Personal Development

Personal Development

Accountancy Ireland Extra has partnered with the team at SpunOut.ie to bring you some top nutrition tips for the exam season. Eating well is good for both your mental and physical health. When it comes to exams and studying, you want to be at your best – that means eating the right foods to ensure your concentration levels are where they need to be. We have put together some tips to ensure that you can eat your way to exam success. Avoid skipping meals No matter how rushed you are, try to avoid skipping meals – especially breakfast. Starting your day with breakfast gets your body going and maintains your concentration for the day. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables It might sound like hard work, but try to add fruit or vegetables to every meal if possible. Simple ways to increase your fruit and veg intake include smoothies, adding banana to toast, and adding fruit to porridge or breakfast cereals. Drink plenty of water Try to drink eight glasses of water per day to keep your body hydrated. By drinking enough water, you’re also less likely to be hungry. If you’re not a fan of water on its own, add a sugar-free diluted squash. Opt for healthy snacks It can be tempting when studying to reach for unhealthy snacks. Snack foods such as cakes, biscuits, chocolate and sweets can be high in sugars and saturated fat, and low in certain vitamins and minerals. Instead, keep fruit such as apples, blueberries or bananas on hand for those moments you need a snack. Check out our article on swapping your favourite snacks for healthier alternatives. Wholegrains The brain cannot function without the right energy, and it needs a constant supply throughout the day to ensure it functions correctly. Achieve this by eating wholegrains with a low glycaemic index (GI) such as brown pasta, brown rice or brown bread. Things to avoid… Avoid sugary snacks as they will result in a short-term high that will eventually come crashing down, leaving you feeling tired. Don’t overdo the caffeine. Coffee and soft drinks such as Diet Coke may give you a short-term energy boost but in the long run, it will result in an energy crash that just isn’t worth it. Avoid energy drinks like Red Bull, as they will result in a caffeine and sugar rush that won’t do your body any favours. And lastly, when you’re studying, alcohol is not your friend. It will dehydrate you, disturb your sleep and wreck your concentration the next day. Not worth it! This article was produced by Spunout.ie, Ireland’s youth information website. Five great brainfood-based snack ideas The last thing you need right now is to spend time researching what to eat in the run-up to your exam, so we’ve done the hard work for you! Here are our favourite brain food snacks, all of which are quick and easy to prepare... Hummus and carrot/celery sticks. You could make both from scratch or – to save time – pick up the end-product in your local supermarket. Apple slices with almond butter. The latter can be pricy but you’ll pick up a bag of apples for less than a euro, so it all balances out. Natural yogurt with chia seeds, banana, blueberries and nuts. This can also be a full breakfast, but it’s a superfood bonanza for the brain. Smashed avocado on wholegrain toast. A big snack that’ll keep you going for a couple of hours. Dark chocolate. A daily portion of dark chocolate has been found to improve blood flow to the brain, so treat yourself!

Apr 05, 2020
Personal Development

Thinking is the top-rated next generation skill, but the ability to think critically is rare. Follow these tips to stand out from your peers in the soft skills stakes. I was browsing LinkedIn recently when a headline caught my eye. It read: “The top skills companies need – and how to help your employees develop them”. I’m a sucker for a list, so I clicked in and scrolled down for the answer, whizzing past the verbiage in the process. To my surprise (and that of the article’s author, as I found out when I eventually read the intro), the leading ‘next generation skill’ is... thinking. We do it all the time but according to research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, it’s the most important skill of the future followed by self-understanding, empathy, ethics and communication. Develop your critical thinking According to Georgetown professor, William T. Gormley, critical thinking consists of three elements: a capacity to spot weakness in other arguments, a passion for good evidence, and a capacity to reflect on your own views and values with an eye to possibly changing them. He elaborated on these points in a recent Harvard EdCast, which you can listen to here. But how can you develop these three elements and learn to think critically? According to an article published by NUI Galway, there are a number of ways to do this. You will likely know some of the points mentioned (join a debating society, get involved in class discussions etc.), but there some very noteworthy suggestions also. They include: Swap coursework with a classmate and critically evaluate each other’s arguments, use of evidence and conclusions; Accept that criticism and disagreement aren’t the same as conflict. It’s okay to hold different views to a classmate, friend or lecturer; Engage critically with course content, particularly with your assigned reading; and Remember that critical thinking is hard. As a set of ‘higher order’ skills, it isn’t something you can learn overnight. Keep trying. Ask for feedback – and learn from it. There’s some great material there, but the university’s Christopher Dwyer also suggested a very useful – and fun – means of honing this skill in his book entitled Critical Thinking: Conceptual Perspectives and Practical Guidelines: play devil’s advocate. In the era of groupthink and news bubbles, it’s easy to be convinced that there’s a right way and a wrong way. Seeking out alternatives, even seemingly irrational ones, could help you see things in a new light and this is what your future employers will be looking for - someone who is technically competent but can approach things with fresh perspectives. Let the debate begin!

Nov 01, 2018
Personal Development

Empathy isn’t only helping us connect with the feelings of others, it also hones our own self-awareness, aiding us in building and nurturing healthy relationships. WORDS BY PAUL PRICE When asked about artificial intelligence (AI), Amos Tversky, psychologist and long-time collaborator of Nobel Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahnerman, replied, “We study natural stupidity.” Tversky wasn’t saying that humans are stupid, only that we have a propensity for emotional reasoning. Indeed, it is this ‘emotional stupidity’ and emotional intelligence (EI) that sets us apart from machines.  Despite rapid advances in emotional recognition algorithms, it is unlikely that machines will manage to simulate the most human of EI skills – empathy – any time soon. Why? Because empathy requires both feeling and imagination. It is the ability not only to understand others’ perspectives but to attune emotionally to them so that we ‘feel’ what they are feeling. Like a social radar we use to read the mood of a room, or the political currents of an organisation we enter, empathy is a uniquely human skill. And while at times it seems akin to a sixth sense, empathy, through focused effort and regular practice, can be learned.  To ‘feel’ the feelings of others, we must first channel our own. This begins by learning to recognise visceral signals inside our own body and what they are telling us. What feelings do the physiological signs preempt? What triggers them? By honing our self-awareness in this way and learning to quieten our inner chatter during interactions with others, we can gradually form a base for empathetic social-awareness. For those who find this a challenge, here are a few suggestions to help with one-to-one collegial interactions. Take an active interest in the experiences and the concerns of colleagues and be ready to reciprocate.  If a colleague seems emotionally burdened, show a healthy concern for their wellbeing. Be ready to listen if they care to share. Do so with compassion and without judgement and without trying to ‘fix’ them. If you feel that an experience from your past might help, offer to share it, but curtail talk about yourself. Remember this is about their circumstances, not yours. If values differ widely, to attune, you might try some method acting. For example, if a colleague is distraught at the loss of their cat but you are not a pet lover, you might revisit how you felt at the loss of a loved-one of your own. But maintain a healthy objectively so as not to exacerbate the situation. If you simply cannot attune to what the person is feeling, rather than avoid reflecting altogether, consider saying something like, ‘I can’t imagine how you are feeling.’ Empathy requires practice. Observe people interacting in different social settings whenever possible. Pay attention to how their moods change and learn to identify related emotional cues. Avail of every opportunity to practice your listening and emotional response skills, particularly with friends and family.   Here are some tips for developing empathy in work-groups: At meetings, avoid excessive note-taking. Instead, focus on the speakers and what is going on around you. Make occasional eye contact. Observe how others respond to their facial expressions, body language, verbal cues and tone of their voices. Notice how these signals relate to the thrust of the meeting and the mood in the room.  Pay attention to timing, particularly when you are contributing. Observe others that you consider naturally possess empathy. If you continue to have difficulty, consider engaging the help of a trusted mentor. Through developing empathy, we learn to appreciate difference, embrace diversity and nurture healthy relationships with those around us. Any time invested in developing this competence is time spent future-proofing our careers, not only towards AI but against potential relationship blunders.

Nov 01, 2018
Personal Development

Our drive to move forward changes daily – sometimes hourly! How do we get a grip on our motivation when it sometimes seems easier to do nothing at all? By Paul Price Last week, it took you one hour to read a thirty-page document, and you easily retained all the key points. Today, a similar document takes all morning and you retain almost nothing. Why? What is it that fuels our concentration? And why, even at times when we know we ‘have to’ perform, does it evade us? This seemingly fickle ‘fuel’ that drives our concentration is called motivation. Coined as the ‘master aptitude’ by Daniel Goleman, motivation is, perhaps surprisingly, the part of EQ that is most manageable. But, before we set about trying to master our motivation, let’s first get a better sense of what it is.  What motivates us? Motivation is a combination of drive and effort; passion and commitment. It is what propels us towards our goals. Plato likened it to a chariot pulled by two horses, one spirited and wild, the other trained and noble. If we are to harness our passions we first not only need to gain awareness of them, but we also need to understand them. This is part of our continuing quest to expand our self-awareness.   We are, of course, also motivated by external factors. The most obvious one being financial reward. At work, salary increases, bonuses, share options, and promotions can be strong motivators until our physiological and safety (survival) needs are fully satisfied. In the long run, however, it is intrinsic motivators, those fuelled by our passions, that will sustain our performance. Positive intrinsic motivators include the six Cs: challenge, curiosity, control, cooperation, competition and commendation. Also, there are negative intrinsic motivators we should watch out for, including: fear, shame, guilt, envy and others. The watch-word for these is: ‘have to’; whenever we notice ourselves saying we ‘have to’ do something, we should examine our motivations.  Know your reasons for doing what you do It’s important to start paying attention to your experiences. Try to gain an early understanding of what inspires you and what makes you happy. These moments will help you discover your core values. Learning what you truly value in life will help you to do things for the right reasons. Simply knowing you’re doing what you want do rather than what you have to do will strengthen your resolve. How to tweak our motivators Let’s look at the simplified maths of motivation and performance:  performance = ability x motivation  where motivation = desire x commitment   and ability = aptitude x learning where learning = cognitive change x motivation. We recognise that the common denominator of almost every aspect of performance is motivation, and motivation we can master. Even aptitude and desire, which seem fixed by nature, can be modified over time by moving to a job that suits us better, a job we enjoy, a job in which we can actualise our potential and find what social psychologists call ‘flow’.  Taking this into account, the motivation equation can be tweaked as follows:  Optimal work performance =  right fit x right attitude. Find the career that fits Finding a job that truly suits requires matching our aptitudes and desires with what we do. Done purposefully, this solves half the motivation equation. But finding such a match will likely require some measured experimentation. Try to discover early what makes you happy at work and create a career plan to maximise those aspects. As a young accountant, I tried insolvency and corporate finance in public practice before a stint in financial reporting finally led to venture capital, where I found a job I loved.  Share your career aspirations with your employers and confide in professional mentors and peers. Let them help you in this process.  Know your passions, stay committed Doing a job you love certainly makes commitment easier. Charles Handy, an organisational behaviour expert, recommended that organisations replace their mission statements with ‘passion statements’. To excel as individuals, I believe we should do the same. However, shaping our career path to align with our values does not ensure that we will stay consistently positive. That requires special discipline and, of course, some self-compassion. Consider yourself a work-in-progress, always noticing, always learning.  Top tips to help keep you motivated Engage fully with tasks, stay emotionally present and open to others; Seek connection, nurture affiliation and celebrate others’ achievements;  Be curious, seek feedback and learn continuously; Pursue information to reduce uncertainty; Notice ways to improve; innovate, be entrepreneurial and take calculated risks; Act purposefully and be ready to make reasonable sacrifice to reach important goals. Celebrate your own successes too and, above all, always retain a sense of humour.

Jul 03, 2018
Personal Development

In an always-on world, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between work and relaxation, but here are eight tips to help you tip the scales. For many in the workforce, achieving any type of work-life balance can be a myth – especially since technology allows us to be accessible around the clock. So how do we do it? I found myself back at work after maternity leave with a 10-month old working full-time and sharing a business with my husband. I remember feeling so overwhelmed and hugely distracted. To overcome this, I devised a list of top tips for balancing work and life. STEP 1 Firstly, take a deep breath. It will all be ok. STEP 2 Work life balance doesn’t happen automatically. It involves making deliberate choices about what you want out of life. Having a roadmap plan and committing to it. Realising what is important to you and working smarter not harder to ensure you can spend your time how you want to.  STEP 3 Communication is key. I still don’t believe we talk to each other enough. You need to be open about what’s working and what’s not. Work will always be there; however, you need to have your personal life and routine in check as a strong foundation. If you feel like you’re veering off course, reach out and talk to someone. STEP 4 Set aside time for your interests, family and friends. Make a point of planning and booking time off work to do the things that are important to you. Don’t wait to see what time is left over as I can guarantee that there won’t be any. Your list of tasks will never be complete and there’s never a good time. STEP 5 Set your own parameters around what success looks like to you. Having a strong sense of who you are, your values and what drives you will help you better understand what makes you happy and to get more of that in your life.  STEP 6 Turn off your distractions. It’s learning the skill of turning off the technology and enjoying the quality time. STEP 7 It’s also important to align your goals in pursuing your passion. Those that do achieve this balance usually have a defined plan around timeframes and what they are willing to sacrifice to get what they want in the end. Don’t let the situation control you, take hold of it head on. STEP 8 The most important tip to achieving work-life balance is building your A Team, also known as your support network. People who are successful and achieve good balance have a strong support network who help them through the tough times. Sorcha Pollack is an Audit Senior at EY Ireland.

Mar 06, 2018
Personal Development

Acknowledging our vulnerabilities and improving our self-awareness can allow us to succeed in our personal and professional lives. “What are your strengths and weaknesses” is a question frequently asked at interviews and one that interviewees are often least prepared to answer. While few have difficulty rhyming off strengths, describing one’s weaknesses or vulnerabilities is another matter. Doing so requires a level of disclosure that few of us are willing to make to ourselves, much less to others.  As Abraham Maslow, American psychologist who is known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, said, “We tend to be afraid of any knowledge that would cause us…to make us feel inferior, weak…We protect ourselves and our ideal image of ourselves by repression and similar defences”. However, research shows that vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. We connect to others through vulnerabilities. They are key to our self-awareness and how we manage ourselves socially.  This article is designed to equip you with some means to identify and explore those vulnerabilities and improve your self-awareness.     Focus on the here and now Begin with noticing and self-reflecting. When interacting with others, you should slow yourself down and take notice of your emotions, thoughts and behaviours as situations unfold. Try to concentrate on what is happening to you in the moment. Studies show that we are able to concentrate on up to four voices at one time. One of those voices should be our own.  The ability to focus on the present can and should be practiced regularly by using mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness is simply concentrating on the present moment and focusing on one element to keep you in that moment, such as your breathing. Through mindfulness practice, we learn not to engage with passing thoughts but rather to observe them and take notice of recurring negative thoughts that may be affecting us. By practicing mindfulness privately, we develop skills that we can call on to ground ourselves when we feel stressed or unfocused. These skills help us to avoid being distracted by anticipatory thoughts and give us the ability to stay focused when circumstances demand.  Numerous apps are available to help develop or improve concentration skills. Headspace is one such option. Thinking errors How do we identify emotional or cognitive barriers to self-awareness? Be on the lookout for ‘thinking errors’ in your internal dialogues. These are harmful thinking patterns that may habitually hold us hostage so that we behave at the will of others or as victims of circumstance. Some examples of these include: ‘Awfulisation’: “That was the worst interview ever. I was awful.”; Blame-throwing: “It’s all his fault, he should have highlighted the difference.”; Demands: “He has to listen to me because this report is late”, “She should have pointed that out, she knew it was important.”; Extreme thinking: “she never listens”, “he’s always late” Globalising: “I failed my exam. That proves I’m a failure.”; Personalisation: “If I ask my manager for support, he’ll think I’m incompetent”. Such thinking errors should be intercepted and challenged by considering their usefulness. Are these beliefs helpful? Are they true? Is there evidence to support them?  Group dynamics While mindful meditation and self-reflection are useful tools for improving self-awareness, our reflection in other people is more informative. When working in a team, it is important to stay aware of how others react to our behaviours. Noticing such reactions provides us with valuable feedback. Active listening and observation can help us to recognise and then adjust any negative behaviours of our own.  A simple tool called the PFAT scan can help here. With it, we pay attention to: physical body reactions in other members of the group. Are they blushing, sweating, fidgeting, clenching their teeth or fists? others’ feelings suggested through their mannerisms or behaviours. Are they defensive, anxious, worried, bored, tense, challenged, or angry? the appearance of negative body language. Are they retreating or lunging forward? Are they stammering or yelling?; and  where their thoughts are focused. Are they speaking on task or are they defending their position, discrediting others, and redeeming themselves?    To gain greater insight into our relational habits, we should pay attention to group dynamics, focusing not only on how we think and what we observe but also on how we feel during teamwork or group work. Certain situations or people may trigger negative reactions within us. We may discover that what we are experiencing is the mirroring of past behavioural patterns seen in close family members. We should also seek feedback from trusted people seniors in your company and peers. Receiving such feedback openly and sharing our vulnerabilities can prove edifying. By accepting our vulnerabilities with reasonable self-compassion, we can start to accommodate them and to build on our strengths. March EI exercise Practice mindfulness and the reflective exercises described in this article.  Paul Price is is an Executive Coach at Dynamic Connections.

Mar 06, 2018