Sunday, 14 August 2016

Fall in love with a mini break to Gdansk, Poland

For those of you that have never heard of Gdansk, you’re forgiven, because until recently when I went there on a mini break, I had never heard of this Polish port town on the Baltic coast either.

A tiny quiet town filled with quaint cafés, restaurants to suit all taste buds and charming buildings, this is the perfect place for a mini break to relax and unwind (and eat).

I came to booking three nights in Gdansk in Poland, because my dad was in England and suggested that whilst he was in London we should make the most of his time and the accessibility to Europe, and book a little trip. Narrowing our option down to Eastern Europe (thanks to its relative ease in getting there and affordability once there), my dad offered the option of Gdansk, where I agreed by replying “I have no idea where it is but yea let’s go”.

Taking a Wizz Air flight from lovely Luton (that was sarcasm by the way), Gdansk is only a couple hours flying time. The airport was only 15- 20 minutes in a taxi to the centre (13 minutes on the way back with our taxi driver that must be a cousin of Colin McRae), so all round, it is very easy to get to. 

Within an hour of landing, we had picked up our luggage, navigated a taxi, checked in and were sat in a restaurant.

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Friday, 5 August 2016

Let's start embracing adversity say's CMI (and I agree) - three tips on how we can embrace mistakes

In the summer edition of the Professional Manager magazine from CMI (the Chartered Institute of Management), page 16’s spread caught my eye. The article looked at “destigmatising adversity” and how UK businesses should reframe its attitude towards failure.

“Failure”. That dreaded ‘F’ word.

Personally I hate the word, mainly because of its negative connotations. I have made many a blunder in my time but I don’t consider myself a failure for any of it, so I welcome the likes of CMI embracing it!

As CMI says in the opening line, “the way we deal with adversity says a lot about us as people”. We’ll all face a crisis or two in our careers, but it doesn’t matter what knocks us down, because what matter is how we get back up.

The challenge for us all, is learning from our mistakes, bouncing back and using the crisis as a way to build up resilience (one of the top ten traits of successful leaders according to CMI’s report). I once was told by a CEO that I was too resilient – I didn’t know you could be such a thing!

One way to do this, advocates CMI, is for us to start destigmatising adversity.

If we could be open to mistakes, encouraging our staff to embrace the errors of our ways and sharing those experiences so that we could all benefit from the learning curve, wouldn’t that make for a more effective (thus profitable) organisation?

Of those managers surveyed in CMI’s report, a huge 81% said that their confidence had suffered as a result of the crisis and nearly half (45%) said that they do not feel that they have handles crises well.

So what can we do to start embracing failure? Firstly, we have to start with ourselves. Here are my 3 top tips.

Facing adversity 1: Reframe your attitude
First of all, we need to reframe our approach to failure. If we have the attitude of ‘this is the end of the world’ then we’ll never be able to get over the issue, let alone learn from it. Instead reframe your outlook to one that is about learning from the many curveballs that life throws at us, however bad. Approaching adversity with this manner will help us see that failures can help us, rather than hinder us.
For example, if that pitch you delivered left you feeling worse than that time you forgot your mother’s birthday then rather than spending weeks being upset with yourself, use it as a learning curve. What went wrong and why? Would it have gone better if you rehearsed more, or used more visuals?

Thursday, 28 July 2016

"Narconomics – How to Run a Drug Cartel" Tom Wainwright: book review

What is the difference between the underground world of drug cartels and legal businesses?
Apart from thinking that this is the start of a very bad joke, you are probably thinking that the answer is that there isn’t anything that these two have in common! But that is where you would be wrong.

I have recently finished reading “Narconomics - How to Run aDrug Cartel”, a kind of ‘freakanomics’ specifically looking at the drugs industry and how it operates (and how it operates so efficiently that no government or law enforcement seems to have cracked it).

In this book, the author Tom Wainwright, delves deep into the dark world of the drug cartels, showing the reader that there is little difference between the legitimate likes of McDonalds and ‘Shorty’ Guzman’s violent drug cartel in Mexico. In fact, there is probably a few things that the big corporate companies and businesses could learn from them!

Reading Narconomics you come to realise that actually the drug cartels have the same problems as normal businesses - staff retention, defending territory, R&D, franchising, diversifying... the list goes on.

Applying an economics brain to the world of the drug cartels and looking at the supply and demand of these substances, you can see that they face the same issues, and you can also start to see how the ‘war on drugs’ that has been proudly boosted has come to little affect so far because they are applying to wrong economic tactics.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Guest blog: Another reason to love improvised speaking

Have you ever been asked a question point blank? And, caught in the moment, you have given an answer that you have regretted ever since?

I didn’t mean it! I didn’t use the right words! I didn’t explain it well! Sorry!

Trying to convince your spouse, your child, your colleague, your boss is a futile exercise!

When one is under pressure with their guard down, it is easy to react to unsolicited interruptions, and ill-conceived words pour out of one’s mouth. What follows are the regret and consequences of that careless moment when you didn’t think (or you didn’t have the time to think).

Why do I always fall in the trap? Why am I so stupid? Why don’t I ever stop and think before speaking? Why do they always pick the wrong time for certain discussions?

Yes, some people seem to have a special talent for asking difficult questions at precisely the wrong time.

Well, my friends, it doesn’t need to be this way. There is a solution.

Caught in the moment, it feels like time speeds up, but in reality, between the action and the reaction, there is always a lapse of time, a reaction time if you like — those precious few seconds during which we have the chance to decide whether we are going to react or respond. 

Most of us have no perception of this time lapse; therefore, we miss the opportunity. We just react. Those that are aware, on the other hand, take their time to make a conscious decision to respond.

The question is: how does one acquire this awareness? Well, let’s put it this way. There is a little muscle, by the long name, that requires a bit of training: the “think on our feet” muscle. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

My meditation diary - my journey to meditating and calm (part 2)

Back in April I shared a blog with you about my meditation journey as I discovered whether meditation was just for hippies and celebs or for ordinary folk like me. Would it have the calming effect on me that I needed and would it help me keep my zen, I wondered? 

If you haven't already, then you can read my article on my meditation journey here, "does meditating really help? Did it work for me?", but for the short version, the answer is yes! 

Meditation has really helped me. Although, it wasn't a simple process to learning to love it, and that is what I want to share with you today. For all of you wanting to, and trying to, get into the habit of meditation, my advice to you is to persist! 

I'll be honest, for me, it took time. A long time.  A year on, I share my journey...

Welcome to my mediation diaries... 

Monday 13th July 2015 

Like all great new initiatives, I obviously started on a Monday. I had also just got back from three sunny, relaxed days in Madrid (intrigued, read my blog posting here), so was feeling particularly positive and chilled. Having downloaded some of the recommended apps from the Boots magazine which inspired me that I can be a meditating master, I manage to do the ten minute guided meditation before bed.  I concentrate on my breathing, the feeling in my legs and I am trying to increase my awareness of my feeling lying on my bed (I am not sure if lying on your bed is a meditation do or don’t?) whether it is the meditation or not, I have no trouble nodding off to sleep that night.

Sunday 20th July 2015 
 Tomorrow I will meditate. Definitely tomorrow. 

Monday 21st  July 2015
A quick search and I started 15 minute guided meditation - abundance, balance and freedomThis was actually really good. Although seeing as I am still in the early days of learning, maybe 15 minutes was a bit too ambitious?!

Tuesday 22nd  July 2015 
Its been over a week since I ‘started’ my meditation journey. I don’t know why my husband was a doubting when I told him that I was going to start meditating every day. The guilt gets me and I do a short meditation before bed using a popular app. Just 5 minutes. I think getting into the habit and making time for meditating is going to be harder than the actual meditation. I am not so keen on the app. 

Wednesday 22nd July 2015 
Having had an early start thanks to a morning conference in Derby, I got home earlier than usual office time, which resulted in having the flat to myself as my house mates were still at work. I haven't been that keen on the app I have been using the last week so went to youtube instead (youtube is my new google - aka I go there for all my needed answers). 

Thursday 23rd July 2015 
After yesterdays attempt, I feel positive towards doing a meditation today but I am off to Berlin for a long weekend with my girlfriends so I know that I definitely won't be meditating whilst I am there, sharing an apartment with 7 others (to read my review of Berlin, see here). Perhaps I will start again next week. On a Monday of course. 

Monday 27th July 2015 
I had planned on doing a short meditation before bed after arriving back home from Berlin, but my fight was delayed thanks to an issue getting an electric wheelchair on board and a very "ill" stag needing to get off the plane thanks to the kindness of his friends throwing him a heavy stag do. By the time I trundled in and unpacked it most certainly was time for bed as it was 1am and I had an early start. I am too tired to meditate and want to get to sleep asap. 

Tuesday 28th July 2015 
It's not a Monday but I am going to start. Again. I start the day with a positive, energising meditation, it is just 10 minute but it is enough for today as I am tired and don't want to sacrifice getting up any earlier! I do feel good afterwards, like today is going to be a good day and I am ready for the day ahead - including catching up on emails and a 3 hour meeting! 

Thursday 6th August 2015 
I keep promising myself I will meditate every day, but its summer and the days are longer so the offer of spending time with friends for a mid-week vino seem more inviting. This means I am less inclined to wake up early to meditate, or want to fall straight to bed when I trundle through the door post-work drinks. 

Wednesday 9th September 2015 
August went by without any real meditating action. Summer holidays with my husband (to read about the gorgeous city of Rome, see my blog here), brown belt kick boxing exam, an illness, stress with a broken boiler and an angry tenant and a family trip to Beausset meant meditation slipped my mind and I felt too busy. I know one of the advantages of meditating means you are more in control and able to deal with these times of craziness and stress, so this thinking was counter-intuitive! 

I still haven't managed to get into the habit of meditating. As yesterday was my birthday, I vowed to re-try and start meditating. I always treat my birthday as a second chance to start new year's resolutions. We'll see... 

Wednesday 16th September 2015 
The last week has been an improvement on the year's earlier attempt but I still view meditation as something I must do. Trouble with that line of thinking however, is that when you feel you have to do something, you are no longer doing it because you want to, but because you have to. That defeats the point to me. I keep plugging away at it. 

Sunday 20th September 2015 
Sundays are often reserved for relaxing, unwinding from a heavy week and getting ready for the week ahead, so doing a little meditation in the afternoon seemed fitting. I take some quiet time in my bedroom, and follow a guided meditation. Whilst I try to focus on the soothing words, I can’t help my mind wandering. And of course it is all the wrong things… I have recently moved from Fulham and in-between homes, I am thinking about  the report I should have started already, what to get for my friend's birthday etc... But I persisted and every thought that enters my head, I tried to bat away. 

Monday 5th October 
Instead of coming back from a long weekend away to Marrakesh relaxed and tanned, I have come back on edge. After a couple of upsetting and intimidating incidents with locals in the old town (I do not recommend Western women going to the Old Town), the stressful trip has left me tense and nervous. I try to use meditation to relax me again. There are a surprising amount of guided meditations on youtube for this, and I am pleased to see that others are using meditation to rid fears, worries and anxiousness. 

Monday 12th October
I don't know what or when the turning point is but meditation is starting to become a regular habit that I am getting into! I am still sticking to short meditations, 5 or 10 minutes, but this seems to be working for me. I feel calmer and more in control of my day, even when Thameslink seem to be announcing everyday an announcement of delay for my train and each train being half the size it needs to be. This is something I am starting to see the benefits of. 

I am starting to learn that meditation is something that you can do any time, anywhere. If you can't find 10 minutes of stillness in your day then there is nothing stopping you doing this on your commute, in a long queue or during a gentle walk! I've found walking to the train station in the morning, listening to a guided meditation, quite peaceful - instead of the usual walk to the station being filled with thoughts about the busy day ahead, it is filled with thoughts of positive affirmations and the soothing voice of the meditation guide. I am particularly enjoying the meditations focused on positive affirmations to empower me. 

Sunday 3rd  November 
The journey to meditation has been unsteady - quite a stop-start journey that I wasn't expecting. There certainly was a turning point after 2 months or so, where I went from halfheartedly doing it, to regularly enjoying a short meditation. 

My one advice... be persistent. Find what works for you and do that. There are no strict rules! Personally, the popular apps like headspace just didn't work for me. However, guided meditations worked perfectly, especially as I can choose what 'theme' I need for that moment or day - whether it is stress relieving, empowering for a great day or simple relaxation. Just make it work for you!" 

I would be interested to hear your meditation journey. For me it hasn't stopped. At the moment, whilst enjoying meditation most days, I'm still no further than 10-15 minutes a day so there is plenty of room for improvement - you never know, perhaps one day I will be able to quietly meditate on  my own, no guide needed. 

The thing about meditation is that it is like a muscle, and one must regularly use it (or lose it). At the time of writing this in July 2016, a year on from when I first started out on my mediation journey, I have realised I have stopped meditating and I cannot remember when this happened! Life, as it has a habit of doing, has got a little hectic at the moment and it seems to have slipped (unnoticed) off my daily habits. Funny that - the time you probably need it the most it the time it goes skewed! 

Anyway, I have vowed to get back into the daily habit - I have just put reminders in my phone to alert me! 

I would love to hear your journey, successes and set backs - leave a comment! 

Recommended meditations 

For more suggestions, see my article "does meditating really help? Did it work for me?"

Guided meditation 10 minutes to end your day in gratitude 
A calming meditation with soothing oriental style background music. Doesn't really focus on gratitude but the peaceful feeling will flow into your body. 

Guided morning meditation (10 minutes to kick start your day)
A gentle yet reviving way to wake you up ready for the day ahead. Deep, calm and slow breathes will help you focus for the day ahead. 

5 minute calming meditation 
This is one of those stereotypical meditation voice overs that feel a little jolted, but the cam music and the concentration on peacefulness will relax you. 

Happy day - positive affirmations to help you enjoy your day
I am all for a positive mantra so I enjoy the time for mediation to not only relax me but encourage me to take time out to remember that there is so much to be positive and happy about. 

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Copyright 2016 by Alice Dartnell, all rights reserved

I am currently embarking on an exciting journey to being a qualified business and life coach through a diploma with The Coaching Academy. If you would like a COMPLIMENTARY SESSION (face to face or online) then contact me at I look forward to hearing from you to see how we can achieve your dreams and goals! 

Friday, 1 July 2016

3 simple ways how to enhance optimism and decrease pessimism

Are you a half glass full or half glass empty kind of person?

It may seem like a trivial question but whether you are an optimistic kind of person or pessimistic kind of person, could make the world of difference. 

Your optimism or pessimism will affect how you approach situations, opportunity and failure. Your pessimism could actually be holding you back in life.

For example, let’s take that once in a life time trip to travel across Australia. You’re desperate to go, the shrimps on the barbie are calling your name… but your inner pessimist is telling you that the 24 hour flight will be horrendous (hey, it might even crash), that Australia is full of animals that could kill you, and what about if you miss your friends and family back home so much that you don’t enjoy it??? 

I enjoyed a gap year in Australia after university and you’re right about all that. But the optimist in you, should be saying this instead; that the odds of a plane crashing is less than a car (and you probably get into one of those everyday), that you’re sensible enough to know that you shouldn’t approach venomous animals and sure you’ll miss your loved ones but you’ll make new, lifelong friends out there and will come back with a gazillion stories to share with them when you are home.

See what the difference a bit of optimism makes? I am not saying that you need to walk about smiling like the Cheshire cat, whooping and cheering your way through the day, but do approach situations with hope rather than dread.

So how do we enhance optimism and reduce pessimism? 

Here are my 3 simple steps…

See every situation as a learning opportunity
I am a big believer that every situation has a learning opportunity, however awful the situation seems at the time. Life is one long learning experience and every situation is a lesson. You either use it to feed into your bank of knowledge or you mope around thinking life isn’t fair. 

No matter how bad it seems at the time, it WILL get better, but in the meantime reflect on what you’ve learnt so you can grow as a person.

A few years ago, I bought a bar in Cambodia with my dad and a third partner. Unfortunately it was a huge disaster and in less than a year, we had to sell our share. Was I sad about it? Of course I was! But I also took the situation as a huge learning opportunity, one that I could never get from reading a business book.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Stop self-hating and start self-loving... here are 6 simple steps

If you’ve read this months Women Health magazine, then you’ll have come across an article “how to love yourself (without everyone else hating you)". The article highlights how self-bashing has become bit of a sport, especially amongst women, and there is a tendency to publicly put ourselves down in front of others.

The article shows that it is mostly women who talk themselves down, although it would be false to think men don’t engage in a bit of self criticism.  As a kind of bonding tactic, we self criticise in front of our peers. 

Women might moan to each other about how much they hate their simply thighs, men might talk about how they are not as muscular or lean as what they want or compared to that guy on the cover of men's fitness mags. 

I am no psychologist or researcher but I have noticed amongst friends and colleagues that men's humour tends to focus on ‘banter’ and joking about others misfortunes rather than their own flaws, where as women will bond by sharing their commonly felt insecurities and talk about their flaws humorously.

Of course on the opposite of the spectrum, we have complete self-love and worthiness that is bragged about, and no one wants to be an arrogant arsehole, so its important to find the balance. 

Whilst we may feel putting ourselves down is the norm, bonding or a way not to show off, it can actually have a detrimental affect us over time. We create our own realities, and our brains only knows what we feed it… so, constantly feed it criticism and you’ll end up self-loathing and potentially depressed. 

Its simple really, keep saying you’re not as clever as your colleagues, your heavier than you want to be, or you're no good at your job, then guess what… you’re going to feel stupid, fat and useless because that is what you’ve told your brain to believe. So getting that balance really is important.

It's hard I know and takes a conscious effort but can be done. I know because I am not naturally an overly confident person, and this little known fact often surprised people. But my 'confidence' is something I have carefully curated over the years. I’m reaching a position where I am able to accept my flaws and work on them, and at the same time trying to be brave enough to celebrate my successes, strengths and attributes.

Here is some of my top tips that’s worked for me over the years. Adopt one at a time, or all of them, whatever works for you.