I’ll admit. I’m kind of ‘in’ to self-help. I know a lot of people don’t buy it – some say it’s all just a bunch of ‘hippy’, cliched nonsense – but in my experience I’ve actually found it to be quite, well, helpful.
I have a few books on my shelf that have really helped me see things more clearly. Nudge me in the right direction, shall we say.
Have a flick through them and you’ll see I’ve highlighted certain quotes, sometimes paragraphs, that have stood out during times of uncertainty, bereavement, stress and worry.
My most recent find (unsurprisingly a number one New York Times bestseller), ‘You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life’ by Jen Sincero, is now one of my all-time favourite reads. So motivational and refreshing that I’ve passed it on to countless friends and relatives in a bid to help lift them up when life becomes a bit overwhelming (which it always does, now and again).
There’s blogs and websites, too, created by some really fine writers with great stories to tell and advice to give. I’ve also been known to listen to clips of some of the world’s best public speakers (the great Alan Watts is a particular favourite) at the gym, or in the car on the way to work.
But one area of so-called ‘self-help’ that, up until a few months ago, I hadn’t delved in to was group work – until an invitation to join The Instant Pause landed in my inbox. And let me tell you, what a great, thought-provoking and inspiring experience it was.
Designed by Danielle Marchant, a Cornwall-born life coach, The Instant Pause is a one-day retreat, created for busy people of all ages, from all walks of life. Attendees are invited to take one day out of their hectic lives to ‘pause’ and reconnect with themselves – and perhaps learn some new things.
A number of Danielle’s colleagues, all experienced fellow coaches, deliver these unique events over the globe (London, Hong Kong, Sydney, you name it) and a few months back arrived in Newcastle for the first time to give some of the busy, worrisome Geordies of this world a helping hand.
It took place at The Biscuit Factory, led by the lovely (and oh-so-calming) Laura Beckingham. Though based in London, she’s a native Geordie, who worked in the high-flying corporate world for 10 years before leaving it all behind for a more grounded, simpler and meaningful way of life.
She now runs her own freelance practice, working one-on-one with the people behind the world’s big organisations – names like eBay and Coca-Cola – and doing public work to help spread the calm.
On this occasion, it was an all female affair; a small group of seven woman, all from different backgrounds with different stories to tell. One in her mid-20s, a couple in their 30s and the others in their late 40s. All sat in a chilled-out circle with a mug of tea in-hand.
As a little unit, it seemed like we’d been through it all; heartbreak, grief, illness, redundancy, confusion, great joy. We were strangers, but after some time spent sharing why we so needed ‘a pause’ from our day-to-day lives, it felt as if we’d known each other for years. We related to every word spoken, on one level or another. And that, I found, is the beauty of sharing your experiences with a group. You never leave feeling alone.
Talking in a group setting may sound mildly terrifying to some, but here you’re encouraged to share as much, or as little, as you want (so long as you have the ‘speaking stone’ – a gold, heart-shaped little symbol you’re asked to pick up when it’s your turn to talk).
Some took the opportunity to really offload – sometimes through tears – while others revealed only a few insights. Some of it was happy. Some of it was sad. But it was all good. Laura does a wonderful job of creating a safe space – a really calm environment – in which you feel totally at ease. And not at all judged.
We practiced the art of reflection by drawing ‘life timelines’, tracking the positive and negative milestones during our years to help gain perspective on what’s been and what it taught us. The timescale was up to us, but we were encouraged to dig deep and take our minds back to particularly poignant times – good and bad. Why? So often we are stuck on thinking ahead to tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, that we forget to look back to see how far we’ve come.
Some recalled breakups, career changes, big house moves. Others looked back on loss – the loss of loved ones, the loss of a particular lifestyle or outlook on life. It was interesting – and reminded me of how far I’d come in just a few short years.
The afternoon was all about looking forward – to new starts, new challenges, new opportunities. It was also when the fun really started and the creative juices started to flow.
Left alone with what was possibly the world’s largest explosion of crafts at our disposal, we were tasked with creating a ‘grown-up collage’, inspired by the bright and colourful mood boards that have become something of a trend in the world of business, fashion, art, textiles and psychology.
Our vision boards would reflect our goal, dreams and aspirations for the years ahead, and with sticky hands and open hearts we were set free to cut, glue, draw and pin something together that reflected our deepest wants.
It’s all about putting pen (or pin) to paper and visualising your ambitions – sending them out to the universe – and helping you work towards them. We collected magazine cuttings – looking out for words and phrases that had meaning – added sprinkles of glitter, stickers, colourful feathers, sequins, whatever moved us.
In the end, mine focused on practical, more ‘grown-up’ things like buying my own home and getting married, but also touched on a bit of wanderlust, family life – enriching those close relationships – and honouring my key values as much and as often as I can. Things like looking after my health and being a good daughter/sister/partner/friend.
At the end, we gathered together in a circle once more and shared our thoughts on the day. Getting to this point feels like an achievement; you feel productive, like you’ve seized the day and spent your time wisely. You also feel more at ease, as if your mind has been quietened and you can see things a little more clearly, with a fresh pair of eyes.
I left with my vision board in hand and a big smile on my face. Who knew dedicating an entire day to just myself – my wants, my needs and my feelings – could feel so good? And guilt-free?
A big thanks to Laura for inviting me along to experience the benefits of The Instant Pause – a new and cool kind of self-help that I’d return to again and again. Try it if it sounds like your kind of thing – you won’t regret it. A little glitter and glue never hurt anyone.