Do you belong or are you just fitting in?

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Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about turning the connected living program I have written into a book. So last Saturday I dared greatly and started putting together an overview. So far I have the titles of the chapters and the beginnings of the first chapter. As soon as I started writing it, I felt nervous and unworthy. I became vulnerable, I could feel my shield coming up. Telling myself that it would only stay on the computer, no one would read it anyway, so why bother. You know the usual, no doubt all the things that we all say to ourselves that keep us in our box. All the words that perpetuate the pontificating, the voices that stifle our creativity. I started writing it anyway, telling myself, if no one would ever read it then what is the harm, after all I am half way through my memoir that no doubt is never going to see the light of day. So I started it and got quite far in a few hours.

As if by fate this week a friend of mine shared with me that they had written a short story and then had sent it to a competition. They asked if I would like to read it. It was wonderful. They expressed the same fears as I had, they were surprised that I liked it, as I am surprised when people say they like my blog. My friend though had taken the plunge though, they had made themselves vulnerable, they sent it to a competition which creates that risk of rejection. They put themselves out there, and since my feedback they have sent me another short story, again another engaging story a tough read as the subject is dark but well written. This has inspired me and hindered me at the same time. I tell myself it’s scary to risk ridicule and rejection, your friend has done it, and they are still the same person they were the day before. But their stories are good, is my content good enough. I know the answer I speak the answer to others. Is it good enough for you? Does it express what I want to get across? Am I able to get that message I want to share out of my head and on a computer screen? Well duh, I do that every week on here, and I share this with the world(I know my most popular blog has only been read by around 100 people).

I have just realised that I am writing this blog to give myself the courage to write more of the first chapter. So please excuse this self-indulgence.

By worrying about what people will think about me writing a book and what is in it, am I trying to fit in rather than belonging?

Am I trying to adjust who I am, and what I do, because I have not connected and feel comfortable with who I am?

Belonging, truly belonging as Brene Brown would describe it, is first connecting with yourself. I think of it as looking in a super high-definition mirror that is able to reflect your soul, as well as your physical appearance, and when you see your whole self reflected back you love what you see. Not like, but love, and I mean all of you even the ugly unpleasant bits. That is not easy to do, in fact for a long time I thought it was impossible. Not anymore I see it is possible, I am yet to perfect it completely but I love a large part of me, however there are some parts that I can now tolerate, and I still worry about whether people like me and what I do or not.

So how do you get connected with and love yourself? In my blog entitled connected living I have described the process I put together to help people connect with themselves in order to make connections with others.

Once you practice connecting with yourself, you can start belonging, you can start to feel comfortable with your own view of the world and therefore be comfortable with alternative viewpoints held by other people. You will start to feel confident enough to brave what Brene calls the wilderness, to belong to yourself first, even when what you believe to be right is unpopular or wildly different from the people around you. For instance writing a blog like this is not what my family would do, very few of my friends write blogs, or share their thoughts and vulnerabilities like I do. I stand out, I don’t fit in, but I do belong I belong to me first and to the rest of you if you want me.

I really want to belong to the world around me, and when I don’t feel I do the desire to fit in gets really strong, and I have compromised by beliefs and values to try to fit in, as no doubt you have, and it is normally when we lack confidence in ourselves and what we believe. It never works out though, and no matter how much we try we still feel on the outside and never belong. When you truly belong there is no us and them there are just people who have a different map of the world. I can disagree with them and still feel connected with them. My mum’s political views are often opposite to mine, I don’t hate her or think she is stupid. I love her with all my heart, there is so much more that connects us than disconnects us. All of us are connected, we are all connected by biology after all.

Gosh that was philosophical.

I will leave you with a quote by Brene Brown and then another from my favourite lady in world ever Maya Angelou

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

Brene Brown

You are only free when you realise you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

Maya Angelou

I have resolved that I will carry on writing my book, I will dare greatly and brave the wilderness if I need to. I will approach it like I approach my blog. I write it first for me, then for anyone who wants to read it. I belong to me and anyone else that wants me.

 

 

PERMA and That Hour of Happiness

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The past week has been a little turbulent. It has been a week of feeling vulnerable, after sharing my feelings on here and sharing a little of myself in the support of others. In fact sharing in support of others Is suppose has triggered this blog.

I had no plans to write a blog today. I thought I was spent after sharing my parenting pains yesterday. However when I was out on a run this morning I started thinking about what I had said to a group of new registrants and the end of their first year as Registered Nurses. I was talking to them about the daily stress they encounter in their everyday job as part of a talk I do to Nurses about compassionate reflective practice. The premise of the talk is that to be truly compassionate to others, you have to show compassion to yourself. Part of that compassion is looking after and maintaining your capacity for stress.  Our lives are stressful, that is normal, life has always been stressful and always will be. If didn’t have stress and discomfort we would not have great innovation and creativity. Learning and development come from a place of discomfort. However if not checked and managed that discomfort can turn into distress. Innovation and creativity die in a place of distress. So at this point in the talk (if you ever attend this talk or the day I do on human factors and error management, look interested and intrigued as if you have never heard it before) I drew a bucket and invited them to imagine that the bucket was their capacity for stress. Now every time you experience stress it sits in your bucket. If you don’t pay attention to your bucket it can overflow and that is when you become distressed. I suggested to them that the way to manage their bucket is to attach a tap to the bottom of it, and they can do this by setting aside an hour everyday that is dedicated to their happiness, something that is just for them, or something that just makes them smile or feel good inside. I suggested to them that they may already be taking part in some of these activities but do not label them as part of their hour of happiness. This is quite a powerful proposition and is a way of appreciated, yourself, people around you and your environment.

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This got me thinking about Martin Seligman’s PERMA. In his book Flourish (if you are a Psychologist or a student of Psychology please forgive my clumsiness) and no doubt in earlier publications he suggests that people who mentally healthy have the following characteristics.

Positive Emotion

Engagement

Relationships (supportive/positive)

Meaning

Accomplishment

I suppose that hour of happiness in many ways is doing an inventory and just checking in with your PERMA on a daily basis.

So I invite you to pay attention to your stress bucket, by allocating an hour of happiness in your life. It can be anything that pays attention to your PERMA.

So far today I have gone for a run for 30 minutes, that has given me sense of accomplishment, which in turn has given me a positive emotion at the end of it. I have been writing this blog for about 40 minutes now which has been engaging and will give me a sense of accomplishment, it will also create connections with some of you readers, some of whom I know, so therefore builds our relationship further. Already I am over my hour, however I am not finished with my happiness today (it is Sunday I suppose). I have had 2 short 5 minute conversations with my sons one on the state of modern drama and it’s over reliance on the crime drama, with him stating that nothing useful or original has been said in that genre for the past decade. That made me smile and made me love him that little bit more. I then had a conversation with my youngest and his girlfriend about the programme they were watching, which was a comedy by all accounts, although there appeared to be no laughter in the room. The usual banter occurred as always does ending me gently making fun of his stubble and him telling me I need to grow up. This again made me smile and even laugh out loud and I loved him that little bit more. Thinking about those conversations also makes me feel proud of the young men they have become, so I suppose to 3 minute conversations have shown to me that my PERMA is safely intact and it is not even lunch time.

Even just taking stock of what makes you happy during the day can turn that tap on at the bottom of your bucket. We cannot escape from the stress of our lives, and nor should we. Stress and discomfort are vital for a successful life if managed, and only become a problem if we neglect ourselves and don’t pay attention to how we feel.

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My invitation to you is find and embrace your hour of happiness everyday, you well-being and resilience depends on it.

This forms the first part of my connected living program, if you would like to know more about managing your stress how you can better connect with yourself and others get in touch.

matt@mattycoach71.com

 

The Shame of Being a Parent

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I don’t know about you, but in our house for the past 18 years we have had almost daily discussions on our parenting skills. We would often fall in to the trap of comparison, especially when our children were younger. Everyone seems to be doing it better than us. “Tabitha and Timothy at soft play are always polite and quiet, never ask for sweets, and are always eating carrot sticks and drinking kale and beetroot smoothies.” My wife would exclaim, whilst our 2 would either by clinging to our legs, nattering for sweets, or kicking the shit out of each other. When we did relent and by them a fizzy drink and some sweets, it would be like buying a football hooligan 10 pints of Stella Artois right before a crunch match. When I say we relented I really mean I relented, and would then have to brave the judgemental looks and eye rolling from all the mums around me, whilst trying to manage a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old completely losing their collective shit (I miss though those days). My theory was and is that Tabitha and Timothy were so lacking in sugars that they just didn’t have the energy to misbehave.

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When you are in it, doing battle trying to acquire some control and bring your kids up with a sense of right and wrong but have fun on the way your fail to notice that your kids are normal and everyone else’s kids are just as demonic as yours. All you feel is shame when your child does an impression of a screaming ironing board down the cereal aisle in Asda. You feel shame because society says that children should be seen and not heard, good well brought up children do not have tantrums in public. This is backed up by the looks of disgust and judgement you get from people.

I remember collecting one of my children from nursery. As we did everyday we went home on the bus. On this occasion he was tired and grumpy, and no doubt just wanted to go home and sleep. But he was 2 and was unable to quantify these feels and articulate his expectations to me. So he did what 2 year old’s do. He screamed at the top of his voice whilst trying to  loosen my grip on him. The more I tried to calm him down the worse he got. By this point the whole bus was staring at me. I could hear people passing judgement on my negotiating skills, I could feel there stares burning into the back of my head. In the end the shame got too much and I got off the bus about half a mile away from my house. That was a long and painful half mile. Saying that he did fall asleep in my arms, carrying a sleeping 2 your old for half a mile is not easy though.child-3089972__340

Now my boys are young people, I now see that really they are no different from any other children really. Supermarkets, buses, trains, town centres are full of kids losing it and parents experiencing that shame. If you are a parent of a young person and have survived that shame and you see a fellow parent going through this pain, give them a little smile. You know that smile that says I feel your pain, you are not alone, you are not a bad parent. We picked up our shame from our parents, we don’t have to pass that shame onto our children.

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If you strive to be the best parent you can be, there is a very simple question to ask yourself. Are you the type of adult you want your children to become? If your answer is no, or ooh, erm, maybe, then perhaps you may need to address some of your behaviours so you start living up to that person. It is worth look at the gap between what your family values are and our behaviours. If you tell your children to be tolerant and not to lash out when someone upsets you, and then they see you berate the dickhead that cut you up at the junction, then they see that you don’t live up to your values so why should they. Now don’t get me wrong you don’t have to become overnight angels, but you maybe do need to be open and honest about proportionate responses and consequences. If you swear at the news don’t be surprised when they do.

Maybe be a good parent is being the person you want them to be.

I have a coaching program that helps you raise your self-awareness and connect with who you are, which then helps you be the best parent you can be. I also have a 2 hour talk on connected living that invites you to connect with yourself before connecting effectively with others.

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If you are struggling in the mire of parenting and cannot see the wood for the trees, get in touch.

matt@mattycoach71.com

 

Being vulnerable and connected with yourself is hard, but worth it!

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On Sunday I wrote about my mental health after a while. I thought it was time to share again. Time to face a few demons that have been lingering and to acknowledge to positive effect reading Brene Brown’s work has had on me and my mental health.

I should have known though, I should have remembered how it makes me feel when I share a piece of me. Making yourself vulnerable is bloody painful. I was apprehensive on Sunday. My finger did hover over the publish button. But I said to myself, it will be fine this time round, this time you are daring greatly, you have super powers.

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Well I don’t have super powers and no it is not different now. I am a lot better than I was 2 years ago and the pain isn’t as deep and widespread, but still it’s not bloody fair I said to myself yesterday morning.

I woke up yesterday with Foggy nudging me smirking, reminding me what I had done, reminding me that I had shown my weakness to the world. Oh the shame, oh the embarrassment he told me. I reminded him that all the comments I had were positive, thanking me and letting me know how much they enjoyed reading it. That’s only because not many read it he retorted. At this point can I just point out that this is a silent discourse in my head and I am not doing a Gollum/Sméagol routine on the bus.

When I got to the office I re-read some comments and looked at the likes on Facebook, and via the reader. I did make a difference, it did help me. In fact I would say it helped me greatly yesterday, in fact I had a wonderful day yesterday having some really useful discussions about a research article I am writing with colleagues from the university, then planning a training/support day for nurses who have been qualified for a year to help them explore professionalism and compassion, followed by a lively tutorial with a coaching trainee. The energy that I felt yesterday was purely down to making myself vulnerable. I felt able to share snippets of myself thorough every aspect of the discussions I had, creating stronger connections.

Today Foggy was back, this time I gave him some space, let him air his concerns I spent some time exploring that and again feel better. Sometimes I notice Foggy can be useful, he can stop me from getting over excited and rushing into to actions that may not be wise. Today was one of those times.

He hasn’t stopped me being vulnerable though, although he did provoke me to re-share and retweet the weekends blogs. I even tweeted Brene Brown! She hasn’t replied, but then again I am sure she gets millions of tweets and no doubt she doesn’t manage her twitter anyway, but I thought what the heck, at worst I get ignored.

Then I thought I would write a blog about the vulnerability of being vulnerable, whilst being vulnerable. Mainly to piss Foggy off.

If you are suffering in silence with shame and anxiety, reach out to someone you care about, who cares about you and share your shame, or anxiety, turn a light on the dark recesses of you mind. If you care about someone sit alongside them listen to them give them some space and understanding. We all have felt shame so we understand how we all feel. We can all show each other empathy if we embrace our own shame and vulnerability.

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When somebody spares you a few minutes to listen to you and try to understand you, it has an amazing effect on you. Give it a try sit and listen to a friend, tell them what makes you feel vulnerable. Yes it hurts but not as deeply as holding on to that shame. Give them a hug (it doesn’t have to be a real hug sitting alongside and sharing is a virtual hug).

Lets change the world one hug at a time.

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Me and Foggy

My old friends will remember Foggy. For the uninitiated Foggy is my negative self speak, my dark cloud, my black dog.  He is my depression to put it simply, the dark part of my brain that likes to suck away my hope, my joy, and my enthusiasm.

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Maybe I am being a little bit unkind to Foggy. To be fair to Foggy it is not completely his fault. Foggy is just my self speak with no boundaries. If I do battle with Foggy or don’t pay attention to my self-worth, then Foggy lets rip and stomps all over my aspirations and dreams. He doesn’t just create self-doubt he takes a sledgehammer to my self-esteem and creates a feeling of self hate.

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Well he used to. I don’t let him do that to me anymore. I smother him with love and appreciation. I practice shining a light on the dark corners of my mind where he does his worst. These practices have become most successful in the past couple of months. I was starting to feel better after being open about how I feel, and sharing my feelings with you lot. However since reading the work of Brene Brown and Stephen Covey and can now make sense of what I was doing and refine it. I realise Foggy was formed way back in my childhood. Can I say now I had a lovely childhood I was kept safe, and most of all loved by loving Mum and Dad, and Brother and Sister. My mum largely brought me up alone as my Dad was away at sea in the Navy when I was young and then when I was a teenager they got divorced. Again this is not unusual, so I do not consider this a problem. Foggy did however form at this time and got stronger and stronger through my late teens and early adulthood, where he was finally strong enough to run amok. Now after reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly (this book has changed my life completely) I realise Foggy was fed by shame. Even writing that word makes me feel emotional.

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As I am writing this BBC Breakfast is doing a peace on suicide amongst men. Depression and suicide amongst men is the a terrible legacy of modern society. I am convinced that this comes from shame. None of us what to feel judged. Being vulnerable, emotional and caring are considered weaknesses. Just as I said yesterday in my blog about compassionate leadership.

I remember being a teenager and feeling ashamed for being kind and caring, for feeling emotional. Feeling ashamed that I didn’t understand or interested in playing football. I felt like I didn’t belong, I didn’t fit into the male stereotype. I now realise that most of my friends felt this to a greater or lesser extent, but were too afraid to say anything because we felt ashamed. I remember telling a female friend that I thought I must be gay, because I wanted to be a nurse, because I enjoyed talking to people about their feelings. As I did not feel masculine enough I must have been gay and being gay was a negative thing and another source of shame. Society puts us in a box and provides a set of values and behaviours we have to live up to (women and men). Most of these behaviours are impossible for us to live up to.  This shame got bigger and bigger as I got older. I have to be good at everything, I have to be successful, I have to provide for my family. I couldn’t in my mind live up to the ideals I felt society had enforced on me. Eventually to cut a long story short I disengaged with life. I did this a number of times through my adult life.

Now we don’t have to live in shame. Shame is a lie. If you do something wrong or make a mistake or you live your life differently to everyone else, you are not a bad person. There is a difference between guilt and shame. It is fine to feel guilty for your actions when they effect others. Guilt does not define you, you can make amends and redeem yourself. Shame assumes that you are flawed and unable to change. Shame implies you are less worthy. Not fitting into the male or female paradigm set by our society does not make you or me flawed. Talking about what makes you feel shame actually diminishes your shame. For me it was a bit like turning my bedroom light on when I was a child and realising the monster by the door was just my dressing gown on the back of my bedroom door. Talking about your shame turns your bedroom light on, and turns your demons into what they really are, just the furniture of your life.

So now in my post Brene life I talk about my shame openly, including crying when wonderful things happen, or when someone tells me a sad story. Foggy is now just my self talk, and that is all. I can now have a debate with myself about whether or not I should do something. He will still try to make me feel ashamed, sometimes he will succeed. But I know where that light switch is.

I find sharing some of my shame through a blog useful. Other times I will be selective who I share with. Be mindful when sharing that the person you are about to share with is ready to receive this. Sharing your darkest secrets on a first date may be ill advised.

Sharing shame and vulnerability makes you more empathetic and compassionate, therefore making you better equipped to connect meaningfully with the people around you.

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If you want to know more about connecting with yourself and others email me

matt@mattycoach71.com

 

What is Compassion?

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I was reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown yesterday (I finished it yesterday and started on Braving the Wilderness last night). As you may  have realised I am a little bit obsessed with this lady. I have completely connected with what she says. It makes complete sense to me. I keep kicking myself that it has taken me so long to notice her.

Anyway I was reading the chapter on Parenting (I cried twice, I know I always do, but this time I was on the bus on both occasions) and I came across this quote on compassion. it is not by Brene but by Pema Chodron and it made me stop in my tracks.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity.”

So lets get connected with ourselves and then connect with others.

It’s OK to Lead with Compassion

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When I started as a Student Nurse 29 years ago, my warmth, compassion and empathy were applauded, even considered a strength.

I was not the most technically capable student, my written work was not the best, and I often just did enough. My interpersonal skills however were my strength. I naturally put myself alongside my patients and colleagues. I was always looking for how I could support people, to understand their viewpoint and their experience. Rather than making a judgement on people and their behaviours, my default position is always to see good in people and there is always a reason why people do things. I am not saying I never judge or put nails in peoples coffins. I do everyday as following my default position can be exhausting. It is far easier to follow the path frequently followed, rather than the path less travelled. My preference though is to understand.

This is my point really. the majority of the time warmth, compassion and empathy are not widely valued behaviours in our society especially when shown by men. If you express these behaviours outside of the patient/carer (health professionals) relationship they are seen as a weakness. You are seen as a pushover, weak, lacking toughness, thin skinned, girly. As a teenager and young adult, when I was turned down by a girl or dumped they would always say I was too nice. TOO NICE!!!! That still pisses me off! I never realised that being unpleasant was an attribute to be proud of.

As I said at the beginning my people skills were applauded and encouraged as Student Nurse and a Staff Nurse. I am certain a lot of these attributes contributed to me eventually being promoted to Charge Nurse and given the opportunity to manage my own ward.

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That was when it all changed. My strengths were now weaknesses, as they would be in wider world. I was sent on leadership courses that encouraged my to be transformational in my leadership, to blend organisational goals with the interests of the staff. To win them over with compassion, but to have accountability. I clearly embraced this approach. However the NHS at that time was not quite ready for this wholesale cultural change. The prevailing culture was still command and control. The I say jump, you say how high culture. I was young and naïve and knew my way of seeing the world was right and everyone would applaud me and thank me for bringing this enlightened leadership to my ward. How wrong I was. I was considered weak for listening to staff and encouraging them to follow their interest. I made quite a few mistakes as all new managers do and that was not the problem, the problem was the under current, the belief that I was a push over and my leadership was not strong enough. People would say that I needed to toughen up, I needed to punish more than I praised and then I would get the respect of my staff. I was constantly made to feel ashamed of my ability as a leader. As a result I started to disengage with my role as ward manager. I could not be that manager, I just could not adapt to being a hard manager. I could not make examples of people. My values would not let be that manager. Therefore I became ineffective, deeply unhappy and eventually mentally unwell. I was just unable to adapt to a way of interacting with people that was the direct opposite of my core values. I was a ward manager for a decade, for the majority of that time I felt deeply unhappy and disengaged with leadership and management. It appeared to me that the NHS as a whole extolled an inclusive, compassionate approach to leadership and management, but actually practiced an adversarial, confrontational approach. I just could not reconcile that gap.

Now don’t get me wrong I do not blame the NHS or the people who practiced this approach, this was and is in some cases the culture they have grown up and live in. This is their paradigm it is difficult and sometimes impossible for them to see the world differently.

Thankfully I had some very supportive people around me that could see what my strengths were and were prepared to help me save my career, and helped me change direction and take up the roles I now have in the organisation, where my behaviours are again considered a strength.

Thankfully the culture not only in the NHS but across society is shifting towards a compassionate, empathetic approach to leadership and management and even living. We now recognise that we need to look after each others mental health in an increasingly complex world. Researchers like Brene Brown and psychologists like Martin Selligman and Stephen Covey highlight how compassion, empathy and happiness have a positive effect on our work and home life. If we lead with compassion your team will be more effective.

If you are a leader that struggles with a command and control approach to management. Getting alongside your staff, finding out who they really are and what motivates them. Listen to what they want and help them succeed in your team. You will reap the rewards. You will have to be brave, accept that you will make mistakes, and learn openly from them.

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If you want to learn more about connecting with your staff and leading with compassion get in touch.

matt@mattycoach71.com