Balance is as balance does

I’ve had cause to reflect a lot lately.

I look around me and I hear conversations. Some are laughing. Some are lamenting. Some are distressed and some are enthused.

I try to be attuned to what’s happening in the world of work for others. My own work is not without its insights, yet I often find it so much more interesting to hear what else is happening out there.

And through it all, I try to understand – what balance have you achieved?

Sometimes in life, shit gets thrown our way and it sticks for a bloody long time. Yet people perservere and live and fight and make things happen.

Sometimes in life, things are really good and we coast on the good feelings enjoying that high point.

I wonder – what does balance look like?

Some call it flow, some call it balance, some call it mindful, whatever it is, it makes me curious.

It makes me curious about why I need to worry about balance? Life happens, and sometimes life is completely off balance and yet it persists.

Why do I need balance? What does it help me with?

Resilience. That’s what.

When I’m resilient I stay healthy. When I’m resilient I move forwards. When I’m resilient I don’t stay static. When I’m resilient I strive.

This is our challenge. This is our purpose. If I am resilient, I will achieve.

In organisations, we don’t care about resilience. We care about results. We often don’t care about how those results are achieved. We say we care, but we don’t really.

Flexible hours, benefits, credit unions, working from home, these things don’t build resilience. They are just useful things to help employees be flexible.

Coaching, team understanding, healthy debates, open conversations, knowledge sharing, open information, collaboration. These things build resilience. When we have the opportunity to be included, that’s where resilience gets built because by virtue of the method, we build a support network.

Balance, then, becomes a result of the support we have.

*dons boxing gear and ventures back into the ring*


A 2014 pledge

Hello. How are you? I’ve been thinking and plotting and ruminating and using big words.

I had a good chat with Broc Edwards today, and it got me thinking. Here’s a guy who gets up at 0430 (yes, that time exists) most days so that he can start his day early and get things accomplished. He goes to the gym, he’s with his kids and he’ll take time to Skype with people several thousand miles away from him. All before he goes to work a full day. His best opportunity to connect with someone professionally is via the interwebs. If he wants to get a group of people together and hold an unconference, it’s going to be a big effort. Not because it can’t happen, but because there’s all these professionals who live hours away from each other in different directions.

It made me reflect on the ease of which things happen in the community in the UK. Two months ago, we started talking about doing the next L&D Connect unconference, and within a week it’ll have happened and past. I can arrange a lunch or coffee meet up with relative ease any day of the week. I send text messages to friends and not worry about data charges or calling other mobile networks because of the availability of inclusive minutes. This is all good and easy and helps me to connect.

This morning I attended a breakfast meeting courtesy of the Strategic HR Network. It was a good meeting where we spoke about Trust at work. How very fresh a topic to hear about and to talk with other professionals about. We spoke about the gap between what leaders say and what they do. We spoke about the difference between intent and actions. We spoke about perception and reality. We spoke about vulnerability and the courage to act.

And this has all got me thinking.

What does 2014 hold?

Or rather, what do I want it to hold?

Well, I want to create meaning. I try to do that anyway, but I want to really focus on it. So here’s some things I’m going to play around with and see what happens:

– I’m going to have more fun with creating content to share online. I loved producing my Prezi about Business Minded L&D, and will do more of this.

– I’m going to create more YouTube videos. I love the challenge of engaging people I can’t see and can’t feed off.

– I’m going to submit more papers to talk at conferences and the likes. I have things to say and I am missing opportunities to be heard.

– (this also means I’m open to being approached for talking at conferences)

– I’m going to share more about positive psychology and wellbeing. These topics are important to me, and I enjoy helping people understand them.

This is all professional stuff yo. I have personal things I’ll be focusing on too. Like:

– I’m going to help my family be happy as much as I can. Without them, I’m nothing.

– I’m going to play tennis. You’d think that someone who talks about it enough that I should really be playing it too.

– I’m going to laugh with and support my friends.

– I’m going to be more smart about my savings and managing my finances.

That’s me. This was good. Let’s do it again.

Who are you?

This isn’t your life.

You were born as a matter of chance. Nothing more than genetics and luck.

Your personality was largely hereditary.

The school you went to, was chosen by your parents.

The clothes you wear are determined by fashion and the media.

If you went into further or higher education, it was the institution who picked you.

You have never got a job, the employer always chose you.

Your friends are selfish. They remain your friends because of what they want or need.

Your family are selfish. They will always demand more from you.

The things you buy are sold to you by clever advertising.

This isn’t your life.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, who are you?

Disruption, balance, and equilibrium

This week I head into super-blogging mode at the HRD event held by the CIPD. I need to get those muscles going, so make an offering today.

We all amble and fumble through life wanting to achieve certain things. Sometimes we have a clear idea of what these things are, and sometimes we don’t. It’s a proven methodology to set goals that are SMART and how it can help focus the mind. What had also been proven is the need to balance your goals so that you don’t push yourself beyond your capabilities, abilities, or competence. I may have a desire to fly a fighter jet, and I could set a clear goal to get there, but I am keenly aware I may never be able to do this. The best I may have to accept is being a passenger.

Through positive psychology, I advocate carrying out daily and regular activities that enable you to be your best. Through concerted and disciplined efforts, we can increase our well-being and lasting sense of happiness. I think that’s important, and is available to everyone. I want people to thrive, and this is why I do the work I do. People at work have no less opportunity for living a vibrant life, than those who have money to spare and the time to reflect on such things.

For some of us, we even think about our own self-awareness. That is, I understand how to take on information about how I am acting, and how this impacts others. With this understanding I am able to moderate my behaviour (if I choose to), and effect change. This is what it means to be self-aware. Not all of us have the capacity for this, and even few of us see this as a thing to do.

It’s one of the hardest things to help people understand on courses or workshops. There are good ways to help make things happen, or you can beat the drum to the same beat you always have. If you want to change, it means disruption. Something in you needs to be disrupted. The status quo isn’t acceptable. I’m not talking about organisational change or commercial imperatives. I’m talking about the person reading this. The person listening. The person hearing. Something in you needs to be upset. Whatever balance you think you had needs to be disrupted. It needs to be disrupted because you have a desire to be different, but are not sure what this looks like.

One of the absolutes in life is uncertainty. We have no idea what tomorrow holds – in many cases we don’t even know what happened yesterday. That uncertainty causes us to experience happiness and sadness in equal measure, as we choose to see it. That uncertainty, counter-intuitively, provides us with balance.

This balance we have in our lives, everything hinges on this. I choose to work the hours I do. My contract may stipulate it, but I choose to be part of a company where I can work the hours suitable for me. I choose to exert my efforts to the capacity I want to. Whether I am engaged or not is irrelevant. If I want to be productive, I will be. I choose to spend time with family as I see best. No one can influence that but me. I choose to socialise in ways important to me. Regardless of others expectations or desires, I do this my way.

When we are confronted with something that causes us to be disrupted, that balance is thrown off. Our equilibrium needs to be re-calibrated. This is why I do the work I do – and why I connect so keenly with others through the likes of Twitter and this blog. We are expert at causing that equilibrium to be disrupted so you review that balance. I design solutions and interventions that help to regain that balance for a period of time. Key to this, though, is that this balance is only ever temporary. Because, as humans, life is never stable. That uncertainty is always rearing its head.

Call it flow, call it balance, call it life – it amounts to the same thing. I have this sense of life based on what I choose to do.

What do you choose to do?

Finding your third place

Probably the toughest thing about helping others to be their best self is finding the right set of things that a person needs to do in order to build a range of activities which help them be their best self.

It’s a tough world, with tough decisions to be made all the time. We have to balance family life, work life, our health – both physical and mental, financial health, and if it’s in our power – community and societal health. All of these and more add to such regular activity that it can be easy to lose sight of what you need to be your best self. Indeed some of the above may well be part of the mix which helps a person be their best.

I’m in the throes of looking after the kids for a few days while the wife is on a break from the family. There’s a few things about this which highlight to me the importance of finding your third place.

First, parenthood is hard. No, this is nothing new, but by God it’s tough. There’s not a moment – even when sleeping – that you switch off when you don’t have your partner as back up. I’m in a fortunate position in that we live with my parents, so there’s some support from my mother. Even with that support though, it’s still up to me to make sure my kids are ok and things are happening in a timely fashion, that I’m passing out attention across the three of them with some degree of fairness, and that I’m ignoring them in equal measure. Oh yes, with three of them doing things, at some point one or the other gets ignored. Tempers get frayed, and voices get raised; giggles happen and fits of laughter too – it’s all par for the course. I love having this time with the kids because it helps build my confidence in doing things with them, and gives me a big sense of achievement.

My wife has proper deserved this time off she’s taking. The kids default to wanting to be around her and have her involved in their activities because when she’s not at work, she’s with them. For the past six years, she’s not had a chance to look at how and where she wants to move forward, so when this opportunity came up she grabbed it by the horns. More power to her.

Both of those occurrences make me think about how hard it is to fit in finding your third place.

What is this third place? It’s a place outside of your home/family life, and your work life (first and second lives) where you can be your best self free of judgement and pressure.

This third place concept is important in positive psychology. It’s about recognising that as individuals we need to be mindful of taking care of ourselves. I think of this as nourishing the soul. We can get so caught up in the day to day and thinking that we’re being our best self, that we forget that a core part of your self, is your self. Life is increasingly complex and we have too much to tell us how to live a good life. Eat well, sleep deeply, have friends, laugh with people, take exercise, etc. I’m actually in accord with all of that. It’s good advice, and we should all be more mindful of how we’re taking care of ourselves. But what about doing things which actually allow us to just be? To just do something where you know you can be your best and it takes no effort?

Am I talking about a hobby? No.

Am I talking about going to the gym class? No.

Am I talking about watching a film? No.

Am I talking about reading? No.

I’m talking about an activity you can do where you are actively engaged in it, it takes little effort to enjoy the activity, and you can lose yourself with ease.

It’s hard isn’t it? Can you think of it? Maybe you’re already doing it. Maybe you’ve always been doing it. Maybe it’s never occurred to you. Maybe you need to give it some considered thought. Maybe you haven’t had the time or even got the time to make it happen.

You have permission to do this. I’m not giving you that permission, it’s always been yours to exercise. It’s why my wife will benefit so much from this break, and I will benefit from being immersed with my kids. This third place will be unique to you, it will be something only you can know of yourself. Very few others can identify what this is for you – and at best it may only be those closest to you who may have an inkling of this.

What is my third place? These days I’m not so sure to be honest. At one point it was skiing. Later it was technology and social media. These days though, I’m not so sure. I’m lucky in that I’ve always enjoyed the work I do, and that my family are well and healthy. Finding my third place could be seen as indulgent, and to some extent it probably is.

But don’t forget we’re talking about moving from a position of ‘0’ (normal) to ‘+5’ (vibrancy) for everyday people.

And I guess that’s something which we probably don’t realise we’re allowed to have in our lives. Why should things have to be a slog? Why can’t things be vibrant? Life is tough, and at the same time beautiful.

I hope by now that you know me enough to recognise I don’t promote half arsed activities based on an intuition. I base what I write about on research and evidence, and this is part of the mix of things which can help someone live a good life – and that’s what we’re all trying to achieve.