The 4 things you really need this Christmas…

The 4 things you really need this Christmas…

How many presents get unwrapped on Christmas day? That nobody wants and nobody needs?

 

According to one study, Americans waste on average $15.2 billion on unwanted presents each year. I remember one Christmas competing with friends over ‘who got the worst present.’ There were some absolute shockers, but the outright winner had to be the man that was given a second-hand painting of a Hungarian Hussar! People really do hand over some weird gifts! So, it got me thinking: how much stuff do we get at Christmas that we don’t even want? When actually, we could give someone something they really need to unwrap without even given them a present. The invisible gifts of security, connection, wholeness and autonomy. Can we fulfil our own- or someone else’s’- primal human needs this Christmas?

We see Christmas as a unique time of craziness, when it’s often a reflection of our everyday lives, just in an exaggerated festive state, with baubles on! The festive season is a great time to become conscious of our behaviours and patterns and gives us the opportunity to acknowledge and connect with our fundamental needs. If you notice people getting annoyed on Christmas day, get curious, and find out which of their needs isn’t being met…

 

 1. Security

 

‘Tis the season for financial anxiety as according to the 2019 Bankrate Holiday Gifting Survey more than 6 out of 10 people told Bankrate they feel pressure to overspend on either presents, travel, social outings or charitable donations over the Christmas period. If you notice yourself- or a loved one- feeling stressed about money, get curious. Find out what the root cause of this stress might be. Because it may be that your sense of security is feeling threatened.

Abraham Maslow lists security as one of the basic human needs. And if we don’t feel secure, we can’t fully ascend to higher levels like love and self-actualisation (more of which later).

Many of us reach for external signs of security- money, good job, marriage- which means that our ability to ascend to the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy relies heavily on external factors. However, some of us aren’t given sufficient resources to satisfy these external security needs. And even if, right at this moment, we are satisfying those needs, many unknowable factors can threaten this ‘security blanket’- like redundancy and illness. So sometimes or even often getting our security needs met by chasing it externally isn’t actually our most secure option.

Some of the century’s most influential and surprising entrepreneurs do the opposite: they define security internally. They give themselves what psychologist Carl Rogers called an internal locus of control and don’t rely on external factors for their sense of security. Take Tony Robbins. He started his career washing his dishes in a bathtub because his apartment was so small it didn’t have a kitchen. He didn’t define security as needing X amount in the bank or having a certain size house or job title. He defined his security internally- and as a result, he was able to shift his attention towards a much more useful state for entrepreneurial pursuits: self-actualisation. His sense of security wasn’t reliant on unstable external factors; it was defined internally. And as a result, he ended up becoming one of the most successful life coaches on the planet. 

 

Here are two ways you can shift towards an internally driven sense of security:

1. Self appreciate.

If your internal voice is critical and harsh – be aware and be kind to yourself. 

2. Give yourself a heart hug…

…and stop asking your brain what you need. Ask your heart. Put your hand on your heart and create a loop back to yourself. Once you’ve created that loop, still with your hand on your heart, ask yourself what you should do. Not only will this regulate your breathing, it will also create a feedback loop to brain that ‘you are ok’ and as consequence will strengthen your internal locus of control. 

Defining security internally is a healthier and more sustainable way of fulfilling this need because it’s not reliant on external factors. Money is, of course, an important resource but far more important is time. We can rebuild our finances. But we can’t buy back time. And if we spend the majority of our time chasing external factors, then we won’t have any time left for other more meaningful pursuits. Defining security externally creates an illusion of security and breeds a cycle of insecurity. Whereas defining security internally puts you back in the driver’s seat of your life.

 

 

So back to Christmas…maybe you can’t afford the most expensive gifts this year or maybe there’s a worry about what work you’ll get in 2020. All fair and valid concerns not to be disregarded but also, not necessarily needed to define your sense of security. Can you- like Tony Robbins- take the locus of control over your security and define it internally? And give yourself the gift of internal security this Christmas. Whilst it won’t make these problems go away it will enable you to satisfy your need for security and free you up to be much more connected and conscious with your loved ones over the festive period.

Also- think about how can you make somebody else feel safe and secure? Can you be clear about your plans for the day? Can you make somebody feel that you’ve got a part of the day planned and organised and in hand? Because that’s one of the most fundamental and most important gifts you can give anybody. What does your partner or loved one need to make them feel secure and safe with you?

 

 2. Connection

 

I’m sure you’ve all heard a version of this story: a wife- who is hoping for a diamond bracelet- receives a vacuum cleaner, an iron or electronic scale for Christmas (yes- this one is surprisingly common!) One study showed that 37% of us have lied about liking a gift- with women ranking as the highest offenders with a shocking 45% versus 27% of men. If you find yourself hiding disappointment with an exaggerated smile this Christmas, then watch out for need no.2 not being met: are you feeling unloved or disconnected?

Connection is a fundamental human need. We are absolutely wired for connection. Yet, we’re not always good at meeting this need. In an article for ‘Forge Medium’, Brianna Wiest describes connection as: “the experience of oneness. It’s having shared experiences, relatable feelings, or similar ideas.” So, when your nearest and dearest buys you a rubbish (and perhaps insulting) gift, you may- understandably- find yourself feeling misunderstood and disconnected.

 

Thankfully, connection doesn’t just come in a fancy present with a bow on top. This- as with external signs of security- is a ‘show’ of connection. The real stuff is underneath. In the day-to-day moments that help to build a strong sense of tribe and trust. In order to maintain a healthy sense of connection, we must regularly ‘check-in’ with one another. Now we’re not talking about a once a year DMC (deep meaningful conversation), we’re referring to those everyday moments where you are present with your partner, friend or kids. When you see them where they are and find out how they’re doing and how they’re feeling. Right now. To quote Brene Brown: “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

For example, if you know your partner struggles with some of your family’s nosey questions, a simple squeeze of the hand might be all it takes to reaffirm the connection between the two of you. A squeeze that says “I see you. I know how you’re feeling. We’ll get through this together.” The beauty of this is in its simplicity: it doesn’t involve buying an extravagant gift, writing a poem or going away on holiday. Your presence with your loved ones is what reaffirms the bonds of connection. So why not give the gift of connection this Christmas to your loved ones? It could be the simplest yet most substantial gift they get this year.

 

 

3. Wholeness

 

Do you return home at Christmas only to find yourself regressing into an outdated version of yourself? Perhaps you’ve made some radical changes over the past year and are feeling quite different in yourself, yet as soon as you walk through the front door of your childhood home…bam…you’re back to square one. If this sounds familiar, then you may be needing more of the 3rd primal human need we’re discussing today: wholeness. To quote Carl Jung: “Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.” Ask yourself if there are parts of your ‘self’ that are wanting to surface, yet you don’t feel you can share because it feels out of line with ‘who you are’ within your family unit?

 

 

Say for example you’ve taken up stand-up comedy over the past year yet until this point you’ve occupied a more quiet, reserved role in the family. Can you bring a part of this ‘new you’ to the table and perhaps open up a space for others to share too? Perhaps your Mum has been focusing on being more than just ‘mum’ since all her kids flew the nest and has been busy involving herself with new hobbies and volunteer work. Can you encourage a more inclusive and open atmosphere this Christmas, so that people can bring more of themselves- and not just the role assigned to them within the family system- to the table?

Wholeness isn’t simply about showcasing the highlights in your life (like you might on your Instagram feed!) It’s about embracing all parts of your ‘self’ and the highs and the lows that are a part of being a human being. Maybe someone in your family is grieving the loss of a loved one this Christmas? Or perhaps a friend has recently lost their job? Can you be present with their pain and allow them to bring some of their whole self- as they are right now- to the party. Show them that they don’t have to wear a massive fake smile across their face to feel accepted and welcome around you. As Reboot Co-founder Dan Putt writes in his article ‘Wholeness, not Happiness’: “Happiness is just one part of our existence, wholeness is to embrace all that is within us. It’s to embrace our shadow qualities, to embrace our self-doubt, fear, anxiety, as well as the brightness, joy, and curiosity. It is all welcome. To welcome and embrace our wholeness, is to welcome and embrace all that makes us human. It is to allow our employees, and ourselves the full human experience. It is to allow ourselves to be human at work.” So, this Christmas let’s host with an attitude of wholeness as opposed to one that pushes happiness.

 

4. Autonomy 

 

The final thing we all need this Christmas is autonomy. Which may seem contradictory to primal need no. 2: connection. However, what we’re looking for is a balance between interdependence and autonomy. And the latter is far too often overlooked and disregarded, particularly when it comes to Christmas parties and family get-togethers.

You may be familiar with the power struggles that happen between parents and children or siblings, due to invisible hierarchies that might be in place. For example, the person who is ‘hosting’ may take it upon themselves to take charge of the event. Whilst this may be coming from a sincere place of kindness and generosity, it may be stopping others from having an opinion about the menu or helping cook a dish. And guess what…people like to feel useful!!! So you don’t need to slave away in the kitchen by yourself. Get your kids involved in some way (however young or old), give them responsibility for a task and refrain from ‘back seat driving’ while they are doing it (otherwise you may give off the impression that you could have done it better and faster yourself.) And even if that’s true, what’s happening here is much bigger than the task at hand because you’ve gifted someone with autonomous action. You’ve given them a sense of importance and purpose at the event. So, it doesn’t matter if the potatoes aren’t cut exactly the way you like them, because the people at your party are what matter. Not the potatoes. And by delegating responsibility you’ll not only take some of the stress off your shoulders, you’ll also be giving others a sense of ownership and autonomy.

A study on the importance of psychological autonomy in children concluded that “the preparation for a life in a competitive world of other individual self-contained agencies is primed through individual psychological autonomy with an early emphasis on subjective wishes, intentions and preferences.” Autonomy is not a millennial luxury: it’s a fundamental need and if it’s not being met for you this Christmas then it will be affecting your ability to access other parts of yourself like your creativity, conscious intention and personal growth. Wayne Dyer talks about the power of ‘non-interference’ in parenting. In this article, titled ‘The Enlightened Parent’ Dyer asks: “do you want your children to behave only when you’re around, or do you want them to have the self-discipline to conduct themselves wisely whether you’re there or not? I’ve always believed that parents are not for leaning upon, but rather exist to make leaning unnecessary”.

 

If you find yourself in the opposite role as per the scenario above, whereby you are the guest to an over-attentive host, then see if you can come up with a creative way to give yourself more autonomy. If the host is insistent on controlling every detail in the kitchen then maybe you can keep the kids entertained so they don’t get in the way. Or perhaps you can take charge of setting up a game and explaining the rules to everyone. There will be many ways you can insert yourself into the day without stepping on someone’s shoes. To quote author and speaker Daniel Pink (who appeared on the 4D podcast back in May): “Autonomy is different from independence. It means acting with choice.”

 

Give someone something they really need this Christmas! 

This Christmas, as you are sitting around opening gifts, think about the invisible gifts you can give to a family member, friend or colleague. It might not be something they’ve asked for but it’s definitely something they need. Because they are needs we ALL need! We all want to feel safe, connected, whole and purposeful and we need these needs satisfied in order to access our higher levels of self, like empathy, creativity, conscious intention even to be able to play and be spontaneous. Give yourself- and others- the gift of security, connection, wholeness and autonomy this Christmas and you’ll quickly forget about any rather pointless, weird or disappointing gifts. These gifts are greater than the external signs of Christmas and are the ones that will really make a difference this Christmas and throughout the New Year.

Wishing you all a conscious and connected Christmas and an intentional New Year. Lots of love Philippa and the 4D Team x

 

From Burnt Out to Fired Up

From Burnt Out to Fired Up

Are you headed for burnout? New studies show that chronic workplace stress may be a major cause of burnout. 

Earlier this year I was speaking at a conference in the US. All went brilliantly. The talk was interactive, engaging and thought-provoking. The attendance was fantastic. The atmosphere fun, warm and friendly. The praise and thanks afterwards effusive. An all-out success. Two hours later, back in my hotel, I realised I was running on empty. I finally had to accept something was up. I was burnt out. Still functioning, still able to perform at a high level, still appearing to everyone else to be fine. But burnout sneaks up from below or from the side. And it often hits those of us who pride ourselves on having endless energy and stamina. Which makes it hard to accept that our eternal flame might just be flickering to burnout. So, I decided to take a step back, catch my breath, and hand the poll position in the company to my sister Penelope. A hard decision. And the best decision. I hadn’t stopped since the death of my partner Tom in 2016. And it was time to recharge. Why am I writing this? Because when I told my clients I would be taking some time out I think I expected them to be a bit thrown and a bit disappointed and frankly abandoned. But in fact, they were not only supportive but many of them said to me I was modelling something that perhaps they too should think about doing. And they were right. I have coached a number of execs over the years who have pushed themselves to their limits to perform to their maximum. We’re all at it! And perhaps my move to take time out could do more than simply look after myself. Perhaps it could help others do the same for themselves. 

Six months on I’m gearing back into work. Keynotes and conferences lined up in the diary, new programmes and pilots rolling out and all of it feeling exciting and welcome. And I’m feeling renewed, re-energised and bursting with creativity and new ideas. Oh and there’s nothing like a mini-sabbatical to give one time to toe-dip into dating again….but that’s another story! Back to burnout and what the hell it’s all about…

 

An “occupational phenomenon”

The World Health Organisation recently defined burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” caused by “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” So, this month we’re reigniting the conversation around burnout and attuning ourselves to its early warning signs. How can we become aware of the often-silent signs and signals of this invisible syndrome? And how can we better manage our workload, so that it doesn’t end up managing us? This isn’t just about getting back in the driver’s seat of your life. It’s about understanding the mechanics underneath so that we can live and work at our optimum. Because knowing when to hit the brakes- and when to take a break- is key to building a satisfying and successful career. 

 

What is burnout?

Burnout was first described in 1974 by German-born American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. Freudenberger described burnout syndrome as “becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources in the workplace.” 

Almost 45 years on since Freudenberger coined the term and research suggests that 23% of us are feeling burnt out at work very often or always, while another 44% are feeling burnt out at work sometimes. Given that almost 50% of us will struggle with burnout at least once in our career, why are we not taking it more seriously? 

The early warning signs

According to Freudenberger’s original description, burnout is characterised by a mixture of physical symptoms and behavioural signs. Physical symptoms can show up as fatigue, shortness of breath, digestive issues and insomnia while behavioural signs may include frustration, anger, a suspicious attitude, cynicism and depression. Burnout’s long list of warning signs can explain why it is so difficult to spot because it can look very different from person-to-person. For example, for some people, it may come on more suddenly, in the form of a physical collapse or emotional breakdown. Whereas for others, it may build up over an extended period, showing up as long-term agitation, anxiety and an inability to cope. 

Freudenberger went beyond simply describing the symptoms of the syndrome; he also described the personality traits that predispose someone to burnout and. He believed it was primarily “the dedicated and the committed” who are most likely to burnout. Or as a recent FT article phrased these individuals “insecure over-achievers.”

Thanks to the dawn of the smartphone, the geographical boundaries between work and home no longer apply, giving us remote access to our workload 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And if you have a smartwatch then you may also be able to catch a glimpse of your work emails while you’re taking a class at the gym. On the one hand – literally in the case of the smartwatch! – this is amazing because these technological advancements- amongst other benefits- have enabled companies to offer employees more autonomy over their workload.

However, on the other hand, I wonder whether this non-stop, 24/7 culture makes the “dedicated and committed” workers described by Freudenberger more vulnerable than ever. Is this bigger, faster, stronger, harder mindset causing us to miss the early warning signs of burnout? 

Normalising Stress

It’s become very easy for us to normalise feelings of stress and overwhelm. In fact, for many of us, it’s become a part of the daily narrative we share with our colleagues and friends. Perhaps you are someone who typically tells the “I’m so busy and stressed” story? And perhaps you are very busy and stressed. But do you ever stop to ask yourself why ‘busy and stressed’ has become a normal and culturally accepted part of life? 

 Five monkeys, a ladder, and a banana

In the influential ‘five monkeys’ experiment, a group of scientists placed 5 monkeys in a cage and in the middle, a ladder with bananas on the top. Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, every time a monkey went up the ladder, the others beat up the one on the ladder to avoid getting soaked. The scientists then decided to substitute one of the monkeys. Upon entering the cage, the new monkey immediately went up the ladder. Immediately the other monkeys beat him up. After several beatings, the new member learned not to climb the ladder even though he never knew why. After a while, a second monkey was substituted, and the same thing occurred. And the first monkey participated on beating up the second monkey, even though he’d never been sprayed with water. The same occurred when a third, fourth and fifth monkey was replaced. What was left was a group of 5 monkeys who- even though they had never been sprayed with water- continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder. 

 

This is a great example of the way culture is created and why it perpetuates, even when it no longer makes sense. The experiment speaks to the phrase “that’s just how things are done around here.” When we get stuck in this fixed mindset, we lose sight of reasoning, stop questioning why things are the way they are and stop trying to change it. 

In many work cultures the early warning signs of burnout- stress, fatigue, overwhelm and overwork- have become a part of the ‘that’s just what it’s like around here’ culture. We’ve normalised these important warning signs and as a result, we might be missing the early buildup of burnout. But we can’t spend our whole life living in the fast lane, always operating from a state of stress. Our bodies simply can’t handle being in ‘fight or flight’ mode for that long. And over time, if we don’t listen to the signals the body is sending us, the body burns out. This is its way of forcing us to finally listen to the signals we’ve been ignoring all along.

 

What we need to do about it? 

As Heinemann & Heinemann point out in their 2017 research article: ‘Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis’ 

Freudenberger not only coined the term burnout, he also suggested preventive measures. “Because he believed that burnout is particularly linked to specific working environments and organisational contexts, he proposed intervening at an organisational rather than just an individual level. His recommendations included shorter working hours, regular job rotation, and frequent supervision and staff training.”

Freudenberger was certainly ahead of the curve. He recognised that burnout syndrome was much bigger than the individual it affects but a symptom of the culture he or she is working within. Which is why his advice for beating burnout is still very appropriate for employers and employees in the 21st century. We need to look- not only for the signs and signals of burnout in both ourselves and our colleagues- but also for the culture within which it perpetuates. Question yourself and others if you notice someone normalising stress. Create a dialogue about workload overwhelm. And start a conversation where it is okay not to be okay.

Model this value shift for your colleagues and you will help others to own where they are, get help when they need it and find a balance in life. 

 

From Burnt Out to Fired Up

We urge you to go away and open up a dialogue around burnout in your workplace. If you think you’re too busy all the time, then maybe you are also too busy to be properly listening to the signs of burnout in your own life and noticing them in your colleagues and loved ones. To create space, start a conversation and step into a more self-compassionate way of relating to your workplace stress. 

In Praise of Ordinary

In Praise of Ordinary

Ordinary is the new black

 

Are you tired of trying to be ‘shiny’? Are you bored of comparing yourself with everyone else? Or dissatisfied by the need to constantly compete?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then join us in praising ordinary. This celebration of ordinary is designed to help you to reconnect to your own unique ordinariness and appreciate the ordinariness in everyone else; recognise the value of yours and other people’s everyday ‘ordinary’ offerings; understand that your value is yours to ‘value’- it’s not reliant on anyone else’s’ approval; and enjoy the small, simple moments in order to find more presence and meaning in everyday life. 

 

We live in a society that is obsessed with the idea of being special. We all want to be unique, and to stand out from the rest. Anything to avoid being seen as average, normal, run of the mill and perhaps worst of all… ordinary. In his book ‘Embracing The Ordinary,’ Michael Foley explains that there are “cultural factors such as the new obsession with celebrity that makes anonymous, mundane life seem worse than death.” Yet ‘ordinary’ is a relative concept. What seems ordinary to you might seem very unusual to someone else. So, instead of trying to be special in relation to everyone else, we’re connecting to our own unique ordinariness. Because if we’re all chasing the same ideals, aren’t we in a sense becoming somewhat ordinary. Becoming the same as our neighbour as opposed to embracing the differences that make us who we are in everyday ordinary life.

 

Attuning to Ordinary

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

 

– William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

At the heart of good parenting is attunement. This involves being aware and attentive to the micro moments a baby creates. And this has a lot to with our abilities in non-verbal communication. In fact, this trend continues into adulthood as research shows that over 93% of our communication is non-verbal. It is this “dance of attunement” between parent and child, that builds the foundations for a trustworthy world, within which the child feels safe to take risks and try new things.

As a child starts to take, baby steps (quite literally) parents and caregivers often find themselves amazed by these small and simple moments. They are proud of the baby for simply being a baby and for doing baby things. Not for being special. And this attunement to the micro experiences that the child creates is a crucial element in the attachment process. Under ideal circumstances these processes of attunement shape a young child’s maturation through a meaningful system of communication that provides their infant cues to guide interactions.”

Babies crave to be loved exactly as they are. Yet, as they develop and grow they learn other ways to ‘be special’ beyond simply being themselves. They get called ‘a star pupil’ for getting the top grades in class, or ‘super talented’ when then win the 100m sprint. Simply being themselves is no longer enough in a society that celebrates being ‘special’. Special makes you shiny and different. And thus, the endless striving to be bigger, better, faster, stronger begins…

 

 

You are enough

 

The internet bombards us with visuals that can all too easily trigger a sense of ‘I’m not enough.’ One scroll through Instagram can cause a whole host of unhelpful comparisons that can leave us feeling not fit enough/ rich enough, pretty enough/ thin enough/ smart enough/ happy enough/ present enough. The list goes on.

In his book ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him’ psychotherapist Sheldon Kopp describes a patient’s challenge with “I’m not enough”: “She seemed for a time to be so preoccupied with accomplishing something to please me so that I would accept her, that she absolutely could not comprehend that I liked her very much just the way she was. (If she wanted to change something in herself for her own best interests, I would be willing to help, but I had no personal need for her to change at all.) It was far more frightening for her to accept the way I valued her as a gift, a stroke of grace over which she had no control, than to struggle to find some way to sing for her supper, to purchase acceptance (or at least to rent it). That way, at least, she could maintain the illusion that she had power over my happiness (as well as the option of rescinding it if need be).” What’s interesting is that the patient in this example is more comfortable and secure with her belief in not being good enough, because it offers her a sense of control. After a lifetime of striving and looking for the next thing, stopping and accepting that her ‘ordinary’ is enough might seem a little daunting. 

 

 

Best-selling author, relationship therapist, hypnotherapist trainer and motivational speaker, Marissa Peer, prescribes 3 words to people like the aforementioned patient: I am enough. Peer is a big champion of those 3 words because of her belief that “You are enough not because you did or said or thought or bought or became or created something special, but because you always were.” And Peer suggests saying these words as often as possible, so that we can start building the new belief in our brain’s belief system. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was your brain. So, expect it to take time. However, if you keep repeating and reinforcing the belief, you will start to truly believe it. And you’ll start to see that the people who love you see it- and have always seen it too. Your ordinary self is 100% enough and wonderful exactly as it is. Everything else is an add-on.

 

 

Your obvious is your talent

 

“Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world

– Brené Brown

Keith Johnston, author of ‘Improvisation and the Theatre’ is a big champion of what we like to call ‘obvious creativity.’ “The improviser has to realise that the more obvious he is, the more original he appears.” When an ordinary person is asked to step up on stage and improvise a scene, they might find themselves desperately searching for a clever and original idea. Yet, we are improvising all the time in life- and what an audience likes to see from an improviser is the simple, obvious answers – that the audience member may or may not have considered themselves. Take for example a scene where someone asks “what’s for dinner.” A bad improviser might try to come up with an original and witty idea like “a deep-fried dolphin” yet in reality, “fish and chips” the simple, ordinary answer which first came to mind, is much more likely to delight an audience. This is because no two people are alike. Johnston explains that “the more obvious an improviser is, the more himself he appears. If he wants to impress us with his originality, then he’ll search out ideas that are actually commoner and less interesting.”

 

 

One study, titled the ‘ordinary creative’ argued that: “the potential for creative thinking exists to a greater or lesser degree in everyone. Ordinary creative thinking is proposed as a point of view in which creativity results from ordinary people thinking in identifiably unique ways when they meet everyday problems in real-life situations.” By default, we are all designed for creative and innovative thinking. It’s trying too hard to be special that crushes our capacity for creativity and limits the scope of our imagination. Johnston actually goes so far as to describe an artist as ‘someone inspired by their obvious.’ They are not making any decisions but are instead accepting their first thought. And according to Louis Schlosser, Beethoven once said: “You ask me where I get my ideas? That I can’t say with any certainty. They come unbidden, directly, I could grasp them with my hands.” Suppose Beethoven, or Salvador Dali or any of the other artistic greats had tried to be original? It would have been the undoing of their true selves or as Johnston states: “like a man at the North Pole trying to walk north.” Striving to be special only leads to mediocrity because you end up with a watered-down version of your own obvious, brilliant self. To quote Oscar Wilde: “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.”

 

Catching the big fish

 

“When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else”

 

– Isis Apfel

 

David Lynch, Author of ‘Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity’, aligns the concept of catching ideas with catching fish: “If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.” Yet, these big and beautiful ideas are found within, and are therefore the most ordinary, most obvious and also, the most true to ourselves. To use the beautiful words of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear‘: “One of the oldest and most generous tricks that the universe plays on human beings is to bury strange jewels within us and then stand back to see if we can ever find them.”

 

Live a ‘Lagom’ life

 

I’ve spent a lot of my life being shiny. So much so, that shiny, has started to lose its shine. I find myself much less enamoured by the ‘show’ of special and more interested in the raw and real parts of myself and of others. The parts that make me me, and you you. The parts that make us human. Impressing and performing have their place…and…I’m investing more time co-creating, deeper all-inclusive friendships. Relationships that accept the whole me and not just a one-dimensional, show-pony version of myself. The ordinary, average bits of me that don’t need to say anything to entertain or impress. Or perhaps- as I did with a dear friend the other day- not having to say anything at all. We sat for the afternoon in gentle conversation, shared contemplation and sometimes silence, simply being with each other, as opposed to doing anything or trying to be anyone else. As we were saying goodbye I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that my friend must think I’m incredibly boring. But you know what? She turned to me and told me that that was just the afternoon she’d needed and thanked me for my company. Me doing nothing- simply being ordinary average me- was well and truly enough.

What unremarkable things would people miss about you? And what stupid, silly things would you miss about your nearest and dearest? To quote from The Lake written by Banana Yoshimoto: “It occurred to me that if I were a ghost, this ambiance was what I’d miss most: the ordinary, day-to-day bustle of the living. Ghosts long, I’m sure, for the stupidest, most unremarkable things.” Perhaps when your partner is next away on a business trip, or during the daytime when your kids are at school- stop for a second and notice what you might miss about their everyday, ordinary presence. This quick lesson in gratitude will help you attune to the people you love, like a mother to a baby. A love that loves them for who they are. Exactly as they are. 

Now I know this is hard. A career in acting has made me well aware of the pulls towards shininess. And perhaps now more than ever young children are encouraged to aim for greatness, or else expect a doomed future. We need to take the focus away from special and teach our kids that ordinary is okay too. The Swedish actually have a word for this: “lagom” which means: Not too little. Not too much. Just right. There’s less striving and more space to be satisfied with what you already have. Which aligns with Buddhist teachings in minimalism. Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, is quoted as saying: Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.” Lagom is essentially about mastering the art of moderate, embracing average and celebrating life’s small simple wins. Psychologist Jaime Kurtz, writes in Psychology Today:For a happier, more balanced life, start by asking yourself, “Is this lagom?” Ask it when you look inside your crowded closet, or as you consider your relationship with your work. Ask it when a massive portion of food is placed before you, or as you consider that second bowl of ice cream. Ask it about your life in general. Amid the more typical American life questions, like “Am I joyful?” and “Can I do better?” add in these much more reasonable questions: “Am I content?” “Is this good enough?””

I’m going to add one more to that: am I okay with being ordinary?

 

In Praise of Ordinary

 

Our consumerist culture and societal obsession with celebrity doesn’t make ordinary an attractive or easy destination. But think of it as a journey inwards. Towards destination me. The more ordinary you become the more yourself you’ll be, and thus the more of your unique gifts you’ll have to offer to the world. Instead of trying to be what you think other people want you to be, why not see what your unique ordinary might bring to the party. Your unique ordinary, that makes you unlike anyone else.

 

Embrace ordinary and you might discover a much more extraordinary way of living. One that celebrates average, everyday events and inspires great gratitude for the ordinary relationships and experiences which make up a life. Oscar Wilde once wrote: “Be yourself: everyone else is already taken” I’m going to leave you with this:

“Be your ordinary self and someone else will find you extraordinary.”

The Surprising benefits of being Surprised!

The Surprising benefits of being Surprised!

Is your life made up of lots of little surprises? If not why not!? Shake up expectation, spark up relationships and stay present and proactive by peppering your life with small and simple surprises. This isn’t about great big gestures, or lavish set-ups. In fact, the smaller and more regular the better, because when it comes to surprise, size doesn’t matter.

In this article we’re exploring the brain boosting benefits of surprise and looking at ways we can shake up the script by bringing more of the unexpected into our everyday lives. In fact, we’re redefining what we mean by ‘everyday life’ by swapping mundane and ordinary for unexpected and extraordinary! Join us as we step into surprise and discover some of its startling benefits such as: enhanced memory, increased happiness, strengthened relationships, heightened resilience and greater opportunities to create and innovate.

Surprise yourself

Anyone who has young kids will have heard of the surprise egg videos on YouTube. For those of you who haven’t they are basically videos of someone unwrapping a plastic egg filled with small toys. That’s it. Here’s an example of someone unwrapping several surprise eggs covered in ‘play-doh’. And this 21-minute video has over 600 million views! In his thought-provoking Ted Talk, James Bridle describes these videos as “crack for little kids. There’s something about the repetition, the constant little dopamine hit of the reveal, that completely hooks them in. And little kids watch these videos over and over and over again, and they do it for hours and hours and hours.”

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Now whilst I’m not suggesting you spend your lunch break watching surprise egg videos, there is something to be learnt from this seemingly bizarre obsession. The surprise is very simple. The brain rewards the children with the same feel-good chemicals as if they were opening the surprise eggs themselves. The hippocampus is one of the most important brain regions involved in the discovery process, a crucial component in triggering the surprise sequence in the brain. This is because the hippocampus serves as the brain’s “novelty detector” by comparing the sensory information coming in with what’s already known. If this information differs from what is expected, it triggers the release of dopamine- the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter. This feedback loop is what makes surprise feel so good (and is also what makes these strange videos so addictive to kids!)

In one study 25 people underwent MRI scans while having water or fruit juice squirted into their mouth, either in a predictable or unpredictable pattern. The scans revealed that the brain’s pleasure centre was most strongly activated when the squirts were unpredictable. Researchers commented that: “The region lights up like a Christmas tree on the MRI[when surprised]. That suggests people are designed to crave the unexpected.”

Thankfully there are countless ways to enjoy the benefits of surprise in your everyday life. It could be as simple as changing your usual greeting. Instead of asking your partner “how was your day?” perhaps you ask them: “what was the most exciting thing you did today?” This subtle change has given your partner the opportunity to tell a different story and has given your relationship a chance to break away from its usual script. A small and simple surprise is sometimes all it takes to wake us up to the moment and shine a light on something unfamiliar or new.

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Surprise others

Couples guru John Gottman believes that the secret to a happy relationship is to ’show up’ everyday by doing little things to show that you care. This isn’t about bringing home flowers or cooking a special dinner (although by all means do!) This is about breaking predictable patterns, with small gestures that show not only that you care, but also that you are present in the relationship. To quote John Gottman: “Like the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that in closed energy systems things tend to run down and get less orderly, the same seems to be true of closed relationships like marriages. My guess is that if you do nothing to make things get better in your marriage but do not do anything wrong, the marriage will still tend to get worse over time. To maintain a balanced emotional ecology, you need to make an effort—think about your spouse during the day, think about how to make a good thing even better, and act.” 

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When we look at someone through a lens of expectation and past experience, we don’t give them space to grow. By fixing them in our mind we limit opportunity for growth and development in the relationship. I’m currently reading a fascinating book called Playing Pygmalion: how people create one another and the author Ruthellen Josselson talks about how “we have a stake in people being…what we need them to be for us…[and] when we have sculpted people out of our own need, our relationship with them becomes fulfilling – but lifeless.”

When we’ve known someone for a long time, we can quite easily stop seeing them as they actually are. We see what we choose to see based on our own patterns and conditioning. But actually, we are so much more than that. You may have met an ex and suddenly discover they love scuba diving and mountain biking. Who knew! What has happened is that their new relationship has allowed them to express another part of themselves. To use the wise words of Goethe: “treat an individual as they are and they will remain how they are. Treat him as he ought to be or could be and he will become what he ought to be or could be.” Embracing surprise in relationship can be a hugely transformative tool for reinvigorating and reimagining a relationship. A great example of this in my life is with my relationship with my identical twin sister Penelope Waller. 15 years ago, I never would have dreamed we could work collaboratively and now…we run a company together! With hindsight we can see so many of these wonderful unexpected surprises in my life. Surprises that remind us to regularly shake up relationships, so that they always have the space to develop and grow.

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Surprising strangers

I heard a beautiful story on The Mindvalley Podcast from motivational speaker and therapist Sean Stephenson. Sean learnt about the power of ‘surprise connection’ when he was 8-years old, thanks to a surprise encounter with an airport shuttle driver. Sean stayed at the front of the bus and spoke to the driver for the duration of the ride back to the hotel. Later that evening as he and his family were eating at the hotel’s restaurant, the driver came up to Sean and his family and thanked Sean for talking to him. He told them about how sad and lonely he’d been after a recent divorce and how he had actually planned to take his own life that evening. However, after his unexpected conversation with Sean he realised there was life left in him. And that his life was worth living. Such a small, simple thing, such as talking to a stranger, can be the most wonderful- and perhaps even life-changing- surprise.

We all carry around this power to surprise but we have to be present in order to access it. Because surprise captures our attention, takes us away from our thoughts and gives us a moment of heightened attention. It goes beyond communication. Surprise is about connecting. It is one of the primal threads that has the power to connect us and close the gap between us and ‘other’. So why not surprise yourself and somebody else today? Take a moment to look up from your phone and connect with a stranger. You might be surprised to find that they aren’t that strange after all.

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Surprise innovation

Why should you sprinkle surprise into your next meeting? Because it will trigger a release of dopamine in your colleagues’ brains, boost your team members’ long term memory and will improve their creativity and ability to think outside the box. One study discovered that: “the release of dopamine in the hippocampus of rats activates the synapses among nerve cells, creating stronger connections that lead to long-term memory storage.” Another study took this further and used FMRI scanners to compare long and short-term memory in humans. Test subjects were divided into 2 groups and the first group were shown a series of known images, whereas the second group were shown mix of known and unknown images. The FMRI data revealed that the second group were better at remembering the images as their scans showed greater activity in the SN and VTA areas of the brain.

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Surprise is also a key ingredient for disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovators capitalise on the power of surprise by reaching further, connecting disconnected ideas and embracing blank canvas thinking. So, if you want to redefine a category, create new customer behaviour or change the trajectory of your business, you are going to have to embrace the power of surprise.

An example of surprise innovation comes from King Price Insurance. The company offers an alternative to conventional car insurance plans by offering decreasing premiums in line with a car’s decreasing value. By considering a lot more data, the company has been able to offer cheaper, short-term insurance plans and retain happier customers, who find themselves regularly rewarded with a cheaper rate.

Don’t save up surprises!

With April Fool’s day only a week away, why not start flexing those surprise muscles by startling yourself, your colleagues or even an unknowing stranger! Let’s not save surprise for special occasions. Bring a ‘jack-in-a-box’ attitude into the boardroom, the energy of a party popper to your PT session and the essence of an unexpected win to a weekday dinner date. Bring to mind one person, perhaps a team member, partner or friend, and think of way you can surprise them right after reading this article. Perhaps you text them a quote, send them a thankful email or invite them for a coffee. Something so small and simple can be a great surprise to someone and can have a profoundly positive impact on their aptitude for work, mental health and overall wellbeing. So, don’t wait for their birthday or retirement party to say the things you want to say: surprise them today!

Baggage Reclaim

Baggage Reclaim

In this article we’re reclaiming our emotional baggage and learning how to handle it better. This isn’t about putting down all of our emotional baggage and throwing all of our issues over the floor: it’s about becoming aware of our emotional baggage, accepting that some of it will always be there and helping other people to reclaim and reconnect with their excess baggage too. Because our ‘baggage’ is what makes us human. We are all carrying around a bag of inherited, conditioned and learnt emotional blue prints, as well as challenging life experiences and losses that can- at times- weigh us down. And the more we ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist, the heavier our emotional ‘suitcase’ becomes. Until eventually, it bursts open. Because like a suitcase, we also have a finite capacity of space to pack away our ‘stuff’. When we reach capacity, we can- quite literally- break-down (hence the term ‘having a break down’), perhaps through ill mental health, physical ailments or irrational behaviour.

So, in this article we are inviting you to take ownership of your emotional baggage so that it doesn’t own you. This is all about helping you to: reclaim your own emotional baggage and become curious about the type of emotional baggage that you are carrying. How might you handle your bags better? And how might you help others carry their emotional bags through life? Let’s get unpacking…

Lost Luggage

“Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?”

 

– John Powell

We’ve been conditioned into thinking that negative emotions are “bad”. So, it’s not surprising that we end up ‘bagging’ a lot of these so-called ‘bad’ experiences, emotions and feelings. After a while, we may forget that the ‘bad’ baggage even exists. But the weight of it is still there, whether we choose to see it or not. To quote C. S. Lewis: “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say My tooth is aching that to say My heart is broken.”

Before we think about sharing our ‘stuff’ with others, we must first be open to acknowledging it within ourselves. We must be willing to embrace our ‘secret selves’, the parts of us that we’ve shunned to the shadows. They say ‘sharing is caring’ and that starts with you. Can you be open to giving and sharing your attention with all of the different parts of yourself, even the bits that you don’t like?

Fear of our emotional baggage is what stops us from letting go. And this fear along with avoidance can actually add to the heavy load we may already carrying. So instead of continually fighting with the idea of even having emotional baggage, let’s face up to the fact that we all have emotional baggage. And whilst we may not be able to let go of all of it, perhaps we can learn to lighten the load.

Oversized bags

“We crave permission openly to become our secret selves”

 

– Salman Rushdie.

Taking ownership of our emotional baggage doesn’t mean spilling it all over the floor. There are many parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t want to (and perhaps shouldn’t!) share with our colleagues at work. So instead of dumping your suitcase all at once, perhaps you can take out one item and lighten the load?

One way of doing this is by asking for help with your bags. Maybe you reach out to your partner, a good friend or even a therapist. In one study, ‘talking therapy’ a term used to describe all the psychological therapies that involve a person talking to a therapist about their problems, was found to be as effective as ‘anti-depressants.’ The review included 11 studies, with a total of 1,511 patients and found that people treated with antidepressants and face to face interpersonal talking therapy were equally likely to respond to treatment and to get better. So, it seems there’s some truth to the old idiom, “a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Whilst there are numerous different approaches to ‘talking therapy’ the essence across the range of therapies is the same: to shed light on an issue and heighten awareness through talking. So perhaps there is someone in your life that you can talk to? It might sound simple but sometimes sharing a problem and seeing it through someone else’s eyes can help to lighten the load, one sock at a time…

Baggage Reclaim

“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Now … I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office, and then you move into the people that you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, your brothers, your sisters, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend or your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack … Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake — your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders? All those negotiations and arguments, and secrets and compromises. You don’t need to carry all that weight. Why don’t you set that bag down? Some animals go about their whole lives carrying around other animals in symbiosis. Luckless lovers, monogamous swans… we are not these animals. If we move slowly, we die quickly. We are not swans. We are sharks.”

The above lines were spoken by Bingham (played by George Clooney) in the 2009 film ‘Up in the Air’ What I love about this speech is that it highlights how empty our lives would be without any baggage. He suggests that arguably some of the best bits of our lives- like family and friends- seem to create the biggest amount of baggage. So perhaps this is a good time to emphasise that baggage isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is a part of being a conscious and connected human being. In fact, people who are able to take ownership over their baggage show high levels of what Daniel Goleman called ‘emotional intelligence.’

Reclaiming our emotional baggage helps to raise our conscious awareness, gain perspective and better manage our emotions. And it also models a way of being for those around you and shows them that it is safe to do the same. Because how you are being with difficult experiences will have an impact on the way other people feel they are allowed to behave. What are you allowing other people to share? And how might you better help them to reclaim and carry their bags?

When my partner Tom died in July 2016 I had some incredible support from family, friends, business colleagues and clients. Two and a half years on it is quite natural that the intensity of support lessens. But anyone who has suffered loss, illness or another major life event knows that however much time has passed – we still carry our heavy ol’ suitcase. Maybe we get really good at carrying it, but it is still there. It means the world to me when a family member or friend recognises the case has suddenly become very heavy again and very hard to hold – and sends me a text or even a look or gesture that makes it clear to me that they are aware of what I’m holding. Often lightening the load immediately by at least removing the extra burden of feeling alone.

A ‘Case’ for Creativity

‘You cannot find peace by avoiding life.’

 

– Virginia Wolf

Reclaiming our baggage not only helps us to connect to other people, it also opens up a gateway to a huge amount of creativity. Accessing our pain can in fact be a life source, in a literal way of re-releasing energy for other creative, life-fulfilling pursuits. Edvard Munch’s painting ‘Scream’ expresses the great pain and frustrations that Munch saw as an unavoidable part of the human experience. It is now one of the top 10 most popular paintings in the world. A musical equivalent is Mozart’s Requiem, which was created out of response to his darkest fears in life.

These examples show us the power of channeling our emotional baggage into creative pursuits. Great pain can create great art- whether that be through paint, words, song or dance. Cathy Malchiodi, author of The Art Therapy Sourcebook, is an advocate of art therapy and considers it as “a modality for self-understanding, emotional change and personal growth.”

Perhaps we too can use creativity as a way of processing our emotional baggage and making something meaningful out of it. Maybe your outlet for channeling sadness is a weekly spinning class. Or could a pottery course be your way to process pain? Creativity is an incredible resource for emotional release and can literally turn our most difficult experiences into works of art. To use the words of American novelist Matthew Specktor, “I think it’s what fiction is for: to illuminate that gap between our secret selves and our more visible and apparent ones.”

Shiny Surfaces

“Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides”

 

– André Malraux.

In the last few years of her life, Marilyn Monroe sat in various parks across New York in her married role of Mrs. Miller, watching children play and occasionally asking mothers if she could hold their babies. Grieving another miscarriage and feeling isolated in her marriage to Arthur Miller, Marilyn appeared to the other women in the park as an ordinary woman. A woman who was shy, curious as well as desperately sad and lonely. Some of the mothers worked out the real identity of Mrs. Miller and saw the huge gap that had opened up between the Hollywood star and the ordinary woman. A woman who was seen to be the very icon of beautiful, happy, successful, sexy and lucky, but who really was lost –never able to truly step ‘off stage’ and be happy in her real self, or to own her real life. To use the wise words of Brene Brown: “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that really prevents us from taking flight.”

Like Marilyn Monroe we too lug around the weight of unmet expectations. But often we show the opposite to the world. Many of us are sharing various aspects of our lives online, presenting picture perfect happiness (literally!) Some 78% of 18- to 24-year-olds use Snapchat, and a sizeable majority of these users (71%) visit the platform multiple times per day. However, reality and virtual reality are not the same thing.

 

I was recently on a retreat where there also happened to be some people from the cast of a well know TV reality show. They were lovely young people. And you might not be surprised to hear that they were constantly on their phones and posing for photos. What was interesting was the difference between the reality (at the retreat) and the image presented (on Instagram). Of course, there were tangible differences, changed via some clever edits and filters. Yet what struck me the most was how much they ‘set the scene’ to look like they’d just snapped themselves ‘having fun in the pool’ or ‘topping up a tan.’ When really the most memorable, connecting, human times were when we shuffled around in our robes and slippers together, no make-up, no glossy hairdos – just having a laugh and enjoying taking time out.

I’m sure many of us at times can feel like Marilyn Monroe or Instagram stars. Hiding behind a guise of perfection and pretending that we don’t have any emotional baggage. And as in the case of Marilyn Monroe, this story of perfection can sometimes be too big a burden to bear. For both ourselves and others because it also sets a precedent to those around you. If you are only choosing to share an ‘image’ of happiness and success then are you, on a subconscious level, suggesting that everyone else should only share the same?

Unpacking…

Embracing the emotional baggage in your life will not only help you to lighten the load, it will also help those around you to do the same. What might you allow your colleagues, partner and children to share if you step up and start writing a new story around emotional baggage? We’re always going to have a certain amount of baggage: it’s a part of being human. Which is why the more you embrace your bags, the more you learn to love and accept yourself.

How might you acknowledge and address your own, ever-changing emotional baggage? And how might you help someone else carry their heavy load?

Takeaways:

  1. Think about 1 or 2 pieces of emotional baggage you are carrying. Can you share them with someone close? Can you thank those pieces of baggage for the lessons or experiences they have given you? Can you take them out of your suitcase entirely?
  2. Whether it’s at work, home or in your community – can you identify someone that you know is carrying a lot of emotional baggage? Have they been carrying it for so long that everyone assumes it’s gone? What might you ask them? How could you check in with them to let them know you see them, and see the burden they bear.