Why Balance Helps Increase Resilience

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Any of us who have played Monopoly know that the dark blues accommodate the highest grossing properties in the game, it’s a premium we’re prepared to pay for the likes of Mayfair and Park Lane (in the UK edition). My interest was therefore piqued when I realised that I was going to work in this property pinnacle for 2 days last week. There’s only one reason why it is the most expensive in the land and that’s because everybody wants to be there. I was going to experience what we all aspire to.

First impressions didn’t disappoint, once past the reception, the atrium opened up into impressive cathedral-like proportions. Four full sized palm trees were seemingly dwarfed in the otherwise empty, marble clad space which rose up multiple floors. When I say there was marble, oh indeed there was marble; brown, pink and cream on the floors, the walls, the stairs, the columns, the banisters, the handrails. Did I mention the marble? Looking up the at the ceiling, a glimpse of the blue sky that held such promise for a gloriously sunny Autumn day was just visible through the bars of the architectural design.

Security was tight and movement impeded although our every need was taken care of, our hosts made sure that we didn’t have to leave the room all day. From the air we breathed, the light we needed, the soundproofing, the constant supply of food and drinks that arrived throughout the day, everything was controlled, there were no distractions, all we had to do was work.

I didn’t realise until exiting into a gloomy dusk some 9 hours later that I had unconsciously let the building swallow me up and I wasn’t feeling too good. I had been completely cocooned from the outside world, it was a shock to feel a different temperature, hear the sounds of the traffic and see green grass. If this is what we all aspire to and I’d been completely taken care of all day, how come my resilience was low, I was feeling wired and tired, and my head pounding?

Resilience is about maintaining balance because whatever the circumstances, there’s a consequence for imbalance; structures will collapse, we will fall over. There was nothing balanced about that day, not the constant caffeine and sugar supply, the manufactured light nor conditioned air. We’re living 21st century lives with cavemen wiring, just as we do need shelter from the harshest natural elements, so we don’t need to spend all our days insulated against them in man made environments whatever the address. Like a pendulum swing we need somewhere in the middle, we need balance.

I returned for day two on a mission to increase my resilience, I looked for ways to introduce some balance. The drinks I replaced with water and avoided the sugar energy slumps by eating more natural healthier snacks purchased elsewhere, I challenged the security system as I got up and moved around. As soon as we broke for lunch I didn’t waste a moment getting outside and into the sunshine, walking around the Square appreciating that city oasis of trees, birds, grass and flowers in a way that I had never before. I began to appreciate the real reason why there’s a premium on those property prices. it’s a shame that the architect hadn’t felt the same way and put some balance into the design of the building.

Feeling refreshed and energised I returned after lunch my neighbour questioning me with surprise as to why I had gone outside as he washed down two paracetamol with a cola.

7 Things That Could Happen When You Ask For Help

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If you had a headmistress like mine, it’s small wonder that you feel pressure at having to have all the answers and that asking for help is a sign of weakness or even failure.

Interrupting lessons, we would have to jump to our feet as she clicked her fingers and pointed at one of us whilst barking out maths or grammatical problems to be solved. If we repeated the question we were admonished for wasting time, whilst getting it wrong involved shame and punishment in front of our peers. To this day I panic and stumble through my times tables.

She didn’t succeed in teaching me my tables but she did instil in me an absolute necessity for having to know all the answers, all the time and that asking for help was not an option. I left that school with a defensive, ‘know it all’ attitude and several coping strategies never to be caught out and humiliated again.

I can tell you that adopting that kind of defence mechanism doesn’t win you any friends and takes a lot of time, attention and effort to maintain. Information is power and I didn’t want to be weak, I always chose the safe option, kept my head down and avoided drawing attention to myself, ‘just in case’. Then came the public speaking, each event endured with dread as I waited for the Q&A session knowing that it was only a matter of time before I would get caught out in public.

Indeed that day arrived and no one was more stunned than I to learn that it’s okay to admit from the stage that you don’t have the answer and will have to ask for help. I’ve since realised that we’re suspicious of a person with all the answers, we can spot a blagger when we see one and are far more likely to trust someone who admits vulnerability. On stage or not, your listener connects with your integrity and wants to trust you.

So if you’re suffering from the condition of, ‘Don’t like to ask’, and you fear being judged and found wanting, I challenge you to step out of your silo of self sufficiency, brave the risk, acknowledge the ‘What ifs’, that are running around your head and ask anyway.

I’ve experienced 7 possible outcomes:-

1 You’ll make someone’s day, we’re all more than happy when someone asks us for help.

2 If they don’t know the answer but are still in the trap of believing that they have to, you’ll be able to watch their defence mechanism with interest.

3 When you hear something that you don’t want to, you’ll be able to watch your own defence mechanism with interest…oh yes..… 

4 You’ll break the silent stand off and start a collaborative culture as others witness it’s safe to reach out.

5 You’ll have to cherry pick what’s right for you when asking for help turns into getting unwanted advice, as some people insist they know what’s best for.

6 You’ll experience the joy of collaboration, because two or more heads really are better than one.

7 If you choose with care, you’ll strike gold and find someone who appreciates that only we know what’s best for us and that given the right questions, we all have our own answers.

What’s your experience of asking for help?

8 Top Tips to Smash It at Public Speaking

Back in 2004 I was invited to speak at the Enterprise Britain Policy Summit at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, London. There were about 500 delegates and I was 1 of 17 speakers, our purpose was to help create a deeper enterprise culture in the UK.

There I was, the only small business owner, standing on a stage with UK plc giants including Gordon Brown the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Director General of the CBI, the Chair of Channel 4, the Chief Exec of Manchester City Council and 12 equally illustrious others.

So how did a childcare provider from South Wales employing 50 nursery nurses end up speaking about innovation at such a gig? Someone recommended me, they’d heard me before and had been impressed.

Smashing it at public speaking can get you the job, the customer, the platform and these are my top eight tips to do just that.

1    I probably don’t need to tell you that I was nervous, it had started days before, getting edgy at the travel arrangements and snapping at loved ones. Get as much information about the venue and audience beforehand then daydream away. Visualise yourself looking out from the stage to the audience and feel the satisfaction of delivering your perfect presentation.

2    Understand why your body seems to be working against you. We have impressive reactions to fear designed for fight or flight none of which help us to stand on a stage and speak. Try and move beforehand to use up that nervous energy and get your breathing right. Be mindful of the rising panic, it’s not you, you’re the one who’s about to step onto the stage and smash it, acknowledge the fearful voices in your head and reassure them you’ve got this….

3    Be you - we all know a blagger when we see one, we don’t like them and we don’t trust them. You want to build trust with your audience so be you, be in conversation with them and talk about what you know. I talked about me and my business, no one was a greater expert on that subject.

4    Have you ever noticed what happens when someone starts talking about what they are passionate about? Suddenly, they’re energised and smiley and we want to be around them. Speak about your passion and your audience will reach out to you. I LOVED my business and what made us innovative, I couldn’t wait to tell them.

5    Tell your story, the story that only you can tell - your audience always wants to hear about you, your adversity and how you got through it. Listen to a celebrity tell an embarrassing story on a chat show, we love them for it. Dare yourself to be vulnerable, the emotional connection you create will be remembered long after your words are forgotten.

6    I don’t know if there’s another feeling to match 500 people laughing at your humorous comment, it’s a delicious drug but don’t try and make it happen. This is not the time to tell jokes, it’s not about making them laugh, it’s about being you and if they laugh, enjoy the bonus.

7     Be professional - turn up on time, if you’re booked for 15 minutes then speak for 15, practice time and again to get it right. Get your ending right and finish on a high leaving them wanting more.

8    When you’re done, you’re done - show up, do your best then walk away. Don’t begin to imagine that you can control the outcome, I can confirm that mental post mortems are a form of torture. However when the next speaker up is the head of PepsiCo UK and he begins by saying,  ‘Remind me to never again follow Louise’,  congratulate yourself for smashing it!

It’s not my job

School seemed to pass me by, that one life changing teacher everyone talks about must have been at another school because I never sat in front of them; but then I found workshops. I’ve travelled and criss-crossed both the Channel and the Atlantic many times over responding to my intuitive call. That inner tug guiding me to collected groups of people gathered together in the pursuit of experiential learning and the resulting education and growth. Mostly I can’t reason as to why I’m there but years later I can still quote facilitators, their stories and actions have inspired and educated me and indeed my life has been changed.

And so it was with a knowing confidence and optimistic expectation that I sat eagerly in the latest gathering. Sadly as the first day progressed, I felt that sinking feeling at the realisation that this facilitator was indeed a self declared teacher. A man who was confident that he knew what was best for us and what we needed to learn, who demanded our full attention as he lectured at us from his seemingly lofty self imposed position of superiority and seniority. 

And I played my part, feigning interest and attention as perfected in the classroom over 7 years of secondary education. Being a good girl, not drawing attention to myself and staying under the radar knowing that by the law of physics, it would be break time soon.

However it seems that I’ve attended too many workshops and grown too much to imagine that I could be gagged and bound in a way that suited my teenage self and thus I could stay silent no more. A simple, calm query, my attempt at opening up a discussion provoked a remarkable reaction and defence mechanism, I must have offended deeply; it was not my intention. 

The remaining half hour seemed to be aimed solely at ‘winning me over’, even to the exclusion of all others. His discomfort grew as I followed my inner voice, feeling what was right for me and refusing to obey and participate. I constantly checked in to my feelings as he resorted to ever more extraordinary behaviour to get me to join in. And as I witnessed his discomfort and pain so I witnessed my reaction - it would have been so easy to stand up and obey his pleas, it would have been so easy to join in with the others and release him from his self imposed torment. But what about me? What about what was right for me? Do I betray my inner voice, my truth? Do I stand up and obey so that he could feel better knowing that in that moment I would be feeling a whole lot worse? Is it my job to ‘make someone feel better’?

Just as he thought he knew what was best for me, how could I possibly know what was best for him? And so in the middle of this battleground I applied my default logic. ‘If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it’  and in the face of his braying and the whole room who by this time were surely thinking, for goodness sake Louise, just do it: I didn’t do it.

It’s not our job to ‘be good’ and stay under the radar, it’s our job to be true to ourselves, to connect to that inner and sometimes mad voice, it’s the only one that knows what’s right for us. It’s no wonder they call it the road less travelled but I’ve found that the more you trust that inner voice, the more you dare to follow it, the easier it becomes to recognise.

I’m sure there’s a workshop on that!

How Your Personal Story Can Help You Increase Your Personal Resilience.

So I’ve spent the morning with Catherine, an intimidating woman by anyone’s standards. A self made Director of three businesses with a multi million pound fortune, this woman has done it on her own, starting from scratch with 2 babies to bring up along the way. 

Catherine is a driven woman and I’ve always wondered how she continues to thrive, physically, mentally and emotionally when most people would have succumbed to stress by this stage. 

Dopamine is the brain chemical which keeps us achieving, our whole selves lost in the pursuit of the next hit whether that’s building empires, beating our personal bests or even the pursuit for the perfect pair of pumps. 

Those continuous hits of dopamine are what keep us in the achievement zone. It’s like an addictive buzz chaining us to our desk lost in concentration, oblivious to others, to hunger, to day turning to night. However it’s a double edged sword, too much and it drives us over the edge into burnout, too little, we fall into a slump of despair unable to get out of bed each morning.

Oh so many times, I’ve experienced the former and ended up with the latter. Enraptured by the thrill of the chase, oblivious to friends, food and sleep as I strove for and invariably achieved the next success. Oh so many times, I’ve failed to keep away from the edge, crashing yet again emotionally and physically as my life’s milestones passed in a blur.

So what’s Catherine’s secret? How has this high achiever escaped the perils of the addictive buzz?  It seems that her antidote, her answer to maintaining her health and enjoying life lies in her story. She was brought up in the Lake District and is never happier striding through countryside with a purpose surrounded by a like minded community. So looking at this elegant globetrotter, you would never guess that she’s a volunteer Deer Ranger. Regularly devoting half a day in all weathers enables Catherine to disconnect from the buzz and more importantly reconnect to a nourishing and sustainable hum, it's how she achieves the success without falling over the edge.

How can your story help you?

How I increased my personal resilience without looking

So one weekend last September I volunteered in the Devonshire countryside far, far away from everyday life in order to disconnect. I needed to make big changes in my mindset, attitude and life and had made the very conscious decision that it was time for something completely different.

A part of me suspected that in order to sufficiently disconnect with my world that the further away I got, the better and with the whole world at my feet I did wonder whether 48 hours on a farm in the West Country, a mere 80 miles away, would do the trick.

Wifi and phone signals were non existent, anxiety ensued at the prospect of no connection for 2 days -  what if? what if? what if? but it was what I had wanted and so I waited for the disconnect to begin.

Two days spent in manual labour either helping to prepare food for my cohorts or digging and planting the garden as others had done before me so that present and future visitors could eat. It seemed that Autumn could wait as we basked in brilliant sunshine and clear skies, surrounded by more shades of green than I knew existed, it was England at its very best.

The one thing about travel that I hadn’t considered is that you take your brain with you. As I marvelled at the views, weeded a 20 metre stretch of leeks, surprised a family of mice, washed up after 50 lunches, became mesmerised by the night sky, slept in a yurt, kept the stove lit and even negotiated compost toilets, so my brain did what it always does. It whirred and whizzed and ruminated and churned and at times even tortured me but never once did it let me disconnect.

As the train pulled out of Exeter station on the Sunday evening, a physical fatigue, sense of wellbeing and deep satisfaction of a job well done swept though me but my brain continued on it’s hell ride, covering old ground, relentless, refusing to stop.

And on the Monday I surprised myself, that day, in the middle of the brain chatter I contacted the council to put myself on the allotment waiting list. I didn’t know where the idea had come from, I wouldn’t know what to do with an allotment if I got one but today I’m going to have to find out because today, after a 6 month wait, I got an allotment.

And as I stood this afternoon inspecting plot 6B, my brain still whirring, I felt something. It appears that my search for disconnection had been misguided, I’d found something far more powerful, I felt a hum. A hum of excitement, of potential, of muddy boots, of childhood mud pies, of shoots bursting through soil, of birdsong, a hum of inner joy. All the time I had been longing to disconnect when the one thing that I had stumbled upon was a reconnect. A reconnection to what powers my hum, the hum where I happily lose track of time, get lost in my world, the hum that fuels and sustains me, that allows me to be resilient in this crazy world where wifi has become a basic human need.

So I ask you what’s your hum? How do you connect to your sustainable fuel and ensure your resilience? What does it take for you to be you on a good day, everyday?

How asking the right questions always gets you to the right answers.

‘If you want to live a shallow and unchallenged life then walk back through those doors but I’m getting on the plane’

So I’d signed up to a workshop in Central America, although between you and me when I was first invited to attend, I hadn’t realised it was on the other side of the Atlantic having momentarily imagined that Costa Rica was one of the Canary Islands….

If I’m honest, I didn’t know that it was a workshop either, I thought that we were going on holiday with a bunch of like minded people that my colleague had met whilst working in the States.

I say colleague but she had actually been my coach for two years although we had recently mutually ended our professional relationship. My life had changed and improved immensely during that period, a combination of the questions she had asked me together with my determination to find answers however painful. I trusted her.

Our communication over the preparation of the trip was sketchy owing to busy lives, time zones and unanswered mail and no doubt, denial on my part.

On meeting up with the rest of the participants at the airport in San Jose, I finally learned the detail of what I had agreed to. An intensive experience, 7 days camping in the heart of the rainforest with a group of American strangers to learn and accept the difference and value of masculine and feminine behaviours with a facilitator who organised arranged marriages.

And so it was that I found myself standing on the runway trying to accept the bare truth of what boarding that 6 seater plane actually meant. Voicing my fears to my ex-coach and expecting a mini coaching session in order to reassure myself, she replied with those uncompromising words that have remained with me for over 10 years. I can still picture the doors but I got on the plane.

For a woman who believes that, ‘If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it’, it really, really didn’t feel right.In fact thinking about it, my adrenals would have been working flat out generating my fight or flight response so I would have been incapable of feeling anything other than fear in that moment. But fear isn’t only about fight or flight, fear can be about standing on a stage and speaking anyway, risking rejection but asking anyway, witnessing an injustice and acting, that day it was about feeling the terror but some part of me knowing that I had to get on the plane

My fears were proved right, it was intense. There were some truly hideous moments and there was no escape but as the week passed so the learnings and gifts unfolded.To live in a rainforest even for just a week is a deeply magical experience, the lessons I learned have stayed with me and shaped my life in truly wonderful ways and yes, I escaped an arranged marriage and yes, after 7 days I was very happy to get back on that plane to get out of there.

So my coach was right to invite me along and I was right to trust her, the questions that she had asked me, oh so gently over the previous two years meant that I found my own answers. I learned to trust myself to always know what’s best for me in a way that no other person will ever be able to, I learned to trust my gut feeling, I learned how to find my True North. The more you trust, the easier it becomes, it’s how I got onto that plane when my brain was screaming, ‘Run’.

So today I’m never far away from someone who’s going to ask me good questions then remain silent and although I have never repeated the extreme rainforest experience I do know I have never since lived a shallow or unchallenged life.

5 Sure Signs That You Need To Increase Your Resilience

We’ve all heard the word resilience but what does it mean in terms of you and everyday life?

1    You’re tired all the time which isn’t surprising due to your chronic insomnia, late nights and early starts. How many shots of caffeine do you need to get you going in the morning? Besides isn’t lack of sleep a badge of honour these days? 

2    That nagging injury is back again. Just how persistent are your aches and pains? Is it the same old or a new one today? Can you remember a day when you felt fit, well and healthy? Anyway, that’s what pills are for, right?

3    You’re unable to switch off. Is your brain constantly wired? Have you tried the apps, the exercises and the diet but are still unable to switch off your mind as it seemingly starts to eat itself? Are you completely sure that you want to switch off, I mean what would happen to Yours Inc. if you did just that? Are you worried that things may just fall apart without you? Perhaps you’ve decided that switching off can wait.

4    You live in a cloud of anxiety. How’s your stomach feeling? Does it contain a constant dread which is somehow physical? Or do you have sharp pains shooting at the thought of you being found out? Do you know what’s causing it or is it omnipresent and you’ve almost forgotten it’s there?

5    You’re impressively busy the whole time. Are you committed to achieving, lauded for being so driven? Do you do whatever it takes to stay ahead of the pack whilst others look at you in wonderment and awe? Is failure an option at whatever the cost?

 

We live in a society that enables us to treat our symptoms very successfully. There are no end of medications that can put us out of our misery and keep us going. However, that’s just what they do, nullify the symptoms, it’s a bit like cutting the bell on the fire alarm and enjoying the silence but the building’s still burning. We forget that bit.

I believe that strong personal resilience is built through the trilogy of thought, word and deed. Our physical symptoms are a last resort built over time caused by what we think, what we say and what we do. It’s essential to look back at how we have dealt with the big and everyday challenges of our past. By understanding and learning from our personal stories we can look forward to where we want to be, living the life we’ve always imagined. We can all benefit from putting some personal resilience strategies in place to help us get there, fit, well and healthy. You deserve to be You on a Good Day, Everyday.

Have you had enough yet?

In my experience, time and again there are moments in my life when I've had enough. I don't generally recognise them as that, as when I look back I can't remember the exact moments when I stopped doing certain things. How come I don't go to that gym anymore? How come I changed my brand of tea? Why on earth did I persist with those shoes when they were obviously too small? When did I stop wearing those jeans or using my favourite handbag? Why aren't I so close to that friend anymore? Why did it take me so long to change jobs? Why did I stay too long in that unhappy relationship?

I'm sure if I sat with a therapist for an enormous amount of time they'd enable me to get to the bottom of each and every change I've made that has led me to this moment. Some of them will have been easier to make than others requiring little thought and no effort, instantly forgotten although the benefits still being reaped. It's the biggies that I can still beat myself up about, I mean really? Why did it take me so long to end that relationship? What was I thinking of? I was suffering and still did nothing? So is it off to a therapist for some serious soul searching or is there an easier and quicker way?

I've come to recognise that I make changes in my life when I'm ready to do so. I don't always understand the timing but these days I'm picking my battles. I have a choice to overthink and analyse my actions or to accept them and move on, choosing to put my thoughts, feelings and energies into where I'm going, not where I've been.

It hasn't always been like this, so many times I've been obsessed with the why, hung up on the negativity, spending hours developing my self flagellation technique. These days I'm learning to honour and accept my past and realise that I am motivated to make changes when I've had enough. Enough misery, enough pain, enough hurt, enough discomfort; whatever my motivation I now know that trying to second guess my motivation for 'not doing anything about it' is a complete waste of time, energy and effort. From now on I know that I'll climb out of my next hole when I've had enough and do you know what? That's ok. There's no reason to beat myself up for doing otherwise.

Accepting this and letting the rest of the 'noise' go is liberating. I can finally stop beating myself up and wondering when I'm going to do something about my current dark chocolate addiction because I know that I will in the perfect moment for me and that moment will be when I've had enough.