Trust the Signs

On the first day in Tirana, Albania this week, I decided to walk back to my hotel for lunch. Partly because I wanted the exercise of a brisk walk through the city and also because I love the challenge of remembering a route.

I was staying in a new hotel for the first time and so was unfamiliar with the short drive to the office in the morning. I therefore paid much closer attention than normal in the back of the car, while we spent much of the time in the relentless, rush hour traffic of Tirana.

So, when it came to walking back to the hotel, I was up for the memory challenge!

It wasn’t that difficult to be honest. I had a pleasant lunch and then looked forward to the walk back – this time keeping a look out for the various landmarks I had taken even closer notice of an hour or so before.

What struck me about this exercise was that the landmarks – let’s call them ‘signs’ for the purpose of this blog – were not always obvious at the large junctions, where I had thought they might be. Or rather, I had tried to notice something at a certain junction but in fact, the ‘sign’ I did recognise came after I had made the decision to turn right for example, at a set of traffic lights.

The mural I had registered in my mind only appeared a bit further along the road – not at the corner.

If you’re anything like me, you want the signs to show up and point you in the right direction when you expect them or would like them to be there. You probably don’t know or can’t remember what that sign looks like but you hope to recognise it when you see it.

In life however, the signs usually show up when they need to be there – not necessarily when you expect or prefer them to be there.

Sometimes I find at least, you need to be prepared to go with your inner sense that “this feels right”. Soon after, you very often see that yes, it felt right for a reason. The sign you were hoping for does indeed show up – just not where you thought it would be.

With or without an active, daily faith, the reality is, we all have to live by faith one way or the other.

Faith in our subconscious memory, faith in our ability to find our way back, faith in that often dormant ability that enables us to be as good as we can be – if we learn to trust the signs.

 

 

 

When I Woke Up, I Couldn’t See!

One morning, when I woke up, I couldn’t see.

I called out to my Mum (I was only about eight years old at the time!) who came in to see what the matter was.

It turned out, I had conjunctivitis. The nasty pus that comes with it had effectively congealed over my eye-lashes and therefore, I could not open my eyes in the normal way.

Imagine for a second, if you woke up one morning and the effect was permanent!

As Helen Keller famously said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

At the beginning of this year of all years – 2020 – why not look around you and begin to imagine what could be a reality at some point during this year?

Could it be the realisation that your life is far more impacting than you previously imagined?

Perhaps the reconciliation of a relationship that you need to see happen?

Maybe that creative idea you’ve been putting off for so long has finally clambered its way to the top of your To Do list?

Whatever it is, let’s all do our best to ensure that when we look back on 2020, we can confidently say it was a year when we really pressed in to our vision for life and all that can happen within it.

 

 

“This Story Has Obvious Motion Picture Potential…”

I haven’t always had a study but now that I do, I never want to be without one.

Having only recently furnished it with a couple of pictures and most of my favourite books, it finally feels like a home from home.

A place of peace.

Somewhere to work, write and read.

 

As I embark on rewriting a novel I wrote almost twenty years ago, this is crucial for me at this time in my life. Needless to say, the original draft did not get published (even though one well known literary agency was initially very enthusiastic, while someone else in America offered me a contract with the unforgettable words, “This story has obvious motion picture potential…”. Sadly that ‘offer’ turned out to be a scam).

I eventually gave up on it and continued in my day to day life, occasionally wondering what might have been.

Recently however, I have been doing a bit more than merely wondering what might have been and actually returning to the novel that took me two years to write (early mornings before work and late nights after putting young children to bed).

I asked someone to read it and they eventually came back with some honest feedback, which confirmed what others had said, and made me realise how much I wanted to not simply leave the manuscript as it is, gathering dust, going nowhere.

Some things in life are better left alone. Acknowledge what they were, be grateful for the good they ushered in and then move on.

Other things deserve a touch of resurrection.

A fresh breath of life, perhaps with far more maturity attached. Maybe a more secure and stable structure could make a huge difference and who knows what that could lead to?

For me at least, I can apply that to the novel as well as my life in general.

What about you?

 

Beauty, Rubbish and Danger

I am currently in the middle of the first two week, summer holiday I have had for a very long time – soaking up the sunshine in Greece and making the most of the time to relax and do… next to nothing.

Whilst I could share many images, a few stories and one or two restaurant reviews, no one really wants to read about that. I do however, want to share three personal images…

The first image is a picture postcard view.

It is, of course, a beach.

And the scene before me was so similar to hundreds I’ve seen before of idyllic holiday destinations that I just had to share it.

The location is ‘Kathisma Beach’ and it is quite simply, stunning. There are no jet-skis; no water-skiers (though I love to do both of these activities!).  There is nothing that can disturb the tranquil beauty of the turquoise sea – apart from those who can’t resist cooling off, swimming or just splashing about.

As some of you know (from my experiences last year), I can now swim front crawl ‘properly’ (head down, mouth up every third stroke) and I can swim further and faster than ever before, using a fraction of the energy. This holiday has given me the opportunity to push through and actually swim like this in open water for the first time. After struggling to swim through either misty or reed-infested water in the UK, swimming here has been a totally different experience, providing clarity like I’ve never seen before. My wife counted thirty-three strokes before I stopped to see how far I’d got. Previously, I’d never swam more than about six strokes in the sea!

The second point to note, on the walk back up the hill from a taverna the other night, was that of a collection of rubbish that caught my attention. I was extremely impressed with not only how much rubbish had been squeezed into a relatively small, twin public street bin but how much care must have gone into the final few pieces that had been added.

We all have rubbish in our lives (even if we think we don’t!) and – of course – it’s good to try to be a bit careful with it. Some of us however, for whatever reasons, find it difficult to be at all tidy about our rubbish – that’s okay too – but we could take inspiration from this bin.

Whilst taking some time out, and reading a challenging book, I’ve been considering how I for one, can be a little bit more patient with others, regardless of whether their rubbish is obvious or not.

Third point.  On our second trip to the beach, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving on some hair-raising, dangerous narrow roads that contained no barriers and a sheer drop down several hundred feet of mountain ravine.

It wasn’t a massive problem to me as I was driving (!) and for the most part, the drop was on the passenger side! I can’t say the problem was as small for my wife… but we survived, and eventually made it to the beach. (No photos were taken during this particular road trip for obvious reasons).

Coastlines are special places for me and so – facing a bit of danger – maybe even dealing with a bit of rubbish along the way – is always worth it. I’m tempted to say, ‘Life is a beach’… but (as detailed above) not always in the way you might think it will be.

We should all take time to sit with our fellow travellers and enjoy the view:

Is It Really Smart to Use a Smartphone?

Yesterday, a survey was published that chronicled the huge impact smartphones have made in our lives in the past decade.

I am well aware of course, that for every negative story about smartphones, there will probably be one positive story highlighting how a smartphone enabled someone to be rescued from a grizzly bear in Alaska (perhaps by using a translation app that caused the bear to think it was communicating with a hybrid-looking, fellow bear). I jest of course, but the truth is, the technology that feels like it is emerging every single day is truly astonishing at times.

As you will have guessed however, some of the facts I am about to present to you below will be more inclined to suggest we need less, not more of the influence that smartphones have brought into our world.

The headline and frankly, extremely shocking fact behind the proliferation of smartphone domination is this…

The average person in the UK spends more than a day a week online.

That’s right. One entire day out of seven. Or approximately 14.29% of a person’s time.

This represents a doubling of the time spent on the internet compared to ten years ago.

Here’s another shocking statistic…

One in five of all adults spend as much as forty hours a week on the internet.

Part of the reason behind this huge increase is due to the rise in use by those aged sixteen to twenty-four, who average 34.3 hours a week on the internet.

For the first time, women are spending more time online than men, fuelled by a rise in internet use by those aged 18 to 34 and the explosion in social media. They spend half an hour a week longer online than men of the same age.

The report, compiled by Ofcom, attributes a large part of the surge in time online to the rise of smartphones, which are now used by 78 per cent of the population compared with just 17 per cent in 2008, the year after the first iPhone was launched.

Here’s truly shocking (or not so shocking depending on your mobile tendencies) fact number three…

Britons are now so addicted to smartphones that they check them every twelve minutes.

The report, entitled A Decade of Digital Dependency, says 40 per cent of adults look at their mobile phone within five minutes of waking up, rising to 65 per cent of those aged under 35.

37 per cent of adults check their phones just before switching off the lights for bed, increasing to 60 per cent of under 35s.

Predictably, given the smartphone culture that has become firmly embedded in the lives of so many of us, the younger generation is the most addicted. Those aged fifteen to twenty-four spend on average, four hours a day on their smartphones, compared with 2 hours 49 minutes for all adults. The young also check their phones every 8.6 minutes, more frequently than any other age group.

While Ofcom highlights benefits such as keeping in touch with family, it cites stress and disruption to personal and family life.

“Some find themselves feeling overloaded when online or frustrated when they are not,” said Ian MacRae, director of market intelligence.

Fifteen per cent said smartphones made them feel they were always at work, 54 per cent admitted they interrupted face-to-face conversations with friends and family and 43 per cent admitted spending too much time online.

More than a third felt stressed and “cut off” without their phone and 29 per cent “lost without it” – while one in 10 said that giving it up was “liberating” or made them more productive.

But people treasure their smart phone more than any other device.

Almost half of adults said they would miss it more than TV (28 per cent) and a desktop or laptop computer (10 per cent) – a reversal of a decade ago, when 52 per cent said the TV was more important than the mobile phone (13 per cent). Among 16 to 24-year-olds, 72 per cent now say the smartphone is the device they would miss most.

Yet we spend less time making phone calls on it than ever before. Total outgoing calls on mobiles dropped by 2.5 billion minutes (1.7 per cent) in 2017 as people turned to WhatsApp and Messenger. Using it for phone calls is only considered important by 75 per cent of smartphone users compared with 92 per cent who say browsing the web is more important. It has, however, provoked a huge divide at mealtime, where using the phone was deemed inappropriate by 72 per cent of 18-34s as against 90 per cent of those aged over 55.

I took the above photo of a family who were supposedly eating together at an airport restaurant. What you can’t tell from it is how long this went on for. I was actually beginning to wonder after a while if they were travelling together or not!

So, is it really smart to use a smartphone or not? I guess the answer depends on how long you use it for.

This blog was inspired by and mostly copied from a Daily Telegraph article that I read on my laptop but could so easily have been on my smartphone. Oh the irony!

You can read the article in full here.

 

 

It Takes Teamwork to Truly Win

It is widely acknowledged that the best two footballers on the planet at this time are Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Lionel Messi of Argentina. Both players however, were forced to bow out of the recent World Cup on the same day and relatively early for their level of talent for a very simple reason…

…The rest of their team were not up to the task of winning football matches at the highest level.

And even they (Ronaldo and Messi) were powerless on their own to avoid defeat.

This fact served as a poignant reminder to me that in the world of team sport, as in so much of life, you cannot get very far on your own. Some people would vehemently dispute this and point to all their solo achievements but I beg to differ.

Study all the great teams in any sport but especially football, and you will see extremely high levels of commitment of course but also some other things that all the best managers, coaches and leaders demand of their teams…

Honesty – a willingness to be vulnerable and thereby build…

Trust – a total interdependency on one another.

Courage – being willing to go the extra mile for the team and always be looking to encourage – put courage into – each other at every opportunity.

Respect – that goes both ways between all involved parties.

Selflessness – a true conviction that what is best for the team is more important than what is best for you alone.

So how does this translate into everyday life – regardless of whether you think you are in a team or not?

Decide today to be a team player.

What does that look like exactly – especially if you live and work alone?

There is always someone you can interact with, someone to learn from or be a role model to – you just have to open your eyes and be willing to engage.

 

 

The Southgate Redemption

It was 26th June, 1996, and England were yet again pitted against the Germans in a terribly tense penalty shoot-out. I remember so well – not just because we lost – but also because my eldest son was born about ninety minutes after the final penalty was taken, and we rushed off to the hospital!

Gareth Southgate remembers that night well too, due to the fact that he found himself a member of the worst club in English football history – those who missed their penalty in a major competition and cost England the match.

Ever since he was appointed caretaker and then permanent manager of the England football team, I have taken so much more notice of him than ever before. It comes with the territory; but more than that, with every passing interview accompanying the slow but steady progress of an exceptionally young team, I have watched and listened with increasing respect for this young manager.

He always speaks in mature, measured tones and – during interviews – does not get drawn into answers that will not help anyone.

He doesn’t blame, he doesn’t criticise.

He rarely accepts credit – acknowledging that success is always all about the players… and when defeat comes, then it is his turn.

As manager, he accepts responsibility for the loss.

What I admire most of all about Gareth Southgate is his bold innovation and creativity. He has spoken much, during this World Cup, about the players “writing their own stories” and not being “defined by the past”. On the dreaded prospect of penalties, he has spoken of the players “owning the process” through diligent practise and not simply leaving it to chance on the night.

And so, when England magnificently won the penalty shoot out against Colombia this week, millions of people around the nation – and ex-pats all over the world – will have jumped for joy (or thumped their pouffes like I did!) and been pleasantly surprised by a team of very young players who held their nerve and secured a win.  They – no doubt – also felt extremely pleased and proud of the manager who never got the chance to redeem his own penalty miss personally but has gone one better in bringing  a whole team to victory.

He has instilled in his players a belief that, perhaps, hasn’t truly been there before since 1966. A belief that says…

They can play exciting and intelligent football and win.

They can even win on penalties if they have to – and who knows how far they can go now?

As a leadership lesson, this is priceless I think.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” we were told as children; and this is good, old-fashioned advice.

What is far better, however, is if at first you don’t succeed, help others to succeed with you… and in so doing, there is redemption multiplied.

The Southgate Redemption.

It’s All About the Connection

Yesterday, I took part in a very challenging exercise designed to improve your connection with an audience.

The fact that my audience was only two women merely made it a lot more intense.

The facilitator got us take to in turns to stand up and spend thirty seconds simply looking at the ‘audience’ in total silence.

Yes, I know. It sounds a bit weird, certainly awkward and if it had gone on any longer, extremely difficult. With more people in your audience, you are asked to spend a whole minute doing this.

So what is the purpose of this I hear you ask?

Well, this was the latest stage of my Time to Think development and the idea is that as you take the time to simply look at and appreciate each other – both as presenter and audience – as I said, in total silence, a genuine connectivity takes place.

And it does. It really does. Not in any weird or awkward manner at all either.

You are very tempted to become completely self-conscious and wonder what they must be thinking about the way you are dressed, what that says about who you are and a million other questions always designed to chip away at whatever confidence you have left after placing yourself in this highly uncomfortable situation.

But if you flip that thought and begin to focus instead on the other person (I only had two to choose from but normally, there might be five or six in a training exercise, or in a real-life speaking situation, hundreds in your audience) it suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.

The thinking goes that if you deliberately shelve your instinctive thoughts about your self and how you might be coming across to the other person, and choose to think about the other person in your audience – looking intently at different individuals – you begin to imagine them as your Thinking Partner, letting their attention encourage you. You can also consider them as the Thinker, giving them generative attention as you speak.

Once I made the decision to do that, instead of worrying about how I might be being perceived, it was so much easier and truly fascinating. I was reminded of those short films or commercials where the camera focusses on a single individual staring back but with no words, and then cuts to a different individual doing the same and so on.

I was also reminded of a time recently in the supermarket when my wife and I both had the same thought…

We could see dozens of other random people, queueing at the various checkouts and we realised how each individual person or family present had their own situation they were dealing with.

There we all were, performing the most basic of functions – buying food so that we wouldn’t starve.

How many times do you take time to think about those other people? Every single one of them leaves that place of fundamental purchase and eventually returns to their home. To face what? Who knows. What we do know is that not everyone is problem-free. In fact, the vast majority of people will be going home to deal with something – screaming children, unhappy partner, broken boiler, terminal disease and anything in between.

The somewhat vulnerable exercise of standing up in front of an audience of any size is one thing. Spending the first thirty seconds to a minute appreciating everyone else in total silence is a very different matter but it is definitely worth the effort.

“Play for the love of winning, not for the fear of losing.”

“Play for the love of winning, not for the fear of losing,” was how the Mexico football team’s coach, Juan Carlos Osorio summed up his team’s performance after beating Germany in the World Cup this week.

As soon as I heard that, I wrote it down – knowing instantly that there was a lot to be said about that quote alone.

If you substitute ‘play’ for ‘live’ then I think there is something to seriously consider.

The Mexico team went into their match with Germany with a very specific plan that they believed could be enough to win. without getting into footballing technicalities, the emphasis was on speed and attack, not on concentrated defence.

I have written in the past about how Safe is Risky especially when a tennis player for example, is facing an opponent who is much higher up the world rankings and overall, is of course, a better player. The only way to win for the lower ranked player or team in the case of Mexico, is to play to their strengths, go for their shots, be as fast as they can, and maybe, just maybe, they might surprise the other player/team so much and go on to win the match.

Many people have faced mountains in their lives and continue to face them daily. They get up, keep going and finally overcome.

It is a mental as much as a physical thing of course. More so in fact. It is widely acknowledged in the sporting world (especially in individual sports) that the player with the strongest mental condition will almost invariably win out. It is only this that causes one to triumph in spite of the enormous mental pressure being thrown at you.

As it is in life.

So, whatever you are facing today, tomorrow, next month or next year, “Live for the love of winning not the fear of losing.”

The Thing About the C Word…

The thing about the C word is that we all need more of it.

I’m talking of course, about Confidence.

Most, if not all of us – suffer in one way or another and from time to time – from a lack of confidence.

We too easily forget how well we performed last time we had to step up to the proverbial plate and then allow ourselves to feel unable to deliver what is needed.

Confidence is one of the most attractive things a person can possess.

Without it we can become completely crippled.

There are all kinds of studies and articles out there about raising children to be confident by allowing them to fail when they are young, developing resilience to push through, praising them when they do well and nurturing their tender hearts as they grow up learning to love themselves and those around them. All of this is good and correct I believe.

I have three such children myself – all confident young adults now I am happy to report.

Each time however, one of them has a bit of an obstacle in front of them, I have to dig deep into my own reserves of confidence to trust and believe they will come through, knowing that I may have some influence but the action has to come from them.

Confidence is crucial in so many arenas of life and perhaps most of all, when it comes to putting our confidence in others – whether they are young people we are willing on to win in some small or even significant way or other. less familiar individuals who we perhaps reluctantly rely in some subtle way.

There are many things we can do alone but we can only go so far without the help and love of others.

It takes a certain amount of confidence to be part of something bigger – even if that is merely a partnership of some sort.

A business or a marriage.

A community or a church.

Who do you regularly put your confidence in?

Maybe it is someone you hadn’t considered until now…