Defining yourself as Male/Female, Black/White?

Defining yourself gender equality

I was at an event this past weekend and, as I usually do, wandered around the room speaking to various people afterwards.  With one particular person I asked one of my normal questions; “what is your biggest business challenge at the moment?” to which the reply I got back was “I am a woman and I’m black”.  Defining yourself in this way is surely not a “challenge”, not in the 21st century or am I being naïve?

I was surprised by my reaction.  The first was to feel a slight physical tremor of shock.  The second was to be rather taken aback.  Surely, this could not still be a problem in this day and age…could it?  It gave me pause for thought.

Defining yourself by your interactions.

Defining Yourself Black Businesswoman

Maybe I’m strange, however, when I walk into a room of people my brain doesn’t cast around determining who is male or female.  Nor does it register whether they be white, pink, brown, black or purple.  I walk into a room of fellow human beings for whom I have the utmost respect and wish to interact with as I trust they will return me the same favour. At a network event it is more usual to be defining yourself by position in the company and what it is you can offer or are looking for.

I don’t even stop to think that I am a woman or that my skin is a brown colour as that has no bearing on what I can do.  I certainly do not consider them as obstacles to what I am aiming to achieve.  I suppose, most importantly, I am conscious of who I am as a person and I am certain as to what I know and can contribute in a given situation.  If I am there to advise and relate that is what I do, if I am there to learn that is what I seek and if I am there to listen then I will give the person speaking my attention.

Defining yourself by gender- limiting or liberating?

Of course, once talking to someone a person’s physical attributes and the name they give will have a bearing on how I will remember them in the future however I meet a great many people and have found that men can have feminine characteristics just as women can have masculine. And once again ethnicity has no bearing whatsoever.

The lady in question I was talking with at the event works in the financial services sector which I’ll admit does still seem to be predominately male orientated.  It was particularly so when I worked in it back in the 80’s and 90’s but I’ve seen more and more women in the companies I now work with and, or so I thought, they appear to have reached the more senior, upper roles and beyond.

Defining yourself businesswomanCould it be that I am mistaken?  Is it possible that women still feel held back by their gender? And surely ethnicity no longer has any bearing? Many women I know celebrate their gender and see it as an asset, yet clearly there are still too many defining themselves negatively as women.

These are questions I am going to take to heart and look for answers.  I am hopeful that as I look I will be encouraged that it is no longer the case, but should I find that it is, then that is definitely an area that will need disrupting. If you see your gender and/or race as a challenge, then maybe it is time for you and us to change the narrative and stop defining yourself and ourselves in these limiting ways?

Think differently – is trauma the only way or can we learn to shift our way of thinking?

Think Differently

I’ve been ruminating recently about why I appear to see things and think differently compared to so many others.  People are continually coming up to me saying “I hadn’t thought to look at it like that”, “that’s an idea I hadn’t thought of”, “I found what you said inspiring” and yet, to me, I’ve only uttered what seemed logical in the circumstances.

Why the difference?  Is it possible to distil what it is and perhaps use it? Is the ability to think differently something that could be taught/learnt?

My ruminations have led me down this track though, I hasten to add, I haven’t yet formed a definitive conclusion nor say I’m right and I’m aware I am generalising – it’s just food for thought:

To think differently is to break the rules

When we pop out of the womb we are thrown into a world that is defined by a set of rules that others have come up with.  We (and our parents) are told how children should be brought up.  We are told that the education systems that are in place are the correct way to learn.  Our working world is primarily defined by set out rules applicable to each industry and to get on we must abide by these rules in order to progress.

‘Normal’ is to behave in a certain way, grow up, get a job, find a partner, get married, have children to perpetuate the cycle, move up the housing ladder, get promoted at work, stay healthy by a predefined definition of healthy, grow old, die and, basically do nothing that rocks the ‘normal’ boat. If you think differently you are not “normal”.

We are subconsciously taught not to question, not to challenge, not to over-reach our position in society whilst at the same time being told hypocritically ‘you can achieve anything you set your mind to’ while not actively being encouraged to do so. [I concede that there are people who naturally and successfully flout this]. To think differently does require change and often change is painful.

Then, out of the blue, for some of us, our lives, our very existence on earth are threatened with early termination. It seems that at this life/death point clarity strikes.

Think Differently Life or Death

At the second or the minutes when you believe you are going to die, all the rules, experiences, problems and worries we are conditioned to accept as part of our lives disappear. Everything seems to snap into focus.  You are no longer concerned, stressed or worried by anything that was occurring before this precise point.  You don’t think about a future or even if there might be one.  All of your senses and neural activity are consumed by only that point of ending – your breath or struggle for breath, the light or darkness, the pain or lack of pain, the acceptance that this is your lot.

And then, by some miracle, you survive.  You don’t die and there is going to be a future for you.

Freedom to think differently

However, and this is the crux, that feeling of clarity and being set free from ‘normal’ never leaves you.  Whatever trials and tribulations you face afterwards your mental state is more creative and inventive than before because it wants to recapture that clarity.  You question more, you explore more, you test things out irrespective of whether it will work or not.  You want to get back to that simpler, clearer, less complex existence – just without the pain or death part. You almost have no choice but to think differently.

And can you teach or learn this without having to go through the facing death experience?  I believe you can.  There are enough people, like myself, who have been through it and are still around to tell the tale.  Some will recount what happened to them and leave you to construct your own take away and some, again like myself, try to tease out new skills and new ways of thinking from our experiences and hand them over to others.

Choose to think differently

What you then do with them is completely up to you however, surely, the ideal is to be able to get to “I am looking at things differently”, “I had thought of that” and “I am inspiring myself”.

Sri Lanka, Tea from Leaf to Laser

The next morning, I was disappointed that the monkeys did not make an appearance before I had to head off for the day.  I had to content myself with watching a family of Palm squirrels show off their acrobatic skills leaping from tree to tree with fast and furious abandon.

Lucien had suggested I visit a tea processing factory today which, when I thought about it, I realised I knew nothing about how the leaves get from the plant into the teabag I happily plonk into my mug back at home.  ‘OK’ I agreed ‘provided I see the process from start to finish’.  They are very proud of their Sri Lanka tea and as a happy tea drinker it seemed a good idea to see the process. Procuring a tuk-tuk for the day we rattled off back down the dirt track with me hugging my cracked rib at every bump and pothole.

Arriving at the Pallegama Sri Lanka tea processing plant I was to realise it was a far more complicated process than I could have imagined. Sri Lanka takes its tea very seriously and the quality must be top notch as it is exported all over the world and they have a reputation to uphold – think Ceylon Tea of yesteryear.  So here it is for you:

Sri Lanka Tea Processing

Stage 1 : Withering

The leaves are brought in and spread out on mesh frames which then have hot air blasted through them to wither the leaves.

Stage 2: Rolling

The withered leaves are then passed down by a chuteto the huge roller machine below where they are ground for 20 minutes and emerge crushed smaller.

Stage 3 : Shaking

The leaves are now passed along a shaking conveyor belt with holes in it. What passes through the holes is put into piles for any water to drain away and are small enough to jump to stage 5.

Stage 4 : More Shaking

Anything that doesn’t pass stage 3 gets put under another roller (roller 2) and this process is repeated with differing rollers up to 5 times. Anything left after this is discarded

Stage 5 :

The ground leaves that have made it through now get heated and dried.  I checked the temperature and got shown the furnace that generates the heat – it was 252c and the guys were working in and around this with only electric fans to keep them cool!

Stage 6 :

The now dried leaves pass over static electric rollers to get rid of any chaff

 

Stage 7 :

The girls start to grade the quality of the processed leaves via a series of different size sieving benches.  Apparently different countries prefer different grades.  We in the UK like medium grade B, grade A is almost exclusively drunk by the Russians (who knew!).

Stage 8 :

Everyone was very excited about this machine.  It is a multi-laser camera thing that can scan the leaves checking their grade and ejecting any inferior ones before the end product is then bagged up ready to be sent to the trader’s floor in Colombo for sale. Sri Lanka tea commands a good price as it is such high quality.

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I watched the entire process and happened to mention how quaint it all looked.  Oops, apparently everything was state of the art and up to the minute technology – OK I got that with the laser camera machine but hadn’t realised about the rest.  The owner explained that sometimes the traditional ways produce the best results in terms of flavour and quality.  I like that, if you can’t improve things then don’t try re-inventing the wheel.

Sri Lanka Tea Plantation

Climbing back into the tuk-tuk we then sped off several kilometres to a Sri Lanka tea plantation owned by the government.  The countryside scenery on our way was breath taking and as we climbed higher and higher it got more so.  After about an hour we reached the top of the final hill and I was confronted by a dilapidated building that used to be the UK superintendents place in colonial days.

We were met by the assistant to the now Sri Lankan governor, Mira, resplendent in white shirt, white shorts, knee length white socks and trainers.  “The road would have been a lot better during British days” he chortled while organising cups of steaming tea to be brought out to us.  Knowing how our roads are these days I didn’t wish to disabuse him of such a notion.  He oversees the 57 hectares of government plantation spread out on the seemingly vertical hillsides. Jabbering into 2 phone handsets at the same time he then rattled us off back down the dirt track we had just come up to meet up with some of his pickers returning from their lunch break.

Having met the team of all female pickers (men do pick but according to Mira they are not as quick or efficient as the women) we clambered into one of the fields of tea bushes.  The women donned their bags which were secured to the tops of their heads by a strap and began to pluck extremely quickly.  They use their wooden sticks to lay across the top of the bushes, the young leaves above this level are the best to pick for flavour whilst preserving the rest of the bush.  Once their hands are full of leaves they deftly chuck them over their heads and into the bag.

One of the ladies invited me into the field and I duly obliged.  Gingerly climbing down the slope a little way (how they do this in flip flops is anyone’s guess) they attached a bag to my head and I gamely tried to pluck the leaves the way they showed me. Being inept at the task I think I massacred poor Mira’s plants rather than cosseted them. When I was clutching a few bunches of leaves I imitated the way they throw them into their bags and missed by miles! Amid much laughing from both the women and the men stood above us watching I kept on trying but if anything just proved that I am not cut out to be a Sri Lanka tea picker.

Having spent much of the day watching how tea gets to our shores we stopped off on the way back to enjoy a cup of the stuff with a snack of samosa’s.  Egg and potato not a combination I had tried before but very nice. And while I remember, when driving along you will see hundreds of signs saying ‘hotel’ on them with no accommodation in sight.  ‘Hotel’ in Sri Lanka is often applied to places where you can stop and get some refreshment rather than being a place to stay and sleep.

Sri Lanka advice to women travelling alone

There is a point I feel I must include if you are a woman travelling alone in Sri Lanka. I have felt entirely safe and secure at all points and with all the men I have met so far on my travels.  However, the manager at The Weir House did make me feel uncomfortable.  Don’t get me wrong he is entirely kind and helpful to an extreme degree however he does have some mannerisms (probably totally unconsciously done) that can be little trying.  Think back to the 1980’s and the leery boss or uncle who talked to your chest rather than your face and you’ll catch my drift. In the UK we would not have to tolerate such behaviour any longer, but this is a different country and when travelling solo you must be careful how you handle such situations.  I used my mettle and avoided putting myself in situations, (or changing the subject if the conversation was getting too personal), which could be misconstrued by him. This in no way diminished my enjoyment of the experiences in Ulapane. However, I will relax more once I have left for my next stop.

Tomorrow I head off for the second largest city on this island, historical Kandy.

If you have missed any of my adventures in Sri Lanka you can find my previous articles here:

Arriving in Sri Lanka

Perseverance and bruises

Finding answers – within yourself

Sri Lanka Travel tips

Goal Setting – Your big shiny goal

Dream Big

Following on from my previous articles; find your purpose and self assessment – the 1st step, you now have a pretty clear picture of who and where you are right now so what is the next step on the road to finding your purpose? I personally found this to be the fun part when I was finding my own. Yes, goal setting should be fun!

Decide what you would like to aim for – this is goal setting on a grand scale, – the bigger the better. In fact, it should be huge and almost idealistic as this is going to become your ultimate goal.

Because of the position I was in after the rail crash, i.e. had nothing/was doing nothing the world was my oyster.  The limiters were off and I could let my imagination run riot.

This is what you need to do – take the brakes off your thinking and list down all the things that, how can I put it, turn you on.

Goal setting writ large

Forget the past, the present and the short term.  Imagine the perfect position and place you would like to be at when you die.  For now, don’t worry what is achievable or not, or how you are going to get there.  Aim for what your big shiny goal might look like as if you were already there.

Write a list.  Write down everything that you enjoy doing or being and, if nothing stood in your way, you would like to expand and build upon to turn it into your ideal future.

If you want to be a lion tamer write it down, if you want to become an astronaut write it down, if you prefer quieter pursuits like planting gardens write that down.  It doesn’t need to be titles, sometimes it will be things (as in my case) you would like to achieve or it may be aspirations. It can come from hobbies you really enjoy, it might come from an experience you had on a dream holiday once, it might be wanting to become like someone you admire. Write anything and everything that pops into your head and you think ‘ooh yes I like the sound of that’. Don’t worry if the list gets really long (as mine did) you’ll be honing things down shortly.

Here are just a few of mine to give you an idea:

And so many more…..

Once you are happy you have your list stand back again and look at it.  As you read each line and statement mull over what they are actually saying and highlight the ones that make your gut lurch with excitement.  If none of them do then you haven’t dug deep enough into your psyche – go away, clear your head and start again.

Goal setting- refining your big ideas

Following your sense of excitement as you read you should be able to take your highlighted options and put them into a shorter list.

Clear you head and emotions again and then consider each of the remaining statements.  Try to boil down what they are saying into one word or a short pithy expression. Once you have these words play around with them until they form into a title.  It doesn’t matter if you have never heard of the title you have come up with – know that you have just named your big shiny ultimate, goal.

The reason for the title is so that you can easily remember it moving forward. It should conjure up all the statements you shortlisted and decided to bring forward every time you repeat the title to yourself. This crystalizes your goal setting into something you can say succinctly.

In my case I was left with statements which when I boiled them down the short words that kept on occurring were ‘change’, ‘disruption’, ‘expert’ and ‘speaker’. From these I was then able to give my ideal, shiny goal a name: The Change and Disruption Expert.

The idea of speaking, although for some scary, was exciting to me, but it was more than simply becoming a professional public speaker. My big shiny goal was I wanted to have an impact on others, to disrupt conventional ways of thinking, change situations for the better, and not in a timid or small way. Having lived and breathed my way successfully through almost unimaginable changes and disruption I felt entitled to term myself an expert as I’ve actually walked the walk.

When you embark on this kind of goal setting, you are aiming for feelings, thoughts and ideas that excite you, motivate you, and align with your core purpose…they will help you to define and refine that purpose.

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The Starting Point to Finding Purpose – Self-assessment

Who Are You

Last week I wrote about how, to achieve your goals, you have to know what your purpose is.  I promised to show you the steps to do this so here is the first step: you have to truly understand who you are and where you are now.

The hard bit I found was to a) be completely, brutally honest and b) cut out any materialistic objectives and c) ignore my emotions but this is key to succeeding in finding your purpose.

The best way is to concentrate on the intangibles that will make us truly happy.  What meaning do you want your life to have had when you die?

Self-assessment needs to be objective

Get a large piece of blank paper (or whiteboard) and then look at yourself and the position you are in right at this moment. Stand back and look at your entire life and position now as a stranger might who didn’t know you and was only given the facts.  Stop yourself projecting forward to what you want and concentrate on the here and now.

Now list out, in the form of a pros and cons list, what you have.  Start off with the material things you already possess and the material things that are a burden e.g. nice house v large mortgage.  Keep going and list everything. It is entirely up to you how long and detailed this list is; but a good idea is to start with the material items you feel you could not live without, and/or that make you happy.

Then move on to the skills you have v the skills you know you do not have.   Then your good points/qualities and your bad points/qualities (park your ego and be honest). I found one of the best ways to be honest about my good and bad qualities was to ask my close friends what they thought they were – you don’t have to accept what they say but it can be quite enlightening!

Keep going with your list and include anything such as disabilities, medical conditions or physical/mental constraints etc. Next move on to your achievements v opportunities you know that you have missed out on.  Then add your beliefs (good and bad) and principles you hold dear currently and finally list anyone you think has what you think you want or think you deserve.  No-one is going to see this apart from you so go on and add the people you can admit you are jealous of.

Reviewing your list for accurate self- assessment

Once you have finished listing everything you can think of about yourself in ‘+’ and ‘-‘ columns (I used a flipchart and it ran into 4 pages!) stand back and re-look at the list you have created.  I walked away when I completed my list and did the next bit a few days later as I found it gave me fresh perspective and, quite frankly, when I went back I was appalled at some of my ‘-‘ comments but took heart in my ‘+’ notes.

I strongly advise leaving this list for at least a few hours before reviewing it. Whenever we spend any time in self-assessment it is coloured by recent events and emotions, however objective we try to be. Walking away and returning another day, with a different mindset helps you be far more objective at the second look.

Have a long hard, unemotional, rational and impartial look your lists and ask WHY for each point.  Ask ‘why’ about everything – search for the reason behind everything you have got, done, think and believe for each aspect of your life now. Your present state is the result of your journey to date. Questioning everything that exists right now gives you an insight into what was important to you before the present moment.

From your why question you will understand the reason behind how you have acted and behaved in the past which is when you will truly understand yourself as a person.  It doesn’t mean that you must accept this is the person you are and always will be but self-realisation is a momentous step to then determining your future.

This stage of finding your purpose is needed, before you can decide your future direction. Self-assessment and understanding past motivations helps you formulate a plan for moving forward.

You will also find that this exercise will awaken some clarity around what you really desire so you have meaning moving forward. It can also be a shock to realise that much of what you have in the positive column is meaningless in the big scheme of things. However, when you do this self-assessment don’t get down on yourself about the negative column. Skills can be learned, and self-improvement is a healthy response to areas you feel are negative. The whole point of this is to determine who you are and a good part of who you want to be.

I cover the next step to finding purpose in “Brainstorming your life”.

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How Can You Reach Your Goal If You Don’t Know Your Purpose

Courage

If you are feeling stuck in a rut, feeling unfulfilled, are jealous of other’s successes, or are simply frustrated that you are not further along to where you think you should be then read on.

I wrote a little while back about humans needing a purpose:

What I didn’t realise until recently is that not everyone knows that until you have worked out Your Purpose, your ultimate goal will remain unachievable or to put it another way – you won’t understand what your ultimate goal is until you have worked out your purpose.

I recently reviewed my delegate forms from various talks and workshops I have given in the past 12 months.  They spanned many industries and ranged from the lowest echelons to the highest.  One of the specific questions I asked on these forms was ‘what is your purpose in life?’.

Common denominators were answers such as ‘making lots of money/profit’, ‘not having to work’, ‘having a big house/a flash car’ to ‘being famous’ and variants along similar lines as these.

This is not having a Purpose. At best these are materialistic, myopic goals which are completely different to purpose.

If they are accomplished that just leaves a void as to what is next.  It is part of the human DNA to have something to strive for so once we have got to one of our short-term goals we’ll automatically be looking for the next.

In any case without purpose these short-term goals will more than likely remain unfulfilled unless these people accidentally stumble across their purpose without realising that is what they have found. But you don’t want to hope that you might stumble across a purpose. You want to have it now, change things for the better and achieve your ultimate goal.

Why Bother with Your Purpose?

Because once you have worked out your purpose the path towards your ultimate goal becomes much clearer and easier to achieve.  It does require a bit of work to accomplish at the beginning but once you have it things start to fall into place and move you along inextricably towards your big shiny goal.

10 years after the train crash I had recovered enough to take stock and wonder what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  In a way, I was lucky in that the crash had ripped away most of my previous life and effectively dumped it in the dustbin.  This left me with a blank sheet of paper on which to start planning and I took advantage of this position.  However, you don’t have to trash your entire life to work out your purpose.  All it takes is the will and desire to want to change things, honesty and a little bit of time.

And the great news is that it not only works for our professional lives, it also works on a personal level as the two are linked.  It also works if you are a business rather than an individual if you look at your company as an entity in its own right.

How do You find out What Your Purpose is?

This is where the hard work begins but I promise you that it is worth it.

Purpose starts from within ourselves.  Who are we, what are we, what do we want in terms of things such as contentment, love, harmony, and what we avoid because it might be difficult. Once you have defined Your Purpose this gives you the starting point to make the changes you need to obtain your ultimate goal.

The only thing you need to devote to finding Your Purpose is time and some soul searching.  This is not a quick fix process.  The thinking, reviewing and deciding does require you to dig deep within yourself and you can’t just dash through that in an afternoon or, if you do, the end result will simply not work.

What I am going to do is break things down in the next few articles to give you the tools.  I’ll detail how my thought processes went, what actions to take, the position you need to get to and you’ll be able to use it to begin to create your own new and exciting future.

Back to Work – Post Holiday Planning

Back to Work

Are you ready to get back to work?

I’ve often mused over the saying ‘the older you get the faster time goes’ as it does seem to generally hold true but I think I would now change it to ‘the older you get the faster change happens’.

It only seems like yesterday that it was New Year and new planning was being done for the coming months.  Those months seemed to stretch inexorably ahead and there seemed to be plenty of time to get everything done. After the holiday season, you and your clients are back to work and occasionally it can take some time to get back in the swing of things.

And then, in a flash, the end of the year is looming.  Certain plans made earlier are taking longer to come to fruition or have hit delaying obstacles if they haven’t withered and died along the way.  It won’t be long before another new year begins and progress assessment so far is not as bright as may have been hoped for.

At this stage a number of feelings can occur.  Frustration, exhaustion, general malaise, worry and even panic.

Don’t stress over getting back to work

I have written in the past about how plans must come with continual re-assessment and change of tack when necessary.  If you have been doing so then the situation I describe above should not happen as you will have been keeping pace with the ever changing scenarios and be ahead of the game.

However, if you have not been vigilant and flexible beforehand that the state I allude to may well be foremost in your mind. 

However, even if you are the latter there is no need for knee-jerk reactions or headless chicken antics.  The important thing is to concentrate on the NOW.

Use now, whenever that may be, to re-assess, re-group, re-plan, change direction.  The WHEN is not the important part the continual evolution and progress is if you still want to hit your goals.

Hopefully you will have recharged over the holiday period and learned some stress busting techniques. If you feel anxious about getting back to work after your break, then your first step is to take some deep breaths.

Your next step is to invest some time in reviewing your plans. This is worthwhile, because things will have changed, whether expected or unexpected.

Moving forwards after getting back to work

  • Be ruthless, you have three months left until Christmas. What is worth keeping from your plans, what should you junk?
  • Be realistic– some of your plans need more time to implement- don’t stress over these, put a note next to them to revisit in January.
  • Be rational. What can you truly get done in the time you have and what will give you the best return? I am a believer in dreams; implementing strategies that fulfil your true purpose, but I also know that bills must be paid! Be aware that for many industries January can be a quiet and unprofitable month. You need to maximise this quarter’s revenue to tide you over.

Don’t forget to connect. Your clients may also be feeling the stress of getting back to work and would welcome some clear advice from you. If you have gently kept in touch over the summer break, now is the time to capitalise on that relationship. Remind them of your discussion, help them clarify their own goals and you should find that you become top of mind when they need to implement their own changes.

Getting back to work after a holiday need not be difficult if you employ some stress reduction and keep a clarity of purpose.

If your holiday has thrown up some issues about what you are doing with your life (this often happens) don’t make any hasty decisions, allow those thoughts to simmer. Sometimes we need a break to get perspective, but holiday dreams can wither in the harsh reality of Winter. If you know that change is needed- then apply your planning techniques to that change and if possible, test out a few of those holiday ideas. Any major change needs planning and if you can focus on what is needed for success this quarter you can create time for consideration of future, significant change.

Maintaining communication – keeping the connection

Keeping Open the Lines of Communication- maintaining communication is important

Most industries have a lull during their trading year.  There is almost always a month where not much is going on in sales or where the closure rate is no longer as imperative as it was in the other months. You may be making fewer sales calls but maintaining communication is still important.

Maybe a lot of your clients are on holiday and your business is not holiday related. Maybe you have taken a break too, come back, and found that customers are still quiet- saving up their spend for the next quarter.

Don’t consider this month as a fallow month.  It is an opportunity to get things done that have been left in abeyance such as clearing out, destroying old papers, re-organising systems, researching potential developments, implementing test projects in preparation of the busier times to follow.

You may have had a stressful year to date- so also take the time to reflect, consider how to buffer yourself against potential stress as things hot up again.

Another crucial factor to remember during this period is your connections.  This quieter period is an ideal time to foster those relations further.

I just called to say…hello- maintaining communication

Take the time to make a call just for a general discussion.  Attend more networking meetings to encourage new connections and how about going out for lunch with your most important connections? Maintaining communication without pressing for a deal may open up new possibilities.

Remember, at the end of the day, people will do business with you because they LIKE you. Give them the opportunity of having your personal connection and time devoted to them.

Caveat: Don’t use this quieter period as an excuse to take your foot of the accelerator – just be a little gentler with your revving. If you disconnect too much from work it can be hard to get back into the swing of things. The idea is to balance some work “housekeeping” with maintaining lines of communication with clients, potential clients and maybe potential joint ventures. You may find that busy person, impossible to get hold of usually, is available during the holiday season as they too take this time to reflect and regroup. Build the holiday season into your planning and use it as a useful review period to ensure you end the year on a positive note.

The Return Deadline

Come September people are going to be flooding back into the office.  Children will return to school, parents will have more time to concentrate back at work without the holiday distractions and suddenly the impetus will start climbing as things gather a new urgency with business managers keeping a wary eye on the approaching festive season and financial year end deadlines.

Because of the creative and useful time maintaining communication that you have spent in the preceding month you are going to be ready to take full advantage.

You will already know what targets to hit. You will have your strategies lined up with the assets ready to be sent out.  As the auto-replies come off email communications you will be one step ahead as cohesive, helpful suggestions with calls to action messages get distributed.

Take advantage of the few days or weeks that others will need to get back into the swing of things and progress your cause. Hopefully during this lull, you will have also recharged your batteries- learned some stress busting techniques  to get you through the coming hectic period.

 

 

Stress Busting Techniques

We’ve all heard doctors, the media and various medical reports stating how beneficial exercise is good for beating stress but did you realise that it needn’t always be sweating away in a gym, lifting weights or pounding away at a treadmill knowing your body is so going to hurt the next day?

There are great alternatives which also have a soothing effect on your body and soul.

Gentler stress busting…you don’t have to feel the burn

Yoga: There are 7 main types of Yoga (not including the hot, sweaty one where I hate to think about the germs being bred everywhere) and Yoga has been practised for over 5,000 years. 

Hatha yoga: is one where you stretch into positions and hold them and is gentle on joints. I took up Hatha yoga 12 years ago primarily to help strengthen my now damaged joints (I fall over a lot) and have been amazed at how beneficial it has been.

Not only has it helped my joints but it does tone you at the same time. The stretches discover muscles you had forgotten you had and forces them to remember where they should be and how to act – a great antidote to tight shoulders, computer neck, and painful lower backs.

While you are doing it your mind slows down as it concentrates on the pose you are in.  Stress and worry evaporate and a feeling of calmness overtakes you which I wish you could bottle and take away from the class.

Meditation: Don’t groan.  Meditation or practising mindfulness really does calm everything down.  Your heart rate slows, your blood flow increases and thoughts are turned inward forgetting about problems and stress for a while.

It can be a little ‘grrr’ getting into the ‘zone’ but using an app (I use https://www.headspace.com/) which guides you through the process helps.  It also doesn’t have to be for hours like a Bhuddist monk, 10 minutes can be enough.

I have found that I come out of meditation feeling much more energetic and my mind is crystal sharp which helps me whizz through work problems with ease.

Massage: Apart from the obvious benefits of a professional manipulating your aching shoulder muscles, back, legs etc it increases blood flow around your body, muscles and into your brain.  It helps unblock lymphs and pores which in turn helps with circulation and, my favourite bit, it is sooo relaxing I often fall asleep so am not thinking about anything!

Other stress busting suggestions

Water: Some people find they must get sweaty to release stress toxins- so if you are that type then your stress busting technique may be more rigorous. However, to protect your body- I suggest something like swimming- it is great for stamina, strength and suppleness and if you do it first thing in the morning it can set you up for the day. Alternatively- harness the power of water with a good old-fashioned bath, plus essential oils. Showers are great for kickstarting your day, but a relaxing bath at night time can help you sleep.

Don’t forget to please your brain too- with an interesting hobby that is non work related.

Non-physical stress busting

Music: Sometimes you are almost too stressed to consider doing anything physical. This is where I find music can help. Not loud rock stuff- though that is good for getting anger out- but calming, gentle music, literally forcing your brain to slow down.

Music is very smart- it matches or interrupts brain patterns. I’m not talking about background music- that can help motivate you through household chores, or block out other noise. I’m suggesting that when everything seems overwhelming that you take yourself off to a darkened space, put some soothing music on and close your eyes to listen. Just ten minutes of this will slow your heart rate and give you a breathing space. This is especially good when you feel too tense to relax even though you know you are exhausted and ought to sleep.

Stress busting should suit you

These are a few of the things I have found have helped me but we are all different.  Try anything and everything at least once.  If you find you like it and notice a benefit then keep it up, if not then no-one is forcing you to do it (e.g. I did not get on with acupuncture at all!) so give it up and move on to something else. 

You owe it to your overall wellbeing to find ways that work to help you relax. Stress is not some imaginary concept, it is real and it threatens your health. Think of it as part of your routine, like brushing your teeth. If you do some form of relaxation regularly it maintains your health and reduces your chances of stress related illness. I’d love to hear your favourite stress busting techniques- leave a comment below and feel free to share your suggestions.

 

Beating Stress & Having Fun; Hobbies & Interests

The importance of hobbies and interests in beating stress

Most of us pride ourselves on working so hard and effectively that we find we don’t have time to indulge our interests outside of work.  What we forget is that these outside interests may well make us more productive inside. Not only that- research shows that people who have hobbies and interests are far more effective at beating stress when it strikes.

When was the last time you took a whole day to read a book?  When you go on holiday do you put your phone/tablet away and leave work things until your return? Do you have periods where you switch off from work entirely? Most important of all what do you do for FUN?

Having fun and beating stress

I am as bad as the next person. I haven’t had a proper holiday now for 4 years and have a stack of books I have been meaning to read by my bedside.  However, this is somewhat offset by the fact that I travel for my speaking events and take a few days either before or after to explore where I am or lounge around near a beach.  I also started a rule some time ago that on Sunday’s (unless imperative) I will not turn on my pc or look at my tablet which has freed up my time to stick my nose in a book and lose myself for a few hours.

Explore what you might enjoy.  It might be going to the gym (yuk), it might be roaming the countryside and having a picnic, it might be taking up a new hobby (I’ve just taken up archaeology and am loving it).  It could be anything just make sure it is not work related and makes you smile and relax.

The beauty of a hobby is that you can switch off from work demands and literally, “go somewhere else”. When you are absorbed in an activity your brain can focus on that activity alone and the other concerns literally get filed away. This is like a holiday for your brain and all those neurons that over fire during anxiety can rest.

A side benefit of having a hobby or interest is not just beating stress but warding off disease.

Research has suggested that combining good nutrition with mental, social and physical activities may have a greater benefit in maintaining or improving brain health than any single activity.

http://www.alz.org/brain-health/brain_health_overview.asp

Stress is bad for your brain health and as you get older you may find yourself becoming forgetful or unable to focus. By giving your brain a break from the demands of your workload, you improve its cognitive ability and this can be helpful in not just beating stress overload but also in warding off diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Making time for hobbies and beating stress is possible

And if you are still saying “I don’t have enough time” – yes you do. In a week, there are 168 hours of which you sleep 56 and 40 are normal business hours – that still leaves you 72 hours per week to do something else if you want to.

It does take planning and commitment and sometimes the best way to do this is to schedule your downtime. If your calendar looks full, find a slot each day/week that you block off just for “you time”.

Plan breaks between periods of activity to allow the business of the day to filter down to your subconscious (where lots of ideas and solutions lurk). I find that walking away from a problem for a while often helps a solution to present itself. So, engaging in a hobby for an hour- or just doing a crossword, reading a chapter of a book etc. allows your brain to rest and think through a problem in your subconscious while your conscious brain is having fun.

If you are a workaholic- you will find that after a while you become less effective. It is not “heroic” to keep pushing yourself through this- it is counter-productive. Beating stress is not an option- it can severely compromise your ability to function. So, do yourself a favour, step back, take some time out and when you return to your work you will be refreshed and more effective.