“Mindfulness, despite its modern packaging, isn't about ticking boxes. It's about focusing on the present, setting intentions, and trusting our instincts when making decisions.” Neil Lawrence
Neil Lawrence is a mental health and wellbeing coach, a seasoned writer, and serves as the founder of Life Coach London. Neil encourages everyone to anchor themselves in the present and cultivate compassion for themselves and others instead of dwelling on what already happened or could have been. Neil shares how mindfulness has helped him navigate neurodivergence as well as chronic conditions that have profoundly impacted his life, like Fibromyalgia and PTSD.
Stephen Matini: Have you always known your professional path?
Neil Lawrence: No, I coach creatives, executives, leaders, and kids. The concept of having a predefined career plan is alien to me. I became intentional about my work when I started coaching. Everything before that, even as a third-generation immigrant navigating societal expectations, felt like I stumbled into it.
My community emphasized achieving middle-class status, and attending a university not approved by them was a deviation. I unintentionally found my way until I deliberately became a coach and writer.
SM: What you described is a common experience for many people. Few know their career path from the start. You mentioned making more intentional choices at some point. Do you believe it's possible to make early intentional choices, or is it a process of going through experiences to understand?
NL: It's an interesting question. Our society, especially in the UK, prioritizes success, passion, and career achievements, but I often question the significance of it all. While work is important to me, it doesn't define who I am.
Some people know their path early on, and that's commendable, but I'm more concerned about the pressure everyone feels to figure it out. Especially post-Covid, I see many worn-out, unhappy individuals trying to sustain an unsustainable system.
My journey toward intentionality involved acknowledging my disability and living with PTSD and fibromyalgia. Facing mortality after a dangerous incident on a motorway five years ago was a powerful motivator.
Experiencing bullying within the education sector for 25 years and realizing its misalignment with my values led me to coaching, particularly through a program with “Catalyst One Four.” The mindfulness element was crucial. Now, each day feels purposeful, even amidst stress.
SM: Essentially, we're fed a significant falsehood.
NL: Absolutely. The narrative dictates that we must work long hours, adhere to micromanaged plans, constantly enhance our skills, and perpetually strive because we're never good enough. However, when individuals I coach realize they don't need to toil excessively and that their identity extends beyond a job title or social media accolades, a positive shift occurs. My motto is to do less, plan less, be less.
SM: I find it crucial to ask myself why I'm doing something, connecting it to enjoyment rather than just focusing on results. It transforms my approach, work, and feelings about the task.
NL: I often wonder if many of us are fixated on destinations rather than embracing the journey. Mindfulness, despite its modern packaging, isn't about ticking boxes. It's about focusing on the present, setting intentions, and trusting our instincts when making decisions. Soft skills, a term I dislike, and mindfulness aren't vague; they're about having the clarity to decide at the moment instead of overly planning for the future.
SM: How did you first dive into mindfulness?
NL: During my days of unconventional schooling, I worked with a counselor running groups for young men. When diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I began meditating using a basic app that introduced three mindfulness techniques.
Later, I discovered American teachers Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield, who brought humor, compassion, and awareness of societal issues to their teachings. This spiritual connection transformed my practice.
The pivotal moment occurred when, after a transformative break, I returned to work facing administrative challenges that overshadowed meaningful connections with young people. This disconnection prompted me to find a way to navigate daily systems while maintaining compassionate connections. From then on, everything changed.
SM: I've successfully introduced mindfulness in the corporate world, often warmly received. I explain it as implementing the “lean process for the mind,” reducing unnecessary thoughts to focus on what matters, and enhancing efficiency.
NL: I resonate with the concept of "running your mind." In my business experience, especially post-360 audits, there's openness to making performance reviews less daunting, and mindfulness serves as a powerful tool in achieving that. I've recommended works like "Radical Compassion" and "Radical Acceptance" in this context.
SM: What does compassion mean to you?
NL: I've always been a change-maker motivated by advocacy in my work. When lockdown hit, observing the world's reaction made me realize the need for compassion, especially towards disabled individuals facing further isolation. I incorporated compassion meditation and loving-kindness meditation into my daily routine intentionally, focusing on building soft care.
As the UK faced toilet roll shortages, symbolizing people seeking control in uncertainty, I felt deep sadness. Compassion, for me, is the ability to confront and navigate profound pain and sadness, acknowledging that meditation helps us engage with, not surpass, these emotions.
SM: How do you transition from these negative feelings to compassion, and is mindfulness your primary approach, or do you employ other methods?
NL: Mindfulness plays a crucial role as it retrains the brain. Drawing from my study of psychodynamic psychotherapy, I approach situations, like the toilet roll shortage, by recognizing the underlying emotions.
Whether it's someone appearing angry and selfish or someone desperate and lashing out, understanding the fight, flight, and freeze response helps navigate the dynamics. It's essential to see beyond the surface, acknowledging that defensiveness often stems from a sense of imminent attack.
While self-awareness is emphasized in self-help, the focus on healing and self-care is lacking in the well-being marketplace.
SM: What is a healthy approach to labels, considering the tension between recognizing diversity and the risk of fragmentation, as discussed on your company’s page on LinkedIn, Life Coach London?
NL: Appreciate the way you posed the question because discussing labels is delicate, given the historical mistreatment and exclusion of certain communities.
Each story, especially those mistreated, matters, and the right to expect better is paramount. However, the blame-oriented approach of "it's your fault, what will you do about it?" is not productive.
Mindfulness suggests we can become overly dependent on labels that describe aspects of ourselves, holding onto them lightly and finding strength in numbers.
I've never been comfortable with labels within the communities I engage with. While sharing experiences is crucial, true connection and deep listening matter more. The current lack of a sense of community hinders collective understanding. Despite the divisive narrative, people need to unite, share experiences, and dismantle hierarchical notions for progress.
SM: If we truly listen to each other's experiences, what commonalities do you think people could discover?
NL: Practicing this at the moment, I consciously slow down my body and thought process, even over a Zoom link, allowing emotional connection beyond a podcast interview. Trusting that the other person is not the enemy but part of the solution fosters thinking together and recognizing differences without entitlement as a noose. While basic human rights are universal, acknowledging serious experiential differences, like disability, is crucial.
Reflecting on my disability, my "normal" can vastly differ from others. During a recent walk with my arthritic dog, a fibromyalgia episode intensified due to previous PTSD. Staggering and nurturing myself afterward, I realized the freedom to be open about the pain. Encouraging others to relate without judgment, my LinkedIn posts emphasize not seeking pity or being labeled brave—just sharing experiences for connection.
SM: Recognizing life's universal uncertainty and the shared destiny of beauty and challenges brings me compassion. Reflecting on this common journey shifts my perspective during moments of loneliness or anger, fostering understanding and calmness.
NL: That initial moment in lockdown hinted at a kinder life, a perspective aligned with mindfulness and Buddhism. The realization that life is uncertain and finite presented an opportunity for change. However, the rush to recreate the pre-lockdown life with diminished resources saddens me. Mindfulness taught me that home is within myself, and while I desire rich connections, the struggle lies in the societal pressure to conform to predefined norms.
Rejecting the notion that I don't matter brings reassurance. Legacy and grand trajectories are unnecessary; being present is enough. Surviving a car crash magnified the blessing of every day. Acceptance opens the mind to consider what is truly achievable.
Inspired by Michael J. Fox's journey with Parkinson's, I appreciate the resilience and connection in his story. His ability to find humor in challenges and maintain family bonds is particularly inspirational. Embracing acceptance doesn't equate to passivity, especially in advocating for disability rights and a positive world without dissonance.
SM: In my research about you, I came across the concept of struggling with completing tasks. Does this relate to our discussion?
NL: Yes, it does. Niching was challenging for me when I started my business because I work on a broad spectrum of issues, from personal to career-focused. The idea of finishing became prominent, especially when working with someone with ADHD dealing with hyperfocus and task completion challenges.
In today's world, people fear finishing tasks, overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of expectations and interactions. The pandemic intensified this feeling, affecting everyone's ability to get things done. Initially a recognition of my neurodivergence, the issue of organization and task completion has now become a global problem.
My focus is on building confidence, helping people realize they have the skills and can say no, and reshaping their world into a manageable space.
SM: If I were to label you, I'd say you're distinctly British in your self-deprecating humor.
NL: That's interesting. I've heard that before. While I may sometimes downplay myself, these days, it's more about recognizing my skills and impact. I excel at spotting white elephants and using my life experiences to help many people in various contexts.
Despite unconventional marketing, I'm positive about the impact I can make. I'm on a journey, now in year three or four, and eager to do more. I don't filter my experiences, openly discussing challenges like PTSD and fibromyalgia. I bring out the white elephants that others might shy away from, as it's crucial to address what's often left unspoken.
SM: Neil, for our listeners, amidst the variety of topics we've covered, is there a key takeaway you'd like them to focus on?
NL: I'd direct them to my two LinkedIn photos. The first emphasizes "do less, plan less, be less.” The second reinforces the notion that you are good enough, just as you are. Let's begin with that foundation and see where it leads.
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