Monthly archives "May 2015"

Enough

ENOUGHIt’s been a funny little four-day week.  I had a lovely long ‘to-do’ list all lined up.  For starters, I had the whole of the Bank Holiday Monday all to myself – so I was going to power through a course I’ve signed up to.

I was also going to push ahead with some book marketing, start work on the new book, kick-start some exercise and healthy eating, and go to bed early every single night.

But things didn’t quite go to plan.  I had a lovely bank holiday weekend with friends and family, but Monday’s plans got shelved as family plans took precedence. The poorly pooch got very poorly on Tuesday so all of Tuesday’s plans got shelved whilst I ferried him to and from the Vet and spent time looking after him. I still shudder when I think of Wednesday night and ‘spider-gate – eek!  (I caught him in the end, but it was a long, fraught night).  The rest of the week went on in the same vein, and all my book-related plans have come to naught.

And you know what – that’s ok.  Although writing is what I love to do, being with the people I love is even more important.  What I am choosing (with the help of the fabulous Judith Morgan) is not to feel guilty for not getting through my ‘to-do’ list each and every day of the week, or even week.

I’m pretty good at going with the flow.  What I’m not so good at, and am working on is letting go of the idea that I’ve somehow failed because I haven’t managed to do it all.  I haven’t been able to tend to ill pets, spend time with friends or family, hold down a day-job and still cover half of the course in a four-day week.  When I write that down, I see how silly I’m being.  But when I’m reshuffling my plans, there are definite moments of ‘I should be able to manage all this – what am I doing wrong?’.

And that’s what I want to share with you – I’m not doing anything wrong.  Neither are you.  We’re just doing what we can, with what we have, from where we are.  And that’s enough.  We are enough – you and I.  beautifully, chaotically, messily, lovingly enough.

Smile

SMILE!It’s the week after the bank holiday, so those of us at work are probably enjoying a slightly quieter, easier journey in and out, and a slightly less frenetic pace.  On the other hand, we’re also maybe feeling a little bit glum because that’s the last bank holiday until the end of August (sorry folks).

So the best thing I can do today is keep it short and sweet, and give you one teeny tiny little tip to make your morning better.

And to that end, here’s a random fact – when you smile, even if you’re in a lousy mood, it’ll boost your mood.

Yup – even a fake smile will make you feel better.  Studies have confirmed that even the act of moving your mouth to form a smile activates the part of the brain linked to reward.  In addition, the act of smiling (real or fake) causes a release of dopamine (the happy hormone), so even a fake smile will start to make you feel better.  And if you feel better, you’ll start to think more positively, and then you’ll start to behave more positively.

AND smiling is contagious.  Once you start grinning like a loon, you’ll find your colleagues doing it too – so go ahead, start a smile epidemic.

I’ll leave you with this uplifting little quote…

“Life is like a mirror – we get the best results when we smile at it.” – author unknown.

And if you want to find even more ways to make work a happier, smilier place, check out the book 🙂

No shame

No ShameI went to see a play last night.  Nirbhaya.  It was the most gruelling, painful, heartbreakingly difficult piece of theatre I’ve ever watched.  I’m not going to talk about the play’s main subject matter – that’s for you to look into, if and when you’re ready.

But there was a word that came through again, and again, and again – not only in the play itself, as those brave incredible women told their stories, but also in the discussion with the actors and directors later.

That word was shame.

Here are a couple of definitions of shame, from the dictionary.

  • A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour:
  • A loss of respect or esteem; dishonour.

And it got me thinking – we spend so much of our lives either allowing ourselves to feel shame, or allowing other people to make us feel shame.  I’m not talking about shame within the context of the play either.  I’m talking about the everyday, little incidences of being made to feel shame, or ashamed.

How many times have you felt foolish, or been made to feel foolish when you have done something that made you feel great initially?

Let me get you started with something really easy.  When I was a little girl, I was a bit of a tomboy.  I wasn’t a very girly girl.  I liked playing football and pirates with my brothers and cousins.  I didn’t like dresses much, I didn’t really like hanging out with other girls – they played boring games.  My aunts used to tell me off for this choice.  I should be ashamed of myself.  I was made to feel foolish for playing with the boys.

When I was a bit older, my natural food preferences were Italian.  I’m Indian.  But for a long time, I wasn’t particularly good at cooking Indian food, because I didn’t really relish the flavours (I do now!).  I remember an uncle telling my how embarrassed I must feel not be able to make basic indian food – how shameful it was.

Later in life, I remember not telling very many people I was into Agatha Christie novels – it was a bit twee and a bit nerdy and definitely not cool.  I felt ashamed to admit I enjoyed them.

If you start to think about the number of things, actions, likes, dislikes we either choose to hide, because we’re ashamed of what others might think of us, because those things are not cool, or clever, or whatever, it’s slightly scary.

When did we become so scared of being ourselves?  When did we become scared of being a little bit different?  When did geeky or nerdy or bookish become something to be ashamed of?

So I’m doing something that the play encouraged, in my own little way – I’m standing up and saying – I will not be shamed anymore.  I will not be shamed for my likes and dislikes, for my decisions or for my life choices.  They are mine.  They are the things that make me Heena.  And I’m good with who Heena is.

I would love for you to do the same.  Embrace your quirks, own your choices, liberate yourself from the need for anyone else’s approval or disapproval.

Let’s live by these two words, as often and joyfully as we can – NO SHAME.

Einstein’s Three Rules of Work

Three Rules of WorkI might have mentioned that I had my first little misunderstanding at work last week. I thought one thing, my manager thought another, and the resulting minor collision left me a little metaphorically bruised.

It’s been a few days since that little skirmish, and for the first two days I let my fears and insecurities come to the fore. As a writer I’m always playing out scenarios in my head, conjuring up all sorts of crazy stories from random coincidences. It’s a useful skill when I’m working on the plot of the new book (which I really MUST get on with!). It’s not a useful skill when I use that most powerful of all tools, my imagination, to think about the possible consequences of that skirmish.

And as we all know, how you feel has a direct impact on how you behave. How you behave has a direct impact on your results, and those behaviours and results lead to interactions with others. So clearly, allowing my imagination to get carried away with worst-case scenarios is not healthy. I needed to nip it in the bud quickly, before it started affecting my work. Luckily, those two days were the weekend.

A good chat and some excellent advice from my siblings (thanks very much guys!), led to a more reasoned assessment of the situation, which both agreed was trivial. They pointed out that after three awful contracts I was almost expecting something to go wrong. And they were right (don’t you hate when that happens?) – I was thinking this contract really was too good to be true. And so of course I was looking for something to go wrong. Luckily for me, that something was tiny, I’m rectifying it already, and my manager will hopefully forget all about it.

So what can I learn from this? Well, I think it might be this – if I change my thinking, it’ll change my attitude. If I change my attitude it’ll change my actions. If I change my actions, it’ll change my results. So I’m choosing to think it’s all going to be fine, or better than fine. I also came across Einstein’s Three Rules of Work, which felt particularly apt…

Out of clutter find simplicity.
From discord find harmony.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity – Albert Einstein

So my plan going forward? I decided to take my own advice from chapter one of the book – here’s a little excerpt…

“What is important is that you take emotions and other people’s agendas out of it – make it only about the work.”

So that’s exactly what I’m going to do – make it all about the work. I hope that helps you next time your feathers get a little ruffled at work too.

Rainy Days and Sunny Afternoons

Rainy days and sunny afternoonsIt’s been an up and down kind of week.  Some rainy days, both in the metaphorical and literal sense.

This week I’ve had a slightly poorly pooch, a very poorly car, a severely bruised bank balance, hot water pipes that have gone on strike and a slight miscommunication at work which left me feeling a little bit bleugh.  None of it is particularly serious.  All of it has been dealt with and is either resolved, being resolved, or I have a plan in place to resolve it.

Everything I can do, I have either done, or will be doing.  I saw a quote somewhere this week (and I wish I could remember where it was, and who it was – sadly I can’t) that I really resonated with.  It started with friends of this person commenting that life seemed to be so easy, and the person replied that she (I remember it was a she) had worked hard at cutting out all the negative drama in her life and at making it as straightforward and easy as she possibly could.  Eliminating all the negativity had the inevitable result of making her life easier and happier.

And I suppose, in my own small way, I’ve done as much of that as I can this week.  I’ve sorted out what I can.  But I’ve still ended up feeling a bit battered and a bit ‘meh’.

Life has a funny way of balancing itself out though – after a week of sorting things out I’ve enjoyed a weekend of family birthday meals, sunny afternoons in the park with a recovered pooch, and catching up on much-needed sleep.  I’ve found some space to recharge, and really enjoyed the simple pleasures of an afternoon in the park and an evening of shooting the breeze over some food and wine.

So I want to ask you, if you’re going through a tough time right now – please keep the faith, remember that it’s not all down, the ups will come – life is a crazy mix of rainy days and sunny afternoons.  Know that your sunny afternoon is just around the corner.

The Blame Game

Blame GameWhen I got back into the office after a week and a half away, my team were just finalising the quarterly reporting that I’ve been brought in to assist with.

I’d created a workbook that was designed to make our reporting more efficient and more transparent.  We’d tested it and everything was looking good.  But when we got to the actual reporting things did not go smoothly at all.

We lost a couple of days because of the May bank holidays, which weren’t recognised, so our deadline wasn’t extended.  There are a couple of other teams and departments we liaise with and one of the key players was away after running the initial report.  This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that the initial report was incorrect.  And finally, my team hadn’t used the workbook I’d designed in the way I had designed it, so not only did it take longer, but there were actually more initial errors.  Not good, right?

So when I came back on Monday, I was expecting a tough week, working through all the issues, and also playing the blame game.

You know how that goes. Something goes wrong.  No-one wants to take responsibility.  Everyone attempts to blame everyone else.  After much slinging of mud and ill-will, nothing is settled, everyone is unhappy and work becomes a little more miserable and Horroffice-esque.

So imagine my surprise when this week, when we sat down in our team to discuss everything, each of us genuinely accepted the part we played in the process.  For my part, I felt I needed to be clearer with the instructions and ensure the entire process was completed before letting anyone look at the date, but the manager I work admitted something I’d been nervous about raising – she stated that she’d gone in when the process and workbook were only half done and had started working on those numbers, and in retrospect she should have waited.  She wasn’t playing the blame game.  After the flood of relief on my part, we had some great insights from the experience which we know will improve things for the next quarter.

The same thing happened in our meetings with the other teams – no blame game being played anywhere, just a genuine desire to learn and make things better.  It’s something that I’ve only seen at a few companies.  In recent contracts the blame game seems to be the only one being played.

And you know what?  Just those open, honest, blame-free meetings made everything better.  That attitude, that “Ok, what can we learn from this, how can we re-engineer the process to improve it?” mindset, that made a huge difference.  No-one was on edge, worried that the blame game would land at their feet, and they would tagged.  Ideas flowed, and I’m genuinely excited to see how we improve the quarterly process.

So maybe we can all try that mindset on for size in the next few days – when something goes wrong, whether it’s at work or at home, tell yourself you’re not going to play the blame game (even when others do), you’re just going to ask what lessons you can learn instead, and see how much better you feel for it.

 

Winds of change

winds of changeIt’s been quite a week hasn’t it?  For me personally, it’s been an eye-opening and slightly exhausting week.  I was away on holiday in Las Vegas.  I’ve never been there before and it was a real eye-opener.

If you haven’t been either, then I can only say that everything you’ve read about or heard about is probably true.  Vegas is a completely crazy place – anything and everything goes, there is no normal, and I can see how people lose themselves to the city.  I had a wonderful time, I didn’t lose too much (I’m not much of a gambler), I made some fantastic new friends and partied harder and longer than I ever have before.  I came back completely exhausted, and very grateful for an amazing holiday and a very lovely life to come back to.

Mind you, I chose to come back on the craziest day in politics in five years – Election day.  Of course, after I’d voted I was glued to the election coverage for the next twenty-four hours.  Given the surprise results overnight and the altered political landscape, the resignation of the three party leaders within an hour of each other wasn’t actually much of a surprise.  The winds of change had been pretty blustery on Friday morning.

It got me thinking about change.  And how we cope with change.  And then I came across this quote, which I love, and which expresses it perfectly…

“The pessimist complains about the wind.

The optimist expects it to change.

The realist adjusts the sail.”

William A Ward

What do you think?  Which one are you at the moment?  And which would you like to be?  if it helps, remember that it only takes a tiny change in attitude to make that happen…

 

Compared to who?

compared to who-“Did it really take you all day to do that report?  Gosh.  Shirley used to be able to do it in under two hours.”

“It’s funny that you’re so short – everyone else in your family is so tall.”

“Research shows the average thirty-year old today has little or no savings compared to their peers from 1970.”

What do these three statements have in common? They’re all comparisons. They’ve all been made by someone else. None of them are of any use to you.

Here’s an excerpt from the book that goes into this in more detail…

“It’s not realistic to put two people in the same environment with the same tools and necessarily expect exactly the same outcome. Even twins would perform differently from each other because we all come with our own motivation, baggage, skills, issues.”

It might not be realistic, but we all do it. We all compare ourselves to other people – our peers, our predecessors and our competitors at work, as well as our family, our friends, and the versions of ourselves the media tells us we should be.

The problem is, we don’t always use these comparisons to help us. We use them as a stick to beat ourselves up with. I’m not sure how helpful that is. When I took my dog to puppy training classes one of the first things they taught us was that treat based training gave much more successful results than punishment based training.  I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of treat based success – the pooch can still be persuaded to try almost anything if I wave enough treats at him.

So why do we punish ourselves with useless comparisons?  Partly I think it’s because it’s the norm.  Everyone else compares us too.  Ever since we were children we’ve been taught to compare ourselves – exams, family traits, bank balances, height, age, weight, social status, annual appraisal grades – there are countless ways we’re being compared and measured and judged.

We can’t stop other people using these comparisons but we can stop ourselves from using them, especially from using them as a way to beat ourselves up.  Let’s make a pact not to do that to ourselves, or each other if we can help it.

The only useful comparison I think you can make is to say ‘Am I doing the best I can?  Am I getting closer to my goals than I was yesterday.  Am I moving forward?’

Compare yourself to you, only you, and only as a means of moving forward.  Everything else is meaningless.

Unplug Yourself

Unplug YourselfI’m keeping today’s blog short and sweet because I want you to spend the five minutes you might have been reading this to do something else – I want you to Unplug Yourself.

By the time you read this, I will have been Unplugged for at least three days.

It’s one of the things I mention in the book, when I talk about finding your safety valve, because it’s something we rarely give ourselves permission to do, and it’s one of the most important tools we have available to keep our equilibrium.  Here’s a little excerpt…

“I’ve found that time and distance from a situation are both great healers.  I’ll burrow down into the sofa with the pooch for company, and a good book or film, enjoy a snooze and ride out the storm.

When things have settled a bit, I’ll put my head above the parapet and work out how to restore the situation to normal.”

I also saw a quote on Facebook by the wonderful writer Anne Lamott that explains it beautifully…

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

So I’d love you to do just that for five minutes. Just switch off.  Listen to some music, go and stand in the garden and enjoy the breeze, make yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger if you fancy it), or just sit quietly with your eyes shut and focus on your breathing.

Unplug Yourself.  Reset.  Enjoy.