Always Dad

Dad is one of those titles, that once you have been given it, it is yours for life, no matter what. You will always be a Dad! There are however good Dads, bad Dads or indifferent Dads.

From a moment your children are born the pressure is on to be the protector, provider and role model. No one gives you a manual how to do it. If your role model wasn’t the best it can be challenging.

The 10th April 2000 was the day I became a Dad. If you are a Dad you will always remember clearly the day your Children were born. It all started on the evening of 9th April when we went to the maternity hospital as planned for Lisa to be induced. So Lisa was induced on the Morning of the 10th, by the evening Ben was not willing to come out and by late evening he was becoming distressed so it was decided that he would have to come out via the sun roof so Lisa was prepared for theatre. My head was spinning. See the thing is nothing ever feels straightforward. When I got into theatre srangley I felt quite calm, as I knew quite a few people in the room, and the environment felt more familiar (coming from a clinical background). I remember the radio was on and the news gave a out the score for the evening football match. Manchester United had beaten Middlesbrough 4-3. Sounded like a good game.

I digress, seeing your child come into the world is the most amazing experience you will ever have. Holding them for the first time and introducing yourself is so special, and something that I will never forget, for Ben and Jack.

Taking Ben home and those first few weeks was terrifying. I thought I should know what to do, being a Children’s Nurse. Trust me that did not happen. It was difficult and disorientating. In the end you just work it out between the 2 of you.

2 years laterish we repeated the process and Jack was born on 29th May 2002.

Second time round was easier. We were both a lot more relaxed about it all.

With regards being a Dad, once I had started to calm down I tried to be the role model I wanted to be. I look at my boys now and I think yeah I was in the whole a good role model. Myself and Lisa have brought up 2 kind, caring, and friendly young men.

Being a parent can feel like a minefield at times, but there is one thing I learned from experience and later confirmed by the wonderful Brene Brown, and that is be the adult you want your children to become.

There have been days when I wanted to wring their necks. There have been occasions when I have wanted the earth to swallow me up normally in a supermarket or on the bus, when one or other of them have been having a tantrum. But now I look at them and feel so proud of who they have become.

When I think back to all the pressure I put myself under to be the protector and provider. I realise that it was unfounded and based on a society norm that is no longer relevant. We are not Cavemen. We need to equip our children to survive in the modern world.

Being a Dad is a job for life so there is no rush, play the long game, learn from your mistakes and don’t forget to enjoy it and collect those memories.

I am moving into the next stage in fatherhood, as my boys become adults. Learning to let go is hard. I will say there is still a lot of familiar ground, like sleepless nights, and this fear of them hurting themselves. But then see who they have become and it is all worth it.

So remember there is only one secret to parenting. Be the adult you want your children to become.

If you are a Dad and want to work through, being a parent, husband and successful at work, without compromising on any message me.

Time to take action! But first let me introduce myself.

I am Matt (Matthew if you prefer full names). I was born in 1971, so that puts me at the back end of my 40s. I have been married for nearly 24 years and have two boys (who are both young adults now). I have worked as a healthcare professional for 30 years. Nearly 20 of them have been in leadership roles. I am currently the Lead Coach for a busy inner city NHS University Hospital. If I am honest there have been many occasions over those past 30 years as a professional, a husband and a parent when I have really struggled to hang on in there. I have had to learn how to adapt and see the world differently. I have seen parts of me that I would rather have not. I have had to acknowledge the part I played in my difficulties. Using my Nursing skills and learning how to be a coach has really helped. Having people around me that could coach me by kicking me up the arse and putting their arm around me was invaluable. But most importantly they did not advise me.

So that brings me to what I now offer as a coach. Because of my lived experience I want to support men that may be struggling with what life throws at them as they progress in their career and personal life. What I have recognised is that there is not a lot out there to support middle aged men before things get really bad, that does not force them to be someone they are not.

It’s not always OK not to be OK, OK?

I see this meme a lot on Facebook, saying it’s OK not to be OK, or men need to talk and share more. I agree completely that men should be able to feel comfortable to express their feelings and struggles in an open way. But the thing is that the vast majority of us have not been brought up to view the world in that way, and we are just unable to see the world that way. So let’s make sure young boys are brought up to share emotions, and have high emotional intelligence, but let’s stop making men feel bad for not expressing our emotions in a certain way.

It is possible to be emotionally intelligent and be able to manage them without talking to people about how you feel off the bat. There are many ways people can understand and articulate what they are feeling. What has to happen is to accept that shit happens, and make space in your mind for this eventuality. There is no point in avoiding it, just face it and know that it is not a permanent state. Next make sure your day is full of activities that require your full attention, something that keeps you in the present and does not allow you to dwell on the past or worry about the future. What is happening now is the most important thing. Obviously we have to learn from the past and plan the future but they are not permanent residence.

Check your thinking, when stuff happens that knocks you for 6, understand the emotion you are feeling, what you may assuming, what you are in control of, and what is beyond your control.

Realise the only person that is in control of what you think and do is you. You choose what to do, how to respond and what to think.

Know what you is important to you, what gets you out of bed? What gets you through those difficult jobs? What got you to where you are now.

Make a plan for your life and start to take action, not tomorrow, not next week, not when the conditions are right but now.

Finally when things go tits up again, start again, and keep at it. It is not a race, it’s life.

So it’s not OK, not to be OK if that is all you are going to be. It is OK to pick yourself up take action and make it better.

By all means take that and use it. Or go buy some of the many books that are out there like The Chimp Paradox and SUMO. They are brilliant and will help.

There is no substitute for one to one conversations and someone to hold you to account. So message me if you want the one to one approach, face to face or remote.

Acts of Kindness

Last week on a training day for managers, I introduced to them an exercise of kindness that I had read about in Martin Seligman’s book Flourish. The the notion is, that if you show gratitude and kindness it not only makes them feel better, but you also get a hit of that lovely Oxytocin, therefore making you feel all warm and fuzzy and ultimately restored. The exercise I introduced to them is as follows (feel free to do this exercise, it will make you and the other person feel amazing, trust me):

Think of someone who either is or has been an important part of your life. Someone who has had an impact on who you are as a person today. Someone through them being them who has inspired, guided, or encouraged you at some point.

Now write a letter to them. Start with an introduction reminding them who you are and what you have become, and tell them why you are writing this letter. Then write in detail what they did for you, how they changed your life for the good, and how grateful you are to them. Now put it in an envelope, and write their name on it. If you don’t know where they live or work, find out. Here comes the important bit. Don’t post it! Hand deliver it. Take your letter to them, knock on their door, reintroduce yourself to them, and tell them why you are there. Now you have 2 choices you can either hand them the letter and leave, or if you are feeling brave (this will give you the best results) open the envelope and read it to them. I know it does sound scary, but remember these people are special, they made a dramatic difference in your life, so how wonderful would it be to let them know.

Now yesterday someone knocked on my office door, someone I knew, someone I admire greatly, someone who inspires me. She handed me a letter, she had a few tears in her eyes, I thought something bad had happened, she reassured me nothing had happened. After a moment she explained what it was. It was the most wonderful gift other than my children I had received. All day yesterday I was floating on a cloud, today I still feel loved and lovable. I never thought anyone would send me a letter. But wow was I grateful, it was a lovely thing. Yesterday I struggled to talk about it as it made me so emotional, but today I wanted to share it with the world. That one act of kindness meant the world to me. I know writing it and seeing my reaction meant the world to the author.

So thank you, you are truly inspirational. It is a pleasure being in your company (you know who you are).

If someone has made a difference in your life, let them know how grateful you are, lets change the world one conversation at a time.

Don't be ashamed of failure

We all get side swiped at some point in our lives, for most of us it happens on multiple occasions. We don’t get a job we thought we were a shoe-in for, a project fails, a relationship fails, we play a part in an error that harms someone. The list can go on and on. In fact if I give you a few minutes you could come up with a long list of the the things you have done or has been done to you that cut you to the core, that make you feel ashamed, embarrassed or idiotic. Our recall for those events is clear even if it happened decades ago.

I remember an event when I was 10 years old (38 years ago). We had just moved to Chester from e Gosport, just after my dad had retired from the Navy. I was playing on the bank which was a tarmac recreation area in front of my Nan’s house on Garden Terrace. There was a few of us playing on the swings, when this girl in our group, started teasing me, I asked her to stop, but she just kept teasing me, so I slapped her in the face. Yes I slapped her (I was not much of a fighter) then ran into my Nan’s house crying. She ran off in the other direction screaming. I went straight upstairs and hid in the front bedroom lying face down on the bed sobbing, trying to block it out. After a few minutes I could hear a commotion outside. I then I heard my mum call me. I went to the front garden and was confronted with my mum, this girl and her mum. Who was shouting at me accusing me of being a terrible bully and being violent towards girl. My mum looked horrified and I was so ashamed and upset, and my emotions just got the better of me. Above all the crying and commotion I screamed “Shut Up!!! Just shut up!!” I ran straight inside fearing the worst and feeling more ashamed than ever. To this day I can feel my heart rate going up thinking about it. The feeling of shame is palpable, the feeling that I had brought shame on my family is still there. Which is irrational and serves no purpose at all. I know the reality was not as bad as what I feel now, and I realise that my mind has twisted it to make it sound worse than it was. But the feeling of shame is still real.

That was a long time ago, but I mind loves keeping old of this stuff just in case it can be used as evidence in the future. The thing is, I have stuffed up so many times that if I don’t keep a check on this stuff it can start to take hold and the shame can get the better of me. None of us a perfect and we all do stuff that we regret or embarrasses us. What we have to remember is that what we do is not attached to our self-esteem or self-worth. Us stuffing up does not make us less of a person. Now I don’t mean deliberately harming people, or malicious intent, I mean, the stuff up when we intended to do the right thing, however stuff happened that prevented the correct, or desired outcome, within or without our control. This will never make us less. We are still enough, we are still worthy.

So when you don’t manage to land that dream job, or you have a blazing row because you got carried away watching Breaking Bad and forgot to do the housework on your day off (I imagine this might happen, obviously this would never happen to me), or you get so frustrated you lash out, remember you are still loved and lovable. Now if you do something wrong it is important. in fact vital that you show accountability. So you admit what part you played, apologise, and make amends. It is right and appropriate to feel guilt if you did something wrong, and it is appropriate to admit guilt and make it right. This does not make you less of a person.

To help you control that feeling of shame that diminishes your self-worth there is something you can do:

  • Acknowledge what has happened
  • Recognise the emotion you are feeling (put a name to it)
  • Be accountable
  • What can you use next time
  • Remember those who love you still love you.

No matter what life throws at you, you are still loved and lovable, you are still enough, this fall has not made you less of a person.

Don’t be afraid of failure, failure does not diminish you. You are loved and lovable!

Be Grateful

Our default setting is to look for the negative in our lives. This is for good reason, it is designed to keep us safe in a world of physical danger. However most of us occupy a world where most of our dangers are theoretical. For many of us though it is just easier to see what is wrong with our world. We end up being a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy. If all you do is look out for one thing, you will see it wherever you go. Like when you buy a new car, all of a sudden you see that same model of car every time you go out on the road.

Don’t worry there is nothing wrong with you. Our brains are wired this way to keep us safe. It is far easier to use the well worn path of this wiring, rather than changing it to look for an alternative more helpful view of the world. We have to make a conscious decision to look for what makes us grateful. This takes practice everyday to create a new worn path. The more we walk down that path the more automatic our grateful thoughts will become. We will still look for what might go wrong, that is just biology.

I have put a picture of my 2 boys in this blog. Ben my eldest is home this weekend, and it is wonderful to see them together, greeting each other with the finger and a broad smile, then chatting and laughing together. This week saw Jack’s band release their first single on all streaming platforms. A few weeks ago his band played the local venue (The New Adelphi, frequented back in the day by bands like Radiohead, Pulp, and Housemartins). Now both my sons are in bands that have music published online, and have played live gigs. That makes me so grateful and proud to have 2 wonderful young men as my sons.

Everyday I look at what I can be grateful for. I love my job and when I am teaching or coaching I feel so lucky that I do something that matches what I value. So even when I am doing something I enjoy less, such as writing a report or filling in spreadsheets, or attending meetings I know that soon I will be coaching someone or teaching a group of people. Going to work or taking the dog for a walk I see how beautiful the world we live in is. I am grateful to the people I work with now for inspiring me, and all the nurses I have ever worked with. But there are a few people in my world that have made a true difference to me and my life. My Mum, George and Sheila (friends of the family), Mr Bolton (my Primary School Teacher), Mrs Turner (my Sociology teacher), Stan (my Nursing Tutor), Michael and Jonathon (my school friends), Julian (my Best Man, and best friend), Mike (my friend), Louise and Dave (my brother and sister), my Dad, and last but not least Lisa (my wife). I know I could go on for ever listing who I am grateful for, and you know what I would love to. That little exercise has made me feel so happy. It has got me thinking how lucky I am and how blessed my life is.

We don’t have to put effort in to looking for what is wrong in our lives, so don’t put a lot of effort into it. We do have to make a decision to be grateful for our everyday lives, so do that. If you wake up in a bad mood (at least every other day for me) dig deep and look for what you can be grateful for. The more you do it the easier it will be. If you look for what is good in your life you will see it eventually, just keep looking.

If you want to do some work on your thinking and take action towards a new positive you, message me.

In the meantime, here is a playlist of my boys’ music.

It's not everyone else!

As Jack Canfield said, it is not just the event that determines the outcome, you always have to factor in your response.

Some weeks all of my responses are based on emotion, I am irritated by the smallest things. I am spending too much time acting on my emotional response to situations. Sometimes that is perfectly appropriate. If something is truly upsetting of course I should get upset, but may be I shouldn’t get angry when the dog barks to go outside. So how do I get out of this emotional quagmire that just gets me into trouble and reduces my productivity.

Now the first thing to say is, is that you will not be able to get rid of that emotional response, but you will be able to manage it. I am still a miserable git that flies off the handle for stupid reasons and yes I still cry when watching something emotional on the TV. I am a work in progress, is how I would put it.

It is really easy to use the emotional centre of our brains, because as Steve Peters says in his wonderful and much quoted book ‘Chimp Paradox’ the chimp or limbic system is much stronger and faster than the rest of the brain. So why go to the effort of searching for a more reasonable response, when we have a perfectly functional knee jerk one. Well there are several good reasons for not doing that, most importantly is not being a dick to all of those around you. Perhaps the mistake or inconvenience that has just happened was not just their fault but was a combination of events, which you were just as much a part of as they were. Or even it really is not that important.

So we have established that it is important to think more before we respond. We have to exercise the rest of our brain more, so it is ready and willing to take over from our emotional centre once it realises it is not needed. How to do this is obvious and simple but does require practice and effort. Hence why I am a work in progress. What I am wanting to do is change my habits, those unhelpful habits that encourage me to only use one small part of my brain when responding to the world around me.

Practicing thinking critically is what exercises your brain and fills your memory banks with useful, helpful memories that can be used effectively to formulate a measured reasonable response to events. Stop taking everything at face value. The vast majority of us a brilliant at critical thinking, and utilise this skill during our working day (but not always). We will search for as much information as possible before even attempting to come to a conclusion. We will search for alternative viewpoints. We will look for potential assumptions we might be making. We will consider the implications of our response. We will explore and assess possible risks, and assess the reasonableness of our response. I can hear all your emotional responses as you read this, saying how the flip are we expected to do all that when some knobhead has cut in front of me at the roundabout. The simple answer is you wont. However once you have expressed your emotion by calling them a prick or a knobhead, you will then start to calm down and will not chase him/her down drag them out of the car and kick their head in, as you have already considered, the risks and implications of that particular action. But you will let the irritation and even anger effect you for the rest of the morning even day. This is where practicing a critical thinking approach will help.

Start practicing this with something less irritating and less critical. Start asking those questions when listening to the news or reading a story online or in the paper. Before you make an opinion on what is in front of you ask the following questions:

  • Always start by thinking about what emotion this is making me feel. Does it make me, happy, angry, sad, hopeful, helpless, or just indifferent?
  • Do I have enough information? Does this article or item give me all the information I need.
  • Is there an alternative viewpoint? What might I think if I was from another part of the world? What would be my friends, family members, colleagues, or customers response to this?
  • What assumptions am I making about this? What am I taking as read? Why is it done that way? Do we have to use it that way?
  • What are the risks and implications attached to the opinion I am making? What will be the result of my opinion, will it cement my emotions?
  • Is my response or opinion reasonable and measured?

Keep doing this everyday, and it will form a habit. It will help you calm your emotional response and think in a more reasonable way. Because it is not always everyone else problem, you always play a part.

If you want to work on your emotional response message me.

We can work together face to face, online or via the phone, whichever suits you.

All the middles, forgotten, lost and misunderstood

Are you a middle aged, middle class, middle England man, who is feeling a bit lost, and frankly misunderstood?

And no you don’t want to bloody talk about it! You know what, not being okay is not okay! Being okay is okay, not being okay is shit! Accepting things are shit is not where you want to be. Accepting life goes up and down is fine, but putting up with stuff is not fine.

And talking about feelings and sharing emotions can just make things worse for a lot of us. Not me, I am as my mum said a sensitive soul, who has grown to accept that, but I tell you every time I feel emotional in public I feel terrible shame. So what I am saying is that if the prospect of opening your heart to someone makes you feel terrible don’t do it, and don’t feel bad about it.

Men in our society are conditioned not to cry in public to be strong, to protect and to provide. Now we are told to be sensitive, to share emotions, to want to talk about emotions. But at the same time don’t be overly emotional, don’t show weakness and provide. So what do we do? We avoid stuff we try to suppress what we are feeling so we don’t have to do that sharing shit. We then feel worse, we get irritated, we have mood swings, we withdraw and start to lose interest in home and work. Time with our family and productivity at work suffer.

As we get older more and more challenges us, things happen that we don’t expect, failure at work, illness (ours and family members), kids growing up and getting into trouble, and so on. All this comes at us and knocks us sideways, creates those feelings of stress and anxiety. Add to that the feeling of is this it, how do I keep this up or what if it all goes wrong.

Is there any wonder that we struggle and end up being miserable old gits.

There is a way out of this though, without sharing feelings and having group hugs. It is remembering what is important to you. Not just the obvious stuff like family, work etc, but stuff that you have forgotten about, stuff you stopped paying attention to when life, like getting married and starting a family gets in the way. Think back to what you use to do maybe as a kid or a young adult, that added value to your life, stuff that made you happy, but was productive. It might be something that you did with your dad or grandad, or with friends. It might be gardening, woodwork, messing about with engines, even Stamp collecting. Can you start doing it now, can you make time for it? This brings you back to what is important to you, and gives you space to start working through what is affecting you.

This will start to help you start paying attention to yourself, whilst doing something productive. This is just the beginning of the journey.

If this strikes a chord with you message me to arrange a 20 minute call to discuss what I could offer

How often do you do engage in an activity that demands your full attention?

I spend a lot of my time either in the past or the future. Examining and ruminating over what has just happened, or dreaming and worrying about what is coming next. This is often the source of my anxiety, and lack of self-worth when I get caught up in the hindering, unhelpful cycle of thoughts.

Spending some time in the past and the future is immensely helpful, if you are there to learn and improve, and make plans for a compelling future. The problem is we can often get stuck there, and if we are not careful this two destinations can become hindering and prevent us from acting due to the fear of repeating past failures, or because we enjoy the memories of past comforts and future dream of a wonderful future. The past and the future are not supposed to be permanent places of residence. They are just reference points to create a better now, by informing your current actions. The only thing that is real after all is the here and now, not yesterday and not tomorrow.

To ease our anxieties and create a more action focus, mindfulness is often offered up as a solution, to concentrate on the what is happening to you right now. To focus on you and your immediate environment. So the sensation of standing on the floor or sitting down, how different parts of your body feel, noticing your heartbeat and your breath. During this process your mind will wander, when you notice thoughts creeping back in, which they will often, mindfulness encourages you to let go of the thought and concentrate again back on what is happening to your body, such as your breathing. This activity is incredibly liberating as each time a thought enters your head, you let that thought go and release yourself from it. As after all it is only a thought (a series of electrical impulses and chemical reactions) and is not real. Now I do practice mindfulness and I do find it really helpful to calm my thoughts, but I find it difficult to achieve everyday.

Being engaged however I find much easier to do, and again it gets me to focus on the here and now. For instance writing a blog takes my concentration fully. I am taking my thoughts and turning them into words on the computer screen. My thoughts are focused on what I am creating now, so inevitably keeps me out of the past and the future ,only temporarily delving in for terms of reference. Another engaging activity is coaching, I am in complete service of the person in front of me, so I have to keep check on my wandering mind and bring it back to listening to my client. Coaching is a great way for me to quieten my thoughts and centre myself, as the less thinking I do about me the more helpful I am to my client, therefore it creates a discipline for me to be mindful.

What do you do that engages you enough that you have to concentrate fully on the activity and keep check on your thoughts? If you find yourself caught in your thoughts and paralysed by fear of failure or even the comfort of past glories, look for activities you enjoy that take your full attention, something that brings you to the present, something that lets you release those thoughts that are hindering you.

If you want to explore this more, please get in touch to discuss how a coaching relationship would help you create more focus on what you want to achieve and ensuring you take action. As well face to face coaching I also offer online, email and skype coaching. Email me to find out more and for a free consultation.

Music to lift and create energy.

February seems to me to be the month of viruses and low mood. Well probably because I have just had a virus for the past couple of days, that I am starting to come out of. So that has been making me think about how I generate some energy within myself to shake off the last embers of this pesky virus. Music is a wonderful thing and I use it a lot to inspire and comfort me. So in an attempt to create some energy from within myself, I thought about the music that makes might heart swell, music that puffs out my chest and puts a spring in my step.

Well nothing does that more than a bit of funk and soul. So here is a playlist I have been listening to today, to create some much needed energy, to prepare me for work tomorrow.

So for your pleasure if you wish is my favourite funk and soul songs for your pleasure and to inspire you to action.

Be a Prestigious Leader

Over the last week I have been reading Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed. I highly recommend it. I have not read it all yet, but the chapter I was reading yesterday struck a chord. It did not give me any new information, but what it did was give me another view point, and how we can connect the reduction of error/safety and project success directly to the behaviours of the leader and their followers. It takes (for me) collective accountability and leadership to a new place. The idea does though require us all to suppress the desire for a neat solution to a problem and someone to blame when it all goes wrong.

The suggestion is that how a team communicates is the key to whether their activities are more or less likely to end in failure or even failure. This all stems from our sociological view that being a dominant leader is a strong and successful leader, that having one strong voice in the room is a vital element of success. Now in some circumstances this is true. Having someone who is clearly in charge and has the capacity to make the final instruction is vital for a successful team. However that voice being the only voice throughout the activity is asking for disaster. Suppressing the other voices in room narrows the options available to the leader. It ignores the diversity of thought available to the leader. Hearing the voices in the room increases the leader’s situational awareness. Suppressing those voices reduces the productivity and creativity of the team.

Studies have been done that suggest that having a dominant senior leader in the room, creates an atmosphere where people are unwilling to speak up, without the leader doing anything. A study conducted by Aberdeen University in the 1970s on flight crews discovered that the crew would automatically defer to the Captain even if he was making a bad decision. In fact of the psychologists monitoring the responses commented that.. “Co-pilots would rather die than contradict a Captain.”

All these studies suggest that if you have a dominant style of leadership you are putting your teams’ activities at risk. If you work in a safety critical environment you could be putting lives at risk. This is not to say a dominant approach cannot be useful at times, but never in isolation.

There is an alternate approach to leadership. Something I know as compassionate leadership, but something that I learned yesterday has been described as prestigious leadership. This is a style of leader that was first described at the turn of the 20th Century by an anthropologist called Radcliffe-Brown. He described how certain individuals gained influence in the Andaman Islands. He notices that these people hd certain personal qualities; they were skilled hunters, kind and generous and free from bad temper. Other members from the community were willing to follow them and used their behaviours as role models . They were chosen as leaders because of their prestige, not dominance. We would also describe this approach as a transformational leader.

This prestigious approach to leadership encourages respect from the team and does not demand it. It allows the team to have a voice, with the confidence to know that someone will take onboard that point of view to make a decision that is informed. This style of leadership does not mean decisions are always collective and are debated. What it does do, is actively look for and identify potential blind spots and therefore reducing the risk of missing something vital.

Be a Prestigious leader it makes perfect sense. If you want to explore this more, get in touch and also buy Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed.

PS the picture is of Maya Angelou one of the most prestigious leaders ever.

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