You can do anything – but not everything

Anything EverythingThis is my favourite phrase. It reminds me that that much as I’d like to be a superwoman there just aren’t enough hours in the day to be one. It suggests I’m not a failure if I don’t achieve everything – just that time is limited and no-one else could either.

I thought of this phrase when I went to chat to a group of new mums who are soon to head back to work. Having 6-12 months out of work to bring up a new baby is an amazing experience. But it can also leave us feeling rather vulnerable when we go back to work. Not only are there many questions floating round our heads about whether we remember what to do, how we will ever see our baby, will flexible working be possible, do we need to prove our work commitment all over again and whose job takes priority when baby is ill, or childcare falls through but we may have lost a little work confidence too, making it a nerve racking time. Before baby we were able to stay late, work weekends when projects required it, and have a good gossip over lunch. When nursery hours are limited and we want to get home for baby hugs we need to remember that ‘superwoman doing everything’ goes out the window and prioritisation comes into play.

So I chatted with the girls in my NCT group and we came up with five areas where a bit of honest reflection, some planning, and a dash of performance psychology techniques could help us get back into working life as comfortably and stress free as possible.

Feeling out of the loop professionally:

Lots of us were worried about things having moved on in the time we were away. It could be systems, computer programs, teams, colleagues, line managers, senior staff and, particularly for those in legal, HR, clinical and accounting professions, regulations and laws having changed.

Some tips to cope if this is an issue for you:

  • Ask for a KIT (Keep in Touch) day a few weeks before you go back so you can reacclimatise to the workplace, understand what has changed and prepare yourself for it.
  • Be open to learning new stuff – you have just learnt from scratch how to keep a baby alive so picking up computer changes will be well within your capabilities!
  • Instead of thinking you are going back to your own role maybe try to see it within your head as starting a new job – mentally it will feel less frustrating than going back to the same job with lots of changes.

Feeling out of the loop socially:

If you have been away from an office or your work environment you will not just have missed processes or systems changing but people. When you start in a new company going on staff nights out or lunches is a great way to get up to speed. But if you are working compressed hours to get back in time for nursery or childminder shutting or would rather spend your evening with your little one than networking in a pub then this isn’t possible.

Some tips to cope if this is an issue for you:

  • A baby commodifies everything. You are constantly prioritising and working out the value of something again the cost of childcare and whether you genuinely want or need to do something over seeing your baby. So accept this rather than fighting it or feeling it is unfair. I’ve found it helps me make decisions about what I value doing and prioritising becomes simpler. Would I rather go to X event or spend my evening with baby. Baby wins a lot!
  • Agree with your other half on how you will deal with evening events. Do you have one evening a week each to use for yourself; work, networking sessions, seminars, gym, drinks with friends? Or agree to own certain nights as your bath / bed nights for baby where the other one has more work or social flexibility.

Having to prove yourself again:

If you have spent a long time building your reputation in work, particularly in companies which have a long-hours culture or are very heavily male dominated, you may feel you need to re-establish your reputation and deal with some of the stereotypes that may be banded about around where your priorities will be.

Some tips to cope if this is an issue for you:

  • This one can feel really unfair and can be a real issue in some industries. Write a stock answer you use for all the annoying comments. Something like: ‘Work will feel easy after looking after a baby 24/7’. Repeat it over and over again until they get bored of winding you up.
  • Don’t try to prove yourself to anyone except the people you have to. It just causes lots of stress. Use your lack of time and flexibility to your advantage and be really focused on just what you need to do and who you do that for. This means being really clear from your line manager what your objectives are and what they see as priorities. Stick to these. Goal setting can be really helpful here. There is a template and worksheet you can use here. It is based on athletes but works just as effectively for mums heading back to work.

Justifying decisions:

Many of us fear being judged. We want to do the best; for ourselves, for our babies, for our companies, for our society. It can be difficult being questioned or judged about the choices you make, or even thinking you will be questioned. Many of us worry if we have had too much time off or too little? Should we go back flexibility or ask for fewer hours? And not only do we question ourselves but very unhelpfully lots of other people feel it is ok to question us too.

Some tips to cope if this is an issue for you:

  • Everyone has an opinion. Either because something genuinely worked for them and they think they are being helpful, because they want to validate the choices they made or sometimes just trying to make conversation. But it can feel intrusive, personal and judgemental – especially if you are questioning any of your choices yourself. Expect the opinions. Makes it feel less personal.
  • When you are offered advice, nod and smile and say “that sounds interesting I’ll think about that.” And then forget it instantly. They feel important and listened to. You get them off your back.
  • Internally, in your own head, have a mantra. This is a short phrase you repeat over and over to yourself and can block out some of the negative or guilty thoughts we have. It could be ‘I’m here so my baby has a great role model.’ ‘Baby is learning great social skills at nursery.’ The mantra needs to be personal and honest but can help you block out the naysayers outside and inside your own head.

Staying robust and resilient:

Finally, it is hard to stay robust and resilient when you lack any confidence. And if you have had a chunk of time away from the workplace it can be easy to let your confidence slide. Add to this fears about the choices you’ve made for childcare, the fact you may be surviving on very little sleep and simply missing your little one and your confidence can be knocked very easily.

Some tips to cope if this is an issue for you:

  • Actively build your confidence. Confidence comes from many sources but the two most robust ones are knowing you have the skills to do what you want to do and feeling you have the experience and evidence of this experience to do what you want to do. So grab a piece of paper and write down all the skills you already had in the workplace and the ones you have added by learning how to look after a baby. The mums I chatted to had some great strengths they had developed over their maternity leave including procrastinating far less, an enhanced ability to multitask, a new sense of perspective on what was really important and the ability to do everything on very little sleep.
  • Create your ‘what if’ plan. Every Olympic athlete does this but it can work really well in our daily lives too. Down one side of a sheet of paper write down all the things you are worrying about happening, then what you can do to prevent them happening, and what you will do if they do occur. This means you front up to everything that is weighing down on your shoulders and you feel much more prepared if something does happen.

We prepared a couple of examples:

Fear To prevent it happening I will… If it does happen.…
All the regulations in my field have changed. I’ll have to learn everything again. Ask if there is a junior or intern in the office who could pull together info on any regulatory changes in the last year.

Sign up to email updates for my profession to keep updated.

Get hold of the last nine months of magazines for my profession and read them during baby’s nap time.

Agree with line manager that I can have a session with them on changes in the sector while I have been away.

Ask line manager if I can attend a professional conference where many of the recent changes will be discussed.

Ask for someone to mentor me back into the workplace while I find my feet again.

 

Being new to the team I worry I still have to prove myself and I can’t do this if I have to leave by 5pm to pick up my baby from nursery. Work out with my other half that one of us will do drop off and the other pick up so we can work hours needed at one end of the day.

Log on after baby is asleep so you can show you are working flexibly.

 

Explain to line manager that you feel you are being judged on time in office rather than productivity and ask for their support.

Find another parent in the office and discuss how they have been able to prove their worth and be there for their children (People are really flattered to be asked for their advice so this can work well)

So hopefully there are some ideas above that can help you feel a little bit more like superwoman -while remembering that you don’t have to. The most important thing to do is to reflect on what is worrying you and prepare for it. The more prepared we are, the harder it is for something to knock us over so we can be strong for ourselves and our babies.

The ten social media mistakes athletes make most often

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Social media can have many great uses for athletes. You can keep up with latest advice and research on your sport or training, you can catch up with friends and their news even when you are training and working too many hours to see them in person and it can keep you entertained in your downtime when your body needs to rest and recover.

But, social media can also be a minefield if you find yourself comparing your training to others, you see trolling direct messages which distract you from your performance, or in the heat of a moment you don’t think through what you are tweeting and say something crass, rude or disrespectful. From researching some of the biggest social media screw ups by athletes we have found the top 10 reasons why athletes get in trouble over social media. 

  1. Forgetting anyone can see what you are writing

Not an athlete but a really good reminder from a girl who had just been offered a new job and tweeted: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” Not surprisingly the IT company were hot on checking their mentions on twitter and the job offer was retracted.

  1. Ignoring your privilege

Ian Poulter, the golfer, complained on twitter about his wife having to look after their four children on a flight in business class without the help of their nanny whose seat had been downgraded. He was accused of being out of touch with people highlighting that his Twitter profile picture was of six sports cars parked outside his multi-million pound Florida home. The digs he got back were substantial including one from Joseph Fink who summed up how many felt with : “Our thoughts are with @IanJamesPoulter in these dark times.”

  1. Showing disrespect for your sport

Ian Poulter (who clearly needs a lesson in social media reputation protection) posted videos online of himself and his children eating cereal out of the Ryder Cup. Ouch.

  1. Showing disrespect for others

During the 2012 Olympics Michel Morganella, a Swiss soccer player, sent a racist tweet about the Korean soccer team. He was expelled from the team and forced to miss the remainder of the Olympics. Greek Triple jumper Voula Papachristou also got kicked off the Greek 2012 Olympic team for twitter posts mocking African immigrants and Retweeting a politician from a far-right party.

Only this week Burney striker Andre Grey was banned for four matches and fined £25k for homophobic tweets he sent. The tweets were actually sent four years ago when he played for a non-league club. Which highlights that your online footprint is never washed away.

  1. Having your partners weighing in on an argument

Cycling partners are clearly a very defensive bunch. When Lizzie Armistead was dealing with criticisms around missing three doping tests just before the Rio Olympics one of her main rivals, the French cyclist Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, tweeted that the decision to let her ride was shameful and that the rules should be the same for everyone. Armitstead’s fiancé (now husband) Philip Deignan replied by accusing the Frenchwoman of having an affair with a married man with children.

The other-halves of Cyclists Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins also got into a twitter spat in the 2012 Tour de France. When Froome was ordered to slow down to allow Wiggins to catch up and retain the overall lead, Froome’s girlfriend, Michelle Cound tweeted: ‘Teamwork is also about giving the people around you, that support you, a chance to shine in their own right.’ Mrs Wiggins shot back a response which praised other members of the Sky Team for ‘genuine, selfless effort and true professionalism’ –  but omitted Froome. Then Peta Todd, Mark Cavendish’s wife weighed in tweeting about Froome: ‘You are a little bit special. Legend.’ No mention was made of Wiggins.

  1. Public spats with team mates

In 2015 when Mo Farah fell out with fellow runner Andy Vernon for implying he was ‘a Plastic Brit’ the gloves were off. Farah was about to race at the Sainsbury’s Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham and Vernon tweeted: “Another stellar field against Mo Farah on home turf this weekend at Birmingham. #joke”. Farah responded: “Shame you didn’t make the line up….again #ComeBackWhenYouWinSomethingDecent”. Vernon replied: “Lol Mo Farah I think even you can work out that I can make the cut to the Indoor Grand Prix. Lets hope no one loses their shoe…” Farah’s response: “I wish you did make the cut mate so I can leave you in my dust like ALWAYS!! hahahaha #hatersgonnahate”. Refering to Farah’s ‘hatersgonnahate’ hashtag, Vernon wrote: “1) stop quoting Taylor Swift. 2) I don’t hate you Mo. I would just rather watch a race than the the Mo Show. #playersgonnaplay.” Farah then posted: “that’s why they didn’t put you in the race mate.. Cos you’re an embarrassment!! Taylor swift can probably run faster than you!” Great fun for fans to follow on twitter but didn’t do either athlete any favours and caused them both unnecessary stress.

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  1. Tweeting when angry over selection

Long jumpers Greg Rutherford and Chris Tomlinson had a twitter fight after only one could be chosen for an international competition. Greg Rutherford got the spot and didn’t even make the final. Tomlinson tweeted: “Words can’t describe my anger. Season ruined on media profile & not current athletic form. Thanks for the support from the athletics community.” After apologising to fans for not making the final Rutherford added his own dig at Tomlinson: “Oh and to the trolls… Imagine a picture of my bum hole. I’m waving it at you.” Nice.

  1. Making inappropriate jokes

If commenting on news stories athletes really need to know they have the final facts. Breaking story comments can be risky for anyone, as can making jokes. Kevin Pietersen the cricketer really fell short here. He sent a tweet commenting on an article about two South African stowaways who had come on a plane from South Africa saying “Captain and Opening Bowler in England’s WC cricket team in 2019.” He then read the actual article to see one of the stowaways had died as he fell on a roof of a building from the plane and the other was fighting for his life.

  1. Responding to criticisms

When day in, day out, you get fans, critics, journalists and former players on social media goading you it can be incredibly hard for athletes not to bite back. But this very rarely goes well and often it is the athlete who comes off worst. In Kevin Pietersen’s case (yup – again) he was fined for criticising Sky commentator Nick Knight on Twitter. He’d tweeted: Can somebody please tell me how Knight has worked his way into the commentary box for Tests? Ridiculous.” It was agreed his remarks were prejudicial to ECB interests and a breach of England conditions of employment.”

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During the 2015 World Cup James Haskell got into a row with Neil Back who tweeted before a world cup match: “Don’t take your selfie stick out onto the pitch before the game like you did against @fijirugby on 18th Sept. Across a number of tweets Haskell replied: “I wasn’t even playing” You’re so old and out of touch your eyes don’t work. I hope ur book sales go better than your coaching. Explain how me recording a once in a lifetime event detrimental. You were one of my childhood heroes, yet your general negativity towards myself & the team is appalling.” “You talk about my self promotion yet u have released a sensationalist book just to make cash. That’s all I have to say on this. Rule No1 never meet your heroes.”

  1. Forgetting you are an ambassador for your sponsors

Finally, as Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and Ryan Lochte have all found to their cost, poor behaviour will quickly lose you sponsors. Poor behaviour on social media amplifies the athlete’s issues as their own words spread so quickly and no amount of crisis PR can fix things for them. Steph Rice, the Australian swimmer, tweeted a homophobic statement after watching a match. She lost a lucrative endorsement deal with Jaguar.

 

 

 

How to get what you want!

arm-touchAttended a great talk at the British Psychological Society last night by Christian Jarrett (who writes tonnes on psychology – find him on twitter @psych_writer) who had pulled together some really interesting pieces of research that give clues as to how to behave if you want people to do what you want!

There are six tips. Some obvious, one counter intuitive, one rather creepy!

  1. Be nice and polite. Research has found that when you ask someone something (i.e. can you fill in a questionnaire) that 57% of the time people will do this for you. When you premise the same question with “can you do me a favour and…” the amount of people offering to help goes up to 84%. So minding your Ps & Qs works!
  2. Warm up the person you need a favour from by apologising for something that isn’t your fault. The example from the research given was asking to borrow a mobile. When a person just asked to borrow the mobile 9% of people handed it over. When it was preceded with a “I’m sorry about the weather” that figure leapt to 47%! Apparently the superfluous apology makes you seem more empathetic and trustworthy.
  3. Play happy background music when you are asking for something you want. When a lecturer asked students to lie for him when no music was playing, 40% agreed to. With positive music in the background this rose to 70%!
  4. Make someone relieved. Researchers have set up situations where a person is fearful (thinking they were about to be in trouble with the police) and then let them realise that no police were around, giving them a sense of relief. 59% of those who went through this situation agreed to fill in a 10-minute survey straight afterwards from a road side researcher. Only 46% agreed when they had not had this experience of fear and then relief first.
  5. Confuse people by not reacting in the way they expect. There is a psychological concept called ‘Interpersonal complementarity’ where we naturally follow the social cues around us. Someone smiles, we smile back. Someone puts out their hand to shake it, we do the same. A Stanford Psychologist used this to his advantage when he realised he was in a difficult situation with a potential mugger barging into him aggressively. He fought an aggressive reaction back and instead pretended to know the guy, was overly friendly and completely caught him off guard, giving him time to escape safely.
  6. Lightly touch someone on the arm. OK, so this one sounds a little creepy but researchers in France went clubbing and asked people to dance. 43% said yes. When they asked someone to dance and lightly touched their arm at the same time 65% agreed. This has been replicated in customer service jobs where positive feedback for the staff member has increased with arm touching and waiters have received bigger tips. It apparently makes you seem more attractive and dominant.

A challenge: Two words to lose from your vocabulary

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I’ve written before on how goals need to be positive. Allowing you to achieve something, not block something. But there is one exception that I’m going for in my 2016 goals. I am banning myself from using two words… Just and Only.

Between them, just eight letters but every time you use them you give the impression that you are apologizing for being you, for your ideas, for your presence. That your views are not worth the air time.

How many times have you stuck your head round the door of someone at work and said ‘only me, just wondered….’ or piped up in a meeting with “I know I’m only…’ Instantly identifying yourself as someone who doesn’t think they have the authority or validity to be there. How many emails have you started with “I just wanted to…” Instantly indicating you don’t think you really have the right to be asking. Apologizing for being you, for doing your job. If you don’t think you deserve a voice, why should anyone else?

An article earlier this year from former Google executive Ellen Petry Leanse discussed the ‘just’ issue. She noted how much, when she started working in a fairly female environment, the word Just was banded about extensively, as if everyone was asking for permission. And she noted how much more it is used by women.

So try one week picking yourself up every time you say or write ‘only’ or ‘just’. I didn’t think I did it too much before I realized I was having to delete it in almost every email I wrote. It is enlightening. And removing those eight letters, those two words, doesn’t make you seem rude, or that you are toe stepping. It makes you look like your value your voice, and so should everyone else.

The five Cs of networking

I recently attended a great conference having been out of the corporate world for a while. I immediately switched back into my ‘networking’ mode and realised it is a great skill that is hard to pick up (and scary to start with) but one that you never forget and will always value having. So if you are off to an event or conference or awards ceremony and there won’t be many (or any) people there that you know, rather than hide in the corner and pretend to be frantically working on your blackberry (yes – we’ve all done it) these five rules of networking should help you on your way,  ensure you make some new contacts out of the day and enjoy the experience a bit more too.

  1. Commit – to speaking to three people you didn’t know before at every event you go to. It gives you a target and stops you getting lazy or too timid.
  2. Conversation openers – If you don’t know anyone there are a number of different routes you can go down to open conversations. When you arrive speak to the host or the person who invited you and ask them who is interesting and ask them to introduce you. A great tip is never to walk up to a group of 2 people you don’t know (as they may be having a private conversation) but a group of three will always welcome you. In 10 years this trick has worked every time. Work out in advance some easy conversation openers or developers that you can fall back on if it gets difficult. The topic of the event or the subject of the session you have just been in is always the easiest conversation opener.
  3. Cards – always have business cards on you – you never know when you may need them and who you will meet.
  4. Cues – build up a bank of conversational cues you can use to escape dull conversations but don’t be rude. The worst people at networking events are those who spend your conversation staring over your shoulder for someone more important to speak to. Manners cost nothing and make a massive difference so extricate yourself politely.
  5. Confidently follow up – if you meet someone interesting or discuss ways either of you may be able to help the other, do follow up with a short email. Don’t be too shy to do so you never know how they may be able to help you in the future, or you to help them. And being able to give someone else a step up is a fantasitc feeling.