Practising self-care

What is self-care?

A worldwide pandemic, and coaching work with several people directly dealing with Covid 19, has got me thinking a lot about self-care. Self-care is an all-encompassing umbrella term for any activity we undertake that proactively looks after our mental, emotional and physical health. One definition says appropriately given current circumstances: “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress”.

Self-care isn’t a selfish act either. It is not only about considering our needs; it is rather about knowing what we need to do in order to take care of ourselves, that allows us to take care of others as well. If I don’t take enough care of myself, I won’t be in the place to give to either my loved ones or my clients. This is a challenge for me, having grown up in a house with a teacher and a nurse as parents, whose philosophy was do things for other people first and then look after yourself; this contemporary idea of self-care is a role reversal of putting others first.

Practicing self-care isn’t always easy. The speed of the modern world, the stress we have in busy lives at work and at home can all mitigate against the need to take time to ourselves. We talk about the idea of “work life balance” but in practice overwork or lack of work-life balance can make people less productive, disorganised and emotionally depleted. In coaching practice self-care comes up time and time again with clients; clients who run businesses and struggle with work-life balance, clients who are senior Managers in organisations dealing with huge pressure due to Covid, clients stuck doing jobs they don’t enjoy but have got boxed in by the salary expectations, or people operating at a senior level in organisations, where they have little “hinterland” of other interests outside of work.

Self-care is a close cousin of personal resilience, which I have written about, along with other “cousins” like self-compassion and meditation/mindfulness practice.

What does it look like?

Universal wisdom seems to indicate that self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you should treat it as such.

The sort of areas that it includes are:

  • Physical self-care: eating healthily and regularly (as well as taking time to eat rather than on the run), taking regular exercise and getting enough sleep
  • Psychological self-care: taking time for self-reflection, trying out new things unrelated to work or writing in a journal for example
  • Emotional self-care: spending time with loved ones and friends that fill the emotional reservoir, allowing time for comforting activities (and knowing what these are for oneself), or practising self-compassion through things like affirmations or mindfulness
  • Workplace self-care: taking breaks during the work day, making quiet time to complete tasks, or getting regular supervision and/or peer support from work colleagues

It also includes things like being organised and on top of things, so you can allow yourself the space to prioritise and focus on important tasks; to be fair its always challenging working with clients where in fact they are really quite organised, but the team or the wider organisation they are working in has too much on and/or in crisis.

It could also include holding onto boundaries where we draw imaginary lines around ourselves to maintain balance and protect our bodies, minds, emotions, and time from the behaviour or demands of others, that allow us some of our own space.

Coaching Tools for self-care

  • SELF CARE ACTION PLAN TEMPLATE; a simple 6 step action plan that takes you through steps of how well you look after yourself, the areas of physical, emotional and workplace self care to help you generate ideas for changes and review questions to help you sustain changes
  • Self-Care Assessment: an overall self care assessment that gives you an idea of how well you score in a range of self care areas like physical self-care, emotional self-care and workplace self-care
  • HEALTH CHECK example: using a simple “dashboard” for a client to focus on areas they want to review progress on; what’s going well, what isn’t working and any changes that might need to be made
  • Coaching Review questionairre 2020 Used as a review for people in coaching work, but works just as well as a stand alone self-care review: a detailed questionairre that enables you to assess your progress on a periodic basis including areas like career, finance, health and development.
  • Tolerations: Sometimes when people are feeling out of control just being able to tick or give attention and deal with bits and pieces on the list helps. This is a list of “100 tolerations” to review

Other resources

A series of “TED” talks on the importance of self care; there are some excellent talks here

Getting the best from Coaching work

Getting the best from Coaching; a client perspective

This is an article for existing clients and potential new clients to give them some ideas on what coaching is, what to expect from it and how to get the best from the coaching experience. This is based on many years of working with a myriad of different clients with different needs from different sectors. I strive wholeheartedly to make the coaching experience a positive and fulfilling one for clients, aiming to emotionally intuit as well as rationally think the ways that individuals get the best from the coaching experience.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a form of learning where a coach supports a client to undergo learning and personal growth in a way that benefits them. Coaching is normally a series of conversations one person has with another at a series of sessions, as well as some contact in between (this depends on how the coach works: I encourage some contact in between sessions to help motivation as they are often 3-4 weeks apart). The coach intends to create conversations that will benefit the client in a way that is cathartic to their learning and progress, buts its very much a “dual alliance” between client and coach.

My favourite definition of coaching is by Julie Starr: “Coaching is a conversation with a purpose, also a space where someone can think through what is going on for them and an opportunity to do ‘great thinking’’. One of the key principles that separates it from therapy or counselling is that the client is in a resourceful state. He or she has not come to be ‘fixed’ but has the ability to resolve his or her own situation with the support of the coach. Coaching is about change. Its purpose is to help the client become more effective in whatever they are working on.

In terms of the length of coaching work, whilst the requirements for each project should be considered on a case by case basis, coaching focuses on some specific challenges and typically a coaching relationship lasts for 6-8 sessions over several months with sessions being typically 4 weekly apart. In some cases the client can re-engage the coach to do some follow up coaching periodically over a longer term.

Why do people have coaching?

People enlist the services of a coach because they want to learn new ways of thinking through and approaching situations.

A coach uses a combination of observation, questioning, listening and feedback to create a conversation that’s rich in insight and learning. For the client they typically develop a greater self awareness and appreciation of their own circumstances along with a willingness to be proactive and undertake actions. In addition, they will also create new ways to resolve issues, produce better results and generally achieve their goals more easily.

Common benefits people experience from coaching include:

  • Improved sense of direction and focus
  • Increased knowledge of self/self-awareness
  • Improved ability to relate to and influence others
  • Increased motivation and “follow through” on things
  • Improved personal effectiveness
  • Increased resourcefulness/resilience, e.g. ability to handle change

What you can expect from me as your Coach

The role of a coach provides a kind of support distinct from any other. I aim to focus solely on your situation with the kind of attention and commitment that you wouldn’t get in day to day interactions with people. I will listen to you, with a genuine curiosity to understand who you are, what you think and generally how you experience the world. During conversations, I will encourage you to rise to challenges (and sometimes challenge you!), overcome obstacles and move into action.

Because the relationship is based on trust and openness, the content of our discussions will be confidential. Where a third party (perhaps an employer) has initially requested the coaching for you, I will agree with you the best way for us to keep them updated but not any of the confidential content of the sessions.

I do ask that at the start of each piece of coaching work that we agree a coaching plan and contract. This sets out the main objectives of the coaching work, as well as the way we are going to work together. It is also important for us to review progress at the mid-point to assess if coaching is achieving the desired outcomes, and any alternative interventions that could be offered.

What I as a Coach expect from you

I look for you to stay committed to the coaching process. That means showing up for sessions (face to face or virtual), taking your own notes where appropriate (though I always write up and send an overview of the session and actions) and to keep any agreements you make during sessions.

I look for you to be open to the potential of coaching. That means contributing to conversations openly and honestly. For example, if something isn’t working, I need to know. If you have concerns or problems, it is important to voice them. The strength and power of coaching relates strongly to the level of openness and trust between us.

I hope for clients to develop a blend of strengths to help coaching work (with my support) that includes things like building self-awareness, the ability to challenge self, to set goals and take action, to be persistent and to work on your self-belief to move forward.

Some tips on getting the best from the Coaching experience as a client

Based on several years of client experience:

  • Don’t “back end” actions if you can possibly help it; some of the clients I have worked with (where coaching has worked best) have booked time out/ set time aside every week to both work on actions from previous sessions and/or reflect on the coaching work and any changes they need to make
  • Consider creating a Coaching journal; several clients have done this and find it enhances the learning and the follow through from sessions. This can be as simple as buying a new notebook that you write things in during a typical week. One client I worked with found time at the end of a working week to use the writing as a reflective process to look at progress on the areas they were working on
  • Encourage informal 360 feedback from others around you. 360 feedback is a formal HR tool that is used in many organisations formally, but it doesn’t have to be onerous to do informally. One client I am working with asked these simple questions of others they worked with as colleagues: Have you noticed any difference in me and the way that I work since xx date? Can you offer one example of something I do that you appreciate and would like me to build on? Can you offer one example of something I do that you find unhelpful and that you would like me to do differently? Is there any other feedback you would like to take this opportunity to give?
  • When you have a session coming up, ask yourself what you want from the session; what would make it a really good session? (see example preparation template below). Sometimes coaching happens “in the moment” but sometimes it is about thinking something through beforehand that you want to bring up; one client writes and sends through a reflective piece in preparation for the session a few days beforehand that we use to reflect on during the session
  • Take time out for your own review of your progress perhaps a few sessions into the project; how do you think the coaching is going? What is working for you? What are you struggling with? Is there anything you would like me to do differently? (see below possible templates to help support this)
  • Go back periodically to the Coaching plan you set out at the start of the coaching work; how far do you think you have come since then? Are your overall objectives the same or different since the start of the coaching work? (they often change during the coaching project)
  • Are there any learning resources or “coaching tools” you have picked up along the way that you have found illuminating and useful? These might be things like Psychometric tests, career review exercises or psychological exercises around areas like self-confidence; it might be worth creating a Learning folder for these to come back to at periodic intervals in the future. For example, it could be helpful to understand how behaviour change works for individuals through something like the “stages of change” (or transtheoretical) model to help understand that recidivism or slipping back is inherent in any change process before we break through to make sustainable change
  • Remember the cost-reward ratio; a client said to me recently of coaching: “what you get out of it depends on what you put into it”

Possible processes and paperwork that may help

I know that coaching processes and paperwork aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I have had plenty of coaching projects that have involved nothing other than a Coaching plan/contract and session notes. However, processes and paperwork can help at times to structure things a little as milestones of progress or reflective learning.

General forms

COACHING PREPARATION FORM: a simple reflective exercise that encourages to think about whats happened since last session; positives., challenges and any particular focus for the session coming up

Blank Reflection Note a simple reflection process of some key questions about an experience and what you have learnt

Overall Coaching project review approaches

These are a few approaches to stepping away from the day to day work of coaching, and reflecting on overall progress:

WHAT HAS CHANGED FOR ME IN COACHING: This is a simple review template that provides an opportunity to reflect on where you are as a coaching client by looking back to when you started, where you are now, and what challenges still remain

Coaching Review questionairre 2020: a detailed questionairre that enables you to assess your progress on a periodic basis including areas like career, finance, health and development.

Tolerations: Sometimes when people are feeling out of control just being able to tick or give attention and deal with bits and pieces on the list helps. This is a list of “100 tolerations” to review



Values elicitation exercise

Values Elicitation Triangles (VETS)  

A fellow Coach Christine Doubleday introduced this to our Coaching Network group recently as part of a CPD slot. I have seen a lot of values exercises over the years, but really liked the way this particular approach helps distill down to a core concept of what is important to us.

The basic premise is that an investigation of values can be useful where an individual is struggling to make strategic life-career or business decisions. Greater clarity of values can help direct their choices and afford them some assurance of a degree of coherence in their strategy. This exercise helps individuals drill down to core values.


  1. Values. Brainstorm a list of six or eight important values. Some clients may find it difficult to respond to a straight question, “what are your values?” Some may find it difficult to relate to the term “values”. It may be better to ask a question such as “can you think of some words that describe what’s most important to you?” Some may find it easier to choose from a standard list. It is not important at this stage what these terms actually mean
  2. The first triangle. Choose the three most significant words from your list and mark these on each corner of a large triangle drawn on a sheet of paper. Having chosen three, the other words on the list are now not relevant any more (though you may find them cropping up again later in the exercise – this is also ok). Again, if a Coach is working through the exercise with a client it doesn’t matter what the coach thinks these three words mean. The individual will have their own meaning.
  3. The second triangle. Mark a point halfway along each edge of the triangle and write next to it a word which ‘connects’ the two words at the points of the triangle. Say you have an initial triangle with the points labelled “honesty”, “wealth”, “people”. You are now asking, “what one word can you use to describe how honesty and wealth are connected?” This word is written at the point half way between “honesty” and “wealth” along the edge of the triangle. When there is a word halfway along each edge of the triangle, the three points can be joined to make a smaller triangle within the original triangle.
  4. The third triangle. Repeat stage 3, and so on. In our worked example, you will be looking for what word connects “communication” and “innovation”; “innovation” and “service”; “service” and “communication”. Remember, it doesn’t matter what the coach thinks these words mean, though it might be worth asking for an explanation, if it helps the client move forward. You can keep constructing smaller and smaller triangles until you find that the words are being repeated, or that it becomes impossible to generate new words; once this is done …
  5. The core concept … find a word which sits in the very middle of the triangle.
    Different people will use very different vocabulary and may use words that don’t look to you like “values”. Remember that it’s only the individuals’s thinking that counts.

To makes things a bit easier, I have created a simple template, Values elicitation exercise to help the individual to work through the different stages. I have only put 2 sets of triangles which probably suffice, but you can create additional triangles if needed.

Prioritising time

Prioritising time

“Those who make the worst of their time most complain about its shortness.” – La Bruyere

There must be plenty of research into how our lives have changed, and the effects of the speed at which we live our lives in today’s world. Daily life is full of hassles, and stress has become the modern way of life; most of us even think it’s the normal way to get things done.

This is true in the workplace, where  in truth, most of us could get through any day of a working week purely responding and reacting to things that come our way, rather than being proactive and choosing what we do. One of my completely unscientific questions to individuals I work with is to ask them how many emails they receive a day; most answer that its in excess of 80, and for many its approaching 100 (even if in those, there are some that are “spam” and easy to delete). There are some people that we come across though, who seem to manage well, with a sense of calm, and not at the mercy of rushed agendas, and last minute crises.

The key question for us all is how much can we do about this? How much of it is the organisation or system in which we operate, and how much can we as individuals have a say? Can we slow things down in order to get what we need to get done, or at least buy ourselves time for some prioritising of what needs to happen. Some people I come across feel trapped within the team and wider organisation they are working in, and sense they have little freedom to flex. However stressed the team is though, I do feel we can all improve our own time management through better planning, prioritising, delegating, controlling our environment (rather than always the other way around), understanding ourselves and identifying what we will change about our habits, routines and attitude.

The key to successful time management is planning and then protecting the planned time. People say that they have no time do not plan, or fail to protect planned time. If you plan what to do and when, and then stick to it, then you will have time. This involves conditioning, or re-conditioning you and your environment.

An “imperfect example”

I am careful not to set myself up as an examplar here, but it provides one example of an approach to try and be proactive around how I work.

Running a 2 person business is a real challenge, as you inevitably have to be a salesman, deliverer, accountant, general dogsbody (photocopying packs for courses comes to mind!), administrator and strategic thinker all rolled into one….On a good day, its “vive la difference” and a love of the diversity of what the day could bring; on a bad day, its trying to work out why Outlook wont send emails out, trying to get to grips with the finer points of an Excel spreadsheet or a cash flow forecast; my least favourite activity, and a wistfulness about being able to concentrate on something I’m good at and feel happy doing. Its not rocket science, but after 12 years, the importance of having a system/approach of some kind is invaluable.

Over the years, I have brought a level of discipline to  working practice which involves for example:

  • Working to a clear Business plan which sets out annual targets and metrics, and which we review monthly in a detailed planning meeting (its effectively a 1 page “visual plan” which covers finance, delivery, sales and marketing, ongoing development, and administration (IT, web site etc.)
  •  Setting out weekly priorities on a white board above the desk, with a list of the main projects, with main activities and urgent ones highlighted with due dates
  • I pretty much keep Fridays clear of client sessions to give myself a day to catch up on administration, reports, papers, reading, and a 30-40 minute review of the week; what’s gone well, gone badly, and what I need to get set up for the next week
  • During the working week, I really try to step back from the day to day work on the projects (I often have 7-8 projects on the go at any one time) and reflect on how they are doing overall, and whether I need to be doing anything differently
  • I do set out brief project plans for each project co-authored with a client that involve overall objectives, key activities and timescales for completion, and come back to look at them frequently. I think the ability to step back from things and look at them overall is an important one, even if it doesn’t come naturally.

How am I currently managing?

We will each have our own approaches to prioritising, and its worth taking a few minutes out to think what yours are; what works for you in your current “system” and what doesn’t?

A first step to better managing your time is to find out how you’re currently spending your time. Keeping a time log is an effective way to do this, and after trying it for just one week, you’ll immediately gain tremendous insight into where your time is actually going. The very act of measuring is often enough to raise your unconscious habits into your consciousness, where you then have a chance to scrutinize and change them. The attached time log is a simple approach to this.

The urgent and important factors

You can always make more effective use of your time. The only person who can do this is you, says standard wisdom on time management. The number one element in managing time effectively is the ability to prioritise properly.

Prioritising is all about habits and disciplines. Most of these are simple, and a good place to start is by using the 10:10 rule. During the first 10 minutes of the day set out the day’s priorities. Use the last 10 minutes of the day to carry out a stocktake of how the day went. Do not expect perfection, as you cannot plan for everything. Some work is reactive.

Successful prioritising is all about balancing that which is urgent and that which is important. To do this we have to define these two words. If urgent work is not completed today there will be adverse consequences. Important work is work that contributes directly to your purpose. Stephen Covey’s third habit in the 7 habits of highly effective people focuses on this area of urgent vs. important.

“Eat that frog” principles

There’s an old saying that if the first thing you do in the morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s probably the worst thing you’ll do all day.

The book “Eat That Frog!” takes this saying as a metaphor for tackling the most challenging task of your day – the one you are most likely to procrastinate on, but also probably the one that will have the greatest positive impact on your life. The author Brian Tracy shows how successful people don’t try to do everything, but instead focus on the He works on the basis of  three vital rules of effective personal time management: decision, discipline and determination, and twenty-one practical and doable steps to help people stop procrastinating most important tasks.

1. Set the table – clear the decks.  Decide exactly what you want – begin with the end in mind – focus on clarity – ask “what are the aims & objectives”.

2.  Plan every day in advance.  Think on paper.  Every minute spent planning can save 5-10 minutes in execution.

3.  Apply the 80/20 Rule – Pareto’s rule – to everything.  20% of your activities will account for 80% of your results – so concentrate your efforts on that top 20%.

4.  Consider the consequences.  Your most important tasks & priorities are those that can have the most serious consequences, positive or negative, on your work.  Focus on these above all else.

5.  Practice the ABCDE Method consistently.  Before you begin work on a list of tasks, take a few moments to organise them by value (A-C) & priority (1-3) so you can be sure of working on your most important activities.

6.  Focus on key result areas.  Identify & determine those results that you absolutely, positively have to get to do your job well, & work on them all day long.

7.  Obey the Law of Forced Efficiency.  There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important things. What are they?

8.  Prepare thoroughly before you begin “clear the decks & set the table”. Proper prior preparation prevents poor performance.

9.  Do your homework.  The more knowledgeable & skilled you become at your key tasks, the faster you start them & the sooner you get them done.  What are your key tasks?  Why have you been hired?  What value do you bring to the organisation?

10.  Leverage your special talents.  Determine exactly what it is that you are very good at doing, or could be very good at, & throw your whole heart into doing those specific things very, very well.  Let all realise that when they see your work, they recognise the signature.

11.  Identify your key constraints (blockages, obstacles).  Determine the bottlenecks or choke points, internally or externally that set the speed at which you achieve your most important goals, & focus on alleviating them.

12.  Take it one barrel at a time – focused on your vision & aim.  You can accomplish the biggest & most complicated job if you just complete it one step at a time.

13.  Put the pressure on yourself.  Imagine that you have to leave town for a month & work as if you had to get all your major tasks (Big Rocks) completed before you left.

14.  Maximise your personal powers – exploit your magic 3 hours in your day.  Identify your periods of highest mental & physical energy each day & structure your most important & demanding tasks around these times. Get lots of rest so you can perform at your best.

15.  Motivate yourself into action.  Be your own cheerleader.  Look for the good in every situation.  Focus on the solution rather than the problem – “envision the end state”.  Always be optimistic & constructive.

16.  Practice creative procrastination.  Since you can’t do everything, learn to deliberately put off those tasks that are of low value so you have enough time to do the few things that really matter.

17.  Do the most difficult task first.  Begin each day with your most difficult task, the one task which complete will make the biggest difference to your life & work – stick with it until it is complete.

18.  Slice & dice the task – “Break no more than 3-5 big rocks per week into little ones”.  Break large, complex tasks down into bite-sized pieces & then just do one small part of the task to get started.

19.  Create large chunks of time.  Organise your days around large blocks of time – at the beginning of the day (for me, as I am at my best then) so you can concentrate for extended periods on your most important tasks.

20.  Develop a sense of urgency & direct it to completing your high value tasks.  Make a habit of moving fast on your key tasks.  Become known as a person who does things quickly & well.

21.  Single handle every task – handle each action once – do it, file it, or delete it.  Set clear priorities, start immediately on your most important tasks, & then work without stopping until the job is 100% complete.  This is the real key to high performance and maximum personal productivity.

“Be mindful of how you approach time. Watching the clock is not the same as watching the sun rise.” – Sophia Bedford-Pierce

Coaching Tools

Coaching Tools

This section focusses on a range of “Coaching tools” that clients can use that cover all sorts of areas like career review, managing stress, working on self-confidence and tools looking at values and beliefs.

Perhaps the most important aspect of using coaching tools is that they need to be “lightly held” and not interrupt the flow of the session. Some clients just enjoy the flow of the session with good questioning and natural exploration and don’t need anything else to support their work.

From time to time though, perhaps before or after a session, or even in some cases in the session itself, using a particular coaching tool can be beneficial to opening a window of awareness for the individual.

Please select the resources you are interested in from the menu on the right hand side.

Framing and re-framing

Framing and re-framing

I came across this article at a site called IQ Matrix and thought it provided a good overview of the principles of framing and re-framing.

Framing is a mental structure that is built upon the beliefs you have about yourself, your roles, your circumstances, and about other people. It is a structure you use to ascribe meaning to given circumstances. In other words, the meaning you ascribe to any event is dependent upon how you frame it in your mind. As such, your frames shape how you see the world, how you see yourself, how you view others, and how you interpret your life.

Frames can be of a positive or of a negative nature; they can also be within your control or out of your control. As such, they are either helpful within the context you are using them, or they are unhelpful. They either expand your opportunities and the possibilities of the situation, or they limit your options moving forward. They are therefore appropriate or inappropriate, good or bad depending on the objectives you have in mind.

When you decide to work on a project you set a scope or frame for that project so that everyone knows what is included and excluded. Everyone understands what is required to get the job done successfully and what they, therefore, need to focus on in order to get their part of the project completed. In the same way, the frames you use on a daily basis provide a context for your thoughts, decisions, attitudes, and actions. They help guide the direction of your thoughts to help you accomplish your desired outcomes. Thus, your actions are guided by how you frame events and circumstances; and how you frame things is dependent upon your preferences, attitudes, and biases.

You will for instance use frames to handle feedback and criticism. You will use them to solve problems, to get a better understanding of the long-term consequences of your decisions and actions, to connect unrelated events and circumstances, and to make more sense of the world you live in. These frames allow you to gather unique understandings of your life experiences. And it is these understandings that shape what you will do and how you will do things moving forward.

The frames of reference you use collaborate with your beliefs and values. You will, therefore, frame things in a certain way that corresponds with what you believe and value most in life — irrelevant of whether your beliefs are helpful or unhelpful. This basically means that every frame you make is linked to an underlying belief and/or assumption that is implied by your thoughts. In this way, your frames provide you with a context in which you can assess your progress. This is helpful, but at the same time can be unhelpful. It is helpful because it allows you to unlock new opportunities and explore other possibilities that might be advantageous. However, it is unhelpful if your frames are built upon your limiting belief systems. In such instances — and without much objective thought — you might unconsciously be setting boundaries and putting limitations on yourself regarding what you can or can’t do; and this, therefore, limits your perspective, opportunities and the possibilities that lay before you.

There is, however, a positive intention behind all your thoughts. Therefore all the frames of reference you use are there to help you in some way, or at least in some specific context. This, of course, doesn’t mean that these thoughts are right or that they are acceptable, however, it does mean that they have some value, and therefore can be used in a positive way. But more about that later.

Given all this, it makes perfect sense that your frames of reference would provide you with a “focus” on your day-to-day activities. These activities will either support your goals, or they will hinder your progress. It will all depend on the belief systems that are influencing your behaviors, thoughts, decisions, perceptions, and emotions. If these beliefs are helpful, then you have nothing to worry about. However, if they are unhelpful then you will struggle to realize your desired outcomes.

What is Re-framing and How Does it Work?

Re-framing is a linguistic tool used to consciously change your limiting frames to help support your desired goals, beliefs and behaviors. Reframing does this by interrupting your old unhelpful thought patterns with new interpretations and perspectives of reality that are more helpful and supportive of your desired objectives. In other words, re-framing helps you put events and circumstances into a different context that is more favorable. It’s as if you’re changing the meaning of an event or experience in order to put yourself into a more positive and resourceful state-of-mind. Therefore instead of sabotaging yourself, you are adopting more useful ways of thinking and doing things that will help you to potentially overcome your personal limitations, boundaries, phobias, fears and even trauma.

Re-framing is very much like changing a picture in a picture frame. The frame hasn’t changed, however, the picture within the frame is no different. In other words, the situation hasn’t changed, however, your view of the situation is now different then what it was before. You are therefore not changing the situation, but rather changing your view of the situation in a more helpful and optimal way.

What all this implies is that events and circumstances do not have inherent meaning. You rather assign meaning to events and circumstances based on your interpretations and perspectives. Therefore, no matter what horrible things might happen to you, they are only horrible because you interpret them that way. Interpreting things another way will assign a different meaning to these events and circumstances. And as you assign a different meaning to something, you perceive the situation in a different light, and as a result, you feel differently about it. Therefore a negative event can be interpreted in a positive way, and instead of feeling bad about it, you end up feeling excited and inspired.

When you change the frame of your experience, this influences how you tend to perceive, interpret and react to events and circumstances. In other words, reframing helps you experience your actions and the impact of your attitudes and beliefs in a different way. It helps you experience things from a different perspective or frame of reference that can be more advantageous and helpful. As such, you become more resourceful and can, therefore, make better and more optimal decisions moving forward.

Re-framing isn’t a new way of thinking, however, it can promote a better way of thinking in various circumstances where you need a different frame of reference to help you overcome your problems in creative ways. As a matter a fact, re-framing is a significant part of life. Whether you unconsciously re-frame things, or you hear other people re-frame things, it is undoubtedly something that affects you on a daily basis. For instance, you might hear a journalist put a negative spin on something positive in order to get the story on the front page of a newspaper. Or you hear a comedian take you from one frame of reference to another frame of reference while telling a joke. Or an inventor takes something ordinary and turns it into something useful. These “re-frames” are all around us; they are all around you.

Even though many re-frames often put a positive spin on things, it’s important to note that re-framing isn’t about pretending that everything is wonderful, perfect and positive. It’s rather about providing you with more varied ways of interpreting your problems to help you expand the possibilities to find better solutions and paths moving forward.

How to Re-frame Your Thoughts

When confronted with a limiting state-of-mind, a behavior, or a problem, use the following process to help you re-frame your circumstances, thereby putting yourself in a more resourceful, empowering and helpful frame-of-mind.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

Your first step is to identify the problem, state or limiting behavior that you are having difficulty with. Ask yourself:

  • What problem am I facing?
  • What unhelpful behavior am I indulging in?
  • What limiting state-of-mind am I experiencing?

As you ask yourself these questions, keep in mind all the negative thoughts that are currently occupying the space between your ears. These thoughts can come in the form of limiting questions you ask yourself, pessimistic self-talk, and might even manifest as uncomfortable feelings.

Your thoughts will provide you with insights as to how you tend to frame your circumstances. These frames are the things that are limiting your perspective of the situation, the behavior, or the state-of-mind. These are the frames that must be successfully “reframed” in more optimal and helpful ways that support the goals and objectives you are wanting to achieve.

Step 2: Challenge Your Assumptions

When you frame things a certain way, you are at that moment making assumptions about things. And as you know, assumptions are only your personal opinions and perspectives. However, they can also most certainly be linked to your limiting beliefs. Either way they have no basis in reality, otherwise, they would be called “facts”.

Your next step is therefore to challenge the assumptions you are making. You must pose questions that will help disprove these assumptions and beliefs. You can do this by asking yourself:

  • What is valuable and useful about this assumption I am making?
  • What is useful about how I’m currently framing things?
  • What is unhelpful about the assumption I am making?
  • What is unhelpful about the way I’m framing things?
  • Is there any evidence that goes against this assumption?
  • Am I using any rules that could be challenged?
  • How else could I interpret this experience?
  • What else could this possibly mean? How could that be helpful?

At the conclusion of this questioning process, you should have built up enough of a case against the assumptions and frames you are making. As such, you are now ready to begin re-framing things in ways that will help you to overcome this problem successfully.

Step 3: Re-frame Your Circumstances

Your objective here is to focus on different methods of thinking about the problem. And this basically comes down to your ability to re-frame things in certain ways that will help you achieve your desired outcomes.

Here are some re-framing questions you might like to ask yourself:

  • Is this really a problem, or is it a problem because of the way I feel about this situation?
  • How would I deal with this situation if I were a scientist? Lawyer? Child? Man? Woman? Harry Potter?
  • What would someone I admire do in this situation?
  • What if this problem was part of a cartoon? How would the cartoon characters solve this problem?
  • How would I approach this situation if I only had a day to solve it? How about an hour? How about a minute?
  • What is the opposite to this problem? How is this of value?
  • What would other people do in my situation to help resolve this problem?
  • What advice would I give someone else who is experiencing this problem?
  • What would I do right now if I knew I couldn’t fail?
  • What is funny about this problem that I hadn’t noticed before?
  • What if I knew what to do right now? What would I do? What’s the best way to accomplish this?

These are all typical questions you can ask yourself that will help you to re-frame the situation you are working through. Some of these questions will be more applicable to some situations and may not be relevant in other situations. You must, therefore, pick and choose which questions are most helpful to help you shift your perspective about the problem you are facing.

Step 4: Test the Reframe

Now, have a think about your new behavior/approach/perspective and complete the following statements:

  • [new perspective] allows me to…
  • [new perspective] provides me…
  • [new perspective] helps me to…

If the re-framing process worked, then you shouldn’t have any trouble completing these statements. Moreover, these statements should provide you with the impetus you need to make positive changes in your life and circumstances.

This process can work well if you make it a part of your life. It might, of course, take some practice and a little effort at first, but eventually re-framing will hopefully become a habit that you use unconsciously throughout the day. However, if at any time you do end up struggling with this process, then try and remind yourself that…

It’s not what happens to me that matters, it’s rather how I interpret things and how I decide to act on those interpretations that makes all the difference in the end.


Coaching Exercise

I have put the main 4 steps into a COACHING RE-FRAMING EXERCISE where you go through each step, ask the questions and make notes

All about Neuroplasticity

All about Neuroplasticity

This is a really optimistic, positive piece about the power of neuroscience I came across recently:

A dangerous belief in our culture is that we can’t change. We’ve all heard the disempowered statements: “He’s just grumpy. He can’t change that.” or “I will always be anxious. It’s the way I was born.” While we most certainly have genetic predispositions, the brains of individuals’ young and old can change in amazing ways.

Neuroplasticity is a fancy way of saying that our brains can change. We are not victims of our neurons or genes. We are empowered creators of our mental states. The erroneous belief that we are “set in stone” can stop people from trying to change and take away their responsibility. In the same way that germ theory altered the way we look at sanitation and hygiene, I think that spreading the knowledge about our brain’s ability to change can alter the way our culture approaches emotions, attitudes, and values.

Our brains can change

Our brains are made up of billions of neurons. Neurons connect to one another, forming pathways that relay information. We learn things by forming neural connections in response to associations in our everyday experiences. In learning to drive a car, we experience the connection between red traffic lights and pressing the brake. We form a neural pathway for this association. Each time we brake at a red light, we reinforce and strengthen the neural pathway. As the saying goes, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” The more we practice something, the more we strengthen the pathway, and the easier the skill becomes. Our behavioural response can become almost automatic.

Our brain can also prune old neural pathways to quiet or unlearn associations. For example, after you move to a different home, you learn the directions to your new place and stop practicing your old path. But in those first few weeks after a move, have you ever found yourself engrossed in another thought and accidentally pulling into the driveway of your old home because your automatic pathway took over? Luckily, by refraining from the old directions and practicing the new way home, you strengthen a new neural pathway and the old neural pathway weakens. It’s a good thing our brains can change, or we would still be pulling up to our childhood home.

Similar to physical skills like driving, the brain also forms neural pathways in learning and practicing emotional skills. Your emotional responses to experiences in your world are the result of well-worn neural pathways that developed over your lifetime. While our genes influence our temperament, research has demonstrated that our environment and our own mind can physically alter our brains and thus our emotional responses. This means that emotions that we want more of in our life and our world, like happiness, patience, tolerance, compassion, and kindness, can be practiced and learned as skills. Other emotions, like anxiety, stress, fear, or anger, can be dampened.

Keeping in the car motif, let’s talk about an emotional association: traffic and anger. When we get stuck in traffic, an automatic response can be anger or frustration. But, by feeling angry every time we are in traffic, we are strengthening that neural pathway and cementing that emotional response. When there is nothing we can do in that moment but accept the traffic, wouldn’t it be great to feel positive emotions instead? We can just observe the negative emotion that we are feeling and try practicing a different emotional response. We can start linking traffic with stillness and peace. This would be difficult at first because we want to let the well-developed neural pathway leading to anger fire, but by inhibiting that pathway, we help unwire those connections and strengthen a different response. As we practice responding with peace, we strengthen a new neural pathway and it becomes easier to choose.

Using neuroimaging, researchers have demonstrated significant success in reducing anxiety, depression, phobia, and stress with cognitive-behavioural therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy. By learning different strategies to recognize negative thoughts and emotions and practice alternative responses over time, neural pathways in the brain are physically altered. Science has only recently recognized the value of investing in research on behaviors that promote well-being, including compassion and happiness. By comparing the brains of experts and novices in compassion meditation, neuroscientists illustrated changes in the brain region responsible for empathy during and after meditation. Researchers are just beginning to examine the effect of training novices in skills to increase compassion. While interventions have demonstrated positive impacts on emotional states and prosocial behaviours, we look to future studies to determine alterations in the structure and function of the brain in novices who undergo contemplative and emotional training.

Let’s learn and practice compassion, kindness, and happiness.

Knowing that our brains can change, we then ask, what do we want in our brains? And as a result, what do we want in our world? Most people of good will yearn for happiness, compassion, and love. Let’s start practicing.

Gratitude reflections, compassion priming, and meditation interventions are some strategies found to enhance well-being and increase prosocial behavior. Several studies have shown the positive impact of gratitude journals, which involve self-guided listing of what you are thankful for. Individuals who kept a daily gratitude journal reported higher levels of positive emotions, including feeling attentive, determined, energetic, enthusiastic, excited, interested, joyful, and strong, compared to individuals who kept a journal on daily hassles or ways in which one was better off than others (downward social comparison). In addition, individuals who maintained daily gratitude journals were more likely to offer emotional support to others and help someone with a problem. Contemplative interventions, born from the collaboration of meditation traditions and emotion science, have centred on developing mindfulness to enhance compassion and happiness in the lives of individuals. One recent study provided an 8-week training programme in secular meditation to female schoolteachers and measured their responses to stress, conflict, and compassion. The intervention significantly reduced rumination, depression, and anxiety while increasing mindfulness, empathy, compassion, and stabilizing hostility and contempt compared to a control group.

In my experience, learning about the concept of neuroplasticity and finding the skills to change my emotional responses has immensely improved my life. Before grasping this, I thought my mind was a black box. I didn’t understand why I felt certain things beyond the immediate external circumstances. I had no idea how to change things. You don’t even have to know where to start; the decision to change is enough. The practice of meditation gave me the set of skills to guide my own transformation. It has been the most life altering skill that I have gained. I shifted from thinking that my emotion and thoughts owned me to feeling like I could play a role in changing my state. This is challenging work and takes patient practice, but as I am experiencing the fruits of these skills, peaceful relationships, a joyful outlook on life, and a safe harbour within myself during difficult times, I am determined to work even harder.

Neuroscience, positive psychology, and contemplative traditions have given us a roadmap. We know our brains can change based on our environment and our behaviours. What if we started building and reinforcing the neural pathways of love, cooperation, forgiveness, and kindness so that these things became our automatic response? What if we adopted and shared this belief that we can change and took responsibility for our outlook on life? What if we taught children in schools about their ability to reflect on and guide their emotions? What if we started priming those around us in our families and community with our own grateful reflections and kind actions? What if our compassionate actions in schools, families, and communities started shifting our culture? I find these possibilities exhilarating and hopeful. By learning and practicing these positive emotional responses, I think our world can discover a new way home and pull into the driveway of compassion.

–by Joanna Holsten, syndicated from

Character Strengths

Character strengths

I am indebted for this article to Peter Kershaw, one of my Coaching friends and colleagues on our Coaching network who ran a brilliant session on using character strengths, and has allowed me to reproduce the background information:

Background to character strengths

Historically, most psychology research has been about studying what is wrong with us; what makes us ‘abnormal’. Positive Psychology focuses on what makes people be more than just free of ‘abnormalities’ but to actually thrive. This is an exciting area of psychology.

The founder is Martin Seligman. His research was based on many different, religions, cultures and philosophies throughout history and around the world. He discovered many commonalities. From this he found six core Virtues and from these we find twenty four character strengths that have been shown to help us thrive and be the best people we can.

Core Virtues

Courage : Character Strengths Bravery, Perseverance, Honesty, Zest

Humanity : Character StrengthsLove, Kindness, Social Intelligence

Transcendence : Character Strengths Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humour, Spirituality

Temperance : Character Strengths Self Regulation, Prudence, Humility, Forgiveness

Justice: Character Strengths  – Leadership, Fairness, Teamwork,

Wisdom & Knowledge : Character Strengths  Perspective, Love of Learning, Judgement, Curiosity, Creativity

When we use our strengths, we can achieve more and enjoy a greater sense of wellbeing. Rather than taking a Pollyanna view of life, Positive Psychology acknowledges that individuals and teams may have very serious difficulties. To overcome these difficulties utilising our character strengths can be a way of bringing about sustained and workable change as quickly as possible. Working with character strengths can help both individuals and teams both overcome difficulties and achieve aspirations.

Using the character strengths

The VIA questionnaire is a good place to start. There is both an adult and child version. You will need to register on the site to access the questionnaire by clicking here.

It takes around 20-25 minutes to complete and get your summary report, but well worth the investment of time.

If an individual has completed the VIA, it is tempting to then go straight to how those character strengths can be applied to what the client would like to achieve from coaching.

The recommended protocol is as follows:-

AWARE –  The individual needs to first of all be aware of what his or her top character strengths are. One would initially work with the top three to five strengths. How does they feel about the top strengths listed as a result of the survey? Sometimes a client will be pleased.  Other times, they might feel that other strengths should be up there. Sometimes, there will be a sense of ‘Strengths blindness’

One might suggest to the client that colleagues or friends pick from the 24 character strengths ones that they notice most. This might form part of a 360 feedback within a team.

EXPLORE – At this stage, one can see where the client or team is currently using the strengths. If the client thinks of examples, then one might ask them to think of a time that they were at their best. From there, one can see how the strengths are currently being used.

APPLY –  How can one or more of the top character strengths be used to either address an issue or move the person closer to their goal? How can a character strength be used in a new way?

Character strengths can be overused as well as under used. For example Curiosity can turn into nosiness.

Gratitude is one of the most powerful strengths to work with.

Character strengths most associated with CEOs are love of learning and curiosity.

Mindfulness of Character Strengths

When working with an individual or team, one can blend mindfulness with Character Strengths. You might already encouraging clients to be mindful in their actions and speech. in addition, one can encourage a client to be mindful of which strengths are being used in a given situation.

A client may ask him or herself ‘which strengths am I using now?  Alternatively, ‘which character strength could I use in this situation?’

It might be helpful for a client to set their ‘phone to ping say every hour. This serves as a reminder to the client to notice which strength they are using in that particular moment. Over a period of time a pattern will be seen.

In addition, it can be really helpful to encourage individuals to spot and appreciate character strengths in others. This might help with conflict resolution or team building.

If everybody on a team completed the VIA, then one might discover enough commonalities to establish team strengths.  This could be used a tool to develop purpose, meaning and direction for the whole team. This approach might lead to more intrinsic motivation than simply imposing the organisation’s own prescribed set of values. At the same time, the team’s values and strengths can (hopefully) sit comfortably with the company values.

Example of using character strengths to achieve a goal:-

  • Envision one goal you would like to attain. Use your hope strength to envision something that links with your interests and values. (Intrinsic motivation)
  • Make the goal SMART. Use your prudence strength to plan it out thoroughly across these five elements.
  • Weave in character strengths seamlessly. How will your signature strengths serve as a means to help you achieve your goal? Might other character strengths support you as pathways to your goal as well?
  • Begin to take action towards your goal. How will perseverance support you in overcoming obstacles and staying focused on your goal ahead?
  •  Enlist support. Might you include family, friends, colleagues to maintain your goal progress? This could involve deploying your strengths of teamwork, curiosity and love.








Futures map

Futures Map

I have been working with several clients in the last few months looking at possible new futures and changes in their work; some through organisation re-structures and downsizing, others through the desire to move on and find new challenges.It also came up at one of our recent Coaches network sessions.

What has struck me is that like a sailing ship, there are links and interdependencies across lots of sails and rigging, and one change in our lives in the arena of work, will impact hugely on our relationships, our family lives, and where we live. This is a hard nut to crack thinking about what we put first. Do we say that living by the sea for example (a big future factor for me despite still living in the middle of Oxfordshire!) is more important than the job we are doing? We went down to Poole a couple of years ago to look around with a view to thinking about a move, but ended up reflecting on the stages the kids were in their lives and all the networks we have locally were too much to give up. However, it may not be right now, but in the medium term/longer term future.

The tool

The idea of the Futures map is to create the opportunity to do a brain dump to help structure that confusion in our minds about all the different elements around making such a big change decision.

  • The map has 4 areas; work, home/location, partner/family/friends considerations, and a personal/growth section. The idea is to go through each of these and think through what the implications of change might be, but also look at the whole map for the connection between these 4 strands
  • There are also a few questions that might help unlock thinking: what is the first step you might take? Who do you need to talk to you about it? What might the obstacles be?
  • As ever with a tool like this, its really helpful to talk through with a Coach/trusted friend after the initial “splurge” of creative thinking


You can access the futures map here:  FUTURES MAP

Professional/personal networks

Professional/Personal networks

I have been reflecting on business networking recently, having worked with several clients in the last few months where they have started thinking about joining professional networks as part of their careers and next jobs, but with diminishing resources and cuts have been so busy doing their job they haven’t had the chance to be part of these wider networks.

Wikipedia states that business networking is “a social network service that is focused solely on interactions and relationships of a business nature rather than including personal, non business interactions”. Whilst this is true up to a point, if we take a holistic approach to our networks, the majority might be business orientated, but they will also have learning, a carer and a social function. We know the truism of business that people do business with people they like and trust.

There are lots of opportunities out there to network like breakfast meetings and professional sector meetings that are part of the profession you work in; so many in fact you could spend all of your time doing these and little time doing the day job! There are also lots of virtual business networks, like the main go to site of Linked in. LinkedIn has become the world’s largest online professional networking site with over 380 million members in over 200 countries and territories. While LinkedIn has proven to be an incredible assist for anyone looking to make professional connections or find employment, there have been some concerns around the level of advertising and the focus on recruitment at the cost of wider networking.

For me, having a range of both professional and personal networks is important, especially in the world of self employment, where we don’t turn up to a workplace each day as part of a team. However, even when we have that facility, there are times when it’s really helpful to step outside the day to day team and network with a wider group of people.

The value of being part of different networks

Perhaps some of the main reasons to be part of wider networks are these:

  • Our own ongoing professional development is important, or as it’s sometimes known continuous professional development (CPD). CPD is the conscious updating of professional knowledge and the improvement of personal competence throughout your working life. Conscious implies that CPD is a state of mind, as well as a set of principles; it is a commitment to keeping up to date and continuously seeking to improve.
  • Networking gets us to think outside the box and reflect on what happens in a wider context in the field we work in beyond the walls of our own organisation
  • Wider networks can be really useful in today’s world where the expectation increasingly is that individuals are responsible for controlling and managing their own development and their ongoing career aspirations; I have read varying figures around up to 50-60% of people finding new roles through good networking

An example

As a working although imperfect example, I have a few key networks which are important to me. These are by no means exhaustive, but provide a picture of networks which cover a span of both professional and personal growth:

  • “AN DUIR” (Celtic term meaning heart of oak); a group of mainly self employed people who meet every 6 weeks to review progress in our work and us professionally and personally; really helpful group that have been meeting for years
  •  BUCKS COACHING GROUP: a group I have just started with a group of Coaches looking at coaching supervision, coaching theory and different approaches to marketing
  • “INSIGHTS GROUP”: a group I have just joined looking at using Insights Psychometric profiling for work with Teams; this will really help me look discuss different approaches to facilitation with other Facilitators working with teams in team building, Away Days, Team coaching etc.
  • I am looking at joining the Ridhwan retreat group which has a cohort of people who meet twice a year looking at aspects of their personal and spiritual growth

Review Tool

This PROFESSIONAL AND DEVELOPMENT NETWORKS REVIEW encourages you to review the mix of networks that you are part of to assess both your professional links and your ongoing professional and career development. The exercise asks you to map out the networks you are part of, along with gaps where you might need to expand to provide opportunities for networking for professional development and insight and for your future career development.


Internal family systems Tool

Internal Family Systems Tool

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. (Rumi)




Whilst this approach was created as a therapeutic model, I think it converts well to a coaching context (as with many other frameworks popping up in coaching related to CBT, Transactional analysis and others).

The internal family systems (IFS) model was created by Richard Schwartz. The principles are that we all have parts within ourselves, sub personalities like little people who have different goals and motivations; they have different levels of maturity, excitability, wisdom and pain. Every major school of psychology recognises that people have different sub personalities including Freud’s id, ego, and superego, and the ego states model in Transactional Analysis (parent, adult, and child).

How we get along with these different parts of ourselves depends on our internal leadership skills; how we listen to our different parts, make sure they are taken care of, and keep them from sabotaging each other. We may have positive parts within ourselves like warmth, creativity, being a carer; but we may also have elements of behaviour we dont like in ourselves like aggression, self loathing or an overblown inner critic.

IFS sees consciousness as composed of various “parts” or subpersonalities, each with its own perspective, interests, memories, and viewpoint. A core tenet of IFS is that every part has a positive intent for the person, even if its actions or effects are counterproductive or cause dysfunction. This means that there is never any reason to fight with, coerce, or try to eliminate a part; the IFS method promotes internal connection and harmony.

The parts

ifs-2Parts can have either “extreme roles” or healthy roles. IFS focuses on parts in extreme roles because they are in need of transformation through therapy. IFS divides these parts into three types—Managers, Exiles, and Firefighters.


Managers are parts with preemptive protective roles. They handle the way a person interacts with the external world to protect them from being hurt by others and try to prevent painful or traumatic feelings and experiences from flooding a person’s awareness. One example could be perfectionism, which means we don’t get picked on for making mistakes.


Exiles are parts that are in pain, shame, fear, or trauma, usually from childhood. Managers and firefighters try to exile these parts from consciousness, to prevent this pain from coming to the surface.


Firefighters are parts that emerge when exiles break out and demand attention. These parts work to distract a person’s attention from the hurt or shame experienced by the exile by leading them to engage in impulsive behaviours like overeating, drug use, violence, or having inappropriate sex. They can also distract from the pain by causing a person to focus excessively on more subtle activities such as overworking, or over-medicating.

The Self

IFS also sees people as being whole, underneath this collection of parts. Everyone has a true self or spiritual centre, known as the Self to distinguish it from the parts. Even people whose experience is dominated by parts have access to this Self and its healing qualities of curiosity, connectedness, compassion, and calmness.

IFS sees the therapist’s job as helping the client to disentangle themselves from their parts and access the Self, which can then connect with each part and heal it, so that the parts can let go of their destructive roles and enter into a harmonious collaboration, led by the Self. IFS explicitly recognises the spiritual nature of the Self, allowing the model to be helpful in spiritual development as well as psychological healing.

Working exercise

You will find the overview and suggested working exercise by clicking on this link: Internal Family Systems

Comfort Stretch Panic Tool

Comfort Stretch Panic Tool

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”
Abraham Maslow


I ran a session for a group of Coaches recently looking in detail at Karl Rohnke’s Comfort, Stretch, Panic model. Its something we all knew of and the basic principles, but was really helpful to delve into it and ways in which it can be used. We use it to help determine the right type and level of challenge to set ourselves in order to nurture our own development.

The Comfort Zone: your Comfort Zone is just that – comfortable – and includes everyday activities such as doing the same things and mixing with the same people. When most of your activities are in this zone life is, of course, ‘comfortable’ but you do not learn very much nor develop yourself – it’s simply more of the same and it can lead to the zone shrinking.

The Stretch Zone: your Stretch Zone is the area of novelty, exploration and adventure. Here are the things that are a little or a lot out of the ordinary – the things you haven’t done for a long time or have never done before. This zone is not really a comfortable place – but it is a stimulating one. It is where we stretch and challenge ourselves mentally, emotionally or physically.

The Panic Zone: the Panic Zone is the area of things-to-be-avoided either because they are unacceptable to you or because they are currently a ‘stretch’ too far! This could range from things like public speaking at work, through to thinking about extreme sports on holiday. You may have activities in the Panic Zone which you wish were not there.

How we can apply it

Like all good models this is not just very simple, it recognises how un-useful it is to rigidly classify oneself or others. It takes into account how we are continually changing – how we are dynamic systems so what is ‘in’ a zone today might be in a different one tomorrow or in a month’s time. If I commit myself to a period of enthusiastic change I will extend my Comfort Zone. Yet if lots of unwelcome change is imposed on me by ‘circumstances’ I am likely to resist it, become risk averse and shrink my Comfort Zone. Now activities that a year ago I found enjoyable and stimulating are perceived as too threatening. And, once I begin shrinking my Comfort Zone, there is a real risk of the process becoming a way of life.

The Coaching Model

Your personal health and well-being requires maintenance and you can use the Comfort Stretch Panic model as a useful simple-yet-powerful gauge of how you are doing and as a means of encouraging yourself to begin stretching in all senses of the word. You can have a set of zones for different areas in your life – health, fitness, family and social life, working life, career, etc.

This the-comfort-stretch-panic-coaching-tool helps you work through where you are, and where you would like to be as a “broad canvas”

The Healthy mind platter

The Healthy Mind Platter

Healthy Mind PlatterThe Healthy Mind Platter has seven daily essential mental activities necessary for optimum mental health. It was created by Dan Siegel and David Rock, two leaders in neuroscience work.

These seven daily activities make up the full set of “mental nutrients” that your brain and relationships need to function at their best. By engaging every day in each of these “servings”, you promote integration in your life and enable your brain to coordinate and balance its activities. These essential mental activities strengthen your brain’s internal connections and your connections with other people and the world around you.

By adding an eighth ingredient nutrition, I have created a Healthy Mind Platter Wheel which will make a good practical Coaching Tool, which you can access by clicking on the link.

Enneagram of personality

Enneagram of personaility

Ennegram 2The Enneagram of Personality (or simply the Enneagram, from the Greek words ennea, meaning “nine” and gramma, meaning something “written” or “drawn” is a model of human personality which is principally used as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. The work was principally developed by Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo. The typology defines nine personality types (sometimes referred to as “enneatypes”), which are represented by the points of a geometric figure called an enneagram, which also indicates some of the connections between the types. As there are different schools of thought among Enneagram theorists about some aspects of how it is understood, its interpretation is not always unified or consistent.

The Enneagram of Personality is not a typology that is commonly taught or researched in academic psychology. It has been widely promoted in both business management and spiritual contexts through seminars, conferences, books, magazines, and DVDs. In business contexts it is generally used as a typology to gain insights into workplace dynamics; in spirituality it is more commonly presented as a path to higher states of being, essence, and enlightenment. It has been described as a method for self-understanding and self-development but has been criticised as being subject to interpretation, making it difficult to test or validate scientifically.

The Enneagram system

Ennegram 1The Enneagram is a personality typing system that consists of nine different types. Everyone is considered to be one single type, although one can have traits belonging to other ones. While it’s uncertain whether this type is genetically determined, many believe it is already in place at birth.

The nine types (or “enneatypes”, “ennea” means “nine”) are universally identified by the numbers 1 to 9. These numbers have a standard way of being placed around the Enneagram symbols.


Usually one has characteristics of one of the types that lie adjacent to one’s own that are more prominent. This is called the wing. So someone who is a type 5, might have a 4 wing or a 6 wing. This may be abbreviated to “5w4” and “5w6”. If one doesn’t have a dominant wing, it is said that the wings are balanced.

Enneagram type descriptions

Type 1 – The Reformer

Perfectionists, responsible, fixated on improvement

Ones are essentially looking to make things better, as they think nothing is ever quite good enough. This makes them perfectionists who want to reform and improve, who desire to make order out of the omnipresent chaos.

Type 2 – The Helper

Helpers who need to be needed

Twos essentially feel that they are worthy insofar as they are helpful to others. Love is their highest ideal. Selflessness is their duty. Giving to others is their reason for being. Involved, socially aware, usually extroverted, Twos are the type of people who remember everyone’s birthday and who go the extra mile to help out a co-worker, spouse or friend in need.

Type 3 – The Achiever

Focused on the presentation of success, to attain validation

Threes need to be validated in order to feel worthy; they pursue success and want to be admired. They are frequently hard working, competitive and are highly focused in the pursuit of their goals, whether their goal is to be the most successful salesman in the company or the “sexiest” woman in their social circle.

Type 4 – The Individualist

Identity seekers, who feel unique and different

Fours build their identities around their perception of themselves as being somehow different or unique; they are thus self-consciously individualistic. They tend to see their difference from others as being both a gift and a curse – a gift, because it sets them apart from those they perceive as being somehow “common,” and a curse, as it so often seems to separate them from the simpler forms of happiness that others so readily seem to enjoy.

Type 5 – The Investigator

Thinkers who tend to withdraw and observe

Fives essentially fear that they don’t have enough inner strength to face life, so they tend to withdraw, to retreat into the safety and security of the mind where they can mentally prepare for their emergence into the world. Fives feel comfortable and at home in the realm of thought. They are generally intelligent, well read and thoughtful and they frequently become experts in the areas that capture their interest.

Type 6 – The Loyalist

Conflicted between trust and distrust

Sixes essentially feel insecure, as though there is nothing quite steady enough to hold onto. At the core of the type Six personality is a kind of fear or anxiety. Sixes don’t trust easily; they are often ambivalent about others, until the person has absolutely proven herself, at which point they are likely to respond with steadfast loyalty.

Type 7 – The Enthusiast

Pleasure seekers and planners, in search of distraction

Sevens are essentially concerned that their lives be an exciting adventure. They are future oriented, restless people who are generally convinced that something better is just around the corner. They are quick thinkers who have a great deal of energy and who make lots of plans. They tend to be extroverted, multi-talented, creative and open minded.

Type 8 – The Challenger

Taking charge, because they don’t want to be controlled

Eights are essentially unwilling to be controlled, either by others or by their circumstances; they fully intend to be masters of their fate. Eights are strong willed, decisive, practical, tough minded and energetic. They also tend to be domineering; their unwillingness to be controlled by others frequently manifests in the need to control others instead.

Type 9 – The Peacemaker

Keeping peace and harmony

Nines essentially feel a need for peace and harmony. They tend to avoid conflict at all costs, whether it be internal or interpersonal. As the potential for conflict in life is virtually ubiquitous, the Nine’s desire to avoid it generally results in some degree of withdrawal from life, and many Nines are, in fact, introverted. Other Nines lead more active, social lives, but nevertheless remain to some to degree “checked out,” or not fully involved, as if to insulate themselves from threats to their peace of mind.

Free Test

Ennegram 3There is a free test available, which helps you determine which personality type you are.

Gibbs Reflective cycle

Gibbs Reflective cycle

(Based on a Mindtools article)

gibbs_reflective_cycleMany people find that they learn best from experience.However, if they don’t reflect on their experience, and if they don’t consciously think about how they could do better next time, it’s hard for them to learn anything at all.

This is where Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle is useful. You can use it to help your people make sense of situations at work, so that they can understand what they did well and what they could do better in the future. It fits well into Coaching practice, especially where people want to work on what could be described as “liability behaviours”.

About the Model

Professor Graham Gibbs published his Reflective Cycle in his 1988 book “Learning by Doing.” It’s particularly useful for helping people learn from situations that they experience regularly, especially when these don’t go well.

There are five stages in the cycle:

  1. Description
  2. Feelings
  3. Evaluation
  4. Conclusions
  5. Action.

You can use it to help people think about how they deal with situations, so that they can understand what they did well, and reflect on where they need to improve.

The 5 stages

Gibbs Reflective cycle 2To structure a coaching session using Gibbs’ Cycle, choose a situation to analyse and then work through the steps below:

Step 1: Description

First, ask the person you’re coaching to describe the situation in detail. At this stage, you simply want to know what happened – you’ll draw conclusions later.

Consider asking questions like these to help them describe the situation:

  • When and where did this happen?
  • Why were you there?
  • Who else was there?
  • What happened?
  • What did you do?
  • What did other people do?
  • What was the result of this situation?

Step 2: Feelings

Next, encourage them to talk about what he thought and felt during the experience. At this stage, avoid commenting on their emotions.

Use questions like these to guide the discussion:

  • What did you feel before this situation took place?
  • What did you feel while this situation took place?
  • What do you think other people felt during this situation?
  • What did you feel after the situation?
  • What do you think about the situation now?
  • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?

Step 3: Evaluation

EvaluationNow you need to encourage the person you’re coaching to look objectively at what approaches worked, and which ones didn’t.

Ask them:

  • What was positive about this situation?
  • What was negative?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What did you and other people do to contribute to the situation (either positively or negatively)?

Step 4: Conclusions

Once you’ve evaluated the situation, you can help the person draw conclusions about what happened.

Encourage them to think about the situation again, using the information that you’ve collected so far. Then ask questions like these:

  • How could this have been a more positive experience for everyone involved?
  • If you were faced with the same situation again, what would you do differently?
  • What skills do you need to develop, so that you can handle this type of situation better?

Step 5: Action

You should now have some possible actions that the person can take to deal with similar situations more effectively in the future.

In this last stage, you need to come up with a plan so that they can make these changes.

Once you’ve identified the areas they will work on, encourage them to commit to taking action, and agree a date on which you will both review progress.

The “big 5” Personality traits

The “big 5” Personality traits

The Big The big five personality traits are the best accepted and most commonly used model of personality in academic psychology. The big five come from the statistical study of responses to personality items. Using a technique called factor analysis researchers can look at the responses of people to hundreds of personality items and ask the question “what is the best way to summarise an individual?”. This has been done with many samples from all over the world and the general result is that, while there seem to be unlimited personality variables, five stand out from the pack in terms of explaining a lot of a person’s answers to questions about their personality: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience. The Big Five factors and their constituent traits can be summarized as an acronym of “OCEAN”:

  • Openness to experience – (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience.
  • Conscientiousness – (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behaviour.
  • Extraversion – (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, urgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others.
  • Agreeableness – (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
  • Neuroticism – (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). A tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability.

Jigsaw Heads

The five broad factors were discovered and defined by several independent sets of researchers. These researchers began by studying known personality traits and then factor-analysing hundreds of measures of these traits (in self-report and questionnaire data, peer ratings, and objective measures from experimental settings) in order to find the underlying factors of personality.

The initial model was advanced by Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal in 1961, but failed to reach an academic audience until the 1980s. In 1990, J.M. Digman advanced his five factor model of personality. These five over-arching domains have been found to contain and subsume most known personality traits and are assumed to represent the basic structure behind all personality traits.

Because the Big Five traits are broad and comprehensive though, they are not nearly as powerful in predicting and explaining actual behaviour as are the more numerous lower-level traits. Many studies have confirmed that in predicting actual behaviour the more numerous facet or primary level traits are more effective

When scored for individual feedback, these traits are frequently presented as percentile scores. For example, a Conscientiousness rating in the 80th percentile indicates a relatively strong sense of responsibility and orderliness, whereas an extraversion rating in the 5th percentile indicates an exceptional need for solitude and quiet. Although these trait clusters are statistical aggregates, exceptions may exist on individual personality profiles.

  1. Openness to experience

Openness to experience is one of the domains which are used to describe human personality in the Five Factor Model. Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity. A great deal of psychometric research has demonstrated that these qualities are statistically correlated. Thus, openness can be viewed as a global personality trait consisting of a set of specific traits, habits, and tendencies that cluster together.

Door openingOpenness is a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. They tend to be, compared to closed people, more creative and more aware of their feelings. They are more likely to hold unconventional beliefs. People with low scores on openness tend to have more conventional, traditional interests. They prefer the plain, straightforward, and obvious over the complex, ambiguous, and subtle. They may regard the arts and sciences with suspicion or even view these endeavours as uninteresting

Openness tends to be normally distributed with a small number of individuals scoring extremely high or low on the trait, and most people scoring near the average. People who score low on openness are considered to be closed to experience. They tend to be conventional and traditional in their outlook and behaviour. They prefer familiar routines to new experiences, and generally have a narrower range of interests.

People who are open to experience are no different in mental health from people who are closed to experience. There is no relationship between openness and neuroticism, or any other measure of psychological wellbeing. Being open and closed to experience are simply two different ways of relating to the world.

According to research by Sam Gosling, it is possible to assess openness by examining people’s homes and work spaces. Individuals who are highly open to experience tend to have distinctive and unconventional decorations. They are also likely to have books on a wide variety of topics, a diverse music collection, and works of art on display.

There are social and political implications to this personality trait. People who are highly open to experience tend to be politically liberal and tolerant of diversity. As a consequence, they are generally more open to different cultures and lifestyles

Sample openness items

  • I have a rich vocabulary.
  • I have a vivid imagination.
  • I have excellent ideas.
  • I am quick to understand things.
  • I use difficult words.
  • I spend time reflecting on things.
  • I am full of ideas.
  • I am not interested in abstractions. (reversed)
  • I do not have a good imagination. (reversed)
  • I have difficulty understanding abstract ideas.


  1. Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement against measures or outside expectations. The trait shows a preference for planned rather than spontaneous behaviour. It influences the way in which we control, regulate, and direct our impulses

conscientiousnessConscientiousness is the trait of being painstaking and careful, or the quality of acting according to the dictates of one’s conscience. It includes such elements as self-discipline, carefulness, thoroughness, organisation, deliberation (the tendency to think carefully before acting), and need for achievement. It is an aspect of what has traditionally been called character. Conscientious individuals are generally hard working and reliable. When taken to an extreme, they may also be workaholics, perfectionists, and compulsive in their behaviour. People who are low on conscientiousness are not necessarily lazy or immoral, but they tend to be more laid back, less goal oriented, and less driven by success.

People who score high on the trait of conscientiousness tend to be more organised and less cluttered in their homes and offices. For example, their books tend to be neatly shelved in alphabetical order, or categorized by topic, rather than scattered around the room. Their clothes tend to be folded and arranged in drawers or closets instead of lying on the floor. The presence of planners and to-do lists are also signs of conscientiousness. Their homes tend to have better lighting than the homes of people who are low on this trait.

Conscientiousness is importantly related to successful academic performance in students and workplace performance among managers and workers. Low levels of conscientiousness are strongly associated with procrastination. A considerable amount of research indicates that conscientiousness is one of the best predictors of performance in the workplace, and indeed that after general mental ability is taken into account, the other four of the Big Five personality traits do not aid in predicting career success. Conscientious employees are generally more reliable, more motivated, and harder working. Furthermore, conscientiousness is the only personality trait that correlates with performance across all categories of jobs. However, agreeableness and emotional stability may also be important, particularly in jobs that involve a significant amount of social interaction.

Although conscientiousness is generally seen as a positive trait to possess, recent research has suggested that in some situations it may be harmful for well-being. In a prospective study of 9570 individuals over four years, highly conscientiousness people suffered more than twice as much if they became unemployed. The authors suggested this may be due to conscientious people making different attributions about why they became unemployed, or through experiencing stronger reactions following failure.

Sample conscientiousness items

  • I am always prepared.
  • I pay attention to details.
  • I get chores done right away.
  • I like order.
  • I follow a schedule.
  • I am exacting in my work.
  • I leave my belongings around. (reversed)
  • I make a mess of things. (reversed)
  • I often forget to put things back in their proper place. (reversed)
  • I shirk my duties. (reversed)


  1. Extroversion

Extroversion is characterized by positive emotions, urgency, and the tendency to seek out stimulation and the company of others. The trait is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extroverts enjoy being with people, and are often perceived as full of energy. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals who are likely to say “yes!” or “let’s go!” to opportunities for excitement. In groups they like to talk, assert themselves, and draw attention to themselves.

introvertIntroverts lack the social exuberance and activity levels of extroverts. They tend to seem quiet, low-key, deliberate, and less involved in the social world. Their lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as shyness or depression. Introverts simply need less stimulation than extroverts and more time alone. They may be very active and energetic, simply not socially.The trait of extroversion-introversion is a central dimension of human personality theories.

Extroverts tend to be gregarious, assertive, and interested in seeking out external stimulus. Introverts, in contrast, tend to be introspective, quiet and less sociable. They are not necessarily loners but they tend to have fewer numbers of friends. Introversion does not describe social discomfort but rather social preference: an introvert may not be shy but may merely prefer fewer social activities. Ambiversion is a balance of extrovert and introvert characteristics. Most people (about 68% of the population) are considered to be ambiverts, while extroverts and introverts represent the extremes on the scale, with about 16% representation for each.

The terms introversion and extroversion were first popularized by Carl Jung. Virtually all comprehensive models of personality include these concepts. Examples include Jung’s analytical psychology, Eysenck’s three-factor model, Cattell’s 16 personality factors, the Big Five personality traits, the four temperaments and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.

Sample extroversion items

  • I am the life of the party.
  • I don’t mind being the centre of attention.
  • I feel comfortable around people.
  • I start conversations.
  • I talk to a lot of different people at parties.
  • I don’t talk a lot. (reversed)
  • I keep in the background. (reversed)
  • I have little to say. (reversed)
  • I don’t like to draw attention to myself. (reversed)
  • I am quiet around strangers. (reversed)[33]


  1. Agreeableness

Agreeableness is a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. The trait reflects individual differences in general concern for social harmony. Agreeable individual’s value getting along with others. They are generally considerate, friendly, generous, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature. They believe people are basically honest, decent, and trustworthy.

Spring 2Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others’ well-being, and are less likely to extend themselves for other people. Sometimes their scepticism about others’ motives causes them to be suspicious, unfriendly, and uncooperative.

Agreeableness is a tendency to be pleasant and accommodating in social situations. In contemporary personality psychology, agreeableness is one of the five major dimensions of personality structure, reflecting individual differences in concern for cooperation and social harmony.People who score high on this dimension are empathetic, considerate, friendly, generous, and helpful. They also have an optimistic view of human nature. They tend to believe that most people are honest, decent, and trustworthy.

People scoring low on agreeableness are generally less concerned with others’ well-being, report less empathy, and are therefore less likely to go out of their way to help others. Their scepticism about other people’s motives may cause them to be suspicious and unfriendly. People very low on agreeableness have a tendency to be manipulative in their social relationships. They are more likely to compete than to cooperate.

The research also shows that people high in agreeableness are more likely to control negative emotions like anger in conflict situations. Those who are high in agreeableness are more likely to use constructive tactics when in conflict with others, whereas people low in agreeableness are more likely to use coercive tactics. They are also more willing to give ground to their adversary and may “lose” arguments with people who are less agreeable. From their perspective, they have not really lost an argument as much as maintained a congenial relationship with another person.

A central feature of agreeableness is its positive association with altruism and helping behaviour. Across situations, people who are high in agreeableness are more likely to report an interest and involvement with helping others. Experiments have shown that whereas most people are likely to help their own kin, or when empathy has been aroused, agreeable people are likely to help even when these conditions are not present. In other words, agreeable people appear to be “traited for helping” and do not need any other motivations.

While agreeable individuals are habitually likely to help others, disagreeable people may be more likely to harm them. Researchers have found that low levels of agreeableness are associated with hostile thoughts and aggression in adolescents, as well as poor social adjustment.

Sample agreeableness items

  • I am interested in people.
  • I sympathize with others’ feelings.
  • I have a soft heart.
  • I take time out for others.
  • I feel others’ emotions.
  • I make people feel at ease.
  • I am not really interested in others. (reversed)
  • I insult people. (reversed)
  • I am not interested in other people’s problems. (reversed)
  • I feel little concern for others. (reversed)


  1. Neuroticism

Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression. It is sometimes called emotional instability. Those who score high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. Their negative emotional reactions tend to persist for unusually long periods of time, which means they are often in a bad mood. These problems in emotional regulation can diminish the ability of a person scoring high on neuroticism to think clearly, make decisions, and cope effectively with stress.

At the other end of the scale, individuals who score low in neuroticism are less easily upset and are less emotionally reactive. They tend to be calm, emotionally stable, and free from persistent negative feelings. Freedom from negative feelings does not mean that low scorers experience a lot of positive feelings.

Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait in the study of psychology. It is an enduring tendency to experience negative emotional states. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than the average to experience such feelings as anxiety, anger, guilt, and depressed mood.They respond more poorly to environmental stress, and are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. They are often self-conscious and shy, and they may have trouble controlling urges and delaying gratification. Neuroticism is a risk factor for “internalizing” mental disorders such as phobia, depression, panic disorder, and other anxiety disorders (traditionally called neuroses).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, individuals who score low in neuroticism are more emotionally stable and less reactive to stress. They tend to be calm, even-tempered, and less likely to feel tense or rattled. Although they are low in negative emotion, they are not necessarily high on positive emotion. Being high on positive emotion is an element of the independent trait of extraversion. Neurotic extraverts, for example, would experience high levels of both positive and negative emotional states, a kind of “emotional roller coaster”. Individuals who score low on neuroticism (particularly those who are also high on extraversion) generally report more happiness and satisfaction with their lives.

Sample neuroticism items

  • I am easily disturbed.
  • I change my mood a lot.
  • I get irritated easily.
  • I get stressed out easily.
  • I get upset easily.
  • I have frequent mood swings.
  • I often feel blue.
  • I worry about things.
  • I am relaxed most of the time. (reversed)
  • I seldom feel blue.


Taking the assessment

There are several sites where as part of ongoing research, you can take the assessment, and receive back an overview of your percentile scores in each of the 5 areas.

One link is here; another one that uses a slightly different interpretation in the answers with a graph is here 

Extracts taken from from

Past/Present/Future Coaching Tool

Past/Present/Future Coaching Tool

past present futureA question  arising early in the coaching relationship is how are the coach and client going to spend their time together and which time will they spend this time on?  Will they concentrate more on the past, looking back in anger (sadness, joy…)?  Or, will they ‘seize the day’, trying to ‘go with the flow’ in the momentum of being alive and ‘open’ to the present moment?  Or, might they anticipate the future, bright or otherwise, perhaps in the belief that pro-activity is crucial and failing to plan is planning to fail?

For some people, there’s no contest.  It has to be the present.  That’s the place to start from, ‘The past is history, the future’s a mystery, that’s why the present’s a gift’, they claim. Meditation practice focuses on the present, the here and now.  The argument between the past and the future is represented by the two giants of therapeutic thinking.  In the red corner, psychoanalysis insists that the present and future can only be understood in the context of the past, ’Those who cannot understand the past are condemned to repeat it’.  They turn to the metaphor of archaeology claiming that any way of life is best understood by excavating and piecing together its artefacts, some of which have been deeply buried for many years.

In the blue corner, cognitive behavioural approaches argue that it is a waste of time and money to self indulgently wallow in past memories (many of which are probably spurious at best and maybe even false anyway).  There’s no point crying over spilt milk.  Better to concentrate on cleaning up the mess and learning how not to spill it again in future.  Never mind what has happened.  What do you want to happen?  Start with the end in mind, plan proactively, set objectives, aims, goals and evaluate.  That’s the way; forwards, not backwards… onwards, upwards…

In a therapeutic context, a therapist talked of her work with adolescents who had suffered trauma.  She said, most trauma-free adolescents would see their life in terms of importance of time frames as follows


The future’s the thing.  Where it’s happening.  What to do? Where to go?  Who with?  What to be (or at least what to appear to be on social networks)?

However, for those who are affected by life-changing trauma, they cannot have this hopeful, forward-looking perspective.  They are condemned/confined to the past.  They see the times as:

PAST..Present future.

 The exercise

past present future 2If this is so, it’s important that client and coach get to know which of the three broad time frames are most important and when.  If they don’t, they will be talking at cross-purposes, the time will be out of joint and they might sound like they are using a different language. The Coach can also encourage the client to “time travel” and spend time inhabiting each of these time frames to reflect on the broad canvas of their journey.

Past, Present and Future Coaching tool covers areas of prevailing drivers, key relationships, work, and  relationship with oneself as an individual.

The Coaching tool was developed jointly by David Crowe and Martin Smith.

Mindfulness in Coaching

Mindfulness in Coaching

Mindfulness is all around us these days, and its link to Coaching is no exception. The practice of the coach can be enhanced through using mindfulness as a preparation tool and during coaching sessions. Coaching clients can benefit from mindfulness practice in things like cementing agreed follow through from sessions, in managing stress and contributing towards improved performance.

Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience. Jon Kabat-Zinn (a well know teacher of mindfulness) defines it like this: “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”

Some of the ways mindfulness can be used in coaching are:

  • Practice mindfulness meditation regularly as a Coach
  • Approach coaching (and life in general) with non-judgement; openness; curiosity, and compassion
  • Share mindfulness practices within coaching sessions with clients and as ‘homework’ where useful and appropriate for the client
  • Attend to the present in all coaching interactions (thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations)- both on the part of the Coach and on the part of the client

MIndfulness for the client

We know about the benefits of mindfulness in relation to many aspects of how we live: managing stress and regulating our emotions, being able to step back and be objective in most situations, and the ability to relate to others and oneself with kindness, acceptance and self compassion. This can either be through formal practice like 10-15 minutes a day listening to some mindfulness practice or aiming to be mindful whilst getting on with our daily lives.

Where I have found it especially helpful for clients is in two ways;

  • To use mindfulness practice where a client is struggling with stress and anxiety
  • The other way is to help reinforce some of the key principles agreed from the session in a brief mindfulness recording to help them internalise into their day to day practice. This has helped clients working on varied on aspects from self care through to prioritisation in a working week
  • This only works with some clients and as ever with any coaching approach I only ever suggest it if the client is open to the idea and we both think something like that would work.

Mindfulness for the Coach

Douglas Riddle, a well known Leadership Coach argues that good Coaches have “quiet minds” and help create in the conversation with the client a sense of open, reflective exploration. He argues that mindful coaching is better coaching, and mindfulness practices have shown benefits for clients in health, decision-making and leadership.

Mindful Coaches perfect a form of conscious and comfortable simultaneous attention to themselves, their client, the relationship between them, and the mental, emotional, and relational dynamics occurring in the moment. There are three aspects of mindfulness that have particular pertinence to coaching:

An empty mind: for the coach, mindfulness is characterized by an empty mind, a stilling of the persistent chatter and the cognitive ticker-tape of commentary. This is a challenge for most Westerners because of our devotion to activity and terror of being alone with ourselves. An empty mind is key to letting something happen in someone else. It is the essence of coaching.

Non-reactivity: meditation and quiet thoughtfulness help coaches sense that, as they work, they are operating in a vast mental and emotional space with clients. A reaction is not always  required, no matter what the provocation. Instead, coaches are free to perceive the needs of their clients and respond – without escalating the emotional content or misinterpreting any intent. Still, fostering a non-judgmental attitude as a coach does not mean surrendering judgment. Mindfulness in fact leads to wiser judgment about what’s important and what is not.

“Permissive attention”: a mindful coach can draw a person into a moment of connection in which all distractions disappear. It doesn’t matter whether the distractions are in the room or in the street outside or in unbidden thoughts or feelings from within the client. The ultimate challenge for most people is staying focused for more than a moment on any serious line of thinking, perceiving, judging or acting. The coach is repeatedly able to draw the attention of the client to those things of importance to him/her and return the attention to it without coercion. Modern brain research has shown that we move in and out of various states of focused or unfocused attention throughout our day. Coaching allows someone to stay on a line of thought until it yields new perspectives and answers.

Mindfulness Practices

I have started to put mindfulness recordings together for clients, some generic and some specific to their work:

  1. Giving yourself permission to feel your fear:

This mindfulness practice is based on the work of Bruce Tift and is focussed on giving yourself permission to feel your fear:

2. The “SAFE” Practice

This is a 4 step compassion practice to sooth difficult emotions and connect with a sense of safety:


General resources

Dan Siegel “wheel of awareness”; various meditation exercises using the metaphor

Mindfulness; A Practical Guide to Peace in a Frantic World; a really good book and CD on mindfulness

Can you challenge yourself to spend an hour with a Mindfulness overview and training with John Kabatt-Zinn?

What should I do with my life?

What should I do with my life?

Look back upon your life and ask: What up to now have you truly loved, what has raised up your soul, what ruled it and at the same time made it happy? Line up these objects of reverence before you, and see how they form a ladder on which you have so far climbed up toward your true self (Friedrich Nietzsche)

If you have to stick with your job to pay the bills, then you may feel that asking this question of yourself is pointless. But it’s not. Rich or poor, young and old, we all dream of something different, something better, if only when we gaze at the stars.

What’s the first question exchanged when we meet someone new? You guessed it: “So… What do you do?”

In our culture, what you do for a living is inextricably tied to society’s perception of your worth. A stable job with a good salary is highly regarded, but we often look less lovingly upon the self-trained artist or entrepreneur who gives blood, sweat, and tears to make their vision possible.

Why is this? Is the number on your salary the true meaning of success?

Instead of focusing on money or power, let’s focus on what’s fundamental: happiness and a sense of purpose. These two elements drive us to do more than status or material gain.

People don’t succeed by migrating to a particular industry or job. They thrive by getting curious about answering questions about who they really are and doing work they truly love. In doing so, they unleash unthinkable creative and productive energy. To truly be happy, our work must have meaning.

This is not a new idea. For decades, psychologists have known that humans are more motivated by personally meaningful goals than by external rewards such as money or status. Put simply: When you love what you do, it shows. You’re lit up by your passion, you put in extra effort, you’re a source of great ideas. Others envy your confidence.

Remember that 95 percent of the time finding oneself doesn’t happen in one major epiphany. Clarity comes in fits and spurts. Passion evolves.

All of us are born with innate strengths and aptitudes. Nurture your interests and have patience when finding ways to exercise passion for something — even if you don’t see a way to make money from it yet. Be persistent and remain open to the possibilities.

The first step

The first step is to simply explore your whims — those little sparks of interest you’re not sure what to make of yet. To help you figure out what you find meaningful and inspiring in your life, try this exercise:

Get out some blank paper or open a fresh computer file. Write for a minimum of five minutes straight. Do not censor yourself. Write freely. Jot down whatever comes to mind, no matter how silly or unformed the idea seems.

  • Name the top 3 peak experiences in your life. What do they have in common?  What does this tell you about yourself?
  • What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
  • What are your strengths and values?
  • If money weren’t a problem, what would you spend your every day doing?
  • What would you be doing if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • What’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
  • What have you done in your life that you are especially proud of?
  • What activity are you doing when it feels like time just flies by?
  • When do you feel the most alive?
  • What kind of impact do you want to have?
  • What kind of professional and personal breakthroughs do you want to experience?
  • What are things (a language, a sport) you want to learn?
  • How do you envision you will leave your goal or legacy on people’s lives?
  • What are you excited, happy, and enjoying most in your life right now?

Life isn’t predictable. Often the path to success isn’t clear-cut. The real secret to success is embracing life’s twists and turns. By dispelling limiting beliefs, you’re igniting a fire to help your interests grow and thrive. So the next time someone asks you, “What do you do for a living,?” you won’t have to know the final answer, but you’ll already be taking the next step.


coat-of-arms-1See the values-and-purpose-tool that will help you identify your core values and your overall purpose.

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6 Thinking hats technique

6 Thinking hats technique

‘Six Thinking Hats’ is a really useful approach used to look at decisions from a number of important perspectives. This forces you to move outside your habitual thinking style, and helps you to get a more rounded view of a situation.

This tool was created by Edward de Bono in his book ‘6 Thinking Hats‘. Edward De Bono says “the main difficulty of thinking is confusion. We try to do too much at once. Emotions, information, logic, hope and creativity all crowd in on us. It’s like juggling too many balls”. De Bono describes 6 different types of thinking that we do all the time and associates each with a different colour hat.

  • Information (White) – considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
  • Emotions (Red) – intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
  • Discernment (Black) – logic applied to identifying reasons to be cautious and conservative
  • Optimistic response (Yellow) – logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony
  • Creativity (Green) – statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes
  • Managing thinking/process control (Blue) – strategic planning, cool and controlled thinking; a helicopter view

Many successful people think from a very rational, positive viewpoint. This is part of the reason that they are successful. Often, though, they may fail to look at a problem from an emotional, intuitive, creative or negative viewpoint. This can mean that they underestimate resistance to plans, fail to make creative leaps and do not make essential contingency plans.Similarly, pessimists may be excessively defensive, and more emotional people may fail to look at decisions calmly and rationally.

If you look at a problem with the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ technique, it encourages you to make a more rounded decision, taking a combination of logic and emotion into play.

This is the DE BONOs 6 Hats Tool that can be used in coaching situations.