Blue Monday and other days

Last Monday was apparently blue Monday. This according to the media is something to do with it being the middle Monday of January, and with January being after Christmas and that it can be financially challenging, on top of that it is cold and dark. To me this notion that there is one day that is more miserable than any other seems slightly ridiculous and even feels quite manipulative. For many January can be a challenging month, then again so can December, February, March, April, May….. you get the drift.

The blues don’t wait for a particular day, the blues don’t just appear for certain events, or reasons. In fact sometimes the blues do not need much of a reason at all (well not that you can put your finger on anyway). To be honest that is sort of irrelevant. It is more important to accept that we will have days or moments when we feel low, fed up, or really sad. Sometimes there will be an obvious reason, sometimes that reason might not be so obvious, but you will feel like this.

What is important to remember is that emotions are not static they are constantly moving and shifting, just like the weather. One moment the sun is shining, the next it is pouring down. One thing is for certain, it will be sunny, and it will be cloudy, but it will not stay completely the same and the sun will come out again. Even when the clouds are their thickest the sun is still there behind the clouds and will breakthrough.

When we are under a cloud and experiencing negative emotion, it is really important not to deny it. Negative emotion is an important inevitable part of life, it helps us grow and learn. Therefore make space for it in your mind, pay it attention, and understand it, and try to give it a name. Understand why you might be feeling it, and what you can learn from it. When we try to deny our negative emotions, those emotions are multiplied as we feel bad about feeling bad. We often apologise for expressing our negative emotion, this is rarely helpful (that is unless your emotion has caused to be uncivil, then you really should apologise). Understanding and articulating your emotion will help, it will not make it go away but it will diminish it’s impact and help you recover and appreciate the positive emotion when that returns.

The key to happiness is not being wonderfully happy all the time, it is learning to be curious about your emotions and accepting and embracing all the good and bad. I now find it helpful thinking in terms of helpful and hindering (after spending a few days with Andy Gilbert and his GOMAD team). Some emotions whether they are positive or negative will be helpful to me and some emotions will be hindering. Having a good cry when thinking about something sad can be very helpful to me and help me sort out my thoughts about an issue, whereas staying in at home watching boxsets makes me feel happy but is hindering as I will never get anything done. They are crude examples but you get the idea. Emotions are important, however you need to decide if responding to them in a certain way is helpful or hindering.

If you are having a blue day, don’t try to avoid it, try to understand it. Pay attention to your negative emotions they might be telling you something important.

Keep being curious…..

Keep being curious…..but be curious to increase your understanding and challenge you bias, rather than to judge and confirm your bias.

I was reading a lively debate on LinkedIn (remember don’t judge) last night about white privilege and how the UK is set up in favour of the white middle class, heterosexual, able bodied man. It was fascinating watching people’s fragility and assumptions unfold, including my own, only I kept mine in my head and did not jump in to defend my previously unearthed biases, unlike some. What I noticed was one contributor who, was being curious and was genuinely engaged with the debate, but was not willing to understand the authors point of view and lived experience, and was only willing to judge from their own viewpoint. Now it is perfectly fine to have an opposing view, however when you enter into a debate with someone of the opposing view, you have to be willing to listen and understand, it may change you view completely but it will add to the view (this cannot be a bad thing). By entering into debate you are also enriching the knowledge and experience of those debating with you also.

Listening with fascination will always add to your world view even (especially) if you don’t like what you hear. We learn when we are uncomfortable and challenged, we don’t learn when we surround ourselves with people and media that confirms our biases and world view.

Up until a few years ago, I would only listen to music that I considered worthy, and music my peers enjoyed. This was predominantly guitar based rock music, with the odd guilty pleasure. With the advent of streaming services and my children’s interest in music, I started to listen to music that I would never consider worth listening to. If you are a regular reader of my blogs you will know how important music is to me. However having a more diverse music taste has encouraged me to be more curious, and mentally move away from my comfort zone, to learn. I never realised how much amazing music is out there to listen to, until I started to look. So I started to apply it to my view of the world, it is uncomfortable and exposing at times. I have not reached some nirvana where I am truly enlightened, it is a struggle sometimes and I do notice myself living within my silo of comfort. The difference is I know it exists and that there is an alternative destination if I choose to look for it.

Now this blog was an excuse to introduce a new playlist I put together to highlight my curiosity for all things that are new. There are some great tracks by some truly talented new bands. Black Midi, Celeste, and Mura Masa a few to look out for.

If you have spotify enjoy, if you don’t look a few up on you-tube or maybe just follow your own curiosity

What influences how we communicate with different people?

This has been a subject on my mind this week. It came up when I was discussing with a group how I find it difficult talking to senior managers and members of the exec, something that happens more often now I have changed my role. It was also a subject I have been considering this morning for a chapter in my book. So what causes me to feel uncomfortable communicating with senior members of staff?

When we see someone new our limbic system (the chimp from the chimp paradox) is alerted to make a threat assessment. As we know the limbic system is not just concerned with life or limb, it is also concerned in preserving status in the group and the continuation of your species. So once the risk of physical threat has been assessed, then the chimp can move on to other matters, which is status in the group and potential mates (there is clearly a lot more nuance to this than I am describing, but you get the drift). Maintaining status quo or enhancing status in the group is a very strong driver. From a primitive perspective being rejected by the group was a potential life ending event. Remember our chimps is not very subtle so invokes the same feelings whether or not you are about to die.

So lets go back to my issue, when I am confronted by people I consider to have a high status, my chimp is activated as there is a potential threat to my status. My chimp then searches for more information to before acting or not. My chimp will search my memory banks for recalled memories that may help. Now I have some rather unhelpful memories of authority figures throughout my life and especially in my adult life (as a Charge Nurse), so the advice given by my chimp is always be careful, don’t say much and get away as soon as possible, the less they know about you the better. In fact if you have not met them yet, it would probably be better if you did not meet them at all.

Not great advice! I have to speak to them in my job. Thankfully I can improve this situation and train myself and my chimp to not have this unhelpful response. This response comes about from having little data/information about the people that currently hold these senior positions (they are not the same people that gave me those unhelpful memories). When we don’t have much information our mind makes stuff up based on previous experiences and memories to complete the story.

The answer is simple get to know people more, before you make decisions about how you will communicate with people. If these people are critical to your job or any other part of your life, increase the amount of information you have about them. Now with some of the senior managers this is starting to happen and my ability and desire to communicate effectively with them is increasing. I need to work on those people I know less about, I need to start changing the stories I have in my head about people that have more senior roles than me.

Start seeing people in the round if you want to communicate effectively with people. If your opinion on someone is based on assumptions, correct that but getting to know them better.

Are you always warmhearted?

I was reading an article by The Dalai Lama this morning on mindful compassionate leadership. He says being warmhearted leads to a happy life, a fulfilled life. If you approach everything in life in a compassionate manner then you will be more peaceful in your response, whereas if you are always approaching life with anger you are more likely to have a violent response.

If we always look for what is wrong with the world, we will always find what is wrong, creating a destructive negative viewpoint of the world. If things are not working a more helpful viewpoint would be how could we possibly make things better.

A warmhearted compassionate approach to life encourages creativity. As Brene Brown would say a warmhearted view assumes everyone is doing their best, and they need compassion and support to improve their performance. What we have to remember when assuming people are always doing their best is that performance is variable. So it may appear that people are not putting the effort in. It might be that there are not putting the effort in, but what is causing them not to put effort in? Having a warmhearted view of them gives them an opportunity to improve, what can we possibly do to improve performance, or what could they possibly do that they would perform better at. If we have an angry response to their poor performance we condemn them and do not get the opportunity to discover the reasons for performance, therefore the likelihood of continued poor performance is increased. Being warmhearted in the end is more likely to get a positive result, either increased performance or the poor performing leaving and finding a role that better suites them.

Being consistent in a warmhearted approach takes practice, so practice.

Time to connect!

I have been writing a book and based my approach to coaching on the idea of connected living.

The idea is that we first need to connect and understand ourselves before effectively connecting with those around us. So if we pay attention to ourselves and treat ourselves well, we will be better able to pay attention to those around us.

Now this is nothing new, and is based on some sound research conducted by many great minds such as Brene Brown and Martin Seligman to name just 2. Connected Living is my take on these findings, basically this is how I make sense of it, therefore there will be some of you may well find it helpful too. Now I am halfway through writing the book, so it will be some time before you will be able to read it.

Don’t worry though, if you want to find out more, you can search my blog for plenty of tips. I will also give you a checklist you can use as a starter in this blog. If you live in Hull or East Yorkshire you can book a series of coaching sessions to work through the connected living process face to face, or if you live further away, you can connect with me via messenger or video messenger to go through the process. Even better news is that all my packages are half price if you book them in January 2020. If you are not sure have a free chemistry meeting on me. So here is the Connected Living Checklist to get you started:

  • Check your well-being; do you have positive emotion daily, are you engaged in activity daily, do you have positive relationships, does your life hold meaning, when did you last accomplish something?
  • Explore your view of the world
  • Practice viewing your world from a different perspective
  • Understand why you react to events the way you do
  • Practice responding rather than reacting
  • Understand why you behave the way you do
  • Understand you preference for decision making
  • Discover why you are attracted to certain people
  • Explore whether you are connecting to the right people
  • Discover why you need to connect with others
  • Appreciate that others are as complex as you
  • Commit to action

If you want to put the checklist into action get in touch have the first session on me and then take advantage of half price sessions if you book in January 2020.

Start making the most of your life now.

Don’t get sucked into the rhetoric of division

Yesterday I posted a blog about inclusion at work and how embracing the diversity within our workplace will improve creativity and productivity. Today I woke up to more news of division in the world we live in. Our world seems more divided than ever. The news it appears is full of hate.

Whether you agree or disagree with the President of USA, it is so important that we do not get sucked into an us or them. You are either with us or against us. Everywhere we look at the moment there is an encouragement to take sides. Today’s news is dominated with the assassination of an Iranian General by the USA and the rights and wrongs of this decision, and that this may lead to a wider conflict. For some this will fuel hate towards Iran, USA, President Trump, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Boris Johnson, or Jeremy Corbyn. They generally seem to be popular targets of hate depending on your position. The consequences of all this hateful rhetoric is that innocent people in the middle east, the Cities of Europe, Cities of USA, or even any Cities around the world are put at real risk of harm. I read a comment from a Student who lives in Baghdad who said that he fears that the innocent and poor of Iraq will suffer again because USA and Iran hate each other.

Now here is the thing, I have heard so many anecdotal stories from people that have visited Iran, Iraq and USA, and they all describe people that are warm and friendly. I am going to hazard a guess that no matter where you go in the world you will find warm and generous people. Humans are essentially the same, we are on the whole warm and generous if given the opportunity.

Is it about time we stop buying into this rhetoric of division and hate, that is peddled by some of our leaders and media. All it is doing is playing to our fears and our innate desire to protect ourselves and others. When we respond to this bullshit we do not make ourselves safer. We make the world more dangerous. I can only guess why our press and leaders peddle this, but I imagine it has more to do with power and wealth than keeping me and you safe.

The world would be a much poorer place if we all agreed with each other. We learn through discourse and taking on differing views. Having a different view of the world is not a reason to hate someone. We all need to start listening to understand, rather than to judge. I urge you all not to let this rhetoric infect they way you behave towards your fellow humans.

Are you missing out on connecting with people that are different from you?

Do you find yourself attracted to people similar to yourself. How many of the people you regularly connect with have a completely different view of the world to you.

Now you might have a diverse group of friends, connections and acquaintances, but I will hazard a guess that the majority of us prefer to connect with people that have similar if not the same views as ourselves. It is after all human nature. It is the primitive part of our brain (limbic system) that drives this desire to be in groups that are similar to us. I a more primitive world we needed to protect ourselves from rival tribes who may be competing for the same food sources, and territory. The issue is we do not live those primitive times anymore, and our limbic system has not evolved sufficiently to differentiate actual and perceived threat. However our frontal lobe has evolved sufficiently to make these distinctions and if used enough will become good at it.

The world we live in, is a much smaller place and the majority of us come into contact and work with people from all over the world. Healthcare is far more advanced than ever, therefore people with long-term conditions, or disabilities have much better outcomes and along with improved access are more able to contribute to the communities they work in and be part of the workforce. On top of this many societies are more liberal than ever, therefore people are empowered to express their beliefs, sexuality, and gender orientation.

Therefore our workplaces are much more diverse than they have ever been. This provides us with a unique opportunity for us all to grow and learn, not only as individuals but as a society. There is also a wonderful opportunity for organisations to be much more creative, utilising the vast array of lived experiences presented on any given day.

Now the only problem is that pesky limbic system getting in the way and trying to prevent us from embracing difference and accepting an opposing view. Biologically we cannot prevent this automatic response to difference as a potential threat. However the limbic system always refers to our memory bank before coming up with a response. Therefore it is possible to modify the response to a more inclusive inquisitive response. If your memory bank stores a memory that people you work with are not a threat to your well-being, even if they have different coloured skin, a different accent, different sexuality or even different profession. Then the most useful thing to do is to gather more information about them before making a judgement.

Even if you make a judgement about them after gathering more information and you decide you do not want a closer friendship with them, should not exclude connection, by seeing the value of their different view of the world.

Instead of seeing new people that are different to you as a threat, see a potential opportunity to learn from each other. If you want to grow as an individual, organisation and society it is vital to seek out views of the world that are different to you own. If you stick to what you know you will never grow, when all of those around you continue to.

How are you at giving and receiving feedback?

Whenever you read an article or a chapter on leadership or communication, there is always a section on how important feedback is. In reality though it is something that is rarely appears done well.

Now I have been thinking about my own experiences of giving and receiving feedback, both first hand and second hand. In most cases it was a car crash. When I think about what was happening to me when I was giving feedback and receiving it, Jack Canfield’s success formula (Event + Response = Outcome) came to mind. It was always my response to either giving or receiving feedback that resulted in me either having a good or a poor outcome to the feedback.

When I am giving feedback I will often worry about how it will be received even though I know I want to help. I will be thinking about the feedback in terms of positive and negative and how that will make the person feel, rather than thinking about the intention of the feedback.

When I am receiving feedback, I will latch on to all that I perceive as negative, and not hear what the intention of the feedback is. I will rely on recalled memories and use the feedback as confirmation of my inability to do something. I will miss the opportunity that the feedback has offered me.

Sound familiar? Want to get more out of giving and receiving feedback? Here are 2 helpful checklists one for giving and one for receiving feedback.

Giving feedback

  • Is the purpose of the feedback to improve performance?
  • Is the content of the feedback supportive?
  • Does the feedback promote interdependence? (does it encourage the recipient to work with others to improve the outcome)
  • Is the feedback factual?
  • Does the feedback create accountability?
  • Does the feedback assume the recipient have the capacity to achieve?
  • Is the feedback being delivered in a timely manner?
  • Is the feedback yours to give?

Receiving feedback

  • Can I be generous towards the spirit in which this feedback is being offered?
  • How can this feedback enhance my performance?
  • Can I recognise and put a name to the emotions I am feeling right now?
  • Can I recognise the stories I am telling myself to justify my emotions?

We all have a responsibility to improve how we deliver and receive feedback if we want to learn the most from our experiences.

Where has the time gone

30 years ago this morning, I worked my first ever shift as a Student Nurse.

I started my Nurse training in the October, and I then spent the next 3 months in the class room with brief visits to the wards.

After a short break for Christmas I started my first placement on Ward 21 at Kingston General Hospital on 1st January 1990. I know, I can’t believe that 1990 was 30 years ago either. I was 18 and a little bit hung over (quite a lot actually), in fact I was a little bit late. I had foolishly decided to go to a New Years Eve party and thought I would be able to party on down and still manage to get up on time and feel well. The truth was I was half an hour late and felt quite poorly.

Ward 21 at Kingston General Hospital was a Medical Elderly Ward, so therefore was very busy. It wasn’t long before I was too busy to feel sorry for myself. The winter of 89/90 was a particularly bad flu season, and there was a lot of very poorly patients on the ward. My feet barely touched the floor. Now I was quite a sheltered 18 year old and had never done a hard days work in my life. My shift finished at 3:15pm and I walked a mile back to Hull Royal Infirmary, where my Nurses’ Residence was. That was a long walk I can tell you. I got into my room at about 4pm, my hangover had come back with a vengeance, so I decided to rest my head for a little while. The next thing I know I am waking up in the dark and my clock says 7:00. I say to myself no not again! I jump out of bed and start rushing round getting ready, I come out of my room with my uniform on heading to the bathroom and someone on the corridor asks what i am doing and am I not coming for a drink. It was 7pm! So yes I went for a drink, and I remembered I was on a late shift the next day anyway.

A lot has happened since then, as you would expect really in 30 years, unless my life had been extremely dull.

I am still in Hull, I still work for the NHS. I never made a conscious decision to stay in Hull, in just happened. By the time I qualified I had met Lisa, so it just felt right to stay, then we moved in together, I did my Sick Children’s Nurse training, then we got married and had the boys. I love living in Hull. I love Hull, I consider it my home, and I cannot contemplate living anywhere else. Then again I never imagined I would stop working as a Nurse (some of my colleagues my suggest I never started), but this year that is exactly what I did, so I suppose never say never, as you just don’t know what is coming next.

They say time flies when you are enjoying yourself, and I can definitely say I have had a lot of enjoyment over the past 30 years. Some sadness of course and some very difficult times, but on balance it got me exactly where I need to be right now.

Here’s to another 30!

Music that has made me smile/sometimes cry this year

As many of you will already know, music plays an important part in my life. You will also know that both my sons are musicians. Ben is in Vialetters (If you have never heard them, firstly why not? Secondly don’t worry they are on the playlist above) and Jack is in a band called SpeakEasy, they have not released anything yet but will be soon. SpeakEasy play their first gig on 26th January at The New Adelphi in Hull, feel free to pop along and support them.

Anyway music is my go to place when I am feeling emotional, and I will often make playlists to soundtrack my life. The playlist above is of songs, many of them new to 2019 that provoke emotion in me. Many of them will make me smile, some will make me sad. All of them take me away from myself for a few minutes.

This year has been an up and down year, and the songs on this playlist have been there for me throughout the year. They are all special in their own way, but none more than the songs my son plays on. They are by far my favourite songs of the year as they make me feel so proud. Next year (2020) I will have 2 bands that will make me feel this way. That makes me feel so blessed, that my sons make something that feels my heart with joy.

The best thing about music and the internet age is that I can share with you some wonderful tunes. If you don’t have spotify, look up the songs on you-tube you will be able to access them for free.

I hope are able to listen and get as much enjoyment out of this playlist as me.

Happy New Year to you all!

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