Friday, 15 December 2006

The Socks of Happiness

I bought the book 'Healing without Freud or Prozac' earlier this year when I was looking into alternative treatments for depression, i.e. those which don't involve drugs or therapy. I was fascinated by the chapters on Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which the author, Dr David Servan-Schreiber, calls 'the mind's own healing mechanism'. It's a relatively simple technique which simulates the rapid eye movements that take place during dreams.

So when Charlie sent me a link to a BBC Radio Four programme (How to Knit a Poem) this week, which was about the therapeutic effect of knitting, I wondered whether knitting might also be a way of imitating REM.

In this 15 minutes programme, the poet, Gwyneth Lewis, interviews Jeni Hewlett (referred to incorrectly as Jeni Green in the interview), a research assistant in the School of Psychology at Cardiff University , who is undertaking a research study to demonstrate scientifically whether or not knitting can help people get out of a cycle of negative thinking that accompanies depression.

Betsan Corkhill, who runs Stitchlinks, believes that cross-stitching and crochet have a similar effect. It seems it's all to do with the repetitive nature of the activity; the beneficial effect it has on physical and mental health might be due to eye-scanning, or the release of the chemical serotonin in the brain.

So now I'm thinking of taking up knitting in 2007; I doubt it will transform me into a serene earth-mother, but I could do with a few more scarves...

PS I'm amazed at how many knitters are also bloggers ...see for example:

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Comfort zones

I caught part of The Choir (BBC2 9pm) on Monday night (11/12/06) - in a nutshell, 160-odd kids from Northolt High School (total roll about 1300) in West London audition to join The Phoenix Choir, to enter an international choral competition, the World Choir Games which will take place in China.

Like many choirs, the girls outnumber the boys; they don't have enough Tenors and Basses to balance the Altos and the Sopranos so the conductor, Gareth Malone (who usually conducts the London Symphony Orchestra's Community Choir and Youth Choir), tries to rustle up more interest, but he gets only six new names from asking everyone he sees in the playground.

So he asks the school's music teacher where he's likely to find some hidden talent; she is dismissive - according to her it would be highly unlikely to find any , in all the schools 1300 pupils. Richard is disappointed but not a man to be beaten (well, there wouldn't be a programme if he couldn't find enough singers...) finally, he ventures with some trepidation into the sixth form common room. He coaxes and cajoles several young men into being auditioned. One or two of these 16-18 year olds are pretty confident about their abilities, but in a self-effacing kind of way; surprisingly, most are pretty modest and lacking in confidence - in fact Gareth comments on how much more arrogant he was at their age.

Thankfully though, the school music teacher is mistaken - it's obvious from the auditions that there is a whole host of latent talent at Northolt School, talent which is just waiting to be recognized. Let's hope other teachers don't write off their pupils quite so quickly.

Having got 39 kids in total, these must be whittled down to 25, and 4 reserves to meet the competition rules. It is heartbreaking to see the disappointment of those kids who don't get through the second audition; you have to hope that they have a loving parent /family /friend /teacher to help them pick up the pieces afterwards.

Having spent a few months practising after school, one of the first major tests for the newly formed Phoenix choir is to sing in front of a live audience. These kids are absolutely terrified at the prospect, and even more so when they discover that their first live audience is to be the dreaded Year 11s; the fear that this induces is palpable. But, give them credit, they do their warm up and breathing exercises and give one of their best performances of Vivaldi's Gloria to date. And to give the Year 11s credit too, they soon stop giggling and snickering, they really listen, and give the choir a fantastic round of applause at the end.

What brought a real smile to my face though was the visible increase in the confidence of the kids in the choir when they finish this performance; they seem to have grown a couple of inches in the space of five minutes. They're relieved it's over, yes, but they have just done something they never thought they'd be able to do, they pulled it off, survived and feel more confident as a result. So here I think is an important lesson for all of us - in a nutshell if you want to gain confidence, you have to get out of your comfort zone. The results will be well worth it I promise you.

Watch next week's episode to see how they get on at the World Choir Games.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Visualizing your goals

Of course I'm an avid supporter of the Open University - I did my MBA at their Business School in the late 90's and have worked closely with them ever since. So I was delighted to read in the Independent yesterday (5 Dec 2006) that they are partnering the Trades Union Congress to provide a 10 per cent discount on entry-level university courses for TUC' members, all 6.4 million of them.

This is a fantastic opportunity to start your own personal development. Of course, balancing work life and studying can be pretty tough (I'd rather not be reminded of that now so you'll have to ask Jenny) especially if you also want to have some time for a social / family life, however, it also seems to be true that there is rarely any gain without pain (I wonder who really said that). Incidentally, one of the ways I got through my studies was to think 'If other people can do it, so can I'.

So, how can you motivate yourself to get started on what could in all likelihood be a life changing course of action? (....There are some truths to "Educating Rita").

A top tip, tried and tested by many of our coaching clients, is to visualise the outcome . Visualisation isn't a new technique, you probably do it frequently already although you may not be very aware that you do it. So for example if I ask you to think about what you had for breakfast this morning, or who your best friend was at school, the chances are that you'll remember this by creating a picture in your head.

So how can you visualise your goal? Well, you can do this in a number of ways: in your head by relaxing and mentally creating a picture of your outcome, you can get out your kid's crayons/felt tips/paints and start drawing, you can use the whiteboard or a flipchart in an empty meeting room, or put those magazines to good use by cutting out the photos which appeal to your senses and make a collage out of them.

Choose whichever method which appeals to you, put aside a good 45 minutes and as you're going through this creative exercise, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What it is that I want? Think about this in as much detail as you can.

Then imagine yourself having achieved this goal. Ask yourself:

2. When and where have I achieved this goal, and who is with me?

3. What has changed in my life as a result of achieving this goal?

4. What is my experience of having achieved this goal?

5. What has achieving this goal got me?

If you have plenty of time to spare, just go with the flow; you'll be surprised what springs from your imagination once you give it a free rein.

Once you're happy with the image you've created, spend 10-15 minutes reflecting on it. In our future blogs we'll explore practical ways to use visualisations to achieve goals.

Whichever visualisation technique you use, it will help you see and experience the goal for real, and create a very powerful motivator which is 100% personal to you. We've had lots of positive comments from clients who have tried visualisation, and whose personal images stay with them. We'd like to hear how you get on with it!