How to be an Everyday Superhero

Reading time: 2 minutes and 23 seconds (finishing time 4 hours and 40 minutes)

Imagine being surrounded by 36,000 superheroes….

On Sunday I had the honour of running the London Marathon.  I was humbled by the whole day.  Everywhere I looked I saw ordinary people doing quite extraordinary things.

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Another everyday superhero...

Each and every runner had spent the bitter winter months fitting a gruelling training programme around their busy lives.

These heroes had been pounding the pavement at every hour of  the day and night – building up, preparing for the challenge ahead. Logging those miles and hours, tending those blisters and chafed nipples, stretching those aching limbs one more time.

Every hero  had their own motivation to be there.  The vast majority were raising money for charity – fighting disease, helping vulnerable children, getting clean water to Africa, finding a cure for cancer.

Reading their shirts told a story – “In memory of Lily”, “Running for Mum”, “Doing it for Derrick”.  They felt compelled to make a difference for others, to bring a little light in the darkness, to remember those less fortunate.  Proper heroes.

Some of these everyday heroes had taken it one step further.  The pantomime camel manned by two people, the human caterpillar of 34 people tied together, the two men carrying a small boat, the heroes dragging a brick wall on a sledge.

Everywhere I looked was an endless stream of costumes (countless superheroes, Rocky, endless Elvises, some serious cross-dressing).

This was going above and showing superhuman support for something they believed in.

The spirit of the day was unbelievable.  Huge crowds lined the streets from start to finish.  They offered support to each and every runner.

They banged drums, played music, offered their hands, gave out sweets, drinks, fruit.  They cheered endlessly “Come on Steve”, “Keep going Batman, you can do it”, “Nice work, Jean”. Without this support, I’m sure quite a few runners would never have made it to the end.

For one day, communities came together.  Strangers joined for a common purpose.  The atmosphere was electric and dripping positivity.  In their own way, every supporter is a hero too.  They played their unique part in a day that made a serious difference.

So how did my race go?

I loved each and every of the 30,000 strides.

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Still smiling at 18 miles

I was running for the NSPCC (a charity aiming to stamp out cruelty to children).  I got amazing support from friends and family and have so far managed to raise over £2,000.  I want to publically thank each and every donor for their extraordinary generosity.

I got fantastic support all along the course from the amazing crowds, and particularly from my support crew (thanks Em, Celene and Andy).

I felt well prepared and stuck to my game plan, finishing in 4 hours 40 minutes and 10 seconds. At the end, I felt elated, overwhelmed and a little wobbly.  It was such a buzz to be surrounded by so many Everyday Superheroes.

Being an Everyday Superhero

Reflecting on this experience it made me realize that we all have the potential to be everyday superheroes.

Every day, people go out of their way to help others. They volunteer, spend time with someone lonely, help out with the shopping,  give up their seat on the bus. These acts make a huge difference and make the world a better place for all of us.

We’re surrounded by these wonderful people.  Just walking down the street, you’re in the presence of someone with super powers.

You too have the power at your fingertips – every time you put someone else first you’re an everyday superhero.  You have the power to make the world a little better every day.

Over to you

  • What do you do to be an Everyday Superhero?
  • Who do you admire who puts others first?
  • What will be your next Everyday Superhero act?

Other resources

Arvind Devalia on how to change the world in less than 27 miles

Amit Sodha on how anyone can run the marathon

Photo credit: Julian Mason (Flickr Creative Commons), Celene

How to Kick your Bad Habit for Good

Reading Time: 3 minutes and 12 seconds

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Good habits

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Are you ready to shake off your bad habits for good?

The final part of the mental spring clean is all about habits.  Bad habits can cost us a huge amount of happiness, time, self-esteem and money.  Good habits can make our life joyful, peaceful and successful.

Habits are our subconscious behaviour patterns that we act out, often without thinking.

Habits develop as a way for us to deal with the immense complexity of everyday living. They are mental shortcuts that we adopt to make our life simpler.

For example, almost everyone develops a habit of locking their house on the way out. We perform this complex task several times on most days without even thinking.  I’ve had a few OCD moments where I thought I’d left the front door open, yet on returning it was locked.  That habit is pretty much ingrained.

To end the Spring Clean with a bang, I’m challenging myself and you too.

You’ll stop one of your bad habits, or create a new virtuous one.

I’d love to get 100 of us to experiment and make a lasting life change, so please do leave a comment and take part.

The first step is to understand our habits:

  • Think about the bad habits you have.  Which one has the most serious impact on your life?  How much is this habit costing you?
  • Now, think about what habits you’d like to bring into your life.  Which new habit would have the biggest impact on your happiness and success?
  • Now pick one of these habits, either bad or good, and set a goal to remove it from your life, or create it over the next month.

I’ve selected wasting time surfing the internet as my bad habit and I want to stamp it out for good.

We’ll use a powerful 5 step model for change. I’ll use my challenge as the example:

Step 1: Contemplation. We have to understand the benefits of making the change, and deal with any negatives.

Some of the key questions to answer at this stage are:

  • What is your motivation for wanting to change / create this habit?
  • What are some of the benefits of changing?
  • What may be holding you back from changing?

In my case, I will free up an hour or two a day for the things I really want to do, be more productive and feel happier.  I’m held by from change by pure inbred habit.

Step 2: Preparation. This is where we make our plan for successfully introducing the new habit.  Good preparation is vital to success and some of the key things to do include:

  • Find someone to hold us accountable. I will happily hold you accountable – please just ask.
  • Research as much as you can about the habit you want to change – I’ve spent time researching time management techniques and how to beat an internet habit.
  • Create a clear plan for change and design a process for monitoring and rewarding progress. I will reward myself every day that I’m successful by using the time I’ve freed up to read for 20 minutes.
  • Design contingency plans for “falling off the wagon” and prepare yourself for this happening.

These first two steps may take a few days to a week to complete properly.

Step 3: Taking action. This is where the rubber hits the road. Ingraining a new habit can take several months to achieve and will almost inevitably involve ups and downs along the path.

This step will need you to reward your success and forgive yourself for slip-ups.  Be kind and fair to yourself.

Step 4: Maintenance. Once you’ve taken action successfully, you’ll start to see the fruits of your labour.

The key to maintenance is to find ways to avoid being tempted to relapse.  I might try turning off my wireless network during the mornings to take away any temptation to surf.

Step 5: Relapse. Old habits die hard.  Relapse is a normal and inevitable part of changing a habit. The key to moving through a relapse is to understand the reason for falling down, and to work out the best way to avoid a repeat.

Remembering that almost everyone who has successfully made a change has been through this process can be helpful in forgiving yourself. Once you’ve understood the relapse, it is best to go back to the preparation phase and “get back on the horse”.

Over to you

We all have bad habits we’d like to kick or good ones we have been meaning to introduce.  Please play along at home and pick one to take on over the next month.

Please leave me a comment and let me know what habit you are working on and what difference it will make to your life.

That concludes the Mental Spring Clean!  We’ve looked at Changing the Story we tell the world, the Games we play and how to win them, Beating the Gremlins in our head and changing habits.  I hope you’ve dusted down your attic and found some old gems.

Next up on Less Ordinary Living: Why Work Matters.

Photo credit: Kevindooley on Flickr Creative Commons

How to stop holding yourself back and make it happen

Reading time: 2 minutes 43 seconds

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“You’re not good enough”

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“You should keep quiet”

“What a stupid thing to say, you idiot”

“You can’t do that”

That voice in our head has a spectacular talent for running us down.

Our gremlins cast judgment (usually negative) on the past, influence what we do (or don’t do) in the present, and poor cold water over future plans. The have a huge impact on the quality of life we lead.

Dealing with our gremlins is a vital part of any Mental Spring Cleaning.

A friend of mine was telling me about their inability to ask for a promotion at work.

She felt she was totally outperforming their peers, had great feedback from her line manager and had surpassed every goal she had set.  Yet when it came to pulling the trigger and asking, a voice in her head kicked in saying “who are you to ask for a promotion – you don’t deserve it”.

My friend described feeling paralyzed by the strength of this thought and found an excuse to run away without broaching the subject.  Afterwards, she was furious with herself for “bottling it”.

We tried to figure out how this gremlin came about in the first place. Gremlins almost always come from childhood experiences where we create defence mechanisms to protect ourselves.

My friend recalled asking a teacher in primary school for permission to join the school choir and being told “No – you haven’t worked hard enough on your singing”.  Even now she recalled the sick feeling in her stomach that day.

Her gremlin formed to protect her from that feeling, and since then she has always struggled to ask others, particularly in authority for what she wants. On reflection, she recalled many times when she held back from asking for something and told herself “you don’t deserve this”.

Creating these protection mechanisms takes a lot of hard work. We use a lot of mental bandwidth once the emergency red light comes on and a gremlin kicks in.  My friend felt exhausted for the rest of the day – probably because she had used her adrenaline rush for flight rather than fight.

Many of our gremlins are no longer useful to us in adult life. My friend’s gremlin worked well when she was a little girl, but now it was a serious pain in her backside, holding her back from being successful.

6 Steps to bust that gremlin!

If you have a voice in your head that is holding you back, this is a powerful technique to move on. I used it with my friend and it has helped countless coaching clients:

  1. Identify the gremlin you face (how does it manifest and what does it say to you) and give it a name
  2. Understand the gremlin’s purpose and history. Think back through your past to the first time the gremlin appeared.  What was its’ purpose back then (usually protecting you in some way).
  3. Acknowledge the gremlin and thank it for helping out.  Let the gremlin know that it is no longer needed for this purpose.  Tell yourself that you can handle things from now on.
  4. Identify your new approach – how would you like to act differently in the next situation where the gremlin might arise (e.g. for my friend she would like to confidently ask for what she wants)
  5. Ask the gremlin to help out – the gremlin can provide a lot of energy to the new approach.  Ask the gremlin to help you act differently next time.
  6. Set a goal – identify the first time that this energy can help you out and what outcome you’d like.  In my friend’s case she set the goal to go back to her boss and this time she asked for and got promoted.

Over to you

Answer the following questions:

  • What gremlins do you have?
  • When do they appear for you?
  • How do they hold you back?
  • Which gremlin would you like to change the most?

Try the gremlin buster and set yourself a goal.  Leave a comment on what you are hoping to change and email me if you’d like support in this Spring Cleaning activity.

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Photo Credit – Inti (Flickr Creative Commons)

Change your Story, Change your Life

Reading time – 3 minutes 22 seconds

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Change your story, Change you life

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What stories do you tell the world about yourself?  If you changed it how would your life change?

What is a story and how can it make a difference?  Here is a life-story in 87 words:

I was born in the north of England in the 1970s during a time of economic turmoil.  I never really felt comfortable or confident as a child, and I was bullied by the other kids in my neighbourhood.  At school, I did reasonably well, somewhere in the middle.  I stumbled my way into an ok university, again with average results.  When I graduated, through sheer desperation, I took a job with an accounting firm – certainly not what I was passionate about, but frankly about what I deserved.”

  • How do you respond to this story?
  • What sort of person do you think this is?
  • How do you think they feel?
  • How would you respond to this person if you met them?
  • What lasting impression would you have about them?

In less than 60 seconds, this story has set the foundation for how you relate to someone, and we all know that first impressions are hard to change.

This, of course, is my story. Or more importantly, one version of my story.

Everything in this story really did happen to me.  If someone asked me to “tell me about yourself” I could choose to tell this story.

Two truths about storytelling

Two things that happen when we tell stories:

1) We choose which “facts” to include in the story.

The building blocks of stories are experiences and memories, which we often think of as “facts”. When we tell the world our story, we have literally billions of these building blocks to choose from.  In my story I count somewhere in the region of 16 that I selected to let you know about me.

You may think that your story is your story – yet you choose the building blocks in every story you tell yourself or anyone else

2) We add our own editorial.

We choose how to present these “facts”.  We pick the tone and the editorial direction.

Clearly in my story, I’ve chosen to tell a hard luck story.  At every turn I am playing my little violin.

I was born in a time of economic turmoil” – really?  I was 1 year old at the time and my parents both had jobs.  Yet I chose to add this little zinger in.  I’m trying to make you feel sorry for me.

I never felt comfortable or confident.”  Find me anyone who can’t say something similar about parts of their childhood.

About what I deserved” – now I’m busy making judgements about myself.  I’m telling you that I’m not self-confident, that I feel pretty worthless and inviting you to feel the same way.

In storytelling, the narrator chooses whether to create a hero, anti-hero or villain.  We have the choice on HOW to tell the story.

Our life is little more than the sum of all our experiences.  When we tell others about who we are, we tell them our story. We weave together some selective memories from the past, and bind them together with our interpretation of those “facts”.

Choice is good

The important thing is that we always have a choice when we tell any story.  We can pick the building blocks and we have a choice over the narrative glue we use to stick them together.

Once we become aware of what stories we tell and what impact that has on us and the world, we can start to tell stories that we love and stop telling stories that drag us down.

Here is my story again in 87 words:

I grew up in a happy home and went to a school that I loved.  I thrived and was able to study history at a great university, after travelling the world in my gap year.  I met and married my soul mate along the way.  I’ve been blessed to be able to travel and live in different cultures.  It took me a while to find what I love to do, however now I’ve found my vocation and am thriving by helping others live life to the full.”

Ask yourself the same questions about this person that you did about the first story.

When we change our story, we really can change our world.  We also change how the world around us responds.

Even writing the first story, I could feel myself getting drained of energy.  I literally slumped in my chair, and felt overcome by worry.

Writing the second story, I felt my energy growing.  I felt great about myself, clear and confident.

In my mental spring clean, I’m going to look at the stories I tell the world.  For each story, I’ll ask:

1) Choosing Facts

  • What facts did I choose to share?
  • Why did I choose these facts?
  • What other facts could I have chosen?

2) Narrative / editorial

  • What kind of story am I try to tell?
  • What is this story telling the outside world about me?
  • What is this story telling me about me?

3) Alternatives / changing the story

  • What do I really want to tell the world?
  • What other stories could I tell that would serve me better?

If you are taking part in spring-cleaning your mind, ask yourself the same questions.

Good stories to look at include

  • How you introduce yourself at a work or networking function
  • What stories you tell at a job interview
  • What stories you are telling on your resume
  • What stories you share with your friends
  • What stories you tell your family, what stories you tell your other half and if applicable children.

I know I’ve found some stories I love and others that need junking.

Try changing your story and see how your life changes.

Next time – we’ll look at the stories we tell ourselves.

Picture credit : Victoria Peckham (From Flickr Creative Commons)

What we can learn from children

You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.” Franklin P Jones

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Big fun!

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Children – our future and our past.  We’ve all been a child, and many of us will also raise one.

As an adult, it’s easy to assume that this grown up, rational state we inhabit now is superior.  Yet, spend any time with children and you remember that kids have a lot to teach us.

1. Have more fun

Spend any time hanging out with a 2 year old and you’ll realist that they like to have fun.

It’s joyful to paint all over the kitchen table, roll around laughing at the funny cow in a can noise thing, climb through a play tunnel for hours, hide behind the door and play peek-a-boo.  In fact it’s a laugh riot.

Somewhere in the Laws of Adult, most of these games become verboten. We have to suppress our emotions, act stiff and try to protect our dignity.  Sure we can laugh at other people, preferably behind their backs.  However, good old fashioned innocent fun and play is banned.

I’ve spent a lot more time playing recently – just throwing out dumb word association games, dancing around singing into a hairbrush, a spot of tickling here and there.  Try it out for yourself – fight back against the fun ban!

2. You are allowed to daydream

Grown ups rarely daydream. The adult world considers them to be naively hilarious and a sign of weakness.  Here is what often happens when an adult shares their burning dream:

Person A: I’ve always dreamt of being a polar explorer and I think I’m going to go after it

Person B: Snigger.  Good luck with that – send my love to the polar bears.  See you back in the cube farm next week.

Dreaming is seen as childish and foolish.  Wasting time going after doing what you really want when you could be getting on with your serious, boring adult life.

Children love to dream.  They use their imagination and create amazing possibilities.

Dreaming is a healthy way of stretching ourselves.  It gives us a roadmap for making the life we want.  Reconnect to what makes you excited.

3. The world is infinitely fascinating

I was probably the world’s most annoying child.  I fired out questions like a machine gun to anyone in range.  “What’s that called?”, “How does that work?”, “Why did that person say that?”, “Where are my Christmas presents hidden?” etc.   Children stare in wild-eyed wonder at the world and want to know all about it.

As adults we are told that we should be very clever and already understand everything. There is a stigma about asking too many questions – we might show our weakness, reveal some ignorance, people might think less of us.  Horrors.

As we stop asking questions and getting stuck on the hamster wheel of life, the world around us can lose its sparkle and appear mundane.  We take the amazing people and things around us for granted.

See what happens when you start to be more interested in the world around you and engage with it.

4. You can express your emotions

When a child is upset, you know about it.  No wait, you KNOW about it. Same when they are happy, joyful, bored, angry, afraid.  Bottling up emotions is simply not an option.  When a child feels something, they tell the world.

The adult world teaches us that suppressing our emotions is important.  We shouldn’t inflict our feelings on others. Better to keep them locked up and spend time brooding over them.  Or suppress our natural joy over something in case we make a fool of ourselves.  Frankly a lot of the time, this leads to unnecessary suffering when simply expressing ourselves would be the better option.

Learning to express our emotions effectively is important.  I’ve really worked on understanding my feelings and being able to put them into words and actions.  Letting them out into the world as they arise has taken a huge amount of weight off me and I feel lighter for it.

5. You should live in the moment

Children are born with very little conception of time.  When you’re young, your only concern is what is happening right now at this very moment.  The past is quickly forgotten, and the future is of no importance.

When children play, they are absolutely absorbed in the game.  Just watch for a minute or two  – eyes wide open, face alert and active, attention unwavering on what is unfolding.  Kids are mini Zen-masters.

We are taught to analyze everything, to pore over the past for what we did wrong, and to constantly be setting out a better future for ourselves.  How often do you really live in the moment as an adult?  Try it and see how different the world looks.

Release your inner child

I know that I learn a huge amount when I let my inner child out to play.and try these things  It keeps me open to learning, joy, curiosity, authenticity.  I get back into living in the moment.

Over to you

How do you connect to you inner child?  What do you learn from doing so?  If you have children, what have they taught you?  What would happen if you spent the day living like a child?

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Further reading

Patty at Why Not Start Now on how to play more

Arvind Devalia on why we should laugh more

Photo credit : Ernst Moeksis on Flickr