Two things, two minutes – make your day!

For the longest time my first thought on waking would be one of the following:

  • I’m tired
  • I’m stressed
  • My back hurts
  • I’ve got to…
  • I need to…
  • I’ve got a manic day
  • I didn’t get enough sleep
  • I don’t want to get out of bed

And then I read somewhere that our thoughts become our reality – this stayed with me.

During one of my painful back episodes I decided that instead of constantly talking about it and living ‘in’ the pain, I would tell myself and anyone else that asked that ‘I am better than I was’. Everyday, for two months I did this – it became my personal mantra – it got me off the floor, it got me standing, walking and finally sitting again.

When you physically have to stop because of illness, you have a lot of time to think amongst the pain and discomfort. Here are two things that made my day, got me back to being me and I still use:

  1. On waking – I tell myself ‘today will be a good day’
  2. Before bed – I tell myself one thing I am grateful for that happened that day

It’s simple, effective and takes less than two minutes – give it a go and notice what begins to happen to you, your body, your life and your relationships.

Coach, Communicator & Collaborator
eight circles

From cacophony to calm

With two millennials, one teenager and an even bigger kid with a passion for all things hi-fi in the house you can probably imagine the cacophony of sounds that sometimes greets me. With music ever present, rather than attempt to fight it, I was led to thinking about how I could use it to get mindfulness and calm into the family dynamic. This had the positive consequence of also assisting me with a client’s request for mindfulness amongst their leadership team.

 Mindfulness is an ancient science that is still serving us today
I believe that the deliberate cultivation of self-awareness and listening are central to conversations, learning and development, leadership and well-being. Having been asked by clients, from the boardroom to the classroom, about how to start practising mindfulness my answer was that their approach will be as unique as they are and to just experiment till they found what works for them. They kept asking. So now I often lead a guided exercise as a way of introduction and to date have seen even the most sceptical acknowledge that they became more focused and able to release their minds from distractions. Before I share this with you first here comes some science bits.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of our brain to change our neural wiring and pathways, regardless of age. Functionally, chemically and structurally our brains support us in learning and development.

Neurogenesis is the ability of our brain to grow new neurons. Whilst this an emergent field of study it is exciting and if you have a spare 10 minutes, head over to this TED Talk by Sandrine Thuret.

Bottom line is that our brains keep developing, evolving and you can harness this energy by diet, activity, lifestyle and most importantly listening to and being aware of your mind, body and soul.

For consideration
There is no one size fits all but here is a suggestion that you can take a group or team through and is one that can integrate across generations, cultures, into daily life and empowers individuals to experience mindfulness throughout their day.

Adapt the following guided exercise as you consider appropriate and personally engage in it alongside the group or team.

 The focus is on listening
1. Ask people to bring in a piece of music and headphones
2. Find a suitable location
3. Eyes open or closed is up to them – I have witnessed many a makeshift eye mask/blind being created from ties, scarves and sheets of paper.

Introduce the exercise with…
“What I am going to be asking you to do is really listen to the music you have brought.
Initially you may find distractions fill your mind, let them pass and don’t fight them but keep bringing yourself back to the present and to the music.
Really listen.
Try not to sing the lyrics or predict the next phase of the melody.
Really listen and immerse yourself in the music.
A gradual release from distractions is difficult so perhaps try and focus only on one element of the music; the lyrics, the piano, the bass, the drums or identify what focus works for you.
Really listen.
Try it.
It isn’t easy but here’s the thing.
I guarantee that you will pick up on at least one thing that you never noticed before.
It may take more than one go but you will discover something new”.

4. Indicate that the exercise has started and ask participants to cue up the music they have brought and press play
5. You do the same
6. Announce the end of the exercise as appropriate hoping of course that no one brought a 14 minute remix version of their favourite song
7. Ask participants to reflect on their experience, either personally or by sharing
8. Remind them to take it as an experience, not a challenge. It’s just about being in the present.

As an alternative try mindfulness bells, there are many versions accessible on line. This one works for me and always takes me to listening to my heartbeat, awareness of my breathing and being in the present.

With practice, you will find that you can switch off the cacophony of sound all around, focus on your inner sounds and in being in the present. In fact, the more you practice you could eventually stop playing any music or sound and instead replace it with just the sound of you.  You are after all the best witness and conductor to take the cacophony of sound in your mind, body and soul to a place of calm.

Neena Speding Chartered MCIPD, BSc (Hons) HRM, PGCE
Emotional Intelligence Thought Leader & Collaborator
eight circles

Thought for today…

Was given this on a day when everything felt out of control and overwhelming.

Two weeks later, and I continue to dance in the rain.

Whether in trainers, flats, heels, wellies or just bare feet, my advice is do it…the motion of movement or doing something changes everything.

Try it!

Neena Speding Chartered MCIPD, BSc (Hons) HRM, PGCE
Emotional Intelligence Thought Leader & Collaborator
eight circles

Three reasons to have a scrappy conversation

A scrappy conversation is a bit bitty, a sketchy take on a subject that doesn’t yet make sense. The permission to be scrappy means I can just blurt what’s on my mind however disorganised my thinking – definitely not perfect – it’s messy with no pressure to find a tidy solution and that’s what works!

As someone who needs to articulate what’s on my mind to make sense of it. I’ve frequently fallen foul (especially in corporate life) of speaking before I’m ready and immediately regretting not presenting my idea more coherently or sensitively. As a result, if a subject felt difficult I’d hold back, telling myself ‘I’m not ready,’ and then miss the opportunity to contribute my idea or make my point.

Scrappy conversations have changed all of this for me.

They’re a way of signalling that it’s OK to just talk, to express what you’re thinking and feeling about a subject in the moment, without it having to be thought through and set in stone forever. It’s a great way to dream out loud or express what worries you about a situation.

“Can we have a scrappy conversation about this?” says my husband, “sure,” I say, with relief. We’re talking about where we’re going on holiday next year, a difficult subject for us because often we want different things from our time off. He likes a city break and doing lots of activities, I like some relaxation too with at least a few days near the sea or a pool.

Our time is precious and depending when the subject is raised the pressure to agree and make a decision can lead to an unsatisfactory outcome – aka an argument! Usually this is because one of us is distracted, not really sure what we want so we try to delay the conversation, or don’t engage with it fully and then we start to compromise and no one wins.

Here are my three reasons for a scrappy conversation:

  1. Where there’s a subject that’s difficult to talk about with someone, like my holiday scenario. A bit like a mini brainstorm it can unlock a problem and because people know it’s meant to be imperfect they don’t get all ‘judgy.’
  2. When your own thoughts about something aren’t fully formed and you need help from a listening ear to get things straight in your head.
  3. When you sense that someone has something on their mind and isn’t talking about it. It takes a bit of courage and curiosity but gets to the heart of an issue more quickly and moves it along.

I use scrappy conversations with my coaching clients whenever I feel there’s something they want to say but don’t quite know where to start. Being scrappy gives them permission to blurt it out, and strangely, once voiced issues aren’t ever as scary as they seemed.

Who can you have a scrappy conversation with?

Just start the conversation with ‘can we have a scrappy conversation about this?’ and see where it goes…


Carol Conway CPCC
Coach & Collaborator
eight circles

What is your word worth?

This is something I have been debating with friends and family for the past two weeks.

What is your word worth?

We all seem to be:

  • doing more – just look at your to do list, your experiences and don’t even mention the holiday planning!
  • being more – how many roles are you playing? mum, dad, friend, partner, sibling, boss, colleague and of course add in your job title!

Have we lost focus on our word to ourselves?

I was once described by a colleague and boss as being ‘reliably reliable’ at the time I didn’t see this as a compliment, I just thought wow that sounds like I’m boring. Today (and 10 years on from that conversation) I’m proud to be called ‘reliably reliable’.

More often than not, if I say I’m going to do something for someone I do it – I allow very few things to get in the way. What I’ve realised is my word is worth more when it’s for other people (can you relate too?) – when it’s about helping them, making them feel great, making things easy for them, keeping them company. Don’t get me wrong I love doing all these things – no one is twisting my arm or forcing me to do something I don’t want to.

It did get me thinking though, what is my word worth to me?

Honestly, I feel I’ve got better at keeping my word for myself – however, it’s a daily exercise in being aware – of what I am doing and what I am thinking. Sometimes I can be swayed by the allure of a new movie over updating my web page or talking to a friend over going to yoga. I have realised that these are conscious decisions I am making (before I used to make them on auto-pilot). I guess it all comes down to choice and what’s more important to me in that moment.

So, what is your word worth – to you?

Coach, Communicator & Collaborator
eight circles









What me and you have in common with Usain Bolt!

Who else was captivated by the recent, revealing documentary ‘I am Bolt’?

Broadcast on the BBC ahead of the London 2017 World Athletic Championships, it was compelling viewing for me, on so many levels.

What fascinated me most is that even Bolt, the charismatic, charming, champion of athletics has fear.

As a coach, helping people handle fear is a big subject.

Our fear instinct is designed to keep us safe. It keeps us ‘in our cave’ out of harms way – great if there’s a saber tooth tiger outside – not so great if it’s a job opportunity or an exciting experience.

Fear often shows up as an inner critic, an internal voice, some call it the saboteur, or gremlin. Whatever you call it, it shows up when we face a challenge and if we pay too much attention to it, it can hold us back and keep us small.

So back to Bolt – it seems that not even the fastest man in the world can out run fear.

The documentary revealed that at the start of every season fear calls on Bolt. He’s wracked by worry that he’s lost his ability to be the fastest sprinter and maybe this time he won’t be the best.

Fear tells him that despite all the effort of training, practice, physiotherapy, healthy eating and sleeping it won’t be enough. And despite the wise words of focus and encouragement from (the other star of the documentary) coach Mills he won’t be good enough.

And yet every season he shows up, literally puts himself on the line and runs anyway.

The antidote to fear, as Bolt finds out each season, is action.

From somewhere he finds the courage to risk looking foolish and failing, taking action despite the presence of fear.

Just like Bolt I feel fear – especially when I’m challenging myself to show up in front of people. And the voice in my head says versions of…

  • ‘You’ll mess up’
  • ‘No one will read that’
  • ‘Who cares what you’ve got to say’
  • ‘They’ll never pick you’

Now let’s be honest unlike Bolt I’m usually only risking not being good enough in front of myself and a small number of people. But still it feels daunting.

What I’ve learnt is that just like Bolt I can’t outrun fear. That fear is part of the experience. In fact, when fear shows up I know I’m on to something. This challenge matters and I can use this to spur me on – by reminding myself why it matters – and make that more important than the risk of not being good enough.

And it works – every time!

I’ve discovered – like Bolt – that my fearful thoughts are not true. When I show up and put myself on the line the experience gives me new information, I learn something, I connect with others, I receive support and whatever the result I build respect for myself.

The documentary ‘I am Bolt’ finished on a high with him conquering injury, a lack of motivation and showing up at the Rio Olympics to win three gold medals and the applause and adulation of his fans.

What makes his story even more fascinating however is the last chapter of his sprinting career, which played out last week in London at the World Athletics Championships. This time Bolt arrived as the underdog – not in tip top form.

He said he was looking forward to it, I guess he was hoping, as were his fans that he’d pull something out of the bag and he’d go out on a high. I also imagine that there was some of that ‘what if…’ fear lurking in his mind.

He competed anyway.

He was third in the 100 meters and he got cramp in his leg on the anchor leg of the 4 x 100 meter relay final and collapsed hurt on the track in front of the stadium of fans.

I imagine that Bolt showed up because he loves to race, he loves the crowd in London and he committed he’d be there and he didn’t want to let his fans down.

I imagine that he made all of that more important than his fear and worry.

And in the end, even though he collapsed, Bolt won huge respect from everyone present, for showing up, taking part – captivating us with his personality and passion.

If, like me you recognise fear showing up in your moments of challenge – know that you are in good company.

Bolt’s story inspires me to show up to my challenges, despite my fear, maybe even because of it – knowing that on the other side – win or lose I’ll gain experience and most importantly self respect and that’s good enough for me.

My most recent example is writing this blog – it seemed like a great idea last week and then as I started writing – bingo fear arrived. Not the earth shattering scary monster kind of fear, it was disguised as a sensible voice that said…’what are you doing? You know nothing about running; no one is interested in your view on this – what a stupid idea!’

…And yet I couldn’t drop it – I had committed that I’d write a blog this week. So in the end I chose to make my commitment more important than my fear of writing a rubbish blog and if it inspires just one person to show up for themselves despite their fear, it will be worth it.

Over to you…

What will you make more important than your fear?

Carol Conway CPCC
Coach, eight circles


Dementia – a perspective

Last week, I shared a post on Facebook about how dementia lives within our family – the empathy and supportive comments I have received have touched, surprised and overwhelmed me.

By sharing my perspective on dementia I have connected with friends and family on a new level, we have more in common than I realised. Dementia is a growing issue that gets hidden by shame and worry – for me it was the shame that people might pity me and the worry that people would think less of my Mum.

My Mum has dementia – there I’ve said it – this is a topic close to my heart, along with many other families who are affected and deal with the upsetting things this disease brings into their lives on a daily basis.

It’s tough when your loved one asks; who are you? and what are you doing in my house? When your Mum says; have you met Jim? And Jim is your Dad.

It’s not easy when they forget who Jim is and wake up in the middle of the night worried about sleeping next to the stranger in their bed.

When I think about it too much it’s sad and upsetting and I wish I could do more to support Mum, Dad and my sister, who does an amazing job helping out with the day to day running of the household.

There are good days too. We go for walks, Mum has always been fit and healthy, a local tennis champion she played until well into her 40’s, she now goes for a walk twice a day. She’s creative and still goes to art class every week – sometimes she even remembers to take her kitty money for the tea and biscuits! The photo is me and Mum getting creative together a couple of years ago.

When I take time to just be there and listen, Mum shares some lovely stories from her past of playing tennis and helping her students.

Anyone who knows my Mum knows she was the best cook – her shortbread was legendary! Making and sharing food was how she demonstrated her love for us. On my last visit she refused to eat all of her lunchtime sandwich saving her last quarter for me because she wanted me to eat something and look after myself! That’s Mum, she’s the kindest person I know and that hasn’t changed.

I realised I didn’t know very much about dementia and when I started looking into it this is what I discovered.

Dementia – the facts

  • There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, it will be over 1 million by 2025. This will soar to 2 million by 2051
  • 225,000 people will develop dementia this year, that’s one every three minutes
  • Sadly many of us already know someone who has the disease, one in six of us will get a form of Alzheimer’s – and many of us will be affected by becoming a carer for members of our family
  • Dementia is one of the main causes of disability later in life, ahead of cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke. As a country we spend much less on dementia than on these other conditions
  • There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or any other type of dementia. Delaying the onset of dementia by five years would halve the number of deaths from the condition, saving 30,000 lives a year
  • Dementia research is desperately underfunded. For every person living with dementia, the annual cost to the UK economy is over £30,000 and yet only £90 is spent on dementia research each year
  • Alzheimer’s Society is committed to spending at least £150 million over the next decade on dementia research to improve care for people today and find a cure for tomorrow.

If you’re wondering what prompted me to share my post, well my husband, David was doing Ride London – 100 miles of cycling around Surrey and London to raise money for Alzheimer’s UK.

When I told my Dad about the race he tried to give us way too much money ‘to help them find a cure for dementia so other people won’t get what’s happening to Mum.’ Who wouldn’t want to do that if you’ve seen the impact this has on someone you love?

By sharing what felt like my dirty little dementia secret it’s made me realise that many families are in the same position, feeling conflicted, hurt and worried and not talking about this disease.

Talking about dementia has helped me to begin to make sense of what is happening to my mum and made me feel more connected to those around me who are also touched by dementia in their lives.

Carol Conway CPCC
Coach, eight circles









Mental ill-health in the workplace – an increasing reality

I recently watched this insightful workplace perspective from CNN on mental ill-health and wanted to share. The perspective is sadly an increasing reality.

Why bother investing 25 minutes of your valuable time?

Well, 1 in 4 of us will be affected by mental ill-health; that’s 25 out of 100 of your employees, 100 out of 400 of your customers whatever your metric, it’s in your landscape.  It is a wide-ranging spectrum, indiscriminate and has a legacy of negativity and ‘burden’. As agents of social change, we all have a responsibility to destigmatise mental ill-health and create environments where mental well-being can thrive.

Creating a culture that engages in the dialogue and shares experiences is a step in the right direction; mindfulness, meditation and detaching from digital distractions are all gaining traction across organisations.

We encourage and empower you to be that agent of social change and mobilise that culture of mental well-being.

Neena Speding Chartered MCIPD, BSc (Hons) HRM, PGCE
Thought leader – emotional intelligence, eight circles

At eight circles we offer narrative and neuroscience workshops to help develop key strategies across your organisation for your people.