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
I was reminded of the great Jon Kabat-Zinn quote “You Only Have Moments to Live” at a IECL Mindfulness for Leaders breakfast last week. This is the title of the very first chapter in his book, ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ which is on my maternity leave reading list after being highly recommended. What resonates with me from this quote is that we live life as a series of moments and being present and awake in as many of them as possible helps to live a life well lived.
I’ve just returned from a fantastic Girls weekend away which involved lots of in the moment laughing, walking, dancing and human connectivity. I had a walk along the beach outside our apartment this morning and found a spot at the edge by some rocks. I stood there feet grounded to the earth feeling the wind and ocean spray on my body, a real moment of feeling alive. I got back this afternoon and a canvas quote on our wall has never seemed so potent.
“Happiness is not a destination. It’s a way of life. Love what you have. THINK BIG. DREAM BIG. Live life, laugh lots, love forever. SMILE. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Love what you do. Do what you love.”
My aunty Julie recently started the Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) that I went through last year. I asked her if I could share this ancedote which really captured being in the moment for me. She said last week when she was going on a walk she became memorised for about 5 minutes with a bee collecting pollen from a beautiful flower. She said having been on that walk many times before she had never even noticed the f***ing tree before! It was an Ab Fab style wonderful ‘aha’ moment of clarity! She then went on to share how she has since been noticing the sounds of the birds more and other elements of natural wonder. This is a process I went through myself and it is wonderful to she her going through the same and reconnecting with nature, stepping out of autopilot which we can all easily fall into.
Are you making the most of your moments by not constantly rehashing the past or rehearsing the future?
I know personally at one time I used to spend a lot of the time in the past, analysing things or worrying about them. Letting this go and being in each moment is a much more liberating, content way to be. Thoughts of course trickle in every now and then of perhaps a past regret but once you realise it’s just a thought and not a reality you can choose to not react to it and get into a spiral of negativity. I’ve also had the other extreme of being too focused on the future. When I was training for an Ironman early last year my head was constantly in my next session and I seemed to be always in a rush to get to places. Slowing down has enabled me to be more present with those I’m with and enjoy each moment more rather than always jumping to the next. Through mindfulness practice and learning how to manage ourselves we can then make the most of more moments in time and be present for others making them more enjoyable for all.
Would love to hear any of your own reflections.
When I shared with members of my network that I was going to an Anne Summers event last week the UK crowd laughed thinking of the adult store chain in the UK ‘Ann Summers’ who run fun ladies parties. In fact it was Dr Anne Summers in conversation with Lieutenant General David Morrison who decided to drop the titles and be David and Anne for the evening. What emerged was a captivating and compelling conversation exploring some real issues in the build up to International Women’s Day next week. David is the current Chief of Army (due to finish in May) and a Male Champion of Change. He was brought into the public spotlight following the way he responded to the “Jedi Council Scandal” involving women who were the victims of bad behaviour in the Australian army. This involved serious offences to unwilling female victims including the unknown filming of consensual sex which was then shared on the Defence network. This infuriated David who had been brought up by parents to behave ethically and believe in good not bad. He consequently wanted to manage the scandal in a way that was different to similar issues before that would be a real catalyst for change. To do this a public address was in order, against the advice of many. David remembers being fearful of the response of the Army. A dear colleague settled him when he said “Sir we can’t let the action of these men define who we are, what’s gotta define us is how we respond.” A video launched in June 2013 addressing the issue to his troops unforseenly made him a You Tube sensation. This has since been viewed over 1.5 million times. You can clearly see David overwhelmed with rage and concern. He described his emotions as “white hot anger, rage, passion and honesty”. To note, before he acted publically through a media conference David spoke to all women involved who wanted to speak to him and offered them support they required. A pivotal point leading to his heartfelt response was a series of one on one conversations with victims set up by Sex Discriminator Commissioner Liz Broderick who David said made a life changing impression on him. One conversation was with a young female victim and her mother. The mother eyeballed him and said I trusted you with my daughter and look what you did. David took this responsibility seriously as Chief of Army and it called into question the institution had been a part of his whole life. In the space of a day his whole world turned upside down. David had no understanding of the impact his voice would have. A year later he was on stage with Angelina Jolie at a global summit talking about rape and ending violence. To help put an end to such sexual violence in the Army David has acted on these beliefs:
- People need to hear from those women affected in a private and personal way which imprinted on his psyche.
- Bystanders need to take a stance (I.e. Those who received the emails and did nothing about it)
- Every perpetrator needs to be held to account – they’ve terminated in excess of 200 people in the army
- Men need to be involved in gender issues, it’s not a feminist issue but a societal issue
- Leaders need to become aware of the system and fully aware of their responsibility
Ways for other corporations to get involved:
- Support White Ribbon – the army are their largest accredited workforce
- Be an ethics based organisation and invest in some training
- Live your values, the four pillars of Army are courage, team work, initiative and respect
So what’s next for this courageous man who’s given the Australian army a voice nationally and internationally? He shared “This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life …. it’s what I want to do with the rest of my life…. I will never lose the passion for embracing true diversity in Australia and elsewhere ….this is the future of the planet!” He believes change has to happen now and will be sharing his story around the world. David dreams of an army that revels in diversity where there is one day a female Chief of Army. Wow, a man who is truly making a difference! Would love to hear any of your thoughts. Anne’s next conversation will be with Adam Goodes on 7th April, one not to be missed! Tickets are available through this link: http://www.cityrecitalhall.com/events/id/1795/Anne-Summers-in-Conversation-with-Adam-Goodes/
Take care, until next time…
Further reading: Anne’s print interview with David in Anne Summers Reports (There will be a video made available of the conversations evening) Image citations: http://www.womensagenda.com.au/
Much has been written and spoken about the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ movie released here in Australia on the 13th February. From the accounts I’ve heard this has mainly been negative feedback. For instance Lisa Wilkinson from the Today Show said “It’s more appalling than appealing”… “It’s domestic violence dressed up as erotica… if there’s one thing this movie is not, it’s erotic”… and a very strong statement that this is the “Worst movie I’ve ever seen”.
Mia Freedman shared another opinion on the movie: “It’s FICTION. Fiction is not a community service announcement. Fiction is not a government program. There are bad people in life. There are bad people in fiction. Is it not being taught in schools. It is a MOVIE. IT is a BOOK”. I have to agree with Mia, I can think of so many thriller movies I’ve watched which have shown really bad situations which have never received the outrage that Fifty shades has. For instance the recent movie ‘Taken 3’.
I think we need to take a step back and see the movie for what it is, a fictional novel which has raised the imagination of primarily women all over the globe. For the men out there, don’t feel left out there is a spoof series including ‘Fifty Sheds of Grey’ by L.O.L James 🙂
I went with a group of ten girlfriends on Friday evening to see for ourselves. After hearing about all the negativity it had received I must admit we did have pretty low expectations. I mean people have even been asking for refunds after the movie!
So what was the verdict…we were all pleasantly surprised and found it quite funny in places, easy to watch and with a bit of a thrill from the provocative scenes. It certainly inspired the single ladies with their year of the man (#YOTM) quest! My thought is that it’s perfect for a girls night out.
Taking a glass half full approach the movie has caused an occasion for ladies everywhere to get together, husbands/partners to be curious and the subject of sex which can be taboo to be spoken about more easily. I spoke to my mum this week who’s going to see it with my husband’s mum in the UK. It’s bringing people together. For me the best part was the occasion of getting together-enjoying dumplings beforehand, having a shared movie experience and heading for a drink afterwards. I thank Fifty Shades for that.
Some of my thoughts in response to the Fifty Shades Outrage:
- Letting go of the need to find the bad in things and looking for the positives
- Thinking what is something I can get out of this situation?
- Wondering how can we respond mindfully and not react?
- Being in the moment and not over analysing things
- Embracing the power of connection
As a final note, if you don’t take the movie too seriously I think people would enjoy it more. I’m sure it was never set out to be an Oscar contender 🙂 For all the critics out there, the producers will still smiling with estimates of it taking in $100million over the full three-day Valentine’s Day weekend. A toast to the ladies who enjoyed their Galentines Day.
Much has been written about fear of failure and I found it refreshing to come across an article in this issue’s Collective magazine flipping this on it’s head and exploring a fear of success.
For those who have not heard of the Renegade’s Collective I would highly recommend picking up an issue. I describe it as the ‘vanity fair of business’ for game changers, thought leaders, rule breakers and style makers. Its founder and Editor-In-Chief Lisa Messenger is certainly an inspiring entrepreneur who recently released a book Daring and Disruptive. My mentor bought me this for Christmas and it really leaves you with a can do attitude!
On the blog subject of fear of success, I don’t know about you but when everything is aligning and going really I have had thoughts of this can’t last… when will something go wrong? Rather than thinking like this now I believe in enjoying all these great moments and thinking the best with everything. Why not? We only live once and can have it all in the long term.
I find when one area of your life is going really well it can have a positive knock on effect to other areas, embrace it! You deserve all the success.
It’s been great to spend this weekend with one of my great UK friends Dave in Sydney who’s enroute to New Zealand. He has been very successful in his career as a copywriter to date and is now experimenting with starting a business, writing a blog and doing some freelance work along the way. He has embraced getting head hunted and is going from strength to strength not fearing his growing success. Does this come easier to men than women?
The Collective article touches how fear of success can especially affect women with many suffering from an underinflated ego. It compares the cliche of not finding love until you feel you’re worthy to the same with our professional careers. Helene Lerner, author of In Her Power: Reclaiming Your Authentic Self says “Women do not think big enough.” “We are all tremendously talented. Imagine what could happen if we really had a big enough vision for ourselves…..Being visible and letting people know the real you can feel awkward….But we must not shy away from the uneasiness, because it means we are growing.” Let’s think bigger girls and flip this.
So am I saying we all need to grow our egos? No not at all, I think a degree of modesty is very positive and humbling. The thing is as the article explores extreme modesty can stop us reaching our potential. Procrastination being a symptom of this.
A live example? Writer Amy Molloy highlights how Dustin Hoffman has been writing all along his career but hasn’t taken writing credits. This included films Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie and Rain Man. So why? in an interview last year he shared “I would say there was an element of self-sabotage in me soon after I learned how to walk, which has never really left me.” He now reflects on this as stupid.
A couple of quotes I wanted to share from the article that helps further explore this topic:
“Each of us has an innermost thermostat setting that determines how much love, success and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy.” Gay Hendricks
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure….We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?….Your playing small does not serve the world…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same” Marianne Williamson
Are you holding yourself back without realising it? If the answer’s yes, well done, becoming self aware of this is the first step to overcome it. Tips to then help combat this:
*Flip your mindset and think what’s the best thing that can happen versus the worst?
*Surround yourself with successful can do people
*Do that thing you’ve been putting off in relation to your career
*Iterate don’t perfect, a great piece of advice I always remember
*Just do it! Our slogan for 2015 at IECL is be, bold, be brave, do it!
I’ll finish as Amy did in her Collective article, change your inner sabotage into a cheerleader.
Good luck with it! Would love to hear any thoughts on this topic.
Image citation: http://jaytheanalyst.com/4-ways-to-get-over-your-fear-of-success-and-start-living-a-successful-life-right-now/
Sitting having a coffee with my husband Owain on Friday morning before an appointment in the city we were struck by the city zombies revolving around us. It’s not often I take myself out of the morning office commute to sit back and observe the system in operation.
In front of us was a long line of city workers walking through the train station and heading up the escalators. We could not spot a smile between people, eye contact or any indication of human connection. As people queued for their morning coffee there was minimal chatter and a lot of glaring at phones. A scene that has become all too common in modern day life.
Don’t get me wrong I fall into these habits when I’m on autopilot and not focusing my attention. It is so easy to do, getting from place a to b without any memory of the journey or who was around you. What I am learning however through mindfulness is to look up, connect with people and know where I am in each moment.
This morning in the supermarket for example I decided to look up and smile and connect with other shoppers and the store workers rather than keep my head down and simply go through the motions. A much more enjoyable experience, I’m sure for the check out workers too. Remember, in every moment we have a choice on how we respond and show up.
I spent about an hour mindfully shopping and loved it. Rather than seeing groceries as a chore it is now a time I really enjoy. A time out for myself to just be there and not to rush around. I shared with a friend recently how lots of things previously perceived as a chore can become like this…. emptying the dishwasher, washing clothes, taking out the rubbish. Good timing for me with my impending maternity leave and the house wife duties that await! Something to think about, what task could you approach with a new mindful attitude?
Humans we know are wired to connect, yet we can act like we’re repelling this, for instance in the corporate zombie situation described. What does this look like when we’re trying to work as a team, for instance in sport or the workplace?
I read an interesting article recently by Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein which discusses a concept called ‘Factor C’, a term describing Collective IQ. They has come out of the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
The article explores Factor C and team performance looking at the star studded 2010 Miami Heat Basketball team. Below is an extract of the main finding, link to full article here.
“Perhaps the most striking conclusion is that the Factor C measure predicted team performance better than conventional measures of intelligence did. (Compare the 2010 Dallas Mavericks, consisting of team players, to the star-studded 2010 Miami Heat.) Average IQ and highest IQ were not correlated with team performance nearly as highly as Factor C. More technically, IQ measures were correlated in the +.10 to +.20 range; Factor C was correlated at the high level of +.50 (+1.00 is the highest possible correlation).”
I have been aware of a similar idea for a couple of years through some thought leadership at IECL called Connected Leadership. We were exploring what a CQ measure could look like as a next tier to IQ, EQ and SQ. It’s great to see MIT progressing in this area and I look forward to watching this space.
So if Factor C can substantially elevate team performance, how can we draw on this idea by connecting with others more in everyday life? We are more as a sum of IQ’s than as individuals. A quote I love is ‘A team of A players does not equal an A team’.
Here are my quick tips to connect more in daily interactions and unleash the C Factor :
Hope everyone’s having or have had a great weekend. I’ll soon be starting a new section on my site called ‘Dani’s List’ where I recommend and review events. I get asked frequently to share events I’m attending and make suggestions so thought it would be great to share this in a central space. Look forward to connecting again soon!
When you have felt your best how did you know? Often you will find you have been playing to your strengths. Are you aware of these so you can leverage them more often?
- Love of learning
- Zest, enthusiasm and energy
- Hope, optimism and future-mindedness
- Curiosity and interest in the world
When these came up as my top five strengths in the VIA Survey of Character strengths I completed recently as part of a career coaching session I was intrigued. Although I knew I loved learning I did not ever think of this as a character strength, simply something I enjoyed.
If you read my last updated CV my strengths listed include drive and ambition, strong relationship skills, adaptability, passion and responsiveness. None of the strengths listed above which I would definitely now integrate.
So what is a strength in this context? I like this simple definition by the Oxford Dictionary ‘A good or beneficial quality or attribute of a person or thing’. In this lens I can definitely see how gratitude is a key strength I can leverage. For me when I practice gratitude daily I feel thankful, present and find myself a better listener and am more empathetic.
So after completing the VIA Survey for Character Strengths (you can take the survey too for free here) which measures 24 character strengths I became interested in exploring more….
Very timely a friend started working at Gallup who are known as the world leaders in finding peoples strengths through their Clifton StrengthsFinder. More than 11 million people worldwide have now been through the StrengthsFinder. You used to be only able to get the access code in Gallup books such as Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Now you can buy the access code online making it more accessible and I hear China is a fast developing market as they become eager to discover and capitalise on their strengths in the Asian Century.
When I went through the Clifton StrengthsFinder my top five strengths were identified as:
- Maximizer: People who are especially talented in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
- Strategic: People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
- Activator: People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
- Ideation: People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
- Command: People who are especially talented in the Command theme have presence. They can take control of a situation and make decisions.
Interestingly there is only a 1 in 34 million chance that someone has the same top 5 strengths in your order. This makes the approach very unique, different to personality profiling tools where you’re often grouped into a box.
When I looked deeper into my Gallup report containing 34 themes I saw synergies with the VIA Character Strengths results, for instance learner appears as #6 which is obviously significant for me. I discovered my strengths predominantly fit into the ‘Influencing’ and ‘Strategic Thinking’ Domains. The other two domains are ‘Executing’ and ‘Relationship Building’. An insight was a good partnership for me would be with a relator. I had to laugh as my husband Owain did the StrengthsFinder too and this was his number 1 strength-they say opposites attract!
For workplace teams it is useful to have a spread across all the domains. Gallup’s work with Executive Teams shows individuals are often strong in the ‘Executing’ domain based on their route to the top through technical expertise. It’s good to have relationship building peers to foster others and delegate. If you’re interested in reading more in the area of strengths and leadership here’s a link to a Gallup article:
Some top takeaways from a debrief with a Gallup consultant:
- ‘Command’ is the lowest ranked top strength globally and ‘Achiever’ is the top ranked.
- An overused strength can become a pitfall, be mindful of this
- Your talents can be quite raw at the beginning and mature with age
- There are gender differences in top strengths with women falling more into the ‘Relationship Building’ and men into the ‘Strategic Thinking’ Domain
- Strengths change throughout different life periods, although it is common for your top ten to stay pretty solid
- Your bottom ranked strengths are not a weakness, they are just not dominant for you
So what does this mean practically? In the workplace my leader now knows that love of learning is a key strength and great area of importance for me. This is a strength for him too which helps him appreciate it. He knows that taking time to attend events, conferences and read is a great motivator for me to get the most out of me in the workplace.
In terms of curiosity and ideation it is important for me to be able to ask questions and have quiet time to think of ideas and then have forums to bounce them off others. I have been supported to have access to a coach which is a wonderful way to create space for ideation and then a mentor to bounce ideas off with someone.
My activator strength means I need to have authority to implement thoughts into action. This is possible in an SME like IECL where we have an empowered culture. I don’t think I’d suit an environment where there was lots of red tape and bureaucracy and I couldn’t see the result of my thoughts. Discovering my strengths has helped me understand this.
So what does this mean for you? Are you aware of your strengths? If so are you able to capitalise and integrate them into your life every day? What would this mean for you and others around you if you could? A world of possibility!
The old adage of work-life balance has been discussed plentifully for years yet still proves to be topical and of interest to people. We all strive to achieve it but do we know what success with this looks like?
I prefer the term work-life integration as believe a state can be achieved where they are integrated seamlessly. Where you do business with your friends, you don’t have the TGIF syndrome and are living one whole complete, authentic life.
So where to start? I find a useful starting point is filling in some form of a wheel of life. I filled in one of these when I first started working with a mentor in 2013 and found it a very powerful exercise. One insight that I had was a yearning for more art and culture in my life having had a big passion for this when I was younger. An action resulting from this was instigating a monthly cultural outing with my friend and colleague John where we pick something for each other on alternate months. This is still going and is a great outlay for that yearning which was hidden deep inside.
I would highly recommend this wheel of life activity and there is a version on mindtools.com where you can create your own wheel headings as we are all unique. Here is an example from the site below. This is a very person orientated one whereas mine included headings such as cultural activities, triathlon, career, financial situation and spiritual activities such as yoga. I’ve found it best to rank where you’re currently at and where you’d like to be. Once you’ve completed your wheel, a couple of tips:
- Pick one or two areas to focus on where there are the biggest gaps in current ranking and aspired ranking.
- What is a Specific Measurable Attractive Realistic and Time Lined (SMART) action you can take here?
I had a coaching session with a friend last weekend on this subject and she had a powerful ‘aha’ moment. By focusing internally on her inner contentment and happiness she can have a knock on effect on all the areas of her wheel of life. To start this process she will be doing a meditation for 10-20 minutes, 4-5 times a week. She shared that she saw a circle of inner contentment and happiness around all of the other wheel spokes. I thought this makes sense, once we are kind to ourselves, non judging and thankful for what we have time with our partners, friends, family, colleagues etc will be more present and quality.
For those who would like some tips on work-life balance in a traditional sense:
- Just leave the desk on time, your to do list will still be there tomorrow 🙂
- Start your day with a meditation practice – my new favourite app is Andrew Johnson Relax Plus – think a soothing Sean Connery style Scottish voice!
- Find a best friend at work – this is a question in the Gallup Q12 engagement survey and has been proven to increase engagement at work
- Utilise support that exists in your workplace such as coaching and mentoring
- Value your relationships, strong social networks have been proven to enhance our wellbeing
As a finishing note I wondered how you are all getting on with any New Year intentions set? One for me was to cook with more fresh ingredients and superfoods after a trip to Golden Door Health Retreat. It has been a fun week trialing some recipes passed on by my friends Bel and Myza. It has entailed a kitchen blender explosion and discovery that the husband is not a chia seed or almond milk fan! There have been some successes with healthy wraps for lunch and more fish in the diet. What I’ve learnt however is the stages of change are not easy, especially in a system broader than yourself that contains others and commitments. You may have the best intention to go to the gym every morning then something comes up with the kids that prevents this. My advice is to not be too hard on yourself and create extra stress from resenting the fact you haven’t religiously stuck to your intention. We’re all trying our best and need to keep adaptable to life’s constant change and enjoy ourselves. Even small changes can make a difference in the long run. Until next time.