You asked, I answered …

A couple of weeks ago, I emailed my readers and said ‘Ask me anything’. The people who asked their question via return email, I emailed them back directly. (Yes, it took a while! But it was fun.) Those who asked their questions anonymously, I was in a pickle. How could I get an answer back to them?

I hope this is a good compromise. Here are all the anonymous questions that were submitted, along with my answers x

I want to make new habits but I keep failing at it – as soon as life gets overwhelming I slip back into old ways. What is the trick to sticking with it?

For a habit to become totally ingrained, it has to be easier than the alternative. This is why bad habits are easier to fall into than good ones. (It’s easier to eat ice-cream for dinner than it is to prepare a home-cooked meal.) And it’s why most good habits never become totally ingrained. i.e. We always have to work at maintaining them.

  • At the start, maintaining them is relatively easy because it’s new and fun, and motivation levels are high.
  • Once established, so long as your energy levels and general resilience are good, the routines you’ve built around that new habit help you keep it going.
  • When life becomes challenging, however, and your resilience is lower, your ability to maintain that new habit takes a hit. This is normal. You’re not a superhero with willpower made out of steel.

The important thing to understand is that while you will slip back into your old ways, you will also arrest the slide sooner each time, and you’ll start back at a slightly higher level each time.

My worst ‘bad habit’ is over-committing and falling into overwhelm. I’ve written a book on the topic and I STILL do it! But, where it used to take me 18 months of ongoing overwhelm before I did something about it, it now takes three days. And I don’t fall into overwhelm as often now (I do it every 6-8 months now instead of every 6-8 weeks).

When it comes to building lifelong habits, it’s important to practice self-compassion and understand that slipping up or regressing doesn’t mean we’re hopeless and should just give up. It means we’re human and should simply pick back up again where we left off. When we’re able.

When do you know it’s the right time to walk away from a marriage?

I think if you ask this question of 100 people who’ve left marriages, you’d get 100 different answers, and all with the benefit of hindsight (something you don’t have currently). Some would wish they left earlier, some would wish they never left, some would wish they’d given it a bit more time.  Any relationship that spans years – whether it’s friendship, family, or romantic – will encounter big challenges, and times where you fall in and out of love with the person. I don’t think people should ever persist with relationships that are emotionally or physically abusive, or persist with relationships where they know 100% for sure they don’t want to be with that person anymore. But for everything else, you can only make your decision with the information you have at the time. Friends and family have their own emotions invested in your relationship, plus their own experiences with marriage. For better or worse, this will colour any advice they are able to give you. A therapist you trust, or a great relationship counsellor, is the best person to help you sift through the information you have on hand, and help you make your decision.

Why is it that I cannot stop eating ‘al desko’? There never seems to be enough time to take a break at lunch, I’m always chasing my tail!

I’m going to assume it’s because you think it’s more efficient to eat at your desk when you’re busy. But it’s not. It’s far more efficient to leave your desk for 10 minutes, and eat your lunch away from all screens (phone included). When you take a proper lunch break, you are always more productive in the afternoon than if you ate lunch at your desk

How do you stop feelings of self-loathing?

Would it help to know everyone experiences these feelings? It’s just that some have learned to manage them better than others, usually by taking some kind of meaningful action like:

  • Doing something that makes them feel good about themselves (work they’re good at, helping other people) or
  • Hanging out with people who make them feel good and staying away from people who make them feel bad.

If these feelings are affecting your day-to-day life and holding you back from being happy, it’s important to find and work with a therapist. They’ll be able to help you understand what triggers the thoughts of self-loathing and assist with self-management techniques that will help when those thoughts are triggered.

How do you stop suicide ideation?

As someone who has experienced suicide ideation, I know how much those thoughts can freak a person out. But, it’s important to note that simply thinking of something doesn’t mean we’d do it. Dark thoughts and fantasies (like, say, hurling a glass at the wall when we’re angry, or strangling the person who just made us miss the green light) pop into our head every day. How many of these do we action? Pretty much … none.

All that said, the second I first experienced suicide ideation, I got myself off to a therapist (am I sounding like a broken record about the whole therapist thing yet?). I cannot emphasise the importance of this enough. So many of us think we can sort these things out ourselves and that seeking help is a sign of weakness. This is one of the worst lies we tell ourselves.

Many people are also reluctant to talk to therapists for fear of being judged, or opening up the Pandora’s Box of emotions they’ve been sitting on for years. These fears are legitimate, and it can be really off-putting if the first therapist you try doesn’t work for you. But it’s so important to persist and find a person you trust and have good rapport with. They are lifesavers.

Another quick one about ‘thoughts’ more specifically (as the self-loathing question above is yours as well). We can’t make thoughts (or feelings) disappear entirely. We can distract ourselves from them, or self-medicate to avoid them … and those things make it seem like they’ve ‘disappeared’, but they haven’t. They’re always there. So, rather than trying to stop thoughts, we need to learn to sit with them. This isn’t easy in the short term (as I am finding currently). But it’s more useful in the long term than avoidance and distraction.

How do you have a positive outlook if you have an ingrained negative outlook?

I think a positive outlook on life is overrated. Some of us just aren’t wired that way. The sooner we learn to work with it rather than fighting against it, the sooner we’re able to find our own path to happiness.

It might surprise you to hear that I don’t have a naturally positive outlook on life. My natural state is one of peering constantly into the future, trying to identify potential disasters that could befall me and the people I love so I can lay down stuff in the present to avoid those future disasters. When, despite my best efforts, disasters still happen, I assume it’s my fault for lacking prescience, and double-down on my efforts to prevent future disasters. When my ‘peering into the future’ efforts net good things happening in my life, I’d enjoy those good things for about a second and then, because I’m also convinced there is some cosmic ledger that decrees anything good must be balanced out with something bad, I assume something bad must be coming. Which means I need to try and predict what that might be so I can head it off at the pass. As far as my brain is concerned, life is one giant exercise in risk-management.

(If you think that sounds exhausting, you’d be right.)

Despite all this – I’ve still managed to lead what I consider a happy life. I’ve learned that trying to retrain my brain to approach life more positively is too much to ask of it. So, I work with my brain instead. I’ve slowly (oh soooooo slowly) taught it to accept that no matter how much I try to control life, most of it is beyond my control. I’ve started to allow myself to feel joy without assuming that doing so will trigger some massive disaster. The more I allow myself to feel that joy, and more I see that it does not bring immediate retribution from the Universe for doing so … the more I am able to feel joy. And, ironically, the more ‘naturally positive’ my outlook becomes.

I just wish I could handle a work colleague who has close ties with the boss (and who tries to be the boss) in the same way that I would advise a junior work colleague to handle her (were she to ask me) – in a calm, professional way, instead of feeling teary and helpless.

So, how would you advise that junior work colleague to handle her?  That would be a good place to start 🙂

The next place I would go is an HR specialist. Whenever I am not sure how to handle a situation with a workmate/employee I consult with one of two friends who work in that space: Tammy or Gemma. The biggest things they help me do is understand what might be underlying the behaviour of the person I’m having a problem with, and they also help me understand if my expectations of that person are realistic.

How did you move into the field of writing and editing?

I’ve been a writer my whole life – I was that kid writing short stories in Primary School and submitting them for competitions. That said, in High School most of my writing was confined to school essays and the like. (I was very into sport at school so that took time away from any personal or creative writing I might have wanted to do.) At University I studied Sport Science and it was much the same. Most of my writing was for assignments as I spent all my free time training for triathlon. I did get a bit of a writing ‘fix’ by writing triathlon race reports and doing interviews for the Triathlon WA newsletter and website, both of which I managed. When I moved out of Sport admin (my first job after Uni) and into Graphic Design, design was both my job, and my main hobby. I only came back to writing when I had my first child. He was around one year old, I was running a business and stressed out of my mind, and I was looking for something in life that was just for me and no one else. That’s when I started blogging. I had a complete breakdown shortly after and took time away from the design business. During that break I did the Australian Writers’ Centre ‘Writing for Magazines and Newspapers‘ course which was amazing. From there I started pitching to magazines to write for them and while I had some success, I quickly realised that 1. It was a hard way to make money and 2. It was taking the joy out of writing for me. I loved blogging because I could write about whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. These days, the only money I make through writing is via my books. And that’s my goal for the future, to write more books and eventually have one that sets the world on fire 🙂

RE Editing: I’ve just always loved the editing process. I adore refining a piece and ensuring it’s structured in a way that both keeps the reader reading, and also ensures the idea the author is trying to impart is understood clearly. Over the years I’ve volunteered for a few editing roles just because I loved doing it. The role of Flying Solo editor was first advertised around five years ago and it was my dream job so I applied (even though I wasn’t really in the position to do it at the time). I didn’t get it then (luckily!) but when it came up again a few years later, I WAS in a position to do it, and the rest is history. Writing a few books has also given me a feel for how crucial the structure of a book is to its success. So today I also do a bit of structural editing of books and book coaching for people who are writing and self-publishing books.

My question is on status anxiety – I am a little terrified of giving up my current position because I know a lot of my identity is tied up in it. Most people think I am really smart because of the position I hold, and I worry that if I don’t have this job, what will people think of me? How will I keep my credibility?

This is a very real problem and I guess what you’ve identified there is that ‘status’ is a core value for you. There is little to be gained from trying to fight against this and try to make it ‘not a value’. If your current position isn’t making you happy, and status is the only reason you are holding on to it, you need to find another path to achieve ‘status’. Is there another activity you can do that will allow you to maintain status in your field? Like writing a book that positions you as an authority independently of your position? Do you need status in your current field, or can it be in anything, so long as there is ‘status’? Is there another value you can ramp up to take up the slack while you work on establishing status in a different way?

As an example, one of my core values is recognition – specifically, the recognition of my peers. When I finished up competing in triathlon, the hardest thing to walk away from was the respect I had of my triathlon peers. I’d spent 10 years building that up! To fill the void, I ramped up another value of mine – achievement. I started a business and put all my energy into making it successful. Respect and recognition were hard to come by in the business world, but when I started blogging, I was able to chase that recognition again – from my blogging peers. And about 3-4 years into my blogging journey, I achieved that recognition I craved, and it’s now an ongoing kind of thing.

How do you motivate yourself to get up so early (and exercise) especially in winter!

I don’t rely on motivation – I make it non-negotiable that I exercise every day. (It is easier to do something every day than it is to do something every so often). I also set up my life to make it easy for me to exercise each morning – winter or summer. This blog post explains more. I also found that when I learned to dress for the cold (in Australia we seem to have a mental block against this), it made heading out into the cold much easier!

What was the biggest mistake (that was actually one) that you made in your life? I don’t mean mistakes that taught you something important and had you develop as a person. I mean something that only made your life worse.

Hmm, to be honest, I’m struggling to think of a mistake I made that only made my life worse. Every single mistake I’ve made has made my life better in some way. Perhaps I can share my one regret in life. And that’s not setting up my business to run without me in it before I had my first child. I never had any time off work when he was born (i.e. I was sending emails from hospital) and that wasn’t because I loved my work so much, it was because I had no other choice. The first six months of his life, every time he fell asleep, I put him in his cot or pram and hit the laptop, frantically answering emails and catching up until he woke up again. Each night I’d put him down to sleep at 7pm and then work frantically for another 3 hours until I’d wake him for a dreamfeed (yup, he was a Tizzie Hall baby, and say what you will about sleep training for babies, that woman and her routines were what got me through that first year in one piece).

Anyway, it was only when I had my second baby that I realised what I missed out on with the first. Baby #2 would fall asleep on me and instead of throwing her in her cot, I’d sit there on the couch for two hours while she slept on me. Divine. All that said, my son didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects. He and I are super-connected. It was more my own physical and mental health that took a battering in the first year of his life.

How do you get past the fear of your kids getting hurt? For context – I find it hard to watch my 3yo child do a somersault (forward roll) at gymnastics as I’m concerned she will break her neck. (Completely irrational … but it makes me a little bit anxious).

When I was 12-13 years old, my parents got me a bike. I loved that bike and would use it to go for a meandering ride around our neighbourhood every afternoon. My parents were highly fearful of me using my bike to just ride aimlessly around (“Kelly, we got you this bike to ride from A to B”.) But … they let me do it anyway. (Even though this was well before mobile phones and if something happened to me, they wouldn’t have a clue where I was other than ‘somewhere in this suburb’.) I revelled in the freedom and independence, not to mention the break it gave me from my four younger brothers and sisters.

It’s important to know there is a big difference between feeling fear (natural and hard-wired into us by evolution) and letting that fear control our actions.

Pretty much everything we do in life involves a risk. In fact, one of the biggest risks we take with our kids’ lives every day is to put them in a car and drive them around. In the same way we trust ourselves and our own professionalism when it comes to driving a car safely, we should trust in the professionals whose care our daughters are in when they do gymnastics. (I’ve experienced the exact same fears as you when my 4yo does somersaults!) This doesn’t remove the fear – but it allows us to sit more comfortably with it.


Got a question for me?

You can email me directly (for a direct answer). Or you can ask it anonymously (and I’ll answer it here).

Comments 10

  1. Never ceases to amaze me how multiskilled you are Kel! Now you’re an “advice columnist” about Life! And such nuggets of wisdom too. Thank you on behalf of all your readers for taking the time to share your thoughts so clearly and kindly. X

    1. Eek I know! I realised once I’d put it together that it was very ‘advice columny’. Which made me shudder a little. But I didn’t know how else to get the answers to people!

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