When things feel chaotic or off track in life or work, it can feel like a Circus: clowns running around in circles; acrobats risking a fall and working so hard we see their sweat, jugglers trying to keep an impossible number of balls in the air. We don’t know where to look, our hearts race and we hold our breath.

Then the strong lady takes the stage, and takes control.

I am a Strong Lady. I have spent the past 14 years performing around the world with a mix of strength, elegance, excitement and humour. Drawing on some exciting findings from the field of neuroscience, here are a few feats of strength you can perform as the Strong Lady or Strong Man in your own life to make it feel less like you’re managing circus.

Feat of Strength: Lifting a Weight

Often the thing that stands in the way of our growth is the weight of negativity in our thinking. The brain is wired with a negative bias as part of our survival instinct, but we can train our minds to lift this weight by consciously choosing our focus of attention.

When we are mentally moving towards something we want, we engage the approach system. When we are mentally moving away from something we don’t want, it is the avoidance system of the brain that is firing. Being in approach mode offers us increased mental and physical strength, it enhances our immune system, lowers the stress hormones and increases the happy hormones. It is the difference between stepping onto a stage, excited to connect with the audience or stepping into the spotlight determined not to embarrass myself.

Even a Strong Lady can not control everything that is happening or every thought that pops into her head… but you don’t need to arm wrestle your thoughts. Just repeatedly keep choosing where you focus your attention. Choosing what you want to move towards and letting everything else blur into the background. Mindfulness meditation, gratitude practices and regularly ‘getting clear’ about your intentions and your goals are a few different ways to strengthen this muscle.

Feat of Strength: Breaking a Chain

An iconic strong lady stunt is to break a metal chain with bare hands. In life, the equivalent feat-of-strength is to break a chain reaction.

Whenever we repeat an action, behaviour or reaction it fires a chain of neurons in the brain that will physically grow closer to each other, making it take less energy to repeat next time. The brain will always opt for the path of least resistance, firing the strongest neural chains.

This means that the actions or reactions that we repeat the most, become our strongest habits.

Habits are the gym sessions of the mind, it is by changing our small daily habits that we can create the biggest changes and growth. We must first become self-aware enough to recognise when we begin to fire a neural chain or habit that is not helpful. We then need to pause, get a good grip and snap that chain. No need to fixate on it or get frustrated by it, just break it and throw the pieces aside. Take a moment to celebrate the feat-of-strength, hear
the audience applaud, maybe even kiss your biceps.

Then replace the old habit with an action or behaviour that is helpful in moving towards the growth you want. Deliberately choose the action or behaviour that you want to replace it with and repeat it over and over again. This will strengthen the new neural chain and eventually become your instinctive response.

Feat of Strength: Tearing a Book

Repetition does not only work to create strong neural chains for action, but also creates our beliefs. Beliefs are just thoughts and stories that we have repeated often enough. For any growth or change that we desire strongly, we are likely to have a story or set of beliefs about it that are either propelling us forward or holding us back.

The work of the strong lady is to examine their beliefs or stories and recognise that they are just habits of thinking which can be torn up if they aren’t helpful. The strong lady takes any story, no matter how thick and with her bare hands tears it in half, to rapturous applause.

One of the thought patterns that most often stands in the way of growth is that things should be some other way or that they shouldn’t be the way that they are. Even a strong lady can not win when wrestling with reality. The fastest way to move forward is to stop wasting energy fighting with the way things actually are. See reality as it is, decide how you want to change it and write a new story that focuses on what is going to happen next. Just like any habit, repeat the thoughts that move you in the direction of growth and they will become stronger until they become beliefs. Your new story will have a much happier ending.

Take the stage

Just like building biceps at the gym, developing strength in our lives is mostly about the things we do every day. Setting aside time to regularly clear your mind and make plans is important in making sure that our habits and ideas are moving us in the right direction. When the strong lady takes the stage, she has a plan, she is open to improvise and she is ready to have fun.

charmaine-childsCharmaine is based in the UK and will be in Australia for performances, speaking events and workshops from December 2016 until late February 2017.