11 March 2015

Are you sabotaging yourself?

Self sabotage, the sneaky voice that so often pops up when we are trying to explore new ideas, start new projects or when we step out of our comfort zones to follow our passions and dreams. It is the little negative voice that tells us that we do not have enough experience, knowledge, support or discipline or that we will simply never achieve our goals. It is difficult to find the motivation to move forward, when our negative voice keeps holding us back by sowing discouragement.
How do we then move forward, take new challenges and reach new heights if we are constantly discouraged by our negative voice?

The key here is to identify the negative voice, disable it and move past it. Unfortunately it is not always as easy as it sounds. We will need to look into the issue and take it step by step.
Firstly it is a good idea to become aware of the negative voice and to understand what the negative voice or anti-self is. Essentially the negative voice was formed during childhood by negative comments which we received or were constantly exposed to. For example, if your parents continually told you that you are slow or uncreative or that you should not embarrass yourself. Or comments which you frequently heard, such as your parents or a role model constantly criticising themselves, their bodies or actions. (I’m fat, I’m so stupid sometimes, I’ll never be that great, I’m useless) Your negative voice then repeats these comments to you throughout your life and it can paralyse and discourage you from reaching your full potential. It is helpful to write down in which situation the negative voice strikes, because this will give you some insight into where it comes from and where its root lies.

Secondly it is important for us to realise that this anti-self is not speaking the truth, no matter how logical is seems to us. It is also important to realise that this voice does not have to control us, but that we can learn to control the voice. It can also happen that we do not even realise that it is a negative voice, that we already believe it to be completely true and that we are living our lives according to this lie (negative voice). In coaching we can call this a “limiting bedrock assumption”, something which you assume about yourself. Here are some examples of limiting assumptions: I am not valuable. I don’t deserve to be loved. I am not good at anything.

Lastly it is necessary to replace these negative comments with positive ones (the truth), which will enable us to move forward. Coaching can help us identify the negative voice or limiting assumption which is holding us back and how to overcome these in our daily lives and thought patterns. This is not a once off exercise, but an exercise which we will need to repeat until the negative voice is overwritten and silenced by the truth. Your brain has developed a negative voice which will always pop up when you walk a certain path. It takes time and repetition to override this path in your brain, but it is not impossible.  

I encourage you to keep a diary to help you with identifying the negative voice and the situation in which it strikes. Take some time out to observe the pattern which will be revealed by your diary and consider where this negative voice originated from. Speak to your coach about it and replace the lie with the truth. It is also helpful to ask someone to hold you accountable and to enquire regarding your progress. Be motivated, stay inspired and dream big! Do not let anything hold you back!

Picture credit: Oscar Ramos Orozco 

20 August 2014


One of the many things that I have learnt as an expat is that friendships are priceless. You don't know how much they are worth until you lose a few and realise how hard it is to form new lasting friendships. Friendships are personal and thus more difficult to build. Most people cannot even remember when they last made a new close friend which they would want to keep forever. As expats we need to start this process all over again.

A strange thing that I have also noticed is that often people don't easily reach out to you, because they fear rejection or they don't even like themselves and these stop them from making new friends. I have found so many lonely people. Wonderful people, who just don't believe that they can be a good friend or that they have anything to offer and thus they don't try. Their walls are so high that no one is granted access.

I find it so extremely heart wrenching that lies from their pasts keep them from enjoying the wonderful benefits of friendship.

Friendships are not about what you have to offer or about what you have in common. It is about commitment, about supporting each other through whatever might pop up, unconditionally and selflessly. Often it's nothing more than properly listening and responding in love. Listening is probably the most neglected aspect in friendships today. As friendships grow they reach different stages of trust and yes during each stage you have to choose to share more and make yourself more vulnerable. There is always a risk involved, the risk that you might be hurt or disappointed, but where there is no risk, there is no reward. We need to learn to risk whatever it is we fear, to reap the rewards of friendship. 

Picture credit: grace2f.org

19 August 2014


I often find this emotion with expats, even with myself. I guess that it is natural, but it doesn’t mean that it is pleasant. I guess we know that we are going through a process and sometimes it makes it easier, but sometimes it just doesn’t. It is funny how we react when suddenly everything that we know is taken away. You grow up, you study, you learn the ropes, you can explain, help, delegate well and with confidence and the suddenly you sit somewhere totally foreign where you cannot even help yourself, even if you wanted to. The only way that you can help yourself is by asking for help, researching or finding out how it works in this new environment and asking for help and waiting to be helped are not necessarily everyone's strong points, but indeed skills that an expat needs to acquire to survive and avoid frustration.

To put it bluntly, expats sometimes feel dumb. Dumb because they have to ask so many questions or have to learn so many new things (from social interaction in a new culture to basic administration). And the smarter you think you are, the dumber you feel. We are not used to feeling helpless, clueless, powerless or unconfident in our home environments, but now in this new adventure it is inevitable. Things don’t run at our pace and there is very little that we can do about it. Maybe you are used to a fast paced environment where you can easily and confidently play ball all over the court, but now you only have a thin stick and a golf ball and you are supposed to play this fast paced game on a court that you don’t even recognise as being a court. So you feel dumb and you maybe start to think that everybody else thinks you are dumb as well. It gets frustrating. You know who you are inside, you know that you have potential and you even love yourself, but often you just feel like you are tramped in the body of a headless chicken or a clumsy Michelin man. Maybe you are even trying to convince people that you are not normally like this...

Frustration. We need to figure out where it is coming from. Yes, we are overwhelmed and exceptionally stretched, but what is lying under the frustration? What underlying emotion is driving the frustration? What is the sentence that we hear in our thoughts that creates the underlying emotion? For example, you might have the thought “I don’t want people to think that I’m dumb” and then you place extra pressure on yourself to prove yourself, but then you end up feeling helpless, because you can’t possibly know everything and do everything perfectly in a new environment. There are too many variables and things that you cannot possibly anticipate or predict. This then leads to the frustration and maybe even a sense of failure or embarrassment. :/

Ask yourself some questions.

Why am I frustrated?  “I’m frustrated, because the lady keeps telling me what to do.”

How does “the lady keeps telling me what to do” make me feel?  “It makes me feel incompetent.”  

Am I really incompetent? “No”

What does “feeling incompetent” trigger or remind me of? “It reminds me of my teacher telling me that I’ll never make it to university.”

So the negative thought (lie) creates the feeling of incompetence which drives the frustration. The key is to keep track of your thought patterns and try and identify what thought drives the underlying emotion which in turn drives the frustration. Get hold of the thought and you can disable or lessen the frustration. It is not always as simple, but I have had such amazing results and eye opening moments while doing these exercises with my coach. At the end it is totally worth it and very freeing.

As expats we are surrounded with change and we need to stay flexible whether we like it or not. My advice is to find someone to talk to. An objective ear is always good and can help you get some fresh perspective in your situation. Take a deep breath, accept what you cannot change and stay focused, flexible and motivated, you are brave just for taking the leap to another country! 

Picture credit: simplelifestrategies

3 August 2014

Emotional outbursts

Firstly let me define my understanding of an emotional outburst. Having emotions are normal and when I speak about emotions I refer to the entire range from anger and frustration to sadness, disappointment and depression. It also doesn't mean that you necessarily burst into tears, not all emotions make you want to cry.

Every day things happen which trigger our emotions. The red light for an emotional outburst should flash when your reaction is not justified by the situation, thus when you overreact in a specific situation. For example, if you scream at a shop attendant, because a product is out of stock. It is normal to be slightly irritated, but screaming is overreacting. Maybe a colleague’s rude remark leaves you wanting to break a coffee mug or everything about someone is just annoying you constantly. This might indicate that it’s time to have a look at yourself and what’s going on inside. You might notice your emotional outburst immediately or you might have been overreacting for many years in certain situations and not even realised it. In those situations we can become aware of it by looking at the reaction of others around us to indicate to us that our reaction might have been excessive. This is not easy, because you might have already accepted that you just “have a bad temper” and that it‘s part of your personality, which it is not by the way...

Emotional outbursts happen when our internal emotional buckets are full and we have no more capacity to deal with new emotions. When new emotions are triggered, our buckets overflow and we often act in a way that we do not even approve of. You know that you are not an angry or depressed person, but you just can't seem to stop yourself from reacting in that way.

Emotional outbursts are our bodies' way of telling us that there are emotions bottled up which we have not been dealing with. It's not something to worry about, but it is great to become aware of the situation and empower yourself to manage it better. This will enable you to set yourself free from being controlled by underlying emotions and it will be less likely for your emotions to catch you off guard. It also gives you the opportunity to fill your bucket with pleasant emotions such as love, peacefulness and joy.

Don’t be intimidated by your emotions. Write them down, take the situation to your coach or have an honest chat with a trusted friend. Get some insight into the origin of the underlying emotion and learn to empty your emotional bucket. Emotional outbursts are opportunities for personal growth. By identifying the emotion, you can validate it and let it go, leaving you feeling freer, less wound up and less overwhelmed. Being honest with yourself and dealing with certain emotions are not easy, but you will always be better off afterwards. 

Photo credit: wikia.com

31 July 2014

Social interaction

Naturally when you move to a new country you need to build up a new friendship circle and you might even have to meet the family if you moved to be with your partner. These situations can be challenging and my advice is again to not push yourself. Some activities are unavoidable, but develop a strategy that works for you.

If you function well in groups then invite a few new people or family over for coffee or dinner. If you prefer one on one conversations (like me), then make the effort to do your rounds with family members and new friends. It also gives you the opportunity to get to know them better and then you have something to talk about the next time round. It's almost as if you have to start with social skills 101 all over again. No one knows you, they don't know what to expect from you and the first impression that you make is important.

Sometimes I found first impressions quite difficult, specifically in a group setting. Everybody knows each other and are talking and laughing and I sit there with a pretty face and no words. It is quite frustrating for me, because I'm like a fly on the wall looking at myself not being myself. I know I'm more social, friendlier, funnier and more confident, but sometimes I just have no words. At the moment I'm ascribing it to the fact that they speak a foreign language and even though I understand it 95%, I still can only speak 30%. English is of course no problem and I can chip in anytime with English, but I still seem not to and that sometimes frustrates me. I then leave an evening or a dinner feeling like I totally didn't represent myself.

The important thing is not to get discouraged. First impressions can change and as you get more comfortable with everything, the situation will also change. Just never give up, never see yourself as the outsider all alone and uninteresting. Evaluate the situation afterwards and think about how you can be yourself more comfortably next time round. Do not beat yourself up and rather show yourself some kindness, you are coping with enough change as it is. Rome wasn't built in a day! ;)

I have experienced that people usually are more afraid to speak to you than you are to speak to them and when you break the ice with one question about them, their work or week, they seem to chat quite easily. Don't necessarily expect deep meaningful conversations the first time round, but there will be enough questions for you to ask to keep the conversation going. It sounds silly, but conversation is an art and it is something that you will have to master again. It is so easy when you have an established circle of friends at home and one new person joins and you are comfortable and confident, but in a new country it's a whole new story. You have no circle, you have no 'back up support', nowhere to turn to if conversation runs out and as these fears build, it can leave you incapacitated in the corner.

No one said that it was going to be easy, but don't stress and don't give up. One step at a time and you'll come out winning! :)

Picture credit: flickr

3 June 2014

Small disappointments

We all want things to go a certain way or people to react in a certain manner and when this does not happen we experience disappointment. It's normal and we experience different levels of disappointment on a normal day ranging from making a bad cup of tea, a friend cancelling, not completing all the tasks that you wanted to or someone slipping a hurtful comment.

These are all normally dealt with pretty easily as forgiveness runs freely and you generally understand that people's actions are determined by their schedules and pressures and that it's really not personal. You might not even have felt disappointed on a normal day, in your normal country and normal routine, but now it's different. The problem is that as an expat your coping reserves are already running low. There are so many small challenges in a normal day that small disappointments can really catch you off guard. It hits hard and it breaks your stride. Suddenly everything is too much, too hard, too far and too different and it all comes crashing down.

It's normal.
Give yourself some space.
Calm down.

Perspective, you need perspective. It's a journey.

Work through your thoughts a bit and try to determine what is really upsetting you. It’s often a bunch of small challenges, rather than one specific thing. Maybe write them down on a page or draw them in topic bubbles. Writing them down can turn the “mountain” into a small heap again and make things manageable. It can also be helpful to explain to your partner or friends what you are going through and why one small thing can lead to you feeling completely overwhelmed. If your partner or friends are not expats, then it might be difficult for them to understand how normal daily activities can become overwhelming. 

Also write down the emotions that you are feeling. It is important to pinpoint them so that you can manage them or they will end up managing you. An emotional outburst can also indicate that you are bottling up emotions and not properly dealing with certain challenges. It is important that you allow yourself time to reflect on your feelings and journey. Make a list of the small victories that you've had this week and be proud of yourself. Remind yourself that it's a process and that everything is going to be alright at the end and if everything is not alright then it's not yet the end. You will conquer this one, just as you have conquered the others, one step at a time!

Picture credit: Lifehack

28 April 2014

Exploding emotions!

Often, too often, we allow emotions to cripple us. Emotions should warn us, but not control us. Too often our emotions become the problem because we don't ask the correct questions: "where does the emotion come from? Or why do I feel this way?"

I have heard the expression many times that an emotion is like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. It goes on when something internal is wrong. In that moment we have two choices, break the light and ignore the problem or investigate the problem. The thing is, that sometimes the little light is scary, especially if we don't know where the problem lies, how deep it is, how long it is going to take to sort out or how much it will cost you.

Let's say that your "dashboard" shows a light of irritation, you may stop to think and realise that you are just hungry and it's pretty easy to solve or you might realise that it's something about someone else that irritates you and you might need to dig a bit deeper to find out where the irritation is coming from and why it is affecting you so much. Or you might notice your irritation, but have absolutely no idea what the underlying problem is. Don't worry! You are totally capable of dealing with it and you don’t need to understand and fix it in an instant. Take some time out, even if it is just 10 minutes and just sit and think about where the emotion is coming from. Sometimes something as simple as irritation can be underlying fear, shame or sadness which can easily turn into frustration or anger if not acknowledged and dealt with.

Emotion should not scare us, it should rather guide us to become more self aware so that we can manage ourselves better and always be filled with joy. If we do not manage our emotion, it will control us and then we will start to act in ways which we do not wish to act. Be bold today and don't be scared to look at what is lying underneath the emotion. Do not allow the emotion to control you, but be brave and face the emotion. Allow yourself to become more emotionally aware and set yourself free from controlling and exploding emotions.

Picture credit: creativereview