Meaningful support for leaders

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I teach Clinical Supervision, practice as a supervisor for Nurses and AHPs ,as well as coaching, I also provide coaching supervision for our internal coaches. I have also started the ILM 7 cert in coaching supervision.

Recently I have been thinking about the challenges faced by leaders not just the NHS but across all industries, and how much of a burden this places on the individual managers. Maybe leaders need a space to sort through the stresses they collect.

So why don’t we offer a form of leadership supervision that isn’t coaching but provides the space to explore all aspects of their leadership, including how they see themselves, their staff, their stakeholders, the different relationships, the work they do, the environment they work in, and the context within which they work. Now Exec coaching might cover this but what about the leaders in organisations?

Rather than coaching it feels more like the clinical supervision and coaching supervision I practice. We expect so much from our leaders that if we do not provide some space where they can make sense of their work and not carry their stress from one day to the next, we are just going to see more and more good leaders burning out.

The work leaders undertake is more and more challenging and these challenges come from all angles. I see messages and emails from leaders in my organisation come through late at night and early in the morning as the need to complete tasks becomes overwhelming. I am certain this happens right across the board not just in the NHS. This to me highlights that there is a need for leaders to take part in some sort of restorative, reflective conversations with a supervisor that does not hold a line management responsibility over them (ideally is external to the team). The supervisor will help the leader reflect on every aspect of their role helping them decide what needs to be kept and attended to and what can be let go of. Helping them make sense of their experience and manage their stress more appropriately.

If you are interested in discussing how this leadership supervision might work for you please get in touch.

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Trying to give up? Stop it, it won’t work!

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Whether you want to give up smoking, cut back on drinking or lose weight, focusing on giving something up or denying yourself something you are attached to is unlikely to end in success.

If we set ourselves goals on moving away from something, such as smoking, or drinking too much, or reducing our weight, then invariably the strength of our desire to complete the goal diminishes the further we move away from our starting point. As our drive to complete the goal diminishes old habits start to creep back, we will sneak the odd cigarette on a night out, have a cheeky glass of wine on a Friday night, or have a favourite chocolate bar on the way home from work.

All these minor discretions in another context would be perfectly acceptable if that was part of your plan. But most of us don’t plan it that way, we decide we are going to give up and then stop doing it. This works fine at first and we feel proud of ourselves. “We can do this”… we say to ourselves, we feel empowered. Because we are not sure what our criteria of success is, we can if we are not careful convince ourselves that we are nearer to achieving our goal than we are, and we begin to lose focus, and that’s when our old well formed habits sneak in, and push our new slightly awkward and partially formed habits out of the way. This is most likely to happen when we are stressed and tired, and in need of some comfort. We will reach for those habits we rely on to give us solace and comfort, like a cigarette, glass of wine or a chocolate bar. In the short term they give us a hit of endorphins and we feel comforted. At this point we convince ourselves all is good, we have proved we can do it, and we go back to denying ourselves until the next stress point. Eventually we resign ourselves to failure and go back to our old habits. Some of us tell ourselves that it is just to hard to give up at the moment, I will try again when I am feeling stronger, and some of us tell ourselves that we can give up anytime, we just choose not too. Both are just stories we use to cover up that feel like failures, and are unable to give up.

You are not a failure

You are not a failure, you are just looking at it from the wrong angle. What is important to do before you tackle anything in your life that you want to change, is to be clear about the destination where you want to end up. Rather than concentrating on giving something up, instead you are concentrating on creating a future version of yourself.

To create a realistic future version of yourself that is not fanciful and unrealistic it is important to be very clear on what values you hold. What you value in life, what is important to you. Then examine your life now through the lens of your values. What parts of your life live up to your values, and which parts of your life don’t. Now you can start to build a picture of how you want to live your life that lives up to your values. It is vital to spend a lot of time creating a picture (by writing down how you want to live your life and what that looks like) of your future life. Once you have this vision of your future you can start creating goals to achieve that vision. I say goals because there will be more than one thing that is required to create this change.

Your overall vision is the stretch goal as it will help you stretch and grow, and the smaller goals are your performance goals. These performance goals are based on the parts of your life that do not live up to your values.

For instance my core values are usefulness and courage. I set myself a stretch goal of living a healthy life. The vision I have is being an active and supportive Grandparent. I set this stretch goal about 6 years ago, when my boys were teenagers. I want to continue to be useful as I get older, and being there for my children as they grow older and someday start their own families. So I have this image of me playing in the park with my grandchildren. To be that fun loving Grandad I will have to be healthy. I cannot guarantee that but I can increase my chances. So my first performance goal was to become a non-smoker. I set myself a start date and prepared for that day, by buying nicotine replacement gum. The day came and I threw away the cigarettes I had, and started using the gum. The cravings were challenging even with the gum, I found myself picturing my vision of the future every time I had a craving. I set myself a criteria of success, success for me was when I no longer craved a cigarette. Once the craving stopped I could call myself a non-smoker. I never gave up smoking, I chose to be a non-smoker. I then set myself a goal of running the Great North Run, and then running the Hull 10k and the Great Manchester Run, all achieved. My next goal and one that has been ongoing as it requires more work for me is losing weight. The stretch goal is still on target I am still moving towards living a healthy lifestyle and continuing being useful as I get older.

Be clear what your values are

To help you identify what your values are, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What motivates me?
  • What is important to me?
  • What moves me into action?
  • What can I not imagine being without?
  • What gives me a sense of identity?
  • What do I use to influence others?

Look at your life through the lens of your values?

Once you have 2 or 3 clear values, think of three occasions when you have lived up to your values. What were you doing? Why were you doing it? How did people close to you react? How did it make you feel? Then think of three occasions when you have not lived up to your values and then answer the same questions. This will give you a map of what you do in your life that is based on your values and what you do that does not live up to your values. You can use this map to create a vision of your preferred future and what you need to do to achieve this.

Create you stretch and performance goals

From your map of your value based life, create your stretch goal, which is your vision of your future life. You can put a time on it. For instance in a year’s time I want to be fit enough to be regularly running marathons. Once you have a stretch goal you can then indentify the performance goals to achieve this based on aspects of your lifestyle that do no live up to your values. By the 15th November 2022 I will be eating a low carbohydrate, nutritionally valuable diet at every meal 7 days a week. It is important to each of your performance goals are SMART (specific, measured, achievable, relevant, and timely) it is helpful to write it down in a SMT format like above and then give yourself a scale on how achievable this goal is and and how important it is in relation to your stretch goal. Do this for every performance goal you identify. It is important to remember that your life is complex and ever changing, so be prepared to add more goals, or remove and revise goals.

Once you are satisfied with the goals you have set it is now time to prioritise which goal you are going to start with.

Time to plan and take action

Now it is time to create your action plan.

  • What can you possibly do to achieve this goal?
  • What could you possibly need?
  • Who could possibly help you?
  • What barriers and pitfalls could you possibly encounter?
  • What possible risks could this create?
  • How could you possibly overcome barriers and pitfalls, and reduce the risks?
  • What are the possible implications of achieving this goal?
  • What assumptions are you making about achieving this goal?
  • If you were stood with the world expert in achieving goals like this, what advice would they give?
  • What is the first action you will take?
  • When will you do this?
  • Who is the most important person to help you?
  • When are you going to ask them for their support?
  • How will you ask them?
  • What is the next thing, and then the next thing and so on?
  • When will you check your progress?
  • What will you measure?
  • How will you know when you have achieved your goal?
  • How will you celebrate your success?

Repeat this process for every performance goal. Prepare to be flexible and stop and start as your circumstances change or when things don’t work. Most importantly don’t do it alone. Get some support.

If this has inspired you to make a change, and you want to know more or even work with me to achieve your success please message me via the platform your are reading this on or email matt@mattycoach71.com

Reflections on love, certainty and loss

On 28th August 2022 my Mum died. Since that day I have felt traumatised, lost, alone, loved, grateful, angry, frustrated, sad, distraught, hopeful, most importantly uncertain. The time between her death and her funeral on 20th September feels unsettling and uncertain. I am mourning the loss of the life I had with my mum in the world and adjusting to my new life with my mum as just a memory.

I returned home a few days after her passing, after being away from my home for nearly a month, helping care for her with my sister, I was desperate to be home to surround myself with familiar sights, sounds and smells. Since I have been home however it does not feel familiar. I find myself waking in the night transported back to my mums house, and sometimes I wake not sure where I am at all. What once was comforting seems somehow distant.

I understand that this is just a period of adjustment, so to this end after a few days I arranged to access support through work. Talking about the strong emotions I was feeling to someone who is not feeling it themselves certainly helped. Hearing my words helped me make sense of what was happening. As I was speaking to my listener a metaphor came in to my head which made perfect sense, a metaphor I read in a Brene Brown book. “Talking about what troubles you, is like shining a light on the monster in your childhood bedroom and seeing it is just your dressing gown hanging on the back of your bedroom door.” It certainly felt like that, after speaking to her on Wednesday I slept much more soundly that night.

The next day Queen Elizabeth died, it was as if the rug had been pulled out underneath me. I did not expect the Queen’s passing to have such a profound effect on me. I never had a strong connection to the monarchy, I quite enjoyed the spectacle of royal occasions, but otherwise I was quite indifferent to the comings and goings of the royal family. However as a lot of commentators on the TV and in the papers have said the Queen has been an ever present in our lives. I have known nothing else other than being British and having a Queen as our head of state. Her image and title is ever present. During a time when I was going through upheaval and uncertainty, losing another ever present knocked me sideways. Now all of us felt disoriented. It seems irrational but I feel unsafe, a little lost trying to grasp on to another anchor, something to give me certainty again. I crave familiarity, but nothing feels familiar at the moment.

I was thinking about this last night in the shower. The need to see patterns in our life, to create stories about the world around us and how we fit into that world are so strong. That is why King Charles’ address to the Nation was important to reassure and provide certainty that life will carry on. Also the delicate balance between coverage of the ceremonies and traditions of state and broadcast of normal TV and radio consumption is important to create endings and familiar patterns of life are vital for people to feel socially safe and complete their stress cycle. From my perspective I have looked for a constant in my life that I can anchor myself to, and it is nothing new, it is something I have been practising for a few years now. I am not always successful at attaching myself to it, when busy looking for something to grab onto.

My anchor is me and what I value, as I reflect on the last few weeks of my mum’s life, I know I lived up to my values of courage and usefulness, and I found I could live up to them because of the love I feel for my Mum and my children. Those 3 weeks with my Mum were the most difficult weeks of my life, but the most important 3 weeks in my life. As I reflect back on those moments of tenderness with my Mum show me what my constant is, where my anchor is. My anchor is love. I show my love by being useful, through warmth and kindness. Sometimes being useful in this way requires courage to continue, but when I dig deep into that courage strengthen the one certainty in my life.

Thank you Mum for everything! I love you to the moon and back.

Three simple steps for taking control of your life

Apart from Women’s Football and Commonwealth Games there is very little in our world in the moment that feels positive. The news is dominated by the cost of living crisis, war in Ukraine, climate change and child murder. When I go to work the extreme pressures on the NHS are evident, everything is much, much harder, the world seems such a terrible place. If I don’t check on myself it is very easy to go down the helpless out of control rabbit hole. We are all experiencing this, it can feel like there is no respite from bad news. Well we can find respite from all this negative input. There is a way to view the world as it truly is, which is a mixture of beauty, wonder, challenges, difficulties, love, hate. laughter and sadness. Our world is wonderful and terrible, and it is not helpful only choosing to see one aspect. It is also not helpful pushing against all the issues in the world we have no control over. There is an awful lot in our lives we can control and our energy is better spent managing them rather than attempting to problem solve our way out of situations we have no control over. Over the years I have quoted Dianne Coutu’s research into resilient organisations, I do this because it is simple and makes sense. These 3 simple steps you can take to take control of your life are based on this work. If you take these 3 simple steps you will feel more in control in these volatile and uncertain times.

Step 1: Be Realistic

The world is not set up for our convenience. Life will not always go to plan, we will experience failure, loss, illness, resistance, etc. We need to be prepared for this as well as success, happiness, love and support. It is important to have contingency plans for overcoming setbacks, and not relying on blind optimism. As well as having plans for when things go wrong, it is also important to consider you may need to change how you do things in response to events, and sometimes stopping doing certain things altogether. Knowing when to give up and cut your losses is just as important as persevering with a task. Experiencing so called negative emotions is just as vital to our lives as experiencing those so called positive emotions. A better way to look and emotions and situations we face is to frame them as helpful or unhelpful. Negative emotions and situations are not necessarily unhelpful. Ask yourself if this experience will serve you well in the future, will it help you develop and grow or will it hinder your progress.

If you are unsurprised by setbacks you will be better able to respond to them in a helpful way.

Step 2: Have a purpose

Be clear on your reason why. As Simon Sinek says, do not just concentrate on what you do, but be clear on why you do it. I find a good starting point is understanding what you value in your life, and then how you want to lead your life in relation to your values. You can do this as a family and as an individual. There are a few exercises available online to to identify your values, I also offer one to one or group coaching either face to face or online to help you discover what you value. I found defining my mission statement really helpful identifying what I value, and what my purpose is. I also offer this as a service too. If you want to know more, get in touch via my contact page.

A sense of purpose provides an anchor to prevent you drifting away from your values, when life gets challenging. It helps you make choices in your life that are fulfilling, wholehearted and meaningful.

Step 3: Be creative

Work with what you have in front of you, rather than wating for the ideal resources or circumstances to improve. We never have all we need, and if we spend our lives chasing our dream life with an abundance of resources we will never take the action to live our lives now. Creativity ensures we take action now, we stop dreaming and start living. If you don’t have the tool you think you need to complete a task, what could you possibly repurpose to fulfil the need. No doubt we have all used a butter knife as a screwdriver to change an amp in a plug, or used a chair as a stepladder to change a lightbulb. There are times when we just need to get the job done. Instead of sitting back and saying we cannot do something because we do not have all we need, we take control look around us for possible solutions to achieving the task without using the absent resources. This is an opportunity to take those thoughts and statements that hinder our progress and turn them into helpful questions that help us explore possibilities that will help our progress. Instead of saying…”we cannot do this because we don’t have the money”… we can ask…”how could we possibly get this done without spending any money?” We can then start to explore all the possibilities using the resources we have around us.

Being creative is all about taking control over what we are able to control, and even discovering that we can take control over a lot more than we first thought.

To start to take control of our lives effectively it is important to take all 3 steps. These 3 steps create an agile, purposeful and creative action oriented mindset. If you want to work with me creating this mindset for yourself and your family please get in touch with me either via the contact page on this website, messaging me via social media or via my email matt@mattycoach71.com

5 Step Guide to Living a Value Based Life

1. Connect to Your Story

Listen to and understand what you are telling yourself and what you are feeling. Recognise where they come from. Let them inform you, not define you.

2. Connect With What You Value

Identify your most important values. What motivates you? What moves you into action? What you cannot imagine being without? What do you use to influence others?

3. Connect to The Present

Spend a moment everyday practicing just noticing what is happening around you. Hold your thoughts and emotions lightly, let them pass without attaching yourself to them.

4. Connect to What Helps and Disconnect From What is Unhelpful

Use your thoughts and emotions as data, that can either help or hinder your journey. Choose the data that will serve you well, but don’t hold on to any of it too tightly.

5. Connect With Your Future

Make changes based on what you value using your thoughts and emotions as data to help you plan your future actions. Challenge yourself.

That Sunday Feeling

Sundays conjure up so many memories, emotions, and sensations. The smell of bacon cooking in the morning, the sound of the radio playing in the background, laying in bed all day nursing a hangover, trips to the seaside, walks by the river, roast dinners, cups of tea, the Sunday Matinee, getting ready for school the next day.

As I close my eyes and can see Sundays gone by, some sad, some happy. Sundays have always been a special day for me. My memories of Sundays as a child were always in the spring or summer, my time spent playing out in front of our house with my friends, normally re-enacting an episode of CHiPS from the night before (if you are of a certain age you will will remember. Sunday dinner was at 3pm (if I remember to coincide with the pubs closing). After dinner we would sit down and watch the Sunday matinee (normally a war film or a western). Dad (if he was not at sea) would snore on the sofa, sleeping off his lunchtime trip to the pub and his roast beef and yorkshire puddings. After the film I would go back out to play until I was called in for tea (cold meet from dinner in sandwiches), then it would be bath and hair wash ready for school the next day.

As a teenager Sundays were less fun as they normally involved me frantically trying to get a weeks worth of homework into a couple of hours. I would do this feeling fed up listening to the top 40 then Annie Nightingale on Radio 1. Listening to Annie for an hour always made me feel better, she would normally read out letters from fellow teenagers also feeling the pain of homework.

As a Student Nurse, my Sundays were spent either working or nursing a hangover after being at Spiders on Saturday night.

When children came along our Sundays eventually were spent at the side of football pitches cheering our boys on. That would normally take all day with one playing in the morning and one over lunchtime. Then it would be making Sunday dinner and getting ready for the working/school week. Sundays were wonderful and stressful all at the same time.

Now the boys have left home, we have the Sundays to ourselves, we are not terribly exciting though. Most Sundays we have a lazy morning listening to BBC Radio 6 Music, then do the housework, some gardening, then make dinner, and spend the evening watching TV.

From my childhood to the present day music has always provided a soundtrack to my Sundays, either via the radio, tapes, LPs and now streaming it has been a constant. This morning I have spent my time putting together a playlist of music that sums up that Sunday feeling for me.

Please give it a listen if you can.

Is that a light at the end of the tunnel or someone bringing more work?

The title sums up how I feel at the moment. I have been consumed with helping teams write their mission statements, preparing for and delivering on our leadership programmes, talking about coaching, teaching some coaching skills and approaches, and actually coaching people.

The past month has been full on, so full on and consuming I had to look at my diary to remind myself what I had done, as I was so busy doing it took a while to recall it. I went to see Foals on Monday, it was a lovely few hours of escapism, their music is familiar, and enlivening it was just what I needed.

Work is busy as you would expect, the NHS is working at full stretch and has been for 2 years without a moment of respite. To be fair we working at full tilt before the pandemic, since then all parts of the NHS have found another gear they didn’t know existed. Everyone is working so hard and working harder and being challenged more than they ever could imagine. When I talk to teams and leaders I am astounded at how they manage to keep going, but they do. Each day they come to work though is just that little bit harder. Each day their energy is decreased. There is only so long you can work at full stretch before it becomes too much.

The problem is as everyone who works in the NHS and no doubt in other high pressure sectors and organisations, raging against the machine and being angry about our circumstances takes up more energy and adds to burn out. I here… “it’s got to be done, so lets just get on with it…” so often, people just don’t have the time or mental energy to think about anything else other than what they are doing. The problem with this is that so many of us get fixed onto the task and achieving that task is the only thing that is important. The task must be achieved at all costs, even if that is to the detriment of the bigger goal or the people connected to the task. Many of us in the heat of the moment in the endeavour to achieve forget why we are doing it. If your reason why is for the people in your community to be healthy, and be cared for when they are not, but the actions you take to achieve the tasks required, such as completing procedures within a time frame, or seeing so many people in a day, causes your workforce to become ill, or patients are discharged inappropriately. Then the tasks have become more important than your reason why. This ends up in moral bankruptcy, and damages the organisations, the people that work in them and those that receive services from them.

There might not be a light at the end of tunnel, it probably is someone bringing more work, there is not a lot we can do about that. What we can do though is remind ourselves why we do what we do, and ensure the tasks that we undertake to achieve our why don’t actually undermine it. That is why I have been working with teams helping them discover and record their mission statement, so they can remind themselves when the work is overwhelming they can remind themselves of their reason why and not get fixated on their tasks. It does not take long to identify and if used regularly can make a massive difference to how they work.

Work and life are really hard at the moment, no matter what you do. Focus on what you can control, make decisions, and changes that are aligned to your reason why. Most weeks I read my mission statement out loud to myself to remind me why I do what I do, and if what I am doing works against it, I make adjustments accordingly.

If you are interested in discovering you mission statement, drop me an email or message me via social media.

Connect with your present at least once a day.

Most days we follow a routine and mindlessly complete tasks without really paying attention to them. This ability to mindlessly carry out tasks we do everyday is essential, it frees up our conscious minds to carry out other tasks like engaging in conversation, reviewing past activitities, planning future activities, or listening to information.

However we are now bombarded with information and the desire to review and plan is so strong that if we do not check ourselves we can spend all of our time either in the past ruminating and reviewing events, or in the future planning and problem solving events we predict may happen. In moderation these activities are very useful, the problem is they can prevent to action that is helpful for us. Sometimes it stops us from taking any action.

Spending at least 5 minutes a day on a mindful activity, will help us connect with our present, and allow us let our thoughts and emotions pass through, without judgement. When we do this frequently enough, we can then deploy this activity when we feel overwhelmed by our thoughts and emotions, to allow us to make sense of what is happening to us, and help us plan actions that fit our values and don’t just attempt to make us feel better and supress painful thoughts and emotions.

Now we don’t have to spend 5 minutes meditating a day to achieve this, we can use some of the mindless automatic activities that we carry out during the day to connect with our present. Below are a few examples of activities that can be used and how.

In the shower

When we have a shower we generally don’t do anything else other than wash ourselves, and overthink about what happened during our day or what is about to happen in the day ahead, depending on when you are having it. So it is a perfect time to be present.

Start by noticing the sound of the water coming out of the shower head, then hitting your body, and the surface of the shower cubicle or curtain. Then notice the sensation of the water hitting your body. Notice the temperature of the water against your body. Look at the patterns the water is making on surfaces and the steam rising from the water. Every time your mind drifts to thoughts other than what you are currently experiencing, bring yourself back to the sensations you are feeling. Do this for the duration of the shower.

Making and drinking a hot drink

I think I make a hot drink about 5 times a day, nearly everytime I do, I do it without thinking. I drink the tea or coffee without really paying attention to it too. This is an opportunity for a few moments to wrest yourself away from your thoughts and just simply put yourself in the moment.

Listen to the kettle coming to the boil, and then clicking off. Listen to the sound of the water pouring out into the cup. watch the water flow from the kettle in to the cup and mixing with the contents of the cup and changing colour. Smell the aroma of the drink, and see the steam rising from the cup. Feel the weight and temperature of the cup as you carry it back to your chair. Notice the sensation of the cup touching your lips and as the hot liquid enters your mouth. Notice the taste of the drink on your tongue, and the warming sensation as you swallow. All the time pausing as another thought enters your mind, and then go back to noticing the sensations in the present.

Checking your mobile

In moments of absent mindedness most of us pick up our phones and start scrolling, some how it feels comforting. But what is we used this activity to be mindful and connect with our present.

When you pick up your phone notice the weight of it in your hand. Notice the texture of the surface of your phone as it sits in your hand. As you activate notice the click of the button and the screen lighting up. Notice the sensation as you scroll up and down and across on the screen. Notice the gentle vibration as you click on various functions. Again each time your mind wanders bring it back to the sensations in the moment.

If you think about your daily routine, you may have more activities where you can be mindful, such as driving your car, doing exercise, and cooking to name but a few. It is important to continue to do these activities as we would normally do. Regreting, worrying and planning are normal and essential parts of our life, but we have to find balance and bring in some mindful practice, to ensure we are able to deploy this activity when things get all too much and we have to bring ourselves into the moment.

Try it for 5-10 minutes everyday, and before you know it, you will be able to do it when you need it the most.

To discuss how mindfulness combined with connecting to your values and stories can help you fulfil your potential, send me a message and we can arrange a free initial call.

How to better connect with people around you.

“Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” Many of you will remember these words of wisdom from Baz Lurhman’s song (more spoken to music) Everybody is Free (To Wear Sunscreen). What a lot of people don’t realise is that this was originally written by Mary Schmich, a Chicago Tribune columnist for a speech she gave to graduating students. The speech in itself is a piece of advice, with the explanation of what advice is given at the end to illustrate what advice really is.

Advice, put harshly is a form of dishonesty, mixed in with a smattering of self-aggrandizing. When we go into advice mode we are attempting to position ourselves as more superior than the recipient of our words of wisdom. Our initial intention no doubt was to support and help the person in front of us. This is especially acute if we like the person and want them to like us. Our drive to be accepted and be a useful senior member of the tribe is so strong that before we know it we are searching our memory bank for something useful, something that has happened to us, something we did that sort of worked. Once we find it we rearrange it and maybe add some new bits to make it more useful and more impressive, before we offer it to the poor helpless soul in front of us. For a moment you are the benevolent, wise chieftain dispensing advice to your faithful brethren. It feels great, we have been helpful, showed kindness and preventing them from making a terrible mistake. The recipient is grateful and feels loved, more importantly for that moment they have put you on a pedestal. That is of course if they have not been on the receiving end of words of wisdom in the past, or they have experience, or they don’t trust you. This is the problem with advice giving, it is not really designed to help the recipient. Its’ primary function is to help you look and feel good.

Don’t feel bad if you are a serial advice giver, most of us are. We all want to be accepted, we all want to be useful. Giving advice feels like a quick win, we receive an instant reward with the release of endorphins that make us feel good. We all remember that feeling so go to advice mode automatically to receive our treat, just like an obedient puppy. On many occasions we all like to get advice, as it requires a lot less effort being advised than thinking of a solution for ourselves. Being on the receiving end of kindly advice full of good intent makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. Someone loves us enough to share their wisdom with us. We all enjoy being a child and letting others make decisions for us from time to time, and we also all enjoy being the kindly parent supporting our grateful children. This is why advice giving is a default setting for many of us.

The problem with advice is that it is based on our memories of events we were involved in. As we have mentioned before our memories are notoriously unreliable. The older the memory, the less factual it is. Our minds are not reliable recorders of fact, our minds will always add or takeaway to confirm our view of the world.

Now this is not to say that advice is not useful or is somehow destructive. It needs to be bookmarked though as your experience. If advice is framed as a story, a tale of success or a cautionary tale, helps the recipient consider that experience and apply it to their view of the world. They can then accept or reject it without offending you, all they have to do is pay attention and show interest in your story. If they find it useful they can then decide to ask you more questions or find out a bit more about similar situations. The responsibility then lies with you to make sure the story you are relaying is not a complete fiction and is based on actual events. Telling stories is a wonderful way to impart knowledge without you appearing to have power over the individual. There is still a requirement for them to raise their own awareness about their capability before they can try any nuggets of wisdom they may have extracted from your story.

Overtly telling people what to do should be confined to instruction when imparting new skills or techniques that have very clear rules, that if are not followed will end in the failure of the activity. This is not advice, this is instruction. Once the knowledge has been shared, we must desist from giving advice, and instead provide feedback and ask questions that enlighten the individual into realising their own capacity to achieve the activity more effectively.

Timothy Gallwey in his book The Inner Game of Tennis describes this perfectly. When we learn how to play tennis, we are taught the rules and techniques of playing tennis. This he says is the outer game. Once we have mastered the outer game, constantly being instructed about it is not going to improve our performance. Galwey suggests now that it is important to explore the inner game of tennis. This is paying attention to what is limiting us. This might be what we believe is our limit or that our back hand is our weakness, or how we are unable to beat a certain opponent. These are limiting or inhibiting thoughts, something we all have that can be challenged by asking questions that raise our awareness and reduce the effect of these limiting beliefs and increase our enabling beliefs.

Another way of looking at this is to consider how we think. It is suggested that we think in terms of questions and statements. Our questions and statements are based on recalled memories or projections of our future. We make sense of our world in terms of questions and statements we make based on either recalled memories or projections of what we perceive our future to be. Now the vast majority of us have a mixture of helpful and hindering questions and statements that dictate how we see our world.

We have a tendency to default to hindering more than helpful questions and statements. When people have experienced failure in the past, they generally tend to focus on this when recalling memories. So what if, by simply asking people a couple of question you could change their hindering thoughts into helpful thoughts. When they tell you they cannot do something, based on a recalled memory of a previous failure. What if you asked them what is the most helpful statement they could say about their chances of success? Or what question could they ask themselves that would be more helpful. They might fail again but a shift in mind-set may well help them pick themselves up review what they need to improve on to improve their chances of success. A shift in mind-set from hindering thoughts to helpful ones can change the way they see the world and improve their chances of success. This will not be achieved if you tel them what to do. All that does is confirm to them the hindering thoughts they have about themselves.

The next time someone comes to you with a problem or for some advice, ask yourself what would be the most helpful response I could give, that will give the results that both myself and the recipient require. Having flexibility along the directive/non-directive continuum takes practice but will change the way you connect with others.

Now we have explored our tendency to want to give advice, instead of listening and supporting people to improve themselves, we can now examine whether the people we are connecting to the right people in the right way, for both parties to get the most out of the relationship.

The theory of transactional analysis developed by Eric Berne, might help us understand why we connect with certain people and not with others. This theory maps interpersonal relationships into 3 ego states. The parent, the adult and the child. Now typically we are conditioned to be comfortable and seek 2 ego states. You have guessed it, we are most happy in parent or child states, as they give us a warm and fuzzy feeling as described earlier in the chapter. It is often unusual for both people in a relationship to be in an adult state.

Now the non-directive, non-advice giving approach that I have described is really helpful and has great benefits on a relationship (either personal or professional), however this requires both of you to be in an adult ego state. When people come to you with a problem most of the time they are coming to you in a child ego state, and are looking for a solution to their problem. They may well be expecting to be the parent, and might be confused and resistant to you in an adult ego state, listening and asking questions without doling out the usual advice. This is where the offering of stories of your experiences in similar circumstances can help, alter the mindset of your friend shift to an adult ego state. Especially if you follow up with some questions about how your experience compares to theirs and what they might use, which then brings them back to their experience and how they will solve it.

The aim is to make connections in an adult ego state and therefore have more mutually beneficial relationships instead of one of you being dependant on the other, which can often lead to a toxic drama triangle where one of you is always the victim and one of you plays the role of the rescuer, that just breeds resentment and a breakdown in the relationship.

So as an exercise map out your relationships, with you in the middle and all your relationships, both personal and professional branching out from you. Once you have everyone mapped out, using the transactional analysis ego states decide what type of relationship it is. On the connecting line between you an them write the initial of your ego state in the relationship nearest to you and their ego state initial nearest to them (like below).

Me____P________C___You

When you have mapped and analysed all your relationships, consider all of them that are parent to child. Would they be improved if they were adult to adult relationships? Are you willing to change your mindset in that relationship? If not, is the relationship worth maintaining or is it time to end it? This seems quite harsh but if the desire to improve a relationship is not their or if there is no necessity for that relationship then maybe it would be more helpful to both of you to end it.

There is one last thing to add to your map, and that is the people that are in your world that you do not have a relationship with. Put them on the edge of your map. What could you gain from connected with these people as an adult to an adult? What is currently preventing you from connecting with them? Are you willing to attempt connection? Seeing relationships through the lens of an adult ego state, instead of a child or parent state can dramatically change how you map appears and what is useful for you, both personally and professionally.  

Back on the vitamins, antacids and antihistamines!

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

COVID has struck me again, more irritating than scary this time round. It has made me feel ill, but I didn’t feel as ill, for as long. I am on day 9 now and my symptoms are now relegated to a snotty nose, a cough and feeling tired. However I am still testing positive which is annoying. I know I am no longer legally obliged to stay in, but I would never risk someone elses health. Taking the combination of vitamins C and D, along with antiacids and antihistamines (the snotty nose and sneezing feels more like hayfever than a cold) seems to have helped. Lisa has tested positive too although her symptoms are confined to coughing and sneezing, so far she has not experienced the fatigue and joint aches that I did. Hopefully today tomorrow in isolation and then I can venture out on Tuesday.

Being ill as you will all know increases those feelings of being helpless as you can be beholden on your symptoms, then you turn on the television and see the terrible news that is unfolding in front of us and it is all too easy to get wound up in a spiral of helplessness that can take up your energy worrying about events that are out of your control.

This week I have felt very frustrated, so I promised myself that I would spend some time each day doing something that was useful. Being useful is one of my core values, so living up to that in whatever way I can each day has helped me feel grounded and concentrate on events I can control. Each morning I spent at least one hour working on my work emails, deleting old emails, flagging ones that needed more considered attention and answered simple emails where I could. I had arranged an online meeting on Tuesday with a couple of collegues, which in the end I cancelled as I did not feel able to participate meaningfully. I felt bad because I left it to the last minute, but I could not have contributed, so I would have wasted everyone’s time. Each day I concentrated on what I could control, and did it. By Friday I was feeling a little better and managed a couple hours fininshing some mission statement work for a couple of teams. It was just creating values wordclouds and merging suggested mission statements but it really took it out of me. I found myself getting frustrated and angry, in fact most of the afternoon I was like a bear with a sore head, all because I was concentrating on what I could not do rather than what I had done. To be fair though that frustration probably pushed me further and I suspect I did more than I would have done otherwise.

Feeling frustrated and helpless is useful as long as you listen to and understand the message it is sending you. These emotions and thoughts are there to help you focus on what is in your control and how you can act within your values that will make a difference to your world. Difficult emotions such as helplessness and frustration are not destinations, they are signs reminding you of what is important to you and to take action to continue to live in your values.

Taking small actions to respond to what is happening in my world right now has helped me get through this week without feeling as sorry for myself as I could of. Clearly I did feel sorry for myself and did wallow in self pity at some point every day (it is an essential part of being ill afterall), but I did not have the land of self-pity as my place of residence.

If you want to start making a difference and live a value based life that focuses on what is within your control, then send me a message and we can discuss how we can work together.

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