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This catagory is all about Communication in the workplace, and between people.
What is communication made up of?
Our communication is not just made up of words, or even tone of voice and body language, but also our past experiences and beliefs which can help or hinder communication.
There have been times when clients and friends have been furious about particular emails sent to them, which when I look at them as an objective bystander with no history or axe to grind, seem like perfectly normal email exchange. It seems that in the absence of voice and body language we simply add in the tone of delivery often based on our past experiences and/or prejudices.
Therefore, if we have an email from someone who is always getting on our nerves or with whom we are irritated, when we read the email, we hear their tone of voice and/or see them in their usual annoying stance and project this onto the email. So what might be a perfectly rational email becomes emotionally charged. The opposite is also true. If we are infatuated with someone, we can misread their ‘How are you?', ‘Hope you have a great day', thinking they are saying much more than they are.
‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.'
The mood of the sender and receiver
Unlike telephone calls or face to face, where we can pick up on cues as to how the person is feeling, we never know what mood the person on the receiving end of the email will be in when they receive it and how that might colour their experience of reading it.
However, you do have control over your own mood. If you want your email to be read and responded to in a logical adult manner, then make sure that you are in that mood when you write it. Otherwise you are likely to choose language that reflects and betrays your thoughts and feelings, and hooks an emotional response in the recipient.
How does your mood affect how you write and respond to emails?
‘People are usually quite happy to consider a clearly expressed request – it is the accumulated backlog of resentment that gets their back up.'
Warning signs to look out for
Getting too task orientated – remember that like every interaction with someone, when you send an email it is a chance to either build, maintain or destroy rapport with others, so choose your words carefully
Watch out for trigger words or phrases – we probably know that with some people there are particular words or phrases that act like a ‘red rag to a bull'. If this is so then step into the other person's shoes: how are they going to react to what you have written?
Over reliance on email – an associate of mine was once running a team building workshop with an IT team who all had a strong Introversion preference on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. They realised that they all hid behind email rather than communicating with someone who sat in the same room and this was undermining their rapport with each other and their working relationships
Playing email ping pong – of course we are exchanging emails backwards and forwards with people in the course of a normal working day. However, if you know that the topic is contentious or your relationship is deteriorating, then relying on email will only make it worse. For me, if I sense that I am not communicating well with someone via email, I pick up the phone and speak to them.
What can you do to enhance your email communication with others?
Is there someone with whom you need to communicate more through face to face contact or via the telephone, rather than over relying on email?
Telepathy and mindreading in the workplace
No, I haven’t started running a new line in courses and workshops.
This edition is based on the many times that I have coached managers and discussed a team member’s poor performance. I ask, ‘Have you actually discussed this with them?’ They reply, ‘Well, not in so many words’ or ‘Well, I’ve hinted at it or alluded to it but I didn't want to make a difficult situation worse/I don't want to upset them’. Therefore, if we were good at telepathy and mindreading it would come in very useful at work (and in most families) as it is often so difficult to figure out what our colleagues or clients are really thinking, feeling or trying to say to us.
When have you relied on telepathy or mindreading?
What stops us from communicating openly?
We so often fear those ‘difficult’ conversations going wrong that we leave things unsaid. Often until they lead to bigger issues, bigger performance management or even disciplinary conversations.
What do we fear?
- Upsetting or offending the other person.
- The person getting angry, taking things the wrong way – and in some organisations, staff are quick to put in grievances when a manager is trying to manage their performance. And, if nobody in the past has discussed it with them, it can come as a shock to suddenly get some feedback.
- Undermining or ruining a good working relationship.
- Making a bad situation worse.
- When have you been too frightened to have that ‘difficult’ conversation with someone?
- When have you been left wondering what someone is really trying to tell you?
‘Each person’s life is lived by a series of conversations.’
Having those ‘difficult’ conversations
One of my guiding principles is ‘practising what I preach’, which can make for tough going sometimes as I feel I cannot run away from issues.
Recently, working with a new colleague, I started to feel that perhaps something was not quite right. Something in their behaviour towards me, the tone of a couple of emails and even the odd phrase meant that I was concerned that something was going wrong.
I did ponder what to do for some time and then wrote him an email (we work remotely and were both very busy) sharing my concerns and saying overtly if ‘I had peed him off I’d like to know, so do we need to speak?’ A week later the reply was, ‘No, everything is fine’ but a paragraph in his email about the project made me think it still wasn't really fine.
I was concerned not to lose this new colleague and I thought we had rapport, so I decided that whatever the outcome I needed to pursue this. We had a Skype conversation about a client which went well and I decided to bring this up again, and asked, ‘Are things really OK?’. At which point he brought up two points, which without being a mind reader I would never have known! We discussed it Adult to Adult and I said, please in future do discuss any concerns with me, I am always happy to speak.
(If you would like to find out more Adult to Adult interactions, contact me for a handout.)
This experience, along with coaching a CEO recently, discussing a conversation about one of her Director’s behaviour, and how she might be falling into the trap of trying to mind read what was actually going on, I thought this would be a good topic as it happens more often than we might realise.
‘Often we go through an entire conversation – or indeed an entire relationship – without ever realizing that each of us is paying attention to different things, that our views are based on different information.’
How do you know you are mind-reading?
This might sound like a ridiculous question to ask, as surely we know.
However, it is so easy to get caught up in our own thinking that we do not realise when we are either projecting our own stuff onto someone else, or mis-interpreting someone’s behaviour, what they say or even facial expressions.
Ask yourself the following - how do you react when:
- Someone frowns in a meeting – do you assume they disagree with you or are being negative, rather than ask them a question and check it out? It might be they are just concentrating hard on what you are saying.
- Someone’s tone of voice is a bit harsh or and you assume they are angry with you, rather than that they might just be feeling under pressure?
- Someone says a phrase or a word and it triggers stuff from your past and you suddenly end up in a less than resourceful state? When they might have just been stating a fact, not making a judgement. For example, ‘These sales figures are disappointing’.
When have you misinterpreted someone’s facial expression or body language?
‘To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation.’
Francois de La Rochefoucauld
How can you stop mindreading and telepathy and start having those so called ‘difficult’ conversations?
Now, don't get me wrong, dealing with conflict is not something that comes naturally to me.
It is something I have learned how to handle over the years, which helps me when I am coaching and training others in conflict management and having those ‘difficult’ conversations.
If you find yourself either on the end of such a challenging conversation, where mindreading or telepathy has been going on and you need to have a potentially difficult conversation, it is important to do the following to make sure it is as constructive and productive as possible -
Dampen down your brain’s threat response - Whether you are initiating or on the receiving end of this kind of conversation, it is likely to trigger your brain’s threat response, which if you don't take action to dampen it down will impact on your ability to listen, and have a rational conversation. Contact me if you would like a handout on this.
Ask questions – We too often jump to conclusions, project our own stuff onto others and try and mindread, rather than simply ask questions to seek to understand where they are coming from. This is a lot easier to do, if you have dealt with your threat response first of all.
Show that you are listening - Summarise or reflect back what you have heard, check out you understand what they are saying, ask questions based on what they have said.
Calmly make your points – Calmly, clearly and concisely say what you need to say and ask questions to check they have understood.
Step into their shoes - It can be useful even before going into this kind of interaction to step into their shoes, where are they coming from? Which is different from mindreading.
Aim for a win-win outcome - Agree to disagree or go away and think about things and continue the conversations once both have had time to think.
‘I always found that if you handle a problem in a benevolent way and a transparent way and involve other people, so it's just not your personal opinion, that people get to the other side of these difficult conversations being more enthusiastic.’
David M. Kelley
What if you do communicate and the person just doesn't seem to get it?
Again, this is often something that managers say to me.
And I think that this is where talking it through with someone else, often someone outside of the organisation or situation, can really help If someone really is not ‘getting it’.
Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Have I really made it blatantly obvious or am I still dressing up what I am saying, so much that it is not clear what is needed?
- What’s the level of rapport I have with this individual, are they not hearing it because they don't feel connected with me or respect me?
- Are they hearing me but are at a loss as to how to change?
- Am I having an Adult to Adult conversation with them?
If you are still at a loss, perhaps having some coaching will help – get in contatc with me about my coaching programmes and my free coaching audit to help you to decide how coaching can assist you.
‘Begin with the end in mind.’
Why is there so much confusion about bullying?
I was listening to ‘The Bottom Line' on Radio 4 in my car and the three guests had a range of views on what constitutes bullying.
It seems that what one person considers as bullying another just considers as ‘passion' or ‘determination'. Therefore in this edition of Inspire I am drawing on my many years of experience working as a consultant, trainer and coach in organisations.
I have sometimes been asked to coach people who have been bullied, and on other occasions worked with managers whose behaviour had been seen by others as bullying. I am going to focus in this edition on bullying in the workplace but it, of course, occurs in schools, within families, friendships and communities.
Are people bullies, or is this about bullying behaviour?
In my experience I have met very few, outright bullies, who are out to make other people's lives a misery, who don't care for anyone but themselves.
However, I have come across many instances where people's behaviour has been bullying at times. Sometimes these people can come across as caring, even sensitive individuals much of the time, but something happens and their behaviour becomes bullying.
I remembered a manager on a workshop a few years ago who was quite anti being ‘sent' on this workshop. I often find that those participants who are the most negative to start with, if handled well, can be the most positive at the end. In the afternoon when we were exploring Transactional Analysis (TA) in relation to managing people's performance he had a Eureka moment and very bravely said: ‘I've just realised something, I am a bully'. I explained that there are few people who are out and out bullies, but it is likely that his behaviour, at times, was bullying.
I am going to explain further about how this can come about using the TA model (Click here to be emailed a handout on Transactional Analysis).
What can lead to bullying behaviour?
I use Transactional Analysis (TA) on many of my workshops and I think the model clearly outlines how people's behaviour can become bullying. In order to do this I am going to share an experience that I had when coaching a particular manager.
I had been asked to coach the head of a department who had a number of grievances taken out against them for bullying. The stories I had heard meant that I was not particularly looking forward to working with this person but it was part of a larger project so I could not avoid it!
When I met them they seemed very nice and I wondered what was going on for them. We were discussing the Parent, Adult, Child modes from TA and then it became obvious as to what was happening. It was a Eureka moment for myself, as well as the manager, as I realised that so many of us can get caught in this cycle resulting in bullying behaviour which starts with —
Fearful Child slipping into Controlling, Critical Parent – In this case, my client's own manager would become angry at them about mistakes that their department had made. This hooked my client's Fearful Child mode. And what had happened (and what I now realise happens to so many of us) is that the client, instead of dealing with their fears, would go straight into Controlling and Critical Parent mode. They would go back to their own department, blast the people concerned and, of course, their behaviour was bullying. This created a climate of fear amongst the staff, with them not knowing when they were going to be on the receiving end of such behaviour.
When explaining this on workshops, I often remind participants of times when as teenagers they stayed out too late. Before we got home our parents were probably pacing the house fearful of what had happened to us (in Fearful Child mode). Instead of hugging us with relief when we got home safely, they would go straight into Controlling Parent mode and ground us!
How many times have your uncontrolled fears and anxieties led to Controlling or Critical Parent behaviour?
‘Strong feelings do not necessarily make a strong character. The strength of a man is to be measured by the power of the feelings he subdues not by the power of those which subdue him.'
Turning Fearful Child into a more constructive Adult response – This morning, as I wrote this edition of Inspire, the above quote came through via email. It seems to sum up what is needed in order to avoid bullying behaviour. What we need is the ability to manage our reactions, feelings and responses to situations so that we can respond in a calm, logical Adult manner.
For my client, the first step was to learn how to manage their emotional response when their manager was critical of them and their department. Doing this enabled them to step out of the Fearful Child mode into the more rational, logical, assertive Adult mode. They were then able to go to people in their department and discuss in a rational, calm way what the issues were and what action could be taken. This also resulted in my client eliciting a more engaged Adult mode from their staff, rather than them being in Fearful Child mode.
What situations have you found yourself in where your responses have got the better of you?
When have you been able to manage your initial response to be able to communicate in a calm and rational manner?
Is there an excuse or room for bullying at times? –
We are obviously only human and under extreme duress we might find it very difficult to exert the kind of control that is necessary to avoid this kind of behaviour. If it happens once in a blue moon, it is more likely to cause concern from those witnessing or being at the receiving end of it, about the person displaying it. They might wonder what is behind the unusual outburst, rather than experiencing fear, anxiety, stress or feeling bullied. The behaviour might be signalling that the person is under extreme pressure and maybe even at breaking point.
However, if this kind of behaviour happens regularly, then it is about a lack of self control and even a lack of awareness of themselves and the impact of their behaviour on others. It is not about being passionate, strong willed or anything else. It is in fact a weakness, which unfortunately others end up bearing the brunt of.
People talk about stressful jobs resulting in people blowing their top, but there are plenty of people who are in these roles or situations who do not react like this. They have learned how to handle the pressure, how to manage their reactions and communicate in a rational adult way.
The quieter side of bullying –
Not all bullying behaviour is overt and involving outbursts, it can be done in a much quieter way. Some individuals do it through constantly criticising or undermining someone else's performance; it might be quiet threats about the consequences of mistakes or even excluding them from meetings and activities that they should be involved in. Sometimes this kind of bullying behaviour is harder to pinpoint for those on the receiving end as others might not witness it; it is much more subtle.
Yes, but what if …?
On workshops when I discuss this kind of behaviour with managers there is usually someone who will say, ‘Yes, but Melanie, what about situations where someone has really made a mistake/isn't seeing how crucial something is/isn't pulling their weight or has not changed in response to previous feedback? Surely then you need to give them a right !£$%^&!!'.
My response is always that if you want someone to sit up, listen to you and take responsibility for something, then you need to engage their rational, Adult mode. Getting angry and shouting is likely to hook their Fearful or even Rebellious Child mode and you are not going to get the best from them. If disciplinary procedures are required, do them in a calm, rational Adult manner.
Do you have any, ‘Yes but, what if ...' situations?
How can you handle them in a calm and rational way?
Do you or your team experience problems in -
- Being assertive?
- Working effectively with others?
- Managing conflict?
- Managing performance?
Contact me for a confidential discussion about your needs.
This catagory is all about you, others and how we interact.
What's an ambivert?
I can hear you asking this question and, I have to confess, that having completed two degrees in psychology, read numerous books, attended many courses and conferences, I had not heard of an ambivert until I read Susan Cain’s fascinating book Quiet – the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.
I’ve mentioned Susan’s work before, and if you have not yet seen her very entertaining TED talk, check it out here -
Ambiverts are people like myself who fall pretty evenly between having characteristics of extraversion and introversion. I’ve always fallen slightly towards the E side of the scale on MBTI personality scale. I display many extravert tendencies (I think out loud, thinking as I speak, I will speak up in most group situations) but I also enjoy my introverted tendencies (I enjoy time on my own, in fact, I need it to keep sane, I enjoy travelling on my own but can also travel with others). So in reading Susan’s book I discover that I am probably an ambivert!
Is it more complex than Extraversion versus Introversion? When I talk to people about personality types on courses people often get caught up with whether they are one thing or another, however, it is more complex than that.
‘There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or pure introvert.
Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.’
Over the years, we have probably all come across someone who is either so introverted and withdrawn or so extraverted and loud that there does seem something pathological in their behaviour. However, for most of us, we are somewhere on the spectrum between introversion and extraversion.
Susan Cain goes on to explain that there are many different types of introverts and extraverts, which is why it is sometimes a surprise to find out that someone you considered an extravert, because they are outgoing and sociable, actually prefers more introverted pastimes, prefers working on their own and will think problems through on their own before sharing ideas with others. Meanwhile, an extravert friend might occasionally enjoy spending time on their own.
On a scale of 1 (very introverted) to 10 (very extraverted) where do you feel you fall?
Think about your colleagues, friends and family, where might they be?
Is there a difference between being shy and being an introvert?
If most of you saw me in my early years, through my 20s and early 30s, you would have probably firmly put me in the category of being an introvert. However, reading ‘Quiet’ has clarified what my inner extravert always knew, that I was just very shy.
We can often think that shyness is part of being an introvert but that is not necessarily so. There are confident introverts, who seem like they are extraverts and shy extraverts who seem like they are introverts.
What is interesting is that the number of Americans who said they were shy rose from 40% in 1970s to 50% in 1990’s, and one reason is that we are measuring ourselves against a world of what appears to be increasingly extravert people. However, even though many of those people you see on YouTube appear to be extravert, probably the reality is very different.
Shyness can be overcome and if we have compassion for our shy selves and support ourselves, rather than beat ourselves up for being shy, it is going to be a lot easier to overcome your shyness and become your more confident self.
‘We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot.’
What is the impact of temperament and personality on how we behave?
Susan Cain nicely sums up the difference between temperament and personality and how the two mix together:
‘Psychologists often discuss the difference between “temperament” and “personality”. Temperament refers to inborn, biologically based behavioural and emotional patterns that are observable in infancy and early childhood; personality is the complex brew that emerges after cultural influence and personal experience are thrown into the mix. Some say that temperament is the foundation, and personality is the building.’
Therefore, genetically we might be born with a tendency towards introversion, extraversion or even being an ambivert, but it is then the experiences which we have, especially as we grow up, which then moulds our personality.
Susan Cain grew up in a particularly introverted family, which reinforced her temperament. As most of us grow up with parents who are a mix, we have a mixture of experience, some of it reinforces our natural tendencies, while others help us to develop other sides of ourselves.
Think about yourself how much of your behaviour is down to your temperament or personality?
How much can we change?
Clients often start off saying to me, ‘But I’ve always been like this, it is just my personality, I can’t change it’. However, neuroscientists are now showing us that we can re-wire our brains, we can change and transform ourselves. In fact, Jung always said that in terms of personality type that there is flexibility; we will always have our preferred way of being, our natural temperament, but it doesn’t mean we can’t stretch it, and often as we mature (he said that happens anywhere from 18 – 80 years old!), we explore different parts of ourselves.
Susan Cain coins it the ‘rubber band theory of personality’, where we can stretch ourselves, introverts can become more extravert, and vice versa, but only so much. Too much and we either break or spring back into our old ways of being.
How much have you stretched your rubber band?
Could you be more flexible?
‘Come to the edge,’ he said.
They said, ‘We are afraid.’
‘Come to the edge,’ he said.
He pushed them.
And they flew.'
What are ‘Drivers’?
This brief introduction to the concept of TA Drivers will hopefully give you some food for thought and enable you to start thinking about your own and other people’s behaviour.
There are five ‘Drivers’ and as you read them you may notice that you probably fall into one or more categories:
Hurry up – This is about wanting to get through tasks as quickly as possible, and then whizzing onto the next one. It is about often doing 10 things at once. This driver I can personally relate to. In a work context it means that when time is tight and there’s a long meeting agenda I move so fast through items, that some people can be left panting and confused by the end of the meeting! Out of work I will attempt to carry the shopping into the house in the least journey’s possible – hence I frequently look like a bag lady!
Please People – this is about seeking harmony, getting on with others. With this driver your desire is for others to be happy with what you do and how you do it. You fear upsetting others and therefore can avoid conflict. This is something I see within some of my clients who often end up not sticking up for their own rights, being trampled on and taken advantage of. They often end up over worked as they fear saying ‘No’ and upsetting others.
Be strong – With this driver you think you need to be the strong one in the team, organisation or family. Staying calm under pressure, not allowing others to see how you really feel. With a ‘be strong’ driver it can be difficult to admit when you need support or that you have weaknesses. I’ve seen managers fall foul of this, fearing the consequences of letting others know that they need support.
Be perfect – this is about perfection, getting everything right, never allowing for errors or human frailties. Their aim is to look ahead, plan ahead to avoid any problems from occurring. They are as far from the ‘Hurry up’ driver as can be, they want to take time over things to get them perfect, often seeking a level of perfection that is not achievable.
Try hard – these people are enthusiastic about activities, throwing themselves into tasks. They work hard, will volunteer for things, often saying ‘I will try and do this by …’. They will put a lot in, but if this is not tempered by reason they won’t always be successful. Often they will try harder and harder, but not be smarter in their approach to activities.
What drivers do you recognise in yourself?
‘The pressure to always be pleasing in our behaviour and our appearance distorts our spirits in the same way that the ancient practise of foot binding distorted women’s feet.’
Benefits & drawbacks of your driver:
Benefits: they get a lot of things done, have a sense of achievement, good in emergencies.
Drawbacks: can get impatient with others who are not as quick as them, this can create stress for both them and others. Can lead to mistakes - or injury/breakages when trying to do too many things at once!
Benefits: good team members, help to bring about harmony between people.
Drawbacks: they avoid conflict to the detriment of themselves. They can be taken advantage of. Get upset if others are unhappy with what they have done, even if the situation is out of their hands.
Benefits: calm in the face of adversity, don’t loose their head when everyone else is.
Drawbacks: in the extreme the inability to ask for help and acknowledge where they need support or development can lead to burn out. Can appear strong but inside be unconfident or stressed out.
Benefits: good at spotting potential problems, methodical.
Drawbacks: inability to be themselves, to relax and enjoy. The tyranny of perfectionism can lead to increased stress levels, low levels of satisfaction – because they are never ‘good enough’. Frustration with others ‘sloppiness’, mistakes leading to conflict with others.
Benefits: enthusiastic, brings a lot of energy to a task, volunteers to do things, so people like to have them around.
Drawbacks: they can end up burn out, even frustrated as they expend a lot of energy with little results. Colleagues and managers may become aware that they continue to volunteer for things when they have not completed everything that is on their plate.
Patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting.
What benefits do you gain from your drivers? What drawbacks do you experience?
How do your drivers affect your life?
Your working life – how do they impact on your working relationships with clients, team members? How does it affect how you carry out tasks, work on projects, work under stress and to deadlines?
Your home life – how do you respond to the people around you – your partner, children, other family members, and friends?
Your social life – how does it impact on your enjoyment in social situations? Are you able to switch off and enjoy the moment?
Think about the people around you and what might be their drivers? Are there likely to be any clashes because of differences in what drives your behaviour?
Variability is the law of life, and as no two faces are the same, so no two bodies are alike, and no two individuals react alike and behave alike under the abnormal conditions which we know as disease.
This catagory is all about working with other people, either in your team or person to person, and how we behave with others in the workplace.
What do we mean by stereotypes?
The dictionary defines ‘stereotype’ as -
- A person or thing that conforms to a fixed or general pattern.
- A standardised, simplistic image.
The background to this edition of Inspire came about from a discussion I had one night, where two different individuals came up with two classic stereotypes. One person from overseas was talking about how reserved British people are and that all they engage in is small talk. Another talked about how women are good at talking, in fact, they can talk for hours about nothing, while men tend to be less talkative. I think you will agree that these are perhaps ‘standardised, simplistic images’ of us Brits, and of men and women!
I certainly know many talkative men and quiet women. I also know a fair few Brits who happily open up and talk deeply on a range of topics. However, these two people were fairly convinced that their view of the world was correct.
We can have stereotypes about different professions, races, politics, gender, hair colour (fiery tempered reds, dumb blondes!!), short people, tall people, thin or fat people, people from the country or from cities, or from the North or from the South. You name it, we will have stereotypes about it. And we can all fall into using stereotypes, even if we believe we are quite even and fair minded.
Having started to write this edition of Inspire I am amazed how in the last 24 hours in discussion with others some minor stereotypes can be revealed by our conversations, including mine!
What stereotypes do you have of others? Think about recent conversations, what stereotypes have they revealed in your thinking or in others’ thinking?
'A stereotype may be negative or positive, but even positive stereotypes present two problems: They are cliches, and they present a human being as far more simple and uniform than any human being actually is.'
How are stereotypes formed?
In order to make sense of the world and the massive amount of information that we gather from our five senses every second of the day we do need to cognitively make generalisations, and delete some information, or else we would become overloaded.
Our generalisations are usually based on a mixture of experiences and beliefs. When we are growing up our experiences start to imprint on and create our own unique map of the world.
If you were surrounded by extravert, talkative men and quiet women, then you might start to believe that men are chatty and women aren’t, this would become part of how you see the world. If, however, our father was a ‘silent type’ and our mother was an extravert, we might have a very different view of the world.
Our brain looks out for and tends to pick up evidence that will confirm our beliefs. We only see and hear what we want to see and hear and will tend to dismiss evidence which is contrary to our beliefs. We even have the expression: ‘The exception that proves the rule’, which basically says, ‘oh yeah, there may be exceptions but we are going to ignore them and stick with what we believe’!!
What ‘exception that proves the rule’ have you come across?
'Man is what he believes.’
Stereotypes – good and bad influences
Of course, at its worse, stereotypes turn into prejudice, division, distrust, hatred, conflict and even wars. Stereotypes can also lead us astray in other ways:
We can avoid certain professions and jobs, which we might be suited for, but our stereotypes and beliefs might put us off, or we might think we are not right for them as we think we are not that ‘type of person’. I remember wanting to be a trainer but thinking I was not extravert enough to be one. It was only over time that I realised that there are many different types of excellent trainers who do it in their own unique way.
We might be put off potential partners, as they did not conform to our stereotype of a romantic partner. With having a number of friends who found love later in life, they often said that their partner didn’t seem the type of person they would usually go out with, but they found they were very well suited. Perhaps with age comes some wisdom to overcome the stereotypes that draw us to unsuitable partners.
What we believe, we tend to attract into our lives. If we believe that all strangers are friends we have not yet met, we are going to approach people in a very different way than if we believe that we can’t trust anyone. These two beliefs will impact on our demeanour, body language, how we communicate with others, either attracting or repelling others, creating our own self fulfilling prophecies.
Not all stereotypes are negative. We can think that certain groups of people have lots of positive characteristics. However, as with any stereotype this might not be accurate, and also is often at the expense of another group of people whom these esteemed people are held up against.
What positive and negative consequences of stereotypes have you seen in your work, your life and your community?
Stereotypes in the workplace
It is very easy for people to get stereotyped at work.
Having worked with many diverse teams and organisations it is interesting how this can play out in some organisations (but not all, of course!).
Field people seeing office staff as unhelpful, not understanding the pressures that they face out in the field. And office staff seeing people working outside of the office ‘gallivanting around the countryside’ and hopeless with paperwork! In one organisation they organised work shadowing so that the office staff went on the road with the field staff for a few days, and vice versa, for them to understand the differing pressures and frustrations that each faced, as well as understanding why they might each have different needs and want things done in a certain way.
Staff seeing managers as being controlling kill joys, and never satisfied with anything. While managers seeing their team members as irresponsible, not able to take on responsibilities, can’t be left alone for a minute. On my team working events we explore Transactional Analysis, which helps managers and team members to see that they each need to take responsibility in order to develop Adult to Adult interactions that will foster effective and more enjoyable team relationships.
Personality stereotypes are a classic and when I use Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) with some teams and I warn against people saying ‘I am a ENFJ, that is just me, take it or leave it.’ When actually the whole point with MBTI is that we can use our least preferred personality types when we need to. It might take more effort but we can do it. Or we can negatively stereotype personality types that are different from us.
I had one senior manager who was convinced that ‘Perceiving’ types never got their work in on time. In a tower building team exercise with an equal split between ‘Judging’ and ‘Perceiving’ types, both groups actually conformed to type with the J’s getting down to building their tower with little discussion of the various options, just keen to finish the task on time. The Perceiving types spent 15 minutes of the 20 minutes discussing options, then with 5 minutes to go they built a tower that was not only taller, but stronger than the other team, proving the manager wrong about ‘Perceiving’ types, and me correct in that they might leave things to the last minute, but they deliver the goods on most occasions!!
Contact me for more information on MBTI if you want to use MBTI with your team, or on a 121 basis.
What can you do to challenge stereotypes?
The first thing is to address them in yourself. Catch yourself when you start to think or say: ‘All X are Y’, or ‘The problem with all A’s is they are lazy, good for nothing’ or even ‘All B’s are bright, engaging and sociable’. Start to challenge yourself: is it all people in that group, are their exceptions that you come across that you have dismissed because they don’t fit in with your beliefs and stereotypes? What evidence do you have which supports your beliefs or counters them?
With others it can be harder to challenge stereotypes because they can be built on people’s beliefs that are not always logical, therefore logical arguments do not necessarily work. Also, if we are faced with stereotypes that offend us, we can become emotional which does not help the situation.
Therefore, take the following steps to help you to deal with your emotions and react in a constructive manner:
- Take a few deep breaths, calm down, and even leave it a short while until you are calm enough to talk rationally and logically about this.
- Ask questions, seek to find out their point of view, ask for examples, and ask them if they have ever found people or situations that don’t conform to those stereotypes.
- It is often easier to take the approach above, rather than try and argue your differing point of view, as stereotypes are not necessarily based on logic, therefore logical arguments can often lead nowhere.
- Perhaps agree to disagree, as your viewpoint will be based on your own experiences and beliefs and might be as strong and long held as theirs.
- As stereotypes are part of how we process and structure the world, perhaps we can just view them as different ways of seeing the world.
‘Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It was not reasoned into him, and cannot be reasoned out.’
Criticism and complaint
As with so many editions of Inspire, this one comes out of observation of myself and others in recent weeks. In discussions with friends, colleagues and family, and within my own head, I noticed a growing level of criticism and complaint being made by myself, and others, of other people.
This morning while doing my Buddhist practice I was reflecting on this and thought about a character in the Buddhist writings called ‘Bodhisattva Never Disparaging'. He went around in ancient times bowing and praising everyone he met, and people did not seem to appreciate this. He met a lot of resistance from people who were either verbally abusive or even threw things at him. He would then remove himself to a safe distance and continue bowing and praising their Buddhahood!
Now I am not saying that we go about being quite like him, but I realised how easy it can be to slip into an attitude of complaint about others, only focusing on what is wrong. Rather than either focusing on their good points or directly feeding back to them anything that you find offensive or would like them to change. It was amazing how quickly after having this revelation that I started to change my attitude and behaviour.
Do you find yourself sometimes falling into a habit of criticism and complaint?
'A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.'
What drives our critical nature?
I think that when we get into a downward cycle of complaint and criticism it is often driven by unhappiness and dissatisfaction with something in our lives (and not always with the person who is the object of our complaints!). I know that when I am truly happy and content I either don't notice many of life's irritations or they make no impact on me, or I deal with them directly and quickly so that they don't linger on and cause me further irritation or anger.
Are you aware of what drives your critical nature?
The inner critic and criticising others
Another cause of criticism can be our own inner critic, in that if we are hyper critical of ourselves we are often critical of others as well. The tyranny of perfectionism is often not just directed at ourselves but towards others as well .
In my book Master Your Inner Critic, Release Your Inner Wisdom, I write about the importance of being able to step into other people's shoes, stop criticising them, and start to praise them. I am always reminded of the Aesop's Fable of the Sun and the Wind, if you don't know it search for a video on YouTube.
Overt and covert criticism?
Sometimes criticism is overt. For example, when a manager, parent or partner continually picks up on others' mistakes or just the fact that they do things differently. However, quite a bit of criticism is unspoken or certainly not spoken directly to the person concerned. We might complain to others or in our own heads, rather than say it out loud to the person concerned. Yet unspoken criticism can lead to a build up of resentment, which can slowly poison a relationship.
Is your criticism overt or covert?
‘Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host.'
What happens when our criticism gets out of control?
When criticism is overt and continuous it tends to undermine the other person's confidence, it also starts to eat away at any rapport that was there and can destroy a working relationship or even a marriage! And if my feeling this morning is anything to go by it can also leave one feeling uncomfortable and unhappy from complaining about someone without doing anything directly or changing how you view the situation.
Once I started to think like Bodhisattva Never Disparaging I started to think more positively about the individual concerned and also decided to talk to them about the bit that I was not happy about, in a clear and assertive manner.
‘A man is but the product of his thoughts, what he thinks, he becomes.'
The difference between criticism and feedback
When I run workshops on day to day performance management I always make the distinction between criticism and feedback. I think that feedback is about providing information about what you would like to see changing, whereas criticism is often just a complaint about something you don't like!
In the writers group which I belong to, we had a recent discussion about the concept of ‘critical friends' that a fellow writer, Bob MacKenzie, coined. This is where a critical friend poses questions to help improve your writing, which is of course quite different from purely giving a critique of someone's work.
For many years I used a ‘Support & Challenge Partner' to provide peer support and challenge through posing thought provoking questions to assist each other in gaining a different perspective on what we were dealing with. Both ideas involve posing questions which challenge our way of thinking, which can be an incredibly constructive and positive process.
What positive criticism or feedback have you received recently? Have you given feedback recently which was constructive?
‘When one is praised highly by others, one feels there is no hardship he cannot bear. Such is the courage which springs from words of praise…when criticised, one can recklessly cause one's own ruin. Such is the way of common mortals.'
Who is in your team?
For some readers of Inspire, this question appears easy to answer, as you might be working in a larger organisation and within a formal team.
However, even in that situation there will be many people whom you have to work with in order to perform your job effectively, where teamwork can be applied even if they are not formally within your team. They might be other departments in your organisation, other businesses, suppliers and even clients.
For my part, like many self-employed people, working on my own, you might think that teamwork does not come into my working life.
However, no individual can be successful completely on their own. I had a great example recently of how my team of wonderful suppliers pulled together. I was exhibiting at an exhibition and realised I wanted some more of my lovely bookmarks to give away, but I wanted to have a QR code put on them, which required a new QR code landing page on my website, so it was not just the case of sending them off to the printers. I thought that with just a week to go it would be understandable if my suppliers said it was not possible.
However, I can thank the following people for super-quick turnaround times and excellent customer service -
Merrill Jacobs at Genero Web Design
Karen Leahy at K-design-UK
Helen at Parchments of Oxford
And while I am singing praises, I'll mention my wonderful freelance PA -
Sarah Collins at Freelance PA
who proof-reads and inputs Inspire, each month, along with supporting my business in many other ways.
You might also consider particular friends and family members who support you outside of work, if their support enables you to turn up for work and perform effectively.
It might be your partner cooking the evening meal, organising the school run or a friend who is always ready to listen to your workplace woes or your next big idea for making money!
‘There is work that is work and there is play that is play; there is play that is work and work that is play. And in only one of these lies happiness.'
What can go wrong with teams?
Here are some of the common problems I have witnessed or heard about in clients' teams:
Lack of rapport – Rapport is the very foundation of any working relationship and, without it, communication and teamwork are very tricky.
Solution: If there is no rapport at all then the last thing you want to do is to have an away day or a night out, as it will often make things worse! However, you can take action on a day to day basis to start to build rapport with others through reallly listening to and taking more of an interest in each other.
Personality clashes – Often in a team you need different personalities as they bring different perspectives and skills to the team. However, they can also result in clashes if people do not understand the personality differences and learn to use and appreciate those differences.
Solution: Learning more about each other's personality types can help the team to draw on each other's strengths, learn to spot and compensate for weaknesses in personality types. I run workshops for teams using Myers Briggs Type Indicator to help them understand and make the best use of their different personality types, give me a call on 01865 377334 if you would like to discuss this further.
Poor communication skills – If team members and/or the manager does not know how to deal with issues in a constructive ‘Adult to Adult' manner, then conflict or mis-communication can ensue.
Solution: It might be that the team needs to learn how to communicate more from the assertive Adult mode, rather than slipping into more unhelpful ways of communicating. If you are the manager, model this kind of behavior and coach teams members to enhance their communication skills.
Game playing – And I don't mean the fun type of games! Eric Berne's first book on Transactional Analysis was called Games People Play. Most people are unconscious of the games that they play with others, however, they can be very destructive in the workplace.
Solution: Transactional Analysis is a great way of understanding more about the interactions that we have with others. I introduce it to clients on my workshops and during coaching. Conatct me to request an introductory handout on TA or to discuss a workshop for your team. A book I would recommend on TA is ‘Working It Out At Work' by Julie Hay, as I find Eric Berne's book a bit dated and also not focused on the workplace.
Scapegoating – It seems to be that there is often one person who becomes the scapegoat in a team. Any problems within the team are either overtly or covertly blamed on them. Which often lets the other team members off the hook in terms of looking to themselves to shoulder some of the responsibility for the team's issues.
Solution: It is far too easy to blame the person who is a challenge to work with, for all of a team's ills. Recognise that scapegoating is a natural process in any group or community, but that does not mean it is OK to do it. Catch yourself if you are starting to do this. Be honest with yourself as to your own or others' role in any issues that arise.
Moody or moaning colleagues – I have come across so many teams where the team's happiness, productivity and even stress levels are deeply affected by one member's mood. If that person is in a good mood, then all is well, but if they are in a bad mood it infects the whole team, especially if it is the manager who is moody!
Solution: This is a challenge. I've been in enough teams where this has happened to know that it can impact on everyone else. However, from my experience if you are in a strong, centred, happy place yourself it is much easier to remain unaffected by the other person's mood.
The ‘Selfish Jean' – I heard about this from an associate of mine, Roy Leighton (see Melanies Associates for details). At a recent workshop he talked about the team member who, although they give the impression of being part of the team by remembering people's birthdays, etc., are not really part of the team at all, as they are resistant to any changes or new ideas from other people. They are only interested in their own needs, hence the ‘selfish Jean' title. Their game playing or sulking at any change means that other people are reluctant to challenge them.
Solution: As with some of the other scenarios discussed above, other team members need to be strong, communicate in an Adult to Adult way and be prepared to deal with any fall out in a constructive manner by not getting involved in game playing, in order to move the team forward.
Lack of vision or direction – Team members need to know both what they are doing and why they are doing it. Sometimes the bigger picture (especially in larger organisations) gets lost, which can impact on how well the team works together and with others in the organisation or business.
Solution: As a manager it is important to discuss with the team on a regular basis the direction or vision of the business or organisation, so people don't lose sight of the big picture and get bogged down and demoralised by day to day issues.
Task versus process – When managers and team members are very busy, it is easy to become so task focused that you forget to treat each other as human beings.
Solution: Stop and ask yourself: when was the last time you asked someone how they are, what they did at the weekend, how a meeting went that they were worried about or simply said hello, please and thank you. It is those small actions which both build rapport and help people to feel acknowledged, rather than them feeling like just a cog in a machine.
‘Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.'
How do you know if your team is working well together?
One way is to take our free Team Development Audit (contact me for details), but in the meantime think about the following points:
How much laughter is there in the team? You might be thinking ‘hang on a moment, they are here to do a job, what's this about laughter?' If you do think this, laughter and humour are good measures of rapport in a team. Laughter also energises people and can relieve pressure and stress. See the above link for more on this.
Look at not just the team's KPIs, but other measures – For example, levels of sickness, lateness, positive or negative feedback from clients, etc.
Do people take responsibility? This is in terms of being proactive, as well as being open and honest about mistakes they have made.
How much firefighting is happening? If you are a manager, are you fire fighting, solving the team's problems, or have you developed your team to solve their own problems, freeing you up to be more strategic in your role?
How much are people supporting each other? Do people naturally help each other out, listen to each other, and support each other's ideas in meetings?
‘The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work.'
What we can do to assist you in enhancing how you work with others
Free Team Development Audit
- If you are a manager of a team, this is a brand new service to help you to review your team's performance and think through what development they might need (contact me for details). This free audit involves the following:
- You, as the manager of the team, completing a pre-coaching questionnaire and returning it to me.
- We have a telephone conversation to discuss the team's needs and what training, coaching or team development might be necessary to enhance how the team works towards the business goals.
- I send a proposal of what training, coaching or team development programmes might be suitable.
- The manager then makes a decision as to whether they wish to proceed.
Team Development Programmes
We run a variety of team development programmes to suit your needs. Contact me to discuss your team development needs.
Free Coaching Audit
If you are running your own business, working on your own, then coaching can support you in tackling the day to day issues you face. One area of work that I have been asked to work on quite a lot this year, is in helping clients overcome the psychological blocks to marketing and selling. This free Coaching Audit is designed for individuals who are wondering whether coaching will benefit them, and wanting to think through what they want to focus on during a coaching programme. The Coaching Audit works in the same way as the Team Development Audit above, but with a questionnaire which focuses on you as an individual.
'You cannot teach people anything. You can only help them to discover it within themselves'
This category covers diverse subjects on the self, including perfectionism, positive thinking and critical thinking.
What do we mean by perfectionism?
Perfectionism is more than just wanting to do well.
The dictionary defines it as:
- A disposition to regard as unacceptable anything short of perfection, especially in one’s own work
- The doctrine that a state of perfection is attainable.
Of course, we all want to do our best but a perfectionist’s view would be ‘that your best is not good enough unless it results in perfection’. They have a zero tolerance of mistakes and errors in themselves and frequently in others.
As a recovering perfectionist I know that being driven to do well is really about the fear of failure. I was so afraid of making mistakes or being seen as a ‘less than perfect’ consultant, trainer, daughter or friend that I was in a constant state of anxiety and worry.
The link between perfectionism and being a control freak
Perfectionists can become control freaks, wanting everything at work and at home to be just so, which for those living or working with them can be very difficult.
So how do you know if you are a control freak?
Do you insist that meetings, reports, cooking, washing, etc. be done ‘your way’, which is of course the ‘right way’. Perhaps not considering that there may be other ways of doing things, even better ways, which might just be different.
I call myself a recovering control freak and noticed the other day as a friend was driving us (I am rarely a passenger) and we were late, that she took us on a different route from the one I usually take which avoids all the traffic lights. I noticed that the old control freak wanted to say something but I managed to just about keep quiet!
Do you let others do things differently? How could you hold back on wanting everything done your way?
‘The battle to keep up appearances unnecessarily, the mask – whatever name you give creeping perfectionism – robs us of our energies’
Can ‘approximate perfection’ lead to a happy perfectionist?
Although I have written about the tyranny of perfectionism in my book Master your Inner Critic; Release your Inner Wisdom , it was actually an article in the Family Guardian by Oliver James that spurred me to write this edition of Inspire. It appears that research backs up what I have been saying regarding a concept that a colleague of mine, Peter E Makin, came up with, which is ‘approximate perfection’. This is an idea that I took to heart as I challenged my tyranny of perfectionism, and it is something I work towards today. This seems to fit in with what Oliver James says:
‘Healthy perfectionists derive real pleasure from their strivings, which are for the highest standard, but about which they are prepared to be flexible, depending on the situation – they realise that pursuing perfection may carry costs (such as excessive work or workaholia) that are not worth incurring.’
He goes on to say that:
‘unhealthy perfectionists are insatiable and compulsive – they feel as if they have no choice about their standards – 99% is failure because it’s imperfect.’
He said it can lead to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, alcoholism and OCD. Therefore it seems that to be a healthy perfectionist, and a happy one, developing flexibility and aiming for approximate perfection is the key.
What would approximate perfection look like in your life?
‘Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?’
Perfectionism, mistakes and learning
Research into how we learn, change and develop, has shown that mistakes when we are trying to understand concepts, theories and ideas, actually help us to learn. This is because if we find out that our ideas were incorrect or that the question or the statement that we made was wrong, and we take on board the new information, we expand our level of knowledge and understanding on a topic.
The problem with perfectionists is that if they make a mistake they spend so long beating themselves up and feeling bad about it that they often fail to stop and learn from the experience!
It took a long time for me to become confident enough to accept that I, along with everyone else, make mistakes, and that mistakes are often an essential part of learning. I thought as a well paid consultant I should know everything! It took time for me to have the confidence when someone mentioned a book or theory that I had not heard of to be honest (instead of trying to bluff my way through) and simply ask the other person to tell me about it, which of course expanded my level of knowledge and understanding.
However, when learning facts or certain physical skills we need to avoid making mistakes, as it is hard to unlearn these mistakes once we have made them. Once facts are stored in the wrong compartment in our brain it is hard to retrieve them. With physical skills once we pick up bad habits they are much harder to change, although not impossible.
How have mistakes helped your understanding of something? Has perfectionism ever got in the way of your learning?
What can you do to become an approximate perfectionist?
Master your inner critic - For me and many others, our inner critic drives us to think we must be perfect. My book is crammed full of exercises and techniques for mastering your inner critic.
Watch out for when you start to control others - Take a step back, hold onto what you were going to say, think about whether you are helping or hindering them.
Aim for glass half full thinking - List out all that you do, have achieved, all your strengths, good qualities, rather than always thinking about what is missing. You also might want to do this in terms of how you view others.
Be flexible - Recognise that approximate perfection will usually be perfectly good enough in many situations. In fact your approximate perfection might be better than most people’s efforts!
‘The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.’
What can you do if you live or work with a perfectionist?
Living or working with a perfectionist, who might also be a control freak, is not always much fun. Obviously there can be benefits if they insist on doing everything because they don’t trust you to do it correctly! However, it can be annoying, frustrating and also upsetting if you see them getting stressed out, worried, even burning themselves out. So what can you do?
Encourage them to get help!!! – A coach or counsellor can help them to unpick the beliefs and thought processes that might be driving their behaviour, and help them to learn new ways of thinking and being.
Have compassion for them – If you are going to help them to change, compassion and understanding might work better than irritation and frustration.
Gently challenge their thinking – If they will listen to you and take on board what you say stay in an Adult mode and gently challenge their perfectionist thinking.
Use humour – Where you have rapport, humour can work well to assist someone to see quite how extreme their thinking or behaviour might be.
‘Really good friends are those who interrupt your usual pattern with a reminder to be gentle on yourself and take the easier option.’
Review my book Master your Inner Critic; Release your Inner Wisdom
What do we mean by positive thinking?
I was not born a positive person and it certainly took me into my early 30s before I realised that I could take charge of what I thought, and the fact that my thoughts had an impact on how I felt and behaved. I now see and feel the benefits in my life of managing my mind, rather than letting it manage me. However, there are people who believe that with positive thinking you can achieve anything you set out to achieve, including preventing or curing all of life’s ills.
When a colleague was diagnosed with breast cancer she said to me, ‘I know I should be positive, but….’. I said that it was important that she allowed herself to feel whatever she felt, rather than thinking she had to feel a certain way. She is not the only cancer patient who has commented that the positive thinking movement either makes them feel that they got cancer because of the way they thought or that the only way to be cured is to think positively.
This has got me thinking about the downside to this positive thinking movement.
What are the downsides?
Currently I know many people facing a range of challenges from redundancy; cancer; supporting parents with dementia; bereavement; financial problems which might lead to the loss of their homes; as well as the challenges of children leaving home to go to university, new babies in the family, etc. Even supposedly happy events can, after all, also have their challenges.
So what happens when we think we ‘must’ or ‘should’ be positive to any challenges we face?
- You can end up feeling guilty about what might be very real and natural negative emotions that you are experiencing.
- You can end up suppressing your true emotions, and when you suppress your negative emotions, you tend to suppress all your emotions, including any positive ones.
- You can end up storing up your feelings leading to bigger problems down the line.
- Your true emotions can leak out in your interactions with others or explode out in an outburst of all the pent up negative energy.
- If you have an inner critic it can latch onto the fact that you are not reacting positively to whatever is occurring and give you a very hard time about it.
- Some people end up lacking compassion towards, and even being impatient with, those people who are feeling down or depressed about the situations they are facing.
As I write this Clare Rayner’s death has just been announced and there was a clip of her speaking about her anger at the positive movement approach to cancer, where you are told to fight it. She said that if someone had a broken leg, you wouldn’t say to them cheer up, you can fight this!
Have you experienced any of these downsides to positive thinking? What can you do to acknowledge how you truly feel?
‘Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?’
How can you think positively while still being grounded in reality?
In my experience I can ‘turn poison into medicine’ and be positive about challenges only after I have acknowledged, faced and processed all the other emotions that might come with the situation I am facing. In fact, the quicker I do face up to how I truly feel, the quicker I am able to move onto a more positive place.
I went through many years of having both my parents suffering from a diverse range of illnesses. When the next health issue presented itself I would always go through a foot stomping phase of, ‘oh no, not more, why oh why is this happening now!’, before I could then start to deal with the situation we were facing.
You are human and you experience human emotions, desires and dreams.
It is OK to ....
- feel whatever you are feeling, however horrible it might be.
- think whatever you might be thinking: ‘Why didn’t this redundancy happen to X rather than me?’; ‘I just want to run away from all of this’; ‘If only I could win the lottery everything would be OK’.
- reach for the negative supports before you can start to feel, think and behave more positively in the face of whatever challenge you are up against.
What can you do to process your emotions to move to a more positive place?
If you want to rise to the challenges you face then it is important to do some of the following:
- Let yourself feel whatever you feel, don’t beat yourself up about it or fall into the trap of keeping busy in order to avoid the feelings.
- Release your negative emotions in a positive way: cry, go aagghh, shout at your sports team on TV or use exercise as a positive release to your emotions.
- Crying can be hugely cathartic, but we are told from quite a young age that ‘big boys and girls don’t cry’ and many people can believe this, when actually crying is a natural response to painful or sad situations, and it can act as a release to all those pent up feelings.
- Talk to someone you trust: a friend or family member or a counsellor or coach. Having over the years either had a coach or counsellor to provide me with on-going professional and personal support there is something about ‘being heard’, having someone impartial listen to and acknowledge your feelings, having someone with whom you can be truly honest with your thoughts and feelings.
- Take action sooner rather than later. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re too busy dealing with the issue in hand to find the time to support yourself in this way. Or you don’t have the money to invest in yourself. However, the sooner you get support the quicker you will deal with the emotional aspects of what you are dealing with and move to a more positive and productive place.
Moving through stages of transition
Elizabeth Kubler Ross who studied people’s reactions to bereavement and loss found that in many cases people go through a similar cycle of emotions in response to loss. While the positive thinking movement would like everyone to go from shock to acceptance in a nano second, all the research shows that people do go though the stages of transition, whether in response to bereavement, serious health issues, redundancy or other life changes. Some will go through the stages quickly, while others can get stuck at certain points or even seem to skip them. Email me below for a handout on this.
‘Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.’
Is there a difference?
Critical thinking is about being discerning about what we see, hear and feel. It is about using our intuition, thinking objectively about what others and we do and say.
So how does it differ from the inner critic? Let's take an example of attending an important meeting that was tough, but you held your ground. Using your critical thinking, you sit back and objectively review how it went: what went well, what you could have done differently, what you can take forward into other meeting situations.
However, with the inner critic it tends to be critical in a destructive way about everything we do, say and who we are as a person. For example, in the same situation the inner critic might say, ‘You are pathetic, you let X get away with murder in that meeting, you forgot to discuss Y, they'll never ask you back again, etc., etc.'. Usually said in a critical, harsh tone of the internal voice. Which you have to agree is not a very constructive or motivating way to review a situation.
‘Nurture your mind with great thoughts.'
What are the benefits of critical thinking?
The main benefit is it provides you with a rational, logical, clear view of a situation. For example, if you are thinking about applying for a promotion or changing careers to follow your dream, your critical thinking will assist you in identifying your strengths and development needs, the steps needed to succeed and perhaps what training or coaching would help you to develop further.
With the inner critic you might not even get off the starting block as it might fill you with doubt about your abilities to cope with a new and bigger job; or it might criticise you for not having fulfilled your dream in the first place with, ‘Why do you think you will succeed now?' This is likely to fill your head with negative thoughts and images, so that even if you take action you might be setting yourself up for failure.
What would be the benefits to you of using your critical thinking rather than allowing the inner critic to take over?
‘Thoughts are energy, and you can make your world or break your world by your thinking.'
Susan L Taylor
How can I tell when it is the inner critic or critical thinking?
Partly it comes down to how you end up feeling.
With critical thinking you are being objective, you are likely to feel positive about yourself and the situation, you will have a clear sense of what you need to do next and feel motivated to take action. When it is your inner critic you are more likely to end up feeling bad about yourself, unconfident, and it might even stop you from taking action.
Think about challenging situations or decisions you have faced recently. How have you felt? Did you feel upbeat and positive, or anxious and demotivated?
‘The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.'
Is critical thinking different from criticising yourself or others?
Critical thinking does not necessarily mean you are being critical (of yourself or others).
It all depends on the emotional state you are coming from. True critical thinking is rational and objective, therefore, you need to be in a calm state to do it. If we are angry, frustrated or fearful about something, our thinking and anything we say is not likely to be calm and rational thinking. Therefore, your comments are more likely to come from your inner critic than your critical thinking.
When do you end up criticising yourself or others rather than using critical thinking?
How can you develop your critical thinking? – There are a range of ways in which you can develop and use your critical thinking and some are described here and explained in more depth in my book, Master Your Inner Critic, Release Your Inner Wisdom.
Balance debriefing – I've talked about balanced debriefing before as it is one way of mastering your inner critic by making sure that when you review what you have done you do it in a balanced way and don't just focus on what has gone wrong. Email me for a handout of this exercise.
Manage your emotional response: step back, take an objective viewpoint – often our emotional response can cloud our thinking, so finding ways of being able to take a mental step back, take a break and manage your emotions will assist you in thinking more critically.
Don't take things at face value: ask questions – think of questions that will help you to explore ideas and what you are being told or what you are reading. If in doubt ask a question.
Deal with your fears and concerns – our fears and concerns are often dismissed by our inner critic, leaving us feeling anxious and uncertain which is not a good state to be in if you need to think logically and rationally. However, by acknowledging and listening to your concerns, you can then use your critical thinking to help you deal with them.
Release your inner wisdom – inner wisdom is our intuition, the part of us that instinctively knows what is the right thing to say or do. It is an essential part of us that is needed if we are going to use our critical thinking abilities. Releasing our inner wisdom is a natural, positive by-product of mastering our inner critic.
What action are you going to take to master your inner critic and develop your critical thinking?
‘All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.'
This catagory is all about what you are thinking, where, and why.
Why mindfulness at work?
You might have noticed over the last year that I have often mentioned mindfulness as a tool for helping you to become more self-aware, raise your life state to deal with problems and deal with the pressures of life. So I thought it was about time that I did an Inspire dedicated to the topic.
‘The ordinary mind is the ceaselessly shifting and shiftless prey of external influences, habitual tendencies, and conditioning; the masters liken it to a candle flame in an open doorway vulnerable to all the winds of circumstances.'
What do we mean by mindfulness at work?
It is about being connected to what is happening within and around you.
There are two aspects to this -
Mindful of yourself
Noticing when your ....
- Thoughts and beliefs are negatively affecting your behaviour.
- Mood is negatively impacting on your performance.
- Preferred way of communicating with others is unsuitable for them.
- Personality type is impacting negatively on your relationships with others.
- Approach to problems and challenges at work are ineffective.
Mindful of others
Noticing if -
- Someone's tone of voice is betraying more of what they are thinking and feeling than what they are saying.
- They are not as happy and smiley as usual, and taking action to check in with them.
- You are not feeling as much rapport with them as usual.
- Their behaviour and/or performance has changed.
I have been reading ‘Mindfulness At Work' by Maria Arpa recently and she starts off by saying:
‘When the world around you isn't performing how you would like, your choices are either a change of attitude or a change of direction, mindfulness will help you to choose.'
What are the benefits of mindfulness at work?
When you are more mindful of yourself and of others you can:
- Quickly spot when problems within yourself, or with others, are starting to develop and take action before they spiral out of control.
- Feel in the driving seat of your life, rather than being at the mercy of your environment, as you can manage your reactions and responses to situations.
- Be more sensitive to the needs of others and your own needs, noticing when they or you need support, and giving a friendly word of encouragement or smile, or thanks.
Research by INSEAD suggests that ‘mindfulness based leadership interventions offer the potential for managers to act with greater care and compassion'. Research by the American Institute of Health at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard have found that mindfulness interventions at work can lead to:
- Reduced costs of staff absenteeism caused by illness, injury and stress.
- Improved cognitive function – including better concentration, memory, learning ability and creativity.
- Improved productivity and overall staff and business wellbeing.
- Enhanced employer/employee and client relationships.
‘Every human has four endowments: self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom . .
. . . the power to choose, to respond, to change.'
What does mindfulness involve?
It is about being in the here and now, focussing on what you can see, hear and feel (taste and smell is also part of it but less important in most jobs!). Neuroscientists have found that we spend about 80% of our time in our heads telling ourselves stories, rather than being connected to our direct experience in the here and now.
Here are examples of some stories we can get ourselves caught up in at work:
- ‘I know that Mark is going to be difficult in the next meeting, he is bound to throw his weight around and not listen to anyone else's ideas.'
- ‘Look at Sally, she is so confident when dealing with her team, I'll never be like her.'
- ‘I'm never going to get through all my work this week, my boss keeps on at me about deadlines, but I can't see how I will be able to meet them.'
- ‘I'm dreading doing this appraisal, I hate having to do them, they seem to ignore anything positive I say to them and only focus on the few negative comments.'
- ‘I'm dreading my appraisal, my manager always dominates it and I can hardly get a word in.'
- ‘All I've got to do is get through the next three weeks and then I'll be on the beach for two weeks of holiday, I can't wait.'
What are the stories that run through your head during your working day?
What happens when we tell ourselves these stories?
It affects how we feel, our mood, and often our confidence takes a nosedive. This then impacts on our ability to work, to speak, listen, be assertive, and our performance suffers.
So what would it be like if you focussed on your direct experience rather than the stories that you tell yourself? Let's take the situations above and apply mindfulness to them.
This would mean that you are aware of what you are thinking, how you are feeling, and you then take action to deal with the situation you face rather than the story you are telling yourself, for example:
- ‘I'm feeling anxious about the meeting because of Mark's past behaviour, so I need to do the following: prepare notes against the agenda so I am clear about what I need to say. Get myself into the right frame of mind, so that I can be assertive with Mark if he starts to act up. Remember that sometimes these meetings do go smoothly so I must not create a negative, self fulfilling prophecy.'
- ‘I need to deal with the facts about Sally and myself. Firstly, she is more experienced than me, but I also know she has undergone training in performance management, which I could do as well. I also don't know if she worries on the inside, and just gives off an air of confidence. I could use Sally as a mentor and model to learn more about performance and team management'.
- ‘Ok, let's deal with the near and now, what are my priorities this week, what can I realistically get done, what do I need to start on first? Do I need to keep my manager updated on progress to get him off my back, can I re-negotiate some of the deadlines?'
- ‘I'm going to ask my team to prepare for their appraisal by listing out all the things they are proud of, what they've found challenging and what they want to develop further. We will go through what they have prepared, with me adding in any bits that they might have missed out.'
- ‘I am going to prepare for my appraisal and email my manager beforehand telling him what I'd like to cover, and go in with that agenda written down. I'll also visualise myself taking an equal role in the meeting and keep on doing that until I feel confident I can.'
- ‘What if the next three weeks were the last on this earth! I'm going to enjoy them, be grateful that I have this job, even if it is challenging at times. I'll look forward to my holiday but also enjoy the run up to it. I'll prioritise what needs to be done before, and what my colleagues can take on in my absence.'
When we get stuck listening to the negative stories in our heads, we can often feel disempowered and stuck.
By recognising them simply as stories we tell ourselves, we can recognise we can re-write the script. We can focus on the here and now, what we see, hear and feel and what actions we can take to change the situation and how we think and feel about it. And the first step to doing this is to become more mindful of what is going on within and around us.
What actions can you take to deal with the negative stories you tell yourself?
‘Not causing harm requires staying awake. Part of being awake is slowing down enough to notice what we say and do. The more we witness our emotional chain reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain. It becomes a way of life to stay awake, slow down, and notice.'
How can you become more mindful?
Here are some ideas which will assist you in becoming more mindful.
- Write in a journal to check in with yourself daily.
- Be more mindful, use a guided meditation – see here for a three minute ‘breathing space' to be used anywhere or anytime. Give it a go right now, I've just done it and his soothing voice, the noises of the outdoors as he speaks, and taking a few minutes out is really refreshing!
- If you think meditation is not for you, then read the following about the Myths About Meditation: click here. For example, you don't have to switch off your brain and it doesn't have to take a long time.
- Use specific exercises from past editions of Inspire. See the back issues since January 2006. More will be added each month.
- Understand your personality type and the implications of this on how you communicate and work with others. I use MBTI with clients to help them to understand themselves better.
- Read ‘Mindfulness At Work' by Maria Arpa, which is a slim book with exercises to help you to be more mindful at work.
What has showering got to do with work?
You may well be asking this question.
The idea for this month’s topic came from a section in a wonderful book called ‘Living In The Moment’ by Anna Black titled ‘Who are you showering with?’. Which got me thinking: how many times have I been in the shower but my head has been elsewhere, thinking about the day ahead, the difficult conversation the day before? How many times have I brought into the shower with me people whom I would rather leave outside the house, rather than in the shower with me?
I mentioned this idea to a coaching client, who said ‘Oh no, I’ve been taking one of my Directors to bed with me when I really need to leave him outside my house’ or perhaps even at the office door.
What happens when we bring people and work home with us?
When we can’t leave work at work, even if it is mentally rather than physically, it starts to encroach on our home and social life and it can result in any or all of the following:
- Disrupted sleep because we cannot switch off, which results in lower energy levels, moodiness, decrease in concentration and effectiveness at work.
- Conflict at home if family (and friends) feel like they never get a look in.
- Lack of ‘down time’ can lead to increased stress levels which, again, can have a knock-on impact on performance.
And the opposite is true, if we have good quality down time in the evenings and at the weekend we return to work feeling energised, refreshed, relaxed and raring to go.
‘Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.’
Leaving work at work
Last year one of my coaching clients had been through a major organisational change which took out a layer of management, resulting in a demotion, a cut in salary and a very unhappy individual. He worked from home in a regional role and was spending his evenings and weekends either worrying and feeling down about work or catching up on emails and work, which was impacting on his family life and his levels of contentment and stress levels.
After the first session with the help of writing daily ‘gratitudes’ and using other psychological techniques, he decided to focus on enjoying his family life at the weekends and started to play tennis again mid-week.
When he came back for his second session, he said ‘everything has changed, even though nothing has changed’. Which is actually a common comment from my clients because the situation which was causing them so much stress and unhappiness in the past is the same but by using simple techniques they have transformed how they feel about themselves, their lives, and how they approach their working and home lives as well.
Contact me about my free coaching audits to find out how coaching can help you.
What are the ways in which we bring work home?
There are obviously times when we physically bring work home to do. However, it is the more subtle ways in which we bring it home:
In our minds – when we cannot switch off our minds either about the past or the present. The subtitle of Anna Black’s book is: Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. Simply BE in the present.
In our bodies – tension, holding onto the pressures and stresses of the working day see here for the difference between pressure and stress.
In our emotions – if we are stressed, anxious, angry or frustrated about work or we might be low, depressed and fed up about work. Either way it impacts on our home life, even if you live alone.
Now obviously if you are excited by work, feeling full of enthusiasm, you might not resent intrusive thoughts about work. However, if work is intruding into your home and social life and causing you problems then you might want to do something to transform this.
How do you bring work home with you: physically, mentally, emotionally?
'Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.Conscious breathing is my anchor.’
Thích Nhat Hanh
How is technology encroaching on our home life?
I was talking to another coaching client who mentioned the following ways in which work was encroaching on home life:
- Checking emails while watching TV in the evenings.
- Using the mobile phone as an alarm clock and then being disturbed by the ping of text and emails coming through during the night. They did not realise they can turn off the sound and the alarm will still wake them.
- Waking in the night, checking the mobile to see what time it is and noticing emails and texts that have come through.
What can you do to stop technology encroaching on your home life?
Have to bring work home - re-order and change your mindset
I like to practice what I preach and, on the whole, keep weekends for R&R, family time or doing other activities. However, sometimes the nature of work means that I need to do some work at home or very occasionally run a workshop.
If you find yourself getting annoyed when work encroaches like this, you can end up being your own worst enemy – being annoyed, frustrated, resentful, feeling it hanging over you during the weekend. If it results in your mood and happiness, and perhaps sleep being disrupted, then when you get to do the work, your performance is likely to be effected and you don’t do such a good job, and it has also effected your enjoyment of the weekend.
So how do you change your mindset and experience of this?
We all have maps of the world within our heads and these are a nested hierarchy like an organisational map. Sometimes our lives do not fit the order that we have in our brains, which can cause undue pressure and stress. When this happens we need to re-order so that we can reduce the level of stress and threat we are feeling.
For example, if your map of the world involves putting your family first and you are suddenly faced with a project which is going to eat into family time, without re-ordering you can end up feeling very frustrated and stressed by the situation. However, if you re-order and decide that for X number of weeks your focus will be on the project and then you can re-focus on your family, it helps to reduce your stress levels.
‘In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go’
Misconceptions about mindfulness
I first wrote about mindfulness in May 2013 and it is something that I do discuss with both my coaching clients and participants on my courses. Neuroscientists have said that we all need to be more mindful if we are going to master our minds and take control of our thought processes and brains. One research project found that 80% of the time we are listening to the thoughts in our head, rather than being focussed on the here and now. And these thoughts are often worries about the past or future.
I feel that there is some confusion over what mindfulness is.
Just looking at definitions online I have found -
- ‘The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.’
- ‘A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.’
However, mindfulness is often linked to meditation although it does not necessarily need to involve mediation. What neuroscientists have been recommending is about being more aware of what is going on within your head, being in the here and now, not wrapped up in the thoughts in your head.
In February 2014, I wrote about everyday mindfulness in my newsletter titled Who are you taking into the shower with you? which was about the idea of living a more mindful life, being in the present moment, enjoying what there is to enjoy, rather than constantly worrying about the past or the future.
‘There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.’
Elisabeth Kubler Ross
Are you awake or asleep?
I remember from my undergraduate psychology degree reading about the fact that, psychologically speaking, most of us sleepwalk our way through life. We are not aware of our thoughts, feelings, or what drives our behaviour, until perhaps we reach some crisis point. Mindfulness can be one way to wake up to our lives.
Many years ago when I was still near the beginning of my personal, professional and spiritual journey I attended a weekend course run by Robert Dilts called the Art of Awakening. The focus of this course was this idea that we sleepwalk through life, and being alive to the present moment can increase our enjoyment and connection with life.
On the second day, as I sat on the underground train going to the course, I thought, ‘OK, I’ll be in the moment, in the here and now, instead of escaping into my daydreams in my head’. Which I often did (and still do some of the time).
So I sat there looking around, listening, feeling, then I felt an overwhelming sadness, I started to feel tearful. My dad was awaiting yet more tests on his heart and I was worried about him. I realised that sometimes being in the here and now, and not in the stories in your head, can be painful. I also realised that coming from a family where ill health had been a constant presence since I was a young child, day dreaming had been a very valuable coping mechanism to help me to escape from the sometimes very difficult, current realities. And I realised that was OK.
Now if I had known about mindfulness at that moment I could have focused on the here and now: what I could see, hear, feel, rather than focusing on the worried thoughts in my head. However, I was just learning to wake up and hadn’t learned how to deal with the sometimes negative consequences of that!
‘When the soul is full of peace and joy, outward surroundings and circumstances are of comparatively little account.’
Hannah Whitall Smith
Does mindfulness have downsides?
On holiday I was reading the weekend Guardian magazine that I had taken with me. The journalist, Dawn Foster, had attended a mindfulness course in order to write an article about the rise of mindfulness, and she had a very difficult time of it. This led her to explore more about the negative side of mindfulness. And there have been cases of individuals who, on trying out mindfulness, and in particular, mindful mediation, it has led to severe psychological episodes sometimes lasting years.
Check out Dawn Fosters article -
However, for the majority of the population, although being more mindful might bring up a few uncomfortable feelings that they perhaps have been avoiding, in the long run they will benefit from being more mindful, more in the here and now, rather than always in the thoughts in their head. However, for some it can either -
- Trigger memories from the past which they have either buried, not been aware of or avoided up until that point.
- Bring them face to face with their current reality which they might have either been in denial about or been avoiding for some time.
Although mindfulness is about being in the here and now: what you can see, hear, touch, feel, smell, taste, it does open up your senses to all feelings and can create the space for the past to come up.
If you are not ready for this, suddenly being faced with the past, which had been hidden or buried, and without proper psychological support, this has the potential for some individuals to trigger major psychological episodes.
Of course, what may seem counter intuitive is that mindfulness has been taught in therapeutic settings for many years now. In fact, I know someone who had severe mental health issues, who found mindfulness incredibly useful.
However, this is in the context of someone who is within a system of psychological support.
Are there more benefits than risks?
In Dawn Foster’s article she quotes Florian Ruths who is the clinical lead for mindfulness-based therapy in the South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust, and has researched this topic for 10 years.
Foster quotes Ruth as saying the benefits outweigh the risks:
“If we exercise, we live longer, we’re slimmer, we’ve got less risk of dementia, we’re happier and less anxious,” he says. “People don’t talk about the fact that when you exercise, you are at a natural risk of injuring yourself. When people say in the new year, ‘I’m going to go to the gym’ – out of 100 people who do that, about 20 will injure themselves, because they haven’t been taught how to do it properly, or they’ve not listened to their bodies. So when you’re a responsible clinician or GP, you tell someone to get a good trainer.”
How can you avoid the potential downsides?
I remember going on another, very different workshop, which was about exploring death (yes I know I am a little weird but it was recommended to me by two male friends, and it was amazing!).
Before attending the workshop, and again at the start of the day, it was made quite clear that the workshop was not suitable for people who were either recently bereaved, facing terminal illness or had someone close who was facing terminal illness. This is because it wasn't going to provide you with the kind of psychological support that you might need if you were in those categories.
With mindfulness, before undertaking it, you might first ask yourself or before recommending it to others -
- Is there something in my life at the present moment that I have been avoiding? This might be a concern, problems you are facing, a deep unhappiness or sadness. Mindfulness can help you to face these but it might also bring you face to face with strong feelings that you might need professional support in the form of a coach or counsellor to help you to deal with them.
- Is there something in your past which you have been avoiding looking at or that you think you have resolved, that mindfulness might bring to the forefront of your mind, and that you might need additional assistance with.
Now, of course, too often things are hidden and you have no idea what might appear. Like signing up for an exercise class or gym, they might ask you questions about your health but there can be an underlying health issue which you are not aware of until you start to exercise and suffer the consequences of.
Florian Ruths is suggesting that you make sure you work with someone who is trained in mindfulness if you are going down the mindful mediation route. However, as the training can vary from a weekend course to a year long programme, you need to use your wisdom when choosing a class or bringing in someone to run mindfulness workshops for your staff.
And as the Foster’s article points out, the benefits of mindfulness can be brought about by other techniques.
Being more mindful day to day
I like the analogy that Ruths makes about exercise, most people are going to benefit from mindfulness and exercise, while a very small minority will have an underlying issue which may surface and cause problems.
The title of my February 2014 newsletter Who are you taking into the shower with you? was taken from a chapter in Anna Black’s wonderful book Living in the Moment: Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. Simply BE in the present
If you have not thought about mindfulness before, perhaps start with being more mindful today in your daily activities -
- When you have a drink, stop to smell it, focus on the colour, the taste, be mindful while you drink it.
- As you eat, again, be in the here and now: what can you taste, see, smell? What is the texture of the food?
- When you are talking to someone focus completely on them: what they say, how they sound, what you can see – rather than the thoughts in your head.
- When you drive your car – wake up not just to the traffic around you but the beauty of the surroundings around you.
Once I was stuck in traffic at the start of my journey to run a workshop. I appeared to be going nowhere fast and, with no option to get out of the jam I was in, I thought through what I would do if I ended up late, then relaxed.
I became mindful of my surroundings, saw the sun start to rise on a winter’s morning, watched the waning moon, the birds silhouetted on the leafless trees and became very relaxed. If I couldn't change the situation, I might as well enjoy where I was! And when I arrived at the venue later than I had hoped one of the participants who had arrived early helped me set up the room.
‘One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon--instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.’
This category is about productivity, stress, change and other factors that affect performance in the workplace.
Pressure vs stress
There is a model I use on my workshops to explore the difference between pressure and stress. This shows that a certain amount of pressure and demands can be stimulating, challenging and stretch us.
This is what we call the ‘zone of optimal performance’. It is when we feel energised by the level of demands and pressures that we face, we rise to challenges and perform well. We might be stretched, but we can cope with the demands.
However, problems occur when either of two situations develop -
- The amount of pressure or demands on us increases beyond our ability to cope. Perhaps something happens outside of work, or we have a few sleepless nights or a colleague is off sick and suddenly there are too many demands. This is where we start to feel overburdened, overstretched, we feel the strain of the situation and start to feel stressed.
- At the opposite end of the spectrum the demands on us are low, there are no pressures, or we have become so used to doing something it provides no stimulation or challenge. This is where we can become demotivated, demoralised and can suffer just as much as if we were feeling over burdened and stressed.
What is it like when you are in the ‘zone of optimal performance? How do you feel, think and behave?
What are the signs within you that the demands are getting too much? Or that there is a lack of challenge and stimulation in your life?
‘Learn to distinguish between straining and stretching yourself - the former leads to injury, the latter to development’
Anne Dickson – A Book of Your Own
Managing stress vs dealing with pressure
We are often asked by organisations to help their staff to ‘manage stress’ more effectively.
But our stance is to help individuals to ‘work effectively under pressure’. This might seem a bit pedantic, but words and phrases have a very powerful influence in how we think and feel about a situation. Focussing on managing stress is about symptom management (which has it’s place), while focussing on managing pressure is about taking action to avoid stress from occurring or to get back into the ‘zone of optimal performance’.
Are you focussing on stress or pressure? What can you do to manage the pressures you face?
Exploring the demands
Many of us face real demands in our lives: work deadlines, demands from customers, staff or other departments; long, difficult commuting; bringing up children, ferrying them around to a 101 out of school activities – to name just a few. Sometimes we can run around like a headless chicken and it is only when we talk to a coach or a crisis makes us sit down and look at our lives that we realise where our priorities are and perhaps what we want to delegate, re-negotiate or leave behind.
But sometimes when the pressures are increasing and we are starting to feel stressed part of the problem can be that the perceived demands on us are not necessarily the real demands. I don’t know about you but if I am sliding out of my ‘zone of optimal performance’ I can start seeing the things that I have on my plate as bigger than they are.
Yet the reality of getting down to write a newsletter, sort out X or Y, is easier than I had thought in my overwhelmed state. A coaching client finds it useful during ‘aagghh’ moments, when more demands and deadlines are dumped on them, to take a deep breath, take a mental step back, look up and see themselves carrying out the tasks they have to do. This process makes the demands seem manageable and has a direct impact on their levels of stress.
What are the actual demands that you face each day and week?
Are there times when the perceived demands outweigh the actual ones?
If so, take a step back, take a deep breath and mentally adjust your view of what is ahead of you.
‘If you’re suffering in your life right now. I can guarantee that you’re somehow attached to how things should be going.’
Dr Wayne W Dyer
Long hours, low productivity
Long hours, low productivity is the message that we are getting loud and clear over the last few years regarding businesses in the UK.
And, from the projects that I get brought in to do, in all different types of organisations, in both the private and public sector, you can begin to understand why our productivity might be so low.
‘The quality of the conversation drives the nature of the impact. At the moment of contact, conversations have the power to transform our lives.’
What is undermining our productivity?
There are obviously many different reasons for low productivity but here are a few of the factors which I encounter again and again in client organisations, some of which have been written about in the media -
Lack of sleep – when I wrote about this topic in 2015 it gained one of my highest open rates, and elicited a lot of feedback from people. Sleep is essential for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing but the majority of people are getting by on less and less hours of sleep. They are getting by, merely surviving but not thriving. And this has an impact on the other areas below.
Increased stress levels – with cuts in budgets, reduced staff numbers, increase in competition, increased uncertainty with Brexit for those working in the UK, stress levels are going through the roof. When we are stressed, our brain goes into Threat Response, we do not think clearly, make wise decisions and will be less efficient and effective. See here for the link between our brain, energy and performance.
Increase pressures out of work – I barely know a family where at least one child is not experiencing emotional or serious mental health issues. For parents, this puts enormous pressures on themselves and, if they do not have professional support, then they understandably bring these stresses to work, and will often feel stressed before they arrive.
Commutes to work – the above point brings me to people’s commutes to work. Whether by car, train or bus, commutes are getting longer, busier and more challenging, with some people arriving at work feeling like they have already done a day’s work! Commuters are often leaving earlier and earlier to avoid the traffic, without necessarily getting to bed earlier and therefore eroding their much-needed sleep.
24 hour access to email – if you don't manage your email, it will manage your life or even take it over. Accessing emails in the evening, late at night will undermine your ability to relax, recover and sleep, setting a vicious circle. It will also impact on family life and relationships.
Communication breakdowns – all of the above will affect people’s ability to communicate effectively and deal with conflict. Something I know only too well by the number of teams I am asked to work with, or managers I am coaching, who are in conflict with each other.
Managers’ stress levels – from both managers themselves, and comments from staff, it is clear that managers on the whole are not managing their own stress levels. This affects how they manage others, with more controlling and directive behaviour, rather than coaching and empowering others. They are basically pushing the stress down the organisation.
‘Any idiot can face a crisis - it’s this day to day living that wears you out.’
What is the way out of this?
Before you give up on the year ahead and think, ‘Thanks, Melanie, for starting the year off on such a negative note’, there are ways out of this. Let’s start by focusing on you as an individual -
Keep within the ‘Zone of Optimal Performance’ – There is a difference between pressure and stress, there is a sweet spot of just the right amount of demands and pressure, which is the ‘Zone of Optimal Performance’. This is where you are energised, motivated, excited, stretched, but not strained. I work with individuals and teams helping them to find and stay within this Zone. Email email@example.com for a handout on this model and the difference between stress and pressure.
Change from the inside out – People can think, ‘If only I had less work, more resources, longer deadlines.’ ‘If only the economy was better or X wasn't happening’. If you don't focus on what is within your Circle of Influence, you will become stressed and de-motivated. Start with yourself, change from the inside out: your mind, mood and behaviour.
Your brain and productivity – There are very simple steps you can take to manage your brain’s threat response and, if you do this on a regular basis, you are going to feel more rested, resourceful, and focussed to work more effectively and efficiently. Emailmg@inspiretransformation.co.uk for a handout on dampening down your brain’s Threat Response.
Process vs Free Flow Thinking – I’ve been reading ‘Slowing Down to the Speed of Life’ by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey. They talk about two types of thinking: process thinking, which is used much of the time in the workplace, and free thinking, which is much more intuitive and creative. This is linked to being in ‘Flow’ where, when you are completely immersed in an activity, thoughts and insights come to you effortlessly. But if we are constantly interrupted by emails, phones, or hopping from one meeting to another, this flow state is going to be hard to achieve. When you need to be productive and focussed, eliminate distractions, do activities that get you into free flow thinking, so you can be creative and intuitive.
Be self-aware – Spot when your energy levels are depleted, when you are in a negative mood, and take positive action to manage your mood and energy (firstname.lastname@example.org for a handout about this).
Get a good night’s sleep - sleep isnt for wimps, it is essential for our brain to rest, recover and work at it's optimal level.
Laugh more! – Laughter energises us, our inner Fun Child is where the creativity is. Unfortunately, our sense of humour can be the first thing to go when we are stressed.
‘Treasure those whose company prompts you to be playful and have fun - their gift to you is priceless’
As a team, department or organisation, what can you do
There are obviously lots of systems and processes to increase efficiency but you can start by discussing with your colleagues:
- What works for us, what helps us, what do we need to keep doing?
- What is not working for us, what do we need to let go of?
- What do we need to develop further to help us thrive at work and increase productivity?
- You might think about meetings that are not helping anyone, or email circulation lists which could be halved to stop overloading people’s inboxes with unnecessary emails.
Do you need to get better at communication with each other, having those difficult conversations in a timely manner before issues get out of control?
Do you need to learn how to deal with pressures to avoid stress?
‘There is more to life than increasing its speed.’
Create a learning culture
Too many organisations still have a blame versus a learning culture. Creating a learning culture in your team, department or business will reap numerous benefits -
- Sharing successes, so that they can be learned from, built on, and you get to enjoy celebrating the successes.
- Sharing mistakes, rather than hiding them, storing up bigger problems down the line.
- Learning from each other’s mistakes, so that they are not repeated.
- Reducing the fear of making mistakes, which reduces stress levels, and thereby reduces the chances of mistakes being made.
- More open and honest communication, resolving issues quickly.
Change is a constant
In Buddhism, it is said that ‘all is changeable, nothing is constant', although as human beings many people seek stability and certainty in their lives.
While some personality types thrive on change and seek it out – whether it is a different job every year or so, or a different route to work every day – they hate doing the same thing again and again. However, many people find change a challenge even if it is a change that they have initiated themselves, e.g.: a new job or house move, marriage, etc. Just think about all the changes you have been through in your life:
- Birth – being a pretty big first step!
- Nursery, primary, secondary schools and maybe further education.
- Your first job (maybe a Saturday or holiday job); your first proper job, changes in organisations, roles.
- Changes in technology – computers, mobile phones, email – yes, I have been around long enough to remember offices without computers!
- Moving house, maybe country; marriage, children, maybe divorce; illnesses, getting older, death of loved ones.
The list goes on and on. . . we are constantly facing changes.
Sometimes the changes are voluntary, a new job, a promotion, marriage, children, but even these can involve a lot of adjustment. And what if they are involuntary, such as redundancy, ill health, organisational changes which are outside our control.
What positive changes have you gone through in your life? When has change been unwelcomed or unexpected? What changes have you initiated?
‘Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.’
Dealing with uncertainty
Change also has the habit of being unreliable or unpredictable and we often have to live with the uncertainty for a long period of time. For example, a friend waited 18 months for the restructuring of her department knowing that it might well bring about the demise of her own job – which it did in the end.
None of us know what the year ahead will bring for each other. For some perhaps nothing much will change, for others the changes could be huge. So how can we cope and handle this uncertainty?
Deal with your worse fears – talk through these with someone you trust and work out how you would deal with them, realise that you will be able to cope even in the worse case scenario.
Talk to someone – this might be a trusted friend, colleague, manager, coach or counsellor.
Focus on a positive outcome – it might be that the change will be for the best or that your worse case scenario will never happen, so focus on creating a positive outcome for yourself whatever the change may be.
Minimise other pressures on yourself – in times of uncertainty and change it is important that you do not overload yourself with other pressures that can be avoided.
Support yourself – think of activities you can do that will support you physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes a bit of pampering or indulgence (this can simply be a candle lit bath if you can't stretch to a spa treatment) can help you to cope with the pressures you are experiencing.
Avoid negative coping mechanisms – watch out for over drinking, over eating, over spending or other reckless behaviour. These might provide short term relief but are likely to add to your problems in the long term.
What do you already do to cope with uncertainty? What else can you do?
‘If you can't change your fate, change your attitude.’
Understanding the psychological cycle we go through
Elizabeth Kubler Ross studied people's reactions to bereavement and loss.
She found that in many cases people go through a similar cycle of emotions in response to loss, although they often take different amounts of time to go through each stage. Since the publication of her work, research has been carried out into how people react to change at work and it has been found that individuals go through a very similar cycle of emotions and reactions. Here are the key stages in the cycle:
Immobilisation – people can usually assimilate slow, evolutionary change. It is when change happens suddenly, maybe unexpectedly or the pace of change is fast, that people can become overwhelmed by it and even immobilised. We might continue to operate, almost on automatic pilot, while in a state of shock.
Minimisation – this can be seen as total denial of the change taking place or a minimisation of the effects on oneself or others.
Depression – This is where people feel helpless in the face of change, they become de-motivated and negative about any attempts to deal with or cope with the changes. Although this is an inevitable stage in the process, it is important that people receive appropriate support so that they do not stay in this stage for too long as it is very distressing for the individual concerned and those around them.
Acceptance of reality, letting go – eventually people come to terms with the reality of the change and realise it is going to happen or accept that the new changed state is for real. This can also involve ‘letting go' of some of the thoughts, feelings or even behaviours associated with life before the changes took place.
Testing – Although people may have moved onto a place of accepting the changes they might not have worked out how to live with them. This stage is about testing out possibilities and thinking about how to make things work within the new circumstances. This usually involves more energy, motivation and positivity.
Search for meaning – Having gone through the testing stage and found ways of making the most out of the new circumstances, individuals can start to see the benefits associated with the change and even identify unexpected benefits.
Internalisation – at this stage the new circumstance starts to become natural, individuals start to think, feel and behave in a natural way as is appropriate to the new situation.
If you are going through a major change right now, where are you on this cycle? Think about past changes: have you got stuck at a particular part of the cycle?
How can you help others cope with change?
You might be in the situation of supporting people at work who are going through changes or friends who are facing redundancy or other challenges. Whatever the change they face think about the following points when supporting them:
Match and pace them – if they are feeling depressed, anxious or even excited go to where they are and support them. There is nothing worse when you are feeling very down or emotional to have someone either try and cheer you up or come in with lots of logical thinking about benefits of the change, etc. You might need to let them be emotional for a time before they are ready to move on.
Step into their shoes – try to understand it from their perspective, which might be very different from yours.
Listen to their concerns – Just listening to them can assist them in working through their concerns and fears, even if they seem irrational (see November 2008 edition of Inspire for more on listening). Help them to see how they would be able to handle or take action to avoid their worse fears occurring.
Eventually encourage them to see the benefits of the change – this might even be the benefits of redundancy in these troubled times – for some people it can be a life changing event. I followed my dream and set up my business during the recession in 1991 after being made redundant.
Be there for them – for some people it will take a long time to either come to terms with the change and/or find a way forward – having friends or colleagues who are prepared to support you in the long term is a huge benefit.
‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.’
This catagory is all about changing habits and the realisation that there is some work to do - to effect change.
Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel?
Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel?
Light or no light? In the Autumn, while coaching a number of managers, they were talking about the new year and everyone was excited that things would be getting back to ‘normal’, especially with the vaccine around the corner. I had a sense that come January, with the festivities over, and the winter months ahead, that there would be a fair few people feeling like they are ‘staring into the abyss’!
Are you seeing a light at the end of the tunnel or does it feel a long way off, or are you staring into the abyss?
It is a strange way to start a new year still with so much uncertainty in the world and in our lives. But there is a lot within our control.
‘Let us learn to appreciate there will be times when the trees will be bare, and look forward to the time when we may pick the fruit.’
Reality vs Thoughts Michael Neill recently said on an 8-month course I am attending with him:
In essence, while our circumstances vary wildly, we’re all up against the same thing – unrecognized, transient thoughts disguised as permanent, unchangeable realities. Fortunately, we also all have within us the capacity to see through the illusion in any moment …
… You are not your thoughts. You are the space within which thoughts arise and dissipate. Therefore no thought can harm you, no matter how harmful it might seem while you're thinking it.
This is something I have been pondering myself and sharing with my clients: what is reality and what is simply our thoughts? Sometimes, I have found myself writing down a list of points under ‘My Reality’, then ‘My Thoughts’. While sometimes the reality is very challenging, it is often our thoughts that make it even worse and that is within our control. It is back to Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence, and then making decisions as to how to deal with the reality of your personal situation.
‘The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell,
a Hell of Heaven’
Your mindset for 2021 Mindset has a big impact on how we handle challenges, rise to situations, how we learn and grow now more than ever. I’ve written before about Carol Dweck’s work on the Growth versus Fixed Mindset (see here).
And you might want to consider what kind of mindset you want to have for 2021:
- Seeing the glass half full – gratitude for what we have got.
- 100% focus on your Circle of Influence.
- Determination to thrive versus merely survive during these times.
- Acknowledging that we are in unprecedented times and we will continue to learn, grow and navigate our way through these times, rather than thinking we have to have it all worked out.
- This is a time to get creative and continue to find new ways of doing things. Watch this space for a new MasterMind programme for managers coming out in a couple of months’ time.
- Stronger together – I have been collaborating with others and have found inspiration, support and strength in doing this.
- It is OK to be human and get down from time to time and …
- Extreme self-care can go a long way to help you through.
What mindset is going to help you to thrive in 2021?
‘The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.
The Year Of Hope & Victory In my Buddhist organisation (here), they always name each year and many times I don't really connect to it. However, 2021 is The Year of Hope & Victory and I thought, ‘Yes, this is something I can really get behind’.
My determination is to create hope and to support people towards daily victories in their lives, whether through my paid coaching and training work, my writing or my day to day interactions with friends, family or people in my community.
If you were naming 2021 for yourself, what would you call it?
‘In all things it is better to hope than to despair.’
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Being & Doing in 2021 You will already be aware that I have an 8-week online Being & Doing course (see here for more details). And I know from my own experiences, as well as my clients, that our Being has a profound impact on our ability to do things both in and out of work. Consider how you want to Be in 2021 and what you want to Do in order to thrive during the coming months:
Your inner qualities and resources – Remind yourself of your inner strengths and resources that you can draw on. So many times we can let our Inner Critic discount our strengths and resources.
Your Emotional Intelligence – Our EI has a big impact on our ability to thrive, to performance and our levels of happiness. If you would like to find out more about your EI then I am running a free webinar on 12 January on this topic, see here for details or email email@example.com to book your free place.
Habits to help you to thrive at work – These might range from:
- Master your emails rather than letting your emails master you!
- Have difficult conversations in a timely and constructive manner, rather than letting relationships deteriorate – see here for my webinar recording on how to have difficult conversations.
- With your colleagues, discuss better ways of working, having meetings, email distribution lists, etc. to help everyone be more productive and thrive.
- Take a daily walk during daylight hours – negotiate this with your manager if you need to – it will increase your productivity.
Habits to help you thrive at home – Practise some of the following:
- Mindful living – really savour what you eat, look and listen when you are out for a walk, be in the here and now not the stories in your head. You’ll find more peace and contentment that way.
- Journalling – this is something I encourage all of my clients to do, to get out on paper what is going on in their head, separate reality from the fiction of our thoughts. There are lots of exercises in back issues of my MMMMs (here) and also in my book Master Your Inner Critic, Release Your Inner Wisdom which you can purchase from me (see here).
- Cut yourself some slack – are you putting too much pressure on yourself, especially in the dark winter months? It always strikes me that ‘dry January’, ‘detoxing’, etc. are the last things to do when things are challenging. Instead of cutting out things, think about adding in healthy, fun and creative activities.
'I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in the kindness of human beings. I am so absorbed in the wonder of earth and the life upon it that I cannot think of heaven and angels.'
Pearl S. Buck
Develop yourself in 2021
Here are some ways in which I can support you to develop yourself further this year:
Being & Doing: Start your year as you mean to go on – My 8-week online course starting 18 January 2021 to assist you in managing yourself and your interactions with others. You have lifetime access to the materials so, even if you go on holiday (you should be so lucky!!), you can catch up with the videos. See here for details.
121 Coaching – Take my free coaching audit and find out how coaching can assist you: see here.
Happy Healthy Conflict: How to have difficult conversations at work – I have a variety of training and coaching programmes to assist you, whether you are working in an office environment or remote working from home. If you need to have difficult conversations at work, then email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your needs.
Resilience at Work – This 4-part course via Zoom can be run inhouse. Email email@example.com to discuss your team or company’s needs.
Masterclasses For Managers – If you are a manager and would like to find out more about this then email firstname.lastname@example.org
To discuss your needs in confidence, either email email@example.com or call me on 01865 377334.
‘You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.’
Background to this edition
As usual there is a story behind this edition of Inspire.
I am putting together an online development programme to start in January, which I was thinking of calling 101 Days To Make A Change, borrowing the name from my colleague, Roy Leighton’s book.
Then someone said, ‘Doesn’t it take 21 days to make a change, why don’t you do a 21 day programme?’ We have all probably heard about this idea that it takes 21 days to change a habit, and I decided to do some research as to whether there is any validity in the 21 day claim.
Where does the 21 days idea come from?
I found mentioned in a number of articles regarding research into this, that the 21 days comes from Dr Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon turned psychologist, in the preface to his 1960 book ‘Psycho-cybernetics’, he wrote -
‘It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated the “phantom limb” persists for about 21 days. People must live in a new house for about three weeks before it begins to “seem like home”. These, and many other commonly observed phenomena, tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.’ (pp xiii-xiv)
However, this was not about changing habits, and there have been a number of research projects, which de-bunk this 21 days myth.
So how long does it take?
Different research projects have shown different things but most show that 21 days is not a good yardstick for most people to follow.
Research from UCL in 2010 involved people choosing to make a daily health promoting dietary or behavioural change. The average for the change to become automatic was 66 days – they point out that if you make a New Year’s resolution and stuck to it, it would mean 6th March is when the average person would find that it had become automatic. However, someone in the study took 18 days while one person took 254 days before the new habit became automatic!
So I have decided to create The 66 Day Challenge: Transform difficult interactions into productive working relationships.
More details will come shortly in a separate Inspire, so watch out for it. You can also follow the Twitter count down to the start of the programme on the 10th January, which starts today 5th November.
New habits becoming an automatic behaviour
Once something becomes automatic we don’t have to exert self-control to make it happen, it happens automatically. There will be some good habits that you have which you automatically do without thinking, e.g. brushing your teeth everyday, drinking when you feel thirsty, saying thank you when someone does something for you.
However, there will also be some bad habits that you have fallen into which you do without thinking. I remember one client, a senior manager, who, when he answered the phone, would bark, ‘Steel’ (which was his surname), which was fairly off-putting and not exactly going to build rapport with the person at the other end of the phone!
Until it was fed back to him, he had no idea what he was doing, and what the negative impact of this was (along with some of his other behaviours) on his working relationships.
What automatic habits do you have which are good for you and others around you? What automatic habits are bad and you would like to change?
‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’
Repetition and context
The UCL research showed that missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour did not materially affect the habit formation process. However, repetition of a behaviour in a consistent context increases your chances that the new behaviour will stick and become automatic. Which is good news if you are looking at something like: eating a healthier breakfast, exercising regularly, as you can fix a time and place for ‘repetition of a behaviour in a consistent context’.
However, with more complex changes it might need a little more help, hence The 66 Day Challenge.
Is there a context to your negative automatic habits which can act as a trigger to change? Or can you create a context which will trigger the new positive habits?
What do you need to change on the inside?
A couple of years ago I held a webinar on Changing Habits of A Lifetime and talked through Robert Dilt’s ‘Logical Levels of Change Model’ to help explain why we sometimes find it hard to change, and if we approach it at the right level, then change becomes easy. For example, if you want to be more assertive but you have the belief, ‘I’m just not an assertive person’ or ‘If I am assertive with my boss he’ll fire me’ or ‘If I am assertive, people won’t like me’, these beliefs will hold you back, however much you learn assertive behaviours. Email me for a handout about the Logical Levels of Change.
Using the Logical Levels of Change model, at what level do you need to make a change?
‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’
George Bernard Shaw
Yes, I know I keep on writing about being mindful but that is because it is the key to changing a lot of things in our lives. If we are aware of our thoughts, mood and state of mind, we can take action to manage what is going on within us and not just sleepwalk though life, falling into the old well-worn paths of negative behaviour which we want to change but year after year appearing to not be able to.
Think about when you can check in with yourself to encourage yourself to be more mindful.
‘When the whole situation makes you unhappy and confused, choose one thing, however small, that you would like to change.’
Moving through the learning line
I am doing some fascinating work with a colleague of mine, Roy Leighton, who has been working with schools for a number of years developing students’ emotional intelligence, resilience and ability to manage their own learning. One of the ideas he introduces is the learning line, based on the Hero’s Journey, which I wrote about in February this year.
When we start to learn something or change a habit, we are in a state of unconscious incompetence, not realising what we don’t know or how difficult things are going to be. Let’s take the example of learning to drive a car, think about how you felt before you learned to drive a car, it is easy to think, ‘Millions of people do it, it can’t be that hard!’.
Then you have your first lesson, you realise that there are a 101 things to learn, think about, do with your hands and feet, and you wonder how anyone ever masters it. This is the state of conscious incompetence.
For a number of lessons it seems to get even worse as the instructor gives you even more things to do, and at times you just want to give up. And some do. But most don’t, they persevere, they practice, and they get to a stage of conscious competence, where they can drive competently and even pass the exam. But you are having to think about it the whole time and wonder how people drive and speak at the same time!
Usually after we have passed our test, with more experience, we get to a state of unconscious competence, where we naturally change gear, look in our mirrors, indicate without thinking. It has become second nature. And the same can be said for becoming more assertive, exercising regularly, choosing which food to eat in a mindful way, managing our moods, etc.
However, like with driving, we can slip back into unconscious incompetence, where we pick up bad habits. We might not crash our cars but we probably wouldn’t pass a test again if we had to take it today.
Think about something you are trying to change, which level of competence are you: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence?
‘That which we persist in doing becomes easier - not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.’
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Pain of regret?
I was coaching a client of mine who is a business coach (yes, even we coaches need coaching!) and he mentioned a phrase which a colleague of his uses:
‘It is a choice between the pain of discipline and the pain of regret'.
Given that the word ‘discipline' often evokes a rebellious response from many people, it got me thinking that it might be worth exploring further in an Inspire. I also think it is not only the ‘pain of regret' in terms of missing out on changing, but also the pain that we are experiencing in our current situation.
Sometimes people are willing to put up with a lot of physical, mental or emotional pain in their current situation rather than go through the ‘pain' of making changes in themselves and their lives to end up in a ‘pain free' situation in the future.
What type of pain are we talking about?
Let's look at the pain experienced in our current situations. Here are some examples from recent clients and myself:
- Emotional pain associated with lack of self esteem or continuing to let your inner critic beat you up.
- Mental and emotional pain of dealing with a bullying boss or colleague.
- Emotional pain of a gradually disintegrating relationship at work, at home or in your family.
Physical exhaustion of a long commute and/or stressful job and not getting enough sleep as getting up so early in the morning.
- Emotional turmoil of dealing with financial problems, preferring to shove envelopes in a drawer rather than face up to the truth.
- Physical pain, i.e. my back, then neck, then knee pain – how bad before we seek help, go online and find exercises and actually do them!
- Pain of disappointment or regret that you still can't fit into that outfit you bought yourself.
There are many physical, mental or emotional pains that we might experience in our live.
Now let's look at the pain of discipline -
- It is often about changing habits of a lifetime to create new disciplines in our lives and our work.
- It might mean getting out of our comfort zone, perhaps facing up to some emotional and psychological truths about yourself, your relationships and your life.
- It might be about avoiding doing something that we enjoy doing, e.g. snacking throughout the day without thinking about the consequences.
- It might be about going through the ‘pain and tiredness' of starting to exercise before you get to the serotonin high once you are fitter and exercise regularly.
- It might mean getting up 20 minutes earlier to fit in the exercises to alleviate the back/neck/knee pains – which might, in turn, involve getting to bed a bit earlier mid-week.
- It might be about doing things that you thought were ‘not me', ‘not how I do things', in order to create a new better life for yourself.
What physical, mental or emotional pain do you have in your life that you have been ignoring?
‘The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the one who will win.'
What are you willing to do?
Having thought about writing this Inspire, I came across this quote from Oscar Wilde, which I think many of us can relate to -
‘To get back to my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.'
Well, perhaps the respectable bit doesn't apply! But how many of us moan about an ailment, a difficult colleague, work you don't like, an unhappy relationship or being overweight and don't do anything about it!
As human beings, we often do not do anything until the pain is too much or a change is brought about without us choosing it, either through a partner leaving, a health scare or being made redundant.
I was very much like this in the past, when I felt disempowered and did not think I had a choice or could change much in myself and my life. Through 22 years of Buddhist practice and personal development, most of the time I take action pretty quickly, partly because I do not want to live with the physical, mental or emotional pain associated with the situation.
Here are some very recent examples -
- When a friend leant me the ‘Treat Your Own Back' book when I mentioned my back problems I started immediately to do the exercises every day and they work, so I continue with them. Then when my neck seized up, I Googled ‘Treat Your Own Neck exercises' and got working on that as well. And then an old knee problem occurred and I found exercises for that as well – hence the getting up 20 minutes earlier to fit in all the exercises, but it is worth it to be relatively pain free and cycling again!
- By being more mindful, I am quick to spot when I feel off centre, when I am not totally relaxed or confident, and take action to change my emotional state. For example, I was on the London underground the other day travelling to run a Master Your Inner Critic workshop and I realised I that I didn't feel completely happy. I realised it was nothing to do with the workshop I was about to run but there were lots of ‘shoulds' in my head about the coming weekend. I then asked myself ‘what do you really want to do on Saturday'? The answer came quickly and the inner fight was over and I felt centred again.
What is interesting is that when people come to me for coaching or come on one of my workshops, they often say ‘I wish I had done this earlier, I wish I had learned about this kind of thing years ago'. I do think it is a case of better late than never but it is interesting how often we can live with a certain amount of pain in our lives before we do anything about it.
What disciplines are you going to adopt to assist you in your life?
Watch out of the ‘Yes buts'
I was a great ‘Yes but-er' in the past, and often find people falling into this mode of being when others make suggestions or share things that have worked for them. This is often a sign that we are either not ready to change or that we need to find our own solutions rather than be told what to do.
People ask me, who my ideal clients are, and I say, ‘People who are ready to change and willing to put in the effort to make those changes'. When they are in that state, coaching or training will work as they are ready for the ‘pain of discipline' in order to remove the current pain they are experiencing.
We might still encounter obstacles to change, which are often internal rather than external, but we are in the mindset to overcome them. Even obstacles of time and money are often down to our beliefs. When we have empowering, rather than limiting, beliefs, and act with an open mindset, we can find ways of creating the time and the money or getting support from unexpected sources.
What ‘Yes buts' do you hear yourself saying?
‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.'
Are you ready for the ‘pain of discipline'?
If you are, you might consider some of the following -
Taking my free Coaching Audit or Team Development Audit (if the problems and pain lie with you and your team), see below for details or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buy yourself a self development book (or get it off your shelf where it has sat since you bought it!!), read it and use it. It is surprising how many people say I've got your book but haven't read it or have read it but not done anything with it. I sometimes do one off coaching sessions to assist people in using the exercises in the book. See here for more information about my book: Master Your Inner Critic, Release Your Inner Wisdom, which you can buy directly from me (£8.99 free P&P or from bookshops and online) or buy on Kindle (click here).
Visualise success rather than failure or how hard the change will be – see here for more on this.
Surround yourself with inspiration – whether that is people who will inspire and support you, inspiring quotes, or take a look at the back issues of Inspire (since 2006) for further inspiration, see here.
‘There was that law of life, so cruel and so just, that one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.'
When the ‘pain of discipline' turns into pleasure!
I was out on my bike earlier on today having thought I had finished writing this edition of Inspire, when I suddenly thought (as I peddled away joyfully) that, in time, when we start to reap the benefits of the ‘pain of discipline', we can end up finding pleasure or even joy from it.
When we create a ‘virtuous cycle', rather than a ‘vicious cycle' of habit and behaviour we go beyond the pain to pleasure.