Eight ways to manage a difficult conversation

Wrestling imageJanuary provides the obvious opportunity to assess where we are in life, and where we want to be. We may have had some time over the Christmas break to reflect and we may have set resolutions, or goals for the new year. This can be really positive and give us a feeling that we’ve got a fresh start coming. But it can also mean we realise there are some things that need to change. And change can be hard, and sometimes requires some difficult conversations. Those conversations may be with a partner, or a relative, or even someone you work with like a boss, a team member or a coach. They are usually really daunting and nerve wracking which means we get flustered, we feel under threat and what we want to say can come out wrong.

Here are eight of tricks to put yourself in the best place to have those difficult conversations:

Your physical positioning: Rather than sitting face to face with someone which can feel rather confrontational, being side by side can feel much easier and can take some of the emotion and threat out of the situation. Side by side during a walk or car journey can work well.

Preparation: Write yourself a short note of what you want from the conversation. This helps when you get flustered to keep the tone positive and proactive, rather than becoming an opportunity to throw angry points around. You may want to yell and scream but keeping in mind what you actually want from the conversation will make it a lot more productive with fewer implications if you say something you can’t take back. Use this ‘goal’ as your mantra to keep you on track if you get tempted to pour out everything you are feeling.

The right timing: Make sure there is enough time for the conversation needed. The worst thing is for it to be squeezed into a small gap and the other person to get called away and you having gone through that worry and preparation and not having an outcome.

Know where you will compromise: There is no one universal truth, we all have our own versions, from our own perspective, so it is rare that a difficult conversation ends with a black and white, yes or no or simple outcome. Instead think about your boundaries and where you are prepared to flex them in advance so you don’t feel on the back foot if someone pushes you back.

Try to talk early in the day: If we are nervous about a tough conversation we will wind ourselves up over the day until we are in a great deal of stress. This stress puts our body in a ‘fight or flight’ mode where the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking gets hijacked and we find it much harder to have the conversation we want without tears or frustrations or anger creeping in, ramping up the feeling of conflict within the room.

Use a breathing technique: To calm yourself down before a tough conversation try colourful breathing. This is where you breathe in red (or choose a favourite colour) air for four counts through your nose, hold deep inside you for two counts and then breathe out blue air for six counts through your mouth.

Let the other person vent: Sometimes we just need to have our views listened to, and acknowledged as valid, before we can even think about working on a solution. Playing the grown up in a tough conversation and letting the other person have their say can actually speed up the process and get you both to a resolution much quicker.

Use breaks strategically: if you find yourself getting too worked up and too much emotion creeping into the room excuse yourself for some water or a bathroom break to get yourself calm again. Keep it positive though (rather than looking like you are running away!) so say something like: “I’m so sorry but I could really use some coffee before we continue. Would you like one too?”


Tribe of Mentors. 55 pieces of great advice


Terris book









Tim Ferris – known for the 4 hour work week recently wrote to a bunch of successful people he admired. He asked them 11 questions:

  1. What is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift and why?
  2. What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life?
  3. How has failure set you up for later success?
  4. What would you write on a giant billboard?
  5. What is the most worthwhile investment you’ve ever made?
  6. What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
  7. In the last five years what new belief, habit or behaviour has most improved your life?
  8. What advice would you give to college student about to enter the real world?
  9. What bad recommendations to you hear in your area of expertise?
  10. What have you become better at saying no to and how?
  11. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused what do you do?

140 people sent back replies and the hefty book he’s just released contains them all. It can be bought here. I think the book will work differently for different people and we’ll each take out own nuggets from it, but the points that really struck me are here…


10 books to add to your reading list

  • Sam Barondes – Making Sense of People – useful mental models to explain what makes people tick.
  • Viktor Frankl’s – Man’s Search for Meaning
  • Christopher Alexander – A pattern Language
  • Chungliang Al Huang – Thinking Body, Dancing Mind
  • Bob Richards – Heart of a Champion
  • Gary Mack – Mind Gym
  • John Wooden – Wooden: A lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the court.
  • George Leonard – Mastery
  • Charlie Munger – Charlie’s Almanack
  • Don Migual Ruiz – The Four Agreements


9 giant billboard phrases

  • Bozoma Saint John – Be the change you want to see in the world.
  • Richa Chadha – “Be so good they can’t ignore you”.
  • It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case you fail by default (JK Rowling)
  • Bear Grylls – Storms make us stronger.
  • Fedor Holz – Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right (Henry Ford)
  • Peter Guber – Don’t let the weight of fear weigh down the joy of curiosity.
  • Sarah Elizabeth Lewis – Keep the main thing the main thing.
  • Dr Jim Loehr – To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children….to leave the world a bit better…to know even one live has breathed easier because you have lived; this is to have succeeded.
  • Daniel Negreanu – To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. (Elbert Hubbard)


8 great pieces of advice

  • Make sure you have something in your diary every day that you are looking forward to.
  • Andrew Ross Sorkin – Persistence matters more than talent.
  • Marie Forleo – Pursue every project, idea or industry that genuinely lights you up, regardless of how unrelated each idea is, or how unrealistic a long-term career in that field might seem now. You’ll connect the dots later.
  • Jason Fried – Time and attention are very different things. They are your most precious resources. You always have less attention than time. Full attention I where you do your best work. Protect and preserve it.
  • Daniel Ek – Good things come to those who work their arses off and never give up.
  • Darren Aronofsky – Most of the game is about persistence. Keep the vision clear in your head and every day refuse all obstacles to get to the goal.
  • Strauss Zelnick – Figure out what success means to you – and make sure your choices are in service of those goals
  • Linda Rottenberg – don’t keep too many doors open – it can lead to paralysis or self-deception.


7 ways to turn down requests or invitations

  • Kyle Maynard – rate any requests or invitations on a scale of 1-10 but you are not allowed to give a 7. Then it becomes clear whether you actually want to do something or not. A 7 is an obligation to do it. 8 or above is a want. 6 or below is not going to happen.
  • Neil Strauss – I ask myself if I’m saying yes out of guilt or fear. If so then I give a polite no.
  • Annie Duke – I always imagine it is the day after an event and I’m asking myself if the travel was worth it. If it was I’ll say yes. If not, no.
  • Gary Vaynerchuk – I need a healthy balance of 20% yeses to things that seem dumb because I believe in serendipity.
  • Tim O’Reilly & Esther Dyson – Would I say yes to this if it was on Tuesday. Because if it gets to Tuesday and you think ‘why on earth did I say yes’ then you should have said no.
  • Sam Harris – I say no to more or less everything. I realised I was being given a choice between working on my own projects and spending time with my family or working for someone else (usually for free)
  • Drew Houston – you don’t owe anyone lengthy explanations and you don’t have to respond to every email. Brief one-line responses like ‘I can’t make it but thanks for thinking of me’ are enough.


6 habits to copy

  • Greg Norman – Brushing my teeth while standing on one leg – It is great for your core, legs and stabilisation.
  • Sarah Elizabeth Lewis- Taking privacy very seriously when working on creative work. Going off social media as this stops me worrying about what others might think of some unusual idea your pondering and you give it a chance to grow and mature.
  • Muneeb Ali – I ask myself ‘when I am old how much would I be willing to pay to travel back in time and relive the moment that I’m experiencing right now. That simple question puts everything in perspective and makes you grateful for the experience you are having right now.
  • Ben Silberman – Keeping a gratitude journal. If you build up a habit of writing things down your brain is constantly looking for those thing and you feel happier.
  • Dr Jim Loehr – Daily journaling. Quantifying behaviour raises awareness and as a consequence habit acquisition times are typically accelerated.
  • Robert Rodriguez – On a task I need to focus on I sit down with two notebooks. One for the task and one for distractions. I set my timer for 20 minutes. Every time I find myself getting distracted with something else I could do I write it down on the distractions notebook and go back to the task. Any incoming missile goes on the distractions notebook and I go back to focusing on the task.


5 ways to reflect on failure

  • Arianna Huffington – Failure is not the opposite of success but a steppingstone to success.
  • David Lynch – a real good failure gives a person tremendous freedom. You can’t fall further down so there is nowhere to go but up. There is nothing left to lose.
  • Marc Benioff – I look at every failure as a learning experience and try to spend time with my failures. I stew on them for a while until I pick out some nugget from them that I can take forward. I learnt that if I’m upset about something I should spend time asking myself “what could I learn” because another opportunity is going to come in the future and I will be better able to re-execute it.
  • Dr Jim Loehr – Failure will happen and failure is an opportunity to build resilience, to practice forgiveness of self and others and to gain wisdom.
  • Kristen Ulmer – Fear is not a sign of personal weakness but a natural state of discomfort that occurs when you are out of your comfort zone. It is there to sabotage you but to help you come alive, be more focused and to get a heightened state of excitement and awareness.


4 ways to find your focus

  • Jesse Williams- I ask myself: “What would you do if you if you weren’t afraid.”
  • Neil Strauss – Overwhelmed is about mentally managing what’s coming from outside yourself, unfocused is about mentally managing what’s going on inside. What works for both is stepping away from work for a while.
  • Andrew Ross Sorkin – I always think ‘Would it help?’ When something happens and you start to think about if you should be worried you then think ‘would it help’.
  • Ingvar Kamprad – You can do so much in ten minutes. Ten minutes, once gone are gone for good. Divide your life into ten-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.


3 ways to solve a problem

  • Jocko Willink – Prioritise and execute. Take a step back. Detach from the mayhem, look at the situation. Assess the problems task or issues, choose the one which will have the biggest impact. Execute a plan based on that.
  • Tom Peters – MBWA – Manage by wandering around. Talk to people. Be in touch. Learn from everyone.
  • Ed Coan – I tend to break it down, put it down on paper, then look at it half hour later. All of those smaller things don’t look like such a big deal.


2 bad recommendations

  • Rick Rubin – When people give you advice they are giving it to you based on their skills, experience and perspectives. Often people are telling you about their journey, and your journey will be different. So feel free to ignore lots of advice.
  • Dr Jim Loehr – We advise people to stay away from stress but protection from stress serves only to erode my capacity to handle it. Stress exposure is the stimulus for all growth and growth actually occurs during episodes of recovery.


1 worthwhile investment

  • Dr Brene Brown – Spending 55 minutes defining a problem and then the final five minutes fixing it. The more time you spend defining the problem the better you will fix it. SO invest in problem identification.



Learning from the best: Matt Jones

Matt Jones Frames of MindA few weeks ago I got the chance to interview the freestyle mountain biker, Matt Jones. I work with lots of cyclists but none of them are yet doing the kind of tricks that Matt routinely fits into his rides and I was fascinated to find out how he approaches something that is so risky.

Matt’s tricks got noticed by Red Bull who offered him an amazing opportunity to create a video showcasing his skills. However there was one problem. On the day he was supposed to start practicing and designing the course he was injured. He couldn’t ride. Here he tells us how he overcame that huge hurdle (and the daily hurdles which come with his sport) to make the beautiful film: Frames of Mind.

He prepares really really well so he feels more confident and relaxed…

“If you are very relaxed and not paying attention to risks and importance of doing everything properly you are basically putting yourself at risk. There are riders like that who go into things with very little care and it is quite amazing to watch them and they really go big but they have either very short careers or spend a lot of time with their feet up with broken bones! So I think to have the approach and go into things with a very focused mindset about where your limitations are and where you are very calm and confident within yourself as a rider and kind of maximise what you are good at that’s really important and then you can be more relaxed then and have faith and know what you are capable of. Whereas if every trick you are going to do back to back consistently feels high risk to you then you are going to be super stressed about the whole thing and that is a difficult way to be.”

He focuses only on his tricks, no-one else’s…

“Something I’ve found more useful lately is not look so much at what everyone else is doing because that is always quite hard, you are always comparing yourself to the competition so if you just stay in your lane and focus in your own thing and however you are judged, you are judged, and however well you do, you do, but as long as you do that it takes a massive level of stress away from the whole thing and pressure because you just do what you know you can and spend all day practicing.”

“It is super hard when you are all practicing for a competition and there is someone practicing the most amazing tricks in practice. It used to put me on a downer and think there is no way I could do that and accepting that you are not as good as someone is quite tricky especially when you are at an event, or just before but I sometimes find it easier now just to reframe things and if someone is doing a trick I know I would struggle to do or am not happy to do in practice, if anything it is an opportunity to watch them do it and seeing someone else do it makes you realise it is possible, you don’t have to be the first guy to do it.”

He sets really realistic goals…

“If I go to a contest where I think I can win and if you don’t win you are really on the back foot. Whereas I went to an event this year where I changed my outlook and I went for the top ten because I’d been injured leading up to it and so I thought what am I here for; am I here to win or would I be happy in the top ten. When I accepted that I was just going to chill out a bit and just accept the result I got and if it was in the top ten I would be happy it made everything so much easier. I even enjoyed the contest day because I was doing stuff I knew I would be happy with. I got ninth so really happy with that actually. It wasn’t my best result of this year but one where I was really happy because what I set out to do I achieved and that is the same as setting out to win and winning really.”

He uses lots of visualisation…

“With this video project I used visualisation out of necessity. I was injured at the start of it, when we went into building the course. I was injured so I couldn’t practice anything or even try out the jumps we were building so I was basically having to give dimensions and features I was telling the builders to make and I was having to look at them enough that I thought they were definitely perfect and trust when it came to filming on them they would be ready to go. But it was quite hard. Some of the stuff I did for the first time when we were filming. The day the cameras were set up and ready to go that was the first day I was doing the jumps. I had to do tricks I’ve never done before so it felt like real high pressure but I was pretty confident it was built to the right spec and that it was going to work.”

“It helped to be there and look at it with my own eyes and imagining it, definitely in slow motion and then speed things up. I found that if I did that enough, when it actually came to doing it for real on my bike it didn’t feel new. It felt almost familiar which is quite cool. Generally, if you do something for the first time you have no idea about the outcome but with these tricks it didn’t even feel new. When it worked I didn’t even feel surprised because it had worked in my head so many times.”

“I could lie on the sofa and I could go over and look at the course and use that time to visualise riding it. Now I’m not injured and I’m back riding every day I’m still using it now to bring that element of risk down and try to get to the end goal quicker. It is super useful to be honest.”

Uses other people’s confidence in him to build his own confidence…

“I’d be lying if I said every time I was starting to work on a new trick knowing the filming was coming up I could capture it. I never was 100% sure but I had to tools to make it work and a bit of mental strength to go with it but there is always that element of risk and some stuff doesn’t go. I think the confidence came from a bit of self-belief and the drive to make the most of the opportunity with this video. Because I’ve never had that before. If it wasn’t for this big project I’d probably have tried a trick a few times and if it wasn’t working I’d have left it but because everything had been built in a bespoke way and these tricks had been worked out it almost felt like I had no choice but to keep working on it and there was enough push from people around me to see it through which was really cool. On normal typical jumps I ride, if I wanted to do a trick for a video or contest and it wasn’t working I’d find the next best one and compromise but with this because everything was so specific and tailor made there was no compromise it was the trick I’d written down or nothing. There was a lot of pressure riding on ‘will it even work’ because if it doesn’t that is a whole idea gone out of the window. There was pressure but also opportunity with you have that thing you have asked for to make this work; let’s do it. So that was a massive benefit and a level of excitement that I had the opportunity to do it and I didn’t want to let that one away really.”


Tough Girl – Sarah Williams

Tough Girl pictureSarah Williams is the brains behind the fantastic Tough Girl podcast. She is currently studying for a Masters in Women and gender studies and goes off on her own adventures when she gets the chance. Through her podcast she has interviewed over 150 female athletes and adventurers and has created over 100 hours of content. The podcasts have been downloaded 400,000 times and are listened to in 172 countries. Sarah shows great skill at not just teasing out the women’s incredible stories but helping them acknowledging what they learnt about themselves through the challenges they have taken on, and highlighting how they have helped to inspire and empower other women.

Here we turned the tables. The interviewer becomes the interviewee. We learn more about what inspires her, what she has learnt from these 150 women she has interviewed and which elements of sport psychology she uses in her own adventures.

What inspired her to start tough girl…

“I was going into schools to give motivational talks and chatting to the girls about their goals and aspirations for the future and it was just disheartening. These girls were wanting to be wags, to be pretty, to find a rich man and this was 2015.  I was thinking why, you can be so much more than what you look like and who you marry. And then I was looking through a newspaper and it was all just men, men, men – all football and rugby – I was thinking where are the women? There were no women at all. Where are all the role models? If these young girls can’t see it how can they become it. How do they know they can go out and be adventurers and explorers and swim the channel? When I started looking into what challenges I could do I started coming across all these amazing women. I like to think of myself as a connected person; I read a lot but I just didn’t know about any of these women or any of these challenges they had done. So how would a 15 year old girl know about this?

With a podcast, when you hear someone’s voice and you hear that passion and you hear that doubt, it really connects with you mentally. To share that, to get all those voices heard and out there, to increase the amount of people who are role models, podcasting was a good way to do it. The feedback is amazing. So humbling. One today almost made me cry. It just arrived this morning. I think a lot of people don’t know who to talk to and to reach out to but because they have heard my voice they’ll reach out to me.”

Why role models are so important…

“There is a ripple effect. For everyone going out running, your friends and family see it and suddenly others see it is possible and so they feel it may be for them too. I remember my first London marathon. My sister was doing the London Marathon, pretty much every friend I have was doing the London marathon. I felt left out. Everyone else was running and training and you want to get involved and do more of it.”

What has she noticed about her interviewees…

“That everybody is just normal and anybody could do it. It is just that they DO go out and do it. Fear is something we talk about a lot. It is all the fears; the fear of success, failure, all of them. There is one lady I interviewed called Kat Davis (listen here) and she was sharing about the time she hiked the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). She was saying I’m scared of bears, I’m scared of snakes, I’m scared of the snow. I’m scared of being by myself and scared of failing. I’m still scared of all those things but I still go out and do it. And I think that is a really big thing. It is worth talking about more and more. Doing it and the fear. That is the common theme. Everybody is scared and has their own personal fears. The worst line I hear is I could never do that. I’m not like you. Actually you could. You just have to try and just have to give it a go.”

Any triggers she has spotted making people want to take on these adventures…

“I think sometimes people do have those live changing situations happen to them. But then sometimes I think it can be a very gradual build-up in the case of just starting for a walk, then it is 5k, then 10k, then a half marathon, then a marathon, then an ultra, then a 100 miler. This trigger is always one of the key things. What can make people take those key steps? How do you get people to do it? I do think about that first step a lot.

The mental skills she has spotted her interviewees using…

“Visualisation, being really specific about goals, having accountability and needing to tell people what they are doing and why they are doing it. Once a goal is out there you’ll be asked and that is very very powerful for getting people to the start line and giving that motivation and incentive. The other thing around mindset that comes out a lot is about gratitude and positivity. I see people realising they cannot control the environment so if someone is climbing Mount Everest they realise they have no control over the weather and what is happening on the mountain but actually what they can control is their internal emotion.”

“You’ve heard about the Egg and the Potato? It is Jasmijn Muller’s mantra. So Jasmijn got that from the podcast from a triathlete called Parys Edwards who shared a story about how the same boiling water which makes a potato soft, makes an egg go hard. The circumstances will be the same but how you respond to them gives a different outcome. So if you can, then ‘be the Egg’, and for a lot of women this just clicked for a lot of them. It was like when situations are overwhelming I can give in or can I be positive so even when I was doing something like Marathon De Sables I’d be thinking I can’t control the heat, or the distance, or the terrain, but what can I be grateful for? The sky is blue, I’ve trained for this, I love the temperature etc and actually that can shift your mindset in a powerful way.”

“Mantras we talk a lot about. Sometimes they can almost get a little bit complicated. Depending how far you are in when you are doing an ultra, at one point for me it got down to a point of just saying ‘Step’. ‘Step.’ ‘Step.’ Just keeping me moving as I was slowing down so much. Even counting helped so much. 10 minutes running but I would break it down into 3 minutes and then to 5 minutes and then 8 minutes. So even a 10 minute block I would break it down even further. But even for these big overwhelming goals that people take on it works as well. So a marathon isn’t running 26.2 miles, it is running 1 mile 26 times. There are so many ways of breaking things down but most people don’t even start because they get so overwhelmed by the big challenge. But if you just take it down to the very first step, it is ‘what do I actually need to do’. I don’t think it is complicated but sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Once you start going out and doing these events you start picking up these little tricks that work specifically for you. It is also rewarding yourself and celebrating what you have achieved.”

On the adventures she is planning….

“One thing I’m looking at the moment is basically rowing an ocean. I’m looking at what can I do my Masters thesis on and there has been a lot written about female mountaineers and female mountaineering but I look at trying to find academic research about female ocean rowers and there really isn’t any. So Roz Savage has rowed the Pacific and then the coxless four women have also done it and that is it for the Pacific. There is quite a lot more for the Atlantic and I think for the Indian there is Sarah Outen and Roz Savage and another group of four women who have done it and I think that must be fascinating to look into that. When I was chatting with Mollie Hughes she said one of the reasons she started climbing Mount Everest was because she started doing her dissertation around the mental preparation around climbing Mount Everest and obviously got so into it that she ended up going to climb it twice. So I think that rowing an ocean would be incredible. I think I’d like to do it as part of a team; in a pair or a four. I think there would be a big difference being by yourself in the middle of the ocean in a boat than there is being by yourself in the middle of the Appalachian Trail. It is very very different.”

“I’m definitely now more interested in the longer challenges. I could not motivate myself to train for months for an Ironman for it all to be over in one day. That literally has no interest for me at all now. Running a marathon doesn’t really interest me, anymore. That is not to say it isn’t amazing and not fantastic, but I can’t really psych myself up to go and do four months training for four and a bit hours. For me it is about the experience. It is about making it more of a lifestyle choice and making it a longer challenge and making it more interesting. I think when I hear about Elise Downing who ran the coast of Britain. I think I’d prefer something like that to put yourself under that pressure at the end of the day.

What is the biggest thing she has learnt from 150 interviewees…

“That you can always do more. What I mean by that is I interviewed Stephanie Case who inspired me to go and get my masters in women and gender. She works for the UN and runs a charity called free to run. She trains for these incredible events even when she is working in places like Afghanistan and living in a compound and only had the top of the roof to train and she would run for hours and hours and hours in a circle round the compound. And I’m sat there thinking she has got a full-time job working for a global agency, she’s training for a marathon and running an international based charity and I’m thinking I can do so much more.”

“I can dream bigger and I can do it. And even when you are pushing yourself on the Appalachian Trail even when you might be mentally or physically exhausted after 20 odd miles I listened to someone who says you can always do 40% more than you think you can. So when you think you are at the end you are not. You can push yourself another 40%. You can always do more. You can always achieve more. My sister is very inspiring to me. I think you have one life. What can you do with it? How she makes use of her time is incredible. Most people just don’t. Do more. Dream bigger. Time is going to disappear anyway and I think sometimes you’ve just got to do it. There will always be people who comment on your choices and your decisions, but you’ve just got to be comfortable with you and not with what other people think cause actually, in 20 years’ time, you won’t even remember who these people are.”

5 ways to feel more positive

It is gloomy and cold and we are all trying to hold off on Christmas excitement till December so here are five ways to help ourselves feel a little bit more positive on a grey November afternoon:

  • Start a thankful journal. Before bed each night write down three things, people, or events for which you are grateful. Means you go to sleep in a more positive frame of mind and helps prevent negative thoughts ruminating around in your head.
  • Get a really good night’s sleep. Sleep is where our memories are consolidated, particularly from everything we have learnt over a day, so to make sure we are benefiting from the efforts we make each day we really need a decent amount of sleep.
  • Make a do lists and break down any big tasks on it into their component parts. Breaking things down into small chunks not only makes each thing feel more doable but you will also get a buzz of achievement each time you tick something off. More mini activities, more ticks.
  • Actively practice turning negative thoughts into positive ones. It will feel awkward and weird at first but over time can become more natural. So instead of; ‘I can’t do this’ think ‘I can’t do this yet, but I’m going to have a go’.
  • Do scary stuff first. There is a great idea called ‘Eat the frog’. If you know you have to eat a frog today you will feel nervous (and probably nauseous!). You are likely to procrastinate all day about eating the frog and will mar the whole day with this fear. But if you prioritise doing it first thing then it gets it out of the way, gives you a lovely smug feeling and frees up the rest of the day for less intimidating activities.

Seven tactics to stop comparing ourselves against others

Race resultsIn sport comparison is inescapable. If you are racing or competing there will always be numbers ranking us, digitizing us, making easy comparison to anyone else. It is a very quick way for athletes to lose confidence and develop low self-esteem. This social comparison can be harsh as someone else will always be better than you. Even Bolt got beaten. And Research has found that the harder we are on ourselves the harder it is to regain our motivation and we are less likely to achieve the goals we do set so, the more we compare, the worse we will do.

You can only compare effectively if you are starting from the same starting blocks as the person you are comparing to. We are each too unique to compare fairly. Even identical twins will have different personality traits, different talents and different motivations. But we never are. So comparison puts focus on something you have absolutely no control over putting yourself in an unwinnable, and very frustrating situation. To get on top of this negative comparison here are seven tactics to try:

  1. Focus on temporal comparison where you look at how you are doing compared to where you were in the past and where would you like to get to. You can then make clear steps and plans to get where you want to go and this helps you feel much more in control. In doing this we become more self-aware and can understand our motivations and ambitions better. If we tie this in with our own values we can feel authentic in the route we take. To identify these values ask yourself three questions:
    • What do you want to be remembered for?
    • When you look back over this year what will you need to achieve to feel proud?
    • What are the three values that matter most to you?

Once we look deeply at the ‘then, now and the future,’ and understand our values which support that then everything is in the open it is much easier to confront and deal with it.

  1. Remind yourself that the perfection you see in others is just an illusion. We only see the instagramable perfection of other’s lives. Research found people more likely to show positive emotions than negative ones and that we each tend to overestimate the presence of positivity in the lives of others. This means we a comparing our lives with an incomplete picture of someone else’s. You may see the great race result a club mate had but not the pain they have gone through in training. You see the picture perfect family day posted on facebook but not the mega tantrum two minutes before the shots were taken. There is always a far more realistic story behind it.
  2. We beat ourselves up for not ‘trying hard enough’ yet we are on a different journey in life to other people and were born with different advantages. There is a great saying – don’t measure yourself against someone else’s ruler. If you compare yourself to other people around you those people start become enemies, instead of your friends. Benchmarking their successes to evaluate ourselves against will make us jealous and bitter rather than supportive and excited for them. If you find yourself succumbing to this then a good point to remember is that we become like those we surround ourselves with. Surrounding ourselves with successful, ambition and hard working people and some of those elements will brush off on us – so it is not just altruistic, it is actually in our own interests for those around us to do well.
  3. Celebrate your uniqueness. What do you love about you? Forget being humble. What is great about you? What values do you have, what traits do you love, when do you feel proud?
  4. Remember and document your successes – keep a diary or a ‘jar of joy’ and note down when you have been proud of something you have worked hard towards and achieved. When you find yourself starting to compare with others pull out a note and read through it.
  5. Find things that matter to you which cannot be measured. Race times, school grades, work appraisals all use numbers and are very easy for us to use to compare to each other. But some of the loveliest things in life can’t be compared. Seeing an amazing view from a mountain you have climbed, drinking the perfect cocktail on a lovely beach, eating fish and chips with your best mate on a park bench putting the world to rights, a run along the river where you come up with a solution to a problem you’ve been ruminating over, taking a picture of a friend or child that completely captures their personality, making someone’s day by baking them a cake they weren’t expecting. All things which have no measurement, but will bring you, and often someone else a little piece of joy.
  6. If you can’t help yourself comparing then study the person you are envious of and understand what it is you envy and then work out how you can achieve that. If they are famous then read interviews or autobiographies. Pull out the envy element and make a plan for how you can develop that. Write down three things you could learn from them to help you get closer to what they have achieved? When you find yourself starting to get jealous look over these, remind yourself you are on a different journey to them, and pick one of the things you can learn from them as your goal for the next week.



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.

7 weeks till Marathon – Understand your motivation


Over the eight weeks’ final build up to the London Marathon I am blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for the race as your body is. This blog, with seven weeks to go, suggests you should spend some time understanding your motivation for running the marathon.


Why are you running the marathon? Are you fundraising for a charity? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? Do you enjoy running and use the time in your trainers to keep you mentally strong? Do you want to set a new PB? Has running become your social life? Or are you running because you always do a spring marathon? Whatever that motivation is that got you signing up and out training for the marathon, understanding it, can be really valuable. And when you don’t remember why you are running, or why you chose the races you have entered, it is all too easy to back off or even stop when it gets tough or life gets in the way.

There are two types of motivation. The first comes from inside you. This is when you are competing for the love of it, simply because you get personal satisfaction out of the training, out of striving for targets or just the joy of being able to run. The second type is more externally driven. This may come from the medals you gain, the accolades which come from your friends and family or the fact you don’t want to let down your charity. Neither is better than the other but, if your motivation comes from within it can be more robust and stay with you when you come up against set-backs.

If your motivation is that you love being fit and healthy you will, in the main, be happy looking at your training plan and seeing 6:30am treadmill sessions. Even if that session doesn’t go well your motivation remains high because you are inspired by the process, not the outcome. If your motivation comes from winning prize money your motivation will be through the roof when you are doing well but if you get injured, your rate of improvement slows or you simply have a run of bad luck you will find it really hard to maintain the motivation to keep going and training will feel like a chore.

Whether your motivation comes from internal or external factors all types of motivation can be fuelled – if you are able to identify, hone and make the most of yours.

Free writing is a really good way to do this. You need a pen, notebook, 30 minutes where you won’t be disturbed and a large mug of coffee (tea works well too!). Then all you have to do is daydream and ask yourself a bunch of questions as you write:

  1. How do you see Marathon day going?
  2. What to do you want to feel as you cross the finish line?
  3. What outcome would make you happy?
  4. When you have those (albeit probably rare) amazing runs where you feel like a runner and the miles fly by effortlessly, what is in your mind?
  5. What gives you your buzz in running?
  6. If you were told you couldn’t run at all for the next month how would you feel? 

Reading though your piece of writing at the end can help you identify your motivation. If your daydream is standing on a podium at the end of the marathon then you’ve got a pretty big clue. If it is to be able to hobble into work on the Monday morning with your medal round your neck you have another clue. If you imagine yourself handing over a big cheque to a charity that matters to you, another clue. If it is having your son or daughter ask to go running with you because they want to be like you when they grow up then ‘inspiring others’ may be your motivation. Whatever you feel it is, once you’ve identified it you can work to bring it into your training – making your training really effective and a lot stickier.

For example, if a big donation to your charity is your motivation then research what your target amount could buy for them, and break that down per mile so you know for each mile you’ll be providing an hour of a nurse to someone with cancer, or two hot meals to elderly people. Perhaps speaking to some people the charity supports to dedicate each section of the marathon to them. Or create yourself a mantra which reminds you of who and what you are running for. Write that mantra on your wall, in your wallet, in your kit bag.

If you discover you are motivated by inspiring others then joining group training sessions, signing up to be a run leader for your club or taking coaching classes can be a great way to stay on top of what you want to achieve and give you the buzz you need to stay on track.

So actively identifying your personal motivation and then entwining that with your training and races plans can keep you on track and your goals in sight.

The ten social media mistakes athletes make most often


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.


  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.”


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.