Listening to Others and Being Heard Ourselves

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

Well January is not quite finished but it feels 2021 is going to be even more challenging than 2020.

We are all so tired! We are tired of restrictions, tired of mixed messages, tired of bad news, tired of having our hopes for a brighter future dashed.

The other week I was talking to a young apprentice, as he was relaying his story to me I started to feel hopeful. He told me a story of extraordinary maturity, and selflessness, and kindness and determination, tinged with sadness and anxiousness. I will admit I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. On the face of it his story seemed extraordinary, but in reality it wasn’t. I am sure if we bothered to listen to all the young people around us we would hear similar stories, and not just from people working in healthcare. I was hopeful because his story is a common story, it means our future is in safe hands the people charged with all our futures (the young) are wonderful, the people delivering our care, providing transport, delivering our goods, and those working in our shops are all incredible. Collectively we are amazing.

What was distressing about this young man’s story was that he felt isolated and ignored, his elders were not hearing and understanding his concerns and uncertainty. He was beginning to feel disillusioned. He felt unloved, and that if I am honest that broke my heart. This young man is not quite an adult, he like the vast majority of his generation and to be honest most of the rest of us (including those that are not hearing him) are doing their best. It made me wonder how many of us are feeling like this. After speaking to a variety of people across the hospital, my feeling is that everyone is so busy trying to do the best they can in such a busy, uncertain world, that our bandwidth has dramatically reduced. As a result of that we have less time for people around us especially colleagues and loved ones. I am seeing this especially acutely amongst leaders who are finding it increasingly challenging to provide their staff with that listening ear. They are reporting they have nothing else to give, their buckets of compassion are running empty.

I spent an hour yesterday listening to two wonderful colleagues that felt just like that. They had nothing else to give. Both of them would never normally seek support in this way, but something told them that they needed to see what was out there for them to continue to be the compassionate leaders they were. So they joined me on a call having never met each other before, after an hour thy both felt restored. They had shared stories, and heard each other’s concerns, and challenges. Despite them doing very different jobs they were surprised how much they had in common. They both noted that hearing other people talk about worries they shared with them was really helpful. The biggest impact on them was being heard. No solutions were offered, no advice was shared, all he did was listen and understand each other.

Going back to the young apprentice, when we were talking I never offered any advice, I never suggested a course of action, all I did was listen to him, and asked questions to understand what was happening to him. In the end I validated his experience, by sharing my view of the world at the moment. It is not a controversial view, far from it. I suggested that we are all experiencing the most challenging time any of us have ever experienced, and I invited him to appreciate how he is performing during this time, and how everyone is performing, after all no one has ever experienced anything like this. By hearing him and helping him provide context to his experience, I could hear him shift in his mood.

We all need to be heard, we need to feel appreciated and understood, it connects us to our community. We are the most social species, not sharing experiences and learning from each other is detrimental for our health. Make time for each other in your circles, at home and at work. Listen to each other, listen to understand their experience, and find people that will do the same for you. If you lead people make sure you have time a space to be heard, to talk through what is happening to you, to help you make sense. Employing a coach or using someone in your organisation with coaching skills is vital to maintain your leadership skills and ultimately attend to your teams effectively so they feel heard.

If you are interested in being coached or want to learn more about understanding the listening skills that underpin coaching, for you to use with your teams get in touch via email matt@mattycoach71.com and we can arrange a solution that meets your needs.

A Christmas Blog

I doubt if many of us have had a Christmas quite like this. I suppose most of us have had difficult times during Christmas, to varying degrees, but this year feels different. There is a collective difficulty this year, so even if we are not directly affected, we are still surrounded by news of the pandemic and its effects.

Normally during this time of year I would be starting to feel excited about Christmas, there would normally be a buzz in the air. This year it feels a little flat. A few weeks ago there was an air of optimism in the country, the vaccine was being rolled out, Christmas as coming and we were being told we could have a few days to see family if we wanted to and just catch up and recharge, with the prospect of this beginning to come to an end during 2021. Last weekend the mood shifted, parts of the south went into further restrictions, we were told that there was a new variant of the virus that appeared to spread more easily, our chances to meet our families of Christmas was drastically reduced. Then over the past few days we hear that most of the world is imposing travel bans and we saw pictures of lorry drivers in Dover waiting to hear if they could get home to see their loved ones for Christmas. On top of that we see the numbers of infections start to rise again, and the number of patients in our hospitals start to go up. Our hope and optimism dashed, and the buzz for Christmas fades.

Now as with most of my blogs I generally write them to help me work through my emotions. So I am feeling fed up, and sad about Christmas for all those people who are sick or stuck in the cab of a lorry, or sat at home by themselves, even for those of us that would normally be out down the pub, or in a restaurant spending time with our friends. How can I view this differently how can I shift some of the hindering thoughts about this Christmas into helpful thoughts that will shift my response to what is going on around me and give me a better outcome?

When I was coming home from work yesterday I was listening to BBC Radio 5 Live, and they had a Behavioural Psychologist on talking about this very thing, and she made a point that reminded me of something I had read a year or so ago on Acceptance Commitment Therapy by Russell Harris. In a nutshell they both said allow yourself to be upset, frustrated, sad, or angry about the fact that Christmas is not want you wanted it to be. I don’t know about you but I seem to have a default setting that says I have to be happy, I have to be pain free, and this is especially acute round Christmas time. Christmas is a time of joy! That is what we are told from a very young age. Therefore, if you are feeling miserable at Christmas it can come with a degree of guilt. As I am writing this I have just thought of a name for this guilt, the “A Christmas Carol Complex”. So it is all Dickens’ fault. Christmas day after all is just a day as like any other, only us in modern (post 1840s) western society that have turned it into such a big event, that lasts for over a month.

Don’t get me wrong I love Christmas, I love getting presents, I love eating and drinking and spending time with friends and family as we all do. But should we feel that we have to be happy every year? This year I am going to allow myself to be sad, to feel deflated if that is how I feel. Right now that is how I feel. But then again even when I am feeling sad, there are often points in the day when I feel happy, when something makes me smile. Russell Harris suggests that we make room in our minds for what makes us sad, give it space, hear what it has to say. Sadness, anger and frustration are normal useful, functional emotions and deserve our attention. So we shouldn’t push these emotions away, we should acknowledge them. On the flipside that means we should do the same for joy, happiness, love, and contentment.

Every day I look for what gives me joy, I note it, and I am grateful for it. So Christmas will not be as it always is. Christmas will have moments of sadness, maybe anger, but it will have moments of joy, laughter, and love. Seek those moments out, and cherish them. Make the most of opportunities you have, whether that is a time for quiet, restful reflection, time with family, going for a walk, or exercise, volunteering, working, whatever it is seek out those moments that make your heart sing, even if it is short lived.

We can all feel happy and sad, interchangeably throughout a day so let yourself off the hook, sit with your emotions and have the best possible Christmas you can have.

Practice Shifting Your Perspective

Earlier in the week I wrote this blog for my work page. Look at the world from a different point of view is something people often suggest, but is always easier to say than put in to practice. So here is my offer of an approach that may help if not a little strange.

As a coach I talk and write about shifting our perspectives and reframing what is happening to us, and sometimes (ironically) I forget to see it from the perspective of people that are not used to seeing the world from another angle. How bad is that! A perspective shifter failing to shift his perspective. I suppose that is the point really. Shifting our perspective is not a default reflex therefore it requires a conscious effort.

That is a shame as shifting our point of view is more important now than ever before. It is so hard to get stuck in a negative, unhelpful frame of mind at the moment with little to give us obvious joy. That is if we look at life they way we always have looked at life. Our cultural reference points have been shifted and mangled. For instance the current obsession with Christmas and this longing for everything to go back to the way it was. This generally makes us sad as we know it will not be as it was. Hence why looking at the world through a different lens can be more helpful, by help us seek joy from other, often unrecognised parts of our world. 

So how do we make shifting our perspectives easier? Well it is quite straight forward although it does require positive action for it to become a muscle memory and more easily accessed.

Now you might think this slightly insane, but it does work, I do these exercises on a regular basis and they help me shift from my default view to an alternative. 

Make Slight Adjustments to Your Routine

Start with the beginning of your day. Where do you eat your breakfast? At the table? At a breakfast bar? On the sofa? In Bed? Well every other day just change the venue slightly, sit in a different position in the room, and just take a moment to look around you and notice how everything looks different. 

Then move on to work. Can you take slightly different route to work? Can you take the stairs instead of the lift? 

In every part of your life what can you do slightly differently, and always have a look around you and see what the world looks like, as opposed to what you always see.

View The World From A Different Angle

This might seem strange, but if you have ever been on one of my coaching courses I may have asked you to do this. 

This is best done at home as it might be considered unprofessional to do this at work. Pick a room that you spend a lot of time in, the first instance. Then find a space big enough and lay down on the floor facing the ceiling. I told you it seems a little mad but trust me it works. It helps you practice shifting your perspective. When you are on the floor look around your room. Notice the cobwebs you have missed, notice how your furniture and decor looks from this angle, look through the door and see how the rest of the house looks. You will notice things about your house that you have never noticed before. Repeat this around your house and in the garden if you dare.

Both of these activities help you notice what goes unnoticed when we carry on with our lives the same way everyday. Shifting our perspective can open up new opportunities and can help us see what is important and what is not, what we can control and what we cannot. 

The Key is Practice, Practice, Practice

Having agility in perspective taking is a habit and as with all habits, they are formed by creating new neural pathways. Neural pathways are just like paths through woods and fields, they start by you walking one way, and become formed and established through repeated use.

Creation of a habit takes practice, takes a commitment to stray off your well worn path and start a new one. So by consciously, and deliberately changing your routine and noticing the difference or changing your physical position in a room and taking in the new view you start to establish a new path and each time you do it, it becomes slightly easier to appreciate a different view point.

Eventually you start to notice when you have an entrenched or narrow view and it becomes easier to consider and look at any issue from another angle. Life is never as bad as it can seem, and conversely life might not be as good as you like it.

Perspective Taking Improves Resilience

Seeing the world from different views develops a realistic view of the world around you and reducing the risk of you missing something vital that may pose and opportunity or risk.

Now I am not saying you will always see everything, but opening yourself up to the possibility of an alternative view, gives you the opportunity to hear others perspectives and learn from them.

If we stick to one point of view we can miss so much, and fail to hear what is really happening in our world.

Doing something that appears silly can in the long run have a serious impact on how you lead your life, team and even your business.

If you want to explore more about how to shift your view and create a more cognitively diverse approach to your life and work then please drop me a line via matt@mattycoach71.com

Listening to Gain Perspective

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

On a daily basis I find myself getting annoyed, frustrated, irritated, sad, and disheartened. After the conversations I have had with people over the past couple of weeks I have realised I am not alone in feeling like this. These feelings appear to be fairly universal but for very different reasons.

I find myself frustrated because people don’t follow social distancing, wear masks, etc. etc… you get my drift. I also get frustrated by the lockdown restrictions being woolly, and people seeing them in the same way some people see tax laws (constantly looking for loopholes). Now there will be plenty of you that agree with everything I have just said, some of you will agree with some of what I said and there will be others that agree with nothing that I have said. We are all getting fed up and frustrated but not for the same reasons. Our emotions are very particular to us. What triggers out emotions is how we view the world and what we value. If we are not careful we can get entrenched in those views of the world and fail to see that there may be flaws in what we are seeing. If we consider ourselves to be right, we stop listening and we stop learning, and more importantly we fuel all those unhelpful, destructive emotions.

I sense this is what has been happening to me lately, more and more so, to be fair it sort of creeps up on us all. We think we are fair minded and on the side of good, and that is where the trouble starts. If we are on the side of good, then the others are on the side of bad. If there is a right, then there is a wrong. I imagine if I asked everyone reading this if they were on the side of good, and were right minded, then the vast majority of you all would answer in the affirmative. Not all of you however will have the same viewpoints on how to manage, a pandemic, whether to leave Europe or not, Hull FC or Hull KR, or whether a Pattie should be battered or covered in breadcrumbs. See we can all have a different viewpoint and be on the side of good. Sorry I got distracted by a pattie then, so that is where my trouble started I started to believe my view of the world is the correct one. I started to feel smug and self-righteous, about how people should behave and respond, without attempting to understand why people might be responding and behaving the way they are. I then start getting angry and frustrated over something I have no control over. I found myself expending far too much energy shouting at the TV, tutting at Facebook and rolling my eyes on the bus. It was during one of those moments that I realised that this was pointless and was starting to impact on my well-being. As I was having this existential awakening (again, I have a word with myself on a regular basis, I am what is commonly known as ‘a work in progress’) I thought of a phrase I have been quoted a lot lately, by my go to Oracle, the fabulous Brene Brown…” everyone is doing their best.”

So what if everyone is doing their best with what they know and understand, and I am no different or no more informed on the world around me than they are. You know what sometimes when you see yourself in context it hurts, it is a bit like catching a glimpse of yourself in a mirror. It came as a bit of a shock. I asked myself what if instead of immediately rushing to judgement the next time I witnessed something that I disagreed with I try to understand? What if I listened and observed what was happening? What if we all did that, how much would we truly learn about the world around us. By listening to and understanding each other, we may all start to learn and realise all of our best can be better.

This is a challenging time, which is made all the more challenging by polarised viewpoints. Getting angry with someone because they are not wearing a mask, will not help them understand why you think wearing a mask is important. Being annoyed by people telling you how to live your life is not going to improve your or theirs well-being.

Feeling a Bit Daft

  I was watching the new Amazon Christmas advert the other night. Well I suppose watching is a bit strong, it came on when I was watching my pandemic obsession that is Channel 4 News. As the advert progressed and the music started playing and the ballet dancer started dancing I started crying, in fact I can feel myself welling up just thinking about it. I found myself crying at someone holding a really powerful torch to light up a  young girl dance to Swan Lake on the roof of building in the snow. So you can safely say I felt daft. For some reason the emotions got the better of me. 

Now those of you that know me, know that I am an emotional soul, but it normally takes more than an advert for a powerful torch to get my eyes leaking. I have found myself having moments of melancholy spontaneously. Some days I just feel a bit sad, most of the time it passes and sometimes I get emotional and feel daft. I find myself telling myself to pull myself together, after all I am a coach and talk to people about this stuff all the time, so I should at least be able to practice what I preach. 

I do all of the stuff that I talk about in my blogs, and that is the point I suppose, I always end up reminding myself that I am human, and need help and support from time to time. 

I was talking to someone the other day who said they had days where they just felt sad, and all they wanted to do was go home and put their head under the duvet and shut the world out. Like me they said there was not just one thing that they could point to the cause of this. For me at that moment I am so grateful that they had shared that,  as I had felt exactly the same, so we sat talked about what is going on in our world and how strange and familiar everything is. As if the world has shifted slightly and unsettled us  all. We talked about loss, and when I say loss I mean the sense of loss for the old ways of doing things when we did not wear masks, we taught in classrooms and moaned about winter pressures and how we never managed to sort it out. Actually sharing that moment helped both of us. 

The point about this blog is that no matter what you are experiencing, it is important not to devalue you response to what is going on around you and to you. Those silly daft emotional moments require and deserve you attention, and should not be diminished and pushed down. There are lots and lots of ways we can give them some space, one way is to talk to someone you know and trust, at work or home. Socially at the moment that is harder than it was, having a coffee or a glass of whatever you fancy and a chat is out of the question. We can meet via zoom or on the phone. Some people like to journal and write down what is happening to them. I know I find that very useful. I am also offering to have virtual 1:1 sessions with people, just drop me a line at matt@mattycoach71.com and we can arrange a zoom call. The first one is free.

The take home message is that it is perfectly acceptable to be daft, quite frankly the world is acting daft at the moment. 

08/11/2020 Day 4 of Lockdown 2/A weekend of watching the excitement of a Presidential election

It was inevitable I suppose that it was going to happen again. In fact it probably should have happened earlier, if we wanted to prevent the hospital admissions we are seeing right now. But we are where we are.

It certainly does feel the same as the last lockdown. Last time everywhere seemed a lot quieter, this time the traffic does not seem to be any lighter. Both yesterday and today on my daily dog walking activities I was struck by the sheer amount of traffic on the roads, clearly going to the supermarkets and maybe travelling for their exercise. I wonder though how seriously people are taking this lockdown. The problem is the number of patients in our local hospitals has exceeded the peak number during the first wave of the pandemic. Our hospitals are extremely busy, which is not unusual at this time of year. The problem is the flu season has yet to have an impact, when it does if we continue to admit the numbers of patients with COVID we are now then it is going to get extremely busy. The other issue that we are facing is that, staff in hospitals are members of the public too and are getting infected too, which is impacting on the staffing levels and therefore putting added pressure on the system. The simple answer is to stay at home as much as you can, if you do need to go out make sure you keep your distance from others, wear a mask in indoor public spaces and wash your hands regularly. Most importantly don’t go out unless necessary. If the hospitals get overrun we are going to be in serious trouble.

As I have spent most of my time inside this weekend I have been glued to the news watching the fallout from the US Presidential election. It has been fascinating watching how they decide their president, I have never really paid much attention in the past to how it all works. It seems very strange, but then again our system probably does to them. What stands out is the division that is very evident in the country, and that reminded me of what it has been like here since the brexit vote. It seems to me that both countries have a problem with listening, and hearing alternative points of view. I hope that President Elect Biden is able to reach out to across the divide and encourage listening and empathy. My other hope is that we will someday have a leader in this country that will encourage the same. We all need to learn to listen again and learn to accept and embrace our differences. People who disagree are not enemies, it is time to stop the rhetoric of if they are not with us they are against us. It is time to hold hand with strangers and heal the wounds that have been festering in the world for too long. I know it is idealistic, but we all need a cause to attach ourselves too and what better cause in our current world than working towards understanding and empathy.

We are after all, all loved and loveable, so let’s start seeing the joy and love in the world rather than hate and division.

Stay safe, and be kind to yourself and others.

Desperately Seeking Optimism

I don’t know about you but my optimism filter is feeling the strain. Everywhere I look there is something else getting in the way of the glimmer of happiness. I am certain though that happiness and joy is still there, only its presence at the moment is fleeting.

This week has seen Lisa’s birthday. We generally take the week off, traditionally because it is half-term so the boys were always off. We never normally go anywhere but just spend some time with each other. This year we have the week off, unfortunately the boys are in Manchester and were unable to come home. We did however manage to have a nice week. We have never been known for wild excitement, so our activities we not completely curtailed by the pandemic. We had a potter around town on one day having a lovely lunch in Lion and Key (a delightful pub in Hull’s Old Town). Then on Friday (Lisa’s Birthday) our friends came round and we had a meal and laughed heartily until until the new tier 2 restrictions came into force. It was great to see them, and we all had such a wonderful time, the highlight of a relaxing week.

I woke up Saturday morning with a bit of a thick head and was greeted with the news of us going into a 2nd lockdown, which was not unexpected. The haphazard, shambolic approach to informing the nation upset me more than the news. I am always hopeful that outbreak of competence is going to take hold of our government. As all football fans will know, it is the hope that kills you. So my mood for the rest of the day was set. That sets me off in a pessimistic view of the world. Now I am concentrating on being 200 miles away from my lovely mum with no prospect of seeing her soon. Our boys are in Manchester again with little prospect of seeing them before Christmas. Our dog is getting old and infirm and spent most of the day looking tired and sad. Then to top it all Sean Connery died! That was the last straw, it all got a bit much, and I found myself crying watching clips of James Bond being all alpha male. It was just another reminder that our world is changing and will never be the same again.

This morning I got up early as usual, and as usual I spent the first hour reading the paper (The Observer today). I got to an article about a cafe in Leeds that made 200 sandwiches for children during the half-term. I was overcome with the owners compassion and love of humanity. What an amazing lady, and I know her’s was not the only story. I found myself sobbing as I read it. The sadness of the whole thing just touched my emotions and released all the sadness that has been sitting in my chest for the past few weeks. Boy I needed that! We all need something to release our emotions, so we can articulate what we are feeling.

The emotions I am feeling at the moment is fear of the future, all wrapped up in this need to be happy and fulfilled all the time. The uncertainty of everything is very unsettling however there is also a level of certainty that things will never be the same again. Therefore a lot of the emotion I am feeling is loss. I am and possibly all of us are grieving for a life we will never have again. This is a process and we have to experience the sadness and worry for us to get the most out of the new world that will inevitably come. It is our opportunity at the moment to concentrate on what is truly valuable to us. Only we know what we value, so search for it identify it and hold on tight to it as what you value will guide you through this challenging days.

I am learning that I have to make space for all this pain and tears, if I don’t I spend too much time and energy trying to chase the bad things away and miss the moments of love and joy that are ever present. Even on the dullest and wettest of days there is always some daylight.

Free Webinar on Well-Being

I am hosting a free webinar on 28th October at 7pm GMT on how to maintain our well-being as we enter the second wave of the pandemic and endure further restrictions. to book a place follow the link below

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/x/looking-after-our-well-being-in-an-uncertain-world-tickets-126698268933

Anxiety

The vast majority of anxiety we all experience is useful and forms part of our biological alert system, it only becomes an issue that requires expert attention when it becomes disordered, and occurs inappropriately.

Most of us do not have disordered inappropriate anxiety, the anxiety we experience is perfectly appropriate. Now depending on your particular view of the world you might be more or less anxious than those around you.

I am one of those people that feel anxious more than others, my anxiety however is always related to an event. What I have noticed is that some of the events that cause my anxiety are out of my control, where as there are others that I can influence. I have also noticed that all of my anxiety is based on my emotional response to previous events.

So anxiety is induced by my mind projecting memories onto my imagined future and the emotions these memories provoke. I also know that some of these events I can control and some of them I cannot.

If I am not careful I can get caught up in my anxieties and allow them to take over my life, without addressing them, without responding appropriately to the warning system that it is. It is like sitting there listening to a fire alarm and wondering if you are losing your mind. It often feels easier to bury those anxieties and just carry on with my life, but all it does is just kick anxiety down the road, and can often make that anxiety worse in the future. So I have started practicing facing those anxieties and attending to the event that sits behind them. To face these anxieties I have taken a few techniques from Brene Brown, Daniel Kahneman and Paul McGee, to explore my emotions sort through my actions and ultimately slow my thinking down.

Understand the emotion that is causing the anxiety

When considering the event that is causing my anxiety, I will ask myself what point in my history am I referencing to create this emotion. In other words what from my experience is driving this emotion. It is always important at this point to test the accuracy of this memory, for instance is it my memory or a cultural reference point. Then is my emotional response in the light of this reasonable. Or put another way is this event worth being anxious about.

This helps me initially slow my thinking down and have a more objective view of my anxiety rather than just having an immediate emotional response.

Can I influence this event or not

Now I have established that what is causing my anxiety is worth my attention, it is important to establish if I can do anything to actually change the event or do I just have to change my response to the event. A lot of normally anxiety that we all experience is related to deadlines that are due. For instance this week I have had an assignment due, as the deadline drew closer my anxiety grew. I simply dealt with this anxiety by completing the assignment, and actually my anxiety helped motivate my action. Now there are other anxieties, and especially now that are beyond our control. Now just because we cannot influence these events we can adjust our response to them, and concentrate on taking control of all the aspects in our life we can influence. So at the moment, the news of the impending second wave is causing me anxiety, as is the behaviour of people I see on the news. All I can do is control how I behave, and act. I also concentrate on doing activities that satisfy me, and make me happy. I love writing this blog, I love coaching people, and I love my new passion of podcasting. I find these restorative, and they are something I can control.

In summary anxiety is an appropriate alarm system, so slow you thinking down and pay attention to the causes of you anxiety, act on what you can act on, and start to adjust your response to what you cannot control, by concentrating on what you can control.

If you want support managing the worries you experience, please feel free to message me.

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