Get conscious and choose happy

Think about what you do have, not what you don’t have. It’s such an easy thing to say but how do we do it?

As living breathing human beings we need to survive and we are designed to react to the negative things that happen around us so that we live to see another day. But our society is no longer somewhere where we must listen for the rustle in the bushes or worry about where our next meal is coming from – at least mostly, luckily for us.

Thinking about all the things you do have, imagining the things you want, focusing on the positives rather than the negatives is something we all recognise to be beneficial. Latest neuroscience backs this up – positivity encourages blood flow to the brain improving oxygen levels and your ability to think and function.  Lots of sports coaching involves visualisation of the performance you want. Thinking this way helps your mind and body to achieve it.

So how can you bring more positivity into your life? Here are three I like, and you can find even more cheesy ones here or here:

1. Realise you create your emotions – get conscious and choose happy. Become aware of your thinking – we so rarely do this and its actually quite simple. Ask yourself, what am I assuming that makes me feel sad / discontent / angry / *insert your unwanted emotion here. Are those assumptions true? They most likely are not. Think about all the good things you have instead. Doing this first thing will set you up for the day!

2. Line up the good things. If you have an appraisal and your manager gives you 10 great things you’ve done and one ‘area for improvement’ – don’t go home and sulk about the bad thing. That’s your primitive self focusing on the negative. Decide what to do about your area for improvement and then wallow in all the good stuff they said. Also, at the end of the day, don’t focus on what you didn’t do that’s still sitting on your to-do list from the morning. Write a ‘done’ list and look at how long it is!

3. Appreciate others, stand up straight and smile. OK so this one is cheating a bit as its really two things but they are good ones. We get a buzz from telling others that we think they’ve done a good job or are great at something. And they get a buzz too, its a virtous circle. Try it. And standing up straight and smiling makes your body think you are happy so why not give that a go.

Have a happy day!


“It’s all about thinking well!”

When I was trying to come up with a name for my business, I procrastinated, trying to find clever names – you know, ones with colours in and meaning and the right ‘energy’ and all that. I got so bogged down in it, and then a friend said – ‘Whats it all about? At the core? What do you want your business to do?’ (You’ve got to love a good question.)

My response was – its all about thinking well. To which she said ‘the thinking well!’. I was immediately sold.

Three years on and I am passionate about getting people thinking well. I’ve trained and qualified (certificate, yay!) as a Thinking Environment Consultant with Nancy Kline, and I love the work that I do. In case you are wondering – a Thinking Environment ‘person’ allows those around them to think for themselves, by being a way that encourages the best thinking possible. Attention is at the heart of it all.

Recently, as part of my ongoing development with Nancy and Time to Think, I was asked to describe what I wanted from my work with the Thinking Environment. My answer was that I wanted the Thinking Environment to be something that as leaders, as managers, as mothers, as sisters, as football coaches and as institutions we all just do, naturally and with ease. Create the space for thinking well all around us. Because when people can think for themselves they are free to do anything and they are energised by the possibilities.

Shorter term however, my aspirations for the Thinking Environment in the world would be that organisations begin to be places that encourage truly independent thinking – that leaders start to be Thinking Environments for their people so that it becomes a way of being in the world of work that allows us to be who we are at work, to bring our whole selves to bear on the problems we face and to solve those problems just so much more effectively.
Some simple ways to do this are:
  1. Listen longer than you usually would before you interrupt. Its amazing where people can get to on their own, and they will be more committed to decisions if they are THEIR decisions, not others advice
  2. Take turns in meetings through doing Rounds where no one interrupts and see how easeful your meetings become, and how those who don’t usually speak do
  3. Ask good questions – plan agenda questions for meetings, not agenda items.

As a step towards this, I’m running some courses this year. There are two courses – one is aimed at people who want to create Thinking Environments in groups and teams, helping people in meetings and group scenarios to improve thinking, decision making and communication. This is the Foundation Course, and is 2 days long. I will be holding these on 29th and 30th July, and the 8th and 9th October.

The second is the Thinking Partnership Course, which goes into a lot more depth on how to create a Thinking Environment for someone, one on one, and is the first step in learning how to coach and be a ‘Thinking Partner’. It is three days long, spread over one month, and will be on 2nd, 3rd September with the final day at the start of October TBC, and also on 4th and 5th November, with the final day at the start of December TBC.

If you are interested in taking part in any of these courses and creating Thinking Environments, give me a call. You won’t look back!

Income or impact?

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Annual Conference for the New Entrepreneurs Foundation. The topic was a great one, and something that all aspiring and ‘aspired’ business should be thinking about – how do we manage the responsibility of being a profitable business when there is so much social change that is needed for a more equitable world? Is this an essential question for start-ups, or incompatible with the very essence of a start-up?

I loved John Bird of the Big Issue’s statement that businesses need to revolutionise the way they sell products. And to do this requires a revolution in the way they THINK. We are so used to doing what others have done, building business models based on past successes. People are in many ways terrified of diversity (see previous blog!) but that’s exactly what we need. The collective thinking power of those starting, running and excelling in business is unquestionably capable of doing this. It needs brave front runners and can be helped by government policy to encourage investment in risky businesses with huge potential.

Whilst I respected Gary Grant of The Entertainer’s business empire, and his tithing of charitable donations which is certainly more than many do, listening to John Bird it seemed archaic and out-dated. Gandys flip flops however (me being the proud owner of two new pairs as of this morning, thanks guys) were representative of a whole new way to create social impact – as a core part of the business model. In fact their whole reason for being. There seem to be so many possibilities if we can ‘just’ rethink the way businesses have historically been run. Throw out the textbook.

What seems to be at the heart of the conference’s question for me is a need for each business to very carefully consider, at the outset, the values on which it is created and how those values are demonstrated by the way they work and their culture. Behavioural economics suggests that people WANT to make good choices but are inherently lazy. So if we, as responsible businesses, make making the right choice easy for our consumers and create products and services founded on good values and doing good, in whichever small or big way that can be, it will make a huge difference.

As for the question ‘should I focus first on making a profit so that then I can spend it doing social good, or create social good from the outset to the detriment of profit’ – surely, surely, there is a way of doing both. We just need to think differently.

Why two heads are better than one

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking at the start of Freebridge Housing Associations Annual Business Planning Day. Freebridge, and their partners, are doing some phenomenal work for the people in West Norfolk – creating communities and building opportunities. To my delight, they are using the Thinking Environment as a way of working together and spent the whole day on the topic of Diversity, which is one of ten of the Thinking Environments components, alongside others of equal importance such as Attention, Ease and Equality.

What I think is often completely overlooked when we think of Diversity is what is beneath the surface. That we are not all just (insert skin colour), (insert nationality), (insert class), (insert physical appearance). These classifications can be hugely misleading and don’t

in anyway encompass WHO we really are, more what. Yes, I’m British/Irish, I’m 30. I’m female. I’m tall. BORING! I like language. I enjoy sport. I read, but not as much as I’d like to. I socialise. I volunteer with a disabled charity. I work for myself. I love the sofa on a Sunday with a film. I eat curries. I live in the city but I love nature. I just bought a kitten (from the RSPCA). Better?

What has also ruined our perspective of the reality that is diversity is that diversity is often blamed for atrocious things – discrimination, ill treatment, even wars and genocide – we’ve begun to ignore it or worse pretend its not real. When it is so potentially….potent.

What we experience as we grow up (in fact from about 4 weeks in the womb!) impacts our brains in a powerful way. Each experience is stored and feeds into our future self – it’s how we make meaning of our world and survive. It creates a uniqueness in all of us that makes us as a planet so diverse – no one the same. Not even twins. There is no homogeneity.

This diversity creates so much potential when brains meet to think together and solve problems. Every time we are presented with a problem, our minds relate back to past experiences, searching for an answer. If we can harness the collective brain power, the experience and knowledge, of a diverse group we can achieve so much more. As the marvellous Nancy Kline so aptly says, “If we can think AS ourselves, we can think FOR ourselves”. The Thinking Environment - listening to one another, asking good questions and hearing from everyone – allows us to take full advantage of this precious commodity. It allows us to save our energy for thinking, not for hiding who we truly are. That’s what Freebridge brought to the table quite literally yesterday by holding all their table discussions in a Thinking Environment through the simple concept of using uninterrupted Rounds. This will undoubtedly yield better thinking. Businesses all over should take heed. How could an organisation of clones ever market its wares to the diversity of our world?

So its our experience which really create our diversity, not what rests on the surface. ‘What’ you are will in many ways dictate your experiences but ‘who’ you are will have a far greater bearing. Who you choose as your friends. How you choose to spend your time. This is what shapes us and what will shape our future, and what should shape our organisations.

Simple is as simple does

I used to love a good route plan. Half an hours drive in London – checking the map, choosing a route, memorising the turns. The satisfaction of getting there hassle free, or the excitement / mild panic of knowing you’d gone wrong somewhere, parking up, looking at street signs around you and working out where you were and how to get where you need to be (again). Re-memorising. No blue dot, immediately locating you in a sea of streets. The modern day ‘you are here’ arrow, connecting you seamlessly to where you need to be. Giving you alternative routes, timings and to the second traffic updates. (And that’s all just on your phone – it doesn’t even include the almost redundant tom tom)

I had an argument / discussion with someone recently about some friends who, given a pivotal role in another friends life event, turned up 15mins late. I thought it unacceptable, because you know how long journeys will take these days. Google has mapped it. Its simple. No excuses. I am eternally guilty of arriving a tube station not knowing where the exact location of my destination is, and only finding the Red Pin minutes before my meeting. However I always leave ample time and check all possible travel routes and apps to get there on time. Especially when it really, really matters.

Sums, routes, recipes, memories, relationships – those are just some of the things that technology has simplified for us, made so straightforward that we don’t need to think or memorise. Ever. What impact will that have on our brains? Does it free up space for other thinking? Or does it slow down our processing and will our children, and their children, become hopeless self-navigators with bizarrely large thumbs, poor maths skills, short memories – unaware of the real world around them?

I don’t know, but its a bit terrifying. I know technology frees us in so many ways, and expands our world and the possibilities within it. But what do we forfeit in brain terms for this?

Week of a lifetime

If you have never done anything like this before, I can highly recommend a week in Lourdes with HCPT. I have just finished my 10th year with a group called Jet Set 1, and each year I am both surprised and delighted by how much it restores your faith in humanity, brings people together as equals, and is just the most awesome way to spend a week.

Lourdes is a pilgrimage site, but I’m not religious. The week is deeply spiritual though – and also, a huge amount of fun and laughter. Quiz and cabaret nights, fancy dress, everyone there looks out for each other.

Once upon a time it was deemed a cross between a rugby tour and a pilgrimage – late nights and early mornings, 10 hrs sleep a week. It seems we’ve all grown a little older though, and health and safety regulations have played their part too, so this year was slightly more civilized, still a huge amount of fun and many late nights!

The most important thing about the week is equality. The disabled people we take come away without carers, without parents, they come as our friends and we look after each other all week (this was even more prominent in the very drunken era!) and they join in with everything – there are no barriers. I imagine, and I hope I am wrong, that its the only time they ever get to feel like the world is created for all – not just able-bodied people.

If you’ve never done this, get in touch with me. We are always looking for new helpers and I guarantee you an experience you will never forget!

Financial thermostats

The positive economist, Susan Hayes, introduced me to this concept at a talk for the Ireland Fund of Great Britain recently.

Its simple, and I’ve seen it evidenced in my life a fair few times since!

The idea is that you have a level, call it room temperature, at which you feel you have ‘enough’ money. The minute your thermostat drops below, you save and are thrifty to get it back to room temp. The minute it goes over this level, you spend back down!

Being self employed, this is potentially even more dangerous. Some months, the money floods in and you celebrate – whether your celebrating is in restaurant / pub / clothing form / holiday form! Then the next month arrives, and you really wish you hadn’t.

She suggested raising your internal thermostat level, slowly, so that you will just have more money. I think that’s great, but I’m going a step behind that as I think it assumes you know exactly what you spend a month, which you may not.

I think having a figure in mind that’s your safety is critical. Then managing your accounts so that you always know what you have is vital. Paying yourself a salary as a self employed person is essential.

Another thing I realise the other day is – its not actually about how much money you EARN if you are trying to finish the year in debit. It’s about how much you spend!

How much money do you credibly need to have so that you can stop worrying about it?

So ignore the climate hype – set your financial thermometer higher, today!

Working your hours not all hours

As a self-employed person, I constantly find myself worrying that I don’t do as much work as people in offices. As I don’t have a commute (joy!) the day stretches in front of me – 9 blissful hours, some calls, some lunch….but how do I know I’ve done enough? When can I feel satisfied?

Then this morning my wonderful mentor, Sophie Field at Thinking Time, pointed out that we are so used to time boundaries, instilled from school and then work, that changing that mentality is really hard. However as self-employed people, we have probably made a choice that we want to work differently – take control of our time, have space to do things differently. But the 9-5 world is still the majority so we are constantly measuring ourselves against that.

So what are we to do? Well, this is what I’m going to try. 6 hours a day, pure unadulterated work. The rest, I can play with. Read in. Enjoy. Realistically, in an 8 hour office day there would be an hour for lunch, an hour or so of banter, tea – some meetings. 6 hours is probably a fairly good summary if what office workers achieve. And when you know how to prioritise time, work most effectively, which I do (see previous blogs!) then I can do a lot in 6 hours!

And 30 hours a week sounds pretty good to me!

How will you measure your life?

Do you ever feel like you get a signal from the world / God / Yoda / Vishnu or whatever you believe in at a point when you’re thinking about something?

I read both my grandfathers biographies recently, one was a Supreme Court Judge and the other a second Admiral in the Navy, both of course held these titles amongst other things. Their lives were dotted with impressive achievements, life changing moments, bravery, strength, leadership and kindness – changing lives and helping their nations.

It made me feel sad – no, maybe contemplative – about what I’m doing with my life, what I’m achieving, and the little I seem to do that has any real impact on the world outside my relatively tiny network of friends and family. However I am happy, and I often think that compared to others, I do a fair bit. Perhaps it is the time we live in – we are so lucky that we live in a fairly progressive, developed country that’s not directly in a war. 

Then this morning on the Jubilee line, a man got on reading ‘How will you measure your life?’ by a Clayton M Christensen. 

I’ll let you know when I’ve read it….

Brain limits

Our brains just aren’t quite as clever as I think we all think they are. I’m reading a fantastic book by David Rock – Your Brain at Work – and trying to digest it all to create a workshop that reflects even some of the amazing tips he has.

I’m sure I’ll share more over time but for today I think this is the key one…

Our brains haven’t developed as fast as we have as a species. They are still fairly set to preserve energy. Deep, difficult, creative thinking is the most energy zapping of them all and the brain doesn’t WANT to do them.

Thats why its so hard to focus on that new thing, that big piece of work. Not only does your conscious mind have a mild aversion to it, but your brain itself is far happier reading emails and ticking easy things off the list.

How do we help our brains?

Don’t try to do too many of these tough tasks in one day. Your brain only has a certain amount of energy per day and no amount of caffeine can change that. So prioritise and try one at a time / per day if you can.

Also, attack any creative tasks at once. The brain will use energy flitting between admin / creativity / practical tasks. The more you say focused on one type of task, the less energy you’ll use….

Interested? Buy it by clicking here or read more about it and David Rock here

(no, I’m not on commission its just great!)