I went to a workshop during the PhD regarding the Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Research Students by Dr. Hugh Kearns. It was an inspiring workshop and one that I know now shaped how quickly I finished the PhD. He started the talk by telling us that there was someone in the room that was not supposed to be there and noted that the University had made a mistake and while he knows it was a large mistake that they are not supposed to pursue their research. He then went on to describe what imposter syndrome was, although this is for another blog post. It was an impactful start to the workshop that day and one I will remember for a long time. We all thought it was ourselves that were not supposed to be there.
He then went on to give us material regarding how we could turbocharge our writing, tips for handling supervisors - (although I had the absolute best person/supervisor that a person could have asked for. She is both encouraging and supportive. She guided me along the PhD with ease and I trusted her entirely with the process. She always had my best interests at heart as I went to writing workshops, engaging with whatever was available on campus. She deserves an entire post dedicated to herself). The tips we received regarding handling supervisors was to do with handling power dynamics. Your supervisor dictates how long you spend on your PhD and your level of progression. While it is up to them how you progress and prepare you for the Graduate Committee every year. I have been in a PhD room with people that have taken 12 years full-time and others 7 years full-time and then others 3 years. It is self-paced and the pressure can be immense as you dictate your own speed, your own discipline and your own working schedule per day. Dr Hugh Kearns' workshop was one of those that structured a lot of the final stages of the PhD for me in that he gave us writing tips and a template for a word count. Again subscribing to the 'done is better than perfect' model as I speak so fondly about in my previous blog posts.
Back to the power dynamics, the power is within you to finish it but is encumbered by your PhD supervisor. It is up to them entirely if the PhD is up to international standard and ready at each stage of the years of study that you have completed. Have you done enough per year in order to become a researcher. A PhD is like an apprenticeship in this regard, it teaches you to have a critical eye on research, look for good sources, understand the science and how to interpret data along with many more attributes. The relationship between a supervisor and their PhD student is one that can seem tricky to manage. You are not their priority (sorry to disappoint those of you that are hearing this for the first time), their priorities usually lie within their own research so it's also important to choose carefully and seek out a supervisor that aligns with their research and not only your philosophy (Epistemology) but also in terms of their theory on ontology and the construction of knowledge. Do they enact a power dynamic that is hierarchical or flat? It is the same in an workplace. These need to fit in order to progress.
Teaching during the PhD, I was teaching data mining strategies using XLMiner as part of a two semester long workshop. A couple of years previously I had been working in an insurance company as a business analyst. I like to wear headphones to concentrate as the office was quite loud. My boss at the time decided that he didn't like this and that he had worked in busy offices in London and he got used to the noise. Let's just say I was reprimanded for wearing them. Long story short he was celebrating his 45th birthday in the XLMiner class that I was teaching. He was disrespectful and disruptive to the other Master's students. I had a quiet word and asked him to leave as he was removing the opportunity for his classmates who wanted to be there to actually learn. Karma always finds a way to find balance and in this case it was balanced in terms of power dynamics which I found quite funny. I was the one who had gone full circle, moved country, learnt more, worked harder and had more experience. It turns out he had to do the Master's programme because his Dad owned the insurance company and he didn't actually know much about it. Thankfully after the first class it was all fine and he understood that he couldn't be singing Happy Birthday in a workshop despite being 45 years of age on that day and wearing a huge badge.
Subtle signs of power dynamics can be seen in everyday life. These things include people interrupting you, being late and not apologising and thumping their chests when they get code to work. These came up in the power dynamics discussion in the PhD workshop. All of these act as signs of asserting power over another. That is not to say that people don't do these things by accident, of course, we are human. However, when there is a concerted effort to enact these then it is a power dynamic that is contrived and can impact upon another person's self-esteem. Impacting upon a person's self-esteem of course is dependent on if they relate their identity to what they are doing at the time. If the person links it to who they are a person then this can be quite antagonistic.
Being late: I was meeting a person recently and I travelled an hour to get there. I had thought to myself instinctually that this person might be late if they wanted to assert a power dynamic and 'test' how my reactions were at this time. It is a classic tactic that I have seen being used by American soldiers to 'test' the dynamics of the relationship. Unless you are aware of this tactic then you may think that it's something that was done unintentionally, however, it can be a behavioural strategy in order to push boundaries. I have several experiences with this and in the end it resulted in a conversation and understanding these power dynamics were, in fact, intentional. Again though, we are human and it depends on the person and if their wish is to shift the balance in the relationship or not.
Interruptions: In the workplace be observant for women and men in a team and men cutting across women. It can be seen quite frequently in some places that I have worked. Interruption of someone speaking can be disruptive to the person and also explaining away certain points made by the person can be both damaging and an intentional strategy in order to assert power over the person. These 'chatterboxes' might come across as passionate and a lot of people tend to be forgiving towards these mishaps, however, start looking more in-depth and you will start to see patterns. Some are unintentional of course, however, when there are power dynamics at play in a competitive environment or if someone feels under threat, then naturally these tend to be intentional. It can be highly frustrating to the recipient of such assertions. The repeated behaviour can wear a person down to the point where they lose their voice. Not only is it highly frustrating but it can stop their train of thought, put them in the defence and eventually their brains can become encumbered by the survival mind. It can also be a battle of the brains as one asserts that 'my point is MORE valid' than yours thus also claiming the power dynamic across a team or organisation.
Losing your own voice is the biggest repercussion when it comes to power dynamics. The ability to adapt and be flexible in a power dynamic is important. It is also a strategy to weigh up the pros and cons on if you are 'going to win' back the balance in the relationship or has their been too much of a power shift. A power shift can also happen in terms of making a person feel uncomfortable in a workplace. This is self-evident. The survival mind will become active as the person perceives their everyday life as under threat and eventually if all other power dynamics are enacted to assert power then their self-esteem will be eroded and they will lose their voice.
There are also some power dynamics where a boss will give you something to do and want an argument. This is not a trustworthy power dynamic. Yes, of course, question what tasks you are doing but certainly culturally that is not something that is done in certain countries. I have worked with people in different countries that say yes to everything even when they don't understand it and then after giving them training, they fly back home and you find out that they don't understand a thing but culturally it is part of their culture to agree to their boss and what they say without question. I have also fallen for this as I have trusted my supervisor in a workplace previously and they have taken advantage of this through micromanagement and slowing down processes. This is also an intentional workplace power dynamic and can soon escalate into a toxic workplace. Although you might find yourself in this situation at the moment, it is time to move on and find a place where you will thrive. It is also important to remember that karma will always find a way to restore balance so you might just meet them in the future where you are in the position of teaching them on the Master's programme.
Of course there are also other things at play like management style, time management, priorities etc. Greater efforts are needed to ensure that you are aware of these power dynamics at play in order to keep a balance and get your job done. In the PhD I was incredibly lucky to have such an amazing supervisor who corroborated with my research and excited to see my success. It was, of course, a sure-minded individual who wanted to see my success as she was also successful and that is beneficial for both parties. Further work needs to be done to align with the dynamics within an organisation to ensure that you align philosophically with their needs. I trusted my supervisor entirely to guide me on my path, I knew my best interests were taken into consideration. Although, this is not always the case in a workplace or with other supervisors. In part it is also about building trust and backing your work up with solid evidence. In some cases it might be necessary, certainly at the beginning to chart your progress, note everything and send back and forth meeting notes to establish transparency and trust.
The key in all of these power dynamics is to listen to your own inner-being, your own voice. It can sometimes be a whisper and you need to listen to that whisper in terms of being in the right environment for you and whether you are achieving your goals or not. Do you find yourself progressing and are positively inspired going into the workplace? I had this now several times working where I wanted to go into work and I wanted to learn. I had a 'growth mindset' and I could trust my boss to look after my interests. It was a positive experience and one that I hope continues. These people that you surround yourself are successful and you can learn from their success. Surround yourself with these people and you will learn a lot about the contrasts in life and how you can thrive.
Disclaimer: Power dynamics can impact a person's psyche as well and can be more sinister. I have only touched lightly on the topic above and omitted very relevant topics in today's world such as sexual harassment in the workplace. Survivors of sexual harassment may experience depression as their minds are encumbered by the survival mind and are fearful of all threats. This usually is a power dynamic to assert dominance on a person and make them feel so uncomfortable that the person will start to question parts of their identity. Physiological as well as psychological reactions can occur (please see link below for further reading). It is not something that anyone should experience but as a female I can tell you that I have experienced this first hand as with 1 in 3 women in the workplace (please see link below for further reading). If you are surprised by this figure then please open your eyes, look around and ask around. It is also not limited to women only. It can be men to men, men to women and women to men and all forms of gender. It is part of a power dynamic and where there are people, there are power dynamics. The survivors that I know have not only overcome this but also let go of shame and become an advocate for establishing better roles in the workplace. I have seen some that have gone onto thrive in their own right, find their voice and establish their own identities as something that has made them stronger and more resilient. They have overcome the effects of this and gone from surviving to thriving. Please seek help if this has happened to you.
A message of hope for sexual harassment survivors: It can be good to find support in talking about this to others, it is rampant and talking only once to someone who has experienced this can allow you to gain perspective that it is not only you and that it is part of power dynamics. It is also important to note that healed people - heal people. It is something that will allow you to thrive eventually and unfortunately in today's society it seems to be unavoidable for many. When you heal you will live a fuller, more authentic live that allows you to follow your bliss - when you put the work in. Creativity is the highest form of love and you will create more, be more focused, overcome all the effects of sexual harassment and establish what you want. Remember the more exposed you are to people the more you will meet all different kinds, good and bad but for the most part they are mainly good. See Rocky speech below for inspiration. It can also be an interesting exercise to get into a taxi and ask the taxi driver if they think the world is full of good people or bad people in terms of the passengers that they have encountered. I can guarantee they will say that the world is 99% good people, even the 1% that are not are people that are hurting/projecting/feeling unloved and operating at lower levels of emotions. Remembering these things will help you to thrive and YOU WILL THRIVE.
Dr. Hugh Kearns Website: https://www.ithinkwell.com.au/hugh-kearns
Kearns, H. & Gardiner, M.L. (2011). The care and maintenance of your adviser. Nature, 469(7331), 570-570. https://www.ithinkwell.com.au/content/nature_2011_student_advisers.pdf
Gardiner, M. & Kearns, H. (2012). The ABCDE of Writing: Coaching high-quality high-quantity writing. International Coaching Psychology Review, 237-249. https://www.ithinkwell.com.au/content/ABCDEwriting.pdf
Kearns, H. & Gardiner, M.L. (2011). Waiting for the motivation fairy. Nature, 472, 127. https://www.nature.com/articles/nj7341-127a.pdf
Video link for following your instincts - point 3 relates to the workplace: https://youtu.be/NPQ0XCkD2jE
Dealing with Shame: https://youtu.be/RSrXxqKfYwI
Sexual harassment: https://www.usf.edu/student-affairs/victim-advocacy/types-of-crimes/sexualharassment.pdf
1 in 3 women experience Sexual harassment in the workplace: https://www.businessinsider.com/professional-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment-2019-6?r=DE&IR=T
As most of you know by now I have a PhD, I have worked multiple jobs at the same time, studied full-time while also working full-time all whilst doing a PhD. How did I do it? Well I had to get the most out of my time. I needed to be focused, on-point with what I was doing and most of all be bold. I subscribed to the mantra which I wrote about below 'Done is better than perfect' in the blog post 'Done is better than perfect - Lessons I have learnt from my PhD'. Apart from that it was a case of implementing some strategies that I had learnt already too.
I had accumulated some experience working between degrees and went to several different time management seminars sponsored by companies that I was working at at the time. One of which was Ocean Consulting in Dublin and he said that the first thing you do in the morning when you get to work is to continue what you were working on the evening previously. DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR EMAILS. They can wait for an hour while you get into a work frame of mind. I took this into the PhD. I also learnt and used some apps to help me focus my mind and concentrate in what was a high-pressured environment. These were the following:
The Pomodoro method: This is a method for writing/doing/creating/programming/focusing on a task you want to or maybe even don't want to do for 25 minutes without any distractions. You set the timer and once that 'one pomodoro' is completed you get up, move, reset and take a 5-10 minute break. I had the timer set on my computer and it would flash up when it was finished. I would advise not using this app if you are in a PhD room as it can be distracting for others. I used the app on my phone at home. Your motivation will increase if you concentrate on telling yourself that you can do 1 of these per day without stopping. I know it seems like a tiny amount but once you realise how distracted you are with things then you can start to accumulate those pomodoros. In the height of the PhD I would concentrate on accumulating these in the 10s - again without distractions. In a workplace environment this can be challenging as people walk over to people's desk and I found going to a separate area to concentrate far more beneficial. I set my timer and then I concentrate on my task. It can be quite meditative.
Blocking Internet: I used an app on my computer called Freedom, it blocks websites, apps and the Internet for up to 8 hours. Now be careful with this one, if you are doing research and development, you may need the Internet. It is only good when you have a solid base knowledge. You may develop strategies that you learn like writing things down that you do need to look up afterwards while your mind goes to what you can do while you wait for the time to expire on the Freedom app. It is definitely something that you need to think about before implementing for a full day, I started with two or three hours at first and it was a case of forming the right habits. It really does give you a sense of freedom once you can work away on something without interruptions. Most things can wait an hour or even longer if you are concentrating.
Writing: Another app that I used was for the write-up phase of the PhD. I used an app called FocusWriter to remove all of the other apps on the screen and only show the page in front of me. It was excellent for writing-up the thesis. Now you can enable this function within word, if your thesis can function within Microsoft Word. Although it is tempting to touch a button and revert to full-screen. FocusWriter had settings to lock other apps while you were writing.
All in all these were supportive in terms of forming the right habits. I needed social media like twitter and this blog to keep track of some research that I had started and to keep in contact with some conference attendees but I didn't want them to be a distraction or to pull my time into different directions. I also wanted to optimise my time to the best I could. I was usually blocking time in the morning for game development until lunch, after lunch scheduled or supervisor meetings, giving tutorials, correcting anything and back to the reading and summarising theory in the afternoon to support my thesis.
It was also a case of being flexible and allowing myself to come back to what I was working on if I had an interruption. This is where some self-compassion can work wonders. If you get distracted allow yourself to take a minute and gently bring yourself back to what you were working on. It will be both encouraging and supportive and you will feel great about going back to the task. I can't say that this was the perfect solution, however, it was transformative in terms of my work practices. I can only speak from my own perspective when I say that it influenced my life for the better in terms of habits and discipline of mind. Like with all disciplines it takes practice and falling out of these practices allows us to remember why these are important to keep practicing them. We all need a bit of contrast in our lives to appreciate that. See post on we all need a bit of contrast in our lives.
Disclaimer: This isn't to say that I didn't work very long hours, I did, but I enjoyed teaching part-time while working full-time. I love my students and the free-time that I do have I enjoy teaching. It's not a remedy for reducing time, it's a remedy I found to be more efficient and focused with my time. These allow me to get the jobs done that I need to in a shorter time frame than most.
I tend to be a person that has leaned towards teaching part-time while studying or working. I worked several jobs concurrently in summer and winters in college, when I finished I worked in industry and managed to teach somewhere part-time. While I was working in the Dublin office for Rakuten Kobo I also taught C# for games development every Saturday in Pulse College. I loved my class, it was a class from 11am-5pm and we'd make games together every Saturday. I'd look up different ways to teach students and new ways of explaining concepts. I also came up with the acronym DAU at the time to explain that you must define, assign and use variables within each program.
Since I was in school I tended to lean towards computers and helping others grasp concepts, I had the keys to the computer room in school. I was a University mentor giving tutorials to students the year behind me as part of the University mentoring programme and we were the first year who got payment from the University to do this. Even during my Masters, I taught computers to adults two evenings a week. During the PhD I was teaching as well, I taught mainly advanced Excel and data analysis, Geogebra and other software programmes as part of different departments.
Then of course I moved to Dublin from Galway and sought out opportunities to continue teaching which was, of course, with Pulse College as mentioned above. I loved figuring out ways to get students to create something. From the beginning the classes were practical and students started creating their first game and by the end they had fully functional games that were ready for their end of year projects. At that stage, the opportunities were starting to come knocking with Kobo. I moved to Germany in 2017 and haven't been teaching since then so it is a wonderful opportunity to get back into it again. I love it so much and really to be able to see someone creating something that they weren't able to before is a privilege. I love spending some of my free time teaching programming and I've created a profile in Preply in order to teach as I love it. I'm already thrilled to have a profile and to get started with my first student.
Please go to the link in order to receive a reduction in prices from Preply: https://preply.com#_prefMTMyMjAxMA==
My profile is available at: https://preply.com/en/tutor/310951/
java with ali
sleep is the foundation of everything
I have found what works for me in a noisy apartment to gain a better night of sleep! I can rejoice. For the past number of weeks I have slept every night - like a log. I woke up refreshed, ready for the day and more creative than ever before. I would say I woke up with a spring in my step. I am a morning person, (unless interrupted sleep happens that is and I have learnt that now). I felt energised and ready for the day ahead. Some mornings I'd wake up with great ideas and ready to put together the next programming exercise, write a blog post and my productivity was increased. On a general sense I felt like my overall form was better, I wasn't as tired exercising, I was simply more energised. The past few weeks I have felt invigorated, excited and motivated to start everyday.
The trains started back a few nights ago and I woke up the next morning a little frustrated and I didn't know why. It sounds so fundamental but I had obviously gotten used to trains running at 4am, waking up and falling back to sleep again. I was a little groggy without any reason. I felt sluggish. It occurred to me really quickly after that. It was all a result of ONE thing - interrupted sleep. I can function on very little sleep, two hours, three hours on a few nights. I've climbed mountains on very little sleep. In fact it is really exciting that you get up at 1am to get to the summit and you gather all your strength to get there. The view at the top is always worth it. I've even slept in mountain cabins with little to no sleep and I've expected that and still felt more energised. However, interrupted sleep in your home, that's a different story altogether.
According to researchers at John Hopkins Hospital, a short amount of sleep is more beneficial than a long amount of interrupted sleep (link is below). Over long periods of time, it can impact brain chemistry, shorten your life-span and we will go into survival mode. We think we are being woken due to a threat and that causes consequences over a long period of time. The study found that it impacts your mood after only two nights.
Context also matters, I grew up in front of a racecourse in Limerick, where, it was and still is very quiet. I remember working in Dublin and going home for the weekend, sleeping an entire night and feeling more exhausted at home because I had finally gotten a full night of sleep. It was noisy in Dublin too. I lived in the north side of the city across from what we would say at home, 'a not so nice area', and there was plenty of times people would be screaming on the road outside or shouting to each other. This was in contrast to living in Galway sleeping in an apartment in the suburbs where you can see the sea, horses were behind the apartment block and also at the roundabout at the end of the road and it was pure quietness.
I always had some techniques for combating sleep and stress - see post regarding biofeedback. I have these strategies built up over time. I know what to do during these times. It's a standard process. Usually our brains are pretty good at telling us when we don't feel safe so anxiety works in a way that tells us to get to safety. When you are under stress this can be a case of telling ourselves that we are safe, for me that has worked in the past. However, interrupted noise still causes alarms to go off - as is normal for every human usually. It is in our 2,000,000 year old brains to protect and conserve ourselves as well as become alert to a threat.
So getting back to the point, the trains started back a few nights ago. I have found a solution that I want to share as I feel so grateful that I found a solution for this. I have an Alexa at home and now I tell it to play sleep sounds. You can choose what types and for how long you want to run the sounds for with a simple command - Alexa open sleep sounds - Alexa set sleep timer for 7 hours (or however long you want the sounds to play for). You can enable that skill on Alexa and look up the site - sleep sounds, it can play white noise or other sounds. Right now I have used this for the past few nights successfully and I wake up so refreshed. It's quite funny the difference it has made. I don't hear any neighbours and it is a pleasure to sleep with the sounds of the mountain lake or river in my bedroom.
I needed that contrast - see post regarding contrast. I needed to have a few weeks of amazing sleep, sleeping like a log and that feeling of waking up refreshed and ready for the day in contrast to a few nights with the train passing by for me to realise how much my sleep was being disturbed. Perhaps I was used to the trains waking me up and me falling back to sleep over and over again. I even went as far as exhausting myself during the day with exercise so I would fall asleep and then wake up even more tired than before after the trains beside the apartment block speed by.
It's right in plain sight and as we are creatures of habit we can fall into these patterns quite quickly convincing ourselves that 'it's fine' as you prioritise something else and stick in earplugs to do the job. The issues with earplugs are that 1) they are uncomfortable 2) they don't actually address the issue and 3) interrupted noise won't be drowned out by earplugs only constant noise will be dampened. I used to wear them working in a pub/club as a student, you can still hear almost everything including taking orders for people's drinks. I still wear earplugs in libraries when I study or when I need to concentrate on something important. I now use noise cancelling headphones on airplanes but also used to wear earplugs when travelling. It drowns out the majority but will not be helpful with a disruptive loud noise, you will still wake or be startled with that.
So I would say, whoever reads this if you have trouble waking up in the night - you may not even know why, it could be to do with external forces that you have gotten used to and a good solution is to play some sleep sounds. Let me tell you that your nerves will thank you as you will be much more serene once you find a solution for a noisy sleeping environment. You will be more creative, relaxed, energised in the morning, more alert - your body is like an engine in a car, it needs some time to recharge the battery and that means good quality sleep every single night. Quality is better than quantity as stated in the study I have linked below this article. So even a little amount of sleep that is good sleep is better than interrupted sleep for all types of reason - I've linked another article from WebMD below.
There are also playlists on Spotify that you can have on loop too. It's a simple, yet effective, solution for a problem that you cannot change. It also allows your brain to relax and go through each sleep cycle. You will feel the benefits are one night after you find the sound that suits you the best. Let's see what the next few nights bring. I feel happy to have found a solution. Good luck, you will figure out what works and it is the best solution until I find a quieter environment.
Some other hacks include using biofeedback which I've written about in the Biofeedback blog.
Image source: https://www.maxandmaude.net/is-your-dog-cat-sleeping-normally-pet-sleeping-info/
I moved to Germany in 2017 without any German (maybe Hallo and Danke) and I am now at B2 level and continuing to learn more and more. I completed the B1 TELC examination with 96% and Goethe with 83% in December 2019 and I really enjoyed learning the language. It's something that I've always wanted to do and I now work in German as well. I am a lifelong learner and always looking to improve. For that reason, I have no issue going back on things that I have already learnt and refreshing my memories on that topic. For example, the word's gender matters a lot in German and a friend of mine gave me the best tip when I started learning German. She said to learn all words WITH their article and then you can look at changing it depending on the cases afterwards. The most useful video that I came across for this was from easy German - see YouTube below. I can say that it's a really enjoyable language to learn as the rules, once you learn them, are clear and learnable unlike some in the Irish language. It has breathed new life into language learning for me and I have enjoyed learning with apps like Memrise that a former colleague recommended, I am so grateful for that app. The app taught me sentence structure as well as vocabulary. For more regarding learning German and some resources that I have used please see post - German Language Learning.
Perhaps we all need a bit of contrast
Perhaps we all need a bit of contrast in life in order to appreciate things more!
I went for a cycle today and I LOVE Germany for many reasons and one is for its cycle paths - see photos below. I used to cycle to work in Dublin and during the PhD in Galway as well. I cycled when I was small and I loved it. I grew up on a quiet road in Limerick (now it is not so quiet). I would go out and cycle up and down the hill outside the house and down the back of the avenue near the racecourse. It was lovely and then I fell off my bike. I hit my head, there was blood everywhere and a neighbour brought me into the house where I was still gushing blood everywhere. I don't remember much apart from not being able to stop the bleeding. I remember going to the hospital and getting stitches. I was off school for a week with a bandage that went all around my head. I had cut open my eyebrow and still have a scar from it. Apart from that I stopped cycling. I didn't do much. I was still using my sister's bike at that point too. I didn't pick cycle again until years later.
I arrived in around 2008 to Dublin and bought my own bike. It was a fold-up bike and I was living in the suburbs so I thought I'd be able to cycle it. Dublin was far too dangerous though. I didn't have the wherewithal to carry a whistle like some cyclists and get aggressive where needed. I'd watch some cyclists zoom in and out between the cars with ferocious speed. They dominated their space and they were not afraid to let the cars know that they were intruding on the small gutter that was at the edge of the road that they cycled in. Soon Dublin had cycle paths which were only lines draw on the existing roads to show that cyclists would be cycling there - see some photos below. It didn't help much. There wasn't much space. So I didn't cycle and I ended up giving my bike to my flatmate at the time who said that she would use it.
Cut to 2012, I was now in Galway for the PhD and I was in a car accident. I wasn't in only one accident but three in a row and I sold the car. I had a back injury that kept me awake during the night with discomfort, I slept with heat pads on my back and I had continuous treatment with physiotherapy. She advised me to do two things to strengthen my back muscles which were, cycling and swimming. I had to learn to swim and then buy a bike.
I went for some swimming lessons before the storm in 2012 reclaimed the swimming pool in Salthill in Galway into the sea and that was the end of that. While I stopped the swimming as there was now no pool, I kept cycling and cycled in and out to the NUIG campus right up until December 22nd. I slept a little better and my back muscles started to strengthen. The winds were violent and most of the rain was beating off my face most rides but I never regretted the cycle in - as long as I had my wet gear on. It was refreshing and I was awake by the time I got on campus. It definitely got the blood flowing being out in the wind and rain but arriving in dry after delayering! I loved it. I had a €100 euro bike that was an old rental bike - see photo below and I loved that bike. It was old, it was heavy and the first cycle I couldn't make it up the hill to the apartment in Knocknacarra but soon after a few weeks I was cycling up and down the hills in Knocknacarra without any issue.
I then moved to Dublin in 2015ish where I decided I'd cycle in and out to work in Kobo and if it was really bad weather I could shower before work. They had facilities in the office such as a gym downstairs as well as a changing room and showers. It was ideal. I rented a bike in the morning with the Dublin Bikes scheme on the north side of the city and then I'd drop back on the south side in a Dublin Bikes station nearby the office. I didn't need to buy a bike at all. I rented it usually for 25 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes on the way home - it seems like a mismatch as I took the same route but the cycle home was full of traffic and knocking on car windows to make sure you weren't squashed. See photo below for the route to show no cycle lanes in Dublin.
Cycling in Dublin is taking your life in your hands - I needed to wear a high visibility jacket of some sort, a helmet and anything else to make sure that I are seen. If you are not used to cycling within a few centimetres of cars and knowing their blindspots then it is very risky and uncomfortable. As for cycle lanes, well, there aren't any really. I cycled O'Connell bridge with three lanes of traffic - no cycle lanes and you cycle in beside the buses too - the huge, gigantic double-decker busses. It's no joke and you'd want to make sure you have eyes that are on the back of your head as you look to see if a bus has just pulled out or not. It's exciting and at the same time it's something that you need to be aware of all the time. I didn't buy a bike in Dublin. It was all for the commute and I would say not an easy cycle. You are on alert the entire time making sure no taxi/bus runs you over.
In contrast then I come to Germany in 2017, I buy a bike in 2018 and I cycle it a lot. I love cycling here, there are cycle lanes and even the entire way to the city there is a cycle lane. Galway also had cycle lanes and some were off the road too which were a pleasure to cycle in and out to campus. In the city itself it was a different story, on the old bridge into the city barely pedestrians or buses would fit together at the same time. Anyway, Germany with the cycle lanes and you can cycle for over an hour, it's not a short little 3km cycle path in Galway that I mean, it's a full route. The cycle lanes can be off the road too and under beautiful trees where leaves touch each other as they lean in to meet in the middle. It is absolutely beautiful. I mean even the ones on the roads have space, you aren't thinking to yourself - oh no, I've to knock on a window or stop cycling or jump off the bike quickly at any point. It is pure pleasure.
So maybe we all need a little contrast in order to appreciate the things we have. In some cases its cycle lanes, in others it's the beautiful weather in Germany because I am coming from a country which can rain in the west up to 225 days of the year. It's the appreciation of my health now that I have it and I cherish it, I don't think I will ever take these things for granted again. It's not until you go through the rough times that you appreciate the good. It's also important to recognise all those past experiences be it a trivial one like cycling or something else in order to recognise how far that you have come. Now don't get me wrong I loved cycling in both Galway and Dublin but the culture is different. It isn't a cycling culture in Ireland.
The culture of cycling is starting to develop in Ireland but in Germany they make bikes and have a culture that everyone uses a bike. In some cases in Ireland it's seen as being dirty - some say what about sweating - others say it's too dangerous, others have other reasons but they are not the same as here. Here everyone seems to cycle, I did notice not as many use helmets but they have more cycle lanes. Not everyone wears high visibility jackets, but they have separate cycle lanes. Not as many need to light up their bike like a Christmas tree in winter due to the darkness, because the lights are on both sides of the roads and usually you are cycling on the cycle lane. It's completely different in Ireland and Germany so there is no comparison.
While you cannot compare these two countries in terms of cycling facilities and cycling culture, when you enjoy cycling and then go to a country with the right facilities for cycling, you cannot help but admire, appreciate and adore the presence of these beautiful off-road cycle lanes. So maybe we need a bit of contrast in life to appreciate what is in front of us, and when we can't appreciate what is in front of us at that exact time then keep in mind that there is always rainbow after every storm, there is a good day after every bad days and spring comes after every winter.
Either way you look at it, those contrasts make me appreciate things even more. I love Germany, I love the cycling culture and I love the outdoors. It is so refreshing and invigorating to be able to run in the forest or cycle on a cycle path, here there are actual summers too. It's beautiful. Absolutely beautiful, I appreciate every day and every moment that I can go out and do these things. If anything the last while must have taught us is that the world can change at any second and for me, I had this view already from previous experience - see posts below regarding lessons learnt and I wouldn't change a thing. I love my life here and I love my life - FULL STOP!
Programming for beginners
Polymorphism in Java
Rakuten kobo - time at tolino
It's so great to see the good reviews come out regarding the Tolino Vision 5. I had been working on that device as part of the eReader team and I absolutely loved the coding part of work. I had a great opportunity presented to me when I came here for in 2017 to work with the eReader team as an Android developer and move full-time to Germany. While Android was completely different to what I had worked on previously, I was ready for the challenge.
I learnt a lot in that team and technology part was regarding architecture. I implemented the MVP (Model-View-Presenter) architecture in September 2018 for the light settings. It took approximately two weeks to implement but for the older existing design. The design was the part that took the longest. It seemed that the previous design of the light settings was that if you were in bright surroundings - you set the eReader to full brightness, however, as we all know the eReader doesn't need any light on in bright surroundings. It is not the same as the phone and this led to months of re-designs going back and forth to booksellers, having test evenings with beer-pizza nights so we'd have potential consumers test them. It went back and forth to having two screens explaining what SmartLight was to the eventual final design.
As far as I know the landscape mode was updated. I had worked on the previous implementation of the landscape mode which was in a different architecture. I absolutely loved the programming side and I had loved programming since I learnt how to program in University. I had always had an interest in computers since I was a child - see post below regarding Technology and Teaching Technology - My Passion. I absolutely love programming, it's something that challenges me, is part of my identity, has given me a chance to develop games during a PhD, develop processes for healthcare systems, small applications to help run automated services and many other projects. I am delighted to see people use something that I've worked on. I wish them great success in the future.
Solitude versus loneliness
Solitude breeds creativity, it is when you can hear yourself think and those thoughts lead to creating and contributing a form of joy in your life. Loneliness, on the other hand, is the fear part of the brain. The 2,000,000 year old brain that is saying that we need social interaction and that we cannot cope. It is fearful. We must acknowledge these feelings and yet find a way out of loneliness and look at how we can contribute to the world. This is where you will find solitude, the positive side-kick of loneliness. Where loneliness is part of our ego screaming at us that we are lonely and feeling sorry for oneself, solitude is appreciating the quiet-time, looking at what you can do and taking control of who you want to be.
I spoke with someone recently online who was very lonely and having bad feelings regarding this Covid-19 crisis. While he found it difficult to process these emotions I encouraged him to look at what CAN be done. What can he do. He seemed hard on himself saying that he was an introvert and not calling people or doing anything about it. I told him to recognise that loneliness isn't forever, it is not the eternal state of being and to have hope. Not to convince yourself to be positive as that's different but to look at it in terms of optimism. There is a huge difference between being optimistic and being positive. Being optimistic is a case of looking at the existing circumstances as not being great, however, acknowledging that it will be over soon. Being positive is convincing yourself that 'all is fine' even when it isn't and squashing your emotions - we are all guilty of doing this at times. This is also to do with emotional immaturity and sticking your head in the ground. I can say that once you process the emotions of pain suffered while feeling lonely, it is time to focus on contribution of what can be done and to get out of yourself and look at the world as our community. I am sure we all have something to offer.
Look at what can be done, what are your skills, what can you help someone else achieve, be, feel, do? It is also looking at what we are absorbing around us, is our environment making us feel bad about ourselves? Are we consuming too much information that is talking about the death rates or are we around people that are overly critical and we have absorbed their criticisms. It can happen easily that you feel confident and then you find yourself in a toxic environment and slowly it creeps into your being. It starts off with a comment here or there, maybe someone being sarcastic or having a laugh and then accumulates as if it's a snowball rolling down the mountain. It brings with it all the snow on the mountain. The mountain stands firm but a layer has been peeled from its face.
You will figure out if you are in a bad environment if the people around you do the things in the image I have shown above. They may be run by fear which is natural in these times of Covid-19 and while we can't prevent ourselves from interacting with some people especially during this crisis, it is time to look at how we speak to ourselves when around these people. Perhaps it is our self-esteem that has been impacted - self-esteem being the distance between who we are and who we want to be and they are insulting something attached to our identity. This will, of course, lower our self-esteem if we feel bad or stupid every time we do something. It is mathematical, we are losing our sense of self by the erosion of these words on our boundaries. We need to listen to ourselves more and build our own optimism so that it rebounds off our walls. It is another one of life's lessons teaching us some resilience.
Another thing that I have found useful in the past is to also figure out what brings you joy, what makes you feel alive? I find sports always gave me the energy and positive feelings. I never regret a workout when I feel good after it. I love it. I love dancing, I love watching comedy, I love seeing other people laugh. It's contagious, we can uplift each other. I have found during this time that I look at other new things and applications including games, TikTok and other sources that have comedy in them too. Comedy is one of the key tenants to relief tension. It eases the atmosphere.
There is an Irish proverb that says that in the shelter of each other, the people live - Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. (I took that from Simon Coveney's speech on Global Citizen) and he also stated that we are reminded of the interdependence that we have upon each other. It means that we are one, we are all connected and everything in the universe only exists because it has a relationship to everything else. We are all interconnected, we are all sharing this Global pandemic crisis together as we grief the loss of some of our loved ones and see others suffer though the pain in overcoming this virus. Without relationships as Conway's game of life states, we would die of isolation.
As we are living in each other's shelter, we are social creatures even as introverts who are drained from human interaction, we still need human interaction but to a limited degree. We might get overwhelmed by noise and oftentimes startled by noise or loud extroverted people. Our boundaries might be pushed by extraverts and we might be made uncomfortable. We might be seen as reserved in certain circumstances but may have trained ourselves to overcome some of these qualities by forming habits that are extraverted. This is normal, however, we need to get real about how we feel so we can heal our feelings of self-doubt and in terms of loneliness perhaps abandonment. These are emotions that can be addressed as you settle into yourself and learn to enjoy your own company.
It is simple to think of loneliness and solitude as two separate things, one can be seen as negative and the other positive. Loneliness may come from the form of the self that is the child who wants to be taken care of and looked after. It is important to comfort that voice. Comfort it as if you were comforting yourself at 7 years old. Tell yourself that it'll be fine, it's only temporary and things will be back to normal soon. Have empathy for yourself the same as if you have empathy for another person - see video below.
Solitude on the other hand is positive, it is the time to create, contribute, excel at being alone, emotionally regulate yourself and find meaning in things that you are doing by yourself and for others. Solitude can be the feeling of being grateful for a walk in the forest and a run alone. It can be a form of activity or it can also mean sitting alone in silence and relaxing - simply enjoying the peace and quiet.
So, yes we may feel lonely sometimes but know this - it is temporary. While this crisis is unusual, it has given some of us a time to reflect on what is important to us, what we can do to help others and how we can contribute. The altruistic nature of humanity is starting to shine and it is truly heartwarming to see and feel. Regardless of the thoughts of some political leaders I am proud to see the head of government in Ireland renew his medical licence and contribute to some time working in hospitals as a medical doctor again. I am proud to see the people gather around and come closer.
The connectedness of everyone has been strengthened in a global fight against one common enemy that does not discriminate in terms of race, age, gender or nationality. I am proud of the human race as a whole and the generosity that it shows when contributing and adapting to different things that can be done. I am grateful for all who are working hard on the front lines during this crisis as I speak to people online and try to uplift them, teach others a new skill and do what I can from home, all we can do is do our small part to help humanity. Some have learnt how to cook, others have learnt a new skill while others have felt the kindness reverberate through clapping at our emergency workers around the world, it is important to remember - while you may be experiencing some loneliness right now, it can turn to solitude, enjoyment of life and the loneliness will not last forever.
Like waves in the ocean, these feelings will go so stay optimistic that the future will be better as I know it will. Connect with others and learn empathy, as Bréné Brown puts it, what makes something better is connection. See what you can do to connect with others because you don't know what they are going through, it could be a case that they have experienced something truly painful so smile at a stranger, give the rest of your change to the person working behind the shop counter and tell them thank you and that it's for chocolate for them later. Once you adapt to solitude you will feel the best feelings of joy, happiness and feeling ALIVE. Do all the things that bring you joy, do something that you love once a day and these feelings will start to trickle into your being. It may start with synthetic happiness until it turns into true authentic happiness. It grows like seeds, they need to be watered daily.
Do things that feel good and perhaps not for you but for someone else. Do something that brings another person joy, find a way to contribute, get outside of your head and your being and send a text to someone letting them know that you are thinking of them, say hi to people passing you by in the forest going for a run. People are coming together and connections are stronger, people are warmer and you can tell by going to the shop that people have found other ways to connect so find ways of connecting to yourself in terms of joy and enjoying solitude and also to others in terms of contribution. Connect with each other in our humanity as we are all in this together and as John Donne puts it 'no man is an island'. Look at what is good in your life right now and write them down, YOU ARE ALIVE and (first heal the wound of abandonment - see above) and then be thankful for your health, it is time to use it and uplift others when they are suffering from this pandemic. Have the compassion and understanding for others and perhaps a smile or something for another can impact their whole being. List the things that made time stop and you were in flow and do that everyday. Enjoy life, enjoy the creativity that solitude brings and enjoy the peace and quiet that it affords to all of us. You can make confidence permanent by doing the things you decide to do. You can be quiet and not shy but this is for another post as they are also two different things. This time in our lives is not a productivity test - read a book, go for a walk, get outside, get outside of yourself and contribute, find ways to bring joy into your life and loneliness will turn into solitude.
Image source: https://sellshareshow.weebly.com/inspirations/successful-people-v-unsuccessful-people-which-one-are-you
I am thankful that this part of my life is finished and I can do plenty of sports again having completed my first triathlon last year, learning how to swim was a tremendous undertaking and having the right team made it so enjoyable. I am so appreciative of the women that I met setting up that 10 friends triathlon team. They have been a central part of my life in Germany and I am delighted that we could train together at the weekends as well as now currently using zoom during this Corona crisis. We have swam, ran, hiked, and had plenty of great conversations together. I am so lucky that I got to do that last year especially as this year's turn of events changed the possibility of training even though we were looking forward to possibly entering a new race. So here are the main things that I learnt from the heart surgeries and the clarity that was achieved as a result of my life being turned upside down in a flash.
It can happen easily that we can lose our good mindset or attitude towards life in toxic environments or think that we have lost it and give up our own power but this is within us, within our own minds and our own control. It is something that needs to be flexed like any muscle and a reminder to us all that WE choose our thoughts, WE choose our own perceptions and WE can overcome the challenges that lie before us with great fortitude and resilience for what is to come is something that is a life and life knows no bounds in terms of good or bad, only experience as we ride the waves of the ebbs and flow. We can train our minds to be flexible and adaptable like the greatest of all species that survive and I know that I survived many challenges while experiencing this time in my life. It is not only that we survive but we can thrive with the right attitude and embrace all challenges with the excitement that comes with every breath we take, every step we can walk and every kilometre that we can run and know that 'WE ARE ALIVE' and what a great privilege it is to know that and experiencing that. Embrace life for all that it is - we only have one and I LOVE MINE, I love being me, I love reading, swimming, climbing, mountains, I love the sea and smell of freshly cut grass, I love learning new things and meeting new people (when they are nice!), I love dancing, exploring and going on new adventures. I want to contribute and promote learning computers for women. I love smiling at strangers thinking that when they smile back that maybe that was the only smile they saw that day. I love watching comedy and laughing at least once a day. I love sausage dogs in particular, they are SO CUTE and melt my heart and watching videos of them running towards a camera because that is exceptionally cute and make my heart sing. I love my family. My Dad is wise and loves poetry like 'If' by Rudyard Kipling and insightful poems that would have you thinking for years. I love my sisters and home life, I love it all and would I change any of it for the world - NO. I AM ALIVE. Learn to listen to your whisper and energy flows where your attention goes. Focus on what you CAN do. You are here to experience life, how you handle it is that the journey is FUN.
The title might seem dramatic to a few, however, in my case, yes, it was cause for some upheaval in my life. It shook me to my core. The essence of my being was challenged and I got the fright of my life. It has shaped me for who I am now. I can only say this after the events that ensued and as a result of such things happening. The consequences led me to go after other things in life and realise that we are alone when we come into the world and we are alone when we leave it. It is a hard pill to swallow for some and some might even view it as sad but if you are not comfortable being alone with yourself then you need to do some serious emotional maturity training - see video below on emotional maturity.
I am currently living in Germany reflecting back over the previous few years as the life that took me on such adventures started long before the heart operations and even before the PhD - see post "done is better than perfect - lessons I learnt from my PhD" and "Moving to Germany" and also "NUI Galway". I had always had it in me to leave home. I knew I wanted to see the world and explore new places. Since I was a little girl a friend of my sisters called Gráinne had gone to Galway and had influenced my decision to go there as I chose what places to go to University. Once I left Limerick that was it. I would be gone for more than half of my lifetime having travelled and lived in France for a summer, Luxembourg for a year, other parts of Ireland for the rest and now Germany since 2017.
What started as a six month stay in Germany for work ended up in me staying for what looks like the long term. I came here in July 2017 after an opportunity came knocking at work and… other reasons - see post below. It was all by chance and I took it. I decided it would only be for the six months and so I could go and see and come back after that but I am still here and it’s now 2020. Anyway, getting back to the topic. Not long after I arrived in Germany I went to Serbia, climbed a few mountains and eventually by the end of September ran the Berlin marathon.
The race day was freezing and we had to keep warm during the warm up. I met an Irish woman who was with her daughter and had been living here since the 70s. She loved it and fell in love with a German man only to settle down here and embrace German life and living. She was at this stage I would say in her 60s or 70s running a race with her daughter who was certainly in her 30s. We chatted for a bit and I found out she was from Mayo. I was wearing an Ireland jersey to start the race before swapping it for my finisher’s t-shirt once I crossed the finish line.
The race was tough and I ran up beside a guy wearing a singlet from the Garda Society where An Garda Síochána have a singlet representing the crest of the guards - see link
https://www.garda.ie/en/About-Us/Garda-Societies/ As Guards in Ireland you can usually talk to them like ask for directions, take photos on nights out with them, they’re fairly friendly, if you are ever lost, find your nearest guard and ask them to help you. This was usually the case at home so I ran up beside him with a pain in my chest that felt like a cramp. He was really lovely, told me he was a detective working in Dublin and that I should probably stop running if I’ve a pain. I said I would stop and walk and he kept running. It might sound odd but at the 40km mark of a 42.2km race, you do not think straight and all you are focused on is finishing. It’s a little similar on how I approach a lot of my goals in life - pain--> ignore, goal --> continue.
I remember so vividly looking for some people around the race but for some reason it was terribly cold and miserable out that there were not so many supporters let alone race marshals to call upon. I stopped. I walked for an entire kilometre and the pain subsided. It was really as if I had a cramp, as if someone had put their hand into my chest and squeezed my heart tightly but kept it squeezed. That squeeze then stopped and it was more of a relief than anything else. I felt dizzy and yet wanted to finish. It was painful but when you run marathons and this was my fifth one, you train your mind to ignore pain. You focus on the joy of being able to do a marathon rather than on the pain experienced towards the end. It was insufferable though and a cramp in my heart, that's all I could describe it as - like a cramp but IN my actual heart. My entire body at this point was frozen with the cold wet weather and I couldn't feel my body really except for my heart. I was, for all intensive purposes, numbed out.
Once the pain had subsided I knew I had to either finish or find a race marshal. I slowly jogged the rest of the race until I got under the Brandenburg gate. I could see the finish line. I got a cramp in my right buttocks that was as if someone had stuck a needle in my backside and all the cold wet weather had gotten the better of me and my muscles were starting to seize up. They were starting to contract as the body couldn’t take the dehydration experienced from running the 42.195 km race. I was the 195m away from the finish line and my right back side could not straighten out. The supporters were cheering. A medic came over to see if I was alright as I had to hold onto the railings on the left just a little after the Brandenburg gate. All I had to do was get to the finish line. I started getting emotional as the feelings of determination and relief both washed over me simultaneously as I was thinking that if I could just get to the finish line then it will be finished and I will be relieved that it’s over.
I hopped on one leg while holding my right leg up in such pain that was excruciating. I had never experienced such pain and it felt like I was watching someone take my body and stick a needle into my buttocks. I had visions of voodoo dolls and a smaller version of myself while someone stuck a large knitting needle into my backside. I finished the race and had to do the usual thing in races - collect the medal that I got engraved along with the finisher’s t-shirt. It was going to be my best race and I was aiming for a good time so I wanted a momento for the occasion and so I had ordered it in advance. I finished it in 4 hours 11 minutes and it would be my final marathon. I was well and truly exhausted - see finishing photo below.
We celebrated that evening with the Blackrock Athletic club (see photo below) as we had joined as a team and gotten into the race by lottery entry the year before. I didn’t know Sean or Patricia that well and once I had the idea that I wanted to do the race I emailed the coach - also called Patricia - to ask any club members if they wanted to join. I was thinking that the chances are weighted for those who join as a club representative rather than an individual member and I was right. We got in while the others that joined as individuals were not picked. We were lucky to have had such an event.
A week later I had to go back to Ireland for a wedding that following Friday. A friend of mine was getting married on the west coast. I landed in Dublin and worked from there the rest of the week. I couldn’t shake off the exhaustion. I can only describe it as pure exhaustion. I decided the following day to book into the doctor for a quick check before work as I could not shake it and I decided to tell her about the ordeal. She did a quick ECG on me there and then and told me something was a little off about it but that she would examine the results of a blood test when it comes back. About an hour later she rang me and told me that she felt as though I looked awful and something else was the matter. She thought it best that I go to get the heart checked as soon as possible. She has previously given me an examination for it the previous April for the Paris Marathon and I was a little stressed at the time so we wrote off the high heart rate as something that would go away once the stress had subsided.
The wedding was the following day and I was getting a lift down with a friend of mine. The doctor insisted that I go to a cardiologist friend of hers in Blackrock clinic before the drive down and had personally made the appointment for the earliest that she could so I went in for the 7am appointment and saw the cardiologist. He had said that he was ‘the plumber’ of the heart but that I needed an ‘electrician’. He was going to ask me to monitor my heart over the next few weeks but to take it easy and to come back again in October.
So October came and I flew back to Ireland again for halloween and I was back to visit the doctor. I gave him the results from my heart monitor that I had been using and he said, yes, yes I think you’ll need an operation. Your heart is ‘unusual’. Let me tell you this - if you ever hear a doctor say that anything is ‘unusual’ that is not a good thing. You want to be a regular, run of the mill, wham bam thank you mam it’s all over straight away thing - not an irregular, we don’t know and have to explore things!
I told him I’d book an appointment with 'the electrician' cardiologist (Dr.Lyne) in December when I was home again and that I wasn’t allowed to do any exercise - maybe light exercise but nothing like I was doing previously. I did run daily and do planks after every run along with strength exercises and stretches. It was part of my being. I had done Army boot camp with the Irish Army in Dublin and I LOVED IT. I highly recommend it if you’re in Dublin, it’s a lot of fun training outside with a mix of Army and accomplished sports persons https://bootcampireland.com/ That was part of who I was since I was a kid. I was always running, I would run home with my Granddad and hide in doorways along the way and jump out to scare him. I had been the person in school with the medals in running for 800m races and I had gone to the North Athletic Munster running trials along with doing team sports like Hockey and all sorts. In college I picked up Karate and was a PR office of the Karate club and this Berlin marathon was my 5th marathon. I was part of the Blackrock Athletic club and even in Darmstadt when I moved I joined training sessions with the Darmstadt triathlon team thinking that I'd eventually do a triathlon if I could ever learn to swim properly (thankfully that came last year but that's the story below!).
I went in for the appointment on Thursday afternoon having left work a little early in order to make it and sat to hear that he wanted to do the operation. I was expecting this. I thought about it and said well okay I can come back in January or February. He said that my heart was going at 182-210 beats per minute while resting all day long and at some point it will rest and the heart will give up. It is not sustainable, your heart will become exhausted. It’s a muscle, it will eventually need some rest.
It was December 7th 2017 and I got a fright. I was by myself as usual after flying back from Germany to come home for the Christmas party with the Dublin office the following day. The doctor said no, I think it’s important to do this as soon as possible and we can schedule you in for tomorrow. So with that I thought about it for about a second and was like, okay let’s just get it over and done with. How long will it be? He didn’t know as he described it as trying to take a photo of a speeding car while looking from the sidelines. It looked like the heart was beating so fast - at this stage it was roughly 210 beats per minute but also beating not only fast but also irregularly. It skipped beats and I’d feel terrible as my entire body felt like it was vibrating when it was beating so fast and I could hear it in my ears.
I walked out of the room knowing that the following day I would be sedated and the heart would be repaired. I rang my family and yes I was scared. The doctor had described it as an emergency surgery as he didn’t want to even let me leave the hospital to get my things and check in as it was beating so irregularly as well as fast. I was in Dublin and my family were all in Limerick. I was convincing myself that it was fine but I really yearned for someone to be with me and go into this with me. I had never felt such emotion and a need of support.
I rang someone who I thought was going to be there for me and he wasn’t. He said ‘oh I’ll come after work’ as if I was inviting him to dinner in Milano's restaurant and that I was getting there before him! I was crushed! I went into practical mode straight after that call and rang for a taxi. The taxi driver picked me up, I rang the airbnb and checked out and finally rang my insurance company to check I was covered. I was sitting in the reception of the most expensive hospital in Dublin waiting to hear if the cost of the surgery would be covered and it was and then I checked myself in.
I was by myself as normal but this time I felt bewildered and lost. I was used to being alone, I lived alone, I studied alone, I ran alone, I did most things alone but for some reason in this bewilderedness I wanted support. I had thought that some people would be here before the surgery at least. I mean I had all these horrible thoughts running through my mind. I was allergic to so many drugs (the list was long) including penicillin and had terrible reactions that lasted in a wisdom tooth operation recovery lasting three weeks instead of the usual recovery time with swollen mouths and injections to reduce swelling and trips to the emergency room as my face shrivelled up to make it seem as I thought I had NO lips. I was getting sick hourly with it and eventually after 12 hours of that had to go into the emergency room.
So of course after that experience I had awful thoughts that regarded any drugs going into my body and any reactions that I might have to them. I was freaked out although I wasn't freaking out. It was a stillness and focus that I needed to get everything ready. So this time being back in hospital working with the unknown and being uncertain about what was coming, I was overwhelmed and anxious and yet I still kicked into practical mode. I had all my belongings for the stay in the hospital as I had already brought them with me for the few days in Ireland. I was ready. I was comfortable with my overwhelm as I embraced it as something that needed to be done.
The surgery was surreal, I was awake for it and it was like an outer body experience. It took four hours and I was reassured that it would all be fine. They poked and prodded and I could smell the burning from the surgery as they tried to find the parts that needed to be burnt. I could feel everything, it wasn’t painful but I could feel the surgeon stick lines into both groins. One was for a camera and the other was for the instrument to burn the heart. I could see the six screens to my left and as the anaesthetist gave me the sedative he talked about his trip to Mont Blanc and we spoke about climbing. He couldn’t give me too much as I had to stay away. The heart would slow down too much while asleep. We spoke at the start and then again towards the end to try and keep me from falling asleep. I had the surgery and once that was over I remember the surgeon being disappointed as he didn’t fix it. The heart was beating too quickly to catch the issues. He said it was like trying to catch a speeding car and also looking for a needle in a haystack at the same time.
I was finished and brought back to the room. I remember the wave of clarity that washed over me as the people that were there were the right people and I am so glad that they came. I am so thankful for the people who came to visit me in the hospital. I guess I was still shocked afterwards. I stayed optimistic that it would be fine but deep down I was overwhelmed. I don't think the people know how much it meant to me when they came to visit. They truly made my days knowing that they were on the way there. I usually was so used to being alone that I would even say to people 'ah sher I'll be out in a few days it's grand don't bother going to the trouble of visiting' but in actual fact I cherished the visits and what people brought with them too. I am usually easy-going and independent to say the least but in this case I was grateful for the support and even when the days in hospital were fine and I fell into the hospital routine chatting to the nurses, looking out the window to the waves crashing and I enjoyed the peace that had befallen me during this time. I am forever grateful to the people that visited and were there during what I can think of as a the lesson of all lessons in my life.
I learnt a lot in that time and I learnt a lot from that entire experience. The clarity that washed over me after surgery was one of connectedness and serenity that I had never experienced - perhaps it was the drugs or a realisation that it’s fine, all works out, I came through and I can breathe a sigh of relief. I then had to remain patient while waiting for the next surgery which was six months afterwards as the heart had to heal but that’s another story involving sitting in a waiting room with patients that were all over 70 and the realisation that as I was a young and what seemed to be once fit person had to overcome. I was yet again alone going to the appointment and let me tell you - I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We can support ourselves, we can comfort ourselves and the lessons that I have learnt were far greater than I could have imagined. That’ll be for another blog post. In a twist of fate I am thankful that I had that.
Even though it may seem like a minor surgery to some however it flipped my life of sport upside down, my coping mechanism for most of my life was sport and exercise of some sort. I was athletic in school and I've done various sports along the way. It has changed my life but for the better and I am so grateful for the birthday card I received from my colleagues as I spent it in hospital and to the staff of Blackrock clinic as well as Dr. Lyne for operating on me twice in a number of months. I received flowers from friends that I was so surprised to receive. I don't think anyone had sent me flowers before that. It was so thoughtful and considerate. If I forget anything it's because it was a few years ago now but I know that I was grateful to every single person that showed up for me during that time.
I had the best of care in the top hospital in Ireland and I had the best support from the right people. I had visitors and even those who couldn't make it were there afterwards. I was well and truly exhausted after the marathon and you can see me in my Ireland jersey after suffering, it's a slight smile of relief that it was over. I also had Christmas at home and I made sure to wear a skirt as the doctor had said that he might have to do a 'more intrusive' operation the next time and warned me that it might entail cutting me open instead of going through the groin. David took me out of the house for the first time and brought me into town. Seriously lucky to have such great friends, he drove down from Galway and all to visit. That Christmas I was so happy to be alive and the decisions that were made as a result of that were the best decisions I have ever made. It has given me the peace and clarity needed to shed away all the things that did not serve me good in my life. Not being able to walk up the stairs without being breathless after being able to run 42.195km previously was a bit of a shock to the system. I am glad to say that that is all over now and I can look back at the lessons and decisions made with pride as they make up who I am as a person.
The connection between your body and mind is not that complex although we make it seem that way. We want to attack something a 1,000 years ago and we primed our bodies in order to attack. We were afraid and we would cower down and protect ourselves in our caves. We were happy and we'd smile, our chemicals would be released as a result. It was pretty straightforward. Our body sends the signals to our brain and thus biofeedback allows us to take action.
In these times we are more intellectual and sit in an office where we don't have the luxury of spending time with ourselves in solitude in order to hear our own thoughts and figure out what the contrast is, what makes us uncomfortable, what was unacceptable and what was fine? These are things that happen by accident - you are intellectually stimulated and focused on your goal so your attention goes to only the thing that matters the most and the rest take a lower priority. You may even squash something that happened down to seem like nothing even when it is uncomfortable in order to accomplish a goal. This can happen easily. We are all guilty of striving to accomplish a goal and focusing only on that goal while the world can fall down around us.
We are now in a world where as Charlie Chaplin says 'we think too much and feel too little'. It is starting to lead us astray as we decipher other people's words and not pay attention to how we feel about them. It doesn't really matter how they feel about us but it's how we feel about them. That is where true freedom lies. It is the freedom of regardless of how they feel about us, we know how we feel about them. In saying that we are always going to be in situations where we need to calm our minds in order to accomplish a task. We get nervous and the more nervous we get the more we know that something really matters to us. We can learn to calm these nerves and balance our thoughts of what matters to us at the same time.
Amy Cuddy delivered a talk a few years ago regarding what is well know in scientific circles as biofeedback. You can train your mind based on your bodies movement. Everyone knows that when you don't feel like going for a run but go anyway you will never regret it. The run has released the endorphins into the body and sets off signals of enjoyment. The connection between the chemicals in your brain and body is intensified by the movement of the body. Cuddy states how much body language and power poses can improve your confidence going into something like an interview. (I've linked some videos below.)
It is also proven that when we are feeling down that we can uplift our own spirits with our body. Although it is not recommended to undermine our own emotions and perhaps you need to feel deeply any emotion especially painful ones so you can heal first. Once you know that you can sit with yourself in your own discomfort, you have reached what is known as one of the traits of emotional maturity. Spending time on your own without distraction and thinking about your experience even when they are uncomfortable. It is sitting with yourself and allowing yourself to feel everything no matter how messy that is. Having the wherewithal to remain introspective as well as seeing perspectives outside of yourself can show some of your own growth.
We also need to acknowledge the coping mechanisms adopted from our caretakers. It is something that we have learned since we were young in seeing how they coped with things be it in terms of aggression, stonewalling or having one person in a relationship 'win' in an argument over the other. These are all things that as an adult we need to address and recognise our own 'insanities' as they are referred to in some books. These are the things that when an event triggers them that they are automatic and without knowing it, you have repeated some of these behaviours. It is a case of recognising these and adapting your own behaviour. Being able to take a step back and listen to yourself over the voices that guided you into adulthood is one of the ways we form our own paths in life. It is also a case of remaining and maintaining a growth mindset - as mentioned in the previous post - and also paying attention to your own faults and insecurities. Looking at how we interact with the world around us can be uncomfortable at times and sometimes a challenge, however, the lessons that life presents us will keep appearing until we have them learnt. We will keep repeating the same behavioural faults until we gain such introspection.
Some of these lessons are overcoming things like nervousness when in a different place. It is a simple technique that can reduce the chemicals in our 2,000,000 year old brains. It is reducing these in order to realise what is happening at the present moment in time and that we are safe. These strategies can be useful when working in the modern world or simply meeting someone for the first time. These can include adopting a power pose or smiling. Both of which involve movement of the body to open up the heart and send signals to the brain to tell it that we are safe, we are fine and we are ready for what is to come. Adopting these in the short term in specific times often brings us great biofeedback when needed, however, it is also a case of adopting these in the best of times so that we can remember and draw on them when we need them. It can encourage and support us through the inevitable storms in life.
Of course, we can tell ourselves to smile when we are nervous or stand up and put our shoulders back. Do we really remember in times of stress when Cortisol is flooding the brain and shrinking the hippocampus while enlarging the amygdala? Will our brains cope in such a stressful task and remember what's important? Probably not! While we can consciously use these when approaching isolated events and tasks like job interviews as we prepare for them and know ahead of time, what about the events that happen on a day-to-day basis that are unexpected? What about the times that we react unconsciously and fall into old patterns that come from our learned behaviours from our caretakers?
It is then a case of practice makes perfect, we need to stand shoulders back, relax our jaws as a clenched jaw - usually someone grinding their teeth suffers from anxiety and our body tells us that we are anxious even when we don't listen to it. Our bodies hold the tension in our muscles and is screaming at us to either 1) get out of a stressful environment as it will clench all muscles and restrict blood flow in order to run from danger and send more blood to vital organs to survive or 2) make us extremely tired and sick in order to let us know that it needed a break. Both of which is our biofeedback telling us to pay attention and when we don't pay attention to our bodies then our body tells us by our posture, for example, our jaws are clenched, our sleeping habits are disrupted or our stomach is upset.
What can we do with this biofeedback? We can address our pain and seek to find the lessons that our body is trying to tell us. We can understand what makes us uncomfortable and what makes our heart sing. What can we do each day to ease our troubles and find the things that we enjoy, we can do one thing that brings us joy daily and the contrast between discomfort and joy will grow wider until we are comfortable with our own discomfort. It may not completely go away but we can learn to live with it and send other biofeedback signals back to it knowing that that discomfort will also pass - we can smile and release oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. We can even look at puppies and imagine one cuddling you as these also send signals to your brain as if it is happening. The brain can't tell what is real and what is fake but the chemicals released will allow for that good feeling that you deserve to have each and every single day.
We can also remind ourselves that we are safe. We do this by looking in the mirror and daily saying 'I am safe'. It tells your brain to relax, you will start to notice that in a couple of days that your body starts to also relax and you know that if you are in an unsafe environment that you will protect yourself more. Of course telling yourself that you are safe when you are not is another story but that is for another blog post. For now I will say knowing two things along with using biofeedback can improve confidence, reduce anxiety and allow you to grow as a person and they are knowing that 1) this too shall pass - pain is temporary and you may need to sit with that discomfort until you figure out what your body is trying to communicate to you and 2) everything requires growth and growth can be evidenced through pain and this is why we call it growing pains. Of course it is also adopting a growth mindset but that's in another blog post - https://www.alisonmcnamara.com/my-blog/done-is-better-than-perfect and https://www.alisonmcnamara.com/my-blog/technology-mypassion
Sleeping is also an issue with anxiety and of course it is also not always easy, it is challenging and it opens the world to an entirely new level of understanding that can only be described as enthralling. I have been grinding my teeth since I was a child. My teeth are jagged and I have worn a mouth guard in the past but that is history. I no longer use it. I remind myself going to bed each night to relax my jaw, relax my face by first clenching my entire body tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter and taking deep breaths and before I get to the next breath I now fall asleep and if I wake up in the middle of the night (when I remember) I do the same and it works almost every single time. It is a trick known to send biofeedback to sleep better. Of course this takes effort but once a habit is formed and we are creatures of habits then we can sleep better. I also write three things that I am grateful for that happened that day. Oftentimes I listen to a guided bedtime meditation as well as this relaxing music helps with noise and allows me to think that I am in a Spa :-D
As for stomach issues, I've also had those since I was a child but again, not anymore. I get them every so often when my stomach is in a knot about something or I am anticipating an exam - those of which I have done quite an extensive amount. I was in the education system for a long time and continue learning - it's part of who I am and I love it so I needed to find ways to relax my mind going into examinations. The ways I found to cope also involve body movement and breathing. It's a method called the 5-4-3-2-1 method that is well known in psychology circles as a way to ground yourself. Pick out 5 things that you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Once you run through this the brain acknowledges that you are present, it takes a breath and stops the 'monkey mind' hopping to the future.
They say depression is your bodies way of telling you that you need 'deep-rest' and you are caught up in the past while anxiety is linked to the future and focusing on possible outcomes that will disrupt your present. Both need your mind to pay attention for you are not living your truth. Both of which in buddhist terms are known as the monkey mind - not living in the present but focusing on the past or the future. There are simple strategies to over come certain forms of anxiety by telling yourself that you are excited. I learnt this a few years ago skydiving. Your body releases the same hormones but actually telling yourself that you are happily excited instead of nervous can make a difference in how you view and perceive the world right now including doing an examination or accomplishing a task. These are only a few tips and tricks I have learnt from reading during the PhD and adapting coping mechanisms through various situations that I have been in.
For me I need silence in order to hear myself think and that is also important, we need to listen to ourselves in order to find our own way. We need the solitude for productivity and sparking some creativity and we already know that we need a relaxed brain so that it can be an innovative brain. When it all comes down to it, life is a joy, and as my Dad says quite often 'life is what you make it'. Forge meaning in the suffering you have encountered for it is your journey, your story and it makes up you for who you are as a person - I recommend watching some of the videos below - without the bad, there is no good. We experience both the good and the bad to make up our story and biofeedback is the intelligent part of us communicating with us that something is going incredibly well or something is tragically wrong.
We can tell ourselves that we are safe, we can comfort ourselves in times of anxiety and excitement and we can and are in charge of the thoughts as we observe them coming and going like waves on the ocean. Biofeedback is something that when paid attention to, can impact our entire worlds and improve our lives immensely by stepping in and letting us know that the body needs attention. It is also a case choosing to move the body and adventures so your body can give you back those endorphins and get the 'runner's high' that we all love and enjoy. As Alastair explains in his video below - choosing 'micro-adventures' if you can't go to the South Pole then enjoy smaller adventures and enjoy these for all that they are. The biofeedback will thank you for the adventures that will ensue and as Dad says 'life IS what you make it'!
*It is important to note that I am referring to biofeedback as the natural form of mind-body self-regulation and not the EEG tests performed in studies that measure what happens, although these are interesting, I am speaking about ways that biofeedback can be used in order to overcome sleeping issues, stomach issues or events like going to an interview or taking an examination.
Image source: https://alastairhumphreys.com/life-love/
In the media:
I've had plenty of time to reflect these last few weeks on the past couple of years and the whirlwind that has ensued. I remember focusing on my mindset during the PhD and really looking at how I was going to handle the overwhelm as well as handle the workload that was coming down the pipeline. I can now look back and really look at the journey I went on. It wasn't always easy, it was challenging, in fact a daily challenge but I was excited about that challenge. I was invigorated, inspired and I embraced it whole-heartedly. I adopted what is known as a growth mindset and ran with it for the PhD. I loved it. It gave such freedom and I watched documentaries and inspiring talks daily to keep myself focused. I read books like Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset along with many others. I watched a documentary on Ruth Gruber - the youngest person to ever receive a PhD and her phrase 'done is better than perfect' in the documentary 'Ahead of time' she mentioned that as the best advice for anyone wanting to pursue a PhD. She was absolutely correct in that.
I also meditated daily and I know what you are thinking now - it's all fluff but if you think of it like a brain break then it really was. I also had a great quiet morning every morning. I made a lovely breakfast and watched the view of the ocean. I cycled into the PhD room daily so I got exercise. I arrived into the PhD room which was always empty at the early hour I arrived and settled into my desk for the day looking up at the inspiring quotes and posters on my desk to remind me that I could do it. These were both supportive and uplifting and I watched at least one inspirational video daily to start my day before getting started on both learning C# and coding a 3D gesture-based game that I was completely new ground for me. Of course there were days that I was frustrated spending hours getting something to work. I did design-based research using agile software processes which were focused on user-centred design with a turnaround time of two weeks. It was challenging being a one-person team. It was really a case of taking a step back and thinking - I don't have it YET and that's where the growth mindset comes to the fore. YET is the keyword there. It can almost cultivate a patience with yourself because you haven't gotten it YET, which is a key quality in accomplishing almost anything. Everything is done in stages, everything is done little by little, task by task, goal by goal in order to achieve what you have set out to do.
I was in a PhD room full of inspiring people wanting to pursue their goals in various doctorates including topics like the Mexican Narcocorrido as well as other heart-wrenching topics like finding strategies that help survivors of sexual assault and of course, those in the hard sciences too like pure mathematics. It was an eclectic mix of everyone and we'd go to the lunch room which was part of the PhD room daily and have discussions regarding human rights with people studying doctorates in law as well as Irish history or even English literature. It was a mix of people that I will forever be glad that I met.
This experience challenged my primitive way of thinking. By primitive I mean, I didn't put an emphasis in the language I was using and the meaning associated with particular words that would change the way someone viewed a particular topic. This also filtered its way into the PhD during the 'write up phase' as well. Each and every word of that book was selected carefully so it could be read with clarity and understanding and anyone could pick it up to understand what the study accomplished. This, of course, entailed letting go of 100s or pages of other work that I could have added but in order for the conciseness and clarity to be achieved I had to let go. It would have been a two volume edition of the PhD but I was limited to a word count of 100,000 and that meant cutting out and letting go of a lot of work over the years.
Letting go was also where mindset played an important role and I am not saying that I maintained the same mindset 100% of the time - I didn't but I know that I did my best. I am human after all. Having this mindset allowed me to let go and I did focus on developing this mental muscle and look at also maintaining it. I realised one thing that I did not adopt this last year and that was my mental agility. I had stopped my practice in 2018 and it is a practice. Just like any other muscle, it's a case of exercising this muscle to strengthen it and in times of true hardship being able to use it and focus on its resilience. Look at the mind as a transient thing and getting perspective in terms of life happening in waves. It is so easy for our minds to think that something will never end.
When we are in a cycle of something happening outside of our control we can get caught up in thinking that it will never end. We want the pain and suffering to stop. This can happen easily when something happens and you fall into what I like to call 'child mode' when you want comfort and safety but the world isn't providing that for you. You need to find comfort and safety yourself. If you want peace, then practice being peaceful. If you want joy, be joyous. It is that simple. Of course the mind can play tricks on us and it can be difficult to overcome a chemical from our primitive 1,000,000 year old brain telling us that we are in danger. It is the neuroscience that will kick in but we are also in control of certain things that enable other chemicals - we can encourage the biofeedback to send other chemicals to counteract the stress hormone cortisol firing.
These chemicals can be overwhelming and it is a case of finding what is right to comfort and support yourself and also calm the toxins in your brain. You can control them by relaxing your brain. A relaxed brain is a more creative brain. Your brain will be inspired, think better, create more and enjoy life more. Everyone wants that (I think!). During the PhD to maintain this, I watched films that were inspiring like 'The Great Dictator' that I believe is the best speech about humanity that anyone has given in the 20th century and is still true to this day. I've linked a video below. I had Charlie Chaplin quotes hung up on my desk to remind myself that I can love myself with his 80th birthday speech 'as I began to love myself'.
These books focused on cultivating a mindset that would give you strategies for protecting your boundaries by focusing on your thought processes and becoming aware of them. This was, of course, through meditation and simply focusing on the present moment. I had been interested and practicing this for years. I have been to courses regarding this and looked at the benefits that others have attained from doing various forms be it, going for a run or exercising - as long as you are focused on the present moment I would call that a meditative experience. Going for a run can be invigorating and make you feel alive - sport can be analogous to life in that you need to exercise the muscles for them to get stronger, every muscle must experience pain to grow. Everyone goes through growing pains - that's why they are called growing - pains.
Also perhaps cultivating a mindset of looking at life as a series of tests that life shows you and they will keep appearing until you have learnt that lesson. Finding the lesson in the chaos and figuring out what can be learnt from this. What is this interaction with this person trying to teach me? Why am I uncomfortable about this interaction and then having the ability to still your mind and reflect on this can lead to a clarity and objectivity that can allow you to detach from outcomes and enjoy the process. Allowing for this detachment and keeping in mind the phrase 'I won't remember this when I am 80' is always good, although bearing mind that you can also undermine your feelings and situation by repeating this phrase - it is more to do with holding yourself in a place of compassion towards the human experience and understanding that it is all too fleeting. Time will inevitably, as everyone says, fly by without you knowing. It is cherishing the good and realising the lessons from the bad and looking at the entire thing with beauty. The detachment from the outcome can be freeing and also bring a plethora of benefits. You will find that you will work harder as you focus on the task at hand more, you may even enjoy life more as you appreciate where you are right now enjoying the process along the way. You might even start dancing with life when you adopt the process-based mindset and let go of the outcome. Life is a process with only one destination that we are all headed to so you might as well enjoy it along the way!
Life is exciting, nerve-wrecking, thrilling, enthralling, relaxing, stupefyingly beautiful and looking at your body as an instrument that will help guide you along this wild-ride can also cultivate a mindset of compassion towards what the body can do. It can walk - a privilege denied to many, it can breathe without help - a privilege, as we know now especially, is to be cherished at the best of times and the worst of times, it can sustain injury after injury and recover. What an amazing thing the human body can do and recover from incredible injuries only with some rest and recuperation. It will even tell you when it needs rest and recuperation. It will be exhausted and when you find yourself needing to sleep after work then maybe work is draining your energy and it is time to find a place that invigorates you to work there.
You can get excited about new challenges OR it is a case of adapting to the existing environment and finding your attitude towards it. Reinvigorating yourself by supporting yourself and seeing that YOU can choose your perception towards it. It is having the strength and courage to be vulnerable and face your weaknesses and say... look, I have them, they make up me, that's fine, this is me! I am improving them by learning how I interact with the world around me. It is focusing on what can be done and focusing on the main thing that started this blog post which is 'done is better than perfect' in order to keep motivated and keep going.
As Charlie Chaplin says in his speech below 'You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful'. Life has taught me a lesson since 2018, I stopped exercising my mental muscle - I know now that this was the lesson life was reminding me and teaching me to embrace it all. It's a great adventure after all and a reminder of the brief time we have on this wonderful place called home. Everything is part of our story and we can write our own story by choosing our own direction. Life is also not that serious and a laugh a day is a necessity to get through any bad situation. Frankl stated in 'man's search for meaning' - see post below - https://www.alisonmcnamara.com/my-blog/comparison-thief and also related - https://www.alisonmcnamara.com/my-blog/comedy-and-computer-games-as-a-way-of-coping - that laughter can be a lifeline to survival and when things can challenging - we can use these examples as a way to laugh at the absurdity of life - “Humour, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”
One more thing, if you find yourself procrastinating - it's because you feel bad doing what you are going to do so you develop strategies of distraction or avoidance towards doing these things. Once you figure out that then you can readjust your feelings to point them in the right direction. What thoughts are you having that is making you procrastinate? Can you do things like go for a cycle/run/swim/walk and then do 5 minutes and tell yourself that you'll only open the book and see what CAN be done. This is a simple strategy for feeling good and then associating those feelings with the thing that you are procrastinating doing. It's a psychological tip I learnt through the PhD - some of these I obviously forget from time to time but I try and practice as often as I can.
Always important to laugh at least once a day - here are some of my favourites.
Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential - Dr. Carol Dweck
Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life - Dr. John. B. Arden
The Happiness Advantage - Dr. Shawn Achor
Flow - Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The seven habits of highly effective people - Stephen Covey
The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance-What Women Should Know - Claire Shipman and Katty Kay
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance - Angela Duckworth
Some funnier related reads:
How to Be Human: The Manual - Ruby Wax
Women tech global conference 2020
The Women in Tech conference is happening this year in June and it will be a virtual conference given the circumstances. I am delighted to speak and also engage with inspiring women in the area of technology. I'll be in the Java room engaging with fellow Java enthusiasts during this virtual conference in June this year.
Please join the women tech conference at the link below. It's a great opportunity to meet like-minded individuals who are starting out their career or those who have established their careers in the tech industry. Please see the link below to sign up for the virtual conference online. See you there!
If You Forget Me Poem by Pablo Neruda
If you forget me
I want you to know one thing
You know how this is
If I look at the crystal moon
At the red branch of the slow autumn at my window
If I touch near the fire the impalpable ash Or the wrinkled body of the log
Everything carries me to you
As if everything that exists - aromas, light, metals
Were little boats that sail toward those isles of yours that wait for me
If little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you
Little by little
If suddenly you forget me
Do not look for me
For I shall already have forgotten you
If you think it long and mad the wind of banners that passes through my life
And you decide to leave me at the shore of the heart where I have roots
That on that day, at that hour, I shall lift my arms
And my roots will set off to seek another land
But, if each day, each hour, you feel that you are destined for me
With implacable sweetness
If each day a flower climbs up to your lips to seek me
Ahh my love, ahh my own, in me all that fire is repeated
In me nothing is extinguished or forgotten
My love feeds on your love, beloved
And as long as you live, it will be in your arms without leaving mine
Comparison is the thief of joy!
I guess I will talk about this a lot more. I appreciate my life so so much and I am never going to take it for granted. Supporting yourself means everything. It means picking yourself up when you have been kicked down. We are all human and make mistakes, we fall into toxic patterns easily, we get infected with a poor mindset by staying in a negative environment but we have the control. We must notice when this happens.
When was the last time you looked at the stars and saw how beautiful they are. When was the last time you took a deep breath in and looked at the wonders of the sky. Being in nature brings me a stillness like no other - of course it is natural that when your mind is not there then you are not really in nature, you have carried your vibrations and thoughts with you from the traumas. That is natural. That is fine. You can have those times. You are allowed to have that time.
You can appreciate your time and life when the time allows it. The bad times are temporary, like all things. It is important to reflect and have time to yourself to allow your thoughts to calm. It is also important for someone to have solitude to collect thoughts especially if in a negative environment. This is another lesson I have learnt and I thought I knew already and tried to do this by going for walks but a colleague would accompany me and I didn't get the space I needed for my brain to breathe. Solitude allows for creativity. It allows your brain to breathe. I was reading all the books and had read books about this but hadn't put the things I learnt into the practice needed. Instead I focused on the positive but didn't allow my brain to let the negative thoughts be there. You are not your thoughts! You are the observer or your thoughts! When you sit for a while or walk in solitude negative thoughts will pop up, do not push them away - they will get louder - observe them, allow them to appear and they will go like waves on the ocean. By pushing them away you are drawing your attention to them and draining your energy. Some of the books helped me to focus on the positive but it also undermined my own experience by thinking that 'it could be a lot worse' and that is a toxic way to be and also your feelings are your feelings and your experience is your experience.
A few year's ago I read Man's search for meaning by Viktor Frankl, the book details life in a concentration camp and how people have incredible resilience and fortitude in circumstances that we can only imagine. It is even difficult to envisage what it was like and the utter despair experienced by those who were in the camps. The grief having lost their loved ones and yet seeing the same people walking through the camps offering pieces of bread to others and being compassionate. I read about these experiences in awe and I also thought to myself - wow, people go through so much worse, my experience is nothing in comparison. Again, comparing feelings and undermining my experience in order to suppress the bad thoughts that I was experiencing in the workplace! My mindset was skewed and toxic as a result. Yes, focus on the positive, but do not undermine your feelings or your own experience. Comparison is the thief of joy and it truly is especially when comparing traumas. Allow yourself to feel without figuring out the 'why'.
The leaky stem pipeline
I am all too familiar with the concept known as 'the leaky STEM pipeline' from my PhD and also from my own experience at school. I have seen girls drop off bit by bit away from the technology side of things into other areas and I know, I have also been tempted myself - see post on technology and teaching technology - my passion below. I have been in school and the girls had a low uptake of subjects like Physics. I have even gone into visit an all girl's school where they didn't even offer Physics as a subject. It is mandatory for all to take a science subject and they would take Biology, few would take Chemistry and not a lot would take Physics. I even took Biology over Physics and I knew that I was taking computers in college! My first year I had to get revision books of Physics as I hadn't looked at it for two years previously so I could catch up quickly. I did thankfully but they covered a two year course in six weeks to get everyone at the same level and out of 88 students taking that course 11 passed the first time.
The course was renowned as one of the 'sorting the men from the boys' to make sure they knew what they were signing up to in Information Technology with the highest failure rate on campus. It was tough, it was challenging but I still enjoyed it. It wasn't the same as going to school with girls. It was a culture shock and the competitiveness was rife. I am so grateful I lived with girls to keep me encouraged and my head straight as I would have internalised a lot of their insults otherwise and I was having too much fun. I even did my final year project in Linux so that I could be in a different room for some peace and quiet from our fourth year computer laboratory and I was delighted. :-D So... in essence, I agree 100% with the video below and I have lived it... every part of her descriptions of what happens!
If we are socialised to be brave instead of socialised to be perfect - men and women approach problems differently. This video below validated almost every single part of me trying to explain to the men that I have a different way to problem-solve. The girls fear of not getting it right. This is simple - this is, in essence, the growth versus fixed mindset. I have seen with my own eyes some of the things that have happened at University while studying. She gives an example of approaching a lecturer stating that there is something wrong with my code and a female approaches and says - there is something wrong with me. I have seen this, I have lived this and I have been there! I believe environment matters and girls tend to be socialised to internalise that something is wrong with them as opposed to objectifying the issue - which is difficult to do if all you hear all day is that you need to read a book or start again you don't know what you're doing - these comments were again on the Facebook groups answers to people asking questions as new members of the Java Programmers group.
PERFECTION OR BUST! We have learned perseverance and we need to socialise the girls to be brave and be comfortable with imperfection.
Corona and working from Home!
This gif below pretty much sums it up! I'm the one on the right incase you confused me for the one on the left! :-D
I love working from home, in fact, in my previous job I requested working from home privileges be two days a week and the one before that I thought we could work from home that's why I accepted it. Neither case was true! I, myself, prefer working from home especially during these times. You have no interruptions, it's very peaceful, I can concentrate, there's no noise - the list goes on and before you ask, no, I don't miss human contact. I have plenty of zoom meetings and other meetings for that. I keep myself busy and enjoy doing a lot of sport so this also gives me the freedom to get out when I want to mostly during the morning before I start work. I used to run in the mornings while marathon training and still enjoy the early morning rises. It's great to quiet the mind and keep focused throughout the day. I also enjoy walks in the afternoon after I eat lunch and go into nature. This nature is where my heart is free. I feel free to create. I am surrounded by the wilds of the birds singing and dancing in the air as I look up to the blue skies that surround me. It's away from noise and traffic. There are real forests, a real escape. A wave of calm washes over me as I enjoy walking through the forests here in Germany. It's serene and I am serene. So to conclude, yes, I love working from home. Stay healthy and stay home everyone!
I am excited to get started on the new Udemy course and also look at the intermediate series for my YouTube channel - learn computers with Ali - which will take off from multidimensional arrays and look at more examples as well as using the ellipsis (...) in a method's parameter list to indicate that the method receives a variable number of arguments of that particular type.
I have finished the series of YouTube beginner's programming playlist now which finished up at multidimensional arrays. I also posted up the Udemy course --- Free Udemy course: https://www.udemy.com/course/learn-beginners-java/
It is limited to two hours of content. The next Udemy course will be announced when it is available and it will have a lot more content, programming exercises and self-review quizzes.
Finding my passion has been relatively easy, I have loved computers and teaching from a young age. I was a computer mentor in school and at lunch time had the key to the computer room to allow other students in under my supervision. I also engaged in workshops where I showed the class what to do in these classes. One of the computer classes in school allowed us to play games and one of the games was a typing game where you'd type a sentence and the car would drive. The errors that appear on screen would appear as flies on your windscreen and you could make the car go faster, the faster you typed. So I learned how to type properly as I knew that would come in handy. It was free and in school so why not. I also had plenty of experience with other consoles at home but this stands out as the point at which I did a project on my cousin who was working for a games company as a 'Senior Test Automation Engineer' and thinking, WOW, what an amazing job. That is like a dream job, working in computers sounds amazing. In school we had to do a careers project to see what we would apply for after school and what Universities and Colleges we would go to. It was about finding out what our goals, dreams and interests were. I did the school careers project on him and all the while was encouraged by both School and home to pursue my interests. Things came naturally when setting up computers, pulling them apart, installing a new chip in an old Dell remanufactured machine that my sister had brought home.
I didn't stray too far and continued into studying Information Technology after school as a degree but I was left with this sense of wonder at how I was going to cope within this environment. The fourth year of the course was really challenging and I went through a lot in terms of the final year project. I had been studying away from the guys in my class as they were all into the 'one up man-ship' - see post below regarding masculine toxicity. The competitive, dominant and oftentimes, offensive nature of Information Technology often led me to have a low self-confidence. I worked hard. I knew what I was doing. I remember coming back after the Summer one year and I was chosen to be a mentor to the 1st years of the course. The University were going to pay us and we were going to give them classes in different topics. I choose to cover the Fundamentals of Electronic Engineering and came up with pretty unconventional ways of explaining AND, OR and different logic gates by telling a story of two people going to the shop (I always like real-life examples)!
Naturally I loved this as I had a whiteboard and blackboard at home when I was growing up and I tended to lean towards explaining things to others easily. It was logical. I loved it. It made sense! I finished up in the degree having mentored for a few years and started work in Luxembourg where I was left with a terrible taste in my mouth. It wasn't easy. My first month my boss was fired and so our department was now under one of the directors. I remember sitting at lunch and him explaining to me that the reason why he divorced his first wife was because she spent too much time with their new born child. I was stunned but okay, this was a different culture. It was pretty jarring to hear though.
I worked in a software security company as a tester and at the time we took it in turns to output the software onto devices for clients. It was my turn this one particular week and so I asked Franc where the sleeves were, he said check with marketing so I went to the marketing department and they said to check with HR and the chase went on until finally HR saw me walking around the office looking for the sleeves and said that is enough. Myself and HR marched back to his desk and demanded the sleeves and he opened his desk drawer to hand me them. I remember thinking - this environment is not for me. There was plenty of other things that happened but that was the one that really stood out as the entire company had seen me wandering around looking for these sleeves. I felt somewhat humiliated and I think maybe that was the plan when I look back on other things that were done. I didn't last long there. I wanted to move somewhere else and as I wanted to get into programming and never felt good enough I decided to go back and do a masters.
I started into a Masters programme and there was a taught first year with programming classes. I loved it. I got top of my class and started teaching computers in the evenings to older people part-time. It then came to the following year and we needed to do the thesis and work in a company full-time. I got a job in Dublin. It was time to move to 'the big smoke'. I had moved to Luxembourg to avoid this but as it was my Masters I had to go in the end. I remember thinking, I'll only stay for the six months that is necessary to fulfil the programme guidelines and then move back to Galway.
I enjoyed working there and loved the projects I was working on. We won the digital awards for our work on Project Maths resources and I learnt a lot while I was there. I was always thinking about whether I could get back into more programming though as it moved into using authoring tools to develop these as well as flash but little programming in the end. My title had changed three times my first day too so it was no surprise that the job was not what I signed up for in the end. I applied to do a PhD and developed my own proposal in the technology that I loved. I focused on gesture-based technology and had the privilege of getting a full scholarship based on this in 2012.
I moved back to Galway and lived happily for a few years working in the PhD room where I made and met some of the most interesting people who challenged my beliefs every lunchtime. They were so encouraging, focused and driven people. It was inspiring and motivating at the same time. We were all doing PhDs and all focused on finishing as soon as we could. Supervisor meetings, department meetings, side work as a lecturer, planning conferences, attending conferences, writing journal articles, developing pilot projects, developing focus groups and the next stages of the project, picking up work supervising students - I loved it. I loved all of it. I loved the fact that I could go into the PhD room at 8 or 9am, sit quietly working on my project until lunch and then continue until dinner before cycling home to cook a nice hearty meal.
Towards the end of the PhD it was back to Dublin and getting back into industry. I worked in a technology company and for the first time I found myself in a company where I thought - wow - this place is great. I love the people working here. They all want to be here and are all nerds like me. The technology company in Dublin was for a while and I also kept on teaching on the side as a lecturer in Pulse College teaching C# programming in Unity to develop games. It was a lot of fun but I couldn't manage to keep both and had to give up the Saturday 11-5 lectures. It was too much. I wanted to put in more time and I usually had games to teach the students game programming too but every evening I ended up doing something.The technology company in Dublin took over and it was full-time. I spent a lot of time at work and it was enjoyable most of the time. We had game nights, poker evenings and beer o'clock every Friday. It was great and I am still in touch with the people I worked with to this day. It was a 'work hard, play hard' mentality and I loved it. We were a team and we really were like 'team work makes the dream work'.
To clarify, I have worked with inspiring men who have also forged my outlook in life. I want a respectful environment and workplace. Somewhere that respects both genders equally. No one is shouting at the other or disrespecting them and I have worked in those places too. I have worked with men who want their daughters to also get into technology and want it to be a better environment for them too. All equal, all treated with respect, all kind to one another - that is possible, I have worked in those companies as well so don't get me wrong when I am painting the highlights of my career so far. I am advocating for a better environment for everyone. Freedom for both genders in terms of expression and respect in the workplace.
I have since been very successful in other companies with a better environment and enjoy working from home quite often and this allows me to code without the nonsense of these males thundering on their chests like the primitive apes that they are. It is like being in a real life Jungle, it is how I see them when they are thumping your chest after solving a problem - an ape in the Jungle - a primitive being who has not evolved and a repressed male who cannot be vulnerable even when true strength and courage is in vulnerability and having the integrity while having the convictions to follow through. Being angry doesn't solve anything. It's a case of learning and remembering the lessons, forgetting the rest and focusing on overcoming the obstacles. It is a case of creating and becoming a creator in your own life and what you want to focus on.
It is a case of finding the right environment, creating the best version of yourself and focusing on your own goals, thanking them for making you realise what you don't want and finding where everyone is working as a team, the level of cooperation is high and you work together to achieve a common goal. This is what I had initially and unfortunately we all stumble across the 'primitives'. Once you find an environment that is willing to work with you then you will thrive. It is a case of being open and free to do your work to the best level that you can. It is also a case of gaining perspective when it comes to working in an environment that isn't working for you and that means engaging with programming groups online - helping others - seeing where you can contribute.
I am now an active member of a number of Java programming groups where people ask many questions online and I have had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of lovely people in technology. I love technology. I love the people. I love teaching and I love what I am passionate about. This is not to be confused with preaching. You can do whatever feels right for you but for me that is a case of thriving in an environment that works best for me so I can shine. It means working with people that I can call 'my Uruguayan brother' (referring to my previous colleague) or 'best boss ever' (referring to my previous boss) frequently and stay in touch after work. It is having the freedom to take on other projects and look at working on other things as well as work and wanting to work at home. It is getting the time and space necessary to complete the job that you are passionate about and contribute to communities around the world. It is about producing and creating your best code and learning from others. It is engaging with others and being able to communicate and lift each other up when you find yourself taking longer to solve a problem than normal. It is about being in an encouraging environment that inspires you to thrive. It is having constructive feedback of where you can improve without unhelpful feedback or confusion. It is about knowing where you stand.
The contrast is there and I will strive to be in a good environment where I can thrive as I continue working in technology. Move on with your life - create what you want, take responsibility and put the past behind you. Some people are not nice and it is taking back the power and moving on. Forget about them and create the best life and success you can imagine! You can create your best life yet. Take back your power! Thank them for showing them exactly what you don't like and giving you the strength that it gave you. I love technology and I love teaching technology, they are my passion and they are what make my heart sing.
In the news:
Rising above a Toxic Workplace - Gary Chapman, Dr. Paul White, Harold Myra.
Women in Tech - Tarah Wheeler, Esther Dyson
Mindset - changing the way you think to fulfil your potential - Dr. Carol Dweck
The power of positive thinking - Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
Comebacks at work - Kathleen Kelley Reardon, Christopher T. Noblet
Emotional Intelligence - Prof. Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.
Dodging energy vampires - An empath's guide to evading relationships that drain you and restoring your health and power - Dr. Christine Northrup
The Universe has your back - Gabrielle Bernstein
The Ultimate Happiness Prescription - Deepak Chopra, M.D.
You can heal your life - Louise Hay
The gift of forgiveness - Katherine Schwarzenegger
How to be human - Ruby Wax
The Highly Sensitive Person - Elaine N. Aaron
Burnout - the secret to solving the stress cycle - Emily Nagoski, Amelia Nagoski
Grit - Angela Duckworth
Braving the Wilderness - the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone - Dr. Brené Brown
The Happiness Advantage - How a positive brain fuels success in work and life - Dr. Shawn Achor
I have listed some videos of the summaries of some books that I have read that I have found useful and one that summaries lessons learnt from 134 books. Brain chemistry plays an active role - so take care of your brain chemistry - eat healthy, exercise, take vitamin D.
I highly recommend reading the Growth Mindset - it is related to business and is lesson 3 in the video below. This is where companies like IBM have grown and reduced their toxic culture of competitiveness and status and incorporated a culture of cooperation and teamwork.
Yesterday I decided to post the #challengeAccepted challenge on Facebook. It's a photo challenge where you take a photo of yourself and share with up to 50 beautiful women across Facebook to pass on the challenge during these Corona filled times! I decided I was going to add some of the men in my life, after all, why not share with only one gender? I mean, I am in a lot of Java Programming groups on Facebook and I have helped a lot of men with their programming problems. Some have engaged in what is known as masculine toxicity. It's the toxic culture where there is a competitive nature. The inevitable 'one up man-ship' and competitive nature can be destructive. It is not helpful in the slightest especially to those learning Java. For example, yesterday I know a complete beginner posted up an error that we have ALL experienced as programmers and the rhetoric went like this - go back to beginner's, read another book etc etc.
The destructive nature of male toxicity will prevent people from learning and engaging in groups - at all! Some of the comments under mine were quite harsh and pointed out that he should go back and read a book. While this might be true, it is not solving the problem at hand and we all encourage programmers to 'learn by doing' so telling them to go back and read a book isn't only unhelpful, it is invalidating and discouraging for those that are starting out. Remember this was his first post in this group and he had stated that.
Perhaps something was being unearthed in me yesterday when I realised that some of the posts that I engaged in in the Women in Tech groups were also excluding the voice of men and some of the Java programming specific groups didn't have any women! It was as if at times there was a breeding ground for separation. A toxic separation where we do not hear the other gender's perspective. We only see them separating themselves from each other in order to solve problems. While this can be productive when looking at and encountering gender-specific issues such as the pay gap, it is also a case of finding the balance and inclusivity among genders. Why does one group get to have fun programming or engaging in social activities for fun and not the other? It made me think!
I was here doing all this Java programming, dancing, singing and engaging in some social activities online during lockdown while my male colleagues were missing out. I shared the challenge with them and some stepped up to the challenge and I have to say kudos to them for accepting it and running with it. I could not be more proud of knowing these men that will engage in things for fun and let go of the stigma that is attached to their male toxic environments. What started out as a bit of fun allowed us to be more inclusive.
Boundaries - the definition of boundaries is to see what is okay and not okay. Being able to say yes to what makes you comfortable and no to what makes you not comfortable. I fall for people saying 'we are only concerned about you' when someone says they are concerned and I tell what's the matter. All of a sudden the news has circulated and I am now in a position where I have to defend my boundaries and it drains more energy. The person who I told in the first place had passed on the information to another and the other person had questioned me in front of more people. It is really uncomfortable. My vulnerability is now exposed and it can be humiliating depending on the personal details being circulated.
What was once my private business and something that I was telling someone in private is no more and the trust is broken. Can I forgive the person? Yes, sure, it was my responsibility not to tell them in the first place but I gave in and did tell them! I don't know why, perhaps it's a way in which they kept on and on and on asking questions until I finally gave in or maybe it's the sense of connection that I felt at the time was strong enough. It was this sense of connection that we all crave. I have learnt from this and I know that it's important to practice boundaries to have healthy relationships. It is rooted in love and goodness for yourself and for them.
Boundaries come under the realm of respect, not just for others but for yourself. It is taking into consideration what makes you feel uncomfortable and what is fine to talk about. When someone breaches your boundaries, it makes you uneasy, uncomfortable and sometimes it's a case of reacting in a compassionate way towards yourself and saying - right, I need to reestablish these again and not let that happen again. I have been fooled in the past with trusting my past colleagues when it came to boundaries and under the same realm of 'we are concerned' which is actually a way of getting information from you and spreading it into the drama filled workplace. This breaks trust, breaks walls and breaks relationships.
Lowering your boundaries when you are sick or exhausted is normal. You are vulnerable in these times. You are going through a time where your strength is under pressure and walls are down. People can unfortunately give into the feeling of someone else caring and allowing them to look after you. We all do it, we all go into this 'child mode' - it's natural. We want the connection to another human and meet them in a way that is empathic and authentic. Empathy without boundaries is not empathy so it is important to protect them.
Be compassionate that your boundaries may fall when you are sick and they need to be protected even more then. Perhaps notice when this happens and become more aware when you are triggered. It all leads to healthier relationships and understanding and for those that do not respect your boundaries - were they ever really your friends to begin with if you can't trust them? We are all allowed to make mistakes, especially when we have so readily sought the guidance from others. We are always improving.
For me improving looks like this, it's accepting myself as I am, being grateful to be alive, knowing that I confident in my own skin, I am a beautiful person, I approve of myself, I love myself and I am a work in progress. I focus on becoming aware of my own thoughts, feelings and limits aka boundaries. What is uncomfortable, recognise why and what beliefs pop up. It's recognising these and having the courage to sit with them and still do things that bring up uncomfortable thoughts. It is not accepting things that are wrong for me and protecting my own boundaries. We cannot have a healthy relationship without practicing boundaries.
Recognise that there are people that will always want something from you. They want your time, energy, money, control, reaction - anything. I used to think that I wouldn’t stoop to someone else’s level and not treat them with respect. It is now a case of me seeing respect for what it is and when someone else isn’t willing to give me the respect I deserve, I owe them nothing. That might seem harsh but if you think of life as a computer game and they are sending in bazooka full ammunition and you don't take out your defence mechanisms to fight then they will send in all they have and more until it has worn you down. With boundaries it is not your responsibility to accept the fault that someone has overstepped them, it is your responsibility to protect yours if they have been overstepped. In computer game terms, your health bar would deplete rapidly after boundaries are encroached, to keep it maintained you need to arm up, say no and defend or withdraw when necessary. It is acceptable to revoke access to you when they have overstepped your boundaries. It is a privilege to be in someone else's story and life. Who you share your story with in person is an honour. No one is automatically entitled to it, you get to decide that and that is part of the beauty of boundaries. You have the decision power of who you allow into your life and you decide who gets to engage with you in conversation, go on hiking trips, camping, who you live with, run with, go cycling with - do any activities at all. Over the last while I can describe different types of boundaries as the list below:
Be compassionate towards yourself and remember that fear blocks love. When you do not love yourself then you cannot protect yourself. Boundaries are an act of self-love. Negativity then flourishes where love has been excluded and we may find ourselves in what Dr. Brené Brown calls a shame spiral. Boundaries are necessary for healthy, loving, connected relationships. They are the foundation of deep and meaningful relationships and genuine connection and trust. If you envision life as a computer game, your health line would drop a lot without them. You could continue to fight but eventually your self-identity would die in the game. It is the same thing in real life with that analogy.
For me practicing self-care and boundaries is figuring out what's important to me and how I do that is up to me. It's reading, listening and watching informative and inspiring research. It's also a case of trying different strategies, not only reading about them. One strategy that has come from research is the practicing of gratitude or recognising a shame spiral. We are need meaning - like tokenising in programming. Once we name what we are experiencing which could be a hard emotion like a shame spiral, it loosens its grip, it gives us power over them. I practice gratitude every morning by writing a few things that I am grateful for and it has also been proven in the research from Dr. Brenè Brown and Dr. Shawn Achor that it can make our lives more joyful - who would not want more joy in their live?! Of course, I try these things, I love trying new things. I also love a good podcast and I have already learnt so much from Dr. Brené Brown and she's doing a podcast. I have just subscribed. I would also highly recommend her Ted talk 'the power of vulnerability' , the Netflix show 'call to courage' and also her books braving the wilderness and lots more. This is the link to her website so you might like listening to her podcast on a run or walk. https://brenebrown.com/podcast/introducing-unlocking-us/ Finally, it is also revoking access to those who do not respect me for in essence, boundaries are about respect and when you respect yourself then you realise how peaceful your life is without giving access to people who do not respect your being, awareness or love of life.
You also start to laugh at the audacity of people across the world telling you what to do, when to do it and how to do it. I have laughed for an entire afternoon after some random guy told me to change my YouTube content and followed shortly by can we work together?! People sometimes like to push boundaries for fun, also remember this. It can be something that they have grown up with in the dynamics of their family and think it's funny. In that case, if it makes you uncomfortable, stay away from them and laugh. Whatever makes you uncomfortable is your compass for your boundaries. When it's off course, bring it back on course. We all make mistakes too so be compassionate with yourself if and when you let boundaries fall and allow someone in that you shouldn't have. It's a case of course correction like when flying an airplane from Ireland to the US and the pilot notices that it's gone off course, re-align yourself like the pilot in the airplane. It's that simple, we learn, we evolve and we grow.