Resigned Resignation: Anne-Marie Cockburn on surviving grief

27 May 2014 by in 5742 Days, Lifestyle

by Anne-Marie Cockburn, author of 5,742 Days.

As I wander around this new world having quickly learned a new dialect and obtained my new identity, I wonder where this takes me. Do I want to go there and do I have a choice anyway? Does any of us have a choice, or is there a faint map of our lives before we breathe our very first breath?

I wander back to the perfect day at the beach, the day before my girl died. Was that the most extraordinary coincidence or was that a gift I was awarded as some compensation in anticipation as to what unfolded the very next day. My map showed a big black hole that I could never have predicted as I stepped backwards into it with my girl and she was gone forever. I survived and I now have to tolerate and find my purpose as a survivor who doesn’t feel as though surviving was the most rewarding of the two outcomes.

Despite being able to still feel joy and recognise that my life is precious and interesting, it’s as though there are two versions of me now, one who is getting to know herself and one who knows who she is, but knows she can never be that person again.

I was saying to friends last night that it’s all very well for me to do all the right things in order to take good care of myself, physically and emotionally, but death is pretty permanent and that is the problem with this journey. The end result is the same and that throws me out of kilter, do I have the strength to keep contending with that, or do I run out of determination and drive at some point and curl up to merely exist?

How do I do this, and can I – that is more the point? Can I actually do this? Who’d want to have my job – being a bereaved parent is the worst job in the world. Thankless and joyless – worse than having a stroppy, ungrateful teenager to contend with! At least when Martha was here, we’d calm down and then giggle at how stubborn we both were. But that giggle is gone and I now need to draw on my own stubbornness in order to find the strength of character to face the grief, and grief doesn’t have the same sense of humour as me.

I hate you grief, but you seem to love me and cling to my ribs. I stand on grief’s fingers as it hangs on defiantly, a villain on a cliff edge. I peer over and crunch the fingers with glee and beckon grief to let go, but grief disappears and then appears behind me whispering eerily in my ear, “I always win in the end”. Acrid breath filling the air, as I turn around and am pushed – I fall to my life that isn’t death and isn’t life either, a hybrid place where the residents look as hopeful as tourists after an uncomfortable long-haul flight.

I hand in my letter of resignation, I don’t want this job, I didn’t apply for it, but grief, my boss sits there smoking a big fat cigar, his phone constantly ringing, providing no space in his schedule to read my letter. I’m ignored and the frustration builds up inside me. LISTEN TO ME, “you can’t do this”, I say.  But this isn’t a job you can resign from, so I dutifully turn up on a daily basis and look forward to my lunch hour.

5,742 Days

Advice From Your 100 Year-Old Self: Coaching questions to help you access the wisdom and insight of a centenarian

22 May 2014 by in Lifestyle

by Jackee Holder, author of Be your own best life coach.

If you had the fabulous opportunity to meet and spend time with a centenarian what question would you ask them?

Last week I had the good fortune to visit an old neighbour who lived across the road from the house I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in. Mrs Jones as I called her back then lives in the same house we found her living in with her family when we moved in across the road in 1965.

My visit coincided with her 101st birthday – unbelievable. I love it that she is a Taurean just like me; my birthday was on Sunday of this week. When I arrived she was walking about – not puttering – in her immaculate upstairs living room which is still stuffed with floor to ceiling cabinets full of every possible kind of souvenir you can imagine, spanning almost the same number of years she has lived.

We sat down on her sofa like two old friends. It’s amazing how age and time closes the gaps between you and the people who were adults when you were growing up. I loved that nothing about her had changed since we last met. She has all of her faculties and senses fully functioning. She was wearing an ice blue jacket and skirt suit (she always knew style) and kept pulling on her wig and asking me if it looked okay before she posed for shots with me.

If you had been eavesdropping outside the door you would have heard us hollering with laughter as she filled me with gossip (as she regularly did when I was a child) and you would have seen her face beaming with delight when I presented her with a huge bunch of flowers for her birthday.

On the way home I found myself deep in thought. Really, to live past a hundred in this day and age is nothing short of a miracle. In her presence I could feel her wisdom that surely is awarded with centenarian age and maturity. That’s why I’ve chosen the following coaching questions. Not many of us will reach the grand age of the centenarians of this era but we can still access the wisdom and insight the centenarian may have for our own lives.

Have a go at asking your 100 year-old self what advice they would give you about transforming: 

  • Your life right now;
  • Your work/career;
  • A significant or challenging relationship.

 If you had to live your life over again what would your 100 year-old self advise you to do:

  •  Differently;
  • Less of;
  • More of;
  • The same.

If your 100 year old self could tell you how to make right your biggest life regret what would he/she advise you to do? 

If he/she granted you a wish to make the next ten years your best years yet, what would the next ten years look like? 


Here we are posing for the camera. My time with her reminded me that life can be short or life can be long so either way we’d better aim to do it right. And by that I mean live the life that has your name on it. In the words of the novelist and writer Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”

Be your own best life coach

Five compelling reasons to get into the exercise habit

14 May 2014 by in Business and finance

A report by the British Heart Foundation has suggested that high intensity exercise can lead to an increased risk of heart rhythm disturbances. But before you kick off your running shoes and head for the sofa, remember that the benefits of regular exercise outweigh the risks. In fact, a healthy adult should aim to do 2.5 hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week. Perhaps you, or somebody you know, needs more convincing. So Kate Cook, author of The Corporate Wellness Bible, has compiled these five compelling reasons for ditching the onesie and donning those long-neglected jogging bottoms.

Why bother to exercise? Here are five compelling reasons
You may hate the idea of it, but taking exercise is life-changing and has real benefits if you’re aiming to lose weight. Once you get into the exercise habit, you won’t want to stop.

There are loads of different ways of exercising and it doen’t have to involve being shouted at by an angry man in a tracksuit with a whistle (unless you want it to).
There are loads of different ways of exercising and it doesn’t have to involve being shouted at by an angry man in a tracksuit with a whistle (unless you want it to).

 1.     Exercise uses up calories. You will lose weight by cutting down on the calories you consume, but if you’re active too, your weight loss will be faster. I love food and working out means I can eat more. It also means that I don’t end up losing any weight, but just maintain the weight I am. When you exercise you build up muscle, which gives you shape; even thin people can use muscle tone. Muscle burns up more energy than fat tissue.

2.     Exercise gives you a buzz. You’ve probably heard of the runner’s high, that happy, almost euphoric feeling during an exercise session. Experts put it down to a combination of factors – a release of endorphins, hormones that mask pain and produce a feeling of well-being; the secretion of neurotransmitters in the brain that control our mood and emotions and a plain old sense of achievement. Whatever gives you the high, there’s no doubting the feel-good glow it gives you.

3.     Exercise boosts your confidence. Every time you work out or play a sport, you’re doing something positive for yourself, which is mood-enhancing in itself. When you start to see the results in the mirror, your self-esteem rockets. As soon as you see results, you will find it easier to stick to your weight loss plan, too.

4.     Exercise reduces your appetite. As well as being a good distraction from the allure of the fridge, exercise slows the movement of food through your digestive system, so it takes longer for you to feel hungry.

5.     Exercise helps you keep weight off. From a dietary perspective, the trouble with only tackling your weight loss is that it is usually quite hard to maintain your weight loss in the long term. Once you have reached your goal and are a little less strict with yourself, the weight can begin to come back. Studies have shown that people who have successfully lost weight by taking exercise as well as a sensible approach to food are better at keeping their weight stable longterm.

The key to incorporating exercise into your life is to find something you enjoy. I do believe there’s something for everyone. Some of us love swimming. For others, it’s running or tennis. These days gyms have a huge variety of classes on offer, ranging from the highly choreographed to gentle classes featuring very simple moves. There’s no excuse for at least not trying some of them out. If you really don’t like gyms, there is walking, which is a very good exercise indeed. It is easy to get into the habit of taking regular walks. Just one foot in front of the other, walk out of your door and keep going.

Corporate Wellness


Quiz: How environmentally friendly are you?

25 April 2014 by in Lifestyle

Let’s face it, as a generation we’re spoilt rotten, and may not even be fully aware of the detrimental environmental effects our self-indulgent habits are having on poor old Earth. But there’s nothing like a bit of self-assessment to kick start the conscience. The idea behind the quiz is to give you a rough idea of how much work you need to do in your quest for an environmentally friendly lifestyle that leaves less of an imprint on our troubled planet.

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1   How do you mainly shop for food?
(a)  You don’t – it’s all home produced.
(b)  Online certified organic delivery schemes.
(c)  At local markets and grocers.
(d)  At the supermarket.

2   It’s lunchtime in the office. Do you:
(a)  Dive into your organic, homemade packed lunch?
(b)  Order something decent at an upmarket macrobiotic café?
(c)  Go where everyone else is going, e.g.the pub?
(d)  Head for the nearest fast-food chain or work canteen?

 3   How do you get to work/school?
(a)  Walk or cycle.
(b)  Take public transport.
(c)  Share lifts.
(d)  Drive.

4   When the temperature drops, what do you do?
(a)  Do nothing – your home is insulated and solar-powered.
(b)  Put on another jumper and shiver.
(c)  Turn up the thermostat just a little.
(d)  Whack up the heating as far as it goes and bring in extra heaters.

5   What kind of holiday do you mainly take?
(a)  A working conservation holiday.
(b)  Something low-key and national.
(c)  A package holiday somewhere warm.
(d)  As exotic and far flung as possible.

6   What are your cleaning materials of choice?
(a)  Lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda.
(b)  Eco-friendly products.
(c)  Anything from the supermarket that works.
(d)  A whole army of branded mousses, sprays, wipes and liquids.

7   How much do you recycle?
(a)  Virtually everything, and the rest goes to charity.
(b)  Newspapers, bottles, cans, vegetable matter.
(c)  Newspapers and maybe bottles sometimes.
(d)  Nothing – it all goes straight in the bin.

8   What kind of car do you own?
(a)  You don’t.
(b)  A small, low-emission model.
(c)  A people carrier or family saloon.
(d)  A nice big SUV.

9   What sort of presents did you give last Christmas/birthday?
(a)  You didn’t – the money went straight to charity instead.
(b)  Ethical presents for good causes.
(c)  Catalogue/online goods where some profits go to charity.
(d)  Whatever the recipients wanted.

10  How ethical is your bank?
(a)  Very: that’s why you chose it.
(b)  It has several good environmental policies.
(c)  Not sure, but hopefully pretty good.
(d)  You went for the best deal – ethics didn’t come into it.

Mainly (a)s. Congratulations, you are fully committed to the environment and well on your way to becoming a green goddess – or god, of course.

 Mainly (b)s. You’re definitely aware of what it takes to be green although there are one or two luxuries you’re not prepared to give up just yet. But keep up the good work, and you’ll be doing your bit for the planet in no time.

Mainly (c)s. The will to change is there, but you’ve got some way to go before youwin the Zayed Prize for the Environment. You just need to spend a little more time thinking about how your actions could affect the planet.

Mainly (d)s. Oh dear, you’re something of a walking eco-disaster. Time to change your wasteful and spendthrift habits for a greener, cleaner lifestyle.

Five ways your computer can make you smarter

25 April 2014 by in Lifestyle

by Darren Bridger, author of Boost your memory

Depending on how we use them, computers can make us smarter or dumber. The explosion of information available to us online can leave us feeling overwhelmed, distracted and unable to concentrate deeply. Also, ever since a super-computer beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov in a game in 1997, our days as the most intelligent species on the planet have seemed numbered. Many jobs are already being automated with the trend set to continue into the future.

laptop and booksIs there anything we can do to effectively adapt to this smarter, faster-paced world?

The truth is that we can work in tandem with computers to enhance our own intelligence. Until the day we can all have a silicon-chip implant to make us smarter, here are some apps and ideas to use your computer or smartphone to boost your intelligence.

Memory boosting. Whenever we learn something new, our memory of it tends to drop off rapidly. The best way to halt the decline is carefully timed repetition of the material. Apps such as Supermemo, Memrise and Anki have a range of memory-boosting courses which give you timed reminders in order to stop the curve of forgetting.

Speed-reading. Two things slow us down when reading: the tendency to hear the words in our minds and the act of moving our eyes across and down the page. Apps such as Spreeder and Spritz (see our blog post Spritz speed-reading app: A blessing for modern readers?) can cut these problems out by presenting words one by one in the centre of the screen at high speed.

Learn online. Google may appear to have all the answers, but it takes an informed mind to ask the smart questions, and the web offers many other ways to learn almost anything you can think of. Check out Learnist, Khan Accademy and for more advanced courses, MIT’s Open Courseware site.

Boost your IQ. IQ is the horsepower of the engine of your brain. By training our ‘working memory’ – the number of bits of information we can keep in our mind at any one time – we can boost our IQ. Apps such as IQ Boost and BrainFitPro turn working-memory into a game. Persist and you genuinely could improve your IQ.

Track yourself! The ancient Greek aphorism ‘know thyself’ may have become more practical thanks to our computers. Apps such as MoodPanda or TallyZoo can help you track your own habits and perhaps learn about yourself. Alternatively, try using free online spreadsheets (Google Drive) to keep track of anything you like, such as what time of day you feel most alert, or the effect of your diet on your mood. Such tracking could yield big rewards in performance.

Finally, if all else fails and you just want a way to stop the intrusive, concentration-crushing effect of the web, try an app like Freedom, available for PC and MAC, to block you from web-browsing for a set length of time, or Anti-Social, which does the same but just for social media sites like Facebook.

Boost your memory

Break your bad habits: Letting go of defence mechanisms

25 April 2014 by in Lifestyle

by Jackee Holder, author Be your own best life coach

Coaching yourself requires drawing on huge amounts of self-honesty, openness and confidence. A friend of mine was surprised by my recent comment about not always feeling confident. It got me thinking. Confidence is something I’ve learnt to do. It’s also a way I’ve defended myself (for more information on defence mechanisms check out chapter 19 in Be your own best life coach).

Be your own best life coach by Jackee Holder

Be Your Own Best Life Coach by Jackee Holder

Sometimes my confidence is motivated by experiences of racism growing up in inner city London and wanting to prove that I’m good enough to those who didn’t think I was. Other times it’s fuelled by the memory of a physically abusive boyfriend when I was aged seventeen, and more often than not it’s to protect myself against the low-self esteem inherited through a trauma I experienced at the age of seven. This bravado of confidence sometimes means that when I’m being vulnerable people miss it or just don’t get it. It’s hard work always trying to get it right, running a perfectionist streak to prove that you are good enough.

During childhood we construct certain patterns of behaviours to protect ourselves against negative feelings and pain. We call these protective barriers defence mechanisms. For example to protect yourself from a violent or angry parent you may have learnt how to be quiet (even if this was not your true nature) and go unnoticed so as not to be a sitting target. As the years progressed this form of behaviour extended beyond the family home into school, with friends and as adults into the workplace and into relationships. Or perhaps as a child you grew up with alcoholic parents which meant that in order to survive you subconsciously developed care taking qualities, often denying your own true feelings at the expense of putting other people’s needs first. Can you see where this is going?

There’s no doubt that when asked any one of us could provide valid, strong and justified reasons for constructing these barriers. In many instances the creation of these protective walls and defences would literally have saved lives. However, these early intrusions can actually get in the way of healthy and natural development. When we feel vulnerable it can be hard to imagine that we will ever emerge whole and better off. We want to ward off yucky emotions like shame and humiliation, so we fall back on what we know and our defences become entrenched. Our reactions and responses become more and more habitual and automated. In no time at all we’ve established a well-oiled response even when we’re intellectually aware that how we are responding may not be the best or only way.

But it’s worth remembering that as adults we get to choose how much our past informs our present and how we choose to react in the here and now. Here are some tips on how to coach yourself to break free of defence mechanisms and practice new ways of responding and engaging.

Go in the opposite direction
Break the cycle and practice doing the opposite of what you would normally do, even if it feels difficult, awkward or uncomfortable.

Practice mindfulness
Take a moment to pause, connect with the feelings in your body before you take action. Get into a habit of becoming more mindful which will give you more spaciousness and awareness. Self-awareness is key to generating shifts and making change.

Ask yourself how your defences are limiting you or holding you back:
What’s the cost to me of habitually responding in this way?
How do I get in my own way?
What am I not seeing or ignoring right now?

Give yourself permission to experience real intimacy
Being defended or guarded sabotages real opportunities for exploring and experiencing true intimacy. The self-protective barriers put you in a catch 22 position. Vulnerability requires letting down your guard, removing all or a good chunk of your armour and navigating uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory.

Contemplate this question from relationship expert Sarah Abell:
How could I act differently if I did value connection over protection?

Separate the event from the emotions
Part of breaking away from old defensiveness patterns means learning how to separate the event from the emotions. Too often it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the intensity of your emotions will consume you. In fact the opposite is often the case. Practice being with your feelings, rather than pushing them away. Don’t try to change them, instead notice them. Soon the intensity of the emotion will subside and in time you will be able to see the wood for the trees.

Have a dialogue with your defences
What was your original intention or purpose?
What were they protecting me from?
Speak directly with your defence mechanisms and let them know what you are grateful for and why you are now choosing to let them go.

Over the next few days contemplate and reflect on the following quote from psychologist Dorothy Rowe:
“Defences keep us stuck in one unhappy place. It takes truth and courage to abandon them, but once we do we discover a world of freedom and wonderful possibilities.”

When you really get behind your defence mechanisms, when you fully understand how they got there in the first place, and when you make the time to examine their effectiveness at this point in your life, so much in your life will shift. I hope this article will help you to realize that it’s time to make the majority of your defence mechanisms redundant.

Don’t forget that a coaching session with a professional life coach can provide a much-needed space for you to let down your guard, to allow more of your true self to be seen and to talk about what you are really feeling or experiencing. To find out more about Jackee’s work visit, or follow @jackeeholder on Twitter.

Be your own best life coach