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.

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”.

 

Getting Comfortable with Discomfort

“One can choose to go back towards safety or forward towards growth. Growth must be chosen again and again, fear must be overcome again and again.” So said Abraham Maslow, and he did know a thing or two about personal growth, self-actualisation and the hierarchy of human needs.

Every day we are faced with the choice of whether to take the safe and comfortable option, the familiar path, or whether to do something new and challenging even though it makes us uncomfortable.  If we take the safe option, we know we will feel ok but it’s unlikely we will learn anything new about ourselves or the world. If we take the riskier option, we could fail, but even if we do we will be learning something new and growing our capabilities. To grow to our full potential we need to be challenged and exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking.

A good reflective activity is to think about what we have done in the last few weeks that has stretched us.  I’ve often sat down with clients and helped them map out their comfort zones, stretch zones and panic zones as a diagram.

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The comfort zone is those tasks that are easy, unchallenging and possibly relaxing. My comfort zone is the routine of dealing with my usual work tasks, working with my regular team, relaxing over a TV series with my family, curling up with a good book, catching up with my close friends, my drive to work, my regular yoga class. I enjoy most of these activities but they don’t challenge me.

The stretch zone is the activities which make us a little anxious, because they are challenging or unfamiliar.  My stretch zone currently includes delivering webinars, training managers on new areas of work, going to a new yoga teacher and travelling on my own.  I recently did a zip wire activity high up (with harnesses) with my kids and took my 94 year old grandmother shopping with her new buggy; the activities were challenging in quite different ways. Work activities that I haven’t done for a while often sit here (configuring the annual appraisal process, for example) as do new tasks for which I already have the skills (planning an assessment centre). Receiving critical feedback or complaints is also a stretch; it’s never entirely comfortable.  These activities made me nervous, but in the end I was really glad I had done them, and I felt more confident in my abilities as a result.

My yoga teacher has recently introduced Hanumanasana (monkey pose or the splits) to our yoga class. It is definitely not in our comfort zone but there is something exciting about it and it does create a buzz in the class.

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Every time we do these stretch activities we grow a little. We learn more about ourselves by seeing what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes we find we are capable of more than we thought. When we succeed it is a real achievement. If we get comfortable with these activities through repetition, they become part of our comfort zone and the comfort zone grows bigger.

The panic zone is the activities which are too much of a stretch and we aren’t ready for them so there is high chance of failure.  In the panic zone we can’t think straight so we may not learn so much. My panic zone includes sorting out certain technical problems with the computer, climbing without harnesses (I am a bit scared of heights), karaoke (based on a traumatic experience of auditioning for the school choir 30 years ago – I didn’t say it was rational!), picking up big spiders and dropping back into a back bend in yoga ( even with the teacher holding me, I just can’t do it).  The panic zone is generally not such a useful place for growth, and may even be downright dangerous. However, sometimes it’s possible to build up to these activities in small steps, (holding gradually bigger and bigger spiders, for example) so that what was previously in the panic zone becomes part of the stretch zone.

In yoga there is a similar concept to the stretch zone, sometimes referred to as the edge. Stretching to your full extent is definitely uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. We are always looking for this point of challenge in yoga, and then using the breath to find steadiness and ease at the edge of our current ability.  We bring mindful awareness to all the physical sensations, recognising when to keep stretching and when to back off. We also notice thoughts and feelings that arise (“when can we stop?”, “I think I’m doing quite well”, “why am I so stiff?”, “I used to be able to this better”) and learn to let them go, bringing focus back to the breath and body. The impulse might be to come out of the pose but we learn not to mindlessly follow the impulse but to notice it and then decide what to do for the best.

This can be a great bit of yoga learning to take off the mat and into real life. In our working lives and in making career changes we often need to put ourselves in the uncomfortable stretch zone area to achieve our goals. A young person might need to pluck up courage to travel on their own to an open day. A career changer might need to approach a potential employer to find out about opportunities. A competitive job interview is rarely in the comfort zone.  A new manager will be in the stretch zone as they work out how to relate to colleagues in different way. A manager might need to have a difficult conversation with a team member or introduce changes to their area of work. Organisational change always brings a level of discomfort to everyone involved.  Uncomfortable situations provoke anxiety, and our anxiety can impact on those around us if we are not aware enough to manage it.

This is where mindful awareness of reactions to stretching activities can be so helpful. When asked to do a challenging activity, one impulse might be to make an excuse for why it can’t be done. However, by noticing that impulse as it arises, we can chose whether to respond in that way, or choose another response. In approaching a difficult conversation, mindful awareness of bodily reactions and facial expressions can serve as a reminder to ground ourselves first with some deep breaths and compassionate thoughts before tackling the conversation. We can spot a self-critical inner voice that only serves to make us feel anxious about a high stakes event, and choose whether to believe it or not.

By learning to pay attention to our reactions in uncomfortable situations we can learn to feel our way through them mindfully. We can learn the difference between uncomfortable stretch and the sort of pain or panic that means we should back off. We can learn to notice our thoughts and know that they are just temporary mental events rather than reality. By being more aware of impulses, we can take control of them rather than mindlessly responding to them. Self awareness helps us to find a level of comfort in discomfort.  It is ok to be uncomfortable!

 

 

 

Tree Pose

DSC_0328This felt surprisingly high up and a bit scary! I can do tree pose (vrikshasana) easily on the floor, but add some height and uneven ground, and it was a whole different ball game! I like balances, because you have to focus and concentrate, and if your mind is as scattered as mine seems to be at the moment, that is a good thing.  I had to focus on a tree at my eye line and NOT LOOK DOWN because I am not all that good with heights and I do get a bit of vertigo.

It’s good to do things that a little bit scary from time to time, things that push you out of your comfort zone, where you need to trust yourself and your ability to meet the challenge. It’s what keeps your comfort zone growing, as things that were once scary become less so.

For tree pose, you need to be really firmly rooted down into ground, but not too rigid. You need to be able to wobble and come back to balance. A tree is firmly rooted into the ground, but can sway and bend with the breeze without breaking. The yogi needs the same qualities.

It was lovely to feel a bit of mud under my bare feet and squidge down into it, and then feel the leaves rustling around me, and be held by the strength of the tree.

Yoga isn’t just what you do on your yoga mat. Every pose can teach you something about life.  For me, tree pose is about learning to be grounded in your own values, having integrity and doing the right thing, but also being flexible enough to meet the changes and challenges that life constantly throws at you.

Happy spring, and let’s all enjoy this sunshine!

Yoga and Career Development – an odd mix?

I have been a career development practitioner for 21 years and a yogi for 27 years, yet it is only in the last few years that I have started to see the connections between the two, and how yoga and meditation can really support career development and help people to make decisions and find fulfilment in their careers and working lives.  Meditation and mindfulness practices can clear the mind of clutter, making it easier break through barriers and make decisions that just feel right.  Yoga asanas (poses) can generate the positive energy and focus required to see things through to completion.

I am not a yoga or mindfulness teacher, but do try to practice yoga and meditation every day. I am on my own journey, and my practice has helped me to be more compassionate, more positive, more resilient, and less stressed and anxious.  Yoga has helped me face many workplace dramas from a calmer and stronger place.  More recently, I have added mindfulness into the mix.  It has helped me to focus on what I really want from my career and my life.  Yoga has always been for my own personal development, but the more I practice, the more sure I feel that it can be used to help others with their career development.

My career has always been in the career development of others.  I have worked with young people and adults, all struggling to make decisions and take control of their careers.  More recently, I have also worked in training and development, and organisational development.

Over the years I have studied counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, coaching, motivational interviewing, solution focused approaches, and borrowed from all of these approaches to help my clients and colleagues to take control of their work and their careers. Often the biggest barriers to career development are finding the motivation to get started and see things through, and the courage to make a change.  Now it feels like time to borrow some techniques from yoga and mindfulness to see whether they can help others to move forward in taking control of their careers.

This blog is the sweet spot then, between three of my passions – career development, yoga and writing.  I will tell you more about how I identified my passions in another post.  For now, I hope you find something useful in this blog.  If it gives just one person a great idea or some inspiration, then I’m happy.