An Easter Ego…

An Easter Ego…

Learning to live, lead and love with a healthy ego

 

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

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

Ego triggers and traps

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

The Healthy Ego

 

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


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

 
1. Co-create Conversation

 

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

But what does this have to do with the ego?

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

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

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


2. Accept praise

 

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

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

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

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


3. Make friends with failure

 

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

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

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

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

 

 4. Embrace vulnerability

 

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

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

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

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


5. Look through a systems lens

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Have a healthy happy ego!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

September is a highly fruitful month for learning.

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

If you don’t use it you lose it!

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

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

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

Who are your teachers?

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

 

– Wendell Berry.

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

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

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

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

How will you spend your break-time?

“Fun is just another word for learning”

 

– Raph Koster.

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

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

 

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

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

What’s your homework?

 

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

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

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

How is your timetable going to look?

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

 
– Mahatma Gandhi.

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

 

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

Why I’m wishing for Christmas presence not presents…

Why I’m wishing for Christmas presence not presents…

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

– Brené Brown

ME – Gifts to self

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

 

Space

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

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

 

– Pico Iyer

Self-compassion

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

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

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

 

– John Steinbeck

YOU – Gifts to others

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

 

Active Listening

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

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

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

 

– Thích Nhat Hạnh

Words

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

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

 

WE – Gifts to the world

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

Be in the room

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

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

Random acts of kindness

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

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

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

“No one has ever become poor from giving.”

 

– Anne Frank

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

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

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

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

The Case for Female Executives

The Case for Female Executives

There’s no doubt about it – it really is time for us ladies to ‘Step Up’ and make some noise about our talents, ask for what we want and get some amazing things done.

And the good news is – the numbers, the facts and the stats are there to support to us.

Recent research conducted by Dow Jones suggests companies that include female senior executives are more likely to succeed than companies where only males are in charge.

The study found that companies have a greater chance of either going public, operating profitably or being sold for more money than they’ve raised when they have females in senior positions The median proportion of female executives in successful companies was 7.1% compared to 3.1% at unsuccessful companies.

According to investment executive Theresia Gouw Ranzetta “diversity is good for a company because it brings in different points of view when decisions have to be made. Women are more likely to think of different types of customers to target and different ways to sell to them. They think more out of the box. Women also tend to be more conservative than men, which is both good and bad. Financially, they may raise less money than men, which makes them more capital-efficient, but they’re also more likely to sell a company when they get a good offer, rather than to keep it independent or take it public for a bigger success down the road.”

Women are also more concerned about the emotional well-being of their team. Having more female employees, especially at the management and executive level, not only helps broaden the talent pool in a talent-constrained environment, it also brings shareholder returns through greater innovation and performance.

A Hay Group study conducted on 163 executives in the United States showed that outstanding female executives, when compared to their typical counterparts and male executives, created greater engagement from their direct reports, which supports high performance.

In 2007, Catalyst reported that, on average, companies with three or four female directors had 83 per cent greater return on equity, 73 per cent better return on sales and 112 per cent higher return on invested capital.

In 2011, Catalyst found that top-quartile companies (with 19-44 per cent women Board representation) had extra 26 per cent of Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) when compared to bottom quartile companies (with zero women directors).

In 2011, McKinsey found that companies with three or more women in top positions received notably higher Organisational Health Index.

Women who sit on corporate boards display skills that often translate into better decisions and financial success for the company, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics. It found that of the 624 board directors polled in Canada, women were more likely to use “co-operation, collaboration and consensus building” when dealing with complex decisions. While male directors more often made decisions by using “rules, regulations and traditional ways of doing business.”

The research also showed that the way women operate as directors often contributed to a company’s success. The finds, part of a larger study conducted between 2004 and 2012, presented morally conflicting scenarios to board members, asking them to solve them and explain how they came to their conclusion. Of those surveyed, 75% were male and 25% were female.

Bart, who did the research with Gregory McQueen of A.T. Still University in Arizona, says the answers from female directors showed that they were “less constrained” in their problem-solving skills than male directors. Bart says the study signals that boards, investors and shareholders, all benefit when there are more female directors. “There’s a huge pool of qualified, available women who would certainly be eligible based on their experiences to fill the boardroom seats,” he said. “(Companies) drum up all sorts of excuses as to why women aren’t being appointed to the board but they’re no longer holding water.”

It also found that women were more likely to take into account interests of multiple stakeholders and viewed fairness as an important factor in their decision-making. “Men are pack animals and they are very much quick to recognize the hierarchy of the alpha males in the group,” he said. “They would be very unhappy with people coming in with different values or views to the board.”

So hold onto those facts ladies next time you question whether you should step up and take centre stage.

Plus, by focusing on your colleagues’ well-being, you can shine the spotlight on your brilliant female qualities – all while being confident and generous enough to acknowledge the brilliant men with whom you work and collaborate everyday.