Studies about the benefits of teamwork abound, but for some of us the natural tendency of wanting to solve problems fast and by ourselves prevails.
This morning, my seven year old son was playing a stacking game, where differently sized and shaped cubes need to be loaded onto a truck. He got increasingly frustrated and asked me to have a go.
First, I tried on my own with little success. But then the magical moment happened: we put our heads together and one discovery led to the next and ‘tada!!’ the truck was beautifully loaded within milliseconds! This got me thinking about teamwork and creativity and how good teams spark ideas off one another and thereby create truly great stuff. I hope you have many such moments over the course of your day!
I came home from work early yesterday to spend so called “quality time” with my family. My youngest son Julien was excited: we played with the cars, the animals, the train set, raced up and down the living room, sang songs. After dinner, he exclaimed “Mummy, I want you to play with me!”, in a tone that suggested that the past hour had never happened.
I looked at my husband – tired – and somewhat clueless. Since coming home I hadn’t been able to do anything apart from spending time with Julien. But then, it dawned on me. I had also talked to my mom, to my husband, to my older son, prepared diner, folded some laundry, answered work emails, looked through the mail, all whilst also playing with Julien.
What he was asking for wasn’t for me to play with him. What he was asking for was my full and undivided attention. Something I hadn’t managed to give him since coming home.
Through my work, I’ve found that this is one of the most valuable presents we can give each other and most importantly our children. Having someone’s full attention – at all levels – cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual – is a very rare feat in today’s fast paced world.
It grounds you, make you feel loved and appreciated, feeds your self confidence and enables you to connect with yourself and others at much deeper levels.
A colleague yelled at me today. I had asked a simple question, following up on a item raised by the CEO. Unbeknownst to me, I was treading into territory with history and negative emotions. If only there had been warning signs all around the colleague as to their mood today…
I did not yell back. I guess that’s good. But I could have done better. I heard myself say things such as “I can see this topic clearly agitates you”; “There’s no need to be so aggressive”. I am glad I drew a limit, but I wish I would have drawn the limit in a different, non-accusatory manner. Instead of labeling my shouting counterpart as “agitated” and “aggressive” – hardly going to calm them down is it? – I would have loved to be quick enough to use non-judgmental, compassionate, language.
I could have said “It puzzles me when you raise your voice. I don’t understand what I have said that could have contributed to it. How could we continue this conversation with mutual respect?”. This would have been an accurate description of my needs, without judging nor accusation. Such response might seem weak. You might think “yell back!”.
My experience so far has been that such a response usually awakens people from their rant. Because it’s different. It puts a stop to the behaviour, but does not judge. The shouting person is not the “bad person”. And the lack of judgment usually disarms and reminds people that the person opposite them is a human being too. Fallible. Imperfect.
My father is constantly afraid of pretty much anything. He recently read that ultraviolet light causes cancer and since then always goes outside fully covered – long trousers, long shirts, a cap, so that only his nose gets a little bit of sun. I tried to source an article on the risks of Vitamin D deficit to help him find a middle ground approach, but did not find anything sounding as alarming as the first article, so he continues his full on coverage.
My Dad knows about pretty much any probability of accidents and optimises his life constantly around it, to the point that my son’s first words after spending a weekend with him were “c’est dan-re-geux” (“it’s dan-re-gous” or for German speakers “es ist ge-lich-faehr”). Most conversations are about how to best minimise risk, literally any type of risk. It’s about controlling every aspect of life.
Letting go of control means being clueless and overwhelmed at times. And this is something that is difficult to accept. How would it look like if instead of busily striving to preempt all possible types of risk, we looked at the up and downs of life with wondrous eyes, welcoming the new learning that comes with it?
One thing about me used to drive my Mom mad: I don’t like to be disappointed and therefore developed a self-protective habit of cautious optimism: Generally keeping my hopes low so that in the end things end up being much better than anticipated. This attitude worked rather well, resulting in lots of joy and positive surprises, something rather easy to get to when you start from a baseline of low expectations. It worked until our youngest son got cancer.
Things were bleak, we had to be in hospital for very long stretches of time. Treatment was aggressive, with many side effects. Nick Clegg spoke straight from my heart when he described it as “napalming the body”. My reaction however was very different from my usual modus operandi. It wasn’t about my life, but about my son’s, a 3-year old little boy. People watching us on our way to hospital would have easily thought that we were on our way to the funfair. I tried my best to make things exciting and fun, turning even the smallest things into sources of joy. Building bridges out of pillows; basketball hoops out of saucepans; balloons with gloves; dens with yoga mats. Overall, my son had a fantastic time. When scrolling through the many pictures and videos of the last six months, I see smiley faces and hear lots of laughter.
That’s when I started wondering whether I could take some of this relentless positivity into my own life. Looking at small things with wondrous eyes; injecting a dose of fun and excitement into everything I do; turning day to day ordeals into big adventures. One image I have for this in my mind is the welcome sign at the entrance of Great Ormond Street hospital. It is inviting, colourful and somehow makes you want to be there, even though when you generally end up going to Great Ormond Street it means your life has been turned upside down by something really serious. This is how I ended up looking at my life too – welcome to this wonderful messy adventure; a bit like sitting on the rollercoaster at the fun fair with its ups and downs and loops. It is scary, exciting and fun and I don’t want to miss any of that. So, bye-bye self protection and cautious optimism. Hello wondrous rollercoaster life.
Living in the moment
Living in the moment is very much en vogue these days: mindfulness colouring books were one of the biggest sales this Christmas helping fast paced executives to slow down and move down several gears.
Blessed with a 4 year old, I have a wide array of colouring books at home, from frozen to peppa pig and bob the builder. So no need to buy any of the adult versions. I have to admit I absolutely love to join my daughter in her colouring sessions oftentimes staying behind while she already moves onto the next occupation. So here I was, on holidays, colouring.
Even though relaxing, it didn’t bring about the advertised effect. The magical moment happened slightly off piste: I was sharpening the pencils that had gotten blunt. I got so absorbed in this repetitive, never-ending task (there were a lot of pencils) that I somehow lost track of time and found myself enjoying just that: sharpening pencils. No thoughts racing through my mind; no mental checklists of things still to do and organise. Just me and the pencils. The result is this beautiful, colourful and at the same time incredibly soothing picture. A beautiful picture of how life looks like when lived mindfully!
When was the last time you danced wildly through your living room (or elsewhere)?
Mine was yesterday with a bunch of kids to the sound of ‘I like to move it move it’ from Madagascar at the request of my three year old. It reminded me of an absolutely cool dance class I took last year. It was a freestyle class, run by a dancer / therapist, who invited us to explore different broad brush themes such as Opening and Closing. The people in the class were all going for it which helped me let go of initial inhibitions and simply dance whatever wanted to be danced.
I was amazed at the outcome, curious about some of the movements and patterns that kept repeating themselves. I observed how some of those patterns changed and loosened up over time whilst other became stronger. I noticed shifts in my perception and behaviour, becoming much better aligned with who I am.
This very much links into some of the work I am doing – working on both body and mind. Our body is a source of wisdom, it can tell us so much if we take the time to listen. Dancing is one way to do it and I hope you do plenty of it too!
How often do you pause in your life to reflect on what your body is trying to tell you?
How do you go about a stiff neck, stomach cramps, a sore throat, itchy skin, tendinitis or other bodily discomforts that you experience?
Most of the time we try to ignore it or “fix it”.
Our bodies are telling us powerful stories about our psychological and emotional state. Once you start listening to it, bit by bit you’ll uncover parts of yourself you never knew even existed before. The picture above is me listening to the urge of going on the swing! So, here’s my invitation to you: put aside one or two minutes each day, listen to your body and be open to what comes!
One morning, Hugh Broughton was having breakfast with his kids, when someone on the radio announced a competition for the construction of a new research station in the Antarctic. Halley VI would be the most southerly research station operated by the British Antarctic Survey, located 10,000 miles from the UK on the 150 metre thick floating Brunt Ice Shelf, which moves 400 metres per annum towards the sea. Snow levels rise by over 1 metre every year and the sun does not rise above the horizon for 105 days during winter. Temperatures drop to -56 degrees Celsius and the site experiences winds in excess of 100mph. Access by ship and plane is limited to a 3-months window. Materials and components required to construct the new base have to be delivered across fragile sea ice, which can fracture at any time. Scared? Not Hugh.
Hugh had no experience of constructing under extreme circumstances, but he was hooked. The same day, he went to the presentation, partnered up with a friend, reached out to experts all across the globe, talked to the researchers working on the station and took inspiration from Star Wars and a cartoon series (check it out here, Halley VI is a beauty!). I love many things about Hugh’s story. His collaborative, customer-centred, design thinking approach coupled with fearless creativity allowed him to win the contract. The self-sufficient scientific research base is now operational on a floating ice shelf 900 miles from the South Pole and has since received numerous awards. This was only the start! Now Hugh has a large portfolio of extreme construction projects. I am inspired by Hugh’s story and the way he went about tackling this tremendous challenge and hope you will be too!
“Let it go”
My daughter Lola is full of wisdom. Like many 4 years olds, she is totally enthralled by Frozen. I recently watched her sing the Let It Go song and was struck by the power with which she slammed the lyrics
Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!
The way she sang the last sentence had something absolutely liberating about it. She was beaming with energy. It made me think about the liberating feeling my coachees experience when they decide to wholeheartedly embrace the life they want to live, not the one others want them to live. Let it go!!
I remember coming home from school with 19 points out of 20 in a math exam. The generic comments from my Dad (a mathematician) would always be “why didn’t you achieve 20?”. Apparently, as I learned much later in life, it was supposed to be a joke. He was proud of me, but never said it. So what did I do? I got him 20. I even went as far as achieving 21 out of 20 when graduating school – thanks to a weirdness of the German system. But how did that feel? Hollow. What I was longing for was to be loved for who I am, not for the results I produced.
This experience is a useful guiding light in my adult life. Every time praise or recognition feels hollow I know it means I am doing something to please others, in the vain hope of filling the little girl’s lack of parental love. Let’s be clear: the void is and always will be. It will never be filled. Not by your friends, not by your partner, not by your kids, not by your work colleagues. This is not their role. Your parents wont be able to help either, because what you were longing for as a child can’t be given to you as adult. It is important to feel the pain of the little girl or little boy in you and acknowledge it. The ability to recognise this hollow feeling allows you to see through certain dynamics and situations and stand up for who you truly are.
Slowly by surely, the hollow feeling gives way to something much more powerful. To acceptance. To imperfection. To forgiveness. To love.
When was the last time you truly listened to someone? Not only saying “yeah”, “I see…”, No, really?” from time to time, but actually truly listening, with complete presence?
The dictatorship of the head
We live in a world where knowledge and rational thinking dominate our lives. In my coaching work, I realised that many struggle with what I would call the dictatorship of the head.
We’ve probably all at one point or another encountered these typical voices in our heads, telling us there is no logical reason to be afraid or you should not be angry right now or you shouldn’t show to others how sad or upset you are.
Following the injunctions from our head is helpful for those of us who like structure.
It provides a set of rules on how to navigate the choppy waters of daily life. But it also cuts us off from our feelings and emotions. If we pay close attention, it turns out the head is dictating a substantive amount of how we lead our lives. We want to be perceived to be on top of things, but what is “wrong” with being afraid, sad, angry or tired beyond our circle of close friends? How would our world and the world around us change if we felt comfortable acknowledging our feelings and emotions to ourselves and others on a more regular basis?
Notre corps ne ment jamais
Ma collègue Tracy est revenue de vacances la semaine dernière. Quand je lui ai demandé si elle avait bien profité de cette semaine sans travail, elle s’est mise à soupirer et m’a expliqué qu’elle été restée clouée au lit pendant toute la durée du séjour. Ceci m’a rappelé d’autres collègues et amis où – une fois la pression du quotidien retombée – le corps avait clairement exigé une pause.
La plupart du temps, nous mettons de côté tout signal envoyé par notre corps – maux de tête, tensions, crampes d’estomac, fièvre, troubles du sommeil – notre force d’esprit et les médicaments à notre portée nous permettent de continuer, d’oublier et de ne surtout pas lâcher.
Mais si nous prenions un moment pour observer ce qui se passe et nous poser quelques questions?
D’où provient cette tension dans notre corps?
Par quoi a-t-elle été suscitée?
Quelles sont les émotions qui l’accompagnent?
Ces interrogations ouvrent une porte sur notre être, et nous permettent de percevoir notre corps non comme un obstacle ou un ennemi, mais bel et bien comme notre allié. Notre corps raconte toute une histoire qui ne demande qu’à être écoutée. Il a un accès direct à notre mémoire implicite et à nos véritables sentiments dont nous nous coupons si souvent.
Pour en découvrir plus à ce sujet, n’hésitez pas a me contacter! Je recommande aussi le livre d’Alice Miller, notre corps ne ment jamais.
Was ist Dein Neujahrsentschluß?
In London waren im Januar mein Fitnessstudio rappelvoll und die Pubs leer – dank der Tradition des ‘dry January’, d.h. einen Monat lang ohne Alkohol auszukommen. Doch die Pubs sind am ersten Februar erneut prall gefüllt mit Leuten, die sich freuen wieder trinken zu dürfen und auch in meinem Gym hat sich der Ansturm gelegt. Was hast Du Dir für das neue Jahr vorgenommen? Und wie nachhaltig bist Du in der Umsetzung dessen?
Veränderung braucht Zeit. Es ist nur allzu einfach alten Mustern zu verfallen. Coaching hilft alte Muster aufzubrechen und neue Gewohnheiten zu kreieren. Gern helfe ich Dir dabei!
Being out there
I have ideas and opinions and am always up for a good discussion. But when it comes to being out there, sharing my thoughts and points of view with a broad audience, something in me pulls all the stops. I thought it was only me, but quickly realised that most of my clients struggle with being out there.
My clients are fascinating, highly capable people for whom I have the deepest respect and admiration. They are stars when it comes to making a presentation or negotiating a deal on behalf of their company. But when it comes down to them they often feel like a tiny grey mouse. They don’t feel worthy of charging market fees, speaking at sought-after conferences, publishing in leading journals,… you name it.
One reason behind all that is the fear of being inadequate. The fear of not fulfilling the high standards we set ourselves. Ultimately, the fear of not being loved for who we are. And this goes back to pregnancy, birth and childhood and the way we were treated and loved by our parents. So yes, a voice trainer, a style makeover, a presentation skills workshop can help you have more self-confidence and will yield some change. But eventually you will always hit the fear of not being loved. And no one, not your partner, not your children, not your friends, can compensate for this first all defining parental love. I’ve witnessed powerful transformations in those clients willing to go deep and work on their inner child and can only repeat what my daughter always says: “you can do it!”.