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Making good decisions.

Once I’ve got beyond whether I want my breakfast egg scrambled or boiled, I can give myself a hard time over decisions. And even the egg question can be a bit of a facer on a bad day!

I have a tendency, if not watched, to see any number of sides to questions and have to make a conscious effort to get a grip on myself so that I don’t lose sight of the important things.

Putting on my coaching hat, I remind myself that what’s needed is a systematic approach and information – preferably high quality.

If you’ve read other parts of this blog, you won’t be surprised to know that I recommend Mind Maps (www.thinkbuzan.com) as a really helpful way of pulling together everything in your head on a particular topic.

Getting stuff from other heads needs care, too. Asking someone what the “best” way to deal with a problem is can put them on the spot and paralyse their thinking. Try asking “How many ways can you think of to deal with ….?” They then get to say all the things that come to mind and you can see what ideas that sparks off for you.

Once you’ve done your gathering, try the Cartesian questions on the alternatives:

What will happen if I (for example) resign?

What won’t happen if I resign?
 

What will happen if I don’t resign?

What won’t happen if I don’t resign?

By now you should have a much clearer picture and be better equipped to come to a decision you can feel confident about.

 
Tip: Don’t be hard on yourself if it turns out you made the wrong choice – it doesn’t help, either at that moment or when it makes you doubt your decision-making ability next time.
 

Do you have the right experience?

In JL Carr’s “The Harpole Report”, one character (a teacher) is incensed when challenged by the acting headmaster, asking how he dares to speak to her like that when she has had 30 years’ experience. He retorts “You haven’t had 30 years’ experience! You’ve had 1 year’s experience 30 times!”

When you do work that repeats some, if not all, aspects, it’s a challenge to come up with fresh approaches. After all, if you’ve found a way that works and within the time available, it could be risky to go down a different route.

Is it a worse risk than that of becoming a virtual automaton, so programmed that you just need to hear a certain phrase or encounter a certain problem and you click into automatic delivery?

How do you get different insights?

You can try a little role reversal, perhaps. Sit on the other side of your desk (literally and metaphorically) and see what being on the receiving end is like.

Or you could ask yourself what you would do if you wanted to make things go badly – and then do the opposite.

How about explaining what you do to someone who doesn’t know the job at all – can you gain any fresh insights from their reactions?

Maybe it’s possible to do a job swap and broaden your range.

I don’t want to disparage experience – far from it.

It enriches our lives and enables us to help ourselves and others out of difficult situations. It should also make us more caring and tolerant beings.

Tip: When you get into the habit of spending a few minutes each day putting what’s in your head down on paper, it clears your mind and it’s also handy for looking back and seeing what you did last time something happened – should you need either to repeat or avoid the strategy.
 

How much have you achieved?

I often ask clients to name something about themselves they’re proud of – almost everybody finds it difficult unless they’re prompted.

Your confidence can be so easily shattered and there’s the habit we have of not wanting to look boastful but I believe we’ve been conditioned to think that only the really big things can count as achievements.

All the talent shows like BGT, all the crushed participants who aren’t the winner. All the players who get knocked out of Wimbledon before the final (or in it!), all the Olympic athletes who don’t get golds – are they under-achievers? Are all eyes so firmly fixed on winning that all the work and success that went before gets overlooked?

Yes, of course we should have big goals and strive to do our best but we should also have small goals on the way to the big ones and we should revel in the sense of achievement that reaching them gives us. It all helps motivate us along the way and all the small achievements add up.

How much effort is enough to qualify? Who decides whether the objective is sufficiently commendable to count? Whose praise or approval do we need to make us feel we’ve succeeded?

You can assess your own achievement – did you put your best efforts into it? Did you improve on previous performance? Have the results (not necessarily final ones) moved you in a direction that is positive? (You’ll notice I don’t say “the right direction”.) If you can say “yes” to these questions, then congratulate yourself! Recognise your achievement and enjoy it!

Tip: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that, if you did it, it can’t be that difficult and therefore isn’t much of an achievement.
 

Change is good!

I used to know someone who insisted on coming back a different way from wherever we went – it drove me batty! I mean, if you’ve just popped to the local shop for the paper, it can be pretty hard to do for one thing. And, like following a routine, it can save you time and effort to do things the same way.

But it can also get you firmly stuck in a rut. And that rut can severely limit your outlook, your options and your enjoyment of life.

Do you know Einstein’s definition of madness that says it’s “doing the same thing the same way and expecting to get a different result”?

Change can be difficult simply because we’ve programmed ourselves a certain way through repetition and, when we lose concentration, we fall back into the old pattern.

It can be difficult because it takes effort.

It can also be difficult because those around us expect the same from us that they’ve always had. They expect us to do the same so we do the same so they expect us to do the same and on and on…….

It can be frightening, too. You so desperately want things to be better, different, more exciting…but what if it all goes wrong? Well, it may but, with careful planning, risks can be managed, pitfalls sidestepped.

And what if it all goes right? Can you really bear to let the opportunity pass you by?

Tip: If you need to change your thinking, change your location. Usually do your thinking flat out on the sofa? Try sitting on the stairs or the edge of the bath or standing in the garden. And remember, a new habit can take 6 weeks to stick so keep at it. Write yourself a reminder or put an everyday object in an unusual place to jog your memory. Just try not to get so used to it being there that it no longer serves its purpose!
 

Are you bored at work?

A bit of song lyric – from Morrissey – “I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I’m miserable now”.

I don’t know if boredom was his problem but I’m sure it is for a lot of people – I’ve talked to plenty of them!

What a waste in an economy that’s in so much trouble. All that energy and creativity leaking away like water from a burst main that no one’s spotted yet when it could and should be being channelled into productive activity.

Picture a world in which everyone works at something that inspires and engages them. Where could we all be if everyone was focusing all their attention and talent on their work?

[Of course that would also require employers to “harvest” all this potential. I’m continually surprised and depressed by the number of firms who implement new or revamped systems without consulting the people who actually worked with the old ones. So often this just throws up a whole new set of problems and costs money instead of saving it.]

Back to boredom though: why are you bored?

Did you somehow fall into a job that you now realise isn’t “you”?

Has a previously satisfactory job morphed into something you wouldn’t have signed up for?

Is it a job you’re over-qualified for but you accepted it for lack of anything better?

Whatever the reason, don’t let yourself be dulled into putting up with it.
Journalist Katherine Whitehorn’s careers advice was “Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.”

What do you love doing? How can you arrange it so that someone pays you to do it?

Tip: Don’t know what you’d really love to do? Start by asking yourself what you’d do if you knew nothing could go wrong.
 

Rise Business Development Circle

I’ve joined forces with my friend, Luanne Hill of Accent on the Positive, to create a new group for women in the early stages of running a business and for those who are wondering if that’s the way forward for them.

So many women who could move their working lives up to a whole new level don’t do it because they don’t feel confident of their ability to present themselves or their ideas, to sell themselves or their product or service.

They often feel that it’s beyond them – that “People like me don’t do that” syndrome – when all that’s needed is some well-placed support.

So we’re aiming to take the best bits of networking – finding people you can collaborate with productively and building a support system – and combining it with training in business basics.

Add to that the natural inclination of women to cooperate and learn from each others’ experience and you’ve got a network strong enough to support its members long-term.

Like to join us? Find out more at www.RiseBusinessCircle.co.uk or contact us:

.uk or 0759 357 9636

Getting creative again.

Apparently, “The average adult thinks of 3-6 alternatives for any given situation. The average child thinks of 60.” And

“Research has shown that in creativity quantity equals quality. The longer the list of ideas, the higher the quality of the final solution. The highest quality ideas appear at the end of the list.” (Linda Naiman, www.creativityatwork.com)

I don’t know about you but I find the first quote depressing and the second liberating.

Why are we so quick to squash imaginative thinking in children? I know that they won’t always come up with entirely practicable answers to problems but must we break them of the habit of unrestricted inventiveness in the name of being “realistic”?

We end up being prone to editing ourselves – often we dismiss ideas as unworkable or silly almost instantaneously, as though embarrassed by their impracticality.

But even ideas that don’t work in themselves can lead on to something that will and, if you pay heed to the second quote and come up with loads and loads of ideas, it’s a fair bet that your brain will generate at least one interesting solution.

I also find that getting all the things that are buzzing round in my head out of it and down on a piece of paper really helps to clear my mind and relieve the stress of feeling that I have to keep it all, good or bad, in case I lose something important.

I’ve said it before, I’m a big fan of Mind Maps (www.thinkbuzan.com/uk) – their ability to pull ideas out of the recesses of your mind always delights me and, a bit like nesting dolls, inside each new idea there are more waiting to be found.

Tip: Before you dismiss your next “silly” idea, examine it for themes or elements that could go somewhere. Or think what the opposite might be or how another person might take it further. It could lead to something really interesting.
 

Feeling good about yourself.

It’s all too easy, sadly, to look at our own achievements and accomplishments and dismiss or undervalue them because we did them. And what other people achieve seems so much more praiseworthy. But, if you learned something that took time and effort, give yourself credit – enjoy the feeling.

By the way, what is that feeling and where is it located in your body? Is it, for example, a nice warm glow in your belly? Is it a feeling that your feet are planted on something solid? Is it in your head? Whatever and wherever, take a moment or two to locate and identify it and then practise making it more intense. Crank it up as high as it will go and wallow in it!

Some other easy ways to feel better:

  •  Say something nice to someone – not so they’ll return the compliment (though they probably will) – but for the pleasure of seeing their pleasure.
  •  Make a list of at least 5 things you’re good at (anything at all from keeping your teeth clean to turning round failing companies), re-read and add to it frequently.
  •  Think of a small challenge, give yourself a done-by date and do it. Congratulate yourself!
  • Here’s one that needs just a bit more effort: ask people what they value about you & ask them to write down the results – preferably with evidence so you can’t tell yourself they’re “just saying it”! (It’s critical here to remember what I said last week about other people’s areas of expertise.) Re-read it frequently and enjoy it!

Tip: Pick an item (or 2 or 3) from one of your lists and make a point of keeping it in mind as you walk, lift your chin till it’s parallel with the ground, put your shoulders back and look the world in the eye. Make it a habit.
 

Why do we let other people tell us what’s right for us?

We can’t, of course, know everything. And, especially in the early years, we need someone to stop us from, say, eating soap or putting our heads between bars. But then we slide into the habit of feeling that certain people routinely know more/better than we do and we doubt our own understanding. We give them an authority they don’t necessarily possess.

Don’t just take it for granted that other people know better – they will have their own areas of expertise but that doesn’t make them all-knowing. And you are the one who knows you best.

Teachers will often tell us that we’re “good” at this or “not good” at that and it may or may not be true. A far more important question to answer first is how good are they at teaching us? We all have different learning preferences and, if these are missed or ignored, we’ll struggle to learn things that we could absorb more easily with a different approach.

If we’re left to feel that we’ve “failed” at something, it saps our confidence not only in that area but also our belief in our ability to learn anything else and that limits our lives.

It’s not often that someone can give you entirely disinterested advice – their view is too often coloured by what seems acceptable or achievable to them: ask people for their input by all means but bear in mind that they’re usually answering for themselves – not for you.

Tip: Find the confidence to challenge others’ view of the world, see if you can find another way to learn what you want to know and remember that your life is yours to direct as you see fit.
 

(Next week: Part 2 – how to boost your confidence.)
 

Designing your future

Why is the name of my coaching practice Design the Future?

Partly because designing the future is what coaching is about and partly to remind myself and others how important it is to plan actively for our futures and not just let someone else send us in whatever direction best fits their agenda.

I look back and think what a tragically amenable child I was (and that’s me putting a good spin on it!), always taking it that adults and teachers knew best. Just one example: I wanted to spend some of my 6th-form “free” periods learning to type. The Senior Mistress looked witheringly at me and said, “You don’t need to type – you’re going to university.”

Well, quite apart from the fact that, at university, I had to produce my dissertation in German and typed which was difficult and expensive, as we all now know the world is centred around the keyboard.

And what business of hers was it to direct my life based on her academic snobbery rather than what interested me?

We owe it to ourselves to pursue our own happiness: however well-meaning other peoples’ advice might be, they aren’t the ones who are going to have to live the consequences of it on a daily basis.

You don’t have to do it with a coach – although, of course, I think coaching gives you advantages it’s hard to find in any one other place.

If you’re going to make the best choices, you need someone who will really listen to you, someone to give you objective feedback on your ideas and someone who can lead you to insights you might otherwise have missed while focussing on you as a talented and capable individual.

With coaching or without, plan for your success and take action to achieve it.
 

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