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.

Always get dressed from the waist up and other WFH tips

Working from home

As office workers are now facing working from home (WFH) our friends over at Donorfy have put together some more handy WFH tips. Why? Because working from home is the only way they work, so they know what works. Here’s their handy, slightly irreverent take.

  • Always get dressed. At least from the waist up for video calls. Working in your PJs may sound attractive, but it’s not going to help you get your head into work mode. (We quite agree!)
  • Use a proper office chair and a desk. Laptops on kitchen tables, or even on laps, are not a long-term solution.
  • Discover the joy of a standing desk. It doesn’t need to be a real one. A board across two piles of books does the trick. And if standing doesn’t work, maybe try squatting.
  • If you can, make your home office a separate space from the rest of your home. Something you can close the door on, or store away out of sight. Especially if you have young children.
  • At the end of the day, declare the day ‘done’ – whether good or bad – and move your attention on to home. It’s too easy to just keep on working. Resist the temptation.
  • You’re at home, so slippers make sense. But somehow they’re a bit too ‘homely’. So get yourself a pair of work slippers. And when you’ve finished for the day, swap them for those fluffy pink mules you love.
  • Make really nice lunches. Artisan soups. Salads. Last night’s takeaway. You’re at home – the food doesn’t have to be bad! Don’t eat at your desk. And make good coffee – you deserve it.
  • Stay in touch. Pick up the phone. Use video conferencing. Use Slack / Teams or similar for office chat. Don’t just send emails – they’re too ‘heavy’. Make a special effort to keep the ‘water-cooler chat’ flowing.
  • Get out of the house at least once a day. Use the step counter on your smartphone or watch to guilt you into staying active. Post your walks on the chat. Praise others for making the effort to get out. (Lucy went as far as getting a dog to help her get out! Here he is.)
  • Be intentional about doing something different during what would have been your commute time and lunchtime. Read a book. Go for a run. Paint the shed. Or a ‘fake commute’ as suggested in the Lucidity blog.
  • Get in the zone with focus apps and music to work by. Despite what you told your parents when you were revising, you probably can’t focus when the music is loud and has lyrics.
  • You may be working remotely, but don’t be distant. Use the webcam whenever you can. Use screenshare to show colleagues what you’re talking about.

Got any WFH tips? Feel free to share them with Donorfy on Twitter or in the comments below.

A version of this blog was first published at www.donorfy.com.

Fun and rewarding hobbies that you can start learning right now

Having a hobby comes with numerous benefits

A guest blog by Cheryl Conklin.

Having a hobby comes with numerous benefits. According to one study, enjoying leisurely activities can boost both your physical and psychological well-being. In fact, people with hobbies report lower depression, greater life satisfaction and even had lower levels of blood pressure than people who did not have a hobby. The best part? Learning a new skill is a great way to exercise your brain and engage in personal development. By setting small and realistic goals, you can also increase your confidence. So, pick a hobby and get started today.

Learn to play a musical instrument

Did you know that playing music with others is a great way to strengthen social bonds? It encourages us to cooperate with other people and practice empathy. Although many people learn to play music from a young age, Huffington Post claims that learning an instrument as an adult can be even easier. A lifetime spent listening to music gives you a solid foundation for understanding its structure. You also have better self-discipline, focus and the advanced understanding necessary to take on abstract concepts.

Online lessons are a flexible way to learn music at your own leisure. You’re able to practice music at your own pace but still receive direction and structure from a professional. When it comes to buying an instrument, you don’t have to go with the common guitar or piano. Many adults enjoy learning the cello, tuba, or flute. Head to your local music store and ask them about their beginner instruments. For example, beginner flutes are made to minimize the reach required by your fingers.

Get into DIY crafts and home improvement

Becoming a DIY (do it yourself) enthusiast is easy. Once you experience the pride of creating something with your own two hands instead of paying someone else to do it, you won’t be able to stop. Eventually, you’ll have a wide set of DIY skills that will allow you to tackle home repairs or create quick handmade presents for friends on the fly. To get started, look for YouTube tutorials on the types of décor or crafts you want to create. You may be lucky enough to find DIY classes at your local DIY store where you can learn from painting techniques to how to install windows.

Get your hands dirty

Gardening is loved around the world by people of all ages. According to Eartheasy, it’s a highly therapeutic and rewarding way to spend your time, making it the perfect hobby. And, the Internet is full of amazing resources to help you learn about soil types, watering schedules, what plants to grow together, or how to design an efficient garden.

Living in an apartment? You don’t even need a backyard to garden. Engage in container gardening on your patio, or rent a lot in your community garden. Some of the easiest plants to grow for beginners include peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. If you’re worried about raising plants from seed, head to your local garden center and pick up some seedlings to transplant.

Learn how to cook amazing meals with simple ingredients

If you’re bored with your usual staple meals, learning to cook can widen your culinary horizons immensely. For example, simply knowing how to build flavour in a dish with garlic and onion can add new dimensions to your food. The next time you have a free evening, get together with friends and sign up for a cooking class. This allows you to have tons of fun while learning how to make a couple of new, unique dishes that you can replicate at home. If you want to get your kids involved, check out this guide by BBC Good Food for advice on teaching cooking skills to kids of various ages.

Having a hobby comes with numerous benefits

Having a hobby comes with numerous benefits – it’s a great way to spend your free time feeling productive. Even if none of these sounds appealing to you, there’s bound to be something you enjoy. For example, more leisurely activities including reading, writing and photography. Try some different things until you find a hobby you feel passionate about and start feeling the benefits. Over at Lucidity we took up improv and check out what we learned here. 

Cheryl Conklin is a freelance writer and tutor by trade and a blogger, adventurer, traveler, and creator of Wellness Central in her free time. She created Wellness Central because she believes one can’t have physical health without mental health and vice versa.

Stop feeling stuck in your career, break free and get ahead at work

How to be happy at work

What does it feel like to be stuck in your career? Have you ever caught yourself in a daydream where you’ve gone for that upcoming promotion and you’re now the boss at work? Or how about the one where you’ve summoned up all your courage to quit your job and live your dream? Or when you’ve changed career path to do what really makes you happy?

Then you’ve snapped back to reality.  You’re not the boss, not living your dream and not even happy in the career path that you’re on.

Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of individuals who’ve told me they feel stuck in their careers, that something had to change for them to break free and be happy but they lacked the confidence to take that step. My mission is to make sure that nobody feels stuck in their career because of a momentary lapse in bravery that’s dragged on for too long.

Vera is one of those who feel stuck in her career.

She’s been working in the same role for 17 years. She started young and progressed quickly. Although she’s successful and the envy of her peers, she is bored, restless and feels that there’s something missing. She can’t quite pinpoint why or what, but she knows that that she’s not fulfilling her purpose, that she feels stuck and is not sure what to do to move herself forward.

Stop feeling stuck in your career

Sounds familiar? Read on to find out how you can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free and get ahead at work. If you stay until the end I’ll also let you in on Vera’s story.

Here are my top ten tips for becoming unstuck, breaking free and getting ahead at work.

1. Make time for you

If you’re feeling stuck, frustrated or unhappy at how your career is panning out, the first step is to work out why.

Maybe you’ve arrived in your current career by accident and haven’t ever made time to deliberately think or plan what you’d love to do and how you’d get there.

Prioritizing time to think is the first step you need take to stop feeling stuck in your career and start getting ahead. Book some time into your diary where you can have an uninterrupted meeting with yourself. This is your thinking time.

Work out what makes you happy at work, what doesn’t and where you might want to go. Decide on the steps you want to take to progress your career in the direction that you want it to take.

For example, are there training days, evening courses or online learning that you can do? Have you considered getting a mentor to help you get ahead?

By booking in a meeting with yourself (I have a client who calls it her ‘meeting with Marvin’, the paranoid android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with a brain the size of a planet). It signals it’s important (to you and your colleagues) and also stops others spotting a gap in your diary and filling it with a meeting.

2. Grow your network before you need it

Who you know is more important than what you know for career progression. Don’t wait until you’re feeling stuck in your career to start expanding your networks. Do it now.

Adam Grant the author of ‘Give and Take’, says you’re 58% more likely to get a new job through your weak ties than through your strong ones. Your strong ties are those in your immediate circle whom you interact with often. Your weak ties are your friends of friends. They move in different circles to you, they know different people, make different connections and are more likely to introduce you to new and different opportunities.[1]

When I was thinking about setting up my current company Lucidity, I turned up to every networking event. I drank a lot of coffees with a lot of different people to understand what they did, to ask for advice and to unpick what their problems were. I looked for opportunities for collaboration and connections.

It paid off because when I launched my business, I let my network know how I could help them and soon I had my first clients.

Pay attention to building and nurturing your networks, focus on how you can add value to others. That’s where your next career opportunity is most likely to come from.

3. Surround yourself by people who inspire you

According to Tim Ferriss, ‘You are the average of the five people you most associate with’. His associations with different people ebbs and flows depending on what he’s working on and trying to achieve.[2]

For example, if you are trying to be fitter, it’s easier if you hang around with people who love doing exercise – they help you to up your game.

If you want that promotion, a career change or to set up your own business seek out people who are excelling at it already. They’ll have valuable things to teach you about breaking free and getting ahead and they’ll also help you to up your game.

4. Work on your personal brand

Jeff Bezos defines personal brand as ‘what people say about you when you’re not in the room’. People will talk about you when you are not in the room anyway, so you might as well be deliberate about what you’d like people to say!

Your personal brand isn’t about pretending to be something you’re not. It’s about being your best ‘real you’. It’s about owning your strengths and being purposeful about how you want to be perceived by others.

What do you want to be known for? By being more deliberate about how you want to come across and what you’re looking for in your career, you’ll increase your chance of attracting the right opportunities.

Once you’ve given your personal brand some thought, make sure that you show up online. Is your LinkedIn profile up to date? And if you don’t have one, get one. Make sure it communicates what you want to be known for and that it’s consistent with your other social media profiles.

Try these 5 Steps to Master Networking Skills and Perfect Your Personal Branding.

5. Be accountable

Achieve your career goals faster, grow and learn by making yourself accountable. Tell other people your goals and a timeline. and have them to hold you accountable.

For example, to stop feeling stuck in your career, you might want to get a promotion by the end of the year, have decided the sector you want to move to by the end of the month, or have got your new business idea before the next pay day. Whatever your ambitions are, you can tell a friend or a colleague, or share about this with a mentor or a mastermind group.

When we tell other people our goals and intentions, they hold us accountable and we are more likely to make progress faster.

6. Make sure your values are aligned with your companies

All the professional development, goal setting and networks in the world won’t make you happy if you’re working for a company that ultimately has opposing values to yours.

Figure out what’s important to you in a job. For example, does your company’s product help people to live a better life? Do you feel strongly about your companies’ ethics and social responsibility? Does the company culture allows employees to be themselves and shine? Or maybe flexible working and more holidays for employees with families is where your heart is?

Some companies put their employees well-being at the core of their business, others put profits first. If you feel that your values don’t match the core values of your employer, it could be a reason why you’re feeling stuck and unhappy.

It’s important to work through this and identify whether it’s the job that is not right for you; or if it’s a great job but the organization or sector is wrong for you.

7. Get out of your comfort zone

Your comfort zone is your safe place. For any change to happen, you have to step out of your comfort zone.

It’s actually much easier not to change anything and to keep grumbling on about how you’re stuck and unhappy in your career, than to step outside of your comfort zone to address the fearful unknowns associated with change. It’s part of the human nature that we’d put up with the devil we know than risking the devil we don’t.

This is true even if the devil we know is your boring unfulfilling job: because we’re wired to think that making a change to find a better option might actually leave us worse off.

If you feel stuck in your career, it might be that your confidence has got the better of you.

To get ahead at work, start taking small steps outside of your comfort zone. Consider what you’re scared of that is stopping you from making a change. Then tackle that in small steps.

For example, if you know that to move into the job you want, you’ll have to do more public speaking. But public speaking terrifies you so much it’s stopping you from going for the job. Then start small to build your confidence. You can speak up more in team meetings, then slowly build from there.

You might also choose to set up or be part of a specific group. One of my clients, who found that confidence was holding her team back in achieving work goals, set up a ‘get out of your comfort zone club’ where they challenge and support each other to build their confidence by regularly leaving their comfort zones.

They’ve learned a lot and achieved all sorts of things from public speaking, to eating crickets, to heart surgery.

8. Learn to embrace failure

Failure is part of life. A New York University study found that children learning to walk averaged 2,368 steps and fell 17 times an hour.[3]

Truth is that we don’t get everything right the first time. We fail, we learn, we pick ourselves up and we try again.

In my experience, it’s common that whilst the theory of learning from failure is supported, the reality of being open about failures to enable personal learning is much harder to achieve.

We don’t like to admit that we’ve failed. We have a fight or flight response to failure. It’s a normal gut reaction to ask ourselves ‘Will I get away with it if I don’t tell anyone?’ We are fearful of criticism, of losing face in front of our peers, our managers or the people we manage, or even being fired for failure.

However, if we’re going to progress our careers, break free and get ahead at work, we must be open to learning from failure. Check out our tips on how to make failure your friend. 

Reframe failure by viewing everything as a test, because you can’t have a failed test – you just learn whether something worked or not. Think of Edison inventing the lightbulb, when he said, ‘I’ve not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ 

9. Build your resilience

Resilience is the ability to tackle difficulties and setbacks, to bounce back, regroup and to keep going.

Getting unstuck in your career, taking a different path and achieving the results you want will take resilience. Having resilience is also the capacity to choose how you respond to the unexpected things that life throws your way and adapt and thrive in times of complex change.

Given that the world we live in is in constant flux, and the only thing that is certain is uncertainty; the ability to adapt and bounce back is an important life skill as well as a career skill.

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth’s research shows that when measuring success, the ability to persevere beats talent every time. You can also check out how gritty you are here.

Learn more about how to build resilience in this guide:

What Is Resilience and How to Always Be Resilient (Step-By-Step Guide)

10. Ask for help

It can be hard to ask for help, it can make us feel vulnerable.

No one person can be expected to have all the answers. That’s why we need a troupe of people that we can go to for help, people who can pick us up when we have setbacks and also help us to celebrate success.

My advice is to be deliberate about creating your troupe. You can do that with a tool called a ‘Me Map’, here’s how:

  1. Write down all the things that you might need support with, for example, help with career progression, interview practice, making new connections, talking through business plans, learning from failure, etc.
  2. Next to each thing, write the names of the people you go to when you need that particular thing.
  3. Make sure you get in touch and regularly connect with them.

Final thoughts

Remember Vera? After 17 years in her career as an Editor for Vogue, she switched professions and went to work for luxury fashion designer, Ralph Lauren for two years. At 40, she resigned and became an independent bridal wear designer.

That’s right, I’m talking about Vera Wang, one of the most influential bridal wear designers in the world.

If she had ignored her instincts that were telling her to switch careers and break free, if she had stayed in her comfort zone or let the fear of failure stop her in her tracks, she would not have fulfilled her purpose or bought her extraordinary design gift to the world.

You too can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free and get ahead at work by applying the tips in this article. Start small by incorporating three new things in your first week, and then adding more as your comfort zone and capacity expands.

Remember no matter how stuck you feel, it’s never too late to make a change and leading the career that you truly want.

Join the Lucidity Network

The Lucidity Network helps people who feel stuck in their work life to get unstuck and have the career that will make them happy.

The Lucidity Network is a generous community that help each other be happy in their work life. Don’t miss out on making your work life what you want it to be.  For more information and to join the Lucidity Network click here. 

A version of this blog was first published by our friends over at Lifehack.