Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Choosing a mindfulness app

I completed the eight week 'Mindfulness for Stress' programme in 2017 and have continued to meditate ever since. I started by using the audio guidance provided by our trainer, then discovered Insight Timer which has the largest library of free guided meditation on earth. This year I confess to missing days, even weeks with my meditating and started to worry that I was on slippery slope downhill. Then a number of things happened:-

  • I have a Withings smart watch which monitors steps, heart rate and sleep. It also provides programmes to help people live healthier lives. This gave me access to a 21 day 'Meditate with Petit BamBou' and I really enjoyed sticking to a daily programme.

  • Insight Timer, which is an amazing resource, has been steadily turning 'free' into 'monetising' and I get it if you want access to great teachers you need to pay.

I realised that to continue meditating I needed to stick to a programme and pay for access. I set about researching and it was an article written in the Independant that really helped me to make a decision.It was entitled 8 Best Mindfulness Apps.

The 8 apps were:-
  1. Calm @ £35.99 per year
  2. Headspace £74.99 per year
  3. Stop Breath Think £54.99 per year
  4. 10% Happier @ £ 55.99 per year
  5. Insight Timer £55.99 per year
  6. The Mindfuness App @ £54.99 per year
  7. Buddhify £4.99 to download
  8. Smiling Mind free to download
The Independent summarised their findings. 

The verdict: mindfulness apps

If you are looking for the right mindfulness app, it’s reassuring to know that there are plenty of great options out there. Calm was our favourite due to its variety – from the calming bedtime stories, to the easy-to-follow meditations. Headspace was a close runner-up and by the far the best app for beginners. We also loved the sceptical 10% Happier for its refreshing nature, while Stop, Breathe & Think really makes you “check in” with yourself. As most of the apps are free to download, make sure you try before you buy and find one that makes your daily routine easier, not harder. 

I downloaded Calm and I am now into the 4th day of my 7 day free trial and I love it!!! I do the Daily Calm each morning when I wake up and am also doing the 7 days of Calm and I really do like the calming voice of narrator Tamara Levitt, who comes over as a great teacher. I love the pictures, colours and water and bird sounds in the background.

I know its early days but already I understand why this app tops the mindfulness app sales ...... its great!!!

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

What makes you happy?

When we have to make a big decision in our lives, we tend to look at the impact on our careers, finances, kids education, safety, future prospects. I remember in 1986 when we made the decision to leave South Africa, it was tough as our life there at the time, was so good. I was in a top, very well paid job, with a fortune in share options that were due to come up in five years. We had built our own home on half an acre of land in between a golf course and a bird sanctuary (to be) and it was our own very special paradise.

We lived under the old apartheid government and as British passport holders we couldn't vote, but to be quite honest, provided you didn't think too deeply, life was very good. However, we really didn't have faith in the future, as we believed that the status quo had to change because it wasn't fair or in tune with the rest of the world. We believed that we would have to move and do it while I was still young enough to get a job in whatever country we decided to emigrate to.

Looking back we definitely valued our family above wealth creation. We always believed that I as a qualified accountant would always earn enough for us to live well, but that our future happiness was tied to our family life. We moved to the UK and 33 years later family life is still awesome and enriched through the addition of a wonderful daughter and son in law and four lovely young granddaughters.

My advice based on my personal experience is that when you make big decisions, basing them on logic alone is not good enough. Emotion will play a massive part in the success of your decision and you need to ensure that you and your family are happy as a result of your decision. 

Without happiness  ... what is the point!!!!

So what makes us happy? I think each person has their own keys to their happiness. Having gone through many tough events in my life, including the tragedy of my wife's sudden death through sepsis, I am very clear on what makes me happy. 

This is my 10 keys to a happy life:-
(Guided by book '10 Keys to Happier Living' by Vanessa King)

  1. Acceptance - I am comfortable with who I am, warts and all. After a lifetime of being a coach and trainer, I know what I'm good at and the areas that I struggle with and I am constantly looking for ways to improve. Mindfulness taught me how to be kind to myself as I learnt to develop the skill of self-compassion.
  2. Family - has to be top of my list and I envy cultures like the Italians where family of all ages is a way of life. Nothing gives me more pleasure than spending quality time with any member of my family. I shudder when I hear of parents who have not had any contact with a son or daughter for years. I love my family and I know they love me and I would never want to sacrifice that for anything! I include my lovely dog Thandi as part of my family and she makes me feel happy every day of our lives together.
  3. Friends - I have a lot of LinkedIn contacts and Facebook friends but having a small circle of nice, fun, kind but challenging friends is a joy. Also to have one special friend to love and spend time with is a constant source of happiness.
  4. Keep moving- I walk Thandi every day, play pickle ball twice a week and indoor bowls once a week. Plus I am planning to start dancing again this year. Whatever I do is fun, helps me to maintain my mobility and health as I get older and certainly puts a big smile on my face.
  5. Learning - I am very curious and I love learning and I hope I never stop discovering new things. This is linked to my love of gadgets and photography where I know I'm learning new things all the time.
  6. Having fun - sitting down and becoming a couch potato is a very occasional 'treat' normally when the weather is rough. Eating out, travel, walking, cinema, theatre and so much more all available to make life a lot of fun.
  7. Helping others - there is nothing more fulfilling than helping someone to solve a problem, learn a new skill, gain confidence and build self belief. As a qualified accountant I gave it up to become a coach and a trainer as this was a job that fitted most with who I am. I am passionate about helping others to release their personal magic!!!!
  8. Mindful living - I apply mindfulness on a daily basis, most days I meditate at the start of my day. I work hard to live in the moment and appreciate the wonderful world around me. As a result I am a lot calmer and chilled, I sleep better and that all feeds into my energy and happiness.
  9. Direction - I think all my life I have been a bit of a futurist, needing a big picture with a clear direction. Having something big to aim for without getting bogged down by the detail. Yes I set goals and I sort of monitor progress, but I'm too spontaneous to become a slave to an action plan. 
  10. Resilience  - being able to bounce back from set backs and to always look for the positives has helped me to get through the bad times and find happiness again. 

Thursday, 24 May 2018

The Engaging Facilitator

What is facilitation?
Facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed on objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership, and productivity from all involved.

What are the skills of a facilitator?

The core skills:-
  • Trust building
  • Thoughtful questioning
  • Empathetic listening
  • Constructive feedback
Specific skills:-
  • Clarity of explanation
  • Keeping control
  • Managing time
  • Decision making
  • Problem solving
  • Getting to action
What are the tasks of a facilitator?
  • Planning an event
  • Agreeing objectives
  • Creating a climate of success
  • Managing the process
  • Maintaining direction
  • Monitoring progress
  • Dealing with fears
  • Managing conflict
  • Developing action plans
  • Summarising and reviewing outcomes
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Managing the wider organisation
What are the tools of the facilitator?
  • Brainstorming
  • Icebreakers and energisers
  • OARRs Outcomes, Agenda, Roles and Rules
  • Posters
  • Lists
  • Clusters
  • Grids
  • Diagrams
  • Drawings
  • Mandalas 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Applying S.A.R.A.H. to my grief

To develop a better understanding of how I have dealt with the grief I have been going through over the last 9 months since my wife died, I have used the S.A.R.A.H. grief cycle model.

  • Shock - it was a terrible shock to lose my darling Jan to sepsis brought on by the cancer that had only been detected 6 weeks earlier. She had become poorly over the weekend and at my insistence I managed to get her back into the Royal Surrey Hospital. I left her at 2:00 am and she was tired but OK and she said she would let me know which ward they moved her to. The next morning they summoned me back to the hospital to inform me that she wouldn’t live through the day, she was in a bad state and didn’t even recognise me. We gave the go ahead for palliative care and after injections she calmed down and then slowly passed away. I was at her bedside together with my daughter and son when she quietly left the world and we were devastated!
  • Anger - I went through a period of being angry that no one had warned me about sepsis, and why had this happened to the love of my life. I was angry with myself for not being able to save her, all completely irrational but at this stage I was driven by emotion.
  • Resistance - it was so difficult to get my head round the reality of my situation. It had been so sudden, so hard to comprehend and I kept sensing her presence all around me, half expecting her, in my muddled state, to suddenly appear.
  • Acceptance - finally after lots of loving support and help from my GP I was able to apply self compassion to myself and accept there was nothing I could have done to save her. She was just too sick to have survived sepsis and for her a sudden death was the best outcome rather enduring months of fruitless devastating chemo treatment.
  • Healing, Hope and Happiness - doing an 8 week mindfulness course was a real life saver, as it helped me to heal. Great friendships, loving family, exercise and photography and travel all gave we hope for a new life in which I was happy again. Here the Action for Happiness programme helped me to apply a structured approach to my healing, hope and happiness.
I am in a good place now, I still have sad moments and days, but my happy days far exceed the bad ones. They say time is a great healer and while I don’t disagree I feel that you need to get help and take a proactive approach to restore your happiness. 

I know speaking to others who have experienced loss of some sort and it could be the breakdown of your marriage. As simple as this model is, you cannot move forward until you have reached ACCEPTANCE! Once you have got past that stumbling point, with the right support you can transform your life, reinvent / reformulate and come out stronger. Psychologists identify what they call PTG, or Post Traumatic Growth and when it happens it brings about positive transformation in people lives.

NOTE: Vanessa King’s superb book 10 Keys to Happier Living is a must buy to help you with your recovery!

Monday, 6 November 2017

Tricky Confrontational Conversations

How do you deal with these tricky confrontational conversations? Especially as invariably the people we are talking about are important to your business or your life. These conversations are especially tough when you are the sort of person who struggles to deal with conflict.

However, there is a situation that you are concerned about and you know that you have to do something to resolve the issue. Most likely this is playing heavily on your mind and it could even be interfering with your sleep as you play multiple ways of dealing with the issue and they all end badly. 

So lets just look at a few ideas to help you. The first video (a punt for business but ....) provides a simple definition of conflict and the idea that people need to state right up front what they require from others.  

This next video is an interview with an entrepreneur and his advice is:-

  • Don't take things personally
  • Look at the issue through the 'lens' of for the greater good of the organisation
  • Don't let things linger, sort out your differences sooner rather than later
  • Don't presuppose what they other person is thinking, just ask and clarify things together

This video presents a process that you can use to resolve your conflict.

When you are in a conflict situation, in the heat of the moment it can sometimes be difficult to remember what to do. There are a number of acronyms that may help you to remember.  (Source; JamBerry)

The first is:

Confront the behaviour

Understand each other's position

Define the problem

Search for a solution

Confront the behaviour

Concentrate on the behaviour not the person. Ask then to modify their behaviour so that you can talk about the issue.
I feel uncomfortable when you say xxx. Please can we discuss this calmly so that we can get to the problem.
Understand each other's position

Take the time to understand the other's position. Is it a real issue, or is it based on misunderstanding? Have you got all of the information, or only part of the story? Respect their position and ask them to respect yours.
Please tell me slowly what you think the issue is. Please then listen to my reply.
Define the problem

Get into the detail, but try not to react by becoming defensive, sulking, aggressive or other negative behaviour. Repeat back to the other party, your understanding of their side of the story. Stay in adult.
I understand that you feel ..., and that you have an issue with ..., and that the reason behind this is ... Is this correct?
My position is ...
Search for a solution

This involves cooperation. Search for a win-win solution wherever possible. The best solution is one where each party feels that they have gained at least part of their point if not all.
I suggest that I will agree to ... if you are happy to give me ... This way we both gain something positive.

Get an agreement - even if it is an agreement to differ.Make sure any agreement is stated clearly and unambiguously. If necessary, write it down.
In these (...) circumstances, I agree to ... and you agree to ... If things substantially change then we will review this agreement.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Learning to dance in the rain

Its now just over six months since Jan, the love of my life, suddenly passed away as a result of sepsis, brought on by inoperable, incurable cancer. Truly the worst event in my life and I'm writing this blog as a cathartic exercise and as an attempt to make sense of and share my experience.

What I have learnt during this confusing, sad and muddled time, when in the depth of your grief you have to deal with the funeral, death certificate, will and probate. You still have to cook, clean, wash, iron and garden, when all you really want to do is curl up in a corner. Yet 'having to do things' somehow prevents you from slipping into abbess. You soon  learn that you don't get through, get over, move on from grief, you just learn to endure/live with it. Jan will be with me for the rest of my days and quite honesty I don't want to ban her from my life!

Thanks to the actions below, I am in quite a good place having more happy days than sad ones as I develop the next stage of my life. However I have found grief comes at you in waves and so often when you least expect it. On Saturday I was happily driving to a friends daughters wedding and Engelbert Humperdinck came on singing The last Waltz and I was back in my youth dancing the endless waltz with Jan. There I was driving along the A3 with tears streaming down my cheeks. I continued on my journey and had a wonderful time at the wedding, but the lovely speeches, so filled with emotion just drew more tears from me, but it all ended well. Which is not always the case as my cousin who lost the love of her life, summed it up for me, that some days you just need to give yourself permission to be utterly miserable.

Using that wonderful organisation Action for Happiness  (click on link to download 28 page booklet explaining the model) - ten keys for happier living to summarise everything that we have done over the last six months:-

  • Giving - I created Grandma's Kindness Challenge for my granddaughters (but it was a project for the whole family) as a summer happiness project to, as a team, raise £400 for charity. I gave each of them £25 as seed money that they could use to create something they could sell for their charity - Cancer Research. These four girls have just blown me away with their enthusiasm and the entrepreneurial spirit this has unleashed. They have picked blackberries and turned them into jam, have cooked South African style fudge and baked donuts which sold out while still warm. Two of the girls went through their treasured toys in the loft to identify cast offs that they then sold at a car boot sale raising £76.62. In addition I gave them notebooks to record acts of kindness they do and I will pay them £5 for every 10 acts and the books are filling up fast. Four awesome girls and I love them to bits! 
  • Relating - Your support comes from your family and close friends and what you need to understand is they too have experienced loss. You need to receive and give support to one another. Having my daughter and her family 10 minutes away and my son and his family 30 minutes away has been a massive life saver for me. They are so loving, kind but also challenging and Jan lives on through them as they would not allow me to wallow in self pity! I have found over this time that good relationships have gone on to become even better. I'm about to embark on the North Coast 500 with three very dear friends and I know that we will be laughing almost non-stop for the entire journey through the highlands of Scotland and that is before we go whisky tasting! I have used Skype and WhatsApp to stay connected with my distant family and friends and in addition I am growing new friendships through the new activities that I am now doing.  
  • Exercising - I walk Thandi my lovely German Shepherd every day and also use a static exercise bike to strengthen my legs. I have almost completed the 99 miles of the South Downs walking with my son and son in law. Next we will go on to walk the Sussex border path, plus I have recently joined a lovely warm group of Ramblers so plenty of 6 to 10 mile walks coming up.
  • Awareness - doing an 8 week 'Mindfulness for Stress' course was one of the best things I did shortly after Jan's passing and at a time when I was struggling to find meaning and deal with my disrupted sleep pattern. Mindfulness gave me a wonderful new way of life that pretty much saved me and during the course we were going into spring which I saw in the present moment, through new eyes, appreciating the beauty of the English countryside. I now try to live my life in a mindful way, meditating every day, appreciating all the good things around me and I feel much calmer with a real sense of well-being.
  • Trying Out - I also did, at the same time, a 10 week course on improving my D-SLR photography and loved learning new and different things. Through Meet Up I have joined various photographic groups which give me the opportunity of going on photographic field trips and learning from others. I recently bought three online training courses from Udemy to learn post production techniques using Affinity Photo. Trying out new things and learning just makes life more interesting and a lot more fun.

  • Direction - Initially I went through a period of feeling that I was like an ocean going yacht that had lost its rudder and mast. My son told me he understood, but reminded me that I was still floating. Then over the months I started to rekindle my sense of direction and now have lots of events and goals that I am looking forward to and it feels good!
  • Resilience - I think the most important message is that you have a choice, do you 'feed' your miserable self-pity or do you invest in joy, peace, love and hope. Thanks to the plasticity of the brain, creating new positive approaches and activities effectively re-programmes your brain, but you have got to make that choice.
  • Emotions - A friend told me that once you lose someone special you go through a year of firsts. As in first wedding anniversary without Jan, so right from the start we made it very clear that we were going to create new happy neural pathways that reminded us of the lovely Jan and we are sticking to our plan.
  • Acceptance - possibly one of the most important keys for me was to stop being so hard on myself and to learn to be kind and supportive to myself. Irrational I know, but soon after Jan's passing I kept thinking that I could have detected the sepsis and saved her. Even when my doctor explained that Jan was too sick  to have survived, my self flagellation continued. I'm ok now, I know I did everything possible and I have accepted that it was out of my control. 
  • Meaning - when you open your mind and heart to life, I have found good things come your way. Out of the blue a good ex-NestlĂ© friend who has set up a learning super highway that operates in 110 countries and in 12 languages has asked me to develop learning modules on developing Inspiring Leaders and High Performing Teams. A wonderful challenge to be a part of! Then an ex Purina buddy has given me an opportunity to run a year long Inspiring Leader Programme for a small business in Cornwall. I have always wanted to create an affordable programme for small to medium sized businesses that just don't have the resources of the big guys. I know that something good will come out of these two, very different, projects and that gives me real meaning in my life!
I now know that 'life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain' and that's what we are doing as a family!!! 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Mindfulness for Stress

I feel sad this morning that my eight week 'Mindfulness for Stress' course has come to an end, but immensely happy that I had the good sense to enrol on this course. 

Sarah our trainer was such a kind and sweet person, a passionate mindfulness example and an ideal guide to a better way of living our lives. I had a real need for help with my stress, Jan the love of my life had unexpectedly passed away on Valentine's day and at the start of the course in May I was struggling to get a good nights sleep as my mind was tormented by the worst event in my life. I was struggling to come to terms with the fact that I would have to learn to live my life without my best friend.

Eight weeks later I am sleeping much better and regularly getting up to 6 hours (good for me) and even when I wake up early I get back to sleep quickly. I feel my mind is no longer tormented and I have a sense of calm that helps me to balance my emotion with rational thinking. I have learnt to accept that Jan has passed, embracing my sadness rather than trying to solve it. I still have tearful moments and good and bad days, but the good days are more plentiful and growing.

Thinking about the eight weeks I feel I have learnt the following.
  1. How to meditate - something I had never done in my life, but which I found very helpful as it provided me with a simple tool that I could use to relax and calm me when I feel stressed. I have an overactive mind and thought I would never be able to 'empty' it in order to meditate. So I was delighted to learn that thoughts are 'allowed' and there to be enjoyed and played with. I also found that focusing on my body and breathing through the guided meditations stopped my thinking from completely hijacking my meditation sessions.
  2. Learning correct breathing - I understood as a trainer the power of breathing, but this course helped me to understanding the science and how to integrate breathing into my mindfulness lifestyle. 
  3. What we resist persists - I soon realised that pushing away, suppressing, numbing out and reaching for distractions was not working and learnt to adopt a mindful 'attend and befriend' approach, specifically to embrace the loss of my Jan.
  4. Taking in the good - here my positive approach to life has helped me to fight the human negativity bias and celebrate all the good and amazing things in my life. In particular my loving family and friends who have been truly amazing and helped me to develop new happy neural pathways. I think the most important message is that you have a choice, do you 'feed' your miserable self-pity or do you invest in joy, peace, love and hope.
  5. Mindfulness walking - I walk in the countryside every day of my life, the joy of owning a wonderful German Shepherd. This gave me the opportunity to apply mindfulness as I walked, taking in all the wonderful things that I had stopped seeing. Spring in the UK is a marvellous time of the year with all the colours, leaves and flowers all bursting out with their goodness. I learned to recognise when I was doing things on autopilot and break out of its grip.
  6. Self-Compassion - possibly one of the most important keys for me was to stop being so hard on myself and to learn to be kind and supportive. Irrational I know, but soon after Jan's passing I kept thinking that I could have detected the sepsis and saved her. Even when my doctor explained that Jan was too sick  to have survived, my self flagellation continued. I'm ok now, I know I did everything possible and that it was out of my control. 
  7. Compassionate communications - learning to listen and speak in a mindful way, listening deeply to what is being shared rather than an interpretation of it.
  8. Gratitude - we did this one exercise where we texted a buddy the three things we were grateful for each day for a week. When you look back on this list you soon realise that life is still good and that we all have a lot to be thankful for!!! 
  9. Mindful photography - by chance more than design I have been taking a 10 week 'Improve your D-SLR photography' course at the same time. The two courses have proved to be a wonderful combination and helped me to enjoy the present moment and see beauty in ordinary things.

I know I have a long way to go if I want to live a mindfulness life, but I feel that I have made a good start. In the weeks going forward I need to turn these good intentions into good habits and in everything I do to continue to be kind to myself.

The one thing I do know is that mindfulness has helped me at a very difficult time in my life and given me great hope for the future. 


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