“Have we all become Mindless …… ?”

‘Modern man’ is afflicted with an almost constant source of stress in their daily lives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is predicting that ‘stress’ will be the biggest ‘killer’ this Century and in the UK it is estimated that stress is the greatest cause of absenteeism in the workplace.

Thousands of years ago ‘man’ was used to a very different way of life; his brain was hard-wired to deal with infrequent, but sudden, extreme situations where stress was generated as the ‘by-product’ of the survival functions of flight or fight; the inevitable consequence of having to take action in adverse or demanding circumstances. Notwithstanding this, normal and routine tasks were given little thought and considered only ‘in the moment’ thereby not anticipating or fearing a situation where stress might be generated.

Today, the hard-wired brain that experienced extreme stress as a consequence of imminent danger in the past, still persists. However, the knowledge now used to formulate the learned instructions that trigger the chemical reaction preparing the body to respond to danger, are seldom informed by instances as extreme as our forebears had to face. Instead today’s ‘imminent danger’ is informed by a constant source of pressure, frustrations and thoughts of inadequacies that create that “stored knowledge” and become the default trigger for the chemical reaction resulting in stress. Conversely, our ancestors paid little attention to these relatively routine ‘stressors’ since they weren’t life threatening.

These modern-day “adverse or demanding circumstances” are brought about, in part by the plethora of tasks we now have the ability to carry out; something that has increased exponentially over past decades, frequently enabled by rapid advances in technology. Add this to man’s inherited ‘herd instinct’ that encourages people not to be singled out and so, by default, comply with the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Furthermore, Michael Formica in ‘Psychology Today’ suggests that, “The brain was never designed to think of more than one thing at a time …..contrary to popular belief, human beings cannot multitask. What we are capable of is handling a number of serial tasks in rapid succession, or mixing automatic tasks with those that are not so automatic. That’s one of the reasons that the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB a US government investigative agency responsible for civil transport accident investigation) reports that texting while driving is the functional equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. You just can’t effectively attend to two things at once – even the superficially automatic ones.”

Research now concludes that with the ever-increasing number of tasks required of us, the stress induced, reduces our ability to focus on any one thing at a time. Michael Formica continues, “The first thing we need to recognize is that, try as we might, we really can only do one thing at a time, so we ought to do that thing wholeheartedly. Most of our time is spent in the past or the future, rather than the present moment. What we end up doing is passing through that moment on the way to somewhere else and, in doing so, we miss the moment. That’s how life ends up passing us by – we do it to ourselves.”

Meditation has been part of Buddhist teachings for generations: used as a practice where an individual focuses his or her mind on a particular object, thought or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. Now scientific research has confirmed the benefits of “Mindfulness”. Indeed the UK National Health Service (NHS) recognises “Mindfulness” as a very practical and effective therapy for reducing stress following the development by Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Therapy (MBSR). The plethora of evidence from modern cognitive psychology and neuroscience point out the positive effect of meditation on the brain and our ability to focus with a purpose.

Willie Horton, a Coaching Psychologist argues in a recent paper that focus is the key to being Mindful. He further suggests that unless we are ‘Mindful’ we are ‘Mindless’. When we are being bombarded constantly with ‘low level’ stressors we adopt the default state of mind; one of mindlessness, a lack of focus resulting in a cycle of events which often leads to illness and death.

In his paper, he asserts that if we can learn to focus we enable ourselves to be ‘mindful for a purpose’; something greater than simply a stress reducer; more a state of mind that enables greater and more effective achievement, much like a sprinter before a race focuses on the job in hand blocking out extraneous matters that get in the way. Once the race is over the focus can shift to the next important matter.

It is interesting to note that many people in positions regarded as ‘highly stressful’ do not succumb to stress related illnesses in the same way as those who simply live ‘stressful lives’. It may be argued that this is because these people have adopted our ancestors’ behaviour of being more ‘in the moment’ for routine tasks while retaining the ability to respond to situations that require the proper chemical trigger to deal with a difficult ‘highly stressful’ situation for a short period of time.

Willie Horton suggests that there is a need for leaders everywhere learn how to properly focus though Mindfulness-Leadership Development, because if you can focus, all other matters become clearer and more manageable. The responsibility for ensuring this happens is the Coach !

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Enhancing Performance

Few would disagree that the desire to enhance performance is a very positive aspiration for both individuals and for organisations who will always wish to maximise the productivity of their staff.  Interestingly, a brief search for “Enhancing Performance” on the internet reveals, high on the rankings performance-enhancing substances.  We hear much about this form of enhancement after major sporting events or as news headlines involving ‘doping’ among athletes.

Notwithstanding this, most programmes seeking to enhance performance concentrate on recognising and reinforcing good performance by the development of knowledge and skills, improved work environment as well as rewards (and punishment !).  Such ‘external’ motivators for improving performance are both logical and helpful. However, the well known ‘coaching equation’ describing performance as:


….suggests that some of the most important ‘interferences’ that prevent people reaching their full potential are to do with an array of behavioural phenomena taking the form of physical actions or observable emotions; largely driven by thoughts and feelings.

Many in the world of psychology and sociology believe that because behaviours are ‘hard-wired’ into our early emotional development they can only be changed effectively through addressing an individual’s emotional make up.

Eric Berne expounded in his theory of Transactional Analysis that children adopt one of four “Life Positions” in their early formative years as a basic survival strategy.  The “Position” adopted would then go on to form the basis of their “Scripts” and in turn unconsciously underpin their behaviour in Adulthood.

However, Berne went on to explain that when we become Adults we have an option of making full use of grown-up resources and that when we do so these decisions are ‘script-free’ or autonomous. However, we need to understand our (unconscious) life plan in order to challenge and unpick it so that we have a better opportunity to change behaviour and maximise performance in whatever endeavour we choose.  When making an autonomous decision we are dealing with the here-and-now reality as the adult.  This autonomous decision making with or without therapy can be carried out when self awareness is raised to a point where an individual’s mind is ‘open’ to change and the choice to do so is made and carried out.

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Transactional Analysis – Maximising Effective Communications

Verbal communication is generally accepted to be at the centre of human social relationships and despite the electronic era, also in business. When coaches engage with business to maximise performance more often than not, poor communication is at the root of potential not being reached. When two people meet, one of them will speak to the other and a response normally follows. Transactional Analysis (TA) is the method of examining this activity.

Transactional Analysis is a theory developed by Dr. Eric Berne in the 1950’s as a method to improve communication. The theory outlines how we have developed and treat ourselves, how we relate and communicate with others, and offers suggestions and interventions, which will enable us to change and grow. Theoretical concepts within the Transactional Analysis world are constantly being challenged and developed making it a rich dynamic process. Berne died in July 1970 at the age of 60. However, Transactional Analysis has not stood still and continues to develop and change, paralleling the processes we encourage in ourselves and others.

Eric Berne developed his theory around three identities/roles: ‘Parent’, ‘Child’ and ‘Adult’ – although these terms have different definitions than in normal language ! The role we adopt is determined by our feelings at the time and affects the way we communicate – if you are angry, you are unlikely to be conciliatory ! In return the other person responds by fitting into the appropriate other role. In each case we subconsciously flavour the ‘parent’ and ‘child’ roles from that which we recall from our childhood experiences.
Our Parent identity is our ‘Taught’ concept of life. When prejudice or over protectiveness dominates, the ‘Parent’ is in control. The flavouring learnt from childhood experiences fall into two broad categories and in extremis, these are displayed as controlling or indulgent. It is possible to change this ‘flavour’ with effort and commitment.

Our Child identity is our ‘Felt’ concept of life. When anger or despair dominates reason, the ‘Child’ is in control. It represents the child we once were and falls generally into two categories: the ‘natural’ child being impulsive, instinctive, spontaneous, undisciplined and demanding and the ‘adapted’ child influenced by an upbringing, which ‘does as it is told’ giving rise to guilt, rebellion, disobedience and compromise. Like our Parent, we can change our Child.

Our Adult identity is our ‘Thought’ concept of life. It is our ability to think and reason, and determine action for ourselves, based on relevant facts and intuition. It is that part of us which differentiates the human animal from other animals. The Adult is the means by which we keep our Parent and Child under control. If we are to change our Parent or Child, we must do so through our Adult.

It is the learning to develop our ‘Adult’ identity further, which is the key to successful communications and the intervention of a coaches with this in mind can make a considerable difference.

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The dictionary describes communication as “the imparting or exchange of information, ideas or feelings”. It is therefore no surprise to learn that most organisations place enormous importance on the quality and quantity of their communication with their employees and the other key stakeholders.

Despite this, communication is most often cited by people in organisations as the main barrier to high performance. Research supports this and suggests that many organisations put the majority of their ‘communication spend’ in their formal, conscious communication rather than into the other, less formal, yet more impactful areas such as the communication between business leaders and the people who work with them at all levels.

Communication is a ‘two’ way process, but how many people know that people cannot, NOT communicate ? Even when not speaking people communicate non-verbally and non-verbal communication accounts for 93% of this transaction.
Verbal communication is generally accepted to be at the centre of human social relationships. When two people meet, one of them will speak to the other and a response normally follows. Transactional Analysis is the method of examining this activity.

Dr Eric Berne developed his theory of Transactional Analysis around three identities/roles: ‘Parent’, ‘Child’ and ‘Adult’ (although these terms have different definitions than in normal language !). Coaching can make a significant impact upon this vital area of communication in particular clarifying the process of “Transactional Analysis”. Organisations might consider the positive impact a well directed series of coaching sessions would have for their key staff and other stakeholders.

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Is “Trust” important in this digital, rapidly changing, global world or is it a thing to be consigned to the archives as ‘no longer fit for purpose’ ?

John Blakey, élite coaching professional, author and speaker concurs with Stephen Covey’s view that “Trust is the glue of life. It is the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships”. However, he is also concerned that our leaders think that “Trust” has been placed well down the list of management priorities in their focus for bottom-line profit.

Over the recent past we have seen many senior people in business, sport and politics loose credibility in the eyes of their public: democracy was created to provide the ‘man on the Clapham Omnibus’ an opportunity to help shape the future of their country; yet turnout in political elections over recent years in UK has been dismally poor ! Scandals around MPs expenses, broken election pledges, misuse of funds for political campaigns have had their impact. An Ipsos MORI poll in Dec 16 recorded that only 19% of the public thought politicians were telling the truth during the EU Referendum campaign, while another MORI poll conducted in Jan 16 indicated that only 21% of Britons trust politicians to tell the truth.

Sport is something that has a vast audience, even for those who don’t participate. This huge congregation hears of ‘cheats’ taking physically enhancing drugs, the antics of those at the highest levels in Football and Athletics striving to remain in power or to ‘feather their own nests’. Nor must we forget the frequency of ‘match fixing’. Should we accept this as ‘business as usual’ in Sport ?

In business we hear of leaders receiving massive bonuses in comparison to those whom they lead, underhand dealing with ‘Pension Pots’ and a general attitude of ‘get rich quick’ by many managers. The global financial crisis exposed many unscrupulous practices that had previously remained hidden !

In Society at large we see an increase in ‘dishonesty’ cases in the Justice System, and the general trend demanding ‘Rights without Responsibility’, which too suggests that a lack of “Trust” is endemic.

Not withstanding this, following massive research, John Blakey found that “Trust” within many organisations, is still regarded as very important, at least in certain specific areas: 89% think it is critical for attracting and retaining top talent, 91% regard it as critical to customer loyalty, while 88% think it critical to sustaining organisational bottom-line performance. If this is the case, why is the erosion of “Trust” frequently headline news ?

The world of the internet and social media in particular has brought people together ‘virtually’ in the most extraordinary way. As well as bringing people closer, it can provide insight on conditions in the most inaccessible and hostile places not open to normal forms of reporting and spread information instantaneously at the press of a button. However, the ease with which this incredible method of communication can accessed by both individuals and organisations mean it can be exploited for both ‘good’ and ‘evil’. It allows extremists to spread terror with great effect and to a greater audience than hitherto available to them, while the use of Twitter during the ‘Arab Spring’ generated massive gatherings and has been used for natural disaster warning and relief. Even the current President of the United States of America appears to favour Twitter over the more traditional methods of communication !

Most individuals now have easy entry to a platform providing access to massive domestic and global audiences. This coupled with the lack of any form of scrutiny or checks on the content of messages before being sent, results in the ‘normal’ rules or protocols of communication becoming obsolete; so too is the authority to enforce them !

Many of those who deploy thoughts, ideas or calls-to-action using social media do this with little understanding of the impact their message may have. Some however, do have full cognisance of the effect of their transmission. Whatever the intent of the initiator, it is clear that the result of this is that few in authority can ‘hide’ and any previous respect for authority itself is consigned to the dustbin !

Like it or not, social media makes any ‘group’ of people and the rules by which they organise themselves potentially transparent, those rules and the authority to implement them are open to immediate and unfettered challenge and often ridicule. In this brave new world, where “Trust” is still regarded as important for a group to prosper, how can this crucial emotion be fostered when it can no longer be be taken for granted ?

In business, current thinking suggests that the single bottom-line motivator of profit is underpinned by ‘Intellectual Ability’ and ‘Authority’. However, with authority no longer respected, a new set of ‘pillars’ are needed to underpin the bottom-line.

In John Blakey’s award winning book “The Trusted Executive” he suggests redefining the single bottom-line ‘Profit’ motivator to one of a “Triple Bottom-line” comprising; Results, Relationship and Reputation (or people, profit and planet) underpinned by three new pillars of Ability, Benevolence and Integrity.

This new revolutionary thinking has already been adopted by Unilever: since January 2009 Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever has had an ambitious vision to fully decouple its growth from overall environmental footprint and increase its positive social impact through the ‘Unilever Sustainable Living Plan’ ( https://www.unilever.co.uk/sustainable-living ). Others will follow.

Profit, contained within the “Triple Bottom-line” as Results will always remain a vital factor for business success. However, the loss of authority as the guarantor of “Trust” means that a more holistic and inclusive approach must be adopted, because “Trust” has been shown to be the catalyst for success.

Professional coaches are well aware that the prerequisite for a successful coaching relationship is “Trust”. Coaches are therefore well suited to play a pivotal role in both raising awareness of the importance of “Trust”, but also to help facilitate the adoption of this seemingly obsolete emotion in both business and more widely in society. Time is not on our side and many look only to the short term. As Coaches we have a responsibility to step up to the mark, take action and … as John puts it ‘evangelize’ on the subject !

To learn more about this sustainable way of thinking visit: http://johnblakey.co.uk/5-facts-all-leaders-need-to-know-about-trust/


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A Brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others

Studies in neuroscience have long shown that the main drivers for survival, trigger a physical response to minimising threat or maximise reward. More recent findings suggests that the same brain networks used to initiate the primary survival techniques are also used to ‘switch-on’ those for social behaviour.

David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute reports in the NeuroLeadershipJournal on a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. Properly used it can be put to good effect by improving peoples’ ability to work together. In this world of increasingly dysfunctional communication the SCARF model can be a great aid for coaches operating in either an organisational setting or in private relationships.

The SCARF model involves the 5 dimensions of human social exposure: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. By labelling these domains it allows conscious awareness, of otherwise unconscious processes to recognise, understand and potential to modify the social domains that drive human behaviour.

Status refers to the relative positioning of self among others, Certainty is a measure of confidence in the future, Autonomy one of independence and authority over events, Relatedness concerns the quality of relationships with others and Fairness a measure of an individuals’ sense of ‘fair-play’ in relation to and with others.

An understanding of the brain networks that trigger our social behaviour and a greater appreciation of the dimensions of human social behaviour, allows us an opportunity to influence the environment, to facilitate change to more positive behaviours.

If you are interested in this subject or want to know how coaches are using their increasing knowledge of neuroscience, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Supervision for Coaches

Those of us who are professional Coaches are responsible for our own Continuing Professional Development, but what do you know of ‘Mindfulness’, ‘Provocative coaching’ or ‘Brain based Coaching’ ? These are but three of the more recent techniques being discussed and increasingly practiced in our Craft. As we become more experienced in our chosen field we will encounter an ever increasing number of techniques, tools and models and we will wish to use these new ‘learnings’ with our clients; however, we must be mindful that whatever we do with our coaching encounter it must be in the interests of the client/coachee and not principally for our own benefit; this comes as a consequence of that encounter.

Engaging in ‘supervision’ is now widely accepted as essential for a professional coach whether operating within an organisation or as an independent/external coach. ‘Supervision’ provides a coach with support for their ‘resourcing’, ‘development’ and a ‘health check’ on the quality of their practice.

If you currently do not have a Supervisor and intend to develop your practice, seriously consider exploring such a relationship. If you just wish to learn more about the workings of a Supervisor or a ‘supervision group’ and what it entails, get in touch to have a chat.

If you already have supervision and have had the same Supervisor for an extended time, are you getting too familiar ? Is it time for a change ?

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