Snap:Connect:Inspire

Think Feel ACT…"Write your own story"

WhatsApp Friends

Its been a while since I have written a post – and one of the main reasons is I have been busy developing, nurturing and immersing myself in new friendships.

Since moving to Melbourne one of my priorities has been developing, nurturing and strengthening friendships. Friends suddenly are more important in my life than they have ever been – particularly since we no longer have such close and frequent contact with family.

A month or so ago I had the chance to go on a weekend away with women from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. Initially I wasn’t sure – but when one of my friends here suggested I go because it would be an opportunity for her to get to know me better – I knew it was a golden opportunity to pursue my friendships goal.

School camp for grown ups

From flights, to bus rides and bunk beds it was like a school camp for grown ups. It was all the fun I wish I’d had in school but just didn’t. And it was fun primarily because of the inclusiveness and togetherness. It was an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new friends.

There was no sense of cliquiness that invades school age groups. We were free to join in groups or stay alone as we pleased and just generally be ourselves. It was refreshing and relaxing – and I haven’t laughed so much in a long time.

Connection and acceptance

This shared experience has brought me closer to so many wonderful women – and left a wonderful legacy of connection. An unplanned but wonderful outcome has been the growth of an active WhatsApp group comprised of many of the Melbourne women who travelled together on buses and planes.

This group of women connecting together on WhatsApp is truly remarkable. They have become a source of support and sisterly love of a kind that I have never encountered before. I have never before felt such a sense of connection to community and friendship.

The women in this group have helped soften many challenges of life, and their unconditional acceptance has held me connected to hope and light. Truly it feels miraculous and I’m honoured to be able to participate in a group like this.

Giving and receiving

And I’m honoured that I have the opportunity to be a support for others – not just receive support. The messages fly through cyberspace consistently throughout the day – and there is a risk for distraction from the sometimes tedious tasks of life to the welcoming arms of WhatsApp.

Sometimes the love is a bit too much and I have had times when I just needed to turn the alerts off so I could get some work done. I suspect others have too. But this hardly matters because whether you need a recipe, advice, moral support, whether you want to share achievements, philosophise or just feel like a laugh, the group is there to reconnect us from our often disconnected lives.

So to those who post regularly and those who post rarely you have come to hold a very special place in my life. Thanks to each of you for being uniquely you – and allowing me to enter into your world.

See in cyberspace soon 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There is always hope

Robin Williams’ death has triggered a lot of discussion in the media and social media this week about depression and suicide. Blogs, tweets, articles, Youtube posts, memes etc have been hard to avoid. And discussion of these and sharing in social media circles has intensified this.

Has this widespread media coverage and associated discussion been good or bad? Globally it’s hard to tell – there has been some potential positive and some potential not so positive outcomes. But instead I propose we take some time to reflect and ponder on the messages we’ve received and sent over the past week and take from that some thoughts to help us move forward.

On the positive side

This coverage and discussion has been an opportunity to bring depression out in the open and talk about it. Talk about what causes it, what the experience is like, how it is treated, how and when to seek help.

Many personal stories have been shared through cyberspace this past week. I hope sharing their stories has helped people find some healing in feeling heard. And I hope that has shed some light, so to speak, on the darkness that is depression for the rest of us.

Perhaps having a small glimpse can help us understand a little of the pain, loneliness, darkness and despair of depression – and why it can seem so very hard rise out of that space. Perhaps this helps us find a deeper level of empathy and compassion when someone says they are struggling.

Perhaps reading these stories we are now more ready to put our arms around somebody and just be there without judgement. If this has happened – I think that is a good thing.

I hope this conversation has helped bring depression (and other mental illnesses) out from under the cover of secrecy and stigma and contributed somewhat to reducing the shame and fear of seeking help.

I hope this has been helpful to those people struggling in silence – that they have found some courage to seek help – to talk to a friend, to see a doctor. I hope these stories have shown people that recovery is possible and that there is always hope. Because, regardless of what you may think of Robin Williams, if this discussion helps just one more person find some hope and find the courage to seek help  – then I think that is a good thing.

Not quite so positive

This discussion has brought more exposure to the ongoing controversy about psychotropic medications such as antidepressants. Words can get heated and use of emotive language can create fear. This is not helpful and can be confusing to some people who may have been prescribed an antidepressant. They may wonder if they should stop taking it and confusion such as this can cause people unneccesary distress.

Unfortunately in the average article or Facebook discussion there is no space to address this. But some key points to keep in mind when thinking about treatment of depression are:

  • The controversy is real and issues are complicated.
  • The controversy is based on concerns about over-prescribing due to lack of studies of benefits vs risk, particularly in the long term. This is complicated by a body of evidence that shows antidepressants are effective in depression, although it is noted that most studies are funded by pharmaceutical companies and mostly assess treatment in the short term.
  • Many people have found antidepressants enormously beneficial, others have had distressing side effects.
  • The variation in response, it should be noted, is no different to any other medication.
  • Therapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) are effective – but they are expensive and often hard to access. However there are many free online sources of CBT and many people find these useful.
  • Many people benefit from a combination of therapy and medication, but it’s not always easy to know in advance who will respond which medication in which dose or which therapy (and therapist) is most suitable. This makes it hard for doctors to always get it right the first time.
  • Some people will recover from an episode of depression without treatment using approaches such as exercise, meditation or prayer.
  • Treatment of depression is 3 dimensional involving body, mind and soul. As well as therapy and/or medication treatment also includes things such as diet, exercise, sleep, meditation, mindfulness, strengthening support networks and friendships, getting back to work. Some people find praying and strengthening their spiritual lives very beneficial too. But there is no prescribed mix that suits everybody.
  • More research needs to be done on defining what the illness is and who will respond best to different treatments.
  • People have different preferences and values about using medication or therapy – and the uncertainties allow for this. But it’s always important to understand the risks and benefits of all treatment options, including no treatment, before making decisions.

So given all this it’s clear understanding and respect needs to be provided to people who have found a different path to recovery. Not everyone is the same. There are not always clear answers. So in some respects bringing this confusion out also has some benefits – because on a broader level it triggers the desire for further research. And that too is a good thing.

Turning to the positive side

Where its harder and trickier to find something positive is the discussion of suicide. Talking about suicide is always tricky – it’s important not to glorify or glamorise it in any way – lest vulnerable people act on it (God forbid). Yet it’s also important not to sideline or minimise the pain the person may have been in, and we must be mindful of the effect of our words on the bereaved.

None of us can ever know what lead a person to make such a tragic choice – their internal world will forever be a mystery. So whatever judgements or opinions we have – here I fear we must be silent. Silent because we just don’t know, and it serves no positive purpose to speculate or pronounce.

In humility we acknowledge the tragedy. And then with hope we must turn to the positive.

We must turn our attention to the living. And to the living we say – there is always hope. No matter how bad things seem, there is hope and there is help. So let our words and our actions be a wellspring of hope to all those lives that touch ours.

And this is a mantra for all of us, whether we have depression or not. So whatever challenges and difficult times we face, we need to remember there is always hope.

And if we hang onto hope we’ll be able to face the future with courage, no matter what.

Where to get help

Lifeline 13 11 14 http://www.lifeline.org.au

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 http://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 http://www.kidshelp.com.au

MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78 http://www.mensline.org.au

 

 

 

 

Life is a team sport

These are the words of a wise and beautiful friend who has recently agreed to mentor me as I develop my business.

The “life is a team sport” concept (also known as interdependence) is something I have believed in and championed for some time – yet in the process of establishing and running a micro-business of my own – I have inadvertently forgotten how to apply it.

Thinking back over the past year I have changed from employed to self-employed and moved cities. In the process of both of these pretty big life changes, and being majorly out of my comfort zone in so many ways, I couldn’t help be rocked and lose some confidence in myself.

So a lot of the areas I’ve been working on in coaching over this period of change has been around focussing on my strengths and applying them in a new context. And becoming focused on finding solutions rather than endlessly dwelling on problems. And this has been extraordinarily helpful in not only regaining my self-confidence – but in developing it even more.

Self-confidence – known as self-efficacy or agency by psychologists – is the feeling that you are capable of meeting life’s challenges and making your own choices. It’s feeling capable, confident and comfortable in yourself.

From dependence…

When we don’t have enough self-confidence that we can do what needs to be done we can end up depending on others – handing our autonomy over to them to do the things we ought to be doing ourselves. Dependency can be a passive, flattening, disempowering, self-perpetuating space to be. You feel powerless to act and wracked with indecision needing others more and more.

A lot of the work I’ve done in coaching has involved stepping out of a dependent mindset and rediscovering my areas of capability.

So many times throughout this work I have realised I am far more capable that I had ever given myself credit for. Developing this extra level of faith in myself lead me to start this blog in the first place. I have loved every minute and haven’t looked back. It has become self-perpetuating and lead to building up a medical writing business and external publications too.

Adopting a solution focus rather than endless naval gazing and moping has also really helped me move out of feeling sorry myself. It’s a mindset that has helped me pick myself up and choose for myself how I want to live in the world.

…through independence…

Self-confidence combined with a solution focus is liberating. It’s freeing to step out of the glue of self-doubt and self-pity that weighs you down and keeps you stuck and looking to others. It’s a great feeling to rediscover independence. I proved to myself I could do so many things I’d forgotten I could as well as things I’d never dreamed of.

The thing is, independence is not really an end goal in life. It’s more a halfway marker to much higher plane of existence – interdependence.

Remember the old fable about the father who wanted to teach his sons unity. He showed them how a single stick can be broken – but sticks bundled together stand tall and strong.

In a way when we reach independence we are like the single stick. We have grown up from the dependency of childhood to stand alone as adults. It’s a great feeling, but vulnerable. Vulnerable because as one person walking alone we can’t possibly do everything or know everything to take us where we want to go. We’ve got nobody covering our backs.

Yet so many of us get stuck in independence. How many people would suffer any indignity rather than suffering the shame of asking for help? This started happening to me in running my business.

There is a certain feeling of shame in asking for help when as a highly educated person with 20+ years experience you are rather used to being the expert – used to being the person others come to for advice – not the person who needs advice. Sure it’s subtle – but nevertheless a blockage to peak performance. And an arena for costly mistakes.

…to interdependence

And that’s what my friend and mentor was trying to tell me – let go of the shame. Throw the ball to someone else – and together you’ll score a goal. And not just one goal – but many goals. We are all varied and unique with differing skills, talents and knowledge. Whether it’s business, relationships, education or anything – we all need each other to get where we need to go.

And when we work together we get there faster with more energy. We become like the bundled sticks – stronger and more appreciative of each other. Not only do we see how others raise us up – but we see the value of what we give them too. It’s space of mutual honour – and quite wonderful when you experience it. Because when we raise up others – we are raised up too. Other people’s success becomes ours to celebrate as well.

I have experienced the joy of interdependence with a new friend and colleague – who is as passionate (if not more so) about improving workplace mental health as I am. We have different backgrounds in many ways – yet see the world through a similar lens.

We have drifted into that space of calling on each other’s expertise with no shame at not knowing or needing something the other can provide. It is a wonderful, enriching and strengthening space to be in. A space where we’ll both go much further than independence alone could ever take us. We have each other’s back’s – and more.

So here’s to my coach extraordinaire (GD), wise and kind mentor (LC) and beautiful and giving colleague and friend (IO) – I thank you all. You’ve all opened yourselves up to working with me and sharing your wisdom. Each of you has given me a richer view of life in your own way and I’m certainly the better for it. I hope I do justice to returning the favour. 

 

 

 

Where do you find the real miracles?

I’m not much of a cook I confess. Not that I can’t – but mostly I choose not to.

What I think of as real cooking involves love, creativity and time. I choose to use my finite resources of love, creativity and time on other endeavours – primarily writing funnily enough.

Real cooking for me becomes a “sometimes” endeavour with expediency taking the limelight on most days.

But I do certainly know the difference between expedient food and food that is worth waiting for.

Think about coffee.

Mmmmmm coffeeeeeeeee

I don’t know too many people who would choose instant coffee over brewed, steamed and frothed coffee. Somehow the time spent waiting for coffee is a cherished part of the process.

I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but I do know the build up of anticipation from ordering to receiving that coffee-filled paper cup. The smell of the coffee beans alone is enough to set your heart racing and your mouth salivating. And the low pitch of the coffee machine sends vibrations through the air that add to hyped feeling that is only just beginning.

There’s the camaraderie too of fellow coffee drinkers. Instant friends that last until the next coffee arrives. But how magical that first steaming sip is. You feel your neurones tingle and jangle as the coffee finds it’s way into your blood stream to work it’s magic.

Yep – waiting for the coffee is an integral part of the experience. Drinking coffee would inevitably lose something without it. Would it taste the same pre-made and ready to go? It certainly doesn’t taste the same when it’s instant.

Somehow we know that the process and theatre of fresh coffee is worth paying for. Worth waiting for.

Worth waiting for

And it’s the same with other things too.

Who nowadays knits or sews? If you don’t, you may remember your mother or grandmother knitting or sewing. And whilst again I’ve chosen the convenience to give up these things, I do remember waiting and waiting for a jumper or skirt to slowly take shape. The being measured, the pinning and fittings.

All these made the moment of completion and ownership completely different to our quick and instant clothing purchases. Somehow it felt special to wear something unique and irreplaceable. And their imperfections made them endearing.

It takes time to plant a garden, build a house or raise a family. It takes time to master a language, a sport, a profession – some say it takes 10,000 hours to gain expertise. It takes time to save money for a trip or to pay off a house. These things we value and cherish require sweat, determination, courage, time and effort. And we put in that effort because we know it is worth it. That they are worth waiting for.

Destination or journey?

So why is it that when it comes to things like our health we are so often seduced by the instant, the convenient, the effortless? Why are we so often seduced by the guru, the expert, the miracle worker and look to them for quick fixes rather than taking charge for ourselves?

Do we really think we can lose in 6 weeks all the weight we took 5 years putting on? Do we really think there are special foods imbued with magical properties that kind of trump all the unhealthy things we are doing? Do we really think we can have our cake and eat it too – so to speak?

Perhaps its worth taking a moment to rethink our mindset and start to see things like our health as a journey rather than just a destination. A journey involving effort and sweat to be sure – but a journey that can take you to a far better destination than you had imagined.

Imagine

So instead of investing in quick fixes, imagine for a minute investing that same money and hope in yourself – in your own journey towards health with all it’s ups and downs and see where that might lead you.

Imagine for instance you want to lose 5 kg and the different types of journey you could take.

Imagine a journey where the your entire focus was the number on the scales. You may or may not seek professional help to diet or exercise. Or you may be tempted by berries and seeds and shakes and the latest secret tips to help you get to your goal as soon as possible. Or a combination. Either way your focus remains on the outcome. “What is my weight today?”

Imagine a different journey where you decided that you would lose 5 kg by developing vibrant health in your body, mind and spirit. To do this you focus on your mindset, attitude, thoughts and behaviours.  You start to notice how exercise makes you feel good – it has more value than just giving you a smaller number on the scales. Perhaps you become aware of how you block yourself from eating healthily – and you focus on overcoming this. In a sense you have forgotten about the scales and started to focus on the development of you as a person.

Finding miracles

When we focus on the destination only (did I lose 5kg?) – we forget the wonder of the journey we are on with all it’s byways and highways and photogenic moments. We forget that the purpose of our life is not a number. The purpose is more closely related to becoming the best we can be and using all the challenges in our path to grow.

Whether it’s choosing health or something else, wherever we want to go, we are on a journey – and it’s our journey not anyone else’s. Sometimes journeys are wonderful and exciting. Sometimes they feel hard, hard, hard. Almost too hard for us to bear, we think.

Yet, my friends, in life the beauty, the richness, the magnificence, the growth is often found hidden in the challenges. Paradoxically and perhaps perversely we find the destination we are seeking in the waiting, the time, the effort, the sweat. These are the places we grow. These are the places where we come into our own and find our true selves.

Because when you put in effort and sweat and time and creativity, and journey along to health or wherever you want to go with faith and acceptance and humour, that’s when you’ll find the miracles were hidden inside you all along.

So next time you are waiting for your coffee think about, and savour, the journey…and think how you can expand that same richness into the other parts of your life.

 

FRIENDS, Friends, friends…

One of the exciting and completely unexpected things in my life recently was a guest appearance on a local community radio station. It was a real thrill – and I hope it’s the first of many radio appearances I do.

The trigger for being asked on the radio was my blog – yes this very one you are reading now. And here’s how it happened.

One of my strategies for making friends in a new city has been a liberal use of social media. When I meet someone new I try and make a connection with them – usually on Facebook – and engage in some light hearted banter while I get to know them better – and they get to know me.

And when I bump into them into future I can then say “I saw that cool….cake you baked, holiday you went on, article you posted…” etc.

It definitely helps build fledgeling relationships. One of these new connections, read some of my blogs and liked it (hooray) and asked me to speak at a small function he was hosting. So I did – and in that audience was someone who ran a radio show – and was intrigued enough to invite me along. So I went.

On air

On air we discussed my blog and how it started, moving to Melbourne, friendships and cyberfriendships, stress management and a topic close to my heart – workplace mental health. Listen to the full interview if you are interested in hearing me speak as well reading my words. And whilst I hope people who listened learned something from me – I learned a lot too.

I learned about the sweet spot on a microphone that you must speak into. I learned that being “on air” feels very theoretical. There is no observable audience – it just comes down to a conversation between you and the interviewer – and audience of one.

And I learned that once the headphones are on, the entire world shrinks down to yourself – to what you can hear (through the headphones) and what you say (into the microphone). Everything else, even the room you are in with the acoustic padding on the walls becomes a theoretical existence. It was a space of just me and my thoughts – very much, as it turns out, like writing.

And in that space I heard myself say something that shocked me in it’s basic truth – something I didn’t know that I knew. Something I needed the compressed, adrenalised world of radio to squeeze out of me and recognise.

And that something was about friends.

The importance of friends

Since moving to Melbourne the importance of having friends has never seemed so important to my wellbeing. At home in Sydney, I had the friends I had. I didn’t think about it much. I was at home in the city and was surrounded by family.

But in Melbourne making new friends has been a lifeline for me. Lighthearted banter on Facebook with brand new people has been of immense importance – notwithstanding leading to an interview – it has been important in helping me feel connected and part of a new place.

FRIENDS, Friends, friends…

Like many people I’ve always yearned for close friends – for the type of friend that laughs with you, and cries with you, who is there with you when you need – and who in turn asks you for help. A true heart-to-heart friendship – someone who won’t judge you and who accepts you as you are. This type of friend makes you feel loved, accepted, valued, nurtured and nourished. And gives you an opportunity to give those things to another as well.

I was talking about this type of FRIEND (in capitals) and how rare (yet special) they are. How blessed you are to have a true friend, how they provide you with all the vitamins of friendship (so to speak) in one dose – kind of like a super friendship-vitamin pill.

It was then, in that instant of talking about the pinnacle of friendship, that I realised there are so many other different types of friends and people in our lives that we need to honour, appreciate and enjoy – who will give us our friendship vitamins in many doses over many different types of contacts.

One type is the “Capital F” type Friends – not the true, close heart-to-heart type FRIEND listed above – but “Friends”. Special and close people you may exercise with, lend books to and invite over for meals. You know enough about each others lives to be of real value – yet the deepest most intimate parts of self you don’t necessarily share.

And there’s a spectrum. Some you are closer to – you ask and give advice. Some are more distant. Some are acquaintances to say “hi” to in the street or in a store. To smile at across the street and wave as you pass each other in traffic.

And then there’s “small f” friends who primarily exist in cyberspace. You may or may not know them – but you can interact over those parts of our lives we share on Facebook, Twitter etc.

Don’t miss out

There’s different doses of friendship-vitamins you get from each of these types people. Collectively it adds up. Each small interaction on Facebook, or wave on the street builds up and helps to grow a friendship lifeline we all need. And it goes both ways. What we give we receive – and vice versa.

Maybe it’s not the same as the vitamins you get from a true FRIEND – but the richness and diversity of vitamins from a “friendship salad” can provide a wonderful 3-dimensional and enriching part of our lives.

So having a true FRIEND is a wonderful thing, but we’d all be losing out if all we had were true friends. We need in our lives “Friends” and “friends” of all colours and stripes. Don’t miss out on this because small relationships seem unimportant. Invest in the small relationships as well as the big. You just never know when the small may turn out to be very, very big.

Many of my “small f” friends have been very important in my life – not least resulting in invitations to speak at an event and appear on the radio. I hope I give back in friendship as good as I get – both big, small and everything in between.

 

 

To thine own self be…a true friend

Don’t we all love our friends? Friends are wonderful – such an important part of our lives. Friends are a blessing. Friends are those people with whom we share joy and pain. Friends are those people we choose to have in our lives who bring sunshine and happiness.

Whether true friends, best friends forever, or even fair-weather friends we tend to think of friends as others outside of ourselves. Sometimes we forget that we can be a friend to ourselves as well.

So how do you be a friend to yourself anyway?

There’s a whole bunch of things I’ve started building into my life to be a better friend to myself. I thought I’d share it with you to inspire myself as much as anyone else. It’s a starting point and I guess it will grow over time. And inasmuch we often to look to friends to help us through hard times – I have focussed on this aspect of managing challenges with grace, dignity and courage.

Look after your physical health:

  • Exercising and eating well are foundational for our health and wellbeing.  Find ways to encourage yourself to do these things.
  • Find a class you like. Connect with an exercise friend or two. Be your own cheerleader. Try to find a way you can release endorphins when you are exercising – they are great feel good chemicals.
  • Prepare yourself nourishing meals – the same way you would for a friend. Eating food prepared with love has something special about it doesn’t it?
  • Go to the doctor, dentist, or any other health professional you need to. And listen to their advice, talk to them. They are on your side. Together you can work towards developing a plan that works for you.

Find the right people:

  • Find people who give you a lift – who make you feel good and give you pleasure to be with. Be mindful of this uplift when you are around feel-good people (whoever they are) and store it up.
  • Remove yourself from people who have a persistently negative outlook, or who devalue you in any way.
  • Be open to wonder and the special gifts each person you meet has. Cherish them.
  • Be a wonderful friend to others and be kind and compassionate. Be ready with a smile, a hug, whatever. Use your empathy muscles and feel with your friend – it will enrich you both.

Look after your emotional health:

  • Sometimes your friends may not be able to provide the support you need despite the best intentions. Remember some will be uncomfortable with hearing pain and won’t know what to do. So learn to support yourself.
  • Accept yourself for who you are. This doesn’t mean don’t grow and develop – that is mandatory. It means work out your strengths and weaknesses and cherish that for right now wherever you are on your journey. Each point of your growth and envelopment is a starting point for future growth and can be cherished. If you want friends to accept you warts and all – then you need to learn to do this for yourself too. Accept yourself for who you are today and let go of the destructive self-talk and self-criticism that is sometimes downright cruel and draining. Saving energy on this gives you energy for finding solutions and moving forwards – warts and all. If this feels hard, remember we all have infinite worth because we are human beings no matter what our actions. So be a friend and accept yourself because you are worth it.
  • If you are in need of a hug – give yourself one. Comforting ourselves is something we don’t value as highly as we should. I read about self-hugs in a book about self-compassion. I’ve tried it – it works.
  • Listen to yourself – hear your feelings. Practice empathy and compassion for difficulties you may be in. You can try writing things out (sometimes I do this via blogging), or imagine talking to a deeply trusted person. What comfort would they give? Hold that space in your mind and accept the discomfort. Cry if you like. But like everything, it will pass and you may feel as comforted as if you’d had a dear friend with you.

Look after your spiritual health:

  • Pray if you like. Connecting with G-d through prayer (whatever religion you happen to be) can give you an important uplift and strengthening that can last the whole day.
  • You don’t need to be religious to look after your spirituality. Practicing mindfulness or meditation are also invaluable.
  • Be a good social citizen – give charity, practice acts of goodness and kindness, visit the sick and look after them, be hospitable and have guests, comfort mourners, make peace between others. All of these lift up others, lift up yourself, and lift up the world.
  • Appreciate and give thanks for all the blessings in your life – family, friends, health.

So there are so many ways you can be a friend to yourself – and in the process become a better friend to others as well. I’m certainly building as many of these into my life as I can. How about you? What else do you do to be your own friend?

 

An addictive kindness

Over the past year I’ve been more and more interested in investigating, reading and learning about the quality of kindness. I’ve written quite a few blogs about kindness now, including cyber-kindness.

Kindness is something we often give and take for granted for those close to us. When we are lucky enough to have people we are close to, being kind to those we love (and receiving kindness from those who love us) seems almost second nature.

We can be in a blessedly fortunate relationship and yet come to expect kindnesses from our partners, parents, children, friends. It just becomes a routine way of life to help each other and support each other through difficult times.

Sometimes it take a kindness from someone not so close, an acquaintance, someone we’ve only just met to show us just what kindness is all about, to show us just how extraordinarily breathtaking kindness can be.

A breathtaking kindness

This interest in kindness was kindled by a colleague I really didn’t know very well at all. He’d fallen into my work life seemingly by accident and was there just at the moment I was falling into a crisis. He listened to me. Told me some facts I didn’t know. Reviewed some policies for me. Called me between his own busy schedule to check I was OK. He really helped me move from helplessness to seeking solutions and finding a way forward.

Maybe it doesn’t sound so exciting now, but when you are in some level of distress and a person you don’t even know that well gives you time and caring and helps you move forward – that to me is a breathtakingly big thing. So breathtaking I wrote my first blog in honour of this.

And while of course my family supported me at this time, it was the kindness of an almost (but not quite) stranger that really started me thinking.

Kindness multiplied

What I started to find was that once I was more aware of kindness I started to see it everywhere. Here are just some acts of kindness from outside my immediate family and close friends that have taken my breath away over the past few months:

  • My coach (who I’ve written about a few times previously) helped keep me steady which in turn helped me keep my business steady over the period of moving and settling into Melbourne. Again, it may not sound much, but he spent a lot of time listening to things not necessarily related to coaching with such empathy, that the listening itself was imbued with kindness and helpful beyond measure. Kindness, he showed me exists in the stillness between breaths.
  • My twitter friend Dr K, who not only helped me find medical care in Melbourne, but has since included me in her GP learning circle and taken me out for coffee. K showed me kindness with warmth and humour.
  • My contacts from a Facebook business group I belong to who have been so generous with advice, in particular J who spent time helping me with my fledgling website for no reason other than he wanted to. This is real cyber-kindness.
  • My newest LinkedIn friend, I – who has inspired me in the level of kindness she performs for others even in the midst of her own crisis. I, you have been more kind to me than you can ever know.
  • All my new Melbourne friends who welcomed us with such generosity of spirit when we were still strangers. Some of you bring kindness to a new level in hospitality, in inclusiveness, in acceptance. How truly blessed am I to see this level of kindness in friendship, in love for a friend.

With all these kindnesses, I stand a little taller, feel a little lighter, have more energy and am more able to grow and flourish. A kindness, it seems, has a powerful effect, exponentially larger itself.

Kindness extended

And friends, what has happened to me, is I can’t contain all this and keep it to myself. A kindness received, is only half alive if you keep it to yourself. A kindness truly comes alive when it is shared and passed on to others. Without even really trying I have found opportunity on opportunity to be kind to people all around me in all types of contexts. At home, with family, with friends, with colleagues, in cyberspace…and to myself.

It’s becoming an addictive habit this kindness. A smile here, a hug there, a like, a reassurance, a heard pain, a shared laugh. One can be kind in so many ways and it often is free to give and can take but a moment of time. Yet this small investment reaps huge rewards when you see someone stand a little taller, smile a little wider, let a little weight fall off their shoulders.

I’m still a novice – and wince more than I used to when I hear a harshness from myself, or miss an opportunity to be kind. But how amazing to even have an awareness of these things that used to just pass me by.

Kindness shared

And now it’s your turn. Think for a moment how you felt the last time someone did a kindness to you – something small or something big. Whether deserved or undeserved it usually feels good. And the person who helps you is likely feeling good too. So now you’ve truly connected over a shared kindness.

A small act of goodness and kindness has an impact way beyond what you think. So how could you connect to others around you with just a little more kindness? What small thing could you do to make someone else’s day (and make your own too)? What will it be?

 

 

The problem with evidence based health is not what you think

I’ve based a huge chunk of my career on the assumption that evidence-based information helps people make better informed health decisions, have better health conversations with their doctors and ultimately leads to better health outcomes.

Evidence is my stock in trade. I have spent many years translating evidence into a form that people can understand. I’ve written thousands of evidence-based articles across many channels. I’ve written position statements, belonged to guideline writing groups and spend many hours in the grand pursuit of evidence.

I really do think evidence-based health information helps consumers and the health system as a whole, or I wouldn’t have chosen to dedicate my medical career to information and communication.

Yet lately the inadequacies with evidence have become more and more glaring to me. Lately it seems to me that we need to start paying better attention to what  evidence can’t do — as much as to what it can do. And I wonder if it isn’t time for a better approach in developing and transmitting health information via any channel.

Evidence, for one thing, doesn’t last. It is a fluid beast — forever slithering under our grasp. Recommendations change over time and there seems to be a growing fuzziness around the edges.

So to take a simple example:  Evidence shows fish oil capsules can reduce triglyceride levels but it doesn’t look like they reduce heart attacks. So should fish oils be recommended for heart health? And in what dose? And how do we communicate those uncertainties?

It seems that for every fact we think we know, there are tens and hundreds, perhaps thousands more we don’t. Much of what I write is peppered with words and phrases like: “may,” “might,” “suggests,” “possibly,” “is likely to,” “there is some evidence for …”

There is a large industry interpreting all this and developing systematic reviews, guidelines and recommendations for practice. This helps a lot.

But it is a reductionist and a little like joining up the dots we think we’ve got and proclaiming we have a giraffe — when all along we have a combine harvester.

Relying on evidence to describe reality for us is like relying on person with vision loss to describe an intricate carving. At best it’s fuzzy and incomplete. At worst it’s misleading.

But we are working on sharpening that picture — bit by bit. New evidence is published every day. So dropping evidence based medicine is clearly not the answer. It’s important and useful.

But I wonder if an over-reliance on evidence has watered down the intuitiveness and people skills that we have used for millennia to provide unconditional empathy, encouragement, hope and other ingredients for healing. Perhaps these skills need to be brought back to the fore in communicating about health whether in writing, video or in person. Perhaps this will better help help bridge the gulf between evidence and reality.

Instead of making evidence-based recommendations from a position of expertise could it be better to consider what we know about people’s values and viewpoints to see how the evidence best fits them?

Can we become more comfortable in embracing the space where there is no evidence yet? Saying “We don’t know” shouldn’t mean there is no hope. Can we find a way to provide hope in the face of uncertainty — and stand by people whatever they choose?

With or without evidence, it seems so important in communicating about health to foster the capacity within ourselves and within the community to approach medicine and healing with wonder, awe and faith.

So really there is no problem with evidence. The biggest problem is the gap between evidence and reality that only the human side of us can fill.

My hope is when we can transmit the evidence with empathy, love and humility we’ll get better at connecting the right information to the right people at the right time. And then we’ll get better at inspiring people to make healthy decisions — and that should benefit all of us.

First published on KevinMD

The 10 simple steps to success

Have you noticed the rise and rise of people selling books, courses, webinars all promising “10 simple steps to success”?

  • Want to lose weight? 10 simple steps to success.
  • Want to become more assertive? 10 simple steps to success.
  • Want to find meaning in life? 10 simple steps to success.
  • Want to find peace in a turbulent world? 10 simple steps to success.
  • Want to get a promotion? 10 simple steps to success.
  • Want to write a killer blog? 10 simple steps to success.
  • Want to double hits on your website? 10 simple steps to success.
  • Want to run a booming business? 10 simple steps to success.
  • Want to write a bestseller? 10 simple steps to success.
  • Want to develop an e-course? 10 simple steps to success.

I even had a conversation recently about the 10 simple steps to follow when writing an e-book that in turn would promise 10 simple steps to success.

Really – I did.

It started with a conversation about the “10 steps” to building a massive network through my blog in order to build a potential customer base for my business. Now here’s the trick to getting people to actually subscribe to a blog – you write a short e-book (maybe 3-5 pages) and offer it free to people who subscribe.

Nice idea. And what do you call the e-book? “Simple steps to success in ———“.

The simple steps concept has been bugging me for a while, but this conversation opened my eyes to the truth of the matter – “10 simple steps to success” is nothing more than a marketing tool convincing people to buy some very ordinary information.

Apparently we only want to know about outcomes. And you need to promise the outcome in your title in order to get any bites. Apparently we only want to get that outcome if it is simple and easy – dead easy.

So a title that implies anything in the slightest bit realistic will not get a sale.

I want to write a title that goes something like: “Ideas that can help you stress less at work.” And I want to use the word “can” – because they “can” work for people if they implement the ideas and practice them and show some sort of commitment to behaviour change. But nobody wants to know that.

But for a title to sell it would be much better to be something like: “10 simple ideas that will boost your productivity and reduce your stress levels”. That little word “will” – makes an awfully large promise doesn’t it? And the hyperbolic language in the word “boost” just adds to the attractiveness.

It sounds like the answer to all problems is now within grasp – because reading this book or attending this course will fix everything. Now.

But all my training in evidence screams in horror this. It feels very like making a false claim. I have written so much teaching people how to recognise false claims and disputing them, but now it seems I’m being called to promote a delusion that we can get what we want without effort and sweat.

I don’t know if I can do it. I know it’s just marketing and hyperbole and everybody knows that.

But I want to know where my authentic voice comes in when what I want to say is just not hyped enough for customer demands?

Where is the space for creativity and innovation when there is a prescribed way to do anything in 10 simple steps?

Where is the space to add to the body of knowledge when it is all already distilled into perfection of perfection in the form of “10 simple steps to success”?

So, no, I don’t think I will be producing materials like this. Is it a bad business decision? Probably.

But I don’t want to contribute to the false and destructive belief that change and growth is simple, easy and instantaneous. It isn’t. It does sound nice, but for some reason the world we live in requires work before success.

So far I have invested a year in coaching. In that 12 months I have made enormous strides in my personal and professional development. But it has taken sweat and effort. Buckets of it. But the personal and professional rewards of that growth have made each drop of sweat totally worth it. I can honestly say that the rewards have been far greater than what I put in.

Would it feel the same if I’d followed the “10 simple steps to personal and professional development”???

No, I think selling change and growth through inspiration, motivation and meaning (rather than instant gratification) will be the real “boost” people need to get where they are going. And that, my friends, is the path I intend to follow.

 

Building a website with fuzzy goals

Currently I’m in the process of building a website. My budget is very small so I have opted for a DIY approach using WordPress.

It’s conceptually simple, yet impossibly (screamingly, frustratingly) hard all at the same time.

I’m up to about version 57 of the home page and there are probably about 57 (at least) versions to go before I’ll be ready for the big unveiling.

Part of the difficulty in building a website comes from a mismatch between a vision of the mature websites we use everyday – and what we are actually ready for in terms of business maturity and direction. A huge breakthrough came with advice from a contact on Facebook that not every page has to be published in the beginning.

A huge chunk of self-induced pressure just rolled off and fell away with that simple piece of advice. Brilliant.

Of course it is a good idea to evolve the website – I’ll get it up live and running sooner (hopefully) and can start growing a community and establishing my presence. Yet the details of products and services can get added in as they develop with me.

What I started to see was each stage of building a site is really a building a series of prototypes. And so far I have about 57 home page prototypes.

This MindShift of seeing the project as a series of prototypes rather than as a staged series of defined events to a predetermined goal has really turned things around for me. It’s turned around the process of building a website and it’s also turned around the way I think about pursing goals and meeting challenges in all aspect of life.

Because when you approach a goal like building a website, letting go of working to a defined and clear vision means it’s OK to keep on going even if you don’t know where it’s going to end. It’s OK to let your goal go blurry, out of focus and fuzzy.

I first learned about fuzzy goals in coaching, and they puzzled me for a while. But the process of building a website has really shown me how working toward a fuzzy sort of goal where you know the general direction, but not the details, can bring you to a far superior and more satisfactory result.

When you have a fuzzy goal, as against a concrete and detailed goal, suddenly many more options open out in front you. Letting go of a fixed expectation keeps you open minded to opportunity and let’s you be creative with finding solutions.

I have found working with fuzzy goals to be a valuable learning and growth based approach. With each step there is always an opportunity to improve – each prototype contains ideas and improvements the previous version lacked. As you build each prototype of your website or solution you can start to see final goal getting clearer and more in focus over time.

This is also a very forgiving approach. Sometimes a prototype strays of course and your goal can seem further away and fuzzier than when you started.

But instead of despairing at going off track or calling yourself names (as sometimes happen) it’s easy and natural to accept this as a part of growth and development. It’s just a normal part of the development process that some stages don’t work. Thomas Edison knew that.

Did you know: In 1879, after testing more than 1600 materials for the right filament, including coconut fiber, fishing line, and even hairs from a friend’s beard, Edison and his workers finally figured out what to use for the filament–carbonized bamboo.

So here’s what I think the secret is – relax any preconceived ideas and embrace uncertainty. Let your goals become fuzzy and instead of controlling the outcome, use the energy instead on exploring your options and building more prototypes, knowing each prototype gets you closer to your goal.

Then the growth of your project or solution and of yourself happens in a more natural and organic way and you might end up with with a result you could never have imagined.

And as for me: somehow I think I’m going to end up with a very different, more creative and innovative website than if I rigidly stuck to my original plan. I can’t wait to see what it looks like.