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4 powerful steps to spark creativity

Do you long to develop your creative side but don’t know where to begin?

Can you develop creativity?

Psychologists have long delved deep into the world of creativity. The research delivers good news – creativity can be developed. Robert Epstein, psychologist and author of “The Big Book of Creativity Games”, explains that there is little evidence to support the existence of an elusive ‘creativity gene.’ Instead Epstein suggests that creativity is a skill which, with effort, we can all develop.

Fellow psychologist and creativity expert, Jonathan Plucker, agrees that we can develop creativity. He explains, “As strange as it sounds, creativity can become a habit.” Plucker’s research also suggests that developing the habit of creativity can also help us to become more productive.

The evidence for building a creative habit

Epstein’s research suggests that by developing certain habits we can build creativity and generate a host of new ideas. Epstein worked with seventy-four city employees from Orange County in California and actively engaged them in creativity training seminars. The city employees participated in games and exercises developed by Epstein to strengthen their abilities to perform four skill sets. Epstein followed up with the employees after eight months and found that they’d increased their rate of new idea generation by 55 percent. The employees new ideas resulted in $600,000 in new revenue and saved approximately $3.5 million by implementing innovative cost saving measures.

4 steps to a more creative you

So how can we develop the habit of creativity and reap the benefits of a creative mind? Epstein’s research points to four key skills:

1. Don’t let your new ideas slip away. Make a note of all your great ideas as they come to you. Keep your ‘new ideas’ log in a way that works best for you, send yourself texts, use a notebook app on your phone or tablet, record your ideas or carry a notebook.

2. Take on challenging tasks. Seek out tasks that don’t present an obvious solution. Part of the creative process involves combining different ideas and things that we’ve learned to create new ideas. When old ideas compete to find a solution, new ideas are born.

3. Broaden your knowledge. Take an interest in a variety of subjects rather than focusing on one specialism. The more subjects you understand, the broader your knowledge base is for connecting subjects. Epstein believes this to be the linchpin of creative thought. Epstein’s research suggests that this approach improves performance in all areas of life.

4. Surround yourself with interesting people and objects. Spend time with friends and colleagues who have interesting passions. Friends with different interests to your own are a great source of new information. Surrounding yourself with objects of interest can also help to develop new ideas. Explore new activities and places. Visit a city, attend a play or watch a film to promote new ideas.

Hear Robert Epstein talking about his work on creativity and explain how pigeons and bananas ignited new ideas for his creativity research.


4 ways to unlock the mind-body connection

Ellen Langer, Harvard’s longest serving professor of psychology and also the first ever female professor to obtain tenure in the university’s psychology department, has spent decades researching mindfulness and the mind body connection. Langer has given us a wealth of fascinating research into the impact that the mind has upon the body.

The power of the mind-body connection

Langer began her mind-body research in the 1970’s with a, now classic, experiment in which she gave two groups of elderly nursing home residents a house plant to care for. One group was told that they were responsible for nurturing and caring for the plant, they were also told that they would be able to make some decisions in relation to their daily schedule. The other group of residents were told that the nursing staff would take care of their plants and were given no choice regarding their schedule. Langer’s team monitored both groups. After eighteen months twice as many of the people in the plant nurturing and decision making group were alive compared to the other group.

Can self-perception reverse the effects of ageing?

Next, Langer proposed  the idea of testing a psychological ‘prime’ that would prompt the body into healing mode when illness occurred.  Langer embarked on a new experiment. Eight men, all in their seventies, were taken to a converted monastery in New Hampshire. The men were in good health but showing the signs of ageing, some with poor mobility, walking slowly and aided by sticks. For the next five days the men would live as if they were in 1959, they would listen to music and watch TV from the fifties, wear clothes from the fifties and read magazines and books from the fifties. They spoke about the 1950s in the present tense, had no reminders of their current age, no mirrors (only photos of them 22 years earlier were displayed). The group was told that if they fully participated in living as if they were in the 1950s, it was strongly believed that they would feel younger.

Before the experiment began the men’s vision, hearing, flexibility, strength of grip and cognitive abilities were measured. The team hoped to see a difference in each man’s test results at the end of the five day experiment. The men were encouraged not to merely reminisce about the life they lived 22 years earlier but to really try and live as if they were there.

A control group, eight men of similar age, were asked to live in the house (before the experiment began) for five days and reminisce but not instructed to live as if they were actually back in the 1950s.

At the end of the five days, the men were tested again. The results were amazing. The men significantly beat the scores of their counterparts in the control group. Their flexibility, dexterity and even their sight had improved. This groundbreaking experiment became known as the counterclockwise research.

Changing perceptions to lose weight

Langer also tested her idea in different environments. Interviewing hotel chamber maids, Langer asked, “how much exercise do you do?” and was told, “we don’t do any exercise.” Next, Langer’s team divided the 84 chamber maids into two groups. One group was told that their daily cleaning routine was the same as exercise, changing a bed for example, was the same as using a machine at the gym. Langer changed the women’s perception of their daily activity. The other group were the control group, they were not told that their cleaning activities were the same as exercise. Three months later, the research team found that the group who had their perception of activity changed experienced a reduction in waste to hip ratio, weight loss, lower blood pressure and a reduction in body mass index.

The mind-body connection and illness

Langer is now pushing the boundaries of her research by testing the impact of the mind-body connection on illness. In recent research, which still needs to be replicated, Langer’s team had people with type two diabetes complete a test on the computer. A clock in the lower right hand corner of the computer displayed time twice as fast as real time, half as fast as real time or at real time. Langer wanted to know if  blood sugar levels would spike and dip following real or perceived time. Results so far appear to show that the blood sugar levels follow perceived time.

Looking ahead, Langer intends to do a study with women who have stage four breast cancer. Twenty four women will be placed in a retreat setting and taken back eight to ten years in time, whilst practising mindfulness. Langer’s team will then track tumour size and blood markers to see if they can be reduced or eliminated. Watch this space!

4 ways to harness the mind-body connection

1. Actively notice new things. In all of Langer’s research on the mind-body connection, subjects actively noticed something new or developed a new way of looking at the familiar.

2. Act on new observations. The subjects in Langer’s research acted on the new things they observed, think about the men in counterclockwise really living as if they were back in the 1950s.

3. Let go of pre-conceived mindsets. Be open to new ideas and different perspectives in the same way that the chamber maids were able to change their perception of activities they routinely completed.

4. Focus on caring for something, especially something that will experience positive change as a result of your input, remember the positive effect of caring for something even as small as a plant.

Want to find out more? Take a look at this video of Ellen Langer, talking about Counterclockwise:


How to develop a growth mindset for success

Just how important is having a growth mindset if you want to see real change in your life? A growing body of evidence suggests that a fixed mindset can literally prevent us from learning and developing skills.

A Fixed mindset switches us off to learning

Research in neuroscience and psychology has shown that when a fixed mindset is adopted something very revealing takes place in the brain.

Psychologist, Carol Dweck, a world leader in growth mindset theory, conducted a study examining brain activity and mindsets with her team at Columbia University. Participants with either a generally fixed mindset or a generally growth mindset were asked a number of difficult questions. Feedback was then given to participants whilst Dweck’s team measured each person’s brain activity. In this fascinating study researchers found that both the fixed mindset and growth mindset subjects showed a great deal of interest and brain activity whilst being told whether they had answered each question correctly. Any similarity ended here. The growth mindset individuals continued to show a significant amount of brain activity and interest when they had answered a question incorrectly. Growth mindset participants were just as interested in learning the correct answer as they were in finding out whether they were right or wrong.

The fixed mindset group were quite different. Their brain activity was high when being told whether they had answered the question correctly. When told their answer was wrong, fixed mindset individuals lost interest. The level of brain activity literally dialled down when being told the correct answer and explanation. No interest in learning the new information was shown.

Both groups were also given a surprise retest. The fixed mindset group showed significantly less performance improvement than the growth mindset group on the retest.

Growth mindset enables us to learn, change and develop

Another famous study also highlights the problems of a fixed mindset. Psychologists, Robert Wood and Albert Bandura  gave MBA students a computer simulated furniture company to successfully manage. The students were divided into two teams. Each team was tasked with placing employees in the right jobs & deciding how best to motivate and guide their workers. Before the students began the task in earnest, each group was primed towards a specific mindset.

One group was told that their performance would enable the researchers to measure their underlying capabilities to succeed at the task. They would either be naturally good at the task or they wouldn’t. In other words, Wood and Bandura encouraged a fixed mindset.

The other group was told that their skills to successfully complete the task would be developed through practice. It was explained that the more they were able to practice the necessary skills to perform the task, the better at cultivating those skills they would become. Wood and Bandura encouraged this group to take a growth mindset approach.

The first task that Wood and Bandura set both groups was deliberately difficult. Unrealistically high production standards were set in the initial task. Both groups fell short of the target. Both groups were then left to manage their company and employees and the progress of each group was monitored over a period of time.

Wood and Bandura found that the growth mindset group worked towards the task consistently. The growth mindset group practiced and developed their skills, they maintained motivation and performed well. The group that had been primed to hold a fixed mindset about the task told a different story. The fixed mindset group gave up on the task. they even did so with tasks that they could easily have achieved. Their performance deteriorated after their failure to succeed at the initial task.

This research perfectly demonstrates how limiting a fixed mindset can be in new learning situations. It also highlights the powerful impact that other people can have on our belief in our own capabilities.

Three tips for avoiding the fixed mindset trap

1) Make the commitment to have faith in your own ability to learn new things and change. Guard against being  sidetracked or  demotivated by the negative comments of others. Whereas constructive criticism is always helpful, it’s important to develop and listen to your own voice.  Filter and decide whether criticism comes from a place of growth or fixed mindset.

2) When taking on a new challenge, be your own cheerleader. Develop the habit of encouraging yourself by using positive self-talk. Focus on how good you will feel when you have mastered your new skill  or subject. Think about how you would encourage a friend or colleague if they were embarking on a new learning experience and coach yourself in the same way.

3) Ask yourself, what impact do your words have on those around you? Do you adopt a growth mindset and encourage others to learn, develop and grow? If not, take some time to think of  ways in which you can improve the way you interact with others at work and home to encourage a growth mindset culture.

Here at Positive Change Guru we love to talk about all things growth mindset. Get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke growth mindset training for your organisation.

Want to test your mindset? Find the test here. Like to learn more about the growth mindset? Take a look at Carol Dweck’s Ted Talk.


Using positive emotions to make a difference.

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

I love this quote from psychologist, William James. When we experience a low ebb, it’s easy to question whether all our hard work is really making a difference.

When we consciously make the effort to break bad habits and work towards positive change, how do we know that our endeavours are creating the desired effect?

Small steps towards positive change

This is where psychology and neuroscience combine to provide answers that can both encourage and motivate us through periods of doubt. A growing body of research demonstrates that the small steps we choose to make on a daily basis have a cumulative, long-term effect that can lead us towards positive transformation.

Take for example, the practice of keeping a gratitude journal in order to acknowledge positive experiences which present themselves daily. Whereas it may once have been thought that such positive emotions and their effects are fleeting, recent research demonstrates that something much more profound is taking place both physically and psychologically. Psychologist, Barbara Fredrickson, a world renowned expert in the field of positive emotions describes how her research reveals two core truths:

1. Positive emotions literally open and develop the boundaries of our minds.

2. Positive emotions change and build the outlook we hold of our environment.

Positive transformation

Fredrickson uses the analogy of a flower physically opening towards the sun and likens the human brain to the flower reacting to the rays of positive emotion from humanity. Fredrickson’s studies have shown that inducing positive emotions in subjects (by showing pictures of sunsets, puppies, fluffy penguins for example, or by giving a small gift, such as wrapped candy, at the start of an experiment) prompts bigger picture thinking. Positive emotions literally open and broaden a person’s perspective. Fredrickson’s studies also reveal, through the tracking of eye movements, that our eyes literally take in a wider array of detail when we experience positive emotions and the expanse of our peripheral vision is increased.

Because we see more in a positive state, we are open to a greater variety of possibilities and are also able to think more creatively. We are even more resilient, bouncing back more quickly from adversity when we experience positive emotions. Fredrickson argues that by broadening our approach in this way,  by using play, exploration or other similar activities, positive emotions promote discovery of new and creative actions, ideas and social bonds. This process builds an individual’s personal resources, including physical, intellectual, social and psychological resources. These resources function as reserves that can be utilised at a later time, to optimise health and well-being and improve the odds of successfully coping and surviving in times of challenge, this is also known as Fredrickson’s ‘broaden and build’ theory.

Happiness as a skill

Neuroscientist, Richard Davidson, suggests that we should regard general well-being and emotions such as happiness as skills which are fundamentally no different to learning to play a musical instrument. Davidson’s research examines the brain’s ability to change, also known as ‘plasticity’. Davidson’s work reveals that when we experience positive emotions we are using specific areas of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. As more positive emotions are experienced, increasing numbers of neurons fire and wire together to develop this area of the brain.

Recognising positive change

The next time you find yourself working hard to achieve positive transformation and pondering how effective your actions are, take a moment to think of Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory and the very real development that your actions will be creating in your brain.

Like to hear more from Dr Barbara Fredrickson on positive emotions?


The breathtaking benefits of awe

When was the last time you watched a sunset, listened to a stirring piece of music or simply watched children play and felt awe?

The benefits of positive emotions

Recent research from the University of California, Berkeley, reveals some surprising and exciting benefits to physical health when we experience positive emotions, especially that of awe.

Researchers asked ninety four college freshmen at Berkeley to detail how frequently they had experienced both positive and negative emotions, such as inspiration or hostility. The students were then asked to provide samples of saliva, which were analysed for interleukin-6, a molecule associated with inflammation in the body. As inflammation is strongly associated with poor physical health, the research team were hoping to see a link between frequent positive emotions and low levels of interleukin-6. The results demonstrated that students who experienced more positive emotions than their negatively predisposed classmates did indeed have lower levels of interleukin-6.

Next, the team at Berkeley asked 119 students to complete a more detailed questionnaire regarding their typical emotional outlook and how regularly they experienced specific emotions like compassion, contentment, joy, awe, pride, amusement and love. Again, the students were asked to supply a saliva sample and. Positive emotions were associated with lower levels of interleukin-6.

However, the second set of results showed that students who regularly reported experiencing awe had significantly lower levels of interleukin-6 than the other subjects. Awe was the emotion most powerfully correlated with the lowest levels of interleukin-6 found in saliva samples.

Negative emotions have long been associated with a variety of illnesses such as heart disease, depression and cancer. Researchers are increasingly discovering that positive emotions play an important role in maintaining good physical health.

On average, students who participated in the research reported experiencing awe three or more times per week. Berkeley Professor of psychology, Dacher Keltner, the senior author of the study, advises people to seek out awe often. Keltner suggests that everyone’s experience of awe will be different but one common factor all awe inspiring events share is ‘the goose bump test.’

3 tips to experience awe:

We can all benefit from these research findings by seeking to increase our daily experience of awe. Three tips to experience awe:

1. Recall the last few times you experienced awe, where were you, what were you doing, what prompted the emotion of awe?

2. At the beginning of each day, think about where the opportunities to experience awe might present themselves. Are these opportunities readily available throughout your day or will you have to look for opportunities to create awe?

3. Carve out time every day to experience at least one thing that you find awe inspiring.

Want to get involved in the University of California, Berekeley, Project Awe? Find out more here.

It would be great to hear your experiences of what inspires you to feel awe in the comments section.

3 tips to boost willpower and achieve your goals

When we set ourselves goals, we know that willpower is going to come into play at some stage of the process. Enthusiasm can fire us into action initially but when the going gets tough willpower may be the make or break of achieving a dream or goal. So is willpower something that we are born with or can it be developed to help us work towards positive change?

Marshmallows reveal a lot about willpower

Psychologist, Walter Meschel, carried out a longitudinal study focusing on cognitive control (or willpower) with 1,037 children born in one year of the 1970s. The research took place in the beautiful city of Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. Each child was given a variety of tests to complete, the most famous of which was the legendary marshmallow test.

In the marshmallow test the children were instructed that they could have a marshmallow straight away or they could wait a mere fifteen minutes and be rewarded with two marshmallows. Meschel found the results of the test divided the children into three groups. The first group was comprised of children who ate the marshmallow on the spot. The second group of children waited a while longer but couldn’t resist temptation for the full fifteen minutes and the third group waited the full quarter of an hour before receiving their two marshmallows.

The effects of willpower thirty years on

What makes Meschel’s research even more interesting is that he was able to re-visit the children from the study almost three decades later. Now in their thirties, Meschel discovered something fascinating about the children. The group who waited the full fifteen minutes were significantly healthier, more successful and more law abiding than the group of children who ate the marshmallow straight away. Meschel and his team took these results and factored for social class and IQ. They found that the level of willpower the children had at an early age was a greater predictor of financial success than either IQ or social class.

It’s clear from this study that our level of cognitive control or willpower is a big factor in our ability to achieve our dreams and goals. Even though Meschel’s test involved the small task of waiting fifteen minutes to gain an extra marshmallow, it demonstrates that the everyday decisions we make to resist temptation can build or deplete our capacity to manage challenge or temptation when bigger decisions present themselves over a longer period.

3 tips to develop willpower

The good news is that we are all able to develop our level of willpower. Meschel describes three sub-types of cognitive control that are required to successfully use willpower and overcome instant gratification:

1. Voluntarily remove your focus from the object of desire.

The fact that you are choosing to remove your focus away from temptation is important here. Think about your motivation for resisting and make sure that it’s powerful enough to fire your determination. Write down your main motivations and keep them close to hand so you can remind yourself of the important reasons you have chosen to make this change.

2. Prevent distraction and avoid being drawn back towards temptation.

Draw up a list of activities that you know will be effective in helping you to avoid distraction. The list should contain activities you enjoy, some may have been successful strategies in the past for avoiding temptation. Examples could be meeting with friends, engaging in a favourite exercise, listening to music, playing with a pet, focusing on a hobby. The list should contain plenty of activities that you find fun or challenging in some way.

3. Focus on the future goal and imagine how good it will feel when the goal is achieved.

This future focus is essential to ensure willpower remains strong. Visualise every aspect of achieving your goal, how it will look and feel and the benefits for you and those around you.

Small steps can make a big difference

Research from neuroscientists, including that of Richard J. Davidson, has demonstrated that we are able to develop our level of cognitive control through any activity that prompts us to stop and focus before resisting temptation and concentrating our focus elsewhere. Just making the decision to resist instant gratification and waiting moves our brain processes into the pre-frontal cortex, activating the brain centres required for cognitive control. This means that even the smallest of steps to exercise willpower will have a big impact in the long term by developing the brain circuitry responsible for cognitive control.

So the next time you are presented with a small decision that provides the option to exercise your cognitive control, seize the moment and regard it as an opportunity to strengthen your willpower.

What can your tweets reveal and predict?

Do your tweets reveal much more about you and the health of those around you than you ever imagined?

What can tweet analysis show and predict?

Over two decades of research suggests that the language we use is significantly related to our personalities, emotional states, social connections and thinking styles. Psychologists at the University of Texas, Austin and Auckland Medical School in New Zealand created the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) a text analysis program which enables words to be quickly and efficiently analysed. The program forms the Analyse Words website, a site that allows you to input your own tweets (or someone else’s if you feel so inclined) and have them analysed by LIWC.

Who better to run through Analyse Words system than the Dalai Lama?

His results:

Analysis of tweets from Dalai Lama
(983 most recent words – 19th March, 2015)

Emotional Style

Upbeat (Very high) 100
Worried (Average) 52
Angry (Very high) 89
Depressed (Very low) 13

Social Style

Plugged In (Average) 59
Personable (Very high) 93
Arrogant/Distant (Very high) 86
Spacy/Valley girl (Average) 59

Thinking Style

Analytic (Very high) 91
Sensory (Very low) 20
In-the-moment (Average) 47

How does it work?

LIWC concentrates on ‘junk words’ which include words like I, you they, a, the, an, to, with, for and other small words that pull together more content-heavy nouns and regular verbs.

The Analyse Words website explains that a large number of studies have shown junk words to be powerful indicators of a person’s psychological state. For example, when someone uses the word I, they are momentarily paying attention to themselves. When a person experiences high levels of physical or mental pain they automatically focus on themselves and use more I-words. This focus on self through language can indicate depression, stress or insecurity.

Similarly, there are junk words that can signal deception, leadership and many other psychological states. Because the LIWC research team has collected mountains of language and psychological data, the researchers have a clear idea of which words best link to psychological processes.

Can tweets predict heart disease?

Psychologist, Johannes Eichstaedt and his colleagues at Pennsylvania University believe their research shows that twitter comments are substantial indicators of personality type, optimism and predisposition to depression. More significantly, Eichstaedt and his team asked if the words we use on social media could also be linked to the number of deaths from heart disease in those around us. The team recently published  ‘Psychological Language on Twitter Predicts County-Level Heart Disease Mortality’  and discussed their result in the Journal of Psychological Science.

Eichstaedt and his team explain that hostility and chronic stress are known risk factors for heart disease, but they are costly to assess on a large scale. They therefore chose to examine language expressed on Twitter from 26 million tweets across 1400 American counties and used the information they gathered to give each county an emotional profile. The team’s research examined whether a link exists between each county’s emotional profile and the likelihood of death in that county from atherosclerotic heart disease (AHD).

Language patterns reflecting negative social relationships, disengagement, and negative emotions—especially anger—emerged as risk factors. Counties where people tweeted these negatively focused messages had higher rates of strokes, heart attacks and death from AHD.

In contrast, the counties that had a significantly high number of tweets containing positive emotions, reflecting psychological engagement, had a much lower number of heart attacks, strokes and fewer deaths from AHD. Positive emotions displayed in tweets emerged as protective factors.

Even when the researchers factored income and education into their data, the correlations remained significant. The team found that their twitter language model predicted heart disease mortality even more effectively than a model combining 10 common demographic, socioeconomic, and health risk factors, which included smoking, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.

What can we learn from the study?

Research shows that less than twenty percent of Americans use twitter and within that percentage, the vast majority of twitter users are aged below fifty. Heart attacks, on the other hand, are statistically more likely to occur in the over fifties. We have to ask how the tweets from the younger generation of a county can predict heart health in the county’s older generation? Any causal link requires further investigation but Eichstaedt and his colleagues suggest that “the language of Twitter may be a window into the aggregated and powerful effects of the community context.” In other words, a young person living in a poorer county with fewer opportunities and a greater occurrence of social problems might be more likely to vent their stress and anger in negative tweets and the same environment may have a negative impact on the health of the county’s older generation.

The importance of tackling stress and managing negative emotions

For each and every one of us, this research illustrates the importance of managing our emotions and cultivating the skills that allow us to effectively deal with stress. Regardless of where we begin our stress management journey, we are all able to practice the techniques that enable us to enhance a feeling of  calm and quickly move away from negative emotions rather than dwelling on whatever has caused us to feel that way.

Looking for some quick tips on where to make this positive change?

Try mindfulness. Andy Puddicombe’s short video,  it takes is 10 mindful minutes is a great place to start.

Hear ‘the happiest man in the world’, Matthieu Ricard, share his habits of happiness for tips on developing a positive outlook.


Look out for Positive Change Guru’s forthcoming series of blogs covering how to develop positive emotions.

Creating your personal brand – 5 tips to establish your USP

The term ‘Personal Branding’ was first used in 1997 by Tom Peters in his Fast Company article, The Brand Called You. Tom explains,

“Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

We all have a personal brand. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously defined a personal brand as ‘what people say about you when you are not in the room.’ A personal brand is something we use daily, before we meet someone, when we meet them and after each encounter. Given that your brand is continuously working on your behalf, it makes sense to devote some quality development time into crafting the brand called you.

One aspect of developing a personal brand that many people I work with find less than easy is establishing their Unique Selling Proposition or USP.

How to find your unique selling proposition or USP

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde’s observation is a great starting place when establishing your USP. Your USP sets you apart from others, it is authentic and unique to you. Don’t be daunted by this stage of the personal branding process. Dedicate some serious thinking time now to what makes your brand distinctive and you’ll reap the benefits in the long-term.

Follow these 5 tips to establish your USP:

1. Start by taking a look at the personal brands of people you admire, they may be friends, colleagues or celebrities. Common to all of the individuals who inspire you will be a strong personal brand. Make a list of each person’s USP. What make their USP clear and distinctive? Is it value driven? Is it linked to detail or quality? Analyse, analyse, analyse and make note of everything you see that can help you to develop your own USP.

2. Ask others what advice/job/guidance they specifically come to you above all others for. Why do they place their trust in you to meet their needs, rather than ask someone else? What is so compelling about the way you operate? Understanding how others view you and your skills provides valuable USP information about what already makes you distinctive in the eyes of others.

3. What makes your heart sing? Think back to events in life that have really ignited your passions and inspired you. When have you felt most satisfied and engaged? Look for connections between these moments to reveal an overall pattern that points to your true passions. The passions in your life are a great indicator of what makes you truly authentic and unique.

4. Establish your purpose. Your purpose should be clear to you and to everyone who comes into contact with you and your personal brand. Establishing a clear purpose provides focus. Purpose is paramount to your USP. A strong focus is essential. We move towards that which we focus on and your personal brand is no exception. Purpose and focus provide a rudder for your personal brand.

5. Recognise and list your values and ensure that they are reflected in your USP and personal brand. Values are pivotal to everything we do in life, they underpin the decisions we make and the activities we engage in. The combination of values that you hold speaks volumes about what makes what you do (and how you do it) unique. The Values in Action (VIA) Survey is a great place to start work on establishing the values that you hold dear.

Want to find out more about discovering your uniqueness?

Five lessons for a life well lived

The recent NY Times article, My Own Life, written by acclaimed neurologist, Oliver Sacks, tells of his reaction to being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Dr. Sacks’ words on being face to face with dying are profoundly moving but perhaps more surprisingly, they are also intensely uplifting. What Sacks shares is immensely inspiring and motivating, a man with an incredible passion for life, bravely describing how it feels to know his death is imminent. Yet Sacks is also conveying something precious and magical regarding the lessons he has learned, in his 81 years, about the meaning of life.

Whatever age, or stage of life we find ourselves, Sacks’ observations provide five profound yet practical lessons from a life well lived.

Lesson one: Live in the richest, deepest, most productive way

It is easy to be so engrossed in the routine of daily life that we lose sight of the impact our choices make on the way we live each and every moment of our days.

Sacks is emphatic that he has a choice in how he lives his remaining months. For Sacks that choice must be to,

‘live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.’

This choice to live in the now and choose the richest, deepest, most productive way possible is powerful. What magical opportunities and moments might be created if each of us challenged ourselves, every day, to live these words?

Lesson two: Live a life of passion

A self confessed man of passion, Sacks is determined that his illness will not  detract from his intense love of life. His passions during his remaining months will not be dampened but redoubled,  as he shares,

‘I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.’ 

It is easy to lose sight of  passions and interests, allowing them to be consumed or eclipsed by everyday responsibilities. Passions are are made of that which lifts us above the everyday tasks of existence. Pursuing our passions enables us to flourish and maintain a sense of the bigger picture in life. A life of passion allows the heart to sing.

If, every day, you committed time to something that inspires and ignites passion within you, how much more enjoyment and fulfilment would each day hold?

Lesson three: Have a clear focus and perspective

Sacks is clear that there is no longer any time for anything inessential in life. Focus and perspective have a sudden clarity. Only the most important, the absolutely necessary will command his attention.

When we understand that our time is limited, we are able to focus our attentions, efforts and our strengths on the task in hand.  Learning to prioritise and nurture that which we hold dear ensures that a clear focus and perspective always remains paramount.

Lesson four: Be yourself

Rather than living our own authentic existence, we can find ourselves living a life we think we should live, in accordance with the expectations of others. Sacks offers his unique insight, as a neurologist, into the importance of being yourself,

‘There will be no one like us when we are gone … When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.’

It takes courage to live a life that authentically portrays the ‘real’ you. Fear of failure, of rejection or the fear of being judged can impose a lifetime of constraint and regret. Sacks’ describes our uniqueness beautifully,

‘there is no one like anyone else, ever.’  

Be yourself, it is a great accomplishment that only you can achieve in life.

Lesson five: Live a life of gratitude

A profound sense of gratitude runs through the words of Oliver Sacks. When contemplating his final months he even identifies gratitude as his predominant feeling. Sacks’ sense of fulfilment, happiness and love of life has clearly been immeasurably enhanced by gratitude.

The ability to cultivate a sense of gratitude guides our attentions throughout the day. In the longer term, developing a sense of gratitude enables us to actively identify and enjoy the joys that life presents rather than concentrate and dwell on the negatives.

To cultivate and live a life of gratitude, regularly set aside time each day to identify people, things and events for which you are grateful.





5 time management apps put to the test


Apps to save you time

My goals are set and I’m excited to get started on them. I know from past experience that scheduling time to work on each goal could be the make or break of things. Like most folk, I could probably do with a bit of help in using my time more effectively. So I’ve decided to turn to technology and trial five time management apps for the next four weeks. Along the way I will share the good, the bad and the ugly of each app’s revelations about my time management habits.

Which apps Apps will keep me on track?

There are so many time management apps available that I decided to narrow down the apps I trial to a manageable selection of 5.

1. RescueTime

This app is designed to run in the background of any mobile device or computer and track how much time is spent using apps or the web. Just the thought of my online activity being monitored reduces me to a state of slight paranoia, which suggests that I already have a pretty good idea of what RescueTime will reveal about my online habits. I have gladiatorial abilities where wasting time online is concerned. Unfortunately, I often find that I have wasted 30 minutes or more online by reading something found by chance when I was looking for something entirely different. So this app makes it through to the trial.

RescueTime provides detailed reports about your use of time. This looks like a great app if, like me, you’d like to use your time more effectively and want to begin by evaluating just how usefully you currently spend your time.

The cost? RescueTime lite is available for free, a premium paid for version is also available with increased functionality such as tracking time offline and receiving alerts. I’ll be trialling RescueTime lite.

2. Pocket

Not ready to go cold turkey on all that stuff RescueTime has identified I waste my time on, I’ll need to make sure I have a safe place to keep all those interesting looking articles and videos for later. This is where  Pocket could come in handy. Once something is saved to Pocket it can be viewed offline.

Pocket received the ‘Webby Award Best Productivity App 2014’ and apparently over 12 million users have downloaded the iPhone and iPad version so it has social proof aplenty.

It’s also free, so no excuses, it has to be included in my trial.

 3. Focus@will

In theory, once I’ve put RealTime and Pocket to work, all I’ll need to do is focus on the task in hand. Focus@will promises to keep me focused and minimise my distractions by utilising the insights of neuroscience and music. Go on, I’m listening, so, now, where was I? I’m sure I could benefit from an increase in focus so turn to Focus@will’s website, which explains that it works,

‘….by subtly soothing the part of your brain, the limbic system, that is always on the lookout for danger, food, sex or shiny things.’

Good luck picking a fight with thousands of years of evolution is my first thought. But this is a trial to see what works and what doesn’t, maybe this will turn my attention away from shiny things and back to the task in hand, so it makes the trial.

I’ll be using Focus@will’s free 30 day trial.

4. Mailbox

Ever looked at the number of emails cluttering your inbox and wistfully imagined having enough time to empty it by the end of each day?

Mailbox enables effective inbox management by allowing users to archive or trash with a swipe and snooze messages. It also learns from your swipe and snoozing habits and automates common actions, leaving you to spend your time on more important tasks.

Mailbox caught my eye because it allows the user to quickly read an email then set it to snooze until later. I have a habit of quickly reading emails and then forgetting about them, so I can see that Mailbox could be useful. The lure of an empty inbox is irresistible and Mailbox, which is free, is on the list of apps to be trialled.

5. SelfControl

Ok, now let’s imagine that I’m two weeks into my app trial and despite using RealTime, Focus@will and Pocket to curb my procrastinating I am still lacking that essential measure of self control. Will I collapse into a weak-willed, wailing heap? Nope. Why? Because this is where SelfControl app could come to my rescue.

SelfControl is a free app for Mac OS X that can be used to block access to distracting websites, mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. You set a period of time to activate a block, add sites to your blacklist, and click “Start.” Until the timer expires, you are unable to access the sites you’ve blocked, even if you restart your computer or delete the application.

Sounds like self control bootcamp to me, sign me up!


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