Surf the Waves

Her lips began to wobble and tears started to roll slowly down her cheeks. Ruby (not her real name) was crying which, for her, was a break through. Up until this occasion, Ruby’s reaction when her emotions ran high was to ‘storm’, to ‘kick-off’, to react unreasonably by lashing out. This was because she did not recognise her feelings and therefore could not rationalise the process of cause and effect. This time, however, was different: her crying was a sign that she had begun to recognise the emotions and accept them for what they are. Her next step will be to learn to manage them.

Emotions are so rich. They give us life’s highlights but, sadly, the lowlights too. Therefore, learning to appreciate them and manage them is key to a resilient and successful life.

Research show that emotions have a life-span of 90 seconds so, if we can stand back, witness and name the uncomfortable feelings during that brief period, we can facilitate their passing more easily. Some of us find it more difficult than others to deal with emotional storms, so there are ways we can adopt to help us through them: here is one useful and easy-to-remember acronym.

R – Recognise your thoughts – what are the emotions that are troubling you
A – Acknowledge – allow & accept your present reality
I – Investigate – inquire what was the trigger, has this happened before
N – Neutral, non-attached – step aside, recognise them as emotions and not YOU
S – Support yourself, self compassion – be generous, kind and friendly to yourself

And so if you suffer from negative thinking patterns try out RAINS to get over the storm and Surf the Waves.

Ruby and her teachers use The Window of Tolerance which is an excellent programme explaining where emotions come from and how to learn how to get the better of them to young people –

Finally for those that love TED talks here are a couple of ‘emotions’ ones to check out – Tiffany Watt Smith’s The History of Human Emotions and Lisa Feldman Barret’s You Aren’t at the Mercy of your Emotions your Brian Creates Them.

Rachel is a business & educational psychologist. After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past eight years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.

Learning from Experience

While we all like to think that we are learning from experience all of the time, the truth is that the whirlwind of the day-to-day often means that we fail to reflect and therefore gain maximum benefit from the events to which we are exposed.

Applying Kolb’s Learning Cycle terminology; we are exposed to different Experiences in our day-to-day lives, however, the demands of our busy lives often mean that we go straight to Planning the next event/experience before we have Reflected and Conceptualised the last thing. In this way, we fail to go all of the way around the cycle and thus don’t gain the full benefit from the experience.

  Kolb’s Learning Cycle

 

Worse than this, by repeatedly travelling the same course we create deeply entrenched neural pathways, which then become habits, which in turn are difficult to break, even when we would be more effective without them.

Building Wisdom: The memory does not lay down memories in a linear fashion, but more like a scaffold – wisdom is built by making connections between seemingly unrelated facts, creating models that can be amended and applied to different situations. Taking time to reflect and conceptualise helps us to build a strong scaffold, which helps us to apply our learning to future events. Making many connections of this sort promotes faster thinking – a useful analogy might be travelling by train around City A, which has many suburban connections versus City B with a hub and spoke network, thus forcing one to go via the centre in order to reach the next door suburb. If connections are king – how do we build them?

While I don’t suggest that we should reflect on every single experience/event in our lives, (such an approach would slow us to the point of paralysis, causing us to miss opportunities and normal engagement), reflecting and conceptualising is required to build those all-important connections – a balance is required. So how can we get the balance right? The methodology I use and frequently recommend to my clients, is the Reflective Learning Journal.

How can a Reflective Learning Journal help? Put simply, a RLJ is an organised repository for thoughts, which promotes learning through making connections. It is a practical way to apply the Kolb Learning Cycle to everyday life. (For a fuller explanation of how to layout and complete a RLJ follow the Free Tool tab at the bottom of this article). So why a written journal, rather than simply taking time to think? There are many advantages of actually writing a journal including:

  • Slowing down your thoughts to the rate of the pen promotes focus on one single issue, rather than a jumble of thoughts, effectively untangling the web of competing concerns
  • Creates intentional space for thinking
  • Allows you to tackle uncomfortable, background issues, which you can’t quite put your finger on
  • Provides a record of your thoughts, which you can revisit and identify trends in your behaviour

When to use it: You can use your journal at any time a useful thought occurs to you, however, I recommend you add a reminder in your diary for the end of each week. A good time is immediately before planning the following week, thus allowing you to reflect on progress towards your goals for the preceding week – what went well, (things to repeat),  what not so well (things to stop/change), what got in the way of your progress, and importantly – the resulting plan. This is not an exercise of navel-gazing, this is about improving your performance by perceiving the connections between events and outcomes to apply to an ever-changing future.

Worth testing out for a month? Download the instructions using the link below.

 

About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and non-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment. She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

You can contact her at

enquiries @yibp.co.uk  or 07789 520205

Understanding Relationships

When you interact with other people, is your primary aim to get something from them, or is it to give something to them? Or are you just too awkward in company to do anything positive at all? If you fall naturally in the ‘giving’ category you will most likely excel in interpersonal relationships and need no help at all. However, there is good news even if you fall into the ‘get something’ and/or ‘awkward’ categories: you can do something to improve your social skills.

Researcher John Gottman and his colleagues at the University of Washington have concluded that we tend to keep an unconscious account of interpersonal behaviour – rather like a balance sheet with positive and negative instances set against each other. To stay in good standing with another person we need to have a balance of four or five positives to offset one negative. For example, when you do four good deeds for a friend – i.e. compliment them, encourage them, help them and indulge them – but then thoughtlessly hurt their feelings, they may forgive you this last but your emotional account with them takes a hit and you need to work to top it up.

Avoid leaving an encounter on a dud note – i.e. with a bad behaviour causing a negative balance: resentment will grow and, furthermore, interest will be added to the emotional debt, putting the good standing of the relationship at risk. (The opposite is also true so that a healthy balance will grow into emotional credit if you leave an encounter with a positive behaviour.)

Here are some easy-to-implement tips for building up a healthy balance in those emotional accounts.

  • Enthusiastic greetings – great to see you again!
  • Compliments – you look fab in that red shirt!
  • Listening attentively – even to a boring story…
  • Surprise presents – cupcakes all round on a wet Wednesday!
  • Share – offer your chips around!

Did you know that, actor/producer, Sarah Jessica Parker always greets journalists with a compliment on something they are wearing? The result is that she rarely gets bad press. Check out this list of Nice Things to Say.

Off we go to do good things and we will all end up in the ‘giving’ category – leading growing emotional bank accounts and spreading happiness along the way.

And if you want a spring/early summer read about relationships – especially friendships – look no further than the novelist Elena Ferrante and start with the first book of a series of four My Brilliant Friend.

Rachel is a business & educational psychologist. After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.

Speaking Out

“What I most regretted were my silences….And there are so may silences to be broken”  Andre Lorde

The theme of my previous blog The Sound of Silence was an appreciation of silence as an opportunity to reflect on life from the quiet sanctuary of one’s unspoken thoughts. Nevertheless, we should be in no doubt that there are occasions when speaking out is the right thing to do; when to be silent is to be complicit in wrongdoing.

American writer Rebecca Solnit says in her latest book The Mother of All Questions “silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard”.

Think about your values – those you hold to be right or wrong – and speak out about them. Speaking out really does change or even save lives – perhaps your own if, say, you are a victim of abuse. Speak out to help change other people’s lives as well. Remember the 1980s campaigns to raise awareness of AIDS and, more recently, campaigns that challenged society’s tolerance of sexual harassment or the safety of children in school. The social media hashtags #MeToo and #MarchForOurLives have amplified our voices and strengthened our hope that change can happen when we have the courage to speak out.

But none of this is new. In 2018, we are celebrating the brave, courageous work of the Suffragists and Suffragettes who, 100 years ago, refused to be silent. They won the right for women to get the vote – an important victory in a battle that is not yet over – and we, in turn, must continue to speak out for women’s right to be equal.

Those of you in Manchester, or visiting, might like to check out these fascinating exhibitions at the Manchester Art Gallery – Annie Swynnerton: Painting Light & Hope and Sylvia Pankhurst: Working Women . I am sure you will find them inspiring.

So, what do you speak out about? What will you speak out about?

 

 

Rachel is a business & educational psychologist. After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.

Where does the time go?

Research tells us that we are slightly delusional – we think we are doing one thing, but are actually doing something else. To help us check back in with reality we created a Time Analysis template to complement our previous blogs; in January’s blog I asked you to think about putting everything into a schedule, last month was prioritizing, this month I am asking you to revisit that schedule and see where does time really go by using our simple, free Time Analysis tool. In this way we aim to eliminate tasks, which do not take us closer to our objectives, thus creating more time for the ‘right’ things.

shown below, (see link at end of this article to download your free copy):

  • The first column separates the day into 15 minute blocks,

  • The next column provides space to record the activity undertaken
  • Column 3 indicates whether this was your planned activity or if you were interrupted (i.e. unscheduled),
  • Column 4 records your energy level (H = high, M = medium, L = low).
  • Column 5 records the quadrant number (1 urgent & important, 2 non-urgent & important, etc. See February’s blog for further explanation).

How to Use It

Select two or three fairly typical days from your schedule, (a week is better, but don’t overcommit at this stage, as this will require some discipline to complete well). While the final column can be filled in in retrospect, all of the others should be completed at 15-minute intervals, without this accuracy will be sacrificed. Consider setting a 15-minute reminder to run throughout the day. Be honest with yourself – if you were chatting to Steph about the weekend, record chatting – this is for your eyes only and no benefit will be derived from self-delusion.

At the end of the exercise review what you have been doing – how much time have you spent in Q2 (leaders should aim for 80%), how much in Q1 – what planning can you do to prevent repeats of crises? What Q3 activities can you delegate and are you prepared to stop doing the things in Q4?

You will also see whether or not you are keeping to the schedule you set for yourself – if not, why not? What can you do to reduce/eliminate interruptions so that you are working to your own agenda and moving closer to your goals?

Reviewing your energy level will allow you to recognise when you are at your best and therefore the best time to schedule your most important and challenging work in future. Use these insights to plan your coming weeks to achieve the ‘important’ and eliminate the distractions.

 

To download the Time Analysis template for free (and without the need to leave your email address – just think of us when you need some help) use the link below

 

 

About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment . She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

Your can contact her at

enquiries @yibp.co.uk  or 07789 520205

The Sound of Silence

“Quietly, wisely, silence makes a case for dumbing the din of modern life and learning to listen again” Robert Macfarlane

I used to find silence disconcerting. It was a void that I needed to fill with noise – chattering or radio or – well, anything really. I could not go running unless I had my earphones firmly plugged in, delivering sounds that distracted or directed my thoughts. However, since I discovered the beauty of silence and the benefits it can bring, I run now without the earphones, especially early in the day or in remote places, where silence affords me the space to appreciate what is around me. There, silence is my welcome companion, refuelling my mind while I observe and appreciate the world as it is, undistracted by a superimposed layer of sound.

Explorer, Erling Kagge calls this to ‘listen to the great nothing’ and has recently written a fascinating book – Silence, In The Age of Noise – in which he explains the experience of shutting out the world. It opens up your thoughts and lets you see the world more clearly – ‘trying to love your life’. He quotes an old Norwegian saying ‘it is not how you are but what you make of things’.

Of course, you don’t have to be a runner to benefit from the sound of silence. At home, for example, before and after a busy noisy day, you can create some calm by being silent – shunning the radio, TV and the internet for a while – to create quiet space for your mind to rest and recharge.

And for those that want to take it a step further check out a clip from Nicolas Provost’s silent film Exodus.

Is silence your friend? I’d suggest it is a powerful friend and ally and well worth courting.

Here’s to our new BF – silence.

NB in contrast, next month’s blog will be all about when not to be silent.

 

 

Rachel is a business & educational psychologist. After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.

Doing The Right Things

We are all busy, right? Too much to do and too little time? It certainly feels that way, but sometimes we are so busy heroically scaling the proverbial ladder that we fail to notice that it is lent against the wrong wall. As Andy Pausch said “it’s not doing things right, but doing the right things”, but how do we know if we are doing the right things?

Thankfully Franklin Covey came up with a smart little tool, which helps us to conceptualise what we are doing



 

 

How to use Franklin Covey’s Time Matrix

All of our tasks can be plotted on this 2 x 2 matrix according to how important and urgent they are. What is important/urgent for me may not be so for you, (and vice versa), so make judgments based on your own priorities. (Priorities will be difficult to define if you don’t know your major goals, this is a whole separate subject, which I will tackle in a subsequent blog). Look at your agenda – which of these boxes does each task sit:

  • Q1 Urgent & Important – these are crises/big issues that need to be dealt with right now.
  • Q2 Not Urgent & Important – essentially this is planning, which we can put off and generally do off.
  • Q3 Urgent & Not Important – these are the sort of things you should think about delegating, (if they aren’t important to you, why are you doing them?)
  • Q4 – Not Urgent & Not Important

Be honest with yourself – this is for your eyes, no need to share.

NB Relationship-building activity belongs in Q2  – a common mistake is to assume that this is a Q4 activity – wrong! Relationships and the maintenance of them are essential – we are social animals relying on one another both for motivation and cooperation; relationships are important, make time for them.

The critical factor is to spend time in Q2; this automatically shrinks Q1 and Q3 – while planning is not fool-proof, it does mean that we raise our heads and think about why the boat is sinking, rather than endlessly baling out.

Use the Planning Tool from last month’s blog to check your balance by assigning Q1 – 4 to each activity. If you are spending less than 50% of your time in Q2 you are probably not leading effectively.

If you struggle to understand where your time is going, I will address this in next month’s blog, (drop me a line if you would like to be signed up to receive it).

 

 

About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment . She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

Your can contact her at

enquiries @yibp.co.uk  or 07789 520205

End the ‘To-Do’ List for Better Productivity

I was recently approached by someone who was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things he needed to get done each day. His motivation was to do a really good job, but his productivity was poor – no matter how many hours he put in, there was always something else which needed his attention and he felt like he was going backwards. Each new day started with a backlog from the previous, and from one minute to the next he didn’t know from where the next curved ball might hit him. When we met he was in a highly stressed state, he wasn’t sleeping, which was affecting his performance, making him less rational than he might otherwise be, which was further feeding the stress.

 

While I am not saying that it was all the fault of his ‘to do’ list, I do think that scrapping it was the biggest single contributing factor in breaking this negative cycle. The trouble with such lists is that they do nothing to inform us how long each item will take, nor which should take priority; as a result you have no visibility, which makes us wonder if we are doing the right thing at any one time, leading to feelings of lack of control – a key factor in stress.

 

 

There is a different way

At this time of year we tend to come back to work re-energised from our winter break and motivated to get things done many of us will have compiled a trusty ‘to do’ list – lines/pages of actions arising from quality, non-stressed thinking over the holiday period and captured safely to avoid forgetting these nuggets. I’d like to encourage you to try out a slightly different approach – perhaps give it 4-6 weeks – instead of using a list, use a schedule. This is hardly revolutionary – I’m sure you already have a diary, which at least has appointments recorded, so all I ask is for you to extend this to the point where you start scheduling everything, (yes, everything!)

 

Start each week by producing a plan – using something like this:

 

 

  1. Block out & label the things that can not be moved (e.g. meetings to which you are pivotal and/or committed) & don’t forget to block out traveling time where appropriate
  2. Now think about the major things you want to achieve in the coming week. Break it down into tasks and block out appropriate chunks of time to work on them, (work on the rocks, pebbles, sand principle)
  3. Now block out time for all of the other things you need to do and label them. Don’t forget to schedule lunch and regular breaks.

 

Crucially, we can now to see when your week is full; if we want to fit in something else we make a conscious decision about what to sacrifice/move into next week, (prioritising). The other major benefit of this over a list is that the constant background worry about whether we are doing the right thing at the right time is removed, as we are reassured that we thought about this rationally at the beginning of the week. You’ll be amazed at how much headspace this frees up.

 

One objection I commonly encounter goes, “but my life is not like that, I have to react to situations minute by minute”. When we step back this is rarely the case, and if it really is so, then there is something fundamentally awry with the way we are working. That said I do understand that the idea of having the whole day committed can be a scary one and things can and do crop up, things which need your attention. For these people I propose blocking out an hour, maybe even two, and label that time “unexpected”. Let the team know that this is the time to bring up urgent/unscheduled things, (for other things get them to book out a free slot in your schedule), and if nothing crops up simply crack on with the next item on your schedule.

 

I’m pleased to say that having implemented this system “John” is much more relaxed and has better productivity and is more creative in his work, all this because  he has taken back control – he’s happy, his boss is happy and his direct reports are delighted.

 

Give it a try

If you would like to talk about making your time more productive please get in contact. If you would like to download our Weekly Planner template for free (and without the need to leave your email address – just think of us when you need some help) use the link below.

 

I’d also love to hear how you get on.

 

 

About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment . She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

Your can contact her at

enquiries @yibp.co.uk  or 07789 520205

Willpower = Achievement?

.
One in four new year resolutions fail by January 8th.

Despite what we were told, it seems that willpower is not the golden bullet for getting things done we thought. According to research by Professor David Desteno, (professor of psychology at Northeastern University, USA) rather than driving us to achievement, willpower is actually quite toxic, it creates stress and has long-term negative health outcomes. Remember that child who deferred the gratification of eating one marshmallow now, by waiting patiently to be given two? She seems destined not only for higher long- term earnings, but also for a stress-related coronary!

 

What is the learning from this? Apparently the solution is not to live a life of complete hedonism, living for the moment with no thought for the future; instead it is to be social in our endeavours. This means working as and for a group or team, rather than for your own ends. Why so? It turns out that we are able to defer gratification and dig deep in our reserves much more easily and with much less stress when we do so with feelings of compassion for others and with pride. Doing something in and for the group is actually easier and more successful than following our individual goals. Working together has the natural pay-off of security, which for social beings like us humans, who rely on others for our survival, is a fundamental need. Doing things for others has a reward in and of itself, as well as driving us on.

 

Whoever your team is, make sure you plan together, and for the good of the whole; this way you will enjoy a much higher probability of success without the emotional grunt work required for solitary pursuits.

 

 

The Author

Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator and non-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives who lead organisations with a turnover of up to £10 million or less than 100 employees, and who wish to effect positive change, particularly in the environmental sector. She collaborates to help them achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach.

You can contact her at

enquiries@yibp.co.uk  or  07789520205