Sunday, 25 September 2016

Seeking Help, Rollercoasters and Life Challenges - Advice From the SUMO Guy

Hi All,

Something a little bit different on the Thrive blog today. I thought it would be interesting for us to hear from someone with a lot of experience in the personal development and motivation fields. It's the Sumo Guy himself, Paul McGee.

Paul gives keynote presentations at conferences around the world and provides motivational workshops particularly in the education and health care sectors. Paul's also had his fair share of troubled times. Like me he dealt with a long spell of chronic fatigue syndrome many years ago, and this adversity and others has informed his current work.

He's particularly well-known for developing great mental imagery to illustrate his concepts such as hippo time and the BSE (Blame Someone Else) crisis and he's managed it again with his answer to this "one question interview":

Thrive: "If you could only give one piece of advice to someone going through a challenging life situation, what would it be?"

Paul: "Seeking support is never a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of wisdom - so make sure you don’t try and battle through things on your own. 

'Also recognise that ‘roller coasters are OK’. Life is full of ups and downs, let’s not deny this fact, let’s just realise we have to deal with it. If life was always a ‘flat line’, in medical terms you’d be dead!"

It's memorable imagery which puts a smile on your face and which Paul uses to make two important points for us. 

Seeking Help

Seeking help is not a topic we've covered very much on the blog but it's massively important for those of us just entering a point of crisis or who continue to struggle with life's ongoing challenges. And it begs the following four questions:

1. To what extent have you sought help for what you're going through?

2. What else could you do to get help?

3. Who else could you ask for help?

4. What's stopping you from asking for help right now?

I challenge you to take a pen and paper and write down answers to these questions as honestly as you can. The answers may surprise you and get you onto the road to recovery.

Rollercoasters and Flatlines

Paul's contrast between the rollercoaster and the flat line makes an important point for all of us as we seek to move on from a challenging life situation. Life is about both ups and downs, about yin and yang, about black and white. There can be no up without a down, no mountain top without a bottom.

Having said all that, it's difficult to accept that there are ups and downs in life, particularly when we feel there will never be another up. 

In such situations using the experience of people like Nelson Mandela can help us. He barely went a day in prison without planning for his release and looking to the future when apartheid would be a thing of the past. Viktor Frankl, when in the concentration camps, knew he could not guarantee leaving a free man but he decided nonetheless to use his time there as an experiment in human behaviour and looked forward to the time when he would share his findings with the world.

Both men recognised the "down" of the rollercoaster they were in and even in their horrendous situations, which may have had an end in their deaths, they decided to have hope that there would be a future.
Read more at: life, fortunately, I spent a lot of years, about 18 years with other prisoners, and, as I say, they enriched your soul.
Prison life, fortunately, I spent a lot of years, about 18 years with other prisoners, and, as I say, they enriched your soul. Nelson Mandela
Read more at:
Prison life, fortunately, I spent a lot of years, about 18 years with other prisoners, and, as I say, they enriched your soul.
Read more at:

Strategies and Solutions

1. Ask yourself the four seeking-help questions above as honestly as you can. What difference do the answers make? Are you more likely to get the help you need?

2. Take a ride on the rollercoaster and envisage the life you want to lead. Take that image and use it to give you hope for the future and more importantly, tell yourself that you're not flatlining!

Related Posts

Feeling Stuck? One Thing You Must Try Right Now

Seven Ways To Stay Mentally Strong In A Crisis

Nelson Mandela Read The Anne Frank Diaries In Prison. What Did He Find In Them That Was So Important?

Are You Up For A Challenge?


A big, big thanks to Paul McGee for being the subject of a "one question interview" and for his insight.

If you want to check out what Paul has to offer, you could do a lot worse than read his new book "How Not To Worry", available now from Amazon and all good booksellers!


I really hope this post has helped you and if you know someone else it could help, then give them a boost by sharing it on social media using the buttons below.


Coming Up

Future blogposts on a terrific strategy for moving forward and how I confronted my mental blocks to progress.

To follow leave your email address in the box at the bottom of the page. You can also follow Thrive via the RSS feed, on Bloglovin, via Google Plus or Facebook or follow me on Twitter @PeteReece


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I see all comments and I'd be delighted to read what you have to say. You can use the comment box below or comment below the post in Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

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Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Feeling Stuck? One Thing You Must Try Right Now

This post is a little longer than usual because there’s a bit of a story and it’s very personal. I hope it helps you.


Ups and Downs

I’ve got a confession to make. Sorry to disappoint any of you but I find it hard to follow my own advice at times.
As with all of us, life comes and tests me and I wander paths in my mind which I would rather not go down. Before I know it, I’m at a low ebb and beginning to feel that things have got out of control – again.

Last year (2015) was such a year. I was making what seemed like good progress with my health. I was doing a programmes of exercises which I know help my condition (called M.E. or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and was building up stamina, so much so that I was able to swim 1km of my local pool a few times a week and do a daily strenuous walk. By Easter of last year I was feeling probably 90% “normal”.

Then one morning I woke up and realised my health had gone off a cliff. 90% had just turned into 10%. Just at the time when we were refurbishing my daughter’s room too. Monika ended up doing it all. I could perhaps hold something for a couple of minutes for her before needing to go and lie or sit down.


Downs and Ups

I began the slow process of recovery and the next few weeks and months were the typical erratic experience of ME which most people have. However, we enjoyed Monika’s 50th birthday and had a good holiday when I was able to do most things with everyone. However, in the middle of August, things took a turn for the worst and I deteriorated further so that by November, I had to give up walking the dog and making meals. I could look after myself but no one else. My days were spent mostly horizontally.

Anyway, I did start to pick up very slowly from there and round about February time I began making family meals again and in March walking the dog. I’m convinced by now that the consistent recovery I’ve enjoyed since has been due to the meditation habit I’ve developed (more on that in a future post) and by now I’m reasonably well and can do most things.

Anyway, get to the point, Reece.


Okay, here’s the point. I didn’t know why I had those relapses last year.

In the past, I always knew setbacks were down to too much exertion when not fully well or too much background stress. Neither seemed to be the case this time and it unsettled me. Additionally, I’ve had this spell of illness since 2012 which followed on from a very long episode between 2004-2008. All in all, I realised, despite the progress I was making, my confidence was absolutely shot.

The thought of being fully well, for however long or short a period, I realised, seemed like a distant dream.

And then something strange happened.

I’d been making progress (which I'd put down to the meditation habit) but round about April time I stopped meditating consistently and couldn’t get the habit back.

What was all that about?

This really bugged me and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was really stuck.

So what did I do?

I had a conversation with myself, using some of the coaching techniques I learned and developed five years ago.


Questions, questions

In the shower (no one can interrupt me there), I asked myself, “What do you think is stopping you from meditating?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“If you did know, what would you say”, I asked again.

I took a breath and knew that I knew the answer but didn’t want to verbalise it. “Because it doesn’t matter. I don’t matter. It doesn’t matter what I do, I don’t seem to get better.”

My answers, verbalised, rocked me back on my heels. The main thing I had grown convinced could help me, I wasn’t doing because, well, there was no point.

Did I really think that, I asked myself. Well it seemed I did and it wasn’t a good realisation. It made me look more closely at my life situation and I asked myself a further important question about what I wanted for my life and this is where the lack of confidence really hit because I just didn’t know. There didn’t seem to be any point in saying what I wanted because, well, in my mind, my future was pretty bleak.

Stuck. Again.

Then came the question to myself which has put me back on the road to recovery and given me positivity such as I haven’t had in several years.

“What don’t you want to happen?”

Jeez, I knew the answer to that one straight away but the realisation came as a shock nevertheless - I didn’t want to be stuck in the house on my own, a forgotten member of society, feeling like a basket case, when my kids have left home.

(Pause to digest that shock to my system.)

I slowly processed that bit of self-awareness and realised I had the opportunity to turn it into something more positive. I decided then that what I wanted was to re-start my coaching career (baby steps to begin with), re-start my blogging and start earning some money to contribute to the family budget and particularly to Alice’s university upkeep when she goes away next year.

So there you go. That’s what I decided and that’s what I’ve started doing. It’s taken me some further work to get over some pretty challenging mental blocks (more of them soon) but I have started some pro-bono coaching to get me back in the saddle and have posted several times recently on this blog.

Life feels for the first time in a while … unstuck.


My experience reminds me of when I trained as a coach and one of the most memorable lectures I had was with a coach who told us about the experience she’d had when coaching a prisoner, a “lifer”, someone who would be serving up to 30 years in jail. She was trying to establish what he wanted to focus his energies on, what he wanted to achieve, what goals he had but she found it very difficult to establish how he wanted to move forward with his life.

Eventually, she asked him the same question I asked myself, “What don’t you want to happen?”

That was when she knew she’d got through to him. He went quiet and then after thinking, he replied, head bowed and almost whispering, “I don’t want to die in prison”. Dramatic stuff indeed. She then worked with him to transform his fear of the future into a positive goal for how he was going to do everything within his control to be released as early as possible.

What does all this mean to you?

Firstly, you’re not the only one who’s ever felt stuck with how to move forward in their life.

Secondly, if you’re stuck, it may well be because your confidence and self-esteem have taken a battering from life’s cross winds. You may not be able to verbalise your dreams and goals because you’re convinced it’s pointless.

Thirdly, while you may not want any more severe challenges in your life right now, deep down there may be something which you really, really don’t want to happen further down the line? Only you will know what that is.

So, if you are feeling stuck, the one thing that you really need to do is ask yourself that same question.

“What do you not want to happen?”



I really hope this post has helped you and if you know someone else it could help, then give them a boost by sharing it on social media using the buttons below.

Next Post

The next Thrive blogpost will be a one-question interview with Paul McGee, aka The Sumo Guy! Make sure you see it by following Thrive via email (bottom of the page), RSS feed, Google Plus or Facebook (right hand side) or Twitter.


Coming Up

Future blogposts on a terrific strategy for moving forward and how I confronted my mental blocks to progress

To follow leave your email address in the box at the bottom of the page. You can also follow Thrive via the RSS feed, on Bloglovin, via Google Plus or Facebook or follow me on Twitter @PeteReece


Moved to Comment?

I see all comments and I'd be delighted to read what you have to say. You can use the comment box below or comment below the post in Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Seven Ways To Stay Mentally Strong In A Crisis

It’s probably happened to all of us at some time or other. We’ve all been made redundant, undergone such stress that we can’t go on, been hit by sudden serious illness or been bullied. It could be one of many things.

What all these things have in common is their ability to rock us back on our heels. We lose our forward momentum in life. Nothing else seems important and we turn inward, asking why it’s happened and why it’s happened to us.

It’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves at these points, to feel hard done to and carry our misfortune like a badge of honour.

You probably already appreciate that by doing so you’re not doing yourself any favours. Do you really want people to feel sorry for you or do you want them to respect you for how you respond to your troubles?

If you do want to respond positively to your crisis, however deep it may be, take a look at these seven ways you can stay mentally strong in a crisis.

1.     Change Your Perspective

Harsh as it may sound, it’s unlikely that no one has ever been through what you are right now, no matter how serious it is. Without trivializing what it is you’re experiencing, ask yourself, “how many different ways could I see this event?” Could it be a time of growth or personal development? Could it make you stronger? Will you learn new skills which you could use later on in other circumstances? What meaning or purpose could you find in what’s happening? Does it provide you with an opportunity to be a role model for how you deal with the event? All these things are possible and many people through the ages have chosen to see their ordeal in this way.

2.     You Have A Choice

So just as you can choose how you see your experience, you can also choose your attitude and how much responsibility you take for what’s happened and what is to happen next. You can choose your actions and behaviour too.

Nowhere is there a rule which says you have to respond in a certain way. No book has been written which tells you which actions to take. At this moment, you may feel angry and you may feel let down but only you will decide where to go from here.

It’s your choice.

3.     Take Responsibility

When you have decided that you will choose, make the first thing you say to yourself, “what can I do about it?”

You have probably needed some time to process what’s happened to you. Maybe you have had to grieve for someone you have lost or a previous life you sense has gone for ever. It’s okay. It’s human.

However, if you want to take control of what happens from now on, then ask yourself, “what can I do about it?”

Don’t stop at the first thing you think of. Challenge yourself to make a list of at least twenty things. Reflect on these options and, soon after, you’ll begin to feel that you are taking back a little bit of control of your life.

4.     Relentless Positivity

From now on and in all things be relentlessly positive. Look carefully at all that happens in your life to find the good aspects. Whether it’s one thing or ten focus on them. You’ll spend enough time thinking about the negatives as the world is often full of them. Give yourself dedicated positive time to list the good things that have happened to you in a day. Treat everything that happens as a lesson in life and be glad you can still learn.

5.     Develop The Gratitude Attitude

Besides being positive, be grateful too. Something has happened for which you may not feel grateful. That’s understandable. However, when you make a habit of gratitude for all the small wonders of the world, little by little you may get to the point where you are grateful too for the experience you are going through. It may have changed your life. Eventually you may come to see that it changed it for the better.

6.     Forgive

The anger you currently feel for the experience which has overwhelmed you is an emotion which will ruin you but leaves the cause or the perpetrator unmoved. Forgiveness to a person who has wronged you or to life in general is hard. Hard, however, is not impossible. Let go of your anger and resentment and experience the release of pain and tension which is like no other. Then and only then will you really move forward in the way you have chosen.

7.     Take Action

When you do commit to act, make sure of two things.

One, align your actions with your values. You like many others may have re-assessed what’s important to you after the shock of your adversity. If you have not, now would be a good time. Think about how you would like to be remembered. Will your actions lead you in the direction which will cause you to be remembered in the right way? 

Two, base your actions on your strengths. Your strengths are your bedrock in times of trouble. They can always be relied on and will help you to be the most effective person you can be.

What do you think of the seven ways to stay mentally strong in a crisis? Comment below or on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. And if you find them useful, perhaps someone else you know will too. Why not give them a share or retweet?

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Be The Inspiration

Are you one of them? Do you know one of them?

You know what I’m talking about. The countless people who have dashed their dreams and abandoned their ambitions because life has dealt them a tough hand. Awful things have perhaps happened. Debt, domestic violence or disability. Crises such as relationship break-up or unemployment. Long-term or serious illness. Loss, abuse or addiction. 

Or perhaps life’s constant challenges have worn them down. Workplace change, rejection, economic turndown.

Do you ever pause to think though, what a loss of human potential this means? People who wanted to achieve great things now perhaps lack the physical ability to undertake them. Or they’re pre-occupied with financial worries or haunted by terrible past experiences which limit their ability to function. Their confidence has gone and they are full of fear about the future.

Dreams of sporting achievement, of starting a business or academic attainment have now disappeared. Their skills are depleted and their performance has deteriorated.

What’s to be done?

Fortunately, there are many people in similar situations who can provide us with answers. People who have raised huge amounts for charity while being treated for cancer[1] or become advocates for others after suffering terrible abuse. People who despite all manner of knockdowns pick themselves up and risk the next one. There are people who refuse to take no for an answer as they campaign for justice - and despite the continuing injustices perpetrated on them[2]. I’ve got friends, family and neighbours who perform minor miracles in spite of their disabilities[3] or have become pillars of their community despite sometimes not wanting to leave the house. I’m talking about people who still manage to get up in the morning when no one else knows how they do it. People who always seem to exude positivity in spite of all they’ve been through[4].

Perhaps more than the gold medal winning athletes who perform at a level quite beyond us, surely it is these everyday heroes who can be the inspiration for the rest of us (and for those who are finding it hard to pick themselves up from the canvas).

What if they who have not yet made friends with misfortune could re-discover their ambitions and dreams? What if they were able to perceive new opportunities and aspirations because of their troubles?

Could they make an ally of adversity if they had new tools, an awareness of their inner resources and perhaps a community of people who could support them? What if they could develop a renewed confidence and a belief that they can achieve, not just despite their experiences, but because of them? What if they came to realise that they can still make a difference and more than that, can be an inspiration?

What if they could go beyond coping strategies and getting by and could create meaning and purpose in their lives through their achievements and inspiring those around them?

What if?

 photo credit: <a href="">Pakistan's Punjab must enforce new law on violence against women: rights group</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>
 photo credit: <a href="">Run For The 96 5k</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

[1] Stephen Sutton who raised £3.2m for charity in four years after being diagnosed with terminal cancer aged 15.

[2] The families of those who perished in the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 fall into this category. Despite years of the authorities blaming them and the obstacles put in their way, at last justice is beginning to be done. See Phil Scraton’s excellent account in the updated version of “Hillsborough – The Truth” available from Mainstream Publishing 2016.

[3] My auntie had acute rheumatoid arthritis. Her fingers and toes were at approximately 45 degrees from her hands and feet. And she could knit!!! It’s something I never appreciated until after she’d died but what pain she lived with every day yet still made the best out of her life. And then I've got a friend who despite living with an acute version of macular degeneration, which has left him with extremely little vision, continues to produce astonishing photographic images, plays in a band, has his own consultancy, is a dad of two young children and generally leaves people in awe of him almost every day.

[4] A very good friend of my wife lost her daughter at a very young age and has had breast cancer twice. She is someone who is never far from our thoughts as not only does she get on with her life but does it positively and, with kind thoughts and cards, is always able to give other people a boost when they’re going through a tough time and makes the world a better place with her smile and laugh.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Effort, Education and Growth Mindsets

Never has it seemed so pertinent to write this particular blogpost. With story after story of stress, anxiety and unhappiness amongst our teenagers, particularly girls[1], it seems appropriate to pen a few lines about a way to encourage them and take the pressure off a little as they start back at school, college and university.

We didn’t know it at the time but a chance reading of an article some years ago changed the way we encourage our daughters with their school and college work. Up till then, like so many parents, we’d told them how clever they were, especially when they’d got good results and very often at the end of the school year we’d reward them with some extra pocket money or buy them a present for their good school report.

The article rocked us back on our heels though. It suggested that praising and rewarding people for “being” something – in this case “clever” – carries the message that they have a set amount of that quality. So, in other words, telling your kids they’re clever is not particularly helpful because it does not offer a way forward, a way to improve.

It went on to say that the way to encourage people to achieve more, learn more and develop new skills is to praise and reward effort and link achievements with the effort that has been put in. That way people (and children particularly) are motivated to work harder as they see the connection between input and output and that success lies in their hands and not in some supposedly god-given ability.

It made perfect sense to me, particularly as I’d been someone who’d been told from a young age that I was clever and was praised for good results and achievements. However, I’d never worked it out for myself (and no one told me) that there was such a link between effort and achievement. As a consequence - and here’s the thing - when things got hard, I basically just gave up. If we did a hard tense in French or orbital theory in Chemistry, I’d just tell myself, “Nah!”. The reason? I hadn’t developed any skills in how to work through something challenging or difficult.

And this is the whole point. We need our children and young people to work through tough times. We need them to learn how to be resilient so that when things get hard, we can tell them “hard is not impossible”. We need them to know that the way to achieve and develop new skills is to work hard at them. With effort they can grow, develop and live more fulfilling lives.

I did finally learn my lesson much later on through my old friend, Gary Moss. Gary came into higher education as a mature student. The first thing that struck me about him, apart from his friendliness and bonkers sense of humour, was his incredible work ethic and desire to achieve his personally set goals. I kicked off my student days determined to have a good time while he worked, worked and worked some more. He was a year older than me though, so by the time he graduated with two awards, I’d seen first-hand how far effort could take you. As I entered my final year, I knew what I was going to do and took a leaf out of his book. I took on board one or two pieces of advice from Gary, made sacrifices, worked my socks off and twelve months later achieved my own personally set target.

This is why the article made so much sense to me. Much more recently, I’ve discovered what the article was actually about. It’s called Growth Mindset Theory[2] and it’s been thoroughly evidenced and championed over a number of years by Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University. The theory is what it says: traits such as intelligence, strength, singing ability or football skills are not fixed, they can be grown and developed through diligence, determination, perseverance, feedback and resilience.

Just so I don’t mislead you about what the theory is, here’s Dweck in her own words:
"In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it."[3]
It’s not to say, of course, that we are not better at some things than others. That we don’t have an innate preference for certain activities. The point is however, that where we want to get better we can. Whether it is school or college, work or sport, soft skills or hard skills, with dedication and effort we can do it.

We can see now how the change of approach with our kids has paid off. We have recognised, praised and rewarded their efforts at school and with other life skills they may have found challenging.  We have encouraged them to see that their hard work will directly link to good results and sure enough, the marks have followed.

I’m constantly in awe of my older daughter, Alice, whose incredible dedication to her studies puts my school efforts to shame. She has made considerable sacrifices by her own admission but she is absolutely determined to do well at college and get the ‘A’ Level results required to go to the university of her choice. Despite being put under considerable pressure at school in our insane, target-driven, educational culture, she has now got in the habit of setting her own goals and of committing herself to the requisite amount of effort to achieve. She’s a real inspiration.

The great thing about Growth Mindset Theory is that it is easy to understand and intuitive. While few of us have dedicated ourselves to improvement in every aspect of our lives, there will probably be times when we have all had some success through perseverance and sheer effort.

Whether it’s building a model airplane, mastering a new recipe or learning to dive, we can probably all draw on an experience where we learned that practice makes perfect and effort makes excellence.

[1] These are just two news links. Google such terms as “teenage education stress epidemic” and you’ll find many more.
[3]  Quoted in Wikipedia

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 photo credit: <a href="">MG_H&F_Alevel_William Morris_03</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

 photo credit: <a href="">Carter D. Carroll 2016 Excellence in History Awards Dinner 43</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>