Monday, July 14, 2014

Birthdays - celebration or reflection? Which are you?

Tomorrow is my birthday and I'm turning 42 - which is a little bit exciting since I am a big Douglas Adams fan. For any of you out there who aren't familiar with his incredible five part trilogy, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the answer to the ultimate question on the meaning of life. Now I know that it probably has nothing to do with age, but given everything that has happened in my life over the last three years, that's how I'm looking at it.

I always get reflective around my birthday, I know that there are other people who look upon it as a chance to refresh and celebrate what is about to happen in the next year, but that's not my mode. I tend to think back on what has happened, and lament the passing on another year that I didn't quite reach my goals - yes I did this when I didn't even know what my goals were.

This year I thought I would share three thoughts that have been going through my head in the lead up to my birthday. If you are a reflector like me they might be familiar, if you are a celebrator then this will help you realise the crap the other half put themselves through.

Revealing the broken parts
When my 40th birthday came around in 2012, I was well into My Year of TED. Unfortunately though, my birthday was punctuated by 30 days of Choice and 30 days of Being Wrong. This was extremely poor planning on my behalf, as I was already in a reflective mood about my life because I was turning 40, adding in activities that explored my regrets and how I make decisions was like pouring petrol on a fire.

This was extremely unfortunate for Derek, who took me away for the weekend and wasn't entirely prepared for the revelations that I had begun to experience. He even heard the confession of the worst thing I have ever done in my life - which I am not sharing with you here, that one isn't even going into the book. Some secrets are better kept.

Although it seemed like bad timing, I contend that my sub-conscious planned it to force my conscious brain into crisis - so that I would finally understand my tendency to be too passive in the big decisions in life. It was difficult to learn these things about myself, and I spent the rest of July and August in a fairly bad place emotionally, but I wouldn't change that for the world. My 40th birthday was the day I pulled the curtain back for good, no more peeking behind it and then promptly forgetting - it was time to know and deal with it.

Friendships I let pass me by
As far as birthdays go, my 21st was a high point in their history (long story). My boyfriend at the time, and his friends (who I had known for about two years) threw me a 'surprise' party to celebrate. This was still at a time in my life where I had no idea who I was; where self-esteem and self-confidence were things I struggled with; and where I was under the misconception that I had to rely on other people for my happiness.

Sadly, those thoughts and feelings hung around throughout my 20s and early 30s - and I think they only started being addressed and resolved a decade ago, when I started to take more active control of my life. My Year of TED has allowed me to put a nail in the coffin of these doubts and false theories on life; better late than never I guess.

I mention this celebration because it reminds me that I have had a lot of great people in my life, that brought me joy at various times. Some of them also brought me pain, but I think I probably did that for just as many people as well. And for some reason, this year it feels important for me to acknowledge all of the wonderful friends in my life - particularly the ones from my past who I probably never appreciated enough, and certainly not in words.

If any of you are reading this, there is a huge chance that I cherished you and wanted to keep you in my life more than I ever admitted. I've spent a lot of my life not allowing myself to be vulnerable, so telling you how I felt was never going to happen - but there are a lot of you that I miss, and I wish I'd had the courage to tell you that then.

Half my life is over
Okay, I don't know this for sure - it could be more than half or it might be a little less, but I'm definitely not at the beginning. For some reason the thought that I need to get off my arse and do something with my life hit me hard a few weeks ago. More than ever before, this year I've realised that I'm middle-aged - and that's been a little rough to deal with.

This struck me in the weirdest way, because you have to understand that I have never thought of myself as an attractive person, I am certainly not one of the 'beautiful people'. For some reason though, this year it hit me that I am middle-aged and there is no turning back from here. This is a very random thought because a few weeks ago Derek and I celebrated 10 years together, and I am incredibly happy with our relationship and our lives together - so why should the loss of youth and attraction hit me this year? I think my brain just decided to pick a new way to torture me, because it can.

More importantly, when you realise that half your life is over, you realise that maybe you should have done more with that time. Oh, I know that the first 18 years are school, so what can you really achieve? Then four years at University, which you can only do so much with - so really I've only had 20 years to play with, but what did I do in those 20 years? Okay for ten of them I was busy screwing my life up with two failed marriages, and that takes a bit of focus and energy you know. All I mean is that I could have achieved more with better direction and some confidence.

What's this all about?
This could just be a weird, rambling post to capture my mindset for my 42nd birthday, but I think it is a little more than that. It is a reminder to my current self to stop wasting time with pointless things; to remind the important people in my life that is what they are, important; and to keep pushing forward with all of the tough choices I am making.

There are some lessons from My Year of TED that I forget, from time to time - ticking over another year is a great opportunity to remind myself of everything I learned.

Oh, and don't think I'm in a funk about this - it is what it is, and it is the way my brain works. It doesn't mean I'm sad and I will have a crap birthday, it just means I'm reminding myself to enjoy it even more. So much so that this year I am going out to dinner with a large group (okay 10) of friends to celebrate - which almost never happens in my world.

What's your birthday mode? Are you the sort that celebrates being alive and looks forward to the next year? Or are you more like me, reflecting on what has occurred and what you still want to achieve?

And if you are feeling in a generous mood for my birthday, I'd love you to share the blog with at least one other person. The buttons are just below this, thank you :-)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Confidence, choices and being an active decision maker

I recently asked my subscribers for suggestions on topics they would like me to cover and the resounding answer was confidence and choices - which is great because that's right up my alley.

The response to this is Positive Decisions - a two part resource to help you rediscover your confidence around decision making, and to help you understand what success looks like for you. The idea is that one resource helps you define where you want your decisions to take you, while the other one let's you have more confidence to evaluate the options.

Why Positive Decisions?
During My Year of TED, one of the major realisations I experienced was how passively I had been making decisions in my life - well okay how I hadn't made many of the big decisions in my life. The more I have thought about all of this, the more I have developed a strong belief that this passive decision making plagues a lot of people.

Barry Schwartz recently confirmed this for me when I interviewed about his TED Talks (The Paradox of Choice and Our Loss of Wisdom) and how I used them in My Year of TED:
...there is a temptation to let big things happen to you, because people are so worried about how they'll feel if they take ownership of big decisions and they don't work out. It takes courage to own up to the fact that you're in charge of this and you have to decide, and it's not hard for me to understand why people are sometimes reluctant to do that.
Fear of a bad outcome just completely dominates the anticipation of a good outcome when it comes to big decisions. People stick with their jobs. They stick with jobs they don't hate but they don't love, rather than risking a new job or a new career. It doesn't feel nearly as much of a decision that you are keeping your job as it would feel if you changed your job. And I think maybe the same thing with relationships.
Positive Decisions is about trying to help other people be more active in the choices they are given in life. It contains a lot of the techniques that I have used to become a more active decision maker, and keep the confidence I've needed to take on the challenges of the last few years.

Part One is ready for you now
Part 1 - The Confidence to Actively Make Choices is now available to dinkylune subscribers, if you haven't signed up yet you can do it here. This contains activities to help you shift any negativity you might have about your capability and capacity to make good choices.

Part two will be released in the next couple of weeks, focusing on success statements.

And because life can be full of serendipity, TED put up a talk recently on choices, Ruth Chang on How to Make Hard Choices, which I only watched on the weekend. The last couple of minutes reinforce my belief on gaining control of decisions, it's a fascinating talk.

Do you struggle with the hard choices in life? Do you think that you are active or passive in your decision making?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It was easier before - or was it?

Many of you know that I have been struggling a bit with setting up a business, and pushing through a lot of internal barriers - some of which I never realised I had. Earlier this year I wrote a piece that captured some of the feelings I was experiencing about this. I wasn't sure whether to share it, or how to share it.

I'm not sure why, but in my head it sounded better being spoken, but that seemed a bit of a stretch for me at the time. Today I decided to bite the bullet. The written piece has been posted on Medium (if you like it on there can you click the Recommend button please), and I've created a very simple YouTube video with the audio.

For all of you struggling with change in your lives, particularly big changes like I've gone through, I hope that you enjoy this - and I'd love to know what you think of it.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A simple solution to open plan noise by Julian Treasure

Activity 3 in My Year of TED was Better Listening - inspired by Julian Treasure's TED Talks 5 ways to listen better and Shh! Sound health in 8 steps for two reasons (mainly using the former). When I took on this activity it was mainly designed around improving the quality of my listening, and the sound in my environment. Below is what I said about it in the launch post:
This is about so much more than "active listening", it is about improving your quality of hearing and ability to channel and enjoy sound. Even more than that it's about connecting and understanding your environment and the other people in it. 
The challenge for me is to become a conscious listener - to become better connected with my environment and also find appropriate ways to control my soundscape when I need to.
I mention this because yesterday I listened to Julian's latest talk, given at TEDxCannes, The sound of happiness. Julian's progression with trying to get designers of spaces to incorporate sound into their work, as much as light, has been interesting to watch.

Open plan doesn't work
It's fascinating that there is still a lack of uptake in what he is talking about. I worked in open plan offices for most of my working life, I was fortunate enough to have an office for a while when I was in Defence. I bet the majority of you have to tolerate these ineffective working spaces as well.

There is one fact that Julian quotes in his talk that should be influencing everyone who runs an organisation - Open plan offices reduce productivity by 66%!!! So you are two-thirds less productive when you sit in an open plan office than if you were to have your own space, and yet open plan is still the preferred design for most organisations.

Open plan is popular because in outlay, rent and fitout it is cheaper than giving everyone walls. But if it reduces productivity by 66% is it cheaper in the long run?

Controlling your soundscape
If you work in an open plan office you don't need to be told how distracting it is, and how disruptive it can be to your production levels. You know that when Molly picks up the phone you might as well go and make a coffee, because you will not be able to focus while she's on the call. You know that when Jim comes over to flirt with the admin women the most you will be able to do is clean up your emails while trying not to audibly laugh at his banter.

The most important thing I learned from 30 days of Better Listening was that I can, and should, control my soundscape. I started having earbuds in whenever I was doing focused work, so I could block out the various things happening around me. I find that music can be distracting as well, so I used sites that had different sounds like rainstorms and birds singing.

Listening to Julian's talk yesterday, I discovered an even better resource for this. He has helped to develop an app called Study, it's part of Sound Education. It plays 45 of ambient music with birds and other natural sounds, it stops at 45 minutes to remind you to get up and take a break from what you are doing - so that's an extra bonus.

I may not work in a distracting open plan office any longer, I'm lucky to hear anyone's voice during my work day. But I still downloaded it to use when I am in a public place, and even when the quietness of my home office is too distracting.

I've listened to it a few times now and I recommend it - it's a free app so what do you have to lose. Take back some control of your working environment, and if you wear headphones instead of earbuds it might even stop people coming up to interrupt you as often as well (triple bonus).

Do you work in an open plan office and find the soundscape distracting? How do you deal with the noise levels of your workplace?

Friday, May 30, 2014

10 Universal Truths - a guest post on DumbLittleMan

There are so many things falling into place in my life at the moment - which unfortunately proves that putting in the work is the only way to make things happen. You'll find out more in the next couple of months.

What I wanted to quickly share was that today I had an article published on Dumb Little Man - 10 Universal Truths That Will Set You Free. These are revelations and realisations from My Year of TED, so I wanted to share the article with you as well. The list contains some very tough lessons, so check it out - and as always, if you find the content valuable please share it with others.