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Proactivity: A Journey Together

Over a year on from The Huddle event we hosted in 2019, former AFL player and Founder of Elephant & Co, Dennis Armfield, captured an open and uplifting take on what he gained and continues to reflect on from his experience. Dennis founded Elephant & Co and set out with a simple mission, to make humans better. From what he has to say below, his motivation is second to none - as are his pearls of wisdom.

The Huddle, One Year On - a piece by Dennis Armfield.

Let me set the scene, it’s early morning and I am getting organised to go away on an immersive 3-day experience hosted by lululemon, known as The Huddle; an event for a select group of 30 men from across Australia and New Zealand providing us an opportunity to connect, sweat, discover our full potential and educate us on how we can continue to create positive impact in our own communities (whatever that may be).

I started to become anxious, self-doubt began to creep into my psyche. I turned to my wife, who was helping me pack at the time and told her that I can’t do this, I am not good enough. I was thinking of ways that I could get out of it, what excuses I could create that were viable enough for me to not go. The anxiety became greater and I found myself becoming distant with my wife. She noticed this and told me to stop, take a deep breath, relax and talk to her. I expressed what I was feeling, and she asked me a simple question, “why?”

I read her the following statement that each attendee received. 

Leaders across the Australia and New Zealand business nominated you because you met the following criteria:

- You are an influence and/or change maker
- You are magnetic, authentic and love a chat
- You are a leader in your community with a genuine following
- You are purpose-driven and committed to development; of yourself and others

I was scared and reading the above aloud increased my anxiety. I didn’t want to let anyone down, I wanted to be good enough, I wanted to help. My wife looked at me, gave me a big hug and reassured me that everything will be ok. She told me, “you don’t have to be anything different, just be yourself. You have been asked for a reason and that is because you care, your heart is in the right place and that is all that matters. It is an opportunity for you to meet new people who are doing amazing things helping others just like you.”

“You don’t have to be anything different, just be yourself."

Fast forward a year later and I sit here in front of my computer reflecting on the experience and can’t wipe the smile from my face. I have left with so much belief in what I am doing within Elephant & Co and the life I am living. The positive influence and impact that it has, and will have, on so many lives has me very excited about the future. I was fortunate to meet new friends who encouraged me to continue the conversation and who taught me some valuable life lessons that I would like to share with you all. Thank you to all the inspirational men who shared their stories, allowing me to share my learnings with you, even to this day, a year later.

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1. You have the tools to keep going
You have to believe in yourself, the hard work you have done to date and the things you have learnt in your journey of life are an asset. When in the face of adversity, you need to use your tools to be resilient and fight for your future, your goals and your journey. To be the best you can be. When all things are going well you need to use this toolbox too, to identify what is working, why it is working and make sure you keep it going. Not everyone’s toolbox is the same, but we need to dig deep and find a way to keep going. We need to give ourselves a chance to stop, reflect and make any adjustments to the tools we are using and fight to be the best we can be.

2. Have the courage to say ‘No’
Sometimes it takes more courage to say no to someone, something or to yourself. Be courageous and take control of how you use your time. Are you doing the things that you want to do? Are you eating and drinking what you require to stay healthy? Are you spending your time surrounded by the people whom you want to be around, who can help you in your journey of life? Time is the most valuable asset we have and helping others is very important, but if you find yourself saying yes to everyone and everything, struggling to say no, this can sometimes put pressure back onto you. Don’t feel you have to always live to please others and forget about YOU.

3. Create a 6-pack for your brain
Most men, when we hear ‘health and wellbeing’, think of personal fitness as a physical concept; gym, running and other active behaviours. Somethings that is easy to recognise, prioritise and see the physical results. I personally try to make time in my diary weekly to invest in my physical health by going to the gym, playing local sports and much more. But health and wellbeing are more than just physical. It is now time to make the effort to invest in our mental health. It’s time to try to build a 6 pack for your brain. It’s time to start incorporating and prioritising mental training into our weekly schedule; reading, meditation, breathing and many more.

“Health and wellbeing are more than just physical."

4. Create space and accept the silence
Allow others to have space. By this I mean give them the opportunity to speak, to share and to explain. Often, we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, always on the go and in a rush. We see it on our daily commutes all too much; people swerving in and out of traffic to gain one minute. Little do they know, an accident or even a loss of licence will take away so much more of their time. When it comes to conversations, we rush them; we ask a question, get an answer and move on or leave, never really connecting or digging that little bit deeper. It’s time to create this space, create opportunities to connect with others, and when you do, don’t be put off if there is some awkward silence. Give them the time they require and really listen. You don’t have to fill the void to hurry a conversation along. Silence is power.

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5. Smile
One skill that is so simple, however we don’t do it enough, or even worse, we feel awkward when we do. A smile is contagious, I challenge you to look at the nearest person and smile and you will be amazed by what comes back in return. By sharing our happiness with others (a smile), it can produce so much positive change in not only our lives but for those around us. It’s time to pass on these smiles, create a chance for others to smile back.

6. What is important right now is this very moment
We often find ourselves trying to work, play and communicate 3 steps ahead. We find ourselves thinking about what we will say next and not truly listening to what others are saying. By constantly thinking of what’s next or what’s to come, we miss the power of the present. We don’t give ourselves the opportunity to experience the ‘now’. It is time to slow down and give yourself the ability to take in where you are right now, to take in all the details and be present in this very moment. I’d like to challenge you all, that in the next conversation you have with a mate, family member, work colleague or a complete stranger, truly listen and be caught up in the now, not what you’re about to say or do next.

7. Everyone has a story, be confident & comfortable to tell it
“You can learn something new every day.” It is a saying we hear all too often. It got me reflecting on how we learn. We learn from others; in the books they write or the words that they say. However, we also have a story of our own and by keeping this inside and to ourselves, we are not allowing others to learn from us. My story matters as does everyone else’s. People want to listen and learn from life experiences, no matter how big, small, influential or powerful. People want to know that they are not alone. Let us share our stories, not only for others to learn but for our own personal growth. You will be amazed by what you gain in return from being vulnerable and the conversation that follows.

8. Creativity
I have strong core values around family, connection, leadership, health and many more. These are things that mean the world to me. While at The Huddle, I heard the word creativity mentioned and was taken by surprise, instantly thinking of art. However, the explanation that followed inspired me. Everything we do in life is creativity. We create our daily schedule, we create how and who we love, we create our occupations and how we execute them day to day and we create our interests and our passions in life. It is time to create the life that you want. Go out there and paint your canvas.

"People want to listen and learn from life experiences, no matter how big, small, influential or powerful."

9. Mean what you say, language matters
How often do you find yourself walking past complete strangers, muttering the words, “Hey, how are you?” Well, do you actually mean to ask? Do you actually want the answer or is it just a habit? What would you do or say if someone started to answer the question honestly? A simple hello may suffice in this situation. It is a responsibility of us all to mean what we say, from the language that we use when asking questions to the responses we give through our words and body language. Language matters. Let’s be honest with each other and ourselves.

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10. Stop telling me what you’re going to do, go do it and tell me what you did
How often do you find yourself telling people what you are going to do or what you want to do? How often do you hear others saying the exact same back at you? Well let’s do it, let’s complete the task we said we wanted to finish, go on the holiday we have been speaking about for so long. Then afterwards we can tell everyone what we did. We are the only ones holding ourselves back, no one else, we are in control. Don’t live in the place of ‘I wish’, ‘I want’ or ‘if only', live in the life place of ‘I did’ and go chase your dreams and live a life of control.

11. The speck
How did I react? Am I holding onto something? Is it distracting me? Can I forgive and forget? Am I ok? Who can help me? Where to now? Could I have done better or different? Why me? These are just some of the questions we ask ourselves after negative interactions with other people or experiences in our life.

While away, I was introduced to a concept known as the speck.

If you were to look at yourself from space, the spot where you stand right now would be nothing more than a speck, so small in the grand scheme of things. How do you react when faced with negativity? Why do so many of us turn a negative experience or interaction into a series of a million questions, bogging ourselves down for too long? Losing sleep, building up anger, stress or even sadness. Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and realise that this moment is just a speck in our journey of life. It is one moment out of a lifetime of many. Don’t let it get the better of you. Take a deep breath and zoom out because there is so much more of the picture to explore.

12. The flame inside
 What drives you to do what you do? The flame inside you makes you do what you do. Be passionate about life and keep the flame inside alight, burning and driving you to achieve the goals that you set for yourself.

13. Put your hand up and ask 
Too many of us are stubborn and believe we have to fight alone in life. We think we should know it all and that we should have all the answers, and when we don’t, we have too much pride to ask for help. Many men fear failure and see this failure as a weakness. WRONG!It’s more than ok to put your hand up and ask for help. We have all heard the saying, “many hands make light work.” It is time to invite people in, create your life team and allow them to support you and enjoy the journey together. Doing life with other people will create your greatest happiness, so no longer should we fight alone, use the team around you.

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14. The past doesn’t define your future
You can’t go back, you can only move forward. Many of us have done things that we wish we had done differently, that we regret or hoped would achieve a different outcome. We need to acknowledge these experiences and allow ourselves to be better by learning from them, but we must now move forward. Don’t allow the past to define your future, telling ourselves that we are not worthy of better. Live your best life and be proud of when you are doing well, no longer fear this so-called ‘tall poppy syndrome’. Be happy, excited and comfortable when things are going well, and share these moments with others. As men, when we get a pat on the back, we talk taller and strive to achieve this feeling again. So, learn from the past, live in the now and fight to be the best version of ourselves every day and lead ourselves to the future we aspire for.

15. Where’s Wally
We all have heard of the book ‘Where’s Wally’. A children’s book where you are set a challenge to find Wally in amongst pages of so many distractions. This task at times can be very difficult. These distractions aim to slow us down, frustrate us and prevent us from finding Wally, at times we give up and move on. Life is similar. It will throw distractions and temptations at you; it will try to challenge the path you are on. We need to stay focused, narrow our view and follow our purpose. Our purpose is to find our Wally. To be true to ourselves. You can do it.

"Learn from the past, live in the now and fight to be the best version of ourselves every day and lead ourselves to the future we aspire for."

16. Journey together
Doing life with others is very powerful. Real connections with others make life so much more enjoyable, it gives us a sense of belonging, but it allows us to live for something bigger than just ourself. Too many times in life people will ask for our help or advice and we give it then move on, thinking our job is done. However, imagine going on a full journey with them. Coaching them, supporting them, giving them the opportunity to build the skills required to get through their challenge and praise them when they do. When we journey together, we pick each other up when we are low but more importantly, we celebrate together when we have a win. It is in these moments that real connections are formed. Let’s journey together, invite others to come and enjoy the ride.

17. Don’t judge a book by its cover
I made reference at the beginning, that I was struggling with anxiety, not wanting to go because of self-doubt, believing that I would be judged by these men. How wrong I was. These men, came from all different walks of life, with different pasts and different futures. Some are strong in areas that I am weak and vice versa. Once we got past the small talk of name, age, occupation and began to talk about life, who we truly are, the magic happened. These men were here because they cared, they listened and they wanted to help wherever they could, even if it meant that they just sat and listened. Had I passed several of these men in the street I wouldn’t have spoken to them at all, because they didn’t look like someone I would talk to. A terrible thing to say out loud but true. We so often judge a person by their outer layer. However, I learnt so much from the diversity of these men and I am so glad I got this opportunity. No longer shall we pick up a book (meet a person) and judge it by its cover. It’s time to dig a little deeper and understand the book as a whole, you will be amazed but what you will learn when you least expect it.

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I sit here a year later still reflecting on the experience, continuing to implement these 17 lessons I learnt into my day to day life. I’m not perfect, some I do better than others and that is fine, it’s not about perfection, it’s about striving for continual improvement, looking for ways to be better tomorrow than we are today, and we were yesterday. To be given the opportunity to be open, honest and real alongside 29 other men has changed my life for the better. As men we often go about things alone, too embarrassed to ask for help, too proud to show weakness or too stubborn to let others know how we truly feel, that we may not have all the answers we need.

"It's not about perfection, it's about striving for continual improvement."

We don’t give ourselves the time to stop and reflect. To slow down and make sure we are on the path we want to be on.

We now have to be seen as ‘busy’ by others, it’s almost a competition to see who is the busiest in life and if we aren’t, we are not seen as successful. WHY? Being busy is great, but what are we busy doing. We are in control of our time, fill it in a way that makes you the best person you can be.

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There are far too many men taking their own lives and we have to do something different to help one another. This is the last lesson learnt from the experience;

We all say that we are here for our mates, our family, our partner and ourselves. But are we really? What do we mean when we say we are here for them?

In life, we are still too reactive. We only act when it’s our last resort or even worse when it’s too late and the pain is all too great. It’s time to live a life of proactivity. I ask all men out there, don’t sit on your hands and wait until something happens to you or someone you know. Be proactive and get on the front foot. Have a conversation! Be real! Be open! Be honest! Be vulnerable! Because together we can do so much more.

We can overcome our fears together. We can break down the stigma attached to masculinity together. We can do life together; face to face, and change the statistics around men taking their lives every day.

Act now, because we can’t replace a lost life.

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