• Now You See It Now You Don’t



    Would you like to see more of the world around you? If I were to tell you that your visual experience is only a pre-determined fraction of what you could be seeing, would you want to expand that?  Research shows us that not only is visual information filtered through our brains, but what we perceive is pre-determined by the culture in which we are raised. And what we see informs how we experience our life making it more limited or expansive.

    We see with our brain, not our eyes.  Back in the 1970’s two researchers, Takahiko Masuda and Richard E. Nisbett, conducted research on a group of Americans and Japanese to observe cultural differences in perception. The research used 8 different animations of fish, plants and other objects like shells and rocks. In each animation, there was a ‘focal’ fish that was larger, faster, brighter or in some way dominant. When asked to recall what they saw Americans recalled the focal fish 70% more than Japanese participants.  The latter would relay information about the background fish, plants, rocks and so on but would not even recognise the focal fish out of context. The Asian mindset is more holistic, the American bias more individualistic. Our cultural bias literally effects what we see around us.

    Three Things You Might Try

    To expand your world:

    1. Look beyond the obvious. Notice where your attention is first drawn and then look at what is nearby.
    2. Get in the habit of looking at things from unusual angles. It is amazing how abstract something can appear when you zoom in.
    3. Start to notice hidden beauty all around and feel gratitude.
    With warmest wishes for a very happy day,

  • Dealing With Difficult People In Your Life


    We all have them in our lives. It might be a co-worker, your boss, a sibling, a neighbour or a parent-in-law. When you are around a difficult person you often find yourself behaving differently. Maybe you doubt yourself, feel dismissed or powerless. Even brief encounters with them can leave you with the emotional equivalent of being knocked down by a hit-and-run driver.

    So the big question is, how can we handle these challenging people in a way that diffuses the power they hold over our emotions?

    Awareness of who they are, wherever possible preparing ahead for the encounter and a strong sense of self will help you to avoid being drawn into their web.

    Knowing what kind of strategy they tend to use helps you to hold on to a strong sense of self and remain a calm presence in an emotionally charged field. Examples of common strategies are sarcasm, passive-aggressive behaviour, defensiveness, a need to be ‘right’ and therefore put-down others, a desire to control or manipulate, bullying behaviour or an air of superiority.

    And then there are those people who are so good at getting under your skin that you don’t even know how they got there!


    Three Tips On How To Deal With Difficult People:

    • This may seem like a contradiction, but don’t be too quick to dismiss someone as ‘difficult’. I say this because a) if you decide they are difficult it will often prevent you from hearing some of the good stuff they have to say, and b) by labelling them as ‘difficult’ you are handing over the power to them. Instead, I suggest you reframe them as ‘challenging’ and figure out how you can dial down your emotional reaction.
    • Minimise the time you spend with them and keep interactions short. The more you engage, the more you offer up a selection of avenues for them to choose from. Keep it short and logical.
    • Let go of any dream you might have that you will somehow change them or convince them to be someone they are not. Accept them for who they are. There can be tremendous relief in that. A wise friend once told me to stop hoping X would behave differently in a certain situation because the person in question didn’t have the tools to deal with it any differently. This can be liberating.  And it can free you up to focus on sharpening up your toolset so you can get your reactivity down. As always when in doubt breathe – slowly and deeply.
  • Don’t Let the Lizard Hijack The Car


    Here’s a thought: if your brain were a beautiful, super-powerful car would you hand it over to be driven by someone prone to random aggressivity, irrational panic and seizures? And yet we do exactly that and the results can go something like this:

    Neuroscientists talk about our brain being made up of four parts:

    1. The Reptilian Brain responsible for dealing with life-threatening situations through one of three responses: flight, fight or freeze
    2. The Paleolimbic Brain where self-confidence and trust reside
    3. The Neolimbic Brain is who we are. It is, home to our deepest motivations and raw emotions, our likes, dislikes, memories, learning.
    4. The Prefrontal Brain which is a marvel of evolution, the supercomputer. This is where adaptation, creativity, innovation, intuition, spirituality, serenity, and calm reside.
    And here is the thing that leads to the car crash. Our conscious brain can only have one driver at a time.

    Our reptilian brain served cavemen pretty well. Its’ three responses of fight, flight or freeze ensured our survival. It hijacks our brain when we need to get ourselves out of danger. 30,000 years our reptilian brain still kicks in when it is triggered. But today our equivalent to the hairy mammoth is stress.

    Each part of our brain has a key role to play. We still need that reptilian brain to be activated when you step into a cycle lane by mistake and narrowly avoid being hit. What we want to avoid is for it to be kicked into high gear because of stress. That can make us aggressive, anxious for no reason (we are the only species to worry about things that will most likely never happen), or helpless.

    You can try these things to calm the lizard and get access to our adaptive creative resources:

    1. Breathe. I know, I know, I’ve said it before…but it is your most powerful, portable, and accessible weapon you have against stress. When you feel stress coming on pause, slow time, draw in 3 deep breaths. It is tempting to dismiss this because it is so simple, but trust me it works.
    2. Relax the muscles of your jaw. When you relax the muscles of your jaw it sends an automatic response to the vagus nerve, your breathing becomes deeper, and all of those stress responses (heart rate going up, sweating, blood pressure) become lessened so you feel calm.
    3. Your brain is ‘plastic’ and can be retrained. Instead of experiencing ups and downs like a roller coaster ride you can train it so smooth out the down slides. Make it a priority to integrate something relaxing into your life.  Some ideas are meditation, yoga, a walk outside, or a hobby you love. This will make the lizard think twice before it hijacks you with stress.

    For those of you interested in learning more about the brain there is a fascinating free 30 minute course on Udemy by Gregory Caremans “Meet your brain: an introduction to neuroscience.”

  • Exquisite Nature of Love and Pain


    Inspired by a deeply touching and wise newsletter (thank you Steve Mitten) and experiences of my own and those close to me over the last few weeks, I feel drawn to write my Little Life Line about love, fear of loss, and the pain that follows. But mostly love.
    You see the problem with love is that the price of admission is the possibility of loss. And the fear of that pain can be enough to stop us from fully opening ourselves up to love. So is love worth the risk?


    Three Reasons To Love With All Your Heart:

    1. It not only feels good, but according to all kinds of research studies our cortisol (stress) hormone level decreases, our blood pressure goes down and we live longer.
    2. Love in it’s purest form (for someone, for others, for yourself, for your pet, for nature, for life) expands your heart and enables you to see a deeper beauty in all things. It also helps you to feel greater compassion for others. If fear and pain come up know that they won’t overwhelm you, that you can experience them fully and allow them to move on. How? By acknowledging the feeling and then choosing not to feed the emotion and the story behind it. Take a few deep breaths and choose a different thought, or get into your body and move through it.
    3. For myself, and I truly believe for everyone, to live is to love. Choose to feel love in the ‘now’ knowing that the nature of that love is timeless.
  • Softly Fascinating Stimulation


    How photos of nature soothe the mind

    Just a thought: I have returned to my passion for taking photos recently, and have been loving it! As I share them on social media I have received some comments about the ‘positive vibes’ and the beauty of the droplets and leaves etc. I am not saying this from an ego-based place, but because I have found that when people look at photos of something beautiful, especially nature, it makes them happy. And isn’t that what life is all about. So imagine my delight when I discovered this article in Psychology Today backing this up with hard research.

    It is widely known that green spaces calm the mind. A walk in nature, a park, a tree-lined avenue or some quiet time in a garden or conservatory is very soothing. In addition it has been shown to stop us from ruminating on depressing thoughts (especially common in women) like ‘what’s wrong with me’, ‘why do I keep eating junk-food’, ‘I never feel on top of things’, ‘why aren’t I feeling happier’ etcetera.

    Science tells us that looking at photos of nature also has significant beneficial effects. (Note to self maybe all that time cruising National Geographiconline was not such a waste of time but was actually intuitive healing!). Photos of natural subjects help memory, attention and mood.

    You might try these things when you next find your mind dwelling on nagging worries, or you just feel in need of a ‘lift’:

    1. Take breaks in your work day and take a look at some beautiful photos of nature. Try National Geographic, photographic blogs or sign up for instagram. We are inundated with so many words all the time; try the healing power of pictures for a change.
    2. Re-visit photos you have taken of nature. Perhaps blow a series up and fill a room with them. When Marsha Jacobsen was assigned a job for a year in an office with no windows she filled the walls with her own photos of nature and it worked to lift her mood every day.
    3. Everyone who has a cell-phone is a photographer these days. How about snapping some photos of your own. As you take the photos notice not only how you engage with nature at a deeper level, but how you are experiencing it in the present moment. It is a form of meditation and mindfulness that we often don’t think of but is highly effective.
    Shortly I will be announcing a new project which combines photography and psychology. The aim is to help people gain more awareness and feel happier through photos. I can’t express how excited I am about this, and I do hope many of you will join in (it will be free to join).
  • My Precious


    Here’s a thought for you: What is the most valuable, precious thing in your life? Take a moment and think about it.

    My guess is it is not something material. And not a ring – but that line is so very evocative to any fellowTolkien fans!

    We lead frantic lives, always doing something, and yet never really feeling on top of things.

    At times it feels like life is whizzing by.

    As I grow older I now ‘get’ in a very tangible way that my most precious thing is each and every moment. That is what I take to mean ‘being present’.

    And really, what else do we have? It is in the moment that we experience love, beauty, sorrow, inspiration, pain, ecstasy. And how do we experience that moment? Through the filter of our mind.

    And yet we take less time looking after our mind than we do our hair, our car, our clothes. Andy Puddicombe brings this to life in his entertaining TED talk ‘All it takes is 10 mindful minutes’,

    Science tells us that we spend 47% of our time lost in thought.  Pretty much half our lives. And much of our thought is worry. Let’s change that!

    Summer is the perfect time to reset your mind and body. You may be taking a ‘staycation’, have a weekend away or perhaps you are lucky enough to have more time off. Whichever it is you will find the following will ‘up your downtime’ and help carry that great feeling forward. Moment to moment.

    You might try this/these things to take care of your mind and reconnect with each moment:

    1. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I am bombarded by articles about the power of meditation…and then feel guilty when I don’t set aside the time to do it. In Andy’s approachable and engaging TED talk he suggests in just 10 minutes a day you can step back from your thoughts and experience life with a more relaxed and focused mind.
    2. Allow yourself a chance to re-boot and disconnect for a decent chunk of time.  Switching off and re-booting works for humans as well as electronic devices.
    3. OK, now let’s get playful. Have a go at blowing dandelion seeds into the wind, or bubbles through a wand, or, quite literally go fly a kite. See how it brings you into the present moment. Ask yourself is there something I used to love doing as a kid but aren’t doing anymore … and try it. My bet is you will tap into a long-lost child-like sense of feeling carefree and happy. And that feels so good 🙂
  • The Pessimist’s Guide to Happiness


    “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

    The Stoics of ancient Greece believed that our emotions were determined by our judgements. An event, in itself, had no emotional meaning. It is what we make of it that determines how we feel about it.

    Oliver Burkeman, in his book “Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking” has a rather different, and in many ways refreshing take on happiness. His theory is that in our constant attempt to eliminate the negative we become more anxious, insecure and unhappy.

    Rather like Daniel Wegner’s white bear experiment: if you are told NOT to think of a white bear you are way more likely to think of one. He advocates an alternate path to happiness in which you embrace the very things we try and avoid thinking about.

    His theory is that it is our constant effort to eliminate the negative that causes us to be anxious, insecure and unhappy. Rather like Daniel Wegner’s white bear experiment: if you are told NOT to think of a white bear you are way more likely to think of one. He advocates an alternate path to happiness in which you embrace the very things we try and avoid thinking about.

    Burkeman advocates an alternate path to happiness in which you embrace the very things we try and avoid thinking about.

    This may seem counter-intuitive, and contrary to much of what positive psychology has to say. But I believe it is a complementary approach.

    Burkeman’s philosophy is broad-reaching and I can only touch on it here. Here are 3 areas that you can experiment with:


    3 Tips For The Pessimist to Find Happiness:

    1. Much of the problem area we fall in to is because of our sense of self and ego. So how about dissolving it, then we have nothing to worry about! If we were to take a high-powered microscope and look closely at our skin and the space around it would be impossible to say where one ends and the next begins. The dividing line between where the cells constantly floating off your body end, and where the stuff in the air begins is arbitrary. If you are willing to give up the traditional notion of ‘self’ then a whole area of worry around self-esteem just disappears. It suggests a different take on Buddhism and attachment.
    2. The good, the bad and the ugly.  Accept your thoughts for what they are. By simply observing your thoughts as they come and go you don’t have to be afraid of them. And you dissolve their power.
    3. And now for the biggest one of all, your mortality. By accepting our limited existence we can relish every moment of our experience now. Here is my favourite TED talk on beauty and gratitude for life itself by Louie Schwartzberg.
  • Stress Isn’t The Enemy


    Just a thought: if I were to tell you that what you choose to believe about stress could save your life would you believe me? By changing the way you think about stress, you can improve your health and enhance your level of happiness. You will also improve your ability to connect with others, and improve your life expectancy. ‘Really?” I hear you cry.

    A massive research study conducted in the US a few years ago demonstrated that people who had experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43% increase in their risk of dying. The study then went on to reveal that if you didn’t believe that stress was harmful you were actually less likely than the norm to die.

    Kelly McGonical is a health psychologist, and for years like so many of us was spreading the word that stress is harmful. In her brilliant TED talk she shares the complete paradigm shift this research brought about for her. If we change the way we think about stress this alters the body’s response. If you think about it the outward signs of stress and excitement are pretty similar: the heart beats faster, you breathe more rapidly. Think some more and you could start to see that if you are feeling stressed about a situation and you experience those symptoms they could be a

    If you think about it, the outward signs of stress and excitement are pretty similar: the heart beats faster, you breathe more rapidly. When your heart beats faster so you are more ready to react. When your breathing is more rapid you are getting more blood to your brain. How you think about stress matters. It is your body helping you to rise to the challenge. But when you believe stress is a problem it is.

    Here are three things you might try:

    1. Next time you feel stressed think about how this heightened state might be helpful. Perhaps it is the adrenaline that will help you complete the task faster. Or the alertness that can help you focus more clearly.
    2. Try thinking of it as a helpful signal. Often when we feel anxious to the point of overwhelm because we are thinking too far into the future. When you bring your thoughts back to the present and focusing on one thing you overcome that feeling of paralysis.
    3. Imagine the possibilities! If your mind is that powerful that it can alter your body’s response at a physical level just through what you believe about stress, imagine how you can positively affect your overall health by thinking positively. For inspiration check out Dr. Bali and Dr. Christiane Northrup.
    In my next week Little Life Line I talk about the chemicals that are released when we feel stressed. DHEA is a neuro-steroid that encourages our brain to learn from a situation, almost like inoculating us for future stress. Oxytocin (ofter referred to as the hugging hormone) is also released and this primes you to do things that strengthen your bonds with others. Our body has an inbuilt mechanism for stress resilience that boosts brain plasticity and human connection so we don’t have to face challenges alone. How cool is that!
  • Own Your Life And Live It By Your Rules


    As you know by now I am a bit of an addict of TED talks. Every now and then I come across threads which I weave together in my head and think ‘Wow!’. Today was one of those days. And that is what I would like to share with you now, fellow Life Liners, because I believe in each one of YOU.

    There are sayings that are bandied about:

    “You’ve got to fall down to get up”
    “To be the light, first you have to burn”
    “Diamonds are made under pressure”
    “The only true limitations are those we impose on ourselves”

    …you get the picture.

    And I believe the gist of these sayings are true. It often takes bumping into a really big challenge to bring forward the courage to ignite our genius.

    There are so many famous examples of this: Vincent Van Gogh, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Fred Astaire, Dr. Seuss, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Sidney Poitier, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan. These are just some of the famous people.

    More powerful still for me are the examples I come across of ordinary folk who end up doing extraordinary things. And that was my AHA moment this morning.

    So what threads can we take from this and apply to our own lives?

    So here is my theory:

    • You absolutely need to fall. Sometimes that happens because you deliberately jump, some times life gives you a shove. Why do we need to fall? To forcibly shake us out of the comfort zone we constructed from limiting beliefs about what we think we are capable of. When we fall we force the parachute of our true abilities to open.
    • You have to have the will to keep moving forward even after we fall.  It can take a while for that parachute to open, but it will..
    • When we start to pick ourselves back up, we find ourselves using resources we didn’t know we had. We didn’t know we had them so we believed we didn’t have them. You see how messed up that is! But it rings true doesn’t it?
    • It takes courage to stop being the person we think we should be. Or the person we thought other people felt we should be.  We are not limited by the range of things we believe we are capable of. When we let go of all that the magic starts.

    Here are 2 examples of what I am talking about: each woman is struck by a huge challenge, one finds her true self and her dream by fighting (Amy Purdy), one by letting go of an old fight (Caroline Casey). They both have crazy, beautiful dreams, and they both fulfill them.

    Here Are Some Things to Try:

    1. Think of a time in your life that you fell; that you failed at something, were rejected, or were struck a blow by life. Looking back what did you learn from it, what was the ‘gift’? Knowing you had hidden resources in that situation can give you the confidence to embrace doing anything differently.
    2. Every time you catch yourself saying or doing something that you feel is expected of you, notice it. What do you really think and feel?
    3. Try thinking of something you dream of doing? What stands in the way? Now try this: believe that you already know how to get there. The weird thing is you probably do, but just never realized before.  For instance, taking a 2 month break and going to Africa and working in an elephant sanctuary! A language course in Italy? Or joining a choir?
    The weird thing is that the evidence of real-life stories is that if there is something you want, some dream perhaps, odds are you are already equipped to get it. You just don’t believe it yet!
  • Your Happiness


    So here’s a thought: what if we are overcomplicating our lives? We search for purpose, security, meaning, fulfillment, when underlying all of that what we really want is happiness.

    A sunflower naturally tilts it’s head toward the sun, but for us humans life has become very complicated. Happiness is a choice, but sometimes it seems unattainable.

    Research in Positive Psychology has shown that we are sharper, more creative, have better memory, are more productive, healthier and better at social interactions when we are happier. Happiness is also the gateway to all kinds of other great feelings like confidence, empowerment, energy, focus. And let’s face it, it feels good to be happy.

    Three Things You Can Do Now To Be Happier:

    1. Seek out positive people and spend time with them. Connection to others is a powerful tool for happiness.
    2. Become a ‘happiness detective‘ looking for things that make you happy and doing more of them. Sprinkle your day with happy moments.
    3. Simplify. Pick a small area in your home, like a counter-top or a bedside table and get rid of everything that you don’t love or need. You will feel lighter and happier.
    This is my wish – to generate ripples of happiness that keep on spreading :).