Dealing with demotivation (part 3)

Over the last couple of posts, we’ve deal with the demotivators of inadequate goal-setting and external stimulus and the impact of other people and of lack of autonomy. Today’s despicable duo is not knowing and fear.

The demotivating effect of not knowing 

When you’re just not sure what you want or what to do, it can have a paralysing effect. Your lack of certainty demotivates you to such an extent that it leads to a lack of action. You’re not alone: I’ve discussed this with many coaching clients and have experienced it myself too. Here’s a three-point plan we’ve developed together to spur you into action.

Step one: take your eyes off the horizon

Scanning your mental horizon hoping that you’ll see something that you want to head for isn’t going to help: it feels too far away and so you never actually set off.

Step two: look at what’s right in front of you

Now you’ve stopped gazing into the distance, what are the pathways directly in front of you? Which seems like a dead end? Which of those seems like it may lead to something else?  What’s the next step that can move your thinking or your activity forward, even just a little bit? As Victoria Labalme says – ‘Trust the idea that leads to the idea‘.

Step three: take that step

You may not be entirely certain what will happen if you take that next step – will they reply to your email? Will your application be rejected? Will she call back? Take the step anyway. Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to turn the steering wheel of your car when the car is in motion than it is to do so when the car is parked? This is a similar principle: as you move forward with one step, even though you are unsure of the outcome, it will be easier for you to keep on moving.

The demotivating effect of fear

Fear’s tactic to demotivate us also involves causing us to be inactive, even when our rational minds tell us to move forward. If you’re scared of heights, the knowledge that you are securely harnessed and will not plunge to the ground doesn’t make it any easier to step off a high platform and swing towards a cargo net.

So what do you do if fear is demotivating you from something you know you need to do? A client of mine – let’s call her Sally – was terrified of networking events but her work required her to attend them. Sally’s fear became so overwhelming that one morning she couldn’t even get out of her car. She sat in the car park for the entire event, watching the other participants go in and out of the building. In a session, we worked on a plan to tackle her demotivating fear.

Step one: what are your specific fears?

Rather than just say ‘I’m scared of networking events’, we broke this down into individual elements. The list included:

  • I’m worried about walking in on my own.
  • I’m scared I won’t know anyone there.
  • I’m worried that when I speak to people, they won’t want to talk to me.
  • I’m scared that I have nothing to say.
  • I’m scared that I’ll make an idiot of myself by spilling coffee down my shirt or look like Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich.
  • I’m worried that everyone else there will have a great time and I’ll look like a Billy-No-Mates.

Step two: what can you do to mitigate those fears?

Some of our fears can be a reality and some are imaginary: it’s possible that you won’t know anyone else at a networking event. You could spill coffee down your shirt. It’s unlikely that the other person will simply turn and walk away when you pluck up the courage to go up and introduce yourself.

By acknowledging the likelihood of our fears coming true, it’s easier to see them for what they are – a possibility or a wild imagining of a creative mind. Sally found that her less realistic fears tended to dissipate when she let them out of her mind into the open. For her fears which were possible, she came up with ways to lessen them: she invited a colleague from another business to come with her to the event. That meant they could walk in together, they could talk to each other in the unlikely event that no-one else talked to them, they could introduce each other to anyone one of them did happen to know and  they could encourage each other to chat with new people.

On a practical level, Sally decided that until she felt more confident at such events, she’d stick to sparkling water and choose not to eat. Acknowledging that one way to get people talking was to ask them questions, she prepared a few open questions which she could use to keep the conversation moving. Sally also realised that it was possible that other people there may not love networking either and decided she’d look out for anyone who looked a bit uncomfortable and go and talk to them.

Today’s pebbles for your consideration:

  • Are you demotivated by not knowing? Will you work through the three steps in order to break that demotivation and get moving again?
  • Is fear demotivating you? Will you tackle it by finding out what specifically you’re scared of and taking action to mitigate those fears? 

If I haven’t covered your demotivators over the past couple of weeks, don’t worry: there are two more on next week’s post.


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like some help to find your motivation again,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Dealing with demotivation (part 2)

Having talked about the demotivating impact of other people and of lack of autonomy on the blog last time, today’s dastardly duo of demotivators is inadequate goal-setting and lack of external stimulus.

The demotivating impact of inadequate goal-setting

‘My appraisal has left me so demotivated,’ sighed Andrew. ‘My previous manager used to ask us to set our own goals and objectives but the new one has done it for us, based on the objectives she’s been set. It was all done before we got into the meeting, she didn’t really want to discuss it and now I’m looking at the next six months wondering how the heck I’m going to do this.’

I shared with Andrew my belief that whilst I don’t really care whether goals are set using PRISM, PURE, CLEAR or any other methodology, they should never be STUPID. He particularly identified with the S (someone else’s), the P (pointless – he hadn’t been given the rationale for the goals) and the D (disconnected). He decided to go back to his boss, get clarity on what her objectives were and suggest that he crafted his own goals to support those which he would then discuss with her. That was three months ago and the last time I spoke to him, he was motivated and making great progress.


The demotivating impact of lack of external stimulus

This demotivator is particularly relevant to, but not limited to, those who work at home, whether paid or unpaid.

As an introvert, I am very happy to work at home, connecting with many of my coaching clients via video calling. Having said that, I love my ‘face-to-face’ days, out there in the big wide world with clients in the hustle and bustle of every day life. I have learnt that in order to stay motivated and engaged with my work, sometimes I need to give myself permission to do something different.

I ensure that I plan in time with colleagues who’ve become friends where we can bounce ideas off each other and offer support; I make sure to spend time with my friends who have nothing to do with my coaching; I take time out to explore and get inspiration from the outside world, whether that’s virtually or in real life.

Like me, you may have noticed that your motivation wanes sometimes and you just want to down tools and do something else entirely. I recognise that this isn’t always easy if you’re at home with small children, have caring responsibilities or are unwell yourself. I also understand that this isn’t limited to those at home: it’s possible to feel this way in a busy office or on a noisy factory floor or on the wards of a hospital.

Two pebbles for your consideration – choose which one is most relevant to you right now:

  1. Are your goals demotivating you? Will you take another look at them using the STUPID framework and see whether you can tweak them to work better for you?
  2. If you’re lacking external stimulus, what one step can you take to address this? If you can’t get out, can someone come to you – either in the flesh or via technology?

Which demotivators will we work to defuse next? Come back next week to see.

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like some help to find your motivation again,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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What’s making you feel demotivated?

It’s August. Here in the UK, it’s the main holiday season. The rush hour roads are quieter, the beaches are busier. Tumbleweed is rolling through the aisles of some offices whilst theme parks are packed. There seems to be one topic coming up again and again in recent conversations with clients and colleagues: demotivation.

I asked them to describe what they felt was demotivating them and, with their comments in mind, today’s post  is the first in a short series on demotivation, its numerous causes and what we can do to tackle it. Today’s demotivating duo is lack of autonomy and other people.

The demotivating impact of a lack of autonomy

When we feel like our work (or even maybe some aspects of our life) are imposed upon us, we feel hemmed in. Struggling to break free doesn’t always work and may make things worse. A client of mine felt like her boss was overbearing, micro-managing and didn’t trust her. She saw that when she’d rebelled against that, she just made matters worse. Together we looked at areas over which she had either control, influence or no control at all and devised a plan for her to address the issue with her manager. They were able to have an open and straightforward conversation during which they agreed areas over which she has autonomy and those which require more oversight.

The demotivating impact of other people

Ever known a mood hoover? I think we’ve all met people who seem to suck all the fresh air out of the room and replace it with a cloud of despondency. Before you know it, everyone’s feeling dejected and demoralised. How can we deal with the mood hoovers?

Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

If you’re the team manager, set a positive example for your team. Also, it’s your responsibility to take the mood hoover to one side to find out what their issues are, what can be done and to discuss the impact this is having on the team. Help them to take responsibility for the effect their demeanour has on colleagues.

If you’re a colleague, don’t allow yourself to get sucked in by the mood hoover. You may not feel confident enough to challenge their behaviour but you can choose not to respond to the negative comments, to offer a more positive assessment or simply to distance yourself from the situation. I’m not sure I agree with the assertion that we are the average of the five people we hang out with, but if you do agree with it, you should probably take a look at those five people.

Two pebbles for you to ponder to choose from today:

  1. Are you demotivated by lack of autonomy? Will you take steps to gain back some control? 
  2. Are other people demotivating you? How will you prevent them dragging you down? 

Come back next week to tackle more demotivators.


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready for transformation,
why not email me to see how we can work together?

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How writing about positive experiences can help us feel less anxious

A client sent me an email last week with an intriguing subject line: ‘We were right!’ – who could resist opening that message immediately? Caroline (not her real name) had sent me a link to an article entitled ‘To reduce stress and anxiety, write your happy thoughts down‘.

The piece is about a study of 71 people split into two groups: one group spent 20 minutes a day on 3 consecutive days writing about the best experiences in their life; the other group spent the same time writing about more neutral topics. The participants were asked about levels of stress and anxiety immediately before and after completing the work: the group writing about their happiest experiences reported a significant decrease in those levels. Four weeks later, they were still feeling markedly less anxious and stressed than prior to participating in the task.

The reason Caroline had sent this to me was that she had been engaging in something slightly similar since a coaching session we had a couple of months ago. Having noticed that she was becoming increasingly more stressed at work, she’d come to the session with the goal of finding ways of dealing with that stress. After spending some time unpicking the issue, she identified that the stress was relating to her perceived lack of control at work.

I asked Caroline to tell me about a time when she’d felt in control at work – she animatedly described a project she’d worked on which had been pretty tough but ultimately successful. After she’d finished, she said,

‘I’d forgotten how difficult that project was. I wasn’t leading it so actually I didn’t really have control over it but I didn’t let that get in the way. I just got on with it. It’s so good to remember that. How can I get that feeling back? I really need to keep that memory in the forefront of my mind.’

‘How could you do that?’ I asked.

‘I’m going to write it down. I have 17 minutes on the train each morning. I’m going to spend that time every morning this week scribbling down a few notes about times when I’ve felt in control and like I was making progress and succeeding at work. I’m going to remind myself how it feels and then take that feeling into the office with me.’

we write to taste life twice The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5

Anaïs Nin wrote ‘We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection.’ By taking 17 minutes every day for five days to write, Caroline was reliving that positive experience where she’d felt in control and fulfilled in her work. She reported back that she’d been able to draw on those memories at tricky points in the day to help her combat anxiety and discouragement. She also noted that her colleagues had noticed she was more upbeat than she had been. It’s seven weeks since her week of writing and she’s still feeling the benefit.

Another interesting point Caroline made is that she’s been using a similar technique with her son who was rather anxious about starting at a new school. They spent some time together where he drew a picture of a time when he’d done something new and enjoyed it, even though he’d been a bit scared about it beforehand. Caroline stuck his picture on the fridge so that he could be reminded of that achievement on a daily basis.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: will you take some time to see how writing about positive experiences could help you feel more positive?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready for transformation,
why not email me to see how we can work together?


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Want to succeed? Help others to succeed

We read that empathy in the workplace (or indeed anywhere) is important. How about compassion? What’s the difference? A client and I were discussing this recently and so we looked up the definitions.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines empathy as follows:

the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.

It defines compassion thus:

a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them.

We particularly noticed those last five words: a wish to help them. They changed compassion from being an emotion into being an emotion accompanied by an action.

In his book, The Compassionate Achiever: How Helping Others Fuels Success, Dr Christopher Kukk suggest that compassion should be present in the workplace: as we take a compassionate approach to our colleagues and our customers, we create an environment which is productive, creative, engaging and collaborative. In helping others succeed, we succeed and our communities – that could be our workplaces, our organisations or our homes – succeed.

How can we be more compassionate?

Dr Kukk suggests that that compassion can be learnt and provides what he calls an algorithm for compassion: LUCA.

Listen to learn

This is a level of listening where we’re fully focussed and committed to the conversation. We use not just what we hear but what we see and feel to inform our listening. We’re also looking for the gaps in the conversation. It’s not about replying.

Understand to know

You’ve heard what they say: what do they mean? Dr Kukk encourages us to take the facts we acquire and bring them together into a ‘mosaic of understanding’. What do we know about the context of this issue? What is the other person’s mindset? What are their values? What’s their emotional involvement in the situation?

As we build up that picture, we see connections and concepts which help us establish what resources and capabilities we need in order to be able to make a difference.

Connect to capabilities

When we can see what’s needed in order to have a positive impact on a situation, we need to find those resources or capabilities.

Sometimes, we aren’t the right people to help. For example, I may come across a situation with a client that is outside my capabilities and skills: having recognised that, I can then help the person to connect to the appropriately-equipped person or organisation.

We may need to look outside our immediate circle to our wider network for that help. Having spent time on the ‘understand to know’ stage will hopefully help us to look beyond the obvious potential solutions.

Act to solve

This may mean us rolling up our sleeves and getting actively involved in the situation. It may mean us helping the other person to step up and take action themselves. It may even mean taking no action at all: perhaps the best solution is a period of rest and reflection.

Kukk writes:

‘One compassionate achiever is all it takes to start spreading the ripples of success through a community.  It begins with you and how you interact with people on a daily basis.  All of your personal interactions are like small stones of compassion dropped into a pond, creating ripples that reach far beyond you.

Approach each day with a compassionate mindset and take actions to reinforce your commitment.’

All of your personal interactions are like small stones of compassion dropped into a pond, creating ripples that reach far beyond you.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: how will you bring a compassionate mindset to the situations you’re in this week?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

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






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If you want to be truly present, sometimes you need to choose to be absent

After my last post about how we need to pay attention to gaps, one of my subscribers emailed me to ask me about another kind of gap – a gap he observes in his own attention, whether that’s at work or with his family and friends.

I’m ambitious and I want to succeed. Sometimes I just feel like I’m so focussed on future opportunities that I’m never fully engaged in what I’m doing right now,‘ he wrote.

This reminded me of some words from Kevin DeYoung’s book, Crazy Busy: 

The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance – and choose wisely.’

I sent those words and a link to Are you missing out? to my subscriber and we chatted for a while on email about how he can choose not to be absent from some opportunities in order to be present for others.

Today’s pebble for you to think about: will you choose to be absent in order to be present?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

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

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How can we better understand one another?

As I mentioned last time, we live in a complex and hectic world. I’ve had Elvis Costello’s song ‘Peace, love and understanding’ on the brain for a while now and have been thinking about potential reasons for misunderstanding each other.

A lovely friend gave me a Poet and Painter card for my birthday recently, entitled ‘Understanding‘.

The card shows a picture of a barcode and underneath it says

Even with a barcode, it’s not just the lines, but the spaces in between.’

It’s true, isn’t it? A barcode needs the gaps as much as it needs the printed lines of different widths.

In the same way, a conversation is only a conversation if it has gaps in it. By definition, a conversation is ‘informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words’. A conversation with no gaps would be a cacophony of people talking over one another.

The topic of how to be a better listener crops up from time with time with my coaching clients – in fact, it did so last week and so I showed Mike (not his real name) the card.

‘The gaps are the hard part,’ said Mike, who is in middle management at his organisation. ‘Whether I’m talking to my boss, my colleagues or my team, I sometimes feel the need to fill the gaps. If I’ve given tough feedback to a team member and they don’t respond, I feel like I have to keep justifying the feedback. If I don’t jump into a gap left by some of my more vocal colleagues, I’ll never get a word in edgeways. If I’m pitching an idea with my boss and there’s a big gap in our conversation, I feel like I need to do some more explaining. Also, sometimes I don’t leave a gap when I should – if a team member brings a problem to my attention, sometimes I just rush and offer a solution, rather than asking some helpful questions and leaving a gap for them to explore the options.’

Mike and I spent his session discussing how he could become a better listener by being more comfortable with the gaps and using them differently. Here are four key points from our conversation which might be useful to you:

Look for the gaps in what the other speaker has said

What hasn’t she mentioned? If a team member comes to you to report on a group project and mentions the contributions of three of the group but not a word on two of them, what’s happening there? In his regular review meeting, your direct report talks about what’s happening in the office but doesn’t mention the five-day training course for which you sponsored him last month, did it not live up to expectations or has he just forgotten?

What we don’t say can be just important as what we do say.

Leave a gap before responding 

Rather than spend your listening time jumping to conclusions or making assumptions, hear the other person out. Use your attention to concentrate on their ways, then pause and respond. If necessary, ask further questions to clarify. If appropriate, summarise back to them what you believe they’ve said so that you can check your understanding.

Don’t rush to fill a gap

Mike mentioned that sometimes when he was nervous, whether that was when on a long journey with a new colleague, or in a discussion with his manager, he sometimes felt awkward about gaps in conversation.

In the first instance, Mike decided that he needed to remember that this was a conversation rather than a monologue and that sometimes a companionable silence is absolutely appropriate. There may be all sorts of reasons why the other party isn’t chatting – tiredness, all topics of conversation have been exhausted, or maybe he simply doesn’t feel the need. Mike will work on accepting those gaps.

In the second instance – feeling the need to justify a decision or proposal – Mike is going to work on delivering his words with confidence and assurance and then pausing to let his manager consider them.

If necessary, create a longer gap

There may be times when Mike needs to postpone a response – maybe when giving or receiving feedback, or when a suggestion is made to him. Rather than rushing to reply, Mike will propose re-scheduling the rest of the conversation, giving all parties time to think.

Mike went away from our session with action points to help him be a better listener – and a better conversationalist.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: when you’re in conversation, are you paying attention to the gaps? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

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

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