Monday, November 9, 2015


A popular saying in the 60’s, ‘Becoming is better than being’ expressed the idea that growth was more desirable than a permanent state. It is a notion whose time has come again – this time around not so much as an ideology but as a result of research - research that I for one, am thrilled to read.
As a young (and very average) student ballet dancer ‘back in the day’, I was fleetingly encouraged by a claim that to be successful required only two percent talent and ninety-eight percent hard work. Unfortunately, my hard work seemed to go unnoticed and I felt increasingly discouraged and timid, gradually withdrawing from situations where my lack of self-confidence might be reinforced. The success I sought eluded me until I finally applied the hard work to the areas in which I was perceived to have ‘talent’. Two different careers later I discovered that I had been raised with a not-so-helpful ‘fixed’ mindset; when talent and abilities are praised and rewarded, and mistakes and efforts that fall short are indicators of lack of ability and to be discouraged or avoided. Conversely, a ‘growth’ mindset -viewing faults and failure as opportunities for growth- is a mindset that, I discovered, not only gradually reveals untapped abilities but opens doors of previously unimagined possibilities.
The terms ‘growth mindset and ‘fixed mindset’ were coined by one of the leading researchers in the field, Professor Carol Dweck at Stanford University, who is also often credited with popularising the ‘Becoming is better than being’ quote. Her research has attracted increasing attention among educators and mental health professionals because her findings show that, rather than focusing on intelligence and innate achievement, it is far more important to reward effort, creative strategies, and perseverance.
This growth mindset is all about ‘becoming’. It views the process; the effort; the ‘journey’; the growth itself as having more value than ‘being’ in the accomplished state. Although we are all inclined to praise intelligence and ability in both ourselves and in our children, research shows that this actually creates a ‘fixed mindset’ resulting in fragile people without the resilience needed to effectively tackle adversity or to persevere in the face of difficulty. With such a mindset, when we feel rejected or disappointed, we immediately think ‘I’m not likeable. I’m not approved of – I’m not a good enough person’, feeling guilt or shame for having done something negative or failed to achieved a goal. However, with a growth mindset we think ‘I am not happy with what I did. It’s inconsistent with my values. How can I better understand it? What can I learn from it? How can I make up for it and improve in the future?
Dweck is often asked to compare her findings with the ever-popular Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and her response is particularly interesting. “CBT often says “Don’t think you’re not a smart person because you didn’t get an A. Look at all the other A’s you got – you’re a smart person.” But in the mindset framework, we’re saying “Get out of the smart-person framework entirely, Stop thinking about that the good or bad measures you but rather think of yourself as a work in progress.” CBT asks you to find evidence to challenge the argument, and we’re saying it’s the wrong argument.”
I find this particularly interesting because it validates and supports our work with Applied Emotional Mastery – where we focus on the feeling state and using the management of emotions to help better understand, learn from, and continuously improve – whether it’s in relationships, parenting, managing others or opening our own mind up to more possibilities; in other words to develop a growth mindset.
So, as we approach a new year again, why not start treating your mistakes, and your children’s mistakes, as exciting, interesting, perfect opportunities for learning and growth, and for building resilience. Had that been my mindset as a young dancer, who knows, age aside I might still be prancing around ‘en pointe’!

Monday, August 17, 2015


What does it actually take to operate from a mindful, considered, 'grown-up' place, on a day-to-day basis? With the increasingly popular mindfulness practices, meditation apps, and 'being in the present moment' concepts, all written and talked about wherever we turn, shouldn't we be getting good at it by now? – It all sounds really good, and simple, but sometimes it’s easier to put into words than to put into practice! Especially when we're presented with life’s assorted messes, when the proverbial .... hits the fan and when our buttons are pushed by other people – again and again! It’s not easy, that’s for sure! 
But as with anything that’s difficult or 'easier said than done', a few brief guidelines or tips to hang on the fridge can be more practically helpful than the most convincing, eloquently written book or even app. 
Short, simple, practical tips can go a long way towards helping us be the mindful, considered person we’d like to be, -in the office, in traffic, at the breakfast table- no matter what others get up to!

Here’s a few such tips I have found to be helpful:


Be in ownership of your emotions. For example, when you feel disturbed or annoyed, label your own feelings rather than people (i.e. ‘I feel frustrated right now.’ rather than ‘You’re so lazy!’)

Be mindful of your own physical needs: Have you slept enough? Are you dehydrated? Hungry? Exhausted? If so, take care of your needs. Once the physical needs have been met, you’ll be better able to manage your emotions.

Be in acknowledgment when your negative emotions aren’t serving you.
Take a Time-Out  so you can Take a ‘Time-in’. (A ten-minutes break from a situation, for a few slow breaths and calm self-reflection, can help you self-regulate to problem-solve or at the very least de-escalate the situation.)


Do look for learning and growth in your negative emotions. In the words of my grandmother: ‘Nothing is so bad that it’s not good for something.”

Do respectfully validate other people’s feelings, regardless of what you think of them AND regardless of their age. Nobody's feelings are wrong.

Do place your own agenda aside for just 30 seconds in order to step into someone else’s shoes. What must it feel like to be them right now?


Do not play the blame game or ‘send someone on a guilt-trip!’ It never ends well!

Avoid judging or criticizing others. Whenever you can, acknowledge everyone’s unique path and emotional reality – nobody’s reality is the same.

Do not try to control or change others. (It ain’t possible! Honestly!)

Last but not least, make sure you're having some laughter and play in your life! (Have you noticed how often the Dalai Lama is caught on camera laughing?) 

Friday, June 5, 2015


I was once invited to give a workshop to a team of educational psychologists. One of them was not happy to be there; ‘I don’t need this,’ she grumbled, ‘I leave my emotions at home!’ I hope by the end of the training she’d had a change of heart. You can’t leave your emotions at home any more than you can leave your head, (much as we all might sometimes wish to!) Of course we would all like to think we can control our emotions, put them on hold, suppress them or even avoid them altogether. But no matter how good we get at this, if our words and actions are not congruent with how we actually feel, we are inauthentic and we risk being perceived as such. Even if you’ve practiced your body language and facial expressions down to a T, even if you have blocked your emotion from your own awareness, you will emanate what you are really feeling – and it’s going to be picked up. This is evidenced by research, both on the heart’s electromagnetic field (see - Research) and on the brain’s mirror-neuron system using fMRI and other analysis (Siegel 2010), as well as in a plethora of other research studies – not that we need research to know it; I imagine many of you reading this have had personal experiences with this phenomena.  

Human beings are like an iceberg that is 90% submerged under water, with only 10% being visible. If a storm comes through from east to west you might be forgiven for believing that the iceberg will move west with the storm. However, if there is an undercurrent going in another direction, the iceberg will move with the current, because the current controls 90% of it. The same is true of us humans. The only difference being that we like to think we can control everything with our 10% and discount the power of our undercurrent – our emotions.

Knowing and being with our true emotions, daring to fully look ‘underneath’ so we can discover what our emotions are telling us, is the work of emotional mastery. It is also, ultimately, to develop the self-regulatory skills that, when we choose to use them, generate a feeling that is aligned with our actions (rather than feigning an emotion or control). We all have the ability to do just that – even in these times of distraction, over-stimulation, anxiety and chaos. Your ability to both understand your emotions and to manage them so you can generate a coherent, centred state when you need to, -to manage that undercurrent- is also a part of human nature and when you use that ability, it will positively affect everyone around you; “your field effect” can give you more authenticity and believability than anything else you do. In all my years of working on myself, and with parents, executives, teachers, management teams, and all those who are not in charge of anyone but themselves, I have found this to be a universal truth. 

Suggestion:  Post something by your front door to remind yourself of the impact you have – with your words as well as your 'field effect'- as you walk out into the world. Take a deep breath with a long exhale - and smile :-)  Throughout your day, check yourself and your feelings in your body: ask yourself Am I congruent? 

I used to post a quote by General Lee by my front door; “If you do not enjoy what you’re doing, you will be found out.” 

Happy summer everyone! 


Monday, February 2, 2015


 In Asian languages, the word for mind is usually the same as the word for heart. 
In this time when mindfulness has become a trend so popular it’s just about gone viral, it could be worth considering whether such a linguistic fact may be relevant to the true practice of mindfulness; is it just about simply quieting the mind and being fully present in the moment (as many describe it), or should it also somehow involve the heart? And if the answer is ‘yes’ (as the more serious practitioners have it), what does that look like?

Mindfulness has been around for thousands of years – as a part of the Buddhist religion but also in other forms, and framed in many ways. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, (the originator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction MBSR, and responsible for bringing mindfulness to both medical and mainstream popularity) “If you’re not hearing the word heartfulness when you’re hearing the word mindfulness, you’re really not understanding what it’s all about. ……. Mindfulness is pointing at something beyond words, underneath words, underneath thinking.” 

So what is underneath words and thinking? What is heartfulness? Some would say it’s the wisdom of the heart, and others would say it is feelings such as love, compassion, and kindness. I would say it’s all of the above and more, for it involves the balanced management of emotions. The heart reflects the emotions we feel, revealed in the patterns created by the heart’s rhythms. When our emotions are brought into our awareness and we learn to manage them so they serve us, our relationships, our life-path and our values, then our heart rhythms will be harmonious - and coherent with a fully present mind. On the other hand, if those emotions are disturbing or unpleasant and unmanaged, so too are the rhythms of the heart. At this point our conscious mind will take a hike up into the busy-ness of our ‘monkey brain’, and mindfulness will no longer happen.

Mind and heart must combine to create the deeper present moment awareness –the mindfulness- that gives us the ability to accept and take pleasure in each moment of work and play, to fully listen to those we dialog with, to deeply appreciate each interaction with loved ones, to savour each morsel we eat and drink, to relish tastes and smells and sights and sounds, delight in musical notes as they reach our ears and in views as we glance upon them, and to surrender to the experience of life, in all it’s glory and messiness. In short, mindfulness need not be a passing fad, or a short-term, fast-acting replacement for pain-killers or anti-depressants, or even the latest way to deal with the stresses and strains of modern or corporate life.

Mindfulness in it’s true form is heartfulness – (it is in the work we do with Applied Emotional Mastery as well as in the work of many of our contemporaries and peers); - it's message is to maximize good and minimize harm, both to oneself and others. It is a daily decision, a way of life, a discipline (in the best sense of the word), that increases awareness and acceptance, insights and wisdom, and that helps us BE fully in-the-moment and (to paraphrase Viktor Frankl) conscious of that space between stimulus and response – where we can pause to make more informed choices - where we can choose to move in the direction of maximizing good.

So even if commercialism takes over and the popularity of mindfulness eventually wanes, the message it has brought and spread, and the heartfulness within it, will surely only have contributed positively to our planet. And (quite fitting for this 'month of the heart') I figure that's good news, however you look at it.