The solution to all your problems

What do you do when you’re feeling stuck and nothing you try seems to be working? Here’s a tip that might work.

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If you’d like help slowing down and listening to what’s really important to you, get in touch for a free one hour coaching session. They’ve been very popular so far!

“Even in one coaching session with Andy I felt calmer, more settled and clearer in my mind. His ability to put me at ease, his approach and mindful influence made for an environment where new thinking, an open mind and fresh ideas would appear – away from the constant chaos of everyday life.” 

– Claire Brodley, PwC

“I love your approach and your grounded, warm presence. I left the session feeling very peaceful.”

– Jo Hunter, Co-founder and Director, 64 Million Artists.

“Fantastic session, Andy. It was like stepping off the never ending treadmill of thoughts or removing a blindfold. The senses come alive and everything seems slower, more gentle and yet open to new possibilities. ” 

– Samantha Cooper, Partner at Impact Hub Brixton & Islington


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Finding your ideal job: three questions not to ask

Not sure how to find the right job for you? Here are three questions not to ask yourself and finally the one that I think is the most useful.

I hope you find these ideas useful. Let me know what you think…

If you’d like some help being happy at work, get in touch for a free coaching session.

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10 Tips to Reduce Work Stress

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For many people, work has got more stressful. It’s now the number one reason for people to be on sick leave. People who remember the days before email wistfully recall only having a few letters to deal with at the beginning of the day, and that was it until the next day. Imagine that!

Now we have new notifications demanding  our attention every few seconds and a to do list that we never feel on top of. Work phones mean many people have started working evenings and weekends, who never would have before.

In such a harsh environment, you need to develop your own strategies to stay in a positive frame of mind and to be productive. Here are a few things I would recommend, starting the night before. Many people are stressed before they’ve even arrived at work.

1. Wind down before bed with no screens

I spoke to someone last week who’d given her mum an iPad for her birthday and she hasn’t been sleeping properly ever since, because she uses it in bed. Don’t do it!

 

2. Aim for 7 – 8 hours sleep

It takes discipline to get to bed in time for 7 – 8 hours sleep because there’s always another thing to look at online or another episode of the box set to watch. But it’s so worth it! You’ll have more energy for the whole of the next day, which means you’ll feel happier and be more productive.

 

3. Don’t check your emails/social media/the news first thing 

If you’d like the first part of your day to be calm and to set you up in a good mood, don’t check your phone the minute you open your eyes! It will most likely set your mind whirring about your to do list or atrocities that you can do nothing about.

 

4. Have a calming routine: yoga/meditation/tea

If you start the day with a practice that helps you be calm and focused, you’re much more likely to be like that for the rest of the day.

 

5. When you’re in the shower, don’t be at work

Most people are mentally already at work when they’re in the shower. Why not enjoy the relaxing feeling of the warm water and the ritual of washing, and think about work afterwards?

 

6. Commute mindfully

Be as present as you can to your body, the journey and your fellow commuters. Notice how you’re feeling and maybe even smile at a few people.

 

7. Be clear at the start of the day what you’re one or two priorities are, and check if you completed yesterday’s

This really helps with the stress of trying to do ten things at the same time and feeling like you’re not making progress with anything.

 

8. Say good morning to your colleagues and offer them a tea/coffee

Being friendly and gestures of kindness will put you in a positive mood and ingratiate you with your colleagues.

 

9. Work on one of your priorities as your first task of the day

It’s very tempting to check your emails as soon as you get to work, but why would you give yourself more things to do, when you’ve already got several? I often don’t check my emails until after lunch.

 

10. Whilst working, do one thing at a time and switch off all notifications

Checking email or whatapp in the middle of a task is devastating for your productivity and increases your stress. Do one thing at a time!

 

I hope you find one or two of these tips useful. Let me know how you get on…

If you’d like some help reducing your stress and improving your productivity at work, get in touch for a free  consultation about 1-2-1 coaching.

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Making peace with yourself


Last time I was really struggling to get to sleep, I felt like I’d tried everything: I’d gone to bed at a decent time, followed my usual routine to tell my body that it should get ready for shut down, not looked at my phone before bed… but I was wide awake. I did a forty minute meditation in bed, and was felt no closer to the land of nod by the end of it.

One thing to look at in this situation, is what is your mind doing. Is it chewing over something incessantly? Is it trying to make sure you remember all the things you need to do tomorrow? Would it be helpful to write some things down?

In my case there didn’t seem to be many troublesome thoughts. So what was going on?

I realized that I was feeling tense in my belly area, so I thought I’d try to listen to what this sensation wanted to tell me.

I gave it a voice. I said “I am the tension in Andy’s belly, and I am…” And almost immediately, it became clear. “…I am fear about Andy’s relationship. I fear he will change how he feels. I fear she will change how she feels. I fear hurting her. I fear it’s all going to go wrong.”

Most of us when we feel uncomfortable sensations in our body and messages that we don’t want to hear, we try to suppress or get rid of them. The mindful approach, however, is to welcome whatever comes, so I said to this feeling inside me, “I know you’re trying to protect me and her. I hear you. Thank you.” Fear doesn’t want people to get hurt, you see.

I then decided to hear from the opposite perspective, ‘Andy’s love for this girlfriend’.

“As Andy’s love for his girlfriend, I know this relationship feels right, it feels great in fact. I know that doubts and fears are all part of the experience. I feel good about the future with her.”

And with that, I almost immediately conked out.

I had listened to and accepted the different parts of myself that wanted to be heard, and that meant I could be at peace.

Tension resulting from fear can get in the way not only of sleeping, but of your libido, of concentration at work, of connection with another person and generally of being able to enjoy yourself. To release the tension, you have to listen to it.

Your mind is very much as it is depicted in the Pixar film Inside Out, in which Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness all jostle for the controls inside the little girls head. None of them are bad or good, they all serve different roles in the common purpose of serving the whole.

So remember that all the feelings you experience are there to serve you. Instead of ignoring or fighting them, see what they’re trying to tell you. Personifying the feeling and giving it a voice can really help.

Speak it out loud or write it down, and listen to what it has to say with kindness and openness, just as you would a good friend.

It is a practice for befriending yourself. Of making peace with yourself. And it will improve your ability to relate to others too.

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Conflict-Free Communication

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We Brits are known for avoiding saying what we’re really thinking, which inspired the table above. I think it’s mostly because we hate conflict!

Is there someone in your life at the moment who’s rubbing you up the wrong way but has no idea? Instead of being honest, are you opting for silent resentment or talking to other people about it: AKA, bitching?

Resentment is really detrimental to your relationship with that person, and it feels unpleasant, so it harms you. However, our fear of conflict can lock us into this toxic dynamic so that the tension builds and builds.

But there is a way of breaking deadlock that makes having the conversation much less uncomfortable for both sides.

It’s a technique called Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and it was developed by Marshall Rosenberg. The idea is to tell the other person how you feel about something they’ve said or done, without blaming them for that feeling. Avoiding blame is crucial for avoiding conflict.

For example, imagine your flatmate or partner has a different approach to kitchen hygiene to you.  They often leave plates and cups next to the sink and having a messy kitchen stresses you out. You feel resentful about clearing up after them and maybe even that they’re taking advantage of your ‘good nature’ by waiting for you to do their washing up.

You spend more and more time thinking about how irritating they are and this once small thing starts to really affect how you feel about the person.

One way of dealing with the situation is to eventually ‘snap’ and make an aggressive comment, when you can’t take it any more. “Graham, you always leave your ‘f***ing washing up next to the sink!” Graham swipes back and you’re in an uncomfortable argument.

Instead, with the NVC model, you break down the communication into four steps:

1) State the facts in a way that the other person wouldn’t disagree with.

For example, “Graham, it seems like sometimes after you’ve finished dinner, you leave your washing up next to the sink.”

It’s good idea to avoid saying that someone always does something. It’s probably not true, and it’s very likely to make them defensive.

2) State how you feel about it.

“When I see that, I feel stressed and frustrated…”

Avoid saying, “It is so annoying” or “You make me feel…” because that’s blaming them.

3) Say what your need is

“… because I really like the area around the sink to be clean.”

4) Make a request of them 

“Would you mind doing the washing up by the end of the day?”

Avoid telling them what to do; ask politely.

I’ve used this structure several times in what might have been potentially very uncomfortable conversations, and it diffused the situation incredibly well.

When emotions run high, it’s easy to have a mind-blank or get in a muddle, so try writing down what you plan to say first.

It takes courage, but it could save you a lot of energy and headspace wasted on silent resentment, and transform your relationship.

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Your Body Doesn’t Speak English

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Imagine a messenger arriving on horseback from the frontline, with a message that the King’s troops are being overwhelmed and need to be sent relief. He arrives at the castle door and demands that the guards let him in.

The guards initially refuse and instead ask the King if he’d like to speak with him. The King says no, because he doesn’t want to hear the bad news.

The messenger bangs more and more loudly on the door refusing to leave due to the importance and urgency of his message.  Eventually the guards concede and open the doors. The messenger bursts into the court room, drops down on one knee and delivers his message “My Lord, our men are under attack on all sides and needs urgent reinforcements.”

The King runs him through with a sword and asks the court jester to pour him a drink and do something funny.

What a foolish thing for the King to do! Ignoring the problem is only going to make matters worst, right?

Our body is also giving us messages all the time, but not in English. They might come in the form of, pain, tension, headaches, itching, irritation, restlessness, dry skin, back spasms or tiredness.

We often prefer to ignore these signals because we deem them unpleasant or inconvenient. Instead of asking the question “What is my body telling me it needs right now?” We prefer to take a pill, have a biscuit or a double gin and tonic to try to make the feeling go away. Unconsciously, we’re felling our body to F off.

When we ignore the notifications, the messenger knocks at the door more loudly. What start as gentle nudges can turn into severe pain or illness, which we then try to get rid of with medication.

With mindfulness, instead of doing battle with your body, you learn to befriend it. You learn to listen to its soft whispers and to treat it’s louder protestations with curiosity and kindness.

Instead of an inconvenient truth, it becomes a compass that guides you towards people, places, practices, food and pastimes that nourish rather than deplete you. You learn to trust your body to know what’s best for you, rather than continually over-ruling it with the mind.

When you feel tired, instead of more caffeine, you choose to rest. If your job makes you miserable, you do something to change it. When a relationship is stressful, you address it. Instead of reading what other people think you should eat, you adapt your diet according to how different kinds of food make you feel.

Ask yourself what your body is telling you right now. Chances are, it’s been complaining about something for a while, and you haven’t wanted to know. It might take some effort or courage, but you and I both know it’ll be worth it.

 

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The Worst Case Scenario

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Last week a friend was telling me that she’d been feeling stressed and anxious and was fearful the she couldn’t calm herself down.

Often when we have these feelings our thinking mind tries to help by attempting to work out why we’re feeling like this and how to change it.

It can easily move into blame and resentment of yourself or others: I should be doing better, they shouldn’t have done that, that’s so unfair… Usually, all this inner criticism only serves to make us feel worse and drive a wedge between ourselves and others.

Our minds want to create stories about why things are happening so that we can make sense of how we feel. But they’re often not very friendly stories.

It’s also often very hard for anyone to know why they feel a certain emotion at a certain time. It could be because of something a bully said to you when you were six years old and affected you ever since, it could be because of your relationship with your mother, it could be because of your hormones. So not only does trying to work out why you’re feeling what you’re feeling often make you feel worse, it’s often not possible to find the answer, which can mean that you endlessly turn it over in your mind.

It is often helpful to notice what the sensations are in your body, and see if you can be ok with them. Is there tension in your chest, shoulders, belly or throat? Is your breathing shallow? Can you allow those feelings to be there and not try to get rid of them? Maybe even bring an attitude of kindness or care to the feelings?

Another thing that can help is to follow through to the worst case scenario of what you’re worrying about. In this case my friend was fearful about not being able to calm down.

What happens if you can’t calm down? I asked.

Well, although it’s never happened before, I might hyperventilate.

What happens if you hyperventilate?

I might pass out.

What happens if you pass out?

At this point she started laughing. “I’ll come round again.” She’d realised that even if it got so bad that she K.O.ed, she’d still be fine! And that made the whole situation seems much less of a big deal.

So next time you find yourself getting stressed about being late, a job interview or money worries, see if you can be with the physical sensations that are coming up, with kindness, and ask yourself, if the worst case scenario does happen, what then?

The fact is, most of us aren’t at risk of being eaten by a tiger, or starving to death. At worst, we’ll feel embarrassed to have got ourselves into a bit of a mess, and someone will help us out of it. And then we’ll get over it.


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The business case for happiness

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In many work places in the country, and indeed around the world, employees are stressed, over-worked and demotivated. This is an insane situation. If having unhappy workers was the price you had to pay to make a good profit within our current economic system, it would be easier to see why this was so. In fact, unhappiness doesn’t work for anyone.

The research shows that keeping employees happy should be the priority of every organisation. Here’s why:

1. Happiness increases profit 

Organisations with happier employees tend to outperform their competitors. The share prices of the 100 Best Workplaces in the US significantly outperformed the stock market over a 25-year period.1)

2. Happiness improves performance

Happier employees demonstrate greater flexibility and creativity and respond better to difficult feedback. Happiness has also been shown to raise:

  • Sales by 37%
  • Productivity by 30%
  • Staff retention by 54%

3. Happy employees are more engaged and present

The number one driver of engagement at work is employees feeling that their line manager has a “sincere interest in their wellbeing”. Stress accounted for 43% of all working days lost due to ill health in 2014/15.

So how do you make your employees happy?

Traditionally, employers have tried to attract the best candidates with higher salaries, and to incentivise better performance with pay increases. However, according to author Dan Pink, numerous studies have shown that for cognitive-based tasks, financial rewards actually decrease performance. In fact the top three factors that motivate people are:

1. Autonomy

Most people do not like to be micro-managed. In fact it’s one of the top reasons for workplace stress. We perform at our best when we’re trusted to get on with the job in the best way we know how. That’s why Google famously lets their employees work on their own projects for one day a week.

2. Mastery

We love to learn and feel like we’re getting better at something. That’s why people are willing to spend hours creating products like Wikipedia and Linux and then give them away for free. If your job doesn’t allow for this, you get bored.

3. Purpose

We all like to feel like we’re contributing to something greater than ourselves – making the world a better place in some way. Social enterprises outperforming the private sector on some measures, and more existing organisations are rallying their staff around a clear and ambitious vision.

The evidence show that happiness at work is win, win, win. You feel better, your organization performs better and if your’e connected to a higher purpose, you’re also making the world a better place. The only thing getting in the way of this being the reality in most workplaces is outmoded ways of thinking. It’s time for a new, happier dawn.


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The Stress Myth

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There is a myth in our culture that stress is a good thing. People think that they work better, or that they’re only able to work, when they’re stressed.

I think it’s helpful to separate pressure from stress. Pressure is when we feel we have to really focus on getting the job done to the best of our ability because it’s not easy and we’ve got limited time. Under such conditions, we can enter ‘flow’, become fully immersed in what we’re doing and do it really well.

Stress, on the other hand, is the body’s response when it’s ready to flee, fight or freeze in the face of a physical danger, historically something like a sabertooth tiger.

Your heart beats faster, your muscles contract, you sweat so that you’re harder to catch hold of and digestion stops because there’s no point processing your last meal if you’re about to be eaten yourself.

Very few of us, thankfully, have to face physical threats in our daily lives. However, we often react in the same way to a harmless threat, like missing a deadline, a presentation or an exam, as we would to a tiger. It may not be as intense as if we were eye to eye with something that might bite our heads off, but it’s quite common for people to feel low-level stress on a daily basis.

Stress is one of the most toxic things for your health. It can cause high blood pressure, which makes heart attacks more likely, back and neck pain, muscle tension and stiffness, stomach pain, digestive problems, increased risk of diabetes, reduced sex drive, impotence in men, mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, anger, sleeplessness, nervousness, inability to concentrate and decreased or increased eating.

And people say they like it?!

It’s also not good for productivity. The graph at the top of this blog shows that when pressure tips over into stress, performance plummets. This is because it becomes harder to concentrate, you make worse decisions because you’re panicking and you reduce your ability to relate to people.

From experience, I can tell you that what does work in being productive, is feeling positive, calm and focused: doing one thing at a time. You are more creative and productive when you’re focused on a result you want to achieve rather than an outcome you want to avoid, so work out what that is.

Get clear what it is you need to do, and then work out if you’ve got enough time to do it. If you don’t, see if you can do less or ask for more time. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to grant you it.

When you work, as I’ve suggested before, use the Pomodoro method and focus on a single task, take short breaks to stand up, stretch and move around.

Stress is bad for you, it’s bad for the people around you and it makes you les productive, so find a way of working that makes you feel good, for everyone’s benefit.


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It’s OK not to be OK

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Cloudy by Sarah Lacroix 

If I had one message I could deliver to everyone in the world, it would be this: it’s OK to feel whatever you feel.

Most of us have some aspect of ourselves that were not ok with feeling, it might be fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, tiredness, tension in the body, quite possibly all of the above.

We go to great lengths to ignore feelings we don’t like, using alcohol, drugs, coffee, sugar, cigarettes, busyness, porn, social media, email and all manner of other distractions.

When people ask us how we are, we tell them we’re fine for fear of burdening or boring them, being judged, rejected or worrying them.

When we do feel the thing we don’t want to feel, we often judge ourselves for feeling it: I shouldn’t be worried about this, it’s bad to feel angry, I wish that fear would go away, I don’t want to feel sad any more.

Mindfulness doesn’t get rid of any of these difficult emotions. Counter-intuitively, it helps you to feel them more. People have asked me if they’re making their anxiety or tension worse, because the mediation makes them feel it more.

In fact, it’s probably not getting worse, they’re just noticing it more because they’re paying attention. This is a good thing, because it allows you to respond to it skillfully. Ignore physical or emotional pain for long enough and it becomes a major problem.

Once you’re noticing the unpleasant feelings, the next step is to change your relationship with them from resistance to acceptance.

You tell yourself that whatever you feel is ok. Would you tell a friend it was bad to feel sad or wrong to feel anxious? If a friend was fearful would you tell them to go away?!

There is a saying that whatever you resist, persists, so not only is it unfriendly to tell yourself that whatever you’re feeling is not ok, it doesn’t work! It prolongs the feeling, it doesn’t get rid of it.

Emotions are energy in motion through the body. When we don’t want to experience them, we physically tense up and this prevents them from flowing, which means we don’t let go of them.

Once you’ve learned to be ok with all the emotions you experience, what have you got to be afraid of? Nothing! Also, the more you accept yourself as you are, the more you’re able to accept others, so all your relationships improve.

To change your relationship with your feelings takes a lot more than just acknowledging that it would be a good idea. It takes practice, which is where meditation comes in. We’ve been conditioned from a young age to ignore or suppress our feelings, so we need to unlearn that to return to our natural state of being.

Jon Kabbat Zinn, the father of modern mindfulness is quoted as saying: “Here’s a radical notion, you’re actually fine just the way you are.” How ridiculous that it should be a radical notion. What a world it would be if we all believed it.

To practice being OK with whatever you’re feeling, I’ve recorded my first guided meditation. Let me know what you think.


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