The ‘new year-new you-fresh start-new leaf-possibilities’ messages are already beginning to grate and it turns out it’s not just me. I worked with a client this afternoon who finds these sorts of messages really hard to handle. The word she actually used was ‘inadequate’. Because it can feel like the whole world is bouncing out of bed full of enthusiasm, focus, motivation and determination merely because it is now January. And so it can leave those who are not feeling like this a little dejected. The fact is that if you felt stuck in an area of your life in December then you will not now be unstuck just because we are in a new calendar month. January is not a magic pill. If you were feeling unfulfilled at work 4 weeks ago then it is highly likely you still feel that way now. If the idea of dating was filling you with dread in the Christmas run up then the chances are it still feels daunting now. If your confidence tank was running on empty in 2018 then you’re probably starting 2019 the same way. Change does not come with a flick of a calendar page. Change comes with some work, by taking some action. By working on the underlying beliefs, thoughts or behaviours that are resulting in your version of stuck. And many people have jumped on the resolution bandwagon without much thought to what would really make the greatest difference to them. So if you, like my client today, are feeling a bit fed up of all these messages then be a rebel….ignore them and DO nothing. Use January as a month to quietly reflect on what is going on for you. What is going well? What is not feeling so great? What might make a difference? Then when everyone else is entering February clinging on to their resolutions for dear life you can step forward, knowing where you’d like to focus your energy in order to make the most positive changes to your life, for the long term. And if you’d like some help reflecting on what’s going on for you then email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a free tool to kick off your thinking 🙂
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I hear it every day. Fine. The mask we put on to hide our real feelings from the world. The throwaway answer that pacifies. The reception mum in the playground who says ‘I’m fine” when actually what she means is “I’m tired today and missing having my little boy at home”. The solo entrepreneur trying to get her business off the ground who says “yes, it’s fine” when she means “it’s lonely, I’m constantly comparing myself to others and honestly I don’t know if I’ll make it work”. The guy who says “I’m fine” to the colleagues at lunch when actually he means “life is tough right now, we’ve just been through another miscarriage and I don’t know how much more my wife can take”. The client who sits opposite me and says that her boss is throwing more work at her than she can possibly deliver and then adds in “but I mean it’s fine”.
Who are we protecting? Ourselves or the other person? And what from? From the realities of life? Amazing things happen for everyone when you drop the mask and step out of the isolating prison of pretence this word creates. I know, I tried it today. Because this morning I was not fine, and by admitting this, by sharing an every day struggle with another human I found out that she felt the same, that she too was struggling. So things were not fine for either of us. They were tricky, challenging, hard work and exhausting. And yet somehow by knowing we are not alone in the very real challenges of life we find strength to plough on. We connect, recharge and find new energy as this is not about us, this is about life.
So from now on I am never going to be fine. I may be on top of the world, ill, excited, happy, sad, nervous, tired, angry or grateful. But I will never be just ‘fine’.
Growing up is tough. Exploring individuality and establishing independence are both a huge part of it. Combine that with the psychological importance of a teenager having a space to call their own and suddenly the conversation over their bedroom becomes an uber important one.
Many parents struggle with choices that deviate from the style of the rest of the house. The introduction of a dark colour in an otherwise neutral space. Or glitz and chintz in a minimalist space. And yet if you are dictating the style then you are still exerting your preferences onto them at a time when they need to explore their own. What really matters is that the values of the household/family are upheld in this space. So if promoting drug use or violence would not be tolerated as a family then it’s a no to posters that do the same.
That said it is understandable that you might not love the idea of a whole room being painted black. This is when you need to express your views clearly and then ask your child to tell you more about theirs, encouraging them to think creatively around their options too. For example “I’d rather you didn’t paint your whole room black because it makes the house feel too dark. Is there another colour you’d be happy with or perhaps you could just paint one wall black? Do you have any other ideas?”
Pinterest is a great way to support and encourage their creativity and ideas whilst also adding your own. Building a board together can encourage discussion and finding solutions so that you get to a final style that you are both happy with (or can at least live with!).
Perspective is perhaps the most useful tool here as a parent. At the end of the day there is a door you can shut, paint you can one day paint over and helping your teenager express themselves is a gift you can give them on their way to adulthood.
I was recently asked to write an article for Gulf News on the subject of challenging bosses. There are many conflicts in the workplace but here are three of the most common and some strategies of how you might approach the situation:
The boss who sets unrealistic deadlines
I’m sure this scenario is familiar to many of us. A big task with a small timeframe equals a whole lot of stress. And as a one-off can be a thrilling, adrenaline-fuelled test of what we are capable of when really pushed. But when it happens over and over again this sort of pressure is detrimental to both mental and physical health and will quickly erode any form of job satisfaction or work/life balance.
The key to tackling this workplace problem is to try and get to the bottom of why it is happening. Is it that your boss genuinely doesn’t understand what needs to happen to deliver this work to the standard you would be happy with as they are too removed from it? In which case a direct conversation to explain this and see if there is any leeway around timings is a great start. Make sure it this is led from a position of experience, not insecurity. It is not that you don’t believe you can’t do it but that in order to do it well and not compromise on quality then your experience tells you it will need an extra 2 days. Perhaps they themselves are under huge pressure from elsewhere and need to deliver something not everything. Again, an honest conversation about what can be achieved or perhaps other resources needed to deliver it e.g. an extra member of the team to help or a staggered delivery schedule. It is also worth remembering that sometimes deadlines by their very nature can overwhelm us, especially when we don’t know exactly what the job will entail. Try breaking down a big project into smaller deliverables and see if it feels achievable then. Always start with the most difficult part of it, once you’ve cracked that the rest will follow. And it is always OK to challenge and question a deadline so long as you don’t go empty-handed. A proactive, solutions- based approach is the way to go.
I have always worked to a 75/25 rule – the majority of work should have reasonable deadlines and feel very manageable. But life and business will always throw curve balls so there will be times when all this flies out the window and stuff needs to get done now. If this ratio changes, if you find yourself under more stress than you can cope with or if you feel like you are being set up to fail then this is the time to flag your concerns officially, First with your boss and then if unresolved with HR or more senior manager. Adrenalin rushes are fine. Adrenal failure is not.
The boss who thinks holidays are for wimps
Time off is super important. We all need time to rest, recharge, rebalance and recalibrate as well as time to create precious memories with loved ones. And far from detracting from your career, these regular breaks will give you the energy, focus and perspective to fly even higher and achieve even more and prevent burnout. So when this need for time out is not supported in the workplace it can feel very stressful and even create feelings of guilt about booking holidays.
The first thing to remember is that each of us sees the world differently. We have our own ‘map’ which is shaped by our values, experiences and beliefs. No two maps of the world are the same and yet they are all valid and good, so long as we do not try to impose our map onto someone else’s. If your boss doesn’t see holidays as important to them then that is fine. Perhaps they were brought up to believe that in order to succeed you have to work flat out. Perhaps they struggle to relax. Whatever the reason they are entitled to hold this view about holidays but not to impose it onto you. What this means is that you need to stay true to your map. To book your holidays guilt-free knowing that they matter to you. So, if your boss merely makes comments about people taking holidays then stay strong, keep booking them and let the comments wash over you. You can even acknowledge that you are sorry they feel this way but that holidays are important to you and you’ll be more productive as a result of the break. If however they are making it difficult for you to book holiday then that is a different matter. To see it from their perspective it can be difficult managing workload and business pressures with a whole team taking holiday so why not sit down with your boss and your diary and agree the dates together. Put forward your plans and then be prepared for some wiggle-room if there are business reasons to work around. Also make sure you give plenty of notice so that they have less reason not to agree to it. Be confident, assertive but flexible and you’ll be on that holiday in no time.
At the end of the day you are entitled to time off. And yes, the company can stipulate when, to an extent, and how long you may be off for. The whys and wherefores of this will be stated in your employment contract so make sure you check what you have agreed to. If your boss’s actions are meaning they are reneging on this then it is time to escalate the conversation to HR.
The boss who never gives positive feedback
Recognition is an important psychological need. And yet many leaders underestimate the power and necessity of positive feedback which can result in employees feeling unappreciated, unmotivated and undervalued.
There may be several reasons why your boss does not give you any positive feedback. The first is that they are simply too busy to really take notice of what you are up to. They are confident that you are getting the job done so it doesn’t take up any more of their headspace. So it is up to you to put your achievements on their radar. Put a regular catch up in their diary so that you have more chances to share what you’ve been up to than your annual performance review. And asking for their feedback will also make them feel valued too so it’s a win win. It might be that your boss has not been used to being praised in their career. You can set the example by managing up and providing authentic appreciation where appropriate. Tell your boss when you think they’ve done something great. If the truth of the matter is it is just not your boss’s style then you may need to look elsewhere for the validation you need. Keeping a Kudos File is an excellent start. Keep a note of all the good stuff said by colleagues and clients throughout the year so you can draw on it when needed. And perhaps there is someone else who can act as a mentor to you, who can provide feedback on your work aside from your boss? Most people are thrilled to be asked.
There is always the risk that the lack of positive feedback is actually a result of the overall corporate culture. If this is the case and you find it hard to work without that positive reinforcement then I’m afraid it might be time to look elsewhere for a workplace that reflects your own personal values more.
We all procrastinate to some extent or other. It is human nature. But understanding WHY you are procrastinating on a particular task can help you put strategies in place to get it done and move forward (after all you can’t steer a parked car…)
- First step is to CHANGE THE LANGUAGE. How different does it sound to hear “I MUST or I WILL do the accounts today’? This instantly reprogrammes the brain and puts it in the driving seat.
- Secondly, the task will take your time which is precious so what would give this task value to you? What would the reward for getting it done be, and make the time spent worth it? Could you finish early today and go for a run or treat yourself to something once it’s done?
- Some of the tasks involved in running your own business are dull. No two ways about it. So how can they be made more fun? After all you have the huge advantage of being the boss. An afternoon of admin can vanish in a happy cloud of smug-inducing productivity whilst listening to your favourite music, catching up on a useful podcast or even having a well-loved film playing in the background.
- The good old 2 minute promise is always a great way to just get started. Don’t want to go for that run….just two minutes and you can stop. Don’t want to sort out those invoices….just two minutes and the rest can wait. Starting is almost always the hardest part and when you get cracking you’ll want to see the job done.
- If in doubt roll out the tomato!! The Pomodoro technique (named after the tomato shaped kitchen timer) is a great way of chunking down a task and getting it done as efficiently as possible. The theory is simple. Decide on the job to be done and break it down into manageable tasks. Set a timer to 25 mins Work on the task. End work when the timer rings and take a short break (5 minutes for a cup of tea). Tackle the next task and when you have tackled 4 of them take a longer break (15–30 minutes) and see where you are at. Then go again. Simple but it works. Try https://tomato-timer.com
- Will doing this now save you time, effort and tears next time?? So often we go the long way round the seemingly huge obstacle, like the printer running out of ink, only to find that every time we need to print we are taking three times as long with ten times the angst than if we had taken the time to solve the root cause by replacing the cartridge.
- Check the language as above.If you can’t easily change it to I will or I want to then why not? Whose desire is it and what do you ACTUALLY want to do? Reframe it in a meaningful way for you.
- Look past the task. Procrastination happens because we value doing one thing more than another. So create a greater value in the task. What will completing this unwanted task give you? What do you stand to gain? What if filing those 1000 photographs meant you could show your grandchildren your life together. What if making that call could mean you could go on that holiday next year? What if filing that tax return meant you could go out on Saturday night without a care in the world and spend the £100 you’ll save on being fined for not doing it! Change the goal, change the mindset, change the results.
We all have the same number of hours in the day and yet sometimes it can feel as if everyone else is getting so much more done. Small changes and smarter choices can make a huge difference to what we can pack in to our days AND leave us feeling more in control and happier.
In fact, by choosing to use just 40 minutes more productively each working day it would give us back a whopping 21.5 days per year (or over 3 hours per week). You can start reclaiming those precious hours right now:
As mundane as it might sound, simply taking 30 minutes to plan the week ahead can save both stress and time in the long run. Understanding what you have on your plate this week allows you to see the bigger picture and be prepped. Plan the weekly meals (speeds up shopping too), think about what you want to wear and check it’s clean and see where there is downtime that you could use for yourself e.g popping a book in your bag for the commute.
JUST DO IT
Procrastination happens to us all, there are always tasks that make us favour someday over today. My favourite trick for this is the good old two minute rule. It is simple. Just commit to two minutes. No more.
Not feeling the 5k run? Pull on those trainers and get out of the door. You only have to run for two minutes. Don’t want to sort out those invoices? Make a start for two minutes and the rest can wait. Rather stick pins in your eyes than sort your wardrobe? Just two minutes sorting the clothes on the floor. Starting is almost always the hardest part and when you get cracking you’ll want to see the job done.
THE DAILY VIP LIST
Mornings are your secret weapon. This is the best time to focus on the Most Important Things. Try making a daily action list with just three crucial things that you want to make happen. Start the day with these, and only these (use the 2 minute rule if they feel overwhelming). Leave your inbox until after you have given your M.I.T your full attention. Once the crucial things have been tended to then the rest of the day is yours to use as you please. The derailing of a day tends to happen later on so if you get the things that matter most done first then you’ll have a productive day whatever happens.
Sometimes investing a little more time right now will save you a heap of time in the future. Instead of always spending ages searching for your HMRC reference number create a file with all crucial information in it so you have it at your fingertips when you need it. Often we just get used to doing things the painful way rather than just getting it sorted and making life easy for ourselves. So whatever your pain points are – change that ink, sort those files, tidy that desk, update that address book – just get it done today. I promise you it will feel great.
BEWARE THE TIME ZAPPERS
We all have time zappers. Social media is a common one. A quick peek and you find yourself still scrolling 40 minutes later and wondering where the time went. It has its place but try limiting the time you spend each day and you’ll instantly feel time rich. And if this is something you struggle with try using – it will act as your very own time-management police!
The same applies to TV. Mindful watching of a programme you love is great but if you are in the rut of just crashing on the sofa watching anything half-heartedly try switching off and reading a book, rediscovering music or even planning your goals for the next 3 months.
You are the architect of your time. You can choose what is important to fill those hours with. But as Iain Thomas reminds us it’s a decision you need to make and reinforce daily;
“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”
If you don’t like where you are, then move. You are not a tree! One of my favourite sayings. And yet so many of us stay where we are long after we have stopped enjoying it. It might be in a career that no longer satisfies us. A relationship that no longer brings us joy. A dream that stays on paper even though it makes our heart beat a little faster just thinking about it.
Yet we are all intelligent and incredible individuals with the power to do, have or become whatever we want. With only get one chance at life. So what’s going on? What holds us back and stops us going for ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ may be?
We think we have to have it all figured out. If we can’t see the exact path or destination then we shouldn’t start the journey, right? Absolutely not. In order to move forward, all you have to do is take one small step in the right direction, the rest will follow.
We care too much about what others think. This is YOUR life. And what other people think of the choices you make are none of your business. As long as they are making you happy and impacting positively on your life then it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. The truth is if you are constantly worried about pleasing everyone else (which is impossible anyway) then you will lose sight of who you are and what you really want anyway as you bend to their ideals. Imagine how gutting it would be to see those you feared were judging you achieve their dreams when you shelved yours worrying about their opinion!
We are waiting for things to happen. We’ve all looked at someone who seems to get all the lucky breaks and wondered when things will happen for us. It is said that there is no such things as luck, just times when opportunity meets preparation. What could you do to take action so you are ready for opportunity? What would change if you were to decide to make things happen, today?
We are focused on what we don’t want. And yet what you focus on you give life to. Concentrating on what you DO WANT instead of what you don’t opens your mind, allows all of your thoughts to focus on how to achieve it and guides your choices and decisions purposefully.
We think failure is a ‘thing’ to be feared. It really isn’t. Otherwise we’d still all be crawling like babies for fear of looking silly whilst we learned to walk. Each attempt at something merely teaches us something else. And if we see failure as a teacher then we can learn to enjoy failing as it helps us grow and ultimately gets us to an even better place.
We are afraid. Too many of us waste precious energy imagining all the bad things that might happen if we put ourselves out there. Of all of the above and much more, But what about all the wonderful things that might happen. Aren’t they equally as likely? And actually, that fear you have…would it actually be the end of the world if it did happen? How would that compare with staying where you are now?
I’m not for one minute suggesting that all change is easy, but I am saying that it will be worth it. And it all starts with the single yet brave decision to take a step in the right direction, to welcome change, to take control and make it happen.
Don’t be a tree. Be the butterfly.
No-one said life was going to be easy but it is filled with endless possibility. Change can be scary but never as scary as staying in the same place.
So this blog is about encouraging each of us to live life to the full and be all that we are capable of and want to be.
Be colourful. Be brave. Be adaptable. Be free. Be vibrant. Be the butterfly.
I dare you to live a more colourful life. The smallest of changes can completely can transform your future.