If ‘fitting in’ is your goal, don’t read this

Hold onto your hats, readers, big news coming.

When I was a child, I occasionally did stuff wrong.

I know, shocking news, huh? Not only did I do stuff wrong, I blamed someone else for leading me astray – ‘she told me to’ or ‘I only did what everyone else did’. The response from an adult would be along the lines of ‘if she told you to jump off a cliff, would you?’

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? It was a point well made though, encouraging me to think for myself and make decisions without being swayed by others.

I saw this video the other day:

It reminded me of me as child but also of a conversation I had with a client, Richard, some time ago.

Richard worked in an industry with a very distinct career path. By rights, he would spend eighteen months or so in the current role, then would probably move over to another team where he’d spend a year rounding out his skill set, after which he’d return to his original department to take on a more senior role. Conversations with his manager had revealed that this plan was causing some issues for Richard so his manager engaged me to work with him to find out more.

Richard summed up the situation like this: ‘I know this is the way it’s done. Everyone tells me that I should just stick to the path the others are following. It’s tried and tested. I see my colleagues taking those steps – maybe I should just blend in with the crowd.’

‘It sounds like blending in means that in a couple of years time, you’ll be a manager in your current team. How does that feel?’

‘It feels okay.’

‘And is that how you want to feel?’

‘Not really. I want to feel great!’

‘And you can’t do that if you blend in?’

‘I don’t think so. It’s scary to think about standing out but not as scary as the thought of just following the herd, even if that’s easier.’

‘Here’s a quote for you – “I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself”: what do you think of that?’ I offered.

reward for conformity everyone likes you except yourself rita mae brown northern lights aurora

‘That’s it in a nutshell. I don’t want to fit in with the norm just so everyone else is happy. I need to feel like I’ve chosen the right path for me, even if it doesn’t seem like the obvious choice,’ explained Richard.

For the remainder of our sessions together, Richard and I worked on finding that path for him, creating an action and development plan which would help him achieve his goals. His manager was fully supportive of Richard’s plan and one year on, Richard is carving his own path within the business.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: is conformity right for you?


ps I’m taking a screen break next week: I’ll be back here on 8 September.

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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How do we build trust?

Good relationships are built on trust.

This is true whether we’re talking about relationships with friends, colleagues, families or people with whom we do business.

As a coach, trust is essential to my work and it is a foundation stone of an effective and fulfilling coaching relationship. Given the number of different ways in which we use the word – for example,  ‘she trusted that they would enjoy their stay’ or ‘I’d trust him with my life’ or ‘I like to check things out for myself, rather than take them on trust’ or ‘we should never have trusted them’ – it can be tricky to pin down an exact definition.

I was recently introduced to the Trust Equation, devised by Trusted Advisor, and it has helped me to better understand and quantify what builds trust so I thought it could be useful to you too.

trust reliability credibility intimacy self-orientation

The three numerators are credibility, reliability and intimacy. Let’s look at them each in turn:


How do we know if someone is credible? We listen to what they say and see if their skills and experience back that up. Say you’ve gone to buy a new camera: you will trust the words of a sales person who is a keen amateur photographer, tells you about the pros and cons of each camera and admits when they don’t know the answer to your question. Are you able to demonstrate your expertise and are you honest about any gaps in your skill set?


If your car keeps breaking down, it’s unreliable and you can’t trust it. Do you feel like you can depend on your manager? Is their behaviour consistent? Do you do what you said you would do when you said you would do it? Can you be relied on?


I know, I know – ‘intimacy’ isn’t a word we’d often use to describe our working relationships and if I’d had the brilliant idea of the Trust Equation, I might have used a different word but as I didn’t, let’s work with it.

Trusted Advisor defines intimacy thus:

Intimacy refers to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something. We might say, “I can trust her with that information; she’s never violated my confidentiality before, and she would never embarrass me.”

When we feel such security in a relationship, we are happy to go beyond the superficial. When you have that trust with your manager, you feel confident that you can talk to her about the deeper reasons behind an issue in the workplace. Do your colleagues have faith that you will not abuse their trust?

Now we’ve defined the numerators, let’s not turn to the denominator:


When we focus more on ourselves than on others, it diminishes trust. If you feel like a salesman is desperate to close a deal so he meets his target for this quarter, you’re less likely to believe he has your best interests at heart and you will find it difficult to trust him. If you’re busy talking how yourself whilst you’re running a performance appraisal, your team member is going to wonder whether she can trust you to help her achieve her goals.

On the other hand, if we focus on the other party and don’t try to impose our own agenda, he will feel that we are genuinely supporting him. He will feel heard and acknowledged. He will trust us.

Building trust is different for each of us and we will do it in our own instinctive – and distinctive – way. However, the Trust Equation helps demonstrate that we increase trust when we increase our credibility, reliability and intimacy and decrease self-orientation.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: do you need to work on your Trust Equation? 


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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Analysis paralysis – why choice isn’t always a good thing

When I was at university, I spent a few months in St Petersburg – in fact, it’s so long ago that it was still called Leningrad. Whilst there was a refectory in the halls of residence, we also had a two ring stove and a fridge in our rooms so we’d often cook for ourselves. A few minutes’ walk away was a small supermarket and on our way back from lectures, we’d call in for supplies. Shopping never took very long as there wasn’t a great deal of choice.

I arrived back in the UK just before Christmas. A couple of days later, I went to the supermarket with my mum. She asked me to go and pick out some cheese. I stood in front of the fridges and just gawped at the selection: there must have been fifty different cheeses on display. Mum caught up with me – ‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.

‘I just can’t decide – there’s just so much choice,’ I replied. After months of a simple choice between one cheese or no cheese, this was all rather overwhelming.

Today we have so many choices – and we have so much information to apparently help us make those choices. Want to book a hotel? Travel websites will offer you dozens of choices and then you can read all the reviews for each one. Want a coffee? Americano? Espresso? Macchiato? Pour over? Would you like milk? Full fat, semi-skimmed, skimmed, almond, soy, coconut? Buying insurance? I did so recently and the comparison websites offered me 53 different providers.

Just like with all that cheese, all this choice can get us stuck in analysis paralysis. Author of ‘The Tyranny of Choice‘, Professor Renata Salecl says ‘Privatisation of electricity did not bring the desired outcome – lesser prices, better service – however, it did contribute to the anxiety and feeling of guilt on the side of the consumers. We feel that it is our fault we are paying too much and we are anxious that a better deal is just around the corner. However, while we are losing valuable time doing research on which provider to choose, we then stop short of actually making the choice.’

It seems that an abundance of choice leads to us avoiding taking any decision for fear of making the wrong decision.

Psychologist Mihaliy Csikszentmihalyi says ‘The way to improve the quality of life is not primarily through thinking, but through doing’. Whilst my coaching clients do a lot of thinking in our sessions (after all, my company is called Thinking Space), they leave sessions with action points to fulfill.

In our coaching sessions, we move through thinking towards doing. As part of the process, we often come up with many choices. How do we move from an abundance (perhaps an over-abundance) of choices to some finite actions?

One key step is establishing my clients’ values. The more they know about what really matters to them, the easier it is to narrow down choices.

Another step to tackle analysis paralysis is to consciously choose to limit the number of options we have. You can read more about that in Tough calls.

A third step is to make a random choice from all the possibilities open to us. Simply embarking on a course of action means that we are moving forward and once we are in motion, it’s easier to correct our course. Think about how hard it is to turn the steering wheel on your car when it’s stationary compared to the ease with which you turn it whilst driving along.

Today’s pebble for your contemplation: are you stuck in analysis paralysis? Will you take one of these steps to help you move from thinking to doing?

Any thoughts?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make space to think and come up with some actions to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we could work together?

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Magpie or eagle? Which approach will serve you best?

Kieran and I were discussing an issue he was having with his team. As we talked, he was writing on a sticky note each element of the problem as he saw it and was sticking them to the wall. We’d been going for about twenty minutes and the wall was filling up. Kieran was grinding to a halt.

‘What stands out to you from all these notes here, Kieran?’ I asked.

‘This one,’ he reached out for a note. ‘Or maybe this one? No, that one … actually this one is pretty relevant too.’ And so it went on. Pretty soon, Kieran had selected nearly every note he’d written.

‘That’s an impressive collection there!’ I commented. Kieran laughed, ‘I’m like a magpie – I see one area I think I need to concentrate on and then I notice another, and then another one catches my eye. I can’t possibly deal with all these points. Can we work on prioritising them?’

‘How about if we took more of an eagle’s approach to the issue? Found the prey we want to tackle and zoom in on that?’ I asked.

That’s what we did. We went back through his sticky notes and Kieran selected his ‘prey’ – the one element he felt was key to the matter and worthy of all of his attention.

Whilst it may not be true that magpies are attracted by shiny things, most of us are aware of the concept of a magpie collecting together all sorts of random objects whilst we see an eagle as being more singular in its approach. There are times when a magpie approach might work – generating ideas for a product launch, gathering concepts for refurbishment of a building, say: zooming in on just one idea isn’t appropriate here. Other times, only that keenly focussed, single track, eagle approach will do.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: Think of an issue you’re working on at the moment – what’s the most useful approach for you to take? Do you need to think like a magpie or like an eagle? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?

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Seven years on – how blogging changed my life

Back in 2010, I was in a session with my coach talking about my future goals and aspirations. We talked about my love of writing and Liza challenged me to put my writing out there in public view: the thought of writing a book was too big a goal at the time and so I committed to starting a blog.

A few weeks elapsed and I’d done nothing. Then we went away to the Lake District, the scene of many of my happiest holidays. I wrote last week that I often do a lot of thinking whilst walking  and this holiday was no exception. Thoughts and ideas began to surface and one night whilst lying awake, my blog name and my first post came together in my mind.

If you’ve never read it, it’s here: Why ‘Turning over pebbles’?

Three hundred and twenty-six posts later, here I am. Why do I write? One of the main reasons is to taste life twice – firstly, in the moment and later, to capture the essence of that moment so I can reflect on it, learn from it, celebrate it. It would seem that it’s not just good for my mind: this weekend, Marianne Power wrote in The Daily Telegraph about the surprising health benefits of journaling.

Another reason I write is to share what I have learnt with you: I am a great believer that we can benefit from each other’s experiences. Through this blog, I have met new friends, gained new clients, had some interesting debates, been invited to contribute to other publications and learnt a great deal about myself and coaching. My life is richer for writing on this blog.

Is writing a weekly blog post easy? Not always. Is it worth it? Every single time.

My very first pebble – the question I pose each week for you to ponder on – is one that’s worth asking again.

procrastination avoidance cocahing questions

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: what are you putting off? 

Whether you’ve been reading my blog for seven years, seven months or this is the very first post you’ve ever read, thank you for being here.


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?

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Would you like to have truly great thoughts?

Last week, I was in the beautiful Leutasch Valley in Austria and it was glorious. We had fantastic weather, stayed in a great hotel, and the scenery was stunning. We walked above a deep gorge, across Alpine meadows full of flowers, alongside a crystal clear river, and up mountains.

Another beautiful day in the Tyrol

The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote that ‘All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking’ and whilst I’m not sure that I could classify any of my thoughts last week as ‘truly great’, they were certainly very helpful. There is something about walking that allows our minds to wander, free from the distractions of screens and other interruptions, and gives us a fresh perspective on previously intractable issues.

I recently read Cheryl Strayed’s book ‘Wild’ which recounts her solo 1100 mile trek along the Pacific Coast Trail. It was – as they say – a journey of self-discovery after the death of her mother and the collapse of some of her closest relationships. My husband remarked that it was ‘not so much about the trek itself but about the cathartic and redemptive power of walking’. I think he’s right.

In 2014, Oppezzo and Schwartz published their paper Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking in which they demonstrate the increased creativity experienced by participants after walking.

Interestingly, the study also found that ‘walking increased the tendency to talk, and people were especially loquacious when walking outside.’ In my personal and professional experience, people do indeed sometimes find it easier to talk when we walk alongside one another rather than sitting across a table from each other. Aristotle taught his students whilst walking about the Lyceum in Athens – our word ‘peripatetic’ derives from the Greek peripatētikós meaning ‘walking about’.

Whether at home or at work, many of us would like to be able to think more creatively and solve problems more effectively. We don’t need to trek 1100 miles like Cheryl Strayed and everyday life won’t allow us to take six hours to hike on a mountain path each time we need to resolve a complex issue. However, it’s worth noting that in the Oppezzo and Schwartz study, the periods of walking ranged from five to sixteen minutes.

Taking fifteen minutes to walk to a local shop and clear your thoughts or holding your next one-to-one meeting on foot rather than at a desk might make all the difference. Why not give it a try?

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: how will you fit a walk into your day today?


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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Five essential questions we should be asking

Following my previous post about curiosity, I came across Dean James Ryan’s Harvard address entitled ‘Five essential questions in life’. Rather than summarise them for you, I’ve inserted an extract here for you to hear them in his own words. I hope that you will find seven minutes to watch it – believe me, it’s worth your time.

Since I watched this, these five questions have been on my mind. If you’d like a reminder of the questions you can keep somewhere handy, you’re welcome to this one:

James Ryan essential questions

Today’s pebble for your contemplation is this: which of James Ryan’s questions is most useful to you right now? 

What do you think?



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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