I sound a bit Southern and I work in London so this question always makes me feel like a fraud! I’m from Blyth in Northumberland. It’s a small coastal community near the iconic St Mary’s Island. We moved away from there when I was five, to Ulverston which is between Windermere and Barrow-in-Furness. My parents are in Ulverston but we have family and close friends in Blyth, so I feel like a Transpennine Express – belonging equally on both sides of the North!
I met Simone at TEDx Whitehall Women in November 2017. I did a talk (Crossing The Bridge) there – which is a whole other story. I was just a randomer who sent in a video pitch I’d recorded on my lunch break and they loved it! After the event, I reached out to Simone about what can I do for Northern Power Women and we talked more about that.
Simone asked me how I wanted to contribute. At the time I was Senior Advisor to Sir James Bevan, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency. I was doing James’ social media and curating blog topics for him to write for LinkedIn. I’ve always enjoyed writing and I thinking about what James had to say made me realise I had all these other ideas that I was not doing anything with. It may have made me a bit frustrated!
We agreed that I would write a blog about personal development for the website. We settled on doing it weekly. Having it as a habit has meant I have to write something and care less about whether it’s perfect. So that’s how it came about!
I think too many people separate being effective in work and being effective in your personal life. I think part of being curious is being able to blend the two. That’s not saying you should have a work/life balance. It’s saying if I learn something knitting, running or in the gym, about myself or my mindset, why would I not apply that to how I am at work and being a whole person?
You have to be curious. Curiosity is basically permission to be wrong – for not everything to be useful all the time. If you’re not curious you won’t have the flexibility to try to overcome all the things that are in your way.
If you don’t have a curious mindset, it just feels like you fail all the time. You have to reframe it as getting rid of what doesn’t work to find out what does work.
When I was singing full-time I became utterly absorbed in performance psychology and being effective. I also had to learn how to look after myself. As a professional singer, I got to watch other people being coached, so I was seeing how my peers tackled the same thing in their own way.
We sing differently because we are all different people. Your body is your instrument, and we all have different bodies! It’s not like doing History GCSE, where you read the book and take the test. You have to do it with what you’ve got and you can’t just do what works for other people.
I was quite academic at school. I think it probably started from doing A Levels to going to uni, and I had to find a way to get that information into me and out on a page – even before singing came to the fore. Or at work, it’s how I can get the right skills into me and then out into a project. You have to be able to perform your skills and strengths.
I identified a number of personal blockers. I knew there were things I wanted to do, and things that I was good at, and these weren’t always the same thing! When I wasn’t naturally good I would put the time in, and commit to learning and practising. Usually in this sort of story people then say “and the rest is history”. But that isn’t everyone’s story, and it certainly isn’t mine. Sometimes my voice and what I wanted to express wouldn’t come out, even when I’d put in all the effort and had worked out what I thought effective practice was. It was really galling. I was constantly thinking: I know I’ve got it in me, but why won’t it come out?
I think everybody has days like that. The worst thing is the feeling that it has never happened to you before, nothing is going to work, and it’s never happened to anyone else. So anything that can remind you that tomorrow will follow today is helpful. Whatever happens, tomorrow will arrive, and you will still be here. (I often listen to this song by Tim Minchin which is one of my reminders.)
I don’t like to think of effectiveness in terms of productivity. If you can focus on effectively being the best you, being kind and staying true to your values. Effectiveness is not just productivity for a business it’s also about self-realisation. It might be a bit woo but actually, we have to be a bit woo! Otherwise, what are we doing it for?!
I’ve been through periods where I’ve been crippled by the feeling that a hard situation is never going to change. The feeling that it’s hard, it’s always going to be hard, that I can’t add any value. But that’s where the little hacks, nudges and routines come in. Those small things help you. They ground you and remind you that you’ve been here before, and it got better. That really helps.
Annie Dillard said: “how we spend our days, is how we spend our lives.” Aim to pay in a little bit of good practice on your habits or routines every day. If you can focus on today, that is enough – yes, write your plans or strategies or whatever, but be present today too. Just focus on the doing, and not what that makes you or what will other people think of it.
What are you leaving behind today? Some of that is making you better so you can do better tomorrow. Ultimately it is about other people. I do think that kindness will liberate us all – and that is massively woo! But the moment you can free yourself up to be kind to someone else, it’s the moment you forget yourself for a bit and you have to be okay to do that.
The moment you can’t bring yourself to give to others, you need to go back to being kind to yourself first. It’s that old saying: fit your own oxygen mask before helping others. It’s not selfish, what is selfish is not looking after yourself and letting other people down.
Not everyone can do that all of the time and it’s important to say that we struggle with that from time to time, we’re not all perfect. For some of us, there will be long periods of that, and we find that really difficult, that’s okay. We can’t always be our best selves. If you’re trying your best, you can’t do anything else. If you’re also judging yourself that your best isn’t good enough, then you try better at giving yourself a break.
Last year on twitter I did a thing called #WeeklyNudge and that left me with some different habits. I would love to keep doing that but ended up being a big commitment to live blog it via tweets every week. I needed a break to be kind to myself and say, you can’t practice a new nudge every week for the rest of your life. Just enjoy putting it into practice and seeing the benefits.
Having to think about what I would recommend to people has made me recognise what works for me. It’s also great to be able to give thanks and highlight things that other people do that have helped me. It also makes me think, “Well, that might not work for everybody”. It’s making think more about other people.
Having the discipline to do write something once a week has made me realise that good enough is good enough. That’s definitely changed for me because otherwise I would have thought, “I need to make it really good” and stayed up working on it for hours.
The blogging will have changed it in ways that I can’t see now, and in other ways things that I always saw and knew were true. I really hope the blog helps people identify a safe space to be agents of change for their own wellness and effectiveness.
Certainly, the little things I post on Twitter and Instagram are a window into the things I am trying to change and the self-care that I’m trying to do. I’ve posted a lot on Instagram recently about at-home yoga. Or I will just flop out on the sofa and have a really ugly chill night, which I wrote about recently. I think sharing is the best way to show other people what’s possible – share what you’re doing!
And again, be enough for yourself. Nobody looks photogenic with an oxygen mask on. Even if it doesn’t look good with a filter on, it’s going to help create a safe space for others to starting taking care of themselves.
I really want to give an inspiring answer! I know I should drink less alcohol and drink less coffee…. But I don’t. There are so many things!
Sleep is one though. Know how much sleep you need and try to get that much. It’ll be different for everybody but I am an eight hour/seven and half hour gal. Sometimes nine if it’s been a busy week. If I’ve been to the gym, then I need more sleep too. If I haven’t had alcohol, I don’t need as much sleep. Is work really intense? When I’m at work, am I thinking harder? I’ll need more sleep.
Besides having enough sleep, it’s also having enough space in the day to renew and recharge; having a better awareness of what gives energy and what takes it away. Try to balance that out through the day.
Having a goal is great because you are choosing to work towards something and you’re tied into something to help you pull that along.
But I totally agree: if it feels like a goal, is it really self-care? Big question mark there. But actually, sometimes you need a goal to give yourself a kick up the bum! I wrote a blog post in the Autumn about doing the Great North Run. It doesn’t always go according to plan. So this year, instead of committing to a goal, I just committed to showing up.
So even if I didn’t feel like stuff, I’d say yes, and if I had the energy to do it, I’d go. It’s interesting because it hasn’t given me the results that I thought I’d get. When I set the goal for myself, I thought it was about swimming. I hated swim training but thought I should just give it a go. But by showing up to everything on my schedule I became more drawn to my CrossFit classes because they gave me what I needed in terms of feeling well. So my resolution turned into showing up for my body, and in turn, I’m feeling more like myself.
I like having a goal that is quite broad, like a value statement or a mantra. Last year was to be social and try to get over some social anxiety I had going on, and now 2019’s goal is to show up. Having a prompt works better for me than having a cast iron resolution.
It is just a little thing, but if I’m stuck on the sofa and I don’t know what to do, then I ask myself, “well, what are you going to show up for?”