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Category: Spiritual life

Penfold: on a wonderful journey of self discovery since 2010.

I also came late to this party. Having made a decision to exist in a very unhappy life in my 20’s. When I turned 30 in 2010 I decided to change all that. Now my learning happen daily, and I’d like to share some of them with you people.

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 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

That time when I learnt about the importance of hearing

If I consider some of the most important things I’ve learnt along the way, many of those things have come in the form of people; of friends who pop up and teach me something special that enables the growth needed to level up to wherever I am going next. 

Cynics will say it is just coincidence, haters will say I’m drunk off the joy of life (I am), but for me, I know there’s magic to be found in those moments. 

One of those moments happened to me recently. 

Through my deepening connection to myself via meditation, I found myself becoming part of a project a couple of years ago called Just Breathe – an organisation that creates mass meditation experiences that bring meditation to a wider audience. 

Through this group, I met with Jerusha and Adam Shulberg, who are are the owners of an awesome Audiology practice in Marylebone called Cubex

At that time, I’d paid very little mind to cognitive health. My interest and commitment to meditation was an abundantly personal one; one that was borne out of the need to create calm in my world, to find a way to be peaceful with myself and to stop my emotional pendulum swinging quite so broad and wide.

Jerusha and Adam had become part of the project partly due to their own experiences with meditation but largely due to their extensive knowledge and research into the link between meditation and cognitive health. Put simply; meditation elicits a relaxation response, which reverses the effects of stress in our brains. This allows the space for new neural network connections to unfurl and our brains to become healthier. 

In the world we live in, our brains are continuously exhausted and depleted by trying to make sense of the noise around us. It is up to us to become aware of the impact that our neural network killing way of living has on our cognitive health and what our current health report looks like, so that we can make the changes needed to make it better. 

Cubex were incredibly generous and hosted many of the project’s volunteers for cognitive health checks, and through that experience, I became more aware of the importance of preserving cognitive wellbeing, and how hearing loss can drastically impact the lives of those suffering from it. 

Whilst interesting, this new data merely reaffirmed the path I had chosen to walk along, and I merrily continued with my daily meditation and stillness work. 

A few months later I became aware that one of my parents was starting to behave in just the way that I had learnt might be possible: the quiet withdrawal of oneself from social situations and conversations. 

You see; our brains can only handle a certain amount of cognitive load, and with hearing loss what happens is that our brains have to work extra hard to make sense of the sounds around us.

Hearing is actually a brain process (thank you Cubex), without the brain we only have a series of unfathomable sounds. Those suffering from hearing loss therefore start to become exhausted by trying to make sense of the world around them and for the most part may not even be aware of what is happening until it is too late. The less we interact, the faster our brains deteriorate and the more likely we are to experience things like dementia. 

Even if a person is aware of what is happening this can be something that is incredibly hard to face. It takes real bravery to seek help, and even when you do, it’s hard to find access to the right kind of advice. My parent was aware of what had been happening and had sought medical help, but the solution offered was something that made the sound quality worse rather than better; so hearing became an even more painful experience. 

Happily the Universe had our backs. I could see the signs I’d been learning about, and could see the current solution was having a negative impact, so reached out to Jerusha and Adam and they were delighted to arrange to spend some time assessing both my parents to see what kind of support they might need. 

Because of their open hearts and informal style, the Cubex team were able to provide exactly the right kind of thoughtful but comprehensive hearing support and advice that was needed. 

Today my parent is the proud owner of a state of the art hearing aid. They also laugh more, they tell more bad jokes, they interject into more conversations and we couldn’t be more delighted. The change is quite simply life changing. 

If you recognise any of the signs I describe here, either for yourself or for anyone in your world, please reach out and I’d be delighted to connect you to Jerusha, Adam and their brilliant team. 

Cubex: I am forever in your debt and am eternally grateful for the work you do with both individuals and businesses to bring awareness to cognitive wellbeing. 

That time I learnt the art of negotiation

I’m often asked for advice by friends and peers on the art of negotiation. Over my many years of hiring experience, I’ve become a skilled advocate for the businesses that I’m hiring for, and have been able to hire tonnes of legitimately awesome humans to help towards their mission.

There’s an art to successful negotiation from the business side of the fence, a flow you need to create throughout the recruitment process that means that by the time you are ready to offer someone a job, you know what their motivations are and what matters most to them, as well as what matters most to the business you are representing. From that place of understanding you can safely lead process to a positive outcome for all, whether or not the person ultimately joins the business.

I’ve been great at helping others from the other side also, supporting others in getting clear around what matters most to them, when to show their hand and when not to, and frankly having the bravery to say no when they need to say no – letting them know that there is almost always at least some wriggle room.

Where I was less successful however, was when it came to advocating for myself.

At the time I didn’t really clock how strange it was for a person who understands the detailed inner workings of the offer process, to be such a novice when it came to negotiating their own situation.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Now I can see very tangibly the reason behind the disconnect. Because, whilst I’m a seasoned recruiter, I’m also a seasoned female, with all of the wonderful self deprecating characteristics that are commonly found within that group.

You know the sticky stuff a lot of us wade through; the imposter syndrome, the low self esteem, the desire to feel ridiculously qualified for the role you are applying for, the ‘work really hard and wait for people to notice how good you are’ school of thought.

We have had a lot to contend with as women in the working world over the years, and it’s a delight to see the number of positive initiatives out there to support our development and progression in modern times. None mores so than when it comes to balancing the gender pay gap.

We need that continued support from businesses and other humans, gender immaterial, to get us there.

Sadly I am afraid that stuff alone won’t suffice on this one. We will never really progress past this point until we change the negative conversations that we are having with ourselves. On repeat.

We are responsible for our life experiences and are fully capable of creating a better deal for ourselves in the here and now; in the way we coach ourselves (and one another) to break through and ask for what we are worth.

There is no quick fix here. The only way to start to realise your actual value in the working world, is to realise the real value within yourself. That’s right my friends, personal perception is everything. You won’t be able to effectively ask for more, until you truly believe you are worth it.

The shift here can be a painful one as it comes from deep within, and change of this magnitude takes time and a lot of investment. My lead time for my shift was over a number of years and, whilst that is something that I continue to work on today, I am happy to say I do so from a place of now feeling brave enough to ask for what I perceive to be my true value.

At a recent #YouEqualTech meetup in London, we were reminded by Susie Ashfield that bravery always has to come before confidence. We have to say yes and be prepared to figure some stuff out along the way.

I’ve got a lot better at saying yes to the things that scare me, but some of other the things that have been most supportive to me have been:

  • Surrounding myself with a growing group of super women (and men), who champion, inspire and support.
  • Learning to connect with myself fully, through working on my stillness and my ability to just be, via daily meditation but also healing and coaching work with Sara Williams and Zofia Sharman.
  • Getting better at celebrating my successes first hand by becoming proud of my day to day achievements.
  • Developing a humble respect for my natural inclinations and talents. I recommend a simple Strengths Finder exercise to help you realise that so many of the things you currently take for granted are actually your super powers.
  • Learning how to take a compliment with a simple thank you.
  • Paying it forward and supporting other women in their development. The growth and learning you experience by championing one another is huge.

Never underestimate the power of the people you surround yourself with. They can make you or break you. Have you ever experienced a time when you feel like a friend is actively trying to dissuade you from doing something like negotiating?

Sadly this is something that is extremely common – even I have been that person in the past. It’s simply down to the relationship that person is having with themselves, it isn’t about you. They can’t support you putting yourself out there, because they can’t fathom doing it for themselves. You don’t need to go as far as ‘breaking up’ with those people, but do clock those who champion and those who dampen in your friendship groups, and choose the right audience for the right conversation.

I’d love to hear more from those of you who are working on improving the conversation you have with yourselves. Let’s join forces and co-champion one another.

That time when I realised that I will never stop looking for things that look like love

Haters look away. This blog is unapologetically about the thing that most of us crave and spend our whole lives hunting for even though we all have a limitless supply of our own to give: LOVE.

Have you ever thought about the fact that as humans, love is truly the thing that drives us? Level with me; What’s the thing most likely to drive you loopy? What’s the thing most likely to push your buttons? What’s the thing that evokes the biggest emotional reaction when you feel slighted? What’s the thing that is abundant when you feel most joyful? That’s right: LOVE.

We hunt for it far and wide, often thinking that love is just the thing that can happen with our closest people, and search for ‘the one’. We also seek it in a less overt way, in the form of acceptance, admiration or respect – think about those internet likes. When we boil all of those things down, in our many different ways, we are still just seeking: LOVE.

The real truth about love though, is that – “plot reveal” – it’s within us and all around us at all times. We are literally brimming with the stuff. Each and everyone of us has an infinite resource of love to call upon, we just have to choose to see it that way.

For love is the community that we live in, not just within ourselves or our own immediate community but the global community of humans that we are all a part of. All of us. Pretty much most of the time, if you take the time to look around you, you can find love in abundance, whether in the way that we interact with one another or in the details of how we live.

I fall in love on an almost daily basis; in the beauty of an interaction, the smile of a fellow commuter or even sometimes at the goofy look on my own face in the mirror.

Now I’m well aware that there is plenty in the world that is not love, but I hold firm in my belief that we are all from love and therefore just have to find our way back to it, to ourselves and to each other. Not all of us make it, but it doesn’t make it any less real.

I too am guilty of getting caught up in the whirlwind that is life, disconnecting from my limitless loving resources and forgetting the simplicity of what really matters.

So here’s a little reminder for you and for me, for the days when we get caught up in the grind, of some of the day to day places we can always find it:

  • In the eyes of the person sitting opposite you (even if they are looking at their screen, and watch as they sparkle as they receive a message from a loved one).
  • In the eyes of the child who truly sees you and connects with you (you know the looks that make you feel goofy and awkward, before they are old enough to have learnt to look away).
  • In the heart of the person who lets you skip the line when you only have one item (love those guys).
  • In the soul of the person at your favourite coffee shop, who remembers your order before you walk up (and what might you remember about them in return…?).
  • In energy of the person who sees someone struggling to carry something, and offers a hand to help (I try to be that person as often as possible, as long as it is within my capabilities!).
  • In the way your friend keeps a stash of your favourite tea in their cupboard, just in case you stop by (you know who you are and you are loved).

Lastly, please remember that the most important place of all you can always find it is within you; whether to shine it on yourself or the world around you. Remember; it’s the one thing you can give out and receive back in multiples.

This stuff is just as fabulous in reverse; just think about the difference you feel when you know you have been awesome to someone, and you can bask in the light of their love and gratitude. Whenever I’m feeling like I’m in a deficit, I bring my best loving game to all of my interactions, and greedily fill up my tank with all the love I get back.

Love can change the world my friends. Start with allowing it to change yours and sit back and marvel as it starts appearing everywhere like the miraculous life source that it is.

Ps. I love you.

[Title inspo from Raymond Antrobus and his magnificent poem; “Things That Look Like Love”]

That time when I made a particularly good investment

Sat on the tube this morning, I looked around me and was met by a sea of tired and yawning faces. As I focused on one guy sat opposite me, I could see that his eyes were red, weeping and sore from exhaustion, struggling to stay open. In that moment it suddenly dawned on me that even though I feel a little more tired than normal today; those used to be my eyes and that total exhaustion used to be my steady state. Every. Single. Day.

I tortured my poor little tired eyes by forcing my contact lenses in each morning, then attempted to relieve and revive them with eye drops throughout the day, looking for a fix for the symptoms of tiredness, as opposed to a cure.

I was brilliant at being exhausted, propped up by whatever liquid stimulant I could get my hands on. A true master.

It hadn’t actually occurred to me until today that this has all changed for me and that the investment I’ve been making in learning to rest, and learning to support true rest and recovery time in my sleep, had actually been begun to pay off.

It’s been a bit like setting up a standing order to a savings account; if left alone, the money just goes in each month so you kind of forget it’s happening. Then you check on the account a year or so down the line, and discover its way more than you ever thought you’d manage to save. Magic.

That’s been totally been my recent experience with sleep.

A bit like the terrible spending habits I adopted throughout my early adulthood, my sleeping habits were a hot mess.

The real big change here has come from a combination of lots of tiny changes that add together to create one big whole rested creature.

The biggest of those small changes being:

  • My commitment to creating a set rhythm for my body, by waking and sleeping (or at least attempting to) at the same time each day.
  • Removing caffeine from my world has massively impacted the way I sleep and rest, and my ability to connect to myself enough to know when I am exhausted. It used to mask all that and I used to feel like I was propelled by rocket fuel (happily I have since learnt that I am haha, but now it’s facilitated by rest and plants).
  • Having a cut off point for screen time and allowing myself some peaceful time before I start to wind down to sleeping.
  • Keeping my bedroom as a place of rest, not a place of work. That’s really important, to make the room itself a place your brain associates with rest.

Please also note there are days when I am still a little tired. Today is one of those days. There are also times when I may choose to stay up slightly later to be a part of something I care about enough to do so. To support that I will be mindful of this throughout the rest of the week, and make sure that I have created the right platform of rest on the days that surround it.

My friend (and coach) Zofia Sharman once told me to view my sleep pattern like the tide. So some nights it might not come in so far, but the next night, I can choose to make it come all the way in. That supportive ebb and flow is what I now work towards, so that I can support myself well for those nights when I stay up a little later than usual.

But what of the benefits of real rest (as if I really need to tell you!)?

  • The intoxicating feeling of being fully present and alert as often as possible.
  • The quality of mood that I am able to bring to each interaction.
  • The resilience to the stresses of day to day live that I’ve been able to build up.
  • The beauty of waking up naturally most days around the time of my alarm.

Everyone is different, and it can only be about figuring out what works best for you; what’s your optimum amount of sleep, how can you best support and allow for true rest etc.

As for these little tired eyes, just like the tide, I’ll just make sure they get to turn in a little earlier again this evening to build up those reserves.

That time when I learnt the art of good housekeeping

I was recently invited to speak on a panel called “Secrets of the Side Hustle” at the Marie Claire Future Shapers event in London, and sitting in that room full of insanely inspiring women I realised one thing:

Many of us had spent a large portion of our lives focusing building homes for the people around us (12 years in my case), when in actual fact, we needed to first focus our energies on a different kind of ‘home’ making; the home that we build inside ourselves.

We can achieve whatever we want to achieve when we get our house in order. Our internal environment has to come first because our sense of belonging and true sense of self has to start there. 

It took me a very long time to realise this, and, like many people, that realisation only came once I was almost entirely broken. I’d like us all to get to a place where that kind of breakdown isn’t necessary.

So to real home making; what does it take to really create the time, space and energy to maximise your hours in the day and live your best life? And I don’t mean to find new and intense ways to flog yourself and live on the brink of exhaustion, I mean; to create a life that’s fulfilling and truly joyFULL. One full of energy, light, love and laughter.

For me, I had to look at how I was living before I could get to what I was doing. Here is my recipe for successful home making:

1. Clear the way so you can hear the messages from your inner most; spiritually and physically.

We live in a world of distraction and disconnection. Before we can move forward in any kind of positive direction, we need to give ourselves the chance to truly listen to what is at play in any given situation. My emotions used to jump up and down and all over the place, with all kinds of different situations triggering my fight or flight defensives.

The thing that’s allowed me the space to really stabilise and walk in line with myself, is the work I have done (and continue to do) on stillness. That is, the art of just being. The art of connecting to yourself in such a way that you can determine what is for you, and what you need to let pass you by.

For me that has meant learning to meditate as the backbone, but that isn’t something that’s static and disconnecting me from the rest of the world. True meditation can happen every moment of your waking life if you let it, by simply living in a connected way. Start small, just a few minutes here and there, and see if you start to feel inspired to do a little more.

2. Honour your body and give it the space to rest.

Once you have cleared some space within yourself, you should start to tap into how you are feeling underneath everything. Life is amazing, and there is no end of what you might be able to fit in; but at what cost?

Learn to make choices that support you being at your best, and support that by choosing to say yes to the things that are truly enriching, but no to the things that aren’t.

I used to beast myself marching all over London, largely driven my overwhelming FOMO. Needing to be at the best gigs, the coolest art shows, the most awesome graffiti jams… when in truth, yes those things are great, but a good night’s sleep, one where I’ve managed to disconnect from the day and truly rest, is more enriching than anything else.

3. You aren’t just what you eat, you are how you eat it too.

The focus on health today is a beautiful thing, but much of that is tied up with an overwhelming drive to achieve something that isn’t what we truly are. The truth is; much of our actual life-enriching health comes from the inside out.

Our mental wellbeing is huge, but also what we are consuming in terms of produce. How much, when and in what energy. Many of the things that we feel are ‘healthy choices’ are still being made in the wrong energy. That energy is one of disconnection.

So by choosing to connect first, we are in a much better place to make the right choices for ourselves at the right time. I constantly evaluate and look at what I am consuming and why, and I continue making the changes I need to support my inner glow.

4. Finding a structure that works for you is everything.

People are at their best at different times of day. I truly believe that. For me; that time is at the beginning of the day. I wake early, and have a morning routine that supports my connection, my health and my growth.

That means a mixture of meditation, movement and learning. To support that, that means I need early bedtimes. Normal for me is 9-9.30pm.

It doesn’t matter how you are built or what works for you; the key is to find a way of being that works for you. Just you. Not me or anyone else. Craft a way of being that supports both your evolution and the brilliant human being that you are right now.

My evenings are all about rest. Sometimes there might be something that keeps me out a little later, but typically I use that time for relaxation (disconnecting from the internet in good time before bed) and to set myself up for the next day.

5. Flip the script; changing your inner dialogue. 

Flipping back to mental wellbeing here; in most cases we are the master of our own internal destruction. That is to say; we are our own worst critics and therefore usually the most negative person we have in our world.

If this sounds familiar, I’m afraid I don’t have a quick fix here, but what I can say is that with time, patience and love, you can at least become aware of how you address yourself internally, and catch yourself in time to change the conversation.

I literally say ‘no!’ to myself when I catch myself doing it, and force myself to change my attitude. Zero tolerance. We can choose better thoughts.

In time, I have become better overall and show myself much more forgiveness than I might have done before. I also tell myself ‘I love you’. Sounds crazy but it honestly works.

6. Embrace your inner child.

With true joy comes playfulness, you can’t even help it. Allowing yourself some time to play is key. Create a couple of hours in your week where you do something you really love. Doesn’t matter what it is. Take yourself on a date. Whatever takes your fancy.

Once you allow your natural curiosity to unfurl, its very easy to start to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to figure out what truly lights you up (if this is something you are still working on).

Another good compass is to observe where you can feel yourself feeling jealous of something. Jealousy; whilst not our favourite emotion, is a sign of frustration with ourselves. So what is your jealousy telling you that deep down you feel like you might like to do?

Ultimately what I am trying to say here, is that it’s wonderful to have desires to live your best life and to work towards that, but that I promise you, it will all start to fall into line once you keep a firm check on the house you live within day to day.

I am now the proud owner of a glorious home. She’s still a bit of a fixer-upper, but that’s half the fun. I can’t tell you it’s easy, but I can tell you it’s worth it.