Life in Every Breath

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







Have you tried The Working Hours Diet?

“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.

4 Powerful Questions that Will Change Your 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.


6 Ways to Stress Less at Christmas

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

Attention Management is the New Time Management

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!

Captured! Are You a Victim of FOMM ? (Fear of Missing a Memory)

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.


Withholding Attention is Not a Neutral Act, It's a Destructive One

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 attentionYou 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.