You Can’t Fake Passion

Although being passionate about something isn’t in itself enough to guarantee success, without a real interest in what you do it’s very difficult to get to where you need to.

Your childhood offers insight into what really drives and engages you and what you are deeply passionate about. It’s worth exploring your early years which may remind you of interests you’ve long forgotten about and could reignite. It may also help you to understand where you’ve taken the wrong path and how you could correct that.

One of the ways of looking at your passions and interests is through the lens of motivation. There are two basic types of motivation, one that is external to us and one that is internal.

Extrinsic motivation means being driven by something from the outside, for instance working toward a goal, or avoiding failure through fear of disappointing others. What led to your choices about the classes you took at school, whether you pursued higher education, or your first job? How much were you influenced by not wanting to let your parents down or living up to family expectations rather than following your own interests? There’s nothing wrong or right about how this came about, it’s just helpful to understand what might be driving you now.

Intrinsic motivation, or being internally motivated, is about loving an activity for its own sake, finding it exciting and engaging. It relates to the things that you have the energy for and want to pursue without any external rewards (e.g., money or recognition) and also to punishments or things you feel a need to move away from because they are less pleasant.

The people I meet as a psychologist working with leaders, often have a good deal of intrinsic motivation. They have a passion for what they do and see the meaning in it. Without this it becomes very hard to keep going over a sustained period of time in a demanding role. For example, I’ve also worked with people who are more motivated by external rewards: the potential to earn a lot of money, social recognition, status. They don’t love what they do or have a burning interest in the industry itself. This makes their work really draining and can lead to burnout. Constantly being driven by extrinsic goals alone is not healthy. Ideally, you need both internal and external motivation to keep following your true passions while remaining connected to the world around you.

Who influenced your career choices?

Research shows that our parents’ expectations have a huge influence on the career path we take and what we achieve, regardless of their own upbringing or income. Studies also reveal that teenagers often set out to follow in their parents’ footsteps, whether as an entrepreneur, shop assistant, council worker, small business owner, or doctor  and those whose parents are in “top jobs” are more likely find themselves in such a job. What parents think their child is interested in and capable of also strongly influences a young person’s choices and the actions they take toward pursuing a specific career. What is critical here is that parents’ best intentions can lead children astray. For example, if they think their child is passionate about numbers so encourage them toward a career in accounting, but the child actually always adored drama, then the child may miss out on pursuing their real dream. If you look over your early life and conclude that you were led mainly by your parents’ wishes rather than your own, that realization may be enough for you to take ownership and control of how you move forward.

School can also have a strong influence. For example, a highly academic, high-achieving school can put strong pressure on its pupils to continue to the best universities and pursue what society deems to be the top jobs. Conversely, a large school struggling for resources may not support children’s individual passions, meaning they never have the opportunity to explore and fulfill their potential.

Think about the following questions but don’t worry if you can’t answer them right away, come back if anything springs to mind:

  • What were you really enthusiastic about as a child? Are they the same things that you get joy from now?
  • How many of your own career or life choices were influenced by your parents and/or your environment? Do you think what your family wanted took you off on a certain path?
  • How much of your time at work or in life is spent doing things because you have to and how much because you want to? Do you think you need to address this?

 

Extract adapted from my book Defining You which is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK as well as amazon.co.uk. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

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“You can’t fake passion.” -Barbara Corcoran

References to research in Defining You by Fiona Murden

Photo by Bruce Mars from Pexels.com

 

The Delight of Curiosity

“Curiosity is the essence of human existence. “Who are we? Where are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?” I don’t know. I don’t have any answers to those questions. I don’t know what’s over there and around that corner. But I want to find out.”

—Eugene Cernan – American astronaut

Curiosity is a fascinating, even magical behavior that’s relevant to each and every one of us. It defines our natural inquisitiveness as humans, without curiosity we wouldn’t have moved beyond being cave dwellers. Exploiting our curiosity has enabled us to reach the advanced scientific and technological world of the twenty-first century.

We most commonly associate curiosity with children and their raw, hungry desire to understand the world around them and their place in it. While research suggests that as we age our inquisitiveness tends to fade, curiosity is just as relevant in adulthood, not only helping you discover more about who you are, but providing a basis on which to build better relationships, unlock creativity and innovation, grow your intellect, and boost your general health and well-being.

In his book Curious, Ian Leslie describes the process of curiosity in childhood. This is a useful framework from which to see the how to approach your own self-awareness and exploration. In a sense, it’s very like that of a detective. Whether it’s Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse, or Maigret, there are connections and parallels between their work and effectively exploring your own story: their resolute approach and insistent need never to take anything at face value. These masters of curiosity see things from every angle until they find the clues that unlock the mystery.

Leslie describes the three steps of curiosity as follows.

1 KNOWING WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

You approach a situation accepting your own inexperience. You’re not presuming you know the answer, but rather asking questions with an open mind and really considering the answers. This is known as empathic curiosity: an interest in the thoughts and feelings of other people, and remaining ready to encounter the unexpected.

When I’m profiling clients as a psychologist I meet everyone from a position of naivety: no expectations and no presumptions. This way I can really connect with them, putting my own presuppositions aside in order to understand their personal experiences and how those have affected who they are.

It’s good you to use this approach when working on your self-awareness. Rather than answering questions with your habitual response, think about what you really think, feel, and want. Don’t assume you know the answers until you’ve looked at things from every angle, dig beneath the surface, and ask yourself why you feel the way you do about certain things, how the beliefs you have formed came about, what led you to take certain decisions. Doing this will provide far richer insights to work with in working out who you are and what you want from life.

2 IMAGINING DIFFERENT, COMPETING POSSIBILITIES

You hold more than one possibility in mind at any given time and explore which one is right. For example, when meeting someone shy, consider “Is this person shy when they meet new people?” or “Are they quiet in this situation because they’re nervous?” This element of curiosity is essential when it comes to the line of questioning we psychologists take in profiles, drawing inferences about a client’s mental state, judgments, and actions while recognizing that nothing is a foregone conclusion. Any thought or idea needs to be explored and tested.

When you’re reflecting on your own journey, try to remember that the first decision you come to about yourself may not be the right one. It’s essential always to consider more than one inference and thoroughly explore it before jumping to a conclusion. Try to suspend judgment until you have explored all the options. It may help you find out something about yourself you’d never considered before.

3 UNDERSTAND THAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM OTHER PEOPLE

Keep an open mind to others’ thoughts, attitudes, and experiences. In social situations, we have a natural tendency to show other people what we know about a familiar subject, rather than listening to what they can tell us. Yet pausing to learn about them and asking questions inevitably provide information that we can reapply to ourselves. For example, you may find a different way of seeing things, a means of overcoming an issue that you hadn’t thought of, an opportunity that you didn’t know about.

 

 

Extract adapted from my book Defining You which is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK as well as amazon.co.uk. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

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Photograph courtesy of Liz Waight – http://www.elizabethwaight.com

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

On Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking at Red Smart Women’s Week. Having done my talk I took the opportunity to go along to a session on ‘feeling good about your use of social media’, hosted by Brigid Moss. Her guests were Katherine Ormerod and Lucy Sheridan who both have first-hand experience as social media influencers.

Lucy’s focus is comparison, an area that fascinates me from a professional standpoint. We all compare ourselves to others, but social media allows this to get out of hand. Lucy candidly spoke about her trials with “Jealousy and envy of other people” which stemmed from social media. From the outside what you see is a funny, humble, engaging and authentic lady, but we all know what goes on inside and what we see from outside are two entirely different things. She went through a period where she really struggled and says she has to keep herself in check with social media even today.

So, what is the psychological root of this envy we all feel – envy which is exacerbated by social media? Evolutionary psychologists explain that feelings such as envy enabled our ancient ancestors to evaluate status within a group. Having higher status meant access to better resources (e.g. food, sexual partners, social alliances, safety) and therefore better chances of survival. The negative emotions felt when comparing someone similar but who had ‘more’ was a motivation to readdress the balance. For example, if person ‘a’ had more food than person ‘b’, the envy felt by person ‘b’ would motivate them to find more food, meaning an equal chance of survival.

Then and now, this comparison is most significant amongst peers. Research carried out by neuroscientists Ramachandran and Jalal show that if we compare ourselves to someone such as our neighbour who happens to have more money than us and someone like Mark Zuckerberg whose net worth is $62 billion, most of us feel more envious of our neighbour. Why? Because our brain has evolved to think that there’s ‘no point in being envious of’ Zuckerberg. He’s off the scale either in ability or luck so no amount effort will result in us becoming the richest person in the world.But if our neighbour is more wealthy than us, someone who has a similar background, social status, opportunities etc., we feel envy to motivate us to have the same. The problem is that today the envy is not fuelling a life and death situation so becomes a far less helpful emotion.

This unhelpful emotion becomes even worse when we add in social media. Online everyone ‘seems’ closer to us than in reality they are so suddenly everyone becomes a peer. As a result we compare ourselves to and become envious of far more people which starts the negative downward spiral faced by comparison on social media. This is made worse because we’re often trying to close the gap on something unattainable a) because the person we are comparing ourselves to is not from a similar background to us (e.g. Hollywood star who grew up with film star parents in LA) b) because most images on social media do not display reality (i.e. a snapshot of perfection rather than the struggle, pain, failure and every day ugliness that goes on behind the scene). The more primitive areas of our brain don’t know that we’re striving for something that we cannot achieve or something that’s unrealistic, which greatly amplifies the negative emotions felt and in turn produces powerful feelings of inadequacy.

So what can you do when you feel envy:

  • Try to notice the envy – what or who you are envious of, observing the emotion rather than engaging with it (more on this technique in my book and books by Russ Harris). Being self-aware can help you to stop and put it down when it becomes too much rather than getting sucked in.
  • Try to limit your social media usage. Sounds obvious but it’s really important. To quote Arianne Huffington “Technology is amazing, but it needs to be put in its place, and we need to set boundaries so that we have time to connect with ourselves and to build deep connections with others.” Lucy and Katherine have more tips on this (websites below).
  • On that point – connect with others in real life. Make the effort to call a friend or to speak to someone in person and really concentrate on what they say. It will move you away from feelings of envy as well as bringing you back into the real world and evoking far more powerful and helpful emotions relating to the more advanced areas of the brain.

 

Read Lucy and Katherine’s websites for more on having a healthy relationship with social media.

Lucy’s website:

http://www.proofcoaching.com

Katherine’s website:

http://www.workworkwork.co

Defining You which is currently 99p on Amazon UK. It’s also available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

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References:

Harris, R. (2011). The happiness trap. ReadHowYouWant. com.

Ramachandran, V. S., & Jalal, B. (2017). The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy and Jealousy. Frontiers in Psychology8, 1619. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01619

Ekman P., Friesen W. V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 17 124–129

Ramachandran V. S. (1998). Why do gentlemen prefer blondes? Med. Hypotheses 48 19–20

Quote: Teddy Roosevelt

Picture: pexels.com

 

 

 

What’s the Point of You?

That may be a little harsh, really what I mean is what’s your purpose? It’s a hard question for anyone to answer and it can feel a bit like a slap in the face if you don’t know. But purpose, if you can find it, is so powerful that it has positive benefits both physically and mentally. Multiple research studies have shown the outcomes of having purpose to be quite astounding including: protecting against heart disease, diminishing the impacts of Alzheimer’s, improving our ability to handle pain, mitigating depression, curbing anxiety, and also lengthening our lives. One study which looked at over 6000 people across a 14 year period found that the people who had a sense of purpose had a 15% lower chance of dying – no matter what their age. Alongside this, meaning is a major component of well-being and life satisfaction.

Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor, gives a powerful example of how critical purpose is in his book The Search for Meaning. He recounts his experiences in a concentration camp and how finding meaning, in even the most brutal of experiences, kept him going and gave him a reason to live. He also interviewed hundreds of fellow prisoners, and found that those who survived the mistreatment and were able to fight back from illness all had a deeper meaning or purpose keeping them going. Frankl famously argued that within the context of normal life, people who lack meaning fill what he called the “resultant void” with hedonistic pleasures: power, materialism, obsessions, and compulsions—in other words, those things that we chase after that give us a short lived boost but which we gain no lasting satisfaction from.

So, it’s clear that purpose is critically important but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to work out. In the past, people relied on religion and culture to define their meaning. These provided a framework from which to operate, the bigger picture from which to see life. However, as the world changes some people are moving away from identifying so closely with religion and traditional cultures, and consequently purpose is no longer given to us on a plate—we have to define it for ourselves. This isn’t easy to do, and anyone who claims otherwise is misleading you.

I spoke to Jeff Weigh for his podcast ‘Perfect Imbalance’ last week and describing my own journey to discover my purpose. It’s messy a ride, it hasn’t been easy, it didn’t fall in my lap and I majorly diverted off course a few times before coming back to what I really love. I still wouldn’t say I have absolute clarity but I’m definitely along the right track. Psychological research shows that people can actually get very down looking for purpose because they have been set up to believe it should be easier to find than in reality it is. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it does takes time, effort and reflection.

My favourite illustration (aside from Frankl) of someone who has lived his life with purpose is Sir David Attenborough. His whole career has been deeply anchored on his values, making use of his strengths and preferences, all of which are critical to our personal purpose. Attenborough’s life has been centered around his devotion to the natural world and a passionate desire to communicate and share that with the general population. Now in his 90s, Attenborough is still working and enthusiastically contributing to society’s understanding of the natural world and human impacts on it. But if you look at the course his life has taken you can see it’s not been a straight line, rather it has evolved and changed as he has, adapting to both his own experiences and the changes in the world around him. When he was 20 he wouldn’t have been able to have told you what he’d be doing when he was 50, 70 or 90 but he would have been able to articulate what ‘made his heart sing’.

Finding your purpose doesn’t mean that it won’t change and evolve as you go through life. Nor does it mean you won’t sometimes get knocked off course. But like a lot of things it starts with self-awareness, taking the time to reflect (not over analyse – that’s a bad route to go down) on who you are, what you love and are passionate about, what your values are – it’s up to you to put in the effort.* And it’s not a one off, you need to keep revisiting these facets that make up who you are and taking time to think. It made sound like a bit too much work, but it’s well worth the effort. Purpose provides the guiding light that helps you see why you do what you do. Having purpose reminds you of the more meaningful side of life when you (or I or any of us) get sucked into hedonism, worrying about superficial things or getting caught up in the daily grind. It provides you with the far reaching goal on the days where you just want to give up. Having a sense of meaning in your life literally gives you a reason to get up in the morning.

* I’ve been lucky to receive a lot of positive comments on my book but one 3 star review said it’s a bit “surface level”  The book isn’t supposed to give you the answers, it’s there to guide you to finding your own answers. However you search out your meaning, if you don’t dig deep and look you won’t find. 

(Dear reviewer – most of the tools in Defining You are backed by years of research by esteemed academics e.g. the tool you refer to after saying they are “surface level” is used by the US health protection agency and in hospitals across the States and UK).

 

Extracts taken from Defining You which is currently 99p on Amazon UK. It’s also available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

I’m talking about finding your purpose at Red Smart Women’s Week in London this Saturday 22nd September. Last day of ticket sales – 18th Sept 2018

https://hearstlive.co.uk/smartwomenweek/#1531407421503-a6e00f6d-754f

 

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References

Hill, P. L., & Turiano, N. A. (2014). Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood. Psychological science25(7), 1482-1486.

Fiona Murden (2018). Defining You. How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential. Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Viktor E. Frankl (1984) Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Image: pexels.com

Are You A Normie?

Last weekend I read an interesting interview with author Angela Nagle about the escalating social and political divide arising online. Nagle’s book is called ‘Kill All Normies’ . That’s us – people like you and me. People who have everyday tastes, opinions, political views, refer to everyday news sources and live in the real world. In other words socially well-adjusted individuals. It’s us that the far-right and other extreme subcultures who congregate online call ‘normies’ – we are the ones who they believe it’s “impossible to explain things to” because “we are ignorant and unenlightened.” Normal in the real world is not normal online.

Nagle’s comments that “Ruthless competitive individualism is being applied to the romantic and private realm and it’s deeply anti-social” really resonated with me – I wrote something similar from the perspective of a newly published author recently. Previously I had little need to engage online, simply to connect with friends or browse websites. Since becoming published I’ve been thrown into this surreal world. It’s the artificial nature that I perhaps unsurprisingly struggle with most. My career of choice as a psychologist is after all to connect with people at depth, one-to-one.

Worryingly when it comes to the online world research shows that people ‘perceive individuals with a large number of subscribers as more attractive and trustworthy.’ That’s all it takes. Yet online followers are picked up by superficial and often meaningless content such as ‘nice, high quality pictures’ (Djafarova and Rushworth, 2017)I watch my own (meagre) followership jump up and down on Instagram depending on how ‘pretty’ the picture I post is. Is a pretty picture enough to show how trustworthy I am? Surely trust is something that has to be earnt over time, through a deep human connection with another person, by reading nuances, words, behaviours, attitudes. Even in the instant when we trust someone on first meeting our brain is still referring to a profound human instinct and picking up on a myriad of subtle cues. The irony of this hurts. That thousands of followers somehow equate to thousands of friends or real-life credibility. Nagle quotes an extreme example of this world where “young men raised on very grim pornography” believe that they are “Marquis de Sade in the virtual world but in the real world have less human contact, fewer prospects and less stake in their community and society than ever before.”

Is it any wonder that community is disappearing and instead we are left with a world of individuals trying to shout louder than the next person? We are each disappearing off into our own version of the world online. We all want to be happier yet this culture is causing us to disappear into make-believe, to shut out the people around us in the hope of reaching out to an artificial reality. Alongside this our collective mental health is rapidly declining.

We all have a cause that we believe in and above all we all believe in the human race, so surely, we should be working together to make the world better – to improve our own lives and the lives of other people. But although on the one hand individualism is being pushed, there are fabulous bodies springing up all around the (real) world looking to counter this and create a more human approach. Take for example ‘The Female Quotient’ a pro parity body who are ‘tapping into the power of collaboration to activate solutions for change’ without I must add excluding men (who are in this case ‘normies’). We need to put our energy behind these collaborations, have our unique voices heard as one of many rather than in isolation in an attempt to push back against a world that no one ever intentionally created. The online world after all grew by accidental means. No one sat down and crafted a vehicle that would help or destroy humanity (and although in some ways it has aided society, we know that in countless ways it has not). Online culture unfortunately plays to many of our primitive fear related instincts for survival, rather than our more advanced meaning driven brain. At its extreme this is enabling viscous sub-cultures to take hold and young people’s happiness to be eroded.

So, I will end by saying that it’s up to us ‘normies’ to re-introduce rational, advanced brain thinking, to back the more humane uses of the online world. It’s our responsibility to stand up for reality, connection, trust and community, to make a positive difference as humans, together in the real world. So put your phone down, close your laptop and go speak to someone – face-to-face.

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References:

https://www.economist.com/open-future/2018/08/03/how-the-grotesque-online-culture-wars-fuel-populism

Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right (7 Jun 2017) by Angela Nagle

https://www.thefemalequotient.com

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/530566/the-impact-of-the-internet-on-society-a-global-perspective/

Djafarova, E and Rushworth, C (2017) Exploring the credibility of online celebrities’ Instagram profiles in influencing the purchase decisions of young female users. Computers in Human Behavior, 68. pp. 1-7

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

 

 

It’s never too late to be who you might have been – George Eliot

There are moments where I wonder if it’s too late – this voyage into authorship, facing the world rather than directly into organisations as I have so far. Then I remind myself that it really isn’t – that’s what I tell other people, so I should believe it too. George Eliot pen name for Mary Ann Evans role-modelled her belief – a woman in a man’s world of the 19thCentury didn’t stop her. She was 40 when she published her first novel, at 60 she married a man 20 years her junior. She was, for her time quite radical. We’re not all that way inclined but all it takes is an open minded and curiosity about life to see what ‘might’ still lie ahead, to let go of expectations of what should have been and to focus on what can be.  BBC Breakfast presenter Louise Minchin did exactly that. In 2012, at 42 she took part in a cycling competition around the velodrome in Manchester for the BBC. Soon her curiosity and interest in this new activity had her training for triathlon’s. By 2015 she competed for Britain in her age group at the ITU World Championships.

Other notable ‘age eluders’ include:

  • Jo Pavey who won her first Olympic gold aged 40.
  • Samuel L. Jackson who had his first big film role aged 43.
  • Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species aged 50.
  • Julia Child made her television debut in The French Chef aged 51.
  • Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe, his first novel, aged 60.
  • Ranulph Fiennes climbed Everest aged 65.
  • Sir William Crookes invented the first instruments to study radioactivity aged 68.
  • Lord Palmerston became prime minister of Great Britain aged 71.
  • Mary Wesley had her first novel for adults published aged 71.
  • John Glenn traveled into space aged 77.
  • Gladys Burrill from Hawaii ran her first marathon aged 86.

It can be difficult to think about beginning a new phase or achieving later in life but while undeniably some barriers are physical a lot are psychological. So how do you overcome them?

  • Try not to think in black and white – it’s not all or nothing. For example, I love snowboarding – when my children were babies I couldn’t go off with my buddies and trek up mountains. That didn’t mean that I couldn’t stick to the piste. How I enjoyed my hobby simply changed and evolved. Try not to pin yourself down to a certain way of thinking or an identity because it’s how you’ve always seen yourself. Things change in ways that are not absolute.

 

  • Remain open to experiences – as we get older it’s harder to let go of what we know. It creeps up on us but as we repeat the same things over and over they become habit and doing something different can feel scary. Keep challenging yourself to see things from alternate angles and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Kashdan, a psychologist who researches curiosity, explains how we are “socialized” to believe that certainty is better for us than ambiguity. Yet research consistently shows that the negative anxiety we feel when approaching new situations is greatly outweighed by the more intense, longer-lasting, meaningful experiences we thus create.

 

  • Allow yourself to fail – we’re not born fearing failure but as we pass through life we become more and more scared. Try to remain open to failure, to learn from it, to live through it and see it as a gift in terms of the knowledge and the experience it gives you. You’ll be far more creative and see a vastly improved range of options about your future if you can allow yourself to fail. If you’re stuck on this one try reading Carol Dweck’s book.

 

  • Embrace opportunities – to go to new places and speak to new people. Rather than always going to the same pub, restaurant, café, holiday location, or taking the same route to work, try going somewhere new or going a different way. Speak to different people, try different things. Without doing this you don’t even know what’s out there. If Louise Minchin hadn’t done the cycling in 2012 she never would have known about her passion or capability.

 

Set your mind free, explore, try new things and see what comes up. What you might have been may not even be something you know about yet.

 

 

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden – available at amazon.co.ukWaterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK.

From July 24th 2018 Defining You will also be available across the English speaking world e.g. amazon.comamazon.au, amazon.ca

Defining You gives access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

I’m talking about potential at Red Smart Women’s Week in London on 22nd September

https://hearstlive.co.uk/smartwomenweek/#1531407421503-a6e00f6d-754f

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Other Info:

Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious? Discover the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life. New York, NY, US: William Morrow & Co.

Dweck, Carol S.. (2008) Mindset: the new psychology of success New York : Ballantine Books,

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/get-inspired/34141676

Image:

https://peanutbutteronrye.files.wordpress.com

 

Untapped Potential

This week I had the privilege of working with the EY Foundation and a group of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. When I found out that the group consisted of 60 students – well saying I panicked would be an understatement – I struggle to look after my own kids let alone that many teenagers! Generally I shy away from asking for help – but at this point I was well and truly into the zone of begging, although I needn’t have, when it comes to giving back people really do dig deep.

First, I approached someone I coach – Yona Christodoulou – an amazing, inspiring and engaging woman who herself had a tough upbringing. Yona shared her story and the youngsters hung off her every word, nearly all the comments she made that morning got a round of applause. I also spoke to a friend Kevin MacAuley (a partner at Ernst and Young) in the hope that he may be able to loan me extra hands in the form of younger members of his team – you know people who may actually be able to connect with these guys better than a woman in her – well who is quite a bit older than them. Kevin gave me four members of his team who were all fabulous!

The EY Foundation has fantastic intentions and does incredible things for the youngsters on their programme – helped by the numerous people across EY who get involved as mentors and organisers. Their vision is for ‘every young person in the UK to achieve their career ambitions’ and their mission ‘to reduce the barriers to work….and inspire and engage them to achieve their potential’. On their website there are stories from the young people who’ve completed the programme. One guy, Mohammed talks about how the information his mentor gave him, the insights into how to apply for jobs and what to look for, gave him ‘a cheat sheet’. He even said it feels like he had ‘an unfair advantage’ knowing what he did. Maybe compared to his peers he did – but for most of us we take for granted that we have anything we need at our fingertips. It’s the rest of us that have that unfair advantage.

The guys and girls this week were amazing – funny, feisty, spirited, motivated, engaged and charming – each of them characters that I wanted to get to know better. For example, I walked into the toilets where three girls were discussing their hair and got all embarrassed when they saw me, but rather than shutting down or walking out, within seconds they had included me in their banter and had me laughing at their sass.

These young people are not only great fun, but they are full of potential – I urged them all not to lose this as life pushed and pulled them. They haven’t had the comfortable life that I have, the opportunities that are espoused as being there if you look for them aren’t for everyone.  When they are given an opportunity they do it incredible justice and eat up every ounce of what is put their way.

I’ve written this not to say look at me, look at what I’ve done, rather look at EY and the EY Foundation – look at what they’ve done and are doing. Some of these teenagers live on the doorstep of Canary Wharf. The disparity of their lives and life inside the shiny offices seems unjust. We’re in the UK, a country that people are flocking to in order to find better lives, but it’s not always what we’re offering. There’s so much that could be learnt and leveraged by other corporate entities to help bring a little equality into the world that sits right on our door step.

To find out more about the EY Foundation please click here.

Many thanks to Brenda Trenowden, Yona Christodoulou, Kevin MacAuley, Fiona Campbell, Rupen Patel, Olivia D’silva, Alisha Somani, Luke Rainbird, Niraj Thakrar, Jessica Nicholson, Kathryn Darling and Victoria Ahonsi.

Not everyone is in the photo – we grabbed people on their way off to lunch. Yona is the striking lady at the front in the white jacket.

 

 

Take a Break

Last week I had the pleasure of talking to writer Holly Corbett about vacation or as we say in the UK, holiday (see Forbes article). The conversation was sparked by the stark percentage of people who do not take all of their allocated days – in the USA it’s 56% of men and 44% of women. In the UK we take a little more but one third of us are still guilty of leaving days for the company pot to swallow up. I don’t get an allotted number of days because I have my own company. In some ways this makes things far easier (in others more difficult) – but in most ways the lead up and aftermath of holiday is the same for me as anyone.

 

Pre Holiday

We’re off on our summer holiday in a week. I’m excited but also facing a mounting list of things to do both at work and home. For example, one client approached me mid June with a request for 12 profiles (each profile takes 4 hours in person and 6 hours of additional work) by end of July, so I engaged a colleague and we held time in our diary. So far only one has come our way and they are trying to squeeze as many as possible into the week before I go.  This will ultimately create overspill both into my holiday (I can’t ignore them as soon as I step into the airport) and into the time when I get back.

 

I’m doing a book signing next weekend and much as I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity (Camp Bestival is by all accounts ‘The’ best family festival in the UK), there’s prep to be done and I’m dreading the crowds. I’m not suggesting I’ll have crowds flocking to see me, it’s the fear of being in and amongst crowds of people which makes me feel ‘marginally’ agoraphobic at best (don’t worry talk organisers none of this will be apparent to the naked eye I promise).

 

Yet another stress point – the prospect of remembering stuff to take away with us. I find packing for myself stressful let alone an entire family. I hate hauling around loads of stuff yet without a bit of planning I go for the ‘grab and stuff’ approach and end up taking half the house. I don’t know how I managed to circumnavigate the globe for 10 months with just one backpack (granted it was more or less as big as me but then again I’m not very big).

 

Post Holiday

I stupidly buttressed my holiday not only with a talk before but doing a 4 hour session for 60 underprivileged teenagers on my return. And I have an operation on my ankle following which I won’t be able to move for 2 weeks or drive for 6. As a result client work is also piling up into the week I’m back (above and beyond the remaining 11 profiles).

 

On Holiday 

Other concerns? Well, being notoriously last minute we’ll inevitably have forgotten to do or book at least one thing which will cause tension. We’re going to the West Coast of Canada and USA which means a 10 hour flight with our youngest asking ‘Are we nearly there yet’ before we even leave the tarmac plus we have the joy of kids waking up at 2am for the first few days to look forward to. Then there’s the arguments between the kids and the inevitable frustration of my tweenie daughter wanting to approach the holiday as a continual shopping spree (which makes me feel I’ve done something very wrong at some point – ‘experiences not things make us happy’) and utmost disgust when we end up somewhere remote for at least part of the trip.

I am looking forward to it though – honestly!

 

What I’ll do to ease some of the strain:

Create boundaries – believe it or not I have. My book launches in the USA and Canada this week so I could have (in fact did originally plan to) throw myself into a book tour alongside our holiday. I’ve decided this just isn’t going to be good anyone so the talks are on hold. Ultimately there need to be boundaries that work for us (not the company we work for) whoever we are.

Set child expectations – we’ll aim to do a bit of what everyone wants. For me that’s being away from anyone, for my eldest it will be shopping, my youngest Disneyland and anything that requires our undivided attention and for my husband whatever it takes to not stay still for more than 5 minutes.

Get plenty of light – in order to overcome the jet lag as naturally as possible (which sort of contradicts itself as we clearly did not evolve to move several thousand miles in the space of a few hours).

Get sleep – I feel lazy, selfish and like I’m wasting my time away when I sleep but I need it for my mental health and general functioning. This of course is true for all of us.

Explore –because I love it and to because it makes taps into curiosity which is so good for brain health. Using our brain to explore new things, places, people – literally allows us to return from our break with fresh perspectives. It also helps us to make lasting memories not just because of the fun we have in the process but because we remember things better when they are novel (it’s all to do with dopamine and other related goings on in the brain).

Be active – relaxing doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on a sun lounger (although a little of this may be good), it’s about using our bodies in the way nature intended. That means moving: anything from walking to learning a new sport (e.g. windsurfing, playing tennis) whatever works for you, it’s also great for our brain health as well as our bodies.

Then of course there’s reading. Bill Gates and Arianna Huffington’s suggested reading are in the links below but they both seem to have missed mine off the list. Defining You is out today in the USA and Canada (amazon.com and amazon.ca) and available in the UK via amazon.co.uk, Waterstones, Foyles and WH Smiths and in Australia.

 

Links:

https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Summer-Books-2018

https://www.inc.com/marla-tabaka/6-books-arianna-huffington-wants-you-to-read-for-personal-growth.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/shelleyzalis/2018/07/24/vacation-is-good-for-you-and-your-company/#329a5d911329

https://www.fastcompany.com/90199683/theres-a-gender-gap-in-vacation-time-too?

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/11592958/A-third-of-British-workers-dont-take-their-holidays.html

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What Does Confidence Mean?

Confidence is an elusive concept. Most of us lack it to some degree, and few would argue they don’t want to feel more confident, yet when it comes to defining how we could develop it we are at a loss. Having confidence rids us of the anxiety and doubts that hold us back from so many opportunities. It not only makes us feel better about ourselves, but also enables us to achieve more and inspire the conviction of others in our abilities.

Having said that, too much confidence is not a good thing. This is displayed in leadership, where an “overwhelming” self-assurance leads to something known as hubris syndrome. This acquired condition, which represents the extreme end of the scale, results in what Lord David Owen, a former MP and psychiatrist, defines as “disastrous leadership” that can “cause large-scale damage.” It is marked by behaviors such as “impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate.” The same behaviors manifest in anyone who becomes too self-possessed. Consequently, you want to build your confidence to optimize your potential, but you also need to be careful not to take it too far.

There is a “sweet spot” you want to reach where your self-assurance is robust enough to allow you to take a balanced view on risks, make effective decisions, have influence, and effectively forge ahead with your purpose. Understanding what this means and where you are with it will form a strong platform from which you can move forward and fine-tune your own level of confidence. Psychologists consider confidence in terms of two broad concepts: self-confidence (known technically as self-efficacy) and self-esteem. Self-confidence is about how much faith you have in your ability to achieve a specific goal in a particular situation. As such, it’s not a given that being self-confident with one task means you’ll be equally self-confident with another. For example, you may be confident that you can cook a good meal or play a strong game of tennis, but still lack confidence when it comes to your ability to run a marathon or play a piece of music on the piano.

Although self-confidence is task specific, one person may have an overall higher level than another. Someone with higher levels of self-confidence will approach all new challenges in a more forthright way. For example, they might throw themselves down a mountain when learning to ski, confident that they’ll get the hang of it, and approach another task, say scuba diving for the first time, with the same vigor. On the other hand, another person who is less self-confident may be very fearful of any novel task.

Self-esteem differs, in that it is more internally focused than self-confidence. Rather than being based on the successful completion of tasks or challenges, it’s about how much you value yourself or how much you like and accept who you are. An easy way to assess your level of self-esteem is to listen to your internal dialogue. How do you speak to yourself: are you kind, accepting, and appreciative (e.g., well done, you did a great job with that), or harsh, cutting, and critical (e.g., you idiot, why did you do that again, when will you learn)?

People frequently strive to make themselves feel better by chasing the more tangible aspects that relate to self-confidence—external rewards such as awards, academic achievements, or sporting success—while neglecting to work on their self-esteem. Celebrities often fall into this category, looking to the outside world for reassurance about their self-worth and getting that by achieving public recognition, awards, or notoriety. However, they can often be the loneliest people, feeling empty because their higher-level needs are not being met, their ability to like and accept themselves. This leads to destructive behaviors such as taking drugs, drinking to excess, and overeating.

Both self-confidence and self-esteem are important to well-being and to the pursuit of your goals within the context of what makes you unique and special as a person. One without the other is not helpful. Once you’ve built your self-confidence and self-esteem, they need to be continually nurtured to enable optimal performance.

Extract taken from:

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden – available at amazon.co.ukWaterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK.

From July 24th 2018 Defining You will also be available across the English speaking world e.g. amazon.comamazon.au, amazon.ca

Defining You gives access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

References

Owen, D., & Davidson, J. (2009). Hubris syndrome: An acquired personality disorder? A study of US Presidents and UK Prime Ministers over the last 100 years. Brain132(5), 1396-1406.

Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

Leadership and the Brain

When I first started my career I worked for a management consultancy so didn’t experience the over bearing bosses close up, but a close friend of mine went to work for BHS. Fresh in and excited it was then that she came across Philip Green who she was utterly terrified of. He would swoop into meetings and demand to know the detail from this young and very junior graduate.

Philip Green is a leader who, whatever you may think of him, has been very successful. One that Stuart Rose ex-chairman and CEO of M&S describes as “a classic bricks-and-mortar retailer”. He’s also someone who has proffered a command and control style of management. His leadership is what is known as ‘great man’ or trait leadership – based on the idea that successful leaders have innate, fixed leadership capabilities which fulfil certain characteristics including the ability to use power and influence to lead.  Everyone who’s been close up and personal with Green talks about his gift for mental arithmetic, instant assessment of value, fast decision making and simplification of complex business dilemmas.  Green himself indirectly alludes to his style being of a less moveable stance saying “If I had wheels, I’d be a car. If: it’s a big word, isn’t it? I can’t deal in if.”

But this fixed style of leadership isn’t relevant or helpful today as we exist on a constant wobble board of change. We operate in a world of economic volatility, rapid advances in technology, intensifying competition and an unpredictable political landscape which all call for clarity of thought and speed of action. A world which deals very much in ‘Ifs’. For example, the founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos says that “This is Day 1 for the Internet. We still have so much to learn.” In interviews Bezos still talks about the Internet as an ­uncharted world, imperfectly understood and yielding new surprises all the time, demonstrating the need to continually evolve and adapt. Amazon develops something new every 11.6 seconds. This simply could not be done through a command and control structure – a boss having to say yes to everything.

As leaders there is a need to constantly adapt and change, but also to understand how to make employees feel secure to get the most from them and bring them along on the journey. And understanding the brain both from the perspective of your own brain and the brains of your employees is a very helpful foundation for the style of leadership needed today.

Let me give you an example of how these two different leadership styles impact employees brains by looking at it through the lens of neuroscience. In 2012, Boyatzis a renowned Professor of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science examined the neural substrates activated in experiences with leaders who were good at relating to followers (e.g. Jeff Bezos) and those who were not (e.g. Phillip Green). Subjects responded to the leaders who were good at relating to others by showing activation in 14 regions of the brain, specifically areas associated with attention and relationships.

Subjects responded to leaders who were not good at relating to others with activation in only 6 areas of the brain and deactivation in 11 areas, specifically narrowing attention and initiating negative emotions. The primitive areas of the brain experienced this leader as a threat and the brain responded accordingly. Ready to take flight but not ready to adapt and respond.

This has significant and damaging consequences. Negative emotions lead to cognitive, emotional and perceptual impairment, which in turn limits an employee’s ability to make accurate rational decisions and causes them to have an inaccurate and overly negative view of their environment and those around them. While this may have been sustainable within a command and control structure, the vulnerabilities this style creates in employees become completely disabling in a constantly changing world.

For more on this, your brain as a leader and the brain of your employers log on free to the webinar I’m doing this week with The School for CEOs.

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