You’re Never Too Old For A Gold Star

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You’re Never Too Old For A Gold Star

Remember getting a sticker for doing a good job on your homework at school? Or the star-chart that hung in the classroom with everyone’s name across a calendar and good deeds accomplished? Points for being kind, points for bringing a healthy lunch to school. Basically easy, quick wins that were acknowledged and rewarded and made you feel good and more importantly encouraged positive behavior.

So what happened to that star-chart? We grew up and the star-chart got replaced with hardcore KPIs, sales targets, grueling reports and deadlines to meet.

I say we bring it back!

We’re fastidious when it comes to measuring and tracking the important milestones for our work life, but we rarely pay any attention to how we’re tracking in the rest of our lives. It’s so easy to get carried away with do do do – marketing plans, sales targets, social media… But when did you last check in with how you are being and feeling on an everyday basis?

Checking in with that stuff is guaranteed to set you up for success in both your work and personal life. It’s proven that when you are flourishing, there is a knock-on effect into all areas of you life.

Lately, I’ve been playing with the star-chart idea, and it’s working a treat. I still have all my adult milestones (marketing plan, sales targets etc) but I also have daily and weekly ‘being’ milestones that make me feel human and help me stay grounded and focused on what matters most – enjoying my life.

I borrowed some inspiration from Malika Chopra’s (author of Living with Intent), ‘Balance Wheel’  to help me think about the areas of my life that deserve constant attention in order to help me feel and be my best everyday.  

For instance, Intellectual Stimulation – what did I learn today that was fascinating? (even if it was a tiny factoid from a conversation or newsfeed). What’s that, I had a green smoothie for breakfast – point for nutrition!

Sooner rather than later just like the classroom, your points stack up and it’s addictive. You’ll want to keep going and see how many you can add. REMEMBER- this isn’t another to-do list, but a tracking device to help you visually see where you are flourishing and where you can focus some more of your energy.

Give it a go:

1. Find a space on your wall that you can create your personal balance wheel.

2. Create your life buckets – use Malika’s or create your own! Brainstorm some simple actions you can take in each bucket. In nutrition – could you make your lunch and take it to work? Relationships – is there a friend you could reach out to this week? Creativity and Play – how could you inject some fun into your workplace or work routine this week?

3. Check-in each week and distribute the gold star to the areas you’ve hit. In the beginning, do it daily so you can build momentum from the feel good dopamine hit your brain gets every time you complete a bucket. (You can use a gold star, post-it, smiley face – whatever floats your boat and makes you feel all giddy like a 5 year old getting a prize).

Measuring how balanced you are each week:

1-2 buckets with gold stars: struggling– ask yourself what needs to shift in your life NOW so you can start feeling better? Where are you spending most of your time? How could you start to redistribute some of that to other neglected areas of your life?

3-4 buckets with gold stars: surviving- what else could you do to get that number higher?

5-7 buckets with gold stars: thriving - celebrate and maintain that positive outlook! What can you do to ensure you keep it up next week?

Tip – make it easy to win! This isn’t about being an overachiever and going over the top. It’s about making a few simple shifts in your daily routine to help you feel more well rounded and balanced. 

And, just like at school, when you reach a certain amount of points – reward yourself. Celebrate with something that makes you feel great – a massage, a fancy dinner out or simply give yourself another star. And thus the gratuitous cycle continues.












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How Filthy is Your Mind?


How Filthy is Your Mind?

Have you ever stopped to consider how filthy your mind actually is? Not that kinda filthy…I’m talking about the backlog of junk you’re still holding onto.  The way that guy on the subway knocked you this morning. The email you got from your boss yesterday. The argument you had with your sister last month. Rest assured it’s there. Collecting and calcifying into a rotting pile in your subconscious mind and hiding under the label “deal with this later”.  A bit like NYC’s melting snow this Spring.  All looks pure and pristine on the surface until the ice starts melting and you see the residual grit and grim of 5 months worth of trash. Walking down the sidewalk is like an archeological discovery of ‘what lies beneath’ and a brutal return to reality. Seriously, it’s scary what you’ll find.

We’re pretty fastidious when it comes to bodily hygiene, most of us averaging 1-2 showers a day. Yet when was the last time you gave your mind a proper scrub? And be honest – not with a bottle of vino but actually sitting still, in silence for more than several seconds?

Yes, I’m talking about meditation. That word that yogis, mystics and gurus have been espousing for centuries. That word that probably pops up in your newsfeed at least once a week with the latest scientific studies behind why it’s so important. That pesky thing that you know you should get around to doing, but it can just wait till you’ve got life sorted, right?

I don’t need to convince you of the merits of meditation. The list of benefits is endless and the science behind why it is important is ever growing – from boosting happiness, health, improving decision making, relationships…pretty much the antidote to everything.

So if we know it matters, why don’t we do it? And more importantly, how can we start doing it?

Here’s the secret….

Stop waiting for the right time to meditate. For you to be in the right state of mind. For the right teacher to teach you. For the bubble bath. For a quiet night in. It’s never going to happen and you know it.

All you need to do is just decide to start. Today.

“But I’m not good at meditating” – excuse me, since when did we start critiquing ourselves on our ability to sit and breath? Two skills we are all born knowing how to do. And yet, for some reason, sitting still in silence for more than 5 minutes seems like the most difficult thing in the world to do. Or something we have to be highly trained in, an evolved soul or sitting under a mango tree in India in order to be doing it properly.

You don’t need any of that. All you need is to begin. And here are 3 ways you can:

1) Get in the habit

5 mins. Can you give me 5 mins? Wake-up and before you pick-up your phone, before you do anything, sit, stand, or lie down (as long as you stay awake) and do this:

  1. Inhale
  2. Exhale
  3. Repeat

No need to force your breath or critique yourself. No need to worry about lotus position or the right finger posture. Just breathe. That’s it.

2) Observe Your Mind

Part of the anxiety towards approaching meditation can be the total bombardment of our thoughts. We’re told to ’Think of Nothing’. So our mind goes something like this: “think of nothing, think of nothing…but what is ‘nothing’?” And suddenly our mind is on a wild goose chase following all sorts of weird and scary thoughts. And then we get mad. “Why can’t I do the most basic thing in the world? I hate this. I feel more stressed out than when I began.” And just like that, we decide that meditation is not for us. Sound familiar?

But instead of forcing yourself to think of nothing (a difficult and a fruitless endeavor),  noodle on this – According to Zen philosophy, you have two minds. The ’Thinking Mind’ the part that is constantly chattering and never stops.  And then there is the ‘Observing Mind’. That’s the part that is not the thought, but the part that goes “wow, I am thinking all these weird and wonderful thoughts”.  In our daily grind, we’ve fused these two minds together. But when we can separate them, that changes everything.

In meditation, we’re going for the ‘Observing Mind’.  That’s the sweet spot of being able to separate yourself from being the thought and getting caught up in it, versus being able to just notice that it’s happening. It’s a bit like if I said don’t think of a red rabbit. Your thinking mind probably just thought of a red rabbit. But it was your observing mind that observed you thinking of a red rabbit. Your mind watching your mind.

Observing your thoughts, rather than being attached to those thoughts is the hairline difference that makes all the difference.  The observing mind allows us to do just that – observe and simply separate ourselves from the thought.

So focusing less on having an empty mind and more on observing whatever comes up and accepting that you have that thought, will allow them to surface and disappear as quickly as they arrived.  Less forcing, more observing.

3) Get some guidance

Sometimes it’s helpful to have a coach to guide you through the motions initially. I recommend downloading an app – I like Smiling Mind or Breathe that give you simple 5-20 minute mediations. Plus – they’ve gamified it. The more you do it, the more points you get. Who doesn’t love a sticker after a job well done?

And a final word for my achievement junkies out there whose internal PA is saying “I’m not doing anything. I should be doing something.” Don’t take it from me, take it from science. You are doing more than you could imagine by not doing anything. Studies in neuroplasticity have shown that 5 mins of sitting still can rewire your brain. Boom.

- Anika


What If Success Was Only 20 Seconds Away?


What If Success Was Only 20 Seconds Away?

Many of you resolutely decided to change something when 2015 started. “I will lose these 5 pounds,” “I will run 3 miles everyday,” “I will learn a new language this year”…but as we start the second month of the year, that sense of hope and optimism is slowly starting to dissolve like a distant memory. Invariably, we’ll find ourselves a few months down the line still at the starting gate, without a single wheel in motion. Then we play the depressing game: “If only I had started 3 months ago… I would be able to speak basic Spanish” or ” if I had just emailed one new person a week I would have 12 new contacts instead of zero”. That dose of rude reality often triggers a spiral of self-loathing and the pain either gets our butt moving to play catch-up or you fall off the bandwagon completely and lose all hope (usually the latter).

Small steps lead to big things.

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor talks about the path of least resistance and how we can get going and keep going with the intentions we set ourselves. He explains that we often spend our time doing the things that take the least effort (“passive leisure” activities like the Internet or TV) rather than engaging in activities that we know we’ll love, but that take effort (“active leisure” activities like painting, bike riding, cooking). Active leisure takes more activation energy to get started.

Studies have shown that if we make it easy to begin “active leisure” activities in under 20 seconds, we lower the barrier to starting and give our limited reserve of willpower a helping hand. Often, it is the simple act of starting the activity that is the trickiest hurdle to overcome. Think about when your alarm goes off at 7am and you will yourself to get up and go to the gym. The thought of going seems unbearable, but once you’re up, dressed and there, doing the workout doesn’t seem as difficult.

On the flip-side, if you’re trying to get rid of an addictive behavior – say checking your Instagram for the 15th time in a day, you may want to try boosting the activation energy required by making it a harder activity to begin. I tried this little experiment by burying Instagram inside multiple folders and then placed it on the back menu page of my iPhone. I found that it took more effort (activation energy) to open it than when it’s staring you in the face every time you turn your phone on. After a few days, I had forgotten it was there and found myself filling in the time with more productive things.

So when it comes to those positive habits you resolved to form at the new year, set your intentions and more importantly set yourself up to succeed. Still trying to lose the extra Christmas pounds? Sign-up for your spin class the night before so that backing out last minute means cash down the drain. Want to get serious about learning to invest this year? Got a few books to tick off your reading list? Pre-load your iPhone with podcasts or audiobooks before your morning commute. The more you can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for your desired actions, the more you enhance your ability to jump-start positive change.

Feeling inspired to kickstart a new habit? – quick, harness that energy. You’ve got 20 seconds, go!

- Anika


How to Hustle Gracefully

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How to Hustle Gracefully

The word ‘hustle' is getting a lot of airtime these days. It’s one of those things all wildly ambitious entrepreneurs and movers and shakers seem to be good at doing on a daily basis. "Don’t wait for dreams to happen, hustle hustle hustle,” the sentiment goes. But living in a busy city that is already so hustle and bustle…I don’t know about you, but the thought of more hustle on-top of the hustle is…exhausting. I’ve already got enough on my to-do list without worrying about whether I am ticking more stuff off, ‘shaking those trees’ and increasing my social media following.  

I think that perhaps the word hustle just needs to meet its[AP1]  match. Alone, it is a bit manic and slightly obsessive. But, when you couple it with the word ‘graceful’, the whole dynamic changes. Graceful hustle. How does that make you feel? A little less hectic, right? And slightly counterintuitive.

Let me explain.

By graceful, I mean less pushing, less controlling, less balls in the air and soaring stress levels when things don’t land as we want. I’m talking about a graceful hustle that is about taking guided action. It’s about gaining momentum toward something that feels right. Something attuned to who we are and who we want to become. It’s not about moving mountains in one day, but taking focused,  calm, intentional action. Because ironically when we slow down and take a moment to refocus on what we actually want, the path becomes clearer and the momentum accelerates. 

I learned this recently while starting a business of my own. You can’t hustle your energy in a million different directions. Not only does your energy become diluted, you also don’t get the results we want.   

As an individual, entrepreneur or company, try embracing this concept - less spinning wheels and more connection to what is truly important. Prioritize what matters and let go of the stuff that isn’t mission-critical. By freeing ourselves of our endless to do lists and pressure to accomplish so much, we free ourselves. And in that freedom we find more creativity and the ability to stay in an inspired place that leads to meaningful results. 

Here are my favorite tips to help you hustle gracefully:

1) Bookend your day.

Block out morning and evening, even if it’s only 20 minutes, just to do you. That means anything creative, spiritual or physical that energizes you and helps reconnect you with yourself. You’ll naturally draw energy from an inspired place for the rest of the day, rather than allowing all your energy to go into everything else but you.

2) Make it visual.

I like to wake-up and remind myself of who I am becoming before the day decides for me. Get creative and design yourself a mood board with images of with what’s important to you. It will help ground you when you feel overwhelmed by the day’s perceived challenges.

3) Reality Check.

We’re all going to the grave, so you may as well do the stuff that makes you happy. This is a slightly morbid statement, but one of my mentors reminded me of it the other day. I find it actually helps get your head out of the daily minutia and focused on completing what really matters.

Happy hustling!

- Anika 



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100 Meaningful Days


100 Meaningful Days

I wondered what this #100happydays that kept appearing in my Instagram feed was all about. Was it another shameless self-promotion of what fabulous lives people are pretending to live 24/7? I checked it out, and happily (no pun intended) it seemed well intentioned.  A self-professed happy Swiss man, Dmitry Golubnichy, embarked on a project to see how happy people could be, by submitting a photo each day (either via social media or privately) of something in their lives that made them happy. The photo is for them, by them and under no circumstances are you to use it for social bragging. It seems harmless and if anything, a brilliant idea to train your brain to find happiness in the every day things versus just those once in a blue moon milestone events - weddings, graduation, promotion etc.[1]

I signed up for the challenge. But something did and still does not sit right with me. Despite how well-intentioned the challenge is, I think there's a missing piece to the puzzle and perhaps speaks to the whopping 71% of people who signed up but failed to follow-through on the 100 days, due to lack of 'time'. I don't think it's a 'time' issue we've got on our hands. It's a wider issue surrounding the business of being happy.  What it means to be happy is tripping folks up.

My gripe is that there is a perception (exacerbated through social media) that feeling anything but 'happy' means you're failing. Sure it's easy to post the good times when you're feeling on-top of the world - cupcakes, the cute dog on the sidewalk, friends, fabulous parties and holidays.  I'm naturally an optimistic person. The glass is always half full but there are times when you just have the blues or aren’t so jazzed about everything in your life …it's called being a regular human being. And when times aren't so rosy, perhaps the social calendar is not jam packed, things are stressful at work, there's a distinct lack of airtime for those "not-so glamorous" emotions. So in the 100 day challenge, have an off day where you're not feeling so great and you may struggle to post a picture of something that made you smile or is on par with societal standards of happiness. Or if you do post, you fall into the trap of the old 'crop, filter and hashtag #awesome'  to cover up the real emotional state you're truly in.

Despite what people and society may think and tell us about happiness though- studies have shown that feeling good is not enough. People need meaning to thrive.

We've known for a while that happiness significantly contributes to our health. There's a bounty of information on this. However, what type of happiness it is can make all the difference in the long run.

There's been some fascinating studies conducted recently on how different types of happiness affect the body at the cellular level. Scientists have found that those who are happy but possess little to no sense of meaning in their lives 'just here for the party' so to speak, have the same gene expression patterns as people who are responding to and enduring chronic adversity. Wait! What?! Even if you are having a great time, your body may not be in sync with that?[2]

Let’s dissect that a bit more.

It means that it takes more than just 'hedonic' well-being - pleasure seeking and self-gratification and more 'eudaimonic' well-being - doing good and following your life's purpose, to truly be happy and for your health to be positively affected. While both types of happiness correlate with lower depression levels, only those with eudaimonic happiness - leading a life full of purpose and meaning seems to protect health at the cellular level. And in the case of our online challenge, this kind of eudaimonic happiness may give us the energy to complete the challenge and not fizzle out.

Does this mean we need to find meaning in every little thing we do, or give up on hedonic pleasures that make us feel good? (no more LOLcats, frolicking llamas?!) Not at all! But according to scientists, when hedonic pursuits start to outweigh eudaimonic pursuits, our immune systems gear up for the same immune threats we'd encounter if we were lonely or otherwise socially isolated. This doesn't mean giving up on things that make you smile, but when you can team up those pleasure seeking activities with more purpose and altruistic efforts like helping others, nurturing friendships and throwing ourselves into creative projects that nourish our soul, the effects on our health can be profound.

So, seems we may have had it all back-to-front. Instead of a lifetime chasing happiness, start by creating a meaningful life. One that is beyond a self-driven pursuit to feel good and instead focused on finding joy and meaning in projects and friendships that bring happiness as a byproduct. In the words of the great philosopher John Stuart Mill, Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.”

Let's take on the 100happyday challenge with one caveat, make sure your efforts are driven by meaningful things to you and it might be more sustainable and the effects, more satisfying.

p.s youtube frolicking llama after reading this for some harmless hedonic pleasure!

- Anika


[1] 100 Happy Days

[2] Jill Suttie, Psy.D. ‘A Healthier Kind of Happiness’, Greater Good, (published online September 10, 2013),