The clocks go forward but I’m looking back

When I was a child, I found the concept of Daylight Saving Time to be rather baffling. I understood that I lost an hour in March and that I gained one in October: that bit was fine. What confused me is where was the hour I’d lost? When I got one back in October, was it the same hour? I don’t know why this mattered to me but what can I say? I was a pensive child.

Anyway, the clocks go forward on Sunday 26 March in the UK and so the hour we’ll lose has been on my mind. I guess we see it as a loss because the time change takes place whilst most of us are asleep and for the same reason, maybe a lot of us sleep through the hour we gain back later in the year.

Out of curiosity, I contacted several clients and friends to ask them a simple question: ‘If you had an extra hour today, how would you spend it?’

I had twenty-two responses and here they are:

  1. I would go to the coffee shop on the sea front and read my new book.
  2. I’d do some Spanish revision or maybe play some Abe’s Oddysee.
  3. I’d have more quality time with my boys.
  4. I would go for a long peaceful walk, just me on my own: enjoy the sunshine and the nature around me and gather my thoughts.
  5. I’d get out my sadly-neglected sketch book and do some drawing.
  6. Read more stories to my kids.
  7. I would leave work on time, go home and go for a walk with my husband and dog.
  8. Sleep or read!
  9. I’d ask a new colleague to come out for coffee with me so I can get to know her better.
  10. Have a long, hot bath.
  11. I’d finish the dress I started making before Christmas.
  12. Those of us (on holiday) in Paris would have an extra coffee and watch the Parisians go about their business looking very chic.
  13. Bake a cake for my elderly neighbour.
  14. Read.
  15. Do some writing for work.
  16. Meditate.
  17. I’d make a meal of ten tiny courses that would take an hour in total to eat.
  18. I’d take myself off, sit in silence, close my eyes and just breathe. See what amazing thoughts come to me when I take a break from the brash, noisy, frenetic, demanding world around me.
  19. Make myself a cup of tea and call a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while.
  20. 20 minutes on Headspace app, 20 minutes drinking tea mindfully and then spend the last 20 minutes when my mind is clear, making plans.
  21. Sit down and have an uninterrupted conversation with my wife.
  22. I’d go for a long walk on my own.

I’m interested that only one response refers to doing more work. Other than that, it seems that people would spend an extra hour taking the opportunity to step away from the day to day and instead move towards creativity, relaxation, connection with family and friends, and clearing the mind – whether that’s through mindfulness or a walk.

Each of these answers is important to the person who gave it. Each of them represents something they wish they had more time to do. I hope that by having answered the question, they will be encouraged to find an extra hour somewhere over the next few days and do the thing they’d love to do.

Today’s pebble for you to contemplate: what would you do if you had an extra hour? How can you find an extra hour in which to do it?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Decision-making traps seem to be all around us

Over the last couple of posts, I’ve been writing about making difficult decisions and some of the reasons they can be difficult: the traps along our way. None of us is immune to these traps: our brains are busy and therefore, rather than use huge amounts of energy each time we need to come to a decision, we develop short cuts or rules of thumb to help us get there more quickly. These short cuts are fantastically useful for much of the time but just occasionally, they can become traps leading to poor decisions.

Knowing that these traps exists means that you can recognise them when they crop up and take action to test your decision before following through. If you didn’t recognise the anchoring, framing or status quo traps, read on to see if these traps ring any bells.

Confirming evidence

Sometimes we look for information which will confirm what we already think we know and shy away from information that may contradict it. This is the confirming evidence trap.

Social media doesn’t help us in this respect. A client and I were recently discussing the concept of the echo chamber in digital life. Understandably, we surround ourselves with people with whom we have a lot in common. Our coterie has now widened to include public figures, celebrities, media organisations and causes we support. The stories we see in our news feeds on social media are based on our likes and interests and therefore inevitably we end up in a filter bubble or echo chamber.

Imagine a Board of Directors of a business has been wrestling for some time over a decision about following path A or path B over the next five years. On the day of the Board meeting, a national newspaper publishes a profile piece on a disgraced CEO who took a path very similar to path B which resulted in the downfall of her firm. ‘That’s it, I knew path B was a bad idea’ thinks each Director on the way to work. No-one discusses it but path A is the unanimous choice at the vote later that day.

I’m sure that no Board of Directors would make a decision in such a crazy way but that’s just to illustrate the point!

How to avoid the confirming evidence trap

  • Be honest with yourself: have you already made your decision and are simply looking for someone else to endorse it?
  • Find a devil’s advocate: ask a friend or colleague to present a completely opposite point of view to you.
  • If you do ask someone else’s advice, don’t frame your question in such a way that you steer them towards the answer you’re hoping for.

Sunk cost

This one’s very common. I’ve already written about how my client, Gemma, handled this trap in her professional life: you can read it here – Is it time to quit?

How to avoid the sunk cost trap

  • Set aside any incurred costs, whether financial or otherwise, and be prepared to take another look at previous choices if they are no longer appropriate.
  • Don’t consider a change of mind to be a failure.

Estimating and forecasting

There are three sides to this trap:

1   Over-confidence

Unless you’re a professional gambler or a weather forecaster, you probably don’t keep a lot of data on your performance as a forecaster and yet studies show that most of us think we’re pretty good at predicting outcomes. In his book, ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, Daniel Kahneman writes about WYSIATI – what you see is all there is – and how this can lead us to be over-confident. If we lack hard data which may help us make a more accurate prediction, our brains create a story based on the evidence we do have and we make a decision which suppresses doubt and ambiguity. Sometimes we’re right. Is that because we had good information, great intuition or was it just chance? Who can tell?

2   Prudence

The flip side of over-confidence is prudence. Your company is bidding for a huge new project. You’ve had your fingers burnt in the past by under-pricing work so your team decides to add in an extra 10%, just in case. Unbeknownst to you, the other teams have done the same thing. The company submits an over-priced bid and loses out.

3   Recallability

Our forecasts are often based on past experience. However, dramatic events loom larger in our memories than more mundane experiences. Your colleague mentions that she’s just hired a new team member and is looking forward to the value he’ll add, given his recent MBA qualification. You cringe inwardly and remember that awful guy you worked with who had an MBA who spent all his time going on about various business theories and never actually did anything. You’re completely discounting the other colleagues you have with MBAs who have never done anything dramatic enough to cause you any concern!

How to avoid the estimating and forecasting trap

  • To avoid over-confidence, first go the extremes of your range of options to avoid becoming anchored to your first forecast.
  • To avoid undue prudence, avoid building in contingency before thorough analysis to test the need and scale for any such contingency.
  • To avoid recallability, look at data and statistics rather than rely on your memory.

Here’s an example. You need to drive to the airport next weekend. Your mapping software suggests it will take 2 hours 45 minutes. Your over-confident mind might think ‘oh, they always build in a bit extra, it’ll only take 2 and a half hours.’ Result: you miss your flight.

Your prudent mind thinks ‘2 hours 45 – hmm, I’m not so sure. Better add another half an hour.’ You mention that to your partner and he says ‘Let’s not risk it. Let’s allow an extra hour.’ Result: you have plenty of time to explore the airport shops.

Your ‘prone to recallability’ mind remembers that hideous journey you had once where there was a crash on the motorway, they closed the road and it was so long before it was re-opened that you didn’t even get to the airport. Yikes! You book yourself into an airport hotel for the night before your flight. Result: you don’t miss your flight but it does cost you quite a bit of money and another night away from home.

I know that this has been a long read but my experience with my coaching clients shows me how so much of our professional and personal lives is governed by the decisions that we take. I believe recognising and challenging decision-making traps can serve us all well.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: have you ever wandered straight into one of these traps? What will you do to avoid them next time you have to make a decision?  

Any thoughts?
Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like some help with decisions you need to take either at your work and in life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

 

 

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Did you get caught in a decision-making trap?

My last post, Tough calls and conquering indecision, provoked a few emails from readers describing times they felt they had made a poor decision. Those poor decisions aligned with several themes – traps that we can all fall into when deciding on a course of action.

There are different opinions on how many decision-making traps there are but in my opinion, there are definitely too many to usefully cover in one blog post! Today, I’d like to introduce you to three: see if you recognise them.

Anchoring

What’s the purpose of an anchor? To hold a ship in one place. The ship can swing a little on the chain but not very far.

We can sometimes be like the ship: we hold on to the information we’re given. Say you’re looking at a floor plan for a new office and you’re asked whether you think you can fit 75 desks in there. You’ve got that idea of 75 desks in your mind now – you’re anchored to it – so you ponder a while. Perhaps you’ll say ‘I think we could squeeze in 80’ or maybe you’ll say ‘I don’t think so: more like 70’ but you’re unlikely to stray far from that first suggestion.

However, if you were asked ‘how many desks do you think we can fit in on the third floor?’, there is no anchor. You’re free to consider the floor plan and come up with your own answer.

How to avoid the anchoring trap

  • Think through your own opinion before asking others for theirs.
  • If you do ask others to help make your decision, ask an open question and avoid anchors.
  • In negotiations, be aware of it: as it’s very difficult to displace an anchor once it’s been laid down, try to set down your anchor before the other party.

Framing

Just as the choice of frame has an impact on the way in which we look at a picture, framing influences how we interpret information.

Picture this. You go out for dinner with a friend and you are both handed a huge menu. There must be about forty different main courses on offer! Your friend takes a brief look, closes the menu, puts it down and asks ‘So what are you having? Pizza or pie?’

Flustered, you stop reading that list of delicious salads and answer ‘Er, I think I’ll go for the pie.’.

What just happened there? Your friend framed the question in terms of two options and somehow your mind interpreted that as meaning there only were those two options, despite evidence to the contrary.

How to avoid the framing trap

  • Step back and consider all the possible options, not just those presented to you.
  • Try re-framing the issue: eg a reduction of 10% in headcount is the same as preserving 90% of headcount. Does that change how you feel about a decision?

Status Quo

No, not these guys. It seems that we are inherently resistant to change. When we come to making decisions, it can seem safer to stick with the status quo, with what we already know. Let’s not rock the boat. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Let’s just wait and see how it all pans out.

Sometimes, sticking with the status quo is absolutely the right decision: however, we sometimes decide not to make changes because of the potential discomfort. In the UK, we’re often advised to consider switching energy providers in order to save money and yet 44% of households say they are unlikely to do so within the next 12 months. Of those consumers, half of them think it’s too much hassle or it won’t really save them any money. They’re sticking with the status quo.

How to avoid the status quo trap

  • Ask yourself whether you would still choose the status quo, if it weren’t already your current choice
  • Investigate all the options, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • What’s your objective in making this decision? Does the status quo still support that?

As I say, these are just three of the various decision-making traps: I will cover some of the others another time.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: when making decisions at work or at home, have you ever fallen into the traps of framing, status quo and anchoring?

What do you think?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Tough calls and conquering indecision

_nothing-is-so-exhausting-as-indecision-and-nothing-is-so-futile_-bertrand-russell

My client, let’s call her Sophie, had a decision to make. It was a big decision with far-reaching ramifications. She was struggling.

‘And the problem is,’ she sighed, ‘it seems to have made me incapable of making any decisions at all! I couldn’t even decide what sandwich to buy at lunchtime. I just walked out of the shop in the end. I’m exhausted and now I’m hungry too!’

It felt the perfect opportunity to take a walk. A few minutes later, we ended up outside a shop with a display of delicious-looking sandwiches.

‘Why are we here?’ asked Sophie.

‘Because you need some lunch and to practise making decisions.’

We went into the shop.

‘Pick out five sandwiches which appeal to you,’ I asked Sophie. She did so.

‘Now eliminate two,’ I requested. ‘Okay, there are three left. Can we rule out another one?’

Sophie pondered. ‘I can’t decide. That one’s the healthiest, that one’s the tastiest and the other one is somewhere between the two. They’re all pretty equal otherwise.’

‘How about going for the halfway choice then?’

Sophie grinned, ‘you know what, that’s both the best and the worst of the other two all at once. Let’s ditch the middle one.’

‘Right. Which one now – healthy or tasty? You’ve got thirty seconds to decide.’

After 10 seconds or so, Sophie said, ‘it’s no good. I can’t do it. Let’s flip a coin.’

We did. Heads for healthy, tails for tasty. It was tails so I reached out for the tasty sandwich.

‘No, wait! exclaimed Sophie. ‘I don’t want that one. Once we’d flipped the coin, I realised that I want the healthy one.’

We took it to the till. ‘One last thing, Sophie, are you sure this is the right sandwich?’

‘Actually, no, I’m not sure but it’s the one I’ve chosen and I’m sticking with it.’

We sat on a bench for a while whilst Sophie ate her healthy sandwich and mulled over the process  by which she’d made her decision. She had:

  • selected several options;
  • evaluated their merits;
  • eliminated some of those options;
  • re-evaluated the merits of the remaining options and realised that each one had its own set of benefits and drawbacks;
  • eliminated another option;
  • worked within a timeframe to come to a decision;
  • struggled to decide so had left it up to chance;
  • the process of chance had helped her make a decision;
  • when she questioned her decision, she acknowledged that questioning but remained committed to her choice.

In reviewing the process, Sophie said, ‘I know my other decision is a lot more weighty than choosing a sandwich but I feel like I’ve broken through inability to make even the simplest choice. I need to go back to the big question and try out these steps on that.’

Sophie e-mailed me a few days later to let me know that the decision had been made. Several months on, she acknowledges that it’s not all been plain sailing but that she’s remained committed to her choice and has the energy and determination to make it work.

Today’s pebble for you to consider: do you have a big decision to make? Can these steps help you? What else could work?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Who do you think you are? A guest post by Jane Toft

As a coach, I’ve had the privilege of working with some inspiring people: Jane Toft is one such person.

I coached Jane when she was Editor-in-Chief at Future. Since then, she has gone freelance as a design and editorial consultant, working for clients varying from TED to Comic Relief. We’ve stayed in touch and before Christmas, I was intrigued by a decision she had made. She talked about how much she’d learnt from that decision and I’m delighted that she agreed to write a guest post about it.

Before I hand you over to Jane, if you have any design or editorial work with which you need some expert help, you can contact Jane through Twitter – she’s @JaneToft.


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Jane Toft

Last Autumn, I was having a conversation with my teenage son about how I wished I could specialise in branding, an area of design I really love.

“What’s stopping you?”, he replied, in the straightforward manner I have come to expect from him.

“Oh, only enough money to be able to have a couple of months with no income whilst I spend time setting it up.”

Fast forward a few weeks to the end of November when I popped into my local Tesco and saw an advert for ‘temporary Festive Colleagues’. I had a lightbulb moment and realised that I could work part-time stacking supermarket shelves at night and still continue my design day job. The money I earned meant I would be able to take time out this year to build the business I had dreamed of.

Lesson 1. Listen to that friend or family member who challenges your ‘if only’ moments, and be open to solutions you may never have considered

So that’s how I found myself in a Tesco staff room on a cold wet November evening, nervously awaiting the start of my first 10pm-7am shift. The experience proved to be a very valuable one – extra money notwithstanding – on another level. I hadn’t done any similar work for a good 30 years: not since my days as a chambermaid and waitress before I went to art college to do my degree. As the job was temporary and only for a short period, I made the decision to keep my head down and tell people as little about myself as possible.

Having spent the last 30 years in magazine publishing, that was a strange experience. Wherever I have worked, my reputation has preceded me. I was respected for my experience and knowledge of my subject matter. I hope I was looked up to by younger colleagues and acted as a mentor to my teams. When I made the decision to go freelance, I was working in the same industry and still defining myself by my previous job titles.

Now I was totally defined by who I was in the moment. My Tesco colleagues had no back story. I made the decision not to say anything about my day job or past employment. Their perception of me would be based on my words and actions in the following 5 weeks.

It was liberating to free myself from expectations, but scary to be out of my comfort zone. Who was I now I no longer had the shorthand of a job title to introduce myself?

It made me reflect on how much we identify with the labels we give ourselves, whether that be professional or personal, and how much those labels define how we act and react to people and situations. For example, I found it hard to simply answer “yes, will do”, when asked to speed up my shelf-stacking by a night manager. I wasn’t used to being told my work was sub-standard, especially by someone younger than me and someone who didn’t need to show me any respect! The more experienced you become in a profession, the less you get criticised. I learned how it feels to be the one being criticised in spite of doing my best.

Lesson 2. Take time to think about who you are when the labels you regularly use to describe yourself are taken away

I learned that I was physically stronger than I imagined. I can survive on 4 hours sleep (for a short period of time!). My colleagues from Latvia, Romania and Poland were intelligent, helpful and hard working people. I also learned that the free bread and cakes supplied will never taste better than at 3am after stacking an aisle of cereal and biscuits!

I would recommend the experience to everyone.


To summarise Jane’s two lessons: firstly, sometimes we need a change in perspective to challenge our thinking and secondly, we so often attach our sense of self to the labels we give ourselves or are given by others. That last one is particularly thought-provoking so you won’t be surprised to see that I’d like to encourage you to consider it for yourself.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: imagine the labels you’d usually use to refer to yourself were stripped away. Who are you?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Life lessons from Adele

At the Grammys in 2016, Adele’s live performance of All I Ask was blighted by sound problems. Speaking on The Ellen Show later that week, she said, ‘Next time I have any sound issues, I am going to start over. [I’ll say,] “Sorry, that’s not working for me.”‘

Fast forward to this year’s Grammys where Adele was invited to perform a tribute to her hero and friend, George Michael. Forty five seconds into a slowed down, orchestral version of Fastlove, she realised she’d got off to a very shaky start and did what she said she’d do: she stopped and started again.

I have huge respect for anyone who has the self-awareness to realise things aren’t working and the determination and confidence to take action to address the problem. Asking for a second chance, or a ‘do over‘ as my friends in the US call it, is surely a sign of strength.

Today’s pebble for your consideration: are you realising that you’re doing something you really ought to stop and start again? Will you do so?

Any thoughts?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

 

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Change and wisdom

One of my goals for 2017 was to join a choir and so on Monday evening, I found myself in a church in a local town with a dozen people I’d never met before. After some warm up exercises, our first song wasn’t one I know but I recognised the words. It’s called the Serenity Prayer Song and you may recognise the words too:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change all I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

Those words reminded me of a conversation I had with a client recently. We had used my ‘circles of influence‘ tool to help Ella process her concerns around an issue at work which had led us onto a discussion about what we can and can’t change.

Ella’s a very visual person so she set to work with her coloured pens on a huge sheet of paper to list and illustrate her cans and can’ts. As some of it was quite personal, I won’t share a photo of it but I do have her permission to share the general subject headings.

Things I can’t change

  • Other people
  • World events
  • The past
  • The passage of time
  • My boss

Things I can change

  • My behaviour towards other people, whether that’s family, friends or strangers
  • My attitude towards world events: instead of being anxious or depressed, I can learn more about them, find out how I can help or make a difference, even if it’s only in a small way
  • I can change my future by reflecting on my past, seeing what I can learn from my decisions I made and experiences I had so I can plans for the future
  • My attitude towards getting older: maybe I can’t do all the things I used to do (due to responsibilities, physical changes, work and life circumstances) but I’m moving into a new phase of life. I am a different person at 40 to who I was at 20 and I have a different set of opportunities ahead of me
  • My attitude towards my boss. I can learn more about who she is, what makes her tick and how I can help her. Ultimately, if I’m still not happy, I can change my job

serenity

After we finished, I asked Ella how she felt. ‘I feel great,’ she said, ‘I feel calmer knowing what it is I can’t change and I can devote my energy and attention to those things I can change.’

Today’s pebble for your thoughts:  could it help you this week to evaluate the things you can change and those you can’t?

What do you think?

Michelle

 

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

 

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