6 hacks to handle Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is something that I’ve suffered from most of my life—and I thought I was the only one.

After 15 years working with people in personal development and then running my own training and coaching business, it transpires that many others feel exactly the same.

I spent most of my career doubting my abilities, and getting promotions didn’t seem to help. I still felt like an imposter who’d be found out one day. The reality was I was good at my job and even bigger jobs as the promotions came—but each new job would raise the same fear: I’m not sure I can do this.

The same voice also told me I’d never be a writer. Who would read it apart from my mum? You’re not good enough, you’re not qualified, you can’t spell, and you don’t even have a degree.

It’s called imposter syndrome, and it’s a lot more common than we think. I thought it was only me, but every woman I speak to who confesses they feel it too also believes she is the only one! According to the Journal of Behavioural Science, 70 percent of people suffer from imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” It’s that voice of self-doubt that, despite our successes, keeps us feeling like we might fail, we might not be good enough, and we might get found out.

Those with imposter syndrome have a tendency to attribute their success to external factors—like luck, or the work of the team. It takes courage to take on challenges and pursue dreams that leave you open to the risk of failure, falling short, losing face, and being “found out.”

So what can we do about it?

It’s something I’ve learned to handle and to live alongside because it’s always there. Sadly, it’s not something we can easily overcome—but we can learn to navigate through and succeed in spite of it. Here’s how:

1. Own your successes.

You didn’t get lucky by chance. We tend to be modest when it comes to our achievements, and have been brought up not to boast about our strengths. We feel uncomfortable accepting praise and our negativity bias in our brain means we’re wired not to think of the positives so much.

I’ve found that keeping an achievement journal helps. I also have a folder on my computer where I file messages of praise and feedback to look back on when I’m having those moments of doubt. Remembering positive feedback from colleagues and friends helps too, as it often carries more weight than when we praise ourselves.

The most important thing to remember is that if we’re getting praise or positive feedback, it’s because we’ve earned it and deserve it. Own it and let it help counter some of those moments of self-doubt.

In fact, let’s start now: write down your top three strengths. Why do people come to you, what do your colleagues at work value in you, and what do people tell you you’re good at?

2. Give it your all and know it’s enough.

Sometimes our imposter syndrome is due to our fear of failure and our perfectionism manifesting all at once to give us this fear of not being good enough. We fail to meet our own unrealistic ideals of perfection—either in the way we look, our abilities in life, or our achievements at work. Perfectionism so often sets us up to fail and feeds these feelings of self-doubt.

Overcoming the imposter syndrome requires self-acceptance: you don’t have to attain perfection to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved. It’s not about lowering the bar, it’s about resetting it to a realistic level. You don’t have to be Einstein to be a valuable asset or worthy of love. Nor do you have to attain perfection to share something with the world.

3. Don’t let your doubt and fear stop you.

We need to continue to take risks and challenges even though we might not think we’re ready—especially women. Too often, we stand back and let the opportunities pass us by because we doubt our capabilities. The best way to see if you’re ready is to dive in and take on the challenge!

There will always be a feeling of fear and the risk of failure—we grow and develop by facing these fears and getting outside of our comfort zone. Don’t let your worries hold you back. I’d often use the “fake it till you make it” technique to overcome these feelings of fear and doubt when I took on new challenges. I’d act and dress confidently so I at least looked the part, and took comfort in the fact no one else could see what was going on in my head.

4. Remember: your thoughts are not common knowledge.

I know how it feels to be gripped by imposter syndrome—we spend all our energy trying to prove our worth to everyone else to make it go away. The funny thing is, only we believe that we’re not capable. For example, we wouldn’t have been offered the job if people didn’t think we were capable. The only person we need to prove anything to is ourselves.

5. Acknowledge it and know it’s not just you.

We need to be mindful that the voice in our head is often swayed. We are wired to see the glass as half empty, to focus on the negative. This comes from evolutionary times when it was helpful for us to always see the worst that could happen in order to survive. In the days of cavemen and women, it was useful for us to be wary of a saber-toothed tiger around the corner because then we’d be prepared to run.

What this can translate to in our modern world is a constant focus on what we’re not good at, things that went wrong, and why we’re not enough—in our jobs, how we look compared to our friends, who we are as a person, or what we’ve achieved in life.

This negativity bias can leave us feeling like we’ll never be good enough. So to counter the bias, we need to focus on what we have, not what we haven’t, to direct our energy toward the things we’re good at rather than on what might go wrong and where we might fail.

Know that it’s not something we experience alone. Some of the most successful people I know who seem to have mastered life admit that underneath, they feel the opposite some days. Even famous people earning millions and excelling at what they do admit to having moments of self-doubt.

6. Stop comparing yourself to others.

It’s the fastest way to feel inferior and feed our self-doubt. Unfortunately there will always be someone more beautiful, clever, talented, or stronger than you. But the reverse is also true: at times, you will be the most talented and successful. So instead of comparing yourself to others, look to see if you’re fulfilling your own potential and celebrate the things you have.

We are all capable of more than we know, and we can do amazing things if we’re not busy doubting our abilities. Next time that negative voice in your head starts to speak, turn down the volume.

What matters most is not whether we fear failing, looking foolish, or not being enough; it’s whether we give those fears the power to keep us from taking the actions needed to achieve our goals.

Detox Lessons

As my 10 day detox draws to a close I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned and how I might take some lessons forward to make sustainable tweaks to the way I live.  To keep it going but in a more moderated way, some middle ground – both with food and technology!

The detox has been like pressing pause and a kick start for healthier habits but beyond this it’s made me so much more aware.

It wasn’t as hard as I’d imagined and at times I found myself actually enjoying it – and other times I’d wish I’d never thought of the idea!  Particularly the first few days before the headaches wore off and my body ached liked I was getting the flu – apparently though this was just the toxins working their way out.

Admittedly there’s been a few breaks in the 10 day detox, a treat cup of tea with milk – the caffeine high lasted all morning and left my feeling like I was a bit drunk!  And a couple of healthy meals when I needed that extra boost.  But the strange thing is despite thinking about pizza so often I don’t actually want any.  My cravings now are for the simple things I missed; a cup of tea with milk, a piece of cheese on a cracker, toast with butter!  It seems the more healthily we eat the less junk food we crave and I suppose the reverse is also true.  That’s why it’s so easy to get stuck in unhealthy cycles.  That’s been my main lesson from this experiment – the power of habits and our ability to form new habits, press reset.

So I’ve lost a few kilos but that’s just a bonus in terms of the real benefits, the way I feel – which is somehow just brighter and lighter, how my body functions and the lessons I’ve learned.  So what have I learned and what might I do differently now?

To create some healthier habits around my device, not having it in the bedroom so it doesn’t become the last thing I do at night and the first thing I reach for in the morning.  Resolving to check it only at certain times of the day to reduce that habit of constantly reaching for it.  Removing the notifications from apps so each time I use my phone I’m not distracted by these little calls for attention and promises of social validation.

The food detox has really increased my awareness around my relationship with food.  We’ve been brought up to clear out plates, don’t leave the table until you’ve eaten all your dinner.  Even when we’re out for dinner there’s a feeling of eating more to get value.  I’ve become much more mindful about what I eat and why.  Stopping when I’m full and knowing that that’s after less food than my brain often believes.  Being more aware of emotional eating and not just reaching for food because its midday or we’ve been invited to a party and there’s snacks. 

It’s been an interesting experiment and one that’s benefitted my health but I’m also keen to return to something more balanced and moderated – that will be the big test!

The Detox Continues

This is the week of detox.  Following on from this weekends impromptu digital detox I’m now trying the food version, it’s the end of day 3 of a 12 day detox.  They say the first few days are the hardest so I thought it’d be a good time to share my thoughts.
 
It’s true I’ve been indulging over the past few months and have picked up some unhealthy habits I feel I need to address.  By doing this detox I’m hoping to kick start a new healthy routine and give my health some much needed attention.  It’s a first for me, whilst I’ve had yoga ashram diets and lived very healthily at times I’ve never done a detox so I’m intrigued what I find.
 
I have a love of food (bread in particular) and knew I’d been getting into unhealthy habits.  I also knew this would be a real challenge for me given my attachment to food but I’ve surprised myself by sticking to it religiously so far and not kicking and screaming anywhere near what I was expecting!
 
It mainly involves eating nothing but raw fruit and veg, mostly blended.  Three meals and snacks but no caffeine, meat, dairy, wheat, sugar or alcohol.  Gentle exercise of 30 minutes a day is recommended which even for me is achievable and what’s more it recommends I stay out of the gym and away from high intensity workouts (a bonus!)  The bits I love most are the rest days, saunas and massage on the schedule though.
 
I have always loved food and am aware I often eat for reasons other than being hungry.  I have attachment issues with food.  It’s not just the steady weight gain though that forces me to action but the drain on my energy, the clarity of my skin, my concentration levels and how fit I feel when I exercise.  I’ve been aware for a while that all of this needs improving and there’s a bigger issue at play but it’s easier not to bother sometimes and reach for those foods and habits that comfort us.  But eventually I am at a point where action is necessary and I am ready.  Especially as we head into winter.
 
So I’ve taken the plunge and so far surviving well.  Yes there’s been cravings and temptations but there’s not been as much hunger as I’d imagined, however that’s not always the reason that we reach for food I know.
 
It’s amazing how much time we spend thinking of food, what we’re having to eat, buying the ingredients and then preparing meals.  Once we’ve done our morning juice that’s it for the day (aside from some raw veg snacks and nuts and seeds).  There’s much more time in the day.  However, much more time spend day dreaming about food since I’ve been detoxing – mostly pizza!
 
It’s a good chance to rest too as for the first few days I didn’t feel like doing much else.  It’s funny that I’m eating more healthily than ever yet I feel worse!  It’s those initial few days whilst your body starts getting rid of the toxins and withdraws from things like sugar and caffeine that are the worst.  I’m glad to say my 2 day headache has now gone though 🙂
 
The energy levels are much improved once the body has adjusted, not to mention better skin, a flatter stomach and just that feeling of health.  Healthy food tastes better and the cravings for junk food are diminishing (although I do still spend a lot of time thinking about pizza).
 
Support has been an key ingredient.  My partner and I are on this journey together which when you live together makes this so much easier, it also gives me someone to compare notes with, encouragement and a feeling of not being alone in the challenge.
 
So I’ll keep going and let you know what next week brings at the conclusion of this challenge.

Digital Detox

It’s not the first time I’ve done digital detox but it’s been a while so I decided on Friday night when I turned off my phone I’d put it away until Monday. Now I tend not to go into my office to be on my laptop over the weekend anyway as that is family time but it’s amazing how much work I can do on my phone! The news feeds, information gathering, social catching up and sometimes just mindless scrolling. Especially on quiet weekends I’ve lost count of the number of times I reach for my phone; for some information, social interaction or validation of some kind.

So what did I miss? Initially it felt like I was missing something as my actions shone a light on the habits I’ve formed with technology. First thing in the morning it is common for me to reach for my phone, it wasn’t there. When I wanted to see when it would stop raining, the weather app was not available even my meditation app made me think twice about having to meditate without my device (ironically). It made ordering a curry difficult and choosing what movie to watch but nothing we could not get around!

What did I gain? More time and a more clear mind not to mention a certain sense of calm that comes from switching off from the outside world for a while and just being. There’s a natural inclination to turn inwards, especially on a quiet weekend at home nursing a cold!

Instead I was able to spend time being present, with those I loved, being aware of my surroundings, reading a book, walking the dog and being 100% present when doing those things not distracted by what photos I could take or what posts I might create and how many likes they’d get.

Now my business relies on social media and having friends and family around the world, so do I but I am aware of the habits it forms and the impacts its use has on our brain. I’m aware of the impacts of information overload and the addictive nature of our devices but it’s less about the device and more about our relationship with them. It’s not something I’d give up completely but I am a fan of the digital detox and it is something I plan to do more often to keep me aware of this and to be mindful of some of those no so healthy habits we form with our devices.

The detox theme has continued and this week I’m trying it with food! Stay tuned for more about my food detox tomorrow

Mindful Leadership

We’ve all heard of mindfulness and in recent years it’s been making its way into the workplace but how does it relate to leadership and can it really impact our effectiveness to the point where it contributes to the bottom line? 

Leadership has changed and expectations have changed with it.  It less about instruction and more about inspiration, less about managing and more about motivating.  We need to meet constant work demands and look after those who work for us too.  To deliver on expectations and results but remain balanced and avoid burning out in the process.  It’s just as critical to lead ourselves though as well as leading others.  We know, as leaders, we’re expected to deliver results.  But it’s as much about how we deliver as it is what we deliver and as leaders we cause a ripple effect across our departments and business units.  The tone we set, the way we show up and the examples we set ripple throughout our teams and therefore our business.

I’ve been a senior leader and I’ve had the privilege throughout my HR career to work with many others and be involved in Leadership Development in different businesses, various industries across multiple countries.  I’ve noticed some reoccurring themes in terms of what works well and what doesn’t.  I know how leaders engage employees and the impact this has not just on team morale but their performance too.  I have also developed a passion for mindfulness through my own journey and personal experience as a leader and how I’ve seen it work when brought into the workplace with my own programmes. 

We know that if our employees thrive so do our business results.  They are the ones, after all, responsible for the output.  We also know as leaders that if we are to meet our targets and deliver on our expectations we need a good team around us who will support us and go the extra mile.  Understanding others is key as is the ability to motivate, inspire, listen, trust and empathise with them – all skills mindfulness helps us develop.  But our ability to lead others really does start with the ability to lead and manage ourselves and where mindfulness can make the difference.

I learned mindfulness many years ago as a way of managing my stress and workload as a busy leader and it did this, but so much more. The more I practiced the more benefits I experienced and this lead to an impact on my productivity I’d never anticipated.

The biggest impact for me has been having a clearer, focused, sharper mind and how this has increased my effectiveness.  We know what it feels like trying to wade through paperwork, a never ending to do list and back to back meetings when we’re tired, can’t think straight and our brain feels a bit foggy.  We have this multitasking myth that we can do many things simultaneously.  In fact we feel it’s a necessary skill in a world where we have to do more things in less time.  Yet a Harvard study suggests that rather than multitasking our brains are in fact just switching from one thing to the next very quickly and therefore not really focusing on any one thing properly.  Mindfulness is training the brain to focus on one thing at a time and give the present your unwavering attention and concentration.

Sounds slow perhaps?  Let me introduce you to the concept of slowing down to speed up.  If we focus on one thing at a time it doesn’t take as long to complete and what we produce is likely to be of better quality.  If we have decisions to make or problems to solve it is also not likely to take as long when we’re thinking clearly and not trying to focus on other things at the same time, hence saving time.  If we get things done right the first time we don’t have to re-do them and if we’re operating at our best it doesn’t take as long.

Many scientific studies now done on mindfulness have found that it alters the brain, the grey matter increases and those who practice experience physical changes in the brain as a result.  By improving the brains function we are also improving our effectiveness.  But beyond the physical impacts mindfulness has been linked to; improved sleep, lower blood pressure, better memory and less stress there’s much more.

When we practice mindfulness we become more aware, of ourselves and of others.  This can have significant impacts if we’re in a meeting room full of people we need to influence and we can tap into skills of empathy and awareness to help better understand our audience and how the meeting is going.  But this awareness also equips us with the ability to navigate difficult conversations and conflict resolution whilst tapping into the self-awareness that helps us regulate our own mood and reaction to frustrations.

When we train the mind to focus and be present we’re more alert to what’s going on around us.  We can hear the unspoken in a meeting by noticing body language and the feeling in the room.  When we are in a meeting and focused we hear what’s being said rather than thinking about our to do list or what’s for tea with only half an ear on what’s actually happening right in front of us.  Thus making us better able to learn and respond too.

A clear mind is also a spacious mind.  Think of a glass of dirty water, it’s murky and you can’t really see anything in it.  Now sit it on the table and watch the sediment sink to the bottom and clear water settle on top.  This is like the mind.  When we rest it and take time to be still and quiet the busy thoughts subside, the fog clears and we get clarity on top.  In this clarity we have space to think, to have ideas, to be creative.  This helps us with solving problems but also making sound decisions.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Mindfulness has also been linked to Emotional Intelligence (EQ) which we’re also starting to hear a lot more about in the Leadership space. EQ is now considered to be more important than IQ in terms of our success as a leader.  Emotional Intelligence is considered to help with better communication and relationship building.  It is the ability to manage our self and better understand others.  To empathise, motivate, persist in the face of set backs, manage frustrations and regulate our mood.  It allows us to think before we act and plays a key role in decision making, self-esteem and resilience.

Mindfulness also trains the brain to be a more positive place which helps with things like Imposter Syndrome and negative self-talk when we’re under pressure at work or settling into a new promotion.  Mindfulness is the new must have leadership skill alongside the likes of Emotional intelligence and Executive Stamina.  So how can we develop it?

By making the most of the momentary pauses in our day and prioritising time to sit and just be.  This can be difficult in a world where we’re conditioned to be doing rather than being.  But remembering the concept of slowing down to speed up, these few minutes spent being still and quiet save us more time throughout the day with our energised, sharp, focused mind-set.  For me it’s 10 minutes each morning when I get up sat with my eyes closed focusing on my breathing.  It’s taking time to notice what’s around us on the walk to work and tuning into how we feel and taking some deep breaths each time we pause to wait for the lift, the bus, the kettle to boil or between meetings.  It’s taking a walk in the park at lunchtime and noticing the sights, sounds and smells or doing a guided meditation before bed.  There are so many opportunities to practice mindfulness but in our technological age these pauses are often filled with multitasking on our devices which has the opposite effect on our mind.

It’s like training a muscle though, it takes practice, little and often is the key and it won’t happen overnight.  We don’t walk into the gym and expect to lift the heaviest weight.  Start small and build up, keep it consistent and you’ll notice a difference.  Similar to when we’ve been training at the gym for a while we don’t just feel strong whilst we’re at the gym but all day.  Mindfulness is like a mental gym and given our current mental health statistics is something we should all be investing in to help thrive as individuals and help our businesses flourish.

Those in New Zealand can take the first step on this journey and learn from those who’ve brought this into their life and organisations and what it’s done for their business as well as their own personal performance.  Check out the first NZ Mindful Leaders Conference in March 2018 and register for tickets here

             

Jess Stuart is a former HR professional turned Author & Coach with a passion for Mindfulness.  With 15 years working in personal development and leadership development across many industries and countries visit the business page of the website for more www.jessstuart.co.nz 

The Art of Mindfulness

The Art of Mindfulness: Busy Life, Peaceful Mind.  Staying sane in a crazy world, keeping calm amid the chaos.

Click here to download 

Master the art of mindfulness.  Stop worrying and start living.  Learn how to bring Mindfulness into your life to make you happier, calmer and more effective.  Achieve better stress management and resilience and realise the benefits of mindfulness and how we harness the power of our mind. 

Develop a regular practice to tame your monkey mind, achieve a more positive mindset and free yourself from worry.  Discover skills that help you bounce back from the tough times, stay in the present more often and achieve balance.  Create more space in the mind and train the brain to be more clear and focused and a more positive place to be.  Understand how Mindfulness aids our effectiveness, the impacts of emotional intelligence and how we can use this skill at work.

A Mindfulness teacher with a daily practice of 7 years.  Training from teachers from around the world in many cultures and countries.  Without any religious affiliations, I bring eastern techniques to benefit our western world modified in a way that is easily applied to modern life.  Experienced course instructor, described by others as authentic, uplifting and inspiring.

Discover the basics of meditation and how to deal with a busy mind or negative thoughts.  Achieve the skills to apply Mindfulness into your daily life and work to become more focused, clear and effective and develop a regular practice to sustain you well beyond this course.

Suitable for beginners to mindfulness or those who have done some before and are looking to learn new ways to bring this to life and create a regular practice

Over 2 hours of content, one lecture per day and some practical exercises to download as well as bonus material and resources.

Available online and through your device with lifetime access once purchased

Why Learning to Let Go and Adapt Is a Shortcut to Happiness

No matter what kind of life we live, we all need to learn to adapt, because everything changes. Good and bad come and go in everybody’s life. It’s one of the reasons resilience is so critical.

We plan our lives expecting good to come our way, to get what we want, and for things to work out how we planned. At the same time we’re chasing the good, we try to avoid the bad.

One of the biggest sources of our unhappiness and discontent is not being able to adapt to change; instead, we cling to things we’ve lost or get upset because things don’t unfold as we want them to.  

What we overlook is that this is a fundamental law of life, the ups and downs, ebbs and flows. Things come and go, nothing stays the same, and we can’t control most of the things we’d like to. Accepting this and learning to adapt and go with the flow brings us one step closer to happiness.

I’ve just come back from a meditation retreat. It sounds relaxing, and it was, but it was also difficult in many ways.

I had to adapt to a new routine, which meant a 5:30am alarm, sitting for long periods of meditation, and periods of complete silence and solitude.

And there were lots of other changes: Not having my morning cup of tea or evening chocolate—or any caffeine or dairy—and adjusting to a vegan diet. Being without WiFi and my cell phone, and braving the sub zero temperatures up in the mountains of NZ in winter. Having to do karma yoga work—things like cleaning toilets and stacking wood.

Not to mention the kind of emotions, thoughts, and feelings we’re confronted with when we start to disconnect from the world and spend time with ourselves.

I was so pleased to be returning home, but then instantly thrown into the chaos of a busy airport with all flights grounded due to fog. I then realized that I would not be going home, and to attempt that tomorrow meant a bus ride to the next airport and finding some overnight accommodation to wait it out with the hope that the weather would be fit for flying in the morning.

Despite my Zen-like state post-meditation, I was frustrated, upset, and I just wanted to get home to see my partner, sleep in my own bed, and not feel so helpless.

I had my plan, my expected outcome, and for reasons beyond everyone’s control, this wasn’t possible. I wasn’t going to get what I wanted.

Now, a week later, I find myself having to learn the skill of adaptability once again.

Many years ago I played soccer. I wasn’t bad, either. I loved it. It was my passion. As a kid, I’d play all day on my own in the garden, and once I found a team I’d never miss a match. However, my career was cut short in my early twenties after a ruptured cruciate ligament that was surgically repaired, re-ruptured.

I had to give up on my passion and for many years didn’t play soccer. It was as a result of this devastation that I found yoga—my new passion and lifesaver for the past seven years, something I do every day.

I’ve just had a further operation on this ailing knee, and while I’d adapted over the years from the injury, I found myself once again having to adapt to changes: Not being able to walk, being housebound, using crutches and the difficulties this brings. Finding a way of sleeping comfortably and seeing through the fog the painkillers seemed to create. Not being able to do my morning yoga routine and struggling to meditate because I couldn’t adopt my usual cross-legged ‘proper’ meditation position.

Sometimes what is, is good enough. Acceptance is key to helping us adapt. If I can breathe, I can meditate, and I’ve enjoyed some of my lying down meditations (the ones where I’ve managed to stay awake!).

And now, as I reduce the meds and ease off the crutches, I can see positive change occurring. I can do a few standing yoga asanas and can take short walks with support.

The devastation of leaving my beloved sport morphed into another form of exercise I fell in love with that I may never have otherwise discovered. And my recent operation led me to new ways of enjoying this passion.

These recent lessons caused me to reflect on how life has changed for me over the last year or so and how I’ve been adapting along the way (sometimes kicking and screaming).

I’ve gone from a nomad traveling the world to settling down in a city I’d said I’d never live in due to the wind and the earthquakes. I’ve experienced some of the worst winds and biggest earthquakes of my life since being here and learned to love it all the same.

I’ve recognized the positives and come to love the bits that make this city (Wellington, NZ) great: the small town feel, the laid back lifestyle, the friendly residents, the ocean, the beach suburbs and beautiful scenery, the wonderful array of cafes and restaurants, not to mention the abundance of yoga, meditation, and wellness related activities.

I’ve gone from being single and happy to living with someone else and having to think about someone else, taking into account more needs than just my own.

I’ve had to learn to love again, take risks, and face fears while navigating a long-term relationship and our different wants and needs. I’ve had to learn to share a home and build a nest, and think about the future in ways I’d never have thought I could, feeling very blessed if also a little apprehensive and scared at the same time.

read the rest of the blog and the full article here on Tiny Buddha

Why Kindness is a skill

Many of us are brought up today to look after number one, to go out and get what we want—and the more of it we can have, the better.

Our society preaches survival of the fittest and often encourages us to succeed at the expense of others.

I was no different, and while I noticed a tendency to feel sorry for others and want to help, I was too busy lining my own pockets and chasing my own success to act on these impulses. I worried that kindness was me being soft and, therefore, a weakness that may hamper my progress, especially at work as I moved up the ranks.

It was only when I quit my corporate career, after years of unhappiness, to realign my values and rebuild a life around my passions that I learned the true value of kindness and how it has impacted my life since.

I volunteered overseas with those less fortunate. I lived in yoga ashrams and spent time with Buddhist nuns and monks across many different countries. I learned how compassion and kindness can be a source of strength, and since then I’ve applied this wisdom, with success, repeatedly into my own life.

Our natural response to seeing someone in distress is to want to help. We care about the suffering of others and we feel good when that suffering is released. This applies if we do it ourselves, see it in a movie, or witness it in real life. It makes us feel good. Feeling like we’re making a difference in the world and helping those who need it brings us joy; it gives us meaning.

My grandma was the most giving person I ever knew.

When her weekly pension arrived she delighted in giving the grandchildren money, even though it meant having little to spend on herself.

Family members would get upset that they bought her lovely gifts, which she then re-gifted to others, often less fortunate. Over the years I began to understand that it if she gifted it to someone else, it meant that she liked it and thought it was worthy of sharing.

Knowing the pleasure she got from giving to others and that she wasn’t in the position to buy things herself, I saw it as her getting the gift twice: the pleasure of receiving it but then also the pleasure she got from being able to give it to someone else. The recipients were always grateful and touched by her kindness too.

Buddhists say, “All the happiness there is in the world comes from us wishing others to be happy.” When we do good deeds for others it makes us feel good.

James Baraz quotes statistics on why giving is good for you in his book Awakening Joy. “According to the measures of Social Capital Community Benchmark survey, those who gave contributions of time or money were 42 percent more likely to be happy than those who didn’t.”

Psychologists even have a term for the state of euphoria reported by those who give. It’s called “helpers high,” and it’s based on the theory that neuroscience is now backing up: Giving produces endorphins in the brain that make us feel good. This activates the same part of the brain as receiving rewards or experiencing pleasure does.

Practicing kindness also helps train the mind to be more positive and see more good in the world. There’s plenty of it out there; it just doesn’t seem like it because, while the kind acts outnumber the bad, they don’t make as many headlines.

When I think back to how life was before, I realize that I wasn’t even being kind to myself, so it makes sense that I didn’t value kindness for others. I’ve learned it’s about self-respect first, and from there it’s much easier to respect others. Kindness as a skill taps into our true strength. We can respect ourselves when we are being kind to others and to our planet.

Read the rest of the blog here on Tiny Buddha

Volunteering; why it’s not just others that benefit

Compassion and kindness are key ingredients for happiness.  It leads us to want to do good without expecting anything in return, to look after each other and our environment.   

When I hit 30 I was unfulfilled and unhappy, despite having every material I could ever have wished for.  I had a good upbringing, climbed the corporate ladders, earned good money, had a company car and a house by the beach so why was I unhappy?  At this point I set off on a journey that lead to understanding there was another way, the path to happiness and how to create a life we love.  I discovered what I valued, how to balance life, learned a new relationship with money and rediscovered what mattered. During this journey which I wrote about in my first book A Rough Guide to a Smooth Life I discovered my authenticity, made life more simple and rebuilt my life around my passions to find meaning and purpose.  Part of this involved quitting the corporate world and volunteering overseas.  I trained to be a yoga teacher, practiced mindfulness daily and did my life coaching certificate.  I now write books and run my own business and still enjoy volunteering.  In celebration of volunteer week I’d like to share why it’s so important as well as give thanks and gratitude to all those volunteers out there who give their time to good causes.

Vietnamese Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hanh said “The word compassion is a verb”.  Just think back to the last time you performed the action of helping someone in need.  How good did you feel?  Buddhists have a saying; “All the happiness there is in the world comes from us wishing others to be happy.” 

Our natural response to seeing someone in distress is the impulse to help, we care about the suffering of others and we feel good when that suffering is released.  This applies if we do it ourselves, see it in a movie or witness it in real life.  It makes us feel good.  Feeling like we’re making a difference in the world and helping those who need it brings us joy, it gives us meaning 

James Baraz quotes statistics on why giving is good for you in his book; ‘Awakening Joy’.  “According to the measures of Social Capital Community Benchmark survey those who gave contributions of time or money were 42% more likely to be happy than those who didn’t.  Psychologists even have a term for the state of euphoria reported by those who give, it’s called ‘helpers high’ and is based on the theory that neuroscience is now backing up; giving produces endorphins in the brain that make us feel good, this activates the same part of the brain as receiving rewards or experiencing pleasure does”.

You may say, that’s easy if you’re happy, have money and the time to help.  But when you’re busy, worried and burned out it’s not so easy to find the space in your heart or mind to be compassionate.  Yes, it does make it harder but not impossible and can in fact be the opening to more joy in your life at a time when you need it most. 

I must admit that when I’m working full time and trying to run my own business I don’t get the time I’d like to volunteer but when I have periods between contracts and can focus on one job I make sure it incorporate a day to volunteer.  Not only does it give me a break from writing it gets me out mixing with others and that feeling of contributing to the community, being of service and doing some good for others. 

It’s not just for others though, it’s good for our souls, our sense of meaning and purpose, learning new things, social connection. All the things that are fundamental to our health and happiness.  It helps us think more positively about the world and our own contribution to it too.

It’s the voluntary work I’ve done over the years that I’ve enjoyed most above any paid job, no matter what the salary or benefits.  I spent time in Thailand teaching English to Buddhist monks, worked at yoga ashrams and Buddhist centres as well as doing the soup run for the homeless and volunteering to teach IT to the over 50’s and coordinate activities at elderly day care centres. I enjoy the company and get a sense of satisfaction from this work.

Studies are also showing there are physical health benefits of compassion and giving through the form of voluntary work.  United Health Group commissioned a national survey of 3,351 adults and found that the overwhelming majority of participants reported feeling mentally and physically healthier after a volunteer experience.

·         76 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering has made them feel healthier

·         94 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering improved their mood

·         78 percent of them said that volunteering lowered their stress levels

·         96 percent reported that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life

·         Volunteering also improved their self-esteem

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in England analyzed data from 40 published studies and found evidence that volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than their peers who do not volunteer. The study also found that volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being. 

It doesn’t have to be money, it doesn’t have to be a lot of time if you’re short on that.  It can even be as simple as starting with some random acts of kindness throughout your day.  When we think of giving we often think of charitable donations but it doesn’t have to involve money.  Donating items to charity collections, baking cakes for local events, helping out at a local animal shelter or using some of your skills to help others are all forms of giving.  Giving is not always about your time or money.  We all have skills and strengths we can share with others, we can all choose to be compassionate.  Even if we have very little material wealth, we all have infinite non material wealth we can share.

Take the project ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ for example.  They have many ideas of acts of kindness we can perform for complete strangers and at the same time encourage those who have been the recipient of an act of kindness to pass it on and do something kind for someone else.  This can be as simple as helping an elderly neighbor with their shopping, paying the toll fee for the car behind you, holding the door open for a stranger or making coffee for a busy colleague. 

It doesn’t have to be hard or take up a lot of time, there are so many ways to help and by doing so we’re not just helping the recipients we’re helping ourselves too.  In a world where we’re increasing too busy for kindness see if you can make space to volunteer yourself in some capacity – your health and happiness will thank you.

#NVW2107

The business of writing; lessons learned from my first book 

3 years ago I quit my corporate job, left my house by the beach and all the material trappings I’d created in search of a different way of life.  You see, I’d followed the path to success and when I’d ‘arrived’ I hadn’t actually got to where I thought it’d lead – I wasn’t happy.  In fact quite the opposite, I was unfulfilled, tired and unhappy.  Over the course of the next year I travelled the world in search of answers, learned from different cultures and traditions and spent time doing the things I loved to see where that would lead. I made life simpler and I grew happier, I found my authenticity and sense of purpose and what’s more I discovered my passions. One of which was writing and out of this journey came my first book to share with others what I’d learned.

I remember how proud I was when I’d finished the manuscript and when it went to be printed and I chose the cover design.  I delighted in signing copies for family and friends and calling myself an author but ironically I thought that writing the book would be the hard part, I thought at this point my job was done!  What I hadn’t realised at the time that there was a whole new world about to open up, a world of the business of writing that I needed to learn to navigate and a world that I knew nothing about.  Having learned so much about the business side of writing a book over the last year, looking back there are things I’d liked to have shared with my unpublished self as I set out on this journey and I hope that by sharing it helps others too.

I wrote a non fiction, self help book related to wellness and happiness so the advice will likely be different for other genres and especially different for fiction.  Find out more about my book, A Rough Guide to a Smooth Life here www.inspireyourlife.org/book

I wanted to get published but had no platform so despite the agents and publishing houses I submitted my work to (even those who fed back the writing was good), no-one would take a punt on a first time, unknown author with no following.  So I had to do it myself and that meant understanding how to market the book and set up my ‘author business’.  Here’s a few things I leanred along the way;

Marketing

Self promotion can be hard for authors, it doesn’t often come naturally.  I knew nothing about Marketing when I started and it was one of my least favourite things to do but I set out, step by step, to put the things I was learning into practice and build my business and platform.

When writing a (non fiction) book, platform is so important. Who will buy it unless they know it exists?  Marketing what we do is a critical part of this, allowing the message to resonate with people, reaching your target audience and encouraging followers to build that platform. These are people that want to know you, like what you have to say and may buy copies of your book, products you create and may then also talk about this in their own networks.

We all have existing networks and can often overlook this in search of new followers.  Leverage your network – we all have one even if it’s just family and friends, get out and connect with the community, talk about what you do, send messages to local groups, get the word out.

I now have a monthly newsletter and a mailing list set up in mailchimp and use this to communicate events, blog posts, places to buy the book, encourage people to leave amazon reviews etc.  Sometimes I’d do competitions and give aways or launch a new product this way too – like my online courses and coaching packages.

I had to strike the balance between teaching myself what I didn’t know (the internet is such a great resource for this) whilst paying for some of the stuff I couldn’t do myself (website SEOs for example!)  However with the budget being tight I ended up having to learn a lot more than I’d anticipated.   I also sought out those who’d gone before, those who were 5 years further down the track and the success I wanted to become.  I learned from those people, even the ones I couldn’t meet (with skype, online tutorials, reading their books etc).  YouTube and Udemy have been invaluable for my education as have countless blogs from those who’ve been there before and made the mistakes I’d like to learn from.

Getting the word out

I blog but not just for my own site.  I send blogs to other platforms with millions of followers, it was all for free but great exposure and sent traffic towards my website and helped boost my mailing list.  It also puts my work infront of far more people than I could ever reach alone.  I set up a YouTube channel and recorded short video clips with nice backdrops talking about the same topics I blog on.  Not everyone likes to read so having a variety of mediums for your message reaches a different audience and makes it more accessible.  I also find blogging helps me try out new ideas and initiates some creativity in my writing.  In fact some of my chapters of the book actually include previous blogs I’ve written.

Another way of sharing the message and an offshoot for many authors is speaking.  Not often a writers favourite thing but necessary if you want to promote the book.  Speak anywhere to anyone and even if one person shows up you never know where that might lead.  Some of my events have sold out, others have had no-one turn up, it’s trial and error and we learn as we go.  I also set up a meet up group to form a new network and followers but also a chance to host my own events related to topics within my book and a way of spreading the word and increasing my platform.

Although I hate cold calling I did send off short emails with a link to my website to anyone who I thought might be interested.  I’d just explain who I am and what I do, a bit about my book and that because it’d just launched I was speaking for free in a bid to aid my marketing and should they wish to take advantage of this we could discuss dates.  I targeted other meet up groups, local community groups, book shops, libraries, yoga studios, face book groups and local businesses and conferences that had a similar audience and matching themes to my book.

Setting up as a business

The first thing I did was learn to build a basic website in wordpress.  It has an about me page with my photo, a contact form, a page about my book and a blog page which is linked up to my mailing list so each time I blog they get it sent straight to them. There is also a pop up on there to encourage visitors to any page to sign up to the mailing list.

I also got some business cards produced which have my details on one side and my book on the other.  Further down the track (quite recently) I also got some professional headshots done to use on my website, biography, promotions material and hopefully the next book!

I learned about social media and got myself onto as many platforms as I could manage; facebook, twitter, pinterest, linked in, Instagram etc.  I use these platforms for sharing links to my book, articles and blogs I write, events I’m running and gaining more followers by directing traffic back to my website/mailing list.  Sometimes I use boosts to target audiences to promote my book, new products or events.  I’ve also found it helpful sharing these things on other facebook groups for extended networks and promotion but also connecting with those similar to yourself who you can learn from or just networking.

The Book launch

When it comes time to launch the book marketing a promotion is key.  I set up local free events about the topics of my book so interested people would come to learn; the book was for sale at these events.  I used thunderclap to garner support for launch day (a social media campaign to garner support and promote coordinated exposure across platforms).  I contacted local press and did interviews with anyone who’ll listen, I also gave free copies of the book for them to use as competition give aways.

I made a book trailer, like a movie trailer, to help spread the message and promote the book upon launching.  It’s on YouTube and I can share the link anywhere, I’ve also embedded it in my website and on my amazon author page etc.  Check it out here https://youtu.be/OgKoSLQpUt4

Sometimes you have to give to get and at first this may seem counter intuitive but I’ve found doing giveaways and competitions great ways of getting coverage and people talking about the book.  It seems counterintuitive when you’re trying to make sales but if you give a sample of your work away for free and people like it they might by a book or they’ll talk about it to their friends who’ll by a book.  Also used this mantra when putting material free online; blogs and video blogs.  Samples of my work that’ll do the talking for me should someone be looking at what I do, an example of my work in action and a taster of what they’ll get should they buy the book or any other service.  I’ve given away free copies of my book at special events (for exmaple the one year anniversary of being published) this actually drove more sales at that event than I’d done before, even though I gave 5 copies away for free.

Streams of income

As many writers will attest we write for love not money and whilst it may be true that very few books make a profit I’ve found that from non fiction books often comes other streams of income.  From my book came online courses, events, retreats and coaching.  At the events people would ask me to come and speak to their business on the same topics, especially mindfulness.  So then came the corporate gigs, presentations, workshops and training sessions.  My book is a tool to sell my business/work but vice versa my business is a platform for book sales too.

Lessons I learned

It takes time – be patient, Rome wasn’t built in a day and we’re not going to be overnight successes.  It’s slow progress every day where we’re building our platform or book sales.  I thought once the book was published that would be it, instant success.  Building the business that is the book and being an author is like building any business from scratch.  It takes time, word has to get out and you build it up from the ground over a few years.  So in the early days prepare not to make money, I had a day job to back me up during these times.

Reflect and be proud – quite often with so much to do after the buzz of the launch it can be easy to forget you made it, you published a book, you’re now an author.  So keep remembering to hold it in your hand and reflect on your success in getting to this point, all the hard work and here you have a finished book, you’re an author.

It’s a careful balance and sometimes I feel like the business of writing takes time away from my actual writing but in order to sell books and be known I feel like sometimes it’s a necessary evil.  I’ll pullback on the business commitments when I begin a new big project, like my next book but also find that sometimes it’s a welcome distraction to do some of these admin jobs on a day when the inspiration is not flowing as I’d like.  It doesn’t matter how good a book is, if no-one knows it exists it’ll never get read so marketing is key (love it or hate it) in helping get the word out.

Having done it once I now know so much more that I hope to apply next time around as I contemplate writing book number 2.  As a result of my work promoting this book and learning about the business side of writing I am now also a more attractive prospect to a future publisher.  I have one book to my name so they know I can do it, I have a following, have built a platform, I know how to market and I know what’s involved in publishing a book.

The others lessons I feel have been important during this journey are that we should never expect that it’s going to be easy.  It is all down to us and no-one will do it for us so row your own boat.  And most importantly, never give up. It will get tough and there’s times it’ll feel too hard and that everything is failing but if you give up you’ll never know how close you could have been to success and all the work you’ve done to date will be for nothing.

Like many first time writers I’d assumed that once I was published I’d be a best selling author in no time despite everyone telling me writers don’t often make money.  The lesson I’ve learned is whilst our books may not make a profit it can lead to other things that do.  I also learned that success as a writer for me is less about sales and royalties and more about sharing my message and the people I get to help along the way.

I don’t pretend to be an expert (far from it) and am continuously learning in this space but i certainly feel more prepared going into book 2 as a result of what i learned from my experience publishing my first book.