The New Year can be just a random change in the space-time continuum, or you can use it as an opportunity for resetting your course to one that will bring you more happiness and fulfillment. But the joke people love to make about New Year’s Resolutions is that by the second day of the month you’ve usually already broken them. Here are some tips for actually following through on your good intentions.
Draw Your Dream
I’ve been doing this for a while, both for myself and with other people and found it extraordinarily effective. It’s helped people land their ideal job, find partners or dates, play their first gig to a big audience and even magic some puppies into their life.
You simply draw what it is that you want, in us much colour and detail as you can, and imagine what it would feel like to have it. Patti Dobrowolski describes one method of doing it in this TEDx talk. Just the process of committing to paper what it is you really want is very helpful and indeed fun!
Patti suggests to committing to three bold steps towards your dream. In order to follow them through, it really helps to ask someone to hold you account to taking those steps by a particular deadline. As Tim Ferris points out in this blog about productivity, humans are horrible at self-discipline. He suggests creating an Odysseus contract, so named because Odysseus had his sailors tie him to the mast to resist the temptation of the Sirens.
What if not completing your actions meant you had to make a donation to your least favourite political party? Or go to work naked, like Gary Lineker?!
A friend and I text each other things we’re grateful for each day, and it’s kept us doing it for about two years so far.
Create very easy habits
When you set a goal, one of the best ways of achieving it is to set up a habit that will get you there in small increments. If you want to earn a certain income, then maybe you commit to a number of sales calls per day. If you want to run marathon, you commit to running three times per week.
Where a lot of people go wrong with habits, is starting too big, not sticking to it, and then giving up. I’ve written before about BJ Fogg who suggest making your habit comically tiny – if you want to start flossing he says, make your goal to floss ONE tooth. It really does work! It got me flossing and my friend James too. If you want to start running, maybe your habit is just to put your trainers on in the morning and take them off again!
Instead of trying to meditate for ten minutes in the morning, try just doing it for one. The idea is that the hardest part is starting, and over time you gradually increase your habit to the full mouth.
Call to Action
If you like the idea of doing this and would like to be guided through the process, then you might like to join my very first webinar: Creating My Dream 2017. We’ll be drawing our visions, breaking them down into small steps and holding each other to account in taking them.
This is my last blog of the year because I’m going on holiday for two weeks. I hope you’ve found my posts this year helpful. I’ve enjoyed writing them and the odd bit of feedback I get from readers lets me know that they are resonating, which is great.
I’m going to leave you with a chance to reflect on your own year and start sowing the seeds for your dream 2017. I put an offer out last week for a one to one session to do that with me, but I’ve posted the questions that I sent to the people who signed up, below, so if you’re not one of them, you can do them as well.
Some of the advantages of doing a review as I see it are:
Celebrate what’s gone well
Our minds have a built in negativity bias that keeps us focused on what needs improving or what’s going wrong. It was helpful for us evolutionarily, but it’s not great for happiness. By reflecting on what’s gone well, you can celebrate your growth and your progress. You can have a sense that things are moving in a positive direction overall. And it feels good!
Learn from your difficulties
A Big Issue Seller once said to me that you learn the most when you’re at the bottom. I think he was bang on. By looking back at your challenges over the year you can see what you learnt from those situations and put them in a wider perspective. Maybe at the time you felt you’d be in that dark hole forever, and remembering that you always come out the other side is important for when you fall in to the next one.
Have a dream come true
Captain Sensible once sang “You’ve got to have a dream. // If you don’t have a dream, // how you gonna have a dream come true?” What a sensible thing to sing! How often do you stop and give yourself permission to imagine your dream future? Where would you love to live, what work would light you up and how would you like to be feeling day to day?
It may sound obvious, but by knowing what it is you actually want, you’ve got much more chance of actually having it! For me, visualising my ideal lifestyle in a year’s time is going to help me make decisions in the shorter term, and set interim goals that will help me to get there.
Call to Action
If you would like to reflect on your year, you can use the questions in this Year Review document. I’ve also recorded a guided meditation which will take you on a journey over your past year, your present and your future. I’ve called it Your Christmas Carol.
Let me know how you get on!
Anxiety affects everyone. I think most people feel anxious at some point every day. It might come in the form of shortness of breath or holding your breath, obsessive thoughts or behaviours, tension in the body, needing to wee a lot, loss of appetite or craving for food.
In my case it often manifests as itchy skin, and at times I’ve had very severe eczema as a result.
The ways that we habitually respond to it are often counter-productive. Here are three things not to do:
- Ignore the feeling
It’s completely understandable. No likes feeling anxious, so why wouldn’t you try to distract yourself away from it with busyness, caffeine, sugar, alcohol or social media?
The problem is, it just doesn’t work to ignore it. This is because your system is trying to signal to you that there’s a threat, and if you ignore the alarm, the alarm sounds louder, until you acknowledge it.
What does work is paying attention to what’s happening. Are you feeling tension somewhere in the body, if so investigate it. Has your breathing changed? Is so, watch it. I tend to itch and find myself scratching when I’m feeling anxious and I’m not paying attention. When I do pay attention, I stop scratching.
- Think your way out of it
The chances are, what you’re anxious about is an imagined threat and you’re not actually in any danger. There almost certainly isn’t a saber-tooth tiger about to bite your head off, which is what your body is physiologically preparing for.
It’s thoughts that generated the feelings, so more thinking might not help very much.
Often, anxiety precipitates an onslaught of thoughts. When you notice this happening, try switching your attention to your breath or your body. When you start thinking, repeatedly bring your attention back again.
- Judge yourself
So often, people tell themselves “I shouldn’t be feeling like this” or “I don’t want to feel like this.” This is what in mindfulness is called the Second Arrow. The first arrow is the feelings of anxiety, and the second arrow is the judgment. The second prolongs and intensifies the feeling of the first.
Instead, try reminding yourself that it’s OK to feel like this. Would you tell a friend that it was wrong or bad to feel anxious, or would you just try to comfort them?
Although it’s unpleasant, we should actually be grateful for it. We had ancestors that never worried about danger, and they all got eaten or fell off cliffs!
Mindfulness doesn’t help you ‘get rid’ of anxiety, its helps you to change the way that you respond to it, which over time does usually reduce how much you experience it in the first place. I’m far less anxious than I was before I started meditating.
So next time you’re experiencing anxiety, don’t ignore it, pay attention to it. Don’t think you’re way out of it, feel it. And try not to judge yourself for it. There’s no wrong or bad way to feel.
Someone who follows my blog recently asked me for my thoughts on how to deal with ‘brain fog’. It’s not a term I’m very familiar with, but she described it as the feeling that results from being overloaded by input: texts, emails, meetings, social media requests etc, whilst also trying to balance home life.
It results in lack of sleep, lack of focus, missing things, lack of coordination and accident proneness. Contributing factors she suggested are the difficulty of focusing on one thing at a time because of new technology and perhaps an addiction to being available, not missing out or not being seen to be on top of things if you don’t respond immediately to a message.
I think most people can probably relate to this if they have a social media account and use email a lot for their work. It’s never been harder to concentrate, to prioritise and to switch off after work.
It’s good timing because I’m feeling a little more foggy than usually having had a bit too much red wine last night, which I don’t normally do because I don’t like how this feels!
To have a calm, clear, focused mind, in my experience you need to both look after your internal state and the way you work. Here are things that I think both help and hinder your internal state:
Leads to Fog
Leads to clarity
|· Lack of sleep
· Being continually connected to email/social media
|· Eight hours sleep
· Doing one thing at a time
· Using the pomodoro technique
· Allowing enough time
· Switching off from email/social media
· Gratitude journaling
Whether you’re mostly engaging in behaviours on the left column or the right, probably has more to do with your beliefs than anything else.
Over the weekend, I came across a helpful definition of stress as being, “the feeling that we have when we perceive that we have a need or obligation [but] inadequate resources to handle it”.
It’s the belief that we have an obligation to respond to everyone and everything immediately that causes us to feel so over-loaded. We don’t have adequate resources to give everyone what they want as soon as they’ve asked for it, but we try, by multi-tasking, working later, sleeping less and pumping ourselves up on caffeine.
I once ran a mindfulness session at an office where the techy was known for having a to do list for requests that people had of him, that he worked through methodically. Everyone else in the team knew that if you asked him to do something, he wouldn’t respond until he’d dealt with whatever was ahead of you in the list, and they respected that.
He seemed a lot calmer than everyone else, and he did a good job.
Inside all of us is a ‘people pleaser’, but perhaps a big part of avoiding overwhelm and brain fog is having the courage to say you’re not going to do something immediately.
In my email signature it says that I only check my emails once per day, and if you need to get hold of me sooner, call or text me. I don’t think there is a way to be always connected, rapidly responding to everything and have a calm, clear, focused mind. I think we just need to learn to say no.
If you’ve got a topic you’d like me to cover in a future blog, please let me know!
Last week I went to an event about finding purpose in your work. One of the speakers told us that the moment that she realized her job in advertising wasn’t for her, was when she was given a brief to double the chocolate consumption of UK children.
The moral defense was that they weren’t encouraging them to eat more junk-food, they were just aiming for them to switch from sweets to chocolate. The speaker pointed out that a very similar argument was used to justify cigarette advertising.
Now she runs a website called Buy Me Once, which sells products with lifetime guarantees and she’s infectiously passionate about it.
I’ve been very focused on the domain of Being for the last three years or so, but I’m increasingly interested in how that relates to Purpose, particularly in light of recent political events and global security, health and resource challenges. They surely beg the question “What are we actually trying to do? What kind of a future do we want?”
The way I see it as fitting together is like this:
If you’re all doing and no being, you wear yourself out. If you’re all being and no doing, you’re basically a beach bum. Your purpose is your why. It’s your motivation. Without it, it’s very hard to sustain the morale to keep doing.
The speakers at this event were buzzing with energy and enthusiasm for what they do. It was also pointed out that there’s growing evidence that purpose is good for business. The Unilever brands that have purpose are growing at twice the rate of their other brands.
In meditation, it’s a great idea to ask yourself at the beginning why you’re doing it. I like to remind myself that the calmer, more focused, compassionate, accepting, grateful and aware I am, the happier I will be and the more I will be a positive influence on other people’s happiness.
In your work, you don’t have to run a charity in Africa to have purpose. I recently helped a client connect with the fact that if she does her job marketing the school she works for well, there will be more resources for the school, and therefore they can attract better teachers, make the children happier and improve their life opportunities, which will make the parents, staff and her colleagues happier. She’s basically resourcing happiness. Straight away she felt more motivated!
Finding your purpose might feel a bit heavy and difficult to know where to start. For me, purpose is about service. It’s about doing something that benefits rather than exploits people or planet.
It’s also not about self-sacrifice. It’s about following your passion and playing to your strengths, as this diagram shows:
For me, teaching mindfulness hits the sweet spot. I get paid for it, I love it, the world could definitely benefit from some more awareness and compassion, and people tell me I’m good at it.
So start with where you are now. Who benefits from you doing a good job? Who does it help? What’s the result of that? What do you enjoy about what you do? What would happen if you didn’t do it?
Maybe you’ll be newly motivated to do what you do. Or maybe you’ll be inspired to follow a new direction…
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In my meditation on Wednesday morning I was feeling deeply sad. I decided to sit with that feeling. I came in to the office looking for answers, for reassurance, for optimism. It was good to be around other people and to talk.
No one really knows what’s going to happen now. These are very uncertain and volatile times. I wondered if people would think this isn’t the time for mindfulness. How irrelevant does sitting in silence feeling your breathing seem in the face of all this?
Well this lunchtime I hosted a mindfulness session that I called The mindful response to Trump. What does that look like? Well, I crowd-sourced some answers from the group, and this is what we came up with:
1. Allow the feelings
Whatever you’re feeling in relation to this situation, notice it and allow it to be there. Whether it’s sadness, anger, fear, frustration, anxiety, resentment or whatever. You can’t process and move on with your feelings unless you first acknowledge and accept them.
2. Remember, you are not your feelings
Whatever you’re feeling is not you. Feelings or thoughts are just phenomena that you’re experiencing. You wouldn’t hear a sound across the room and think you were the sound. See if you can just observe it
That doesn’t mean giving up on changing the way things are. It means accepting that Trump is President. No one can change that now. It also means accepting that there are a lot of people with very different views to yours, and wishing they were different, won’t get you anywhere.
Also, it doesn’t make sense to accept different genders, races, and sexual orientations, but not different political views. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
There’s been a lot of mud slinging between Hilary and Donald and their supporters, and little attempt to understand the other’s point of view. If we’re going to move forward progressively from where we are, we need less telling and more listening. Why did people vote for Trump? What are they angry about? What are they afraid of?
In the group we practiced a meditation that involved wishing for Trump and his supporters to be happy. Some found it very difficult. Others found that it felt good to do so, and one person had the realization that she really did want them to be happy, because if they were, they almost certainly wouldn’t have voted for Trump.
Resenting them and wishing they had different views leads to unpleasant feelings and isn’t helpful, wishing them well is more constructive and feels better. Put it this way, you’re never going to hate/judge/argue someone into submission, are you?!
In terms of what action you can take, I’m going to borrow from one of my favourite writers, Charles Eisenstein, who suggested the following:
“See to it that you imbue everything that you post to social media, every comment, every reply, with a spirit of compassion and respect.”
I think that’s a good start.
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I don’t usually post about politics, but I couldn’t resist joining the party!
Photograph: Toddler Tunes by Elizabeth Pfaff
Last week, I met a very successful oil trader who works in Canary Wharf, and asked him to talk to me about happiness at work.
It was a great way of exposing my preconceptions. I had imagined he’d tell me that he’s motivated my earning a big pay packet, so that he can have a nice lifestyle: fancy car, big house, kids at Private school, champagne for when you’re thirsty, that kind of thing. How wrong I was.
He said that one of the best things about the job was having a really clear success metric: either he makes money or he loses money. How well he’s doing in any given moment is calculable in zeros and ones.
I could really relate to that. I’ve often got to the end of the day and wondered what I’ve really achieved. I think it’s a very a common to want to know if we’re doing well; if we’re making progress. In many jobs that’s hard to have a tangible sense of, on any given day.
But he doesn’t want to make money for the company in order to get a big fat bonus. He said if you were to get a £10 million bonus, you’d go home, pop open the champagne with the missus, buy a car you don’t need and the next week you’d have forgotten all about it. Then if you only earned £9 million the following year, you’d feel annoyed that it was less than last year, rather than delighted that it’s £9 million.
After the essentials are covered, more money doesn’t make you much happier, he said. I didn’t expect an oil trader to say that!
Another important thing was making it OK to fail. If one of his traders loses a lot of money, and has to explain himself to the board, he asks himself “Could I have made the same mistake?” Most of the time, he could have, so he defends his colleague. People remember that and it creates a climate of trust.
The number one thing for him that affects his happiness at work is feeling appreciated. That’s why he wants to be successful with this trades. And not with a formal appraisal at the end of the year. What makes him feel most valued is the water-cooler conversation in which he’s told that someone he respects has expressed a positive opinion of his performance.
It reminded me of a quote by William James: “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
It also reminded me of a toddler saying “Mummy look! Mummy look!”, when they’ve done something they think deserves praise. We have the same desire from when we’re knee high to when we die, we just seek it with different means.
Unfortunately, most people are not very generous with their appreciation of others, whether at home or in the workplace. The most common type of feedback, in my experience, focuses on what needs to be corrected, added or improved, not what someone’s done well.
So I challenge you today to find an informal way of expressing some sincere appreciation of someone you work with. It might just make their day.
If you know someone who’d like this blog, please share it.
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One of my clients asked me last week, excited about the benefits that he’d experienced in the first few weeks of taking meditation more seriously, what its potential is.
I loved the question because very few people have ever asked me, and it’s something I feel very passionate about.
In the West, meditation is usually associated with reducing stress. As such, people often only turn to it when they’re feeling troubled, and stop when then fell better.
But meditation wasn’t designed as a coping mechanism. Its original purpose was a method of expanding the potential of the human mind. It’s a method of cultivating more love, joy, concentration, peace, connection, confidence and self-worth, and less anger, resentment, anxiety, stress and sadness.
A metaphor I like is that of a garden. When you start meditating your mind is overgrown, messy, disordered and with a whole load of junk in it. Your first task is to just observe it as it is, without judgment, and recognize that a lot of work is required. Then you start to pull out the weeds and plant flowers.
I recently asked a client what motivated her to go to her weekly meditation group. She said it makes her feel refreshed, lighter of heart and spirit, ready to make the most of her time, able to focus on one thing at a time at work, happier and more likely to make other people feel happy.
Another said that as a result of meditating, she felt she was able to accept people more as they are, she doesn’t feel like a victim any more, she’s less fearful, sees the good in everyone and feels grateful for her students at school, even the difficult ones.
The client who was asking me what else could be gained has already said he feels much more connected in all his relationships, his girlfriend has said he is listening more and is less in his head, and he’s let go of things that had been going round in his mind for years.
These are people who have only been meditating consistently for a few weeks of months. You don’t need to become a monk to start transforming your mind.
These benefits are not at all uncommon, so I find is amusing/frustrating when people say they don’t have time to meditate. What do you make time for that you deem more important? Emails? Social media? Ticking off another thing on the never ending to do list?
The same client also told me that after he’s meditated, 99% of the things he thought he needed to do, he realizes he doesn’t, and the most important thing he needs to do comes to the front of his mind, so afterwards he knows what to focus on.
The Dalai Lama was once asked what was the goal of meditation, and he said “Universal Compassion”. I don’t think you can go too far wrong with a goal like that!
Two tips I give to my clients when they’re trying to get into the habit of doing it regularly (meditation, that is 😉 are:
- Remind yourself each time why you’re doing it
- If you’re choosing to skip it for that day, write down why. You might find it looks so ridiculous that you change your mind!
Give it a go this week and let me know how you get on.
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