Thank you (fallettinme be mice elf agin)

view-from-the-terrace-outside-the-edgemoor-innA week or so ago I was fortunate enough to have the time to get out on my bike whilst the UK was bathed in unseasonably warm sunshine (the warmest Halloween on record).  I was conscious that I hadn’t posted a blog for a while and tried to direct my thoughts to create  the structure of a piece.  I did have a couple of great ideas – now I cannot for the life of me remember them, they were great ideas though!

I have just reviewed the ride in my training log as it was a great, flat route.  The headlines as captured for posterity by Strava were 56km in 2:18, averaging 24.4kmh, total elevation gained 220m (it is pretty flat around here), on my 16 year old Scott Vail MTB.  The weather was a sunny 22.2 C and I burned up around 1,900 calories.

If I had been using my heart rate monitor, cadence meter and a power meter I would have captured more data about the ride.

That evening I was finalising a presentation and I came across the old maxim:

what get’s measured get’s managed

That of course leads to various conclusions around “measures that matter”.  Reflecting on the day I wondered what really mattered. The data captured was of use only from a training perspective.  The bare facts don’t come close to describing the experience.  If asked why I run, cycle and swim my Strava account is the wrong place to start looking.

The truly important things about the ride were the things that can’t be directly measured: my emotions and feelings.  I started out in a fairly flat mood, a few opportunities I had been pursuing were looking less likely to come off and those that were promising were not the most exciting.  I finished feeling energised, relaxed and renewed.

We keep a jar in the kitchen into which all of the family put small notes of gratitude on a regular basis (we’ll review them over New Year in a celebration) and I found I had a whole list of notes to write:

Thanks for the time and fitness to be able to get out;

the glorious sunshine;

the privilege to live in the Cotswolds;

the wonderful views;

the Autumn colours…

None of which can easily be measured.  Maybe if what get’s measured does get managed, do we fall into the trap of simply managing what we can measure? I wonder if we should really focus on those things that defy simple measurement?

Dance to the music
All nite long
Everyday people
Sing a simple song
Mama’s so happy
Mama start to cry
Papa still singin’
You can make it if you try

I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
(Different strokes for different folks, yeah)
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Thank you (fallettinme be mice elf agin) – Sly & The Family Stone


One hand in my pocket

On the one hand it has been a depressing week:

Firstly I have been waiting to hear from a potential client regarding a pitch for a large project.  The pitching process took months of effort. I’ve been on tenterhooks and can’t settle, checking my email constantly.  I can’t understand why they are delaying the result and am starting to be convinced we haven’t got it.

Secondly I heard that a number of friends have lost their jobs. This made me very angry at the people that did this and I spent a whole afternoon in a bad mood.

The incessant wind and rain and ever rising flood levels (I live by the River Thames) has been a real worry. I am increasingly frustrated by the politicians who seem to offer nothing but platitudes.

Finally I have an injury and after 6 weeks of rest I am still only able to run 3 – 4 miles a day very cautiously.

On the other hand it’s been a good week:

Firstly I have been waiting to hear from a potential client regarding a pitch for a large project.  We did great to get through to the final round and learned loads in the process.  I had weaned myself off constantly checking email and being on tenterhooks has lead me back into bad habits, it’s noticeable how it distracts you and prevents you from fully attending to the here and now which I hadn’t really appreciated before.

Secondly I heard that a number of friends have lost their jobs, I was quite angry for a while.  Of course once I calmly looked at it I realised that raging is pointless.  Having compassion and finding ways to help would be more useful.  So I contacted them and offered to help.  By reaching out they know I care.

The incessant wind and rain and ever rising flood levels (I live by the River Thames) is a concern.  Yet there is nothing I can do about the weather.  Accepting the issue and getting on with what needs to be done in the short term is more productive.  And maybe if we keep the pressure on this will help the climate change naysayers see the truth.

I have an injury and after 6 weeks of rest I am now able to run 3 – 4 miles a day albeit cautiously.  If I do some cross training and keep healing I’ll still make a spring race or two.  And today a gentle 4 miler in a rare burst of sunny, calm weather felt just great.

I know which week I chose to have.  What will you choose?

I’m broke but I’m happy
I’m poor but I’m kind
I’m short but I’m healthy, yeah
I’m high but I’m grounded
I’m sane but I’m overwhelmed
I’m lost but I’m hopeful baby
What it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine fine fine
’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is giving a high five

Alanis Morrisette


kangaroo-joey background

Families never forget.  Well ok they forget to buy milk, they forget to put the washing on and empty the dishwasher.  They don’t forget your mistakes, especially if they are considered hilarious.  I was recently (cruelly) reminded of  an incident that has brought joy to my nearest and dearest for many years.

We were walking through a wooded valley in Dorset towards the coast in a brief respite from what was proving to be a wet and windy first family camping trip.  The walking was easy, mostly downhill and I was happy and relaxed. As we approached a small town there were houses whose rear gardens backed onto the woods.  I noticed in one of the gardens a large reddy brown animal with large upright ears.  Surely it was too big to be a dog?  Then I had it, the fabulously complex pattern recognition system of my mind supplied the answer to the puzzle and with delight I blurted out  ” Look. A joey!”.

I do need to point out here that I do know there are no kangaroo’s roaming wild in Dorset, there may be the odd wallaby but in most woodlands you find deer.  Lot’s of them, and they can be tame.  We occasionally get them in our garden.  So I know what deer look like and where they might be lurking.

So why on earth did I mistake the two?  And more importantly when will my wife tire of shouting “joey!” every time we see a deer?

If you Google ‘gut instinct’ you find a huge number of articles encouraging us to trust our instincts, articles teaching us how to tune in to our instincts and a few suggesting that our instincts might be less than perfect.

The truth is that we are bombarded with sensory data and we can only focus on tiny fraction of the information available to us.  To make sense of this we filter out much of the data by focussing on what we deem to be important, then using our past experiences we make generalised models of reality.  This enables us to function at a very high level – we don’t have to worry about all of the ‘irrelevant’ material and we can focus on the important stuff.

Of course this means that no two people will experience the same event in the same way and this has consequences for the way we relate to others.  It also explains why a rational, reasonably educated Englishman blurts out “Joey!” at the sight of a deer.

For some reason my pattern recognition system came up with ‘Kangaroo’ and stopped.  It found a pattern and provided the information.  My error was to simply accept this without testing.  The problem is that this happens all the time and it is very easy to run on automatic.

Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking fast and slow” is one of the best explanations of how our gut instinct may get it wrong with lot’s of examples.  Daniel outlines two distinct systems, the fast instinctual thinking and the slower cognitive effortful thinking and suggests that we are designed to use the ‘easier’ fast thinking as much as possible and we dislike the effort that slow thinking requires.

This poses a real issue – if we challenge all of our instincts we’d never achieve anything.  Imagine driving a car and examining carefully every single piece of data – you’d never get it off the driveway.  Yet if we simply trust our gut we are likely to make a few foolish mistakes.  Usually this will cause little harm, the danger comes when we stop thinking slow about the important things.

Too many of us simply take what is given at face value without any cognitive challenge.  In a world where ‘news’ often breaks on twitter before the traditional media channels, where the untrained individual has the same voice as the expert and where we are manipulated by marketeers this feels very dangerous.

I often ask my coaching clients who are ‘stuck’ what their ‘gut instinct’ tells them.  And then we jointly explore the issue, asking the awkward questions and looking at other options.  It’s a great place to start the thought process and it frequently proves to be a poor place to end it.

To conclude: trust your gut when choosing which movie to see and ask a few insightful questions when choosing a new job.  And my gut tells me that my wife will never, ever tire of shouting “Joey!” .  For which I am grateful, it reminds me to be more challenging of myself.

Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
Skippy, Skippy
Skippy, our friend ever true

PS.  Skippy was really a wallaby, but you do need to challenge what you are being told to work that out.


iPhoto Library

On Sunday morning I was quietly drinking coffee and doing those Sunday things, my wife was at the gym and the kids fast asleep (it still being a few minutes before noon).  Suddenly I was shocked when my youngest almost fell down the stairs and wobbled into the kitchen.

She was in great distress, very pale, sobbing, breathing very rapidly and incoherently trying to say something.

“I can’t breathe”  or was it “I can’t see” ?

After doing what all Dad’s would do – wishing Mum was there – I started asking her to calm down, but that had no impact.  So I started breathing very noticeably, a little faster than usual and very calmly asked her to copy me.  As she did I slowed it down gradually until she was more or less in control.

Now she could tell me that she had felt a bit odd on getting up, gone for a shower and then had felt light headed, lost her vision and started to fall over.  At this she had freaked out.  I’m no medic but I figured she’d fainted and just needed to calm down.

I asked her to visualise the outline of a square and put a bright dot in the left hand corner, the dot moved along each side with each in and out breath.  In…along the top, out…down the side, in…along the bottom, and so on.  With her I gradually slowed the dot and with it her breathing until she was very relaxed (in fact she was in a light trance).

Afterwards she said she felt very relaxed, if still a little light headed.

Whilst not exactly rocket science it does demonstrate how powerful our breathing is on our emotions.  By focussing on our breathing and slowing it down we naturally calm down and get more oxygen to help us think.  Worth remembering next time you are feeling a little stressed before that meeting or presentation.

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave but don’t leave me
Look around and chose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be

Pink Floyd

PS – my wife, a trained first aider, has now told me what I should really do if anyone faints.  The breathing was good but I should have laid her down with legs up a little.


Much has been and will continue to be written about the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela by more authoritative and erudite authors than I am.  And yet I feel compelled to mark this moment and reflect on an incredible story.

There are many things we can learn from Madiba, I won’t presume to identify his greatest achievements or characteristics.  Instead I’ll leave that to you.  I urge everyone to look behind the sensational headlines at the real man and his story and ask yourself ‘What small thing can I learn?  What will I do that is different, better?’

We can all feel sad at his passing and humbled by his greatness and if we all take one small action to change our behaviour and really do something differently his legacy will truly live on.

For me I am struck by how he was fully present for everyone he met.  Be they a disabled child, a lowly worker or a senior statesman he gave them the gift of his full attention and made them feel very special.  So be careful – when we next meet I aim to give you a damned good listening to.

Let me say thank-you to those who love many
Let me say thank-you to those who still play fair

John Cougar Mellencamp