The mind-body connection

Something that I have long found curious is the way in which people treat their mental and physical health as distinct entities.  If someone says "I'm on  a health kick" they mean diet and exercise, rarely are they investing in their mental health. 

While people worry incessantly about their expanding waistlines, it is usually only when they reach crisis point that they start to focus on their minds. 

We all know on a logical level that our brains and bodies are interconnected, but we somehow forget this when we are pushing our stress levels to the max, answering emails when we should be asleep, or de-stressing by finishing off a bottle of wine.

Visible or not very single one of our functions - from the way we move, breath, think, sleep and feel - is tied to the relationship between our minds and bodies. If one is out of whack so too will be the other. 

Bottom line, if you are inactive and have a poor diet this will affect your ability to cope, depress your moods and accentuate your anxiety. Likewise, if you allow yourself to get trapped in a cycle of overwhelm, negative thoughts or reactivity you will struggle to stay motivated, to sleep, to eat well or to keep off weight. 

Learning to manage unhealthy thoughts, meditating, exercising, stretching, having a vision, eating well - all these are critical to lifting energy levels and promoting overall wellbeing. 

So next time you think about your health - don't just consider what you are doing for your body  - think what you're doing for your mind.

Invest in both and you will reap the benefits ten-fold. 

Start your day AMAZING!

One thing that I talk a lot about with clients (and am passionate about myself) is having a morning routine. Introducing a few standard elements to the start of your day can benefit you in so many ways - from boosting your energy to firing up your metabolism. 

For many the idea of routine sounds boring. "What!? Do the same thing EVERY morning?"  Yet evidence suggests having routines in place can enhance your well-being by reducing the amount of glucose and dopamine your brain has to expend on decisions. Not only that, by starting your morning in the right way you can introduce greater calm, focus and positivity into your entire day. 

FACT: When we wake we only have about 2 hours of dopamine available (the fuel for the decision making part of our brains) and when that's gone you are left feeling brain dead (usually early afternoon). A morning routine is beneficial because it cuts down the amount of decisions we have to make. And you'll be in good company. Lots and lots of successful people have morning routines – Obama, Jobs, Oprah, Aniston, Churchill to name a few.

So what would a typical morning routine look like? 

1. Wake up -  put your alarm on for  the same time each day to help regulate your body clock

2. Hydrate – drink a mug of warm water with lemon juice to alkalise the gut and top that up with a litre of water. Doing this before you eat with boost your metabolism and energy. 

3. Exercise –  there so many options - walking, running, swimming, the gym, yoga… and I don't have to tell you how good it is for you both physically and mentally. 

4. Meditate – incredibly effective at increasing focus and lowering stress levels. As a start simply focusing on your breath (the feeling of the inhale and exhale of air) is effective.

5.  Nourish – avoid a high sugar or high carb start to your day and opt for protein, good fats and greens. You can make things easier by having three standard options that you rotate through to limit your decisions – i.e. green smoothies, avocado and tomato on sourdough, poached eggs with spinach and tomato. 

6. Unplug – keep your phone off until you are energised and ready for the day! Remember all those notifications, texts and emails are someone else's schedule! 

7. Dress - standardise your wardrobe, hair and makeup so that you don’t waste unnecessary time dithering over the way you look! This can literally save hours over a month.

All this doesn’t have to take a long time. 10 minutes of meditation, 20 minutes exercise followed by a great breakfast could be enough to put you on the right track for your entire day. 

Whatever you choose, the most important things is to decide what you want the rest of your day to look like and get it started in the best way possible! 


Your own best friend

Not so long ago the notion of "loving yourself" was met with raised eye brows and derision. While the concept has become far more accepted however, most people still struggle to really value and care for themselves.

In fact, if you were to tune into the average inner monologue you'd soon realise it was a non stop stream of belittling, shame and nastiness. 

"You're such an idiot".

"You're greedy".

"You're lazy"

You're ugly".

A merciless cycle of put downs and condescension people would never subject someone else to. Yet they're so used to hearing it they don't think to change the channel. 

It shouldn't be like this! 

While it might sound cliche we really should love ourselves and we absolutely need to be our own best friend.

At a very basic level how can you possibly expect other people to value you for yourself if you are unable to? If you are subjecting yourself to constant abuse there is no way that you can be the best version of you. 

Imagine a person standing in the middle of a room surrounded by people telling them the kind of things women (and men) commonly say to themselves. Ugly, stupid, worthless, foolish, lazy... would you expect them to feel like empowered, worthwhile individuals? Of course not. 

The same logic applies. You cannot subject yourself to abuse and expect to emerge unharmed. The things you say in your head may not be heard by anyone else, but they will have the biggest impact on your wellbeing. Why? Because your brain believes what you tell it. Not only that, it will seek out to prove you right, and if you tell yourself things often enough that will become your reality.

Bottom line, if you want any hope of being a happy, contented and healthy individual you have to be your own best friend. That means if you wouldn't say something to your dearest girlfriend then you absolutely should not say it to yourself.

And the beauty of cultivating a friendship with yourself is that you will always have a personal champion wherever you go. You will never be alone. You will never be unloved. 

So if you make one commitment, make a commitment to love yourself. Be kind, be compassionate, be gentle. 




Become the CEO of your life

I want you to imagine you are the CEO of a company. As Chief Executive you sit at the helm of the business deciding where resources are best invested, overseeing changes, crafting a vision for the future and looking after your people.

In your role you are responsible for everything that happens in your company. The culture, the clients, the products, investments and performance of its people. If the company hits challenges it is up to you to provide leadership and direction; it is your responsibility to decide the best course of action.

As CEO you know that if you bury your head and give up on your company it will fail fast. So you muster all the resources at your disposal and face the pitfalls, failures and losses head on. You stick to your vision, you push back on challenges and you use all the resources at your disposal to steer the company back on track. 

Now imagine that the company you are CEO of is actually your life. 

We instinctively know that if we leave the running of a business to chance it will fail. If we don't actively nurture and invest in it, if we don't have a vision, then it will come crashing down. Yet when people come to taking charge of their own life they appear to forget that the same logic applies.

If you leave your life to chance, if you don't invest in yourself and your vision you will go nowhere. 

At a very basic level the only person who has 100% authority over your life is you. While we may have people who love and care for us, no-one else is in the position to craft a vision for your success, no-one else can invest the same level of energy in your goals,  no-one else is able to control how you look after yourself. And if you don't face challenges face on, no-one else can take over the fight for you.

You are the CEO and it is your company to manage. 

If you want to succeed in your life then assuming complete accountability for it is absolutely essential. While you may not be able to control all the forces that act upon you, you do have the ability to decide how you are going to respond. If the result of loss, failure, setback, trauma and change was predetermined then everyone would have the same outcome. But they don't. We can all look around and see those people who have triumphed against the odds, who have failed miserably and fought their way back up, who have experienced trauma and turned it into success. 

The point is if you don't take 100% responsibility for your life no-one else will. If you don't get back up after you fall, you will stay lying down. So if you are stuck, disappointed or bored with your life stop being an employee and become the CEO. 


Is punishment part of parenting?

As parents we generally assume that punishing our children is simply part of the job description. Whether that be taking away their screen privileges, sending them to their room or giving them a smack on the bottom. 

In fact a study conducted by UNICEF in 2014 found that 94% of children worldwide are punished regularly and somewhat shockingly eighty percent are spanked, pinched, or hit.

But this isn't a blog debating the morality of hitting your child or taking away their iPad - it is about the question of effectiveness. Does punishing children work? If you give way to your fury and hit your 8 year old will that deter them from future bad behaviour? If you remove their privileges or confiscate their toys will it stop them from having tantrums or teach them listen? Evidence suggests no.

Countless analyses of physical and non-physical punishments show that while they may gain immediate compliance, the behaviour of the child is unlikely to improve as a result. In fact it is likely to worsen. 

There are a number of issues it seems with punishment.

1) Causing pain can be ok -as Elizabeth Gershoff points out one of the problems with punishment (especially corporal) is that it sends a message to your child that in certain circumstances it is ok to cause someone else physical or psychological pain. 

2) Don't get caught - when you discipline your child for doing something you disapprove of they often perceive themselves as being punished for being caught rather than the act itself  and therefore rather than changing their behaviour seek to hide it;

3) It must be REALLY good! - punishment can also increase the allure of the targeted behaviour or object. By banning a child from doing something without explanation of why it is harmful can make it appear more exciting. We don't take away the fireplace because a child reaches out to touch it - we explain that it could hurt them and that is generally sufficient. 

But evidence also shows permissive parenting is damaging in its own way so what options are we left with? Research suggests that clearly setting boundaries is important, yet it is equally important to separate the behaviour from the emotion, and to explain why the action isn't acceptable.

So next time you are faced with bad behaviour try these suggestions from positive parenting psychologists:

1) Talk - sit down with your child and take the time to explain why you are upset by what they have done

2) Find solutions - work with them to come up with solutions to what is upsetting them or think of alternative ways they could behave in future situations

3) Emotion coaching - help your child label their emotions and explain that while it is ok to feel angry, frustrated, overexcited it is not ok to hit the wall, have a tantrum, jump on the sofa.

4) Time out - if things have escalated too far and talking isn't possible then give them time to calm down in their room or outside and then talk.

Evidence shows that taking a positive approach to parenting will not only have the most lasting benefit for their behaviour but also for your relationship and their wellbeing. 


Do you have grit?

We all come across hurdles in life, both the big (death, job loss, sudden disability) and the little (arguments, phone breaking, bad grades). Interestingly though, the event itself doesn't dictate what happens next. Just because you have faced a huge setback does not mean you are destined for failure, nor does a seemingly trouble free life mean success. Similarly, being naturally gifted does not predict that you will become a great talent. 


Angela Duckworth suggests it comes down to a quality called "grit".  She argues that grit is the essential reason why despite the same talent some people succeed and some don't. 

Look around you. Who are the leaders in your company? Who were the best students in your class? Which of your friends seems to keep rising against the odds? And what is it that sets them apart from others? 

Chances are it isn't just a matter of genius, fitness, good looks or aptitude. IQ alone will not get you to the top of your class in medical school. Good looks will not make you the face of L'Oreal. Nor will social intelligence make you CEO or personal connections rich. It is more likely that those you see at the top have something else in common - passion and perseverance. They have their eye on a goal and stick with it regardless of what knocks them down. They put everything they have behind achieving that goal and they show stamina in its pursuit.

Duckworth likens this to living life as a marathon rather than a series of sprints. Instead of running at short term goals, or giving up when things get rough if you really want to succeed get clear on what you're aiming for, double down and go for it. 

In other words, get some grit! 

(Check out Angela Duckworth's Ted Talk).


How opinions shape our lives

Let's face it, all of us have opinions about other people. Some are strong, some are fleeting, and while many are our own, a great many more are "borrowed" from those around us. 

Driven. Smart. Unreliable. Generous. Good at sport. Greedy. Kind. Lazy. Funny. Annoying... These labels are attached to the people around us and while we're at it we also pin quite a few on ourselves.

But where do these opinions come from and what effect do they have? 

Research shows that the impact of our (and other people's) opinions is quite significant. The reason is that beliefs affect our actions, which in turn reinforce those beliefs. In the 1960's a couple of researchers decided to look into the topic and came up with a theory called The Pygmalion Effect (otherwise known as the Rosenthal effect). What they discovered is that opinions are critical because people have a tendency to rise or fall to meet expectations.

Let's take an example. Liliana is starting year three and her teacher believes she is terrible at maths (something she heard from the year 2 teacher). As a result when it's time for mathematics she deals with Lilly in line with her beliefs. She gives her easier maths problems, offers other kids opportunities to answer questions, and praises them for their maths ability. As a result, Liliana  starts to believe that she really is no good at maths and is very likely to start doing worse – not only as a result of the actions of the teacher but also because of her reduced belief in herself. And because she starts to perform badly this only reinforces the teacher's view that she really is terrible at maths… and so the cycle continues.

The reverse is also true of course. Let’s say I take on a team and am told by Kate's previous manager that she is a high performer. This information will inevitably influence my beliefs about her along with my actions. When a key piece of work comes up I'm more likely to give it to her, I will look for things to support my belief that she is good and point out successes to her and others. Her performance review will be better and in turn she will start to see herself as a high achiever. And of course when she believes she is a high achiever she will behave in a way that supports this view which in turn will cement my viewpoint.

The above may seem simplistic, but the bottom line is that our opinions aren't harmless little thoughts, they influence our behaviour and in turn they impact the way other people feel about themselves. And yet beliefs aren't always born from fact. Quite often they are founded on other people's views, on partial information, are exaggerated or are simply down right wrong. Yet the knock-on effect can be profound. 

The same goes with our beliefs about ourselves. Not only do they impact our actions, they also influence other people’s views and treatment of us. If I think I’m terrible at public speaking and refuse to stand up and talk in front of other people, those around me will take on this belief and when it comes time to do a presentation I'm less likely to be involved. As result I'm left languishing in the audience, have less chance of overcoming my fear, and will actually become worse. Thus a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The flip-side of all this of course is that self-belief and positive action are incredibly powerful. If you can switch your mindset and actions towards yourself and others then you can use the same cycle to yours (and their) benefit. So next time rather than doubting your abilities, act with confidence. Instead of telling everyone how rubbish you are give it a shot. This will not only impact your behaviour but also influence the way other's think and act. Similarly if you notice yourself taking on people's opinions of others, why not make a commitment to instead make up your own mind - you may be surprised. 

 Be mindful of your opinions - not only of others but yourself. 

Be mindful of your opinions - not only of others but yourself. 

The value of time

Remember when there was endless time?

As a child summer holidays went forever but over the years things have sped up... Put me in front of a judge and I would swear there are less hours than there used to be.  "Your honour I'm telling you, someone stole half my day!" Of course the evaporation of time (I mean really, where did 2017 go?) is an illusion. It isn't a case of there being less days or weeks, the problem is we are all trying to cram more and more into the same allotted hours.  

When I was in kindergarten my sole concern was what game I was going to play next and maybe food. Over the years I have steadily accumulated a semi trailer load of responsibilities that consume my waking hours. And as a result time has become the ultimate commodity. Time is freedom. Time is white space. Time is choice. And I'm not alone. Who wouldn't want to press the pause button a little more often? Step of the treadmill and go for a relaxed meal, take a leisurely bath, read a book, play the guitar, work on their secret passion... all those things that get sidelined as a result of the important, the necessary, the urgent. 

In my last blog I touched on the fact that most of us spend a whole heap of time (like 30-40% of our day) in front of screens. Much of this overlaps with our work though, which happens to be the second greatest consumer of our time. Now most of us grow up accepting a job is necessary part of life. Which given the need for food, clothes, school fees, transport and housing it is. If we want to participate in the world in any meaningful way then money is mandatory. Yet the acquisition of money doesn't tend to stop at the point of "enough." There is an overwhelming desire for more. It doesn't just provide us with security, it also translates into experiences, pleasure, comfort and power.

Now the interesting thing about money (and having more of it) is that research actually suggests that while mulla does contribute to happiness the positive correlation actually wears off at the point where our needs are met. Which in Australia and US is around $60-80K per year. Beyond that the impact on our level of wellbeing stagnates or diminishes. I find this quite an interesting insight considering our fixation on wealth and accumulation. Why do we push for more and more and more if there is no positive impact on our overall happiness?

At its basic level work is a bartering of time/skills for money. For every hour you give of said time and skills you will get a certain amount of money in return. You then take that money and trade it in for food, drink, housing, transportation, hobbies, holidays... So let's say you earn $20 an hour (after tax) - that sandwich you bought at lunch cost you 30 minutes of your time, the new television 40 hours, your phone another 45 hours and that lovely new car - well now we are talking in weeks or months. 

The thing is by the time we receive our hard earned cash we're generally not thinking in terms of hours spent. We're thinking - "I work so hard I deserve". "Life is so busy I need this." "Everyone else is buying one so..." What we tend to forget though is that with every purchase we aren't paying with cash, we're paying with time. The time we exchanged to get the money in the first place. 

Now as Confucius said "do something you love and you'll never work a day in your life". And if that's the case well money is simply the sweet fruit of your labour! And cudos to you. That is really where we should all be aiming. If however, you find work a chore, that it eats up far more time than you would ever like it to, that you are wishing away your days, or just feel that you could be doing something better then it is seriously worth considering what you're bartering your time for. And what you spend your money on.

Are those purchases worth the hours you spent getting in the office or away from home? Could you work less or retire earlier if you didn't trade up cars and houses? If you contented yourself with your current wardrobe? If you didn't get your nails done or that nightly bottle of wine? And would you need all those things to feel good if you weren't working so much or the goal post was closer? My guess is no... 

Time is money they say - but actually money is also time. Your time. Spend it wisely and savour it wisely. Rather than throwing days and weeks and months of your life on bandaid purchases to make you feel temporarily better why not use that money to buy back some of those months and years and do something you truly love.

 Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

What's it worth?

How are you?

It seems that more often than not if I ask someone that question the answer  is "busy" or "exhausted". Or both.  And it's true, for all the time saving conveniences we have it still seems like everyone is maxed out. I'm tempted to say "busy" is the tagline of our era. And at same time we never seem to have enough time.

It's the reason why we don't exercise as much as we should. Why we opt for takeaway. Why we don't catch up with our friends and family. Why we missed our kid's assembly. There simply isn't enough time. 

Now I am not denying that life can be a bit of a juggling act. Between work and kids and personal commitments and family and friends and admin and house there is a whole heap to get through in any one day. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and say "I just don't have enough time..." My problem with this statement however, is that it suggests you have no choice - that life is busy and you are at its mercy. 

But the fact is, we do have a choice. We all have 24 hours in a day. Each and every one of us is allotted the same amount of time. And for those of us who are fortunate enough to have a freedom of choice, what we choose to do with that time is up to us. Think about it. 24 hours a day. 168 hours a week. Over 760 a month.

So how are us busy beings actually spending our time? Lonergan Research found that on average Australians spend about 8 hours a day working, 7.3 hours sleeping and a total of 9.4 hours on screens. And that's just the average - if you're an office worker it is more like 11.5 hours. We spend more time in front of our devices that we do eating, exercising, commuting and getting ready for the day. Which doesn't leave much time for meaningful conversation with family and friends - we spend more time in front our screen that we do with people we care about. 

So when we say "I just don't have enough time to [fill in the blank]" in fact what we should be saying is "I am choosing to prioritise [X activity} over [blank]" I am choosing to play Candy Crush rather than go for a walk. I am choosing to look at Facebook instead of chatting to my partner. I have decided to work late rather than eat dinner with the family. I want to stay home and watch Netflix instead of seeing my friend. Simply whitewashing things away by saying "I don't have enough time", "I'm busy", "I just have too much to do" is actually a cop out. 

Now think about being handed five thousand dollars at the beginning of each month and being asked to allocate your spend across the various facets of your life - work, relationships, sleep, fitness, screen. Wouldn't you want to get the most value for money? Spend a portion on work, a decent amount on family and friends, a good chunk on sleep and fitness, and perhaps a bit on screen? 

The problem is most of us go through our days and weeks mindlessly - from waking, to work, to watching t.v, to sleep, to waking, to work, to watching screen, to work.... and yes we might fit in some housework, we may have a chat over dinner with our children and partners, we might kid ourselves we did some exercise because we walked from the car to the office. Yet the evidence clearly shows that for most Australians (and Brits and Americans) the highest priorities in life are work and screen. That's what makes us busy and tired. 

So next time you are about to say "I don't have enough time" or "I'm just too busy" remember it's actually your choice.