The Case for Emotional Health

Like many people I have been encouraged by the candour demonstrated by Prince Harry regarding the death of his mother.  

Naturally this has given rise to discussion in some parts of the media on the state of mental health, and particularly amongst young people.   Good news.  And yet …. 

I want to take a stand for something.  Sometimes coaching conversations with clients reflect and focus upon what they are willing to take a stand for.  So I’m going to walk my talk here.  I’m taking a stand for adding to our language in this domain.  I’d like to see us talking about emotional health and well being and not just mental health.    We insist upon living in a world that separates and delineates mind and body into separate entities and so it seems emotional health from mental health.    Where exactly is the line - and no doubt there are qualified mental health professionals out there who can spell this out for me more fully?  

Why does this matter?  

There are two reasons why I am taking a stand here.  One is simple ‘marketing’.  In a world where ‘mental health’ is still stigmatised and one in which ‘emotional intelligence/empathy/compassion are becoming more widely accepted, surely it would help to talk in terms of emotional health rather than mental health.     I do not seek to further stigmatise mental illnesses, but rather to recognise that we would all do well to pay attention to our emotional well being.  Talking about our emotional health, framing it as such might just make it that bit easier.  Acknowledging that we have emotions and that these come to work with us every day, that they shape our response to events would be a start.     If I showed up to work one the next few weeks/months feeling grief at the loss of someone important to me would I really be declared as having a ‘mental health issue’.  If I am upset by the images of the ravages of war appearing on my TV screen nightly - am I experiencing mental health issues?  No I’m not, I’m simply in touch with and feeling my emotions.    Is grief really a mental health issue?  It’s a human emotion issue, it’s an every day issue, although hopefully not an every day occurrence!  

The second reason I’m taking a stand is to do my bit to move the discussion into recognising our more holistic humaness.    I think it is really important to recognise that we are a whole ‘system’ shaped by our genetics, our nurturing and our life experience.    Our life experience influences how our nurturing and potentially to some degree our genetic heritage plays out.   When we are impacted by events - whether that is Trauma with a capital T (for example the loss of a parent) or whether it’s trauma with a small ’t’ (perhaps being embarrassed or belittled in front of colleagues) - there is a sensational response in the body, in the system which in turn is interpreted as an emotion.   If we are to heal, it is this which we need need to pay attention to.   Emotions give rise to thoughts and actions.  We act as a consequence of emotion, even when they are hidden from us.   The very word emotion originates from the latin word movere meaning to move.   The work of Antonio Damasio et al provides further evidence that it’s the bodily response rather than cognitive interpretations which produce emotions.  

Taking a ‘whole system approach’  is relevant for leadership too.  Recently I worked with someone not dissimilar to Harry.  He’d lost a parent and chose to bury his emotions and feelings associated with his loss.    A survival strategy - because the body is excellent at working to ensure that we survive!   Moving away from his feelings rather than feeling them was his way of not being overwhelmed by them.    It was his valid coping strategy.  

What happens though when this response becomes his natural way of being in the world?   When this response - blocking, denying the sensations and feelings becomes normal when stuff gets awkward or sticky or uncomfortable.  How does this strategy prevent him from connecting with others?  We understand that Harry said that his long-term approach led to two years of chaos, near break down and being very close to punching someone.   The short term response of blocking feelings to deal with the immediate situation is helpful to a point, but not when it becomes a long term way of being.  

The consequence of shutting down our emotions and feelings is that it limits our ability to connect with people from a place of genuine authenticity.  If we cannot feel ourselves and our own emotions because we have learned to anaesthetise ourselves then we cannot feel others.  This means that we cannot connect with genuine presence to our team mates, our colleagues and those we seek to lead.   Not because we don’t want to but because we have wired ourselves not to.   

In days gone by, that might have been OK.  Stiff upper lip and all that.  Stoicism rules OK.  But not today.  In a world in which, particularly younger generations want to be led by real humans, by authentic people who care, who have a passion and a commitment, the ostrich survival technique will no longer cut it.    So let’s start recognising that we are emotional beings andgive proper account toit.  

 

Want to Improve Your Communication?  

A client happily reported recently that she’d noticed her voice had become deeper and more authoritative.   This new voice whilst a bit of a surprise for her was helping her to be heard more.    She was finding it easier to engage with her team and her colleagues, she was slowing down and feeling more confident in her delivery and that people were listening, being less dismissive.    

The voice is like music - it is a sound that has an emotional impact upon us, a sound that we individually interpret and assess.  38% of the communication we absorb comes from the way in which words are said - the tonality, the sound, the pronunciation and the pace.   We often interpret a person’s internal state from the sound and delivery of their words.  Despite the increasing reliance on written forms of communication, we continue to use video and conferencing technology whichbring another set of challenges for being heard and understood.  

Studies also reveal that deeper, dare I say more ‘masculine’ voices are perceived as more competent, stronger and trustworthy.    It’s a thorny issue that could take us into a whole other debate about the lens through which we evaluate success at work,  the concept of ‘gender bilingualism’, the differences between how men speak (report and declare) and how women speak (test and qualify).   

What is really important here is to remember that the voice comes from within the body.   How we feel is therefore communicated through the voice.  Whether we feel anxious or happy, the listener will hear it in our tone, our choice of words, place of delivery, our breath pattern.  We can choose to have voice coaching to deepen our voice.    Or we can organise ourselves to allow the voice to flow freely, to resonate more deeply, to have a richer quality.  

Try the following:  

  • Drop your shoulders away from your ears, and relax through your upper arms
  • Reach upwards through the crown of your head, perhaps lengthening the back of your neck
  • Lengthen through your spine without arching your back
  • Feel the sides of your rib cage
  • Soften your eyes
  • Let the jaw relax by opening it slightly.   Teeth are not designed to meet in the mouth unless chewing!  
  • Move your breath deeper into your belly.   Try and go for expanding the abdomen on the in-breath and letting it collapse on the out breath - the reverse to what is often habitual in most people but very familiar to any yoga enthusiasts among you.  
  • Keep your belly soft - now is the time to let it all hang out instead of holding it up tight
  • Relax your glutes and pelvic floor.  

No, this isn’t a bed time routine, although clients often report how much more relaxed they feel when doing this.  You are looking for a relaxed but alert quality with this practice.  

What do you notice inside?   

When we are relaxed the voice can move through the body with greater ease, the breath flows more freely and the brain functions more effectively.    What happens now when you speak?  

 

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You know the quote, the one where the CFO asks the CEO what happens if after investing in their people they then leave the business and the CEO replies, what happens if we don’t.

This isn’t a blog post about the stereotypical perception of CFO’s and CEO’s but rather how to go about making sure that you get the investment you need in your career - and specifically coaching investment. 

These days there is much more awareness about what Executive coaching can deliver when offered by a professionally trained and experienced coach.   Coaching is used by organisations in a host of different ways, not always for the positive but increasingly it’s being seen as a vital development intervention to help already successful C suite Execs broaden the impact they can have across their business.  

What happens however if you are not a C suite Exec but you think you’d like some coaching this year?  How do you go about persuading your employer that you should be considered for such an investment?  

Firstly check out company policy - written and unwritten.   Is there a policy?  Has coaching been used before and if so for whom - are you likely to be breaking new ground with your request or has the ground already been cracked? 

Then Build your Business Case.  

  • Know why you want to engage with a coach.  Be clear on your desired outcomes.  What do you need to grow for yourself in relation to your current and future contribution in the business?   What will you be able to do with more confidence and/or competence at the end of the coaching engagement?  
  • Consider a possible ROI for coaching.  This is a tough one especially when the coaching is in the domain of vital soft skills for getting things done with and through others.  It can be hard to quantify the exact financial impact off coaching on the business.  Look at the metrics used to measure your performance anyway including those that are employee related such as engagement and retention.  
  • Provide examples of how previous investment in you has paid off.  How did you put the investment to good use in your direct role and perhaps more widely across the business?
  • Link coaching to your career progression - vertically or horizontally -  within the business.  How will it help you?  
  • Compare coaching with other investment alternatives.  Coaching is unique in that it provides provides personalised support, tailored just for you and the outcomes you seek.    It’s impossible to compare it with an MBA for example, but consider what the coaching investment might equate to in terms of other types of development opportunities.  
  • Anticipate possible objections and how you might respond. An objection that often comes up is that coaching, because it can be a significant investment, is often only offered to very senior employees.   The wider the scope for impact in the business, the easier it is to justify the higher level of investment.  I know of businesses that are worried about opening the flood gates if they include a wider population.   Think about how you might respond to that, perhaps relying on the uniqueness of your case, the business case that you have put together for why your employer should invest in you.   Each case on its merits perhaps. 
  • Talk with your boss.   A key feature of successful coaching assignments is line manager sponsorship and support.  This is clearly vital if you need HR approval, and also because your line manager will have a view on the necessary outcomes, as well as being able to offer you support when you need it.    Be ready to talk through you business case with your boss, and if HR does need to sign off, get him or her actively engaged in building the case for WHY and YES.  

Prepare Yourself     The can often the big one:  you may need to do some work around mindset here.  Asking for financial investment in your future with the organisation can be a bit like asking for a salary increase or discussing a promotion.  Some people will find this easier than others.  Remember this;  you bring value to your business already and will continue to do so.  You are inviting your organisation to invest in you for the future.  It’s a simple invitation posed as a request.  No more than that.    Let me know if you need help with making requests and or accepting a ‘no’.  

Personal Growth and Brexit Collide

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The ongoing turbulence of the last few weeks both here in the UK and further afield is for many perturbing.  Although the initial hiatus of Brexit seems to be settling we will undoubtedly be ’in it’ for quite some time to come.   Everywhere you look, the political landscape appears to be changing.  I find myself asking whether what we are going through will be valuable enough.   My purpose in what follows is not to enter a political debate about what has happened, but rather to look at change through the lens of transformation and ask what it might evolve if we were to take a different and deeper approach.  

We are moving through something that is referred to by the Strozzi Institute as ‘The Arc of Transformation’.  

We are in a process of transforming from an old relationship to a new relationship with Europe and the rest of the world, we don’t know how and what that new relationship will be.  We are, in Strozzi terms, in an ‘unbounded shape’.  That is to say much of what we know is shifting and moving to a new ‘shape’ or a new form.  We are, to some degree in that place we British refer to as ‘no-mans land’.   Although we now have a new Prime Minister, somebody ‘in charge’, no-mans land naturally produces huge uncertainty as we set out to determine the best way forward, the best way to put one foot in front of the other, and in what direction.    

Brexit offers us a large scale metaphor through which to consider what takes place in a journey of personal transformation.  It’s rarely a linear process, rarely is it sequential even though for ease of understanding we present it as such.   

We begin with what we call our current or ‘old shape’.  By shape we can literally think of how we are each physically shaped to move and act, as well as cognitively, emotionally and spiritually shaped.   We are shaped each by our own molecular environment right through to the universal forces that we experience.  Much of our shaping is oblivious to us, unless we make the effort to explore and understand, and even then we don’t see it all.  

The old shape comes to recognise that something is not working, that there is a breakdown or a yearning that wants to come to form.  This we call Somatic Awareness.  We begin to become aware of the possibility of something new.  We may move to a space where we make a commitment to the ‘new’, the evolution that is to come.   Whilst on our journey we are invited to become aware of how we are, what patterns we produce in ourselves, and how these help and hinder us.  We look for sensations to accompany the verbal descriptors that often come before.  By dropping into our world of sensation, and increasing our ability to notice how we are, we begin to improve our Somatic Awareness, vital if we are to change how we are.    

Awareness is but one element.   Our development journey also has to include Somatic Opening.   That is to create a body that is open to the new, open to letting go and to healing.  This can be achieved through regular bodily practices and enquiry.   We say that to work on the ‘self’, the most effective way is on, with and through the body.  The body is much more than a vessel for transformation.  The body is the ‘self’.   The body transforms.     As we engage with the body, we both increase our awareness as well as create new opening.

We are what we practice.   Somatic practices, those purposeful activities that we engage in regularly in the service of the new commitments we make and our personal transformation are the key to embodying a new way of being - however we choose that to be.   Somatic practices, when we pay attention, also create somatic awareness and  somatic opening.  It depends on how much we pay attention, how much we listen to our inner landscape.  

Here however is the rub.   We can be aware that we want or need to move through a period of transformation.  We are dedicated to practice, but unless we have been through the phase of opening, moving into what we call the unbounded stage (think conscious incompetence), all we do is put new practices on top of old patterns.    

Imagine, I can skilfully learn to be a centred and grounded presence.  Imagine also however, that I have done little to understand why and in what way I am vulnerably triggered.    Imagine I fly off the handle, or shrink and collapse when someone directly or indirectly questions my self-worth, but I know little of how I learned this, just that it happens. 

I can put centering on top of my fear/anger/frustration each time it occurs.    Despite the skilful centering practice, by not understanding my ‘trigger points’ well enough, I remain vulnerable to being easily knocked off centre whenever I feel my self-worth is questioned.  My personal survival pattern (aka fight, flight, freeze response) rears its head in an instant.  I haven’t deepened my Awareness and am caught.    

The Arc of Transformation asks us to recognise in our old shape how we are triggered - where we naturally go under threat and how this shows up somatically.   We are invited to consider what new shape we might like to have - what qualities for example might we like more or less of?  We are invited to make a commitment to that, which we eventually come to embody through practice.  

The challenge for me in Brexit is that we will move from ‘In Europe’ to ‘Out of Europe’ without deeply considering how we got here in the first place.  We will not spend enough time understanding how the vote to leave was ‘triggered’ in the deeper sense, how the greatest fear underneath it came about and how else it shows up in the British psyche.  

One hypotheses is that the vote to leave was a protest vote because the populous is not being listened to.  If we give proper credence to that, take time to understand what is really underneath that and its evolution, then what might emerge?  

Instead, referring back to SI model of Transformation we will begin our negotiations to leave Europe, we will move from ‘old shape’ (A) to ‘new shape’ (C) without actually going through ‘B’.  We will not that is, take the time to really explore why the leave vote and what is being called for.    Without listening deeply, we will be out of Europe with a new ‘shape’, and most likely not the one that was really being asked for. 

For a video explanation of The Arc of Transformation given by Staci Haines of The Strozzi Institute go to http://bit.ly/29VMJHW

 

Time to Believe in Yourself?

This weekend I attended Workfest, a day long event organised by mumsnet.  It was a day packed with inspiring round table discussions, workshops and coaching focusing on work and careers.  

I'm grateful to all those I talked with on Saturday and post this beautiful poem in the hope that it inspires them and any others who read it.  

The Invitation by 'Oriah Mountain Dreamer'  

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, 'Yes.'

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

 

Emotions: are we really still leaving them at the door?

Last week a client told me that he believed he had to leave his emotions at the door when going to work.  Surprising because the guy was young, and worked for a cool, forward thinking company - who I thought would allow people to be themselves, and express their emotions whilst at work. But obviously, this is not the case. So, I was compelled to ask how it is that we still haven’t quite grasped the fact that our emotions are important.

Humans are Emotional Beings

When Daniel Goleman talked about emotional intelligence he highlighted the fact that humans are emotional beings, and that we cannot part with them. He insisted that we had better learn to work with our emotions if we want to be successful - and so surely we should not feel that we have to leave our emotions at the door when going to work. 

Emotional Intelligence

Have you ever been told directly that you need to improve your emotional intelligence in order to improve your performance at work?  Probably not.  Instead we are told that we need to improve our presence, stature, confidence, the ability to engage more effectively with others, to influence more widely, to be tolerate ambiguity and conflict more resiliently. However, it is important to realize that in order to improve any of these things; we must first work on our emotional intelligence.  

Emotions and the Body

Emotions are a bodily phenomena.  We know that they are expressed through the body.   They are not purely a ‘cerebral activity’.  Stanley Keleman highlighted the relationship between the emotions and the human body by arguing that our emotional life experience changes our physical form throughout our lifetime.  For example, a chest that has learned to collapse inwards and away perhaps through fear, shyness, timidity, will continue to do so and perpetuate those same feelings unless the 'owner' moves to ‘re-shape’.   

Daniel Goleman suggests that one of the fundamentals of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, paying attention to moods, emotions and their effect on others.   Often ignored, the body, offers us a fast insight into noticing how we and others are doing.   To develop our self-awareness we would do well to pay attention to how we are feeling, and where in the body we are feeling it.    The body in the end, can become our early warning system. 

Regulating our Emotions

We regulate our emotions through the body as well as feel them through the body.  Self-regulation is a major component to developing emotional and social intelligence.  Being able to self-regulate puts us in a much better position to co-ordinate and blend more effectively with others.  These are key skills to success in the work place, lost without emotional awareness and the early warnings the body shares with us. 

Blending with Others    

Another client needed to persuade and lead a cross cultural team with more finesse and greater intra-personal acuity.  The client needed to develop an awareness of the deeper social and cultural influences that shape us, as well as learning about her own patterns of influencing and persuasion. 

Goleman and Boyatzis refer to a social guidance system, described by scientists as the ultra rapid connection of emotions, beliefs and judgements, tied together in less than one-twentieth of a second by spindle cells.   Our spindle cells working so fast, tell us what we feel about someone, as well as how to respond to situations - what decisions to make, what priorities to set.  

In order therefore, to be able to influence and blend more effectively with her team, my client developed the skill of observing her own felt sense of her emotions and reactions.  This gave rise to her noticing more of how she felt about her team, the assessments she held about them and the reactions that these generated within her.   She entered a much more powerful place from which to self-regulate. 

Conclusion

Our bodily experience serves us well in developing our emotional range.  The body is omnipresent and therefore what we experience internally is reflected externally. It is important to know that we are in part the sum of our emotions because our emotional states affect the chemical cocktail being released into our bodies, and thereby affects, and shapes our physical form - something that we absolutely cannot leave at the door.   

If we seek to lead others, to influence, to be authentic and trustworthy then we need to befriend our internal landscape (i.e. be in touch with our emotions) in order that it can inform us and show us the way.  Finally, we must acknowledge that it is our relationship with others that determines our success in and out of the workplace, and therefore as this success ultimately comes down to the degree of emotional and social intelligence that we possess, surely our emotions need to be welcome at work. 

Journey Through Transition

 

Last summer my family and I bade farewell to the leafy suburbs of North London, a place that had been home for more than a decade.  

Our departure from this place that we loved was brought about for very practical reasons appertaining to what we needed and believed was best for our family over the next decade or so.  

The adjustment over the last 8 months, along with some changes in my family has me reflecting on what it means to be in transition and how we human beings adjust - or not.  

I don't promise that what follows will shine a light on previously dark hidden corners for every reader, but maybe one or two of my observations from personal experience will have resonance for some.  

I’ve found myself at various periods of my life applying rational logic to situations, understanding the need or the reasoning behind a particular course of action.  I get it.  I might even decide it.  But I’m coming to recognise that my body and my rational self work at different paces.    What do I mean by this?  

When we left London I was sad at leaving friends, our children's school, the place I’d called home for a while.   As we are settling into our new ‘home’ my body begins to notice the changes, the differences.  It starts to notice things that I need to adjust to, what it misses about London.   This starts to show up in how I feel emotionally and even physically.  My rational brain however is taking longer to work out what is going on and why, what’s at issue.   My rational brain is taking longer to come up with the reasons why my body is experiencing xyz.  

I'm slightly surprised by this.  I'd thought that maybe the rational brain was faster then my limbic brain (the seat of my emotions)   But no.  As I reflect on my life to date I can see many occasions when my body has been responding to a change before my brain has realised what is actually going on - what, in some cases, is bothering me.   The process seems to be - understand the change cognitively - body notices the impact sensationally - cognitive brain rationalises and understands what's going on with the body.

I’ve also come to understand that transition is never ending.  It is a constant.  I could be very literal and talk bout how often our cells renew themselves, the body itself changes daily (at least).   I could be ‘Zen’ like and say that no moment is the same as the previous one , there is transition moment to moment.  Some transitions are major life changes, others happen day by day, week to week.  

Given this constant state of change, flux, transition, the question arises - how am I with this?  How am I with the change?  What else is there beyond ‘Oh, it’s fine we are adjusting’?  What, might I be reacting to more deeply within me that I haven't yet seen? 

Often it’s easier to know what we think about something than what we feel, and even if we get a handle on what we feel, this may only be at surface level.  Our real feelings maybe buried three layers down.  It’s vitally important that we keep questioning, exploring, and noticing what is happening in our body.  What changes are afoot within the body?  The odd new twinge today, sudden onset of a skin rash, a change to dietary habits, all of these changes can signify that the body is adjusting to something, and maybe isn’t adjusting so well.  It’s called psychosomatic.   I think of the body as an early warning system.  

I remember hearing an old boss use the word psychosomatic to refer to someone he thought was making up their illness, that it was all in the mind.   It was used in a derogatory way despite the definition of psychosomatic being 'a physical illness or condition caused or aggravated by internal conflict or stress'.   The body and mind are totally connected.   

Psychosomatic or not, pedant or not, there are ways of holding situations that can help us through transition.  

  • Ask ‘what am I being invited to step into here?’.  Change and transition bring new opportunities.  These maybe new experiences, new ways to be with situations.  Even a redundancy situation, or a death can be an invitation to practice something new.  It could be to practice being with grief, painful as it is but we can learn along the way.   Such drastic life changes are often an invitation to step into resilience with softness and self-care.  
  • Ask ‘What is there that I can be grateful for here?’   The practice of gratitude changes one’s physiology.   Try it for a moment.  Notice what you are truly grateful for and feel how your internal system changes.   Gratitude is the anti-dote to bitterness and resentment. 
  • Practice curiosity.   Be curious about your reactions.  Don’t pass judgement.  Curiosity produces freedom within us, it can be invigorating.  We are curious beings.  And be curious with lightness.  Don’t go beating the hell out of curiosity to ‘emphatically know the answer’.  Explore with wonder. 
  • Notice where you are getting stuck.  A change or threat to identity, the creation of a void, a change to social relationships.  Dig into why the stuckness, what’s the root fear.  Where does that show up in your life and, can you notice it in your body?  Is there gripping, tightness, fizzing, temperature?   Ease it with breath, movement, stretching.  
  • Ask what might be available to you on ‘the other side’, once through the transition.   How and where might balance be found?  What is the yin and yang of the situation?  
  • If you can think beyond the transition, as far ahead, as large as you can, what do you dream might come from now.  Can you make a commitment to focus on the dream, the bigger picture?   The transition becomes part of a bigger plan, a small roadblock rather than a major structural change to the highway.  
  • And perhaps the most powerful questions of all.... ‘What would it take to be comfortable with this transition’?  What might you need to let go of?

Whatever transition you find yourself in, with a good dose of grounded, pragmatic optimism and wisdom, you can find the internal resources to journey your way through your path. 

Leaderwise Goes to Mumsnet Workfest 2016

On Saturday 14th May, I’ll be in London offering coaching to women who want to create something different for themselves.  

Mumsnet has spent the last 15 years building up a fabulous reputation for understanding current challenges and concerns for parents trying to juggle all that comes with running home, family and career. Enabling mums to be in touch with each other, supporting them through the thick and thin of parenting life, advice and support is available across a wide range of subjects, not least work and careers.  

For the second year running, and after great success last year, they are organising Workfest.   The theme – you guessed it – is work and careers. It is a one day event packed with advice and inspiration for women in – or returning to – the workplace. As well as a day full of inspirational speakers from high-flying industry experts to self-made entrepreneurs, there is a unique chance to obtain some bespoke, one to one advice from the careers clinic running throughout the day.    

Myself and a number of other coaches will be on hand to offer a one-to-one consultation with personalised advice and coaching to support you with your career questions and challenges. Read more about Workfest and the careers clinic on the Mumsnet website

Do come and say hello if you’ve been reading this and decide the event is for you!   

9 Steps for Building Intrepid Confidence

One of the key tenets of leading others, although rarely talked about in ‘leadership publications’, is having the confidence to lead others.   People look to Leaders for surety and although there are many definitions of leadership one of the common themes is being able to inspire others towards a collective goal and/or vision.  

But what happens if you are lacking in confidence?  How do you build it?  How can you inspire others if internally you are lacking in confidence?  

I see this so often.  Externally we might appear to be confident, but internally we are self-doubting, self-questioning.  Some people can fake it, of course they can, but how can you develop a really grounded, unassailable confidence that will both serve you and keep you connected to your team with humility and not arrogance?  

It’s healthy to be have a degree of self-awareness that provokes questions of doubt.  Those questions are there to serve and guide us, just as is our certainty, but how do we keep this aspect of ourself in check.  

1.  Start by recognising that self-doubt is normal.  You are wired for doubt - it helps keep you safe.   I think of my internal doubting voices as little gremlins.  Some of the time they are useful.  Other times, it’s important to see them for what they are - internal voices designed to keep me safe from risking something such as embarrassment, foolishness, being found wanting.  

2. Take a good look at your experience - the good stuff and not so good stuff.   OK, what got you here might not get you there as the saying goes, but your experience is still valuable.  Your previous experience and everything that you have learned along the way stands you in good stead to make adjustments and to try something new.  Your experience is with you always.  It’s your past and it can metaphorically be thought of as being able to push you forwards.  Sheryl Sandberg talks about ‘Leaning In’ so lean into your experience and your capabilities.

3.  Recognise that taking a risk is OK.  Every leadership book, every successful entrepreneur will tell you that you have to be willing to risk.  You have to be willing to risk walking on the edge.  Brené Brown in her book Daring Greatly (http://brenebrown.com) tells us that in order to manage feelings of shame one of the best things we can do is be willing to share our shame story with a buddy.   I think it is the same with taking a risk.   Share your concerns about your risk (which is no more than an assessment anyway) and share it with someone who cares about you.  Be clear what you need from them - anything from simply listening to offering reassurance.  Be willing to share how you think you will feel.  It’s more likely that the feelings (that you anticipate if you do take a risk and it doesn’t go smoothly) are more likely to be in control than the ‘technical’ elements of what you are stepping up to.  

4.  Learn to recognise how lack of confidence feels for you.  Literally how does it feel at the level of bodily sensation.  Where does your breath go?  What happens in your body?  Lack of confidence - much like all emotional states comes with a set of sensations.  Knowing what they are gives us the ability to take a look at them and acknowledge them.  We potentially have a better chance of managing our felt sensations if we can observe them.  By calmly observing what we are feeling we create a micro second of space to slow things down and to choose to do something different. 

5.  Do something different.  Get a hold of these sensations by staying with them and replacing them.  Learn to centre and ground.  (Read a 'Centered Way of Being' for how to do that.)   Think of centering as a way in which we can organise ourselves to be more effective, more in control, more calm and impactful.   Notice how you feel when centred.  Most people report feeling calmer, more dignified, more confident.  Learn to recognise these feelings, practice accessing them.  Practice constantly in order to make it a new (conscious) habit. 

6. Connect with your purpose.  How does what you need to deliver or step up to connect with your leadership purpose?  Your reason for being here, leading a team of people?  Shift the balance of your self-doubt towards why you are doing this job.  What is the purpose for today, for this ‘event’ and how does this link to the bigger picture of what you need?

7.  Imagine your success.  What does success look like, feel like, sound like?  Lean into that vision.  Let it stay with you a while.   Learning to visualise, hear, and feel sensationally is great for re-wiring the body towards success, rather than being held by the risk of failure.    

8.  Begin with small steps.  How do you eat an elephant?  You do you climb a mountain?  It’s one step at a time.  Make them small steps, so small they may seem trivial and eventually the obstacles will have melted.  

9.  Savour each step of success.  Don’t move away from it too quickly, allow the feeling of success to be present.  Some of us brush ourselves down and move onto the next thing , the next step quickly, not honouring what we have achieved so far (a bit like not really paying attention to praise for a job well done).  Others of us, stay too long in the savouring stage as a way of avoiding moving onto the next step.  Know which camp you fall into and practice staying just that bit longer, or moving on just that bit quicker.  

And remember the next time the gremlins creep up on you, turn and look them in the eye, kindly thank them for their help.  And then let them know that you are going to be fine anyway.  Today is the day to start feeling confident, moving confidently, to being open, to being less afraid, or at least comfortable with being afraid.   We have all heard of fake it until you make it - pay heed to the pointers above, practice and eventually you will no longer be faking it. 

A centered way of Being - for wisdom, grace and power

Photo Credit:  Bjorn Saw, Sensei, Aikido Alive London

Photo Credit:  Bjorn Saw, Sensei, Aikido Alive London

If you have ever watched experienced and skilled martial artists at work you will notice speed, grace, power, intention, and a spatial awareness of all that is around them.   Although in some disciplines the movements can look almost violent, there is always control; control that takes the move just to the very edge of what is necessary, no more, no less.  

The skilled martial artist has practised the art of connecting with and moving from his or her centre.  He is connected to the art of feeling what is possible.  In physical terms we can think of centre as our centre of gravity, and usually this is located two or three finger widths below the navel.  Think of those old physics lessons!

However, centre is much more than that.  Once we find centre in ourselves we find we can access a particular energetic quality.   We can organise ourselves to move and engage with others from this place with a grounded, intentional purpose.  We can move with more gravitas, dignity and presence.  We find greater possibility and choice when organised around our centre.  

Very few of us pay attention to how we show up physically and many of us have limited awareness of sensation in our body.  Why would we - it’s something that rarely gets attention - other than possibly by our parents telling us as children to walk up straight! 

If we were to pay attention we would notice all sorts of new things about ourselves.  Pay attention next time you are sitting in a coffee shop at how people on the street move.  You will notice they all move and hold themselves differently.  In time you might notice those whose heads are in the clouds, those who are not looking where they are going, those whose bodies push against the world, those whose bodies collapse inwards, away from the world.  Those bodies that are unbalanced in movement, those whose stride is smaller than it needs to be, those who walk timidly or boldly. 

Then notice what assessments of these bodies arise for you.  Of course you have no way of checking them out, but just think, if you can make assessments of others, then they can do the same for you.  We constantly assess each other unconsciously by reading other people’s bodies.  We communicate to each other all of the time and often it’s below our level of awareness. 

Similarly, our bodies communicate to ourselves.  Amy Cuddy is about to release a new book called Presence (amycuddy.com/presence/) in which she refers to research that now proves what many in eastern traditions have known for centuries that there is a feedback loop between how our bodies are, what we feel sensationally, and the stories that we tell ourselves.  This is good news.  It means that if we make a change in one domain, we will see an effect in another.  After all it’d be really hard to feel the joy of happiness or peace, whilst collapsing the ribcage and walking with your chin on the floor.  

So how can we organise for greater effectiveness, for greater balance, for calm graceful intention, and for handling greater intensity and pressure.  

We need to learn to Centre - to find centre and return to centre.  

Read on… 

Finding a place of centre

Centre is typically located about two or three finger widths below the belly button.  This is known as the Hara in Japanese martial arts or Dantien in Tai Chi.   By simply breathing into this place and paying attention to it we can start the process of learning to centre.  

The most effective way however to find what centre feels like is to work with the three body dimensions of length, width and depth. 

If practising centering in a static position, you may place your feet in parallel, somewhere between shoulder and hip width apart or you may place your feet one in front of the other, a comfortable distance apart, the front of your back foot may be turned out slightly.  Your knees should be relaxed and ever so slightly soft.  It may be helpful to imagine that you have a third leg extending from your body positioned to provide you with greater stability.    You do not however have to be static to practise, you can also practise whilst moving.

Dimension of Length: Connection to your vision for your life and the grounding to carry it out.  Balance in this dimension evidences itself as a person who embodies dignity, meaningful and purposeful work and lasting relationships. Being out of balance with too much length, may be someone with great vision but little ability to manifest it. On the other hand, not having enough length can mean a person with his or her nose to the grindstone, preoccupied with the busy details of life and not connected to their vision; not really engaged with full energetic vitality and at its worst, resigned and defeated.

To centre along the dimension of length, align your head, shoulder girdle, torso, pelvic girdle, knees and feet directly on top of each other, releasing any tension in any of these areas.  Once there is alignment along the vertical axis, relax into the downward flow of gravity by releasing the tension in the eyes and forehead, jaw and chin (opening the mouth to a natural state can help here), shoulders and abdomen, hips and pelvis, and legs.  This has effect of lowering your centre of gravity.  

Dimension of Width: Our outward movement into the world. Balance in this dimension offers a person the possibility of clear personal boundaries while still being able to influence and be influenced by the world.  Balance in this dimension communicates being ready and available for connection.  When someone is out of balance in their width (too much width), they may generate a sense of ‘stay away’ in others - a pushing away.  Alternatively, they may be unable to say no, and people will either be clinging to them or they will be clinging to people. The need for connection is out of balance.  At the other extreme (too little width), maybe someone keeping people at a distance, communicating ‘please don’t come near’ or ‘I’m fearful of connection’.  People with too little width are often afraid in some way of human contact – the smaller width is a withdrawal,  protective response.  

To centre along the dimension of width, balance left to right, stand equally on the left and right feet.  Most of us are uni-lateral. either left or right handed, we usually find ourselves tilted to one side or the other.  Balance in the dimension of width will mean that there is symmetry between both your left and right shoulders and left and right hips. 

Dimension of Depth:  Balance in this dimension occurs when there is consistency between one’s internal life and sense of self and what shows up physically - externally.  When we say some one seems ‘comfortable in him or herself, their bearing is the mark of someone who embodies authentic self-acceptance.  A person balanced in depth is able to fully honour and accept their history without damaging critical judgement.  A person balanced in depth is able to connect with a powerful inner sense of ‘self’ from which they are able to act spontaneously and without being careless.  If we think of the human body as moving through time, the front of the body may be regarded as facing into the future, the back of the body facing into, or reflecting upon what has gone before.  People who tilt forwards can show up as hurrying or rushing from one thing to another without fully allowing ideas and internal perceptions to mature and come to fruition, always on to the next thing.  People who lean further back, can be communicating a meekness, and un approachability, a sense of ‘laid back’ and away from the future.  

To center along the dimension of depth, balance from front to back so that you are neither tipped forward nor leaning back.  Human beings are typically future-orientated, pre-occupied with thoughts.  We can often find that we are pre-disposed to be ahead of ourselves and out of contact with our back, our shadow, our history and traditions.  By aligning front to back, neither forward nor back, we rest into our spine and open the heart and the belly, able to move into the future from with the strength and support that our past has to offer us.    

Practice

Learning to centre has to become a practice.  The way in which you organise yourself physically and sensationally (eg holding your breath when stressed or concentrating hard, biting your lip of frowning when reading a hard text) is something you have been practicing since you started walking.  Your ‘shape’ in this sense was probably formed by the time you were about 7 years old and you have been bedding it in ever since. 

It stands to reason therefore that you will not learn this new way of organising yourself overnight.  It’s not a few goes and you’ve got it.  You need to practice.  It is said that 300 repetitions are needed for muscle memory and something like 10,000 for mastery.  Don’t let the numbers put you off - and I’d say, ignore the big one.  If you practice 20 times a day, 5 days a week, in 3 weeks your body knows how to organise around centre.   Then you just keep at it.  You do not need to find extra time in your day either.  Your normal day to day activities can all be done from center, e.g. every time you go to get a coffee, wait for a bus or a train, do the washing up, unload the dishwasher.  Finding repetitive activities that happen daily that you can attach centering practice to will provide easy triggers to remember to move and organise in a new way.    Eventually, with enough practice you will find yourself remembering more and more to center, and when you really need it in say a tough or intense situation you will find yourself centering.  And even if people don’t notice anything, or can’t say what it is is that is different, I guarantee reactions - yours and theirs, will be different. 

It’s also worth noting that the trick isn’t to be centred all of the time, the skill is to notice when you are not centered, and return to it, so please go easy on yourself.  

Finally being able to find balance and center along all dimensions, in time we come to experience a greater acceptance of self, less self-judgement or criticism, increased self awareness, improved perception of others and situations, and a greater capacity for powerful and concrete action, which after all is what most of us seek. Enjoy the practice, as much as the results!

For a beautifully written piece on the spiritual aspect of being entered check this blog from Richard Strozzi Heckler https://theembodiedlife.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/embodying-the-mystery-centering-as-a-spiritual-practice/