Win Freedom from Self-Sabotage with Hazel Gale
Cognitive hypnotherapy practitioner and former athlete Hazel Gale talks about her first book, Fight: Win Freedom from Self-Sabotage. She shares how she overcame the stress of burnout, depression and self-doubt.
We as human beings all experience failure, and we all need to process those deeply uncomfortable feelings. In order to maintain physical and mental well-being, Hazel Gale goes to yoga class, coaching, does boxing, and takes time out regularly. Hazel is a master practitioner of cognitive hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming, as well as the author of Fight: Win Freedom from Self-Sabotage and a former full contact kickboxing and boxing athlete. In over a decade of competition, Hazel achieved multiple World, European and National titles in the sports of full-contact kickboxing and boxing. Her fight career, however, was not all glory and gold medals. Hazel talks about how the stress of competition, gaining weight, and relentless self-doubt drove her into an emotional and physical burnout, from which she only recovered after taking a psychological look at where she was going wrong.
Links and Resources:
Meet Your Monster here
Our guest is Hazel Gale. She is a master practitioner of cognitive hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming. She’s the author of FIGHT: Win Freedom from Self-Sabotage and a former full contact kickboxing and boxing athlete. Hazel, welcome to the show. It’s so great to have you here.
You are working with lots of people who are in the middle of burning out the same way that I have done and you have done. What are the common themes that you see with your clients in terms of how they cope with living in a fast-paced world in a big capital city?
Burnout comes up time and time again at different stages. I’ve worked with people across the whole spectrum. I’ve got a group of people that I work with and many of them actually aren’t in London. A lot of those people are in the States because of a connection to histamine intolerance health guru called Yasmina who I worked with a few years ago. Those people are at the really far gone end of the burnout spectrum where the burnout has become so all-inclusive that their entire bodies have broken down. Many of them are on a handful of foods that they’re able to tolerate. They can’t really leave the house. They can’t deal with any chemical smells or anything like that so they can’t handle perfume or detergent. At one end of the spectrum, we’ve got that.
At the earlier end of that spectrum, anxiety is a common thread through pretty much any problem people who see me with. Whether they’re a sports person dealing with performance or somebody working in an office dealing with the pressures of that situation. Anxiety is the thing that links everyone together and the way it affects us will obviously vary. Lots of people will manifest it in a physical way. That’s what happened to me. I was so dissociated from my emotions when I burned out while I was kickboxing. I’d won my first national title and then the pressure was on.
I remember my coach saying to me this is going to be a problem when I won that first big fight. I was like, “What do you mean?” He said, “It’s too early for you to have won something like this. Now, everyone’s going to expect you to win everything. You’ll expect yourself to win everything. It’s not going to work out that way because it can’t.” He was right. It was a lucid moment from him. He was absolutely right. The pressure was incredible from that point forward because everybody would just automatically assume that I’d walk into any fight situation and win it. For me, I was going through a prolonged period of anxiety, which I was completely unaware of. I can look back now and know that I was having panic attacks almost on a daily basis.
I would try to sleep in the daytime because I wasn’t sleeping at night and I’d managed to sleep for fifteen minutes and then wake up with a start as if I’ve been having a nightmare, but I hadn’t been having a nightmare. My heart would just race. My hands and feet would sweat and I wouldn’t know what was going on. Because I was so detached from my actual emotional experience with things, I numbed to my feelings. I didn’t register this as panic or anxiety. I didn’t think I should see a therapist. I just thought something’s wrong with my body. I went to see many GPs and a number of different doctors who tested me for various things like glandular fever and thyroid problems. Maybe it could have been explained the fatigue that I was experiencing, but nothing came up positive. I didn’t get any treatment there. Then I would go through any number of different alternative therapies.
In all honesty, I didn’t give any of these practitioners, neither the Western nor the Eastern practitioners, a chance to heal me. If they couldn’t do it straight away, I’d think, “That didn’t work.” I move onto the next thing. I was so desperate to find the quick fix. Eventually, I grabbed myself right into the ground and ended up in this slumped heap. I clearly remember this one time lying on the sofa and I was living with my boyfriend and my sister at the time. Both of them were trying to talk to me telling me to go to work. I was coaching as a boxer at the time. I couldn’t even respond to them. I didn’t even have the energy to look them in the eye. I was just so depressed and broken. That’s the bit that I remember looking back and thinking, “There was probably a turning point in there where I had to look at things differently.”
The first thing I did was go to see a hypnotherapist. That got me curious about it. It wasn’t a quick fix, but it was interesting enough to engage me for a longer period. I started qualifying as a clinical hypnotherapist first. I qualified as a clinical hypnotherapist before I came across cognitive hypnotherapy. I was far from overcoming any of my illness while I was doing that but I was getting there. I started to believe that something really was possible. Then the real emotional shift for me came when I started working with a cognitive therapist called Trevor Silvester. He’s the founder of Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapy. We did some work that completely changed my perspective.
After that work, gradually my symptoms started properly to taper off when I started to understand that I could change it. When I see clients now who are experiencing any number of those things, a chronic state of fatigue, a chronic state of anxiety, overwhelming self-doubt and limiting ideas or the physiological side of things, then I feel passionate about helping them to have whatever their moment of insight is that could turn things around. I do believe there will be one for pretty much everyone. I’m not saying that I could always provide it, but I’ll do my best to help them find it.
How long was this period of burnout and depression? Your own reflection. I know at the time, we don’t always know when it’s happening but looking back, how long do you think that was?
That’s a difficult question because I have no idea, but I think the symptoms started sometime around 2009. It must have been earlier than that because my dad died in 2009. That made it a lot worse obviously. It was the beginning of 2009 or the end of 2008 when the symptoms started. I got back into competition on and off all the way through it but the point at which I started to feel better must have been sometime around 2012. A couple of years up and down, in and out. I never really gave myself the opportunity to stop. There were a couple of times when I was forced to stop not because of this illness that really should have stopped me because I was like a relapsing addict. The moment I got a single amount of energy, I’d be straight back down to the gym. To me getting into the gym and training towards my goals, winning an impressive competition or whatever I was going to do that day, was the only way I could make me feel good about myself.
The illness made me feel so bad about myself that I was stuck in this double bind thinking, “What’s my method of dealing with this?” It’s getting to the gym. That wasn’t the method of dealing with it. It was the reason it was happening. I was in and out, up and down but I did have a couple of periods when I had injuries. I had bad back problems and a broken leg at one point, that did stop me but not long enough and probably not at the right time in the whole process for me to take that as an opportunity to make a real change.
What made you decide to go for hypnotherapy rather than a different type of approach?
I did try lots of other types of approaches. It was hypnotherapy, in the end, was the one that made the difference. The reason I went for hypnotherapy was purely because someone gave me a good recommendation. Therapy is one of those things that you want a good recommendation, you want somebody that you feel is like minded and that you trust to say, “This person helped me,” so that you know that you’re not going to turn up and think this is ridiculous, especially since it’s pretty expensive, too. That was how I found my way to hypnotherapy, but I had tried lots of other styles of things including all the Western medicine options that I’d exhausted beforehand.
Let’s fast forward to where you are now. You have a book out. Tell us a little bit about the book and who it is for.
I absolutely love writing the book. Every moment of it was potentially enjoyable. There were inevitable creative crises along the way, but I was able to step back from them a little bit. I know that that was a part of the process rather than allowing that thought of, “I can’t do this after all to take over.”That was an interesting process for me because I was writing about that largely for other people in their areas whatever they’re doing. We’re going through the processes at the same time. The book’s called FIGHT: Win Freedom From Self-Sabotage. It’s called Fight because of my background in boxing and kickboxing because really, it’s about getting in touch with the resisted aspect of the personality. This was what Jung would call the shadow self.
I’m calling this part of the personality mind monsters because it’s an aspect of self which is completely petrifying but entirely fictional. Even though on some level we know it’s made up, it can still terrify us whenever we sense it lurking in a darkened corner with the mind or when we look back on our behaviour and realise that it’s taken over and made us do something that we now regret horribly. Our initial instinct is to fight this part of the self. When we fight against insecurity, we don’t overcome it. We empower it and unfortunately, it’s absolutely the automatic thing to do. We all end up with these little insecurities that we aren’t comfortable accepting. We fight them and turn them into monsters.
Those monsters can end up manifesting in all sorts of ways. For me, I believe that my illness was a manifestation of my monster, which was a resistance. My biggest resistance was failure, but also to look weak. I fought the possibility of looking weak by going out and being this strong, veiny, impressive fighter person. Since I was battling against it, I ended up with an illness that actually physically made me weak, which was like a death for me. I was forced to accept weakness in order to get out of that.
The book helps people to go through that process hopefully without having to have a massive crash into chronic fatigue. Not everybody’s monsters will be about physical illness. It will often be about anxiety. It could be about something that seems purely behavioural like procrastination, binge eating, binge drinking, nailbiting even, and anything that we might call a self-sabotage you can link back to this resisted or uncomfortable elements of self. The answer is to be able to get to know these parts of the self. Eventually, invite them back onto your team so that they can be a part of your armoury rather than an opponent that you need to fight.
How easy or difficult was it for you in that moment of realisation around failure? How easy was it for you to reach out and ask for help or accept help when it was offered unsolicited?
It was very easy for me to ask for help because I was in this real state of victimhood where I was convinced that I wasn’t doing anything wrong and that something was out to get me whether I was blaming it on my body or whatever. I was in this place of victimhood where I felt that it was not my fault and poor me. I really believed that someone should be able to come along and fix me. Asking for help, I was very good at. Demanding help, I was very good at but accepting it when it was given to me, I was terrible at. I would ask for the help and they’d say, “Start a journal.” I’d say, “Fine,” and then not do it. Because of this state of victimhood, I convinced myself that I wasn’t capable of changing anything. I wanted someone to come along and fix me. I wanted the magic pill.
What is one tip somebody can go away and apply to their life to make a positive micro-step?
The first thing that popped into my mind was not a tip so much as almost like a mantra. I’ve got lots of different mantras, I say them to myself all the time. When I catch myself tensing up, refusing to experience something, I remind myself that you cannot wage war on yourself and emerge victoriously. There’s no point in trying to fight myself into a place of wellness or fight myself into a place of success. Those things are not going to work. I need to take a different route. That’s one thing. The answer to all of this and I really believe that the defining thing that makes a difference to anyone in any therapeutic process or in any self-help process, the people who make the biggest difference are the ones who effectively manage to develop their self-awareness.
I watched a brilliant talk about the study they’d done on self-awareness. They looked at the difference between the people who thought they were self-aware but weren’t and the people who actually were self-aware. The first thing they found was that 95% of people believe they are self-aware but only 10% are. It essentially means that most of us are wondering and believing, “I’m self-aware and really aren’t.” The interesting thing about this study was they found that the defining difference between people who thought they were aware and the people who actually were, it’s not how often they ask themselves the question why? Because we think that’s the answer, right? If I asked myself why I’m feeling this way, then that’s going to bring about self-awareness and I’ll get to understand myself. When we ask the why, especially from the victim position, “Why do I feel this way? I would feel this way because they’ve said that horrible thing. I feel this way because I lost my job last month.” When we ask why, we never solve the problem. We just come up with more reasons, most of which aren’t the real reason. They are rationalisations for why we should feel terrible.
Why an introspection actually causes more anxiety and blocks us from a real sense of self-understanding. The thing that the people really were self-aware, the question they were asking themselves was not why, but what. They were asking themselves, “What can I do differently to improve this relationship? What can I do differently that would make me feel better?” The difference between people who are self-aware and not is whether they are taking action. I love this. The way that we learn about ourselves is not by navel-gazing and wondering and questioning. It’s by moving. We learn by taking the actions. When we take the actions, there will be some that work and some that don’t. We do have to, when we take actions, get okay with failure. That all rolls into the same place. If I was going to say it in a much more concise way, a single tip for somebody is to do something. Make a change, ask yourself what you can do differently and you will not know if it’s going to make the 100% difference and it likely won’t but do it anyway.
Hazel, when you’re working with your clients, how much are you aware of the urban environment as something that enhances their health and wellbeing or really dampens it down and is a contributing factor to their anxiety or whatever it is that they’re presenting with?
It’s like any environment. It’s the same with our bodies. Our bodies are our environment. We can perceive it in one of two ways. It can either be a prison or it can be a wonderful, fruitful place full of resources and it’s all about perspective. This comes down to the victimhood thing again. I call it the difference between victims and authors. I think that the opposite of victim shouldn’t be heroes because heroes slay things. If we’re talking about mind monsters, you cannot slay a monster. If you tried to, it’s going to get stronger. Author is better. The word author comes from the same root as the word autonomy. It’s about making autonomous choices and taking control of your own story. Author in your own story.
The difference between victim and author, it comes down to where our locus of control is. You can have an external locus of control or an internal locus of control and that means where you think the actual power is. This is not a binary thing. We will all be on this scale, slipping back and forth between external and internal all the time. When we’re in an external locus of control, we think the things on the outside have control over us. We’ll say things like, “I was in a bad mood because the weather was terrible. She made me do it. He made me angry. They made me upset.” I don’t know other people can ever make you angry. You can only make yourself angry. You have the choice over whether you choose to respond in an angry way to something or not.
We’re in an external locus of control, aka a state of victimhood. We feel that our environment is imposing on us and absolutely controlling everything we do. We do it as a coping mechanism because we want to be able to say, “It’s not my fault. Look at the stuff that’s happening to me.” The more we do that, the more powerless we feel to all of this imposing external pressure. The opposite end of the spectrum, internal locus of control is where we know that we cannot affect the things that happen to us, but we can always choose our response to them. A person with an internal locus of control knows that they can choose their own thoughts, they can choose their own feelings and they can choose their own behaviour. That makes an enormous difference.
You can put someone in the most stressful situation you can think of, and with an internal locus of control, they don’t need to be stressed. They can still act autonomously and keep control of themselves on the inside. London is a great way of seeing how this can affect different people in different ways. Some people feel rush hour to be a thing that could make the rest of their week be a nightmare because they have this whole rush hour on Monday evening and then miss the thing they meant to go to or whatever. That would be an external locus of control, letting the evil stresses of London get right under your skin and control you. It’s also an amazing place. It’s got so much going for it so long as we allow it. It’s about not feeling like a victim of the necessary evils in a really big city.
For you living in the east end of London in a really busy and buzzy area, how do you connect with your local community and the local environment on a day-to-day basis?
On a personal level, I see my clients in an office in my home, which is fantastic because I’ve had lots of offices. I’ve had rooms in Central before and they’re noisy and uncomfortable and this one here is really quiet, peaceful and lovely. I do that but it does mean that I spend a lot of time in the same building. I live here. I work here. I write here. When I get out, it’s a concerted effort to do so to make a break of scenery. The places I like to go to are the boxing gym where I coach, the yoga studio that I attend. In summer, Haggerston Park, which is absolutely beautiful and not that well-known where my boyfriend and I like to put a slack line up between two trees and tight rope. Wobble back and forth between that or walk down the canal, which is close to my place and have some food outside the restaurant. Those are the ways I get out. The ways I connect to the community, by talking to people in those places really. I do a little public speaking and things like that, but the connection is more on a personal, one-to-one level, friends and training partners.
Do you find that for the work that you do and to maintain your physical and mental wellbeing, that those routines are important? Going to the yoga class, coaching, doing the boxing and taking time out regularly. How much are you a stickler for those routines and rituals versus going with the flow of how you feel on any given day and what you feel your body is telling you it needs?
I had to learn to absolutely listen to my body at every single moment. If I don’t, it will let me know that I’m neglecting it still. That I have to do. Rather than having routines, I’m not a person who says, “I absolutely definitely am going to make it to yoga three times a week.” Instead, I have a number of different tools that I use, almost like a prescription that I can check back on. If I’d been feeling bad, then what am I forgetting to do? What’s on my list of things that I need to get in on a fairly regular basis that helped me to feel okay? If I’m having a bad day, if I get to yoga, I know it’ll make me feel better. If I have an opportunity to get to the boxing gym and coach, I know it will make me feel better. Those things are fail-safe ways of elevating my mood, but I have to still be careful not to overdo it in a physical sense. Otherwise, I’ll slip back into the old pattern of I can make myself feel better by excelling in sports but that won’t work. That’s why yoga is so great for me. It’s such a calm, gentle and self-loving way of moving your body. Then there are other things as well that I will do, breathing techniques are things that I’ve come back too often. I have a whole catalogue of different types of visualisations that I can use to bring myself back into a state of self. Also, I’m a big believer that most of the psychological discomfort that we go through can connect in one way or another to a feeling of disconnection from other people.
Shame is all about disconnection. When we trigger anything that makes us feel disconnected, we are running the risk of moving to a place of shame and then that’s categorically not good. I’m reaching out and connecting with people, calling my friends, calling my sister and my family. If I need to do something immediately, that’s again just a fail-safe way of changing my mood. Also simple things like getting up and changing my body language. If I hit a writer’s block moment, I’m at the computer, instead of trying to struggle through it, the first thing I’ll do is get up. I’ll move out of this room. I might do some star jumps to change my body language up. I might have a conversation with someone. I come back and it feels better. Play the guitar as well, that’s another one to take myself into a more creative frame of mind just picking up a musical instrument. You come back and it’s better. Rather than having routines and rituals, I prefer to have this whole list of things that I can pick and choose from depending on the moment, how much time and energy I have.
Hazel, one question I ask all of my guests is, what are you curious about right now?
I am curious about storytelling at the moment for a number of different reasons. Storytelling comes up a lot in my book. Not only in that I’ve been telling my own story, but also that I’m inviting the reader to explore their own narrative right from where the conditioning has happened in the past that has made them believe certain things and how they can rewrite their future by visualising it an effective way. Literally writing it in journaling exercises, rewriting stories, reframing memories, and writing metaphorical stories. All that stuff comes up in the book.
I’ve released an online course, which is about the mind monster concept, which is getting people to visualise and draw their mind monsters so it can get in touch with that element of their story. I’m thinking now about doing another one for people who don’t want to get the colouring crayons out because I know that that’s a big block for lots of people. That shouldn’t stop them from doing it, but I know it will. I’d like to write another one which is getting them to explore all the similar concepts, but purely through writing. Expressive writing, exploring their own narrative, rewriting it, adding metaphors in that could feel resourceful and powerful. I’m looking forward to finding the time to put that online course together because it can be a really fascinating thing, not just for people who want to explore their ability as a writer but also anyone who wants to get a really good understanding of how to take control.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Various places. There’s never one place anymore. My practice website is HazelGale.com. On there, you will find various links to other places like my social media. There’s a Facebook group that I’ve set up to go with the book. You don’t have to have bought the book yet to be on the group. Please do come along to the group. It’s @Fight.TheBook and the group is called FIGHT: Win Freedom from Self-sabotage. I’m using that as a way to get in touch with people who are either thinking of reading or have read the book. It’s stuff connected to psychology, self-sabotage, self-awareness, self-love and all that good stuff.
My Instagram account is at @Hazel.Gale.Therapy. You can find all of the mind monsters on there. My mind monster website is MindMonsters.online, which is a place where people who are sending in images of their mind monsters where I can display them. I’ve even got a song on there. I have gifts, oil paintings, quick sketches with pencils and a song all available there, which is brilliant. If anybody is interested in the mind monster concepts and would like to have a go, there is a page on that website that tells you how to visualise your monster and you can draw it or represent it in any medium you like. It could be a poem if you wanted it to be. I would absolutely love to display on the site anonymously or with credit depending on your preference.
Hazel, thank you so much for being a guest on the Urban Curiosity Podcast.
It’s been a pleasure.