The dark mind of fear

“The mind of man is capable of anything.” ― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

The time after the Christmas break always seems to bring with it the darkest part of the winter season and also the darkest time for many people.

The seasonal celebrations are over. The presents have been put away or exchanged. The decorations are down and put away for another year. The striving for the winter sales is on in the high street and people are out trying to get bargains. The return to work after the festive break always seems to bring with it a sense of dread. The office festive fun is over and there are no holidays or breaks in the near future.

Then there is the annual bout of flu, influenza and other bugs that seem to strike the populus at this time of year. Reports this year of the Auzzie flu and the Japanese Flu viruses, were widely reported, with people being struck down; waiting times at hospitals getting worse and all of the scare stories.

For me personally, this year, there was a moment in all of this where I truly felt the dark mind of fear. Let me explain.

We had a wonderful christmas period as a family, but between Christmas and the New Year, I came down with a serious case of “man flu”. I did not go to the doctors, but felt so bad, that I dosed myself up with paracetamol and went to bed. I am not sure if it was flu, but I have not felt so bad for many years. Headaches; sweats; aching legs and joints; uncontrolled shivering; coughing and spluttering; runny nose and no appetite at all.  I found light hurt my eyes and noise hurt my ears. All I wanted to do was to drink water and rest. I was a complete mess.

The Friday after Christmas was the worse day.

As I lay in bed, I felt the struggle as the breath came and went. I could hear the sound of my breath as it went in and out. The raw rasping. I could actually feel the movement of my chest. So unusual. It felt frightening that I was reliant on the mechanical movement of my chest and the struggle that I was having, even breathing. My mind wandered and I felt as if I was in the bottom of a dark place and the weight of the darkness was pressing down on me. Every breath felt a struggle. A dark and fearful struggle.

Then I realised that at it’s very centre, was my thoughts around the practice of mindful breathing. Allowing the thoughts to come and go. The simplicity of just being with the breath. I concentrated on the practice of the breadth and it helped. The moment to moment breath. I became less frightened and fearful. I lay there are truly rested.

Since that Friday, I have slowly recovered. I returned to work after the New Year and then promptly had another “man flu” episode and ended up in bed again. I am not asking for sympathy, after all it was just “man flu”.

The hacking cough has been with me for the past three weeks and physically it has been a slow process to get back to normal. Did I have the flu? I have no idea. Did I feel terrible that Friday – yes – absolutely. But I can say, that even in that darkest of moments, the practice of focusing on the breath and just the breath, really helped.

I hope that you are well and at this time of year, darkness of the mind does not descend upon you, physically or mentally. I hope that you have time to think and to practice whatever techniques help you to be grounded and feel alive. For some people it is sport; for some it is exercise; for some it is mindfulness; and for others it is being with those they care for. Remember, every day is a great day, even if you don’t feel it at the time.

I leave you with the following quote which really struck a chord with me,

“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” ― Thomas Paine, A Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal on the Affairs of North America

In 2018, it is time for better conversations

How-demographic-changes-will-impact-organizations-and-managers“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”  ― Plato, as mentioned by, Richard Lingard, A Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaving the University Concerning His Behaviour and Conversation in the World

Are you a good listener? Are you a good conversationalist? Are you recognised as someone that is really engaged in the dialogue between people?

Do you think that people truly listened, engaged and were positively involved in the dialogues in 2017?

We all make New Year resolutions – lose weight; give up smoking; stop drinking so much; start an exercise regime; whatever. Take a moment if you will, to write down what is yours? Your partners? Your friends?

Nearly every single resolution written down is a physical one. Go on, go check. And like most physical activities, they are very easy to pick up and then drop.

I’d like to suggest one small change for 2018. How would you like to have better, more engaged conversations with people?

We’ve all had really great conversations. We’ve had them before. We know what it’s like. The kind of conversation where you walk away feeling engaged and inspired, or where you feel like you’ve made a real connection or you’ve been perfectly understood. There is no reason why most of your interactions can’t be like that this year.


What key tips have I tried that help? I am not going to say I am an expert, and my colleagues, friends and family will all agree I have my “non-conversational” moments, but what have you got to lose? I’ve listed five of the most important tips I’ve come across. Go on, add a couple of these to your resolution list.

Number one: Don’t multitask. And I don’t mean just set down your mobile phone or your tablet or your laptop or whatever is in your hands at the time. I mean, be present. Be in that moment. Don’t think about your argument you had with your boss. Don’t think about what you’re going to have for dinner. Be focused on the face; the person’s posture; the non-verbal queues, as well as the actual dialogue. Don’t be half in and half out of the conversation, as you will actually be indicating you are out of it and not interested.


Number two: Use open-ended questions. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how. If you put in a complicated question, you’re going to get a simple, possibly one-word answer out. If I ask you, “Were you worried?” you’re going to respond to the powerful word in that sentence, which is “worried,” and the answer is “Yes, I was” or “No, I wasn’t.” “Were you angry?” “Yes, I was very angry.” Try asking them things like, “What was that like?” “How did that feel?” Because then they might have to stop for a moment and think about it, and you’re going to get a much more interesting response. There is a whole concept; training courses; therapeutic approach called “Clean Language”. Check out the following link for more information:

http://www.cleanlanguage.co.uk/


Number three: Go with the flow. That means thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind. We’ve all been in group conversations in which a person is talking for several minutes and then the someone in the group comes back in and asks a question which seems like it comes out of nowhere, or it’s already been answered. That means the person asking the question probably stopped listening a few minutes ago because he thought of this really important question, and he stopped listening to focus on asking the question. And we do the exact same thing time after time, after time. Remember, go with the flow and really try to listen.

Number four: Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If they’re talking about the trouble they’re having at work or the troubles at home, don’t tell them about how much you hate your job or how fed up you are with the state of the house. It’s not the same. It never is going to be the same. All of life’s experiences are individual to that individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you. At the simplest level, the person telling you these things is looking for you to listen. Even more, to be empathetic with them.

Number Five: Learning mindset. You need to enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn. Set aside your own opinion and beliefs. The speaker, sensing this acceptance, will become less and less vulnerable/defensive and more and more likely to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. This is probably the one key idea that we should foster more widely across society.

Go on, add one of these to your 2018 resolution list. What have you got to loose.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Life would be a lot easier if conversations were rewindable and erasable, like videos. Or if you could instruct people to disregard what you just said, like in a courtroom.” ― Sophie Kinsella, Confessions of a Shopaholic

Stepping back at Christmas

“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are at its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of people be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless of those who have never achieved integrity. Do not lose your knowledge that our proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads.  Ayn Rand

Christmas has been traditionally in our household, a time of roast turkey dinner; Christmas tree and a houseful of decorations; presents opened on both Christmas day as well as Boxing Day (* see note at the end as to its meaning) and the girls working at the horse yard on Christmas morning.

This year was slightly different; for the first time ever, we were not going to be celebrating at home as a family, but we were invited to our neighbours for the traditional Christmas meal.

It felt strange not having to prepare the basics of the meal. Cooking the turkey the night before and allowing it to cool before separating all of the meat into different parcels and placing the remaining carcass into the soup pan. Yes, one of the extra chores over the period is the making of the turkey soup to be consumed leading up to New Year. Preparing the various veggies, chopping, dicing and peeling, before placing into the myriad of pans on the top of the cooker.  Finally, the laying out the dinner table ready for the big day with all of the table decorations. Most of these tasks I have done over many years on my own, as everyone gets ready for Christmas.

Additionally, for the past three years, I have not eaten meat, so it is a challenge to be involved with the traditional turkey dinner. I still help, as I do not wish to impose my beliefs on the rest of the family. This year, it was even more strange as we did not have to prepare anything for the main meal; rather we had to prepare and bring along a selection of deserts, which we duly did, to our neighbours.

It was our neighbours who prepared the turkey dinner, with all of the veggies and traditional extras (bread sauce, stuffing and the like). For my dinner, they had kindly cooked some fresh salmon, with lemon and dill.

I don’t know whether it was the level of stress at work, leading up the the festive holidays; or whether it was the change of routine; but this year felt really different.

How?

Strangely, more relaxed and tempered on my part.

I felt as if I had stepped back and allowed things to “flow”. Even with the normal angst on Christmas morning of the mountain of presents or the girls having to go to the yard, it all felt less important. Maybe, it was a series of guided mindfulness exercises I was helped with leading up to the day.

Or, maybe, just maybe, stepping back and allowing the moments to arrive; as they did over the festive days, and just enjoying each moment as it happened, was a new approach to Christmas.

I truly hope your festive season was one of joy, happiness, time with family, friends and loved ones. That you were able to take some time out for yourself; to reflect and to renew.

The next big event will soon be upon us, New Years eve. I have no idea what this year will bring, but will let it flow, whatever it is.

I leave you with the following quote.

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it’s yours.” ― Ayn Rand

 

P.S. What is Boxing Day?

The origins of Boxing Day lie not in sport, but in small acts of kindness. I thought it was from a Victorian tradition of giving small presents in boxes out to servants and the poor on the day after Christmas. The following article from the Guardian newspaper gives some fascinating insight into some of its meaning.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/26/why-is-it-called-boxing-day

 

Do you have just 3 minutes spare today?

“I don’t suffer from my insanity — I enjoy every minute of it.” ― Sherrilyn KenyonDance with the Devil

It has been a little while since I posted something. Work has been absolutely manic with a major change programme in full spate. Add to that the week’s holiday at the end of October, and it feels as if I have skipped the end of the summer and have landed with both feet in the middle of winter; looking around thinking where did that month go?

Anyway, I have been continuing to practice mindfulness, even in the midst of the pressure and work. With everyone rushing about, trying to deliver against deadlines, it has been difficult and at times; I have had to take only a few minutes during the day to be present.

Even 3 minutes, yes, 3 minutes are enough to bring yourself back to the present moment.  And this is where the three-minute meditation came into its own. I have practised this in the office and even first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, whilst in the car driving – through stopped in a traffic jam I might add.

So what is the exercise?

The Three-minute Breathing Space meditation

Step 1: Becoming aware

  • Deliberately adopt an erect and dignified posture, whether sitting or standing. If possible, close your eyes. Then, bring your awareness to your inner experience and acknowledge it, asking: what is my experience right now?
  • What thoughts are going through the mind? As best you can, acknowledge thoughts as mental events. Don’t judge them. Just see them as thoughts.
  • What feelings are here? Turn towards any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, acknowledging them without trying to make them different from how you find them.
  • What body sensations are here right now? Perhaps quickly scan the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or stiffness, acknowledging the sensations, but, once again, not trying to change them in any way.

Step 2: Gathering and focusing attention

  • Now, redirect the attention to a narrow ‘spotlight’ on the physical sensations of the breath, move in close to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen . . . expanding as the breath comes in . . . and falling back as the breath goes out.
  • Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out. Use each breath as an opportunity to anchor yourself into the present. And if the mind wanders, gently escort the attention back to the breath.

Step 3: Expanding attention

  • Now, expand the field of awareness around the breathing so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, maybe even your facial expression or how you are sitting as if the whole body was breathing.
  • Aware of the whole body, moment by moment.

And that is that as they say.

 

 

So go on. Give it a  try. What have you got to lose in that busy; hectic; full on the day ahead of you. 3 minutes is all it takes.

I leave you with the following quote:

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.

If you are anxious you are living in the future.

If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Lao Tzu

Are you feeling Life-Tired or lebensmude?

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”  ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday’s and the start of the week can make people feel worried, upset or even depressed at the prospect of the week to come. I came across a phrase recently that really struck a chord with me. The phrase is:

LEBENSMÜDE  or Life-Tired. It is a German phrase that struck a chord with me.

We believe ourselves to be firmly attached to the effort of daily life, but some of our behaviours attests to something more; an occasional longing to give up our hold the life we lead. When this happens, we suddenly feel low; possibly distracted from the task at hand; even possibly wanting to give up and walk away from the situation. This could be the work environment, a situation at home or even something to do with friends or family.

For many people these days, this feeling can be complete almost overwhelming. Almost like a tidal wave of doubt and angst suddenly hits you. I am sre we have all felt this at some stage.

Some turn to drink. Others to drugs. Some feel anxious and try to run away. Others, even start to feel depressed. You may turn to sport or exercise, but for me, I turn to my thoughts and feelings, expressed through Mindfulness. Having practiced mindfulness now for coming up to three years, it still amazes me, how a simple breathing exercise or a mindful walk can change my whole outlook. Even a brief loving, kindness meditation can work wonders.

I am currently going through a four week mindfulness programme , sponsored by the place where I work. Part refresher; part to help me develop as a mindfulness coach at work; we were encouraged to read an article on how to be more mindful at work. In fact almost every one of the ten tips, not only apply to work. But also apply to re life you live. They include four of my favourite tips:

Be Consciously Present
Mindfulness is about being aware and awake rather than operating unconsciously. Be aware of what’s going on around you and what’s going on within you.

Be a Single-Tasker
Multi-tasking is trying to do two or more tasks at the same time or switching back and forth between tasks. Nobody can actually multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing your train of thought in the process. Why not try single-tasking by trying to do one thing at a time.

Mindful Reminders
I, like most people who’ve undertaken training in mindfulness, appreciate the benefits of mindful living. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to be mindful!  I have to use a reminder. In fact, it is the bracelet I wear next to my watch which I bought when I started practising, as my physical reminder. What is yours?

Cultivate Humility
Humility comes from the Latin “humilis”, meaning grounded. Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. I have come to feel humble as part of my journey through my mindfulness practice.

It is also useful to have a sense of fun and pleasure as well. Maybe even useful to have this word, lebensmude,  to hand on days when it feels as if nothing will ever work out.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote.

Don’t exist.

Live.

Get out, explore.

Thrive.

Challenge authority. Challenge yourself.

Evolve.

Change forever.

Become who you say you always will. Keep moving. Don’t stop

Brian Krans

 

If you want to check out the article on 10 ways to feel mindful at work, go to:

https://www.mindful.org/10-ways-mindful-work/

Hear, Listen and Attend

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”  ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

When I was young, I was partially deaf. This was due to a number of problems with wax and my sinuses. A couple of operations later and I could hear. Not perfectly, but well enough not to consider it a disability throughout my life.

As a result, it has made me very aware of the sounds around me; the conversations that take place and the discussions that I am involved in. Does this mean I am good at hearing things? I try very hard to hear and can on occasions ask for something to be repeated if I fail to hear what is said. This most often happens in a crowded place with multiple people chatting away.

Does this mean I am a good listener? Nope!

I know that on occasions, whilst I might be hearing what is being said, I can zone out of the conversation; perhaps thinking of the answer I want to give; perhaps thinking of a parallel topic, or sometimes my mind just wanders off. Then all of a sudden, the person that is talking will stop and you realise that they have asked a question and you have no idea what was asked.

Gotcha!

The comment “Were you listening to what I was saying?” means they know you were not listening.

There is a distinct difference in hearing and listening. The dictionary definitions are as follows (via Oxford English Dictionary):

hear (verb)   perceive with the ear the sound made by (someone or something)

listen (verb)    give one’s attention to a sound

There is a distinct difference between the two:

  • “I hear you” to me means I understand the emotion you are trying to convey.
  • “I am listening to you”  to me, means taking in what the person is saying. Really, hearing what is being said i.e. “listening and understanding”.

I think back to the comment that was made to me “Were you listening to what I was saying?”, actually, means more than just hearing what was said. It really means, did I take in what was being said and did I understand its underlying reasons.

The next time you are involved in a conversation with someone, really listen to what they are saying, rather than just hearing the sound of the words floating around you.

You might want to try active listening. Active listening is a set of tools and techniques to help you be more effective. Some active listening techniques include:

  • Building trust and establishing rapport.
  • Demonstrating concern.
  • Paraphrasing to show understanding.
  • Nonverbal cues which show understanding such as nodding, eye contact and leaning forward.
  • Brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand.”
  • Asking open-ended questions.
  • Asking specific questions to seek clarification.
  • Waiting to disclose your opinion.
  • Disclosing similar experiences to show understanding

Here are some examples of statements and questions employed with active listening:

  • Building Trust and Establishing Rapport: “Tell me what I can do to help.”
  • Demonstrating Concern: “I am eager to help you; I know you are going through some tough challenges.”
  • Paraphrasing: “So, you are saying that the uncertainty about who will be your new supervisor is creating stress for you.”
  • Brief Verbal Affirmation: “I understand that you would like more frequent feedback about your performance.” “Thank you. I appreciate your time in speaking to me.”
  • Asking Open-Ended Questions:  “It’s clear that the current situation is intolerable for you. What changes would you like to see?”

Give one of them a try. You might notice a difference.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote.

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Work will not set you free, your attitude might

“It was sad, like those businessmen who came to work in serious clothes but wore colourful ties in a mad, desperate attempt to show there was a free spirit in there somewhere.” ― Terry Pratchett, Making Money

A recent article prompted me to reflect on the way we work today and our attitude to work.

The article talked about one of the leading entrepreneurs today, a chap called Elon Musk. You might not have heard of him, but you might have heard of the Tesla car, which is one of his companies. Anyway, Elon was asked about the ups and downs of his life and Elon Musk was asked about the ups and downs of his life – in particular of setting up and growing an enterprise. He replied “The reality is great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress. Don’t think people want to hear about the last two,”

Although Elon was talking about setting up and running companies, I think that the phrase also applies to many people in the world of work today.

I completely concur with Musk about the ‘great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress’ as I reflect on the world of work that I have lived through over the past 30 years.

I have experienced fantastic highs. Standing in front of 1,000 plus people sharing my experiences of designing and implementing a global Performance Measurement and Management System that supported 2,000 users and was used across a global business. Oh and then being presented with an award, which came as a complete surprise. By the way, to many people standing in front of that many people presenting would be a nightmare. But I enjoyed it.

I have experienced terrible lows. Having to go through a European wide organisation restructure, which meant that colleagues were let go. Having to design the selection criteria and then choose who was to stay and who was to go. Going through the selection process and then watching people being asked to leave a company they cared about and were doing a meaningful job.  To some, a number exercise, but not to me.

Finally, unrelenting stress. As the result of a major change programme that did not go well; having to work 7 days a week with long hours; with exceptional pressure to keep the “boat afloat” and continue to deliver to the customers. Unrelenting. Unforgiven. Harsh and pressured to turn around a terrible situation. 

Reflecting on all of these experiences, I have come to realise that you have to care – and care deeply – about the work that you do and more importantly, the people you work with. Else, why would you put yourself through the pressure, stress and heartache? When you can walk away.

This then poses the next question; work time. If you consider the amount of time you spend in the world of work, both travelling to and from work, as well as actually working itself, it makes up the majority of your adult life. Almost four million employees are working at least 48 hours a week. The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours compared with a European average of 40.3 and limits of just 35 in France. If you add on the average 3-hour commute per day, then you are talking about over 58 hours per week working.

Our adult lives are work focused.

Please feel free to say they are not but the truth is, they are. We will never break away from the work world until we get to the nivara of a non-work society where everyone is free to enjoy what they want to do and “work” is carried out by robots. Till then, we will have to work and be tied into work customs and outcomes.

Back to the question I posed at the start. Work will not set you free. You will set yourself free through your attitude.

Whatever work you do, and I have experienced some of the most “interesting” – suitcase porter; soiled bed linen clearer; snooker attendant; multi-vendor service engineer; technical escalation manager,  and even prisoner mentor (yes inside a category B prison with “lifers”); every role, in the end, is carried out by someone.  You will all come to realise that there are very few if any, opportunities to be content in the world of work. Work will not set you free from the grind and effort of delivering a service/product / solution, or whatever.

What sets you “free”, to use a phrase, is how you approach the “work” you do. Your mind set. How you want to serve the customer or the people in the value chain. Your own passion and ethos on serving people.  Even in the most recent challenges I have had, my approach has always been how to serve. In some cases, ignoring the politics of the organisation and focus on the customer and the people involved.

Am I right? Wrong? Will work set you free? Not sure. How you approach work might.

If you want to read more about the tweet and the dialogue that prompted this article, go to:

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/31/elon-musk-is-bipolar-has-terrible-lows-and-unrelenting-stress.html

I leave you with the following quote.

“God might work in mysterious ways, but hell worked on efficient ones.” Richelle Mead, Succubus Shadows

P.S Do not put into google “work will set you free”, else you will get the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” (German). A phrase meaning “work sets you free”. The slogan is known for appearing on the entrance of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.