Have you ever pushed a deadline back until you reach a point of no return. If you don’t do it NOW you’re going to miss it. All of a sudden you work with an intensity and focus you haven’t put in prior. Or maybe you had an awfully challenging week at work where everything that could go wrong went wrong but you somehow got the job done. You not only kept your head above water but thrived under the challenge. Or maybe you did something physical – a hike, a run, lifted a weight and you don’t think you can finish but you manage to get there in the end. It’s the challenge, the obstacles, the difficulties faced that show us not only who we are but who we could be. A hint of the powers we have when our backs are against the wall. It’s easy to try and avoid challenge and hardship. Why try if you’re going to fail right? Why take on the challenging job or the race? What’s the point? Don’t but your head above the parapet. Fly under the radar. Don’t push yourself. The bad days you face on the road are the days that make you better. The times you’ve got to face adversity or put in the extra time and effort. The times when you’re not sure if you’re going to get it done. Keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t give up on yourself. The hard times build confidence, build skills, build knowledge, build self-belief, build resilience, build grit. Don’t avoid the tough things in life. Going through challenges and making it out the other end shows you that you’re not made of glass. You can keep going. You’re better than you ever realise. But the only way you get to see glimpses of the person you’re capable of is by stretching yourself. Dive in to the deep end and savour the process – the challenge – the failure – the wins – the lessons – the results. Keep going.
What do you value? What do you stand for? Or stand against? What do you believe in?
Most people will come out with the typical answers – family, a religion, community, their country
But saying you have certain values and not standing by them defeats the point. Who we really are is determined by our actions not our words. To steal a quote –
“A man of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds.” – John D Rockefeller
Anyone can claim to be something until they’re put on the spot. To quote from Martin Luther King Jr –
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – MLK
Where do you stand when challenge and controversy come your way? When the world tempts you with something or throws adversity your way or inconvenience? It’s easy to say you have a certain belief or are committed to something else but when the chips are down – who are you? Really? Deep down – do you practice what you preach or are all talk and no walk? Because we’re all going to get tested at some point. If you have character and a strong sense of identity – you won’t be able to separate what you say from what you do.
Whatever your path or your career or your circumstances – we all want results. Only action delivers outcomes.
The above is a Scottish proverb that was apparently popular with George Washington. It’s probably said as “many a mickle maks a muckle.” It effectively means that many little things make a big thing. It’s a very useful phrase to remember because it encapsulates the problem so many of us have with our thinking. We ignore little things. Negative and positive ones. It’s hard to think bigger picture in the day to day. Ignore that. Never mind it – it’s only a little problem. Or a small mistake. Or a small decision. But as the phrase suggests lots of small mistakes or small decisions become bigger problems. Pay attention to the little things before they become bigger things.
“Everyone carries a shadow” – Carl Jung
We all have a dark side. I don’t mean ‘evil’ – just a side we rarely show to the world. Our underlying fears, anxieties or maybe our aggressive qualities. We try to pretend they don’t exist. The person that’s afraid may put on a bravado. The person that’s anxious might instead present a false confidence or arrogance to the world. The person who has aggressive qualities might appear overly nice. While it’s fine to not reveal all of ourselves to others – the issues arise when we hide parts of ourselves from ourselves. When we lie to ourselves about who we really are. Take for example someone who is passive aggressive – passive aggressiveness comes out as underhanded sniping at others instead of speaking our minds to others in an open and honest manner. We see people everyday occasionally flash their underlying intentions or thoughts. Self-denial about our thoughts, feelings and the aspects of our personality we may not like to admit to usually leads to more long term destructive complications.
We all have to confront ourselves and become comfortable with who we are and who we aren’t. We’re not perfect. Get comfortable with your perfectly imperfect self. Denying who you are is only at your detriment.
We’re a generation that sees clickbait headlines, clickbait media, scrolls through social media posts, like or dislike things on a split second read or decision. Split second opinions with our split second attention.
Everyone takes a side or decides a viewpoint in an instant.
No one stops to say “hmmm I’m not sure” – if we’re interested we should read and explore both sides of the discussion or argument. Even if it doesn’t change our mind or reinforces our original viewpoint – at least we’re more informed on the discussion. If there is a reason why people seem so opposed in viewpoints in most matters these days it’s likely because we become so attached to having to be right – “we’re on the right side” – “we support the right team” – think about it – look at sports – you can hate your favourite sports team but if someone who supports another team criticises them you’ll become offended. Because we have a sense of identity in our views and who or what we support. There is nothing wrong with defending our beliefs – but there is if it means we can’t even try to know more about what others are saying – right or wrong. More so now when we can so quickly attach ourselves to a quick headline or story.
I’m using the title of a book by Simon Sinek. A book I highly recommend by the way, as well as his TedTalk on the subject. He uses it to talk about getting people to buy in to leadership and culture by providing a reason for “why we do what we do”. It’s interesting because in a way we all often do things ourselves without stopping to ask “why am I doing this? We follow routines, habits, patterns and trends without thinking about it. We like and dislike certain people, places or things without stopping to ask why that is. Do we really think that or is there something deeper behind it? I’m not saying we should all stop and go Sigmund Freud on ourselves but maybe stopping once a week to have a think:
- what have I done and not done? – and why was that?
If we don’t take time to think about it – it’s pretty easy to go through our weeks on autopilot or by following the crowd one way or the other. I know someone that will nearly always disagree with something. Even if they probably do really agree with what you’re saying. It’s almost as if they like debate so much they’ll do a full 180 degree turn in a conversation. There are people that can’t stop looking at their phone or that have other vices and addictions and haven’t even realised they have them.
So for me – starting with why as an individual – has to come down to “why do I do the things I do?” – what’s my reason. It isn’t just about being negative – it could be positive – “I exercise because it’s beneficial to my health, fitness and self-confidence” etc. If we never stop to take the time to look at what we’re doing and think about the underlying reasons we’re a bit like a boat without a paddle. If you know why you do something – you can continue to utilise the positive traits and habits and look to identify where you need to change for the negative behaviours. It’s easy to look at others – they’re in front of us – it’s much harder to hold a mirror up to ourselves and start to analyse. It’s difficult to be objective with ourselves which is why we can usually offer good advice to friends and then fail to follow that same advice in our own lives. We’re dealing with emotion. But if you want results and you want impactful change – then you have to stop and say “why?”
Sometimes a short sentence or phrase can really stop and make you think or inspire and motivate you.
Here are 5 quotes to inspire you. I’ve deliberately chosen ones that are perhaps a little less well known.
1.) “There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self” – Aldous Huxley, English writer and philosopher
2.) “Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men” – Seneca the Younger, Roman Philosopher and poet
3.) “Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it.” – Typhoon (1902) – Joseph Conrad, Polish-British writer
4.) “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” – Sir Winston Churchill, prime minister of the UK, politician, historian
5.) “The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it but what he becomes by it.” – John Ruskin, English art critic
Coaching has become more and more prevalent in working environments. Even in traditional sports, where people traina nd coach others – changing and adapting our approach to a different way of operating can bring about many benefits. Coaching has been known to improve performance, improve and build communication skills, boost confidence and aid the development of coach and coachee. Here are my top recommendations on books to read further on this topic. If you have any suggestions of your own, then please feel free to share.
1.) Coaching for Performance – Sir John Whitmore – Pretty much the comprehensive “go to” book, in my opinion. Gives you all the theory and practical applications you could possibly need. There are also lots of resources in the appendix including scripts which are worth the price alone. I think even if you’re not interested in coaching – everyone should read this book. It will really be an eye opener to a lot of people about doing things differently. One to keep on your book shelf, at hand with lots of items and passages marked. A game changing text.
2.) The Inner Game of Tennis – Timothy Gallwey – The coaching book that pretty much started modern day coaching trends. Don’t be fooled by the title – you don’t need to play tennis to take the general principles. Gallwey has written quite a few texts on other specific areas but this was the book that started it all and also inspired Coaching for Performance. What was really interesting about what Gallwey identified was that the “inner game” is equally, if not more important, than skills. We think of old school coaching as “do what I say” but this opened the door to bringing out the potential in others, as well as looking at the mental side of performance.
3.) The Tao of Coaching – Max Landsberg – A really enjoyable introduction to coaching and principles. The book is laid out with changing work scenarios over the course of a fictional employee’s coaching journey. There’s lots of great information in the book but the use of scenarios provides plenty of specific examples of how to apply coaching or improve methods and communication. It also identifies pitfalls and problems that many encounter when trying to change their approach.
4.) Turn the Ship Around – L David Marquet – Marquet turned the worst performing nuclear submarine in the US fleet into the best performing in a short period of time. Ironically he did this by turning away from his military training and his long held beliefs. Priding himself on always being well clued up – he ended up in the wrong submarine to the one he prepared for – making him change his whole approach. The results were dramatic. He’s written several great books now and highlights the importance of language in leadership, as well as empowering and delegating to others rather than a top down “do what I say” approach. I also recommend “Leadership is Language” that he also authored, which really digs deeper on language in particular and the importance of “how” we ask in as much as “what” we ask.
5.) The Six Conversations of a Brilliant Manager – Alan J Sears – Although not directly a coaching book per se – it’s a fictional story used to highlight different conversations that managers have to encourage or change behaviours and outcomes. By doing so you get great examples and scripts of what to say, how to lay out these conversations and understand the purpose behind them. I find having a structure and mini scripts can be really helpful, particularly for those newer to coaching that might not feel too confident. There is definitely a coaching style theme throughout with lots of scripts laid out with asking for feedback and input from others. The examples do cover the vast majority of conversations in a formal management setting and it highlights encouragement and empathy throughout.
6.) How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk – Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish – Now this is actually a parenting book and I’m by no means saying you treat adults like children. But this is probably the best book I’ve found when it comes to advice on improving your listening and getting others to open up and talk. In effect – two key aspects of coaching. There’s also some general good advice that applied correctly can also be very useful in a general work environment. I like to think that principles and good foundations are always useful regardless of the scenario. For example – a couple of tips from the book – “be specific in your praise” and “appreciate work and effort – not traits” – which are tips you’ll usually find in quite a lot of management and leadership books.
As much as we’d like to believe we’re pretty free from vices or bad habits. The reality is that we are all familiar with at least a few from time to time, whether we like to admit it or not. No one is perfect first and foremost. But it’s also important that we recognise where we may have bad vices and habits that prevent us from performing well or meeting our goals and objectives. In turn failing to recognise patterns of behaviour or thoughts that may derail our best efforts is likely to only result in repeating the same patterns. Religious or not – Lent is a time of the year when many people look to give something up. Not always a bad thing per se. People sometimes people give up a variety of things – alcohol, chocolate, swearing – anything really. It’s an interesting concept because it’s effectively someone looking at something and saying they’ll abstain from that behaviour or action for a period of time. Perhaps we should also look at our own vices. Look really hard at ourselves – which isn’t always easy – and recognise that sometimes we do things, say things, think things and act in certain ways that detriments us rather than helps us.
We’re probably all guilty of the above from time to time. But what if for example gluttony leads to health issues or jealousy and greed drives you to become obsessed with your work at the detriment of your relationships? What if arrogance leads you to think you have all the answers or treat others with a lack of respect? What if anger drives you to say and do things you wish you could take back? What if greed leads you to disregard the law or your own values in the pursuit of more?
Humans are complicated – we’re like emotional icebergs with so much more beneath the surface than the rest of the world gets to see. None of us are perfect and we probably all encounter the above vices on a regular basis from ourselves and in others. But if the above or any other negative habits you’ve picked up become a regular and consistent pattern of behaviour that derails your goals and damages others as well as yourself – why don’t we stop and realise we need to do things differently? If you allow your vices and habits to control your thoughts, actions and behaviours it’s a bit like handcuffing yourself to outcomes. Restrained and no control.
This is a productivity technique many people don’t like or don’t agree with. It feels “too much”. But those that do adopt it and like it, tend to stick with it. I’ll leave that decision up to you. But like any tip or suggestion, I certainly think it’s worth a try before coming to a decision.
I first came across this many years ago with David Allen’s excellent book, Getting Things Done. Allen is one of those figures that people either disagree with completely or see as a guru of sorts. Mainly because rather than just giving a couple of principles for productivity, he really goes all in on a total philosophy, which means that some people might feel overwhelmed. But he’s a best selling author and has worked with many of the top companies in the world so clearly there’s a lot of value in his ideas, even if you don’t want to incorporate them. The e-mail inbox at zero tip is the one that I think pays the most dividends. I started doing it years ago after I first read his book. By no means am I “super productive” or anything like that but I tested it and saw clear benefits. In my opinion it makes managing my e-mail much easier.
So in effect you treat your e-mail inbox a bit like a letter in-tray. It’s simply there as a holding area before being processed. So you have four options when it comes to a new e-mail
1.) Put it in a “to do/action” folder if it requires further action but you won’t do it right now.
2.) Do it now. If it’s something that can be done quickly or you have time now – then just process it. You can then file it or delete it depending on if you need the audit trail or not.
3.) Delete it if you don’t need to do anything with it or file it for reference. Why keep it cluttering up your e-mail?
4.) File it in a reference folder if it’s something you don’t need to action but may need to look at later for reference.
By incorporating the above actions you’ll keep your inbox at zero which makes it much easier to see anything new that comes into your inbox, but seeing “5 unread” feels much more relaxing than “1023 unread.” The above takes a bit of work – sure – but probably less than searching for an e-mail weeks or months down the line in an inbox filled with unread e-mails. I certainly find it’s more difficult to miss things when you have less in the pot to begin with, so to speak. But to make this work you need to be consistent. You can’t do it every now and again or you’re missing the benefits and will have to spend longer processing more e-mails. Doing it as you go certainly gives you a sense of satisfaction that you’re making progress and getting organised. That little bit of motivation or sense of accomplishment is a big factor in keeping you motivated when you’ve got a lot to do. By doing this your inbox itself might be a little bit less intimidating with smaller numbers to process.
The downside is the requirement to be consistent and it might not work so well for people that get a silly amount of e-mails or are in large e-mail groups such as large project teams where info may be flying back and forth. There’s also a trend now to use messaging systems such as Teams, Zoom, Slack etc which may make the reference folders a bit hit and miss in the sense that you may be missing some information with it being spread out over different programs/systems. Some people don’t like the need to constantly be processing e-mails as they may prefer to just check e-mails in blocks that could make this more difficult to adopt.
I certainly think it’s worth a try. I’ve personally found this system to be extremely beneficial for myself. But I think productivity systems and tools work best when it’s something you find useful to your own personal preferences and style. So have a try. If you think it works then keep going. If it’s not for you then look for something else. If you want more information – check out Getting Things Done by David Allen. Even if you don’t adopt his system it will definitely get you thinking differently about productivity.