Life is crazy. But if you can run the New York marathon, raise identical twins as a single mum, and write best-selling business books, you must be doing something right. Hello Helen Nicholson … who tells us how to stay sane in insane times.
Helen Nicholson has done a couple of insane things in her life. ‘Leaving Dubai with my two-year-old twins, Caitlyn and Sabrina, and returning to SA on my own’ was, she says, the most insane decision she made. She’d been living in the Middle East for five years where she developed and sold her own successful business. ‘Everyone told me I was mad to return to SA as a single mum. But I knew in my heart of hearts it was the right thing to do, and it’s singularly the best decision I ever made in my life. I wasn’t cut out to be an expat wife!’
And one of the most sane? That must surely be living with her husband, Michael, in a double story house … she lives downstairs, he lives upstairs. Long story short … they had both been married before, were together for around eight years and wanted to commit, but in a neutral space. They have different tastes in music, furniture, books; she’s in a deep sleep by 9pm while he’s more restless. So there are spaces where they are together … they meditate on the upstairs deck in the morning and have drinks there after work, and others completely apart, like Helen’s dressing room, since she prefers getting ready alone.
They always eat and entertain together, take turns to cook, and have tea in bed in the morning after they’ve let out the dogs – two dachshunds Ollie and Dixie and Ellie, the golden retriever. But when Michael wants to listen to talk shows on the radio – which he does all day long! – he does in his domain, upstairs.
Meanwhile Helen is running her leadership development business – The Networking Company. Known by her clients as The Networking Queen, she began her career as an accountant and has evolved into the founder and CEO – Chief Excitement Officer – of the consultancy, which has trained more than 12 000 people worldwide on the so-called soft skills. Skills like the productivity and mindset-enhancing benefits of mindfulness … essential skills that take people’s careers to the next level.
Between all that, she’s run the New York marathon, seen her one daughter, Sabrina, head off to live and work in London, and welcomed twin Caitlyn into the company, where she works alongside mum.
Helen’s also published two best-selling business books, with a third released this month. After the loss, uncertainty and turbulence of the past two years, the book Mindfulness: How to Stay Sane in an Insane World is about making mindfulness easy and accessible to all. Using her own business and personal lessons to provide a valuable, practical approach on not just how to cope, but how to thrive in today’s world, Helen unpacks how to incorporate intentional strategic recovery into your day. It provides uncomplicated insight into the neuroscience behind mindfulness, movement and sleep. She also explains how to ‘sleep’ your way to the top, how to practically ‘do’ mindfulness amidst a busy life and how to deal with your change dragons (issues you need to face in order to reach your full potential). Furthermore, the book shares insight into the mindfulness and resilience toolkit that tech companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and LinkedIn are equipping their teams with to ensure that they remain future-fit and relevant.
You’ll find Mindfulness: How to Stay Sane in an Insane World for R350 at Exclusive Books or as an ebook on thenetworkingcompany.co.za
Helen shares some stay-sane tips …
So. How do you stay sane in an insane world? Here are Helen’s top 10 tips.
- Have a recovery full stop at the end of each day e.g. Pack your laptop away out of sight at 5pm.
- Start your morning mindfully with your hot drink, and don’t switch your phone on until you’ve finished your coffee/tea.
- If you’re working from home, go outside at least twice during the day to get some sun on your face, and eat lunch outside.
- Write down five things you’re grateful for before you go to bed, even if it’s ‘I’m grateful this day is over’.
- Before you switch on your phone in the morning after your coffee, do 4:7:8 breathing for five mins. Breathe in through your nose to the count of four, hold your breath to the count of seven and then exhale through your mouth for the count of eight. Do this at least 10 times.
- Stop multi-tasking. Do one thing well at a time. It makes you happier and more productive.
- Have a digital detox once a week over the weekend. Switch off your phone and place it in a drawer. Start off with an hour and build up.
- Limit social media consumption and never comment on a post when you’re feeling annoyed or irritated.
- When you have a meal at a table with your family or friends, make sure your phone is out of sight. Research shows that even seeing your phone on a table is a major distraction.
- Sleep your way to the top! Take two slow-release magnesium tablets before you go to bed and have an Epsom salts bath. It helps relax your body so you sleep better.
… and essential skills
Ten skills to be more mindful. You need to …
- Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
- Access news at a high level. Don’t let negativity consume you.
- Diarise activities that give you joy e.g. hiking, art or dancing.
- Use airplane mode on your phone regularly … be the Master, not the Slave to technology.
- Do deep-focused work for at least 90 mins every day, where you switch off your phone and email notifications.
- Schedule breaks throughout the year at the beginning of the year, or preferably the year before.
- Pay for as many of those breaks the year before, so you commit to them.
- Find recovery places to go out of town where there is no signal.
- Limit social media to an hour a day.
- Realise that ‘no one is coming‘ to save you. You are the one you’ve been waiting for.