What are you tolerating?

I saw this tweet a few days ago:

“‘What do you want for Mother’s Day?’ my 10 year old asks as he steps over the lacrosse stick he left in the middle of the dining room floor for the past 3 days” by @DomesticGoddss

First, it made me smile and then it reminded me of a conversation that I’d had with a client recently.

Let’s call him John. John described himself as distracted and running low on energy.

‘What do you feel is sapping your energy?’

‘I seem to permanently be in a meeting. In those meetings, we create more work, more action points and then fill up all the time we could be using to do that work. Meetings seem to have become a habit – ‘got a query? call a meeting’ – and we don’t seem to consider whether it’s a good use of time. Impromptu meetings are called at the drop of a hat and it’s just taking all my time.’

‘Have you tried to change the situation?’

‘No … I guess I just try to work round it, take work home, come in early, stuff like that. I haven’t got the energy to tackle it with people so I put up with it.

In coaching, we call these kind of situations ‘tolerations’: issues which bug us but which we’ve learnt to live with. They are irritants which distract us or sap our energy but somehow don’t seem worth dealing with. However, in John’s case, it felt like the ‘stone in his shoe’ of excessive meetings had become a boulder which he really needed to deal with.

‘What’s one thing which you can do to change the situation, John?’

‘I guess the main thing is to find out why we’re having the meetings – to challenge the automatic assumption that we need to have a meeting.’ 

‘So what are you actually going to say?’

‘I think I’ll go with: what’s the purpose of the meeting?’

‘Is there anything else you can do?’

‘I’m going to start blocking time out in my diary for project work to prevent people assuming I must be free for a meeting as there’s nothing in my diary.’

With these two steps, John is taking action to deal with his toleration.

What are you tolerating at work? An unruly filing system? A colleague who never lives up to their promises? People leaving the kitchen in a mess? Or outside work? That wobbly table leg you keep propping up? That niggling noise your car makes on long journeys? Lack of storage in your garden? That lacrosse stick lying on the dining room floor?

Over the next couple of days, notice those instances when you sigh with resignation that the same old thing is happening again. Once you’ve noticed it, see if you can identify one thing you can do to change the situation. For some tolerations, that one step will be sufficient to deal with the issue: other tolerations will take further action.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: what are you tolerating?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’re ready to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?






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Five steps to stop self-sabotage in its tracks

After last week’s post ‘“Want to create a good habit? Are you an Abstainer or a Moderator?‘, I had an interesting email exchange with one of my newsletter subscribers.

‘I think I’m an Abstainer,’ he wrote ‘but the other thing I’ve noticed is that once I’ve been sticking to a good habit for a while, I seem to make it deliberately difficult to continue to succeed. I think I start to self-sabotage.’

His phrase ‘I seem to make it deliberately difficult to continue to succeed’ reminded me of a phrase from Gay Hendricks‘ book The Big Leap:

“In my life I’ve discovered that if I cling to the notion that something’s not possible, I’m arguing in favor of limitation. And if I argue for my limitations, I get to keep them.”

Do you recognise that self-sabotage behaviour too? Do you notice that sometimes when things are going well, a few limiting beliefs creep in and undermine your newly-formed positive approach? What can you do?

Work through these five steps to defeat self-sabotage

Step one: Identify inner voices

Self-sabotage usually starts with our thoughts. When you feel a creeping sense of self-sabotage, notice your inner dialogue. For instance:

  • What do you say to yourself when you commit to a new routine?
  • What do you say to yourself when you get up each morning?
  • What do you say to yourself when facing a challenge?
  • What do you say to yourself when you head into an unfamiliar situation?

Step two: Challenge your inner dialogue

If you notice yourself thinking ‘I’ve never done this before. I’m always rubbish at new stuff’, challenge that thought. ‘I’m always rubbish at new stuff’ is a very fixed mindset approach – try allowing yourself some room for growth: ‘If I don’t get it straight away, that’s ok: it’s a learning process.’

If you hear your inner voice say ‘This is a big deal – you’re never very good under pressure’, challenge that thought. Is that true? Is there really not a single time in your life when you have risen to the occasion and handled a challenging situation well? So often we find it easier to remember times when things went wrong than the countless times that things went so smoothly that we barely even noticed.

Step three: Change your behaviour

How are your day-to-day actions contributing to your success? Do they support it or sabotage it?

If you wanted to stop drinking alcohol, you’d probably decide that going to the pub every night wasn’t going to help. If your goal is to meet more people in a similar field of work and raise your profile, opting out of conferences and networking events is probably counter-productive.

Take a look at the people you spend the most time with: are they positive people with a growth mindset who are fun to be with? I take Maya Angelou’s words as an inspiration for myself and to guide me towards people I’d like to befriend:

‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.’

Step four: Break it down

The subscriber who emailed me mentioned that once he’d achieved an initial goal, he seemed to set too big a new goal. Say your original goal was to take part in a 5k race which you achieve and then you sign up for a marathon and it’s just too big a stretch so you stop running altogether.

If your goal is to read your child a bedtime story each night and you currently don’t leave the office until he’s fast asleep, it’s unrealistic to think this situation will change overnight. Perhaps you could start with one night a week. Maybe you could even take a book to the office with you and spend ten minutes on a video call reading him a story before you head for the train. After a few weeks, you can add in another night when you leave on time. Breaking your goal down into smaller steps will help you avoid sabotaging yourself with an unachievably big goal.

Step five: Share your story

Maybe you don’t have a coach but perhaps you have a trusted colleague who you could talk to about your tendency to get in your own way. Ask them to help you by a) telling you when they notice you seemingly undermining yourself and b) keeping you accountable to your small step goals.

These five steps sound simple but that doesn’t make them easy: however, working through them step by step can help you to overcome a tendency to self-sabotage.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: will you try these five steps next time you notice yourself undermining your own success? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’re ready to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Want to create a good habit? Are you an Abstainer or a Moderator?

When I was talking to a coaching client last month about her issue with her struggle to mentally switch off after work, I was reminded of Gretchen Rubin’s book ‘Better than before‘.

In her book, Gretchen Rubin offers insights on making and breaking habits. In the section ‘Desire, ease and excuses’, she suggests three strategies to help shape habits by adjusting the amount of effort involved:

  1.  The Strategy of Abstaining
  2.  The Strategy of Convenience
  3.  The Strategy of Inconvenience

The Strategy of Abstaining talks about the concept that we may be a Moderator or an Abstainer. Moderators feel that if you completely deny yourself access to something – say, alcohol or chocolate – you are bound to fail. They would argue that you are more likely to form a long-lasting good habit if you take a moderate approach:  ‘I’ll just have one glass of wine this evening when I’m out with friends and then I’ll switch to water.’ For a Moderator, knowing that the occasional indulgence is perfectly acceptable makes them less likely to over-indulge.

Abstainers on the other hand prefer an ‘all or nothing’ approach. ‘I’ve given up alcohol’ means exactly that: no more alcohol. For an Abstainer, a taste of honey is worse than none at all.

Back to my client – let’s call her Anne. Her main issue was checking her email after she arrived home for the evening. ‘I tell myself I’ll just have a quick look whilst the kids’ bath is running and then I end up missing bath time because I’m caught up responding. If my husband’s watching the football, I figure I might as well do some emails. If I wake up in the night and can’t fall asleep again, I pick up my phone and start reading. I know it’s not good but I don’t seem to be able to stop myself.’

Changing a habit may be simple, but it's not easy, and the more tools used, the better.

I talked to her about Abstainers and Moderators and which tendency she thought she might have.

‘I like to think that I could be a Moderator and set myself certain times at which I’d check and respond to emails: that seems like it should be perfectly achievable but even as I say that, I know I won’t be able to do it.

‘I need to be an Abstainer for this particular habit. I need to hand my phone to my husband when I get in and ask him to keep hold of it until the following morning. I’ll delete my work email account from my tablet so I can still use that in the evenings and I’ll dig out my old alarm clock so I don’t even need my phone in the bedroom. I think that’s the only way I can stick to it,’ Anne decided.

We’re two weeks in to the new routine now and I emailed Anne to see how it was going: she replied (during her working day!) and said that the first week had been really tough but it was getting easier.

Not all my clients are Abstainers. Many of them are Moderators and in similar circumstances to Anne have chosen to allocate certain times of day for checking and responding to work emails. Some clients will find they are Moderators in certain areas of their work and lives whilst they take an Abstainer approach to other areas.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: if you’re wanting to create a new habit, which approach will work best for you: Moderator or Abstainer? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’re ready to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T: find out what it means to me

Recently, I had a conversation with a client about respect: what it means, how it works, whether it’s necessary and since then, I’ve been pondering respect (and having that Aretha Franklin song stuck in my mind too!).

‘Respect’ can have overtones of admonition, such as ‘respect your elders/betters/authority figures’ and may seem like an outdated concept. Sometimes when we hear a politician say ‘with all due respect’, they go on to demonstrate very little respect. On the other hand, we now talk about respecting the environment or diversity – more current concepts.

I decided to go back to the roots of the word to see what that might tell me. It comes from the Latin ‘respicio’ which is constructed thus: re– (back; again) +‎ specio (observe, look at). Literally, respect means ‘to look back’ or ‘to look again’.

I like the idea of ‘to look again’ and wonder if we can use it to help us take a fresh look at how we relate to our colleagues and acquaintances.

Sometimes our previous experiences with people colour our current relationships. We remember what we consider to be their faults, how they should change, and why we are right and they are wrong.

What if we suspended previous assessments or judgements and looked again at our relationships?

What if we didn’t make an assumption about what someone was expecting but asked them?

What if we considered that the relationship wasn’t fixed but could grow and evolve?

What if we were open to new possibilities, new ways of working and new ways to relate?

Just as two different voices singing different arrangements blend together in a beautiful harmony, perhaps your different approaches can come together and create something even better than either of you could do alone.

definition of mutual respect dalai lama six hands joined

What if we agree to practise some mutual respect – some mutual ‘looking again’ and evaluation of our relationships? What difference could that make to the way in which we work or the way we interact with our friends and family?

Perhaps we could start by saying something like ‘that’s an interesting perspective, I hadn’t thought of it like that – tell me more’.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: will you ‘look again’ at one of your key relationships with an open mind?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’re ready to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?






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Do you know how to navigate your journey through the world of work?

Despite having spent almost every holiday over the last twenty years walking up a hill or along a coast, I am not that good at reading maps.

On a recent holiday in the glorious scenery of North Devon, I had my usual attempt at a bit of navigation. My unbelievably patient husband took me through the process as usual.

Step one: where are you now? 

Step two: where do you want to be?

Step three: what obstacles are in the way? 

It struck me that these are the same questions I ask my coaching clients.

Step one: where are you now? 

We establish their current location: that can be trickier than you’d imagine. Sometimes we have to retrace their steps to find out how they ended up in this particular role or situation. Just as I have to look around for a church steeple or a dry stone wall to help me find my place on the map, we have to take a look at what surrounds my client – his organisation, his team, his current workload, his situation outside work – in order to be sure he knows exactly where he is.

Step two: where do you want to be?

Part of my map-reading issue is that I have a terrible sense of direction. Asked ‘which way do you think we should be headed?’, I will likely wave my arm vaguely and answer ‘over that way?’ in a very questioning tone.

In the same way, my client may be unsure as to her final destination. Is it management? Is it a sideways move? Is it a complete change of career or lifestyle? We need to establish that before moving on.

Step three: what obstacles are in the way?

Sometimes, I can see exactly where I’d like to end up but I can’t get straight there: there’s a stream in the way and I’ll have to go a long way round to find a bridge. I may decide to walk up to the stream and see what if it’s as much of an issue as it appears on the map – maybe I can take off my boots and wade across? Perhaps some earlier traveller has been this way and helpfully laid out a couple of stepping stones. It could be that once I get there, it’s a pretty deep stream and the only sensible option is to walk along the bank to the stream.

Do financial implications lie between my client and her end goal? Does she need to grit his teeth, wade through the chilly waters of taking on extra responsibilities to prove herself? Would it make most sense to take a side step, study for a qualification and then cross over to the final destination?

where am I know where do I want to be what are the obstacles

These questions apply just as much to decisions about how we lead our lives as they do to work situations.

Today’s pebble for you to consider: Where are you now? Where do you want to be? What obstacles stand in your way? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like a companion to help you navigate your way through your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Is there any point speaking out?

Almost everywhere we go, from restaurants to supermarkets, we’re asked for feedback. ‘Tell us how we did today and enter our prize draw’ or ‘Please rate us on TripAdvisor’ are phrases we see on our till receipts and on company websites.

Feedback is sought in the workplace too. Whether it’s as part of an annual review, an exit interview or a regular 1:1 catch up with your line manager, you’ve probably been asked for your feedback. If you’re in a supervisory role, you’ve probably asked your direct reports for feedback.

What happened to that feedback?

Too often, the perception amongst those giving feedback seems to be that it’s pointless: nothing changes. Perhaps it’s that feeling that has seen the rise of the online community Organise where individuals can create campaigns using ‘basic tools for people to team up and push for change in their workplace’. This group approach to feedback has resulted in an improved holiday booking system at Boots and an investigation into a ‘culture of harassment’ at Ted Baker.

In a recent coaching session, one of my clients – let’s call him John – talked about a previous role he’d had.

‘They went through the motions, asked the right questions, all that kind of thing. And yet, when I was taking my team through their performance reviews and one of the sections was about giving feedback on the team, me as their manager and the business as a whole, people didn’t want to answer. When I asked them why, some of them said that they worried it might make them look bad but the majority said that they didn’t believe anything would change. Actually, I agreed with them,’ said John (not his real name).

What’s the impact of that feeling that giving feedback is a waste of time?’ I asked.

‘Sometimes you see the team member become less engaged with their job, not caring so much about it. If it becomes a big issue for them, they leave. I had one woman in my team who had wanted to have a flexible working pattern due to her responsibilities outside work. She was great and I wanted to keep her on the team so I was more than happy to support her request. It was turned down by the business. Six weeks later, she cited that as her reason for leaving in her exit interview. I flagged this up with the business, noting how much the loss of an excellent member of staff was costing us, not to mention the recruitment and onboarding of a new employee would cost. Nothing has changed there. In my new role, I have more responsibility and autonomy and I want to make my team a place where feedback is acted on and makes a difference. I’ve discussed it with my managers and they’re on board. I want to create an environment where feedback isn’t pointless.’

the value of feedback

John and I spent the rest of the session working through how he can do that. Here’s how he has decided to handle feedback in his team:

Don’t just encourage feedback – acknowledge it

There’s no guarantee that feedback is going to be positive. When people feel that negative feedback just disappears into an abyss of apathy, they stop offering it. However difficult it may be, we need to acknowledge that we’ve received feedback and are going to give it due consideration. It’s essential to show that you’re not going to ‘shoot the messenger’ and may even invite that messenger to come and tell you more about their criticism.

Act when you can

Seeing feedback acknowledged and then acted upon encourages employee engagement. If you know that your view can make a difference, you’re more likely to share it. If a colleague points out how an inefficient process could be modified in order to improve it, modify it. If someone suggests that everyone gets to take an extra day off on their birthday and the cost to the business is negligible, then give everyone an extra day to celebrate.

Explain when you can’t take action

It’s not always possible to approve every suggestion made for a myriad of reasons. Rather than burying the feedback and hoping people will forget about it, explain why it can’t be acted upon and remain open to the situation changing in the future.

An environment in which feedback is genuinely welcomed and responded to is more likely to be one in which employees are engaged and motivated.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: do you value and encourage feedback from your colleagues (or even your friends and family)? If not, what will you do to change the situation?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’re ready to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?



















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How well are you managing expectations?

Recently, a client of mine – let’s call her Sarah – was telling me about some issues she was having with her team. I asked her if she could distil the issues down into one sentence.

After a longish pause, she replied: ‘They’re not performing the way I expect them to.’

‘How do you expect them to perform?’

‘I’m not sure what you mean. Like professional marketers, I guess.’

‘And how do professional marketers perform?’

‘Well, you know …’ and then she laughed. ‘Okay, I get it. I can’t even put into words how I think they should perform. Actually, it reminds me of something the ad man, Roy Williams said – my old boss used to have it on the wall – “The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” It’s no wonder my team aren’t living up to my expectations when I can’t articulate them myself and clearly haven’t conveyed them to the team.’

We grabbed a set of sticky notes and on each one, Sarah wrote down one expectation. Once she was done, we reviewed them and discovered that they fell into one of four categories:

Our culture

What does it mean to work here? What are the organisation’s norms for everyday things like time-keeping, dress, when to take lunch, use of own phones/social media? Whether you’re a new starter who has no idea what the world of work is like or a transfer from another office with preconceptions of behaviour, you need to know how we work together here.

Our work

This is about more than a job description. What do we actually do on a day-to-day basis? Where do our responsibilities start and end? How do we measure the quality of our work? Who is accountable for what? When might it be necessary to work outside of the role’s usual parameters?

Our reporting

How do we communicate with each other? Does it depend on what we’re communicating? When is it appropriate to use instant messaging and when do we need to commit to email? Shall we just pick up the phone? Is the communication chain clear – who tells what to whom and when? If it’s a formal report, what’s the preferred format?

Our time

What does ‘by Monday’ mean? First thing on Monday, any time during normal office hours, by the end of Monday? Are there response times a team is expected to meet? Within Sarah’s team, she would like to discuss and agree a deadline based on priorities, encouraging her team to be realistic and for them to challenge her if they feel she’s not being realistic.

Having done this exercise, Sarah decided to dedicate her next team meeting to discussing the points she’d come up with, inviting her colleagues to suggest others. She also decided that her final question would be to ask her team what they expect of her as their manager. I’m looking forward to hearing how that meeting went next time I see her.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: are you clear on what’s expected of you and what you expect of others? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’re ready to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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