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Be tender with your pain

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While meditating today I was visualising a companion by my side, just being there and being exactly who I needed. I was being bathed in the intense warmth and light of the sun and my companion was my guardian angel. He had huge wings, enfolding me when I needed to be comforted or simply held, lifting me when I needed to be carried or raised up, and racing alongside me in the wind when I was strong and filled with energy. (I don’t feel either strong or energetic right now, so carrying it is, mate.)

If you’re going through pain or difficulty, have faith. You can always deal with what is happening in this moment, and you can make the best of whatever situation you’re in. Remember you are loved. You can do this!

Leave your ego at the door

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A little while ago I attended a webinar on coaching leaders ‘beyond their ego’. The material was based on the premise that IQ and EI are not sufficient for 21st century leadership, and that values, purpose, instinct, intuition and ethics are crucial in enabling one to operate beyond self-interest in order to become a truly radical, ethical, authentic and successful leader.

My summary: “Leave your ego at the door.”

It made me start thinking about my own ego in coaching. The role of the coach is to hold the reflective space and create a catalysing environment within which the coachee can gain greater awareness and be appropriately challenged in order to learn and grow. It’s not about the coach – the coachee creates the agenda, and is their own expert problem-solver.

When I was first training as a coach, I frequently found myself getting in the way. I was anxious about coaching well, but the paradox of this is that the more determined you are to be a good coach, the worse you get. What often happens is that you start listening with an ear to speak, in order to plan an incisive and profound question – just the one that will make your coachee have an ‘aha!’ moment. Of course, that means you stop actually listening to your coachee, and start following your own agenda rather than theirs. Oops!

I have learnt a great deal as a coach over the past seven years, but we all need reminders every now and again. In reflecting on my coaching sessions over the past few months I can see that I have been my clients’ best coach at precisely those times when I have left my ego at the door, with no attachment to the outcome.

I like that about yoga and mindfulness too – inhabiting a space without judgement, with compassion, in the present, full of heart. That’s the kind of coach I continually strive to be.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

What is forgiveness?

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A little while ago, I had a coaching session in which a key theme was reconciliation. We talked about forgiveness and what that really meant. What was the motivation in seeking reconciliation? What outcomes were desired? Was it for the other person to apologise and admit they had been in the wrong? Or to say I value your friendship and I would very much like to make things ok between us again. Can we talk?

This is what I think forgiveness is about. You can’t control how other people will act, and if you allow their actions to dictate your responses, you can end up becoming resentful and bitter.

I think forgiveness is for your own peace, to allow yourself to move forward. If it’s conditional on the other person being sorry, what happens if they aren’t? If you make forgiveness a contract, you bind yourself to only being able to give if the other person does their bit. It doesn’t need to be reciprocal. It is, I think, fundamentally about saying: “I send you peace. I let go of this pain.”

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Quiet space

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I wanted to share with you why Quiet Space is called Quiet Space.

If you’ve read the Quiet Space blurb you’ll have read this: “Quiet Space is all about that space in our heads that we need for equilibrium and some preservation of sanity, and evaluation of the things that really matter to us. Quiet Space Coaching creates that space so you have room to think, talk, be listened to and understood.”

Inner space and stillness is an incredibly important element in our wellbeing. Yet so many of us spend our lives rushing from place to place, filling our days with busyness. And then social media often fills the gaps that remain in our schedules. Everything is always on the ‘on’ setting – and it’s exhausting.

In coaching, it is often in the spaces in between – the silences – where the real power resides. It’s where the magic often happens: the space of the ‘aha’ moments; the space in between words and thoughts. In those moments the tumblers of the lock fall into place and what may have been just out of reach suddenly takes on a marvellous clarity.

Wishing you calm, quiet space and amazing clarity of thought today.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Blooming, like a rose

rose bloomingElizabeth Appell wrote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

It’s sometimes said that hitting rock bottom can truly be the making of you. Unlike in the velvety rut of your comfort zone, you are galvanised into action, because the perceived risk of change pales in comparison to the pain of staying where you are. So you change, and you learn, and you grow, and look at that – that rose – is that you? Why, yes, yes it is; finally unfurling. That’s the beauty of you, in you all along.

Come with me, take my hand, and let’s step onto the path to this adventure together.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Visualisation and imagery

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Yesterday, during the course I was on, we did some work on resilience-enhancing imagery – visualisation can be a really powerful tool to help us tap into performance-enhancing thoughts.

I have two images/visualisations that help me. I’ve shared one on here previously – walking down a peaceful, deserted beach and doing mindful breathing, which is a lovely one for feeling calm and centred.

A long time ago, I discovered, through some genealogical research that my uncle was doing, that the Snodgrass family had a crest: a phoenix in flames.

My second image is precisely that: the phoenix rising from the flames. I may burn, but I will always rise again.

Do you have images or visualisations that help you? Do share them!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Psychological coaching

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I’ve been at the British Psychological Society over the past couple of days with the Centre for Coaching, doing a CPD course in cognitive behavioural approaches to performance coaching. It’s been excellent so far and I’ve got so many takeaways to integrate into client work. Some really important insights into my emotional boundaries as a coach too. Plus bonus points for these beautiful images outside the training room.

“Psychology is about what people (think, feel and do,) sometimes all at the same time. (…) Psychology is also about how we make sense of life. In this no two people are the same.”

Looking forward to the full cert in psychological coaching in November!

Mindfulness and serendipity

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“Old sins cast a long shadow.”

I’m thinking about long-running negative repercussions of things. It’s a slightly unfortunate turn of thought, mainly because I’m sitting in a McDs in Stratford out of the rain while waiting for my son to finish his 11+ examination, about which I think I’ve been more worried than him this morning. If this were a test of mindfulness this would probably be my Becher’s Brook.

I’m reminding myself that if he doesn’t get through then it’s most likely the case that grammar school isn’t the right place for him. I find myself worrying, however, that if he doesn’t score well it will hit him hard – despite our always having consciously sought to teach him that your value doesn’t hinge on your achievements.

‘I think ‘failure’ and disappointment are lessons that it’s better to learn earlier in life. But just as instructive is the lesson that although some things may well haunt you late into life, exam results don’t need to fall into that category (incidentally, neither does redundancy, not getting the job, and other assorted career disappointments).

Whatever happens in life, what makes the real and lasting difference is what you learn from the experience and how you grow from it. All of us have a path to create, which, when we look back at it, might not remotely resemble any of our carefully-laid plans. But that’s the beauty of life – the magic of the things that happen when we are seeking other things. Serendipity 🙂

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Procrastination and perfectionism

Earlier this week I read an article on BBC News, which reported on a recent study that had provided physiological evidence of how the emotional centres of the brain can overwhelm a person’s ability for self-regulation (such as when you’re trying to keep on task), and how procrastination is a problem much more to do with managing emotions than it is to do with managing time. (Lots more information on this is available at procrastination.ca.)

I’m no scientist, but here’s a highly-simplified representation of your brain, so if you’re also a non-scientist you can visualise what I (hope I know I) am talking about.

three-brainsOne thing I found particularly interesting about the article was that the study showed that the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system and deals with motivation and emotion, was larger in procrastinators. It also showed that in these individuals, the connections between the amygdala and another part of the brain, the dorsal part of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), weren’t as good as in the non-procrastinators. (The ACC, which sits in between the ’emotional’ limbic system and the ‘cognitive’ prefrontal cortex (part of the neocortex), takes information from the amygdala and uses this to decide what action the body will take as a result. It helps keep us on task and on track by enabling us to filter out emotions and distractions.)

So what does this all mean? If your amygdala’s more active, and your brain isn’t filtering that information out effectively, your decision-making and task-management ability can suffer. In sum, how our brains are wired can determine whether we’re more likely to get on with a task or continually put it off.

All this made me start reflecting on the work I’ve done with clients who have wanted help with time management. Inevitably, the core issue has not in fact been to do with time management. Instead, the difficulty of completing tasks has been interwoven with feelings of overwhelm and not being good enough; avoidance of tasks that trigger feelings of anxiety; and a deep-seated fear of what the client views as failure. A lot of this often has its roots in patterns learnt in childhood – enter the loud inner critic and the continual need to prove oneself through doing everything well.

In job interviews, when asked to talk about one’s weaknesses, one answer that often gets used is “I’m a real perfectionist and have high standards, and this can mean I spend more time than necessary getting things just right.” The idea, of course, is to present a weakness that you don’t actually see as a weakness. The trouble with this (apart from the cliched answer – which I don’t recommend, by the way) is that I don’t think perfectionism really has anything to do with standards and with getting things right. Rather, it’s an inability to be happy with what you have achieved because there is always room for more improvement: “Good, better, best; never let it rest. Till your good is better, and your better best.” It’s not a pursuit of excellence, it’s an endless cycle of nothing you do ever being adequate. It’s the constant, unhappy refrain of “if I don’t do a stellar job then I am not good enough”. Perfectionism and low self-esteem are a great double-act, and have been shown to be associated with anxiety and depression. 

For the perfectionist, working drafts are often anathema – you want things to be just right straightaway. You dislike being a beginner; if you’re going to do something you want to be good at it from the get-go. You get bogged down in the details, crafting and re-crafting something to try and get it just-so. Instead of relaxing into and enjoying the process of learning and growth, you are constantly assessing your performance. You think you’ve failed if you haven’t driven yourself to deliver anything less than perfect.

The constant need to live up to what are actually quite unrealistic and unfair expectations of yourself can be an exhausting struggle. Far easier to avoid doing something, because then you also avoid the negative emotions associated with it. And that is precisely what happens: you put off doing things because they trigger your anxiety about inadequacy in some way. I can’t face that right now. There’s too much to think about. I need to have time to do it properly. Over time, this can lead to complete overwhelm.

How do you break this cycle? Let’s first be clear – like anything else that takes a lifetime to build up, these negative patterns will take time to fix. But the important thing is to recognise that they can be changed. I believe that that change starts with learning self-compassion. In self-compassion, acceptance is key: accepting what is, what was, who you are and how you think and feel, without judgment. I think an important aspect of self-compassion is also self-forgiveness – learning to let go of not just the past and its regrets, but also all the future possible somebodies or somebody elses you may feel you need to become, in order to allow yourself to come fully into the present.

I’ve written several previous posts about mindfulness and meditation and thoroughly recommend this as a valuable partner in the journey towards being kind to yourself. Briefly back to the science – research has shown that mindfulness meditation is related to shrinkage of the amygdala and expansion of the prefrontal cortex. Learning to love yourself, in other words, literally changes your brain.

If this article has struck a chord with you, and you’re looking for support in your journey, coaching can help. Do get in touch. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some short-term practical assistance: there are tools out there that can help you get to grips with tasks when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. I often use this action-priority matrix with clients:

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You may well have seen something similar – a common one is the ‘urgent vs. important’ matrix – but this particular rendition is a PICK chart (Plan-Implement-Consider-Kick Out) and the idea is that you categorise your tasks in terms of their relative impact vs. effort. So:

  • Low effort, high impact: Quick wins, go do them now. A complementary exercise I often use with clients is what I call “What One Thing (are you going to do today)?”   
  • Low effort, low impact: These are ‘time-fillers’ – consider doing them if you want to, but they shouldn’t be your go-to pile all the time.
  • High effort, low impact: (Don’t. Unless you have an actual obligation to do so.)
  • High effort, high impact: This is often where the procrastination comes in and, together with the Implement quadrant, is where clients typically need to focus. These are tasks that you need to do but can’t be done in one sitting. They require planning, and benefit from task breakdowns and micro-resolutions (small, achievable goals).

I hope you’ve found this useful. If you have, why not subscribe to my mailing list so you don’t miss future updates?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Struggles with mindfulness

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On Wednesday night I was struggling to be mindful. I wrote this that night, and wanted to share my experience with you.

Took myself off to rugby training and did the best I could to work around the knee (I’ve injured it again). Was pretty pleased that I was able to engage with everything other than the team runs and a few of the drills. But I’m really quite irritated with one of the coaches at the moment.

As I write this I am stepping back to observe what I’m feeling and thinking. My conclusion is that I’m feeling quite defensive. Rugby has a way of bringing this out in me; I often feel like I’m on the periphery of the team and not good enough.

But you see, this is not actually anything to do with the team or the standard of my playing. What with having been away for so long, the old insecurities are all jostling for room beneath the surface. My passing was totally off and I’d already been feeling discouraged so when I was called ‘a bit kamikaze’ for the first time in my life it was a quick hop from defensive to bristling and protesting.

Rationally, I know he was right; it was a bit all over the place, and I did clear him out much better the next time. But I didn’t want to hear it, because as usual I feel like I should be much better at rugby by now. I feel like an outsider, just like I did in school. So the (legitimate) criticism made all my automatic barriers go up.

So I’m looking at all these thoughts right now. I have an attachment to a conceptualised self that always performs. I’m triggering memories that have no place in the present. I’m making a conscious effort, right now, to let this go.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd