Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Reflection and contemplation in everyday life

There’s a saying that: if you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always got. So today, we thought we'd encourage you to reflect on your lives; to take stock on where you are right now and the changes you would need to make to get somewhere else.

Self-reflection is as it suggests: taking a look at yourself, your actions and behaviour and being honest about what you see. ‘Reflection’ is the practice of thinking about things and assessing where improvements could be made. We’ve defined three key areas where self-reflection should be focussed.


What are you good at? Where do you excel? Which tasks do you complete easily and without hesitation? You may find you have to look at your perceived weaknesses in order to establish where your strengths really lie.


What specific skills do you have? How do these compare with the tasks you are often asked to perform? Self-reflection is about recognising what we can do readily and the areas where we need to improve.


Our successes are a great way of establishing the areas in which we shine. Self-reflection and self-improvement are as much about what we have achieved already as they are about how we can improve. It's only by examining the two areas hand in hand, that we will get a true reflection of who we are.

The main benefit of self-reflection is that it helps us to notice – and put an end to – negative patterns and behaviours that are holding us back in life. The hardest part is identifying these patterns. Once we have done this all we need is perspective to put solutions in place.

Self-refection requires us to have an idea of where we want to go in life and what we want to achieve – without this, we are unable to consider alternative solutions to our actions. Without an overall goal in mind, our daily tasks do not hold the same purpose and the need for self-reflection diminishes.

We must remind ourselves of where we are going, in order to get there. Having a destination helps us keep a positive mindset and helps prevent us focusing on matters that lie outside our control. It is only by looking at what we have done before, that we can really establish what we need to do differently in order to succeed in future.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Relationships are for life, not just for Valentine’s Day

Next week it’s Valentine’s Day. The day when we shower our loved ones with cards and gifts to show them just how much they mean to us.

It’s really important to tell other people that we love and appreciate them and, in today’s busy world, sometimes we need a nudge!

However, romance is for all year round – not just for Valentine’s Day – so here are our top four fabulous ways to keep the romance alive every day.

Show your appreciation

It’s the little things that matter – rather than the grand gestures – when you have been together for some time. Very often couples fall into the trap of taking each other for granted and forget what their lives were like before they met. Sometimes taking the time to remind your partner that you're glad they're there is all your relationship needs to keep the romantic feelings alive. An unexpected text message or a note in a workbag or under your partner’s pillow are little ways to show that you're thinking about them – and that makes people feel good. The main reason people leave their job is because they feel undervalued and unappreciated. The same is true in relationships, so remember a little bit of effort goes a long way.

Surprise each other

Marilyn Monroe sang 'diamonds are a girl’s best friend' and while it is nice to be showered with expensive gifts, just as much joy can be gained from little surprises. In a long term relationship or marriage, this could be as small and insignificant as emptying the dishwasher or putting the washing away when it’s not 'your turn’. It is surprising how quickly we fall into roles when in a long term relationship with jobs beings seen as ‘mine’ or ‘yours’ – doing one of ‘their’ jobs is not only a lovely surprise for your partner, but also a way of demonstrating that you acknowledge and appreciate the role that they play in the relationship. Don’t get us wrong though, surprise weekends away without the kids are likely to incite favourable reactions too!

Book time in your diary to be together

Have you noticed how important scheduling is in today’s busy society? We don’t often have the time to simply ‘be’ and without our diary and to-do list we are scared that something important will fall through the cracks. Think about it though – how much ‘relationship time’ do you schedule into your diary? The answer is likely none, and as a result, your relationship will be the first thing to suffer when time pressures get the better of you. Carving time out in your diary to be together legitimises it, makes it valuable, and this makes you less likely to reschedule. Just an hour on a Wednesday for a coffee and a natter, for example, or a Friday evening once a month to do an activity together is all the time you need to nurture your relationship. Who knows, maybe these ‘together times’ will become the highlight of your busy week, however contrived and unspontaneous they may feel at first.

Make the everyday things special

After a while all relationships calm down into a humdrum and monotonous routine of daily life. What we need to do is put in the effort to make the everyday more appealing. Instead of Thursday night dinner in front of the tv – make Thursday your dinner date night, where you need to dress to impress and sit at the table as you would if you were out or rather than vegging out to watch a film while catching up on your email – make it a movie night, with popcorn, fizzy pop, dimmed lights, the works. Invest in your time together and your relationship will thank you for it.

Relationships are precious, yet they often bear the brunt of our busy schedules and complicated lives. So make a deal with yourself – and your partner – that this year Valentine’s Day will mark the start of a year of romance…

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Tips for building trust in your relationship; can weather affect your mood

After a cosy, family-oriented festive season, January can sometimes fall a little flat. Often the pressure of holding it all together over the holidays can impact on our personal relationships in the New Year – add to that the miserable weather and it’s easy to see why we need to spend more time nurturing our relationships with those we hold dear.

For us, January is about two things relationship-wise: taking the time to build trust with your partner and understanding the impact that the weather can have on your mood.

When there’s trust in a relationship you know that whatever bickers and squabbles the winter months bring, it won’t impact on your relationship in the longer term.

You can build trust in a number of ways:

Building boundaries

Having clear boundaries together is a crucial part of building trust. Boundaries can be about all kinds of things, including how much time you need to yourself. If you find the need to spend more time alone during the winter, be open with your partner so they know up front what your expectations are. If your partner understands why you need these boundaries in place – as well as some of the things that you’re willing to be more flexible on – it will make it easier to navigate through the difficult winter months.

Clear communication

It’s important that you’re able to talk about any worries, doubts and hopes openly, as this will help you negotiate your expectations and move forward together. If the winter months have proved difficult for you in previous years – or relationships – tell your partner, so they can understand your behaviour and minimise any impact your actions and mood will have on your relationship.

Investigate your issues

Even great relationships experience problems from time to time – that’s life! The way we deal with these issues are what sets the great relationships apart from the rest. It’s important to take time out to analyse how you’re feeling and think about how this may be influencing your behaviour. Take ownership for the part that you play in any disagreements. We’ll usually be able to see there are things we could have done better if we’re honest with ourselves. Talk about what happened and how you’re feeling and really listen to what your partner has to say.

So why exactly are the first few months of the year so problematic for some relationships? Can we really blame the weather?

Sunlight and serotonin

Serotonin is a chemical found in the human body that carries signals between nerves, contributing to wellbeing and happiness. Some scientists believe a lack of sunlight associated with rainy days can cause serotonin levels to dip – that’s why we often crave stodgy food at this time of the year. Rather than carbs though, we should be reaching for the starchy vegetables and supplements to lighten our mood during the long winter months, as well as spending as much time as possible outdoors in natural light.

Don’t be SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a depressive illness caused by a lack of natural sunlight. It can leave people feeling lethargic and suffering from noticeable changes in mood. Approximately 20% of people in the UK experience some SAD symptoms, while another 8% suffer more seriously to the point that it affects their daily lives. There are two proven ways of relieving the symptoms associated with the change in the seasons. The first is natural light and the second is exercise.

More information about SAD and how to relieve the symptoms >

Rain and rage

There is also research that draws a correlation between the levels of rainfall and people’s aggressiveness. While these findings are not specific to winter rain, they found that the more it rained (especially when the rain wasn’t expected or forecast), the more aggressive people seemed to get.

So whatever the reasons for your irrational and irritable behaviour this winter, understand that the weather could be contributing – and be prepared to put the work in up front to build up your personal relationships so they’re ready to weather the storm!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Who needs the gym? Alternatives that will benefit both mind and body

Nearly two weeks into 2017 and it’s time to review how much headway we’re making with our resolutions…

Joining the gym is a popular resolve after the excesses of the festive period. It is a grand gesture – but one of the resolutions most likely to fall by the wayside by the end of January. There are a variety of reasons for this: going to the gym requires a change in behaviour that many of us just can’t maintain in the long term, plus we often don’t have the spare time to go once we’re back into the daily routine after the holidays. In fact, gym owners actually rely on us not maintaining our new exercise regime – that’s how they can keep prices low for everyone!

All resolutions are made with the best of intentions. Exercise keeps our bodies - and our minds - in tip-top condition, so anything we can do to increase the amount of exercise in our lives is to be applauded. However, rather than signing on the dotted line at the gym, the key to making this resolution stick is to keep things simple.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes that the mind can’t function properly if your body is not looked after – the reverse is also true. The state of your mind affects your body. So, if for whatever reason, you started the year with high hopes of exercising and it hasn’t quite materialised, don’t beat yourself up or you’ll end up in a vicious cycle of inactivity and low mood.

We’ve been looking at alternatives to the gym that will not only help keep your resolution alive, but also have a positive impact on your brain and your body!

The great outdoors

Outdoor exercising is not only free, but you’re more likely to stick at it. That’s because the preparation time is minimal and you’re less likely to get bored (indeed, your ‘gym’ can change according to your location and depending on your mood). You could also argue that you’ll burn more energy outside than in, due to the natural resistance provided by the wind and changing terrain.

Walking is a great way to kick start your outside exercising regime. It’s low risk and – research shows – can not only improve someone's daily positive emotions but also provide a non-pharmacological solution to serious conditions like depression.

Meditation in motion

There is evidence that shows that tai chi – the art of combining deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements – has value in treating and preventing many health problems. Originally developed as a martial art in 13th-century China, tai chi is today practised around the world as a health-promoting exercise. In fact Harvard described the practice as ‘medication in motion’.

If a formal class is not for you, it can be practised anywhere, at any time and you don’t need any equipment. This makes it an ideal addition to any exercise regime.

Say ‘yes’ to yoga

Yoga has its roots in Hindu spirituality. It involves breath control, simple meditation and the adoption of specific body postures and is widely practised for health and relaxation. Although it won’t count towards the 150 minutes of moderate activity recommended, it is an excellent way of strengthening your muscles which can help manage conditions such as arthritis and back pain.

If you’re new to yoga and would like to give it a try, do a bit of research on the type of class that would best suit your exercise needs and fitness abilities. For most beginners a hatha or vinyasa class will provide a good introduction.

Whatever activity you plump for, it’s important that you choose something you'll love – this is key to unlocking the mental benefits that exercise can deliver, alongside the physicsal benefits.

recent study from a university in the Netherlands found that the more absorbed individuals were in their chosen activity, the greater satisfaction they felt. It is this satisfaction that leads to us keeping up with our activities – or not!

So, if you’re finding your resolution to take more exercise hard to bear, maybe it’s time to review the activities you’re doing, rather than the resolution you made on the 1st January.

Best of luck – and keep up the good work!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

As one year closes, another one begins… Review your year and plan for the year ahead

As 2016 nears its end there’s a natural inclination to look back on the year to assess how it was. We very often hear people talking – in general terms - about what a great year it’s been, or saying that they’ll be glad to see the back of the year, hopeful that the new one will fare better.

Rather than a superficial assessment, have you thought about conducting a more comprehensive review of the year? As you would in a work situation, a review of your year can help you identify learning opportunities and set goals that will help keep your life moving in the direction you’ve planned.

There are many aspects to our lives that – when compounded together - make us feel happy and fulfilled:

  • Work
  • Play
  • Health
  • Growth
  • Spiritual

It’s unrealistic to expect every aspect of your life to perform in equilibrium and it’s natural to feel as though certain elements of your life are getting more attention at certain times. Problems tend to arise, however, if we neglect one aspect of our life in favour of another. Any major imbalance can leave us feeling off-kilter, which then impacts on the other aspects of our lives.

Think about the big picture

This isn’t about focusing on the small things that went well or the events that didn’t quite go to plan, it’s about taking a look at how the year – generally - has helped you progress towards your life goals. Are you still going in the direction you’d hoped to be? Or have events happened that meant you’ve needed to change track? Are all aspects of your life being nurtured and getting enough attention? Or are some requiring more energy at the detriment of the others? By thinking first about the big picture, we can really focus on what we need for the year ahead.

Failures are opportunities to learn and grow

It’s important to change how you think about ‘failures’. Things are bound to go wrong from time to time, but if we think about each of these failures as an opportunity to learn and grow we will be better able to embrace the failures that will undoubtedly come our way in the New Year. Don’t just concentrate solely about what went wrong, take each failure in turn and think about what happened, how you dealt with it and the opportunity it has given you for growth.

Savour your successes

There is a human tendency to give just a cursory nod towards our successes and dissect the failures – so we can avoid them in future. It’s time to reverse this habit. Take some time to look into your successes too and really understand how they came to be. Most successful events are of our own doing and by focusing on how we achieved our goals, we can concentrate on replicating this behaviour over the coming year. Professional sports people really believe in the power of positive thinking, if you think about success, you will become successful.

Visualise your perfect year

Think about what would make next year perfect. How will you feel at the end of the year when you have achieved all that you set out to? Now break it down. Think about what a perfect month would look like… a perfect week… a perfect day – you get the idea... Now break this down into actions and behaviours that you would need to adopt in order to realise your perfect year. Now do it!

Every New Year we are given an opportunity to start afresh. Think of it as a clean sheet; a blank canvas. Your chance to become unstuck, to celebrate success and move on from failure. Make of it what you will, and remember that the future lies in your hands.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Build relaxation into your day

Most of us know that relaxation makes us feel better and more in control. It's like pressing a reset button and allowing our bodies to revert to a reduced stress state. That's why it's vital to build relaxation into every single day - not many of us can say, hand on heart, that we already do this. Life can seem to get in the way.

Here are some suggestions to help build relaxation time into your day.

  • Go for a walk - the more time you have the better, but five or ten minutes is beneficial too.
  • Listen to some music
  • Spend time outdoors - ideally somewhere peaceful, such as a park
  • Take up a hobby
  • Have a massage to relieve tension
  • Take a long hot bath
  • Focus only on your breathing for 5 minutes every day
  • Have an early night
  • Stretch your muscles
  • Call a friend
  • Take a proper lunch break away from work
  • Sweat out the tension with a good workout
  • Practise mindfulness
  • Plan to get off the bus a stop early and walk the last stop mindfully taking in the sounds, smells, how the air feels on your skin, etc.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The gift of giving and its positive impact on your own happiness

Only 12 days until Christmas. How do you feel? Is the stress beginning to set in and your credit card groaning from over-use?

Christmas is the season most associated with giving. But rather than this be an opportunity to show off to the neighbours or stock up on the latest gadgets and technology, there is actually a psychological benefit to giving – when it’s done with the heart, rather than the wallet.

There have been many studies on the act of gift giving over the years. This one by Yale University is about why sometimes our gifts miss the mark, even when we’ve put a lot of thought into them and is well worth a read before hitting the shops! It’s a complex subject and the giving/receiving of gifts is an important part of the relationships we have with other people.

It is often said that it’s the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological benefit from the sharing of gifts. This makes perfect sense when you think about the time and effort that goes into finding the perfect gift that our friends and families will love. It’s a big investment of our time and effort. Birthdays and other occasions are usually straightforward, as we have only one or two presents to think about. In contrast, at Christmas-time, we often have many people to think about and this can make it difficult to give gifts the individual attention they deserve – and that’s when the temptation to spend more than we need sets in.

We’ve come up with a few ideas to help you deliver thoughtful gifts this Christmas that will benefit you and the lucky recipient!

Giving time

In our busy, stressful daily life, we could all do with the luxury of more time. What better gift to give than offering to free up someone else’s time? This could be done through babysitting or dog walking tokens perhaps – or the promise of spending quality time with someone once the hustle and bustle of the festive season has passed.

Making memories

Rather than a gift, why not offer someone an experience? We’re not talking wing-walking or paragliding here, maybe an afternoon tea to spend with friends, or the promise of a cinema trip without the kids. When we are old and grey, we won’t remember what we had but will we remember those who we spent time with – and how that made us feel.

It’s the thought that counts

Finding and framing an old photograph; finding a first edition of someone’s favourite book; a packet of flower seeds that remind someone of a past holiday or special day all prove to someone that you understand them; that you will go above and beyond to make them happy. Luckily, recycling and upcycling are trendy again, which means it’s more than acceptable to make your own presents!

If spending a certain amount of money on someone is important, a thoughtful token or gesture alongside your usual store card or gift voucher is a great way of showing someone they mean something to you.

Food, glorious food

Baked goods are always made with love. Taking the time to create culinary delights has a double benefit. Not only does it give you the satisfaction of completing a task from start to finish, the end result is a thoughtful gift that shows someone you care. It also means that the recipient can’t help but think of you every time they eat a cookie, or spread jam on their toast!

study from the Harvard Business School looked into the benefits of charitable behaviour and the happiness it creates. We hope that this blog inspires you to prepare the kind of gifts that will make you feel great about giving. It really is worth the effort.

Remember, the exchange of gifts should be a shared experience. Something that strengthens the bond between you and your friends/family. If you feel that you have to give extravagant gifts in order for people to like/love you, then you have crossed the line into over-giving and that’s not good for anyone. 

You can check if you’re an over-giver, by reading this article.

So, what are you waiting for? Go and give some gifts!