Good stories are not necessarily those that involve unique or exceptional circumstances. Good stories are ones that follow a few simple rules to ensure they trigger the maximum response in the listener's brain. The maximum response is achieved when you switch on 4 mental faculties: curiosity, visual imagination, emotion, and self reflection. Find out how to you can switch them on.
Can you feel the virus of busy-ness in the air? Kids finish school, friends want to catch up, holiday plans must be made, and presents ticked off the shopping list. And then there are the looming work deadlines...suddenly the festive season feels more frantic than fun! It's supposed to be a time of joy, giving, peace, connection, rest and reflection. So try these tips to rediscover meaning amid the madness!
Joy: what brings you the lightness, freedom and flow that we associate with joy? Reading a book, swimming in the ocean, your favourite hobby, making a cake? Whatever it is for you, make space for it to happen over the Christmas break.
Giving: every Christmas there are many people who miss out. So along with your list of gifts for friends and family, find a way to give to those less fortunate. Plenty of charities gather donations for hampers, gifts for kids, or what about serving Christmas lunch at a homeless shelter. Giving is a gift that pays you back with warm feelings.
Peace: busy-ness generates its own level of superfluous noise, but silence is very healing for the brain. Find moments of peaceful quiet in the coming weeks: turn off the TV if you're not really watching it, drive with the radio off, rake the leaves rather than using a blower, put things down gently, close doors quietly.
Connection: simply spending time together doesn't guarantee connection. It is your attention that makes time meaningful. So put down your devices, lift your head and give the gift of pure, undistracted attention this Christmas.
Rest: lying on the couch with a full belly for a few hours after a big Christmas lunch is not the only rest you need at the end of a big year! Give your mind a break from technology: play some old fashioned board games, go for long walks in nature, read an engrossing book.
Reflection: the end of the year is a major transition point and a prefect time for reflection. What have you learnt this year? What do you want to change? What will you keep, discard, and grow? Who is 'the best version of yourself' that you will bring to 2018?
The tension in the room was palpable. Colleagues were standing in pairs, some talking, some not. While those in conversation were smiling and animated, the silent pairs were clearly uncomfortable. It was a simple activity conducted for a leadership workshop, in which pairs shared their thoughts on a particular topic without any preparation time. As the first pair finished, they turned and one asked, ‘What do we do now?’
‘Just stand where you are and wait for the others to finish.’ Well, you would have thought they’d been asked to stand in the centre of a speeding lane of traffic! They shuffled from one foot to the other, folded and unfolded their arms, lowered their heads, avoided eye contact with each other, and glanced regularly at the still talking pairs, no doubt hoping this would motivate them to finish more quickly. In turn, the pairs finished their conversations and joined the waiting game. And as the final pair fell silent, there was a collective sigh. It felt like someone had finally opened a valve and released the pressure. Their shoulders relaxed, they lifted their heads to look around, smiles touched their faces again, and as they looked to the front we asked, ‘Who found it difficult to just wait with nothing to do?’ Hands rose and heads nodded.
Amid the many challenges in our complex and fast-changing world, how can it be that the simple act of ‘doing nothing’ might have become one of the hardest things to do?
Surely we all wish for moments in our day when we might be left alone without any expectation to do something, solve something, or respond to something?
But faced with the bare and empty moment, rather than basking in the stillness, most people baulk.
In fact, researchers at Harvard University and the University of Virginia found that people will take some pretty extreme measures to fill this vacant space. Subjects were asked to spend just fifteen minutes alone with no distractions: no devices, no music, no paper or pen, no pictures on the wall, and no windows to look out. A bare and empty room except for one button. Touching this button would deliver a light electric shock, which they had all previously experienced and reported as ‘unpleasant’. Can you guess what happened? An extraordinary two-thirds of men and a quarter of women chose to give themselves electric shocks rather than sit without distraction. One high achiever shocked himself 190 times in just fifteen minutes!
Can you do nothing?
Have you tried to ‘do nothing’ lately? You may not have been tested by a completely empty room, but maybe you’ve stood for a few moments waiting for your takeaway coffee, or arrived early to a meeting and waited alone in the room, or suddenly found yourself in a quiet house after the family have headed off to their various activities. Or maybe you’ve sat on the sidelines at your child’s weekend sport, or been stuck in a traffic jam. What did you do? Did you pick up your mobile device, turn on the TV or radio, ring someone, read some work materials, quickly dash through one or more things on your to-do list, or ponder your latest difficult problem?
Test yourself this week. In a situation when you might otherwise squeeze in just one more task, instead put it all aside and literally sit or stand doing nothing. You only need to try it for a few moments to know how you'll react! Does it feel uncomfortable? Do you feel like you're wasting time? Do you feel the pressure to pick something up or move around? Discomfort like this is not a sign that you are doing something wrong, it is a sign that allowing yourself moments to do nothing is not a regular habit for you. If you rarely give yourself the space to rest, recover and reflect, you are missing out on a valuable source of inspiration, insight and ideas that comes from a brain set loose from daily tasks. So don't give in to discomfort. Instead train yourself into the new habit of embracing moments of stillness, silence and solitude. Learn how to do less so you can be more!
This blog includes an extract from Do Less. Be More by Martina Sheehan and Susan Pearse.
Being a leader in today’s fast paced, “always on” world is a challenge. The change, uncertainty and complexity leaders experience today is unprecedented. This environment requires a new style of leadership and different capabilities to the ones seen in the last decade. Experience, technical expertise and qualifications won’t necessarily provide the entry pass to success in a leadership role. In the future, companies will be looking for something different. These are the top leadership skills that you will see taking priority in business in the next ten years.
1. Comfort with Discomfort
Do something that makes you feel uncomfortable every single day and you’ll soon see this is a skill that gets stronger with practice! But why may it just be the most important exercise for a leader to do? One thing for certain is that leaders will be navigating much uncertainty over the next decade. And from the brain’s perspective that’s not as easy as it might sound. Uncertainty triggers an automatic threat response in the brain resulting in discomfort. It is only the leaders who can sit comfortably in this discomfort, and move ahead regardless to charter new territory , that will survive. Those who see discomfort as a signal to avoid or take the “easy way” will have little impact and will not have the resilience that will be required in an environment where there is no longer a rule book prescribing all the answers.
2. Thinking Differently
90% of the average person’s thoughts are exactly the same as yesterday’s so when it comes to innovation, the odds are stacked against us. With a preference to follow the road well travelled, it is critical that brains are trained to think differently. Leaders can go first in this regard by seeing challenges with fresh eyes and breaking free of the habits of mind that have become ruts. Once you see things from new perspectives your solutions become more innovative and your work becomes more fulfilling.
3. Attention Management and Present Moment Awareness
The average person spends nearly half their time 'mind wandering', doing one thing but thinking about something else. This skyrockets to 60% when they are at work! Attention spans have shrunk, distraction is growing, and the simple act of paying attention is being lost. Being in the present moment is a trainable and practical skill that is an important pre-cursor to resilience, adaptability and innovation. A leader with focus can significantly boost performance, productivity, engagement and relationships in their workplace. In a world of complexity they will more easily identify the important things on which to focus the team’s attention. But remember, attention management starts with being an expert at managing your own.
4. Hold space for open conversations
80-90% of business problems would be solved if leaders created the space for people to feel safe in speaking the truth. The conversations that take place in a business are more important than you might realize. They dictate the culture, the degree of fresh thinking and the ability to work through challenges. As a leader you have a key role in convening the right conversations and this often involves asking the right questions. And most importantly knowing when to get out of the way and let conversations unfold.
5. Courage and vulnerability
Arguably a virtue more than a skill, but certainly something that gets better with practice. The basic definition of a leader is someone who “goes first” and it takes courage to stand out from the crowd and move into the unknown. But not courage as it’s previously been known. “Armouring up” and “perfecting and protecting” leads to disconnection from those around you. Instead, opening yourself and walking straight into the things that scare you (without trying to mask your imperfections) is what will see respect generated by your teams. It is leaders who can admit they are wrong or don’t have the answers that gain more credibility. And at the end of the day, they are more effective.
6. Deep listening
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. ” No truer words spoken than those from the late Stephen Covey. And with a history of leaders needing to have all the answers, it is no wonder most leaders talk more than they should or need to be. Deep listening can be transformative for the receiver. Problems are solved, ideas are generated, simply through this act of service. People learn best when they come up with the ideas themselves, so speaking less and listening more is an effective strategy for empowerment and staff development.
Leadership can no longer be looked upon as a badge of honour. It’s an ongoing role of service. It is the leaders who are prepared to unlearn the old skills that are no longer relevant who will thrive in the future. And those who are prepared to have an open mind in learning different skills that are not necessarily already in their tool kits.
If you want to do more of the things that matter, and less of the things that don't, it's important to value liberal doses of doing nothing. The greatest leaps forward, not just throughout history, but for every one of us in our regular lives, rely on our willingness to stop and hear the whisper-quiet voice of our own deep knowledge and wisdom.
Last night I watched one of my favourite movies for the umpteenth time: The Last Samurai. Yes, Tom Cruise is in it, but this is not why I love it. It's because every time I watch it I am reminded of some simple and powerful truths. The line that always gets me comes when the characters are discussing Bushido, the code for the Japanese Samurai: "to know life in every breath, every cup of tea". It's a deceptively simple statement, but it is loaded with a powerful message as we navigate our fast-moving and distracted world.
It's easy to relegate Samurai to ancient history, seeing them only as warriors fighting with swords in an era long gone. In fact, like many other traditions that find their roots in Japan, they were dedicated to a set of principles that aimed to bring true mindfulness to every moment of their existence. I have always found these philosophies alluring, and in my mid twenties I devoured books on the Bushido code, and Zen philosophy in general. I took up karate and Iaido (a Japanese sword art), and I would credit this early exploration with kicking me off on a journey through other eastern and western philosophies, quantum physics, anthropology, living systems sciences, meditation, mindfulness, and brain science.
The one thing I have found is that all roads point to the same simple and enduring message, and "to know life in every breath" is pretty much one of the most beautiful ways to say it.
It means being awake to what is happening right now, to be present with who is right in front of you, and to bring your full self to each action you take. It means investing your precious and limited attention in the things that matter most. It means savouring whatever crosses your path rather than wishing for the thing that did not. In this state, moments seem to linger longer, there is a fullness to even the most mundane experience, and each action feels perfectly complete. To know life in every breath is to live fully, consciously and intentionally.
In this modern world, when I rarely reach into the bookcase because I'm mistakenly treating busy-ness as real life, I thank Hollywood for sending Tom Cruise to remind me that life is so much simpler...and so much more.
"A simple breath, a pause, can make the world of difference." Do Less Be More
“I’ll have some downtime with the kids when I get through everything I have to do today.”
“I’ll call you for a coffee when things slow down a bit.”
“I’d love to make that recipe. Maybe I’ll have some time this weekend.”
No doubt you’ll have heard promises like this before, and chances are you have said something similar yourself. If so, you also know that getting through everything rarely happens, and the hoped for downtime, me-time or family time never materialises.
Despite the worldwide trend of increasing working hours, the fact is that working any longer than the traditional 40-hour working week is a sure way to lower your productivity and effectiveness. From as far back as the early 1900s, studies have repeatedly shown that worker productivity improves when working hours are reduced from sixty to forty hours a week. In fact, researchers at Stanford University have been unable to find any studies showing that extending work hours delivers higher output in any field. When it comes to achieving outcomes, more is not always better.
Working longer hours can also make you vulnerable to health problems. An analysis of 25 studies collecting data from more than 600,000 people in Australia, the US and Europe for up to 8.5 years, found that people who worked 55 hours a week had a 33% greater risk of having a stroke than people who worked a 35 to 40-hour week.
Yet still people fall for the trap of believing that working longer increases output. A recent study of full- time workers who are paid for an official working week of 38 hours, found that 65% of these workers put in more than 40 hours, and nearly 30% put in more than 50 hours. An ‘elite’ 1% put in more than 70 hours per week!
Keeping your work hours contained makes sense for a few reasons. It leaves enough time in the week to get non-work things done, and this is important. If you don’t have time to do the shopping, help the kids with their homework, fit in some exercise, research your next holiday or grab lunch with a close friend, then happiness declines, stress levels rise and your motivation to do your best at work wavers. Life starts to lose its meaning when work dominates at the expense of other things you hold dear -particularly your health, your relationships, and your other interests.
Also, by limiting your working hours you are forced to make choices about what will get done and what won’t. Those who know how to say ‘no’ to requests, who call a stop to something that is not adding value, and who resist the allure of distractions, are the people who get most done.
Sweden is experimenting with a six-hour working day, and many employees did not initially believe this was possible for them. But once they tried it, they found that they had fewer meetings, avoided distractions such as social media, sick leave levels fell, and the quality of work was higher.
Try it for yourself. For one week, put yourself on a working hours ‘diet’. From whatever your baseline is now, set yourself a limit of hours for the week which is at least five hours less than you normally dedicate to that work. It may sound like a lot, but until you really experiment with the counter-intuitive nature of getting more done by dedicating less time, you will not realise how powerful it can be.
Throughout the week, notice what this limitation forces you to stop doing. Maybe you will find the discipline to say ‘no’ to something you would normally agree to. Maybe you will stop taking work home and letting it eat into family time. Maybe you will change your priorities and get the important things done first. Maybe you will spend less time perfecting something and keep it moving, so you can get to the next task sooner.
Notice any temptation to add to your working hours and, at least for this week, resist it. The working hours diet will make you more conscious of your choices, improve your impulse control, and reward you with more opportunities to indulge in life’s wider experiences.
When you have less hours to get things done, you are more likely to focus on what really matters. And then you also have time for the rest of your life, and that matters too.
The Working Hours Diet is just one of the 21 practical experiments for you to try in Do Less. Be More, available now for pre-order and out in stores during June 2017.
Make 2017 your best! 2017 is going to be my year!
No doubt you’ve seen similar headlines in advertisements for the latest development program or the aspirations plastered on your friends’ social media walls. The beginning of a new year sees many searching to find that better version of themselves.
But this year, I’m taking a different approach. My only goal is to give away goals and get further in touch with who I really am. It would be fair to say that goal setting and I parted ways many years ago when I realized that they came with the companions of striving, driving, attachment and stress. I had fallen into the trap of trying to add more each year. More holidays, more success, more time and more health. And then I asked myself the question that changed everything
What if the answer lies not in adding, but in shedding ?
Questions have a way of focusing you in on the important things and allowing the superfluous to drop away. So in the first month of this year, instead of goal setting, consider grabbing a pen and piece of paper and reflecting on the following powerful questions that will change your 2017.
1. What do I need to let go of that didn’t serve me in 2016?
Your path to ultimate fulfillment is already laid down for you. All you need to do is see it. But that’s the hard part. At your very core, you are perfection. But over the years you pick up many habits that don’t serve you well. They arose from trying to fit in or perhaps they were a response to a particularly hard time. Either way, with practice they become your default way of operating. And they have taken you further away from your path. What was exposed to you in 2016? Was it negative self talk, harsh judgement of others, lack of self belief or something else? It’s time to say good-bye.
2. What do I need to give more attention and care to in my life in 2017?
You deserve the experience of a blissful life, full of connection. But the freedom of a beautiful life comes with discipline. There are certain things you need to feel connected, strong and fulfilled. And these things are unique to you. Maybe it’s frequent visits in nature. Or regular laughter. Perhaps it’s music. The things that make you thrive are often the first to slip away in a busy life. Identify them and commit to doing them more often in 2017.
3. What are the strengths I want to bring forward in 2017?
If you are like the average person, you spend too much time focused on acquiring skills you don’t have and working on your weaknesses. But what if you put that same amount of focus into the talents already flourishing in your life? Your strengths are the gifts that you can use to make a difference. They are unique to you. No one in the world can bring them in the same way. What are yours? Write them in big letters and put them in a place where you can see them everyday. Let them out to play at every opportunity, particularly when you face challenges.
4. Do I have the courage to be the very best version of myself in 2017?
Have you shown the world your full potential? What would that look and feel like to you? Do you have the courage to be that person and to stand out amongst a crowd? This means refusing to accept anything other than the expression of your true self. It takes courage to unapologetically show the world your real nature. You might get rejected. You might fail. But there is more to gain. You can dress fear up in “wrong time, wrong place” but they are just excuses. You have the power to bring your best. Work on unlearning the things that are stopping you.
So this new year, instead of adding more, strip back to the basics, ask more questions and believe that you are enough. Just the way you are.
Many of us are right in the middle of the “Christmas rush”: meetings, catch-up coffees, deadlines, “I need to talk” phone calls. And then there’s the personal stuff: shopping for presents, getting the car serviced, sorting out holidays, family gatherings, friend gatherings. While it’s supposed to be a time of celebration and joy, many people also experience pressure and stress. So here are six tips to help you stress less, and slide through the season with a clear mind.
1. Don’t catch the deadline virus: Before you add something to your to-do list at this time of year, ask yourself why it must be done before Christmas. If there is no good answer and you’re just falling for an arbitrary deadline, leave it until next year when you have fresh energy and renewed focus.
2. Avoid the perfection pitfall: Stress is the gap between expectations and reality. If you’re trying to create the perfect Christmas, you could be setting yourself up for stress rather than success! While it’s fine to have a vision driving your Christmas plans, hold that vision lightly. Reality brings real magic if you’re open to it.
3. Watch for weakened willpower: Willpower runs out throughout the day, and can be depleted by over-use. If you are testing your resolve with too many temptations, you could be setting yourself up for a blow-out! The silly season is often when healthy choices and good habits fall by the wayside. Make important decisions early in the day that will help you stay strong when temptation beckons.
4. Rev up your relationships: We often spend less time than we really want with the important people in our lives during the year, and Christmas offers an opportunity to reconnect. But simply having more time does not guarantee connection. Try these 3 exercises to ensure you do:
• Seven Second Hug: it’s self explanatory!
• Give 10 percent More Attention: quality and quantity
• Learn Something New: find out one new thing about those closest to you
5. Immaterial Matters: It is common knowledge that material goods don’t make anyone happy, so rather than succumbing to buying a gift that has no real meaning, ask yourself what inspires each person, then consider how to give them that inspiration in a creative way.
6. Being Present is the present: Attention is a precious gift. It’s the currency of care. In fact it is the only thing you really have to give of yourself to another person. So regardless of what else you get someone for Christmas, make sure you give a full dose of clear, open and uncluttered attention with it.
We wish you joy, love and contentment as this year comes to an end.
Susan & Martina
We often accuse time of being the culprit for stealing life’s precious experiences, but it is the absence of attention that degrades relationships and robs life of meaning. Time is an empty vessel without attention at the helm.
Parents under pressure are convinced that what they are withholding from their kids is time. Whether you’re a mother holding down a busy job or a separated dad who only gets 2 days each fortnight, it’s easy to make this mistake. And it’s an incredibly disempowering one. When your best efforts to find more time prove futile, the next step is to start compensating with the things you are able to provide: toys, games, clothes...
Leaders attempt to improve staff satisfaction by being around more, but their physical presence alone falls short. Social events, reward schemes and motivational speakers won’t compensate for a distracted and inattentive boss. You can’t delegate attention and you can’t buy it in.
What if you’ve been getting it wrong? What if the very thing your staff or loved ones most need and want, is not the one thing that is out of your reach, but the thing that is right at your fingertips? What if you are looking in all the wrong places, and overlooking the only thing that really matters. What if time doesn’t matter, but attention really, really does?
Think they’re the same thing? You couldn’t be more wrong. A day spent together but disconnected is empty, even harmful. What lesson do people learn when their efforts are overlooked and their ideas are ignored?
Attention is not measured by seconds, minutes, hours or days, it is measured by fullness. A moment of clear full attention given generously without condition, will connect, nourish and transform. But as long as you hold on to time as your measure, these moments of full attention are delayed until “the time is right”. You don’t need to wait until the weekend, an annual conference, a birthday, or other special event to give this most precious and life-changing gift.
Forget time management - let's start focusing on our attention management!
There are many special memories that come with being a parent. The first time your baby walks, talks, laughs, goes to school. In fact every “first” is something you want to capture and bottle forever. But a few years ago I learnt a valuable lesson about capturing memories.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Rushing into my daughter’s first kindergarten recital with similar excitement I had at a Robbie William’s concert decades before. The performance began and within a few minutes I reached for my mobile phone and began filming. I don’t know why I did it. Perhaps I was following other parents, momentarily unsure of what to do. Or maybe I had the FOMM (fear of missing a memory) and thought if I didn’t have it recorded, something might be lost.
So I videoed my daughter and instantly knew I was now viewing a B grade version of what was really happening. The experience had less colour, less life and all those things that come with viewing through a shrunk down lens. And then the moment happened. My little girl looked up at me, like they do for that reassuring nod of approval. And all she saw was the back of my mobile phone. I put the phone down and vowed to think twice before I did that again.
And I’m so glad I did. I laughed, I shed tears, we smiled together and I experienced everything that comes with being fully in that moment. And I saw the gift of my attention in her performance. She beamed with confidence and those off-key notes became even louder and prouder.
It was the right decision for my daughter and I. And let me be clear – I am not saying you should never video your kids. But I believe one of the most important principles in parenting is this. Kids need your attention. They crave it, right here and now in the present moment. Time is not a substitute for attention. Your child will look up at you 30 times times in a half hour sporting match searching for your expression of pride, your smile. They thrive under the warm glow of your attention.
So consider this question, when you rush to pull out the mobile phone. Are you capturing something, or are you captured? Stolen away from what is really important. Does being behind a mobile device disconnect you from what is going on?
We live in a different world today. A rock concert is now a sea of back-lit cellphone faces. Performances used to attract applause, but now it’s muted because hands are filled with a device trying to capture the moment. At school concerts kids no longer see the faces of their proud parents, but instead it’s the back of the device as they snap a moment to share. And we are slow to help people in need because of the instinct to grab your mobile phone and film incidents rather than jumping first to lend a hand.
Don’t miss the real memories thinking you can get them back later on a DVD. Studies show that you not only miss being there in the moment but your memory of such events is affected when you are viewing them through a lens instead of experiencing them through your senses. So trust your brain to be there. It will take great care of those precious memories if you let it.
A Gallup survey reveals that an employee’s level of engagement drops significantly if the leader focuses on the employee’s weaknesses rather than their strengths. But the more surprising finding was the dramatic doubling of disengagement when an employee is ignored. Engagement, the extent to which an employee feels connected to their leader and their workplace, is almost impossible to achieve in the face of neglect.
It appears in all aspects of life that any attention is better than no attention. Children are expert at ramping up their “attention-seeking behaviours” when they sense you are drifting. It starts with chatter, then questions, then repetition, then silliness, and finally, if nothing else works, naughtiness. That usually gets a response, and even harsh words or punishment are a price they’re prepared to pay to satisfy the need. You’ve finally bestowed upon them the much sought prize and a connection is made. This connection is crucial for learning, understanding, encouragement, motivation, and the security of belonging. Even if the experience that flows through the open stream of attention is negative, it’s better than receiving nothing at all.
In fact anyone who has been on the receiving end in any relationship (intimate, work or the service provider on the other end of the phone), will know the feeling that results from withheld attention. You are not important. What you have to say is not important. This can only produce destructive results.
The stream of attention is a tangible pathway along which we walk towards each other, and it must be open for connection to be possible. Is your attention switched on to the needs of the people around you, or do you withhold your attention?
Attention can be withheld intentionally or unintentionally. See if you can identify the times when you unintentionally withhold attention from those around you. You may be lost in thought or captured by busyness. When your attention becomes cluttered and fragmented, you will not see the needs of those around you, and you will not notice the impact of your neglect.