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Are you boxing yourself in?

I have spent most of my life, fighting my way out of boxes.

Most of the time, other people boxed me in, with the certainty of science and plenty of experience behind their thinking. They told me with clarity and conviction that I belonged in this box and that being in would dictate the limitations to my abilities.

I knew they were wrong, of course. I knew they had spent their lives living according to the boxes they’d also been put into by others. What did strike me as odd, on occasion, was how these highly qualified and respected people who could change and even save the lives of others, were happy to accept the box existed and, even more surprisingly that they belonged in it.

There never was a box.

It can feel easy and safe to put things in boxes, to label them and say things like ‘we’ve always done it like this’ or ‘everyone with this condition will behave this way and have these outcomes’. The thing is, it just isn’t true. These boxes are, more often than not, actually a way of putting aside something we don’t know how to deal with, or wish to pretend isn’t real.

It is far easier to tell someone ‘this is how it’s always been’ than to listen when they challenge the status-quo or show different results than you’re used to. If they don’t fit the mould you have, then how are you supposed to work through the problem?

And as we are bombarded by the boxes, from when we first start school and we’re put into boxes like ‘challenged’ or ‘disruptive’ or ‘prodigy’, we start to own them and become what is expected of everyone in the box. We take on the characteristics we’ve been told are part of who we are – simply because we’ve been told that’s what it means to live in this box. We start to box ourselves in.

When I was told, often with a total lack of empathy or compassion, about the more alarming parts of my health issues, I knew I had to break out of the boxes before I started to believe them to be my place.

When I was in my early twenties, I went to a ‘support group’ meeting for people with my genetic condition. I hoped to meet like-minded people of my age who had overcome the challenges I was facing and who might have words of encouragement and hope. The meeting was full of people who had decided this was their place, who had lost all hope of challenging the anticipated path for us and had become accepting of the outcomes their medical professionals predicted when they put them in the box.

It was a game-changing moment for me. I knew I could never go to another meeting like that, and I knew I had to decide that day, this was not going to be my future. I was not going to be sat in agony, covered in braces and having constant surgery. This was not my box. I had to find medical professionals who didn’t want to box me in, or tell me that I could never break out.

Which box have you become comfortable in? Which box could you do with breaking out of? It will feel scary and exciting in equal measure and, at times, you’ll hear yourself saying all the things that you say to stay in the nice, safe box. That’s okay. That’s what we all hear, every time we challenge behaviours or habits.

It takes time and practice and often, when you really believe that you’ve broken free, you realise you’re climbing back in and looking for a dark corner o feel safe. That’s okay too. It passes. It takes time to break down boxes that we’ve been building for years.

When it feels overwhelming, I remind myself; there never was a box. It was all in my imagination, or the text books that my doctors read, the lessons my teachers taught us and the language in my own head.

Dinah

One Size is never, ever, going to fit all

I remember the total sense of self-loathing, mixed with a sad if slightly sneery ‘I told you so’ that swirled round my head as the sleeve ripped as I pulled it over my head. I was stuck completely now, unable to pull the top off without ripping it the rest of the way down. I would have to buy it; I would have to buy this ‘One Size Fits ALL’ bright pink top that proclaimed, in all its fuchsia glory “Well, all except YOU”.

 

I was 29 years old and in a store in New York. I felt so disgusted with myself that I spent the next five (or more) years wearing black, eating in secret and constantly reminding myself that I was not one of the ‘all’. It took many years to get past that language of self-hate and the message that I’d seen was ‘you are not as you should be. You are different – but not in a good way.’

 

Now in my fifties, I often remind myself of the years of conversations I had on this topic with friends and the energy it consumed in us all.  And it wasn’t just about size.  We seem to live in a society where we are all put in boxes that have been built based on the concept of ‘one size fits all’ from education to healthcare, from parenting to sexuality, if you don’t find your place in these boxes, the message is that you are the odd one out. One Size Fits All – except YOU.

 

I have always been very aware of language and the impact it has on our mind-set.  I knew that working with my ‘Heart Failure Nurse’ was never going to be an option for me, and that’s why I worked hard to get her name badge changed to ‘Heart Specialist Nurse’.  One Size Fits All, is language that is created for a label, without thought for human vulnerabilities.

 

I wonder how many times we’ve applied the ‘one size fits all’ approach to people without thinking about it; I think the word ‘should’ does this for us and we apply it to others and ourselves daily. ‘I should have done that by now’ or ‘I should be over this by now’ or ‘she should understand how I feel’ are all words I’ve heard often and used myself.

 

‘Should’ is one of those words that rarely encourages positives, it tends to be a stick we beat ourselves with rather than a way of supporting positive change or behaviour. And what ‘should’ is really saying is ‘one size fits all except you’.  The next time you’re tempted to tell yourself you ‘should’ be something, ask yourself ‘according to whom?’ You might find the answer enlightening.

 

I hope this thinking is useful for you and that you can start celebrating not being in the ‘one size fits all’ box, but instead being the perfectly-imperfect you that you are.

 

Dinah x

 

 

 

Not everyone’s comfortable with PDAs (Public Displays of Accountability)

When a client I was working with a few years ago told me he was finally ready to start writing the book he’d been talking about writing for almost 20 years, I suggested he make a Public Display of Accountability (PDA) to give him an incentive to stick with his commitment.  I suggested that by telling his peers of his plans he would achieve several things to support him on this journey; his supporters would encourage him and congratulate him for each milestone reached, his inner voice would tell him that he had to do it now because he’d look like a quitter if he didn’t and his potential publisher and readers might see his plans and he’d be marketing the book before he’d even written it.

 

I am pleased to report that this approach worked well for him and his book was written in less than four months and published within twelve. The fact that he’d never put accountability in place before was a key reason he’d never taken action and by not taking action he told his own self-belief (of lack of it) that he was failing to write his book for yet another year and this was proof of his continuing failure to take action. Writing the book has allowed him to discard this un-helpful pattern and create a new, positive habit with accountability built in as a key support mechanism.

 

It can feel uncomfortable when we decide to share an idea and our intentions around it, even with people we trust. Often, there is a historical situation in which we were rejected, either on a personal level, or in a work situation that felt like it was about something we were lacking (whether that was experience or talent, it will have knocked our  confidence) and so the very suggestion that telling people what we are planning can feel fraught with danger and we’ll come up with a thousand and one reasons to talk ourselves out of it. And of course the result is we don’t take action.

 

I look at PDAs as a commitment to myself and to the belief that the idea or project is worth the effort. The commitment to myself is to give the idea / goal / product (this can be anything from running a marathon to launching a blog to building a house)  its best possible chance of success; I know that I stick to a plan better when I am sharing the steps along the path with others, so by putting this accountability in place I am more likely to dedicate the time and energy required.

I also see PDAs as a way to see how people react to my intention; if nobody is interested in my blog about chocolate (seriously, could that happen?) then I may decide to do some market research to identify whether it’s my message or my demographic that needs re-thinking. Being public about my idea, my progress and even my challenges and failures along the way, will all help me connect with my potential audience, and create a loyal support base who I can turn to for honest feedback.

 

And by the way, yes, I do know that these Public Displays of Accountability can come back to haunt people. I believe however, that if your intentions are good and you find part way through that you’re going down the wrong path, it’s okay to say ‘this commitment is changing. I discovered this wasn’t the right choice / goal / project / company for me.  The great thing is, if you’ve taken people on the journey of this discovery, you’ll now find you have indeed got people around you who are ready to offer help, support, opinions (some may be hard to hear) and most of all, their time – for you.

 

What have you been promising yourself you’ll start for a long time that a PDA could help you get done?  I’d love to be one of your supporters if you’ll share your journey.

 

Dinah

Make changes, not Resolutions

I have never been a fan of New Year’s Resolutions; it strikes me that January is about the worst time (especially in the Northern Hemisphere) to start committing to enormous goals and making sweeping promises about our consumption, or denial of, certain pleasures from alcohol to sleep.  It is cold, dark and miserable for a large part of the time and this is not a great way to motivate yourself,  indeed the simple lack of Vitamin D we suffer at this time of year has a significant enough impact on mood to almost guarantee challenges.

In addition, I have a sense that Resolutions are not for the long term.  They are announced to our small community of friends and colleagues, often on Social Media, with much sincerity and complete belief that we are going to do “it” this time.  Who are we making these announcements for?  Who are we trying to convince that this year, this time, we really do mean it and really will do all the things we didn’t bother to finish the last time we set this challenge for ourselves.  Some kind of self-punishing cycle we perpetuate year after year that, often, results in little being achieved other than a confirmation that “I never finish anything” or “I am a quitter”.

When I work with clients who feel trapped in this cycle, we look at things with a view to making change; change that is a long-term commitment to doing something in a way they have not been doing them consistently until now.  Perhaps you’ve experienced that initial feeling of belief and commitment that comes with the new year, and set yourself the challenge to change a pattern in your life that has become a habit with a negative impact for you.  It can feel overwhelming, so here are my top tips on making real, lasting change without running out of steam before it has a chance to make the impact you want:

  1. Set yourself up to succeed, not to fail.  The easiest way to make change difficult is to make the goal so vast that you believe it is beyond reach;  don’t get carried away by other’s stories of success or the “amazing” results promised by programmes or courses.  Set your own, realistic and small targets that allow you to celebrate lots of small successful steps towards constant change.
  2. Change one thing at a time.  Yes, there is time.  No, you will not achieve more if you change everything that is wrong at the same time.  Small, single and repeated change makes you stronger and more able to make the next change, and the next…..
  3. Wipe the slate clean; every day. And then wipe it clean again.  When we constantly hold ourselves up to measure against what we used to do, or what others do, we are focussing on things that we have no control over.  If you had a bad day yesterday, wipe it out.  You can no longer change yesterday.  We can certainly learn from our past, but when you start to use the past to create excuses to  block your own success, it is time to wipe it clean and start with a positive mindset.
  4. Surround yourself with your “why”.  Lots of Coaches and Mentors will help clients find their true motivation, the reason they do what they do, the real “why”.  And often, once we’ve identified what we’re doing it for, we forget to focus on this.  When the hours we’re putting in seem crazy, or we’ve got another weekend scheduled, it’s helpful to have photos, written goals and successes on view, where we can reconnect with our motivation and let go of the resentment that can undermine our success.
  5. Create accountability.  This is where we often go to Social Media and “announce” a goal we’re setting.  Great idea to share, as this creates accountability.  However, I would advise caution here; sharing with a wide audience, who may not understand your personal motivation for change, can be the quickest road to being talked-out of change.  Perhaps wiser, as a first step at least, is to share with a person (or people) who you know will help and encourage you and understand how important the change is for you.  Ask them to help you stick with your goal for change, especially when you ask them to stop!

Making change that lasts is never a straightforward process; there will be twists along the way you could not control or predict, and your ability to see these are bends in the road instead of an excuse to give up, is what makes the most impact on lasting change.  I have changed my entire lifestyle to accommodate changes to my health and every day, in some small way, I have to adapt what I thought I had now got :the way I want it:.  Be open to the possibility that some of the twists and turns, and challenges, might also be opportunities to see a different option; change is flexible and a work-in-progress.

What changes are you most proud of from the last five years?  Think about how you achieved them and what your motivations were behind them.

Have a great day

Dinah

My body and me, a love/hate relationship

my body’s been through a tough time. It’s lived with ehlers danlos syndrome all it’s life, causing dislocations in every joint from hips to fingers, tears in skin from the bottoms of feet to gums, pain from ankles to neck and complications including a ruptured womb and recurrently dislocating neck. In recent years, it’s also had Chronic heart disease, angina, POTs, vascular degeneration, Pomphyx eczema and Raynards disease to add to the daily challenges. You could say it’s been through the mill. You could say it’s amazing, strong, determined and remarkable.

you could also say it’s a huge disappointment; imagine being given something to travel through life in only to discover it’s broken, over and over again.  Imagine wanting to do so many things with your life only to discover that you have to stop half way through and acknowledge, “I won’t be physically able to do that.”  Think about the frustration of spending a large proportion of your daily life asking people to do things for you that should be simple, like putting on shoes, brushing your hair, lifting your baking out of the oven. After a while, you’d be incredibly strong if you didn’t stop doing some things simply because you’re tired of asking for help.

My body is also curvy and ‘larger than life’; I think the last time I fit into a size 12, I was about 12 years old! The fact that I have large hips, curves and wobbly bits and a fairly impressive bust, are the very things that attracted my husband to me when we first met, back in our teens. He has a true love of my body to this day; he appreciates everything about it that makes it, in his words, “voluptuous-yummyness”;  “I want to cuddle someone soft, not take an eye out” he assures me when I comment that I should probably work on my core.

And there’s my dilemma. In a society where our bodies are meant to conform to a certain size, shape and proportion, my remarkable body doesn’t fit. It’s curvy and wobbly, I have large hips and as once described in Bridget Jones, I have a bottom you could “rest your pint on and park your bike in”!  (That always makes me chuckle).

How am I meant to love my body when I’m bombarded with the constant message that ‘fat’ is evil, an indication that I live a lazy life, eat too much, have no self-control? How can I be in awe of this amazing, tough, miraculous body, that has got me through so much, achieved it’s own miracles by walking and surviving everything my illnesses have thrown at it. How can I be proud and celebrate when all the messages tell me I should feel shame?

So, I find myself skipping over pages in magazines that show stick-thin, under-fed models, I ignore the adverts for weight loss clubs where you’re made to feel guilt at a whole new level and I listen to my husband; well, in truth, I’m still learning to listen, it’s an effort some days more than others. I’ve reached the point where I know it is true for him when he tells me I’m gorgeous and sexy, and that’s good enough for now. Me? I’m learning to believe it, learning that I can love my body. It doesn’t have to be a love-hate relationship.

how are you getting on in your relationship with your body? Have you got any tips that helped you?

dinah x