Wellness

The KonMari Method – Can it work for businesses?

Over the past six months I have been increasingly suffering from a debilitating ailment – commonly known as “stuffocation!” Each time I enter our family home my stress sensors go into overdrive. Just looking around at the discarded and duplicated items we have amassed over the ten years we have lived in this house is enough to bring me out in hives and don’t get me started on what has been chucked into the loft over the past decade!

Taking the bull by the horns, armed with a positive attitude and a roll of black bags I started my de-cluttering mission. I exhaled a huge sigh of relief and felt so much better as I watched husband transport multiple black bags of once loved items to our local Emmaus Village and recycling centre. I am particularly proud of my wardrobe (the physical one) as I now only have clothes in there that I love and feel comfortable in. They may not be the most exciting to the outside eye but being able to make a quick and easy decision each day about what I am going to wear brings me so much satisfaction. Oh, the joy of breathing again without so much “stuff!”

To my surprise, I learned that what I was doing (thank-you Carrie) is described in the KonMari Method. For those of you (like me before my conversation with Carrie) who have never heard of Marie Kondo, she is an organising consultant and author, best known for her work “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and the recently released Netflix series – “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” There are six basic rules to her method of organising and de-cluttering:

  1. Commit yourself to tidying up 
  2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle
  3. Finish discarding first 
  4. Tidy by category, not by location 
  5. Follow the right order 
  6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy

It is not only in my personal life that I have felt the need to de-clutter but also within my working life. As Change Gear entered its sixth year (birthday celebrations to be reported on later in the year) Carrie and I decided to take a step back to objectively look at our business and reflect on what we want for 2019. Last year we had set ourselves the challenge of being Bigger, Bolder and Braver, which meant that we had tried lots of new things in promoting the Change Gear brand, but 2019 calls for something different! We were both starting to feel overwhelmed by the different roles we play within the business: from financial planning, driving business development, keeping all the administrative tasks up to date, legal compliance, as well as doing what we know and love best – designing and delivering learning events. And so, after much discussion, we came to the decision that this year is about focusing our priorities and goals, that less is definitely more and the drive is to keep things lean.

Can we learn from KonMari Method and overcome the suffocation we were starting to feel in our business? Too right we can!! With the help of a team of brilliant business consultants we are already starting to put into place many of the things Marie Kondo suggests, just with a strategic business focus.

  1. We are committed to tidying up!! We have set up new systems for streamlining much of the back-office jobs we do and have boosted our administrative support in acknowledgement that we can’t do everything!
  2. We’ve imagined how we want the Change Gear lifestyle to be: exciting, fulfilling, sustainable and creating a legacy for the people we work with through immersive and experiential learning
  3. We are discarding what we don’t need – we are letting go of processes that might have served us well in the past but have little use five years after our initial set up
  4. We are tackling the category that is Google Drive – this monster of a filing system, which has controlled us rather than us having control over it, is being tamed and soon we will be free of its tyranny!
  5. We are constantly questioning each other as to the order in which we do things. What needs to be done first? What comes next? Are we being thrown off track? Are we focusing on the right things? Will a particular activity get us to where we want to be?
  6. Does what we are doing spark joy? An overwhelming yes from us! It feels so good to have clear sight and vision and not be encumbered by all the clutter that was weighing us down. It’s still a work in progress but the future looks bright, exciting and joyful! 

Sometimes organisations and leaders get bogged down by the status quo, too often when asked the question “why do you do it like that?” the answer comes back “because that’s the way we’ve always done it!” Learning to step back, strip away the clutter that can get in our way allows us to embrace opportunities that were hidden by a whole heap of unimportant things. Personally, and professionally I am going to keep streamlining, so I get to spend time on the things that matter, rather than the accumulated “stuff” that I no longer have use for and which only seeks to hijack me in one way or another.

We’d love to know your thoughts on de-cluttering and organisation, maybe you have some handy hints that help you from feeling overwhelmed – perhaps you can be the new Marie Kondo.

I’m off to binge watch “Tidying Up with….” on Netflix, what else can I learn from the master of organisation?

A CHANGE IS CERTAINLY AS GOOD AS A REST

Way back in June my husband surprised me with a gift of a flight to Rio for our 20thwedding anniversary; a generous, but slightly unusual present as it was a trip just for me. My oldest friend had moved to Brazil 3 years ago and I’d been itching to visit her, coupled with the fact that I desperately needed a break from work.  Despite banging the drum to others on self-care, taking time out and not working too hard, I was guilty of not practicing what I preached. I was my own worst enemy; working late nights and weekends was the norm rather than the exception and I was feeling worn down. Brazil (as exciting as it sounded) could have been Brighton – as long as there was a bed and no work, I’d got to the point that I wasn’t too fussed.

Of course, well known for my love of a travel book, I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Brazil which sat by my bedside as I had no time to read it – plus I was lucky enough to have the best tour guide in the world at my disposal when I arrived, so I honestly hadn’t given much thought to what I was about to experience (was desperately trying to ignore those warning me of the current political situation and danger in the favelas too).  I arrived in Rio late evening greeted by my friend, her husband, a garland and tropical plant pot with much excitement about my two weeks of downtime and was presented with a suggested itinerary I greedily lapped up.

Despite being on my knees with tiredness the adventure began on Day 1 – we had 72 hours in Rio before setting off for our first mini trip.  I experienced beach life in the amazing Ipanema and Copocabana beaches, a trip to the jockey club and a flutter on the horses, authentic Brazilian food and shopping at the beautiful town of Santa Teresa, visiting local street markets, sizzling samba in bars and city squares with the locals, jazz in the favelas – not to mention the obligatory visit to one of the ‘Wonders of the World’ – Rio’s most iconic Christ the Redeemer; an early start gave us an advantage over the hordes of tourists flocking to see the Big Man – and views from the top were certainly worth the trek.  A local told me that his arms are open wide ready to applaud the day when a Brazilian completes a full day of work (I can honestly say I get this now – with so much to do in this beautiful, diverse city I’m sure I’d feel the same if I lived here).

I seriously had a smile on my face for my first three days which didn’t disappear as we headed off to the airport to our next port of call, the incredible Foz do Iguacu.  We were lucky enough to stay at a hotel based in the National Park itself which meant we had the added advantage of being able to explore the park and the falls without the crowds.  I can honestly say I have never seen anything quite so spectacular – for those of you who haven’t been I’d certainly recommend trying to see the falls from both the Brazilian and the Argentinian sides – each offering its own unique panorama and feel.  And whatever you do, always go for the ‘wet’ rather than ‘dry’ boat trip option you are offered – but do wear waterproofs – my plastic poncho was absolutely pathetic compared to the full-on wetsuit and galoshes our boat man was wearing. No surprise he was the only one not looking like a drowned rat when we emerged from the fall force of the falls.  If Iguacu is not on your bucket list please don’t miss it.

After 3 full days of national parks in both Brazil and Argentina we headed back to Rio for a couple more days of galleries, beaches, sunsets, lunches and weather watching as storms were predicted and putting a question mark over our next adventure to the beautiful historic town on Paraty on the Costa Verde.  Being a terrible traveller, my friend was anxious about taking me on the 5-hour coach journey and arriving to 3 days of torrential rains but I was keen to go.  I wanted to see this place that she was raving about and knew it would be another diverse view of this country I was already beginning to get so fond of.  So 8 days into my trip I took my anti travel sickness pills and off we set for the bus station with clothes packed for all eventualities of weather.  I can’t even begin to share how glad I was we took the chance – for to have missed the wonders of Paraty would have been a terrible shame.  The ‘sturgeon’ worked a treat – not only did I not feel sick, I was also able to enjoy the stunning views along the coast line and couldn’t have felt happier as the sun began to shine and thankfully stayed with us our whole 3 days in this beautiful little part of Brazil.  Paraty was a little piece of heaven that will forever stay in my heart.  From cobbled streets to beautiful coves, rain forests, yoga classes in Portuguese and samba bands on the beach and in the square, Paraty packed a punch.  A special highlight was a private boat trip around the gorgeous islands where we visited deserted coves, hand-fed a rare species of monkey, swam amongst the turtles – and I even managed to conquer my fear of SUP boarding.

After sadly saying goodbye to a new favourite place in our world we headed back to Rio for my last few days in the city.  Keen not to miss anything we managed to visit the Instituto Moreira Salles with its incredible architecture offering views of Christ the Redeemer and a current enviable collection of African and Italian photographic exhibitions, then stroll through the beautiful botanic gardens with the biggest collection of cacti I’ve ever seen and visit a few more of Rio’s residential districts to lunch with the locals.  Of course I couldn’t come home without a visit to Sugarloaf Mountain – so on my penultimate day, with air temperatures on the street hitting 40 degrees we trekked up the mountain to pick up the cable car to get to the summit. It was certainly worth it for the breath-taking panoramic views it offered across the city – once again causing me to load the family WhatsApp with more enviable photos of my trip.

With one day left and a sense of not wanting to let my new found love leave me, my friend and I headed off to the Copacabana Palace Hotel where we had been invited for lunch by the Manager at our hotel in Iguacu National Park.  Over a lazy lunch I reflected on all of my adventures with my dear friend and had one final caiprinha before heading back to the apartment to pack my last few things in my suitcase.

So now as I sit at the airport waiting for my flight back home I can honestly say I have truly had the most magical of holidays in this incredible country and come home with a renewed energy and spirit ready for work and a desperate need to see my family (and my dog).  I have fallen in love with a country that wasn’t necessarily on my bucket list but now can’t wait to return to. In the words of my dear Mother – a change has certainly been as good as a rest.

I hope this little travelogue has whet your appetite for a visit to Brazil.  To find out more go www.visitbrazil.com

MOVING ON UP: CHANGING THE BRAIN WITH EXERCISE

A few weeks ago, on my birthday, my husband knocked present giving out of the park and presented me with a top of the range activity tracker and watch, one that I had been coveting for some time. Let me put this present giving into perspective; he once gave me a wooden chopping block as a Christmas gift! So, you can imagine my delight when I received something that was actually on my wish list.

I’ve had an activity tracker for many years and have worn it sporadically. Sometimes when I have felt virtuous, I have worn it continuously, tracking: my steps, my pulse, calories burnt, water consumption etc. Other times it has languished on my bedside table as life got in the way and having to think about yet another piece of technology with all the information it imparts just felt impossible.

As my birthday this year was a “semi” large milestone and coupled with supporting my ageing parents as they have attended numerous hospital appointments over the past few months; I decided it was time to take a serious look at my health and fitness. As a lover of structure, I sat down and created an exercise plan, one that made use of all the wonderful features of my new activity tracker. I am delighted to report that after nearly a month of wearing it I am starting to feel the benefits. I’ve lost a little bit of weight, my skin is clearer, I have more energy, I sleep better but most surprisingly (to me anyway) my mood is brighter, and I feel generally less stressed, even though my to-do list is longer than ever.

Nothing has changed in my working or personal life. I’m incredibly busy with my work as usual – juggling many more projects and clients than I have ever done. So, what is making the difference to how I feel about life? As part of some research I am doing for the development of a Leadership Programme for a new client, I stumbled across a Ted Talk by Wendy Suzuki, titled “The brain changing benefits of exercise.” Now, you may be thinking, “nothing new here Karen, we’ve been told this all before by so-called health gurus.” The interesting thing about Wendy is that she is a Professor of Neuroscience and her research is showing exactly how the brain changes with regular exercise and activity.

I am not going to repeat in detail what she shares in her talk; I encourage you to log in to YouTube (

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and watch this inspiring and eloquent woman for yourself. But here is what I am taking away from her research into the impact of exercise and activity on the brain.

  • Decision making, focus and attention are all improved, even for the most difficult of tasks
  • The ability to form and retain long-term memories is increased
    Mood and energy levels are boosted as serotonin, dopamine, and neuro-adrenaline levels increase
  • The anatomy, physiology and function of the brain are changed, providing long-term health benefits
  • Brand new brain cells are created that can protect against neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline in ageing

The science behind the positive impact of exercise on brain function has made me realise that exercise/activity is something that I “need” to build into my day, but most importantly, I don’t have to become a gym bunny! A walk around the block or as Wendy says, some “power hoovering” are still activities that will boost and protect my brain way into the future.

I hope you watch Wendy’s talk and if you are up for it, do the exercise at the end. Have fun being “Wonder Woman Strong” – I know I did!

Keep moving and happy viewing!

 

CONTENTMENT IS…… (PLEASE COMPLETE THE SENTENCE)

I consider myself incredibly lucky to do the job I do and one of the main perks of working for myself (along with my gorgeous friend and business partner Carrie) is that, as long as there is an internet connection the business can be run from anywhere in the world – with the only exception being if I’m delivering a workshop and need to be physically present in the room.

As I write this blog, for me “contentment is..” sitting in the garden of my holiday home, situated in the beautiful countryside of the Auvergne; in silence, with only the sound of the breeze in the trees, the chirping of the birds and the occasional rumble of a tractor when the local  farmer passes by. I haven’t yet officially started my holiday, I have just moved location (European Regional Office!) and I’m still working, tying up loose ends before I close my laptop and have two weeks of hard earned rest and recuperation. And yes, I am indeed putting away the technology for two weeks and here’s the reason why – I want to be fully present with my family and friends and make a bunch of memories that will keep me smiling into the future. Too many times I am told by my family that the strongest relationship I have is with my computer! Well, dear family, I have listened to your pleas and I am taking affirmative action.

Since arriving here, what has really resonated with me is how many memories we have made in this beautiful place. Over a glass of wine or two last night, hubby and I reminisced about all the things we have experienced since buying this property 12 years ago: some comical, some emotional, some downright stressful experiences but all incredibly memorable. Having an unknown gas leak in the cellar and nearly blowing us all to smithereens along with our neighbours, is perhaps an experience I could have done without, but it makes for a great story. Sitting and looking at the paddock where hubby has just mown a race track around the perimeter, stirs a memory of when the girls were small, (the demon that is the smart phone had yet to arrive) they would run races, timed by us while we sat back, cheered them on and chilled out with a glass of wine.

Such lovely, vivid memories! I can easily recall those moments and many others, because I was fully here, present and engaged. No internet, no phone signal, no television – in short no distractions or temptations!! Sadly, the progress of time has caught up with this little corner of France and we now have broadband, a strong mobile signal and satellite TV. While there is a convenience in having connectivity with the wider world, I do mourn the loss of those simpler days when we were totally cut off from our normal UK life and would arrive back home rested, re-focused and re-energised.

So, I am making a promise to myself and my family to only use my phone to take photos and text/call oldest daughter who is staying at home due to work commitments. The laptop is being consigned to a drawer and I am going to digitally detox and focus on, in the words of Stephen Covey, my “big rocks” – my family, my friends, my warm and welcoming neighbours who have taken us to their hearts and with them, make bucket loads of memories to add to the bank I already have.

Wherever you journey this Summer, I hope you will have the opportunity to focus on your “big rocks,” make memories, collect stories and not feel tempted to check in on your emails, social media, newsfeed etc. They will still be there when you get back from holiday! And, I hope you will find it easy to complete the sentence – “Contentment is……..”   Right now, I am finishing with – “Contentment is, an apéritif with my neighbours discussing Brexit.” Ooh-la-la!!

Santé et bonnes vacances.

OUT WITH THE OLD IN WITH NEW – (REALLY!!!)

It’s that time of year again where most of us are thinking about shaking off the past 12 months and setting ourselves up for a great one to follow.  I am most certainly guilty of an unashamed enthusiasm in January for any new regime and feeling positive that “this is going to be the year where I actually stick to the healthy eating and fitness regime, get more sleep, read more, do a digital detox etc. etc.” You know the drill.

So as the 1st of January came upon me, I sat down to write my goals in my new journal and started to think about what might make this a really different year for me.  Having unexpectedly lost someone very close to me at the end of last month I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to close the door on the year completely – or have it a little ajar to keep the memory of them alive for me.  That then got me thinking that perhaps the “new broom sweeps clean” mentality may not necessarily always be the best one.  Perhaps it is about holding on to what’s good from our pasts, letting go of what’s held us back and making space for learning how to improve what we need to, not what we feel we have to.

I started to think about a conversation I’d had with a friend at the weekend.  When I asked her whether she had any resolutions for 2018 she said “to drink less water” – I thought she was crazy until she added on “from plastic bottles”.  I immediately wanted to steal it.  I’m sure many of you have been watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II – as well as continuing to show us the beauty of the natural world it comes with an urgent message which we can no longer afford to ignore – the cost of global warming and pollution.  The programme raises a critical awareness of the immediate threats facing our oceans and underscores how much humans and the planet stand to lose if we fail to recognise and acknowledge the negative impact we are having on them.  It’s not a new message for us – but it’s such an important one.

Moving on to the plastic plague that is upon us, Greenpeace recently revealed that Coca-Cola unbelievably increased its production of throwaway plastic bottles last year by well over a billion. (As if you needed another good reason to stop buying fizzy drinks!).  Extreme environmentalists are urging companies to stop selling drinks in plastic bottles altogether whereas the more pragmatic are suggesting we make it easier for customers to use fewer plastic bottles.  A firm favourite of the Change Gear team is forward thinking Pret a Manger.  Pret have been fighting the “waste” battle for many years.  30 years ago, they started donating their unsold food to the homeless and today their initiatives include offering customers a 25p discount on hot drinks if they bring in a reusable cup. At the end of last year Pret introduced a trial in their three Veggie Pret shops selling reusable glass bottles alongside plastic bottles with filtered water stations enabling customers to refill their glass bottles.

Elsewhere, London’s Borough Market is to introduce free drinking water fountains as part of a new pledge to phase out sales of all single-use plastic bottles over the next six months. Selfridges stopped the sale of single-use plastic water bottles back in 2015.

The issue is gaining traction in the political sphere, with Defra Secretary Michael Gove confirming he will work with businesses to see how a drinks container deposit return scheme could work in England. Similar schemes have proved highly successful in Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, where recycling rates of containers are now above 90%.

My friend’s resolution was whirring round in my head.  When I got home I emptied my recycle bin to take a good hard look at what was in there – I was horrified by the amount of plastic bottles and food tubs I found.  I knew this was going to be my more important mantra for the year ahead – Use less plastic.  So how do you turn the mantra into action.  As usual making things a habit so that they stick (thank you Gretchen Rubin for your insights here) is a must.  Here are a few simple things I will be doing:

  • Carrying a reusable water bottle wherever I go
  • Taking my own coffee cup
  • Bringing reusable shopping bags to the supermarket
  • Carrying a fold up reusable shopping bag or two in my handbag at all times
  • Getting rid of all reusable cutlery and straws from my kitchen
  • Buying my fruit and veg from our local shop to avoid supermarket plastic trays

And of course, encouraging my friends and family to do the same.

I would love to hear from any of you out there reading this blog on your thoughts on the subject or to hear what you are personally doing to take action to help save our planet.  Let’s share this message urgently.

In the meantime, I wish you all a very happy, healthy and renewable 2018.

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