Startup Star

From a career in corporate HR to founding a successful food brand might not seem like the most natural transition, but two years after launching Raw Halo, Meg Haggar certainly hasn’t looked back. Stockists including Harrods and Planet Organic, a dedicated social following and absolutely smashing a round of crowdfunding – the days when Raw Halo’s founder was making chocolate at home in West London must seem like centuries ago! Organic, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free, the brand’s delicious – and award-winning raw chocolate offers a healthier alternative to everyone’s favourite sweet treat – it’s made with coconut sugar, nut butters and antioxidant-rich raw cacao. Hell, it’s almost good for you! Here’s to be a true startup star…

Why did you launch your own business?

Whilst I loved my career in HR, and since university that’s all I had hoped for, I started to realise it didn’t fulfill me on a creative level – something so important for me personally. The idea of launching my own business gave me a real sense of excitement. Before launching my business I’d completely given up refined sugar, which meant I really struggled to find chocolate that tasted nice but without sugar. After experimenting in my kitchen at home I quickly realised it was possible to make healthier chocolate that tasted great, using coconut sugar. It’s at that point I launched Raw Halo and I’ve never really looked back.

Who helped you out?

In researching other startup brands in the food and drink sector, it seemed almost all founders had an advisor or mentor, and whilst this may have benefited me, I just didn’t end up meeting a specific person who I felt would add huge value to the business. So the main support I received in the beginning was from my family, friends, and of course other brand owners who became close friends. It was in the second year of the business when my partner Jonathan joined Raw Halo, and that enabled us to grow the business further by relocating back to Derbyshire and setting up a micro factory.

Best business advice you’ve been given along the way ?

Whilst not strictly business advice, it’s definitely something I apply – and that’s persistence. My mum drove that into me from a young age. If there’s something you want, somewhere you’re trying to get to, don’t give up. This has been such an important piece of advice and it’d be the same thing I’d tell any new start-up founder. With Raw Halo initially I hit many closed doors, but the key was to keep on knocking.

What problems have you faced along the way?

A successful business will certainly face many problems along the way. I try to view them as hurdles, which can be overcome, and it’s a certainty that more will be waiting around the next corner. The majority of hurdles in the first couple of years of the business were around production, in that scaling from a few hundred bars to 20,000 per month was a huge challenge. To scale up so quickly required investment, and that’s where we turned to crowdfunding to help take the business to the next level. We found great success there, and that’s massively changed the business from an operations perspective.

How do you feel about women in business today?

There are so many amazing women who are disrupting many traditionally male-dominated sectors, and that has to be hugely positive for the next generation especially. When I look around at the food and drink industry in particular, there are as many inspiring women as men running hugely successful brands, so I hope that inspires the next wave of women thinking about launching their own businesses.

Favourite startups?

Some of my favourite startups include Too Wordy, run by the talented Maeve Brooks. She creates the most delightful greetings card and prints, so much so her business is growing very quickly. I also love a brand called Lani who produce natural and vegan friendly beauty products in the most beautiful packaging.

Tell us about your work life balance?

My work life balance is much closer to ideal than it has been over the past few years. Since we outsourced our production earlier this year, I’ve been able to take back control and make a more conscious effort to take me-time. Most importantly I’m able to run the business in the hours that most make sense to me, so that might be working at weekends and evenings if I’m busy during the week. Sometimes it feels like I’m on a different time zone, but luckily my partner works similar hours so generally works.

What do you do to relax/when you’re stressed?

I always turn to yoga when in need of some relaxation. When in London I’m a regular at Fierce Grace (I love their classes), so I enjoy getting in some practice at home. Other than that I’m definitely guilty of turning to our Pure Dark bars in times of need!

What are you proudest of and why?

The proudest moment was to see Raw Halo becoming stocked in Whole Foods Market. Visiting their flagship store on Kensington High Street was my absolute favourite weekend activity and to see a huge display of our chocolate bars in there during my last visit was a true highlight. Certainly a reminder that all of the hard work and effort is worthwhile.

Can you run in heels?

Definitely, there might be the odd stumble here or there, but I’ll always pick myself up again!

Raw Halo is available to buy online at RawHalo.com. You can also follow the brand on Instagram @RawHalo, catch up with Raw Halo on Facebook and see the latest news on Twitter

RIH Eats

Lope Ariyo. It’s a name you’re going to want to remember. And if you’re even slightly into food, Ariyo’s debut title – Hibiscus – is a book you’re going to want to buy. “Hibiscus may change the way we see African food in Britain,” opine the knowledgeable foodies over at The Observer. And we’re inclined to agree. The UK is a true melting pot when it comes to food; Indian, Turkish, Italian, Chinese have all become part of our culinary vocabulary in a little more than a generation. But African? Sure, you might have tried a tagine or jollof pot, but food from Africa – or even inspired by – the mother continent is surprisingly rare and certainly not mainstream, even in the bigger cities.

And that’s a real shame. A bold, eye-opening take on Nigerian cuisine, Hibiscus shows all the rich colours, flavours and vibrancy that Africa has to offer. Sure, there are some ingredients you might not have encountered regularly – baobab, egusi seeds and efirin probably aren’t on sale in your local supermarket. But if Sainsbury’s are stocking sumac and tahini these days, that’s undoubtedly thanks in part to Mr Ottolenghi. Featuring simple, delicious recipes packed with flavour, Hibiscus is remarkably accessible, with recipes like Nigerian roasted veg, traditional Puff Puff doughnuts, rich meat stews and curries and spicy salads and soups. Read this and you’re going to want to find out more about Nigerian cuisine. To get you started, try your hand at Ariyo’s Hibiscus & Coconut Cake: possibly the perfect summery cake to make (and eat) right now…

Hibiscus is a really flavourful ingredient and is very fragrant when cooked, which makes it great for experimenting with. Rather than using almonds for the base of this cake, I’ve gone for egusi seeds, which are eaten much more regularly in Nigerian culture. Although it doesn’t happen often, when I do have time to make cakes, I try to create a real showstopper to share with friends, and this is no exception. Although hibiscus can be eaten all year round, I do think of this as a summer cake to enjoy in the garden.

180g plain flour  //  60g ground egusi seeds or ground almonds
80g fine-cut dried hibiscus petals  //  1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking powder  //  1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt  //  90g coconut oil, softened
60ml groundnut oil, plus extra for greasing  //  100g caster sugar
80g light brown sugar  //  3 large eggs
½ x 400ml tin coconut milk  //  2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice  //  desiccated coconut, to decorate
hibiscus petals, to decorate

FOR THE COCONUT DRIZZLE

120g icing sugar  //  4 tbsp coconut milk
½ tsp coconut extract  //  ½ tsp vanilla extract

FOR THE COCONUT FROSTING

300g cream cheese  //  2 tbsp coconut milk 
80g icing sugar  // 1 tbsp fine-cut dried hibiscus petals

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas 4. Grease two round 20cm cake tins then line them with baking paper. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, ground egusi seeds or ground almonds, hibiscus petals, ground cloves, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and salt.

In another large bowl, cream the coconut oil, groundnut oil and sugars together. One by one, add the eggs until well combined. Add half of the dry ingredients to the bowl, followed by half of the coconut milk and mix with an electric hand whisk or stand mixer until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Repeat to add the remaining dry ingredients and coconut milk and mix to thoroughly combine. Finally, add the vanilla extract and lemon juice, folding in gently.

Transfer the batter into a large measuring jug and evenly distribute it between the two cake tins. If you prefer less washing up, then roughly measure by eye. Bake the cakes for about 30 minutes. When they’re ready, a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out of the tins on to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

To make the drizzle, mix the icing sugar with the coconut milk to get a thick drizzle, then add the coconut and vanilla extracts. Trickle over both layers of the cooled hibiscus cake.  For the frosting, whisk all the ingredients together to create a fluffy purple cloud. Make sure the colour is consistent throughout. Spread half the frosting over one of the cakes and place the second on top. Spread what’s left of the frosting over the top layer and sprinkle over the desiccated coconut and hibiscus petals to decorate.

Published by Harper Collins, Lope Ariyo’s Hibiscus is available to buy online here.

The Summer Bodycare Edit

We all have our own definition of what a beach body means (a body, going to the beach, right?!), but summer bodycare is really just about making your skin its very best. Smooth, healthy, toned skin is all we all want, and a radiant, golden glow flatters just about everybody. Here’s our edit of the very best summer bodycare products to be your very best summer body…

Ila Spa Body Scrub for Energising and Detoxifying

For toned summer skin that really glows, the first thing you need is a decent body scrub. We’ve fallen head over heels for Ila Spa’s luxurious Body Scrub for Energising and Detoxifying. It’s luxe, but a little goes a long way with this one, which is designed to boost energy and immune function, as well as leaving skin silky smooth – oh hello, multitasking magic! Mineral-rich Himalayan salt crystals detoxify, stimulate the circulation and banish dry, congested skin, while a rich blend of organic oils moisturise and nourish. For best effect, massage a handful into your skin and then hop into the bath for 20 minutes or so to let the ingredients really get to work. Of course – as with everything else from Ila Spa – the scent of this will make you feel like you’ve spent an hour in a luxury spa. Buy online here.

Legology Sun-Lite Sheer Lingerie For Legs

Once you’ve try Sun-Lite the first time, we’re willing to bet you’ll buy a second tube immediately. Why? Created by legendary beauty journo Kate Shapland, this refreshing tinted gel is designed to “make legs feel as light as air” – as they can tend to feel heavier during summer months. The fast-acting gel-cream works to instantly cool, refresh and energise. Sounds impossible? Totally works. Legs feel lifted and lighter, with a sheer bronze tint delivering a hint of flattering colour to contour and enhance your pins. And Sun Lite’s heady scent of Amalfi lemons is basically summer bottled. Buy online here.

Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Firm & Replenish Body Serum

Aurelia is one of our go-to brands for organic skincare than actually works – and we’re already big fans of their Dry Body Oil and ultra-effective Hand Cream. The luxury brand’s latest treat is the Firm & Replenish Body Serum – we’ve grown to expect pretty packaging and an indulgent scent (lemongrass, bergamot, mandarin and cedarwood) from Aurelia, so we won’t bother to dwell on those. Need to know? This deliciously lightweight serum is intensive, deeply-hydrating and quickly absorbed, leaving skin velvety-smooth and beautifully soft. It also works as an aftersun treatment – buy this one in bulk.

Vita Liberata Ten Minute Tan

One of the things we like least about fake tanning? Streaks and scent aside, it has to be the time involved in the whole process. Exfoliating, application, waiting for things to dry so you can dress – never mind the time to sort out stained bedding. So we were pretty intrigued – albeit skeptical – by Vita Liberata’s latest tanning treat: the Ten Minute Tan. Apply as normal, wait ten minutes and then shower off for a bronzing golden glow? Actually yes – this really does work, with the colour appearing after about four hours, and becoming slightly deeper the next day, with the tan lasting a good three to four days.  Even better, this is 100% organic, with streak-free colour that even suits paler skins. Buy online here.

Aesop Rejuvenate Intensive Body Balm

Sea, sand, sweat and sun – summer takes its toll on your skin. What you need is a really effective moisturiser – and they don’t get more rich and deeply hydrating than Aesop’s Rejuvenate Intensive Body Balm. Enriched with concentrated natural and botanical ingredients, this works wonders on parched dry skin – elbows, hands, feet – and even does double-duty as aftersun. The vanilla-sandalwood scent is how we’d always like our skin to smell of a summer evening… Buy online here.

Prismologie Citrine & Bergamot Energising Shower Gel

Something to bring the summer to your shower? Even when the sunshine isn’t doing its stuff, this is the summeriest shower gel around – if you’re not woken up and cheered up after five minutes in the shower with this, even a double espresso isn’t going to work. It’s also enriched with micro-crystals of Citrine – the stone of confidence, no less – which combines with a refreshing bergamot scent to uplift, energise and rejuvenate. As with all of Prismologie’s products, it’s packed with botanicals to take care of skin from top to toe. Buy online here.

St Tropez Instant Tan Finishing Gloss

Okay, got your tan sorted? The newest St Tropez launch is what you need in your life. The wash-off Instant Tan Finishing Gloss is more gloss, less tan, leaving an elegant hint of shimmer with just a little bronze. Never fear, no glitter is included in this – it’s 100% sheeny, sophisticated gloss, leaving legs, decollete and anywhere else looking HOT. It’s one for summer evenings out, to be worn with your most daring LBD. As a side note – this works on even the palest of complexions, and can be layered up if you’re looking for a super sexy look. Buy online here.

Autograph Pre Tan Primer 

One of the reasons most people (around 92%* apparently) gave for not using fake tan? You guessed it – streaks. Foolproof tanning means exfoliation, but the rather clever new Autograph Pre Tan Primer means you can pretty much skip that time-consuming step. Essentially a moisturiser enriched with glycolic acid, this multi-tasker sweeps away dry skin leaving your bod ready for a golden glow. Even, natural tan? Easy peasy. Buy online here. *we might have made that up

Vichy Ideal Body Extraordinary Oil

Vichy? Summer bodycare? Oh yes. The brand’s Ideal Body 3-Gold Dry Oil might not have the catchiest of names, but it’s one of the best new summer beauty products for 2017. A combination of ten different oils plus gold, copper and bronze particles mean that this might just be the only product you need to take on holiday this year. Easily absorbed, it can be used on dry or damp skin, hair and even as a facial oil, leaving everything smoother, shinier, softer and more radiant. Which is what we all want for summer, right? Buy online here.

Rituals Ritual of Karma Suncare

Suncare? Honestly, we really prefer The Ritual of Karma, darling. Rituals’ suncare range is enriched with antioxidants in the form of white tea and gingko, meaning that it’s skin-loving as well as protecting. Top marks for the SPF 50 Sun Protection Milky Spray which absorbs almost instantly and smells delightfully fresh, while the SPF 30 Sun Protection Body Oil contains a tan booster meaning that you’ll tan more quickly, while protecting your skin. Bonus!

New Summer Books

Whether we have a sun-soaked summer or a disappointing washout to look forward to, those lazy, hazy days call for a pile of new books to fall into. Luckily, we’re spoilt for choice this summer, with mesmerising fiction about musicians, maddening families and much more on the horizon. Here’s the titles to add to your TBR pile…

Novelist Laura Barnett is back with her sophomore book, Greatest Hits (W&N). Her bestselling debut, The Versions of Us, was one of 2015’s biggest literary talking points, but her second novel more than exceeds expectations and has a far less tangled plot to contend with. Cass Wheeler is one of music’s all-time greats – think Carole King, complete with flowing locks and lyrics inspired by heartbreak – but these days she lives alone and tends to shut the door on the world. Encouraged out of retirement to choose the tracks for a special compilation album, she looks back on her youth, her marriage and her career, and at the decisions and dramas that shaped her life. Explorations of the tough side of fame can feel grating and clichéd – the booze! the pills! the regrets! – but Cass is an endearing, sympathetic heroine and her trials are ordinary and real. Barnett is a master storyteller, bringing to life 1950s suburbia, the possibility of the 1960s, and the hedonistic heyday of the music industry so that you simply can’t wait to turn the page.

Another second-timer hoping to match her initial success is Francesca Segal, author of The Innocents and now The Awkward Age (Chatto & Windus), the latter a look at the ups and downs of blended families. In one corner we have Julia and Gwen, inseparable mother-daughter pairing since the untimely death of Gwen’s beloved father. In the other there’s academically brilliant, arrogant Nathan and his dad James; their arrival in Julia’s home sets in motion a chain of dramatic events. If you can get past the melodramatic storyline (I won’t spoil it for you, but at times it felt contrived) this is a warm, funny book dealing with a most modern matter.

Also dealing with generational strife is Nickolas Butler’s meandering, beautiful The Hearts of Men (Picador, 13th July), which takes as its stage an American summer camp for boys in the 1960s. In 1962, lonely outsider Nelson is befriended by the archetypal cool kid Jonathan Quick; their loyalty to each other sealed by a particular gruesome game of capture the flag. Despite their differences, the two remain close, even as Nelson is sent off to war and returns to take over at the camp he attended in his unhappy youth, and as Jonathan marries and becomes father and grandfather. As the decades pass, the two families remain connected, with devastating consequences. If you’ve read Butler’s brilliant Shotgun Lovesongs, you’ll be familiar with his gentle portrayal of rural American life; if you haven’t, start here.

Continuing with the rural setting, but raising the creepy factor is Jennie Melamed’s Gather the Daughters (Tinder Press, 25th July), a dystopian novel about a religiously-motivated, patriarchal society almost entirely cut off from the outside world. On the island, girls and women are chattel, fathers are sinister figures, marriage takes place almost as soon as puberty occurs, and adults are euthanised once they become a burden. The rules are strict, the life brutal and short, save for one thing; every summer the children are cut loose; they roam the island with complete impunity until the weather changes. A chance discovery on one of those heady days calls into question everything the community is built on; as the daughters rise up, the question is whether they will be strong enough to change their fates. There are elements of this novel that call to mind The Handmaid’s Tale, but Melamed is less concerned with politics and more interested in the psychological impact of living a life without choice or hope. Gather the Daughters is gripping, if disturbing.

Lastly, Julie Buntin’s Marlena (Picador), which comes heralded by a flurry of praise from authors such as Jonathan Safran Foer, does not disappoint. Our heroine is Cat: a thirtysomething with an ostensibly well-ordered life, who has been forever changed by a teenage friendship and the tragedy that destroyed it. Arriving in rural, impoverished Michigan with her newly divorced mother and unhappy brother, beautiful, confident Marlena offers the hope and escape that Cat is craving. But Marlena’s life is anything but a fairytale, and as their friendship develops Cat is drawn in to the seedy, insalubrious underside of her world. Beautifully written and insightful in its understanding of the complex relationship between girls on the cusp of adulthood, this is bittersweet and wonderful all at once.

The Beauty Fix

Summer. The season of sunshine, making fun plans with friends and family and long, lazy days at the beach. But it’s also the season of constantly checking your calendar so you can plan when you need to schedule waxing appointments and make time to visit the salon… Much, much less fun. There must be an easier way? Luckily, we’ve got the perfect alternative – and it’s called epilation. Introducing your new best friend: the Braun Silk Epil.

The simple solution to smooth legs all summer long? If you haven’t tried an epilator before, you’re definitely missing a trick. Forget spending time and money on waxing, epilating is quick and fuss-free, whether you’re at home or travelling. The best bit? Epilation lasts for ages – and you don’t have to wait for hair to grow back as you do with waxing, epilators work on hairs as short as 0.5mm. Let’s face it, stubble is only really sexy on George Clooney.

It’s also a more long-lasting hair removal solution as hairs are removed at the root, meaning up to four weeks hair-free. And the pain factor? Waxing is definitely worse. For an even more comfortable experience, you can actually use the Braun Silk Epil Wet & Dry Epilator in the shower. Plus, the more you epilate, the less painful it gets. #WINNING. Even better, choose an epilator with massage or exfoliating attachments, and you can create a pampering spa experience at home… Wine, candles and chill-out music optional. You can also epilate while you catch up on your favourite podcasts – and who doesn’t love multi-tasking?

And as for the price? Try epilation now: Shop Braun epilators on Amazon – with up to 50% discount, meaning more more to spend on books to read on the beach, summer sandals and city breaks. Love it, or get your money back! Plus, think of all the time and money you’ll be saving from waxing appointments…

This feature is created in partnership with Braun

Careers: The Little Black Book

There are times in your careeer when you’d really like some advice. Or perhaps some #inspo. Probably not Sheryl Sandberg Lean In level (because that’s not really where most of us are in our professional life RN) or even Arianna Huffington’s Thrive. What you need is advice from someone you can relate to – and that’s where Otegha Uwagba’s Little Black Book comes in. The founder of Women Who – a platform and organisation for creative working women, Uwagba’s brand new book is a concise 100-page compendium of inspiring advice on everything from productivity to public speaking, business skills to branding.

It’s a must-read guide you’ll come back to again and again, teeming with tips, #inspo and career insights, as well as advice from female entrepreneurs, writers, creatives, consultants and journalists – there’ll be more than one name you recognise here. And – of course – there’s an inspiring quote or two to open each chapter, namechecking Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou and Simone de Beauvoir to name but a few. Little Black Book is an indispensable, genuinely relatable careers guide for women today, so we’re delighted to share some of Otegha Uwagba’s own tips for life and work…

Top productivity tip?

Remember that working non-stop doesn’t necessarily equate to you getting more done, because your brain (or at least my brain!) simply can’t function at peak performance for hours on end. Be sure to break up your days with frequent breaks to allow your brain to rest and recharge – try working for a 90 minute burst followed by a 30 minute break. I find that structure works really well for me, and the fact that my next break is never more than 90 minutes away keeps me really motivated.

The maxim you live by?

Work hard and be nice to people. It’s such a standard and frequently repeated piece of advice that it’s become something of a cliché, but following those two basic principles – whatever line of work you’re in– will always serve you well.

How to keep body and mind on track?

Learn to protect your time. Learn when to say no. Don’t stretch yourself too thin in an attempt to accommodate everyone else’s needs, at the expense of your own energy, happiness and sanity.

Personal branding – brilliant or BS?

Brilliant. Building a strong personal brand can really turbo-charge your career, but I think people tend to shy away from the term because it sounds so corporate and buzzword-y. Your personal brand is essentially a measure of how you’re perceived by others in a professional context, nothing more complicated than that.

Top networking tip?

Introduce yourself to people at events, and at work – don’t wait for people to approach you, because chances are you’ll be waiting forever!

How to get a work/life balance?

As much as possible, try to ignore emails during the evenings and at weekends. We live in an ‘always-on’ culture where people are expected to be available at all times of the day, and it’s incredibly unhealthy and detrimental to your sense of self. It’s a small step, but once you commit to it, you’ll soon realise how much more relaxed you feel in general.

The best piece of advice you’ve been given?

“Not everyone’s gonna clap for yo”. This one’s a quote from my mum: one of the wisest women I know. Whether it’s a failed job interview or a rejected pitch – if you do creative work, you’re going to hear ‘no’ a lot. Not everyone’s going to like, appreciate, or be into whatever it is you’re doing. And that’s okay – rejection or disinterest, in all of their frustrating and disappointing guises, are things all creative people have to deal with, no matter how successful they are. The important thing is not to dwell on that for too long (or to take it too personally), and to focus on reaching the people who are into what you’re doing. They’re out there.

Any advice on boosting skills/professional development?

I love listening to podcasts, I think they’re a fantastic way of picking up new knowledge and learning about the world around you. I feel like they keep me really plugged in culturally too.

Top freelance tip?

Get an accountant – it’s money well spent, will save you time, and generally just make your life a whole lot easier.

How to negotiate that pay rise?

Steer clear of emotional language such as ‘I need’ or ‘I want’ – instead, frame your request as a business case, presenting tangible successes and wins you’ve had over recent months, so that there’s no doubt as to whether or not you deserve that extra cash!

Little Black Book by Otegha Uwagba is published by 4th Estate.

The Winner: The Women’s Prize For Fiction

Heard of the term ‘feminist science fiction’? If not, you’d better get used to it pronto. That’s because Naomi Alderman’s The Power – a major proponent of the genre today – has been awarded the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Alderman’s fourth book was praised for its “brilliantly imagined dystopia” in which women can discharge electricity from their hands, turning gender politics and the world order on its head. Sound like perfect reading for today’s uncertain world and turbulent political landscape? The judges – including newsreader Katie Derham, comedian Sarah Pascoe and journalist Sam Baker – thought so too. What’s more, readers won’t be surprised to hear that Alderman was mentored by Margaret Atwood, whose much-loved brand of speculative fiction pervades every page. In her victory speech, Alderman spoke of the influence of other women writers, saying “The support and power of other women have been more important to me than electricity.”

The win comes at a time when dystopian classics are seeing a resurgence in popularity – such as Margaret Atwood’s own classic The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984. The judges were keen to stress the importance of books at a time of political uncertainty, and reminded us how different the world felt this time last year before Brexit and the Trump presidency.

The Power came top of a strong shortlist that included: Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me, Linda Grant’s The Dark Circle, CE Morgan’s The Sport of Kings, Gwendoline Riley’s First Love and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

The Power is published by Viking. You can find out more about the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and all the winners online here.

The Power of Self-Awareness

Do you understand who you really are? Or how others really see you? We all know people with a stunning lack of self-awareness – but how often do we consider whether we might have the same problem? Research shows that self-awareness is the meta-skill of the 21st century – the foundation for high performance, smart choices, and lasting relationships. Unfortunately, we are remarkably poor judges of ourselves and how we come across, and it’s rare to get candid, objective feedback from colleagues, employees, and even friends and family. Psychologist, researcher and bestselling author Dr Tasha Eurich shares tips from her latest book – Insight – on how to improve your self-awareness, along with your career, relationships and more…

Why insight matters

People who possess self-awareness – that is, who know themselves and how others see them – make smarter decisions, build stronger relationships, enjoy more successful careers, feel more self-confidence and acceptance, and live happier lives. Insight is therefore a noble goal, and many people try to gain it through introspection – that is, digging into our deepest thoughts, motives, and emotions. But rather shockingly, research (mine and others’) has shown that the act of thinking about ourselves very often doesn’t result in knowing ourselves. The good news is that introspection can be effective—it’s just that so many people are doing it incorrectly! Below, I’ll bust a few myths of introspection, and show how approaching it a bit differently can have a powerful payoff.

Be intentional about how you journal

Though it’s often seen as one of the most effective ways to get in touch with our inner selves, a growing body of research suggests that introspection via journaling has some surprising traps that can suck the insight right out of the experience. Though there are a lot of nuances to this, let me share a few key takeaways. First, we shouldn’t use journaling as a method to discharge our negative emotions – instead, we should look at both our feelings and the facts of a situation – for example, we might describe what happened, or how other people viewing the situation might have seen it. Those who learn the most from journaling find new ways to view their negative experiences, leading to growth and change. Second, and though this may be surprising, we should write less to learn more. Writing every few days or only when you are trying to make an important decision has been shown to be more effective than writing every day.

Don’t get stuck in an endless loop of self-scrutiny

Though rumination is the enemy of introspection, almost everyone does it. We might endlessly replay a conversation in our minds or beat ourselves up about something we did (or didn’t do). In addition to being a mental hell, rumination is also a barrier to insight. But it can be squashed with the right approach. Let’s say you’re beating yourself up about a recent mistake. One way to move past it is to remember that other people don’t generally care about our mistakes as much as we do. Ask, If someone I knew did the same thing – would I even be thinking about it now? Another approach is to adopt a learning mindset—instead of focusing on the mistake itself, focus on what you learned. But if you really can’t stop ruminating, you can use a tool I call “hitting pause” – find a distraction that will give you a fast, positive reward, like cleaning, seeing friends, or exercising. Getting some distance very often makes things feel much less upsetting and much more manageable.

Practice non-meditative mindfulness

When we get in the habit of mindfully noticing new things in ourselves or our world, it dramatically improves our self-knowledge. Try to look at circumstances, behaviours, and relationships from a different angle, both the good and the bad. You might ask yourself what opportunities you can find in a difficult situation, or how your weaknesses might be reframed as strengths. You can use this same technique to gain valuable insight by reframing your experiences from a more objective angle. For example, if you and your partner are having a disagreement, take a moment to mentally step outside of yourself to “watch” what’s going on – instead of being an angry spouse, for example, become an detached observer.

Don’t stop using social media – just use it differently

Researchers have discovered that people who use social media generally fall into one of two categories: 80% are so-called ‘Meformers,’ who like to post messages that are all about telling everyone what’s going on in their lives. The remaining 20% are ‘Informers’ who tend to have more friends and enjoy richer, more satisfying interactions. They use social media as a way to truly engage and stay connected with others – their goals are to inform, entertain and inspire rather that to rack up ‘likes’. They might post an article they found interesting, an amusing observation, or a funny or informative video. To move from Meformer to Informer, when you are about to post something, ask What am I hoping to accomplish by doing this? Then, ask Is this action about me or about others?

Seek and hear feedback

Psychologists have found that generally, other people see us more objectively than we see ourselves. They can also anticipate our future behaviour better than we can (a fact to which you can attest if you’ve ever met a friend’s new, obviously ill-suited love interest and correctly predicted that the relationship wouldn’t last). Even strangers have been found to see us disconcertingly accurately. It takes courage to consider that other people might see us differently than we see ourselves, and to actively seek out that information. It might feel intimidating or terrifying, but the insight we gain is well worth it. Seeing ourselves from multiple angles—that is, examining our own perspectives and comparing them with how others see us – gives us more context, more information about how we can improve, and more control over our destiny.

Ask What, not Why

Asking why we do things creates a negative impact and permits us to justify or rationalise bad behaviour. It also reduces the quality of our decisions as we invent reasons that confirm our existing beliefs. To better understand our true thoughts and emotions, we need to stop asking “why” and start asking “what.” Asking “what” questions keeps us open to discovering more information about ourselves and moving ahead in a productive way. What’s going on? What am I feeling? What is the dialogue inside my head? What’s another way to see this situation? What can I do to respond better? Making the transition from “why” to “what” can indeed be the difference between victimhood and growth.

Insight: The Power of Self-Awareness in a Self-Deluded World by Tasha Eurich is published by Pan Macmillan, priced £18.99. Insight is available to buy online here.

We Love Mornings

When you think of dancing at 7am, it’s probably a picture of sweaty all-night ravers that comes to mind – not healthy, happy people starting their day in the most positive way possible. Since it first launched four years ago, Morning Gloryville has created something of a revolution, with events now taking place across the globe and the rise of ‘conscious clubbing’. Dancing your heart out sans alcohol is actually a truly, truly wonderful experience, and one that – once you’ve tried once – you’ll want to repeat ASAP! Ahead of Morning Gloryville’s fourth birthday extravaganza, we talked energy, happiness, wellbeing and the power of dancing with their CEO, Samantha Moyo…

What is so special about dancing?

Dancing is a medicine that is 100% powered by YOU! It’s an opportunity to release, unleash your spirit and connect to your heart. The moment you are lost in a dance you stop thinking and when you stop thinking you are free as a bird and in bliss!

Top wellbeing tip?

Feel good in your body and mind throughout the good times and bad. If you’re feeling awful, do awful well. And guess what – if you’re feeling great, do great well.

What does mindfulness mean to you?

To me, mindfulness is the ability to observe everything going on within the inner plane (mind, body and soul) whilst cracking on with life. It’s an infinite set of tools that help us manage life. It’s important to recognise that part of mindfulness is mindlessness.

What does your morning generally look like?

I LOVE to wake up gently and stroke my lover. Then some breathing or meditating. Then showering and moisturising. Then trying to start working as late as possible. In an ideal world, all meetings and seeing of people is from midday.

What do you do to boost your energy?

Pranayama. I learnt Atma Kriya Yoga and it’s literally saved my life. It teaches how much LIFE, ENERGY and NUTRITION is in every breathe.

Why are so many people so tired these days?

Good question. I thought it was from working so much but then the other day it dawned on me. It’s because we are becoming more sensitive so we’re processing more of everything around us – like computers. The more we expand our consciousness as a civilisation the more we are learning to operate differently and the more energy it’s taking. I believe there will be a collective breakthrough. Remember this is also the first time people are openly talking about feelings and tiredness and consciousness and wellness. All of this takes energy.

What does happiness mean to you?

Happiness is when my heart feels warm and fuzzy or when I choose to smile.

Favourite music/song/album/DJ to dance to?

Do Your Thing by Basement Jaxx, Fatboy Slim’s Praise You and I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free by Nina Simone.

Top morning energy tip?

Breathe in deep like air is your food. Then listen to your favourite music. And then smile. Oh and summer love-making is always great for getting your shine on!

Morning Gloryville‘s Fourth Birthday takes place at the Brixton Beach Rooftop on the 1st June, promising to be their biggest rave to date, with a surprise headlining act from one of the world’s most famous DJs, and attendance of over 1000 sober Londoners. With past acts including the likes of Rudimental and Basement Jaxx, the secret performer this year is sure to wow guests and get pulses racing. To book tickets, see the Morning Gloryville website.

All Day Cocktails

There seem to be so many silly days celebrating random things RN. But a whole day dedicated to cocktails? Hell, World Cocktail Day is something we’d happily celebrate 365 days a year! And the best kind of World Cocktail Day? Who doesn’t love a sparkling cocktail? So without further ado, here are three cocktails made with the finest Skinny Champagne and Skinny Prosecco – one for breakfast or brunch, one to enjoy in the afternoon and one to make if you’re inviting people over for a relaxed dinner or garden party…. Cheers!

The Pink Grapefruit Sumac Mimosa

A twist on the traditional mimosa, this adds a hint of Middle Eastern flavours into the mix, with a zing of tangy sumac and an aromatic hint of star anise – all finished with scented lemon thyme. With fresh pink grapefruit juice topped up with Skinny Prosecco, this is basically the perfect AM cocktail to enjoy with breakfast/brunch and the weekend papers – a little perk-you-up* to get Saturday or Sunday started. Packed full of Vitamin C too, so it counts as one of your five-a-day right? (*also an excellent hair-of-the-dog).

Pink grapefruit // Sumac
Star anise // Small bunch of lemon thyme
Skinny Prosecco

Juice the pink grapefruits and strain out the pips – one grapefruit should make two mimosas. Lightly wet the glass rims and then dip them in sumac to coat. Pour in pink grapefruit juice and then top up with fizz. Bash two or three stalks of lemon thyme against your palm to release the aroma then add as a garnish. Carefully turn the star anise in a flame for ten seconds or so, then add one to each glass to finish.

The Strawberry Jasmine Afternoon Tea

What flavour says summer more than strawberries? Whether you drink the Strawberry Jasmine Afternoon Tea with Champagne or Prosecco, it’s a wonderfully light afternoon cocktail – and delicious with cakes and sandwiches. Or just on its own – up to you! Jasmine tea and rose water add a slighted scented finish, but you can easily omit these if you want. Fresh strawberry puree with a twist of summery basil is a delicious combo – and even better when the sun is shining… For something a little different, finish with a little dusting of black pepper – it works beautifully with the flavour of the strawberries.

Strawberry puree //  Rose water
Jasmine tea //  Skinny Prosecco
Basil  //  Jasmine flowers

Start by making the jasmine tea and leaving to cool ahead of time. Then prepare the strawberry puree – one punnet should make three or four cocktails depending on the strawberry size. Don’t forget to sieve for seeds! Add three or four tablespoons of strawberry puree to each glass and then a couple of drops of rosewater to taste. Stir in two to three tablespoons of jasmine tea before topping up with Prosecco or Champagne. Finish with a basil leaf or two, and some fresh jasmine flowers – or pink rose petals if you prefer.

The Garden Goddess

This is one marvellous cocktail to make lots of if you’re having people over for drinks – perhaps an al fresco meal of a summer evening, or a long, all-day barbecue with people popping in and out. Make a big jug or pitcher with lots of ice, fruit, a little cloudy apple juice and top up with Skinny Champagne. We haven’t given exact quantities as this cocktail is really best made to your taste. You can also add in gin if you’d like a stronger cocktail – but a word of warning: the Garden Goddess is very, very moreish. Perhaps one of the most drinkable long cocktails we’ve come across.

Cucumber // Apple
Cloudy Apple Juice // Light sparkling elderflower
Pear // Lemon
Mint // Skinny Champagne

First prepare the fruit – thinly slice apples, pears and lemons and add to a large jug or punch bowl. Add long, thin strips of cucumber (create these with a peeler) and top up with half-and-half cloudy apple juice and sparkling elderflower – then leave in the fridge. When you’re ready to serve, throw in lots of ice cubes and mint, before finishing with fizz. Easiest cocktail ever and everyone loves this one!

For more information on Skinny Champagne and Skinny Prosecco, see the Thomson & Scott website.