When is a weed not a weed?

What is meant by frames of reference?

These photos were taken around my garden and the plants are technically weeds. The dictionary defines a weed as ‘a wild plant growing where it is not wanted’. These self-seeded wild flowers taking advantage of cracks and crevices – and the ones crowding out the cultivated plants in my flower beds – they all fit this description: they are plants in the wrong place.

But I find them quite beautiful.

A person who prides themselves on their gardening skills or wants to have a prize-worthy lawn or vegetable patch would immediately dig them up, maybe adding some weed killer to be doubly sure they won’t return next year. But preferring a more ad hoc natural style, I’m intrigued by what will pop up next and enjoy their variety.

In psychology a ‘frame of reference’ is a set of beliefs or values on which you base your judgements. If I saw these plants as weeds my reaction would be very different. Our frame of reference influences how we react to life events, ideas, experiences and even other people. The way we perceive an event can be very different to someone else, even though we may objectively have had the same experience. This is because we are filtering the experience through our own preconceptions and interpretations.

By changing your frame of reference you can change your reactions and emotional response.

Imagine that you are driving and someone overtakes you at speed on a narrow stretch of road. You may interpret this as reckless driving, possibly making assumptions about the unknown driver – ‘boy racer’, ‘road hog’. The more you think about it the more you become wrapped up in righteous anger, hoping the driver gets caught by the police. Now let’s imagine that you recognise the car as it disappears off into the distance. It’s your neighbour’s vehicle and you know she is soon to give birth, the baby due any day. Her eldest daughter could have borrowed the car… but maybe it’s an emergency and they are driving to the hospital? Immediately your reaction changes – you hope all is well and they make it safely.  

A change of thought and assumption changes the emotional reaction.

One way to change your experience of the world is to change your point of view. This is not always easy, but a good place to start is to notice what you are assuming and think of possible alternative interpretations. And if you cannot envisage a different way of seeing things, you could try:

  • imagining how someone else would perceive the situation, maybe a friend with a different attitude or someone you admire;
  • imagining yourself looking back on things when you are older and events are in the past;
  • considering the best, worst and middle interpretation of events.

As always, if you need help with challenging issues please seek the help of a psychotherapist or counsellor. BACP or UKCP have list of registered and experienced therapists.

P.S. The ducklings I was raising have been released and are now living happily on the pond. Photos and videos are on Twitter – @julestake3

The Joys of Spring

What do ducklings eat?

Ducklings just hatched

As I’ve been immersed in rewrites of late, I was going to write an updated blog on editing. However, a week ago we saved these newly hatched ducklings who’d been abandoned by their mother. They are just too cute not to have their own blog post.

Four hours old

They will need to be looked after for the next eight weeks until they can fly and survive outside. So, my Google searches have changed from the usual topics a suspense writer explores – ‘What happens if a person goes missing?’ ‘What is a synonym for xxx?’ ‘What’s the colour of the tape police use at incidents?’ – to questions like ‘Can a duckling eat spinach?’

These two are as fussy as small children, turning their beaks up at the chick feed I bought and rejecting my offer of finely chopped grass. They are particularly keen on handpicked dandelions, shop bought chicory, and liquidised tomatoes and grapes and have taken to pecking my hands in excitement when I appear with food.

In four weeks’ time they’ll be moved to a chicken coop and they can roam freely in a fruit cage during the day, safe from predators. Until then, if you see a woman foraging for dandelions and edible leaves it’s probably me!

How do you get rid of limiting beliefs?

Tackling negative beliefs that stop us achieving our goals

In my last blog I mentioned LIMITING BELIEFS. These includes such issues as:

  • Self-doubts (I’m not confident enough to join a club)
  • Thinking in absolutes eg I must, should; always, never (I should focus all my time on the kids)
  • Negative expectations (I’ll fail anyway so it’s not worth trying)
  • Blaming fate or luck or others (I’m just not lucky in life)
  • Mind reading others’ reactions/beliefs (They think I’m a nuisance)

These can be a problem for us because our beliefs and values drive our behaviour.

In this post I will give you a few suggestions and tips to help address them.

Please note: If you are struggling with beliefs that have been holding you back for some time or impact your day-to-day life, you may wish to seek help from a professional therapist or counsellor. The UK registering bodies for psychotherapists are:

Issue: a past event is causing the present response → Technique: leaving the belief in the past where it belongs

This is when a belief from the past has stayed with you longer that it should. Maybe as a child you weren’t good at something, or maybe a parent or teacher criticised you and you’ve generalised the negative comments and still carry that idea with you now. ‘I couldn’t ride a bike’ has become ‘I always fail when I try something’. Ask yourself:

            Where did this belief come from?

Whose voice is it? Who used to say this?

Issue: focusing on the negative  → Technique: reframing

Imagine someone shouts at a child who is about to put their finger’s in a plug socket. The behaviour – shouting at a child is negative – but the positive intent is to save them from harm.

            What is the positive intent behind your thought? What is it trying to save you from?

If you were trying to achieve this positive outcome for a friend, how might you do it with compassion?

Issue: recurring negative thoughts → Technique: looking for contrary evidence

One approach is to challenge our negative thoughts when we have them. There are helpful worksheets available at: https://positivepsychology.com/challenging-automatic-thoughts-positive-thoughts-worksheets/

Issue: avoidance → Technique: ‘Act as if…’ and behavioural experiments

Each time you avoid doing something you would really like to do, ask yourself ‘what stops me?’ (and be honest!)

            What would you do if you believed the opposite?

If you regularly think ‘I couldn’t…’ ask yourself,  ‘What would happen if I did?’

What small step could you take?

Issue: getting entangled in negative thoughts  → Technique: distancing 

Our thoughts are no more than imaginings. When we start to think negative things about ourselves or our chances of achieving something it effects our chances of success.

Rather than mulling over the negative statement, say to yourself:

‘I am having the thought that…[insert your own thought here],

and it is only a thought not a fact.’

Issue: Mindreading what others’ might be thinking  → Technique: question your assumptions

Notice when you are attributing negative reactions to others without proof – ‘they won’t like me because I said x’; ‘he probably thinks I’m useless’; ‘she would prefer it if I didn’t go’. This is mind reading. You are making assumptions about others’ reactions, thoughts and views. Ask yourself,

What evidence is there to support this?

Is there a possibility that they might feel the opposite?

What would be more realistic?

What’s stopping you from achieving your goals?

Identifying the blocks

Photo by Tim Wilson on Unsplash

Before you can resolve a problem, you have to diagnose what the problem is! So what’s stopping you achieving what you want to achieve?

This blog post will help you identify what is getting in your way and holding you back. We’ll look at these blocks as three different clusters so we can pick apart the underlying problems. But first let’s take an example:

Alex works in a noisy environment with constant interruptions. They have too much on their ‘to do’ list already and can’t prioritise. But if someone asks them for help, or says ‘can you just do x?’ they don’t like to say ‘no’ as they are worried they will look bad. They are already stressed but feel they should be able to cope and feel selfish if they focus on their own needs.

Think about this example as you read about each block to achievement, below. You might also like to consider your own situation. (Like Alex, you may find that you can identify issues in all three!)

Firstly let’s think about PRACTICAL PROBLEMS. These are related to the context you are in. This may include:

  • Lack of time
  • Lack of money
  • Difficult working environment eg crowded, noisy, interruptions
  • Lack of resources, kit, people
  • External pressures or responsibilities

eg. Alex lacks time and has constant interruptions.

The second type of block is ‘KNOW HOW’ ISSUES. These relate to habits and behaviours that we don’t know how to change, or skills that we lack. This might include:

  • A lack of experience
  • A lack of knowledge
  • Lack of practical skill
  • An unhelpful habit
  • A way of approaching the task that is unhelpful

eg. Alex doesn’t KNOW HOW to say ‘no’ and can’t prioritise.

Often there is an assumption that if the person just knew how they would be able to achieve more or do better. But now we come to LIMITING BELIEFS. These are the unhelpful ways of thinking about ourselves, others, or the task, that get in our way. This includes:

  • Self-doubts (I’m not the type of person who…)
  • Absolute thinking – must/shouldn’t, always/never
  • Negative expectations (It’s not worth it, I’ll fail anyway; things will never change)
  • Blaming fate or luck or others
  • Mind reading others’ reactions/beliefs

eg, Alex worries about other’s thinking negatively and feels selfish.

Each of these blocks requires a different approach to resolve. Separating them out can help us think more clearly about next steps.

PRACTICAL PROBLEMS may need work-arounds and possibly support/advice from others to address (friends, neighbours, charities, managers, unions, etc).

KNOW HOW ISSUES need access to training, teaching, coaching, mentoring, feedback, experience, practice.

LIMITING BELIEFS benefit from challenge and reframing. I’ll post more on this last block next month, but if you have long term limiting beliefs or an urgent issue you may benefit from coaching or therapy. If you need professional help the UK registering bodies for psychotherapists are:

How do you achieve a goal?

Finding motivation in mini-goals

Photo by Henry Perks on Unsplash

Often the goals we wish to achieve can seem huge and unattainable. We can feel demotivated before we even start, leading to prevarication, negative self-talk and sometimes abandonment of the whole idea! One approach to goal setting is to break the bigger target down into more manageable chunks. In this way, we see early success and this then motivates us to carry on. 

Here’s a simple method for doing this.

Step 1: LONG TERM GOAL: Start by identifying a goal you would like to achieve this year. This is the END POINT you want to reach. (Be realistic and think about something you can control and/or influence!)

Step 2:  START POINT: Think about where you are NOW in relation to this goal. If you haven’t done anything towards it yet this doesn’t matter, you know where you are heading. If you’ve already got started, make a note of where you are now.

Step 3:  MID-TERM GOALS: Think about the mid-point. This is not time-related but refers to the various steps you have achieve at the half-way mark. Imagine you are half-way towards your goal – what have you achieved so far? Make a list. Think about how you will feel to have got this far, given where you started.

Step 4: SHORT-TERM GOALS: Now you have the mid-term goals clear in your mind, imagine that you are half-way towards them. What will you have achieved? Be specific. Imagine that you have achieved these things – how will you feel?

Step 5: IMMEDIATE GOALS: Now you know the short-term goals you want to work towards, what do you need to do first in order to get there? Think of the key tasks that make up step one and now get started!

Depending on your preferred way of working and your motivation pattern:

  • you might like to set deadlines against each step, OR
  • you could create a visual (mood board) that represents each of the steps, reminding you of what you will achieve, OR
  • you could make check lists of everything you plan to do for each mini goal, OR
  • you could share your outline plan with someone else and both work on your own goals together, OR…It’s entirely up to you, but you’ll be more motivated if you enjoy the journey as well as the destination!

P.S. If your liked my earlier blog post on Aphantasia, I’ve just written an article for the Aphantasia Network that you might find interesting. You can find it here:

Creative Workarounds For Aphantasics (aphantasia.com)

Happy New Year

An interview and sign-up competition

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Firstly, I would like to wish you all a happy and heathy 2022.

I was recently interviewed about my journey to publication and the article is published this month by Thriller Women. Their website is hosted by two authors who interview – you’ve guessed it – women who write thrillers! You can read the full article here:


I am also running a competition for anyone who signs up to my blog during January. One person will be selected to win a copy of Her Little Secret on February 1st, 2022. If you know anyone who would be interested in my monthly posts on psychology and writing, please do forward the link: https://juliastonewriter.com/sign-up/

What is wellbeing and how do you achieve it?

Making plans for wellbeing in 2022

The Wellbeing Wheel

Wellbeing can be defined as a sense of ‘being well’ – both in mind and body. It is about feeling comfortable with your life, health and mental state. There has been a lot of research in recent years to discover what helps people to have a sense of wellbeing. Obviously it differs for everyone. However, there are a number of factors that are mentioned again and again, and these are generally things that are within our control to influence to varying degrees.

With the New Year on the horizon, maybe you would like to take some steps to improve your own sense of wellbeing? If so, take a look at the Wellbeing Wheel in the image above. These eight categories have been identified as having an impact on how happy you feel about your life, health and mental state.

  1. Take a moment to assess where you are on each of the dimensions: 10 = ‘this sounds like me’, and 1 = ‘this doesn’t sound at all like me’, and 5 is half way – ‘in some ways or sometimes this describes me, in other ways not’.
  2. When you have done this, decide which two or three areas are most important to you, bearing in mind that they may not be the lowest scoring. For example, you might have rated something at 5 or 6 but would ideally like the score to be better.
  3. When you have selected two or three areas, take each in turn and think about what you could do to move the score up 1 point on the scale; not a leap to 10 but just 1 point. This should be something practical that you can do in the coming weeks – a first small step that will move you in the right direction, towards greater happiness, comfort and wellbeing with your life.

Good luck!

More information on wellbeing can be found here: https://www.actionforhappiness.org/

What is Imposter Syndrome?

How to overcome self-doubt

The therapist in Her Little Secret suffers from doubts about her capability. While she is a registered psychotherapist and has completed all the training, she is concerned that she isn’t good enough, because her route to success was not conventional. Coming from a working class background, she feels comparatively uneducated and less intelligent than her peers. This causes her to work hard to prove to herself, and others, that she meets the standards. But even so, she doubts herself and often feels like a fraud.  

We can all suffer fleeting moments of uncertainty about whether we are capable or good enough. The psychological term for this is imposter syndrome. It has been estimated that nearly 70% of individuals will experience signs and symptoms of impostor phenomenon at least once in their life. It’s that feeling of doubt that creeps in and the accompanying fear that we will be found out as a ‘fraud’. On these occasions we feel we don’t belong in the relationship, group, organisation, or job we are in; that we have got there through luck or that we are somehow fooling others we are more than we are. Often there are nagging thoughts: ‘I’m not good enough’; ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’; ‘All these other people are more talented/skilled/qualified than me’.

The term Imposter Syndrome was first used in 1978 to refer to that feeling of being ‘a fraud’. Early research suggested it was common in high-achieving women, but it has since been acknowledged that anyone can suffer from it. While all of us my occasionally have these thoughts and feel we are out of our depth on a task or in a specific situation, for some it is a chronic mind set. Those with a continuous cycle of imposter syndrome typically take one of two approaches to new goals and assignments:

  • Some people over-prepare. They think of everything that could go wrong and ensure they have addressed it. They research and check their facts. They complete the work long before the deadline so they have time to check again. Then, when they receive good feedback they put it down to all their hard work. ‘Thank goodness I put so much effort in, I wouldn’t have managed it otherwise.’

  • The other approach is to procrastinate. These people put it off and avoid thinking about the work they need to do. It ends up being a desperate effort to get everything completed in time. After achieving the task any positive feedback is disregarded and they put their achievements down to fluke. ‘Phew, that was lucky!’

These approaches serve to reinforce the negative self-talk and beliefs and continue the fear of being found out as a fraud so the cycle continues.

If this sounds like you, some great hints and tips for addressing it can be found on this website: https://impostorsyndrome.com/10-steps-overcome-impostor/

Meanwhile, rest assured you are not alone, it also happens to the great and the good. Acclaimed author, Maya Angelou is quoted as saying, ‘I have written 11 books, but each time I think, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a  game on everyone and they’re going to find me out.”’

What are some good questions to ask about a book?

Book group questions

When you read a novel certain questions might pop into your mind. You might ponder the title or the names chosen for the characters. Maybe you wonder how the author decided on a particular twist and look back to see what clues were hidden in the text. It might remind you of other books you’ve read or films you have seen. Possibly you imagined the lead characters and how they looked.

A couple of colleagues told me they’d like to recommend Her Little Secret to their book group. There are many lists of generic book group questions online but they ask me if I could come up with some questions, so here they are!

  1. Her Little Secret was not the author’s original title. What would you have titled the book?
  2. What does the cover design suggest to you? What cover would you have chosen?
  3. Why does Cristina, the therapist lack confidence despite her qualifications and experience? Why does she feel she is not good enough?
  4. Why is Cristina so enthralled by Leon? What does he represent to her?
  5. What feelings did Leon provoke in you? Does he have any redeeming qualities?
  6. How did you feel when Cristina ignored warning signs? Why do you think she did this?
  7. How would the story be different if told from Leon’s perspective?
  8. What was your favourite part of the book and why? What was your least favourite? Which scenes are most memorable and why?
  9. Who did you care about in the book and why? Who would you like to have as a friend?
  10. How did the male and female characters differ in the way they communicate, their priorities in life, their relationships? Does this reflect your experience of gender differences?
  11. If the book was made into a film, who would you select to play each character?
  12. What do you imagine might happen next in Cristina’s life?
  13. What questions would you like to ask the author?
  14. Would you know that the author has aphantasia – an inability to visualise in her mind’s eye? (For more information on Aphantasia see the blog post below or my article for Books by Women https://booksbywomen.org/describing-what-you-cant-imagine/ )

Why do people love print books?

Printed books are here to stay!

Do you prefer a print book or e-book? Hardback or paperback? These simple questions can spark surprising amounts of debate amongst readers. Clearly each have their pros and cons and we all have personal preferences. Interesting research by Neilson suggests that, in the UK, people under the age of 44 make up 63% of the market for physical books, while 52% of e-book sales are to those over 45. Physical books till outsell e-books, although crime, romance and thrillers are popular on e-readers.

When I first discovered e-books I bought a library full, enthused by the choice of taking so many books on holiday or on the train. However, I soon became frustrated, unable to remember the titles of books I’d read and enjoyed, sometimes accidently buying a print copy without realising I’d already read the book.

Whilst hardbacks can look beautiful on the bookshelf and are long lasting, they can be harder to manage when reading – particularly if you have a habit of reading in bed and have ever been clocked in the head by one as you fall asleep!

To me, a well-worn paperback is a much loved book. It means I have interacted with the text in some way. Argumentative comments, ticks and exclamation marks scribbled in the margins of my factual books, show how much I engaged with the material. In novels, I underline paragraphs I’ve enjoyed or, for want of a pencil, bend the bottom corners so I can re-find them . Guilty of reading several books at a time, I create diagrams of relationships inside the front cover, to help recall who is who. If there is important information about characters I make a note of the page number next to their name. The sins of bent corners*, writing in the margins, an ill-chosen bookmark, highlighting passages  – all of these things can provoke huge debate and passionate argument amongst readers.

Many of my friends and family were awaiting the release of the paperback version of Her Little Secret. Whilst ebooks and audio are a convenient way of taking your library with you when travelling, it seems many of us still love to hold a book in our hands!

*In the US there is even a second hand book shop called Bent Corners

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