Have you ever wished you could hibernate through winter?

Have you ever wished you could hibernate through winter?

Have you ever woken up on cold November morning and wished for an extra 5 more minutes in bed? Ever had a nagging feeling that for some reason you would be better off saying no to that invitation and instead find some dedicated ‘me-time’? Well, what about 5 more days of sleep or me-time? Weeks? Or even months? Imagine the rejuvenating benefits of an extended period of downtime like this.

 

Unfortunately, unlike 200+ species in the animal kingdom, humans can’t hibernate through the winter’s months. However, there’s still a lot we can learn from hibernation, as applying the key principles to our lives can help us to thrive and revive during the shortest, darkest and coldest days of the year. In this article we’re breaking the benefits of hibernation into two parts: 1. Health and wellness and 2. Relationship with self. Join us as we journey into a deep, state of rest, recovery and reflection – prioritising the most important relationship in our lives: the one we’re having with our self.

 

1. Health and Wellness

 

Rather than fighting the feelings that are telling you to stay in, why not succumb to your inner hibernator? The part of you that is telling you to sleep more, eat carbs and spend more time alone. Whilst we’re not suggesting you scratch off all of your Christmas plans and parties, we are encouraging you to take some time to cocoon this winter. Your body is sending you signals that reflect the seasons. Listening to these will help you to align with the natural world, bring harmony to your internal clock and will have you energised, revitalised and bouncing into Spring. Take a leaf out of nature’s book…it’s time to get wrapped up and cosy!

 

Sleep more

 

Hibernation is defined as an ‘inactive’ or ‘dormant’ state, two words which I’m sure many of us- unconsciously or otherwise- associate with being lazy and unproductive. One of the major blocks that stops many of us from enjoying a period of hibernation is our guilt around needing to be busy and productive. To let go and fully indulge in a quiet evening in, we first need to make this hibernation time a priority by redefining what success means. A successful evening could mean going to a spinning class, before heading to a networking party and meeting some potential new clients. However, a successful evening could also mean having a long bath, followed by a warming home-cooked meal and getting to bed by 9 pm.

Make sleep an integral part of your success story, because it’s an incredibly important part of a healthy, happy life. Matt Walker, sleep study expert and author of ‘Why We Sleep,’ says that losing just an hour of sleep stresses the cardiovascular system, causing some people with heart issues to tip over the edge. Speaking at TED in June 2019 Walker said: “there is a global experiment performed on 1.6 billion people across 70 countries twice a year, and it’s called daylight saving time. Now, in the spring, when we lose one hour of sleep, we see a subsequent 24-per cent increase in heart attacks that following day. In the autumn, when we gain an hour of sleep, we see a 21-per cent reduction in heart attack.” Take advantage of the shorter days and the darker evenings this winter by catching up on sleep. In fact, your body’s circadian rhythm is probably telling you to sleep more. This is because when the brain receives less light due to longer nights and reduced sunlight, it sends signals to the body to produce melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’, which gets your body tired and ready for bed.

 

Soak up Sunlight

 

Changes in the seasons can also trigger lower moods or seasonal affective disorder known as Sad. Sad is a type of depression that shows up during the shorter, darker days of winter and affects around 6% of the UK population. However, Sad is a spectrum and can affect many more of us than the actual diagnosis statistics suggest. Individuals may suffer similar symptoms of Sad- like tiredness, hunger and low mood- without having full-blown depression. This is sometimes called ‘sub-syndromal Sad’ or the ‘winter blues.’

One of the best treatments for Sad and sub-syndromal Sad symptoms is sunlight. A Sad lamp (otherwise known as a happy lamp) can be hugely beneficial, particularly if you are finding yourself going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. Make sure you get a Sad-specific ultraviolet filtered light and enjoy the benefits of sunlight right from the comfort of your desk (or wherever you happen to be hibernating). Even better, take a short mid-day walk. Get outside and soak up the sun. You’ll be giving your brain a boost of the feel-good hormone serotonin. So, if the sun is shining, resist the urge to stay in bed ALL day, and take a short, happiness-boosting break from hibernation.

 

Get Cosy

 

Do you love curling up in a blanket with a warm mug of tea? Then you may already be practising the cosy, wellness trend hygge, that originated in Danish culture. At the heart of hygge is the essence of hibernation. One of our favourite definitions of hygge is: “a quality of cosiness and warmth that creates a feeling of contentment of wellbeing.” How can you bring more hygge to life? Simple- turn your home into a cosy, peaceful sanctuary. Think candles, blankets, baths, a log fire (if you have one) and a good book to curl up with. It’s a wonderful way of reframing the winter month and using them as an opportunity to slow down, relax and reconnect with what matters most to you. Of course, all the candles in the world can bring a sense of hygge into your life if you are still rushing around and not listening to the signals your body is giving you. To use the words of Meik Wiking, author of The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well“You cannot buy the right atmosphere or a sense of togetherness. You cannot hygge if you are in a hurry or stressed out, and the art of creating intimacy cannot be bought by anything but time, interest and engagement in the people around you.”

 

 

Not only does hygge encourage relaxation, it also focuses around taking pause: slowing down, turning inwards and taking track of where you are and where you want to go. Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well describes hygge as: “our awareness of the scale of our existence in contrast to the immensity of life. It is our sense of intimacy and encounter with each other and with the creaturely world around us. It is the presence of nature calling us back to the present moment, calling us home.” 

A hibernation period is a great opportunity to take track of how far you’ve come, reconnect to your intentions and perhaps set new goals for the year ahead. If your life is anything like mine, it is fast, busy and before I know it another year’s gone by. So deliberately take a pause by prioritizing a winter’s break. Hibernate and create space for the most important relationship in your life: the one you’re having with yourself.

 

 

2. Relationship with Self

 

Regardless of whether our schedule is overwhelmed at the moment with work overload and social events or whether we are living through a quieter phase of life, many people struggle with alone time.

One study in Science discovered that people would rather do mundane activities (or even administer electric shocks to themselves!) than be left alone with their thoughts. Schedule in some alone time and watch as you and the people around you reap the benefits this holiday season. To quote the wonderful words of Oscar Wilde: “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not defined by another person.”

 

 

Build an Emotional ‘Mancave’

 

Studies suggest that alone time is critical for emotional wellbeing. Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter explains, “Constantly being ‘on’ doesn’t give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself. Being by yourself with no distractions gives you the chance to clear your mind, focus, and think more clearly. It’s an opportunity to revitalize your mind and body at the same time.”

Building in regular pockets of alone time throughout your week can help you to disconnect with the noise, replenish your stores and then step back in the world with a clearer sense of what you want. Otherwise, if your day is constantly filled with other people’s voices, how on earth are you supposed to listen to your own internal voice! That’s why we’re suggesting you build yourself an emotional ‘mancave’ – or ‘womancave’! – because we can all benefit from spending more time alone. Maybe this looks like a 10-minute walk after dinner while your spouse clears up. Or perhaps it’s a more literal ‘cave’, a space in your house that enables you to quickly sink into your internal landscape and indulge in some well-deserved me-time.

Focus on your Self: it’s Selfless

 

Taking time out to focus on yourself can help you to have better relationships with others. In fact, as parents and leaders, we can only relate with others to the extent that we are able to relate to ourselves. So, any blind spots, self-limiting beliefs, or lack of self-awareness or lack of self-trust will also be reflected in how you relate to others. This is why it’s not selfish to prioritise alone time because those around you will benefit from a more present, connected and engaged ‘you’.

Writing for the Huffington Post Sheena Amin writes: “ remember the importance of being selfish is equivalent to the importance of being selfless in living a human life. The latter is not possible without the former. Much of our modern world is an existence that forces people to forget that they are human. We often live like parasites, taking all that is necessary from others for our own individual gain. It is when we begin to selfishly love ourselves and selflessly love others that we become in touch with our humanity.”

One 2017 study showed that we can actually build our capacity for empathy by spending time with oneself. Titled ‘Know thyself to understand others’ the study showed that when people develop a better inner awareness about their own mental states, they tend to have a better understanding of the mental state of others. Upon reviewing the findings one of the researchers concluded that: “There is a close link between getting better in understanding oneself and improvement in social intelligence.”

 

 

Practice Independence

 

Alain de Botton author of ‘The Course of Love’ (a book we’d highly recommend) says that: “One of the better guarantors of ending up in a good relationship: an advanced capacity to be alone.” Relationships- particularly long-term romantic relationships- can benefit from a healthy dose of alone time. It’s all too easy to get locked into certain roles in relationships and unconsciously become over-reliant on the other.

5 years ago, 4D team member Katie, encouraged her mum to volunteer abroad. Since then she’s volunteered solo in the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Costa Rica and next year’s adventure…Columbia! The trips not only have offered her a huge sense of purpose, they have also strengthened her relationships. Katie says: “I remember before the first trip, my mum and dad were really nervous. There was so much planning and worrying about how they’d cope. But of course, they weren’t just fine, they thrived in the difference. And since then they’ve both stepped into new roles. My mums got so much better with technology and now writes a travel blog when she’s away and my Dad has become passionate about fishing and cooks a delicious pan-fried trout. 5 years on, as she prepares for her next trip, it feels so normal. It’s amazing how quickly we can adapt and how much we can learn from being alone.” So not only does distance- or alone time- make the heart grow fonder, it also makes us stronger.

 

Feed your Creativity

 

Sometimes brainstorming on your own may be a more effective way of generating ideas. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Andrew O’Connell writes: “In dealing with highly complex problems, brainstorming can have a stifling effect, dangerously limiting the number of proposals that get serious consideration. You’ve probably experienced this yourself: Your glimmer of an idea quickly fades as other group members talk about their ideas.” This is particularly true for people with qualities associated with being ‘an introvert’ or internal processers. These types of people may find that their creativity thrives when they are given time to think of their own.

So, when you’re next brainstorming with your team, it could be helpful to offer the group some time to individually think about ideas, before coming together. During an idea-generating session, the process of ‘hibernation’ can create space for more ideas to form and gives current ideas the chance to breathe.

 

Treat yourself to a ‘Me’ Retreat

 

Developmental Psychologist Donald Winnicott believed what motivates humans is the need and the desire “to find his or her own self […] Be able to exist and to feel real. Feeling is more than existing; it is finding a way to exist as oneself, and to relate to objects as oneself and to have a self into which to retreat for relaxation.”

Hibernation doesn’t necessarily have to be passive or inactive. It could involve a creative activity, like painting or playing the guitar. Nourishment comes in lots of forms and so your ‘me’ retreat could involve a return to some of those nourishing activities that help you to ‘find yourself.’ If you’re anything like me then you’ll have a pile of books you’ve never had the time to read. There is actually for this in Japanese: “Tsundoku’ which is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up. I obviously bought these books with the intention of feeding my mind, but somehow never found the time to follow through. Hibernation gives us the opportunity to get to know ourselves better by returning to those creative pursuits we know will nourish us but haven’t been able to commit to. Yet.

 

Happy Hibernating (and ‘Tribe-enating!’)

 

As we near towards Christmas it can be all too easy to get lost in the diary of life, trying to see everyone and getting everything done in time. So before the real festive ‘busyness’ begins, why not schedule in a few nights of ‘hibernation’ time? Give yourself the gift of quality rest and time to reconnect with yourself. Solitude, silence and slowing down are at the heart of hibernation and are hugely beneficial to our health and happiness, and to our loves and learnings.

That said, hibernation doesn’t just have to be a solo activity. Not if you are choosing to spend time with those who nourish you most. So, as we ready ourselves for another holiday season, ask yourself which friends and family members make you feel great? Which people in your life help you to become the best version of yourself? Take time this Christmas to either Tribe-enate (spend time with those who nourish you the most) or hibernate (spend time alone). Let’s take advantage of the darker, shorter days, in order to rejuvenate as well as reconnect with ourselves.

In Search of Silver Linings…

In Search of Silver Linings…

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me!”

 

How often have you looked back at a so-called ‘bad’ event and realised that it was actually a blessing in disguise? This of course, is the benefit of hindsight. The ability to look back on a situation and see the silver lining it brought you. Which makes me wonder: how good are we at really reading, seeing and understanding the impact of a situation right there in the moment? Due to the brain’s negative bias and the fight or flight response, we go into short term thinking patterns when ‘bad’ things happen. We are often unable to see the ‘bigger picture’ so to speak. It’s not until later down the line when we are able to ‘join the dots’ as Steve Jobs said and see the benefits of some challenging situations. Now imagine what your life would be like if you could always have an eye on that silver lining, even from the middle of a storm? Tapping into the wisdom of hindsight, amidst the grey clouds of a difficult and stressful life event.

 

 

In this article we’re looking at ways of finding the silver lining during difficult situations. This isn’t about excessive optimism, it’s about widening your lens, seeing the multiple and contradictory truths of a situation and stepping into other people’s shoes. The ability to see silver linings has huge health benefits as it can greatly reduce stress, insomnia and depression whilst also positively impacting learning, relationships and present awareness. So, join us as we look for life’s silver linings in some of the darkest corners of our lives. To quote the Taoist Parable about the farmer and his horse “who knows what’s good or what’s bad?” Good and bad is a false dichotomy. This is why the ying yang symbol shows a white dot on the black side and a black dot in the white side. We see black and white, right or wrong as binary and contradictory when they are in fact, complimentary and fluid. So today, we’re looking for the grey space in between good and bad. The silver lining that blends these two stances together and softens the extremes.

 

Reframe the situation

“It was the best of times it was the worst of times”

– Charles Dickens

Cognitive reappraisal involves recognising negative thought patterns and changing them to patterns that are more helpful. One study titled “Seeing the Silver Lining: Cognitive Reappraisal Ability Moderates the Relationship Between Stress and Depressive Symptoms” found that Cognitive reappraisal – or CRA for short- was an important protective factor against long-term depression in response to stressful life events. “Individuals who are high in CRA could perceive a stressor as an extremely negative event in terms of disrupting their lives, but could still decrease their negative emotions in response to this event.” So, what is the process of CRA? Responding to an emotional situation will result in an automatic judgement of the situation (the appraisal). Cognitive re-evaluation, involves looking at the situation again and offering a second opinion (the reappraisal). The reappraisal is more neutral and objective, because there is space between the emotional event and the verdict. So, the ‘reappraisal’ can offer us a sense of the ‘benefit of hindsight’ but in real time. Which is why training yourself to do this can be highly effective when emotions are running high- as it enables you to access a second opinion inside yourself.

I recently experienced the benefits of cognitive reappraisal in response to a house flood. My initial reaction was stress and worry (perhaps rightly so) as the rather dramatic event has created so many issues, cost a small fortune and wasted so much of my time, filing insurance claims and looking for temporary accommodation. Whilst all of that is true…we’ve now found somewhere else to live for the summer… and we’ve decided to treat it as a ‘holiday home.’ The basement was also the only part of the house that didn’t need redecorating- so now we have an excuse to spruce up that room too! Most importantly, my ‘reappraisal’ of the event offered me an important lesson in what’s important life. Not long after I heard the news, I found myself feeling incredibly grateful: no one was hurt, we have- another- roof over our heads, and I felt lucky to have such a supportive network of friends and family living nearby.

 

 

Heighten awareness

“Time was invented so that misery might have an end.”

 

– Saul Bellow 

Are we really seeing what is happening in front of us? Or are we locked in the emotions of a past event and missing positives of the present moment? Dr. Joe Dispenza says: “For most people, living in the safety and comfort of the known past is a lot safer than stepping out into the unknown future. Living in the past also validates all of the traumas and betrayals we’ve had in our life, not to mention it makes for a great excuse why we haven’t been able to change. What most people don’t realise, however, is that when we excuse ourselves for someone or something, we give away our power to that person, thing, or event in the past, and as a result, we give away our power and ability to change.” Many of us live our lives through the lens of past experience and as a result, miss the present moment. And the present can offer great relief from pain and suffering after trauma. As the writer Saul Bellow said in Henderson the Rain King, “Time was invented so that misery might have an end.”

Finding presence when you’ve been emotionally hijacked by a traumatic event can be incredibly difficult. The body will often switch on the ‘fight flight or freeze’ response which gets all the body’s resources readied for danger. In this state we quite literally lose the ability to see the bigger picture, as our vision becomes tunnelled and there is a loss of periphery vision.

One of the best ways of bringing yourself out of this state is by following the breath. Breath awareness teaches us that each and every breath is a refresh: it has never happened before, and it will never happen again. Heart Rate Variability can show us the impact of the breath on the body- in real time. HRV monitoring software created by HeartMath, can tell us if our body is in a homeostatic state: that is, when the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are dynamically balanced. The best thing about the software is that it shows us how we can train HRV using the breath. Using a mix of games and challenges it functions as a sort of objective pranayama, or breathing meditation, with the benefit of live on-screen results. Which means there’s no cheating!  I recently heard a story about a fortune 500 CEO who was reported to have worn a HeartMath sensor for several weeks, in order to improve his stress levels at work. At home he was able to score highly, however he found himself frustrated with his results at work: as soon as he stepped into his office, his HRV levels dropped, showing him that his body wasn’t working at its optimum. Over time, using his breath, he was able to raise his HRV levels throughout his working day, showing him that his body’s systems were working much more harmoniously. So, a simple breath, might help you experience a silver lining. You might not feel balanced on the outside, but a few deep breaths might be all it takes to bring your body’s systems back into balance, thus impacting your experience of the world… from the inside out.

 

 

Recognise the Brain’s Bias’s

“Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got”

– Art Buchwald

Simply knowing that the brain has a negative bias and reminding yourself of this can be extremely useful. John Gottman has spent several decades researching couples in order to better understand divorce prediction and martial stability. Whilst his work focuses on intimate relationships, studies from Daniel Goleman and several other researchers have shown that the results apply to almost any kind of relationship- whether that be personal, professional- or as we’re discussing here- the one you’re having with yourself. What Gottman’s work has shown is that there needs to be a ratio of 5:1 of positive to negative interactions in order to maintain a positive relationship. So, if you apply this to the relationship you are having with your self- are you balancing out the negative thoughts with positive thoughts? They don’t have to be big declarations of self-love. Maybe you simply thank yourself for making yourself a proper dinner. Or congratulate yourself for going outside and getting some fresh air. Small, simple but regular gestures will help you to build up your ‘positivity bank account’. So that when a wave of negativity comes your way you’ll already have enough to balance it out.

 

 

We can take this a step further by using an Organisational Relationship Systems Coaching tool- the 2% rule: looking for the 2% positives in any given situation. If you’re in the midst of an emotional storm, your brain is unlikely to do a complete flip and see the sunny side of life right away. So, the 2% rule can be a great way of easing your brain into more positive thinking patterns. As I mentioned at the start, this isn’t about being an optimist: this about balancing out the brain’s negativity bias so that it doesn’t cloud your vision.

Untapped negativity and long-term pessimism can also be highly detrimental to your health. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania has conducted extensive research comparing the health and well-being of optimists and pessimists. The researchers found that pessimists’ health deteriorated far more rapidly as they aged. Seligman’s findings are similar to research conducted by the Mayo Clinic that found optimists have lower levels of cardiovascular disease and longer life-spans. Researchers from the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville went so far as to inject optimist and pessimist with a virus in order to measure the response of their immune system. The results showed that optimists had significantly stronger immune systems than the pessimists. So, encouraging positive thoughts and balancing out negativity in the brain can actually bring about an immune boosting silver lining.


Embrace stoicism

“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

 

– Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism was founded in Athens in the early 3rd century BC and was famously practiced by the likes of EpictetusCatoSeneca and Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy teaches that the path to happiness is found in our acceptance of what is. In the words of Epictetus: “In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.”

Sometimes taking on the attitude of a Stoic and accepting what is, can, in itself, be a silver lining. When we stop trying to make ‘everything alright’ and start accepting where we are at, we reduce stress around ‘what isn’t.’ In his latest book Happy, Derren Brown says: “To approach [happiness] the other way, and see it as an absence of disturbances is helpful.” Sometimes called ‘strategic’ or ‘defensive’ pessimism, it is a way of seeing the world in an open honest way, as opposed to covering over the bits that we don’t want to see. The British version of this is when someone says “shall I make some tea?” in response to a difficult conversation. Optimism can be a form of avoidance, and can- in the long run- cause much more pain and suffering.

 

In her latest book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown talks to the expression “gritty faith and gritty facts” which was inspired by the Stockdale Paradox, which was named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, who spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Stockdale explained that the optimists- the people who believed they’d be released by Christmas, or Easter- were typically the ones who didn’t survive: “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Gritty faith and gritty facts aren’t an absence of dreaming. Nor are they cynical. They are a balance of hope with the hard and sometimes, uncomfortable facts of reality. A balancing act that can bring much more peace and harmony in the long-term.

 

Does every cloud have a silver lining?

 

“I’m thankful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon my strength.”

 

– Alexandra Elle

What small silver lining might you discover today? Stay open to unexpected possibilities because you might just discover the best plot twist yet! Curve balls can come into our lives at any time. And whilst I can’t offer you a fast track through the difficulty and challenges that these can create, I do believe we can hold onto the light at the end of tunnel. The silver lining that lets us know that there is another story and another life to lead on the other side.

 

Naughty but Nice…

Naughty but Nice…

There was a little girl, Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very good indeed,

But when she was bad she was horrid. 


– Henry Wandsworth

 

We can become conditioned into ‘being good’ from a very young age. And our experience of ‘goodness’ may often be subjective and gender-specific. One may be called a “good girl” for being ‘sugar, spice and all things nice’ and a “good boy” for being bold and brave. As adults, our understanding of what it means to ‘be good’ is likely to depend on the messages from childhood that we have internalised. And this definition of ‘good’ influences much more than our moral compass: it affects our day-to-day interactions with our co-workers, family and friends and also, with ourselves. So, what does ‘good’ mean? Compliant? Well-behaved? Talented? Successful? Top of class? Kind? Avoiding eating the donuts?! The list goes on….

For some of us, ‘being good’ means being obedient and following the rules (something that is conditioned into us throughout our education.) Yet, in Silicon Valley I’m sure ’being good’ is also much more about ‘disruptive innovation’, thinking out of the box and breaking conventional norms. Which makes me wonder whether our ideas about ‘goodness’ are somewhat archaic and misaligned with the fast-paced and ever-changing landscapes of our lives. One article encouraging parents to embrace the rebel child, asks if childhood obedience is “a cause for concern or celebration?” And another, commending rule breakers in the workplace, goes so far as to say that “What is really dangerous these days is safe thinking.” So, could it be that our rigid, outdated understandings of goodness are holding us back?

In this article we’re looking at how conditioning around ‘being good’ might be limiting us at work, in our relationships and with ourselves and exploring ways we can accept and embrace our own unique inner ‘goodness’. Let’s take charge of our own definitions of goodness, instead of allowing society’s multiple (and often contradictory) definitions to direct our lives. We can be the author of our own life narratives, and whilst being good for some might mean going for an 8-mile run, for me, ‘being good’ this year, is simply about being true to me.

New Year, Same Me

I typically start January with a New Year, New Me resolution, in the hope of being ‘more good’ in a certain area of my life (last year it was to run twice a week.) But like 91% of all New Year’s resolutions- I didn’t even make it to February. And so, I find myself feeling ‘bad’ for failing to stick to my challenge. But, who is defining this idea of ‘goodness’? My colleague Katie spent several years running and ended up having 4 knee operations. So, in this instance running was not so ‘good’ after all. This is why it’s important to take charge of our own understanding of ‘good’, instead of being influenced by everything and everyone around us.

Be Good to Yourself

As with my 2018 resolution, a lot of our ‘being good’ revolves around not being good enough. So, this year, why not focus your ‘goodness’ efforts internally? Instead of trying so hard to live up to someone else’s’ vision of good, why not focus on being good to yourself?

“If I am not good to myself how can I expect anyone else to be good to be?”


 -Maya Angelou

Self-compassion has been shown to help promote healthy behaviours and positive thoughts. In one study, an increase in self-compassion correlated with an increase in health-promoting behaviours, such as eating habits, exercise, sleep behaviours, and stress management. Another study, looking at the effect of self-compassion on ‘restrictive and guilty eaters’, showed that self-compassion helped to reduce distress and helped people to adopt healthier eating patterns. So being good to yourself can actually lead you to being ‘good’ in more conventional ways, like diet, exercise and sleep. In fact, scientists are now arguing that “self-compassion attenuates people’s reactions to negative events in ways that are distinct from and, in some cases, more beneficial than self-esteem.” We live in a world obsessed with the idea of being self-confident and having positive self-esteem but perhaps it’s much more important to cultivate self-kindness. Which brings to mind a quote from author and Buddhist practitioner Jack Kornfield: “If your compassion does not include you, it’s incomplete.”

Inside Out

Instead of defining goodness from the outside in, we’re flipping the formula and starting from the inside out. To quote the wise words of the 19th century monk Swami Vivekananda: “You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.” If we don’t define our own values and understandings of what it means to be good then they may become ungrounded, disconnected and vulnerable to negative, outside influences.

“You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul”

 
– Swami Vivekananda

So, using the 4D2C model (see below) let’s take a look at how we can take charge of our own definitions of goodness. First, let’s look at the two contexts in which we live – our culture (people) and environment. As we’ve mentioned above, the world around us can affect our ideas of goodness in numerous ways and this starts from a very young age. So, we’ve got the outside pushing in, often influencing our internal dimensions. For example, we may create an autopilot of goodness within our physical dimension, with ideas of goodness being linked to ‘going to the gym’ and ‘eating healthy.’ In the emotional dimension goodness might be linked with ‘being kind.’ And in our intellectual dimension being good might be connected to ‘getting top grades’ or ‘being top of the class.’ The autopilot goodness narrative will depend on multiple cultural and social circumstances. But sometimes these autopilot narratives don’t serve us. As we develop and grow, these ‘goodness’ narratives may become outdated, limiting and stop us living from our true values. So, this is when we have to fire up our intentional self and look inward for answers. Asking ourselves questions like: what does goodness really mean to me? What elements of good will be useful to live by to be my best self? And how does being ‘bad sometimes serve me? As Michelle Obama said: “I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values — and follow my own moral compass — then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”

 

When we live with intention we can push back from the inside out and learn to love all of our parts. Intentional living isn’t about being perfect: it’s about being integrated and connected to your whole self. To use the words of Swiss psychiatrist Karl Jung: “I’d rather be whole than good.”

For Goodness Sake

Once we’ve begun to take ownership of our own values of goodness, the real challenge is acting on them. Why for many of us is it so hard to invoke our inner rule breaker when we are faced with opposing forces in the real-world? Because of a deep-set desire to people please.

 

American Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory around the stages of moral development can help us to understand why we can struggle to embrace the rebel inside, particularly when faced with a moral dilemma. Kohlberg theory suggests that the majority of us remain in level two, Conventional Morality, so called because it is where we conform to conventions and rules of society: “Good behaviour is that which pleases or helps others and is approved by them. There is much conformity to stereotypical images of what is majority or ‘natural’ behaviour. Behaviour is frequently judged by intention. ‘He means well’ becomes important for the first time. One earns approval by being ‘nice.’” What Kohlberg is saying is that at this level we are more concerned with group approval than we are with taking charge of our own moral compass. We self-sacrifice our own values in order to please the group.

So, how can we begin to step out of this conventional level and into what Kohlberg calls ‘post-conventional morality’? We can look to our inner creative or our inner child. The free spirit who wants to push boundaries in a playful, curious and flexible way. This doesn’t mean throwing around chairs in your next boardroom meeting. But it could mean, putting the desks to the side and setting up your meeting in the circle. Small changes that can create huge waves in organisations. One only has to consider the theory of ‘disruptive innovation’ to see this in action. And thanks to companies such as Uber, Airbnb and WeWork, the way we travel, work and play has completely changed. These companies have not only changed the game. They’ve rewritten the very language of the game. (I wonder how long the word ‘taxi’ will remain in circulation given that we now are all ‘Ubering’ everywhere!) Yet, this didn’t happen by following the rules. In fact, they ‘did good’ by redefining what it means to ‘be good.’

So, like these disruptive innovators you too can relax your boundaries around what it means to be good, in order to give yourself the space to be curious, creative and think out of the box. Instead of living by the hard lines of right and wrong, learn to love the space in between. Because it is in these unknown, grey spaces where we find inspiration, innovation and unbounded potential…and perhaps your next big adventure!

Good Enough

Atelophobia is the fear of imperfection. The fear of never being good enough. Something that I’m sure touches many of us on some level on a daily basis. However, if you practice being good to yourself, connect to what goodness means to you and allow it to be an open, unbounded concept…then you no longer need to fear being good enough because good is no longer in the equation. You are quite simply enough.

The next time you find yourself feeling bad for not doing something, seeing someone or being something check-in with your own goodness barometer. Does this definition of ‘being good’ really sit with you? And, how might your ‘being bad’ actually be really useful? Last week I cancelled dinner plans with a friend and I felt really bad as it’s something I rarely do. But this was also an example of ‘being good’ as I was – for the first time in a long time- prioritising self-care and sleep after a very hectic week. It really is all about perspective. Flip the story, fire up your intentional self and start writing a goodness narrative that works for you and your life.

SUMMER’S OUT!! And it’s back to school…

SUMMER’S OUT!! And it’s back to school…

Remember Septembers from your childhood and how it felt going back to school? Excitement at seeing friends again, sadness that the summer holidays were over. Looking forward to learning lots of new things…The latter perhaps not so much! So, as September draws to a close let’s think about our own timetable of classes. What are you excited to learn about in the term ahead? What new subjects will surprise you? And who might be your teachers? Join us as we consciously pack our bags for a brand-new year at “the-school-of-life”.

I always enjoyed creating my timetable on the first day back at of school. I loved the certainty and the organisation it brought to my day. These days I look at my daughter’s timetable and I’m less focused on the planning and the structure: now I look at her timetable and envy all of the exciting things she’s going to learn! Which got me thinking: why don’t I just timetable more learning into my life!

September is a highly fruitful month for learning.

Recent research suggests that we are smarter in the Autumn, so let’s take advantage of this extra brain power by giving ourselves an intellectual boost! The study, which focused on the ‘seasonal plasticity of cognition’, revealed that we are smarter in the Summer and Autumn compared to the Winter and Spring, when people’s mental function declined by an average of 4.8 years. This month we’re taking advantage of our ‘September Smarts’ by readdressing our approach and attitude towards learning. If we can reignite a love for learning, then we can reap its brain boosting benefits… all year round!

If you don’t use it you lose it!

Want to stay on your A game right into old age? Then keep on learning. It’s one of the best ways to keep your brain sharp and savvy.

Research has long shown the cognitive benefits of learning something new. For example, a 2014 study revealed that speaking two or more languages, even if the second language was learnt in adulthood, may slow age-related cognitive decline. Every time we learn something new we create a new neural pathway in the brain and this process of learning can stimulate new brain cells to grow, even into late adulthood.

The Rush Memory and Aging Project, conducted in Chicago in 2012 with over 1,200 elderly people, showed that cognitively active seniors were 2.6 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than those who were less cognitively active. Making time for learning will help you to stay physically and mentally active and will also create more opportunities to socialise, which offers further brain boosting benefits! One study revealed that the cognitive abilities of elders who frequently socialised, declined 70% more slowly than those who were less socially active. So, let’s utilise the brain’s amazing ability to adapt and change by seeing the whole world as a classroom. You’ll be creating new brain cells and you may even bring new friends and interests into your life!

Who are your teachers?

“The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner

 

– Wendell Berry.

Teachers come in many shapes and sizes. Some of these teachers are obvious, such as the teachers you seek out to help you with a skill. I’ve recently started seeing a sports masseur and I’ve learnt so much about engaging different muscles in my body. However, many of our teachers are much less obvious.

Legendary keyboard player Rick Wakeman, best known for being in the rock band “Yes” talks about finding an unexpected teacher in a 17-year boy from Argentina:

I was in Argentina and a young kid, and I know how old he was ’cause he told me. He was 17. He came to the hotel and he had my original “Six Wives” album. I said “How old are you?” and in good English he said “I’m 17.” I said “I made this album not only before you were born, but before your parents probably met.” He said “Well, sign it please,” and I did. I said “What is it that you like about this old music?” He looked at me and said “It may be old music to you Mr. Wakeman, but it is new to me. I only heard it for the first-time last week. Please don’t forget that in your audience there will always be somebody there who will be hearing it for the first time. So, it is new. It will always be new.” I never forgot that, from this 17-year-old kid. He’s absolutely right.

Are you open to the teachers all around you? To use the words of children’s author Michael Morpurgo “it’s the teacher that makes the difference, not the classroom.” So, it’s up to you what you want to learn but also where you want to learn it. Perhaps there’s a great teacher right under your nose. See if you can look beyond the confinements and conditioning of our social hierarchies and consider everyone- regardless of their age, rank or role- as a potential teacher You might find a fantastic new teacher in one of your children, a junior colleague or even a pet!

How will you spend your break-time?

“Fun is just another word for learning”

 

– Raph Koster.

We tend to focus a lot of our learning energy on subjects that will benefit our careers. However, could this career-focused learning path be causing us to miss out on the joy of learning? The love of learning for learning’s sake!?

As we grow up much of our learning is results orientated and institutionalised: it’s focused around outcomes, grades and getting a job. As a result, learning becomes associated with a lack of freedom and play, whereas home is a place for enjoyment and fun. Why can’t learning live in both of these worlds? Well, it can and a simple way of doing this is by taking off the pressure to be good, so that you can fall back in love with the process. Not all of your learning activities need to have a definitive purpose or help to progress your career. And when you let go of this result’s orientated mindset, you’ll start to open yourself up to whole range of different subjects!

 

As an economics and psychology graduate my conditioned learning patterns tend to focus around business and personal development. So, choosing to read ‘The Betrothed’ a classic Italian novel by Alessandro Manzoni was a big step outside of my learning comfort zone! Perhaps my brain is wired with the stories I told myself about how ‘boring’ it was to read big lengthy ‘difficult’ novels during my school days. So I picked up the enormous book with a sigh and a heavy heart – determined though because I wanted to read it to support my daughter as it’s on her school’s curriculum. But as it turns out, I’m not only loving the story, it’s also teaching me so much about the culture of Italy- historic to present day!

Another example comes from my colleague Katie, who has recently moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Last week, she went to her first ever American football game, and whilst she’s still got a way to go with understanding the scoring system, Katie was surprised by how much she enjoyed the game and also the amount she learnt about her new home: “It’s much more than a football game: the whole community comes together to celebrate!” So even if a subject- or a sport- doesn’t seem on the surface level to be your cup of tea, see if you can stay open to its learning potential. You never know what you might be missing out on: a new favourite hobby, an opportunity to make friends, or perhaps a whole lot of fun! The question is: is there space for these spontaneous and open-minded learning occasions in your timetable? Or do you need to start scheduling in more of those infamous ‘free periods’ which were so desirable at school?

What’s your homework?

 

For many vocational careers (including doctors, accountants and therapists) continuing professional development or CPD is compulsory. Whilst it may not be a requirement within your career or company, we believe it’s an essential tool for long-term career competency. Now, if you already feel overworked you might ask- well why would I choose to do more work, that is likely to be unpaid? Two reasons: livelihood and passion. I’ll start with the former…

Warren Buffett once said: “The more you learn. The more you earn.” Now whilst we believe there are many more benefits to learning besides earning money, there is a real truth in Buffett’s statement. We live in a world of constant change and never before have there been more technological advances and breakthroughs. If we don’t try to keep on top of trends, we can quickly fall behind and find ourselves over taken by younger, more ‘up-to-date’ colleagues. CPD doesn’t necessarily have to involve trolling the internet for every recent – and work-relevant- article or research paper. It could be about learning a new skill or deepening an interest that excites you. Or it could be learning something about yourself – which we can find in anything we choose to try, learn or do.

Passion is the driving force that will motivate you to learn regardless of money, career progression or acclaim. And if you can weave passion into a part of your job- even if just by focusing on one specific element- you will create an abundance of fuel for your learning fire! The key is taking the ‘hard-work’ out of work. Ask yourself what you love to learn? Maybe it’s playing netball at the weekends. Watching films with your family. Or going on long dog walks. Once you have an activity in mind, ask yourself the following: what is it about that activity which makes it so enjoyable? Really push yourself to get the root of the passion. Maybe it’s connecting with people, storytelling or being in nature. The deeper you dig the broader the subject becomes, thus enabling you to apply your passion across many different aspects of your life. How might you build this passion for learning into your ‘work’ at work? And what might it offer you and your colleagues?

How is your timetable going to look?

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

 
– Mahatma Gandhi.

We’ve created a handy 4D timetable to help you to learn and live from all 4 of your dimensions. Stimulate all of your intelligences- intellectually, emotionally, physically and intentionally- by scheduling more opportunities to learn in your life. Each and every day.

 

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many courses you go on, or how good your teachers are, if you’re not willing to go home and do the work yourself, you will only get so far along the learning ladder. Teachers lead you to the door. But you have to walk through yourself. To use the wise words of Brian Herbert: “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” So, we’re going to hand it over to you and leave you with the following questions: how much of a priority is learning in your life? And how do want your timetable to look over the next term?