Why New Year's resolutions don't work

Why New Year's resolutions don't work

I recently read that as few as  8% of us manage to keep their New Year's resolutions.

And guess what, I am not, and have never been, in that 8%. Secret revealed. 

I have never been a big fan of New Year's resolutions to be honest, but they mean even less to me since I practice mindfulness regularly. I haven't made a single New Year's resolution since 2007, and well, I think I'm doing ok...!

So here are a few reasons, based on my own experience, of why I think resolutions don't work, and how mindfulness can help you instead.

1. A New Year's resolution can quickly become something else on our to-do list

The problem with New Year's resolutions is that they are so engrained in our culture that we may feel as though we ought to have them. Anything that has a 'should' involved in it is very likely to fail, because it feels to us like an obligation, another added item on our already long to-do list, rather than something that our heart longs for, and that we actually enjoy doing. 

Practicing mindfulness, I gained more knowledge about what really motivates me (i.e. not making resolutions) and gained the confidence to say to my colleagues on the first week of January, when they asked me what my resolutions were, that I didn't have any, that this is not how I best function. I am much more of an intuitive type, and I found that having long to-do lists and resolutions made me feel tense, rigid and not very free. 

I believe this might be the case for many of us...

2. Our resolutions can come from the wrong place

I remember, back when I made resolutions, having 'loosing weight' as one of them pretty much every year. So I'd start running 3 times a week in January...and stopped a few weeks later. Looking back, this resolution came from fear - fear of looking a certain way if I didn't loose weight - rather than love. I consciously wanted to lose weight, but my subconscious (seat of very deep emotions such as fear of change), wasn't aligned. I wanted to move away from something, rather than move towards something. The resolution became a stick to beat myself with if I didn't strictly follow my new military-like health plan, and there wasn't much kindness in it. Hence I gave up after a while. 

Practicing mindfulness allowed me to tune into my body, where emotions are stored, and become aware of my emotions. I spent some time being with the fear (not a very pleasant experience to start with, I give you that), feel it and observe it - and it wasn't that scary anymore. I didn't need to act on it, I could just let it come and go. 

Instead, being king to ourselves could be the key to progress. There are many studies showing how the kinder we are to ourselves the happier and more successful we become.

One of the practices I teach on my courses (and that I do myself every day), the kindness meditation, allows us to positively rewire our thoughts and emotions.

In my experience, it allowed me to feel into who I want to become (moving towards), rather than who I didn't want to be (moving away), which makes new experiences more enjoyable and less of an obligation. 

3. What's your intention?

So rather than resolutions, I invite you to think of your intentions, the meaning behind your wishes. 

My intention for 2016 was to be open to transformation & growth, so bearing that in mind I regularly asked myself 'is this allowing me to open to transformation' or 'will this allow me to grow?' when faced with a decision to make. I found it very helpful, especially in terms of counteracting limiting beliefs such as 'I don't know how to do this', 'I can't do that' etc.

If it would allow me to grow, then I'd give it a shot. 

During the year, I quit my job and developed a full-time coaching & mindfulness practice. This wasn't a goal, nor was it a New Year's resolution. It didn't happen because I wanted to make it happen in 2016 or make a living out of what I love doing, it happened because I was open to the opportunity, I believed it would allow me to grow, and I believed it would transform those around me. It was about meaning, not outcome.

I learnt more in 2016 than in the 3 previous years combined. For that, I had to be open to put myself out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, because no matter the outcome, I knew that I would grow. 

My intention for 2017 is to let go. By that, I mean to trust and let myself be guided by my intuition. Being receptive and open, rather than push forward. Let go of expectations or anything I am holding too tight on, and make space for opportunities to arise. 

Setting an intention is therefore about the energy we put behind our actions, not the actions themselves.

As with previous years, I can trust that with the right energy & intention, things will happen in their own time.

If they don't happen in 2017, I'll have my mindfulness practice to help me cultivate patience ;)

So, what's your intention? I'd love to find out! 

Mindful eating tips for the festive season

Chocolates, various roast dinners, drinks, cheese and so on...Christmas is a festival for the mouth and the stomach, and provides many temptations that we may feel guilty about comes January.

So without taking all the fun out of your Christmas gathering, try these mindful eating tips! 

1. Before eating: check in with yourself

Ask yourself: how hungry am I right now? Am I eating because I am genuinely hungry or because others are, or because I feel I should? If you're genuinely hungry, then of course eat! If you're not, take a deep breath, move away from that buffet for a few minutes, engage in conversations, and see what happens.

2. The first bite

I'd like to invite you to take the first bite of each new dish with your eyes closed. This will allow you to feel the textures and the flavours more, and therefore appreciate more what you have in your mouth.

3. After eating: pause

Before you take seconds, leave a break. We don't tend to realise we're full until 3-10 minutes after we've finished eating. So leave a break, then ask yourself 'am I still genuinely hungry'?

And if you do decide to have seconds or treat yourself to that fifth chocolate, you'll at least do it consciously! 

 

3 tips to stay sane over Christmas

The holiday season is a festive and merry time of the year, but it can also be a real source of stress for many people. Worrying that we are buying good enough presents, anxiety about money, traffic and busy trains, to actually spending time with people we perhaps haven't seen in a while or don't really want to spend time with, the potential stressors are many.

We feel the pressure of having a really good time, when sometimes things are a little more complicated.

So here are a few tips to help you stay sane when surrounded by family and relatives

1. Be mindful of where you are at

Whilst we may find certain situations or people difficult, in mindfulness we work with ourselves, we don't try to change other people. Becoming aware of where you're at is therefore a good starting point, so you can then find an appropriate response rather than automatically react to situations or people.

So, asking yourself..

- how am I feeling in my body right now? Am I noticing any tension and can I try and soften my body?

- how am I feeling emotionally, generally and towards certain people? If difficult emotions arise, can I bring myself a bit of compassion for feeling this way?

- what thoughts are going through my mind? Are they thoughts that promote my own well-being and the well-being of others? If not, can I re-write the stories I am telling myself?

2. Remember your similarities

Remember that even the one person who really annoys you actually wants the same things you do: they want to have a good time, and they want to be happy, just like you. So whilst it may seem strange to repeat this to yourself, I can promise that it will make a difference to how you respond, which opens the door for a new kind of response from them. Try it!

3. Take a break

If things get too overwhelming, pause or take a break! Go for a walk, go for a nap, or why not practice a 3-min guided meditation? It's easier to gain perspective after removing ourselves from a situation. Allow yourself that pause. 

I hope you'll find these helpful! Let me know how you get on! x

3 things I've learnt from meeting Matthieu Ricard on US Election week

Earlier this month I, together with a small group of other Mindfulness teachers from all over the world, was invited to spend 3 days on retreat with Matthieu Ricard at The Garrison Institute in the state of New York.

I felt extremely privileged to be invited on what I consider to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I have been reading Matthieu's books for the last decade, and this retreat was to be Matthieu's last one before retirement, making it even more special.

Matthieu is a truly wonderful human being: generous, approachable and a clear teacher. He started his first teaching to us by saying 'Don't follow me, I'm lost too', which set the tone for the rest of the retreat - one of humour and humility. 

Matthieu gave us a series of guided meditations and teachings over the course of the three days, and here are some of the key insights. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

1.  We are all born as loving creatures

Even Donald Trump.

(Matthieu didn't actually mention him, that's my own addition).

The fact is, newborn babies don't know how to hate. Hatred comes later in life, and is usually underlined by fear.

We all experience a mix of emotions through life (in fact, each day) such love, hatred, fear, jealousy and so on; and it's ok. We are a mix of light and shadow; but what we do is that we tend to project our hopes and fears onto outer conditions, including people, when they really reside in the mind. 

So it is easy to blame this or that person, immigrants, or the weather for our unhappiness, when they in fact are only a reflection of an emotion that was already in us. 

This is why it is critical to work with our mind to cultivate mental states that spread positive values such as solidarity, generosity and love, much needed in today's world.

It is also important to recognise that someone who is angry/hateful is being manipulated by their emotions, and therefore responding with compassion is the only way. How can we be angry at someone who is being manipulated in this way? 

2. An aspiration that encompasses the wellbeing of others automatically accomplishes our own wellbeing.

The truth is that we are all connected, and that we can't survive without other people; whether they cultivate the food we eat, make the clothes we wear, drive the trains we take, and so on. 

We are all connected and we are not so different from each other.

In fact, we are very similar.

We all want the same things: to be safe, loved and content. Thinking about your own happiness in isolation is a mistake. Happiness and love are exponential - it grows the more we spread it. 

So including others in your own aspirations will increase your own well-being too. 

What are you life aspirations? Do they include an altruistic element?

3. Training the mind in each moment is key to world peace

If we look at the root of wars, not a single one of them started without a thought of hatred in someone's mind. People don't start wars like robots; the spark of hatred in the mind is what is at the very root of it. 

So every single moment is important, and an opportunity to ask ourselves - what experience do I want to have right now? And therefore, what type of thoughts do I want to entertain? Hateful, angry ones, or loving, compassionate ones?

Kindness & compassion are skills that can be trained through meditation and in every day, so don't loose courage in the power of your own transformation, to bring about a better world. 

Each one of us has the power to bring about that better world, as much as our neighbour or any world leader. 

And it can start right now.

 

I'd love to hear from you - comment, email me, send me a note. Let's connect x

 

 

Why Young Bankers, Lawyers, and Consultants Need Emotional Intelligence. Or in fact, why we all need it.

Because success is more than just about IQ, find out how emotional intelligence can advance your career - and I'd argue that's it not just goof for Bankers, Lawyers and Consultants, but for everyone. We all interact with others. There are many studies showing how mindfulness can help improve EQ, thus increasing productivity, breaking silos and improving relationships in the workplace

Find out more in this Harvard Business Review article

On becoming an observer of my own mind

I started practicing mindfulness and meditation nearly 10 years ago.

I stumbled across it by chance really, not knowing much about it, and having a fair few preconceptions about it being creepy, flowery, and all the rest (I know that nowadays most wouldn't think that...but that was 10 years ago after all!)

At the time, I was a typical young work-hard play-hard Londoner, who also suffered from insomnia and anxiety. 

I didn’t want the anxiety, and looking back I spent a lot of energy trying to push it away, by filling my life with things to do and achieve – my days were packed, from the moment I woke up at 5am to go running, to the moment I went to sleep around midnight, after a long day of working and socialising. 

Eventually, my levels of anxiety were preventing me from enjoying my life at all, despite doing all the things that I thought I needed to be happy – exercising, socialising a lot, going on regular city breaks, taking part in charity runs, and so on.

Learning to meditate, I learnt to stop. To stop, observe, and create some space around my experience. To stop, and get off this cycle of constant doing. To stop, and learn to just be.

It was extremely hard at first, as I became aware of how all over the place my mind was, and how restless my body was becoming when I tried to stay still. I thought that I wasn't any good at meditation (everyone else was, but not me...I was just too restless for it) and that I should probably give up, but somehow I stuck at it.

I became aware of difficult emotions, such as the fear that was sitting underneath all these things I was trying to achieve, and a lack of kindness to my body which had been sending me signals of pain and tension that I had ignored. I started to become an observer of my own mind, its activity and the thought pathways that it follows. 

I realised then that a lot of the anxiety I was experiencing was self-inflicted. Yes, I had a stressful job, but the way I was thinking about it and relating to it didn't help.

I realised that I didn’t have to keep thinking in the same way, and doing the same things; that stress is part of life, but it doesn’t have to be distressing. 

Mindfulness can help us release stress and physical tension, by learning to be with and soften into our experience. But more importantly, it allows us to develop self-knowledge. In my case, I realised that I was not as extraverted as I thought, and that I do need some time on my own to recharge, and keep emotionally and physically fit. I also became aware of my values, and how not living up to it was adding stress to my life. This led to a change of career, and a well-needed change of lifestyle.

Self-knowledge gives us more choice about the thoughts we decide to entertain and the actions we decide to perform. 

Choice is freedom.

Quote of the week

'Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle'

Ian MacLaren

World mental health day: de-stygmatising mental health

'World Mental Health Day, celebrated every year on October 10th, is a day dedicated to raising awareness of the seriousness of the consequences of mental ill-health. There are many different types of mental illness including anxiety, neurosis, depression, psychosis, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia'
 

The above quote is taken from the official description of the World Mental Health Day. I wouldn't be surprised if some of you felt a sense of unease reading it. Before I started practicing and teaching mindfulness, I certainly felt a sense of taboo around the topic of mental health. 

What strikes me, in this definition, is that depression and anxiety are next to neurosis and other psychiatric disorders. Whilst I am not a psychiatrist and cannot comment on these disorders, I know that depression and anxiety are quite common.

With 1 in 4 of us facing depression or anxiety at some point in our life, most of us have either been affected or know someone who's been affected. And with the world getting busier and more complex, they will unfortunately become even more common.

So what can we do to remove the stigma around mental health and make it cool? This is something that I've been working on over the last few years, teaching mindfulness and giving talks on the subject. Mental wellbeing is COOL. Without it, we have nothing. We can have all the belongings we want, the ideal job or partner, if our mind isn't well we won't be able to really appreciate or value them. I remember a time when I was sitting on a beach in Kerala, ruminating about a conversation I had had which had upset me, and was too caught up in my own mind to appreciate the beautiful sunset...

So first, I'd like to invite you to consider that we all have mental health. In the same way that we have a physical health, we have a mental health. You have a mental health. 

Second, I'd like to suggest you think of mental health as mental fitness.

How does it feel now? 

And finally, I'd like to invite you to reflect on what you currently do to take care of your mental fitness? What is the workout for your mind? In the same way that you exercise your body, you can exercise the mind and keep it fit - alert, flexible and relaxed. 

I find that daily mind workouts, inspired from the field of mindfulness, really help me to increase concentration, be more alert, and decrease stress. But not only - reflecting on the things I've done well and the lessons learnt each day also help me to grow and expand my mind. When I've had a tough day, I find that building connections, by listening to someone else's day, or reaching out, helps me to get out of my own head and build perspective.

So what do you currently do to take care of your mental fitness? What is the 5-a-day for your mind? What is the yoga for your mind?

And what will do you to help make mental fitness a topic that is accessible and that people want to talk about?

Join me in the movement. 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment!

 

Quote of the week

'It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it, one must work at it'.

Eleanor Roosevelt 

How we can rebalance and avoid burnout

'Rather than face into what is most important, we allow ourselves to get pulled into the surrounding chaos or distracted by the ’emergency of the day’ while the truly important matters are left unattended'. 

The dangers of burnout and how creating space in the day (even small) can help us rebalance, reconnect, and build perspective.

Discover the tips here