Lessons learned on a business anniversary

Fear, Authenticity, Self-worth, growth and not giving up

Facebook reminded me this week that 4 years ago today I graduated from my Yoga Teacher training in Byron Bay – I’ve not taught much yoga since but have done so much else and learned so many lessons which I’ve been reflecting on.

I’d quit my corporate career a few months prior and had embarked on a year out to discover my passions and try and find a new career that aligned with my values – and a new life really having just walked away from a seven year relationship too as part of a process that resulted in me come out.

This journey took me to places like Bali, the Kingdom of Bhutan, teaching English to novice monks in Northern Thailand, silent meditation retreats, debuting in public speaking, starting my own business and writing my first book.  A book that was published a year later and contained much more about the inner journey that had unfolded.

4 years on I look back, incidentally on the verge of a holiday back to Byron Bay next month with my wife to be.  I’m now an author of two books with my own business and invited to speak at events and conferences across the world.  I’ve discovered my passions and feel comfortable aligning with my values to be my authentic self – it was a long time coming and hasn’t always been easy but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Here are some lessons I’d like to share with you following that journey:

Just because you’ve never done it doesn’t mean you can’t do it

When I left my job I had no idea what else I could do.  I’d trained all my life for one career which wasn’t fulfilling me.  I didn’t know what else I wanted to do or if I’d be capable of anything else, I certainly wasn’t qualified.

When it came to running my own business I didn’t know where to start.  There’s been a lot of learning over the last few years, trial and error and a lot of failing too!  I’ve learned to do things like accounts, marketing, social media and more that I’d never had to consider in my former career. 

It’s also pushed me out of my comfort zone in other ways – networking, building a reputation and a brand as well as being the face of my business (having been someone who prefers to be in the background!)

I used to think – I’ve never done this before it’s not in my skill–set, I’ve no experience in this but I’ve learned over the years that just because we’ve not done it doesn’t mean we can’t, it’s just something we haven’t learned to do yet.

It’s so important that whatever we’re doing we make sure we always learn new things, push ourselves and take on challenges so that we learn and grow.  It also leads me nicely onto my next lesson

Get out of your comfort zone – don’t play it too safe

I avoided risks because I didn’t want to fail but taking on my own business, re-inventing my career meant I could no longer avoid this.  I had to take risks and I became familiar with failure as I battled through the trial and error of learning so many new things. 

I faced many fears as I embarked on this journey; leaving the certainty of what I knew, a career I trained 15 years for and knew well, a regular pay check and company car, an image people had of me – what would they think now?  What if I failed?  What if I’m making the wrong choice?

I had no choice but to get out of my comfort zone but sometimes it seemed tempting to stay there – better the devil you know!  As I stepped out of my comfort zone I faced the fears, uncertainty and risk and at times I also failed.

I put on events that no-one showed up to.  For the first couple of years I earned no money from my business.  Most of my speaking was for free and my first royalty cheque was worth less than $5.

After each rejection letter from a publisher I could have decided to give up.  In fact there’s been many times business got hard, I was out of my depth, I wasn’t earning money and it felt like I’d failed, reached the end of the line, I was tempted to give it up.

One of the things that always kept me going was asking “What has this taught me and what can I do about it?”  This solutions focused reflection forced me into action, rather than wallowing in the fact it was hard and I’d failed it immediately turned my mind towards – what am I going to do about it and scanning the options I had.

Failure is how we learn and grow and is often how we learn to succeed, it’s also something that’s unavoidable if you push yourself, take risks and face challenges, I now see how it can be a positive.  But we can see failure as a sign of our lack, a mirror of our self-worth and it encourages us to devalue what we’re capable of.

Don’t under estimate yourself – you’ve earned your place

We often doubt our abilities, underestimate ourselves or think that our success must have been down to something other than our ability – luck, a mistake, being liked etc.

Throughout my career I would wave away success and down play my achievements almost embarrassed by praise.  I can’t say I’m there yet but I have since learned to respond to praise and recognition with ‘thank you’ which is a good start!

For many years in my former career I suffered from Imposter Syndrome.  I didn’t get a degree, I left school at 16 and as I progressed into senior roles (where everyone had a degree) I used to feel like I was less intelligent, not as valuable or worthy – despite my performance and achievements.

Other people’s opinions seem to carry more weight than our own and it’s only the feedback I’ve had from others over the years that now allows me to believe I can do this and that people love what I do.

I remember worrying in my first workshop I’d been asked to do for a big business – am I qualified to do this?  Will they enjoy it?  Will it be good enough?  Who am I to be posing as an expert in this field? – all those questions played on my mind despite having written a book on the subject I was speaking about!

Late last year arriving at parliament to do the same workshop I finally felt like I belonged, that I’d earned my place and that I had something important to share that would be of value to those who’d asked me to come.

If you’re getting praise you’ve earned it.  The success you achieve is because you’re capable and have worked for it.  It doesn’t have to be perfect to be success and you also don’t need to have all the answers.

You don’t have to have all the answers

For many years I’d put off leaving the security of my corporate job.  I needed a plan first.  If this wasn’t my career I needed to know what was before I made any changes.  Where I’m at now I could never have foreseen then.  It’s been a result of the journey I’ve taken and the things I’ve learned along the way that have helped informed my next move, developed me and taken me to where I am.

Often we feel we need all the answers, to see the whole stair case before we take the first step and begin.

There was trial and error, trying things to know if that worked or not.  Training to teach yoga to see if this could be the future me or where else that might take me.  Whilst I had a plan, I had no idea where I’d end up and it was only as I made progress the next steps began to emerge.

Sometimes we have to be comfortable with uncertainty because we don’t know what’s next.  We might have a path set out but end up somewhere different, or sometimes we end up in the same place but take a different path or route to the one we planned, either way it works.  I’m of the opinion now that there are no wrong paths and there are lessons learned and experiences gained even from the tough paths I wish I’d not chosen – I wouldn’t go back and change it.

Align with your values – be yourself

For many of my former years I tried to be who I thought I should be, what the world wanted, to fit in.  I denied my sexuality for many years and took the corporate path of success as my own.  It was only when I realised status and salary were not markers of happiness that I began to look for work that aligned to my values – I had to figure out what those were.

As a young leader I felt there was a mould to fit.  I had to be a certain way to pass as a leader and as a result I devalued some of my skills that I didn’t think had a place at work.  I used to leave my ‘Jess’ hat at the door to put my ‘Leader’ hat on.  I now release these are the same hats and things like kindness, compassion and empathy are major leadership strengths rather than character weaknesses – what a relief because we all know pretending to be something we’re not is exhausting!

Being able to show up as my authentic self both in life and in work makes every day so much more rewarding.  It also allows people to trust us when we’re genuine and relate to us if we’ve walked in their shoes.

Choose your people wisely

I’m lucky to have had support around me, cheerleaders, people who believe in me.  Support from my family even though they had no idea what I was doing and feared my exit from a corporate well paid job to clean composting toilets in a yoga ashram may not be a great career move!

It’s taught e the value of those who surround us.  The people I’ve learned from and aspired to be who inspired me to carry on, even when it got hard.  But equally those who’ve challenged me to grow and pushed me.

I used to feel jealous when I looked at those who’d succeeded, like they’d done it right and I was doing it wrong; “why can’t I be on the stage at this event rather than in the audience?”  It made me feel like I wasn’t as capable rather than just on an earlier stage of my journey.  It’s important we respect these people, learn from them but never compare to them or feel their success threatens our own learning.

Find people who support you but challenge you positively to grow, respect them and be inspired by them but don’t compare yourself to them or feel jealous.  Avoid negative people who hold you back – surround yourself with those who’ll nourish you.

It’s also taught me the power of collaboration.  I’ve met so many amazing people doing similar kinds of work and often now when I organize events I’ll use it as a platform for other women to inspire my audience too and invite guest speakers.

I’ve also been fortunate to join business groups and communities full of supportive people willing to share their knowledge and time with me.

Often we’re taught to compete, that our success needs to be at the expense of someone elses.  I’ve learned that we are much stronger together than we are apart.

Find out more about Jess on her website www.jessstuart.co.nz  and visit the blog at www.inspireyourlife.org/blog

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!

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

6 life lessons learned from writing a book

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It’s on most people’s bucket lists—everyone has a book inside them, waiting to be written.

It’s such a big task though, where do we start? That’s why so many great books just stay inside people’s heads, unwritten.

I loved writing poetry as a kid, but these days, my writing skills are utilized more in the form of reports, emails and letters to staff. I was just about to quit my corporate job because I was unhappy, but I wasn’t sure what else I was going to do. I decided to take a year off to fix a life that had recently fallen apart and rebuild it into something that vaguely resembled happiness.

I set off around the world to live my dreams, to do all the things that made my heart sing and discover my passion. I trained to be a yoga teacher, visited many countries and experienced different cultures. I studied mindfulness and meditation and I volunteered, teaching English to Buddhist monks. I learned a lot about life and so much about myself and what it takes to create our own happiness.

Along the way I wrote—more for my own needs than anything else. I loved what I was learning and took notes as I went. This newly found wisdom, plus my own personal transformation, became a powerful message I wanted to share with others—and by the end of that year I was a blogger.

But a full-fledged author? That was another step—maybe one too far. I’d never really thought about it before, but as the notes piled up, I almost felt like there could be a book there. For a few months, I wrote in secret, before I was comfortable telling people about my dream. I’d never considered myself an author before, but here it was an actual book that I had written.

I overhauled my life and learned so much in the transformation, I wanted to share my story. What started off as my own personal writing therapy became something that now inspires others on similar journeys of self discovery. But as I wrote a book to share lessons I’d learned, the process itself taught me a host of other lessons too.

Advice for life and how to make the best of it from a writer.  Read the full post here

Mindfulness for Change

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Recently I attended a Mindfulness retreat, this is not unusual I have been to many but this was different. It was a Hui set up by Mindfulness for Change to bring together those in the Mindfulness community and discuss how we might work together to create change. I was excited but also a little apprehensive and not sure what to expect. Torn between the relaxed anticipation of a retreat and the less relaxed prospect of having to do some work and contribute something intelligent!

We arrived at Riverslea Retreat in Otaki in darkness after the Friday night traffic from Wellington and the end of a long week. Immediately I noticed how many people there were, so many strangers I’d not met yet and the introvert within my groaned. At the same time I was torn between wanting to get to know these like-minded souls, learn from them and connect with them but not overjoyed at the prospect of having to make an effort to interact and socialise with so many strangers. Usually I’m perfectly content to retreat into my shell, meditate in solitude and appreciate the natural environment I found myself in on a rare trip out of the city. In fact it’s one of the things I love about retreats!

The set up was interesting; 40 people crammed together inside as the rain beat down around us, only 2 showers to share and bunk rooms shared with 8 others. I reflected with a new friend that this would usually be the recipe for a social disaster on the scale of the Big Brother house as all human emotions, frustrations and personalities clash with dramatic effect. But not here. Surrounded by so many compassionate, considerate individuals the kindness was evident. People held doors open, smiled, hugged one another on greeting, queued patiently for food and offered up their seats. Trust and respect was evident but we didn’t even know one another. Is this a recipe for how a new society could be born, I thought?

The room seemed full of such happy people who believe there is hope and that people are good and the world can work, despite being acutely aware that it’s currently a bit broken. It’s not that these people had privileged lives or a life without problems. In fact each shared moving stories of their own challenges, grief and difficulties in life. From struggling to belong and fit it, losing loved ones, battles with health and lives turned upside down yet each had emerged with a compassionate heart, a love for human kind and a wish to do good in the world.

What amazed me most was the mix of ages, gender, backgrounds and the impact this had on our collective ideas and conversations. A room where doctors sat alongside yoga teachers, psychologists alongside students. We were all so different yet uniquely the same as well. The combination of youthful hope and excitement with the experience and wisdom of others was inspiring. I was humbled by the gratitude everyone showed for the presence of others and the acknowledgement that everybody present brought something to the table.

I had always put Mindfulness down to changing my life as if it made me a different person. But what I now know is that, the person was there all along and is in all of us. Life was like this all along I’m just seeing through new eyes, like a fog has lifted. I feel aware, awake and alive and incidentally that’s Mindfulness in a nutshell.

It turns out I loved the combination of stimulating discussion with silent reflection time. The ability to connect with others but also to go inwards and connect with ourselves. I learned more about Mindfulness but also about myself. In fact the self-awareness and reflection was just as important as the acquired wisdom from the conversations and experience.

I also learned something new about how we connect with others. By the time the weekend was up I had formed such strong bonds with people I’d barely spoken to. This connection to people was beyond speaking, a deep connection in a short space of time united by common goals and similar values. An environment of trust where some shared things even their friends did not know. It touched my heart to witness such an outpouring of emotion but a groundswell of support made possible by the environment of non-judgement and compassion.

When it was time to leave and many hugs had been exchanged with new special friends and plans for action and future progress were written up on the walls. Back in the outside world I feel oddly calm and centred as if something has shifted. Excited about the future and full of hope that there are good people in the world. As I walked back through the city towards my apartment I saw an argument and a road rage incident and wondered why can’t all people be like this? And then I realise they are. Compassion is within us all it’s just buried a bit deeper in some. Mindfulness is how we set about uncovering that in each other and reconnecting with what matters.

Mindfulness for Change is for people who want to contribute to a mindful, compassionate, flourishing society so that together we can help co-create true social and environmental change.
Interested in getting involved; check out the facebook page

Happiness Life Hacks

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Life seems complicated these days.  We’re all busy pursuing happiness, yet how many of us ever reach that goal?

Success, money, and busyness are top of our priority list, yet deep in our hearts we’d prefer time, love, and security.

It’s the age of making a living, but perhaps at the cost of making a life.  What really makes us happy, and how do we find it?

Read the full article; here and watch the video blog here

Success: reach your potential

Click here to see the newsletter in full; Newsletter April 2016

We’re capable of more than we think

I hope you’ve been able to enjoy some rest over the Easter break. Life always seems so busy and we achieve so much yet so often we under estimate our abilities and this stops us reaching our potential.

We feel we might just be too ordinary to achieve great things yet those who succeed begin as ordinary people, the difference is they realise their potential, the potential that is within all of us because nobody is really just ordinary

I was stuck in a life I needed to change but frozen by fear; of the unknown, of failure. What if I’m just not good enough to realise these crazy dreams that live inside my head? But by taking small steps towards my goals and changing my life to revolve around my passions and authenticity, I discovered extra ordinary things I’d never thought I was capable of.

Never stop dreaming and don’t put limits on what we can achieve. “Inside every ordinary person there is extraordinary potential”

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Recent Inspiration

Unleash your hero within [click to view] 

No-body is just an ordinary person, realise your potential [read now]

5 ways to tap into your inner wisdom [read now]

When it gets tough, how not to give up on your dreams [read now] 

Disconnecting to reconnect [click to view] 

How to stay sane in a crazy world [read now]

 

Be in with a chance to win a free e-copy of my book to gift to a friend by leaving a review on Amazon http://amzn.com/1504343816

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