Notice your ‘firsts’

Do you remember the first time you flew on an airplane?

These are the types of ‘firsts’ we never forget – we’re either full of excitement or nervousness.

April is Stress Awareness Month and we are asking when experiencing your ‘firsts’ do you find them effortful or effortless?

  • Maybe you’ve had a baby
  • Started a new career
  • Started at a new school
  • On a new diet
  • Living in a new place
  • Left a career
  • Over whelmed by the volume of things you have to do

What we’re aware of is that whether you find it effortful or effortless it is your choice. If the story you’re telling yourself is ‘it’s going to be hard’ then it always will be – because that’s what you believe.

We all love to indulge in telling our stories, why something is difficult, complicated, tough and gruelling – equally what if we believe it will be easy, simple, straightforward and effortless? What could happen then?

Wherever you are in your story we encourage you to be kind to yourself, become more aware about how you approach your ‘firsts’ and consciously choose whether you want your experience to be effortful or effortless.

It really is your choice.


Neets, Carol & Neena
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Do you focus or fixate?

This week we are sharing what it means to us individually when we focus or fixate and what we do to shift our attention.

A key learning for me during my mindfulness journey has been the focus vs fixation of my attention.

Here’s an analogy that was presented to me and it resonated loud and clear. Fixated attention is like a cumbersome, murky, block of ice – Focused attention is like a flowing stream.

Fixating on objects, sensations, feelings and thoughts during the day for many of us is a regular occurrence. As soon as they arise in our awareness they are automatically coloured by our perception. Consider that you have a performance review scheduled for later today, how many times have you fixated on that and what automatic colouring have you applied to it? How much effort have you put into ruminating about it? Fundamentally what can you do until it starts? More importantly what have you not done as a consequence of fixating about it?

Mindfulness has enabled me to become aware of my automatic colouring, identify when I’m fixating and enabled me to redirect my attention and focus on the flowing stream.

I have noticed that when I focus my attention everything is possible, I’m flying, I have the brain power to apply to whatever I’m doing and my energy feels light and mischievous. It’s about fun and travelling light.

On the other hand when I fixate my attention, I feel irritated, I’m a bit repetitive and also my energy feels heavy – like I’m carrying a huge amount of baggage that just needs to be checked in so that I can travel through life with freedom and ease.

It takes a huge amount of effort to be aware of where I place my attention, for example it’s easy to fixate as it can be like being on auto pilot.

I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by people who I can talk things through with and whilst talking out aloud I can hear myself and notice easily where I am placing my attention. Another way I move out of fixating is to say to myself  5,4,3,2,1 go (as per Mel Robbins 5 second rule) and think in a focused and positive way.

I have just moved from the UK – to Anchorage, Alaska – literally to the other side of the world. It’s an exciting adventure and a huge change, everything is different.

Driving is just one example of something that is different and I catch myself fixating about – something that I wouldn’t normally even think about – but here driving a brand new car, on the other side of the road in icy conditions means that it’s not so straightforward.

After the first couple of weeks of avoiding driving and worrying about it before I even got in the car I realised I was missing out and this needed to change.

Three things I’ve done to break free of this fixation:

  1. To do it, to get into action and just drive. I scheduled appointments with friends (so I couldn’t back out of it) and slowly I’m building up actual examples (opposed to the stories in my head) of how it’s fine. The next time I get in the car I think about the easy journey of yesterday, replacing the ‘what if I drive the wrong way down the road’ story I was obsessing about.
  2. Talking about it. I told a friend and she sympathised totally and told me some of her stories of how she felt when she first started driving in Alaska. Suddenly it’s not just me and it’s not just in my head, which makes it less scary.
  3. Humour. I’ve lightened up about it. Seen the funny side – like when I keep opening the passenger door and have to pretend that I’m just putting my bag on the seat before I walk round to get in the drivers seat!

Anchorage is beautiful and wherever I am I can see amazing mountains. Their vast steady presence always reminds me how lucky I am to be here. That gets me grounded and present again and slowly I’m letting go of my worry and I’m actually starting to enjoy my journeys in the car.

In summary
Next time you find yourself fixating, think about that murky block of ice obstructing your view or the baggage you are carrying around with you or even what you’re missing out on. Think about how you’re creating stress about something that may or may not happen or something that has passed and you can’t change.

Quieten your mind, move on, take action and focus your attention on the present.


Neena, Neets & Carol
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If it’s not scheduled it’s not real

This is one of Marie Forleo’s Productivity Tips ‘If it’s not scheduled it’s not real’. It took me a while to really understand what this meant, mainly because I consider myself to be a planned person – if it’s not in my diary, it’s not happening.

Today I clearly understand what it means and it’s helped me finish off something I’ve been working on for a while – a daily planner.

I created a daily planner because I’ve been wondering where the time goes, I have a list of things to get done and never enough time in the day. I’ve read books about productivity, listened to podcasts and even attended old school time management courses so where was I going wrong?

Here’s what I realised.

I wasn’t scheduling everything in my diary – what I mean is, I didn’t plan in travel time for meetings or appointments, I just knew what time I had to leave and get back. I didn’t plan in phone calls, I just knew that at some point that day I would make those calls. What this meant was I would look at my diary and think I only have one meeting today – when in reality by the time I had travelled to the meeting, had the meeting and travelled back, it could take six hours of my time! And that’s where the time was going, it just wasn’t scheduled in.

The daily planner helps me to be more productive and realistic about where I spend my time. Here’s how I use it:

  1. Every morning I fill in the planner for the day ahead. I don’t do it the night before as I can become pre-occupied with what needs to happen the next day and not sleep well.
  2. I make sure I include travel time, phone calls, etc. – so I can actually see how much time I have free.
  3. I write down the three must do things for that day (my lists are normally long but that doesn’t help me focus – it just makes me feel like I’ve failed and haven’t accomplished much) and I PLAN those into my day!
  4. I make sure I keep the planner visible on my desk and not buried under paperwork.
  5. Under the notes section – I write things I need to do if I have time or things that come up during the day that I may need to carry forward to the next day.
  6. I write something inspirational for me – it might be something like FOCUS! or a quote that makes me smile through the day.
  7. I love doodling, so I use the space at the bottom for just that!
  8. Lastly, the next morning I make sure I transfer the things over from the notes section that I need to do that day.

It’s a simple tool to use.

Feel free to download the daily planner and see if it helps you achieve more and remember ‘if it’s not scheduled it’s not real’.


Coach, Communicator & Collaborator
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Eight positive benefits of mindfulness

The relationship between mindfulness and stress is well documented. Our awareness of stress and the negative impact it has on ours and other lives is becoming more perceptible. Mindfulness, as a stress reducing therapy, is becoming increasingly used in clinical practice and its impetus in and outside the workplace is gaining steady traction.

Whether it’s traditional Buddhist or western secular practice, mindfulness to the novice, is effortful and not effortless. Its results often create a relaxed physiological state but it goes far wider than this; obtaining ‘optimal functioning’ is the desired state. As Sara Lazar, Ph.D. Harvard Medical School states, “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,”

So, to help you consider whether there is value in establishing ‘optimal functioning’ through mindfulness practice, here are eight areas where research has identified, and continues to reveal the positive impact of mindfulness based meditations;

  1. Cellular aging: keeping your cells younger for a healthier and longer life
  2. Focus: neural pathways of Task Positive Networks and Default Mode Network Meditation is associated with reduced activations in the default mode network
  3. Attention: attaining, sustaining and directing your attention to attend to what’s important to your values and well-being
  4. Empathy: relatedness to others; correlations with compassion for self and others
  5. Self-Awareness: physiological, psychological, emotional and cognitive awareness
  6. Self-regulation: making room for your feelings through reflection and acceptance
  7. Well-being and mental ill health: physiological and psychological triggers and responses
  8. Biases: An important facet of mindfulness is “non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind.”

As can be seen, a whole range of physiological, molecular, cognitive, emotional and behavioural responses can be evoked and these can positively contribute to facilitating adaptation to change.

Mindfulness is not a ‘one size fits all’ practice or intervention. Future research will enlighten us on how to tailor our mindfulness practice, current research enables us to explore numerous pathways.


Neena Speding
Chartered MCIPD, BSc (Hons) HRM, PGCE
Emotional Intelligence Thought Leader & Collaborator
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Thought for today…

This week we are reminded that ‘worry is a misuse of your imagination’, in fact worrying about something in the future that may never happen, or what people think about us can occupy a lot of our time.

We have a deep love of quotes and sayings, especially those that make us think, laugh and inspire us to do and be better.

Here are eight ways that we use quotes with teams and for ourselves:

  1. As an icebreaker at team meetings to inspire, build the team and create empathy
  2. Pin them up around the workplace as visual reminders
  3. Phrase them as a question to elicit debate and answers
  4. Discuss what they mean to each person in a team and gain a new perspective
  5. Print them and use as a bookmark
  6. Stick them near a mirror or inside your wardrobe so they are seen everyday
  7. Send them to people who need them – just at the right time
  8. As artwork on our walls

Tell us, what’s your favourite quote or saying?

Neets, Carol & Neena
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Where are you placing your attention?

A lot of you will have heard words along these lines. In fact anyone working on their own self development has a version of this to help them raise their self awareness.

Today I had a conversation with my colleague Neena Speding about what ‘where you place your attention matters’ means to me. Interestingly it means something different to both of us.

For me, I’ve come to realise and accept that I have a full life and diary. This means I can easily become distracted by interruptions, after all I am a people person and love those moments when I really connect with people. Great for me and them, not so good for my accountant who is waiting for me to complete my spreadsheet.

As I get older I know that if I want to get anything done I need to focus and give whatever I’m doing my full and undivided attention.

I have become an advocate of doing one thing at a time. This is taking some getting used to as I was a big fan of multi-tasking – I thought I could do everything and be everywhere all at the same time. In reality I was setting myself up to fail and disappoint everyday and that’s not how I wanted to live my life.

So, where I place my attention matters hugely depending on what I’m doing – now that I’m practising placing my attention on one thing and one person at a time I seem to get more done.

Where are you placing your attention?

Coach, Communicator & Collaborator
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Dark necessities are part of my design

During a recent debate discussing the need for emotional intelligence and agility in the workplace a challenging thought was put on the table when someone presented their perspective that self-regulation was about “hiding emotions wasn’t it?”

I have always considered it as being mindful of our internal narrative, accepting our emotions by recognising and then navigating them for helpful outcomes. Emotions and thoughts can be positive or negative. A recognised human tendency is to unconsciously navigate towards our Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs), a psychological concept often used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It stems from Aaron Beck’s (1976) cognitive model within which he proposes that we can notice our NATs and subsequently process them differently IF we pay attention and learn to navigate them. My approach, to process them differently, is to use a reflective journal and practice daily mindfulness.

To answer the question, I shared valuable and accessible science I had explored to develop our most recent workshop. Psychologist Dr. Susan David’s four key concepts in her book Emotional Agility resonated particularly strongly. She purports that “The process isn’t about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts. It’s about holding those emotions and thoughts loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to ignite change in your life”.

To do this, she developed a four-step conceptual model. I practice it in my professional and personal life and hope you too might find it of use;

  1. Showing Up:Instead of ignoring difficult thoughts and emotions or overemphasizing ‘positive thinking’, facing into your thoughts, emotions and behaviours willingly, with curiosity and kindness.
  2. Stepping Out:Detaching from, and observing your thoughts and emotions to see them for what they are—just thoughts, just emotions. Essentially, learning to see yourself as the chessboard, filled with possibilities, rather than as any one piece on the board, confined to certain preordained moves.
  3. Walking Your Why:Your core values provide the compass that keeps you moving in the right direction. Rather than being abstract ideas, these values are the true path to willpower, resilience and effectiveness.
  4. Moving On:Small deliberate tweaks to your mind-set, motivation, and habits – in ways that are infused with your values, can make a powerful difference in your life. The idea is to find the balance between challenge and competence, so that you’re neither complacent nor overwhelmed.  You’re excited, enthusiastic, invigorated.

So, in response to the view that self-regulation is about hiding emotions, I would argue that the amount of psychological effort required to do so far outstrips that needed to pay attention to them and move on. The model above is a powerful technique that anyone can use.

Amidst all the science, it always surprises me as to where, when and how I get reminded of the power of our emotions and NATs. Whilst on the treadmill my playlist blasted out the Red Hot Chili Peppers “Dark Necessities”. I’m sure there are many interpretations to this song, but for me I leverage some of its lyrics as a positive acceptance that we can navigate our difficult emotions. The line “Dark necessities are part of my design” make me pay attention once again to the thoughts that are part of my design. It’s a positive acceptance that all thoughts and emotions need navigating if we are to be truly emotionally intelligent and agile.

We all have what may be perceived as a dark necessity and it’s OK to call it that and as the lyrics go on to say:

“Darkness helps us all to shine”


Neena Speding
Chartered MCIPD, BSc (Hons) HRM, PGCE
Emotional Intelligence Thought Leader & Collaborator
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Nudges do work

Recently I have been incorporating the ‘Telomeres Manifesto’ as a nudge in organisations, to better manage stress and well-being.

Simply put, the nudge theory states that small changes in the “choice architecture” of people can lead to meaningful shifts in behaviour. During his time as Google’s SVP for People Operations, Laszlo Bock investigated and invested in understanding how behavioural science could improve the workforces’ health at work and home. He deployed an array of nudges that delivered steady progress with impressive metrics demonstrating how nudges motivated employees to make healthier and wiser lifestyle and dietary choices.

Whilst some opponents of nudge theory are concerned with it being a potentially manipulative practice, Laszlo noted “nudges are about influencing choice not dictating it” (WORK RULES, 2015).

From my perspective, a transparent alignment to an organisation’s purpose, value and behaviours (PVB) and an equally transparent dialogue about nudge theory ethics and its limitations, are conversations that need to be had before nudge development. Nudges do work.

As a nudge the ‘Telomeres Manifesto’ (below) serves not only as an aide-mémoire but can assist an organisation to design an environment where it can change attitudes and behaviour towards managing stress and well-being. It has sparked curiosity, encouraged exploration and offered a scientific insight to well-being. Clients have unanimously said it offers them a choice they weren’t aware of.

It is always a rewarding challenge working with organisations to promote and navigate well-being in the workplace. The fact that we can leverage behavioural science to nurture decision making is of benefit and the continuing application of scientific discovery means that the journey is evolving with evidence based data.

Try the Telomeres Manifesto as a nudge in your environment.

Neena Speding
Chartered MCIPD, BSc (Hons) HRM, PGCE
Emotional Intelligence Thought Leader & Collaborator
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Your cellular health is reflected in the wellbeing of your mind, body, and community.
Here are the elements of telomere maintenance that we believe to be the most crucial for a healthier world:

Mind Your Telomeres

  • Evaluate sources of persistent, intense stress. What can you change?
  • Transform a threat to a challenge appraisal.
  • Become more self- compassionate and compassionate to others.
  • Take up a restorative activity.
  • Practice thought awareness and mindful attention. Awareness opens doors to wellbeing.

Maintain Your Telomeres

  • Be active.
  • Develop a sleep ritual for more restorative and longer sleep.
  • Eat mindfully to reduce overeating and ride out cravings.
  • Choose telomere- healthy foods – whole foods, omega‑3s, skip the bacon.

Connect Your Telomeres

  • Make room for connection: Disconnect from screens for part of the day.
  • Cultivate a few good, close relationships.
  • Provide children quality attention and the right amount of “good stress.”
  • Cultivate your neighborhood social capital. Help strangers.
  • Seek green. Spend time in nature.
  • Mindful attention to other people allows connections to bloom. Attention is your gift to give.

Create Telomere Health in Your Community and the World

  • Improve prenatal care.
  • Protect children from violence and other traumas that damage telomeres.
  • Reduce inequality.
  • Clean up local and global toxins.
  • Improve food policies so that everyone has access to fresh, healthy, affordable food.

The future health of our society is being shaped right now, and we can measure part of that future in telomere base pairs.

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer. (p.327)
Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel, 2017

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness’.
Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein, 2008

WORK RULES! Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead.
Laszlo Bock, 2015