We’re all in this together…and ‘this’ can feel very different.

We’re all in this together…and ‘this’ can feel very different.

In this article, 4D’s Katie Churchman is discussing the diverse range of pandemic experiences. Maybe you’re sad, happy, frustrated, jealous, hopeful. And maybe that’s okay. As opposed to labelling them in a binary way- right/wrong, good/bad- can we sit with them in the grey space and see what they’re trying to say?

I love the sentiment behind ‘we’re all in this together’ and I certainly sense more appreciation for community in my own local and global networks. Tom Moore- the 100-year old war veteran who raised over £30 million for the NHS is a great symbol for this shared sentiment. His efforts- walking 100 laps of his backyard with a walking frame- captured the hearts of people all over the globe. Yet just because we are sharing similar sentiments with our global neighbours, it doesn’t necessarily mean our emotional experience of the pandemic is in any way the similar. Even if someone is having a similar external experience- regarding finances, space and social contact- their internal system might be impacted in a very different way.

 

 

Stop comparing

  

Social media has- for a long time- been a comparison trap. When we see the edited version of our friend’s #amazinglife we may find ourselves feeling a little less good about our own. During the pandemic, we may find that some of these impacts have been heightened. Even though we know, on some level, that it’s been edited and tailored to create a certain impact, it’s hard not to feel less than adequate when you learn about your co-worker’s perfect home-schooling routine, super organised house, and the fact that she ran a half-marathon last Thursday (just for #fun!). You may be thinking ‘how is she thriving while I’m struggling to [X]’ (you can fill in the blank.)

Well firstly, know that everyone in your network will be dealing with some sort of challenge. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert from her recent TED Connects talk, “I think you would have to be either a sociopath or totally enlightened not to be feeling anxiety at a moment like this.” We’ve all been challenged differently by this uncertainty and change. So whether we choose to show it or not, we are human, and we’ve all found different parts of this hard.

 

 

I know some people who are completely overwhelmed and exhausted juggling multiple roles- perhaps as a mum, manager and- as of 6-weeks ago- a home-school teacher. And yet at the other end of the spectrum, I know people who are incredibly lonely and struggling to fill their time. The breadth of experience is massive.

All of these challenges are related to Covid-19. And yet they are all vastly different. So try not to compare your response patterns to others. There’s no ‘right way’ of doing lock-down. This is unfamiliar and uncertain territory for all of us and we’re all trying to work through it in the best way we can.

 

Self-Compassionate Inquiry  

 

It’s one thing to talk about the diversity of experience in the world around us. But there’s also a real range of experiences and emotions going on within us. I know I’m not alone in feeling like I’m riding a wave of emotions: one day feeling positive and energized, then the next I’m feeling hopeless or guilty that I’m not feeling more grateful for what I’ve got.

When the negative emotions show up what we can do is lean in with compassionate inquiry. We can lean into the hurt, anxiety or anger and softly find out what it wants. There are many ways of stepping into this sort of internal inquiry and a practice I am enjoying at the moment is Byron’s Katie’s 4 questions.

 

Katie- known for her international bestseller ‘The Work’– has a wonderfully straight-forward approach to self-inquiry: “If I can teach you anything, it is to identify the stressful thoughts that you’re believing and to question them, to get still enough so that you can hear your own answers.  Stress is the gift that alerts you to your asleepness.  Feelings like anger or sadness exist only to alert you to the fact that you’re believing your own stories.” When you believe your stressful thoughts – or any negative thoughts for that matter– you will suffer, in one way or another, sooner or later.

Instead of ignoring or feeling overwhelmed by these negative thoughts, we can choose to get curious and interrogate them with Katie’s 4 simple questions:

 

  1. Is it true? – this is a yes or no answer. If yes, move to question 2. If no, experience it as a no for a moment and then move to question 3.
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Dig deeper.
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe your thought? How does it show up in your body? What’s the impact it has on you?
  4. Who would you be without that thought? Notice what is revealed.

 

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”

– Byron Katie

 

Lean in with compassionate inquiry and find out what information is arising. What does that part of you need to feel safe and secure? Get curious, be kind and try not to judge what comes up. Just notice.

  

You are enough

 

Whilst I’m impressed by the creativity that has emerged from the crisis, I’m somewhat tired by the endless drive to fill this time with something worthwhile and productive. No, you don’t have to write a book, or get a 6-pack, or learn how to cook like a Michelin star chef to use this time effectively. Right now, doing the normal things, like getting up, getting dressed and making breakfast should be heralded as big wins. Small victories in a sea of change.

It makes me think of James Clear’s book ‘Atomic Habits’ and his idea that tiny habits are the ‘compound interest of personal development.’ Whist admirable, big goals focus on ‘winning the game.’ Whereas a ‘system of habits’ focuses on continuing to play the game. This is why good habits often don’t surpass their goals. For example, we train for a 5km run, we run a 5km, and then we stop running. Further still, goals don’t separate the winners from the losers. Everyone entering a competition or interviewing for a job has the same goal: to win the race or to get the job. The difference between the best of the best and everyone else is that the former has a system of habits that support the big goal.

 

A goal might set you off in the right direction. But it’s the small daily habits- or the ‘Atomic Habits’ as Clear likes to call them- that create real and meaningful change. So ask yourself: do you want to run every day during lock-down or do you want to be a runner beyond the pandemic? And do you want to write a book during quarantine or do want to become a writer? It’s a subtle shift but it’s difference between doing something in the short-term and becoming someone in the long-term. And right now, I do believe we’ve been given a rare opportunity to create new habits. But start small. Keep it simple. And stay consistent. What’s the smallest viable step that you can take towards your big goal? Maybe it’s a walk around the block. Or drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up. Whilst these small habits may seem inconsequential in the short-term, they build up over time. As Clear says: “Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it.” And here’s the math: “If you can get 1 per cent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 per cent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero.”

Writing for 10-minutes each day might not seem like that much. But times that by the number of days you’ve been in lock-down and it starts to add up…

 

One Pandemic. A Million Experiences.

 

This is true of the pandemic and life in general. Even if we had identical lock-down situations, we would still experience them very differently. Because we aren’t the same. Our external and internal worlds are so different, and the challenges vary drastically.

 

With that in mind, can we step-in and embrace this diversity of experiences, within ourselves and in other people? We’ve never walked a mile in someone else’s’ shoes. And equally, they’ve never walked a mile in ours. So, I leave you with a revision of ‘we’re all in this together’: Can we all be in this together with whatever shows up? Can we honour the diversity and hold the paradox within…?

The pandemic is so many things. There’s so much goodness showing up and there’s much to grieve. And just like life, it’s not one ‘thing.’

 

5 Qualities to help us Overcome Curveballs

5 Qualities to help us Overcome Curveballs

We are all together in this Coronavirus curveball. So, what should we do? How should we be?

 

If you’ve never experienced a curveball in your life – then you are one of the lucky ones. Most of us, certainly after a certain age, have had to cope with sudden loss, illness, incidents, redundancies, relationships ending unexpectedly, betrayals, shocks and disappointments. And throughout all of that many of us cling to the things we can still find certainty in – our work, our passions, a nice meal in the pub, a dance class, a football match and seeing friends and family. But all of us today are experiencing those familiar rugs being pulled from under our feet.

 

I think a lot about curveballs and how we cope emotionally, psychologically and socially when they happen. Personally because of things that have happened in my life and professionally, because I and my 4D colleagues help organisations, leaders and teams navigate change and uncertainty – through keynote speaking and face to face or online workshops and coaching. When facing massive change in your personal life you might find certainty and solace in your workplace, and when struck by uncertainty at work we might find comfort in the familiar routine of home. But now, both personally and professionally, our worlds have been rocked. 

Here we are – day by day watching the statistics and graphs curving up to one of the biggest curveballs any of us have ever faced.

Once this has passed, we will look back at how we responded. At what legacy we created about ourselves. And right now is the time to start consciously responding and behaving in a way we will be proud of.

I and my partners at 4D Human Being believe there are five key skills and qualities that we all need to tap into when curveballs strike: Resilience, Connection, Adaptability, Communication and Storytelling.

 

1. Resilience

 

On July 19th 2016 I was staying with my sister in Sussex, when I received a phone call from the police at 6 a.m. I was soon struck with the horrifying news that around midnight the night before, my partner Tom had taken a piece of rope and driven himself to a motorway bridge in North London, where he had taken his own life. The curveball had hit. I don’t need to tell you of the anguish and pain that followed. And… amidst the shock and the horror and the grief and the fear, I was a single woman with a business that supported both me and my sister and her three children. As well as our other wonderful 4D team members. On some level, I simply had to dig deep, tap into my resilience and carry on. Five weeks later I was standing on stage in Las Vegas delivering a high energy Impact seminar to over 2000 people. It wasn’t that I didn’t still feel all the pain and hurt, it was that there was another part of me that I could access, a part that could connect to a wider purpose and be of service to others. Because in a curveball, in spite of our fear, we often need to find the strength and resilience within us that can create some scaffolding for us to see a crisis through. I needed, and wanted, to keep working, to keep sharing a message of courage and positivity that not only helped my audience but supported me as well. So, what is it you know about yourself? What quality can you dig deep into and tap into right now? What helps you feel resilient? Is it gathering information? Staying physically strong? Self-compassion? Or is it, like me, through tapping into your personal energy and wider purpose? How can you identify your key strengths and qualities and so dig into your own inner resilience and resources? And how can you help others to do the same? It might not take away the fear and anxiety, but it may well help you to turn a corner through these tough times.

 

 2. Connection

 

Eleanor and I were actors together back in the day and worked together in a number of plays at the magical Watermill Theatre in Newbury. In between rehearsal and performances, she and I became firm friends, spending our time howling with laughter, writing comedy songs on the guitar and drinking far too much cheap white wine. With very few cares in the world, neither of us could have imagined the curveballs that lay waiting for us in our futures. For my dear friend Eleanor, hers came on a cold January morning in 2008. Early that day, she had woken up in her house and went to stir her two children out of bed. As she moved towards her toddler Miranda’s cot, she felt the horrifying chill that something was wrong. Something was more than wrong. Miranda had died suddenly during the night. At the time her death was recorded as sudden infant death syndrome but is now understood to have been sudden unexplained death in childhood which can affect children between the ages of 1 and 19. My friend faced one of the worst things that can happen to a fellow human being. So began a desperately difficult journey of working through her loss and grief. I saw Eleanor frequently over the following months and marveled at the honesty, openness and incredible strength she showed as she dealt with her pain. One quality stood out to me and helped me through my own curveball some years later. Eleanor very carefully and very consciously drew in the friends and support network that would help see her through. She understood at a fundamental level how vital human connection was going to be to support her healing. She decided very clearly who she needed to be around at that time and what each friend, relative and acquaintance could offer her and help her with. She also understood something else important to her healing – who she did not need to be around. With friends and family who, for whatever reason, she found it difficult to be around – because they were pregnant or had little girls of their own – she gently asked them to love her through this as she pressed a careful pause on connections that were hard or complicated. Increasing the connections that could support her in the way she needed. Eleanor continues to use connection today to help others heal through her wonderful work as a horticultural therapist.

When curveballs come, connection and the support of our network is vital. When our world has been turned upside down, we need the solidity and support of those who care about us. The human brain is wired for connection. We human beings did not survive and adapt alone. We did it together. And that’s how we will do it now. I am reminded of the postcards people are creating to check in with elderly people who are self-isolating. Who can you reach out to, or who can you ask for help during this time? Personally, professionally, or at an organisational level? Who could simply do with a card through their door or a text message or a facetime call to know you are thinking about them?

 

 3. Adaptability

 

On July 7, 2007, four bombs went off in quick succession in the city of London. Three on the tube network and one on a number 30 bus in Tavistock Place. A young woman named Martine Wright, was on her way to work when one of the bombs detonated in the train-carriage she was in. She was the last survivor to be rescued and had lost nearly three-quarters of her blood by the time the fire brigade cut her free. The doctors at Royal London Hospital managed to save her life but both of her legs had to be amputated. She woke up from the disaster to a very different reality. But in spite of the hardships and enduring pain and grief, she managed to make the most amazing adaptation and pivot on her life. Five years later in July 2012 she was picked to represent Great Britain’s women’s sitting volleyball team in the 2012 Summer Paralympics. She demonstrated huge adaptability, responding to her new reality and what was available to her. Not just by compromising or making do, but by adapting creatively and personally flourishing in order to find a whole new way of being.

This is a key skill that we are being called upon to tap into right now. We have to tap into our adaptability. As Charles Darwin suggested – it is not the survival of the fittest but the most adaptable. In challenging times, we need to increase our personal adaptability. And we need to adapt our organisational processes and products. Asking ourselves…what might be possible? If I waved a magic wand…? What is it that people need right now that I might be able to offer? How can I use the fact that everything seems turned upside down to be creative and to offer something completely different? This is the time to tap into your creativity and to increase your improvisational skills. This is the time for right-brain, right hemisphere thinking – recognizing that we can no longer rely on the old way of doing things; we cannot fix our current problems with the same old thinking that got us here. We have to create something new. New processes, products and new ways of being together.

 

4. Communication

 

What would you do if you suffered 63% burns to your body? And were given a 5% chance of surviving? In 2007 a handsome, vibrant young man named Jamie Hull was faced with precisely this curveball. He had decided to fulfil his life-long dream of becoming a pilot. Near the end of his intensive flying course in Florida and having completed a number of solo flights, Jamie was within sight of his private pilot’s license. Then on another routine flight in a Liberty XL2 two-seater, to clock up his flying hours, Jamie, 1000 feet up, with no parachute and wearing only light summer clothes, suddenly realized his engine was on fire. Within seconds he was no longer flying a plane, but a fireball. Jamie did some incredible quick-thinking – levelling the aircraft 15ft above the ground, slowing to 30 knots, before opening the door, climbing onto the left wing of the plane and leaping out. Alive but horrifically burned, Jamie began a long, painful recovery process. And every day as he pressed on, Jamie found himself questioning his motivation to go on living.

A few months ago, I had the privilege of watching Jamie address an audience in the Painted Hall at the Royal Navy College in London. He had the courage to step out on stage and communicate his story in support of the charity that had supported him – Help for Heroes. Jamie has managed to turn some of his darkest moments into insights of wisdom for communication, impact and creating a difference. By reaching out and telling his story, he has inspired others to believe that they too can navigate their way through difficult times. Communication is so key during difficult times. We as a human race are not the stories and the messages we keep locked in our heads. We are the stories and messages we share in the world. I firmly believe you cannot over-communicate with your employees and your colleagues at times like this. Stay in touch, keep people motivated and let them know you are with them and there for them. These simple, yet-heart felt moments of communication and motivation, can be a powerful way to counterbalancing the impact of curveballs.

 

5. Storytelling 

 

On Saturday 13th September 2014 at 3.31pm I received an email from my friend Anna. She wrote to me from a well-known children’s hospital in London to say her four-year-old little girl, Claudia, had been diagnosed with Leukaemia. Nine years earlier, Anna and I had met walking our dogs in a London park. Her mother had met me first and said you must meet my daughter, you and she are going to become the best of friends. And we did. From wild nights out to deep existential conversations, we delighted in finding each other and the universe bringing us together.

Now, 9 years later, Anna was facing a devastating curveball. Her daughter’s Leukaemia treatment would start with an intensive five-month process and ultimately would take two and a half years in total. While Anna of course acknowledged that what she and her partner were going through was shocking and surreal, what stood out to me right from this initial moment was how conscious she was of the story and narrative she chose to create. Yes, Anna’s storytelling accepted the reality of the curveball they had been thrown, and…it also focused heavily on the positive. In that very first email she wrote that for children in Claudia’s age bracket the “cure rates are very high, over 90%,” that her daughter would, in time, “return to her childhood and go to school and play with her friends.” A little later Anna spoke to me about the clear choice she was making around the language and story she would be using to herself, to others and most importantly to Claudia. She didn’t use the words ‘disease’ or ‘illness’, instead she spoke of ‘treatment’ and ‘getting well.’ For her daughter, the weeks of hospital and procedures were simply part of a journey to wellness so she could get back to school and once again be the healthy, fun-loving little girl she was.

Throughout those critical years, Claudia never had a sense of something being wrong with her, only of things moving towards being even better.  I am so happy to say that Claudia is now in wonderful health – a smart, bright, creative and gorgeous 9-year-old living, learning, loving and laughing to the full.

In these coming weeks and months it is more important than ever that we are conscious both about the stories – and media – we allow ourselves to listen to and the stories we choose to tell.

Storytelling is vital for successfully navigating our way through a curveball. Whether it’s your personal story or the story of your organisation, you can choose which stories define and shape you. SO how can you become more conscious of the words you use and the stories you tell? How can you shape your stories to be true and at the same time helpful and hopeful, woven through with positivity and possibility?

 

We are always at choice…

 

One of my former partner Tom’s favourite phrases was ‘Are you happening to the world, or is the world simply happening to you?’ In my work as director, speaker and coach at 4D Human Being and as a psychotherapist, I and my 4D colleagues come back to this phrase again and again as a vital touchstone to our belief that we always have a choice. Whatever happens, even in the worst of circumstances, we always have a choice how to respond. So, as we all deal with the curveball of Coronavirus, we can choose to let events happen to us or we can make choices to deal with events in a conscious way – so we can be “always at choice.”

 

These five skills and qualities of Resilience, Connection, Adaptability, Communication and Storytelling can serve as touchstones for us all to help remind us we all have what it takes to see us through even the most difficult of times. We can, and must, all stay connected and together in our efforts to deal with the crisis and be kind and thoughtful to our fellow humans. We can keep communicating and motivating others to do the best they can. We can adapt quickly and find new routines and make new meaning. We can choose whether we are the victim or the hero of our own story. And we can choose to consciously create a narrative and meaning that gives us and others hope, positivity and purpose in the coming weeks.

#AlwaysAtChoice 

4-Dimensional Dreaming

4-Dimensional Dreaming

Never stop dreaming. 

 

Dreams are not a childish waste of time. It’s in our dreams that we plant the seeds of our future. Today, we’re matching the power of dreaming with the energy of intention, so that we can catch our dreams and turn our wildest fantasies into our reality.

 

In this article, we’re looking at how we might live from our dreams in lots of different ways. We may have some disappointed dreams. Perhaps your job, hobbies, house or social life might not look exactly like you dreamt at 10-years old (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!) But are there parts of the dream or attitudes of the dreaming that you can bring into your adult life? In 2007 Randy Pausch delivered his “Last Lecture.” A month before giving the lecture Randy had received the prognosis that his pancreatic cancer was terminal. So Randy used his ‘last lecture’ as an opportunity to impart his final wisdom on the world. And what did the professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University choose to present on? “Achieving your childhood dreams.” In this surprisingly upbeat and light-hearted lecture, Randy talks about how you can still accomplish your childhood dreams and truly live your life to the fullest. 

Join us as we look at ways we can reinvent our childhood dreams and bring an attitude of dreaming into our everyday interactions. To quote the American poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”

So…let’s get dreaming!

 

 

Distill your Dreams

 

You can still live from your childhood dreams. Because your dreams don’t have to look exactly as they did when you were growing up. Not if we deconstruct the dreams and capture the essence of the dreaming.

In ‘The Last Lecture’ Randy Pausch talks about his childhood dream of wanting to be an astronaut. However, as he got older he realised that it wasn’t blasting thousands of miles up into orbit that was the aspiration. Rather – the fun and fascination of floating in zero gravity was really at the very heart of his dream. What this distilling process left him with was the dream in its purest, simplest form. And this was a much more reachable dream that he could realise in many different ways. 

So, how did Randy do it? Well as it turns out NASA has something called a vomit comet they use to train astronauts, which offers the experience of weightlessness for about 25 seconds. NASA offered a programme where college students could submit proposals to win a flight on the vomit comet. So, Randy got a team of his students together and they won. But unfortunately, Randy missed the T&Cs which stated that under no circumstances were faculty members allowed to fly with their students. Luckily there was another bit of small print stating that students were allowed to bring a local journalist with them…and just like that Randy retracted his application as a college professor and applied again as a web journalist accompanying the students and as a result accomplished his childhood dream of experiencing weightlessness!

Could you put some of your long-shot childhood fantasies through this distilling process and live from these dreams in different and perhaps more tangible ways? Distilling or deconstructing your childhood dreams can help you to uncover the essence of the dream and will give you clarity around what you really want. As Randy Pausch realised, he didn’t really want to live the life of an astronaut and spend months away from family and friends. What he wanted was to experience weightlessness. And that was a dream he managed to accomplish. 

Let’s follow in Randy’s powerful footsteps and take a moment to deconstruct one of your childhood dreams. Perhaps you wanted to be a ballet dancer. What was it about that dream that you were specifically attracted to? Maybe it was the physical expression, the performance, the storytelling through movement. From here you can dig further still. What was it about the physical movement that made your heart sing? Maybe it was the flow, the symmetry or the precision. Keep going until you believe you’ve captured the essence of the dream. An essence that you can live from in lots of different ways. You may discover you can find a similar sense of flow or symmetry on the yoga mat. Or maybe you- like me- make your dream an important part of your personal life… 

 

Build your hobbies into your dreams

 

Hands up, I have a fantasy of being on Strictly Come Dancing! 3 years ago, I started taking ballroom dancing lessons. And I immediately fell in love with the grace and flow of ballroom and the patterns and precision of the different dances. Yet the dream- to dance on Strictly- still sang in the background. And if we don’t chase our dreams, we will never catch them.

But what was it about the Strictly Dream that I longed for? The glamour, the dresses, the competition, the grace, the show. The whole thing. And all of those elements are things I can chase in my personal practice- without having to become a professional dancer. How? By entering an amateur ballroom competition. These kinds of competitions are totally accessible and represent a truly tangible way I can turn my hobby, something I love to do in my free time, into my dream. It doesn’t have to be our profession or a full-time job for it to be achievable. Not if we deconstruct the dreaming and look at other ways we can accomplish our dreams through our hobbies.

Put your goal out there and then rub out the fixed path because there are many routes to accomplishing a dream. Setting a goal doesn’t often give you a clear set of directions. What it gives you is much more powerful: it gives your internal compass a bearing and sets you off in the right direction. But there are still are many other paths along the way. Stay open and you might be surprised by which one leads you to your dream. 

They say don’t judge a book by its cover. Well, the same applies to dreaming: don’t judge a dream by its title, as you’ll be undermining its depth and limiting opportunities to live from it in lots of different ways. 

 

Dream Blockers

 

“Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.” 

 

– Albert Einstein

Can we dare to dream in spite of the potential set backs? Some of the past century’s most inspirational leaders were people who were told no, experienced  great set-backs but dared to dream on anywhere. Martin Luther King is a perfect of example of someone who experienced dream blocks, yet continued to keep the dream alive by looking for ways around the dream block and towards the same end goal. 

Many things can block our dreams. We don’t operate within a vacuum. We are always dealing with the 2 Contexts as we call them at 4D: our environment and shared culture. Our environment is all the tangibles, like the weather, and the country you live in. Our shared culture is other people. A lot of these things are out of our control. And they can have a big impact on our dreams. Maybe our families had different dreams for us? Or perhaps society’s version of success has impacted the career we chose? 

So how do we push back out into the world when the world around us is blocking our dreams?

By waking up the 4th dimension: the intentional dimension. This is your best friend when it comes to dream enhancement. If you reach a road block to your dream, how might you find another way through, in order to reach the same end goal?

 

Activated Dreaming

“Dreams don’t work unless you do.” 

 

– John C Maxwell, ‘The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader’

Bringing your intentional dimension online is vital for achieving your dreams. However, living with intentionality isn’t simply about setting an intention and then sitting back and enjoying the show. Intentionality is something that impacts all of your other dimensions. It’s not simply something you say or do; it’s something that affects your whole being.

 

So, how can we activate our intentions in order to live with intentionality? We can start to match intention with action. Say for example you have a big dream to one day run a marathon. That’s the intention you’ve set yourself.  To activate this dream, of course you’re going to have to start training! And as sports psychologists know, it is our intentional self that is going to make the difference as to whether our training is successful. Because, if the training feels physically hard, we may emotionally feel despondent, intellectually you may be telling yourself a story about being useless at running, and so perhaps you don’t push yourself as hard, so you feel disheartened and so the cycle continues. This will lead to an undermining of progress. And this unhelpful circle of feeling/thought/behaviour can appear in all areas of our lives and is why it is so important to keep our intentional dimension activated and online. Because of course when we’re tired, busy, despondent or stressed it’s all too easy to fall into our default ways of operating. And it’s our intentional dimension that keeps us motivated and our dreams on track.

Living with intentionality is the best way to fast-track your way to your dreams and help to keep you moving forward step by step in the direction of you dream. There is perhaps no better example of this than Walt Disney. He matched the magic of his dreams with the energy of intention and quite literally built his dreams into being- a reality I’m sure you’ve had the joy of exploring, whether that be via wandering the magic kingdom or watching a film. To quote the man himself: “First, think. Second, dream. Third, believe. And finally, dare.”

 

Dream Team

 

To use the wonderful words of John Lennon: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” We all have dreams, however big or small. So how might the people around us help us with our dreams? And how might we help other people to achieve their dreams? Let’s use the power of dreaming and our ‘4D Dream Team Guide’ to help our team achieve even greater things…

 

Become who you want to become

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” 

 

– George Bernard Shaw

Dream dreams that are bigger than the things you could do. Dream about who you could be and step into a new way of being and experiencing the world. As Dan Pallotta says in his TED talk ‘The dream we haven’t dared to dream: “It’s time for us to dream in multiple dimensions simultaneously, and somewhere that transcends all of the wondrous things we can and will and must do lies the domain of all the unbelievable things we could be.”

Who do you want to be? For both yourself and also the people around you….

We used to think that the brain was fixed from around the age of 30. Over the past two decades, research into neuroplasticity has proven that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, our brain’s change at a slower rate at 7-years old compared to when we are 77-years old. But our brains are still building and changing right into later life. And that’s exciting because the science tells us that as human beings, we’re not fixed but constantly evolving. So, the question we should all be asking ourselves is: what kind of human being do we dream of being?

What would be your dream story about you? Maybe it’s around being funny. So, what behaviours would help you to build a new belief system around comedy? Perhaps it’s as simple as learning a joke a day and sharing your favourite one in your bi-weekly team meeting. Or maybe you sign-up for an improvised comedy course and try out some spontaneous comedy. Step in to the dream of who you are and your beliefs about yourself will follow. Be the thing you want to be, with regards to your actions, words and thoughts, and step into a version of you that you’ve always dreamt of.

 

 

Dare to Dream 

 

Our modern world stems from dreams – dreams turned into reality. So if we want to help shape the experience of ours and others lives, we have to value the dreaming stage in any project, decision or relationship.  Never stop dreaming, because living with an attitude of activated dreaming can completely transform yours and others experience of life and inspire your teams, friends and family to think outside of the box and push through boundaries.

Of course, dreaming comes more easily to some of us than others. So if you’re someone who struggles with dreaming, try asking yourself these 4 questions in order to fire up your dream muscles, and you might notice how much richer your life becomes and how much bolder and braver you can be! You may find yourself surprised by the dreams that arise…

 

1. What do you want your days to consist of?

Take a moment to think about the things you love to do, the places you like to go and the people you enjoy being around.

2. Imagine your 8-year old self…What did they dream of?

And how might you bring elements of these childhood fantasies into your adult life?

3. Now imagine your 80-year old self…What did they dream would happen?

How much of their dream could you make come true? Now plan it!

4. And finally, if your life were a movie what character would you be?

What appeals to you about the character or story plot? And how might you bring parts of that character into your everyday life?

 

Your reality starts from the essence of your dreams and the dreams of those close to you, so start living from your dreams today – with your whole being- and watch as your fantasies turn into your reality. Remember “You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, How you gonna have a dream come true?” (South Pacific, “Happy Talk”).

 

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.

 

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.”

Back to the beginning…

Back to the beginning…

 

Beginnings are often associated with birth, January 1st, introductions and first dates. Yet each and every moment is, in itself, a beginning. We just aren’t always aware of these beginnings because they blend into the backdrop of our everyday lives. Just like the first bite of cake, beginnings bring an intensity that soon gets diluted as we start to normalise our experience, and by the 4th bite you’re bored and wishing you’d gone for the caramel slice instead. Same cake, different attitude.

When we adopt a beginner’s mindset we create a playful absence of assumption, free from fear and open to unexpected opportunity. Knowledge might give us power, but not knowing offers us an open book. So how might a beginner’s mind help you to invigorate your life with new perspective and purpose? And how might you bring your work, home and relationships back to the beginning? Back to that feeling of brand new… 

When I was 22 I went to RADA to study acting. I wanted to learn the art of creating life on stage and for several years I told stories on stages all over the world. Yet, what I discovered was that creating life on stage was the easy bit: keeping it up was the challenge. It didn’t matter how exciting the play was or how big my part, as soon as the lines and staging became familiar I would sense myself becoming complacent. Once the first few nights were out of the way I’d have to work really hard to keep my performance fresh, so not to slip into a robotic run-through of the play. Life on the other hand is not limited by a script, directions or staging and is essentially one long improvisation. Yet in spite of this freedom, a sense of ‘normality’ can creep into almost every aspect of our lives. As soon as we become accustomed to something, whether it be people or projects, work or home life, we start to look for what we expect. To use the well known phrase, familiarity breeds contempt. Yet, as with many common sayings we might do well to investigate how true this really is. Is familiarity really the cause of our contempt? Or is something else causing our disappointment with the ordinary? Maybe we’ve simply stopped seeing how extra ordinary our ordinary lives are.

 

Bad Beginnings

Beginnings can be hard because they expose us to the unknown. The unfamiliar can cause us to fear failure and worry that we won’t be good enough. However, it’s important to remember that anyone who ever did anything was once a beginner because no one starts at the top. Standing at the bottom of a mountain might seem daunting but it can also be exciting, as it offers new possibility, potential and perspective. Unfortunately, the modern world encourages habit and regularity and brings to mind the motto made famous by Fatboy Slim: “Eat Sleep Rave Repeat.” We repeat things reliably and expect the expected in the belief that this will keep our lives safe and stable.

Our everyday lives aren’t scripted and yet we try to schedule them according to a predetermined plan based on memory and past experience. So, what happens when life doesn’t live up to our expectations? When your morning train is delayed by 15-minutes? Or your partner gives you a boring birthday present? We can find ourselves frustrated and disappointed that life didn’t live up to our expectations. And this unconscious creation of what you think will happen can cause you more distress than the situation itself. You have set yourself an illusion of certainty in an uncertain world. A world which you can’t control.

With hindsight I can see that what I loved most about performing was rehearsing. I was so often focused on the end result: the applause, the audition outcome or the review. But really, where I got most satisfaction was during the rehearsal process. As soon as I became an ‘expert’- when I knew all my character’s lines, actions and thoughts- the work was never quite so exciting. So in a sense, I longed to be a beginner again. As much as they were scary, auditions, read throughs and opening nights were some the most exciting experiences of my career.

 

Buddhism and Beginnings

The notion of ‘beginner’s mind’ originates from zen buddhism. To use the words of Shunryu Suzuki, a Sōtō Zen monk and teacher renowned for founding the first Buddhist monastery outside Asia: “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” The beginner is truly seeing and being in the world whereas the expert paints mental pictures of what to expect. When I was acting in a long-running production I would actively practice listening on stage. This simple act of noticing subtle changes in my cast member’s intonation and speed helped me to stay present and connected. When you get good at something it’s all too easy to slip from unconscious competence into unconscious incompetence, and before you know it, your fellow performer has accidentally skipped a page of dialogue and you’ve failed to catch up!

“No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.”

 

-Buddha

The beginner’s mind embodies the essence of meditation, which was once so beautifully explained to me by a friend and former monk as “follow the breath and notice change.”Change can be anything. Sensations in the body, sounds around you or movements in the mind. Noticing change is what brings you back to the present moment and meditation is one way of practicing this skill. However, you can practice ‘follow the breath and notice change’ anywhere and at anytime: it doesn’t have to be practiced eyes closed in a crossed legged position. It’s simply recognising that the moment you are in has never happened before and it will never happen again.

 

 

 

 

Psychologist Ellen Langer describes mindfulness as “noticing new things” about a person. So when you get into the office on Monday morning set yourself the task of noticing 3 new things about a colleague. It could be something as small as a freckle on their forehead. It’s not about what you focus on, it’s about the presence that the conscious attention creates. Mindfulness doesn’t need to be limited to meditation as it’s something that can be practiced at the dinner table, in the car or even when talking over the phone. Break out of your usual Monday morning routine and start seeing the people you work with as exactly that: people in the present moment as opposed to objects fixed in time.

 

If you want to bring back the spark, take it back to the start…

What I loved most about the acting profession was its constant stream of new beginnings: there were always jobs, auditions, and people exiting and entering my life, keeping it fresh and fluid but also incredibly unstable. At the start of a new relationship people often experience a similar ‘whirl wind’ of beginnings and it is something that many long to rediscover as stability and security start to sink in. However, maybe it’s not about losing the spark at all, but about losing the beginner’s mindset. I’m not talking about bringing home flowers or going out for fancy meals (although by all means do if this is what helps you to rekindle the flame!) It’s about really listening to the other person and seeing them as they really are. The curious, child-like lens that you first saw them through starts to fade when the brain begins to familiarise and you not only start to preempt how they look and speak, but also how they will react and respond in situations. When you look through this lens you limit them to being one type of person: the person you have projected and not- the person that is in front of you. Author and teacher Rachel Naomi Remen (who has a fascinating podcast on Kristin Tippet’s On Being) believes that “being safe is about being seen and heard and allowed to be who you are and to speak your truth.” Instead of chasing new beginnings, or believing that the grass is greener can you notice the beginnings that are blossoming around you right now?

If you want to bring back the spark, take it back to the start

 

-Katie Churchman

Presence over projection

At the tail end of my professional acting career I joined the ‘Spontaneity Shop,’ a wonderful improvisation troop with whom I created stories on stage every night. Creating stories from nothing we walked out on stage not knowing where we were going or what we were doing, which was both terrifying and exhilarating and it was when I started to love living in the moment, script-less, fearless and free. So I replaced control with curiosity and started seeing life’s curve balls as creative challenges, a switch which completely changed my life. Whilst we don’t always know what is around the corner we can choose to stay curious.

“Every moment is a fresh beginning.”

 

-T.S. Eliot

If we don’t want to sleepwalk our way through life due to our preconceived ideas about people, places and situations, then we must make a conscious effort to wake up. To make it easier for our brains to process information, we go into lazy mode, or what neuroscientists call ‘the default network.’ A 2007 study called “Mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference” by Norman Farb revealed how the human brain has two distinct ways of interacting with the world, via 2 different networks. The ‘default network’ includes regions of the medial prefrontal cortex and regions such as the hippocampus. This region becomes active when not much is happening and your mind wanders off to its own little world. This is why, whilst waiting for the train you might find yourself stressing about a project at work, instead of enjoying the beautiful sunshine sparkling off the snow covered rooftops. The default network is responsible for daydreaming and planning and can be incredibly useful when strategising or goal-setting. 

This network also becomes active when you think about yourself or other people. Over time the network builds up narratives about the people in your life and just like characters in a play, they become ‘type-cast’ and fixed to a premeditated story line. Our lives are constantly evolving and so if we only experience our lives through the default network, we limit our lives to these projections. So, how do we throw away the script and start improvising our way through the day-to-day? We have to tap into the second network in the brain responsible for direct experience. When the direct network is activated you are not thinking about the past or the future but experiencing life as it happens. As a result, your senses become heightened because they process information as it arises. This is why so many of us love to travel because the unfamiliar, sights, smells, sounds and flavours help us to stay present. However, present awareness isn’t about the place or the people around you: it’s about the way you see them. This is what I love about this work because it gives you the power to transform your life. It’s not about where you are, who you are with or what you are doing: it’s about the lens you look through.

In his experiment, Norman Farb discovered that those who regularly practiced noticing the two different modes of operating (for example regular meditators) had stronger differentiation between the two paths and could easily switch between the two. Those who hadn’t practiced this ’noticing’ were more likely to resort to the default mode of operating. Therefore, mindfulness and meditation exercises can help your brain to stay present, by continually bringing you back to the beginning. Each breath offers a new beginning, so where will your next inhalation take you?

Being a beginner

If we can embody beginnings, particularly when teaching or leading, we can help others to live in this fresh, open minded space. This will not only keep the experience interesting for ourselves but it will also help to keep others engaged. As an actor I had to bring a sense of ‘beginning’ to each and every performance as the majority of the audience would be experiencing the story for the first time. One way I managed to trick myself into beginner’s mind was by telling myself that there was someone really important in the audience. This belief was enough to keep me present, connected and conscious- even if it was for the 455th show! 

Our eduction systems encourages a sense of arrival: we pass exams, get qualifications and we take on a title. We become the thing we trained to be, whether that is a manager, a lecturer or a head nurse on a busy ward. However, it’s important that we remain open minded particularly when we take on these positions of authority, because it keeps us flexible to change and open to learning. Maybe your next biggest lesson will come from the most junior person in your team. They may be lower in the corporate pecking order but perhaps they will be your greatest teacher, offering you a nugget of knowledge or an insight that you weren’t previously aware of. Stay open to what your colleagues might be able to teach you and you will encourage them to do the same: to see the daily fluctuations in your way of being and to appreciate the simple fact that you are human: you aren’t a robot and you don’t have all the answers. So give yourself and those around you the gift of conscious creation and the freedom to use these three magic words: “I don’t know.”

 

No one knows what’s coming next…

We may think we know what’s coming next but really it’s a mystery, regardless of whether you are at the beginning, middle or end of your journey. So instead of fearing change and living under the illusion of certainty, why not seize the power of the present moment. We are improvising all of the time and we are surrounded by constant opportunities and sources of inspiration. So why not choose to live life like an improviser. Stay open and flexible to life and don’t lock yourself inside a story. To use the beautiful words of Lao Tzu: “Men are born soft and supple; dead they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.” The longer we can hold on to the beginner’s mind, regardless of the situation, the better we prepare ourselves for change and the more open we are to chance. Life would be boring if we knew what was coming next, so let’s celebrate the uncertainty. Let’s revel in the unknown territories of brand new beginnings and bring a ‘childlike’ lens to our lives.

“The tragedy of growing up is not that we lose childishness in its simplicity, but that we lose childlikeness in its sublimity.”

 

– Ravi Zacharias.

Perhaps instead of living each day like it’s our last, we should start living each day like it’s our first.