Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Future Self Now

I love the new year, for its celebration, pause and hope.  My past postings for this time of year have explored appreciating what we have, knowing we can start again, learning to control our mind, and the power of resolutions and resetting. So on that theme of our own resourcefulness, here is 2018's offering. 

It is a 9 minute recording from meditation teacher Tara Brach.  A contemplation which reveals aspirations for our evolved future self and acknowledges that which is in us already. 

A beautiful way to start the year. Or the day. Or the moment.

Image from google images.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gifting yourself delicious and sacred idleness this festive season

Delicious idleness: the well known Italian expression and concept of “dolce far niente”. We know it as the sweetness, pleasure and carefree feeling of doing nothing; the enjoyment of sheer indulgent relaxation and blissful laziness.

And then there’s Sacred Idleness, perhaps its more serious cousin.  

I first came across the term through my work with physicians from Epstein’s ideas on encouraging medical practitioners to take time out, in order to cultivate habits of mind, such as attentiveness, curiosity and presence, in order to enhance their own well-being and effective medical practice.  

Like delicious idleness it is the opposite of work.  The difference is that it is less about laziness and more about learning.

It is a time of rest, restoration and rejuvenation but also of reflection.

We don’t just stumble across it, we intentionally dedicate time for it, honour and relish it.  

It nurtures us at a deeper level and develops our wisdom along the way.

It is earnest, but also allowing; it is purposeful and yet is more about suppleness and emptiness than activity and focus. 

It is when we are fully aware, alert and present in the moment.

It can be deliciously sweet and blissful, but it can also taste sour and feel anything but blissful,  at least at the start, when you are not use to not-doing, or contemplating who you are and what you do. 

It can take various forms; there is no prescription.  It depends on every individual and their situation, but it is about being fully with yourself in stillness embracing the nothingness and the everythingness...

It may involve retreating to the mountains, to meditate or to trek quietly in the glory of nature. 

It may involve sitting silently in front of the fire, encompassed by its warmth and security, seeing the reflection of your mind in the changing, dancing flames.

It may be lounging on a chair, feeling the sensations of the sun and sea air on your skin, reflecting on the year that has been and what you want to take forward into the new year.

Or it may just be a dedicated 10 minutes by yourself, out in the garden or in your favourite spot in the house, between dinner courses or between juggling demands of the dog, children and relations, to not only ‘catch your breath’, but to sit there with it.

May you gift yourself sacred idleness this festive season, and carry on the practice as an ongoing commitment to your health and wellbeing. 

And may you gift yourself delicious idleness for the same reasons.

Festive cheers to all.


A term coined by George MacDonald as quoted in Poor Man's College Quotations, 1994. in Epstein, R.M. (2003b)  “Mindful Practice in Action (II): Cultivating Habits of Mind”, Families, Systems & Health, 21(1): 11-17.

This has become a regular festive season post since 2012. And this year, a version was also featured on Impact's blog     

Sunday, November 5, 2017

“I haven’t got time to have a 1:1” - “You haven’t got time not to”.

Not to do ourselves out of business, but I do believe that companies could make a step change in their individual, team and ultimately their organisational performance - and save money from employing external consultants  - by doing one thing: having dedicated 1:1 conversations with the people they lead, to build collective understanding and systematically review performance and progress.

And from working with leaders, it seems it is the one thing they are reluctant to do. Here are three of the most common responses:

“I see them every day so we don’t need to have formal 1:1s”.   The informal, spontaneous interactions we have on a daily basis are the glue of organisational life.  However, the danger is that often conversations can remain at a somewhat superficial level, where we end up trading facts and opinions, talking nice or talking tough, usually about the transactional task or project at hand.  There is little space to have real dialogue, to talk strategically about one’s development, motivation, working relationships and goals.

“I have got so many people, I can’t know them all”.  This makes my heart sink.  As we go up the leadership pipeline, what we value and how we spend our time, has to be people.   It is not about knowing each individual intimately, but given that it is your people that are making things happen, surely you want some understanding of what makes them tick, why they are prepared to turn up day after day to work.   One manufacturing director came away from a programme recently with the action to meet with every individual at his plant.  He had been inspired by  Andy Dickson, Head of Global Solutions at Impact, who in sharing his ideas about creating a ‘Great Place to Work’, talked about the time he had a 1:1 with every member of his UK team, direct and indirect reports.  Andy revealed how it was a fundamental moment for him in his leadership – that by doing this simple act, committing to a 30 minute conversation, helped to build his own understanding of the people and organisation he was leading.  It is no surprise to any of us, that we all want to be listened to – and a conversation that does that will always transform us.

“Yes, I have 1:1s - at every annual performance review”: We are getting to the end of the year, and in some organisations, this will mean a performance review, perhaps the first 1:1 for the entire year.    Depending on one’s experience, relationship and view point, we will be dragging our feet or skipping along to it (or something in between).  More often it is the former, with many 1:1s feeling like you are ‘going through the motions', undertaking a process that has to be executed – rather than what it really can offer...the opportunity to step back and reflect deeply on experiences, learnings and ways forward. We know from experience that leaders often find it difficult to nurture the time, energy and discipline to have even biannual or annual review conversations with the people they lead. The prospect of having 1:1 conversations quarterly, monthly or fortnightly, is for some, unthinkable. Which quite frankly, is a shame and wasted opportunity.

There are many reasons why leaders do not have 1:1s.  Besides the obvious one of time, there are often fears at play – of being overwhelmed,  ill-equipped, uncomfortable with the intimacy or intensity of a person to person conversation, the fear of not being in control with the unpredictability of actually dropping into a real dialogue.

The reasons are as individual as we are, but there are many reasons why regular formal conversations alongside the spontaneous and informal, are critical.   They are the only real route to creating engagement, generating ideas, building understanding and releasing potential.  The best thing we can do is to set the intention to turn up for these conversations, and let the possibilities unfold.

So here’s a challenge: undertake regular 1:1s with your people, and see what difference they make in performance. And let us know about it.


Originally written for Impact’s “In Good  Company” -

Image: from a dear friend Cathy Teesdale

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Be creative - seek solitude

Solitude.  Some of us seek it. Some of us avoid it.  Ok, maybe most of us, avoid it.

As poet David Whyte recognizes “the first step in spending time alone is to admit how afraid of it we are”.

Afraid or not, it is crucial for real change, and lies at the heart of creativity.  

In a largely extroverted world, we see creativity as needing to happen as a result of sparks and connections with others.  But even the most creative person, will tell you it is crucial for recharging, reflection and restoration. And digging deeper, we know that change must come from within. We need the support of our own solitude to be able to listen to that inner wisdom.  

In her stirring book Wild Courage, Elle Harrison speaks eloquently of the gifts of stillness. Creating periods of silence and stillness in our working lives, in balance with times of activity and connection, is a powerful path to success.  She quotes inventor Nikola Tesla who said “the mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think.  Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us, cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born”.

Dedicated solo time is one of the most appreciated and transformational aspects of the leadership programmes we run.  We tend to keep it as a surprise and when we disclose to the participants that they will be spending 2 hours alone on a hill side, it is met with trepidation, intrigue, resistance – or on the odd occasion, a plea of “can we have more time?”.  For one particular executive programme, the participants are asked to reflect on their leadership in solitude, in nature, without distractions of watches or phones.  It is a simple action or rather non-action, which proves to be a turning point for many.

As Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.” 

In his reflections, a senior executive realized he felt guilty for taking time out for himself, and had the insight that “If I don’t care for myself, I can’t care for others”. The experience completely changed his philosophies and leadership practice.

Another senior manager came up with his own motto and a commitment, which he named “888”, no work before 8am, no work after 8pm and aim for 8 hours sleep.

One described how her mission “just came to me while I was sitting there”.

Others simply and profoundly realize how important is having time to think. 

This solitude is a felt experience that stays with the participants long after they have left their tent on the hill side, long after they return back to the office.  In the experience, they remind themselves that stillness, solitude, silence is accessible at any time, and creativity will emerge, if they are prepared to make space for it.  

How will you make space for it in your life?


Notes and sources:


Whyte, D. (2016) Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”, Many Rivers Press, USA

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) quoted in the New York Times by Orrin E. Dunalp Jr in “Tesla sees evidence that radio and light are sound”, New York Times, 8 April, 1934, p. 9. Col 1 in Harrison, E. (2011) Wild Courage: A Journey of Transformation for You and Your Business, Watkins Publishing, UK

Harrison, E. (2011) Wild Courage: A Journey of Transformation for You and Your Business, Watkins Publishing, UK

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Quieting our mind is a leadership act

Amongst the words of wisdom this week,  American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield posted “quieting our mind is a political act”.

And quieting our mind is a leadership act.

In the infinite ways we can take action as a leader, to give meaning, value others, provide structure and help others move forward in a collective goal...quieting our own mind is at the core.  From such an action, there is a greater chance that our subsequent actions, will be more courageous, compassionate and effective.

Quieting our mind is not to zone out, to ignore what is going on, or to be passive.  Rather the contrary. We become more aware, alert and active.

If we can be in such a mindful state, we are more anchored and yet more open.  In this state, we are rooted and can flex with the winds.  We are less likely to be pulled off balance, uprooted, whether that is by another person, a twitter storm or a real one.

In quieting our mind, we increase our ability to see clearly. It gives us space and perspective, so we become a key witness to what is happening within us and around us.  We simply notice more, and in a more nuanced way. We notice the interdependence. We hear ourselves and others more deeply.

With a quieter mind, we become more in touch with our own body and its wisdom.  We feel more connected and whole.  Using our internal compass, we literally can sense check with our body how we feel about what is going on. What is this anger? What am I fearful of?   And intuition, that valuable source of decision making expertise, so crucial in navigating volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) contexts – can only be used, if we are quiet enough to hear its whispers, feel it in our body.

Simply, when we quieten our mind, we access increasing sources of our own peace, power and potential.  We notice how some of our beliefs, values, and judgements are themselves constructs which maybe constricting us, keeping us trapped in a way of being and doing.   Quieting our mind, frees us, bringing greater consciousness and choice to take wise action.   We enhance our wellbeing which positively impacts on how we show up and engage with the external world.

It therefore a grand act of leadership to

1) train our mind to quieten. Find out what helps you - meditation, mindfulness, yoga, exercise, music, solo time, whatever - and commit to it.  This helps to...

2)  quieten one’s mind in the moment, particularly in high pressure situations.  This may be through remembering to pause, breathe, and come into presence. 

3) take the next action from a quieter, calmer, more centred place.

4)  be self compassionate when we fail to do any of the above.

Inspired by Tweet @JackKornfield 1 Feb.
Photo own

Friday, December 30, 2016

A year of resolutions

Like the slogan “a puppy is not just for Christmas”, I feel resolutions aren’t just for the New Year.   From those resolutions we purposefully set, to those that spontaneously emerge, each help us take control of how we live our lives.

For many people, the strike of the clock at midnight on New Years is that exact time to bring forward a new commitment, thoughtfully considered and crafted in advance.   

For others, it may just be about carrying those over from the previous year, for our old patterns are tenacious are they not?

As a morale booster, it is comforting to reflect on those that we no longer have to set.  We can dismiss these so easily, forgetting their significance, so they need to be remembered and celebrated. I’ll include my 23year old resolution giving up smoking, or that simple habits like drinking 2 glasses of water each morning, meditating or exercising daily, have long become part of my routine and no longer need to be on the list.

Trust also, that profound resolutions will pop up during the year.  They will stir within us and will not obey any fixed arrival schedule.  Like a bud, they cannot be forced open and will blossom in their own time.  And they will feel easy. Because they will fit with who you are. For me, decisions like volunteering 3 hours a week at MSF or becoming (mostly) vegan - did not come out of any plan but perhaps had their origins deeper in my psyche.

Beware of course, that resolutions are fodder for the ‘Trickster’. When we think we have something nailed, life teaches us that it may not be so.  We may find for years that we need to stop something or start something or give up something.  Often it takes many failed attempts and soul-searching to figure out that we have been resolving to do something externally when it requires an inner resolution.  Many a year I have resolved to find love.  Now that has changed, to being love.   

After all that, perhaps the most powerful resolutions of all are those we make in each precious moment of our lives. Those moments, when we see the wants and fears that are driving us. Where in the ‘now’,  we resolve to break out of our old ways and choose a different response.   It may be when we drop our shield of anger to reveal our vulnerability, decide to be appreciative rather than critical, be generous when we tend to withhold, open up when we typically shut down, and stay when our impulse is to run.  And when we find ourselves faulting on our momentarily made resolution, we take a deep breath, gently forgive ourselves, open our hearts and resolve to try again. 

2017 like any other year will provide more opportunities for resolving to be [happy/successful/insert your word/s here] than you realise.

Happy New Year and beyond.

Image: Winter Rose, oil on canvas, by Fiona Read – posted by Vivid Greeting Cards 13/12/13