Did I do my best today?

We are measured on what we get done but how hard is it to succeed when other people, agendas and strategies get in your way?

Success is not linear. It’s erratic and may have periods of no progress. If you’re measuring your success by the things you get done, you may become disheartened and give up, when you’re not achieving your goals.

This photo reminded me of a tool, used by Marshall Goldsmith. On a scale of 10, did I do my best today to achieve …’fill in your goal here’.

In 2018, I used this simple tool to keep coachees on track to achieve their goals during a 3-month experiment, to find out how quickly people can change, given the speed at which companies need to change. 70.5% achieved their goals. Their success was a blend of:

Understanding where and how they were spending their time.

We only have 24 hours every day. Next time something ‘more important’ is about to take the place of an activity you’ve planned, you may want to rank how important the new task is compared to what you are willing to trade it for.

Having confidence in their own ability

Some days we’re just not at our best. Life gets in our way or we may be consumed by self-doubt. Mindset matters and recalling a time that you were extremely successful and how this made you feel can help boost your confidence. Mindset matters.

Being guided by someone

Whether it’s a family member, friend, manager or coach, find people who can guide and mentor you, challenge your assumptions, and offer you the tools necessary to succeed, hold you accountable and keep you on track of your goals.

The knowledge gained on their journey, was just as important as the result.

Some days even though you’ve done your best to achieve your goals, you will still feel like you’ve achieved nothing. Be aware when your desire to be excellent gets in the way of learning to be better.

‘Next time you want to beat yourself up for not doing something, be kind to yourself and ask, ‘Did I do my best today to do it’. It may be more helpful to measure how much you have tried, rather that how well you got done.

Managing grief and loss

Last Saturday, my father passed away after suffering from cancer for over 2 years.

My initial response was to tell everyone I was ‘fine’ and to think about how I would juggle business commitments around funeral arrangements.

We all process grief and loss in quite different ways. For me, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, dealing with change, or being made redundant at work, my logical brain kicks in and, ‘I just want to get on with it’.

My stoicism is how my logical brain protects me from any state of overwhelm or feeling that I am on an uncontrollable and emotional roller coaster.

However, putting on a brave face for the world means I don’t give myself any time to grieve and I have been guilty of ‘knee-jerk’ decisions, based on how I was feeling at the time.

This time however, I took the ‘out of character’ decision to slow down, reflect, accept and enjoy tearful moments and understand that the world keeps on turning whether I am fully present, or not.

As a coach, I often use the Kubler-Ross ‘5 stages of grief’ or the ‘change curve model’ to discuss change and loss, which are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed this model to offer insights into how people cope with illness and dying. The stages however are not a linear and predictable progression, as some may believe, and are not a reflection of how people grieve. I have felt tiredness, exhaustion and acceptance this week but, not necessarily in that order.

This week, I am learning more about myself by being mindful, embracing my emotions, rather than searching for facts and logic. This process feels uncomfortable because ‘old habits die hard’ and unlearning is much harder than learning anything new.

Whether you have lost a loved one, are dealing with redundancy, or are managing massive change in your life:

  • give yourself the space and time to reflect and grieve.
  • talk to friends and family about how you’re feeling and, where necessary, seek professional help.
  • try to get sleep and rest.
  • accept that you may feel many emotions before you can learn to accept the situation and move on at your own pace.
  • be kind to yourself.

‘Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.’

Enjoy your health, time with your family, vacations, friends, etc, today. Enjoy life!

RIP Dad – 22.10.1939 to 29.05.2021

Does a picture paint the right thousand words?

  • The company my husband worked for stopped paying salaries for 9-months.
  • It went into administration leaving him without a job.
  • We had to move from our rented home.

This has been the story of many individuals over the past year and still continues to cause many individuals and families distress.

If anything, this pandemic has taught me a thing or two about resiliency. It has also highlighted just how lucky I am.

  • We have a home in France that we could move to.
  • I have a job, I love, which paid our expenses and Corndel showed enormous compassion and support throughout.
  • My husband was offered a new role recently.
  • We are moving back to the U.K.

For many that don’t ‘know us’, it sounded quite glamorous; fleeing covid-rife London to live the ‘high life’ in France. In their eyes, ‘we were living the dream’.

But, why do we quickly jump to conclusions, assuming how ‘good’ people have it; envying their ‘fabulous’ lifestyles and becoming empathetically numb, due to our preconceived notions of what they have, that we don’t?

Be curious, ask people how they are doing and how they ‘really’ are, because a picture doesn’t necessarily paint a thousand words.

PS. We are grateful and we are rich in more ways than money will ever be able to buy.

Discovering who you should be

Whilst visiting a local market, 30 years ago, I bought the cabinet pictured. I fell in love with the green and gold blocks and its age. I was however less enamoured by the top of the cabinet which, at the time, was a block of brilliant, white wood.

I had been practicing decorative painting techniques for a few years, so I bought some red paint, books of gold leaf, gold size (glue for sticking gold leaf) and some acid to age the shiny gold, on completion. The result may not be technically perfect but, I love it all the same and this once, mediocre, market find, is now one of my treasured pieces of furniture.

Today, this cabinet acts as a reminder that we are all works in progress. Experiences from our childhood and our careers may have left us with a few rough edges or we may be ‘bleached white’; unable to show the world who we really are.

What stands in your way of showing your whole self at work? What serves you well about your behaviour? What behaviours are standing in your way of your next promotion?

Reflect, get to know yourself, be brave and make changes that will help you show up every day as your (im)perfect, beautiful, authentic, colourful self.

Menopause and career

A lack of sleep can make anyone irritable, but add headaches, mood swings, self-doubt and hot flushes to the mix, and it can start to have an affect on your decision-making and your career.

I started the menopause in my early forties and before I was 50 and I had made some decisions I doubt I would have made had I not been peri-menopause.

Menopausal symptoms are seldom topics that women wish to discuss with their managers (male or female) for fear of being seen as old, difficult, or over the hill and possibly being disregarded for key roles. Ignoring symptoms however, don’t keep them at bay.

For those of you in management roles, you may wish to hold on to valuable female employees by understanding the topic. The CIPD have produced some excellent material: https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/menopause-guide-for-people-managers_tcm18-55548.pdf.

And for those of you experiencing menopause, talk to your GP, read advice online and dare to discuss it! https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-natural-menopause-tips

What got you here, won’t get you there!

There’s a reason why we say ‘old habits die hard’; we don’t really want to change…..Well we do, but our brain doesn’t!

Change is uncomfortable and it slows down your brain’s response rate, and since your brain is built for speed, it will resist any form of change.

My analogy to describe change is that your natural responses (neurones) are like sports cars, travelling at 200 miles an hour on an empty 10-lane highway in your brain. Any change, is like seeing a deer, jump onto the highway in front of your beautiful car. You need to brake and avoid crashing into the deer, and take your sports car off the highway, onto rough terrain, which is bumpy and very uncomfortable.

Each time you recognise yourself falling into old habits or response patterns, you will see that deer on the highway and you will need to slow down and veer off-road. The bumpy, grassy, path eventually does become smoother, the more you drive on it, but it will never be as smooth as driving on the highway.

Without change, you stay stuck in old patterns and you will get the same result, but how willing are you to embrace change.

Learn to slow down and reflect, so that you can understand where your natural responses take you. Ask yourself ‘what happened’ in a situation and ‘what you could have done differently’? Get in touch with your feelings. How did the situation make you feel? Does a specific person ‘bring out the worst in you’?

You may find it really interesting to understand where your ‘programmed responses’ stem from and how you can take a more emotionally intelligent stance to your next encounter.

Good luck and let me know if I can support you!

What can we learn from past experiences?

The way we act and react in situations today, is often the result of years of hardwiring.

This week, a client related how powerless she felt to voice her opinion to senior peers, even though she was the project lead and had to offer her advice and guidance.

She didn’t want to speak her mind because she didn’t want to seem disrespectful. As a child, her mother told her she should hold her superiors in high regard.

If you have a strong memory of an experience, you may have hardwired a response in your brain.

My client was hardwired ‘not to challenge’ and to ‘act respectfully around her superiors’, albeit that she disagreed with them and knew her advice was sound.

In instances like this, our amygdala is getting in our way. The amygdala is our fight, flight or freeze mechanism. I like to call it our ‘caveman brain’. Anytime the caveman sees danger, it will sound the alarm in your brain, to make sure that you defend yourself; whether that means saying nothing (flight or freeze) or becoming defensive (fight).

The caveman chooses to protect us in situations that seem familiar or that it considers risky. The problem with the amygdala, is that it often bases its reaction on past experiences that are not relevant to our current situation.

My client was confusing hierarchy with the nature of her role and whilst she has no reason to fear her peers, her caveman (the amygdala) was ‘forcing her’ to always react in the same way she always does i.e. acting respectfully and avoiding any form of possible conflict.

Often just acknowledging the ‘caveman’s presence’ is enough. It’s like saying, ‘Hey there caveman. I hear you, but this is not a scary situation. I can handle this!’

Next time, she will remember to breathe and to act in the way that she intended i.e. being respectful whilst challenging her peers, offering sound advice and hammering out the best solution for their mutual client.

Becoming aware of where your emotions, thoughts and feelings stem from and challenging them, is a good start to understanding why you may act and react the way that you do.

Your strengths are not what you think they are!

Throughout your life, you may have been fooled to believe that your strengths are what you are good at and your weaknesses are what you are bad at. 

But, that’s not entirely true!

I’m sure, that if you were to list your strengths right now, that there would be a number of activities on that list that you don’t even enjoy doing. If you’re good at something, that’s performance; it’s not a strength, and as such you are the least qualified to identify your strengths, because you’re not the best judge of your own performance.

So let’s look at this slightly differently. 

Think of yourself as a Superhero. Your strengths are activities that strengthen you, and your weaknesses are activities that weaken you, much like kryptonite. If you define a strength as an activity that strengthens you, then the person most qualified to identify your strengths is you.

Those tasks that you put off and don’t like doing – those are your weaknesses – even if you are GOOD at doing them.

I challenge you to keep a log this coming week. On one side of your log, write LOVED it and the other side write LOATHED it. Each time you look forward to carrying out an activity and it gives you pleasure and energy, log it under LOVED it; these are tasks that strengthen you. Every time you procrastinate about a task, delegate it to someone else or feel exhausted when you’ve done it, log this under LOATHED it; these are tasks that weaken you.

You may find yourself becoming more aware of what your true strengths are, and you can start really enjoying what you do and adding lots more value at work!

Slowing down to speed up

I learned late in my career that working long hours did not equate to the importance of my job and the success of my career. 

I learned to ask ‘how urgent’ someone’s request was, and that asking to push out a deadline was not detrimental to my career. In fact, deadlines were often quite negotiable, and I could deliver higher quality work with less stress and, as I had more time to think, I could also be more creative. 

So often I had delivered within the period of time that constituted ‘urgent’ for me, only to receive an ‘out of office message’ from the person I was delivering to. I had never asked when the actual deadline was. 

In fact, being too available made my colleagues believe that I couldn’t be that busy, as I always had time to deliver within short timelines. My colleagues began to disrespect my time and workload because they had no idea as to what I was working on and if it had a much higher priority than what they were asking me to do.

But why change? My rational brain was telling me that everything I had done to date, had brought me the success I had. I had been rewarded for my ‘bad behaviour’ with ‘well done, congratulations and thank you’ when I succeeded, or delivered a good piece of work. And, it felt fabulous!

As my career continued, I became well known for my quick turnarounds, quality work, and more and more people asked me to get involved in projects. I was busy, was making a name for myself, made promotion and I felt very successful. I had arrived!

Like many of my clients, you too may be telling yourself that your long hours are necessary, so as to hold on to your job. But how is your behaviour serving you?

Many of our behaviours are habits. We tell ourselves ‘lies’ like, ‘if I don’t get the work done now, I will be fired from my job’. We are actually worrying about future events, that may not ever happen. But, the habits that got you where you are today are not the ones that will bring you success in future.

I have challenged a number of my very busy clients to slow down, to challenge ‘urgent and hard’ deadlines, and to put themselves first, both mentally and physically. It’s been a few months and none of them have noticed any detrimental effects; instead, they report feeling less stressed and more in control as they are challenging their own beliefs and assumptions about how they work and use their time. By putting their own oxygen mask on first, they are achieving so much more.

Reflection is a brilliant way to become aware of what drives you, what and who triggers you and what your standard responses and ‘bad habits’ may be. Gibbs reflective learning cycle (Graham Gibbs, 1988) can help you on your way to self-awareness and eventually self-care. The complete model and instructions of how to use it are below.

DESCRIPTION: Provide a factual description of the situation. Do not draw any conclusions at this stage. Focus on the information that is relevant. Use questions such as: What happened? How did it happen? Where? When? Who else was there? Did someone react? How did they react? Why were you there? What did you do? What happened at the end? This builds up the background and a better understanding of the situation.

FEELINGS: Describe any emotion that you felt during the situation. Use questions such as:  ‘What did you feel before the situation? What did you feel during the situation? And, after it was all over? What do you feel about the incident now?

EVALUATION: Objectively evaluate the situation. What went well? What did not? What were the negatives and the positives of the situation? How did you and the others contribute to it (positively or negatively).

ANALYSIS: Think about what might have hindered or helped the situation.

CONCLUSION: Consider what you learned from the situation. What else could you have done in that situation? What skills will help you cope with it better next time? How differently would you react if you faced a similar situation in future? If the outcomes were negative, how could you do things differently next time? If the outcomes were positive, how could you replicate what you did?

ACTION PLAN: In this part of the cycle, you are putting together a plan of action i.e. how to effectively improve the situation next time. Is there any training, skill, or habit that you need to learn or unlearn, to equip you with handling the situation better if it occurs again? Work out the areas that need work and action them.

Fear of presenting and managing stress

If you ever feel nervous about presenting and/or have the tendency to ruminate, and beat yourself up with negative, inner-chatter; ‘I can’t do this, I’m going to fail, why did I do that?, new research indicates that a simple technique called ‘distanced self-talk’ may help. Instead of using the first person “I” in your internal monologue, you can use your name, the second-person generic “you,” the third-person pronouns “he, she, they,” or even a “fly on the wall” perspective. Using myself as an example, ‘How will I solve this problem?, becomes, ‘How will Helen solve this problem’ or, ‘How will you solve this problem’, or, “What’s the ‘fly on the wall’ perspective on what happened?” etc.

This idea may seem simplistic, but words are consequential to our lived experience.

“Research participants who self-distanced by using non-first-person (vs. first-person) pronouns and their own name while preparing for a speech displayed less distress and engaged in less maladaptive postevent processing.” 

Small shifts in the language people use to refer to themselves during introspection can influence their capacity to regulate how they think, feel, and behave under stress, reducing rumination, broadening perspective, and changing the way people perceive and evaluate their experience.

The next time you are trying to think your way through a socially or emotionally stressful situation, talk to yourself about it in the third person, and you can experience firsthand whether the technique works for you.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/insight-therapy/202012/science-based-technique-coping-stress?amp

http://selfcontrol.psych.lsa.umich.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/2167702620951539.pdf