Whole Body Health

Whole Body Health

 

Shifting the focus from body weight to a positive state.

 

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week UK is body image. How we think and feel about our bodies- on both an individual and social level- is having a big impact on our mental wellbeing. Shocking new statistics from the The Mental Health Foundation found that 1 in 8 adults has considered taking their own life because of concerns relating to body image. The cultural and social importance placed on body image is having a devastating impact on our sense of self-worth and is warping our understanding of health. Because ’being healthy’ is about so much more than weight, shape and exercise. It’s about the mind, the body and with that all of the internal phenomena that goes on beneath the surface.

 

 

In this article we’re looking at health through a holistic lens, in order to shift the focus from body weight to a positive state. The aesthetic focus that dominates our understanding of health is undermining many other important factors, like our mental wellbeing. So, in support of mental health awareness week we’re looking at health in 4-dimensions and offering simple ways to accept, include and potentially upgrade each of these dimensions into your attitude and action plan for healthy living.  By stepping back and looking through a system lens, we’re transforming a 1-dimensional definition of health into a 4-dimensional, all-inclusive celebration of holistic health. Let’s turn it up to 4D….

 

Physical Health: Slow down

 

In 2014 I ran the London Marathon. I’m still incredibly proud of this achievement because it seemed like a physically impossible challenge. When I signed up for a charity place 8-months prior to event I could barely run 3km without stopping. Fast forward half a year and I was running half-marathons every other weekend and starting to believe that I might just make it through the 26.2 miles. I was- by the standard definition- really healthy and fit. Yet, I was missing the signs and signals that were starting to show up below the surface of my strong runner’s body- like the niggles and locks I was getting in my knees. Instead, I strapped on two bulky knee supports and managed to make it through one of the hottest London Marathon’s to date. Sadly, that was one of the last times I’ve been able to run long-distance, as since that event I’ve had 4 major knee operations, including 2 stem cell transplants. Now, this isn’t to say that this wouldn’t have happened at some point, as I do have a predisposition for knee injuries. However, not listening to my body and placing a heavy focus on aesthetic health, probably didn’t help.

Whilst the ‘physical’ dominates the conversation around health, it’s often limited to aesthetic signs and symptoms that are collectively to blame for our unhealthy, obsessive relationship with body image. However, it all starts at a much deeper dimension physically, which is then affecting what we think, feel and believe. We’re all releasing chemicals into our brain all the time. Simply standing in a different way can affect the neurochemicals that are released into our brains. So, I’m going to offer a surprising- yet quite possibly life-changing- way of stepping into a more all-encompassing understanding of physical health: slowing down.

 

You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that the mind works faster than the body. For example, the body takes almost 20 minutes to sense hunger in which time the brain has decided it wants a second helping, dessert and another glass of wine. And then the “Oh God I’m full” sensation kicks in. Whilst the body’s systems often operate in a slow and steady fashion they should not be considered as simple or inferior to the brain. Via an incredibly sophisticated network of nerves, neurones and hormones the body sends signs and signals to the brain to help it make sense of the world. That is- if it’s listening. If your mind is too focused on the awkward conversation you had with your boss at lunch, then it probably won’t have the capacity to properly consider hunger, tiredness and the fact that your knees are aching again. It sounds simple, but listening to the body in a culture characterised by fast food and contactless credit cards takes a lot of conscientious effort.

Knee surgery was my way in to a slower way of living. A life-changing silver lining that has completely transformed the way I listen to my body and think about my life. However, you’ll be thankful to know that there are other avenues to slowing down, that aren’t so drastic or debilitating. Simple, shortcuts that put the body back in the driving seat. For me, this involves meditating every morning, taking walks without my phone, not saying ‘yes’ to every invitation, and prioritising self-care.  To quote the wise word of Pico Iyer, author of The Art of Stillness:In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” He suggests slowing down can be as simple as “taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing, letting what moves one rise to the surface.”

 

Emotional Health: Celebrate Sleep

 

I used to regularly start my day rushing from my flat to yoga studio- pushing past everyone on the elevator – just so that I could make it to my mat on time. I remember on one particular occasion, dashing across London to make it to a 6am class. I arrived at 5:55am, only to be told that I was late and that they’d given away my place. “I’m 5-minutes early” I told the receptionist. “Yes, but you need to be here 10 minutes before class. So technically, you’re 5-minutes late.” Resisting the urge to scream at the yoga receptionist I turned away feeling broken, bitter and wishing I’d stayed in bed for an extra hour.

Hindsight can be quite hilarious. As I write this I am recalling so much stress: running red lights, power walking along yellow lines on station platforms and knocking over tourists… all in search of relaxation and release. It seems so silly because my bull-dog pursuit of wellness has often added pressure and strain to an already overwhelmed day. Rushing to relax is surely counterintuitive, so why then is stress around wellbeing so prevalent? In part because the consumerist life-model is often dressed up in a wellness cloak. It guises itself as selfless and well-meaning but it is sometimes no better than the unashamed consumer. So, my remedy for emotional health is simple: celebrate sleep.

Sleep is one of our fundamental needs and is arguably more important that food: whilst we can last 30-40 days without food the longest recorded time without sleep is approximately 264 hours, or just over 11 consecutive days. So, whilst we’re not telling you to skip your morning gym sessions, we are asking you to reevaluate your relationship with sleep. Because the physical and mental ‘gains’ you’re hoping to get from going to the gym after 4 hours of sleep might be completely counteracted by your exhausted and overwhelmed body. Those of you who are parents will have experienced children saying they are hungry when they are in fact, tired. Well studies show that we do this as adults too. “For adults, over-tiredness or exhaustion can leave you irritable, lethargic, a little slow in the head, and craving high-fat, high-carbohydrate snacks, as your body looks for a quick fix for its depleted energy stores.” As well as being linked to fat gain, and muscle loss, sleep deprivation has also been shown to significantly compromise the immune system. One study showed that “Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.” To quote the words of Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of ‘Rest: why you get more done when you work less’: “If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it. History.”

 

 

And perhaps unsurprisingly, insomnia often goes hand-in-hand with depression. “Until recently, insomnia was typically seen as a symptom of depression,” says Michael L. Perlis, director of the Behavioural Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania. “Treat the underlying depression, the thinking went, and sleep problems would go away.” But new research shows that insomnia is not just a symptom of depression: it can actually be a causal factor. So, if you find yourself feeling stressed out, maybe take a look at your sleep. To quote Matthew Walker, best-selling author of ‘Why we sleep’: ““The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”

 

Intellectual Health: Read Daily

 

I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that I place far too much importance in the number on the scales. After two knee surgeries last year I lost quite a bit of weight- mostly due to the muscle I lost from my legs. And I’m ashamed to say that I secretly celebrated this lower number. Fast forward a year and I was so happy to have two strong and supportive knees. Yet, in spite of this health success I found myself frustrated by an increase in the numbers. My legs had built muscle that was helping me to hike, teach yoga and learn handstands, and yet, my healthy body somehow felt like a failure- all because of a number on the scales. On so many levels I knew this made no sense, as I was so much healthier and happier than I had been after surgery. Yet I found it impossible to break this hardwired blueprint. So, my husband helped me do the next best thing: he hid the scales! And I’m surprised to say that this small and simple change has had such a positive impact on my day-to-day wellbeing. Because now when I wake up in the morning, instead of reading a number on a scale, I start my day by reading a book. I’ve swapped criticising my body, for building my brain.

As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” It can also help you to feel significantly happier. One 2009 study showed that reading can reduce stress by as much as 68 percentCognitive Neuropsychologist Dr Lewis, says“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism. It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.” Making reading a part of morning ritual has reduced my stress levels and has helped me to develop a healthier relationship with my body. You’re just one click away from an infinite number of books and articles, that will take you on adventures, teach you new things and perhaps even inspire body positive thinking. I’ve taken this one step further by painting the words ‘I am enough’ on my living room wall. The hope is that on some subconscious level, reading these words on a daily basis wills be reprogramming my core beliefs about myself.

Furthermore, reading is a hobby and a habit shared by some of the world’s most people including Warren Buffett who believes it to be the key to success: “Read 500 pages […] every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” In addition, the very activity of reading itself activates and engages both the right and left sides of the brain, thus giving you access to your creative and logical thinking styles. According research, reading, unlike watching or listening to media, gives the brain more time to stop, think, process, and imagine the narrative in from of us.

As a society we spend so much time, energy and money focusing on our weight and far less on building brain boosting habits, like reading. So let’s rebalance our attention by putting ‘brain training’ on our ‘exercise’ schedules. One study showed that activities that create mental stimulation, like reading, can protect memory and thinking skills, particularly as we age. The study also suggested that reading every day can slow down late-life cognitive decline. So indirectly we can assume that reading, can actually help us to live longer.

Here are some stats to get you started…

 

Intentional Health: Redraft the story

 

On a daily basis we are bombarded with images of ‘perfection.’ Images that are causing us to internalise ‘shoulds’ that impact what we think, feel and believe about our bodies.

Now every time you have a new thought about what you ‘should’ look like, you create a new neural pathway in the brain. And when that thought repeats it suggests to the brain that it’s a really important thought. So the brain does it’s best to preserve and strengthen the neural path by wrapping it in a protein called myelin. The more the thought repeats the more you protect the neural pathway. Over time you build up a superhighway around a thought. Which is useful if it’s a positive thought and in line with the story you want to tell. But the brain doesn’t discern between good and bad, useful and unhelpful. The thoughts that occur most often in your mind will be the ones that the brain believes are most important to you.

So, if you keep telling yourself that you hate yourself over and over again, your brain will build a super strong pathway and it will become a belief for you. However, what you may not realise is that you have built this belief because you have built this neural pathway. This is why the story we tell ourselves is so important because it can completely change the way we see ourselves in the world.

 

Now obviously some beliefs are much more difficult to rewire than others. Beliefs that have repeated over and over from a young age will have become ingrained in your neurobiology. These beliefs may have created unconscious behavioural patterns and habits that play out in relationships- with yourself and others. And you may not even be aware of the beliefs that are behind these behaviours because of how imbedded they have become in your psyche. So be patient, these beliefs will take longer to break. But they can be changed. We know this because of science. And I know this from personal experience.

Think of something small and simple you’d like to change. Decide what you want to rewire, and we’ll work together to rewrite the story…

 

1. Look for evidence that contradicts the belief

 

This can help you to gain some perspective on the belief by narrowing its catastrophising effect. By reframing the belief, you can start to take charge and apply some order to this exaggerated assumption. Context and clarity are key because they enable us to break down the limiting belief and build it up into something new: into something we can do. We’re not rewiring with a lie, we are re-storying with your true potential.

 

2.  Listen out for words like ‘always’ and ‘never’

 

“I never have the confidence to meet new people.” “I’m always eating.” ‘Always’ and ‘never’ are clear signals that you have built a pathway and a belief about yourself self that simply can’t always be true. When you next notice one of these definitives, use it as an opportunity to rewire a pathway.

 

3. Catch other people’s stories

 

Become vigilant to the stories and beliefs about yourself that are in fact, coming from other people. Some of these internalise without us being aware, so try to become conscious to the story that is being created for you. Whilst this may be someone else’s’ story about you but it can so easily become your story about you.

 

4. Stay curious

 

Don’t be surprised if you uncover many unhelpful neural pathways. This is a daily practice and it’s a never-ending journey, so don’t dismay if you can’t rewire everything in a day. Think of it as a research project instead of a personality transplant because you’re not trying to fight who you are: you’re trying to find out more. Read behind the lines and rewire the best bits of you so that they come shining through. To use the wonderful words of William Blake: “Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction.” Our contradictions are what make us human and if we can celebrate, rather than condone, this ability to create, compartmentalise and contrast, then we give ourselves the freedom to play in the ‘fiction’. It’s your life and it’s your story, so you can write it how you darn well like.

Self-sabotaging beliefs are not in charge. You are in charge because you are the one who built the pathway and you can choose to build a different one. You can choose to change it for a belief system that will serve you and your life.

 

Be an advocate for whole body health

 

Health is about so much more than our bodies. So when you’re next talking about ‘health’ with a friend, colleague or family member, see if you can open up the discussion. Start looking at health from a 4-dimensional perspective in order to help yourself and others build a balanced attitude and action plan for healthy living. Share and celebrate the joys of slowing down, sleeping, reading and consciously creating the life that you want lead.

But don’t worry if you do feel negative about your body from time-to-time. Because even when you don’t love your body: your body will always unconditionally love you.

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 13-19 May 2019.

For more information and helpful resources click here.

An Easter Ego…

An Easter Ego…

Learning to live, lead and love with a healthy ego

 

Ego gets a bad rap. We are told to transcend the ego, release from ego, fight the ego. And it has been singled out as one of the biggest hurdles in the discovery of the ‘true self.’  Yet, the majority of us don’t live on a mountain in the middle of the Himalayas where it might seem feasible to ‘starve the ego and feed the soul.’ We live in a world that incessantly provokes the ego. An ego that can protect and motivate us. As well as enrage and hijack us.

Developing and nurturing a robust and healthy ego is key to personal development and professional growth as it helps you to: lead from a place of vulnerability and courage; create a culture of openness and honesty; learn from mistakes; embrace failure; accept praise; become a systems thinker. We’re not interested in the size of your ego: this is about the state of your ego and how it can help you to live, lead and love with intentionality.

Ego triggers and traps

I’m in the midst of an ego-fuelled email exchange, and every line- no every punctuation mark- is pushing my buttons. I feel like I’m being baited to fight back, with provoking and petty messages reminiscent of a primary school playground. I’m trying my utmost to ‘consciously communicate my impact’ and yet I can’t seem to get through to this other human being. I’ve tried using all of my 4D tools and tricks to somehow connect and collaborate but every reply I receive back is like a concrete brick wall. Now a few years ago, I would have probably joined in with the same spiteful email exchange, adding even more fuel to the fire. However, thanks to a recent ego ‘health-kick’, I’ve been able to stop myself from ‘cutting off my nose to spite my face’. But what even is a healthy ego? And how can you get one too?

The Healthy Ego

 

Your EGO can be a wonderful thing. It is our developed sense of self in the world. And yes, an unhealthy defensive or fragile ego can be troublesome. It can lead to victim mode, contempt, scorn, defensiveness, undermining others, passive aggression, or straight up aggression. It is often coming from a place of fear. The ego believes others have the power to diminish it so either crumbles, self-punishes before someone else does or try to diminish someone else’s state to protect itself. The goal, however, is to use your intentionality to develop your HEALTHY EGO. A healthy ego isn’t dependent on other people to be whole and safe. It might enjoy praise or winning but it will not be devastated if these things don’t always happen. With a healthy ego you will be strong, resilient, confident in your abilities and honest about your amazing talents – as well as available to growth, happy to receive constructive feedback, curious in the face of conflict and able to acknowledge mistakes with a clear mind and open heart.


Here are 5 ways of developing and nurturing a healthy ego:

 
1. Co-create Conversation

 

Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, Dr. Daniel Siegel describes the brain as a ‘relationship organ.’ He’s spent over twenty years researching the profound influence of those around us, or what he calls “the neurobiology of ‘we’” and has discovered that emotions are what fire and wire neural interaction patterns in the brain and enable us to learn. Therefore the core drivers for human beings throughout life are relational and thus inseparably emotional in nature.

But what does this have to do with the ego?

What Siegel’s research shows us is that in order to nurture healthy, happy egos we need to make sure that our ego drives are linked to relationship goals. One simple way of doing this is by actively listening. Take the time to listen to others by being present as opposed to predicting what they are going to say. It’s simple yes, but not easy, particularly when we consider the fast paced, distraction-heavy, instant gratification culture that pervades our lives. Even if we’re not speaking over another person we may find ourselves thinking over them, by planning what we’re going to say next or thinking about how their story relates to us.

Someone with a healthy ego gives others the space to speak. And they don’t need to say what’s already been said. Instead, they build on ideas and co-create conversations as opposed to dictating and directing them. To quote Carlo Rovelli, author of ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’ (which is as scientific as it is philosophical and political): “To better understand the world, I think, we shouldn’t reduce it to things. We should reduce it to happenings; and the happenings are always between different systems, always relations, or always like a kiss, which is something that happens between two persons.”

A great place to co-create conversations is during Q&As. In fact, I tend to love this part of a workshop as long as I lean in, stay curious and really listen to what is being said. This simple shift takes away the pressure to know all the answers and transforms questions and answers into collaborative conversations.


2. Accept praise

 

When I was around 12 years old I really struggled with my self-esteem. I’d recently started secondary school and anything that sounded remotely like a compliment had me turning bright red and feeling a deep sense of shame.  During this time, I remember my grandma telling me: “it’s rude to reject a compliment. Accept it properly, let it reach you and then say thank you.” Wise and wonderful advice that continues to help me develop a greater sense of self-worth to this day.

I’m sure many of you have had some experience with the embarrassment that so often surrounds praise. One of the more obvious ways we express this embarrassment is by batting away compliments. Perhaps a colleague praises you on your presentation and you find yourself saying: “oh it was nothing really. I had loads of help!” This is example of what I like to call a ‘compliment cringe’: you’re refusing to take in the praise (and are also unintentionally telling the person they are wrong!) Christopher Littlefield, recognition expert and founder of international consulting firm Acknowledgment Works, has uncovered a scientific explanation to why we find receiving compliments so hard. His research revealed that 88 percent of people associate recognition with a feeling of being valued, yet 70 percent also associate it with embarrassment. As he says in his Ted Talk: “We love recognition, but we suck at it.”

One study showed that people with low self-esteem “have difficulty accepting and capitalising on compliments.” This was primarily due to the fact that they doubted the compliments’ sincerity and believed that they were- on some level- being patronised. Interestingly, when the people were not thinking about a compliment in relation to their relatively negative self-theories or stories of themselves, they were able to accept and capitalise on compliments. In addition, there is now scientific validity showing that people perform better after receiving a compliment.

Learning to accept compliments helps to boost your performance and also helps to build healthy relationships, as it opens up the ground conditions upon which relationships can develop and grow. Lean in, stay curious and see what you can learn from another person’s compliment. Maybe you find it hard to comprehend why someone would like your crazy curls, or your energised hand gestures! But your story of yourself is just one story in 7 billion. One perspective. So why not use the next compliment you receive as an opportunity to explore the other positive narratives of You that are out there.


3. Make friends with failure

 

I’m so thankful for many of my so-called ‘failures’. Like not getting into drama school (three times!) At the time this felt like the biggest failure imaginable, personally, professionally and socially. Personally, because I wanted to prove to myself that I was good enough. Professionally because I was working in the industry and believed training was a right of pass; and socially because so many of my friends, family members and worst of all- fellow actors- knew I was auditioning. However, with hindsight I can see that this ‘failure’ wasn’t an end point, but a wonderful new beginning. It fired up another, totally unexpected adventure. To use the words of monk and author Robin Sharma: “the most successful people on the planet have failed more than the ordinary ones.” So, if you want to be successful you might as well start making friends with failure!

Failure is a big threat to the unhealthy ego. It undermines self-worth and can produce feelings of fear and powerlessness. Research has shown that we are more likely to blame failure on external factors like luck or the difficulty of the task. Yet, someone with a healthy ego sees failure as an inevitable part of life and as a unique opportunity to learn and grow. In his book ‘Black Box Thinking’ Matthew Syed states that: When failure is most threatening to our ego is when we need to learn most of all!” Someone with a healthy ego seizes these moments and sees them not as failure in the traditional sense, but as fuel for a greater fire because “a progressive attitude to failure turns out to be a cornerstone of success for any institution.”

In an interview for the Wall Street Journal, cartoonist Scott Adam’s, shared his wonderfully playful approach to failure: “If I find a cow turd on my front steps, I’m not satisfied knowing that I’ll be mentally prepared to find some future cow turd. I want to shovel that turd onto my garden and hope the cow returns every week so I never have to buy fertiliser again. Failure is a resource that can be managed.” Teacher and writer Jessica Lahey goes further, seeing failure as a gift. In her aptly titled parenting book, ‘The gift of failure’ she writes: “Out of love, and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of their way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness. Unfortunately, in doing so we have deprived our children of the important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, the mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoves out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative, and resilient citizens of this world.”

For the healthy ego, failure is a gift, for themselves and others. So, join us in reimagining ‘F.A.I.L.’ as an acronym for: Forever. Acquiring Important Lessons.

 

 4. Embrace vulnerability

 

Stand-up comedy has taught me a lot about the power of vulnerability. On one occasion I tried my hand at musical comedy, attempting to sing, play guitar and be funny… all at the same time! A triple threat that had me feeling much more nervous than usual. So, I decided to own my nerves, by singing all about the things that were wrong with my performance (like the fact that my guitar playing is pretty sub-par in spite of 10 years of lessons!) And I’m proud to say that my openness and honesty- presented in musical form- had the audience in stitches!

The unhealthy ego often self-identifies as a perfectionist. To use the words of Brené Brown Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: if I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimise the painful feelings of shame, judgment and blame.” Perfectionism acts as a great big wall that stops you from being seen and is in many ways the antithesis of vulnerability. The healthy ego encourages vulnerability and sees it as a strength and a powerful tool for connecting people. Because as some wise person once said: ‘love is giving someone the power to destroy you but trusting them not to.’ In order to create a culture of trust within our families, teams and organisations we must embrace the power of vulnerability.

Research by Paula Niedenthal, which tested the authenticity of a person’s smile, revealed how deeply we resonate with each other. This is why we are able to tell when someone is ‘putting on a show’ because we are able to register their surface level inauthenticity at a much deeper level. This is particularly true for leaders, as research has revealed that we are sensitive to trustworthiness and authenticity in our leaders.

Furthermore, vulnerability also positively affects how we see ourselves. Studies revealed that a state of authenticity “centres on contentment and social ease; or, in the case of inauthenticity, a lack thereof plus anxiety.” Tara Brach talks to this ‘social ease’ that comes with vulnerability in her latest podcast- ‘Releasing Ourselves and Others from Aversive Blame’: “We know that a lot of the humour in our society actually focuses on people’s mistakes because it relieves us when other people make mistakes.” So, reject perfection in favour of connection by embracing your human side- warts and all! It will help you develop a healthier ego, build deep bonds of trust and – as I discovered- might even provide you with some funny material for a stand-up set!


5. Look through a systems lens

 

A system is a group of interdependent entities aligned around a common purpose or identity (CRR Global). And systems are everywhere. There are more obvious systems like families, teams, a cast of actors. And less obvious systems in places such as:

  • The cinema: here we find lots of individual systems until the movie starts. Suddenly everyone stops talking and switches off their phone. It’s an unspoken code of conduct.
  • Up in the air: everyone on a plane is going in the same direction. This is their common purpose. But they are also all interdependent. Everyone has an individual purpose and also a shared

As the 4D model shows, we don’t exist in a vacuum: we are always being affected by cultural and environmental contexts. Another way to put this would be to say that we are always operating within systems. We are simultaneously interdependent and co-dependent. The unhealthy ego celebrates individualism, often at the expense of community and co-dependence. Take for example the air travel example above. As soon as the plane lands, everyone jumps out their seats, pushes to get into the aisle so that they can get their bag and claim their place in the queue to disembark the plane. However, everyone is wanting to disembark the plane. Everyone is heading in the same direction. But unfortunately, the passengers’ heavy focus on their individual goals quite often slows down the system and undermines its shared purpose. 

Someone with a healthy ego thinks about our relationships like a 3-legged stool.  

  • 1st Leg- I, Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
  • 2nd Leg- YOU, Social Intelligence (SI)
  • 3rd Leg- WE, Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI)

The stool will lose its stability if one of its legs is wobbly. Or it will become unbalanced if one leg is longer than another. We need to nurture all 3 legs: our relationship with our self, our relationship with others and our relationships with our wider communities. The healthy ego recognises that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and sees themselves as a part of whole network of systems. This is what is known as systems thinking, as it offers us a wider lens and a helicopter view of the ‘systems’ within which we exist. 


Have a healthy happy ego!

 

Ego health is the difference between the world happening to you and you happening to the world.  When we have a healthy ego, we are driving the show. And whilst there are many things out of our control- like other people’s responses on email- we can control our response, if we develop a robust and healthy ego. I can promise you that if you keep stepping in and ‘living in the arena’ (as Brené Brown likes to call it), your ego will be threatened time and time again. However, if you’ve developed a healthy ego, it will withstand these triggers and traps. If you don’t like the game that someone else is playing with your ego then you can change the game. Which is exactly what I did with my angry e-mail exchange. I ‘killed them with kindness’ so to speak, responding with relatively pleasant and proactive emails. And eventually, they started to do the same.

Be a game changer by developing a healthy ego for a happier world. Let’s make a positive impact, by changing the planet…one ego at a time!

Thanksgiving and Receiving

Thanksgiving and Receiving

If everyone is busy ‘giving thanks’, then who is going to be available to receive all of our ‘gifts’? 

I recently emigrated to the United States and in ‘honor’ of my first ever Thanksgiving, I’m going to be exploring the gracious gift of ‘giving thanks’ and the underappreciated art of receiving…

Many of us grew up being told that it’s more noble to give than it is to receive. But if everyone is busy giving, then who is going to be available to receive all of that good stuff? We need a receiver in order to give. And in order to properly ‘give thanks’- as the holiday’s namesake suggests- we must first open ourselves up to the vulnerable art of receiving.

Why you ask? Because receiving opens us up and enables us to connect to others in deep and meaningful ways; it emotionally benefits the way we see ourselves; it brings more compassion into our lives; it gives others the opportunity to give; and if we model the ability to receive, we make it okay for others to receive too. Amidst all of the gift giving that the holiday season brings, can we also make space to humbly receive? To open ourselves up to the gifts that have already been given? This isn’t just about being grateful, it’s about acknowledging the beauty in giving and receiving and embracing this continuous state of flow. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same, intimate coin and we need balance. Join me as I step into the Thanksgiving celebrations as an open-hearted giver and humble hearted receiver…

Finding Flow 

“For it is in giving that we receive”


– Francis of Assisi.

The world is in a continuous state of circulation and flow. Our breathing, the seasons and giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of the universe. Everything is in constant motion and this is why we need a balance of giving and receiving, or else we block- or stop- the flow.

Can you identify a moment in your life when you blocked someone’s giving? I was recently shopping at our local ‘mall’ when a friendly shop assistant asked if I needed any help. I’m not a lover of shopping on the best of days and I really didn’t want to get roped into trying on- and then buying- half the shop. So I smiled and told her, “I’m just browsing thanks.”But that wasn’t enough to deter her helpfulness. “Are you browsing for anything in particularly ma’am?” Unable to resist her kind-hearted smile I let her in on my shopping secret: “Well I’m actually on the hunt for a jumper…but I’m not into stripes or anything fluffy.” Before I could say anything further she grabbed my hand and took me to another part of the shop, where I found a whole collection of what I was looking for. “Okay let me know which colours you like and I can get multiple sizes of each for you to try.” When I finally let down my guard and accepted the lady’s help, I saw how happy her helping made her. And I ended up leaving the shop with two jumpers and a big smile on myface. A smile that I’m sure was soon ’gifted’ to someone else. So, by opening myself up to receiving the shop assistant’s ‘gift’ I was able to create more flow in my life… from an exchange with a complete stranger! If you- like me- find yourself in a situation where you are annoyed with someone’s unwanted assistance or attention, see if you can look behind the ‘gift’ in order to connect with their true intention…

Illusions and Intentions

“It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving”


– Mother Teresa.

There are usually multiple motives for giving and sometimes, giving can be a selfish and not a selfless act, as the very act of giving makes the giver feel good. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: I for one love to see how happy my husband gets from finding a surprise bar of chocolate in the fridge. I also receive a gift when I give. A beautiful ‘secondary’ that gives both sides a hearty dose of joy.

Issues only arise when the ‘giving’ and the ‘getting’ become imbalanced. Are you simply giving so that you can feel good about yourself? Or to look better than someone else? A friend back in the UK recently had a birthday and I decided to ‘be kind’ and send her a book I knew she’d like. Note that I decided to ‘do’ kindness: I wasn’t embodying it. A few weeks went by and I hadn’t received the thank you I was hoping for. My friend hadn’t validated my kindness and so my kindness quickly dissolved into bitterness: ‘some people are just so ungrateful.’ Suddenly I realised what was wrong. I was the one looking for love, attention and validation as opposed to giving it. The ‘gift’ I’d sent my friend was in reality, a vicarious gift meant for me.

If you notice an unhealthy need to ‘give’ or find yourself unsatisfied with a receiver’s response then see if you can get behind the initial desire and uncover the intention behind it. What may have seemed- on the surface- to have been an unconditional outpouring of love might have, in fact, been a self-involved contract of love, bound by multiple T&Cs. If the receiver doesn’t oblige to the ‘terms’ of this type of giving, then you may end up feeling like a victim of your own gift.

The Gift of Receiving

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed”


– Maya Angelou.

When we are good receivers we give others the opportunity to give. So why then, do we find receiving so hard? Because receiving puts us in a position where we are vulnerable, indebted and with less power. But receiving also keeps us balanced and nourished: to humbly receive a gift is a gift in itself.

As a Brit in North Carolina, I receive a lot of compliments about my accent. Initially I found the attention quite surprising- even embarrassing- as I’ve never before considered myself to have an accent. However, in my new home town of Charlotte (otherwise known as ‘the Queen City’) the ’Queen’s English’ – as they like to call it- is incredibly well-loved and lots of people have told me to “keep talking, I could listen to your accent all day!” Learning to accept these compliments has not only made me feel proud of my differences, history and heritage but it’s also opened doors to lots of interesting conversations and even some on-going friendships.

Receiving a well-intentioned compliment can help us to connect more deeply with other people and with ourselves. How often do you find yourself batting away kind words from a colleague or praise from your boss? “Oh, I’m not that good” “It wasn’t that hard” “I had loads of help.” Not only are you blocking the givers ability to ‘gift’ you a compliment (and essentially telling them that they are wrong), you are also blocking the compliment from reaching you and informing your sense of self. So next time someone offers you a compliment, see if you can pause to thank the person and allow their words to properly sink in…

The Art of Giving

“No one has ever become poor by giving”


– Anne Frank.

If you’re reading this article and starting to feel bad about the mountains of presents you’ve got stashed away for Christmas- don’t. Giving is a wonderful thing and a fundamental part of the human experience. We are wired to give to others because we are wired to connect. And when our gifts are pure and simple, we can create deep and meaningful connections with our loved ones, but also with the wider world.

Share your gifts with a stranger by opening up to your humanity- perhaps in the form of smile, a newspaper you’ve finished reading or a seat on the train. Simple, everyday gifts that greatly impact the lives of others and create ripples in the world around you. Because your gift won’t only affect the receiver: it will also positively affect anyone witnessing the act. This is all thanks to oxytocin- a neurochemical associated with boosting empathy, bonding and trust. Sometimes referred to as ‘the love hormone’, Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is really helpful if we are feeling anxious or shy in a social situation.

A few weeks ago, I experienced a shot of this happiness hormone, after witnessing a young man holding an umbrella for an elderly lady. A simple gift to someone else, but one that put a smile on my face and completely changed my day! Even the smallest of gestures can create waves in the world around you because the gift you give can also indirectly impact the emotions of others.

Little and Often

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”

 

– Mahatma Gandhi

The emotional benefits of giving are highest when we spread giving out into lots of separate experiences. The sum of each positive experience is far greater that the one gift. Michal Ann Strahilevitz, professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California and a researcher on the topic of charitable giving, discovered that those who gave less but on a more regular basis reported higher levels of ongoing happiness. This is why charities often encourage people to sign up for an ongoing monthly donation, as opposed to giving the whole amount at once. Whilst the latter is often more beneficial to the organisation, the former is much more likely to improve the emotional wellbeing of the giver. As Strahilevitz says: “We can say that people’s motivation for good deeds should be pure altruism, but research shows that often there is more than one motive for giving. There is a warm glow we get from helping others. There is also the fact that it improves our self-concept and potentially our self-esteem. Finally, there is improving our image to others, if others learn of our efforts for charity. All of this is the truth about giving– we don’t just give to help the cause, we also give for the good feelings it gives us.” To put it simply: if we want to feel good, we should increase the amount we ‘give’ as opposed the amount we donate. Less- on a regular basis- quite often gives us so much more!

 

So this Thanksgiving, see if you can stay open and connected to all of the ‘gifts’ in your life. Do you tend to give or receive? Can you get curious about your patterns of giving and receiving? Start this digging and you will soon break through any blocks and allow the art of thanks and giving to flow. And consequently, you’ll bring more of what you want into your life. To quote American author Zig Ziglar: “you will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” So, if you want joy, give joy. If you want appreciation, give appreciation. Keep the cycle flowing- from both sides- and you’ll start to see how quickly you can consciously create the experience of life that you truly want.

Just make sure that when it comes along you are ready to receive!

We’d love to give thanks to you for reading our article and being part of the work that we are so passionate about. If you, your colleagues or your friends would like to receive more of our work then do subscribe to our monthly newsletter ‘Conscious Conversation’ and have a very Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are in the world!

Conscious communication in the digital age

Conscious communication in the digital age

Part 2: In defence of daydreaming…

(Click here to read Part 1: Let’s talk about texts baby)

I’m waiting in line for a coffee and I’ve already whipped out my smartphone- scanning, swiping and sending- simply to fill time. Or perhaps I should say to save time because I use the 30-second wait to send an email and post ‘Happy Birthday!’ on a friend’s Facebook wall. My coffee comes and I leave walking and writing, now on a mission to clear my WhatsApp inbox. I’m scrolling the screen, slurping coffee whilst simultaneously trying to weave my way through the early morning Oxford Street crowds. My masterful multitasking involves a meerkat-esque move, moving head up and down, from street to screen. I run through a red light, spill coffee on my coat, but somehow, I come out unscathed.

The commute has become an extension of the office ensuring that we can simultaneously travel and tick off the to-do list. Whether we use this time for productive work, playing a game or planning a night out with friends, our smartphones keep us constantly busy and never bored. But in eradicating boredom have we short circuited the mind’s capacity for creative thinking? Simple swipes and scrolls are innocent in isolation but when they fill up every crack and crevasse in a day, do they leave any room for anything else?

In eradicating boredom have we short circuited the mind’s capacity for creative thinking?

In eradicating boredom have we short circuited the mind’s capacity for creative thinking? The poet Joseph Brodsky saw boredom as a catalysis for creativity: “Boredom is your window…Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.” He’s not praising boredom per se: he’s celebrating how boredom makes us think.Because monotony stimulates a very interesting type of brain activity: mind-wandering. In a culture characterised by constant acceleration, mind-wandering might be considered lazy, distracted and unfocused (Freud went so far as to call it ‘infantile thinking.’) So why would we ever favour procrastination over productivity? Here are 6 reasons why:

1. Memory consolidation

Wakeful resting can significantly improve memories. In a 2012 study, two groups of participants had to listen to a 10-minute story, followed by either 10-minutes of ‘restful waking’ or 10-minutes of spot-the-difference games. The results showed that wakeful resting led to significant enhancement of memory after a 15 to 30-min period and also after 7 days. So if you’re trying to learn lines for a presentation or memorise facts for an upcoming test, then why not take advantage of the “memory consolidating” effect of mind-wandering.

2. Inspired thinking

Answers to creative problems are much more likely to arise during mind-wandering. A study tested the effects of engaging in a demanding task or an undemanding- mind-wandering inducing- task when trying to solve a problem. The results showed that mind-wandering led to substantial improvements in performance on previously encountered problems. Psychoanalyst Victoria Stevens calls mind-wandering “thinking without thinking” and believes it is “critical to creativity in both art and science” because it enables you “to think playfully about how something might be different from how it is or has been” : the power of daydreaming is in its openness to everything and censorship of nothing. This is why some of world’s most celebrated thinkers- including Newton, Einstein and Paul McCartney- attribute their greatest ‘Aha!’ moments to daydreaming.

The power of daydreaming is in its openness to everything and censorship of nothing.

So if you’re stuck on a problem, stop googling for the answers and indulge in some absent minded musing, whilst walking the dog or baking a cake (#procrastabaking!)

 

3. Increased productivity

Procrastination can lead to increased productivity and shorter working hours. In spite of our societal obsession with being busy, we aren’t necessarily achieving more. Psychology Professor Alejandro Lleras’ 2011 study on ‘vigilance decrement’ showed that constant stimulation not only leads to a reduction in sensory awareness, it also decreases mental focus. The research suggests that if you are faced with a long task, you will work more effectively and efficiently, if you allow the mind to wander from time to time. Perhaps Robert Browning was on to something when we coined the phrase ‘less is more’ because as Lleras states, “brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on a task!”

4. Exercises the brain

Whilst we often refer to daydreaming as a ‘resting state’ the brain isn’t actually resting at all. Neuroscientist Dr Muireann Irish sums it up: “I think there is a misperception that we’re actually being lazy and turning our brains off when we daydream but this isn’t true, the research is actually pointing to the fact that when you’re daydreaming, your brain is actually really hard at work.” Daydreaming activates something called the default mode network (DMN), which is essentially humanity’s ‘factory setting.’ New research has found that a particular type of neural processing- suppressed during focused attention- is exercised when the brain switches to the default mode network. So we should consider daydreaming as more than just a default mode of operating: it is a foundationalstate, processing memories and leading to the formation of identity. In fact, Irish goes so far to say that it is this type of “sophisticated thinking” that elevates us above other primates.

We should consider daydreaming as more than just a default mode of operating: it is a foundational state, processing memories and leading to the formation of identity.

5. Uses different parts of the brain

Mind-wandering ‘co-creates’ daydreams using separate systems in the brain. Recent studiesusing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown that the brain becomes highly stimulated during mind-wandering and actually activates more parts of the brain. In addition to default network activation, mind-wandering was associated with executive network recruitment. It has been assumed that the brain’s two main operating systems- the analytical brain and the empathetic brain- work in opposition: when confronted with a cognitive task the brain requires the other system to turn off. As cognitive scientist Anthony Jack notes, “If you are engaged in a demanding analytic task, it doesn’t leave any room for empathy.” However, these recent findings suggest that mind-wandering allows these two systems to work in cooperation, creating spontaneous, fluid movement between different kinds of thinking.

6. Shift from ‘doing’ to ‘being’

Doing nothing gives us an opportunity to practice and improve our overall mindfulness. With so much external distraction it can be hard to hear your inner thoughts and feelings. So instead of using the lunch line for diary management, why not use it for self-reflection: disconnect from your device in order to reconnect with yourself. During daydreaming your mind- and not your brain- is in the driving seat. But when we micromanage our every moment, we suppress spontaneous thought and stop listening to the ‘body brain’, or our gut instinct as it’s sometimes called. Perhaps we should take inspiration from Pico Iyer’s TED talk in which he celebrates stillness: “in an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. ” 

After all, we’re human beings, not human doings. 

Everyday daydreams

When we daydream we allow thoughts to flow freely, sparking new ideas and inciting fresh ways of thinking. By giving the mind permission to play, unpredicted possibilities arise out of what might seem to be silly, senseless ramblings. Whilst the name alludes to a sleep-like state, daydreams are still under our voluntary control, albeit distantly. And it is in this liminal space- between sleep and focus- where creativity is free to explore, fuelled by boredom and bounded by the limits of your everyday life (e.g. reaching your stop on the train).

Constant stimulation crushes creativity because it relies on external resources. Whereas boredom brings the brain a cognitive challenge: it has to create for itself.

So whilst I’m not suggesting that you daydream 24/7, I’d encourage you to make more room for mind-wandering in your day-to-day. During life’s little pauses, when we- almost automatically- reach for our phones, we are cheating ourselves of free thoughts and doodle-like daydreams. Constant stimulation crushes creativity because it relies on external resources. Whereas boredom brings the brain a cognitive challenge: it has to create for itself.

 

Why I’m wishing for Christmas presence not presents…

Why I’m wishing for Christmas presence not presents…

What would a conscious Christmas look like for you? When we are surrounded by the festive season’s commercialism, excessive consumption and non-stop busyness it can be hard to stay connected and present. December flies by and suddenly we are starting a brand New Year with a negative bank balance, a severe a lack of sleep and a few extra pounds. Could practicing presence help us to have a more rich and meaningful Christmas? Katie Churchman explores ways to cultivate a more mindful and conscious Christmas and says goodbye to the pressure and the panic that so often follows the festivities.

 

From a young age I’ve sat in my moral high chair declaring that Christmas is not about the presents: it’s about the ‘people.’ People who probably buy me presents. But people none the less.

Yet as I stand amidst the carnage that constitutes Christmas shopping- on Oxford Street- on Black Friday- I am not feeling so much love for the people. In fact, I push past the people because they are walking too slowly and blocking my way. I couldn’t have cared less about communicating ‘consciously’ with the crowd because they were exasperating every inch of my Christmas cheer.

‘Tis the season to be jolly…yet why does it fill me with dread and melancholy?

I started this article as soon as I got back to my office, fuelled by my very real frustrations of the Christmas chaos I had just experienced. Yet on that very same day a terrorist scare suddenly spread right across the heart of London’s shopping district shocking me with a sharp dose of reality. The Christmas crowds that I so crudely mocked were now streaming out of the side streets, some even dropping bags in a bid to breakaway faster. Looking down from the comfort- and confusion- of a 2nd floor office now in emergency lockdown, I sensed the panic of the people below and feared for the lives of my fellow Londoners. Searching the internet for answers we found only delay and dumbstruck drama, just as baffled as the bodies below. However, out of all the unknowables came a strong sense of comradery and community, which reached beyond the usual boundaries of friends and family and out on to the streets packed full of strangers. Caught off-guard by crisis, I abruptly stopped what I was doing, thinking and feeling and reconnected with my fellow human beings.

 

 

Thankfully, the Black Friday terror scare turned out to be a false alarm and within an hour London was back to business as usual. As my panic dissolved, so did my presence and the human beings around me returned to being just bodies in a crowd. I’m sure lots of life lessons were lost as a slightly embarrassed London decidedly forgot the whole affair. However, I haven’t forgotten my reaction to the experience which has taught me a lot about the power of presence. Not only has it made me re-think the focus of this article, it has also resulted in a revision of my ‘people over presents’ slogan: this year I don’t just want to be surrounded by the people I love, I also want to be fully present with these people so that I can truly appreciate and treasure the time spent with them. Perhaps Thích Nhất Hạnh- Buddhist monk and global activist- was on to something when he declared, “the most precious gift we can offer other is our presence.” It takes conscious effort, but when we become present with where we are, who we are with and what we are feeling, we start to discover joyful little moments we would have completely missed had we been thinking about past events or rushing to get somewhere in the future.

So here are some ‘4D’ thoughts for creating a more conscious Christmas with yourself, your loved ones and the world around you. When you offer your presence you will still experience the joy of giving, just without the stress of shopping, wrapping and shipping!

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

 

– Brené Brown

ME – Gifts to self

When we are rushing around the shops or frantically searching online for the perfect present, I wonder how many of us think about giving a gift to ourselves. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean buying an extra jumper or a bottle of perfume (although by all means go for it!) It could simply mean giving yourself the gift of space and self-compassion. The space to step out of the craziness for a moment and the self-compassion to consider what really matters to you. Gifts that cost nothing but might mean everything, perhaps creating a richer and more meaningful Christmas than ever before.

 

Space

When we stuff our diaries like Christmas turkeys we might find ourselves saying “I’m busy”more than “Merry Christmas!” It can feel like there is no time for anything or anyone in the very season we are supposed to celebrating love, connection and joy. And when there are more mouths to feed and people to please it’s all too easy to side-step self-care in favour of ‘giving to others’. By all means give to others- to family, neighbours, your best friend’s dog- but don’t forget to give to yourself. Give yourself the gift of space this Christmas, perhaps by soaking in a bath, going to a yoga class or running around the block. Schedule in some me-time so that you can properly check in with yourself and find out how you are feeling in mind, body and heart. It might seem selfish but self-care will actually allow you to give more of yourself to others: if you can be present with where you are and with what you’re feeling then you will be able to share the gift of presence with the people around you. While you are rushing around trying to make sure that everybody else is having a happy Christmas, don’t forget to stop and check if there’s happiness within.

“In an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow.”

 

– Pico Iyer

Self-compassion

You could also give yourself the gift of self-compassion this Christmas. Our internal narrative can be very critical, comparing and contrasting our efforts with the world around us and constantly telling ourselves we haven’t done enough. The pressure to create the perfect Christmas may further heighten this. Excessive preparation, planning and micro managing may cause you to feel absent at the very celebration you’ve been so keen to create.

So this year, free yourself from the need to be perfect by giving yourself the gift of self-compassion. If you haven’t bought the right present, or the roast is slightly over done, offer yourself some kind words, as if talking to a friend. Because who really cares if the roasties are a little toasted! Rather than trying to be ‘super-human’ this Christmas why not focus on simply being human. Being present and being enough. Embrace all of your hilarious habits- whether that’s rubbish wrapping, crappy cooking or horrendous handwriting- and bring those and that smile to the Christmas table! When we free ourselves from the need to be perfect we give ourselves the space to play in the present moment. So this Christmas, if you start feeling overwhelmed, talk to yourself as you would to a really good friend who you love and fill your festivities with a sense of enough.

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

 

– John Steinbeck

YOU – Gifts to others

What gifts can we give to the key relationships in our lives? Those people we love the most? Again, as we rush around trying to do everything and see everyone before the big day- or even on the big day itself- too many of us are busy doing and not being. We busy ourselves buying the perfect presents but we forget to give the greatest gift of all: our presence. Presence doesn’t need buying or wrapping; it simply requires your time and energy. So here are two ways to offer ‘Christmas presence’ to the people you love most.

 

Active Listening

Christmas can be a noisy time of year. Excited children, television blaring and the shouts of cooking instructions coming from kitchen all contribute to the seasonal soundtrack that might have you screaming “I can’t hear myself think!” Even if you tend to have a quieter Christmas, mindless TV watching or constant phone checking can also contribute to a sense of disengagement. With all the noise, distraction and disconnect it can be hard to simply listen to the people we love most.

One of my close friends was told by her niece that she was her favourite Auntie. Quite surprised by this revelation (because she’s convinced that she’s the ‘crap Aunt’) she asked her niece why: “because you always listen.” Listening is such an undervalued gift and yet it is something we can all give. So rather than simply going to the superficial level of listening- when we are distracted by something else- or the conversational level of listening- when we are half listening but mainly preparing for our next line- how about trying active or even deep listening this Christmas. Active listening is staying fully present with the person opposite you and really hearing everything they say. Rather than thinking about how their story relates back to you- and jumping in before they’ve barely begun- you stay with their story and respond as it unfolds. Deep listening happens when we start to tune into the spaces between the words, their body language, tone and mood. In these deeper levels of listening we find precious moments of play, story and even silliness that could have easily been missed in our determination to create a textbook Christmas. These are the moments that make Christmas unique and special to us because by simply offering our full attention and presence we may well be gifted with connection and love in return.

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love they will bloom like flowers.”

 

– Thích Nhat Hạnh

Words

If you’re a Christmas card writer – the never-ending Christmas card list can very easily become another Christmas chore. Suddenly you’re annoyed that your new neighbour has dropped around a card because that means that you now have to send them one too! It feels like an eye-for-an-eye race against the Christmas countdown clock to get every card sent out, to everyone who has ever sent you one too.

It’s so easy to scribble out 100 Christmas cards with the standard sayings and a slightly messy signature. When we send and receive so many cards all saying the same thing, it’s hard to feel any connection to the words. So this year why not send someone a thoughtful, heartfelt card of appreciation. Perhaps to a friend you weren’t able to meet up with or a family member you forgot to buy a present. Show them your love and presence with the gift of words. It may not be as efficient as typing out an e-mail, but it will mean so much more because of the conscious energy, effort and time you took to tell them that you care.

 

WE – Gifts to the world

And finally out into the wider world. We have discussed how we can give the gift of presence to ourselves and those we love the most. But how can we share this gift with our wider network of friends and family and even out into the world of strangers?

Be in the room

Give the gift of being in the room this Christmas by putting aside your mobile phone for a few hours. Constant distraction from our digital devices is making present attention and focus even more challenging. Smart Phone addiction now has a clinical name: ‘nomophobia’ (no-mobile-phobia), or the fear of being without a mobile phone. And you might be surprised to hear that you too are suffering from this addiction. Do you wake up needing to check your phone? If you answered yes then you’re not alone. According to a study conducted by the Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, they found that 61% of people check their phones 5 minutes after waking up. This number goes up to 88% for those who check their phones within 30 minutes, and 96% within an hour. Now you may not be surprised or even concerned by these statistics because Smartphones help us to navigate and organise our daily lives, interwoven into almost every aspect of our existence. But how might it be affecting your relationships and interactions at Christmas? Do you really need to be checking Whatsapp when you are catching up with a friend over Christmas drinks?

What if you resisted the temptation of checking your messages, or the momentary disturbance of feeling a buzz in your pocket, by leaving your phone in a bag or in another room? Out of sight and out and mind, so that you can be fully present with where you are and who you are with. They – and you -will feel the difference!

Random acts of kindness

 When family, friends and colleagues completely fill the diary for December it’s hard to see beyond your noteworthy network. Yet if human connection is what matters most to us at Christmas, why does it have to be almost exclusively reserved for our nearest and dearest?

The idea of ‘six degrees of separation’- a theory that suggests that you are only ever 6 introductions away from everybody else on the planet- makes the ‘small world’ proverb seem plausible. And according to new research by Facebook that figure shrinks to 3.57 if we are active on the Internet.

Random acts of kindness can help connect us to this world wide web of people and share the gift of presence with our global tribe. And when we help others we do in fact help ourselves. When we hold the door for a stranger or help someone carry their bags up the stairs we experience a release of oxytocin, a happiness hormone associated with trust and bonding (this is why giving really does feel good!) Better still, this act will also create a positive impact in the world around you, because if someone sees your random act of kindness they will also experience a release of oxytocin. So a stranger feels helped, you feel happy and a passer-by feels a lot more love for humanity. Three unexpected doses of happy from one simple act of generosity.

“No one has ever become poor from giving.”

 

– Anne Frank

So what random acts of kindness could you do over this festive period? It could be as simple as offering a few words of gratitude to a tired shop assistant. Or offering your seat on the bus to an exhausted mother. Random acts of kindness are a wonderful way of sharing our presence with the world around us. A present to the world and a present to ourselves.

So why not Consciously Create the Christmas you Choose this year…

Predicable presents, same songs and routine rituals can all distract us from the present moment. But when you stop pre-planning the future and start playing in the present moment you may discover the present is where life’s lovely little details live: you just have to stop and look.

Wishing you a very curious Christmas and a conscious New Year!