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!

 

A SEASON FOR CHANGE

With the long sunny days of Summer behind us, Autumn is often a season of change and new starts – school, university, jobs, careers, homes, lifestyles. In the UK, many women are choosing new beginnings by setting up their own businesses. It is reported that female entrepreneurs account for nearly 10% of the UK working population and having attended a number of networking events across the Summer, I have certainly seen how women are grabbing the hand of opportunity and carving out a new future for themselves.

We have the great pleasure of working with Bettina Siddiqi who owns BusyB Solutions. As a fellow business owner experiencing the ups and downs of running a company, I was curious to know more about why Bettina has made the move from corporate life to working for herself.

Karen:  If you had to sum up your business in a nutshell, what would you say you offer?

Bettina:  I offer Social Media Marketing with the aim of raising my clients’ profiles on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook; helping them to gain traction and increase business. I train people 1-2-1 to use LinkedIn, helping them to effectively use this superb marketing tool. LinkedIn is a great way to gain new business, retain existing customer relationships and re-establish contact with old clients. In collaboration with my extensive contacts of photographers and web designers, I can help my clients have a more visible presence across a range of social media platforms.

Karen: What led you to set up your business?

Bettina: Having worked in corporate Sales and Marketing for 15 years I was approached to undertake some freelance marketing work. When the contract ended I thought to myself, “if I can do this for one client I can offer this service to many others.” I also wanted the flexibility to spend time with my young children and be able to attend their school events such as Christmas shows and sports days.  Commuting into London took up much of my time and I felt I could be much more productive working from home. I like the variation my work gives me: from attending meetings, networking, delivering an exceptional service, to being able to focus on home life as well as getting the right amount of exercise –  worklife balance is incredibly important to me.

Karen: What did you do before you set up BusyB Solutions?

Bettina: I worked for a Records Management Company called Iron Mountain in their Sales and Marketing Department and helped to implement a CRM system and trained all the Sales and Marketing team in how to use it effectively.  I also worked in Law in a Marketing department, helping to organise events, CRM and campaigns.

Karen: What gave you the confidence to take the step of working for yourself?

Bettina: Having children gave me the confidence to start my business. It hasn’t always been easy as I’ve had to work hard at networking with potential clients and building the visibility of my business.  When the children were very little I only had 3 hours between nursery runs, but I managed to do lots in that short time – telemarketing, online marketing as well as attending network meetings.

Karen: Now you’ve made the change, how are you feeling about it?

Bettina: I feel great about it! I couldn’t have made a better decision; the joy of being with my family and being able to pick up my children from school is a wonderful feeling, as well as eating a lot healthier and getting that all-important exercise.

Karen: What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Bettina: Time management – making sure I have enough time to get everything done (there are never enough hours in a day), getting the right clients and also regular, consistent clients. As a sole trader I get approached by many different people, so making sure I invest in the right type of business is important in how I will grow my business, whether that is finance, marketing, web design or IT support.  Another challenge is not having a team to work with; there is no-one to delegate tasks to as I did when I worked in the corporate world. I also miss the camaraderie that comes with working in a team.

Karen: Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on your journey?

Bettina: Yes – a few things. Most of the time I have been extra careful with my budget, although I did once overspend on a networking membership, which didn’t result in me winning any work. So, I would definitely re-think which networking meetings are worth attending,

Karen: What advice would you have for anyone setting up a new business?

Bettina: Always be careful about what you spend, especially on your marketing.  Find a group of people you can trust and maybe even collaborate with. Outsource things which are time-consuming such as Finance, IT and Social Media,  as there is always someone out there that can help.

Karen: What does success look like for you?

Bettina: To be content in what I am doing.  Seeking ways to expand my knowledge, skills and collaborative relationships and most importantly to always have a goal!

 

A very big thank you to Bettina for sharing her story with us.  You can find out more about Bettina offers at www.busy-bsolutions.com

And finally, if you are contemplating the move to working for yourself, be reassured that you are not alone, there is a wide and supportive community of female entrepreneurs who will warmly welcome you into their fold. If you would like to hear more about how we support aspiring female entrepreneurs, then please get in touch at hello@change-gear.com

 

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE – ARE YOU A NOVELTY LOVER OR DO YOU CRAVE FAMILIARITY?

It’s that time of year when you’ve returned from your Summer break that you’ve been waiting on for what seems like forever.  You’re home but wishing you were still chilling by the beach or visiting magical cities and places without a care in the world.  Crash, bang – you’re back into the throes of work, wishing you perhaps hadn’t over indulged to the extent you did (in my case eaten too many pastel de natas) and wondering how long it is until your next holiday and committing to be fit and trim before you don your beachwear again.

Sound familiar?  Well “familiar” is exactly what I want to talk about today.  Whilst lying on my sun-lounger on afore-mentioned beach I found myself pondering what it was that had me returning to the same part of the world for my Summer break over and over again.  I always considered myself to be someone who likes to travel and see new things and that holiday time for me was about exploring places I’d never seen, attempting new activities I hadn’t tried before and finding new and exciting places to eat, drink and sometimes dance.

I’m not saying that I’ve only ever been to the same holiday destination and nowhere else – I’ve been fortunate to have many great experiences in beautiful places both near and far, but I can’t help feeling more and more comfortable when I return to my special spot in Portugal that holds my heart and brings me back time and time.  I find myself arriving and almost immediately I relax.  The very thought that I don’t have to think about how to find the beach/decent restaurants/local shops feels fantastic.  As soon as I get to the resort I feel like I’ve come home and it feels good.  I don’t need to be a tourist here – I can truly wind down.  Seeing the same faces in restaurants and bars feels comforting. I’ve long since stopped wondering why the same people work in these places for many years – I just now accept they do and am grateful to see them.

And is it just my holiday bookings that this love of familiarity applies to.  I search deeper into my habits and behaviours and find that perhaps I do love familiarity.  I’ve been in my current home for almost 13 years, lived in the same area for over 20 and have been running businesses and working with many of our team for almost the same length of time.  I’ve sadly shopped in the same supermarket for about 25 years (and even had a local branch down on my “new address” criteria list when house hunting – as well as needing to be living near water of some description).  I listen to the same genres of music I’ve listened to since I was a teenager, always shop in the same department store, go to the same gym classes, pick the same colour when buying a new purse, buy the same underwear brand and the list goes on!

But what does this say about me?  Am I so dull or lacking creativity that I take the easy option? Does it say I’m risk averse or that newness scares me?  I don’t think so.  In fact in many areas of my life I’m probably the complete opposite.  What I love about my work is the fact I get to meet so many new and varied clients and don’t have to go to the same place and do the same job every day.  Some days I am coaching, some facilitating large scale events, or delivering a workshop or working in my office on a project or doing some business development – no day is the same and I love that.  The thought of going to the same office every day is awful.  I can also get restless if I am doing the same thing for too long and can lose patience with tasks that require repetition. Oh and I never wear the same shoes more than once in a week unless I’m on holiday or they are my trainers!  If push came to shove though I’d probably fall in the ‘familiarity” camp – even though I hate admitting that.

You may have read my last blog before my holiday about my packing habits where I deduced I was an abundance lover rather than a simplicity one. Once again Gretchen Rubin in “Better than Before” shares her thoughts on the distinctions we have such as:

  • Are you a lark or an owl? (Are you better in the morning or evening?)
  • Are you a sprinter or a marathoner? (Are you slow and steady or do you leave things to the last minute?)
  • Are you an under-buyer or an over-buyer? (Do you love or hate to shop?)
  • Are you a finisher or an opener? (do you get the job complete or do you just like to start new things?)
  • Do you take big steps or small steps? (Are you happy making big changes or prefer to stick with small ones?)

So knowing which category you are in can help you understand your habits and behaviours more – which in turn can help us to be more effective and indeed inform the choices that we make both in and out of work.

For me knowing that I am more of a lark than an owl means I try to do my most difficult work in the mornings (including any exercise otherwise I’d never do it!);  Being a sprinter I need to make sure I build in enough contingency in case last minute doesn’t work out as planned; Being an opener I need to work hard on making sure I get things finished and my “big step” mentality means I need to build in milestones to check and monitor my progress along the way.  (Being an abundance lover goes hand in hand with an over-buyer – so enough said there!).

And when choosing my next holiday destination I’ll either be returning to Portugal combining it with a city I’ve not been to before or a new location with an over-stuffed suitcase full of my familiar possessions.

Who said I was indecisive?

 

 

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.

SIMPLICITY OR ABUNDANCE – WHAT ARE YOU?

A few days ago I opened up some post from one of my besties to find a postcard of Harry & Meghan and on the back a note saying “This is SO you! In fact it is you!” Intrigued, I opened up a folded cut out article from the Sunday Times Style magazine written by Claudia Winkleman entitled “Can we talk about … THE BEACH”   “Oh no” I thought – another reference to my previous Claudia-esque dark hair and big fringe.  But I was wrong – this was about Claudia’s tendency to over-pack.  And mine!

I was at first encouraged – perhaps Claudia was worse than me – surely she had so many clothes (and ridiculously high heels) that her suitcases would be far more stuffed than mine – do celebs even have to worry about the 23KG (and that’s generous) allowance – and how much capacity does a Louis Vuitton actually have?

But as I read on the messages started to resonate far more than I wanted them to.  Particularly worrying given our up and coming trip to Porto was:

“You reassure yourself you won’t panic and suddenly throw in two black-tie dresses, a random leather jacket (absolutely not needed in Portugal in July) and some jewellery you’ve had since your gap year and always take with you and never, ever wear (I’m thinking oversized pink crystal bracelet or overly long turquoise necklace)”

Reading this was becoming very uncomfortable – in the part of my wardrobe sectioned off as “Portugal packing” were 2 cocktail dresses and a very “turquoise” necklace – had Claudia actually been in my house?   The article gets worse:

“high heels on holiday are suddenly important – but not the ones you have that won’t cope with the cobblestones in xxx (in my case Ferragudo) – you go onto topshop.com and search for wedges”

This was becoming a painful read – my friend was 100% right.  This was me.  I long to be a “lighter” packer – I have secret envy for those I see flaunting their tiny carry on cases – but alas I am not – My gym kit and toiletries alone wouldn’t fit in one of those tiny cases.  I can’t look when scales reveal the weight of my giant bag (and that’s just for a long weekend) and breathe a sigh of relief when it weighs in at 22.75KG.  (And secretly wish I’d packed another kaftan).

And so I am reminded of the wonderful “Gretchen Rubin’s” work again on making and breaking habits.  In her book “Better than Before” Gretchen gets us to think about our differences – she poses a number of questions to highlight aspects of our nature that are relevant to our habit formation.  One of which is “Am I a simplicity lover or an Abundance lover?” When I read the question I so wanted the answer to be “simplicity”.  But simplicity lovers are attracted by the idea of “less” (AKA miniature luggage containers).  Why is it then that simplicity is SO attractive to me – longing for my house to be de-cluttered of all the crap I’ve accumulated over the past two decades?  Yet I can’t let go of my 12-inch records and books I’ve had since school, not to mention cards and letters family and friends have sent me many moons ago.  My kitchen cupboards are stacked with gadgets I might need one day (I’ve not flambed one thing in my life but the blow torch remains).

So what do these differences or distinctions tell us about ourselves?  Well as Gretchen suggests they can form the basis of our habits (good and bad) and understanding what these differences are can help us make sense of them.  If we want to change a habit, then first we must know ourselves.  When we shape our habits to suit ourselves, we can find success, even if we failed before.  Gretchen says that habits are the invisible architecture of our everyday lives – and I think she is right – the trick is knowing whether it’s a positive habit or a negative one – I’d like to think that over-packing is pretty neutral – I get to travel with the confidence I am wardrobe-ready for every occasion even if I bring half of it back unworn!

And so lovely people, I wish you all happy packing wherever you are off to – rest assured if I meet you on my travels and you invite me to spend a day on your gin palace of a boat, or at a favourite Michelin starred restaurant or hanging out at a beach festival – I will have the perfect outfit for it – or will I?  The reality is I would probably feel I’d left the perfect outfit at home!

Yours truly,

The Abundance Lover!

 

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