Tag Archives: Coaching

Events

Deafening Language of Office Barricades (1 min read)

How firm is your handshake? How do you stand to project confidence?

“Body language” has crossed from FBI interview techniques to mainstream personal impact strategy. Informed by countless books, articles and courses, we can spot a “power pose” across a packed networking meeting, mirror cross our legs and arms to build rapport with our boss and sit “openly” for the 360 feedback session.

What about the language of your office space? It speaks louder than you might imagine.

Recently I was taken on a tour of a client’s office. The Board opted for an open plan office to promote “free-flowing communications” and “close teamwork”. From the doorway I could see a shantytown of oversized plants, double computer screens, multi-storey paper trays and skyscraper piles of files and empty (I think) pizza boxes. “Where are the people?” I asked my tour guide. He replied (puzzled): “Behind the desks of course”. On closer examination, I discovered all 38 employees.

Knowingly, or unknowingly, that office said in Gollum-like tones: “My private space.
KEEP AWAY. Trespassers will be prosecuted”. I understood why few employees asked for help or shared key project developments with their team. The physical barricades reflected the psychological barricades. Both intended to hide vulnerability inherent in asking for help, sharing a challenge, accepting and giving feedback.

Taking down these barricades requires time – time to build trust and connections. Move too briskly and you risk setting off the impenetrable defence barriers. I find
that as people start talking to each other the office barricades come down on their own. “Good Morning” is a good start.

What does your office space say about you and your team?

For information on communications and team coaching please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

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Events

Helping Old and New Work Together (4 min read)

Be Do Have Coaching_OldandNew

Your organisation has grown from a nimble owner-run yacht to a powerful cargo-ship behemoth managed by a consortium. How do you maintain your course, profitability and manoeuvrability while running the engine on full power and keeping everyone on board?

Some of your crew are Old Hands – they were there pulling the ropes to safely sail through the storms of the early days. They knew every crook and cranny of the old yacht, navigating with a sextant through the darkest nights and predicting the incoming weather from observing the clouds on the horizon. On the new ship, those Old Hands are lost – so many unknown passages, the complex computer driving the engine, the autopilot keeping course using satellites, even the weather predictions are provided by algorithms. What use is their knowledge of seamanship, the seas and the sextant? The Old Hands feel redundant and insecure in their positions.

To help run the complex ship you have taken on New Crew – they have never pulled a rope in their life, but can programme the complex computer, switch on the autopilot and interpret the weather data. They do not bother to look outside the window to check whether the weather algorithm is correct. When the Old Hands tell the New Crew of the best way to ride out the ocean swells they do not listen, and instead fire more fuel into the engine to power head on through the conditions. The New Crew think that the Old Hands are redundant.

You know that to make progress the ship needs both the Old Hands and the New Crew. So how do you get them working harmoniously together – as one team?

First you identify the next destination for the ship, with clear intermediary ports along the way. You share this plan with all your crew, ask for their input and listen to their suggestions, until everyone understands the way forward. You know that not everyone will agree with you, but you do not leave the dissidents out of the discussions, because you know that this can create unhelpful fractions in the team.

You create teams that include both the Old Hands and the New Crew, helping them to understand each other’s strengths, ways of thinking and communicating – so that they can work better together. You explain to the Old Hands that the complex computer will make your ship more efficient and profitable, especially as the New Crew know how to get the best out of it; and you explain to the New Crew that some reefs are unchartered in the sophisticated navigation software, so the knowledge of the Old Hands is crucial to your safe progress.

Right from the start you aim to create an inclusive work culture where everyone is valued, information is shared and each crew is clear about their roles and responsibilities. You minimise role and boundary disputes. You encourage crew to be flexible and proactive. Fixed mindsets lose out in constantly changing economic and business climate.

Everyone in your team is encouraged and expected to keep up their training and continuously develop their knowledge. You know that even the New Crew will fall behind industry changes if they stand still. The success and progress of your ship is directly linked to the knowledge, experience and talents of your crew. You ensure that the training is always relevant and does not leave anyone out. You want your crew to see training as a reward not a chore, so you regularly combine theory with practice in rewarding team-building days.

You encourage clear and timely communications. That way any issues are brought to the surface and dealt with quickly. There is transparency and fairness in feedback and appraisals. You know that a well-placed “Thank You” goes a long way in building relationships and loyalty. When conflicts arise between crew, you mediate or find an independent party to help out, to ensure that each side feels heard and has a chance to understand the other point of view. You try not to take sides.

You lead by example and adapt your leadership style to changing circumstances. You act with fairness and integrity towards all your crew, even the ones you do not personally get on with.

Sometimes, despite all your efforts a valued crew finds it difficult to be part of your diverse team. You know when to let go and wish them well on their way.

——————————————————————————————

As an executive and business coach, I regularly see tensions between the old and the new in organisations. Very few industry sectors seem immune from these pressures. For example, in manufacturing, adoption of new technology tends to cause upheavals. In retail, it is online marketing and sales. In any sector, transformation in management structure or business expansion or simply the unrelenting pace of industry change can lead to fractures in the team.

> What are your strategies for managing the tensions between the old and the new in your organisation?

> What is causing the rift – technology innovation, change of management structure, new marketing techniques?

> What advice would you give other organisations in this position?

For information on change coaching or team building please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

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Events

Choosing Your Response (and Speed) (5 min read)

A few weeks ago I attended the Driver Awareness Course. I exceeded the speed limit by 6mph and was offered the course in place of a fixed penalty.

There were 20 of us on the course, with varied backgrounds, driving experience and offences ranging from speeding to traffic light infringements to inappropriate use of a SatNav (don’t ask…). Two gentlemen on my course have been driving for over 60 years. One of them, Pat, has never completed a driving test – Pat had learned to drive in WWII and then taught others to fly fighter planes: “This is the first time I have been caught speeding on the road. Just as well there is no Skyway Code and cameras hiding behind clouds!”.

In the “Attitudes” presentation, we talked about how thoughts and emotions affect our driving. How often do we drive while feeling rushed or upset or angry? What effect does our state of mind have on our judgment, behaviour and attitude towards other road users? Unsurprisingly, we all agreed that it is harder to be considerate and fully focused when our heads are full of negative thoughts and emotions. Similarly, commuting to work along the same route every day, it is easy to switch off to auto pilot and contemplate the looming deadline at work, last night’s argument with your partner or the mounting list of admin. Turning driving time into thinking and worrying time is not great for awareness and reaction time.

Since the course, I have been thinking (while not driving) about how our emotions affect our working lives. The answer very much depends on how you manage your thoughts and emotions. It is helpful to recognise that between the external stimulus (such as negative feedback from your boss: “Your last presentation was not as thorough as usual”) and your reaction there is a SPACE. This space is when you get to choose your response. First, your internal response (disbelief, anger, resentment), then your external response (a sharp retort, that you might well regret later). The key is to give yourself enough headspace to decide on a response that is effective, appropriate and advantageous to you in a given situation. Bearing in mind that sometimes the best response is no response.

How do you create that helpful headspace? Here are 12 ideas – both for in the moment and for longer term action:

  1. Pause. Do you have to respond straight away? Does your boss have a point or is the comment unwarranted?
  1. Clarify instead of mindreading. Rather than jumping to your own conclusions about what was intended by the comment, ask your boss for an explanation or even for evidence to back up his statement: “What specifically did you find less thorough?”. You are gathering information that might help you understand, so listen carefully to the answer and suspend judgement. Stay calm and collected.
  1. Generate time out. Even 5 minutes after the heat of the moment will give you a different perspective and help you to come up with a considered response.
  1. Create physical space. Go for a walk outside or leave your office floor. Simply leaving the conflict environment will help.
  1. Distract your mind. Make a cup of tea or check your emails for a few minutes.
  1. Reframe. What else could he have meant by this comment? What are his intentions for saying this to me? What upsides are there? How can I learn from this? One positive is that the boss thinks that usually your presentations are thorough – so there is a hidden compliment in the feedback.
  1. Put the situation into a wider perspective. How important is this in the bigger scheme of your work life? How much will it matter in a month? This is a good time to constrain the comment – put a fence around it. The comment is an opinion of one person about a specific presentation at work. It is not a comment on your general ability at work or on your worth as a human being. Try not to over-personalise the situation or victimise yourself, as this will make you weaker.
  1. See the situation from a different angle. What does the situation look or feel like from your boss’s perspective? How would your colleague react to a similar comment? What else is happening in your organisation that might shed light on the comment? For example, is your boss stressed about the falling profits and so expects extra commitment from his team.
  1. Apply your logical brain to the issue. Consciously shift your focus from the emotional indignation to the cold facts and details of the matter. What response will be most effective in the light of your work goals? In a mind management book “The Chimp Paradox”, Prof Steve Peters distinguishes between the emotional responses of the Chimp (limbic brain) and the logical responses of the Human (frontal brain). He advises that the key is not to wrestle with the Chimp but to understand how it thinks and behaves, to be able to manage its (ultimately your) actions and responses.
  1. Do regular mind training. Mindfulness and mediation techniques have been shown to help with mind and stress management. Seeing emotions and thoughts as separate from you helps you to disengage. A helpful visualisation is to imagine that you are watching a busy road from the side verge, the various passing vehicles are your thoughts – they come and go.
  1. Center yourself. Centering is a visualisation technique originating from the Aikido martial art. In simple terms, the idea is to redirect negative energy from your emotions into positive energy to help you achieve your goal. A bit like using the energy of the tennis ball coming towards you to hit it back to your opponent. There are 3 stages: (i) Focus on your breathing (ii) Find your centre, and (iii) Redirect your energy. The technique works best with regular practice and mind management.
  1. Behave as you want to feel. Scientists have shown that we can influence our emotions and thoughts through our behaviour – so a simple act of smiling can help us to feel more positive in a challenging situation.

These techniques can also be applied at home or in the car. I found that simply smiling at a driver who has just cut you up and expects you to go into chimp mode is curiously effective and satisfying. You are in control.

If you would like more information on coaching or mind management please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

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Events

You Made a Mistake and EVERYONE Knows It (5 min read)

Spotlight Effect | Be Do Have Coaching

Maria* requested leadership coaching. Having been recently promoted, she found herself struggling to meet her own and team responsibilities.

We talk about Maria’s role and she constructs a picture of her cobweb of bosses, peer executives and direct reports. Maria is clearly very busy, yet she hesitates to delegate – “what if they don’t do a good job, then it will be my fault – I’d rather be criticised for my own mistakes”. I ask Maria – how often do you make mistakes? She answers: “I try very hard to avoid mistakes, but sometimes they slip in. Please don’t judge me”.

Please don’t judge me. My coaching alarm bells start ringing. We continue:

Me: How often are you judged by others at work?

Maria: All the time. They notice every mistake. One major slip-up could mean the end of my career. No one else would employ me.

Me: How often are you openly criticised at work? “Openly” meaning “to your face”.

Maria: (Thinks for a while). Not that often, but I think that’s because I am quite senior. I think they all notice my mistakes and talk behind my back.

Me: How sizeable are the mistakes you are referring to?

Maria struggles to quantify her mistakes.

Me: On scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is insignificant and 10 is catastrophic. Say 1 is forgetting to double-tie your shoelaces, and 10 is accidentally switching off the life support machine.

Maria: Well, last week I forgot to insert the projected sales figures graph into the Monday morning presentation to the entire executive team. That’s about 8 on the scale.

Me: 8? How many people in the meeting commented on this?

Maria: No one. But they must have all noticed and must now think that I am an incompetent idiot.

What do you think is happening here?

Maria’s worst critic is herself. When she asked me not to judge her, she was in reality judging herself, feeding her self-doubt, performance anxiety and fear of being found out. She also believes that everyone notices her every mistake and judges her negatively on it. Even more so now that she has been promoted. Maria has a tendency to catastrophise – “No one else would employ me”. Her perfectionist streak, anxiety and fear of losing control is driving her into the ground with work overload and exhaustion. Maria has lost perspective on her new role and its responsibilities – she is trying to do two jobs at the same time, bringing the framework of her previous role to her new role. Understandably, looking after her wellbeing has dropped to the bottom of the priority pile.

Have you ever been in Maria’s shoes?

There are many themes for discussion here, to which I will return in later posts. In this post, I will focus on the Spotlight Effect.

Spotlight Effect is our tendency to overestimate the impact of our behaviour, appearance and performance on others. Back in 1999, scientists at the Cornell University (Gilovich et al., 2000) carried out a series of experiments on the Spotlight Effect, including one where they arranged for a candidate to arrive late to a meeting wearing an embarrassing t-shirt. They then asked the late candidate to estimate what percentage of people in the meeting had noticed the embarrassing t-shirt.

The candidate estimated 50%. In fact only around 25% noticed the t-shirt. Since we are the centre of our own world, we have a tendency to forget that we are not the centre of everyone else’s world. This tendency is especially prominent when we do something atypical.

Maria is acutely aware of every mistake that she makes and she gives disproportionate weigh to its impact. She also assumes that everyone else has the same perception and knowledge of her mistake (self-as-target bias) – she is using her own experiences, thoughts and beliefs to estimate (guess) what the others are thinking. Maria is mind reading. Feeling that she is constantly in the spotlight and a target for criticism puts Maria under an enormous pressure to perform. Ironically, this pressure increases her level of overwhelm and exhaustion, making it more likely that she will make more mistakes.

The first step is to become aware of this bias and to gain perspective. Next time you are caught in the spotlight, ask yourself for concrete evidence of what the others are thinking. Try to remain objective – if you expect a negative response your brain will instinctively look for negative evidence to support your (possibly erroneous) belief. So if no one commented on the absence of the projected sales figures graph, perhaps not everyone noticed. Perhaps no one noticed. Get out of your head and refrain from imposing your thoughts on others. What seems important or embarrassing to you may not be so to others.

Mistakes will happen. It’s how you deal with them that counts. Certain mistakes may benefit from timely disclosure to the relevant parties to minimise the negative consequences. Other mistakes require an apology or quick action on your behalf. Others may balloon in your head, but have no actual impact on others. If in doubt, effective and timely communication is crucial. Your integrity and reputation may be at stake. For a recent example, see the VW emissions scandal.

Analyse the actual impact of your mistake – what’s the worst that can happen? How important will it be in a month’s time? How important is it in the grand scheme of your work? Who else may be affected? When was the previous time you made a similar mistake – what where the consequences and how did you deal with them?

Consider what mitigating measures you can take to minimise the potential damage. What stakeholders do you need to communicate with? Make a concrete plan to resolve the issue. Identify what you can learn from your mistake and how you can adapt your working practices to minimise the chance of it happening again. However, refrain from ruminating on the mistake – churning it in your head will not resolve the matter; conversely, it may further entrench the problematic thought patterns, rather than give you the headspace to come up with a solution. (See The Art of Self-Sabotage)

Remember you have a choice as to how you respond, so take proactive decisions, rather than “head in the sand” or “let’s see what happens” approach. Victim-mentality disempowers you. (See Time for Change)

Challenge your generalisations. “No one will employ me”. No one? “They all noticed my mistake” All? What’s your evidence for that?

It is important to realise that the negative perception issue originates within you – not from outside. Being too critical of yourself or doubting your abilities will filter how you think other perceive you. It’s time for self-building work. And if you find below questions awkward, get a coach to help you.

– Write down three achievements that you are proud of?

– What skills, strengths and talents these demonstrate?

– Write down three challenges that you have overcome?

– Identify what resources and strengths you employed.

– Work out strategies to make more effective use of your skills, strengths and talents.

– What areas could you develop further?

– What work tasks do you shy away from because you lack confidence in your abilities?

– What would help to grow your abilities in this area?

– Come up with concrete strategies to develop your confidence and abilities. (See Teaching Old Dog New Tricks for more ideas)

Neglecting your physical and mental wellbeing is a form of self-sabotage. Set aside enough time and headspace to look after your wellbeing – fitness, nutrition, sleep, time for relaxation and holidays. Being on top form will enable you to perform better and feel more positive about yourself. In turn, this will help you to project the best version of yourself to others. (See The Art of Self-Sabotage)

The flip side of the Spotlight Effect is that your positive contributions may also be less noticeable to others than they are to you. So you may need to make more effort to bring them to their attention. Such as the excellent project you have just completed or the fact that your marketing initiative is responsible for the booming sales figures last week.

If you would like coaching on any of the issues discussed in this article please contact Natalia for a free consultation.

*name changed, my client gave me permission to write this article for the benefit of others in a similar position

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Events

Team Work in a Hurricane (8 min read)

“If you want to go fast – go alone.

If you want to go far – go together.”

– African Proverb

Exactly two years ago, I braced against the helming cage as another colossal wave ploughed into our 70ft sailing yacht. I only just managed to yell “Hold On!” to the crew in the cockpit before being completely submerged in freezing water. My knees buckled and my safety lines strained under the enormous load. My lifejacket inflated making it harder to breathe but gratefully jamming me within the helming cage. With the compass now underwater, I was helming blind through the foam and spray. For a second, I saw the wind-reading peak at 218mph, then returning to a more reasonable 86mph. In an inundated dry suit, with eyes red sore from the salt and frozen helming hands, I still had control of the boat.

We were deep in the Southern Ocean, 2,000 miles from western coast of Australia, not even half way through our round the world sailing race. That week not one but three violent lows came together to bring hurricane-force winds, massive swell and precipitous waves. I was a watch leader with a team of eight. At the time, my sole goal and purpose was to keep my team and the boat safe. We managed incredibly well – not only to stay safe, but to keep racing through the lows. In fact the decision to keep racing was probably key to assuring our safety.

Looking back, these are the lessons to effective teamwork in a ‘hurricane’, whether you are sailing or leading a team through turbulent times:

1. Effective Communication. In hurricane-force winds speaking is not possible. Even shouting is drowned out by the wind and the waves. Balaclavas, spray hoods and scarfs make lip and facial reading challenging. Body language becomes key. In demanding conditions, it is tempting to shut down and not communicate. However, that will endanger the entire team as the boat can only run safely when everyone understands each other and the sailing instructions.

First, to get their attention, you would come up to the other person and look them in the eyes. You speak clearly and concisely, asking if the other person understood the message. Then you listen actively and globally – picking up verbal, tonal and body language clues. You listen to understand without interrupting.

Body signals can also be misunderstood. We had a multi-cultural team. To one person, a nod signifies “yes”, to another “no”. Once I made a “T” sign with my hands to the team member on the bow asking them to check sail trim, that team member passed back the message: “Yes please, white 2 sugars”. Agree on the meaning of signals at the outset.

2. Common Goals. We were racing. However, the goal “racing” meant different things to different team members. For some it meant, “we race to win at all cost”, to others “we race provided we all have fun”, for others still “we race provided I get to learn as much as possible”. Different interpretations of the same goal caused tensions and conflicts. Team members who wanted to win at all cost argued that we should put only the best drivers on the helm. This annoyed team members who wanted to learn to helm. As watch leader, I had my own goal and responsibility to keep the boat and team safe, so I did not put up our kite (bigger sail) if I thought as a team we could not handle it. This annoyed team members who wanted to win at all cost.

So we had a team meeting and thrashed out a set of common goals, identifying exactly what they meant for each crew and establishing an order of priority – Safety, Performance, Learning, Fun. As the crew changed every leg of the race, we had another team meeting to establish our common goals for the next leg. We did not fix the goals in stone. If the conditions changed mid-leg, we would re-open the meeting and come up with new goals or order of priority. Ensuring that each team member agreed on the meaning and bought into the goal.

3. Preparation and Continuous Coaching. Happily, the Southern Ocean lows were preceded by a big storm just of Cape of Good Hope. We had ample practice running the boat in strong winds and huge waves. More crucially, the team were mentally prepared for the next onslaught.

We all had basic training before setting off on the race, however, for new crew on that leg that training was months ago. So as watch leader, my job was to bring the new joiners up to speed as quickly as possible through intensive coaching and training. Our team was only as strong as its weakest member. The coaching and training maximised the strengths and talents of both the learners and the coaches. So if you are an ace driver, you will be coaching new joiners to helm. If you are particularly patient, you will taught to repair sails.

The coaching continued into the last of day of the race.

4. Culture of Support, Trust and Respect. There were no hydraulics or electric deck equipment on our boat. Everything was done by hand and through human strength. A single headsail weighed 350kg, so you needed most of the watch to lift it out of the sail locker and you really wanted to be sure that your teammates would not drop it on your head. During these lows, we only had two drivers on my watch – my helming buddy and me, as our third capable helm was injured in the previous storm. We were often helming blind through the waves and spray. As one of us drove, the other would be their “eyes” spotting the course ahead.

Such trust and respect build over time working with each other. They can be nurtured by encouraging a supporting and trusting team culture. We asked team members to look out for each other – “Is her safety line fixed? Is he getting too cold?” Coaching each other in different skills also helped to establish trust and respect amongst team members. Some degree of competition within a team can boost performance (“I will strive to helm straighter than him”), however, too much competition can result in mistrust and break the team apart. Most importantly, we never stopped talking to each other, even when the topic was tough.

5. Defining Roles and Responsibilities. Shouting against wind and waves to decide who is doing what is not effective and in a storm simply dangerous. At the outset, we decided on primary roles and responsibilities for each team member, with a clear back up plan for role changes in case someone was injured or on “mother duty” (cooking below deck). Each role was defined and clear-cut to minimise unhealthy competition and territory clashes. Even more importantly, each team member felt that they had a crucial role to play in the safety and performance of the boat, helping to maintain high engagement and morale.

We had a rota for more mundane duties – cooking, cleaning, engineering, navigation, media. All roles were valued and important. Every team member, including the watch leaders, was on this rota. To manage resources effectively, it was explicit that in challenging conditions watch leaders would be up on deck rather than on rota duties below. The rota provided a sense of equality and fairness.

6. Effective Conflict Management. When you are freezing cold, exhausted, hungry and beaten up tempers fray easily. Even something as trivial as someone standing on your foot or spilling your warm drink can degenerate into a shouting match. Getting the issue out in the open helps to move towards resolution. More dangerous are the simmering tensions below the surface. Once communication breaks down it is more difficult to move forward.

In calm waters, my conflict resolution strategy was dealing with tensions as soon as possible by talking to each warring party separately, understanding each point of view, finding common ground and facilitating discussions. In a storm, boat and team safety took priority and there was no time for discussions. Sending a team member below deck or separating roles was not practicable, as often everyone had to work together to make the boat sail. So what’s the answer? Being blunt worked for me: “I understand that you don’t see eye to eye. Right now, we are in a big storm 2,000 miles from land and we have to work together to keep the boat safe. Once conditions settle down we can talk about this further”.

As our team communications and goal setting improved, the number of serious conflicts declined. We also found that clearly defining each team member’s role and responsibilities helped to minimise territory disputes.

7. Adaptive Leadership. Knowing when to push and when to keep back. I’ll be honest with you – sailing through massive swell, battered by enormous waves and hurricane-force winds was really frightening. My knees shook on many occasions. Some dark nights, I even wondered whether we would see the sunrise in one piece. But I never let my team know that my confidence wavered. That time my role was to lead by example – to show resolve, skill, confidence, support and constant presence on the front line.

It was infectious. My cockpit team did not have to sit on the high side getting soaked, frozen and thrashed against the deck gear – they could have taken turns going down below into the protected cabin. But they all stayed up – to show support for the two drivers on the helm – because we were one team.

Later, when the wind abated, we sprung into action changing sails on the foredeck. It was time to push my team hard and motivate. Once we settled, it was time to back off and let the team members take on their roles, to reclaim their confidence and responsibilities. I delegated the lead to another team member and sat quietly at the back of the helm.

Another aspect of effective leadership is putting your hand up when you mess up and asking for help. One night I steered too sharply down a wave and even with my whole body weight (granted 52kg versus 34 tonnes boat) I could not get the helm back to neutral. The boat was dangerously heading nose down into the wave trough and the wave ahead. I yelped for help and my helm buddy grabbed the wheel just in time to pull it back. Had I tried to “save face”, the team would have lost confidence in me. As such they laughed and served me more porridge the next morning for extra strength.

Then there was the time I left a halyard end (rope for hoisting a sail) 30 metres up the mast in choppy seas, but that’s another story.

8. Morale. How happy would you be careering down colossal waves, submerged in tonnes of freezing water every few minutes, gathering enormous black bruises from conflicts with deck gear?

The hallowed biscuit team appeared out of the companion hatch, a team member on high side undid one of his safety lines to grab the tin (we all had at least two safety lines attaching us to the boat). At that moment a huge wave came over the boat, sweeping everyone into the cockpit. The biscuit tin man was swimming in the inundated cockpit with bloody split lip and three others riding on top of him, but he held onto the biscuit tin. We all laughed so hard we forgot about the cold wet fear. Small things matter and humour is great at maintaining morale and team spirit.

An army marches on its stomach. Freshly cooked hot food was crucial to morale. So even in the harshest conditions, the “mothers” still baked fresh bread during the night.

I mentioned that the decision to keep racing was probably key to assuring our safety. Why? Because we had a purpose to keep performing, to keep sailing the best we could, which kept the team busy and maintained morale. Had we battened down the hatches and stayed below awaiting the end of the storm, mentally, we would have given up and would have been weaker in the event of emergency.

Continuous coaching and training support helped to maintain morale. As did regular team meetings, clear roles and responsibilities, effective conflict resolution strategy and open communication channels. Team members felt that they were directly contributing to our shared goals, they felt valued and so they fully engaged in their roles.

Sailing is fantastic for developing effective teamwork, communication, leadership and interpersonal skills. Fortunately, you do not have to sail round the world to reap the benefits. For more information on Be Do Have Coaching Teamwork Workshops and Sailing & Coaching Team Events both on and off the water, please contact Natalia.

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Events

No Grit No Pearl (2 min read)

No Grit No Pearl | Be Do Have Coaching

What beliefs underpin successful businesses?

Working with a number of thriving start-ups, I ask that question every day. I noticed some shared principles. Their founders have a core belief in themselves and their vision, which helps them to keep going and overcome incessant challenges. They also show up every day, whether the tide is in or out.

Starting your own business does not come with guarantees. At the beginning, there are just your ideas and dreams, some experience, a burning desire to create your own enterprise – your pearl – and most importantly the belief that you can do it and that it will succeed. Without that belief nothing is possible.

You start with a shell and some grit. You are not sure if that’s the right shell or enough grit, but you give it a go. Putting all your time, energy and resources into cultivating your perfect pearl.

For a long time nothing happens. Some days you are come close to losing faith in yourself – perhaps the shell is wrong or the grit is too coarse?

But your belief in your dream never wavers. Others think you are foolish or crazy. Who creates a pearl from some grit and a shell? You defend your dream and press on.

One day you see a glimmer of pearlescent dust in the grit and stare at it speechless.

You nourish the pearl in your tiny tub filled with seawater. Just as your infant pearl starts to take form the cat knocks over the tub breaking apart the weak structure. Undeterred, you pick up the pieces and start again. This time you fix down the tub and put a net over it.

Day and night you look after the pearl. As it grows bigger and brighter your heart swells with pride and joy.

Then the day comes when you know you have to give your pearl to the sea – so it can grow bigger and stronger. You let it go hoping that it survives the surf and escapes the teeth of hungry creatures.

For a short while, you stand on the shore looking out believing that your pearl will succeed. Then you turn your back to the sea, pick up some more grit, find another shell and start again.

#Beliefs

Would you like to learn more about Natalia’s coaching?

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Events

In Pursuit of Productivity (7 min read)

In Pursuit of Productivity | Be Do Have Coaching

Client: I am busy all the time, rushing from one thing to another. Sorting several things at a time. Sometimes they are not even my things, but I feel bad saying no. My to-do-list keeps getting longer. Some evenings when I am slumped exhausted on the sofa, I look back and think ‘what have I actually achieved today?’

Last week I wrote about poor time management being a strategy of self-sabotage. Very shortly after sending out the article to my mailing list, I received the above call from one of my existing clients. Curiously, time management has not come up in our coaching conversations. My client is a high-level executive (with 3 young kids in tow) who always appeared to be super organised and in full control. And before you jump to gender conclusions, my client is male and looks after his kids full time two weeks a month.

I would like to share with you some of the things we talked about. We focused on my client’s work life.

Time management is about managing our productivity rather than managing time. More specifically, it involves managing our attention span and concentration – both limited resources. While everyone has 24 hours each day, there may be only 3 or 4 hours of active attention. It is very tempting to multi-task during hours of active attention. So you get more done, right? Wrong. Multi-tasking can actually decrease productivity and accuracy as we reach capacity limits of our conscious mind and working memory.

In the oft-misquoted article ‘The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information’, cognitive psychologist George Miller observed that humans are generally able to hold only seven plus or minus two units of information in their short-term memory. So get into ‘monotasking’ mindset. Undivided attention is particularly important where accuracy is important.

Added to our internal limitations, there are external distractions, which interrupt the flow of our tasks and thought processes. Each day we are swamped with information from countless channels – emails, news, phone calls, adverts, meetings, social media updates. There are queries and updates from colleagues, family and friends. No wonder we are always playing catch up.

So given these limitations how do we get the important things done on time and efficiently?

What is prioritising and how do I do it?

Prioritising is working out what is important to you in each area of your life – personal, professional, family, friends, hobbies, fitness and wellbeing. Taking each area in turn, identify what you would like (or need) to achieve. Ensure that these goals are specific, achievable and measureable (SMART goals). Why? See The Art of Self-Sabotage.

Eisenhower’s Important/Urgent decision matrix is a useful tool for prioritising – divide tasks into 4 categories:

  1. Important and urgent
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Urgent but not important, and
  4. Not important and not urgent.

Tasks in category 1 are fire fighting. Aim to spend most of your active attention and time in category 2 – completing important tasks before they become urgent and hijack your schedule. Category 3 is a curious one – ask yourself, what are the benefits of completing those urgent yet unimportant tasks?

“Lunch is for wimps” – Gordon Gekko in Wall Street

Tasks in category 4 ‘Not important and not urgent’ often get forgotten, so it is crucial to ensure that correct tasks end up in this category. My client’s category 4 list included taking lunch, planning next holiday, dentist check up, going to gym, drink with friends and meditation.

Much research has been done since Gordon Gekko proclaimed ‘Lunch is for wimps’ in 1987 film Wall Street. We are more productive when we look after our physical and mental wellbeing – that includes appropriate nutrition, fitness, rest, stress-management, socialising and fun activities. Ask yourself whether some of category 4 activities really belong in category 2 ‘Important but not urgent’. Spreading yourself too thin erodes productivity.

Where do I start?

Once you know your priorities and goals, the next step is to schedule them into your day, week, month and year. David Allen’s ‘two-minute rule’ provides quick productivity wins – if an action can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then because it will take longer to organise it and review it if you postpone it.

A certain level of preparation helps us to be more productive during completion of tasks. However, beware of procrastinating by over-preparing. You may never feel completely ready to begin, so stop sharpening the pencil and make your mark.

Start with tasks that will have the greatest impact on the results – moving you closer to achievement of your priorities and goals. Under the Pareto Principle, 20% of tasks produce 80% of results. Evaluate which of the high-impact tasks can be completed in shortest time and do them first.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason so few engage in it” – Henry Ford

Schedule your work according to your attention level. Start by identifying times of the day when you have the best attention span and concentration, and plan to complete more challenging tasks during that time (for example, writing a technical report or number crunching). Leave the less demanding tasks (checking emails, answering everyday queries from colleagues) to your low attention periods. In “How to be a Productivity Ninja…”, Graham Allcott advises separating thinking from doing, since thinking about the solution often takes more time and attention than actually putting the solution in place.

If attention span is an issue or you need to check your emails regularly, try the Pomodoro Technique – break down work into 25-minute chunks with 5-minute breaks in between.

What if the task is important but really uninteresting?

Ask yourself: Realistically, how long do I need to complete the task? Often tasks get put aside because we overestimate how long they will take. Once you estimated the time required, cut it by a third and begin. Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

“If the first thing that you do when you wake up in the morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that’s probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to you all day long” – Mark Twain

So ‘eat a live frog’ by completing first thing in the morning that uninteresting yet important task you have been avoiding. Brian Tracy (in Eat That Frog!) added two corollaries to this rule: if there are multiple frogs, eat the ugliest one first; and if the frog is very ugly, don’t look at it for too long, just eat it!

Another strategy is the three Ds – Do, Delegate or Ditch It. Having endlessly reappearing items on your to-do-list saps energy and motivation, and hinders completion of other tasks.

How do I boost my productivity?

There are a number of short cuts to short-term concentration gains, such as caffeine, changing tasks and engineering urgency by leaving tasks to the deadline. However, in medium to long-term, these strategies reduce productivity. Looking after your physical and mental wellbeing through enough rest, maintaining fitness, ensuring appropriate nutrition and regularly exercising your brain (see Teaching Old Dog New Tricks) will help you to maintain and develop your cognitive and physical capacities.

Drawing on your strengths and learning new skills are great ways of expanding your capacity and productivity. Consider what one skill would help you achieve more in your professional life? Which strengths are you underusing?

Are you a perfectionist? Do you worry about how others will judge your work? Often as the project nears completion, internal resistance and self-doubt slow down our progress and may even stop us finishing. Once you checked it twice, ship it. In Linchpin, Seth Godin observes that ‘the only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship’. What do you think about that?

During information overload, sorting information into ‘chunks’ makes it easier to remember, organise and process large amounts of incoming data. George Miller’s experiments on short-term memory span deal with ‘units’ of information, rather than volume of information. In Your Brain at Work, David Rock advises simplifying information by approximating and focusing on an idea’s salient elements. Just remember that some details will be lost during chunking and simplifying processes. The map you are building is not the territory, so if some elements need clarifying you may need to go back to the original data.

“Joining a Facebook group about productivity is like buying a chair about jogging” – Merlin Mann

Use technology to your advantage – there are great Apps for brain training, list making, organising your calendar and looking after your fitness and wellbeing. However, be picky and ensure that technology is adding to your productivity rather than to information bottleneck.

How do I minimise distractions?

Our time, concentration and attention are limited resources, so it is vital we use them wisely and protect them from interruptions and distractions.

Start by creating the most productive environment for your work – for some that means having a super organised desk, for others it is about minimising surrounding noise. Identify what environmental factors seep your productivity and address them. For my client, having a photo of his kids on his desk motivates and focuses him to be more productive at work.

Often our own minds create the most persistent distractions. Unrelated thoughts interrupting workflow, a sudden desire to check your emails, wondering what’s for dinner, cloud watching or even blindly panicking about the impending deadline. With thoughts, active resistance is futile. It is often more effective to acknowledge the thought, and gently return your mind to the original task. Regular meditation can help to train the mind and maintain focus.

Internet, emails and social media are great servants but terrible masters. Set up a ‘do not disturb’ mode by fixing specific time limits and lockouts on email checking, internet browsing, social media updates, answering phone calls and queries from others. If external interruptions are an issue, let others know that you will be unavailable during certain times of the day and request co-operation from your colleagues and family.

What if unplanned events disrupt my plan?

Even the best-made plans are not immune to disruption, so do not carve them in stone. Stay flexible and adaptable. Review your plans regularly to ensure that they reflect your current priorities and external circumstances. Most importantly, do not beat yourself up when you do not complete your to-do-list by the end of the day. Re-draft it and start afresh the next day.

There is one final thing – love what you do.

No amount of productivity strategies can equal the motivation and drive of doing something that you are passionate about. Don’t love what you do? See Time for Change and Should I Change my Job?

Would you like help with productivity or to learn more about Natalia’s coaching?

Contact Natalia

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The Art of Self-Sabotage (5 min read)

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“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination” – Jimmy Dean

Every day of my coaching career, I encounter and foil strategies of self-sabotage.

Self-sabotage does not follow rules of common sense or logic. Often it passes under our radar, because we are more aware of when others put sticks in our wheels, and less aware of when we do it to ourselves. Self-sabotage is resilient and sticky. Like tax loopholes, when one self-sabotage strategy is closed down, another one will almost immediately take its place.

It is also highly destructive. Because you intimately know your target (YOU), you can hit your weakest spots and cause the greatest damage. Whether you are a city professional, an entrepreneur or a busy parent, it is crucial to become aware and thwart self-sabotage at its earliest stages – before it grows into a habit.

Here are 10 common self-sabotage strategies. Which ones are you harbouring?

1. Unrealistic expectations. Setting goals that are too general, unachievable or unquantifiable. Sometimes the goal is so overwhelming and nebulous it prevents us from starting. Doing the same thing expecting different results also falls within this category. The main issue with unrealistic expectations is that they destroy self-belief and motivation. Fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When your actions are not producing the results you want, stop and choose different actions. Ensure that your goals are specific, achievable and measurable. Ask yourself: How will I know when I reach my goal?

2. Spreading yourself too thinly. Juggling is part of life. However, pick up one ball too many and all the balls are likely to fall to the ground. Taking on another client matter when you are already swamped, not taking vacations, saying yes to looking after the neighbour’s dog or offering to host Christmas may all tip the balance. Prioritise. Identify what is important to you right now. Learn to say no. Sometimes saying yes to your sanity and wellbeing means saying no to requests of others. Look after your health and fitness, and carve out pockets of time just for yourself. Juggling is easier when you are on top form.

“We are what we repeatedly do” – Aristotle

3. Indecision and over-analysis. Sitting on the fence uses up your energy, focus and time. Analysing the same options multiple times does not create new possibilities. It creates a loop of analysis-paralysis. Step back to get some perspective. Obtain an impartial opinion. Ask yourself: What is missing? What would help me make the decision? What would I do if I weren’t afraid? (See Should I Change My Job?)

4. Ruminating on past failures. There is much to be gained from past failures. Such as learning what to do differently next time, honing your coping strategies and simply knowing that you can get over obstacles. What is not useful is churning events over and over. You risk creating a habit out of failure. Regret and resentment are like anchors, they do not help us to move forward, but simply spin us round as the tide comes in and out.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping that it will kill your enemies” – Nelson Mandela

5. Avoiding challenges. Often during times of imposed change clients bemoan to me that they like “security” and “stability”. Yet when I ask them when they last felt fulfilled and motivated, it is generally when they were problem-solving or working on a challenging goal. Living and working in our comfort zone does not stretch our capabilities or fulfil our potential. There is a risk of becoming bored and unmotivated. Do not settle for stumbling from day to day. Strive for a bigger life experience. (See Time for Change)

6. Neglecting relationships. Building authentic relationships takes time and effort, but it is hugely rewarding. Businesses, families and communities are built on relationships between people. Have you noticed how unfriendly atmosphere at work can transform the perfect job into the worst job? Generally, people leave people rather than jobs. Take time to cultivate your relationships. Small things really matter – a smile, a “Good Morning”, remembering your colleague’s birthday, or booking a surprise dinner for your partner. If this feels like a chore, ask yourself, what makes that relationship important to me? (See Authentic Relationships)

7. Downgrading your self-development. Keeping up with industry knowhow and technological advancements is not a bonus it is a must. Own your career, become an expert in your field. Do not forget your personal self-development. Stagnation results in boredom and lack of motivation. Lifelong learning adds breadth to our life experience, and keeps us healthy and active into the old age. (See Teaching Old Dog New Tricks)

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” – Einstein

8. Poor time management. Feeling rushed and overwhelmed? Time management is in reality about managing ourselves. Dedicating time to planning will save you time and stress in the future. Often we focus on fire fighting – dealing with what is urgent; rather than working on important tasks that really contribute to our productivity. Prioritise what is important, organise your day and week around those priorities, streamline activities, remove distractions. Remember to make your plan realistic and work in some flexibility.

9. Passively waiting for belief and motivation. Motivation will not come until you engage with your goal and commit to the challenge. Ask yourself: What are the benefits of pursuing this goal? What will happen if I do nothing? Belief is born through action, by overcoming obstacles and pushing into your stretch zone. Aligning your goals with what is genuinely important to you helps to cultivate motivation and passion. Belief and motivation exist through choice not through chance. (See Time for Change)

10. Being your own worst critic. Learning from your mistakes is valuable. Reprimanding yourself endlessly is counter-productive. Would you give the same barrage of criticism to a friend or a colleague caught in the same circumstances? How you see and treat yourself directly impacts on how others see and treat you. Nurture your self-esteem and self-image. They are your sturdiest tools.

Would you like help thwarting your self-sabotage strategies? Contact Natalia

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Should I Change My Job? (6 min read)

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“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old,
but on building the new” – Socrates

Do you see your future within your current organisation?

One of the most common questions I get asked by my clients is “Should I change my job?”. Once in a blue moon, a career move comes along that ticks all the boxes – role progression, great team, excellent work quality, convenient location and more money for the hours. More typically, something is missing, leading to lengthy and draining “Should I stay or should I go” debates. While you are thinking of leaving, your current role gets less focus and your new role is still a mirage.

Here are some pointers for centring your decision and avoiding “analysis paralysis”:

1. Take stock of your current role. Following Socrates’ wise words – the key to successful change is to focus on building the new rather than fighting the old. However, it is important to understand what is driving you to new pastures. Is it limitations of the current role (push factors) or benefits of the new role (pull factors) or both? Conduct a cost versus benefit analysis.
Ask yourself: What do I enjoy about my current role? Aside from day-to-day frustrations, what gives me the most dissatisfaction? What could address these concerns? If you already have a new role in mind, ask yourself whether it will offer the benefits of your current role and address its limitations. What other considerations are there?

2. Sit the Chair Test. Imagine your current job is a room with an open door. There is a chair in the middle of this room. Where are you? Sitting comfortably in the chair, getting up from the chair, half way to the door, one foot out of the door? That should give you an idea of how engaged you are in your current role and the urgency for finding a new job.

3. Identify your values. Values underpin all of our decisions and actions. They provide drive and motivation. Career-wise, what is most important to you right now? What would you do almost anything to avoid experiencing? Dig deeper until you get to the core of the matter. Identify any conflicting values. So if for you “money” is most important right now, ask:

Q: What makes money important to me?
A: You might answer “so my kids can go to a private school”
Q: What makes that important?
A: “So my kids can get better education”
Q: And what makes that important?
A: “I will feel that I am a good parent”
Q: What does being a “good parent” mean to you?

If the new job offers more money, but less family time, you need to ask yourself how this will fit in with your understanding of being a “good parent”.

“You cannot hit a target if you don’t know what it is” – Tony Robbins

4. Create career progression plan. Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? Even if you do not have 20/20 vision, a clear outline of your career goal will help you focus your efforts and give you direction. Work backwards from that career goal to identify stepping stones (interim goals) bridging the gap with your current position. Begin with the first of these stepping stones.

5. Address your obstacles. What do you want to achieve and how will you stop yourself? One of my clients rejected a rewarding promotion because it involved leading weekly team meetings. He was unnerved by public speaking. Developing this one skill has opened multiple opportunities for him and allowed him to progress up his chosen career ladder.
Obstacles to progress are either internal or external. You have more control of the internal obstacles. Identify and address them. What would help you progress in your career? How is your skillset or mindset limiting you? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right” – Henry Ford

6. Boost your self-image. No matter what you want to achieve, your self-image will dictate whether you reach it or not. Moreover, how you perceive yourself impacts on how others perceive you. Consider how you have dealt with challenges in the past. What strengths and talents does this demonstrate? How can you make better use of these now?
Learn from role models. Think of someone you admire in the business world. How do they build and maintain their public image? What can you learn from them?
Pinpoint 3 things that are devaluing your personal impact. How can you make them work to your advantage?

7. Open your options. How can you improve your current role? What other positions within your current organisation could you consider? What else is out there – beyond your organisation, your career and your industry? It is easy to become over-focused and blinkered during job search. Often corporate career ladders are narrowly defined, and it takes wider perspective and courage to step off the well-trodden path. Research other options and opportunities. Talk to people in your and other industries. Network outside your usual circuit. Obtain inspiration from your role models – in both your and other fields. Have you considered setting up your own business?

8. Get first hand experience. Particularly, if you are thinking of changing careers, consider test-driving your new career through part-time work or volunteering. Avoid overthinking and getting stuck in “analysis paralysis”. While not always possible or practicable, hands on experience should answer most of your questions, and some questions that you have not even thought about.

9. Pro-activate your search. Unless the current role becomes unbearable, most people accept perpetual background humdrum of job-dissatisfaction, relying on “law of attraction” to bring job opportunities to their attention. No one is coming. Take your career into your hands. Be proactive in your search, actively seek information, create new opportunities and build contacts. Law of attraction works better that way.

10. Challenge yourself. Functioning in our comfort zone does not fully engage our capabilities and talents. We feel bored, uninspired and unmotivated. Activities that stretch us help to build our competence, confidence and motivation – leading to a bigger and more rewarding life experience. Try applying stretch to your career. What else can you achieve? How far will you dare to go?

“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore” – Christopher Columbus

11. Build motivation. What motivates you? Aside from the alarm and your children/animals, what gets you up in the morning? We feel most engaged by activities that address our needs. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once the basic needs of food, shelter and security are satisfied; humans look to establish belonging, self-esteem, recognition of others and finally self-actualisation (striving to fulfil one’s potential).
Work out what gives meaning and purpose to your work at this moment. Perhaps it is status, mental stimulation, helping others or being part of a bigger whole. Our needs evolve and change over time. Find ways to integrate your current and evolving needs into every day at work, and ensure that the new role you are considering addresses those needs.

12. Get expert support. We cannot work on our blind spots or manage factors outside of our awareness. There is a whole army of professions whose purpose is to make your career move easier. Recruitment, learning & development and coaching professionals all have specialist skills and knowledge. Find someone with whom you have a strong rapport and who you trust.

Effective coaching will help you at every stage of your career move, from defining your goals and values, opening your options, challenging your long-held assumptions and self-limitations, to helping you maintain motivation and momentum throughout the process.

Finally and most importantly, take action.

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken towards its achievement” – Bo Bennett

For help choosing and changing your career path, contact Natalia

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Teaching Old Dog New Tricks – Benefits of Lifelong Learning (5 min read)

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“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” – Albert Einstein

Research conclusively shows that your education – its length and quality – is a very accurate predictor of your health and longevity. Numerous factors are at play. More education generally leads to better paid and less physically demanding jobs. It gives us the opportunity and the knowhow to practise healthier lifestyles and makes us more resourceful in looking after ourselves. In addition, education boosts mental health and cognitive function, leading to a more fulfilling and happier life. The link here is between learning and happiness.

Your brain is like a muscle – lifelong learning helps to keep it conditioned and agile. “Cells that fire together, wire together.” Studies have shown that learning new skills and having new experiences creates new electrochemical pathways in our brain, reshaping its neural networks. Repeated practice makes these connections more defined, effective and powerful. This is known as neuroplasticity – proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Fortunately, benefits of learning are not confined to formal education. Acquiring a new skill, joining a club or discovering new ways to utilise your existing skills offer equivalent rewards. It does not have to cost anything either – have you considered bartering skills tuition with your colleagues, friends or neighbours? Swap language practice for software skills, for example. And with multitude of online courses, clubs and distance learning, it has never been easier to learn something new.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we are curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” – Walt Disney

Besides improved health, longevity and job-prospects, learning has many additional benefits:

1. Opens new opportunities. New skills and experiences open new doors, facilitating professional and personal development. Acquiring transferable skills and building on your strengths and talents gives you choice and widens your options. The key is becoming fully aware of your opportunities and limitations. Then making proactive decisions about your current and future direction. Where are you now? Where do you want to be? How will you get there? Figure out what you are lacking, make an action plan and start as soon as you can.

2. Builds our competence and confidence. As human beings, we have a natural desire to learn and progress. Psychologists call this “mastery” or “self-actualisation” (the final level of psychological development in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). Learning new skills improves our resourcefulness, self-efficacy and coping mechanisms. Moreover, your proficiency at your existing skills will benefit from your newly acquired skills. It is akin to constructing a large jigsaw puzzle, where each piece makes the overall picture clearer. Construct a vision of what you want to achieve, break it down into manageable steps and begin with the first step.

3. Boosts our creativity, mental flexibility and problem solving. Learning helps us to make connections between seemingly unrelated processes – “to connect experiences and synthesise new things” (Steve Jobs). Proactive curiosity increases our mental flexibility and facilitates creative thinking. Engaging in activities that stimulate different areas of our brain helps us to come up with creative solutions to problems. Learning is a self-perpetuating process. New knowledge fuels our curiosity by creating awareness of ignorance – exposing gaps in our information, experience or skill set. It is human instinct to want to close those gaps, pushing us to learn and explore new things (Ian Leslie, “Curious: The desire to know and why your future depends on it”). Stay curious. Look beyond the obvious.

4. Improves our resilience and coping mechanisms. Learning makes us more resourceful and adaptable – helping us to reframe negative experiences and to spot opportunities within challenges. Acquiring new skills and experiences and successfully dealing with challenges add new dimensions to your self-definition – you become larger. Research shows that the more elements make up your identity, the less threatening it is when any one element is threatened (Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project).

5. Stretches us outside our comfort zone. For greatest benefit, learning needs to present a challenge of manageable difficulty – it needs to stretch us mentally and/or physically – without overextending into our “panic zone”. Operating in our comfort zone does not fully engage our capabilities, often leading to lack of motivation and boredom. Solving challenges and overcoming obstacles enables us to utilise all of our resources, extending our proficiencies and what we perceive to be possible for us to achieve. Thus, maximising our potential. How are you limiting yourself?

6. Connects us with others. Learning and new experiences can help us to connect with others, which is a basic human need. It provides us with a sense of purpose and achievement. Learn to build authentic relationships.

7. Creates Flow. Have you ever been so absorbed by a task that you lost all track of time and of yourself? How did that make you feel? Scientifically, this condition is known as being “autotelic” – or being in the “flow”, a name coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi over 30 years ago. Being in the flow triggers beneficial changes in our brain chemistry and respiratory patters, with feelings of complete absorption, fulfilment, focus and engagement. It means that we are utilising our skills to the utmost. There is a close connection with mindfulness and being in the moment, which brings it own additional benefits. How can you create more flow in your life?

8. Enhances life fulfilment. Learning, acquiring new skills, meeting new people, having new experiences leads to a “bigger life”.

“If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got” – Albert Einstein

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