Monday, 4 September 2017

Learning to dance in the rain

Its now just over six months since Jan, the love of my life, suddenly passed away as a result of sepsis, brought on by inoperable, incurable cancer. Truly the worst event in my life and I'm writing this blog as a cathartic exercise and as an attempt to make sense of and share my experience.

What I have learnt during this confusing, sad and muddled time, when in the depth of your grief you have to deal with the funeral, death certificate, will and probate. You still have to cook, clean, wash, iron and garden, when all you really want to do is curl up in a corner. Yet 'having to do things' somehow prevents you from slipping into abbess. You soon  learn that you don't get through, get over, move on from grief, you just learn to endure/live with it. Jan will be with me for the rest of my days and quite honesty I don't want to ban her from my life!

Thanks to the actions below, I am in quite a good place having more happy days than sad ones as I develop the next stage of my life. However I have found grief comes at you in waves and so often when you least expect it. On Saturday I was happily driving to a friends daughters wedding and Engelbert Humperdinck came on singing The last Waltz and I was back in my youth dancing the endless waltz with Jan. There I was driving along the A3 with tears streaming down my cheeks. I continued on my journey and had a wonderful time at the wedding, but the lovely speeches, so filled with emotion just drew more tears from me, but it all ended well. Which is not always the case as my cousin who lost the love of her life, summed it up for me, that some days you just need to give yourself permission to be utterly miserable.

Using that wonderful organisation Action for Happiness  (click on link to download 28 page booklet explaining the model) - ten keys for happier living to summarise everything that we have done over the last six months:-

  • Giving - I created Grandma's Kindness Challenge for my granddaughters (but it was a project for the whole family) as a summer happiness project to, as a team, raise £400 for charity. I gave each of them £25 as seed money that they could use to create something they could sell for their charity - Cancer Research. These four girls have just blown me away with their enthusiasm and the entrepreneurial spirit this has unleashed. They have picked blackberries and turned them into jam, have cooked South African style fudge and baked donuts which sold out while still warm. Two of the girls went through their treasured toys in the loft to identify cast offs that they then sold at a car boot sale raising £76.62. In addition I gave them notebooks to record acts of kindness they do and I will pay them £5 for every 10 acts and the books are filling up fast. Four awesome girls and I love them to bits! 
  • Relating - Your support comes from your family and close friends and what you need to understand is they too have experienced loss. You need to receive and give support to one another. Having my daughter and her family 10 minutes away and my son and his family 30 minutes away has been a massive life saver for me. They are so loving, kind but also challenging and Jan lives on through them as they would not allow me to wallow in self pity! I have found over this time that good relationships have gone on to become even better. I'm about to embark on the North Coast 500 with three very dear friends and I know that we will be laughing almost non-stop for the entire journey through the highlands of Scotland and that is before we go whisky tasting! I have used Skype and WhatsApp to stay connected with my distant family and friends and in addition I am growing new friendships through the new activities that I am now doing.  
  • Exercising - I walk Thandi my lovely German Shepherd every day and also use a static exercise bike to strengthen my legs. I have almost completed the 99 miles of the South Downs walking with my son and son in law. Next we will go on to walk the Sussex border path, plus I have recently joined a lovely warm group of Ramblers so plenty of 6 to 10 mile walks coming up.
  • Awareness - doing an 8 week 'Mindfulness for Stress' course was one of the best things I did shortly after Jan's passing and at a time when I was struggling to find meaning and deal with my disrupted sleep pattern. Mindfulness gave me a wonderful new way of life that pretty much saved me and during the course we were going into spring which I saw in the present moment, through new eyes, appreciating the beauty of the English countryside. I now try to live my life in a mindful way, meditating every day, appreciating all the good things around me and I feel much calmer with a real sense of well-being.
  • Trying Out - I also did, at the same time, a 10 week course on improving my D-SLR photography and loved learning new and different things. Through Meet Up I have joined various photographic groups which give me the opportunity of going on photographic field trips and learning from others. I recently bought three online training courses from Udemy to learn post production techniques using Affinity Photo. Trying out new things and learning just makes life more interesting and a lot more fun.

  • Direction - Initially I went through a period of feeling that I was like an ocean going yacht that had lost its rudder and mast. My son told me he understood, but reminded me that I was still floating. Then over the months I started to rekindle my sense of direction and now have lots of events and goals that I am looking forward to and it feels good!
  • Resilience - I think the most important message is that you have a choice, do you 'feed' your miserable self-pity or do you invest in joy, peace, love and hope. Thanks to the plasticity of the brain, creating new positive approaches and activities effectively re-programmes your brain, but you have got to make that choice.
  • Emotions - A friend told me that once you lose someone special you go through a year of firsts. As in first wedding anniversary without Jan, so right from the start we made it very clear that we were going to create new happy neural pathways that reminded us of the lovely Jan and we are sticking to our plan.
  • Acceptance - possibly one of the most important keys for me was to stop being so hard on myself and to learn to be kind and supportive to myself. Irrational I know, but soon after Jan's passing I kept thinking that I could have detected the sepsis and saved her. Even when my doctor explained that Jan was too sick  to have survived, my self flagellation continued. I'm ok now, I know I did everything possible and I have accepted that it was out of my control. 
  • Meaning - when you open your mind and heart to life, I have found good things come your way. Out of the blue a good ex-NestlĂ© friend who has set up a learning super highway that operates in 110 countries and in 12 languages has asked me to develop learning modules on developing Inspiring Leaders and High Performing Teams. A wonderful challenge to be a part of! Then an ex Purina buddy has given me an opportunity to run a year long Inspiring Leader Programme for a small business in Cornwall. I have always wanted to create an affordable programme for small to medium sized businesses that just don't have the resources of the big guys. I know that something good will come out of these two, very different, projects and that gives me real meaning in my life!
I now know that 'life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain' and that's what we are doing as a family!!! 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Mindfulness for Stress

I feel sad this morning that my eight week 'Mindfulness for Stress' course has come to an end, but immensely happy that I had the good sense to enrol on this course. 

Sarah our trainer was such a kind and sweet person, a passionate mindfulness example and an ideal guide to a better way of living our lives. I had a real need for help with my stress, Jan the love of my life had unexpectedly passed away on Valentine's day and at the start of the course in May I was struggling to get a good nights sleep as my mind was tormented by the worst event in my life. I was struggling to come to terms with the fact that I would have to learn to live my life without my best friend.

Eight weeks later I am sleeping much better and regularly getting up to 6 hours (good for me) and even when I wake up early I get back to sleep quickly. I feel my mind is no longer tormented and I have a sense of calm that helps me to balance my emotion with rational thinking. I have learnt to accept that Jan has passed, embracing my sadness rather than trying to solve it. I still have tearful moments and good and bad days, but the good days are more plentiful and growing.

Thinking about the eight weeks I feel I have learnt the following.
  1. How to meditate - something I had never done in my life, but which I found very helpful as it provided me with a simple tool that I could use to relax and calm me when I feel stressed. I have an overactive mind and thought I would never be able to 'empty' it in order to meditate. So I was delighted to learn that thoughts are 'allowed' and there to be enjoyed and played with. I also found that focusing on my body and breathing through the guided meditations stopped my thinking from completely hijacking my meditation sessions.
  2. Learning correct breathing - I understood as a trainer the power of breathing, but this course helped me to understanding the science and how to integrate breathing into my mindfulness lifestyle. 
  3. What we resist persists - I soon realised that pushing away, suppressing, numbing out and reaching for distractions was not working and learnt to adopt a mindful 'attend and befriend' approach, specifically to embrace the loss of my Jan.
  4. Taking in the good - here my positive approach to life has helped me to fight the human negativity bias and celebrate all the good and amazing things in my life. In particular my loving family and friends who have been truly amazing and helped me to develop new happy neural pathways. I think the most important message is that you have a choice, do you 'feed' your miserable self-pity or do you invest in joy, peace, love and hope.
  5. Mindfulness walking - I walk in the countryside every day of my life, the joy of owning a wonderful German Shepherd. This gave me the opportunity to apply mindfulness as I walked, taking in all the wonderful things that I had stopped seeing. Spring in the UK is a marvellous time of the year with all the colours, leaves and flowers all bursting out with their goodness. I learned to recognise when I was doing things on autopilot and break out of its grip.
  6. Self-Compassion - possibly one of the most important keys for me was to stop being so hard on myself and to learn to be kind and supportive. Irrational I know, but soon after Jan's passing I kept thinking that I could have detected the sepsis and saved her. Even when my doctor explained that Jan was too sick  to have survived, my self flagellation continued. I'm ok now, I know I did everything possible and that it was out of my control. 
  7. Compassionate communications - learning to listen and speak in a mindful way, listening deeply to what is being shared rather than an interpretation of it.
  8. Gratitude - we did this one exercise where we texted a buddy the three things we were grateful for each day for a week. When you look back on this list you soon realise that life is still good and that we all have a lot to be thankful for!!! 
  9. Mindful photography - by chance more than design I have been taking a 10 week 'Improve your D-SLR photography' course at the same time. The two courses have proved to be a wonderful combination and helped me to enjoy the present moment and see beauty in ordinary things.

I know I have a long way to go if I want to live a mindfulness life, but I feel that I have made a good start. In the weeks going forward I need to turn these good intentions into good habits and in everything I do to continue to be kind to myself.

The one thing I do know is that mindfulness has helped me at a very difficult time in my life and given me great hope for the future. 


Web sites:-

Thursday, 4 May 2017

A Leading Cause of Death You Don't Even Know About

Sadly, my poor Jan, the love of my life, lost her fight against neuro endocrine cancer (detected in mid-December) on Valentine’s day, the day we were due to fly off for a glorious months holiday in South Africa. She had suddenly and unexpectedly, but as a direct result of her cancer, developed sepsis and we were with her in the Royal Surrey Hospital when she gently passed away. She has left a massive hole in our lives, but also with so many happy memories from a very full life, well lived.
I am wonderfully supported by my loving family and friends and taking one day at a time as I deal with my grief. Having gone through the mind numbing ‘how could I have saved her’ process, I know after talking to my doctor, that even if I had picked up on the early signs of sepsis, she was just too ill to have survived. I’m hoping that in sharing my sadness with you, that in some small way, I can help raise awareness of sepsis and maybe save someone life around the world.
Suspected sepsis, known as the 'silent killer', can affect any age group but is more serious for the over 65s and should be treated as a serious emergency, similarly to someone having a heart attack!
Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition, triggered by an infection or injury. The body’s immune system goes into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions, including widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting. This can lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure, which can mean the blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys, is reduced. If not treated quickly, sepsis can eventually lead to multiple organ failure and death.
This pains me to think about it, in fact I am in tears as I write this article, but the signs that I saw in Jan were the following: -
  • S – shivering, fever, or very cold (she had a raging temperature but also uncontrollable shivering)
  • E – extreme pain or general discomfort (she struggled to sit comfortably)
  • – pale or discoloured skin (she developed a very slight jaundiced look)
  • S - sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused (at the height of her confusion, she didn't recognise me)
  • I - “I feel like I might die” (she was such a brave lady but told me that she felt awful)
  • S – shortness of breath (she seemed to be gasping for air)
PLEASE If you see these signs, get your loved one, friend, stranger in a car and drive them to a hospital and say “I am concerned about sepsis.”
Maybe, this could just save someone’s life!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Agile Leader in a Digital Age

Just before Christmas I had the pleasure to work with a wonderful group of young digital leaders who are charged with transforming the way their traditional large organisation does business. This digital transformation is impacting all our lives, as we now take for granted that we book flights, trains and cabs via apps on our smartphones. Our January new year’s resolutions are now ‘enhanced’ by Fitbits and I know my son can’t wait for his February birthday and his Nike Apple Watch 2!

So, we well and truly live in this fast and furious digital world, where small organisations with great ideas can outsource their manufacturing, use a sales platform like Amazon and take on the giants! I feel it is a world with endless possibilities and leaders need to be able to rise to the challenge.

Agile is a word that I see used in IT project management, but I like the simple definition of the word which is ‘able to move quickly and easily’. Organisations need to be able to respond rapidly to changes, so leaders need to be able to get the best out of their people (millennials through to boomers), inspiring them, growing their capability, and empowering them to succeed. They also must be able to convince senior management, who invariably are not digital natives, to sign off investment for ‘things’ they don’t totally understand.

The model I have designed to capture the essence of this modern, agile leader, thriving in this digital age, has the following attributes: -

The powerful ‘engine’ that drives the leadership model

·         Emotional Intelligence – I have spent the last 20 years helping leaders (subtlety) to develop their emotional intelligence. You know when the military invest heavily in developing leadership skills, that command and control is well and truly dead! Working as a trainer and coach with generations of leaders, convinces me beyond any doubt that leaders who can manage their own emotions and have empathy for the situations of others, who can lift the spirits of their followers, are going to be the success stories of this digital age.

·         Four core skills – emotional intelligence then feeds into the ability to:-
  • Rapidly build trust - if you want things done fast you need to be open and transparent and cut out the bullshit!
  • Genuinely listen with empathy
  • Ask thoughtful and provoking questions
  • Provide amazing constructive feedback
 ·     Growth Mindset – a fixed mindset has resulted in the demise of many well know businesses and the careers of countless leaders. Leaders with a growth mindset accept that to survive they need to change, to continuously learn, take on new challenges to grow. With a Growth Mindset, leaders open up to failures and use them to learn and get better at whatever they do.

The four key roles of an Agile Digital Leader

  • Inspiring Leader – able to engage people and excite them about new possibilities. This means having a high level of communication skills, being able to deliver key messages with high impact in the limited amount of time available to do so. Engaging people however is not enough, as once people are interested they need to be influenced so that they become committed and act to bring about the changes. This is a great set of skills that deliver results fast, which is essential in a digital world.
  • Smart Manager – someone who can recruit, motivate, develop and retain the right talent. Able to plan and organise, working is a simpler, smarter and quicker way to deliver value to the organisation.
  • Engaging Facilitator – who has a deep understanding of team dynamics and what makes a high performing team. Able to get the best out of teams, getting them excited about their vision and committed to the roadmap to deliver on their promises.
  • Performance Coach – able to develop a deep level of trust and use the skills and tools to help team members perform to their full potential.

This is what the final model looks like.