Toxic Relationships - An Alternative View

One of the best pieces of guidance I ever received was from a very unconventional sales trainer, Steve McKown. During a training session the group were collectively bitching about some of the 'jerks' they had to deal with. Partly into the slagfest, Steve called a halt, pointed to the group and said "This is bullshit. You (finger pointed around the room) are 100% responsible for the relationships in your life! If you need that relationship, you must make it work for you. If not, move on."

It's been 25 years since I heard that message and it has served me well in more situations than I can count.

The key elements of my strategy?

1. Investigate whether your opinion of someone is informed by the difference between intent their intent and your perception. Sometimes a simple request for clarification is all that is needed to get on the same page as another person.

2. Use Habit #5 - seek first to understand before being understood. Related to element #1, rather than judging and reacting to the other person, get curious. Ask questions that will give you a sense of where they are coming from and what outcome(s) they are hoping for. Often, this will lead to them reframing their interaction so that it becomes more clear and aligned with how you hope to receive the communication.

3. All behaviour comes from unmet needs. If another person behaves in a way that is difficult to accept and the first two elements aren't appropriate, explore the idea that underneath the objectionable behaviour, something uncomfortable is going on. In my experience, people are not mean and disrespectful because they want to. Such behaviours are almost always a sign that the person is suffering in some way.

While it's unrealistic to think you can alleviate their suffering, you can always generate your own compassionate thoughts about them and in your own way, wish them peace and freedom from suffering. What many people fail to realize is the direct connection between your compassionate behaviour and your happiness.

If this doesn't work or is not a practical option, you always have the choice to end the relationship.

White Fright - The Blank Page Syndrome

Have you ever had the feeling that you want to begin a new project but you struggle with where to start? You have a reservoir of pent up creative energy waiting to be unleashed...but you worry about making a 'wrong' first step. You stare at your blank notebook, blank Word page, blank canvas and drill holes in it with your eyes, looking for 'inspiration'.

It doesn't take long before that energy is redirected to a distraction - internet, creating to do lists, mindless tasks, cleaning up your email inbox - in the misguided hope that the distraction will kick something creative and productive loose. This step is called procrastination and it is the kryptonite of getting things done!

There is another way.

What works for me is a process based on what Tony Buzan developed called mind mapping. Essentially what you do is start with a blank space - it could be a piece of paper, a flip chart, a white board - and write you objective in the center. Let's use 'write a book' as an example.

In the area around the center, write down the various components of your project. From each of these headings, write down the sub headings that represent key facets of the heading that need to be created.

It is not critical to do this in one sitting - or standing - but to allow your brain the freedom to have inspiration and ideas 'arrive'. Keeping your map handy to record the ideas will help you avoid forgetting the ideas that arise but get lost by 'I forgot to remember to write this down'. If it's not practical to keep your map handy, a small notebook to record random ideas for transferring to the map later works just as well.

Two positive things happen in this process: you allow your brain to work the way it needs to during the creative process and the act of committing you ideas to a blank page often is exactly the trigger you need to stop procrastinating.

If you are comfortable working digitally, there are some very good free mind map programs available for downloading. The low tech version - paper and pencil - work equally well. Regardless of how you do it, the key is to do it!

If this idea appeals to you but you are not sure how to get it going, your coach may be the right next step to your completed project!


The Five Elements Of Authentic Happiness

The theory of positive psychology and its extension into the practice of authentic happiness were developed by Martin Seligman.  Dr Seligman is the acknowledged authority in this area and his many books and papers represent a practical starting place for anyone pursuing the goal of increasing their happiness.

Today the concept of happiness has turned into a catch all buzz word and most people have become deaf and blind to the array of information promoting happiness as a worthwhile  personal goal. The result of this overload is essentially no change.

It’s worthwhile to take a step back from the current happiness hype and revisit what Dr Seligman considered the specific aspects the led to happiness. Breaking the broad concept into practical elements can change a person’s perspective from apathy to proactivity and positive results..

Seligman’s theory of Authentic Happiness was that happiness could be broken into five different elements that we choose for their own sake: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, relationships and achievements. Each of these elements is better defined and more measurable than happiness.

The first element is positive emotion; what we feel: pleasure, rapture, ecstasy, warmth, comfort, and so on. An entire life led successfully around this element, Seligman called a ‘pleasant life’.

The second element, engagement, is about flow: being one with the music, time stopping, and the loss of self consciousness during and absorbing activity. Engagement is different – even opposite – from positive emotion.  If you ask someone who is in flow what they are feeling, they usually say ‘nothing’. In flow, we merge with the object.

The third element of happiness is meaning. Humans want meaning and purpose in life. A meaningful life consists of belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger that the self and society has created an array of positive institutions to allow this: religion, political parties, protecting the environment, charitable organizations, family.

The fourth element is relationships; that individuals flourish through their connections through relationships. This concept may seem obvious but, many cases, relationships are taken for granted and the impact of them is significantly diminished.

Seligman’s final element of happiness is achievements; which are activities in which we engage to the unique purpose of making an impact and feeling successful

When assessing our own sense of happiness, we will get a far more accurate picture when using Seligman’s five elements to create the assessment. Answer the question "how much of a specific element am I actually bringing into my life?". If this idea is appealing but you don’t know where to start, perhaps your coach get  you going in the right direction!

The Benefits Of Mindfulness

It is difficult for one to avoid information promoting the benefits of mindfulness, so much so that one's own self defense mechanisms filter much of it out and deposit the information in the overload scrap heap. This is a shame because mindfulness really works!

The important aspect of mindfulness is that for a practice to be effective, one needs to tailor it to your personal needs, lifestyle, and how you learn.

There is tons of credible research available to define the benefits of a mindfulness practice. With this research as the basis, here are some of the widely accepted benefits of a mindfulness practice:


1. Reduced rumination. Rumination is the continual replaying of similar thoughts and often associated with worry or even obsession. Typically, the thoughts are focused on the past or the future and the more a person ruminates, the less they are focused on and aware of what is happening in the present.

2. Stress reduction. Stress is often associated with worry and worry typically is related to something in the future. By focusing on the present, you become more aware of what you can influence and manage and what is beyond your control.

3. Boost working memory. The mind can only hold 5 or 6 separate things in working memory. When you add an additional element to be considered, something usually falls by the wayside. Focusing on the present allows you to keep the elements that are critical to the present in front of you and you are less likely to ‘forget’ something. For example, if you are ‘thinking’ about what you are going to do on the weekend, you may overlook something you meant to do on your present shopping trip.

An effective way to stay focused in the moment is to keep a note pad handy to record things that need to be done ‘in the future’.

4. Improved focus. Mindfulness helps notice when an intrusive thought arises – a thinking habit ‘fork in the road moment’ – and makes it possible to let the thought go or record it for attention later.

5. Less emotional reactivity. Emotions arise regularly. This is the mind’s normal response to experiencing life. How you respond to the emotion – how much energy you devote to reacting – can be managed. Mindfulness allows you to recognize the emotion and respond skillfully rather than getting indefinitely lost in the grip of an emotion.

Emotions are cyclical – they have a beginning and an end. The length of the cycle can be heavily influenced by the messages we send ourselves about the emotion. For example, when anger arises, you could think “I am angry” or you could think “There is anger”. Two completely different perspectives about the same circumstance.

6. More cognitive flexibility. We judge so much of what we experience in life and when we judge something, we have already formed an opinion about it. When an opinion is formed, we stop learning. When we stop learning, life begins to close down.

The more mindful we are, the more aware we are of our judgments and can use that awareness to take a more curious approach to the array of people and circumstances we encounter.

7. Greater relationship satisfaction. The quality of our relationships with others directly impacts the quality of our lives and the amount of happiness we experience. One of the simplest ways to improve the quality of our relationships is to be appropriately mindful when we are with someone. Listening mindfully sends an incredibly powerful message to another person.

As a place to start, check out this short piece on mindful breathing. Breathing is something available to everyone and a simple, personal yet exceptionally powerful foundation upon which to build a mindfulness practice.

If the potential for mindfulness appeals to you but you are stuck in getting a practice off the ground, your coach may be able to help you launch.

A Great Question

So...if happiness is such a good thing, what are the main influences on our happiness and which can we do more about? If happiness is considered 100%, what percentages would you consider the influence of genetics, life circumstances, personal choices, phases of the moon, etc?

Surprisingly, research has shown that our genetic set point influences 50% of our happiness. There are a variety of ways that our predisposition to happiness is heavily influenced by genetics. Regardless, this does not mean individuals are trapped. In the same way we are genetically predisposed to specific diseases (diabetes, heart disease) and we can make changes to lifestyle, diet, sleep and exercise to reduce risk, there are practical ways to positively impact our genetic predisposition with respect to happiness.

More surprisingly, life circumstances only impact long term happiness by  only 10%. At only 10%, this removes a significant portion of factors that can be blamed for unhappiness. The good news is that this also means we are not defined by out past or imprisoned in the present!  The reason why circumstances do not affect us much is that we adapt over time. A great example is that research has shown that money does not lead to lasting happiness because individuals will adapt to any level of money over time. Ask most lottery winners!

The most challenging factor influencing out happiness is personal control, calculated at a whopping 40%! It is not events themselves that determine our happiness, but our perceptions of those events. Our personal control suggests that being happy involves choices, the motivation to expend effort and the decision to see situations as opportunities for growth and learning. 

How often have you heard someone say "I didn't have a choice"? What they are really saying is "the right choice for me was too hard to make!".

If making the right choices for you is too intimidating, your coach can support you in creating process and accountability that will lead to greater happiness. 

The Myths Of Happiness

For many people, maintaining an optimal level of happiness seems elusive. When they are happy, they tend to ignore why and when their happiness drops, they instinctively start looking for ways to jack it back up. This is the point at which one or more of the myths of happiness take over.

The myths generally fall under the category of "if - then"; if I get something, then my happiness will improve.

So...what are some of the myths?

1. Once I obtain A, B, or C, then I can be happy.

People often live in the future as though tomorrow holds something special that today does not. Moreover, people make decisions about being happy if only conditions A, B, or C are present in their lives. There is no justification for not permitting yourself to be happy now. There is nothing wrong with setting goals - like A, B, or C - but not allowing yourself to happily experience the process of achieving them is a lost opportunity.

2. There is little to be happy about: I don't own my home, I have debt, I need to lose weight, I just got a divorce.

You get the picture. All of these things - and more - may be true. However, it's not what happens to us so much but it's how we thing about what happens that matters. Shakespeare famously wrote "there is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so". Research has shown that our personal circumstances account for no more than 10% of our overall sense of happiness. The reason it is not higher is that we continually adapt as our lives unfold. Understanding this reality is the first step to successfully navigating the rough waters life creates.

3. If I get therapy, read the right book, take a workshop, or watch enough TED talks I can become happy.

All of these things can make a positive impact on a person's happiness but they come with the potential trap of unmet expectations. Setting an expectation about what will happen is trying to accurately predict the future -  a risky exercise indeed! By all means be proactive, but wait until the end to see how it turned out. This reduces the potential for disappointment and the feeling that, once again happiness has eluded you.

A large body of credible research has shown that taking personal charge of nurturing our happiness is the most effective way to make a positive difference. Check out this short video to see why.

If growing your happiness appeals to you but you are frustrated with where to start, your coach may be just the answer!

The Grammar Of Life


When I was in school, one of the things that was relentlessly drilled into me was grammar – the structural rules of communication. As such, everything I wrote was assessed - at least in part – for grammar. Anyone who has experienced this, no doubt remembers getting their ‘masterpiece’ returned with a myriad of red tick marks, identifying grammatical errors.

One of the grammar killers was the run on sentence - a sentence in which two or more independent clauses (i.e., complete sentences) are joined without an appropriate punctuation or conjunction. Evidently this was okay for famous authors experiencing ‘stream of consciousness, but not for English students!

Anyway, I want to use this point to explore what many people experience in real life today. A busy life can often seem like a run on sentence. People can move through a series of activities – often not even related – in a seamless manner. This can lead to the feeling of being busy – maybe even too busy – but is not necessarily productive. Nor is it necessarily fulfilling!

How often have you been through a hectic period and not even remembered exactly what you did? This is the life version of the run on sentence!

What might help is adding a little punctuation to your life – a few dashes, commas or periods. Renowned teacher Pema Chodren suggests noticing the run on nature of what is happening and taking three conscious breaths – a simple pause and focus on three in and out breaths. In that short interval, you will be amazed at how quickly your brain actually responds.

Try it. As your coach would suggest “what’s the worst thing that can happen”?