Back on the vitamins, antacids and antihistamines!

Photo by SHVETS production on

COVID has struck me again, more irritating than scary this time round. It has made me feel ill, but I didn’t feel as ill, for as long. I am on day 9 now and my symptoms are now relegated to a snotty nose, a cough and feeling tired. However I am still testing positive which is annoying. I know I am no longer legally obliged to stay in, but I would never risk someone elses health. Taking the combination of vitamins C and D, along with antiacids and antihistamines (the snotty nose and sneezing feels more like hayfever than a cold) seems to have helped. Lisa has tested positive too although her symptoms are confined to coughing and sneezing, so far she has not experienced the fatigue and joint aches that I did. Hopefully today tomorrow in isolation and then I can venture out on Tuesday.

Being ill as you will all know increases those feelings of being helpless as you can be beholden on your symptoms, then you turn on the television and see the terrible news that is unfolding in front of us and it is all too easy to get wound up in a spiral of helplessness that can take up your energy worrying about events that are out of your control.

This week I have felt very frustrated, so I promised myself that I would spend some time each day doing something that was useful. Being useful is one of my core values, so living up to that in whatever way I can each day has helped me feel grounded and concentrate on events I can control. Each morning I spent at least one hour working on my work emails, deleting old emails, flagging ones that needed more considered attention and answered simple emails where I could. I had arranged an online meeting on Tuesday with a couple of collegues, which in the end I cancelled as I did not feel able to participate meaningfully. I felt bad because I left it to the last minute, but I could not have contributed, so I would have wasted everyone’s time. Each day I concentrated on what I could control, and did it. By Friday I was feeling a little better and managed a couple hours fininshing some mission statement work for a couple of teams. It was just creating values wordclouds and merging suggested mission statements but it really took it out of me. I found myself getting frustrated and angry, in fact most of the afternoon I was like a bear with a sore head, all because I was concentrating on what I could not do rather than what I had done. To be fair though that frustration probably pushed me further and I suspect I did more than I would have done otherwise.

Feeling frustrated and helpless is useful as long as you listen to and understand the message it is sending you. These emotions and thoughts are there to help you focus on what is in your control and how you can act within your values that will make a difference to your world. Difficult emotions such as helplessness and frustration are not destinations, they are signs reminding you of what is important to you and to take action to continue to live in your values.

Taking small actions to respond to what is happening in my world right now has helped me get through this week without feeling as sorry for myself as I could of. Clearly I did feel sorry for myself and did wallow in self pity at some point every day (it is an essential part of being ill afterall), but I did not have the land of self-pity as my place of residence.

If you want to start making a difference and live a value based life that focuses on what is within your control, then send me a message and we can discuss how we can work together.


Focus on coaching, supporting others and feeling vulnerable

This week has been really busy, really helpful and a bit challenging. My new colleague started this week which was wonderful and spending most of the week working with the wonderful and enthusiastic Amy has been so restorative. This week though has challenged me, firstly making sure I provided Amy with the support and direction she needed, was my first concern. She has been very proactive so that did make the first 2 days easier, however concentrating on Amy meant that some of my normal activity had to take a back seat, which means I am still catching up (mostly with emails). Secondly I have been doing a lot of delivery and facilitation this week, which always takes up a lot of my energy. I am naturally quite introverted to delivering training and facilitating team events does take up a lot of energy, and I always find myself ruminating about how I have performed. Thirdly I had my staff support commitment, visiting one of our wards that are still feeling the affects the pandemic. On Tuesday I spent 2 hours talking with two lovely nurses about their experiences and feelings. The whole week was in many ways really satisfying , however it did takes it toll. The toll is taken from delivering training and team facilitation. It always boils down to rumination over my performance and how I am perceived by others. I have noticed this is more profound delivering and facilitating virtually via video. Which I suppose is no surprise, as you just don’t get the rich feedback when you deliver in person. Saying that I use up a lot of energy when delivering in person too, as Amy witnessed this week (I do get a bit needy, before and after).

All this personal rumination got me thinking about my Connected Living podcast and my approach to coaching. Since I wrote the outline of this podcast and coaching offer, I have learned a lot about myself and others when faced with the challenges that all of us have confronted over the past 2 years. As a lot of you will remember last year I conducted a small piece of research on the reflections of leaders during the pandemic. The data I have collected has been really useful for me personally, although so far there has been no surprises it has confirmed what I thought and backed up what I have read around leadership and personal resilience. When I apply these findings to my connected living approach, along with elements of acceptance commitment theory, I realised that connected living as a coaching framework, and a framework for personal improvement it was too complicated.

So I have come up with a simplified model that takes into account the successful strategies used by leaders during a crisis along with elements of evidence based coaching. I have outlined the elements below, over the next few weeks I will write an updated podcast and record it. I will also do a series of webinars I will put on my facebook page. If you are interested in making some changes to your life then email or message me to arrange a discovery meeting to see if being coached by me will make the difference you need.

Connected Living: Value Based Living

  • Connecting to your story: Listening to and understanding, your thoughts and emotions, where they are from and what they are telling you.
  • Connecting with what you value: Identifying your core values.
  • Connecting to the present: Learning to be mindful. Differentiating between your observing self and your doing self. Practicing noticing and letting go thoughts and feelings.
  • Connecting with is helpful and disconnecting what is unhelpful: Appraising thoughts and emotions and keeping those that serve you well.
  • Connecting with your future: Making value based changes that serve you well to make a long lasting difference to your life.

If this resonates with you and sounds like this could make a difference to you, watch this space a podcast and webinars will be here soon.

If you are interested in working with me to realise the changes you want to make to your life, and you are willing to commit the time you need to truly make a difference to your life, email me and lets see if we can work together.

From Losing My Religion to Rediscovering My Purpose (05/02/22)

I have had a couple of conversations with healthcare staff this week, which took me back to a dark place in my career. It made reflect on my journey to where I am now in my career and despite how I felt back then still working for the NHS in the same Hospital Trust. They expressed that they were increasingly questioning what they are doing, and that it is not what they came into the job for. That is exactly how I felt for a large part of my 30s and into my early 40s. At the time it was the system and the people that ran the system that was to blame for how I felt. This is what these people this week were saying to me. The response to the current situation by the health systems and those that managed it was causing their internal conflict with the job that they once loved. They feel as I felt powerless and isolated in a system that rewards positivity and marginalizes negativity. They like me 15 years ago believe that they are being realistic, and patient focused and are being punished for acting negatively. It would have been easy to get sucked into this narrative as you can imagine most of it to be true. However, having lived and experienced emotions similar to what they described I wanted to challenge their story about themselves being the powerless audience of their story, and not playing a part in how it unfolds. Let me explain by describing my experience.

As I was listening to them it really resonated with me. When I was promoted to Charge Nurse of a Children’s ward in my early 30s I had achieved my goal, that I had set myself as an 18-year-old Student Nurse. I had my dream job. I was married with 2 young boys and lived in suburbia. I had made it. I had a very clear fixed story about the kind of manager and leader I was going to be. I was going to be kind and compassionate, I was going to be a friend to the staff. I would never turn into one of those hard-hearted distant managers. I had a created a narrative of myself as a manager. It was fine at first, I was liked by most of the staff. Being a Charge Nurse however is incredibly challenging, and not everything you do or say will work out. Not everyone will like your decisions, including your bosses. I had to make decisions that in my head went against my principles, I would get in to trouble for not addressing situations or completing certain projects. I was being forced to be someone that I wasn’t. I was still hooked on this idea of what I thought a manager should be, especially a Charge Nurse. In hindsight I was stuck on being a Nurse, I wanted to Nurse the team rather than manage them. I was completely unable to unhook myself from this. So, in my eyes I was failing, I was unable to convince people that I was a good manager. I would tell myself I was useless and everyone around me thought I was useless. I started to avoid decisions, the team, my manager. I hid myself away in my office and did meaningless side projects. I became ill, I got back pain, from having such a terrible posture, that I attached myself to, to help me avoid everything that made me feel vulnerable even more. I went off sick a lot! Therefore, I wasn’t doing my job, therefore I became more of a failure. I remember listening to the song ‘Losing My Religion’ and crying thinking yes I have lost my identity as a Nurse. Now I would like to say that was the turning point, which was my road to Damascus, but it wasn’t, life is never that easy or straightforward.

What changed for me was gradual and chaotic. It was not part of some treatment or coaching plan. But now when I look back at it, it does follow the pattern that I use when I coach people, only I will do it intentionally over a few months rather than accidentally over about 5 years! The first thing that happened was, being trained to be a Clinical Supervisor. I really did not want to do it, but I went along and for the first few hours I sat there with my arms crossed determined not to like it. Then it clicked, I started to hear stuff that made sense about values, and about emotional intelligence. I started to listen to what Janis (my mentor, my work mum now) was saying. I had rediscovered what I was good at, emotional intelligence, listening, and empathizing. It was like a lightbulb coming on. I completed the course tried to use it in my workplace, with little success, because I was not ready yet to look at myself completely I was still hooked on my old narratives. I fell back to my old ways of avoiding anything that might cause me pain. Eventually I was redeployed, and I was put at risk. I worked on a project to develop network of safeguarding supervision with the Safeguarding Children team. Bit by bit I started to use some of the skills of reflection and emotional intelligence on myself and started to look inward. Eventually I got a clinical nurse educator job, I started to use my clinical supervision training to support nurses and started to feel more worthy, however I still had this narrative of being a failed leader, and still wanted to avoid situations and experiences that would expose this vulnerability. The system and the people that managed it were still the cause of my pain and I was still the innocent victim, which had no power over what was happening to me. I spent all my energy making plans to avoid feeling like a failure as a Nurse, leader, husband, and role model for my children. A couple of years into being a CNE I found an advert inviting staff to apply for a coaching course, paid for by the Trust with the aim of creating a network of coaches. I had often thought about becoming a Life Coach but never really know how I would go about it. So, I applied and met my now boss Lucy and was accepted onto the course. This was a complete revelation. That first day when I met Anthony (the course tutor) was the day my world changed forever. I sat there and grinned all day. I had found something that completely aligned to what I valued. The ILM 5 course in coaching that I did, gave me permission to look inside, it also gave me the tools and the inspiration to start doing something about my life. Through course I reconnected with the lovely Janis and started working with her on Clinical Supervision, which then reconnected me with the work of Brene Brown, and she was the final key to finding myself and seeing myself as an actor in my life with agency. It was at this point I changed my relationship with my job and myself. Eventually I changed role, gave up my Nursing registration and took up a full-time job in the Organisational Development team.

So how did I find my religion after losing it?

With the help of Anthony, Janis, and Brene I discovered what I valued, I dug deep into what was important to me, and I produce being useful and courageous. For me if I am to be useful to people I have to face situations that make me feel uncomfortable, anxious, and fearful. I have to be courageous to not avoid situations and be useful. When I live up to these values I feel content and fulfilled. All the plans and choices I make are based on these two values. I chose to do this job because it helps me face my anxieties about showing up as a credible, kind, compassionate leader that is responsive to the needs of others and is willing to be flexible in order to be useful, by being courageous.

Next I learned to notice my rumination and how these are often fixed to stories I tell myself and hold to be true. I started using mindfulness techniques to notice thoughts and feelings that are unhelpful or hindering, thoughts and feelings that hook me to old unhelpful stories about my past experiences that might prevent me from doing new things. Now I notice when a thought or emotion pops into my head and I can appraise it and ask if this will serve me well or hinder me. Now I still ruminate, and there are still occasions when I avoid situations, but they are far fewer and short lived. It is a habit that requires practice but is very useful.

I make room for the painful stuff in my life. I know life will not always run smoothly, things will go wrong, I will fail, I will lose people I love. The emotions I feel as a result of these are neither good nor bad, they are just reminding me what is important in my life. They tell me that I am living a full life. It also helps me appraise what part I play in my life. I have a part to play in all the successes and failures I have in my life, or even when nothing happens because I have avoided doing something.

Using all of the above I am able to take meaningful action in my life, to live a value-based life, which is realistic in what I have power over, and what I do not. I am no longer a passive observer, but an actor and writer in my own story.

It was not the system that caused my problems it was my solutions to my perceived problems that caused my actual problems. Once I eventually saw that I could start leading a life that was meaningful and remain working for the same Hospital and remain being useful to and caring for people.

If you feel that you are ‘Losing Your Religion’ you don’t have to muddle your way through, get in touch.

Coaching, Facebook Groups, Work-Life Balance, and The RSPB Birdwatch. 30/01/22

It has been a busy week this week, lots going on in my head and some different activities. I will start on the coaching front, as you will know (or not) I coach as part of my day job in the NHS, and I also offer coaching in my spare time. The idea was that I could gradually increase my external coaching practice and as time goes by reduce the number of hours I work in the NHS. The external coaching practice has been quiet for some time. Now there are a few reasons for that. It is not my main job so time to spend on thinking about it is limited to when I am not at work, and that is also true for seeing clients. We have had a global pandemic, so everyone’s focus has been elsewhere and for some money was tight. Conversely my prices were too low, they screamed bargain basement, and did not reflect my knowledge and skill as a coach. Lastly I was very much a generalist in my approach to coaching. Everything interested me, career, well-being, life, executive, only problem is none of you knew what I was coaching. Now when I coach in the NHS it is fairly general however most of the time is spent with professional development. Recently I have coached for well-being for obvious reasons. I have however noticed a lot of my coaching conversations during my day job are focusing more and more on how to create the right balance between home and work. People are driven to do a good job and succeed, however at the same time they have a family that requires their attention. A lot of health professionals and senior managers in the NHS have sacrificed family life for work life, sometimes to protect their family. Which in the short term acute phase is painful but reconcilable because there was a feeling it was temporary and there would be reward of personal success and satisfaction at the end of the journey. As we start the 3rd year of the pandemic (it was 2 years ago when the first UK patients were admitted to our hospital) it feels like we a moving into a move chronic stage, where it is not as devastating and we do have work structures in place, but the pressure on people’s workload is still extremely challenging. People are burning out now. That got me thinking that it is not just NHS and Social Care workers that are feeling this. Every sector is having to juggle staff absences, due to illness and isolation, as well as try to build in recovery plans to adapt to a future that we all find increasingly difficult to predict. If you have school age children, you are still trying to catch up with getting their education both formal and social back on track, at the same time have some quality time with your family. There are an awful lot of people out their that are doing their best, getting by, just about keeping their heads above water, but if they do not pay attention to themselves very soon will start to burnout. So that is why I thought I would focus on Work-Life Balance for working parents as my coaching focus. So I have renamed my Facebook and Twitter pages and started to concentrate on how we start to look at how we create a balance between work and family that does not sacrifice what we value, and allows us to start flourishing. I have also set up Facebook group that offers free support and guidance, giving people the space to passively engage with useful content, add their own and discuss their experiences. This is a safe closed space I will not try to sell my coaching offers within that space, it is there for anyone. If people want to make and investment in developing and improving the balance they need to flourish at home and at work then I do offer 1:1 coaching, and webinars, they can access through a subscription or on a stand alone pay as you go offer. I have adjusted my prices to reflect the quality of the coaching I provide. Being coached requires commitment, so you really have to want to make a difference, so a moderate investment financially as well as an investment of your time is reasonable.

So let me get back to the Facebook Group. I opened it this weekend, and if you are interested in joining the link is below. Please come along and share the link with your friends.

To add a bit of my own work life balance, I have had quite a relaxing weekend. It started with a visit to a local restaurant on Friday evening, called Bella Rosa ( where we had a lovely meal courtesy of Lisa’s Auntie Barbara who had given us a voucher on for our Wedding Anniversary back in August. I know we got the voucher back in August and it took us this long to use it! We really do need to get out more. We did say that as part of our work-life balance we should commit to doing something like this a little more frequently than we do now. The pandemic has got us out of the habit of having evenings out. On the way home we thought we might pop into the local pub and have a drink. We walked home and when we got near the pub we both looked at each other and unanimously decided to give the pub a miss, go home, put our pjs on and watch netflix for the rest of the evening. To be fair the Calzone I had had at the restaurant had expanded my belly somewhat and my jeans we beginning to cut off circulation to my legs. So we went home and watch Safe by Harlan Corben on Netflix. On Saturday we got up and did the RSPB national birdwatch from our back bedroom. The results were disappointing due to the wind, so we decided to try again on Sunday before we submitted our results. We went into Hull City Centre in the afternoon to go to a craft fair at Hull Minster. It was a very pleasant if not a little expensive experience. It cost £2:50 each to get in, I think we spent around 10 minutes there and bought a couple of artisan sausage rolls for £6! We then went to the market and got some cheesecake from the polish bakery, that was so much nicer. After a brief visit to the Salvation Army charity shop where I got some cassette tapes for Jack (he uses them for sampling)we can home to scoff cake and lounge. This morning we completed the birdwatch, it confirmed what we already knew that our garden is dominated by Pigeons and Starlings, with a resident Robin. Lisa bought a security camera to put in the garden so she can see what wildlife we get in the garden. Now I am doing what I love writing this blog and thinking about all things coaching. It does feel like this week we have got the balance right. That is the point I suppose, we can get it right one time and not so the next time, and if we are curious and kind to ourselves we can tweak our lives to constantly improve how we live our lives.

Please join the group or get in touch if you want to start making a difference to what you are experiencing.

Don’t be a knob (23/01/22)

It has been a difficult week, but right now I am beginning to feel optimistic. I have had some tough staff support conversations this week. People are tired, after nearly two years they are still experiencing extremely challenging, often harrowing events. To top it all we seem to be suffering from a pandemic of intolerance and incivility. Some of the stories I am hearing are about people working incredibly hard in difficult circumstances and then having to face hostility and rudeness. What makes it worse is this behaviour is from all angles. It is not just one group of people, its from all of us. We are all bad tempered at the moment, and for good reason, but this short tempered and sometimes hostile behaviour is just making things worse. Incivility breeds incivility, when we get pushed we will invariably push back. I suppose I am guilty of a little bit of confirmation bias. Am I looking for incivility everywhere I look this week to confirm how I feel? Well yes, but there is a lot of it about, however that isn’t the only story there is a lot of kindness and compassion about if we/I decide to look for it. The place I work is full of acts of kindness and compassion, from a simple smile and greeting from a member of catering staff, to a nurse guiding a confused patient back to their bed. It is not just the hospital where I can see kindness if I bothered to look, it happens in the shops on the buses and just on the street. There are both incidents of incivility and kindness happening around us. If we choose to concentrate on how rude everybody is, that is what you will see and it will increase your risk of behaving that way. I know I have been guilty of being grumpy this week, I have tried all week to look for the beauty and kindness in the world, to create a balance and you know it does work, when you make a conscious choice to see the world differently it is possible to change your mood.

When you find yourself going down that one route and to be fair that can be down a incessantly positive road as much it is a negative one. We can be obsessed with being happy and not willing to acknowledge anything that be considered negative such as poor behaviour. This is just as toxic as being permanently pessimistic. Refusing to accept that anything is wrong in your world, and marginalising anyone or anything that challenges this. That is why it is vital to have that balance. So lets get back to what to do when you find yourself down either rabbit whole. The first thing to do is just notice that is what is happening. I noticed the other day when I was watching the news and seeing the numbers of infections dropping, I was immediately dismissive, and that this was due to less people being tested, and everything is still terrible. Then I read on twitter something that confirmed this immediately I dismissed it again, then I saw it in another source. At this moment I paused and realised I was off down a rabbit hole of dismissing anything that contradicted my narrative. What if my narrative is wrong? What if this new information is right? Just by pausing and viewing what is in front of me through a different lens will always allow information through your self imposed filter. I started to notice I was prejudging information based on what I wanted to look for. If I stop seeing information and events in terms of good or bad and start seeing them in terms of just information/data that can either be useful or not, then I can make better decisions about the world around me.

What I have noticed is, that this does not come naturally, and I keep defaulting to my biases when I am not looking. That for me is where using mindfulness has helped. As I keep defaulting I can notice more quickly that this is what is happening to me. Using mindfulness exercises helps me practice noticing thoughts and feeling rather than just being immersed in them. I can notice them come and go and say to myself…”Matt you’re being a knob again…” (actually I got this from Lisa as she has been known to use this phrase). Then I have a choice to continue, or pause and understand why I am reacting the way I was. It really does help me calm down. It does not stop me flying off the handle or making flippant comments but it does stop me from getting too entrenched in my views, and persisting in being permanently pissed off or toxically positive. If you want to try some mindfulness exercises I have a really simple 15 minute recording that might help. Just drop me an email or a message and I will send it to you.

A few months ago I wrote my own mission statement to help me articulate how I behave and how I want to be viewed. It encompasses my values and I find it really useful when deciding which thoughts and feelings are useful and which ones are not serving me well at all. I use it as my anchor, when I am feeling out of sorts and lost it is normally because I have drifted away from my mission statement. So I remind myself of it and start making decisions and behaving in a way that is aligned to it. Writing your mission statement requires you to dig deep into who you are and what motivates and drives you. It is incredibly useful and I would recommend you write one. If you are interested get in touch as I have two offers to help you write your own. The first one and the cheaper of the two is a recorded presentation on the steps you need to take to write it. The second and more exclusive option is a tailored 1:1 coaching approach where I walk you through how to write it and help you dig deep into what truly motivates you. The presentation will cost £5 and the 1:1 coaching will cost £50 (typically will take 2 sessions of 1 hour each).

So why am I feeling optimistic? Well the days are starting to get longer, the numbers of people in hospital with COVID is starting to go down and I am feeling cautiously hopeful that we will be able to resume our leadership programmes and do our normal work, especially as I have been told Amy will be starting to work with me on Clinical Supervision in a few weeks. So things are looking up.

Keep being kind and avoid being a knob. If you find yourself acting like a knob pause and ask yourself what you could do to help you stop.

Boris, shouting at the TV, couch to 10k, and dancing like no ones looking

What a week for getting the blood boiling, the news has been filled with lockdown parties at No. 10, and Boris Johnson trying to avoid all accountability. On top of that the not so Grand Old Duke of York and his alleged predatory behaviour, oh and I nearly forgot Novac Djokovic and his attempt to bend the rules to his convenience. Not a good week for Male White Privilege. Their antics have made me shout and swear at the TV and twitter. I could feel my jaw tensing and my fists clenching, and even if I remind myself that I no control over it so I shouldn’t spend so much energy on it, it still has a negative effect on my outlook, and I cannot help being frustrated by it. I do not want to stop watching the news as I think it is important to know what is happening in the wider world. But I do run the risk of feeling out of control and helpless in my own world.

This is something I have noticed in conversations I have had with nurses at work, they feel helpless and ignored. They are confronted by situations beyond their control and find it hard to see what is in their control. Many of them I speak to have had to change where they work and the way they work. This they acknowledge is no one persons fault it is just the circumstances of COVID patients and staff sickness. But when we feel helpless and out of control our mind looks for stories and circumstances that confirm this feeling of helplessness so them and me and no doubt all of you find ourselves focussing on and pushing against situations and issues we have no control over, and the cycle continues.

So this week I have decided to look for stuff I do have control over. It doesn’t change my frustration with all the shit that is going on but what it does is gives me an alternative. Now over indulgence and being a lazy git as resulted in my waist getting bigger and me feeling lethargic and unhealthy. Now I can do something about that. As you know Cancer Research is a charity close to my heart, and last year I ran the Great Manchester Run raising money for the charity. Well at the beginning of the week I signed up for this years Run again raising money for Cancer Research. This gave me the compelling reason to start running again. As I have let myself go over the past few months I started couch to 10k from scratch, and I have done 3 runs this week. Over the past couple of weeks I have also been giving away free mindfulness recordings to friends, choosing to help others also gives me a sense of control. I still get stressed about the news, I still shout at the TV, but I can also focus on what I do have control over. When I feel myself going down that helpless rabbit hole I can intentionally choose to look at what I do have control over.

This brings me to the last part of my title. We don’t always have control over what will cause us stress, and if we just tried to avoid stress we would never get anything. So stress is inevitable. What we do with it is important. This morning I felt quite stressed listening to the news and thinking about my week. I song came on Spotify and I started to dance around the kitchen (I know I am sorry about giving you that mental image). It made me feel better, it made me smile. It helped me complete my stress cycle. It made me feel safe, it reminded me that the world is just as beautiful and lovely, as it is ugly and terrible. I completed my stress cycle. So take time to complete your stress cycle and dance like no one is looking.

First Week of the year, lateral flows and critical incidents (08/01/2022)

2022 is only a week old and it already feels exhausting. There is just so much happening it seems, the noise from the news is deafening, and then we have our own lives to deal with. Its only January 8th and I feel like I want to take myself to bed until March.

I don’t know about you but I have felt a bit groggy this week. A combination of over indulgence from Christmas, a lack of exercise and the psychosomatic effect of everyone around you testing positive for COVID. I keep testing myself and I keep testing negative, feel for swollen glands at least twice a day, and have a daily internal debate on what constitutes a persistent cough (even though I have had a persistent cough in the past). I was always a bit of a hypochondriac as most of us tend to be, but omicron has turbocharged it.

To make matters worse the media seems hell bent on causing panic and hysteria in the general public again. The constant messaging that the NHS is on the brink of collapse is irresponsible and a bigger threat to public health than COVID 19 on it’s own. It is also untrue. The NHS is under a lot pressure at the moment, but this is not uniform across the country, and demand will peak at different times in different parts of the country. By telling the public the NHS cannot cope runs the risk of people who really need attention do not get seen. The media must provide a more balanced view and stop delivering news about health and public services with their ideological agenda whether that is to the left or the right. This is an emergency and what we need in an emergency is a cool head and for everybody to play their part in the solution, and that is not to cause panic.

That brings me to lateral flow devices. Have you got yours? It took me a bit of persistence but I did manage to get some from the government website. At one point at the beginning of the week it was stressing me out worrying about getting hold of them. But as with the news I realised I was spending a lot of time and energy reacting to events and situations that are out of my control. It was time for me to reduce my focus onto my sphere of influence and spend my time and energy on events and situations I can control. I can keep requesting LFDs online when I have a moment, I cannot control if there is any available, all I can do is try. After a day of trying I managed to get some.

Our youngest has been feeling poorly in Manchester, this has been quite stressful for us, hoping he is ok. He shares a house with his brother so we knew he would be cared for but that does not stop us worrying about him. Lisa dispatched his brother to the Chemist to get some difflam spray for his brothers sore throat. When he returned Lisa asked him how much she owed him. He casually said £19.01! “How much!!!” A perfectly understandable response I felt. It turns out he was being a caring brother and had put together a bit of a care package for his little brother, and got some cough medicine and vapo rub amongst other things. That was an example of Lisa feeling anxious and taking control of what she could control, and showing her care through her eldest son. For me it also confirmed that we had raised two wonderful, kind, and caring young men. Jack is feeling much better.

Work post Christmas has been quite strange for me. Half of my time has been spent working on my usual role and the other half of the week has been concentrating on building back up our staff support offer. Essentially this meant just tidying up our leadership development programmes to make sure we can pick them back up as soon as activity is reduced and restarting the active staff support responses by providing insitu drop in sessions for specific wards, one to one coaching and clinical supervision, and group leadership support for our department leaders. Our focus and purpose is to support our staff to continue to be the compassionate, caring, skilled health professionals they are. Having that purpose front and centre makes it easy for me to go to work everyday, even when it is difficult. This takes us back to the theme of today’s blog, when I focus on my sphere of influence I feel less stressed and better able to do what I need to do.

What I do need to get better at is to filter out all this noise from the news, especially when it is as noisy as it is at the moment.

Take care,

New Year…so far 2022 seems depressingly familiar (03/01/2022)

As we enter another pandemic dominated year, I thought I would re-start my regular blog, for a few reasons. One reason is for posterity, as a piece of history alongside all the other blogs and diaries written by countless others around the world. I did this back in 2020 and recently I self published those blog entries. To date I have sold around 10 copies either via Kindle or paperback, and if I am honest that is about 7 more than I expected. I might treat myself to a fancy IPA with the royalties. So if I manage to fill a year’s worth of blogs I might do it again for this blog series. Hopefully this series will end in a positive optimistic note.

2022 has started in a similar vain to 2021 with a variant of COVID causing havoc, however this particular variant does not appear to be devastatingly fatal as last years. This one in many ways could end up having a bigger more widespread impact on us all, as it attempts to infect as many of us as possible. Now most of us will end up with a mild headache and cough, others will be bed ridden for a few days, some people will end up in hospital with a very small number getting really sick. What kind of virus offers such a wide range of possibilities. And then there is the potential of some having long-term problems despite only having a mild acute illness. With all this information being thrown at us, in varying degrees of hysteria by the media, is there any wonder a lot of us are experiencing long-term anxiety. The side effect of this media frenzy is extremes of populist viewpoints on both sides of the argument from conspiracy theories about some elite global superclass controlling the masses with the illusion of a global pandemic, to people insisting on complete lockdown with no one being allowed out of their homes until the virus is eradicated. It is easy to see how these views can take hold, and create division, all you have to do is go on twitter to see these febrile arguments erupt on an hourly basis. I suppose pandemics do this, not only do they effect us physically but they impact on every part of our lives even if you have never actually been infected by the virus. The toll exacted by this virus as many people have said will not be fully appreciated for years to come. I suppose all we can do is start to work out how will live with it. This is not going to happen overnight, clearly as we move into our second year of this pandemic.

This has made me think about previous blogs I have written about living with uncertainty, this is what we have been doing for two years and it looks like we have a while to go before we can start to return to our normal balance of certainty and uncertainty. Learning to live with uncertainty takes time and effort. Dr Susan David ( I have mentioned her a few times in previous blogs) has written a wonderful book called Emotional Agility that is really helpful. Paul McGee’s book Shut Up Move On (SUMO) is also really good at explaining how to live uncertainty. I find mindfulness techniques useful to quieten my mind. Apparently I have a very soothing voice, so I have in the past recorded some mindfulness messages for people, if you would like one, email me or send me a message via twitter or Facebook and I will send you. I also offer personal coaching on how to live with uncertainty, to find out more email me or send me a message as above via social media.

We cannot do anything about the uncertainty of the pandemic, but we can manage our response to it. Stay safe everyone.

There is just a lot going on

Last weekend I felt overwhelmed, I had so many things going round my head. The week before had been my Mum’s 80th Birthday, and we had all travelled to see her. It was a lovely celebration full of emotion. Spending precious time with family is so special. I had placed so much importance on these few days with my Mum, my boys, my Sister, my Niece, my Nephews and my Great Niece, that it was becoming quite stressful and overwhelming. I know my Mum felt the same, gladly we both managed to calm down long enough to enjoy her special day. Even so the whole experience was quite emotionally draining. When we got home on Thursday I felt depleted.

On Friday and Saturday I decided to concentrate on my leading through the pandemic project. I spent most of Friday working out a strategy on how to present it. I got myself confused and stressed trying to rush the process to get something that made sense. I ended up wasting a lot of time messing around with transcripts and not really getting anywhere. This confusion and stress was swiftly followed by doubt and feelings of inadequacy. On Saturday morning after writing a blog and settling my mind I continued to work through transcripts this time reframing my actions as a helpful way to examine the content of transcripts, identifying themes and testing some ideas about how I might present the project.

I then started thinking about the daily blog entries I made at the beginning of the pandemic, that were a mixture of diary entries about what was happening to me and around me, with my thoughts on how to maintain our resilience. So I revisited them and had an idea of putting them all together into a book, that could be a companion piece to the leadership project. So I spent the rest of the day editing them and putting them into one document. This spilled over into Sunday and a large part of Sunday was spent fiddling with the entries and writing an introduction, as well as an hour spent exploring how I could get it published on Amazon. Even though I was having fun doing all this, I could feel a tension in my body. There was this underlying pressure to get things done, but I had taken on so much that it felt like it was impossible. As the Sunday drew to a close my focus shifted to work and all that needed to be done in the coming week and the following weeks. That with my personal projects was just too much. My mind was muddled with too many moving parts. For a moment I felt like pushing the stop button and taking myself off to bed for the rest of the year. I dismissed that thought immediately, I have got no choice, if I don’t go into work on Monday at finish designing the leadership webinar, continue co-ordinating the 360 degree feedback for our leadership programme participants, and co-ordinate the Clinical Supervision training for next year, then it won’t get done and I will feel more stressed and overwhelmed in the coming days and weeks.

I had a choice, I could continue to be zoomed out looking at all that needs to be done and feel overwhelmed, or I could zoom in on what needs to be done right now to achieve the big picture. I know I can do what needs to be done, some of it might be at the edge of my competence, but I know I can get support when I need it. So I parked the weekend projects to revisit this week and started shifting my focus to what I would be doing on Monday. I still had the tension in my body, I still felt pressure to achieve, throughout Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I ended up recognising that, that tension was required to create the sense of urgency I needed to create some pace to get the different elements done. Half way through the week, my boss gave me some feedback that had a profound effect on me. She told me that the work I had done to develop a modular leadership programme was well received and added flexibility for the participants, many of whom are juggling completing the programme with high work demand. It was just the motivating tonic I needed. I really felt I was getting somewhere.

Last weekend and the beginning of last week was uncomfortable, I felt overwhelmed and out of my depth. It would have been easy to avoid those unpleasant feelings and shy away from pushing myself to achieve. What I did was acknowledge why I felt that way. I felt that way because it was important for me and others to complete what I started. My core values are courage and usefulness. My values were clearly driving me to keep going and achieve. Therefore the emotions I was feeling were helpful. To get the work done and to start achieving my goal I needed to concentrate on smaller performance goals each day, goals that I could achieve each day. So I zoomed in and focused on those individual goals using the tension and anxiety created by my need to be useful to motivate me. Halfway through the week my value of usefulness was validated which motivated me further.

When work or life starts to get too much, be curious about the emotions you are feeling, listen to what your mind and body are telling you. Allow yourself to make the right choice even if in the short term it is uncomfortable.

Is it time to untangle yourself from a past that no longer serves you?

I wrote a tweet earlier this morning suggesting that it is possible to learn to untangle ourselves from from the failings of our past, to allow us to act to create a compelling future.

Yes it is possible, if you are as tangled up as I am though it is going to take a while. That is what most of us don’t realise about self-improvement, it takes time and a huge amount of effort. Most of us (and yes I include myself in this) fail at the first hurdle. We give up early because we set ourselves up to fail by trying to untangle everything all at once, and like trying to unravel a piece of thread you just get more tangled than you were before. The only way to disentangle yourself is to start small and work on one knot at a time methodically and carefully.

If you read through my previous blogs you will see this is something I have been doing for quite sometime. It is working I have given up smoking, I am doing a job I love, I have two satisfying projects on the go and I coach privately, rather than being a smoker and stuck in a job I have fallen out of love with. I am learning to be more emotionally agile, and not being hooked on the need to be experiencing happy emotions all the time. I have still got plenty to do and the one thing the alludes me is managing my weight.

I would always tackle it as if it was one straightforward problem. Lose weight, by exercising and eating less and healthier food, oh and drink less beer. I should know better though. Nothing we do that is longstanding is straightforward, it is always tangled up with our view of our world, which is shaped by our past experiences and our relationship with those experiences. The reason I am fat is simple, I eat too much unhealthy food and don’t exercise enough. The reasons why I do those things even though I know they are bad for me is complicated, really complicated. When I think about it in many ways it is similar to my smoking habit, it took a while to disentangle that. The only difference is that I have been eating shit food for a lot longer than I was smoking, so there are a lot more knots.

You may have guessed as ever that I am writing this blog to sort my own shit out. Which is exactly true. I know what to do, but on this subject I have not previously delved deep enough. Writing this, is like zooming in on a big picture and concentrating on the small details one at a time.

So how am I going to tackle this issue, which knot am I going to concentrate on? I am going to concentrate on my emotional response to food and not exercising. What I value about these habits? How well are these habits serving me now? What could I possibly do that would serve those values now? Which one of those actions could I start to do now?

It sounds really simple but really examining the emotions and values that lay beneath a longstanding habit is challenging and requires a shift in mindset. You may remember a blog I wrote about Acceptance Commitment, or more recently when I wrote about Dr Susan David’s Emotional Agility. These approaches are very useful when untangling yourself from your past. You can do it yourself but employing a coach is a much more effective way of completing it. Below is a simplified version of the process:

  • Accept that things happen in your life that are emotionally painful, at the same time accept that emotionally uplifting things will happen too. Make room and accept both into your life with compassion and kindness.
  • Recognise the difference between your thinking, planning mind and your observing mind. The most effective way to do this is to practice mindfulness techniques to start to notice and let go thoughts and feelings.
  • Explore what you value, identify your core values. Recognise the values that drive your thoughts and emotions, identifying those that serve you well, and letting go those that do not serve you well.
  • Identify small changes to habits that meet the needs of your helpful thoughts and emotions and are congruent with your values.

The key for this is to spend the time practicing letting thoughts and feelings come and go. You can use this technique for change you want to make. If you want to explore this further, please get in touch.

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