5 Steps to changing your life in 2019

As we begin 2019, many of us will be reflecting on our successes and disappointments of 2018, and on what we want to achieve or do differently this year. Better work/life balance perhaps? Greater personal fulfilment? More self belief?

As an executive coach, clients come to me looking for support to change something about their life, which inevitably spans all elements of their life, professional and personal. If you want to make some kind of life change this year, here are five steps and some useful exercises to help you in developing a life changing plan for 2019 and beyond.

Step 1: Why do I want to change?

Being clear on your 'why' allows you to focus your actions and decisions on making the right change for the right reasons. Before you do anything else, write down one sentence that sums up what you want to change about your life and why. For example: 'I want to change my work life balance because I want to have more energy to spend quality time with my family'. Or: 'I want to change my career direction to feel that my work is worthwhile and aligned with my values'.

Next write down at least one thing that you will gain in your life (i.e. the ultimate payoff), if you are able to achieve this change. For example: 'I will be healthy and live longer', or:'I will have a better relationship with my partner and/or children'.

Keep this in mind as you go through the following steps.

Step 2: Where am I starting from?

Gain greater awareness of yourself and your situation so that you can take the right action to achieve your life change:

  • List your top five core values and rate each one against the extent to which you are living these in your life (1= not at all, 10 = completely). Reflect on the reasons for your scores.

  • Complete a wheel of life to evaluate your satisfaction with all parts of your life. Reflect on the reasons for your scores.

  • Do a personal SWOT analysis (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).

  • Identify where you are holding yourself back. Over a week, write down the negative thoughts and limiting beliefs that frequently come up for you. For example, 'I'm not as good as other people', 'I'm a fraud', 'People will think I'm a failure', 'I must work late to be successful'' plus any other 'I must...' or 'I should...' thoughts that come up. For each belief or thought, reflect on what the payoff has been for you in having this thought or belief (e.g. keeping you safe from criticism), and also what the consequence has been for your life (e.g. preventing you showing your real self at work).

  • Reflect: From completing these exercises, what have you learnt about yourself and the life change that you want to make?

Step 3: Where do I want to be?

Now it's time to dream big. Don't limit yourself. You need to feel inspired, enthusiastic and motivated to achieve your life change:

  • What would it mean to be living each of my core values to the full in my life? Note down your thoughts next to each value. For example: 'I would volunteer regularly for a cause that I believe in', or 'I would spend more time outside the business'.

  • Where do I get my energy from? Over the course of a week, reflect on the times in your life (including childhood) when you have felt completely 'in flow', energised and motivated by what you were doing. What activity were you doing? Where were you? Who were you with? Then take note of the times when you have felt the opposite. What does this tell you about what you really want from life?

  • Visualise the future. What do you want your life to be like in x months' or years' time? Close your eyes and take a few minutes to imagine that you are living this vision. What are you seeing, doing, saying, feeling and thinking? Create this vision in a way that you can refer back to it and refine it later. Use whatever format works best for you: a list, a mind map, drawings, cut & pasted images, post it notes etc. Imprint this in your mind. Post your vision somewhere that you'll see it regularly.

  • Define three personal change goals that will enable you to achieve your life vision. For each goal, define at least one measure of success, i.e. how you will know that you have achieved this.

  • Reflect: How committed am I to achieving my life goals on a scale of 1-10? (1 = not committed, 10 = fully committed). What do I need to do to get closer to a 10?

Step 4: How will I get there?

Next, spend some time getting clear on how you will achieve your life change so that you can start to take action, one step at a time:

  • Options. List all the things that you could try to achieve your goals. What are the risks and benefits of each of these? Which options are you most committed to progressing?

  • Knowledge. What and who do you know already that could help you to achieve your goals? Where are your knowledge gaps and how could you fill these?

  • Positive thinking. Where you have identified limiting beliefs and negative thoughts previously, take one and notice when it pops up in your mind over a week. When it does, practice exchanging it for a more useful belief or thought that you want to tell yourself instead. Keep practicing this and notice the difference to how you feel and behave over time.

  • Doing and being. Make a list of the things that you will be doing, and another list of the ways that you will be 'being' each day that will achieve your life change. For example, 'doing' might be not checking your emails at a weekend. Being' might be having a positive, relaxed or calm energy. Remind yourself of these regularly.

  • Plan. Write down what actions you commit to taking to achieve your life change, with timeframes that you can use to hold yourself to account. If your goals seems too difficult to achieve at this point, focus instead on the actions that you could take to make even a few baby steps in the right direction.

  • Relationships. Who do you need to engage in your life change? What do you need from them? What do they need from you? Which relationships will serve you in making this change, and which won't?

  • Reflect: What are my next steps? How confident do I feel in implementing my plan on a scale of 1-10? (1 = not confident, 10 = fully confident). What would get me closer to a 10?

Step 5: How am I doing?

Once you have started to make changes in your life, regularly reflect on your progress to recognise your achievements, build greater self awareness and adapt your approach as needed:

  • Redo your wheel of life and notice any changes in your scores and the reasons for these.

  • Revisit your values and periodically score the extent to which you are living these, noticing any changes.

  • Reflect: What have I achieved? What have I learnt? What do I want to stop / start or keeping doing?

Conclusion

Here we've explored five steps and some example exercises that will help you to create a plan to change any element of your life as you embark on 2019. When used in a coaching relationship, these exercises are played in over time with clients, not always sequentially (there's lots of jumping backwards and forwards) and only where relevant, so take the same approach with your own life change.

Keep your 'why', your vision and your goals in mind at all times. Don't worry if you don't have a plan that is mapped out to the letter, or if your life change feels unachievable at this point. Focus each day on making baby steps towards where you want to be, reflecting regularly on how you are doing and you'll be amazed at how your life will gradually start to move in the direction that you want it to.

What life changes do you want to make in 2019, and why?

 

Sihem Bounoua is an Executive Coach and Founder of Rhapsody Senior Professionals (www.rhapsodycoaching.co.uk/seniorprofessionals) and Rhapsody Medical Leadership Development (www.rhapsodycoaching.co.uk/medical).


7 ways to generate great ideas

When we're up against it and embroiled in our busy lives, it can be difficult to take a step back to think of new ideas that may actually help us, our teams or our organisations. Yet new ideas are essential to enable us to adapt, innovate and achieve our aspirations.

You may be familiar with ideas generation sessions that involve sitting in a meeting room, debating ideas and capturing them on a flipchart. This can work well in some situations; however, it can also be somewhat uninspiring and not always inclusive. Alternatively, you may be experiencing a personal challenge that requires some fresh thinking that you're struggling to generate on your own. Precious time that is set aside for ideas generation should be productive and engaging for those taking part. This article is to remind you that there are various ways to create great ideas. Here are seven of them that you may not have thought of:

  1. Clearly frame the question that you are answering before you begin. This gives focus to your ideas. For example, 'How can we grow our market share by x%?', 'What do I/we want this organisation to have achieved in 3 years’ time?', 'How can we ensure that this recent incident never happens again?' or 'How could we address this problem for our population within 10 years?'.

  2. Humour. When working with a group, use humour appropriately to put people into a more creative state before tackling the more serious business of generating ideas. For example, I've asked participants to make a paper plane and write their name and an interesting fact about themselves inside it. Participants then fly their plane from the back of the room to the front to be read out. The plane that flies the furthest gets a prize. With paper planes flying and the element of competition, people reconnect with their inner child, there's laughter and the energy in the room goes up. You can then use this positive energy to focus in on the challenge to be addressed.

  3. Provocation. If you or your team are unable to develop your thoughts because of a perceived barrier, such as affordability or a limiting belief (e.g. this won't work because....), imagine that this barrier no longer exists. Spend 10 minutes thinking of all the things that would be possible. What does this give you that you didn't have before? How might you make even a small amount of progress towards achieving these things?

  4. Creative visualisation. Imagine that you have somehow addressed the challenge in question and expand this into a vision that can be represented on paper, e.g. a mind map, a picture or a collage. Ask questions of yourself or the group to expand the vision: What do you see? What can you hear? Who are you with? What are you doing? What are others doing? When is this? How do you feel? Once this is clear, then brainstorm all the possible ways that you could get there.

  5. Silent brainstorm with groups. Some people can find it uncomfortable to share their thoughts openly in a group. They may feel insecure speaking up or instead have a preference for introversion. You may also have a big group to engage with and want to hear from everyone. Using a silent brainstorm can give everyone an equal opportunity to contribute. Give everyone a set of sticky notes and a time limit (e.g. 7 minutes) to, in silence, scribble down one idea per note. Ask participants to stick their ideas up on the wall (the movement creates some energy) and then group these together into themes to then discuss as a group, before you move into prioritisation.

  6. Go for quality not quantity. An alternative view to the traditional brainstorm (which involves getting everything out on the table without filtering it), is to work on one idea at a time and to develop it to be the best that it can be. This way it can be evaluated in a more informed way. Either as an individual, or in a small group, take a piece of paper and draw the first idea that comes up, all the while withholding judgement as to whether the idea is workable in practice. Ask questions to expand the idea and bring it to life. For example, 'What does it look like?', 'How does it work?'. Spend 5 - 10 minutes positively developing every idea before moving on to evaluation.

  7. Walk and talk. Creativity comes to us when our brains make new connections, therefore it helps if we can step away from our immediate work environment to think of new ideas. Try going for a walk with a trusted person to explain and expand on your ideas. Encourage the other person to ask questions to expand your thoughts. The movement and change of scene can have an energising and creative effect, plus talking it out can crystallise your ideas.

Summary

We've explored seven approaches here to generating new ideas as an alternative to debating ideas in a traditional meeting format, or wrestling with a problem on your own. Once you have the ideas captured, evaluate and prioritise these to see which ideas are worth implementing or at least developing further. Simple tools can be useful here that also build consensus. Try using an Ease vs. Impact/Benefit grid or Dot Voting before you move onto planning your solutions.

Which ideas generation techniques do you use most frequently? How could different approaches generate new thinking for you, your team or your organisation?


6 ways to lead change through stronger human connections

Change efforts within organisations often focus heavily on the 'technical' elements of change, such as structures, processes and documentation. These elements are important for any significant change initiative, however change is fundamentally about shifting people's attitudes and behaviours. As humans we are social beings who are wired to connect with other humans, therefore it follows that strong human connections are critical for leaders to achieve successful change. 

Here are six lessons learned from personal experience to help you create stronger human connections within your organisation or change programme:

  1. The personal touch. As a leader of change, giving your time to speak to people, listening to what they have to say and, importantly, acting on what you hear demonstrates positive qualities such as inclusion and trustworthiness. This appeals to people's need for social status, recognition and fairness, which is understood to be as important to our brains as our physical status. Try small but genuine gestures to value others like remembering names and making eye contact when people are speaking to you. Be open and transparent. Show some of yourself as a leader that makes you human, for example: your humour, your worries or your aspirations. Ensure that any feedback you receive is followed up in the eyes of the person or people that you are engaging with, even if you decide not to act on all of it.

  2. Listen. Interrupting when people are sharing their thoughts, or allowing yourself to be distracted in conversations (for example, by email, phone or self talk), can break rapport and lead others to conclude that you're not really listening. Instead try to concentrate completely on what the other person is saying. Listen to the words, notice body language and, where appropriate, repeat back a summary of what you've heard to check and demonstrate understanding. When people feel listened to it leads to greater awareness, self reflection and a willingness to co-operate. As the person who is listening, if you practice this consistently you will receive richer insights and build trust with the people that matter.

  3. Be curious. We each have our own version of ‘the truth’ in any given situation, influenced by our values, personality and life experiences. Our own version is not necessarily the 'right' one. Seek to understand what is behind others' opinions by asking open questions and being genuinely curious. It could give you some really great ideas that you hadn't already thought of. It also gives you a better chance of getting to the real root cause of a problem. For example, you may discover that someone's obstructive behaviour is really due to a clash in personal values and a perceived threat to their personal status. You then have something tangible to work with.

  4. Empower others to create your change strategy. Sometimes it can feel quicker to develop solutions in a vacuum or with a small group, however this can lead to heavy resistance once it is presented publicly. Going back to the importance of inclusion, people need to recognise that they have been a part of creating a solution that affects them. Instead, consider presenting the challenge itself and inviting a range of possible solutions. Have coaching conversations with departmental leaders to develop and explore their suggestions. Encourage them to do the same with their direct reports. Provide facilitation, time and space for teams to refine their ideas and develop plans. Back this up with a mechanism for reward and recognition that spans all organisational layers. Have faith that this longer route to creating your change strategy will pay off as greater engagement in the change itself.

  5. Conflict can lead to a better connection. If someone isn't 'playing ball' then don't ignore it. Name it. Explain what you're perceiving and explore what's going on for them. Try and get to the root cause of the behaviour or attitude using open questions and active listening. Don't be afraid to challenge poor behaviour but also seek to address the root causes in a collaborative way where you can. If you can manage this conflict productively, in my experience, you have an opportunity to build a stronger, more trusting relationship with that individual as a result.

  6. Engage continuously. Often change programmes are launched with a flurry of communications activities which can then tail off, leading to a loss of momentum and a loss of trust that the change is worth engaging with. Many of us will have invested our energies into some kind of engagement activity as part of a change initiative, which apparently didn't lead anywhere. Or we may have logged onto a change programme website to see that it hasn't been updated for months or more. The approaches described here must be part of a continuous, genuine effort to connect with people. Keep having conversations, keep listening and keep making people feel included on a personal level.

Creating human connection is an art not a science. Whilst this topic runs much deeper, these points are intended to be easy to understand and apply in practice. How much of your current change effort is focussed on human connection vs 'technical' change elements? Is this balance right? How could your personal leadership approach adapt to achieve greater change success through human connection?


10 ways to get a new perspective on a personal challenge

Are you, a direct report or a colleague feeling stuck in dealing with a challenge? Here are some ideas to get you, or them, unstuck. #problemsolving #coaching #personaldevelopment

No matter how experienced we are, we can all come up against challenges that feel difficult, if not impossible, to overcome for us personally. Situations where there is a responsibility for us to take some action, but for whatever reason this is proving difficult. This may include managing dysfunctions in our team, delivering on a tough business objective, resolving conflict with a colleague or adapting our personal style to get the results that we want.

I've spent 14 years working with individuals and teams to address their organisational and professional challenges. A first step to addressing a challenge that you feel stuck with is to delve deeper into it, to gain fresh insights. So, here are ten approaches that you, or a direct report, could try to gain new perspectives on a personal challenge.

  1. What really is 'the challenge'? The goal here is to get specific and draw out everything that you know (or think that you know) about the challenge to help you to take the right action. Try explaining it to someone else who will truly listen, to expand on your understanding. Take on board their insights too. Perhaps draw or represent the details of the challenge on paper to show the various constituent elements to be addressed. Try using a simple tool that you can adapt for your situation, like 'SWOT' (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) or De Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats' to explore the different facets. As a coach, and someone who has been coached throughout my career, I've also used metaphors and visualisations as a way of representing the features and qualities of a situation so that it can be understood in new ways. What do these new insights give you in addressing the challenge?

  2. What is causing this to be a challenge for me? And why is that a challenge? And why is this a challenge? Keep asking these questions and drilling down until you get past the symptoms of a problem to the root cause of the challenge in question. If you're visual, you could also use a tool like a 'fishbone diagram', adapted for your situation, to represent this analysis on paper. The root cause is the level at which you need to understand the challenge to take effective action. There may be several root causes to address at once. For example, you may be finding it difficult to get started on a project and ask yourself: 'Why am I finding it difficult to get started.' You may then answer: 'Because I can't seem to get motivated to take action'. 'But why aren't I feeling motivated?' 'Because I don't really believe that I can make a success of this.’ 'Why?' 'Because we don’t have the resources in place and because I'm scared of being seen as a failure.' You may drill down further, but you get the idea. Action may therefore be to produce a costed resource plan to agree with the project sponsor alongside working on addressing limiting beliefs and negative thinking.

  3. What assumptions am I making here? What evidence is there to support these assumptions? What counter evidence is there? Try to extrapolate what you know to be real about this challenge and separate this from what may not be real. We all have our own ways of viewing and understanding the world. Our brains have developed to learn from experience and use this to process stimuli accordingly to protect our survival. However, these assumptions may not always be helpful. For example, if you are assuming that your great idea won't be approved by the leadership team because your last idea wasn't, you could be holding off taking action unnecessarily. To address this, you may instead choose to have an informal conversation with the decision maker to determine the chances of your idea being approved and/or work out how best to present your idea so that it's seriously considered. Perhaps it's a limiting belief or negative thought that is stopping you from putting forward your idea (e.g. I'm not good enough, I'm a fraud, I'll look stupid) in which case the work may be on mindset to exchange a limiting belief for a more useful one.

  4. What is within my control? What is outside of my control? Once this is clear, you can invest your energy in the areas that are within your control, rather than in the areas that are not. Try drawing a simple circle to represent your sphere of control, with those elements of the challenge written inside the circle being within your control, those outside the circle being out of your control and those on the border of the circle being possible areas to influence. What does this tell you about where to take action?

  5. What is my responsibility here? We may not be able to move forwards when we blame others, or conversely when we bear more responsibility than we realistically have in relation to a situation. Both can create additional stress and sap our energy to act. Focus on what you can personally take responsibility for and try and let go of the rest.

  6. What progress has already been made? Recognise if there are steps that have been taken to address the challenge already, celebrate any achievements to date and see if this gives a different perspective on the scale of the challenge or how to address it.

  7. What values may be at play here? Our values are core to who we are and what is important to us. They guide how we view others and the wider world. Often a source of conflict in interpersonal relationships can be attributed to one or more of our values being different to those around us. Our values may also affect how motivated or positive we feel about a situation. The first step in understanding this is to make sure that we understand what our core values really are. Then we are in a better position to identify where our values are causing conflict, for example, in how we are interacting with others or in relation to the expectations of our role.

  8. What other perspectives could I take? If you are experiencing an interpersonal conflict with another person, consider using a tool like 'Perpetual Positioning' to explore other possible perspectives and gain new insights . Typical positions to 'try on' are: 1) our own, 2) that of a named person involved in the situation, 3) that of an unknown observer who offers useful advice and 4) that of an unknown distant observer who is looking in on humanity in general. If you can, create four physical positions and move yourself to each in turn as you aim to take on the energy and perspectives of each. Say what needs to be said from each position and then return back to your own position to see what you've learned about the situation. In addition to new insights, sometimes we may even conclude from this exercise that the challenge isn't as significant as we first thought.

  9. How committed am I to addressing this challenge? Rate commitment on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not at all committed and 10 being totally committed). If the score is 8 or less, ask why this is and what would need to happen to make it a 10. Sometimes our lack of commitment can reveal important information about what is important to us or what is really holding us back.

  10. How can I take a step back? Sometimes we can focus so much on addressing a challenge that we can lose our ability to see a way through it. There's a reason for this. When we're focussed on a specific goal our brain concentrates activity in the prefrontal cortex. When we relax (for example when we take a walk, have a shower or do something fun) our brain activates a more creative state, accessing networks across the brain to create new insights. Try doing something totally unrelated to your challenge that makes you feel relaxed, and then come back to exploring the challenge later. How do you view the challenge now?

There are many, many more approaches that can be deployed to perceive a personal challenge differently, ultimately with a view to helping you or someone else to take positive action. Some ideas have been explored here to give you some inspiration which are based on my own experience as a change leadership consultant and coach.

Bear in mind that we each process information differently, so some approaches may work for some and not for others. Play around with different approaches (invent your own even!) and please do share what you know and learn that may be useful to others.