Coaching Blog 41: Motivation

While writing one of the Handouts for a workshop on Motivation, I remembered a speech my secondary school PE Teacher gave to our Rounders Team when I was 13 (I’m not going to name her as that would perhaps be unfair …….. and possibly libellous). I know she meant well, but given our amazingly poor hand – eye – ball coordination, things were not going well:

‘Girls, you can’t throw.

‘You can’t catch.

‘You can’t hit the ball.

‘You can’t run very far ……….. or very fast.

‘You don’t know how to play this game – and half of you still think this is a racquet.

‘It’s highly unlikely that we will win, but Sister Mary spent 2 hours yesterday sewing the school’s motif onto your bibs, so go out there and do your best.’


Needless to say we were thrashed – I can’t remember the score, but I do remember a girl called Michelle crying on the coach that took us back to school.

Now, I’m not saying that if my teacher had decent motivational skills she could have found the words to lift our spirits enough so that we would rise above our inability to connect a bat to a ball being hurled at us at the speed of light, try our best and win the match – after all this was Wilenhall not Hollywood. I am saying that when I think back to the teachers I thought were rubbish, I realise I was less impressed with the ones that were incapable of speaking to me in a way that would hold my interest, and awed and keen to learn from those who led me to believe that I could achieve something ………… motivate me in fact.

Most trainers use examples of managers to demonstrate examples of McGregor’s X and Y Theory of Motivation – I think back to that PE teacher, who was:

  • intolerant
  • distant and detached
  • issued ultimatums
  • aloof
  • arrogant
  • short tempered and shouted (a lot)
  • used a lot of threats
  • issued numerous demands
  • didn’t listen
  • was unconcerned about our feelings
  • and possibly a little deranged


and match this against my Science teacher, who regularly set his experiments alight, spilt things, dropped things, created noxious gases that meant we had to leave the lab for almost the entire lesson and made us want to work out why things didn’t happen how they were supposed to and what we needed to do instead.

Years later I look back and think he was using a particular style to motivate us, we laughed loads in that class and really enjoyed it ……….. but then I scraped a pass in my Chemistry, so maybe he was just a really rubbish teacher who made us laugh and not the motivational genius I’ve let hindsight define him as.

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Coaching Blog 40: What’s Really Stopping You ?


Dreams can be really hard. We all have them and, more than that, we all have the reasons why we can’t achieve them. We often tell ourselves that we can’t have what we want because A,B or C is in the way.

For me, time is often a factor. I don’t have time to do better than ‘this’, and so ‘this’ will have to do. (Which is OK, if I truly don’t have time, if I’ve rushed from client to contract to home, then clearly time is short; if I’ve flicked through Grazia, texted a few friends and eaten my weight in jelly babies, then it’s not.)

Identifying what’s stopping you from reaching your goals is important only if you then act on it. If you note it, ignore it but then repeat the same patterns, you’re wasting your time and don’t really want to change.

If you note it, want to do something about it but don’t know where to start, try this:

Divide a piece of paper into 3 columns,

  • write ‘What’s Stopping Me ?’ at the top of the first column
  • then write ‘Out of 10’ at the top of the second column
  • then write ‘Really ?’ at the top of the third.

Now for the thing you wish to change or tackle, fill in the first column with everything you can think of that’s stopping you. Write as many reasons as you can think of, no matter how ridiculous they may (at first) appear to be. (‘I’m not rich’; ‘I don’t speak Spanish’; ‘I’m too old’; ‘I’m married’; ‘I need a boat.’). Don’t question them or try to tidy them up, just write what comes into your mind. When you can’t think of any more reasons, leave the list for 30 minutes (have cup of tea or coffee, do something else) then have another try.

Next give each reason a score out of ten – 1 if you feel the reason you’ve given is just a smokescreen or excuse for you to do nothing; 10 if it’s really difficult and needs time / effort / resources.

Use the final column as a reality check; are the scores correct ? Have you given something a 10 and pretended that it’s a bigger obstacle than it really is ?

Now – this is the fun bit – go through each of the high scoring reasons and list what you have to do to address them. You already know what this is (find funding; sign up for evening classes; accept that you can’t change your age, but you can change your attitude to it ……… etc.) you just assumed you couldn’t do anything about it …………. which of course is a lie.

When you’ve tackled the highest scoring reasons, move to the next obstacles that did not score so highly and write an action plan for those. Slowly you will remove everything that’s stopping you and once you do that, you will be left with only one question:

When shall I start ?




*That’s a Snicker Bar to those of you under the age of 18

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Coaching Blog 39: What’s the definition of a Catastrophe ?


Last Friday morning, I left my house at 6.30 in the morning and headed to work. 2 minutes later, the radio stopped working, then the lights went off and I turned around and managed to get back to my house just as the engine died.

‘Well that’s ruined my day’, I thought as I phoned the RAC. A couple of hours later as I’m driving it to the garage, I spot steam coming out of a vent and there’s a really weird smell …… Later that afternoon I find out I have antifreeze leaking from the engine, I will need a new engine matrix, a new alternator and the repairs may cost more than the current value of my car …… and its MOT is due.

‘Well Silver’ says Chris, my mechanic ‘let’s do the MOT first and see if she’s worth spending money on.’

After a totally miserable weekend, I pick up my car on Monday afternoon and she’s fine and dandy. Hooray ! I missed one day on site, but worked from home and so have a few meetings to rearrange, but I have my car and all is well with the world.

Fast forward to 7am the next day and I’m stood on the hard shoulder of the M56, my car’s completely dead and it’s minus 3 degrees. I spend the next 40 minutes waiting for the RAC and am completely distraught. My phone gives up after 10 minutes – it’s so cold it doesn’t recognise the SIM card – and I realise that if the RAC do not turn up, I’m going to have to trek off to an emergency phone and (surprisingly) I’m not dressed for the journey. (No boots, no coat – just a jacket – no hat, no gloves, no scarf ……. no husky, no flare, nothing ….pathetically I spend 3 minutes thinking of Oates’ last words ‘I am just going outside and may be some time’ and realise that stoicism is not one of my qualities.)

When the guy from the RAC arrives I am so cold I am practically incapable of speech – he takes one look at me and ushers me into his van. I sit there listing all of the meetings I need to re-arrange; wondering what the cost of a decent second-hand car is now; feeling sick at the thought of having to phone my line manager for my current contract for the second time in less than a week and let her know I won’t make it the office.

When I finally get my car back to the garage Chris shakes his head and just says ’this can’t be good’, which just makes me want to cry.

2 hours later I’m at home, totally fed up and have given up on the day – I had meetings planned for that and also I know I will have to cancel a chemistry meeting with a potential coaching client. It’s officially a dreadful, rubbish day. So bad that I don’t think anything could make it worse, it’s almost the end of 2012 and when I look back this is its worst moment. Having no car is a disaster, it’s the end of the world and I am distraught.

A few hours later my husband telephones to ask if our eldest child is at home – he’s spent an hour waiting outside school for her as arranged and she hasn’t turned up.

My heart stops and I start to panic; I instruct him to go into the school and grab anyone he can find – caretaker, cleaner, I don’t care. I get my youngest to put messages on Facebook; I phone and text the friends whose numbers I have and we spend 45 minutes trying to stay calm, but wondering if it’s too early to call the Police.

15 minutes later we track her down – shopping in the City Centre.

What I did with my car was catastrophise – I imagined everything in my life falling apart because of my car; I imagined it was beyond repair; I imagined not being able to afford another (Christmas is coming); I imagined losing my current contract and not being able to secure another. I basically did a whole ‘it’s all going to go horribly wrong and my life is ruined.’

But my life would go on without my car – it would be really hard, but I could do it. My daughter ? She annoys the hell out of me, has no concept of time, her definition of tidying her room does not include picking her clothes up off the floor, putting books onto shelves, or cleaning any surface. Her definition of appropriate attire sometimes suggests ‘street worker’ and she is self-obsessed, but my life would not be my life without her.

And the point of this ? The next time you catch yourself with a negative thought, ask yourself,

‘Is this really the worst thing that could happen to me ? ’

Chances are in the scale of what you have in your life, the temporary setback in front of you is exactly that – a temporary setback that you can find a way around; if you can appreciate it’s not a true catastrophe.





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Coaching Blog 38: Twitter’s a Lonely Place


I’m not cut out for Twitter. I need people to acknowledge I’ve spoken and I hate being thought of as rude for not replying when someone has spoken to me – but I can’t hang around waiting for someone to tweet a response and (let’s be honest) I have a life.

Also, if truth be told, it’s making me a bit obsessive. ‘I’ve followed you for ages …. Why aren’t you following me back ?’ ‘If I unfollow you late at night, is there a chance you won’t notice what I’ve done ?’ Is there a ‘good’ follow to follower ratio and do I look sad and pathetic because I’m following more people than are following me ? And – horror of horrors – ‘you were following me, but now you’ve unfollowed …. was it something I tweeted (or didn’t tweet) ?’

It’s a social networking minefield.

A while ago I was followed by someone who worked in a department I managed several years ago – I was a senior manager and so she hated me. I know that sounds flippant, but I was battling sickness absence levels that suggested terminal illness, yet somehow the individuals concerned were able to return to work to complete overtime (at double pay); stationery and cleaning materials were over-ordered and the surplus given to family and friends; expenses were being submitted in pencil until I refused to sign them and the numbers of turkeys ordered for a Christmas meal in two hostels equated to one per service user (and the surplus again sold to family and friends).

Throughout all of this I was referred to as ‘the management’ and spoken of in terms that Robert Mugabe would find flattering, I was hated.

So, sucker that I am, I was really pleased to find the virtual hatchet had been buried and she was following me. Two days later she unfollowed me and I was gobsmacked (I know …… I’m a nice person ……. What was she thinking ?)

Now this is where it pays to practice a bit of reflective thinking. It’s sad, but after thinking about her (on and off) for a week I realised I would have to get over myself and accept that she could only act on what she believed of me several years ago.

I believe I am – and was – a nice person, who made difficult (but ultimately right) decisions in the face of full information; she believes I’m a bad person, based on her limited knowledge of the situation.

Twitter doesn’t’ really allow for that level of introspection. It’s a fast paced ‘look at me medium’ that seems to be full of a lot of people trying to sell stuff; a few funny and informative people giving updates on what they’re doing; an awful lot of interesting and thought provoking chatter and a few quite strange conspiracy theorists that need to get a partner and get out more.

It’s not the place for the thin-skinned to take residency, as 140 characters really isn’t enough space to explain yourself.


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Coaching Blog 37: School Days

Max: ‘He jumped on me   back, I slipped my jacket off, he went down …… I went in with me boot.’
Paddy: ‘Nowt wrong with   that.’ 
Max: ‘Quick scissor kick   to the temple … good night my friend.’ 
Paddy: ‘You see, that’s why   I don’t go to Parents’ Evening ……………… they get me angry.’ 

Peter Kay, Phoenix Nights


A couple of months ago my youngest finished Primary School – because of the gap between my two children, I have been making the school run there for (a very long) twelve years. In that time I’ve watched various children grow into some of the funniest, most self-assured, confident and intelligent people I have ever met.

I’ve listened to six year olds who believe they have no place in the world and so didn’t feel able to imagine what they would be doing as an adult; I’ve listened to ten year olds set out fantastic visions of their future – where they would be living, with who (with whom ?), the number of children they would have and how happy they would be; I’ve listened to eleven year olds explain how much better the world would be if adults would learn to listen to each other; I’ve listened to children talk about their different home lives with ease – single parents, divorcing parents, same sex parents – completely accepting that they have a place in the world; I’ve watched a bullying boy learn the error of his ways by a particularly brave, strong and resourceful group of eight year old girls and I have laughed out loud at some of the best jokes I have ever heard with a deadpan delivery that has taken me years to master.


I’ve waited in the playground and watched parents greet their children as if they have spent 3 months away from home, not the 6 hours of the school day and realised the world is not as desperate a place as the evening news suggests.


And more than that, I’ve watched some really excellent teachers inspire children; I’ve listened as they taught facts and concepts that were a complete surprise to me; I’ve listened to my daughters’ friends talk animatedly about their day with a level of enthusiasm I fear will not be present when they start work and on one unforgettable occasion I’ve been completely astounded by the fantastic Mr Sloan’s ability to engage and control 28 six year olds on a – very loud – trip to the museum. (A trip after which I had to lie down in a darkened room with a massive headache as I found the  group of 5 children he asked me to care for, far too hyperactive to control.)

Chorlton Park Primary School – I shall miss you.


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Coaching Blog 36: Keep a Diary


Carrying on from my last blog, did you know that keeping a diary lightens your mood and reduces stress ?

Studies have shown that people who keep diaries:

  • are admitted to hospital less often and spend fewer days when they are admitted, than those who do not
  • have better liver function and blood pressure
  • have improved immune systems.

Also, besides the positive effects of writing something about yourself every day, people who regularly keep ‘gratitude diaries’ (which are exactly what they say on the tin …. a place to record things that you are grateful for) report increased satisfaction with their lives and relationships.

So put pen to paper and feel better !

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Coaching Blog 35: Just Have The Conversation



So my daughters are arguing (again). By arguing, I of course mean screaming and threatening to kill each other:

‘She read my diary !’ yells the eldest.

‘Did you ?’ I referee.

‘No.’  But the tone of her voice and her body language screams the opposite.

‘I’m gonna to kill you !’

I hate it when their arguments escalate to threats. Or actual physical assault; it means I’m forced to take a stand, and I have to admit, I’m not really equipped for it.

To the youngest I advised:

‘Don’t read your sister’s diary, it’s private and personal and you would hate it if she did that to you.’ Some days, the right things just trip off the tongue, don’t they ?

To the wounded party:

‘If you don’t want your sister to read your diary there are a two things you can do about it; put a lock on it or hide it.’ (There was also actually a third option, which I thought it best not to raise; ‘don’t make it such a page turner’, honest to God it’s all ‘he said, she said’, ‘this boy, that boy’, in her sister’s defence it’s really hard to put down.)

Later I realised that I’d just run away from a difficult conversation and by doing so I’d led one daughter to believe that she couldn’t leave her personal items unguarded without her privacy being invaded and let another get away with unacceptable behaviour. I actually didn’t have the energy to make myself the bad guy and so tried to save myself some hassle.

Have you ever done that ? Avoided a difficult conversation in the short-term, only to have the situation fester and make the subsequent (inevitable) conversation longer, harder and louder ? If you find you do this often, take a deep breath and ask yourself, why ? (If you can’t break the habit, hire a coach or some other support to help you.)

If you do it only occasionally, give yourself a break, no one’s perfect.

If you’ve never done it, stop reading my blogs and go back to working to end world hunger, you saint.


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Coaching Blog 34: A Week in the Life of a 10 Year Old

One of the misconceptions about coaches is that they will tell you what to do with your life and hand over some sort of step-by-step guide to ‘making it* better.’ If only I could. (If only you would listen.)

It doesn’t work like that – I can’t tell you what to do (you wouldn’t listen). Instead, coaching recognises that we learn best from ourselves; what we’ve done in the past, what’s worked well and what hasn’t. Coaches prod you into taking a cold hard look at yourself and helping you act in ways that best help you reach your goals.

Luckily this works best with adults, as a week in the life of a 10 year old (some years ago) demonstrates.


“Mum, I‘m going out with Levi – he asked me today and I said yes”.


“What do you mean, ‘going out’ with Levi” ? Asked her Dad. “You’re 10.”

“We don’t go out, Dad. “We’re girlfriend and boyfriend.”

At this point, my husband choked on his toast, turned red, spluttered and the sprang to his feet.

“What ? What ?”

Reluctantly, I decided to put him out of his misery.

“For God sake Adam, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s practise for real life.” I said confident in my ability to give my child step by step instructions on how to deal with the opposite sex.  


“Mum, I’ve been dumped.”

“Dumped ?” But you only started going out with yesterday … what happened ?”

He said “We don’t talk anymore.” (The words “It’s not you; its me” and the face of an ex-boyfriend flitted into my brain; followed by “how old are you and why aren’t you still playing with Barbie?”)

“What did he mean, honey ?”

“He said we talked more as friends than we did as girlfriend and boyfriend so he dumped me. The worse thing is, when he asked me out Patrick was really upset as he liked me, and he went up to Levi and said ‘as long as she’s happy’”.

 She paused and frowned for a little bit then asked me, “Mum, shall I ask him to go back out with me ?”

This is it, I thought – my chance to pass on life lessons and help my eldest become the woman that I had failed to be ………

“No. Don’t go giving him the impression everyone thinks he’s gorgeous.”

“But he is”

“And that he can treat girls badly and they’ll still want to go out with him.

“But I do.”

“That what he wants is more important than what anyone else wants.”

“It is.”

Resisting the urge to tell her to get some pride, I changed tack and threw in a quick mention of the women’s movement; the importance of self-respect, a couple of vile ex-boyfriends and ended with me reaching the light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a career and her father.

Yes, I thought, she is on her way. She is going to be fantastic.


“Mum, I’m going out with Gerome.”

Which is why I only work with adults – and those prepared to learn from their past.




*And of course, ‘it’ refers to your:

  • Job
  • Career
  • Relationships with others
  • Vision for the future
  • Work / life balance
  • Inability to speak in public
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Coaching Blog 33: It’s not an allergy – get yourself sorted

On hearing that Jennifer Saunders had won a BAFTA last week, for the fantastic return of Absolutely Fabulous after a 20 year gap, I immediately thought of one of my favourite scenes from the original show. Bemoaning her weight (again) Eddie whined and whined and asked her daughter, ‘Oh, God. Why am I so fat ?

He daughter replied ‘You’re not SO fat.’ But then, after further whining from her mother, she changed her mind and pointed out:

 ‘Well, for a start, you eat too much, you drink too much and you take no exercise.

 Eddie’s reply ?

‘Darling, darling, please………. It’s far more likely to be an allergy to something.’

I love that ! It’s so accurate. We know why we haven’t got what we want in life, yet we insist that ‘they’ have it in for us, that:

‘Life is unfair.’

Or, possibly:

‘It’s political correctness gone mad.’

And if we’re particularly child-like, complain:

I never get what I want.’

God forbid we recognise our failure to be offered promotion is related to our inability to do the job we have now, let alone take on more responsibility; that our house isn’t smarter and trendier because we’ve made no effort to redecorate or keep it tidy; that no one takes us seriously because we give the impression that we do not respect ourselves.

I’m hurtling towards a Birthday with a Zero at the end of it, and much as I started with good intentions (I imagined a nice, slow steady exercise regime over months that would see me emerge, Phoenix-like from this strange and alien cocoon of unnecessary weight that is smothering my inner gorgeousness). Unfortunately, I’ve now resorted to commenting (regularly):

‘I don’t have enough time to plan a healthy menu.’

‘Of course actresses look like that – they employ masses of people to help them.’

‘How can I work full-time, study and exercise ?’

When actually the truth is closer to:

‘Jelly Babies were half price at Tesco’

‘I’m shattered, I need a glass of wine’

‘I’m not exercising in public ………where people can see me’

and (horror of horrors)

‘Have you got this in the next size up ?’

This is all a bit depressing – apparently I’ve no one to blame but myself. The numerous excuses I’ve used over the months are all irrelevant. The million dollar question is, ’Do I want to get fitter ?’ and if the answer is ‘Yes’, then ‘allergies’, jelly baby sales and stressful days will make very little difference.

So, what made up nonsense are you using to hold yourself back and what ‘allergies’ are you pretending to have ?

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Coaching Blog 32: glass screens & bow ties

Driving my youngest daughter to one of her 1,000 after-school activities, I spotted a white haired old guy, walking upright, but slowly, wearing a bow-tie, black jacket and hat.


It wasn’t fancy dress – he was just well-dressed; so well-dressed I stared at him and missed the lights changing.

Normally, I get told off for commenting on the atitre of pedestrians that step out in front of me with no warning. (For good reason, I’m ashamed to admit as I do spend an awful lot of times muttering ‘Why ?’ when I pass someone who has fallen for the fallacy that EVERYONE can wear leggings ……….. they can’t.) But this time, before I could comment, my daughter whispered ……… ‘Cool’ and I had to agree.

The guy looked fantastic.

OK, it could be argued that he was caught in a time warp ………. had he bought that bow-tie or just not thrown away the one given to him when he turned 21  ? But that’s irrelevant – the point was, he didn’t look like an old man, there was something about him that seemed to say ‘Yep, I’ve got grey hair, I’m way older than you ……… but I look good’ and I had to agree.

As he crossed the road in front of me (and the car behind me honked his horn) 2 teenagers crossed in the opposite direction, wearing baggy jeans around their knees (OK, I’m exaggerating for effect, but they were looooowwwww) and swaggering with a misplaced sense of importance. (Basically guys, if you are THAT important, why aren’t you at work ?) And I was struck by the different clothes – but also the different body language.

Mr Bow Tie apparently had nothing to prove, and moved easily (slowed by age, but easily); the Low Jeans Boys seemed to take longer to cross the road and all I could think was ‘Swaying like that can’t be good for their knees.’

At a networking meeting this morning, someone mentioned the ‘invisible screen’ that appears in front of women when they hit a certain age or when their faces develop a certain amount of wrinkles – the screen that means their views, thoughts and aspirations become unimportant.

It was then that I remembered Mr Bow Tie ……. and felt guilty. Call myself a coach ? I only noticed him because he had done something to break the screen in front of him and all the other older guys that I don’t see.

I can’t expect everyone over 70 to rock a sharp suit, beautiful dress or a hat, but I could maybe pay more attention when I pass them in the street. 








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