Are you running yourself into the ground?

When people are smart, high achieving, wonderful people who care about doing a good job, in and out of work, it’s very easy to reach a crunch point.

I often see it where clients are doing exactly what Bill describes in this quote.

Things are busy at work, it’s all go, glued to screens and phones and meetings for hours. Lots of coffee, lots of sitting and maybe some sugary, processed, quick-and-easy food chucked in for good measure.

In the presence of this, it can make sense to try and balance. With all this unhealthiness at work I must make sure I go running or to the gym, I must make sure I eat well at home, I must make sure our family time is full of maximum-quality experiences. read more

The season of goodwill – or frustration and arguments?

There’s a common theme among the leaders I work with. They want to be less judgmental, less frustrated – at work & at home. But their judgement looks justified – until it doesn’t.

“Every time we find ourselves reacting to anyone or anything, ask on whose behalf we are reacting. We will nearly always find that it is on behalf of a non-existent self.” Rupert Spira ‬

Black & White image of man and woman on a bench looking like they've had an argument

It’s so compelling to think frustration or annoyance with others justifies our position, that it makes us right and them wrong, that we should be angry or un-trusting of them. read more

Don’t reject the ego

In attempts to become enlightened, the ego can become the enemy. Something to be pushed out, got rid of. There’s another way.

Two men wrestling head to head.

Ego. Not the source of our self-confidence or self-esteem. In fact it diminishes our innate brilliance.

Ego. A collection of thoughts, some curated in your life, some inherited from past generations. A repetitive thought process which highlights only the ones which conform to the story we’ve been told and tell about ourselves. read more

Why should we be happy?

Seeking happiness seems to be the thing to do. These are the messages all around us: Go on this holiday to be happy. Eat this food to be happy. Get this job to be happy. Have the perfect family life to be happy. The research would say we’re wired to go towards pleasure and away from pain and therefore we should seek a life with maximum happiness. But could this be an over-worked concept that isn’t serving us? read more

Emotional intelligence made easy

Think of a time when you were in flow. Either on your own, or in a group or team. One of those times when things just seemed to happen really naturally and easily. When you didn’t have to put much effort in and yet you were making great progress, or getting great results.

Now compare that to the definition of emotional intelligence:

“the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)”

When you were in flow, to what extent were you doing any of the things in that definition?

My guess would be not very much, if at all, and certainly not consciously. Not with intellectual effort.

This is because when we’re in our natural state, we don’t need strategies and tactics. We don’t need breathing and centring, or visualisations of the best version of us, or mantras about listening to understand not to reply.

And this is because, in our natural “flow state”, we aren’t paying attention to the thinking going on in our heads. We’re not grabbing hold of thoughts and believing them. We’re not analysing why someone’s said what they said, or why we ourselves are getting frustrated by something, and crucially we’re not trying to manage ourselves out of an emotional response we think we shouldn’t be having in that moment. We’re keeping our intellectual, egoic, personal thinking out of the way and we’re accessing a much deeper space of wisdom and intuition.

Why aren’t we in flow more?

For years we’ve been teaching people (me included until recently) that we need to intellectually manage what’s going on for us emotionally. That we need to use our brain muscle to fix ourselves, that we need to practice and repeat to build new habits and new neural pathways, all so we can be better versions of ourselves more of the time because we’ve been led to believe there’s some version of us which is not good enough and not acceptable to society right now.

The trouble is, the application of our intellectual capabilities to these emotional management tasks, takes valuable energy away from our ability to generate fresh new thoughts and ideas in any moment, from our ability to listen and hear others, from our ability to connect and collaborate.

Remember that flow state? All those things just happened naturally there because you weren’t stuck, caught, or getting tangled in your thinking. And I’m not saying that in flow everything is about positivity and full agreement, with permanent grins on everyone’s faces – but you and others will have felt able to express any frustration or concerns without it seeming like a big deal. In fact the complete opposite. Any such insights will have been gratefully received and discussed, leading to an even better way forward.

So if we’re not “managing” our state through emotional intelligence tactics, how do we get to this state of flow more of the time?

We understand how our human system really works.

What we’ve been doing with emotional intelligence is explore:

the “what” – the content of our thoughts, labelling the emotions we’re feeling,

and

the “why” – what’s triggered you to get to that response. Often then examined to be re-framed or replaced with a more helpful thought.

This different approach understands the “how” of our underlying system. Think of making a car go. There is no benefit in commenting on the shape or design of the bodywork (the “what”). And there’s also no benefit in polishing the paintwork to a high shine to make it look nicer (the “why”). Neither of these approaches is going to get the car going. You must first understand “how” all the parts of the engine work and fit together to make the thing move forward.

The exact same here.

So how does our system work?

There are two areas where we can see the system working the way it always has and always will.

  • Everything works inside-out. Everything you’ve experienced, ever, in your whole life has been experienced through your thoughts. There is no other way. Nothing on the outside can “do” anything to you or “make” you feel anything. It’s all seen through the movie projector of our experience. “We’re the writer, the director, the producer – and in fact the audience”*.
  • Our system rights itself. Without intervention from us, our thinking moves on, our feelings change and we move to a different state. Automatically. In fact, I might go so far as to use the new word I recently learnt “automagically”! We “think” we’re so clever and we’ve been taught all our lives to be clever: in education, by parents, and in work. The message we’ve received is that intellectual capabilities are THE most important capability we have. And it’s not that intellectual is unimportant, but it’s the fact that this is not all there is. In emphasising our intellectual, we’ve denied and hidden the rest of what makes us whole; the true source of our brilliance and innate wisdom. We’ve been so busy fixing ourselves to be better we forgot that we didn’t need fixing in the first place.
  • read more

    Break the habit of busy

    I’m seeing it everywhere I go.

    No time to stop.  No time to think.  Just get on and do, do, do!  And make sure others are doing the same.

    In this place your brain is in action mode (distinct from reflection mode).  You become more concerned about yourself than others.  You lose perspective.  It’s hard to see the bigger picture.  You don’t think with full capacity because you’re verging on threat state and some parts of your brain aren’t deemed important enough for good blood flow when you’re in that place.  More things become a competition than necessary.  Frustrations are everywhere.  And you’re more likely tip from the edge of “healthy pressure” into unhealthy stress and unhelpful reactions.  When that happens you damage relationships, often with those you’re relying on to get your “doing” done.

    It’s such a waste of human potential.

    Because what I also see is that when people do choose to stop and think, either in 1:1 or group sessions, they can then see clearly.  They raise their awareness.  And from that position of greater clarity they choose different, more effective, more beneficial actions – and get better results.

    And we need to choose it.  We need to choose to stop.

    The predominant culture in business today is “be busy” – because it makes you look/feel important and successful, because it makes you look/feel needed or wanted, because if you don’t your pay rise / bonus / job / career might be at risk….because if there’s a problem or something goes wrong fingers will be pointed at me because I didn’t look like I was doing anything.  I looked like I didn’t have everything under control.  I wasn’t dotting every i and crossing every t.

    Our need for control makes us think that doing stuff and keeping doing stuff – a lot – is our route to success.

    When in fact it’s our route to failure.

    When we stop, in reflective mode, we feel more relaxed, our thinking broadens, we see connections, we become more empathetic and therefore able to appreciate and be considerate of others’ perspectives, we’re more flexible, adaptable and resilient to the things that inevitably change the plan along the way.

    So ironically, even though we think that ploughing on and getting through the work is THE most important thing and the thing that will get us furthest.  If we only stopped for 15 minutes and walked round the block, or went to buy a sandwich outside the building, it would help our heads shift into reflective mode, help us process what we’ve just done, and have us ready for the next chunk of the day.

    And beyond that there are so many other ways and times and places you can stop and reflect.  The key is for it to become a regular habit.  You choose which of these sounds right for you.  Give it a try, see if it works, and if not, try something else.

    How Often and When:

    Daily (tiny version) – if you feel you don’t have time to reflect at all – start small – even just reflecting on #3goodthings every day can start to shift how you feel and think.  That only takes a few minutes on your journey home.

    Daily (slightly bigger version) – 15 minutes before you’re going to leave – what’s gone well today, what hasn’t, what do I want to do differently tomorrow / next time?

    Weekly – Friday before you finish – what’s gone well this week, what’s been challenging, what have I learnt, what’s coming up next week?

    Monthly – end of the month – what am I proud of, what’s been difficult, what am I learning from that, what do I want to do with that now?

    Who With:

    On your own – on paper, spoken out loud, recorded into your phone

    With a colleague who’d also like to experiment with this, talk and process out loud while the other listens, then swap

    Work with a coach* – protected thinking time with someone who’s entirely on your side, usually up to two hours, for in-depth reflection.  Probably focussed on a particular aspect of your life – maybe something that’s showing up as a pattern for you and which is becoming a hindrance.

    Where:

    Ideally outside amongst trees and greenery – nature has a positive effect on how we feel!

    If not then somewhere as comfy and relaxing as possible – maybe a coffee shop or quieter work area

    Or just at your desk, on the sofa…. you choose.

     

    Try some options.  See what works for you.  Form a habit you feel you can stick to.  Some reflecting is better than none.

    And see what impact is has on you and those around you.

     

    *Different coaches are different.  Talk to a few and choose the one you think will work for you.  Coaches are used to this choosing process and good ones will have no problem with you not choosing them.

    #CIPDNAP16 : Join me for a walk

    Last week at the CIPD Learning & Development Show I attended one of the free exhibition sessions with David Pearl of Street Wisdom.

    Street Wisdom is an amazing way of using your surroundings to help you answer a question you hold. Getting out into the streets either somewhere you know, or somewhere new, looking up, paying attention, and seeing what thoughts appear from what your attention is drawn to.

    I first discovered Street Wisdom in November 2014 at the Annual Conference. You can read about my experience here.

    Since then I’ve learnt about the brain benefits of getting out and walking, and especially of walking in nature-filled surroundings. When our brain feels well we build our resilience.  We think better, process and sort through priorities better and make better decisions. It means we’re focused on the right stuff instead of operating on auto pilot or plodding through a to-do list.

    If you and those around you could do with these kinds of benefits, join me on the 18th of June when I’m speaking at the annual and very brilliant CIPD Northern Area Partnership event about walking, why it helps us from a brain perspective, and you’ll also get to experiment with walking on the day to see what you discover and can take back to work. It’ll be the perfect way to blow away the cobwebs from the gala dinner the night before!

    If you’ve not booked for the event yet you can do that here, and I’d love to see you at my session so that we can do some experimenting together.

    Christmas Brain – take 2

    Welcome to the second of my Christmas reflection trio. Take 1 is here if you missed it. Today’s one is about the choice we have about how we see our competition.

    Rivals – For Better or For Worse

    “Nothing is ever done beautifully which is done in rivalship.” – John Ruskin

    My kids are major rivals. In fact, to my son, pretty much everyone is a rival. His life is one big competition. And if he’s not winning, it’s not worth playing. A strong Achievement Drive it would be fair to say!  And it makes for short family game playing experiences if it’s not going his way.  But lucky him, he has me as his mum, and I’ve been telling him about the work of Timothy Gallwey. read more

    Christmas Brain – take 1

    So how much have you slobbed out over the last couple of days? How many times over have you consumed your own body weight in delicious things? Whatever you’ve been up to, I hope it’s been fun and with people you care about, and I hope you’ve had the chance to switch off and let your mind wander.

    Mine’s definitely taken advantage of the wanderings and I’ve had a few reflections from things I’ve noticed about how we behave, the impact we have and how we might want to be instead.

    It follows similar reflections last Christmas, when I wrote about the effect on us of saying thank you to someone and their reply being something dismissive like ‘not at all’ or ‘really it was nothing’.

    This year, my festive reflections have shown up some other brain things that go on, not just at Christmas but all year round, everywhere we go…… There’s a little trio of them, and this one’s the first…..

    Spot What’s Wrong

    “It’s not happy people who are thankful.
    It’s thankful people who are happy.”
    – author unknown

    For Christmas my daughter asked Santa for an Elsa dress, wig and shoes. He brought the wig!…….and Granny bought the dress! But she had to wait nearly a whole day between these two openings of presents to realise this.

    In the meantime she kept reminding us, over, and, over that she’d asked Santa for the dress and shoes too and he hadn’t given them.

    Forget the fact that she got the toy meerkat she’d wanted for 2 years, the ballet shoes, the ear muffs….

    She’s not spoilt (I don’t think…..!) but her mind was just doing what it does best. Spotting the bad. Spotting the stuff that’s not right, rather than the stuff that is.

    Noticed that at work. Noticed how it’s so easy to spot others’ mistakes, and for others to spot your’s?

    20653-44412

    As Rick Hanson so eloquently writes in Hardwiring Happiness, “our mind is like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good”. And this function was needed in the past. Our survival relied on us thinking there might be a tiger in the bushes and on deciding to run, or advance with a weapon, even if there turned out to be no tiger. As far as our mind’s concerned, the one time we think “it’ll be ok, I’m sure it’s fine, there’s no tiger” will be the time we no longer stay here to procreate. And that’s definitely not good!

    Sadly, this instinct is so well engrained that we are still REALLY good at assuming the worst, and spotting what’s not right rather than what’s gone well.

    Spotting what’s gone well needs practice and perseverance but the return on that investment will pay back over and over as people grow in confidence and ability, achieving more than they might have ever thought possible.

    This doesn’t mean you only ever tell people good stuff. Nobody’s perfect and we all need help to see where we can improve. The difference is that, if you spend most of your time spotting the good, people are mightily more accepting of your thoughts when something could be better.

    So who or what do you feel negative about right now?
    When you really stop and think about them or it, what’s the stuff that’s good?
    And what will you do with these new thoughts?

     

    I believe in people being the key to success and that success is unlocked by great bosses.  I’m an Executive Coach for SME leaders to help create success for you, for your team, for your business.

    If you believe in this stuff too, get in touch for a chat and let’s see what we could do together – 07718 316 616 or helen.amery@wildfigsolutions.co.uk
    or take a look at my website to find out more.