Monday, 22 March 2021

Mindfulness - the wonderful Calm app

 After my wife died I attended a eight week course on ‘mindfulness for stress’ and it was life changing. I had long wanted to learn mindfulness, but always put it on the back burner as a nice to have. However, I desperately needed help, it was no longer a nice to have, so I did it. 

I learnt how to meditate, use breathing techniques, self compassion, accept my sad situation, but learnt to be grateful for all the good things I still had in my life. I soon felt that I had more control over my life, that I could deal with my emotions better and then hope and my passion for living started to come back. 

After the training, initially I used the audio recordings from the course to continue my practice and then experimented with various apps. The app I kept coming back to was Calm, which I liked a lot.

The Independent summarised it as follows:-

Open the Calm app and you’ll immediately be greeted with the gentle sound of the outdoors. It varies from person to person, but we loved this touch and found it helped us on the path to relaxation (you can change it to rolling waves, pouring rain, crackling firewood or crickets). 

We loved Calm when we tested it previously, particularly its guided Daily Calm sessions, which helped us unwind and refocus our attention. But the app has bolstered its already-great offering this year, with the addition of a new daily meditation series called the Daily Trip. Narrated by Canadian author and meditation teacher Jeff Warren, the Daily Trip offers a more adventurous – and enjoyable – practice. We found we learned more in these daily sessions than any of the others we tested. 

If you fancy something a little different, you can also pick from exclusive music tracks engineered to help you focus, relax or sleep, including remixes from stars Sam Smith and Ellie Goulding. There are also several new celebrity-narrated “sleep stories”, with calming tales from the likes of former One Direction star Harry Styles, and actors Idris Elba, Cillian Murphy and Chik√© Okonkwo. We got a childish pleasure out of these and found they helped us unwind in the evenings, bringing back the nostalgia of being read a bedtime story. 

The latest version of the app includes a new gratitude check-in feature, which we used to remind ourselves of the things we’re grateful for each day. With plenty of content and at just £28.99 for a subscription that lasts the whole year (there’s no monthly offer but that equates to just under £2.50 a month), we also think this app is great value.

My partner and I regularly use the sleep stories and they work, dare I say it, like a dream! We reckon we are getting at least 2 to 3 hours more sleep each night which makes a difference to our health and energy levels. We take in the daily calm and daily trip, love Tamara and Jeff. 

The following video is a little demo of what to expect from the Calm app.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

In Search of Happiness

I've long believed that happiness is the most important driver of my health and wellness. I've witnessed this in myself, my family and friends and with the many teams I have worked with in my career as a coach. Happy teams and happy people perform way better than unhappy teams, so its worth investing in developing happiness.

I think happiness is something worth striving for but first lets differentiate happiness from pleasure. 

The Seven Key Differences

  1. Pleasure is short-lived; happiness is long-lived.
  2. Pleasure is visceral; happiness is ethereal.
  3. Pleasure is taking; happiness is giving.
  4. Pleasure can be achieved with substances; happiness cannot be achieved with substances.
  5. Pleasure is experienced alone; happiness is experienced in social groups.
  6. The extremes of pleasure all lead to addiction, whether they be substances or behaviors. Yet there’s no such thing as being addicted to too much happiness.
  7. Finally and most importantly, pleasure is tied to dopamine (the pleasure biochemical/neurotransmitter), and happiness is tied to serotonin (the happiness biochemical/neurotransmitter).

-- Dr. Robert Lustig

Thinking long and hard as to what makes me feel happy, I have concluded that the following don't just give me short lived pleasure, rather they give me long term happiness.

  • Practice Mindfulness - I got into mindfulness when my wife died, at a time of great sadness this was a lifeline. Learning self compassion, relaxation/ stress relief techniques, resilience and learning to live my life in the moment. Learning to be grateful for all the good things I still had in my life was a building block to finding happiness again. You can't just learn mindfulness, you have to live it, which means practice - practice - practice!
  • Keep Fit and Healthy - Keeping moving through walking and other sports has kept me healthy, maintained my energy levels and it releases a lot of happy hormones into my body. Eating sensibly but enjoy a variety of recipies using good tasty ingredients. 
  • Create Supportive Relationships- relationships are such an important part of happiness and need to be invested in, perhaps giving more than you receive, but not questioning the inbalance. For me a priceless gift is having a special love partner, and a group of family and non-family who will care for me, love me, who will challenge me and be there for me when I most need their support. People who will give, not just take and who I will willingly provide whatever support they may need ... unconditionally. A special mention must be made for having a pet, my lovely German Shepherd Dog Thandi and the unconditional love she gives me has contributed massively to my happiness.
  • Enjoy Life - being able to, regardless of my circumstance, laugh, enjoy food and drink, travel, go to cinema and theatre. Enjoy tv and stay connected with the world. I remember when we lived in Cape Town, with two kids and not a lot of meney coming in via my job as an unqualified articled clerk. Somehow we always found a little money for a date night wine and food treat or once a month (or longer) head to the Harbour Cafe for a grilled crayfish (a lot more affordable then).
  • Make a Difference - maybe randon acts of kindness, helping others with their problems. Helping people to develop and grow into better people. This is such a powerful force that makes everyone involved feel much happier. As a coach and trainer I have been blessed with being given a chance to help others reach their full potential.
  • Develop a Growth Mindset - I think the Mindset is a wonderful way to appropach all of life. Grow your life by developing a sense of purpose, embrace your imperfections, building on failure, but always believe no matter what challenges are put in your path, that you can bouce back and learn. 
This is my model for happiness, because when I have good friends in my life, when I’m active and fit, when I meditate each day minimising my stress level, when I look at problems and just see opportunities to grow, and when I enjoy my life to the full and in what I do I look to add value to the lives of others. When that is all in place I feel very fulfilled and very happy.

I'm sure these six drivers, perhaps with a few modifications, apply to just about everyone. What I am going to set out to do is find Apps and Tips that could help people find their happiness, because we could all do with a little bit of help from time to time.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Learning to live in isolation

We managed to have a wonderful three weeks in South Africa, almost oblivious to what was happening back home in the UK. Then the president of South Africa announced that they were going to follow the same steps as Europe in order to stop the spread of Coronvirus, just after we managed to fly back home. 

On arrival at Heathrow we were met by our taxi driver who explained how the world had changed during our three week absence. The M&S shop at Heathrow had been decimated by shoppers but fortunately our children had managed to get us enough milk, eggs and bread to get going.

Driving from Heathrow to my home in Godalming was a very strange experience with so few cars on the M25 and A3. My daughters had volunteered to help the elderly and vulnerable in our area and that included me. When she delivered my dog Thandi who had been boarding with her during my holiday, I couldn’t hug her as she was social distancing, it broke my heart. She made sure I knew that as I was classified as ‘elderly’ that I would have to remain at home and that she would do my shopping and keep me alive. Suddenly my carefree holiday bubble had been popped and I knew I was back in the real but very different world.

Then the government announced much stricter rules and isolated the whole country and what was strange became even stranger. After muddling through the first week living in our two homes, my partner and I decided that I (and Thandi of course) would move to her home. She lives slightly out of town on a small holding, so plenty of room for dog walking, exercising and gardening.

Now we are learning to survive and have fun in isolation. Will it be three weeks or three months? We think that it will be more like June before we will be able to introduce some of the changes back to our old life. However we will continue to be wary of exposing ourselves to risk, until we are vaccinated or test positive for having had the virus. 

So far we are having a lot of fun:-
  • We have lots of FaceTime conversations with our family near and far, in fact we are far more connected than we have ever been. It’s almost as if we are all living in a big virtual house and we can have a face to face chat whenever we want to.
  • When you want to chat to a friend you know that they will be at home and they will be very keen to have a conversation with someone outside the home
  • We started following Joe Wicks on YouTube which was very good but my daughter felt Davina’s 30 free course would better suit our needs. So we are on to day 2 of the intermediate programme, but we think we will start on the beginners tomorrow, mainly for me as I am a novice to many of the Pilates inspired exercises. I ache in places I never knew existed, so 30 days of hell may well do me a lot of good. I do miss my three days a week of Pickleball and can’t wait for that to restart!
  • Finally with a pressing need (Davina) to be able to stream video from an iPhone to a Samsung tv I solved the problem this morning by downloading the same app onto tv and iPhone. Investment £4.99 and happiness all round.         
  • Every day we have a good long walk in the countryside and where we are we see very few people which makes isolating very easy
  • Most evening when we have our sundowner, we have a video link up with someone and so we can say cheers and have a chat
  • We are aware that at times like this eating food is just so easy, so we are making sure we cook ourselves decent meals using lots of veggies which we have been able to get from the local farm shop 
  • We have not so far found the time to overdose on tv, but as we have Sky Q, Netflix and Amazon Prime we are spoiled for choice
  • I planned to upgrade my ageing iPad this year and thanks to John Lewis click and collect I now have my 2020 iPad Pro and love it!!!!
  • Thanks to Amazon I now have a low cost Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, so have set up my office which I‘m using to type my blog. It works very well and will certainly be good enough until the new Apple Magic Keyboard comes out in May. Although that’s an awful price so my current set up might be good enough.
  • We have a theatre date to see Louise Dearman in May and a cruise on the River Douro booked for June. The companies concerned have already indicated that these are likely to be cancelled, so we now look to take advantage of some of the online offering that are becoming available.
  • We had good and bad news from Wimbledon. The championship has been cancelled but we will receive a full refund, plus keep our ballot allocation of day 3 centre court which we felt was very fair.
It’s early days I know with the next two weeks said to become devastating with the number of deaths. Against the enormity of this, the inconvenience of isolation is perhaps a small price to pay. We dread anything happening to our children, grandchildren and friends and don’t allow ourselves to be dragged into despondency. It’s a case of BBC news once a day and avoid other news flashes from dubious sources as fake news is all around us.

So we are totally committed to keeping safe, protecting the NHS and saving lives.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Team Learning Modules

Back in the day
At one stage in the not too distant past, it was possible to get people released for three to four days, even a week of training. It was also possible to get a team away for two days to plan how they could become a better team! However the epidemic of 'busyness' continues to infect every part of our work and life. Even to the extent that my June fathers day treat, a meal with my daughter and son can only take place when all of our diaries are aligned in October!

Our Learning and Development Challenge
As trainers and coaches we need to develop solutions that make full use of the tools of this digital age and we need to motivate and enable learners to shoehorn their learning into their already overloaded diaries. At Release the Magic, through our work with teams (as part of our High Performing Teams programme), we have been evolving a training methodology that we call Team Learning Modules.

But first - does traditional training work?
Traditional training typically has a preparation stage in which joining instructions are sent out with attached pre-reading material / tasks and sometimes a survey is completed. Then in the delivery stage the workshop is run covering all the key learning points and finishing with each person preparing an action list on how they were going to implement what they had learnt. Next the follow up stage when line managers and local HR/L&D teams follow up to ensure that the actions have been implemented. 

The truth is that generally this traditional methodology didn't/doesn't really work and the conversion of theory to changed behaviour and new actions was mostly south of 20%. Add to that our observations of eLearning highlighted that it only seemed to work when it was integrated into traditional training as part of a blended learning solution. So for example in learning presentation skills participants could learn the theory via eLearning and use the classroom for delivery/participation. We also noted that eLearning worked where we installed Learning Champions who could guide learners to targeted resources.

An alternative approach

This is how Team Learning Modules (TLM) works:-

  1. Identify the specific learning need and the outcomes required (be specific) and by when.
  2. Identify the participants and the compelling reason they need to complete the TLM.
  3. Form them into learning groups of six people, initially in a virtual learning space. Note: there is a higher level of participation in smaller groups, plus it is possible in this configuration to break into pairs and triads to optimise peer to peer support.
  4. Each learning group to be supported by a coach, who is there to teach, coach and curate supportive learning material into the virtual learning space. Note: each coach will coach multiple sets
  5. Use the virtual space to handle the preparation phase, introductions, objectives and theory transfer. Watch  Flipping the Classroom
  6. Getting people to physically connect should never be underestimated and running a workshop becomes a very valuable way of applying the theory they have learnt and bonding the group together. Note: the workshop provides the opportunity for multiple sets and their coaches to get together in a highly focused way.
  7. The follow up then takes place through the virtual learning space under the guidance and support from the coach.

The benefits
  • Learning is more work / business focused and the outcomes easier to manage and achieve.
  • A much higher conversion of theory to real life actions (80%+)
  • Smaller groups ensure that everyone participates as there is little opportunity to 'hide'.
  • The digital quick, simple and engaging approach is more in tune with a modern connected workforce.
The challenges
  • Its more complicated to organise, compared to herding people into a conference room and bombarding them with PowerPoint decks!
  • Getting overworked time poor people motivated and committed to allocate time to participate in the training.
  • Getting the right technology in place and training people in the use of this technology
A new role of Learning Facilitator
This new role has three sub-roles: -
  • Trainer - able to teach new skills to participants in workshops and online
  • Coach - able to coach new skills into real life either one to one or working with pairs and triads.
  • Curator (Champion) - able to identify and/or create compelling learning material posted into the virtual learning space to reinforce / support the learning process
Virtual Learning Space - example : Workplace by Facebook
  • Communicate, collaborate and connect across desktop and mobile, using familiar features such as groups, chat and video calls. Because anything is possible when people work together.
  • Instant messaging feature lets you chat one-to-one or in groups, reaching anyone in your organisation with text, pictures, voice and video.
  • Make HD video calls at the touch of a button from Workplace Chat. Connect and screen-share with up to 50 people wherever they are in the world.
  • Groups are spaces for sharing updates, files, feedback and more. They're like email threads, but better organised and easier to follow.
  • Like your Facebook News Feed, but about work. View updates from people and projects that you care about in a scrolling stream of posts.
Image result for workplace by facebook


We have proved that the concept of Team Learning Modules works extremely well through the following examples from our High Performing Team Programme:-

  • How to inspire and influence others
  • How to be a nurturing coach
  • How to be an engaging facilitator
  • How to be a smart manager
  • How to give tough feedback
  • How to manage people
  • How to manage conflict
  • How to develop a leadership vision
  • How to balance work and life
  • How to build trust
  • How to ask thoughtful questions
  • How to give constructive feedback
  • How to get the best out of a team
  • How to coach people through change

  • How to prioritise your time
  • How to run and participate in great meetings
  • How to develop a team vision
  • How to prioritise projects to optimise team contribution
  • How to peer to peer coach
  • How to make sound decisions
  • How to solve problems
  • How to set up an end of day routine
  • Understanding and optimise  your Myers Briggs step ll profile and/or StrengthsFinder profiles 

Our TLMs started very much as part of an off site workshop, but then we started to use Skype, Facetime and WhatsApp to follow up and then to teach people new concepts. Then we used Skype to observe a trainee coaches practicing 'live' coaching and that worked extremely well, bringing with it a high sense of intimacy and trust.

We know this blend of methods works well, but it is very important that the learning needs be agreed to by the team, fit into team practices and everyone must commit to complete the learning and providing coaching and support to one another.

TLMs are good for quick one off learning but can also be strung together as part of a programme e.g. 'Introduction to Management'.

If you would like to find out more about TLMs please contact Ian Shaw on

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!!!