Episode 9: Self-Compassion, Mindset & Mindfulness with Heather McMahon

Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!

In this episode I speak with professional helper, counselor and podcaster, Heather McMahon, about all things mindset.

Mindset is one of those things that can not only elevate our writing lives, but all areas of our life.

Listen as Heather shares the importance of adopting a practice of self-compassion and mindfulness, encourages us to set intentions rather than goals, and discusses why we should get into the practice of challenging our beliefs.

To connect with Heather you can follow her on Instagram, @templates_for_life or join her Facebook Group here.

You can find her podcast, Templates for Life on all major platforms.

If you enjoyed this episode please rate, review, subscribe and share with a friend.

You can follow me on Instagram: @jobuerauthor

Join the Alchemy for Authors Facebook Group here.

Find the full transcript of this episode below.

Episode 9: Self-Compassion, Mindset & Mindfulness with Heather McMahon

Jo: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors. I hope your writing lives are going so well right now and your words are flowing, ideas are blooming, and your bank account is growing. But most importantly, I hope that you’re enjoying the process of creating.

So today, I’m chatting with professional helper, counselor and podcaster, Heather McMahon, about all things mindset. So, mindset is one of those things that can not only elevate our writing lives, but all areas of our life. So today, we will deep dive into the importance of adopting a practice of self-compassion and mindfulness. And in many ways, it’s much easier than we think. We’ll talk about why setting intentions is better than goals and why you should get into the practice of challenging your beliefs. So this is a goodie and I know that wherever you are on your writing path right now, you’ll find some real nuggets of gold in this interview. So when you’re ready, grab a drink, find a comfy chair, sit back and enjoy the show.

Welcome back my lovelies to the Alchemy for Authors podcast. Today, I’m speaking with the wonderful Heather McMahon. Heather enjoys helping others find their best selves. She has been in the helping profession for more than 30 years. Professionally, she specializes in individual and couples counseling for those who want to decrease stress and increase their fullness of life. She finds that helping others create a vision for their life and then seeing them bring it to fruition is so rewarding. Heather has also had careers working as a provider and an educator for juvenile justice schools, families, professionals, and other government agencies. Her favourite jobs, though, will always be being a mom, a wife and a friend. So welcome, Heather, to the show. I’m so excited to have you here.

Heather: Thank you so much. You make me sound so fancy.

Jo: Well, it sounds like you’ve just got such a wealth of experience that I feel like my listeners will really be able to grab onto, particularly in the areas of mindset and creating a life that you love. And so one of the reasons that I’m super excited about having you here is really because that’s what my podcast is about, albeit in the realm of people who are passionate about writing and authorship and that, but I think whenever we follow our passions, we come up with the same resistance and we’re faced with those same kind of challenges. Where I’d really like to start is just having you share a little bit about what made you gravitate towards this path of helping other people be the best versions of themselves and create the best versions of their life.

Heather: Well, long story short or short story long? I think through the years, you go through developmental shifts, and each time you go through something you say or for many people, they say what was wonderful about that and what was really hard. And I think there are a lot of spots in my life where people that showed up as supportive and nonjudgmental and loving and kind really left an impact on me. All the way back from first grade, my first grade teacher, she just let me be me. And I was kind of rowdy and kind of all kinds of things. And the biggest impact, my 8th grade graduation, she sent a card congratulating me. She said, I wasn’t sure you were going to make it, but in a loving way. And so I just always felt a sense of happiness when someone else was happy, if they were able to enjoy being in their space and who they were. And then I felt a sense of sadness when people struggled with not feeling content or confident or any of those things. So from babysitting to camp counselor to early childhood and to all the things, different moments in my career, it just kept going. And I just was fulfilled in it because I saw others make change.

Jo: That’s awesome. That’s so wonderful. And I really do feel like our paths are kind of set out from the very beginning. We come into this life with that little spark of an idea of really where we’re supposed to be sharing our passions. And it sounds like that was kind of there in the background in your childhood, which is really cool. It sounds like you’ve really done it all like you’ve helped such a huge array of different people in different circumstances. Do you see a common thread of something that kind of holds people back from being the best versions of themselves? Can you speak to that?

Heather: Sure. Yeah. I think we all have this internal messaging system and dialogue that goes on based on our experiences. So that first grade teacher who let me be me, my message to myself was I’m okay the way I am. But then there were other teachers that put me in the corner or separated me from kiddos because I chatted a lot or different things. And so the internal message there came, oh, I’m not smart or I’m not this or that like the other kiddos or whatever it was. And it was always dependent on which messages I was listening to. And it’s so much easier to listen to the negative. The brain actually seeks that out as a matter of a way to protect us. So if I knew what people didn’t like about me and I paid attention to that and the behaviours around that, that’s what would show up in my mind first rather than, oh, that person really thought I was creative or funny or those sort of things.

Jo: So true. And I think that’s such a big thing in any creative endeavor, that little negative kind of voice in your head or that imposter syndrome that comes up and constantly tries to hold us back from really stepping into who we’re supposed to be. How do you think people can move through those blocks? How do you think we can learn to listen less or shut off that inner monologue that’s going on?

Heather: I think the biggest step anyone can take is to learn a practice and self compassion, a practice itself, love and care. That if I know how important I am or I know how valuable I am, it won’t matter what others think of me. So if you think about writers and they submit something and it’s rejected, that hits as a personal rejection.

Jo: Absolutely. Yeah.

Heather: Right. And so if I apply for a job and I don’t get hired, that hits as a person, I’m not likable, I’m not smart. We put all these labels and definitions around that experience where if I go into that experience, I’m going to submit this transcript, I’m going to apply to this job or whatever. And if it happens and they do the next thing and I get that publishing contract or whatever, great. And if it doesn’t happen, it means it doesn’t belong to me. And that’s a really hard conversation to sincerely have.

Jo: It is. But I totally love that what is meant for us will be for us. How do we get there? How do we foster, do you have some tips or tricks or something for us, for myself and for my audience on how we can really start to foster that self-compassion for ourselves and, that being able to be okay when things don’t work out our way or the project is not coming together or it’s getting those rejections or our books are getting those one star reviews, what can we do to really foster that self-compassion within ourselves?

Heather: I think knowing what it is that you want, like the GPS setting forward, where is it that I’m trying to go? And then I’ll know if I’m getting there or not. So setting that setting, I’m going to be compassionate with myself. I’m going to increase self-care. Initially, for a lot of people, that sounds really selfish, sounds self-centred. It sounds like doesn’t mean you’re not going to pay attention to everybody else or their needs. And I think if we can wrap our minds around it’s, that an example of that is like when you go on a plane and they tell you to put the oxygen mask on you first before you help others. There’s a real scientific reason for that. If you pass out and you can’t help anyone now there’s two people that can’t be helped or aren’t doing well. Right? So if we come home as partners or moms or dads or any kind of role and we completely feed into others but not ourselves, we get depleted and that turns into things like resentment or fatigue or unspoken hurts or thoughts and it gets really messy. So a way to be self compassionate is to say I’m going to take 15 minutes when I get home from work and go have a time-out with myself. I’m going to go change. I’m going to go have a snack. I’m going to do something so that when I transition into the busyness of the evening, I am more available because I’ve poured into myself for a minute. I went and got that oxygen mask on for a minute, or if that work, or if you’re on a project to say, I need to work on this for 5 hours and I can’t walk away from it. And if I don’t finish it, I failed. Again, that messaging to say, well, you know what, I’m going to set a timer for half an hour and work on it and see what happens. And then I’m going to get up and walk around and have a sip of water or go get some fresh air. Checking in with ourselves. What do I need? Do I need a nap? We do this for toddlers. Do you need a nap? Right? Do you need to be changed? If you’re younger and it’s that same thing, if we took that much care toward ourselves that we probably do offer out to others, we would have such a there would be a bigger reserve of energy emotionally, physically, spiritually, to then go and finish writing that project or applying to that job or visiting with that person, whatever it is.

Jo: I so love that. I so love that, particularly in the kind of world that we find ourselves in at the moment. I’ve been very lucky in New Zealand, but most of the world has been pretty much in the depths of a pandemic for the last couple of years. Going into the third year, we’re expecting to really start to feel it here on out for New Zealand, we’ve been very, very lucky. Our elimination strategy is now out the door. So we’re kind of bracing ourselves. But I know that’s had a huge effect on people in so many ways. And with creatives, too, I’ve heard from so many different people who have found that the different lockdowns and for some reason in the pandemic has actually made them more productive. And for a lot of people, it’s done the complete opposite. And they’ve found it incredibly hard to find that mental space to actually give the energy to the things that really light them up inside, to those passion projects. Can you speak to anything like that as to how people can kind of be kind to themselves in those moments or if they’re one of the people that are just struggling to really tune into their creativity, how they can do that in this kind of crazy times that we’re in?

Heather: You’re so right. It’s been so, so difficult for a lot of people, and they’ve either grown from it or have sort of kind of imploded a little bit emotionally around it. Yeah. So if I have a project or something out in front of me, if I can start that without judging it, if I’m not judging the outcome and not invested in the outcome. Right? I’ll work on it for the half hour or the hour and whatever happens, happens. And that’s about being mindful and present. And that’s another piece of self-compassion. If I can just be in this moment without the ghosts of every other rejection or bad experience or whatever showing up in the room, you know, I think about we look at creatives as tortured souls sometimes, and they have to have that angst and that edge, drama and trauma to be creative. Okay. Use it for you. And notice when it’s not working for you, it’s working against you.

Jo: Very true. Very true. I love that.

Heather: Yeah. And I think just learning how to be mindful, mindfulness is not about sitting and emptying your mind. I think a lot of people misconstrue self-compassion, mindfulness. All these catchphrases, is one way to do it. And some of the people that I work with, their favourite practice and mindfulness is to do waterfall thinking. And I’m going to sit and I’m going to pick something to think about. Like my coffee bunk filled with my warm coffee. I feel the warmth. I’m paying attention to that. I look at the mug, I feel the texture of the mug. I wonder what it was like for the person who made the mug. Right? I pretend it was handmade, even if it wasn’t the clay and the wheel and then the process of glazing it. And that waterfall thinking gives the mind something to do. And if you don’t give the mind something to do, it will find something for you. Right. So taking charge, taking charge of that and saying my mindfulness will be that I’m going to choose the path my mind is going to take today.

Jo: I love that. I had never heard of the term waterfall thinking. I absolutely love that because I totally agree with you. If we don’t give our mind something to think about, in my experience anyway, it feels like it instantly goes to those negative things that can easily fill up the day in the monologue again and what’s going on in the world. So that’s such a cool idea. Waterfall thinking.

Heather: Yeah. And it can work against you. You can waterfall thinking down the rabbit hole. I hate to smoke and it reminds me of my ex and they were horrible and I’m never going to like them. Be careful because it can go either way. You have to dictate. Sorry. It’s taking some control right now.

Jo: You have in December, I think, you released your podcast. Am I right? With December?

Heather: Yeah.

Jo: So Let’s Do The Daily Differently, I’ve been listening to you on Spotify and whatnot and I saw your little write up about it and it says this podcast offers ideas and inspiration to create a life that feeds your heart and soul with joy, peace, love and energy. And I love that. That just totally speaks to me. It speaks to, I think, my listeners. It’s just fantastic. Have you done a podcast before that? Was this your first attempt at a podcast?

Heather: It was, it was kind of a dare to myself. Yeah. Pandemic time. I was still working and I was working from home. So I did the learn how to make bread thing and all the things that people were doing, I thought the things that I really wanted to have done in the past that were creative for me, making a quilt or DIY and things like that, I wasn’t finding energy around that. And so I just thought, I don’t know, what do I want to do? And I left my mind to itself for a while. And then the podcast idea came in and I hadn’t even really listened to a lot of podcasts. I don’t know, I met someone and in meeting them, it came to me. I said, you know what? I’m going to do a podcast someday. You want to be on it. And they said, sure, reach out. And I hadn’t done a thing about it. And then a year went by and off and I did the whole boot camp thing and everything that a lot of us have met each other on. And I reached out this past month to that person that I spoke to last year and they agreed and they just finished an interview with me and I’m really excited to release it next week.

Jo: Oh, my gosh, that is so exciting. It’s so wonderful. And I know with any creative endeavor, whatever we’re doing, whether it’s we’re going into business for ourselves or writing a book or we’re doing a painting or creating a podcast, for many of us, there’s a little bit of we get that excitement at the initial idea, and then when it comes to actually making it happen, we can sometimes get caught up with different resistance or face to face with sometimes trauma or unhealed things that we weren’t aware of. Did you have any of that experience going into creating this podcast?

Heather: Certainly had the imposter syndrome for a bit. Certainly have the comparison syndrome where they launched and got 400 downloads. Well, never mind. Or their content is much like mine. Why should I be doing this? And I bet that’s true for writers a lot of times like you’ve written genre, right?

Jo: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Heather: But your writing of that genre or that story or it is yours. And what I offer isn’t going to be the same. It might be the similar content, but there will be technical difficulties or other silly things that happen that no one else gets to say they had on their podcast. Right? Or picking different guests or whatever it is. And I really wanted it for my clients to have something in between sessions to kind of grab onto. So that was kind of the original piece of it for me. And then it’s morphed into a I’m having fun. I’d rather go work on my podcast at the end of the day than my paperwork for my business or whatever. So to me that says do it. So if you’re energized in doing something, it means it matters and it belongs in your space.

Jo: Absolutely. I totally agree with you with that. I hear a lot about imposter syndrome. That comes up a lot in all realms. I think it doesn’t matter what you do, but the comparisonitis I totally forget about that. But that is such a big thing. And I think also with social media as well, we’re constantly getting bombarded with other people doing things similar to us that it’s easy to fall into that trap. And so I see it in the writing world, I see it in the podcasting world, I see it across the board. Do you have any tips how we can navigate that and not go down that rabbit hole of comparing ourselves to other people?

Heather: Sure. I think remembering why you’re doing what you’re doing, what brought you to it at the start. So at the start for me, it was a little bit of a dare, it was a little bit of a let’s just have fun with this, right? If I lose that, I shouldn’t be doing it anymore. If I lose touch with where that came from, it doesn’t belong to me in my space anymore. That’s why we change jobs. That’s why we change relationships. That’s why we any sort of shift in our life typically comes from a place of this isn’t serving me any longer.

Jo: I totally agree with you. We’ve got to find that fun and enjoyment in it. Otherwise, it’s just what’s the point? It’s just another thing on our to-do list, right? I totally agree with you with that. So what do you think is key to finding these things that we love? It sounds like with your podcast and that came to you in steps and it was a bit of a dare and you’d mentioned it to a friend. But what do you think was the key to deciding to go all in with that and pushing you over that step from it just being an idea or a dream to actually doing it?

Heather:  I think a lot of it happened to me instead of me doing it. Right? Yeah. People coming in my space and going, that would be a great idea. And yeah, you should do that. Or here’s something I would like to hear in a podcast, getting feedback from others. So if I’m writing a book and I’m not sure what it is that others might want to hear, I’m going to ask others what they want to read. Or maybe I’m just going to write the book about what I want to read. But that can be a beautiful service to sell around. It doesn’t matter if anyone likes this, buys this, I’m going to write it for me because I will enjoy it.

Jo: I love that so much of what you’ve spoken about is very much about, or I feel is very much about, honoring yourself. And again, it goes back to having that self-compassion and that love for yourself, that when you get those little sparks of this feels right, actually seeing it through and following that path. And I really love that, that stepping back and not being so tied to how things are going to work out either, but just coming at it with that sense of play. And let’s see what happens. Now. I’ve heard you say before that you are not an author yet, and I’d like to hear more about that. So are you starting to get that little spark that maybe there’s a book out there that you’re going to be writing, or what’s that about?

Heather: You’re fun. Thank you. Well, I like how you said spark. That’s that mindfulness. Pay attention to the spark if the spark isn’t there. I’m sure all of us dream of being that romantic Hemingway or whoever, that we love reading. I love reading. And so I think some of it comes from that. And I also feel like I know what I would have liked to have read years ago or in this place or space in my own life when I offer out these ideas around self-compassion and all of that, it sounds easy. It doesn’t have to be hard, but it might not necessarily be easy for people. So I think understanding that it all comes with changing. And changing takes work, changing your thought process, changing your definition of what is or isn’t. And so in wanting to be an author on my side, I think it was more about let me do a little something that pulls together everything that I’ve said to clients or friends or family over the years that they’ve been able to come back and say that was really helpful or that really worked when I actually put it into play. So kind of just gathering that all into one place was my thought. Possibly and possibly writing a book on an island with palm trees and such around me, that would be so nice.

Jo: I love that because I think for many of us, and definitely for me in my life, whenever I start something, it’s because I haven’t been able to find that thing. Like with this podcast, for example, when I started writing books and things like that, there was nothing out there that really focused strongly on mindset or nothing that I came across. And also with my interest in, like, mindset creating the world that we live in, that’s where the manifestation comes. And I really do believe manifestation of any kind comes down to our mindset in the way that we think. And you hear so many times about the struggling or like you were saying before, to be a really great artist, you’ve got to really tap into that trauma and that. And I believed that for a while. So my first kind of short stories and that were incredibly dark because I’m like, oh, I’ve got to get all my angst on the paper and that’s what got published. That’s what people wanted to see, which is so mind blowing. But I just felt like there had to be an easier way. And so for me it was following that thread of to do this podcast is what I wanted. So I want to talk with people who can give me that advice when I was first starting and I’m still learning from it, the books I write, the books that I wanted to read. And so I think that’s so important. And I feel like you’ve got just so much that you can actually offer. If you decide to go down that route and write a book, that would be amazing.

Heather: I’ll send you the content and you can write it.

Jo: I think so often it is what we need to we need to step into writing those things or doing those things that we actually need to hear. And there’s a whole audience that’s actually in the same space that we are with them. You’ve talked so much about when you were saying about changing your thought process and it doesn’t have to be hard, but it’s not necessarily easy. When you’re helping people in that with your counseling and whatnot, do you offer tools like affirmations or anything like that to try and start to help people change their mindset, or what’s your kind of go to tools for getting people to start to think differently about themselves?

Heather: I think a lot of it is having the thoughts show up. You can’t control a thought showing up. You can decide whether to entertain it or not. So one of the things I say is, well, it’s an uninvited guest at the door and you can have them come in for cake and coffee or you can say this isn’t a really good time. So you can tend to that’s, like give it a name or embody it somehow and just say, is this something I have time for? Can I tend to this right now or do I need to wait and either tell it, I’m all set, you don’t need to return or whatever that is. And I think the thoughts come in again. If you’re being mindful and if you’re being self compassionate, you will know whether that thought is serving you. It belongs in your space. And if it’s a thought that’s in someone else’s voice, someone else’s critique someone else’s, whatever, it certainly does not belong in your space. And I think also find out, so if I have a belief about something, checking in where that started. If I believe I will never be published, who said that to me? Where’s the evidence and what’s the loss if I follow past that? If I say no, actually, I’m going to do this anyway. Do I lose anything? Do I gain anything?

Jo: I really like that. Looking for the evidence of is this true? Is this really true? A woman, Byron, Katie, I think, who really goes into depth with that, like asking those questions. Is it true? Is it really true? What’s the proof? And yeah, I really love that.

Heather: Yes. And she’s so good at reminding us you’re not at the publisher’s office reading it, saying yes or no yet you’re just writing it. You’re not even over there yet. No, she’s brilliant that way. Yeah.

Jo: So fantastic. So we’ve talked also a lot about having these goals and making these goals real things. So like you creating your podcast and having it out there in the world, I’m endeavoring to do the same here. We’re kind of in the same boat here. And for all those writers and that who are looking at putting out their first book or the second or the third, or it doesn’t necessarily get easier the more you put out, when it comes to having these goals and setting these intentions, do you have any tips about how we can create strong goals and intentions for ourselves?

Heather: Yeah. Differentiate between goal and intention. Goal often is a past fail. It’s immeasurable. I’m going to do this. If I didn’t do the this, I failed. So I don’t use the word goal. I use intentions because intentions mean I have the best. It comes from my heart or it comes from a place of authenticity. I intend to be kind to people. There are days I’m probably less kind. Rather than sitting down with myself and berating myself and belittling myself and all these things, I can say, oh, I didn’t quite hit that intention, but I know that my intention hasn’t changed. I will do differently tomorrow.

Jo: I had never thought of the word goal like that. But you’re absolutely right. It does have those connotations of you either hit it or you fail. I love that. I’m going to adopt that intention instead of goal setting. Love that. Just on a final note, then, is there anything else that you would like to share with my audience or any tips that you feel would really benefit any creative mindset going forth or just anything that you feel drawn to share?

Heather: I think anyone who’s doing anything creative, you’re doing it for a reason, whether it’s feeding your soul or getting out the ghosts or whatever it is. Right? So honour that. Honour why it is you’re doing what you’re doing and where it came from, and then honour the process that if it gets messy, okay. Some of the most beautiful art comes from the place being a mess. Clients, when I’m talking about change, it’s like pulling everything out of that closet to clean the closet and it looks like a heck of a mess. Then picking up each thing and saying, I want to keep this. It goes on that shelf. I want to give this away. I want to throw this away. Right? So the same thing with change in your life. I’m going to keep this, I’m going to let go of this, and then you’ve got this product, the finished product. That is exactly what you intended and hoped for or close enough that there’s reward in that internally. But it can be messy.

Jo: Wonderful. Thank you so much. I have so loved talking to you, and I’ve taken so many notes down beside me of things that I now have to implement in my life and thinking more about that self compassion and how important that is for everybody. And also that waterfall thinking. I really like that. And I think I’m going to try and implement that more because my brain doesn’t often be quiet. So that’s a good way of finding that mindfulness. So thank you so much for coming on my show. I really, really appreciate it.

Heather:Thank you. It was an honor. Thank you so much.

Jo: Some takeaways from today’s show.

  1. Consider adopting the practice of self-compassion to alleviate the negative effects of rejection and imposter syndrome.
  2. Remember what is meant for us will be for us.
  3. Find a way to build in self-care into your day.
  4. Start any project without judgment or expectation. Instead, be mindful and present.
  5. Mindfulness is not about emptying your mind. Instead, try waterfall thinking to anchor yourself in the present moment.
  6. If you’re energized when doing something, it means it matters and belongs in your space.
  7. Remember your why to combat imposter syndrome and comparisonitis.
  8. Pay attention to the spark, that thing that makes you curious or brings you joy, and follow it.
  9. Change your mindset by paying attention to your thoughts and deciding which thoughts you’ll allow to take up space in your head.
  10. Check in where some of your beliefs come from. Whose voice are they in? Are they true? Where’s the evidence? Think about what the loss would be, if any, if you stopped believing that thing. What could you gain?
  11. Instead of setting goals, set intentions.
  12. The creative process can be messy. Embrace it. Sometimes the best art can come from a messy start.

So I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. And if you haven’t already, consider starting a mindfulness practice like waterfall thinking and get more intentional about the self-compassion you show yourself throughout the day. One important note I want to make about this episode is that since this recording, Heather has changed the name of her podcast from Let’s Do The Daily Differently to Templates for Life. So if you’re interested in listening to her podcast, you can find Templates for Life on all major platforms. And if you’re wanting to follow Heather for more juicy tidbits to uplevel your life, you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook and you’ll find the links to those in the show notes. Lastly, if you’re enjoying the show, I would love if you could subscribe rate and review and maybe share it with your friends too. This tells me that you want more of these amazing chats and tips and tricks to supercharge your writing lives and careers.

So until next time,

Happy Writing!