toxic relationship**For details on why I have decided to publish Become the Best You on the blog, please read this. Should you wish to buy the book, you can do so here** 

How to spot a toxic relationship

Getting some distance can be a lot easier said than done. If you are in the unfortunate position of being surrounded by family who are draining your energy reserves then you need to do some serious thinking. Let’s get one thing straight: being related to a person does not give them carte blanche to treat you badly. If you are going to break the cycle you will need to look long and hard at all your relationships and figure out who you are able to have in your life long-term.

This is likely to be the most challenging part of the whole process, but it’s where your new found inner strength and self-respect will guide you to do the right thing.

Cutting ties with my mother was one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make, but for the purposes of self-preservation I was left with no other choice. When I tell people that I don’t have her in my life the first reaction I usually get is shock. Once I give them some details, however, they begin to understand why I did something that seems so drastic. In the end I had to ask myself: ‘will I be able to live the life I want (and deserve) with her still a part of it?’ Sadly I concluded the answer was no.

Now that I’m a mum I can see how difficult her life must have been. Still a child herself, she gave birth to me at 18 and had three kids by the age of 25, without the help of a supportive partner. Determined not to make all the mistakes her own mother made, she went ahead and made plenty of her own. For example, moving house, sometimes twice in the same year to avoid paying debts, which meant going to eight schools. This played havoc with my self-confidence as well as my education.

She never thought her decisions through properly or considered the long-term consequences. Everything was done on a reactive level, only ever thinking of the moment she was in. This might be an acceptable way of living for a person without dependents, but as far as I’m concerned, when you have children it is not good enough. Honestly though, when all is said and done, I have genuinely forgiven my mother for the things that I went through. In spite of her numerous mistakes I believe she felt she had the best interests of her children at heart at the time. In reality, she was young, foolish and naïve – a disastrous combination.

toxic relationshipWhen redefining the rules doesn’t work for your toxic relationship

Forgiveness and respect are two very different beasts though, and I got to the point where I didn’t like her anymore. Counselling opened my eyes to how much of a drain on my emotional resources she was and had always been. I’d essentially been playing the parent role to her irresponsible child for far too long. I was completely fed up of having to come to her rescue when she got herself into trouble.

While I was going through counselling I tried my best to redefine the rules of our relationship. I stopped giving her money every time she got herself into a sticky situation, and I stopped taking her phone calls while I was at work. After initially resisting the new boundaries she started respecting them. She soon realised that it wasn’t fair to view me as a never ending source of cash to be tapped whenever she found herself without enough.

That it wasn’t fair to interrupt me when I was at work to tell me her problems. I also started seeing her less which helped immensely because when we did spend time together I enjoyed her company much more than I had been. By the time I left the UK to go travelling we were in a good place and I was in email contact with her while I was away.

Crunch time came shortly after going back to Cambodia to set up the shop. I was contacted by my half-brother and told that she had run off to Canada with a man she had met over the internet just a few months before. She had made yet another hasty decision that meant walking out of her life to start a new one, leaving behind a trail of destruction and debt in her wake. She stole electrical items from the place she worked, and took out a massive loan with one of her sisters with no intention of paying her half back. She left the flat she was renting with most of her belongings still in it, including every photograph from our childhood – memories that were captured long before the days of digital photography and completely irreplaceable. She had deserted us and hadn’t glanced back.

The realisation dawned on me that over the course of the decade that followed my leaving home, I had lost all respect for her, and this was the final straw. In my heart of hearts I knew it was time to say goodbye to her for good because ultimately our relationship had become too toxic to save. That was in 2005. She didn’t come to my wedding. She has never met her grandchildren. I have felt sadness over the years for the loss of what could have been but I have never once regretted my decision. I could not allow her to bring such drama to my life any longer.

toxic relationshipTwo Choices

Some people are lucky enough to come from happy families. They don’t harbour resentment towards their upbringing and they love their parents and siblings unconditionally. For those that aren’t as fortunate it can be like navigating a minefield every time there is a family gathering. Rather than Christmas being a fun joyful occasion, it can end up being the very worst time of year. Treading on eggshells and feeling responsible for other people’s happiness.

When we are in the midst of a toxic relationship we have two options available. We can try and change the other person, or we can change the way we interact with them. As we discussed in the previous chapter, distancing ourselves a little and redefining the rules can be extremely beneficial when a relationship has become toxic.

Setting out new boundaries and changing our interaction can have a positive knock-on effect, which in turn prompts changes in the other person’s behaviour. This is the best outcome we can hope for.

Sometimes even after we have exhausted our options and tried our very best, it still won’t have sparked enough change in the other person. This is when you’ll need to start considering your mental-health wellbeing, because no-one is worth having a breakdown over.

If your emotional state is suffering because the other person is not willing to change, then I would suggest taking a huge step back from them. Time can often be the only true healer, and an extended break can be exactly what you both need to realise that your relationship is or isn’t worth fighting for. What I personally had to learn the hardest way is that above all else self-preservation must come first. There is absolutely no point in being a martyr. You will not thank yourself for it in the long run.

Stay Strong

When self-doubt washes over you remember all the negative things that happened because of the other person. If you keep them in your life, will they destroy your confidence and leave you with no self-respect? Does their company hamper your ability to make good decisions and lead you down the path of mischief? Can you be the best you with them around? If their presence causes you nothing but upset, then they have left you with no other choice but to walk away. As long as you have been honest from the outset and maintained your integrity, your conscience should be completely clear.

toxic relationshipIf you do decide to cut people out of your life be prepared for the feelings of loss and sadness. If they were once an all-important part of your day to day then you will need to grieve over them. It’s important to be extra gentle with yourself during this time and allow yourself these feelings.

You might feel lonely and think you miss them terribly, but you must stay strong. Once you get through the initial difficulties you will soon realise how much better off you are without them. Now is the ideal time to start making all the positive changes that we have been talking about here in this book.

A suggested plan of action for calling time on your toxic relationship

– Ask yourself: Can I live the life I want and deserve with them still a part of it? If the answer is yes then try to redefine the rules in the first instance. Ensure you conduct yourself with integrity at all times and have full faith in the decisions you are making.

– If the answer is no or you try to redefine the rules but the other person is not willing to change, then self-preservation must prevail. You have been left with little choice but to exclude them from your life.

– If you do cut ties with people you must allow yourself to grieve over them. Time is often the best healer, and once the situation isn’t so raw and painful you can revisit your options.

Pignoulet**In the interest of transparency, I’d like to state that I was asked to review the Domaine du Pignoulet Pilates Retreat in exchange for this blog post. (I paid for flights and transfers.) If you would like to read my full disclosure policy, you can do so by clicking here.**

Pignoulet was a pinch me experience! 

When I was invited to review the pilates retreat offered by the owners of Domaine du Pignoulet – a stunning restored farmhouse in the French Pyrenees – I thought I might be dreaming. Thankfully I wasn’t, and it was the most amazing weekend I’ve had in a very long time.

You can read about my incredible bonding experience with the other nine bloggers I went away with here. Our three days together were full of delicious food, interesting discussions and debates, pilates classes (obvs) and as corny as it might sound, soul searching. It’s hard not to end up reflective after an experience like this.

We laughed, cried and stayed up way past bedtime drinking local wine putting the world to rights. I mean seriously, what more could a group of tired mums, with twenty five children between them, possibly want out of a retreat?

A little bit about Pignoulet and it’s owners

Susie and James Wetton are a husband and wife team with big hearts and wonderful ideas. I like to approach things like this without too many expectations, but to say I was blown away by every element would be an understatement. From the second we started approaching the entrance to the house I was mesmerised. Driving through the wrought iron gates, past the barn and onto the sweeping driveway, the brightly painted shutters and masonry meant the house felt warm and grand at the same time.

James’ parents bought the house in 2000 and fully restored it, and he and Susie bought it from them in 2016. They are now living out their dream semi-retirement, which has been many years in the making. I found listening to their story of ditching the rat race and living life on their own terms incredibly inspiring.

PignouletThe rooms were spacious and clean with comfy beds and powerful showers. We didn’t spend very much time in our rooms, but had lovely views when we did. The night sky was absolutely stunning with all the stars on display twinkling brightly. Really does make you think about the awful air pollution in London.

We had brilliant weather for September, and were able to spend a few hours by the pool each day, which was amazing considering it had started getting chilly back home in the UK.

What the food was like at Pignoulet

Susie and James were up against it to cater for our lot. Between us we covered paleo, vegan, celiacs, and almost every other allergy/food intolerance you can imagine. Not only did our fabulous hosts feed us well, but the incredible food was served in an inclusive way. No-one was made to feel like they were an inconvenience and nothing was too much trouble. We ate every meal together, and there was plenty of choice.

Far from dishing up underwhelming free from processed nonsense, serious effort went into ensuring our party was suitably looked after. This is really important for people like us, who often feel excluded when we eat out. The local wines were delectable, and completely natural which meant no hangover the next day!

PignouletBreakfast and lunch were served on huge help yourself plates, and dinner was a three course affair. Breakfast included grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, home made granola, fresh fruit and lots of (herbal and caffeinated) tea and coffee. Lunch was salads, fresh bread, cured meats and local cheeses.

Dinners were carefully crafted morsels of deliciousness – stuffed chicken, huge stuffed roasted peppers, baked sweet potatoes, to name but a few components. One of the desserts was low sugar vegan chocolate mousse, which was out of this world. I really have to hand it to them for pulling this off so impressively.

What the pilates was like at Pignoulet

You’re in safe hands with Susie, who has been self-employed for the last 15 years as a personal trainer, sports massage therapist, pilates teacher and Nordic walking instructor.

We did two classes on the Sunday, and one on Saturday and Monday. By lunchtime on the Monday I was feeling it. Pilates is all about working the core muscles, strengthening and stretching. For some the classes will be the main reason for going to Pignoulet, but for me they were like the cherry on top of a delicious cake. Although I’ve not done pilates for many years (getting on for twenty), I really enjoyed it.

Susie’s teaching skills are phenomenal, and it’s made me want to continue practising at home, as well as finding a local teacher. I came back from the retreat with sore abs, which felt like a rite of passage. Sitting by a pool without children is lovely, but most people find it boring after a couple of hours, so it was brilliant to have a fitness element to the trip, and something other than eating to plan the day around.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

(#AD) When I was asked to review the pilates retreat offered by the owners of @pignoulet – a stunning restored farmhouse in the French Pyrenees – I thought I might be dreaming. Thankfully I wasn’t, and it was the most amazing weekend I’ve had in a very long time. Susie and James Wetton are a husband and wife team with big hearts and wonderful ideas, who have quit the rat race to live their dream semi-retirement. I like to approach things like this without too many expectations, but to say I was blown away by every element would be an understatement. Pignoulet was a pinch me experience! 🧘‍♂️ It was incredible having the time and space to bond with the other nine bloggers I went away with (see previous post). Our three days together were full of delicious food, interesting discussions, lovely pilates classes, and as corny as it might sound, soul searching. It’s hard not to end up reflective after an experience like this. 🧘‍♂️ We laughed, cried and stayed up way past bedtime drinking local wine putting the world to rights. I mean seriously, what more could a group of tired mums, with twenty five children between them, possibly want out of a retreat? I highly recommend checking out Pignoulet if you’re in the market for some R&R! Head over to the blog for my full review. . . . #freefromgang #freefromgangontour #pilatespignoulet #pilatesparadise #pilateslovers #Pilates #retreat #pilatesretreat #france #gascony #mindfulness #relaxation #meditation #frenchcuisine #specialdiet #bloggers #bloggerretreat #getaway #yoga #weekend #retreatyourself #dailycalm #france4dreams #allergytravels #mummytries @lecoindemel @glutarama @freefromfairy @freefromfarm @glutenfreealchemist @sneakyvegblog @peachicksbakery @dairyfreekids @_just_eilidh 💖

A post shared by Reneé Davis (@mummytries) on

A few tips for getting the most from your Pignoulet pilates retreat

A three day and night retreat will set you back £450, excluding flights and transfers (check out this page for more details). Although excellent value for money, given once you’re there everything is included, it’s vital to ensure you get the absolute most from your trip.

– avoid the temptation to capture each moment by tuning out to your phone as much as possible.
– don’t stay up too late, don’t drink too much. I could have definitely gone to bed earlier both nights, but I love to chat, so…
– just enjoy the classes, even if you’re a novice. Switch off the “is everyone looking at me?” monster. No-one is watching you because they’re too busy with their own practise.
Pignoulet– expect tears, time out from everything is bound to stir up repressed emotions and bring them to the surface.
– do a little extra each day, but don’t over exert yourself so you’re exhausted coming home. We went to a quaint French market on the Sunday, and had a nice hilly walk on the Monday. Combined with the pilates, these two activities were perfect.
– nothing is too much trouble for Susie and James, they can cater for anything as long as they have plenty of advance warning.

I think a retreat like this is the ultimate self-care, and worth every single penny. I’m going to pay for next years’ stay in monthly instalments, which will make it manageable.

Especially if you have small kids like I do, I’d advise putting together a little plan for the thud back to earth. Inevitably it will hurt more than you’re expecting it to. Allowing myself to take it easy for a few days after meant my zen experience didn’t go to waste. I arrived home around 2am on the Tuesday morning, and got very little sleep that night. I was prepared for Tuesday to be difficult, but Wednesday was worse.

Here are a few things I did to ease myself gently back into normality:  
– asked my in-laws for Polly to go and stay with them for a few days, which she did Tues-Fri. I still had two kids to look after during those days, so it wasn’t exactly another holiday, but it definitely helped.
– prior to leaving I organised a food shop to be delivered the day after getting home.
– didn’t put too much pressure on myself work wise and took the day off social media and emails on the Thursday.

PignouletWill I do anything differently next time

We opted for Easy Jet flights from Luton to Toulouse, which were at awful times both ways, but such a bargain they were difficult to resist. Coming from South London, and being a non-driver meant it was a massive journey for me.

I’m very grateful to the lovely Mandy (her blogs are Sneaky Veg and Cook Veggielicious, you really should check them out!) for driving me to and from both airports, but it involved two late nights and one very early start out of the four days.

There are other flight options (both airport and time wise) which would lighten the load in this aspect, so I’ll be aiming for something a bit friendlier next year.

Pignoulet

Photo Credit: Le Coin de Mel

Full address and social media links

Domaine du Pignoulet,
Chemin de la Maoube,
Ladevèze-Rivière, 32230, France
Email: info@pignoulet.com

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 

Reviews from my fellow retreaters

Eilidh | Emma | Kate | Laura | Vicki | Mandy | Midge | Mel | Rebecca

I honestly cannot thank Susie and James enough for their hospitality. I’m feeling chilled out, inspired and shall be recommending Pignoulet to every single person I know. If you’re in the market for a retreat, or just a bit of R&R, you know where to head.

Until next time, Pignoulet! 

What is The Sisterhood?

I’ve just come back from a gorgeous pilates retreat in the French Pyrenees, and am feeling suitably zen. A lot more zen than I thought I would, which goes to show that I’m better at switching off when I get the chance than I give myself credit for. The surroundings were stunning, the food was incredible and the pilates felt like a cherry on top of a delicious cake.

the sisterhood

Photo credit: Le Coin de Mel 

Best of all though, was getting to spend three entire days with a group of amazing women. Ladies who do not bitch about each other behind their backs. Or say inflammatory things to get a rise out of anyone else. This is what the sisterhood is all about.

These are solid rocks, whose lives are stressful, and kids are challenging. We’ve all bonded over the years through our shared hardships and love of good food. The thing I adore most about them, is rather than project negativity because of their cortisol levels, they are nothing but supportive.

They are always on hand for online group hugs. Some of these ladies I see regularly, some on average once a year. Others I had only met in person for the first time on this trip.

There are many articles to be found, bemoaning the sisterhood

Not without good reason either. Women are often accused of being bitchy and stabbing each other in the back. I think being bullied as a kid means I have a great radar for working out who acts this way, and avoiding them like the plague. It’s a skill I’ve developed over the years. Life is far too short to spend it getting angry over things not worthy of that emotion. I reserve it for when it’s truly necessary.

Perhaps due to my lack of family, I’ve always put a huge emphasis on my friendships. Having good friends in my life is as essential to me as breathing and eating. The sad fact is, many people simply don’t like strong women. So they get torn down. The saddest thing of all is this often happens by other women. Which leads to lots of lovely ladies, desperate for close friendships, just not bothering to pursue them. Hands up who honestly enjoys being made to feel like they’re back in the school playground? Not me, that’s for sure.

the sisterhoodMost strong women tend to be this way through circumstance. Sometimes my own past sounds absolutely incredulous, especially when I dredge up the deepest darkest memories. I question myself – did those things really happen to me? 

Leaving home at fifteen. Blagging my way into the city and brilliant jobs. Travelling the world. Recovering from rock bottom and becoming mentally stable. Going on to not just live an average life, but a pretty awesome one? Privileged and (hashtag!) blessed to have a wonderful husband, and three amazing kids.

Friends from all walks of life, dotted around the world. Deep connections made at poignant moments, which will last forever (even if distance means hardly seeing them in person). I even get to do my dream job. I don’t chase after the big bucks like some bloggers, but my job title is very much writer.

I’m asked a lot how I got from there to here. The answer is: by going against convention every step of the way. By sticking two fingers up at the haters. By simply not quitting.

Some people are offended by folks like me 

I could have gone the other way as a teenager. If I hadn’t been exposed to or responded positively to the opportunities which created my lucky breaks. After a childhood like mine, I could have ended up beaten and broken by life. I might have known my so-called place, and not have had the audacity to venture from it.

I have rolled with the punches since I was a little girl. Exploited so many times, and in so many ways, I’ve blocked most of it out. When your past is as colourful as mine, it forces you to be tough, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. When the dark clouds knock on my door these days, I’m ready for them. I put my fight face on. I ‘girl up’ as it were. I try my best to set good examples to my children.

I am never afraid to look inwards, and recognise when I’m at the root of a problem. When this happens I change what’s necessary. I put measures in place to stop small things spiralling out of control. I don’t bury my head in the hope they might magically improve. I grew up around adults who did this, and it didn’t get them very far.

the sisterhoodThe trouble is, strong women are easy to dislike

Perhaps it’s because we don’t dwell on our shortcomings, or wallow in our challenges. We share our successes, try to remain positive in the face of adversity. We can look like we’re in control, when others in similar situations do not. We might appear to have all the answers, even when we don’t. Merely by being our authentic selves, we tend to make others feel bad about their own situations.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, far from it. But I do know this: the world needs more strong women. Women who will volunteer for the messy work and stand up to the bullies who try and put them down. Ladies who’ll join forces and show others that it’s possible to have real solidarity. Without judgement or jealously or envy.

So let’s be strong, ladies. For ourselves, for our families, for the sisterhood. There is nothing more powerful than a group of strong women!

redefine the rules

**For details on why I have decided to publish Become the Best You on the blog, please read this. Should you wish to buy the book, you can do so here** 

Have you ever had to redefine the rules when you felt a relationship was becoming toxic?

The best example of successfully redefining the rules I can personally give comes from the period of time that my husband and I were giving our relationship ‘one last try’.

As I’ve already mentioned we had a very rocky year in Cambodia and came home to the UK separately. We quickly found jobs and flat shares and started living life as singletons. Our future looked non-existent but neither of us were prepared to properly walk away. Without anything changing we started seeing each other again about two months after returning, and I moved in with him and his flatmates few months later.

By then we were already back to the old routine of drinking until all hours and partying hard at the weekend. I treated him horribly. We argued loads and I fought with his flatmates. It was an ugly time. One of the only periods of my life that I look back upon and feel utterly ashamed of. Within three months I’d decided enough was enough; we were to break up ‘for good’. A few weeks after we went our separate ways I hit rock my rock bottom. This is when I woke up to myself and realised that I had thrown away the one person who truly loved me, and always had my best intentions at heart.

I spent the next three months working hard on all the self-improvements I’ve spoken about here in this book, and was adamant to get back together with my then ex-boyfriend and make our relationship work. He was less enthusiastic. I had burnt him badly and he wasn’t going to be as free and easy with his heart. If we were to give things one last try it would be on his terms; he would call the shots. If I was serious about making it work then I had to respect his wishes.

It turned out to be the best thing that happened to us, because I was no longer in control and able to make more bad decisions. Above all else he said we had to take things slowly. We had been living together from the day we met, and he wanted us to remain living apart for the foreseeable future. We would only see each other at the weekend and concentrate on work and other commitments during the week. We would not waste our time drinking all night and being hung over. We would spend quality time together and do interesting things such as take trips out of London, visit exhibitions and go to nice restaurants.

The key to our success was that we both wanted it to work out as much as the other. Within a few months we had redefined the rules of our relationship, and six months after getting back together we moved into our first home without flatmates. It was the making of us, and the rest as they say is history. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we would not have had a future together had both of us not been willing to change.

redefine the rulesOther relationships where you might have to redefine the rules

Scenario: Your parents divorced while you were young and both remarried while you were in your teens. You get on well with one step-parent but have never particularly warmed to the other one and vice versa. Now that you are an adult they exclude you from family gatherings and you feel you don’t get to see your parent as often as you would like.

Solution: If you want to have a better relationship one of you needs to be the bigger person and hold out the olive branch so it might as well be you. If you want your parent to be an active part of your life it is vital that you get along with their partner.

Start winning over your step-parent by being conciliatory and doing nice things for them. Invite them out to lunch or cook for them. Make it clear that you’re sorry for your history and want to make it better by getting to know them. Be willing to accept responsibility for your part in the problem, and leave the ball in their court. Most people want to get on with their family and will relish the opportunity to make amends.

Scenario: Your relationship with a good friend has become very one-sided. You feel you are always doing the things they want to do, on their terms. You are always going out of your way for them, but they are nowhere to be seen when you could use some support.

Solution: It sounds like the other person is behaving quite selfishly. They genuinely might not have realised they have hurt you, so in the first instance try and talk to them about how you’re feeling. If you want to continue with the friendship then start seeing them on your terms instead. Make it abundantly clear that you aren’t going to only do the things they want to do anymore. If the other person doesn’t cooperate then you might have to ask yourself whether the friendship is worth salvaging.

Scenario: You have become close to a work colleague and often go out socialising together. Secrets get divulged over drinks and this information could be used against each other to get ahead in the workplace.

Solution: Firstly it’s important to always maintain your integrity by doing the right thing. As tempting as it might be, you must never use this type of information to further your own career. If you suspect the other person is doing so then ask them outright and see what they say. If trust has been lost then it’s wise to stop drinking together, because leaving yourself so vulnerable when it comes to your professional life is too risky. If you feel you could have an out of work friendship then go for coffee or lunch instead. It will be obvious pretty quickly whether this person is a friend or just a drinking buddy that you could do without while you are going through this process.

Choose your friends wisely and you won’t have to redefine the rules

The best thing about friends and partners is that we get to pick who they are – unlike our family where we have no say in the matter. I strongly believe that the people we meet on our journey through life help to determine our fortune along the way. As long as you have good people around enhancing your happiness, your life will always be a success in its own right.

If we really are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, then you’re unlikely to get very far by spending your days with people who sit in grotty basement flats smoking weed, eating junk food and playing computer games.

If you spend your time wisely, working on becoming the best possible you, then you’ll attract good people into your world. To break the cycle it is absolutely imperative to surround yourself with the most fantastic people you can. They will help keep you on the straight and narrow when times get tough, and stand on the side-lines cheering you on when you need encouragement. Once you have established who the decent people in your life are – the true keepers – ensure that your conscience is always clear by being a great friend to them. Listen attentively, never gossip and be a good secret keeper. Do everything you can to keep hold of them because surrounding yourself with amazing people will help keep you on track. Having good influences around will also help you to recognise the bad influences that make your life harder work than it needs to be.

redefine the rulesHave a look at the list below and see if you have some people in your life that do these things. A genuinely good friend would NEVER do any of the following things:

– Gossip behind your back and share your secrets
– Steal your boy/girlfriend, money or possessions
– Encourage you to make bad choices
– Turn their back on you during a crisis
– Stir up trouble with other friends
– Intentionally set out to cause you pain

When partners bring you more heartache than happiness, family aren’t being supportive, and ‘friends’ aren’t being very friendly, it’s advisable to put some distance between you.

How much you miss them once they aren’t around will be an indication of how long you need to stay away from them. We cannot change people, but we can change the way we interact with them in the hope that they realise the error of their ways and make necessary changes themselves. If they want a place in your life they need to earn it.

Lets assess your inner circle

We are going to carry out an exercise to pinpoint the people in your life who perhaps do not have your best interests at heart. Please ensure that you are alone, in a quiet peaceful place.

On an A4 sheet of paper write down all the people you frequently have in your life. List everybody from your parents to your partner, family members, friends and colleagues. Draw a line down the middle, write names on the left and leave the right side blank. Give yourself an inch of writing space per person.

– Now write down how each person made you feel the last three times you saw them:
Very happy, Happy, Indifferent, Sad, Miserable.

– Now write down how much you argue with these people:
Every time you see them, Often, Occasionally, Never.

– Now write down how much respect you have for them and their opinions:
Lots, A Little, None.

Faced with a result that looks like this: [insert name]: Miserable, Often, None – can you really justify keeping them in your life as is?

redefine the rulesNow lets reassess your inner circle

I don’t know about you but over the years I have had numerous relationships with people that have made me miserable. Family, friends, lovers, bosses, work colleagues. What I’ve learnt the hard way is that we cannot control another person’s thoughts or actions. We do, however, have complete control over how we allow them to make us feel. If change needs to happen for your relationship to thrive then it’s up to you both to do things differently.

Absence can make the heart grow fonder, so you may just need a little distance from the other person. Be completely transparent from the very start and explain to them that you need time to clear your head. It could be as little as a few days or as long as a few months.

If they love you they should understand and be supportive. However, if they make your life difficult while you are going through this process, their behaviour could answer the all-important question: Are they a keeper? If the answer is yes then it’s imperative that you redefine the rules of your relationship by telling them that things cannot carry on as they are if you are to have a future together. It’s not so much a set of rules, rather clear-cut boundaries.

Here are some suggestions:
– See and speak to the other person on your terms. If they call you all the time simply stop taking their calls and phone them back when it’s convenient for you. Ditto texts, email and social media.
– If the other person is argumentative and picks a fight every time you see them tell them that you aren’t in the mood and have to leave the room. Creating distance when things get overheated will allow you both to cool down.
– Start meeting on neutral territory. This means that you aren’t always doing what the other person wants to do. It also means you can leave any time you want.

Redefine the rules by saying NO more often

Sometimes we need to push back a little in order to work out what we really want. Whether it’s in a social capacity, the workplace or within your own family, saying no is empowering. People often take advantage of those they know will say yes to everything but rarely give them the respect they deserve. Working to anyone else’s schedule but your own will make you feel miserable long-term, so start saying no. There are many ways we can politely say no, while at the same time offering the other person a solution to the dilemma.

Here are some examples:
– I’m so sorry but I can’t come out tonight, I’m absolutely shattered after a hectic week at work. How about lunch on Sunday instead?
– I’m afraid I’m unable to lend you any more money. I am flat out broke! In fact I could really use you paying back what you already owe me.
– I won’t be able to come over to your house this weekend; why don’t you come to mine instead?

redefine the rulesA suggested plan of action to help you redefine the rules of a toxic relationship

– If after assessing your inner circle you feel that some people do not have your best interests at heart, put some distance between the two of you. Ensure you are completely honest with the other person from the start, that way you will know that your conscience is clear and you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s only through secrets and lies that things become messy.

– If after your time apart you both want to try again then great, but take things slowly. Don’t rush straight back to where you just were. Take your time and rediscover why you love this person and can’t live without them.

– If after your time apart you feel the relationship does not have a future, consider a longer-term break from them. We will talk about toxic relationships in the next chapter.
Noteworthy

– Bullying in the workplace is completely unacceptable. If a colleague is making your life a misery then consider reporting them to Human Resources.

– You should never stay in a relationship that is damaging to your physical or emotional wellbeing. If a partner, friend or family member is abusive in any way at all they should be reported to the appropriate authorities and dealt with accordingly.

**For details on why I have decided to publish Become the Best You on the blog, please read this. Should you wish to buy the book, you can do so here** 

How to form good habits

bad habits

On the surface big problems can seem overwhelmingly difficult to get passed. They are so much easier to tackle by being broken into small pieces and dealt with one at a time. When we make our problems smaller they become more manageable and simpler to conquer. None of us are saints, and part of breaking the cycle means overcoming bad habits and facing our problems head on.

In this chapter we will identify what things need to change, and how you can successfully change them. In the same way that you’d write a list of New Year’s resolutions, I’d like you to create a wish list of all the things you would like to change about your life. Everything from overcoming a classic ‘bad habit’ to wanting to find a new home or job. These will be your personal goals.

Form good habits by devising a list of personal goals

To give you an example of how this would work in real life I have written what my own list of goals would have looked like when I was going through this process, along with all the things I had to do to achieve them. They are listed in three phases because although it wasn’t clear to me at the time I now see that my goals were all linked.

My first goal was to cut down on drinking. It’s now plainly clear to me that without doing so I would not have been capable of achieving the rest of my goals. What I had to do and what I would advise you to do is pick the biggest, scariest one first because you will probably find the rest will naturally follow and things start falling into place after you have conquered it.

good habits

Cut down on drinking

After Reykjavik I realised I needed some time completely off alcohol, and when I first embarked on my period of abstinence I had no idea how long it would last. I wasn’t sure if I’d pushed the boundaries so far that there would never be just a couple of social drinks ever again. I fully embraced abstinence though and it was exactly what I needed to start thinking clearly and making better decisions.

Three months was enough of a break for me. After that I slowly reintroduced alcohol over the following three months by going out occasionally and having one or two drinks. It was during this time that I properly the learnt the self-control I desperately needed.

It was tough but over time I got out of the mindset that I was drinking to get drunk, and began enjoying good quality red wine or a well-made gin and tonic.

Stop spending time with people who add no value to my life (drinking and clubbing buddies)

Once I stopped drinking I realised how much of my time was spent socialising with people who did not enhance my life, so I simply excluded them from it. They were surprisingly easy to cut out and didn’t fight very hard for my friendship.

Once I told them I wasn’t interested in partying anymore they stopped inviting me out.

I used to feel immense pressure to be sociable at work, but even this was easier to cut out than I thought it would be. After I made it clear I was off the sauce my colleagues soon lost interest in me. I thought this would upset me, and I’d feel left out, but it was a welcome relief.

Stop taking drugs

This naturally followed the two points above. Once I had removed bad influences from my life and stopped drinking, I had no interest at all in going out clubbing. This meant not taking drugs anymore.

Instead I spent lots of time at home. I read books, watched great TV, reconnected with good friends and most importantly became happy with my own company.

The first few months were really hard because I knew that I’d hurt people and in the cold sober light of day I felt embarrassed and ashamed of my behaviour. This was an essential part of the process though because it allowed me the time and perspective I needed to figure out who was worth keeping in my life.

good habits

Eat better

I had fallen into the trap of buying most things pre-prepared due to lack of time so I went back to basics. I started ordering my groceries online, planning what I was going to eat for the week and cooking everything from scratch again. Not going out drinking and clubbing meant that I had loads more time on my hands for the important things in my life.

I also started taking my own food into work which as well as being healthier saved money.

I quickly had more energy and didn’t feel tired all the time.

Start exercising again

I found some suitable DVDs and set aside a few time slots per week to establish a home work-out routine.

It quickly became a part of my weekly schedule and I fell in love with exercising, whereas I had previously seen it as a chore, something I should be doing but didn’t particularly enjoy.

It gave me a great confidence boost when I most needed it.

Stop wasting money on unnecessary things

I naturally saved a fortune when I stopped going out partying.

I started shopping for clothes and other essential items in charity shops or heavily reduced sales. I became mindful of weighing up my wants against my true needs and realised that I didn’t need a lot of the stuff I thought I did.

I still buy clothes second hand nowadays. Not only does it save money but it’s friendlier to the environment.

good habits

Find a new job

I stayed in the same job for seven months after the Reykjavik incident. Not because I wanted to but because I was not capable of doing something new until I had conquered the first phase of my list.

During this time I did a lot of thinking and realised what I wanted more than anything else career-wise was to work for myself, so I set up a small food business. Looking back I rushed into it, and I paid the price by being left bankrupt and having to liquidate the company within its first year. I view this as a positive experience overall, though. It taught me some very valuable life lessons, especially where money is concerned.

I went back to admin afterwards and have been working part time since having children. I currently work two days a week in a job that I enjoy for a company that values me. I still aspire to work for myself again someday, but next time I’ll ensure I have a water tight business plan.

Form good habits by becoming dedicated to the cause

Making my changes and establishing good routines took me about six months, during which I learnt that patience really is a virtue. My list was quite a tall order and trying to do it all at once would have been be near on impossible. I focused my energies on one goal at a time and I’d suggest you do the same. By working on them this way you are more likely to succeed.

To stay on track ensure that you continually recognise your efforts and reward yourself justly. Begin by setting yourself daily targets, and progress to weekly targets once you are comfortable with what you need to do. Think of a nice little treat for yourself when you meet or exceed your target, as you’ll be one step closer to achieving your goals. By doing this you are holding yourself to account as well as recognising your hard work. This is another way to make yourself feel good and will provide a confidence boost.

Here are a few tips for staying on track

Ensure that your targets are high enough to count but low enough to attain as it will help keep you motivated. If your targets are too high, or you try to do too much at once you could be setting yourself up for failure. This in turn could lead to losing interest in your goals altogether. Don’t trip over the first hurdle and fall for this common mistake.

Whether you are in the market for a new job, home or hobby ensure that you do your research and find out as much relevant background information as you can beforehand. You can never be too prepared for a job interview, so do your best to woo your potential future employer with your knowledge on the company and role. These small details make all the difference at the hiring stage.

Rejection is tough but you must not be beaten by it. There is always work for people willing to put in the effort. Someone will always let you sleep on their sofa if they can see that you are serious about changing your life. As long as you are honest and have integrity most people will want to help you as much as they can. Recognise when you are being given a lucky break and make the very most of every opportunity.

The best thing about ditching bad habits is that it frees up space in our lives to form good habits. Ultimately we want positive habits that boost our self-esteem and make us feel great, not habits we wish we didn’t have hanging over our heads making us feel rubbish about ourselves.

good habitsForm good habits by eating well

When I was growing up I ate a diet consisting mainly of processed junk. I was that kid scoffing chocolate and drinking coke on their way to school. Not knowing the first thing about cooking I ate budget ready meals and fast food for years when I left home. After seeing the photos from my 21st birthday party, and being shocked by how much weight I’d put on, I knew it was time to change my eating habits.

It didn’t happen overnight but during the next couple of years I taught myself how to cook, and moved towards cooking from scratch being the rule rather than the exception. Nowadays I create recipes and write about them on my blog. Good food is an integral part of my family’s life; I love to cook and never see it as a chore. I view uninterrupted kitchen time as therapeutic and calming, something to truly look forward to.

Ask yourself whether you eat well or have fallen into bad habits with food? Do you cook from scratch or buy everything pre-prepared? Do you eat lots of sugary treats and processed carbohydrates? What we eat can have a huge effect over our entire wellbeing, and a diet consisting mainly of natural foods will provide energy, wake up a previously foggy brain and help us think straight. Once you get into good habits where food is concerned it quickly becomes second nature and you’ll wonder why you haven’t been eating this way all along. I have yet to meet a person that hasn’t benefitted from cleaning up their diet.

I am not a qualified food expert, however, having been on both ends of the spectrum I feel that not knowing how to do something as important as cooking is not a good enough excuse. If you need inspiration it can be found everywhere by watching celebrity chefs, reading food blogs, watching YouTube videos and buying cookbooks. Local councils in the UK often have free cookery courses available to all, so it’s worth checking out your council’s website. If you’re a complete beginner you will almost certainly have some kitchen disasters along the way, but don’t be put off by them. As long as you learn from every single mistake you can put the knowledge to good use next time. As with anything else in life, persevere and you will get better.

good habitsIf not having the time is what’s stopping you then make the time by ditching the non-important things we discussed at the start of this chapter. Batch cooking and freezing is a fantastic way to ensure that you always have good food to hand without having to cook every day. You can pick up tin foil disposable containers from any supermarket. Set aside one afternoon every other weekend to be in the kitchen, make several large pots of food and freeze them into ready meals that can be pulled out whenever you need them. Choose easy recipes that will cause you the minimum amount of stress. Simple soups, stews and curries are a great place to start, and can be economical too, saving you a fortune in comparison to shop bought equivalents.

Fat burning: Get your body to burn fat for fuel instead of sugar by swapping the carbs at breakfast time for something more nutritious and substantial. When our body burns fat it stabilises our blood sugar levels which (among other things) means not getting hungry again so quickly. One of my favourite meals to start the day with is two scrambled eggs with half an avocado on the side. Why not try it and see how long it keeps you going for?

Snack swap: If you are quite partial to sugary treats and processed snacks in between meals, opt for more natural alternatives. Nutrient dense foods such as organic nuts or plain live yoghurt will provide you with energy for longer.

Read carefully: Live by the rule ‘the fewer ingredients the better’. Start scrutinising every single label of every item of food you buy that isn’t in its natural state. Once you see how many unnecessary added ingredients are sneaked into processed food it is likely to be a massive turn off.

Form good habits by exercising

The happy hormones (endorphins) that are released while exercising are a brilliant way to start feeling great about yourself. There are plenty of things you can do to gently kick start getting fit, but you have to be disciplined. Set aside three time slots every week, at any time of the day that suits, solely for this purpose. Once it has become a good habit you’ll find that it has blended into your weekly routine. Below are some suggestions of how to get started. Please ensure you always wear appropriate clothing and get the go ahead from your GP before you start a new exercise programme.

Walking: Using your legs instead of the car or public transport is a great head start to give yourself. It’s completely free and kind to the planet; what’s not to like? Also try taking the stairs instead of using the lift wherever possible.

Running: If you’ve always fancied running but never had the legs for it, check out the Couch to 5k running program. Running is a great way to get your endorphins flowing, and like walking costs zilch! The secret of the success of Couch to 5k is its gentle introduction to getting started. When you first physically get off your couch you alternate between walking and running very small distances. This slowly builds up your capabilities and after eight weeks you will be able to run 5k or 30 minutes non-stop.

good habitsCycling: If you already own a bike then use it. If you don’t but quite like the idea of it then borrow one or pick up a second hand bike to see if it’s for you.

Going to the gym: Especially if you are able to access a subsidised membership, going to the gym is a great way of staying out of trouble. Make sure you actually use it though and get your money’s worth.

Classes: From Yoga to Zumba most local areas have sports and fitness classes run from leisure centres and halls. Some even offer a free taster session to see if you enjoy it. Make sure you are serious before signing up for a block of lessons though, otherwise it will end up being a waste of money. Check out local directories for details. These classes are usually low cost and can be further reduced if you are studying or out of work.

Boot Camps: Many parks have boot camp classes being run from them, usually by independent personal trainers. They are often not very expensive but they’re great fun and can be really effective. Do a web search to find one near you.

DVDs at home: If you can find a DVD that you like then exercising at home is another great way of getting into shape. Once you’ve paid for the DVD it’s completely free, and no-one else is around to watch. Search online to find the perfect workout for you.

Take up a sport: Whether you really enjoyed playing sports when you were younger, or want to take one up from scratch, connect with a local team and see if you can join them next time they train.

Allow extra time: If you’re having an off day and feel you just can’t be bothered try putting on your running/training/gym clothes and see how you feel then. Perhaps you just need a little extra time to warm up.
Work out with friends: Team up with a group of friends and start your own boot camp in the park taking it in turns to lead the class. With the added incentive of not wanting to let the rest of the group down, you can keep each other motivated.

Variety is the spice of life: Give something new a go every now and then. If running is usually your thing try a bit of yoga. If you take classes at the gym try something different at home to see if you like it.

good habitsForm good habits by making further lifestyle changes

Smoking: A basic internet search will present you with the various techniques designed to help you give up smoking. Your GP will also be able to talk to you about local quitting programmes that are often completely free of charge. In addition to whichever one you choose, why not try putting the money you would have spent on cigarettes into a jar each day and reward yourself with a nice treat after six months? If you currently have a 20-a-day habit there will be a sizeable amount in that jar. Maybe even enough for a little holiday somewhere.

Drinking: Speaking from experience, my drinking buddies were also people I had to disassociate myself from when I became serious about changing my life. Often these people are the reason we go out drinking or partying all weekend and end up spending the following week feeling like crap. By distancing yourself from the toxic people in your life you won’t be going out with them and therefore won’t spend the week feeling rubbish. Toxic relationships are just another form of bad habit to break, we will talk about them more in the next two chapters.

Giving up vices: If you have real addictions that are ruining your life then you will need to get specific help. As you are reading this book I’m going to trust that you want to change. Now you need to put everything you have learnt to good use and actually do some changing. Find a rehab centre, counsellor or group therapy session to suit your needs. Above all else learn self-control.

Money troubles: If you are stuck in a financial rut, spending everything that you earn and then some, you will need to devise a strict budget and start living within your means. Think about the bigger picture and how the stuff you think you need makes you feel once it’s been purchased. Needing something and wanting it are not the same. Learning to distinguish between our wants and our needs is a useful life skill to have. Once you are able to do so you will probably come to realise that you didn’t need a lot of the things you originally thought you did. You just wanted them. If you are in debt and concerned about paying back what you owe, speak with a free debt advisory service. They will be able to guide you through your options, and help you to formulate a debt management plan.

Hobbies: If you want to channel your energies productively then blogging can be a great hobby. It’s completely free and can lead to endless opportunities. You could start a blog about becoming the best you. It could document your progress, acting as a fantastic keepsake to look back on and be proud of.

good habitsA suggested plan of action

Devise a set of personal goals that you would like to achieve, and get serious about making them happen. Remember to break them up into bite-sized manageable chunks, and keep your targets realistic. Think of a suitable reward to treat yourself with when you achieve your goals.

How long it will take you depends on your starting point, but over time learn how to cook good food from scratch. Once it is a regular habit it will start becoming easier.

Exercise regularly and get your endorphins flowing. Whether it’s going for a short jog, taking a class or training in a gym, moving in any way is almost always better that not moving at all.
Don’t beat yourself up for the occasional calorific meal or a couple of missed work outs, as long as it’s not too often. It’s important to allow yourself to have a blowout every now then and a little indulgence once in a while can serve as a great pick me up. Especially if you are sharing the moment with loved ones.