The Tyranny of Must and Should

“I must decorate the house.” “I should loose some weight.” “I really must tidy up the garden.” “I should get a promotion or a new job.” “I should make sure my kids have a home cooked meal at the table every night, using cutlery and table manners.” “I should keep busy.” Whose thoughts are these? They are in my head, but I’m not sure they are really mine.

The clues are in the “musts” and “shoulds.”  Pretty much any time we notice ourselves or someone else using these words, there is another voice present. And surprise, surprise, it’s often a parent, although it could be a teacher, friend, boss or partner.

When we are children, our parents are there to watch over us every minute, to keep us safe, teach us to behave well and be sociable.  As we get older, teachers and other adults also take on part of this role. By the time we are old enough to act independently and look after ourselves without constant supervision, we have internalised the voices of our parents and teachers.  Even though they are not physically there to watch over us, their voices are inside us, keeping us safe, well-behaved and sociable.

A child starts to walk to school on their own and their parent’s voice inside their head reminds them to look carefully before they cross the road.  Teenagers are starting to think for themselves, and reject some of this parental guidance, but nevertheless, the internal parental voice will guide them some of the time, though probably not as often as the parents would like.

Parental voices become our conscience and our guide. Our values and moral compass are developed out of these voices, and our inner health and safety monitor is too. Most of the time, this is a good thing. It keeps us safe. It helps us uphold good values. It helps us fit into society and hold down jobs. Most of the people who created our internal dialogue meant well! We should be grateful to them.

But sometimes these voices create a prison of “musts” that don’t serve us so well. “I must tidy the house,” is ok if it stops the house from becoming an unsanitary tip, but not so good if it means I can never relax in my own house. “I must get a promotion” could help me to work hard and achieve my potential, which could be satisfying, but it could also prevent me from seeing what will really bring me satisfaction at work and take me into a role that doesn’t meet my creative needs. “I must keep busy” makes me very productive, but sometimes stops me from enjoying the present moment or taking time to reflect.

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So, maybe it is time to notice all those “musts” and “shoulds” in our internal dialogue, and ask how well they are serving us. It is time to notice who exactly is telling us what to do and how to behave and whether we still like their advice. We need a little quiet time with ourselves to find our true selves and intentions. We need to find values and goals that reflect our authentic selves.

i genuinely would like my kids to have a healthy meal as a family most nights, but no harm will come to us if we eat pizza with our fingers in front of the telly once a week. In fact, it is fun and brings us closer. I do like stretch, creativity and challenge at work, but a promotion isn’t necessarily my best path to a satisfying role. I like to potter about in the garden, and it doesn’t matter if it is a bit untidy; in fact it might even encourage the wildlife. As long as the house isn’t a health hazard, it is fine. And being healthy is more important to me than being thin.

Helpful Buddhas Meditation

This mediatation is brilliant for the end of a frustrating day, and it can actually be quite entertaining as well, and reminds me of the lighter side of life. I first came across it in Jack Kornfield’s book “A Path with Heart”.

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Sit quietly and tune into your breathing. Imagine that the earth is filled with Buddhas (or whatever wise guides you prefer), and every person you have met today is one of these enlightened beings, there just to teach you a lesson. Each person exists entirely for your benefit and is acting to help you learn something new.

Your task in this meditation is to discern the lessons that have been offered to you today.

So, if you have just been to a job interview, and found they had a favoured internal candidate all along, perhaps there is some thing to learn about non-attachment or compassion.

If your boss has been piling the work on, the lesson could be around finding your wellspring of calm in the face of it all, or developing your assertiveness skills.

If you have been stuck in a heavy traffic jam on the way home, maybe all those drivers were there to teach you to accept your boredom and turn it to mindful acceptance.

A bullying colleague could be there to teach you to to find the inner strength to believe in yourself, ask for help or change your situation.

The more you use your imagination, the more you can see the ways all these wise beings are helping you. What I love about this meditation is that it can make difficult situations feel lighter and de-toxify difficult relationships.

If you have never meditated before, see my post onReally Simple Meditation to help you get started.

 

 

Fourteen Books That Might Change Your Life

image.jpegLike Hermione Granger, if in doubt I go to the library. Many times in my life, I have been full of doubt or negativity, and the right book has come along at the right time to help me turn things around.

So, these are the books which have changed my life at different times.  I’m not saying they are the best spiritual guides out there, just that they are the books that came and spoke to me at the right time in my life.  Maybe it is a right time in your life for one of these books!

Benjamin Hoff – The Tao of Pooh

I was given this book as a teenager, by my Mum, and it was my first introduction to Eastern philosophy.  It’s a simple book, but was very comforting at the time. It makes Taoism very accessible.

Anne Dickenson – Assertiveness

I found this book as a teenager, just as I was getting into feminism and political activism.  I was a very unassertive teenager, and this book helped me claim my right to express my point of view.

Carl Rogers – Client Centred Therapy

His concept of unconditional positive regard is a beautiful one, and learning to extend acceptance and warmth to others, we inevitably learn to extend it to ourselves as well. This book changed my relationship with m,y clients, but also with myself.

Thich Nhat Hanh – Peace Is Every Step

This is a beautiful and easy introduction to mindfulness and meditation from a Vietnamese monk.  He is super practical and gives mindfulness activities that you can do while washing up, in a traffic jam or answering the phone. This book helped me appreciate the beauty in the present moment long before I did any kind of meditation course.  I have to thank my step-father for this gift.

Martin Seligman – Learned Optimism

I read this whilst the organisation I work for was going through a major restructure and redundancy exercise. This book helped me to recognise some pessimistic thought patterns that were making me feel mildly depressed, and I was able to re-write my internal script with the help of this book, and feel a lot more optimistic. Seligman is a leading expert on cognitive behavioural therapy and positive psychology, and this book is very practical.

Patanjali – Yoga Sutras

I first read the Sutras when I was doing a Yoga Mind course with my yoga teacher, Ade Belcham.  This book and the discussions we had transformed my whole understanding of yoga and changed they way I think about my practice quite profoundly.  It’s often said that the Sutras are like an onion and you need to peel away the layers with each read, and I think that is true. Definitely one to re-read.

Martha Beck – Finding Your Own North Star

This is a career development book that both annoyed and challenged me. Beck’s book is a guide to finding your true calling or dream job, and I often find these sorts of career books slightly annoying, for reasons I will explain in a future post. But this book did really challenge me to identify what I really wanted to achieve with my working life. It’s career planning with a spiritual heart, and that is much needed in the modern world.

Donna Farhi – Bringing Yoga to Life

This is a wise guide to taking the lessons of yoga off your mat and into real life. A lot of what she says about yoga at different stages of life really resonated with me and inspired me to deepen my practice.

Tara Brach – Radical Acceptance

This book takes mindfulness and meditation a bit further, and talks a lot about acceptance (as the title implies) – of difficult emotions, limitations, loss – and gives brilliant guidance on how to sit with those difficulties and just let them be.

Carol Dwek -Mindset

Dwell has researched the difference between the fixed and growth mindset and through many experiments, has shown the power of the growth mindset. This book made me very conscious of the language I use, with myself, my kids and at work. It gave me confidence that it is ok to make mistakes and more important to focus on learning and getting out of my comfort zone.

Sheryl Sandberg – Lean In

Sandberg’s book was quite controversial when it was published, but it gave me  the professional kick up the backside I needed, at a time of self-doubt.  It’s a call to professional women to stretch themselves at work rather than hideout in the shadows.

Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Seagal and Jon Kabat-Zinn – The Mindful Way Through Depression

This was my introduction to structured mindfulness and I first did the eight week mindfulness programme from this book.  There is a great CD of guided meditations that comes with it, which I still go back to if I need some focus. Karat-Zinn has a lovely voice that instantly makes me feel peaceful. It’s also a very clear explanation of the theory of mindfulness, and you definitely don’t need to be depressed to read it.

The Charisma Myth – Olivia Fox Cabane

This sounds like it is going to be an awful book for people who want to make it in sales or as the next CEO, but it is actually a rather lovely book that is very rooted in mindfulness and body awareness.   She talks a lot about the power of “presence” and developing real listening skills, about developing more positive mental dialogue and being more aware of body language and how that both influences your own mental state and how others respond to you.  It’s more a book about how to be your best authentic self than how to perform for others. Great if you are training, chairing meetings, networking, or influencing people.

Eastern Body Western Mind – Anodea Judith

This is my current read. It’s a fascinating guide to the chakras, explaining them using concepts from Western psychology. The chakras are linked to life stages and developmental tasks as well as energy flows, and this book explains how childhood experiences can impact on the energy balance we experience as adults, and the behaviour and thought patterns we enact.

I hope one of these books speaks to you as well, at a time you need it.

Which books have changed your life? You are welcome to add to this list in the comments.

Sparkly Moments and Appreciative Inquiry

Traditional organisational improvement focuses on what has gone wrong – complaints, poor performance, failures – and then looks at how to improve. This is anxiety provoking for all involved and people learn to associate improvement work with negative emotions. Doing improvement work implies that something is lacking.

Appreciative Enquiry turns the traditional approach on its head, and uses questions from solution-focused coaching to find examples of where things are going well and then to amplify them. A good solution focused question could be, “Think of a time that things were going well, or customers/clients were particularly happy. What was going on then?” This helps people to focus on where things are going right, generates positive emotions so people want to do improvement work, and can lead to rapid improvements because people engage. After all, what you focus on, you tend to get more of.

A fun workshop activity to get started can be to ask everyone in the room to think of a “sparkly moment” from their working life, a moment that gave them pleasure and satisfaction. Ask them to describe it to a partner, while the partner uses active listening skills. The listener then notes down all the strengths that were described or implied by the story, and then feeds them back to the storyteller.

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I did this recently with a team of careers advisers, and took note of all the strengths that were described and turned them  into a word cloud poster. They were reminded of all the times they have been resilient, passionate, caring, proactive, determined and helpful.  The activity also reminded them of the wide range of professional skills and knowledge they have. Reminding the team of the strengths they have on a good day is feelgood exercise, and by helping them to identify more strongly with their strengths, they are being helped to amplify them.

In yoga, we sometimes choose a sankalpa before meditating or doing yoga nidra. The  Sankalpa is a intention formed with the heart and mind. Although it is a statement of a quality or situation we want to bring about, we say it to ourselves as if it has already been achieved. So we might hold the thought “I am compassionate,” “I have abundance in my life,” “I am loved,” or “I am successful,” depending on what we want in our lives. By stating it in the present tense we are acknowledging that we already have this potential inside ourselves. The sankalpa is a tool to help us focus single-mindedly and at every level of our being on the situation we want to cultivate.

Appreciative Inquiry is an organisational development approach that acknowledges that the organisation already has the potential to become whatever it needs to become. There just needs to be a strong united focus on what the organisation wants to achieve and a determination to grow. A statement of intention left sitting on someone’s hard drive is meaningless, but a statement of intention genuinely owned by the people is powerful. The seeds of improvement are already planted, we just need to find them and water them!

 

I Can’t Do It …. Yet

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“Yet” is a super powerful word.  “I can’t do it yet” is a statement full of possibility. It is the statement of someone who is on a journey of self-creation and learning, rather than someone who has reached their final destination.

But more often we say “I can’t do it,” a statement of permenance and finality. “I can’t do it” is an admission of failure, a denial of the possibility of growth.  There is no point in re-visiting the goal or of working to improve if we think our capabilities are static.

Leg behind the head pose (eka pada sirsasana) is a pose that I can’t do yet, but I’ve only recently added the yet to that statement.  I’ve tried this pose now and again over the years, thought “I can’t do it” and left it at that. I haven’t included it in my daily practice or made it part of my yoga journey.

And maybe I will never get my leg behind my head. After all, I have been doing yoga for over twenty years, and I’m now in my forties, so perhaps the odds are against me. But since I’ve never practiced it every day, I don’t really know.

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“I can’t do it yet,” allows for more possibility. I can practice this pose every day, and see where it takes me. Maybe I will get my leg behind my head, or maybe I will end up somewhere else (elbow behind the knee or toe below the chin perhaps). It will have been a journey though; I won’t be quite the same person at the end.

People with a growth mindset see their abilities as something malleable, that can be changed and developed with hard work and perseverance. Their identity is not based on a fixed set of characteristics, but on their journey of development. They are more willing to challenge themselves and risk failure, because failure does not threaten their identity.  And because they challenge themselves, they learn more.  Research by Carol Dweck  shows that people with a growth mindset are more successful in learning and work.

People with a fixed mindset believe their abilities are static. Their identity is based on their current skills and abilities. For those with a fixed mindset, mistakes can be a serious threat to their positive sense of identity. If I think of myself as clever, and I do badly on a test, that must mean that I am not clever after all. If I think of myself as good at my job, and then I make a mistake, that must mean I am bad at my job, rather than simply having a development need. There is no point in practicing when this will only reinforce my sense of failure.

Since the willingness to challenge ourselves, to practice and to make good use of feedback are important for career development, as well as for getting your leg behind your head, a growth mindset is worth cultivating. People who seek out feedback learn things they help them progress. People who step out of their comfort zone sometimes achieve things they would never have thought possible.

How often do we look at a job vacancy, notice the one desired skill that we are not confident of, and say “I can’t do it,” and talk ourselves out of an application?  Apparently women are more prone to this than men. When we do this, we close down a new opportunity instead of considering the possibility of developing a new skill once in the job, or even asking for training.

Many of us will have day dreamed about setting up a little business.  Self employment is bound to involve some new skills.  The more we see our skills and abilities as changeable, the more open we will be to taking on the challenge of a career change. We will have faith in our ability to learn new skills such as marketing on social media or looking after tax returns and accounts, as we need them.

“Yet” can also invite a problem solving approach. Imagine you want to go back to study, but you are don’t have the time or money. “I can’t do it” means you might as well forget about it and stop hankering after something you can’t have. “I can’t do it yet” commits you to future possibilities and starts the process of planning and problem solving so that one day you can. Maybe there is a way to find the time or money after all, even if it can’t happen right now.

When we work with learners on a training programme, we use the phrase “not yet competant”. This conveys our belief in the learner’s potential to achieve, with a bit of hard work and practice. And most of the time they do, as long as they accept the need for a bit of hard graft.  Learners who are committed to their studies undergo a huge transformation in their abilities and confidence.

A simple way to get started in developing a growth mind set is to notice every time you say, “I can’t do it” and simply add the word “yet”.

 

Nudging People Towards Behavioural Change

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There can be all sorts of reasons that we mind want to change someone else’s behaviour, but it’s often a frustrating task. On the whole, people carry on behaving as they have always done, unless some internal conflict causes them to change. Information by itself is not enough to change behaviour. We all know we should eat more fruit and vegetables, yet we carry on eating chocolate.

This  can be frustrating for people in the helping professions, policy makers, parents and spouses.  We can see how someone should change their behaviour for the better but we are powerless to make them change.

Fortunately there are some interesting findings about what actually does cause behaviour change, and we can use them to nudge people in the right direction. Paul Dolan has created the  MINDSPACE  model to help policy makers with problems as diverse as reducing crime and tackling obesity. These principles can equally be applied in organisations or when working with individuals.

– Maybe you are a career coach who wants to motivate a client to pursue her dreams or at least research her options thoroughly

– Maybe you are a mindfulness teacher who wants to encourage students to do a daily practice

– Or a Careers Adviser who needs a teenager to start getting up in the morning and get to training on time

– Or a teacher convincing Year 11 to start doing some revision

– Or anyone running an appointment system who wants customers to just TURN UP for their appointments.

Whatever challenge you are facing, there is something useful in this model for you. There are nine principles, and you can use MINDSPACE to help you remember them.

So, here goes….

Messenger – the person giving the message about behaviour change needs to be credible or likeable, as we are hugely influenced by who gives the messages. A role model who perceived to be similar to us will be influential, but so will a respected expert.

Incentives – we prefer to avoid losses rather then gain new things, so if you give somebody something and then attempt to take it away from them, they will value it more. That is why free trials work.  We also prefer small and immediate payoffs rather than larger payoffs in the future, so if you want to persuade someone to practice a new skill, focus on the benefit they will notice immediately.

Norms – we are stongly influenced by what other people are doing, and if in doubt we will follow the crowd. So if you want people to keep their appointments, put up a poster that says “90% of our customers keep their appointments and that helps us keep waiting times short” rather than “10% of our customers miss their appointments which makes waiting times longer”. People won’t feel bad about missing an appointment if they think everyone else is doing the same.

Defaults – we tend to go with the pre-set options unless we have a good reason not to. This is why Welsh Government have introduced a system whereby it is assumed you will donate your organs unless you actively opt out. Employers can encourage people to take up pensions by making this something that you actively have to opt out of.

Salience – we are drawn to new things and novelties, or things that seem particularly relevant to us. Presenting salads in a novel way can encourage people to eat them. Taking pupils out of school for a new experience can encourage changes.

Priming – if we are exposed to certain sensory cues, this can influence out later choices, without us having any awareness of the connection. Asking people whether they intend to do something in a survey actually makes it more likely that they will do it.  So, if you survey a year eleven group, and ask whether they intend to visit a college open day, you increase the number who actually attend.

Affect – emotional responses can override rational decision-making. If you get people into a good mood they will make more optimistic choices, while people in a bad mood will be more pessimistic. Creating a sense of hope with a teenager, for example, will make them more likely to take the risk of applying for a job or opportunity.

Commitment – once we make commitments public or write them down, we are more likely to follow through. Getting someone to write down their own action plan will increase commitment. We generally try to make our behaviour consistent with our public commitments.

Ego – If our behaviour and our beliefs about ourselves are in conflict, we will often change our behaviour, so gently drawing attention to a conflict between the two can be a great way to increase motivation to change. We like to behave in ways that allow us to maintain a positive image of ourselves and we like to believe we are more consistent than we actually are.

Is all this a bit manipulative? Well, yes it is.  We are using techniques that can alter people’s behaviour, outside their conscious awareness.

Is it unethical?  Probably not as long as we are acting in the other person’s best interests.  After all, our decisions are being influenced all the time by our perceptions  of the environment and in using the MINDSPACE principles, all we are doing is tweaking the environment to make certain decisions more likely. Is it more ethical to make a conscious decision to put fruit in the most high profile position in the canteen and nudge people towards buying it, or to leave the sweets there because that is where they have always been? I think the nudge is ethical, because it is done with the best interests of the diners at heart.

So, next time you need to persuade a student to practice, a customer to keep an appointment, a child to do their homework or a client to get out of bed in the mornings, think about how you can apply these findings!

For more reading on this subject I thoroughly recommend “Nudge” by Thaler and Sunstein.

Really Simple Meditation

image I talk a lot about meditation in my posts because it has transformed my life in numerous ways. I’m not particularly good at meditation – I often get bored or distracted – but that’s not the point. I do stick at it, and one thing I know for sure is that the more I meditate, the better my life gets. It’s not that bad things don’t happen, but I navigate them so much better.

When I meditate, I feel happier and find more joy in my daily activities. I walk around smiling for no particular reason. I connect better with other people and find myself starting conversations with strangers instead of being in my own world. I’m less irritable and more compassionate. And more good things happen!

Meditation can be really simple. Anyone can do it. You don’t any special equipment or a guru (although a teacher can really help). You just need a bit of quiet.

So, here is my simple guide to getting started:

1. Find somewhere quiet to sit and turn off your phone. Ask people not to disturb you. You can sit in a straight back chair or on a cushion, but be comfortable.

2. If you are in a chair sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor. If you are on a cushion, sit cross legged or kneel. Sit up nice and straight, so you feel alert rather than slouchy.

3. Start by focusing on your breath. Just notice it to begin with, and see if it is deep or shallow, fast or slow, even or irregular. Then start to lengthen your breath by counting slowly to 3,4 or 6 on the in breath and the same number on the out breath. Just keep going like this, staying focused on your breath.

4. Your mind will inevitably wonder because this is what minds do. They are very busy! When you mind does wonder, just notice what has happened, and take your focus back to the breath. Don’t criticise yourself, you are not doing anything wrong.

5. After a while you can let go of the counting and just notice your breath. Notice how it feels as it comes in and out, around your nostrils, chest, rib cage and stomach

6. Carry on for five, ten or fifteen minutes. It is helpful to set a timer, so you don’t have to keep looking at a clock. Or, if you don’t want to use a timer you could try this: the first time you a have a strong urge to stop, notice the impulse and come back to your breath, the second time you have an urge to stop, come back to the breath again, and the third time you have the urge to stop, then finish for the day.

7. Try to meditate every day to see the real benefits.

When you are are getting started, it can be really helpful to use a sound file to guide you through.  My favourites are the Danny Penman Frantic World files and they are freely available on his website.

Even better, try an eight week mindfulness course. You will need to commit to meditating every day, and you will get lots of support from the teacher and your group. It helps to keep you motivated and deal with any difficulties that arise. I did mine with Sue Weston but there are courses all over the place.

Above all, just keep practicing every day, even if it is boring and uncomfortable, and you feel too busy! It will start to make a difference.