Building resilience on the foundations of past experience

A client of mine – let’s call her Josie –went through a very stressful situation at work last year. I don’t need to tell you what the situation is: I’m sure that just the words ‘very stressful situation’ will spark off a memory or an idea in your own mind.

Now you’ve got that experience in your mind, do you remember how you felt? Does it send a shiver down your spine or make you feel rather sick? Did the problematic situation spill over into other areas of your life? Were you fixated on it to the detriment of everything else?

Josie is a very ‘switched on’ self-aware individual. When I met up with her recently, she took out her notebook and turned to a page headed ‘What I learnt last year’.

She proceeded to take me through the points on her list, outlining both the negative and positive aspects of the situation. The positive aspects included the following:

I understand now that working in alignment with my values is more important to me than progression at any cost.

I can break down difficult situations into smaller chunks and just deal with them one at a time.

I feel better when I talk through my options and emotions with someone else rather than bottling them up.

I have learnt that I work best in a small team and am happiest when busy.

I have a family who support me, no matter what.

Through a difficult time, I have learnt that I am stronger and braver than I previously thought I was: I will use this knowledge to speak up earlier, should I ever be in a similar situation again.

Josie emphasised that she had found it difficult to notice these positives during the stressful experience – it was only a month or so after it concluded that she was able to reflect on it and record those feelings for future reference.

As Mr Rogers said:

In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.

I would add the words ‘and ourselves’ after ‘for each other’: we have as much to learn from hearing our own thoughts shared aloud as we do from hearing from another.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: is there a past event which you can learn from? As you reflect on it, what insights can help you in the future?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you would like someone to help you learn from the past and plan for the future, why not email me to see how we can work together?



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Want to be more productive? Journal in the margins

‘Being more productive’ is a goal for a lot of my coaching clients. Together, we may work through ‘don’t do lists‘, the Eisenhower matrix or talk about how journalling could help.

Sometimes, we need a different approach.

In a session last year, my client – let’s call him Steve – was talking about the incredibly busy time he was having at work: a period of intense activity which was likely to go on a few more weeks.

‘I work out my priorities for the following week on a Friday evening, schedule my tasks on the calendar, it all goes well for a while on Monday then somehow I just get off track. I couldn’t even really pinpoint what happens.’

Steve then just happened to glance at a book I had brought with me – my well-used and much annotated copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Well-used book on personal effectiveness

‘That’s a lot of post-it notes!’ he laughed.

‘I know – every time I notice something I want to remember, I stick a note in so I can keep track of the information.’

Lightbulb moment! I could see an idea forming in Steve’s mind. He opened up his to do list on his laptop and added a column to the right.

‘Rather than look back on this list at the end of the day and try to remember what actually happened and make a few vague notes, I’m going to start writing notes in the margin on the go: at the end of each task, I’ll jot down my thoughts – how it’s gone, what needs to happen next, whose help do I need etc. I may not even need to journal at the end of the day: we’ll see how it goes.’

Steve’s marginal journalling reminded me of Tony Stubblebine‘s interstitial journalling. In an article on Medium, he writes:

We weren’t built for multi-tasking, so transitions between projects are very tough. We end up getting lost in procrastination. Even when we manage to transition quickly into our next project, our brain is still thinking about the last project. That means our second project suffers from partial attention. The science of multi-tasking says partial attention can mean a 40% or more reduction in cognitive performance. The Interstitial Journaling tactic solves all of these normal problems. It kills procrastination, empties our brain of the last project, and then gives us space to formulate an optimal strategy for our next project.

In a recent session with Steve, he reported that he has found his marginal journaling to be key to getting through busy periods. ‘A lot of the time, I stick to having a to do list first thing and then writing my journal at the end of the day: however, when things start to get more hectic, the marginal journalling is far more effective at helping me stay on track and to ensure I’m tackling particular tasks during the most appropriate part of my day.’

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: will you try marginal/interstitial journalling to see how it can help you be more productive?


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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The power of silence

‘You’ve talked about how your team feels about the change to your role, you’ve talked about your husband’s reaction, you’ve talked about how your closest peers at work have responded. I’m curious – how do you feel?’ I asked.

My client – let’s call her Emily – looked up at me then straight back down at the table. Slumping back in her chair, she continued to look down. Then she looked back up at me, her hands came up to her face and she sat with her head in her hands, her fingers screening her eyes.

It was clear that my question had had a profound impact. Part of me felt I wanted to reach in and offer Emily a hand to help her out of the question. A bigger part of me knew that doing so could ruin the moment, obscuring the very answer she was seeking.

We continued to sit there in silence. It felt like forever but was actually about two minutes. Then Emily sat up straight, looked up and began to talk.

That session was during my training back in 2008 and I have never forgotten the powerful impact of not rushing in to fill an awkward silence.

I have been reading Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations, and principle seven is ‘let the silence do the heavy lifting.’ She lists some signs that silence may be needed:

  • Interrupting by talking over someone else
  • Formulating your own response while someone is talking
  • Responding quickly with little or no thought
  • Attempting to be clever, competent, impressive, charming and so on
  • Jumping in with advice before an issue has been clarified
  • Using a silence or break in the conversation to create a distraction by changing topics
  • Talking in circles, nothing new emerging
  • Monopolizing the airspace

Perhaps these remind you of people you know – or maybe they remind you of yourself.

Susan Scott takes pains to point out that there is such a thing as unhealthy silence – the passive-aggressive silence, the silence of indifference, the silence of refusal to engage. As in my session with Emily, she is talking about the kind of silence that allows us space to reflect and listen to our inner voice. It’s a silence which is respectful and attentive with the intention of allowing the other person to access their deeper thoughts and come to their own conclusion.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: is there a conversation in which you may benefit from letting silence do the heavy lifting? 


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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Unsatisfying conversations? One phrase can help

My client – let’s call him Pete – was telling me about his greatest current frustration.

‘I do a lot of my work on the phone. Too often, I get embroiled in small talk, the conversations seem to ramble on and at the end of it, I’m not really sure what the caller actually wanted.

‘Come to think of it, it happens face to face too sometimes. A colleague will arrive at my desk, chat for a few minutes, maybe ask a question or two and then drift off. I don’t want to seem unfriendly but neither do I want to waste our time.

I want to ask “why are you calling?” or “was there something specific you wanted?” but that sounds a bit rude.’

‘How is it when you’re the one making initial contact?’ I asked.

‘Actually, that’s a good point. Maybe I need to be clearer about the reason I’m getting in touch.’

‘How might you do that?’

‘I guess starting with something as simple as “the reason for my call today is …”. There’s a stage before that too: making sure that I know what the reason for my call is rather than thinking “oh, I haven’t spoken to so-and-so lately, better give him a call”.

‘Face-to-face conversations I can just start with “I’d like to talk through this report with you: is now convenient or shall we put a time in the diary?”

Now it was time to flip the situation so I asked: ‘And how will you handle the conversations when you’re on the receiving end? What can you say that you won’t feel is rude?’

‘When I get an unexpected phone call, I suppose once we’ve done the initial small talk, I can ask “how can I help you today?”. In fact, I can use that with face-to-face encounters too – “great to see you, Mike” – chew the fat a bit then ask “is there anything I can do to help you today?” or equivalent. It’ s not rocket science, is it? I think in the past I’ve just seen these as separate incidents but now we come to talk about it, I can see that I just need to add a bit of structure to my conversations.’

As Pete said, this isn’t rocket science and so at first I hesitated to blog about it: then I realised that if Pete has an issue with this, it’s probably true for other people too.

Henry Kissinger said ‘if you do not know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.‘ If we don’t understand the purpose of our conversations, they may lead nowhere. If we are the ones to initiate a conversation, whether it’s a sales call or an interview or a request for a pay rise, and we don’t have a plan for that conversation, it may reach a dead end.

where are you going roads lead nowhere kissinger

Today’s pebble for your consideration: what version of ‘what’s the purpose of this conversation?’ can you use to improve your communication?


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 inner calm? Start with outer order

A client was telling me about her latest ‘guilty pleasure’ – watching Marie Kondo on Netflix. It just makes me feel calm, she said, seeing all those clothes rolled up and neatly stacked.

So is your home now a haven of minimalist tranquillity?‘ I asked.

‘Not yet, although I did roll up the bath towels when I took them out of the dryer. Baby steps!’ she laughed.

One of Gretchen Rubin’s secrets for adulthood is ‘outer order contributes to inner calm’ – in fact, she’s written a book about it which will be published in March this year, advising us to ‘declutter & organize to make more room for happiness’.


For me, this isn’t just about clearing out your wardrobe – it’s about dealing with your mental clutter too. In coaching sessions, I often notice the impact of messy situations in my clients’ work and home lives. There’s a sense in which we are distracted by things left unfinished or not started because we’re not sure how they will work out. Rather than finish off the manager’s section of your team’s annual review forms, you sidestep them, much as we might squeeze past an increasingly large pile of laundry in the corner of the room.

Whether it’s rearranging your kitchen cupboards or rearranging your team, incomplete tasks continue to bug you and use up your resources until you knuckle down and get them done.

Today’s pebble for you to consider: what one task could you complete this week which would create some outer order and some inner calm?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like someone to help you as you create outer order in your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?


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Want to make progress? Take a step back

Picture this.

You’re out on a walk. Although it’s rained a lot lately, today is a glorious day, the birds are singing and there’s a gentle breeze.  You’ve been striding out, keeping a good pace and all is right with the world.

Then you come to a gate in the field. Cattle have been through the gateway recently and it’s churned up. You can see their hoofprints deep in the muddy puddles ahead of you. If you carry on, you’ll be up to your ankles in the mire. It’ll slow you down, you might end up with wet feet and it’s going to feel like you have half a field stuck to your boots as you proceed. What do you do?

You retreat a few steps and take a running jump. Just clearing the muddy puddle, you land safely on dry ground and carry on, unimpeded.

Photo by Daniel Sturgess on Unsplash If we want to avoid getting stuck in the mud sometimes we need to retreat to jump over it

Photo by Daniel Sturgess | @daniel_sturgess on Unsplash

You can see how this applies in a metaphorical sense too.

At work, your project is going swimmingly well when you come across an obstacle or distraction – say, insisting on running third interviews for candidates your managers are about to offer roles too. If you plough on and get involved, it’ll hold you up and potentially alter your course. If you retreat, you can leapfrog the messy situation and carry on unimpeded.

Getting stuck in the metaphorical mud happens outside work too. I’m sure we can all think of examples with our friends or family where we got dragged into debates that were actually nothing to do with us. We get bogged down and then drag all of that emotional mire with us as we carry on.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder is this: do you need to retreat from a sticky situation which doesn’t require your involvement in order to be able to jump over it and continue to make progress?


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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Twenty minutes + nineteen answers = a successful 2019

Last January, I created a quick but meaningful exercise to help a client plan her year. I shared it here and it got a very positive response so I’m adapting it for 2019.

You’ll spend just 20 minutes finding 19 answers: yes, that’s right – 20:19. See what I did there? 😉

Grab a pen and paper, set a timer for 20 minutes and you’re off:

Question 1: write down three things which went well in 2018

Question 2: write down three things which were challenging in 2018

Question 3: write down the names of three people who made a positive difference to you in 2018

Question 4: write down three areas in which you would like to develop (professionally or personally) in 2019

Question 5: write down three specific goals you’d like to achieve in 2019

Question 6: write down three ways in which you’d like to make a positive difference in 2019

Question 7: in your mind’s eye, fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2019. What one word would you like to use to describe how 2019 has been for you?

The time limit is to help you go with your first instinct – don’t over-think this process. You don’t need to write pages and pages: your answers should be headlines, not long-form articles. Once it’s done, set it aside for a few days. When you’re ready, re-read it and put some action points in your calendar. If you want to be even more productive, share those action points with a friend or colleague who can help keep you accountable.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: will you take 20 minutes to find 19 answers to help you create a great 2019?


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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