Get out in nature for good health and resilience

A guest blog by Ellen Fineran.

I regard spending time in nature as one of my top priorities for feeling good about myself and staying resilient. That’s been even more relevant since the COVID-19 restrictions.

I grew up as a pretty feral child of the 1970s but then a career in the motor trade with long hours and a daily commute, combined with being a single parent, left little time for nurturing my soul through nature.

It wasn’t that nature wasn’t still all around me; more that I tended to ignore it and didn’t see its importance in my daily life. Then, in my early forties, I began working for Derbyshire Wildlife Trust as Head of Commercial Development. Being around so many people who were passionate about our beautiful wild spaces reawakened my need to connect with nature and I now feel the healthiest and happiest I’ve been throughout my adult life.

And don’t just take my word for it – there is plenty of evidence that the natural world is the foundation of our health, wellbeing and prosperity. So if you’d like to feel the benefits of exploring the nature that’s on your doorstep, here are my top tips:

Don’t be scared – you don’t need any PPE or specialist skills to get out into nature. Find a local park or green space near your home where you can social distance from others, take a stroll and enjoy exploring. Personally I love spotting a Public Footpath and seeing where it leads to!

Really notice – nature is everywhere, no matter where you live, and very often we just don’t see it. Listen to the blackbird singing on the neighbour’s roof or notice the wild flowers growing on the roadside verges. I love to watch the seasons change and I enjoy the different colours, textures and sounds that each season brings.

Nature can alter your mood – find a space somewhere green to stop, sit and think. Take deep, conscious breaths and use all of your senses to experience it. If you can let yourself relax into this, it really will empty your mind and give you a new perspective on things.

You don’t need to be a wildlife expert – I don’t care that I don’t know the calls of all the birds or the names of the plants, but I know that I love the sound of birdsong and I take joy in looking at lush green leaves. As humans, we have a natural curiosity to understand everything around us (which is great if that’s your thing) but needing to know can take the joy out of simply enjoying nature and wildlife and feeling connected with it. So be blissful in your ignorance and enjoy the moment.

Build being in nature into your daily routine – make daily choices which bring you closer to nature. For me, that was getting a dog and taking a morning walk before work. If that’s not for you, find your thing. For example, you might take a stroll with a friend at lunchtime or have your post-work glass of wine in the garden.

Have fun – I love taking part in The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild each year in June and it starts next week! The idea is to carry out a simple and fun Random Act of Wildness every day throughout June and share it with your friends on social media. It can be anything from spotting a bee in a flower to having a cuppa in the sunshine.

And finally, my best advice really is to just get out there and enjoy the natural world around you. Wherever you live, whether that’s in a city, the countryside or somewhere in-between, exploring the nature on your doorstep will help you stay healthy and resilient in these difficult times. I know that the days when I’ve started off with a mindful morning walk across the fields are the days where I feel energised and productive and ready to take on this crazy world.

Ellen Fineran is Head of Commercial Development at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, a member of the Lucidity Network and in her spare time she can be found baking amazing cakes and exploring the countryside with her dog Beano.

Here’s your link to take part in 30 Days Wild and get your free pack of goodies to help you to plan your wild month. We’re looking forward to seeing what you get up to.

Take one lockdown day at a time

Now I’ve experienced lockdown, I absolutely promise never to absent-mindedly muse about ‘having time to binge on box sets, or ponder how great it might be to just do nothing and stay in.’ (Has anyone else in the past ever wished for that?)

Turns out that in week 4 of lockdown, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The days have merged into one. I’m scared of my own reflection. I’ve taken lounging about to a new level and must remember that the dog licking my face does not count as ‘washing’. Groundhog day doesn’t’ even come close.

Lockdown is like we’re living the most boring movie storyline of all time where nothing happens. Or possibly we’re living amidst a conspiracy theory. Climate change activists have created a (fake or real) virus to stop all human activity until the planet is on the road to recovery. These are the things that chatter away in my fretful mind at 3am as I lie awake and wonder what will happen tomorrow (nothing), next week (probably nothing) and next month (unknown).

What would the movie be called? Stand Away From Me, Honey, We’re Home Schooling The Kids, 12 Bored Men, Nothing Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Sound of Coughing, Eternal Sunshine of the Bored Mind, or Pandemic (oh Netflix already took that).

I’ve been reflecting over the last few weeks and I’ve learned that;

We all have good days and bad days Whatever our personal situations, we’ve all got a lot going on in our brains. We’re isolated and worried about friends and family, yet crowded out from being locked in with family. We’re anxious about the uncertainty of the future. We don’t know when the situation will end or what ‘end’ looks like and our lives will never return to ‘normal’. Some of us don’t know how we’ll pay our rent, or if we’ll have a job or if our loved ones will be OK. All of us are on our own unique journey. We’re all at different places at different times. Emotions come in waves. One minute it’s fine, you’re making the most of the lockdown situation, enjoying Netflix, cleaning out that cupboard under the stairs and doing an online Pilates class, the next minute you question the point of your own existence. When you’re OK someone else is not. Sometimes (mostly) it can help to talk and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a gamble. When you’re trying to hold your shit together talking to someone who is having a super day can make you feel terrible (or good). And talking to someone who is not doing as well as you can drag you back to (or help you out of) the dark place you’ve been trying so hard to escape from.

It can feel constantly overwhelming I know that I’ve felt overwhelmed by lockdown and the big picture situation of changing our way of life entirely for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve also felt overwhelmed with the day to day, for example the panic of the supermarket cheese aisle getting too crowded and the few people who don’t get the concept of social distancing brushing past others (me) who are patiently waiting to get their cheddar supply. I’ve felt overwhelmed by so many webinars, catch up calls, check in sessions, WhatsApp groups and Zoom conferences. I feel like I’m constantly multi tasking to keep up with correspondence (which I’m failing at), then I feel bad about failing to check in with everyone and also frustrated at not getting anything else done.

I appreciate and value very much the invitations to connect, but I can only manage so much per day before feeling like crawling under the carpet until it’s all over.

Concentration seems to be a thing of the past I just can’t think straight. Part of that is due to the constant connecting. Turning off all my notifications and hiding my phone has helped so I can do some tasks without consistent anxious checking and scrolling.

In the ‘normal’ world I work really hard to break my day into chunks. I have a schedule and lists to help me be productive working from home. I’ve been doing it for years and the processes and systems I have work for me. Check out my free webinar with my tips for being happy and productive working from home here.

But something has happened.  With lockdown a brain fog has descended making it really hard to think properly about anything. Maybe its because it’s a paradox of nothing to think about combined with the immensity of what this pandemic means that my brain just kind of shuts down and can only manage one day at a time.

So I’m sticking to the tried and tested systems and processes, including writing a realistic list and plan for each day and diligently working through it. Yes, it does have things like, clean teeth, get dressed and drink coffee on it. It is helping though. This blog has still taken me about a week to write.

Busy is a construct of our own minds and time speeds up and slows down I’ve been saying this for a while. I help individuals, teams, and organisations drive change and the biggest barrier to innovation, or doing things differently is ‘too busy’. Busy is a badge of honour. We’re too busy. Now what? I know some people are busier than ever as colleagues are furloughed. However, I have a hunch that those of us who objectively have nothing that they have to do are still too busy to get the boring things that we don’t really want to do done. Like cleaning the house from top to bottom, sorting out paperwork or painting the spare room.

If your work defines you (which for many of us it’s a significant part of our lives and who we are), not to have to go to work can feel like a bereavement. We’re all experiencing a wide range of emotions and like the press keep telling us we are living through ‘unprecedented times’ so we don’t have a blueprint of how we should be feeling and how to respond to those feelings.

My lockdown learning over the last few weeks, is that to manage, you’ve got to tune into you, and what you need to keep yourself as well as you can. You have to put your oxygen mask on first in order to be able to help other people. I don’t know what the ‘right’ thing is for you to do. Take one day at a time. Listen to yourself. Accept that how you’re feeling is how you’re feeling. Acknowledge if you’re feeling dark. Think about what you might do to help yourself edge towards the light. And also trust that those feelings will pass.

This isn’t a blog about whether to get a dog

Lucy Gower and Gary Gower

Have you ever talked about doing something and just never got round to it? Do you have items on your ‘to do’ list that have been on it for years? Do you put things off and then tell yourself that you’ll start fresh from Monday?

Yes? I suspect that most of us have.

It’s so tiring talking about things again and again, putting them off and making excuses for not doing them.

It was happening to me.

For years I’d been talking about getting a dog.

I’d tell people how much I wanted one and how my life would be better with a dog in it. But there were so many reasons not to change, the responsibility of looking after another living thing, the cost of vets bills, insurance, food, doggy day care and then the limitations, not being able to go out all the time or go on holiday. People I spoke to fuelled by doubts and by the time I’d had the conversation with them I’d talked myself out of getting a dog.

But the topic kept playing in my mind. I couldn’t shut it down and I was boring myself. I decided that I either had to get a dog or shut up talking about it.

Then one day I just bloody got the dog.   Here he is. He’s called Gary. You can follow his adventures on Instagram at garygower_dog _diaries.

The doubters were right. When Gary was a puppy it was really hard. The first thing he did when he arrived aged 12 weeks was a poo under the kitchen table. I spent most of Easter 2018 standing in the garden in the rain training him to go to the toilet outside. The rest of that Easter was spent going backwards and forwards on the tube and bus so he wasn’t scared of public transport. We spent a lot of time sat on the bench opposite Wood Green bus garage getting him used to traffic noises and sirens. There was the night I slept on the kitchen floor next to his crate with a broken foot in a plaster cast (which is a different story) because he wouldn’t stop barking. There was the day he humped my arm while I tried to conduct a work Skype call. There was the day he chewed through my laptop cable which cost £80 to replace. There was the day that he ran amok on Southwold beach and it took a core group of 5 of us plus most of the population of Southwold over an hour to catch him. There was the day he rolled in a dead fish. There was the day he jumped up and took a hat out of a strangers hand, shook it to death and dropped it in a muddy puddle. It took months before he realised doing a poo in the hallway in the middle of the night was NOT OK. He’s been massively disruptive. I’ve never apologised so much since I had a dog.

He’s also been brilliant. I’ve learned a lot from Gary. Patience, that the simple things in life can bring great joy, to live more in the moment, not to take things too seriously and be grateful that all I have. He looks after me. Because I have to walk him every day, I have to switch off from work (and when you work for yourself and love what you do that can be hard). I get more regular exercise. People talk to us on the tube, and if people don’t like him they move and we get a seat! I’ve met new friends, discovered new places to walk and can now throw a ball really far.

Do you know what? It is a big responsibility looking after another living thing, he does cost me money and when I go on holiday either he comes too or someone else looks after him. The logistics of who looks after Gary and when causes me headaches. And the joy of Gary far outweighs all the negatives.

Do you put things off and then tell yourself that you’ll start fresh from Monday?

So my point?

This isn’t a blog about whether to get a dog. This is a blog about genuinely thinking about what you want and deciding to commit (do you want a new job, to move house, a different relationship, learn a new skill, lose weight, a different lifestyle…?) The context doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you make a choice whether to do the thing or not. The talking about the thing and not taking steps to achieve it is a tedious and tiring place to be. You deserve more than that.

Making any sort of change is hard. Do you put things off? Friends and family won’t necessarily give you the best advice either. You have to get brave and focus on what you want.

So, those things on your list; tackle them or scrub them off forever and free up your brain to focus on the things you really want to do. Ask yourself what would happen if you don’t do the thing? I didn’t want to be the person that always wished they followed their heart and got a dog. I wanted to be the person walking on the beach with my dog. What’s your thing on your list that you’d regret not doing?

Go on, channel your inner Yoda. ‘Do or do not, there is no try’

I set up the Lucidity Network to help people push forward and do the things they want to do. It’s a community of generous people who help each other get the important work done. It’s facilitated via a Facebook Community with meet-ups and online content to help members tackle the complexities of working life that didn’t come with the management handbook. You can find out more and sign up here. And if you join, you might even get to meet Gary.

Three public speaking tips from an expert panel

Tips for public speaking

I was recently approached by energy giants, Gazprom, to share tips for public speakers. Here are the top three takeaways from me and the other members of the panel. You can read the full piece here.

Speaking in front of a room full of strangers can be one of the more daunting aspects of your career, whatever your level of seniority. With all eyes on you, your inner critic can have a field day, making you worry you’ll ‘mess up’ or make a fool of yourself. Do you know what? – often, when I ‘mess up’, or go off script it’s the best bit! Here are three tips for public speakers to worry less about messing up and enjoy your next presentation.

Treat it like a performance

Approach your presentation as if it is a performance. People want to learn, and they also want to be entertained. A ‘do your best performance’ mindset can help to put you at ease and your delivery will be more fluid. Grab your audience’s attention by just being your best and real you up on that stage. Ditch your notes and if you use presentation slides, go light on text and big on images that enhance your core messages. People are there to listen to you – not see some big slides on a screen.

Get the audience involved

Get your audience involved as soon as possible. It takes the pressure off you, gives you a sense of the mood of the room and gives you a moment to regroup. Ask them a question that people can put their hands up to. Ask a question that will have a lot of ‘yes’ answers, giving the audience an opportunity to participate and agree, for example, a lot of people fell into the profession of fundraising. Asking people who else is an accidental fundraiser (at a presentation to fundraisers) gets hands raising and builds rapport because they know you are one too. Obviously adapt this to your audience! Take people on an emotional journey during your presentation by telling stories. People learn and remember more through story and they also remember how you made them feel. Having a variety of stories, data, diagrams and models helps to change pace and keep your audience’s interest. It can also offer a chance for your audience to engage emotionally with your topic.

Do your last minute prep

The last of the tips for public speakers is the few bits of on-the-day prep that will ensure you’re ready and raring to go. In case you’re running short on time, map out where you’ll be at specific points in your presentation and make a note of the things that could be left out if things get delayed. Arrive early and double check the equipment you’ll be using. Is there a mic? Where’s the clicker to move the slides along? Do a sound check (especially if you have video content), Where will you stand – or depending on your style – where will you pace about? Is the laptop fully charged? Is your calendar auto reminder turned off?  Think about what you are going to wear – both in practical terms, for example, is there a place to put the battery pack for the microphone and does it fit you properly?  If you are distracted because you’re uncomfortable in what you’re wearing it will impact on you delivering your best performance. And finally make sure that what you’re wearing makes you feel good, feel confident and ready to take on the world.

If you found this blog useful you might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

The secret innovation skills you need – that are rarely taught

Wake up, kick ass, repeat

The balance of secret innovation skills, attitude and experience you require depends a bit on what innovation means to your organisation. Sometimes you need to be a product development manager, sometimes a culture change manager, more often both, and on occasion, once you’re in post it’s for you to interpret what the organisation needs and what the senior leadership want – which are often different things. Then there’s the innovation brief that makes my heart sink, ‘we want to innovate and change and disrupt – but we want to be sure it will work’, setting an innovation manager an impossible challenge from the outset.

Sound familiar?

However you choose to approach innovation in your business two things are consistent regardless of what sector or industry you work in.

  • Innovation is about spotting an unmet need or solving a problem. It’s about generating ideas and implementing solutions to make life better for your target audience (and that might be customers, clients and employees).
  • Not all of your ideas or innovations will work.

This means that an innovation manager has to be a lot of things; a diplomat and a dictator, a negotiator with a bloody-minded streak, an ideas person and a completer-finisher, a business analyst and a dreamer, candid and kind, a risk taker who likes a safe bet and possess both gravitas and humility.

The secret skills of innovation are often at opposite ends of a spectrum. You have to be well versed in contrast and contradictions and be able to flex between them in a blink of an eye.

Here are my top tips to thrive in the contradictory role of an innovation manager;

1.   Exude confidence in your approach and also confident vulnerability about what you don’t know. Help people to feel comfortable with diving into the unknown. Help people to learn that it’s OK not to know the answers, and that is part of ‘doing innovation.’

2.   Get a chronic case of ‘toddler syndrome’ and keep asking ‘why?’. Don’t settle for the ‘way things are done here’. Challenge ‘the way we do things here’ at every opportunity and help others to do the same.

3. Become very self-aware, what assumptions or stories do you have that prevent you from doing something new? Keep challenging yourself as well as others to unlearn what you know. Ask, ‘What if we had to start from zero – what might we do differently?’

4.   Be charming and disagreeable. Open up discussions, encourage different points of view and alternative ways of thinking, and do it in a way that others find enchanting.

5.   Take innovation very seriously and also not seriously at all at the same time. You’re looking for an important breakthrough which is serious business, yet our best thinking occurs when we are relaxed and even more so when we’re in a playful mindset.

6.   Be sensitive and thick-skinned – sensitive to the needs of your colleagues and partners. Remember that many people fear change, so tune into and be mindful about how your colleagues are feeling, yet at the same time focus on the needs of your audience, the people that you are innovating for, which sometimes means forging on through despite everything if you are going to deliver on your brief.

7.   Fall deeply in love and be fickle – to innovate, to introduce something new, you have to fall in love to have the passion to keep going to overcome barriers when things get difficult (because things will get difficult). You also have to be fickle and prepared to fail fast and drop your idea if it doesn’t work.

8.   Move fast and slow – turn your ideas into reality as quickly as you can. Don’t wait for perfect and a big launch, involve your stakeholders and your customers as early as possible which can sometimes slow down progress but the insight you gain will be worth the reduction of speed.

9.   Smile, (even if inside you are crying) and be respected for making good decisions and getting the job done rather than being known for being ‘nice’.

10. It’s OK to cry, to be vulnerable and for the idea not to work. The important thing is to share why not and what next so that everyone involved can learn.

11. Focus on why making change happen is important and lead by example. Help to shift the organisational culture to help people have the courage to try, followed by the tenacity to learn from failure and give it another go.

Those secret innovation skills are often called soft skills. They are rarely taught, they are skills that you learn by trial and error, and that are hard to articulate on a job application. These are the skills that make you a successful innovator. At Lucidity we run training, provide coaching and consultancy on the ‘soft’ skills you and your organisation require to succeed at innovation. If you’d like some help perfecting them then get in touch at hello@lucidity.org.uk.

You might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.