Valentine’s Day

As it’s only a few days away I’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day and how for some couples it will be a lovely experience full of closeness and affirmation of their love for each and for others a disappointment and possibly a day of sadness and anger.  How many of us have dreams of a romantic evening with a loved one doing all the things we most enjoy?  And how many of us have ended up with a bunch of wilting flowers from the local petrol station and a box of your least favourite chocolates bought as a last minute gesture.  Well I think a little planning and discussion before hand can make a difference so here are some simple tips that may help you make this year’s Valentines Day one that you enjoy.


Negotiate and compromise.

Firstly it can be helpful to begin by checking out that your loved one wants to celebrate St Valentines Day.  Then let them know why it is important to you to celebrate.  Next decide on something that you would both like to do.  If their ideas are very different from yours you may need to negotiate a compromise around this. For example you may decide to go with your preferences this year and theirs next.   Acknowledging and recognising the compromises you are both making is an important part of the process.

What is romance?

What do you expect from your partner or loved one and yourself?  Are your expectations realistic?  The place of romantic love in a relationship can vary tremendously depending on the background, upbringing and culture of the people involved.  One person’s idea of romance is not the same as anothers.  Find out from your partner or loved one exactly what their idea of romance is and what they would like to do.  Make sure they know what you want too.  Respect their right to want something different from you.

There is no mind reading!

Listen to their ideas and wants.  See if you can really understand their point of view, test out seeing the world through their eyes.  And remember, most people cannot read minds nor are they telepathic, we only learn how to please people from experience.  So, no matter how long you have been in a relationship the chances are that unless you tell your partner what you want they will not know.  So be specific.  If you want flowers or chocolates, tell them what sort, how many, the colour.  If you want a hug, let them know how you like to be held and how long for.

For some people asking for what they want or letting people know they have a need can be difficult.  They may have learnt at some point that it is not okay to ask, or feel scared and vulnerable in letting others know they have needs too.  Well, it is okay to ask and it is okay to have needs, this Valentine’s Day go ahead and ask for the romantic day you want.

Time for a Change? – New Year’s Resolutions

The  New Year  often brings a special focus to the things in our lives we want to change or enhance.  There is, of course, nothing stopping us making those changes at any time of year, but December 31st sees many of us making New Year resolutions.  Anything from losing weight, stopping smoking or other major life changes like finding a new career, or starting a relationship.

However, a few weeks on we can often see many of those good intentions lying by the wayside, finding us back where we were, with the added disappointment of having tried and not achieved what we wanted.  Here are some thoughts, tips and ideas for bringing more permanent change into your life at whatever time of year.

Positive Language.

Remember the old joke about “Don’t see a purple elephant with pink spots”?  As you read that line I expect that many of you will have had to create an image in your mind of a  purple elephant with pink spots, to then realise that you were asked not to see it. Well in putting together your resolution or goal the same principle applies.  Positive language is important in goal setting because by saying “Stop getting stressed ” or “Lose weight” we are focused on the behaviour we want to change rather than the change itself. So “Take time to relax three times a week by listening to music” or “Be a specific weight or clothes size by the summer” might sound a bit clunky, but because they are resolutions that are positive they have a greater chance of success. You might find it helpful to write down your goals and resolutions and remind yourself of them every day.

Be realistic, safe and achievable.

Give yourself a time scale that you want to achieve your resolution or goal by and make sure that you account for every change that you achieve.  So often we are only satisfied with the big goals, accounting and noticing each positive movement can be fantastic for our motivation and commitment.  Be sure it is safe for you by thinking if someone like you has ever done this before.  Setting yourself a major life changing resolution? Break it down into smaller steps so, as you meet each one, you get a sense of achievement.

Get support.

Talk to your friends and supporters.  Get them involved, especially if it is a tough or long term  goal that you want to achieve.  Tell people exactly how you want them to support you.  It may be that you want to be able to call them to celebrate a success or to talk when it gets particularly difficult. You may not need advice, just someone to be there.

See yourself achieving.

Take time to imagine what it will be like for you when you have achieved this goal. Create a strong visual image of how you will feel when you have achieved this change by seeing yourself doing it.  you can do this by hearing the sounds around you and what will others be saying to you when you achieved this resolution.  Use all of your five senses in creating the image, and think how will others will see you behaving.

Plan to succeed.

Think about how you might stop yourself achieving what you want. Put things in place to make sure this does not happen.  Then,  when you have done that, think again about how else you might stop yourself!  Plan for that as well.  And remember,  if your resolution slips one day,  it is only one day and tomorrow you can be back focussed on your goal.  Be kind to yourself if this happens,  making changes in our lives takes effort and focus and sometimes is not easy.


Plan mini celebrations along the way as milestones in your success, they don’t have to be big or expensive, but something meaningful and enjoyable for you. And of course, a big celebration on finally achieving your goal.

So,  for lots of people New Year is one of the times when we review our lives, question if we are getting what we want from life and if there are things to change or do differently.  It is possible to make these kinds of changes at any time in your life, not just on December 31st.

Have you made a personal change you are proud or satisfied with?  What was your route to success?

De Cluttering

It’s the time of year when I do my tax return.  I’ve been procrastinating for a few weeks, partly because its not a job I relish and also because of the untidyness in my office.

Energy Shift

Over recent months I have been putting more and more time and energy into my painting, which in many ways has been great. It has meant less time for office admin, resulting in boxes of paper needing filing, training materials not put away, art materials stacking up in corners, receipts left unsorted.  Not a task for the faint-hearted!

So, yesterday I went through most of it resulting in a huge pile of recycling, three boxes for the loft and being able to see the shelves and corners in my office for the first time for weeks.  Interestingly  I also noticed a huge shift in my energy, I felt lighter, clearer headed and freed up to focus and think.  Particularly interesting I think, as I have been feeling a bit bogged down recently.  I want to integrate my painting into my life more as I have decided I want to see if I can sell my work commercially, but I’ve been finding it difficult to work out how to do this.

Cypress Tree Holyvale

Health and Well Being

I think the state of my office was a reflection of my inner struggle, I was bogged down by all lots of unneccesary stuff without the space to think clearly and focus, it reminds me of what I wrote about in Nesting Instinct, how important our environment can be to our health and well being.  Its seems to me to be a two-way process. That over time my office had come to reflect my inner state, one of putting things in mental and physical corners “to be dealt with later” at the same time as I had got stuck in my thinking.  But, by clearing my physical surroundings helped me to shift my psychological and emotional energy and freed me up to look at my situation in a fresh light.

So, again, I invite you to look around you.  Is there something in your environment that jars with you?  Do you need to de-clutter?

I really like to hear from you on what you decide to do and the impact it has.

Parent Ego State

One of the models I like most in Transactional Analysis is the ego state model.  I generally find that the concept is useful in helping people understand themselves and their relationships better. This is the first of three posts about the ego state model.

Structure of personality.

I will begin by explaining what an ego state is.  Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, described an ego state as “a consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behaviour”.  He identified that we each have three ego states, which he named Parent, Adult and Child.   So, for me, what Berne was saying was that we organise our experience into three different types, and that each of these types has a recognisable  pattern of thinking and  feeling with corresponding  behaviour.   Another way of saying this is that when someone is observed behaving in a way that can be identified with one of the ego states then they will be experiencing the feeling and thoughts that go with that experience and this is consistent.

Parent Ego State

The Parent ego state is a collection of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are “taken in” or copied  from significant adults during childhood.  Significant adults can mean our parents, it can also mean aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, sisters and teachers, for example.  It is an external experience, so we have observed someone else’s responses to a situation –  their thinking, feeling and behaviour and we have “taken that experience in” so  it then becomes part of how we respond in a similar situation.  Another way of explaining this is to say that we identify with or internalise another’s experience.

Here’s an example of how this might work. You are five years old going away on a family holiday.  As you are driving down the motorway someone cuts in front of your Dad, who is driving.  He swears and shouts, gesturing fiercely at the driver responsible.  Thirty years later you are driving on the motorway and someone cuts in front of you.  You swear, shout and gesture fiercely.  In fact if we could run  DVDs of both events, one of  you and one of your Dad side by side we would proably see that your voice tone,  language,  gestures were virtually identical.  Not only that, but your thoughts and feelings will probably also be the same as well.

Responding from the past

So, how does this help us?  Well what this says to me is that when I am in my Parent ego state I am likely to be responding to a situation or stimulus using thoughts, feelings and behaviours from the past and that I have taken in from someone else.  This response just may not be relevant or appropriate to the present.  I may want to revisit some of the messages and  experiences I have taken in and up date them with how I think, feel and want to behave.

I invite you reflect on a time when you think you might have responded to someone from your Parent ego state.  Did that exchange get you what you wanted.  How else might you have responded?


Exercise Routine

I exercise every morning for about an hour, and sometimes again in the evening for another half an hour. Weekends I do more, may be three or four hours on one of the days.  What ever the weather, this is my exercise routine, its easy, I rarely miss a day and its nearly always enjoyable.

My exercise is walking my dogs, possibly not the most aerobic exercise, however with a big hill to walk up at a brisk pace and supplemented by a bigger walk at the weekends, it suffices.  What’s most significant about this is that it is what I do,  I get up, get dressed and take the dogs out for an hour.  This is what integration means for me, that we make a change that becomes an integral part of our lives.

Making Successful Changes

I have found that the way to making successful changes in my life style to be more healthy or peaceful is to integrate those changes into my existing routines. Whether it’s exercise, diet, relaxation  or some other form of personal or emotional development.  My personal experience of all of these is that if it’s something I have to make a special effort to do, like packing up a bag of kit to go to the gym three times a week, I may begin with enthusiasm but before long that wanes and I’m back in the old routine.  Unless I can integrate the change it probably will not happen. So, here’s my top five tips for integration of a healthy lifestyle.

Top Five Tips

1) Whatever the change – enjoy it!  For example, if it’s exercise choose something that you enjoy  and which gives you pleasure.

2) Fit into your lifestyle.  Something  that is not congruent with how you live your life may not last, perhaps you could you cycle or walk to work a few days a week, or rather than sitting in your office at lunch can you go for a swim.

3) Be happy with small changes.  Little acorns and all that!  Sometimes when we decide to make a personal change we set ourselves unrealistic goals – be realistic in your goals and what you are asking of yourself.

4) Enlist support.  Talk to your friends, family  and supporters.  Get them involved.   It may be that you want to be able to call them to celebrate a success.

5) Allow time for integration to happen.  We begin by having to bring what we want to do differently into conscious awareness, it takes time for us to shift from being conscious of doing something differently to doing it automatically – without thinking. Making something part of your life will take time.

I’d like to hear about some of the changes you may have made that are now integrated into you life. How did you make this happen?

Death of a Pet



Sadly, my lovely dog Dave died a few weeks ago after being ill for about a year. He was with us for nearly eleven years, which didn’t seem anywhere near long enough. He was a constant friend, a playmate and loving companion and we miss him very much.

Attachment to animals

As the first intensity of my grief is fading, I have been thinking about people and their attachment to animals.  I can remember my uncle and his budgie;  he would sit with it on his finger for hours talking to it,  it would walk on his shoulder and then on to his head.   As  was growing up I nearly always had a pet:  a gold fish, a budgie, then a dog.  As I grew older and had my own place first I had cats, and now I have dogs.   Animals have always been a huge part of my life and many people have similar experiences,  where animals are a large part of their lives from childhood through to adult hood.  I think that our relationship with our pets and animals is a very significant one.  It offer us an experience of connection, contact and what it feels like to look after and care for another creature that is vulnerable and dependent on us.

Grieving Process

Part of my grieving process has been to talk to friends and family and remember Dave. To talk about how much I miss him, how painful it has been that he has died and as I have talked about him people have shared their thoughts,  feelings and experiences of their animals too.

A colleague talked about how dogs look at us, the warmth of their gaze as they stare into our eyes. Another shared her thoughts about how deeply we love and attach to our pets.   She believes it is a relationship that is less complex than with another person, because with a person we  may defend ourselves against being vulnerable in case of being hurt and may protect ourselves by being defensive.  Not so with our animals. I think we love them as they love us –  unconditionally.

What part have animals played in your life?  Have you any stories of family pets or animals you have known that you want to share?



Two things have been happening in my life over the last few weeks that have prompted me to think about what Eric Berne wrote about our needs and drives in terms of Hungers. I’ve been tweeting on Twitter, connecting with lots of great new people and unfortunately one of my lovely dogs has been quite seriously ill, so I have been unable to get out and about as much and doing a fair bit of dog nursing.

You may be wondering how this is all connected.  Well, Berne described four hungers:

  • Stimulus-hunger : as the need for mental and physical stimulation, variety, challenge and touch.
  • Structure-hunger: the need to structure time and space.
  • Recognition-hunger: as the need for acknowledgement from others of our existence.
  • Position Hunger: The need for an overall framework for interpreting self, others and reality.

What he also said was that if each of these hungers are not satisfied we will often try to make do by substituting one of the others.


I’ve been finding Twitter a great source of acknowledgement from others – strokes if you will (see blog entry Appraisal Blues for explanation of strokes). And this has been really helpful for me whilst I have been unable to get out and about as much so I think have been substituting my stimulus hunger needs with more recognition. And this has helped me deal with short term changes in my life.

Different Needs

What motivates each of us is different of course, the mix of hungers for each person varies greatly.  So for example,  I am self employed because my need for stimulus in doing the work I have chosen is greater than my need for structure  – to be employed doing it.  Some people love acting spontaneously – stimulus hunger, others prefer to plan – structure.  What I think it can be useful to have an awareness of these needs and drives in ourselves and consider how we meet them.  Make adjustments if we need to and be aware of how the balance between hungers may change if something happens in our lives to impact on how we get these needs met.

What motivates you? How are you meeting your needs for structure, stimulus, position and recognition?



Fun in the Sun

In just a few weeks the long summer holidays begin. Will it be a time of fun in the sun or a stress ridden nightmare with the kids hanging around the house driving themselves – and you – up the wall?

What is stress?

Why do we feel stressed?  Stress has its basis in ancient instincts for self preservation – the flight or fight mechanism where the body prepares to defend itself.   Thankfully, modern life does not present us with many situations where we need to run away but the mechanism still remains.   Periods of stress can result in tiredness or difficulties in sleeping, muscle tension, headaches, difficulties in concentrating, worrying, impatience and irritability. However,  research into the effects of stress has shown that people who are experiencing something positive at the same time as a stressful event can find it has less impact.   The level of stress is also dictated by how the person views an event.  So, doing something enjoyable and changing your perspective can reduce your stress levels.

Here are a few ideas on how to make this summer holiday more fun for the kids and  you.

Realistic Expectations

Be realistic in your expectations of your family and yourself.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes, after all, it is part of being human.  Be aware of your inner dialogue – what internal messages are you saying to yourself?  For example, it might be helpful to change negative messages to positive, such as  –“ I am easy going, calm and relaxed.”  Have someone to talk to and share your concerns, difficulties and successes.  And make sure that you reward yourself for being relaxed and calm.

Ground Rules

Agree the ground rules with your partner or with yourself.  Discuss these with the kids, involve them in the decision making process and get their agreement.  Make it clear what you want.   Tidy rooms, no stuff left all over the house, what time to be home, how much TV and computer time etc and in return they get some of what they want.  Set the consequences for not keeping to the agreements.  Make those consequences something that mean something to each child and that is appropriate for their age.  Remember to praise the behaviour that you want.


Have fun together by spending time as a family doing things.  As well as all of the things to do that cost money there are lots of things to do that cost very little.  Here are a few you may like to try:

  • go to the park and have a picnic,
  • make food together – pizzas, cake or biscuits,
  • play music and dance together,
  • play board games or cards
  • or organise a game of rounders or cricket or just get out into the fresh air as anything involving exercise produces a “feel-good” factor in you and kids, and tires them out! You will have plenty of your own ideas, and so will your friends, so get together and put them into practice.

Most importantly give yourself permission and make time to relax. This might mean anything from a quiet coffee and magazine to time exercising, taking long bubble baths or even time chatting with friends and connecting with people.

Following some of these suggestions may mean changing the way you do things but starting with a few small steps is more likely to succeed than big steps that are more challenging. And as with learning anything new it takes time and repetition, so why not start planning how to have a less stressed summer now.

What ideas do you have for a stress free summer? Share your ideas by leaving a comment.

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Big Skies and Bluebells


April Bluebells

The bluebells are in bloom at Lincare woods.  Every year since I first discovered them – and I only moved to Chesterfield a few years ago – when mid April arrives and there are signs that bluebells are on the way I’m a regular visitor looking out for the first hints of blue.

The way they carpet the earth beneath the beech trees with a hovering blue that’s mixed with the white stars of the wild garlic, and then as the sun is shines though the early beech leaves, which at this time of year are an intense lime green,  I feel truly peaceful and at home.

Special Places

And then I had a wonderful weekend in Northumbria. The weather wasn’t great and I find it really doesn’t matter up there, the amazing beaches that stretch for miles, the big skies and space to breath are enough.

Room for three 

Saturday morning saw me walking from Seahouses to Bamburgh along the beach with my dogs.  It was was pretty much deserted so more than enough room for the three of us.  There is something about space that I find very appealing, its something I like exploring in my painting as well, I think it may be openess lets me connect with myself more readily.  And maybe this is one of those times when “why” really doesn’t matter, I just know that I always come back refreshed and rejuvenated and looking forward to my next visit.

Do you have somewhere that you like to visit?  Or a place that is special to you?

Take your time.

I recently submitted some paintings for the Great Sheffield Art Show and the night before the submission date  I was rushing to finish a final painting.  I had originally decided to put forward just five pictures and then as the date approached I thought  – I can try to get another piece completed if I “hurry up”.  Needless to say the picture was not accepted and looking at it when I got home I could see why.  As I look back I know as  I was “hurrying” my ability to critically evaluate it was affected.

Messages in Childhood

One of the key ideas in transactional analysis is that we take in messages as children from parents and significant adults.  These messages then become strategies, ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that we use, both to be ok in the world and as ways of adapting to get our needs met.  There can be many different messages that we take in and doing things quickly – or “Hurry up” is a common message that people carry and one that I often talk about with people I am working with.


One of the ways that I come across a “Hurry up” message when I am providing counselling or therapy is with the person who is impatient to make changes in their life.  We live in a society where so  much is almost instantaneous – emails, text messaging, entertainment, 24 hour shopping – that sometimes there is an expectation that we can make personal changes at the same pace, forgetting that some of the thinking, feeling and behaviours we want to be different may have been with us for a long time and will take time to change.

Along with this of course is what happens when we hurry – like me with my painting we don’t always think as  clearly and our capacity to evaluate a situation may be affected as our primary drive is to hurry and in so doing  we may miss important aspects of our experience that we can learn from.  All in all it really is ok to take our time.