Vision and Values  

Do you need a vision for your future life? Well, probably. I think it is always useful to have an idea about what you want your life to look like in the future. But there are a couple of things to be careful about here.  If you decide to create a vision it must be yours. What you really want. Not what you think will please other people. Or what will achieve something that you don’t really care about. Or just because that’s what you’ve always done. 


Your vision is how you see yourself living your life in a way that will make you happy within yourself. Everybody’s vision will be personal to them. It might include statements like  ‘I am working part time in a job I really enjoy.’ ‘I am fit and healthy.’  ‘I have a great relationship with my children.’ ‘I have a wonderful circle of friends that I see regularly.’  Whatever works for you. It does not have to be grand. We don’t all need to envision ourselves as millionaires living in large houses or delivering world peace! 


How do you know whether your vision is right for you? You can start by understanding your values. If you know what your values are then you can check to see if the vision you think you want is really aligned to them or not. If it isn’t you will find it harder to be content, however well you achieve it. 


What are values? They are the things that are important to you in your life. That define how you want to live your life. People often use words like honesty, family, authenticity, learning to describe their values but it is important that you choose the ones that are right for you. How many should you have? As many as you like but more is not necessarily better. (I have seen one website that has the headline ‘The only 216 values you will ever need.’ Blimey!) If you do want to have quite a few I would suggest knowing which ones are the most important to you and which are lesser. At some point you may have to choose! 


Some writers suggest we need to make a distinction between our values (attributes of the person we are or want to be) and things we value.  This is interesting but I think there is overlap. For example, one of my values is Health. I haven’t seen that one in other people’s lists very often. I guess it could be argued as something that I should value and not a core attribute. But I want to be a healthy person. It is important to me and I make decisions based on it. So it works for me. I used to work in large financial organisations where some of the traders seemed to value wealth creation above most other things. Is that wrong? No, it is up to the individual, but you need to understand the consequences of having the values that you do and how they affect and drive your vision. 


Which leads to another question. Do you choose your values or are they just within you? I believe the former. I also believe they can change over time. One of our traders above might value money or wealth highly in their twenties. But in their forties, with a spouse and a couple of children, family relationships might become a more important value. Like most of these things there isn’t a right and a wrong answer. It is about the process of thinking it through and being happy that the ones you decide upon are right for you. 


If you are going to try and create a vision and understand your values, please don’t expect to have it done in an afternoon. It might take a bit of time to think through properly. 


So, you have your vision and it is aligned to your values That is a great start. Now to work out how to make it happen. That’s for next time….

Goal/ Objective Setting

If you have your vision of how you want to live your life your goals are how you achieve that vision. (Some people prefer to call them objectives.) They are a bit more specific than your vision. So if my vision is that that I want to be a writer, a goal might be that in 12 months’ time I will have produced the first draft of my first book.  Goals can be a seen as a set of stepping stones toward achieving your vision. Some goals will be achieved and then you will set new ones. Some may become no longer valuable in achieving your vision and dropped. 


Usually we have focussed on big outcome goals such as wanting to write a best-selling book, winning a championship, owning a successful business. But there are issues with this type of goal. Firstly, they can be limiting. If you don’t set them very high and they are easy to attain, you might not be reaching your full potential. Secondly, (and perhaps surprisingly) reaching a major outcome goal can be a massive let-down. There are many stories of Olympic gold medallists who achieve their lifetime ambition and then feel empty inside. They feel lost as they now have nothing to work toward and no purpose or new vision in their life. The third issue is that you may never achieve your goal and that can lead to disappointment or feelings of failure. There is now a lot of focus on the importance of having process goals. A process goal relates to the actions you are going to take to try and achieve an outcome.


There is a debate about the relationship between a vision, outcome-oriented goals and process goals. I think you need all three. You need your vision of how you want your life to be, to have outcome goals or objectives that are markers on the way to achieving that vision and then to have processes and actions in place that will help you move forward. 

Let’s say that part of your future vision is to be someone who runs. You set a goal of running a 10k race in 6 months’ time (outcome goal). Your process goal may be to run 3 times a week. The advantage of the process goal is that it is something you can focus on now and actually get started, which for many people is the most difficult thing of all. The process goal also enables you to start small. You might only be able to run slowly or do a fast walk for 10 minutes when you start. That’s fine. You are out there doing it and that is the most important thing. Keep doing it and you will improve. (Consistency is the key to being successful in achieving almost anything.) 


The process goal can help you in the longer term as well. If you have done your 10k race you can carry on the process of running 3 times a week. You will still keep getting fitter and faster. Interestingly most sports people talk about a cycle of process – performance – outcome. Simply put, if you are a swimmer then you work on the processes (e.g. swim training, gym work, nutrition) that you believe will lead to a performance (a certain time for a race) which will give you an outcome (gold medal). 


Another key reason for the process focus is that this is the only part that you can really control. Carrying on with the swimmer analogy, you can decide how much training you do, what you eat, how you recover. That will enable you to perform at your best level. Whether that level is good enough to be an elite athlete isn’t really within your control. It depends on genetics, injuries, opportunities etc. Even if you can reach that elite level, you have absolutely no control over what your competitors do. Whilst your best time may have won the race previously there is no guarantee someone won’t swim faster than that next time. The processes are all you can control. If you execute those to the best of your ability, then you will get the best result that you capable of. And we can’t ask any more of ourselves than that. 

Planning, Action and Review

We know what we want our life to look like (vision) and we have set some markers that will help us check if we are on the right path (goals/ objectives). Now we need to do stuff! If you have made process goals then that’s a good start but there is a bit more to it than that.


One of the first things we need to understand is where we are starting from – what is the reality of our current situation. There are two reasons for this. Firstly it will give us the opportunity to see how far we have to go which will enable us to plan better. So, if we want to take part in a 100k cycling event in 12 months our plans will probably be different if we already ride a couple of times a week than if we don’t yet own a bicycle. 


Secondly it will help us to understand what we might have to sacrifice to achieve what we want. This is incredibly important as we may decide we are not prepared to make those sacrifices and so need to go back and re-think our vision and goals. If my vision is to become an arctic explorer and I am setting goals of going on expeditions for 6 months each year how does that work if my reality is that I have a spouse and two young children. Am I prepared to sacrifice seeing my children grow up, or possibly even my marriage to achieve my vision. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not but I need to understand the reality of the situation and bring it into my decision making and planning process. At a more everyday level if I want to get up early and go for a long run every Sunday morning am I prepared to give up those late night beers on Saturday with my friends. (You can try and do both but I always found it a pretty awful experience on the Sunday!). 


Once we understand our starting position and where we are trying to go we can put concrete action plans in place. The best way to do this is to put whatever you need to do in your diary. Once you have it written down you are more likely to do it and not let other stuff crowd it out. So if you have a process goal that says you will practice the piano 4 times a week then when and for how long? Write it down. Tuesdays at 0700 for an hour. Great, put it in. Let other people know you are doing it. Especially the ones who might want you to do something else at that time. Then, after a while it becomes a habit – something that you just do.*. And as I’ve mentioned before it is that consistency that will bring results. 


At regular intervals we need to review what we are doing. We can ask ourselves a set of questions that will help us with this. 

Am I doing what I planned? If I’m not, why not. This shouldn’t be a self-blame inquisition. Simply a reflection of what is happening and what I need to do next. Maybe the plan was too ambitious and I need to recalibrate. 

Am I enjoying it? If I am enjoying what I’m doing I am much more likely to do it. Even if I don’t actually enjoy it in the moment do I feel good about having done it afterward. Maybe if I don’t like doing something on my own I can do it with other people as that will make it more fun. If I can’t get any level of satisfaction from it I should probably be asking myself if I’m doing the right thing and have the right vision and goals.

Am I making progress? It is important to get the balance right on this one. It may take a long time to make good progress. Or I may improve really quickly and then plateau before improving again. We need to look at this over the longer term. If I’m not making progress over a long period do I need a different approach or someone to help guide me? 

Is my goal and/ or vision still the right one? Even if I am making good progress it is worth taking time every now and then to make sure that I am still heading in a direction that I want. 

What changes should I make to improve my experience? I should always be looking to improve my process, add variety, make it more enjoyable. Even something we generally enjoy might become a bit of a drudge if we are doing exactly the same thing 3 or 4 times a week for a year. 


This cycle of plan – action – review should be continuous. It is up to you how long each cycle lasts but a good target is to start doing it monthly and then shorten or lengthen to what works best for your situation. 


*For a great book on this try ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear.

Acceptance of what we can (and can't) control

What can you control in your life? What do you control? If you think about it for a while you might be surprised that the answer to both of those questions is ‘not very much’. We can’t control the weather (obviously!). But we also can’t control what other people think of us, or how much traffic there is on the freeway when we are in a hurry, or whether our clients or colleagues are going to be kind or rude to us today or whether they are going to do what we would like them to do. Yes of course we can request, encourage, cajole, implore, demand and all those useful things. But not control. How do you feel about that? How do you react? Well, those are the bits that we can control. We can control our actions. And to some extent our feelings. And, to a lesser extent, our thoughts.  


If someone shouts at us we will have an immediate reaction. Our brain (specifically the amygdala) will get us ready to fight, flight or freeze. So we might shout back and escalate the situation (fight) or walk away from the person (flight) or just stand there (freeze). However, we don’t have to do any of these things. The amygdala is there to protect us from danger so it works incredibly fast but it isn’t necessarily great at working out what is a real threat in the modern world and what isn’t. If we pause for a second we can realise that we aren’t actually in danger and we can choose a different response. We can ask the person why they are shouting. We can ask them not to shout. By pausing for just a second to control ourselves we are acting, not reacting and can hopefully reduce the tension in the situation. 


This is a trivial (but useful!) example. Stoic philosophy takes this to a much deeper place. If we can’t control anything outside of what we do then we should be prepared for and be able to accept whatever happens. Good or bad. We should not be emotionless of course. We can and should celebrate and grieve as any normal human, but it is about understanding that these things happen, that it is part of life and that we can carry on.  


Acceptance is not the same as absolving ourselves of responsibility. Quite the reverse in fact. Whilst we accept what is out of our control we also understand what we can do and how we can act to make the best of the situation. So if our business fails we accept that it has happened. Even if it was due to factors outside of our control we take responsibility for closing it down properly. We work hard to get the best results for ourselves and our stakeholders and we then work to build a new business or career. 


Radical acceptance is the idea that whatever happens to us it is our responsibility even though it is not necessarily our fault. Again, this is because it is our responsibility to act in the way that is best for us and for the people around us. 


There is a strong link to mindfulness and meditation here. When we meditate we do not aim to stop the mind thinking – that is impossible. The aim is to accept whatever thought comes into our head and let it go without attaching ourselves to it. Michael Neill, a well-respected coach and author notes that we are not our thoughts but that we let our thoughts create our reality of the world around us. (I’ve added a link to one of his TED talks below.) If we can accept that we are not our thoughts and that we are not in control of them we can find it easier to let them go and not react to them but pause and, replacing them with more helpful thoughts, rationally decide what our best course of action should be. 


I’m not suggesting that we should just give up and let events happen to us. We can still work to influence the world around us to try and get the outcomes that we want. We should be passionate about our causes, argue our case, work hard to make the changes we want to see in the world. But personally I have found it quite liberating and calming to understand that the thing I should be spending most of the time working on how to control is me!

Procrastination - what's stopping you?

Are you struggling to start that project? Or the fitness journey you have been promising yourself you will go on? Or searching for a new (and hopefully better!) job? Why? 


I think most of us procrastinate at some point in our lives. I can’t tell you how good I can be at it! There are some obvious, ‘high-level’ reasons why we do it but there are also deeper, more ingrained reasons too. It is worth looking at both and how we might be able to overcome them. 


At a high level it may be that we just find the goal too daunting. We have decided that we are going to write a book. All we can think about is having to produce 300 pages of beautifully crafted prose that will delight anyone who picks it up, and we find that too impossible to even write the first page. If this is the issue then I would refer back to an earlier blog where I talked about process over outcome goals. We can set ourselves much smaller goals of sitting and writing for an hour each day and that will move us forward. The initial product might not be that great but as we spend more time doing it we get better.


It may be that we are ‘too busy’ with other things to start. If this is the case then it is worth doing a prioritisation exercise. Look at what you are doing each day/ week and list out what is important to you, in order of importance.  Where does writing the book fit in. If it is near the top of the list then what is near the bottom of the list that you can stop doing to make time? Can you spend an hour less watching Netflix/ YouTube or an hour less scrolling social media? Can you be creative with your time and write whilst you are on the train/bus to work? If writing the book isn’t near the top of the list then you should ask yourself if it is something that you should really be trying to do anyway.


However quite often there is a deeper issue that is stopping us from getting on with it. One of fear. Most often this is an underlying fear of failure, of being not good enough. Dr Pippa Grange has written an excellent book on this topic called ‘Fear Less’ which is worth reading if you think this might be you. We fear that what we do will not be good enough and that we will be ridiculed for even trying. This is what stops some people from joining gyms if they want to get fit. We think we are so out of shape that we will embarrass ourselves just by turning up – so we don’t. What we don’t realise is that almost no-one notices and if anyone does they will generally be supportive. On the very small chance that they aren’t why should we let it affect our lives. It is their problem, not ours. What we need to try and remember is that this type of fear is just a thought – and not a very rational one at that. We are not doing something because we think it may not be successful. Well, if we don’t do it then it definitely won’t be – that’s guaranteed. Or we think that other people might not like what we do. But they, and other people might love it. We will never please everyone with what we do and we will never know how they are going to react unless we do it. 


We also need to ask ourselves who we are doing these things for – whether it be getting fit or writing a book or whatever. I believe we should be doing it in a large part for ourselves. Yes, I’m writing this blog hoping it will help other people but I’m also doing it because it helps me organise my thoughts and so makes me a better coach. I get fit because I want to feel healthy and be active, not to impress other people. This isn’t being selfish or self-centred, it is about realising that if we aren’t looking after and being happy within ourselves that we are unlikely to be able to be happy with much else. That is the subject of a whole other article but the point here is that we are more likely to avoid procrastination if we have an internal motivation rather than just an external motivation. 


So what do we do? If it is something that you definitely want to do, just start. Get the process rolling. Don’t worry about the outcome. Put one foot in front of the other, start writing on the blank sheet of paper. Do something. Just tell yourself you will only spend five minutes doing it. It will be better than nothing and you may find that once you have started you will end up doing more.  And then do it again the next day. 


By the way there is a great TED talk on procrastination by Tim Urban. It is very funny but the graph at the end is terrifying, especially for someone my age! There is a link below.

Being happy with ourselves

How do you feel about yourself? Yes there are goals that you have and maybe a different vision of your life that you want to create but…do you like yourself? Are you happy with who you are? Does it matter? 


I think it does. If we aren’t happy with who we are will we ever be happy about anything else? Relationships? Insecurity about ourselves doesn’t usually make for great relationships with other people. Work? That fear that we aren’t good enough to do the job we have been given leads to mental stress. Plus the fact that the only person we have to spend 24 hours of each day with is ourselves. Wouldn’t it be nice if we enjoyed the experience!? 


Mo Gawdat, a happiness ‘guru’, suggests that being happy is a state we can choose. Whatever the situation. He even has an equation for it


Happiness => reality – expectations


The simple way to be happy therefore is to have really low expectations! But let’s just say that what we should have is realistic expectations. So we shouldn’t expect everything in our lives to be perfect as that isn’t realistic. Things will go wrong. We will fail at stuff. We will have disappointments and occasionally it may feel that the world is against us. But it really isn’t. It is just life. We also should try not to compare ourselves to others. A US President, Theodore Roosevelt, once said ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. Great phrase. He said it in 1921. I wonder what he would have made of the social media sites that cause so much comparison anxiety today. We need to remember that we never really know what other people’s lives are like and that, especially on social media, we only tend to get shown the good bits. 


And what is reality? According to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) we all have our own version of reality based on how our senses filter information, which is then further distorted by our own experiences, beliefs, prejudices etc. We are looking at our perception of reality and what it means for us. For one person this may mean that a $50,000 lottery win is life changing, for the next person it is a nice bit of additional income. The reality is that they both won $50k. Losing my job may be something I find devastating; for you it may be a great opportunity to try something new. We both lost our jobs. So perhaps we can adjust Gawdat’s happiness equation to 


Happiness => perceived outcome – realistic expectation


So, we can be happier if we have more realistic expectations and/ or if our perception of the outcome is higher. 


We can take a little time to appreciate what we have. Gawdat suggests that one of the problems is that when we compare ourselves to others, we compare upward, to people who have more than us (Yes, I have a nice car but she has a Porsche.) whereas we can feel a lot more happiness and gratitude if we compare with people who have less  (I have a car but many other people have to walk or take the bus). Whilst this is a good option I still prefer the idea of not comparing at all. Simon Sinek talks about the ‘Infinite Game’ where the only ‘competition’ we should be interested in is with ourselves, trying to be a better version of ourselves today than we were yesterday and not worrying about what anyone else is doing. Not always easy but something worth working on. 


Another way to feel happier about ourselves is to spend more time with the right people. Clive Woodward, an ex-England Rugby coach wrote that you can split the people you know into either ‘Energisers’ or ‘Energy Sappers’. The former are the ones that invigorate you, who feed off your energy and give back more. We feel good when we are around them. The latter, well we all know people like this. The ones who seem to suck the light out of the room and leave us feeling deflated and exhausted. Whilst it isn’t always easy, we should do our best to spend time with people who energise us. (And to make sure that we are Energisers for other people!) 


It will also help if we have what is called an ‘internal locus of control’. This is where we believe that events/ outcomes in our life are based on our actions than an ‘external’ locus of control where we believe that external events are the main cause. This will lead to greater happiness as we are not blaming others but believe that we have got what we ‘deserve’ (back to realistic expectations above). This may sound like a complete contradiction to another article I posted about accepting that most things are outside of our control!  But I think it is more about understanding that the two things can co-exist. We can do everything within our power to get the result that we want, whilst still accepting that it won’t always be enough. This gives us the motivation to work hard to achieve what we want whilst not being too attached to the outcome, knowing that we did all we could, whatever happens. 



Please note: there are instances where feelings of unhappiness and a lack of self-worth are so deep rooted or strong that it tends to depression. This is not something that any life coach can or should try to help with. Anyone who feels they might be in this situation should seek professional medical help. 

Dealing with change

‘The only constant is change’. No idea who said it first but it seems to be a pretty accurate statement for most of us. So how do we deal with change? How can we manage it rather than have it manage us?


There are two types of change that we may be dealing with. The first type is where we initiate the change and the second is where it is put upon us and we are the recipients. Both types have a couple of elements to them. For the change that we initiate the onus is on us to push it forward and make it happen. It is also for us to bring other people along on the journey – to get them to buy in to the changes that we want to make. On the other side, where change is put upon us it is up to us to work out how to make the best of the changes that are happening and how we might be able to influence the change so that it works better for us.


In theory it should be easier for us to deal with the changes that we initiate. We understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, what the purpose of it is. Don’t we? If we aren’t really clear on these things we may not have the determination to see it through and it will certainly be more difficult to get other people on board with it. So have a really clear objective and plan to make it happen and make sure you can tell a short but engaging story about it.


When it comes to getting other people on board who should we try and recruit first? Sometimes we spend a lot of time trying to persuade people who are ambivalent or against what we are trying to do. Simon Sinek has another take on this. He uses the ‘law of diffusion of innovation’ to suggest that we should spend more time developing our likely supporters and people who are open to change into real advocates who can then help us persuade the naysayers that we want to get on board. His focus is generally on large corporate change but the idea works on a smaller scale too. 


If the change is being put upon us then depending on the quantum of the change we may feel uncertain about how it is going to affect us. A common way of looking at how we react to this sort of change has been adapted from work done by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross when studying grief. The first stage is often shock/ denial where we don’t accept that the change is really going to happen. We often carry on as though nothing is happening. The next stage is anger/ fear where we understand something is changing but we resist the change.  The third stage is where we start to accept the change and think about how we can make it work for us and the final stage is where we fully accept that the change is happening and commit to making the best of the new world we are going to be in. 


Dealing with this type of change is not about trying to skip the phases – that doesn’t work. It is about trying to move through them swiftly and with as little turmoil as possible. If we are the recipients of that change the best we can do is to find out as much about what is happening as early as we can; to accept that we are not fully in control of what is happening but that we may be able to influence it as positively as possible. 


Sometimes, after as much exploration and discussion as possible, we just may not be able to accept the change that is being put upon us. Either it doesn’t align with our values or it is not taking us in a direction that we feel is right for us. At this point the right thing for us to do is to walk away. This should be done in measured and respectful way – this isn’t a question of right and wrong (usually), it is a difference of opinion that we cannot work with. Whilst I understand that this is potentially a big decision and may mean leaving a job or ending a relationship it is essential. If we do not then we do ourselves and the people who are making the changes a dis-service as we will not be completely committed to the change which often leads to conflict and stress. 


The common thread running through this is that communication is the most important aspect of change, whether we are initiating it or being the recipient. There is an old phrase that ‘people don’t like change’. I don’t think that is true, or at least it is not complete. I would say that people don’t like change that they don’t understand. If we can help people understand the reasons behind the changes we want to make and spend time understanding the changes that people want to make to our world we may find the whole process of change becomes a lot smoother. 


Many of us confuse listening and hearing. But they are two very different activities. Hearing is a passive activity – we generally can’t avoid hearing what is going on around us. I might hear birdsong whilst I am outside. I may not really pay any attention to it but I have heard it. If I am interested in birds then I may start to listen. This is an active process whereby I do pay attention to the birdsong that I am hearing, perhaps to try and identify the bird or where the sound is coming from, or, if I know enough, whether the birdsong is a mating call or a danger signal. Some of the time it doesn’t matter too much whether we are hearing or listening. However there are times, particularly when we are dealing with other people, that it matters a great deal. 


Because hearing is a passive activity we can do other things at the same time. I can be hearing children play outside whilst writing or reading, pretty confident that if something goes wrong and there are screams or crying that my senses will alert me that I might need to go and see what is happening. But if I am listening it takes most, if not all of my attention. Think about having music playing whilst you are writing (emails, a presentation, whatever). I would bet that either you are concentrating on the writing task and so only hearing the music and often can barely recall afterward exactly what songs you heard; or you are really listening to the music and aren’t getting very far with the writing. We can’t multitask (as much as we like to think we can!).


if I am having a conversation with someone about something important I really need to listen to them. Therefore I need to stop whatever else I am doing, not play with my phone and concentrate on what they are saying. Only by doing this can I play a useful part in the conversation. It also signals to the them that I am listening and so taking the conversation seriously. I will try to understand what they are saying and potentially what they are not. I will be curious and ask questions based on what they are saying so that I can get clarification or better understanding. I will be empathetic and encouraging so that they feel they can expand on what they are saying. I will not just wait for them to pause to interrupt so that I can speak. If I am really listening I will probably pause before speaking so I can really consider what I am going to say based on what I have listened to what the other party has just said. 


The effect on relationships of good listening is enormous. We value people who listen to us and we know they are interested. And we know when people are really listening to us and when they are not. We can tell from the way they react and their body language as much as what they actually say to us. 


What if the conversation isn’t important? Do I have to listen properly then. I guess not but how many conversations fit into that category and if they do why are we having some of them? If I’m buying a ticket at the train station (very old fashioned of me to assume that I’m going to talk to someone rather than use a machine) then probably I can get away with just hearing and not engaging too much but if I am talking to friends, family or someone at or about work then I would suggest that most of those conversations are important as they build, deepen and maintain relationships so I need to listen. Even if I don’t think they are particularly important to me, they could well be to the other party involved and I am damaging my relationship with them by not listening and taking a full part in the conversation. 


If we have something important to say it is incumbent on us to make sure that someone is listening to us if that is what we want/ need. So before we start a conversation we can ask the other person if they have time for it. If they do then there is an implicit contract that they will listen. For my part if I don’t feel that I am being listened to and I feel I need to be then I might stop talking. This tends to get attention. If I am having a conversation with someone and they start looking at their phone I will stop and wait until they have finished. If it is obvious that they are busy doing other things then I might suggest having the conversation another time when I can have their full attention. 


Listening is a skill and like any other skill we can develop it and become better at it. It isn’t really that difficult but can make a huge difference to our lives and that of those around us. I think it is worth all of us taking a bit of time to think about how well we listen and whether we need to work on it.