Are you struggling to look on the bright side of life?

Smile Capuccino-June17You have probably heard these ‘catch’ phrases before from people trying to cheer you up when you are going through a low patch:  “Look on the bright side of life.”  “Stay positive.” “Every cloud has a silver lining.” “Don’t let them grind you down.”

According to research negative thinking may have had a huge influence on why humans survived as a species since our ancestors who were more attuned to the dangers around them were the ones more likely to survive and pass on their genes.  Therefore our default mode may be to focus on the negatives and seeing the bright side of life may take more of a conscious effort and practice to create a new habit.

The problem with negative thinking is that studies also show that this type of mind set and outlook on life can adversely affect our health.  When you worry, your body responds to your anxiety in the same way it would react to physical danger. To help you cope with the physical demands you are about to ask your body to perform, your brain releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. They trigger a range of physical reactions that will equip your body for action.  Over a prolonged period of time, raised levels of these chemicals can start to have a toxic effect and you may become more prone to infections.   Therefore, looking on the bright side of life doesn’t just help us to feel happier but it could be actively keeping us healthy.   Here are seven ways to help you to focus more on the positive:

1. Spend time with people who have a positive outlook on life

Do you feel the energy drain out of you when you spend time with people who are constantly focused on the negative and what’s going wrong in the world?  If so, redress the balance and start spending more time with friends, family and colleagues who have a positive outlook on life as this will help raise your energy levels and lift your mood.

2. Share positivity with others

Take every opportunity to share something positive with people you come into contact with every day.  For example, if you think a colleague gave an excellent presentation, share your thoughts with her.  Tune in to people’s strengths and share what you have noticed about what they do well.

3. Search for the silver lining

When you experience a challenging situation ask yourself “What have I learned from this experience?”  “What will I do differently next time?” “How has this made me a stronger person?”

4. Separate facts from fiction

Challenge yourself when you use words like never, always, worst, ever, etc.  Do you always lose your car keys?  This is unlikely.  Perhaps you forget where you put them sometimes.  Are you never going to find a solution to the problem?  If you are stuck, have you been resisting asking for help?  Or, if it really is an intractable problem, why are you banging your head against a wall?

5. Practice Gratitude

Recent studies have found that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages.

Here are three simple things you can do to build positive momentum to help you to look on the bright side of life:

  1. Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed.  A friend found this very helpful when her husband was going through chemotherapy.
  2. Make it a practice to tell a spouse, partner or friend something you appreciate about them every day.
  3. Look in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth, and think about something you have done well recently or something you like about yourself.

6. Choose a positive thought

When negative thoughts are getting you down think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small.  If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous few days or week.  Or perhaps there is an exciting event you are looking forward to that you can focus your attention on.

7. Move more

Most of us know that regular exercise is good for our body.  But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health.  As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.   Research shows that regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression and anxiety. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.

I appreciate that looking on the bright side of life can be really hard when you are going through challenging times.  The good news is there are effective strategies you can use to help you to stay more positive, and most importantly – feeling better overall.

If you would like help looking on the bright side of life please get in touch. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk  – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

 

Financial equality – The first step to gender parity

Fiona Dunsire-May17The steps that both employers and individuals can take to promote financial equality have a huge impact on empowering women and achieving gender parity in the workplace.  Fiona Dunsire, UK CEO of Mercer, the global consultant helping companies improve the health, wealth and careers of their people, discusses how the need for financial independence framed her own career decisions.  She also highlights the actions employers can take to recognise and support the different financial needs of women.

Despite all the talk and genuine good work being undertaken by many companies, we have to acknowledge that in the workplace there is a long way to go before we achieve gender parity. Only 25% of senior leadership roles are held by women. At Mercer, we are in the privileged position of advising companies on actions they can take to ensure they have a diverse and thriving workforce and we can see what is working, and not, in practice.

For me, steps that both employers and individuals take to promote financial equality will have a huge impact on empowering women and achieving gender parity. The gender pay gap is well publicised and increasingly under the spotlight, but the adverse financial position of women is much broader than just a pay issue.

In the UK working women are paid 18% less than men, on average (far more than that if you work part-time), but come retirement, women’s pensions are almost 40% lower than men’s. That’s the triple whammy from time out of the workforce, part-time working and longer life expectancy: women have 12 years’ less time in the paid workforce on average, 41% work part-time (compared to 12% of men, so even if everything else is equal, absolute earnings are much lower) and women live 13% longer in retirement, so they actually need higher pension savings than men.

The demands on women’s money are also telling: 1 in 4 women are responsible for funding childcare compared with less than 1 in 10 of men, and the same percentage spend between a quarter and half their salary on childcare.

Women are also more vulnerable to losing income through caring responsibilities, of which elder care is a growing proportion – 1 in 9 of UK employees are working carers, of whom 1 in 5 will leave employment as a result. Indeed, the gender pay gap is greatest for women over 40, a function of time out of the workforce.

Divorce can also materially impact women’s income, particularly in later life – divorce in the run up to retirement can come as a shock which it is difficult to recover from financially.

Finally, there is evidence that women are more risk averse than men. In Defined Contribution pension schemes, which are now the norm, the size of your pension savings depends on the investment choices you make and taking less risk will normally mean lower growth and a lower pension over the long term.

There is a ‘virtuous circle’ whereby the more there is equality in earnings between women and men, the more that further supports women’s career progression and financial resilience. For example, greater financial equality allows for a more healthy balance in the household decisions that have typically led to women’s lower workforce participation. In my experience, it also allows you to delegate or outsource many of the tasks that consume women’s time and energy in the home!

It is fair to say that my own early life experience framed my career decisions and choices, and  strongly influenced where I am today.

My father died suddenly when I was 10 and at that point, it became very obvious that my mother had nothing to fall back on – she had married young and despite good school qualifications, had not completed further education.  She was a great role model to my sister and me, and went back to college to get qualifications and become a teacher. We lived solely on her student grant and widows’ pension, which was an early lesson in responsibility and careful budgeting. As a teenager growing up in the early eighties, the need to ensure I was financially independent and resilient to whatever adverse outcomes life might throw at me was very important.  It has undoubtedly framed my career choice to become an actuary and progress to senior leadership. It has also allowed me to have much more balanced discussions with my partner about our careers and family life than many of my peers. In practice, at any point in time, this became about what the opportunity and motivation was for each of us, rather than a purely economic decision. I am lucky in this respect.

If employers are serious about getting more women into senior leadership, and thus a more gender diverse workforce, then addressing the adverse financial position of women is an enabler. The steps companies can take range from obvious actions to identify and address pay, promotion and performance rating differences;  to more innovative solutions such as paying higher pension contributions to women; financial education and communications tailored to women and health policies and workplace  benefits which reflect women’s differing needs. Evidence shows that companies which recognise the specific financial needs of women have more women in senior leadership roles. The requirement for larger UK employers to publish gender pay data will be painful for practically all companies.  This is a good opportunity for companies to face up to the issue and reassess what they are doing to support financial equality for women.

If you are experiencing any difficult leadership challenges please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach christine@griffinity.co.uk  – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.