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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 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.

That time when I discovered a new superpower

I read a great blog post from Kristian Bright recently about the myriad unhealthy ways we drive ourselves to a state of total exhaustion – to both physical and mental burnout.

He gives the analogy of being a runner, and being tired, keeping going anyway and picking up injuries easily, and draws the comparison between the way we drive ourselves professionally in a similar manner, where we pick up different kinds of ‘injuries’ along the way, and often don’t know where to stop. We switch to beast mode until something breaks.

This can be true across all areas of our lives. Nowhere is off limits.

I’ve always been someone with a high degree of positive momentum about me (some might call it type A haha). Whatever my current fixation is, I’ve gone at it full pelt. If I am into something, I am all in (people, jobs, hobbies, even trainers – I once had a ridiculous number of pairs). Something that’s been much harder for me to learn, is the art of being truly gentle.

One of the biggest hurdles to my gentleness, was my own perception of it. For the longest time, that perception was abundantly negative. I associated gentleness with weakness, and that was the opposite of what I strived to be with my ‘do, deliver, achieve’ mentality.

Such was my work ethic and level of determination (and commitment to being all in), that I would actually negatively (and largely silently) judge other people for taking time out, or perhaps choosing not to do something and skip it to rest. So giddy was my obsession with ‘living life to the full’, that I completely missed what ‘living life to the full’ should actually mean. That is to live all of it; light and dark, motion and stillness.

Shame on me.

The brilliant thing about life (and adulting in general) is that you get to change your mind and disagree with your former self all the time.

Just because a way of thinking was your blueprint at one time, there’s absolutely no reason for it to remain so. You can choose better thoughts (and whilst you are at it, ideally forgive yourself for whatever the previous thought process was).

The conversation that you have with yourself and the way you see the world should always remain fluid. I don’t have to agree with me five years ago, heck I don’t even need to agree with me yesterday, or even five minutes ago. I can simply realise that there is a better way and choose a different approach.

With gentleness, that’s exactly what I have started to do.

A full experience of life, is actually making a commitment to experience all facets of life in total connection. For me that meant embracing and living in my yin energy (the coolness, the stillness) as well as my yang (the fire, the drive). It’s all about balance.

Your body is your marker of truth. If you allow yourself space to listen, your body will tell you whether each and every decision is the right one. Whether you are pushing yourself too hard, and what the best thing to do at this time might be. The trouble is, for a lot of us, we have forgotten how to listen. We smother the dialogue that our body is having with us through an array of different distractions. I’ve written about this before here.

The biggest and most important step for me here has been creating the platform where I am able to listen. Something that’s supported by making life choices that truly support me. Meditation is a huge part of that.

Now I can feel when I am moving too fast, as well as when I am moving too slowly; which means I am left with the choice of whether to slow down, or whether to speed up.

Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t. But I am learning.

None of this means that my drive to ‘do, deliver and achieve’ has gone away, it just means that I am able to make choices that honour where I actually am. It means I am becoming much better at saying no, especially (and most importantly) to me.

I am now able to find my balance. When I choose to create the space to listen.

How can we help to celebrate a culture of gentleness so that we don’t need to wait for something to break to take things a little easier? Do we really have to beast ourselves before we learn a better way?

What are the ways that we can encourage a culture of gentleness, both inside our organisations and into the world beyond? Can we make gentleness a thing that is applauded rather than scoffed at?

At the very least, for those of us who have started to realise the power of this magnificent tool, I feel like our role is to share that with the world around us, and let our gentleness for ourselves awaken the gentleness in others.

Each choice we make sends a ripple around us that we cannot see, whether good or bad.

When I move gently, it might encourage the person behind me to do the same. When someone I know says no to an event, it might make me do the same (if that is what truly serves me at that time). When I close the door gently, the imprint of gentleness that I leave will greet the next person that opens the door, and that person could well be me.

When I am gentle with myself, I am centred and grounded and perfectly equipped to deal with whatever the world might throw at me. So after all that fighting and judging, it turns out gentleness is actually my new superpower.

That time when I made peace with my weapon of mass distraction

I love technology, and I love many of the ways our world is evolving because of it’s presence.

I’ve taken pride in flying the flag for new technologies and often been in the ‘early adopter’ group when it came to the latest app, tool or fad. I’m all about optimisation, so am up for anything that makes things a little more efficient.

Shazam therefore was always a natural fit for me; at the forefront of emerging technology, but also providing an incredibly useful service to its users, one of discovery.

There has, however, been a darker side to my smart phone use; and that’s the use of apps as a means to disconnect, to switch off from the world around me. Apps as a tool are wonderful, but apps as a weapon of mass distraction? Not so much.

Rather than blame tech companies, I believe that the responsibility of how much time we spend on our smart phones lies in our own hands. Quite literally.

Over the past 12 months I have been looking at the ways in which I use the technology around me, and what the energy is behind that use. Am I actually making use of the amazing tools available to me, or am I simply using my phone as a means to check out? Am I taking every opportunity to be present, and therefore give my best to each interaction?

Am I using technology as a tool, or simply as a weapon of mass distraction?

First, I looked at how to optimise the way I operate at work.

It’s incredibly common to see people on smart phones and tapping away on laptops in meetings. Now if that’s just for note taking purposes and you’ve switched off the other functionality; all good. If not, you are bound to become distracted by something and are likely to just not be paying attention. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; multi-tasking really isn’t a thing.

Meetings should be a productive and efficient exchange of information, but can often end up being the opposite due to how engaged (or distracted) the attendees are.

As often as possible when I go to meetings at work, I leave my phone behind. I either have my Mac for taking notes, or a note pad with me (OMG yes, actual pen and paper). That way the person I am interacting with has a better chance (no one is perfect) of having my full attention.

I’ve heard of some companies implementing ‘phone baskets’ – where people hand their phone in at the beginning of a meeting – and seeing a upsurge in efficiency because of it. I’d love to hear from any of you who have seen this stuff in practice.

Then I took a look, with brutal honesty, at the way I was using my phone more generally.

I did this at first by doing an experiment where I was only allowed to check social media five times a day. I wrote about it at the time here. In doing so, I became aware that I was using my phone to ‘check out’ rather than ‘check in’ a whopping 75% of the time. Horrifying. That kind of data was enough to make me self regulate and remove a ton of mindless scrolling from my day.

I removed some apps from my phone and generally became more mindful about the time I was spending on my phone and what the purpose was.

Figuring out what kind of phone user you are is also important. For me notifications are the worst, and I have a ridiculous compulsion to get rid of them all. Simple things like turning off notifications therefore made a huge difference; I now actively check rather than re-actively check.

I also started switching to flight mode mid way through my evenings in the build up to going to bed and of course whilst I’m asleep. It’s made a big difference to give myself a screen break prior to sleeping, and I also delay turning it off again for the first hour of being awake.

I still use my phone as an alarm clock, but using flight mode means I’m not disturbed by activity on my screen if I wake in the night. Those changes have been really beneficial for me.

I’ve since taken that a bit further by installing an app called Moment. You can use it as a phone bootcamp, to train yourself to stop you using your phone so much, but it’s also great for parents to check in our how your family is utilising their smart phones.

I simply use it to record how much screen time I have on a daily basis. Normally it’s around one to two hours, but on the days when I am out a lot and using things like maps, it can go up above three. I average 42 pick ups a day.

That equates to an average of 14% of my waking life being spent on my phone (which is actually low in terms of the average Moment user – so they tell me). When I was at my peak of smart phone addiction, I hate to think what that percentage would have been.

When you think about it those terms (14% of my waking life looking at my phone!) it makes you a little more motivated to make every moment count.

I’m okay with my screen time going up when I know I am using my phone for a tangible benefit, but what I am not okay with is wasting my life away watching other peoples lives. Merely having the app and keeping an eye on the amount of time I spend on my phone has really made a difference to me.

As much as I love technology, I love humans a whole lot more. I value real interactions, real opportunities for connection and my ever evolving (and hopefully deepening) ability to stay truly present in the moment I am in.

For those of you that are reading this and thinking uh huh, yep, that’s me; let’s make a pact to commit to giving our full attention in our meetings and interactions. I’d like to think that the more of us that are choosing to exert discipline over this stuff, the more we can inspire others to do the same.

Leading by example in this case could really be as simple as leaving your phone behind.

That time when I learnt to embrace fear

Fear is a big word. It’s big, because most of our negative decisions stem from this very place. By negative I don’t mean the big stuff, I mean the tiny decisions we make day after day. The ones that prevent us from growing into the person we are capable of becoming.

I am constantly inspired by my work in the startup space in that sense. Our Engineering teams embrace ‘failings’ as learning opportunities. They aren’t expected to know everything, they are allowed to learn, but are trusted to test things out and experiment along the way. They feel the fear and do it anyway.

Fear of failure simply does not drive our best performance; in work life and in personal life. If we don’t try new things, we are stifled as people and as businesses. The mindsight of our teams is the thing that keeps us propelling our business forward.

I allowed my life to be dictated by fear, and that fear was enough to keep me plodding on in a failing situation for 12 years. I wasn’t able to identify fear as a feeling at the time, but I allowed it to keep me in suspended animation.

The tipping point for me was when the pain of staying in the situation became bigger than leaving it. Honestly, that’s the truth. For me to leave, the pain of staying had to become unbearable. The body is a clever piece of machinery, and it turned my pain from emotional to physical, so that suddenly the message was loud and clear.

Big decisions to change things (even when they hurt us) are SUPER hard. The only way that I was able to make them successfully was by turning them into little ones. Little. Happy. Choices.

If you are faced with making a decision about something huge, focus on the here and now; ask yourself if you are making small choices that support your growth or hinder your development, be it the food you eat, the quality of your sleep or the people you spend time with. Be as honest as you can be.

Looking back on the situation (much as I wouldn’t change it, for each tiny detail makes me who I am today) it has given me cause to reflect on why I let myself become stuck, largely so that I can learn to not to let my choices be dictated by fear in the future.

Mo Gawdat writes beautifully about this in his book, Solve for Happy and has some ideas that are worth applying. Once we identify what our fears are, he encourages us to ask the following questions:

What’s the worst that can happen? It’s normally no where near as bad as we first catastrophised.

So what? The worst case scenario that we are imagining, normally isn’t that bad.

How likely is it? Probably very unlikely. How many times has the worst case scenario actually happened?

Is there anything I can do now to prevent this scenario? Is it even within your power? If it is, then do what it takes.

Can I recover? Absolutely yes, I am sure of it.

What will happen if I do nothing? What is the price of the current status quo?

What is the best case scenario? Visualise it and make that your focus instead.

He also suggests that at the heart of most fears is a fear of rejection. I would agree. We want to be accepted and we want to belong, so we often clip ourselves to mitigate that risk.

The bigger risk, as far as I’m concerned, would be to let fear rule over everything and dictate your choices.

The fear I held was of the unknown, of what life might be if I completely changed everything within it, of what it would feel like to lose everything. But guess what? I DID lose everything that I had before, but I gained SO much more. Suddenly I was free, free to figure out what my life could look like with me in charge, free to embrace the love and support of others.

It took time to rebuild and I’m still figuring so many things out, but that in itself is wonderful. My choice to move positively away from pain and to allow myself to evolve into a different kind of life was the best choice I ever made.

What I am trying to harness the energy of now is the ability to live fearlessly. To take risks, to try things and to realise that if things don’t happen to unfold the way we hoped, sometimes that allows us to tap into something even greater, just like our Engineers.