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That time when I found out that I’m a terrible judge of character

Okay so that title might be a little misleading: I’m afraid it isn’t just me on this one folks. We’re all a terrible judge of character. Sad but true. We’re laden with bias and most of the time when we meet people, we judge and make assumptions based on what we want to see and what we want them to be. We judge people that we really don’t know by our own fixed lens.

On the flip side of that, the funny thing is we likely also care too much what that other person thinks of us. So we oscillate between charm offensive and judgement in an alarming manner.

Whilst I’m happy to say it happens to me less frequently, I can still taste the horrible feeling you get when a first encounter with a new person goes awry. You see it often in public, when a couple of strangers misread one another, start to quarrel and neither feels like they can back down.

One of them says something that is either taken the wrong way, or perhaps said in the wrong way, and it starts off a chain reaction which deteriorates rapidly. It’s often not even about the person they are faced with, they’ve allowed the emotions they are experiencing to colour their interaction with another person.

It’s a horrible feeling to feel misunderstood, and I’ve always been someone who tries to get both parties to a place of understanding as fast as possible. I’ve always been hell bent on winning people over (winning others over has kept showing up as one of my top five strengths according to Gallup these past few years). The challenge is that you can’t always do that. Sometimes, no matter what you say, the other person is already too far gone and the damage irreversible.

In the context of day to day life, these interactions, whilst energetically damaging are seemingly harmless. There are other times, though, when they quite literally mean a case of life and death.

I recently finished ‘Talking with Strangers’ by the rather brilliant Malcolm Gladwell. I love the way he manages to dig deep into the world to attempt to provide data and explanations of this kind of human behaviour. He gives a thoughtful view on recent tragedies like that of the death of Sandra Bland, on why it happened in the first place and how it might have been avoided.

The premise around ‘Talking with Strangers’ was around bias and conditioning, and our ability to get one another so so wrong. We think we are able to judge one another clearly, when in truth, we just aren’t very good at it. We think that when we see a human being we can read their behaviour, when we actually can’t.

Early on in the book he references a study by a group in New York City, where they quite literally pitched judges against AI. Of 554,689 defendants for arraignment hearings, the judges chose to release  just over 400,000. They fed the AI systems the same data as the judges and asked it to make recommendations of the 400,000 it would release.

They then assessed the list and the computer system hands down was able to predict the likelihood of repeat offences. The folks on the AI list were 25% less likely to commit a crime whilst awaiting trial.

The machine flagged 1% of the defendants as high risk, stating that well over half would offend if released. The judges had released 48.5% of them. The only data that the humans had over the machines was having seen the defendants in person; and that was where the judgements were made. They saw people and thought they knew them. They made decisions based in bias.

My paraphrasing won’t do his book justice, so I absolutely recommend you hit the source and read the whole thing for yourselves.

Moving this conversation to the professional world I inhabit, I’d like to consider for a moment how this applies in the workplace, where frankly this kind if thing shows up all the time. People may not be total strangers, yet they fail to read each other, fail to really see each other and most definitely fail to hear each other. They make judgements based on bias and that can leave us in a very dangerous place indeed.

A misfire on comms at work can have reverberating repercussions for a long while. It can impact not just the individuals concerned, but also have a bearing on the work an entire team is able to produce.

I am no different, and have definitely had those moments. To work towards having less and less of them, we have to take responsibility for our role in creating them. Often we play the victim of the story, when in actual fact we always have our part to play in their total creation. The hunter and the deer both have their roles to play” if the deer wasn’t there the hunter wouldn’t be hunting.

I remember one particular work relationship where I felt this the most. For a long time I allowed myself the indulgence of feeling like the victim of the piece. Until one day I decided to shift my lens from one of defence to one of love and understanding and the dialogue with my ‘hunter’ shifted. The whole dynamics of our relationship then changed.

The other place we need to be careful of this dynamic is in the workplace is, of course, with hiring. Making the wrong, bias laden, judgement about someone in an interview process can kill the very thing that would make our business thrive; diversity.

The nuances of how a question is asked in an interview and what the non verbal communication signals are  can make the difference as to whether the person being interviewed feels safe to answer fluently or feels not safe and therefore potentially stifled.

Once someone feels unsafe in this kind of interaction, whether consciously or unconsciously,  we’re really never going to see who that person really is. They won’t feel comfortable, they will feel judged and they will likely have a horrible experience.

As I’ve written and said many times, there is no magic pill to fix this stuff, there is only awareness:

  • Awareness of who we really are in the world.
  • Awareness of the part we play in the daily interactions in our lives.
  • Awareness of our triggers and conditioning.
  • Awareness of when we are at odds with someone, and whether we have stopped being impartial.
  • Awareness of the toolkit you need to build inside yourself to give yourself a chance of choosing a better response.
  • Commitment to lovingly create awareness in others when you see the need.

Whilst the argument from Gladwell is palpable around a computer being able to make better decisions than us, until we can be sure that even they are coded in a way that is free from bias, human beings simply need to do a better job at levelling up on this stuff.

That’s the only way we will ever build inclusive businesses where we get to hear every voice we need to hear to grow in a way that supports the communities and businesses that we serve.

How about we all make a pact to create the right amount of awareness amongst ourselves to be able to do our jobs properly, and  by doing so allow the best people to have a fair shot at doing theirs?

That time when I realised that I was a tumbleweed

A friend of mine told me a little something recently about tumbleweeds. Apparently, even having been all dried up, shrivelled and blowing around the desert for an untold amount of time, when they land in the right conditions and are fed and watered the right way, they burst back to life.

Amazing right?

It then occurred to me that my own life very much mirrors that of a tumbleweed. I was lost for a very long time and most certainly not thriving, then I changed my conditions and low and behold, I burst back into life.

A lot of people who didn’t know the tumbleweed me might find it hard to reconcile that I was once living a very different life to the one I share with you all today. Just as we can all burst into life in the right conditions, we can go the other way also.

There is a very personal part of my story that I recently realised I haven’t really talked in much detail about: how I found myself in an abusive codependent relationship for 12 years.

I am only sitting here writing this because I was inspired by the love and determination of others, so I felt it was time for me to share some of that story in the hope that it might offer someone else the same. I share this as a message of hope.

What I hadn’t expected was the challenge I faced in writing it. The last draft I wrote  turned into some kind of white paper on domestic abuse where I academically removed myself from the story. Trouble is; I can’t remove myself from this story. I can’t make it academic. I just have to make it real. So here it is.

My name is Ruth Penfold and I was in a codependent abusive relationship for 12 years.

I met my ex husband when I was just 19. I was living in Bristol, having grown up there, and was struck by this guy that seemed so worldly (he’d just moved back from London). I was infatuated. He was five years older than me. When I look back, within the first week of meeting him, my alarm bells should have been ringing. There was so much about him that made me feel anxious, but those feelings could well have been ‘love’ for all I knew, so I dove in deeper.

He very quickly learnt my operating model and what was likely to worry me the most, and then used that data to begin to take control of my world. Who I saw, where I went, what I wore. This was where I gradually lost myself. After about six months of dating I moved to London to start university. It provided the perfect foundation for him to encourage me to let go of any of the friendships that I had created during my teenage years.

From the deep understanding he gleaned early on of my blueprint, he was also able to show me just enough care to boost me enough to stay. Like a child starved of affection, those well timed little gestures felt like the most magnificent thing of all. A ruffle of my hair and my heart felt full, even if just for that moment. Those tiny little sporadic scraps of love sustained me for 12 years.

Very quickly we established a relationship that existed entirely on his terms. He would constantly break promises and was controlling and jealous. At the time my 19 year old self put that down to infatuation or ‘love’. It’s nice to feel wanted right…? My life with him became an island, and any relationships I sustained at that time were purely superficial, even with my family. I kept the world at arm’s length.

People who met me during that time would have found me cheery enough, when the truth is, I was living in a constant state of hyper anxiety, never quite knowing what he was going to do next.

I wasn’t passive this whole time by the way. I actually called him out on his behaviour often. The sass you see today was still there somewhere. Each time I did, he managed to fire it back in my direction with such force that I would either just be afraid of what he might do, or I’d end up feeling like I’d done something wrong. The fear hit me on a multitude of levels actually; fear of his reaction in the moment, fear of what he might do later but also the fear that he might just leave and not come back. Crazy right?

When you are in this kind of relationship, on some level you know what’s happening, but you just become paralysed in it. You are terrified of what they might do when they are there, but you are even more terrified of them leaving you. You are on the island that you have co-created and you don’t know how to get off. You lose your grip on reality and allow yourself to be tossed around by your partner and their myriad of emotions, you fall down a rabbit hole of codependence and you can’t find your footing to scramble back out.

I read somewhere recently that it takes you seven times longer to leave an abusive relationship. That makes sense to me. People often ask me that question; ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’. The truth is, I was in so deep it didn’t even occur to me. Until near the very end, it didn’t even cross my mind.

My path to freedom

In 2007, nine months before I got married, I met my now best friend Emily. She jumped into my world and forced a friendship in a way that others hadn’t been able to. She saw a light within me that had all but been extinguished and found a way to penetrate my exterior and find a way in. She gently managed to inspire me to dare to consider a different kind of life by encouraging tiny loving steps and changes in the way I was living and importantly, the way I regarded myself. Even though she only got to see a fraction of the life I was actually living, it was enough for her to see even at a glance that I was in a very dangerous place indeed.

I am thankful for her friendship and her unapologetic determination each and every day.

Over the next three years I continued to be inspired by the people I came into contact with until finally I’d grown big enough within myself to be brave enough to even consider leaving. In that time I’d lost 3.5 stone in weight, and the view I’d held on myself had begun to shift. The voices within grew louder and stronger, but it took coaching to help me respond to them.

In November 2010, though still terrified by doing so and what the repercussions might be, I finally left.

I’ve spent the last decade rebuilding myself from the inside out and learning to make better choices, blessed by the love and support of my family and closest people. It has taken a lot of work to learn new thought patterns and behaviours. Though my work here is far from done, I have managed to build a whole new life for myself: one with love at the very heart of everything. My tumbleweed is flourishing and alive once more.

Some thoughts on codependency

In a codependent partnership, there is typically someone who adopts the taking role, and someone who adopts the giving role. The taker is often the abuser and the giver is often the abused. Both parties are operating from a place of deep personal pain, but the taker directs that pain towards others, often cruelly, whereas the giver holds that pain deep inside as an emptiness to be filled, no matter the cost.

All beings are born with the same default setting of love and goodness, things can just go a little wonky from there, when our childhood experiences form our ability to relate to the world around us. Both parties therefore learn their operating model from a place of fear, and it’s that fear that gives rise to the dysfunction between two people.

To completely avoid these kinds of scenarios, we need to get better at supporting our children to grow with a more complete sense of self. To grow without the feeling of emptiness that so many of us arrive in adulthood trying to fill, to operate from a place of security over fear.

As long as the more holistic cure eludes us, for those of us that are already at adulthood, it’s important that we become aware of the early warning signs of abuse so we can treat the symptoms in the interim and move away from the stranglehold of codependency.

So whether you are experiencing this first hand or whether you notice a shift in the behaviour of a friend, here are some of the things I would look out for:

Sign 1: Manipulation and fear

Just like in my case, the taker is super wily and will quickly learn the blueprint of how you operate and what matters most to you. They learn quickly what hurts you the most and how to use it to maximum effect. They find your monsters, learn what feeds them and use that knowledge as a means of control. You might notice changes in the way your friend behaves or what they start saying yes and no to.

Sign 2: Isolation and control

To really start to gain control of someone, they have to remove you from the world that they found you in. Whether they know it consciously or not, their desire is to truly possess you. That can start small at first, it did with me. It started with comments and judgements of the friends I had, with a campaign against them and their suitability as friends. Does this resonate for you? Are you aware of someone who dived into a relationship and you hardly saw them again?

Sign 3: Becoming a shadow of your former self

He would bark at any man who looked my way, even by accident. Gradually I learnt to make myself invisible. I put on weight, wore no make up and dressed in shades of beige and brown until I’d all but disappeared. I just found myself glibly choosing the path of a quiet life and stopped wearing things that might ‘gain attention’.  This is one of the most obvious signs; the physical manifestation of deep unhappiness.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse or have someone close to you whom you are worried about, there are a myriad of wonderful support groups who can offer more practical support like Refuge, who have a 24 hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.

Place yourself in the wrong conditions and it’s very easy to find yourself in the middle of a relationship that doesn’t serve you. It can happen to anyone, but I also want to remind you that this doesn’t have to be your life forever. Change is always possible and however painful it might seem, I’m pretty sure it’s nothing compared to what you are living right now.

Instead use this as your catalyst to start creating a new set of conditions for yourself and see if you can find a way to allow your tumbleweed to flourish once more.

That time when I came to the end of a decade

The end of a decade is significant moment in time that makes a lot of us reflect over the past one. As I look back over the past 10 stretch, it’s funny for me to think sometimes that my life hasn’t always been this way. For those who stumble across me for the first time, you might make the same assumption also.

The truth is that in 2010 something magical happened: I ejected myself out of the life that I had created and built a whole new one, a new one with love at its core.

The journey hasn’t been an easy one, but my goodness it has been entirely worth it. Each and every year I feel like I get a little closer to my truer sense of self. Each and every year, whatever the headlines might have read in my life at the time (we all have dramatic headlines right!?), I have felt truly blessed and thankful to be right where I am, living and learning.

The question that I have kept asking myself along the way is: How do I keep bringing more and more love to each and every thing thing I do?

Indulge me for a moment whilst I track back through those years for a hot minute, and share with you the various stages of development. Like the evolution of Penfold. My path to wellness. My path to whole body livingness.

I’ve also punctuated each year with a song that captured my heart that year just for funsies… you can take the girl out of Shazam but you can’t take Shazam out of the girl after all.

2010: Swim Good, Frank Ocean. The year that I forced myself to accept the reality that I had been fighting against; that I had chosen to place myself in the middle of an abusive relationship for the past 12 years and I needed to leave. With the help of coaching I finally left in the November of that year, filed for divorce and left the home that I had built behind. In writing this post, I realised this is a whole post of it’s own, so my next blog post will go into a little more detail on domestic abuse.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse or have someone close to you whom you are worried about, please reach out to me. I am not an expert on this matter beyond my lived experience. There are a myriad of wonderful support groups who can offer more practical support like Refuge, who have a 24 hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.

2011: Heartbeat, Nneka. This was the year when I managed to crawl back into life. I landed into this year completely shell shocked, and set about trying to establish some semblance of normality. I was afraid both of my past and of my future so I spent a lot of that time drinking too much alcohol. Somewhere within that I also allowed space for the friendships that became like family to grow. The possibilities that lay in front of me felt overwhelming, so I tried to stay safe with a small core group of people. After six months of turbulence I settled into a new flat and started to find my feet, but the struggle was real.

2012: Get Free, Major Lazer. With growing confidence, I started to make decisions that served me. This started with stopping drinking alcohol and caffeine completely, and was the beginning of my commitment to food choices that truly support my body (which I’ve later iterated on). I’d suffered from stress and food induced IBS throughout my 20’s, and I had pretty much fixed it by this point. I was still searching in earnest for an identity. I thought I’d found it in the art world. I started to let people call me Ruthie; a move that I now see was borne of fear, I felt it made me smaller and easier for the world to stomach somehow. I started to meet people, lots of people, and allowed my instinctive curiosity to flourish.

2013: Change, Natty. I came to the realisation that I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for outside of myself, but I struggled to find my way in. With the help of coaching, I managed to make some choices that supported me better, but I still lived to support others rather than myself. I’d thrown myself into the art world fully, and was doing that work alongside a busy day job. I joined Shazam at the end of that year and found a new obsession. Shazam captivated my imagination and I gave everything I had to build out the right foundation for that business. Where I grew at this time was mainly in professional confidence and competence. I arrived awash with imposter syndrome, but I was able to produce great work there that meant I was able to let some of that go.

2014: Live Your Life, Yuna. First new love. I started dating and started to try to find a way to share my world with others. It was pretty gnarly. The protection and independence I’d created to leave the relationship of my 20’s made it super hard to let love in. Honestly, at this time I simply wasn’t able to. I’d just started to show myself signs of love (baby steps), and the idea of another person truly loving me was more than I could fathom. So I guess you could say that this year I could see/smell/taste the delights that life truly had to offer, but I was still falling short of experiencing them fully. The song truly punctuates that for me, I can remember walking along listening to it, joy rising inside me, but very much living vicariously through the joyful experiences of others.

2015: Florasia, Taylor McFerrin. This was the moment I started to heal from the troubles I had experienced in earlier life. I started to see Sara Williams and began to connect to myself though sessions with her. That work was the beginning of the path towards gentleness and a deeper audit of the smaller details about how I was living. I got a taste of meditation here, and learnt what it felt like to connect to myself fully. I started to exercise and feel the strength grow within my body. I rented my first flat solo that year, which was a big bold step at the time, for someone who had up until that time been in a tiny box room feeling like that was all I needed (and deserved actually). The song captivated my imagination, and sparked a greater curiosity for the love that might be available to me.

2016: Lite Weight, Anderson Paak. The path towards gentleness continued with a sharp segway into some fairly aggressive yoga. It took me a while on this path to find the ability to slow down and breathe and find more of a balanced practice. I learnt how to meditate alongside this with Sara at her then clinic, being part of that group I learnt so much about rest and recovery, and though a well established early riser by this point, became much more committed to rhythms and schedules for my body. This was where my meditation practice truly began, and I started to learn myself and my reactions to things from the inside. The song captured my heart with its effervescence of spirit but with the deeper message of ‘there’s no reason to be afraid’.

2017: Tawo, Jordan Rakei. I took the meditation work a little further by getting involved in the ‘Just Breathe Project’ with Michael James Wong. I also did a little more speaking therapy at this time, as I began to wonder whether the walls I had built around my heart were going to allow the right kind of love in. My goal at this time was to embrace vulnerability, and learn to live less in my alpha driving mode. My world felt joyful though, and I got better at making quick decisions on things that weren’t serving me. I was in the groove at Shazam and seeing the impact I was able to create. The song captivated me and my feeling of being blessed by my experiences.

2018: Morning After, dsvn. I continued to work to try and find the space to enjoy the path of walking alongside another person. I joined Onfido, and could see the aching need for some of the work I was doing personally from a business standpoint – meditation, connection, care. It was like the stars were aligning for me again professionally speaking and like all the learnings were coming together in a brilliant way. My side note is that I’d also thrown myself into my work here in a fairly unhealthy way, which my obsessive streak is a little prone to. I was able to draw upon the toolkit I had created and dial up on meditation and other work to support myself at this time.

2019: Told You So, Miguel. I started this year with the goal of ‘being’ over ‘doing’ and I failed miserably. I am one of life’s do-ers and that’s hard to change. This whole time, even when it was detrimental to me, I’ve ridiculously overachieved at the thing I’ve set my mind to. So I finish the year with renewed intent. To live, to love, to breathe. To go deeper. To find more space. To slow down. I’ll let you know how I get on with that. The song is fabulous, but also carries the message for me that we actually always know what’s right for us, I knew it at the start of the year, but still carried on diving into the waves of doing. There’s a great question we can ask ourselves most of the time when we embark on a new project: ‘What are we going to ‘learn’ six months from now that we already know today?’.

I continue my work on the spectrum of love, sorting through myself and my ways of working to configure myself in the optimum way to truly thrive. I also carry that quest into the businesses that we are supporting within the Launchpad, to help them build the right experience for themselves and their people.

My intention is to fill the next decade with even more LOVE. Love is, after all, the most precious thing that we have my friends; love for ourselves and love for each other (and boy does our world need more of that now).

Happy new decade beautiful people.

That time when I realised I’d unwittingly started to develop a growth mindset

I recently finally finished reading Carol Dweck’s book on Growth Mindset. It’s one that has sat on my Kindle for the longest while, yet like so many things, seems to have popped up again just at the moment when I was most likely to need it. Thank you Universe.
To have a growth mindset is to develop the view of ourselves that we are capable of anything, that we are worthy of doing so and that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Done well, a growth mindset really is the key to unlocking a life lived to its expansive potential.
The opposite of a growth mindset is to have a fixed mindset; something entirely inflexible and completely limiting. The average person has a blend of both. Where we have a growth mindset in some areas of our lives we might be fixed in others.
I was never aware of what kind of mindset I had up until recently, when I started to consider more about what makes people thrive within startups and in particular, as Founders. To build and sustain businesses in quite the way they do means a growth mindset is essential; they have to believe that anything is possible.

This leads to the question; is a growth mindset something that we can learn?

I am pleased to say that the answer is a resounding yes.
Whilst I am definitely still the average person here, with different mindset approaches in different areas of my life, I’m delighted to say that in the past few years I’ve unwittingly developed a growth mindset across many spectrums of my life that previously were blocked. Though let’s also be clear it was a little more by accident rather than by design. Thank you again Universe.
Up until about 7 years ago my mindset was very much fixed when it came to myself and my own capability.
As a young child I was confident, sassy and felt I could do anything. The shutdown came for me at around 10 or 11 years old. I can remember a series of disappointments, often linked to creative expression, that led me to shrink myself smaller and become less confident in sharing my ideas.
Even though I have always been one of the smallest people in the room, I have also often been one of the loudest. That meant I often had the attention of teachers for the wrong reasons, and that I caused a reaction in some of those teachers and their perception of me as a threat to their authority. I asked a lot of questions. Rather than work with the spirited child they were faced with to yield excellent results, instead they generally formed a negative view around my capability to learn.
Granted, my ideas were often a little outside of the norm, but rather than cherish them and help me work them into something that fit the bill for what they were looking for, the teachers around me tended to squash them.
The views they held on me academically felt absolute, so I took them at their word and decided quite unconsciously that traditional learning wasn’t for me. Sure, I continued to learn from the ‘school of life’, but even simple things like reading became sidelined as I focused on my street savvy as my sole means of survival. I created a hard belief about myself and my ability that mirrored theirs.
Instead I applied my creative energies into a full scale teenage rebellion and perpetuated the labels that they had given me.
At around that time I also started the ugly pursuit of seeking validation from the world around me and look for its approval, and in doing so, curbed my tongue on almost everything. I was constantly seeking a new tribe to belong to, one that I could feel safe in, so metamorphosised through many different identities throughout my teens. My apparent confidence was merely a smokescreen for a deep sadness and a very low self esteem.
I then let the views of others dictate my reality for a very long time indeed.
The key to unlocking it was love. Love for myself and love in the form of the belief of others. The key to that love was to develop a real connection with myself. Thank you (yet again) Universe.
I’d been taking tiny steps in the direction of self, inspired largely by others that crossed my path. The big shift in my early 30s, when those little steps culminated into a big loud voice inside myself that told me I needed to tear everything up and start over. I needed to build a new life from the inside out. So that’s exactly what I did.
I had finally found (and started to pay attention to) my own voice.
Since then, I have continued taking those little tiny steps to make positive choices in alignment with what truly serves me. Bit by bit those choices have helped me to learn to love myself, respect myself and see my value in the world.
One of those choices was to learn how to learn again. I did that by quietly giving myself the safe space to do so, by creating a learning commitment to myself that started small with just 10 minutes of reading a day. That has gradually developed over time and I have now become someone who is basically always learning something; whether teaching yoga, how to do the people stuff better or whatever else.
This has only been possible as a by product of the love and admiration I was developing for myself. I now know (and truly believe) that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, I just have to be brave enough to do it. I am now committed to life long learning.

Whatever we apply ourselves to, we can get better at.

As I said at the beginning, we generally have a mix of mindsets; we can still be abundant in some areas and closed off in others.  A fixed mindset is insidious, and will creep around you in a myriad of different ways if you allow it.
Sometimes you can be exposed to people who trigger old patterns within you and the fears can resurface, I have experience that in the workplace with a former boss. You have to protect your mindset when this kind of challenge occurs and become aware of when you are retreating back to something that feels safer. Be bold, be brave and hold your course.
My work here is by no means done. Now that I’m aware of just how important my mindset is, I am careful to look at the areas where I am still fixed and holding myself back. From that place of awareness I can work to create the right dialogue with myself to continue to set myself free, to be bold, be brave and to hold my course.
Living expansively can be our only real goal in life. Success shouldn’t be the position we hold or our social status. Real success comes in the day to day relationship with have with ourselves and the way we regard our abilities. When making choices now, I ask myself the simple question; which one will afford me the greatest opportunity for expansion?
My lived experience helps me to guide and coach others in the same direction, whether within my immediate team or across the wider business I am operating in.
If we can be successful in creating a safe space for this mindset shift to occur within the people who work within the businesses we watch over as People people, I’ll be a very happy Penfold indeed. Then we can sit back and watch as their respective rocket ships shoot for the stars, and take our brilliant businesses with them.

That time when I learnt the power of receiving feedback authentically

When I said I made it my mission to get better at giving authentic feedback in my last post, what I didn’t tell you was that I ended up with a two for one deal; by learning how to give feedback well it made me consider how well I was receiving feedback, which honestly had some room for improvement. Wowch.

This was quite some revelation and one I became determined to work on. Receiving feedback well is an essential piece of the self awareness puzzle; if we aren’t open to receiving it, even when it hurts a little, we are essentially living in an echo chamber.

How you receive feedback can vary wildly according what kind of person you are, and quite honestly, the degree to which you care what other people think.

There are different kinds of innate reactions to feedback and these are often reactions that we can’t help. What we can do however, is to get better at creating the space in the moment to control what our response is. That doesn’t mean the reaction goes, it just means that we are able to rationalise it and behave a little more graciously (hopefully) when it really counts.

For the purposes of looking at how we evolve the way we receive this kind of data, I’ve created some personas by way of illustration. It’s worth noting that we can also be at different ends of that spectrum on different days depending on what is going on for us.

Let’s start with the zero f’s operator.

One of life’s lucky devils who gets to live by their own rules, at least in the main. They feel comfortable being just who they are and expressing their opinions – great right? Yes. A lot of the time it’s wonderful, but there’s also a flip side to that level of sureness. It can be at the expense of genuine learning. They can feel so content with their view that they dismiss the views of others without introspection.

Whilst I 100% salute the sureness and champion living by your whole body intelligence first and foremost (all the wisdom you need is all within you; FACT), it’s worth approaching feedback conversations a little differently.

If we think we know best and let ourselves be completely closed to the views of others, we create a myriad of different (and potentially deadly) blind spots. It’s crucial to learn the art of openness, the joy to be found in hearing someone else’s perspective, and then allowing the new data to marinate.

Let’s now consider the other end of the spectrum; the worry wort.

By total reverse this person cares so deeply what people think that they allow themselves to be derailed by even the slightest murmur of critique. They feel it tangibly within their bodies, as they ping into fight or flight response and try to find a way out – or even more insidiously, they take that new data as fact.

Fear and perfectionism can leave this person paralysed in the moment, either sounding super defensive as they try to deal with their emotional reaction to the thing or just glibly nodding and agreeing and quietly questioning internally how on earth the world had allowed them to do this job in the first place, given that they are such a bad person.

This has been me at times. Even if I managed to hold it together outwardly, inside I was mortified. The conversations we have with ourselves are deadly my friends, so you have to put in the work to make sure that your inner dialogue is a good one.

The happy medium lies somewhere in the middle.

Our happy place is somewhere between those two extremes; where we care enough to learn and grow but we don’t default to taking things personally. When people give us feedback we are able to hear it, control our actions and break it down into actionable learning.

Whilst I was never 100% at one of the extremes, I’ve suffered like most people by the very human characteristics of wanting to do good things, wanting people to think good things about me, wanting to feel like I’m doing my best and wanting to be liked.

Whilst this is a very normal state of affairs, it’s fundamentally flawed as you are eternally seeking external validation. We are all born whole, magnificent beings that have an inner compass that could steer them through anything, yet all too often we have our focus elsewhere.

But we are where we are, so it’s important that we learn how to get back to our essence, whilst being open to learning at the same time.

My advice for taking feedback well – even if you fake it until you make it – would be to:

  • Teach your heart to smile when presented with new data, approach conversations positively – meditating just beforehand is a great leveller for me.
  • Learn to rationalise your emotional responses and choose better ones. Getting to know your emotional spectrum intimately will help you to evolve and grow your EQ. This has to start with self. Meditation has allowed me the connection I needed to create the space to do this.
  • Keep your body in an open dynamic by sitting in an open posture. Sounds crazy I know, but crossed legs and crossed arms sends messages of defensiveness not only around your own body, but also to the person giving you feedback. I have forcefully made myself do this in difficult interactions so I can tell you first hand, it really works.
  • Be warm, friendly and supportive to the person who is giving you the feedback, where possible thanking them. Even if you come back later to say thank you; no one is perfect. Respect the challenge of the person in front of you and the energy and care it has taken them to do so, it’s hopefully coming from a place of love after all.
  • It’s okay to ask questions and clarify your understanding, but be careful that you aren’t using your questions as a form of defence. Remember: feedback doesn’t have to be fully accurate to be useful, but even 5% could be something game changing for you.
  • Make life easier for yourself by telling your closest team mates how you like to receive feedback, and ask them the same question. Taking control of how you like people to give feedback to you will allow you to create the support you might need to get better at taking it. As a leader, it’s even more important that you make bi-directional feedback a ‘thing’ and that you set the platform for honesty with your team. The very definition of leading by example.

I’d love to hear from those of you who have had to put the work in to get better, and if there are any other tricks that have worked for you, whichever part of the spectrum you are sitting on.

In the meantime, if you have any feedback for me on my blog, or anything else, I invite you to approach me with your whole heart and let’s have a feedback conversation.

That time when I learnt the power of giving authentic feedback

Giving feedback can be a bit of a nemesis for a lot of people.

There’s a feeling of awkwardness when you know you have something to share but would rather run away from it. There were so many times in my life when I kept schtum and then later wished I’d said something. The times where you ‘learn’ six months later what you already could have called out at the beginning by simply being a little braver.

On realising this fact a couple of years ago I made a pact with myself to level up my ability to give feedback.

It’s just a skill like all the others; invest some time into learning it and practicing it and you get really really good at it. Promise. I can’t say its always easy, but I can say the dynamics of my relationships have improved immeasurably with the level of honesty I am able to bring to them.

So here’s my take on how I managed to get those awkward conversations right, whether personal or professional.

Good feedback starts from the place that should be the foundation of everything: LOVE.

In a recent blog, I shared a definition of love according to Scott Peck as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

If extending yourself outside of your comfort zone to give important feedback to someone isn’t love in action, I don’t know what is.

Right attitude

To give feedback effectively you have to care deeply about the person you are giving the feedback to.

That doesn’t mean that you have to know them super well, it could actually be your first meeting, the key is about caring enough to understand (and take responsibility) for the imprint that you leave on the humans you interact with day to day.

Even the smallest things that you present and project onto another can have huge ramifications. Becoming aware of this will hopefully bring a sense of responsibility with the nature of your interactions all of the time, not just in feedback conversations. Every moment counts.

Right energy

When you are considering giving feedback to someone, it’s worth checking in on your own energy and intention. Is the thing that you feel you need to share honest? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Is it a desire to support the other person or is it actually a patronising, condescending ‘I want to make myself feel bigger that you’ space. I’m sure most of us have experienced being on the receiving end of feedback given in the wrong energy; where you can come away feeling chastised and belittled. It’s completely avoidable.

What we are looking for here is an authentic drive to enable the growth of the other person; only you can be the judge of when and where that occurs.

Trust is the foundation of all good relationships, whether professional or personal. Will your feedback support the development and continuation of trust, or will it break it?

Right people

Once we have established that we deem the feedback is being presented in the right energy, it’s important to check it’s happening between the right people; is it your place to give this particular feedback?

In a work context, folks can sometimes be a little overzealous with feedback, and it’s common for people a couple of layers up to get embroiled in conversations that should be happening a couple of layers down. My general rule of thumb, is that the person or people closest to the thing (whatever the thing is) should be the ones discussing it.

Right place

I’m probably trying to teach grandma how to suck eggs here, but for the avoidance of any doubt, the right time and place for feedback is critical.

Feedback should almost always be given 1:1 and ideally in a timely manner so that the feedback conversation is close enough to the actual event itself. It should also be given in a place that the person receiving the feedback is comfortable with. That can obviously vary dramatically from person to person.

I was once given some rather challenging feedback by a former boss in a glass meeting room where I was facing out to an open office; I literally had nowhere to hide. It made an already tough conversation much much harder.

Right time

As I mentioned above, timing of feedback is everything. Some feedback becomes irrelevant if it isn’t given in real time. Other times it is more important to make sure that you are in the right environment to give it.

When it comes to timing though, it is perhaps most important that it occurs at the right time for both the giver and the receiver. If you are giving feedback; are you in your best energy? If you are even slightly out of sorts, the feedback could come out completely wrong and be misinterpreted. Meditation is hugely supportive for me here.

As the giver, it is you that is driving when the conversation happens in the main, so you have to dial up on your emotional intelligence to make sure that the timing works for the receiver also. If they are clearly having a challenging day, perhaps a kinder thing might be to wait and have the conversation later.

I remember a time when I gave some feedback on the fly, after being asked for it. My answer should have been; let me reflect and we can discuss this later. Instead I broke all of my own rules, and gave clumsy feedback that not only didn’t land well, it actually got completely lost in translation. I had to work much harder to reset that relationship to rebuild the trust than the effort it would have taken to get the conversation right.

If you work with someone quite closely, it’s worth asking them how they like to receive feedback and take the time to understand what does and doesn’t work for them.

Putting in that kind of effort to understand someone has love at its core, and when things start from there, you have a much better chance of ending up in a good place.

That time when I learnt about the magic of Founders

“They are sane enough to know that every day is a survival against daunting odds and crazy enough to think they can do it anyway.” – Eric Schmidt

Amen to that Eric.

By the time I had landed at Shazam there was just one Founder still left as an employee of the company; Avery Wang. Internally we viewed him as somewhat of a god-like figure – he was the person who invented the algorithm after all. He himself was incredibly humble, and continued to work towards new horizons for the business.

I can remember the day I met Chris Barton; the guy that came up with the original idea for Shazam and who remained very much involved, though not day-to-day. When he was in the building you could sense it, and his energy and enthusiasm was infectious.

At Onfido we are lucky to have our Founders in much closer quarters, which has meant that I’ve had a lot more time to observe the special energy of Husayn Kassai, Eamon Jubbawy and Ruhul Amin.

As unique as they might be as people, as Founders they mirror a blueprint that I’ve been lucky enough to witness before, in the Shazam Founders. The traits and characteristics that enable them to operate as mavericks, as crusaders, as folks who give zero f’s about what the world thinks about their bold idea and do it anyway.

They don’t just do it anyway. They convince folks like me, with all my years of experience, to hop on board and start building alongside them.

That, my friends, is magic in the truest sense.

There are many who have the spirit of Founders, but who never harness the power of that magic to make their ideas turn into real things. The rebel hearts, the free thinkers, the challengers; I likely fall into that camp.

That’s what makes a little rebel like me the perfect ally to a Founder, because I’m already asking the big questions and have the desire to challenge the status quo; I just haven’t yet summoned up enough magic to turn my ideas into real things.   An innate maverick mindset means that it’s never going to take much persuading to get you to hop on the bus.

But back to the magic of Founders, and some of my observations of what makes them so special.

Heart and realness

To be someone that people want to invest in, we have to be able to see and feel your heart. We have to be able to connect to the energy within you, and feel an authenticity behind your mission. People may still get on your bus without it, but they won’t stay there for very long.

Love is the foundation of everything. Starting your business from a genuine platform of love will provide the bedrock that your business needs to grow.

Spirit and passion

You must have something that’s infectious about your spirit, something that lifts us up with you and helps us to do and deliver things that we never dreamed of doing before.

We will tell you ‘it’s not possible’, and you will keep telling us it is, until we find a way to make it work. That’s the spirit that made Shazam the magical app it became; Chris Barton badgering Avery Wang to invent the clever algorithm that made musical discovery dreams come true for millions of users.

Investment and commitment

I mean investment of self here. Of your whole life in a lot of cases, and certainly most of your time and energy. When we see you invest yourself fully, we are inspired to invest in you right back. It’s important to note, however, that we need to feel like you are invested in us too. We need to feel like we are important and valued, and that we have a voice in what we are joining you to achieve. Investment in the product is awesome, but you need to keep those that have hopped on your bus, on the bus.

Influence and persuasion

You have to be able to be the most persuasive person in the room. You have to be able to connect with people in a real way in order to influence them to adopt your way of thinking, or at least see hope in what you say. You will be smart enough to map out your argument and will have enough data so that we become inspired by your words.

You ideally will be charming. Or you will be great at recruiting charming people who can pick up the slack around you when you can’t be!

Flexibility and fluidity

To survive in startups, the ability to pivot is a must. If you get too hung up on the original thing that you thought you’d be, you’ll quickly become irrelevant. One thing that Onfido has done so well is the evolution of the product offering over the years to become the de facto identity provider to global businesses, and now making inroads with where we go next in the drive towards consumer owned identities.

Humility and groundedness

At Onfido our Founders are at the heart of most change initiatives. They are constantly striving for excellence and to “find a better way” of doing things; which is one of our core values.

Long term Founder-ship will inevitably mean hiring smarter people around you to keep developing the even bigger dreams that you are cooking up. That means you’ve got to be great at asking the right questions and really listening to the answers. Hire ambitiously and act humble. Another thing that the Founders at Onfido get so right; hiring phenomenal talent to come in and see the gaps that we might be missing and defer to their expertise when it comes to making some of the decisions.

Bravery and boldness

Last but not least, you just have to be brave and bold. Brave enough to commit to it, over and over again. Brave enough to stand out from the crowd, live on nothing and keep stepping one foot in front of the other in the direction of your dreams.

Bold enough to ask the cheeky questions, invite yourself to the right meetings and own your presence in the room when you do. Bold enough to make the decisions when one needs to be made, even when you have no real way of establishing likelihood of success.

So you see my friends, there’s a whole lot that comes together to create that magic dust that fuels Founders to create the perfect storm to successfully launch and sustain a startup.

Magic personified.

That time when I learnt how to build an extension

“I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth

I love Scott’s book. I’ve read it twice (both times by my friend Doug‘s recommendation), with about three years between readings. Each time I found a little something else in it, based on the degree of awareness I have of myself and how I operate. I agree with his definition of love being the willingness to extend one’s self into something expansive whether for your own growth or that of another.

We hear a lot about self love these days but often from the perspective of ‘outside in’. We have come to associate the phrase with the idea of doing nice things for ourself, or adding something else in to our already hectic lives. We add ‘self love’ as something to an already over burdened ‘to do’ list, yet seem to still procrastinate over that action over all the rest.

Real self love is an inside job.

It is not frantic, it is not stressful and it is definitely not striving to be something other than that which we truly are. It is the deep, delicious feeling of calm when you make choices that are aligned with who you are, how you want to be and your moral compass.

We all have a deep wisdom within that cannot be learnt as it has always been there, it can only be exposed by washing away and discarding the things that have contributed to the disconnection.

Real self love is therefore often less about what we add in, but more about what we take out.

Removing things that no longer serve us from our lives can be one of the most painful things of all, and therefore is likely to be something that we conveniently avoid doing. To successfully do so may well mean experiencing pain to some degree, and the experience or even idea of that pain can feel so overwhelming for us that we choose to abort the mission and stay just as we are.

Love is therefore the opposite. Love means being prepared to step into that pain and to put in the work to get us where we want to be. Extending ourselves beyond the confines of our comfort zones takes real courage and commitment.

Let us consider what that courage and commitment to extend might look like in real world terms.

  • It could be the more introspective examples like embarking upon a voyage of self discovery whether in the form of therapy or self education.
  • It could be learning how to meditate and finding a way to slow down and connect.
  • It could be learning something new; something children often do so well. I watch my nieces lap up and apply each piece of new information that comes their way and experiment limitlessly with how they might apply that new data.
  • It could mean taking on a project that you are scared of doing but is well within your capabilities. This is different to striving to be something other than who you are, this is about stepping into your power.
  • It could also be something seemingly benign like driving on a motorway, and that was me recently.

I am still a reluctant driver, due to the stories I tell myself about my capabilities as a driver throughout adulthood. As soon as I get in the car and start moving, I realise I love it. To me it symbolises a form of freedom, yet I still hold myself back from stepping into that power and therefore that freedom. To overcome it, I am pushing myself to do it, pushing to learn a new normal and to step into my power.

In doing so recently I felt a sense of expansiveness, a sense of breaking free of self imposed shackles. Right up until I turned the key in the ignition as I set off, I was trying to find excuses not to be there and reasons to make it okay for me to cancel the plan and take the train.

Instead I turned the key and set myself free again. It really is that simple. What are the limitations that you are placing on yourself right now? Where are you ‘taking the train’ instead of hopping on the motorway?

Are you taking up all of the space that you should be in the world? Are you keeping yourself smaller than you are? Are you making choices that extend you in the direction of spiritual growth? Are you really loving you?

Love is not something new to us. We are born as the very embodiment of love, embraced tenderly as infants (at least for the most part) and have no question at that time of what love is and what love isn’t. It just is.

As soon as we get a little older and more physically robust, the world changes its interaction with us to become less tender, and we grow harder to meet it. That can often spell the beginning of the end of love for us, until hopefully we find some way to make our way back to our default setting: LOVE.

Having gone on an expansive, invasive journey through my own experiences and learnt behaviours I’d be lying if I said the journey was without peril.

But I can also tell you first hand that the joy that is left in its place once the real calmness of your innermost is uncovered, is quite literally the stuff that dreams are made of.

 

That time when I learnt how to lower my pain threshold

It’s pretty incredible just how much pain the human body can tolerate. I’m not talking about big, gut wrenching pain here, I am talking about the insidious day to day pain that troubles most of us when we move about in the world.

What’s even more incredible, is that a lot of the time we are only half aware that it is there. We glibly move through life, accepting of the discomfort we experience in the body at both ends of the pain continuum.

A big factor in this glib acceptance is the inability to actually hear what is going on inside the body. Our heads are so full of the swirl that is life and all the trappings that come with it, that we are often too disconnected to realise that our ankle is sore, or that our knee has been feeling a little weaker lately. These are obviously only potentially minor irritations, but minor irritations that left ignored can grow into a much bigger set of problems.

It is also important to note that these ‘minor’ irritations are actually cleverly crafted messages from our body to our brain about how we are living, like smoke signals from our innermost to draw our focus into something that is causing us harm. When I have been in a funk of regular niggles, illness or injury, these have almost always shown to be a marker for something that needs a little deeper enquiry about how I am operating at that time.

For longer than I care to remember, I experienced pain in my lower back. I’ve always had a big curve at the base of my spine that means that if I don’t stand in quite the right way, my spine is out of alignment. I accepted that as just being a part of who I am and how my body is made. In day to day life I just about got away with it, but if I had to stand for any longer than 30 minutes the ache would start to appear. What did I do about it? Honestly? Nothing. Like many other signposts or love notes from me to me, I chose to ignore them for an extremely long time.

Separately to this, I embarked upon my journey (which regular readers of my blog are well aware of) to reconnect to myself (though I had no idea that that was what I was headed at the outset). This took many different forms and I tried many different approaches, but in the end it was meditation that gave me the super power I needed to finally be still.

In the stillness came honesty, reflection and a whole heap of other emotions. One of the most profound things was the realisation of the pain I had been experiencing in my body and choosing to ignore. Whilst I had started to exercise by this stage, I was actually using it as another stick to beat myself with and causing yet more harm.

It was around that time I reached out to my dear friend Doug Robertson, who I can best describe as a kind of body mechanic. He works with people one on one to help them overcome the kind of habitual pain that I was experiencing. In just one diagnostic session, like all good mechanics, he was able to give me a steer about the configuration of my body and all the contributing factors that were creating this sensation of pain.

Doug has long been fascinated by the differences in the human body and has seen first hand how much impact he creates in the lives of those he works with. I have felt the same fascination around these differences when it comes to my yoga students.

Recently he’s begun to feel a growing sense of frustration when he looks around the world and more specifically at the human experience; around just how simple the fixes for this type of pain can be, and a sense of sadness that the kind of work that he does one on one is simply not accessible for the majority of the population – whether borne out of financial limitations or just a lack of awareness that there is another way.

Had I not known Doug personally I may well have just bumbled along for a while longer, trying different things to see what worked and probably abusing my body further in the process. What he gave me was a simple toolkit that I was able to work through in my own time; a series of exercises to reawaken the dormant muscles that needed to join the party and that would strengthen others that were already alive and kicking with one goal – balance.

After only a couple of weeks of work, my back pain started to ebb away. Magic.

[Side note: I then did what all good patients do; assume that because the pain has gone I can then stop doing the exercises that made it better. Wrong. I learnt that lesson the hard way and now make sure that the foundations he taught me feature in my weekly workout regime. You see change is essentially a brain thing, not a body thing. Until we commit to a course of action mentally and go all in, the physical stuff will only be temporary.]

This September I am delighted to say that Doug launches Balance; a short course to educate you around the basics of the human body and how to truly take care of the magnificent organism that you have. This course provides a phenomenal insight both for you and your body first hand, but also for teachers of exercise, to help you learn some of the simple fixes that can support the development of steady foundations within the body of your students.

“Balance is designed to make your body last longer, to help you experience less pain throughout your life and with the minimum amount of effort possible. The course will help you identify what your problems are or are likely to be, and what you can do to fix them or prevent them. The solutions are simple, practical and effective.” – Doug Robertson

I ask you now to sit and do a little scan of your body and consider what the niggles of pain are that you experience in your body (whether or not you are able to ignore them) and I ask you to think about whether you might like to choose a better experience like I did.

Balance can never be a fixed state as the human body is always changing and moving, but I continue to work to maintain and improve my homeostasis. I move from a place of conscious presence and connection, and in return my body is stronger and functioning more effectively that it has ever been. When the smoke signals of pain arise, I am able to to receive those important messages and choose the right response.

If you’d like to learn more about the course and content, either ping me and I can make an introduction, or take a little look here.

That time when I got to really understand my infrastructure

The human body is a magical thing. I feel phenomenally blessed by the fact that each and every year I am able to deepen my connection to self a little further, by learning something new.

The most recent ‘something new’ (though it might count as a ‘something old, since re-learned’) has been in the form of the chemicals we have in our bodies and the experiences we have as a result of those chemicals, aided by the Simon Sinek book, Leaders Eat Last.

As I have forged a path towards whole body intelligence (living from the whole of my body, not just my overthinking brain), I have become aware of the feelings that are created in my body when different things occur; the way my heart starts to bubble when I feel anxiety, the intense elation when I get excited, the flip in my stomach when I feel worried (and so on). I’ve learnt to map my reactions to things, what they mean, and for the most part at least, choose a better experience.

What I hadn’t really considered, was the ‘science bit’ that went behind it all, the physiological reasons that are behind the way our body reacts. In learning a bit more about that ‘science bit’ I feel like I have taken on an even deeper level of understanding of myself and my reactions, from that one of the most important F words; forgiveness.

So, now for the ‘science bit’, pay attention:

Why I get super excited by the discovery of new things

I’ve always been someone driven by the thirst of discovery; the latest thing, an awesome book, a new song. I put it down to my instinctive curiosity alone, without considering the chemicals in the body that were driving some of my behaviour.

We have chemicals within us that can conspire to make us feel good when we achieve something like a goal or in my case, a discovery. Dopamine is one of those chemicals: a neurotransmitter that can impact lots of things in the body that relate to well being, providing a little boost when we do something that makes us feel good.

It has helped to fuel some of my addictive personality behaviours (and there have been many over the years; whether sneaker obsession, art collecting obsession, music obsession, food obsession – the list is endless). I tended to climb to a peak of obsession on each one, realise what I am doing, pull back, and then find a new obsession to take its place. With my developing understanding of these behaviours, it’s become easier for me to call them out and act upon them, before reaching critical mass (or a ridiculous sneaker collection of 50+ pairs!).

The trouble with dopamine fuelled behaviour is that it is often insatiable. You will never be satisfied by landing the object of your desire, you will just start thinking about what the next thing might be. Learning to choose a more holistic, longer term kind of happiness has therefore been really significant for me.

Why I have strong willpower and drive towards achieving a goal

Endorphins are another kind of feel good chemical released during things like exercise. They can also be part of the reward the body provides when you achieve something, and are likely a big part of why my willpower has been so strong in the delivery of things against all odds, whether a course or a work based project. Achievement makes us feel good.

When I did Weight Watchers in 2008, it was like the waves parted, and suddenly I had a framework that provided the bedrock for a total re-education around my relationship with food. Both of those chemicals supported me in losing over 3 stone (22kg). Dopamine provides the big rush that we can easily become addicted to, but endorphins help us to stay on course and weather the physical and emotional storm of achieving something.

Why I have been so led by obsessions at times of my life

Whilst for the most part I now live in a world where I have successfully nurtured love inside and outside of me, that hasn’t always been the case. When I have been lacking in love, the void has been filled by the kind of obsessions I mentioned above. The dopamine hit of a social media like, or a new pair of sneakers was what I used to sustain me.

The more I have been able to develop love within myself and for myself, the less my obsessions have been able to take hold. I believe oxytocin has played a big part in that. Oxytocin is often called the love hormone, as it is something that can create a feeling of connection to others and help reinforce trust. Love is something that makes us feel whole, and in doing so, the urges for instant gratification can be allowed to ebb further away.

Why I like doing stuff for other people

As human beings, we are driven to form connections with other people by oxytocin, but also by serotonin. Serotonin is often called the happy chemical, it makes us feel good. It also helps the body find a rhythm with things like your body clock.

These are the chemicals that drive us to do things for other people, because it feels good. Serotonin also enables us to feel the weight of responsibility on things; we don’t want to let people down, we want to make people proud. This is also why we care what other people think of us; I am no different in that sense.

Why I work hard to create community around me

Wherever I go I have this urge to connect with the people around me, whether in a shop or in a class. It’s not a consciously calculated thing, so I’d previously just put it down to me creating the kind of experience I want to have in the world, one that is founded in love.

I feel good when people are happy to see me, I feel good when I can see a person feels seen. I would suggest this drive may be down to something a little more primitive, I am serving the needs of my chemical brothers; serotonin and oxytocin, my need to feel like I am part of something.

Why I have had such a physical experience of stress in my body

This is down to the stress hormones our body produces, with the primary one being cortisol. It actually also plays a super important role in the body, managing how we process food, our sleep rhythm, our blood pressure. When we wake up in the morning it tends to be a little higher, then decreases throughout the day.

For our body to function correctly, it has to be in balance. When we experience stress, our cortisol levels spike. This can provide important messages to us to get out of the way of harm, but a prolonged increase is horrible for our body.

The only way to circumvent this is by either removing the stressful situations from your life, or by finding a way to better control your responses to stress. My approach has been a blend of both. I completely reinvented the stressful life I chose in my 20s, built a new one and learnt how to develop stillness in my body through things like meditation.

Now I have a much better read on when something has been triggered within me, and I can choose what my response is, most of the time at least!

Why I have stayed in situations that are bad for my health

Whether personal or professional; I have been great at holding fast to situations that don’t serve me. I can now see that I was in the hold of my chemical reactions. Looking specifically at my unhappy marriage in my 20s; my stress levels would be triggered daily, and then smallest good thing would happen, and it would calm me back down. I was a whirlwind of dopamine and cortisol, never in balance.

I managed to fool myself that the tiny dopamine hits were enough, that that was what love felt like. I can’t tell you how thankful I have been to discover the heady effects of oxytocin in my 30s. I have been lucky enough to find the right configuration of things to forge a path towards true joyfulness.

Why I feel able to be fully me in some situations and not in others

Have you ever noticed how in some situations you can speak eloquently and freely and in others you can stumble over your words? How you can sing like a rockstar in the shower but your voice falters around others? This can largely be down to a stress response. In situations where we don’t feel safe, our stress response is triggered and that impacts our ability to belt out that Broadway number: our bodies are simply too busy dealing with/processing cortisol to reach those notes. This is also why we can feel a little off with some people and not with others.

In my 20s, I spent a lot of my time triggered; at work and at home, and didn’t feel safe in either. I wasn’t living in anything remotely close to balance. I wasn’t taking care of myself in any sense, or giving my body the chance to produce the chemicals it needed to thrive, serotonin to boost self confidence, oxytocin to relieve stress or lessen cravings. I was all cortisol errrythang.

How I have been able to choose something different

Chemical balance on all counts is supported and maintained by that good old fashioned toolkit of:

  • REST: Making sure you develop a steady and enriching approach to sleep and recovery. Your bedtime routine is everything. Read more about that here.
  • NOURISHMENT: Eating foods that are in accordance with what your body truly wants, at a time it really wants it.
  • QUENCH: Drinking water, and other non chemical altering beverages. I avoid caffeine and alcohol altogether.
  • MOVEMENT: Moving your body in a way that feels right for you. Some days that is a walk for me, others that might be barre, others that might be yoga.
  • LOVE: Creating fulfilling relationships with others that truly serve you, and that build and reinforce the psychological safety you need to thrive.

“This is what work-life balance means. It has nothing to do with the hours we work or the stress we suffer. It has to do with where we feel safe. If we feel safe at home, but we don’t feel safe at work, then we will suffer what we perceive to be a work-life imbalance. If we have strong relationships at home and at work, if we feel like we belong, if we feel protected in both, then the powerful forces of a magical chemical like oxytocin can diminish the effect of stress and cortisol. With trust, we do things for each other, look out for each other and sacrifice for each other. All of which adds up to our sense of security inside a Circle of Safety. We have a feeling of comfort and confidence at work that reduces the overall stress we feel because we do not feel our well-being is threatened.” – Simon Sinek