Podcast #030 Do you need more sleep?

“If you want to be a billionaire, sleep as little as possible.” Donald Trump.

“Sleep is a criminal waste of time. A heritage from our cave days.” Thomas Edison.

“Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” Bill Clinton

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Sleep. So easy to take for granted, but so essential – especially if you are not getting enough. And yet there is so much bravado and neglect when we think about sleep. Whatever you may think of Donald Trump and Thomas Edison, their opinions on sleep are way off the mark when it comes to what the research and even what common sense shows. And whatever your opinion of Bill Clinton there is much wisdom in his reflection on sleep and making errors of judgement.

On this podcast my co-host Andrew Horton and I discuss:

The importance of prioritising sleep in our lives.

The dangerous consequences of not having enough sleep.

How do I know I am getting enough sleep?

An embarrassing example in my life of not getting enough sleep.

How much are people in positions of authority making decisions from a place of inadequate sleep?

A Biblical perspective on sleep.

Three suggestions for those struggling to get to sleep.

You may also find of interest:

Do You Need More Sleep?

The Importance Of A Good Night’s Sleep

What questions, reflections and comments on sleep do you have?

Do you need to re-connect with nature?

I have to admit when it comes to appreciating nature I have been a slow learner. Perhaps it has something to do with being the son of South Asian immigrant parents and feeling driven to succeed academically above anything and everything else. Or maybe it had something to do with assuming practical aesthetics were only a luxury for rare occasions. However, whatever the reason, appreciating natural beauty and surroundings was for many years not been a priority to me. Much to my own loss.

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To my shame I have to confess that when my wife Sally and I moved to a new house in 1996 with the choice as to how we would design the garden area my natural inclination was to propose that we just concreted it all over! Thank goodness Sally over-ruled me on that!

Taking time out to connect with nature through gardening, going for a walk or even to just get some fresh air can be enormously rejuvenating. There is something about being in the countryside or by the beach that recharges and rejuvenates us like nothing else can. Even I have come to instinctively appreciate that! But I am not the only one who has ignored or downplayed the importance of the environment to psychological wellbeing.

For as long as anyone can seem to remember in most societies progress has been measured by increase in average income and the numbers of people moving from rural areas to the cities. That is how unquestioned and unchallenged economic decisions have been made for centuries. But we are slowly and surely also realising that such progress does not lead to the health and well-being we hoped for. In fact more urbanised and industrialised societies are experiencing increasingly greater levels of physical and psychological distress from conditions such as obesity and diabetes to chronic loneliness, depression and other mental health problems.

When it comes to understanding well-being then there are two important components to consider – the person’s sense of contentment and the ability to cope with life’s challenges (resilience). There is increasing research  evidence to show that spending time in nature has a significant and positive impact on both contentment and resilience….

Do you need more sleep?

What the research shows

Russell Foster is a professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford. In this 22 minute TED talk he very helpfully explains the importance of something we so often take for granted and underestimate the importance of – sleep! Or to put it another way, sleep is the single most important behavioural experience we have. We spend on average 36% of our life sleeping. So for someone living to say the age of 90, they will have spent on average 32 years asleep! When you put it in those terms then sleep at some level is a really important part of being human. So what has science so far learnt about sleep?

Professor Foster helpfully explains that when you sleep your brain doesn’t just turn off, but that there are a huge raft of different interactions going on within the brain.

So why do we sleep? Its likely that there are a multitude of different reasons. Some of the most common:

Are you looking for inner strength?

Identifying and replacing unhelpful thinking habits

We all know what physical strength is. But inner mental strength? What is it? Put in the simplest terms mental strength refers to any set of positive attributes that helps a person to cope with difficult situations.

Someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about this is Amy Morin. She is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and lecturer at Northeastern University in the United States. In this powerful 15 minute video she very helpfully explores three kinds of destructive beliefs that can derail us and rob us of our mental strength.

What makes her explanation particularly meaningful is that she talks not just as a psychologist, but from her own experience at the age of 23 with the sudden loss of her mother and then exactly 3 years later of her then husband.

As she says about that time,

“So now I found myself a 26 year old widow, and I didn’t have my Mom. I thought, ‘How am I going to get through this?’ And to describe that as a painful period in my life feels like an understatement. And it was during that time that I realised when you’re going through tough times, good habits aren’t enough. It only takes one or two bad habits to really hold you back…… Because sooner or later you’re going to hit a time in your life where you will need all the mental strength you can muster.”

Even after these tough experiences Amy Morin still had further challenges in her life to deal with, but her insights about helpful and unhelpful thinking habits are universally applicable.

What kinds of bad habits is she referring to?

Podcast #027 Beating Burnout

A frank discussion on a sensitive topic

It’s not necessarily a comfortable subject to talk about, but it is increasingly relevant in the complex and challenging world we live in. Burnout is a state of chronic stress that has profound effects on many aspects of our lives. It covers a wide range of emotions that include physical and emotional exhaustion; cynicism and detachment from others as ell as an overall reduction in performance and levels of effectiveness.

1024px-Burnout_-_Patrick_O'Neill_celebrates_after_winning_a_Formula_Car_Challenge_championshipIn this podcast conversation, my co-host Andrew Horton and I discuss our own personal experiences of burnout.

We also explore just how pervasive burnout is. Statistics from organisations like the Boston Consulting Group state for 2016 it affects:

31% of doctors in the United States.

69% of male financial professionals

87% of Hong Kong financial professionals in institutional asset management.

In the UK it it has been reported that 90% of general practice consultations have some degree of stress related to them.

These are staggeringly high figures and yet we do not hear much about burnout.

Do join us in this discussion as we look at practical steps you can take to protect yourself during times of stress and find ways to not just survive, but actually thrive.

For additional resources on this subject do see:

5 Lessons I’ve Learnt From Burnout

Podcast #022 The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Podcast #013 How To Grow In Resilience

Podcast #003 Stress

What thoughts, comments and strategies do you have about preventing burnout in your own life?

 

Podcast #026: The search for happiness

I like to cheekily describe my friend Andy Parnham as a happiness guru. He works part of the week for the charity Livability, that serves people with disabilities, while the rest of the time he acts as an independent wellbeing advisor and coach, running amongst other things, The Happiness Course. This is in a variety of settings, including schools, health centres, companies and the voluntary sector.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 10.00.28Do join us on this podcast as Andy and I discuss a subject of relevance to every one of us. We discuss and explore:

How happiness is not the same as wellness.

The over-emphasis on physical health when we talk about wellness.

The need to also include emotional, psychological, spiritual, relational and community aspects to fully understand wellness.

How and why Andy developed The Happiness Course.

How positive psychology research emphasises health is not just the absence of illness.

What the research shows are the factors that contribute to a flourishing life
– living lives of appreciation and gratitude.
– nurturing healthy relationships.
– forgiveness
– practising acts of kindness
– savouring experiences

Some hard bottom line results that result from happy employees:

5 lessons I’ve learnt from burnout

Looking back I have burnt out at least three times in my life. The first two times were at the end of my first and third year at university, studying medicine. The challenges of moving away from home, being out of my depth academically, feeling isolated and alone all gradually took their toll.

The third time was around 2009. I was juggling being on the leadership team of a church with all its demands while having a growing family and working as a psychiatrist. It  all became too much for me to take. Something had to give. I wasn’t liking the person I was becoming. I could sense a critical and discontented spirit growing inside of me. It was time to step down from church leadership and re-evaluate my priorities.

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In all three cases, there were significant learning opportunities and growth from these experiences. However, at the time it felt very different to that! For more on the first experience see here. After the second, I found a greater purpose and direction to stay in medicine and begin to focus on psychiatry; while as for the third, it lay the foundation for this blog and subsequent podcasts!

Burnout is a state of chronic stress. It gradually develops over a period of time and leads to:

Both physical and emotional exhaustion.
On each occasion I gradually found myself lacking energy, sleeping poorly and not able to give proper attention to what needed to be done.

Feelings of cynicism and detachment.
I became quick to focus at the negative aspects of my life, as well as feeling disconnected from others. I found myself often attributing unnecessary ulterior motives to others and putting myself in a victim mindset.

Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
I struggled to find meaning and purpose in day to day activities that became more and more burdensome. What I previously had been able to do with ease felt like an upward struggle with no apparent end in sight.

So what have I learnt from these experiences?

The importance of a good night’s sleep

Reflections to make you think

“If you want to be a billionaire, sleep as little as possible.” Donald Trump.

“Sleep is a criminal waste of time. A heritage from our cave days.” Thomas Edison.

“Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” Bill Clinton

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Sleep. So easy to take for granted, but so essential – especially if you are not getting enough. And yet there is so much bravado and neglect when we think about sleep. Whatever you may think of Donald Trump and Thomas Edison, their opinions on sleep are way off the mark when it comes to what the research and even what common sense shows. And whatever your opinion of Bill Clinton there is much wisdom in his reflection on sleep and making errors of judgement.

Indeed in November 2008, just after the US election, former President Bill Clinton was asked by CNN Talk Asia correspondent Anjali Rao, “If you had to give one piece of advice to offer President-elect Obama, what would it be?”

Podcast #021: Grit

What it is, why we need it and how to develop it

In  a world that is becoming increasingly volatile, unpredictable, challenging and complex, the development of grit has arguably never been more necessary. On the one hand, especially in the more prosperous parts of the world, we have never had more access to technology and labour saving devices. At the same time it is incredibly easy to become overwhelmed and exhausted by the never ending demands on our time and the things that need to be done at what seems to be greater and greater speed.

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Do come and join my co-host Andrew Horton and I as we discuss on this podcast:

What grit actually is and why it is so important.

Examples of grit in the lives of people like JK Rowling, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs.

Dissecting grit into 5 key components.

7 simple ways to develop grit in your own life.

The Jewish carpenter and His development of grit.

You may also find of interest:

The difference grit can make to you.

Do you need more grit?

Should living in a VUCA world matter to you?

An interview with Baroness Caroline Cox, a lady of remarkable grit.

What thoughts, questions and reflections does grit raise for you?

What does it actually take to be a more caring person?

Developing care and compassion for others is not necessarily something that comes naturally. It cannot be easily taught in a classroom or from lectures. However, being a caring person is an essential life skill for our own character development and to grow into maturity.

This 5 minute video from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, United States powerfully shows what it actually takes to develop a truly caring and compassionate mindset. As you watch it you will see an unexpected and surprising twist in the lives of the subjects portrayed:

The video was first brought to my attention by John Geater who is International Director of PRIME (an international network of professional healthcare educators, committed to integrating rigorous science and compassionate care for the whole person).

Below are John’s observations on the video. While he writes as a doctor, he makes some important universal insights about getting along side others in their suffering and pain. It is also a good reminder to me about my own attitude when I sit with a patient and/or their family or carer.

“So maybe we could make a more conscious effort to look into the eyes of our patients and see something of their journey. We must of course be careful not to jump to conclusions too quickly, and in some cultures we have to be careful of too direct a gaze, but it is remarkable just how much our inner being can relate to another human being. Some people avoid such relationships under the guise of “professional distance” . When I trained 50 years ago I was told we must become hardened to our patients pain otherwise we would burn out. However, the privilege afforded to us in the caring professions of deep relationship with other human beings, even if only for a few minutes, is something that I treasured during my years of practice.” 

The video ends with the following summary of what it takes to grow into true maturity and sober judgement

To have felt insensitivity….. is to be more kind.

To have faced fear ….. is to recognise it in the eyes before you.

And to have fought to live …… is to know how fragile life can be.

If you found the video and this post helpful you may also appreciate the following posts and videos:

What If You Could Read Other People’s Minds?

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering Part 1 and Part 2

Why Does A Loving God Allow Pain and Suffering?

What questions, thoughts and reflections does the video raise for you?