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Unfinished business image

Unfinished Business

1024 678 Stewart Brown

Unfinished business image

I woke up early this morning, my head heavy with the memory of last night’s dreams. I must have been tossing and turning for some time, as I felt exhausted. Something was troubling me.

Reluctantly, I started delving back into my dream to try and work out what was going on. Strange images swirled in the mist of my mind. Making sense of my thoughts reminded me of opening the Christmas decorations box earlier in the week and attempting to untangle the mess of the Christmas lights that lay within.

“As I lay there, I decided to try something different. I had read about an approach to problem-solving by an American philosopher and psychologist called Eugene Gendlin.”

I smiled and then gave up trying to decipher the dream.

But still that unsettling feeling remained. As I lay there, I decided to try something different. I had read about an approach to problem-solving by an American philosopher and psychologist called Eugene Gendlin.

Gendlin’s research found that his clients’ ability to realise lasting positive change in psychotherapy depended on their innate ability to access a nonverbal, bodily feel of the issues that brought them into therapy.

Gendlin called this intuitive body feel the ‘felt sense’. He published this book Focusing, which presented a six-step method for discovering one’s felt sense and drawing on it for personal insight and development.

As Gendlin explains: “When I use the word ‘body’, I mean more than the physical machine. Not only do you physically live the circumstances around you, but also those you only think of in your mind. Your physically-felt body is in fact part of a gigantic system of here and other places, now and other times, you and other people – in fact, the whole universe. This sense of being bodily alive in a vast system is the body as it is felt from inside.”

I thought I would try it out this technique to decipher what issue lay behind my dreams. So, I closed my eyes again and relaxed. I noticed how I lay. I felt the various parts of my body against the mattress. I just let the various thoughts and sensations swirl around my head until one loomed large.

Slowly, I zoomed in on that sensation and a phrase popped into my head: ‘Unfinished Business’.

“I looked back over my legal career and recalled similar patterns of behaviour, where I had ignored stuff that I should have sorted. That had never been a successful strategy, only resulting in minor issues morphing into major problems.”

I took these words and turned them around in my head, much like examining a three-dimensional object in my hands. What was this ‘Unfinished Business’ that was troubling me?

I started the process again: clearing some mental space, keeping the sensations general and then allowing the sensation to come into focus in my body.

This time, a more detailed image came into my mind. That was it! I realised that I had failed to pay a disputed bill from over a year ago, preferring instead to ignore the matter, hoping it would go away. The realisation struck me forcefully – it felt a bit like I had recalled the name of someone that I had been struggling with for a while.

Tension dissipated as I allowed a new sensation to emerge – that of determination and motivation to sort out this unfinished business.

I looked back over my legal career and recalled similar patterns of behaviour, where I had ignored stuff that I should have sorted. That had never been a successful strategy, only resulting in minor issues morphing into major problems.

In this present case, conflicting emotions of anger about the dispute and an innate sense that one should pay bills on time had resulted in anxiety. And that anxiety had resided in my unconscious for some time until it had leaked out in my dreams.

As the sun started to rise, I resolved to sort out this problem, and indeed to flush out other sources of anxiety and other unwelcome sensations. There is always time to make a fresh start.


Thinking Your Way To Building Resilience

1024 679 Stewart Brown


I had recently set up business on my own. I had been networking furiously to build awareness that I was open for business. This involved plenty of travel to meet with various contacts, some of whom I hoped would be interested in becoming a client.

One day I had set off a little late for a meeting about 30 miles away. The route there was a fast road and I was sure that I would make up the time. But, disaster struck halfway along my journey. Two lorries had collided and the road was completely blocked. Traffic had backed up. The road was too narrow to do a u-turn. In any event, the alternative route was way too long and I would definitely arrive late. To make matters worse, I didn’t have any phone reception.

My heart started pumping. My mind raced ahead. This was a really important meeting. If I gave the wrong impression by turning up late, any chance of business would be gone. My mind started transforming what had been a speculative meeting with no guarantee of work into the make or break meeting of my fledgling business. I imagined myself unable to pay the mortgage. You get the picture. I was in full panic mode.

In some ways, how I was feeling was not my fault. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution of the human brain and body was to blame. I had gone into full on fight or flight survival mode. But the problem was that I couldn’t flee anywhere and there wasn’t anything obvious that I could fight!

“My heart started pumping. My mind raced ahead. This was a really important meeting. If I gave the wrong impression by turning up late, any chance of business would be gone.”

Our ability to think logically and strategically and to employ advanced emotions like empathy are all severely curtailed when we are experiencing stress symptoms.

So, What’s The Answer?

Resilience is how we respond to stress, how we bounce back or overcome adversity. The good news is that resilience can be taught. But it requires understanding on how and why we each respond to difficult events.

So, why doesn’t everyone descend into road rage at the first sign of a traffic jam? Why do some people seem to handle stress better than others? To answer this, we need to dig a little deeper, into the psychological perspective.

Many people believe that the event or stressor is the cause of the consequence. How often have you heard people say, “That guy really wound me up!” or “The deadline is really stressing me out!”

An alternative way of looking at the situation grew out of work by the eminent behavioural psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis. His A-B-C model suggests that the consequence is not caused by the event itself, but it comes about as a result of the beliefs that we hold about the event, which are often irrational beliefs.

In Ellis’s model, A is the activating event, B is the belief we hold (which causes the perception that the activating event is stressful) and C is the Consequence, how we respond. Perception is key here. If we perceive an event to be stressful, then we will start experiencing the biological responses to a stressful event.

What Influences Our Perception?

There are many factors that influence our perception, from attachments we form as children to defence mechanisms we adopt to protect ourselves from anxiety.

To explore the role that perception plays, let’s go back to my journey to that important meeting, which I told you about earlier. The accident between two lorries did not cause my tension. There was an important, albeit rapid, intervening step going on. And that step was my perception or belief about the entire situation. My thoughts about being late for the meeting, being unable to control the situation and what I thought the person who was meeting me would think as a result caused an unhealthy response in my brain. It triggered a stressful response. My emotional amygdala started dominating my thinking and overruling my rational frontal cortex. As cortisol and adrenaline flooded into my system, my thinking became more fuzzy and I imagined ever-worsening crises – such as becoming homeless. All as a result of the blocked road.

Now, unfortunately, to make matters more complicated, a number of our beliefs at the B stage of this A-B-C process are unconscious beliefs. I spend a large part of my time as an executive coach helping people to become aware of such unconscious beliefs, sometimes also known as cognitive distortions or ‘thinking errors’. Because if you are aware of something, you have the opportunity to make a choice. And that choice is whether to allow that thinking error to activate the response – ie. to allow stress to arise – or not; to choose a different response.

My experience is that lawyers are particularly prone to certain thinking errors, such as (and there are many more…):

• All or nothing: Thinking is black and white rather than shades of grey. “I have to get this 100% perfect. I always make this mistake. I’ll never get the hang of it.”
• I should/must/can’t: This is a big one. It refers to when we set unrealistic standards for ourselves. It can be really damaging. Examples include: “I should be able to cope with all this work.” “I must not make any mistakes.” “I can’t handle this.”
• Magnification: This involves blowing things out of all proportion. “I failed my promotion interview. My career is in ruins.” “We made a mistake. This is terrible.”

“Develop self-awareness of when you are starting to get stressed. For me, I started to lose my sense of humour, taking things too seriously and becoming snappy with others.”

How To Go About Building Resilience

Stress occurs when pressure exceeds our perceived ability to cope: This definition suggests that stress is caused by external factors, such as work pressures and deadlines. And internal factors, such as the attitudes that we have to deadlines, have a role to play that hinder our ability to cope.

1. Notice

Develop self-awareness of when you are starting to get stressed. For me, I started to lose my sense of humour, taking things too seriously and becoming snappy with others.

Notice it in your colleagues and offer to help them out. My former PA always used to say that if I had eaten a chocolate bar before 11am, then it was bad sign! And she would ask me if she could help with anything, move a meeting or delegate work to a team member.

2. Practice Better thinking

It may not always be practical or wise (from a career progression standpoint) to avoid activating events, like making presentations, altogether. Albert Ellis and Windy Dryden later (1987) extended the A-B-C model by adding two additional stages, D and E. And in their excellent and practical book How to Deal with Stress (Kogan Page: 2007), Stephen Palmer and Cary Cooper describe a further stage: F.

D: is to dispute the belief – in other words to alleviate stress by noticing and challenging your thinking. E: is creating an effective new strategy to deal with the activating event. And F is the Future Focus: what am I going to do differently going forwards based on what I have learnt about myself?

Now, I’m not underestimating how difficult it is to challenge stories in our head that we’ve held for some time – decades even! But there is always a way forward. Going back to my interrupted car journey to that ever-so-important meeting, I noticed that my thinking was skewed. So, I started to breathe slowly and deeply. I realised that I had been guilty of two massive thinking errors: I had obsessed about the importance of punctuality and how a professional ‘should’ behave and magnification: missing the meeting would not be the end of the world.

Clarity of thinking emerged as my cortisol levels dropped. I remembered that there was a pub close by. So, I parked my car on the verge, walked to the pub and used their landline to call my contact. He was running late and lived close to where we were due to meet. We came up with an alternative plan that I would call him when I was on the move again.

And with that, I returned to my car, turned on some music and chose to relax whilst I waited.

orange fish

You Feast With Your Eyes First.

847 567 Vita Burton-Davey, Working to be better each day


This is not just a throw away phrase but a truth based in reality for the body and the soul.

When one sees pictures in recipe books or on line, one salivates, the visual stimuli is enough to get digestion started without food even being present. How important, therefore, to take the time and trouble to make even the simplest meal a visual feast for oneself.

I often eat alone and almost always at lunchtimes but go to the trouble of setting a pleasing table whether for a lone lunch in the garden, or an evening meal with company. I consider colour, texture, smell and taste when buying food and when preparing a meal. The simple acts of caring for myself and pleasing myself bring their own rewards.

When one cares for oneself, how natural it then becomes to care for others. If you generally do the cooking in your house hold, you will recognise how important this care is. Setting good habits within the family, around appreciating food and the trouble the chef has gone to in preparing it, plays an important role in the enjoyment of eating. As do understanding and discussion about how food is produced, local produce and choosing future meals together or new recipes to try.


As Robert Carrier says ‘though we have so many meals-tens of thousands during our lifetime-these meals are numbered. Each slapdash one, each one that goes unappreciated, is lost forever.’ When one goes to the trouble of making each meal a visual feast, just for the pleasure and in order to recognise and appreciate what is about to be consumed, one feeds the soul on many levels. We often hear counsellors exhorting us to ‘love ourselves’, we have to ‘like who we are’ if we are to move on and grow. What better expression of love and care is there than to nurture oneself and ones family, through the food one prepares and eats. This special attention, given to a basic need, even to meet ones own needs, reinforces the fact of our individual worth.

River Fish

Recognising ones own worth is one of the first steps to reducing stress and moving towards a healthier work-life balance. Taking care to eat well and with pleasure facilitates a healthier balanced diet and better digestion. It takes so little time to make each meal a pleasure; the important thing is to develop the habit. I have found, as a busy working mum, that I often put my own needs last but with this one act of kindness towards myself, I have begun to act for my improved wellbeing and it has paid dividends. Someone has to care for the carer!

But mainly, taking the time to make each meal special has heightened my enjoyment and appreciation of the food on my plate.


london logo 2016 dates

Wellbeing At Work Event 2016

1024 335 admin

london logo 2016 dates

The Wellbeing at Work Event returns to central London on 19 October 2016 where over 150 HR professionals, business leaders and consultants will attend to hear from leading speakers who have made successful change in their workplace.

A limited number of early bird discounted tickets are available online at

Confirmed speakers at the event on 19 October include:
Brian Heyworth, Global Co-Head, Financial Institutions Group from HSBC
Jeremy Connick, Partner at Clifford Chance
Liz Nottingham, HR Director EMEA, Starcom MediaVest
Geoff McDonald, Former Global VP of HR, Unilever
Lawrence Mitchell, Global Marketing Director, Reed Business Information

For a full list of speakers click here and to see the programme click here.

The wellbeing revolution has had a huge impact on the workplace, with wide recognition that an engaged workforce can make a significant contribution to business performance but there is still a lot of work and education required:

• 72% of workplaces have no formal mental health policy, even though it costs UK employers around £26 billion each year and is one of the top reasons for long-term absenteeism (Shaw Trust independent report)
• Only 8% of UK organisations currently have a standalone wellbeing strategy that supports the business strategy (CIPD Report)
• FTSE 100 companies that prioritise employee wellbeing outperform their competitors and the rest of the FTSE 100 by at least 10% (Mind Report)

The Wellbeing at Work Event 2016 invites HR professionals and business leaders across the UK to a one-day conference on Wednesday 19th October at The Cavendish Conference Centre, 22 Duchess Mews, London W1 (5 minutes walk from Oxford Circus tube).

Tickets for the event can be booked via the website here.

For more information go to or contact the team:
Tel: 0333 011 8803; Email:



Wellbeing On The Agenda. Part 2.

1024 635 Vita Burton-Davey, Working to be better each day

Wellbeing On The Agenda. Part 2.

Yoga Girl

The recently published ‘Wellbeing in four policy areas, Report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics, September 2014’ advocates the importance of wellbeing and implementation of wellbeing for the nation, for economic national benefit. Four key policy areas have been the focus of the report: Labour market policy, planning and transport policy, mindfulness in health and education, and arts & culture.

Positive changes in these areas could have a huge impact on national wellbeing but it will in fact see a U-turn in some areas, such as arts & culture, where funding has been slashed. The report argues that ‘wellbeing evidence has real, distinctive, and wide-ranging policy implications: from interventions to build people’s resources and resilience, such as mindfulness, to major structural changes to address the root causes of low wellbeing, such as insecurity, poverty, and social isolation. It also helps capture the value of the intangible things which enrich our lives, such as arts and culture. ‘

Building a high wellbeing economy: labour market policy

Having a job plays a vital role in our wellbeing, not just because of the financial implications around unemployment but because it is directly linked to our sense of worth and ‘as enlightened employers increasingly recognise, prioritising employee wellbeing is good for the economy and good for business’.

We would all agree that the recession and increased unemployment have been bad for national wellbeing and for our economy. That does not, however, mean that high wellbeing is linked to exponential growth. The evidence suggests that ‘the link between money and wellbeing tails off as incomes increase, tackling poverty and inequality matters much more than increasing national income in aggregate.’

This is good news, if not particularly surprising. Neither we nor the planet can sustain unending growth, so as limited growth seems to be the best option for increased wellbeing, it’s a win-win situation. Let us hope that successive governments are able to take this on board and make the right choices as we move forward, not only helping employees and business but meeting and improving our green targets.

The report has recommend that:

  1. Stable and secure employment for all should be the primary objective of economic policy. Steady and sustainable growth should be prioritised over absolute levels of national income as a means to this end, and policy should address work insecurity as a priority.
  2. Government should address the wellbeing consequences of low pay. For example, the Low Pay Commission should be given a mandate to consider wellbeing evidence, including impacts on wellbeing inequalities, when recommending changes to the minimum wage.
  3. Government should address the wellbeing consequences of inequality. For example, firms with more than 500 employees should be required to publish information about the ratio between the highest and lowest paid, and between top and median pay.
  4. Government should actively seek ways to make it easier to work shorter and/or more flexible hours and should develop a public sector employment strategy consistent with this.

The Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS) should encourage employers in both the public and private sectors to prioritise employee wellbeing, for example by publicising existing employer best practice and by producing guidance based on research into the drivers and outcomes of well-being at work.

Building high wellbeing places: planning and transport policy

A clear and unequivocal message is sent to parliament with this report: The planning system has been noted to have ‘lost its way, becoming reactive and process driven, losing sight of the outcomes it was created to serve’. The report states that the planning system could regain ‘a sense of purpose and ambition’ if raising wellbeing were to be considered the central precept of the planning system.

Our constructed environment affects our happiness and wellbeing and reflects our community spirit. Even with the best intensions, the planning system has consistently failed to improve the wellbeing of the less affluent, particularly urban, populations. Think of the garden cities and how the reality of living in dense urban environments brought its own reality check to that dream. Successive governments have a huge challenge here and the suggestion that ‘an integrated approach focused on building high wellbeing places’ is laudable, but can it be put into practice?

The report recommends that:

  1. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) should be revised to make clear that promoting wellbeing is the over-arching objective of the planning system, not just a peripheral concern, and that the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ is subject to local authorities’ right and responsibility to set high wellbeing standards.
  2. Planning practice guidance should set out how wellbeing can guide Local Plans and specific planning decisions, including by; ensuring that town centres are sociable and inclusive spaces which are accessible for all sections of the community.
  3. Planning for an ageing population.
  4. Making it easier to access jobs and services by cycling and walking.
  5. Prioritising the provision of green space in ways that maximise wellbeing.
  6. Local authorities should be empowered and encouraged to take a proactive, ‘place-shaping’ approach to planning. Spatial planning should be re-integrated with other local authority functions, including transport and housing.
  7. At a national level, transport and planning policy should be integrated into a single department with the shared aim of promoting accessibility rather than just mobility.

Building personal resources: Mindfulness in Health and Education

‘Mindfulness has demonstrable potential to improve wellbeing and save public money – for example, through evidence-based therapies for mental health problems and school-based programmes to nurture children’s wellbeing’. Sounds good so far, but the suggestion to ‘train health and education professionals (doctors, nurses, teachers) in mindfulness’ seems not only unrealistic but also to miss the point about mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not a ‘skill’ to be drilled into health and education professionals, any more than compassion is; it is an holistic practice which may be incorporated into ones life. It is a healthy way to live ones life which has demonstrable benefits for improved mental health and wellbeing and it would be super to incorporate it into our health and education systems. In reality, however, the curriculum is already stuffed to gunnels, with teachers struggling with huge class sizes, and most health professionals would laugh in your face if you suggested that they have time for meditation, when they are barely given the time for the basic care of their patients.

In order to implement the recommendations of this report any further than in training would require a paradigm shift in the administration of both health and education.

The report recommends that:

  1. Mindfulness should be incorporated into the basic training of teachers and medical students.
  2. Subjective wellbeing evidence should be used in the calculation of ‘quality adjusted life years’ (QALYs), to better inform the allocation of scarce resources in the health service.
  3. HWBs should bring together public health professionals, Clinical Commissioning Groups, GPs, and other stakeholders to develop strategies for ‘whole person care’ which effectively integrate mental and physical health.
  4. References to wellbeing in the Ofsted inspection framework should be reinstated and strengthened. Schools should be encouraged to measure and report on child wellbeing.

Valuing what matters: arts and culture

Arts & culture have suffered a great deal from funding cuts during the recession, a decision which is clearly at odds with the new recommendations. ‘Wellbeing analysis provides a way of capturing the value that arts and culture have for human lives’ though the conclusion that ‘It is therefore a particularly useful tool for assessing public subsidy of arts and culture’ is one which I would question.

The ever increasing demand on the visual arts to provide participatory activity as a criteria for funding allocation is surely misguided: Can you imagine the same criteria being applied to opera or theatre? I am not saying that participating in art, acting or singing is not beneficial to mental health and wellbeing, only that arts and culture should not be funded as though they were part of our health system but valued and funded separately. In this area in particular I think the underlying precept for the reports recommendations needs to be re-evaluated.

The report recommends that:

  1. The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), and the arts sector more generally, should use wellbeing analysis to help make the case for arts and cultural spending.
  2. Government should use wellbeing analysis to help set strategic priorities for spending on arts and culture. For example, spending should give greater priority to participatory arts.
  3. Arts funding bodies should seek to evaluate the wellbeing impacts of their grants, either individually or by using wellbeing evidence to inform their evaluation frameworks.
  4. In the light of evidence on the links between the arts and health, central government (DCMS, the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government) should work with relevant agencies, including Arts Council England and PHE, to maximise the beneficial impact on wellbeing of available budgets. Local authorities should consider how cultural commissioning might contribute to priorities identified in their Health and Wellbeing Strategies.
  5. Government should seek to ensure that the benefits of arts spending reach those with the lowest wellbeing, including communities with high deprivation.

The underlying reasoning behind this report is convincing and laudable. The report states that it has ‘only scratched the surface’ but its conclusion that improved wellbeing will not only make people’s lives better but save public money and increase GDP should be enough to at least get Parliament’s attention and with hope, open serious discussion around limited growth and focus on the parts of our lives which are not defined by monetary worth, will ensue.

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