Breathe News

strengths profile assessment

Find out more about your strengths - using strengths profile from Cappfinity

Playing to our strengths at work - using strengths profile to find the gold at work

We hear this a lot at work and on the playing field  – “make sure everyone is playing to their strengths”. But the reality is that this often fails to happen. Why?
In this newsletter I’ll explore the rationale for building a strengths-based work culture and introduce one of the world’s best strengths assessment tools – strength finder.

People don't know their strengths – research suggests that 70% of us find it challenging to articulate where our strengths lie.
People don't mean it – in our appraisal catch-ups, we focus on weaknesses. We then send people on a training course to help them work on these areas – turning something they are weak in into mediocre.  
People don't understand the business case for investing in strengths rather than improving people's weaknesses – a global study by the Corporate Leadership Council of nearly 20,000 people found that when people were encouraged by their managers to focus on their strengths, their performance rose by 36%. Conversely, performance dropped by 27% when they concentrated on their weaknesses.
Feedback is scary – "can I give you some feedback?" – perhaps some of the most threatening words in the English language! This view would change if we also got into the habit of giving regular feedback which praised our colleagues' strengths
It's weird to talk about things that go well at work – "Too American, so happy clappy". Research from Gallup and other organisations is clear – regular, authentic strengths-based feedback, engages teams and makes them more effective. It makes people more productive, creative, and energised. They learn faster, perform better, enjoy their roles more, have greater levels of wellbeing and bring their best selves to work.
Focusing on strengths gets us nowhere – Focusing on strengths does not mean we ignore weaknesses. On the contrary, we must understand weaknesses to invest our time in activities that energise us. Old school management directed attention to investing time in improving areas we are weak in – to bring these up to mediocre. A more effective approach is to turn our strengths into super strengths, navigate our careers away from areas we are weak in and seek support in those areas from colleagues.

In the following, I'll share information about how you can better identify your strengths and help build a strengths-based culture in your team.

My journey into strengths and how you can use them with your team

I took a masters degree in applied positive psychology in 2008 at the University of East London – a long time before it was the go-to area for leadership training. And I was fortunate to be invited by Dr Alex Linley from the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) to participate in a new strengths program for coaches called Realise Two.  
Realise Two became, alongside the Gallup strengths finder assessment and coaching, the world's premier strengths-based workplace tool – it's now called Strengths Profile. And I continued this training with Sue Langley in Australia.

Alex Linley defines strength as: 

"a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance."

The key to this definition is energy – does using a particular workplace strength energise you or deplete your reserves? For example, you could be a great organiser and planner but doing those things disengage you. Perhaps your true authentic strengths lie in building rapport with new clients and deepening relationships. Strength's profile is a unique strengths tool in that it helps us identify areas of work we should be dialling up and where we should be reigning in our energies.
Your strengths profiling and coaching
Strengths profiling online assessment takes about twenty minutes to complete. It provides a unique understanding of how you relate to 60 strengths, explored through three dimensions:
•          Performance - how well do you do it?
•          Energy - how good do you feel when doing it? How much energy do you gain?
•          Use - how often do you do it? In which situations?
From this assessment, a coaching profile covers four areas:

  • Realised strengths - the things you do well, regularly use at work, and give you a buzz - do more but use wisely.
  • Learned behaviours - the things you are good at but leave you feeling depleted if used too often - do less of and use the support of your team.
  • Weaknesses - the things you perform poorly, dislike doing and drain your energy – if possible, avoid and explore how to address this with support from the team
  • Unrealised the strengths - the gold! The things you are great at love to do but don't use much in your current role.

Booking strengths coaching session for 2023
To learn more about taking the assessment or using the assessment with your team in 2023, contact me today.

Andy Roberts MAPP


learning meditation

November wellbeing newsletter  - How can meditation help with handling stress?

I've just returned from seven days on a predominantly silent meditation retreat. The week's focus was exploring one of the Buddha's pieces of training called Anapanasati. Anapana means the act of breathing in and breathing out. And sati means "with" mindfulness. 

The training also focussed on the concept of impermanence, change and agility. To get a handle on impermanence, consider the entire lifespan of a Mayfly is 24 hours or reflect on the length of time British Prime Ministers spend in office.

Over the last twenty years, I've been on many similar retreats, and each time I come away refreshed and learning a new insight into how to apply mindfulness to modern challenges.  

I appreciate my great fortune and luck in being able to take the time to do these things. Many of my friends, colleagues and clients are so time-poor, lack the resources or have home and work commitments that stretch themselves to the limit and beyond. And many other people are suffering in the face of a cost-of-living crisis, and neither have the time, money, ability or inclination to step back and pause. 

The program was south of Sydney in the beautiful national park. These were the highlights (I  imagine that for many of you, this would be your definition of hell!):

-           No phones, no internet for a week

-           Most of the week spent in total silence

-           Seven hours per day of guided meditations

-           Vegan food

I've probably lost a few people at that point! I can imagine you have some questions: 

  • "Why would you take your intention inside yourself for so long. Isn't it a bit self-centred"?
  • "Why would you put yourself through such a challenge? The world is here to be enjoyed."
  • "What's the point of focussing on your breathing? We all do it; it's natural."
  • "It's self-centred - how does it help others if you feel calm and Zen-like?"


Watch the breath


Although your breath flows in and out in its own sweet way, our breathing pattern changes depending on our emotional, physical and energy landscape. For example, when we notice we’ve made a significant error in a report, our cheeks might become flushed, and our breathing becomes faster and jagged.

Lengthen the breath


The first part of anapanasati training is observing and deepening the breath. How might you do that at work? For example, before a meeting, you could take a few seconds to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, imagining that you are breathing out slowly through a straw. Then, feel the breath moving against your lips. 


Or try this - place a hand on your abdomen and imagine there is a ball in that place. As you breathe in, the ball gets bigger and bigger, rising to your neck and shoulders. And then completely empty the lungs slowly.   Imagine you are about to pitch to a new client and feel nervous. Ground yourself by feeling the back of your legs on the ground and your feet on the floor, and then practice deepening your breath.


Do these things habitually - not just when you feel stressed. For example, get into a habit of grounding yourself with a breath before starting any new conversation with a colleague. And as you add a small circuit breaker, develop some positive internal self-talk – “I breathe in. I breathe out. I’m here to listen to Jon”, etc.


Use the breath to own your emotions


Next, use the breath to explore the sensations in your body. For example, as you breathe, you might notice that you feel tense in your abdomen or shoulders. Deliberately choose to use the breath to soften the sensations you are feeling. You might use more positive self-talk such as, “Anxiety is here. It’s ok to feel these things. Anybody else would feel the same way if they had to talk to senior executives”, etc.


Accurate labelling of your emotions coupled with physical activity, such as deepening the breath and having a positive internal kindly voice, help us understand and navigate our emotions. Notice I used the term “anxiety is here” rather than “ I am anxious”. The first term is transitory and impermanent. The second is rigid and inaccurately and detrimentally locks permanency to our emotional states.”


Get into the habit of accurate emotional labelling before meetings. It will help you step back and step up and connect with your colleagues.


Returning to the questions


“Why you would take your intention inside yourself for so long. Isn’t it a bit self-centred”?


Research by Amish Jha, Richard Davidson and other neuroscientists point to significant improvements in people’s abilities and behaviours with just 10 to 15 minutes of meditation a day, resulting in progress in the following areas: focus, ability to handle pain and stress and emotional agility.


However, a trait like change to our wellbeing and behaviours takes time. Longer immersive meditation retreats result in profound changes in how people respond to stress. Daily meditation practice, intensive, immersive retreats and applying mindfulness in everyday workplace routines result in profound benefits. People become more resilient, calmer, and optimistic, become better listeners and have better self-awareness about their emotional triggers, strengths, and weaknesses.


Key takeaway - do a little every day. Set a timer and meditate on the breath for at least 10 minutes a day. And learn to embed mindfulness at work and home by talking mini two second timeouts. 



“Why would you put yourself through such a challenge? The world is here to be enjoyed.”


There is no doubt that going on these courses is challenging. At the start, I missed home, felt guilty about all the work I was missing and was anxious about the emails piling up.


But quite quickly, my mind and body relaxed, and with that space, I experienced profound creative insights into my home and work life. I don’t think these valuable gifts would have happened in an average working week.


And denying myself my regular diet, friends and family and so on made me appreciate those things so much. During the week, I experienced deep and intense moments of love and gratitude for the people in my life. A week of solitude has made me feel more joyful and connected to my job and the people I love. If we continue to satiate our desires, we can become bored and restless for new things rather than truly appreciating what we have already.


Key takeaway - set yourself a goal which is tough, causes you some discomfort, connects you to others and helps you learn some new skills. And stick to the program. See it out. It’s the tough things which are often the most valuable.

“What’s the point of focussing on your breathing? We all do it, it’s natural”

Our body reacts to changes to mental stimuli – when we feel stressed, our breathing pattern changes, and we may become aware of other sensations, such as heat or tightness in the chest. Likewise, when we feel connected to a colleague and overcome a challenge together, our bodies pattern differently; we trust each other, our oxytocin levels rise, and we feel soothed by each other’s company.  

Our minds, the neural circuitry of our brains, our bodies, and the people around us constantly listen and affect each other in a dance of awareness. For example, the tone of voice you speak to me alerts me to a potential threat or soothing. If you are harsh, my body may react in a fight-flight response to defend myself from a potential threat. But, on the other hand, when you speak calmly and make soft eye contact, I feel held, and my mind, brain and body feel assured and connected.

Our breathing and the sensations we feel in our body are excellent barometers of our wellbeing, level of interpersonal trust and effectiveness. For example, turning your attention to your breathing might reveal that a throwaway comment by a colleague has angered you. When you practise some breathing techniques, as I mentioned earlier, you connect the awareness of the physical reaction (your breath shortens) and the stimulating event (a comment that you perceived as rude). As you actively engage in deeper and slower breathing, you engage the parasympathetic rest and restore response. This has many advantages, including:

You can engage in top-down logical rather than emotionally reactive bottom-up thinking – this helps you consider the bigger picture, what is within your area of control and how best to respond to a colleague.

Rest and restore enables our brains to engage in deep critical thinking and helps us be more creative – in rest and restore, the brain makes fantastic tangential connections and perceives problems through fresh filters. In fight-flight, our brains focus on our immediate tasks and threats.

Applying a self-soothing breathing technique at a pinch point enables you to connect the outcome (my body feels stressed) to the activating event (my colleague often speaks abruptly when he is in that situation) – which can build wisdom and insight. For example, you might have an aha moment such as, “wow, when my colleague feels out of their depth, they seem to lash out. I’ve over-personalised their behaviour and have reacted badly to this in the past. What can I do to help them?”

Practising mindfulness of the breath attunes your attention to become more aware of the connections between mind, brain, body and our interactions with our environment. And practice leads to greater self-awareness and deepens our ability to connect wisely with colleagues and friends.

Key takeaway – listen to your breath and your body and have a deliberate intention to be kind to yourself. “My body is reacting because I feel threatened. That’s ok, its normal. I’ve got some tools to learn more about that which help me set strong boundaries, build self-compassion and connect with people.”

“It’s self-centred – how does it help others if you feel calm and Zen like?”

Being a coach, workshop facilitator, and business owner mean spending a lot of time listening. Deep listening can be energising, stimulating as well as tiring. However, listening well requires practice. And it starts with listening to ourselves.

People use my services for many reasons, but often it’s down to experiencing uncertainty about how to proceed and make a decision, time pressure and a feeling of tightness and constriction. 

Creating space inside helps us feel more open to change and possibility. If I feel tight, stressed and constrained, that rubs off on my clients. One of our jobs as leaders, colleagues and friends is to help others feel space, and we can do that by cultivating more space in ourselves.

Key takeaway – self-care at work is not just a "nice to have" but a "must have". I started this article by saying that I'm lucky. A parent with three kids and a demanding leadership role would rightly scoff at the idea of taking time for themselves to build space inside. Mindfulness is not a panacea for fixing all the dysfunctionality of a modern workplace. Still, it does provide a 2,500-year-old toolbox containing practical techniques which help people feel more centred, agile and joyful. If you need help and support learning more about mindfulness at work, reach out to me, and I'll explain more.



September newsletter - Busyness at work

Busy at work? What can we do about the tyranny of busyness? 

This month, I’m exploring busyness and burnout and ideas for handling this at work. I took some pictures of our dog Marty sniffing in the woods. He's a great reminder to slow down and be more creative by taking more breaks.

How can we be more focussed at work and make self-care a must have and not optional?

Self-care at work

One of my jobs is to go into organisations and coach people about resilience, grit, and self-care. However, I hear the same stories over and over:

  • I'm working harder than ever
  • I can't focus
  • Some of my team are "quiet resigning", and I'm likely to be next
  • I get it that self-care makes me work more effectively, but I have to prioritise my tasks, and I have to come second to what the organisation wants me to do
  • I desperately need a holiday to recharge
  • My organisation is good at providing wellbeing programs, but when do I have time to do any of this stuff?

We are all running crazily toward something. What are we running toward?
Some of these time pressure themes are examined in the classic book the Tao of Pooh. The ancient philosophy of Taoism is explored through Winnie the Pooh's and friends' eyes.
Pooh, a kind bear with little education, finds a note from Christopher Robbin. He finds it hard to read the message" busy back soon" and asks his wise friend owl to interpret. But unfortunately, owl is not as learned as he thinks. So he confuses the message and reads it as Christopher Robbin has been abducted by a fierce creature called "the Busy Backson", which leads Pooh and friends on a hunt to rescue Christopher Robbin from the Backson.
The Tao of Pooh explores complex themes about the importance of slowing down to reflect on what's meaningful and how to prioritise our tasks and focus our energy.

Creativity, and adding value happens when we create space

If you are a leader focussing on the next quarterly results, charging at the rollout of the next system, or new in your role and making immediate and drastic changes at work, there is a fair chance you are charging at the wrong thing.
You might affect change, but you might  be adding another straw which will break your team's back.
Time pressure or the perception of it has a significant impact on us. Over the last 18 months, I have enjoyed the luxury of seeing an existential therapist each month. She has helped me face up to my own need for speed, being busy and multiple projects in multiple places. 
But, like many people, my busyness masks a need for connection and validation. The state of feeling a time deficit, "too much to do and too little time," builds its own momentum. Many of us enjoy the stress which comes from working hard and connecting. But this always switched-on "drive state" is unhealthy and often leads to poor collaboration and decision-making.
There is a place in your organisation for resilience training, better organising meetings and feedback sessions and helping people become more emotionally agile. 

  • But there is an even greater need for leaders to encourage people to do the following:
  • Have strong boundaries - say no to work and set realistic expectations for delivery times
  • Learn to push back and say no to new client work when there isn't the capacity
  • Have honest conversations with the team about organisational priorities and values and how they align with individual goals and values
  • Walk the talk when it comes to self-care

When we create space for reflection at work, we are more creative, collaborative, and engaged. So, what can you do as a leader to make this change a reality?
There are some ideas for you and your team below.

Best wishes
Andy Roberts at Breathe London


August newsletter - corporate wellbeing programs

Corporate wellbeing programs in London

 A recent employemto global survey of 22,000 people pointed to the importance of wellbeing programs at work:

  • Burnout - a sense of extreme fatigue - 58% of employees, said that it had affected them within the past three months. 
  • Relationship with work - what does it mean to have a fulfilling professional life? 43% of employees agree that Covid-19 has decreased the importance they place on their careers. 
  • Wellbeing and return on investment - employees who rated their employer's commitment to wellness as good or excellent were 75% more likely to say they were loyal to a business. 

In our experience in London and Australia, wellbeing programs are most effective when:

  • the program is not a sticking plaster covering up dysfunction in the organisation but is aligned with overall training needs;
  • is not seen as a quick fix by the team; more extended programs which enable participants to share ideas and best practices and help mould the shape of the program organically;
  • there is a solid evidence-based approach;
  • an action learning approach is adopted; enabling the participants to discuss the application of ideas and techniques to workplace challenges; and
  • simple and practical.

An example of one of our current programs is with the team at Avantgarde in London. They are three months into a program and have already enjoyed:

  • One to one wellbeing coaching sessions
  • A webinar on stress and nutrition with Dr Delia McCabe
  • A fun guided walking tour with Chris Roberts
  • An aromatherapy for creativity and mental wellbeing session with author Julia Oyelye

Contact us today if you want to learn more about our approach to team wellbeing programs.
Andy Roberts


July newsletter wellbeing at work

July wellbeing newsletter 

July’s newsletter explores the relationship between self-care, wellbeing and effectiveness at work. 

I’ve based this article on a brilliant new book called “Transcend” by positive psychologist researcher Scott Barry Kaufman.
Research indicates that people who display “Light triad” behaviours at work tend to have a healthy relationship with self-care and strongly value their wellbeing.

Light triad behaviours include the following:
Fairness - growth in colleagues, thinking of others

  • I don’t feel comfortable overtly manipulating people to do something I want
  • I prefer honesty over charm
  • When I talk to people, I am rarely thinking about what I want from them
  • I want to be authentic even if it sometimes damages my reputation 

Faith in humanity - belief in fundamental human goodness

  • I tend to see the best in people
  • I think people are mostly good
  • I tend to forgive people when they hurt me
  • I tend to trust that other people will treat me fairly

Humanism - valuing the dignity and worth of each individual

  • I tend to treat others as valuable
  • I tend to admire others
  • I tend to applaud the success of other people
  • I enjoy listening to people from all walks of life


Light triad people and their relationship with self-care

Research shows that people who often exhibit light triad behaviours tend to experience less stress than those who are more upbeat, creative, resilient, productive and emotionally intelligent.
And, perhaps surprisingly, despite being available to others, considerate and helpful, they also tend to have strong boundaries and are no pushovers or door mats. Instead, they invest in their wellbeing and prioritise their career development and life goals.
Consider the healthy self-care scale questions below. “Light triad” behaviour people tend to place great importance on investing in their health and wellbeing. And then, consider what small steps you could take to invest in your wellbeing.  
The backdrop to this is stress and anxiety at work coupled with the cost-of-living crisis. In a recent Employmeto survey of 22,000 people, over half said they had felt burnt out at work in the last three months! 
And most of us will feel the pressures of inflation and the cycles of covid waves. Work pressure, tight budgets and low energy levels can be significant barriers to investing in your wellbeing. So, this is a call to action to take small, low-cost wellbeing measures:

  • Take regular nature/dog walk /light breaks throughout the day
  • Schedule meetings with yourself if you are in an office or work from home
  • Exercise or go for walks with friends
  • Reflect on your recent achievements at work and keep your CV up to date
  • Discuss boundary setting with colleagues and practise push back



June wellbeing newsletter

June 2022 newsletter - twenty years of wellbeing

Hi everyone

This month's newsletter is about health, wellbeing and positive ageing. 

Twenty years ago, I left my job in finance, threw away my suits and embarked on a journey of meaning finding. This wellbeing journey led to spending time in ashrams in India, learning to be a yoga teacher, practising vipassana meditation in Canada, training to be a physical therapist in Sydney and studying psychology back home in London. 

All of this was to understand what makes my body and mind tick. I wanted some answers to some common questions:

  • Why did I sometimes feel lonely, bored, sad and dissatisfied?
  • What could I do to maintain my energy and vitality?
  • What could I do in life to make me feel useful and needed?
  • What could I do to feel good in my own skin and not like an imposter?

Over 20 years, a lot of answers have emerged. However, I'm not sure whether that was due to everything I'd studied and taught or simply because the passing of time reveals insights about what's truly important.

In this newsletter, I've set out some of the physical things I do most days; the little habits that build over time to enhance and sustain wellbeing. Next month I'll focus more on the psychological tips and tools. For the last six years, I've lectured in wellbeing and mindfulness at the College of Medicine and Dentistry at James Cook University. This role has made me even more appreciative of the importance of solid research supporting wellbeing tools and practices. Unfortunately, there's a lot of quackery and bullshit out there.

I hope you find some of these ideas helpful and share them with friends and colleagues. And please share with me the things you do that have helped over the years.  

As you think about your wellbeing practises, think about this COACH model of wellbeing developed by Daniel Levitin:

  • Curiosity - be interested in the world - explore another person's perspective
  • Openness - be agile and open to different views and try new things
  • Associations - cultivate warmth in your relationships - do some of your wellbeing systems bring you closer to others?
  • Conscientiousness - explore tenacity and grit - leaning into suffering and challenges can often lead to the greatest growth
  • Healthy practices - Identify the wellbeing systems which sustain you and stick to them

Here are some quotes from the inspiring Daniel Levitin in his book, "The changing mind":

"My business is right here on earth. Trying to be a better person, trying to do things which make other people happy. That's what it's about. This other stuff doesn't mean anything."

Sonny Rollins jazz legend

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."

Anais Nin – French/Cuban American writer

Best wishes


Gut health – kefir and fibre

The probiotic industry is worth billions and growing. But, in general, forget it. It's a scam.

There is very little robust evidence that these over-the-counter pills are of any benefit. This is a shame because your enteric nervous system (0.5 Billion neurons and containing 100 trillion bacteria - the microbiome) is a pretty important place. For example, 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is essential for maintaining a sense of calm and balance. GABA is another vital neurotransmitter which helps us dampen down stress. These are just two of the multitude of neurotransmitters which rely on a healthy diet and a healthy biome.

Eating fibre helps maintain gut health and, therefore, focus on prebiotics rather than probiotics. Reynolds et al., Lancet, (2019)

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics. ... PREBIOTIC FIBER is a non-digestible part of foods such as apples, garlic, asparagus, bananas, mushrooms, honey bananas, onions and garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, the skin of apples, chicory root, beans, and many others. 

With this knowledge, I throw a banana, kale and psyllium husks into a blender for a morning smoothie. Doing this helps feed me the best conditions for enabling my biome to do its thing, i.e. feeding my gut to create the neurotransmitters, to build my brain, allowing me to feel calm, centred and upbeat. 

The other thing I do is drink some kefir yoghurt (fermented milk). In one of the small handful of studies on probiotics, kefir consumption has a positive impact on mood and the brain's emotional centres - K. Tillisch et al, Gastroenterology, (2013)

Meditate on the breath

Every day I spend 20 minutes focussing my attention on my breath. Each time I notice a thought, feeling or sensation, I note the experience and return my attention to the breath point of focus. 

Think of using this technique as a loving survey of yourself. The object is not to be blissfully thought-free or to enjoy a change of conscious experience (although this happens occasionally) but rather to become kinder to yourself and self-accepting of your present experience.

There are many different ways to focus on the breath. For example, focussing your attention on a certain part of your body, such as your abdomen. Whatever you choose to attend to is not the most important thing. What is more important is your relationship with the stories and feelings you experience emerge between you as an observer and your point of focus. 

The benefits of this type of practice are robust. For beginners, even just a few minutes of practice can lead to:

•          Less amygdala reactivity to stress

•          Better ability to focus 

•          Improved working memory

•          Less mind wandering

•          Markers for inflammation lessen 

•          Immune system strengthening

These are state changes in experience, i.e. the benefits accrue when the technique is practised repeatedly. In experienced meditators with 1,000 plus hours of practice, there are trait-like changes which means that they generally become more calm, focussed and balanced in their day-to-day activities.

Great reading - "Altered traits" by Goleman and Davidson 


Move with mindfulness (and when you can in nature)

I practise yoga postures most days and walk the dog every day. 

Yoga includes dynamic movement, making shapes with my body and breathing with awareness as I create these shapes. It also involves balance, for example, standing on one leg and then shifting to the other.

There are multiple benefits of mindful movement, whether it's yoga, tai chi, boxing, ballet, or hiking in nature, including:

Blood pressure, stress levels, balance, body awareness, muscle tension

Complex movement requires the brain to work hard and strengthen the connection between our five senses, body, and brains. As we age, these connections can wither. I experienced this after multiple covid lockdowns; I went on a hike with a friend in North Queensland and noticed that my normal flexibility, balance and confidence was reduced as I walked across boulders. However, within a few hours, my confidence started returning; my brain and body connections were firing again.

A sedentary lifestyle withers our ability to connect with accuracy to the world using our five senses. It's a case of "use it or lose it."  Move around your local environment, take different walks, use your balance and mindfully move your body.

One exercise you can try is balancing on one leg for a minute whilst brushing your teeth and then swap to the other.

Listen to this Michael Mosley podcast to learn more. And for a great read on the science of movement and balance, read "Physical Intelligence" by Scott Grafton. He explores how movement stimulates our creativity and supports our wellbeing.

Exercise for better memory and creativity

Swimming is almost sacred to me. Living in Sydney, I feel blessed to have so many 50m swimming pools close to my home. These include the iconic Icebergs at Bondi to the Harbour Bridge pool.

What's clear from the research is that moderate physical exercise improves memory (1), and creativity (2) and counteracts some age-related memory impairments. And in a large University of Sydney study, people who exercised regularly appeared to undo some of the harmful effects of a poor night's sleep.

What’s also clear is that the exercise doesn’t need to be long and intense. And finding an activity which you do with a friend and your intrinsically motivated to do makes it more likely you will stick to it.

  1. P.D. Loprinzi, M. K. Edwards, and E. Frith, “Potential avenues for exercise to activate episodic memory related pathways: A narrative review,” European Journal of Neuroscience 46, no.5 (2017)
  2. Y. Kuo and Y. Y. Yeh, Sensorimotor-conceptual integration in free walking enhances divergent thinking for young and older adults,” Frontiers in Psychology7 (2016): 1580
  3. S.F. Tsai et al., “Exercise counteracts aging related memory impairment: A potential role for the astrocytic metabolic shuffle,” Frontiers in aging neuroscience 8 (2016): 57




In today's wellbeing piece, I focus on raising self-awareness about inner self-talk and how we can learn to tame the inner bully.

There are some great talks and podcast links from Kristen Neff, Sharon Salzberg and Tara Brach on the link. Read more about self-compassion below.

Self-acceptance and self-compassion

In this podcast, positive psychology and creativity expert Scott Barry Kaufman explores his recent book, “Transcend”. They explore his ideas about re-working Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to develop a new understanding between meeting unmet primal needs, connection, warmth and shelter, and meaning finding and purpose.

This talk gets to the heart of understanding that mindfulness means raising our self-awareness about our triggers, weaknesses and deficits and leaning into these things with acceptance and self-compassion.

Scott Barry Kaufmann interview

Developing greater self-compassion

In this podcast, Sharon Salzberg talks to Kristen Neff. Along with Paul Gilbert, Neff is one of the leading researchers in the field of self-compassion.

They discuss some of the reasons why a harsh self-critical response can engage our fight/flight response and undermine our wellbeing as well as our ability to respond to challenges and collaborate effectively.

Self-compassion research is a large and emerging field in psychology.  Both Gilbert, Neff and other researchers have developed highly effective programs to help people develop greater self-compassion.  Self-compassion is intertwined with compassion for others and connection with others.

Kristen Neff interview

Mindfulness and leaning into self-awareness 

In this talk from 1988 mindfulness expert and psychotherapist explores the link between mindfulness, counselling, therapy, and coaching.

He provides fascinating insights into some of the limits of mindfulness in a Western setting.  Mindfulness has become core in education and workplace training but many of the training programs cherry pick bits of eastern contemplative practises.  There are great benefits in teaching people how to be more focussed and regulate their emotions through self-soothing.

Mindfulness and therapy with Jack Kornfield

Getting the balance right between remaining calm but not aloof 

I like this talk by Jack Kornfield. It’s from about eight years ago and goes to the heart of mindfulness psychology. How on the one hand can we have equanimity – easy come/easy go/not holding on to stuff whilst being compassionate and caring.  

Jack Kornfield podcasts often have the feel of a bedtime story. But he skilfully weaves together his knowledge of contemplative eastern traditions and psychotherapy.

Compassion and equanimity with Jack Kornfield

Book a mindfulness at work course for you and your team 

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Focus at work

Focus and effectiveness at work 

This newsletter includes some great resources , talks and podcasts on how to improve attention at work.

On our training programs we hear the same thing again and again.

  • “I can’t focus properly anymore.”
  • “People interrupt me, and I get distracted.”
  • “My days are filled up with back-to-back meetings.” 
  • “I don’t have time to focus on what’s important.”
  • “There’s no time for creativity.”
  • “I’ve lost the ability to read to the end of a page without getting distracted.”

On one of these programs I asked the team to self-rate their abilities using Richard Davidson’s emotional style model. The ability to focus was the lowest score.

And yet few workplace training programs include attention training. As the godfather of American psychology, William James noted:

“The faculty of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character and will.”

“An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence”  William James 1890

Without presence it’s hard to develop and deploy our emotional abilities at work. And it’s hard to step back and take a moment to reflect on some of our biases and autopilot behaviours which impact wellbeing, collaboration and effectiveness.

Here are some useful resources for improving focus at work.



“Focus – the hidden driver of excellence” by Dan Goleman

This book is an excellent read for any leader or emerging leader who feels swamped with data and unsure how to prioritise tasks.

Goleman is one of the people who made emotional intelligence popular. He built on the foundations of academics, including Mayer, Salovey and Caruso. Their research and applications in workplace settings pointed to emotional intelligence being a series of different, developable abilities.

And with many, if not all of these abilities, there is a clear research link between practising various mindfulness techniques and developing these abilities. For example, the ability to regulate emotions to express things coherently and in a contextually sensitive manner.

In this book, Goleman explores a model of four things that a leader needs to focus on. He also explains the brain science of why these four things sometimes complement each other and sometimes compete. For example, one of the areas we need to focus on is attention to detail: we need to make sure that we are focused on safety, completing a job, working through our tasks and extracting value from the systems we have in place right now. For many people, this is a comfortable place. It’s a place where we tick boxes and strike a line through things on our to-do list. Unfortunately, however, this is a zone of potential intoxication. 

Each time we tick something off our to-do list, we get a little hit of dopamine, which feels good. Dopamine feels good and is a signaller of a future reward – which means we become ever more engrossed in our tasks, potentially at the expense of seeing different ways of doing things and checking our task alignment with our colleagues and organisation. It also means we narrow our focus into detail at the expense of blue sky creative thinking.

The four areas in his model are:

  • Extracting value and follow-through (as above)
  • Exploring new opportunities, threats, regulatory frameworks
  • Connecting with the team – passionate, energetic, listening, collaborating
  • Self-awareness and self-care – tuning into our energy levels and understanding the impact of our own physical and mental wellbeing and our ability to learn, communicate, collaborate and lead

He discusses how we need to maintain a balanced portfolio of attention between each of these areas.

Peak Mind by Dr Amishi Jha

I’ve watched Dr Jha’s TED Talk so many times. Every year I show it to our medical students. That short TED is a powerful business case for learning to train our attention and embed mindfulness techniques into our home and work lives.

If your job requires that you:

  • absorb and store information;
  • come up with novel and creative solutions;
  • sustain your attention for long periods;
  • shift your attention seamlessly from one task to the next; and
  • sift through information and distil what’s important

Then developing mindfulness practises will help you be more effective in your role.

The organized mind by Daniel Levitin

This a great book by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin. Written before the pandemic, it’s never been more relevant to consider the impact of data overload, how we store that data and how we can train our attention.

Offline by Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner

This is a great book explaining coherently how big tech hacks into our brain/mind/body/community connections to bring our eyes to a screen, manipulate your choices and ultimately extract value by doing this.

They provide excellent examples of how to curb tech addiction and create healthy screentime.


Ezra Klein interviews Johann Harri about his recent book “Stolen Focus”

The importance of attention - for wellbeing and at work

In this TED Talk neuroscientist Amishi Jha introduces her research. She illustrates how practicing mindfulness techniques not only reduces stress but helps us pick up vital information at critical moments, such as on battlefields, in hospitals and other emergency situations. It illustrates how much we might be missing at home and at work. Mindfulness helps people be more situationally aware, safer and be able to observe, store and recall information more accurately. 

Dr Amish Jha TED

Mindset coaching 

To find out more about mindset coaching with Andy Roberts, contact us today.

Andy Roberts


Stress and self-compassion

The relaxed brain - resources for understanding and managing our stress with self-compassion

What I've learnt during the pandemic is that I've lived with anxiety for much of my life. Perhaps, all of it.  For many years I was in denial about that. And I also recognise that low-level stress has helped energise my work and spurred me on. It's just that occasionally it's debilitating and all-consuming.
One of the books that helped me understand more about the brain and how certain mental exercises can help us become more focussed, resilient and balanced is "The Emotional Life of Your Brain" by Richard Davidson.
This book is a great starting point for anyone wanting to learn how to look after their brain, mind and body.


“The emotional life of your brain” by Richard Davidson


This book helped me understand more about the relationship between mindfulness, emotional intelligence and developing our leadership capabilities at work.  His work also helped me appreciate that the different range of mindfulness techniques do different things to increase the effectiveness of our brains. So, mindfulness is not one thing!

I, therefore, moulded, and framed parts of our mindfulness at work program in terms of brain gym training.  It's important to appreciate that mindfulness is not just about the brain: it is an integrated, intertwined mind, body, brain, environmental and community series of techniques and frameworks centred around Buddhist schools of thought.

However, it is exciting to explore how we can use our minds to train our brains to improve our minds! And to many people, thinking of "brain gym training" is an effective way to introduce people to mindfulness practises. 

In this book, Davidson explores what is happening to our brains as we engage in different types of mindfulness activities. And he develops a model of abilities he calls "emotional style". He takes us on a journey of brain enhancement in the following areas:

  • Focus
  • Emotional regulation/resilience (not sweating the small stuff and bouncing back from setbacks)
  • Self-awareness (awareness of the sensations and emotions within our bodies and how these impact our ability to collaborate, communicate and learn)
  • Social signal awareness – tuning into others
  • Context-awareness – doing and saying the right depending on the context you find yourself in
  • Hope and optimism – generally having an optimistic, growth mindset

I've used this six-element framework in many of our emotional intelligence programs. 

His more recent book, "Altered Traits", builds on this one and improves upon it. Since publication, research into mindfulness by neuroscientists has improved in leaps and bounds. However, this book helps people appreciate that mindfulness is not one thing. It is a series of complex techniques and frameworks under expert guidance. Not all methods are suitable for each person.


“The compassionate mind” by Paul Gilbert


Gilbert is one of the world’s leading researchers in compassion. In this book, he explores our fight/flight response and the relationship with our inner self-talk dialogue.

Our harsh inner critic drives our attention toward weakness, deficits and threats. He discusses whether this caveman response is adaptive in handling complex challenges, connecting with others and influencing people.  

In other sections of our program, we explore our internal narrative and ask you to label, note, and hold this inner dialogue softly. For example, we might speak to ourselves in a manner that we wouldn’t dream of talking to a best friend. So why do we do that to ourselves? And what physiological impact does this have on us when we are self-critical?

He discusses techniques to help hold this self-talk, self-soothe, connect to others, engage our compassionate rest and restore response. Self-acceptance does not mean we don’t want to improve or change our behaviours, but it means doing so with a kinder internal voice. 

This book explores how we can be a positive coach to ourselves – working hard, being tenacious, being encouraging and reflecting on achievements and challenges.

Andy Roberts at Breathe London

Find out more about our mindset coaching programs today 

Mindfulness at work resources

Mindfulness at work resources

The books listed here provide the tools, frameworks, and inspiration for our mindfulness at work foundation program. Find out more about our program today.

Altered Traits by Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman

This book is probably the most significant scientific deep dive into how different mindfulness techniques impact our health and wellbeing. It sifts through and separates the strong from the weak research and provides the business case for practising a range of different mindfulness techniques under expert supervision. 

If you want to be more self-aware, focussed, resilient, self-compassionate, physically and emotionally well and compassionate toward others, mindfulness includes a toolbox of techniques. Not all will be appropriate for you. Not all will work. And the object of mindfulness is not to achieve the outcomes of balance, fulfilment, energy, focus and calm, but rather to be more self-aware and acquainted with the present compassionately and lightly. The benefits are happy side-products.

Mindsight: the new science of personal transformation by Daniel Siegel

This book explores mindfulness from a psychiatrist’s perspective. Siegel’s model of “mindsight” explores a different way of thinking about mindfulness

  • Strengthening the hub of awareness – applying the breaks and calming a skittery mind  
  • Balancing the left and right hemispheres 
  • Reconnecting the mind and body
  • Making sense of our internal stories and habitual patterns
  • Making sense of our mind and finding meaning and fulfilment 
  • Learning to become accepting of our multiple selves
  • The neurobiology of “we” – connecting to others
  • Existential concerns – exploring the schemas which we create to handle uncertainty, change and mortality, and how they can undermine wellness and living a full life

Atomic habits by James Clear

This book is an excellent exploration of creating and embedding healthy new habits. Embedding mindfulness at work and home requires some grit and determination. It requires a plan, tenacity and help from others.

The book explores some simple ideas to nudge ourselves toward healthy new habits. Embedding new habits means setting aside time to practise, creating rituals, lingering in the felt experience of change, sharing with others and most importantly, reflecting on the change you experience.

Mindfulness does not work as an academic experience. Understanding frameworks and science help motivate our change. But change happens a neuron and synaptic connection at a time and requires patience.

If your mindfulness techniques are sometimes dull, repetitive and painful, there’s a good chance you are doing something right! You will also feel balanced, connected, light, and focussed as you practise. That’s great. But other times, leaning into the challenging emotions and thoughts and sitting with them for a while can be the most liberating part of a mindfulness program.

Neurodharma by Rick Hanson

Rick Hanson explores how neuroscience and psychology play catch-up to eastern contemplative frameworks. The book provides a similar framework to our program and teaches some valuable techniques to help us get more acquainted with ourselves. The framework is:

  • Steadying the mind – pressing the breaks to slow down and focus
  • Warming the heart – self-compassion techniques
  • Fullness – reflecting on our inbuilt negativity bias and our conditioned patterns (childhood, from ancestors, our education and so on). He explores techniques to become more aware of these triggers and how to learn and grow from them
  • Wholeness – building on from “fullness”, he teaches positive psychology and other tools to helps us feel “enoughness”, feeling good in our own skin, understanding how tuning into our body can help reveal our values and what’s meaningful 
  • Nowness – building greater presence and enjoying the energy from being in flow and fully absorbed in what we are doing 
  • Allness – in this section, he explores the interconnectedness of all things. In later parts of our program, we explore emotional contagion and the flow of ideas and influences between groups of people and our environment
  • Timelessness – In the final section, he provides fascinating ideas about time and how we relate to it

To find out more about our mindfulness at work programs contact us today