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,


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.


    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?


    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.

    #CIPD14 – Gaining Greater Impact by Understanding Behavioural Science

    Next session by Prof Nick Chater from Warwick Business School and Decision Technology.

    3 things to talk about –

    Unwritten rules – how virtual bargaining works within the organisation

    Behavioural Hiring – rethinking psychological tests, removing bias and adding diversity

    Psychology of Incentives – can science help form your financial and non-financial reward strategies


    Almost everything we do is done together.

    Even just walking together isn’t just walking together.  If a few people are walking along in the same direction – if one person stops to do shoe laces without telling anyone, the others will get frustrated.  If you just say ‘oh, my shoe lace’ then that’s OK – we’ve sought permission.

    If we’re talking to someone, we look for responses – verbal or non-verbal – and if blank or different response to what was expected our brains don’t like it.

    Humans feeding a baby do it jointly with the baby, unlike a chimp who just puts the food in front of the baby and leaves it up to them as to whether they eat.


    Common objective, common understanding of who does what, minimum of costly communication, common goals about individual goals.

    Virtual bargaining underpins this where we don’t even have to communicate to find the right and best solutions..

    Successful teams are the ones who know what needs to be done by whom without too much discussion or communication.  The answer’s obvious to everyone in the team.  The more this is true the more efficient the team will be.

    Inefficiency can come from hierarchy where more senior people impose ways of doing something that suits them, rather than doing something in the most efficient way, expecting others to fall in line.

    Experiments have been done with chimps to see if they can work together for rewards – if the chimps pull together they both get lots of bananas! If one or both of them ‘go it alone’ then the result is boring food.

    Chimps CAN do this to get the bananas but only through experimentation with the mechanism that releases bananas – there’s no purpose of working together to achieve the result – this is a uniquely human attribute.

    Cultures are created by layering on of behaviours and experiences – the last time we met affects the next time we meet.  If we try and step away from the norm, the response we get will determine what we do next time.


    So teams need – coordination, cooperation, diversity of skills and perspectives (= adaptability) and individual talents.

    But despite needing diversity, our psychological norm is to hire in line with our ‘template’ of what a ‘good’ person in that role will do / be like – based on last person, based on how like ‘me’ they are.

    Research was done into how well interviews correlated with each other, and how well recruitment decisions correlated with performance – there was miniscule correlation!  Luckily, as the business in the research had a strong reputation, good and intelligent people applied which meant that random selection stil got them some good new recruits.

    However, once they’d worked with someone, correlation between ‘scores’ on who’s a good performer were very high.  Once we know someone on a deep level we know whether they’re ‘good’ at their job or not and are consistent in our assessment of that.


    Fairness with reward – if you pay people for donating blood, donation goes down – it becomes a commercial transaction “I’m not being paid very much for doing this” rather than a moral ‘do good’ transaction.

    If you charge parents for being late to pick the kids up from nursery, lateness increases – it becomes a commercial transaction “I’m paying for extended childcare”, rather than a moral ‘guilt’ transaction.

    What does all this mean for where you work and your HR practices?

    I believe in people being the key to success in a business 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.

    Get in touch for a chat if you believe in this stuff too and you want your business to be even better – helen.amery@wildfigsolutions.co.uk
    or take a look at my website to find out more http://www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

    The times they are a-changing

    dylan_timesYesterday I was at a conference hosted by the andpartnership about Leading for a Changing World in the great surroundings of The Art House in Islington – a unique and opulent setting (and they do great food too!) – just in case you’re looking for a venue with a difference!

    The human side of change is the thing the andpartnership team specialise in, which would make Leading for a Changing World an obvious choice for a conference topic. And yet, it’s not just that. The team at ‘and’ think that change is changing!

    Hearing from the room the trends of change were about the constant-ness and pace of change – you think you’ve just ‘done it’ and then something else comes along.

    There was talk about dealing with change from the inside-out instead of letting the outside affect how you feel inside.

    There was concern that expectations of leaders are rising – but are we or they really clear what those expectations are?

    And there was recognition of a need to move away from paternal, process leadership to heartfelt, innovative leadership – and yet how do we do that in an increasingly complex and globalised world?

    This question lead us on to hearing about the broader context we’re operating in. The world is changing, it’s shrinking (don’t worry, not literally!), resources are diminishing, tech is everywhere, the numbers of old people are growing while young people are shrinking (again, not literally!) and people are generally getting more demanding and choosey.

    Although, on the plus side, some people are seeing the benefits of breaking down barriers that have existed for years. They’re collaborating which, if you’re interested in this collaboration stuff, pop over here (http://www.clearthinkinguk.com/collaborate-live-the-series/) to see some recent interviews with L&D / OD / good-people-stuff people who believe in collaboration for better work and better lives. These people are realising the benefit of involving others to create more and better. I reckon these are also the people who are willing to take some risks and fail and learn, believing in what they’re doing and believing that, in the end, they’ll achieve what’s important and they want to make that difference.

    There’s more being said in the world about a shift in the type of leadership needed to keep pace with this context and which was echoed in the session….

    Egocentric leadership – all about me
    Fear of disruption
    Providing the answer
    Knee jerk reaction
    Wait and see – which I would build on with ‘wait till it’s perfect’

    MOVING TO…….
    Altrocentric leadership – all about others
    Intelligent reaction – seeing things coming & having the courage to decide & act
    Asking the questions – the knowledge is all around us online & in other people. Coaching to release that power in others.
    Balancing agility and resilience – being able to deal with all the stuff that’s going on around us & respond when it’s right.
    Fail fast experimentation – it’s OK to sometimes get it wrong but learn fast and iterate what you’re doing


    As the day progressed, we heard from two speakers who were at opposite ends of the change experience spectrum – First was Kieran Stigant, Former CEO of Wessex County Council – his was the sort of change that’s like turning a tanker that’s stuck in a sea of treacle – and then Ali Humphries, Group HRD for Aldermore – a new bank for small businesses – her’s is the sort of change that’s like trying to wrestle a new born octopus covered in olive oil! But both of these situations needed, and continue to need, a clear purpose, values around what the organisation stands for, and clarity about how they want things to feel round there.

    After some open space to talk about leading through a changing world I noticed a trend emerging – a trend of fear…..
    Leaders don’t feel they can be authentic because they’re afraid of what people / their boss will say, of what it means for their business results and therefore pay.
    Leaders don’t want tech or Social Media to be part of work because they’re afraid of what might happen if they let people loose (no matter that everyone’s accessing it on their smartphones anyway!).
    Leaders want to keep processes and procedures tight because the opposite of this control feels far too scary.

    So when Andy Cope arrived to talk about his research into happiness – and the secrets of the 2%’ers who spend most of their time at the upper ends of the happiness scale – there came some links to everything we’d been talking about.

     Trigger – Feeling – Behaviour – Outcome

    With so many potential triggers in the world around us, how much time do we spend with feelings of fear, uncertainty, concern?

    And therefore how many unhelpful behaviours and outcomes does this create?

    And most people aren’t even aware – because the fear can be stealthy and quiet.

    But if we’re really going to crack our ability to deal with all this constant, fast-paced change, it comes back to something that was said at the very start of the day – we need to be ‘dealing with change from the inside-out instead of letting the outside affect how we feel inside’.

    So how do we do that then?

    For my own coaching practice this is the stuff I often work on with people and which I find creates the biggest shifts. It’s the things we believe and the thoughts we have that cause us to even be ‘triggered’ in the first place and I love to help people develop more helpful beliefs and thoughts so those triggers aren’t in control of their emotions any more.

    But for now, to start changing how you feel on the inside, try practicing these tips from Andy Cope and theBob_the_builder Art of Brilliance team…..and remember, a lot of our 4000 weeks of our lives have been spent learning behaviours from mood-hoovers, it comes as part of the British mood-hoover cultural norm……so we now need to make a choice to learn to be positive for the weeks we’ve got left…..

    Got toothache? No? Fantastic!

    It might sound odd, but waking up every morning being thankful for not having toothache will start to help you focus on what’s great about you, your life your amazingly clever body! Do this every day (Andy recommends at least a year) and after a while, maybe progress to another body part you’re proud of for working so amazingly well!

    2.9013 read more

    Play Time

    Last week as part of our holiday we visited some gorgeous gardens where we found perfectly shaped hedges, tree-shaded paths, fountains hidden amongst walls and creepers and spectacular views.

    It was a hot – 40 degrees hot – day and the children were flagging. “It’s so hot mummy” “This is booooring” “I’m too tired to walk any more” came the cries. And not that surprisingly really. It was a grown up kind of place and it really was very hot!

    But then, on the horizon, a play area! They were off!! Climbing, swinging, clambering, inventing games involving tipping stones from their shoes down a climbing wall! (Not onto any climbers btw!). 

    It was about 1pm, possibly the hottest it had been all day, and yet they had boundless energy.

    Because it was something important to them.

    Something they cared about.

    Something they loved to do.

    And as we grow up, we don’t change so much from when we’re kids.

    We think we do, and our toys may change, but we can still easily find energy for doing something we love. Something we care about. Something important to us.

    So do you know where your most-loved play area is?

    How much of your life is filled with time there?

    How can you make your play area bigger, with more equipment?

    How can you get there more often?

    And who are the people you want there with you?