In December, we often look back on the year. What kind of year has it been for you? Did you manage to achieve all the things that you hoped to this year? We may beat ourselves up for abandoned resolutions, half cocked plans and things that just did not happen. The end of the year can be an opportunity to make amends with yourself and move on.
For some people this may have been the year that it all happened for them, their dreams came true and they achieved the things that they wished for, others may have carried out one or two of the things that they wished for. According to statistics only one in five of us ever fulfils our New Year’s resolutions. Scarcely surprising, then, that looking back over the year can be a disheartening reminder of all the things that we have not done.
If we start the year with big expectations it is not hard to understand why so many of us end up feeling disappointed. The end of the year does offer the opportunity for reflection, but it is important to be kind to ourselves when we do this. Not to saddle ourselves with ‘should’ and ‘ought’s’. Our natural tendency is to be critical of ourselves, this disables our ability to learn from the experience. We could take the opportunity to learn from the situation or to change our perspective on how we see the situation incorporating this new learning into our thinking.
In order not to get stuck in a negative cycle think of the positive things that have developed out of the situation. So if you are unhappy or regretting about not getting a new job, think about the positives aspects instead of the negative. Perhaps you have updated your CV or you have had more time to be with your family or focus on your social life. There is always a silver lining if we look hard enough. Dwelling on what might have been can pull us down into negative thinking.
Working out what it is that you really want is the key to your success not what we think others want us to do. This may sound simple, but many people find it hard to work out what it is that they really want and never really ask themselves this question. A simple review can be really beneficial to help move you on if you really want to make changes. Noting down a few points list under two headings – What worked well (WWW) and Even Better If (EBI) is a quick and easy way to see how things have gone and what you have learned and what you may like to change for the future.
Remember that regret may be a signal that there is still chance to do something about your situation or to fix things. Regret loiters whenever there is still opportunity.
Do you feel that there are not enough hours in the day? That you are running around like a headless chicken and not achieving the things that you want to? Do you ever wish you had more time and that you were less stressed?
If the answer is yes to any of the above you may be letting stress get the better of you. Of course not all stress is bad for us, some stress is actually good for us and helps us to get things done when there are sudden demands on us such as changes at work or at home. Meeting deadlines, preparing for exams or an interview, for these types of pressure we require a surge of adrenaline, and this is natures way of helping us through that sticky spot. But too much stress can have a detrimental effect on our well being. The body is not designed to cope with long term stress and if not recognised can actually be damaging to our health.
There are some tips for dealing with stress
Try to keep a positive attitude and mindset. If you can look at the situation that is causing the tension from another perspective it can really help when feeling stuck with something that you find difficult. If you find yourself becoming anxious about a situation, try to think of a positive aspect that could come of the situation. This can really help to change the way that you think and feel about a certain situation. Try to take a few moments to reflect on the situation and what it is that’s making you anxious.
Manage your time more effectively. Time management can be a root of stress so getting a grip on your time can have real benefits both at work and at home.
Eat healthily and exercise. Most of us sit at our computer for long hours, drink too much coffee and eat refined foods. Exercise is a good way to relieve the tensions of the day. We are 100 percent responsible for our own health and wellbeing, so take charge today.
This may sound blindingly obvious but the way be breathe has a real effect on our well- being. Simply, slowly breathe in through your nose and then out through pursed lips, allowing the abdomen to soften and rise on the in breath then deflate and return to normal on the out breath. Pause, slowly repeat this for 6-8 breaths over the minute with the breath out being slightly longer than the breath in. Try to get out in the fresh air regularly even whilst at work, go for a short walk at lunch time and take some deep breaths. Many people develop bad breathing habits and it takes a little effort to change this behaviour and to develop good breathing habits.
Getting a good night sleep can really help to alleviate the symptoms of stress and to encourage a good night sleep try to wind down in the evening before going to bed. Develop a bed time ritual and stop using computer, mobile phones and devices late in the evening. The blue light emitted from electronic devices can hinder our winding down ready for sleep process.
On your way to feeling more relaxed try the WASP method.
WAIT – say “stop” to yourself
ASBORB – take a deep breath, breathe out slowly and pull shoulders down, absorb the situation and tell yourself to relax and stop fussing.
SLOWLY – when you feel calm slowly……..
PROCEED – carry on with what you were doing but in a more relaxed frame of mind.
Just taking a few simple steps can really help to relief tension before it starts to take hold and can help to make your day seem much more within your control.
On Wednesday 6th November it is National Stress Awareness Day for more information go to http://www.isma.org.uk/about-national-stress-awareness-day-nsad/
The International Stress Management Association UK www.isma.org.uk
Beating Stress – Stresscheck www.stresscheck.co.uk
A number of my recent clients have wanted to make a change at work or at home, they have been looking for a new direction, a sense of purpose in their lives. For some people there is a feeling that something is missing, for others it’s about finding out what’s important to them. I really admire these people because some of us may also have similar feelings but never do anything about it. We can get very comfortable in our lives even if we are not happy with our lot. I take my hat off those who actually say that enough is enough and seek to make the changes that they want.
Wanting to make a change is a good start, but there are a few things that can really push the situation along. It is a good idea to start with our inner thoughts, our self limiting beliefs. What we think is often what we do, so if we think that we cannot make that change, guess what? We are more likely to stay where we are. However, if we think that we can make the change and can see ourselves in that new role, job, relationship or whatever it is that we want to change we are half way there. Henry Ford once said “If you think you can or you think you can’t your right”.
Here are a few simple ideas to help you make your ideas a reality.
Set a few simple goals
Setting a few simple goals can make all the difference in achieving what you want Stephen Covey in his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People calls this the habit of personal leadership. Begin with the end in mind, leading yourself towards your goal. By developing the habit of concentrating on relevant activities you will build a platform to avoid distractions and become more productive and successful. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve, where do you want to go and when do you want to have done it by? How do we know where we are going, if we don’t have an end point in mind. Most of us would not set out on a journey without knowing where we are going and how we are going to get there. It’s the same in life having a goal, something that we want to achieve and working out how we are going to achieve the goals can make all the difference.
Develop a vision board
Reinforce your goals with a visual presentation of what you want to achieve. Get creative with your goals and pull them all together in a visual board or scrap book can help inspire you to achieve your goals. A vision board is a poster board on which you paste image or words that you have collected from various magazines, the internet or created yourself to represent your goals. The idea behind this is that when you surround yourself with images of what you want to achieve, the relationships you want to have, where you want to live, or what job you want to have, you have made the first step towards your goal. This together with your written goals and your journal can really help to focus on what you want to bring into your life.
Keep a journal
This can be a file on your computer, on your phone or a written journal, use whatever suits you best. By simply writing down your thoughts and feelings about the situation you find yourself in or what it is that you want to change. Writing can help you to feel better about your situation and to gain clarity. Perhaps even start to form a few simple steps to help your situation and focus on your goal. This works for your home and work life just as well. So if you have a problem at work, perhaps you don’t feel as motivated as you use to, or you want to change your job but don’t know where to start. Keeping a journal could really help you to gain a greater understanding of your situation and develop some understanding of what you might like to do about the issues facing you. It can also help you to reflect on your situation, to make some sense of what is happening and to help you to clarify your thoughts about what you want.
If you put all 3 of these strategies together it is a very powerful way to unlock your potential and enable you to make the changes that you want to achieve. If you would like more information about making some changes in your life or at work I invite you to get in touch at email@example.com
Whether we work for ourselves or for someone else it is sometimes hard to resist the temptation to fall into the pattern of working too much. According to the organisation for working families nine per cent of employees worked forty to forty- eight hours in a usual working week, six per cent worked more than 48 hours, with two per cent working more than 55 hours.
At the end of the summer as we return to work it is easy just to carry on where we left off and go back to the madness of hectic days where we react to everything, respond to everyone’s demands and stress levels are soon back to where they were before the holidays. Our family and friends are put on the back burner and our social life and outside activities suffer. But not this year, with a little thought and planning this autumn could be a much calmer time with work and life much more balanced.
There are many challenges to taking control of our life and gaining balance, here are some tips for getting you started.
Time management and planning
There are 1440 minutes in a day, no more, no less, but we try to squeeze more time out of an already busy day. If those minutes were pound notes would we be more careful with them? Would our precious time capital be treated with more respect? The truth is that we cannot control time but with some simple time management techniques it is possible to manage ourselves a little better, if we wish to make more use of our time. Knowing our priorities and working towards them, by setting a few simple goals can be the key to keeping us on track and achieving what we want without working all day and all night.
Go home on time
Plan to go home on time (or if you work at home to finish on time) at least one day a week or even go home or finish early, plan something nice to do when you do go home. Having something to look forward to will help you be more focused.
Learn to say no
Sometimes a simple “no” will do instead of being the one who always says “yes”. People ask because they know that you will always say yes. So by not always being accommodating they may think twice before asking again.
Eat well and exercise
If we eat well and exercise we can keep up our energy levels and not become burnt out. By looking after ourselves we are more able to make better decisions about our day and our choices.
Take regular breaks
It is important to take regular breaks both during the day and also to take well earned holidays from time to time to recharge our energy levels and keep us refreshed and focused.
Disconnect from mobile phones and devices
These days most of us have not just a mobile phone but a variety of other devices so we can be stitched on 24 hours a day. But we don’t have to always be available, by switching off the technology for a few minutes each day or having a day free from technology. It is possible to get back in touch with our social side. Try living in the moment, perhaps even introducing a few real conversations and talking to people.
Delegate at work and at home
And finally delegate at work and at home. We do not have to do everything ourselves even at home. If time is really precious to us we can get other people, family, friends or even pay someone to do some jobs so that we have more time to do the things that we want to.
September 23 – 27 is National Work Life Balance week and Wednesday 25 September is National GO Home Early Day. What can you do to improve your Work Life Balance this month?
I recently visited the David Bowie exhibition at the V & A in London. Now, I am not particularly a Bowie music fan however I was immediately struck by his endless ability to seek out and embrace change. This enduring ability to change has set him apart from all others artists. He was not prepared to simply keep on playing the same old music into his retirement. It’s hard to believe that Ziggy Stardust was killed off after just one year, to make way for Bowie to follow his next project and not to be stifled by the persona of Ziggy. Bowie has inspired many people to follow their dream and ideas, to dare to be different and stand out from the crowd.
Bowie is the master of change. He has constantly evolved throughout his long career with the ability to reinvent himself into something new. Bowie has been many different things a song writer, a singer, a musician, a designer, a mime artist and an artist to name just a few. His collaborations have included artists and designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film but above all he is a leader and people follow him, he has the ability to set a trend and people follow. He had vision and chose his path, the people he had around him, the opportunities he could shape and the way that he thought about what he could do.
Every day we are faced with many choices, choose one path to go in one direction or choose another path to go in a completely different direction. It is the quality of the choices that we make in responding to change that decide our direction. Some of us fear change and others thrive on making changes.
The degree of your success in dealing with individual, team or strategic level change successfully depends on the activities and initiatives you choose to focus on. The quality of the people that you have chosen to surround yourself with, the opportunities you have chosen to seize, the kind of thoughts you have chosen to allow in your mind all influence the changes that we want to make. Change is like walking down a footpath. If you have chosen the right path for what you want to change, have the self discipline and determination to do so you will reach where you want to go. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to be”.
We embrace huge changes many times in our lives. People have babies, get married, move house, adapt to new technologies and new jobs. Changes like giving up smoking or losing weight can be difficult even though we may want to make the change. There are some things that we can’t change, for example, our genes and our human urges, but almost everything else can be changed if we really want to. Changing ourselves is not easy, it takes a lot of hard work and a really good motive and usually means that somebody somewhere has to get out of their comfort zone.
In order for things to change somebody somewhere has to start to act differently. Maybe it’s you or your team. For change to take place three things need to happen at the same time. You have to change the environment and engage the hearts and minds of the people you wish to influence. This is best summed up in a book by Chip and Dan Heath ‘Switch, How to Change When Change is Hard’. They say think of change as a huge elephant and a small rider. The rider is our rational self and the elephant is our emotional self. Each of us has an emotional side and a rational side. For change to happen we must direct the rider (our rational self) motivate the elephant (our emotional side) and shape the path to change our situation, when the situation changes our behaviour changes. This is the case for organisations and the individuals in them. Success is about behaviour. If we behave in a way that is congruent with the goals we want to achieve it can change everything if we really want it to.
David Bowie Exhibition – The V&A until 11th August
Chip & Dan Heath – Switch How To Change Things When Change is Hard
Stephen Covey – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people
Gillian Kitchen MA, ILM, personal & leadership coach find me on Twitter @changeagencynw & LinkedIn
At the age of 62 Charles Bradley was able to realise his dream of becoming a soul singer and song writer. As a young man Charles lived on the streets and slept on the subway travelling on the trains all night for 2 years. He enrolled in Job Corps and trained as a chef. People told him that he looked like James Brown, he could sing but he was too shy to tell anyone. Later he did become a singer and made his living as a James Brown tribute act. He nearly died when he was admitted to hospital and was given penicillin which he is allergic to. Later his brother was shot death by a jealous girl friend in an alley near to his mother’s house.
Charles was discovered while performing as James Brown, the person who discovered him wanted him to write his own songs. People say that Charles sings from his soul, his songs are not happy songs but stories from his life experiences.
Charles was signed up by the record company and in 2012 Charles story was made into a feature film ‘Soul of America’ detailing his hard struggles in life. I watched the film recently and was humbled to see how this man had come through and made it. What was it that made him so resilient? And how did he keep going though all those tough times?
So what is resilience and can we develop it? The dictionary definition defines it as the “Ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune, change or disturbance”. Some people are able to successfully integrate change into their life, which can make them stronger. Think of it like a spring or an elastic band that has the ability to be stretched and return to almost the same shape, but not quite.
I recently attended a seminar on resilience and according to Mandy Rutter of Validuim there are 4 elements to building resilience
How you look after yourself, the food you eat, exercising regularly, taking enough rest and recovery for the life that you lead. When people feel that they are under stress the tendency is to take short swallow breaths and not actually breathe correctly. This can have a detrimental effect on physical health. All of these factors can impact on the way that you deal with the world and what life throws at us on a daily basis.
Making sure to make time for fun and enjoyment is important and laughing is especially good for you. So too is having challenges and finding your own opportunities in life. Having people in your life that are important to you and that you are important to, is a key factor in helping you to become resilient. The ability to think about your situation differently and taking another another perspective can also help. Having independent support for yourself from either from a friend or a professional such as a coach can also be helpful.
For some people spirituality is related to their faith if they have one, for others it is about how they live their lives and understanding their beliefs and values and living their lives accordingly. This can become an issue, when for example, the values of an organisation a person belongs to or works for change and the person no longer feels at one with that organisation.
The ability to think creatively, to be able to transfer positive feelings from situations that have worked well in other parts of your life and applying similar strategies to help with the matter at hand. Drawing on an ability to recreate what has worked well in the past and adapt to the situation facing you now. How have you coped before and you can cope now. Wanting to recover and finding a way to keep a positive view point of view.
I also add Social Integration to this list. From my experience of working with people. Being connected to a social network, friends, family or a group of like minded people, from whom to draw energy, support and a listening ear also helps feel as though they belong. This can also help in developing resilience.
Charles Bradley may not have had much money but he did know how to cook and feed himself well, he made the most of his friendships and the people that supported him and believed in him over the years. He kept his faith and never gave up on his self. He has become a phenomenon.
We can all learn from Charles. I am not suggesting that we can all become soul singers but if we believe in ourselves and make sure that we are armed with as much information as possible to keep ourselves resilient and we don’t give up, who knows what we can achieve.
Mandy Rutter -Senior Clinical Business Manager Validuim
Charles Bradley – ‘Soul of America’
Displays of non verbal expressions of power are displayed by both humans and animals alike. The peacock fans it beautiful tail feathers to attract attention, birds and cats puff themselves up to appear larger than they actually are. Even the most confident person may not always feel super confident and outgoing, they too may have times of feeling under confident. But can we learn to develop our confidence?
There are times when we want to be confident such as at a job interview, a presentation, an important occasion or an important sales pitch but something keeps holding us back. I always tell my clients’ to fake it to make it. The brain does not know the difference between doing the real thing and pretending to be confident. I once had a great boss who when I approached him and told him that I was not coping with the new promotion that he had given me said “if you feel that you are not confident then just act as if you are confident” sure enough after a short while of pretending to be able to do the job I did indeed begin to really do the job. But what was it that worked for me?
I came across this research conducted at Harvard University that suggests that by simply spending a few short minutes ‘power posing’ that we can all improve our confidence. The research indicates that people with small closed body powerless posture and low confidence have a higher level of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood than people who display large open body powerful posture have a higher level of testosterone. The research was conducted with students who were separated in to two groups and assigned low power posture or high power postures. The students in the high power group were instructed to adopt either the high power pose or the low power pose for a few minutes. The cortisol and testosterone levels were tested for both groups.
The low power posture group were asked to either sit with their heads bent & their arms across their body or to stand in a similar position. Whilst the high power group were asked to stand or sit in expansive positions with open arms or with their hand on the hips. The results show significant increases in the testosterone levels of the students who took the power poses and they reported that they felt more powerful after the posing then they did before hand.
I am not suggesting that you power pose in the interview or meeting, beforehand take yourself off somewhere where no one can see you doing it. I have shared this research with some of my clients who have had great results at interviews and presentations and reported that they did indeed feel much more confident.
So acting like a pro or faking it to make it can actually work if you want to gain more confidence. So next time you want to be more confident try a ‘power pose’ & see if it works for you.
Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuronendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance – Dana Carney, Amy Cuddy and Andy Yap. Psychological Science Online, published on September 21, 2010 down loaded from psss.sagepub.com at Columbia University.
Gillian Kitchen – The Change Agency
– How to make choices at work or at home
In the classic film noir Casablanca the reluctant and ambiguous hero Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is faced with many decisions. Did he have a decision making process or did he make all his decisions based on his gut feelings? The film is set at the beginning on the Second World War. People wishing to travel beyond Europe to the Americas to find freedom found themselves in Casablanca in French Morocco, the transit point. Those with money, influence or good fortune to gain the exit visas were able to escape to their new world from here.
We live in a technological world but as the song from the film goes “the fundamental things apply as time goes by”. We are faced with many decisions both in our professional and our personal lives. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do and how to make the decision that can shape our future. We can always do nothing and simply see what happens or we can decide to take action and follow our own path. Sometimes a simple pros and cons list can be useful but this does not take in to account the emotions that are often interwoven aspects of our decisions making processes. If we look at the type of decisions facing people and the end results of the decision making process, we find that generally human kind does not have a particularly striking track record.
When we make a decision we make a choice or a judgement about something. Choices about life chances like careers that might have been deserted, mourned or lost. At many universities in the UK a dropout rate of about 30% is now common. A fifth of teacher training students drop out after six months of training and never make it to the class room.
In business the decision making situation is often blemished with bad decisions being made as regularly as good decisions.
In our personal lives things are not much better. How many of us save for our retirement, embark on relationships that are simply not good for us, fail to look after ourselves by not exercising or choosing the wrong type of foods to make us healthy and energised. There are many reasons why we do not make decisions perhaps an element of procrastination and fear of making the wrong decision holds some of us back. Our heroine (Ingrid Bergman) makes a decision that gave us one of the greatest lines in film history “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”.
How can we improve our decision making? According to Chip & Dan Heath in their book ‘Decisive’ there are four villains of decision making.
- Narrow framing – a tendency to define our options too narrowly instead of “should I break up with my partner or not” they recommend “ What ways can I improve my relationship”
- Confirming bias – Only seek out the information that confirms our beliefs.
- Short term emotions – Being swayed by emotions that will fade
- Over confidence – Having too much faith in our predictions
They also suggest the following their WRAP model for improving decision making processes. Here is an over view of the process.
- Widen your options
- Reality test your assumptions
- Attain distance before deciding
- Be prepared to be wrong
From my experience and my work with clients I have found the following questions to be useful when considering options or choices. You may find some of them helpful to you too.
- Have you considered your values or those of your organisation?
- Who do you need to involve in the decision making process?
- Have you gathered all the facts and understand the causes?
- How have you analysed the different options?
- What is the worst that can happen?
- Have you looked at the situation from a number of perspectives?
- What is your deadline?
- How are you going to communicate the decision?
- Can you live with the outcome of the decision?
It’s also worth remembering that we make decisions all the time and that not all decisions are life changing. So whether it’s deciding what to have for your tea, a new business deal or who to give the exit papers to. Sometimes it’s simply a gut reaction that wins the day. So like Rick in the film hold you own counsel and believe in yourself, find a decision process that suits you and the context that you are making your decision in. Here’s looking at you, kid!
Read the book – Decisive ‘How to make better choices in life and work’ – Chip & Dan Heath 2013. See the film – Casablanca – 1942.
The Change Agency
Do you dread those difficult conversations with staff or perhaps someone close to you? Perhaps you have been putting off speaking to a member of staff you are responsible for or you are having some issues with a teenager or perhaps you just want to improve your relationships and you want to get the conversations right, but you just don’t know how to start the conversation.
Handling difficult conversations requires developing a set of skills. Conversations are not just what we say but take account of a number of other factors, including our listening, observation, questioning and empathic skills which all come into play in our conversations with others. Words and body language are very powerful and we can find ourselves in a rapidly accelerating situation without realising it, if we are not careful. Following these few simple steps will help you to get your point across in an objective manner.
How often do we really listen to the other person’s point of view? If we really listen to what the other person is actually saying we can have much more productive conversations. Try focussing on what the other person is saying. It becomes easier to understand their situation rather than focussing on our own situation and what we want to say next.
Observation and body language
Only twenty percent of communication is what we say, eighty percent is non verbal. Through body language and facial expressions we give a great deal away. We use a number of micro facial expressions, that if observed can tell us a great deal about what the other person is really feeling. If we subtly mirror the other person’s body language and maintain good eye contact we can rapidly gain their confidence and help them to feel that they are being listened too and understood. Being aware of our own and the other person’s body language can be a really helpful way of tuning in to the other person feelings.
The questions that we ask can really help to clarify the situation. By using open ended questions we can gain information about the others persons situation. For example, instead of “you made a mess of that” if we say “tell me what it is that you wanted to achieve,” we start to get to the bottom of the situation without blaming anyone. By stating the facts, and not our emotions and by saying what we observe and not what we feel. We can help to move the situation on.
We should try putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes and try to see the situation from their point of view. Even in the most difficult situations, if we are able to gain a sense of understanding for the other person’s situation and build a genuine understanding we are more likely to achieve a positive result.
Handled well difficult conversations become learning conversations and can lead to improved outcomes for both parties and a deeper understanding of both ourselves and others.
How we like to take information in is important to how we learn. Mostly you can tell how people learn by simply listening to the way that they talk about their world. There is no right or wrong way to learn but your learning style is important to you in establishing how you see the world. Some people have a particular learning style others like to use a blend of all two or all three modes when learning something new. It is helpful to understand how you learn and choose the right learning methods or options for you.
VAK = Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic.
- Visual learning style preference for seen or observed ways of leaning use phrases like ‘the way I see it is’ or ‘I see what you mean’. People with a visual learning style respond well to drawing, visualisation, pictures, models and diagrams.
- Auditory learning style preference for the spoken word, sound and noises use phrases like, ‘That rings a bell’, ‘That sounds like a good idea’. People with an auditory learning style respond well to story, metaphor, scenario creation, discussion and music.
- Kinaesthetic learning style preference for physical experience for touching, feelings, doing use phrases like ‘how do you feel’ or ‘let me try’. People with a kinaesthetic learning style respond well to analysing using situational models, working with clay, mask making, design/creation activities and movement.
In the coaching situation offering creative methods as a choice, in addition to talking enables the client to actively agree to experiment and minimises defensive reactions. Choice can be offered by matching activity to the client’s learning preference, or to the situation that needs to be explored. Sometimes deliberately moving someone out of their comfort zone (with their consent) and extending their skills by offering an unfamiliar activity which is not their identified learning preference can really get the idea’s flowing.
Do you know how you learn? We are all different and learn in different ways. There are many ways of assessing how we learn including a simple VAK assessment available here.