Discovering and Utilising Your Strengths

strengths

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?

  1. Love of learning
  2. Zest, enthusiasm and energy
  3. Hope, optimism and future-mindedness
  4. Gratitude
  5. 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:

7 Reasons to Lead with Strengths.

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 key to work-life balance lies inside

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?

Ideas Pass it Forward

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. WheelofLife1 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.

Dani

Image citations:

http://ipated.org/trainthetrainer/how-to-have-a-good-work-life-balance/

http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_93.htm

Release your inner Zumba!

What is an activity that intrigues you but is way outside your comfort zone?

Zumba

For me one of these activities is dancing. Having not being born with the rhythm stick (thanks mum and dad!) I have always avoided going to dance classes or public dancing by day. Last year I attended a conference where they had a spontaneous dance break and being on the front row was like a bad nightmare. That being said I love to jump around to music with friends and after a few drinks. Who doesn’t love singing at the top of their lungs and releasing some endorphin’s through movement?

So on a break to Golden Door Health Spa last week I decided to fight my dancing demons and try Zumba which appeared on the schedule. For those who are not familiar with the Zumba craze it’s described as combining ‘Latin and International music with a fun and effective workout system’ (Zumba.com). I have a few dancing fans at work who often go to Zumba and Salsa, which I politely decline. This time however I thought a new year, new possibilities, what the heck! So I went along and the result……

I had a ball! Lots of laughing, no one taking themselves too seriously and an amazing full body workout. The music was a mix of old and new, instructor vibrant and fun, one of the best activities of the week! It is on my list of things to build into my life in 2015 from time to time. A Golden Door takeaway was it’s great to vary our activity form every so often to obtain benefits from different primal movement patterns.

The lesson for me here is being prepared to be vulnerable as the result can be extremely liberating. Brene Brown explores this in her highly viewed TED talk ‘The Power of Vulnerability’. Rather than worrying about what others are thinking of you (trust me most people are just concentrating on themselves) just go for it and have fun.

On the subject of having fun, another Golden Door take way was the power of laughter. I heard an anecdote there that adults on average laugh 12 times a day whilst young children can laugh up to 400 times! We need more laughter at home, at work and during everyday interactions. That’s why one of my new year goals is to laugh even more 🙂 As my great friend the Fonginator says “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right”.

For you releasing your inner Zumba may be having a go at tennis or golf thinking you have no coordination, learning a language, public speaking…..

By pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone we continue to grow and develop. I love the notion of disruption for progression and for me Zumba was an example of disrupting my exercise routine leading to more fun which I definitely see as progression.

On another note I’d like to thank those who filled in my 2014 blog survey, I read all the responses which were very humbling and encouraging. I have created a wordle (image below) of the words that came to mind for you when reflecting on my blog which I will print as writing inspiration.

Wordle
Create your own wordle for free at http://www.wordle.net/create

Having digested the responses my commitment to you is to post at least once a week/fortnight which were the most popular frequency responses. I will also cover your great blog topic suggestions in 2015:

*How to become less reactive to bad situations
*Life transitions
*Work life balance
*Social networks
*Woman power
*Motherhood vs career – one or both?
*Teachers/mentors/coaches/parents
*What we value vs. what others value – acceptance not judgement

It was a very useful process to obtain feedback and I highly recommend others to request feedback on things they’re working on. There is wonderful power in collective wisdom. Thanks again to those who took the time to provide feedback. Your unique strengths article will be with you by the end of the month.

To finish, in 2015 I will be starting virtual coaching and mentoring sessions. If of interest to generate insight and action please click here to see a list of topics available.

Happy New Year all! Zumba anyone?

Dani

Zumba image citation: http://www.theholbrookclub.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Zumba.jpg

Positive attitude is a choice, what do you choose?

Glass Half Full

Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty person? During a recent week in Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountain region of Australia I reflected on this topic after a conversation with a friend. I believe every day we have a choice on how we show up. That choice is not always easy based on our neurobiology but is so worthwhile.

If you are glass half empty person you are not alone. I recently learnt about the Default Mode Network (DMN) which I found very insightful. The DMN is a set of brain structures that represent our mental state of inattention; times when we are not exercising, interacting with the external environment, or having a conversation. An example would be when we first wake up in the morning. The most common culprits of this state of mental unrest are anxiety and depression (over past, present, or future events) or obsessionality (Neuroscience of Mindfulness).

Evolution has selected to keep the DMN as it is useful for reviewing important past events and improving future behaviour, however an increased connection to the DMN is synonymous with mental illness including major depression. In relation to positivity and negativity, an overactive DMN is highly correlated with negative mood states. So can anything be done to combat this? Yes, there is good news in that structural changes have been found in the DMN of long term meditation practitioners, reducing its activation and connectivity (Kieran Fox et al, 2014).

So we are born with our DMN and amygdala response; an instinct for survival which can lead to living by fear, hindering our ability to be positive and happy. However, there are lots of people who manage to flip this and choose to be positive. Let’s hear from a couple of people in my network who radiate positivity. When I’m in their presence their attitude is contagious and I always leave interactions feeling happy with a smile on my face.

Chris Thomas (Mum of three, triathlon coach, previous professional ironman):

“For me personally, I have experienced either directly or indirectly both attitude sides and have seen the knock on effect. Positive is the only choice. That doesn’t mean that sometimes things don’t get tough but when I am faced with these moments, I understand that the only way I know the situation can improve is with a positive attitude. On a daily basis, I love the outlook a positive attitude offers and I love to help others see and experience the feelings that come with having positivity around.

We can work on flipping and maintaining the attitude. When I was growing up I stuck positive quotes to the roof of my bedroom so I could read them at night and when I woke.  My favourite quote was: “They can because they think they can”  Virgil.”

Bel Fong (Great friend of many, fitness instructor and assessor, age group triathlete with the strapline “If you’re not having fun you’re not doing it right”)

“I have always had a glass is half full kind of approach to life. I definitely think it has a lot to do with the people you surround yourself with. I’m a huge believer in the law of attraction – you get back what you give out to the world. If you are a happy person, you will attract happy people and it becomes contagious. If you practice positivity, you will attract positive things. A bit like karma.

Don’t get me wrong; I never claim to be happy all the time and I most certainly don’t think I have the perfect life. But I do believe that you get out what you put in. I find when I am being negative about something, a lot of the time it is beyond my control and I have a choice to take it to heart or leave it and move onto something more worthy of my time. 

At the end of the day, there are two outlooks on life; negative and positive. In my personal opinion, how you choose to react to situations can be a direct reflection of who you are and how you live your life. If you’re a jealous or insecure person who is negative about everything, that is what you attract and ultimately who you become. That’s definitely not someone I want to be and I am always making a conscious effort to be more positive.

You have two choices in life; be sad or be happy. I simply choose to be happy.” 

So what does this mean practically for you? Here are some tips to help you cultivate an attitude of positivity:
  1. Start your day with a gratitude practice. Mentally or physically list three things you are grateful for. For me this immediately reverses any negative headspace I’m in.
  2. Surround yourself with positive people. There is a thing called emotional contagion, by being around positive people you will get a ripple effect as Bel eluded to.
  3. Start or develop a mindfulness practice. Get on the road to lowering your DMN’s connectivity. A couple of apps I’d recommend to get started: Headspace and Mindfulness Daily.
  4. Be kind to yourself. We can’t give from a place of depletion. Do whatever fills your energy bucket whether it be exercise, a massage, hot bath, time alone reading. This is crucial to ensure we are the best we can be for others. I am about to embrace this with a six day health retreat.

To finish I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from Viktor Frankl:

“Between the stimulus and the response lies a space. Within that space, lies our freedom.”

When you feel a surge of negative energy, stop breathe and say to yourself I have a choice how I respond in this moment. Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this subject.

Dani

Thanks to those who have already filled in my short blog questionnaire, would love further feedback before I conduct a blog review later this month, survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/danimatthewsblog 

Image Citation: http://www.thediligentadvisor.com/the-economy/the-economy-glass-half-empty-or-half-full/

Someone to love, meaningful work and something to look forward to

As we draw to the end of 2014 I reflect on these three things which a wonderful friend and colleague Mandy shared with me at our recent IECL offsite.

She said if someone to love, meaningful work (something to do) and something to look forward to are keys to a happy life she is blessed to have meaningful work which is often lacking from peoples’ list.

Happiness

Image Citation: http://www.behappy.me

I thought I’d have a brief look at each of these components.

Someone to love
Do you have someone in your life that you love more than yourself?

I’ve found having a loving, supportive life partner has been one of the most important things in empowering me to spread my wings and be the best I can be. I believe there is a match for everyone out there and 2015 could be your year if still searching for yours.

I have heard having kids is a huge perspective taking experience and many people have shared you suddenly have a being you care more about than anyone and just want the best for them. As my husband Owain and I prepare for the birth of a baby boy next May we really look forward to this next chapter.

Meaningful work

How does your work make a difference?

This Live in the Grey philosophy pictured below really captures meaningful work for me. I have a printed a canvas of this to display by my desk at IECL.

A powerful way I’ve discovered this year to find your meaning at work is connecting your personal purpose to your workplace’s purpose, vision of mission. I explored this in How do you want to spend your remaining heartbeats? Part 1. 

LITG-Manifesto

Something to look forward to

Do you have something in 2015 which makes you smile just thinking about it?

Growing up my sister Holly and I always wanted to have something in the diary to look forward to. When she turned 18 this became an annual sister holiday. I have carried this thought through life and always have something in the diary to look forward to.

I think this is the easiest of the three to take into your own hands quickly and make real. If you don’t have anything in the horizon what can you plan right now to look forward to?

On that note wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year ahead. I look forward to continuing to share insights to inspire action if right for you in 2015!

I would love to hear any feedback on my posts this year if you’ve been following here, Linked In or on the Huff Post. Here’s a short survey which I’d really appreciate you taking a few minutes to compete as a highly valued reader:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/danimatthewsblog

Survey respondents will be able to receive a special blog in the New Year on discovering your strengths to set 2015 up for success.

Love

Dani

Let’s unite and be thankful

1371_IECL_Sydney

As I write this commuting on the ferry into Sydney city this morning I feel a lump in my throat and eyes on the verge of tears as I think about the tragic events of the last 48 hours.

I had a blog post to publish this week and didn’t feel right to post it before acknowledging the Sydney siege which ended overnight in the tragic deaths of two hostages, a 34 year old man and 38 year old woman. As our Prime Minister, Mr Abbott has expressed, sincere thoughts and prayers with their friends and family.

It is sad to think the hostages who have all suffered a terrifying ordeal were going about their daily routine serving or consuming a morning drink as so many of us city commuters do.

The Lindt cafe is a regular for me with client meetings which brings this even closer to home. IECL where I work looks down Sydney’s iconic Martin Place (pictured above) and it was harrowing for us all to watch yesterday’s events unfold with a lock down area established and sirens as regular as the Martin Place clock chimes.

What was inspiring was to see the response of our NSW police force and cooperation of our city workers in establishing a secure zone for negotiations to take place.

During the repercussions of this event, I urge us all to support our Muslim community at this time where they too are victims. I have close Muslim friends who are some of the best people I know and it’s a time to all unite together. I’m humbled to see the #illridewithyou hash tag going viral today as a show of support for Muslim Australians.

We are stronger as one in this global fight against terror.

So what now? As my husband said to me this morning we have to be thankful for what we have and go about our day as normal. A colleague yesterday said he’s not prepared to live in fear which is what the terrorists yearn for.

I urge us to be thankful for every moment, say I love you to our loved ones, embrace a sense of community spirit and enjoy our beautiful Sydney summer.

Dani

 

Purposeful Collectivism – Unleash your Social Networks for Progression!

1371_IECL_Sydney

On a road trip to Canberra last year with my wonderful colleague John Raymond (JRay-pictured with me above), we coached each other searching for our ‘why’. For John it became clear it was around people ‘loving their working’ and I am delighted to share he has now set up his blog: loveyourworking.com

I would highly recommend following this, this man’s insights are some of the best I’ve ever heard! John will be sharing practical tips on easy ways to get more enjoyment from the job you’ve got. He just posted an entry on surviving your work offsite after we had a fantastic IECL offsite yesterday.

For me I discovered through John’s great questions that I love connecting people, not for the sake of it but for relevancy and progression. I love the feeling when I connect people and something amazing emerges. I’ve termed this ‘Purposeful Collectivism’ and here’s my first attempt of defining it and exploring its meaning.

Purposeful Collectivism

Key Principles:

  • Group goals over individual goals – power of the collective
  • Social versus human capital – social networks have value
  • Interdependence, reverse of individualism
  • Fosters collaboration over consumption
  • Focused on a higher purpose for the good of a community, society, nation or country
  • Access over control
  • Cohesion vs disintegration
  • Commitment to the betweeness
  • Evokes the emergence of insight
  • Ripples uncertain progression

My proudest example of Purposeful Collectivism to date is founding IECL NEXGEN, a network for young professionals across multiple industry sectors who take action to progress 21st century leadership in Australia. This is now being taken to new levels through my colleague Chloe Lees which makes me very proud. Other examples have included creating forums for people to discuss adaptive leadership, disruptive ideas, conscious business and the power of quiet.

Offsite

I challenge how you can be part of the Purposeful Collectivism movement. I’d love to create and start a forum to share ideas and generate actions to make a difference in your local community, organisation or even nation.

Below are some tips to help begin your journey!

  • Visualise your social networks.
    Unfortunately one of my favourite ways to do this, LinkedIn Inmaps is no longer available but there are other ways including NodeXL. For those who are not technically gifted you can also map your network on paper, go old school!
  • Think of an area of passion and then think who can I connect that share this?
    Host an initial discussion in a office room or local cafe.
  • Search hashtags on social media.
    Search a hashtag on a subject you’re passionate about and try getting key influencers on that subject together in a virtual conversation.

Stuck on finding your purpose? Try reflecting on these questions, then share the answers with someone in your network and ask them the same:

  1. Why do you get up in the morning? Try listing three things
  2. When you have these things in your life, what is the result for you and others?
  3. What does that mean for you?
  4. How important is that to you?

My next idea as I prepare for my first baby next year is around setting up an online group for current mums and new mums. This would focus on sharing experiences and providing mentoring support in a strengths based way. No competing over whose baby walks first!

Would love to hear how you go on your journey and any examples of Purposeful Collectivism that you’d be happy to share.

Dani

 

 

The First 12 Weeks: From Triathlons to Trimesters

Recently, my husband Owain and I were thrilled to announce that we’re having our first baby. The due date is May next year, almost a year to the day of my first ironman triathlon. A different type of endurance event! This new chapter in our lives has been a unique experience to date. A definite highlight being the 12-week scan where we could see our little 6 cm baby developing and enjoying lots of moving around (an athlete in the making?!) Now at 16 weeks baby is the size of an avocado, so my Babycenter app tells me, and is due to double in size in the next few weeks!

I have been reflecting on our first 12 weeks and would like to share some of the elements that I believe have made it thriving as opposed to surviving time (so far!) I have crafted these into the “Purposeful Pregnancy Pyramid” (diagram and reflections below). I think these are applicable to other life transitions too. This could be starting a new career, retiring from the workforce or having kids leave home.

2014-11-19-PPPyramid.png

Further discovering my purpose. I enjoyed a trip to New York and San Francisco during the first few months of my pregnancy to attend a couple of conferences and inspiring meetings. This reflective time away allowed me to further discover my purpose, which was a major theme of the conferences I attended. Questions I asked myself included; Why was I born? What is my unique offering? What is the most striking for me? And, how do I want to spend my limited heartbeats? I discovered my purpose in this moment is to share my learnings and insights with the world through writing and conversation to inspire others to action (if right for them). I think the first pregnancy life milestone is a great transitional period to reflect on your purpose. It’s useful to check in against this and see if you’re living this authentically. I’ve discovered that planning for maternity leave offers an opportunity to consider flexible working conditions to pursue dreams and ambitions.

Mindfulness in the moment. Coinciding with my pregnancy has been participating in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed MBSR, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” This has been instrumental to a smooth transition from active corporate athlete to a more relaxed pregnant mum to be. The first 12 weeks can be an anxious, uncertain time for many when you are waiting and hoping all is going well with your pregnancy. Mindfulness in the moment meant my husband and I could enjoy all the little moments along the way without worrying about the future. I’ve heard a calm mum equals a calm baby; let’s wait and see!

Self-compassion and compassion for others. One thing I have been conscious of during the first 12 weeks is being kind to me. Self-compassion, which I define as empathy into action, has included massages, relaxed weekend mornings, reflective time and regular mindfulness practice. This has enabled me to continue giving to others and maintain my energy balance. A quote I love via Sharon Salzberg from this year’s Wisdom 2.0 Business conference is “You can’t give from a place of depletion … self-compassion is not selfish.” This was my most retweeted tweet from the conference so it must have triggered something for many. In this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world where we’re trying to do more with less it is imperative we look after ourselves to maximize our wellbeing and that of others around us.

Stepping back. After competing in an Ironman triathlon in May this year I actively took a step back from my hectic schedule, planning to start a family. This took courage to break the social norms and routines that I had become accustomed to. One element of this was a personal choice to stop long group cycle rides which I had thoroughly enjoyed. I realized though that if having a family was highly important to us (which it is) I needed to make some lifestyle changes. I wrote about not having it all at once in a post, “You can have it all … in the longterm,” and I truly believe this periodized approach to life events and milestones is satisfying and rewarding. Rather than dwelling on the fact that I no longer have my vigorous ironman training schedule and associated high fitness levels, I take great pleasure in other things. These include: more time to connect with loved ones, smell the roses, focus on my career, develop a mindfulness practice and start new activities such as reformer Pilates.

Exercise to keep active. Having been very active pre-pregnancy my doctor shared it was great for me to stay active on a reduced training schedule. I have swapped intense running and cycling sessions for Pilates reformer and have been enjoying easy jogs/walks and swims as well as yoga. I think keeping active has helped me maintain my energy balance, having not experienced unusual tiredness so far. I’ve also been very fortunate to avoid the first trimester morning sickness and I empathize with others who have this. In addition to keeping active I believe balanced nutrition has been a key ingredient to thriving versus surviving in my first 12 weeks. Of course there have been the inevitable cravings: for me, salty French fries!

I hope these “purposeful pregnancy pyramid” insights may be of use to others thinking about starting a family or those who are already pregnant. For others, perhaps this was an interesting read with elements that can be applied to other life transitions. I would love to hear any comments from others experience.

A New Era of Leadership: The Mindful Revolution

Mindfulness is the foundation of exceptional leadership. I walked away (mindfully!) from Google’s ‘Search Inside Yourself’ program believing this, having connected previous experiences of leaders I call exceptional. Through mindfulness we can build a space of response versus reacting which is very effective for considered business decisions, essential in this VUCA world I described in my previous blog: Googles’ Search Inside Yourself Reflection

g9510.20_mindful.indd

So what does the science say?

Can mindfulness practice positively rewire our brains? Those who have studied the brain would know through neuro plasticity that what we pay attention to can change the structure of our brain. This was amplified with a well published London taxi driver study. It was found that London taxi drivers had a larger brain hippocampus due to a greater volume of nerve cells compared to the average person due to their knowledge of 25,000 roads: http://www.wired.com/2011/12/london-taxi-driver-memory/

Mindfulness practice has since been shown to increase the cortical thickness of the brain’s cerebral cortex. Researchers found parts of the brain involved in self-reflection and empathy were significantly thicker in the mindfulness meditators than in controls: http://www.mindfulness-matters.org/

What about when we’re triggered under pressure?
The pre frontal cortex is the thinking part of brain with the amygdala an alarm system to alert us of danger, our fight or flight reaction. With mindfulness training even the amygdala can be trained with less reactivity being seen in meditators. The following acronyms were shared to help us be more mindful reacting under pressure:

  • SBNRR – stop, breathe, notice, reflect, respond 
  • STOP – stop, take a breath, observe, proceed

Brain

We also explored how our predictive brain finds patterns seeking process and hence why we often determine reality based on the past. Instead of this we were asked when you next anticipate a situation (I.e. An interview), imagine and envisage the future that is positive. Think, what’s your best possible future? University of Wisconsin found the brain at positive is 31% more productive than the brain at negative, neutral or stressed.

The Limitations

As in a good, healthy debate, it is important to hear both sides of a story. Although there are numerous studies promoting the benefits of mindfulness (including these) it is too important to be aware of the research limitations. In terms of the quality of research in relation to mindfulness and business results, the program facilitators shared this is very varied. Mindfulness is exploding as a global trend with research still in its infancy.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) analysed the research and found mindfulness can reduce anxiety and depression. This is good news for Australia with recent Mentally healthy Workplace Alliance/PWC research showing stress and mental illness at work costs Australian Business $10.9 billion. JAMA however found little evidence suggesting meditation improves attention. There is scope here for future research which I believe will give greater backing to what intuition tells us.

Motivation, Empathy and Leadership

What do you care about and how are you aligning your life around that? What has heart and meaning for you? These were some of the questions explored on day two of the ‘Search Inside Yourself Program’. We assessed our values, knowing being clear on these makes it clear on what business opportunities we say no and yes to. Three components of motivation explored were alignment, envisaging and resilience. Purpose was shared as ‘connecting to something larger than self which has heart or meaning, that is more sustainable than passion’. Examples shared:

  • Tony Hsieh – a young entrepreneur who developed Zappo’s customer service as a culture built on happiness – Tony believed if employees would be happy, he would have happy customers which is proving great results
  • Dan Pink – talks about intrinsic motivators – autonomy (self-directed and self-generated), mastery (get really good and master it) and purpose (how do I make my unique difference in the world – we all have our unique medicine)

We talked about ‘flow’ described by Daniel Goleman as the ultimate motivator. The flow channel is the perfect balance of not being bored and anxiety, I can relate to this as an athlete when you’re in the zone and in business when you’ve thriving on a project, a similar feeling.

Flow

Linda Curtis described resilience involving the emotional experience of being with success and failure – befriending failure and learning to neutralise it. We were asked what we can learn from watching athletic failures and athletes bouncing forwards, the recent world cup as an example.

We explored empathy, how we relate to others, our ability to experience and understand what others feel whilst maintaining a clear discernment about our own and others’ perspectives. We heard, empathy is NOT – agreeing with people or psychologising. A takeaway here was, the more we’re mindful of our own experience the more we can be mindful for others.

We finished the program with a graduation exercise to verbalise in small groups ‘Who am I as a leader’ – it was a huge aha moment for a lot of the audience to consider themselves as leaders and very empowering.

It was a very powerful two days with some of the stand out concepts including radical generosity, making the unconscious conscious and an audience of important strangers giving a real sense of community!

To continue the Mindful Revolution in Australia, the Wake up Project is bringing the Mindful Global Leadership Forum to Sydney this September with a fantastic line up of speakers to help leaders and teams transform through mindfulness: http://mindfulleadershipforum.com/

Key Takeaways:

Compassion is empathy into action, I saw a great example in the Sydney morning herald last weekend which I think exemplifies this: It’s not about politics, simple love project helps sydney’s destitute asylum seekers
Listening to learn, exercises throughout the program involved a 2-3 minute talking stick in pairs where you listened mindfully. This a technique that can be used in business meetings to really hear our colleagues.
We have a choice about how we react, stopping to breathe creates pause with pause creating space – a participant reflection I loved is ‘I am not my amygdala’.
Pain and mindfulness, the pain is not due to the thing itself but your estimate of it – you have power to revoke at any moment, this was key for me during the second half of the ironman marathon.
Mindfulness is the foundation, mindfulness should be the foundation of all leadership programs, them compassion, then teamwork.
Exceptional leaders have strengths in emotional competencies across the board including self-confidence, adaptability, initiative, achievement drive, empathy, influence, team leadership, political awareness and developing others.

Standout Quotes:

Motivation
photo 2

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Victor Frankl

Success and Failure
photo 1

“Some of the worst things in my life never even happened”. Mark Twain

The Future – “
‘In a sense, we learn from the past what to predict for the future and then live the future we expect” Regina Pally

Useful tips to search inside yourself:

*Utilise mindful listening in areas of conflict in the workplace, give everyone 3 minutes (uninterrupted) to share what they think then invite a meta conversation
*Count the number of times you inject conversations in a day and then be mindful of this, giving people a chance to be heard
*Use your emotional triggers for practice – how can you practice when triggered in real time – walking through a busy city, waiting for the bus, speaking with a ‘difficult’ colleague?
* Remember to stop and breathe when you’re next triggered, we have a choice in how we respond.

References for further interest:
Book: ‘Delivering Happiness’ by Tony Hsieh
TED Talk: The Puzzle of Motivation by Dan Pink – http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation

Google’s ‘Search Inside Yourself’ Reflection

How much of our daily lives are we on auto pilot? When you next get to a destination question how much of journey do you remember? Are we sleep walking through life? These were some of the questions prompted at the Google developed ‘Search inside Yourself’ program ran for the first time in Australia last week. I felt this was a significant moment for corporate Australia with 350 people in attendance, a combination of corporates, consultants/coaches and others interested in personal development. Below is a blog 1 of 2 sharing a fantastic experience brought to our shores by Jono Fisher and the wonderful Wake up Project team.

SIY

What? A two day face to face mindfulness based emotional intelligence program developed by Chade-Meng Tan one of Google’s earliest employees in collaboration with Daniel Goleman who popularised emotional intelligence. It is the most popular course at Google with each newly released program filling up in 60/70 seconds! The definition of mindfulness we worked with was by Jon Kabat Zinn, the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.

Why? It’s a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and ‘the world is becoming turbulent faster than organisations are becoming resilient.’ Gary Hamel. There is a growing research base which shows mindfulness outcomes include performance, leadership and wellbeing. Big US organisations are embracing mindfulness and getting results including Google, Oracle, Twitter, Procter and Gamble, Apple and Yahoo. In Australia examples include Google, IBM and the AFL.  Intuition would tell us too that people sitting in meditation for thousands of years would suggest it works – people wouldn’t do it otherwise!

How? The two day program facilitated by Mark Coleman and Linda Curtis was very experiential and reflective including exercises exploring attention training, mindful listening and resilience. It was a great balance of mindfulness, emotional intelligence, leadership and science. At the heart of the program was Mindfulness Mediation, bringing attention to what’s present and then noticing when the mind wanders from breath (without judgement). One of my favourite analogies shared was thinking of the mind as a snow globe with mindfulness a way to allow space for it to settle and get clear leading to calmness, clarity and happiness. 

Snow Globe

Key takeaway moments/insights:

Mindfulness and Sport – we can learn a lot from the sporting arena watching athletes being in the zone, present versus checked out.
Mind body connection – The mind, body connection is extremely powerful, we can use our mind to be in tune with physiological responses (picture a live feed about our emotions, like CNN bulletins) 
Mindful walking 
– we had a 15 minute silent, mindful walking practice and a participant shared it was the first time she had ever noticed a rain drop on her lips!
Journaling – we spent time putting pen to paper to capture our thoughts. I am an avid note taker on my iPad and by the end of the conference I had reverted to pen and paper for its therapeutic properties.
Mindfully eating – How many times are we on autopilot not being aware of what we’re eating or where it came from? We were challenged to have at least three mindful bites of a meal building up to one whole meal. Those who are calorie conscious we heard the more mindfully we eat the less we eat!
Discipline Mindfulness takes practice and discipline – like training for an ironman you need to build the mindfulness muscle and commit to daily practice to see results.

Standout Quotes:

The Skill of Happiness – “By happiness I mean here a deep sense of flourishing that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind. This is not a mere pleasurable feeling, a fleeting emotion….” Matthieu Ricard .

The Mind – Whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind” Gautama Buddha

photo 4

Useful tips to start searching inside yourself:

*Utilise an app such as mindfulness daily (I’ve just downloaded this and it provided useful prompts to check in on our state throughout the day)
*Choose a simple activity to be present for e.g. Cleaning, cooking, washing the dishes
*Journal for 20 minutes when you wake up after a short mindfulness practice and see what comes out!
*Meditate standing up if prone to falling asleep or open your eyes and softly gaze a short distance ahead

One of my key takeaways was rather than being self-critical and judgemental in meditation the idea is to be kind and curious. It is a myth that we are able to get rid of all thoughts which makes sense when research suggests we can have anywhere from 12,000-60,000 a day. Mindfulness generates awareness of knowing and being in whatever is, not searching for a state of illusion where floating images aren’t helpful. Meditation and quiet is the ultimate truth, what we do in our lives shows up here, it reveals habits of mind which is useful to notice- do I live in the past? Am I a future planner?

Slowing down gives us a radical confrontation with life which we can hide by always being ‘too busy’. 

Stay tuned for blog 2 which will focus more on the science and mindfulness in the workplace, in the interim, I would love to hear any experiences from those who attended the program, practice mindfulness or are curious to start a practice!

photo 3

References:
Book: Search Inside Yourself – Chade-Meng Tan
HBR Article: The Quest for Resilience by Gary Hamelhttp://hbr.org/2003/09/the-quest-for-resilience/ar/1