Sleep issues in children and teens may feel complex and never-ending, especially to bewildered and exhausted parents at the end of their tether. But in my experience, problems with sleep have proved to be one of the most straightforward issues to solve and put right.

By the time parents usually come to see me, they've typically been heroically battling their child's sleep issues for months and sometimes years. When children struggle to get to sleep by themselves, it can put a huge strain on Mum and Dad at a time when they're also trying to cope with other daily demands: work, looking after other children, and caring for elderly or sick parents. In most cases,  parents are often in need of a good night's sleep themselves.

Using a combination of hypnotherapy (Rapid Transformational Therapy) and practical coaching techniques, the first step to solving a child's sleep issues is always to find out where, when, how and why they first started experiencing difficulties either getting to sleep or staying asleep. My next step is using hypnotherapy to help foster a strong belief in the child that they can sleep easily and effortlessly all by themselves. In most cases, children have convinced themselves (and their parents) that they can't. I like to compare the process to deleting old, unwanted apps (negative beliefs) on your mobile phone and installing upgraded Better Sleep software (positive beliefs, thoughts and actions) instead!

Lastly, I work with parents to reintroduce good sleep hygiene alongside setting new boundaries around bedtime to make better sleep a lifelong habit.

Some common childhood sleep issues I see in my practice: 

Of course, not getting enough sleep has a knock-on effect on every part of a child's life, and can lead to poor engagement and concentration at school and being moodier and less co-operative at home. The link between sleep and mental health is very closely tied. Almost every child I see in my practice, who is experiencing anxiety or depression, also has poor sleep or sleep issues.

Sleep problems can also affect friendships. I know many children who turn down invitations for sleepovers or refuse to have friends over to sleep, because it means letting on that they need Mum or Dad to sit with them every night.

Normal evenings become a thing of the past as Mum or Dad, or both, take it in turns to sit with their child until they fall asleep. Evenings out become impossible as parents become locked in the bedtime routine and find it difficult to ask a babysitter to look after the children while they're out. 

Until sleep issues are sorted out, normal family life is put on hold. Everyone is tired and everyone suffers.

How sleep issues in children and teens start

We are all born with the perfect natural ability to fall asleep, and usually to sleep soundly for around 6 to 10 hours. Our bodies are designed to sleep and, at their most fundamental level, know how to sleep without any interference from us.

At some point as we get older however, our minds start to hijack the sleep process. If we have a couple of difficult nights getting to sleep, we may start to create a belief in ourselves that we have insomnia or some other sleeping disorder.

We may start to say things like "I can't get to sleep", "I've tried everything but I just can't sleep", or "I'm not a good sleeper".

This line of thinking however creates a feeling of anxiety around bedtime and sleeping, which then of course interferes even further with the sleep process. Believing we can't sleep becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and going to bed becomes something we dread rather then look forward to.

Our bodies may be crying out for sleep, but our minds keep us awake.

This same thought process is true for our children too.

In general, at the root of every child's sleep issue is a feeling of worry or fear:

Worrying is our mind's way of trying to put things right. By going over past events our minds are scouring our memories for clues that we were somehow not at fault, that we weren't to blame. By worrying about future events, our minds are rehearsing worst case scenarios in an attempt to try to be prepared for any threat of pain.

Jake: A Scary Movie Story

I've recently been seeing a lot of children in my practice,  all around the age of 11 or 12, who tell me their sleep issues started because of one particular movie: It.

In most cases the children have never even seen the film. Some have accidentally caught a glimpse of the movie trailer while they've been on social media. Or they've seen the posters showing Pennywise, or have been told gruesome details about the more gory scenes by older brothers and sisters who have seen the film. It seems just the image of Pennywise the clown is enough to terrorise younger children (and some adults I know) and start off a downward cycle of fear of the dark and disrupted sleep. This was definitely true of Jake, who had accidentally seen a trailer for the film while innocently watching YouTube videos. From that point on he downright refused to go upstairs to bed by himself and insisted on Mum sitting on the bed with him until he went to sleep, which could often take hours. Poor Mum  - what should have been evenings spent relaxing and chatting with her husband after a day at work, were now spent in a dark room, trying to get Jake to sleep. Even when she did go to bed, Jake would wake up most nights and call for her.  Not knowing what else to do, and worrying he would be too tired for school the next day, she would go to his room and once again sit with him till he fell asleep.

Mum came to see me after this had been going on for nearly a year.My hypnotherapy session with Jake involved helping desensitise the trigger (Pennywise's face) but most importantly  "re-installing" the brain's original "sleep software" and the absolute belief that he could go to sleep all by himself without Mum's help,. The emphasis was on building confidence  that sleep would come naturally, easily and effortlessly.

I also worked with Mum, giving her key techniques, including suggestions she could use to help embed the belief in sleep in Jake's mind.

After just one session of RTT, Jake started to go up to bed by himself. Mum changed her usual habit of sitting on the bed, and began just popping in to his bedroom to say Goodnight. Jake felt comfortable letting her leave the room and falling asleep by himself, which Mum said he started doing in minutes instead of hours.

Jake continues to make huge progress and bedtime now feels normal and under control.  Mum and Dad are back to enjoying their evenings, something they had given up hope of ever happening.

Crucially, Jake's progress was about allowing him to take his own time, and for any changes to come from him. This is true of all the RTT work I do with children and teenagers. The pace of change is dictated by the child - not the parent, no matter how much the parent wants  (or desperately needs) change to happen as soon.

How one or two sleepless nights turn into a sleep issue 

While most sleep issues start because of worry or fear (a feeling), they become embedded through habit (an action).

This habit or action is the immediate response to the sleep issue and is often reinforced because at some point it becomes easier for poor Mum and Dad to "give in" to their child's sleep issues than tough them out. And that's not in any way a judgment.  Having dealt with my own kids' sleep issues, I know there will always be times when it's simply easier to crawl into bed with your child to help them sleep (and go to sleep yourself) because you're too exhausted for another battle. There will be times when your child is sick and you might be worried about leaving them on their own. There will be times when you sit on your child's bed every night until they go to sleep because you just don't know what else will work. Having tried all options sometimes it's just easier and less exhausting to take the path of least resistance. We have all been there!

While no one is saying don't ever comfort your child at night, the danger is that this parental reassurance becomes a pattern. If a parent sits with a child until they go to sleep on a regular basis, the child's subconscious belief becomes: "I need Mum and Dad to sit with me because I can't get to sleep by myself".

Or, the shorthand version: I can't get to sleep by myself.

Once this belief is there, no amount of practical action is likely to be very effective, You can change the bedtime routine, use sleep aids like night lights and white noise, read bedtime stories till the cows come home...  the belief will dominate the child's behaviour, and then that of the whole family dynamic.

While your child may have the belief that they can't go to sleep by themselves, our job as parents - and mine as a hypnotherapist - is to help them believe that they can.

Things to try before you seek help for your child's sleep issue

If you're not doing these already, the following steps are a good place to start to help get your child's sleep back on track.

Good Sleep Hygiene and Bedtime Routines:

The Power of Suggestion
When our children struggle to sleep they will often use words and phrases like:

I can’t get to sleep,
I’ll never get to sleep, or
I’m trying to get to sleep but I can’t…

As a parent or caregiver, your words can have a powerful effect on your child’s belief in their ability to sleep, and their own sleep confidence. By using and repeating key phrases and suggestions consistently throughout the day you can help build your child’s belief in their own ability to get to sleep by themselves.

One phrase I hear parents say a lot (and I was guilty of using it myself when my children were younger), is: Try and get to sleep.

There are three words in this phrase which will be a barrier to your child's belief in being able to sleep: "try" and "get to":

The word "try" implies that something is hard. We don't want our children believing that going to sleep is hard. Similarly, the words "get to" implies that sleep is something your child needs to work at rather than something that will come naturally of its own accord.

A better, more powerful suggestion is: Sleep will come really easily.

This takes all the hard work out of going to sleep. Sleep will come all on its own. It's about allowing it, not working at it.

As teenagers head off to University or higher education this week, many parents may be feeling a mixture of emotions: pride, excitement, maybe even relief, but also underneath it all a sense of loss, and something that feels just a little bit like heartbreak.

You're never ever ready. And it always feels too soon.

Your child is leaving home and there you are, wondering why it feels like someone just ripped out your heart and ran all over it with a juggernaut.

You knew it was coming. You just spent your child's entire early life preparing them for eventual independence - primary school, then secondary or senior school, then the all-important exams, then applications for Uni or college or work. All the evenings going over their homework. All the football matches and dance classes. All the battles and hugs.

But when it  finally happens  and the time comes for them to go, you're left wondering why it feels so much like a  hammer blow to the heart. You'll think thoughts like "they don't need me anymore" and you may even laugh at yourself through the tears, for being so silly. You'll cry remembering them as a tiny little thing whose hand gripped yours so tightly. Or you'll cry in secret because it somehow feels wrong - after all, you knew what you were in for - you love your children but they will always leave.

It sounds so odd to say you feel heartbroken when your child flies the nest, that word being so associated with  romantic relationships. But when it comes to describing the pain you feel, then heartbreak is  exactly what it is. It's a feeling of grief and loss that you somehow feel embarrassed about admitting. You may burst into tears for no reason. You may brood for a bit when you see their old football boots or even the disgusting state of the room they left behind (so, that's where all the bowls and glasses went).

As you help them get organised for Uni or college, as you help them pack and sort out  student accommodation, as you hear them chat with their friends, there may be a growing sense of being left behind. Although you will always be Mum or Dad, you know that you will no longer be at the centre of their new life and this bright new future they are heading off in to. The reality stares you in the face: you are now an adjunct.

Maybe they'll talk about you to their friends, they'll message or text (but don't be surprised if they don't), but they'll be dealing with the daily issues and problems of life on their own. The world they inhabited with you, where you were at the epicentre of the whirlwind vortex of their lives, the hub of their life's spinning wheel -  this world no longer exists.

A chapter has ended. Well and truly, You can't go back, even if you wanted to.

The boundaries of parenting have been reached. You have raised them. And here and now the job of raising them ends.

So you think back about maybe how you could have done things differently. How you should have spent more time teaching them how to cook. Or how to do their own laundry. Or how to manage their money. And by beating yourself up about all the things you should have done but didn't, you'll start to make comparisons with your own life.

As they set off on the path to independence, you'll be reminded of when you did the very same thing to your own parents. You left home without so much as a backwards glance, glad perhaps to get away from Mum and Dad, thinking Mum was a bit embarrassing for getting so upset, and never really appreciating how deep that wound went.

We didn't realise the hole we left behind. And neither do our children. They don't know you're heartbroken and you can never tell them.

Jokes are often made about "Empty Nest Syndrome" as if it's not a real thing but some indulgence made up by over-protective mothers (bit of a clue: It's not just a Mum thing. Dads feel it too). Maybe you joked about it too until it happened.

But here you are, entering a new phase of being a parent. Your role in your child's life has shifted and you may be wondering how to be a Mum or Dad to a newly independent person. Where do you fit?

As with all emotions, the only way through it is to feel it.  To really wholeheartedly accept that you are feeling the way you are: heartbroken, sad, upset. Your feelings are not silly. They do not have to be explained away. You don't have to justify feeling sad.

Your role has changed and that means letting go of the old way of interacting with your son or daughter and embracing a new way, whatever shape or form that takes. It means taking your cues from them about how much or how little they want your involvement in their lives; practising acceptance is key.

As is getting on with your own life.

Someone once said, grief is about having so much love still to give to someone who is no longer there. After your child leaves, you will still have so much time and energy and love to give to them but they'll be off living their own life, no longer in close proximity to receive it. So what do you do with all that time and energy and love?

You raised your child well and they are now standing on their own two feet (sort of). You did a good job. And now, how about turning the focus on you? On what you love doing, On where the gaps in your life are that need filling and enriching.

Your role has changed but the fundamentals of your love haven't. You may not be at the epicentre of your child's brand new life, but you'll be their roots, and their foundation, the place they know they've come from and where they'll come home to when they need to most.

Photo: Tim Gouw/Unsplash

“When someone constantly criticises it often tells you more about the psychology of the criticiser than the person he or she is criticising. Knowing this is the first step to protecting yourself from the onslaught”

Worrying new evidence suggests that being constantly criticised can send people to an early grave. That’s according to a recent study published in scientific journal Health Psychology.

Professor Jamila Bookwala’s team at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, analysed data from 1,734 men and women* who had been interviewed for the National Social Life, Health and Ageing Project. When revisiting the survey participants five years later, they found that those who reported higher levels of being criticised in their partnerships were more than twice as likely to be dead than those who were criticised the least. (Some 44% of people who said they were criticised often by their partners were found to have died when researchers returned five years later.)

When you’re on the receiving end of constant criticism

If you’ve been criticised – and frankly, who hasn’t experienced it at some point in their lives? – you’ll know exactly how deeply hurtful it can feel. If you pay attention to the physical responses in your body when you’re being criticised, you’ll more than likely notice your heart rate increase, your chest become tight, maybe you’ll clench your fists. You may experience a feeling of nausea or a sudden blinding  headache.

Your body responds in much the same way it does to a physical threat  – it releases stress hormones as part of the flight, fight or freeze response.

According to Professor Bookwala, frequent criticism can put damaging stress on the body, and the effect is the same regardless of gender and independent of factors such as whether a person has other close friends or family.  This is because criticism is a type of chronic interpersonal stressor, and “just like other chronic stressors, can have a cumulative and enduring negative impact on not only health and wellbeing – morbidity – but also mortality”.

No one likes to be criticised. But there are degrees of criticism. On one end of the spectrum there’s “constructive criticism” which is supposed to be helpful but can still require a deep inhale of breath to listen to without responding in kind. Then there’s the other extreme: personal criticism which attacks the fundamentals of who you are, and because of this can be deeply wounding. This kind of criticism:

* Is based on the person being wrong, rather than their behaviour
* Is about blame
* Is not about helping to improve a situation
* Is about there being only one right way of doing things
* Makes the person feel humiliated, small or feel badly about themselves on a fundamental level.

What to do if you face constant criticism

The first thing to bear in mind is that when someone makes a habit of criticising you,  it often tells you more about the psychology of the criticiser than the person he or she is criticising. Knowing this is the first step to protecting yourself from the onslaught.

Step two is recognising what is known as the Looping Thought pattern that results when being criticised is a trigger. Criticism hurts because ultimately the person doing the criticising is telling you that in some way you’re not good enough. Some words of criticism hurt more than others and this depends on where “the old wounds are”.

Triggers are evidence of old emotional wounds that haven’t yet healed. For example, if someone was obese as a child and was made fun of because of it, being called fat even in adult life will trigger that old wound, even if the adult has gone on to successfully achieve a healthy weight. Some criticisms trigger off these old Looping Thought Patterns more than others and have  nothing to do with the present day situation.

The key here is to change your response to the criticism. You can read more about changing your response to old Looping Thoughts in the article Choose Your Response: Keeping Calm in Anxious Times

Fundamentally, when I work with a client who is in a relationship with someone who criticises them all the time (be it a partner, boss, friend or family member), it’s about getting to the root belief of feeling “not good enough”.  And this root belief is often created in childhood because of experiences or situations where a child felt bad about themselves in some way, guilty, unloved, or different to other children.

“If criticism is someone telling you you’re not good enough, accepting their criticism is saying – Yes, you’re right.” – Dawn Quest

By changing that root belief, it makes it impossible for someone to allow criticism to affect them in quite the same way as it did before.

At the same time I embed a visualisation exercise into their hypnosis recording which is about creating a Shield to protect themselves from criticism or rejection.

We can’t control whether people criticise us or reject us or not but we can control whether we let that affect us. So I tell my clients to imagine they’re wearing a suit of armour made from industrial strength rubber, and to imagine any hurtful words or criticisms as flimsy arrows bouncing off them, right back at the person doing the criticising. In effect they become impenetrable and criticism loses its power.

Using imagery and visualisation in hypnosis in this way is a powerful technique to build emotional resilience.

Have you been told you’re too critical?

When accused of being too critical, criticisers will often defend themselves by  accusing the other person of “being too sensitive”.

Criticisers also say they’re “just being honest” and are “providing feedback” without realising that honesty without tact is actually cruelty, and very hard to be on the receiving end of.

If you’ve been told you’re too critical then the likelihood is you are – sorry, that may be hard to hear.

Fundamentally you may be wrestling with your own feelings of not being good enough. Studies show that children who grow up being constantly criticised often become criticisers themselves. Is this true of you? Were you criticised a lot as a child? Is it time to look at those old wounds and see what can be done to heal them and in essence feel that you too are good enough just as you are?

In his article for Psychology Today –  One thing that will ruin a perfectly good relationship – author Steven Stosny, Ph.D defines the difference between criticism and feedback. Criticism focuses on what’s wrong with the other person, feedback is about finding ways to improve a situation.  Criticism implies the worst about the other person (You’re stubborn. You’re lazy). Feedback is about the behaviour (how can we sort out what’s going on here).  Criticism devalues, feedback motivates and energises.

So if you often say you’re providing feedback but you’re accused of criticising, take a step back and look to see how your words may be rephrased in a more positive way – or even if they need to be said at all!

Talking about how you feel with the person who is criticising you can be the first step to healing any rifts, but oftentimes, criticisers find it very hard to hear even the most neutral of conversations, often turning it and saying they’re the ones being criticised (without noticing the irony!).

However, if talking doesn’t work, for those who are being constantly criticised – know that you do not need to stay in a relationship where you feel  devalued or belittled.

And for those who criticise – Professor Bookwala says:  “Put simply: stop criticising your partner – it can negatively impact their health and how long they’ll live.”


*All were aged between 57 and 85, with an average age of 68, and 90 per cent were married. The rest were living together or in an otherwise intimate relationship.

It can be hard to keep calm and positive in the midst of our current Coronavirus pandemic. If you are struggling with worry and stress, know that there are steps you can take to feel calmer and more resilient through this stressful time...


In difficult times, such as the ones we are all currently experiencing, one of the hardest challenges can be dealing with uncertainty and the sudden lack of control over our own lives and events.

Some of us may be worried about catching Coronavirus - or  Covid-19 - while at the same time trying to work out what we'll do to keep our children entertained and busy if schools close (if they haven't already). We may be concerned about how we are going to survive financially, especially if we are self-employed or run our own businesses. Or we may be feeling upset about having to cancel holidays or special events like weddings and other family celebrations.

It is hard to manage these worries at the best of times, not least without having to deal with a global pandemic.

The advice may be to Keep Calm and Carry On but how do we actually achieve that? Telling yourself to stay calm is like accidentally cutting yourself on a sharp object and telling yourself not to bleed.

The simple truth is, life will always throw challenges our way; this is something we will never have control over, however much we feel we do. What we can control, however, and what can help us stay calm and more resilient, is how we choose to respond.

Reaction Versus Response

When we're in the grip of a powerful emotion like fear or anger, it may feel as if we have no choice or control over our thoughts and feelings whatsoever. But we do.

How people have responded to the Coronavirus pandemic is a case in point.  On one hand we see people rushing to the supermarkets and panic buying toilet roll and soap. On the other there are people rallying together to form community groups to look after the elderly and vulnerable in our society. Two very different ways of dealing with potential threat.

A completely natural response to perceived danger is the stress response - fight, flight or freeze. Our bodies and brains are hardwired that way and, for the survival of the species, have to be.  However, our brains have a difficult time deciding what is real and what is perceived threat - danger is danger to the brain. It's black and white.

But whereas panic may be our brain's first automatic response, what comes next is completely within our control, however much it doesn't feel like it.  And that is: we can choose how we act.

How to stay calm when all around us feels overwhelming

Every day we face a constant barrage of external stimuli - from people, situations, the news, the weather, our environments, the list goes on. Without us even being conscious of it, these external stimuli trigger a thought, which leads to a feeling which leads to an action, This is called a Looping Thought pattern - the diagram below shows how it works.

Keep calm in anxious times - choose your response

By understanding our own Looping Thought patterns, we can break the negative cycle of fear, stress and anxiety.

When we pause to examine our thoughts, feelings and actions, we can re-wire our own ingrained responses to stressful situations and choose better, more positive thoughts and feelings which lead to healthier actions. This results in a positive feedback loop, as calmer actions then calm the body's stress response leading to calmer thoughts and feelings. Instantly,  this creates greater resilience and stronger coping mechanisms.

If you are struggling to stay calm in times of panic,  uncertainty and stress, try this simple exercise.



A Calmer Response Exercise

1. Trigger: Take a piece of paper and write down what has happened - the event/person/situation - to cause you to feel stressed or anxious.
eg: reading an alarming headline about the spread of coronavirus.

2. Thought: Then write down the thought this trigger had created.
eg: What if we all have to self-isolate. What if the shops run out of supplies? What if my business suffers?

3. Feeling: Write down the feeling that follows this thought.
eg: fear, anxiety - include the physical symptoms that accompany these feelings.

4. Action: Then make a list of what you usually do next after you've had this thought and feeling.
eg: Start to panic, google Coronavirus symptoms, and read more news articles looking for reassurance but which only makes me feel worse.

5. How can I respond differently? Now think of a more positive action you can take following the thought and feeling.
eg: Informing yourself (getting the right information from official sources so you are prepared instead of feeling panic); distracting yourself (reading, listening to music, doing some exercise); comforting yourself (making a cup of herbal tea, chatting with a friend); or being proactive (thinking of positive ways to respond to the situation).




Once you have thought about more positive actions you can choose to take in response to events or situations that usually cause anxiety or stress, visualise yourself taking these actions. Close your eyes and rehearse how you will act differently, what you will say that's different to what you usually say, and what steps you will take to stop the negative thoughts and feelings in their tracks.

This takes practise. Changing old habits of behaviour is just like changing or stopping any habit. Practise, be patient and be kind to yourself.

If anxiety or panic is becoming an issue for you and interfering with your daily life, please get in touch to discuss how Rapid Transformational Therapy can help.

Additional Resources:

This Simple Breathing Tip Helps Reduce Anxiety
Inner Calm Meditation
UK Government information - Coronavirus information
World Health Organisation - Coronavirus information

Try the Inner Calm Meditation

Banish the stresses of the day and unlock inner calm and balance. This 15-minute guided meditation is designed to calm frayed nerves and soothe the body’s stress response, allowing you to  slip into your own personal inner oasis of peace and calm.

The following is a transcript from Dawn's talk: How to Change Your Life, at Wellness Wednesday, Tunbridge Wells, on 12th February 2020

Hello, I'm Dawn Quest. I'm a Rapid Transformational Therapist and coach, primarily working with female clients to help transform their lives through change in all aspects of their lives - career, relationships, family, confidence and self esteem and weight loss and body image among others.

Just to give you a little information about Rapid Transformational Therapy. It's a very powerful form of hypnotherapy that can help get rid of any subconscious blocks that are standing in the way of my clients' success and happiness.  Time and again I've seen RTT transform my clients' lives in very impactful positive ways. So if you have any questions about RTT do come up and have a chat after my talk.

 I'm here tonight to talk about How to Change Your Life.

And I'm assuming, hopefully not wrongly, because you are all sitting here it's because in some way there may be some aspect of your life, big or small, that you want to change or maybe you are ready to take a big step, that big leap of faith and make a major life change - but somehow it feels daunting and overwhelming and frankly downright terrifying - and that is quite understandable.

In the next 15 minutes, I hope to be able to inspire and motivate you to make any changes in your life that you've been considering, maybe for a while now, big or small,  and give you some key practical tips to get you started on the path to changing your life for the better.

Maybe you're stuck in a job that at the very least doesn't fulfil you but at the extreme end is causing you stress, anxiety and emotional issues. Maybe you're unhappy in your relationship or relationships and you are trying to make a decision about whether to stay or go. Maybe you feel unhappy with the way you look or feel about your body - maybe you want to get fitter and healthier.  Or maybe - and this is true for a lot of people - you don't know what you really really want - but you know you're unhappy, you feel unfulfilled and lacking in purpose, and that there has to be  something better for you out there than what you have already.

Whatever the change may be...  I am going to talk about what needs to happen first before we can successfully change our lives.  Why it's important to understand exactly what is holding you back from making a change  - and that could be practical reasons, emotional reasons or most commonly, FEAR. And what to expect when you start making changes in your life - and that can mean self-sabotage but also sabotage from others. 

And, I'm going to outline some key steps to get you on the path to making the changes you most want to make that help you feel good about yourself and your life.

The very first change that needs to happen, before you can make any other change or changes in your life, is in your mind. And that means every negative belief, feeling and thought that is keeping you stuck in your current situation needs to be removed, eliminated and replaced with something much more positive, attractive and more powerful. 

People make the most dramatic changes in their lives when they suddenly have a wake-up moment where they realise:  "That's it, I can't take any more, things have got to change. I have got to change now."

In that split second they know that life has to change and they can't go back to being the old them, in their old life - their minds have suddenly had an upgrade, if you like - just like a phone - and switched to a better more efficient operating system.

Maybe you've even experienced it. Perhaps you know you have been eating badly but it only hits you when you're in a shop and you try on a pair of jeans and you have to go up a size. You think: "Crikey. I need to lay off those Mars bars I've been having every day for the past three months."  Maybe that one glass of wine after work to destress has turned into two, maybe three.. and you wake up one morning and you have a hangover and you say to yourself "never again". Or you've had to work overtime once again and you've missed your child's birthday party and the look on their face when you get home is just too much to bear. We all have that moment that is unique and personal to us - it's a breaking point moment.

But, while change happens in a second, what comes before that moment, may be days, weeks months, sometimes years of deliberating; of hoping, wishing, wanting things to be better, for things to change.

In other words, there's a whole lot of "putting up with" we do before we reach our breaking point. We justify the things we are unhappy about in our lives. We're not unreasonable people - we want to help, to be cooperative , we don't want to rock the boat, we want to be liked. Or that classic - what will people think? So we put up with things.

Until, for some of us, the day comes that we don't. And that day is when the discomfort and perhaps fear of change is far less than the discomfort and pain of our current situation.

And that's the secret to change:  you need to be able to tell yourself that if the worst happened, your life would still be better off by making that change  than what you are currently experiencing.

So, let's say you've got to the point where you know things have to change and you're ready to take action. What then?

So point two:

My question to you is: what has held you back in the past and what is holding you back now from making the change you most want to make?

What usually happens in the lead up to wanting to change our lives, or in the very moment that we make that decision, is our old primitive survival mechanisms kick in and we may start to hear that voice in our head and it's usually saying something negative, like: What if it all goes wrong? What if you fail (again) You'll never change. You tried before, you can't change." And so on. Our minds can come up with many logical and rational reasons for staying where we are and maintaining the status quo.

The trick is to be able to determine whether what is holding you back is real or imagined. And by imagined I mean FEAR. A real and practical reason for not wanting to change jobs may be that you know this year you're going to have some major household bills, so the timing isn't right. But you can work with that. An imagined reason is, something like, "well, no one is going to want to hire me, I'm too old, I'm too qualified. There are no jobs in my industry right now. Best to stay where I am." Those, for the most part, are fear dressed up as reason.

Now fear is a very basic emotion and it's designed to protect us. That's its one and only job. Back when we were cavemen and women, fear kept us alert and prevented us from being eaten by dinosaurs. Fear meant the survival of the species.

These days of course, we have very different dinosaurs to fear. But in most situations in everyday life, the feeling of fear is triggered by an ancient need to survive - far beyond what is real and necessary. In other words, fear may keep us safe, but it also keeps us stuck - and sometimes stuck in the most awful, miserable situations .

So, maybe you are thinking about setting up your own business, but your fear is, "I'll fail, I'll be declared bankrupt, lose my home, lose my family. I'll be that  person everyone crosses the road to avoid speaking to out of embarrassment."

Maybe you want to give a talk at a local PTA event on a Wednesday evening, and you're worried that you'll be overcome by nerves or make a huge fool of yourself - or that no one turns up.

How I coach my clients through fear is with this basic exercise: I ask them to think about their worst case scenario - maybe write it down and really go to town on the gory details: the public humiliation the financial ruin, losing friends or alienating loved ones...

And then I ask: what would you do if the worst case scenario happened? And again I get them to describe exactly how they would respond in this situation.

And in every case, my client reels off a list of actions they would take if they ever found themselves in that worst case scenario. And what they realise by listening to themselves speak out loud is that if the worst case scenario happened - they would cope,, they would find a way out of it. And you will too. We are all more capable and resilient than we think.

Another benefit to thinking about worst case scenarios is by rehearsing them ahead of time, the reality never ever pans out as bad. It just never does.

So, examine your fears. Ask if they are real. Ask yourself, if this fear came true how would I handle it and come up with some logical, practical ways you would cope. And then move on.

So, now you're ready to make the change, you've addressed your fears.. and now I am going to point three and give you a warning and it's this: Don't expect everyone to be happy for you.

And that my come as a shock. You may be excited about all of the positive ways you are changing your life and some people will be very supportive. And some people won't. And it may surprise you who isn't supportive. It may be those who are closest to you.

Because while you may have addressed your own fears about the changes you most want to make, you'll be coming up against other people's fears about how you will change. And guess what, their fears aren't real either.

For example, if you decide to lose weight and you start sticking to a healthy meal plan, you may find your friends, who may also be unhappy with their weight, start to try and sabotage your plans by offering you chocolate or cake. And they may not doing it intentionally. It's because if you change and become this slimmer version of yourself, what happens to the, what questions will they need to start asking themselves.

If you decide to give up drinking, you might have friends tell you you're being boring. You may be giving up for serious health reasons - that's not boring. But again, it's because they fear losing a friendship, losing the comfort they had drinking with you. Because you drinking with them validates their drinking  - even if they themselves know they're drinking too much.

So expect to feel some resistance. Try if you can to surround yourself with the positive people who support you. That doesn't mean not listening to sensible advice - you don't need yes men,  But it's about examining the the motives of those you don't support you. Their resistance may be nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. And remember that those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. If you have to, if you suspect someone might not be supportive, in those early days when you are making positive changes but you feel vulnerable to criticism perhaps, then keep it quiet until you feel strong enough to say what you are doing.

So once, again, there is a free downloadable workbook on my website that outlines an eight step plan - your own personal blueprint for change, if you like. So please do take a look.

To round up, I want to tell you that changing your life may be the most important thing you ever do. In fact, changing your life can save your life. And I don't mean that to sound overly dramatic but I have seen this to be true.

I'm a big fan of the late American poet Mary Oliver. The majority of her poems were about nature, about being outside - they are very reflective and  beautiful. And you may already know this quote, it is quite well known.  "Tell me, what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life".

Because we sometimes forget don't we? We only have this one life. Most of our days we can easily fill with the mundane - paying bills and making dinner and trying to get kids to do their homework. But we forget - we are all in denial. Life is short. Life is too short and precious. And if you ask anyone at the end of  their lives what they regret the most, they will tell you:  the biggest regrets are not the things they did do, but the things they didn't  - the opportunities they missed, the risks and chances they didn't take, the perseverance to stick to a goal, the people they turned away from.

Life is precious and short - and for that reason alone, don't we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to be the happiest version of ourselves, the best version of ourselves. And that doesn't mean being selfish, or completely disregarding others' feelings  -  it means being responsible for our own happiness. If you've travelled on a plane, you'll know that the air stewards tell all parents, "if we hit turbulence and the oxygen masks drop down, put your own mask on first before seeing to your children's." And the reason is obvious of course. If you pass out because of a lack of oxygen you'll be of no help to your children whatsoever. So it is in life - if you are struggling with being unhappy or living a life that constantly rubs you up the wrong way - it won't just impact you. You'll be more irritable, more stressed, maybe you'll feel depressed more often than not. Everyone in your immediate circle will feel it too.

A college professor talking to his students, said: "You all have a little bit of wanting to save the world in you. But I want you to know that it's okay if you only save one person, and it's okay if that person is yourself".

Our own happiness, the choices we make for our own happiness can inspire our friends and loved ones and help them do the same.

So I am going to leave you with a last question and it's this:  if you know what it is you want to change in your life, ask yourself, what is the very first step I can take right now to change my life for the better and commit to making it.

It is never too late to make a change in your life. In the words of the Chinese proverb: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

I'm both a big fan and a huge non-fan of New Year's Resolutions. A fan because, who doesn't like that feeling of renewed energy and hope that comes with the start of a new year? The reason I'm not so enthralled with New Year's Resolutions is… well, how many people do you know who've actually made a New Year's Resolution and stuck to it? Or be honest now, how many times have you kept your resolutions? And how long was it between making your resolutions and breaking them?

What I don't like about New Year's Resolutions is that ultimately the end result often tends to be the same: feeling like a failure because once again we weren't able to do what we said we were going to do.  And I've never been a big fan of that.

New Year's Resolutions can be just another way we set ourselves up for failure and remind ourselves in some way that we are "not enough",

So how do we keep the good stuff - the setting goals and improving our lives and giving ourselves something to feel good about - while making sure we don't end up giving up  and feeling even worse than before we started?

Follow these five tips to help you keep that  "fresh out of the box New Year I can do anything feeling" going all year.

Don't start on January 1st
For some resolutions there can be no worse time to start than January 1st. I'm thinking of the common resolution to get fit and lose weight. While there are still leftovers and chocolate and alcohol lurking around, it's not a great idea to start on a healthy eating regime. Trying to eat better when temptation is all around is difficult even for those with the strongest willpower.

So, give yourself time. Allow yourself a few days to clear the cupboards of treats and for the overindulgence of the holiday season to well and truly be over before you fully commit to your New Year's Resolutions.

Remember the tortoise and the hare - it's not a race or about shooting out of the starting blocks all guns blazing.

Tip: You have time. And you can set your own start date.

It's all about your actions
So you've set your New Year's Resolutions. Achieving your resolutions is now going to be absolutely dependent on all of the actions you take every day, large or small. And from this point on, every action you take is either moving you towards or away from your goal. 

If you're trying to lose weight, eating a cookie will move you away from your goal. Setting your alarm for 30 minutes earlier and going for a run moves you towards your goal. So before you reach for another chocolate, or skip the gym, ask yourself: "Am I moving towards my goal or away from it?"

Tip: Be mindful of your actions. Every action you take is either moving you towards or away from your goal. Always be moving towards your goal.

When temptation strikes, focus on the feeling
Kate Moss once famously said "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels".  I remember that was quite controversial at the time as many were angry about someone in the public eye condoning being skinny at all costs. But the essence of what she was saying was pretty on the nail.

When we set New Year's Resolutions, we tend to focus on the action. What we will do and what we won't do. We almost always neglect to think about how we feel. Specifically, how we will feel once we have reached our ideal weight, haven't had a cigarette or a drink in one or two or three months. Or how it will feel after stashing away money and finally having enough for that dream holiday.

Focusing on the feeling of having achieved our goals can help get us through those sticky moments of temptation. 

Try this morning meditation to help you focus on the feeling of achieving your goals:

Tip: Resolution Morning Meditation: Set aside 5 minutes first thing in the morning. Make sure you won't be disturbed. Close your eyes. Now start to imagine you've achieved your goal. What does it feel like? Feel it in your body. Where does the feeling sit? Is it excitement, joy, happiness, pride, feeling great about your body? Now allow that feeling to expand in your body. Imagine it moving from the top of your scalp, down through your throat and chest, allow it to expand around your heart. Picture yourself achieving your goal while you feel that feeling expand throughout your body, down your thighs to your feet. Visualise and feel at the same time.

Now, feeling good, feeling amazing, open your eyes. Allow the feeling to stay with you and recall the visualisation and the feeling every time you feel like giving up on achieving your goal.

Try a meditation download

Just for today
Most people I know are quite capable of keeping to their New Year's Resolutions for a day, sometimes a week, sometimes even a month. But when the goal has a deadline that is too far away that can feel overwhelming and it becomes easy to lose focus and motivation.

We live our lives in days. Today is all we have and it's in our todays where we set tomorrow's achievements.

Tip: Break your New Year's Resolution into day-sized goals. Imagine your day is one whole year and tell yourself "Just for today I am going to..."  and fill in the blanks, whether it's eat healthier, not smoke or drink, not buy an expensive coffee, take a packed lunch instead of eating out... whatever your New Year's Resolution is.  At the end of the day, remind yourself of how well you have done and give yourself lots of praise for achieving your goals for that day. 

And then do it all again tomorrow. And the next day... 

Slip up but don't give up
Perhaps the most common reason why people give up on their New Year's Resolutions is that they slip up and then give up. It may be that they give in to temptation and then eat chocolate or cake or have a glass of wine, and then feel like such a failure that they give up completely.

Accept that failing is part of the process - in fact, I think room for failure should be factored into every New Year's Resolution. You have set an intention to improve your life in some way.  It's not a contest, not a competition - it's a pathway, a journey, you haven't failed. 

Tip: if you slip up, be kind to yourself. Achieving your goals is not an all or nothing journey.  Remember to get back to moving towards your goals, focus on the small everyday actions, put your blinkers on and focus on today. Remind yourself how you will feel once you have achieved your goals. Go further and imagine you have already achieved them and immerse yourself in that feeling.

And then begin again. 

During moments of stress, anxiety and even panic attacks, the common advice tends to be to "take deep breaths. "But that advice is now being seen as outdated, and in some cases might make stress and anxiety worse.

About a year ago, I learnt of a breathing technique that really does nix moments of stress, not just in the short-term but also long-term, and relatively quickly too. It worked for me (I'll show you a fascinating little self-experiment in a mo), and it has also worked for my clients, so much so that this is the only breathing exercise I teach, and I teach it to all my clients for general wellbeing regardless of whether they're suffering from anxiety or not.

Coherent or resonant breathing is a technique that helps bring both emotional and physiological systems in the body into balance in order to boost overall health and wellbeing. The idea is to make breathing slower and more rhythmic by making sure every exhalation is the same length as every inhalation.

I've read a couple of different accounts of how and why this works. The creator of the trademarked Coherent Breathing method, Stephen Elliott proposes the theory that moving the diaphragm in a rhythmic manner stimulates the phrenic nerve thereby promoting optimal circulation, better brain function and "nourishing every cell in the body in a positive feedback loop".

Other research shows that coherent or resonant breathing helps bring Heart Rate Variability (HRV) into a smoother, more even pattern which promotes the better functioning of every organ in the body, most importantly the brain.

HRV, by the way, is the measurement of the gaps between heart beats - and is now recognised as a far better way of measuring overall health and fitness, compared to just measuring heart rate. If you're intrigued by HRV there is excellent information over on the HeartMath website.

First, a bit of science
Our Autonomic Nervous System is the part of our nervous system that governs automatic bodily functions like breathing, digestion and our heart beat, The ANS is in turn divided into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Both regulate the same bodily functions but have opposite jobs. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity (fight or flight); while the parasympathetic nervous system prepares the body for relaxation and rest.

While we are awake, our optimal state is when both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are in balance. When  brain function, heart rate and breathing are all in balance, we cope with stress better, we are more sociable and positive, and tend to be more resilient.

When we are stressed, however, our bodies stay in high alert, with our sympathetic nervous systems constantly firing. Although still evolving, research into HRV and coherence is showing a link between lower coherence and disease and aging.

Coherent or resonant breathing works by hacking the ANS to bring both sympathetic and parasympathetic systems  back into balance almost instantly.

You can find a number of apps that help you track your own personal coherence index and HRV.  I use WellTory.  The results below show my body before and after 5 minutes of Coherent Breathing.

A measure of wellbeing before coherent breathing (using WellTory app)

The coherence index is very low.

and after coherent breathing. The coherence index has more than doubled.


How to Practise Coherent Breathing

Relax and find a quiet spot where you won't be disturbed. Breathe in for 6 seconds. Then breathe out for 6 seconds. If 6 seconds feels too long, start with 4 seconds and build up to 6 seconds. Make sure both your inhalation and exhalation are the same length.

Start with a minute or two then build up gradually to however long feels comfortable. Some recommend a daily practise of 20 minutes, but I tend to follow the principle of "little and often" as a guide,

You can find a number of apps that help guide you through a timed breathing technique. Calm's Breathe setting allows you to set the timings for your breath and plays a different note for inhales and exhales (so you can practise with your eyes closed.).

The Breathing App by Deepak Chopra and Eddie Stern (with music by Moby) allows you to choose from a pre-selected format of breathing patterns with five different screens. 


Try a guided meditation


In 1940, author, activist and lecturer Helen Keller published  a book called Let Us Have Faith.  In a chapter entitled  Faith Fears Not she wrote:

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing*"

It's one of my favourite quotes despite often being misquoted (with the addition of an "at all" at the end).  I like it because it reminds me of the big picture, when fear gets in the way of making big, bold decisions about how I want my life to be. 

Helen Keller is of course most famous for living a bold and fearless life despite being blind, deaf and initially considered mute.  Keller suffered a viral illness at 18 months old that stole her sight and robbed her of her hearing; doctors diagnosed  "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain" which was later believed to be scarlet fever or meningitis. She described her life  growing up as being “at sea in a dense fog” – which is probably all the description you need.

Having faith must have been a daily challenge for Keller. If you can't have faith in what you see and hear, then what remains must be an extraordinary faith in something else; not necessarily religious faith, though Keller had that, but a simple unwavering faith  in life. The belief that with every step she took, the ground would not renege on an unspoken deal to be there beneath her feet, always. Without the anchors of sight and sound to guide her, all she had was faith in what she knew to be true - gravity, the ground, people who looked after her  - and that these would be present and continue her whole life long.

I'm presuming a lot of course. But for the rest of us, gifted with all our senses  - or perhaps burdened by them -  how often do we have that same trust in life: that it will unfold in its own way without us needing to control every element, every moment, every outcome? How often do we feel that a bold step into the unknown will be met well and not with disaster?

Life goes on whether you sit on your sofa and binge-watch Netflix or get out there and follow your heart, do something new, give life the opportunity to live up to your expectations.  But getting out there and doing something  is invariably more interesting.

Fear of Failure

What usually stops the "doing something"  and "following your heart-ing" is fear of course: a fear of failure, or humiliation, or rejection and so on. Fear either gives rise to a desire to try and control everything, or a feeling that no matter what you do, it will never amount to anything, so why bother? You could argue that laziness is just fear in disguise. Better to not try than try and fail.  

But whether you're frightened or not makes no difference. People who play it safe are not necessarily safer. People who go out and experience the world may not be safer either but life is richer, more colourful, more wonderful.

Life is an adventure... even if it doesn't feel like it

Yes, you might be stuck in the same old, same old. Life may be feeling mundane and boring, hard work and difficult. But what you will always have is choice - and choice is exciting.

If nothing else in life, we have a choice in how we respond and react to the mundane and boring and difficult. Despite everything else we have a choice to be different, act differently, think differently. And that means we can act in completely new, better and more appealing ways. Even small changes - like taking a new route to work or choosing to have lunch anywhere but the  desk -  creates a gap between the old us living the boring/mundane/difficult life, to the new us, one step on the road to something better.

Try something different and you might meet someone new who'll change your life, or you'll find your perfect home on a new street. Maybe you'll discover what it is you really want to be doing with your life.

You can put up with being unhappy or you can change it. You can stay or leave. You can shut up or speak up. But in that small moment of decision and change, adventure exists  because, well...


Possibility is perhaps one of my favourite words (after serendipity). It promises hope, it even sounds hopeful. Which it is.

Possible is probable's more exciting, flamboyant cousin. Possible is a little lighter on her feet, more daring. She's a  lot more fun.

Sometimes we get stuck on what's probable, and what's likely to happen. Ask ourselves "what's possible" and it's almost like you can feel the grinding of our mental gearboxes as we start looking at a problem from a different angle. We often have a problem with possibility because dreaming and hoping for what's possible often feels foolish, childish and silly. Probable is much safer ground, more grown up.

Yes, today might probably be much like any other. Or quite possibly it might be the start of something new. Set your mind to what's possible, because when we're open to possibility, we're open to change and  life being better. To life being an adventure. Because...

What's the worst that can happen?

So you have a big dream or goal or idea, or just a notion of how you want your life to be different. But you keep putting it off because you're frightened it will all go wrong.

Imagine for a moment the worst that can possibly happen if you decide to follow through? Describe it in full, gory technicolour detail. Your husband will leave you, you'll be bankrupt and end up homeless relying on charity just to get by. Or you'll fall flat on your face and everyone will laugh at you and you'll have to go back to your boring job answering phones.

Once you're  finished imagining the full horror of failing, ask yourself what you would do then? 

When I ask a client to go through this process. every time without fail they come up with a perfectly reasonable, logical course of action. They realise that even if the worst happened, they would still be okay, that they'd find a way to figure it all out.  

If you can visualise the worst thing that can happen, you can also visualise the best.
Choose that.

Look for the helpers

Back when I was too young to know better I used to make a lot of decisions based on what my heart wanted. Which was a lot of fun (but not advisable some 30 years later).

I moved to San Francisco in my twenties because I was in love. But it wasn’t long before that all went kaput. The weekend that we broke up I also lost my job, and my home and I ended up sleeping on a friend’s sofa. It was 4th July. Independence Day. The irony wasn’t lost on me. As I heard the fireworks boom over Crissy Field, I contemplated my own independence, enforced as it was. I felt utterly miserable.

But that weekend where I felt like I had lost everything  that had meaning to me, I realised I had something. When everything was stripped away I had myself. And my skills and my talents, my body, my mind. I remember looking at my arms and legs in complete surprise as if thinking "My God I'm still here, despite everything." I felt pretty invincible - heartbroken, but invincible.

And then something lovely happened. People who were strangers then but who I now consider lifelong friends, rallied round and helped. As the much-loved children's TV host Mr Rogers always used to say "Look for the helpers". I had lots of helpers. 

For someone whose life had just been upended, I felt in pretty good shape, pretty lucky. Because with these things - my body, my mind, my skills, my talents, and people to help - I had all I needed to start over.

On life's 'big highway' you have all that you really need to start something new, start again, start out.  You have all that you need for the journey: your brilliant mind (whether you believe it's brilliant or not, it is), your amazing ability to love and be loved, your curiosity, your intelligence, your compassion, your connection. Everything else, all the other stuff is just a bonus. As Dr Seuss said:

"You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose"
Dr Seuss

The worst can happen and often does. But it happens despite, not because, you're living life to the full.  Life is a bitch. And then it isn't. What is there really  to lose except a life un-lived?

So love life with a big heart. Love people completely and allow yourself to be loved in return. Not the fake, pretend love that’s really something else dressed up as love in disguise. Love people who make you feel, as author Jen Sincero puts it  "like you could carry a horse up a hill". 

And go for what you want, not what you think other people want for you. We're here for such a little time. Try not to worry. Even if you can't see the ground in front of you, trust you will be okay. And remember to look for the helpers and let them help you. Because helping also makes the helper feel good. 

If you're unhappy where you are, all it takes is just one step in a new direction. That's the adventure. The ground will be there.

Helen Keller, Let Us Have Faith, 1940

  • "Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."
The process of trying to make a decision can be tortuous. Whether it's deciding to hand in your notice at work, or move house  - you weigh up all the pros and cons, you talk to friends, you agonise over whether to make the leap and go for it, only to change your mind and retreat into doubt and confusion. And then the process starts all over again. Should I? Shouldn't I? Over and over.

Taking action once you've made a decision can take seconds. And then there you are, standing blinking in the sunlight of your new life, decision made.

Getting to the  point of making that decision, however, can take months, even years.

If this is you and you're currently stuck in the middle of making a decision - whether it's a big one like deciding to change career, or a seemingly small one like whether to sign up for gym membership - ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What will happen if I do this (quit my job/move house/confront my friend over her behaviour)?
  2. What will happen if I don't do this?
  3. What won't happen if I do this?
  4. What won't happen if I don't do this?

An upgrade to the usual two-columned Pros and Cons approach, the purpose of these questions is to help you explore all your options and examine all possible outcomes of your decision, good or bad.

That last question is a bit of a doozy and gives the old brain cells a bit of a workout I admit, but stick with it - see what you come up with.

Once you've answered all four questions, you'll have a more comprehensive list of possibilities from which to make a more informed and intuitive decision.  And when you're armed with that knowledge - you, and only you, will know what the right decision is for you.

Dawn x

Photo: ©Fotolia/connei_design

  • This article was first published just over two years ago, but in light of many of us having to go through lockdown and self-isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic, it felt very apt to repost. 

Just recently, I've started doing three things that have had an immediate and profound impact on my physical and emotional health.

My energy levels have soared, I'm more productive and more creative. I'm calmer and less stressed and generally just feel like a happier person. This, at a time, when I'm usually struggling with the grey and dreary skies of a long UK winter.

Nothing in my external world has changed at all - still the same pressures and demands on my time. But everything in my internal world has -  I'm able to cope with them better.

Together these three daily routines take about 30 minutes tops. And, because I know what a difference it makes, this half hour has now become an essential, non-negotiable part of the day, not a luxury to fit in if I have time.

As the title suggests, making time for these in the morning sets me up for the day. But even if I do them at lunchtime or later in the evening, I still reap the benefits.

In recommending these three simple practises, I'd say do what feels right for you. Do just one, do all three, group them together in a sequence or split them up into three separate practises. I strongly suggest, however, being consistent and performing these regularly for maximum benefit.

Tabata - the 4-Minute Workout  

Tabata - or the Tabata method -  is a short, high-intensity exercise routine comprising 20 seconds of all-out, maximum-effort exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times. Total time from start to finish is four minutes - and that's it, you're done for the day.

The Tabata Protocol was created by Dr Izumi Tabata¹ following his work with the Japanese Olympic speed skating team in the 1990s (though he himself credits the team's coach, Irisawa Koichi). Tabata found that just four minutes of exercise performed in these short bursts was equal to, if not better than, an hour's worth of exercise in terms of cardiovascular fitness and health.

While you may already have an exercise programme you love, for those of us who don't (because we simply can't find the time, or we can't justify the cost of a gym or a babysitter), it's perfect. I challenge even the busiest person not to be able to find four spare minutes in a day.

According to fitness professionals, the key is to make those 20 second bursts count - if you're not pushing yourself to maximum effort then you're not doing it right.

For me, it's the way Tabata makes me feel for the rest of the day that has me hooked.  I feel energised and raring to go, an effect that lasts well into the late afternoon. As a result I get more done, and if it helps me look better into the bargain, that's a bonus.

You can find specific Tabata apps which help you time your routine (trying to keep track of counting while you're doing jumping jacks is harder than you might think). At a pinch, you could use a stopwatch.

As with all exercise programmes, if you're in any doubt about starting a new fitness routine, consult a medical professional first.

¹ Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO(2max) - Dr Izumi Tabata, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,  1996.


After Tabata, I find a comfortable spot, which is usually sitting at my desk, for the next step - meditation.

Meditation has become something of a buzzword over recent years and months, aided by technology and a range of very cool free apps like Calm, Headspace, and, one of my favourites, Brainwave (which uses binaural beats to access deeper levels of relaxation).

No longer strictly a religious practise, or the preserve of the New Age movement or celebrity fads, meditation has become mainstream. Global CEOS and leaders incorporate meditation into their daily schedules, companies are starting to introduce meditation and mindfulness as part of their overall employee mental health strategy, and teachers are introducing meditation into the classroom.

And it's not hard to see why, with research showing the benefits of meditation ranging from better sleep to improved mood, soaring levels of creativity and just simply being happier.

For me, meditating is like turning the dial on a radio to tune in to a calmer, saner frequency. Answers to problems I've been wrestling with for days suddenly seem to pop up. The rollercoaster ups and downs of life level out to a more manageable state. There's less drama.

There's a wide range of online meditation recordings to choose from, including  guided meditation routines to mantras on YouTube to audio recordings with embedded binaural beats, as mentioned above.

A meditation can be as simple as a body scan, focussing on relaxing all the parts of your body. Or it can encompass greater themes like compassion, gratitude and forgiveness (a personal favourite is MindValley Academy's 6 Phase Meditation).

I have also created two meditation audios:  Inner Calm  designed to help banish the stresses of the day and unlock inner calm and balance.; and Mood Boost, providing a  quick boost to lift your spirits and lighten your mood.


If meditation is like turning the dial on a radio to tune into a better mood, then practising gratitude is like flicking a switch to change night to day, dark to light in an instant. It's that powerful a mood changer.

Recent research shows that people who practise gratitude say they experience fewer aches and pains, have improved relationships and deeper, uninterrupted sleep. In addition they suffer less from anxiety and low mood while finding pleasure in the small day-to-day things. Overall, people who feel gratitude are more satisfied and contented with life, regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in.

How you practise gratitude is, of course, a personal thing.

Some people like to keep a gratitude journal, writing down three things they are grateful for every day; others like to have a gratitude jar which they fill with notes of gratitude on a daily basis. Or you could incorporate gratitude into your meditation routine.

An acupuncturist friend of mine keeps a photo album on her phone filled with photos of people, places and things she loves. She takes time out of her day to scroll through that and remind herself of all she is grateful for.

I personally think of one or two things I am grateful for every day and hold them in my thoughts for a few minutes.

But don't just go through the motions. Rather than just list the things you're grateful for, the trick is to fully immerse yourself in the emotion. Tap in to all your senses - what you see, hear, smell, taste and above all feel, for a more powerful experience.

We all get busy, too busy sometimes. But if you try just one of the above three practises, know you're doing something profoundly positive and wonderful for your everyday physical, emotional and mental health. And that your day will be better because of it.

Photo ©Fotolia/coffeekai


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