Why should we sweat the small stuff?

As you may have noticed, I like a motivational quote: in fact, I collect them. One very popular saying is Don’t sweat the small stuff. There are even books about how we can use this saying to help us live a simpler and more enjoyable life.

I mentioned recently that I’d been reading Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth and how it has challenged my thinking. Chapter four of this excellent book is entitled Sweat the Small Stuff: Hadfield tells us that ‘an astronaut who doesn’t sweat the small stuff is a dead astronaut’ and recounts how paying attention to the tiniest of details has made a huge difference to his life and career. He talks of how rehearsing procedures time and time again helps him and the team surrounding him to pinpoint areas of concern, address errors and create procedures to help others in similar situations.

As a coach, sometimes I help my clients to sweat the small stuff. With Helen, we worked on every aspect of her forthcoming conference speech to help dispel her anxiety. We visited the venue so she could familiarise herself with the back stage area, the equipment and she even stood on the stage so that she knew what she’d be looking out at when she gave her speech.

With Mark, we went back over every detail of a situation at work that had gone wrong, picking apart the evidence so that he could formulate a plan that meant such an issue would be far less likely to occur again.

With Lisa, a new manager, we put ourselves in the shoes of a new recruit so that we could imagine everything we’d want to know in our first days, weeks and months in the workplace so that she could create an induction plan to ease the integration of her new hires into the business.

As Chris Hadfield says, ‘When we got back to Earth, a lot of people asked whether everything had gone the way we’d planned. The truth is that nothing went as we’d planned, but everything was within the scope of what we’d prepared for.’

“When we got back to Earth, a lot of people asked whether everything had gone the way we’d planned. The truth is that nothing went as we’d planned, but everything was within the scope of what we’d prepared for.” Chris Hadfield astronaut sweat the small stuff

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: is there a situation at work (or at home) which would benefit from you taking some time to sweat the small stuff? 


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 to get over ‘last time’

Have you ever been in a situation where you have to repeat an action which went badly the last time you did it? I hear people say things like

‘The last time I contributed to a team project, my ideas were overlooked.’

‘The last time I said how I really feel in my appraisal, my boss didn’t listen.’

”The last time I went to an interview, I was so nervous I went completely blank.’

The last time I had to discipline a team member, she burst into tears.’

All those ‘last times’ can shatter our confidence. We all know the adage ‘if you fall off a horse, get straight back on’ but it’s not always that simple. Our concerns about ‘last time’ can make it very hard for us to get to ‘next tim.

If you’re a manager with a team member who’s hung up on ‘last time’, how can you help them? These situations happen outside the workplace too: how can you help a friend or family member who’s consumed with anxiety about ‘next time’?

Here are some ideas taken from a recent session with my client, James, who has had to handle the impact of ‘last time’ with one of his team members.

Establish what actually happened

Was it really a disaster? If so, then that needs to be acknowledged: brushing it under the carpet won’t help anyone. If the evidence and the feedback suggests they might be over-reacting, you can use that to help them see the event for what it actually was.

Get forensic

Go through the ‘last time’ step by step, looking for clues as to what when wrong when. Sometimes, there is just one factor which set off a chain of events. Are there any patterns to identify? In James’ case, his team member noticed that she finds setting up the technology for her presentations really stressful and then she’s on edge before she even begins.

What’s changed?

Whilst we may have to do the same thing again and again – make a presentation, discipline a team member, write a board report – those situations are never identical. The people change, the venues change, the subject matter changes, we ourselves change: ‘next time’ is not going to be the same as ‘last time’ so we can influence the outcome.

Make a plan

Having identified what actually happened, any contributory factors and what’s changed, the final stage is to make a plan.

James helped his team member to identify simple ways in which she could handle her fear of setting up her presentation and create a back-up plan in case technology let her down. This came in very handy when she went to her next presentation and the power failed halfway through!

past future influence adapt

Whilst we cannot change the past, we can influence the future.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: is ‘last time’ getting in the way of ‘next time’?



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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Surviving or thriving?

Whilst discussing the definition of success with a client recently, she said to me ‘I’m surviving but I’m not really thriving.’

As part of Claire’s session, we did some research into ‘thriving’. In her book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier LifeArianna Huffington says

‘To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.’

Much as I respect Arianna Huffington, I was pleased to find some scientific research to back this up.

Last month, Daniel J. Brown, Rachel Arnold, David Fletcher, and Martyn Standage published a paper on Human Thriving. It lists many definitions of thriving – the one which struck me was this one:

‘The state of positive functioning at its fullest range – mentally, physically, and socially’

If Claire wants to function at our fullest range, how can she do so?

Dr Brown and his colleagues identified that those who thrive demonstrate some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Positive perspective
  • Spirituality
  • Proactive personality
  • Motivation
  • Commitment to knowledge and learning
  • Psychological resilience (flexibility, adaptability)
  • Social competencies

They also identified environmental factors which create conditions conducive to thriving. They include:

  • A positively challenging, stable environment which provides opportunity for growth
  • Strong interpersonal relationships based on trust, both at work and outside
  • Family support
  • Colleague/employer support where the individual is given autonomy and recognition

Claire and I worked through the first list so that she could assess herself against each of the characteristics. We recognised that the environmental factors were not entirely within Claire’s control but that she had the opportunity to influence them: eg, she cannot ensure that the organisation for which she works is a stable environment but as a manager, she can work to provide a calm space for her team.

maya angelou thrive compassion passion humour and style

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

Our final task was for Claire to develop her own plan to thrive, taking into account Arianna Huffington’s four pillars and Maya Angelou’s thoughts on incorporating passion, compassion, humour and style.

Today’s pebble for you to consider: are you thriving? How would you score yourself against Dr Brown’s characteristics and environmental factors? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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How do you define success?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘success’ thus:

  1. The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
  2. The attainment of fame, wealth, or social status.
  3. A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth, etc.

The media certainly suggests to us that fame, wealth and social status are measures of success. Sometimes, that belief becomes so ingrained in us that we assess our own success in comparison to others: checking out the cars in the car park when you arrive for a school reunion; scrolling through your Instagram feed each morning to see other people’s wonderful homes/holidays/weddings; inwardly groaning when we see yet another LinkedIn ‘congratulate so-and-so on the amazing new job you’d have been perfect for’ notification.

Whilst we may think it should be otherwise, we can all think of examples where success doesn’t always equal happiness.

Google ‘how to be a success’ and at time of writing this, there are over 538 million results. That doesn’t mean that there are 538 million definitions of success but it does mean that there are a heck of a lot.

As a coach, it seems to me that there is only one definition of success which truly matters: our own.

Some clients define success in terms of their work achievements; some in terms of their personal growth, be that in a academic sense or in something less tangible; for some, it’s about progression; for others, it’s about life outside work. Some clients measure their success in terms of their contribution, whether that’s in a business sense or a wider forum. For some clients, a successful life is when they are living in accordance with their values: if you are unsure what your values are, check out ‘Our values make us different‘.

Maya Angelou sums it up rather nicely for me:

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: do you have your own definition of success? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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What’s the story you’re telling yourself?

It’s been a week of story-telling. In two client coaching sessions and during one conversation with a friend, I have found myself asking them to describe to me the story they are telling themselves.

One of them was telling himself that he was a rubbish dad.

One of them was telling herself that she would never progress at work because her boss had brought someone new into the team who he used to work with elsewhere and clearly preferred to anyone else.

One of them was telling himself that since he’d been promoted, he’d added no value whatsoever to his team.

In her book Rising Strong, Brené Brown talks about this story-telling. She says:

‘Storytelling helps us all impose order on chaos—including emotional chaos. When we’re in pain, we create a narrative to help us make sense of it. This story doesn’t have to be based on any real information.’

When we feel defensive or vulnerable or disappointed, it’s easy to create a story which deflects us from the real issue but it leaves us stuck. Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability showed her that those people who demonstrate resilience and can overcome setbacks have developed the ability to challenge the stories they tell themselves.

How can we challenge our stories?

So how can I help my clients to unpick their usual narrative and move on? Rising Strong has given me a process I can use with clients:

Acknowledge feelings

Emily’s story was that her boss was favouring his new recruit over her and so she’d never be able to make progress at work. I asked her to tell me about what she was experiencing in that moment.

‘We were in a meeting, I’d almost finished my presentation and was pretty chuffed with how it was going. I looked up to see my boss lean over and say something quietly to the new guy and they both then laughed. Typical – it’s like an ‘Old Boys Club’ with those two. It’s really sickening. I lost my place, stumbled over my words, felt myself get really hot, knew I was blushing, and then my heart started to race.

‘Every time I think about that meeting now, I remember how stupid I felt and I get angry. I only have to look at my boss and I can feel myself heating up and getting irritated.’

Get curious

Having acknowledged Emily’s feelings, it was time for her to examine them further.

How come this incident upset her so much? Would she have reacted in the same way if it had been any other colleagues? What was fuelling the constant replaying of this event? What impact were these feelings having on her work and her relationships?

This stage of the process can be uncomfortable as we move from the top level emotions – ‘I’m angry because they were obviously laughing at me and it’s so rude’ – to some deeper-seated feelings – ‘I feel insecure about my place in the team and the business: I’m not really sure where I’m going with this role but I can’t afford to lose my job’.

Put it in writing

One of the powerful aspects of a coaching session is to get your thoughts out of your head and speak them aloud. Sometimes the next stage is to write those words down and see them in black and white and that’s what we do here. Your story needs to come straight from the heart – editing it to make it sound better isn’t going to help here.

Emily wrote:

‘The story I’m telling myself is that my boss hates me. He’s brought in John from his old company because he doesn’t value any of us. I feel sidelined, overlooked, mocked and humiliated. It makes me so cross!’

Get ready to rumble

This is Brown’s way of telling us it’s time to dig a little deeper and she offers the following questions: beneath each are Emily’s answers

What are the facts, and what are my assumptions?

‘In terms of the meeting, I’m assuming it was something that I said that my boss and John were laughing about but I actually have no idea. Maybe it reminded them of something that had happened at their previous company, maybe it was something else entirely: I just don’t know.

‘It’s a fact that my boss brought John in because he clearly thinks he can contribute to the team. I’m assuming that therefore my boss thinks the rest of us are rubbish.’

What do I need to know about the others involved?

‘Perhaps John does have something to add that I’m not taking advantage of. Maybe our team is a bit too tight-knit and we haven’t made him feel welcome so my boss is having to go the extra mile to make him feel included. Maybe my boss is trying to make our team even better by bringing in someone with a different skillset.’

What am I really feeling? What part did I play?

‘For a while now, I’ve been feeling that I’ve stagnated at work. I’m scared to say I’m bored or that I need a new challenge as that might put my name at the head of a redundancy list if that ever happens. If I really want to make progress, I need to sit down and have an open conversation with my boss about next steps.’

Wherever you are, if you notice that you are experiencing negative emotions, asking yourself ‘what’s the story I’m telling myself?’ can help you unpick the issue. Sometimes, it can even be helpful to use the phrase in conversation to let people know how you feel without assigning blame to them.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts is this: what’s the story you’re telling yourself? Is it based on facts or assumptions?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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When you’ve made the big changes, what’s next?

During the course of a coaching programme, many of my clients will make some pretty big changes to their work or to their lives. These big changes have dramatic results.

What happens after that? Is that it – job done? No, not usually. Whether it’s to ensure that they maintain the change they have achieved or to continue to make progress, my clients often move on to making small changes.

Recently, I asked some of them if they could give me one example of a small change they were making so that I could share them with you. Where relevant, I’ve included hyperlinks.

  • I use the 900 second technique to help me do the things I sometimes put off.
  • Making sure I leave the office for at least 15 minutes every single day: it’s good for my eyes to look at something other than my screen, it’s good for my body to get some fresh air, it’s good for my mind to get a fresh perspective.
  • After you told me about Matilda Kahl, I decided that devising my own work uniform could work for me too. I’ve been doing it for 8 months now and it saves me so much time.
  • I’m at events all the time and I use CamCard to capture data from the business cards I collect rather than entering it manually.
  • Rather than running downstairs to buy unhealthy and expensive snacks in the canteen, my team are all chipping in to a kitty and each week one of us provides healthy treats.
  • I’ve negotiated an earlier start time so that I can pick up my little boy from nursery. It’s made it easier for my wife to return to her job now her maternity leave is over.
  • I’ve invested in a daylight lamp which makes such a difference to my wellbeing during the darker months.
  • Every day, I take 10 minutes before I leave the office to tidy my desk and to list my priorities for the following day.
  • We used to waste so much time looking for phones, keys, chargers etc at home: now we have a divided tray on the table in the hallway with a section for us of us to leave our stuff as we get in from work/school.
  • I realised I’m never going to give up on my coffee but I do make sure I drink a big glass of water every time I drink a coffee!
  • I’m using ‘saying yes/saying no‘ to help me establish my priorities and make better decisions.
  • My work phone is switched on half an hour before my work day starts and is switched off half an hour after I get home.
  • Buying a laptop stand has meant that I can work comfortably standing or sitting which has helped me overcome issues with my back.
  • I have a weekly check in with a colleague so we can keep each other mutually accountable for our goals.
  • Planning my diary with margins around my meetings means that I arrive on time and in the right frame of mind.

As you can see, none of these is a huge change. They are all tweaks, or a trimming of the sails, which help my clients little by little to make the progress they want to see at work or at home.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: is there a small change you can make which will have a big impact?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’re ready to make changes – big or small – to your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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Would you aim to be a zero?

Have you ever read something that is so counter-intuitive that you have to go back and read it again?

That happened to me recently whilst reading Chris Hadfield‘s book ‘An astronaut’s guide to life on Earth‘.

Chapter nine is entitled ‘Aim to be a zero‘.

Zero is not usually a number we equate with success. Why would we aim to be zero? Chris Hadfield explains his thinking thus:

Over the years, I’ve realised that in any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value.’

Okay, it’s becoming clearer to me now. However, surely we all want to be a plus one, don’t we?

‘Everyone wants to a plus one, of course. But proclaiming your plus-oneness at the outset almost guarantees you’ll be perceived as minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table or how you actually perform.’

What’s Hadfield talking about here? Perhaps you’ve had a new manager join your team and she rushes straight into making sweeping changes to demonstrate the fresh thinking she’s bringing in to the organisation – this could go one of two ways. Maybe she’s amazingly perceptive, can assess the situation at a glance and her changes are welcomed. Alternatively, in a bid to showcase the value she’s bringing, she hasn’t taken the time to observe and evaluate the team and the changes she makes have a detrimental impact: she’s just become a minus one.

Hadfield points out that this desire to be a plus one isn’t always based on arrogance: it can also be based on an eagerness to please. Either way, in an attempt to be a plus one, it’s easy to become a minus one.

From the examples Chris Hadfield describes, it seems that the best way to become a plus one is to aim to be a zero: that is, to be competent, engaged with your work, and to be humble enough not to consider yourself better than others.

How do we aim to be a zero?

We could start by asking ourselves questions like these:

  • How can I integrate myself into this team/organisation/relationship without being disruptive?
  • Do I have enough information to assess the situation?
  • How can I help?
  • How can I free up other people’s time to allow them to best exercise their skills?
  • What can I learn?

Aiming for zero is easier if we feel confident in our own abilities and that we are being true to ourselves and our values.

Lest you think that Chris Hadfield is too good to be true, he points out that he does have to work at being a zero:

‘Still, I’m human. I like recognition and I like feeling that others consider me a plus one. Which is why, as we approached the ISS on December 21, 2012, I consciously reminded myself to aim to be a zero once we got inside. Back home, it was a big deal that I was going to be the first Canadian commander of the ISS. Up here, there already was someone in charge: Kevin Ford, who would continue as commander until he left 10 weeks later and handed over to me.’

In summary, whilst it may seem counter-intuitive to aim for the middle ground, it seems like it may actually be the path to adding real value wherever we find ourselves.

Today’s pebble to ponder: how do you feel about aiming to be a zero? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

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

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