The Psychology of Choice with Gemma Stone

Gemma Stone is a registered psychologist and neuroscientist based in Calgary, Canada, who bridges lifestyle design concepts and practices into her clinical practice.
The Psychology of Choice with Gemma Stone
Published December 6, 2022

For some time, lifestyle design was commodified by social media influencers for its envy-stirring appeal. But can lifestyle design actually help us get back into healthy and healing relationships to ourselves?

Gemma Stone is a registered psychologist, neuroscientist, executive coach, speaker, and author based in Calgary, Canada.

Gemma bridges lifestyle design concepts and practices into her clinical practice to help clients remember that they possess the power of choice, especially when they are feeling down, victimized, or like they are not living lives of their own making.

In this interview with host Dave Ursillo, Gemma shares how her early personal experiences with trauma led her to study psychology, what overcompensating for a healing journey looks like (and what’s wrong with over-compensating), and how lifestyle design helped her to finally bring true balance to her healing and wellness journey, so she could support others in doing the same.

This interview was originally recorded in September 2020.

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Episode Transcript

We provide full episode transcripts for increased accessibility, especially for those who may be hard of hearing or for whom English is a second language. Please note that transcripts are not fully edited and may contain errors. Thank you for understanding!

Dave Ursillo  00:00

I remember writing an essay years ago called lifestyle design is over. It was back in 2016. And the piece was a scathing criticism, not so much of the genre of lifestyle design itself, which is an actually quite helpful construct that implies that people can thoughtfully design their lives in ways that are self honoring to create a life that they want to be living. Which pretty good and empowering things.

Dave Ursillo  00:26

The criticism was of a particular subset of lifestyle design and personal development bloggers and writers and social media influencers. The idea the story around lifestyle design had seemingly become one of an expression of look at me social media culture at best. But at worst, perhaps covert narcissism, a combination of people play acting as adventure seekers, claiming to live their lives with meaning and purpose, while putting on this very demonstrative show, as if to stir people’s envy and jealousy. And ultimately, to drive a purchasing decision over our future clients, or readers or retreat goers who wanted to get a taste of that dream lifestyle too. I found a lot of faults and selling people on this idea of a complete fantasy lifestyle, while also implying that their non fantastical lifestyles were somehow hollow or incomplete or lacking by comparison.

Dave Ursillo  01:27

All these years later, that one expression of lifestyle design seems by and large to be over, thankfully, but lifestyle design itself is not. And today, lifestyle design may be a key to helping each of us start or continue to develop healing relationships to ourselves.

Dave Ursillo  01:49

From The New Story Company this is The New Story Is a podcast that explores the stories, perceptions and ideas that have come to shape the world today as we know it. Along the way we speak to talented guests who are championing the new stories that may shape our collective future for the good. I’m Dave Ursillo.

Dave Ursillo  02:09

We’re joined today by Gemma Stone, a registered psychologist and neuroscientist based in Calgary, Canada, who bridges lifestyle design concepts and practices into her clinical practice. In addition to building resilience and emotional intelligence, Gemma specializes in helping your clients to remember that they possess the power of choice, especially when they’re feeling down or victimized or like they’re not living lives of their own making. Our interview was recorded in September 2020.

Dave Ursillo  02:37

Gemma, welcome to The New Story Is and thank you for joining us.

Gemma Stone  02:41

I’m delighted to be here. Thank you so much, Dave.

Dave Ursillo  02:44

Let’s start with an excerpt from your book which is called Your Great Life a soulful and strategic guide to designing a life you love. Could you read a selection for us?

Gemma Stone  02:54

I was born a sensitive soul with an early start on darkness and trauma. The pain of my life caused me to disconnect from my true self by the age of five. I quickly developed a people pleasing self sacrificing good girl persona. My trauma taught me that speaking the truth and taking care of myself causes a chaotic crash of abandonment, instability and disconnection. Most of my life, I wasn’t adapt chameleon, altering myself to suit my surroundings and the expectations of others. As a young adult, my past started to catch up to me and I self medicated with wine shopping and ice cream. I

Gemma Stone  03:34

n addition, I used a handful of prescription medications to keep the depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and panic attacks if they I also kept my life overflowing with commitments. I would do anything I could to distract myself from the darkness. Of course, at the time, I wasn’t conscious of any of this. The story I told to justify my life was so elaborate. I couldn’t see through the complex web of lies. As a good little overachiever, I started winning awards and acquiring titles, the captain of the sports team, president of the jazz band, and the most inspirational awards. I was a Canadian ambassador for my college. As life continued, I exchanged titles for roles, waking up at five in the morning to run off to one job, finishing my shift and starting my second job, finishing that shift and starting my third job. And if if you available moments slipped by, I had a fourth on call job to fill the gaps. I was avoiding the pain of my life by zipping through it. Perhaps if I kept running, the pain couldn’t catch me.

Gemma Stone  04:45

The Whispers of my true self were so repressed that I didn’t hear them until I turned 25 On my birthday, I decided to celebrate with a decadent bubble bath. I drove around town and collected everything I needed in order to honor my special day fresh roses, a bottle of champagne, a box of Godiva chocolates, bubble bath and luxury candles. When I returned home, I displayed the roses, drizzled the bubble bath, pop the champagne and poured myself a glass and laid back to enjoy the gift to myself. And I felt totally empty. I looked in my bathroom sink and sell bottles and bottles of prescription medications lined up in a row. Up until my birthday, I had seen dozens of therapists and read hundreds of books. I tried EMDR DBT CBT EFT ACT, and a whole bunch of other therapies that involve a mouthful of initials.

Gemma Stone  05:46

I saw therapists who asked me to tell them how events made me feel when she gave me worksheets, another one who gave me a stack of books, and even one who gave me strawberry marshmallows. I cried. Imagine waterfalls, challenged my thoughts, punch pillows and drew pictures. In a desperate attempt to heal myself, I dove into university and graduate school to study psychology. Eventually, I became a registered psychologist. As a student of psychology, I devoted myself to mastering the therapeutic techniques that had once been used on me. I hoped that by gathering degrees and certificates, I might find my way out of my suffering, and help others find their way out too.

Gemma Stone  06:32

Prior to my 25th birthday, I had numbed, distracted and medicated myself so completely, that I was $100,000 in debt, 100 pounds overweight, and I had no idea who I was. I know who others wanted me to be. And I dutifully showed up as that until I didn’t. My birthday bubble bath was my awakening moment. I realized my life was built on a foundation of fear, and I needed to tear it down. I wasn’t living my life. The part of me that had been showing up wasn’t my true self. It was all false. And I knew that if I had the courage to climb the mountain of truth, I would find my real life. All I had to do was keep climbing, and surviving. Once I woke up to my reality, it took years of soul searching and healing to arrive at a place of authenticity. Thankfully, along the way, I was able to find wise mentors, people who inspired me to ask better questions, seek more truthful answers, and who held me accountable when I wavered. So mentors I hired and some graciously donated their time. In all cases, I’ll be forever grateful for the impact they had on my life.

Gemma Stone  07:52

With loving and patient guidance of my mentors, I found my health and my life. In the past, I’d use my mind to avoid looking into my heart and healing my soul. I knew I needed to trade mind therapy for heart therapy. And I knew I had to get to know my true self. Using various therapeutic approaches and my soul’s guidance, I slowly began to heal the wounds of my past. My first healing steps found me in an over spiritualized superficial space. I traded my addiction to Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey for self help books. I was so determined to heal myself. I committed to reading a book a week for 10 years. I practice my affirmations listen to spiritual auto audiobooks as I slept, and looked up every ailment in Louise Hays book, you can heal your life. I became a spiritualize version of my false self.

Gemma Stone  08:49

Even though it wasn’t soulful, it was a step in the right direction. I was too afraid to enter the dark, so I became addicted to the light. By ignoring the darkness it stayed in the buried and festering true healing came in when I had the courage to edge into the darkness. In one particularly intense group session, I cried hard. I stood in a circle of 40 people and surrendered I dropped my ego, let the tears flow and choked on my SOPs. I had contained the pain for so long that my body had forgotten how to breathe. It was my very first public experience of intense vulnerability. I know I’m not alone in this kind of suffering. I know we all struggle at times, some rare folks have an entirely peaceful and trauma free childhood.

Gemma Stone  09:44

But the majority of us experience a few physical, emotional, mental, sexual or spiritual desktops. It’s beyond the scope of this book to support you and healing the past but it is important when revisiting the past it’s helpful to seek allies Create a safe and sacred place for healing. If past traumas are preventing you from living a life you love, please reach out for professional support. Once I healed the past, I focused my energy and attention on loving the present, and envisioning a future that felt light and free. The life design process questions and content, were born from designing a life I love and helping 1000s of others do the same.

Dave Ursillo  10:29

You in Your excerpt mention pretty early on that this idea of taking care of yourself that you had this idea in your head, a learned behavior and impression that was set based on traumatic experiences that taking care of yourself equated to problems?

Dave Ursillo  10:47

Do you as a psychologist today find that this is a common script whether or not it’s attached to traumatic experiences and you know, very difficult traumas that people experience in their life. Do you oftentimes find a a struggle or resistance or shadows, where people feel like they’re unable or not allowed to take care of themselves because it creates some sort of like dissonance or problems in their lives like you have felt in the past?

Gemma Stone  11:16

Yeah, I think that’s a core issue that a lot of people struggle with. And I think as humans, we’re, of course, we’re connected. We’re wired for that connection, and that belonging and relationships with others. And I think it’s this delicate balance between attachment and authenticity. And for certain people, for many people, I think it feels like we need to pick one or the other. So either we can be our authentic selves, or we can have attachment, or we can have attachment to others, and sacrifice our authentic self.

Gemma Stone  11:47

And I think it’s this delicate balance between knowing who we are and and prioritizing our relationship with ourselves, while also being able to show up in relationship in a way that takes care of the attachment. But I think it’s quite precarious. Certainly, if you’ve had a history of trauma, because it usually involves other people, it’s even more fragile. But I also think just in general, our world isn’t always supportive of having a very strong sense of self, and then being able to thrive in the world in terms of careers, or, like professional expectations. Relational expectations are just the dominant narrative of whatever culture that we’re living in.

Dave Ursillo  12:28

What I find so fascinating about what you read for us in your story, and thank you for sharing, sharing it obviously this these are words from your book, Your Great Life. So it’s something that you have, you have shared and you’ve shared in writing was really powerful to hear you speak them, for us. And so I wanted to first thank you again for reading them for us.

Dave Ursillo  12:48

And what I also found really powerful in your story, Gemma is that it’s, it’s a little bit of a it’s not a typical, overcoming hardship story. And here’s what I mean. In what you describe to us, you almost describe overcorrecting, you’re in your healing journey, and almost creating what sounded like really regimented structures. And like, you know, to me, as a writer, and an author, I am the worst and slowest reader. So the idea of reading a book a week, pretend like it sounds like some kind of hell and I love books, but it sounds like some kind of hell. So but what I kind of heard because you described it as almost trying to like overcorrect. Instill, still avoid the darkness and still ignore the dark. You said by ignoring the dark, it stayed in me.

Dave Ursillo  13:43

And I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about that. Because typically, when I hear someone tell a story that’s like a coming from, from the darkness and persevering through it, you almost expect to hear that like overcompensation. And now I do read a book, a self help book per week for 10 years and look how happy I am. But for you, it sounds like it wasn’t just jumping over the pain into the happiness. You had to kind of try to jump over fall be broken open in that image of you, you know, crying before those strangers.

Dave Ursillo  14:17

And that’s actually what sets you on as you describe it heart therapy rather than, like head therapy. Which of course you are a psychologist so I don’t want to say that head therapy is bad or wrong by any stretch but for you it was like connecting with your heart that was requisite not just the ideas, the cognitive ideas of healing. Can you tell us about that?

Gemma Stone  14:38

Yeah, that’s so true. I love that you pick that up because there was a period of my life when I did I went into the overcorrection which is you know, as in like the hustle and the grind and, and I can actually recall times before I had I let’s call it the second part of the healing journey, where I thought I had peaked. I’m like I’m doing this I’m like read a book a week. accomplish all of these goals. I’m living the dream.

Gemma Stone  15:03

And I had actually, you know, we talk a lot. And people talk about vision boards and they, you know, the goals that we set for ourselves and I had I hit them, I got all the like the gold stars on everything that I thought I wanted in my life. And when I got to that point, it still felt false. still felt like there was lacking some type of authenticity. And I did actually I can recall being on stages and being like I did the hero’s journey, and look at me now reading a book a week. And then there’s sort of like the second deeper dive into I would call it like a more genuine, real kind of healing for me. And the reason I think this is really important is because we all have this, this construct itself that we’ve developed and set for some people.

Gemma Stone  15:47

The construct itself is it’s, it’s what we develop in order to cope with the hard things we’ve been through. So one version of my construct itself was depression, anxiety, addiction, I got through that. And then I went to the other kind of like the brighter, lighter side of my constructive self, but that was overachieving people pleasing, chronically busy, and always on the edge of burnout. And so from that perspective, a lot of people would look at my life and say, like, wow, you had it figured out.

Gemma Stone  16:16

But the reality is, it was just sort of another version of kind of like the dysfunction of trying to cope with those hard things that I had been through. So the real healing came in, when I did face the darkness and look at the patterns and try to understand why I was doing these things that I was doing, why was I driven in those ways and connected more deeply into my heart, rather than creating these goals for myself and hitting the targets and really living the life that I think I thought I was supposed to be living. But when I got into that life, I still felt kind of hollow.

Dave Ursillo  16:49

What I kind of that’s what I kind of hear Gemma, and maybe you could tell me, if I’m close to the mark or from even way off the mark, but how you describe the how you that you essentially found a corrected path. And move away from the constructive self, as you call it both like when they’re when it was like, you know, using and, and kind of like, being in that shadow state, right of like using substances and, and the different things that we would call like negative negative patterns and behaviors and habits, as opposed to the more like, positive perceived ones, which was still, like you said, trying to, like correct or hide from this constructive self that you had built in this image that like things were perfect.

Dave Ursillo  17:37

You said in your excerpt that perhaps if I kept running, the pain couldn’t catch me, which I think was a really powerful way to describe how some people try to avoid this, this uncomfort this discomfort and their shadows and traumas that need healing. But what I kind of hear in how you tried to correct the shadows was almost through this, you said hustle and grind or like achieving the hero’s journey, and almost seems like an over masculinized approach to like ticking boxes and like winning at healing as opposed to a more, you know, energetically feminine or Yin approach of like sinking into it and sitting with it and receiving it and then finding a path from it that isn’t perfectly articulated like a business plan or something.

Dave Ursillo  18:32

So I kind of feel like that breakdown of traditional, like, masculine, feminine, young or again, energy’s not to say it’s either one or the other. But I feel like, do you do suppose looking back that there was an overcorrection with this like, regimented approach, as opposed to a more, you know, heart or emotion or Yin centered exploration? How would you describe the difference?

Gemma Stone  18:59

Yeah, I think that’s, I think that’s really true, very, and very, very observant. And I don’t know if and even before this moment, if I would have had the awareness around like that’s what it was, but that’s exactly what it was. It was it was really interesting because I did have this sort of almost like hyper masculine approach to to life and the goal setting is goal setting into achieving objectives in my career and kind of working through the business plan and getting to the the top of the ladder of my life in a way and I do think that the course correction was a lot actually about healing both the masculine and the feminine was in me, I think there was a there was a period of time almost were in my internal world and in my external world, I suppose the best way of describing it is over served the masculine so I felt like my life was all about how do I make sure that from the perspective of the masculine I’m good and I’m pleasing and I’m successful and I’m all of these different things.

Gemma Stone  19:56

So my part of a lot of the healing journey of dropping into my Heart and really doing some deep body based work was healing the feminine inside of me and then bringing the two of them into more balanced in alignment and really making peace with them. So it’s more inside myself but also in the world having a healthier relationship with both the masculine and the feminine. And I didn’t have that either in my inner world or my outer world, when it’s really in that place of of suffering.

Dave Ursillo  20:22

Yeah. Well, I mean, I love that language of like, over serving the masculine, I think that our culture and society like especially a very patriarchal leaning, or explicitly patriarchal society, and the cultural norms that way, by and large in North America, and, you know, European culture, most of the world kind of has this over serving the masculine bent to it that I think does take most of us male or female, or neither, or both, into a direction of trying to over masculinize our lives or masculine is our approach to fixing problems or dealing with our shadows, our traumas, our pains, our suffering. And so Jim, I’m curious, like now, because well, I was gonna also say that, you know, I think it’s also a testament, it’s not just a matter of like, there’s something being masculine or feminine, energetically, you’re also a very highly accomplished person, you’re very highly driven.

Dave Ursillo  21:21

So I think it kind of also makes sense that you would, you know, over serve the masculine in the sense of that, like, energetic pursuit of excellence and to accomplish, because now here we are, and I wouldn’t say you’re over serving the masculine by any stretch, as as a very balanced and incredible person speaking from, you know, my own personal subjective experiences, your long term friend and colleague and peer in this online space that we share. But I know you’re also a consultant, your retreat leader, you’re an accomplished and extremely amazing psychologist, you believe weekend immersions, and retreats, you know, when we were able to get together and hang out in that regard. And, in addition to working with clients who have, you know, consulted and facilitated work with entrepreneurs, so I see all these threads through which you have achieved and found your own version of excellence, not to mention the least of which as an amazing mother, a top of it all.

Dave Ursillo  22:18

So I’m curious about like now as somebody meets you, as they will, in our podcast episode. And here’s your bio, to follow your own personal narrative, your own personal story, how did you go about finding a sense of like, balanced, insecure, masculine, feminine to to be you know, who you are today, and to be now on top of it, especially, I’m really curious about the aspect of being a psychologist and helping to support people in their own personal journeys of like healing and growth and self awareness?

Dave Ursillo  22:52

How would you say like that came to be did you have to heal completely to start becoming, you know, the version of yourself that we meet in your bio? Or is it much different than then like, oh, okay, I fix my problems now become a psychologist and, and help other people? Yeah.

Gemma Stone  23:09

Oh, that’s such a great question. And so interesting, too, because I, for me, personally, I work with therapists as well, I both supervise them, but I also have my own therapist. And I’m very suspicious of a psychologist or a therapist who doesn’t, who doesn’t have their own therapist. So the answer to that is really, really partially to do with other mentors that I mentioned, in, in in the My Story section of my book, including yourself, thank you for that tape. So it’s really been a lot about looking at my relationship with the masculine and feminine in my inner world, and then also in my outer world.

Gemma Stone  23:44

So historically, I didn’t have a lot of really close relationships with women, I’ve been, for a lot of my life, I felt very much like a solo flier. So I really started to look at that of why don’t I have a lot of close relationships with men and women? And what’s going on there? And, and how can I start to bring some of those into my life, and then through that bringing in begin to look at some of the resistance I might have, or some of the limiting beliefs or some of the trauma patterns that might be stuck. So initially, it was very intentional, but I’m going to I’m going to bring in the healthy feminine into my life, and I have to call them my fairy, fairy godmothers. I have two retired therapists who are just incredible, and I’m fortunate to be able to work with them. One focuses on my work as an individual, and then one focuses of on my work in relationship with others.

Gemma Stone  24:31

And then I began welcoming women into my life in terms of friendship, and then similarly, with men as well started looking at how can I bring healthy relationships with men into my life? So some of it was that going out in the world and saying, this is part of the life design process is being very intentional about what is it that you want to grow into and what’s that next step and opportunity and experiences to invite that growing? And into your second question about therapy. One of the magical things I’m not sure whose response so well for this if it’s like the universe or, or God or some other divine figure, but what I noticed is that in terms of my work with clients, I’m always like one or two steps ahead in terms of my own healing journey. And what’s who I work with. And something that’s so spectacular about that for me is that I can really relate to the raw vulnerable experience of somebody who is just coming out or trying to get through what I’ve just been through.

Gemma Stone  25:27

So I find that I don’t have to have it all together, in fact that as long as I continue to do my work, the right clients show up that are wanting to work on the things that I’m really resource for. And I’ve just done my own personal work on and finished the training for so that I can really support them in their journey in a way that’s really relatable and relational. Because I’ve really just come through it myself.

Dave Ursillo  25:50

I love that it definitely keeps you it sounds like it keeps you moving forward and not just in like a blind, like blindly going forward because I have to keep moving forward. Otherwise, I’m failing kind of a mentality. But it keeps it sounds like your work as a psychologist helps you to keep moving in the sense of like learning and growing and healing. Because, you know, probably I’ve heard this said before, I don’t know if you agree, Gemma, you can only really take somebody as far as like a healer, as you have gone yourself. Obviously, it kind of stands to reason that you can only take someone as far as you yourself have been in your own healing journey in that way.

Gemma Stone  26:34

Yeah, it’s very true I’ve and the thing that I think is really quite special about is is this, again, I love to just jamming on the masculine feminine that you brought into the conversations because there’s two pieces to it. So for me, there’s this feminine, feminine sort of energy of, I’m going to surrender and and trust the process and be really connected to my heart, and my emotions. And then I’m also going to honor the masculine. And I’m going to go out and I’m going to pursue additional trainings and certifications and, and be really thoughtful and strategic about how I take those snaps next step forward.

Gemma Stone  27:07

And I find this like the blending of the two as well as the trusting of the process that brings the perfect clients into my life as well as aligned opportunities for speaking or running events. And since I’ve embodied both of those healthy versions of the masculine, feminine inside myself and my business, and then in my work in the world, I’ve just felt everything is so much easier. There’s a there’s a kind of flow that it’s it’s intangible, but there’s this, this felt sense of knowing that there’s the next thing, the next right thing is just around the corner. And I just need to continue to stay aligned with my authentic self and my work in order to be able to ride right into whatever’s next.

Dave Ursillo  27:50

Yeah, well, let’s talk about something that takes I think, in my experience, as a, you know, as an author, and as a writing coach, of real balance of that interplay of like masculine feminine energy, which is writing a book. So I’d love to ask you about Your Great Life. And, you know, I think this is kind of like a “No Duh” kind of a question of like, why did you want to write a book because you have so much story and so much amazing advice, and so much to share? Gemma that almost feels like, like a very silly question to ask.

Dave Ursillo  28:21

But I’m curious about what some of your motivations were to tell not only your story, but to help people through your 1000s of client hours working with with so many people, not only where you’re based in Canada, but around the world, thanks to the internet, of designing their lives and getting into lifestyle design. As for your book, so what was the what was the spark for your book when, when it kind of came to you?

Gemma Stone  28:51

I had just found my way through a really dark time in my life, where it was that awakening moment where I was like, wow, I really need to level what I’ve built. And essentially, like start again, I don’t think we ever start again. Because I think we have wisdom and experiences and lessons and learnings and relationships and all these things that we create. But I think there’s some times in life, we hit this point where we just feel so out of alignment, that this sort of destruction is necessary in order for creation. So I’ve been through that cycle in my life twice. And it was the second time when I was starting to feel it again that I look back. And he’s like, I’ve been through this before. And I felt my way through it. This is like the sort of the next evolution in the process. And I’m going to document what this is like.

Gemma Stone  29:39

I was noticing that same journey for a number of my clients as well. And I also noticed that my mum and my sister too. So there’s a lot of people that were very close to me, that I was beginning to recognize there’s a sort of familiar pattern that happens when you start to touch into your authentic self and have these awakening moments. And it’s very disorienting, and it’s really scary. And I didn’t feel like there was Enough resource out there, especially in the world of psychology to describe this whole process. And then how do you get through it, and then not repeat the exact same pattern, again was one of the things in psychology is talk about if you if you don’t heal it, you’re likely to repeat it. And so I wanted to create a guidebook essentially, for myself, for my sister for my clients that says, if you’re noticing these things about your life, and you’re feeling like it’s time to redesign, here’s a process that I found to be really helpful for myself personally, for the people I love.

Gemma Stone  30:30

And for my clients, that can almost be like a guiding light. So it’s not it won’t, of course, you won’t walk, you can’t, it will walk the path for you. But it will show you where the steps are, that are solid, that you can, you can take that next step forward, and you can rest a little bit, and then take the next step forward as this route. That’s really why I wrote the book.

Dave Ursillo  30:49

I love that, could you share with us maybe one of those steps in the process, if not leading us through, like, leading us through it in total, obviously, people should pick up your book and read it for themselves, which you can find on Amazon. Because you tell us like maybe one of the steps that you’ve been finding, let’s say, for example, you you recently have been kind of helping somebody as a psychologist, and one of the steps of your process has come to mind like as recently as this week or something.

Dave Ursillo  31:20

Could you tell us a little bit about what that what that what are those steps kind of looks like or feels like, and so that someone who’s listening might be able to relate to that kind of process? Because I really find it interesting that you described it as a familiar pattern that emerges when somebody’s going through one or multiple awakening moments. It sounds like there’s some kind of like, shared experience there. And I’d love to just kind of like dig into one of those as an example.

Gemma Stone  31:45

Yeah, often, the first piece is just noticing like something feels wrong with my life is often a feeling. So there’s different types of in terms of doing psychology work,

Dave Ursillo  31:55

I don’t think anyone in 2020 Feels like anything is wrong with the world for an entire year. Raise your hand listener, if you feel like something has been wrong in your life. In the last nine or so months, sorry, to interrupt I just had, I just had to interject there.

Gemma Stone  32:15

I love what you said, because it’s so true. Like there’s and actually it’s a perfect segue into the first identification. Because sometimes when it feels like there’s something wrong, there’s actually like a clinical disorder that’s going on. So not everything is about life design, certainly, there tends to be three categories in terms of its feeling like something is going wrong inside, inside, usually inside of you, for us and your inner world. And then it is usually also a reflection in your outer world. So when it feels like there’s something that’s not right, or something’s lack of alignment, there’s usually three sources of it.

Gemma Stone  32:43

So one is sometimes there’s something biological that’s going on. And that’s like, you know, like, something that’s happening with your your physiology that’s creating a problem, either for your physical or mental health, then sometimes, like you said, David’s environmental, like 2020 is an example of like, environmental problems. And that’s so that sometimes as you’ve just gone through something hard, you’ve lost your job, you’re going through a divorce, there’s a global pandemic.

Dave Ursillo  33:10

Yeah, by environmental, it’s like also like circumstantial, like events happening. When life happens to you. That’s kind of the stuff that, you know, is superficially really easy to see and feel that’s, like super disruptive. I feel like that’s like where a lot of our formative heartbreak moments come in is like when, like a youthful breakup that feels like it’s the most devastating end of the world. And then years later, you’re like, oh, man, I didn’t even like that person. But yeah, and I certainly don’t mean to make light of the pandemic, but at this point, we all have to find some humor in the in the hardship, to some extent, but it sounds like that’s also pretty prevalent, right?

Dave Ursillo  33:49

If it’s not physiological or biological, then then circumstantial environmental, something affecting, which I think, Gemma, maybe you could tell me, because you have a much greater sense of this, in how people are, as a psychologist coming to do you find that a lot of times it is these like circumstantial or environmental problems, issues, struggles, pain points that seemed to be like the spark. Is there like a percentage split between something being physiological, biological, mental health related versus like environmental? And I know as a third year, we haven’t gotten to? Yeah,

Gemma Stone  34:26

that’s actually a really good question, because that’s sort of the process that it goes through versus checking, like, is there something biological that’s going on? Is there something that’s circumstantial that’s going on? And the third one is more like is there something kind of soulful that’s going on? And I find that it’s, it’s usually tends to be a little more circumstantial, but sometimes the circumstantial also leads into the soulful. So they’ll come to me because they’ve been laid off or they’re going through that heartbreak, or like you mentioned or just struggling with the stress of the pandemic.

Gemma Stone  34:55

We’ll work through those initial presenting problems, but then usually what we discover is like a little but more beneath the surface are some hidden, hidden feelings of misalignment. And so that’s really the first step is, is looking at what is it that’s going on in your life that feels wrong? Where does it belong? Like, do you need to go and get some medical testing done? Or do you need to just navigate this really bumpy time in the world? Or do you really need to do a deep dive into your heart and your soul and your brain and your life, and start to unpack the things that feel like they’re not you or they’re not authentic, or they’re not aligned. And then from that place, that’s really where a lot of this kind of juicy work is, is looking at how do we reconnect you to who you are. And from that place start to make decisions about your life. And I call that the life design process. Because I think it’s a little bit like the difference between just landing in like a cookie cutter house that someone built for you. And they’re like, this is the layout, this is the design, this is the colors live in it. And I think that’s this kind of, we’re all sort of born into the world. And that’s often the narrative that we get.

Gemma Stone  36:03

So you know, like, are often our parents choose where we live, our teachers in via our classrooms, choose who we’re willing relationship with, our values are also given to us by our loved ones, our beliefs are often inherited from the people that are around us, in a lot of ways, that’s a lot like just kind of moving into a house has already been built for you. But it’s very different to like build your custom home from the ground up with the foundation that feels really true to you in the location that feels really routine in the rooms and the styling and design and, and we can do that for life. And then once we’re living kind of in that custom home, it feels right for who we are, and our soul and our purpose and all the different pieces that make us unique individuals, I find that’s when life starts to feel more pleasurable, more joyful, like those those those rewards I guess, of, of living in alignment start to become much more accessible.

Dave Ursillo  36:57

I love that framework of just just being able to break it down. First of all great metaphor of like the house you were born into, versus the house, you’re kind of like choosing the choosing the place and choosing how it fits and choosing everything about it. But I love just that that breakdown of kind of, you know, this, I think someone who’s listening right now could really easily say okay, the story I’ve been living lately or where I’m feeling uncomfortable. feeling pain or feeling suffering, okay, is this could this be biological or physiological? If so, it’s you know, like find medical help, or find someone who deals with you know, that in a in the, in the proper setting, like a psychiatrist or a doctor or qualified professional.

Dave Ursillo  37:41

Second is like, okay, is this environmental circumstantial? Is this a result of the pandemic? Is this because I’m going through a breakup? Is this? Because I just feel, you know, XYZ? Or is it a more a big a bigger question, like you said about it being soulful, so biological, environmental, or soulful, something that’s going to kind of going on in your inner world, questions that need answering, like kind of pivotal. You’re at, you’re at a crossroads moment, and you need to, like, you know, feel like you’re making the right decision. Like that’s a really interesting and helpful framework for just easily helping someone to break down like where this problem, issue struggle, pain point may reside, other than just like, I have problems, and I don’t know what to do about it kind of like giving it a little bit more of a, a sense of giving yourself more of an understanding for where the root of it may be. Because you know, these problems, whether emotional, mental, psychological, spiritual, they all except if it’s physical, of course, but they all kind of reside in this idea space, right?

Dave Ursillo  38:45

It’s not something that we can necessarily have and hold when we feel hurt, or pain or worried or stressed. So you kind of have to go through a process. It sounds Gemma to kind of like sift through like, like, Where does this where does this problem fit? And then I can start to make some some constructive or proactive choices about it.

Gemma Stone  39:06

Yes, yeah. And I think that identification process is really important. Otherwise, it can feel sort of like we’re spinning around in circles trying to find the origin or the source. And but once we can identify what’s really going on, then from there, we can kind of bring in the masculine feminine, we can create some strategy. And then we can also do a deep dive into like the emotions in the body and different levels of the mind to then start to create the changes that are going to result in feeling more alive, more like yourself more content with your life, all those things.

Dave Ursillo  39:43

Yeah, so I want to take a little bit of a pivot we did mention obviously the pandemic and COVID-19 and I’m curious Gemma without of course giving away any personal details or compromising confidentiality or anything of the sort. I’m curious if over you know, we’re recording In mid September, I’m curious if you’ve noticed any common threads or themes or trends around what your clients are feeling and experiencing and working through in that circumstance, or environmental landscape, or even the soulful landscape, not those who are afflicted with mental health disorders and different issues that are diagnoseable and, and require medical attention, but I’m kind of curious, just like, obviously, we are all a part of a very similar narrative right now with things like quarantine trying to find normalcy, hoping for a vaccine. We all had like similar ish experiences, to some extent, you know, certain, certain experiences when you’re particularly privileged. Like, I admit that I am an admin, of like having that somewhere like, Oh, I’m so tired of being home, but I still have work. Oh, I’m so tired of not being able to go out see people, but my family’s all healthy and no one’s hospitalized.

Dave Ursillo  40:56

I’m curious if there’s, if you notice any trends of questions people are asking, or trying to answer outside of the more or less now stereotypical, quarantine lockdown woes and blues, have you noticed anything in particular that has been coming up as people have been asking themselves more soulful questions about, you know, am I really doing what I want to do with my life? Or has it been more about just kind of managing day to day and trying to get by? Because it’s been really challenging for a lot of people?

Gemma Stone  41:27

Especially the question and I think it’s reflective, I mean, just of who you are, in terms of the like, the insights and the depth that you have? And I think the answer to your question is that crisis is often opportunity, like it can kind of crack US Open, to really begin to examine our life. And I think certainly that’s happened for a lot of people that it’s challenged, like, how do we work? How do we relate? Who do we relate to? How do we structure our lives? Do I really want to have my kids and after school programs five days a week? Or do I want to slow down and prioritize quality time?

Gemma Stone  41:59

So I think there’s a lot of questions like that one of the things that I’ve noticed in terms of what the environmental context has done right now, is this challenged this in three ways that are really important in terms of creating feeling a sense of solidity in our lives? So it’s challenged us in terms of context, meaning, how do we make sense of our lives? How do we how do we understand what is it that’s going on? What are the stories that we tell about who we are and how we live. So a lot of people right now are challenged by the context, because it’s, it can be quite difficult to stay on top of understanding what’s happening in the world. And so when we can’t make sense of context, on a macro level, in terms of like our social cultural context, I think we start to look more at the context of our own individual lives. And we try to explore and make con- make make sense of the context that we want to live by. So that’s been one thing.

Gemma Stone  42:49

Another is choice. For so many people choice has really been removed choice in terms of like, whether our kids go to school or not, or whether we have toilet paper, or whether we get to see our loved ones or whether we even we get to get married or have a funeral like so much choice has been removed. And so I think a second theme that’s coming up is both the grief of that and this challenge and the anxiety of having so much choice removed. But then also looking at what choice do we have. And really, that’s when we get to start looking at our inner world again, and we have choice over the actions that we take, we have choice, for the most part over the thoughts that we have, we have choice over the values that we decide to live by. So I think a lot of people are also looking at choice in their life.

Gemma Stone  43:31

And then the third one is connection. And again, that’s something that’s been challenged by by the pandemic is, are the kinds of connections we have with other people and how we get together and how we relate to each other as humans, a lot of that connection has been challenged as well. So I certainly see a lot of themes around that people feeling a sense of loss around having a connection, or also starting to look at that sense of connection and belonging and the way that it was lacking even before the pandemic and or the ways in which it felt superficial.

Gemma Stone  44:00

And now they’re looking for on the other side of this, who do I want to be? How do I want to relate? What kind of relationships do I want to have and choose? How do I want to show up for the people that I love? So those three pieces context, choice and connection have been really big themes in the last six to nine months.

Dave Ursillo  44:16

Wow, that’s amazing. I love the reminder, as simple as it is the importance of asking ourselves, what choice do we have, like, like what is available to us? You mentioned before we started recording Gemma, that, you know we had had to reschedule this interview a couple of times based on some of my circumstances than yours. And I remember you saying before we hit record that you were feeling much more resourced right now, coming into our interview time.

Dave Ursillo  44:46

And that kind of segues into me wanting to ask about like how you as someone who takes care of people, as someone who helps and serves people not only in your book as a mother And as a psychologist and as a coach and a creative and a writer, how do you take care of yourself?

Dave Ursillo  45:07

So when you’re asking yourself the question of like what choice you have not only in response to circumstances, but what choice you have in taking care of yourself and self care and in staying resource, as you put it, or replenished are full and being able to give from that, could you tell us a little bit of what a day in the life of Gemma looks like when she’s taking care of herself and resourcing herself to be the bastion of light and goodness that you are?

Gemma Stone  45:35

It feels so full circle because I can reflect on how I live now compared to how I lived when I was in that kind of addicted to the light and the book a week and the all the things. I mean, it’s very different. So before I used to work before jobs and sacrifice every part of my physical and mental and emotional well being for success. And that’s pretty different. I have, I have boundaries around how many clients I take, for example, I have when I wake up, let’s look at the morning thing. So I when I wake up in the morning, I usually wake up to a playlist I love instead of an annoying alarm, and make it a priority to get at least eight hours sleep every night.

Gemma Stone  46:15

Sometimes I’m not perfect with that. But I will make sure that I top up the next day like that. I know that’s a really high priority for me in terms of just being able to function well to be really present in my life for myself, my kids, my clients. I’ve also found little ways like these are these are kind of little like life hack things that is kind of entertaining to think about other ways that I’ve tried to hack my life for energy. But I do things like when I’m in the morning when I go and get ready. In the bathroom, I have a acupressure mat that I actually stand on, like while they brush my teeth. So I try to like double up on healthy stuff like that as much as I can. And I’ll have like a glass of water, like with some lemon that I’ve that’s been sitting overnight just to kind of, you know, drink that first thing in the morning. So I have all these little ways in which I double up on self care things just to make the day efficient. So there’s like the masculine piece coming in.

Gemma Stone  47:03

And then I like to get up with enough time to really be able to wake my kids up slowly. So I’ll go in and cuddle them and rub their back and ask them about their dreams. And usually we’ll do a little like, like mini dream analysis session. And they’ll probably be like talking to their therapist in 20 years about how I did that to them, but it’s fun, and they love it. And then usually I’d like to make like, eat as close to the earth as I can. So like Whole Foods and stuff makes a really big difference. There was a time in my life, I had no idea about the mind body connection. And when I started to become aware of how the foods that I was eating made me feel it was a massive light switch for me like I went from exhausted and foggy minded to like clear minded and energetic most days. So I’m like devoted to that it’s I kind of jumped on the green juice wagon because it like it makes myself feel alive.

Gemma Stone  47:56

So I’ll usually green juice and the boys green juice with me. And actually, this morning, Jackson commented on how like his green juice was too sweet because I added an extra apple. So I tried to like take the sugar out of it. Now they don’t want it as much sweetness. And then I’ll drive them to school and I’ll go to the gym, I have a really amazing community at my gym. And we usually like laugh and sweat and have a good time. So there’s a lot of connection there for me, and then I’ll come home and I’ll work with clients. And then after after that I usually try to find a little bit of time for for writing. And I have I have targets I want to hit each month. So this is like the balance the masculine feminine. So I have like I want to see I want to connect with my people like you and like close friends, I want to have three of those meetings every month. And I’ll have a certain number of clients that I will not see more than that every month because I will just like, I’m like a workhorse I will just go and go and go. But if I have a target, like you’re not allowed to go over the summer, that helps me to stay really imbalanced. I also once a month I’ll take a Gem Day.

Gemma Stone  48:59

So a Gem Day is like I have no commitments to anyone nothing’s in the schedule. And I’ll just do whatever I want to do, which usually involves going to the mountains. And then I also find like I usually have a therapist with or a session with my own personal therapist, and then I’ll usually have a session with couples therapist, and once a month at least, and other than that I do some body care stuff like like massage. But that’s that’s usually the day or the week or the month in the life of general when she’s well balanced and doing all the things

Dave Ursillo  49:30

so much good stuff in there. I love the idea of taking a Gem Day and I would love it if our listeners would start taking their own Gem days and calling them Gem Days. Because first of all in honor of you and second of all because like what a great way of like referring to a day as a gym than a gym day. makes so much sense. So I’m starting to take Gem days I’m going to pick up my calendar and and just build in more of those Gem days. There’s not too many mountains nearby. Where I live here in southern New England, but we have plenty of water. So my Gem days may involve visiting some water, some woods and reconnecting with nature, though it’s something that you personally like, it’s probably quite a bit of what your Gem days involves Gem.

Gemma Stone  50:15

They totally do. I definitely want to hear about your Gem day, maybe we can even like share a Gem day, and we’ll go for a walk in the woods. But you’re right nature is a huge part of it. Actually, I’m glad you mentioned that it was it was a few years ago, where I became aware of a new diagnosis that they’re suggesting for the DSM, which is a it’s a clinical diagnostic criteria that we have a psychologist, and one of the new diagnosis that was presented or proposed was nature deficit disorder. And yeah, so nature is a really massive part of my mental and emotional wellness. So I try to get out into nature, if I can for a walk every day. And then certainly, like weekends are jam packed with as much nature time as I can both both for myself and for the sons.

Dave Ursillo  50:54

I love that. Yeah, it’s I think we all could use more connection to nature in generally, because we have to remember, especially when we’re talking about, you know, our human problems, struggles, suffering traumas, we can tend to forget that we are and I’m speaking for myself, I have forgotten that times that I am nature, that I am nature. And that nature is me that there actually is no distinguishing lines or boundaries, just because we grow up indoors. And in these constructs of homes, which you know, I’m very, very thankful for not being homeless or living outside. But we are nature and nature is us. So when we get into nature, we’re not, you know, it’s not an indulgence, we are returning to ourselves, we’re returning to our essential nature through nature. And I think that’s a that’s another really important aspect of self care.

Dave Ursillo  51:49

And a really important aspect of continuing to integrate your selfhood and lifestyle design. So I hope Jim is we kind of round up the interview here. I feel like we could keep talking for hours as we usually do, you know, that it’s, you know, some of the things we can leave the listeners with is remembering that lifestyle design sounds, you know, based on your description, it’s a continuing journey, that there’s ample opportunity for refinement for like little hacks for for making life decisions. So that’s kind of my perception.

Dave Ursillo  52:21

But I would love for you if you could leave us with a little something to leave our listeners with if they’re considering making a change smaller, great in designing their grade life, what would you say to him at this time?

Gemma Stone  52:35

I would say that of all the things that I’ve done in my life and all the work that I’ve done with clients, though, the one thing that seems to be always worthy of time, love, energy and attention is our relationship with ourself and developing that safe, warm home, inside yourself to continue to return home to and from that place.

Gemma Stone  53:00

You can gather the wisdom, the resilience, the insight, the awareness, you need to then be able to go out into the world, to create the relationships that you want to have or pursue the career that really speaks to your heart and just live a life that you love. But it really I believe it all begins with having that courage to develop a relationship with yourself. It’s really based on love and authenticity.

Dave Ursillo  53:25

Gemma Stone she’s a registered psychologist and neuroscientist, executive coach, speaker and author based in Calgary, Canada. Gemma, thank you for joining us on the news story is our conversation was originally recorded in September 2020.

Dave Ursillo  53:42

Thank you for listening to this episode of The New Story Is We hope you enjoy what you heard today.

Dave Ursillo  53:47

You can always find us at The New Story Is including our full back catalogue of interviews from throughout the year.

Dave Ursillo  53:54

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