Technology stops you sleeping

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Technology has made amazing differences in our lives. Whether it is TV’s, mobile phones, tablet PC’s, laptops, games consoles and the like; we are surrounded by technology. In our homes; at work; in our cars, literally everywhere. As part of our “twenty-four hour always on” world, it often feels like we are the consumed rather than the consumer of the technology.

We even have things by us when we go to bed. Do you use your mobile phone before you go to sleep to check the latest e:mail? Do you use your tablet to watch films in bed? Perhaps you use you iPad as an alarm clock? Just think for a moment. Look around your bedroom.

Now, let me ask you a question: How did you sleep last night?

Honestly, when was the last time you woke up completely refreshed? Can you even remember when that was?

Perhaps you have been suffering from a lack of sleep? Or interrupted sleep where you wake up and can not go back to sleep?

Chances are it is because of the technology by your bedside and how you are using it. Now, before you start saying, “no it is not”, let me share some research and some real life examples.

Blue Light:

The blue light emitted by the screens on mobile phones, iPads, and tablets suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep cycle. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. You can also experience shorter restorative REM cycles, delayed circadian rhythms, and feel sleepier the next morning. This “blue light” effect literally tells our body to stay awake and alert. It is like sleeping wit the bedroom light on.  

Brain Alert:
It may seem harmless to check your e:mails before bed, play a simple game or unwind with a favourite movie, but by keeping your mind engaged, we are tricking our brains into thinking that it needs to stay awake. And if you’re surfing the web, seeing something exciting on Facebook, or reading a negative email, those experiences can make it hard to relax and settle into sleep. After spending an entire day surrounded by technology, your mind needs time to unwind, to relax.

It wakes you up:
Even if you are not using technology before bed, it doesn’t mean that it can’t harm your sleep. Keeping a mobile phone, iPad or tablet PC within reach can still disturb sleep, thanks to the chimes and dings of late night text messages, e:mails, and other reminders. A colleague at work has had a couple weeks where they kept waking up in the middle of the night. They couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem. Then it struck them. For the past two weeks, since their son has gone back to college, they have been receiving text messages on their iPad late at night from said son, who is obviously staying up late at night. Since it is by their bedside, the chime of the incoming text message has woken them up. And since they are such a light sleeper, it means it takes hours before they can go back to sleep.

Technology is great, but when it impacts your sleep, it can make a real difference in how you are during the day. So, if you have been having sleep problems, it might just be that tech by your bedside.

Tips to help:

  • Why not give yourself at least 30 minutes of gadget-free transition time before going to bed.
  • If you need to do something to relax before going to sleep, you could read a book, but not on a backlit device!
  • Even better, make your bedroom a technology-free zone—keep your electronics outside the room.  For me, I do not have my mobile phone by my bedside. Rather it is in the kitchen, downstairs. I have an old fashioned alarm clock by my bedside which I use.

It might not be the technology alone that affect your sleep, it could be something else. I came across the following website by the National Sleep Foundation who are dedicated to starting a movement about the positive benefits of sleep health  It has a raft of tips and hints on how to help improve your sleep:
I leave you with the following quote.

“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.”  ― Poppy Z. Brite

Research: Why your cell phone causes sleep problems

This is the Now

“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

We spend so much of our lives living inside our own heads, it’s a wonder we ever have the time to see what is going around us. We have a constant narrative of thought going on. It is like the background noise of a radio or TV; often not noticed, but always there.

Do you realise that we humans, it seems, have anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. But according to some research, as many as 98 percent of them are exactly the same as we had the day before. Talk about creatures of habit! Even more significantly, over 80 percent of our thoughts are negative. That means that every day we are self-criticizing ourselves with over 56,000 thoughts. With that level of negative bias, it’s no wonder so many people suffer from anxiety and even depression.

Why is so much of our self-talk, negative?

If you think back to our pre-history as hunter-gatherers, we spent most of our time hunting or being hunted. Our flight or fight responses were tuned into everything going on around us.

“Is that a tiger I see before me, or just a leafy shadow in the bushes ahead?”

The default thought patterns were centred on how to keep us alive. In effect, making us be cautious about every situation we came across. We used our memories to record and reflect on previous encounters and to use those to help us keep out of danger.

“Yes, it is a tiger and I believe it was a tiger I saw yesterday. Therefore, keep out of the way”

This would be the instinctive reaction, eve if 9 times out of 10, it was just a shadow and not a tiger.

Leap forward and that base level instinct and mode of thought has not changed one jot. However, it is not the tiger in the shadows that makes us worry; rather it is life going on around us.

What appears to happen, is that we have continued to develop a narrative mode of thought. This is where we think about the future, based on circumstances; events; and key obstacles of the past. We constantly think about what may happen in the future, often thinking about future obstacles and how to overcome them based on prior experiences. This is not necessarily negative. In fact, it can be very helpful as we navigate this complex world around us. However, when we do overcome them, or go around them, or avoid them, we still have other obstacles that pop up. It is akin to a life long hurdle race.  

If we are in a negative mode of thought, we think about how difficult those obstacles are and how impossible it is to overcome them. We go round and round, and as mentioned at the start, we churn over our thoughts; day by day; returning to previous negative thoughts. By doing this, we artificially amplify them; making them bigger and more impossible to solve.

So how do you stop the negative thought spiral?

Stop. Just stop. Stop and pay attention to the now. Now, I know you are going to say, how on earth do you do that?

A simple exercise you can try is as – just for a moment, listen to your breath. Or notice what you are looking at. Or the smells in the air.

For example; If you have a shower; when you are standing under the water, close your eyes and feel the water on your skin. Open your eyes and when you open the bottle of shower wash, smell the aroma and scent. Mine is eucalyptus and grapefruit of all things. If you are cleaning your teeth, concentrate on the brushing motion against your teeth and gums.

And when those negative thoughts start to come around again as they will; the first step is to recognise the thoughts as negative. The second is to acknowledge that, like all thoughts, these will come and go. Moment by moment.

I was sitting on the bed this morning and a whole suite of negative thoughts starting going around in my head. It made me feel uncomfortable. I could feel my heart rate begin to increase. However, what made the difference was I realised that these were negative thoughts. Just thoughts. They did not reflect the reality of the moment, sitting on the bed. Thoughts of the past, that you can not change. Thoughts of the future, yet to come.

In effect, I was present in the now.

The TEDx youTube video that inspired this blog post, by Daron Larson, can be found here. It is well worth the 12 minutes to watch.
I leave you with the following quote.

“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.” –  Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Dealing with difficult discussions?

““Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” ― Socrates

In the world of work having difficult conversations, whether it is with your boss, a co-worker or a customer, are an inevitable part of management. How should you prepare for this kind of discussion? How do you find the right words in the moment? And, how can you manage the exchange so that it goes as smoothly as possible?

What the Experts Say
“We’ve all had bad experiences with these kinds of conversations in the past,” says Holly Weeks, the author of Failure to Communicate. Perhaps your boss lashed out at you during a heated discussion, or your direct report started to cry during a performance review; maybe your client hung up the phone on you. As a result, we tend to avoid them. But that’s not the right answer. After all, tough conversations “are not black swans,” says Jean-Francois Manzoni, professor of human resources and organisational development at INSEAD. The key is to learn how to handle them in a way that produces “a better outcome: less pain for you, and less pain for the person you’re talking to,” he says. Here’s how to get what you need from these hard conversations — while also keeping your relationships intact.

Change your mindset
If you’re gearing up for a conversation you’ve labelled “difficult,” you’re more likely to feel nervous and upset about it beforehand. Instead, try “framing it in a positive, less binary” way, suggests Manzoni. For instance, you’re not giving negative performance feedback; you’re having a constructive conversation about development. You’re not telling your boss: no; you’re offering up an alternate solution. “A difficult conversation tends to go best when you think about it as a just a normal conversation,” says Weeks.

“The more calm and centred you are, the better you are at handling difficult conversations,” says Manzoni. He recommends: “taking regular breaks” throughout the day to practice “mindful breathing.” This helps you “refocus” and “gives you the ability to absorb any blows” that come your way. This technique also works well in the moment. If, for example, a colleague comes to you with an issue that might lead to a hard conversation, excuse yourself —get a cup of coffee or take a brief stroll around the office — and collect your thoughts.

Plan but don’t script
It can help to plan what you want to say by jotting down notes and key points before your conversation. Drafting a script, however, is a waste of time. “It’s very unlikely that it will go according to your plan,” says Weeks. Your counterpart doesn’t know “his lines,” so when he “goes off script, you have no forward motion” and the exchange “becomes weirdly artificial.” Your strategy for the conversation should be “flexible” and contain “a repertoire of possible responses,” says Weeks. Your language should be “simple, clear, direct, and neutral,” she adds.

MY HELPFUL TIP: Rather, I use a technique I picked up as part of a retreat. It is called “Pause, Reflect, Act”.

When I find myself in a stressful situation or in a discussion at home or at work, there comes a point where you get caught up in the moment, diving into the words and not recognising the context and flow. That is when this technique comes into its own. I say the words in my head. You might have them written down on a piece of paper. You might even count the fingers on your hand. Whatever works for you.

That split second pause before you answer is just enough to give yourself a moment to reflect on “am I reacting to the way someone is saying something. AKA, I am feeling threatened / rejected / lost / alone / whatever” or what is it I want to communicate.

Do I remember to do this all the time? No. Does it help when I do? Absolutely. Is it something I have shared at work and at home? Yes. And it has helped.

This technique, along with regular mindfulness practice has certainly helped me to create a more integrated life. I know I still have many “life boxes that I manage”, but they are far fewer than I had before and I certainly feel that life is a road easier to travel.

I leave you with the following quote.
“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” [Address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 November 2004]” ― Desmond Tutu

Work is a Relationship thing


“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” Studs Terkel

For many people here in the UK, this is the first full week back at work. It certainly felt like it with the level of commuting traffic on a Monday morning. This got me thinking that like it or not, but work does define your life. I know some people will argue it does not, but for many of us, it does. We spend more time working than ever before. We have moved way beyond the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday work life of our parents. According to one survey, we are working over 42 hours per week. If you add on the commute time of an average of 3 hours per day, to and from work, you are talking about 52 hours per week, of work related time. Our culture has become an “always on” one. We are travelling further and working longer than ever before.

However, it is not just the amount of work that we are doing, it is how we are now engaged in the world of work that I think is important. What often gets ignored is that just like the personal relationships we develop, we also develop a work relationship. I don’t mean with the people at work itself, I mean with the work itself. For many of us, the type of work that we do, also impacts how we engage in a broader sphere.

For some people, putting on shirt, tie and suit in the morning is like putting on armour, ready to go to battle. For some, work is about being authentic and consistent. For others, trying to help and support others around them is important. For many though, people are more often feeling part of a work machine. Work defines us in so many ways. Ways we sometimes forget.

I worked for a long time for a US technology company, called Hewlett-Packard. When I applied to the company it felt as if I was joining a special group of people. The work was hard, the hours were long and the level of commitment expected was high. However, in those early days, I did not feel at all that I was just part of a work machine. Perhaps that is rose-tinted hindsight, but I don’t think so. In nearly all the years I worked there, I never felt part of a machine. I felt that I could grow, develop and enjoy myself. I felt that I was recognised both as an individual, as well as for the contribution that I made.

Leap forward in time and I don’t think the world of work is the same any more. Many people I know that work in many different companies are mentioning to me a similar set of questions, along the lines of: “I don’t feel recognised as an individual”; “Work does not hold the same meaning any more”; “I feel I am not achieving what I set out to do”; “How can I help make a difference?”  

Perhaps it is an age thing? I don’t think so. Perhaps it is a perception thing? I am not sure. What I do know is that for the vast majority of us, what work we do defines us and the relationship we have with work also impacts how we interact with the world.

I came across a really interesting infographic on the changing dynamics of work. You might want to check it out here.
As always, I leave you with the following quote.

“People are more difficult to work with than machines. And when you break a person, he can’t be fixed.”  Rick Riordan, The Battle of the Labyrinth

How do you create a habit that sticks?


“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” Jim Rohn

At this time of year, after the festive season, the focus and discussion turn to how to do something different for the New Year. Giving up smoking; going on a diet; starting an exercise regime; getting a new skill; almost anything you can think of.

We all have written that list; be it long or short; of things we want to do differently at the start of the new year. And I can honestly say that we have all failed. It might take a few days or even a couple of weeks, but the change we try to make falls by the wayside. We then get into self-recrimination mode. Which makes the apparent “failure” even worse.

We don’t seem to learn from this and every year without fail, people create “wish lists of change”. What we fail to understand is that you have to start from a different place.

Change your mindset

It is a well know fact that if you want to “give up” something; be it smoking; chocolate; meat or even caffeine; you are setting yourself up for failure straight away with the concept of “giving up”. This is a “loss” mindset. This creates desire. Want. Craving. And like all loss, you crave it more and more.

I know this, having tried to give up smoking on more than one occasion. Having tried to give it up, I managed to last about two weeks, before the craving made me return to cigarettes. The key to me stopping smoking was changing my mindset.  I decided it was my choice to stop smoking. And like all choice, you can choose to start again. January 2006 was when I gave up (A New Year’s resolution). I have not smoked since.

Recognise the habit

Nearly everything we do can create a habit. Eating certain foods like chocolate when you are “unhappy”; smoking a cigarette when you feel “stressed”; opening a bottle of beer at the end of a day’s “work”; almost anything can create a habit that you may find difficult to break.

For me, the habit I had when I smoked was I would get up first thing in the morning; make a cup of tea and open the back door to light my first fag (English slang term) of the day. Part of changing my mindset was recognising the triggers and habits that surrounded them.

So you have got a list of things that you want to do differently; start or stop; what do you do next?

HELPFUL TIP: Remember Mindset, Habit and Reward

Mindset #1: If you are trying to stop something; like smoking or eating something you do not want to eat any more; the starting point is to recognise that you are NOT giving something up. You have choice. Choice to continue or to stop. You are in complete control.

Mindset #2: If you are trying to start something, like a new exercise regime; the starting point is to create space and time for you to be able to exercise. You need to create mental space as well as time and maybe even physical space. When I started Mindfulness, I realised that I had to get up earlier in the morning to be able to practice. As a result, I got up 30 minutes earlier every morning. I also created a physical space to practice in the spare room.

Habit: Any action you follow, be it exercise; eating; diet; whatever, will take time. Some people feel habits can be created quickly. But it does take time. There is a fallacy that it takes only 21 days, less than a month, for a new habit to be formed. However, it can take over two months, or at least 66 days to create a habit that lasts. If you would like further information on why 66 days, check out an article from James Clear –


Finally, reward yourself. When I gave up smoking, I took the £5.00 per day that I spent on smoking and put it in a clear jam jar. Every day I would put in a fiver. For a complete month. At the end of January, I had £155. As a reward, I bought myself an iPod. When I started Mindfulness; I bought myself an exercise mat to use every day, putting it out as a visual reminder to practice.

So, creating that New Year’s change list is only the start. Remember it takes more than just a list to make a change stick.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi


My 3 words for 2017

As we recover from the celebrations of New Year’s eve and come to the start of 2017, people all over the world are writing lists of goals for the year or thinking about resolutions for personal change for the year. All too often, these fall by the wayside within the first few weeks of the year. I’ll blog about how to make changes you want to achieve stick, later on this year.

However, for the past few years, I have followed a slightly different path, as recommended by Chris Brogan. He is a business strategist; author of 9 books and works with some of the biggest global brands. He uses a “3 word” approach to setting goals and to help set a pathway for the year.

As he says; “We choose three words so that you can use them for triangulation. One word seems to fade away from our memory too quickly. Two words sets our brain up to think of “this or that” kinds of logic. Three words gives us a way to think about the situations in our lives from many dimensions.”

So what are my 3 words for 2017 and what do they mean to me?

Embrace – 2017 is going to be a year of change, both at work and personally. I know it and rather than be a passenger, I need to embrace the changes, hence the word

Write – Thanks to my brother who suggested it; this year, I aim to write every day. Maybe, just short notes to myself. Perhaps a diary of events. Or poetry, prose or just my thoughts. I aim to continue to post blogs every week, with the goal to post on a Monday.

Pilates – I was going to choose “Balance” as my third word, thinking about trying to create a more balanced view of my life, but I already feel I am moving in that direction. Instead, I want to get much fitter and more flexible. For example, I have never been able to touch my toes! I was introduced to pilates by a dear friend at work and have been trying it out over Christmas and have enjoyed the exercise. 

So there we go. I’ll check in on progress in a month’s time and let you know how I am doing.

To check out Chris Brogan and his 2017 3 words, go to: