All posts by Vicki Shouksmith

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About Vicki Shouksmith

An productivity consultation specialising in helping you to regain a sense of control at work. Replace feeling stressed and overwhelmed with a calm and confident can-do attitude.

Judging Yourself

As I’ve said before, I’m an avid reader of self help books and judgement is a topic that features in most of them. Authors explain that you must look inside when you’re judging yourself or someone else because it’s often indicative of something deeper going on.

This concept has never resonated with me more than when I started to drive a pink car. I bought it because it was cheap, not because it was pink – something I explain to people every chance I get, which is rather telling in itself.

I wouldn’t say I’m the most confident of drivers, especially when it comes to parking, and when I began driving a car that made it ridiculously obvious that a ‘woman driver’ was at the wheel, all manner of fears arose. I was scared of how I would be perceived because I personally had so much judgement towards people who drive pinks cars…

In the beginning, I would read into the behaviour of other drivers towards me on the road and feel like I was doing something wrong. Now, I think it’s hilarious when a man thinks he’ll be able to cut in front of me at the next junction because I know I’ll make a speedy getting away from the traffic lights we’re at.

My attitude has shifted and I’m less judgmental towards myself, and time has been a factor in that. There was no escaping the judgment I felt around this because I drive my car every day. I couldn’t avoid it and instead had to deal with the judgment I was experiencing.  

I soon realised that the fact it was pink wasn’t the problem; the problem was that the colour of the car was louder and more attention-grabbing than I was comfortable with. As someone who usually prefers to fly under the radar, driving such a noticeable car didn’t sit right with who I felt I was as a person.

If I hadn’t been forced to confront this, I don’t think I’d have ever reached this conclusion. With this in mind, I think it’s really important to spend some time noticing our judgements and getting to the root of what’s causing them.

When you last judged yourself or someone else, what really triggered it?

We all judge one another constantly and we’re unlikely to ever be free of it, but what we can do is become more mindful of when judgment occurs and stop it taking such a hold. Whether you’re judging yourself or judging someone else, remember that a little compassion can go a long way.

Give Yourself Some Credit

By now, you all know I love a good quote that I stumble across on Instagram, and I thought this one was a beauty!

You've handled everything

As someone who experiences anxiety, I love everything about this quote.

Fear can impact our lives in a number of ways. From holding us back from things that seem of little consequence at the time to crippling us in ways we can’t explain, it can stop us from reaching our true potential.

Seeing it presented in this way and knowing that it was true was very comforting to me. I have handled every situation that I’ve feared and I felt the need to give myself some credit for that.

Do you need to give yourself some credit too? My guess is that you do.

No matter the situations you’ve faced, you’re still here and you’re still breathing.

As Susan Jeffers says, feel the fear and do it anyway, because you know from experience that you can handle it.

A Flexible Approach

Would you say you’re flexible in your approach to life?

I’m not!

Flexibility is a constant journey for me.

As an advocate for being organised, I struggle when things don’t go as planned. I know I need to learn to be more adaptable and that’s something my laidback husband is always encouraging me to do.

When we approach life from a position of ease, we develop an innate knowing that we can adjust to whatever life throws at us. We can gracefully navigate our days and any obstacles we encounter are less likely to push us off course.

There’s the old adage about two trees that I think this is extremely fitting here. One tree moves freely with the wind in a storm, while the other refuses to bend and its branches eventually snap under the strain.

I know I need to release my attachment to making sure things go exactly as I planned – life just doesn’t work that way. Instead, we need to use being flexible to our advantage. Rather than rigidly sticking to our guns, we must work with the new set of circumstances we are presented with, and seek out the best way to reach the desired outcome.

Stretching our bodies to become more flexible is commonplace and we must strengthen our minds to do the same. With this in mind, how can you try to be more accommodating as things unexpectedly change?

Forcing Evidence to Fit Your Theory

I’m a Research Manager, and this means I’m well-versed in using data to prove or disprove a hypothesis.

Over the years, I’ve found the clients that are the hardest to work with are those who know what they want the research to say. They have a clear idea in their heads on what will be best for their company moving forward, and if the target audience are surveyed and it emerges that customers would like to see the company move in a different direction than planned, it can be hard to hear.

Clients are very accepting of results that match their perceptions; what tends to take up most of the discussion time are the results that contradict what they perceive to be true. We’ll often be asked to revisit the data and look at it from different angles to see if they can make a case for proceeding in the way they want.

It can be hard to get feedback that challenges what we think when we’re already invested in something, but we need to make sure we’re not seeking out evidence to back up our theories, and ignoring everything else that doesn’t fit the narrative we want. We must make sure we’re not going through life only acknowledging the evidence that justifies our viewpoint and discounting anything to the contrary.

Whether it’s something at work or in your personal life, I’m sure there will be examples you can think of where you’ve felt uncomfortable with the evidence put in front of you.

A key area where this can manifest is in our limiting beliefs. We have often believed something to be true for so long that we can’t possibly believe it could be any other way. An example in my life was when I was pushing myself to get better at delivering presentations. For so long, I identified as a shy and nervous person which was exacerbated when I was presenting. It took a long time to convince myself that that description didn’t have to stick with me for the rest of my life just because I had believed it to be true until now. I built up a plethora of new evidence as a I delivered more and more presentations, and we can all do this in other areas of our lives too. 

Is there evidence that something needs to change in your life that you’re ignoring? Are you only proactively looking for the evidence that allows you stay where you are?

Editing Your Life

You can always make a change! No matter how long something has appeared to be true for you, you can always switch it around.

It’s your choice whether you accept things as they are or if you decide to make a change.

I received an email from the DailyOM which talked about this topic, and Madison Taylor shared a great summary on where to start identifying if you need to make a change:

“To begin editing your life, simply think about your positive and negative experiences. When you determine what parts of your life are no longer serving you, make the commitment to remove them – though, it is important to remember that there is no proper timing or way to do this, and patience and compassion for yourself are always important during this process. Then, ask yourself what has brought you profound bliss and consider how you can make those experiences and beliefs part of your life now. With a little editing, you’ll be able to clear out what is no longer serving you and make room in your life for more happiness, love, and wisdom.”

How often do you sit down and do an audit of your life to see if an edit is in order? 

Actively choosing to make a change can be extremely powerful, so maybe it’s time to schedule a life edit so you end up with more of the good and less of the bad

Good Sailors

I attended a mindfulness class recently where I explained that I find mindfulness and meditation really works if I’m feeling alright generally. If, on the other hand, I’m in a bit of a spiral, I usually need to do something else to dispel the excess energy before I can sit down comfortably to meditate.

The teacher smiled and commented that he was reminded of a quote which says that we’re all good sailors on a calm sea. It is only when we’re put to the test and a storm approaches that we truly feel the benefit of the skills we’ve been cultivating while life was peaceful and placid. It might be harder to put into practice during the stormy periods, but the more we practice as a whole, the better we become at implementing.

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor

I have a repertoire of tools and techniques that I know will help me to feel better within myself, but I also know that I’m guilty of ignoring these tools when things are going well. It’s only when things take a turn for the worse that I remind myself to utilise all that I already know. For me, my go-to’s are yoga, meditation and dancing in my kitchen to loud music. What are yours?

Would you say you’ve been guilty of neglecting the things that bring you peace recently? What’s something you can do today that you know you’ll benefit from?

You win some…

You win some and you learn some

I love this play on the well known, “you win some, you lose some”. I think it struck a cord with me when I first read it because ‘you learn some’ feels more forgiving somehow.

You might have lost out on something and ‘failed’ in that precise moment, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t lessons that you learned, and key takeaways that you can apply moving forward.

Failures are a big part of life because if we never fail it means we’re never doing anything outside of the ordinary for us. We’re never trying anything new. If you listen to successful people talk about their journey to where they are today, you’ll notice the part failure played. They freely admit that they wouldn’t have got to where they are without a little trial and error.

Think back to the times you have ‘failed’ in the last five years; what did you class as a failure at the time, but now, with hindsight, you can see that you wouldn’t be where you are today without the personal growth provided by that experience?

Be gentle with yourself next time you ‘fail’ and look for what you can learn from the situation instead of berating yourself for not succeeding.

You’re lying; you’re not really that busy

You might be going through a period of ‘self-imposed busyness’ because you’re not being proactive, you’re not saying no and you’re not prioritising, but you’re not actually busy.

Being busy is a myth.

Put it this way, if you were to get a phone call in the next 10 minutes asking you to help in any of the following scenarios, would you find the time to be there today?  

  • Your friend has just broken up with her boyfriends of five years and she wants to go out for a drink after work.
  • Your Gran has fallen and she’s shaken up. A visit from you would comfort her.
  • A junior member of your team has made a mistake on a key account. She doesn’t know how to fix it.

We both know you would make the time to be there, so why are you pretending you’re busy?

You’ll notice that each of the scenarios I gave is asking you to stop what you’re doing and put someone else’s needs before your own. The scenarios I’ve created are deliberately provocative and ‘no-brainers’ when it comes to whether you would drop everything and be there, but I have no doubt that there will be smaller, more subtle examples of other people distracting you from your personal goals every day. 

We all think we’re busy for a multitude of reasons…

Do any of these examples sound familiar? 

  • My manager is always assigning more tasks to me and my workload has spiralled out of control
  • I said I would help a friend with a charity fundraiser she’s organising
  • Mum asked me if I could host Sunday lunch for the family this weekend
  • A client has brought forward the reporting deadline by a week

At what point in any of these examples did you prioritise someone else’s needs over your own?

At what point did you react to the things being thrown at you instead of proactively sticking to what you had planned for your time?

At what point did you say yes when you could’ve said no?

You had the option to say no when you were asked to do each and every one of these things, but you didn’t.

The thought of saying no can be scary and that’s the main reason most of us find ourselves over-committed in all areas of our lives. Something that feels easier is to start a conversation, and the way you do this is by asking questions.

  • Your manager delegates yet another task to you…
    • You say: Please can you let me know how this new task fits in with the other projects I’m working on? Would you like this to take priority? If so, what are the new deadlines for my outstanding tasks now that this is to take precedent? 
  • Your friend asks for your help with a charity fundraiser she’s organising…
    • You say: I’d love to help you with this; it’s such a good cause! I’ll be able to spend two hours on this over the next week, so please can you let me know what I can do to help in that time?
  • Your Mum asks you to host Sunday lunch for the family this weekend…
    • You say: I’m going to struggle to do a food shop and get the house ready to host Sunday lunch this week, because I’m working to a couple of tight deadlines at work and I’m helping a friend organise a charity event. Please can I host Sunday lunch in a few weeks when all that’s out of the way? (If you can’t be honest with your mum then who can you?!)
  • Your client has brought forward the reporting deadline by a week…
    • You say: Thank you for letting me know that you would like to see the results a week earlier. We will, of course, do everything we can to accommodate this, but it would be great if you could work with us to identify the sections we should prioritise. Please can you let us know what information is usually included in your Board presentations? We will work on this analysis and make sure you have it by end of play Friday. We then will send the remaining data across as per the previously agreed timeline. Please can you let me know if this works on your side?

By beginning a conversation and asking questions, you are able to share what is realistically feasible for you to accomplish in any given timeframe, and you also clearly identify what is expected of you.

It’s a great way to ease that feeling of busyness you’re experiencing!

You’ll begin to realise that you do have a choice in every situation, and by speaking to those around you, you can understand what you need to prioritise without feeling like you have to do everything all at once.

How can you employ the tactic of questioning to examples that are occurring in your life right now? If you’re stuck, email me at hello@vickishouksmith.com and I’ll get back to you with ideas on how to approach it.

Cutting your Losses

I was walking along the Quayside the other day and I saw a busker recording a music video with his friend. Granted, he could sing, but passers-by weren’t moved enough to stop and engross themselves in his performance. As I continued to watch him, I was somewhat torn. On the one hand, I was witnessing someone pursue their dreams in a way that very few of us are brave enough to do, and on the other, I couldn’t help but think that he was wasting his time because he didn’t seem talented enough to sell out arenas one day.

It got me thinking about how you know when to cut your losses. This doesn’t have to be with something as considerable as following your lifelong dream, it can be a day-to-day decision that just isn’t working. A good example of this would be a relationship that you’ve invested time and effort in, but, deep down, you know it’s not right. In the back of your mind you wonder if you can start over at your age, you wonder if you’ll ever meet anyone else, and those thoughts keep you stuck.

If we’re honest, when these situations present themselves, we know how we really feel inside, but it’s hard to acknowledge it when it clashes with another of your thought processes. The easiest way to find a resolution is to search for external validation of some kind; this can provide a more objective view that can help to break through your internal barriers. In the relationship example, you could speak to friends and family and ask them if you seem happy. For the singer, he could ask himself whether anyone other than his mother has told him he could be a famous singer…

Have you found yourself in a situation where you’ve been contemplating cutting your losses? Who in your life could you reach out to for some impartial advice? 

Respecting your Elders

There was an article on the DailyOM which talked how tribal cultures have an inherent respect for the knowledge and wisdom of their elderly population, especially compared to modern societies where there can be an tendency to disregard the older generations in favour of those who are more youthful. The article reminded me of how much I love spending the afternoon with my Nana – if she’s in the right mood, of course!

At 93, my Nana is still a force to be reckoned with and when you spend more than an hour or two in her company, the conversation evolves beyond the day-to-day and you’ll suddenly find her regaling stories of that time she went to Egypt with the WAF…

My Nana has an opinion on EVERY-thing and she rarely thinks she’s wrong. Whether it’s requested or not, she’ll share her thoughts on any situation you find yourself in, and often offers great advice which comes from a lifetime of having been there and done that. We have been known to disagree, especially when she’s lecturing me on why Alex and I share the household chores and cooking responsibilities, but you can’t knock her wisdom and insight when you find yourself at a crossroads and you’re unsure what to do.

Writing this triggered a pang of guilt because I know I don’t ask for her advice often enough and it made me realise that I need to reach out more. How can you respect your elders a little more this week? Is there someone you can reach out to and make them feel valued by asking for their advice?