Conflict is inevitable; combat is optional

inner-glow-1056365What has become clear to me as I get more into relationship and systems work is that conflict is an inevitable part of life and the aim is not to avoid all forms of confrontation rather it is something much more challenging initially. The key is to recognise what is going on and develop the skills to manage it. I have known this for some time and was rather dismayed that when I reached out to an online group of spiritual people to discuss it, the collective response was almost to deny this truth. That is just burying your head in the sand and ignoring the messiness of life. As spiritual beings having a human experience, our souls want to experience the full range of emotions even those hugely painful ones. We are not our feelings and with greater understanding, we can step back and observe it all rather than getting wrapped up in the drama or denying the reality of it. Let me go on to share with you some recent insights I received which I think help put all this into perspective so that you no longer fear conflict but rather embrace it and move through it, acknowledging all that you have learnt from it.

It starts with understanding stress

How often do you hear people saying that they are stressed out? The implication is that that is the cause of their behaviour but here’s the first fact stress is a symptom not the cause.

Stress comes about when there is inner conflict. Here’s what I love and I am thankful to Sandy Newbigging for explaining this so clearly for me. Conflict is made up of two forces resistance and attachment. Let me go deeper by sharing some of my stuff. When I get frustrated with my daughter for losing things there are two things going on. There is resistance to accepting that as a creative she has a tendency to be scatty AND attachment to the need for order due to a belief that being organised saves time and leads to greater efficiency. In other words the stress I can feel in those situations is not caused by what has happened but by internal disharmony between my resistance to what I don’t want to acknowledge AND an attachment to something I think I need. Sandy puts it as

Stress is a symptom of there being a conflict between what your mind wants and what your soul knows you need; for you to fulfil your life purpose.

 In essence as long as you remain in conflict with life by forcing it to meet your expectations then you will stay stressed. So how do you make the shift?

The first step is to really embrace and start living from the Taoist philosophy of who knows what is good and what is bad. There are many versions of the parable but this is my favourite. It is set in Ancient China when owning a horse was considered a sign of wealth:

One day a wild horse jumped a poor farmer’s fence and began grazing on his land. According to local law, this meant that the horse now rightfully belonged to him and his family. The son could hardly contain his joy, but the father put his hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” The next day the horse made its escape back to the mountains and the boy was heartbroken. “Who knows what’s good or bad?” his father said again.  On the third day the horse returned with a dozen wild horses following.  “We’re rich!” the son cried, to which the father again replied, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” On the fourth day the boy climbed on one of the wild horses and was thrown, breaking his leg. His father ran to get the doctor; soon both of them were attending to the boy, who was upset and in a great deal of pain. The old farmer looked deeply into his son’s eyes, and said, “My son, who knows what is good or bad?” And on the fifth day the province went to war.  Army recruiters came through the town and took all the eligible young men to fight the war.  The farmer’s son was not taken because he had a broken leg.

This comes to my final point which is that the more you can suspend judgement and develop 360 degree thinking the greater versatility you will have to deal with the vicissitudes of life. Interestingly in some research published by the Harvard Business Review recently 360 degree thinking was in the top five attributes considered to be vital for leaders today. That’s hardly surprising as the old command-control structures give way to ones built on self-organising principles which are about empowering employees to see themselves as leaders.

If this seems like too big a stretch for you right now then let me offer you the first step. It comes true-happiness-innerpeace-1-1441466by breaking with your routine, even taking a breath and trying a different approach. This becomes much easier when you build in daily meditation time. In the last 12 years there have been over 10,000 studies done that show the benefits of mindfulness. I know how busy you are and that finding an hour a week for eight weeks can be a challenge. So I have designed a weekend course, which will enable you to get all the tools that you need to bring about a step change in your life. And what people have said about my programme is that it is highly practical and introduces techniques that you can build into a hectic schedule. I know what its like as I have two small children and two businesses to run and I couldn’t do it without this as my foundation.

Find out more details about the weekend, including client testimonials here. Being towards the end of November, it makes a great early Christmas present to yourself and you will feel rejuvenated by the end of the weekend.

Wellbeing at work: the key to business success

love youIn this article Kate Griffiths explains why wellbeing is not just a nice to have but an essential in any organisation that wants to succeed and sustain their success.  She explores new scientific evidence that shows how stress can kill you and touches on Dr David Hamilton’s research into kindness and compassion.

By now you are probably familiar with the random acts of kindness campaign and the pay it forward philosophy but did you know that kindness can actually prolong life whilst getting angry and stressed can shorten life?  Powerful stuff!  Let me unpack that for you.

Almost equal numbers of men and women suffer from heart disease and heart disease accounts for almost half of all deaths in Britain.  Every seven minutes in the UK someone dies of a heart attack.  So what does that have to do with stress?  Last week researchers discovered that those working in stressed environments have raised levels of white blood cells.  Monocytes and neutrophils are the technical terms for these cells.  They combine with fats and cholesterols to build plaques on the walls of blood vessels, which if they break loose can cause blockages in arteries.  These kinds of blockages prevent oxygen rich blood from flowing round the body, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.  In addition, Dr Nahrendorf has discovered that when the levels of noradrenaline, the stress hormone, are raised then stem cells in bone marrow prompt the production of monocytes and neutrophils.  This is because the stress hormone is preparing you for danger, like to fight when you are injured.  However with chronic stress there is no wound to heal so a dangerous build up of immune cells in the arteries is what occurs.

Interestingly this fits neatly with the common perception society has of a stressed male manager keeling over the desk at work.  What has been discovered is that the number of women in the UK with heart disease that die each year is greater than the number of men – 82,000 women to 79,000 men.  It appears that it is emotional strain that is the primary cause of heart disease in women but it is much more difficult to detect.  It is often not detected on angiograms taken for women because rather than the main arteries getting clogged it tends to be due to the failure of tiny blood vessels that branch off from the large coronary arteries.

This all builds quite a frightening picture and yet there is an easy way to reverse this trend and that is to start managing your stress.  It is why I advocate mindfulness practices and spend a lot of my time teaching these techniques to corporate clients.  After just one session, a recent client’s anxiety levels dropped dramatically and the result was that they got deeper and greater amounts of sleep at night, which had a positive benefit on all areas of their life.

If you cannot afford to learn mindfulness there is another way.  Research cited by Dr David Hamilton in his books has shown that increasing your levels of kindness and compassion to others can have a very positive impact on your health.  Let me share an example.  Hamilton talks about an experiment carried out by scientists on rabbits.  The rabbits were given 60% more fat than they needed in their diet and within a matter of weeks their health was suffering as a result of their fat intake.  That is all except four long eared rabbits in one particular cage.  This baffled the scientists for quite a long time, as the conditions for all the animals were the same so there was no logical reason for the results to be inconsistent.  Then one day a woman who used to clean the labs after everyone went home mentioned how she had been drawn to the long eared rabbits and how she could not help but pick each one up in turn and stroke it for a few minutes each night when she had finished cleaning.  The scientists conducted another experiment where they paid this woman to stroke specific rabbits.  They got the same results.

So how does this work?  Why is giving love through hugs and caresses so beneficial to animals and people?  Here’s the fantastic bit.  It releases oxytocin in both the giver and the receiver.  Oxytocin is called the bonding hormone and it has amazing impacts on your health.  Therefore one could make the argument that spending time to create the kind of environment at work where people feel relaxed and cared for will pay dividends for the business in terms of productivity, efficiency and fewer days off work.  Do get in touch if you want me to help you create this kind of workplace or help you reduce your personal stress levels.  Feel free to add your own thoughts and comments below, I love to hear from you.

It’s all down to you: rebuild your brain one breath at a time

neuroplasticityIn this article Kate Griffiths explains how science has proven that it is really all down to you how you feel.  What this means is that you can change if you want to; it also means you can no longer kick the proverbial cat or blame someone or something else if you are having a shit day.  Did you know that whatever you continually sense and feel and want and think is slowly but surely shaping your neural structure?  Also all mental activity whether that’s sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, conscious or unconscious patterns are based on underlying neural activity.  Most of your neural activity flows through your brain with no lasting effect but intense and repetitive activity leaves an imprint on the neural structure. Why does this matter you might well ask?  It helps to explain why I can often be found saying that you are a co-creator of your reality.  One of the golden wisdom principles of the PI programme that I run with Kath Roberts is whatever you focus on grows.  In mindfulness terms you could say every day your mind is building your brain.  This is called neuroplasticity, which is a major area of research for neuroscientists today who are examining how the brain can, and does, change. How exciting is that?  It means if you discover a pattern of behaviour in yourself that you don’t like and then develop your meditation muscle using mindfulness techniques, you can increase your grey matter.  This leads to a thicker cortex primarily in the prefrontal areas behind the forehead that control attention; the insula, which you use to connect to yourself and others; and the hippocampus, which can help extend your long term memory and improve your spatial awareness.  It doesn’t stop there.  If you practise relaxation regularly, this is likely to increase the activity of genes that calm down stress reactions, thus making you more resilient. Let’s look at this in another way.  Going back to the idea of the triune brain which I explored in detail in a previous article, let’s look at the core need that each meets.  In the case of the reptilian brain, its driver is safety; the focus of the dog/ mammalian brain is satisfaction and the theme for the primate brain is connection.  We can see this as follows that in the case of our oldest brain, it’s aiming to avoid any form of harm; our middle brain is looking for rewards and our youngest brain wants to attach to others. Why is this important you may ask?  It helps to explain why so many get caught up in surviving rather than thriving.  Our instinct for survival is rooted in ancient biological imperatives.  Furthermore it helps to think of these three operating systems that we have as running us.  They can operate in one of two ways which I will explore with you now. There is the responsive mode which in coaching language we refer to as setting an intention for the day.  You can decide when you wake up how your day is going to be – let me show you how.  You can start by thinking about all the things you are looking forward to in your day.  Then even if you get cut up in the traffic on the way to work, you can see it as someone being in more of a rush than you rather than getting annoyed by their driving.  Imagine you asked to pick up your child from school early because they are not well, you could see this as an opportunity to spend quality time with her even though it means leaving work early and before you have finished what you set out to do.  Your partner comes home stressed to the eye balls and is not particularly pleasant but you see the behaviour for what it is and respond by getting them their favourite drink and sending them some healing energy. Alternatively exactly the same events could occur and you could approach the whole situation completely differently.  You could wake up and think about the day full of dread about what is coming up.  This sense of gloom intensifies and sparks into anger when you get cut up in the traffic and you glower at the driver, raising your fist at them as you shoot past later in the outside lane.  When the phone rings to say that you will have to pick up your daughter from school early, you curse silently to yourself and are really grumpy when you pick her up, stressing about when you are going to get your unfinished work done.  This then weighs heavily on your mind so when your partner starts sounding off, you turn on him giving them both barrels as you have just about had enough after a very difficult day. As you can see exactly the same things happened in both days, the one difference was the setting your brain was on.  It has a responsive and a reactive setting.  Thinking about it in another way, as long as you believe that your core needs are being met, then the system defaults to its responsive setting because you are feeling safe and that generates a sense of relaxation, calm and peace.  Likewise when you feel satisfied that gives rise to feelings of appreciation, contentment and a sense of accomplishment.  Finally when you feel connected, your brain evokes feelings of compassion, kindness, worth and love.  In this place you can meet challenges without feeling stressed because it is as if you have a protective layer between you and the challenge.  You can avoid feelings of fear.  Rick Hanson talks about the green brain – a state where your neural networks are no longer in a state of deficit so your sense of lack, pressure and emotions like irritability and frustration evaporate.  Suffering really does become a thing of past in the responsive mode.  Not only do you treat others with more compassion because you feel respected, it’s contagious which means you attract other fabulous folk into your space and find you have more influence. You can still experience misunderstandings with others and challenges in this resting state but you face them with a foundation of empathy and goodwill.  How amazing is that?  Each time you take in the good, you are hardwiring happiness into the neural networks.  Remember next time you feel out of sorts and look to blame someone else or your health, remember how you feel is all down to you.  And if you want to develop your ability to respond whatever situation you face then get in touch.  I would love to give you tools that will help you transform your life into one where you can be all that you can be more of the time.  And if you feel inspired to comment then do leave a message below.