Blog Archives

Clouds and clocks


Imagine a world of things that can be sub divided into two separate worlds; the world of clocks and the world of clouds. Within the world of clocks are neat orderly systems that can be defined and evaluated. We can take these things apart and see how they fit together. In the world of clouds are things, which are irregular and dynamic. They are hard to study and change from second to second.

The uncertain nature of clouds makes them beautiful but some how ghostly and not quite there. They are constantly being formed and being destroyed. They emerge and withdraw. They are nature’s great example of the constant wash of creation and destruction. They remind us of our own impermanence. “I wandered lonely as a cloud….”

Does this explain our desire to live in the world of clocks? Things that can be divided and explained provide comfort and protection from the flow and flux. The rational subdivision and explanation of experience pacifies the mind wracked with existential angst. Things can be ordered and kept safe… I can be ordered and I can be kept safe.

From Descartes to Darwin to Freud and on through the 20th century the world of clocks has come to dominate our politics, wellbeing and wealth.

My own background is in the world of clocks. I trained in old-fashioned economics. Pareto, Keynes and the ideas of Milton Friedman were drummed into me. After that I studied to become a chartered accountant. Here I learnt to freeze time at a balance sheet date and talk wisely to people who would pay me to explain how things were, how things are and how things maybe in the future.

I spent most of my childhood and working life understanding how to divide things up and “explain” to other people how things worked and I used information to prophesise how things may be in the future.

My left hemisphere thinking was finely honed. I lived in a world of clocks; of dissected finite time, a world of mine and yours, a world of success and failure. Around about the time of the new millennium this desire to explain and understand the world through dissection started to feel a little hollow. I craved connection to something bigger than me.

The Greeks describe this as Thumos; the desire for union and recognition through the development of a higher self. This is the feeling we have when we recognise, celebrate and unify with one another through the development of the great human strengths of kindness, compassion, bravery and love.

After twelve years in finance I studied to become a massage therapist and found a connection to a higher self through human touch. I felt that I was a good therapist. I felt I was kind and compassionate and provided a nurturing touch, which helped both my healing and my clients.

There were moments when I worked as a therapist that I felt that the world stopped. I would stare at a back and become absorbed in an area of the persons body. It felt like my being was part of the being I was massaging. I experienced euphoric feelings of oneness. There were times where I felt that I could see my molecules and the client’s molecules coming together and merging. In those moments I could see and feel the truth that humans and everything in the universe are emerging systems. We are constantly forming and un forming. We are connected to and of our environment and each other. Dissection of mind and body cannot explain our essence and can only have limited potential in helping us grow.

My years as a massage therapist helped me to develop a holistic view. I started to live and enjoy the world of clouds. I no longer felt lonely as a cloud and fearful of uncertainty but started to enjoy and embrace that uncertainty.

With my imagined or real observation at the molecular level of the floating and fleeting nature of reality I began to experience more freedom in my life. I became grounded in uncertainty and abstraction. The very fleeting and precious nature of life enabled me to grow. I began to gently kiss and caress life as it flowed around me rather trying to hold onto things.

However I still live in a world of clocks. Each time I float as a cloud I feel drawn back to the world of mine and yours. I feel the neediness of my left hemisphere thinking. The desire for comfort, the desire to be liked, the desire for material reward, the desire to hold and grab this precious life and not let this moment go. And the desire to shackle and control my thoughts and feelings and those of the people around me.

I take steps forward and then many steps back. I feel sometimes I have “it’.

It’s just there. It’s there when I see a sunrise or a rainbow. It’s there when I run into the sea or see the light refraction on the bottom of a pool. It’s in the smiles of my family and it’s in the air that brushes my skin.

And then it’s gone again.

After my years of bodywork I became a yoga teacher and this provided me with amazing new tools enabling me to embrace flow and connection.

And after my yoga training I was drawn once more to the world of clocks. I took a masters in psychology and learnt how psychologists like to count like accountants. I was suddenly back in the world of numbers and systems and control. I studied system after system that attempted to explain our inner workings.

But the more time I spent with evidenced based psychologists and exploring their models I began to have the same strange clock like disconnected uncertain and unhappy outlook on life. I felt many of the practitioners I met were not trying to develop Thumos. They didn’t seem kind are altruistic or compassionate or uncertain. There was something about the lack of humility and the lack of positive intention that I found disturbing.

As I studied economics I read more and more work by behavioural economics by people like Daniel Kahneman. I became interested in their ideas that people are more like clouds in their composition and outlook and behaviours.

I learnt how psychology studies were weird ie based on sample populations who were mainly white, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic. I also learnt that more 64% of psychology studies could not be replicated. I became concerned at the lack of real evidence behind much of “evidenced based psychology” and disappointed at the way many health practitioners use the evidence based badge of psychology to maximise their wealth.

From my studies of neuroscience I learnt that we are infinite selves within this self. Our 80 billion neurones with 10,000 (plus) possible synaptic connections enable us to perceive the world and ourselves in an infinite number of ways. We can try and explain human behaviour through dissection, correlation and extrapolation but this can only be of limited use in helping us develop Thumos.

We behave in ways depending upon context. Our inner systems of like and dislike can not un see or un experience what we have seen or have experienced. We cannot see or un see what our forebears have seen or experienced. We are guided by inner systems of like and dislike and we are intimately and intricately connected to all that is and all that has ever been.

There seems to be one huge mind  which has no barriers and no limits and is filled with knowledge. I learnt through my body work, meditations and yoga that I can tap into this universal sea. When I behave cloud like I can use my intuition. I can tap into a source of knowledge and energy that is infinite. It is always there but my yoga teaching explains to me how it is often obscured by koshas or layers of ignorance that bind me to duality.

With my business background and body work and yoga training I chose to retreat from the world of psychology. In the last 10 years I’ve dipped my toe back into the areas of emotional intelligence coaching and positive psychology but I spend little time with people with similar qualifications to me. Accept some….In my travels I’ve been blessed to meet some people from the world of psychology who are filled with love and positive intention. They are also filled with confidence and humility. I’m blessed that they are my friends and colleagues and if you find a coach or counsellor or clinical psychologist who manage to combine the world of clouds and clocks stick with them!!

And now I’m at a crossroads. I feel love and connection in the world of clouds but mainly earn my living working with clocks. I’m uncertain how to proceed. I’m not sure if I’m on the right track but I can take comfort from the growth, fun and love that I’ve experienced since I first started to explore my cloud like self.

This blog will continue but we have a new way of connecting – please check out


Mindfulness and leadership

animal-leader2As I started to write this article I wanted to call it the Mindful Leader but this brought to mind images of North Korean leaders. So its an article about leadership and what leaders should focus upon.

Ask yourself two questions. Who is the leader in my organisation and who is the most influential person? It’s quite common that the answers to these two questions may be very different. The person that stimulates, encourages, connects, motivates, listens too, energises may not be the leader. The leader may have become aloof and removed

Since the financial crisis of 2007/8 and in the decade before that there has been a growth in command and control style of leadership. The call went out for leaders who could cut costs and extract value. And this has come at a heavy price.

Daniel Goleman, the Emotional Intelligence guru has said, “the common cold of leadership is poor listening”. With ever shortening deadlines, increased customer expectations, a heightened competitive environment and increased a huge increase in data, a leader can be left not knowing where to turn. In such an environment the safest place for a command and control leader is back to the security of goal focus and ridged top down management.

Successful leaders need to be able to focus on four critical areas:

  • Exploitation – extracting the maximum value from current products and services
  • Exploration – awareness of the competitive environment, so that they can prepare for challenges and take advantage of opportunities
  • Focusing on the culture and vibe of the organisation to ensure that they are listening to their team – picking up concerns and being able to harness great ideas
  • Self awareness – understanding their impact upon others

Each of these skills is essential to good leadership but require very different neural pathways. A great leader can move seamlessly between one style of working and another. The leader who spends too much time on any one area, at the expense of the others, will have difficulty engaging and harnessing the collective energy and focus of the organisation. This balancing act requires great mindfulness.

A leader needs to be able to see what others cannot see. When a leader focuses upon a something she gives it meaning. But is it the right thing to attend to? Will it bring value to the organisation and pull the team together. And once the collective attention of the organisation has been placed in the subject, the challenge of a leader is to retain that attention through powerful, uplifting and engaging stories.

The great balancing act requires a leader to have a wide range of emotional intelligence skills including being empathetic, sensing their affect on others, good team work, heightened listening skills and cooperation.

A recent Accenture study of CEOs came up with one over arching factor that was an essential part of the successful leaders tool kit – self awareness.

Just think back to the performance of ex CEO of BP, Tony Hayward . After a long delay in responding in person to the Gulf of Mexico tragedy he turned up on a local beach and said to the gathered press group, “Nobody wants this over more than I do. I want my life back” . No mention of the deaths of BP staff and the suffering of their families, no mention of the environmental catastrophe, no mention of the economic hardship for local fishermen…”I want my life back”….

A leader must be authentic. A leader must listen. A leader must be humble and know that he serves his employees, shareholders and the wider community.

To learn more about Mindfulness, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence contact me at or




Positive Psychology and Buddhism

Positive Psychology and Buddhism
Seven years ago when I started studying for a masters degree in Positive Psychology, the thing that drew me in was a headline in a paper “Can you train your mind to be happier?”. That sounded appealing. We all want happiness, none of us want to suffer.

The very basic idea of Positive Psychology is that there are certain practices you can undertake that will help to train the brain to attend to what works well in your life, as well as your friends and colleagues lives. This brain training helps us to overcome evolutionary biases that might otherwise cause us to focus on the danger and deficits in life. Armed with a buffer of positive emotions you are then more likely to make positive life choices and may be better equipped to handle the inevitable loss and suffering that comes our way in life.

Some of the techniques to help focus on the positive have been really useful in my own life and have helped me grow our business. If you want to know more about these send me a mail.

I’ve also worked with great companies and organisations such as Amerada Hess and the House of Commons, introducing their staff to Positive Psychology.

I now have a huge dilemma. The more I study Buddhism, Yoga and Positive Psychology, the less trusting I am of the findings of Positive Psychology. For example much of the research is based on simple self-reported wellbeing questions such as “How satisfied are you with your life?”. I no longer believe that you can truly know your own wellbeing level. People get used to their new circumstances and quickly return to their historical self-reported levels of wellbeing. After all, even the most self-centred person could say they are 9 out of 10 happy. T to truly measure wellbeing you would also need to include life experiences, self acceptance, positive detachment and how much love and positive energy the person radiates to friends, loved ones and the environment.

My other criticism of Positive Psychology is the self and tribe focused nature of the interventions. I’m ok, my tribe’s good and I’m not too bothered about the rest of the world and the environment.

The way I see it, many of the interventions in Positive Psychology (such as keeping a diary of things that work well for you) are at a fairly low level in human evolution.. At their best they help you build tenacity to overcome life’s ups and downs.

Buddhist philosophy does not view emotions as good or bad or high energy or low energy. Buddhist practitioners question whether emotions are afflictive or not. That is to say do they rumble on after the event creating disturbance and imbalance. For example, it’s normal to feel sorrow and grief at the loss of a close friend. The question is whether it continues to disturb the mind long after the event. For example if you lose a loved one who you unconditionally loved and who also loved you, you inevitably will feel loss and despair. If that person truly loved you however, they would want you to return to the default setting of joy as soon as possible.

Life is so short and the Buddhists believe it is normal to experience the full range of emotions in life (and not to avoid or run away from the negative ones). They teach that we should learn to view the world as it is, learn acceptance, learn how to detach, learn to focus the mind on the present and learn to love each other more. Even those people, or especially those people not in our tribe.

Building a Positive Psychology business

In this week’s newsletter I’m going to explore some ideas on building a business based on the values of Positive Psychology. When we set up Breathe London in 2003, we didn’t have a clear strategy or a clear idea about what we wanted to achieve. For my part I knew what I didn’t want to do, ie. to continue working in corporate finance, but it wasn’t clear what I wanted to create or what I truly wanted to do. The picture has emerged slowly after lots of trials and many errors.

From the start the guiding light for developing a new career was based on a few basic ideas:

  • I wanted to create a job that I loved
  • I wanted to make Mondays at least as interesting as the weekends
  • To create a pattern of work that allowed me to explore my interest in health and fitness
  • To help other people as I supported myself financially
  • Strive to add more to human and environmental wellbeing than I took through my consumption

Over the last nine years Tom and I have travelled to India, become Yoga teachers and studied for Masters degrees in Positive Psychology and Cognitive Science. During that time we’ve both explored many areas of wellbeing, including varied spiritual, physical and psychological practices. This wandering has been an important of what has made our business thrive. There’s a lovely JRR Tolkien quote:

“Not all those who wander are lost”

Sometimes you need to go on a wander to appreciate what’s important.

The findings from Positive Psychology and teachings from Yoga and Buddhism seem to support the decision we made to radically change our career paths. Some of the core findings from Positive Psychology include:

  • Beyond a certain financial level, and given adequate healthcare, education and a stable political environment, additional material resources do not make us happier
  • People who feel that they are happy and engaged in their worklife are more likely to be like this in their home life

In an earlier newsletter I touched on the idea of the three pillars of wellbeing:

  • Autonomy – To feel free to do what you want to do in life
  • Competence – To feel skilled in your role, or know resources are available to attain new skills
  • Relatedness – Your life roles bring you into contact with people who you value (love) and value (love) you

Its taken a long time but I now think we have a network of amazing therapists at Breathe London, and are supported by great landlords in Jubilee Hall Trust/Coin Street and have a wonderful group of clients from whom I learn so much. As we expand to four treatment rooms and increase our corporate wellbeing events it’s important to reflect on why success has come. We broke all the rules of business development.
We didn’t (and still don’t have a strategy).
We take the minimum amount we can from the therapists that work under the Breathe banner’s earnings, to support our overheads
We want to work with clients to provide them life enhancing tools so eventually, they no longer require our services
We send clients to other organizations without expecting reciprocal arrangements

We have learnt many things over many years of wandering, but the most important thing is that while its important to work hard, you should not take yourself or your business too seriously. Try and stay playful when you build a business and look for opportunities to have fun.

Hope you found this interesting


How emotions spread at work

Emotions at work
In a recent study by Andrew Oswald at Warwick Business School it was concluded that there was a positive link between workers happiness and productivity. The team conducted a range of exercises in their research. In one, students were asked to add a series of two digit numbers in ten minutes. The subjects were paid an attendance fee, and a performance fee based on how they performed. Some were then shown a ten minute film based on comedy routines. The film apparently led to an increase in the self reported happiness levels of participants compared to those who did not see it or who watched placebo film clips.

For those that reported higher levels of happiness, after seeing the film, productivity in a subsequent test was significantly higher. They noted, “happier workers were 12% more productive”. They also noted that those participants who watched the film but did not feel any happier did not demonstrate improved productivity. They also concluded that if happiness in the workplace was associated with increased productivity then the human resource departments would need to consider these implications.
This was reported in the media as groundbreaking research, however it merely adds to the body of findings from the field of Positive Psychology, which has a far more nuanced understanding of the role of emotions in the workplace. Emotions, both “negative” and “positive” have a vital role at work. They are a call to action to help change behaviours. There is a danger in that this type of research might suggest that positive emotions are appropriate in all workplace settings. One of the major points of Emotional intelligence training is to impress on people that different situations, tasks at work and types of thinking require different types of emotions to be generated. For example, research indicates that where fine attention to detail is required, eg when studying the findings of a report, it’s more useful to foster serious, almost downbeat emotions. Where creative, blue sky thinking is required it’s more useful to engender a fun, light hearted approach. So clearly before HR departments rush out and hire comedians its worthwhile understanding that context and task are at least as important as creating a fun place to work.
However most of the research to date suggests that happier, more engaged staff perform better overall. We need to learn skills to help us switch between emotions in a calm manner and have the ability to return to the default position, within the organization, of happy and upbeat.

Contagious emotions
I am fascinated by the research about how we transfer emotions between each other. For example Ebling & Levenson, in their 2003 study, suggest that people have a simplistic system of attract vs. repulse and these prime directives are expressed in signals on our faces. When one group of individuals are asked to remember a stressful event they produce identifiable, common facial patterns. When a second group is asked to mimic some of these expressions, without being asked to consider a stressful event, both groups suffer similar physiological effects. This implies that the face not only mimics inner thoughts and feelings but also drives these processes. The face may be both display cabinet and creator of authentic emotions.

In Mullen’s 1986 study of the influential effects of Newscaster expressions on presidential elections, the conclusion is that, micro facial expressions have a significant impact on peoples attract/repulse mechanism. A newscaster’s clear positive favouritism towards one candidate was shown to influence voting patterns. The study noted that this was in spite of the tendency of the news channel in question to run negative stories about the candidate. The positive micro expressions seemed to be more influential than the negative words expressed. As far back as 1980 Wells & Petty illustrated how facial impression and movement of the head (nodding agreement) can be influenced by “senders” of energy and this in turn influences decision making and mood. Positive and negative emotions are as much an outside in as an inside out mechanism.

In 2005 Losada studied a number of management teams formulating business plans. He observed the relationship between the volume of positive expressions to negative expressions between team members (both verbal and non verbal). He then looked at the performance of the teams in the following period and found that the transmission of positive and negative energy, through words and non verbal expression, was shown to lead to a state of flourishing, if the ratio was greater than 2.9. In that study flourishing was defined as the profitability of the team as well as customer and staff satisfaction. In a 2004 study Shelly found that when there is a supportive network of people, to share positive events with, it is the sharing and rejoicing of an event that leads to greater wellbeing than the event itself. The degree to which positive, affirming words and body language are used in relation to sharing an event predicts the level to which wellbeing is raised.
Barbara Fredrickson has spent many years investigating the effects of positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment and love and has concluded the following:
– They allow us to think in a broad expansive manner
– They undo the effects of negative emotions on physiology, the way you think and the way you act
– They build intellectual, physical, social and psychological resources; and
– They create a virtuous spiral of emotions leading to increasing levels of wellbeing.

The Losada research also looked at teams where there was a ratio of positive to negative expressions in excess of 8 to 1 and found that these teams were also languishing rather than flourishing. This points to the obvious conclusion that we need some bite in the workplace as well as nurturing.  I think that the key points that HR departments need to draw from this research are as follows:
– Ensure that staff have a clear understanding of how to use emotions at work, in particular how to match the appropriate emotion to the task in hand
– Be aware that because emotions are easily transferable and escalate its easy for the mood of an organization to tilt into a downward spiral (below the magic number of 2.9)
– Get into the habit of celebrating the strengths and achievements of individuals and teams
– Find authentic, fun ways to raise the overall mood of the organization
If you are interested in how we measure happiness and engagement at work, or to find out more about our Emotional Intelligence courses and Positive Psychology at work programs go

Also use the Mayers Salovey model to measure your emotional intelligence

Thinking yourself better – placebo explained

According to a recent article in the Economist the alternative health industry is worth in excess of $60 Billion a year.  However there is little quantitative evidence to support many of the treatments and therapies in the field.  So why do people spend so much money without supporting evidence? Are vulnerable people taken in by the therapy business?  This is of course an important issue for us at Breathe London.  We have massage, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, life coaching, yoga, mediation and many other therapies.

My own background is mathematical. I studied economics and chartered accountancy before becoming a yoga teacher, massage therapist and coach and setting up Breathe London. As a natural sceptic I avoided yoga and therapies throughout my 20s.  In my early 30s living in Sydney the combination of corporate finance work, stress and lots of gym work meant that my back often hurt.  I began to take yoga and pilates classes and get regular massages and this combination seemed to reduce my stress levels, improve the balance of my hips and shoulders and lengthen my hamstrings.

This seems to be the experience of a lot of people.  Although the hard evidence base is not necessarily there to support many alternative therapies, people have a gut feel that pain and suffering goes hand in hand with stress.  When we find therapists and therapies which help us tap into relaxation the body and mind can recover.

There are lots of reasons why it’s difficult to measure a positive effect for alternative therapies.  For example finding adequate test and control groups for research may be difficult.  People who turn up for treatment are obviously a self selecting group who are seeking help and want to feel better.  Cold double blind studies lack this positive intention.  Similarly it’s hard to quantify pain and discomfort because pain assessment is very arbitrary.

One of the many reasons why people who go to therapists feel better is the placebo effect.  As soon as I bring this up many people will then doubt the validity of the therapy.  You shouldn’t.  The placebo effect is real, powerful and little understood.  Irving Kirsch, a professor at Harvard medical school has demonstrated that giving sugar coated pills in a placebo trial for depression was almost as powerful as taking antidepressants. Belief and trust in the treatment is almost as powerful as the treatment.  If you tell someone you are dosing them with morphine compared to aspirin, but both are placebo, neuro imaging shows that the deception stimulates naturally occurring pain killers.  Those people told they are receiving morphine produce more of these naturally occurring pain killers.

The research suggests that the more trust the patient has of the doctor prescribing the treatment and the more elaborate the ceremony around the treatment, the more effective the treatment is.  For example injecting a placebo is more powerful than taking a placebo pill.  To further illustrate the power of placebo Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard medical school conducted a study where participants with IBS were told by a doctor about the placebo effect and how it was almost as effective as real pills.  They were told they were taking part in a study to demonstrate this effect and were then told to take sugar the coated pills – and it was again emphasised that they were placebo.  The study found that even though participants were aware that it was a placebo study, the overall effect was almost as powerful as conventional placebo studies.  What was important was the trust that participants had in what the doctor was saying about the placebo effect.

Karin Meissner of Ludwig Maximillians University, Cologne demonstrated that the placebo effect  was able to effect autonomic nervous system, ie heartbeat , blood pressure etc.

So it seems that when it comes down to treatment it has a lot to do with trust and belief.  In the fields of coaching and counselling research suggests that it is the quality of the relationship between the practitioner and client rather than the type of the therapy which is the most important factor.

In addition to the placebo effect there are lots of reasons why therapies such as massage have a strong positive impact.  Human touch has a powerful physiological and neurological effect.  For example Oxytocin production is stimulated, which has a positive impact on trust, empathy, confidence and wellbeing.

Maybe it’s just about being around good people.  They make us feel good, stimulate us, help us feel relaxed and confident.  If the therapist has positive intention towards you, believes in what they are doing and experience tells you they help you tap into good feelings then go with it and listen to your own intuition.  Your own observations of your own wellbeing are often as valid as cold research on participants with no interest in the process or the outcomes.



Think less be happy

This weeks blog is contributed by Andy Roberts

The way we think and feel about our friends, career, environment and general situation in life is heavily influenced by how much value we assign to our thoughts. For example:

If I view a sculpture from the side and you view it from the front and someone else views it from 30 cm away and someone else from 30 metres away, we will all have different impressions of what the object means to us.  As we move around the room our initial thoughts may change.  Our opinion about the object may be influenced by similar works we have seen before and how much other people value and rate the object.

Research suggests that first impressions often count.  When we see something or someone we often assign an instant like/don’t like scale which can be very difficult to alter.  These first impressions help us navigate a fast paced, complex world. However if we constantly judge and form rigid views about the world around us it makes us less adaptable, flexible and creative. We may get set in our ways and stubborn.

The example above gives an idea about how the thoughts that we hold are merely instant impressions of what we hold to be true from one perspective at one moment in time.  Truth evolves and our thoughts and views also need to evolve so that we don’t get locked into a false view of the world.

Holding rigidly onto a view of the world as it evolves around us can set up conflicts with other people who have viewed the world in a different light and from a fresh perspective.

Before considering why we may hold certain beliefs and occasionally have repetitive strings of thought, it’s worth considering the complexity of why and how thoughts are influenced by experience.  For example all of the following factors have an influence upon each other and ultimately make us perceive the world in a certain light and think in a certain way:

An emotion, a mood, a thought, a sensation, an internal visualisation, a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch, a vision, an action, an external action, intention, the words of others, self talk and so on

What you think makes you feel different.  What you smell makes you feel different and think differently.  What you hear makes you feel differently and think differently.   What you say makes you feel differently and think differently and makes other people feel differently and think differently. What you think today makes you think differently tomorrow! And on and on and on and on.

Western Psychology often seeks to explore and magnify one interlinking aspect of this never ending network of events.  Through deep observation of one element academics and people engaged in coaching hope that profound insights will arise.

Buddhist and Yoga traditions also use techniques to enquire deeply into one aspect of the relationship between mind, body and experience. However these traditions often adopt a more holistic approach to wellbeing. In the Vedic tradition all emotions, thoughts, sensations and actions are seen as fundamentally illusory.  This is because they are viewed as shifting, changing and impermanent.  For example, the view that one takes of an event in your life is coloured by your experience to date.  With time the firm views that were once held change.  They may soften and mellow or become hardened and brittle.

From this perspective there are never any clear facts, only the hazy impressions of events that have already occurred and therefore no fundamental difference between art, works of fiction and works of fact.  There are only ever blended perspectives on moments that have passed and therefore to hold rigidly to a point of view is folly.

In the Vedic tradition enhanced knowledge leads to greater uncertainty and doubt; as knowledge is broadened and perspective gained doubt grows.  This is an area of great synthesis with Western Psychology.  The more one studies one area of the chain of emotions, thoughts and actions the more one realises the infinite complexity of human relationships. With further study, the realisation grows that you know that you don’t know the solution.  This is partly why some Buddhist techniques explore paradox.  Circular thinking promotes realisation that one cannot solve human problems through thought processes alone.  A Zen saying compares thinking your way to a solution with washing a bloodied article of clothing with your own blood.

You are not solely your thoughts or your emotions and therefore cannot solve your problems through thinking alone.

Great thinkers have echoed this idea of impermanence and not becoming hung up or obsessed by what you think you may think at a particular time.

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn. “

Mahatma Gandhi

What does this mean for my own wellbeing and happiness?

Research suggests that in therapy and coaching it is the warm, trusting relationship between people that results in positive change rather than the type of therapy applied.

In our view it is valid and worthwhile to explore the past in order to understand how it influences current feelings, thoughts and behaviours. However, it is possible that spending time dwelling in and exploring problems can make us magnify the extent of these problems.  We become our thoughts, words and emotions as we dwell in them.

Attachment to thoughts, emotions and actions may be an attempt to hold on to a fleeting view of the world which at the moment of experience was only ever a narrow interpretation.  It was never the whole truth.  So how do we detach and continue to keep ourselves refreshed and our thought processes open?

The Buddhist and Vedic approaches to breaking habitual thought patterns stress the importance of the realisation of the impermanent nature of the self.  Through mindful observation of sensations and feelings, in the present, we get into the habit of observing the world afresh as it re-presents itself to us.  Joy arises as we let go of past experiences and view the world afresh, as it arises.

“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.”

William Blake

To begin the process of detaching from your thoughts, take yourself to a natural setting and spend some time listening to the sound of nature.  Tuning in to a natural rhythm brings your thoughts and emotions back to a balanced state.  By sitting and looking at nature as it constantly evolves and flows you re tune your experience and become absorbed in the true nature of reality.

London riots and Positive Psychology

I find myself having strong, conflicting emotions about the riots.  On the one hand I feel anger sorrow and fear about the actions of these young people and on the other hand have some understanding of their frustrations.

I feel anger at the young people for their lack of moral fibre and responsibility and anger towards their parents for not giving them guidance and nurturing them.  I feel sorrow for the shopkeepers and older generation who have seen their beloved community ripped apart.  And fear of the unknown. Fear of the paradigm shift.  Fear that social networking is a powerful ally of violent crime.

It’s easy to understand why people want a harsh crackdown and long sentences for those caught.  Before doing this it’s worth taking a long deep breath and reflecting on the things we love and cherish; the freedom of our political system, the strength of our still free press, our diverse multicultural society and our legal system.  All these pillars of our community have been battered and undermined in the last four years but it is still a fair, open and kind place to live for most of us.  As has been shown by the mass mop cleanup in Clapham and Hackney our communities are strong.  Most people in London are kind, honest and generous.

Many commentators have claimed that the riots have simply been about mass violent crime, organised using smart phones.  David Cameron has said that it’s a simple issue and that “pockets of our society are not only broken but frankly sick”.  He is so wrong, on so many levels.  Violence does not have a single cause, it has an infinite amount.  We need to explore the factors in a calm, dispassionate manner.  For example:

–         Britain has one of the largest computer gaming industries in the word, earning hundreds of millions for UK PLC.  Playing Violent computer games teaches malleable young minds to sever the link between action and consequences

–         We have drastically cut training budgets for young people.  My charity, Yourstory has seen a 70% decline in its funding from local authorities.  They mentor and educate some of the most troubled, disengaged young people in Lambeth and Southwark.

–         We have trebled university fees partly because the older generation has lived the high life for the last 20 years.  We spent beyond our means and now we tell young people that they should pay for their own education.  It’s normally the role of older generations to invest in their young.

–         Positive intentions can have unintended consequences.  We decided over the last 30 years that it was wrong for parents and teachers to hit children.  As this positive development occurred we have not found ways to replace harsh discipline with strong, nurturing alternatives

–         David Cameron said that these “thugs were allowed to feel that the world owes them something”.  However many of us feel a sense of deep injustice about the way the financial service industry has ripped us all off.  Their risky practices and bumper bonuses fuelled materialism and division.  When the asset bubble burst the squeezed middle in the UK paid the price through higher taxes and the young people had their education and training budgets frozen.  Within twelve months of the bailout the bankers were back into mega bonuses.

–         There are a number of studies suggesting that more time on social media like facebook leads to less actual human contact, a reduction in empathy for other people and a feeling that we need to out do each other.  Perhaps being in a riot provides the excitement, human contact and engagement lacking in every day experiences

–         We assume that all rioters are bad people.  However the psychologist, Philip Zimbardo has investigated pack behaviour in simulated prison environments and has shown that even the most mild and gentle people can demonstrate cruelty and extreme behaviours when acting in a group and when given a sense of power.  Power in a group is intoxicating and we need to explore how social networking fuels this pack behaviour

These are just a few ideas about possible contributing factors.  There are billions of others.  They cannot and should not excuse appalling behaviour but we should remember that when something as powerful as group violence erupts nothing is simple.

We all need to look into our hearts and examine our behaviours .  We all shape the world we live in through our intentions, thoughts and behaviours.   It is the young people in this country who will provide the dynamism and energy to create a positive future for all of us.  We need to invest in them and believe in their potential.


What does a thriving life mean to you ?

Over the last few months we have been working on a new Positive Psychology project about what it means to thrive.  Martin Seligman, the famous Positive Psychologist has just written a book on a similar theme called Flourish.  Overall its an interesting topic for us all to explore but thriving and flourishing is such a subjective area that we honestly don’t feel that it can be boxed in and quantified like Martin Seligman attempts.  I walked past a sign yesterday which said pilates is the route to happiness.  I’m sure this is true for some but for others hours spent working on their pelvic floor would be pure hell.
Having said that the Breathe London team have put together some positive statements  around thriving.  Let us know what you think

Feeling secure and confident

I feel secure, confident and loved.  Whilst I know that my family and community partly shaped my destiny, the knowledge of where I have come from has helped me develop independent views and instil trust in my own judgement.  I know how to occasionally challenge my beliefs so that I don’t get set in my ways.

I feel grounded but understand that things change quickly and I need to be flexible.   Being grounded doesn’t make me heavy. I move with a light purposeful stride.

When I look back at my life I cherish the achievements and good times.  Although I have faced many challenges and some painful times, these experiences have also taught me how to lead a full and vibrant life.

Feeling energised

I have a good awareness of the things in life that increase or deplete my energy.   This includes what I eat, how I exercise, how I move as well as how I connect to people and how I choose to think.  In particular I understand the relationship between my thoughts, emotions and how my body feels.  I know that my emotions, energy and thoughts are influenced by my environment and I’m confident that I can modify my environment to help me perform well.

I know when to push hard and when to kick back and rest. I feel at my best when I’m playing to my strengths but I also understand that my striving has an impact on those around me.  I’ve found the right balance in my life between having fun, being playful and where I get meaning from.

Cultivating positive intent

My experiences have taught me that it’s easier to move towards my goals through hard work combined with kindness and compassion for others.  I realise that in striving to achieve my own goals it’s important to share the effort with people who have similar passions.    I feel like I am part of something bigger than just myself.

I’ve brought into balance my own needs whilst also enabling those around me to fulfil their potential.  I am grateful for the things that I have achieved in my life and the kindness of others.

I’m confident in expressing my views but get the most out of conversations when listening to the wisdom of others.  I know the difference between dialogue and debate.  I’m good at picking up emotional signals from other people and the environment.  I know that my moods affect the way I think and I’m able to solve problems by listening to what my heart and head are telling me and blending the information.

Having a sense of direction

My dreams about the future are positive.  I’ve identified goals which balance my need for financial security alongside optimising my health and the wellbeing of those I love.

As I move toward my goals I have the presence of mind to appreciate the joy and pleasures of the journey.  Sometimes my goals are clearly defined and at others they are vague.  Whichever is the case, I feel confident that I am moving in the right direction.  Sometimes I push myself hard but am secure and confident enough to know when to pull back and enjoy letting others reach the summit first.  I reappraise my goals often and know that you don’t have to climb all the highest peaks.

I’m confident that either I can learn new skills to help me move towards my goals or I can count on close friends to help me.

Being focused

Making the most of my time means that I can focus on detail whilst remaining alert to the big picture and the possibility of wonderful new experiences.  Being present to experience brings richness and colour to my life.

I understand that joy is an essential part of life. I savour new experiences but don’t grasp them.  I’ve learnt to enjoy and then let go.  I occasionally examine my habits and routines to check whether they still bring me meaning and joy.  When life gets too complex I go back to basics and stop investing in things I no longer value.

Andy Roberts manages the Breathe London team.  He has a masters degree in Positive Psychology and is an accredited emotional intelligence coach and yoga teacher.
Martin Seligman has also just published a book called Thrive.  You can read a review on the book at