Thursday, 12 November 2015

Mind Filling

With Rugby World Cup fervor on the wane, I find my attention turning to matters of the minds -- of those rugby players.

I did a quick check on the average individual and pack weights for rugby players between 1971 and today . The players on these international squads are clearly on the big side of the big guys. Average weights have gone from 14 stone 1 (197 pounds) in 1971 to 17 stone 9 (247 pounds) and total "pack weights" from 246 stone 6 (3,450 pounds) to 268 stone 9 (3,761 pounds) in 2015. That's a lot of weight to be throwing around, literally and the last time I checked, brains and bone mass in skulls haven't grown proportionally. Mind numbing.

And that got me thinking about mindfulness and how mainstream our modern pursuit of achieving such a state has gone. After bumping along in the hands of New Age devotees from the '60s and into the '90s, mindful/meditative interventions were next to be found popping up in prisons, the military and sports world before seeping into corporate "wellness" programs. Today, things have morphed into a vastly secular and commercial bonanza. If you put meditation into your search box, Amazon showcases some 1,427,395 items and over 38,000 for mindfulness.
Mindfulness "R" Us. Being so commonplace makes it feel squishier than the brains that hold our thoughts.
The fact that we still have such a limited grasp on the actual workings of the brain makes this clever transfer of Eastern meditation, as a health intervention, more interesting. It has obviously scooped up scores of converts and these people report higher self reported levels of happiness. But when you stop and and think about it, being mindful can also carry a negative connotation -- implying a need to pause for cautious reflection or a "hey you, watch out" kind of feeling.

Conversely, mind fullness is something completely different. Mind fullness is meant to help return us to our humanness, a mutually beneficial symmetry between mind and body. It can last for a moment, the length of a yoga practice or the duration of some course laid on courtesy of your employer. Neuro-physiological gaps notwithstanding, the goal is to find happier, in a space reserved for stripped down, calm introspection. It may not be full-on-self-actualized-nirvana but a little shot of enlightenment does seem to go a long way.

If your goal stretches from enlightenment to personal excellence. there is a concept and methodology called Integral Coaching. It offers a process for ordinary and extraordinary people to bring personal excellence within reach. I recently attended a session with Justin Wise. Justin is the founder of Third Space coaching and writes On Living and Working. His work opens up pathways to stretch people in order to to cultivate curiosity and connections. Notably, he starts with your own heart; otherwise it is impossible to understand what might be going on in someone else's. By asking "What does it mean, to you, to be human?" he starts to unpick. This not so simple question demands that you reach deeply into your personal soundtrack, explore your standards, identify your values and drill down to what truly matters. That's a big ask.

And it seems that everybody is asking these days.

Financial services giant UBS is currently running a campaign called Good Father. One glossy magazine spread shows a pensive, obviously, successful man in his top floor corner-office. The ad asks: "Am I a good father? Do I spend too much time at work? Can I have it all?" Talk about your successful-male-executive-parent-conundrum. Apparently UBS can tell you, provided you will give them all your money.

Or what about Arianna Huffington's epiphany after her total collapse in 2007. She now admits to accepting incompletion in herself, meditates, does yoga and tries to thrive. Thrive happens to be the title of her 2014 book where she looks at our quest for money and power as two legs of a three legged stool. Without the third leg, it will collapse -- like she did so she outlines a third metric for redefining success and creating a happier life.

Even Sir Richard Branson is promoting work-life balance to young entrepreneurs.

Modern life, in our Western context, has programmed us to demand more and better constantly. And short of perfection, we fail to ascribe any value to it. This thwarts our ability to wonder afresh about what might bring each of us to excellence. The best mindfulness, then, is the symmetry of mind and body that can interrupts "normalness." That means looking at places and in directions we're not usually looking. Mind fullness is only possible if you are being a disruption to yourself.

If I were Arne Duncan in the U.S. or Nicky Morgan in the U.K., I would find a way to make tapping into mind fullness a mandatory part of both national curricula. In the here and now, a time of new longevity and the age of no retirement, a mindful path becomes even more essential, across our entire life course.

Returning to sport momentarily, the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research reports that there have been 11 American high school football deaths in the past four months, seven of which were directly related to football trauma. Undeniably tragic but top neuroscientist and groundbreaking inventor, David Eagleman, has developed an app to help high school coaches determine whether one of their players in concussed. Braincheck runs on any tablet and takes 5 minutes to check 12 aspects of brain function and even better, he's offering it for free. Keep that in mind.

And in a study by the Harvard School of Public Health and Alzheimer Europe, Alzheimer's is second to cancer on the list of most most feared diagnosis. Something else to be mindful of.

It still rings true today, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." So go ahead, fill up your mind and feed your head -- in good ways.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-gale/mind-filling_b_8538146.html - The Blog and is republished with permission.

Friday, 8 May 2015

All the time in the world?

She's waiting for her envelope, in which sits a letter, telling her how many years she has left to live. The policy was created in response to overpopulation. So, age is no longer an increasing number, it's a decreasing one.
And her time left has been determined by a slew of tests. Her countdown is predicated on exam results and the duration of her life will be decided on what "the rulers" deem to be her: merits, intelligence, looks and charisma. So far, so contemporary.

This disturbing, dystopian look at society was the basis of a 500 word short story written by a 13 year old girl, Susannah Ames and it was the winning entry for last year's competition. The contest is now in its fifth year and championed by Chris Evans, it's BBC Radio 2's 500 word- short-story-contest. Last year there were over 117,000 entries in the 5-9 and 10-13 age categories. As it surges from strength to strength, I've heard from one of last years judges that there were even more entries this year.

How the scores of librarians, teachers and authors whittle them down to the eventual winners, is a modern day miracle, but they do and brilliantly. So, the wait is on and this years victors will be announced on the 29th of May. But today, almost a year later, I still can't get her story out of my head.

At one point, she explains that she doesn't know who or what to believe from the "rulers " and she's afraid to say anything against them. "....It's not the end of the world, but it could be the end of my world". The parallels to today feel almost prophetic in our world, where younger generations have been taught to fear their own old age.
And that needs re-examined. As it becomes increasingly self evident that we are living longer, we have a solid opportunity to embrace new possibilities instead of believing in a narrative that focuses on limitations. Otherwise, we could effectively squander all this new longevity, potentially an extra 30 years of life. And that would be pretty irresponsible. Age is our most outstanding cultural, scientific and technological achievement. We are at the point where education has become a better predictor of life expectancy, than age.

So what's happening now is that we are re-entering a time that used to be normal, where you remained a productive member of society, for life. That was before it was decided -- for us -- that we had to remove ourselves from the workforce. In case you were wondering, we've got Bismarck to thank for retirement and for making the call that old age begins at 65. In effect, he decided that was when old age began and when governments should plan to start paying people for growing old.

Pensions are a pretty recent invention too. The Old Age Pensions Act in the UK passed in 1908 and in the US with the Sherwood Act but that only applied to veterans. It wasn't until 1935 that a solution to the problem of convincing people to stop working was discovered - you have to pay them. And we all know that formula isn't working because it doesn't make sense anymore.

Unlike the girl in the short story, the greater the age we attain, the less our successes can be linked to what pleases "the rulers." With increasing age, success gets unhinged from merits, intelligence, looks or charisma. There comes a time when career success and degrees matter less and camaraderie matters more. Physical decline can be postponed but not forever and charisma - while seductive- needs to be balanced with authenticity and empathy.
And why would we opt out and ignore this talent, particularly when emotional life improves with age and we get happier! The value in ageing comes through converting accumulated experience and wisdom into new pursuits which are equal to our full potential.

This idea is at the core of a movement for social change called The Age Of No Retirement. and it is not about frogmarching older people into working longer against their will! It's about living fully across the entire life course; changing the negative language that surrounds ageing; co-designing future workplaces and communities and appreciating multiple generations living and working together. Today, we already have four, five and six generation families living at the same time.

Right now, we act like the people this 13 year old described in her 500 words. With 24/7 news and the ubiquity of social media, we have become expert spectators, collectively passive and stumbling into the new longevity. If we cling to old definitions of a future no one can pretend to predict, we are still going to age. But we will have been complicit and ultimately powerless by refusing to choose how we will age in the 21st Century. It's time we all thought about that.

Maybe it would be easier if the choice was taken out of our hands but the reality is stark in its simplicity.

There isn't any envelope.

Deborah Gale

Originally posted in the Huffington Post on 8/5/15:
She's waiting for her envelope, in which sits a letter, telling her how many years she has left to live. The policy was created in response to overpopulation. So, age is no longer an increasing number, it's a decreasing one.
And her time left has been determined by a slew of tests. Her countdown is predicated on exam results and the duration of her life will be decided on what "the rulers" deem to be her: merits, intelligence, looks and charisma. So far, so contemporary.
This disturbing, dystopian look at society was the basis of a 500 word short story written by a 13 year old girl, Susannah Ames and it was the winning entry for last year's competition. The contest is now in its fifth year and championed by Chris Evans, it's BBC Radio 2's 500 word- short-story-contest. Last year there were over 117,000 entries in the 5-9 and 10-13 age categories. As it surges from strength to strength, I've heard from one of last years judges that there were even more entries this year.
How the scores of librarians, teachers and authors whittle them down to the eventual winners, is a modern day miracle, but they do and brilliantly. So, the wait is on and this years victors will be announced on the 29th of May. But today, almost a year later, I still can't get her story out of my head.
At one point, she explains that she doesn't know who or what to believe from the "rulers " and she's afraid to say anything against them. "....It's not the end of the world, but it could be the end of my world". The parallels to today feel almost prophetic in our world, where younger generations have been taught to fear their own old age.
And that needs re-examined. As it becomes increasingly self evident that we are living longer, we have a solid opportunity to embrace new possibilities instead of believing in a narrative that focuses on limitations. Otherwise, we could effectively squander all this new longevity, potentially an extra 30 years of life. And that would be pretty irresponsible. Age is our most outstanding cultural, scientific and technological achievement. We are at the point where education has become a better predictor of life expectancy, than age.
So what's happening now is that we are re-entering a time that used to be normal, where you remained a productive member of society, for life. That was before it was decided -- for us -- that we had to remove ourselves from the workforce. In case you were wondering, we've got Bismarck to thank for retirement and for making the call that old age begins at 65. In effect, he decided that was when old age began and when governments should plan to start paying people for growing old.
Pensions are a pretty recent invention too. The Old Age Pensions Act in the UK passed in 1908 and in the US with the Sherwood Act but that only applied to veterans. It wasn't until 1935 that a solution to the problem of convincing people to stop working was discovered - you have to pay them. And we all know that formula isn't working because it doesn't make sense anymore.
Unlike the girl in the short story, the greater the age we attain, the less our successes can be linked to what pleases "the rulers." With increasing age, success gets unhinged from merits, intelligence, looks or charisma. There comes a time when career success and degrees matter less and camaraderie matters more. Physical decline can be postponed but not forever and charisma - while seductive- needs to be balanced with authenticity and empathy.
And why would we opt out and ignore this talent, particularly when emotional life improves with age and we get happier! The value in ageing comes through converting accumulated experience and wisdom into new pursuits which are equal to our full potential.
This idea is at the core of a movement for social change called The Age Of No Retirement. and it is not about frogmarching older people into working longer against their will! It's about living fully across the entire life course; changing the negative language that surrounds ageing; co-designing future workplaces and communities and appreciating multiple generations living and working together. Today, we already have four, five and six generation families living at the same time.
Right now, we act like the people this 13 year old described in her 500 words. With 24/7 news and the ubiquity of social media, we have become expert spectators, collectively passive and stumbling into the new longevity. If we cling to old definitions of a future no one can pretend to predict, we are still going to age. But we will have been complicit and ultimately powerless by refusing to choose how we will age in the 21st Century. It's time we all thought about that.
Maybe it would be easier if the choice was taken out of our hands but the reality is stark in its simplicity.

There isn't any envelope.
Deborah Gale

Friday, 13 March 2015

Walk this way

Fat -- good :)
Sugar -- poison :(
Dry January
Limiting for lent
Decluttered yet?
Digitally detoxed?
Embraced mindfulness?
And while you're at it , don't forget to THRIVE!
Three months into 2015 and it's a wellness-overload-loop.
But, here's something dead simple to start up and keep up. It's for anyone who plans on ageing. So, if you're thinking about stayin' alive, you're in. It's non-toxic and most of us do it already, but lots of us take it for granted.
Walking. Simply speaking, Walking Works Wonders.
If you're a typical office worker, you spend more time sitting at your desk than you do sleeping. If you're sitting, you're not moving let alone breathing right and if that's for over 10 hours a day -- expect consequences.
Researchers at Loughborough University's Working Health Research Centre are looking at ways to improve health and well being in the workplace. This becomes more and more important as conventional retirement disappears in the Age Of No Retirement and people choose to work later.
But real change in behavior and sustaining change is notoriously difficult. Changing a behavior is only achieved by knowing how to reverse it. This is more likely if people feel that that they are doing something they can control, as well as choose. When these conditions are met, the likelihood of sticking to it is greater.
In trials with over 1,000 British Telecom employees, sustained behavioural change via the introduction of short walking breaks and walking lunches has changed attitudes, concentrated focus and helped people take personal responsibility. Along with increased self-awareness, employee enjoyment was widely reported. Exercising was no longer something that they might or might not do, it became part of their daily routine. Wearing pedometers, which provided instant feedback, proved highly motivating and they loved the sense that they were in control.
Improvements were recorded across all markers including BMI, work performance, attitude to jobs and lifestyle behaviors. Changes to healthier food choices, reduction in alcohol consumption and improved well being were also reported.
So, if walking works wonders, footwear choice becomes even more important, a particularly painful problem for working women. A reported 44 percent of women is prepared to wear uncomfortable shoes compared with less than 20 percent of men! Perversely, while high heels with narrow toe boxes can hardly be justified as sensible shoes, researchers have concluded that wearing high heels is significantly correlated to general good health. Despite middle aged women's reporting of foot pain, high heels make a women feel prettier! In a 20 year study of 1000 women with a median age of 61, 84 percent of the participants were wearing over two-inch heels at year 10 and this only dropped to 53 percent by year 20. Now that we are all expected to live longer, it looks like the market for female footwear can also be expected to expand.
At London Fashion Week, Irish designer Orla Kiely's preview show was predictably populated with beautiful, young models. But for anyone who has ever witnessed catwalk shows where the shoes have literally let the girls down, the Kiely footwear collection was refreshingly safer, sophisticated and savvy.
Orla Kiely's collaboration with Clarks, the venerated, seven-generation strong, British shoe purveyor, has delivered some refreshing solutions to the stylish footwear problem.
Now is the time to extend "health span" in tandem with life span. Best foot forward, particularly relevant advice to the "experienced economy," workers over 50.
So, put the"slippers and cocoa" image of the boomers to bed, particularly when this "new-old" demographic represents a $15T market.

And while we're at it, we are learning more and more about the plasticity of our brains. Like our bodies, it's a use it or lose it organ and more likely to shrivel from underuse than overuse.
If walking works wonders, then, moving means miracles.
Get on up now.

This blog originally appeared on HuffingtonPost Live Blog 13/3/15     http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-gale/walk-this-way_1_b_6739570.html