An Easy Way to Change Your Life

Albus Dumbledore said “Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” The words we use to describe ourselves, our lives and our actions are really important – they have a huge impact on our self-esteem and our chances of success.

If you’ve read my memoir, The Sober Diaries, you’ll know that I spent many years trying to quit drinking. And that sentence illustrates the problem. I would tell myself I am going to try really hard not to drink. But within that thought there was already a get-out clause. I’m going to really try, but – obviously, I may fail. And so I did.

One of the main reasons my final attempt to quit worked was that I changed the language I used. Instead of telling myself that I was going to try to quit booze, I told myself that I was a non-drinker. The more often I thought this, and the more frequently I spoke those words, the more I started to believe it.

The trick is to picture yourself as you want to be, then start using the language, both to yourself and to others, that that person would use. That sober person, that happy person, that successful person.

We women are particularly bad at doing this. We speak to ourselves in a way we’d never let other people talk to us. We tell ourselves that we are fat, boring, unattractive or old. We constantly belittle ourselves to other people.

It’s really hard to break this habit, but when you do it can change your life. It transforms the way you see yourself, and then the way that other people see you.

So, here’s a really simple, but miraculous, self-esteem hack.

On the day I quit drinking, I changed all the passwords on all my various apps and shopping and banking accounts to iamsober. Every day I typed those words endless times, and the more I typed them, the more I believed them.

(Side note: If you are a cyber criminal, please note that I have now changed all these passwords to something entirely different involving lots of strange characters that even I can’t remember).

This trick can work with any change you want to make, or any self-esteem issue you need to address. Just make sure that you don’t use it on an account where you’ll need to disclose your password. No-one wants to tell their bank manager that their password is iamsosexy.

Try it, and see if you can stop using your words to put yourself down, and instead turn them into a source of magic.

I’m off to change all my passwords to ihatecake.

There’s lots more on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook page, including Lisa Timoney on the importance of our female friendships, and introducing Throwback Thursday for fabulous memories of the eighties (who else loved their Sony Walkman more than life itself?) If you ‘like’ the page it’ll keep you updated.

What You Learn From the Cancer Clinic

I have an appointment at the Breast Cancer Clinic tomorrow morning. I go three times a year; once for a mammogram, once for an ultrasound, and once for blood tests.

Tomorrow I have a mammogram, which feels much like having what remains of your boobs shoved into a Breville sandwich toaster, then waiting for what seems like hours while the chefs work out if there’s a fly trapped in there.

I dread these check-ups, as I know that, in the space of minutes, my life could go from being as good as it’s ever been to totally destroyed. However, I have learned some really important lessons from the cancer clinic. Here’s what they are:

Gratitude

Lots of very wise and clever people swear that a daily gratitude practice has changed their lives. We should, they say, keep a gratitude diary, or at least recite every day the things we are thankful for. Studies have linked gratitude to better sleep, reduced anxiety and depression, better relationships and higher satisfaction with life. All of that – for free.

However, it’s easy to forget to be grateful for the simple, but fundamental, things that we have – our families, our health, our homes. We naturally focus on all the general day-to-day niggles instead. Human beings are programmed to want more.

Every time I visit the cancer clinic I see women with no hair or eyebrows, destroyed by chemotherapy. I see people pale-faced and silent in shock from an initial diagnosis. I see men reeling from imaging life without their partners, the mothers of their children. It’s impossible to witness that and to not feel grateful, for just being here.

Fearlessness

Confronting fear is like working a muscle. The more you do it, the better you get at it.

I spent many years avoiding fear. Whenever I was anxious about anything, I’d numb that feeling with booze. I wrote a whole book about that one: The Sober Diaries. Now I realise that all the best things in life lie beyond that point of maximum fear. If you avoid fear, you avoid growth.

Learning to confront my fears and work through them has changed my life. I’d always wanted to write, but was scared of failure, of rejection, of just not being good enough. My first novel is being published next year, and I’ve just started writing the second.

Connection

I spend much of my life with people just like me. Women with children the same age, people who live in my ‘hood, friends from university or school.

At the cancer clinic, you meet people of all ages and backgrounds, from all over London and further afield. Total strangers, but people with whom you feel a deep connection. It’s like meeting people at a baby clinic, but more morbid, obviously. You know that you have been through a similar life-changing experience, and that these strangers may understand you better than some of your closest friends.

Last year, I met a lady as I was leaving. We exchanged diagnoses, and congratulated each other warmly on not being dead yet. She looked at me intently and said “No-one really gets it unless they’ve been there, do they?” And at that point, I felt like I’d known her forever.

Empathy

When I see someone in the waiting room who’s in the middle of treatment, I’m reminded of how it changes you. It can make you swing between being angry, absent-minded, selfish, withdrawn, reckless or fearful.

It makes me remember not to judge people – the guy who yelled at you when you were driving too slowly, or the friend who’s not returned your calls. We usually have no idea what’s going on in other people’s lives. If they’re not dealing with cancer, it could be divorce, redundancy or bereavement.

Action

I used to feel immortal. There are loads of things I want to do with my life, but I always thought I had time. Now I know that that’s never necessarily the case. We have no idea what lies around the next corner, so you have to get on and do it. Now.

I’ve achieved more in the last two years than in the previous ten. And, instead of spending money on things, I’ve spent it on experiences, on building memories for my children, of incredible places and unforgettable adventures.

I know that cancer has made me a stronger, wiser and nicer person. So, am I glad I have to go through it? No way, but it does make me feel a little bit better about the whole thing. As does cake.

By the way, eagle-eyed readers may remember I promised a post this week titled Inappropriate Lust. I’m afraid I lost my nerve on that one. Maybe later! Stay tuned…

There’s lots more on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook Page including Mary Beard on how society is prejudiced against women who go grey, and Emma Thompson on why ‘being old is heaven.’ Keep your eyes peeled for a brilliant new post by Lisa Timoney on why she hates her husband for being thin, coming soon. If you ‘like’ the Facebook page, it should keep you updated.