Tom Ahern

Tom Ahern

Tom works as a CrossFit coach, author, podcaster and founder of The Mind Mate. Through personal experience, facilitating conversations about mental health became a strong passion of his.

“I had, for much of my life been anxious. I was ignorant of it, however, having only seen the world through my own lens. Every person’s experience is completely unique and their own, however, I feel it’s time we reconciled that notion rather than move away from it. Becoming more honest with ourselves and others is not only therapeutic by nature, but it also allows for people dealing with mental health issues to learn about and draw upon similarities so they may feel more empowered.”

 

. . .

 

The Green Flash That Changed A Life

It’s as though the scientific explanation as to why the Northern Lights, the ‘Auroras’, exists defeats the purpose of its very existence. The Auroras are simply breathtaking; the show they put on could convert an atheist into a believer. They shimmer and flicker across – a vibratory green, thick band in the Icelandic sky; purple sheets of lights dance in between and highlight the contrast between the pitch dark night and fluorescence.

One finds themselves staring up at it for minutes on end without a thought or care in the world. It’s almost like a trance, a meditation. And yet, the Northern Lights exist purely because of solar flare collisions into Earth’s atmosphere. Again, we know why they are there, but that’s not where the beauty lies.

 

ADVF Iceland 120

 

“Please, magician! Don’t tell me how you did your trick! Just show me again – amaze me!” If you ever do find yourself in Iceland, please allow at least six months to be given the opportunity by the weather to have it throw the Northern Lights in your face. If you are blessed with this opportunity, take it in! Really take it in and do not allow anyone, any thought, anything – to distract you from what may be the most magical experience of your life.

The AdventureFit crew found themselves in Iceland towards the latter end of November. People from the Congo, USA, The Isle of Man, various parts of Australia and York, congregated in the southern part of the little and seemingly insignificant shores of Reykjavik for what they all thought would be a fun and enjoyable week...

What an understatement that would turn out to be.

Leading the trip is an experience in itself. We at AdventureFit pride ourselves not on our ability to lead, guide or manage, but to facilitate an adventure holiday. Our job may therefore, to the outside world, present itself as a double edged sword because the goal is to make the client feel like we’re a bunch of mates travelling around. And yet on the other hand, we have to be on top of EVERYTHING.

 

ADVF Iceland 281

 

It is no wonder that the trips can be tiring, but my god are they worth it. To lead a team of like-minded individuals around the world is a dream job, and this realization manifested itself and was confirmed upon gazing up towards the beautiful green and purple lights by a lake outside Reykjavik.

For this particular AdventureFitter, it confirmed a few things. These realizations were years in the making and it’s almost disappointing it took the most wondrous display of nature the world has to offer for them to be brought to light (pardon the pun). But that’s the way life played out. Nevertheless, travelling all over the world, meeting new people, entertaining authentic personal story telling and experiencing life are the things I want to fill my life with until the day I die, and I am grateful to have finally figured that out.

If I were to summarize the ADVF trip into one word that highlighted the product of the best experiences of the trip, it would be “conversations”. Our group happened to be very diverse not only by culture and demographic, but also by viewpoints, values and subjective external and internal experiences. These mixes made for great conversations. Much of the trip was spent in the car discussing a range of topics from politics, spirituality, history, the future of our civilization, society and social behavior, as well as how we all deal with a world that seems to be changing rapidly every day.

 

ADVF Iceland 370

 

The topic of meditation and introspection kept bobbing up to the surface like a beach ball, and I don’t think there was any coincidence to that. As said, with everything changing so quickly these days, it’s important (we all agreed) to maintain a strong degree of self-awareness and comprehend where we all fit into such a world. One of the best things about an ADVF trip is that when you do take some time to step out of your own little bubble, wherever that is, and observe how your life has played out for however long you have been contained in it, you inevitably come to certain realizations.

For many of us, the clichés such as “Fuck what people think,” and “I want to follow my own dreams and passions, not someone else’s” held true. Truthfully, as someone who prides himself on “going against the grain”, I came to the realization that it was disappointing that A.) It takes a holiday to see that (myself included), and B.) That these realizations are clichés because they’re the same trap 99% of our species fall into.

Initially, upon writing this summary of one of the most invaluable chapters of my life, I decided not to write a “And then we did this, and then we did this” piece because I, nor you, would gain much from it. However, what I have come to realize is the sole reason – fuck, purpose if you will, as to why I take great pride in describing myself as an AdventureFit leader.

In truth, an ADVF trip is one big meditation. By removing yourself from the daily bubble you “freely” choose to accept, you can’t help but sit back and observe your life with all its ups and downs. “Why do I always let my boss get the better of me?” “Why don’t I ask her out, what the fuck do I have to lose?” “Why don’t I just quit and start living my life the way I want to?”

 

ADVF Iceland 333

 

Meditation is the practice of observation and focus. By observing your thoughts, you no longer identify with them. This is no different to an ADVF trip. By observing your life from the outside, you no longer identify with it. Of course, you will start to notice things. Again, it is disappointing that we as human beings allow ourselves to fall into such routines, then physically have to rip ourselves out of them in order to change and grow. But if that’s what it takes then that’s what needs to happen.

I will forever value this Icelandic experience. I have forever been ripped out of my bubble and shown the truth. With a flash of green light, my life changed forever.

 

 

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WHA - ?!?! Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

A few days ago I found myself in a deep and meaningful conversation about mental health (as you do). It wasn’t long before the topic of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) came up and the following interaction occurred: “Oh yeah, I’m so OCD about shit; like I have to have my room clean and do you ever (laughingly) check to make sure the light switch is turned all the way off!?”

Whilst I must admit I was laughing alongside my mates, I did notice a certain urge to calmly educate them about what OCD really is because I find that the common misconception with it is that it is often related to cleanliness. In truth, cleanliness and order can be associated with OCD, but first and foremost, OCD is an anxiety disorder through and through.

 

1

 

Many of us like things neat and many of us check to make sure the lights are turned off, but only 1 in 100 of us act out in anxious behaviour in order to ensure things are the way they are in order to negate the spiraling perpetuation of crippling fear.

I am genuinely not trying to over exaggerate what OCD is here, but it most definitely is more than things being ordered a certain way because they look nice, unless of course that order is a behaviour acted out constantly to prevent something bad from happening.

“I’m so OCD” and “Fuck, you’re OCD” is great and all because it’s raising awareness about the disorder, but we must be well informed about what the disorder actually is.

THINK OF IT LIKE THIS: You get an anxious thought – “Shit, what if I left the door unlocked and someone robbed the house!?” That thought causes physical symptoms and spiraling anxiety. Then, in order to negate that anxious thought from occurring, you rush back home from work and check the door in question.

 

2

 

Your anxiety is relieved, however, only for a short while. By acting out the compulsion, you have strengthened the obsessiveness. Having that once in a day sucks, but try that on constant repeat, literally 24/7. That’s OCD, my friends.

Speaking from personal experience, when I was having a mad old time with OCD sessions, to prevent myself from heading down to Hell for a hotel check-in extravaganza, I found myself picking up rubbish around the neighbourhood. To prevent myself from changing sexuality, porn became a compulsion and in order to try and get rid of the constant mental imagery playing around like a carousel, training for footy yielded a great escape.

I guess the lesson I learned from this chat was that I feel people are super pumped to talk about mental health and what it’s like for them, but maybe the social norm almost tends to influence what is socially acceptable and what could still be relatively taboo. I find this stuff so fascinating and at the end of the day, if someone is saying something, then there is a place for it.

 

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Happiness, Self-Awareness, Pleasure & Pain

I believe inner happiness and an honest sense of mental wellbeing are the most important things in your life; everything ripples from it. You must first put yourself in front of your family and friends, your job and income, even your pets (to all the dog lovers out there, when you are indeed struggling).

Everything will follow. We perceive life through our own lens and the onus is on us to keep it clear – without fog, mist and negativity. How do we do this? We must develop a true sense of self awareness and there are actually ways to practice self-awareness. In knowing and coming to terms with who we are, we may put in place, habits and processes that reinforce and coincide with a subjectively awesome lifestyle – one that, more often than not, makes us happy!

 

Clear Lends


“Tom, is it really that simple?” In my opinion, yes. It just may take some time. For example, for me, some of the anxiety I was dealing with was related to the way I was subconsciously living my life. I wanted to be an AFL player because I “knew” then I’d get all the girls, be rich and famous and live up to the expectations of society’s alpha male normality. However, deep down, I knew the way I was living didn’t coincide with who I truly was. The people I was surrounding myself with didn’t see eye to eye with who I wanted to become. That’s not to say they were bad people, they just had different goals and agendas.


Jim Rohn said that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. The reason I like that quote so much is not because it tells you to cut people out of your life because they’re shit value, but to be aware of the people who want you to succeed no matter what it is, and the people who are impartial to it. It perfectly explains, in a social sense, the significance behind creating a life that works for you and in doing so only allowing the people that make you a better person come along for the ride. It is something I have taken with me through my life with severe anxiety and my life without.


How do we gain a sense of self-awareness?



Mindfulness meditation is one way to attain such clarity, and this is the practice I used to do. Mindfulness is about understanding when thoughts and emotions are particularly strong and when they are soft and gentle. Being able to step back and simply notice what's going on in your head rather than letting the thoughts, however strong or weak, become you is a great tool to have in your inventory. The steps you put in place when anxiety hits you, let alone any emotion, must become second nature. It is crucial that when a “what if” thought pops in your head, you habitually recognize that holding any resistance to it is not the way to go. “Yes Tom, but that's easier said than done isn't it?” Not at all. In fact you've been doing this all your life. Experts say we have approximately 50,000 thoughts a day and in truth, you hold no resistance to 99% of those thoughts, give or take. Now bear with me on this one.


Some of us fear flying. Some of us hate the thought of being in a car crash or being trapped in social situations. The thoughts and symptoms associated with these fears only exist because of the mental resistance we put up in an effort to prevent them from happening within our own minds. Nevertheless, it will always stand true that fear is an illusion. It is a choice. If you allow your anxious thoughts to pass through you without any resistance to them, i.e. “I accept there is a chance I could crash this car yet I am in no greater risk of doing so than the car driver next to me”, then your fight or flight response will lessen in severity. After a bit of practice your, car crash anxiety will dissipate. The thoughts will not remain and to some degree you may even forget you ever had such a fear. Remember, anxiety is a good thing. It keeps us safe.

 

Anxiety


I guess what I’m trying to say is that anxiety sufferers may only ‘suffer’ because of one particular thought or fear that sticks around. But 1 out of 50,000 isn’t too bad, is it!? This understanding helps put things into perspective when the anxiety emotion is particularly evident. In all my struggles in all those years, I could count my worries on one hand. In fact, I could even relate them all back to a general fear of uncertainty in outcome. This is what I'm talking about when I note the value in simplifying your issues and attaining a strong sense of self awareness. For me, this made huge inroads in my fight to completely abate my inappropriate anxiety symptoms.


There is one last concept I’d like to mention, and that is the difference between pleasure and happiness. There are many things within our lives which we derive pleasure from, but make no mistake. Pleasure will not lead to happiness, nor is it the same thing. And without a base line level of self-awareness, it is quite difficult to differentiate between the two. In my experience, pleasure or pleasurable experiences derive temporary solutions to boredom, stress and that therein. In seeking pleasure, one attempts to escape subjective monotony within their own lives and that can be through many things.


People may find pleasurable solitude in recreational drugs, excessive masturbation, porn, in fatty or sugary foods, or that red notification symbol on their phones. Such guilty pleasures give significant rise to dopamine levels in the brain. Societal norms and mass media marketing consistently and subconsciously reinforce within us that pleasure WILL lead to happiness. That “always being connected”, eating fast food with friends in front of the TV, purchasing new shoes, buying the latest iPhone and Mac, betting on your favorite team and consuming, consuming, consuming – stocking up on the latest everything will maintain a strong sense of self-worth and fulfilment. But unless we begin to look inward to search for our own happiness, self-worth and fulfilment will never come to fruition. The secrets lie within us all.

 

Connected


For me, happiness came about through a sense of achievement in various aspects of life. I found that the more I achieved, the more goals I accomplished, the better I felt and the more I wanted to do it. I became addicted to achieving, but also failing. I no longer viewed failure as “failure”, but rather an attempt to succeed, which I thought was far better than not trying at all. I could happily reside in the fact that if I were to grow old, with a lifetime of failures under my belt, that life would be without regret. The fact remains that a sense of achievement is subjective in nature. I derive the greatest sense of achievement through facing the fears that frighten me most, public speaking being one of them. But it doesn’t all have to be heroics and fear facing and swords and shields. One can also gain a great sense of achievement through little challenges put in place throughout the day. Things like taking cold showers, meditation (a huge one!), cooking dinner for yourself, high intensity exercise; lifestyle changes that bring about a chronic state of happiness moreover a temporary bliss are the ones to look out for, and you can come up with your own.


Ultimately, I guess the only difference between the person I was to the person I am today is that I understand myself a little better, and maybe that's what life is all about: learning what makes you happy and putting processes in place to sustain such feelings. In any case, the anxiety emotion is simple in my eyes. Yes, simple, but not easy. If you can make it rise, you can make it fall. It is therefore, one's own choice whether to lead a happy life or a fearful one.

Happiness

 

 

Happiness, self awareness, pleasure and pain

I believe inner happiness and an honest sense of mental wellbeing are the most important things in your life; everything ripples from it. You must first put yourself in front of your family and friends, your job and income, even your pets (to all the dog lovers out there, when you are indeed struggling).

Everything will follow. We perceive life through our own lens and the onus is on us to keep it clear – without fog, mist and negativity. How do we do this? We must develop a true sense of self awareness and there are actually ways to practice self-awareness. In knowing and coming to terms with who we are, we may put in place, habits and processes that reinforce and coincide with a subjectively awesome lifestyle – one that, more often than not, makes us happy!

“Tom, is it really that simple?” In my opinion, yes. It just may take some time. For example, for me, some of the anxiety I was dealing with was related to the way I was subconsciously living my life. I wanted to be an AFL player because I “knew” then I’d get all the girls, be rich and famous and live up to the expectations of society’s alpha male normality. However, deep down, I knew the way I was living didn’t coincide with who I truly was. The people I was surrounding myself with didn’t see eye to eye with who I wanted to become. That’s not to say they were bad people, they just had different goals and agendas.

Jim Rohn said that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. The reason I like that quote so much is not because it tells you to cut people out of your life because they’re shit value, but to be aware of the people who want you to succeed no matter what it is, and the people who are impartial to it. It perfectly explains, in a social sense, the significance behind creating a life that works for you and in doing so only allowing the people that make you a better person come along for the ride. It is something I have taken with me through my life with severe anxiety and my life without.

How do we gain a sense of self-awareness?

Mindfulness meditation is one way to attain such clarity, and this is the practice I used to do. Mindfulness is about understanding when thoughts and emotions are particularly strong and when they are soft and gentle. Being able to step back and simply notice what's going on in your head rather than letting the thoughts, however strong or weak, become you is a great tool to have in your inventory. The steps you put in place when anxiety hits you, let alone any emotion, must become second nature. It is crucial that when a “what if” thought pops in your head, you habitually recognize that holding any resistance to it is not the way to go. “Yes Tom, but that's easier said than done isn't it?” Not at all. In fact you've been doing this all your life. Experts say we have approximately 50,000 thoughts a day and in truth, you hold no resistance to 99% of those thoughts, give or take. Now bear with me on this one.

Some of us fear flying. Some of us hate the thought of being in a car crash or being trapped in social situations. The thoughts and symptoms associated with these fears only exist because of the mental resistance we put up in an effort to prevent them from happening within our own minds. Nevertheless, it will always stand true that fear is an illusion. It is a choice. If you allow your anxious thoughts to pass through you without any resistance to them, i.e. “I accept there is a chance I could crash this car yet I am in no greater risk of doing so than the car driver next to me”, then your fight or flight response will lessen in severity. After a bit of practice your, car crash anxiety will dissipate. The thoughts will not remain and to some degree you may even forget you ever had such a fear. Remember, anxiety is a good thing. It keeps us safe.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that anxiety sufferers may only ‘suffer’ because of one particular thought or fear that sticks around. But 1 out of 50,000 isn’t too bad, is it!? This understanding helps put things into perspective when the anxiety emotion is particularly evident. In all my struggles in all those years, I could count my worries on one hand. In fact, I could even relate them all back to a general fear of uncertainty in outcome. This is what I'm talking about when I note the value in simplifying your issues and attaining a strong sense of self awareness. For me, this made huge inroads in my fight to completely abate my inappropriate anxiety symptoms.

There is one last concept I’d like to mention, and that is the difference between pleasure and happiness. There are many things within our lives which we derive pleasure from, but make no mistake. Pleasure will not lead to happiness, nor is it the same thing. And without a base line level of self-awareness, it is quite difficult to differentiate between the two. In my experience, pleasure or pleasurable experiences derive temporary solutions to boredom, stress and that therein. In seeking pleasure, one attempts to escape subjective monotony within their own lives and that can be through many things.

People may find pleasurable solitude in recreational drugs, excessive masturbation, porn, in fatty or sugary foods, or that red notification symbol on their phones. Such guilty pleasures give significant rise to dopamine levels in the brain. Societal norms and mass media marketing consistently and subconsciously reinforce within us that pleasure WILL lead to happiness. That “always being connected”, eating fast food with friends in front of the TV, purchasing new shoes, buying the latest iPhone and Mac, betting on your favorite team and consuming, consuming, consuming – stocking up on the latest everything will maintain a strong sense of self-worth and fulfilment. But unless we begin to look inward to search for our own happiness, self-worth and fulfilment will never come to fruition. The secrets lie within us all.

For me, happiness came about through a sense of achievement in various aspects of life. I found that the more I achieved, the more goals I accomplished, the better I felt and the more I wanted to do it. I became addicted to achieving, but also failing. I no longer viewed failure as “failure”, but rather an attempt to succeed, which I thought was far better than not trying at all. I could happily reside in the fact that if I were to grow old, with a lifetime of failures under my belt, that life would be without regret. The fact remains that a sense of achievement is subjective in nature. I derive the greatest sense of achievement through facing the fears that frighten me most, public speaking being one of them. But it doesn’t all have to be heroics and fear facing and swords and shields. One can also gain a great sense of achievement through little challenges put in place throughout the day. Things like taking cold showers, meditation (a huge one!), cooking dinner for yourself, high intensity exercise; lifestyle changes that bring about a chronic state of happiness moreover a temporary bliss are the ones to look out for, and you can come up with your own.

Ultimately, I guess the only difference between the person I was to the person I am today is that I understand myself a little better, and maybe that's what life is all about: learning what makes you happy and putting processes in place to sustain such feelings. In any case, the anxiety emotion is simple in my eyes. Yes, simple, but not easy. If you can make it rise, you can make it fall. It is therefore, one's own choice whether to lead a happy life or a fearful one.

Read more...
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