Should you quit if it isn’t perfect?

Let’s assume that you worked through my 20:18 exercise and set yourself three goals for the year. Let’s also assume that having done all that reflection, you’ve ‘closed the books‘ and have set to work on achieving those goals.

It’s been going brilliantly. You’ve been to the gym every other day for the past fortnight and walked 10000 steps on the intervening days.

Then last Saturday, you’d had a rough night’s sleep and hit ‘snooze’ when the alarm went off at 0630 in time for you to get to the gym. An hour and a half later, you finally woke up properly and realised you’d missed your class. You idly scroll through the gym timetable on your phone, nothing grabs you attention and you think ‘never mind, I’ll do my 10k steps today and do a class AND then swim tomorrow.’

The day goes on. You decide to get some household stuff done before you go out for your walk. Then it’s lunchtime. Then it rains and you think ‘it’ll brighten up later.’ A friend calls round – you think about suggesting a walk with her now the sun’s shining. She’s brought a bottle of wine with her though so you settle down for just one glass and before you know it, it’s dark.

You wake on Sunday and drive to the gym. There’s a sign on the door saying it’s closed today due to unforeseen circumstances. You could go for a walk in the park but you’re not really wearing the right kit. You go home, make pancakes with the kids, and the day slips by in a happy haze of family time.

As you go to bed that night, your partner asks if you’re heading to the gym tomorrow morning.

‘No, what’s the point? I’ve missed two days now. This is never going to work,’ you sigh.

And you give up.

In his book, Finish: give yourself the gift of done, Jon Acuff writes about this phenomenon, saying:

‘This is the first lie that perfectionism tells you about goals: Quit if it isn’t perfect.’

Working with coaching clients and from discussions with friends, I think that a lot of people fall into this perfectionism trap: if I can’t do it perfectly first time, I won’t do it at all. As soon as we ‘fall off the wagon’ of our new behaviour, we’re so frustrated with ourselves that we deem the whole thing a failure and scrap the idea.

In terms of achieving goals, Acuff says that the single most important day is the ‘day after perfect’: the day when we fall off the wagon. We can give up on our goals or we can see it as a blip rather than a failure, dust ourselves off and get right back on the wagon. Acuff tells us that we have to move forward imperfectly and reject the idea that the day after perfect means we have failed.

When my clients talk about their disappointment in their lapsed goal-achieving behaviour, I often ask them this: what’s stopping you starting again? It leads to some interesting conversations and sometimes to a fresh start.

This is the lie that perfectionism tells you about goals - quit if it isn't perfectPhoto by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: do you quit if it’s not perfect? What’s stopping you starting again?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

Do you want to make progress with your career or your life? Why not email me to see how we can work together?




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What do you do when you need to let go?

Having worked through my 20:18 exercise, one of my newsletter subscribers emailed me:

‘… I’ve found it really useful to look back on last year and draft a plan for this year. The issue is that I keep finding myself drawn back to the difficult stuff that happened last year and re-hashing it. I’ve imagined wittier replies I could have given and better ways to have dealt with situations – I know it’s pointless because I can’t go back in time and change it but I’d like to be able to let it go. I feel like I need some kind of process to do that.’

This immediately reminded me of some work I’d read about rituals some years ago. Scientific research shows that following a specific pattern of behaviour helps us to deal with disappointment and difficult events. Since reading that, I have discussed rituals with various clients – usually with regards to marking a transition: leaving a job, moving house etc.

One client in particular came to mind: let’s call him John. John and I did some work together a couple of years ago, reaching the end of his coaching programme just before Christmas 2016. His final homework assignment was to reflect on the previous six months, what he’d learnt, what had gone well, what had been challenging and what he’d like to do in future.  He contacted me in early 2017 to update me and he mentioned that assignment:

‘I treated it as though it were my company accounts: I listed all the positives on one side of the page – the ‘credits’ – and the negatives on the other – ‘the debits’. I learnt all I can from last year’s accounts which has helped me to set targets for this year. Last year’s figures are all reconciled and I can close my books. There’s no need for me to re-visit last year now.’

That was John’s ritual to mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Other client rituals have included writing down a list of situations they wanted to let go of and burning it; another wrote on a stone and threw it into the sea; another repaints the ‘ideas wall’ in her office when she ends a project so that the next project begins with a clean slate. None of these rituals mean that we never remember what’s gone before but they do allow us to say to ourselves ‘you know what? I’ve dealt with that and I’ve let it go’ and to keep on letting it go.

What the science shows us that rituals can help because they give us an increased sense of being in control of a situation.

I replied to my subscriber, outlining the idea of rituals to mark transitions and suggesting that he found his own ritual. I heard from him yesterday and he’s created a ritual which works for him.

Today’s pebble for you to contemplate: is there something that you need to let go of? Will you try creating a ritual to help you do so?




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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Looking to save some time? What for?

Matt and I were talking recently and he mentioned that he wanted to become more efficient in 2018 and to save time wherever possible.

‘How much time are you hoping to save?’ I asked.

‘Not sure. Just looking to shave off a few minutes here and there. Maybe try to save 10 minutes of every hour,’ he replied.

‘What are you planning on doing with those extra 10 minutes an hour?’ I asked.

‘Not sure – just thought it would be a good idea to have more time. Now you ask though, I suppose having more time is a bit pointless unless I’m going to make use of it. I need to go away and think it through.’

When we save money, we often have a specific item for which we are saving – a holiday, a car, a wedding, a deposit for a house. Knowing the figure we aiming for means we know when we’ve achieved our goal. We know when it’s enough. Saving time is similar – if we know how we would like to spend that time, we know how much time we’d need. If there’s nothing specific for which we’d use that time, do we need to save it at all?

Simon Garfield’s 2016 book ‘Timekeepers: how the world became obsessed with time‘ opens with a story about a holiday in Egypt:

We are … sitting at a restaurant above a beach near Alexandria, and at one end of the beach we can see a local fisherman catching something tasty for dinner: a nice red mullet perhaps.
We are on holiday after a punishing year. After our meal we stroll towards the fisherman. He speaks a little English. He shows us his catch – not much yet, but he’s hopeful. Because we know a little about fishing and opportunity, we suggest he might move to that rock over there, just a little further out, a higher cast than his present position on his old folding stool, and a greater chance of hooking his daily haul of fish much faster.

‘Why would I want to do that?’ he asks.

We say that with greater speed he could spend the same amount of time hooking more fish, so that he could not only have enough for his dinner, but sell the surplus at the market, and with the proceeds he could buy a better rod and a new icebox for his catch.

‘Why would I want to do that?’

So that you can catch even more fish at greater speed, and then sell those fish, and swiftly earn enough to buy a boat, which means deeper seas and still more fish in record time with those big nets they use on trawlers. In fact, he could soon become a successful trawler himself, and people would start calling him Captain.

‘Why would I want that?’ he asks smugly, annoyingly.

We are of the modern world, attuned to ambition and the merits of alacrity, and so we advance our case with growing impatience. If you had a boat, your haul would soon be of such size that you would be a kingpin at the market, be able to set your own prices, buy more boats, hire a workforce and then, fulfilling the ultimate dream, retire before your time, travel the world in luxury, and spend your time sitting in the sun fishing.

‘A bit like I do now?’

if your goal is to save time are you clear on what you are saving it for

Today’s pebble for you to ponder is this: if your goal is to save time, are you clear on what you saving it for? 


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 to help you craft a successful 2018

Yesterday, a client – let’s call her Fiona – contacted me to set up her next session. I asked her if she’d had a good Christmas and how she’d spent New Year’s Eve.

‘Lovely Christmas, thanks. As for New Year, well, we had great plans to spend it reviewing 2017 and planning the coming year for our business as well as for the family. The children were all set for a sleepover with their cousins, I’d printed out a huge document I found online with questions for us to work through, we’d got a simple but delicious meal planned and a bottle of fizz on ice for midnight.

‘And then a sickness bug came along and all those plans went out of the window!’ Fiona laughed. ‘So we’re now back at work, the children are back at school later in the week and that document is gathering dust on the dining table along with the Christmas letters I never got round to sending out.’

‘Are you planning on completing the document?’ I asked.

‘Honestly? No. I just can’t see us having the time – the website said to allow 3 hours to make the exercise worthwhile. I’ve got about 20 minutes! Got any ideas?’

We continued to chat and by the end of our conversation, I did indeed have some ideas. If, like Fiona, you would like a quick but meaningful exercise to help you reflect and look ahead, read on!

Whilst talking I’d doodled ’20’ on my notepad and that had led me to doodle ‘2018’ too. Because I like a visual pun, I came up with 6 questions, each with 3 responses, so that we have 20 minutes to find 18 answers. Grab a pen and paper, set a timer and you’re off:

Question 1: write down three things which went well in 2017

Question 2: write down three things which were challenging in 2017

Question 3: write down the names of three people who made a positive difference to you in 2017

Question 4: write down three areas in which you would like to develop (professionally or personally) in 2018

Question 5: write down three specific goals you’d like to achieve in 2018

Question 6: write down three ways in which you’d like to make a positive difference in 2018

This is a deliberately speedy exercise – go with your first responses, no over-thinking. Your answers are headlines, not in-depth editorial pieces. 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.

I emailed the questions over to Fiona yesterday lunchtime and she got in touch this morning to let me know that she and her husband had both done the 20:18 exercise last night. ‘It felt great just to get some words down on paper. We worked on it separately so we’re planning on finding another 20 minutes at the weekend to read each other’s notes and make some plans.’

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: will you take 20 minutes to find 18 answers to help you craft 2018?


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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Have yourself a merry little Christmas!

Whatever you’re doing and whoever you’re with, may it be a joyful time!


ps I’ll be back on the blog on Friday 5 January 2018.


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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Is empathy important?

That’s the question with which my client – let’s call him Andy – opened a recent session.

‘Is empathy important? I’ve got a guy in my department who is technically brilliant at his job. I also have a vacancy for a team leader. On paper, this guy’s the obvious choice. However, he never seems very empathetic. I guess the fact I’m even asking you the question means that I do think it’s important,’ he explained.

‘How would you describe someone who is empathetic?’ I asked.

‘They listen and make sure that they understand your perspective. They don’t just sympathise with you but they make you feel heard. They can’t always change things to be the way you want them to be but they can acknowledge that you feel like that. They are open about issues that they may have.’

‘And why might all that be important in a work context?’

‘I think it builds trust. You feel more comfortable being open with someone who really listens to you and is willing to share their experiences with you. An empathetic boss is great at holding a team together because they’re aware of the motivations and challenges of the team members. It spreads a culture of empathy within the team and that means that conflict is less likely and more easily nipped in the bud. If we practise empathy with each other, that could help us be more empathetic towards our users and customers and then produce better products which ultimately is good for business.’

Research professor of psychiatry, Mohammadreza Hojat, believes that empathy can be taught. “Empathy is a cognitive attribute, not a personality trait.” In that case, we can strengthen our empathetic ability. Andy and I discussed this and came up with the following ideas for exercising our empathy:

Five ways in which we can strengthen our empathetic ability

Be curious

If someone holds a different opinion to you, don’t just decide that you’re simply never going to get on: find out more. Ask them to explain how they have arrived at that opinion. They may widen your view of a situation. Be prepared to change your mind!

Be attentive 

Listen wholeheartedly. If you don’t have time for an undistracted conversation, say so and arrange a time to talk. If you’d like some ideas on how to be a more effective listener, try out the SIER technique in my post ‘Are you all ears?’.

Be open

Empathy isn’t just about listening – it’s about talking too. Opening up about your own situation can help to build rapport, understanding and trust.

Be prepared to walk in another person’s shoes

We hear of method actors who chose to stay in character whilst making a film, even going to extremes at times. In a work context, you may choose to go and spend a couple of days shadowing another team to discover how you can improve your working relationship with them. In Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Atticus Finch says to his daughter:

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Be aware

The word ’empathy’ literally means being ‘in feeling’ with someone: that requires you to be aware of how you are feeling. Being emotionally aware can sometimes be tricky – if that’s the case for you, an emotional body scan can help. As your understanding of your own emotional state grows, so will your ability to identify the emotions felt by others.

In a commencement address at Northwestern in 2006, Barak Obama said that empathy is a quality of character that can change the world. If that’s true, then empathy can change the team you work in, your friendships, even the conversation you have with your family over the dinner table.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: could you do with strengthening your empathetic ability?


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 want your group to make better decisions? Try a stepladder!

Here is a scenario which has come up in discussions with several of my coaching clients over the years: do you recognise it?

You are in a meeting where it seems that the same people contribute all the time. You value their contribution and you know you will leave the meeting with a decision having been made. However, your experience outside such meetings means that you know that the others have something to offer too. Perhaps your issue is that your group knows each other so well that they have even started to think alike!

How can you make sure that everybody’s opinions can be heard? Can you avoid groupthink?

Is there a way of doing both of these and still reaching a decision?

I think there is: the Stepladder Technique. Imagine you are creating a stepladder, rung by rung, and at the top is your decision.

Rung one:

Present the issue to the team. Stick to the facts – don’t offer your own opinions. Inform the team that they will be given time to consider the issue as individuals before a decision is made as a group.

Rung two:

Invite two people to form an initial team – this could be an opportunity for you to involve any more reticent team members at an early stage of the process. These two people discuss the issue amongst themselves. No decision is made.

Rung three:

Invite a third team member to join the group. The third member presents his/her thoughts before hearing from the original two. All three members then have a group discussion. No decision is made.

Rung four:

One by one, add a new member to the group who presents his/her thoughts first, thus remaining uninfluenced by other opinions in the group. After each addition, allow time for group discussion before moving on. Repeat until all members of the group have aired their views.

Rung five:

Having heard everyone’s ideas, it’s time to take a decision: a decision based on a wide range of thoughts from everyone present rather than on the opinions of the most vocal members or a safe/lazy decision based on groupthink.

Whether you’re in an office, a classroom, or on a committee, the Stepladder Technique can help your group make a more effective decision.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: can you think of a situation where the Stepladder Technique could help?


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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