This day is always yours

As chance has it, today is World Mental Health Day. I didn’t intend to write a post about this in particular but the content is supportive of this worthy awareness.

One of the things I struggle with in life is when I doubt my ability to do or achieve something. I can get quite stubborn once I’ve set my mind on getting somewhere or following a certain path. There have certainly been occasions when I know I’m on the wrong path of action, but refuse to move because I have this belief that I’m on a path which I’ve crafted and therefore I must honour.

What helps me a lot is the people around me. I am certainly not one to spite my face by cutting off my nose. I quite like my facial features and desire them to remain intact. Much like I quite like my psyche and do not care to harm it in any way. And this is where the people I have around me help, a lot.

I have strength enough to know that if I voice an opinion, someone will offer theirs whom I trust and I then take this to help me decide my course of action. Because no matter what, I am responsible for my actions. No one compels me to act in a way I don’t already agree with.

Which is true of everyone. No one is compelled to act in a way they don’t agree with. Yes, there are bad people in this world who can force you to act against your will, and this is mostly because they have taken away the belief that a person can act positively.

We can all act, if we choose to do so. Nothing is planned in this life. We are not determined by some other being. I am, you are, we do of our own accord. Personally this still holds true to my belief in Sikhi. I believe in God, and I believe in my ability to make the right choice. Indeed this is what Sikhi teaches us. If I act in positive ways for myself and in the service of others, I am with God.

There are those, though, who believe that they have no choice. That they have no way of making decisions. They are helpless to the path carved out before them. This is a nonsense.

This day is yours. It is mine. Each and everyday is a chance to do great. The opportunities we seek are in abundance only if we see them. I am a believer in the power of choice. Even deciding to do nothing is an active choice. Be better. Make that positive choice.


Positively Emotionally Mindful

Last week at Learning Live, I was quite keen on hearing the talk on Being Brilliant, by Andy Whittaker. His business partner, Andy Cope, has studied positive psychology at PhD level, and so I was quite curious what the talk would help share. Most of my readers are aware I have a keen interest in this topic, and there are a good many practitioners developing this skill, so I enjoy hearing how people describe this field, and what insights they share.

I enjoyed Andy Whittaker’s style. On his Twitter bio, he describes himself as a “frustrated comic”. This came through in his talk, and gave it a lot of levity, and I thought he balanced it quite well in it not becoming a comedy act. He shared some useful insight into how positive psychology is about helping people live happy lives. Remember, traditional psychology is about helping people move from a position of feeling sad to ‘normal’, and positive psychology is about helping people move from ‘normal’ to ‘vibrant’.

Andy shared that in Andy Cope’s research he found that only 2% of people are capable of being happy and vibrant. The rest of us are caught up in life’s regular slog, and we have natural ebbs and flows that mean we experience good or bad days. Whittaker also talked about those people around us who are ‘mood hoovers’. I’ve heard this expression before, and it describes the kind of person that responds to most questions with a healthy dose of cynicism and negativity which leaves you feeling drained and your own mood being lowered. With this, I also found it helpful when he talked about people who are at times ‘too happy’ and don’t know how to keep a bottle on their enthusiasm they’re experiencing.

As I’ve been thinking about it some more, there’s some more aspects which I think are important, and lend itself to thinking about this are of self-development and self-awareness quite keenly.

I recall being on the Emotional Skills and Competence course last year, and how we spoke about the importance of having positive relationships in our lives. By recognising emotions in others, in particular micro-expressions, we can allow ourselves to moderate our own feelings and emotions, and respond in a way which helps us to get the best out of others. As we get to know others more intimately, we may also start to recognise which particular events trigger a certain emotion in the other person, and either we change our behaviour to ensure we don’t do those things (if it elicits a negative response) or we purposefully act in a way to bring out an emotion (if it elicits a positive response).

Remember, all emotions are useful, and they all help us to live a healthy life. Emotions themselves aren’t positive or negative, it’s our reaction to and experience of our own emotions which we interpret as being either positive or negative. For example, I might elicit the emotion of surprise in my wife by buying her an unexpected gift and her response is to give me a kiss. In another example, I might elicit the emotion of surprise by telling her something unexpected which annoys her and she becomes angry with me. (Both fictional I hasten to add!) The emotion of surprise is the same, but the trigger that lead to a subsequent action was different.

In Whittaker’s talk, when he talked about how people can sometimes be unaware of their impact on others, this for me is where we can learn to be skillful by understanding what it means to be emotionally intelligent. We use the information available to us to help us to determine what the other person is likely to be feeling, and then respond in a way which gets the best out of them. Some may argue we do this naturally. I would argue, only some people do this naturally. For many others, it is about learning how to recognise a set of emotions, interpret them, and decide on a course of action.

The final piece for me, which adds to the level of self-awareness we have, is in how we practise the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, and being aware of all the things your being can intake. Your surroundings, your thoughts, other people, the sounds, the quiet, your breathing, your movements, and so much more. When we can be mindful, truly mindful, we open ourselves to the possibility of opportunities which become immediately present. At the coffee shop, in a queue waiting to be served, where does our attention go, and where does our attitude focus? Do we urge the barrista to be more efficient? Do we see the people talking round a table? Are the food options the ones you want? Is the background music your style? Are you feeling hot or cold? In being mindful about such things, we are more likely to make a better informed decision for what is best for you, and you are more likely to feel positive about the outcome.

Mindfulness for me, then, helps us to understand that we are responsible for our actions. These actions are based on active decisions we have made, and therefore we can either be positive about them or regret them. If we regret them, then this dwells on the mind, and keeps us in a place which is not helpful, and may be harmful to the psyche if prolonged. If we are positive about them, we will be more likely to be positive about other interactions we make as our day continues.

In thinking about these three topics/subjects/ways of thinking, it’s helping me to remain conscious of the many things we learn in the L&D profession, and how we can either be purposeful in our understanding of them, or we blindly take the accepted wisdom.

I’ve got a nerve

I’ve got a nerve.

One of the topics I get all het up about is inclusion. There are plenty of people writing about their experience of being excluded because of various factors. There are plenty of people writing about the need to include people of all ilks, and not discriminate. There are some very smart people moving beyond these conversations and making compelling arguments for the case.

Inclusion. It matters.

I’m fortunate. Very fortunate.

My folks chose to graft and send me to a private school to get a good education in my early years. I got my GCSEs – distinctly not all A’s and B’s. More like C’s and a combination of the rest. That’s not a good thing to making a point of. The private education was meant to do better for me than that with respect to my results. What I did learn about though was things like being independent. I went on school skiing trips, camping trips, week long I.T. camps, trips to the ballet, to Canterbury Cathedral, and more. I learned how to be confident in myself even though I may not have been academically brilliant.

From there, I went on to college to do my ‘A’ Levels in psychology, sociology and french. A year longer than I should have been there, and I got my grades to get me on a bachelors degree in psychology. I enjoyed that subject a lot. And after that, and some wondering whether I was going to go down the educational psychology route, I decided on occupational psychology and got my pass in 2003. I was a straight C student through all that. I didn’t find it easy, and often questioned what I wanted to do.

My family were there through all that. My friends came and went through all that. I also worked in a lot of different part time jobs through all that. I learned a lot about other cultures in that time. Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Sikhi, Hinduism, all became fascinating topic of interest for me. I wasn’t scholarly, but I knew a lot of people from all those religions and actively sought to find out more about them. I even did my undergraduate dissertation on the topic of homosexuality and religion.

I’ve got a nerve.

It wasn’t until I started work life that I was exposed to more. I thought I was fairly good at being sensitive to others and knowing how to behave. Then I met people who were wheelchair bound. I met people who were homosexuals and lesbians. I met people who were challenging poor behaviours at work. I learned slowly that difference exists in the big bad world, and you can choose to either accept people for who they are, or you don’t. I saw that people tended to be better when they were inclusive. I like being inclusive, and don’t like to exclude anyone. Harmony and relationships are important to me. So I take the time to learn more about these other ways of living and what that means for people.

Later in my working career, I started to work in positions where I was having to help others understand more about this topic of diversity. Wow that was hard. I had to learn a lot about my own prejudices and my own behaviours I was exhibiting. That was tough. I had to face up to facts about myself and how I thought about the world. That’s not an easy set of thoughts to own up to. I had to accept I had prejudices against gay people. I had to accept I had prejudices against certain religions. I had to accept I had prejudices against disabled people. Holy crap.

I’ve got a nerve.

Through hard work, I learned that this was just crap. I had to learn how to challenge myself. I had to learn how to value others. Because, you see, I didn’t – not really. I accepted them. I even tolerated them. How very superior, right? How very unintelligent. How very crass and single minded. I don’t think I was ever openly dsicriminatory to anyone. But that wasn’t my issue. I was privately discriminatory.

How do you get past that? How do you stop that kind of thinking?

There’s no silver bullet here people. I can’t point at a particular thing and say “that right this, and that right there” was what helped me. I had to challenge what I knew by talking with others. By talking to people in the know. By reading what I could. By taking time to reflect and find out what was going on in my head.

I’ve got a nerve.

At the same time as all this, I remember learning about being English. That’s a weird thing to say, right? I mean, why would I want to learn that? I grew up in this country, so why wouldn’t I know about the culture I’ve grown up in? Because growing up in a country, and knowing its culture are not the same thing. Things like football, cricket, tea, English breakfast, beer, London Town, music, art, books – all of these things and more, make up what I love about being an English man.

Voting, sarcasm, self-deprecation, politics, schooling, education, the NHS, this is all part of who I am and what I know. Banter – oh my, what would we do without banter! I’ve learned, both through my own and through others mistakes, just how powerful a thing banter can be. It can build relationships, and it can cut people to their core. It is, of course, a British affair and not restricted to the English. And I’ve learned how to use banter as a way of testing boundaries with people. I don’t always get it right, but I do enjoy the conversation.

I’ve got a nerve.

And at some point in the last five years I started to value people. I saw past my prejudices, my biases and my own self-limiting beliefs about others. I saw the folly in that thinking and realised I love the human condition. It’s weird, wonderful, and scary. Difference rules, and we should all strive to be unique. We all need a place to land and a place to thrive. It’s why I blog now. I have a voice to help others find theirs. It’s why I’m so keen on the learning and development field. I learn so much about others that I improve myself. I become a better person because of the people I work with every damn day. We’re all brilliant, and I want to harness that brilliance and share it with everyone.

I’ve got a nerve.

I am here


It’s a sense of things happening in and around you. That conversation you can hear, is summoning something inside you. Your commute you take, it’s driving you to choose your actions. What will they be? Let’s find out.


When I choose to hear that voice speaking to me and I take action on it. When I hear that voice inside and I learn to have that internal dialogue. I learn from myself. Not because I must, but because I understand what I am telling myself. My experience and learning takes me on a journey to reach a point in my life. I take action based on this sense I have inside me.


I have the privilege of hearing your voice. It speaks to me and I am moved by it. I engage with it and learn about you. You share something with me which reveals you to me. Did you know this? Did you know I am here for you? Did you expect me to enter your mind?


Is a moment where I indulge my body. The choices I make to fuel my body are mine to make. I have full congnisance of the world around me. I am aware of what I place before myself. It helps me to reach a goal. It’s my goal. This is me being selfish.


I embrace the person I am with. They are complete human beings. This is, and always will be, awesome. I am but a ripple in the ocean, and I am the drop. You and I, we are here and I hear you. I see you. I understand you. I need you. I loathe you. I am who I am because of me. I am who I am because of you. Where does this take me? What journey am I on? How can I know unless I respect and walk with you?


Taking a moment to hear nothing. To watch a bird take flight. To see a couple walking hand in hand. To see a homeless guy sit and beg for his money. To just be. To not be plugged in. To not be listening. To be calm. to find calm. To hear nothing. To hear only that which matters.


I live it. I live it with you. I live it for me. I live it for you. I live it for who I am. It is affirming. It is frightening. It is what it is. I thrive in it. I lose myself in it. I welcome it. I am life.


It flows. It doesn’t stop because it doesn’t know how. How do you take that concept and make it meaningful? How do you manipulate it for your wares? Are your efforts futile? Where are you going with this time? It’s there, forever moving. I can either move with meaning, or I can move with none. I move because the time insists I do.

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?

Different worlds

A while back I opened up the blog for welcoming stories through different media which share a purpose and imperative for people to change. I called it Learning Stories, and the first submission is from Vera Woodhead. This is a great story, and one I very much enjoyed reading. It made me question if I do these things, and what I know of myself. Thanks Vera.


Different worlds: from South America to not so sunny Yorkshire

It is 6 am, Friday 15th June 1979. A young girl pushes back the mosquito net and energetically jumps out of bed. She is excited, as today she is going to spend her savings to buy… a book.

Books are important in her life. They unleash the imagination and transport her to different worlds – where people live in fancy houses, drive cars and wear beautiful clothes; where children have adventures and do such exciting things. In this tiny village in South America there is not much to do apart from listening to the world service, pop songs and climb trees.

She heads outside to the shower. Well actually it is a tin shack shared with 2 lizards, a frog and a bucket of cold water. There is no electricity and
she finds her way around by the faint moonlight.

After breakfast, she searches for her shoes. She only wears them when she goes to school. She puts them on, grabs her bag, says goodbye and rushes off as she is late. Its quarter to 7 in the morning and the bus goes by at 7 am. She gets there just in time and manages to get a seat. 30 minutes later she gets off and heads down the road towards the ferry. The water is choppy and the 15 minute journey to cross the mighty Demerara River is now a 30 minute one. She manages to get to school just in the nick of time as the bell goes at 8.30 am

School is St. Stanislaus College. At the age of 7 she had decided that she didn’t want to go to the local village school. She wanted to go to THIS school where the diplomats, ambassadors and rich people sent their children. She persuaded her parents to let her sit the entrance exams to get a scholarship. Secretly, she believed that her parents thought that she would never make the grade and get in but she did. Her year was the first intake of girls in what was an all boys’ school. There was only 1 class in each year of this Catholic school which was run entirely by Jesuit Fathers.

She didn’t quite fit in… with the colour of her hair, her skin, her clothes and shoes….but she didn’t mind. It was a different world…and her teachers were like no other. Father Drake, the Maths teacher was feared as he was the one that did the caning. Father Rigby was a tall thin man who taught French. Her favourite was Father McClusky. As you have guessed, he was Scottish and portly: a bit like Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid in Harry Potter. He opened up the world of poetry, of Shakespeare, Keats, Blake, Steinbeck, Hardy, Dickens….and suddenly her world expanded again. She got the role of Portia in the school play, recited poetry in the school competition, wrote short stories and even won a few competitions ….

She was good at running, though she didn’t have the right shoes but that didn’t stop her doing well at sprinting. She was no good at art, her paintings never made it on the wall. The rolling pin that she made in woodwork didn’t quite roll and her embroidery work only got her 2nd placed. Imagine being beaten by a boy, Brian, her classmate…oh she loved school.

But her world was soon to be shattered as riots and shooting ensued outside the school and later Father Drake was fatally stabbed.
Her parents decided that it wasn’t safe. They gathered up all their savings and sent her and her sister to live with a spinster aunt in England. Ilford, Essex to be precise. It was a different world. She had never seen houses like these: all in a row, neatly joined up and not to mention, so cold.
School was Bancroft’s, 250 year old and was truly like something from Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers. If she didn’t fit in the first school, she certainly didn’t fit in here. Language, culture, making friends, school work, the curriculum …were all a challenge but she took it in her stride.

At the end of the 2 years there and with no money left and a handful of qualifications she decided to train as a nurse – that way she could get a job, earn some money, live in student accommodation and move out of Mrs. Trunchbull’s (her nickname for her aunt) house. And so she worked her way up, studied hard and with each qualification gained her salary increased and career and life blossomed.

As you would have guessed that is an abridged version of my early life which has shaped who I am today.

You can’t do anything to change what has happened in the past but you can take control and create a different future for yourself. My learning:

1. Be self aware

Get to know the inner you – who you are, what your core values are, what you stand for …
Find out what your talents and strengths and use them. What are you good at? What can you spend ages doing? What do other people say you are good at? What do others ask you to do?

Align the inner You with the outer You. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”. Be in harmony.

2. Be a sponge

Knowledge is powerful. The more you know the more you can use it to your advantage. Coupled with experience, knowledge and its application can help to progress your career, expand your worldview and grow your wisdom. Be open to learning and one of the best way of learning is through doing. You might not get it right first time, but making mistakes is all part of learning and building resilience.

Do something on a regular basis that stretches you and takes you out of comfort zone. It may be difficult, hard work, uncomfortable and perhaps even painful at times. But it is often from undertaking such acts and developing mental toughness that we grow progress and achieve our greatest accomplishments.

3. Be yourself

In the words of Tigger, “the most wonderful thing about tiggers is I’m the only one.” There is only one you. Strive to be you only better. You are unique with your own set of talents and gifts.

When you realise that, you will stop comparing yourself to others – we are all different, with different skills, and talents.

Be proud of who you are and where you have come from. Don’t be a clone. Be an individual. Stand out from the crowd. Find opportunities where you can have a voice and put yourself forward when leadership opportunities present.

4. Be accountable

When things go wrong, don’t blame others and your life. Accept responsibility for it, learn from it and move on. Get into the mentality of seeing hurdles and problems as a challenge. And when faced with them, ask, ‘what do I need to do to solve it, who can I go to for help, what have I done in the past that has worked, how can I use my strength to get through this? …’ You have it within you to find the solutions, Believe you can

5. Be connected

It is our relationships with other people which form a network that supports us, make our lives meaningful, and ultimately enable us to survive. This is also good for our mental health and well being. Nurture your relationships and connections.

In your travels you will find people who will buy into you and your story and when they offer to help, seize it. When you need help, do not be afraid to ask for it. Seek out your friends, connections or find a mentor.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter @verawoodhead


If you want to contribute to Learning Stories, get in touch.