Sunday, December 9, 2012

What Purpose?

I came across this Charlie Brown cartoon the other day, and once I’d stopped smiling, it got me thinking – about purpose and about having a sense of it. Meditating on this thought I recollected reading somewhere that for us humans a sense of purpose is almost as strong and significant as the need for sex. I wonder if the endless search for happiness preoccupying so many of us is really all about connecting with meaning and a sense of purpose?

I once attended a talk about the significance of purpose, given by Satish Kumar. He challenged us to consider that the Body, Mind, Spirit movement is no longer relevant – because it’s too ego-centric, even narcissistic - all about MY body, MY mind, MY spirit. Point taken! Instead he proposed a new concept; Soul, Soil and Society: the idea of nurturing one’s soul (self-care; living a more balanced life), in order to feel a more responsible, nurturing connection to the planet (soil) and ultimately to understand that we are all linked, made up of the same stuff, and so we had better take care of each other (society). When all is said and done, we will inevitably find that the most gratifying sense of purpose always involves giving and generating love. Satish finished; “I am only here speaking to you because you are here, listening. You are, therefore I am.”

A lovely concept that I invite us all to weave into our celebration this Christmas. May it be a merry one!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Give or Take

Inexplicably linked to gratitude (and Thanksgiving) is, in my humble opinion, generosity.
I recall a story I once heard about generosity, illustrating how difficult it is to actually put qualities such as gratitude and generosity into daily practice. The story was about a priest who was traveling around the farming community he served, visiting his parishioners. One group of farmers was particularly engaging and he spent some time preaching about the virtues of generosity, charity and kindness. Finally he asked them all to imagine they had one more car than they needed. Then he asked them what they would do with the extra car. One of the farmers immediately responded enthusiastically; “I would give it away to someone who needed it.”
“Now that’s what I call charitable!” the priest exclaimed. “And what if you had two houses? What would you do with the second one?”
“I would give the second one to homeless people,” replied the farmer at once eager to please.
“The spirit of generosity indeed!” the priest smiled with approval. “What if you had two chickens, “ he continued, “what would you do?”
The farmer became suddenly serious. “Why I would keep them both!” he retorted.
“Now why would you, who have been so kind-hearted with great things, all of a sudden cease being generous when it comes to a couple of small chickens?” asked the priest
The farmer replied, “Because I have two chickens!”

Such a great illustration of how we humans can find it so difficult to live according to what we preach – to ‘walk our talk ‘as they say – especially when old emotional fear patterns and self-centredness take over! The thing is when they do, we actually feel uncomfortable, unhappy, because on some level we know we are not living in alignment with our values.

The very good news is that science is repeatedly showing us it’s all in the wiring of the brain – AND we can, by being mindful, actually take charge and change the wiring – be what we really want to be! In the case of the farmer (if he indeed was really as generous as he professed to be) give away that second chicken trusting that ‘what goes around comes around’.

To learn more about coaching and resources that can help ‘change the wiring’, check out

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

One Thing We Take For Granted

Sitting in a very crowded London tube train the other day, I couldn’t help but overhear two young men – college students – conversing next to me. One of them was describing the gift he was creating for his parents’ anniversary, an elaborately mounted photo collage he clearly found difficult to complete. It sounded like a time consuming project.  “It’s an upgrade of the gift I made for their wedding, I think it will be good enough, don’t you?” he said to his friend. I was curious about the back-story but his obvious care and thoughtfulness over-rode my curiosity. He struck me as being somewhat un-typical of that age group, or of how we normally perceive that age group, and the humbling thought occurred to me that we possibly underestimate young people because of their youth. I immediately felt a surge of gratitude for my own daughter at that age and the constant care and thoughtfulness she exhibited, and still does. I wonder how many of us have someone in our lives who is especially caring, a person who goes that extra mile, but who we don't necessarily remember to acknowledge for it?  This young man on the tube reminded me not only how important it is to recognize young people, but how important it is to shift our focus away from anyone that bothers or upsets us towards those that care, and that show us they care. Won't you join me in appreciating kind, considerate people, of all ages, a little more?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monty's Corner

I was recently asked to write an article for Monty’s Corner – a wonderful website that offers online information and activities for children who are going through cancer treatments or finished treatments, and online services and information for their parents. Having worked with a few families with children suffering from childhood leukaemia, I was able to share some experiences of tools that I have found can help families cope with this very difficult challenge. You can read the article here:
Should you, or anyone you know be in such a situation, do check out this very special, much needed and helpful website!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Self-Control?

Having fasted for two days, I sat down with a good conscience, a fruit smoothy and a piece of chocolate to read an article about self-control. The author of the article claimed that psychologists have isolated the personal qualities that predict positive outcomes in life as being intelligence and self-control. So excited is he about this idea that he has gone on to write a complete book about self-control, claiming it’s the ultimate secret to a successful life. Hmmmmm, I wonder if that is merely his interpretation of the findings that the qualities embodied in emotional intelligence are the greatest predictor of success and fulfillment? I suspect this is at least a twist on that research and if so we can safely say that the interpretation skews the findings so much that it squeezes the very essence out - that essence being emotion. While the article goes on to make many good points – such as that self-control is driven in part by our physiology and so is greatly affected by what we eat and how much sleep we’ve had (stating this as if it’s a new discovery hints at that the article was not written by a mother :-) – The writer goes on to say that the best way to improve self-control is by first setting a goal and then monitoring your own behaviour.  Whoa – this is where I beg to differ, for where is the critical ingredient - emotion? The underlying cause of most lack of self-control is emotional, usually an emotional need that is not being met, and if all we do is set a goal and monitor our behaviour, we could miss the root cause altogether and just end up stuffing those driving feelings with who knows what dysfunctional results. Where is the intelligence in that? No, I must put my two bits in here: there is a step we need to take first, before any other, and that step is awareness– self-awareness and specifically emotional self-awareness. Only after we know what we feel and why we feel it can we hope to make any permanent change in how we control ourselves…… and oh yes, what we eat! I believe that brings us full circle?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Debunking a Myth!

Planning to write a Blog about coaching the so called ‘soft skills’ I sat down at my computer. As occasionally happens, I was almost immediately distracted by another idea; the qualities and skills of a good coach. I began writing, but two sentences in yet an other idea came to me; high achieving athletes and what we can learn from them! Considering the recent Olympics and the upcoming Paralympics I thought writing about the role of discipline and stick-to-it-iveness versus raw talent would be timely. Oh dear - too many directions! I felt like someone driving round a roundabout not knowing which exit to take. A cup of tea was what I needed! I took a break and put the kettle on, picking up the day’s paper. An article caught my eye: The Talent Myth. I began reading, quickly mesmerized, for there were all three of my topics written about in one article! And brilliantly so! Incredulous and delighted I went back to my computer – not to write but to search for the article on-line, so that rather than re-invent the wheel, I could offer you a link to a very interesting read!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Real Body Beautiful

Rarely has there been such a display of beautiful bodies as at the recent Olympics ….. and living as I do in London, well – the display has been everywhere! And healthy beautiful bodies too – how refreshing- the radiant health is in itself beautiful! Makes my mind wander to other ways that the body is beautiful, ways we don’t normally consider. One of those ways, to me, is the language of the body, not just it’s expression outwardly but inwardly, the way the body speaks to us, internally (if we just listen). The body tells us how and what we feel, when we feel pleasure, when we feel pain, and when we need to speed up or slow down - which we often ignore at our peril!  It tells us when we have excess energy (like anger); if we listen we can transform that energy into something useful (like outrage) that can drive us to taking action to help us achieve and attract what we want. If we ‘listen’ to the pleasure, rather than rushing on to our next 'vital action', we can stop for just a moment and enjoy it, relish the pleasure long enough for it to release more endorphins and hormones that will boost our immune system, slow down our ageing process, increase motivation, make our brains more creative and can even reduce cravings, as well as give us a glow that – guess what – makes us more beautiful on the outside! Gives the old saying ‘beauty comes from within’ a whole new meaning!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Movement

The Olympics are all around me here in London: endless activity, movement, exertion and speed! Then excitement, joy, pride, disappointment, regret, frustration, humility, elation, delight, and many more emotions – and constant, endless, perpetual movement ………..
The word ‘move’ has the same Latin root as the word emotion – emovere*.  Makes sense, right?  – not only do emotions move through us 24/7, (whether we are aware of them or not), their power is unmatched. They cause us to say things we try to find ways to un-say; they cause us to do things we wish we could undo. They can also fill us up with energy and drive us to achieve amazing things – as demonstrated here in London by so many right now!
Observing all these wonderful athletes from around the world, coming together in the only event that momentarily suspends differences and places all nationalities peacefully on common ground,  I wonder how many of the athletes are using their true ability to manage their emotions to help them achieve their goals and their medals?  Would becoming more emotionally aware and mindful help us all to spread the experience of equality and peace beyond the Olympics?
Personally, I believe it would – and does.

* Latin emovere, from e- (variant of ex-) 'out' + movere 'move'.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cotton-Wool or Free-Range Kids?

For some time now I have strongly suspected that we have become far more attached to our technology than is good for us. (Contrary to what this sentence may indicate, I am NOT about to embark on technology-bashing!) Recently it seems every newspaper and periodical I pick up has an article that in some way points to my suspicion as survey after survey shows that we are increasingly living technology-filled and virtually nature-free lives! One article posed the question” Cotton-wool kids – or free-range children?” I wonder, do we consciously make that choice, or is it just happening as we get wrapped up in texting, tweeting, emailing and friending, while we try to navigate the increasing demands on our time as well as that of our children – scheduling all their activities, not to mention ensuring their protection – and ending our days by collapsing in front of the TV? 
Apparently less than ten percent of children today regularly play in the free outdoors, (this compares to fifty percent of their parents when they were children). One study shows that kids can more easily identify a fictional character from TV than a wild animal. We all know that obesity levels have tripled in the last decade, and children’s mental  health is on a sharp decline.
Technology in and of itself is, of course, not the culprit; it’s the way we employ it - our indiscriminate use of it - that’s the problem. Social media was never meant to disconnect us from nature. It was, and is, merely meant to be a tool that, if anything should give us more freedom!
So while I’m on a roll speculating, I hypothesize that if each time we go to use that tool, to for example text, we ask ourselves is this really necessary, we may find it is not! If each time we click the facebook tab to check the latest posts, we ask ourselves do I need to do this now; or when we go to check our emails for the fifth time today we question the necessity, we may discover the answer is no. And when we reach for the cell phone for whatever reason we instead stop and look around us and take a moment to connect with our environment, directly through our senses, maybe we would glance upon a leaf or a tree and be reminded of nature, wherever we find it. Practising such self-questioning, we may eventually discover we have a little more time to get out into nature and to take our children out into nature, not for the purpose of DOING anything specific, but for no other reason than to just enJOY it – freely………. free-range!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A New Meaning!

Hello is a word
I use every day
It’s not been a big deal, in any way

It’s probably said
more than most other words
On occasion it’s even spoken by birds

I say it, I hear it
I pay it no mind
I move to the next thing and leave it behind

I take it for granted
I always did
Like blinking and breathing, the ego, the id

It never occurred
To give it a thought
It’s only a word that everyone’s taught!

But lo and behold
Just one week ago
I came to discover a new Hello!

The word became everything
Special to me
It filled up my eyes with tears of happy

This word that I’d never
Paid any mind
Became suddenly a word so sublime

The moment I saw
Her sweet little face
At first I stammered and couldn’t find grace

I couldn’t find words
From below or above
I was in awe, I was gob-smacked with love

The word that I said
When I found my voice
Was that word Hello! - now my word of choice!

For what better word
Could there be to bestow
On my new-born granddaughter than that word Hello!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Power of Introverts!

We live in a world that increasingly promotes the ideology of being assertive and outgoing, sociable and even self-promoting, and if we are not that way, we are given the message that we need to fix ourselves, do some self-help (:-) and change! However, (and that’s a BIG however), studies now show, conclusively, that up to one third of us are actually introverts, and many more of us are only outgoing and sociable some of the time. So even if you, reading this, are a full on extrovert, you are bound to know many people who are not! Personally I can be both extrovert and introvert, so I was delighted to watch a great TED talk the other day actually promoting the power of introverts, with author Susan Cain.  I invite you to check it out – it’s MOST enlightening!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Counter Intuitive?

Doesn’t it sometimes feel as if all this insecurity about the future will never end?. Worry and anxiety is ever on the increase, as is our faith in our leaders (all of them, it seems!) Result? We are more likely to take work home, agree to excessive overtime and avoid taking breaks. Does this sound like you? Do you increasingly find yourself eating lunch while still working? Do you continue working at home, during dinner, texting or emailing while sitting with your partner or children and their homework? Although all this gives us the feeling we are being more effective, getting more work done, I have news for you: that's an illusion!

Studies conducted over decades, have found that as the length of the workday increases so too does our lack of efficiency, and that productivity increases only when we take breaks and ensure we have ample time to rest and recover form our workday! One study, published in September last year found that it is even possible to use work time for exercise or other health-promoting measures and still attain the same or higher production levels. Imagine that!

So increasing productivity by effectively relaxing, while feeling worried and anxious? Surely this is counter-intuitive? The big challenge is that it will only cease to be counter-intuitive when we accept that we can choose our emotional responses – when we find ways to shift the anxiety to another response. Fortunately this can become more doable if we have some practical steps, and as this is particularly relevant for the people I currently see, I am getting opportunities to test numerous tools!
Here are some suggestions that have worked for me and for my clients:

1.    MAKE A ‘WIND DOWN’ LIST: After lunch make a list of what you need to accomplish before you leave work and what you will tackle tomorrow. This gives you time to complete your tasks and help you to leave work feeling more like you've wrapped up your day productively.
2.    USE MUSIC. If you can, use music to help give you energy and focus. Use an mp3 player or your computer. Your favourite music will make your work more fun!
3.    LIMIT TAKING WORK HOME. Try to reduce this to once or twice a week, only taking with you what is absolutely necessary. If in doubt, take three deep slow breaths and then ask yourself how much more efficient this would make you.
4.    BUY A JOURNAL. If a particularly challenging issue or situation at work makes it difficult to relax once you get home, open you journal. And write about it: write about the issue, how you feel, and where in your body you feel the associated tension. When you’ve finished writing, put your journal away. Later, when you’ve eaten, relaxed and feel better, come back to your journal and see if you have a different perspective.

You can also go to the Member Zone on our website for loads of free audios to help you relax - at work and at home, alone and with your kids!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Do You Prioritise?

To continue on from the last Blog’s story ……I find it very interesting that most people still don’t think about addressing their stress until they’re experiencing serious symptoms. Some don’t even think about the need to manage their stress until they’re on the verge of burnout. Citing economic hardship, uncertain times, threatened jobs, or just busy lives, we place stress management low down on our list of priorities. We assume it is a luxury or that everything else is more important. Unfortunately! It is unfortunate because eventually an overly taxed body or an overwhelmed, worn-out psyche will force the issue.
For those few wiser among us who do not throw caution to the wind, but take proactive action to better manage their stress, the discovery is made that developing healthy stress management habits pays off in leaps and bounds! It is important to note that I’m talking here about stress management (as opposed to just relief), as stress is unavoidable and can sometimes even be beneficial – IF we know how to manage it. When we do, we experience a multitude of positive outcomes such as improved communication and relationships, increased productivity, better health and more happiness in general.

Step one in this process of effective stress management is self-care – often a step which in itself creates resistance, because to many of us, it feels selfish! However, at this point it can be helpful to remember the oft-used analogy of the oxygen mask on the plane; we have to put it on ourselves before we can be of effective use to anyone else!

I challenge you today to spend just 5 minutes thinking of and noting down 5 ways you could take better care of yourself – 5 ways that are simple enough that you can (and WILL) apply them! (It could be something simple like each time you pass a mirror or see your own reflection in a window, smile! OR take a deep breath and fully exhale before eating, OR feel appreciation for something before you get out of bed.)

There are many more steps to effective stress management, but this one is, in my experience, a fantastic start!

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Favourite Story: Stress Management!

A young lady confidently walked around the room, with a raised glass of water, while explaining stress management to an audience.  Everyone knew she was going to ask the ultimate question,  "Is it half empty or half full? "
She fooled them all ...
"How heavy is this glass of water?" she inquired with a smile.

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. To 20 oz. 
She replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. 
It depends on how long I hold it. 
If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. 
If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. 
If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. 
In each case it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes." She continued, "and that's the way it is with stress. 
If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on." 
"As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden - holding stress longer and better each time practiced. 
So, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. 
Don't carry them through the evening and into the night... Pick them up tomorrow.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

We Live In Hope!

So Goldman Sachs managers refer to their clients as Muppets. What a brilliant example of low emotional intelligence. “If only,” says one of my clients, “if only they’d done some AEM work, they would have known not to say such stupid things.”
Contrary to how this quote may appear, I am not blowing my own trumpet, for I do not hold the monopoly on ways of developing emotional intelligence (although AEM has proven to be a most effective way :-) There are as many ways to develop such intelligence as there are ways of learning to manage your stress, ways that would identify snide name-calling as, at best, an unhelpful way to vent stress, ways that would even develop the wisdom to never, ever go there. But alas, Goldman Sachs, along with thousand of other corporations, have not yet recognized that good management includes the management of the stress and emotions that actually, ultimately drive behaviour. How much reputation and money do they have to lose before they ‘join the dots? Will they ever get it? Maybe Greg Smith’s resignation letter will jolt them towards taking a step in the right direction? I live in hope!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Life Ain't Easy!

My ex used to say “Life’s a bitch and then you die!” What a terrible statement! No wonder I had forgotten about it …. until I was recently reminded of an old favourite book I used to read to help me make sense of my life back then; The Road Less Travelled by Scott M. Peck. Author Peck had a more constructive take on the sentiment of my ex; he concluded that yes, life IS difficult - AND only when we accept this and face it as fact, can we do something about it and eventually transcend it! That book was one of my bibles for years, and gradually I discovered my own tools for change, tools which made it less and less frightening to open up what seemed like a Pandora’s box filled with the issues that made life so difficult.
A few of the ‘tools’ to ponder (and even implement ):

1.    Pay attention to your body. Does it feel good? Bad? Tense? Can’t tell? Where do you feel your various emotions? Try noticing what your body is trying to tell you........
2.    Breathe. It’s the single most significant thing we do. Do it slowly and mindfully at least twice a day..........
3.    Take TIME to solve your problems, and never underestimate the helpfulness of writing. The process of writing (about any issue you have) can, in and of itself, help you clarify, give you insights, and often even help you find a solution..........
4.    Wisdom, problem-solving abilities and insights come when the brain is creatively ‘switched on’, and the brain is designed to function at it’s most creative when we are in a feel-good state. Suggestion: appreciate something – anything in your life - feel it..... and feel your brain working better!

Even if life still ain’t easy, I've found that applying these simple steps makes me much better able to handle life’s trials, and more and more to experience that life is in fact, most of the time, beautiful!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Keeping It In Perspective!

I try to keep a balanced approach to social media in my life – i.e., I keep my Tweets to once a day and I only check Facebook a couple of times a week….. not easy recently as I have reconnected with quite a few ‘old’ friends through FB! This of course is delightful to say the least! Wonderful that short messages and a few clicks make it possible to re-establish human connections across vast miles and many countries. However, I find the follow up, the moving on from FB into emails, Skyping, phoning, and if possible actually getting together for a beverage, is the really gratifying piece. The short-lived (and very public) connection made via social media gives an equally short-lived and often superficial satisfaction. Maybe that is why this increase in accessibility to each other parallels an increase in social ‘phobias’ and social insecurities and anxiety, especially amongst young people? I know I am not the only coach/counselor finding this in my practice. We are seeing clear evidence of the fact that with all the advantages of technology, human beings still need the human, face-to-face connection for true fulfillment and friendship to flourish. What I have found personally, is that once a friendship is established, ‘in the flesh’, social media can help keep lines of communication open and so support it’s upkeep; keeping it all in perspective!
In order for us all the learn to use social media in a healthy, supportive way, I believe we need to place a little more emphasis in our educational environments (and that includes ALL stages of education) on building social and emotional intelligence …………the basic life skills that actually form the foundation for success and fulfillment – but now that’s a whole new subject and another blog entry……. :-)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Favourite Story

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat, with just one fisherman, docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. The Mexican replied that it only took him a little while. The American then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?
    The Mexican said that he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked; “What do you do with the rest of your time?”
    The fisherman replied; “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”
    The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
    The Mexican fisherman asked, “But how long will this take?”
    To which the American replied, “15 to 20 years.”
    “But, what then?” the fisherman asked.
    The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”
    “Millions…..and then what?” inquired the fisherman.
    The American said, “Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play guitar with your amigos.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Experiencing Peace?

A new year invites reflection…. even if it’s only a brief one about what we’d like to do differently or more or less of, although by now you may be fed up with reading about new year’s resolutions or even trying to stick to one yourself! Paradoxically, your ability to do, behave or act successfully is directly proportionate to your ability to reflect, to tune in and listen to your own intuitive insights - in order to make the best choices and decisions as you go about your daily life. You may know this intuitively, but are not necessarily practicing it :-) If so, you’ll be in good company! Increasing amounts of people are requesting help to handle stress better and to attain calm, probably because in troubled times it becomes harder to experience any sense of peace.
To help, we have just uploaded a new, gentle guided meditation (this time with no music or sound effects), for experiencing peace. If you would like to listen, click here and sign in to the Zone.

The ability to experience feelings of calm and peace is more important than ever now, helping, as it does, the brain to function significantly better than when we are worried or tense – as well as boosting our immune system, creating more emotional balance, improving our sense of well being, and even slowing down the ageing process, all good things to help us navigate through 2012!

PS: We have also uploaded a new goal oriented visualization for children ‘Your Theater…….. helpful to sustain the focus on achieving any goal! Check it out - and enjoy!