Thursday, 12 November 2015

Are Your Beliefs About Talent and Skill Holding You Back? The Difference Between Fixed and Growth Mindsets

My mother has lived in Wales for nearly 40 years. Despite 85% of the local population speaking
Naturally talented, or the result of hours of practice?
Welsh as their first language, she still can't hold up much of a conversation in the language (sorry Mum!). While she partly blames this on my refusal to speak Welsh to my “English mummy” during childhood, another reason that she likes to give for her lack of linguistic prowess is - “well, I was never very good at French at school”.

I've heard things like this from all kinds of people; “Oh, I can't do that – I'm hopeless at writing essays”, “Well, I can't sing”, “I'm really bad at sports.”

These statements are given with the same casual matter-of-factness as if we were telling each other about our nationality or eye colour. Yet we surely know plenty of people who have taken up a language, hobby or job and picked it up pretty well, and we all know that nobody comes out of the womb able to play classical music on the piano or speak ten languages.

Let me ask you this: have you ever stopped yourself from doing something because you didn't think you could do it? This might mean you gave up at the first hurdle, or that you didn't even start.

Sometimes, we expect to get things right the first time, and when we try and don't succeed we get frustrated and give up. I've certainly tried new things, like a new exercise class or trying to understand a complicated piece of information, and given up as soon as things got tough, thinking "well, there's something I'm no good at!". Underneath this kind of thinking is an assumption that if we can't get things right at the beginning, we must not be made for that activity - so we stop, or don't even try.

This isn't true of everybody - there are some who will keep on trying. The psychologist Carol Dweck argues that there are two types of mindset - the fixed mindset, and the growth mindset. The mindset that you have could determine how you behave towards challenges and even predict how happy you are.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Making hummus from scratch

Mmm, hummus! Originally from the Middle East, hummus has gained popularity in Western countries over the last few years - probably because it's delicious, healthy, and completely vegan and gluten-free. Whether you use it as a dip (sliced raw peppers are great), a sauce, a toast topping, salad dressing or anything else you can think of, the good news is that it's easy to make at home, too.

You can buy cans of chickpeas in most supermarkets - Aldi does a can for only 37p! However, if you have dried chickpeas on hand, it's pretty easy to use them, too (this will help you avoid any preservatives used in the canning process). You WILL need to plan this around 14 hours before you actually want to eat the hummus, though! Also, you'll need a blender or food processor.

All you need:
Either 1 can of chickpeas OR 125g dried chickpeas
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp of tahini (available from health food shops or supermarkets - it's made of sesame seeds)
1 lemon
A pinch of salt
3 tbsp olive oil

1. Soak the chickpeas overnight (12 hours), with at least an inch of water covering them.

2. Drain the water and fill a saucepan with a fresh batch of water (again, 1 inch covering them). Add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Leave on a medium heat, simmering, for 90 minutes (yeah, sorry guys!) - keep checking back to make sure there's still
enough water in the pan. If not, add more, otherwise your chickpeas might start sticking to the pan and burning.

3. Throw the chickpeas, garlic, tahini and olive oil into a blender or food processor. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze its juice into the mix.

4. Blend! You may want to add water, as this will create pretty thick hummus. However, if you accidentally add too much water, you can thicken it again with chickpea flour, if you have any. Also note that leaving it in the fridge for a while will help to set it and a slightly less runny consistency.

Optional - if you want to add some exciting flavour to your hummus, add it to the blender! Ideas include sweet chilli sauce, a whole chili, turmeric, cumin, lime juice, tomatoes, coriander or mint!

Leave refrigerated and serve as you like. A lot of restaurants add a load more oil on serving, and use it as a dip for breads - mmm!

Friday, 14 August 2015

"Why Can't I Be Happy?" - The Dark Side of the Positive Thinking Movement

Be happy! Cheer up! You’ve got to strive towards happiness! As you trawl through shelves of self-help
Barbara Ehrenreich promoting her book Smile or Die
paperbacks, the message is the same: you’ve got to become happy. Happiness will make you live longer, improve your health and prospects, magically make everything better and perhaps even land you your dream job.

The pursuit of happiness has long been defined as a basic part of being human – it’s even a constitutional right. When you break it down, whether we’re trying to climb the career ladder, find a partner or fill our day with fun, we’re all striving towards the same goal – happiness. But is there a wrong way, or a wrong time, to strive for happiness? Could there be a dark side to this modern obsession with being happy?

Psychologists are starting to question whether actively chasing happiness might actually be causing us to become unhappier. Think about it; while there may be times that you wouldn’t expect to bring joy (such as the death of a loved one or when you lose your job), when things are going well but you just don’t feel right, you might find yourself asking “Why can’t I be happy?”

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The Truth About Multi-tasking

I had a little revelation the other day. Somewhere between the half-written email that I found two hours after starting it and the empty cup that I had prepared an hour ago - and completely forgotten that I'd boiled the kettle - I realised that I really need to learn to focus. When you're trying to plan a wedding, work almost full-time and set up a business from home, it can be hard to really get things done.
How often do you set out with a huge to-do list, only to find that you haven't completed any items on it by the end of the day? How often do you find that "something came up" and you completely forgot about the thing you were supposed to be doing? Do you ever walk into a room and forget why you were there in the first place? It's possible that there might be too much on your mind, and that by trying to get a lot of things done at once, you're not actually being more effective - but less.

I picked up a very interesting book the other day, called Your Brain at Work. In this lovely little book, which applies findings from neuroscience to our everyday lives (especially at the office) in a way that's easy to understand, David Rock discusses how multi-tasking might, in fact, slow us down rather than speed us up. Trying to write that email, plan your next meeting and eat your lunch at once might not make you a more efficient worker - it has the exact opposite effect. To some of you, that might not be news - but many of us have been told that multi-tasking is a skill. We think of our ability to do several things at once with pride, our colleagues and bosses seem to praise how busy we seem to be - but what if we're actually just frazzling our brains unnecessarily?

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Stop Thinking Yourself Unhappy: Reality, Perception and Attribution

Faces, or a vase?
The other day, I stumbled onto - let's say a "heated debate" online. The argument was this; one man was letting the world know that he did not believe in good intentions, that everything happened for purely selfish reasons and that all humans were fooling themselves if they thought that they cared about each other. Others argued that he needed more joy in his life, that reading negative news stories all the time would of course make him think that, that people are ultimately good and that unhappiness comes from perception, not reality.

To that last comment, he responded with "What kind of hippy bullshit is that?" - and it really got me thinking. It is part of Buddhism, I believe, that states that suffering comes from perception. What does that mean, though, in a real, modern sense? Was our friend right in claiming it as "hippy bullshit", or is it, in fact, a profound sentiment? Is the world full of bad, nasty, selfish people, or is it full of goodness and light? Well, both things are true, and that fact alone illustrates the importance of perception.

Let's say that Jill met Jack one night in a bar. They really hit it off, shared a few cocktails and then he walked her home. At the door, Jill was about to invite Jack inside, where he politely kissed her on the cheek and said he had to be up early the next morning. 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

50 Things to do Before You're 11¾: Getting Kids Back Into Nature, National Trust Style

Have you ever camped in the wild? Built a raft? Canoed down a river?

Many of us have fond memories of our childhoods, and I'm willing to bet that many of those memories involve nature in some way. Kids are naturally drawn to animals, rivers and mud - we are all born ready to learn as much as we can about our natural environment, so that we can learn how our world works (and perhaps how to survive).

Sadly, kids these days spend more time in front of TVs than in front of campfires - I saw Mark Sears from The Wild Network speak recently, and he told his audience that children today only spend 3% of their lives playing outdoors. Most time is spent sleeping, at school, or in front of a screen of some kind.

Delicious Beetroot, Pepper, Mango and Blueberry Salad with Lemon Juice

Who said salad had to be boring? Here's a delicious, fresh and fruity salad with some slightly unexpected ingredients - and better still, it doesn't need any sugar-filled dressing to make it taste good! Let your sunny days start with the Beetroot, Pepper, Mango and Blueberry Salad:

To make this particular bowl of delight, I used:
A handful of mixed salad leaves + lettuce
2 tsbp sweetcorn
1/4 a beetroot, grated up (this WILL turn your hands and grater red - beware!)
1/4 a red pepper, cut into chunks
1/4 mango, cut into chunks
A handful of blueberries
1/2 a fresh lemon, squeezed on top!

The tangy zest of the lemon, the juicy beetroot, the fresh crispness of the peppers and the sweetness of the fruit make this an exciting and delicious salad. Enjoy for breakfast, lunch or even as a starter!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Root Veg Risotto

When I received my first organic veg box from Riverford, I realised two things - one, that I didn't really know what to do with root vegetables; two, that I now had a lot of root vegetables in my house. The root vegetables in question were parsnips, carrots and Jerusalem artichokes (which I had never heard of before) - but other root vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, swedes, turnips, yams etc. These were the vegetables that my parents used to persuade me to eat, and as a result, some of the last vegetables that I came to like as an adult.

Trying to find a recipe more interesting than stew (which was my go-to thought for root veg), I came up with the Root Veg Risotto:

Filling, tasty and full of goodess (for example - carrots are great for your eyesight, and are thought to be great for your skin, gums and to prevent a lot of diseases), the risotto perhaps isn't the most obvious use of root vegetables... but after trawling around on the net for a while and taking inspiration from various recipe pages, it was what I ended up with - and everyone* enjoyed it!
(*Myself, my husband and one friend who came over for dinner)

To serve 4, you'll need:
1 carrot
1 parsnip
Half a sweet potato
2 Jerusalem artichokes
2 cloves of garlic
Vegetable stock cube (or just a bunch of herbs/spices)
Brown rice (2-3 handfuls per person)
A pinch of coriander
A drizzle of honey
1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds
Optional: A splash of white wine, a little grated cheese

1) Peel your carrot, sweet potato, parsnip and Jerusalem artichokes. Cut them into little cubes or, for a bit of variety, continue peeling and use thin strips of the vegetables rather than chunks.

2) Place the chopped vegetables onto a foil tray and drizzle in olive oil. Place in an oven at around 170C (338 F) for 20 minutes or so. To check if they're ready, prod the sweet potato with a sharp knife. If the knife sinks through without resistance, the vegetables are ready.

3) While the vegetables are in the oven, bring your rice to the boil and leave to simmer for as long as the instructions state. I measure the rice in handfuls as I find that 2-3 are enough for one person, however you are free to make as much or as little as you like!

4) Sprinkle the stock cube into the boiling water/rice pan while it's simmering.

5) Once the veg is ready, heat some oil on a frying pan. Add some garlic (crushed or finely chopped). You could also add some onion or shallots here - it would be nice! I actually added cherry tomatoes, but only because they were going off in my fridge.

6) Drizzle some honey into the frying pan with the vegetables and stir.

7) Drain the rice and pour into the frying pan with all the vegetables. Add the coriander and any other herbs and spices you may feel compelled to add.

8) Optional - if you're feeling a bit fancy, add a splash of white wine and/or a little grated cheese into the mix!

9) Serve and enjoy!

I made it a second time, adding sundried tomatoes and spring greens. To be honest, you can add whatever you want in here - risotto is a great way to use up those vegetables that might be going off!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Mindfulness in Nature Workshop and Seminar, March 14th!

On the 14th of March I'm running a workshop and seminar about the value of spending mindful time in nature in Lifeways Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Both Mindfulness and spending time in nature have been shown to reduce stress, increase feelings of wellbeing and meaning in life, improve health and increase energy. People who have spent a lot of time in nature often say that it was one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.

These days, people spend around 90% of their lives indoors, often staring at a screen of some form. This is not the way we evolved. Too much sitting, too many screens, too much time indoors makes us feel ill, disconnected and unhappy. 

In my workshop, I hope to show you some of the science behind the benefits of spending time in nature. I also plan to do some basic mindfulness exercises, then to go into the Lifeways garden (which is beautiful) and practice some mindfulness in nature, so you can begin to see for yourself how this simple practice can transform you.

We are at a point of crisis, ecologically - we are living beyond our means as a planet and, according to around 97% of scientists who contributed to the International Panel on Climate Change report (2014) we need to act fact to change our ways if we want to survive. Yet, if we don't truly and deeply care for nature, or understand it, we can't be expected to make those changes. We will also talk about the implications of this and how we might be able to use mindfulness in nature as a tool to bring about positive changes in how people interact with the environment.

Also, its free! Come along! 

If you don't know where Lifeways is, check out this map! You can get to Stratford-upon-Avon by train from London Marylebone or Birmingham quite easily, but please contact me if you're not sure.

Crispy Kale Chips with Vegan Cheese

Kale. I never really knew what it was, but I knew that it was good for you. Whenever I looked up healthy,
clean recipes or vegan food, kale would pop up. In salads. In smoothies. Everywhere. I'd never really seen it before, and all I really knew about it was that it was healthy and, that if I wanted to get on the "healthy" bandwagon, I'd have to try it sooner or later.

After Christina used it in a smoothie and in a delicious quinoa dish  I figured it was time for to finally give in.
So... I bought a bag from Tesco for £1. It's like a dry, crispy lettuce. I threw it in with some pasta, peppers and pasata for a tasty dinnertime snack, and it was all right.

Still hungry, I remembered that one of my prettiest recipe books - Honestly Healthy - had a recipe for "cheesy" kale chips. This book tends to be pretty complicated, but when I looked at the recipe I saw that it mostly involved coating kale in some kind of cheese substitute and leaving them in the oven for a while (it also mentioned a "dehydrator", but I figured an oven would do for most of us). It just so happened that the Lemon Cashew Basil "cheese" that I'd just made was pretty close to what was called for, so I experimented and was greeted with a delicious snack.

Be warned... they're really moreish! The good news is, they're much healthier than Pringles...

You'll need:
Half a bag of kale (or however much you want, really)
2 tbsp of Lemon Cashew Basil cheese

1. Spread the kale out on a baking tray. If using foil, use the non-shiny side!

2. Rub the "cheese" onto the kale until it's all coated.

3. Leave in a fan over on the lowest heat for 30-45 minutes, or until the kale is sufficiently crispy.

It reminded me a little of the crispy seaweed that you can get at Chinese restaurants. Either way, this snack was so good I made a second portion!