Thursday, January 16, 2014
ON SHIFTING PERSPECTIVES
I’ve been doing some work with shifting perspectives recently and have been truly stunned by how powerful it can be.
The concept is simple – that by altering our perspective on a topic, we can change our experience.  At its crux is the notion that, even if we can’t choose our circumstances, we can choose how we respond to them.  
The sceptics dismiss this work as artificial.  I know how they feel because that is how I once felt when being coached on shifting one of my own perspectives.  I felt like I was trying to convince myself to take on board a different opinion when I knew the truth lay elsewhere.  I also know this because I recently assisted on a course coaching these tools to trainee life coaches and they also struggled at first. 
In a way it is similar to the criticism laid at the door of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  Some dismiss CBT work as superficial, feeling that it talks them out of their emotions by focusing on the positives.
It was when a coach that I respect, Jonelle Naude, told me that this work can stop wars that I realised I had some more work to do on myself.
Jonelle is South African and that got me to thinking about Nelson Mandela.  27 years in prison and he came out seeking reconciliation and not revenge.  Imagine for a minute the anger that could have built up over 27 years and the course that South African history might have taken had he chosen that reaction instead to his unjust circumstances. 
It was then I realised that a different viewpoint was truly and powerfully available to me.  This stuff has indeed got the potential to stop or create wars.
And so on to a further example related to women receiving abuse for sticking their necks out in the name of feminism.  Liza Campbell is campaigning to end male primogeniture  , so that girls born in to the aristocracy can inherit.  Across the country, as I’ve referenced before, “female bloggers are being hounded off the internet. Teenage girls are being hounded off the earth” (Jezebel.com).  Instead, Liza says that it was when they started getting abuse (in this instance from the ‘dinosaur peers’) they knew they were getting somewhere.  It told her that their opponents had no rational counter-argument.  What a powerful perspective to step in to (and one I wish I’d come across before writing my ‘How to survive blogging’ guest post for The Dexterous Diva).
All of this, along with the arrival of the Positive Birth Movement in Hackney, inspired my next HackneyMums session.  We are going to share our birth stories from the most positive and powerful perspective available to us.  Often our birth stories are not shared.  Sometimes women, myself included, find themselves stuck in a difficult or disappointing perspective.  I want to challenge Mums to find the grain of truth in the positive and powerful perspective and see what is possible from there.
This HackneyMums session is on the 6th February.  Please email me (roxanne@roxannehobbs.com) to reserve your place.  If you are interested in joining a remote group, meeting via Skype / Google Hangouts, and discussing similar subjects then please get in touch.  Topics covered so far – How to let go of Guilt, Setting resonant resolutions for 2014.

ON SHIFTING PERSPECTIVES

I’ve been doing some work with shifting perspectives recently and have been truly stunned by how powerful it can be.

The concept is simple – that by altering our perspective on a topic, we can change our experience.  At its crux is the notion that, even if we can’t choose our circumstances, we can choose how we respond to them.  

The sceptics dismiss this work as artificial.  I know how they feel because that is how I once felt when being coached on shifting one of my own perspectives.  I felt like I was trying to convince myself to take on board a different opinion when I knew the truth lay elsewhere.  I also know this because I recently assisted on a course coaching these tools to trainee life coaches and they also struggled at first. 

In a way it is similar to the criticism laid at the door of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  Some dismiss CBT work as superficial, feeling that it talks them out of their emotions by focusing on the positives.

It was when a coach that I respect, Jonelle Naude, told me that this work can stop wars that I realised I had some more work to do on myself.

Jonelle is South African and that got me to thinking about Nelson Mandela.  27 years in prison and he came out seeking reconciliation and not revenge.  Imagine for a minute the anger that could have built up over 27 years and the course that South African history might have taken had he chosen that reaction instead to his unjust circumstances. 

It was then I realised that a different viewpoint was truly and powerfully available to me.  This stuff has indeed got the potential to stop or create wars.

And so on to a further example related to women receiving abuse for sticking their necks out in the name of feminism.  Liza Campbell is campaigning to end male primogeniture  , so that girls born in to the aristocracy can inherit.  Across the country, as I’ve referenced before, “female bloggers are being hounded off the internet. Teenage girls are being hounded off the earth” (Jezebel.com).  Instead, Liza says that it was when they started getting abuse (in this instance from the ‘dinosaur peers’) they knew they were getting somewhere.  It told her that their opponents had no rational counter-argument.  What a powerful perspective to step in to (and one I wish I’d come across before writing my ‘How to survive blogging’ guest post for The Dexterous Diva).

All of this, along with the arrival of the Positive Birth Movement in Hackney, inspired my next HackneyMums session.  We are going to share our birth stories from the most positive and powerful perspective available to us.  Often our birth stories are not shared.  Sometimes women, myself included, find themselves stuck in a difficult or disappointing perspective.  I want to challenge Mums to find the grain of truth in the positive and powerful perspective and see what is possible from there.

This HackneyMums session is on the 6th February.  Please email me (roxanne@roxannehobbs.com) to reserve your place.  If you are interested in joining a remote group, meeting via Skype / Google Hangouts, and discussing similar subjects then please get in touch.  Topics covered so far – How to let go of Guilt, Setting resonant resolutions for 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013
On the Self Help genre
I read in The Observer today* that 2014 is going to be the year of the Self Help book.  The headline was  “New ‘intellectually credible’ self-improvement books set to outsell celebrity biographies in 2014”.  Hmmmm.  This interested me on a number of levels.  We’re heading in to 2014 so presumably it’s a time when the nation takes stock of the year that has passed, and thinks about what they might want to achieve in the year ahead.  So my first thought was, hey, good timing.
 
Next, I’ve always thought that I’d love to have a book published so it’s always good to know what’s selling well. 
 
However what then followed, pretty quickly, was some deep discomfort.  People really have it in for the Self Help genre, don’t they? Why is ‘intellectual credibility’ in inverted commas anyway? I read a lot in this genre (recent reads include Oliver James, Brene Brown, Susan Cain, Alain de Botton and Stephen Grosz), and a lot of my blogging could be categorized as Self Help.  What’s going on with all this cynicism and negativity? 
 
I opened the Observer comments section, which is often a great way to push me in to a deep, dark place.  But this time the comments there help me to address the intellectual credibility issue head on.  I am sure that poor writing exists in this genre, just as it does in every genre.  I’ve read plenty of poor romantic fiction, crime fiction and poetry in my time.  But really you cannot dismiss the whole Self Help genre out of hand as not having intellectual credibility.  
 
I’m told by Eric_Praline on Observer comments that “Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” was in essence a self help book”.  A bit of further research, which unfortunately doesn’t include reading the book (yes, you can accuse me tonight of taking the less intellectually credible shortcut of reading Spark Notes), confirms this.  He was trying to work out why people act in the way that they do, and one of his conclusions is that people aim at happiness.  One of the key themes of the book is virtue and happiness, and the link between them.  Another recent Self Help project was from Alain de Botton’s School of Life, called ‘Life lessons from … Bergson, Byron, Freud, Robbes, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche’.  How can a project be criticized that opens up people’s minds to some of these great and influential writers and thinkers?
 
Authors that I have actually read – Stephen Grosz and Brene Brown – could hardly be accused of being lightweight either.  Grosz was educated at Berkeley and Balliol College, Oxford.  He has practised as a psychoanalyst for the past 25 years, during which he has spent more than 50,000 hours with child, adolescent and adult patients. He teaches at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and University College London (www.newstatesman.com).  Brene Brown completed her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) at University of Texas at Austin, followed by Master of Social Work (MSW) and Ph.D. from the Graduate College of Social Work, University of Houston. (www.wikipedia.com).
 
I’ve gone in to a bit more detail than I expected to here, but I think it’s important.  The genre clearly has some poor examples within it, but there are authors operating out there with integrity and intelligence.  And I haven’t had to search hard to find them – Grosz and Brown are on the bestsellers lists. To group them all together and dismiss them out of hand makes me think that there is something else going on.  An optimistic reading of the situation could be that some people have received so much one on one help from professionals with the problems that have arisen in their lives, that they don’t think reading a book is up to the job.  Or, have some of these books literally been judged by their covers – making huge claims on the front pages that cynical browsers presume it’s just not possible for them to deliver on?  
 
But then what intrigued me even more was why I have found myself in this unexpected position of defending the Self Help genre.  To answer this, I’m going to put something honest and vulnerable out there and see what comes up.  I have learnt enough about myself to know that when I find myself kicking back strongly at something, it’s usually because of my stuff (not the thing I’m kicking back at).  Recently, I have made a decision that I want to dedicate my professional life to helping people – whether that be women in the workplace or Mums in my local community.  It’s important to me to make a difference.  However I’m sometimes overcome with the feeling that maybe I’m not confident, intelligent, good enough to do this.  Yes, sometimes I have doubts about my own capabilities.  (I keep on going because the feedback tells me otherwise, and because I can recognise this voice as a gremlin that doesn’t speak the truth). My own insecurities and self doubt were making me feel defensive.  
 
And this gave me a further thought (sparked by my recent reading of Brene Brown).  The Self Help haters are going to have a field day with me here!  Picking up a Self Help book is in effect admitting a vulnerability.  It’s saying, ‘I can’t get my head around this on my own, I need some help’ – which is actually a courageous thing to do.  I salute these people.  Many others find this extraordinarily difficult – they do not feel comfortable seeking help.  And when you don’t feel comfortable, it is human nature to revert to a place where you do feel comfortable.  As in, ‘I don’t feel comfortable asking for help so I’m going to put down you lot that are asking for or giving help’.  Cynicism and negativity is so easy and comfortable.  I feel sure that Brene Brown would say that asking for help is ‘daring greatly’.  (And let’s be honest, if you truly felt 100% confident with your relationship / parenting style / happiness levels, would you really denigrate someone looking for some help with theirs?).  
 
I honestly believe choosing a perspective of cynicism about a whole genre of books and people is limiting your opportunities in life.  Yes, there are some really crap self help books out there.  And probably some dodgy, unqualified coaches too. (For the record I’m certified with CTI which is accredited by the International Coaches Federation).  But there is always a lot to learn from the lives and experiences of others.  I’ll finish with another Observer comment post (thanks to Ally88ally): ‘Buying a gym membership doesn’t make you fit. Attending, putting the time and effort it, being responsible for your own fitness regime using those facilities is what will help.
Buying a book won’t help you. Reading it, engaging with it, doing the activities it suggests, reflecting of (sic) the theories or ideas it presents - that’s what helps you, and that’s all down to the reader.’
 
* http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/28/self-help-books-literature-publishers-growth

On the Self Help genre

I read in The Observer today* that 2014 is going to be the year of the Self Help book.  The headline was  “New ‘intellectually credible’ self-improvement books set to outsell celebrity biographies in 2014”.  Hmmmm.  This interested me on a number of levels.  We’re heading in to 2014 so presumably it’s a time when the nation takes stock of the year that has passed, and thinks about what they might want to achieve in the year ahead.  So my first thought was, hey, good timing.

 

Next, I’ve always thought that I’d love to have a book published so it’s always good to know what’s selling well.

 

However what then followed, pretty quickly, was some deep discomfort.  People really have it in for the Self Help genre, don’t they? Why is ‘intellectual credibility’ in inverted commas anyway? I read a lot in this genre (recent reads include Oliver James, Brene Brown, Susan Cain, Alain de Botton and Stephen Grosz), and a lot of my blogging could be categorized as Self Help.  What’s going on with all this cynicism and negativity?

 

I opened the Observer comments section, which is often a great way to push me in to a deep, dark place.  But this time the comments there help me to address the intellectual credibility issue head on.  I am sure that poor writing exists in this genre, just as it does in every genre.  I’ve read plenty of poor romantic fiction, crime fiction and poetry in my time.  But really you cannot dismiss the whole Self Help genre out of hand as not having intellectual credibility. 

 

I’m told by Eric_Praline on Observer comments that “Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” was in essence a self help book”.  A bit of further research, which unfortunately doesn’t include reading the book (yes, you can accuse me tonight of taking the less intellectually credible shortcut of reading Spark Notes), confirms this.  He was trying to work out why people act in the way that they do, and one of his conclusions is that people aim at happiness.  One of the key themes of the book is virtue and happiness, and the link between them.  Another recent Self Help project was from Alain de Botton’s School of Life, called ‘Life lessons from … Bergson, Byron, Freud, Robbes, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche’.  How can a project be criticized that opens up people’s minds to some of these great and influential writers and thinkers?

 

Authors that I have actually read – Stephen Grosz and Brene Brown – could hardly be accused of being lightweight either.  Grosz was educated at Berkeley and Balliol College, Oxford.  He has practised as a psychoanalyst for the past 25 years, during which he has spent more than 50,000 hours with child, adolescent and adult patients. He teaches at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and University College London (www.newstatesman.com).  Brene Brown completed her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) at University of Texas at Austin, followed by Master of Social Work (MSW) and Ph.D. from the Graduate College of Social Work, University of Houston. (www.wikipedia.com).

 

I’ve gone in to a bit more detail than I expected to here, but I think it’s important.  The genre clearly has some poor examples within it, but there are authors operating out there with integrity and intelligence.  And I haven’t had to search hard to find them – Grosz and Brown are on the bestsellers lists. To group them all together and dismiss them out of hand makes me think that there is something else going on.  An optimistic reading of the situation could be that some people have received so much one on one help from professionals with the problems that have arisen in their lives, that they don’t think reading a book is up to the job.  Or, have some of these books literally been judged by their covers – making huge claims on the front pages that cynical browsers presume it’s just not possible for them to deliver on? 

 

But then what intrigued me even more was why I have found myself in this unexpected position of defending the Self Help genre.  To answer this, I’m going to put something honest and vulnerable out there and see what comes up.  I have learnt enough about myself to know that when I find myself kicking back strongly at something, it’s usually because of my stuff (not the thing I’m kicking back at).  Recently, I have made a decision that I want to dedicate my professional life to helping people – whether that be women in the workplace or Mums in my local community.  It’s important to me to make a difference.  However I’m sometimes overcome with the feeling that maybe I’m not confident, intelligent, good enough to do this.  Yes, sometimes I have doubts about my own capabilities.  (I keep on going because the feedback tells me otherwise, and because I can recognise this voice as a gremlin that doesn’t speak the truth). My own insecurities and self doubt were making me feel defensive. 

 

And this gave me a further thought (sparked by my recent reading of Brene Brown).  The Self Help haters are going to have a field day with me here!  Picking up a Self Help book is in effect admitting a vulnerability.  It’s saying, ‘I can’t get my head around this on my own, I need some help’ – which is actually a courageous thing to do.  I salute these people.  Many others find this extraordinarily difficult – they do not feel comfortable seeking help.  And when you don’t feel comfortable, it is human nature to revert to a place where you do feel comfortable.  As in, ‘I don’t feel comfortable asking for help so I’m going to put down you lot that are asking for or giving help’.  Cynicism and negativity is so easy and comfortable.  I feel sure that Brene Brown would say that asking for help is ‘daring greatly’.  (And let’s be honest, if you truly felt 100% confident with your relationship / parenting style / happiness levels, would you really denigrate someone looking for some help with theirs?). 

 

I honestly believe choosing a perspective of cynicism about a whole genre of books and people is limiting your opportunities in life.  Yes, there are some really crap self help books out there.  And probably some dodgy, unqualified coaches too. (For the record I’m certified with CTI which is accredited by the International Coaches Federation).  But there is always a lot to learn from the lives and experiences of others.  I’ll finish with another Observer comment post (thanks to Ally88ally): ‘Buying a gym membership doesn’t make you fit. Attending, putting the time and effort it, being responsible for your own fitness regime using those facilities is what will help.
Buying a book won’t help you. Reading it, engaging with it, doing the activities it suggests, reflecting of (sic) the theories or ideas it presents - that’s what helps you, and that’s all down to the reader.’

 

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/28/self-help-books-literature-publishers-growth

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas preparations

There’s only a week to go until Christmas, and everyone is feeling… well pretty damn exhausted actually.  If your house is anything like ours, December has been a hotchpotch of winter bugs, a handful of late nights with no chance of a lie in thrown in afterwards and afternoons that get dark at 3.30pm leaving you wondering what on earth to do with the children until bedtime.  I’ve also been boycotting Amazon, which has made the business of Christmas shopping much more baffling than it really should have been.

So in the interests of actually enjoying the festive season and making it through to 2014 in a positive, optimistic and graceful manner, here are a few of the mantras I’ll be using.

1.  Practice your gratitudes

For when the house is a state, the extended family have outstayed their welcome and the kids have woken you up at 5am yet again… It’s easy to get irritated by the small stuff, even if deep down you are lucky enough to know that the big stuff is just fine.  So, when you find yourself getting irritated by, and irritable with, those closest and dearest, find some time to practice your gratitudes.  What are you truly thankful for?  What is great about your life and your family?  What do you really love about your partner?  Mind still blank?  Grab yourself some chocolate and think a bit harder.  Training your mind is a bit like training your body – the more repetitions you do of something, the easier it becomes.  In fact, think of it like your pelvic floor exercises.  You really need to be finding some time everyday just to quietly practice your gratitudes (and no-one else need know).  Your mind will soon begin to take a more appreciative outlook rather than getting caught up with minor irritations.  

2.  Remember that you are ‘enough’ just the way you are.

Don’t let that voice in your head that is telling you that you are not good enough ruin your festivities.  You know, the one that says you are not good enough at cooking or organising Christmas, that you’re not fun enough, thin enough, pretty enough, have a big enough home, have a Christmassy enough home… Insert your own bossy ‘not good enough’ voice here.  How about for the next two weeks, you just give yourself a break?  You are enough, exactly the way that you are.  And as soon as you hear that voice, recognise it for what it is and politely tell him / her that he / she’s not invited to Christmas this year

3.  Find yourself some space

One of my favourite parts in the film ‘This is 40’ is where Phoebe from Friends’ husband frequently spends his time on the toilet, pretending he is, erm, going to the toilet.  Except he’s not, he’s just getting a bit of space.  Seriously, his wife (in the film, not Phoebe. Obvs.) comes in and demands to see evidence he’s actually been going to the toilet, rather than just sitting there mucking about on his ipad.  It’s hilarious.  And probably a really effective strategy for blokes (who, in my experience, don’t seem to mind people knowing they are going to the toilet and spending considerable amounts of time in there).  The point is, how are you going to create some space for yourself over the Christmas season? Develop some strategies in advance so that you can be sure of the odd quiet 5 minutes without a child or in-law moaning in your ear.  I’ll give you some suggestions for free: Don’t shower first thing in the morning so that around 11.30am when it’s all getting a bit much you can legitimately say ‘I need to go and shower now’.  Pretend to take up smoking.  ‘Realise’ you’ve ran out of bread / milk / vodka and valiantly offer to walk to the shop in the rain to get some more supplies.  Walk the dog.  Chuck some milk on your top and pretend the baby’s been sick on you so you need to go and change outfits (xref running out of milk).  See it’s easy once you start thinking about it.

4.  Reflect on 2013

Take some time to think about 2013 so that you can ‘close’ the year on the 31st and be ready to start 2014.  What have been your successes this year? What has been challenging for you?  What have been your key learnings?  What do you know about yourself and your family now that you didn’t 12 months ago?  If 2013 was to be a chapter in your autobiography, what would you call it?  Rather than rushing in to next year, find some time to breathe and to reflect on the year that has passed.  Spend some time on this, write things down, push yourself to come up with a bit more than that which comes immediately to mind.  Often you’ll be surprised at what comes up for you when you delve a bit deeper.

5. Enjoy! (and be joyful)

Deep seated and true joy can be one of the most difficult emotions to bear.  You might think ‘who am I to be this happy?’.  Or (my own personal gremlin), as soon as you find yourself feeling truly happy and content, you might start thinking ‘well, this isn’t going to last’ and start imagining future possible catastrophic events which are going to take away everything that is making you happy.  That is because there is a vulnerability inherent in experiencing true happiness.  Brene Brown (Daring Greatly, 2012)  has written some important stuff in this area and so I’ll hand over to her; “Once we make the connection between vulnerability and joy, the answer is pretty straightforward: We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blind-sided by hurt… so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment’.  Her tools for stopping this head f*&k (my words, not hers) are 1) to realise that joy comes to us in ordinary moments, 2) to be grateful for what you have (see mantra no. 1) and 3) to not squander joy (That is, lean in to the joy, feel vulnerable and scared, and then stay there).  Make a commitment to yourself this Christmas to allow yourself to enjoy it and to feel joyful.

6. If all else fails, book a flight to the Southern hemisphere asap.

Happy Christmas everyone.

xxx

Saturday, December 7, 2013

An Amazon free Advent (week 1)

I had been feeling a little uncomfortable about my use of Amazon for a while.  The tax thing didn’t sit well, to put it mildly.  But with two boys under the age of two, I found the convenience of being able to order whatever I needed without dragging them to the shops tended to over-ride whatever guilt I felt.

And then I read Carole Cadwalladr’s piece in the Observer on the 1st December (‘My week as an Amazon insider’).  It was a brilliant piece that turned my vague ill feeling towards the company in to a clear and defined position. 

I understood for the first time the sheer scale of their tax avoidance, I balked at their disregard for the agency staff that work there and I realized their claims of creating employment are, frankly, bullshit.  Out of all of the shaming stats in the article, this is the one that hit home for me.  “Shops employ 47 people for every $10m in sales… Amazon employs only 14 people per $10m of revenue. In Britain, it turned over £4.2bn last year, which is a net loss of 23,000 jobs.”

And so I decided to stop my Amazon addiction.  Just like that.  This is the story of my Amazon free advent.

December 1st.

I know that one of the keys to success when breaking a habit is accountability.  I needed to tell someone what I was doing so they could hold me accountable.  If someone else was willing to go cold turkey with me too, so much the better. 

At 10pm I post on Facebook, “Attempting to give up my Amazon addiction for the month of December. Anyone else in?”.  “No, no, no!” replies a friend within seconds.

At 10.02pm, my second post goes up following a moment of panic about digital books.  Does anywhere else even do them? I felt sure someone on facebook would know.

I’m also feeling a little bit guilty about the two Christmas presents (one for my son and one for my husband) that are already hidden under the bed in that trademark Amazon packaging.

December 2nd.

My facebook posts have received some interesting feedback.  My Mum friends, as yet, are not ‘in’.  ‘What else would I do when feeding in the night?’ asks one.  ‘It’s not humanly possible’ suggests another.  A further friend makes an astute point; ‘Makes me laugh how everyone boycotted Starbucks for not paying their taxes but couldn’t quite manage boycotting Amazon. Probably because there is always an alternative coffee shop. Please support your local traders, they won’t be there if you don’t.’

And apparently you can get ebooks from ebooks.com, WHSmith online, Waterstones online and itunes.

Meanwhile the news channels are full of incredulity at Amazon’s claims to be testing unmanned drones to deliver goods to consumers.  This makes me feel a little bit queasy inside and fuels my commitment to the boycott.  Conversely, Jeff Bezoz (Amazon’s Chief Executive) is talking about it to CBS’s 60 Minutes programme and seems to think it’s good PR.

December 3rd

Received two Christmas lists today.  One came directly via Amazon and was a list of books the sender would like for Christmas.  Great bit of marketing and I love giving books for presents, but will have to buy them elsewhere.  The other list I received said ‘Jaguar memorabilia – loads on Amazon!’. 

Someone also tells me about Amazon’s mission statement: “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online”.  The use of the word ‘Earth’ makes me laugh.  Why not world?  And then I feel a bit sick at their blatant desire for world (sorry Earth) domination.  They want to sell absolutely everything to absolutely everyone.

December 4th

Spend a lot of time thinking about doing some Christmas shopping.  Just don’t seem to quite manage to do any.  There is suddenly a bigger hurdle than usual in the way, which is making me feel quite stuck.  Rather than just browsing Amazon, I have to find some new, funky websites or push the children down to the shops.  That all makes me feel a bit stressed and so I put it off a while longer.

December 5th

Today I received a lovely piece of direct mail – a book catalogue from the campaign group ‘Books are my bag’.  Their premise is that bookshops are vital for our culture, community and high street.  It is indeed a special connection when you get advice directly from a sales person in a book shop who shares his / her reading experiences. And book shops can be lovely places in which to browse and hang out.  I realise there are lots of different people engaged in some kind of protest here, in different guises.

December 6th

Result! Two Christmas presents purchased and I also quickly realise the perils of blogging about your Christmas shopping.  It’s hard to keep things a secret.  Doh!  A local shop (http://www.lookmumnohands.com) has some lovely and different clothes, calendars and pictures.  I pop in for a coffee and end up spending £65 – very much in the ‘one present for you, one present for me’ mindset.  Secondly I go to the website www.photobox.co.uk and order a canvas with a picture of my husband and my son on which will make a lovely personalised present for Granny (who definitely doesn’t read my blog!).

In the evening I notice an interesting thread unfold on Facebook.  A friend has bought all of her presents locally and lugged them to the Post Office to send to the States.  She was asked for £75 for postage, which is reduced to £52 after repeated weighing and box juggling.  A further friend comments on the environmental cost of airmail.  Someone else has some fantastic advice.  First, M&S online ship free of charge if you spend £30.  Second, she has done Christmas shopping by calling shops local to her family in Chicago. Apparently they were falling over themselves to help deliver; ‘they thought it was cute, calling all the way from England’.  Another point of view is delivered as a friend expresses concern at all of the small businesses in the Amazon marketplace (nothing to do with their warehouses) that might be missing out because of an Amazon backlash.  So, wow.  It’s complicated.

December 7th

Have just finished an hour of intensive online Christmas shopping and this is what I’ve found out.

Amazon clearly dominates the market on cross category customer experience.  The mission statement starts to make more sense to me as a customer, rather than it being corporate jargon.  It truly is the easiest site to use with the biggest range of products.  Nowhere else comes close.   

Instead of using Amazon, much of my money ends up with www.johnlewis.com.  One big site (or store) selling pretty much everything, with the plus side of their exemplary record of employment practice (owing to its unique ownership structure).  See http://www.johnlewispartnership.co.uk/about/our-strategy.html to find out more.  However, they have nowhere near the range of Adidas sports kit for example, so I’m led to other sites (www.adidas.com), having to enter my details again and paying further delivery costs, to obtain the items I’m after.  The customer experience on www.johnlewis.com was pretty good but there is still room for improvement.  When I realised something wasn’t in my (now checked out) basket, I couldn’t edit the order.  Instead I had to start a new order which then cost me a £3 delivery charge as the system didn’t realise I had spent a far larger amount 3 minutes earlier.  I’ll email John Lewis about this, as I’m sure the same delivery guy will bring the whole order.

I rediscover the joy of National Book Tokens after googling ‘buy vouchers online’, reminding myself of presents and school prizes from my youth.  They operate across all high street book retailers, and I find out that there are 270 outlets accepting them within 10 miles of my house.  Fantastic present for book lovers which helps support local bookstores too.  Actually, a fantastic present for people that aren’t book lovers and should be, too. Result.

I was hoping that during this experience, I would discover lovely little local shops and new online start-ups selling gorgeous and unique gifts for my family and friends.  In reality, I’m still a Mum with two very young boys who doesn’t have the time, energy or inclination to spend hours shopping.  I have found myself trying to recreate Amazon’s offering through other online retailers and realising that these other companies need to up their game with their stock availability and customer online experience if they are to compete in an Amazon world. 

I’m left thinking that online aggregators of local high street shops, or even national high street brands, could help to provide viable alternatives.  So as a consumer you place one order from lots of shops via a central hub, which then arranges the collection and delivery for you.  A local one to me is www.hubbub.co.uk (‘a home delivery service on a mission to save the high street’) and it’s very good.  It is just more suited to your weekly shopping requirements than Christmas shopping.  And postage and packaging is the other biggie that online companies need to crack, especially on an international level.  But again perhaps an international network of local aggregators could solve this – in a ‘think global, act local’ manner.  So if I wanted to buy something for my friends in Chicago, I just look at the Chicago local aggregator tab, choose my presents locally to them in one order to the central hub, along with my Hackney, Manchester and Kent presents, and the local aggregators then arrange the local collection and delivery.  A logistical minefield, but ultimately this is what Amazon have got close to cracking.

 

 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Letting go of Guilt

Guilt seems like an inevitable part of being a Mum.  There’s always a list of things that we ought to be doing or ways in which we should be doing things differently.  Our time is so stretched that we inevitably use short cuts so as to get by and then beat ourselves up about it.  We also come across other Mums who approach things differently, or are perhaps a little less than honest in their descriptions of what goes on in their families, and suddenly that nagging and judgemental voice pops up in our heads again. 

The media doesn’t help either.  We are bombarded with voices criticising what Mothers do.  Today’s little beauty from the Daily Mail – “Babies can ‘contract’ depression in the womb: Infants with depressed mothers have abnormal brain wiring”.  Because that’s just what depressed, pregnant women need isn’t it?  Not only are they feeling pretty damn lousy already, the Daily Mail now tells them their babies are going to have an abnormality as a result.  The blame and the guilt are aimed directly at the Mother.  It’s enough to make you feel quite depressed.  Oh hang on…

In my coaching work I have found that sharing experiences of guilt with other Mums can be a cathartic experience.  My suspicion was that it would be a comfort and reassurance to share your guilt triggers as it makes you feel part of a club and normalizes your feelings.  I actually found that just saying the thing you feel guilty about out loud to someone, rather than just having it incessantly swirl around your own consciousness, was helpful in itself.  The guilt trigger that had been gnawing away at you inside can suddenly sound trivial and ridiculous when said out loud.  A bit of laughter and a not-taking-yourself-too-seriously perspective can work wonders.

However, just because other Mums share your guilt triggers (ridiculous or not), this is no reason to accept the situation.  Guilt is an unhealthy emotion.  It uses up a lot of energy that could be better spent elsewhere.  Have a think about this.  How does Guilt manifest itself in your life? What is the impact on you? Your partner? Your children? Your work?  What is the cost of not doing anything about this feeling?

In Elinor Wilde’s ‘100 Working Mums Project’, mums said that feeling guilty, stretched, torn and miserable can lead to being snappy with their children, having little energy to spend time with them or their partner and certainly no energy for themselves. 

I researched further to try and understand why it is such a negative emotion.  A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy book about Guilt helped my understanding enormously (see ‘Coping with Guilt’ by Windy Dryden).  ‘Feeling guilty’ is the emotion you experience when you blame or condemn yourself for doing something wrong, for failing to do the right thing or for harming or hurting someone.  It is actually the unhealthy alternative to Remorse.  If you feel remorseful, you accept your whole self whilst taking full responsibility for the behaviour.  (So, rather than thinking I am a bad person for doing this thing, you are able to think, I am a fallible human being who in this instance did the wrong thing).

I have certainly found that many Mums experience Guilt in the same way that they experience stress, finding it difficult to pull the two things apart.

But how do we stop feeling like this? How do we let go of our own Guilt?  This is when I need to introduce you to my own personal guilt saboteur. I call her Mary.  The saboteur is a concept that embodies a group of thought processes and feelings that maintains the status quo in our lives.  The best way I have to explain it is as that voice on your shoulder that is constantly sitting in judgement and telling you what you ‘ought’ to be doing.

My own guilt saboteur, Mary, is constantly telling me that I OUGHT to be a better Mum.  I ought to be more present with my boys, ought to spend less time doing ‘my’ stuff and she tells me I should be able to cope with two very young boys.  I should always be happy and upbeat, and should never have to ask for help.  For me, she is personified by a lot of the Mums or female carers that you see in children’s books – particularly quite traditional ones.  Mary Poppins probably does it for me (although admittedly she’s a nanny rather than the children’s mother! She gets to go off duty occasionally!). 

Have a think about what your guilt saboteur is telling you?  Hint: Listen out for the phrases ‘should be’ and ‘ought to be’.  As a coach, that always tells me that the saboteur is present.  Make a list of all of the judgemental remarks that she makes. And then start to think about what your guilt saboteur looks like.  Does she remind you of anybody you have met? A character in a film or storybook? I’ve used Little Miss characters with lots of my clients.  If you’re stuck you could call her Little Miss Guilty. 

Your guilt saboteur is neither good not bad. It just is.  She will lose power over you when you can identify the voice for what it is and this is the first step.  Stop and notice all of the options available in the situation to you (not just the shoulds and ought to’s) and then consciously choose what it is we do really want at that time.  If you could put the saboteurs voice to one side, what options are available to you?  Is there a more positive angle that you would like to choose to hold regarding any situation?  Is there something that you would like to do differently?  As soon as you notice yourself saying ‘should’ or ‘ought to’, stop yourself.  That’s your guilt saboteur again!  Perhaps change the ‘should’ to ‘could’ and see what comes up for you?

Finally, commit to doing something differently.  Write down four things you are going to do differently as a result of this exercise.  And then tell someone about it.  You are much more likely to succeed if you share your intention.  I would love to hear from you.  Contact me at roxannehobbs@hotmail.co.uk 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

This is the story of a happy marriage

At the moment I am reading the rather wonderfully titled ‘This is the story of a happy marriage’ by Ann Patchett.  It is actually a collection of Ann’s nonfiction; articles that have appeared in various (mostly American) magazines and journals over the years.

One anecdote has really caught my imagination and it is told in the essay entitled ‘The Getaway Car’.  This chapter, incidentally, is the best description of the process of writing that I have ever read.  

Ann had been putting off having the air conditioning fixed in her car whilst trying to make it as a writer.  She has no money and is relying on fellowships and waitressing jobs to earn enough so that she can put her energies in to writing.  

Aged 27 she receives her first book deal for $45,000.  All she can think to spend it on is having the air conditioning fixed in her car which has been out for two years by this point.  When she goes to the mechanic, he tells her that the a/c was low on coolant - ‘a problem that was resolved for fifteen bucks’.

I love this story and it clearly resonates still with her (she is publishing this latest book aged 49 and comments ‘that’s the detail of selling my first book I always remember’).  

It got me thinking about how often we put things off because we think they are going to be hard.  My own recent examples are

-putting off going to a yoga class at a new studio for weeks because I didn’t think I’d be able to do the class post 2 pregnancies.  (I finally went last week and loved it.  It was challenging but exhilarating.)

-in a similar situation to Ann, I had put off getting my push bike fixed.  For some reason I’d got it into my head they would write it off.  (Actually it had a slow puncture that cost £12 to fix).

-not wanting to move house with an 18 month old and a 2 month old because it would be too hard.  (You’re probably laughing that I had a fair point.  And it was bloody hard!!! But our new house is so much better for our family than the old one - it’s bigger and not on a dangerous canal for a start.  We worked out how to make the move as easy as possible on all of us, getting as much help as possible (some of it paid for) and I now think it’s the best decision we made all year).

What are you putting off because of a myth you’ve told yourself in your head?  What’s the truth?  Can you uncover the truth without jumping in to some kind of action?  I can’t guarantee everything will be easier than anticipated, but at least you’ll be working with the truth and be able to plan accordingly.  

Don’t let the myths you tell yourself in your head stop you from doing something that matters.

 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stop blaming women

Whilst researching a business proposal, I recently came across an article that really gave a clear and resonant voice to some of the thoughts that had been circling in my mind about women in the workplace.  Below I’ve used his article to suggest three key steps that organisations need to take if they are to address their lack of female talent at a senior level. 

The full article ‘Stop blaming women: Prescribing a 21st century approach to gender diversity’ is written by Jon Dymond and appears on the HayGroup website1.

The first key point Dymond makes is that seeking to retain senior female talent within any business is more than a social equality exercise.  Gender makes a difference.  Dymond delivers a number of sharp examples showing how increased senior talent equates with increased ROI.  He also points out that ‘women executives score twice as high as their male counterparts on empathy and conflict management capability and five times as high on self-awareness’.

Step 1 : Why do you want more senior female talent anyway?

Any business wanting to make a difference in this area must first ask itself why.  If it is solely because the management feels like it should, then that’s fair enough.  You don’t want to ignore half of the population when looking for the best people.  But there is probably a more compelling call to action in there.  What difference do women currently make within the business? What areas do they excel in?  What business outcomes could female talent drive?  I would suggest that it is a deep and shared knowledge of this that is needed for any initiative to land in a meaningful way, and with buy in from key stakeholders. 

Dymond then goes on to argue that ‘the real misdiagnosis in today’s debate is the implication that the fault likes not with outmoded organisations but with women themselves’.  I agree.

Too many times have I listened to organisations stating at best (complaining at worst) that women want career breaks, flexible working and work/ life balance.  The reason behind this, according to the organisation, is motherhood. 

True, it would be tricky for a Mum (not impossible – I know plenty who ‘manage’) to balance being on call 24 hours a day, incessant business travel and long hours.  But the same is true of men.  Dymond again gives some of the moment examples : ‘Witness Andy Hornby at AllianceBoots, Jeff Kindler at Pfizer, Masataka Shimizu of Tokyo Electric Power and Antonio Horta-Osario at Lloyds Banking Group: all quit their jobs or took leave due to the stress of work’. 

And this is just one of the ways in which we misdiagnose the problem.  Other wrong assumptions organizations make, according to Dymond, are:

-that women need to behave like successful men to succeed (actually women bring their own way of doing things that can often be more effective than the male way)

-that offering women the chance to work more flexibly will improve diversity (evidence shows that this isn’t necessarily the case)

- that the reason women don’t want to take on top jobs is because they are women (it’s not just women that sometimes don’t like what they are being asked to ‘lean-in’ to, it can also be true of men),

Step 2 Stop asking what women want.  Start listening to what people want. What we’re looking at here isn’t actually just about women.  It’s about people.  What people in the 21st century are looking for from their employers, amongst other things, are flexibility and balance.  And organizations are going to get the best out of their people if they are able to provide this.  Instead of thinking ‘how can we accommodate women better?’, a company instead should be thinking ‘what kind of environment do we need to provide to allow our employees to realize their full potential?  What is going to keep people creative, dynamic and with a sense of purpose?

It is only after understanding the ‘problem’ fully and accurately that work can begin on addressing it.  It is imperative to really get to grips with these issues, turn the hypotheses to fact or fiction and get them understood across the whole organization (and not just within a small working group).

Step 3 Get radical when designing your strategy Of course you need to pull together a strategy that can effect change within the organization.  The point here is that this should be outside of your (by which I mean the organization’s) comfort zone.  It shouldn’t be something a roomful of people nod their way through as it is presented.  They should feel uncomfortable. Dymond points out that the current way of doing things is based on 20th century requirements.  What is your business’ management style for the 21st century?  How will you harness all of your talent?  How will you listen to and deliver what people want from their employer?  Dymond has some fantastic starting points (see the full article) but I say listen to your people first and create something innovative that works for them.

1http://www.haygroup.com/downloads/uk/stop%20blaming%20women%20-%20gender%20diversity%20viewpoint.pdf

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Breastfeeding nonsense

Mothers are to receive £200 in gift vouchers as a financial incentive to breastfeed their children in a pilot scheme in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.  Mothers will receive £120 in vouchers at 6 weeks if they sign a form saying they have exclusively breastfed, and then a further £80 at 6 months.  

How anyone will be able to tell whether they are telling the truth is the first mystery about this bizarre scheme.  What are they going to do - ask the mothers to prove they are still producing milk?

But more seriously, why does anyone think mothers need a financial incentive to do the best thing for their children?  That’s what we do.  We are constantly striving to do the best thing for our children and to reduce that down to essentially bribery is insulting and patronising.

And the financial incentive is already there folks - formula costs about £10 a tin which lasts about a week, so by my lousy maths that’s £260 in your pocket already if you don’t buy formula for the first 6 months of your child’s life.  Honestly, if you’re not breastfeeding it is not because you’re trying to save a bit of cash.

Because the truth of the matter is that breastfeeding is difficult. And this is what the Breast is Best brigade sometimes fail to take just quite enough account of.  It hurts.  Your milk doesn’t always arrive by magic when your baby needs it.  Your baby doesn’t always know how to latch on.  You don’t know how to help him latch on. It flipping hurts - in a toe curling, hold your breath, ouch, ouch ouch! kind of way.  Some babies have tongue tie which makes things harder still.  Some babies are twins and the mothers don’t have enough milk to support both of them.  Actually some babies aren’t twins and their mothers don’t have enough milk to support them.  Some mothers have too much milk which causes interesting situations in coffee shops.  And did i mention the pain?

I could go on… Actually, hell, I will.  It involves getting your boobs out in public - in the park in winter, in department stores, in supermarkets.  Actually wherever you might happen to be when your baby fancies a snack, you will have to get your boobs out.  There is leakage.  There is, for some poor women, mastitis.  And there is the fact that if you are going to just feed your baby solely breast milk for the first 6 months, you will not be able to be away from your baby for more than a couple of hours for 6 whole months. Perhaps this is fine if you just have the one baby and no desire to do much for yourself or anyone else for six months (and there are women out there who do this and I truly salute them), but sometimes there are other children to look after, take out of the house or maybe the Mum just needs to pop in to town for a coffee without the baby just to keep some sanity.

Wow I’m beginning to convince myself that we should be handing over shiny gold coins to breastfeeding Mums with immediate effect… But it’s missing the point. Despite all of the above, breastfeeding (when it works) is an amazing experience and, of course, gives you and your baby wonderful bonding and health benefits.  But sometimes, it does not work  and there’s a whole load of health and sociocultural reasons why this might be the case. (As an aside, my NCT breastfeeding counsellor didn’t invite men to the breastfeeding session because it is forbidden by Jewish law.  Which really just highlights the complexity of the issue).  

The point is Mums are heaped under enough Guilt about this one thing, that they really don’t need anymore. Sometimes Breast is Best.  But, also, sometimes, it really isn’t (like when you’ve got twins and they’re not putting on weight because you haven’t got enough milk to feed them both.  Or when you’re admitted to hospital with a raging temperature and mastitis.  Just for instance.)  We are all striving to do the best thing for our children and a fistful of Argos vouchers is not going to change anything.  

Instead what we need are breastfeeding trained midwives in hospitals who have the time to show us and our babies what to do. (Another aside, a midwife that passed through my room in the hospital told me that breastfed babies don’t get wind and don’t need burping.  wtf?!). We need attention and support throughout the first 6-12 weeks, helping us to overcome any problems that arise. We need community midwives and health visitors (again with up to date breastfeeding training) to spend proper time with us when there are challenges.  We need the professionals to be honest in the media and in birth preparation sessions about the difficulties we may encounter.  

We don’t need any more Guilt. And we don’t need those flipping Argos vouchers.

Monday, November 4, 2013

In praise of East London

I love living in Hackney.  I think most people living here feel the same.  It does feel like a truly special part of London.

And there’s nothing like leaving the E postcode to remind yourself of why you love your area so much.  I went out for the day in Tooting yesterday and it served to remind me of how lucky I am to live in the East.  

I don’t want to generalise about Tooting too much but it did feel like a different city.  The Mums were different in the playground, the kids were different.  And the traffic…!  It felt more urban (as in there is less open space and, again, the traffic) yet it’s further from the centre of town.

But it’s not just luck why my family ended up here.  We were looking for somewhere that was close to the centre of town and yet easy to get out of town too.  It’s less than five miles from our house to my husband’s office - he runs or cycles it daily.  And yet the A12 provides us a quick escape route to Kent.  Yes, sometimes the Blackwall tunnel ruins a Friday night but usually it’s OK if you get your timings right.  We were also looking for somewhere with open space and with Victoria Park, Haggerston Park, London Fields, Well St Common and the canal on our doorstep, Hackney truly delivers.  (Someone once told me that the largest green space in Islington is the pitch at the Emirates). And finally, we were aware that the Olympics were coming.  We were excited about having them on our doorstep and we felt sure they would bring a lasting legacy to East London.  (On reflection, I think they have served to shift the centre of gravity in London towards the East.)

And so it isn’t luck at all.  I did this. I made an active choice to make this my home, based on the things that are important to me.  These values could probably be expressed as Flexibility (I can enjoy city or country life in an instant), Family time (the short commute allows us more time together), Open space (I love being outside and it makes me feel whole and grounded), Community (people coming together to achieve something great).  

If you have the good fortune and foresight to be able to base key decisions on your values you will feel very lucky indeed.