Record the good

There are good reasons, evolution-wise that we obsess about the negative, but it’s not all-together helpful, is it?!

I’ve heard it said that we’re four (or more) times more sensitive to negative things than the positives ones (sorry, I can’t find the reference). And there’s good reason for that – in terms of our evolution the negative stuff might kill you whereas the positive stuff just makes you feel good… 🙂

On a personal note, I found myself obsessing about a mediocre feedback form last week from a training day I ran. 19 people raved and one person said ‘very good’ (as opposed to ‘excellent’). Guess which feedback form I obsessed about that night, reading over and over and over…?

Without an ability to balance the good and the bad, it’s a useful tool to record the good stuff.  If we tend to remember the bad rather than the good, it makes sense to help ourselves out by boosting the good – and a way of recording it, to bring it to mind, is a great way of doing that.

Personally, I make point of telling my friends about the good stuff, so that when I’m next down, saying “It’s all rubbish”, they can counter that with “But last week…” 🙂

Other people I know use different tools and tricks.

A dear, dear friend of mine puts ticks (and the occasional cross) on the family calendar.  You know the one I mean – the one that’s on the fridge door to keep every member of the family in the right place at the right night of the week…

Other people I know use a diary. And yes, before you ask, there’s an app for that!  🙂  On iPhones you can use a the Gratitude Log (I’m sure there are Android equivalents but I use a Mac). Or you can use websites/blogs to record the good stuff.

To be honest though, it doesn’t matter how you do it – just do it! What system(s) do you use?

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Paper Stress

Here in Tyneside we have a ‘light rapid transit rail system’ called Metro.  We also – like pretty much everywhere else in the UK have the newspaper of the same name.  There’s an interesting article in the latter that I read on the former!  🙂

Metro light transit

Metro - the train not the paper!

The main thrust of the article is that sometimes we confuse ‘stress’ with ‘life’ and that the latter can’t be avoided.

It’s a theme I’ve got a lot of sympathy for because I find it’s a common misconception – a confusion of stress with pressure.  Pressure, you can cope with; stress you can’t.  No matter how pressured you are, if you’re able to handle it, it’s not stress.  And often you’ll do yourself a dis-service if you label it as stress ‘cos then you’ll start to think of it as something that’s overwhelming you. It’s something of a self-fulfilling prophesy, I’m afraid.

Ask yourself instead (consciously, deliberately and objectively): can I cope? Better yet ask yourself “How can I cope?” to give yourself a more appropriate frame of mind. No matter how difficult and no matter how much extra work is involved… if that work can be done, if you can find some way of coping, it’s “just” pressure.

This won’t make the pressure go away but you’ll find it does help in terms of being able to cope.  It’s called ‘reframing’ but that’s just a flashy way of saying ‘looking at things a different way’.  And as Nietzsche once observed: That which does not kill us makes us stronger. In the end the pressure will be gone and you will remain. Stronger and better able to cope the next time it comes around…

But – there’s always a but, isn’t there – so much for the simple questions… because it’s pretty obvious to even a brief thought, that pressure can become stress over time.  The amount of pressure I can handle this afternoon is different from the amount of pressure I can handle if it’s every afternoon!

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My birthday

Okay, I’m coming clean, I’m 49.  It hurts to admit it when inside my head I’m still 28 (on a good day) but I do appear to be grey, slower and (on the positive side) calmer.

49th birthday card

49th birthday card

So how was my birthday? Great thanks – I had a lot of people around me who loved me and who were prepared to put themselves out to show it.

Now, obviously, not every weekend by like that. Apart form anything else we couldn’t afford it! Some days in the next year will suck. Some of them will suck badly, if the last year has anything to teach us.

The thing is, that I’m now in a better place to ‘deal with the suck’ (as my younger daughter would say). Why? Because I’ve not only had a positive experience for my birthday but I’ve got two other big advantages.

Firstly, while we were together we made plans for when we were going to see each other the next time – how, where and when. Plans for the future of often good things because they help you stay looking to what could be and what will be. Having a plan makes it more likely that the good times will actually happen because we’ve taken positive steps to make it so.

As Zig Ziglar once said

“People do not wander around and then find themselves at the top of Mount Everest.”

and if we are all going to see a lot of each other in the next year it’s up to us to make it so.  The chances of us accidentally meeting up with each other if we just wander around is on a par with being at the top of Mount Everest, frankly.

The second advantage I’ve got is the memory – and physical momentos in the form of cards. Human beings are often pretty negatively orientated – given the choice of remembering the positive and remembering the negative it’s the latter than wins hands down, generally speaking.

I can think of good reasons for this, but it sucks (there’s that word again!).

To counter it, I’ve got my memories and my momentos. No matter how badly the next week or month may go (and there are bound to be days where it all goes horribly wrong!) I have a tool to remind myself that it’s not all bad.

No matter how much it might seem like it at the time.

I’ve got my birthday as a checkpoint, a moment when for a weekend at least, almost everything was good in my world. All I have to do to smile is remember it.

Take a minute and find a good ‘checkpoint’ for yourself.  Then think about how you’re going to note it down or get a momento of it… how are you going to avoid it just fading into the background?

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Motivational Speakers and resilience… a rant…

Over at Curved Vision, I’ve written a blog post (well, more of a rant, to be honest!)  while ago, about motivational speakers, where I’m suggesting that being such a speaker is not a proper job for a grow up.

I stand by that. But in the way of rants it kinda goes over the top, which leaves me to argue the case here for being inspirational.  Arguing with myself on two different blogs – that’s a new low! 🙂

So what are the upsides about motivational speakers? Well let’s start with the obvious – they’re inspirational. The right speaker, saying the right thing, to the right person, in the right way, at the right time can turn someone’s life around.

Of course, with all those provisos you can see that it’s probably a pretty inefficient process – if any of those things aren’t right the whole process of ‘being motivational’ falls flat on its face! 🙂 But lets face it, you only need to change one life and the world suddenly feels like a different place, so I’m going to stick my neck out here and say it’s probably worth it – and a good, inspirational motivational speaker will be able to tick lots of those boxes at once.

Secondly, of course, being a motivational speaker means that some people who are probably unemployable in conventional businesses find an outlet for their talents to keep them off the streets!  🙂

Thirdly comes the argument that motivation is a universal need – as such a motivational speaker should have more or less universal appeal. Speakers about marketing will appeal only to those of us who need to market things (which is most of us, I agree).  Speakers about tax only appeal to those of us who bother to do our own tax. Speakers about badgers only appeal to those who love (or hate?) badgers.

But we all need to do things, to perform, to get of our arses and dooo something. That means we can all benefit from being motivated – at least occasionally.

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It’s been a while

…over a month, in fact, since I posted. Why?  Because I took most of August off.  The whole month?  Well no, of course not – but lots of it.

It’s important to me to stay balanced and in touch with my friends and family and – as there’s not much call for training and speaking over August – it made sense to allow myself  to take the whole thing off.  I made a point of putting ‘green time’ (that is, ‘me’ time) in my diary for the month for two reasons.

Firstly, doing that meant that when things came up about work, as they inevitably do, I had somehow ‘got permission’ to deal with them as quickly and efficiently as possible before moving back into ‘recharge mode’.  Otherwise, unless there’s an actual, visual booking in my diary it somehow feels like I’m supposed to be working but not doing.  Something in the diary – even just chunks of green saying ‘time off’ – makes it feel like I’m supposed to be resting and recharging.

The second reason is a practical one.  If someone phones up and asks for my help (I got requests for stress management training and to work as a business speaker) I can, of course, over-write my ‘time off’ booking… but in doing so it clearly reminds me that I’ve booked the time off and makes me ask (of myself, I admit!) “Do the positives of doing the work out-weigh the negatives of not recharging myself?“.  (You can imagine, in my kind of work, being fully rested and so in is critically important!)

Making myself ask the question (of myself!) stopped me slipping into bad habits (such as accepting work I’d be better off without).

This kind of trick is so simple-sounding it can’t possibly work, right? Except that it does.  A lot of my stressed clients have found it to be fantastically useful to, for example, put appointments with themselves (as personal development time) in their diaries on a repeating basis.  I often suggest one morning per month, for example, or two hours a week – whatever’s appropriate for you…

For me, given how flat-out I am for most of the year, a full month out is about right… that’s my excuse folks, and I’m going to stand by it! 🙂

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Robert Bruce – a resilient and persistent king

Way back when, when I was a kid, I was an avid reader of ‘Ladybird Books’. For some reason or another, a few of them have stuck with me over the years. One in particular has stayed with me – the story of Robert Bruce, as would-be king of Scotland, leading a revolution against the occupying English armies.

The story goes that once, while on the run after his army was routed, Robert Bruce hid in a cave from the English soldiers engaged in the mop-up operation. While there, he watched a spider spinning a web.

Over and over again the spider’s web broke while being spun and again and again the spider started from the beginning.  Finally, of course, the spider succeeded. Robert Bruce took some inspiration from this and, rather than give up his rebellion, tried again.  This time, the story goes, he succeeded.

It’s coming to something when future king are given lessons in resilience by stubborn arachnids – but all too often all it takes is just a bit more stubborn trying. As Thomas Edison, inventor of the electric light bulb, said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

On the other hand, we’ve all thrown metaphorical good money after bad – we’ve invested time, money and energy in what was, if we’d only thought about it objectively, a lost cause.

… and there is the key phrase “thought about it objectively”.

All jobs, tasks or projects – call them what you will – can be plotted with a input/output graph.  Put increasing input along the horizontal access and increasing output on the vertical axis and look at your job. Very few tasks (any tasks?) have a straight line on that graph.  Most have what’s called a Sigmoid Curve, meaning the curve is relatively flat at first, gets steeper and then flattens out again.

The area where it starts to flatten out is the area where we experience something called ‘diminishing marginal returns’. This is, essentially, were for every extra unit of energy we put in, we get smaller and smaller units of output in return.

Common sense dictates that we give up on a job – put in no more effort – once the curve has flattened out.

But consider this – if we’ve got more than one task on the go or in our to-do list (and if you haven’t, can I have your phone number?) it’s probably more sensible to stop right at the start of the flattening out zone.  Why?  Because the extra units of effort (input) that we thereby save ourselves can be put into the second task on our to-do list, where the input/output curve is still very steep.

The trick is, of course, to recognise where you are on the curve for any given task.

Hand on heart, though…. it’s not difficult, once you sit down and consciously do it.  I promise.  Try setting your alarm to give you hourly reminders to question where you are on the graph: or simply make a point of setting aside a fixed amount of time: or … well anything, to be honest.

What matters is not how your review where you are with each task so much as the fact that you do review it.

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Driving lessons in personal resilience.

After a run of bad stuff happening, from accidents to the death of someone I love, it was nice to get some good news today: my daughter passed her driving test.  (Yes, I’m insisting we think of it as good news! 🙂 )

My first thought was something along the lines of “Thank God: we’ve turned a corner – about time too… things will start getting better now”.

The good news is that it’s a perfectly normal and typical reaction to the amount of bad stuff that’s happened around here.

The bad news is that it’s not helpful.

Suppose, just suppose, that having passed her driving test I go all “the only way is up” and buy into the idea that we really have ‘turned a corner’.  What happens then is that (just like we do when bad stuff happens to us) we generalise – we begin to have expectations of upwards and onwards… success and achievement.

But life’s not like that…..

So what then if – horror of horrors – she hasn’t done as well in her Alevels as we all hope.  My new-found confidence comes crashing down around me. Ton of bricks.  My faith in ‘all things being good’ is suddenly shattered and I’m back, instantly, in the doldrums.

Far better, of course, to recognise the good news for what it is – good news (which should be celebrated) but not the harbinger of good times.

Don’t over-interpret. As Confucious would have said “Stuff happens”. He’s right, it does. Good, bad and indifferent.

So next time you catch yourself saying something over-simplistic and over-general, such as “Here come the good times…” stop, and ask yourself “What’s the evidence?”.  Isn’t it more likely, honestly, that it’s just a good thing happening?

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Being resilient on Warren’s blog

Hmmm… I’m not sure I should do this, but… only four posts into a new blog and I’m already pointing you at other sites: the content could quite happily site here though, as I wrote it – I’m guestblogging for the speaker on social online media, Warren Cass.

My entry is here and it’s a brief introduction to one of the ‘godfathers’ of Positive Psychology, looking at three ‘attributions’ – that is, the three unhelpful generalisations we make when we’re stressed and upset. Take a look-see; let me know what you think (either here or there!)


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Saturday at the PSA.

The north east region of the Professional Speakers Association covers a lot of ground. Meetings in Leeds are a pain in the neck when you live north of Newcastle. And on top of the stupidly early start (for a Saturday) it was raining unpleasantly hard.

Still and all (as we say around here), I’m glad I went.


Paul BcGee

Paul McGee

Because it gave me the chance to be reminded of three important things about Paul McGee, The Sumo Guy.  Firstly, he’s a really nice bloke. Secondly, he’s a damned fine speaker. Thirdly, he’s got great content.

The first is important for life, sure, and the second is important from Paul’s point of view as a professional speaker but it’s the third that’s important to me as I sat in the audience.  So if you ever get a chance to hear him, take it and if you ever get a chance to book him, do that too (unless it means you can’t book me, obviously! 🙂  )

Paul draws heavily upon the traditions of Positive Psychology and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and the result is stuff that’s sensible and easy-ish to apply in your real life. Just because Shut Up Move On sounds simple doesn’t mean it’s not powerful – after all there’s nothing more simple-sounding than gravity but it’s bloody important!  As time with Paul goes on, you realise that you’ve actually already got a lot of the things you need to get by in life, you just need the tools to apply them – and Paul’s tools are good ones! As is often the case, the tools are easy and the skill lies in rembering how to (and when to!) apply them.

By the way, I’ve read (some of) Paul’s books and I’d recommend them, too, but there’s something about hearing the man himself that fixes the techniques in your mind (as a speaker, of course, you’d expect me to say that, I know).

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Resilience is simple

Really, it is. Honestly.

At it’s most basic resilience boils down to doing things to make the situation better no matter how crap you feel. Right?

It doesn’t feel easy, of course, because ‘stuff happens’ that makes us feel crap – and when you feel crap you don’t want to do anything. Most times, of course, not doing anything isn’t the right approach.  Most times, we’re better of doing something… anything… rather than nothing.

Sure, there’s a chance that we’ll do the wrong thing but my experience is that it’s less likely I’ll do the wrong thing than that doing nothing will be the right thing, so why not play the odds and do something… anything.

I know what I’m going to say next sounds like the most simplistic and naive idea of all time, but stay with me…  I recently gave a keynote presentation for a whole bunch of heads of HR local authorities about resilience (based upon AIR) and in it I gave a long list of resilience tools.  The one tool that many people found the best combination of useful and easy-to-use is this: ask yourself a simple question – “If it’s crap right now, what’s the one thing I can do right here, right now, to make it just a little bit less crap?”

It’s not rocket science I know, but the truth of the matter is that all too often we don’t ask ourselves that question (or having asked it, don’t follow through).

If you ask the question and decide that ‘nothing’ is the best option, then do ‘nothing’.  Alternatively, if you can think of just one thing to make it just a little bit better, what are you waiting for…? What’s the worst that can happen?

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