Monday 29 March 2010

How Are Your New Year Resolutions Shaping Up?

So, it's the end of March, spring is here and you're a quarter of the way through 2010.
Now now's a good time to stand back and take stock.

How are those new year resolutions going? Is 2010 the year of change you wanted?
Are you looking forward to the summer with a sleeker, sprightly body?
Are the things you want beginning to show up, and the things you don't receding?

Permanent change in your life is easy when it's thrust upon you.
Divorce, serious illness, redundancy, death - these things happen, and when they do - your life is permanently changed. Easy.

The problem arises when we have a choice. Permanent change is really tough to make through force of will, which is why we usually fail, becoming cynical, sad and defeated in the process.

To push through the obstacles to success requires a whole bunch of stuff which most of us aren't taught and are conditioned to doubt. I'm knocking on a bit now - 51 in August; I spent nearly 20 years in management, learning a lot about people - why and how they succeed or fail, and what to do about it. Then I became a life coach and spent six years helping people succeed in their private lives. The motifs keep arising again and again - and the solutions we've found are universally applicable. Now they're in a book of easy articles for you to dip into whenever you like - or to read from cover to cover. Those articles cover all of the main points in coaching. If you'd like to secure your copy today, for £7.50 (download) or £9.99 (paperback) just click the book cover.

Thursday 18 March 2010

So You Think You're Awake?

One of the central themes in coaching people is to improve their perceptions of the world. We think we're awake, we think we have good eyesight and good hearing, and we're pretty smart, and we've been around a while, and - well - not much gets past us - we know how things are.

The trouble with that is it's baloney. It's compelling baloney, but no less italian sausage for that.

Our experiences generate beliefs, and beliefs predispose us to bend how we see things in order to support our beliefs. That bending includes over-generalisation, dichotomaic (black and white) thinking, awfulization, ommission (we ignore the good to support the view that everything's bad) and more. Add to that a whole raft of mechanisms which the brain uses to manage its limited resources, like attention - and you'll develop a healthy mistrust of your perceptions. There's a lot more about that here.

Skeptics (which are unfortunate victims of their own distorted beliefs) don't believe this. So here's something which I think will astound you.  It looks like a card trick, but this is not about the card trick - so please see it through to the end.

Do you still think you're fully awake all of the time and seing things as they really are?

When we accept the reality of our own fallibility, we are open to learn and to grow.

My thanks to Paul Sloane for bringing this viudeo to my attention.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

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Teachers & Tyranny

One of the services I offer is to help people find their life purpose; how they'll find happiness and meaning in their lives. I do that through an online course and one of the exercises in it is to ask clients to record the most memorable events in their lives.

This morning I received such an exercise from a client and - yet again - one of their earliest memories was huge, negative, and from a TEACHER. This is estremely common in my practive. So this is a plea to teachers to understand what they're dealing with when they show up for another dreary day at the coal-face.

This client was three years old at the time. Today she's - well she's been an adult for a long time. Her memories of that time are of making friends and of feeling dented when a teacher shouted at her. All these years on, that memory is still with her, and so is its influence on her self-image.

Low self esteem is a major factor in limiting the lives of countless millions, and almost all of us suffer to some extent. The seeds of low self esteem are sown in childhood, by parents, teachers, and other children. Once sown, they grow in the young, fertile, innocent mind, and they sink down deep roots.These early school years are the years of person building and they are very important.

As responsible adults around children, we have a critically important role to play in influencing the self esteem of those children. Of course, it doesn't help that those young children are often utterly selfish, loud, forgetful, smelly, spiteful, cruel, unrepentantly messy, egotistical, and so on.

But recognise that those things come with the basic out-of-the-box human being. It's not their fault personally, it's (if you like) a design flaw. They are pretty much inevitable facets of our little treasures. So the challenge becomes to civilise without crushing. To guide and correct without hating. And whatever else, to pour in un-conditional love.

Far from easy, and especially difficult for teachers, who do not have the benefit of parental love to soften their approach, who sees more of your children than you do, who have twenty or so other little darlings to keep under control, and who also have to coral them through education with limited resources and in environments which are often petty and un-professional. It would be easy to abuse power, to rule with a rod of iron, and to place discipline above all else. But that would be a shame.

I'm, not a teacher, though I did look carefully at becoming one, and so understand some of the challenges. Teachers are hugely important in growing happy people and productive societies. But - because of all that's above - they are uniquely placed to smash up young egos before they get out of primary school.

So this is a plea to teachers; what you do is wonderful and precious. Please do all you can to see children as people before anything else, and - whilst doing what you need to do to get the education bit done - respect those little egos and best you can.

Friday 12 March 2010


Good things happen when you protect your mind from the clutter which generally pollutes it. The problem is that most people never find out because - far from removing sources of mental clutter, we tend to take comfort in them.

Do you read the cereal packet at breakfast? You're injecting clutter. Do you leave the TV or radio on in the background when you're ironing, washing up, doing general tidying? Clutter. Do you read a book at lunch? Do you drive in silence - or to music? Do you leave a magazine ... in there? Clutter. Does silence make you nervous or somehow wrong? If there's nothing worth watching on the TV, do you turn it off - or switch to the least awful program?

It seems we are more at ease when our minds have been given something to follow; almost anything! We are freed from the need to direct our thinking for ourselves. It seems easier.
But if you can be at peace in silence, you will find treasures worth the effort.

Like a computer, you have limited thinking power. If your brain is following the radio/newspaper/TV it isn't doing much else, so this resource is wasted. When you remove that burden, the mind does wonderful things.
  • Freed from your piped agenda, it will choose its own. You will find your thoughts ranging far and wide. Let them go there. Don't push - don't resist - just follow.
  • You'll find this new thinking will solve problems for you and create new opportunities. Take them, and - like a plane changing course by just a few degrees - your life will end up in a very different and better place. This is the first treasure.
  • After a while, you'll feel improved inner calm; a very pleasant tranquillity which will last quite a bit longer than your silent period; if you keep topping it up, it's yours to keep. This is your third treasure.
  • If you stick with it for more than a week, you'll find a new stability is being built at the base of your being. A solid foundation of certainty and calm which is a bedrock. Sitting on that, you'll be able to ride out life's turmoils with improved resilience. Your forth treasure.
  • If you stick with it for a month or more, you'll notice that your whole mode of thinking is altered. You're still you, but all of these things will combine to give you wisdom. Simply - you'll be wiser; you'll make better decisions, more creative solutions, more patient and more loving interactions.
How to start

Small. Kill the radio for one leg of your journey to work in the car or eat breakfast with no distraction; just you and the Weetabix; hardcore.

Stay with it through the reflex to make it stop and through the discomfort and irritation and boredom which wells up when you first try this stuff.

If you make it through one breakfast/car journey, see if you can do it daily or on alternate days. It's better to choose a level you can maintain happily for a long time, than to go at it full-on for two days and then toss it out as too boring to tolerate. If it will help you, choose something so ridiculously small that even you can commit to it and stay that way for a week or more. You know - tortoise/hare, and all of that.

Maintain your commitment to this project by finding your talisman.

So - go forth and STFU!


Thursday 4 March 2010

Hell On Earth is ... Your Workplace?

There are so many ways to be miserable at work! (by the way - did you do my You at Work Survey  yet?)

I'm working with a lady at the moment who has quite a set of issues, and I sent her an email response to give her something to think about until our next session.
Many of her issues arise often with my clients, and the thinking fodder is the same, so I thought it might be useful to some of my readers to read it.
I've changed the names and gained permission from my client to publish this email.

Hi Kim,

Since our next session is now two weeks away, I've jotted down some thoughts and ideas for you to play with until then.
They're inline, below.

Hi Chris

Nice to talk to you again on Friday [...]

You asked me for my 'misery' list from where I currently work - I hope you're ready for this ....

Deep breath....

a) Colleagues - Culture of gossipy duplicitousness (I hate this).  Majority of staff never worked anywhere else (many for 30 to 35 years plus) so change or new people are anathema and instantly hated.  There is a clique of 'negative' people who talk about people behind their backs (and sometimes to their face) - will criticise their work, their clothes, their accent, their weight, or have 'names' for people (whatever they can find).  If challenged they will either deny and state challenger is 'paranoid' or will do it as a joke within the safety of the pack so they look like they can't take banter.   

This is what I call the "playground mentality". In a healthy work culture, it's not tolerated. You may want to re-focus from the problem to considering more successful approaches to a better outcome. Ideas might include (but not be limited to):

Dump it with "management" to deal with
Take it to HR, if there is one
Confront hostility with charm
Confront hostility with greater hostility
Drop intelligent one-liners
Re-frame - Rise above it and enjoy the fact that daily, they show you how much better than them you are
Succeed in your work massively, making all this irrelevant
Physically isolate yourself from them
Divide and conquer
Enlist the help of a friend there
Start a counter-culture

What else? Remember that partial solutions are entirely worth having.
Pretend this issue is something a friend of yours is going through. This may help you to think intellectually rather than emotionally. How would you help her?

Minority of 'normal' people keep head down and take it or leave.  

Start a coalition of normal folks? Enjoy their company. Come out of the woodwork and FLAUNT your niceness and the fun you have at work in front of them. Show them another way to think and to be?

I don't take it personally as they talk about everyone, but they do sap my energy and I feel their behaviour is unjust/unprofessional  

Can you decide not to let it? How can you minimize this effect?

 - I am aware of being disliked for being a new girl (I've been there [3] years!) for having challenged people in the past about their behaviour (which has been close to bullying on occasion) and as I will not be drawn into gossiping about people behind their backs. 

You're taking the moral high ground then. Good on you! People like them are pretty much bound to react as they have done to that. 

b) Weak Leadership - MD is [N]th generation of family run comany (started in [the 18th century])  A  nice  'public school' gentleman (more suited to a Monastic life) very interesting and likeable away from work but as an MD has no idea!  He does not provide any leadership or direction for management or company (he provides no monthly reports so that I can see how we are actually performing (I have had to set up my own way of collating info which he is not happy about)  He micro manages his management team (especially the newer ones - the older ones scare him as they've been there longer.)  If you advise that the micro managing is not necessary and is denting confidence in good and efficient managers he states that we should all embrace the opportunity for continual improvement and that he likes to play the Devil's Advocate (this however only seems to be with more concientious managers - who to be fair he does tell he rates highly - actions however speak louder than words)   

Crikey. (I hope that was useful!) 

He is aware of militant attitude of existing staff (he knows there is a 'the company owes me a living' attitude and laziness within certain quarters and that many staff have no respect for directors (all family except one) or management team, but does nothing to improve the situation - despite me asking for his assistance previously (His response being [unhelpful]) 

Try asking questions like:
- Do you think that all companies are like this?
- You can have anything you want, but not everything you want - does he want to be popular, or a good manager?
- Does he want to grow a happy efficient company or does he want a quiet easy life?
- Does he want to please the nice hard workers - or does he prefer to pander to the bullies and the liars?
What other really creative ways are there to tackle specifically him or others in the management team?

Monday management meetings led by MD are an inter departmental war every week - they are seen as a point scoring opportunity (I mainly try not to be drawn into this but if seriously provoked will answer back)  

What RADICAL options do you have? What would a fearless hero say? What would Duncan Bannatyne say? 

c) Petty Rules - Non management staff are docked 15 minutes pay if more than 3 mins late, not paid for a minute over. They are not paid sick pay and docked bonus for the first 3 days off work due to illness.  They have to take 1 days holiday for a close family member's funeral (anything other than spouse, child or parent)  If MD sees anyone talking/chatting he asks me to tell them it's inappropriate (even if I haven't seen it -  he won't approach them himself!) I know the staff hate this - have no respect for him or me then (why should they) but he sees this as part of my role running the office (only when this suits though) 

Same idea - can you ask him questions to get him to illuminate his own stupidity? (without getting fired). 

He has phases of breathing down my neck asking if everyone's working hard enough, are we busy enough, why is so and so chatting.  I have suggested that the very fixed and rigid rules and attitude of the company do not generate a culture of goodwill with employees and do not promote two way flexibility -  but he does not agree with me. 

Hmmmm. Asking questions may help here again. You could try:
- Well, clearly we disagree on approach. But do you feel we have a happy healthy workforce under your regime?
- Do you think that your way is what they're teaching MBAs and managers these days?
Clearly dangerous stuff - but perhaps you could find a way to get it said which would not get your head ripped off.

d)Undermining - one member of my team, [resents me].  He is a very knowledgable employee (been with the company [a long time]) being fully aware of all processes and systems, but is not a team player  and often tries to undermine me (he does not like women in any kind of authority role. 

Exactly this scenario is extremely common. Options include:
Get it out. Acknowledge the problem, point out it's not your fault; he should take it up with management.
Acknowledge his expertise publicly, and enlist his help often. Show him another way to be successful at work
Point out that his behaviour is unhelpful and not what he's being paid for - allude to further consequences
Ask him how he sees the next five years, and what that vision holds for each of you - and how you might jointly find a better one.

A [person] recently complained to the MD about his aggressive attitude (nothing was done about this) and he refused to put me down on her form as his line manager - bless!).  


I have tried to talk to him and even tried to help his situation, giving him more responsibility, and status (which is v important to him) and a pay rise for his trouble, but he can be extremely aggressive and duplicitous and has [the] backing of 'old school' militant clique who will go directly to him to ask a question, or get something done and cut me out of the system, which assist with his undermining.

When he does this, do you address it very fast and decisively? Within minutes, are you in a room with him alone, discussing it?
Is there an escalation or disciplinary process available?

e) General - Minimum two hours travelling on ... motorway (my spiritual home!) then 8 hours in a tiny box office, with no privacy whatsoever and no windows to see out of.  Although I have made some very small improvements (this has required tremendous effort!) and I cannot move any further forward which makes me bored.  In addition all pay increases are inflationary and not linked to performance - so no one seems to care anyway!

ZZZzzzz are you asleep yet Chris?  Apologies for the length and detail of this.... but once I started I couldn't stop! 

I ain't asleep Kim, I'm incandescent :o)))))

It's so sad that people live out their working lives in holes like this.
You did what I asked you to do and I did what you're paying me for. It's all good, and I bet you enjoyed the vent.

It may be that you simply have no options there, in which case, the writing's on the wall.
But perhaps there are some things in the above suggestions which you could adapt for partial success in some areas.

I'll wait to hear from you about the dates etc. and sorry to bore you with it all.

Thanks for listening.


OK Kim, we'll speak again on 12th.

Best Wishes,

Tuesday 2 March 2010


Our attitudes toward money are often complex, and (as is the way with the humans) often in ways that don't serve us well. I've been experimenting with a little technique in my own life, and it has worked wonders for me. I'm now using it with clients, and today I thought I'd share it with you too.

I've written about money being power and about how, in a limited sense, money can buy you happiness.

But sometimes we find it hard to give ourselves permission to spend money. We may feel some purchase are frivolous, or that we don't deserve something, or (and this is more common as you get older) you may feel that things just cost too much, and so you refuse to pay as a kind of protest. This may mean that you're losing out on opportunities for happiness in life.

So here's the technique. Think of something in your life which you  routinely spend money on. I mean something that you don't even think about not spending money on. Examples might be your favourite cosmetic or beer or petrol or your favourite snack in your local coffee bar. It should be something which costs a few pounds. I'll choose a pint of Stella Artois beer.  Now, define a new unit of value - I'll call mine one stella. Now, when you're considering what to buy and what not to buy, don't think in terms of pounds, think instead of your new unit of value. What this does is to connect two parts of your brain which were previously separate. It brings cross-checking to your internal (and usually unconscious) values system. As a consequence, you get better answers from your noggin.

So, if you're a bloke, and you resent buying flowers (sorry about the gender stereotyping) then see that £6 bunch of flowers and being a two stella bunch of flowers. Do you feel different about buying it now? I bet you do.

I've found this works in all kinds of surprising ways. Wherever you think money, think your new unit of value instead, and watch your mindset change. I think you'll see improvements in your happiness, as you let go of your prejudices towards spending.

Oh - this just occurred to me. It's outrageous plugging, but hey - how much is my £60 fee in your new unit of value?

Call me, baby :oP