Kindness Matters MH Awareness Week


The Mental Health Foundation’s campaign to raise awareness of Mental Health this year focuses on Kindness! This is really exciting, to be able to promote kind acts is at the heart of what I do, I am delighted to share some definitions, research findings and ideas for how to incorporate kindness into your daily life with ease and for free!

Definition: The quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people, or an act showing this quality.

In positive psychology kindness is a character strength coming under the virtue of humanity. This strength may also include such concepts as generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, and altruistic love. Right now we need to be in touch with our humaness, connecting with each other for strength, support and community.

How and why kindness can support mental wellness, build resilience and be contagious?

Research shows seven days of performing kind acts results in more happiness, and there’s a positive relationship between the number of kind acts and the level of happiness someone experiences.

Kindness fuels connection and is a prosocial behaviour that benefits the giver and the receiver. Interestingly people who are lower socioeconomic status show more generosity, charitability, and helpfulness. Having parents who discuss emotions results in toddlers who are more inclined to share! More sociable children are more inclined to prosocial behaviour – sharing toys etc

Be mindful that sometimes what one perceives to be an act of kindness may not be received as such. It’s a good idea to ask what someone would prefer before deciding to buy a burger and give it to a homeless person… don’t project what you would like onto others, this may result in causing offence. It can also feel loaded with judgement. If in doubt ask.

Doing kind acts and showing gratitude might be difficult for some, but the more you do it, the easier it is. You’ll also be happier and less stressed by the end of your day.

Practice self-kindness

Self-care as self-love

If you want to get really great at giving to others then practice with yourself, silence the inner critic, reduce the negative self-talk and reframe your healthy living activities to be radical acts of self love. Kindness is a practice, a skill that you can become better at, strengthen that kindness muscle begin with you! The better you are at being kind to yourself – I don’t mean buying big material things, I mean noticing the things you do to look after you, brushing your teeth, preparing nice nutritious, getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, take time to be conscious in your everyday living activities – these are acts of self love.

Some kind acts that are that can be easily included in your week:

  • Write a thank you note to someone
  • Say hello to people as walk by on your daily exercise
  • If you live with others make the tea for everyone
  • Get involved in your local mutual aid group and offer to help
  • Contact your local mutual aid group and say thank you to them
  • Call a friend and connect, be present, listen
  • Support your friends who are self-employed by sharing any work they are doing
  • Propagate some seeds – flowers or veggies and once they get big enough give them to friends and neighbours
  • Take a neighbours dog for a walk (if they can’t)
  • Clean your street
  • Plant flowers in your local tree pits
  • Give your time and skills to help someone else
  • Anything that you can think of that will make someone else feel acknowledged, valued, seen and connected
  • Try something new that you’ve always wanted to do & invite someone else to share this with you
  • Make a card and send it

What else do you think you might be able to do?

Thank you for taking time to read this, have a brilliant day!

When Technology is Just Not Enough Survival/thriving requires capacity to switch off!

First published 8th April 2020

I am sat at my kitchen table having cleared my work desk to clean and make way for a less overwhelming environment. My personal space is super important to me. I work for myself, mostly by myself, live with Cecilie and Leonard (2 cats) and a few hundred bees in a hive in my back garden. I am used to being on my own, actually I LOVE being on my own and having control over whom and when I spend time with people. The idea of living with others fills me with dread. I know myself well enough. I am still discovering new possibilities for how and who I am. We all change. Everyone has the capacity to adapt. If I were fighting for a cause that I believed in wholeheartedly requiring me to live with others then my value drivers would kick in and I would adapt. Healthy adaptation even with the pain this would, no doubt, cause me.

The world is hurting, we need to listen and change how we do things and how we measure success.

What if those value drivers were not there? What happens if I were forced to live with others against my will? This got me thinking about how many people are currently in forced isolation, working remotely, perhaps living alone or with people they don’t particularly like. Maybe living in abusive situations having no escape, 24/7 with the perpetrator/s. I worry about this. I worry for people. Employers who are trying their best to keep their businesses going during this time are inadvertently contributing to the trauma of their people. Providing remote access to employees to continue in their roles with daily or weekly team meetings “business as usual” approach is short-sighted and dangerous. How do you take care of people’s emotional well being? How do you support remote working in the broader sense? What about the extroverts, the go-getters, your best sales people who thrive off human interaction and exceed their targets every month? They will be suffering, their mental and physical health will be deteriorating. A culture that encourages denial will result in future problems. It’s time to get authentic and embrace the messiness of being human.

It’s not enough to provide the technology, to just expect people to get on with it, not unless you are willing to neglect your people, to contribute to their traumatic experience at this time and have a workforce that has long-term sickness when this is all over. The likely impact of this on everyone will last for many years. Everyone needs to develop emotional/psychological flexibility. All of us need help to get through this period and minimise the long term impact on mental and physical health. Support is important as is flexibility!

Get support for yourself, find a way to plan for the next 2 or more years. Now is not the time for ‘old school’ thinking. See this as a long-term opportunity to adapt and change your business model. Do not wait for others to take the lead. If your business model is not sustainable change it. Imagine a future that is focused on human capital, making thriving people the core of your business over financial profit. The profit will come at you in unexpected ways.

We all need to increase our psychological flexibility, build those emotional resilience muscles!

For your employees, change it up get flexible, listen, take notice, this is a time to have them lead, shine and feel valued. Consult with them. Expect less hours from them, not less creativity or productivity. Get them to help you design a new way of thinking, being and doing your business. Flex, stretch, breath. Let go of control. The game has changed. The world is a different place, you have the power and opportunity to have a healthier, happier life. Stop thinking, start being and see what shows up.

Leaders: ‘Don’t Take One for the Team’

First published 10th April 2020

I wonder how leaders are shaping up presently? The leaders who are full of knowledge and experience of their industry and have risen to the top because of this? The leaders who have grown in a world where emotions were firmly left at the door in the workplace? The people who have been shaped to compartmentalise their very being, to hide their vulnerability. The vulnerability that shows up in anger, snappiness, aggressive and controlling behaviours… Fear. Sadness. They have been alone for a long time. This isolation isn’t new to them, they have felt cut off and needed to make really tough decisions and deal with the flak on their own. This must be a scary place.

When fear drives decision making you may not feel or experience the negative results immediately, it may show up 6 months later with valued team members or clients exiting stage left ‘unexpectedly’. Fear blinkers us. We no longer have a range of possibilities when fear is present. The current global situation requires openness to possibilities, to letting go of control, to saying “I don’t know”, to help seeking and being supported in the world. The more we practice saying “I don’t know” and asking for help, ideas, conversations or consulting with people outside of our immediate circles/industries the better the outcomes will be.

Practice self-compassion

Don’t miss this chance to change, to be yourself or change who you have been, treat yourself and others with kindness and compassion. Practice something today that makes you feel lighter, listen to your body. If your gut reactions to a presenting dilemma cause you anxiety — stop what you’re doing and take 5 deep breaths. Breath in for 5, hold for 5 and breath out for 6. Then come back to your body, look at the presenting situation and see what options are available, if none seem right ask for help, ask if anyone has any other ideas? Sit with it. A rushed decision can sometimes be a really big mistake that simply adds to your stress levels and anxiety. You’ll never feel good about it and will end up having to revisit the mess that is created.

I worry for you leaders who really would like to let their guards down and learn a new way of being, a way to let go of fear, to have a safety net of trust, Trust in yourself, in others, in your friends, family, colleagues. Trust in whatever changes need to occur to create a different business, a new style of working, maybe even a new career. A way of letting yourself off the hook, letting yourself be vulnerable, becoming a role model for psychological flexibility and inspiration for others. Anti-Hero leadership. We don’t need you to ‘take one for the team’ the team wants to be in this with you. With your authentic, vulnerable, human, messy self.

Are you equipped to deal with trauma?

First published 16th April 2020

Do you remember when digital cameras were introduced? The market for photographers dropped, everyone was a photographer as a result of having a gadget that required (apparently — though arguably not) a ‘point & shoot for the perfect portrait, landscape, adventure, family, event etc etc shot!’ I wonder now how many of you would trust aunt Betty or uncle Derek or cousin Rob to take the photographs for an important occasion for you?

Derek’s EOS just didn’t cut it… Not so happy memories!

Imagine it’s your civil partnership day…. you have both planned this for 2 years, you’re on a beach, the sun is positioned perfectly. Just the right amount of ‘shade’. The natural sunlight picks out the perfect details on your investment piece bespoke tailored outfits. You feel amazing. You both look amazing. Your family look amazing. Everything is perfect. All this time, money and planning has paid off — the perfect photograph is there for the taking. Who would you want, Derek with his ‘latest’ version of a Canon EOS or maybe cousin Rob who takes cool images for his local bands? Sit with that a minute. What does it feel like to hand over responsibility to a friend or relative to record one of the most important moments of your life when they are not a professionally trained/experienced photographer? Really sense into that feeling. Where in your body do you feel it? How does it feel? Is it hot or cold? Relaxed or uncomfortable? They do this for free.

Alternative scenario Eleanor has been a a photographer for 30 years. She has a portfolio of family/event/social photography images that sit on the mantelpieces of many homes around the world. Her clients book her 2 years in advance. She has back ups of everything, several cameras, lighting, assistants and charges accordingly. Her reputation is second to none — even when things don’t go according to plan Eleanor has always found a way to achieve the desired results. She invests in her own professional development, always learning and purposely limits her availability so she doesn’t ‘burn out’. Your occasion is the only one of two she has agreed to take on for the month. Sit with that a minute. What does it feel like to hand over responsibility to a professional with a rock solid reputation to record one of the most important moments of your life? Really sense into that feeling. Where in your body do you feel it? How does it feel? Is it hot or cold? Relaxed or uncomfortable? Eleanor does this as a professional and charges.

You have the potential to power down, power off, power up.

You decide.

The best laid plans… No one could’ve predicted 6 months ago that the world would be going through the current COVID-19 crisis. All your planning, potentially years of investment in yourself, your family, your profession, your business and lifestyle up-ended just like that.

Be mindful when faced with so many options at times of crisis, take care, don’t make unnecessary reactive decisions for yourself, your professional/personal life, your business, your staff or family. Stop. Sit. Breathe. Wait 24/48 hours or longer if you can before making decisions. Things are changing rapidly, stability is required. Circumstances that create chaos and increase stress require thoughtfulness, time and effort before committing to decision, a course of action or inaction — to sit with.

It’s definitely time to invest in yourself, professional world and business. Apply the same principles to choosing who you engage with for guidance, coaching, personal therapy or team support. Notice who invests in themselves, who has experience of trauma, who can develop bespoke interventions for you? Work out what you hope to achieve? Be mindful remote working is not automatically conducive to promoting well being. Explore what needs to happen to keep you and your teams well.

Choose wisely. Trauma responses impact on everyone. Take care not to buy cheap buy twice — the cost might be the loss of your relationships, professional reputation, business and mental health. Invest to prevent/protect. Now is the time to seek support.

Surviving COVID-19 Strategies for Introverts and Extroverts

Previously published on 13th March 2020

Forcing positivity is hard work. Barbara Ehrenreich’s (2010) personal experience of ‘forced positive emotion in the face of adversity’ seems to be an apt start to considering how to manage the impact of COVID-19 in business. If those positive feelings are not genuine then faking them is detrimental. Let’s not force positivity at this time of enforced isolation but explore how to tap into strengths and opportunities.

Extroverts thrive around others and being a part team!

The Western view of positive emotions has become generally accepted and aspired to, this view is not universal. Asian cultures value moderation not maximization when it comes to positive emotions, perhaps stemming from the “Buddist belief that pure pleasentness either leads to suffering or is impossible to obtain” (Schimmack et al, 2002). Research showed that Asian populations (first generation) were less likely to have depressive symptoms alleviated by the presence of positive emotions compared with US born Asians and Westerners. The impact of negative emotions had the same impact on all populations in the study. The value of calm, peaceful experiences over high arousal states are more important in the Asian population due to the co-existence of both positive and negative belief’s regarding the over-indulgence of positive emotions.

What about people who have the highly sensitive person trait (HSP)?

A highly sensitive person is more likely to have negative experiences of over-stimulating environments, some of which are associated with positive emotions, and this will result in them withdrawing. So for the sensitive person emotions that are deemed ‘positive’ and highly sought after in the general population may not be so positive for their well-being. They may be inclined towards what is generically — though not necessarily universal — Asian experience of positive emotions.

The working culture in the UK leans towards environments that value, support and champion extroverts who appear to be more resilient in competitive, ‘cheer-leading’, loud environments. Success in environments that have open plan, shared work spaces, stimulating the senses, belongs to extroverts who respond with increased positive emotions. The risks to business is in missing out on the natural abilities of sensitive people to predict/start trends, sense into what needs to happen, the capacity to read a room, accurately measure the emotional temperature and generate ideas based on all of the above. Highly sensitive people do not have to be present at all times to utilise their skills, in fact, limited exposure to the over-stimulating workplace will result in their increased productivity. Quiet time, walking in nature, mindfulness, exposure to art and beauty increase what they contribute in the workplace. Optimal environments that provide space for quiet, where they can control what goes on around them will see them excel and in poor environments they flounder. They are the emotional barometer of your workplace, the canary in the mine. Take notice when they are highlighting issues or when they are not happy, issues left unaddressed will result in disasters further down the road.

The introverts and sensitives in your organisation are the ones who will carry the load much better when they have to work remotely. At this time with enforced isolation you need to connect with your extroverts, the ones who need the stimulation and company in order to be productive — their wellbeing and motivation may decline. Check in, make sure they are getting time with people and see what difference the change in work environment makes to your business. This situation has potential for evolving resilient, flexible businesses with capacity to adapt, change and bounce back when faced with unexpected circumstances beyond your control.

Introverts thrive when given space to reflect

The current situation is an opportunity for introverts and sensitives to shine, you will see how much they bring to your company. Take notice now, this whole process may lead you to change the way you work in the future, if you are lacking neurodiversity in your teams this will be evident. To celebrate, be inclusive and actively engage a truly diverse workforce we need to be mindful of values, socialisation and inherent systemic discrimination. Ensuring there is space for all ways of being, space for people who can share ideas beyond the existing ‘meetings’ format — or the ones that have the loudest voice being heard. We need to run with allowing processes over having defined outcomes, allow space for both extroverts need for positive emotions and highly sensitive people benefitting from quiet, thinking and reflection. A diverse workforce across multiple domains is essential for a sustainable business suitable for the 2020’s.

I like the Swedish term lagom, meaning ‘just the right amount’, the right amount of positive emotion is individually determined and dependent on a broad range of social, trait and cultural influences. The right amount for a flourishing life may be greater for an extrovert when compared with an introvert. More positive emotions are not necessarily best for all. So back to Barbara Ehrenreich (2010), she doesn’t just dismiss the idea of positive thinking, what she is saying is positive illusions do not make for a better reality, acceptance of the good, the bad and the ugly are necessary for a healthy world. Beware of overly optimistic beliefs they appear as “it won’t happen to me” behaviours usually from the same person who is certain they will win £36m on the lottery every week. One foot in the light and one in the dark — lagom — just the right amount of both.

Conversations through Crisis

Mark Shayler and me talking about the impact of being self-employed or a micro-business during the current COVID-19 pandemic. What we are doing, how we are doing it and exploring each week what changes for us. How we might help you as individuals and businesses through this time. Oh and a massive amount of love, Qigong, laughter. Enjoy!

#selfemployed #microbusiness #support #coaching #beingpresent #mindfulbusiness #connection #be #love #chickens #bees #positivepsychology #relationships #extrovert #resilience