Thursday, 13 June 2019

Mindfulness for Stress

At a time in my life when I was struggling with dealing with grief, sleeping badly and beating myself up for ridiculous reasons, I decided to attend an eight week (MBSR influenced) ‘Mindfulness for Stress’ programme and it was a life saver.

Thinking about the eight weeks I believe I 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 felt 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 wife.
  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 my wife’s passing, I kept thinking that I could have detected the sepsis and saved her. Even when my doctor explained that she 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 had been taking a 10 week 'Improve your D-SLR photography' course at the same time. The two courses 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.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Happiness Drivers

I continue to look at ways of simplifying the path to happiness in my coaching practice. What makes us happy is very much an individual thing, but I have found that there tends to be five key headlines that come up time and again.

  • Inspiring sense of purpose - having something to work towards that you find, exciting, inspiring - something that fills you with passion. Having a reason to get up in the morning which can be as simple as organising a wonderful gathering of good friends for a weekend away.
  • Meaningful relationships - here we are not talking about the 100's of Facebook 'friends'. What works is having a loving family, caring friends, a loving partner and colleagues that you enjoy working with. Having key people in your life that you can trust. Also very important is the relationship you have with yourself in which you are able to practice self-compassion.
  • Health and wellness - although this tends to be dictated to by the genes we are born with. However there is substantial scientific evidence that through regular exercise, eating and drinking sensibly, managing our stress levels and just having fun and enjoying life, all count towards improving your health and wellness.
  • Approach to life - having an upbeat approach to life does make such a difference. Being able to bounce back from hard times, always looking for the positives in every situation. Taking a mindfulness approach to living, willingness to learn new things and to do things for others - they all help you to feel happy.
  • Feeling of security - they say money can't buy you happiness, but lack of it can lead to misery. Feeling financially and personally safe and secure in your life, having the support of others and the confidence to deal with life's challenges are definitely big contributors to happiness.
The challenge I believe is to balance the five happiness drivers and by doing this you will find and be able to maintain happiness. 


My Calm app recently dealt with 'ubuntu' in the 'daily calm' meditation. 

What is ubuntu?

According to Michael Onyebuchi Eze, the core of ubuntu can best be summarised as follows:

'A person is a person through other people' strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative inter-subjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance."

I found that explanation a bit complicated, so looked for another explanation. When former president of the United States, Barack Obama, made a speech  at the 2018 Nelson Mandela annual lecture — he said that Mandela “understood the ties that bind the human spirit.” 

“There is a word in South Africa — Ubuntu — that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us,” Obama said. 

“Umntu Ngumntu Ngabantu” or “I am, because you are” is how we describe the meaning of Ubuntu. It speaks to the fact that we are all connected and that one can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others.

Ubuntu has since been used as a reminder for society on how we should be treating others. 

For me it was best described by the Calm narrator, Tamara Levitt, who told the story of a group of African children who were invited to race towards a tree, with the winner being given sweets. What they did was join hands and run together as one, because to win was for them all to win.

This made me think back to a recent holiday to the Scottish Highland Railways, where in the coach trip to the railway station our guide (from Glasgow) explained the difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh people. He said if you turn up unexpectedly to a Glasgow home, they immediately invite you in and offer you drinks and food, however he said Edinburgh people will assume that the unexpected guest has already 'had their tea'. 

I realise when I work with teams, that a lot of what I do is to (unintentionally) draw on the ubuntu philosophy to get team members to respect and to care for one another. Working effectively together as a whole team, making use of the individual skills of team members in a complimentary way, can achieve amazing things!!!

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Developing Engaging Facilitation Skills

This programme has been designed to give internal facilitators the required skills and confidence to be able to deliver highly effective workshops.

Objectives of this programme: Participants will learn the following:-

  • The basics of good training and facilitation
  • How to use the nurturing coaching methodology effectively
  • The techniques of accelerated learning and how to apply them to learning challenges
  • How to power up energy and maximise personal impact
  • How to use graphic facilitation techniques to enhance the learning experience

Preparation: All participants will complete the following:-

  • My Facebook personal introduction
  • 360 degree feedback survey for a Engaging Facilitator
  • Prepare 3 icebreakers / energisers

·         The room layout will be just chairs set up in a half circle
·         A flip charts stand in each corner of the room
·         Plenty of flipchart paper and good colour markers

Overview of training:
·         Day 1 – Learn the basics of good training and facilitating
·         Day 2 – Practice delivering training
·         Day 3 – Raise the bar! How to become an amazing trainer!

NOTE: Participants will be asked to run energisers and icebreakers throughout the three days at the beginning of sessions.

The detailed storyboard of how we will do this:-
Learn the basics of good training and facilitating
Setting the scene:
Workshop leader to introduce himself and explain the workshop covering objectives and how it will be run.

Set out the rules for the day and cover off the admin side.

Explain how to get the most from the next three days, including how to take notes and that they will become great facilitators by continuing to Reflect & Learn and hand out the A6 notebooks and get them going right away.

Personal introductions:
Each participant will have 5 minutes to introduce themselves on their tables using the ‘My Facebook’ that they prepared as part of the pre-work.

Then get them, on each table, to pick a coaching buddy and let them go off in pairs to have coffee together.

Nurturing Coaching – 1
This session will start with a 30 minute theory session on Coaching and an explanation on how the group will practice.
This is a buddy coaching session
Each person will be given their buddy’s 360 report 
They will be given time to prepare the coaching session following the guidance from the theory session 
Then they coach one another by feeding back the results of the survey and using GROW in the process

Nurturing Coaching – 2
Complete the practice sessions and run a summary session to capture the learning.

The basics of training & facilitating
Check out the know-how of the group – Break into groups and brainstorm all the aspects of your training ability.

The basics of good training & facilitating
This session will cover all aspects of training and facilitating, from the start, during the session and after.
If possible it would be good to include Video Arts ‘You’ll Soon Get the Hang of It’ as part of this session.

Preparation for day 2
The group will be broken into pairs or threes (ideally not in coaching pairs) and they will be handed their assignments for the next day. It will be explained that the whole of the next day will be run by the participants to give them real experience of training and facilitating.

Practice delivering training

Learning review
Carry out a review to ensure that participants have understood what was covered on the previous day.

Advice on how to prepare
This will be a recap of the basics of good training and facilitating, but in the context of their assignments.

Preparation for delivery
They will have 90 minutes to prepare their learning session, which will include getting the material, room layout, props, timings etc …the whole story.

Optimise your personal IMPACT – Explain that they will be judged by what they do in the 1st minute of their contact with their participants. Explain how messages are communicated through words, tonality and body language and which parts impact the most.

Give them 5 minutes to prepare a 1 minute introduction to their training session, and then get each person to present for ONLY 1 MINUTE.

Have a short wrap up at the end to summarise the key messages.

Practice session 1
Each practice session will follow the following structure:-

·         Provide a short overview of how the session will be run
·         Run the session
·         Get feedback from the participants
·         Capture the learning.

Practice session 2
Practice session 3
Practice session 4
Practice session 5

Day 3
Raise the bar! How to become an amazing facilitator!
Learning review
How your brain works
This session will explain in layman’s term how the brain works building on the recent research that has come out of the study of the human brain.

This covers how to use the senses in order to maximise the learning experience.

Graphic Facilitation
This session builds on the previous two sessions and provides a means of applying the learning. Graphic facilitation covers giant mind maps, learning maps, pictures to seed ideas, and turning a simple flipchart into learning art.

100 day learning
This session explains the post workshop action learning that will take place, together with the remote coaching and how that will be delivered.

If possible it will also include a session on how to use the Release the Magic Virtual Learning Environment which if used will provide the community meeting point for the participants.

Action planning
This is possibly the most important part of the workshop – the detailed action planning.

Each participant will take 20 minute to complete their action planner, then the remaining hour will be devoted to buddy coaching sessions in which they will challenge their buddy’s plans and make sure there is a very high commitment for whatever they finally agree to do.

Final wrap up session.


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