Are you true to yourself?

How often are you doing or saying something that does not feel quite right? As if you are saying someone else’s words or just doing something because others would expect of you? Or have you ever felt you are playing a role, or felt that you are a fraud?

If any of these examples ring true for you, then you were not being true to yourself.

Compromising our authenticity can lead to stress and unhappiness

Our society and culture still tends to expect women, in particular, to fit in, to compromise, to satisfy other people’s needs, be it their spouse, children, colleagues or parents. Trying to satisfy all those demands of people around them, women often compromise their true self, their authenticity, and often without consciously realising it.

When we are not being true to ourselves, we feel fragmented and lose confidence and trust in ourselves. It can lead to stress as our own needs remain unsatisfied. Women also find that in the long-term their health and fitness suffers, and they become increasingly unhappy and dissatisfied. In fact, in a recent Guardian article  ‘not being true to oneself’ was cited as the top regret by people close to death.

When we are true to ourselves we feel satisfied and happy. We are brimming with energy, confidence and motivation; in short we feel good about ourselves.

Being true ourselves …what does that mean?

There are a lot of authors who have written about authenticity and being ourselves. Personally, I like the three components of authenticity put forward by Goffee and Jones in their book: Why should anyone be led by you?. They fit well with the NLP and other self-development processes that helped me and my clients.

In my view there are three steps to being true to yourself:

Being self-aware and conscious of your own feelings and needs

When asked whether they are self-aware, most people nod and say: Yes, of course!. But, a good number of us are not as self-aware as we think we are. Especially we women are very good at ignoring our feelings and needs in favour of those of others. And, habitually putting others first, leaves us out of practice being in tune with what we feel and need, let alone giving it a voice.

If the above resonated with you or you know a friend or colleague who falls into the others’ first and my needs are not important category, here is an easy way to raise your awareness of what you feel and what you need to be yourself:

  • Ask yourself: “What am I feeling?” Name the feeling(s), and acknowledge them. Be gentle with yourself.
    If you do not find it easy to name your feelings, check out this classification of emotions
  • Then ask yourself: “What do I need? Name the need or needs, and whatever they are, acknowledge them.

My top tips are: 

  • refrain from judging and analysing your feelings and needs. What ever you feel and need it is right at that particular moment.
  • Once you have named and stated them, consider how you might be able to act on your feelings and needs[1]. Sometimes it is all about saying ‘no’ to things next time or stating what you want instead.
  • Also check out my article on What’s your self-care strategy? for further inspiration.

Being grounded and comfortable with who you are

This is all about knowing and being in tune with who you are and what you stand for. You know and are proud of where you have come from and who you are now. You are comfortable in yourself and as a woman. Not being grounded means that you constantly feel the ground is shifting beneath you, and you feel unsettled and ill at ease.

If you are not already grounded in yourself, take some time to find out about yourself. Go on a fun journey of discovery allowing time for yourself to get to know who this wonderful woman, that is you, is. Questions that can help you the story of YOU , are:

  • What is important to me? (ask yourself this question a number of times and for different areas of your life)
  • What do I stand for?
  • What is my story? And, how comfortable am I with that story? (where do you come from, you origins, how did you get to where you are now?)
  • What is my identity as a woman?

To make this journey even deeper and your story more meaningful to you, consider journalling or unconscious writing. Both work best after a meditative practice. If meditation is not for you, consider putting some lovely music on after a pampering session and take some deep breaths into your core, to centre yourself before asking yourself the questions above. And, just keep writing until your inspiration rests.

Knowing and fully embracing who we are, grounds us in ourselves, and helps us to be true to ourselves and lays the groundwork for being consistent in what we say and how we act.

Being consistent and standing up for your needs and who you are

Do you say what you do and do what you say?

This equally applies to our interactions with others and our relationship with ourselves.

When we say things we don’t mean, and do not follow-up what we say with actions, others start to mistrust us and lose confidence in our abilities. Guess what, the same applies to ourselves. When we say we will do something for ourselves, and not do it, we lose confidence and trust in ourselves. Putting ourselves last signals to us, that we are not important, even if we are trying to portray the opposite to the outside world.

The first steps to being consistent are self-awareness and being grounded. Once you acknowledge what you feel and need, what is important to you and what you stand for, you can take action.

Let’s take an example: if you feel slightly stressed that your colleague comes to again just before your need is to focus on your own deadlines (going home, to lunch or project deadlines), and what’s important to you is being friendly and supportive, you might consider stating your feelings to your colleague and suggesting someone else as their contact point this time. It is helpful to run through these kind of scenarios, especially if they are repetitive situations, beforehand, so you already know what you are going to do and say next time the situation where you want to be true to yourself happens.

Consider the following questions:

  • How do know you are being xxx or have xxx? Substitute xxx for the quality, value, need or characteristic that is important to you or you stand for. It can also be a quality or value you want to embody from now on.
  • What does it mean when you are being xxx or xxx?
  • What will you see, hear, feel or say, or do when you are being xxx or have xxx? (do this for any scenario where you were not true to yourself in the past and want to change how you are being)

Being clear about what it means be you, will help you to be consistent, and it will help to avoid some of those ‘wish I had not done that/said that’ episodes. 

I invite you to do this practice as often as you can. It does not take long, maybe a just a few minutes every day to centre yourself in your true self – our needs change, you change and you experience different situations daily, and different things are important at different times.

Allow yourself every day to be true to yourself – like everything else it just takes a little daily practice.

Enjoy being your true self.


[1] In an ecological way, which means in a way safe and has a positive and evolving impact on our lives.

Dealing with Overwhelm

Most women I know have experienced overwhelm at some point in their lives. For some of us it was the never-ending overload of information, an impossible number of tasks being added to our already overflowing to-do lists or those continuous and often conflicting demands for our time by work colleagues, family and friends.

No matter what the causes, the results are the same – that unpleasant stressful feeling of not being able to cope as well as we are used to.

Our brains can only take in limited amounts of information

Overwhelm seems to be an increasingly common phenomenon these days. We simply have too much to do or take in, for the amount of time and energy we have available. George Miller [1] discovered that human beings tend to be able to only hold between 5 and 9 chunks (pieces) of information in their heads at any given time. And for those of you who are interested, that is 126 bits of data. I am sure there are people who have trained themselves to cope with more, however for most of us it is safe to say that there is a limit of how much we can realistically take in at any given time.

Multi-tasking does not work

Another interesting fact is that research has shown that multi-tasking does not work [2]. We can, in fact, only productively focus on one thing at a time. Switching between different tasks is not only not productive, it also makes us feel stressed in the long run.

Why do I mention these two pieces of research? The reason is that a lot of women who experience overwhelm do the exact opposite of what these pieces of research suggest: they try to do even more in a shorter timeframe or at the same time, hoping in vain to be able to push through the overwhelm. Unfortunately those strategies don’t work, they just make an already bad situation worse and can lead to stress induced illnesses.

Overwhelm busting strategies that work!

There are a number of simple and powerful strategies that can help you effectively beat that vicious cycle of overwhelm.  At first these strategies, might seem counter intuitive and overly simple, however I invite you to give them a go as I know they work.

1.       Take a big step back

Figuratively speaking. And some of my clients took that literally, either went into another room, for a walk or just stepped back from their desk and had great results.

The key is to look at your situation from a neutral observer’s point of view, as if you are watching yourself on TV. What can help is if you think of yourself in the third person, asking yourself:

What is going on for {your name} right now? MAKE A LIST of all the things that going on, initially NOT judging if they are urgent, necessary or unimportant.

Once you have your list, and there is nothing else to add, start categorising on a new piece of paper. Divide the page into three columns, giving them the following headings

  • Urgent and important
  • Not urgent and important
  • Not urgent and unimportant

Be ruthless with your list. You may have to go through it a few times until you have a manageable number of items in the urgent/important category. That is the category to focus on as a priority.

2.       Offload what you can

As a next step, look at your categories and find groups of tasks that you can offload.

You might say, well, there is no one I can delegate to. Really? Have you challenged all that is on your plate, everything? Go through every point on your list and challenge yourself to find someone who could do this for you. Granted, you might not necessarily be able to delegate at work, however you might be able to delegate at home or the other way around.

Offloading goes further. Challenge yourself to find other ways to getting the results you need from the tasks on your list. I am always in awe, how creative women can be when they really put their mind to finding ways to permanently reducing their overwhelm.

Let me give you some examples from my clients, which might help you come up with your own strategies:

  • Check out Virtual Assistants – one of my clients hired one to categorise her e-mails for her, make appointments and deal with the easy yet time-consuming enquiries she received, freeing up a huge amount of her time and inbox
  • Another client discovered Recycling to avoid reinventing the wheel.  When she needed to write a document, she would first do an electronic search and ask colleagues for examples (the process taking 10 minutes in total) before starting to write. This approach reduced her writing time in half (and more importantly took most of the stress out of writing).

3.       Divide and conquer

Pick what you feel is the most important thing on your list, and set yourself a time in which you deal with just that one thing. Everything else is safely on your list, so you will not forget about it. Focus on that one thing for the allocated time. So called ‘time boxing’, setting a clear time frame, works well to focus the mind.

Let me give you an example how this could work: A lot of us are drowning in an overload of e-mails, some of which are important and some are not, and they tend to pile up. Set yourself, let’s say 30 minutes to deal with e-mails marked urgent and just do 30 minutes to work through as many as you can. Then look at your list again and pick the next urgent/important task, maybe writing a report, and set yourself  e.g. 1 hour to write the first chapter. And so on. Remember to take breaks in between.

Focussing on one thing at a time, helps to de-stress the brain, whilst time boxing the task, focusses our brain even more. You will be amazed how quickly you are getting things done.

Prevention is better than cure

Of course, we all know preventing a situation like overwhelm is a lot better than waiting for it to happen. Here are a couple of things you might like to consider putting place to prevent overwhelm from occurring or to deal with it faster should it catch you unawares:

  • Be clear on ‘what is important to you’  – take some time, and discover your priority list of ‘what is important to you’, or – in other words – values. When we are not aware of our values, we can find it difficult to make a meaningful decisions on what to prioritise.
  • Prime your team – identify who has your back when you need to off load activities or you need a helping hand. Team is not limited to direct reports, it could comprise family members, friends, colleagues, bosses, health or fitness professionals, coaches and many more. Make sure you know who could help with what, when the need arises, and be prepared to do the same for them.

The above are a small selection of overwhelm busting strategies, including engaging a coach or mentor to help you through a time of overwhelm.

I would love to hear from you what strategies have been and are successful for you.

                                          

[1] Wikipedia – The magical number 7

[2] Cognitive Science – Multitasking

                                        

Procrastination is just signal that something is not right!

Who has not been there? You have a deadline or a target, and should really be doing something about it, yet, you procrastinate. You do everything else, even the admin or the dreaded ironing rather than tackle that particular task or goal. And not even iron will power or super discipline help. You still procrastinate. Often, procrastination is an unconscious process that we only become aware of when we are running out of time to complete our task or goal by the deadline or target time/date.

Why do we procrastinate? And how can we make procrastination our friend and not our enemy?

Both those questions are linked. In order to make procrastination our friend, we first need to become aware why we are procrastinating.

1. Why do we procrastinate?

It is very simple, we procrastinate because there is something not quite right with what we decided to do or how/when/where or with whom we decided to do it. This something wrong is a gap or discrepancy of some sort.

In my experience, these gaps or discrepancies that cause us to procrastinate tend to fall under the following categories:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success
  • Beliefs we hold about ourselves
  • A values violation
  • Overwhelm
  • Lack of knowledge or skills

And how can we make procrastination our friend and not our enemy?

Once we know what motivates us to procrastinate, we can address these reasons. Being aware is half the battle.

Every behaviour has a positive intention

So does procrastination. We do what we do because it gives us something positive or satisfies some need we have, we just might not realise it. So when you examine the reasons for any procrastinating behaviour, observe the behaviour from a neutral point of view and refrain from judging yourself. Look for the positive intention:

  • What is procrastination protecting you from?
  • What is it helping you avoid?

Consider the list of reasons for procrastination above, if nothing comes to mind. And remember, procrastination does not necessarily have to be a bad thing!

Addressing the reasons for procrastination

Fear of failure

This is a biggie for most people. What if I fail? Most of us fear that we will then no longer be appreciated by others or fall in their estimation. It is so drummed into us from early age that failure is something terrible, but is it? Or is it simply a form of feedback that the way we did something did not have the desired result?

So ask yourself:

  • Is this really true that we will lose others respect, esteem and/or appreciation if we ‘fail’?
  • What is the worst that could happen?
  • What is failure anyway? Edison had a 1000 odd so-called failures before he invented the lightbulb. He chose to call them steps or feedback. If you ‘failed’, how will you take that feedback, learn from it and change your strategy to achieve the task or goal?

Fear of success

This may sound weird, however it affects a lot of people. What happens once the goal is achieved? If there is nothing beyond that goal, a lot of people procrastinate about achieving the first goal. So if that is your reason for procrastination, look beyond your immediate goal.

  • What does this goal help you to achieve?
  • What doors open up for you once you achieved this goal?
  • And what is your goal beyond the goal?

Beliefs we hold about ourselves

Negative or unhelpful beliefs we have about ourselves hold us back from achieving what we want. Common examples of such beliefs are ‘I am not worthy’, ‘I don’t deserve’, ‘I am stupid’, ‘I am clumsy’ etc.. We tend to acquire these kinds of beliefs during childhood through repetitive experiences or decisions we made about ourselves. The way belief work is like unconscious programmes that run in the background and cause us to make choices that support those beliefs.

  • The first step is awareness and identifying the belief you hold about yourself. Listen to your excuses and self-talk about your task or goal, and pick our any ‘I am’, ‘I am not’ or ‘I am too’ statements.
  • The next step is to ask yourself: Is this belief about myself totally and utterly true everywhere and in any situation? What other evidence is there for the opposite belief?
    Give yourself permission to entertain the thought that your belief about yourself could be false.

Dealing with unwanted beliefs can be a challenge on your own, so consider asking for help from a qualified coach, NLP practitioner or therapist.

A values violation

Values are what is important to us. When something we want or have been asked to do goes against what is important to us, we have a natural tendency to dig in our heals and procrastinate.  The task or goal may be important to someone else, however, if it does not satisfy our core values, we are not likely to give it priority. So, check if what you are procrastinating about falls into this category:

  • What is important to you in this context?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • What other options are there to change, remove or delegate this value violating task? Be open-minded when considering this question.

Overwhelm

You have bitten off more than you can chew in the time you have available. Often procrastination is a stress avoidance mechanism. So if you have too many things to do in a short space of time and you do not know where to start, consider the following:

  • Prioritise! Prioritise! Prioritise! Which tasks are super urgent and which ones will keep? Are all of them equally important?
  • Who can you delegate to? Who can help you?
  • If the task is too big, and seems to loom over you, break it down into small pieces, and start with one piece at a time.

Lack of knowledge or skills

If that is you, and you know you have a knowledge gap or skills gap, consider the following:

  • Is it absolutely necessary that you do the task personally? Or can you outsource the task to someone else who has the knowledge and the skills?
  • If you need to do the task yourself, then think about creatively how can you acquire the knowledge you need and learn the necessary skills?
  • We often don’t know the how of a goal or a task. And in many cases we only find out the how by starting the task. So what you can do today to start this task? And even if the next step is to discover where to acquire the knowledge or where to find someone who knows how to do it!
  • Some people use procrastination as a creative space – they do something else so their mind can sort out a solution or way forward in the background. If that’s you and you usually achieve what you set out to do, then don’t worry about procrastination.

This list of suggestions for dealing with procrastination is by no means complete, however it will give you a great starting point. Once you tackled procrastinating about one thing, you will find it so much easier the next time. Be patient with yourself and make sure you acknowledge the positive intention of the procrastinating behaviour.

If you have any specific questions or challenges, feel free to share these via the comments box, and I am more than happy to answer your questions.

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Crowning off the Old, Stepping forth into the New

Did you know that 78% of people[1] do not achieve their New Year’s resolutions? And did you also know that over half of all New Year’s resolutions have been resigned to the bin of failure by January 31?

With this damming statistic, what’s the point of having New Year’s resolutions at all?

The New Year signals a new beginning just as the dawn of each day does. We tend to mark the ending of the old year and celebrate the beginning of the New Year, which gives us a much-needed boost of energy and motivation during the darkest part of year. Given that most of us take time off over the festive period, it is great to time to take stock of the old year and plan ahead for the New Year. And, the great news is, despite all those statistics, there are loads of people who achieve one or more of their New Year’s resolutions! The trick is to understand what these people do differently to those who abandon their resolutions within the first month.

You will be pleased to know that the difference that makes the difference in achieving New Year’s resolutions is not vastly different to what it takes to achieve goals!

So what makes the difference?

1. Crown off the old year

So many of us set new resolutions or just rehash the old (not achieved) ones, without truly taking stock and highlighting to ourselves what we actually achieved over the course of the past year. It is very human phenomenon to forget past achievements and take for granted, and not giving those achievements (and thus ourselves) the appreciation, admiration and pride that is due to them.

Collate your achievement profile for 2011

I invite you now to take one hour out your busy festive period, and really go back over this year, and discover and celebrate these achievements. Really challenge yourself to identify your achievements, your biggest learnings, your best memories, even if they seem small or insignificant to you, write them down! Also check out my earlier article on Celebrating your successes improves confidence and self-esteem!

Create an achievement board

To make this really fun, consider creating an achievement board (similar to a future vision board, just for past achievements) where you mark your achievements by month or by area with symbols, funky colours, memorable drawings or pictures of yourself.

Give awards for your achievements

How about giving awards to those achievements? Examples of achievement awards could be:

  • Most fun experience award
  • ‘I am so proud of myself’ award
  • Super happy award
  • Most challenging achievement award
  • Biggest learning award

Be really creative with those and make the awards ceremony really fun. This is also a fabulous exercise to do with your children (if you have any) or get group of girlfriends together and give each other awards!

Notice how you feel about 2011 once you have done that. I know, a lot of us may fall into the trap of cataloguing all the things we wanted to achieve, yet for some reason did not. If that is you, put these to one side until you get to step 2!

2. Focus on what is important to you

This may seem rather simple, however it is crucial. A lot of us set New Year resolutions (or any goals for that matter) for things that do not really matter to us. We set them because we feel we should because we did not achieve them the year before, other expect it of us or it is what everybody strives for.

Weed out de-motivating resolutions!

The thing is, if something does not truly matter to you, it will not motivate you to achieve it either. So, as a next step, list all your resolutions that you want to achieve (past, present and future) and consider the following questions (also check out my blog article on Motivation! ):

  • What is really important to you about that resolution?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • What would happen if you achieved it?
  • What would happen if you did not achieve it?
  • How motivated are you by this resolution? (you could use a scale 0 (not at all)-10 (high), or high, medium, low to make this more real)

Ideally write the answers to your questions down for each resolution you have, and then consider the final question:

  • If you could achieve only one thing in 2012 out of all those listed, what would that be?

Really go into yourself and find out what truly excites and lights you up. You may have several resolutions or goals for next year that you truly wish to achieve. If so, list them in order of priority.

Make your resolutions SMART

Almost everyone will have heard of SMART[2] goals. It is an approach that has been proven to work well for most people. I invite you now to take your priority resolutions and make them SMART. For each goal make it

  • Specific and simple: what specifically do you want? When, where, how and with whom you want this?
  • Meaningful to you: what does this resolution look like, sound like, feel like when you have achieved it? How do you know unequivocally that you are on the right track and that you have achieved?
  • Achievable: where are you now and what resources will you need to achieve this goal? What are the smaller steps that you need to do to achieve the goal?
  • Realistic: given what else is going on for you, how much time, effort and energy can you devote to you resolution? Be real!
  • Timed and toward what you want: can you put dates to the small steps? And when are you going to take the first step towards you goal? Is the goal stated in positive language – what you do want and not what you don’t want. Also check out my blog article How serious are you about your goals?

 3. Stepping forth into the New Year

Now that we have weeded out those resolutions that don’t motivate you, and have made those resolutions that totally matter to you SMART, the final step is to increase the energy and motivation behind those resolutions to make them even more compelling and self-motivating.

Do one at a time!

Trying to work on all your resolutions at the same time, could be a step too far. This is backed up Richard Wiseman’s and other research. People who tend to fail in their New Year’s resolutions are trying to do too much in too short a time.

So, choose the one resolution that will make the biggest difference to you (either it is the most fun to do, will make the biggest impact on your life, is the easiest to accomplish, or any other criterion that works for you).

Spread out your resolutions over the year

And then, schedule in your other resolutions throughout the year. Be clear when you will start on each one, and when you will have accomplished it by. Consider using a vision board as a fun reminder and as a way to keep track of your progress.

If you would rather wait with scheduling in the other resolutions or you decided on one resolution for 2012, consider reviewing your resolutions each month and doing monthly resolutions, which are also very effective and keep motivation up.

Taking the first step increases motivation

Motivation is not just a feeling of energy towards a goal, it is also about using that energy to take the first step! And that first step is crucial. So be really clear, what your first step is towards your New Year’s resolution, and take it in the first week of January. No matter how small the step, you will find it is worthwhile.

The trick is to schedule the next step, as soon as the first step is completed and get into the habit to diarise the next step as soon as you have completed the previous step.

Share your resolution with others

Get friends and colleagues to support you in achieving your resolution. Most people around you want you to succeed. When you lose motivation or feel that it is not worth it anymore, those are the people who will root for you and help you get motivated again. And more often than not, sharing our resolutions with others opens up new, quicker and easier ways of getting what we want. So be brave and go public with your resolutions!

Let me know how you get on!

Enjoy.


[1] according to research conducted by Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire.

[2] S-Specific, M-Measurable, A-Achievable, R-Realistic, T-Timed


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Getting rid of unwanted habits

We all have habits [1] that we want to get rid of or change. The topic of unwanted habits something that usually comes up during December or January, when we look back over our year, and remember those discarded New Year’s resolutions that we abandoned during the first two quarters of this year.

What are habits?

So before we get into how do we rid ourselves of those unwanted habits, let’s have a look what habits really are and how they formed. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a habit as “a behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance”. Big words, that just mean that we repeated a sequence of activities enough times to make them automatic and unconscious, i.e. now the habit just happens automatically (e.g. brushing teeth) and we often only realise that we ‘doing the habit’ when we are either half way through or experience the results of the habit.

Generally, habits help us to automate activities so we do not have to think about them. However, when these habits include drinking the 20th cup of coffee at work, unconsciously picking up and eating the 10th Mars bar at work or flopping onto the sofa after switching on the TV every night in a row instead of going to the gym, is when we want to think about breaking them and acquiring more useful and generative habits.

How are habits formed?

As with every habits at one point we did not have it and we had to learn it and make it automatic by doing the activities over and over and over again. The good news is, we can use the same strategy to change unwanted habits or acquire news ones.

They say that it takes 21 days to create a habit. Well, there are differing views on this. Some people say it takes 90 days for the body to get the habit into the muscle, other says it can be done in less than 21 days. My view is, if you just use repetition of an activity and willpower, unwanted habits take a lot longer to break than if you use some other key techniques in addition.

In this article I am covering three effective and easy to use techniques to break habits that you can use in parallel. These techniques work in conjunction with the repetition method mentioned earlier. If you feel you need a rapid and immediate habit [1] breaker I suggest you invest in a session with an NLP [2] Master Practitioner.

1. Satisfy the reasons behind the unwanted habit in a more useful way

Now how do we actually rid ourselves of those unwanted habits? Think of habit now, that you have and that you wish you didn’t have.

  • What does this habit give me?
  • What does it do for me?
  • What do I get out of it?

These are some really important questions to ask yourself. Habits are usually formed for a reason and generally with a good intention.  That is why force and willpower does usually not work. We will only become tense and more stressed because we are not satisfying the initial positive intention or reason for our unwanted habit. For example, the good intention of drinking lots of coffee during the day might be to ‘stay alert’, or the good intention for the switching on the TV and sitting on the couch after work might be ‘relaxation’.

So once you have discovered what the unwanted habit’s positive intention is, ask yourself:

  • What do I want instead, that will satisfy the positive intention and is more useful for me now and going forward?
  • How else could you achieve what the unwanted habit does for you?
  • What are three other ways to fulfill the purpose of the unwanted habit?

And really make sure, that whatever you choose instead, also fulfils what that unwanted habit did for you.

2. Catch the habit before it starts by finding its trigger!

Every habit has a trigger, something that sets it off. In order to change a habit useful to catch it before it starts. It is a bit like a washing machine cycle – once you pressed start, it is almost impossible to stop to put more washing in or choose a different programme as the machine has already filled with water.  We want to catch the habit before you even press the start button.

I invite you to walk through your habit step by step (and the best way is walk backwards) until you have found the trigger. Ask yourself the following:

  • How do I it is time to (do the habit)?
  • What sets me off? Is is something I see, is it something I hear or say to myself, a feeling, or a smell or something I taste. 
    A lot of habits are set off by visual triggers. For example going back to our TV example, it might set off by walking in the living room, setting down the key on the table and seeing the TV in front of you.

You might wish to take a few days to observe yourself, and see where you can interrupt your habit. Play around with it.

Once you know your trigger, you are in control  of the habit and can make a decision at the trigger point to do your habit or not. And, you can use a distraction to remind you to do something else instead. So for the TV example, instead of coming into the living room where you see the TV, you might want to go into the another room first or place the TV elsewhere.

3. Increase the speed of adopting the new habit by using visualisation – mental walkthroughs!

As we know habits are formed by repetitions. To adopt new habits quicker to repeat them as often as you can. That is not always practical physically. Visualisation or mental rehearsal is a great technique to use. Map out mentally in as much detail as you can, using images, sounds, feelings (smells and tastes if appropriate) to create your new habit from trigger to finish – like a mental movie, and then replay this in your mind as often as you like. Make your mental walkthrough fun. Play around with the movie and its attributes, for example make it brighter, more colourful, slower, quicker and find out how to make the most compelling for you.

The great thing is, that you can do this anywhere, at the bus stop, while waiting for the train or even in a break in the office. I would not recommend doing this while driving a car.

And then, practice, practice, practice every time when you notice your trigger, make that different decision!

My tip would be to focus on one habit at a time. Even though you might now be totally fired up to change all your unwanted habit, these processes work best when we focus on one habit at a time. And once you have changed one habit, you will find the next one will be even quicker and easier to change.

Enjoy and let me know how you get on!

[1] Habits in this context do not include addictive behaviours e.g. addiction to drugs, food or other substances. For these, please consult a medical professional.

[2] NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming

“Choosing to smile” – a testimony to three women’s courage in the face of major adversity

“Choosing to smile” is the title of one of the most moving and inspiring books I have been privileged to read in a long time.

The book is about three ‘ordinary’ women, Glenda, Michelle and Julie; three friends who at some stage in their life had to deal with major adversity. Each of these amazing and courageous women was diagnosed with cancer, and each chose to deal[1] with the illness in way that we can all draw inspiration from.

In the book, Glenda, Michelle and Julie each share their life’s journey with us, taking us through their childhood, teens and adulthood, their high’s  – love and marriage, birth of their children, small and big successes – and their low’s – their experience with cancer and other adversities like loss of family members and friends. The book took me on emotional rollercoaster. I was laughing and crying with Glenda, Michelle and Julie, who openly and honestly share their emotional journeys before and after being diagnosed with cancer.

Glenda despite losing a leg to cancer, went on to become a sought after public speaker; Michelle after beating Hodgkin’s disease went back to school, got a degree and travelled all over the wold; Julie survived incurable cancer for much, much longer than anyone had ever thought possible. Recently, Glenda and Michelle were awarded the “WOMAN OF COURAGE AWARD” at the Global Woman Summit in Washington DC.

So what makes these three ordinary women different?

For me, there were three main life principles that  Glenda, Michelle and Julie applied throughout their lives:

1.       Choosing to smile

Despite the cards that life dealt them, these three women made a choice. Instead of becoming victims, being unhappy, depressed and complaining, they chose to smile! They chose to find happiness every day and appreciate all that life has to offer. They chose to live every day to the fullest, and build on their own inner resources. Glenda, Michelle and Julie show us that there is always something we can do, no matter how major the adversity. We can always choose to smile.

2.       Focussing on what you can control

When we are in grip of adversity we often feel at the mercy of what is happening to us. And we forget that there are lots of things we can control and evolve the adverse situation. These wonderfully courageous women are role models to us all, and especially those of us who are about to give thinking there is nothing we can do. Glenda, Michelle and Julie made a choice to be survivors (and not victims) and be in control of what they could control, their own mental and emotional state, how they spent their time and what did they did with their lives.

3.       Building a nurturing support network

Not only did these three women support each other, they also had and built up a strong support network of family members and friends who they could reply on to give strength, encouragement and inspiration when they needed it most.  They also freely and generatively supported others who had been diagnosed with cancer, and helped them to ‘smile’.

I believe we often underestimate how important it is for each us to have people close to and around us who remind us of our inner strength and reinforce our positive intentions when we are losing faith or want to give up.

This book is a gift and inspirational resource to anyone who feels a victim of circumstance, who feels held back by a glass ceiling outside their control or someone who needs a healthy dose of inspiration or a reminder of what choosing to smile can do.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Do check it out at amazon.com or amazon.co.uk.

Thank you, Michelle, for sending me a copy of your amazing book. And thank you all three of you, Glenda, Michelle and Julie, for so courageously and openly sharing your inspiring stories with me through your book.

Related links and articles


[1] I am not commenting here on the choice of medical treatment and procedures but on the way the three women dealt with disease emotionally and how they chose to live their lives post-diagnosis

It’s so easy to give up on your dreams, isn’t it?

What is dream? According to the Oxford English dictionary one definition is: “A vision of the imagination indulged in when awake, one prompted by desire, hope or ambition“.

As women, we are often conditioned to be practical and put other people’s needs and wants before ours. ‘Indulging’ in dreaming or pursuing our dreams often feels like wasted time as women have been culturally conditioned to believe that some of our dreams cannot become reality, or we feel we do not have what it takes (time, skills etc.) to realise our dreams. Denying ourselves our dreams or putting the pursuit of our dreams last on the priority list, often leaves us feeling frustrated, not good enough and/or stressed.

There are a number of common pitfalls that I found many people encounter in the pursuit of their dreams, and you might recognise yourself in some of them:

You focus on what you don’t want, and not what you do want

When going on a journey, no one would ever say,  “I do not want to go to France, Germany, Italy, US etc” when they wanted to go to e.g. Spain. And ideally you would specify where in Spain you would like to go. Unfortunately a lot of people tend to do that with their dreams. They tend to think about what they don’t want about their current life, instead of what they want in their future life. As a result they tend to get more of the same of what they have now.

Have you ever noticed that when you focus on a certain topic that all of a sudden you spot it everywhere and lots of different bits of information or opportunities in relation to that topic come your way? That is exactly how it works with your dreams and goals. Therefore, instead putting your focus on what you don’t want, put it on what you want, and you are likely to get it.

So ask yourself: What specifically do I want?

Make sure whatever it is that you want, it is stated positively. Our mind is configured to process only positives, i.e. if I am now asking you to not think of a pink and green striped elephant, what are you are thinking of? If by any chance, you come up negatives i.e. what you don’t want, be playful and turn it into a positive and affirmative statement. It might take a little and it is very worth it.

Dreams are too vague – make them real to you and as specific as you can!

Studies have shown, and this is also borne out by my coaching and consulting work, that we do need to know the ‘what’ of our dream(s) (in a business setting, a dream is usually called a vision), and we need to know it in some detail to make it real and allow us to recognise any opportunities that take us closer to achieving our dream along the way.

The key question to ask yourself here is: What am I seeing, hearing, feeling or saying to myself when I have achieved my dream?

A key tips is to just focus on answering the question, without going into any potential obstacles to your dream. If any obstacles, doubts or negative self-talk comes up, my invitation to you is to write it down and deal with it once you have gone through the rest of the process.

Dreams are not clearly linked to what is important to you in life

Often our dreams (or goals for that matter) do not motivate us as much as we expect them to , they don’t feel quite right or they do not quite make sense to us. The two key reasons usually are

  • we are conflicted due to limiting belief (see my blog article on obstacle strategy) and are sabotaging ourselves along the way.
  • we do not have the ‘goal beyond the goal’, i.e. we have not connected the dream to what is ultimately important to us. And often when we make that connection, the dream can change into something that more real and feels more motivating to us.
    So, when you think about your dream or what you want, ask yourself: Why is that important to me? What does that give me?
    I invite you to write down your answers, and for every answer ask the questions again, write down your answers and ask the questions again, and do this about three to five times. My key tip would be to do a short meditation before you ask yourself those questions, and just let your answers flow.Once you have completed the exercise, review your dream in light of your answers, and check if there are any changes you need to make to your dream, what has happened to any obstacles identified in the previous step and what other options to fulfill your higher values opened up for you.

Not knowing the ‘how’ stops you from taking the next step

Many people believe that they need to know ‘how’ to achieve their dreams before they can take action. It is one of the main reasons why people don’t realise their dreams.

If you are grappling with the ‘how’ question, my invitation to you is twofold:

  • Ask yourself: what resources (and that includes your skills, capabilities, friends, family etc) do have that will help me to realise my dream? And what resources do I believe I need at this point to take the next step?Focussing on the entire dream is often too much too soon. When we focus on the first step, and then the next, and the next, we are able to develop the ‘how’ at a pace that works for us.
  • Share your dream with others. Often what happens is that even if we do not have the skills or knowledge how to achieve our dreams, someone else might or they might know someone who has done it.

Taking action is key

Part of making a dream real and focussing our minds on achieving our dreams is to set a deadline or a target date, that is realistic. Even if you are not able, at this time, to set a deadline for your overall dream, you can name the first step or first goal.  As Diana Sharf Hunt has said: “Goals are dreams with deadlines.” A date will bring an extra degree of focus and urgency. I invite you allow yourself to put a stake in ground and name your first step, one that you can take by the end of next week and commit to doing it.

As human beings we are designed to have dreams, goals and ambitions and to follow those dreams. If that was not the case, we would still be living in caves. So, if you are not already dreaming and pursuing your dreams, start dreaming and …

Go for your dreams!

It’s all about balance!

Your body continuously strives for balance. Notice, when you are walking down the street or even when you’re standing, your body is using lots of tiny muscles and big muscles to make sure that you are in balance and don’t fall over, and hurt yourself.

The body and mind are one. As the body is continuously looking for balance, so is the mind. When we are in balance our life flows, i.e. we achieve what we want and we are happy. When our life is balanced we are free from the constant niggling thoughts that keep us awake at night that say something like: “I should really spend more time on xxx” or “I never get around to doing xxx”. Most of us have these thoughts which are indications that our life is not balanced.

Although most of us are aware that our lives may not be as balanced as we would like it, we often don’t know where to start making changes. Our to-do list is often so large that it seems difficult to identify what to do first or next.

Here is an easy way to help you prioritise which areas of your life to work on next.

Take your “life balance temperature” check

We have areas of our lives that we happy with and where we achieve what we want. And there are other areas of our lives that we don’t pay as much attention to or where we just don’t seem to get the success we want.

Take a clean sheet of paper, draw a circle on it and divide the circle into as many categories or slices as you need. Use your own words to name the areas of your life – you can of course use the areas in  the example below if that works for you.

Then take each area in turn, and ask yourself the question:

How satisfied are you on a scale of 0 to 10 (where 0 is not at all satisfied and 10 is very satisfied) with this area of your life, now?

Then draw a line (as shown in the example) between the two area-boundaries that reflects your level of satisfaction. If you like, you can also shade in the
area between 0 (the middle point of your circle) and the line you’ve drawn.

Once you’ve done this for all areas of your life, take a look at your wheel and notice:

  • how does your wheel look? Imagine you are using that you are using this wheel to on your car or bicycle. Would you be able to drive or cycle with that wheel?
  • which area (or maybe there are two) stands out? Which one is very different, either very low or very high, compared to the other areas?

Hardly anyone has a fully balanced wheel. Life constantly changes, and like our body that needs to rebalance every second of the day, we need to adjust our life balance continually. If our wheel is very much out of balance we need a lot more energy to keep it going and often tend to experience stress.

Therefore, it is good idea to do this wheel of life ‘temperature check’ on a regular basis. Most of my clients find that every three months works best for them.

Where do you want to be in each area?

Go back to your wheel of life and decide what level of satisfaction you would like to have in each area, right now. Use the same scale 0 to 10 (where 0 is not at all satisfied and 10 is totally satisfied). Use a different coloured pen to show your desired level. Of course, we all want to be 100% in every area, however, be realistic and decide what level of satisfaction would be happy or OK with in each area.

Have a look at your wheel now and notice: Where are you biggest gaps?

Once you have done that, look at your wheel again and write down those areas where you have identified the biggest gaps (in order – biggest gap first, followed by the second biggest gap) between your current level of satisfaction and desired level of satisfaction. Now you have a prioritised list, and most people find it useful to focus on the area where they have the biggest gap. However, some people find that 2 or 3 areas have the same gap. If that’s you, ask yourself: if you were able to do one thing to raise your level of satisfaction in one area only, which area would benefit the most? And where would you feel the biggest impact?

Taking action

Most people feel daunted by the gap they have identified in
the last step. An easy way to around that is to ‘eat the elephant in small
chunks’. Consider the following:

  • If you wished to raise your satisfaction in your focus area by 1 or even 0.5 (or even lower), what can you do?
  • What would you advise your best friend to do if they were in your position?
  • Which actions of your to-do list fall into your focus area?

If you run out of ideas, take an area of your life where your satisfaction is much higher than in your focus area:

  • What are you doing or have done there that keeps you at a high level of satisfaction?
  • What are the types of things/activities you do there that you could maybe adapt and transfer to your focus area to give it a boost?

Once you have a list of key actions, identify the one action that would make the biggest difference in your life right now and schedule time for it (if you are unable to do it straight away). Take action as soon as possible and once you have done the action, notice how much more satisfied you feel in that area of your life.

The wheel of life is a tool you can use on an ongoing basis, to re-balance your life and for goal setting. In invite you to go back to you over and over again and use it to identify your key activities to bring your life into balance and maintain this balance.

Enjoy.

Are you a “sponge” at work?

The idea for this article was given to me by friend when we met for lunch in New York two months ago. During our conversation we realised that lot of women we know are “sponges”, and that characteristic or quality is what is holding them back in their careers and wrecking their work-life balance.

So, what do I mean by “sponge”? A “sponge” is someone who is great at saying yes to almost every task or project that they are asked to do even if it means they have to sacrifice their own goals, plans or free time to be able to deliver on the yes. Not only are they great at saying yes, they find it almost impossible to say no. Because they are usually great delivering, other people (especially superiors) tend to continue asking them for more. Does this description resonate with you?

Have a go at the “sponge-test” below and find out where you fit on the “sponge-scale”:

For each question in the table below just write down the answer that most applies for you. Then add up all your answers to your total.

Now that you have your total, find out below how much of a “sponge” you are, and discover some key tips on how you can stop being a “sponge” and become more selective and focussed about saying yes to everything.

22-28 You are a super “sponge”
The word ‘no’ does not seem to exist in your vocabulary when it comes to doing things for other people. When someone asks you to do something for them or take on another task, you do not even take a step back to check whether you have time, it fits in with your goals and objectives or you know how to do the task. This has a major impact on your work and home life, as you are always running out of time, your task list gets longer and longer and you often sacrifice your free time to catch up. Your health and personal development suffers, and you are likely to feel stressed.

Three key tips for you to consider are to:

  • consolidate your to-do lists including all your own tasks and other people’s you said yes to. Decide for each of them, if you really, really need to do it, it’s still relevant or if someone else can do it (delegation), and then strike through whatever is not relevant and delegate whatever you do not absolutely have to do. Then plan in and schedule the remaining tasks into a diary, initially allowing at least double your estimated time for each task.
  • practice saying no until you feel comfortable doing it. Go back over the requests from the last month that you wished you had not so readily accepted. Play them through in your mind and say no instead of yes. Imagine future requests coming to you and practice saying no to those too.
  • be clear about your must do’s for your goals and your role at work. Write down your must do’s and put them somewhere you can see them during the day. When a request comes in, tell the requestor that you will consider it and get back to them with an answer within the hour (or next day, depending on the urgency of the request)! Then check against your objectives list, your schedule and your own motivation whether this task is right for you. When you say no to your requestor, offer suggestions on who else they could approach, so you are still helpful.

15-21 You are an aspiring super “sponge”
Although you have the ability to say no, more often than not you fall into the trap of saying yes, despite yourself. Often the things you say yes to are related to your job and might take you forward in your career, however you find yourself working long hours, sacrificing week-ends and free time and thus neglecting your health, friends and other personal development.

Key tips for you are to:

  • become totally clear about your current commitments and how much time you have or don’t have for anything extra coming in. The easiest way to do this, is to diarise every task and allocate a duration (do include contingency)
  • know what you want to achieve in your career and what you need to do to get there be it promotion/personal development etc. Make sure you diarise and schedule those activities!
  • learn to negotiate with the requestor, especially if the requestor is your boss. If you know what you want and you know your commitments, you can check against those when any request comes in. Like the super sponge, make sure to consider before you give a response to the requestor. Offer options, if you feel you have to say yes, e.g. I do not have time this week, however I have time for this next week. how would that work for you? or if this is urgent, I could move xx (also requested by them) to next week?

8-14 You are on your way
You are able to say no to things that do not fit in with what you want or what your job requires. however, sometimes you succumb and find that you are working longer than you wished, or have to sacrifice your gym session (or similar) to finish something at work you wished you had not said yes to.

The key tips for you is are to:

  • set clear boundaries with the task requestor, and be clear how much you can deliver in the time you actually have available.
  • negotiate delaying other tasks if this particular task is urgent, and
  • agree with your boss which of your non essential tasks you can delegate to other colleagues who would benefit from the experience.

0-7  Congratulations, you have it sussed!
You obviously know what you want and are able to say no to things that do not fit with your objectives and goals. The only danger you could run into is saying no too often. Remember, it is OK and good to help out others even if their request does not fit in with our goals, so don’t just say no for sake of it.

Today you have now taken the first vital step towards “de-sponging” your worklife, which is awareness! The tips above are not exhaustive and there are many more ways how you can reduce your “sponge” like qualities. So, do experiment and find out what works best for you!

Let me know how you get on!

Detox your conversation!

Words have power, whether they are in written, spoken or thought form. So, if you’re not having the success or the type of life that you want, you might be asking for the wrong things in what you communicate to the world outside you (conversations, e-mails, tweets, Facebook entries etc.) or  and to yourself (self-talk).

If what you are putting out there or saying/thinking to  yourself is negative and not supporting your goals, your focus is on what you don’t want and not what you want. Where our focus is, that is where we spend our energy and time. Think about it, if a lot of your energy is wasted on what you don’t want, then how on earth can you have enough energy left to go for what you want?

Let’s look at your conversation and how you can make a start at detoxing it:

Negative talk and self-talk

Without realised we often phrase our goals in the negative, i.e. we talk about what we don’t want or what we want to avoid. Unfortunately our subconscious mind does not understand negatives, so in fact we focus on the things we didn’t want to happen. If I asked to not to think of a baby pink giraffe with a green hat, guess what you just have been thinking about. And that is exactly how it works with all other thoughts/words.  

I invite you to pick a day of the next week to observe your thoughts and words over the course of that day. When you notice any negative statements on things you want to avoid or prevent, rephrase them and make them positive (things you want to have or have happen instead), even if it is in your head. Even if you only do this for one hour (or even 10 minutes) every day, you will notice a big difference, quickly.

Make this a fun exercise and if you children, get them to take part. They will get the hang of it quickly and benefit from the results.

Also check out my earlier blog article “Do you talk yourself out of success?” for ideas what to listen out for.

Repetitive complaints are toxic talk

Complaints are another area of conversation that drags us down. Of course, we not talking about those one-off feedback “complaints” about e.g. bad customer service that directed towards the person who can rectify the bad experience. I am talking about those repetitive (and toxic) complaints that we usually share with friends, colleagues and family who are unable to do anything about it. Examples of those complaints are the weather, what someone at the office did again, traffic issues, and other things that you deem annoying. Complaining unless it is to the person or persons that can rectify the complain puts us in a victim mentality, i.e. it signals that we are not responsible for our life and at the whim of everything. Is that what you want? Or would you rather be in control of your life and be responsible for it?

If you want to be in control, pick another day during the next week and observe yourself for any repetitive complaints that you voice. Notice what you complain about and redirect your thoughts. What good is there in that situation? What could you do differently next time? What does this teach you?
And, if there is any repetitive complaining you do, just because that is what you do at work, just don’t say them. Think of something positive to share with your colleagues instead.

Making excuses is the antidote to success

How often are you procrastinating and coming up with lots of reasons why you cannot or could not do something? And these are not just excuses you make to others but more importantly the excuses you make to yourself. Things like, why you could not get to the gym this week or take that next step towards your goals. Again excuses put us into a position of no control. So if we want to take control and achieve our gaols, excuses can no longer be part of our vocabulary.

Pick another day next week and notice what excuses you use. Don’t judge them or yourself. Just take them as they are and rephrase them into what you want to happen instead. Ideally write that down, and also write down how you will feel when ‘what you want to have happen instead’ happens. You will find after just a short time things will start moving and you will achieve more.

Also check excuses that make, if you really want what you are making excuses about. Excuses often are a sign that we living other people’s dreams and not our own and that is why we are resisting and avoiding those particular activities.

Writing down your rephrased thoughts or conversation statements of what you want instead or what you want to have happen instead is very useful as it re-inforces the positive message and it acts as a reminder to yourself. So, if you are able to keep a journal with you during the day, I’d very much recommend you try this and see how it works for you.

Enjoy.

Recommended reading