Friends – Will they Really be There for you?

Reading Time: 3 minutes and 14 seconds

live life to the full, career enjoyment, career fulfillment


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Why do we have friends? This question was posed by the philosopher Mark Vernon at a breakfast I attended last week.  Humans are certainly social animals.  We have always lived in family units, which affiliated into small tribes in order to increase our chances of survival.  Our biology pushes us to put our faith in others to stay alive.  Yet in modern civilization, human interaction has become increasingly complicated.  Now we play a variety of roles – friend, colleague, lover, service provider.   What is special about friendship?

The Easy Relationship?

Friendship could be seen as “The Easy Relationship”.  On the face of it, there are very few rules or obligations relating to friendship.  It is a purely optional arrangement.  I have old pals that I haven’t spoken to in years, yet if I were to see them tomorrow, I know that we’d slip straight back into the old routine.  Friends can be seen as a low maintenance relationship, taking away some of the strong emotion that goes with a romantic entanglement.  Friends are there when you need them, yet there is no obligation to be there all the time.

Making friends

A friendship tends to develop built on shared experiences.  Many friends come from our time at school, college or work.  We share the great times and support each other in the tough times.  The time spent together becomes the foundation and glue that holds a friendship together.  We learn to appreciate our friends’ personality and quirks and to anticipate how they might respond to a situation.  This familiarity helps us to drop our guard and let another person take one step into our inner world.

Lovers kiss, friends talk

Yet despite this increased level of trust, a friendship is not monogamous. In a romantic relationship we tend to collapse the boundaries of our ego with one other person.  We trust them completely and share almost all our thoughts and emotions.  There is an expectation in most societies that this arrangement is mutual and exclusive.  With this added weight comes added responsibility.  There is typically very little separation between two lovers.  This can lead to thinking as a “we” rather than an individual.  When we seek advice from a lover there is almost always a lack of objectivity.   The response is within the context of the relationship and considers the potential impact on the couple.

By contrast, friendships rely on a degree of separation.  We look for friends who are can bring us something fresh and interesting.  Friends need shared experience, and also time apart.  We typically have different friends who fill different roles in our life; partner in crime, adviser, truth teller, insigator.  Friends are certainly not fully objective, yet they provide a broader perspective than a lover typically can.  We have a range of friends who fill in the gaps in our life, even if we have a romantic partner.

Keeping friends

Several research papers on friendship have suggested we should have at least 10 friends to get the support we need.  This allows us to keep friendships from becoming all-encompassing.  This way, we get a wider variety of inputs and perspectives.  Perhaps in the complexity of the 21st Century, this group is a proxy for our ancient tribe.  Our friends help us to make the most of life, as our ancient tribe helped us to stay alive.

Friendships are a vital part of our support system for navigating life.  Although we can rely on old friends, these relationships do need continued shared experience to evolve and grow.  I am determined to rekindle some of my closest friendships which have gone a little quiet recently.  I want to keep my tribal links strong.  There are a few good ways to do this –

  • Spending quality time together
  • Providing support to a friend in need
  • Asking for help when it is needed.

I’ll be looking for opportunities to appreciate the great friends that I have, and even for chances to develop new friendships.

What is your take on friendship?  How important are your friends in living your life?  What would life be like without friends?  Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Photo credit: Gwennypics (from Flickr Creative Commons)

Find your Focus – The Power of Now

Reading time: 3 minutes and 25 minutes

Find your focus

Find your focus

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why its called the present Eleanor Roosevelt

Finding your focus feels absolutely amazing!  The feeling of being absolutely together, engaged, energised and able to give our full attention to whatever we are doing is pretty much unbeatable.  The biggest irony is that when we are focused it is completely effortless to be there, yet it can be one of the most difficult things to achieve.  This month on Less Ordinary Living we are going to explore how you can become more focussed, so click here to subscribe and enjoy every step of this journey.

I think of being focussed as living in the moment – being completely present in our current situation.  When our mind is in this state, we are able to give all of our effort and attention to whatever we are doing or whoever we are with.  If you’ve met a master in being focused, you’ll probably also notice that they have a presence about them  Presence means living in the moment and it is another benefit of finding focus.

Probably the biggest single factor that blurs our focus is our mind.  We’ve all been gifted with a powerful super computer in our head.  However this computer keeps running 24 hours a day, throwing out thoughts and powerful emotions.  These thoughts and emotions typically relate to two things:

1)   The past – our brain is constantly picking over all the data it has taken in from our life to date.  It generates thoughts about what we have experienced, our actions, and the world around us all the time.   We pick over a conversation with our boss, how we reacted to our partner last weekend, our apparent failures to stick to our new years resolution – anything really.  These thoughts also generate emotions which are our response to the stories we are creating – guilt, shame, embarrassment, sadness, joy.

2)   The future – our brain is also imagining the future based on the data available to it.  We create endless permutations about what will happen if….  We tell ourselves that we couldn’t possibly do something because we don’t have the skills or we visualise all the terrible outcomes of taking an action (unemployment, bankruptcy, homelessness, starvation).  Sometimes we daydream about the good things that might happen, and then the dark shadow of fear appears – I couldn’t do that it would be too risky.  The emotions arising when our mind wanders to the future include excitement, anticipation and quite often fear.

The problem with all this is that when our mind is stuck in the past or the future, it blurs our focus.  We lose track of what is happening right now.   When our mind wanders we cannot be present – we phase out of conversations, we start procrastinating because we want to avoid our fears, we blow off our to do list because it our project is doomed to failure in a hundred nasty ways we’ve imagined.

So how do we start to deal with this conundrum and become more present and focussed?  Here are two approaches that will start this process based on my experience:

1)   Awareness. The first step is to become aware of what is going on in our head  Learning to detach from our thoughts and emotions is a powerful step in becoming more focussed.  Try this exercise to become more aware of what is going on upstairs:

  • Sit still and take a few deep breaths – try to clear your mind – keep a pen and paper handy
  • Try to focus all your attention on your breathing for 3 to 5 minutes
  • Thoughts will naturally emerge – when they do, simply observe them and write them down, then return to concentrating on your breathing
  • When you are finished, review your list.  Consider where the thoughts came from, which ones were taking you to the past and which to the future, and also consider how this frequency of thoughts affects your concentration and focus.

If you repeat this exercise every day for a week, you’ll start to learn how to detach from your thoughts and become more aware of them.  As you get more proficient, start to become aware of your thoughts and emotions throughout the day.  You may find that even after a week you’ll start to find more focus through this practice.

2)   Focus your attention.  If we train our mind to focus and be in the zone for short periods of time, over time we can learn to keep our mind from jumping into the past or future.  This simple 5 minute exercise is a simple way to do this:

  • Find an object that you find beautiful or interesting (a flower, piece of art etc).
  • Study the object intensely – take in its shape, colour, texture, structure, smell, feel.  Bring all your attention onto this object and bring your mind into focus on it.  Become absorbed in the object and make it the sole point of your attention for 5 minutes.
  • If thoughts arise simply acknowledge them and move your attention back to the object in hand.
  • Enjoy this time and at the end, reflect on what it felt like to be really present and focussed.

Again if you practice this exercise repeatedly you’ll find your concentration and focus improving.  You’ll learn to clear your mind of distracting thoughts and emotions from the past or about the future.

So we’ve started our journey towards finding that amazing feeling of focus consistently.  Tune in next time to continue finding your focus, or click here to subscribe so you don’t miss it.

How to Boost your Self-Confidence

How to boost your Self-confidence

Reading time : One minute and 52 seconds 

Per Wikipedia:

Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective.”

The concept of self-confidence relates to self-assuredness in one’s personal judgment, ability, power etc.”

What is self-confidence and how does it relate to finding meaningful work and a better quality of life?  We’ve all met highly self-confident people – they radiate self-assurance and evidently believe in everything that they do.  Self-confidence gives people the belief that they can pursue a particular course of action and have the skills and abilities to make it successful.  Self-confident people appear to see every interaction and eventuality as an opportunity, and every challenge as a learning point.  Confidence is infectious and other people tend to believe and support a confident leader with little question.  Importantly, self-confidence diminishes our fears and helps us to overcome our challenges.  When we’re in a confident mindset, the path ahead seems clear and obvious and the Less Ordinary seems attainable.

So having understood self-confidence, how do we enhance our own self-confidence?  I’ve struggled with my self-confidence over time and its natural for everyone to do so.  Answering this fundamental question is something man has always pondered and your personal formula is as valid as anyones. 

I’ll offer a few suggestions based on my experiences, but please comment on this article with your thoughts on self-confidence.

1. Stay Positive – everyone has negative thoughts, fears and doubts from time to time.  For me, I’ve found they can quickly dent my self-confidence and hold me back from pursuing my goals.  Particularly at the start of this year when I was getting my coaching practice up and running I would find myself thinking “you’re not good enough to run your own business”, “you don’t know the first thing about working for yourself” and countless similar thoughts. 

My response was to start monitoring my thoughts and noticing this negative thinking.  I created a “thought police” and made sure that I answered every negative thought with a positive thought.  I found it powerful to logically dismantle the negative thought, identify why it was nonsense and then address it with a positive counter-thought.  Developing this discipline has helped me develop really strong positive thinking and it has boosted my self-confidence.

2. Avoid regret – Living in the present is a powerful way to boost self-confidence.  The past truly is history and cannot be changed, however much we agonize over it.  I find it difficult to avoid replaying past events in my mind and wondering what I could have done differently or better.  I try to analyse past events to look for the learning. 

For example, when I first moved back to the UK from San Francisco there were some tough times in the transition when I found myself thinking “If we were in San Francisco now…..”.  Over time I’ve recognised that my time in California was a perfect period for me to learn and develop and that moving back brought a world of new challenges and excitements. Overcoming the challenges was part of the point of making the move.  Living with regret about moving back home dented my self-confidence and left me second-guessing myself.  Now I try to boost my confidence by learning from experience and trying to make things even better next time.

3. Count your blessings – I have been guilty in the past of taking life for granted.  I didn’t show due appreciation for how fortunate I’ve been. 

To be able to post this blog, I am fortunate to be one of the 25% of the world’s population with access to the internet.   I’m also in the 20% of the world’s population that makes more than $10 a day.  I’ve started to recognise that I’ve been incredibly lucky to receive access to an education and opportunities that have allowed me study at excellent educational establishments, live in some of the world’s great cities, and have the chance to do work that I truly love.

My recognition of how fortunate I am to live on this planet in 2009 is a real boost to my self-confidence and a spur to action.  We all have the potential and opportunity to do something extraordinary and if we can’t do it, then who can?

Self confidence

Self confidence

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Expand your Comfort Zone – Avoid the Panic Zone

Comfort zoneReading time: 1 minute 45 seconds

“I want to find work that extends my comfort zone”

“I want to be challenged”

“That sounds scary – but exciting”

Does any of this sound familiar?  We’ve heard statements like these many times in conversation with our clients.  Extraordinary people get fired up and energised by finding new challenges.  Learning new things, successfully completing a difficult project and growing personally provide strong motivation for many of us.  Understanding how to effectively tap this energy and motivation can be key to finding meaningful work and a better quality of life.

So what exactly is a comfort zone and how does it help us?

When I think about my comfort zone, my mind immediately jumps to something I used to have a morbid fear of – speaking in front of an audience.  My recurring nightmare was being on stage in a play, right in the glaring spotlight and drying up.  The audience are all staring directly at me with laser beam glares and I want to curl up and die.  This was my panic zone!

Over the years I’ve been determined to address this fear and expand my comfort zone around public speaking.  I started out at school by joining the debating society.  Every speech was written out word for word and read with shaking hands and a churning stomach.  Strangely each one got easier than before and after a while I started having just an outline of the speech to deliver.  I felt my comfort zone growing and my palms becoming less sweaty!

Throughout my career, I’ve looked for opportunities to speak in front of groups and deliver training courses.  I’ve watched others who appeared highly confident in front of people and tried some of the things they did.  I’ve found training courses and even got some coaching around speaking with confidence.  Each of these actions extended my comfort zone just a little bit and made me more assured.  Now I really enjoy speaking to groups of people and leading training – although I do still get the occasional butterfly in my stomach beforehand.  My comfort zone for public speaking is hugely expanded.

Our comfort zone is where we feel calm about performing a particular skill or action.  If we step outside this, our minds tend to panic and release all sorts of hormones that induce fear.  This typically reduces our level of performance and the confidence that we feel.  In this panic zone, we struggle to keep it together and our bodies start to let us down.  The good news however is that we can expand our comfort zone through practice and learning.

Scientists have researched the optimal conditions for personal development.  The results show that operating on the edge of your comfort zone is the best place to learn and grow.  The research shows that over time, the mind becomes accustomed to the task in hand and it becomes less stressful.  That is the point when we can push ourselves a little bit harder – our comfort zone has expanded.

The opposite has also been proven – spending time in the panic zone is not actually conducive to learning as its just too stressful.  Trying to learn with all the adrenaline pumping around our body is not possible; we simply do what we can to survive.

So expanding our personal comfort zones allows us to develop new skills, and find both energy and motivation.  It is best done by trying things at the edge of our level of comfort and becoming accustomed to that feeling.  Imagine your comfort zone is like a balloon that is being slowly inflated.  Blow too hard and the balloon will burst, too softly and it won’t inflate.  Consistently pushing yourself to the edge but not beyond your comfort zone will allow you to grow and develop.

We want to hear from you with your comments about comfort zones:

  • What experiences have you had with your comfort zone?
  • What does it feel like on the edge of your comfort zone?
  • What does it feel like in the panic zone?
  • In what area would you like to extend your comfort zone?

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Share your Extraordinary Summer

Reading time : 75 seconds – Comment time – 60 seconds

Summer is here and the living is easy!  It’s a chance to kick back and bask in the sunshine, to explore new destinations and to spend some quality time with the people we love.  We want to find out from you what your plans are to make this summer extraordinary and special, so please comment on this article and share your plans.

Here at Less Ordinary Living Towers, we spent the last week on vacation.  First we hit the Glastonbury Music Festival.  This was a chance to join 170,000 revellers who descend on a small farm for five days to listen to the best bands and party.  The music was out of this world with over 30 different venues across the site playing everything from folk-reggae to dance to brass bands.  The weather was kind (only 2 days in wellies!) and the sun shone.  The most extraordinary thing was the people and organisation – everything ran like clockwork and the atmosphere was overwhelmingly friendly.  I left with a huge smile on my face and a lesson learned about the ability of humans to cohabit and share without conflict.

The rest of the week we spent in a small cottage in the middle of nowhere.  No mobile phone signal, no internet, no telephone line.  It was so refreshing to disconnect and be in a peaceful place where the ambient noise was birdsong.  We walked miles along beautiful country lanes and through rolling countryside.  Getting away from it all was extraordinary and we returned refreshed and totally relaxed.

So what extraordinary plans or ideas do you have to make the most of the summer?  Please share them with our readers to inspire us all.