5 Steps to Rediscovering the True You

Let me ask you a question: have you ever faked it to fit in?

On your social media or in real life, have you ever pretended to be something you’re not?

Has this faking instantly made you feel a little shoddy – or a lot unworthy – but you just couldn’t help yourself; the pressure to do so was too immense?

I think there’s way too much pressure on us these days to be something that we’re not.

Pressure from the internet and press, pressure from our peers and social media, to be air-brushed, highly edited versions of ourselves.

But we’re chasing a perfection that’s impossible to achieve.

It was this pressure that led me to write my non-fiction book, True Face.

I wanted it to be an antidote to the perfection police; a rallying call to ‘imperfectionists’ everywhere.

True Face has just been published in America and to celebrate I thought I’d create this handy five-step guide to rediscovering the true you.

Take some time when you won’t be interrupted and complete the exercises below…

STEP ONE: FIND A TRUE YOU PICTURE

Search through your old photos for a picture of yourself looking happy and carefree; a picture that hasn’t been carefully filtered or posed. A picture where you are unguarded and at ease. Take some time to study the photo for signs of your true self.

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This is my TRUE YOU picture. I picked it because it reminded me of how I used to be before I cared so much about what others thought of me. How I would spend hours outside, having adventures with my friends or in my imagination. It reminded me of how happy I feel when I’m in nature. And how free I used to feel, swinging high into the air, or when I was playing in the woods just behind me.

STEP TWO: WHAT DID THE TRUE YOU LOVE TO DO?

Next, I want you to take a trip back in time to when you were a young kid and think about all the things you loved to do. It could be that if, like me, you chose a childhood pic for the previous step, it will remind you of some of those things. Take some more time to delve back into your memories.

What did you love to play? Where did you love to go? Who did you love to be with? What did you dream of being when you grew up?

Use these questions to search for clues. Then ask yourself, which of these things you still love to do – or would love to do? Our passions are often planted inside of us early on, but sometimes we can lose sight of them as we get older and life gets in the way. Make a list of all the childhood passions that still light you up. These are all indicators of the real you.

STEP THREE: TAKE OFF YOUR MASK

I called my book True Face because so often fear can cause us to hide behind masks. In order to take off our masks we have to confront our fears. What does your inner voice of fear like to tell you? How does it hold you back? Take some time to compile a list of your fears when it comes to showing your true self. Fears that you aren’t good enough or clever enough or attractive enough or rich enough or enough enough. Know that you aren’t alone in having these fears. Everyone has them. The key is to learn how to ignore them. When you’ve written your list, go through and challenge each of them.

Ask yourself: is this absolutely, categorically true?

Then ask yourself what you would say to your best friend if she or he came to you saying the same thing about themselves ie; ‘I’m not good enough’. Decide to become your own best friend and reassure yourself in a similar way. By challenging your self doubts and fears it becomes a lot easier to take down your mask.

STEP FOUR: DISCOVER YOUR STAR QUALITIES

This next exercise is a great way to boost your confidence and remind yourself who you truly are and what you’re capable of. Write a list of ten things that you’re proud of achieving. These could be anything from academic or work achievements to something more personal, like being proud of being a good friend or family member or being proud of getting through a really tough time.

When you’ve written your list, make another list of all the qualities you needed in order to achieve each thing. So, if you’re proud of passing an exam the qualities you needed could include, intelligence, determination, discipline, creativity. Or if you’re proud of surviving being bullied the qualities could be bravery, courage, strength, hope. Once you’ve gone through all ten things study your new list. These are your star qualities – a reminder to have belief in yourself. Your true self.

STEP FIVE: CREATE A VISION FOR THE TRUE YOU

Once you’ve rediscovered the true you use your findings to create a vision for your future. How can you use the clues you’ve excavated to discover your true calling? How can you set some goals and build a life that feels more authentic and in keeping with what’s truly important to you? How can you play to your strengths and overcome your weaknesses? Use your photo and the exercises to guide you. And above all, enjoy the freedom authenticity brings you!

All of the exercises above are taken from my book True Face, which is out in America now.

An important and inspirational book. The Bookseller

Inspiring, empowering and ultimately freeing. An incredibly important book.” Once upon a Bookcase

“A brilliant concept … I felt like a more confident, honest version of myself after I’d finished.” Teen Book Hoots

“Curham is a lovely writer who can make the obvious seem fresh and the negative manageable.” The Debrief

American readers, find out more and order a copy here.

UK readers, find out more and order a copy here.

 

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Notes on Not Giving Up

Every so often our life is rudely interrupted.

By a shock diagnosis…

An unexpected redundancy…

A brutal break-up…

The death of a loved one…

These landmines along life’s path have the power to destroy our happiness, equilibrium, even our sanity.

I hit a landmine recently and here are some notes I wrote in the depths of despair to try and cheer myself up. They helped me. I hope they help you…

 

This too shall pass

There’s a reason why this phrase has been so widely quoted ever since its first use in the early nineteenth century – it’s true. Everything passes. Nothing stays the same. Even the very worst of times. It just feels as if they’ll never end. But they will and do. Hold on tightly to that thought.

 

These are the uphill steps to happiness

Remind yourself that you’re still on the path to happiness – it’s just that you’ve hit an uphill stretch (and quite possibly a stormy one too). The trick is to keep walking. Eventually you’ll get to the top and the view from up there will be breath-taking.

 

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Count your blessings every day

Even on the worst of days – especially on the worst of days – remember to take time to be grateful. Each night, write a list of the things you’ve been grateful for that day. Even if you have to do this to the accompanying sound of a barrel being scraped, scrape away. You’ll find something.

 

Seek out pockets of joy

Joy is always available – it’s just that sometimes you have to seek it out. And sometimes it can be very well hidden. Seek out pockets of joy amongst the sadness and stress. They are there.

 

Ask for help

Help wants to be given. Don’t let pride or some insane desire to be super-human get in the way. You’re not super-human, you’re all-too-human – we all are – and sometimes we need help. There are loads of people out there who love to be of service – let them help you now.

 

Seek comfort in hindsight

Remind yourself of other dark times you’ve been through – and got through. You can do this. Ask yourself what helped you back then. Apply the wisdom of hindsight to your current situation.

 

Visualise a happy future

Visualise it so hard you almost believe it’s happened already. Carve out time to daydream. Write down your dreams. Create a dream board. Compose a list of all the cool things you’re going to do once the storm has passed.

 

When self-pity strikes ask ‘Who can I help?’

It’s all too easy to sink into a pit of self-pity when the going gets tough. But all that does is make you feel worse. A great way to snap yourself out of a pity party is to help someone else. Perform a random act of kindness. Do something nice for a friend. Shift the emphasis from you for a while.

 

Be kind to yourself

Don’t beat yourself up, build yourself up. Buy yourself treats. Don’t burn yourself out. Prioritise. Focus solely on what really matters – like getting through the day. Put non-essentials on the back-burner. You can come back to them when things are better and you are stronger.

 

Immerse yourself in nature

It you’re able to, get out into nature, whatever the weather. When I was at my lowest ebb recently I went for a hike in gale force wind and driving rain. It felt great battling against the elements, symbolic of my struggle somehow, and the wind blowing my doubts and fear free. There’s a wisdom to be found in nature. Tap into it. Tell your problems to a tree.

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Hold on to hope

Even when it seems like there’s none to be found. Hold on to the hope of better, brighter days. I’ve found mine – and you will too. Sometimes faith is all we have left, but faith is a powerful thing. I’ve known it work miracles…


Social Media … Don’t Let it be the Boss of You

I have a confession to make.

I don’t like Twitter.

It hasn’t always been this way.

In fact, there used to be loads of things I loved about it.

The ultra-live news coverage, often from the heart of the action.

The collective jokes, the hashtag banter.

And, as a writer, the ability to connect with readers and bloggers.

But over the past few months, for me, the negatives have started to far outweigh the positives.

I’d been aware for a while that I wasn’t getting nearly as much pleasure from Twitter as I used to but I pushed these feelings of unease down, listening instead to the fears in my head. Fears that typically went something like this…

You have to use Twitter.

All writers use Twitter.

The first thing a publisher asks these days when they’re thinking of signing you is how many Twitter followers you have #TrueStory.

If you don’t have any Twitter followers, you’ll never get a book deal again.

And then you’ll be homeless – and starve.

But then I got a grip of myself.

And it dawned on me that actually, life is way too short choose to do something that makes you stressed and unhappy.

So, I logged out of Twitter and Facebook and set myself the experiment of seeing how I felt after a couple of weeks social media free.

Would absence make my heart grow fonder?

Or would my temporary separation lead to something more permanent?

Here’s what I found:

More time

The first and most obvious thing I noticed during my social media detox was how much time I had. All of those little I’ll just see what’s going on on Twitter interludes soon add up. And although at first I felt restless and twitchy without my regular scroll, I soon got used to it. And I soon grew to love the great vistas of uninterrupted time that opened up in front of me. I started reading books in one or two sittings – something I hadn’t done for years. I watched films on Netflix without reaching for the pause button every so often just to see what was trending. I was able to completely immerse myself in the story I was reading or viewing – and it felt great.

Greater attention span

This greater attention span spilled over into other areas of my life too. On train journeys, I took to gazing out of the window again and thinking and dreaming. Instead the slightly jittery feeling experienced when jumping between news feeds and notifications, my brain relaxed and expanded and new dreams rushed in.

Clear-headed

This clear-headedness helped bring greater clarity to my work life. Choices I’d been mulling over for months suddenly seemed simple. My whole life felt more simple some how. And simple felt great.

Better Sleep

Feeling clear-headed didn’t just help me when I was awake. I found I was sleeping a lot better too. Studies have shown that staring at a screen before you go to bed does the opposite of making you unwind. All of those dopamine hits. All of those, just one more minutes. I got back into the habit of curling up with a book and it was bliss.

Quality interactions

But probably my favourite part of my social media detox was the change in my interactions with others. Funnily enough, this had been my greatest fear, prior to giving up.

Would I feel really lonely without a bit of Twitter banter or Facebook messaging with my friends and family?

The answer, was a big, fat, resounding NO.

Because coming off social media forced me to find other ways to communicate with people, you know, like talking, face-to-face. And on the phone.

When we ping someone a message or ‘like’ something they’ve posted we feel as if we’ve connected with them, so we’re less likely to call or meet up. But my social media hiatus made me realise that nothing beats the connection of a proper, social media-free conversation.

Hilariously, when I met up with my sister for a coffee and told her what I was doing, she started throwing pointed glances over my shoulder. At the table behind me, a woman was sitting pouting, while her companion took picture after picture of her on his phone, presumably for Instagram. They barely said a word to each other the whole time they were in there.

Then we looked around at the other people in the cafe. At every single table there were people tapping away on their phones. None of these people were on their own – but they may as well have been.

‘I think social media might be sending us all crazy,’ I whispered to my sis. And I was only half joking.

Isn’t there something a little troubling about a world that comes up with the concept of a selfie stick – because there’s an actual demand for a selfie stick?

Now, I know social media isn’t all bad.

One of the things I’ve loved most about Twitter is hearing from readers of my books and being able to connect with other writers.

And I know lots of people who’ve formed deep and lasting friendships online.

This is all good.

I think the real issue is the balance of power in our relationship with social media.

Are you the boss of it?

Or is it the boss of you?

Think for a moment of all the different forms of social media you use.

Picture each one as an actual physical venue.

What do you see? And how does it make you feel?

When I picture Facebook, I see a cafe full of lively conversation and loving friends.

When I picture Twitter, I see a huge hall, full of people. Some of them are lovely and kind and engaged in constructive conversation, but they’re being drowned out by the showing off or shouty mob (wielding hate-filled hashtags instead of pitchforks).

Now, for you it might be the other way round. Your experience of Twitter might be of one big happy family.

If it is, that’s great.

But if social media is making you feel uneasy or tense, try taking a break to clear your head.

Then ask yourself how you can be the boss of it rather than letting it be the boss of you.

Do you really need to be on both Facebook and Twitter?

Do you really need to go on every day?

How would cutting down on your social media change your life for the better?

When I asked myself these questions I realised that I’d be far happier focusing on my Facebook page.

Making it a place where people can come together to share inspirational posts and ideas.

A place where we can laugh and chat and experience a sense of community.

That feels good to me.

As does coming off Twitter for the forseeable future.

It makes my life feel simpler and nicer.

It makes me feel proud that I’m no longer going to do something I don’t enjoy, simply because I’m too afraid of what might happen if I don’t.

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How the First Hour of Your Day Can Make You Happy, Calm and Strong

Without wishing to get too personal, how do you spend the first hour of your day?

I’ve come to the conclusion (after lengthy research on a target audience of one, namely me) that the way you spend the first hour of your day is really, really important.

Like the first course of a meal, it sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Cold, flavourless soup = ‘check please’

Warm, tasty soup = ‘bring on the main

Here’s how the first hour of my average day used to go…

Alarm clock went off at a time that had been carefully calculated (to the very last second) to provide me with the maximum amount of sleep and the minimum amount of time to get ready for work.

A muffled curse would be heard from beneath my duvet.

I’d eventually peer out, bleary-eyed.

My dog would gaze at me from his spot on the floor next to my bed.

‘Walk me,’ his gaze said. ‘Walk me now before I start barking and howling and wake up the entire street.’

I’d stagger out of bed, pull on some clothes and stumble to the door.

We’d begin our walk.

My dog would trot along happily, sniffing at all the new and exciting smells from the bushes and the pavement and the freshly peed on lamp-posts.

I on the other hand, would trudge along behind him beginning to stress.

I’m going to miss my train.

I’m going to be late for work.

Why does he have to sniff every single lamp-post?

Why is it raining again?

Why does it always rain in this country?

If it’s still raining by the time I leave for work my hair’s going to go all frizzy and I’ll look like crap.

Why do I always look like crap in the rain? Why can’t I look all sultry and sexy and like Bo Derrick emerging from the ocean?

And, after five minutes of this, my thoughts would start spiralling down into a darker place.

Any problems I might have been having, anyone who had even slightly upset me recently, and any fears I might have been having would all start looming large in my mind like comic book baddies.

It’s as if, while I’d been sleeping, Fear had been bench-pressing and popping steroids next to my bed and was stronger and badder than ever.

And, because I was still all soft and blurry from sleep, I didn’t have the strength or clarity to fight it off.

By the time my dog and I had done a few laps of the park I’d often be in a state of complete and utter panic and stress.

And this negative mindset would spill out into the rest of the day.

As I raced for the train.

As I fought my way through the crowded London streets.

As I slumped over my desk.

But for the past few months I’ve changed the way I spend the first hour of my day and the results have been so positive I had to share them with you here.

Firstly, I set my alarm clock way earlier so I don’t begin the day already feeling late for something.

I still curse and feel like death when it goes off but I make myself get up.

Then I take myself off for a power-walk or jog around some nearby hills.

If I’m honest, for the first five minutes I feel one coffee away from a coma but I make myself keep going because I know that if I force myself through the pain barrier something so magical it’s almost mystical happens.

I actually start feeling good!

As the blood starts pumping and the sweat starts flowing I feel energised and alive.

And even more importantly, I feel strong.

And when you feel strong in your body your mind follows suit.

Instead of being plagued by worries, I feel alive with ideas.

Instead of trudging around looking down, I power around looking up – at the sky, the trees, the birds, the breath-taking view.

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And my perspective on things expands accordingly.

When I get home, because I still have plenty of time, I speed-journal for five or ten minutes.

This basically involves writing really fast about anything that’s on my mind so that I can get it off my mind.

I was going to call it a ‘diary dump’ but it didn’t sound quite so sophisticated or Bo-Derrick-on-a-beach-esque.

Anyway, I finish my journal entry on a positive note, jotting down five things I’m grateful for and then I sit in stillness for five or ten minutes, focusing on my breathing and getting calm and centred.

As a consequence I start the day happy and focused and full of energy and far better equipped to deal with whatever life may throw at me.

So to recap…

To get the very most from the first hour of your day:

  • Set your alarm so you’ll have an hour to spare
  • Get out into nature
  • Do a form of exercise that raises your heart-rate and makes you feel sweaty and strong
  • Get rid of anything that might be on your mind in a ‘diary dump’
  • Write a list of five things you’re grateful for
  • Sit in stillness for at least five minutes and feel your whole body relax

And see how much better you feel in all the hours that follow.

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If you liked this post I think you’ll really enjoy Dare to Dream, the book: 320 pages packed full of inspirational advice on life, love and creativity.

£1 from every copy sold will go to the charity Leuka, helping find a cure for leukaemia.

The book is out next Wednesday and you can find out more and pre-order a copy here.


Dear Dare to Dream: How can I overcome illness to achieve my speaking dream?

Dear Dare to Dream,

I’m 16 and I recently bought your book True Face.

I am obsessed with it. I bought a journal to go with it and I follow all the little tasks you set. I find it incredibly helpful because for a few years now I’ve dealt with severe mental illness and confidence issues. You see, I have this disability called Marfan Syndrome. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. But because of this I have abnormally skinny legs and arms. I also have two leaking valves in my heart that I may need surgery on soon. But basically I’m telling you all this because I have a dream of becoming a motivational speaker. And I discovered that I wanted to do this about 3 years ago. But battling depression and everything else it has been insanely hard to start. The thing is I have no idea where to start. My mind is always telling me that I’ll never get there. Or it’s a stupid dream to have. My family don’t really understand either. I mean, they live very simple lives you know? Normal jobs, children, cook, clean, sleep repeat. That sort of thing. But from a very young age I’ve always known that what they have isn’t the life I want. I dream of way more. But they sometimes belittle me because of my disability and treat me like an invalid. They say that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself or anything.
Since I’ve been reading your book I’ve felt a lot happier about myself and about being happy. I am really determined to become a speaker and I realise that I’m going to have to fight my way through the negativity. But I just don’t know how to start and I’m scared that I won’t ever be able to do it.

Ps. Thank you so much for writing a book like True Face. I hope one day that I can be an inspiration to people just like you.

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Dear Inspirational Dreamer,

Thank you so much.

When I received your email I was lying on my bed crying my eyes out.

I was lying on my bed, crying my eyes out because someone close to me was very sick and I felt powerless to do anything to help them.

I also felt utterly exhausted.

Then I read your email and your words flicked a switch in my brain.

I read about your courage in the face of your illness.

I read about your subsequent struggles with mental health issues and the obstacles you encounter on a daily basis and the dreams you have in spite of all this.

And I felt humbled and inspired.

You say that you hope you can one day be an inspiration to people but you already are.

You inspired me that day and you warmed my heart with your kind words.

You made a massive difference just through the words of your email, so imagine what you could do in a motivational speech.

Sometimes, when we have big dreams, they can feel so far from our reach that we give up trying. The key is to break them down into smaller, more manageable goals.

You want to inspire people with your story and your words but you don’t know where to start.

Why not start by writing a blog?

Blogs are free and easy to set up – I recommend WordPress or Blogger. Also, writing a blog would be relatively easy to fit around your health issues and can be done from the comfort of your bed (guess where I’m writing this from?!)

Writing an inspirational blog would also enable you to build an audience. Then, when you take the step into motivational speaking, people will already have heard of you and I’m sure would be dying to see you speak in the flesh.

In terms of building your confidence as a speaker, I recommend the following:

Watch this.

Read this.

Check out Richard McCann’s website here.

Richard McCann is one of the UK’s most successful motivational speakers. He’s also an incredible example of someone who has overcome massive trauma and hardship to achieve great things. His mother was the first victim of Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’.

You can download a free presentation skills ebook on Richard’s site. He also runs fantastic training days as part of his iCan Speak Academy. I attended it a couple of years ago and it was the best speaker training I’ve ever been on.

You talk about battling feelings of depression.

One of the most effective techniques I know of for helping alleviate feelings of depression, stress and anxiety is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. If you’re not already aware of it, look it up online. There are loads of sites offering CBT exercises for free.

Another really effective technique is mindfulness.

Next time you’re feeling depressed don’t fight it.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive but it really works.

When we fight an unpleasant feeling or emotion it only intensifies.

Try sitting with the feeling.

Breathing slowly and deeply.

And really welcoming it.

It’s amazing how quickly the feeling can dissipate when we do this.

You will be able to do achieve your dream, with hope and dedication.

Any time you feel yourself slipping back into negativity and fear do something to reignite your passion for your dream.

Watch an inspirational TED talk on YouTube. Take note of the techniques the speakers use.

Start planning a talk of your own.

When your family don’t seem to understand, remind yourself that this is your life and these are your dreams.

Keep working away on those dreams.

And hopefully when they see how committed you are to making your dreams come true they will come round and support you.

Let me leave you with this quote. A quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which has really inspired me in my own career:

Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” 

Ask yourself, how can I begin making my dream a reality today?

Take that one small step.

Then another the day after.

And wait for the ‘genius, power and magic‘ to strike.

Wishing you every happiness and success.

Siobhan x

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You can read more Dear Dare to Dream posts here and here.

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