Do you love the life you’re living?

I was messaging one of my best friends last week and he asked me what my purpose in life was. I thought for a little while, and then I wrote: “Making life a little better for every person I come into contact with, whether it’s for a moment or for the long haul. Helping people to believe in themselves. This life has got to be about something bigger than yourself – working towards a greater purpose. Maybe that sounds a little worthy? I feel very strongly about it though.”

I’ve been thinking about that today as I reflect on the past few weeks. Why do you do the work that you do? Do you love the life you’re living?

What is your driving purpose – that particular thread that pulls everything together for you? Some people want to make a difference through the execution of their vision for a better world – social change, environmental work etc. None of that floats my boat much. My driver is wanting to touch people’s hearts and build them up at an individual level.

Some people are perfectly happy just being – in some ways that is the ultimate goal, finding perfect happiness in this moment. But that needn’t detract from searching for what it is that will give this life meaning and fulfilment.

If you’re searching, then you need to understand your values and how to turn those into something worth pursuing. You also need to understand your motivated strengths: the things you’re not only good at, but actually like doing.

While continual introspection without action is pointless, action without understanding why can be counter-productive. How do you expect to end up where you want to be if you don’t know where you need to be heading?

Those of you who have attended some of my workshops or have been coached by me will know that I love using cards as a coaching resource – used well they can really facilitate discovery of key strengths, skills, values etc., and they also make a great self-coaching tool.
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These are from Barefoot Coaching Cards (the Coaching Cards for Every Day pack, which I’ve been sorting through today while chatting with a dear friend about purpose and direction). Perhaps one or more of these questions will find impact with you this week.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Resilience and balance

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These past few weeks have been all about resilience. Things have been incredibly stressful and both physically and emotionally draining, and I’ve had to marshal all my resources to stay focused and to flex with the challenges.

That’s what resilience is: being able to adapt in the face of adversity. It’s all about steering your way constructively through difficulty and taking learning from your experience.

It’s not about ‘bouncing back’ – a popular characterisation that has the unfortunate suggestion that you’re meant to instantaneously recover from a crisis. It’s natural and ok to be reeling for a while. Take the time you need. Reflect. Learn. Grow. And then realise that you’re not back in the same place – you’re further down the road, wiser, and often stronger.

When things get tough, think 4S*. What skills can you draw on to help you in this situation? What strategies can you develop to keep you moving? What pieces of sagacity can give you comfort? And which supports – friends and family – can help to keep you upright?

Whatever life is throwing at you, you’ll get through it. Have faith.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

(*4S taken from Carole Pemberton, Resilience: A Practical Guide for Coaches)

Self-acceptance

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Carl Jung said: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

It’s a universal truth that not everyone will love you or what you do. Seeking approval is the surest way to disappointment, because loving yourself as long as you live up to a certain way of being isn’t self-love. It’s the path to self-destruction.

The key difference between self-acceptance and self-esteem is this: whereas self-esteem plots your worth in conditional and external terms, self-acceptance is no strings attached. If you allow your worth to rise and fall depending on other people’s approval, how you look in comparison to others, or how many followers you have on Instagram, you will never be happy.

Remember this today: You are entirely acceptable and worthy of love, exactly the way you are, and regardless of what other people think.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Managing negative emotions

How’s your week going? My life feels a little like this right now – constant motion and somewhat sick-inducing. (Coaches are human too; we don’t have it all sorted all of the time!)

It’s important to recognise that negative emotions are a natural part of life. But that doesn’t mean you have to let yourself get swept away by it all. You may not be able to control all the situations you find yourself in, but you can absolutely control the way you think about those situations. And the way you think affects the way you feel.

If you’re finding negative thoughts and emotions a challenge, it doesn’t have to be this way. Get in touch and let’s talk about changing that.

Letting go

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Hello, 3am. I’ve been sleeping like a baby these past few weeks – waking up every two hours, that is. There’s a lot that’s been going on in one of the places that I work which is having a considerable impact on me and my team.

Many of you won’t share my faith (I’m a practising Catholic). Goodness knows I’ve been neglecting it myself. But it’s part and parcel of my blueprint, at 3am as much as it is any other time.

So I’m thinking about a few things that I talked about yesterday with a friend of mine. We find meaning in hindsight, even if we don’t like or completely understand what we’re going through in the present. I’m reminded of what I often discuss with coaching clients – finding the locus of what we can control and doing what we can with that, and realising that what we can’t control, we need to learn to respond to in a way that is constructive. My anxiety about things at 3am helps no one. I’m keeping in mind the saying “let go and let God”. We can’t always see the bigger picture. Pre-living potential futures through worrying what might happen is unhelpful. Do the best you can, and leave the rest to unfold as it will. Respond by making the best choices you can in the present. That is all any of us can do.

Whatever you find most helpful for you – prayer, meditation, running, yoga, getting outdoors – I hope that it will give you some peace this weekend. Take care of yourselves.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Other people’s opinions about you are none of your business

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I love the texture of this concrete. I also think that this is a good reminder before we plunge into the next working week. Honestly, stop worrying about what other people are thinking. Do what you think should be done. Take the risk. Follow your dreams. Wear the bikini. You’ll look back on this day and realise that this was the day you took hold of your power and stopped letting other people (and yourself!) get in the way of your living this one precious life.

Coaching for introverts

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A bit of light-hearted relief as we head towards the end of the working week – this is for all you grumpy introverts. There appear to be rather a lot of you out there – hello!

Now, I do appreciate the irony in this, but if you’re feeling like this and if you’re fed up with your work – well, I’d love to talk to you. Coaching can be hugely helpful in managing communication, relationships, performance under pressure, and career transitions. I’ll even stick my neck out to promise you’ll feel better after talking to me.

Drop me a message, and feel free to share this flowchart!

Hindsight is always 20:20

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I think we all need a reminder of this every so often. I was chatting with one of my best friends a few weeks ago about choices we’d made as teenagers and we got to musing about different life paths.

Ok, stop right there.

You see, a lot of the choices we make in life are made with the best information that we have at that point in time. Vision in hindsight is always 20:20. There is nothing – nothing – to guarantee that, had you made a different decision back then, you would be in a happier or more successful place right now. Don’t forget too that everything in our past has shaped us in ways that we can’t see.

Ruminating and speculating on ‘what-ifs’ are rarely helpful things to do. We are shaped by all that has passed, but the past is gone – learn from it by all means, but what matters is what you do with what you have in this moment. That’s yours for the taking.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

January and that New Year Resolution Jazz

We somehow appear to be over halfway through January. How’s your month going so far? Did you make New Year resolutions? And if you did, how far have you stuck with them?

Last week I came across a quote that said “January is the Monday of the year”. The analogy is fitting, I suppose, for that (often reluctant) return to work after an extended break – starting the engine from cold; pulling out the choke; jump starting the battery. Excuse the motoring metaphors; I’ve currently got my next car on the brain (the Suzuki Jimny, in Kinetic Yellow, but I digress).

You may have read the research that tells us why January, despite its standard 31 days, always feels like the longest month of the year. Yes, science has spoken. That, plus January’s often the longest month between paydays. So not only are you cold and grumpy, but now, to add insult to injury, you also don’t have any money.

RozChast©Roz Chast, The New Yorker

It’s interesting, therefore, that for that final January flourish, lots of us then place ourselves under pressure by setting resolutions that are unsustainable, not fully thought through, insufficiently specific, or have the wrong focus. You’re going to lose ten pounds, save more money, eat less sugar, stop drinking, and argue less with your partner. You’ll start with the best of intentions, and burn brightly for two weeks before life catches up. Indeed, some research conducted by Strava discovered that in 2018, 12 January was the day that most New Year resolutions ended up slinking guiltily into the shadows.

Where did my motivation go?

So what happened? According to Dr Raj Persaud in his book The Motivated Mind, the science of self-motivation helps us understand that there are only three reasons why people don’t achieve what they want: resource depletion, inadequate tracking, and goal conflict.

‘Resource depletion’ occurs when your resources are insufficient for the task. That might be in practical terms (for instance a genuine lack of time, or not enough funds), but more often than not it’s physical or emotional (lack of energy, low mood).

‘Inadequate tracking’ refers to when you fail to adequately monitor progress towards attaining your goal. Because steps towards goal achievement are often gradual and incremental, measuring your progress provides valuable feedback on how effectively you’re working and how close you are to your target. If you don’t know where you are, it’s difficult to see how to get to where you want to be.

Finally: ‘goal conflict’. This occurs when a goal that you set is incompatible with one or more other things that you set out to do. Maybe the last time you resolved to participate in Dry January, you lasted 10 days because you wanted to kick back and relax the weekend after returning to work. Often the conflict is between longer-term goals and shorter-term desires – psychological experiments have repeatedly shown that we have a predilection for valuable outcomes sooner rather than later.

Our inbuilt preference for earlier gratification means that we’re battling our biology every time we try to focus on that distant reward. And the thing about willpower is that generally it is quite an unreliable beast, so thinking that you’ll be strong enough to stick to your goals this time is, unfortunately, not a particularly effective strategy.

What to do?

Firstly, don’t abandon the desire for self-improvement; having New Year resolutions isn’t in itself a problem. The problem that lots of us have, even before we come to the question of motivation, is that we don’t set the right goals. Sometimes, in fact, we might not even really be ready for change.

Are you stuck in chronic contemplation?

TTM(The Transtheoretical Model of Change, Prochaska and DiClemente)

Studies of change have found that people move through a series of stages when intentionally modifying their behaviour. Change, in other words, is something that unfolds over time. I think the most pertinent stage to talk about here is that of Contemplation, where people intend to change, but aren’t quite ready – they know what the advantages of change will be, but they’re also highly aware of the drawbacks. This can produce significant ambivalence and procrastination, which often means that people stay stuck.

No surprise then that most resolutions, apparently, are repeated five years in a row!

If you’re stuck in chronic contemplation or are otherwise getting in your own way, you need to tackle this first. This is where psychological coaching can be really valuable, helping you to understand and modify unhelpful beliefs, tackle underlying cognitive rules and assumptions, and learn to develop greater self-belief and self-acceptance. For now, though, I’m going to assume that you’re ready for action.

Goal set, game on

Here’s where it all starts to happen. How do you set satisfying and achievable goals? When I work with my coaching clients on this, we go through a process that includes goal clarification, prioritisation, and design. The kinds of questions we might explore at each stage look somewhat like this:

Clarification: What’s the overarching goal? Why do I want this? How does it align with my needs and values? Is this goal short-term in nature or does it require motivation to be sustained over a longer period?

Prioritisation: How high a priority am I placing on this goal? Where does it sit in my overall goal hierarchy? How does it align with my other goals? How can I address any goal conflict?

Design: Am I setting dead person’s goals? How can my overarching goal be broken down into achievable steps?

During the process, we also pause to reflect on a few important things.

First things first: What the heck are dead person’s goals?

Well, simply put, they’re goals a dead person can achieve better than you.

Language is really important when it comes to goal-setting. Goals like “I want to stop drinking”, “I want to eat less sugar” or “I want to argue less with my partner” are all about doing less of something or stopping something (let’s face it, the dead person’s got that in the bag, and he’s way ahead of you).

Instead, think about how you can turn that around to aim for positive action. What you focus on you tend to create, so focus on the things you want, not the things you want to get rid of. Ask yourself: So if I stop this, or do less of this – how are things going to change? What will I start doing, or do more of? How will I behave differently?

Vagueness is not a goal-setting virtue

Remember inadequate tracking? It’s hard to know how close you are to your destination if you don’t know where you are – but even before that, it might have been Seneca who said “if a person doesn’t know to which port they sail, no wind is favourable”.

So be clear about what you want your end result to be. Be specific about what, how, and by when, and make sure too that what you’re aiming at is realistic and achievable within the parameters you’ve set yourself. And then don’t forget to check in with yourself on a regular basis to assess your progress and recalibrate if you’ve gone off-track. 

Daily commitment to action and consistency are key

Let’s assume you’ve set a great goal. You have a vision of what you want your end point to be. Now what? How do you get from here to there?

Here’s where we come to talk about a systems mindset. To read more about this, I highly recommend you pick up Scott Adams’ book How to Lose At Everything And Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. In Adams’ words: “For our purposes, let’s say a goalis a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.”

Having a systems mindset means that, rather than being end-state and future-oriented, you become process and present-oriented. You can see the longer-term vision, but what you’re doing today is the thing that matters most. If your goal’s to run a marathon in September, and you start training now, you’re not going to see any difference tomorrow. But follow that training plan week in, week out, and come the marathon, you’ll be ready. You may not be able to tick that overarching goal off your list until September, but if you commit to consistent daily action, you’ll be winning each and every day.

So start breaking down that overarching goal into small, achievable daily ways of being that you can sustain over the longer term. Think micro-resolutions – commitment to a limited, specific and measurable change in behaviour or attitude that produces a tangible and immediate benefit. It taps into that predilection for immediate gratification and the positive feedback keeps us encouraged. And you know what else? One of the best cures for lack of motivation is taking action. Just do it.

And that’s it – I do like it when a plan comes together. One final parting thought before I go. You can do all this at any time. You don’t need to wait for a new year, a new month or even a new week to start working towards the change you want to see. So if you abandoned your 2019 New Year resolutions last week, here’s your next chance. It starts now. You’ve got this.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd