Saturday, 30 April 2011

Z is for Zooming in & Zooming out

In life, we’re constantly in a state of ebb and flow between the intricate details of a situation and the broadest picture context. 

Take a work project for example. At times, we need to zoom in to understand the complexities and minutiae of every situation, project planning to every single day and accounting for every single £1. But if we stay in that detail we can get stuck, caught up in a tunnel-vision that can hinder creativity. 

So, to be strategic, we zoom back out to take a look at the overall picture and remind ourselves ‘what’s the point of all this; what are we really trying to do here/ change here/ create here?’

From my experience, a dynamic state of zooming in, then back out, then back in, then back out, well frankly it’s a powerful mix and is absolutely necessary to get the best out of most situations. 

I use the technique when I’m editing other people’s work, or when I’m planning a big project of my own or even when I’m thinking about potential life changes or decisions. To be able to step back and take stock of where you are allows you to “see the wood for the trees” again and to gain a broader perspective. But if you spent all your time up in the clouds, you’d never get anything done and you’d constantly live in a world of dreams. 

This challenge has provided another core example of the ‘Zoom in, Zoom out’ technique at its best. Every day, with every blog, and every new topic to find to write about, I’ve been drilling right down into the nitty gritty details. What’s a good length? What am I trying to say here? Would that word or this word work better in this sentence? Which picture captures the essence of the point I’m making here?

And now it’s over and I’m on the final post I’m zooming right back out to wonder: what’s this challenge really been about for me? What will I do with the results? And what could I move onto next? In particular, have I learnt anything about myself, the blogging world and my writing style that will be valuable to build on?

As ever, the answer is undoubtedly yes. 

So watch this space to find out how.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Y is for YouTube: Like Marmite

Are you a lover or a hater?

Personally, YouTube creeps me out a bit. The fact that absolutely anything can be filmed, anything can be uploaded and you can find absolutely anything on there.

On the other hand, it’s pure genius for getting your brand out, for creating mass market popularity in quick timescales and even for creating ‘How to’ tutorials and music videos.

There are plenty of great things to find on there and it has to be one of the most popular website phenomena from last year. But what are the risks? Have you identified the negatives?

  • Who’s protecting our children from being able to access things too mature for their years?
  • Who’s judging quality of the videos to prevent absolutely anything from getting on?
  • Who’s protecting the privacy of people who end up on YouTube without their own consent?

Then again, some of the clips that find their way to public stardom are complete genius. The ‘baby scared of her mom sneezing’, the ‘baby laughing’, the ‘T mobile flash mobs’ at various famous train stations are now infamous classics. And I’m sure there are plenty more that I haven’t found.

I haven’t had enough experience of YouTube yet to decide which way I stand.

So where are you on the love-hate scale?

X is for Xanadunana

11 years ago, on a holiday in Menorca with my best friend and her family, I renamed my friend Xanadunana. To this day, her number is still in my phone as ‘Xanadunana New’!


Well, who knows why actually; we must have seen it somewhere, built on it and then it stuck. But it makes me smile every time I see it and I’m so happy she’s in my life. Nicknames are a great way to bring people closer together. They seem to come out of nowhere and are suddenly the most endearing reference possible for the person close to you. Like a secret connection that only you know.

What does it mean?

The official definition of Xanadu is ‘An idyllic, beautiful place’. How fitting. 

Xanadu Island Resort
It’s named after Xanadu, the region where a “stately pleasure dome” is located in the poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 

Xanadu is now a well-used name; as a Broadway musical, a film, a song, an island resort and a software programme. I don’t quite know how we expanded it to Xanadunana but I like it and plan to keep it!

So why is this important?

Well, because I wanted to use this blog to reflect and be thankful for the value of great friends. Some people in your life may come and go like ships passing in the night, creating a spark for the short time they’re there; whilst others remain strong and true for years and years. The latter are the friends that you want to hold on to and that’s the type of friend that my Xanadunana is. 

Sometimes life takes over and it’s easy to lose track, stop calling or get so focused on your own life and priorities that you forget about others. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt along the way, it’s the fact that true friends should always be your priority. There’ll be moments in life when they really need you and if you’re not looking closely enough how will you notice them in need? 

And when you need them? Well, then you’re certain to hope that they’re watching out for you too.

Tomorrow we’ll be celebrating the Royal Wedding together in style – so a big Cheers to the lovely couple and an even bigger Cheers to all the brilliant friendships out there keeping this wonderful world a happy and bubbly place. 

To Chat!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

W is for Women’s Rights & Women’s Fights

On the 9th August 2006, I was privileged enough to attend the South African Women’s Day celebrations held at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. It’s a day that changed my life.

At the time I was working as an Assistant Social Worker in a shelter for abused women. With my Psychology degree behind me, I was thrown into the deep end of psychological care, responding to the needs of women who’d been through such hardships; things I struggle to comprehend even now and certainly wouldn’t mention here. 

It was an incredible time; and what do you think inspired me the most? Yes, as ever, the power of the human condition to be resilient, powerful and positive during such unbelievable pain and tragedy was astounding. Those women will remain in my heart for all time as the most uplifting and accepting set of individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I thank them deeply for everything they gave me, and I hope that I gave them a little something in return. 

They’re particularly in my mind this week as I often got asked “So if you come from England do you know the Queen?” They would be revelling in the Royal Wedding this week, soaking up every moment of the celebrations.

On the day in question, I acted as chaperone taking the women to the Union Building Celebrations. Taking control of such a vibrant group had its challenges as they just can’t stop singing and dancing; on the bus, in the field, through the crowds, across the roads. An unstoppable force of energy. 

But the most powerful part of the day was the re-enactment of the famous women’s rights march from 50 years earlier. In 1956, 20,000 women of all races marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against a law forcing black women to carry passes in South Africa. They succeeded in standing up to what can only be described as fundamental human wickedness.

International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th March and there are so many things to be proud of historically; yet it’s so easy to forget and take for granted the injustices our ancestors faced, the struggle they faced in fighting for our rights and the inequalities persisting into the modern day. 

I feel inspired to remember those amazing women by continuing their good work, fighting for our rights to stand up and be counted. 

Why not spend today with one of the amazing women in your life?

And if you need a final bit of inspiration, here’s the South African anthem that has become traditionally linked with that famous women’s victory:

'Wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo'

[Meaning “You strike a woman; you strike a rock”]

Let’s believe it.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

V is for Vitality; how to get your energy right

Robert Thayer writes about vitality and how to get it in his book CALM ENERGY: How People Regulate Mood With Food And Exercise. He discusses the type of meals you can eat and exercise you can take in order to regulate your moods and keep control of your energy. 

But the most interesting element of the book to me is the definition of ‘Calm energy’ itself. 

When we hear about something energetic or someone high in vitality, we often picture an explosive character, a bundle of energy and a sparky force to be reckoned with. Who can you think of that matches that description? We probably all know someone who’s just a little bit high on life.

On the other hand when we think of someone calm we imagine a person who’s quite lethargic or someone ‘so laid back they’re practically horizontal’ as the colloquial saying goes. Recognise that?

And which would you say is more preferable? To be bouncing off the walls or practically asleep?

Obviously there’s a happy medium to be achieved, as with all good theories. Thayer describes calm energy as a perfect concoction of calmness (i.e. lack of tension) and energy (i.e. ability to get up and go). Calm energy is therefore the ethereal, brilliant balance of vitality that we should all be striving for. 

So how do we get it?

  1. Firstly, get your energy right.

    I am, have always been, and have no doubt always will be, a total sucker for chocolate and all things sweet. I realise this isn’t the healthiest way to live and if I want to keep strong into old age, I need to mend my ways. So I’m on a mission to get healthier. 

    The advice? You’ve heard it all before: Eat regularly, healthily, and exercise whenever you can. The good news? It’s that simple.

  2. Secondly, reduce tension and stress in your life.

    What do you love doing? Is it reading? Spending time with friends? Gardening or baking? We’ve all got hobbies that calm us and keep us happy. Find time to value them in your life.

    Now what stresses you? Getting stuck in traffic, a messy home, bills piling up or rude people? And how can you reduce them? Sometimes, it’s a simple matter of setting aside time, putting your favourite music on and working through your to-do list. At other times, you might need a lifestyle change to remove stress altogether.

Good luck in the quest for Calm energy. If you can find it you'll be full of vitality for life, as well as the envy of all your friends.

Monday, 25 April 2011

U is for Undoing

As April’s ‘T for Tall tales’ message revealed, the nuances of language can provide a fascinating lens through which to see the world. 

Today I was reflecting on the word ‘undoing’.

The trusty dictionary definition conveys three distinct meanings:
  1. The act of unfastening or loosening.
  2. The act of reversing or annulling something accomplished; a cancellation.
  3. Ruin; destruction. Either the act of bringing to ruin. Or the cause or source of ruin; downfall: “Greed was his undoing”.

The first explanation doesn’t give us much to get excited about; it’s simply a literal description about the act of unfastening. The real intrigue comes lower down in the list. 

From one angle (the 2nd dictionary explanation) ‘undoing’ describes a desire to go back, to retrace your steps and change an event in time. Literally, to undo an action. So easy on the computer, so hard in real life. How many times have you wanted to rewind time and start again? Or step into a time machine and recreate your future in a way that seems more sensible, structured and trouble-free? To swallow back those mean things you said to a loved one during an argument or, even better, to be able to put forward that witty, wise and cutting remark that you only thought up after having left a frustrating conversation?

But if you had that opportunity, are there things you would truly undo? Or do all of our actions and words define us; whether they’re particularly good, bad, moral or malign?

Despite it being a hard pill to swallow at times and despite it feeling like the most difficult journey, we’d never learn if we made no mistakes. We’d never have the passion to inspire creative pursuits if we had no stories to tell. And we’d certainly miss having all that interesting stuff to talk about when we go to the pub with friends. Misjudgements keep us on our toes; blunders make us interesting.

So all of our actions define us, not just the ones we’re proud of. The question is, are you getting the balance right?

Which leads me to explore the second angle for viewing ‘undoing’ (the 3rd dictionary explanation)... That is, when actions and mistakes have gone too far and become “a person’s undoing”. Whether a vice such as alcohol, drugs or gambling takes over, or it’s simply a catalogue of behavioural errors, if we can’t press undo then before long it could result in our undoing, our downfall and our despair.

So where’s the balance button to keep us living and learning without going too far?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

T is for Tall tales

When is it OK to lie?

There’s always been quite a lot of debate around this topic. Are there certain things you should keep from your partner for the sake of maintaining a positive relationship? Or should you always keep a completely clean slate and share absolutely every thought, action and slip-up?

What’s your preference? What’s your experience?

I’m not sure what the right answer is – but the most compelling argument I’ve ever heard is that you can never be completely connected to someone or give your all to them if you’re keeping things from them. And however small it may seem at the time, if it’s an important secret it’s likely to grow and grow and eat you up from the inside out. 

Having said that, if it’s not your blunder but someone else’s, if it’s not your story to tell and will only cause harm and no good, then keep it to yourself. At all times, keep the other person at the front of your mind and focus on what would be the best result for them.

Now, another interesting angle; why is ‘telling tales’ a colloquial phrase for lying, when ‘telling tales’ heard in a different way is also the traditional phrase for story telling?

Authors create beautiful narrative worlds full of life-like characters living out their own hopes and dreams. Make-believe? Yes. Lies? I wouldn’t say so.

The nuance of language is fascinating. I’ve recently started reading Steven Pinker’s ‘The Stuff of Thought: Language as a window into human nature’ and if you’re at all interested in language, voice, nature and tone then it’s a must-read for you too.

Keep reading, keep writing and I’ll keep watching. 

  • Blog challenge status: 23 days in, 20 posts down; SIX to go!
  • People watch status:  Full of Easter treats and delighted to be nearing the finishing line of this brilliant challenge. Eager to spend more time exploring the other great blogs out there too. 

Thursday, 21 April 2011

S is for the Suitcase on the Staircase...

You get home. There’s a suitcase on the stairs.

It’s full, it’s packed and you’ve no idea what it means.

What goes through your head? What’s the first interpretation you make? And how do you feel?

Symbols and actions can affect us in profound and unpredictable ways. We can’t always tell how we’ll react to a situation, or how others will react to the things we say and do.

In April’s ‘G’ blog I explained the concept of taking control over your reactions and responses; and by doing so, being able to take back control over your emotions. That’s relevant again here. If you can master the technique of reinterpreting / reframing events in the most positive way possible, then you’ll be able to keep a reign on your natural instincts to cry out, fight back or run away.

The suitcase on the stairs is a fascinating image in my mind. For me, it immediately conjures up a feeling of loss, of heartbreak and of saying goodbye. It’s used in many films and TV series as an iconic shot of one character’s decision to leave another. No words are needed; the actions say it all. 

Can we reframe this? 

What about if the suitcase actually represented a selection of clothes that someone had packed up ready to give to a charity collection? What if the suitcase represented a free holiday that the person had just won – and rather than tell them the news, they wanted to let them find out for themselves?

I’m sure there could be a million more interpretations if we look hard enough.

Nonverbal communication is often overlooked but can be extremely powerful. When you’re talking to someone, start to notice how much you can observe about their body language; the way their eyes are moving, the posture they’re holding and how readily or frequently they’re looking at you. All of these clues can reveal so much about how a person really feels and what’s really going on.

And if you’re the one in the hot seat? The next time you’re planning to use actions to get your point across, make sure you give the other person a chance to understand where you’re coming from.

Actions may speak louder than words; but sometimes actions say the wrong things. 

Good luck.