About Gratitude

Modern life is quite busy and fast paced. Today we may conceive of a new idea, take an important decision or tell ourselves to adopt a new habit. But tomorrow we may find ourselves forgetting why we decided to do any of this in the first place.

It’s good practice to regularly remind ourselves of why we are doing what we are doing. Exciting goals can become stale and pointless habits unless we maintain the ‘flame’, the connection to our deeper ‘why’. Hence the importance of committing our goals to paper. Many coaches will tell you to ‘write your goal down, or it didn’t happen’, as the mind is quite inventive in shifting and changing anything you haven’t put in writing.

The main reason we set goals is because we expect to derive success, satisfaction and happiness from achieving them. However all too often when a goal is reached, we are not satisfied. We are left longing for more, or wondering if we could have done better. Prof Steve Peters gives a remarkable example of this in his excellent book ‘The Chimp Paradox’. Athletes who set themselves the goal of breaking the world record, sometimes show little satisfaction after achieving it. They will say things like “Well this is not a good world record, this is just a weak world record“!

A bigger goal is usually broken down into smaller goals, so called ‘milestones’ in order to make achieving it more manageable. E.g. if your goal is to make £10000 of sales each month, then it’s useful to know how many sales this corresponds with per working day, or even per working hour.

Once an important milestone has been achieved, it is important to celebrate it. Celebrations are best agreed in advance to ensure they take place. ‘When I lose 2kg, I will treat myself to a cinema visit. When I finish writing the first chapter of my book, I will open this bottle of wine I was gifted. When I will have worked at least two hours non stop, I will allow myself 30 minutes of playing my favourite video game. Etc.

When you celebrate achieving your milestones, two things are happening:

  • you teach your brain to be grateful for these achievements rather than normalizing them and taking them for granted
  • You remind yourself of the value and importance of your overall goal

In order to create a mindset of gratitude for what you are accomplishing, rather than discontent for the things you could have done better, there are a few things that can be of great help. You can start your day with a 5 minute gratitude meditation as soon as you wake up (there are plenty of Youtube videos or scripts you can find online for this). Or you can end the day by writing down three things you were grateful for today.

Remember, gratitude is not a finite resource. If you had a disastrous day and can’t think of anything to be grateful for, then think of your day on a higher, more abstract level. Are you still alive? Are you (relatively) healthy? Are you able to put food on the table? Are you still loved by someone, whether it’s your spouse, children or anyone else? Then you have reasons to be grateful for. 

Are You Functioning, or Languishing?

Until recently, most coaching models have been focusing on creating high individual and team performance and helping people to increase their motivation to take action. Seldom was much consideration given to the effects of that singular focus on our mental health and wellbeing.

The coaching world is now catching up with the reality that focusing on high performance without considering our wellbeing, is looking for trouble. Research suggests that an obsession with performance without taking wellbeing into account, often leads to burnout, stress and low morale. Similarly, people who are stressed out or burned out don’t perform well at work.

It is therefore evident that in order to perform well at work, you need to look after your mental wellbeing. Mental resilience can help you cope with (and recover from) adversity and setbacks. If you are prepared to push yourself one step further, you will be able to develop mental toughness. Developing this skill will equip you to actively seek out challenges and prepare for them, rather than passively coping with them as they come. It will also equip you to actively strive to expand your comfort zone.

Learning to manage your anxiety is a crucial skill in developing resilience and toughness. There is no point sanitizing your environment in order to banish stress and challenges. Stress is an unavoidable ingredient of modern life, where the ancient reflexes of fight, flight or ‘freeze’ are not always doing service to the complexities we are experiencing in our daily existence. They key is in preparing to deal with a healthy amount of stress, rather than completely avoiding it.

Keyes (2007) and Grant (2012) have developed a model which is helpful in assessing where we are on that spectrum of mental wellbeing versus performance (you can read more details in this paper). The figure below gives an outline of their model:

The key to high wellbeing is to be functioning rather than languishing. Functioning can take two forms:

  • coasting, whereby we are not highly engaged or actively striving to achieve goals, yet feel good about ourselves. For example when we are chatting with colleagues, surfing on social media before making a phone call or daydreaming at our desk in between meetings.
  • flourishing, where our goal striving and engagement are high in such a way that we feel positively challenged, focused and in control, e.g. when we are in the flow of a professional conversation, a smooth sales transaction or an artistic creation.

Spending most of our working time coasting or flourishing, will keep your mental wellbeing at high levels. The aforementioned skills of mental resilience and especially mental toughness, will help you tackle challenges and adversity in an appropriate way, while keeping your anxiety levels at bay.

You Don’t Need Motivation, You Need Commitment

I’m willing to place a bet that every single day, you are doing a number of things that don’t particularly fire you up. Consider the following questions:

  • Do you wake up every day motivated to be at work on time?
  • Are you jumping with joy whenever you embark on another trip to the supermarket for your weekly groceries?
  • Does the thought of preparing a meal always fill you with enthusiasm?

Chances are, you do most of these things anyway whether you are ‘in the mood’ or not:

  • You are at work on time, because you need the money, don’t bear the stare of your supervisor or don’t want to lose that client you have worked so hard to get
  • You go to the supermarket regardless of your motivation, because you want to ensure that there is food available in the house whenever you need it
  • You prepare a meal because you don’t like being hungry

Why then do so many people expect to be motivated before they take any action? How may times haven’t you heard someone complaining that they would have gone running if it wasn’t for the rain, they would have worked on their business if they didn’t suddenly feel that tired, they would have made that phone call to the customer, if it weren’t for the fact they were in a bad mood after the previous call…

Maybe you are telling yourself similar things from time to time? In truth, if you want to implement a goal or a plan to create new habits, whether these are to go running every morning, to cook wholesome food or to work every day for 30 minutes on your business, you don’t need motivation, but commitment.

Commitment is the result of higher purpose. If that purpose is clear and you have decided that the planned change will have a significant impact on your life (e.g. I’m running every morning so that I stay in good physical health, which in turn will have a positive impact on my mental health; I cook wholesome food because I want to live longer and maintain good health; I work on my business every day because I want to be able to sell it and retire in five years time…) then you will be more likely to regularly remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing and end up creating habits which incorporate positive, purposeful behaviours in your daily routine.

You don’t need motivation to achieve your objectives. You can still go for a run in the rain, practice that new piece on the piano just before going to sleep, work on your business between clients or cook a meal from scratch even when you are unmotivated. You will find ways of doing all these things regularly as long as you are committed to achieve your goals.

If you don’t manage to take action on your goals today, you know that you will give it another go tomorrow, because a temporary setback doesn’t affect your commitment. When this commitment is the result of an alignment between your vision, purpose, goals and everyday actions, then you will always find ways of renewing it and you will keep showing up.

Freedom Is About Being In Charge Of Your Time

In the coaching and mentoring circles I frequent, I am often told by marketing gurus that being self-employed is the essence of being free. All you need to do is give up your job, start your own business and you will get immediately a taste of personal freedom and unlimited potential for abundance.

As a former small business owner and currently part-time solopreneur, I know that this is not the case (and I’m sure you know that too). As a business start-up, chances are that you will have felt a bit overwhelmed, more busy than you would like, and likely less financially abundant than within your last employment. There is no job security and financial stability to give you an immediate sense of freedom and of being in control of your destiny.

The reason you stick with your business and your passion, despite knowing all of the above, is the potential you see for gradually building your own freedom. You know that persisting with what you love doing will make the sacrifices, stress and sleepless nights worthwhile.

Likewise, the same gurus will also tell you that ’employment is slavery’ and that, if you are employed, your biggest concern right now should be to ditch your job as soon as possible and start your own business. This point of view assumes that everyone hates their job and that employment is a necessary source of oppression, discontent and drudgery.

There are of course employed people who feel exactly this way. Some of them are relatively new in employment and still finding their way. Others are stuck in a rut in dead-end jobs of which they don’t know how to get out. However, this is certainly not the case for everyone in employment. Many people enjoy the stability, the social networks built around work teams, and the flexibility which is often part of certain job roles.

Personally, I work a few days days a week as team leader for an organization which is supporting vulnerable people in need. It’s a rewarding job, where I have control over significant aspects of my role, overtime is not a regular expectation and it helps me use my coaching skills in a structured environment, where I feel I am making the difference.

In the real world, away from the area of interest of gurus obsessed with the minority of us who are prepared to do what it takes to dabble with 7 figures (apparently 6 figure businesses are so 2010…), most of us are likely to strike a balance between some sort of employment or freelancing work and the solopreneurial hustle of a small business. And one of the things we will learn with time is that freedom is not a ‘thing’, but a process of being you create over time through learning from mistakes, trial-and-error and life experience.

Achieving freedom is about doing what you love and being in control of the hours you are working (whether you decided you will work 10, or 60 hours a week). It is about being in control of your time. It is no coincidence that having a sense of freedom about our lives, is usually something that most of us achieve later in life. It is the result of the complete alignment of our vision, our values, our goals and our daily actions and habits. This alignment will shape our identity as a ‘free’ person, which will in turn lead to freedom.

We Are Robots, Not Humans

The title of this article, are the literal words of the line manager of Shona Hirons, which were spoken to her when she was being reprimanded after having made a mistake at work. Working for a highly competitive law firm, Shona was told that people in her position are not allowed to make mistakes. Just like robots, it is expected that they always provide a flawless performance.

Shona had sent an email to the wrong person after an exhausting 80 hour work week. The email didn’t contain any confidential information, but she was still suspended and reprimanded because ‘it could have’.

This was not the only incident during her law career. Shona was constantly made to feel that she shouldn’t be too ambitious, as women should be at home raising children, instead of competing with men at the workplace. After a serious cycling accident which forced her to work part-time, she was told that she shouldn’t expect any sympathy and that she was still expected to get as much work done as a full-time member of staff in her part-time hours.

Shona has since turned her life around. She gave up her job and started her own coaching business. She runs her own gym, writes books and gives public talks. But the burnout she experienced after years at a thankless, pressured and toxic work environment, is not something she is likely to forget.

In the interview I conducted with Shona, we find out what made her The Bionic Woman. Her story is one of strength, determination and a personal mindset which has turned from negative in the past, to unrelentingly positive in the present:

  • Born premature and her dad was told by a consultant that there is no hope for her
  • As a result of being prematurely born, she had a hole in her heart, and surgery to fix this life threatening issue
  • Suffered from severe burnout at work
  • Had a life changing cycling accident
  • She is a cancer survivor

Yet she is here to tell us her story, and how she turned her life around through relentlessly working on her mindset…for she is the Bionic Woman!

Index of topics discussed:

02:06 How Shona came to be The Bionic Woman (she is more metal than bones!)

11:53 How Shona overcame her own burnout and what she advises others who are stuck in a career that sucks away their joy and happiness (and how she was advised that she is not a human, but a robot!)

28:25 What is male menopause and should I worry about it as a man? Do we understand enough about how menopause affects the career of female professionals and CEOs?

37:12 Is midlife crisis a thing? Do Blue Mondays and Seasonal Affective Disorders affect everyone?

39:12 What drives Shona to write books and take on public speaking engagements? Do the struggles of Katie Price represent the struggles of the average professional woman?

49:19 a practical demonstration of how ANYONE can create time for exercise in their daily routine! We can all create positive habits that work for us.

Start Taking Action To Make Your Fear Disappear

We are conditioned to believe that our fear is the result of things we do. This makes intuitively sense, but does the statement hold the whole truth when we look into it in more detail?

At first sight, it sounds self-explanatory. Just think of the title of the classic self-help book ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’. The implication here is that fear is a given when taking action, so you might as well get on with it and do things. We are also often referring to our comfort zone and how doing anything that takes us out of it, creates fear (I discussed this topic in a previous article)

But how often do we really do things in our lives which are out of the ordinary? Well, not as often as the times we feel fear or anxiety. Can you think of the last time you felt fearful in your life? Did it happen yesterday, last week, last month?

Perhaps you started feeling unease when your partner didn’t come home at the usual time, without notifying you of the delay. Maybe you were worried when the cat threw up excessively, or anxious of an upcoming Zoom call at work. It’s possible you felt dread expecting a call or email from an unhappy client, or felt butterflies when you were about to make a sales call.

If you are an insomnia sufferer, you might often feel fearful when going to bed, expecting another long, restless night. As an artist, you will regularly feel stage fright, and sometimes be fearful of people’s reaction when you are about to complete a new piece of art.

None of the above examples are rare or extraordinary. Not many of them imply any behaviours that take you out of your comfort zone. They do have one thing in common, which is shared by all experiences of fear; they all start with a thought: the thought that something might be wrong with your partner, as they should be home by now; that the cat might be seriously ill; that you will feel awkward at the Zoom call; that the client will make you feel bad, ashamed, incompetent and so on.

Fear is not always the result of action. In fact, action is often the very thing that removes the thought that creates the fear. Making a call or sending a text to your partner to check they are ok; committing to observe the cat’s behaviour to ensure the vomiting was one-off; preparing yourself sufficiently for the Zoom call and deciding to be in control of your reactions at the meeting; anticipating the client’s pain points, getting in touch first to apologize rather than waiting for them to call or email, clearing up any misunderstandings and getting the record straight…those are all behaviours that are likely to make your fear disappear, or at the very least reduce it.

Our minds favour a sense of control, and fear arises from the thought of losing control. So start by taking control of your thoughts in the first place. Keep a daily journal of thoughts that create fear, and reflect on them. Once you start analyzing them, you will find that they are usually exaggerations based on no evidence at all, other than your anticipated fear and failure.

Why I Would Prefer a Magic Penny to Three Million (and You Should Too)

In his classic book ‘The Compound Effect’ Darren Hardy describes how the key to long-term success lays in small everyday decisions and positive actions that are repeated consistently.

He gives a hypothetical example of having the choice of either accepting three million dollars now, or being given a magic penny that multiplies every single day for a month (31 days in total). Most of us would intuitively choose the hard cash over the magic penny, as it sounds like the better deal, right?

In reality, if your friend was to choose the cash and you the magic penny, they would feel for most of that month that they had the better deal, as your penny increases in value painstakingly slow. But then, on day 30, magic would happen. The value of your penny would have suddenly overtaken the three million dollar mark, and on day 31 you will end up with over three times the amount your friend has.

Such is the power of the compound effect of daily positive actions, when done consistently over time. There is no magic formula for achieving success on the longer term. It’s the result of a big number of small, seemingly insignificant decisions you are taking on a day-to-day basis.

  • “Shall I surf the web, or practice on my instrument for the next 30 minutes?”
  • “Will I make that call to the prospective client now, or ‘tomorrow is another day’?
  • “Shall I use the time allocated for working on my business this morning, or will I instead deal with these emails and calls waiting to be answered?”
  • “One last snack, or brushing my teeth?”
  • “Going for a walk, or taking a nap and waking up drowsy?”

Choose wisely, for the compound effect of your day-to-day decisions will be the difference between achieving your dreams and just plodding along in three or five years’ time.

What is Your One Thing?

In his seminal book The One Thing, Gary Keller states that success is the result of narrowing your concentration on one thing. Success is the result of discipline, and discipline is created by consistently doing what needs to be done.

My 70-year old neighbour is in the swimming pool by 5am, swimming 14 rounds every single day. After that, he goes walking for his 10000 steps a day. He was never a top athlete, neither does he intend to participate in competitive sport any time soon. But his main mission is staying fit and healthy and feeling good in his body as he enters the eighth decennium of his life. And he has decided that consistently swimming and walking these numbers is what he needs to do in order to achieve his goals.

Team sportsmen and sportswomen who desire long professional careers, are usually the first to come to the training ground, and the last ones to leave. While many of their colleagues are enjoying their summer holidays, they spend hours in the gym improving their strength and stamina and working on the areas they know they need to improve or maintain in order to keep going.

Successful authors write one or more pages every single day, whether they are motivated or not, whether they feel they are creating quality or not. They understand that to keep doing what needs to be done, is more important than worrying about quality.

Coaches and therapists who have managed long careers, practice their skills every single day. They hold individual and group sessions with existing clients, engage in conversations with potential clients, discuss techniques with colleagues or work on their self-development by attending seminars, courses and reading relevant books. All of the above helps them to maintain their skills, entice new clients and stay relevant and at the top of their game in an ever changing world.

My mum has been running a beauty business for over 30 years, but after a long working day she regularly surfs the web looking for new techniques to improve her skills, researches the effects of skincare products and follows the technological advancements in her industry. This has helped her to become a recognized expert in her area.

What all of the above professionals and non-professionals have in common, is clarity about their one thing: they have figured out what is important in their lives right now and what they need to do in order to achieve it. Therefore, they are doing it consistently and relentlessly every single day. It’s not always fun and they are not always motivated; but once they have figured out what needs to be done, they know that repetition is key to continue delivering the performance that is needed to get the results they want.

They understood that in order to become good at what they want, they need to become what they want. A writer writes every single day. A footballer kicks a ball about every single day. The act of consistently writing makes someone a writer, and the act of consistently kicking a ball around makes someone a footballer.

How about you? What is your one thing? Have you figured out what needs to be done, and are you doing it consistently every single day?

What Type of Imposter are You?

The Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents and accomplishments. It is accompanied by a persistent fear of feeling exposed as a fraud, and feelings of self-doubt. These feelings are not always there. Typically they come and go, regardless of the success you are already experiencing.

I know of coaches working with high executives who have an arrogant persona to the outside world, but in one-to-one meetings express the sentiment that they too feel like a fraud. It’s important to recognize that the Imposter Syndrome is the result of thinking. You will experience it as a feeling, but that feeling is just the outcome of some unconscious thought about the nature of the world you live in and how you should be doing things. This thinking can be divided in several types (Nada Elawdan, 2020):

• PERFECTIONIST

Perfectionists often set impossibly high standards for themselves that they often cannot reach. They will feel inadequate if they cannot achieve every goal, excel at every skill, or check off every task. Any setback can result in self-doubt, excessive worry, or feelings of incompetence. No matter their level of success, it will never feel satisfying.

• SUPERMAN/SUPERWOMAN

Supermen/superwomen push themselves to work harder than those around them just to prove themselves. They set high expectations that they need to measure up to. These high expectations can include taking on too much responsibility, work obligations, and family tasks. They feel the need to do it all; otherwise, they are a fraud. There is a need to succeed in all aspects of their lives.

• NATURAL GENIUS

Natural geniuses believe that their self-worth is tied to how naturally they pick up a skill. They often view themselves as an imposter if skills do not come easily to them, or if they have to exert more effort to be proficient. They struggle to begin something or grow insecure if it takes a long time to succeed. If natural geniuses are not good enough from the start, they might even abandon that activity due to shame or embarrassment.

• SOLOIST

A soloist feels they must always accomplish tasks independently. Soloists view themselves as failures or frauds if they ask for assistance. They believe that they can achieve everything alone without help from others. Asking for help fills them with feelings of shame, embarrassment, or incompetence. Soloists value their sense of worth by their level of autonomy and independence.

• EXPERT

Experts believe that before they begin anything, they must know everything going in. They continuously seek new certifications, information, or training throughout their lives to improve their competency. Experts measure their self-worth by how much they know. No matter how much information they know or how skilled they are, this group will continuously feel unprepared, unknowledgeable, or inexperienced.

If I am completely honest to myself, I will need to admit that in my earlier years, I was a soloist. I believed that I should figure out everything by myself, without any help or interference. Needless to say, this didn’t work out and I learned the hard way the value of asking for help or working together with others in order to achieve a goal. I think this often goes together with the natural genius, in the sense that there is an underlying belief that you should be naturally good at certain things, and therefore able to do them all by yourself.

How about you? What type of imposter are you? Do you recognize yourself, or people around you, in any of these types?

What if some values are better than others?

Earlier this week, I cheekily asked in my Facebook group whether people thought their values, attitudes and beliefs are superior to those of others. As expected, I noticed some head scratching, stunned silence and quiet outrage as a result.

Most of us live in a Western world where our current ‘post-modern’ values system dictates that we hold all values as equal to each other. We cannot, we think, say that some values are better than others, because they should all be equally respected.

In a world where there are many truths, and none of them is more ‘true’ than others, we should all get on with each other, and accept each other’s values as equally valid, regardless of how wildly different and contradictory they are to ours. Right? However, consider the following scenario’s:

  • Would you genuinely consider someone’s racist, sexist or ableist values system as equal to yours?
  • As an ethical business owner, would you accept that a multinational oil trust or tobacco company, which put profit above the environment or people’s health and wellbeing, can continue their destructive activities because their values are deserving of equal respect?
  • Would you say to someone who is telling you that they hate your way of living and ‘corrupt’ Western values and would like to destroy them, that you respect their views because they are as valid as yours?

It is perfectly acceptable to consider some values better than others. This doesn’t mean that people with different values systems should be met with hostility and aggression.

As a person with superior values (obviously!) you can accept that values systems evolve, not only throughout history, but also during someone’s lifetime. We are all born as self-centered narcissists, but (hopefully) most of us learn, mature and develop our value systems throughout life.

Understanding that values evolve and can change, can only fill us with compassion, understanding and patience for those whose values seem (self-)destructive, hostile and contradictory. And having attitudes, beliefs and values which promote understanding and love can only be a good thing, right?

Some food for thought right there!