Day trip to Tewkesbury and her Abbey

Image copyright ©Abby Hopewell

One of the many nice things about moving back over towards the west side of England is that I have the opportunity to visit new places.

On a recent Saturday I went to Tewkesbury. My main reason for going was to visit the Abbey as I had heard a few good things about it over the years.

Tewkesbury Abbey was consecrated almost 900 years ago in 1121…therefore I am sure if anyone visits Tewkesbury in 2021 there will be lots of celebration and fanfare on such a momentous anniversary. A date for your diary, perhaps?

The Abbey has a peaceful and welcoming feeling. I do quite like walking around large cathedrals and Abbeys these days….all the many years of being ‘dragged’ around them by my parents as a child and recalcitrant teenager, usually whilst on numerous camping holidays to France, obviously paid off in terms of my appreciation for them now.

These are the things I enjoy most about cathedral/Abbey mooching:

  • The smell – I love the ‘old’ smell of large stone buildings. I guess it’s a mix of old wooden furniture, damp, age, candles.
  • The size – just looking up and having that sense of grandeur and scale. I enjoy looking up at the roof bosses in the nave as they sometimes display an image (although I definitely need to wear my glasses to make them out)
  • The peace – whilst other visitors shuffle about and speak in hushed tones there’s something peaceful about sitting right in the middle of the seating and just taking it all in.
  • The windows – the complexity and age of stained glass varies from plain glass to intricate patterns. The sunshine and time of day can bring these to life in different ways and create interesting atmospheres.
  • The chapel/s – I like to visit and stand in or near the side chapels as these bring a deeper silence as are often reserved for people who want to pray quietly.
  • The shop – there’s always usually a shop of some kind in a cathedral/abbey and it’s a pleasant ritual of mine to have little grockle. I don’t often buy anything but occasionally will find a nice nugget of something – usually a card or something sweet. I often see books and gifts that one wouldn’t normally see or be exposed to on a typical high street.

Occasionally when visiting a cathedral outside normal services the organ will be playing – this is usually the pianist rehearsing and I normally enjoy this (it depends how well it’s being played!)

There was no organ playing in Tewkesbury, but I experienced plenty of my favourite things on this visit. The sun was shining beautifully and the Abbey looked great both inside and out as a result.

The Tewkesbury Abbey Visitor Guide (which was very helpful and informative) ended their introduction note with this sentence:

We welcome everyone regardless of faith or no faith and hope that your visit will bring refreshment to body, mind and spirit.

Well, I think my visit achieved that – so thank you to Tewkesbury Abbey.

What are function pairs in MBTI?

Image source: Burak Kostak at pexels.com

Last year I became a certified Step I and Step II MBTI practitioner. It was an interesting course and I learned a lot more about the tool having already been familiar with it informally for many years.

MBTI – Myers Briggs Type Indicator – is a personality assessment tool based on Carl Jung’s theory that we are each born with innate personality preferences. His theory was then developed and enhanced by a mother-daughter pair: Katharine Cook-Briggs and Isobel Briggs-Myers. I won’t go into all the detail here and needless to say there’s plenty out there on the internet where you can learn more if you want to.

Even so, this blogpost is the first in an occasional series I will write on the subject of MBTI. I hope it will be a good way for me to consolidate, embed and reflect on my learning from the course and how I have applied and used it in my work. Maybe this will help one or two of you in the process.

Today I want to talk about ‘function pairs’. These are two preferences we have when it comes to:

  • How we take in and process information (Sensing: S; or Intuition: N)
  • How we make decisions (Thinking: T; or Feeling: F)

These give us four potential combinations in terms of our preferred function pair:

ST – Sensing Thinking. According to the theory, people with this preference are the ‘bottom line’ people. They prefer to deal with concrete, known facts and make logical decisions.

SF – Sensing Feeling. These are the ‘customer service’ people. They prefer to give practical help and are likely to make decisions that have people’s welfare in mind.

NF – Intuitive Feeling. These are the ‘possibilities for people’ people (!). They tend to have a preference for being focused on the future, and have a strong values orientation which informs and guides their decision making.

NT – Intuitive Thinking. These are the ‘possibilities for systems’ people. They tend to be very strategic (future/big picture) in their thinking and focus on the competence of the people or group that is affected by the decision being made, but are less concerned about people’s immediate welfare/emotional state as a result of any decision being made.

What do you think of these descriptions? Which ones do you most relate to in terms of your own experience?

If you have had your MBTI profile completed, does the description match it and resonate with you? If not, which one is more accurate?

If you have not completed your MBTI profile before, which description would you say best describes your preference when it comes to processing information and making decisions?

It’s important to bear in mind that MBTI is about preferences. We can of course follow and practice all four approaches described, and we probably already do this to some extent in different contexts. Ultimately, MBTI is about helping us to identify what our natural preferences are. This helps us to better understand ourselves, others, and can help to make us more aware of the choices we have when responding to any given situation.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe #amnesty

In November last year I received a letter from Amnesty asking me to give support to their campaign for the release of 37 year old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a former charity worker with dual Iranian-British nationality.

Since April 2016 she has been imprisoned in Iran and accused of attempting to overthrow the regime; charges she and her family have vociferously denied. She was arrested at Tehran airport, on her way back from visiting her parents, and was given no reasons for her arrest. Her 2 year old daughter, Gabriella, was separated from Nazanin and her British passport was confiscated.

Nazanin lost her final court appeal in January 2017. She is now serving a 5 year prison sentence. Gabriella remains in Iran, living with her grandparents. Nazanin’s husband, Richard, is in the UK.

My heart goes out to Nazanin and her family who have been torn apart by this ordeal. Whilst Nazanin has dual nationality Iran’s legal system does not recognise dual nationals and denies consular assistance. Richard believes Nazanin’s case is being used as a bargaining chip between the UK and Iranian governments and that the UK could have done more to petition for Nazanin’s release.

Whatever the facts and the rights/wrongs, the main thing I see is a family suffering very deeply. I see a young child growing up without the physical presence of her mother and father. I see a mother denied regular access to her daughter. I see a woman without proper legal representation. I see a man struggling to protect and fight for the two biggest loves of his life.

I can only imagine the pain and difficulties that Nazanin and her family are going through. If you’d like to support Nazanin, and indeed anyone else who needs their human rights protecting, then consider joining or donating to Amnesty here.

Have you got a Round Tuit?

When I was a young teenager, my parents – much to their delight and amusement – gave me a souvenir plate to hang in my room. The plate had printed words across it, duly explaining what the plate was: a Round Tuit.

I inherited the Round Tuit from my Grandpa….one of a number of artefacts, heirlooms and nick-nacks we held onto when clearing out his house as he moved into a nursing home.

A Round Tuit, in case you’re not familiar, is a special item to behold especially for those people who have been claiming their need of one over many years. Below is a copy of the words found on a Round Tuit which explain its purpose and significance:

At long last,

we have a sufficient quantity

for each of you to have his own.

GUARD IT WELL!

These Tuits have been hard to come by.

Especially the round ones.

A ROUND TUIT

This is an indispensable item. It will help you

to become a much more efficient worker.

For years we have heard people say

“I’ll do this when I get a Round Tuit”. Now

that you have a Round Tuit of your

very own, many things that have

needed to be accomplished

will get done.

As I say, my parents found this hilarious because I was often saying “when I get around to it” (or words to that effect)  but didn’t always manage to.

It was kinda funny to receive but also embarrassing and annoying because, well, when you’re 14 years old frankly anything your parents do is usually embarrassing and annoying.

The plate is no longer on display although I still remember its message. My parents also continue to enjoy the odd joke and dig at my expense, because whilst I own a Round Tuit I still seem to struggle to do some of the things I set out to achieve. Funny that.

What Round Tuits reveal to ourselves is the ease with which we can sometimes push actions down our to-do/priority list. Perhaps because they are a little difficult, or a little boring, or we lack sufficient belief in ourselves (or the task) to carry it through.

I didn’t blog last week and it’s amazing how quick and easy it is to fall off the wagon once the habit is not sustained. I really had to force myself into writing this and memories of my Round Tuit gave me a gentle kick up the arse. I fell off the blogging wagon big time last year and I am determined not to repeat that again.

So, Mum, Dad, and Grandpa – thank you for my Round Tuit.

If you do not have a Round Tuit please feel free to print or save this blog for future reference. If you’re in a creative kind of mood, and can get round to it (haha), why not make your own Tuit in true Blue Peter style? Use a paper plate or a round piece of paper along with some coloured pens and crafty paraphernalia to make it truly yours. Maybe even ask some kids to make one with you (your own or someone else’s) and teach them the value and joy of owning a Round Tuit.

January 2017 favourites

Image source © Abby Hopewell

Last year I attempted to do a ‘monthly favourites’. I managed to do this for two months, specifically February and May.

Not a great track record, therefore if I can manage more than 2 ‘favourites’ entries this year then I will consider that progress. I am going to aim for twelve in 2017 so I guess time will tell how successful I am.

Here are my favourites for the month, using headings which I’ve amended slightly since last year’s efforts.

Favourite Article

This has to be an HBR article about why we keep on hiring narcissistic CEO’s. Despite the evidence which suggests that humble and self-aware leaders are more successful, we continue to see those reaching senior leadership roles who carry large egos and destructive/hubris tendencies with them. The article considers how the (increasing?) human need for charismatic (or, perhaps, entertaining) leaders may be perpetuating the popularity and prevalence of narcissistic leaders – in the long term this does not necessarily serve the highest good of the people they serve.

Plenty of food for thought if you’re interested in talent management, leadership, recruitment and (dare I say it) leaders at high levels in politics…

Favourite YouTube clip

I mentioned this in an earlier blog post this month – Simon Sinek’s discussion of Millenials in the Workplace. I really enjoyed watching this, and if you have time you might want to watch the hour-long interview which this was part of by clicking here. Some really interesting and thought-provoking perspectives on leadership.

Favourite Book

Not strictly a January favourite because I read this over the Christmas break, however I have chosen this one because I’m still in the middle of reading another book!.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is a best seller and I was fortunate enough to see the author at the Wilderness Festival last summer . She was there with a few other authors discussing how of the concept of ‘women in the wilderness’ is expressed in literature. Certainly there are moments in this book where you get a sense of ‘wilderness’ – for the main character’s internal life – despite the fact that she lives a fairly provincial existence working a busy, stressful job as a police detective. It’s a good page-turner, quite gripping and tense in places with a good dose of British humour thrown in.

Favourite Film/TV show

I have a Cineworld Unlimited card so am trying to take advantage of this by visiting the cinema once a week.

This month I have seen three films and whilst all them have been very good, for different reasons, if I were to pick one I’d pick Manchester By The Sea.

Starring Casey Affleck, this is not your typical Hollywood storyline – it’s an awkward and somewhat uncomfortable storyline, it’s dark and very challenging in places, there’s no neat Hollywood ending either. Casey and co-stars give remarkable performances (indeed, Casey won a Golden Globe for his) and scenes brought forth in me both laughter and tears.

Initially I was a tad frustrated by the ending but have grown to appreciate this and also recognise I have a yearning (conditioned?) for neat and happy endings in stories – life isn’t usually like that, of course, and therefore why should a film be? It has lingered in my memory long after watching it (for all the right reasons) and for me this is a sign of a great film.

Lucky Dip

I visited Stroud Farmer’s market for the first time and really enjoyed myself. It was lovely to see locally-grown vegetables (much of it organic) and locally-made produce such as cheese, beer, pies, pickles, jams, cakes and bread. I didn’t buy much except for a squash (because I like making squash stew) although I was sorely tempted to buy one of the local cheeses. Next time…

In true farmer’s market style all of the stalls are manned by the farmers, brewers, bakers and makers themselves and they all come from within a 17 mile radius of Stroud which is impressive. This seems to be one of the better farmer’s markets in the land (not that I am an expert) as it has won awards and featured on many TV programmes and documentaries.

There was a great atmosphere as the Stroud Wassail was taking place – an annual event in early-mid January which is seeing a slow-growing revival. There were dozens of Morris dancers and people wearing some rather unfamiliar costumes and dramatic face paint (see featured image). I had to consult the Oracle Google to better understand the origins and I came across this useful description from the Stroud Wassail website – I copy below for ease:

The term wassail goes back to anglo-saxon times and is a form of toast.  “Waes Hael” – Be of good health.   The reply to this toast is for the company to say “Drinc hael” –  Drink healthily.

Wassailing in the Stroud area was practised until the 1960s, and is now gradually being revived.  There is a rich collection of wassail songs from the villages around Stroud and this corner of the Cotswolds.

The songs reflect a tradition that was widespread in England but is somewhat different to the apple wassailing that has become popular in recent times.

Close to 12th Night, the wassailers would go from door to door, or around the pubs, carrying a wassail bowl and singing a wassailing song.  The theme is to wish everyone a prosperous year.

May you all, my lovely readers, Waes Hael!

Golden assumptions when coaching

Image source: pixabay.com

Anyone who is a coach needs to adopt the right mind-set.

A great coach needs to be fully connected to, engaged with, and present for the coachee.

A great coach needs to have positive expectations about the coaching conversation.

A great coach needs to have hopeful expectations – for the coachee and themselves.

Some coaching conversations will feel effortless and flow easily; other conversations may require more mental effort depending on the kind of day we’ve already had, our emotional state and self-perception, our history with the person we are coaching, our experience and our levels of confidence.

Each and every coaching conversation will benefit from us devoting a little mental preparation time (effort) before we press ‘go’, as it were.

A few simple reminders, mind tricks, affirmations, reflections which help the clear the weeds and detritus crowding our mind; placing us on a firmer, yet gentler, footing so we can give our best to the coachee who’s sharing a part of their life experience with us.

Here’s a couple of golden assumptions we can make before (and whilst) embarking on a conversation with a coachee:

Working with you is going to be a fantastic/constructive/beneficial* experience.

I am going to learn a lot from working with you.

*delete as appropriate/insert other positive, affirming word which resonates

Holding the coachee in our minds (and in front of us) whilst reflecting on these things can help us to remain clear-headed, ‘clean’ with our motivation, and focused on them. They can help to disrupt and quieten any unhelpful assumptions or thought patterns we may unwittingly have about ourselves or the coachee.

Preparing for coaching each and every time by using tools such as this can support us to become better coaches and have better conversations.

What tips and strategies do you use to help you get into the right mind-set when preparing to coach someone?

What to do with unexpected time

I’ve got 22 minutes to write something before I pick up the phone and dial my friend for a long overdue chat.

We agreed to talk at 2000 hours but she’s pushed me back to 2020 hours so she has time to eat some dinner.

So now I have 21 minutes of time that I wasn’t expecting.

What do we do with these unexpected moments of time which were not planned for or allocated to something?

Do we bring forward other tasks?

While away the time mindlessly? Mindfully?

Make ourselves a cup of tea?

Surf the net, a social media platform or two, a bunch of TV channels?

Ruminate on something someone said to us once upon a time?

Talk to someone who is in our environment? Send a text?

Plan our next move?

Feel slightly irked that things haven’t gone quite to plan?

Today I’ll write a blog post. I need to keep that blog-writing muscle stretched, after all.

18 minutes left.

Right now I am thinking about a theme that I have been hearing about recently through a few talks and documentaries I’ve watched online, which have addressed the pervasive effects of the internet and social media on our well-being. It concerns me. I will write more about this in a future blogpost when I have more time to think it through….this particular post is a selfishly convenient brain dump.

14 minutes remaining. I will finish writing in about 9 minutes so I have time to make myself a cup of tea and locate my friend’s landline (it feels a bit of an old-fashioned thing these days – calling someone in my personal life from a landline to another landline. I normally just use the landline to phone my parents).

Back to that theme on the adverse effects of internet and social media on our well-being. Three particular videos (which I accessed via social media, ironically) have crystallised and explained this much more deeply and succinctly than I ever could. Here they are for you to chew on:

Hypernormalisation. A BBC documentary which, as I write this, is available on iPlayer. Alternatively you could try your luck searching for it on YouTube. It’s long (2 hours 45 minutes) and requires concentration. I watched it in two sittings.

The Millenial Question – an interesting and illuminating perspective from ‘thought leader’ (mixed feelings about that phrase) Simon Sinek on YouTube.

Quit Social Media – TedX talk by Dr Cal Newport about the detrimental effects of social media and his arguments that we don’t really need it, actually, and without it our lives will be much better.

All of these are worth viewing if you have a bit of time to kill. In fact, they are worth setting aside the time for.

Right, 5 minutes to the phone call with my fab friend. Off to pop the kettle on…

 

How are those goals and New Year resolutions going?

photo source http://www.flickr.com

The annual attempt by many to set and stick to new year’s resolutions is drifting further into history; our initial efforts and enthusiastic resolve fading along with a memory (a dream, a vision) of what could be. Feeling slightly ashamed of ourselves or perhaps a touch embarrassed, that we might now prefer to forget or pooh-pooh that silly idea of a goal – admirable and aspirational and wacky and well-meaning as it was – in favour of our existing comforts and comfort zones; whilst reminding ourselves that we can’t really do it and why on earth did we think we had the time to achieve that and what was it we said on New Year’s day that we were going to do everyday for evermore? Because of course some habits (such as positive, healthy, new ones) are hard to make and some habits (such as self-doubt or negative speak) are even harder to break.

Unless we are lucky, or especially determined and focused, or have a coach or have great self-belief then many of ‘the many’ (which includes you, possibly, and definitely me) may now be struggling to stick to those well-intentioned goals that we set ourselves.

If you find yourself loitering in this area and are considering giving up on your new year resolutions (or maybe you already have) then I recommend you take a pause and follow these instructions:

  1. Take a big, deep breath. Go on, do it. Don’t just read these words – actually follow the instructions, please. Breathe in….hold it for a slow-ish count of 4…1,2,3,4…..good, now exhale slowly all the way out as far as you can go. Hopefully you feel a bit better, a bit lighter, a bit more centred. If you followed that instruction, well done 🙂 if you didn’t – please follow the instruction. Your diaphragm will thank you for it.
  2. Pause for a moment and revel in your magnificence – you are alive, you have a body, you are breathing (can you feel it?), you are already amazing. All of these things are facts.
  3. Now kindly remind yourself of the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year. Hopefully you can remember them. If you cannot remember all of them then I suggest the forgotten goals were not really important to you, after all. That’s OK, don’t berate yourself. It just means you’re closer to finding and pursuing the goals that really matter to you right now.
  4. Repeat instruction #1 and instruction #2. Why? Because it’s good for you and I think they will help you to follow instruction #5 (below).
  5. Of the goals you can remember, pick one. Yes, just one. Pick the one you’re most drawn to, the most excited by, the one that puts most fire in your belly when you think of the end result and potential outcome.
  6. Gently drop all the other goals. You don’t have to destroy them, but place them to one side (in a box, on a shelf, in a drawer, in a file) so that you do not get distracted or start worrying or start beating yourself up about them. You can always return to them when you’re good and ready.
  7. With the one goal you’ve selected, explore how you can break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Take one day at a time. Be patient, be persistent, be humble. Start really small and build from there. Resolve to focus on this goal every day. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes to begin with, then gradually increase and adjust time and frequency as your confidence and progress grows.
  8. Write your goal down and make it visible in your home so you see it everyday. Write it in the present tense e.g. “I publish two blog posts a week”; “I exercise for 30 minutes everyday”; “I am a vegetarian”; “I write at least one letter to friends every week”; “I read one book a week”; “I practice the piano for 15 minutes everyday” etc.
  9. Write your goal down every day for 1 month e.g. write it in your diary, write it in your journal, write about and reflect on your goal in your journal or blog (or wherever). Say it aloud: tell people, tell the cat/dog/goldfish who lives with you or the birds who nest in the trees outside your home or the houseplant which sits patiently in your living room. Tell a person/animal/bird/tree/plant every day for 1 month. This might sound a bit strange but by simply repeating your goal verbally and in writing you’re helping to cement the goal into your consciousness, and by consequence helping to strengthen your resolve, belief and determination to make it real.
  10. Keep on repeating instruction #1 and instruction #2 regularly. They are good for you.

 

Rome was not built in a day. You are a busy person with lots going on already in your rich, buoyant life. It’s better to focus on improving one thing rather than trying to spread yourself too thinly.

Go gently, think positively, and good luck with your one goal – you can DO this!

Helsinki, Herring and Hygge

Image copyright Abby Hopewell. This is THE herring dish which started it all

Every year for the last eight years I have gone on a trip/adventure with some old school friends to a different part of the UK or Europe. Whilst one friend dropped out of the annual trip a few years ago, a few more have joined our small-but-perfectly-formed gaggle of six.

In November 2016 we took a plane to Helsinki, Finland. It’s very cold in Finland in November – for us there was no exception to this rule (5ºC, milder than we expected but with a harsh accompanying wind-chill so plenty of layers necessary); thankfully we were not there the previous weekend when temperatures plummeted to -12ºC in the daytime.

Despite not being in Denmark the cold weather made us all feel very hygge. Well, we were in Scandinavia, after all. Apparently the Finnish ‘do’ hygge but don’t really have a name for it (someone correct me if I am wrong), so I will just stick with this word as it’s bound to reach an English dictionary soon (if it hasn’t already).

Back in November most of the gaggle didn’t really know what hygge meant so I tried my best to explain. By the end of the weekend I think everyone got the gist that it was something to do with candles, feeling cosy, simple pleasures, connecting with nature/the outdoors, warming hearty food and good company. I am sure there’s more to hygge than this but needless to say we had all of the above in spades. We also chucked in a small quantity of wine (alcohol is very expensive in Finland so we took our time and savoured each mouthful – very hygge).

One day we visited a very nice restaurant which had all manner of Scandinavian style dishes on offer (roast reindeer, or elk steak, anyone?). As someone who generally follows a pescetarian/vegetarian diet I steered clear of the heavy, less familiar meat dishes. I did, however, try smoked herring which was a new one for me (‘savusilakka’ in Finnish, although my starter was advertised as a Russian speciality). It was delicious.

Fast forward a couple of months, I was browsing my local Tesco recently and came upon pots of rollmop herring. I have had a funny belief about rollmop herring for many years – a feeling that it must be disgusting or that there’s something a bit embarrassing about admitting you like it. I have no idea where this belief has come from – perhaps a disparaging joke I heard someone say about rollmop herrings when I was a child. Perhaps it’s the name: rollmop. It doesn’t sound exactly appetising.  Who knows. Consequently it has never seriously occurred to me to buy it or try it. Until I saw them in Tesco and I remembered how much I enjoyed the smoked herring in Helsinki, so perhaps I will enjoy rollmop herring too. I like pickles and sharp flavours after all, so it stands to reason that I ought to enjoy it (a rollmop herring, in case you do not know, is a pickled filleted herring wrapped around pickled cucumber).

And guess what. I did enjoy it. Very much indeed. I am now a fan of pickled, rollmop herring. That strange belief I once had is now a memory and I laugh at myself and my ignorance and irrational fear.

If your mouth is now watering at the thought of a rollmop herring (or smoked herring) I think you’re in for a treat and not just in the gastronomic sense. Like sardine it is very good for you – rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and one of the best sources of vitamin D (thus great to eat in the winter when the sun is weak or below the horizon). Just remember to purchase sustainably caught herring (look for the blue MSC logo) as stocks have dwindled somewhat in recent years.

I have fond memories of Helsinki and would happily return to Finland. Thankfully, until then I can return to my happy memories and cosy feelings through cultivating hygge at home, and by eating herring.