Moving through Euston at rush hour, trapped within a herd of commuters, I saw the back of a woman who appeared to be trying to disappear into a wall. I later learnt that she loves contemporary art, and has a wicked sense of humour. She has high cheekbones, a face used to laughing, and a warm Irish accent.

But she caught my attention because she was utterly distraught. I extracted myself from the herd and circled back. I stood gently next to her and said hello. Asked her if she was ok (which was a ridiculous question).

She said she was ok, thank you (also ridiculous). She was wracked with misery so deep and thick I could feel it. She could barely stand. So I stayed put.

I asked if I could call anyone for her. She said no, and apologised for being in a bad state. I think she realized I wasn’t just going to take her word for it on the “I’m ok” front. She told me her name, and showed me a stack of letters addressed to her, as if to prove her existence. She said she was having a bad day. I smiled in recognition and said I had a day like that last week and had been all over the place. I explained I had a couple of hours to spare, and offered to take her for a coffee. She gracefully accepted with relief and a glimpse of joy. I had a feeling there was an inkling of “oh, that would be fun” in amongst the sadness.

As we ascended the escalator, she thanked me profusely for talking to her.

And she told me she’d been about to jump under a train.

I was surprised not to be shocked by this. I could somehow see that it might make perfect sense to commit suicide if we’re of the belief that our feelings (monumentally rubbish in this case) are caused by external circumstances (an illness in this woman’s case) which we feel we can’t change. It’s like jumping off a cliff to escape an evil monster, during a nightmare. Perfectly sensible.

When we feel rubbish, it feels like we’re going to feel rubbish for ever more. We seem to forget that we felt rubbish at least a few times before, and somehow that didn’t last and we felt pretty great at some points in between the rubbish episodes. We forget that our feelings change like the weather and it’s pretty hard to control them. The key is to not take it too seriously when the mental weather is torrential rain, and remember that we’ll soon dry out without any effort at all.

I don’t wish to be flippant. I know what it’s like to feel suicidal. I’ve never shared this before, but years ago I took a midnight walk on top of a tall building in my PJs. It seemed like a sensible course of action based on my feelings at the time. I got cold and scared and went back to bed. I think it’s useful to get past our thoughts of “Oh My Goodness This Woman Is Mentally Ill, I Might Damage Her In Some Way If I Stop And Help, Or She Might Be A Complete Lunatic And Try To Hurt Me. Call A Professional. Stat”. Once we stop paying attention to that internal noise, we are free to engage in whatever instinctive human response feels right.

So we sat in Café Ritazza, drinking very poor tea in companionable silence. We eventually spoke about Banksy, Jackson Pollock, her family, Manchester, Ireland, her home in London.

At one point I tried to share my understanding of feelings and thoughts, and how our feelings are a clue to take more or less notice of our thoughts in the moment (eg I think I should jump under a train now, but I’m feeling really rubbish, so perhaps I won’t take so much notice of myself at this point… I know my thoughts will change any minute and the new ones might be more reliable, and this reliability will be evidenced by my feeling better).

But this wasn’t really what she wanted in that moment, so I went back to listening, to taking an interest in her life. I was completely at ease with her internal weather of distress and tears, laughter and relief, anger and bitterness, calm and hope. I really appreciated her wit, her beauty, her openness and trust. And I could see her resilience (not because I have some kind of clever x-ray powers of observation, but because I know everyone is resilient).

We finished our tea and it was time for both of us to leave. We hugged awkwardly in the concourse, and she looked straight into my eyes and said “I’m really OK now”. And I knew she was telling the truth in that she was feeling calm again. The storm had passed. But she was also ok before, when she was feeling rubbish. She was simply believing the bad dream her thoughts had concocted, and she thought she wasn’t ok when really she was.

She may have suicidal thoughts again, and she may act on them, or she may not trust her thoughts and let them pass over like another squall.

For me, I had the joy of speaking with an intelligent, beautiful woman for a couple of hours. And the relief of really knowing more than I have ever known that there’s no need to save anyone, or fix anyone. Just  understanding where someone’s coming from and being with them is enough.

 

 

This is my personal blog. If you’d like information on my professional work, head to Impetus Coaching.

How do you imagine Elizabeth Gilbert would be in person? Well she is a hundred times more so. Today I went to her book launch.

The last three lines she read from her new book ‘The Signature of All Things’ (sublime, gold embossed, silk bookmark, coloured endpaper prints, just go and buy it now*) were:

“Nobody stopped her.

She was a comet.

She did not know that she was not flying.”

This struck me as a glorious description of someone entirely in their element, which is where Liz resides (I feel I can call her Liz – she drew a heart in my copy of Eat Pray Love – which means we’re on first names terms at the very least). She spoke with such ease, as if we were a bunch of A-grade high school students sitting round a campfire on spring break, sharing confidences and being amusingly indignant. She makes sophisticated points about the history of science and then drops in an Outkast lyric.

Here the bits that I remember most keenly.

The book is about a feisty intellectual, Alma Whittaker, and some of the key players in the development of modern science in the 18th and 19th centuries. Liz shared snippets of what she’d learnt in the three years she spent researching the book. Back in the day it was of course mightily inappropriate for women who were curious about the world to concern themselves with anything other than botany (flowers are feminine and therefore ok). Apparently, when these women became too enthusiastic about said flowers (and moss) – and it emerged that classifying species was turning out to be fairly important in the bid to understand everything – women’s botany was re-named ‘Polite Botany’ aka ‘Botany for Gurlz’. The proper hardcore rude ‘Botany’, was left for proper big strong men to do.

Liz said that as an aspiring writer, a daily writing habit was crucial (no one’s going to come knocking on your door with a book deal so make your own deadlines, and write until it feels weird to go for a whole day without writing). As someone with a blockbusting cheque in the bank, she now has the luxury of writing in seasons – season of inspiration; season of research (she’s learnt not to rely on her poor imagination but feed it); season of writing (5.30am – 11am every day until it’s done), season of editing (painful) and season of celebration (yay – book tour); and then back to the season of inspiration. Liz is very grateful that Eat Pray Love entirely funded The Signature of All Things, so she could write exactly as she chose. (As for those who say that this historical novel is a bid to draw a line under Eat Pray Love she repeatedly stresses her pride in the book of her life).

On the intimate and explicit writing about Alma’s sexuality (I’ve not read it yet, but many critics as said to have shied away from commenting on the masturbation scenes), Liz said that it’s impossible to write a birth to death novel without exploring every facet of the protagonist. The woman was curious, an explorer, an empiricist – of course Alma would explore herself. Liz also wanted to write about a woman’s sexuality in a way that wasn’t pinned to physical characteristics. We all know that heaving bosoms, flashing eyes, a dangerous figure, and firey auburn hair do not necessarily flag inflamed carnal desires; and vice versa. But Liz did not want to shame her heroine.

Feeling stuck, she sought the advice of a respected academic who writes bodice-rippers by night. (Incidentally, Liz explained, it was professionally prudent for this academic to keep her nocturnal activities secret until her tenure party where she opened crates of her books to reveal her alter-ego to her colleagues). The academic advised Liz to ask her heroine what she wanted to do, how she wanted to reveal herself, and write that. The block dissolved. Liz says she often talks to her characters as she writes (just like Hilary Mantel, whom she admires for her unshakeable confidence. She quotes: “Am I worried about how to follow two Booker Prize winning books? Of course not – the third is going to be even better”).

It is this conversation between author and muse, which Liz credits as her source of creativity. She does not buy the Romantic German notion of creativity being a bloody battle with a muse. And neither does she like the abdication of responsibility that she feels comes with the idea that the muse flows through the writer who is merely a tool. Rather, it’s a collaborative dialogue.

And there was so much more – her decision to be childless; how she can only write fiction when she’s happy, memoirs when she’s battling with life (and so we can check in on how she’s doing by what she’s publishing); Darwin and dark matter; where the title “The Signature of All Things” comes from; her frugal father (“borrowing money is like peeing in a cold bed – it’s a warm and blessed relief initial, but…”).

Elizabeth Gilbert is so at ease with herself, and so full of love, she can’t but help influence those around her. And so I sat down to write.

PS Go see her if you can: http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/events/

*Mum – please ignore this instruction

Still blogging (a little bit)

February 13, 2012

Hey stranger,

It’s been a while. After a lovely catch up with my old friends L and K, my blog momentum is building once more. For now, the action can be seen over here

Back soon.

M

Baking cakes is not my forte. Following a recipe, word for word, ingredient for ingredient, quantity for quantity, I resist.  I prefer to change things. Improve things. This doesn’t always work out well.

In contrast, cooking and fiddling around with savoury things, making it up as I go along, is easy. In my twenties, I spent an unhealthy amount of time watching Ready, Steady, Cook. That, coupled with a library of cook books, an excellent culinary pedigree (check out dad’s website!) and an insatiable appetite for eating out, has left me with the ability to combine pretty much any bottom-of-the-fridge finds, in to something approximating a feast, on the night before the ASDA delivery is due. Witness this hot mackerel, beetroot and chicory salad with balsamic vinaigrette. Dee-lish, if I do say so myself.

Baking, however, is more challenging.

Things often go wrong when I bake. Nothing terribly disastrous (although I have on one occasion mistaken salt for sugar). I simply get distracted easily. And if I don’t have exactly the right ingredient, I tend to improvise. I use baking powder that’s past its use by date and has lost its fizz. I slop in more vanilla essence than recommended. I often don’t have the right power tool, cake tin, or oven temperature. These kinds of things you can get away with in the world of garlic, lime, chilli and ginger. In the world of self-raising flour, caster sugar and cup cake cases, it often doesn’t work.

I once used up six packets of butter in one afternoon, as it took me three attempts to make a chocolate fudge cake.

However, I am eager to harness the power of baking. People will do pretty much anything for cake. A couple of years ago, I was asked to canvas support for a Fairtrade coffee morning in Abbots Langley. People were scurrying about on their Saturday morning tasks, and my most winning smile failed to persuade them to drop into the village hall. Then I hit on a new opening gambit ‘Hello, can I just ask, do you like cake?’ They were putty in my hands.

My mother is an incredibly good baker (as those visiting the village hall will have experienced). She does not like to change things. She follows recipes assiduously, even savoury ones. She likes Delia.  And measuring things accurately. I can see Delia’s strengths, and I have her Complete Cookery Course on my shelf as a reference tool, but I prefer the intuitive, Jamie-esque approach with his dollops, and sloshes, and glugs.

This doesn’t work for baking. And today it’s time for me to concentrate.

Keen to cement fledgling friendships with our new neighbours, I’ve extended invitations for Saturday afternoon tea and cake. Further motivation to bake comes in the form of a shiny new copy of the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook (Christmas present from P, an exquisite example of self-interest). I want to make beautiful rows of pastel-frosted cupcakes.

Absolutely determined to do a good job, I select a recipe (vanilla cupcakes – the first cake in the book – I figure if it goes well I’ll work my way through the entire publication) and check ingredients (and sell by dates). Armed with a shopping list, I head into Summertown  (our new neighbourhood – North Oxford, all frightfully tasteful dah-ling, boutiques, wine bars, a yoga school, people biking past with their toddler on the back, singing Wagner)(the cyclist, not the toddler, though I wouldn’t put it past them). I successfully forage in Co-op and treat myself to two little bottles of food colouring for doing the icing (blue and red – I figure I can make pink and purple).

In anticipation of this baking event, P and I have already excavated my Kenwood (cast off from my mother) and handblender, from maze of boxes in the garage. We’ve not quite finished unpacking.

I get home. I lay out my ingredients. I preheat the oven. I set out my cupcake cases. I fire up the Kenwood. I get stuck in. I pay full attention. I’m listening to Sheryl Crow (but not singing along). I feel confident.

Then, a hitch. My superduper digital scales (present from my mum, obviously) appear not to be working. The battery light is flashing. Not double A or triple A batteries of which we have a stockpile in the flat, but some kind of obscure weird lithium battery. Gah, I think. How am I going to measure properly? In the past, baking in foreign climes with no scales, I have converted weights to volumes and baked in the American-style using measuring cups. Despite my excellent maths skills, this often hasn’t worked so well. The practical ramifications of fractions of eggs are a challenge.

I take the batteries out, jiggle them around, and replace them. The battery warning light goes off. Splendid.

Feeling the pressure ever so slightly (neighbours coming round in two hours, weighing scales about to run out of juice) I push on.

I weigh out the dry ingredients and pop them in the Kenwood. I spent a good proportion of my childhood watching my mum feeding ingredients into this Kenwood (I think it was this Kenwood – might be another, or a cannibalistic combination, my dad’s an engineer in case he hasn’t already mentioned). It’s a magical beast with a powerful motor that mixes, and beats, and creams, and whisks, and helps my mum turn out a bounty of wondrous confections. My mum attributes her excellent baking to the Kenwood, but I know the credit is entirely hers. It’s pure skill on her part. I have found it perfectly possible to turn out lacklustre cakes using the Kenwood (even with my mother watching). Anyway, I’m going to concentrate this time, so it’ll work.

The Kenwood growls reassuringly as I switch it on, and while it chugs away I measure out the wet ingredients. There’s a small amount of phaffing as I need 120ml of milk, and my measuring jug is divided into increments of 50ml. I find my old American cup measures and they oblige. Meanwhile I haven’t noticed the blue smoke.

The Kenwood spontaneously stops. I notice the blue smoke. And the funny smell of burnt out motor. I don’t find it funny.

Luckily I have my electric handwhisk to hand. This is not a piece of kit countenanced by my mother. However, the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook says it’s a valid alternative, so I press on.

I whisk the wet ingredients into the dry. Very soon, one of the whisky things gets wobbly. Unbelievable. A crucial plastic bit has disintegrated into the cake batter rendering the whisk properly knackered. And my cake batter is contaminated with bits of knackered whisk.

Consultation with P (who claims to be trying to have a snooze and complains of interruptions, but has left the door open so is therefore fair game, and seems to be enjoying my struggle in any case) suggests that domestic baking equipment may not have appreciated being subjected to subzero temperatures in our garage over Christmas. He also confirms that the bits of plastic that I’ve rescued from the cake batter all fit together snugly. We deduce the cake batter is no longer contaminated.

Ignoring any suggestion that ‘God’ doesn’t want me to bake this afternoon (and an offer to go and fetch some Mr Kipling’s), I press on. Almost as strong as my desire to change things, is my stubborness. People bake every freakin’ day of the week. It’s not rocket science. It will work.

I reach for my hand whisk and apply some elbow grease.  It seems to be working. The batter (this is an American recipe – and produces a runny mixture, very different from the result of the British cream-together-butter-and-sugar-add-eggs-and-fold-in-flour approach beloved of Delia), is poured into the cases, popped into the oven and watched assiduously through the door. I do at least know not to open the door.

Meanwhile, I use more elbow grease to make butter frosting. I inhale a lot of icing sugar. And then, joy of joys. I break out my two bottles of food colouring. I remember what Nigella says about food colouring: be sparing, unless you cakes that look like they’ve been produced by Haribo (she didn’t say that exactly, as that doesn’t have a double entendre tenderly embedded within). I experiment with egg cupfuls of icing and teeny drops of food colouring persuaded off the end of a fork.

It’s tricky. Red and blue don’t necessarily make purple. They sometimes make maroon, or a very unappetising grey colour. Eventually I figure it out. I have three bowls of icing. Snowy white, baby pink and a fairly convincing lilac.

Despite the lack of power tools, the cakes have risen well (not as well as my mum’s obviously – she produces fairy cakes which look like little volcanoes on the top) and look beautiful golden brown. I’m still a little nervous that they are cooked through properly (I have not graduated to owning a skewer to test them and the results from a knife are inconclusive).

I potter for a bit and wait for the cakes to cool (icing warm cakes doesn’t work – I do learn from previous baking failures – doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity after all).

Once the cakes are ready, I slather on the icing and line them up in rows, a la Hummingbird. I’m not sure my mum would approve of this American-style icing… too much sugar I suspect. As children, we would ice the volcanic fairy cakes with melted chocolate and sprinkle them with hundreds and thousands, and wait for the chocolate to solidify. I would then peel off the chocolate slab, eat the cake out of obligation, and then eat the chocolate, crunching hard into the hundreds and thousands.

P and I test one of cakes (the Mr Kipling route has not been entirely ruled out– I really do not want to serve up cakes to my neighbours and find they have soggy bottoms, ha).

It has worked! Bloody marvellous. Light, airy, soft. Different to the Delia-plus-my-mum-and-the-Kenwood’s version, I grant you. The crumb texture is very different using the batter method. But it’s all good.

The neighbours turn up punctually (such is the power of the cake), and pay compliments to the cake. I of course receive the compliments and say nothing of the back story (other than referring to the Hummingbird Bakery Book – it turns out there have been several cookery books received as Christmas presents in the building, and I anticipate some reciprocal cooking over the coming weeks).

Downplaying this afternoon’s achievements, I do perpetuate the myth some of us just throw together a batch of fairy cakes on a Saturday afternoon without turning a hair. Or burning out a motor. You know better.

Benign influence

August 17, 2010

Earlier this month, I enjoyed three days in the most incredible space. This had a significant effect on my mood, demeanour and levels of motivation. It feels like I’ve been supercharged.

I spend the time working hard (although it feels like playing hard) on a residential course for 150 young people aged 13 to 19, hosted at Marlborough College (the swanky public school in Wiltshire). Students from all over the country, mixing in such distinguished surroundings, creates an air of Hogwarts meets Byker Grove. The programme is run by the Youth of Today (which exists to create leadership opportunities for young people). I’m part of a team of 100 coaches, facilitators, speakers, ops staff and project leaders.

We’re treated to beautiful food (I’ve never seen such an expansive cheese board) amongst centuries’ worn flagstones (riven with glacial valleys molded by a million footsteps) presided over by incredibly friendly, thoughtful and upbeat staff.

At one point, I’m finishing up a really challenging session involving an exercise where 16- and 17-year-olds, who’d met each other only yesterday, are challenged to fall backwards off an oil drum into each others’ arms (while a film crew interviews us). As an aid to maintain the high levels of focus and motivation necessary to keep everyone safe, I promise there’ll be refreshments provided afterwards. I hope very hard that the goodies will appear as the Fellows (as we refer to them) are sweaty, tired, exultant and in need of a cold drink. They’ve met me only recently and I’m working hard to build their trust. Wanton promising of non-existent biscuits is a sure way to lose friends and alienate people.

Walking them back to the courtyard, I’m greeted by six large trestle tables, flanked by staff in proper waiter-y uniforms, offering hot and cold drinks and… wait… am I seeing things?… an ocean of doughnuts, sat in individual little cardboard boats. The staff smile and chat and are positive about the Fellows, some of whom are studded with piercings, clad in hoodies and not the type one usually expects to find at Marlborough.

The physical environment however is not what prompts me to make the significant personal transition from the moment I arrive at Marlborough, to the time I leave. I’d turned up on Friday night, after a disrupted train journey, very tired, moderately stressed and in mild need of a weekend on the sofa with Grey’s Anatomy and a large bar of Green and Blacks. Three days later, despite (or perhaps because of) working 7am to 11pm days, running around, focusing incredibly hard, and putting a huge amount of energy into supporting the Fellows, I finish up full of energy, bounce and invigoration.

Of course the physical environment helps, but what really does it for me are my colleagues. A highly charged atmosphere often ascends when a room is filled with coaches (as in mentors/facilitators/supporting people…. not as in buses). (For the record it’s quite confusing organising a group of coaches to meet a group of Fellows (which we keep erroneously referring to as ‘students’ as we became accustomed to the terminology) as they arrive on a flotilla* of coaches (which we ended up calling buses for clarity’s sake).) In a roomful of coaches, typically, every single person smiles when you catch their eye and one can’t move for rapport. Questions are ricocheting around the room, slicing gently through the air of intent listening.

And we have all this, and more.

This isn’t your average roomful of coaches networking and looking for business opportunities. Everyone is at the Youth of Today to inspire, to challenge, to train and to support a group of young people as they work to effect change in their communities.  It’s all about the Fellows, not about us. And I have never experienced such esprit de corps.

Despite physical tiredness and mental drain, all interactions with team mates are upbeat, friendly, sincere and caring. Joined by a clear common purpose and with logistical support beyond measure (we have an exemplary ops team who can rustle up a white board marker pen in minutes, accompanied by a side order of banter and smiles) everyone is on their game.

And here’s the point of this post. That being on-their-game-ness rubs off on me. It’s impossible to be around this crew without becoming saturated in positivity, energy, and care. We’re supporting the Fellows, and in turn we’re being supported to be great at our job, and encouraged to look after ourselves so we can be even more effective. The feeling was so intense, so pleasurable and memorable, that back at home, facing the same stresses as before, I can conjure it up in seconds. And here’s the thing. That feeling was a function of the people who were around me.

So many of the people on the team I meet, or I already know and with whom I became a little closer, have achieved something incredible, are outstanding at their job, have amazing skills or a wise view of the world. Rubbing shoulders with such people is inspiring and motivating. And that’s even before we meet the Fellows. Some of them (still in their teens) have already set up huge community projects, are mature and impressive beyond their years, can dance like they’re on MTV, accompany themselves singing songs they’ve written, and tell tales of daring do.

I read somewhere that we tend to become the average of the five people with whom we associate the most. However true this is, I know that the people I hang out with have a huge effect on me. Their world view affects my world view. Their moods change or reinforce my own. Sharing their experiences colour my own beliefs.

I’ve been living just outside Oxford for six months now, in a little rural idyll rather isolated from the cornucopia of delights that the city has to offer. P and I have enjoyed perfect neighbours (and friends) living next door, and of course the cat, for company. That’s been supplemented by the wonders of the Oxford Tube ferrying visitors from and visits to London, and beyond, to enjoy friendships both new and long, all rich and enriching.

The cat and the neighbours are moving on, and the time has come to cultivate some more mates in our new habitat.  Their importance will be significant as our beautiful brains (and we all have beautiful brains) have a tendency to attune themselves to the dominant feelings of the people with whom we hang out.

Because we are gloriously sociable creatures, humans tend to harmonise their emotional states with those around them in a ‘symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaption’†. This has been described by scientists as ‘limbic resonance’. The theory is that our individual nervous systems are interdependent.  They’re influenced by the forces of empathy and non-verbal communication, as we adapt to and reflect the moods of those around us.

This means that when we spend a night on the sofa with an old mate who’s really chilled and happy, the chances are we’ll end up feeling more chilled and happy at the end of the evening than we were at the beginning (despite watching some truly low brow TV at the same time, old mate – you know who you are). Similarly, if we’re surrounded by moany people day after day, who drain our reserves of oomph and positivity, the effect is likely to depress our outlook, our behaviour and our success rate.

According to Daniel Goleman(et al)’s book Primal Leadership, great leaders spread emotions at the positive end of the scale (aspiration, compassion, connection, or purpose) which set fire to the part of the brain which looks after motivation. This is what happened to me last week.

Which five people do you spend the most time with and what effect do they have? Whose lead would you like to follow?

*I can find no collective noun for either coaches (supportive) or coaches (buses). Suggestions welcome.

†The term limbic resonance was coined, and the above description given, in a book called ‘A General Theory of Love’ 2000 (and with a title like that it’s going straight on my Amazon wishlist)

Ms Motivator

August 4, 2010

It’s been a while. I’ve neglected my blog, and I’m keen to re-enter the groove of writing.  To start with it’ll feel rusty and stunted, and I will persevere until it flows once more. Then it will be a joy, I’ll feel great and there’ll be ideas for new blog posts wherever I look. It’ll be a virtuous circle. I just need to get motivated to jump back in.

How to get motivated is a question that’s raised all the time in coaching sessions and workshops.  So that naturally forms the subject of this post! The trick is to know what motivates us personally. And then to do it. (The second part is always the crux.)

What’s working for me right now, is buddying up. Here’s why.

Sometimes, when I am ‘too busy’ to write my blog, a friend might unexpectedly call and ask for a hand. I then miraculously find time from somewhere (perhaps down the back of the sofa). This happened last week. From time to time I help out with an amazing project by doing some communications consultancy (writing press releases and the like). I received a call saying they needed a PR, and I knew that a couple of hours of my time would make a big difference. So I found time. And did it. Which was a big help to them, and fulfilling for me. It also illustrated that if I was suitably motivated (being inspired by the project, wanting to help my mate, knowing I’d get positive feedback)… surprise, surprise, I found the time.

I’m learning that if I have a tendency to do certain behaviours (be able to make time for other people, even when I claim to have no time for myself) sometimes, rather than changing that behaviour, it’s more effective to cunningly use it to my advantage.

So I have found myself a blogging buddy in the beautiful form of my dear friend, fellow coach and confidante, Karin. The deal is that I’d like to help her out with something on a regular basis . However, under the rules of our blogging buddy charter (discussed last night over a Nepali curry in Ealing), I’m only allowed to help her once I’ve written a blog post. So I borrow the oooomph I have to help her, and co-opt it into my blog writing. Genius. See how it’s working?

The buddying approach to motivation works thanks to benign peer pressure and expectation (we all know we’re more likely to go swimming tomorrow morning if we’ve promised to meet our friend at the pool).

There are several variations, which can be modified for purpose and environment. In the past I’ve emailed a bunch of mates, telling them about the big hairy scary things I am going to achieve that week, and promising to report back at a designated time to declare my success. They were given full nagging rights if I failed to check in. Because they’re a supportive bunch they responded with encouraging missives. It worked a treat. An alternative is to meet regularly with a buddy and report progress, share challenges and cultivate focus.

So, with all this in mind, I declare that I will be blogging once a week henceforth. I’ll be back shortly with some thoughts on external motivators (which come from a source outside ourselves, see above) versus internal motivators (where we are self-sufficient in our ooomph, which is far more sustainable).

In the meantime I’d love to hear what you do to keep (or get) yourself motivated.

Password policy

November 27, 2009

I know that I should check my email just once or twice each day. But I’m not built like that, and until someone invents a device that prevents me from checking obsessively (whether seized by fits of procrastination or not), it’s not going to change.

I did try and put myself off a bit by making my password fiendishly complicated (a random collection of upper and lower case letters and numbers with no apparent pattern or meaning). The problem is that if you type something twelve times in one morning, it soon trickles off the fingers with little effort.

Here a suggestion for picking a more user friendly password that may do  more favours than discouraging an email obsession.

Make your password work for you.

We might type in passwords for our email, computer, facebook or twitter accounts several times each day. Rather than using a cunning combination of the dog’s birthday and the cat’s maiden name, pick a password that will provide a mini pep talk each time it’s keyed in.

If you’re training for a marathon, or the local 10k, why not log in with ‘SuperRunner’? If you’re improving your diet, what about ‘HappyHealthyEater’? If you’re working on your confidence, try ‘IsAGreatNetworker’. And if you’re reconnecting with the lighter side of life try ‘SmilesALot’. Get the idea? Write in the present tense and make it positive. ‘IsANon-Smoker’ is far more effective than ‘WillQuitTheCiggies’.

I’m obsessed with my email and log in several times a day. Typing my little personal affirmation (which I’m keeping to myself thank you very much!) gives me a conscious reminder of what I’m working towards (or a bit of a shove). It also subconsciously stimulates the brain by associating one’s name with something positive. For example: Username: ‘Joe_Bloggs’; Password: ‘HasTheBodyOfAGod’.

Think it, write it, believe it, do it!

Following the excitement of my trip to the IoM, here’s my column published in the local paper on the same subject.

Pay special attention to the comments at the bottom. The wisdoms from Onchan have generated an article which I paste here for your delectation.

Five ways to create your own luck and make things happen

Do you know someone who always falls on their feet and gets what they want? Do you feel an inward cringe of envy when they start another anecdote ‘you’ll never guess what’s just happened….’? Do you sometimes have difficulty believing life can be so easy for anyone? They meet exactly the right people at exactly the right time, and attract extraordinary offers of support with apparently little effort.

You may have uttered a deep sigh and moaned to yourself, ‘It’s not what you know it’s who you know’ or ‘I’m just not lucky’ or ‘things like that never happen to me’. You may be giving up on your dreams, convinced it’s just not meant to be.

Well, the excellent news is that you can create opportunity in the most unlikely of places, with little resources and a small amount of effort. And here’s how.

  1. Be clear about what you want

What do you want? When? Where? Who would be involved? What does it look like? How does it sound?

You want to travel the world… which countries, what time of year, what will be your most eagerly anticipated destination, who will you go with, when will you leave, how will you fund it, what will you pack?

Or perhaps you want to appear on stage… what will you be doing, what will you look like, where will you be performing, who’s in the audience?

May be you want a new job… what’s your ideal position, where would it be, who would you be working with, what would you be wearing, what would you be earning?

A clear idea that you can daydream about in HDV and surround sound is much more likely to become reality than a vague and ill-defined notion. Your brain can’t tell between real life and strongly imagined scenarios, and will start to believe your dream is real.  The more you convince yourself it can happen, the more likely you’ll take action to bring your dream to life. That’s what generates what some people call ‘luck’. It sounds a bit loopy, but it does really work.

And if you know exactly what you want, you’ll be able to share your dreams with others and they just might be able to help you.

2. Talk about it

Once you’re clear about what you want, start talking about it. Most people will be inspired by your boldness, openness and honesty, and may offer support. That help may be the piece of luck that you’re after. If you know 20 people, and they each know 20 people, you have network of 400 people within easy reach – as long as they know what you’re after.

A note of caution. Dreams are often fragile. Do not share you excitement with doom-mongers and naysayers. Their cynicism and negativity may infect your beautiful dream, and destroy your belief that it can happen.

Find out where people who share your dream hang out, and go talk to them. Try Meetup, Facebook and Linked In to find like-minded people who will add to your enthusiasm, rather than trample on it. Lucky people generally have big networks, and are eager to help. So go and meet them! Get a business card printed, even if you’re not in business. It’s easier to exchange contact details that way.

And email them the next day to say it was good to meet them, and pass them on any useful snippets of information about anything you talked about. Show willing and cultivate your network!

3. Ask and it is given

Ask people for help. It’s not rude or pushy, unless you ask in a rude or pushy way. People like to be asked, it makes them feel valued and respected. Who can resist the approach ‘I’m really interested to hear what you think about….’?

Hint: Ask people for something small requiring little effort, such as an opinion or a contact, rather than any action. If you ask your friend if they know someone who could help, they may well end up offering to help you themselves. It’s easier to ask when a ‘no’ doesn’t feel like rejection.

Be bold. If the best person to help you is a world famous expert, drop them an email. It’s very likely they were successful in part because of their audacity. They will be impressed by your gutsiness.

Whether you get help from Richard Branson, or Sam next door, always say a sincere ‘thank you’ immediately, and then follow up with a note or an email. People who feel appreciated will try even harder to help you next time.

4. Put yourself out there

What skills do you have? Work out what you are really good at, and do it for the benefit of others. Even if they are unrelated to your dream, your skills have huge value in creating luck for others.

If you bake excellent cakes, hold a cake sale in aid of your favourite charity, or for your friend’s birthday party. If you’re an excellent declutter person, offer yourself up to help with the neighbours’ spring cleaning. If you spot someone in trouble, do whatever you can to help them. Connect your friends with others with similar interests.  Look for opportunities where you can be helpful and provide people with solutions.

Do this without agenda, and you’ll begin to enjoy it. And eventually, through some apparently unrelated route, the luck-laden benefits will come flooding in to you.

5. Say ‘yes’

When a new opportunity comes your way, say yes. Don’t think about it too much, just say yes. Even if it’s really unrelated to your dream, say yes. If you’re hanging out with like-minded people, the chances are there will be a link somewhere. Even if there isn’t, you will open up your existence to new opportunities and people, and that’s where the luck lurks.

Drop me a line at Melissa@MelissaMehta.com to let me know how this works out for you. And if it doesn’t work out for you, drop me a line anyway. If you’re properly stuck, I’d be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session to get you going.

Happy dreaming.

Ebbing

October 19, 2009

It’s been a week full of new clients and bold moves. And consideration of a potentially life changing decision with only 4 days’  exploring and thinking time. And then falling over badly enough to get a scabby elbow, and drop my new laptop.

The last ten days have been full on. Mostly in a good way, with the obvious exception being the body blow from the pavement, and holes in my lovely new laptop case.

So when Monday morning dawned and I wasn’t feeling as enthusiastic as normal, I thought I’d take it a bit easy. Of course, not easy enough to stay in bed, as I have a business to build and a task list with plenty of room for ticks. But I did choose to do some of the slightly less demanding tasks as I’m in a little bit of an ebb.

I wrote a while ago about being in flow , which is essentially those times when everything is going right. The trick is to exploit every ounce of opportunity, be a bit cocky and capitalise on the good vibes that are in the air. The temptation can be to feel smug after the first thing goes my way, and have a nice sit down and a cup of tea. Chamomile, obviously. But it’s a shame to stop when things are going so well. I carry on bounding around as the successes tend to build up quickly.

We can’t be in flow all the time, and sometimes we’re at the other end of life’s oscillations. Like today, when I’m in ebb rather than flow. Now’s the time to have a nice sit down and a cup of tea, metaphorically and literally.

Today was a metaphorical, rather than a literal, sit down. I biked over to my old friend J’s office for a cuddle with Cara the Collie, some banter, and a bit of technological support. My initial bullishness on installing freeware onto my new laptop had waned, and it was time to ask for help.

An officeful of male techies is an amusing place. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, they cannot bear to exist nearby a IT problem. They descend on my cute little white computer with glee.  There’s the opportunity to accuse me of ‘user error’, and the usual anti-Microsoft diatribe. I spend a very enjoyable day fiddling around in their office, exchanging helpfulness and sorting myself out.

Using ‘ebb’ times to regroup, do routine and less demanding tasks (and have some fun) is a very effective use of time. It helps us secure a firm footing from where to take off into the flow when it hits next time. And it’s coming, so it’s best to be ready.

Day 4 on IoM

October 16, 2009

I get up at dawn to say goodbye to my host, and go for a run. Sunrise is almost as beautiful as sunset was the night before.

The sea is unfeasibly calm, and the sun low, making the mirrored surface of the water ideal for spotting things. There are plenty of cormorants, and the odd seal. Aside from the oyster catchers and the curlews pecking in the sand, I have the beach to myself.

I had been warned that the IoM is very windy and instructed to take hat and scarf. But somehow I’ve landed at the same time as an incredible four days of still, calm, clear weather. It’s 7am and I am warm even before starting to run.

I want to make it round the next headland, so I conserve my oomph and run slowly across the sand. I tread on the odd bunch of bladderwrack seaweed, sometimes crunchy and black, sometimes slippery and red. I’ve never smelt the sea so fresh, like a delicious seafood pasta.

On the way back I pass two young boys, playing alone  on the beach with their dog. People keep telling me that children can be sent out for the day, have unsupervised, outwardly-bound and wholesome adventures, and are home in time for tea.

After grabbing some breakfast and a shower (don’t-shut-the-door, don’t-shut-the-door) I wrestle my suitcase into the car and head off to find some kippers. I’ve given up on the idea of a whale watching trip as it’s too out of season to be spontaneous.

In amongst the sleepy quiet village of Port St Mary, I found the most fantastic seafood market and deli. Freshly smoked kippers stacked up in a pile, others shrink-wrapped for odour-free export. Whole crabs nestled in bed of chipped ice. Heaps of freshly made rollmops. A wet-fish counter with a dozens species labelled with tiny little chalked blackboards. And (joy) a whole separate counter of cheese, Milano salami, chorizo, prosciutto, parma et al. There are heaps of veg and meat too.

This is particularly noteable as Port St Mary so far appears to be the kind of place where they look at you oddly if you ask for herbal tea in a pub. Believe me. When I then proceeded to take out my laptop, there was a whole line of locals propped up against the bar looking at me curiously.

I can live without Waitrose (reports that there is a Waitrose in Douglas were hugely exaggerated), if there’s a good deli.

Determined to avoid a last minute rush to the airport, I make my way to the nearby Castletown. Where I find a tapas bar. With real live people in it. Yes, it is 11am, and it’s more hot chocolate and cake than tapas. But it is somewhere normal to hang out.

Douglas airport is tiny. It operates at a completely different pace to the likes of Gatwick and Luton. It’s perfectly possible to park within 50 yards of the check in desks, and to wander in 40 minutes before your flight is due to leave. My luggage is a little over weight, thanks to jam, kippers and rocks, but the check in chap tells me it’s not really worth worrying about. I realise I have a huge unopened carton of juice in my carryon bag, and no time to drink it so I donate it to the check in chap instead. There’s no suspicion that I’m trying to cause some kind of terrorist incident or drug anyone. He simply takes his gift in the spirit it was given.

The security checks are hilarious. The checker of passport and boarding card verbally explains the whole process “Take of your shoes, and put them in one of those trays over there. If you have a laptop, do you have a laptop dear – oh yes I thought you might, take it out and put it in one of those trays over there… etc.” He then segues into an individual chat with each passenger.

In the departure lounge I find my host, on his way to London. It’s clear that bumping into people you know in the departure lounge is a common occurence. My host is chatting to an old friend, who becomes my new friend in the (practically non-existent) queue at the gate. Explaining my situation, she nods and tells me that it’s really important to find likeminded people. I think I may have found one.

Landing at Gatwick I brace myself for the onslaught of London. I have sensory overload and everyone looks miserable. But I manage to keep a bubble of calm around me, knowing that only 3 hours’ away there is a place of blissful quiet, friendly, clean and beautiful contentment. I float through Clapham Junction station and back to P’s, for a much needed nap.

After supper at Giraffe (ticking those quiet and friendly boxes) where I talk more than I eat, I lie awake in the orange glare of the street lights which slices through the blinds. The sirens, the footfall, the shouting seem much louder than normal. I can even hear the brakes of the trains and the sound of people walking up the stairs. Tomorrow’s task is to buy some ear plugs.