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

Find your Focus in 2010 – Oprah’s 4 secrets of focus

Reading time: 2 minutes 48 seconds

The next in the series on finding your focus – click here to subscribe and never miss another post.

Oprah Winfrey is one of most focussed people on plant.  From humble origins she has built a one woman media machine.  Over the last 25 years she has logged over 4,000 hours of the Oprah Show, speaking to audiences in over 100 countries.  Her empire includes a magazine, book club and one of the world’s most popular websites.  Oprah is the only person to have appeared on every Time Magazine list of the 100 most influential people in the world every year since its inception.  When Oprah speaks, the world listens.

So how does Oprah stay so focussed.  Here are 4 of her secrets:

1) Be Authentic – Find your Vocation

“The Biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams”

Oprah walks her truth.  Her personal drive comes from the feeling that she was put on earth for a purpose.  We all have a unique set of skills, strengths and abilities and personal values to serve.  Finding a vocation – what you were put on earth to do – creates massive personal focus.  Think about what you were put on earth to do – it needn’t be as grand an ambition as Oprah, Gandhi or Martin Luther King – perhaps it is to be a great parent, to care for others in your community, or to design a new technology to help mankind.  If you can find your purpose, you’ll feel the urge to use every second on earth to achieve this.

2) Work Smarter – be more effective than everyone else

“The Big Secret in life is there is no Big Secret.  Whatever your goal, you can get there if you are willing to work”

Oprah is renowned as one of the hardest working people on the planet – she never stops.  Yet her secret is that she has learned to work effectively – to put her energy and attention into the most important activities and let the less important things go.  Learning to work smarter is a key way to find more personal focus – it will free up energy and help you feel more fulfilled.  Later in this series, I’ll share some key ideas on how to work smarter and be more effective.

3) Never give up – don’t let them drag you down

We are each responsible for our own lives – no other person is or even can be”

Oprah could have given up before she even started.  What are the odds of a girl born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage mother becoming one of the most influential people on the planet.  Early in her career many media insiders were scathing of her rise, Time Magazine writing “In a field dominated by white males, she is a black female of ample bulk. As interviewers go, she is no match for, say, Phil Donahue.”  Her secret is the ability to live in the moment and to face triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters the same.  Oprah doesn’t’ operate in a rose-tinted wonderland where everything is wonderful.  She takes a realistic, pragmatic approach to success and failure.  She looks for the learning in every success – how to be better next time.   Think about how you can cultivate a realistic determination to achieve your vocation.

4) Help others – Follow a Higher Calling

“What I know for sure is that what you give comes back to you”

Oprah is a woman on a mission.  Everything she does is designed to help other people to make the most of their lives.  By putting the welfare of others above that of herself, she has selected a motivation beyond serving her own ego and needs.  Finding a motivation that goes beyond ourself is powerful way to increase our focus.  When others are depending on our actions, it is harder to find an excuse or wimp out of helping.  To increase your focus, consider the motivation behind your actions and look for opportunities to serve the greater good where possible.

Of course, there is only one Oprah.  Finding your focus is a very personal process, yet we can learn from her example.  One way to this is to try modelling Oprah.  Pick a day, think about the focus needed to achieve what she has and then try being her for the day.  Concentrate on acting authentically, being as effective and focussed on your priorities as possible, being indomitable and genuinely helping others.  What did it feel like to be Oprah for the day?  Please leave a comment and let everyone in the Less Ordinary community know.

Thanksgiving and Gratitude

Reading Time: 1 minute and 47 seconds

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.  This is a day devoted to gratitude.  Thanksgiving’s origins are from the original settlers setting aside time to be thankful for the harvest and having food to survive the harsh winter.  In the modern world, it has become a time to be with the people we love and to be grateful for all we have in our lives.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share an amazing story of one man’s experience of struggle and gratitude.

In 1983, Rom Houben was driving home when his car was caught up in a huge accident.  He nearly died that day, yet somehow he survived in a coma.  Doctors ran every test they knew and found no response to any stimulus – Rom was diagnosed in a total vegetative state, and for 23 years he remained in hospital, motionless.

In 2006, Dr. Steven Laureys, an experimental neurobiologist was working on a project to better understand long-term coma patients.  Laureys decided to run new tests on patients to monitor their brain activity.  When Laureys ran his tests on Rom, he saw something remarkable – normal, healthy brain activity.  Everyone had assumed that because Rom’s body had stopped moving, his brain had shut down too.  Laureys realised that inside his still body, Rom’s brain was very much alive.

For 23 years, Rom was a prisoner in his own body.  He could see everything that was going on, hear the conversations of the nurses, smell the food on the next patients table and do nothing.  Rom heard about the death of his father from his distraught mother and was powerless to respond.

Laureys used intensive physiotherapy to help Rom break his silence using a voice machine operated by slight movements of one finger.  Rom was free.  So how does Rom explain his ordeal?

When the doctors first pronounced his coma, Rom “screamed, but there was nothing to hear”.  In the first few weeks and months, Rom felt “powerlessness. Utter powerlessness. At first I was angry, then I learned to live with it.”  Miraculously he learned to cope through intense periods of mediation, “I travelled with my thoughts into the past, or into another existence altogether”. Sometimes, “I was only my consciousness and nothing else”.

And after 23 years of being trapped, how did he feel when Laureys finally made his discovery?  “I’ll never forget the day that they discovered me,” he said. “It was my second birth”.  Rom had no anger or bitterness over his experience, only gratitude at a new chance at life.  His remarkable attitude shows the power of gratitude.  This story had helped me to reflect on my experience and feel immense gratitude for the countless blessings in my life.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope that you can take a moment today to think about your life and be grateful for your experience, and the world around you.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes – 6 lessons from an Extraordinary Adventurer

Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, OBE is the world’s greatest living adventurer according to the Guinness Book of Records.  Fiennes has visited both Poles on foot, circumnavigated the globe, run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days (at the age of 61), and this year climbed Mount Everest at the age of 65.  He continues to find and achieve the extraordinary despite undergoing heart bypass surgery five years ago and having lost the ends of several fingers to frostbite (legend has it he amputated the ends himself in his shed with an electric saw).  So what are the secrets of this extraordinary adventurer?

 1.     Have a vision

Fiennes is a visionary.  He conceives astounding feats and then sets his mind to achieving them.  He has built a life and career doing the extraordinary.  Fiennes does not limit his thinking or ambition and truly believes everything is possible.  Once a vision is fully formed, he starts finding a way to make it happen.

 2.     Plan carefully

Prince Charles has sponsored several of his expeditions and described his circumnavigation of the globe as “a mad and suitably British enterprise.”  Fiennes disagrees and outlines the importance of meticulous planning, preparation and practice, adding ”These expeditions are very carefully planned and entirely feasible. Now if you were talking about, I don’t know, hopping to the south pole on a pogo stick – that would be mad. But not what I do.”

Fiennes devotes enormous amounts of time working on his mental attitude and developing his physical abilities to allow him to successfully achieve the extraordinary.  He gets the very best support teams and equipment to give him the best chance of success.  His planning is second to none in the world of exploring.

 3.     Face your Fears

Fiennes had never undertaken mountaineering until his late 50s due to vertigo and “a morbid fear of heights”.  During his life he has faced many of our most common fears head on: fear of failure, fear of isolation, fear of death.  His example in climbing the world’s highest mountain shows what is possible when you don’t let your fears hold you back from taking on new challenges and extending your comfort zone.

 4.     Keep on Trudging

During his recent Everest expedition Fiennes was asked what kept him going.  He simply replied “I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and trudging forward, thinking that there is no end point to the journey”.  Fiennes’ fierce determination comes from living in the moment rather than fixating on the end goal.

 5.     Never Give Up

Fiennes had two aborted attempts at Everest before finally conquering the peak.  In 2005 on his second attempt, Fiennes suffered a minor heart attack during his ascent.  He refused to see these attempts as failure and spoke of his “bull-headed determination” being key to finally completing a successful attempt.

 6.     Inspire others

Fiennes expeditions are all designed to support charitable organisations.  He pushes himself to help others less fortunate than himself, raising millions for good causes.  Fiennes is also a highly-sought after motivational speaker and shares his experiences with thousands of people every year.  Fiennes achievements are bigger than his own personal glory and this drives him to push on where others might give up.

So what can you learn from Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, OBE?

  • Create your vision – what is your next extraordinary project or achievement?  Don’t box yourself in or limit your ambition.
  • Plan carefully – take the time to prepare properly – what skills do you need to develop, who can support you, what are your specific goals?
  • Face your fears – what thoughts and fears might stop you?  How can you overcome them?  The right mental attitude is essential to increase your chances of success.
  • Keep on Trudging – Stay in the present and focus on the next step rather than fixating on the end point.  Give each small step your full focus.
  • Never give up – an unsuccessful attempt is not a failure.  Take time to work out what you learnt and what you’ll do differently next time.
  • Inspire others – share your vision and achievements with others and inspire them to do the extraordinary.