Opposing views.

I am lucky to have a number of people in my life who provide me with a healthy balance of support and challenge. I meet lots of people who are willing to support me, which is lovely, but they often shy away from the edgy conversations. I also meet people who are willing to challenge, often in the adversarial sense of trying to ensure that their view dominates. Whilst I enjoy the debate and the challenge, these are often competitive types of interactions rather than ones designed to faciltate growth. It’s difficult to find people who are perpared to both support and challenge you in the interests of driving you to be a better version of yourself, so when you find them you should cherish them.

One of my fears with blogging is that I wind up in a self-perpetuating self-congratulatory cycle where I only hear from the people who like what I write. Everyone who has contacted me thus far has been quite complimentary and encouraging and I have been very grateful for that. However I’m not so naive to think that this means that everyone is positively disposed to what I’m doing. I am savvy enough to know that anyone who thinks it’s a pile of rubbish will simply ignore it and that most people will simply dismiss it as something that’s not doing a whole lot of harm but not necessarily doing a whole lot of good either. Therefore I was interested to seek out the views of someone who would give me their opinion straight up.

For me, one such person is a former boss of mine, Mary Rose Burke. This lady has taught me lots about myself and about the world more generally. She is independence and passion personified and is a brilliant role model for anyone trying to achieve a balance between family, work and life more generally. She lives her life authentically, thinks differently to most people I know and shares her insights generously. Therefore I was delighted to bump into her last week and was curious to know what she thought of my blogs.

Needless to say, Mary Rose didn’t disappoint. She provided some encouraging comments about some of the blogs before moving to a position of challenge. She queried the value of sharing self-reflection in such a public forum and whether it was really of any benefit to readers to be subjected to my internal musings. I was delighted to hear the counter position and asked if she would write a guest blog. It’s a testimony to Mary Rose’s patience with me that she obliged by writing a blog about why people shouldn’t write blogs! As she says herself, she’s a reluctant blogger. Her blog, here, raises some super questions, ones to which I don’t necessarily have appropriate answers. I agree with her view on the deeply personal nature of self-reflection and yet simultaneously also find myself agreeing with the likes of Brené Brown on the importance of vulnerability in our world. Yes, self-reflection ought to be a private affair, but I fear that we’ve made it so private that people don’t know how to go about it and don’t feel comfortable talking about it.

I’d love to hear your views. If you get a chance, read Mary Rose’s blog and lets have a proper debate about whether this blogging lark is of any value to anyone. Fear not, this is not going to turn into a match between two opposing views. Rather, it’s an opportunity to help shape my thinking on how I should approach blogging. Have I shared too much and ventured past the boundaries of appropriateness? Or is more vulnerability and open reflection what the world needs? Or is it an entirely irrelevant question in a world that has much more to worry about than what I think? Irrespective, I’m going to keep blogging because I find it a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing thing to do…. but your views might influence what I choose to share.

Reflection time

Once again I find myself grateful for people like Mary Rose in my life, and fortunately I have quite a few of them around me. They keep me grounded whilst giving me wings. They pose the difficult questions from which so many others shy away. They challenge me to question what I’m doing without any expectation of compliance with their thinking.

Do you have people in your life who’ll challenge you supportively? If and when they do challenge, can you accept that challenge with a spirit of gratefulness or do you find yourself engaging in combat? Defending your position is a natural inclination but sometimes it’s useful to just listen and hear what’s being said. This touches on the topic introduced in last week’s blog (Teamwork: The importance of trust), where we introduced Patrick Lencioni’s hypothesis that fear of conflict can prevent teams from reaching their potential. A fear of conflict or an unwillingness to have challenging conversations stifles growth, creativity and trust. Willingness to voice, and hear, oppossing views enables growth and strengthens relationships. It’s a topic to which I have no doubt we’ll return, particularly in the context of team development.

In the meantime, thanks, Mary Rose, for your reluctant blog! And thanks in advance to those of you who take a moment to share your thoughts on the subject.

Teams: The importance of trust

26th May 2017

This week I had the privilege of working with colleagues in the School of Pharmacy in the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland (RCSI), the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, East Tennessee State University and the Irish Institute of Pharmacy to explore the topic of inter-professional collaboration and team-based approaches to patient care. This involved a day-long masterclass in RCSI on Wednesday and a number of other “fringe events”. As part of the programme of fringe events, I found myself in the studios of Raidió na Life, hosting a podcast where pharmacy and medical practitioners from Ireland and America shared their reflections on the concept of team-based approaches to healthcare (You can hear the recording here). It was a great experience. It was my first time to host such an event, which was a learning experience in itself, but more importantly it resulted in a rich and meaningful discussion which I think will prompt lots of reflection on how we could improve healthcare delivery in Ireland. My thanks to Prof. Reid Blackwelder, Dr. Brian Cross, Dr. McKenzie Calhoun, Mr. Paddy Byrne and Dr. Kieran O’Driscoll for contributing so authentically to the discussion and for sharing their reflections and insights. I believe that more conversations like this, forward-looking and positively-framed, are needed in order to start changing the order of things.

Given that we were considering team-based approaches to healthcare delivery this week, it’s not surprising that the topic of teamwork featured strongly in our discussions. Anybody who knows me knows that I am passionate about this topic! In fact, a number of readers have been specifically asking if I could share reflections on teamwork as part of my blog. It’s impossible to distill my thoughts about teamwork and effective team leadership into one blog-post, so I propose to dip in and out of the topic over time, reflecting on different aspects of teamwork as they arise in my day-to-day life. In light of the discussions about teamwork over the last week, today seems like an opportune time to start that reflection.

I have had the privilege of working with some fantastic teams over my career to date and I am lucky enough to be currently part of one of the best teams in which I have ever worked. Like most people, I have also worked in quite dysfunctional teams. Therefore, it’s easy for me to reflect on what I think differentiates a good team from a not-so-good team. With a great team around you, the impossible becomes possible. It’s where the magic happens.

During the past week, and most notably in the podcast discussion, it is clear that strong relationships are important in teamwork. Whether you are working within a structured and clearly-defined team or you find yourself thrust into situations where you need to collaborate with others informally, relationships are considered a vital ingredient to good teamwork. In my opinion, this can be distilled down even further to one essential ingredient: trust. Without trust, the magic just can’t happen.

The Collins English dictionary states the following in defining trust: “If you trust someone, you believe that they are honest and sincere and will not deliberately do anything to harm you.” Upon reading such a definition, it makes complete sense that you need trust for a team to work well together. The absence of trust would suggest that there are concerns regarding honesty, sincerity or intentions. How could a team perform effectively, let alone flourish, in such an environment? How could any meaningful relationships be established?

The interesting thing about a really powerful team is that you don’t necessarily have to like everyone in the team in order to have trust. In my experience teams are most powerful when they are made up of people who are quite different to each other, each bringing something unique to the table. In a truly effective team there will be potentially opposing views of the world and there will be healthy tension between different perspectives on how things should be done. In a flourishing team there is room for this to happen. Where there is trust, no-one feels threatened.

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of Team, positions trust as the foundation on which all great teams are built. He further differentiates between types of trust: predictive trust and vulnerability-based trust. Predictive trust is where you know someone long enough to be able to predict what they’ll do. You trust that you can anticipate their response to situations.  Whilst useful, this isn’t the type of trust that makes teams great. Vulnerability-based trust is, predictably enough, the trust that comes about when people on a team can be vulnerable with each other. When this type of trust is in place, people can ask for help, they can admit their wrong, they’re willing to provide feedback on potentially difficult issues and they’re willing to hear that type of feedback about themselves. Team members are willing to have conversations in a spirit of honesty, sincerity and good intention and are met, in-turn, with reciprocated honesty, sincerity and good intention. When people can be vulnerable, it changes the dynamics of a team completely, making it unstoppable.

Whilst everyone in a great team needs to be willing to be vulnerable, Lencioni maintains that the only way to achieve this is if the leader goes first. If the leader can’t be vulnerable, then the other team members are unlikely to trust that they can be so. Lencioni maintains that leaders have to be willing to show their vulnerability before others will trust that it is safe for them to show theirs. Leaders must be self-aware. They need to understand their strengths and how they use those strengths. They must be insightful about their short-comings and how they address these. They must be capable and willing to admit when they are wrong. They must be open to receiving uncomfortable feedback graciously, before their team will trust that they should do the same.

Once the conditions are set at a leadership level, all team members then have a responsibility to step up and pay their part in cultivating a culture of trust. This means that they too must have self-awareness, they too must have insight into their short-comings and they too must be prepared to put in the effort that is required to maintain a trusting environment. Everyone must believe that all team-mates are acting honestly, sincerely and with good intention. Once the trust is established, it provides a strong foundation for everything else.

Self-awareness is a tricky issue. It makes sense that people should understand themselves and their impact on others, but I often find it lacking. This is often where I focus on efforts when I work with teams, either leading, being part of or coaching them. Once people understand themselves they are better positioned to understand others and this helps to build a culture of respect and trust.  I also find it easier for trust to flourish when people are able to have fun together.

Whilst I agree with Lencioni that good leadership is a key ingredient, what about those situations where a clear leadership mandate does not rest with any one individual? In the example of team-based healthcare, where a range of different healthcare professionals may be required to form spontaneous teams to plan the best approach for a particular patient, who is responsible for setting the tone? My answer is that you can wait for someone to come in and set the tone or you can be proactive about playing your part in creating the right environment. This is where you get to see leadership qualities displayed irrespective of rank or whether the individuals concerned have a mandated leadership role. This is where the practicalities of “who is in charge?” become irrelevant and “what needs to be done?” becomes a unifying goal. Once we start asking the right question, everyone can contribute to the leadership of the group by playing their part in creating an environment which will enable the team to flourish. As my American colleagues would say, don’t wait for a memo to instruct you to start creating trust! Just step up and play your part!

Establishing trust, whilst important, is only the first step to creating a great team. There are a further four elements to Lencioni’s model, which proposes that a team will not function optimally if there is a fear of conflict, a lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. Each of these topics fascinates me, particularly the one relating to the fear of conflict, and I am sure I’ll be reflecting on each of them in future blogs. I’m also interested in exploring the concept of vulnerability because I’ve had some fascinating conversations about this in the last few days and am anticipating a guest blog next week which might stimulate some interesting reflections in this regard! So I know we will re-visit the topic of teams in future blogs. In the meantime, if you want know more about Lencioni’s model of teamwork, take a look at The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

 

Reflection time.

 

 

Are you part of a team? Teams can be found in the workplace, in sports, at home, in communities, in social circles … essentially anywhere you have groups of people working on something together.

Reflect on your team experiences. Think about a time when you have been part of a fabulous team (I am hoping that you have experienced this at some stage!). Compare this to a time when you worked in a poor team environment (I’m assuming most people have experienced this!). Reflect on the differences between these two in the context of trust. Does it hold true, in your experience, that there are low levels of trust in poorly performing teams?

If you are currently working within a team where there is a trusting environment, cherish it and make sure you play your part in keeping it that way. Don’t become complacent and assume trust will just flourish. Like anything worth having, it takes constant work and care to ensure that it is maintained. The effort is worth it when you are part of a team where great things happen.

If you work within a team where there is a lack of trust, it might be worth reflecting on what you could do to start nudging towards a more trusting atmosphere. I’d be interested in any reflections you have on how this can be achieved.

As always, thanks for reading and I’m looking forward to some interesting exchanges over the coming week 🙂

And check here for the latest update from Cicely Roche, who is guest blogging about her Ontario trip!

Learning how to Learn

A few years ago a friend of mine introduced me to the world of MOOCs; Massive Online Open Courses. They are exactly as the name suggests… online training programmes which have unlimited participation and which are available for open access on the web. There are a growing number of organisations that provide access to large catalogues of MOOCs such as Coursera, EdX and Udacity, to name but a few. These catalogues are a mecca for learning, providing easy, free access to courses in a wide range of subjects across the arts, humanities, engineering, mathematics, sciences (social, health or otherwise) and personal development.

I love learning and was thrilled to discover this treasure trove of online courses available free of charge. I imagined that I might become conversant in Mandarin Chinese or perhaps take a course in Dog Emotion and Cognition before moving onto the grittier stuff like Particle Physics!  Well, not quite. Roll forward two years and I have only managed one course, “Learning how to Learn”! This course completely changed my thinking on learning … and ironically ended my relationship with MOOC courses!

The title, “Learning how to Learn”, caught my eye because I wondered what there was to learn about learning. I expected a course full of memory exercises or strategies for studying. To my surprise, I discovered that notwithstanding a modestly successful education track-record, there was much that I didn’t understand about the process of learning! I grew up in an education system that rewarded accurate recall of information and my learning strategy was always to memorise as much information as I could as accurately as I could. This meant that I was pretty focused throughout my studies spending endless hours sitting at desks reading information and repeating it to myself in an effort to commit it to memory. What I discovered through the “Learning how to Learn” MOOC is that there are two modes of thinking, referred to in the course as the focused mode and the diffuse mode. I realised that throughout most of my formal education journey I had almost exclusively used a focused mode of thinking. It was only during my postgraduate studies that I gained some experience in using a more diffuse mode approach, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. The diffuse mode allows us to look at things broadly and lets information filter through our brain so that new neural connections can be made and new ways of thinking can evolve. What surprised me is the fact that neuro-scientists strongly suspect that you are either in a diffuse mode or a focused mode of thinking – you can’t be in both modes at the same time. Being in one mode limits access to the other mode’s way of thinking. Therefore we need to have strategies that allow us to benefit from both modes. That’s not something that I had ever factored into all my years of education, which were spent predominately in focused mode.

Why is this interesting? Well it has lots of implications for how I now choose to learn. Having spent about twenty years of my life learning within the formal primary, secondary and third-level education settings, I had never recognised the importance of a diffuse mode of thinking. Focused learning was the modus operandi. Now that I understand more about learning I’ve come to realise that I don’t need to do more courses to satisfy my thirst for learning. Instead I’m learning to use my diffuse mode a bit more. This means that I have to make a conscious decision to step away from focused learning and create the opportunity for my brain to formulate new ideas and connections between the information that’s already in there…. which leads me to the topic of reflection! Wikipedia defines reflective practice as the ability to reflect on one’s actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning. (I know, I shouldn’t be referencing Wikipedia but I don’t have time to go more in-depth and this is just a blog, not a peer-reviewed article!) Whilst I always intuitively understood the importance of reflection, I hadn’t appreciated how it allowed the brain to use information in a different way which leads to growth and learning.

Some might conclude from this that our education system is fundamentally flawed because it is too focussed on, well, focussed learning. I’m not sure that I would go that far. Education systems originally evolved from the desire to provide people with fundamental skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. They were never, in my opinion, intended to be systems that shaped the entire person. Throughout the ages society, family environments, social circles and local communities have played important roles in supporting and shaping the upcoming generations. I believe that this should still be the case. I recognise the challenge that my childrens’ teachers face as they endeavour to teach classes of about 25 students in the fundamental skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. I recognise that they have to cater for all needs – from those of the children who struggle to grasp the basics to those of the children who are under-challenged and who are never stretched in a way that helps them to realise their full potential. I recognise that as a parent I have an important role in educating my children through the conversations I have with them, the experiences to which I expose them and, most importantly, through the example I set for them. And I learn lots in this process too. That’s why I’ve resisted the urge to acquire more information  through the world of MOOCs and instead am affording myself the time and space to reflect on the world around me through a more diffuse mode of thinking. For now, this is providing the most interesting learning journey of all.

 

Reflection time.

 

Are you aware of the world of MOOCs, offering free, online training programmes? They are an attractive option for anyone with a thirst for knowledge. I frequently meet people who bemoan the fact that it’s difficult to find training courses in their locality that are of interest to them. Well, you have no more excuses!

More generally, have you ever thought about how you learn? Do you give yourself enough time to reflect and to let your brain learn through a more diffuse mode of thinking?

And finally, how are you contributing to the development of upcoming generations? We all have a responsibility to support the learning journey of the young people in our communities and in our society. We can’t expect the education system to do everything! How do you inspire or impact positively on the young people with whom you interact? Are you role modeling the behaviours we want to see from the younger generations when we’re old? By the way, Trinity College Dublin have a nice MOOC on strategies for successful aging! I must take a look at that sometime!

On a different note, there will be a new development at www.reflections.ie over the next few weeks when you will start to see the appearance of guest blogs! All will be revealed soon!

 

Here comes the wobble!

I knew it would come at some stage; the wobble which always comes soon after I start something new.

My wobbles generally happen shortly after I make a decision and are characterised by self-doubt which causes me to question, or even abandon, the decision I have made. I have come to learn that there is no logic to my wobbles and they happen irrespective of how trivial or serious the decision. I experience a wobble when I start a new job or when I take on a new challenge. I can even experience a wobble after I make a choice on a restaurant menu when I invariably wonder if I should have picked something different. I experienced wobbles when I got married! (Not about the choice of husband of course, but about whether I should have gotten married at all!)  I experience wobbles every time I start a new fitness regime or new dietary discipline, to the point of wobbling off track. And now I’m having the wobbles about starting this blogging lark!

I know I’m starting to wobble about blogging because I find myself thinking things like “Why the hell am I doing this?”, “Why didn’t I listen to all the people who told me that writing about something every week was unrealistic?”, “What if people think I’m a fool to be doing this? Worse still, what if I actually AM a fool?!” “What if people don’t like what I write?” My original, positive outlook on blogging is being ambushed from all sides by worries and doubts which make me want to run away.

But Wobble…I have been expecting you and I’m ready for you!

The secret, I find, for dealing with wobbles, is to anticipate them. When I was younger, I pondered over wobble-driven doubts and worries and often let them get into the driving seat and take over. Now I know that the wobble will come and I pre-empt it by being clear on what’s driving my decision. It’s kind of like being on a roller-coaster in those moments when you are making the slow ascent to the top of the ride gathering potential energy, anticipating the dramatic plummet. That’s always a “Why the hell am I doing this?” moment for me! There is no option of getting off a roller-coaster half way through, so I deal with the “why the hell?” moment before I ever get set foot on the ride! I look at the roller-coaster and gauge whether I think the ride is worth that “why the hell” moment or not. If it is, I go on the ride, knowing that there will be moments where I’ll regret it but that overall it will be great fun. If the ride doesn’t look one I’ll enjoy, I steer clear. Why put myself through something I won’t enjoy?

With blogging, I anticipated the wobble and was ready for it. The first step was to be clear with myself about why I was doing this. I gave some of my reasons in my first post, but here’s a more comprehensive list

  • I believe in the value of reflection and want to invest time in the process.
  • Through my day-job I can see that many people struggle with reflection and I work with a team to encourage and support people with this. This blog is an extension of that work albeit it from a very different angle.
  • I enjoy writing but have consistently failed to make the space for it in my schedule. Deadlines work better for me, so a public deadline of a weekly blog helps me to prioritise it.
  • I hope that I can evolve my writing style and through blogging perhaps I might receive some critical appraisal on my writing or challenge of my thinking.
  • The public aspect of blogging forces me to be more considered in my writing than if I was writing a personal journal.
  • I can see that blogging is an important form of communication in our modern world and I want to both understand and participate in it rather than be left behind.
  • I have thought about this for years and I am interested to see if I have as much to say as I think I do.
  • My Dad has, for years, suggested that I should write a book. This blog allows me to dip a toe in the writing world without the full commitment of a publication (Although, for the record Dad, technically my doctoral thesis is a book. Who said I don’t listen to you?!)

Reminding myself of all the motivating factors helps me to dispel some of the doubts and negative thoughts. It certainly helps answer the question “Why the hell am I doing this?” As for some of the other doubts… well, if people don’t read or like my blogs, that’s fine. They can ignore them. I’m not doing this to accumulate thousands of followers or to rack up the “likes”, so no pressure there. As for the other fears, of being a fool or running out of things to say? Well, in the scheme of things, they are first world problems. In fact, the whole thing is one big first world problem. Who really cares if I stop blogging when I run out of things to say? What difference does it really make? In the context of global issues, does my piddly little blog really matter at all? That’s when I say, “get over yourself Catriona and spare your worry for something that really matters!”

 

Reflection time.

 

I think most of us experience wobbles. Over the past week, I have talked to several people who have similar experiences about different issues. One friend is making a big life change and can power through the wobbles because of her ambition for what she wants her life to be like. Another friend has started a big project and is wobbling because of the discomfort of the short-term sacrifices which are needed for a much longer-term benefit. Another friend wobbles every time she has to speak at a conference.

Reflect on times when you have wobbled (If you have never experienced a wobble, please use the comment box to tell me how you managed that!).

What strategies have you used that were effective in powering through a wobble? Can you replicate these in the future?

Can you identify reactions that were unhelpful? How can you avoid repeating this behaviour in future?

Finally, what can you learn from reflecting on your past experiences? Are there patterns to your wobbles?  Are there things you can do to prevent them?

As for me, the wobble I never seem to be able to power through is the one I have when I see pastries and chocolates which will push me past my weight-watchers point limit. I suspect it’s going to take a bit more than reflection to sort that one out!

Ninjas and fairies … Does it matter what people think?

Last week I had an experience that prompted interesting reflection for me about the importance I attach to what other’s think of me. My little girl was invited to a fancy-dress birthday party for a 6-year-old friend.  Normally these parties involve a mix of girls who dress as princesses or fairies and boys who dress as superheroes or villains. My daughter has, thus far, shown no interest in princesses or fairies and has always joined the boys in the superhero camp. Sometimes its Spiderman, other times the Hulk. Last week she was a ninja.

When we arrived at the party we were greeted by a squealing sea of sparkly, excited princesses, including the mother of the party-girl! Unlike all previous parties, there were no boys. Suddenly this made my little ninja, dressed from head to toe in black and sparring imaginary adversaries, so much more conspicuous. The biggest of the fairies (the party-girl’s Mum!), to be fair, took this in her stride and was delighted to welcome a ninja to the party. The little ninja herself dived into the fairy sea with a nonchalant wave goodbye to me. I must admit, for all that I love her spunky, funky nature, in that moment as I left her I wished she liked princess dresses … not because I want her to be like everyone else but because I know that being different can be difficult.

I pride myself in swimming against the tide. I’m not that bothered by what people think of me … or at least that’s what I tell myself. Why then, did it bother me when I saw my little girl standing out from her counterparts? Why was my stomach churning and my mind constantly straying back to her for the next two hours while she partied and I fretted?

At the simplest level, it was probably just maternal instinct kicking in … a desire to protect my little girl. I imagined that maybe she might realise that she was different from her friends which might upset her or that the princesses might keep their distance from this scary little ninja. In truth it probably reminded me too much of times when I didn’t feel like I fit in and reignited old insecurities. I have always felt a bit like a square peg in a round hole and, whilst I’ve come to embrace my “squareness” as I’ve grown older, it was quite the inconvenience when I was younger.  I never felt particularly interested in the sorts of things in which other people seem interested. As a teenager, conversations between my peers about the latest pop sensation or hottest actor always left me baffled because it seemed at the time that it was a teenager’s job to care about those things and I just didn’t. From school to college to the workplace, I never quite felt like I fit in and, to be frank, I didn’t like that feeling. I wanted to be like everyone else who seemed normal so I wouldn’t feel so odd. Unlike my little ninja, I didn’t have the courage to be who I wanted to be. In fact, I’m not even sure I knew who I wanted to be. As a result, I spent most of my time trying to fit in and trying to be interested in things in which I wasn’t interested rather than figuring out what I did like for myself. Maybe that’s the way most people spend their early years. Maybe we all go around feeling out of place. Maybe some people are just better than others at looking like they know what they’re about. As I grew older I began to understand more about what drove me and to understand my purpose and that certainly made it easier to feel comfortable on occasions when I stuck out from the crowd. I have huge admiration for people who aren’t afraid to buck the trend or go against the grain in the interests of being themselves … like my little ninja.

As I think about this issue, I am reminded of the book The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters. The book opens with a simplified explanation of brain function, focusing on the evolved, frontal (Human) brain functions and the more primitive, limbic (Chimp) brain functions and the remainder of the book provides guidance on how to reconcile the constant struggle between the Human and the Chimp. One of our primitive (Chimp) urges is to seek safety, which can usually be found in groups or troops. The best way to fit into a troop is to be as similar as possible to the other members of the troop, reducing the chance of rejection. So perhaps the desire to fit-in has its roots in a primitive urge?  Peters proposes that managing your impulsive and emotional Chimp as an adult will be one of the biggest factors in determining how successful you are in life. As I’ve grown older and discovered who I am, the anxiety associated with not fitting in has certainly eased. Maybe that’s how it happens for everyone? I look at the younger generations today who seem to have oodles of confidence and self-awareness and I am in awe. Are they really that confident? Or do lots of them feel like square pegs in round holes too and just do a much better job than I ever did in covering it up? It seems to me that there is a much greater acceptance of people being different these days. Being nerdy now appears to be cool. Young people don’t seem to be afraid to stand out from the crowd. As a society are we becoming more accepting of difference? Are my reactions to “being different” just remnants of an old-fashioned view of the world?

As for my little ninja, when I collected her from her party and tentatively asked her how it went I received an enthusiastic “Awesome Mum, very awesome”. Awesome indeed.

 

Time for reflection

 

This experience prompted me to reflect on how my reactions have changed as I’ve gotten older. I live a pretty conventional life …  but I like to think that I can be pretty unconventional when I want to be. I found great freedom when I stopped caring about trying to fit in with everyone else, but it certainly felt a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. It also prompted me to wonder if maybe there are times when I still shy away from being different? And most importantly, how do I make sure that my hang-ups don’t influence my little girl’s view of the world.

Are there times when you change your behaviour for the sake of fitting in? Sometimes this is a necessary part of maintaining harmonious relationships within the workplace or the home. But might there be times when you compromise too much for the sake of fitting in? Only you will know! And sometimes it doesn’t have to be one or the other. A ninja princess could be an interesting option!

 

Where is your attention?

21st April 2017

A few weeks ago I wrote about the topic of positivity. Quite a few readers wrote to me describing how the article had prompted them to realise that they had let their work persona (which required a degree of critique or negativity) spill into their personal life.

Firstly, thank you to those who contact me. It’s nice to know that the articles have prompted reflection…. which is the purpose of my writing.

Secondly, this prompted me to think about a model that I learnt about years ago when I worked in Boots.  All credit goes to Boots and their trainers for this concept. I have found it immensely helpful … not just in my own experience but also in coaching others. The model is simple but profound. When it was first presented to me it was in the format of an exercise which worked very effectively, so I thought it best to go straight to the heart of the matter and make this week’s blog more activity focused.

 

Reflection time

 

Think about a typical day of activity – whether that involves spending time at home, in the workplace or somewhere else. In particular, think about how you start the day. What are the things that are on your mind as you plan the day ahead? Write a list of the things on which you generally focus your attention. You might already do this by having a “To Do” list at the start of the day. If so, what does a general “To Do” list look like?

Now – Let’s look at your list and start categorising, using the diagram below, which you can print out to help visualise where your attention is focused.

Firstly, ask yourself: How many of the things on my list are about the things I have to do? Jobs that need to be completed? Issues that need to be resolved? Write these into the section marked It in the diagram above.

Secondly, ask yourself: How many of the things on my list are about the people around me? People I need to meet? Calls I must make? People with whom I work or engage? Write these into the section marked Us in the diagram above.

Finally, ask yourself: How many of the things on my list are about me? How I look after myself? How I plan to manage my own energy levels? How I maintain my motivation or interest? How I manage my emotions, particularly in the face of situations that may cause stress? Write these into the section marked Me in the diagram above.

Now, look at the balance between each of the three categories (Me, Us, It) that you have created. Where is the focus of your attention? When this concept was introduced to me, it was explained that we are at our best when we pay attention to all three aspects of our day. If you fail to pay enough attention to any one of the areas, you end up with an imbalance that makes life more difficult. Often people tend to focus largely on the It in their life (ie the jobs that need to be done), to the detriment of considering their own well-being or how they interact with the people around them.

If you have a good balance across all three areas, well done. Give yourself a pat on the back! If you end up with a skewed focus across the three areas there’s lots you can do to achieve a better balance. Some of the previous posts, such as What’s Stopping You?What’s your Purpose? and Are you Positive? can help you focus on the Me part of the model. As I continue blogging I will be touching on issues relating to the Us and It parts. Team-work is something that many of you have specifically asked me to write about and is something that I feel particularly strongly about, so I’m sure there will be plenty of blogs on that topic from me in future.

I haven’t been able to find an evidence-base for this model, so I can’t provide any links with information to support it. I normally shy away from writing without an evidence base. In this case however, the evidence I have is my own experience. I find this model extremely useful, both in keeping myself on the straight and narrow and in helping managers, colleagues and teams understand the importance of balancing their attention across all three areas. I don’t think we need to spend equal time in all three sections – I think however it is important to be mindful of achieving balance between your personal needs, the needs of your work and the needs of the people around you (your team!). People in new roles (and I include new mothers/fathers in this!), tend to focus largely on the tasks that need to be completed which is understandable when the tasks are new and require a lot of attention. This model provides a reminder to balance the tasks with the other important areas which require your attention.

I hope this provokes some thought and starts to address the specific requests that some of you have sent me. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below, by email or via social media. I enjoy hearing from you, irrespective of the route.

Thanks for reading!
Catriona

What is your purpose?

7th April 2017

What is your purpose?  It’s a deep question which you will find either incredibly easy or difficult to answer, depending on how aware you are of yourself. I couldn’t answer this question for years… decades in fact. I only really started to understand my purpose in the past year or two. Before that my identity was tied to distinct roles in my life… Catriona the student, the pharmacist, the mother, the leader, the employee, the writer or the sailor. What got a bit confusing was that were slightly differing versions of me, depending on the role I was fulfilling at any given time. For example, as a pharmacist, I embraced detail and as a writer I preferred to think creatively; as a mother, I set a direction and as a student I took direction.

Which is the real me? The answer is I am all and I am none of the roles I fulfil. None are me in my entirety and I am none entirely. So, who am I? I now realise that there is a “me” which underpins everything. I have values which shape everything I do and there is a purpose to my life which gets expressed slightly differently in each of my roles. At this point in time I believe that my purpose is to be a catalyst for meaningful growth.  Maybe it will change as I do, but for now it is a purpose which threads through everything I do. The word “catalyst” anchors me to my chemistry and pharmacy background and nicely describes my affinity for precipitating or accelerating change. I like making things happen or helping to accelerate change that has already started. Not just any change. Change which results in growth.  More importantly, growth that I believe to be meaningful. I am interested in growth which results in a better world.

Once I am clear on my purpose, all the different manifestations of “me” make sense. Through parenting I am enabling growth of my children. Through my work, I facilitate growth of the team, of individuals and of my wider environment. Through writing, I hope to provide support to others in their growth; thus, the concept of Reflect to Prosper. Knowing my purpose makes it easier for me to decide what I should do. If I’m unsure about what direction to take, I ask myself which path is going to align with my purpose and values. This generally leads me to things that I enjoy because they are meaningful to me.

Once I understand my purpose it also helps me to make sense of the times in the past when I felt disillusioned. When a job feels like it’s draining your enthusiasm, you’ll often find that some aspect of the work or the environment is impinging on your values or is preventing you from aligning with your purpose. Einstein is widely credited with saying Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid”I believe that we all have a unique purpose in life. I also believe that, sadly, many of us never discover what that purpose is which means that, at best, we live lives where we don’t achieve our full potential and, at worst, we spend our lives believing that we’re stupid because we don’t quite fit where we are. Everyone is a genius at something but, too often, we never discover what that something is and we spend our lives feeling like something hasn’t quite clicked for us. To quote Les Brown …

The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry our their dream.” 

Identifying your purpose may seem challenging. It took me quite a while to recognise the patterns and to identify an underlying theme. But it was worth the effort. I discovered a book in my local library called Brand You, by John Purkiss and David Royston Lee, which provides a nice structure which can help you figure it out.

When I gave a copy of the Brand You book to each of my work colleagues as a Christmas gift, I confessed that I had been considering buying a Nespresso coffee machine for the office before deciding that this, individual gift, would be more meaningful. One of my colleagues diplomatically offered to gather up all the copies of the book that I had given to the team as gifts and organise their return so that he could recoup the refund and buy the coffee machine instead. So maybe this approach isn’t everyone’s cup of tea…. or coffee!

 

Reflection time

 

Are you open to the idea that we all have a unique purpose? Or do you fundamentally disagree with the concept? Feel free to share your comments if you disagree. I’d be interested to hear your perspective.

If you are open to the idea that you have a unique purpose, do you understand yours? Does it guide you in deciding what is right for you? If so, perhaps you could share what helped you do identify this, through the comments section of this blog-post.

If you aren’t clear on your purpose, reflect on the questions listed below and see if you can identify patterns that might point you in the right direction. The questions raised here aren’t intended to be a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to identifying your purpose. Rather, they are prompts for reflection, designed to stimulate your thinking and to help you gather clues as you try to identify patterns.

  • Think back over your life and think about the times when you felt fulfilled. Think about what you were doing and what it was that made you feel that way. As a simple example, if you really enjoyed being involved in a musical performance, what it was specifically that you enjoyed about it. Was it the satisfaction of mastering a difficult piece of music? Or the enjoyment of being part of a bigger group? Or the thrill of performing alone? Or the fact that you were bringing joy to others? Or savouring the culmination of hours of practice and preparation.  The same activity can serve different purposes so try to identify specifically what it was that evoked fulfilment.
  • Think about activities that you love, or have loved, doing. A friend of mine asks “What makes your heart sing?” This may provide responses which are similar to those from the first question, but is likely to provide some additional clues. Don’t be afraid to delve deep into your past. Maybe there was something in your childhood that you adored doing but that got pushed to one side as you grew up.  What clues can you find here? Again, for each activity reflect on what it was specifically about that activity that brought you joy. For example, people who enjoy writing might do so for many different. One person may enjoy writing stories for the creative freedom, another for the purpose of creating interesting tales and others, like me, to help them explore particular themes.
  • Where does your attention go? Are there things that you daydream about? Things you imagine that one day you might do? Do you have a fantasy about what you’d do if you were free from commitments? Our dreams and fantasies can provide great insight into our secret ambitions.
  • Do you find yourself regularly being approached for a particular purpose? Do people seem to recognise a particular talent within you? For example, a calm head in a crises, an ability to rally the troops, your creativity? Sometimes people will approach you simply because you possess a particular skill-set but it may also be an indication of an inherent talent that others can see in you. Thinking about this can provide important clues.
  • Are there any areas in your life in which you receive consistent positive feedback? It’s important to listen to the feedback from the world around you. Sometimes other people are the key to helping us identify our purpose. Think about the compliments that you receive. Can you see any patterns?
  • In the course of your day-to-day life, can you identify the things that seem to suck your energy and the things that seem to energise you? Reflecting on this can help you gather clues.
  • Finally, are there any people with whom you can talk about this topic or your responses to the questions listed above? People you trust who might be able to see the patterns that you can’t? Sometimes the people around us can see our purpose far earlier than we can.

Once you have reflected on these questions, consider if you can identify any patterns? Is anything emerging that can help guide your thinking about your purpose. I would encourage you to mull over these questions over time. Think about them as you go about your day. Observe where your attention and energy goes. Over time its likely that your purpose will become clear. And once it does, my view is that this makes everything else clearer too.

What’s Stopping You?

24th March 2017

For the past two years, I have been thinking about setting up a blog. I am passionate about the power of reflection and I want to write regular, short pieces that prompt useful reflection for myself, which might be of interest, or use, to others. Last year, I gave myself a deadline … to start writing a blog before I was 40 years old. Today, on the day of my 40th birthday, time is running out!  I was born in the evening, so I reckon that as long as I publish my first blog before this evening, I can claim that I met my goal!  This time yesterday I didn’t have a website, I had no clue about blogging and I hadn’t written a thing.  This is truly a dash to the finish line!

Why have I procrastinated for so long? Writing is something I enjoy doing. Blogging interests me. This is a self-identified goal. So why on earth have I harbored this idea for two years, doing nothing about it whilst berating myself for not getting started? The idea has squatted in my brain, occupying valuable real estate without paying its way….and I let it. Excuses ebbed and flowed. I don’t have enough time was a common one. And yet it always came back to one recurring thought… I want to do it … and yet I don’t. And there’s my answer. I wanted to start blogging and at the same time, I didn’t.  Even though I have lots of reasons for wanting to blog, I have as many, and more, for not wanting to blog. Who am I to start a blog? Will people laugh at me? How do I even go about it? Who would want to hear about my ideas anyway? Who do I think I am? Am I able?….. and the self-doubt floods through. It’s called cognitive dissonance… the discomfort experienced when we are stuck between two ideas, of wanting to do something and yet, at the same time, not wanting to do it. There is the weight of desire on one side of the scales, and the weight of resistance on the other. It’s very difficult to make progress if the weight of resistance exceeds the weight of desire.

So what can you do? Put simply, you must tip the scales in your favour. You must either make the reasons for doing what you want to do so compelling that you simply have to act or, alternatively, reduce the doubts and fears to a level that make it possible to move forward. For me, two things happened yesterday that finally tipped the scales in my favour. Firstly, it dawned on me that I was almost out of time. I had set myself a deadline to do this … my 40th birthday. If I didn’t write a blog by the time I turned 40, I would have failed to meet my own deadline. And I hate failing. So that certainly helped me. In general, self-imposed deadlines work well for me. But, in this case it wasn’t enough to propel me into action. I still didn’t know HOW to do what I wanted. That’s when the second thing happened. Over the course of a birthday lunch with my work-colleagues (Thanks team!) I mentioned my desire to start blogging, secretly glum about the fact that it looked like I was going to miss my target. Instantly, Frank, a colleague, started moving the idea forward for me. He prompted me to think about website domain names I might like and promised to set it up for me so that I could start my blogging journey on my 40th birthday! Yesterday evening I found, to my surprise, that Reflections.ie was available as a domain name. Frank set me up with WordPress, and here I am! Frank took lots of weight off the “resistance” side of the scales for me, by sorting out the scary technical stuff. That allowed me, finally, to get started.

 

Reflection time.

 

So, how about you? Are there things you want to do, and could do, but don’t? Are there times when you feel “stuck” between desire and resistance? Do you want to but, at the same time, don’t want to do something? If so, it might be useful to take some time to reflect on what’s going on.

Firstly, imagine an old-fashioned weighing scales and think about where the balance of weight currently lies. Does it lie on the side of desire or resistance? If you haven’t yet started doing what it is you want to do, it’s likely that the scales are currently tipped in favour of resistance.

Next, take time to think more deeply about the weight of your desire. Why do you want to do this thing? Writing your thoughts out will help the reflective process. Make a note of all the reasons you have for wanting to make this happen and then work through them one by one. Which reasons are most important to you? Are they compelling? How can you make each reason more compelling? What would be a good motivator for you? How can you increase the weight of desire? Who or what could help you make this happen?

Next, think more deeply about the weight of your resistance. What’s stopping you? Again, writing your thoughts out will help the reflective process. Make a note of all the things that make this difficult and then work through them one by one.  What are the biggest barriers? How can they be overcome, or at least made smaller? Who or what could help you? How can you reduce the weight of resistance?

And finally, turn this reflection into action which will help you prosper.  Reflect on what you have written. Can you increase the weight of desire about this goal sufficiently to propel you into action? Is there more work that you need to do to work through the barriers? Or are you still stuck? If so, can you make peace with yourself that there are legitimate reasons for not making progress? Can you revisit your aims and change them so they are more achievable? Or is it actually worth progressing at all? Sometimes the bravest thing is to do nothing. Sometimes we want to do something simply because we feel we should, but in truth we’re not that motivated by it. If that’s the case, get rid of the squatters in your brain. Free the space up to think about something you do care about and progress that instead so that you can prosper.

As for me?  Let’s see how long it takes to to produce a second article!