Monday, December 27, 2010

Let's take charge!

‘It’s not bad parenting that’s the problem,'  says Dr Gabor Mate,  'it’s stressed parents.’
Dr Mate claims this and many other very helpful findings, in several interviews and in his 3 best-selling books. And he’s not alone. Countless research studies have – over more than half a century – shown the connection between stress and disease, stress and dysfunctional behaviour, stress and lack of productivity, and now parental stress and ADHD in children. When are we going to start paying attention? Start applying some of all these great findings?  Findings that, when applied, empower us and actually give us back control of our lives....................Maybe this coming New Year? (I wonder, ever hopeful.)
Watch Dr Gabor. He may inspire another kind of New Year’s resolution!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wishing You a StressLess Holiday

Rounding up this little series of postings with tips for our somewhat unsettling times, - and just in time for the holidays - some tips for the management of stress ….
Again, equally useful for any age, person, group or situation you might be 'managing'!!!!
Self-awareness – are you communicating, behaving, thinking, feeling the way you want your family or staff to communicate, behave, think & feel? Do a ‘self-check’ at least 3 times a day.
Coach self-awareness in others - your staff and family. Integrate non-confrontational language that draws people’s attention to themselves. Ie: when you ask someone how they are, stop and listen to the answer. Share a personal anecdote about your own self-awareness such as ‘I was so stressed this morning I didn’t even say hi properly. I do apologize. I should have noticed my shoulders were up under my ears! Do you ever have that happen?’
Practice self-management – stop every so often and stand up, take a deep breath and extend the exhale for as long as you can.  Check your neck, jaw & shoulders for tension. Shake it off1 Take another breath and sit down. This need only take 20 seconds! Another 20-second tool was suggested to me by my eye doctor: 20-20-20: every 20 minutes take your eyes away from your work and look out at least 20 feet away (at a tree outside for example), for 20 seconds. Then back to work  Either of these 20-second tools will renew your energy, your focus and your creativity.
Practice compassion, for others (no matter what the age), and yourself – self explanatory (I hope!) - For those of you familiar with Maslow’s Pyramid, having one up on the wall can be a helpful reminder.-
Get support for yourself – this can be in the form of coaching, counseling, peer group get-togethers, and self-care strategies such as regular massages, a meditation group, yoga class, or journaling about your day just before bed.

I do love feedback, so as you try these suggestions out, let me know how you fare!
Wishing you a wonderful holiday weekend, and a New Year filled with love, joy, and other pleasant emotions!

Monday, December 13, 2010


As promised, further suggestions around motivation that I have found work really well - this time specifically around managing change - and we seem to be seeing a lot of that lately! Anyone who is uncomfortable with change or uncertainty is being challenged right now, so if that's you or anyone in your life - hopefully these ideas will help.
Parents & teachers will find them easy to adapt to kids & families!

Define goals
– Are your goals clearly enough defined? They may be in your head, but are they to your people or family? (Agenda Free Listening can help you discover this :-)
2 Levels of planning – are you only using your head (in a semi-adrenaline induced state) to problem solve? When you’ve finished ‘brain-storming’ for ideas, engage or recall a positive emotion, breathe & get centered. Then try again; use the Spider-Map (or mind-mapping) technique, to help access your right brain capacities.
Habituate the positive – Take time to reflect on - write it down - what works and what doesn’t, then make a habit of doing what works!
Use a Decision Making Process – All 4 steps (in the following process) are equally necessary:
A) Identify where you want to be
B) Identify where you are
C) Create a practical plan for how you’ll get from A to B
D) Do it!
Communicate – with peers and employees, (or family members) about any or all that you've arrived at from the above points EVERY DAY.

Next posting – some tips on effective stress management, my favorite subject!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Motivating Others

Last posting - having dissed carrots & sticks - I promised to share some alternative suggestions for motivating others. Here are some suggestions that I’ve found work really well, especially during times of stress, (and there seems to be no shortage of that nowadays!)
These ideas are just as readily applied to managing kids!

Self-Management – Ensure you yourself are internally managed enough that you can put your own agenda or views aside and ‘tune in’ to others’ stress.
Find the feeling – How bad is the stress or lack of motivation? Are people scared, frustrated, resentful, apathetic? Their behavior and motivation will be different for each of these different emotions. Try to check in whether your perception is correct, then tailor your response accordingly.
AFL – (Agenda Free Listening). Those of you who are familiar with this technique, practice, practice, practice! This is powerful stuff! (If you’re not familiar with it, feel free to contact me and I’ll send you more information.)
Appreciate effort, sincerely! – Voice appreciation for all effort, no matter how successful (or not) the result of that effort. Make sure you really mean it, though. (Appreciation that isn't authentic can feel condescending and create mistrust.)
Facilitate the feeling –Focus on creating a positive, feel-good environment to help everyone get into an internal state where their brains are switched on and they can function creatively.
Empowerment – Allow space & time for problem-solving – give people/kids time and the autonomy to come up with creative solutions that your business or family can implement. Believe me, autonomy can work wonders - at any age!

Let me know how these work for you........
Next posting I think I’ll share some ideas for Change Management……

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Understand Motivation?

A few months ago I strongly recommended a book titled DRIVE by Daniel Pink. The whole idea of what motivates us has been redefined both in this book and elsewhere – we now know for sure after countless research studies and a plethora of articles and books on the subject, that ‘carrots ands sticks’ are not the effective motivators we thought they were! Back in 1993, in PUNISHED BY REWARDS, Alfie Kohn wrote about the same subject – but still to this day, many are so programmed in old beliefs it appears to be very difficult to get out of the habit of ‘carrots & sticks’ thinking, as difficult in fact as quitting smoking or any other addiction, if the general US corporate culture is anything to go by. During the last two years or so, I have been dismayed to witness, time and time again, the lack of understanding corporate heads & management seem to have for human nature and how to motivate their people – one would think in our challenging times understanding how to motivate employees would be more important than ever! Some would even say it’s just common sense! But instead, using the current crisis to exacerbate fear and uncertainty – I overheard one exec. saying to a colleague about his team, ‘the uncertainty keeps ‘em on their toes, it’s good for 'em.” – has become the norm, with no consideration for the emotional psychological impact of on-going, long-term stress on job-performance or productivity. What does this lack of understanding say about the intelligence of these leaders – never mind their emotional intelligence? Surely this is contributing to the downward spiral and increasing failure of businesses? Maybe we should re-look at how we promote people, the qualities we look for and the training we give (or not) to anyone that’s required to manage others?  I’m only asking…………..

In my next posting I’ll be offering up some suggestions for motivating people that you may not be familiar with ….. watch this space!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


A small silver tea-strainer is balanced gently on the delicate teacup, pale blue china on a dusty pink saucer. A slightly stained silver teapot follows, boiling hot to the touch, then a tiny silver milk-jug filled to the brim. They are all arranged carefully on the table in front of me, leaving space in the center for the main indulgence; two hot fruit scones, with Devonshire clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. Ahh what bliss! Afternoon tea at Fortnum & Masons. The scone crumbles slightly but perfectly as I bite into it, and my tastebuds burst into action with the mixture of cream, jam and raisins swirling around in my mouth.  Four bites later and one small scone is devoured, washed down with sips of hot, strong Earl Grey tea. This is my favourite indulgence when in London. These days especially, with all the dire news around us!! I always believed that when the going gets a bit tough, we should indulge in a treat. There is no time when a treat –or indulging in whatever makes us feel a little pampered- is more needed than when we imagine we can’t afford it or don’t have the time.  To paraphrase a favourite saying “When the going gets tough, the tough take cream tea.”
What’s your indulgence?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New Website 'Member Zone'

Today I am uncontainably (is that a word? If not, it should be), excited about our new Member Zone. It’s free and its purpose is to share guided visualizations, meditations and stories by audio to help you relax, re-focus, recharge, release tension, etc. etc. Right now there are seven completely different audios – including for children! Having seen how powerful visualizations can be for children (as well as adults) over the many years I have worked with this wonderful tool with children, finally being able to share this on the internet is especially delightful to me. We aim to add new ones on a regular basis – eventually we’ll have hundreds!! Check it out!

Monday, October 25, 2010

More About Purpose

Last week I wrote about the importance of feeling a sense of purpose and meaning on health. I’ve been seeing evidence of it ever since, most recently (and curiously) in a newspaper article about lottery winners! Apparently a very large percentage of people who win large sums of money, quit their work only to end up bored with no sense of purpose. They invariably become depressed, often taking up excessive drinking or drug abuse, some even dying as a result. One man who had won millions, ended up approaching people he saw buying lottery tickets to warn them that winning could ruin their lives! (Shortly afterwards he died from alcohol abuse).
Brings to mind that saying: Be careful what you set your heart upon – for it will surely be yours.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Health & Well-Being

I attended the Health & Well-Being Conference in London yesterday. A long and very interesting day! One speaker quoted the late psychologist A. Antonovsky, who wrote that health is not the absence of sickness but the maintaining of a sense of coherence. Coherence he defined as feeling that your life is ‘comprehensible, manageable, and meaningful’. It made me think of how significant having a sense of meaning & purpose is to a healthy self-image, not to mention the whole emotional intelligence agenda!  These days, as the economy continues to adversely impact so many of us, I know it’s easy to loose track of. Ironically however, if we can stay focused on pursuing whatever gives us that sense of purpose, the survival issues will tend to work themselves out. I find myself challenging myself even further these days – not only do I want to feel a sense of meaning & purpose, I want my heart to feel alive and feel that light switching on in my eyes – 24/7 if possible!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Female Stress Response

A couple of months ago I wrote about men and women taking stress in different parts of the body. Well as it turns out, that's not the only difference when it comes to stress; women and men actually experience stress quite differently. Recent research shows that while men are typically inclined to the ‘Fight-or-Flight’ response to stress, women are more inclined to have a  ‘Tend-&-Befriend’ response. In other words, rather than becoming angry or defensive and feeling the need to strike out or ‘go off’, women are more likely to feel emotional and want to seek out someone to talk to.  So rather than give you the typical advice to ‘take 3 breaths’ or ‘punch a punching bag’ for the equally typical ‘Fight/Flight’ reaction, here’s one just for the female ‘Tend & Befriend’ response!
Next time you feel an unexplained urge to talk to someone, stop for a moment and check whether it’s in response to stress. If you determine that it is, then use this knowledge about yourself to make 3 choices:
  1. Choose who you talk to, with careful consideration
  2. Choose your words mindfully, so they becomes a constructive stress-relieving process, rather than a 'whine & complain'  session.
  3. Choose to move on to something positive afterwards, even if it’s just having tea in a favorite cup, reading something funny, or buying a new cologne!

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Inspiration to Practice

Having just seen the beautifully inspiring movie Mao’s Last Dancer, I feel an analogy coming on! I am irresistibly drawn to make the comparison between dance training and (of course :-) emotional mastery practice. As dancers train their bodies daily to build the strength and control they need in order to execute their movements with the desired ease, we can train our minds and bodies to generate positive feelings, feelings of appreciation, joy and love. Doing this for our own growth and stress management, we also build the strength to generate the feelings easily and quickly when we need them to help or relate to others. I recall my days (too, too long ago!) as a dancer and teacher of dance, and the self-discipline required to achieve even the basic skills - the enthusiasm I felt before any success was achieved helps put the practice of emotional mastery in easy perspective – like building any muscle, it requires enthusiastic, repetitive practice!
Some people identify more with the analogy of a savings account in the bank; practicing generating positive emotional states is like putting money in the bank; after a while, when you need to call on it (or you need ‘funds’), you have it there to draw on, rather than draining the overdraft!
Whichever way we see it however, whether it's as daily practices or daily investments, such frequent attention can only lead to good results. Mao's Last Dancer is just a particularly beautiful example!

Monday, September 13, 2010


Autumn always reminds me of that game with leaves. You know, the one where we all go out to a tree that’s losing it’s leaves, and choose a fallen leaf each. Then we each examine our leaf thoroughly, we smell it and we feel it. Then we all put our leaves in a big pile of leaves and toss them about. Then we try to find ‘our’ leaf. The process of identifying that one leaf always creates such a lovely opportunity for discussion about uniqueness and differences within a species – within any part of creation - that even though we are not exactly the same, we are all special and significant each in our own way. And as someone once said 'differences challenge assumptions'. Timely right now, I feel.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Handwriting On The Wall

A weary mother returned from the store
Lugging groceries through the kitchen door
Awaiting her arrival was her 8 year old son,
Eager to relate what his younger brother had done
“While I was out playing and Dad was on call
T.J. took his crayons and wrote on the wall!
It’s on the new paper you just hung in the den,
I told him you’d be mad at having to do it again.”

She let out a moan and furrowed her brow,
“Where is your little brother right now?”
She emptied her arms and with purposeful stride,
She went to his closet where he’d gone to hide.
She called his full name and she entered his room,
He trembled with fear – he knew this meant doom!
For the next ten minutes, she ranted and raved,
About the costly wall paper and how she’d saved.
Lamenting the work it would take to repair,
She condemned his actions and total lack of care.
The more she scolded, the madder she got,
Then stomped from his room, totally distraught!
She headed for the den to confirm her fears,
She saw the wall and her eyes filled with tears.
The message she read pierced her soul like a dart,
It said “I love Mommy”, surrounded by a heart.
Well, the wallpaper remained, just as she had found it,
With an empty picture frame to surround it.
A reminder to her, and indeed to all,
Take time to read the handwriting on the wall.
Unknown author

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Who Has Time for Reflection!

Enjoying my foamy cappuccino at the local café, I watched a young child in her stroller being completely ignored by the adults she was with, who were both talking at such a rate you’d think they hadn’t had a grown-up conversation in months. You might also think the toddler would complain, but no, she was content to contemplate her world. First her toes, then her fingers, then the parasol tassels fluttering gently above her, then back to her toes, before gazing, at length, at the bird hopping around the table in search of a stray croissant crumb. I couldn’t help but enjoy her quietly reflective spirit and like most young children, her ability for natural contemplation.
Adults and older children are usually busy and involved in ‘doing’ or anticipating, or being stimulated by activity, and, (as was perfectly demonstrated before my eyes), will tend to sweep any dreamy toddler away from a savoring moment with a “Come on, we’ve got to hurry!” or “Stop daydreaming!” or “We haven’t got time!”
Stillness, time for refection, contemplation, just BEING in the moment, is for most people largely absent and not something we tend to prioritize in our day-today lives. Yet it is a very basic need if we are to effectively handle the stress, uncertainties and over-stimulation of today’s world. What a conundrum – no time to implement the one thing that would help us to handle our perpetual ‘no time’!
Maybe what we really need to do is turn to our little ones for examples and inspiration and reminders to take a moment for contemplation, reflection, even awe and wonder at the moment we are in. Maybe then we will have the experience of making more sense of it!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Finding Wisdom.

A Japanese master received an eminent university professor who came to inquire about wisdom. The master served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. ‘It is overfull. No more will go in!’
‘Like this cup,’ the master said, ‘ you are full of your own opinions, speculations, and hypotheses. How can I show you wisdom unless you first empty your cup?’

I love this story - such a good reminder of how ‘knowing what we know’ can interfere with our opportunities for learning, and so finding wisdom. It also makes me think of a study I once read about judgment; feeling judgmental is apparently one of the most insidious emotions we can have and the hardest to shift. The best counter-feeling? Appreciation – of what is!
Lovely. I am just now appreciating a nice cup of tea .................

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lesson Learned?

What is there to learn from falling? I mean literally, physically falling – and breaking something, like ones arm. This thought flashed through my mind as I went diving downhill, having stumbled in some loose paving (photo). Even before I had fully landed on my poor left forearm, my mind was focused on one thing other than the landing; what am I supposed to learn from this fall?
Well, ten days, two broken bones, one surgery, unlimited excruciating pain and a course of antibiotics riddled with side effects later, I think I know the answer: Rest and focus. Or should I say rest SO I can focus. Although this concept is not completely foreign to me(!), now I have had no choice but to implement it.
Interestingly, this ‘answer’ and having no choice but to carry it out, has given me a feeling of peace, (I AM resting more!), and so even with one arm incapacitated by a cast & sling, I am now experiencing being more focused, more creative, and getting more done than before. Amazing! Lesson learned?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Parent Power

A young boy wakes up in the middle of the night, thirsty and wanting a cuddle. He gets out of bed, opens his bedroom door and slowly tip-toes along the hallway. As he gets to the top of the stairs, he sees a light under his parents’ bedroom door and recognizes urgent whispered voices coming from inside. Thinking of that wished for cuddle, he knocks lightly on the familiar door, pushing it open before anyone has a chance to respond. His mother is standing with her back to him, hands on her hips, facing his father who is seated on the bed, glaring angrily.
Neither parent responds immediately, but the little boy can feel the tension and knows that all is not as it should be. “What’s wrong?” he says, in a sleepy, husky voice.
His mother drops her hands and swings around towards him as his father turns his attention to him with a sudden smile on his face. “Hey son, what are you doing up?”
His mother also has that smile on her face now, as she crouches down to his height. It feels weird.
“I’m thirsty,” he mutters. “What’s wrong?” he asks again before anyone can divert his attention.
“Nothing sweetheart,” replies his mother, with a smile he doesn’t believe. “Let me take you downstairs for a glass of water.”
“Are you fighting?” asks the little boy, undeterred.
“Of course not!” says his father, with an outraged voice. “We never fight!” The boy is sure he has heard them fight, many times. Why is his dad lying?
“Now go with your mother and get that water. You should be asleep, you know!”
“Yes, you should be asleep,” his mother echoes. “Come along now, let’s fetch that water and get you back to bed.”
The little boy goes reluctantly with his mother. He thinks about the cuddle, but is afraid to ask – they’ll probably say no. He feels confused. He doesn’t know why.
After he drinks the water, his mom takes him back to his room. “Don’t worry, honey. There’s nothing wrong. It’s just your imagination. Everything’s fine!” she smiles - that smile. It doesn’t feel fine.
“Go to sleep now, ” she whispers, shutting the door behind her.
He slides down under the covers and lays there in the dark, thinking. He feels an uneasy feeling in his tummy, just like when he is nervous or worried. Why is he feeling this way? He doesn’t like it.
Mom said everything was fine. Moms and Dads are always right, aren’t they? That means he must be wrong. Yes, that’s it! He is wrong about what he feels is happening, about the fighting and tension and weird smiles. He must stop listening to his feelings - then he won’t feel so yukky. “Everything’s fine, I’m wrong, everything’s fine, I’m wrong, everything’s fine……..” he whispers, like a mantra, to himself in the dark.

Many adults recollecting their childhood may remember such an incident, - when they started to disbelieve their own ‘inner knowing’, or intuition, because a parent or other well-intentioned adult told them that they were imagining something that they thought they knew. How about you? If this does resonate, how much work have you had to do, as an adult, to re-connect with your intuition? I know for my part, I cannot count how many hours I spent in workshops, therapy & self-help to get back in touch with and trust my own inner knowing.

Suggestion: Whatever your intention, next time you want to tell a child that he or she is imagining something, STOP, take a breath, and ask yourself if they really are…..

Monday, July 26, 2010

Overwhelmed anyone?

I love to exercise – Yoga, Pilates, walking, dancing, whatever, and could easily do it every day ….. once I get started! It’s the ‘getting started’ that can be a problem –and what prevents me from getting started is usually overwhelm – with all the other stuff that (I imagine) needs doing. So I prioritize something else that an idea in my mind is telling me is more important. For instance, checking my emails, writing an article, returning a phone call, responding to emails, researching an article, Tweeting, checking messages wherever, cleaning, laundry, running an errand, making another phone call, making tea(!), – all of which may need doing and may be important – however not as priorities before my own health! This is what I need to remember! If I am not healthy and feeling good, then I’m not going to be as effective in my other tasks (including creative ones) as I otherwise would be and I'll likely be even more overwhelmed.  So how do I remind myself of that? Looking at this picture will remove any doubt that I need to ‘get started’ – the cuteness factor alone is a feel-good trigger to do more of what makes me feel good, and it’s an obvious reminder to not let overwhelm prevent me from prioritizing what my body needs!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Type-Testing for Better Relationships?

From Myers-Briggs to Enneagrams, whether it’s a ‘typology indicator’, a personality profile, or an assessment of temperament, we love to use methodologies to categorize people! Used by many career counselors, psychologists, teachers, and employers, they seem to be increasingly popular on the Web, providing entertainment and amusement and at times even helpful information both for understanding oneself and others.
All too often, however – at least in my experience – they end up doing more harm than good. I am aware that this statement may push some buttons, but what the heck, my experience is my experience, and I feel compelled to share it only because I continue to witness the misuse of these ‘assessments’. Because such tests imply quick-and-easy insights into colleagues, peers, partners, and even children, they lead us to believe they will magically make our relationships/ management abilities/collaboration or even parenting much easier and so are too tempting to resist! Unfortunately they are too frequently used to judge or label, forming images of limits to what people must be capable of, restrictions in our ideas about their potential, and often an increase in rigidity around our expectations. The truth of the matter is that we are all much more complicated than such assessments allow, as are our relationships. Aside from the fact that these tests have no convincing validating data to support them, I have never witnessed a relationship that has been improved by them in any significant way.

In fact, you are much more likely to succeed in building a better relationship or helping someone to grow by the simple act of noticing and appreciating the positive qualities you observe in the other person. Rather than reading up on types, taking or giving personality tests, take a moment, on your own, to observe each person, each employee, each colleague, each peer, each child, and ‘play’ a lone game called “Spot The Good Stuff”. Once you have identified good attributes, actions and potential in each person, find a way to share and celebrate all the goodies you identify, celebrate the successes, celebrate the contributions, celebrate all you appreciate. In my humble opinion, “Spot The Good Stuff” is one of the best-kept secrets to successful leadership, parenting and indeed any relationship!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where's The Stress?!

A study I once read showed that men feel stress and tension more in the thighs and buttocks, whereas women feel their stress more in the upper bodies! (Maybe this accounts for why men’s butts tend to stay slim as they grow older? All that tension must keep the gluteal muscles nice and taut!)
Seriously, stress- producing emotions, like all emotions, live in our bodies – in every cell! I don’t need research - recent or otherwise - to tell me this; I feel it in my own body. I feel love in my chest, anger in my jaw, worry in my neck, caring in my cheeks, loneliness in my shoulders, and humor in my stomach & collar-bone(!).
Do you know where in your body you feel your various emotions? I am sure you have a rough idea of where you take your stress. In my experience, most people are usually aware of 2 or 3 places. After increasing our self-awareness, we can often quickly notice 30, 40 or more and a whole new dialogue develops, a dialogue that can inform us often long before we otherwise would be conscious of an emotion ‘brewing’ like for example irritation, offering us the opportunity to intervene, take a break and change it. OR if we catch ourselves feeling say appreciation, which could be fleeting, our awareness can allow us to relish it, and extend it to last and benefit us for sometimes hours! The body is an amazing source of information and paying attention to what it is telling us can actually improve our stress- management, our communication skills and even our intelligence – give it a try!!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Self-inflicted Lobotomy

Whenever I share information about how our feelings affect the way our brain works, someone always has a story to illustrate it, even if they’ve never actually considered it before! One eight-year old, in trouble for throwing a brick at someone, told me that when he got mad his brain “got foggy. But when I bweaved,” he said, referring to an exercise we had just done to help him calm and shift his emotional state, “my brain, like cleared up like, and now I can fink straight!”
Someone once likened what happens to the brain during anger to a ‘self-inflicted lobotomy’ :-))))


Thursday, June 24, 2010


I came across this photo in my folder today – it’s from one of our Family Retreat-Days’ (this particular one on Kauai). The game that’s being played in the photo is ‘Family Skiing’ – each family has 2 large skis on which to ski, with a foot strap on each ski for each family member. The smallest straps are at the front, which means the littlest family member has to be at the front ….. and lead! This can be a challenge for the older members of the family, as they all have to move in sync to get the skis to move. Of course, families always want to race other families! As you might imagine, the family with the best ‘team-flow’ usually wins, which means egos, willfulness, and whatever ‘normal’ family dynamics exist, have to shift and be set aside, and flexibility, generosity of spirit and ‘tuning in’ abilities have to be called forth! Ah, the challenges! It can be very difficult for some of us to learn, viscerally, what true collaboration means! We could probably all do with some of that kind of shift on a regular basis, don’t you think?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Emotions Determine What We Think!

 A client of mine, Mike, took his children to an amusement park one weekend. His youngest, four-year-old Kate didn’t remember her previous visit as a baby, so for her it was a completely new experience. The two older boys remembered very well and wanted to go on all kinds of different rides. Kate however, just wanted to go on the rollercoaster, so Mike said he’d go with her. Little did he know the longest wait in the whole park was for the rollercoaster! Mike had many virtues, but patience wasn’t one of them. He absolutely detested standing in line, but he did like to keep his word so they stood in line for a little while. Soon he predictably became impatient and began looking around for something else they could do instead. He tried to persuade Kate that the rollercoaster really was no big deal, but Kate was adamant and they waited some more. Finally Mike started trying to tempt her with other rides and things he knew she liked.  Eventually, he became so impatient and irritated he offered her a bribe, something that went totally against his value system and the way he wanted to parent; “If we go on another ride instead,’ he cajoled, “I’ll give you an extra ice-cream!” He was feeling pretty disgusted with himself, but somehow just couldn’t seem to help himself. To add insult to injury, Kate was not having any of it. She turned her little face up to her father and said ‘Dad, I have waited my whole life to go on a rollercoaster, I’m not going to give it up now!’
Mike looked down at his spunky little four-year-old with her tiny hands on her hips, looking up at him as if this was an issue of national importance! At first he just stared at her, incredulously. Then he felt the urge to laugh, and then suddenly, a surge of love for his little girl welled up in him. His feelings instantaneously shifted from annoyance and almost anger to love and laughter. When recapping the story to me, he concluded; “And you know what? After that we could have waited in that line all day and I wouldn’t have cared!”

To read full Article, go to

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Our Cat

Back in the days when I was still in showbusiness (my previous career, many moons ago!) we had a cat, Barnum. Barnum knew when I was stressed before I even walked in the door. He would hide under the couch or in the closet up to five minutes before I arrived home.

I eventually decided to learn to manage my stress (leaving showbusiness was a big step!) I began taking proactive measures, like de-stressing on the way home.

After some practice, I learned how to manage my emotional energy – the invisible kind - and I realized what had made Barnum hide….

I discovered I could also make Barnum purr; just by activating a good feeling inside - an 'inner smile', so to speak - not by ‘doing’ anything visible - Amazing! I wondered how else I could be effecting my environment, and the people in my life.... Many lessons later, I am still exploring & discovering.....

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A False Assumption

We are born into this world with an urge to learn, grow and move beyond what we have already attained. This is evident in every toddler, every young child, - until and unless their curiosity is stymied, (by whatever means).

As a species, if we did not have this urge to learn and grow we would die. We need to learn about our environment and how to respond for our very survival; to defend ourselves against danger, to provide sustenance and shelter, to belong and be a part of a family or tribe. The brain is hard-wired to learn and to improve, to build a library of information from which to understand and respond to our world. Yet, it is interesting to observe how adept we as a society are at quelling this curiosity, this natural urge to grow and be better! Why? Because we operate from a basic assumption that children, and indeed adults, are innately lazy and do not naturally want to learn or do better.

As a result, we believe we need to direct, to coerce, to bribe, to threaten and generally to find ways to force learning, know-how, and proficiency. We do it in our schools, by coercing children to learn what we think they should learn, when we think they should learn it, with little or no regard for their intrinsic motivation, unique interests, or individual developmental readiness. We continue to compel and impose our agenda, removing any autonomy they might develop up through the years and into adulthood, as we insist on ‘managing’, often micro-managing employees and others, coercing them with incentives or ‘carrots’ to do what we want them to do – or penalizing them for not, as the case may be. All of this we do because we have this basic assumption; we assume that most human beings are innately lazy, unmotivated and need to be coerced and prodded if any learning or improvement is going to take place.

As I am sure I have in common with many of you, since I was a child, I have known this assumption to be false. And over and over again I have been witness to just how false it is. As those of you who have done my work know, the steps to freedom from this assumption are embedded in there! And now, great news, there is a N.Y.T. Bestseller DRIVE by Dan Pink, that offers the research and anecdotal evidence that prove it! At last, in mainstream publishing we have some really great arguments and a hugely persuasive case for autonomy – and for mastery (yeah!) and purpose (of course!). All completely intertwined with (yes, you guessed it) emotional intelligence. (I know I recommended it a few weeks ago, but it bears repeating.)

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us If you don’t have time to read the book, at least check out a 15 minute talk by the author: at


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Beauty From Within

“I don’t have time to read any books on emotions,“ a neighbor said to me. “I barely get time to read my magazines and lord knows I need that information just to look half decent!” She was referring of course to beauty or fashion magazines – and it turned out she believed that her looks had nothing to do with her emotions.
I beg, as they say, to differ. In fact I insist: Beauty comes from within. Literally. Feeling good makes you look good – and younger! Conversely, stress makes you look older and less attractive! You, reader, are probably aware of this, but do you consider it as you go about your day?
How do you handle your stress – in the moment?

Try this: Think back to the last time you had an unpleasant feeling or felt a little stress. How did it feel? Allow yourself to re-experience it, just for a few seconds……..
Now look in the mirror. What do you look like?

I know that when I do this, it’s not a pretty sight – so let me suggest you give it up, right now!
Instead, take a deep breath in and as you exhale, let the feeling go – blow it out if necessary! Repeat it, if you like.
Now smile, just physically make the grimace of a smile. Now, try to FEEL the smile, think of something that makes you want to smile, so you really mean it. Enjoy the smile.
Now just relax. Feel better? Look better?
I rest my case.

Next time you feel annoyed or stressed, try this again. You may find you not only look better, but your thinking is clearer too!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Motivation & The Feel Good Factor!

A great new book I recently came across is Drive by Daniel Pink. He writes about motivation and the ‘carrot-stick’ approach that no longer works for most of us. Why? Because any task that requires initiative, creative thinking or problem solving abilities, requires a different kind of motivation. I believe it’s what we might refer to as the ‘feel-good’ kind of motivation. The part of the brain that is involved in the creative process or in exploring resources and problem solving requires a feeling of safety and being connected to our innate desire to grow, transcend, do better, and be of purpose… and when positive emotions are not engaged, this really doesn’t happen – at least not to the degree to which it is capable! I love it when books come out that (inadvertently or not :-) support the significance of emotional intelligence and the ‘feel-good’ factor.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Blessings in Disguise

‘An attitude of gratitude’ is a concept I’ve been experiencing the power of first-hand in the last couple of weeks. ‘Stranded’ in the UK by the closure of airspace due to mother nature’s volcanic ash clouds, I find myself able to choose between frustration at not being able to get home and appreciation at being given additional days to do business and see family; between irritation at lost income & added expenses and pleasure at the possibility of laying more groundwork for more work in London; between missing my closest family and the enjoyment of spending more time with dear friends; between annoyance at having no control and relishing the excitement that comes with new opportunities & enjoying synchronicities revealing themselves! And most of all, feeling gratitude for the fact that I could have been stranded somewhere without all this great technology enabling me to communicate with everyone I needed to communicate with! To top it all, the entire week has seen the sun shining brightly all day, every day – in London!!! And with the volcanic ash floating somewhere far above us. Amazing!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Many People D'You See?

For some reason – probably related to the current general state of insecurity in the world – an increasing number of my clients have been articulating satisfaction with their ability for self-sufficiency, with their reluctance to ask for help from colleagues, peers, or team members, expressing almost a sense of pride (some almost ‘wear it’ like a badge of honor). It has occurred so frequently that I am compelled to write a few words of elucidation: asking for help is not a bad thing! In fact, I have found quite the opposite, beginning with myself, many, many moons ago! I used to think that asking for help displayed weakness, incompetence; that independence and initiative couldn’t possibly coexist with needing help; and that being able to ‘do it all’ was somehow a sign of strength. How wrong I turned out to be!
We only have to look at any team sport to see how futile this thinking is (one person cannot, obviously, play a team sport) or at all the jokes and comedy sketches where a family has mother doing all the work while dad and the kids sit in front of the TV!
Passing the ball, sharing the load, asking for help, is all a part of the collaborative process. Any team is only as effective as its members’ ability to collaborate and look to each other for support; be that a sports team, a management team or a family ‘team’.
When I really got this concept for the first time, I was a young mother with a seven-year old. Her dad (who was from Trinidad and had that culture’s no-nonsense approach to parenting), one day asked our daughter:
“How many people d’you see in this house?”
She hesitated: “Three….” she tentatively ventured.
“And how many people eat the food in this house?” he continued
“Three,” she responded, looking like she knew she was being led down a path she wasn’t sure she wanted to go.
“How many people cook the food we eat?”
“One – no two,” she corrected herself, remembering that dad sometimes made breakfast.
“Hmmm. And how many people buy the food?”
“Two.” Was her sullen reply.
“How many people do you see wash the dishes, then?” There was no stopping him!
“Two.” She wriggled impatiently.
Her Dad paused for dramatic effect. Finally he said,
“D’you think that’s fair?”
Our daughter looked across at me then back at her Dad, with the look of one who has just gained a new understanding., an ‘aha!’. “No,” she said, shaking her head so her curls bounced around her now slightly more confident expression.
“So, what d’you think we should do ‘bout it?”
There was a pause.
“I can help wash the dishes?” she said with a questioning lilt.
After that, the rest was easy. She had understood that we were a team and we all needed to pitch in, without my husband (or me) ever having to preach this to her. And we never had to, ever! I on the other hand, would continue needing reminders to ask for help, and not think I could do it all (only to become resentful afterwards). The adage about old dogs & new tricks’, definitely applied to me; my daughter was a teenager – and a helpful one at that – before I ‘really ‘got it’!
Nowadays, I still witness clients (and others) struggling with the same issue – and I recognize the feeling, for a feeling it is, an actual emotional need that will only change when we identify it, acknowledge it isn’t serving us, understand and take charge of it, so that we may step up to the task of collaborating, really collaborating! The way our world is heading these days, I don’t believe there is an alternative. In the words of one of my favorite authors, Satish Kumar, “We need to have a declaration of dependence –not independence! We are all dependent on each other,…. and on the earth.” No pun intended, but the days of plowing ahead independently are over!

PS: Recommended read: Satish Kumar’s book “You Are, Therefore I Am.”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Overcast in Paradise

I used to be a proponent of long vacations. I still am - but recently I gained a new appreciation for short getaways! The island we visited for 3 days was beautiful but the weather was, admittedly, not! Windy, overcast, sometimes rainy, even chilly. We could have been annoyed – we had such little time! However, we chose to take advantage of what we were given. Wind was good for sailing! – we borrowed a small catamaran and went for a sail! The waves soaked us, continuously, but hey, what a problem! I wasn’t about to complain! The water was bright turquoise for goodness sake!
An overcast day was good for a walk, exploring and stopping for fresh bread at a local bakery, a coffee at a sidewalk café, and a delectable lunch in the not-really-needed shade of a palm tree and a parasol…………
The last rainy day could be good for driving around the island ---- if it was beautiful in the rain, imagine what it would be like when the sun came out! Intermittently, we were able to stop the wind-shield-wipers and open the windows, enjoying the most peacefully serene picturesque views – not merely ‘easy on the eye’ but veritable ‘scenic candy ‘!
Nights being lulled to sleep by crashing waves were only matched by waking to the knowledge that we were still on a paradise island. Freshly caught seafood by the beach concluded the blissful holiday – blissful because we chose it to be so, having learned at last that true joy and pleasure comes solely from our own perception of life – the ‘inner view’.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Conflict Anyone?

The last thing anyone wants at work – or at home - these days is conflict. Not that I’m implying we would want it at any other time! It’s just that our reality right now seems more unpredictable, uncertain and unfamiliar than any time before, which tends to result in us more readily slipping into survival mode. While this will in turn tend to make us more likely to be emotionally defensive and/or aggressive, it will also bring on more angst and uneasiness, making us less willing to make waves, and so prone to being both risk averse and conflict aversive. This is a cycle that, while natural and understandable, may not serve us in the long run!

We don’t necessarily need studies to demonstrate this, but they can help, and many studies, (most recently an Organizational Psychology study), have found clear evidence that if we avoid conflict – if we withdraw or suppress it, or try to smooth it over – conflict runs the risk of seething under the surface, and coming out much worse later on. (We all know this on some level, but such formal studies can give us more confidence to act on what we innately know!)

The thing about conflict that creates avoidance is that conflict is unpleasant, it doesn’t feel good in the moment, and it can also be a contradiction to our values! However, if we can be mindful within the conflict, if we can manage our emotions so our brain stays ‘switched on’ and mindful, conflict can be used to create a tension, an energy that ‘gets things done’. It can also create learning about how we can improve and do better. Most importantly, it is within a conflict that we can capture the differences and diversity that make the group or family a strong unit at the outset!

The key, of course, is to manage our emotions well enough that we can stay true to our values and be mindful of the value of the conflict itself, so it becomes an energy that propels us forward, a tension that helps us act or ‘perform’ better, be more authentic, learn about each other and keep communication open, thereby avoiding those subtle and insidious behaviors like manipulation, subversion and intrigue – now there’s a real cause to be uneasy!!

For tips on how to manage your emotions better, go to Articles, or read any of the books for sale in our Shop – excerpts from all will be posted soon on this website!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Praising Children - Right or Wrong?

Praising and telling children they’re smart can backfire! (If you’re a parent, I am confident that you know that already!) However, it’s always good to have evidence. And here it is: new research (done at Stanford and other universities) shows that praising children for apparent inherent characteristics such as intelligence or talent can undermine their self-confidence. Although such praise works well with adults, researchers found that with children it can be the complete opposite! In one study carried out in the New York City school district, it was found that children given the label ‘smart’ performed no better than other children – in fact the indications were that the label ‘smart’ actually contributed to children underperforming. By undermining their motivation ‘un-earned’ praise may actually cause laziness, anxiety, even fear, and diminish their ability to handle challenges.
What does seem to build self-confidence and a healthy self-image, according to the research, is praising children for effort, persistence or diligence, and what I like to call stick-to-it-iveness. This makes sense to me, because reward for something you do rather than for who you are is bound to create a more predictable and therefore safe reality for a child, and act as a motivator to do more of what works; you cannot be more of who you are when you, especially as a child, have no real developed sense of who you are; however you can certainly do more (or less) of actions and behaviours that gain praise! Recalling my own childhood, I can relate to that – never mind my own daughter and all the children I have known, taught, been taught by and worked with!

Now being referred to as ‘the new science of children’ this thinking has been long coming! It is all based on information we already know and which certainly has been well documented by the immense developmental research done over the last few decades. The most significant thing this ‘new’ evidence is revealing is that what works for adults does not necessarily work for children! Take gratitude for example – the very popular core of the current positive psychology and self-esteem building movement – and something I strongly espouse for my (adult) clients. Interestingly, gratitude exercises and processes that work so well in helping adults become more clear, confident, empathic, and emotionally balanced, seem to have the opposite effects on children. One study done with children in affluent Long Island communities, showed that children who focused on gratitude not only did not feel better nor more empathic than the control groups, many of them actually felt worse! The researchers don’t appear to have a satisfactory explanation, except that it may have something to do with kids feeling controlled by adults. Personally, I believe it has more to do with the brain’s developmental process, individuation, and the child’s still growing center in the brain that governs the understanding of being part of a greater whole. It is the fact that children have not yet fully developed their capacity for abstract empathy nor do they have the life experiences to create context for gratitude the way adults have, that creates a different perception of gratitude altogether.

When I work with children I ask them to make a list of things that make them happy (that is happy, not grateful). I help them create a safe place to go inside their imaginations and facilitate them to begin to use this ability to self-soothe and self-regulate, to help them make better choices for themselves. Asking a child to feel gratitude in the bigger picture is inappropriate; gratitude needs to, indeed it must always relate to any individual’s developmental stage and be authentic in the context of their unique life. As must any aspect of building self-esteem.

Expecting childrens confidence and self-esteem to respond the same way an adult’s does makes little or no sense, because they are children!

Healthy self esteem, in my experience, develops from the inside out, and is cumulative. First a child must feel loved and valued for who he or she is, just because they are. Conversely, their achievements are about what they do and the praise they receive and how they are judged needs to relate to just that, what they do, not to the lovable being that they innately are – and that we all are. Herein, I believe, lies the crux of many of our adult neuroses, that as children we were praised – or not – for who we were, and that what we did was confused with who we were. Let’s not make the same mistake with our own children; evidence based or not, we have enough information to know to build our children’s self-esteem and confidence from the inside out, developing first the inner life of the child and then – only then - the way that inner life relates to the outside world – which includes the context for gratitude as well as the feedback about their own performance. What it means to bring up emotionally balanced, coherent competent, & confident, socially aware children amid the glitz and glamour of our consumer culture, is, in essence, a balancing act, on a tightrope strung up between who the child is and what he or she does. And the greatest tool we can give them is to teach them how to negotiate that tightrope themselves, by learning to know themselves.

More about building self-esteem with children in my book Children Believe Everything You Say (Element Books 1997), available on our website and at all good bookstores, including

Monday, January 25, 2010

Teams & Families

Reviewing the last few years of working with parents and leaders, it strikes me how very parallel the issues of these two groups of people are; parents want their kids to learn to be responsible and accountable, they want good communication and high achievements; and leaders want the same from their employees; families want honest communication and everyone to pull their weight – as do leadership teams! Parents have problems maintaining boundaries, understanding their offspring or meeting them where they’re at, and getting them to do what they want! Leaders seem to have the same issues! Families are often brought together by shared values and the need to collaborate over something (as they are split when these are missing!); leadership teams - ditto!

I find that when I witness parents and leaders who ‘make it all work’, those who are succeeding and reaching their goals, I notice they ensure that their children or employees feel that they each have a sense of real purpose (rather than just a job, a chore, or a commitment); a value in being the unique person they are with their unique strengths, in the unique position they’re in; the employees / children know that they have a special contribution to make without which the team (or family) would not be doing as well! Leaders and parents that flourish do so because they have employees and children with a strong sense of belonging & purpose, who therefore are more likely to feel motivated and inspired, loyal and happy!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


We know beauty because there is ugly
We know good because there is evil
Being and not being,
having and not having,
create each other.
Difficult and easy,
long and short,
high and low,
define each other,
just as before and after follow each other.

I love this quote ~ it reminds me to embrace the shadow, and that all is relative.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A 'Badge of Honor'?

A new year, and time to look at stress in a different light!
Far too many people 'wear' stress like a badge of honor; "Oh I'm SO stressed!" a man exclaims at the local coffee shop as I quietly sip my cappuccino. He continues, "but at least that means I'm working hard and being productive!"
He leaves hurriedly and I wonder whether he will get any more done today than me...... somehow I don't think so. Work we do and decisions we make in a stressed out state, frequently lead to more stress. Interestingly, it's when we are in a relaxed, calm state that we are most likely to be the most creative problem solvers and make the best decisions - because that's when our brain is fully 'switched on".
Time to recognize that the belief that 'only through hard work and stress will you be successful', is a myth! Not only is 'hard work and stress' not a prerequisite for achievement and success, it absolutely never guarantees it, (if it did, there would be a lot more successful, non-struggling people in the world.)
Time to recognize the value of relaxation and self-care, of having a life of ease and balance, of ensuring our brain is as fully switched on as possible - and that means activating the 'feel good factor"!
Try this for a week; start every day generating a 'feel good' state - whether it's through focusing on feeling appreciation for something in your life; reading something inspiring; listening to a piece of music you love; doing yoga or other physical activity; or whatever makes you feel like smiling! I'd love to hear about what differences you notice in your life.
Personally, I have found that as long as I take the feel-good factor with me as I go about my day, I am way more effective and successful than when old beliefs about 'hard work' surface and stress becomes the order of the day!
Please join me in expanding the 'feel-good factor' - increase its frequency in your day .................. It may become a movement!