Tuesday, 29 December 2009

How to make the most out of 2010?

I don't know about you but I always feel slightly allergic about setting goals. It reminds me of those people that I met when I was younger whose life plans went something like I am going to be married at 30, have made my first million by 33 and had three children before I am forty. My view is akin to that of John Lennon's that life happens to you whilst you are busy making other plans. That said, I had a bit of a wake up call today when my good friend and co-collaborator Beth Follini came round for a session on our Authentic Leadership programme. She asked me about progress on a couple of projects that I had mentioned to her a while back. It got me thinking about what I really wanted out of 2010 hence this post.

It made me realise that whilst I do not hold truck with goal setting, I do believe that each one of us has the ability to create our own future. I like to call it setting intentions, a powerful alternative to goal setting. I realised that I needed to set aside quality time over the next 2-3 days in preparation for 2010 to determine what it was that I wanted from 2010. What I have found this year is that it is not enough to set an overarching intention, it is vital to be specific. The definition of our intention impacts on what actually transpires.

To give you an example, this year my intention was to work collaboratively with others. I have achieved this in quite a meaningful way. However what I forgot to specify was what I wanted from these collaborations except in a vague way. Not surprisingly the outcome has not necessarily been what I desired. I have learnt a lot from what has happened and it will help me be much clearer in terms of my intentions for 2010. My view is that anyone can make goals, what is much more difficult is being clear on what one wants specifically beyond the universal wealth and happiness. What follows are my 6 tips on how to get the most of 2010:

1. Set aside at least an hour to reflect on 2009 and ask yourself what was good and what was bad about the year?

2. Focus on what you want more of and what you would like which was not present in 2009.

3. Check to make sure that what you want is aligned to what is important to you.

4. If the answer is yes then articulate your intentions. If it is your way write them down to revisit some time later in the future.

5. To realise them more quickly, imagine what life will be like when you have achieved them. If it helps make your own collage, create an affirmation (a phrase you can say to yourself starting with I love ....(adding whatever it is that you desire).

6. Keep on believing that your intention is real whatever happens in real time and it will come to fruition.

And yes this is easy to say and much harder to do which is why if you are going for a big change, it can be helpful to have a coach. I am offering a special deal to the first six people that sign up for coaching with me following this blog post. So do let me know how you get on with these tips. I am off now to set my intentions for 2010...

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A modern take on the 12 days of Christmas

We are all familiar with the 12 days of Christmas but how about this 12 ways to make a difference, one for each of the 12 days.
1. Remember how blessed you are and then be a blessing!
2. Help a neighbour.
3. Visit an old friend.
4. Give to your favourite charity.
5. Invite a friend to Church.
6. Volunteer at a local hospital.
7. Call a distant relative.
8. Tell someone you love them.
9. Give and accept a hug.
10. Forgive someone and yourself.
11. Share your life experiences and be an inspiration.
12. And finally remember the reason for the season (it will make all the difference!)
My challenge to you is to try one of these on each of the 12 days following Christmas up until and including 6 Jan 2010 and let me know how you get on. Alternatively make up your own 12 and share them below. Have a great Christmas and thanks for your readership this year.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

How can you make a difference to someone's Christmas this year?

The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in and we had snow this morning. It is no surprise that Christmas falls when it does because just a few days before some will have celebrated the winter solstice on the shortest day of the year. It is lovely to have a time of festivity at what can be seen as the darkest part of the year in more ways than one.

Personally I love Christmas for many reasons. It is fabulous to live in a cold climate where Christmas pudding, cream and brandy butter makes sense. We need good solid food in the winter months to give us the fuel and energy required to protect us against the freezing outdoor temperatures. It is also a good excuse for mulled wine and as I write this I can almost smell the oranges, cloves and cinnamon that go into it. In our house we often throw the large cinnamon sticks onto our log fire and as they burn and the fire crackles we enjoy breathing in the wonderful aroma that permeates from the grate.

My youngest who is just two loves playing with a reindeer eye mask that friends gave us last year and despite my many attempts to put it away she always seems to find it and run round the house wearing it, often upside down, which causes much hilarity in the rest of us. My eldest who is three now really got into Christmas last year in that she started saying what she wanted for several weeks beforehand and was even heard to say “I need.” This was certainly an advance on the previous year when she was about 20 months and I was the one who was very excited about taking her to see Father Christmas. As soon as she walked into his “grotto” she became terrified and did anything she could to run away from him and what I had expected to be a fun excursion became fraught on a number of levels!

There is a serious note to Christmas and that is the fact that it is a time when there can be great marital tensions and break ups. It is quite a long time to spend together under the same roof for some families. It can also be particularly difficult for those who live alone and who either have no family or no contact with them. When I was growing up, we found ourselves in transient communities in far flung countries because of the nature of the job and there would often be single people around. My father has a great sense of bonhomie and I remember many Christmas days spent with random individuals that he had befriended.

I always enjoyed it because it added an extra dimension to the activities and is something that I recreate in a limited way now that I have my own home. Are there people within your own communities who will be alone this Christmas and if so what could you do to bring them some Christmas cheer?

Thursday, 10 December 2009

What are some of the steps towards inter-dependence?

I was coaching another Mum today and as a result of our conversation realised what a short period of time it actually is that our children really depend on us. Certainly by the age of twelve they no longer want to do stuff with Mum, it's much more cool to hang out with their friends.

It struck me that for much of the time when children are very young - mine are 3 and 2 - one often finds oneself thinking if only they could do that themselves. Recently my eldest has got into the habit of jumping out of bed half an hour after lights out, having shouted for me because she needs the toilet. I have insisted that she go by herself then she comes downstairs to find me and asks me to tuck her up again. I can find this an intrusion into my time rather than seeing it as endearing.

And yet when our kids decide that we are superfluous to requirements and become more independent, there is a part of us that encourages this change because it is the first step on the path to adulthood. If we are honest another part of us is saddened by the loss of those moments spent together in the park or whatever it was we did together. How many parents give themselves space to acknowledge these feelings or ever voice them to their children?

This is one of life's conundrums. It seems to me that one of our roles as parents is to enjoy whatever stage that we are in with our children. The other is to help our children discover inter-dependence as this is the route to a greater sense of contentment in adulthood. Isn't life about finding the balance between the urge to belong and be accepted and the need to find our own destiny whilst being in relationship with others?

Monday, 7 December 2009

Mums' Monday: ever feel like skipping Christmas?

As the old saying goes, it never rains but it pours. The last few days it has felt as if my world has been turned upside down. I became a single parent over night and at the same time my laptop packed up and the boiler has to be replaced!

What has helped? I have been incredibly fortunate to have the support of my husband's family and my own family. They have rallied round to do what they can. It has made me realise how resilient those who do not have access to a partner or extended family must be; and I have a greater sense of respect for them.

I have also coped by taking things slowly and being really clear about my priorities. This was critical because at one point I was getting wound up about the fact that I had not written the Christmas letter nor felt like doing it. As my Mum said I can always write a New Year letter, the world is not going to end without it. It's one day or even one step at a time.

Part of the go slow has meant listening to my body more. This has included caring for it by grabbing time to have a long soak in the tub - a novelty for me as Mum to two tots. It has also included going to bed early as I realise that all the emotional worry of the situation has made me more tired.

I also realised how important it is for everyone including coaches to have a coach. Part of the way that I heal is by having a good cry as a way of releasing all the pent-up emotions inside. I have found that family members are uncomfortable with all that whereas a good coach understands the process, shows compassion and just holds the space for you.

I do believe that everything that happens to us is an opportunity for learning. As one close family friend asked has this experience aged you to which I came back with a resounding yes. That aside I am grateful that I have such a supportive family and visiting my husband in hospital has reminded me what a great team we make and what I love about him. He has also received some much needed rest which has been difficult to take with a demanding job and two young children.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Can you have it all?

Yesterday I had the great privilege of being part of the Network of Black Professionals and the Women's Leadership Network 's new mentee programme for senior women within Further Education. The participants were an impressive collection of women, many of whom were at Vice Principal level looking for tips on how to progress their career that bit further. It was a very interactive session with much of the input coming from the delegates and that could explain in part why there was such a feeling of openness and trust within the room.

I was surprised at how well the section on barriers to career progression went as women really made the most of the opportunity to share the challenges they faced. What saddened me however was the extent to which some of the external pressures had not changed. There were still references to the old boy network in the sense that conversation amongst peers tended to focus on football; huge challenges around family commitments and work/ life balance existed; and the experience of the glass ceiling was common. The most significant finding was the part that self-limiting beliefs played in many cases and/ or a lack of confidence in their own abilities to perform at a more senior level.

This shocked me and also made me realise that there is a place for the work of Minerva's Mind in these type of environments which has a focus on helping people develop their own leadership style and realise along the way that it is their imperfections that make them more accessible to others. It also made me realise how real the struggle is that many Mums face who want to work and have a role in which they are taken seriously alongside providing a loving environment for their family at home. Furthermore confidence or the lack of it is not just the preserve of those Mums who do not go back to work but affects us all wherever we find ourselves on the spectrum of to work or not. It is much clearer why Mums at Director level have decided to choose another path because having it all is a myth.

Friday, 27 November 2009

What's in a name?

Those of you that follow my blog regularly may have noticed that I have changed the name. I think that is a reflection of what I blog about and where quite a bit of my interest is at the mo bearing in mind that I have two toddlers! I hope that it means more people will follow as I think it is clear now who my target audience is.

So why the preamble. I often feel compelled to write a post and recently I have lots of questions from clients and those that I work with about naming a business enterprise of some kind. As if by coincidence, I read a great post by Neil Ryder which I will not attempt to repeat here but which I hope amplifies what I have to say.

Many people who set up their own businesses as solopreneurs fall into the trap of calling their business John Smith Associates or some other amalgam of their name. Really this is plain daft as sole traders are unlikely to have the kind of budget that coca cola or mars have that would make them known brands. Also who has heard of John Smith and I am not talking about the bitter here. If you go down that route, you are going to have to work three or four times as hard to get it to resonate with people. So here is what I suggest:

1. Choose a name that says something about what you do - a great example of this is Beth Follini's company Tick Tock Coaching which works w/ women who face the dilemma of whether to have a baby or not

2. Try to include a quality in the title of how you want to be perceived - the one that works for me here is Honesty Marketing because it says what they do and how they aim to deliver it

3. Lastly a bit of alliteration works wonders in terms of people remembering the name of your business because it can be catchy - and for this I suggest Little Luxuries which again says what it does on the tin so to speak

4. Finally it is important that the name you choose will grow with the business in whatever direction it goes in so that you don't end up in a straight jacket because the name you have chosen is just too specific - in this regard what really works for me is Minerva's Mind. It is a membership site aimed at enabling women be leaders in their lives with a current focus on Mums. With a name like that it can go into any niche for women

Lastly remember it always pays to check whether the name you want for your business is already a registered trademark and you can do this through Business Link. For more on trademarks look at these very helpful FAQs. Finally for details on how to apply for a trademark in the UK, go to the horse's mouth so to speak.

Do let me know how you get on and what you think of this post in the comments below.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Mums' Monday: to work or not to work

I have spent this evening working with a group of Mums in the area of boosting confidence skills as part of the Minerva's Mind at home session. It was a real privilege as they shared so much of their life and it left me thinking how hard it can be for all of us who are Mums today to make sense of our choices. It is so easy to fall into the trap of low self-esteem as there is an expectation that Mums will be the main carers of their children, and yet society places no value on this important role. Added to which many who enjoy staying at home fear that they will have too much free time on their hands once their children go to school if they do not have to work for financial reasons.

For those of us that do take the plunge and go back to work or forge a new career for ourselves, there is the constant juggle between our role as "domestic goddess" and spending dedicated time towards earning a crust. In our house today, we have had the difficult conversation over whose work gets priority in that I need my husband to work at home one day a fortnight so I can attend a networking event and he can no longer make that commitment due to pressures at the office. I feel unable to challenge that too strongly because he is the major bread winner and yet how can I build up my business if I am unable to attend networking events regularly?

There is no easy answer, I am not able to come up with a "cooker cutter" solution. What I would say is that it is about finding the right balance for you and the best way to do this is to work out what your core values are. To do this start asking yourself some of these questions: How important is it for me to contribute to the income coming into this house? What weight do I put on providing a stable environment for my child(ren)? To what extent if at all do I want to put the needs of my family before my own? How much risk am I prepared to take in order to obtain my own goals? How would I feel if I do nothing?

Do let me know how you get on.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The power of living your life on purpose: a personal story

I had a fantastic day yesterday on so many levels - have been asked to do at least two pieces of work for the Ministry of Justice with opportunities for more. I was also filmed for the Politics Show which will be shown on Sun 20 Dec and I will be the Mum representative on the People's Panel in the run up to the election. But the best bit of the day was a conversation that I started on Hitchin station with another Mum when she commented on my coat. The rest of this blog is about her story which is inspirational to us all.

George has two children who are 9 and 7 and she moved to North Herts when they were toddlers. She did not go back to work once she had had the children. Instead she embraced motherhood. Then as they became older, she began to think what would I do with my life if I had it all over again. She realised that if she could start again, she would be a doctor. Her first degree had been in English and she had a successful, international career in Marketing which was total incompatible with being a Mum. By the time she decided on Medicine she was in her mid-thirties with completely the wrong set of A levels and not a lot of support for her dream from those around her. Undeterred, she took Chemistry and Biology at the local college and then applied to University. She did not get a place because they said she did not have enough relevant experience. Not put off by this setback, she found a local hospice where she volunteered one day a week and made sure she built up a range of experiences to put on her personal statement. She then reapplied to three Universities rather than one and was offered a place at all three.

She chose her first choice and got the high A level grades they required to secure the place. She has now completed eight weeks of the course and in the first exam came in the top 20%. She has even put herself forward for University Challenge. Approaching forty she is the oldest student in her year but she is loving it. This woman has succeeded in spite of facing a number of challenges and I believe she is an inspiration to us all to follow our dreams. She like me believes that we all have a purpose in life. Have you found yours yet?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Mum's Monday: one family's response to 10:10

I have always been interested in recycling way before it became a hot topic and a part of every day life. It just seemed like a no brainer but then more recently I started receiving emails and facebook requests to join 10:10 and that seemed like an incredible challenge. How could we a family of four cut back our carbon emissions by 10% in 2010? I also felt torn though in that for the sake of my children I thought that I ought to be signing up for it. Thinking about my coaching training which indicated that when we use COWS (could have, ought to, would or should) then there is something forced in what we are aiming to do, I ignored all the calls to action for at least a month. Then I had a light bulb moment and it occurred to me that 10:10 is possible if one is creative about how one does it. So below are some of my thoughts on how to approach it as a family.

It is all about finding stuff that fits with your lifestyle. My small step for 10:10 was to throw myself into the North Herts NCT's toy sale this week. This meant sorting through the girls' toys and putting to one side those that they were too old for. The key to success with these sales is to get the pricing right so that items will go and you are not left with them at the end, whilst ensuring that you get a reasonable price for them especially the new-looking ones. This year I only brought about three items back and that was only because I had not indicated that unsold items could be donated to charity.

The whole process felt very cathartic because we were recycling some great toys and books, and I made about £100 from it. 30% of what a seller make goes to the NCT so that feels good too. Now there is some space at home for the Christmas deluge and I managed to buy quite a few Christmas presents whilst I was there. If all that sounds like far too much hard work, you can always advertise unwanted items via email on freecycle and people come to collect them from you at a mutually convenient time.

The more environmentally minded amongst you will probably notice that recycling toys is not the same as cutting one's carbon emissions but it is a start in the right direction and each small step leads to a bigger step. As a result of these thoughts I have now signed up to 10:10! So what are your thoughts about being my ecologically aware and taking some sort of action towards living a greener lifestyle?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Mum's Monday: organising kids' birthday parties you either love it or hate it

How do you feel as your child's birthday party looms on the horizon? Do you like hosting parties for your kids, try and avoid doing anything major at all costs or fall somewhere in between? Inspired by the carnival of parties insomniac mummy is hosting on her blogsite, I got thinking about my experiences and what follows was the result.

I have always enjoyed hosting dinner parties because I love cooking and the whole social interaction with others. However for the first two years of my eldest's life birthday parties were low key events and that was partly to do with the fact that there is only 15 months between my two girls and it was enough getting through each day. This year coming up to three, Sienna really understood for the first time that she was going to have a birthday so I felt it was important to mark it. And yet the idea of a theme or a party entertainer just did not appeal.

It just so happened that one of my friends from our postnatal group also wanted to make it more of an occasion so we decided to join forces, as we had a common core of six people. We wanted to keep it manageable so we agreed that we would each invite up to six other children. However we had forgotten to take into account that many of our children's friends had siblings and that as it was a family affair and we often knew both kids, the whole family would expect to come. We had also both thought that we would keep the family celebrations separate so as to contain numbers but our families had other ideas. On the day we ended up hosting a party for 50!

It nearly did not happen because I have the most appalling hand writing, which comes from the fact that I experimented with different writing styles when I was at school for the fun of it and the end result is a real hodge podge. It turned out many people thought I had written that the party was going to be on 10 rather than 19 even though the former was good Friday. I then had to text everyone to confirm the date so that there was no one turning up 9 days early and it meant that one or two were then unable to attend.

Naively I thought that holding a party in a village hall where we had access to the hall's toys and so had the entertainment covered would mean that we would be able to keep costs down. We had not taken into account the cost of producing party bags and we felt that we needed to do them as our kids always seemed to get them. I spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time on ebay sourcing the best deals. Only to find that the other Mum had bought a whole load of stuff at Sainsburys which was a valuable addition to the booty but added significantly to the price. I had wanted to have all wooden toys but they were much more expensive so there was a lot of plastic tat in the bags.

We had lots of discussions about food. We decided who would provide what which worked. I was keen that we had high quality ingredients so ended up buying organic sausages, cooking them and cutting them into cocktail sausage size just so that I knew what the kids and adults were eating. That approach of course meant the costs went up and my co-party organiser was not sure we would have enough so supplemented with some ready to go cocktail sausages from Morrisons. We also felt that adults often got a raw deal at kids' parties so produced a number of smoked salmon and cheese bagels for them. These went down very well but I had not realised how long it took to put bagels together and probably over-catered. We bought 50 mini bagels and I think managed to prepare about 30 for the party!

For me the highlight was making the cake. My friend was concerned because her son had set his heart on a Thomas cake from Waitrose which was around £20 so I promised to do something fun. Initially my daughter wanted a pink heart but I did think that was a bit too girly for a boy so she then chose a gumball machine - you know the ones where you put in a penny and get out a handful of jelly babies. It was red and white with a black piece for the slot machine and four black screws, one in each corner. I filled it with mini chocolate easter eggs as their birthdays are near Easter, and stuck a 1p into the slot machine. It was quite a healthy carrot cake with orange flavoured cream cheese icing, and despite one of the cakes being a bit over done because I am not used to a fan oven - which needs a slightly lower temperature than a conventional oven - the cake went down well w/ adults and children alike. In fact I felt chuffed that one Dad is very fussy about cakes said it was the tastiest carrot cake he had ever had - he must have had a bit from the non-burnt end.

In spite of all the mini dramas along the way, it was very enjoyable to organise the party with someone else and as long as you keep your sense of humour, I can highly recommend this approach. In the end the event cost two hundred pounds which when you think of the numbers attending is about four quid a head so pretty reasonable. I would love to hear about your experiences of organising kids' birthday parties so please do leave me a comment.

Monday, 2 November 2009

MM: some dos and don'ts when starting a business

In talking with a couple of people recently I realised that I needed some left brain energy to tackle some burning issues such as dealing with paper work that had got lost in the all consuming world of Minerva's Mind. As I looked into the matter further I learnt all kinds of useful information that I wish I had known when I had started. Here follow some helpful tips for anyone in the early stages of running a business. I was thinking of Mumpreneurs who are starting out, as this is Mums' Monday but the advice applies to all new business owners:

1. When you set up your business you have 13 weeks in which to inform the Inland Revenue that you are a business owner. If you miss that deadline then you could be charged a £100 penalty fee. This is where you need a good accountant who can show how some of your initial activity relates to pre-start up costs etc. If you are self-employed click on HMRC to register.

2. It is vital to set up a separate business account because then if the Inland Revenue decide to investigate you they are limited to looking at the transactions in your business account. If they want to extend their investigation then they need to go and ask for further powers. It does make sorting your accounts out much easier too as all transactions go in and out the same place. Which banks?

  • Abbey offers free banking for life. There are no major catches but they encourage business owners to do everything on line as there are limits such as cashing no more than 100 cheques a month;
  • The Co-Op bank interested me because my personal account is with their Internet bank. They offer free banking for life for as long as you are a member of the Federation of Small Businesses; and
  • HSBC has a good package if all your transactions are online.

3. It is worth having the services of a good accountant because he/ she can save you a lot of money by helping you identify allowable expenses. For example, did you know that if you work at home then you can claim £1,000 a year towards electricity, gas and heating costs? I can highly recommend Will Farnell. He gives very generously of his time and before setting up his own business, worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In other words don't do what I did and leave it until the last minute! So what tips can you add to this list? Feel free to drop them down in a comment at the end of this post.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Mums' Monday: what does half-term mean to you?

Some have already started half-term if they have a two week break. My eldest daughter’s starts today and I have been looking forward to it for weeks. Why is that you may ask? There are two main reasons – the first is that I have missed having her around since she started pre-school in September and I am looking forward to spending time with her this week as the days do whizz by. Secondly it is one of the wonderful things about working for myself. I can choose what hours I do; who I work for or with so if I want to have more of a go slow week, I can programme that into my schedule.

Those that know me well would probably say that I tend to sort play dates etc. quite last minute and at best the week before so I am also revelling in having been more organised this time. I have a range of treats some of which are more aimed at the girls and some that have my name on it. It all started because I picked up a flyer at the St Albans Baby Show, at which Minerva’s Mind had a stand, at the beginning of September. The flyer was for Going on a bear hunt which was due to perform in St Albans during half term week. Within a couple of weeks, I had spoken to lots of my St Albans friends with kids and arranged for eight of us to go on the Tuesday of half term. Going through that process got me thinking about what else we were going to do and I remembered that due to illness we had not seen a good friend of mine and her girls in the summer holidays so I arranged to see them. What with work days that only left one day, which got filled up when I bumped into a friend in Hitchin two weeks ago and we realised that our two eldest girls had not seen each other since the summer hols because her eldest started school this term and has been too tired to have play dates.

Reflecting back on all this I realise that part of the novelty of it all has been having a plan to which I can refer when asked by friends about half-term. It would seem that in “Myers-Briggs” terms, my latent J is making a bid for being recognised over the normally transcendent P. The benefit of advance planning was that I have been looking forward to half-term. In part this is due to the fact that it means a change to routine which is always a good thing in my book. This is interesting because Professor Richard Wiseman who espouses positive psychology, and has done some studies into the reasons that some people seem to be happier than others suggests that one of the reasons for that is that these people embrace change and are actively choosing new experiences. These may include taking a different route to work periodically or only talking to people at an event who are wearing a red tie.

You can see how much I have gained from taking a different approach to something that happens regularly so my challenge to you is to think about what you could do differently, try it and see what happens. I would love to hear about your experiences so do leave me a comment or email me at kate@minervasmind.co.uk. The question I am going to leave you with is what are you going to do differently this week?

Monday, 19 October 2009

My relationship with order is changing...

I was very impressed by Heather Townsend's blog because as with so many things she espouses it has an order and a structure to it. When reflecting on the launch of my whole self leadership model (check out this blog to find out what people thought of it) with Beth on Friday, I realised that I have a preference for right brain approaches currently. What do I mean by that? Well I have noticed that recently I have had an aversion to order and I expect that is a reaction to the fact that I spent many years working in a highly analytical environment where left brain approaches were the norm. And to some extent that is what one should expect when surrounded by lawyers and accountants as I was. As we went through exercises to connect more with our right and left brain, I realised that I needed a bit more structure in my working life. So I am going to start by making some changes with this blog.

From next week, the Monday post will be dedicated to Mums and called Mums'/ Moms' Monday and the aim will be to have one other post in the week that focuses on other parts of the whole self according to this blog. I am also going to introduce an element of play into this by experimenting with the length of the blog to see what that leads to. So watch this space and let me know what you think. And thanks goes to the efficiency coach who gave me the idea inadvertently through her blog.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

re: what's in a blog?

I am so grateful to Neil Ryder one of my new twitter buddies for providing the inspiration for this post when he wrote that it was important that all bloggers produced content rich blogs. This immediately got me thinking about how one defines content rich and then made me analyse what I am trying to do with my blog and so I have reproduced my thinking for you below.

For many content rich translates into producing articles/ blogs that act as a how to guide for readers. I presume that for many particularly those that see themselves as trainers they feel that in so doing they are adding value. Of course there is a place for this kind of writing and one cannot dispute the view that it could provide invaluable advice for others. And yet that kind of writing leaves me cold. This is because I cannot see any passion in this type of endeavour, it seems rather a left-brained approach to life from people comfortable with living in the mind rather than a whole self approach to life where one has access to the mind, body, heart and spirit spaces. And that is how I came to thinking about what content rich means to me and what I am trying to do with this blog.

What I believe is that no matter what tools we consultants and coaches have in our tool bags, we are still human. This means that we have moments of great fulfilment and in equal measure we have times of despondency. To be effective in any sphere of life - home, work or social - we need to be aware of the emotional/ energy states internally and externally and have the tools to access the state we need if we are not in it/ the external energy is not in alignment with our own. In fact those who are very charismatic have the power to change external negative conditions (see Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point) but they are few and far between. On a personal level, how can this be achieved? It means developing the ability to live in the present moment as much as possible - which those of us who have young children witness on a daily basis, such a gift.

The theoretical underpinning for me is to take the view that whatever the circumstances we are at choice as to whether we create/ break partnership; at every point we have the opportunity either to move closer into partnership or to turn away from it. At a minimum this means giving the other party the benefit of the doubt and where possible loving the differences that we experience rather than critiquing them. As we all have an ego, unconditional love is extraordinarily difficult to achieve. These are the key reasons why I focus on the sorts of topics that I do in these blog posts because I am passionate about helping others access their own key to living a more fulfilled life and becoming whole. It is only from such a place that we can really tackle the major issues of this century such as climate change. And yet I acknowledge that for others this may appear insubstantial, fluffy and a bit too alternative. I am curious, what do you think?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Ode to Autumn II

On rereading my last post I was conscious that the focus was more around why I was glad that it was not summer rather than what I liked about Autumn. Inspired by Huw FW's programme enthusing on the fact that England has seasons, I thought it was time to extol the virtues of this time of year. Added to which the nights are really drawing in now and there is a crispness in the air which only leaves the air around midday for a couple of hours so in some ways it is even harder to fathom the joys of Autumn.

I have always liked the fact that come the end of September, it is time to get out my winter wardrobe in particular jumpers, leather jackets and winter weight trousers. What I really enjoyed this year was buying my two girls winter hats for the colder weather although they still insist on wearing their sun hats whenever the sun comes out! I also enjoy wearing knee length boots although I have never been a fan of the ugg boot. I saw the most amazing sight today baby pink knitted ugg boots on a 4 year old!

We still have not turned on the heating yet but today we really noticed the chill in the air which was an excuse to have the first of another favourite of mine, a log fire in the evening! There is something very relaxing about watching a fire raging whilst hearing the wood cracking and enjoying the warmth that emanates from the stove. That is definitely part of the bliss of Autumn for me.

If that is not enough there is also the part that nature plays. This is through the change in colour of the leaves from green to orange golds, russets, burnt orange and so forth. The next stage is the carpet of leaves along the roads and hedge rows that give children immense joy as they kick them this way and that. Earlier this week we headed over to the pub for a quick bite to eat and I noticed the first conquers in their shiny brown coats winking at me from the driveway. It took me straight back to my childhood and the horse chestnut tree in our garden under which we whiled away hours of fun choosing prize conquers and then stringing them up for the ensuing conquer fights. I cannot wait to introduce the girls to this ritual.

I think this captures much more accurately what I love about Autumn. On another note with the end of the "hazy lazy days of summer" come the more purposeful, focused days of Fall. For some there is much delight to be gained from this new type of energy. I would love to hear your thoughts in particular what do you look forward to when Autumn/ Fall comes round?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

An ode to Autumn

Well it is definitely beginning to feel like Autumn and I have heard a lot of sighs from people because the nights are drawing in and the air feels colder and sometimes I have emulated that. Only yesterday I was thinking that one of the great things about the change of seasons is that there are no more wasps! There seemed to be an invasion of wasps in this part of the country and it made eating out/ picnics a bit of a purgatory because one was never left alone. I can also remember doing a dance round the bins at times when I was trying to get to the brown bin to empty the compost; and occasionally being defeated by the wasps. This year I was stung by one at a summer bbq which made it even harder for me not to over-react when one came near me. In short with September coming, I am grateful because the plague of wasps have ceased. Although my youngest keeps saying there is a bee in her hair or on the table when it is actually a fly!

So what about you? What makes you grateful that it is September and the start of Autumn?

Saturday, 22 August 2009

What's the big deal about having a positive mental attitude especially as a parent?

One of the things that I am fascinated by as a coach is positivity, what it means and how it can affect our lives. Earlier this year I wrote about my first experience of Positive Psychology which was very inspiring; and of course in my line of work there are many coaches that espouse the Laws of Attraction as a way to live one's life. Much more recently I caught most of an interview on Women's Hour that involved the self-defined pessimist Ariel Leve and the Director of the Happiness Project, Dr Robert Holden. I was finally inspired to put pen to paper by a wise woman, Lisa Pearson, who has studied and adapted John De Martini's work in her coaching practice. Finally as if right on cue, another enlightened coach, Beth Follini, signposted me to Barbara Fredrickson's research on the subject and an article written about it. So below follow my current thoughts on the topic with a part specifically relating to parenting.

Initially I had some real concerns about unrelenting optimism, not least that it would be exhausting to maintain, as well as being a “turn off” for those around people who practise it. This seemed to be borne out by Ariel Leve's experience of parenting by her father. She found him exhausting because he was always so positive about everything in his life. Perhaps that is why she has taken up the stand that she has in life as a self-assessed defensive pessimist. From her perspective nothing can disappoint her because she has already gone through the worst case scenarios in her head. Interestingly she and Robert Holden did reach some agreement in that he stated excessive optimism was unhealthy because it probably meant the individual practising that was not being completely honest with their lot.

What is fascinating is that a great deal of Fredrickson's research supports the belief that I instinctively believed to be right but could not prove and that is about finding a balance between the negative and the positive emotions. What can happen is that our focus is on the negative because positive thoughts are so much more fleeting. This is where training the mind can come to our aid - such as the use of affirmations, meditations, future self visualisations and my personal favourite, setting intentions; or a combination of them all. Fredrickson's research indicates with an increased diet of positive thinking, we are likely to feel much more like we are living life on purpose more aware of the social support and see the opportunities for co-activity. This has certainly been my experience and many years back I would have put myself in the Leve camp!

You may be wondering well how do I do that? Positive emotions grow out of the ordinary transactions of life—being with others and following your interests. They are not related to affluence. In other words, as long as our basic needs are met, it is accessible to everyone.
Here's the really great part, Fredrickson worked with a mathematician and they proved that three positive events to one negative event was the tipping point for going from average to high performance. It is even more effective if we manage a five to one ratio where possible. However, one step at a time!

For me this has had major ramifications with regard to parenting and my lesson in all this is that I need to adapt my style to enable my girls to follow their interests more fully. I say that because with two toddlers, I do find myself saying no much more than yes and at times being disproportionately cross with the girls. I have vowed to become more aware of the level of negativity going from me to them and to aim to get it in proportion to the positivity they receive from me. Helpfully Fredrickson has developed a website called PositivityRatio.Com to help us do this. So why not check it out yourself and see what happens when you observe and make note of your positive to negative ratio in relation to your children or other parts of your life. If it starts to change, what impact is that having on your life as a whole.

I would love to hear your comments on this article so do jot them down on the blog or drop me an email to kate@wholeselfleadership.com.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The symbiotic relationship between giving and gaining

Recently I had a very powerful experience which I am keen to share because it reaffirmed one of my core beliefs which is that in giving freely of ourselves, we gain tenfold or as Churchill put it so eloquently We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Also it is an opportunity to promote an organisation that is making a difference by what it does - the Network of Black Professionals.

As often happens with life's opportunities, it came about by chance in the form of an email from a friend who thought I might be interested. It stated that the Black Leadership Initiative (BLI) was looking for suitable mentors to work with Black employees mainly in the public sector. This led to a telephone conversation with the Director of the BLI, a very persuasive woman who convinced me to sign up for their two day mentoring programme.

My initial thoughts were not altogether favourable. I was not sure what I would gain from the course because I was already a qualified coach, although I could see why the BLI would want all potential mentors to go through their training programme. It is important that mentors understand how the host organisation operates and appreciate its cultural ethos. The two days ended up being so much more in part because Caroline Harper Jantuah, the trainer, created a space which enabled participants to be themselves, share and be inspired.

What made it so powerful, was the use of R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.'s Building a House for Diversity as a framework for the initial session. Thomas uses a powerful metaphor involving giraffes and elephants to help people grasp the importance and impact of diversity. In the fable, the elephant who represents minority cultures is expected to diet and do ballet lessons so that (s)he can fit into the house of the giraffe. How often do we find this sort of approach within organisations and parts of life? How could we approach difference more inclusively? Those of us on the course felt that it was important for those from the majority and minority cultures to work together to build a new organisation with shared values, where all had the same amount of opportunity to progress.

Later on we were introduced to a former mentee who had gone through the programme. It was clear that she had gained a tremendous amount from the relationship she had developed with her mentor both in material terms (that is progression within the work place) but also in more profound ways such as her level of confidence. She now has a wide, influential network of people on whom she can call. It was wonderful to see.

It is not just about individuals. The BLI focused it's initial efforts on dealing with under-representation in further education. When it started, there was only one Black Principal of the approximately 400 colleges in the UK. Now 10 years later there are 12. This shows the impact that good mentoring can have at a sector-wide level too. It is so exciting especially since the Initiative has now broadened its remit and started working with other parts of the Public Sector such as the NHS and Central Government.

All this is good stuff but what was truly amazing was the level of connection with so many of those in the room. There was a real warmth and level of interest within the energy of the space and as time went on, individuals saw the value of others within the group and appreciated them openly in front of everyone else. It was a live demonstration of what can be achieved when we all work together in a spirit of openness and inclusion. Personally, I received a number of affirmations and interest in the service I offer. This ranged from an invitation to run my new Whole Self Leadership awareness programme with Black youths and young men who have been imprisoned to running a Leadership development programme on how to encourage self-management within teams at another college; as well as requests to become individuals' executive coach.

In conclusion, my learning from this is that if we are are true to our primary values, and we give freely of ourselves to those causes and things that really mean something to us; we will receive so much more. For me, Diversity has been an important issue for over ten years and it was a real privilege to be in the company of so many who shared my passion and with whom I could communicate using a shared language. My challenge to you is to find, if you do not already know, what is that important to you and ways in which you can express that passion to make a difference and see how it can transform your life.

If you have been inspired by this article, please do leave a comment and share it with others. If you want to find out more about what I do go to my website www.wholeselfleadership.com

Friday, 17 July 2009

What makes for a great interaction with impact?

Just read The Tipping Point. Lots of people were talking about it a few years back and now it felt the right time to read it as I was curious to find out what the ingredients are that make an idea into an overnight success. All of which is hugely relevant now that I am a Mumpreneur.

There were many fascinating points in the book and yet there was one part that stood out from the rest for me and that was the concept of where emotion comes from. I had always assumed that my emotions came from within and said more about me than the other person or thing that was the object of whatever that set of feelings were. Gladwell quotes research done by psychologists that show in fact that it is the reverse. We respond to quite small often imperceptible cues from others. If they smile then we are likely to smile and if they are giving off some kind of negative energy then it may well affect us. The other interesting point is that there are those with the force of personality that can neutralise or reverse the negative energy of another by their presence. It goes without saying that if those who are charismatic in this way happen to exude negative thoughts then others will not be able to shift that and are most likely to be infected by it. So my challenge to myself and to you if you are up for it, is to spend the whole day smiling and giving off positive energy and to see what impact that has.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The transition from the end of maternity leave to the next stage

One particular group of people that I am passionate about is Mums and it is one of my two focal points of my coaching practice. One reason for this focus is that I am a mother myself but it goes much further than that and to help illustrate what I mean, I am going to share some of my own journey.

In short becoming a Mum led to major change in my life. Prior to having my two girls, I worked for the largest professional services firm in the world. My clients were organisations like the British Library, the Inland Revenue and so forth. Often I would leave the house before it was light and come back long into the night. My focus was work and I loved the cut and thrust of the work place. Interestingly for me there was not a seismic shift after my first child was born. I returned to work when she was nine months on a 70% contract. I was able to negotiate 3 days at the office or at a client and half a day at home or put two half days together to go to training events which invariably were on a Friday. There was a shift in that my family became a higher priority than my job. However it still meant making a certain number of sacrifices for the job such as spending three days a week for two months up in Newcastle, working with a client!

The transition came after daughter number two. It culminated with a number of other changes in my life. One was that we moved out of the centre of St Albans to a village just outside Hitchin three weeks before the birth. Despite the relatively short distance between the two places, our lifestyle changed completely in lots of little ways. So for example I had to drive everywhere whereas before I had walked everywhere. It took a long time to feel settled here because many mothers I met had established groups of friends from either their antenatal class or a first baby group. I also realised that I had changed. I no longer relished the idea of the commute into London even on a part-time basis. My main priority was my family and having two children, 15 months apart, meant that the first year was exhausting, and being a full-time Mum in a village could be very isolating at times.

The saving grace for me was that my company had a policy which allowed every member of staff access to a coach for a maximum of six sessions per year. I realised that I needed to make use of that service to sort out what was most important to me and enable me to work out what to do at the end of my maternity leave. In going through that process I realised that despite the potential risks, that going it alone and setting up my own business where I became a WFHM was what I wanted to do. The coaching gave me the clarity I needed to make the decision and the push to go out there and do it. Now I do what I love – coaching.

Reflecting on all of that, it became clear that motherhood is a major time of transition and gives women the opportunity to review and reprioritise what is important to them. However sometimes with all that is going on, women do not have the time or the access to the resources they need to make the best choices for themselves. For all these reasons, I and another mother who is an HR professional run group sessions for Mums with young families who are considering what they want to do following their maternity leave. We run a group session because very often Mums develop their own groups of friends as mothers either through the NCT or other routes, and it allows us to offer the service at a much lower rate than a one on one coaching session. For more information contact me at kcwgriffiths@msn.com

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The power of positive thinking

I feel compelled to share with you what has been happening to me over the last few days. It is amazing. In energy terms I feel as if I have tuned into this very positive, incredible life force. It is as if I could do anything that I wanted to do and it's as though someone is watching over me.

On Saturday I realised that one of my favourite earrings had fallen out. I was very upset because they were from Tiffanys and of great sentimental value too. Normally I would completely lose it and drive my family nuts but I remembered Gretchen Rubin's wise words about emotions in a crisis and decided to believe that it would come back to me. The next day both my husband and I took turns to search the bottom of the pool to no success. By chance I explained what I was doing to those swimming in the lane so they did not get irritated and the woman in the group came up to me a few minutes later with my earring in her hand!

Over the last few months, I have been working with another coach, Karen Wise, to develop a programme for Mums. What is incredible is that it has gone from one programme to two programmes aimed at different types of Mums thanks in part to feedback from friends on facebook in particular Jan Morgan, Becky Alexander and Annette James. One is aimed at Mums with 6-9mth babies and the issues that they tend to be facing such as whether or not to go back to work and lack of identity, me time etc; and the other is for Mums with older children who have made sacrifices for their families and feel that there is something missing. They are either SAHM, WFHM, invariably working from home with little prospect of promotion/ progression, almost on a treadmill with children, husband, work competing for their attention. They are thirsting for a mental workout.

This morning I met the editor of a new magazine aimed at Mums in the car park of Hitchin swimming pool. She is looking for interesting articles for the magazine and Mumpreneurs to put forward for the annual inspiring Mumpreneur awards in September. What a great contact!

It is incredible what can happen when one has taken a stand and lives by that stand. New opportunities keep showing up. As I sat down to write this article I read Rosalyn Clare's post about saying your dreams aloud and seeing what happens. It is so powerful because if we believe in what we are doing, others will too.

Monday, 15 June 2009

A rave about Center Parcs (CP)

It is hard to believe that my eldest daughter is three and it is only now that we have had the CP experience. If I was honest I had been dreading it as we have always been independent travellers and my fear was that I would be entering a glorified Butlins or my perception of what that would be as I have never been on a Butlins holiday either. How wrong I was.

They have clearly really thought about how to make it a children-centred experience whilst ensuring that kids do not take over the place. In other words there was a good mix of people there - from young to old, from families to couples to groups of friends. One of the touches which I loved was the fact that it was so safe because no cars are allowed on the site after people have unloaded on arrival at their accommodation. That meant that my three year old and almost two year old could drive their bike and red tractor on the roads and paths in complete safety.

There were two particular highlights for me and they were these. On the last night we went to the children's disco which was from 7 til 8.30pm. The girls loved dancing with us and each other. They were particularly taken by their special drinks - water in coke cups with lids and straws and we enjoyed a very reasonably priced cocktails. The disco ends promptly at 8.30 and there is a half hour gap until the adult one starts at 9pm - plenty of time to get the kids home to bed.

The other luxury for me was a three hour spa. An afternoon without the children when I could just relax and enjoy all the different experiences Aqua Sana had to offer. I even received a free face masque whilst I was there. At the end of my session, I felt like a new woman and even better I had the bare bones of a workshop idea that I am planning to do with my fellow co-active coach, Beth Follini.

So if you have kids and you have never had the Center Parcs experience then give it go! We all had a great break for four days and I am sure you will too!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Keep East of Luton Green

Luton and Beds Council propose to build 5,500 house in North Herts Countryside. Apart from the fact that Hertfordshire is a different county to Bedfordshire which is grounds enough to reject the proposal, if successful it will destroy an area of natural beauty (part of the Chilterns) if it goes ahead. I chose to live in a rural area because of the benefits gained from living in the country. Please stand up alongside me and put your objections to Mr David Atkinson, Regus House, 960 Capability Green, LUTON, Beds LU1 3PE or email him on david.atkinson@luton.gov.uk. To make it easy I have attached a list of reasons that you can cut and paste to formulate your own arguments below. The deadline for letters is 12 June.

  • There is not an infrastructure to support this development and putting it into
    place would require vast public funding.
  • The roads in the area are already heavily congested especially at peak times
    and cannot cope with the inevitable increase in traffic that such a
    development would bring.
  • Local services such as schools, hospitals, doctors surgeries are already
    overstretched and by no means able to cope with extra numbers. The
    quality of education and patient care would suffer.
  • Local services and amenities such as sports facilities and local shops
    are not suitable to cope with the extra numbers.
  • The Emergency Services are already overstretched and such a block
    of housing will put on additional pressure. The villages in Hertfordshire
    would suffer.
  • Luton would incur huge costs for its encroachment into Hertfordshire
  • The suggested bypass does not ease the road problems that it would
    create it would only add to the problems by bringing more traffic the
    Hertfordshire side of Luton.
  • The development would destroy for ever an area of Green Belt,
    Landscape Grade 1. It is a valley that is irreplaceable.
  • There would be a severe effect on the wild life of the area.
  • It takes away the “playground” of Luton, an area where people walk,
    enjoy fresh air and relax.
  • There are plenty of brown field site and empty properties located within Luton with the scope for development without breaching Green Belt
  • The Core Strategy states that “the Luton & Beds Infrastructure plan… will provide… attractive places to live and visit and a good quality of life” (s. 11.1). A 5,500 housing development that runs the length of a 4-lane highway, with the associated noise, will not have a good image nor offer quality of life, just the opposite. There are better options available, as I propose on the next page.
  • Section 11.4 expresses “support for… the protection of existing green spaces”. However, the EoL option would build 5,500 houses on Green Belt rated sensitivity level 1 by your own consultants, who conclude that development on this land is not recommended.
  • Section 12.1: “Luton and S. Beds… include large areas of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This is a significant asset for the area… Accordingly no preferred sustainable urban extensions are proposed in the Chilterns AONB.” However, your preferred “Black Route” of the Northern Bypass dissects the Chilterns AONB running along the picturesque and historic village of Lilley. The proposal that this damage would be avoided by two ‘cut & cover’ tunnels (5.43) is derisory.
  • Your consultants’ assessment also deals with the historic importance of area L (east of Luton), including Iron Age and Roman sites likely to be of national importance and therefore a material constraint to the development.
    Your Core Strategy recognises (4.25) that the EoL housing and bypass proposals are on N. Herts territory and that the Core Strategy cannot allocate this land for development. N Herts is firmly against this development, so why are you persisting with it?
  • Your Core Strategy recognises (2.5) that there is already “congestion, primarily along the A505”. 5,500 houses - say 8,000 cars? - would make this far worse!

The Joint Committee does have a choice, there are other options available. One example is the West of Luton (WoL) scheme, which:

  • is also for 5,500 houses;
  • requires no public funding. Given the Core Strategy’s concern (8.5) that “significant additional funding would be needed beyond existing budgets”, this must be attractive;
  • is on lower grade Green Belt than the EoL housing scheme;
  • the road infrastructure is on existing B roads, not on virgin, productive farmland designated AONB;
  • incorporates social infrastructure including a 22,000 seat football stadium for Luton Town Football Club, a need identified in section 8.8 of the Core Strategy owing to the Club’s lease arrangements expiring in 2018.

Alternatively could the requirement for 5,500 homes not be met through a mix in Luton town itself of new medium / low rise apartments & houses plus recycling redundant factories / office buildings as apartments? This would address changing demographics -the social trend of many single people living on their own, and older people wanting to be close to shops and social amenities. It would reduce the urban sprawl encroachment onto Green Belt and protect our diminishing countryside. It would also greatly reduce the need for - and financial burden of - new roads as the current transport infrastructure would be on the doorstep of all these homes.
A full orbital road around Luton would draw traffic around the town – to the detriment of business in the town! Is this really what Luton Council wants?
An alternative solution to congestion on the east side of Luton is the widening of Vauxhall Way, which has land either side for easy widening, would link with the M1 via the roads just opened up to the Airport, and would not incur the cost of the ‘cut & cover’ tunnels north of Lilley in the Chilterns AONB.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

I have just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink. I have to share some of the things that I learnt because it is such a powerful text. It probably helps that he is a journalist and knows how to tell a good story - I could certainly understand why other readers had found it a hard book to put down. It is about the role of the unconscious mind in the way that we make decisions and how we can train it to work for us rather than our unconscious deciding on our destiny without us even being aware of it.

First key message: It is clear from a whole raft of experiments undertaken by a range of different psychologists that we are all full of prejudices and these can determine how we respond to people within seconds of meeting them. My favourite example was around the diversity of symphony orchestras. Until 30 years ago these were populated with men and now there are significant numbers of women. This has not happened through education or positive action measures. It has taken place because auditions became screened so that those judging the musicians did so based on the notes they heard played rather than what they saw. How could we bring some of that into our own worlds?

Second key message: Gladwell reinforces Einstein's famous quotation about genius that it is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. In other words we can all become experts in something. It is very likely going to be a topic that really interests us and in which we naturally spend a great deal of time thinking about and working on. One example which is elaborated in detail in the book focuses on Gottman, a psychologist who works with couples. He was not happy with his instinctive reactions to their relationships so he filmed thousands of men and women, broke down every second of the film, ran it through a computer and codified every emotion. As a result he can sit down next to a couple in a restaurant and almost instantaneously form a view of the state of their relationship.

Third key message: how to combine the best of conscious deliberation and instinctive judgement is very difficult and Gladwell does not come to a definite conclusion on it. However he does suggest what will appear counter-intuitive to many and that is that the use of rational analysis is best when there are straightforward choices. Interestingly when a problem is complex and we have to juggle many variables, research has shown that our unconscious thought processes may be superior.

As you can see, the book offers plenty of food for thought. To find out more about your implicit associations, go to http://bit.ly/14lvYz and take the featured test on the 2008 US election.

Monday, 20 April 2009

What is kindness and how does it show up in your life?

Did you know that in February there was a week dedicated to random acts of kindness? When I found out about this it made me think about what that meant and whether there was link to the richness of our lives. My reflections on it follow.

My initial thoughts were that it related to undertaking random acts of kindness for complete strangers. That reminded me of a recent exchange that I had with a woman in Sainsbury's car park. I had parked the car and was just going to buy my parking ticket when she approached me and offered me her ticket as she was on the verge of leaving. I was so grateful because with two children under three even doing the supermarket shopping turns into a bit of an expedition so anything that eases the process is welcomed with open arms. In conversation, it came up that this woman has made a commitment to commit some kind of act of kindness for another every day, which was inspiring. The whole experience lifted my spirits and gave me food for thought for the day. My daughter also commented on it by asking who the lady was and asking if she was a friend.

Such acts require little forethought because they represent a straight forward, quick transaction. However the end result is that both the giver and the receiver feel positive towards humanity. It also led me to inquire what other types of kindness exist and I thought about times in my life when I had been overwhelmed by people's kindness.
It is the rites of passage in our lives that seem to receive so much attention. The birth of my two daughters generated an enormous response from a wide range of people. Similarly key events such as moving house can have the same kind of reaction. It's as if people put aside their differences and rise to the occasion. It is wonderful as both events represent significant change: motherhood is often transformational; and it can take two years to settle in a new area. In both cases the process can be quite stressful.

What these first couple of examples of kindness share is that they represent a one off action. This led me to ponder about whether a commitment to long term acts of kindness could be found. These are more difficult to identify perhaps because they require us to stop and think about how we live and change the daily rhythms of our lives to incorporate them. For example taking time to include people especially those new to a play group or an area. The person with a new baby whether it is their first or a subsequent child, can struggle to adapt to the new rhythms of their life and appreciates any kindness/ support from those around them but is unlikely to ask for it directly. Yet being open to these opportunities and responding to them can lead us in a direction that is not expected at all. And perhaps this is what holds people back, an almost sub-conscious resistance to change!

I thought I would complete this article by offering an example of a sustained approach to kindness. A year ago a husband died leaving behind a wife, a two year old and a two month old baby. It was a huge loss in all sorts of ways. Some time after the funeral, when the initial response to the tragedy had died down, a new friend who was not close to the family arranged a dinner with three other friends to provide food and company for the widow at her house. This has continued to take place at regular intervals ever since. It now has a momentum of its own and has led to other joint activities. Yet it started because the friend did not know what else to do to help.

My challenge to you is to think about your life and see where you can reach out in kindness and who knows what unforeseen benefits will manifest themselves as a result.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

How busy are you?

It came to my attention through an article I was reading recently that there is a belief that the phrase Keeping busy? has replaced the more traditional greeting on meeting someone of how are you? Initially I was quite sceptical about this but then as often happens when something is brought to one's attention I noticed it more. In fact it was a bit of an epiphany for me because until that moment I had not realised how much it was part of common parlance. It got me thinking about the underlying assumptions of this change of usage.

Is it related to the Puritan work ethic which has so dominated our culture in the past? In the past that translated itself as every one had to earn their place in heaven. In today's language it seems to have come to mean that each of us has to earn our place in society through what we do. How many people do you know who gain their sense of self worth through what they contribute? There
are even those who spend time listing what they do with their time perhaps to prove that they are occupied in worthy pursuits. For others saying how busy they are is a polite way of avoiding offence – in other words they have been too busy to find time to see you as it is easier to put it that way rather than the more truthful I choose not spend my time with you.

Whatever the root cause it, it has had ramifications beyond the social worlds we inhabit and crept into our work environment. Although thinking about it, it was probably established in our working lives before infiltrating our social conscience, one only has to recall 1993 when the UK won an opt-out clause with regard to the implementation of a 48 hour working week. The latest talks on this issue to get rid of the opt-out clause within three years collapsed in April 2009. Closer to home, it is becoming increasingly the norm for employees to work through lunch. With this pattern, also follows an assumption and expectation from employers that staff will continue to do this unquestioningly. I wonder how healthy such an attitude is especially if we consider that we are human beings not human doings.

How about this for an idea? It sounds counter-intuitive because it swims against the current culture but why not give it a go. Put aside time each day when you just relax, focus on your breathing, perhaps do a structured meditation. See what happens over time – you may find you can fit more into your day; even that you become more creative. Avril Carson from the Happiness Project, subscribes to 30 minutes meditation daily and extends it to one hour when she is very busy. So here is my challenge to you – take some time out of each day to do nothing and see what happens.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

How lucky are you?

Ever since I was very young, I have had an interest in psychology. For a long time, I thought that was what I wanted to read at University as at that time I understood it to be the study of people. When I looked into it more, it seemed much too scientific for a girl who had no science beyond O level. I almost took Chemistry A level until the teachers baulked at my other two A level choices - History and French.

It was with great interest that I responded to a suggestion to attend the Psychology for All conference last Saturday. It was also a thrill to contemplate a whole day devoted to my own personal development without two young children in tow. I was not disappointed. It was such a smorgasbord of ideas, my mind is still reeling from the impact several days later. I would like to share highlights from the keynote speech.

Richard Wiseman who opened the conference was a delight. He has spent many years looking at luck to find out whether it is as some believe down to random chance or whether there is a more rational explanation to it. What is amazing is that a ten year study he conducted with 400 people chosen at random shows that we can all become “luckier” if we choose. The key seems to be the development of a positive mental attitude. Everyone experiences tough times and set backs but it is all about how we process these – those that consider themselves lucky are likely to look at any situation and see what is good in it and consider themselves lucky because it could have been worse. Another of Wiseman's principles is that lucky people tend to create opportunities and are open to seeing the opportunities in whatever situation they find themselves in. They tend to court change and variety in their lives as a way of breaking daily routines. They also have flexibility of thought which is valuable when in a tough place. In short the good news is that we can all bring more luck into our lives through the way we behave and think. Wiseman took his experiment further by creating “Luck School” to see if people could be taught how to become luckier and the good news is that with a few simple exercises, we can all become luckier. One of these is to keep a luck diary and to notice at least three lucky things each day. Participants of Wiseman's study claimed to feel luckier as a result of going through luck school so why don't you try keeping a luck diary and observe what happens.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The power of language and threes

It's a new year and a new start. I feel that I have so much I want to say. Yesterday I got together with other co-active coaches which was fantastic in so many ways. Three of us had gone through the course together and it was like meeting old friends. With the others, there was a common language because we had had similar experiences through our training.

What struck me most powerfully on reflection was the symbolism of the number three. In numerology it is often linked to integration and wholeness. We often talk about the relationship between mind, body and spirit and the energy/ power an individual has when the three elements are in harmony. Interestingly I discovered yesterday that in Buddhist temples incense sticks are lit and placed in groups of three.

In my own life I am always aware of bad things coming in threes but I am less conscious of the same pattern with positive stuff. Looking back at yesterday's session there was a clear message and that was the power of words. In an initial conversation, we talked about writing out intentions and then coming back to them at a later date. Someone had recently found something they had written a year ago and it described almost to the letter the good things that they were currently experiencing. I took away from that a sense of how powerful words can be. We then considered as a group what the word message meant which led to a rich discussion and what I took from that was a sense that messages are everywhere if we are alert to them. Finally we looked at whether we as coaches had a particular message for our clients.

As a result of the session, I decided to spend some time with myself and compose my intentions for 2009 which I would then review in a year's time. My challenge to you is to do the same and see how much impact they have on your year.