How do we define our successes?

As I sit writing this in my new flat, I can’t help but question whether I feel successful. Indeed, a colleague of mine is fascinated by the question of defining and measuring success, which inspired me to think about what I consider to be my own personal successes.

What do I understand by success?

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From an early age, I measured my success against others. The best thing was learning success is NOT relative.

I think from a young age, my personal success was relative. Did a best friend get a B in an exam and I got an A? Was that how I measured my own success? Maybe.

But as I have grown older, successes are purely personal and not a relative phenomenon. Equally, how I view success, and what I understand by my success, has vastly changed and continues to change over time. I therefore view success as a fluid notion and not static.

At school, success for me was 100% about getting top grades, the same at University. I also felt as though I needed to be popular, a certain shape, have a boyfriend etc etc. Money was also a core feature of my idea of success when I was at school, although this became much less important at uni as I sought to have an impact on the world.

Yet now, as I am a year into my professional career, my understanding of success has changed again. Now I understand it as:

  • having a job that interests me, that I am good at, and in which I am having a positive impact;
  • smashing the gym and my diet to get the results I want;
  • being happy and finding my own sources of happiness; and
  • being self-sufficient/independent.

So my definition of success from school to now has changed from how others view me, to how I view myself. No comparison to others and no approval needed from anyone else.

The role of money in success

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Money is too often viewed as a core marker of success. Changing this view is paramount in truly understanding success.

Of course, money has a part to play as being financially independent is, for me, a core part of self-sufficiency and independence.

In fact, I wrote a two year goal list in April which stated four goals I wanted to achieve over the next two years, they were:

  • help the growth of my employer’s company;
  • get promoted;
  • afford to rent own place; and
  • afford to buy new place.

And in seven months, I have ticked off two: get promoted and afford to rent my own place. And so I added another goal, get an MBA qualification in order to permit me to rise into a C-level position later on in my career.

So yes, money is key in two of these goals and I do not undermine that money permits goals to happen. Yet money is not an end in itself and having achieved the ability to rent my own place, I can safely say that yes money pays my rent and bills, but better than that it is the independence and self-reliance/dependance of living alone that makes me feel successful.

In the remaining two goals (company growth and promotion), I would argue money has little to do with it. My Boss has invested so much in my career and inspired me, that I am determined to help his company grow in the same way he continues to help me grow.

And part of me helping to do this comes from my promotion. I now have even more responsibility, and therefore the opportunity, to make positive things happen. It will be knowing that I did something to aid someone else and their goals that will me a core marker of my future successes.

What else fits into my vision of success?

A million things could go here, but these three came instantly to mind meaning they must be my most important ideas of success…

Giving back to my parents/family

My parents have provided for me my entire life. My successes are equally their successes – I would not be where I am if they had not done everything they had from the moment I was born.

And so part of me feeling successful is being able to give back to them.

I don’t mean paying them back all the money they have spent on me (soz’ rents), I mean being able to do things for them. For instance, this Sunday I have invited my family over to my place for lunch. And I cannot wait to welcome them into my home and show them what they have helped me achieve.

And then my Dad is coming to see my place of work and meet by Boss. Again, I am super excited and proud to show him the City, the buildings I visit for work, and what my London life is like. It’s showing him how he, and my Mum, have helped me get to where I am and that I could not have done it without them.

Knowing knockbacks are just a step to future successes

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In photography, negatives are the first step to creating beautiful photos. The same applies to life.

Part of growing up is not only realising, but also believing, that without incurring negatives, future successes are limited. Mistakes are there to be made in order to learn and grow from them.

That doesn’t mean we should be complacent and avoid making mistakes. It means that when a mistake or a knockback hits you in the face, you have two options: 1) let it make you believe you are crap at life and can’t possibly do better; or 2) spin it into a positive and use it to create a future success.

Finding my own ways to be happy (self-fulfiness)

Lastly, for me success is the ability to solely rely upon myself for happiness which I previously touched upon but it is important point to reiterate. This is a lesson my Dad taught me a few years back after I had had my heart broken. And I think it is probably the most important lesson I have thus far learnt.

It required commitment and a couple of years to teach myself the lesson. Yet now I have achieved it, and continue to ensure I maintain it, is not only a great source of empowerment but also gives me a sense of success.

The future

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My crystal ball of the future…

Of course, if history is anything to go by these ideas I have of success will change in the future. Whilst the above three criteria of success  I would hope will always remain central, I have no doubt that I will have both material and non-material new criterion of success in the future.

But I hope that I will remember what I have learnt: that the material element is not what truly defines success.

Why? Because as I have grown up I have realised that independence and happiness, both non-material, have brought me more joy than any material possession. They have brought me a sense of inner empowerment, and that feeling my friends, is irreplaceable.

Z x

How emotions affect IBD and why I choose exercise to manage both

This blog post is a particularly important one for me as both of my severe relapses were caused by my emotions, notably emotional upset and stress.

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Advise you all to give it a read – very insightful.

I have recently read a book titled Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman. Whilst the whole book is eye-opening, one chapter particularly struck a cord with me – ‘Mind and Medicine‘.

In this chapter, Goleman discusses how emotions can trigger illnesses but also how they play a key role in determining the speed of recovery.

The role of the immune system in causing illness

Goleman states the there is medical effectiveness in treating both the emotional and physical state as the two are inherently related.

He references the Chilean Neuroscientist, Francisco Varela, from Paris’ Ecole Polytechnique, who states that the immune system is the “body’s brain“.

If the immune system is the body’s brain, this means a strong immune system is fundamental to ensure our bodies function properly. Anything that can weaken our immune system then, must in theory be avoided.

Our immune systems can be weakened by numerous different factors but Goleman states that stress, notably anxiety, is “perhaps the emotion with the greatest weight of scientific evidence connecting it to the onset of sickness and course of recovery“.

This is because, as the American Neuroscientist David Felten showed in a study, the nervous system, which regulates everything from how much insulin we produce to blood pressure levels, is connected to the immune system. And our nervous system is essential for proper immune function.

The role of stress in triggering illness

Stress then, whether it be emotional or physical, affects our nervous system and therefore suppresses immune resistance making us more susceptible to illness.

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In a 1993 review in the Archives of Internal Medicine which looked at the link between stress and disease, Yale physchologist Bruce McEwen noted numerous links. Of interest to me was that stress leads to ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract triggering Ulcerative Colitis symptoms and IBD in general.

Now I already knew there was a link between the two as numerous Consultants have told me this is so, but it was nice to see it cited elsewhere.

The issue we then face is that if stress can trigger a relapse, a relapse itself also brings added stress. The stress of feeling constantly ill, the stress of being unable to properly study or work, the stress of a relapse affecting relationships, the stress of meds not working, and for some the stress of surgery.

That’s a lot of extra stress.

And a lot of extra suppression of the immune system which will only prolong the relapse.

The question then becomes how do we manage stress?

Managing stress: the key to recovery

Stress is a core part of being human and indeed it makes us human. Everyone talks about the importance of managing stress and it is of course an important topic for the general population. 

Yet I think it is especially important to talk about if you have an underlying, life-long condition which can worsen due to stress. Like us lucky lot with IBD.

And this is where for me exercise is THE saviour.

Goleman talks about how hope has a healing power, that a good support network aids recovery, and that relaxation training helps recovery as it helps deal with the distress of symptoms (which can cause more distress and so worsen symptoms). And I 100% agree with all of these but he seems to suggest these three come from different sources.

Well what about if they could all come from one source?

The gym: my de-stress environment

For me the gym provides all the elements that Goleman references. I have mentioned several times how the gym saved me following my last relapse and I truly believe it is what is keeping me in remission (touch wood).

I have spoken before about how the gym aided me whilst coming out of remission. So now I want to discuss how I believe it prevents me from falling back into remission but in relation to Goleman’s three points.

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Change your mindset: choose to be a ‘glass half full’ kinda’ person.

Firstly, the gym gives me hope. The rush of endorphins I get during and after training makes me feel positive, in turn giving me a positive frame of mind allowing me to tackle challenges.

These challenges need not be IBD-related. The ability to tackle the challenge means I tackle it with a positive mind-set and crucially, tackle it before it starts to stress me. I therefore am taking preventive action to limit any stress.

Second, my lil’ gym community is one of my many support networks. Of course family and friends are rudimentary (and I have the most incredible people around me) but sometimes we need to be around those who are unaware of the ins and outs of our personal (and medical) lives.

I always find that everyone in the gym is positive and happy, rarely do I see someone looking sad. This has a knock-on effect, making me happier, thereby either preventing or eliminating stress.

The social aspect is also key. I love chatting to people in the gym (albeit briefly as I am in ma zone), having a laugh, smiling at the same faces. It is a highly positive environment. A stress-free environment.

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Gym is my form of meditation.

Lastly, the gym is a form of relaxation. Sure it requires physical exertion, but I find solely concentrating on the exercise in hand permits an isolation from the entire world, a complete emptying of the mind, effectively what meditation seeks to achieve.

It also helps my body to relax and so eradicating stress. I have spoken before about how any pain, cramping or bloating I have disappears when I exercise. I believe this is my body’s way of letting go of any built up tensions or emotions that are triggering such symptoms, a sort of reconfiguration if you like.

So choose to be PRO-active, not RE-active

And these reasons are why I train so regularly. We are not always aware we are stressed, it can be sub-conscious. It is therefore absolutely crucial to be pro-active and not simply re-active, i.e. exercising only when we truly feel stressed.

It is essentially about creating a habit and our brains associating the gym with de-stressing. If I remember GCSE science correctly, it is about building new neurone pathways so that x triggers yx being exercise and y being de-stressing.

And so there you have it. It is possible to manage stress but it requires the dedication and willingness to do so. Yet once you have formed this habit, it is life-changing and for me it is keeping me in remission.

The gym permits me to positively tackle any challenges that come my way, health or non-health related. It permits me to know that a solution can be found, to know that stress is my devil, yet I have the power and the tools to overcome it, keeping my body, and mind, healthy.

Z x