Embracing change

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No matter what your feelings are about the recent BREXIT decision, one thing is for sure – we are all going to be dealing with change as a result of it. Our initial response to change, though, tends to be negative, even when it is wanted.

We feel vulnerable and even threatened by the changes at hand, including those that we may have already anticipated. As a result, we tend to find ourselves in the midst of three familiar stages as we come to terms with the unknown:

1. Surprise — The first stage is surprise. No matter what’s happened or how much we may have expected the impending changes, once they take place we often find ourselves in an initial state of shock, wondering why it’s happening to us.

2. Panic — The second stage we experience is panic, which is largely focused on how the changes will impact us directly. It isn’t long before we begin to question ourselves and wonder if we are competent and able to handle what’s in store for us.

3. Blame — The third and final stage we encounter is blame. When people feel threatened, they often retreat to the safest belief system they can find. If we can point to external factors to help justify the cause of the change, we will. This relieves us of all accountability and enables us to feel more like a victim of what has happened.

Blue silence.Magnificent long exposure landscape with lake view after sunset.Preparing ourselves for what’s next is a much more productive use of energy that will actually help rather than hinder us in moments of uncertainty. So how can we achieve this? One way is to remain open-minded in times of change. Rather than viewing it as a detriment, see it as an opportunity. One way to do this is to choose to see the situation and context as a higher reason for why the change could be happening and trust that like anything in life, good can come from it. Instead of living in fear and being worried by what is ahead it is smarter to focus on “what’s next”.

Modern icons flying over mobile phone in office

When faced with change and uncertainty this threatens our sense of autonomy and need to be in control. Often we then give energy and focus to the exact things that are beyond our control. It’s easy to blame others, either in defensiveness of what was decided (leaving the EU) or in rage at the decision that was reached. I think at the moment we are all moving in and out of the three stages of surprise, panic and blame partly because the outcome of the referendum was a genuine shock, no matter what you voted.

The-Advantage-logoI believe that now more than ever we need to strengthen our self-awareness and inner competences to handle change effectively, be open to different ways of viewing a controversial situation with unknown and far-reaching impact and find ways to discuss our views collaboratively. These times call on us to be adaptable so that we can respond positively to change. We need critical thinking skills to deal with the huge amount of and overload of information coming our way so that we can make clear decisions that help us move forward as well as to make sense of what is happening. Otherwise the danger is that we fall into believing that opinions and new stories are facts. We need empathy to be able to truly be open and compassionate to each other, to be able to discuss opposing views positively and to really listen. We need integrity to make wise decisions aligned to our values. Maybe now is also a good time to redefine our values to see if they still make sense. We need optimism so that we can make progress positively and identify opportunities and ways to succeed. That also means being proactive and deciding on clear actions to take to move forward to (maybe) new goals. Finally we need to build our resilience skills to not be fazed by the changes ahead. That means being able to handle rejection, unexpected outcomes and downturns with ease, agility and grace.

The Advantage cover - low resolutionIn short we need The Advantage now more than ever before. Want to find out more? Come to our taster session Sunday 3rd July at London’s Southbank.


A is for Acceptance

A - Z of Happiness - new blog series!

A – Z of Happiness – new blog series!

Happiness is within your grasp. There are simple things each of us can to every day that can help us be happier. My aim with this new blog series is to select one of those that we can work on and practise – practice is always going to be important but I also want something that gives instant impact so that we can remember the impact and keep doing it!

So – “A” is for acceptance. It is easy to think of practising acceptance as being a bit of a pushover and never saying “no”. It isn’t though. It’s far more about conserving energy and relaxing into the moment. We spend a lot of time resisting change and therefore trying to change something – whether that is a situation, someone else or ourselves. That alone causes stress and anxiety and uses up a lot of energy.

Acceptance has a critical role to play when it comes to happiness.

It’s about accepting where you are in the present, not looking to the future or the past. Accepting and being grateful for where you are right now increases mental wellbeing and happiness. This is also the case when you accept whatever might be going on in any situation:

  • Your train is late? Acceptance gives you energy to use the time productively and to deal with any consequences of being late calmly and stress-free.
  • Friend let you down? Acceptance enables you to be less reactive, to be willing to look at different angles of the situation rather than make assumptions and not get upset for too long.
  • Your proposal got rejected? Acceptance means you are far less likely to take this personally and instead understand that many factors may be at play. Acceptance will allow you to move on fast and get ready for the next opportunity.
Try it this week!

Try it this week!

Practically any situation gives us opportunity to practise acceptance. So try it this week!  You’ll find that acceptance saves energy. Instead of spending time thinking (or worrying) about situations and events, by practising acceptance, you’re saving that mental energy and potentially decreasing stress and becoming more resilient.

What about the big stuff? Stuff that can be really hard to accept?

Even with life events that can seem extremely challenging to accept at the time it is still possible to move towards acceptance. Life is meant to have loss, disappointment and heartache in it. By accepting that something that didn’t turn out as you expected or had hoped is in fact an opportunity to learn and develop and this in turn changes that event from a failure into a success. We can all think of events or situations that didn’t turn out hoped for, but in fact in hindsight lead to a better outcome.

Start now! Every day gives us opportunities to practise acceptance.

  1. Find solutions instead of focusing on the negative. This is entirely possible within any circumstance that comes your way this week. Even if you feel like complaining, don’t – conserve that energy and you’ll be surprised by how quickly you can problem-solve.
  2. Let it go. The ability to let go of things in everyday life that might irk or annoy you makes for happiness and ease. Start with the small things and you’ll soon be dealing with any mishaps or disappointments that come your way with grace and agility.
  3. Let beauty in. When you’re focused on everything that’s lacking, it’s hard to fully notice, appreciate, and enjoy what’s there. Open yourself off to what is truly important and beautiful in life. It’s all around you – in the beauty of the Summer, the sun, the rain, a freshly washed sweater, the warmth of a petHappiness in an inside job - inspirational words on a vintage slate blackboard with a white chalk against burlap canvas


Got a degree? Get some grit.

Lots of students are about to graduate. Most of them will find getting work a challenge despite the hard work that goes into getting a degree. Graduates need crucial skills which they may not have developed during their studies. Because companies are not going to train them to have these skills they  have to get these themselves. Hopefully some of them will have started working on these long before their final year. Most won’t though.

So what are these skills? Most employers cite communication, teamwork, leadership and problem-solving as key skills that are missing. I think a big one that is missing is grit – the power of passion and perseverance.  Continue reading

Everyone’s a writer….

Fountain pen….but not everyone can write. It is easier than ever to publish your own writing whether that’s a blog, a white paper or an e-book, anyone can put themselves forward as an expert. I was recently invited to “become a published author” by submitting chapters to a self-published compilation of stories about women in business. I declined, not least because I am already a published author, but because I know just how much work goes into writing a book and because I didn’t see the opportunity in quite the same way.The Advantage cover - low resolution

For me there is a big difference between self-publishing and writing for a mainstream publisher with a book that is guaranteed to make it onto bookstore shelves. These differences are not just about royalties. My experiences of the publishing world are ones of negotiation – from content to title the publisher decides what ultimately will sell as they have to make money out of my book. The whole writing process is critiqued and shaped by the editorial team. Once drafted, this honing is even more intense. But I enjoy this because I know that the end product will be worth it. If you’re writing for a very specific niche audience then self-publishing is probably the way to go. But if the book is to target a national or international audience it’s extremely difficult to publish it effectively unless you publish it traditionally. And the process is making me a better writer.

réseaux sociauxThe difficulty with self-publishing, blogging, writing e-books and any social media writing is that you don’t necessarily have a reality check in the form of credible feedback – sure, you’ll get opinions about what you are writing and you might be able to measure whether or not people like what you write but you’ll never know if you are a good writer or not. You just won’t.

Traditional publishing may be old school but because they have to be so super-choosy about what they decide to publish in the first place, if you are with a mainstream publisher you can be reasonably sure that you know how to write and can do it reasonably well. In fact well enough that there’s a good chance the book will make money. Now I’m not saying that if you’re published the book will be a best-seller – just like self-publishing those are few and far between – but there’s every chance of a reasonable return on your writing investment and none of the headache of sorting out your own editor, illustrator, copy editor, proof-reader, marketing and distribution channels.

Businessman yellingMost of all though, what I find is that being traditionally published gives me a credible and respected platform to do other things whether that is consultancy, training workshops or writing white papers. I’m improving my writing, selling books and doing work that I love. Herz auf Holz / heart on wooden background

Communication – why we’re worse at it than ever!

Man drowning in a smartphone screen, reaching for a lifebuoy, EPS 8 vector illustration, no transparencies, no meshWe’re not communicating very well. Information overload, diversity and a globalised workplace mean that effective communication skills are more important than ever before because strong relationships are the only currency we have and they are also our competitive advantage. Everything else can be copied and even the skills and knowledge we work so hard to attain at university and through professional development are easily replicated.

We’re getting worse – Because we are operating in such a fast-moving environment we have become more prone to not working well and to communicating less effectively. This has an impact on how our brains process information and how we interpret cues from our environment. How we communicate has changed a lot even in the last 3 – 5 years and will continue to change as the pace of information and technology becomes faster and faster. curved ramp bridge
There is now a body of research that supports the view that we are getting worse at processing information and interpreting environmental cues. Quite often we’re just not aware of these factors and our automated response mechanisms, which means we are not able to override initial reactions, and responses resulting in sub optimal communication skills both in our personal and our work lives. One way to better communication is having a stronger awareness and understanding of how our brain works, how it processes and interprets information and how to rise above our inbuilt automated responses and truly activate our brains⁠ for the better. Making complex decisions and solving problems effectively require a lot of brain energy and so doing this is difficult for any length of time. We need to understand some of the real biological limits on our brain because understanding these is one of the best ways to improve mental performance.

Chinese calligraph as design templates, art elements or body jewellery.

We need to be far more aware of how technology can impede effective communication and how to manage our use of technology so that it enables us to communicate better. We are inundated with information overload⁠ in an unprecedented way. We now live in a world where we are constantly faced with more and more information, on a daily basis, than we can possibly process. It is an over-communicated environment. There are so many unwanted messages bombarding us, that often the ones we want or that are actually important get lost in the noise. The average person can now communicate faster, with more people—without thinking—than ever before and this is only set to increase. Information has become disposable. Much of this information comes at us online but increasingly it is simply everywhere whether at home or at work and whether we are working or wanting to and needing to relax or reflect.

brain - green technology concept / vector illustration / eps10The key? Get to know how our brains work. Understand how to override our automated responses and how to manage our environment. Work smarter and overcome distraction better. It’s the subject of a new book I’m writing!

On rejection

In the last eight months or so, all the proposals I put forward for new consultancy work have been rejected. Yes, every single one. The latest, last week, has prompted me to write this post. Rejection is tough to handle sometimes, no matter how upbeat, resilient and optimistic you might be (and I am). Yet, rejection is the name of the game right now – for many. I am not alone. There are a lot of books and how-to guides telling you how to deal with rejection. Some suggest positive thinking, coping strategies and visualizing for a better tomorrow. Others tell you about serial phases like “denial”, “bargaining”, “acceptance” you’ll inevitably go through when rejected. Most advice on how to deal with rejection tell you that you need to learn from the experience, pick yourself up, move on and bounce back. All wise tips. Continue reading

We don’t need to be busy

curved ramp bridgeIn the six weeks before Easter I decided to give up being “busy”. Busy in the sense of always doing something under the guise of being “productive” and, dare I say it, important.

And I am busy – I have a demanding work schedule, a family, a home to run, a puppy and a choir to manage! Alongside that come all the hallmarks of “busyness” i.e. running around, constant email checking, getting distracted and within that taking digital detoxes and scheduling “me-time”. I decided that I need to think about a different way to manage my work and time to be more productive.

I’ve learned that I need to know the difference between being a workaholic vs. a high performer. The former wants to look more important, but the latter seeks out important work. Knowing the difference can help you and me too to do more in each moment of our day.

Life is made up of hundreds of thousands of moments. Some that move us, others that change us, and some that provoke us to action. Being busy takes us away from those moments. More importantly if we are not in the moment we are not focusing and we are missing opportunities around us. Opportunities are everywhere. They come up in coffee shops, via social media outlets like Twitter, and through mutual connections. When you’re busy, you often miss opportunities because you only see them as distractions, not spaces for you to grow and advance. Enjoy Every Moment Concept

Being busy is also misleading because we confuse motion and action with productivity and progress. We all want to do more with what we have. Unfortunately, we think being busy means we are making strides. 80% of our results come from 20% of our time. If you are able to work out what that 20% looks like (and the actions you take to get there), you can create immeasurable leverage. That means you’ll spend more time doing the things that really drive you toward your goals, and not just “things” to fill space. That also means focusing on what is right in front of you.

Man drowning in a smartphone screen, reaching for a lifebuoy, EPS 8 vector illustration, no transparencies, no meshHow many tabs do you have open right now? Between six and nine might be your average on a good day but that alone damages the brain by 40%. That productivity we so desperately crave is undermined when we do a lot of things at once. That workflow has to stop. It feels great, but it’s terrible for you. I’m even doing it right now!

Instead, try a new workflow. Single-tasking is exactly what it sounds like: doing one task, with no distractions. It may take some time to adopt this new type of workflow, but it will do wonders in the long term.

When you are on holiday delete the email app from your phone. Put an auto respond on and don’t then respond as that tells people you are still available. Use mindfulness to calm your mind and to enable you to rest and reflect. There really is no need to be “always on” – it is our brain that makes this so as well as expectations from others. We all need to learn how to use technology more effectively and manage it as otherwise it manages us! Constantly checking email has an impact on your brain neurons because doing this taps into the reward circuitry of the brain so your brain gets addicted to reacting every time there us a ping in your inbox – social media is the same with its alerts. So switch them off! You will become far more productive and relaxed and more focused.

Lavender teaThe most important thing right now is what is directly in front of you.
So if you’re on holiday be on holiday and enjoy it. If you’re preparing something for work then that is the most important thing. If you’re drinking a cup of tea ditto. And so we move through life moment by moment and everything gets done


Great expectations

TrufflesTo have more satisfaction and equilibrium in our lives we need to learn how our brain deals with expectations and manage ourselves accordingly. Easier said than done though.The brain is finely tuned to expectations, and an expectation that isn’t met, no matter how seemingly unimportant, can sometimes pack a punch.

This is because of the link between dopamine and the reward circuitry in our brain which this fires off when there is a cue in our environment indicating there might be a reward. Unexpected rewards release more dopamine than expected ones. Thus, the surprise bonus at work, even a small one, can positively impact your brain chemistry more than an expected pay rise.

bus lineOn the other hand if you’re expecting a reward and you don’t get it, dopamine levels fall steeply. This feeling is not a pleasant one, it feels a lot like pain. Expecting a pay rise and not getting one can create a funk that lasts for days. However, low levels of unmet expectations are something we all experience constantly: expect the lights to change and find they take a long time and your dopamine levels fall, leaving you feeling frustrated. Expect the service at the bank to be fast but find a long queue, more frustration. Not only does dopamine go down in these instances, you also get a mild threat response, reducing prefrontal functioning for deliberate tasks. If we can understand better how our brain reacts and responds it’s easier to manage our emotions more effectively – this the crux of EQ – emotional intelligence.

brain - green technology concept / vector illustration / eps10Dopamine levels rise when you want something, even something as simple as wanting to cross the road. Put simply, dopamine is central to the toward state, to being open, curious, and interested. You need good levels of dopamine to “hold” an idea in your prefrontal cortex. Positive expectations increase the levels of dopamine in the brain, and these increased levels make you more able to focus.

So the key to all this is to get our dopamine levels right – this is something that we can actually influence if we want to. To create a ‘happy’ life perhaps we should live a life with a good amount of novelty, create opportunities for unexpected rewards, and believe that things are always going to get slightly better.

Managing our expectations is a big part of this. It’s an opportunity to be more proactive in the way we regulate emotions, setting the scene for good performance rather than just sorting out problems when things go wrong. Unmet expectations are one of the important experiences to avoid, as these generate the stronger threat response.

Consciously altering what we expect can have a surprising impact. Imagine you are preparing a proposal for a new work project. If you keep your expectations low, you will either be okay if you don’t win the work, or thrilled if you do. Whereas if you allow yourself to get excited about the contract, you may be heavily disappointed when you don’t win it (and unable to see past the rejection), or only mildly happy if you win it. When you step back and look at all the possible outcomes this way, it makes sense to minimize one’s expectations of positive rewards in most situations. Keeping an even keel about potential wins pays off.

Dopamine word cloudAnother good way to manage dopamine levels is to pay more attention to positive expectations that you know will be met. For example if we have a holiday to look forward to it helps us to stay positive. This may not seem logical but remember it’s about the dopamine!  Choosing to focus on things always getting a little bit better, even with evidence at times to the contrary, helps you maintain good levels of dopamine.

Make time for tea

Lavender teaMost days around 4 pm I make a pot of tea and I sit and reflect. This is in the midst of a busy day as a working mum and I do it even when on business trips in far-flung places. It’s about renewal, reflection, becoming more mindful and finding some space.

Woman with tablet computer in cafe shopMost of the time in our busy lives we refrain from taking this kind of time out during the day. But if we are to perform at high levels we need to be far more aware of not how we manage our time but how we manage our energy levels. No more so than those of you who may be working, studying and juggling family life or other demands on your time. In order to manage our energy we need to become aware of two things: how we spend our personal energy and how we renew it. Personal energy can be split into four categories: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. If we accept that we have “awake cycles” just like we have sleep cycles then the optimum way of doing this is to work in no more than 90-minute sprints and after each sprint change focus entirely in order to restore energy. That can be going for a walk or run, meditating, reading or mindfully drinking a cup of tea.

In this way we can move naturally between spending energy positively (your “performance zone”) and restoring energy in the “renewal zone”. Crucially this way of working and being means you will achieve more in less time! But in reality this is the opposite of what many of us do, myself included. If we have a deadline for an assignment or for work we keep slogging away, no matter what. If you’re a working mum you know you only have a finite time period in which to work so the pressure is even higher. But when we keep going like this rather than working with our natural cycles we are just oscillating between the “performance zone” and the “survival zone” which is where we spend energy negatively. And when the energy dips we reach for coffee, chocolate or distractions through email and Facebook. We sleep badly and feel more anxious. Spend too long in the “survival zone” and you will eventually end up in the “burnout zone”.

The good news is that we do not have to work harder to change our rhythm and regain the energy we so badly need. We can do more, with less.

while learning the woman fell asleep on the table .late at nightTo be truly productive and effective we need to move seamlessly between performance and renewal during the course of a day. This is done through a combination of the 90-minute sprints coupled with seven to eight hours’ sleep, walking, eating healthily and mindfully, drinking plenty of water, being grateful and aware of what is going well, uni-tasking rather than multi-tasking (easier to say than do – but switch off your phone and Internet browser if you’re on a deadline!) and having a sense of purpose.

I’m starting by making time for tea.

It’s in your reflection

Blue silence. Magnificent long exposure landscape with lake view after sunset.Winter can be a contemplative time. January and February can be difficult months sometimes. We can start the year in a blazing determination to fulfil fresh goals and break bad habits. All too often by February it’s not so easy to uphold them.

Making any kind of change in ourselves requires something more long-term though and something we can undertake each day easily.  In short we need to make reflection part of our life day-to-day.

Reflection is an everyday process anyway. We reflect on a range of everyday problems and situations all the time: What went well? What didn’t? Why? How do I feel about it?

We don’t usually follow a formula for this, it just happens as feelings, thoughts and emotions about something gradually ‘surface’. We might choose to do something differently, or not, as a result of reflecting, but reflection is essentially a kind of loose processing of thoughts and feelings about an incident, a meeting, a day – any event or experience at all. We probably do it without even thinking about it.

But what if we did consciously build in reflection time each day? What if we book-ended our days by setting intentions in the morning and reflecting on the day each evening?

Ecriture manuscrite au crayon de bois dans livre en papier recycWhy should we reflect?

1. Reflection helps us to learn from something that perhaps did not go well that day. If we don’t reflect on what might not have gone well we may just repeat negative behaviour or continue to be in reactive mode. Reflection helps us to figure out what went wrong, why that happened, what part we played in that and what we can do different next time.

2. Reflection helps create great ideas. The process of being disciplined enough to reflect moves obstacles out of the way and can make space for emerging ideas and taking action in a different way. If we’re constantly rushing from one thing to another there is very little space for anything creative to emerge. Being still makes space for more ideas.

3. Reflection makes us happier. If we are building in reflection time each day we will also be looking back on things that have gone well and all the things that were right with the day! Reflecting on what went right allows for celebration for  every little success. It allows us to realise how much we have in fact done right, the good things you’ve done in your life. Without reflection, it’s too easy to forget these things, and focus instead on our failures.

4. Reflection gives us perspective. Often we are caught up in the troubles or busy-ness of our daily lives. A mistake or a high-pressure project or something like that can seem like it means all the world. It can overwhelm us sometimes. But if we take a minute to step back, and reflect on these problems, and how in the grand scheme of things they don’t mean all that much, it can calm us down and lower our stress levels. We gain perspective, and that’s a good thing.

How to Make Reflection a Daily Habit

If reflection isn’t something you feel you do enough, consider making it a habit. Here are some suggThe word "HABITS" written in vintage metal letterpress type in a wooden drawer with dividers.estions for doing that:

1. Start a one-sentence journal. There is a popular 5-year diary you can buy which invites you to write one sentence each day. Why not write one sentence each day in a notebook or in your year planner? It will be great to look back on at the end of the year.

2. Focus on doing it at the same time, every day. No exceptions. It is actually much easier to build a habit if you do it every single day!  Even if you don’t start a one-sentence journal, get into the reflection habit by taking just a few minutes at the end of every day to reflect on your day. Journaling helps crystalize those reflections. Either way, whether you write it down or not, make reflection a daily habit. Decide when you will do it, where and for how long. Set a reminder with your phone.

3. Exercise. People who run say that often the best ideas come during their run. If you don’t run or have some other form of daily exercise, consider just taking a walk and using that time for reflection. Make a daily appointment and don’t miss it!

4. Think about your day, your work, your life. In that order. Look back on your day, to think about how various things went and what could be improved. Then  take a look at your work, to see how things are going there. Then step even further back and take a look at your life as a whole. It’s a three-step system that leads to a lot of improvement over time.

Happiness in an inside job - inspirational words on a vintage slate blackboard with a white chalk against burlap canvas