In the last blog I looked at how you can change your beliefs to help you. That’s all well and good, but if you’re a regular human like me, then no matter how much you pay attention to your stories, language and words, there are times when you just get into a ‘dip’ that feels hard to shake. A general feeling of anxiety, fear, weakness, of not being good enough, or of not having the capability, washes over like a wave rather then any single identifiable ripple of a thought. This is you at your most vulnerable.
From this vulnerable place it’s often hard to be positive, or proactive, or to use good habits we may normally use to train our brains. However, this place of vulnerability is a perfect time to learn and to adapt or adopt some things to help us develop resilience and come back stronger than before. Here a few simple strategies that may help…
(1) Watch the storm pass through…
Over the years, many people have asked me how long it took for me to recover from the mental and emotional shock of becoming paralysed. I have no clear answer to that, as it was a grieving process and therefore hard to define an end point. However, my ‘aha’ moment in the process was the day that I learned to observerather than bemy emotions. Instead of getting all wrapped up in the drama of what I was feeling, or re-playing stories or ideas about why, I started to just notice the feelings and emotions I was experiencing. Like watching the spectacle of a storm from a warm, dry place, I observed the bad weather roll in and out, knowing that it would pass and the sun would return.
Whenever I have a hard time now, I remind myself to watch the storm, and know that it will pass. Amongst the clouds and in the vortex of negative emotions, we can choose not to wallow and fall into helplessness, but instead to accept where we are, and give ourselves some time and patience to positively affect change.
(2) Seek other ways to induce a change…
Instead of feeling victim, I seek ways to change. But how? Earlier in the series I mentioned noticing your stories, thoughts and words so that you can change them to more positive versions: doing this changes the chemicals and hormones released into our body, thus improving our feelings and emotions. However, there are some practical physical things we can do to help shift our state and take us from vulnerability quicker than we might otherwise. These are an accumulation of my own experiences, and ideas of Paul Chek*, a leader in personal success and of Dr Chaterjee’s four pillars of wellbeing**.
- ‘Dr Quiet’: Perhaps you have overdone things in some way, or your body is in a state of stress. Managing our energy is important so that our body can repair. If this is the case, seek to say no to things, take time out, and create ways to get more relaxation and self-time.
- ‘Dr Diet’: You may have been eating badly, not enough, or too much! Food and drink dramatically affect our energy levels and biochemical reality, which in turn affects how we feel. This can tip us to a more vulnerable place. No matter what, a healthy, wholesome, moderate diet in quantities that are right for you, along with drinking plenty of water can help make us feel a whole lot better, faster.
- ‘Dr Movement’: Do something different with your body: If you feel lethargic or heavy for no good reason i.e. you haven’t excessively exercised or had another form of significant stress in the last short while, then movement can really help get nutrients around the body, enhance life-force and shift your state. Take some exercise that suits you: walk, run, cycle, do some breathing exercises (try the Wim Hof*** method, yoga or other breathing techniques), lift a few weights, do some stretching, put on some music and dance… It is surprising how fast the shift in energy can make you can feel better.
- ‘Dr Happiness’: On a deeper level, maybe its time to check in with whether there are any facets of our life that feel like a burden, or doesn’t fit with our core values. If core aspects of our life misfit with what makes us truly happy, then we are likely to be experiencing fight or flight stress symptoms. It could be time to change something.
- ‘Dr Connection’: Feeling part of community and supporting each other through the highs and lows of life is a vital thread of life. Always when things have been toughest for me, the support of other lovely humans has enabled me to see light again. Even if you like your own space and peace a lot, few of us really thrive without giving and receiving love in at least some of its many forms.
- ‘Dr Meaning’: If we start each day without meaning and purpose, it can be hard to find motivation to get out of bed. Having purpose, goals and contributing to other people or society are the essence of our life-force. I always try to seek meaning, no matter how small or insignificant things may sometimes feel. Meaning and purpose is the fire that fuels our life.
Remember The Power of Vulnerability…
Whilst it’s never nice to fall from feeling invincible to feeling weak and bleak, our greatest learning and gifts often emerge from this state of vulnerability. I was recently talking to a group of young scouts who had biked and kayaked 79 miles through the Great Glen of Scotland (Fort William to Inverness). I asked two of the teenage girls ‘What was the worst bit?’ and they immediately replied “The giant hill! It was so steep we couldn’t ride up it, and we were so tired we thought we were never going to make it. It was horrible.” When I asked them what the best part was, they looked at each other, paused for a moment, then burst out laughing. “The hill!” they said “It was the best part too! We didn’t think we could do it, but then we discovered we could. We were stronger than we thought.” That little story sums it up. Through the tough stuff, we learn about the grit, the potential and the strengths that we have inside us. We develop resilience, which can serve us well in many other areas and stages of life.
Whilst experiencing vulnerability may not feel nice at the time, it can help us develop ‘superpowers’. You may be familiar with the TedX talk by Brené Brown**** on shame and vulnerability. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend taking the time to watch it. She sums it up well when she says “I have a vulnerability issue, and I know that vulnerability is kind of the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness. But it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, creativity, of belonging, love …”
Ask for help if you need it…
I felt burnt out following my drive to win gold in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, and my shoulder was so injured I was struggling with daily tasks. I could barely move around in my wheelchair. Despite these challenges, the friends with whom I had planned a trip to cycle through the wilderness of Patagonia were still keen that we go together. I was grateful for their encouragement, but I felt very wary to put myself into a challenging situation with the condition of my shoulder. I had a date booked for shoulder surgery, and was on the brink of cancelling my part in the adventure to South America.
However, I have a belief in the healing power of nature, and somehow felt I should give my best effort to make the trip, remembering a favourite motto ‘If we haven’t failed we haven’t tried hard enough’. We were a diverse team of friends: Steve in the process of losing his eyesight, Jaco with a carbon prosthetic having lost an arm in Afgahanistan, and Caroline with no previous experience of cycle touring. They were towing bike trailers full of kit and my wheelchair. I had tried hard to find a handbike suitable for the off-road terrain as well as asphalt, but the solution was poor and my front wheel span on the gravel any time the gradient was more than just a few percent. Whilst I pedalled as hard as I could, my friends did a relay push up every gravel hill the length of Patagonia: an astounding feat. There were so few accessible places to camp that to find grass or a flat area, they often had to post me through the slats in wooden gates. I felt like the weakest link but it led to incredible teamwork and brought out the best in us – strength, determination, a solution-focus, creativity, resilience and an absolute never-give-up attitude. We embraced our vulnerabilities together and somehow managed to complete our month-long wilderness journey. I could never have done it without them, and it felt like the demanding environment had brought out our superpowers. At the end, my shoulder was healed, and I cancelled the surgery.
We can aspire to be strong and self-reliant enough to weather the storm on our own, but part of being vulnerable is having the courage to tell someone how we feel, or to ask a friend or stranger for help or support. Having a support network is vital, and it really helps you navigate vulnerabilities and be your best.
Value your vulnerability
You have a choice, to let your vulnerability take you down, or to seek solutions to overcome it and get back in the saddle of life. Just like there is blue sky above every blanket of cloud, there is learning and light to be found on the other side of the dark days of life. Rather than becoming immersed in your negative emotions and projecting them into the future, I recommend noticing and acknowledging how you feel and then to adopt a mindset of finding the learning and gifts in your vulnerability. Use the experience to help you discover your points of strength…your superpowers…and to emerge on the other side, stronger than before.
* Four Doctors by Paul Chek http://www.ppssuccess.com/Portals/0/docs/Last4DoctorsChapter.pdf
** Dr Chaterjee’s four pillars of wellbeing
*** Wim Hof breathing technique video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzCaZQqAs9I
**** Brene Brown TedX talk on vulnerability https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en