How to Create a Habit of a New Behaviour Running

How to Create a New Habit for Better Leadership and Performance

“How do I create a new habit for some new behaviours?” a client asked after receiving recent feedback. He was told that his team wanted more positive feedback. He also felt he should be spending more time on their development rather than just getting the work done and driving for results.

Creating a new habit is just learning to do something new and doing it without having to think about it. It’s the 4ᵗʰ and final stage in what psychologists call The Stages of Learning:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – you don’t know what you don’t know
  2. Conscious Incompetence – you’re aware of the new behaviour, and not good at it yet
  3. Conscious Competence – you’re aware of the new behaviour, and it takes effort and feels forced
  4. Unconscious Competence – you’re no longer aware of the new behaviour as it’s habitual, and you’re on autopilot

How Long Does It Take to Create a Habit?

This is often asked as we ideally want instantaneous results. If you google it there’s a common belief/myth that it’s 21 days. A 2009 study by Phillippa Lally and her colleagues at University College London indicated that on average it took 66 days for participants to achieve “automaticity” for behaviours such as eating a piece of fruit or jogging daily. The range among participants was 18 to 254 days – encouraging and disheartening. The good news from the study was that you can miss a day and not jeopardize the creation of the habit.

The truth is that it depends. It depends on the habit you want to create, the frequency of practising it, the consistency of practising it, your propensity to habitual behaviour and most importantly, how much you care about making the habit. Habits are designed to be hard to break so complex ones might take more time to form.

Neuroscience of Habits

Our brains are designed to create habits; they search for ways of saving effort, to reduce processing of only one thing. Habits save us time and thought power. As something becomes more and more habitual or automatic the less and less our brains actually think about it. The brain does this by ‘chunking’ – translating a series of behaviours into an automated procedure.

Imagine if every time you brushed your teeth you had to remember to uncap the toothpaste, spread the paste on the bristles, turn the electric toothbrush on, brush every surface of your teeth, spit, rinse the brush… You’d be exhausted even if you only brushed once per day and not the recommended 3x a day.

How to Create New Habits

The focus here is on creating a positive, new habit. This isn’t about breaking a bad habit or changing an existing habit. The more of these tips you follow, the greater the likelihood of success.

  1. Define the new behaviour and habit you want to create and keep it simple. It might be giving positive feedback once per day, or sharing your opinion, listening more, exercising, eating healthier in one way, or reflecting weekly. Start small. If you make your goal too big too fast it’ll too big a mountain to climb. Make the decision to do this new behaviour.
  2. Define the (contextual) cue and (internal) reward. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. He describes the ‘Habit Loop’ as cue -> routine -> reward and it’s a craving that powers the habit loop. Habits create neurological cravings. Define a cue that’s in your environment or context that prompts you to do the new behaviour and then get an internal reward. When you perform this loop over and over a habit is formed when just seeing the cue starts the craving for the reward, so you’ll then perform the routine to satisfy the craving and get the reward. For example, when you hear a notification on your phone, the brain starts anticipating the reward (distraction, key info, attention). If the craving is not immediately satisfied, you become anxious and distracted until you check your phone. If the notification is turned off, you can focus for longer.
  3. Write it down. Writing something down makes it real and not just another fleeting thought. Also, it engages your sight and hand movement, and these two senses process and aid memory.
  4. Create a reminder or structure to support yourself. Doing something new is by definition something we don’t currently do so we need to create reminders. Use a post-it note on your monitor or a prop on your desk. For example, in the case of my client, a wrapped gift on the desk would be a reminder of giving positive feedback (it comes from the expression that feedback is a gift).
  5. Schedule it. Put the performance or action of your habit in the diary. What gets planned gets done.
  6. Do it daily or multiple times a day if appropriate. The more you practice something, the better you feel, and the more ingrained it will become.
  7. Be compassionate with yourself. It’s about trying, not perfection. You will make a mistake or forget and that’s ok, it’s new. When your child fell after their first steps you cheered, not jeered.
  8. View it as an experiment, trial, or play. This removes the need to succeed as experiments are about learning and modifying. And play is fun so how can you make it enjoyable?
  9. Notice who does it well and take what works. Role models are always useful to observe and learn from – they can be people you know or those in the public eye or on the internet.
  10. Be accountable to someone. Share your goal with someone, a coach, friend or colleague. Someone who will motivate you and potentially see you in action trying the new behaviour and encourage you.
  11. Visualize the process of success often. Use your imagination to regularly create the image of successfully doing the new behaviour, not just the result or outcome of the behaviour. Research indicates to visualize the process of getting to the goal and what you actually have to say and do, not just achieving the end result. The concept of visualizing the process also reduces feelings of anxiety.
  12. Write down the downsides of not creating this habit. This helps remind yourself why this habit is important. Refer to this list when motivation is lacking.
  13. Make your environment conducive to the new habit. If you want to exercise in the morning, lay out your exercise clothes where you must step over them when you get out of bed. If you want to eat better, don’t have junk food in the house.
  14. Learn from missteps rather than abandoning the practice. Be forensic about figuring out what went wrong. What part of the routine or habit isn’t working, and what’s preventing you from doing it? This will help you address the root cause.
  15. Chart your progress visually. Every time you do your new habit put a gold star on your diary, calendar, or board. You won’t want to break the cycle of getting a gold star (or checkmark or happy face) on each day’s entry.
  16. Celebrate! No matter how small it is, celebrate each time you’ve done it, give yourself a reward. It could be taking a few seconds when you give yourself your gold star (see above) for an inward smile. We are so good at beating ourselves up for doing things wrong, catch yourself doing it right (even if that’s just making the attempt).

What habits would benefit your leadership, effectiveness and impact more?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to figure out which behaviours would improve your and your team’s performance and how to start the process.

Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice Directions Coaching

6 Ways to Conquer the Critical Inner Voice that is Holding You Back

We all have voices in our heads, some of which are critical inner voices that are holding us back. For many of us, the person we talk to most in a day is ourselves. How do we make sure that our inner voice or self-talk is the most helpful for achieving our goals and enjoying life?

Positive or Negative Self-Talk

The voices in our head have both positive and negative messages. Both are helpful except when they go to the extreme. There are times when this critical inner voice is beneficial, when it protects you from failing, from looking stupid, risking or making a mistake. Its’ role is to keep you safe. It’s a defence mechanism. The problem with that is when you start trying new things and moving outside your comfort zone, your internal voice may not realize you are intentionally trying something new. Hence, your critical voice is conflicting with your desire to grow. It wants to keep you safe and small, to keep you within your comfort zone, to maintain the status quo.

Same for the positive messages. When the inner voice says you’re amazing, infallible, always right, you lose touch with reality and miss threats and opportunities to learn.

The focus here is on negative messages of that critical inner voice as that’s most people’s struggle.

What is an Internal Monologue?

The critical voice in your head, the judgemental voice that tells you that “you aren’t good enough” or “who do you think you are?” Another name for that voice is the saboteur because it can sabotage your efforts, and it can hold you back or make you doubt yourself excessively.

Examples are:

I’m going to embarrass myself.
I’ve messed up again.
How could I be so stupid?
I should have known better/done more.
I’m lazy/selfish/stupid/uninteresting/bad.

Critical Inner Voice – It’s Origins

The origins of the saboteur are two-fold. The first is from neuroscience. Our amygdala, the oldest part of our limbic brain, is meant to see threats and dangers in order to trigger the fight or flight response for survival. It was very helpful in ‘cave-man’ days when we needed our bodies to be flooded with stress hormones to survive encounters with lions and tigers. That fight/flight response still gets activated in present-day when we perceive we are at risk from making a mistake, looking stupid, and being ostracized from our ‘tribe’ aka work colleagues.

The second factor is our upbringing or conditioning. We have been conditioned through family, school and society for certain responses depending on how we were raised. What were you praised for growing up? Or what level of success or achievement did you have to attain to receive love or attention? What were your caregivers’ or teachers’ responses when you failed or made a mistake?

Your experience in those formative years will dictate the level of criticism or punishment you inflict on yourself. If you want to investigate its origins, therapy can help you do that.

6 Ways to Conquer the Inner Critic

    1. Reflect on yourself while you are DOING something (chairing a meeting, disciplining your child, cooking dinner) and capture your thoughts about yourself. Notice the running commentary you have in your head about yourself. What are your dominant scripts? If you find yourself being defensive, examine what triggered that defensiveness as it might give you insights.
    2. Reframe your thoughts. Replace your common critical phrases with positive reframes. Here are some examples:6 Ways to Conquer the Inner Critic Directions Coaching
    3. Rewire your brain. Separate yourself from your inner critic. Do this by writing your negative scripts using the word YOU (not I) as this will give you some distance and you act as a witness to the criticism rather than the source. Write positive affirmations that flip those critical thoughts and read them frequently (out loud). Can’t think of positive statements? Who sees you positively (not as a saint)? Write what they’d say. Or chose from a place of growth – who do you want to be and what do you want in your life? Write from that perspective.
    4. Recollect your positives. Capture the positive feedback you receive (verbally and otherwise) each day in a journal. Notice your inner value each day – what are you proud of yourself for today? Write these positives and prideful moments down. Writing it makes it real and not just another fleeting thought that comes and goes. Writing engages your hand (movement), eyes (visual) and brain. Feel the positive as you write and read it. This will help strengthen the new neural pathways in your brain to conquer the critical voice.
    5. Release critical thoughts. When you notice your negative self-talk, let go of it. Be light about it – have it float away on a cloud. Put it in a box. Don’t ruminate on it or beat yourself up for it. You’ve had it for decades, it will take some time to replace your critical inner voice. Distract yourself with a different activity when you notice your dwelling on it
    6. Reward yourself with self-compassion. Research shows that self-criticism decreases goal attainment and success. This is contradictory to the thinking of many coaching clients – they think that being hard on themselves motivates them to work harder and achieve more. FALSE. Studies, one from Stanford Medicine, show self-compassion increases motivation (not self-indulgence as many worry). Dr Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion, recommends giving yourself a hug when you notice the negative self-talk, literally hug yourself. If you’re in a meeting and can’t do it overtly, cross your arms with your hands touching your body with a slight squeeze. It will increase your motivation!

Thoughts influence how we feel and what we do. Therefore, our self-talk can impact our success and enjoyment of work and life. Conquer your critical inner voice and create positive self-talk that encourages you to be your best self.

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you can conquer your inner voice.

Someone giving contrsuctive feedback to another person in an office setting.

How to Give Constructive Feedback to Empower People

Empowering people is possible with constructive feedback. Cringe is the first reaction of my leadership training participants and executive coaching clients to the notion of feedback. Often the response is “I’m not good at those difficult conversations.” Amazing how feedback is associated with discomfort and difficulty. It’s almost always assumed to be negative, a ‘big’ conversation, and telling someone something that they are doing wrong.

What is Constructive Feedback?

Constructive feedback is feedback that grows an individual either by reinforcing something positive they are doing or by pointing out areas of improvement. Historically it was negative feedback, something they did wrong. Now constructive or developmental feedback reinforces good behaviours or points out behavioural changes a person can make to be more effective, what they could do differently and how to do it differently.

Key Benefits of Effective Feedback

The benefits of giving feedback are almost too obvious to state – and they are the same whether the feedback is positive or negative/constructive.

  1. Your team feels valued and empowered because overall you give noticeably more positive feedback than negative/constructive (research says financially successful companies give positive feedback 5–6 times for every one piece of negative feedback given).
  2. Your co-workers learn what you expect and what success looks like because you point out the positives and illustrate what better looks like when you point out an improvement.
  3. You create a feedback culture in the organization thereby encouraging everyone to contribute to good/better performance.
  4. Colleagues learn to improve ineffective actions or feel you reinforce their existing positive behaviour thereby positively impacting the business.
  5. Company performance improves (see research referenced in #1 above).
  6. You are perceived as observant, engaged and a people-person (by your team and potentially peers and superiors) because you observe and treat your colleagues as individuals.
  7. Expressing concerns openly and honestly when they arise prevents bottling up of resentment and frustration which, if unsaid, could lead to stress, illness, an explosive tirade or damaged relationships

Steps to Giving Effective Feedback

There is a simple four-step model that many people recommend, and I will follow suit. It’s called the C.O.I.N. model¹ by Anna Carroll and can be used for giving both positive and negative/constructive feedback. It’s so simple, so please keep it simple, this is a great case of less words are more effective.

C is for context or circumstances, the when and where of the situation.
O is for what was observed, the action or behaviour exhibited.
I is for the impact it had, on you, the team, another individual, or the business.
N is for next steps, what you expect or encourage the recipient to do next with the feedback.

Examples of Good & Bad Constructive Feedback

Good: When I was walking around this afternoon (Context), I saw you leaning over your sales manager advising him that he could have been more structured when answering the customer’s questions in the customer meeting earlier (Observation). The impact on him could have been embarrassment and intimidation. And because you are a manager, others in the open-plan office might have felt uncomfortable and that you were being disrespectful (Impact). In the future please deliver constructive feedback eye-to-eye and ideally in your office. It’s better be on ‘the same level’ and to punish in private and praise in public (Next step). How would you feel after hearing this?

Good: In today’s project review meeting, I noticed when Marc expressed his concern over the launch timing you paused, nodded your head, asked a couple of open-ended questions and asked, “this sounds important to you, can we set up some separate time to discuss it?” When you listen to people, ask clarifying questions, acknowledge someone, even if junior to you – Marc feels more valued, the idea of raising concerns is encouraged thereby mitigating risks, and others in the meeting respect you even more. Keep up the good work. Thanks for role-modelling those skills to the attendees.

Bad: You hit your sales target last month which is great, well done, but you failed to get a new client meeting. Work on getting new client meetings. How would you feel hearing this?

Tips to Giving Effective Feedback

How you give the feedback is so important for the feedback to be perceived as genuine and constructive and for it to be received positively. You know what it feels like if someone gives you a beautifully wrapped, timely, perfect-for-your birthday present versus someone just tossing you a creased card a day late that they bought at the corner shop.

  • Give the feedback as close to the action/behaviour observed as possible.
  • Give positive and constructive feedback daily, don’t wait for performance reviews or “extreme situations that require attention”.
  • Give positive feedback in public if appropriate and the recipient likes that attention (or at least can tolerate the attention).
  • Give constructive feedback in private to avoid being perceived as critical or causing embarrassment or shame (there’s a common expression: praise in public, punish in private).
  • Speak slowly and clearly, being as specific as possible. Pause slightly after saying the observation and impact and then stop talking after stating the next step.
  • Use the minimum number of words possible. More detracts from the clarity of the message.
  • Check for comprehension, that they understand what you said. Ask them “what clarification can I provide?” or “what would you like me to repeat to ensure I’ve been clear?” or “what’s your understanding of what I said?”
  • Look them in the eye (softly, not laser-like) and smile (just look pleasant, not a creepy smiley-face).
  • Be patient with yourself and the recipient.
  • Have the intention of being of service to that person, of giving them a gift, of wanting them to grow and develop. Dare I say, have it come from your heart rather than just your head.
  • If it is difficult feedback, give the person some time and space to digest it. Say “I sense you might need time to process/digest/think about what I said. Let’s meet tomorrow to talk about it again.”
  • Remember, just as you are free to give feedback, so the person to whom you are giving it is free to listen (or not), adopt, adapt or reject what you have said.

What feedback have you received that would be beneficial to work through?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could be better at giving feedback or actioning feedback you’ve received.

¹ COIN Model Executive coach and author Anna Carroll, MSSW “The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success. 2003

Leadership Affects Behaviour and Culture – A Note to Boris

This statement that leadership affects behaviour and culture might seem basic or obvious. It is and it is hard to do well as we’ve seen earlier this week in the UK with Boris Johnson’s address to the public on the next phase of coronavirus lockdown. I’m not doing to get into the politics and media analysis rather I’ll stay focused on the leadership behaviours.

What is Leadership?

Leadership, by definition, is about directing or guiding people towards a vision, behaviour or decision to achieve a desired end goal. It’s about influencing others in a way that empowers them and makes them feel good, not through force or coercion. It’s about taking people from where they are now to a different place, one they might not have imagined or been to before.

Some executive coaching clients I work with ask “isn’t this manipulation?” The Oxford English Dictionary defines manipulate as: “handle or control (a tool, mechanism, information, etc.) in a skilful manner. Control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly or unscrupulously.” So, yes, it is manipulation. And, so what? If you get what you want while being yourself AND the other person gets what they want, is treated well, and is bought into it with full permission to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’, what does it matter? The word manipulation often has bad connotations as unscrupulous indicates above. The issue is the intention behind the interaction; if it’s to influence for good reasons (like saving lives, protecting the NHS), then OK; if it’s to influence for unscrupulous, evil, bad reasons, then it’s not.

Politicians are leaders, albeit some better than others; they do influence the behaviour of their people and create a culture or climate for the population.

The Two Levers of Leadership

Leaders have essentially two levers to use when communicating and interacting with their people to affect behaviour and hence results. The first is THE WHAT, what they say, the message, what needs to be done or the task at hand. The second is THE HOW, how they say it, how do they interact with the person or people to get the work done, ideally to build the relationship (or at least maintain the relationship).

Unfortunately, the latest polls indicate that Boris Johnson does not have the majority of people following him. In my opinion people are split about the latest changes because he did neither the WHAT or HOW well. And certainly, people are confused about what they should be doing,

The What – The Behaviour

The key for any leader is to be clear about what GOOD looks like, what behaviours, tasks or actions are necessary for the job to be done well and in keeping with the organization’s values. Boris failed on describing the behaviours that are acceptable now given where the country is with the pandemic.

When working with clients they say I want my team member to show more leadership. “Great. What does that mean?” What would you be seeing and hearing differently than what they are doing now? The specificity is needed as peoples’ versions of what’s acceptable differ. Many leadership trainers say the hardest part of running any workshop is the instructions – you need to be so clear as to how to do an exercise so that a group of individuals hear and understand the same thing. For the most part the UK population understood what STAY HOME meant. The feedback says the majority of people don’t understand what STAY ALERT means. What are the behaviours we’d be seeing if we were STAYING ALERT? “Go to work if you can’t do it at home but try and avoid using public transport.” So, people went to work Monday morning and for those that only had public transport as an option used it resulting in NO social distancing on the tubes in London at morning rush hour. When trade-offs need to be made, be clear which is the highest priority especially when they are about public health. Words like BUT and TRY are not helpful when directing people.

Some key behaviours to define the WHAT are:

  • Dictating the methodology of how to do it, directing
  • Defining accountability
  • Monitoring progress
  • Setting KPIs (key performance indicators), goals, objectives, targets
  • Having timelines/deadlines
  • Evaluating, analysing
  • Making decisions
  • Following up, control
  • Identifying road blocks and barriers
  • Delegating
  • Reporting status, updates, facts
  • Managing risk
  • Measuring, allocating
  • Taking corrective action

The key is to be as specific as necessary to achieve the outcome. And if you show a chart or graph, please label the axes and explain what it says.

The How – The Culture

Otherwise known as relationship-building behaviours, these also build trust which leaders and politicians need. It’s the followers that make a leader a leader, not the title. Boris talked about having consulted with a variety of people prior to this announcement and then swiftly thereafter the leaders in the other UK countries and political parties voiced their disagreement. It’s one thing to talk to others, it’s another thing to get them onside and moving in the same direction.

Leaders can use these skills to manage people well and build the relationship with them hence creating the culture you want in the organization (or country):

  • Trying to understand
  • Being interested
  • Having empathy
  • Collaborating
  • Looking after people
  • Giving and taking feedback
  • Celebrating success, appreciating
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Coaching
  • Sharing the purpose, the why
  • Listening, really listening
  • Inspiring, engaging
  • Creating and communicating vision
    • Joking, laughing, humour when appropriate
    • Showing yourself, being vulnerable
    • Talking about feelings and emotions
    • Being present, taking time with people
    • Supporting and defending people, having their back
    • Including others
    • Sensing, guiding, trusting in others
    • Empowering

Now What?

Leaders don’t always get it right. They make mistakes. The key is how they recover. When course correction is needed leaders should do the analysis to define the corrective action, the WHAT, and then use the HOW to get people on board again and moving in the better direction.

My suggestion to Boris would be to acknowledge the feedback, admit he got it wrong or at least that there is disagreement, talk about the anger and confusion, talk to the other leaders to ask what would it take to get them onside, and if getting them to agree is not possible clearly articulate who should be going back to work, how they should do that and then give them the parameters to do that, explain why there are differences, take questions to listen to the concerns of the public, provide details of how each element like testing and tracking intersects with specific timelines and figures. Visibility and communication are important in a crisis and when there’s confusion so recover in order to move forward.

More on this topic in Principle 7 in my book, Soft Skills Hard Results. I’ve volunteered to coach NHS staff given what they are facing on the front lines. I never thought to volunteer my services to Boris Johnson?

A Developmental Activity To Learn During Quarantine

Have time on your hands for an activity during coronavirus quarantine? Want to learn about yourself during this time? Need to process what is happening and how you’re reacting? If any of those are remotely enticing here’s a simple and profound exercise. This exercise is so important I’ve included it in Part 1 of my book, Soft Skills Hard Results, on knowing yourself.

The Activity to Learn

Personal and Professional Identity Narrative

This activity can be done in one sitting or easily over time as it fits into your schedule and it’s the latter I recommend. PPIN stands for a Personal and Professional Identity Narrative. Jack Wood, International Institute for Management Development (IMD) Professor and Jungian Analyst, uses this exercise with MBAs and Executives for some of their greatest learning from their programs (a bold claim considering they are paying tens of thousands of euros). The PPIN is your life story – where you have come from, where you are right now and the general trajectory of where you are headed or where you think you might be headed. He says, “if you take the PPIN seriously, the process of reflecting and writing about your life – the sources of your identity and the objectives that you embrace – can help you better understand the deeper currents and patterns in your life and their continued influence”¹.

2 Simple Steps for the PPIN Activity

Step 1 involves writing about the significant events in your life. Just start. This is just a collection of small stories, like chapters or simply paragraphs. You’ll want to cover your childhood (not just the facts but also your sense of what it was like growing up), school experiences, work and career (it’s not a CV/resumé though), relationships (parental, romantic, friends), what have been the highlights, the low points, the regrets (of what you’ve done or haven’t done), the times of greatest learning and when things have felt effortless. Don’t worry about whether it makes sense, is well written or in a logical format. This is only for you to read and analyse. Include examples, rich descriptions (not PowerPoint or bullet points) and your feelings and emotional reactions to the events and people.

I did the first draft of my PPIN in a week and ended up with over 10 typed pages, single spaced. Remember, I like to write and am a good typist, so I don’t want to intimidate you. A couple of months later, it was in excess of 20 pages. Jack Wood suggests 5–10 pages for the first draft and 10–15 pages for the complete narrative. If done exhaustively it can take a while, so at worst, it’s a legacy for your children (although it might be too revealing if done with no fear of it being seen). I’d encourage you to do more than what makes you comfortable; it’s at the edges of our comfort zones where we learn the most and feel energized.

Step 2 is the analysis of what you’ve written. The informative part happens during the reflection. This might be while you are writing it or once it’s written; when the patterns and themes in your life emerge (or appear once you observe your story on paper at a distance). What have you noticed about what you’ve created in your life? What’s been easy? What’s been hard? What has impacted you from one situation to another situation? What did you conclude about yourself or the way life works from the various events in your life? Where does it point you to in terms of further personal development? What patterns are influencing you?

For example, the PPIN exercise helped me understand why I adjusted so quickly when I moved from Canada to Switzerland; as a kid I had moved to a new city every five years due to my father’s career. Prior to the first move my parents asked an education specialist for advice on moving young children. He told my parents to move my brother and me a month or two before the end of the school year as that would allow us to make friends in the new place before being let off school for the summer. That way we’d know other kids in the neighbourhood with whom to play. This meant that at the new school I was put into established classes with groups of children who had been together for months and, as the newbie, I was required to integrate. I remembered one situation in Grade 3 (so I was about 9 years old) where I was escorted into the classroom by a school secretary after the kids had already started their day. The room was a mixed group of both Grade 3s and 4s and I was stood at the front of the class and asked to introduce myself. I did this on more than one occasion. Hence when I arrived in Switzerland, I just threw myself in, introducing myself to strangers. The PPIN helped me recognise this pattern; understand that aspect of myself and become more conscious of using the skill when it served me (such as when I moved to England on my own and without a job).

Dynamic Learning About Yourself Now

Write a few paragraphs or pages about your current situation with coronavirus – your thoughts, your feelings, what bothers you, what pleases you, what have you observed in others or society and what’s your reaction to that? How was it for you 7 weeks ago compared to now? Write about your experience as it’s different for all of us. This is called free-flow writing, just writing what comes up for you in your mind, heart and gut; follow the flow without censoring or critiquing.

Reflect on what you’ve written:

  • What reactions and behaviours are you having now that you recognize in your historical stories? What is the continuing pattern?
  • What situations or perspectives from your past are hindering you now?
  • What situations or tendencies from your previous stories could you leverage to help you in current times?
  • How has your thinking or feelings evolved from the onset of quarantine to now?

I said at the beginning this was a simple exercise. It is, just write your life story in chunks over time and reflect on the patterns and learning. I didn’t say it would be easy. Contact me here for a complimentary session to understand more about your learnings from this exercise or for any avoidance you feel about doing such as exercise.

¹ Wood, Jack Denfeld. ‘The Personal and Professional Identity Narrative (PPIN).’ Print.

How to Cope with the Weight of Responsibility in a Crisis

Some people are feeling a huge responsibility due to the virus, a weight unlike they’ve ever felt before despite being senior, experienced leaders. And I don’t mean weight gain from staying home, opening the fridge continually and comfort eating. I coach leaders in food manufacturing, retailing, media and IT. I have friends in healthcare. The pressure and responsibility they are feeling right now in this crisis is huge – it is about life and death.

Your Responsibility

What is your responsibility as a leader? This is a good clarifying question. What are you truly responsible for? Sometimes in times of heightened pressure and stress people start assuming they are responsible for more than they truly are. They also start becoming insular, which can cause them to think that they alone are responsible for everything. Be clear on what you’re responsible for – you solely. In many organizations there is a hierarchy of responsibility and for the big decisions there’s lots of input and discussion. I have coaching clients who are having to make decisions ahead of their company HQ and even in advance of their country. They decided on work-from-home before either their country or company decided. They are deciding about priorities

Tips to Cope with the Responsibility

  • Look after yourself – what is your support system to ensure you can carry the weight for the duration? This includes exercise, proper nutrition, good sleep, friends, talking, some form of mindfulness. These aren’t nice to-do’s, they are necessities for you to go the distance with this crisis.
  • Breathe – this is so important it’s a separate tip. Some deep inhalations, down to your belly will engage your parasympathetic nervous system to help calm you down. Regularly take deep breaths, inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and hold for 4 counts. Alternatively, inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 6 counts. Both reduce stress.
  • Communicate – constantly, to superiors above, to your team members and sideways to your peers, customer, suppliers and colleagues. This can be written and verbal, direct and messages.
  • Be open to ideas and help – Schools are spontaneously creating PPE (personal protective equipment) on 3D printers and sending it to hospitals and care homes, without having been asked. You never know where ideas and solutions will materialize.

Support Systems You Should Tap Into

  • Share the burden – leaders have teams within organizations, lean into the skills and abilities of people on your team. Reach out beyond your team and potentially beyond your organization for specialist support – it’s incredible who is willing to help. The government is doing that by sourcing medical PPE from fashion houses and ventilators from car manufacturers.
  • Have a buddy – it can be a colleague in a different area in the same company or someone trusted in your external network. A buddy is someone walking along side you through some of these unchartered routes, so it’s a shared experience. These buddies can offer advice, be a sounding board, be encouraging, a devil’s advocate or just an ear to help you sort through your thinking.
  • Family and friends – what is your non-work support system? Some clients have no non-work time at this moment and they are trying to carve out some opportunities to be present for partners and/or children for connection and bonding (feel good hormones) and reaching out virtually to friends for levity. Figure out the best times in your schedule to make these connections.

It appears this will be a longer-term crisis then originally expected so ideally the goal is to thrive, not just to cope.

Struggling with Positivity? Use this ‘Gratitude’ Framework for Ease.

An easy way to cultivate being grateful is a daily practice of identifying good things from the day, saying thank you for the silver linings even in a crisis. As explained in my last blog, Say Thank You to Dire Times – Being ‘Grateful,’ the benefits of such a positive practice are numerous as the previous blog details. Here’s the summary: you’ll be happier, less anxious, sleep better, fewer aches and pains, more optimistic, more friends, better marriage, deeper relationships, greater networking, better teamwork.

The Crisis Challenge

My challenge to you: Get a journal and every day for one month do this practice.

Yes, EVERY DAY. Yes, WRITTEN. Why? Every day to create the habit. Written because this engages your eyes, your hand (kinaesthetic movement), and your brain, making the gratitude more tangible as it’s a multisensory exercise. If you only ‘think’ about them they are just more fleeting thoughts crowding an all-ready-busy mind.

It will get easier rather quickly. Initially it was hard to see what I was grateful for beyond the weather and something extra special, such as a gift, a work achievement or an acknowledgment. I’d get my journal out at night and struggle to write something, I’d almost feel like I was ‘making it up.’ After a while I started to look intentionally for things in my day that I could be grateful for because I knew I’d have to write something in my journal that night. Over time it evolved into me just noticing through the day “oh, that’s a gratitude” and now I see them many times through the day, it’s just a natural observation and label for me.

This crisis seems to be pointing out many silver linings, things to be thankful for – carers, healthcare workers, clean water, delivery people, food, sunshine.

Grateful Structure or Template

Specifically, every day for one month WRITE 5 THINGS you are grateful for from that day, then one thing ABOUT YOURSELF for which you are proud, then the BEST thing from the day, then the WORST thing from the day (to let it go), a FEAR from the day (to surrender it), and something you LEARNED today about yourself, life, living or the world and lastly, something about YOUR PARTNER (or friend or family member) for which you have gratitude.

You can download my gratitude worksheet/template from my website here.

It will look something like this each day:

  1. Something I’m grateful for today
  2. Another thing I’m grateful for today
  3. Another thing I’m grateful for today
  4. Again, another thing
  5. You get the idea

Self: Something about yourself for which you are grateful or proud
Best: The best thing from the day
Worst: The worst thing from the day
Fear: A fear from the day
Learning: Something you learned today
Partner: Something about your partner you’re grateful for

Many of my clients do this practice often starting it because they are questioning themselves, second guessing themselves, especially now as some decisions they are making are well outside their comfort zones. The gratitude about yourself builds self-belief, certainty and confidence.

Tips for Maximizing Positivity

  • Be specific – the detail is what makes the experience rich and creates the good feeling.
  • Have fun with it, it’s enjoyable and feels good.
  • Involve others. Around the dining table ask your family or friends “What are you grateful for today?” Clients who do this learn so much about their family’s day and have gotten feedback from their partner that they’ve “shown up differently, not pre-occupied with at home.”
  • Find the time in the day that works best for you (ideally in the evening or night as you have your day to reflect on).
  • Make the commitment to yourself to try it consistently (I say try to be kind to yourself, and really there is try and just do so do).

What are you grateful for today? Let me know here.

Say Thank You to Dire Times – Being ‘Grateful’

It is easy to say Thank You during good times. More difficult to do in tough times. And it is possible to find things to be thankful for despite the virus or any other stressful and uncertain situations.

Benefits of Being Grateful

The best time to start a gratitude practice is now as it improves your wellbeing. Multiple research sources document the benefits of being grateful, or living with the perspective of gratitude, across five key areas

    1. Emotional wellbeing – happier, less anxiety and depression, bounce back from stress
    2. Physical health – better sleep, fewer aches and pains, less pain, more exercise
    3. Personality – more optimism, self-esteem, spirituality
    4. Social interactions – more friends, better marriages, deeper relationships
    5. Career enhancements – greater networking, better teamwork, less absenteeism, greater employee and client loyalty

These benefits are great at any time in our lives and even more important during times of stress.

What Am I Grateful for During This Virus Pandemic? The Positives

Let me state the obvious – I am not grateful for the suffering, hurt, grief, fear and loss this virus is creating. I mourn for those globally who have been touched by this, especially those who have lost loved ones and those on all the frontlines.
And knowing light can co-exist alongside dark, what are the silver linings from this situation? Here are some gratitudes I’ve seen, felt and heard:

  •  The planet is regenerating, the turbulence that man imposes on the land, on mother nature is lightened so streams are clearing, pollution is dissipating, stuff is growing again not being damaged by our travel and stripping.
  • Consciousness about waste and need. People are turning to fresh ingredients where they can and are not wasting food, heck even heard of grilled celery being eaten so it doesn’t go to waste. I know I’m spending more time cooking new and nutritious meals. Less consumerism for a variety of reasons.
  • For some, being forced to slow down, to be less busy, less rushing around, less hurried- sickness (something many of my executive clients suffer from normally).
  • People are connecting more virtually, for dinners, drinks, bday parties, catch-ups. People are calling those they might not have called previously, people are thinking of others.
  • People are seeing value in occupations they might not have noticed before, like carers, grocery workers, delivery people, telecom engineers, manufacturing and obviously healthcare providers (although I think these people have been valued previously and
    certainly differently than a shop attendant). These are the things that are essential to daily life. What is essential has been redefined in some ways.
  • Addressing the plight of the poor, homelessness and domestic abuse. It’s forcing society to deal with these people that are so often ignored or at best, dealt with, rather than helped.
  • Health has become our main focus, staying healthy, wanting others to stay healthy, wanting the hospitals and medical professionals to be able to treat every patient with the equipment, care and time they deserve – not being overloaded where their health and compassion is compromised.
  • Generosity – offering to shop for the vulnerable, free exercises classes on-line, volunteering in their communities, reaching out to others, people donating money and rooms for sick or healthcare workers, free food and parking to healthcare workers.
  • Creativity is flourishing – companies making ventilators rather than cars, new hospitals built in a week which would have taken years previously, face-to-face things now being done virtually.
  • Reflection – what matters really matters? In society? To me as an individual? What part of ‘back to normal’ do I/we want to re-embrace when this settles? What parts of ‘staying home’ do I want to adopt into life afterwards? What do liberty and freedom really mean?
  • Greater awareness of those around us, even though we are less physically in contact.
  • Intimacy has shown up in some interactions where it might not have in the past. People are connecting around how they feel, what their fears and hopes are, what makes them laugh, rather than the external factors we might have discussed previously (sports, weather, the commute).

Thank You Reflection

Thank you for reading this. I invite you to reflect and share:
What are you grateful for today? What has been positive about this situation for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’re thankful for – as it’s a virtual world now, reach out and let me know.

Want People to be Motivated, Empowered and Feel Valued?

Coaching is one way of doing all that – motivating, empowering, valuing – and more. Coaching is a skill, a set of tools and also a mindset. What I’m presenting here is coaching as a skill and set of tools. This will not make you a certified coach; this will assist you in using coaching skills as an option in your toolbox of leadership skills.

Benefits of Coaching

  • People learn to think their way through a situation, enabling them, making them less reliant on you.
  • People bring their ideas and thoughts to the situation which might result in new, unique solutions and more creativity and diversity of thinking.
  • It’s less work for you in the long run as you train them to figure it out (make them more independent and empower them when it is done well).
  • You don’t have to know everything all the time (which might be a blow to your ego).
  • People feel valued and heard and often are more engaged as they are genuinely asked to explore their ideas.
  • You develop leaders, grow greater talent, thereby growing the organization’s capability (and it just might be more fulfilling for you).

Coaching is really just the creation of a reflective space for someone (the client or coachee or employee or fellow human being) to figure out their own solutions and ideas in relation to a particular topic. This is done by the coach (or leader in your case) listening in a deep and non-judgemental way and asking open (sometimes powerful) questions that help the employee discover ideas and possibilities in themselves.

I’ve coached people for 10 minutes who were passing by on the street (it was part of a street team providing free coaching in London) and been given feedback that they found the experience profound. I’ve coached people for hours to the same result, meaning coaching can be 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour or longer – depending on the situation, topic, what they want out of it and the time you have.

Listening is the starting point for great communication including coaching. Through my coach training with The Co-Active Training Institute (CTI), I learned there were three levels to listening, which changed how I listen and engage (most of the time)1.

The Three Levels of Listening

Try listening at these 3 levels – what have you noticed?

1 Witworth, Laura and Karen Kinsey-House, Henry Kinsey-House, Phillip Sandahl. Co-Active Coaching. Davies-Black Publishing. P34-40, 2007

Part of My Completion of 2019 and Creation for 2020

One of my biggest accomplishments for 2019 and a thing I am so proud of is writing my book, Soft Skills Hard Results.  A year ago this month, I was finalizing a lacklustre first draft for submission to a development editor. I couldn’t visualize it being anything I was proud of at that time.  I was just relieved to have the end of writing it/something in sight.

Through 2019 I worked on it with help from 2 development editors, my publisher/book coach, my test readers, and a copy editor. I got it to the stage where I thought it was good, and my test readers echoed that sentiment, so I sent it to the publisher for the production phase. It has now been printed, is being sold into bookstores, is making its way to distribution centres in North American and the UK for it’s publishing date of 23rd January!

If you asked me a year ago if I’d have a beautiful printed book in my hand that I was proud of and that would be going on sale I wouldn’t have believed it!

I do believe it’s a very good book (with all humility) for the audience for whom I’ve written it – task-oriented, analytical, focused leaders (or people) that could benefit from learning more about how to be people-focussed in their interactions with others.

It’s filled with questions, case studies, personal stories, models, tools and ideas in hopes that one or two of them motivate the reader to try something different in their relationships to get the results they want.  Of note, I do talk about whether this could be construed as manipulation in the book.

I’m nervous about how it will be received, putting myself up for scrutiny, being considered an expert and it not reaching those who could benefit from it.

And that’s what I want to create in 2020 – getting my book into the hands of those who could most benefit from it.

If you’d like to help me please order the kindle version of my book, Soft Skills Hard Results, from Amazon for ONLY £/$0.99 on 23rd January between 10-11am your local time (from your local Amazon shop). Yes, it will be only 99p/99¢ so even if you don’t have kindle I’d appreciate your support anyway. If enough people do this the Amazon algorithms will suggest it to those people on Amazon who I don’t know that are searching for a leadership book for analytical leaders. Please send this request/discounted offer to people you feel would benefit from the book too.

What does your 2020 vision look like?