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.


Have We Forgotten How To Be Cool?

Have We Forgotten How To Be Cool?

Have we forgotten how to be cool?  And no, I’m not talking about being able to wear a beard, an ear stud and a mandigan all at the same time without appearing to be the unsuspecting victim of some sort of haute couture drive-by shooting.

I’m talking about the ability to hide razor-sharp elbows behind a winning smile and effortless charm and appear sufficiently interested to be engaging, yet aloof enough to not be threatening.

Think Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Cooler King cool.

The reason I’m banging on about this comes hot on the heels of a conversation with a good friend of mine after we’d both been on the receiving end of a particularly brutal hard-sell.  

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What’s Your Definition Of Power?

What's Your Definition Of Power?

Power is often a misrepresented word. A powerful person is usually defined as someone with money and status who can exert his will and control over others; considered smart, strong, lucky and perhaps more than a little ruthless.

But you can think of Power in two ways: Positional Power & Personal Power.

Positional Power is the authority you wield by virtue of position in an organisation’s structure and hierarchy.

This notion of power is more about what you ‘do’ rather than who you ‘are’. And it’s much more about your perceived power over others than the power you have over yourself.

Personally I’m much more interested in the concept of ‘Personal Power’, which I consider as power over yourself, your actions, your thoughts and your responses.

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Do You Want To Be More Magnetic?

Do You Want To Be More Magnetic?

Magnetism; that tangible yet often indefinable something that certain people possess.

They may not be the best looking person in the room nor the most powerful, rich or influential but there is just a certain something about this person that is especially engaging.

Think about the most magnetic person you know. Our guess is they’re charming, interesting and they make you feel special; wouldn’t we all want to be perceived that way?

So how then do we become more magnetic?

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If You Can’t Ace It, Face It

If You Can't Ace It, Face It

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be ace-ing all areas of your life?   What would that look like?   What would it feel like?   Most importantly, does it seem possible to you?

I write this because of the enormous amount of conversations I’ve had over the years: many people making statements along the lines of ‘I always have great friendships but I really struggle with romantic relationships, I’m just not meant to meet someone’, or ‘I’d love to move forward with my career but I don’t have what it takes to get up and present to a room’ or ‘I’m awful with money, I’m not the sort of person that is any good at business, I can’t ask for it’   These sort of statements are often delivered as ‘facts’, there is a certain resignation that this is ‘just how things are’.   These statements are extremely limiting to personal growth and expansion.   Said enough times, with enough conviction they become self-fulfilling prophecies, a belief after all is simply a chronic thought.   These kind of statements are the antithesis of magnetic, indeed they are repellent to you attracting your hearts desires.

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It’s Alright For Them……

It's Alright For Them......

“It’s alright for them”.

How many times have you thought that? Whilst resentfully side-eying someone’s career / body / relationship / financial situation / life?

More importantly how’s that working out for you?

The truth is whenever you compare yourself to anyone you are doing yourself a massive disservice as well as making an enormous assumption on his or her behalf.

The truth is, unless we know them intimately, we just don’t know what battles other people are fighting, no matter how glorious and glossy their lives appear from the outside.

I’m not saying, however, that envy is devoid of any usefulness, in fact envy can be an excellent window into desire and an opportunity to think ‘that’s inspiring, how could I inject more of that freedom / success / joy / love into my world?’ What I do hold contention with, however, is when envy is regularly presented as internal evidence that because they have what you want, you can’t have it too.

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Whatever The Mind Can Conceive, The Mind Can Achieve

Whatever The Mind Can Conceive, The Mind Can Achieve

“Whatever the Mind Can Conceive, it Can Achieve.” Napoleon Hill

This is a wonderful quote, and one that might ring true for some and not others. Many of us may want to believe that we can achieve our dreams, but after years of concerted effort could well be airing on the side of despondency, frustration and disappointment. We all have dreams, often big dreams, but may feel deep inside that we don’t have what it takes to reach them, that we lack that magic ingredient that successful people have naturally cultivated.

How many of us have been taught in our younger years to dream big, to go for what we want, to fulfill our deepest desires? Not many. Some of us may have been fortunate enough to have very positive parents, but sadly most of us didn’t, for some this has created more of a legacy, than a life. This is not to caste blame, merely to recognize that our parents were doing the best they could, with what they had been taught. How could it be otherwise? However, that awareness didn’t stop us internalizing everything we experienced at a subconscious level, every word, abusive action, and put down. But the most devastating outcome was that as our mind soaked up all the negativity, this is what ultimately determined our level of self esteem, self worth and self belief. We became a product of our past, now merely existing in this present moment rather than living to the fullness of our true potential. From this place of existing, trying to create a happier and more abundant future will prove very challenging, if not impossible. As Einstein said “The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.” Using our conscious mind to move forward in life, as we hold deep seated negative self beliefs, is like having your foot pressed firmly on the accelerator of a fast car and the other one on the brake at the same time. Yes, we may have big dreams, but our past experiences will directly determine if we believe in ourselves enough to actually achieve them. In reality, all that really stands between us and our dreams, is us. It has nothing to do with intelligence, education or talent. There are hundreds of inspiring stories of people achieving incredible success in spite of immense odds, simply because they believed they could do it, they were determined and steadfast and refused to let anyone ‘steal their dream.’ They utilised the power of their minds, rather than let their mind and beliefs run their lives by default.

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How To Reclaim Your Confidence

How To Reclaim Your Confidence

Most of us desire to be more confident in a certain area or areas of our lives. Many clients that walk into Zoë Clews & Associates, looking for freedom and resolution from their problems in life, are confident in some areas but lack it in others: they may be confident in relationships but will do anything they can to wriggle out of public speaking, or they may find it relatively easy to excel at work but are riddled with self doubt when it comes to intimate relationships. Saying that, we also see clients who are lacking confidence in all areas and that’s when life really does get pretty painful.

Because self confidence is such a natural and basic resource, lack of self confidence is often one of the reasons for lots of other presenting problems and difficulties, therefore when I see clients for phobias, weight loss, anxiety etc I will often start by working with their confidence.

Confidence is not only essential in life in helping you survive and manage daily challenges, but it also means you’ll have a better relationship with yourself. Life is considerably easier if you like and accept yourself. Let’s face it we’re pretty much stuck with ourselves so we may as well learn to be our own best friend…and you’d want a best friend that championed you right?

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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.