Friday 24 November 2017

Dr Ciara Kelly: If I could change my life you can change yours too

Not that many years ago I was a couple of stone heavier, with four small children, working part-time as a GP, and trying to control my overflowing laundry basket and my ever-expanding waistline.

Dr Ciara Kelly pictured for Living. Picture; GERRY MOONEY. 29/10/15
Dr Ciara Kelly pictured for Living. Picture; GERRY MOONEY. 29/10/15
Dr Ciara Kelly

Those of you who read my Doctors Orders column regularly already know that I'm a late bloomer.

Not that many years ago I was a couple of stone heavier, with four small children, working part-time as a GP, and trying to control my overflowing laundry basket and my ever-expanding waistline.

Sound familiar? To be honest, I sort of thought that my best was behind me and that all I had to look forward to was the advancement of middle age and, maybe, one day, if I was lucky, being able to see my kids all launched in the world. I didn't have a great sense of self. I felt quite like a passenger in my own life.

That isn't how I feel now. A lot has changed for me over the past few years. Some through luck, it must be said. But some through realising that a lot about where life takes us is under our direction. Of course, I still feel the same on the kids front and fervently hope to see them all grown up, safe, well and happy. But my personal goals now extend to more than my whites wash and avoiding the biscuit tin. I've changed, and if I can change - a woman with four kids, in her forties - then for sure, you can change too.

The first thing I'd advise if we're talking about life change is to decide what you actually want from your life. And if that's a bit esoteric, at least decide what it is you don't want. If your job is crap, think about what you might like to do instead. If your partner makes you feel inadequate, it's time to reconsider that relationship. Decide what you'd like from life and then evaluate if the life you're living is the life you want.

The second thing is belief in the possibility of change. If you believe something is your lot in life and decide to settle for it, then change is never going to happen. If you believe in your ability to do something new - you're half-way there. And, of course, you can change. It is part of human nature to change and adapt - but we do get into ruts sometimes and start to lose faith in ourselves, and that's when we need to push ourselves, often right out of our comfort zone, even if that's scary. It all about taking the first baby step. No one changes their life overnight - it's generally a series of small, incremental changes that lead you to where you want to be.

A lot of changes in my life were down to luck. For me, the big catalyst for change was writing an article in the Sunday Independent - having had little or no previous media experience. If the editor of this paper hadn't taken a punt on me, I would very possibly still be ambling along in suburbia wondering if it was time for elasticated waists. (More's the pity, says you.)

But here's the thing about luck - it's all down to what you do with it. I felt physically sick with nerves at the thought of writing that article but I did it anyway. I still remember walking to shops to buy the paper that Sunday morning and feeling horribly exposed at having voiced an opinion in public. But even though I was terrified, I still wrote it. Even though I felt inadequate and unequal to the task, I went ahead and did it anyway - arguing back and forth with myself that it would be really nice to be able to say that I had written just once in the national press. I had to tell myself that if they wanted some doctor to write an article on health that week - then why not me?

Because like lots of people, I'm sure, I've never really felt that I was good enough to do many of the things I do. But I always tell myself that even if that's true, I'm no worse than half the other people I see doing similar stuff - who appear to be getting away with it! I think most of us have a set of obstacles that we put in our own way and have to overcome in order for us to be able to change or progress. The thing is we need to make sure that the voice that shouts loudest in our heads is the 'Ah go on, you can do it! Give it a lash!' voice. Not the 'No. I'm not able for this. I'm not good enough. I don't have what it takes.' voice. Start listening to your inner cheerleader and things will fall into place.

And it's no accident that I'm a late bloomer. I was a self-conscious teenager and fear of failure prevented me from trying things for years. As I got older, I shed some of that - but by then a fear of success was undermining me, and imposter syndrome generally held me back. But deep down I have always subscribed to the same principle as Steve Jobs when he said: "For the past 33 years I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And if whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

We have all been there at the point of knowing that this is not where we want our lives to be. The next step is to take that leap of faith in our own abilities. Feel the fear and do something - new and different - anyway. Another thing he rightly said was: "Things don't have to change the world to be important."

Psychologists tell us that once we have ­accepted our readiness or need to change, and then identified and overcome our barriers to change - all that stuff that is holding us back - then the other main thing to be aware of is the fact that we will fail many times on our road to change. We will slip back for a period into old ways. We will hit the chocolate biscuits again. We will lose faith in ourselves and take one step back for every two steps forward. That does not mean change isn't achievable. All that means is change isn't about doing one single thing. Its about doing lots of little things over a sustained period of time. And even when there are setbacks, it's about not thinking they're the end of the world. You dust yourself off. You keep going. You try again tomorrow. You fail better the next time.

I'm telling you as honestly as I can that I'm as fear-filled and lacking in self-confidence as the next man - and if I can change, anyone can. But the wonderful thing about trying something new is that the chances are, if it goes in any way well, it's empowering and ­confidence-building. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is always a good place to start. I still a have vague sense of middle-­agedness and indeed aspirations about growing old - but now I'm hope to do so disgracefully. Go on! I think you should try it too.


Next week: the art, the science and the psychology of changing your life

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