What are you having for breakfast?

27 07 2010

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

(Ken Blanchard)

Sometimes my work involves me delivering feedback. Sometimes people are just interested in the facts, the objective experience. On other occasions they are more interested in the subjective experience – how those facts could be interpreted.

For instance, lets take an everyday experience of visiting a shop.

If I was to give feedback in an objective style of a shopping visit I could describe precisely how many staff were serving, how long I had to wait to be served, how many products were on the shelves etc.

If I was to give feedback purely in a subjective style on the same shopping visit I may say that there were not enough staff serving, that I had to wait a long time and there were lots of stock on the shelves.

I can also blend both objective and subjective feedback, which would give the facts to justify my opinion and interpretations. So I may say that “There were 2 staff serving, which I felt was not enough. I had to wait 5 minutes to be served – longer than I expected.” etc

All forms can be useful depending upon what they are to be used for. Still using the above example, a shop may find the objective feedback useful to determine how that store performed against their policies and use the information for training purposes. The subjective style they would find useful to find out what their customers actually felt about their experience so that they can establish if what they are doing is getting the results that they want. A blend of both can provide information about which parts were working well and which are not.

This seems pretty common sense to many people when they are looking at giving or asking for feedback to or from others. However, I’ve noticed that when it comes to giving feedback about their own work then the style that is most often used is just a subjective one – so they may say things like “It was great” or “I was rubbish”. Without the acknowledgement of the objective facts then it may go un-noticed if that feedback is justified or how it can be made stronger in the future.

I’ve done it myself – when I came back from the recording studio a couple of years ago after recording my first CD my coach asked how it had gone. My initial response was all subjective. With his usual sense of humour he got me to include far more objective responses which made me realise that I’d based my initial response on an expectation of recording the whole CD in “one take.” Including objective feedback about the quality of the content, the sound of the final recording and that actually I hadn’t taken any longer to record than was allotted for a piece of this length, changed my subjective response.

This week I invite you to be aware of the style of feedback you are using for your own work. Notice the difference including both subjective and objective styles makes.

Have a week full of feedback




Can Writing Keep You Well?

20 07 2010

“The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.”

(Robert Louis Stevenson) 

Today’s piece is written in response to the question: “Can Writing keep us well? The relationship between writing, health and well-being.” A question that was posed here with the invite to different people to respond with their own experiences and opinions.

There is a Zen story about two travelling monks, one was younger and less experienced who looked up to the older brother. On their travels they came across a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. The younger monk hesitated, as their order strictly forbid relations with females. The older monk quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.

As the monks continued on their way, the younger one was brooding and preoccupied. After several days and unable to hold his silence any longer, he spoke out. “Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!”

The older monk looked surprised and then laughed, “Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her.”

During my school years I occasionally would write a diary. Not the scheduling type of diary but the “dear diary” variety. It wasn’t something I would do as part of any routine so it normally would only have a couple of entries and then there’d be huge gaps until I was next compelled to write.

Normally it was a something that was so fantastic that everyone else was sick of listening about or something I’d found incredibly infuriating that proved to be the spark that provoked an entry. I haven’t kept them but being a teenager I suspect that there were quite a bit of each of those in there  :)

There was no intended reader other than myself, it was simply a case of getting stuff from out of my head and onto paper – stopped me going over and over something, blowing it out of proportion and stressing over it all. In fact I remember on one occasion, physically destroying what I had just written to let it go completely – Although I certainly wouldn’t have phrased it in that manner at the time, it was simply a way of looking after my emotional health and well-being.

Now-a-days the only diary I keep is of the scheduling variety but I do use writing for a number of different reasons and many all begin with just being intended for my eyes only. This allows me to write what I really mean rather than initially focusing upon communicating with someone else.

This week I invite you to play with using writing that is intended for your own eyes only to “get things off your chest” rather than carrying them around with you.

The exercise that follows is specifically for relationships with other people but you can always modify and adapt it to cover other scenarios you want to let go of.

  1. Choose a relationship that you would like to be improved.
  2. Write that individual a letter. Be totally honest about how you feel. This is not a letter intended for them to read so get everything down into this letter.
  3. Put the letter somewhere safe for at least 2 days and carry on with your daily life.
  4. After 2 days you can decide if you want to keep the letter, destroy it (in what ever fashion you see fit to safely do that) or send/give it to the person concerned. If you decide that there is more to add to your letter then do add more and then put the letter to one-side for another couple of days  before deciding what to do with it.

Have a week of writing and letting go




Honesty and Positive Thinking

13 07 2010

“That voice inside your head is not the voice of God. It just sounds like it thinks it is.”

 (Cheri Huber)

Last week I spoke briefly about the connection between honesty and “thinking positively.” As promised, this week I will expand further on that and how you can combine both without having instances where it feels that one is fighting against the other – because that can be particularly tiring.

When I first left education I worked in hospitality management and we would have music playing in the background. Occasionally I would notice the specific tunes that were playing. If it was a song I liked I may notice it was playing and hum along to it and sometimes it may be a tune I didn’t like I noticed, normally inwardly groan and go get on with something else. However, most of the time I didn’t pay any attention, I knew it was on and noticed if it stopped for some reason but it was just part of the background noise.

When it was pointed out to me that it was possible to have the same relationship with my thoughts I was initially sceptical. Mainly because most of the thoughts I was aware of were the ones I was engaging with and “humming along” or “inwardly groaning at”. I hadn’t registered there were many, many others that were passing by without me paying much attention to them – things like “oh that cloud looks like Aladins lamp”, “looks like rain”, “what times lunch?” etc. Most I chose not to dwell upon, pay much attention to or even engage with at all. Yet there are other thoughts I may choose to dwell on further.

As Michael Neill says in his book Supercoach:

“A thought without your personal investment is no more powerful than a teabag without boiling water. It’s only after you add the water that the tea begins to infuse and add flavour, and it’s only after you add your agreement and energy to a thought that it begins to impact your life.”

At the time I was amazed at the concept that I could choose which thoughts I could interact more with. Yet when I thought about it there were already times when I picked not to dwell on something – if I was fully engaged on the phone with someone and a random thought popped into my head I knew I could pay no attention to it and carry on with the conversation. I also knew that I could have a thought about noticing something and not engage any more with it other than a “that’s interesting”.

This new idea of selecting which thoughts to interact more fully means I can pick to let any “negative ones” pass me by with no more than a “oh yes” or “that’s interesting” response. I can also choose to interact more fully with those “positive thoughts.”

There are times that I can get caught up in a thought unintentionally. Eventually I will recognise that the reason I may not be feeling particularly brilliant is because I am engaging with a particularly negative thought. At that stage I can remove my personal involvement from it.

The reason that this is different to just thinking positively is that the key part is about which thoughts to engage with and which ones you just let float by and carry on their way.

This week I invite you to notice the thoughts that you are engaging with and explore choosing which ones to engage more with.

  1. Pick a subject to explore the impact this can make.
  2. Notice the thoughts that come into your head about that subject. You’ll probably find that there are ones that you are used to engaging with and some that you haven’t noticed before.
  3. Give each one a shorthand title and make a note of it on a piece of paper
  4. As you go throughout your day notice when each thought pops into your head and keep a tally of it on your paper. 

When I did this around writing this weekly piece I noticed thoughts that were variations of:

  • You’ve nothing to say of any interest,
  • This is useless,
  • Who are you to write this?
  • That would help a lot of people,
  • Good point.

Because I know that I can choose to interact with these or not I choose not to interact and just let them keep going as background while I got on with actually writing.

If at any stage you find yourself noticing that you have got caught up in a thought that isn’t useful then congratulate yourself for noticing and let it go – If you let it, it’s just a thought.

Have a week full of engaging choice




Tell The Truth Day

6 07 2010

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.”

(Elvis Presley)

I came across a mention on a calendar earlier that tomorrow is Tell the Truth day. A bit of further research has shown that this appears to be the American national Tell the truth day with other countries having similar ideas on different days.

While I’m not in America myself, I did think that it would be an appropriate time to talk about telling yourself the truth.

The origin of the word true is Old English meaning “faithful, trustworthy” with a modern dictionary defining truth as the qualities of being true.

Often people are not being truthful with themselves for one of two reasons:

(i)                  It’s never occurred to them that they are not being honest, they’re so used to a particular version that they never think to question it. Perhaps they have recognised the progress that they have made in an area and their self-perception is further behind reality.

(ii)                A form of self-protection from a potential uncomfortable feeling, often fear. Avoiding having to deal with a situation. As the author Tad Williams so succinctly puts it: “We tell lies when we are afraid … afraid of what we don’t know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.”

When I sat down to write this I pondered the impact that being truthful, or not, with yourself can have. I came up with several points that I could take each one in turn and have more than enough to create a piece. However, to keep this a reasonable length here is a summary of the main impact telling the truth, or not, with yourself can have.
How confidant you are feeling generally, can be affected by how truthful you are being with yourself. In effect not being honest with yourself is pretending to be someone else. So is it any surprise that in that instance many people report that they are scared that someone will find out that you are a fake. One of the common comments when people don’t feel confident is that they don’t feel worthy.  Consider the message you are giving by being honest with yourself – that you are trust-worthy of knowing the truth.  Being honest with yourself is an important part of being comfortable in your own skin.

“Thinking positive.”

At first glance “thinking positive” can appear to be a fantastic idea and taking time to see opportunities, the things that you are grateful for and putting things into perspective with the rest of your life are all things that can make a positive impact upon how you live your life.

So why am I including this in a piece about honesty? The thing is that the way a lot of people attempt to do this is by having their very own internal thought police. As soon as these internal thought police notice a thought that isn’t positive they’ll chime in with another thought that isn’t positive about you not having a positive thought in the first place – it can become a loop of negative thoughts.

Where honesty comes into effect is that if “being positive” comes up against the truth then it can feel draining as you get a resistance to what is actually going on. I find that being honest with myself about how I am feeling, rather than trying to “fight against it” with positive thinking normally means that I feel better within myself anyway.

Often people are concerned if they are honest with themselves about how they are feeling and not think positive that they will be stuck in a negative experience. I will expand more next week about how you can combine honesty and positive thinking as this is a huge topic.  For now, know that when you are honest with yourself and acknowledge how you are feeling does not mean that everything stops. Bear in mind that “this too will pass.” (Phrase taken from a Hebrew fable)
Not being honest with yourself about what you actually want can affect how you feel about the projects you are working on. For instance, a lack of motivation and inspiration can mean that you are working for something you think you should have or want rather than what you actually want. I find that one way to easily find motivation is to reconnect with what you honestly want.
Sometimes we are not honest with ourselves because we have become caught up in a story. It never occurs to question if what we are telling ourselves is the truth now. For instance, we may have an explanation (“story”) about an obstacle that is in the way of what we are doing  – we can get so used to that being the explanation we don’t become aware if circumstances alter, or check that they were even true in the first place. Hiding from the truth prevents you from being able to take any or the right action. 

For instance, Bob thought that the obstacle to him building a successful business was that his skills were not good enough – so he went and got more training, practiced and gained more experience. He kept taking more and more action to increase his skills and neglected that to build a successful business he not only needed to have good skills but at some stage would need to take action to let customers know to come and use these skills! He was so caught up in the “story” that his skills were not good enough he never thought to check where he honestly was.

This week I invite you to be honest with yourself and notice the difference that it makes. This can take a bit of practice, and I advise being kind to yourself in the process. Watch out for getting caught up in familiar stories – double check with asking yourself “is it true?” And “can you absolutely know that it is true?” Allow yourself to be open to the possibility that the truth is not what you expect :)

You don’t have to share what you are being honest about unless you want to, just question for yourself how truthful you are being.

Have a week full of truth, as Shakespeare said “This above all; to thine own self be true”




Great Expectations

30 06 2010

“Oft Expectation fails,

and most oft where most it promises;

and oft it hits where hope is coldest;

and despair most sits,”

(All’s well that ends well Act II scene i, William Shakespeare)

 Our expectations can affect how we experience a situation and our interpretation of it’s outcome.

This sprang to mind last week when I had a Wimbledon match on in the background, with the “shock” score mid-match of the reigning 7 time champion being 2 sets down in the very first round. The game was by no means over but people’s expectations was that he would easily have sailed through this match but it created a “story” even though he went on to win that match.

In my past I’ve had jobs that had a lot of customer service aspects, and one of the first things I learnt was that if expectations are communicated clearly to start off with so that the customer could agree to that standard, then, providing they were met, the result is happy customers and an easier life all round.

The trick, of course, is figuring out what expectations to set – personally I favoured setting the expectations at something that could be easily met, getting the customers agreement and then strive to exceed them.

For example, in hospitality, if we knew we were that busy that the kitchen had a backlog of orders we would make sure that customers knew of the delay when ordering with an expectation of how long they may have to wait to get their food. With this information customers would be able to decide if they agreed to wait that amount of time and place an order. The vast proportion of the time we would “catch up” and deliver the food quicker than the expectation we had set which resulted in much happier customers. Those who decided that they couldn’t wait that long when ordering nearly always came back another day.

Our own expectations about what we do and how we “should” do them can have such a huge impact upon our experience. It’s often used as a way to put pressure on ourselves as a motivation tool so that we do our best work and get the best results.

You may have noticed the welcoming reaction that others greet uninvited advice about what they “should” do. Having expectations for other people (or yourself) automatically introduces the possibility of others pushing against that and being rebellious.

Then there are the expectations that aren’t shared which so often results in disappointment and annoyance. Maybe it’s a relationship where it seems so obvious to you that the other person isn’t doing what’s expected – but do they know that’s what you think they “should do”? Do they know that you expect someone who loves you to bring you flowers? Does a work colleague know that you expect an email updating you on a project you’re working on together?

Then there are the expectations that we set ourselves, the ones we haven’t even acknowledged until we don’t meet them when we notice disappointment, lack of motivation etc.

For example, Bob was having difficulty starting writing a book, although he wasn’t particularly aware of it, he seemed to think that to write a book you should write massive chunks in one go. He was struggling to find any motivation

So what can be a solution to the “problems” that expectations can bring? One thing that you may like to play with is by making agreements. Making an agreement with someone else means that they have “brought into” and accepted a particular cause of action, eliminating any rebellious pushing against. It also means that they are absolutely clear about what you both need to do.

It’s also something that can make a difference with yourself as well. Going back to the example of Bob and his struggle to find motivation with writing his book:

We chatted and just for fun made the agreement that all he had to do was write one page, every day (even if it was “rubbish” that he wouldn’t share with anyone else.) This was such a different experience then the one he had been working with that even though he didn’t think it would work he agreed to give it a go.

Some days he only wrote the one page on other days he’d find he was on a roll and would write more but he found that the motivation problem he had had vanished. The book also began to grow.

This week I invite you to make an agreement with yourself to take a regular piece of action to get closer to what you want.

Notice the difference that this makes as you go through the rest of your week.

Have a week full of agreement



PS Thursday see’s the start of Michael Neill‘s Creating The Impossible Program: Transform your world in 30 days.

I’ll be participating and have already decided what “impossible” project I’m taking on. What about you?

Here are the only prerequisites for your project:

1. You must believe you have a less than 50% chance for success in the 30 days of the program.

2. You must be so passionate about what it is you want to create that you will be glad of any time you spend invested in creating it, regardless of how things turn out!

Visit here to find out how you can come and take part too.


Unfolding stories

22 06 2010

“Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.”
(Earl Nightingale)

For the last few weeks I have been watching an unfolding story of action and perseverance. At times it appeared that it was destined to end in failure but so far despite all appearances to the country it’s looking like a happy ending is on the cards.

I’m not referring to any TV show but a tale that has been taking place outside one of the windows by my desk. 2 wood pigeons have set up their home and have been raising a family.

Their initial attempts of “constructing” their nest looked like a single breeze would bring it down to the ground. Certainly in comparison to the blackbirds in a different part of the garden the term construction would be a generous description of their attempts to balance twigs on a branch.

Yet no one appears to have mentioned to them that they need to compare themselves to other birds. So they persevered with their building until they had a nest balanced precariously on the branch and took up residency. As an onlooker I was concerned as I had seen their attempts at bathing in the bottom of the garden which nearly always led to them knocking over nearby plant pots. Such apparent clumsiness and a balanced nest did not seem like the ideal match to me.

However, not being fluent in pigeon they were unaware of how I expected this story to unfold so they carried on creating a family home apparently unphased by it all.

So after a spell of sitting on her eggs we got a small family, who in recent weeks have been perfecting the art of flying. Sure the parents may not give the most accurate directions – judging by the rebound one of the youngsters had with a window. (Or maybe it’s just inherited it’s parents clumsiness). However, no-one had mentioned to it that if you failed then obviously that’s what it would mean every time because it was soon trying again altering it’s course so that there was no more bouncing of windows.

As I type one of them is currently sat in the tree apparently watching me through the window perhaps wondering what that strange creature is up to this time so that it can tell the rest of its family later the newest exploits!

So often we can get in our own ways by comparing ourselves either to someone else or an imagined perfection. On other occasions we may let someone-else’s concerns drown out our own inner knowledge. Not to mention how easy it can be to use a perceived failure as a reason not to attempt that again.

If you have a situation or project where you have found yourself stuck then this week I invite you to play with the following questions and see which will get you moving again.

1. If it didn’t matter how you completed this, as long as you got there, what would be your next step?
2. If you were invisible, so nobody could see how you completed this situation/project, what would be your very next step?
3. If it didn’t matter if you stumbled or failed, what would be your next step?

These questions are designed to give you new possibilities of action – you don’t have to “do” anything with any of your answers. They are here to give you a different way of approaching what you are stuck with. However, you may find that there is a gem of an idea of what to do next that you haven’t realised before. If there is any answer you want to do and like the consequences of, then by all means take action and get moving again.

Have a week full of taking flight with your next step




It’s in your imagination

15 06 2010

“Live out of your imagination, not your history.

(Steven Covey)

You may have noticed that there is a small football (or soccer depending upon where you are) competition happening in South Africa. Certainly where I am the media is full of football related contents. Which is how I came across a professional footballer giving his guide to taking a penalty shot.

The first thing he said was that you needed to visualise the ball going into the net. You’ve probably heard that sort of advice before, because it’s not just confined to football – or sport for that matter.

I know that to some people visualisasing sounds a bit “woo-woo” and new age. But don’t get caught up in the “label” of visualisation. I can ask someone who refuses to do any visualisation to tell me what they think will happen at an event coming up and they are more than capable of giving detailed answers.

Regardless of how you want to label that process – visualisation or thinking through what could happen, the outcome is often the same. Those who tell themselves a story about an event going badly often feel nervous/bad about the prospect of that event.

Often the “argument” or reasoning for doing this is that they are basing it on past experiences, with the logic that if it’s happened like that in the past, that it will always happen like that in the future.

This often means that what is being imagined ignores the possibility that things may naturally go differently (it’s like imagining a tossed coin will always land heads and ignoring the 50:50 chance it may land tails). It also eliminates the opportunity to come up with solutions ahead of time if things don’t go as you planned.

This week I invite you to play with something that you have planned in the future.

  1. Imagine that this event goes well, from start to finish
  2. As this is possibly an unusual way of you imagining the event, repeat that a couple more times!
  3. This time imagine that everything doesn’t run smoothly but you handle the situation calmly and successfully regardless.
  4. Notice the difference this makes when you come to the event in reality.

Have a week full of  fun imagination




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