Trimming your sails – time for a half year review

‘I feel like I’m working really hard but I’m not getting to where I want to be,’ said Mark (name has been changed). ‘It’s a bit like when I’m sailing and we need to trim the sails.’

I’ve been on one sailing holiday many years ago but am in no way an expert so I asked him to explain what he meant by ‘trimming the sails’.

‘It means that you have your sails in just the right position to catch the wind and use it most efficiently. If you don’t get it right, the sail luffs – you’ve probably seen that, when a sail just flaps around noisily and it slows down the boat. You need to keep an eye on your telltales,’ Mark explained.

‘What are they?’ I asked.

‘They’re little bits of fabric attached to the sail and they indicate how well trimmed your sails are. When your sail is set correctly, each telltale will be blown evenly by the wind. If the sail’s not properly trimmed, one of the telltales will be fluttering about all over the place. If it’s the windward telltale, you’re literally sailing too close to the wind. If it’s on the side away from the wind, the leeward side, you’re sailing too far away from the wind. The telltales flag up to you what’s going wrong and then you can trim to sails to make the most of the available wind,’ he replied.

‘So if that’s how you are feeling about work at the moment, are there any telltales which can help you work out what’s not going quite right? How can you trim your sails to make best progress?’ I wondered.

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.

We spent the rest of the session looking at those telltales – those indicators which suggested Mark wasn’t making the progress he was hoping for – and developing an action plan for how to correct them.

We’re halfway through 2017 and perhaps you’re feeling that you’ve drifted a bit off course since you set your goals for the year. Want to get back on track and have a productive second half of the year? Why not spend some time reviewing your goals this week? Here are some questions to help you get started:

  1. Are the goals I set at the beginning of the year still relevant?
  2. What’s working well?
  3. What’s stopping me making progress?
  4. What adjustments do I need to make?
  5. Where should my focus be?

Your answers will act like the telltales and will help you trim your sails.

This week’s pebble for your contemplation: what are your telltales telling you? 

What do you think?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you want to trim your sails to get more from your career, email me  and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.



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One way to help you get what you want

Picture this.

You’re a shop assistant in a huge department store. You’re standing near the entrance when you notice someone standing by the store guide, just staring at it. You go over and say –

‘Good morning, can I help you?’

‘Yes,’ comes the reply.

‘Are you looking for something in particular? Can I help you find a specific department?’

‘Yes,’ a second time.

How frustrating! You’re trying to help but how can you if you have no idea what the prospective shopper wants?

Now picture these scenarios. You’d love to take a sabbatical and travel round Europe but you don’t really know where to start. You’re running your own business and have a dream of running a live workshop but aren’t really sure what to do next. You’re fed up with your current role and are ready for a change.

How can you make progress with any of those scenarios? There’s one key step you can take.

Tell someone.

In fact, tell lots of people. The chances are that someone you know may be able to help you – or they know someone who can help you. Don’t just tell your friends. In his study on the strength of weak ties, Mark Granovetter asserts that it’s our acquaintances rather than our close friends who are most likely to be able to help when we’re looking for a new job: they are moving in different circles to us and so will hear about opportunities that we and our inner circle of friends won’t.

In the first scenario, if you’re at the hairdresser and you’re asked what your holiday plans are, talk about your hopes of a round-Europe trip: your hairdresser may very well know someone who’s been on that kind of adventure.

If you’re at a networking event and asked what you do, mention the fact that you’re hoping to run a live workshop and ask if your new contact knows anyone who’s done something similar.

Looking for a career change? Let people know and give them an idea of what you’re looking for. Talk about it with your nearest and dearest but widen your search by talking to that guy at the gym, the woman you chat with on your commute, the people you meet at the school gate, anyone with whom it seems appropriate. My experience is that most people are only too glad to help out others, particularly if you offer to help them too.

Don’t be like the irritating customer in the department store: allow people to help by communicating what you want.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: Are you talking to people about what you want to do? Are you asking them what they want to do? How can you help each other? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you want to transform your work and life, email me telling me what it is you want and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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What if you can’t change the things you hate?

Coaching transforms people. People who are being coached are changed by the process and as part of that process, they often change the situations in which they find themselves.

However, sometimes a client doesn’t have sufficient control over a situation to be able to transform it. What happens then?

Take my client, Jenna (name has been changed), as an example. Her job requires that she frequently travels internationally. The last time we talked, she was just back from a trip to the States and was feeling rather jaded. ‘I love my job but I hate all this travel. This time last week, I’d already been up for six hours, the traffic was terrible so I was running late, I was charging through the airport dragging my wheely case and my carry on, and all I could think about was getting home again. There’s no way of getting around it – I have to travel so I guess I just have to suck it up and get on with it.’

‘That doesn’t sound very sustainable,’ I commented. ‘Can we try something? Can you list all the things you really hate about your work travel?’

Given we usually focus on the positive, this seemed like a strange request to Jenna but she started scribbling. She had quite a list.

‘We’ve established that you can’t change the business’s requirement for you to travel. We’ve listed all the individual things that bug you about the process of travelling – let’s go through the list and see if there is one thing, however tiny, we can change about each of these points to make them ever so slightly less irritating,’ I suggested.

We spent the rest of the session working through the list.

Some of the points were easily dealt with and only required a small tweak – ‘I end up eating unhealthy food on the plane and then I feel guilty’ was replaced with ‘I’ll buy something nutritious in the departures lounge and pack some healthy snacks’.

Some of them required more effort: Jenna did a bit of research and found a ‘stay and park’ option which will allow her to spend the night before the trip in a hotel near the airport and leave her car there for the duration which will cost only £12 more than the parking alone: money well spent for a reasonable night’s sleep and being close to the airport the next morning.

Not one of the changes was rocket science: anyone could have come up with them. The point is that previously, Jenna had seen all of the irritants as being just as unchangeable as the fact she had to travel. By breaking the nebulous ‘I hate travelling for work’ into its components, Jenna could in fact make some changes to ameliorate the situation.

if you don't like something change it or change your attitude maya angelou how to make a hard situation a little bit better small improvementsYou can apply this same process to any situation you can’t simply get rid of or ignore, whether it’s a work issue or something happening in your personal life. Remember, even if you do find a way of changing each of the irritating components, the situation itself may not suddenly become the best thing that’s ever happened to you!  For Jenna, these changes she’s devised mean that she doesn’t hate work travel any more but it’s never going to be her favourite aspect of her job. They help her to improve her attitude about travelling for work.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: what situation do you hate? Can you break it down and make some small changes to improve matters? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.


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What do we do in the face of hatred?

Many of the conversations I have had this week with clients and friends have centred on the devastating suicide bombing in Manchester on Monday night. Like so many people, I have wondered how we deal with people who are motivated by hatred. On the other hand, like so many people, I was heartened to see countless individuals around the city immediately offer practical help.

A friend emailed me this quote from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius:

‘What if someone despises me? Let them see to it. But I will see to it that I won’t be found doing or saying anything contemptible. What if someone hates me? Let them see to that. But I will see to it that I am kind and good-natured to all, and prepared to show even the hater where they went wrong. Not in a critical way, or to show off my patience, but genuinely and usefully.’

In some instances, we are able to have a rational, genuine and useful discussion with someone who has a different opinion to us and may be able to influence them. Other times, if someone is determined to maintain a position of hatred towards another person or group, we will have no chance of changing their minds. To avoid being dragged down by hatred, it seems our best choice of action is to stay true to our values, to not do or say anything contemptible, to be kind and good-natured to all and to stand together.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: how can you show kindness this week?


ps I am taking a short blog break and will be back online on Friday 9 June.

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Does character matter?

As we began a session, my client – let’s call him Dan – produced a quote he’d seen:

‘Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.’ John Wooden

‘Ever since I saw this, it’s been on my mind. I feel like I’ve spent so much time concentrating on building my reputation that I’ve stopped working on who I am as an individual,’ said Dan.

We started by quickly checking the definition of ‘character’ – ‘the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual’.

With that in mind, I asked Dan to list what he considered to be his best mental and moral qualities. He came up with the following:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Creativity
  • Optimism
  • Independence
  • Courage
  • Inquiring mind
  • Assertive
  • Get stuff done
  • Honesty

I asked him if there were any aspects of his character he felt he needed a little work.

‘That’s just it, I’m not really sure,’ he responded.

‘What do you think your colleagues might say? What about your girlfriend? Your best mate?’ I asked.

‘Do you know what? I’m going to ask them. I’m going to ask five people what I should work on, pick out a common theme and I’m going to focus on that.’

Sure enough, he did. Over the next week, he talked to his girlfriend, his boss, a close friend and two of his peers. The theme which emerged was collaboration – he was great at having an idea, running with it and bringing it to completion but they felt he wasn’t so good at taking other people along with him. He drafted a plan of action to tackle this and emailed it to me so I could help him stay accountable. He plans to check in with the same five people in three months to see how he’s doing.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: is there a character trait you’d like to work on? What steps will you take to do so?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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It’s a ‘mixed bag’ kind of week

‘How has your week been so far?’ I asked my client – let’s call him Matt – as we sat down for his session.

‘It’s been a bit of a mixed bag really: some good stuff, quite a bit of difficult stuff and I’m feeling like I haven’t stopped. It’s all a bit overwhelming and I’m finding it hard to focus.’

‘A mixed bag? That’s an interesting image. If it was a real bag, what would be in it?’ I queried.

‘Good question. It’s a huge heavy bag!’ Matt started to doodle in his notebook: he’s a creative type so often draws in our sessions. ‘I’d like to explore that.’

We sat quietly for a few minutes while he doodled, filling a double page spread in his A4 book.

‘Tell me about the images, Matt: what does this medal mean, for instance?’

‘Ah, that’s one of the best bits of the week. My wife ran her first 5k at the weekend and I’m so proud of her. It was a real challenge for her and she stuck with it. It makes me smile every time I think of her crossing that finish line. Then this plate here – that’s the business lunch I was at on Tuesday. It was with a new client and it went really well. We made a good connection and I think it’s going to be a very positive working partnership,’ he smiled.

‘This one is the pile of paperwork that I need to do. I finished my team’s reviews last month but I never seem to get around to entering the final thoughts on the system. It’s hanging over me.

‘Speaking of things hanging over me, this black cloud here is the way I’m feeling about a presentation I did recently. The client asked a question, I got the wrong end of the stick and went off on a complete tangent. My colleague didn’t stop me but just told me after the meeting. I felt like a right idiot. I called the client later and she kind of laughed it off but I worry that I’ve jeopardised our work with them.

‘The picture of the car – well, that’s because I need to get it booked in for a service. I know it probably needs some work done but I’ve been putting it off because well, you know, cash flow. It’s only going to cost me more if I don’t get it sorted though.

‘The sunglasses are reminding me that it’s only a few weeks until we fly out to see my parents and get some sunshine. Can’t wait.

‘The question mark – there’s an opportunity to go for promotion but it’s in another department. I can’t decide whether to stay put and build on my current team or try something new. It’s kind of on a loop in the back of my mind all the time.’

Once we’d gone through everything Matt was carrying around with him in his huge heavy metaphorical bag, I asked him what he wanted to do next.

‘I want to decide whether to carry on dragging this stuff around with me. This bag is too heavy!’

If you’re having a ‘mixed bag’ kind of week, have you considered what’s actually in that bag?

And so we reviewed each of the items and decided what to do with them: the black cloud got discarded – dwelling on it wasn’t helping the past situation and it was literally ‘clouding’ Matt’s ability to plan for a better presentation next time. We spent some time on a cost/benefit analysis to help him decide whether or not to go for promotion. The medal, plate and the sunglasses went back in his metaphorical bag to remind me of good things that have happened or are coming up. Matt blocked out some time to finish off the performance reviews and was on the phone booking his car service as he left our meeting.

Today’s pebble for your consideration: is it time you took a long, hard look at what it is that you carry around with you?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Looking for some tranquillity?

In these turbulent times, several of my clients and friends talk about looking for a little tranquillity in their lives.

I have been reading about the Stoics lately and was struck by this quotation from Seneca:

‘Tranquillity can’t be grasped except by those who have reached an unwavering and firm power of judgement – the rest constantly fall and rise in their decisions, wavering in the state of alternately rejecting and accepting things. What is the cause of this back and forth? It’s because nothing is clear and they rely on the most uncertain guide – common opinion.’

It’s easy to picture a modern-day version of this. You’re having a meal with friends, or chatting whilst waiting for the kettle to boil at work. Someone asks how everyone’s feeling about the forthcoming General Election. You don’t really like talking about politics but you know how you are going to vote. You listen to the conversation.

‘I’m not voting. They’re all a waste of space,’ declares one person.

I’m not sure I agree with that, you think to yourself.

‘I’m not voting either. The candidate I want to win hasn’t a hope in our constituency. My vote’s pointless,’ sighs a second person.

Hmm, maybe she’s got a point. Flip.

‘I can’t believe you saying that,’ chimes in a third person. ‘We have to vote. It’s a privilege to live in a democracy. Especially you, Claire: women died so that other women could have the right to vote.’

Yes! He’s right. We have to vote. Flop.

‘There’s no point voting until we have a different voting system where every vote actually counts,’ comments the second person.

Oh yeah, proportional representation would be better, wouldn’t it? Is it actually worth me voting? Oh, I’m really stressed about this now. Flip.

The conversation moves on but you’ve lost all your certainty and tranquillity due to all that flip-flopping between opinions.

Seneca puts his finger on the cause of this problem: ‘nothing is clear’. One of the ways in which I help my coaching clients find clarity is to help them understand their values. Once our values are clear, we have our own defined standard against which we can measure our decisions, our activities and our choices. This can help us stay true to our path and not be distracted by comparison with the path of others around us, or by their opinions.

Marcus Aurelius wrote: ‘You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.’

Another Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, reminds us that whilst we cannot control outside events, we can choose how we react to those events. Gaining clarity and a technique to assess the level of control we have over a situation can help my coaching clients feel more tranquil and focussed on their goals.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: Does relying on the opinions of others take away your peace of mind? What steps could you take this week to regain tranquillity?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you want to gain clarity about your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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