable position of trying to broker a new relationship with Europe from a position of total weakness.

There will be a relationship of some sort simply because there must be. Our economy is not built to allow us to be a Bridget Jones-style singleton restricted solely to slightly grubby one-night stands behind a skip with the US or China. We need the love of Europe if only because so much of our economy relies on her.

So, what has all that got to do with love and romance? Well, quite a lot as it happens, because people who are dating from deficit – where one person believes they have nothing to bring to the relationship but requires a lot in return – is something we see a lot.

What this boils down to in effect is that people can see a potential relationship as the be-all and end-all answer for not feeling good about themselves or as a substitute for whatever they think might be missing in their life – and the result is that they begin to outsource their self-esteem, passing responsibility for their emotional wellbeing to someone else. While that may be the easiest option – subconsciously or otherwise – looking after your emotional wellbeing isn’t someone else’s job.

And anyway, your self-esteem is far too precious to entrust to someone else. The start, or even whiff, of a new relationship can be like getting a regular dose of laughing gas. It can numb the pain you feel and can make you feel invincible. For a while. 

But it’s always a temporary respite and given how you value yourself affects your perception of yourself and others, your self-respect and your basic judgement, there’s a highly rational argument to say the last thing you should be doing is making yourself available and, therefore, vulnerable at the very moment you really need all those attributes to be fully functional.

As Natalie Lue, the queen of all things self-esteem, says:  If you can’t date with your self-esteem in tow, wait until you can

Natalie is essential reading for anyone struggling with self-esteem in relationships and has written an incredible blog on the subject. 

In the end, there isn’t actually a short cut to loving ourselves. We see plenty of people in unhappy relationships with themselves and significant others as evidence of this.

When we take shortcuts, we have to accept the fact there will be consequences every time we abandon the loyalty and responsibility we have for our emotional wellbeing. Those consequences manifest themselves in how we feel, how things go and what happens in the future.

Occasionally it’s quite liberating to damn the consequences and not do due diligence during the dating process, but if that becomes the default solution to every situation life throws at you and you’re not ultimately true to who you are and need to be, then eventually the wheels are going to come off in the howl of tearing emotional metal that will leave you broken at the side of life’s busy highway.

As therapists we’re fond of saying that the best relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself. If it sounds like it’s a cliché then that’s probably because it is – in the same way that every truism is, by definition, a cliché. 

But when you understand you’re the only person you can rely on to love you for who you’re meant to be, and then live that reality, you’ll find other people will love you for exactly the same reasons. And if they don’t love you, they’ll certainly respect you for it.

In contrast, when you set out to please others before you satisfy your own emotional needs you’re more likely to find your self-esteem is the doormat on which they start to wipe their feet – even if they want to cross the threshold into an intimate relationship with you in the first place

It may be that you’re sitting there thinking, it’s all very well saying I need to love myself, but I don’t like who I am! If that’s the case, then guess what? You got it – you need to change your belief system so that you can give yourself fully to you.

When you create boundaries for yourself and can see the value in who you are and what you stand for, the sketchy behaviour that defines the way other people treat us and behave around us also changes positively. And the reason’s simple: in the first place, we’re far less likely to put up with rubbish behaviour from others. If we have good boundaries, and if we’re used to feeling good about ourselves, we’ll recognise when the person we are dating does the opposite; but if we’re used to feeling bad about ourselves then being treated badly by someone will feel incredibly familiar.   

You know that anyway, right? Because most of us have had those moments when we discovered the best things arrive when we’re not trying for them. The way we think and feel about ourselves is not only highly visible – it’s also highly infectious. When we have low self-esteem, we’re more likely to tolerate sketchy behaviour. And the reverse is also true.

If we always arrive at a potential relationship with our self-worth in the red, the chances are we’ll only inspire the person on the opposite side of the candlelit dinner to do one of two things: either they’ll call it a day after the first date; or take emotional advantage of us in a relationship that to all intents and purposes looks normal from the outside but on the inside boasts all the attributes you’d normally associate with a snake pit. 

At worst, we’ll end up spending – and wasting – a significant part of our lives with someone who matches who we are, because nothing creates deficit more effectively than unhelpful narratives about ourselves or the opposite sex.

Those narratives are very popular, and they become self-fulfilling and include:

There are no men/women left for you;

All women/men are psychos;

Men only like young women 

All men cheat;

You can’t meet anyone over your own age;

All women are money grabbers / emotionally unstable  

You only ever attract narcissists

You always get hurt 

You’re doomed to be single forever

These limiting beliefs will do a fabulous job of keeping your victim story alive and kicking, give your first dates the tightest screening outside of airport security, fortify your walls like nothing else, and continue attracting all the negative things out there that there are to attract (yes, these negatives definitely exist, but it’s about learning to see the signs and avoid them).

Insistence creates investment. More than that, what we fear we unconsciously attract, what we resist (getting hurt) persists, what we focus on we get more of – and these beliefs either make you feel terrible about yourself or paint the opposite sex as utter monsters – neither of which will bring you the healthy relationship you desire.

When we believe negative things about ourselves we are also much more likely to be subject to what I call scarcity thinking – and then you end up accepting much less then you truly deserve.

If we don’t think we are lovable (remembering that flawed human traits can still very much be lovable) why would we expect anyone else to?   If we can’t ‘live’ with ourselves why would we expect to find someone who can?  

The good news is that no matter how estranged you and your self-esteem have become, your relationship with yourself is always salvageable. It takes work and effort and, often, the support of a professional therapist – but nothing is ever irretrievable.

Relationships are a mirror of our relationship with ourselves so the most worthwhile thing you can do before going out dating is create a really solid foundation of self-love for yourself, which you do by challenging all the outdated toxic harmful beliefs you have about yourself, relationships, love and the opposite sex and changing them to neutral or positive beliefs that support and uphold you. 

If you don’t, you might just find you’re forced to come up with a relationship plan that even you can’t vote for.


The Inconvenient Truth About Quick Fire Therapy

Squashed Food Cheeseburger

Walk into any of the big three fast food restaurants these days and the chances are the emphasis will be on getting you in and out as quickly as possible.

The technology is designed to allow you to order your food, pay for it and then collect it from a collection point when it’s ready.

In possibly the only instance where it was actually ahead of the curve when it came to retail trends, this ‘convenience’ approach to buying was originally pioneered by catalogue store Argos.

On the surface, this ‘hit and run’ approach is a good thing when it comes to the fast food industry because in principle – and the words in principle are the kicker here – it serves both ends of the sale process: you want your food quickly, the restaurant wants to move you on so it can sell its tasty burgers someone else.

And in principle, that should work regardless of what is being traded. A cheap and cheerful piece of furniture from a catalogue, a dress in M&S or trauma therapy from your hypnotherapist.

Except, we’re talking about principle rather than reality and reality and principle are a long way from being the same thing. Especially when it comes to how you treat and manage mental health.

How often, for example, have you walked into a Kentucky Fried McBurger King and your food turns out at best lukewarm and at worst downright cold? Why is that? The answer’s pretty simple: on average Kentucky Fried McBurger King has worked out it sells a certain amount of Tower King MacWhoppers every hour and so, to speed up the process of selling them to you – and to ensure you get your meal as fast as possible so the next person in line gets their Tower King MacWhopper as fast as possible – the food is cooked not to order but to an artificial expectation of what the next person in line is likely to order.

The result? Lots of people get what they ordered at the right temperature, many people get what they ordered at the wrong temperature and some people get something they never ordered in the first place.

Now apply those principles to the world of hypnotherapy and what you get are too many hypontherapists who make it their business to offer a quick fix to whatever ails you.

These are the people who completely dismiss regression therapy as slow and old-fashioned, requiring unnecessary time and – they would argue – heartache in unpicking the past to identify what’s causing the problem today.

It’s the equivalent of walking into a restaurant and having the wine waiter thrust a bottle of Blue Nun at you with the words: “You’ll like this. Everyone does.”

Regression therapy was the first thing I was trained in and many years and many clients later I’m even more convinced than ever that it’s simply impossible to treat complex, multi-layered issues such as abandonment trauma, narcissistic wounding, abuse, neglect, repetition compulsion and severe and complex trauma without first acknowledging the past and the impact it has on the psyche. 

At their very best, superficial techniques will only ever paper over the psychological cracks. Beyond the critical issue of whether the patient or client receives the treatment they actually need, there’s also a question of ethics here.

We live in a world where everyone wants a quick fix to everything and so when someone claims they can heal you in one session, the temptation to sign up immediately is enormous. But I think we have a duty of care that requires us to be brutally honest.

Masking symptoms is not the same as curing or healing and if you want to be a good hypnotherapist with a career that has longevity, you’re going to need to properly learn how to navigate a client through the shark-infested emotional waters of severe and complex trauma.

There is – and always has been – a slew of superficial techniques that are peddled by those looking to make a quick return. It’s the therapy equivalent of a gastric bypass. And for mild conditions and issues like nail biting, mild to moderate phobias and some anxieties, they can be fantastic.

Complex trauma is different.

It’s common to see clients who haven’t acknowledged the underlying trauma which is manifesting as the issue. But it’s the therapist’s job and responsibility to guide them to understand why the issue has manifested as it is.

People are great apologists for how they feel – “Yeah, but there are people out there with much worse childhoods than mine” – but this is a coping mechanism that helps them to avoid acknowledging their own emotions. As therapists we’re there to help them to recognise and deal with their own pain, which is the only route to good mental health. What other people experience is more irrelevant than they could possibly imagine.

By unlocking the emotions that are locked into us at the time of the event, we are able to then deal with their presenting issue.

But if the hypnotherapist involved is uncomfortable talking about the past or sees it as an unnecessary or dirty process, that release simply can’t happen. Worse, it’s tantamount to colluding with the patient in minimising and denying the past and helping to unconsciously reinforce the sense of shame they feel.

That in turn leads to further compartmentalisation – which ultimately is what the client is already presenting with. The result? The client feels temporarily better, but the real issue goes unacknowledged, untreated and, at worst, becomes further entrenched. 

It might be inconvenient to you to have a client who finds it difficult talking about painful things, but the answer is to give them time and build trust. The current, worrying trend of promising to resolve all trauma, regardless of severity, in one session isn’t just a joke, it’s a dangerous and irresponsible joke. 

If you’re in any doubt as to just how insidious this disingenuity has become, how about this: the other day I saw a practice advertising its services with the line Come and have therapy – it’s FUN!

There are great many things in this big wide world of ours that are undoubtedly fun, but whilst therapy doesn’t have to be unpleasant, it certainly isn’t one of them.

Here’s the thing. If you offer therapy-lite sessions, your results will also be lite. Plain and simple. It doesn’t work any other way.

I’ve lost track of the number of therapists boasting on online forums about resolving major trauma issues only to admit, when questioned further, that they had only just finished the first session. The poor client probably hadn’t even got back to their car before their therapist was jumping online to share the ‘good’ news.

The goal for any therapist shouldn’t be speed or the creation of great marketing material, it should be thoroughness. To know the job has been done properly and with the client’s best interests at heart. It should be about a process that’s owned not by the hypnotherapist but by the client. That’s not the stuff of one-session fixes.

I’m bored by hypnotherapists who make it their business to pour scorn on talking therapy and make out their speed-dating equivalent is the only way forward. I’m bored by hypnotherapists who have done a 2-week course and think they’ve earned the right to trash-talk psychotherapy and other really solid therapies when all they really seem to be qualified in is supreme ignorance.

Everywhere I look it’s about speed and an aversion to exploring the past. These people don’t seem to recognise that the subconscious has no concept of time.

Quick hypnosis has its place, but no client I’ve had in 15 years has been concerned about how quickly they are hypnotised. Yet now it’s become a unique and questionable selling point for therapists and some course providers.

Guess what? Regression really works. Inner child work really works. They’re game-changers in a game a lot of the players don’t seem to have the right equipment to play.

Is regression therapy everything?  No, absolutely not – just as the Tower King MacBurger isn’t the only burger. But being prepared to spend the time needed to choose the right therapy will always be the difference between success and failure.

Healing is messy and uncomfortable, which means therapy is messy and uncomfortable and recovery from trauma and addiction is definitely messy and uncomfortable – until it isn’t. Then comes relief and true freedom.

But if you’re uncomfortable dealing with a client’s emotions or hearing about traumatic events, or you get freaked out when a client breaks down and grieves, or you don’t have the time to provide the right care then the chances are that some day, somewhere, someone is going to choke on the Tower King MacBurger you just served them.


The One Thing You Need To Do To Improve Your Life Instantly

Boxing Gloves

Give a man a fish and he’ll feed himself for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll feed himself forever. Or so the saying goes. It’s probably true, but who really knows? Fish can be damned smart. Particularly the ones that have been caught before.

Here’s a saying which I know is absolutely true:

Give someone five minutes with nothing to do but think and they’ll find a way to beat themselves up about something, no matter how small or trivial.

It’s a sentence or thought that starts with the words If only I hadn’t

… said that, done the other, been mean about Rachel’s new hairstyle, bought that dress, maxed out my credit card, asked out the guy/girl in the Costa queue on an irrational impulse, inhaled an entire packet of Hobnobs in a single sitting, been quite so unkind to my mother, jumped to that conclusion about Dawn Smith when we were ten, poked the cat with a stick, got back with her / him for the 30th time, thought bad things about that woman before I knew she had cancer, turned down that job promotion, frittered away my teens … the list is endlessly long.

More than that, it’s unfailingly and ineffably pointless and if I could only follow one spiritual or self-care practice for the rest of my life it would be to never beat myself up about things ever again. Because apart from being a long and pointless process, it’s also a process that is inarguably toxic.

Living in perpetual self-flagellation is like driving through life with the handbrake on.   

But regrets are good, right? It shows I’m human, for God’s sake! That I have empathy and sympathy and humility – all that good stuff that makes people realise I’m not the self-centred narcissist I think I am.

And guilt! Oh, God yes – lots and lots of that. After all, why should the good Catholics have the monopoly on guilt? There’s plenty for everyone – we just need to dwell on stuff awhile and soon enough it’ll engulf us and make us feel … what? Better? More worthy? More human? More deserving?

No. It does none of these things. Self-flagellation – the supreme art of giving yourself a hard time about stuff you can’t change – not only kills your relationship with yourself, it’s the best possible way there is to keep yourself stuck in the horrible decisions and emotions of the past. And that, in turn, keeps you locked into the very thing it is that you want to change.

Your relationship with yourself is the absolute basis of a good life. You’re stuck with being you, so if you’re going to learn to love the person you are, the minimum you need to do is to make peace with yourself.

And if you can’t do that for yourself – and there are a lot of people who can’t – then accept the help of others to help you find that path. It’s all very well me saying you just need to stop doing whatever it is that makes you berate yourself, but if it were that easy you’d probably have stopped already.   However it is important to set the intention no matter how you do it.  

In the end, sometimes we need a bit of a helping hand to see ourselves for who we really are rather than who we think we are. When you’re ready to start down that road, people like me are here to guide and help you.

A happy and fulfilled life comes from being your own best friend and celebrating the good things you represent. The odds are they’ll significantly outweigh the bad things – but we seem to be world masters in obsessing about the imperfections.

So, stop. Have your own back. Be there for yourself because when all’s said and done, you’re the only person out there you can reply on to be that guy or girl.

So why do we behave in such an obviously destructive way, replaying the car crashes of our emotional past with no apparent resolution? The reason is that guilt seeks punishment and the cycle goes something like this: 

1. Feel bad about yourself

2. Binge eat a packet of biscuits, feel terribly guilty about it, swear off them, then beat yourself up harshly.

3. Eat another packet of biscuits in a desperate attempt to feel better after giving yourself the beating

4. Decide the biscuits aren’t working and open a bottle of wine

5. Indulge in a 40-minute compare and despair binge on Instagram

6. Repeat whatever it was that made you feel bad in the first place.

7. Rinse and repeat.

The other thing is that this self-torture is more effective at chewing up your life-force, vitality and self-worth than a year on crystal meth. So, if that’s the vibe you’re going for, jog on. But if, like most of us, it’s absolutely not how you want to spend your life, then it’s imperative to make a deal with yourself to find a way to stop doing it.

As Jeff Brown so beautifully puts it, when dealing with your issues:  eat your stuff, or it will eat you.    

Stopping beating yourself up is the one thing that will improve the quality of your life instantly. As in this very second. And, quite unlike crystal meth, it’s free. The high of liking or even loving who you are is better, too.    

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t all look for self-improvement, success and growth – that’s an essential part of the human experience. And it’s not realistic or even desirable to stop wanting more from your life, because that’s also part of the human condition.

But beating yourself up for where you are just because you’re not yet in the place you want to be will keep you exactly where you are. Because the other truth about self-flagellation is that what we resist persists.

Telling ourselves we’re somehow wrong, deficient, ‘less than’ or defective because we aren’t where someone else has reached is the most powerful thing we can do to shame ourselves and keep us stuck exactly where we are.

Yes, we need to be true to our own values and standards and it’s right and healthy to want to be better at those things and to want not to repeat some of our mistakes – just as long as we’re not punishing ourselves when we fall short.

If you have experienced trauma in childhood, however large or small, the negative inner critic – aka The Superego – will be especially prevalent in your life. The role of the superego is to protect you, but the way it executes that task can feel especially malevolent at times. It’s the voice of fear and, as I often explain to my clients, fear is the strongest emotion we can experience.

The problem is it can often get translated as truth and I’ve found through my own work with clients that the white noise of persistent self-criticism diminishes once trauma and inner child work has been performed.

If our friends behaved like our superego, they wouldn’t be friends for long. Yet many of us tolerate this constant belittling of ourselves without complaint. Why would we treat ourselves in ways we would never tolerate from someone else? The answer is almost certainly that we’ve been listening to what a friend describes as the committee in the head for so long that we think what it has to say must be true.

But it’s possible to say not today thanks and take a different path that starves the superego of its power over us. If you cannot do that consciously, then do the therapy work to negotiate with it and it will set you free in a way you could never imagine.   

When you point blank refuse to beat yourself up really wonderful things start to happen. You naturally set better boundaries; you allow yourself to do more things and you get more done; you feel bolder and freer and you care much, much less about what others might be thinking of you. 

More than that, it also ‘unsticks’ you, so whatever you are stuck in – bad job, bad relationship, weight you can’t lose, habits you can’t shake – you can begin to wriggle free from.

Living a life that’s the stuff of a Kafkaesque doom narrative is no fun, but liberating yourself by not beating yourself up allows you to live in reality much more comfortably and means you are more grounded and less likely to go off on those oftentime disastrous flights of fantasy.    

There are a trillion goals we can have and so many things we can look at in ourselves and want to improve, but the reality is that you only need one goal to transform your life in the most radical and remarkable way possible: to be really, really comfortable in your own skin.   

Being the person who is really, truly, wonderfully okay with all of who they are is hands down the most magnetic and attractive quality in the world.

Let me put it a different way. If beating yourself up is like driving through life with the handbrake on, choosing to like who you are is the sheer joy of releasing it and putting your foot down. And after everything that’s gone before, isn’t it about time you floored your life?


It’s Not About Belief, It’s About Willingness

Jeopardy

We hear a lot about self-belief in relation to ambition and achievement these days, don’t we? It’s almost as if willing ourselves to succeed is the only ingredient we need to not just reach for the stars but also grab and keep them.

This is especially true when it comes to business. There isn’t an entrepreneur alive who hasn’t either read or been told at some stage that all he or she needs to do is believe in themselves.

If only it were that simple, right?

A healthy dose of self-belief and rhino-thick hide certainly go a long way to helping people achieve their goals, whether in business or in life.

If you started a healthy eating programme believing you were never going to succeed, you’d simply order in another pizza and veg out on the sofa. If you didn’t believe you could pass your driving test, you’d simply shrug resignedly and renew your Oyster card.

If you didn’t believe you could set up and run your own successful business, you’d settle for the job you were in or be scattering copies of your CV like seed in the wind.

Self-belief is an important trait when it comes to business, but to my mind, having been in this crazy game for a decade and a half, it’s not the most important quality when it comes to being successful.

That accolade goes to willingness.

If you really want to be successful in business – and let’s not forget that success has many definitions; it’s not quite all about the money – then you have to be willing to put yourself through situations and experiences that you would otherwise instinctively avoid.

First off, you need to be willing to feel really uncomfortable. Just like life sometimes teaches us harsh lessons, business will also make you face up to your own ignorance. You’ll have new things to learn that are far outside your comfort zone and you’ll be embarking on a journey littered with mistakes, many of them financially or emotionally expensive.

Building a business requires investment and not everything you put your money into will return a profit, so you’ll need to be willing accept that you may waste money in trying to find the key that unlocks future growth. When you find it, the chances are it will cover your losses.

Behind every success is a failure of some description or other. Often these missteps are the inspiration for the success that follows, so being willing to fail is, to some degree at least, part of the preparation for success.

It’s about being willing to say yes. Saying no is easy and it’s safe. Saying yes when you want to say no is where innovation and entrepreneurialism live. It’s uncomfortable and leads to angst, but sanity lies in calculating the risks and mitigating failure.

Sometimes you just need to do it. There will be times as a business owner when you’ll need to get something done quickly but don’t know exactly how to do it. Be willing to be imperfect – it doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty, sometimes it just has to be in order to move forward.

And being willing to do things clumsily means you have to be prepared to do that age-old thing of imitating a duck. Act as if you know exactly what you’re doing above the surface – and then paddle like billy-oh under the waterline.

Being successful in anything requires tenacity and whilst there’s definitely value in knowing when the horse you’re flogging has expired, until then be ready to keep going because you’ll never know when being the last man standing means you’ll discover something your competitors gave up on too early.

There are few of us who like conflict or confrontation, but the simple truth of being in business is that you absolutely have to be willing to have difficult conversations, occasionally with people who you like and respect.   Setting boundaries is essential, the alternative:   being a people-pleasing businesswoman / man is a disaster if not already happening, then waiting-to-happen.   I’ve been down that painful road & you end up seriously depleted of the three essential resources for business:  time, money & energy.    

At the end of the day, you need to safeguard the financial and emotional investment you’ve made and if that means you have to tell someone when you’re not happy, then so be it.

Staying under the radar is all well and good, but if it means losing money or, at an extreme, losing your livelihood, then it’s not an option.

Good businesses constantly review and evaluate their activity and processes and it’s a good habit to have – but you have to be willing to listen to opinions you might not like. Limiting your evaluation to the views of people who love you and love what you do won’t help you to build a better business, it’ll only help you to feel temporarily smug.

Confirmation bias – when you look to prove your own prejudice – kills business every day, even the big ones. If you want proof, you need only look at the collapse of Monarch Airlines last year to find an example of a company that became complacent in a bubble of false awareness.

And running a business is personal. At the hardest of times, you must be willing to carry on showing up, to risk the fact you may look like an idiot, to make your personal experience part of your brand story, to leave your vanity and pride at the door – and then to not take anything personally when some things don’t work out quite as you expected.

Your business is – or should be – aligned with your personal beliefs and values. It’s what makes you stand out and you have to be ready to work at that, too.

You don’t need to understand business to be in business, but you do have to be willing to learn on the job & understand that the road is likely to be tough and challenging and, at times exhausting – but like most things in life, what is hard won is often the most treasured, so saddle up & go on the journey anyway.


This White House Legacy Will Be Felt For Generations. And Not In A Good Way

Shutterstock 1034329486

There are times – many times, in fact – when the current Presidency of the United States feels like a practical joke that has gone spectacularly and tragically wrong.

How we all laughed when he started his run for the White House. How we snickered at the impudence of it all. How we guffawed when he talked about the ‘big, beautiful wall’ he was going to build between the US and Mexico, not realising the punchline was still to come: Mexico would be made to pay for it!

We branded him a clown. But a man in greasepaint driving a small car in circles until the doors fall off is actually funny (unless you suffer from coulrophobia). Watching the doors fall off the supercharged Buick 8 that is the most powerful country in the world has been a long way from funny.

There have been times when watching the leader of the Free World has been akin to being in the audience the night Tommy Cooper collapsed during the Royal Variety Show and everyone thought it was hilarious. Until we all realised it wasn’t and that it was too late to save him.

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Why Pretending Is Bad For Your Health

Woman's Head Replaced By A Black Balloon

Last week, TalkRadio presenter and former contestant on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Iain Lee published a blog which laid bare his struggles with his mental health.

Reading it is a deeply uncomfortable, moving and raw emotional experience and if, like many, you’re someone who is disinclined to have sympathy for well-paid celebrities who seem to have it all, I can’t suggest strongly enough that you take some time to read it.

It will teach you more about what it’s like to live with depression and low-self-esteem than you can possibly imagine.

Iain Lee often polarises opinion. He can be outspoken and provocative. His views and opinions can sometimes appear obnoxious or ignorant. But, like so many of us and as those of us who watched his journey through the jungle last autumn saw for ourselves, at heart he just wants to be liked and loved.

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On Peanut Butter & Other Phobias

Peanut Butter Jar And Knife Holding Some Of It

Last week I mailed a jar of peanut butter to Steve Wright, the Radio 2 presenter.

Ordinarily, I’m not in the habit of emailing foodstuffs to famous people because I worry they’ll interpret it as the sort of character trait associated with a person who might later need to be the subject of a restraining order.

But in this case, the planets aligned, the fates conspired, and a peanut butter opportunity strode up the path to the door of my London clinic and knocked loudly upon it.

And why? Because the lovely Steve Wright just happened to mention the word arachibutyrophobia during one of his Factoid links. For those of you who don’t know what arachibutyrophobia is (and why would you, unless you suffer from it?), it’s the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.

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We Need To Sculpt A Better Education System

Computer Lesson At School

Ask anyone with even the most limited appreciation of the arts to name ten of the most famous sculptures in history and the chances are that Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker would probably be having a fist fight with Michaelangelo’s David to be at the top of the list.

Rodin’s work, created in the late Nineteenth Century and first cast at the turn of the Twentieth, now resides at the Musee Rodin in Paris.

I mention this not because I have any specific interest in the work of Heroic Avant-Garde sculptors (don’t worry, I Googled that), but because I have a question.

In the process of creating a masterpiece, which element contributes most to the finished work? The clay or other medium (get me with my art words)? Or the artist who sculpts it?

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The Sickening Truth About Secrets

George Michael (1)

Over the last few days, former Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell has suggested that George Michael may have been tortured by a childhood secret that proved to be both the singer’s inspiration and his curse.

Michael was, of course, a global superstar, recognised as one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation. A string of bubblegum hits in the Eighties with Wham! made him the bedroom-wall-pin-up for teen girls – and some teen boys – around the world.

And as he outgrew the sockless deck shoes and coiffured highlights and forged a more contemporary image rendered in brooding charcoal and black and punctuated by goatees and designer shades, his songwriting became similarly substantial, its themes darker and more complex.

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.