Feel the fear and find your edge

Feel the fear and find your edge

Fear has surfaced a lot in recent coaching sessions with wonderful clients.   In particular, as we start to explore what they really want in life.  Just as these things are put into words, and the dream starts to take shape there is an almost visceral reaction. The body says it all – there’s a lurching feeling in the pit of the stomach, a tightness in the chest or a clenched jaw: all indicators that something important is going on.  So how can we harness fear and make it work for us – making sure we’re not afraid of being afraid?

How to be a beginner

When was the last time you were a fully-fledged, 100% beginner at something?  If you’ve been ‘adulting’ for a while then there’s a good chance that it’s a pretty long time.  January is the month of new beginnings, and many of you will have committed to trying something new this year. We talk a lot about being a beginner, especially when supporting children as they try things for the first time.   We know what to say, we know what to do in theory…but what’s it like to actually put yourself there?

Who do you think you are?

Who do you think you are?

This week’s blog post is part of some bigger rumblings around identity which have been bubbling away for a while. What does my work say about me?  Who actually am I?  Social media exacerbates these questions, and our ability to take the person we see on screen at face value is often at odds with the judgments we make about ourselves.

Making stress work for you

I’ve been thinking a lot about stress recently.  I’ve felt it myself as new demands on time have emerged, but I’ve really noticed it in the clients I coach in the workplace.  Stress is a factor in nearly every coaching session that takes place, yet the way people react to it varies enormously.

The statistics about the long-term health effects of chronic stress are well documented.  http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx  As well as digestive problems and weight loss or gain, those exposed to high stress levels over an extended period are more prone to cardiovascular problems and a compromised immune system.

However, a recent study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21942377 suggests that it is not so much the level of stress, but the belief systems that are held about that stress, that have the greatest impact on wellbeing.

This piece of research was something of an eye opener for me.  It explains why some clients are able to perform well and feel fulfilled by their work despite being under huge levels of stress.  So how can you make stress work FOR you?

Kelly McGonigal talks about this at length in her recent TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend  and the following strategies emerge…

First up – pay attention to stress response.  Many people in high-stress environments such as an A&E department liken the stress response to a narrowing of focus.  When harnessed in short-term bursts the stress response can create the laser-sharp focus and quick thinking needed in emergency situations.  An increased pulse shows your heart working harder to pump blood around your body and increase strength and energy.

Next up – connect with others.  The stress hormone oxytocin is a trigger to share your experience with others. By connecting to those we love and trust in a stressful situation our bodies actually release more oxytocin through the human connection, which in turn increases the body’s ability to process the negative effects of the stress response.

Next up – take back control.  A key factor in long term stress is a feeling of being out of control.  By taking control of how you react to your biological stress response, the balance of power shifts.  You are back in the driving seat, and can harness the benefits of this response to your advantage.

  ‘When you choose to see your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage’. 

Kelly McGonigal

Coaching is a great tool for regaining clarity and focus in stressful times.  For more information email helen@helenmc.com or call 07799 410 684.

How to step out of your comfort zone

We all have a comfort zone – that cosy cushion of belief that reassures us we’re in the right place, doing the right thing.  But anyone who wants to progress in their career, expand their experiences and GROW, will inevitably have to take themselves out of that comfort zone.  We cling on tightly to the habits and behaviour that have kept us safe for a long time.  We imagine that if we let go of them we’ll be changing who we are fundamentally.

Andy Molinksy writes about this in his new book, Reach.  He identifies 5 areas – authenticity, likeability, competence, resentment and morality – which make up the resistance we feel as we step out of our comfort zone.  By addressing each of these we can build a toolkit of thinking which ground us in our decision and help us take those first steps into change. 

It’s no wonder that the comfort zone is so appealing when there are this many layers of consciousness keeping us there.  Many coaching clients find their inner critic runs riot as they contemplate change ‘You should be grateful for what you have!’ ‘Stick with what you know!’…  As with all critical thought processes, there is an upside to this, in that we learn to appreciate and be grateful for our lives.  But the downside is that it keeps us wedged firmly in our comfort zone, not daring to upset the status quo. 

So how can you get out of your comfort zone? The first step is being honest about what scares you.  Are you afraid of failure, what other people think or getting things wrong? By breaking down the layers of resistance you can then create steps of action to move you through the discomfort.  Manageable steps will take you to the edge of your comfort zone without catapulting you in to panic zone, and will build your levels of resilience and confidence.  A good example is public speaking.  Some steps towards this goal include initiating conversations with new people; speaking up in meetings; leading small group workshops; chairing a panel; keynote speaking at a conference; TED talk.  Each step on the edge of your comfort zone expands experience, and is the catalyst for growth and change.   

This week I encourage you to explore the edges of your comfort zone, and to start to notice what’s possible there.  Coaching is a great way of supporting and challenging yourself.  For more information, and to book a free sample session, email helen@helenmc.com or call 07799 410 684

How to talk about dying

Having difficult conversations and facing powerful emotions is a key part of the coaching process.  In the last few weeks we have faced the deaths of two important people and a beloved pet.    Talking to children about death has really shone a light on the layers of avoidance which we pile on in the face of challenging conversations.  The English language is a treasure trove of euphemisms to help us avoid saying the D-word – passed away, lost, no longer with us.  But what do these expressions actually mean? What is often most helpful for children is absolute honesty about the facts, and with that a safe place to express the emotions which come with facing those facts.

In the last year several wonderful books have been published about death and grief. ‘With Death in Mind’, by palliative care consultant Dr Kathryn Mannix, is a fascinating account of the author’s experiences caring for people in hospices.  What really struck me was the language she uses in conversations with the dying.  The book is full of examples of naming what’s going on, acknowledging the emotions that are coming up, and creating space for patients and their families to simply be in these powerful experiences.  One story really resonated – the case of an elderly man who was dying from a heart attack on top of an existing chronic condition.  His death was imminent but when his children were asked what they felt his wishes would be, they were unable to answer.  They remembered that their father had tried to talk about his own dying and death, but they had avoided the conversation as it was too painful to contemplate.  Had they been able to have that difficult conversation, they would have been comforted by the knowledge that they were acting as their father wished in his last moments.

At the end of the book, there is a framework to use for expressing our thoughts about a loved one and communicating it to them, either in a letter or conversation.  These conversations are not easy – communicating in a clear and direct way about matters so dearly to us puts us in a vulnerable, uncomfortable position.  It’s much easier not to bother. But having these conversations creates clarity at a time when there may be much uncertainty, and clears the way for love.  So don’t be afraid of difficult conversations.  Name what’s actually happening, share how you’re feeling and say what you want.  Use your words wisely and let their power do the work.

For more reading on grief, see also Grief Works by Julia Samuel https://griefworks.co.uk/

When to draw the line.

So many clients come to coaching when they have a feeling that enough is enough.  For some the driving force is what they are moving away from – what they are letting go of. Others already have a powerful sense of what they want to move towards – a commitment to a future goal and the necessary actions to move towards that goal. Drawing a line in the sand is a powerful metaphor for reaching that point.

So when is enough enough? It could be a nagging realization that something which had previously served you well is no longer right.  That amazing new job you thought you really wanted but which leaves you feeling depleted and demotivated.  Or it could be a behaviour that has been a part of you for such a long time that it’s hard to separate from it from who you actually are. 

For me this behaviour was people pleasing. Bending my own needs to meet those of everyone else. As I became a parent, these old habits ironically left me ill-equipped to meet the wants and needs of my growing family. As I let go of things which made me feel alive I heard myself becoming irritable and resentful. As responsibilities increased, I felt myself getting smaller and smaller, shrinking to fit in everyone else.  I thought this was just part of being a parent.

The line in the sand for me was a conversation at a wedding.  Speaking to someone who was lit up by their work, while also being a loving parent to young children was a revelation.  I thought the two things were mutually exclusive! I hardly had a word to say about myself, but I knew that something had to change. It was time to step back in to a full experience of life.

I enlisted the support of an amazing coach to get me over the line. I was terrified.  I had barely given my own needs a thought for five years, let alone talk about myself uninterrupted for ninety minutes.  At times it was excruciating.  But here I am, several years later, supporting other amazing women through the same process.  And showing up fully as myself.

It’s a challenge to fully accept where you are, and to be really honest about what’s working and what is no longer helping you.  It’s often much easier to follow a script, put on an act and do what is expected.  But being yourself and trusting that you have everything you need to negotiate challenges is SO freeing.  Anything is possible.  So draw that line.

For more information on coaching, and to arrange a free 50 minute sample session, go to www.helenmc.com

Mental Wealth

This week has been all about mental health, or mental wealth as I prefer.  I’ve had some exciting conversations with organizations who are recognizing the importance of supporting mental, as well as physical health for their employees, and it feels as if there is an increasing awareness of the importance of creating a space to be open and honest about our own mental health.

This week the Guardian featured a powerful piece on the ‘epidemic of burnout’ in the workplace today https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/21/how-burnout-became-a-sinister-and-insidious-epidemic

Burnout, breakdown – however we choose to term it – is not pretty.  It takes a long time to put the pieces back together and for many people it means being unable to continue with work that they once loved.  So how can coaching help to support mental health?

A coaching relationship is first and foremost one of safety and confidentiality.  Like therapy, it is a place to be with powerful emotions and to fully experience what is going on right in that moment.  Sometimes simply knowing that these emotions are OK and important, is enough to allow clients to tap in to their own inner resilience and identify how to support themselves.   For others coaching may be a gateway to accessing other support such as counselling or psychotherapy.

Start to notice your own mental health warning triggers.  In the same way we notice if our jeans feel tight, or if we’re struggling to get up a hill, watch out for sleeping problems, feelings of panic or anxiety, irritability, or simply the constant chatter of our inner critic.  These are our early warning lights – a strong signal to start paying attention to our mental health.  It’s helpful to build up a bank of resources that you know work for you.  I always feel better after getting active outdoors and spending time with nature.  Sometimes simply catching up with a friend or getting in to bed 30 mins early and resting before sleep can help.  If your usual toolkit isn’t working, act NOW.  Tell someone.  Speak to your GP.  Open yourself up to the range of support which is out there.  You don’t have to do this on your own.

For more information on coaching go to www.helenmc.com

For information on how coaching can support mental health in the workplace go to www.sanctus.io

Just do it...

How many fantastic ideas have you scribbled on the back of envelopes, added to your notes in your phone or discussed enthusiastically over dinner with friends and family?  And how many have you actually followed through?  Oh.  Yes.  That second part isn’t quite such fun to answer.

There may be 100 reasons why you haven’t taken that first step into action (and our inner critics are experts at rationalizing, making excuses, keeping us safe…anything to stop us actually taking the plunge).  But ultimately the only thing that is stopping you from taking action is you. 

Mel Robbins has a theory around this (and an excellent YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI2VQ-ZsNr0) called The 5 Second Rule.  Her notion is that whenever an idea pops into your head you need to act on it within 5 Seconds.  5 Seconds!  That’s the antithesis of what we were told at school – prepare well, think carefully, take measured steps to ensure success.  But it’s surprisingly liberating to let this habit of over-preparing go.  Acting on impulse and listening to our gut instincts really do work as a means of moving us out of our heads and in to action.  It’s simple but it’s not easy.  Mel recommends counting down from 5 as soon as you have an idea, committing it to paper, a phone call or sharing it with someone else and then…crucially…acting on it.  That means acting on it even if the idea is not perfect or fully formed.  What matters here is taking action, in some form, immediately.

It’s uncomfortable and can be messy, and it brings up fear.  It’s helpful to get curious about any resistance. Digging deeper, what actually are we afraid of?  Failure?  Putting something out there that isn’t perfect and fully formed?  Or is it simply what other people might think of us..? 

Coaching is a supportive space which enables you to have the courage to act on your ideas.  To find out more or book a free taster session, go to www.helenmc.com or email helen@helenmc.com.

Why collaboration counts

There is a myth that in business there is a limited amount of resource, that in order to succeed you have to compete, conflict and win.  It’s the outdated model of the past which has been so engrained in the way we work for such a long time.

But there’s a different way of working emerging, which comes from a place of abundance, not scarcity.  It’s about collaborating and networking, sharing resources and ideas, and creating mutually beneficial relationships. 

For those working for large organisations, collaboration is about creating relationships which extend beyond your day to day working exchanges.  It’s about sharing your successes with those who may not otherwise be aware of them. It’s getting curious about other departments. It’s actively seeking opportunities to expand your network and create different working opportunities within your organisation.

Self-employed?  Collaborative work provides opportunities for constructive feedback, a space to bounce new ideas around and the chance to exchange skills and knowledge. 

Start-up?  Collaborate from the get-go.  Use your network as a launch pad for your new business.  Ask for help and feedback.  Collaboration fuels innovation, so get creative about opportunities to grow your business alongside someone else. 

Once you start looking, opportunities for collaboration are everywhere.  Social media is a great starting point, and many successful influencers have grown their online presence through carefully selected collaborations.  Remember, these are mutually beneficial relationships, so don’t be shy! See what’s out there and if you can’t find what you’re looking for then get pro-active in approaching others, and start moving in the direction you want to go.


Coaching creates a space in which to explore what opportunities are available to you, and to set actions to get you closer to your goals.  For more information, and to book a free 50 minute sample session, go to www.helenmc.com or email helen@helenmc.com

How to celebrate success

2017 is drawing to a close.  We’re all great at looking ahead to the future, setting resolutions and goals, but this festive period how about taking some time to celebrate the last 12 months.  Practicing gratitude and acknowledging and sharing successes are key indicators of emotional well-being as well as career success.

On a piece of paper, start noting achievements, experiences, relationships and moments which you are proud of.  It could be a lovely lunch you arranged for a parent, a powerful presentation at work, starting a new hobby, working through a challenging patch in a close relationship, surviving grief. Notice any negative voices making judgments about these and put them to one side.  Allowing ourselves to stay with positive emotions can be much more of a challenge than reverting to the more familiar negative or critical voices. Spend some time really taking yourself back to that positive experience.  How did it feel to be there?  Who were you being in that moment?  What impact were you having?

And a challenge – how about sharing a success with those closest to you?  Our best tribe actually want to see us moving forward and growing through new experiences and challenges.  It is a gift to them to see you doing so. 

Coaching creates a safe space to acknowledge and celebrate your successes.  For a free sample session to get 2018 off to a flying start, go to www.helenmc.com for more info.

How to find your flow

How to find your flow

Remember the time you were so absorbed in something that you didn’t notice the time flying? 

Being in ‘flow’ is a natural state of connection to an activity, where you are fully in tune with what you’re doing and totally connected to the process of the activity.  It could be leading a presentation, running, cooking, gardening, writing, planning a party or even balancing the books. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, what’s important are the characteristics of that activity which creates this sense of deep satisfaction and purpose

In Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes

‘Contrary to what we usually believe…the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times – although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them.  The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to the limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.’

When you’re feeling stuck it can seem like the flow has disappeared from life.  But flow can be found in the most unlikely of places. Start to notice which activities really absorb you, and pay attention to:

·         What you’re actually doing – are you creating something/seeing a task through from beginning to end/bringing people together

·         How you feel in this process – are you energized or relaxed?

·         Who you’re with – are you alone, with friends or new acquaintances?

With your new awareness of what triggers your state of flow, make space for those moments.  What doors do they open for you?

Mentors are everywhere

Asking for help.  So simple. Then why do many of us find it so difficult? 

It’s ok for children to ask for help, and any parent will be well-aware of how proficient most toddlers are in this skill.  So what changes as we get older? 

There is a myth that on reaching adulthood we become ‘the helpers’ not ‘the helped’.  As we age and grow more expert in our fields of work and study, it becomes less acceptable to admit we are finding things difficult. Asking for help becomes a sign of weakness; an admission of being less than perfect.

Brené Brown interviewed thousands of people in the research for her book ‘Daring Greatly’.  In the section on leaders and entrepreneurs she quotes Gay Gaddis, owner and founder of a leading US think tank,

‘Success requires entrepreneurs to cultivate strong support networks and good mentors.  You need to learn how to shut out the noise so you can get clear on how you feel and what you think, and then you do the hard work.  No question – it’s all about vulnerability.’

Last night I attended a mentoring event organized by The Step Up Club.  The panel of inspiring speakers, including Olympic gold medallists Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh and jeweller Dinny Hall, shared their refreshingly down-to-earth experiences of mentoring.  Not only had they all reached out and asked for help at some point in their careers, they had also actively nurtured the network of supportive people around them.  Support had come from all sorts of places – friends, team mates, business owners, family and even competitors.  Whatever the origin of the support, all were in agreement that it had been instrumental in their career success.

Support is out there, even when you least expect it.  Reach out and see what happens.

The Waiting Game

The Waiting Game

I love writing.  As a child I always had my nose in a book, and was often found writing stories and putting together magazines and newsletters.  But something changed as the teenage years approached.  I started to worry more about the reader than the writing. Would they like it?  Was it good enough?  I kept a diary intermittently until eventually the urge to write was small enough to be contained in long letters home from foreign climes.

One of the first things I wanted to do when I completed my coaching training was share the amazing learning I’d had with others.  Coaching felt like such a magical gift that I wanted everyone to know about it.  ‘I’ll write about it!’ I cried to my colleagues!  And I did.  Well, I thought about writing it.  A lot.  But I wanted to wait.  If I waited until I finished my next bit of training it would be easier. And then I noticed a familiar pattern emerging.  I found myself thinking about who would be reading it.  Would they be interested?  Was it….good enough?

In coaching we do a lot of work with our ‘saboteurs’ – those critical internal voices which have often played a big part in our lives for many years.  Sometimes they are so well-entrenched in our psyche that it is difficult to separate them from our real selves.  Saboteurs want to keep us safe and protected, to help us fit in and be liked.  My saboteur was telling me that it was safer not to share my words than deal with the possibility of them being rejected.  It told me that waiting was safer than acting.

Tara Mohr, coach and author of ‘Playing Big’, writes

‘Don’t wait for your Oscar.  Don’t wait to be praised, anointed or validated.  Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to lead.  Don’t wait for someone to invite you to share your voice.’

The waiting game is over.