Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Reset and Resource: Solo Time

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.” 

To spend time alone is a precious way to reset and resource.  To have solo time in nature, is even more transformational for our energy, wellbeing, perspective and creativity.

Yet many of us don’t do it.  And even avoid being on our own – busying our time with activities and perhaps drama.  As poet David Whyte recognises “the first step in spending time alone is to admit how afraid of it we are”.

Sometimes, we just need the encouragement to stop doing, and go into nature to just be.

Dedicated solo time is one of the most appreciated and transformational aspects of the leadership programmes I help run at Impact. We tend to keep it as a surprise and when we disclose to the participants that they will be spending 2 hours alone on a hill side, it is met with trepidation, intrigue, resistance – or on the odd occasion, a plea of “can we have more time?”.  For one particular executive programme, the participants are asked to reflect on their leadership in solitude, in nature, without distractions of watches or phones.  It is a simple action or rather non-action, which proves to be a turning point for many.

For example, in his reflections, a senior executive realised he felt guilty for taking time out for himself, and had the insight that “If I don’t care for myself, I can’t care for others”. The experience completely changed his philosophies and leadership practice.  Another senior manager came up with his own motto and a commitment, which he named “888”, no work before 8am, no work after 8pm and aim for 8 hours sleep. One described how her mission “just came to me while I was sitting there”.  Others simply and profoundly realise how important is having time to think. 

Back at home in Mallorca, I have started offering ‘solo together’ sessions whereby I invite people to come and experience a 2 hour solo, but which begins and ends as a group.  It is not done in the context of a leadership programme, but just as curious individuals with their own intentions and open to the experience. Some want to have this thinking time, some have a specific issue they want to contemplate. Some are just curious about what happens.  Here is feedback from two recent participants:

"As somebody who finds keeping still very difficult, the Solo Together showed me how beneficial solitude (without distractions!) can be. Guided by the lovely Penny and safe in the knowledge that my companions were close by, my very active brain was able to rest and focus on more creative thoughts. I returned home energised and determined to make the effort to really get away from it all more often. Thank you!” (Participant)

“The Solo Together was a fantastic experience. A small group, with an accessible (not strenuous) walk to a lovely clearing, where we all experienced 2 hours in nature alone, yet knowing others were close. A powerful experience to slow down and connect with the self. The facilitation was just right to gain from the experience. Will definitely be attending again, and highly recommend for all (participant)”

Solo time - how will you make space for it in your life?

Whyte, D. (2016) Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”, Many Rivers Press, USA

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Reset and Resource: Sleep

Out of all our reset buttons, could sleep be the most magically restorative?  At the very least, its absence is an effective indicator that we need to reset and resource.

As Sleep Revolution author, Arianna Huffington said "I can tell you with authority that when I'm exhausted, when I'm running on empty, I'm the worst version of myself. I'm more reactive. I'm less empathetic. I'm less creative. And all of us can testify to that."

Yep Arianna, I can.  I am known in my family as someone who needs their sleep.  As a child, whenever I got grumpy, mum would send me off to bed.  Now as an adult, I am clearer about whether I need to actually ‘process some emotions’ shall we say or indeed go for that siesta.  Whenever my niece and nephew come for a sleepover it makes me wonder how many parents must be sleep walking around this earth.  So it is no surprise that sleep has been identified as 'an issue the corporate world cannot ignore' with research indicating a majority of managers across the board are getting less sleep than the recommended minimum. This is showing to have a real impact on manager’s health, social and emotional lives, and is having a negative impact on their performance in managing complex tasks and displaying effective behaviours. In The Business of Sleep, Professor Vicky Culpin goes on to say, “having approximately 1.5 hours less sleep a night than you need means that you are about one-third less alert the next day. If you have three people working for you, this is the equivalent of paying for one person to be asleep all day!”.

Certainly when we get leaders talking about how they can look after their well-being more effectively,  the majority will talk about needing to improve the quantity and quality of their sleep.  The irony is not lost, that after this meaningful walk and talk, we stick them in a mountain hut to sleep in bunk beds.   If you want a mini case study in the correlation between happiness and sleep quality, there it is.

Sleep – it is a natural phenomena. We all need it. We all do it.   And as natural and common as it is, we must give it the attention it deserves. From the perspective of being our common reset button to feel resourceful and rejuvenated, here are six sleep reflections…

Share:   Professor Culpin recommends we put ‘sleep on the agenda’ – and in business where sleep deprivation seems to be carried around like a badge of honour, this is particularly important.  We need to have conversations about it to share how different ways sleep loss can affect us and share tips on how we overcome it.

Maybe don’t share!  By its very nature, sleep is a very individual thing – and - can be so dependent on others.    I remember how unromantic and sad I thought it was that my grandparents had single beds. Now I get it. Maybe a sign of age, but friends are expressing a desire to have separate bedrooms and even sleeping rooms from their partner.  This is a delicate topic to raise and one too important not to have.  

Tune in (with or without technology):   And so we take control of what we can, to enhance our sleep.  Which requires that we tune into what our mind, body and soul needs, test and try out what works for us from the plethora of sleep advice tips out there, and make choices accordingly.   Some friends have found wearing a Fitbit useful for the data it provides – helping them to dispel their own sleeping myths and to create some new patterns.  

Let go:   Surely to sleep is our most regular lesson in letting go.  In order to sleep, we truly need to relax and surrender. As Professor Tom Rath, author of Eat Move Sleep,  who advocates focusing on small choices which lead to big changes says, “at the end of a lousy day, before you make a small stressor into something bigger, give sleep a chance to do some repair work overnight”.  The magic of a sleep to put things in perspective is literally mind-blowing isn’t it? How much sleep we need is individual – ex British Prime Minister was known to sleep only 4 hours a night.  Arguably she should have had more.  

If not you, who?:  So yes, if you find it easier to do things for others rather than yourself, think of the wider impact of your sleep habits. Culpin brings in the time when in 2007, President Bill Clinton was interviewed on the US TV programme Daily Show and discussed his theory on how the relationship between sleep and mood shows up in US politics – "You have no idea how many Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate are chronically sleep deprived because of this system. I know this is an unusual theory but I do believe sleep deprivation has a lot to do with some of the edginess of Washington today".  Suffice to say, we owe it an individual and societal level to get enough sleep.

Dream gifts:  For sleep not only resets us physically, but emotionally and is a chance to delve into our resourcefulness at a subconscious level.  I see sleep as one of the best personal development workshops around. In Wild Courage, Elle Harrison explicitly encourages us to start noticing our dreams as a fundamental way to develop our intuition, which is so integral to our creativity, innovation and decision making capabilities as a leader.

Sleep – all going well, it occupies about a third of our life.  Something to be treasured indeed.

photo own of my nephew’s creation of putting his toy parrot Steve to bed!
Links to books referenced:

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Reset and Resource: Be Porous

As a coach and consultant, I like to help people find their own ways to self-regulate, to reset and remind themselves of their own resourcefulness.   Each person is unique, our reset buttons numerous and our potential unlimited.  And I thought it would be an interesting exercise to write up some of the common ways we can reset and resource, and share them.

One teacher who is particularly generous at sharing, is the ‘distinct Western Buddhist’ voice of Tara Brach.  She offers many gems – and one which really resonates for me, is the invitation to “be porous”.

She talks about it in the context of us defending against our vulnerability.  Fundamentally aware of our mortality, we are constantly bracing ourselves for danger around the corner.  This of course helps protect us and gives us boundaries, but it can be exhausting and cuts us off from joy, creativity and connection.

We may be composed of atoms but we walk around as a “bundle of tense muscles protecting against our existence”.  If we can become aware of our body in any moment, that can be our opening.  If we can stop and breath into any tension that exists, with gentleness and curiosity, we can reset and resource.  Becoming porous, we can literally feel the aliveness and energy move through us. Our options expand.  

My coachees in a police force have talked about how being introduced to mindfulness has given them a feeling of space.  They may not use these terms, neither may you, but in practising being porous, we are learning to “meet our edges and soften”.  We are more than our rigidness portrays.

As Tara Brach offers in her talk, here is the nature inspired poetry of Rumi also inviting us to try it out…

Very little grows on jagged rock

Be Ground 

Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are. 

You've been stony for too many years. 

Try something different. 


Photo: own
This particular posting refers to:, and draws on teachings incl from Chögyam Trungpa and Rumi.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Reset and Resource: Do Nothing

In this series of exploring the unlimited and individual ways we can reset and resource – perhaps one of the most difficult is to do nothing.

It seems like we will do anything to do something, rather than do nothing. Often driven by a desire to curb a stirring anxiety in order to feel safe, worthy or connected, and under the illusion that if we do something it will make things better, we take action – we move, we speak, we consume, we decide, we social media,  we call that meeting, send that email…we do anything.  

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has been fundamental in bringing mindfulness to the West so beautifully plays on a familiar action slogan, to say “don’t just do something, sit there”.

It seems that sooner or later, even if we are forced to do nothing through illness or the like,  we learn that we need to learn to stop and sit with what is.  Like the meditation retreats I go on where the primary instruction is ‘do nothing – perfectly’, it takes some doing.   Your mind starts wandering, flicking between ruminating on the past or speculating about the future. Rather than staying aware with non-judgement, you find yourself evaluating and assessing each sensation – like, don’t like, hate. You grasp onto thoughts as if they were the fixed truth – your mind rushing from one to the next, trying to solve problems.

You don’t have to sit on a meditation cushion to know this feeling.  And you don’t have to do meditation as a practice. It is learning to be present. To notice when an old fear or familiar trigger rises and choosing not to act on it but to observe it with self compassion. Especially those challenging times, when we are feeling stressed,  wanting things to be a certain way or in the grip of something.  If in those times, we can ‘do nothing – perfectly’, even for a split second, we can find new ways to reset and resource.

As a partner, as a friend, to ‘do nothing-perfectly’ can be the ultimate in acceptance. Other times it simply gives each other space, time and energy to gain perspective.

As a coach, to ‘do nothing- perfectly’ can be just the thing to create the necessary shift within the coaching relationship to help the coachee move deeper into self-awareness and resourcefulness.

As a leader, to learn to ‘do nothing – perfectly’ helps us to lead in this VUCA world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It may mean we get skilful at being utterly in the presence of our direct report,  giving them our full attention.  It may mean being more comfortable in encouraging silence as a collective, in a busy team meeting.   It may be about being more courageous to stand back from your own agenda, to reconnect with a deeper wisdom.

Indeed, what relationship, leadership dilemma or political decision has not benefited from taking up Lao-Tzu’s challenge..

Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Reset and Resource: 'Taking it to the land'

If we surrended
To earth’s intelligence
We could rise up rooted, like trees

(from Book of Hours, II, 16 by Rainer Maria Rilke)

In this series of exploring how we reset and resource – how beautiful is it to turn to the nonhuman world and ‘take things to the land’?

When we ‘take things to the land’, we are in nature and consciously and intuitively engage with its mystery.  The dilemma we are facing, the dreams we want to manifest, the answers we seek – all can be aided by a conversation with mother earth.  Rocks, trees, ants, birds, the moon and the stars…the natural world is full of good listeners – and sage wisdom.  Going to the desert, the mountains, the sea and the plains to seek connection to ourselves, others and the earth is a fundamental part of our human story.

Yet many of us have become disconnected with this part of ourselves, out of alignment with the interrelationship with nature and detached from our inner voice, the voice through which the natural world speaks to us. However if we can turn up in its presence with an open mind and heart, we have an opportunity to reset and resource.  We are reminded of the interconnectivity of things.  We gain new perspectives.  If we are prepared to pay attention to what is revealed to us by nature, signs and symbols of our inner journey will be reflected back to us.  So we go out, with an intention, a question, an idea and we notice what happens.  The raven that circles us, the scar in the tree trunk, the insects busying, the breeze that whispers…nature is a mirror to our soul. 

Similarly, we can have those conversations that are difficult to have in person.  Many share a similar fate, when I say my Dad died suddenly from a heart attack and that I never got to say goodbye.  What works for me is to ‘take it to the land’,  where I have those missed/missing conversations.  Instead of Dad, I talk to a rock – which makes me smile as Dad was indeed a man of few words.  

Those ancestors we never met, the family member that dies suddenly, the lover that goes without a goodbye, the boss that drives us crazy, the distant friend  – we can have any conversation we need to without the person in question.  We have them with the universe at large.   Arguably, our dog, cat or hamster can be that perfect stand-in.

As founders of the School of Lost Borders, an organization which has helped me develop my nature based coaching, write “the exercise of intuitive cognition – one of humankind’s greatest gifts – begins with the exercise of respecting and listening to our inner voice. If we cannot value our own inherent wisdom, the bird and the moon will have nothing to reveal to us”. 

Conversations with the natural world are significant for us personally and collectively. As Mediation teacher and author, Tara Brach offers “thinking is not the pinnacle of our human potential”.  The complexity and scale of the issues that face us are so immense, to not sit in presence and partnership with nature will surely forever limit our evolution.  How can any real transformative conversation on the Sustainability Development Goals take place within four walls?  What different conversations and different outcomes would result if the UN sat and conversed in and with nature in a deep way?.  Or for that matter, our own executive board or team? 

“If you are not already convinced of this, put it to the test. Ask the wind a question about your own destiny.  If you hold your attention steadily on the subject, the wind will answer. Then you must be willing to accept the answer, even if it seems inconsequential, or “what I already know”.


  • Check out School of Lost Borders

  • Founders of School of Lost Borders:   Foster, S. and Little, S , 1984, The Trail to The Sacred Mountain, A Vision Fast Handbook For Adults,  Lost Borders Press (3rd last and last paragraph quotes from pg 51)

  • Tara Brach

  • If you are interested in this perspective, I love Bill Plotkin’s books

  • Photo own

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Reset and Resource: Holidays

Holidays, are a holy time – a period to rest, relax and recharge; sacred occasions to honour and be grateful for.  And as part of them, we have the opportunity to connect more deeply with ourselves in mind, body and soul as well as with our past, present and future – and by doing so, come back to our wholeness.  By the very nature of these 'wholedays', when not absorbing ourselves in the moment, we turn to reflect on what has been happening in our lives to date. With the possibilities of being out of our routine, and with new found energy and perspectives, we begin to see how we can move positively forward.   Whether it be the activities we undertake, the inspiring places we are in or the people we are with, the engaging conversations we have – they all serve to encourage us to make commitments to implement changes ‘once the holiday is over’.

These may be what we are committed to:

cull in our lives – that which no longer serves us. 

cultivate – the activity/practice/value which benefits us in every way that we will nurture more fully.

commence – that which we will finally kick-start with absolute conviction.

What are your commitments?

part of a series exploring how we reset and resource.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Reset and Resource: THAT Space

In this series of exploring our ‘reset buttons’, is there anything more liberating and inspiring than Viktor Frankl’s reflections in “Man’s Search for Meaning”?

Amongst his wisdom, I find myself sharing this most with the leaders I work with.  Paraphrased as:

Between stimulus and response there is a space.

In that space is a choice.

In that choice is our freedom. 

He starkly and powerfully reminds us that there are always choices available to us. Even when we think there are none.   

Between there and here, between the past and now, there is THAT space. The gateway to a field of endless possibilities.  

The more aware of that space, the potential that exists in it, the expansiveness that it offers, the more we can lean in to it and sit with the unknown. And the more we can respond mindfully instead of with our habitual automatic ways.

This, of course, is the exact opposite of what happened in a conversation with a colleague.

Unconsciously swirling around with fixed beliefs, past hurts, defensive strategies, defined expectations and strong emotions, I was so cloudy I didn't see any space. 

So I reacted from that little girl with those raw feelings as opposed to the woman who may still have those feelings but has a few more perspectives on what they mean and how to handle them.

That space. It may be a split second, it may be longer.

That space usually comes when we literally take a breather...

And come to the present...

And we follow that feeling...

Back to its source...

Seeing it for what it is …

Enabling us to respond with awareness.

And the encouraging thing is that we will get numerous opportunities to practice!  If we pay attention to what provokes us, we will soon notice our patterns – those situations and events, and often projections or transferences cleverly disguised as certain people and their actions.  With every one of these strong emotional hooks, we look to befriend that space.

In doing so, we reset and resource. 

Viktor E. Frankl (2004) Man’s Search For Meaning: the classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust, Ebury Publishing