Whether you call yourself an entrepreneur, a business owner or a freelancer, when you work alone – or are the ‘boss’ of a small team, it can feel very lonely. You are the decision maker, maybe the breadwinner for your family, you’ve gone out on a limb, you may seem like a risk taker or rebel to your family and friends, the bottom line – you have something to prove! Whether you identify as lonely or not, this ‘aloneness’ can create a serious lack of perspective.
You might feel like a small fish in a big and busy pond, a pond where the water keeps moving and if you don’t, you’ll get sucked down the whirlpool in the middle. There are a few superstars in your industry who have claimed islands around the pond, a few more who have tiny moorings they anchor to, but most are circling the whirlpool working hard not to get sucked in.
It’s easy to get caught in the whirlpool. You swim faster and faster to make sure you don’t get sucked in, but without perspective you can’t see beyond the whirlpool you are spinning in, no matter how many times you swim round the edge just keeping everything together.
Life and business can start to feel repetitive – you may even know it’s your own story / excuses that have you circling the whirlpool, but while you’re busy swimming, the water is moving too fast to reflect what you are actually doing – hence your perspective disappears.
Your little whirlpool is kind of like your social media echo chamber, or the rhetoric from the same people you have the same conversations with over and over, the things you regularly fill your head with, the habits you repeat whether they serve you or not – these all limit your perspective.
This is where connection is vital, whether it is a partner or family member, a friend or fellow entrepreneur, a formal mentor or business group, having someone who understands your dreams and aspirations who can see what you are doing from beyond the edge of the whirlpool will give you a totally different perspective than your own.
The key to here though is that the person or people supporting you are actually able to hold space for you, you feel safe enough to be vulnerable, to explore what you are doing – or not doing, and that they have the right experience or expertise to help you to find perspective. This might be because they know you well, they’ve shared some of your life journey, it might be that they have an island or mooring already, or previously swum in the pond that you are navigating, or it might be that they are a professional ‘space holder’.
It is definitely not the people who love you dearly and want to keep you safe. It is not the people who want you to do things their way – and in there I include many ‘coaches’ selling solutions for this, that and the next thing without even understanding your issue. Neither is it colluders, those people who when you say it’s tough will immediately share their hardships or horror stories, agree about how tough it is and encourage you to swim faster round the whirlpool, or worse, sink into it with them.
Most entrepreneurs and business owners I work with crave safe space, somewhere to gain the perspective that enables them to swim in their own lane and not round in circles. I believe that connection with others who understand the risk, the loneliness and the rewards of having your own business is critical to perspective, success and mental wellbeing and I actively encourage you to seek out this connection. You are welcome to look in the Braver Business group for starters.
Perspective is a neurological habit, a way of thinking – often when busy, tired or stressed you take the neurological shortcut – which is to keep doing what you’ve always done and keep doing it the same way. It’s easy, but madness. Not only does this default keep you stuck, it can prevent you considering new things in your industry, from finding better ways of working and from connecting with people who may help you. Like all habits, your default perspective seeking habits can be changed.
Here are my favourite ways of ensuring I (nearly always) keep an expansive perspective:
Understand what takes me close to the edge of the whirlpool – for me this is usually self-inflicted – I have not saved enough space for perspective, either I’m busy with client work or I’ve taken on too many different things, or underestimated how long I needed to do something.
Know that it is ok to have the occasional meltdown – it’s part of the growth cycle, if you are growing, out of your comfort zone, or things are not going to plan you are going to feel vulnerable. You are a human being – it’s normal. The key here is to find a safe place to lose the plot temporarily and know what grounds you and allows you to regain your perspective.
Have trusted people, who get the entrepreneurial journey and are prepared to hold space for me – for this to work you have to feel safe, not judged and know that they are in your corner but won’t tell you what to do – unless you ask of course.
Be prepared to be that person for others – the more you are able to see perspective in all situations the better you train your brain (or get into the habit of) to look for multiple answers or ways of doing things. The more you learn to listen, to hold space the better you will be able to do it for yourself. Let others be heard and the chances are they will reciprocate.
Finally, keep your sense of humour – laughter is a great neurological release, it changes our internal chemistry and floods our bodies with positive more expansive hormones – literally expanding our brain’s processing capacity – creating more perspective.
This is not by any means an exclusive list, please do add your own in the comments or the Braver Business group and lets help each other stay out of the whirlpool and find our island or mooring.
Today’s blog is really about connection with stories. It is Blue Monday, the day that we – as a nation, are collectively feeling at our most miserable. It’s January, Christmas is gone, the credit card bills are in, we’ve broken most of our New Year’s resolutions and it’s cold and dark out there. Add to this general concern about the environment, hostilities and politics – it is easy to feel a bit out of control and down. It’s also fair to say that we as humans are affected by our environment and circumstances. It’s not fair to say we have no control over the affect these have on us.
Blue Monday is a story, a PR stunt by Sky travel in 2005, something which over the past 15 years has grown into a real ‘thing’ – story that has fed many, many marketing and PR campaigns over the years – most of which are ultimately trying to sell you some version of a better life, whether that be travel, home improvements, personal development. Not all of these are asking you to part with money, some are asking you to make a change, offering different options or inviting you to look differently at a situation. Mine (this blog) included, to be fair; I am asking you to look at the stories you tell yourself.
When you own a story, your brain looks for ‘evidence’ to prove you right – and usually finds it. Once you have this ‘evidence’ your story becomes your reality. Why would you set yourself up to be miserable – even for a day? When you buy into the collective misery of Blue Monday you amplify it, for yourself and for those around you. Even the psychologist & happiness guru, Cliff Arnall, who did the original calculations for Sky Travel admits it was not helpful to have named a day as ‘the most depressing day’ and in recent years has campaigned for people to use it to think about creating positive change.
Like most good stories, ‘Blue Monday’ is believable, it reflects an element of truth – some people are affected by the dark winter months, some people are feeling the effects of a more sedentary life or are feeling the financial – or physical, aftermath of an indulgent holiday period; it’s easy to use this as an excuse for not taking responsibility for yourself. It is also an incredibly unhelpful story to buy into. Those who have ever experienced mental illness – as opposed to poor mental well-being, will know feeling low is not the same as depression, anxiety, neurosis or seasonal affective disorder. They will also know that one day – even a titled one like Blue Monday, makes little difference to the trajectory of the illness. A low mood is different, it is something you can choose to enjoy, something you can choose to do something about and ultimately something which will lift. I believe it is this low mood that Blue Monday exacerbates.
In the end you choose what stories you tell yourself – consciously or unconsciously. If you feel great and inspired in January, if you are storming ahead with business and personal goals well done – keep doing what you are doing. If, on the other hand, you are feeling a bit low, look at what you are feeding yourself, literally and emotionally. Are you being kind and empowering in the stories you tell yourself, are you getting enough connection with nature, your environment and the things that enrich you? Decide if you need to tell yourself a slightly – or radically – different story in order to be the person you want to be.
Remember your brain will hunt for (and find) evidence to support whatever you are focussed on – so focus on something that empowers you today and every day.
I bet your inbox is full of ways to beat Blue Monday, so I’m not going to go beyond asking you to look at what stories you buy into because they become your reality. I am going to ask you to think about what you amplify and spread, because as humans we are unquestionably energetically connected – one person’s mood and energy impacts another. And finally, I am going to suggest that today, and every day, we all choose kindness. We may not know all that is going on for those around us, what stories they are owning, whether or not they are feeling low. When we choose kindness we spread kindness, we are more open to connection and we may just make someone – or ourselves, feel better.
Whatever you are doing today I hope it’s a good day – or has some good bits.
Many of you will know my favourite pastime is retreats: running them, designing them, being in them. I have been very lucky to spend the last few days with some incredible people in the forest, a luxury lodge in the forest to be precise. We have taken full advantage of the new year and decade to work on intentions, vision and accountability for 2020 and beyond. The power of focus is an incredible gift and being able to take yourself out of the ‘busy’ even for a few hours – ideally for a few days, is a great way to become intentional about your life and your business.
I stand by what I said about New Year’s day last week, it is not an all or nothing, change or be doomed day – you can make change any time you choose. When you do choose to change, it has to be for yourself, – it might be a benefit to others, but the outcome has to matter to you, for you.
One of the hardest things about the change and growth you make on your journey is living up to your own expectations. It’s one thing to commit to an “improving” version of yourself or your life – whatever that looks like – it might be a habit, fitness, money management, weight loss, smoking, writing a book, starting a podcast, being kinder – whatever it is for you. It is another thing to live it every day, to progress every day – you will have off days, days where the best version of yourself stayed in bed and the cranky early version showed up – you are human, you are allowed.
The challenge is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start over. Kindness to yourself and perspective are needed here – if a thing is important enough to you, love yourself enough to start again. I believe that this is where great intention setting really helps – when you are clear about why you are doing something and the outcome is intrinsic to who you are or the contribution you see yourself making in the world, you will endure any setbacks and conquer any obstacles along your journey.
The real win from being intentional is a neurological one. You are quite literally priming your brain to help you succeed, you are focusing your Reticular Activating System (RAS) – the part of your brain that connects with external stimuli through your senses. Put simply, your RAS filters out the noise so the important stuff gets through, it focuses on, firstly, what might harm you and, secondly, on whatever you are consciously or even unconsciously thinking about or dwelling on. Once it has created this filter you will become more consciously aware of the opportunities, connections and activity around your focus.
Try it – think about a type of car, or a specific colour of car, then go about your day as normal and just see how many you notice. If you are not likely to see cars think about something you do come across on your daily travels – the principle will work the same.
When you spend the time to really connect with yourself, to reflect on what you want your life or business to be like, on how you want to show up, on what you want to make a difference to, you will become clear about what your intentions for 2020 or your next decade are. There is no right or wrong way to set intentions, but connection is key! It is not just a cognitive thinking process – you need to feel in to it too. This might be an emotion like excited or scared, it might be a physical sensation – goosebumps perhaps, or a change in physiology like temperature or breathing. This is your gut (or enteric nervous system), your instincts (limbic system) conspiring to ensure you are on the right path. You need to be able to trust yourself and value yourself enough to go with these instincts and use them to set your intentions.
They might be very specific and tied into goals, they might be thematic – like visibility, what you want to be known for – they are your intentions. Be sure of this, once you set them you will start to notice things linked to your intentions and opportunities around them. Be ready to act.
For me accountability is key for follow through, where ever there is greatness there is accountability – to a cause, a community, another human being. I believe the great antidotes to failed New Year’s resolutions – aside from not making them, is accountability. While we are all accountable to ourselves, often that is not enough, especially when we fall short of our own expectations.
Having trusted allies in your corner who will help you stay on track, check in with you around your intentions – and not let you make excuses, makes a big difference to your success. These people might be your family, they might be your friends or colleagues, you might have a coach or mentor, or an online community you share this with – use them.
Intention setting can be done at any time, it is a neurological activity. There is no time like the present if want a bit of a boost. Today (Friday 10th) is a lunar eclipse which makes it a great day for releasing what no longer serves you and setting intentions.
I am very lucky, I’m leaving the forest now for a weekend by the sea where I will be doing a day of business planning followed by a couple of days chilling, before returning to the office next week. It is intention setting and accountability that give me the freedom I have in my business, that make us open to the many opportunities around us and that help us to choose and pursue those which are most beneficial to our mission.
If you would like some help or have questions around intention setting, or you want someone in your corner holding you to account join me in the braver business group.
It’s tempting to be all or nothing over New Year – big plans, resolutions, new starts, giving up vices, many of which don’t last far into January. In my experience, it’s lots of little but consistent tweaks to your behaviour that actually make a sustained difference; not boom or bust, not all or nothing, not great declarations of a new you.
For me, New Year is not an opportunity for fixing everything you don’t like about yourself or your life and it’s certainly not a time for trying to become the person you think you should be. It is a time for reflection for sure, it is a time for looking at what you might want to bring with you into the new year and what you might leave behind, and it is a time for honouring and celebrating all that you are, all that you have done and all that you have learned over the last year.
When you do this it becomes easier to focus on the human being you want to be (and I do mean ‘want to be’ not ‘think you should be’ here), the tweaks you may have to make to be that person and the outcomes you get from being that person. The crucial motivator here is, like many things, the reason behind it. When this is driven from a place of value – you truly understand why you are doing it and why it’s important to you, then you have a much greater likelihood of consistency into 2020.
Here’s an example, two smokers both vow to quit – the first understands it’s bad for his health, he knows it’s expensive and he truly intends to stop for good this time. Somehow stuff gets in the way, a few days off – then one cigarette in the pub won’t hurt, then another and he never quite quits. The second man overhears his teenage daughter say she & her friends aren’t sitting by him because he stinks of cigarettes – he stops the next day. These men were my uncle and father – it took my uncle a further 20 years and respiratory illness to actually stop. My father didn’t share his reason for stopping until several decades later – but in that moment he decided to stop, the price of enjoying a cigarette was too high. In the days and weeks that followed many little tweaks to my dad’s routine, to the way he showed up, to the rewards he gave himself made it easier, but his reason for changing was the thing that kept him going.
If you are considering big changes, or you have a raft of resolutions, think about why they matter to you, how your life will be different and whether this is a sustainable decision. Setting yourself up to fail is likely to do you more harm than not making a change in the first place. If you have a compelling enough reason absolutely go for it, New Year is as good a time as any, focus on the outcome of the change not just the journey and celebrate your success along the way.
If, on the other hand, you don’t have compelling reasons (of your own) to make changes, or you’ve already given up on New Year’s resolutions, think about this – you can choose to be the best version of yourself any day or everyday; you can decide what you want your life to be like, as well as who and what you want in it, anytime and you can start living towards that right now, or tomorrow or the next day. It is your life.
New Year is a focus not an absolute. You don’t miss the boat if you don’t get on it at midnight or sometime tomorrow. It’s better to understand your journey, why you are making it, what the destination looks like, what you might encounter along the way before you get on the boat. This way you are more likely to stay on the journey. Notice I’m not talking maps or plans here, I’m talking understanding and connection.
Connection is a personal thing, one we get from introspection and understanding ourselves – not from reacting to circumstances or what happens to us – although this can both fuel us and act as a catalyst for change. I believe we can all be the person we want to be – it is about how we show up, what we stand for, how we behave, our attitudes and our values.
This New Year, gift yourself the time to decide who you want to be, what you want your life to look like and what tweaks you might need to make to get there. You have a whole year – it doesn’t have to be today.
I have been reflecting on the things I’m bringing into 2020, the things I am leaving behind – I will be enjoying my usual releasing and forgiving ritual by the fire at midnight. I am looking forward to 2020 and intend to ease gracefully into the new decade.
How ever you choose spend New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day I hope you are kind to yourself and wish you all the happiness and success you want in 2020.
One of the best gifts you can give yourself for Christmas, and as you move into 2020, is to own your imperfections. We all have them, most of us try to hide or compensate for them – the truly grounded and successful simply own them.
Putting your game face on, trying not to get found out, working to fit in is exhausting isn’t it? Even worse, it creates a sense of lack, undermines your confidence and plays right into the whole ‘not good enough’ script you probably run at least some of the time.
At the end of the day, showing up, being yourself and resisting the need to be liked is a risky business – it’s neurologically counterintuitive, uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. We are taught from a very early age to conform, to fit in and serve others and from an evolutionary perspective, that is reasonably sound advice if you want to survive. It is rubbish advice if you want to thrive.
For most humans thriving is a combination of belonging, significance and contribution; and while it may appear similar, this is very different to fitting in, conforming and serving.
When you truly belong there’s no front, you don’t have to put on an act, you can just be yourself. The evolutionary need to belong probably stems back to our hunter-gatherer days where we were quite literally safer in a group. Neurologically you have not evolved very much – your subconscious brain spends much of its time processing social interactions, checking out where you are safe and valued. It’s no coincidence that those with strong social relationships – and I’m talking about depth not volume here, fare better when it comes to stress, anxiety and mental well-being. Lack of real belonging is a curse of the digital world, it is so easy to compare yourself with another’s perfect life or business, forgetting you only see the bits they want you to see, the behind the scenes it is unlikely to be so perfect. Even when you know this, looking at other ‘perfect lives’ might make you feel vulnerable and either conform in order to fit it and gain a short lived sense of safety, or withdraw and suffer increased isolation.
When you feel significant there is no need to prove yourself, to shout to be heard, a need to be noticed – instead there is a sense of recognition and validation, your fundamental desire to be seen, heard and listened to by those who matter to you is met. I believe you need this in your work life just as much as with family and friends. From a social processing perspective this is the true basis of connection, this sense that you matter is a powerful enabler when it comes to risk and vulnerability. When you matter there is usually someone in your corner or someone depending on you – your actions have consequences beyond yourself, this is a great motivator. When you don’t feel significance like no one will notice – or care, or hold you to account, it’s really easy to sit back and cruise, to play safe or to make excuses.
The need to make a contribution is about purpose, connection with something bigger than yourself, it’s about making a difference and leaving a legacy – some mark that you walked on this earth. Now I’m not saying everyone wants to change the world, but I do believe each of us wants to impact on the things that matter to us. I also believe we all make a difference to someone or something. When it comes to contribution you have to be connected. Whether it is a small act of kindness or a global initiative, it is the intention behind the act that gives you the sense of contribution, of connectedness. You can’t be truly connected, or make the difference you are here to make, if you are hiding behind a mask hoping your imperfections won’t get found out. At best you will water down your actions to fit with what you know you can succeed at, at worse you will undermine yourself, your confidence and your perceived significance.
Imperfection makes you vulnerable, there’s no getting around that, it feels horrible, you can experience a whole raft of things from self-criticism, to embarrassment to deep shame. You can also use this vulnerability to connect with your fellow humans who, however perfect they may seem to you, are probably just as vulnerable, just as imperfect as you are, as I am, as we all are.
We don’t like vulnerability, our own or in those around us, often we try to fix it when really we simply need to hold it, be in it and be true to who we are. There are so many layers to peel back neurologically, so this is very oversimplified: vulnerability shows authenticity, a willingness to share yourself, your imperfections – this fosters trust which in turn enables deeper connection. Putting up a mask, hiding your imperfections, creates an incongruence which sooner or later is noticeable – this destroys trust and connection.
Exploring your imperfections does two things – it identifies your uniqueness, those things about you that make you who you are – whether that’s a physical feature, a way of processing or your way of showing up. Exploring your imperfections also identifies habitual behaviour which may be holding you back in your quest for significance and contribution. You might call them reasons or circumstances but the chances are they are patterns, stories or excuses you have created to protect yourself (and your perceived imperfections).
I believe it is these, your made up imperfections, that create the real problem when it comes to owning your imperfections. Why would you own something that is not really part of who you truly are? In owning your imperfections, I’m challenging you to first weedle out the excuses and do something about the ones that get in the way of your greatness.
Secondly, for the love of humanity – drop the mask, own your differences, and be authentic enough to stand in your own imperfect glory.
We are all work in progress, if you want share your success and challenges do join me in the braver business group.
As we draw towards the end of the year, the decade no less, there seems to be massive focus on planning and intention setting for 2020. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for planning and intention setting – I’m also a massive fan of reflecting and taking stock.
In our hustle filled, adrenaline fuelled world it is easy to forget this stage – to move on and not learn what needs to be learned, not take time to enjoy the great bits and celebrate the successes. In my view that would also be a real waste of your experiences.
Good planning comes from the highs & lows of previous experiences, from evidence, from understanding cause and effect, as well as the randomness of life that can sometimes cause unexpected consequences. It shouldn’t be some loose wish list of things you would like to happen. If you don’t take time to reflect, to truly connect with the year just finishing you’ll miss the great wisdom it brings, the things to plan into your next year – or decade, and those to avoid wherever possible.
Back in my health days reflection – or reflective practise, was a big part of our training. It still forms part of most health professionals ongoing registration requirement as it does with most therapy and coaching qualifications. Of course, there are many fancy models for reflection and if you like a framework most have merit, the key is choosing one that resonates with how you process naturally – for example if you are very emotion driven the Gibbs Model might suit you, if you are more logic-oriented Kolb’s model may suit you. In its purest form, reflective practice is, like many things, quite simple. There are differences between reflection and just ‘thinking’ about stuff, which can often send you down a less than constructive rabbit hole – especially if you are good at ‘what ifs’. Reflection is about making time to consider what you’ve done or experienced, how you felt about it and what, if anything, might you do differently in the future. This is why I tend to do reflection with Rolfe et al’s model:
What? – this is the descriptive part, what happened, what was your role, what were others actions / responses, what are the associated feelings, what were the consequences – you may well have a few of your own favourite ‘what’ questions to add in here.
So what? – these are really about options, learning and values – for example so what does this tell you about yourself, about the people involved, about what you could do, about what you won’t do, about what you need and about what you’ve learned. It’s really about exploration and understanding – what does your experience mean for you moving forward.
What now? – this is about insights and action – what will be different, how can you prevent a repeat or create one, what can you plan for, do you need to revisit this experience – maybe discuss with others involved, how do you learn what you need to learn and move on.
As your brain tends towards social processing on its own, it is quite likely you will mull over (or even dwell on) what’s happened – particularly things you may not feel quite comfortable with or things that have not gone how you hoped. I see reflection as a bit of conscious brain training to get the best out of the thinking I’m likely to do anyway. Like all neurological stuff, a simple conscious process of reflection or working through what you’ve experienced, quickly becomes a habit when practiced regularly.
Unless you can understand, unpick and draw out the value of your past year (or decade) and you have courage to act on your findings, you are likely to live the same experiences over and over. Before you rush into planning, I urge you to spend some time reflecting using a super simple ‘what’ sequence. Remember to focus on the wins, the things you want more of and the things you love, as well as where you might want things to be different.
Being kind is about how you behave, not what you talk about, yet it is easy to be glib or pay lip service to kindness. The festive season really does bring out the best and the worst in people. Let’s be honest, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, you will almost certainly be impacted by it in some way.
In the run up to 2020 – the start of a new decade, I’m very focused on connection, on kindness and on protecting mental wellbeing – for myself as well as for those in my world. These are things we often do not pay much attention to, and they are things that are just too precious to be left to chance.
Today I’m starting with kindness, calling on you to run a quick inventory of how you behave.
Our natural neurological default is kindness and compassion. James Doty, Clinical Professor of neurosurgery at Stamford and author of Into the Magic Shop, says it is our adrenaline fuelled lifestyle – or the chronic low-level release of hormones that create a near constant state of stress for many people. This hormonal trigger is designed to be a responsive state not a constant, and in overdrive this is responsible for reduced compassion and kindness, as well as heightened stress and anxiety.
Think about how often you hear someone pass judgement on another’s suffering, misfortune or even non-conformity – blame, shame and ultimately dismissal of suffering can quickly ensue. It’s evident in the various ‘isms’ that exercise people, in blaming people for the things that happen to them, even in circumstances like the recent floods in the UK – seemingly innocuous comments like ‘well they live near a river’ as if the act of nature is somehow their own fault.
I suspect we have all done it on occasions, but if blame, shame or justification are your instinctive responses you may need to pay attention to your stress levels. It doesn’t mean you are an unkind or uncaring person, it might mean you are running an adrenaline fuelled life on your (ironically named) sympathetic nervous system and your response is simply one of self-protection.
We all hit that “I can’t handle anything else” moments from time to time – whether it is at home, your kids, at work, in your social group or a combination of life events that leave you feeling out of control. The challenge is that once in this chronic stress response state you have to first recognise it, then do something active to rebalance your neurochemistry.
I don’t know about you, but when I hit a stress overwhelm – however briefly, the first victim of my ‘judgeiness’ is usually myself, often in tandem with a level of unkindness I certainly wouldn’t levy at anyone else. If you have a tendency towards this, or even if you are an occasional offender, job number one is to learn to create some compassion for yourself. Being able to manage your own physiological state, to consciously move from sympathetic nervous system overdrive back to a parasympathetic (or rest and restore state) is critical.
There are many ways you can change your state, from physical activity to use up the adrenaline in the short term, listening to your favourite music, certain smells linked to calm or feeling good, to longer term strategies like meditation and relaxation. Acts of kindness and compassion are up there in terms of rapid and long-term changes to your state management. Because it is part of your innate make up, compassion is rebalancing, restorative and helps you retain a ‘rest and restore’ state which in turn stimulates oxytocin receptors increasing empathy and helping you to stay connected with both yourself and other humans.
So, as the festive season hurtles towards us don’t just pay lip service to kindness. Spare a thought for your fellow human – none of us really know what is going on for another, a kind word, a small gesture of help or a bit of support may actually help you feel better and might just mean the world to someone.
Not paying lip service to kindness applies to how you treat yourself too. How can you be kinder to yourself, create a bit more support if you need it and not stress out over the festivities?
I’m using kindness to stay grounded and not get caught up in the hype and hustle of Christmas. One act of kindness each day is enriching, rewarding and nurturing for me. It restores balance, enables me to feel good and creates a more positive neurochemistry, it is almost an aside that others are the beneficiaries of my acts, I am without question the biggest beneficiary.
At times of challenge, or crisis even, it’s tempting to batten down the hatches, dig in and wait out the ‘storm’. While in an actual storm this may be sound advice, in life generally, and business particularly, ‘waiting it out’ is rarely the best course of action.
In the business context, challenging times usually result from one or more of the following; inertia, conformity, fear and not staying true to your own values. Yet we often blame external factors like the economy, our location, our competition, another’s behaviour, the size and reach of our business, our lack of time, money, connections, and so on. It’s easier isn’t it – blame something you don’t feel you have control over and it’s not your fault, right?
The challenge with this approach is that you can’t fix stuff you have no control over, you are destined to be a victim of your circumstances and that is no way to run your business (or your life). Sure things happen that you have no control over, and I’ve certainly had my share of those in the last few weeks, but then you make a choice: focus on the things you can do nothing about, or focus on the things you can control.
Your actions, your attitude and your congruence are all things you have control over. You decide how you show up and behave, you decide which challenges you face and which you hide from, and you decide when to stand out and when to fit in based on what really matters to you. I’m not saying it’s easy – it’s not, but it’s better than inertia, being stuck in your fear or conforming at the expense of what you truly believe.
I know for many business owners the environment feels more fragile and more volatile in recent times. I also believe that in times of uncertainty some businesses thrive and others do not survive. This is largely down to action, attitude and congruence – being super clear what you are prepared to do and what you are not, having a plan and most importantly having the courage to act on your plan.
This clarity, this focus, makes it easier to combat inertia, it helps you to stay true to your values and most importantly it helps you move through fear rather than being stuck in it.
BTW, fear is a normal part of life, we all feel fear, it’s neither desirable nor possible to rid ourselves of fear, it is a neurological message, a chemical reaction, a confirmation we are outside of our regular, automated neurological activity – we are alive, experiencing and processing what is going on within and around us. Fear shows up in different ways for different people, it has the capacity to completely derail your dreams, undermine your confidence and keep you stuck – or ‘waiting it out’ until it passes – usually because you have made an excuse or lowered your expectations.
The only way out of fear is to move through it – to take some action, to change the chemical reaction happening within us. The action doesn’t have to be constructive ‘on your business’ stuff, it could be a distraction, physical activity, or relaxation – it does need to be a circuit breaker, something that creates a change in your neurological state.
So here is my question for you. Are you clear about what you and your business stand for, and do you have a plan for making that happen?
For many people I talk to the answer is yes at a superficial level, but once we start to drill down into what are you prepared to do, what are the lines you won’t cross, where does fear and your excuses get in the way, answers – and conviction, become more vague surprisingly quickly. There is certainly a balance to be struck between deep exploration of the soul and getting on with the job – none of us can afford to ignore our day to day business function, but neither can we afford to ignore clarity and focus on the things that really matter to us.
My advice? Start small and make focus a habit – your way of working. What do you need to be paying attention to right now, what is the thing that you can control and impact that makes a difference to how – or if, you deal with challenges?
It you want more support join me in Braver Business our virtual cowork community.
Even when we feel quite small, insignificant even, in the grand scheme of things we all have the opportunity to shape the future. The choices you make today craft the life you live tomorrow, whether you choose to act, to engage, to hold back, to make an excuse or to do nothing – you have an impact.
How much does your energy, your enthusiasm (or lack of it), your environment, your level of self-belief, your expectation, affect how you show up? Massively, doesn’t it and on those days where you don’t feel great or can’t be bothered – and we all have them – if you don’t do something to manage yourself and your attitude your day is just a slog, right?
I’m big into neuroscience – the stuff behind the woo woo – although the bare feet, flouncy, flowery attire of my youth might suggest the hippy, woo woo traits predated my formal understanding of neuroscience. Attitude, energy, environment, self-believe, enthusiasm and expectation all affect the prism through which we see the world, the ‘evidence’ we look for, and the reality we create for ourselves.
All of these things matter, but I think environment is often overlooked, whether you work at home, in a corporate, a shop, a hospital, a shared office – what it feels like makes a difference. When we were setting up Brave CoWork I did a fair amount of research around space, productivity and wellbeing and found some stuff I expected and a few surprises.
So, what did I find that I expected – natural light, greenery, space and moderate auditory stimulation all improve perceived wellbeing and productivity. Dingy workspace, poorly laid out desks and chairs, lack of natural daylight, lack of fresh air, and other people’s noise all adversely affected perceived wellbeing and productivity. Clutter clouds thinking and tidying office space, particularly for home workers and the self-employed, is a great source of procrastination.
Things I didn’t expect to find: the lack of control people felt they had over their environment – this applied fairly evenly to people working in an employer’s environment and those working from their own office, workshop, shop or home. Most people didn’t change their space from one year to the next, they put up with little things that annoy them – like broken furniture, poor light, lack of storage and clutter. There’s a whole bank of ‘reasons’ for not sorting stuff – from too expensive to no time, from not allowed to can’t be bothered, these were mostly excuses.
People gained energy from being around others. Not a surprise, but proximity is important – too close and it can be draining, too distant and the connectivity benefit is lost. Around 5 meters seems ideal, although cultural variations exist. The Allen Curve, first tested in 1974, suggests that the right proximity increases collaboration creativity and productivity. Working alone is not good for us.
Finally plants, again not a surprise they are good for us, but some of the benefits were a little more surprising. Plants have been proven to decrease eyestrain, lower feelings of anxiety, reduce negativity, and increase productivity. Eye strain has been tested in a number of studies, showing that both the change in focal distance and colour (compared with using a screen of some description) has a relaxing effect, and reduces symptoms associated with eye strain. They also clean the air, bring a little nature into your environment and larger plants help to dampen sound.
Are you paying attention to your environment, or have you become so used to it that you don’t notice little things that cause frustration every day?
I regularly do an environment audit, both in my home office and at the Brave CoWork. We frequently change things, add things and personalise things. Don’t get me wrong I love my workspaces, but they still need to be loved. It doesn’t have to be big stuff or cost money – swapping around a few crystals, a plant or a picture makes a difference; but the bigger difference usually comes from dealing with an irritant, clearing up your clutter and keeping your space clean.
What can you do to make your working environment work better for you?
While I don’t think they are mutually exclusive, most of us lean towards intuition or fact-based decision making. Some of us make decisions rapidly, some of us more slowly and some decide not to decide. After having many heated debates about intuition or gut instinct with people over the years, it is both an emotive and complex area where it is easy to become wedded to your own preference.
To be up front here, I sit firmly on the side of intuition, I trust myself and let my gut, brain and heart guide me – I won’t ignore the facts or hard evidence, but don’t rely on it either. I think how we make decisions is somewhat dependant on our personality, our conditioning and our level of self-esteem.
Intuition is not some airy fairy, mysterious quality some of us have and others don’t, we all have it – it is based on our past experiences, our knowledge gained and even when we don’t always understand our ‘gut instinct’ there is an explanation for it if we bother to look. Intuition is often described as knowing things before you know them, even when you can’t explain how.
In reality our gut does have a fast track to our brain with over a hundred million nerve cells talking directly to our brain (the enteric nervous system) and the vagus nerve literally connecting our brain, heart and gut.
We constantly process sensory stimuli, cross reference them at an unconscious level with similar experiences in our internal database, and draw a conclusion as to our safety, capacity to act and desire. This unconscious processing happens much faster than our conscious thought and decision making.
The key question is can we trust it or not?
Well, we have all done something out of character, only to find out it was the right thing retrospectively – it might be as simple as driving a different way than usual and finding you avoided a long queue after an accident, it might be you call a friend you wouldn’t normally call only to find they really needed someone to talk to – this may have been an urge, you may have had a physical sensation or ‘gut instinct’ that led to act.
There are several theories around why intuition works and is perhaps more tangible than we may think. I find this one helpful in explaining it to my more sceptical friends; intuition is based on continuous unconscious processing of sensory information which happens whether or not our rational mind is occupied on conscious tasks. When something is not quite right in our environment, this could be someone else’s behaviour or the actual environment, like pre thunderstorm, our brain produces small surges of dopamine which in turn create a physical sensation, or weird feeling, that often accompanies ‘gut instinct’.
Often unconscious processing involves other people. Our brains are constantly working to make sense of the world around us, how the presence, behaviour or actions of another affects us, and whether we need to do more to serve – this is called social processing. Matthew Lieberman,(Professor of Neuroscience, UCLA), talks about social superpowers as being social pain and social connection, with social pain activating the brain areas as physical pain on MRI scan, and social connection essential to our survival.
When we start to leverage social connection there is a blur between intuition and mindreading – and this is where perhaps relying on intuition can seem more risky, we take incomplete information and create a story. This story is our perception of reality. We look at people’s micro expressions, body language, emotional state, attitude and try to predict their responses – and this often happens before we can process logical factual information. Instinctively when words and expressions or attitude and body language don’t add up we feel something is not right – or have a ‘gut feel’ about something.
These instincts are as much evolutionary as they are neurological. Reading emotional signals is an ancient trait on which our ancestors relied for survival – is this person friend or foe, am I safe or not – the stakes may not be the same now, but the instincts are. This doesn’t mean our instincts are always correct, they might be designed to keep us safe, but they are frequently clouded by our own life experience, prejudices and beliefs and this can cause us to make biased assumptions. So if we are to trust our intuition we also need to both understand our biases and wherever possible reality check our instinct with rational thinking and facts.
It seems logical that if intuition is served up first there is some evolutionary benefit to us using it. One of my favourite books is Blink by Malcom Gladwell. In there he argues that our ability to make good decisions is not driven by having all the information, logical processing and analysis. Our ability to make good rapid decisions is in fact, driven by our adaptive unconscious, which he refers to as the internal supercomputer of our brain. This leads you to take rapid instinctive action when you need to – like in the face of imminent danger, it also enables you to socially process in an ongoing manner.
There is no doubt intuition can also lead you astray if you are not aware of your own internal biases or rely on it to the exclusion of factual evidence.
For every piece of research supporting trusting your gut there is one telling you not to. The argument against is largely based around unconscious bias, and it’s a valid one. Our brain’s need for patterns for stories to fit means that we invent the bits of missing information to fit patterns we already know how to run. The more complex and incomplete a situation the less reliable instinct might be, however most of the decisions we make are not complex or life altering, many are not even day altering so does more information really make a difference?
At the risk of sounding cynical or conspiratorial, facts, research and reasoning are potentially developed to help us with social functioning, communication and influence. This also leaves us exposed to cognitive bias, potentially reluctant to change our views or beliefs and less flexible when it comes to taking action.
Seriously though balance is the answer – while I lean toward intuition, I recognise that in some circumstances intuition is enough and in others I also need to do due diligence, be aware of the facts, and then make a decision.
If you take one thing from this article learn to trust yourself, whether you need facts or whether you act intuitively, refrain from analysis paralysis bought on by not trusting yourself to do the right thing. The more you act the more evidence you will have that you can trust yourself, whatever the outcome. (Right or wrong decision – you’re still here aren’t you?)
I love this time of year, it’s a great reflection period for me, intuitively tied to the seasons.
I think that it helps that it’s around the time of my birthday so there is a natural closing of one cycle and start of another. This is perhaps less steeped in neuroscience and more in connectedness than some of my work, because I absolutely believe we are impacted by our environment, whether that be nature or the environment we create for ourselves.
Late summer is the period we harvest and see the results of our year’s labour. We also have to be pragmatic about whether it is enough to sustain us, whether there is more than we need and all of this informs how we move into the next cycle. I feel a real affinity to the Druid year which starts at the autumn equinox in September, moves through the year attuned to nature, ending with celebration and reaping of rewards late August before the cycle starts again.
Late summer into autumn is the period we harvest and see the results of our year’s labour. That old saying “you reap what you sow” comes to mind. It’s a time to look, to question whether what you created and harvested was what you wanted, did your dreams, plans and reality match up? It’s a period of reflection, of understanding, of preparing and planning for the next cycle by gathering the knowledge, learnings and wisdom from your reflections and results and cultivating your ‘land’. For me this is about making sure I know what I want to grow (both in myself and my business) and making sure I am ready for that growth.
Then comes the winter – and while this sounds a bit sinister, it is the rotting of the dead, the breaking down of unused things and most critically of letting go – if you don’t let go of what no longer serves you, you have no room for different or new ways. This letting go of the dead or decaying simply makes way for renewal, recycling and rebirth. This winter period is also a time for restoring, for resting and for refilling, for many people it is a time of going home – or going into yourself, or reconnecting and honouring. Of course, in real terms these activities relate to you and to your relationships with others, where do you need to be more connected, and what do you need to let go of in order to prepare for new seeds.
As we move into spring, we sow our seeds and long before we actually see the seeds we’ve sown, the real nurturing starts – this is the feeding and watering, the maintaining environmental balance that allows new seeds to take hold. Think about what happens for you and for your business – whether it is fuelling your inner fire, nurturing relationships, being brave enough to get out there and risk elements. If we want to thrive, this takes some real effort and energy and it rewards us with blossom, with strengthening shoots and strong roots. There is a real need for connectedness in this period, of collaborating forces – whether it be sun and rain, working together on projects or simply having each other’s backs to ensure crops are tended fully; this growth does not happen in isolation.
And summer. A time of growth and maturation, of visibility and shining: think bright sun, flowers blooming, less shadow to lurk in. It is a period that starts off busy and gets less so as the crops are harvested, as we start to relax and enjoy what we have created – traditionally where we holiday and enjoy the long sun filled days – even in the UK! And as the harvest is complete the cycle starts again. As we come towards the end of summer, I always feel like it’s time to celebrate what has been achieved however big or small, and gently focus energy and effort towards the next cycle.
To do this I ask myself the following questions:
1) Am I harvesting what I expected to be?
2) What preparation do I need to be doing for next year’s harvest?
3) Am I clear about what I’m growing, what I expect to yield, and is my environment going to cultivate my crop?
And if you want to craft the next stage of your journey with me, join us at BraveFest on 27th– 29thSeptember, where we will be combining practical business strategies with neuroscience, mindset and personal growth while spending time with nature enjoying some outdoor activities and campfires. The best combo of a luxury venue with countryside surround – camp, glamp or farmhouse B&B to suit your own style. Find out more www.bravefest.co.uk
As humans, we can be intensely complex beings with seemingly conflicting needs and an incredible knack for self-sabotage. Two of those potentially conflicting needs are fulfilment and comfort. The relationship between fulfilment and comfort is an interesting one, when we don’t feel fulfilled we often opt comfort, often at the expense of what we really want from life.
Contribution plays a big part in this, but it is not as straight forward as just contributing, doing something good for others, or making a difference. Our sense of contribution is much more closely interwoven with our sense of fulfilment than it is with the difference we actually make.
Most humans crave significance, for their life to have meaning and I believe that this is the objective truth for most people – we all make a difference to someone or something just by our very existence. Yet it is too often not the perceived internal truth because to feel significant, or like you have contributed, you have to feel fulfilled.
It is quite possible to feel fulfilled while still experiencing stress, pressure, working hard – feeling fulfilled doesn’t mean you have to have the perfect life. It does mean you have to stop and appreciate what you have. It usually means what you are doing has to matter to you, and you have to feel like you are adding value for others in some way. It also means you are probably pushing the edges of your comfort zone most of the time, you are likely to get it wrong sometimes and you won’t always have the impact you hoped you might. When this happens, most people default to one of two behaviours:
1) You do more and more, give more, and hustle to get heard/seen/ noticed.
2) You settle and opt for what you know you can do, what others expect and are plagued by ‘what ifs’.
These two things rob you of your sense of fulfilment. This is why we see outwardly very successful people, people who look like there are making a big difference, feeling like they are not good enough in some way.
This is where the interplay between fulfilment and comfort comes in. If you don’t feel you are making an impact; your actions, or life, don’t have significance; or that you aren’t influencing the things that matter to you, it is unlikely you will feel fulfilled. Most people when unfulfilled seek comfort – and this comfort can take many forms from literal comfort of your sofa, TV & glass of wine to unconscious comfort of playing small, sticking to what you know and not taking any risks. Now both of those things are perfectly ok every now and then. They are not ok when they become a habit or excessive or are associated with destructive self-talk. They will certainly not make you feel more fulfilled in the longer term.
The whole concept of fulfilment being can be traced back to Greek times, with Aristotle articulating the common belief that the purpose of life was not to be happy, but to reach eudaimonia, which he describes as human flourishing, or the achievement of the highest human good – although it has translated into happiness in modern times, its origins are more with fulfilment of purpose, having a worthwhile life.
For me, fulfilment is a state of mind; a way of being and it comes down to what you are focussed on. Your sense of self-worth and internal programming are hugely important, so being aware of your own stories, traps and excuses is critical, as is a strategy for managing or changing any unhelpful dialogue or internal beliefs.
First, get clear about what makes you feel fulfilled – this might be tiny: the small buzz you get when you’ve helped someone out, the laugh of your child, completing a crossword puzzle, beating your own run time. It might already be huge: the impact your workshop had on the lives of people, the pleasure your photo’s of a special family event gave your client, your time sorting and structuring accounting processes for your client. This fulfilment might be transient for you, it might even feel like business as usual, but it is that small buzz, that sense of satisfaction of a job well done, that connection with another human, that difference made that is your significance. It is on these feelings you foster and amplify your sense of fulfilment and subsequent contribution.
So once you get clear about what those things that make you feel fulfilled are – and remember they might be small to start with – follow these three steps to consolidate and grow your state of fulfilment so that it becomes one of your go to emotional states.
Practice gratitude – I know this is much talked about, but what you focus on is generally what you get more of because that is what your brain is looking for, so why wouldn’t you consciously put some effort into the good stuff?
Celebrate your successes, however small. Sometimes we are so busy moving forward we forget to stop and enjoy the moment, or to acknowledge what we have achieved. Invest time in this – not to boast to others, but to raise your own self-worth, to give yourself some credit, and to internally catalogue your achievements.
Keep contributing. Focus on the areas that matter to you, show up and know that even the tiniest of contributions matter – even a kind word can make a massive difference to someone. You don’t need to wait until you can make a massive difference or change the world, you just need to start, little action after little action.
Final word – living a fulfilled live or achieving eudaimonia, is an inside job. That means it is within your control and your power to get there. Focus and you will find it, and if you want to share your journey, join us in the Brave Virtual Coworking group.
If you listen to most marketers, growth consultants and business mentors talking about tribe building there’s not a lot of difference in what they say, and it doesn’t sound that complicated does it?
Yet for many business owners, creatives and people who sell themselves in some way (that’s almost all of us BTW), talking about what you sell and building a connected community around you can be a little daunting and is not something that comes naturally to most people. Why? Because your own stuff gets in the way. When something is really important to you, or something potentially exposes you, or is controversial or counterintuitive it is risky to put it out there for criticism, ridicule even, all your vulnerabilities show up and the excuses come out. The result you don’t build connection.
The truth is it takes effort and time to build your tribe, but most of all it takes courage. If you want to get connected you have to show up – consistently. You also have to follow a few basic rules – even if they feel counterintuitive.
Here are my tribe building rules:
Be clear – understand what you stand for and why you are developing this particular community – if it’s just to sell stuff you may need a rethink!
Don’t try to please everyone – think about who you really want to connect with, who you best serve, (this is usually the people you like working with also – it’s your group you get to choose), and think about how many people you really need to connect with – it’s easy to get sucked into the bigger is better trap, engaged and committed is always better.
Be yourself – nobody likes a fake, they won’t engage if they don’t trust you and will switch off if they don’t believe you. If you have done the first two things, this will be a lot easier. Stick to your values, talk about what matters to you and helps the community you are building – this is not the same as talking about yourself and your stuff by the way. You first have to earn that right, and the continue to use it with respect and boundaries.
Now be the more human version of yourself – it’s easy to get into leader or teacher mode in your community and while it might give you some warped feeling of security or credibility it is very bad for community engagement. So be as personable as you can be, don’t put on the formal, professional, jargony, stuffy or conforming version of yourself, just be yourself – talk the same, act the same, use the same humour, be vulnerable, just be appropriate for your audience – which if you’ve focused on who you want to connect with this should be natural. My guide be you for them.
Create emotional contention – most of your connection investment goes in here, time, energy and vulnerability – so make sure you are building around things that matter to you, that you are committed to and happy to talk about. These things should cross over both content and the experience members get from the community. Remember that people are making and emotional investment in working with you, usually long before they make a financial one!
Provide valuable and entertaining content – there is so much content available that your stuff has to entertain and /or add value if you want people to consume it.
Be consistent and available – just to be clear I am not suggesting you are on social 24/7 – you set the rules of engagement, or how to interact, it’s your community, but remember if you want people to spend time in your tribe, you have to as well.
Humans love to belong, to feel connected and part of that is adding value, not just being given (or told) stuff, this is why interaction and engagement are so key to building successful tribes.
It might be your tribe, but you are only one of many moving parts. You might hold the space – whether it is a business, social or family group, people in that space might recognise you as the leader, they might consume your wisdom, they connect with other members and only truly connect with you when you talk about stuff that matters to them – they don’t necessarily care what matters to you.
You are only ever one player in the connection game, People are not connecting with you they are connecting with each other.
Once you get this you are on the way to building a community.
It’s a deliberately provocative question, and no, I don’t think we have it wrong, but I do think we are putting the emphasis in the wrong places when it comes to building your tribe.
It feels a bit like the world has gone ‘why’ mad at the moment – as a result some people are becoming rather self-indulgent about their purpose, sometimes at the expense of connection with the people they want to work with. This is perhaps because we are getting too contrived about why statements, about wanting to have a dramatic story about why we do what we do, or a really compelling reason for being in the business we are in. Sure, a compelling why story helps you to sell in the moment – but it only helps you to genuinely connect and build a community if it is true, if people trust you and if it something that matters to them too.
Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, says “Mistaking our work as our why can make us miserable even when, to the eyes of the world, we seem wildly successful.”
I think the whole ‘why’ thing serves two purposes, it helps you to be really clear about what drives you and it helps you to lead others – whether in business, socially or in your family.
For most of us, our why or purpose is much more about who we are as a human being. Mine, for example is to be an enabler, on the face of it not very glamourous – but underneath that are a whole load of values that underpin who I am in the world, the footprint I want to leave behind, and what I am prepared to do or not. These values, this why, transcends my life – I don’t just show up like this at work, I’m like it as a friend, as a mother, as a daughter, in my social life – it’s who I am. Most people who have truly nailed their why would say the same – this is who I am.
I could, and have, wrapped my why up in mission statement for my life. Sometimes I share bits or all of it when speaking, writing and working with clients. Most often it is a guide for myself – when I get tempted to veer off course, as we all do, it is a reminder of why I am here. I still choose whether to take the detour or not, but I have a point of reference.
Often, it’s not complicated – we know who we are, why we are on the planet, even if it sounds a bit too pretentious, or grandiose to say it out loud. The trouble is as soon as you start with the ‘this is too big for me’ thinking, your reason for being here starts to get lost. It gets buried, layered underneath who you think you should be, what you think others expect of you and what you know you can live up to. This is also known as fitting in, settling and playing small! Once this happens you are on a downward spiral in my view, your world shrinks, your confidence drops and you become governed by your excuses. The way you connect with others changes, and not for the better.
Absolutely, you have to be really clear about why you do what you do – for yourself. It keeps you going in tough times, it helps you to do scary stuff or step out of your comfort zone. It keeps you growing into the person you are here to be.
Part of being that person is leading others and in this context, I am talking about through your business, although it could well be in other parts of your life. It is in business that I think the why emphasis has got slightly skewed. Being able to articulate your why is important – but only in so far as it helps others to connect, to trust and to follow you.
But, and it’s a big but, if you start talking about your why, or your purpose, make sure it’s truly who you are, not what you think sounds good, what you think other people want or what you think people will get behind, because if you don’t believe in it it will show. When something is not quite right, someone is not quite what they say, you pick it up from their vibe, their physiology, sometimes even their discomfort – the same is true for the people you want to connect with.
When it comes to creating connection and building your community, having clarity about your why massively helps you to create emotional connection – but, and this is really important, people connect because something matters to them – not because it matters to you!
So yes, you need to be able to articulate your why, you also need to be super helpful around the things that matter to them. This is where the story (or stories) around your why become really important – not drama filled, just real, connecting and serving the greater good. The emphasis here is on helping others to connect with and address the things that matter to them. You won’t do this through contrived and rehearsed why statements, clever and somewhat embroiled stories of adversity, or content that is all about you. This is about being brave enough to connect human to human, to hold space for others to connect and to gently take them on a journey with you.
Park your need to be right, to look good or to be all-knowing; just be yourself, be curious about the other person and they will tell you how (or if) to develop your connection.
One of the things I like best about my business is being able to have a foot in several camps – I am the leader of a small business team and work with small business owners, I also work with large organisations both public and private. This week I have had the privilege of working with the RAF Benevolent Fund, the NHS, holding a strategy day with a small business client, running a couple of online coaching groups, being part of an exciting local learning initiative, all while preparing for our first global #EndPJparalysis Summit on 10th – 12th July (72 hrs of live discussion and presentations about improving patients’ lives from experts around the world – click here if you want to join in) and launching BraveFest 19 next week.
I’m not telling you all this to be big or clever, rather to highlight a couple of things: firstly, I’m so very grateful for the great people I work with every day – without whom all this would not be possible; and secondly, I don’t believe in multitasking. Mostly because neurologically, multitasking is not a ‘thing’, it doesn’t work like that, your brain simply switches rapidly between tasks – usually losing a bit of processing power on the way.
I’m sharing this because, like many of the small business owners, creatives and entrepreneurs I work with, I love the variety and breadth that this kind of work brings. It allows me to contribute in many ways and honestly feeds my sense of worthiness as I’m using most of the skills I’ve collected throughout my own working life. Juggling many priorities is, however, a blessing and a curse, it can be tempting to spin one too many plates and finish up not truly effective at any of them, as well as potentially creating bottlenecks in your own business.
So here are my tips for fellow ‘plate spinners’ –
Focus on one thing at a time – attempting to multitask is bad for your brain, many studies have shown it impacts on your concentration, your memory and your creativity as well as making it more likely you will make mistakes or feel anxious about what you are doing. It’s not easy to focus when you feel you have a million things to do, I know, but it is essential to your wellbeing as well as your productivity. In a 2013 paper on the myths of multitasking, psychologist Dr Glenn Wilson reckoned it had the same effect as losing a night’s sleep.
Know how you get and stay ‘in flow’ – Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as immersion, energised focus, enjoyment and full involvement in an activity – to the extent you may lose perspective of time and space. In other words, you are consumed by what you are doing and all of your attention, neurological processing power and emotion energy are directed at the activity. Think about how you reach that state, what you are doing, how you feel and most importantly how you can replicate it in other areas.
Work with great people – this isn’t just about having team members. This is really about knowing the strengths of those around you – it might be your team, or people in your business network, it might also be your family and friends – understand how they support you being in flow and how they may disrupt your flow and work with them accordingly. Just a note, if you are lucky enough to have a team – whether co located, virtual or outsourced – don’t micro manage! Be clear about what you need and then stay out of the way of the doing. Yes, check in and help keep things on track, but if you work with great people let them do their great stuff.
Prioritise – rather than attempt to do too much and do less than you could, prioritise your most important actions for the day. This is not a carefully crafted multiple page to do list by the way, it is one or two or max three things that have to happen today (the number of ‘have tos’ will depend on the size of the tasks, not your perceived business by the way.) Focus on number one, then the next, then the next – I know this sounds over simplified, but it really does work.
Take regular breaks – When I have weeks like my last one this is the only way I continually get stuff done – if I forget my just brain takes time out if I don’t create it. For example, I rocked up at a meeting Friday morning to do with developing our CoWork space and quite simply couldn’t remember the names of people I wanted involved, when the deadlines were – I felt a right numpty. The real issue was I’d bounced from one thing to another all morning not stopped for a drink or a few minutes not thinking space and my brain needed a short break. Luckily a breather and a cuppa and I’d recovered my focus. Now we are each different in our specific needs, but we all need downtime to process, fuel to work on – hydration and food, as well as sleep.
Know your limits – This is probably my biggest challenge, know when you have enough things on the go and say no or not now when you are at capacity – however exciting something looks. Taking on too much has several negative impacts and no positive ones as far as I can see. If you dilute your presence or focus you will at best do several things badly, more likely you’ll not get several things done at all. Mental wellbeing is a hot topic in most organisations I work with, at the same time the frequent drive for more with less. Being overwhelmed by your to do list, feeling out of control or that you are not doing a good job jeopardises your mental wellbeing super-fast – don’t fall into that trap!
Finally, remember that unless it is your craft – plate spinning is not good for your business – you in your zone, in your flow doing your best work is what your business needs.
If you need some time out to find your flow, re focus on your priorities or just take some time out around great people BraveFest 19 tickets go on sale on 3rd July.