I’ve been feeling quite reflective lately after the passing of a couple of well-loved people in my network. This post seemed timely to revisit, which I started drafting after watching a TED talk on ‘What makes a good life?’ (referred by a friend). It follows on nicely from my last post ‘Keep the main thing, the main thing’ centred on the importance of relationships.
The TED talk by Robert Waldinder which I highly recommend shares lessons from the longest study on happiness via Harvard.
Robert is the fourth Director of the 75 year study tracking the lives of 724 men which is now following their wives (who said it’s about time!) and over 2000 children. The study of adult development has looked at their work, home lives (including intimate conversations with their wives) and health (including medical records). The men were a split group of Harvard Sophomores and a group from one of Boston’s poorest neighbourhoods.
So what have they learned to date? Robert shares: “Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” To all my wonderful single friends, don’t worry a husband or a wife is not the answer. He shares it’s not about being married (study cites you can be lonely in a marriage) but the quality of your relationships versus quantity.
I think this is an important message, especially in an era of reality TV, more and more screen time and increasing complexity in the workplace. In a world where fame and money are often glorified by our youth and viewed as the route to happiness a timely message that in fact what’s the most crucial are those real relationships.
The thing that struck me the most with the study’s findings was that at age 50 it wasn’t cholesterol levels that best predicted health at 80 it was how satisfied the men were in their relationships.
This triggered a few thoughts:
- I look around in our local community which has a large elderly demographic and am inspired by the connections I see. There is a flourishing community swimming at the beach every morning, afterwards having coffee with laughs and conversations. As Robert shares, living in the midst of strong, warm relationships is protective. Relationships protect our bodies and brains.
- As we finalise our daycare choice for Ethan one of the centres asked us for our most important decision criteria. We both concurred that our priority is that he is cared for in an environment where he’s having fun and positive relationships are fostered with the other children.
- With a lot of our family and friends overseas I reflected on the quality of virtual vs face to face relationships. Although there’s no substitute for an in person hug, I do think maintaining connectivity virtually can be equally effective as face to face. With a strong initial relationship you can talk about anything without the need for small talk. Through regularly skyping my parents and sister Holly, giving them a chance to interact with Ethan, I feel like the quality of our time together is still as strong as ever.
Towards the end of his talk, Robert provokes, if you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and energy? What might leaning into new relationships look like if you’re 25, 40 or 60? This has prompted me to set some goals including in the areas of family, friends and giving back to the community which I’ll be doing with accountability buddy in a few weeks. It also affirmed the social capital approach I like to take to life, a rewarding relationship based approach to areas including work and exercise.
So what makes a good life? I think there are a plethora of factors including health, well-being, purpose and meaningful work. As Robert so convincingly shares however, the most important being good relationships. As I read recently in ‘The 50 rules of work’ shared by another friend (love the sharing of inspirations): “Work hard. But build an exceptional family life. What’s the point of reaching the mountaintop but getting there alone? “ At the core of my relationships are those with husband Owain and baby Ethan. Owain always helps me keep perspective and you may enjoy his latest blog on: Managing it all
I’ll finish with Robert’s closing message of “Lean into connections with family, friends and community” and a few tips from him and a couple of my own to begin this process if not already:
- Replace screen time with people time
- Liven up a relationship by doing something new together
- Reach out to that family member who you haven’t spoken to in years
- Head to a local store rather than making that online purchase
- Look at what events are coming up in your local community and get involved
I was given this advice from another working mum when I returned back to work recently after maternity leave. Her wise words have stuck with me and provided inspiration for this blog. I reflected that the main thing for me at this time is focusing on relationships with others.
Keeping perspective whilst back in the workforce
My few couple of weeks back at work were great. I was on a high in the strategy and ideation phase of a new purposeful role. By the end of my fourth week I could start to feel some work pressure after multiple back to back meetings, a couple of big deadlines and a backlog of emails.
After leaving the office on Friday I unplugged and met husband Owain and baby Ethan in our local village and headed down to the beach for our triathlon club’s aquathon. I took Ethan to play on the grass and watching him grab the grass and babble at the birds immediately took my mind off the busy week.
Through my own experience and connection to many corporate workers, I know it’s easy to fall into a routine of longer work hours, cutting out lunch breaks and not being present with others when things build up. I question, is this good for our relationships? Shouldn’t we be keeping the main thing and getting home to family and friends. The to do list and emails will still be there tomorrow.
Some wise advice
I feel lucky in my life to have people around who help me keep perspective when things get ‘busy’. I remember asking my mentor a few years ago how she dealt with email overload in her GM role. She shared a thought that you’re not going to be remembered for having a clean inbox. She suggested creating a few check ins a day that you will be remembered for. I often think after a day at work have I helped someone today?, have my actions progressed towards some greater good? and have I appreciated something? What would yours be?
My aunty, (now a great aunty – which she says has always been the case) turned 60 recently. During table speeches at a celebratory dinner I asked her what she’s learnt along the way. The stand out thing she shared in her humerous ab fab style was ”most of it is bollocks, the things that matter most are your relationships.” My uncle shared a similar life learning at his 60th – ”don’t sweat the small stuff.”
My biggest inspiration for keeping the main thing the main thing is Owain who does it naturally with his strong values and laid back nature. He helps me relax and appreciate the ordinary, which I now treasure more than the extraordinary. Watching the beautiful interactions between him and Ethan every day helps me keep perspective. On our weekends, time together, no matter what we’re doing is the most important thing.
A piece of inspiration
I’m just coming to the end of Turia Pitt’s book ‘Everything to Live For.’. For those who aren’t aware Turia survived after being caught in a fire in an ultramarathon sustaining over 60% burns to her body. What grasped me most reading her story was the power of her relationships, especially with that of her mum Celestine and now fiancé Michael, who called themselves the three amigos supporting Turia to her recovery.
We had the privilege to train with Turia and Michael at the Energy Link New Year triathlon camp in Jindabyne. Turia who has an infectious zest for life is now signed up for an Ironman this year after first being told she wouldn’t be able to run again, inspirational! With a network of great relationships I believe we can all become the best versions of ourselves and that anything is possible.
To finish, a couple of thoughts to help us all keep the main, thing the main thing:
*Spend some time reflecting on what the main thing/s are for you?
*What can you do better today to connect with someone you love?
After a great weekend with family and friends, some overseas family skypes and card writing to my Grandmas, I encourage you to keep the main thing, the main thing.
As I transition back into the workforce I reflect on the past nine months of maternity leave. I have learnt so much from my precious time with baby Ethan and thought I’d share the stand out learnings that may inspire others.
#1 Accept and ask for help. Having grown up priding myself as an independent woman it does not come naturally to ask for help. However, with a new baby and our immediate family overseas it became essential to both accept help and ask for it. I’ve found this process liberating as I’ve gotten more used to it and see it as a win-win. People don’t generally offer help unless they’d like to and choosing not to feel guilty about it as written about here allows you to be more present with your experiences.
#2 Embrace community. We are very fortunate to be part of a wonderful triathlon community which has welcomed Ethan with open arms. Whilst on maternity leave we have also met a wonderful network of mums and gotten to know our local business community (Ethan is the lululemon store mascot!). I believe in the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and feel fortunate he has so many great role models around him.
#3 Laugh lots. – Hanging out with Ethan who giggles tens of times a day is contagious. My husband Owain and I have laughed through the highs and lows of parenting. As my friend the Fonginator says: “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.” I’m inspired to not take things too seriously heading back into the workplace and laugh even more.
#4 Learn from strangers. Growing up kids are often taught not to talk to strangers, as an adult however this can be very insightful (whilst keeping your wits about you!). In the past nine months I have spoken to more strangers being out and about with Ethan than ever before. This has enabled me to learn about different cultures, countries and experiences. Having a baby has been a good excuse to initiate these conversations as I’ve heard having a dog is too. I plan to take this forward when he’s not around including on my commute, in the coffee line and lifts and try to avoid too much time glued to the phone!
#5 Learn to say no – With one of my top strengths being ‘maximising’ I’ve had an action packed maternity leave filled with coffees and lots of new experiences. I’ve learnt along the way however that with a new baby a balance is needed and less can be more, especially when establishing a routine. Tim Ferriss shared some memorable thinking on this subject inspired via an essay by philosopher-programmer Derek Sivers. His rule of thumb is thinking “hell, yeah” or “no” when deciding on what to do. I’ve learnt that your gut instinct will let you know pretty soon whether something is a ‘hell yeah’ opportunity, follow it!
#6 Appreciation versus expectation – This is perhaps the biggest and most life changing lesson learnt on maternity leave which came to me during a trip to Hawaii. Inspired by a Tony Robbins quote: “Trade your expectations for appreciation and your whole world changes in an instant.” I devoted a blog post to it which can be read here. An example is dropping the expectation to write this blog in one setting and appreciating the interruptions from the little man!
#7 Patience is a virtue – As any first time parent will know raising a baby has its tests of patience from settling them to sleep, to starting solids to the transition to crawling. When I was younger my dad regularly said to me ‘patience is a virtue’ which I now understand…..to wait calmly, without getting agitated or angry. My mindfulness teaching and practice has definitely helped with this. I believe you can turn your frustration into a meditation opportunity by focusing on the agitation 🙂 A great example I heard was a screaming baby on a flight. Sounds are a great reminder of the present and being alive, however agitating. I use this with sirens.
#8 Look around with curiosity – I have loved watching Ethan look at the world in wonder and discover things from his hands, to his feet as described in How can we bring wonder back into our lives. Heading back to the workplace I have a blank journal ready to scribe my curious thoughts in, looking at things with fresh opens.
#9 Know your value – As Sheryl Sandberg advocates in ‘Lean In’ I believe maternity leave is an opportunity to move forwards not backwards in your career. Recognising your worth and value is key to this including the transferable skills acquired during your time out. I feel that I will return to the workforce more worldly and productive having had a baby. I am excited to be going back to IECL in a new role to continue to learn and grow.
Now ready to embrace the next chapter of a working mum and daddy day care taking forward these lessons learnt. I’d like to finish by taking the opportunity to say a big thank you to all my helpers during maternity leave (you know who you are xxx).
“Life is a series of moments.”
Are you making the most of yours?
This month I was saddened, like many others to hear the news of Laurent Vidal passing away. Laurent was a well-loved member of the triathlon community, fiancé of Andrea Hewitt and double Olympian. It was reported he passed peacefully in his sleep of a heart attack at the tender age of 31. Whilst not knowing Laurent personally, I had seen him race and it felt very close to home that a fit young man could be taken away so suddenly.
In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, and so many tragic stories we read about every day, I reflected on these lives lost and found myself thinking what it all meant to me?
Parts of the future are uncertain for us all, some of this exciting and also a little unnerving. The message I took away, was a feeling empathy for the family and friends of the deceased and a feeling of gratitude to be on this wondrous earth. I decided to make even more of a conscious effort every day to cherish moments.
Here are some lessons I’ve synthesised after recent events and life learnings:
Don’t sweat the small stuff, keep perspective
It’s easy to sweat the small stuff, play the victim in life and wallow in self-pity. I like many can fall into this trap at times. However I truly believe we have a choice to snap ourselves out of this and times of tragedy should spur us on even more to keep perspective.
Practical Tip: Try some perspective taking self-talk when you’re bothered by the small stuff. One saying I’ve picked up recently is Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae’s “It’s time to toughen up princess!”. Another is “First world problems.”
Take your opportunities
Although we may like to plan, nothing is an absolute and we need to grasp and take opportunities when we can. My husband Owain lives by this example and inspires me to do the same.
Practical Tip: Try something new over the next month, life’s too short not to.
Live rather than leave your legacy
I read a great blog post by my friend Oscar Trimboli stating: A legacy is something you live rather than something you leave. The opening to this blog which is well worth a read says: “A legacy is a state of mind. It is something you do every day rather than something you think about later on. Your legacy is a habit; it’s about consistency and daily improvements rather than an individual event.”
Practical Tip: Reflect on these few questions. The first two are inspired by Sir Clive Woodward who utilised these to help unite the GB teams in the London 2012 Olympic Games: What do I want to be remembered for? What do I want to remember this time for? And a new one inspired by Oscar, are you living your legacy?
Be the best version of yourself
Earlier this month before hearing of the tragic events mentioned, I had the privilege of watching Turia Pitt race in the Forster Challenge. For those who don’t know Turia’s story, she became trapped in a grassfire in a 100 kilometre ultra-marathon in September 2011 suffering 65% burns to her body. She has made a choice to live her legacy and inspiring many others around her to become the best version of themselves.
Practical Tip: Smile and laugh often, when we’re happy it’s much easier to be the best version of ourselves. Baby Ethan’s daily giggles and gurgles help inspire me with this one.
I hope these tips help others to cherish more moments.
Whilst on holidays in Hawaii recently I read a quote on Instagram shared by Sunny Garcia by Tony Robbins:
“Trade your expectations for appreciation and your whole world changes in an instant.”
They say timing is everything and for me this really struck a chord. In Kona on the Big Island surrounded by the world’s fittest Ironmen athletes I had set the expectation to do some form of training each day.
I started well with two subsequent runs and a swim and then things became harder looking after Ethan, hanging out with friends and supporting my husband Owain’s movements, who was there to race.
When I saw this quote I thought drop the expectations of training everyday whilst you’re here and just appreciate it when you can. This immediately changed my mindset. Instead of any disappointment that I couldn’t sometimes get a session in I just appreciated every moment spent with Ethan, Owain, friends and the natural wonder of Hawaii.
What expectations in your life could you drop and trade for appreciation?
When returning to Sydney from Hawaii I had planned to race a local club triathlon and another sprint triathlon before Christmas. Without adequate training for it and still breastfeeding very frequently I thought I’m going to drop this expectation and focus on appreciating this precious time with Ethan before I return to work. Triathlon will still be there when Ethan grows up and not so dependent on me. This felt liberating and relieved the pressure I had unconsciously put on myself.
The thinking was affirmed when I caught up with a friend who is recovering from an injury. She has been working with a mediation series themed on acceptance versus resistance. The point I takeaway is: Letting go of always striving for more + Accepting and taking what you can from the present moment = Liberation
So devil’s advocate may say this approach is just giving up and turning away from goals….
I believe there is definitely a place for expectations and goals at the right time for you. As I wrote about previously you can have it all…in the long term and why I set myself a mindfulness schedule.
At this current stage however, I find this thinking refreshing and believe we can probably all learn from giving ourselves an expectation break and appreciating the wonder around us 🙂
My tips for bringing more appreciation into your life:
- Every morning think of three things you’re grateful for
- Share with others what you appreciate about them
- Drop thinking about what you ‘should’ be doing
Would love to hear any of your thoughts on this topic.
After going through an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) last year when I was pregnant I have struggled of late to integrate formal mindfulness practice into my routine. I can come up with all sorts of excuses of being a new mum, iron wife, pursing multiple projects etc., BUT instead I will take ownership for its demise. I haven’t made it a priority and started to feel the tired, less attentive effects like when I don’t find time for physical activity.
So being an action oriented, thoughts into action kind of gal I thought what am I going to do about it? On a recent walk I created space for this insight to emerge, I’m going to set myself a mindfulness schedule like I have for physical activity when training for a triathlon race.
Why? Having the accountability of a training program helps keep me motivated and focused. I also like keeping things varied with different lengths of activity, indoor/outdoor settings etc. Here’s an example of a week’s program I have pulled together to start with. To me, this to be looks achievable whilst being mum, ironwife, managing some mumpreneur projects and wanting to build up my physical training again:
- Monday – 15 minute mountain pose (to start the week strongly)
- Tuesday – 60 minutes of Yoga (mindful movement)
- Wednesday – 15 minute body scan
- Thursday – 30 standing movement practice
- Friday – Rest day
- Saturday – 60 minute sense and savour walk
- Sunday – 30 minute body scan
*Mindfulness practices taken from the MBSR Openground training material
Throughout a weekly schedule, daily informal mindful moments like incidental exercise definitely will help too. For people who participate in events like a day of mindfulness or even the 10 day Vipassana you could design a program to build towards the event.
I hear a lot of people struggle after going through a mindfulness program like MBSR. From anecdotes, I think a lot of that is to do with the course structure and accountability having gone. So, why not try and set yourself a weekly schedule mixing up the different activities to keep it varied and even do some sessions with a buddy/small group?
Think about it, a lot of us have training programs for our bodies but what about our brains?
This may seem foreign for people who haven’t trained in mindfulness practice. If you’re curious or even skeptical and don’t know where to start, a couple of suggestions:
- Meditation for Skeptics App: Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News in the US has recently released an app ‘10% Happier: Meditation for Skeptics’ which is a great entry for beginners (and skeptics, which he was one of!). This includes a two week introductory program. I was privileged to hear Dan speak at Wisdom 2.0 Business in New York last year. He likens what’s happening now with the explosion of mindfulness (one of the most googled words of 2014) to the exercise revolution of the 60’s and 70’s. I believe in 5-10 years from now having a mindfulness training program as well as a physical training program will be commonplace in the western world. Funny it’s taken so long for us to catch up with something that has been around for thousands of years with its Buddhist roots
- Mindfulness Summit: Another exciting initiative is the free mindfulness summit, a not for profit event for the 31 days of October. Join me in registering to learn from over 30 of the world’s leading experts on meditation and mindfulness including the legendary Jon-Kabat Zinn. I think the planned series of online interviews, practice sessions and presentations pioneered by Melli O’Brien ofMrsMindfulness.com is a fantastic example of innovation and collective wisdom in action. To me this summit is a testament to the nature of mindfulness practice, people are willing to share and help others rather than hold on to and control material.
Through experience I believe a healthy mind, body connection is the ultimate step towards happiness. To finish I’ll leave you with a thought: If you’re physically very fit, are you consistently mentally in a good place to be present, accepting and non-judgemental to enjoy the benefits of a fit body? If not what will you do about it?
Originally posted on the Huff Post at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dani-matthews/why-i-set-myself-a-mindfulness-schedule_b_8212758.html
Over the last few months I have watched with joy and delight as Ethan has developed his mind/body connection. This has included discovering his eyes, tongue, hands and voice, in each moment looking in absolute wonder at his new found skills. I reflect on that wondrous feeling of discovery and how beneficial bringing a curious mindset can be for influencing motivation and happiness.
One of Ethan’s books ‘On the Day You Were Born’ by Debra Frasier got me thinking a lot and made me curious about this wondrous world again. At the end of the book there is a section ‘More about the World around you’ which describes the reasons behind things such as migrating animals, the spinning earth, pulling gravity, flaming sun, glowing moon and the rising tide. These were things I was fascinated with as a child and it was great to reconnect with them. I question when did I transition to autopilot and not appreciate the wonders of the world every day?
I think Keegan’s Stages of Adult Development may explain part of this. As we go through our teenage years it’s easy to get stuck in the egocentric and socialised phases. Many of us sadly don’t ever get out of these. If we can spend time in the next level of integral / self-authoring I think that’s where more wisdom emerges and wonder appreciated.
So how can we adopt a more curious mindset?
Unlearning: One of my dear colleagues and friends John (JayRay) shared an insight with me once about ‘unlearning’ and how it’s possible to unlearn some habits and patterns of thinking, to bring about new thinking and change. This takes as much time and commitment as learning.
I believe mindfulness practice definitely helps bring us out of autopilot and more present and curious about what’s going on around us. A new app that’s worth exploring is ‘Mindfulness for Fidgety Skeptics’ by Dan Harris which I mention in a recent IECL blog here
Listening to learn: I’m a big believer in when we’re talking we’re not learning and how much wiser we can become through listening. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason 🙂 This can be hard as most of us do love the sound of our own voice and being heard but well worth the wait.
Asking lots of questions:. Think of a young toddler and their constant curiosity, mum why is the sky blue?, dad why do you go to work? These simple, maybe at times frustrating questions can actually push us to our thinking limits. Two of our favourites at IECL are the why and what else question.
Being curious and asking lots of questions goes against the way many of us have been taught through our education, with knowing the answer being the goal. I have been refreshed however to see new styles of teaching emerging here in Australia and globally. I was thrilled to hear some of the concepts being used in the school that my sister Holly teaches at in the UK. They explore a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset with the slogan, I don’t know…….yet. This style of discovery learning builds on potential.
Adopting a more curious mindset has been a journey for me. In my school and university days I would describe myself as a bit of a perfectionist who thrived on knowing the answers. This did me well in terms of grades but I feel I am much wiser for having embraced listening to learn and not taking things at face value. For those perfectionists out there ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ by Brene Brown is worth a read.
To finish, five tips to bring wonder back into our lives:
- Spend time with a baby/toddler in your network
- Read a children’s book
- Start a simple, short mindfulness practice
- Look at a sunrise in wonder as if for the first time
- Ask more why and what else questions
As a new mum I have made a conscious decision not to feel guilty. In a recent mother’s group meeting our midwife noted, now you’ve had a baby you’ll feel guilty for the rest of your life. ….for not giving them enough attention, going back to work early, expressing to enjoy some drinks or deciding to stop breastfeeding.
Although guilt is a habitual feeling I think we can choose whether or not to let it impact how we live our lives and influence the choices we make. I choose that when I’m away from my beautiful baby I want to be present to those I’m around and not distant with my mind somewhere else. Being present without judgement and acceptance is a mindful way of living in the moment and not the past or future. When I’m back with Ethan I am present, giving him my full, energised self (when I’ve had enough sleep :)).
Through the growing network of mums I’m connecting with some have to go back to work soon. I believe being plagued with guilt is not good for them or their baby. It causes stress, resentment and an inability to enjoy the moment. Guilt, like jealously, I have learnt is no good to anyone.
Obviously not everyone can relate to being a new mum and other examples I can relate to past instances in my life include choosing not to feel guilty working late and missing a training session, missing a work function because I needed an early night or not being able to attend a family function due to living overseas. This has taken time to develop. Can you think of your own examples and does the guilt serve you or others in any way?
My husband is naturally unruffled by most things and reflected on this with his Ironman training leading up to the Hawaii World Age Group Champs this October. He hoped that if Ethan could remember this time he’d be happy to know that Daddy wasn’t giving up the things he was passionate about and could appreciate that as well as training and racing he loved every moment spent with him. He is my inspiration for thinking this way. I reflect that:
“If we give up what we love, what use are we to others?”
Last weekend we had the reverse situation. We traveled to Port Stephens with my parents who were here from the UK visiting their first grandchild. On the way we picked up my new hot pink Giant bike and Owain’s TT bike he upgraded to Di2 electronic gearing. We had excitedly planned to take them out for a couple of spins but were greeted with a very wet weekend with dangerous conditions and Owain having a cold. The bikes remained sat looking beautiful outside our apartment and on the roof of our car for the weekend. Instead of feeling guilty that we couldn’t head out we accepted that and enjoyed the time to relax with the family. Here’s some pictures of Ethan enjoying some quality daddy time and the inactive bikes! I believe we should look to find more wins in what we are able to do and not regretting what you can’t.
When I went into the city a couple of weeks ago without baby for a meeting and dinner with a friend I felt liberated, not guilty. I knew Ethan was in safe loving hands and that those looking after him were experiencing joy. Why would I not enjoy my time away? Some may say this could appear selfish or not caring. I believe that you need to look after yourself first to be the best for others. Taking some time out to take care of myself is just as important as precious time with my beautiful baby. The analogy of an aeroplane’s safety demo of putting our own oxygen mask on before helping others comes to mind here.
“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success” Napoleon Hill
Four weeks ago today at 6.18am on Sunday 3rd May baby Ethan Matthews was born into the world, weighing 8lbs, 14oz. Serendipitously he chose to enter the world on the day of Ironman Australia which I had been competing in just a year ago. An ironbaby was born!
What an amazing whirlwind it’s been with my husband Owain and I embracing every new moment as parents. Today a flash of writing inspiration returned (coupled with a baby nap) which I thought I would capitalise on to reflect on the experience so far.
Thinking back to the birth four weeks ago I drew on the endurance and mental toughness developed during my ironman journey (people have asked me which was tougher and my answer is definitely labour…. haven’t felt anything quite like those contractions!).
The quote at the top of this blog was picked for me by my tri coach Nic Ward before Ironman and she sent it to me again prior to birth. Patience, persistence and perspiration all highly relevant! Today, I revisited my blog post Ironman – The F’s and P’s learnt becoming an ironwoman and can take many parallels from my transition into motherhood so far:
- Focus – I think focus definitely played a huge part in a smooth, controlled (for the majority!) natural birth. I drew on my focussed attention practice of mindfulness in labour, using breath as an anchor. My most intense contractions towards the end were lasting for six, slow steady breathes. By focusing my attention here I managed to breathe into the pain and accept it rather than trying to go around it. By the time of the fourth breath I knew the cycle was nearly over. This is a technique I will be trying when I return to more intense exercise!
- Feel – As any new parents will know lots of people offer advice and there is so much reading material out there. What we’ve found is that natural instinct kicks in and you adapt to your baby’s needs. Watching and listening intently for Ethan’s cues has enabled us to work out what he’s needing. We are taking the trial and error approach to parenting and learning on the job which is going well so far with a relaxed little dude.
- Form – Interrupted sleep has been the biggest challenge for us to adapt to having been religious with our eight hours of quality sleep a night. After a bad night I believe you have a choice on your form and how you choose to show up in your interactions. You can either play the victim and take a negative attitude or decide to be positive knowing this stage won’t last forever. Of course there is time for being sensible and succumbing to naps and rest when the body needs it too.
- Family – Starting our own family has just been wonderful and seeing the bond and love between Owain and Ethan truly incredible. Our immediate family has also further united through online exchanges before they travel here over the next few months from the UK. I also believe in the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and we have been humbled by our network of friends here who have all supported us. Ethan is very lucky to have so many aunties and uncles and he’s enjoying all the cuddles – discovered he’s a definite boob man!
- Patience and persistence – My ironman training mantra was ‘slow down to speed up’ and this is definitely transferable into parenthood especially with night time feeds. Our lovely midwife said something that has stuck strongly with me….not hurrying and persisting for an extra five minutes at the end of a feed can give you an extra hour of sleep before the next one. The same too for taking the time to wind properly. This isn’t always easy when you’re feeling like a zombie but I’m trying!
- Purpose and passion – I haven’t felt a greater sense of purpose in my life than when Ethan came into the world. This purpose of something bigger than myself kept me focussed during birth and makes each new moment in his development one of wonder. Discovering a new passion for just being with Ethan rather than have to always be doing something has been magical. People say babies are the biggest time wasters and I have to agree. I can just stare at Ethan in a time warp!
To finish I will share perhaps the greatest take away of them all from the last four weeks – Laughter. As my great friend the Fonginator says “if you’re not having fun you’re not doing it right” and I couldn’t agree more in relation to being a mum. Laughing through those sleep deprived moments definitely helps keep you sane. There have been lots of comedic moments. A few Ethan classics have included him managing to pee in his own mouth during a change (a story for his 21st!), his spirit fingers when sleeping and entertaining sleep noise repertoire including the puppy and the machine gun.
Now to the next moment, the milk monster is stirring, time for a feed!………
Having a mindful beach stroll on the Gold Coast last weekend I was looking up (something I now try to do more often) and was struck by the apartment block pictured above with the word ‘Focus’ at the top.
It was a powerful reminder to me of focus as a hidden driver of excellence which Daniel Goleman has popularised. Focus as defined in the Oxford Dictionary is ‘The centre of interest or activity’ or ‘An act of concentrating interest or activity on something.’ To me focus is about recognising and being in the present moment, concentrating on what you’re doing right now (like reading this).
It’s easy for us all to step into autopilot where we’re not recognising what we’re doing. How many times have you driven to a destination and not known the route you’ve taken to get there or walked through a city centre not noticing anything around you? I know I’m guilty of both multiple times over. One way to step out of this is to bring your attention to what your body is doing, getting out of the speed of the mind helping you into a state of ‘being’ versus ‘doing’.
According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the U.S. National Library of Medicine in the year 2000 our average attention span at work was 12 seconds. In 2013 it had reduced to 8 seconds (one second behind a goldfish at 9 seconds!). Being addicted to our mobile devices is part of this trend, how many of us easily get distracted when we hear a beep or a vibration from our phone? I now try and have periods in everyday where I disconnect from my phone to allow my attention to be focussed elsewhere. It’s amazing how productive you can be responding to messages/emails/social media updates when you focus you attention on responding in 15-20 minute periods after not constantly reacting to each individual update.
Lack of focus is a problem in the workplace with Executive Attention Deficit Disorder now a real issue for executives. For those interested in reading more about this follow this link to a great article by Jeremy Hunter and Mark Sokol: Focus is Power: Effectively Treating Executive Attention Deficit Disorder
Back to the Gold Coast, my husband Owain and I were there for the Triathlon Australia Annual Awards Dinner where he was a finalist in the age group coach of the year award (#proudwife).
Throughout the weekend we watched the third ITU Triathlon World Series race as well as exploring the beautiful beaches and seeing lots of surfers.
Focus for both disciplines of surfing and triathlon is essential for performance. If you’re not in the moment and are cruising along on auto pilot that is where you can come out of the zone and get out of flow. The female and male winner of the elite races Gwen Jorgensen and Jonny Brownlee showed absolute focus and determination during the race. You can see it being lived by Jonny as he led the run in this shot, he was in each moment.
At the Triathlon Australia gala celebration of champions dinner focus was a key theme in the award winners’ speeches. Ken Murley who last year was a three time world age group champion in the 70-74 age group said the key to his success in Canada was focus. He took first place in the Sprint, Olympic and Longcourse events and said his approach was focusing on each event at the time and then the next. Not trying to think about all at once which could have been overwhelming.
Nicole Hackett who was entered into the hall of fame shared how by focusing on her initially weaker bike leg she turned it into a strength. She also approached each new race with something different to focus on. One example was working the bike after turning a corner on the course.
Reflecting on my ironman triathlon just under a year ago focus was a key component which I wrote about in my blog ‘The F’s and P’s learnt of becoming an Ironwoman.’ As I prepare for childbirth in the next few weeks it will again be a crucial component of a different type of endurance event!
Some tips to help you on your focus journey:
- Set yourself a goal for an upcoming activity (a triathlon example could be focusing on your running or cycling cadence)
- Try a focussed attention training like mindfulness practice
- Be in each moment instead of worrying/fantasising about the next – a mantra I love is Dan Millman’s “Where are you? Here. What time is it? Now. What are you? This moment.”
- Manage your energy not time as a way not to get overwhelmed in this fast paced 21st century
- Incorporate some digital detox hours into your day
Some other recent LinkedIn posts you may enjoy:
Our thought are not facts: Matthew Johnstone on Resilience
Conscious Capitalism: “Talkin’ Bout our Purpose”
Applying a strengths based approach to coaching
Marketing needs a seat at the Boardroom table
7 Insights to Conscious Leadership from the Master Servants