V is for Va Va Voom

Christmas background with pink glitters, sparkles and bokeh

It’s November, days are colder and it’s harder to get out of bed at this time of year. Granted, Christmas is coming with the promise of glitter, parties and sparkly festivities but that is still only a temporary festivity here in the West and can often be fraught with expectations and stress.

To be happy, really happy we need to tap into our inner va va voom so that no matter what time of year it is, no matter how dreary the day might feel we are not swayed so easily into the doldrums! This is about tapping into vitality.

Our lives are so busy and filled with noise and distractions. Between racing to your next meeting, responding to work deadlines, cleaning out your inbox, keeping up with social media and spending time with your family and friends, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. You may get caught up in a reactionary state, constantly chasing your to-do list yet never feeling truly satisfied.

Each moment you have a choice to create energy in your life with your thoughts, words and actions.

Most of this is actually about nurturing and looking after ourselves and creating systems and routines that give back balance and a sense of control and calm.

vitality or vital energy word cloud on a digital tablet with apples, pumpkin and hazelnuts

Vitality can be sourced in relatively simple ways. Healthy food, non-toxic lifestyle choices, adequate sleep and a balanced exercise routine can all contribute to a healthy body and daily drive.

Slowing down also helps create positive energy so practices like mindfulness and yoga do much to ground us and help us to be more in the present. The present is where the energy is. Not allowing ourselves to constantly be drawn from drama to drama whether that’s at work or from checking social media feeds more often than is healthy.

Letting go of demands and expectations frees up more energy too. With a new year coming up you may feel pressured to setting goals, achieving something specific or making changes in your life so quite often we set those demands and expectations ourselves. Why not, instead, think about intentions for your life rather than goals. Or simply what you’d like more of in your life and what you’d like less of.

Choose to focus – try doing one thing at a time. You will immediately create more calm and positive energy by giving your attention to one piece of work or one conversation or one event at a time. You’ll get more done too, you’ll listen more, understand more and just feel more in control.

You have a core of vitality inside you. It’s always there and it’s stronger than you think.

Thinking Positive as an Attitude Abstract Concept

U is for Unexpected

Woman closing his man's eyesMost of us don’t like surprises. We like to know what is coming and we don’t like uncertainty. However, there are many reasons why a little uncertainty and unpredictability about things can be good for us. The process of uncertainty is called life. It’s what keeps things interesting, engaging, and fulfilling. If you knew what to expect at all times, my guess is you’d get bored, quite quickly.

Many people condition their mind to view a change in their situation as a bad thing when in reality it’s neutral. The event only takes on a positive or negative spin when we classify it as such. Typically, we are excited for “positive” events and uncomfortable with “negative” events because they fall outside our comfort zone. Feeling unsure or being in the uncertain phase is similar to being outside your comfort zone.

And that is also where the unexpected can happen.

“Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don’t let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity.”– R.I. Fitzhenry

Broken leg

Just under 3 weeks ago I had a bad fall down a flight of steps, injured my leg and broke my right ankle. It put a full stop to several things in my life and affected most aspects of it. At first everything about this accident seemed negative. I had to cancel two business trips and several travel-based meetings and we had to rethink our whole day-to-day in terms of childcare, driving, school pickups, cooking and so on.

 

rendering

I am seeing so many good things come out of this injury – I have slowed down, I am noticing more, I am more grateful for small things, I have wonderful friends who have helped me and help me, I have the most amazing husband who has done so much for me during this time. I’ve had lots of responsibilities simply taken off my shoulders – the day-to-day of running the household – most tasks I can’t do, can’t drive do don’t have to worry about that – all I need to do each day is get up, shower, put clean comfortable clothes on, wear a little makeup, eat the nutritious breakfast Nick has made for me, kiss my son goodbye and although I miss walking our Golden Retriever Oscar that too is something I cannot do at the moment. In the evenings there is no cooking or cleaning or washing dishes, no housework or laundry. I’m keeping up work – getting a lot of tasks done that have been piling up and thankfully have some unexpected consultancy work that is desk-based.

autumn day with a beautiful sunset at the lakeThat frees up a LOT of time just for me whether that is doing some work, watching a movie, reading books, playing board games with Richard, doing some short outings, writing and just thinking. That actually is an enormous gift to have and so I am treating it like a gift. In a few weeks’ time all those things will come back into my life and I’ll pick up where I left off but for now these things are simply suspended.

My main responsibility right now seems to be to show up and be grateful! A good lesson! Something unexpected…..

T is for Thank you

A grateful heart sees many blessings. Gratitude hand lettering quote with heart shape background. Handwritten thankfulness isolated on white background

Right now, stop and say “thank you” – for every single thing in your life. It can be silent thanks for all that you have, the air that you breathe and the family and friends around you. Some people have a strong sense of gratitude, love and appreciation and it is well known that those who cultivate thankfulness are happier and healthier than those who don’t.

But what about being thankful when things are not going quite as you would like them to? Surely that is much harder? People who are thankful in their lives aren’t necessarily living an easier life. In fact, many people who practise the most gratitude may have had incredibly difficult things happen to them but maybe they understand that it isn’t the situation that’s the problem, it’s how you think about the situation that makes it easier or more difficult. And it’s also how you choose to frame the situation.

When I first broke my ankle initially it was hard for me to see any positives in the situation let alone be thankful for it. Yet I am thankful. For the learning, for the kindness and help I’ve received, both practical and emotional, for the slowing down that has been possible, for the silence and reflection and for the immense luck that I have in now knowing that recovery is likely to be speedy and there will be no long-term damage. The things that I was sad about most at the thought of being immobile were very simple things like not being able to walk to school with my son, missing out on dog walks, not being able to have hot baths or bake cakes or just get things for myself- just real simple everyday things that are easy to take for granted. Because often it’s these simple things that give us such happiness and too often we don’t recognise that.

thankful4I have such a huge number of things in my life to be thankful for. From my cozy home to being able to eat lovely food each day. From a healthy body which is allowing me to heal easily to a wonderful family whom I love dearly. From flexible work which allows me to take some much needed time off to recover to good books to read and movies to watch. From the air that I breathe to the water that I drink.

Every life experience has something to teach us. Even the unexpected and the unplanned or perhaps these things most of all.

 

 

 

 

 

S is for Silence

dka zacumowana przy drewnianym pomocie w pikny poranekHow often in the day are you silent? We live in a noisy world! The trouble with silence is that we feel that we need to fill the perceived void with needless chatter, with TV, music, YouTube videos or other background noise.

Yet silence has a certain energy to it like no other energy source. It has the power to get us to reflect, think and to act and it can help slow the mind down. Often whatever answer we need we can find simply through silence. When we are silent we turn our thoughts and focus inwards and gain the power we need to refuel our minds.

The Challenge: It can be very difficult to sit in silence, or to be alone.
The Science: Silence, like meditation, can increase self-awareness and self-acceptance
The Solution: Try sitting in silence during various parts of your day–and breathe!

The only reason I’m discovering how powerful this can be is because I’ve been forced to slow down completely due to a recent injury. I was probably, like most people living life at a considerable pace and what I’ve found amazing is how the mind and body respond when you can no longer do much of anything. I’ve been sitting for period in silence and my mind has been slowing down completely. I am noticing everything which, granted, includes all the dust gathering on the corner table but also the changing clouds outside my window and the way the Autumn sunlight beams onto the sofa where I am spending most of my time. I started from feeling an acute need to constantly be “doing” something to letting that go completely, And in a strange way what has happened is that where I have started to feel quite limited in my mobility and ability to move a sense of spaciousness has been opening up in my head and around my heart. A sort of feeling that “everything is ok”.

“Fear less, hope more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Hate less, love more; And all good things are yours.” ~ Swedish proverb

 

Lch de papillons - Libert

 

R is for Resilience

feuAs I sit and write this I am completely immobile due to a leg injury sustained yesterday. Right now I am having to rest and keep my leg elevated and next week I will need to learn how to get about with crutches and how to renegotiate most aspects of my life. For someone who is normally very active and fiercely independent this is no easy task.

Being resilient though, is not about being strong and able and independent although on first glance it may seem so…. Being more resilient can definitely make you happier because it means that you can recover more quickly from setbacks, embrace uncertainty and change and be calm under pressure. What happens though if you do suffer a sudden and unexpected life change like mine? My emotions have been very up and down as I start to adjust to this change. Although I feel confident that I will be able to manage and adapt my work and personal life accordingly, in the short-term I’ve had to cancel work commitments (involving travel) and have been in tears at the thought of not being able to move independently, walk my son to school and do just normal day-to-day things most of us take for granted. Most of all, what has been very hard for me, is asking for help.

Yet one hallmark of resilient people is having a network of support around them that they can draw on when they need it. I am finding that this injury means that I am now calling on that support network around me because I can’t get through this situation by myself.

Resilience is also not about not feeling upset either. It’s perfectly ok to be tearful and emotional – the resilience bit is about how long this continues for and how quickly you can move forward and look for the positives – in ANY situation.

Typewriter Attitude is EverythingThere is an opportunity for learning in any situation and becoming better at problem-solving. The more you can leverage challenges as opportunities to grow and evolve, the more resilient you are likely to be. Pain comes to all of us in life and resilient people will tend to immediately look at the problem and say, ‘What’s the solution to that? What is this trying to teach me?’ Looking at pain as an opportunity to learn and problem-solve — and building the confidence and the habit of moving toward the pain instead of running from it — goes a long way in terms of building resiliency. This may take me a few days to put into practice but I’ll get there. I may have to use question thinking to help me. Question thinking encourages people to approach challenges and situations with “Learner Questions” — neutral, nonjudgmental questions such as “What is useful here?” or “What are my available choices?” — as opposed to “Judger Questions” like “What’s wrong?” or “Who’s to blame?”

mindfulness-image1Learner questions are empowering, and they promote more expansive thinking and acceptance. They also improve how you relate to others, and creating meaningful connections with others is yet another essential component of resilience.

I will start to recognise choices I can make in my recovery and remind myself that this situation is only temporary and will get better. I can choose to be grateful for all the many blessings in my life and for this opportunity to reflect, be with my family and rest, read and write. Most of all I know that key to dealing with this is to ultimately embrace it and say “yes” to it rather than resist it.

YES!

Q is for questions

Fragezeichen / Wrfel 3d KonzeptAs you go about your day, how many times do you ask questions? Of others, of yourself? Because of the pace of our lives and because of all the information fed to us in a constant stream (it’s not called a “newsfeed” for nothing!) it is easy to simply absorb what we are fed, to have conversations and exchanges where we miss opportunities for questions and to even avoid asking questions. I believe that asking more questions can make us happier.

Keys to Happiness. Concept on Golden Keychain.Questions are a powerful tool because our brains are naturally adept and persistent in seeking responses to questions. Many people believe that events create emotions. In fact, it’s your interpretation of events–your thoughts–that create your emotions. Realizing that gives you incredible power to improve your experience in life and at work.

Here are some great questions to ask:

1. What would I need to believe to make this experience fun?
Suppose you dreading a meeting coming up this week. If you ask yourself why, your brain will come up with answers like “it’s boring,” “I’d rather be doing something else,” etc. What if you asked yourself: “what would I need to believe in order to make that meeting fun?” You brain will come up answers like “I’d need to believe that it’s fun watching people thrash things out” or “I’d need to believe it’s fun talking about work.”

Merely surfacing the possibility of those beliefs–even if you don’t actually believe them–will make you feel better. And there’s always the possibility that one of them will ring true.

2. What would I need to focus upon to make this experience fun?
Every experience and event has multiple facets. Whatever facets you decide to focus upon determine exactly what you’ll experience.

Suppose you’re working in an environment that’s noisy when you would prefer to work someplace quieter. If you focus on the noise, it will just get louder, and you’ll drive yourself nuts. If you focus on the work and ignore the noise, you can get the job done.

Going a step further, maybe you can focus on some aspect of the noise that’s positive. Consider: it can be fun to be around people who are buzzing with energy.

Those are the answers that MY brain came up with when I consider the scenario. Your brain will probably come up with something better. The main thing is to ask the question, so that you brain creates an answer that puts your focus where it will do you the most good.

 self improvement

3. Why should I be grateful for this experience?
Asking your brain for reasons to be grateful automatically short-circuits negative thoughts. Here’s an example from my own life. If I feel frustrated that a project or task feels demanding I consider how fortunate I am to have ineresting and stimulating work, to be able to choose when I work so that I get to spend time with my family and do other things that I enjoy. The gratitude I feel for the blessings in my life doesn’t make the frustration vanish entirely, but it puts it into perspective and reminds me to enjoy my work.

Your brain will give you reasons to be grateful if you ask. And that gratitude will bring more pleasure to your experience, whatever it might be.

Businessfrau mit Smartphone NewsBeyond asking ourselves these kinds of questions we can also generally ask more questions – when we are having a conversation and whenever we are presented with or “fed” information. The more questions we ask of others the more we will understand and the more we question what we are fed the less likely we are to accept whatever is thrown at us.

Asking questions gives us more control and gives us more information with which to decide our actions and our thoughts.

We use gratitude and questioning assumptions as part of our Advantage workshops. The Advantage is a unique two-day experiential learning workshop that raises immediate awareness of adaptability, empathy, critical thinking, integrity, being proactive, optimism and resilience. This workshop is currently being delivered within a range of settings from employability to corporate. It is effective because the facilitator works with what emerges from the group in the moment. We are currently licensing trainers to deliver this workshop.

Find out more here. We are running our final licensing workshop 26th – 28th Jan, 2017.

Everybody loves a freebie!

6mindfuldownload2

A couple of weeks ago we launched our new Friday Freebie campaign, a chance for our facebook fans to download free materials from the website every Friday. It’s our way of saying thank you to our facebook followers – and encouraging more of you to engage with our facebook page in general too!

FridayFreebie

This Friday will be our third freebie, and we’d hate for you to miss out… so hop over to facebook and like our page.

P is for Presence

Wecker im Eiswrfel - Die Zeit bleibt stehenThe greatest gift we can give ourselves is presence. The greatest gift we can give others is our presence. What does it mean to be present? What is it like to have someone present among us? Why should I be present?

Most of the time we go through our day doing everything but be present. If we can learn  to slowly incorporate it into our lives by allowing ourselves to put down the phones, close the email, and be present with the work or people we have before us, we can become much happier. We can learn faster, we understand others better and we experience things in the fulness of the moment because we are fully internalising the experience right in front of us.

It’s possible to miss quite a lot of important cues and opportunities by not being present. That might be because we are thinking about something else (usually something either in the past or in the future), not fully tuned in or have our heads in technology, probably the number one culprit.

Smartphone sms chat template with copy space.Take a typical weekend. Presence can be the practice of remembering you don’t need to check your phone several times an hour but you will if your phone is right next to you all the time. You don’t need to answer that email right now, you don’t need to answer that call, you don’t need to answer that snapchat, you don’t need to answer that text, you don’t need to answer that instant message. Just be present with the people surrounding you by putting your phone away.

What are they talking about? Can you inquire more about their life? People love talking about themselves. In doing so, you will learn more about them, and what makes them tick. If you’re lucky, you might even learn a little bit more about yourself.

Social media and other digital distractions don’t interrupt us if we close them and learn to pour ourselves completely into the present task. And if we need to do email, Twitter, or read blogs, we can set aside everything else and just be present with that one digital task. So if a family member it talking to you try just being with that person, focus on them, listen to them, give them the gift of your presence.

BalanceIf your job demands that you focus on an urgent task, it is easy to feel stressed because you probably feel you have a million other things to do and not enough time to do them. Or you choose to be present, and focus completely on that task, and now there is only that one task and you. When you’re done, you can move on to the next task.

Being present takes practice though – that can come from using mindfulness and breathing and finding ways to bring it into our daily lives.

We use mindfulness and working in the present moment on our experiential learning workshops. The Advantage is a unique two-day experiential learning workshop that raises immediate awareness of adaptability, empathy, critical thinking, integrity, being proactive, optimism and resilience. This workshop is currently being delivered within a range of settings from employability to corporate. It is effective because the facilitator works with what emerges from the group in the moment. We are currently licensing trainers to deliver this workshop.

Find out more here. We are running our final licensing workshop 26th – 28th Jan, 2017.

 

 

O is for Optimism

Senior womanOptimism is as easy as ABC – yes, really! The world is not divided into pessimists and optimists after all. We each have the capacity to be optimistic and passionate about life if we can just learn to breathe, relax and lean into being happy.

Easier said than done – sure, of course it is! And in a world where we are experiencing constant change and challenges and where most of us feel overloaded or stressed so much of the time being able to tap into that optimism is more important than ever.

Contrary to many self-help books optimism is NOT about positive thinking!

Contrary to many self-help books optimism is NOT about positive thinking!

I’m not talking about positive thinking or affirmations or putting on a happy face no matter what the circumstances are. Nor am I talking about banishing negative thoughts and having a blind faith in the “law of attraction”.

What I am talking about is cultivating self-awareness, hard work and healthy optimism. That means being able to accurately assess a situation, being able to differentiate between facts and feelings and having a faith in your own ability to move forward constructively focusing on what you can do in any given situation.

Each of us really does have untapped potential and strengths that we generally are not using to the full. Our current economic and world situation invites us to step up to the plate and examine that potential and dare to live it. We live in an exciting era of opportunity and change is one way of looking at our current pressures in a different light.

Psychologist and author Martin Seligman says that the key to optimism and pessimism lies in our “explanatory styles”, how we explain life events (good and bad) to ourselves. Seligman believes that optimism can be learned and that anyone can learn it by asking themselves more questions before automatically defaulting into a negative response. I agree with him. But this takes effort on our parts. It is far easier to fall into a negative reaction and to make assumptions. We do it all the time and it can happen faster than we can blink.

I Choose Happiness Colorful BlocksSeligman got people to do the “ABCDE” exercise every day for several weeks keeping a journal to prove that it is not a situation or event that causes our feelings of unhappiness and negativity but rather our response to the event.

So “A” is the “adversity” or event – this could be anything from how someone looks at you to your partner snapping at you to being rejected for the tenth time for a work proposal. “B” is your belief and how you interpret that event i.e. “my husband doesn’t care about me and he’s disrespectful and rude” or “my proposal was lousy”. “C” is the consequence of that interpretation –your feelings and reactions which could be shouting back at your partner to firing off an angry email.

ABC is automatic! In the journey to healthy optimism you have to first of all understand your own natural reaction to something so that you can get to “D” which is learning to dispute your interpretation of the event by providing counter-evidence (or asking more questions). So this might be “I am overreacting. My work is not lousy and there will have been lots of proposals – it’s a tough environment at the moment. My proposal will have not met some of the criteria – maybe I need to find out more about why it was rejected. Maybe I can get some feedback but even if I can’t I know there’ll be a bunch of factors combined that will have resulted in this rejection”

This is certainly not an easy first thing to do in a situation. The natural tendency will be to react. But Seligman says that if we can, over time, get better at disputing our interpretations it can lead to positive feelings over time and the result of that is “E” which is energisation and less time/energy being spent on negative feelings that actually we produce ourselves.

The ABCDE exercise is just one of those we help trainers to facilitate on our Licensed Trainer workshops – a license to deliver 2-day experiential learning to raise awareness of adaptability, empathy, critical thinking, integrity, being proactive, optimism and resilience.

The Advantage cover - low resolutionOur final workshop to license trainers runs from 26th – 28th January, 2017 in Guildford. The workshop is based on the book The Advantage published by Pearson Business and translated into 8 languages.

N is for Now

3D golden word Now with alarm clock as letter "O", isolated on white background.

.

Your brightest future hinges on your ability to pay attention to the present.

Life unfolds in the present. But so often, we let the present slip away, allowing time to rush past unobserved and unseized, and squandering the precious seconds of our lives as we worry about the future and ruminate about what’s past. We’re living in a world that contributes in a major way to mental fragmentation, disintegration and distraction.  We’re always doing something, and we allow little time to practise stillness and calm.

We need to live more in the moment. Living in the moment—also called mindfulness—is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present. When you become mindful, you realize that you are not your thoughts; you become an observer of your thoughts from moment to moment without judging them. Mindfulness involves being with your thoughts as they are, neither grasping at them nor pushing them away. Instead of letting your life go by without living it, you awaken to experience.

Cultivating a nonjudgmental awareness of the present bestows a host of benefits. Mindfulness reduces stress, boosts immune functioning, reduces chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, and helps patients cope with cancer. By alleviating stress, spending a few minutes a day actively focusing on living in the moment reduces the risk of heart disease. Mindfulness may even slow the progression of HIV.

Happiness in an inside jobMindful people are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic, and more secure. They have higher self-esteem and are more accepting of their own weaknesses. Anchoring awareness in the here and now reduces the kinds of impulsivity and reactivity that underlie depression, binge eating, and attention problems. Mindful people can hear negative feedback without feeling threatened. They fight less with their romantic partners and are more accommodating and less defensive. As a result, mindful couples have more satisfying relationships.

Mindfulness is at the root of Buddhism, Taoism, and many Native-American traditions, not to mention yoga. It may be something very trendy but it is something that has been around for a long, long time.

So, slow down and savour the moment. Live as if the most important thing is what you are doing right now – enjoy that open fire, that cup of coffee or glass of wine, that wonderful walk in nature. If what is right in front of you is the most important thing then there is nothing to worry about. Equally enjoy and savour preparing for that proposal or interview or planning your week. By slowing down we experience more joy and happiness.  Because most negative thoughts concern the past or the future. As Mark Twain said, “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” The hallmark of depression and anxiety is catastrophizing—worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet and might not happen at all. Worry, by its very nature, means thinking about the future—and if you hoist yourself into awareness of the present moment, worrying melts away.

The Advantage is a unique two-day experiential learning workshop that raises immediate awareness of adaptability, empathy, critical thinking, integrity, being proactive, optimism and resilience. This workshop is currently being delivered within a range of settings from employability to corporate. It is effective because the facilitator works with what emerges from the group in the moment. We are currently licensing trainers to deliver this workshop. Find out more here. We are running our final licensing workshop 26th – 28th Jan, 2017.

AdvantageSignatureThe Advantage workshop is based on the book by Emma Sue Prince published by Pearson Business and translated into eight languages.