Bounce

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“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing but in rising every time we fall” Nelson Mandela

 As I’m sure many parents do, I sometimes think about the legacy I’d like to leave my children. On reflection, perhaps one of the reasons I started writing “The Lettuce Patch” was to do just that; to capture and share with them my life lessons and observations.

In the immortal words of Forrest Gump “life is like a box of chocolates” or perhaps, to improve the analogy, like Jelly Belly’s Beanboozled Jelly Beans. Every now and again we get a rotten egg, vomit or canned dog food flavoured jelly bean.

Sailing is a big part of Island life. Last summer we decided that it was time for our 11 year old to venture out onto the water and enrolled him on a week-long sailing course. On his second day he capsized and was pinned under the water by the mast for a few seconds; probably an eternity to him. Despite our comforting and reassuring words, for the next few nights he sobbed himself to sleep, convinced that he was going to die. Although clearly terrified, he insisted that he’d carry on with the course. On the last day he was awarded his sailing qualifications, but announced that he never wanted to set foot in a Laser Picot again.

His resilience was stunning. We were proud parents, with a son who was, quite understandably, very proud of himself.

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice” (Bob Marley)

Our brains are still wired in the same way as those of our ancient ancestors. When we’re faced with something new, unknown and scary our “fight or flight” response kicks in. Running away or ignoring it is often the easiest option. Whilst that might buy us some time, the next time we’re faced with a similar challenge (and there will undoubtedly be a next time), it will be just as terrifying. We’ll have also given it enough space and time in our imaginations to grow into an even bigger, scarier monster.

Instead of running away or when running away simply isn’t an option, we can choose to stay and fight. For such occasions, resilience is something we need to have hanging, battle-ready, in our personal armoury.

But personal resilience is not just head and body armour, there to take the impact of the challenges being hurled at us. It’s so much more than that. It’s like the warm, spring sun on the cold, damp earth; it generates growth. We emerge from the battle stronger and wiser.

There’s a really insightful paper, written by Rod Warner and Kurt April (“Builidng personal resilience at work”, Ashridge Business School). Their study looked at people in South Africa who had gone through significant personal traumas, and identified seven common characteristics of personal resilience. Below, I have summarised and built on their key points.

  1. Grounding and connecting: “I don’t know why this has happened, but it’s for a reason, so I have to accept it and carry on”.
    • Having a reason to persevere; knowing what your life goals are and what is important to you.
    • Believing that you will be stronger and more resourceful as a consequence of the challenge
  1. Understanding & accepting self: “I know what my own strengths/vulnerabilities are”.
    • Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, so that you can develop your own recovery plan and have reasonable expectations of how quickly/well you will recover
  1. Controlling & choosing thoughts: “I choose to think positively”.
    • Acknowledging your negative thoughts, choosing to control them and turn them into positive ones
  1. Controlling & choosing feelings: “I can control strong emotional feelings and choose how I express them”.
    • Directing your feelings towards positive goals
  1. Controlling & choosing attitude: “I choose a positive outlook and to live in a way that achieves this”.
    • Viktor Frankl’s quotation, written from his experiences as a prisoner of war, exemplifies this “…everything can be taken from a human but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”.
  1. Action focus: “I choose to seek solutions and deal with issues”.
    • This needs flexibility, open-mindedness and a willingness to listen to the views of others
  1. Giving & accepting support: “I easily give and accept support”.
    • Being willing/able to admit there is a problem and to ask for help

“Come to the edge” Life said

They said “we are afraid”

“Come to the edge” life said

They came

It pushed

And they flew

(Author unknown)

Warner and Aprils’ paper illustrates that personal resilience isn’t something magical that some lucky people are born with. As we go through life we can choose to develop these skills and tools for ourselves.

Exposing ourselves to challenging situations builds, but also maintains, resilience. When I left the mainland in 2006, I left behind me a daily motorway commute on one of the main routes into London. I was amazed at how quickly I lost my confidence in driving in fast moving, heavy traffic.

Leaving my children the knowledge to develop their personal resilience, and then one day do the same for their own families, is now top of my legacy list. One of the best ways I can do this is by encouraging and supporting them to challenge themselves, just as my parents did for me.

As children we spent a week or two of our summer holidays on the South West beaches. Living in one of the furthest places from the sea, to make the most of our time, every day, come rain or shine, we’d be there. It wasn’t unusual to be munching our sandy, soggy egg and cheese sandwiches, whilst sitting shivering in our waterproof jackets (swimwear at the ready underneath). Despite Mum’s protestations, Dad would take us off to climb the cliffs; nothing too risky, you’ll be pleased to know. I can still remember the feeling now; excitement, but trepidation, heightened by look of terror in Mum’s eyes as we waved to her below. Half way up, having slipped on some loose stones, one of us would inevitably start sobbing, saying we couldn’t do it. With Dad’s encouragement we always did. What an immense sense of achievement we all had from scaling what felt like Everest to us as small children.

Let’s make a commitment to seek and embrace new challenges and apply the seven points above in how we deal with them. That way, we’ll have the necessary tools in our armoury for when we have to face the really scary monsters.

I’ve been too scared to try the Beanboozled JellyBeans. Perhaps that should be the first challenge on my resilience building list.

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Come to the edge

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“You have 3 choices in life: give up, give in or give it all you’ve got” Kim Garst

As I watched the sun drop down in the sky and cast a golden glow over the naked trees and the frosty grass, I took the opportunity of a rare, quiet moment to reflect on the past year. It’s been a year in which life, in the words of Forrest Gump, truly has been like a box of chocolates. I love this analogy, not just because I love chocolate, but because they are most often an unexpected gift; they’re something to personally savour but also joyous to share and, if you’re anything like me and lose the little flavour guide, there is an element of risk and surprise when you bite into them.

In 2014 I’ve made much more of an effort to embrace and make the most of life. Supporting the establishment of a brand new school (which opened in September) and learning to be school governor has been and continues to be hugely rewarding. I feel so much fitter now I’ve lost 2 stone and I’m really enjoying being part of a running group. Spending more time with friends and family, despite more travelling and time away from home, has been just wonderful. I’ve also joined the NHS “Future Focused Finance” (FFF) national work-stream for “Great Place to Work”, to connect with and support NHS finance colleagues around the country.

I have high hopes for 2015, as I’m very much looking forward to building on the successes of 2014 and continuing to share with blog readers what I observe and learn along the way.

“Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people” Elizabeth Green

 Many readers will know that I’ve worked in the NHS for a long time – over 20 years. If I had a sum up what it’s like (for me) in one sentence, I’d say “incredibly challenging, but hugely rewarding”. It’s worth taking a few moments to understand why it is so incredibly challenging. At a recent conference, Heather Rabbatts (lawyer, business woman and ex-CEO of London Borough of Lambeth) captured it beautifully: there is constant change, constant scrutiny and the responsibility for managing public (health) risk.

During the 18months I’ve been writing my blog it has become increasingly clear to me just how interlinked my work (NHS) and personal worlds are. For this blog posting I’ve therefore decide to tie my two worlds together.

As members of the NHS workforce, we’re committed to “high quality care for all, now and for future generations” (NHS England Mission), where “everyone has greater control of their health and wellbeing, supported to live longer, healthier lives, by high quality health and care services that are compassionate, inclusive and constantly improve” (NHS England Vision), valuing:

  • Respect & dignity

  • Commitment to quality of care

  • Compassion

  • Improving lives

  • Working together for patients

  • Everyone counts

These values are my values. They’re why I get out of bed in the morning and why I have loved and continue to love working for the NHS. As Mahatma Ghandi said: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”

On the 23rd October’14 the NHS Five Year Forward View was published by Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive Officer. The key points are:

  • Getting serious about prevention; radical upgrade in prevention and public health – hard hitting on obesity, smoking, alcohol and other major health risks

  • Empowering patients; patients’ control of their care will increase

  • New care models; barriers between organisations in relation to care provision will be removed

  • Local co-design and implementation; there will be a small set of national organisational models and local community will implement the most suitable one

The first two bullets of the Five Year Forward View, which is only 41 pages and a must-read for all NHS colleagues, herald an era where everyone has to take more responsibility for their health and wellbeing. Via the national media, most of you will already have seen NHS chiefs and ministers preparing the ground and the start of the Public Health England campaigns around smoking and obesity. Without change, the increasing demand for NHS services will significantly outstrip resources. It is estimated that if nothing is done the NHS will have an annual funding gap of £30bn by 2020/21.

There are lots of theories about why NHS demand has increased, but here are my personal thoughts. With today’s medical advances people now survive, with significant interventions and aftercare, events such as strokes, heart attacks and cancers. Often, people survive these events on multiple occasions. Health issues are now picked up earlier and treatments provided to avoid events or to prolong lives. At a recent conference, Dr Sanjay Agrawal (Consultant in Respiratory and Intensive Care Medicine, University of Leicester) described Victim of Modern Imaging Technology (VOMIT) syndrome, where patients’ scans pick up possible secondary medical issue , leading to a series of follow up investigations, where (thankfully) nothing of concern is usually found. In a nutshell, people are living longer but need significant public resources to do so.

As a nation we have also seen significant change in relation to family units and how members are able to support one another. In days gone by families would generally have lived closer together and provided support during periods of emotional, social and physical need. Today, there is much more reliance on the State.

Unless we are prepared for endless, unaffordable tax rises, to take out health insurance or to “pay as we go” for services when required, as a society and as individuals we have to start taking responsibility for our own health and wellbeing.

 “Make the time to fly every day or there will come a time when you completely forget that you have wings” Katrina Mayer

The need to take responsibility for our health and wellbeing is more than just a financial imperative – it is fundamental to our happiness.

Those who have read my previous blog posts will know how passionately I believe that we are all masters of our own destiny and therefore our own happiness, health and wellbeing.

At a recent conference, Paul Hannam, a psychology academic, author and director of iPerfom presented research which shows the determinants of happiness (and therefore wellbeing) as:

  • 50% genetic

  • 40% intentional activities

  • 10% circumstances

So, on average, 40% of our happiness is based on what we choose to do. Paul explained, using research by Carol Dweck, that having a growth mindset, rather than a fixed one is key to achieving it. A growth mindset is one where we believe that we can learn, develop and grow, rather than believe we’re born the way we are and we can’t change.

During his conference session Paul also made a powerful observation, which I feel that it is important to share. He said that “In the NHS we focus on patient wellbeing, but not on that of employees – it needs to be holistic; we need to look after ourselves.” The Five Year Forward View recognises that workplace health and wellbeing is central to the NHS strategy. In Chapter 2 there is a section on workplace health, with NHS staff becoming “health ambassadors” in their local communities. The expectation is that NHS staff lead by example.

 “You cannot go through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make” Jane Goodall

 In practical terms, what can we all do to take charge of and improve our wellbeing ? In October 2008 the New Economics Foundation, based on comprehensive research, published five ways to wellbeing, with wellbeing defined as having two elements; feeling good and functioning well: These activities create a wonderfully simple, understandable framework around which to build a full and contented life and have been adopted and are promoted by many organisations already, including MIND:

  • Connect: with people around you, with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day

  • Be active: Go for a walk, run or bike ride. Step outside. Exercising makes you feel good. Discover something active you enjoy

  • Take notice: Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Savour the moment. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you

  • Keep learning: Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Set a challenge that you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you confident, as well as being fun.

  • Give: Do something nice for a friend, or stranger. Thanks someone. Smile. Volunteer. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself and your happiness linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connection with people around you.

 “Come to the edge” life said

They said “we are afraid”

Come to the edge” life said

They came

It pushed them

And they flew

Author unknown

 Change is scary; courage is required. No-one can underestimate how much of a challenge it is going to be for the NHS to implement the necessary practical and cultural changes to support the shift from citizens’ reliance on the NHS to empowerment and self-reliance, or the challenges every one of us as citizens will face to accept and make the necessary personal changes. As a mother, I see parallels with parenting; we support our children to grow wings so that they can one day fly. Of course, we’re always here to support when wings are damaged and flying conditions become difficult; to offer tough love as and when required, to keep our fledglings on the right flight path.

For the reasons I hope I have explained above, it is in our best interest, as individuals, NHS staff and members of society, to allow life to push us off the edge, spread our wings and take responsibility for our own health and wellbeing. It will certainly be at the top of my New Year’s Resolution list for 2015. Will it be on yours ?

The Incident of the Boot and the Bonnet

I can’t believe that my last blog post was in August. The past few months have just flown by. Life has been beyond busy. Time gets eaten away by the gym, running and my school governor duties. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, as it’s all so rewarding.

About a month ago I drafted a blog post called “Bounce”. It’s all about personal resilience. After penning the final word I read it through and decided that it didn’t feel quite ready, so I put it on ice, to reflect. During the intervening weeks I’ve got a new computer and have discovered that during the changeover, my blog has been lost. This has certainly tested my resilience ! In a way, losing the blog has done me a favour, as it has forced me to re-think what I want to say and will give me the opportunity to incorporate some new concepts and ideas that I’ve recently come across.

As friends and colleagues will tell you, I have spent the last year trying to tempt, persuade and very occassionally, bribe them to write a guest blog post for The Lettuce Patch. Finally, a very talented colleague has come up trumps and, spookily, it touches on personal resilience.

So whilst I finalise my next blog post and get back into the habit of making regular postings (it’s on my New Year’s Resolution list), please settle yourself down in your most comfortable chair, with a cup (or glass) or something warming, and enjoy Martin Robinson’s “The Incident of the Boot and the Bonnet”. Wishing you and your families a wonderful Christmas !

It’s funny how one small event can start you seeing things very differently. It happened after some kind resident in Ryde put their boot into one of my car panels, forcing me to find an alternative and safer place to park my car.

So I parked on the other side of Ryde and wandered down to catch the Hovercraft home. It was like walking through a different place. This time the houses were slightly grander with a few hidden, narrow roads – it felt differenct, but it was the same place. I was looking at things from a different perspective and I saw something different. Even the seafront looked different.

On the way back to pick my car up the next day for the journey to work, it reminded me about a Japanese Lean technique called “Genchi Genbutsu” or “Go, Look See” and it means literally that.

It must have been on my mind all week as I took lots of opportunities to stop and observe things. The main hospital corridor was interesting; who was moving through, which departments patients couldn’t find, and how much business I did as staff simply passed by.

Next, sitting in an Outpatient area with patients I wrote another list; phones ringing too much, the natural flare of a receptionist (fed back to her) and a possible cost saving idea linked with literature.

A colleague recommended I try the technique at the next meeting I went to; there were two conversations going on in that room and only one of the verbally.

On top of all that, I’ve just spent the morning as a healthcare support worker and I’m calling that “Go, Look, See, Do”. It has been really interesting. giving me a number of ideas to follow up, more of an understanding of the role and staff seemed to appreciate me doing it too.

Like all things, there’s a lot more to Genchi Genbutsu (see the Internet), but here’s my personal challenge to you. Do your own “Do, Look See” and see what a new perspective might give you.

Old lady picture

Have you turned the picutre of the old lady upside down yet ?

Martin Robinson

Human Doings

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 Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear and not bothering” Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The one parents look forward to and dread in equal measure – the school holidays.

On the bright side it’s six weeks without fighting for a parking space on the school run, without having to iron a heap of crumpled of shirts and without struggling to remember how to solve simultaneous equations (to help your despairing child with their homework).

On the dark side it’s six weeks of empty kitchen cupboards, of scrubbing grass-stains off trousers and of trying to keep the kids amused.

I’m going to sound old now. When I was a child we didn’t have technology to keep us amused and there was hardly anything on TV. We didn’t have “on-tap” stimulation. When we were bored we entertained ourselves, building tents in the garden using the washing line and mum’s old sheets, putting on performances and plays, climbing trees and splashing around in the washing up bowl (when there was a drought) or the old plastic baby bath and the garden hose (when water was plentiful).

Car journeys to our summer holiday in the West Country were an experience. I can remember being squashed on the backseat with my brother, sister and our bedding, tucking into warm cheese and pickle sandwiches, slurping hot orange squash which tasted like the plastic bottle it was in, singing loudly along to the Radio 1 Roadshow tunes with the windows wound down as far as they could go. If we were lucky we’d have comics and “I Spy” books to amuse us – provided they didn’t make us car sick. Oh how spoilt we are now with our cool bags, air conditioning, MP3s, DVDs, iPads and smartphones.

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity” Dorothy Parker

In the April’14 edition of Psychologies magazine, Matt Chittock observes how we seem to have created a world where it’s not OK for us to be bored and how we have taught our children that boredom and lack of stimulation is something to be feared.

He explains that in 1924 Siegfried Kracauer wrote of massive over-stimulation of the modern city, leaving people in a state of “permanent receptivity”. Imagine what Kracauer would make of the world now. Kracauer advocated actively pursuing boredom as a valuable means of unlocking playful, wild ideas and “achieving a kind of bliss that is almost unearthly.”

Chittock supports this view with Dr Sandi Mann’s experiment, where 40 people were asked to copy numbers from a phone book for 15minutes before undertaking a creative task. The result was that they showed more creative flair. Essentially, our mind gets bored and daydreams, coming up with different processes and working out creative solutions.

In addition to being a key stimulator of creativity, boredom can have wider benefits.

The definition of boredom most accepted by academics is “wanting but being unable to engage in satisfying activity.”

In his paper entitled “Bored George helps others”, based on his research Wijnand Van Tilburg concludes that boredom encourages reflection and the pursuit of new goals. It can therefore promote behavioural benefits to society as people seek out meaningful experiences.

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known” From “Winnie the Pooh”, A.A. Milne

Most of us seem to have fallen victim to our over-stimulated world and no longer allow ourselves to get bored. We deliberately keep our lives busy to avoid it. As one of my colleagues and I frequently reflect, we have morphed from human beings into human doings.

Whilst we have created an over-stimulated world, the good news is that we’ve also created one which also affords us downtime. We have paid holidays, we have machines to help us with our household chores and we are even able to use technology to order our shopping and have it delivered.

As with anything, there is a balance to be achieved in how we spend our downtime. As described in Sir Ken Robinson’s book “The Element: how finding your passion changes everything”, there are two kinds of downtime: recreation, which is about using physical and/or mental effort doing something which energises us; and leisure, where we rest and recharge.

Our leisure time provides the perfect opportunity to allow ourselves to be bored. To stimulate our creativity and allow our minds to come up with new and satisfying goals, which could be work or recreation related.

Summer is a wonderful time to unplug ourselves from technology, to listen to the wind rustling through the trees, watch the clouds floating across the sky and breathe in the smell of the garden after a summer rainstorm. Why not lay down on the lawn on a balmy summer evening and gaze with wonder at the stars.

For those of us with children, over the summer let’s give them opportunities to spend time away from their technology, to let boredom give birth to creation. Watching them create games with nonsensical rules, invent weird potions from rose petals or play in a make-believe world is fascinating, heart-warming and best of all will provide them with a treasure trove full of wonderful childhood memories.

Don’t fear boredom, embrace it.

Let’s become human beings once more and “Explore, Dream, Discover” – Mark Twain.

The Case of the missing Mojo

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“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today”, said Pooh.

“There, there”, said Piglet. ”I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do”.

A.A. Milne

 It’s been a while since my last blog posting. Somehow, I managed to lose my Mojo.

Before I go any further, let’s clear up any misunderstandings (I know that Mojo means different things to different people…). By Mojo I mean my “Joie de Vivre”, my creative spark etc etc.

Try as I might, nothing inspired me. Everything I did felt like it was pointless. Usually baking cakes lifts me out of the doldrums by giving me a sense of achievement, but even a spectacular, light Victoria Sponge and a rich, dense Chocolate Guinness Cake didn’t seem to do the trick.

But, after a couple of months, I’m back – I’ve finally snapped out it !

Sitting in the garden, wrapped in my fleecy lined hoody, enjoying the last flashes of late afternoon sun between the gently swaying, rustling branches of the sliver birch trees, I pondered over how I’d been so careless as to lose it in the first place and, more to the point, how I’d managed to get it back.

 “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any” Alice Walker

 Over the past few months I’ve been reading a book by Peter M Senge called, “The 5th Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation”. Senge discusses how our sub-conscious holds us back from goals. As children, we learn what our limitations are; we are constantly told we can’t have or do things. Consequently, we end up with two contradictory beliefs: powerlessness (most common) and unworthiness.

Senge believes that it’s like having two rubber bands around us; one pulling us towards our goals and the other pulling us away, telling us we are powerless and unworthy.

When our youngest son was nearly three, we took him into the local toy shop and asked him to choose something to play with. He came back with a Spiderman figure – my husband seems to have passed on his love of comic book characters. At the counter, sat in his pushchair, our two year old looked at the shop assistant with a serious and quizzical look on his face and asked “Is it suitable ?”. We were amused, proud and horrified in equal measure – he was already setting himself limitations.

Senge explains that there are three strategies we tend to use to overcome the limitations: to let our vision/dreams erode; to create artificial conflict – if you don’t achieve your goal something bad will happen; or to use willpower to overcome the resistance. Essentially, these strategies give you the choice of: killing your dream; living your life in fear; or using super-human effort to achieve something that might not be worth all of that effort. All three leave the underlying system of structural conflict unaltered; your sense of powerlessness is still there.

 “Create a life that feels good on the inside, not one that just looks good on the outside” Anon

 So how do we rid ourselves of a sense of powerlessness ? Senge believes this is only possible by changing our beliefs.

In earlier blogs I’ve advocated the importance of understanding our values and beliefs and of living our lives as our true selves. As Senge points out, the power of the truth is a common principle in almost all of the world’s great philosophic and religious systems. In order to change our beliefs, we have to be able to understand the ways in which we limit or deceive ourselves by seeing our situations and our responses to them as they are. Senge uses “A Christmas Carol”, by Charles Dickens to explain what he means. Scrooge, through the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, gets to see his reality, realises he has a choice and chooses to change: “ I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

 “You are confined only by the walls you build yourself” Anon

Reflecting over the past few months, feeling powerless over certain, important things in my life has definitely been a big factor in my lost Mojo.

Some months ago I received a letter from my GP Practice, inviting me for a Healthcheck. I knew exactly what they’d say to me “lose weight and do more exercise, or you’re at risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure etc”. I had chalked up so many excuses for not taking action (a bad back, working long hours, having to plan two lots of family’s meals, diets aren’t good for you and never work for me), that I’d almost resigned myself to living a bleak, unhealthy future life. After giving myself a very firm talking to, I built my goal around a positive future vision: grandchildren and a healthy, active, well-earned retirement. Over the last four months I’ve lost almost 2 stone (through reduced calories and keeping a food diary), joined the gym and am on week 2 of NHS Choices “Couch to 5k” running programme.

Apparently, it is part of the evolutionary process for us to do the minimum to survive. Otherwise we’d have to risk our life to find more food to give us the energy to do more. The human body is essentially built to be lazy. We are only 20-30% of our full strength potential. That certainly makes me feel less guilty about my lack of motivation to diet and exercise.

“Do or not do. There is no try.” Yoda (Star Wars)

 The quote at the top of this posting is testimony to the fact that even “happy go lucky” Winnie the Pooh, loses his Mojo from time to time. Whilst a best friend giving us tea and honey may help, I believe that one of the most positive things you can do is to use Senge’s advice, to reflect on why and to see if you can figure what changes you need to make get it back.

As the pounds have come off and the moth-balled, smaller sized clothes have emerged from the back of the wardrobe, I’ve felt more and more empowered and full of resolve to tick things off that have been on the “too difficult” list for far too long.

Even making the simplest of changes can make a huge difference. I’ve bought some cheap, purple mock-crocs, so I can nip in and out of the garden with the minimum of effort – it was too much effort before (yes, really !). Now I pop into the garden to tickle the cats whilst they sun bathe on the patio or spend a few minutes leaning over the bottom fence watching the wildlife in the wooded copse.

As I walk around the garden and house with my notepad, tape measure and a revived sense of purpose, I can see the look of fear in my husband’s eyes. Yes, some serious DIY is on the cards !

 

 

 

 

 

Once upon a time

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“The greatest gift is a passion for reading” – Elizabeth Hardwick

 My love affair with stories began at a very young age. Since the age of 8, when I read “The Hobbit”, I’ve been totally hooked.

As a child I loved having my grandparents stay over to babysit. Grandad would be dispatched to the Fish and Chip shop, for scampi and chips, and I’d be allowed to stay up late, to watch “The Two Ronnies”. The next morning I would burst into their room, jump under the covers and Granny would take us on fantastic, far away adventures on a magic carpet (the bed), created from whatever we pulled out of our imaginations.

There is nothing quite like reading with your little (and bigger) ones. Snuggling up with a book, somewhere calm and cosy helps them associate reading with emotional warmth and fun. My 10 year old still loves a bed-time story. It gives us a chance to relax and reconnect after our busy day at work and school. What’s wonderful is that I’ve already passed onto him a passion for storytelling – my heart melts when he cuddles up on the sofa with his 2 year old cousin and reads her a book.

According to the Literary Trust, there are significant benefits to telling children stories. In addition to the emotional boding, it helps build their concentration, vocabulary and conversational skills. It also supports the development of emotional intelligence, as the stories contain important life lessons.

In this technological and stressful age, bed-time stories are, for some families, sadly becoming a thing of the past.

 “No two persons ever read the same book” – Edmund Wilson

 As family, friends and blog followers will know from my previous blogs, I am a book junkie. When life allows, I can easily devour one in a day. There is always a pile of them, either on my kindle or in physical form, just waiting for me to get my teeth into.

What came as a surprise and a huge delight to me was that reading could be made even more enjoyable.

Several years ago I was invited to join a fabulous book group, with five work colleagues. We met up on a Friday evening every six weeks to discuss/debate a book, enjoy a glass (or two) of wine and to generally put the world to rights. There was great diversity in our taste in literature, and consequently we were stretched into reading books that we would never have considered.

The Reader Organisation (www.thereader.org.uk), together with Liverpool University, has been doing extensive research into the benefits of group reading. One study looked at Dementia sufferers and another at patients suffering from Depression.

For Dementia sufferers there was a significant reduction in dementia symptoms and improvements in short term/long term memory, listening skills and quality of life. Those suffering Depression experienced an increase in their mental health. They felt a sense of community – a part of something. Their confidence grew – they felt that they could put across their own views in a non-judgemental environment.

In his blog posting “Groundhog day and the Super Bowl” Seth Godin observes that we now have so much choice that our culture has fragmented. Essentially, we no longer have things in common with each other. We don’t belong. Belonging is an innate human need. If you belong, you are accepted and you feel valued.

A book provides the glue to stick a disparate room of people together. It gives them a shared purpose and a common language.

“So, please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away. And in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall” – Roald Dahl, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

In their song quote above, the Oompa Loompas offer us some very sound advice.

It’s all too easy for us to sit in front of our TV or computer screens and to be spoon fed entertainment and information.

Research shows that reading sharpens our brain, de-stresses us, increases our empathy, helps us concentrate and enhances creativity. When done with others it provides connection.

Time spent reading fact or fiction, whether alone, with our children or in group, is truly time well spent.

So let’s harness the powers of reading to improve the quality of our lives and that of others.

Storyboard

notebook_jan14

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself” – George Bernard Shaw

 To me, New Year always feels like being given a clean sheet of paper on which to write a new chapter of my life.

Somewhere, amongst the festive busyness, I managed to find some time and quiet space to reflect; to revisit 2013 and to think about what 2014 might look like. Reflection is something which even the Queen advocated in her Christmas speech this year.

On reflection, 2013 was a year where I’d given myself a bit of a kick up the butt and actually done some of the things I’d wanted to do for ages. It’s felt great to do this. Here are a couple of examples.

During my summer holiday I started writing this blog, which is proving to be a real joy. I am truly humbled, privileged and gratified when readers share their own thoughts and experiences with me.

Recently, I applied to be a School Governor and I am very excited to report that I have been successful. I can’t wait to get started !

 “We cannot teach people anything. We can only help them discover it within themselves” – Galileo Gallilei

As you know from my previous blogs, I am a huge fan of Seth Godin’s books. If you want an inspirational, short read to set you up for the year ahead, my recommendation would be his book “Graceful”.

In “Graceful”, Godin summarises a speech made, at a Princeton graduation ceremony, by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com.

Graduates are at the start of their careers, facing a blank sheet of paper and choices about how to fill it. Bezos poses the following questions, to help them develop their storyboard.

  • “Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions ? Will you follow dogma or will you be original ?”
  •  “Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure ? Will you wilt under criticism or will you follow your convictions ?”
  • “Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling. When it’s tough, will you give up or will you be relentless ?”
  •  “Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder ? Will you be clever at the expense of others or will you be kind ?”

Bezos’ questions can only be answered from the heart. “When your heart speaks, take good notes” – Anon. The answers provide a reference point for creating life’s storyboard; a set of values and principles to guide our decision making.

“Sometimes, on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one” – Lisa Hammond (Permission to Dream)

 All good stories contain surprises and unexpected endings. Along the way our path will twist and turn. In response, we’ll “ad-lib” and to do so, we need to have a strong set of values in our armoury.

 “For my part, I know nothing with any certainty. But the sight of the starts makes me dream” – Vincent Van Gogh

 None of us knows what the year ahead will bring.

My New Year’s resolution is to squeeze as much as I can out of 2014; to live life to the full, to put my energy into realising my dreams.

I know that to be truly happy I must live life in a way that is in tune with my beliefs, values and passions and this will be my guiding principle.

Perhaps you will, like me, spend some time over the next few days distilling your New Year’s resolution and from it, creating your 2014 storyboard.

I hope that you have a happy 2014.

PS – I would love it if you feel able to share what you come up with. If you do, please post it as a comment at the bottom.