Even when we’re experiencing stress and overwhelm there’s far less for us to do than we sometimes imagine. In this episode I talk to Vivienne Edgecombe about that, about her experience grappling with the idea that she might never have children, and about her work with businesses helping their staff uncover their innate resilience.
Vivienne Edgecombe has a background in HR and Organisational Development. Her fascination with human beings and what stops us from showing up at our beautiful best every day, led her to an understanding of the mind that is transforming psychology, mental wellbeing and organisations the world over – from prisons and the streets of Chicago, to boardrooms, meeting rooms and living rooms.
This understanding now forms the foundation of the work she does in business and with individuals who are struggling with stress, anxiety or overwhelm.
You can find Vivienne Edgecombe at VivienneEdgecombe.com and on Instagram @vivienneedgecombe.
- How other coaching tools become unnecessary once we understand the 3 Principles
- The insight about how often we make up stories about our future
- How insight about anything can change our entire outlook in a moment
- How thought carries on even when our circumstances have changed
- How change and shifts in perception are so natural to us
- The difference between overwhelm and overworked
- The liberation of seeing how our thinking impacts our stress levels
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Transcript of Interview with Vivienne Edgecombe
Alexandra: Vivienne Edgecombe, welcome to Unbroken.
Vivienne: Thank you very much, Alexandra, it’s lovely to be here.
Alexandra: Lovely to see you.
Why don’t you tell us about a little bit about your background and how you came across the three principles?
Vivienne: My background has been mostly in human resources throughout my career. And that led me through a whole raft of personal development, professional development, and combinations of the two, throughout 25 years.
I came to the UK in 2009. I wanted to study NLP with Jamie Smart, which I did. And Jamie at the time, was just starting to explore the principles. And so his NLP had a little bit of a different flavor about it, I think. And when he started teaching pure principles rather than NLP, I went along for that journey and never looked back. Really, it made so much sense to me and I got so many insights from it. And things just shifted and changed. So I didn’t, and still don’t, really see any reason to veer off that path. Because it just makes sense to me.
Alexandra: You mentioned being in HR. And had you also felt like you were a bit of a seeker?
Was there some searching going on as well?
Vivienne: I would say so. I don’t know if I would have termed it that at the time. I think it was, but I definitely was looking at the next cool thing, next interesting thing to learn. The next thing that could help me, that could help someone else, because I was doing quite a lot of coaching and my HR jobs. And so yes, there was definitely one of those that mindset of, oh, this is a great thing to add to my toolkit. And oh, and, and great. Now my toolkits complete. Oh, no, it’s not what’s the next thing? So the toolkit was ever expanding.
And, and it is funny, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before that when I came across the principles, a whole lot of stuff fell out of the toolkit. It just didn’t seem necessary to me anymore. The load got lighter and my mind got a lot quieter. When I was sitting in front of someone, whether it was in my job or a private coaching client, there was a lot less noise in there while I was trying to listen to them and help them because I didn’t have to think, oh which technique am I going to use now? Or, Oh, I’m going to do a double whammy, whatever, on this on this issue. So I just simplified things actually a lot, which was a relief really.
Alexandra: It sounds like you were able to take the Principles back to your HR clients and your private clients right away.
Vivienne: Yes. I guess it took me a little while, the things fell out of the toolkit not all at once. And I guess finding my own understanding and my grounding in what I was learning, but yeah, it feels like it didn’t take too long before. It just made more sense to have that conversation than any of the other conversations that I’ve been having.
Alexandra: You and I have spoken before on a previous podcast that I had, and one of the things that you shared, where the principles were really impactful was your journey about having a child was really affected by the principles. Could you share a little bit about that with us, please?
Vivienne: Oh, I love talking about this.
Alexandra: Okay, good.
Vivienne: For quite a number of years, I was in a position of wanting to have children and not believing that I would. And so having a lot of thinking, a lot of upset, a lot of round and round circular thinking. And it was impacting my relationship. And it was? How can I put it? I often term it my tumble dryer phase because it just felt like I was in this thing that was going round and round and round. And I couldn’t get out.
I was talking to anyone I could find, whether it was at work or at home or whatever, to try and get some answers. I don’t even know what the question was. But it was if I look back, it was probably, could I be happy without children? How could I convince my husband to want children, because he, he was older than me and had had a family previously, and he didn’t want to go around that track again. And in my searchings, no one ever told me that I could just be happy.
There was no message like that. Everyone took it pretty much as seriously as I was at the time, which is not a reflection on anybody at all. But it’s probably more of a reflection of society and the value that we put on, or the identity that we make for ourselves around this whole thing of having children or not.
And when I first had an insight, this was before the principles, but I had an insight that I had been making up futures and only two imagined futures, there was the gray one without children. And there was the beautiful Technicolor one with children. I realized in a moment that both of them were made up, neither of them were real.
I think, in this realm of childlessness, as it tends to be called, people can see me except that they might have made up the Technicolor one, that they might be looking through rose colored glasses, at what the future might be like. But they tend not to realize that they’re making up the other one as well. The one that says you can’t be happy, or that you that you’ll be sad forever, or all of those messages that we get when we want children, and we and we can’t have them.
So, in that moment of realizing, Oh, I’ve just made both of those up. And actually the world is full of infinite possibilities. I have no idea what my future will look like. It was like that, everything opened up for me, it was just a different experience, then it was Oh, right. So if I don’t know what my future is going to look like, what do I feel like doing? If I think well, it’s not going to include children? Then what what shall I do?
Not in any kind of pressure or purpose kind of way. Because that’s often the next thing if I’m not going to have children, then what’s my purpose in life? It wasn’t about that at all. It was just what do I feel like doing? And after that was when I came to the UK and started learning with Jamie and that I realized through understanding the principles what had actually happened to me in that moment of insight, what had taken place.
From there, I just got insights upon insights about how my value as a person as a woman, how I was already complete and there was nothing that I needed to complete me whether that was a child or relationship or financial security as they call it or any of those things. I was okay, I was complete here and now. And that building that building on the oh, you’ve imagined those two futures but it just transformed everything for me.
I guess I don’t I don’t define myself in any way about whether I have children or not. It’s not something that enters my head unless I’m having a conversation like this, of course. And I certainly I don’t think of it as a defining feature of me at all. And all the labels that go with it in, in society like childless, that doesn’t even that doesn’t make sense to me. Childfree doesn’t make sense to me. I’m just a person who doesn’t have children. It doesn’t define anything about me, as far as I’m aware.
Alexandra: To me, that speaks to the power of insight, because something that was so important to you for so long. And as you said, you were in your head circling around about it for ages.
And then in one moment, you realized how you were making it all up.
Vivienne: Yes, that’s exactly what happened. I can laugh now. And I could laugh, pretty much immediately when I had that realization. And for a lot of people I know, it’s not a laughing matter. And it wasn’t for me until that happened.
But what I also realized along this journey was that Oh, but that’s not unique to me I’m not special. And, and so anyone can have an insight that can change things for them that can make a full 180 on whatever it is, whether it’s about having children, or whether it’s about something else. We’re never stuck. We’re only as stuck as we think we are.
Alexandra: Right? Yes, exactly. It’s such a great story. I love hearing you talk about that. Thank you.
You’ve written a book called 28 Days of Resilience. And I was thinking about this this morning, while I was getting ready for our call; we can approach the principles from several different directions.
I’m curious about why it was that resilience was the inroad that you took and the and why you incorporated that in the title of your book?
Vivienne: It’s going back a little while now. So I’m not just making this up. I think I’ve always felt it as a resilience paradigm it makes sense. This understanding gives us such a solid foundation to navigate life with. And that, to me is what resilience means. Resilience as a term applied to human beings really is a made up thing. Probably relatively recently. I don’t think that people even 100 years ago, we’re talking about resilience, they were just getting on with life.
When I talk about resilience, it is that that ability to I mean, we’re all always navigating life, it’s not like we need a special ability, but it’s understanding as we navigate that we’re okay. And that we. will have what we need, when we need it. In face of the inevitable challenges that will come up along the way, because no one gets through life without having stuff happen.
As far as I can tell, haven’t met anyone yet. And we all deal with it. It’s interesting to me when people say, I don’t know how I’ll get through this. Because, and I have often said to my clients, you already are, you’re already getting through this. And there’s something that that lets us just take the next step and the next step and the next step. And that’s what I think if we want to put a label on it, I think that’s resilience.
Alexandra: The book, obviously is called 28 Days of Resilience that obviously walks people through exploring that what you’ve just described.
Where do you begin on that journey with them in the book?
Vivienne: From memory, so it’s a little while so maybe I should have a refreshment. I would start, like I start with my clients, really exploring how we are creating our experience of life through thought. So it’s a step away from how we usually think life is happening to a step closer to truth, I would say about how life is happening.
So looking at the innocent misunderstanding and the innocent misconnection, if that’s a word that we’ve made between our circumstances and our experience, and disrupting that connection, and helping someone to see that actually, the element of thought has been missed out in that equation.
We’ve forgotten that actually in between experience and in between our circumstances, and our experience, is a world of thought. And, in fact, the world of thought carries on when the circumstances or the events or the situations have gone. So thought really is it. It’s the beginning and the end. So that’s where I start. And that’s where we start exploring.
Alexandra: Shifting gears slightly, I was poking around on your website the other day getting prepared, and you have a free webinar called Life In Color. I’d love you to tell us a little bit about that and what that phrase means to you.
Vivienne: That goes back to the childlessness story.
Alexandra: Okay. Oh, wow.
Vivienne: As I mentioned, when I was in that tumble dryer phase, I had these two futures mapped out in front of me: one that was gray, and one that was in glorious Technicolor. And when I was talking with my colleague, our colleague, in fact, Laura White, and we wanted to do a podcast together about that subject.
We were looking for a name that wasn’t anything to do with either of our individual works. And we came upon Life In Colour because in that community of people who would term themselves childless I think there’s a perception that life can’t really be in color. There’s always going to be a grayness or, or a muting of the color. And we’ve wanted to kind of go that open. And that’s why on the podcast is called The Life In Colour podcast, and we have an Instagram page.
When you go on it, we’ve got a beautiful watercolor thing, it’s a watercolor might be a anyway, it’s a beautiful, just blob of different beautiful, vibrant colors that we use as the theme for all our posts and things on Instagram.
Alexandra: I can imagine if someone has something like that, like having a child that’s so important to them, that proceeding without it and believing that it’s, I’m trying to find the words to describe it’s. They might feel that they’re sort of living life with one of their limbs missing or with this experience that feels vital.
Tolerating the rest of their lives without this thing that was really important to them. I can see that that can happen in all kinds of different ways. Like if someone as you said it wants to be in a relationship and hasn’t found the right person or wants to find the right job and that hasn’t really clicked for them.
The weight that that can bring, I’m sure, to people’s lives, it must be so relieved by realizing that they’re making it up essentially with their thinking.
Vivienne: I love hearing from people. I wrote a book as well called Already Complete and I love hearing from people to say I read your book or I listened to it on Audible or now I listen to the podcast and something shifted, I feel different. Someone said, I feel like I’ve been in winter and now I can see spring.
I wrote in the book about the void. People talk about this, there’s this void that that can’t be filled. I wrote in the book about the void, that there actually is no void. That’s made of thought too and that it disappears of its own accord when we realize what’s going on, because it never existed in the first place.
I also know that when you’re in the depths of it, that’s really hard to get your head around. And getting your head around it isn’t how it works anyway. But it’s lovely. You don’t know what you’re going to say that’s going to click with someone or that’s going to that they’re going to hear on the level that they might need to hear it. But I just figured that the more things I can put out there, then the more likely it is that someone will hear something that’s helpful.
Alexandra: That’s the key, isn’t it? We never know what’s going to stimulate an insight.
You’re involved with two other coaches in something called the Alchemy Academy. Tell us about that, and why you chose the word alchemy.
Vivienne: The Alchemy Academy came about with my colleagues, Zoe Patrick and Allie Scott, when we were talking. Zoey and I are from business backgrounds, Ali’s been longer in the coaching and therapy side of things, although she had a business background to begin with. And we just were talking about how we could how we could help more people in in more ways, and we decided that we would like to start going into businesses, to talk to leaders in particular about performance, and well-being in the organization, what that means. And leadership, and you know, all of that stuff, culture that that kind of makes an organization do better.
The Alchemy Academy name came up because of the alchemy to all of it. When the word came up in conversation, we will we all kind of went ooo, because alchemy is, I guess there’s a number of definitions, but we see it as this seemingly magical process of transformation. And to us, that’s how it feels when you’re just in conversation with someone and they hear something that shifts things for them 10 degrees or 180 degrees, whatever, it makes a difference.
There’s nothing that you had to do to them or that they had to do for that to happen. It’s a natural thing that that happens to us when we see something different. And so alchemy, we knew that alchemy would be part of the title once we kind of fell on it.
And then Academy we wanted to give the sense of the three of us and the fact that this was it wasn’t just magic, there was some something behind it that was more structured and more of a framework that we could take into organizations.
Alexandra: How long have you three been working on that together?
Vivienne: It’s just over a year.
Alexandra: Can you share a bit about what some of the organizations have seen or what their experience has been?
Vivienne: Yeah, well, so far, most of the work we’ve done has been around resilience, and around relationships, like client relationships. And how to get past the barriers that we might perceive are in the way.
We work on uncovering blind spots, and people find that really helpful to understand that if this is all the knowledge in the world this on making the shape of a circle for those who are just listening in or watching, if that’s all the knowledge in the world, we have such a miniscule piece of that within us. And then there’s all this stuff that we know that we don’t know. But then there’s all this stuff that we have no idea that we don’t even know. And there are so many answers in the air that are available to us If we can start looking more in that direction of what we what we haven’t seen yet what we don’t know yet.
So that’s, that’s the journey that we take people on. People have really found that intriguing for a start. And they’ve been looking forward to going into their work with a more open mindset that I don’t have to have all the answers. What if I just listened better to this person? What would open up? If we just had this conversation, rather than the one we’ve been going round and round with for however long. It’s been really, really nice to see the shifts that have been going
Alexandra: What it occurs to me when you were drawing as that visual picture of what we know, all the knowledge in the world. And then what we know is such a small portion of that, that that goes right back to our initial conversation about imagining our future. You were imagining two things, the good outcome or the not so good outcome.
Outside of that, as you said, there’s so much else that’s available to us and possible. That happens in every area of our life, both personally and professionally.
Vivienne: One of the examples that I’ve used when we talk about uncovering blind spots, because it was such a blind spot for me, and I couldn’t see, I didn’t realize that there was more to see, even though I kept asking and ask, it didn’t feel like there was more to see until, until there was, huh.
Alexandra: When we’re holding really tight to something that’s feels very binary – it’s either this or it’s that – as the tumble dryer phrase that you use is so good, because you just keep going back and forth between Well, it’s either this or it’s that and neither of them feel good. Or maybe my attachment to one feels really clingy. And then desperately unhappy about the other. And that’s such an extreme way to feel.
I can just picture you bouncing back and forth between the two. And then when we open up and realize, oh, but there’s more than that.
Vivienne: And that’s, I guess, to anybody listening. That’s such an important point. Because I’d love for people to see that. If you feel like, there’s only two choices, and neither of them feel good, then you’re not seeing the whole picture. And maybe you can take some comfort in knowing that there’s, there’s more to see here. Even if you can’t see it. There’s something more to see. Yeah, that’s a really good, really good point.
Alexandra: One of the things that you talk about on your website about the Alchemy Academy is the connection between our thinking and stress.
I wondered if you could talk about stress a little bit with us now and just share what you see and what stress really is.
Vivienne: I guess it’s the other side of that resilience conversation, isn’t it? We like to talk about this as a subtractive psychology. I think that’s a phrase that Jamie Smart coined in the first place. But that articulates it perfectly for us, that we’re about taking things off people’s mind. We’re not about adding things to someone’s already overwhelming to do lists.
So you’ve got your overwhelming to do list, but we’d like you to meditate for 10 minutes and we’d like you to go for it go for a walk in nature and pet your dog and whatever. So the this is really about taking things off people’s minds.
In relation to stress, I think that’s kind of it really, the stress is an internal experience, it’s not caused by the outside world, although it might very much look like it is. Going back to the conversation, earlier, in the piece, where we talked about, we miss thought out of the equation we leave this world of thought out of our equation of experience, and we look at circumstances and we think, Oh, no wonder I’m stressed. My to do list is three miles long, of course, I’m stressed.
Whereas in the conversation that we might have with people, when we talk about stress, we will bring thought to light. We will shine a light on thought as it were, and help people understand what role that’s playing, which is 100% of the role in the experience that they’re having of that three mile long to do list.
Because really, when it comes down to it, no one can achieve all the to do’s on the three mile long to do list. And when we get all the stories about that out of the way, when we subtract the stories about what that means about me – if I can’t do it right, what my managers going to think what my colleagues are going to think, how am I going to do this, I’m going to have to stay up all night, blah, blah, blah, blah, neglecting my family – we have so many stories that when we look at the three mile long to do list, that come into play.
When we can bring that into the light and put the stories to one side for a minute and look at the to do list with a bit more clarity and less noise, then it becomes much more obvious what on the to do list we can say we’re not going to do we can put off we can get an extension on whatever it is we can have conversation with the manager and say, Look this is my three mile long to do list. It’s not humanly possible, here are the things that I think are a priority. What do you think?
It’s a much more neutral conversation, than, oh, my goodness, I can’t believe life is going to implode. So that’s the relationship between thought and stress in a nutshell, and that’s where we point people in that stress conversation. And as we said, it’s about subtraction. So it’s taking away some of that noise that’s going on, or we’re helping you to see past it to the clarity and the activity that’s waiting in that space.
Alexandra: I love that you bring up that it’s so common outside of this understanding when people are dealing with stress to add to what they’re supposed to be doing. I remember back in my corporate days, feeling the pressure of that.
In order to manage this, I should be doing more than it was already feeling impossible.
Vivienne: Yes, buckle down and work longer and work harder. And actually, one of the things that we’re talking about at the moment, among the three of us, and that we’re working on some things to put out into the world is this concept of doing more with less, because that’s a real phrase in business at the moment.
It’s perhaps not intended the way that we would intend in business, it’s talking about actually physically doing more, but we will give you less resources and less stuff to do that with. That’s not necessarily a welcome message to the people who have the three mile long to do list who already can’t get through there. So, when we talk about doing more with lists, we’re talking about doing more creativity, more collaboration, more clarity more.
More calm, more accountability, more of all of the things that we would like to be doing more of in our work and in our lives in general, actually. And with less on our mind, less of the noise, less of the insecurity in decisiveness. Less of the overwhelmed the stress, the mental blocks, the friction between colleagues or family or whatever, however, it’s manifesting. So that’s our kind of version of doing more with less.
Alexandra: Because when we’re stressed, our thinking adds so much more to the pile of stuff that’s already there.
In March, I was at a weekend with Michael Neill and Barbara Patterson and Michael talked about the difference between overwhelmed and overworked. When we feel that feeling of overwhelm we could have two things to do but just be out of our minds with stress and worry, because there’s so much thinking going on. I thought that was such a good example of what that feels like, and how our thinking gets so involved in whatever’s going on with us physically.
Vivienne: It’s in our language, isn’t it? I’ve got a stressful job. I’ve had a stressful day. This is a stressful situation. And in all of those constructs, it’s the circumstances, or the situation or the event that’s doing it to us, and we are at the mercy of it. And that’s it is by nature, it is the victim mentality. A lot of us wouldn’t want to think that we are in a victim mentality, but that’s what that is.
It’s so liberating to start to see, oh, hang on, I’m not at the mercy of that stuff. What’s going on here is that I’ve got a lot of thinking, and that’s a different story. I don’t need to wait for those circumstances to change before I can feel different, because I’ll feel different than my thinking changes. And that’s a much more hopeful, helpful, kind of place to be coming from, to me. Much more empowered, if you like.
Alexandra: Exactly. Because when a job is stressful it tends to feel like this mountain looming over us. And we start to think of, well, what can I do to change that mountain? And that itself becomes insurmountable. So realizing, yeah, that it’s going on in our minds and that’s what we have agency over, changes the game completely.
Vivienne: It’s like pulling back the curtain and seeing what’s going on behind the scenes, because it’s so invisible to us most of the time. When I started on this journey with Jamie, someone pointed that out to me and then I just see it everywhere how it was playing out in my life. And I haven’t stopped.
Alexandra: As we’re coming close to the end of our time here, I want to ask, is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you’d like to share about today?
Vivienne: I feel like we’ve covered quite a lot of ground.
Alexandra: We really have.
Vivienne: No, I don’t think there’s anything else that I can think of off the top of my head.
Alexandra: Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Vivienne: I’m on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, with under my name, Vivienne Edgecombe. I’ve got a website, VivienneEdgecombe.com. And I’ve also we’ve also got the alchemyacademy.co.uk website.
Alexandra: I will put links in the show notes at unbrokenpodcast.com to those things so people can find you. Thank you, Vivienne. It’s been so great chatting with you. Thank you for being with me here today.
Vivienne: It’s been such a pleasure. Thanks for having me, Alexandra.
Alexandra: Take care. Bye bye.