You Coach You (2022) is a guide to being your own coach for maximum career success and happiness. With practical guides, questions that help you think about who you are at work, and fun exercises, the authors show you how you can be your own best cheerleader and guide.
Introduction: What’s in it for you? Learn how to coach yourself to success.
A personal coach – how awesome would that be? Who doesn’t long for that perfect someone to stand on the sidelines, cheering you on, encouraging you, and teaching you how to get better at what you do? But adding that support person to your life can be expensive and time consuming.
So . . . what if you could do the job yourself?
It’s an exciting thought, even a liberating one. And this summary is here to help you make it happen, through practical advice and suggestions that help you become your own best advocate. You’ll learn how to observe yourself, create strategies for improvement, and guide yourself to success.
In these summaries, you’ll learn
- how to silence your inner critic;
- who to invite to your inner circle; and
- how to recognize which monkeys to manage.
Self-coaching helps you find satisfaction and make progress along a curvy career path.
How does this sound: “Corner office.”
What about “promotion?” Or – last one – “climbing up the corporate ladder?”
Not bad, huh? If you’re like most people, chances are they’re music to your ears. Especially if, like most people, you grew up thinking that all three were career goals that would guide you through a long and happy work life. There was a predictability to the way you were supposed to do things; network with the right people, strategize your way into the next pay scale – that’s just how things have always been done.
Well, I’m here to tell you something: take a great big eraser and wipe that slate clean, because the career ladder? It’s a thing of the past. According to Helen Tupper and Sara Ellis’s bestselling book, You Coach You, these days, the road to your career happy place is less of a single, perfectly straight freeway and…well, more of a squiggly country road, one that can be long, winding and, ideally, interesting.
Sound a little confusing? That’s natural. After all, a ladder is a simple thing to climb; there’s one way up and one way down. A squiggly line comes with freedom, but it isn’t necessarily as straightforward.
That’s where self-coaching comes in. Helen Tupper and Sara Ellis describe coaching as “the skill of asking yourselves questions to improve self-awareness and prompt positive action.” But how do you do this?
One of the first things to do is to think about your mindset. Researcher Carol Dweck introduced the notion of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. Here’s one way to make the leap between the two . Instead of saying you can’t do something, say you can’t do it yet. That one word can open the door to limitless potential. Approaching the exercises and ideas in this summary with a growth mindset can go a long way in helping you coach yourself to your maximum potential.
That raises a question – just what is your maximum potential? Well, to figure that out, you first need to know exactly who you are now. Not quite there yet? That’s normal – a lot of people aren’t. So let’s figure it out.
To begin with, are you a doer or a thinker? Just for fun, “try on” the other side once in a while. Pause often. Evaluate and analyze your work. Listen to your own thoughts. Are they jumpy, or are they focused? Do they shy away from difficult situations?
Next, expand that thoughtfulness outward. It’s not just about having a clear understanding of who you are, but also about knowing how others see you.
In this summary, you’ll learn more about the six areas of self-coaching: resilience, time, self-belief, relationships, progression, and purpose.
Along the way, you’re likely to encounter an old foe: your inner critic, the one who says you’re not smart enough or good enough. When this happens, try to be your own best friend – what would you tell your best friend if they were doubting themselves? Remember to give yourself that same encouragement. And with that in mind, let’s dive in!
You already possess the tools for developing resilience and self-belief.
This summary will discuss resilience and self-belief, which are often intertwined. These words get thrown around a lot, but when it comes to developing the actual traits, it can be tough to figure out exactly how to do it. Don’t worry. You don’t need to spend your days chasing after an exhausting – and maybe even false – positivity. You just need to notice more of the good stuff that’s already there and talk about it in the right way.
See, the words you use when you talk to yourself can have a huge impact on what you do and how you feel, so you don’t want to use limiting ones. Start with the letter P. Psychologist Martin Seligman identified the three Ps of pessimism: personal, pervasive, and permanent. AKA “It’s all my fault,” “Everything sucks,” and “It will always be this way.”
Words like these are “thinking traps,” and they just box you into unhelpful assumptions. No one’s life is a hundred percent awesome all the time. Need proof? Look around you for examples of people who have overcome the odds. Once you find some, reach out to them for advice. And look within yourself, too. You’ll find examples of how you yourself have succeeded there, and you can learn a lot from examining why.
Which leads us to the next letter in this vocabulary lesson: R. That’s R for recognize, record, and reflect. What is one success you’ve had today, even if it’s tiny? Recognize it and record it – that is, write it down. Then look for the lesson it contains and reflect on that.
Then move your reflections into action. Start by imagining your future – the one you’d like to create. Write down an obstacle to that future, and, finally, imagine how you can overcome it to get where you need to be.
Pay close attention to the way you talk about yourself. What “lens” do you see yourself through; one that’s limiting or one that’s limitless? If the former, try this technique for changing your mindset; the authors of You Coach You call it the “fly on the wall” technique.
Imagine that you’ve got a great idea that you think will really benefit your organization. There’s a big meeting coming up, and you’re planning to pitch it to your colleagues. As the meeting approaches, you’re getting more and more excited about sharing the idea – your colleagues are really going to love it, and once it’s adopted, it’s sure to be a hit. When your moment comes, you stand and deliver. And . . . it’s a flop. It’s pretty clear that your idea, the one you’ve been so excited about, hasn’t been very well received. You might be tempted to leave the meeting upset about bombing your big pitch – in fact, you’re only human; you might find it hard not to!
But before you do, pause. Shift your perspective. What would you see if you were a fly on the wall? It sounds weird, but really – what does the meeting look like from the outside, from the perspective of someone (or something) that doesn’t have their feelings all wrapped up in it? Being a fly on the wall helps you see more than just what’s inside your head. It helps you remember things like that one coworker who nodded when you spoke or another who smiled and scribbled some notes. It helps you remember that your manager didn’t say your idea was horrible, but instead, “Why don’t you crunch the numbers and bring it back to the team next week?”
Self-belief isn’t something you’re necessarily born with. Through techniques like the fly on the wall exercise, it can be learned and built. And often, it’s hard work! So while you’re doing all this cultivating of resilience and self-belief, remember to rest. Actively resting by doing things you enjoy, like playing an instrument or reading a good book, can help you build your “resilience reserves.” The simplest pleasures, like trying a new ice cream flavor, can help boost your day. And a boost to your day is important, because time is limited, and you want to make the best of what you have.
Make time your friend and it will reward you well.
Think of pretty much any conversation you’ve had with anyone in your life lately. It probably went something like this: “How’s it going?”
Eyeroll. Deep sigh. “Busy. Just so busy. Kids, work, school. Just busy all the time.”
Society has reached a point where the busier you are, the more valid your life seems. Technology that allows for hybrid and work-from-home situations only further blurred the boundaries of work and home. Learning to manage time is a crucial aspect of self-coaching; here are several super-helpful exercises to help you do just that:
To begin with, think of your time as a person. Describe that person. Harried and flustered? Efficient? Disorganized? How would you like that person to be? Now think about how you spent your day. Think about how you’d have liked to have spent it. Write down your answers. Reading them back, is there a big disconnect? If so, how can you bridge the gap?
Here’s another exercise. You’ve heard athletes and artists talk about “flow,” that almost effortless state when you’re so into what you’re doing that the rest of the world almost ceases to exist. Monitor your “flow” chart. Do you feel flow at work, or are you stuck on autopilot or mired in boredom? Make lists of meaningful and challenging things you can do to get into the flow zone.
You can also learn to “manage your monkeys.” Imagine your boss swings by your office and says, “Hey can you take on this project and have it done by Friday?” Though your instinct might be to say, “Of course,” stop yourself. Try something along these lines: “I’d love to help, but I have my hands full with a campaign. Can you help me reprioritize what I’m doing now so I can take that additional project on?”
When it comes to managing your precious minutes and seconds, it’s incredibly important to learn to focus and make the best use of the time you have, and there are several tested techniques that can help you do that. The monk tactic calls for a block of time (say, two hours) where you focus completely on only the task at hand. Then there’s the popular Pomodoro technique, where you work for a 25-minute block and then take a 5-minute break. Maybe, rather than making a to-do list, you can make a to-think list, focusing more on your big ideas than on small tasks that clutter your day.
Study your day: When are you most alert and active? Let’s call that the “goal-den hour.” Use that time wisely and you’ll find yourself more productive than ever. Try chunking or batching your time – blocking out bundles of hours to focus on specific tasks or a particular theme. For example, Monday could be set aside for meetings and Wednesday for quiet, creative work. Or Monday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to noon could be when you respond to emails and plan meetings. Find ways to become efficient within your existing structure. Let’s say you’re often asked for specific sets of information – if so, it’d be helpful to create templates that you can hand out within seconds, right?
If you do better when you have a friend walking the path with you, find a productivity partner who will keep you accountable to your goals. If you can’t think of someone specific for this, you can find apps that pair you up with someone.
Managing relationships effectively is key to self-development.
Speaking of “someone,” the next important aspect of self-coaching is relationships.
You might have heard about “Dunbar’s Number,” which psychologist Roger Dunbar came up with to demonstrate the number of relationships most people maintain. Picture a series of concentric circles. Dunbar says most people have five relationships in the innermost circle – for a lot of people, that’s probably their family and best friends. In the next circle, most people typically have about fifteen trusted friends, and in the one after that, fifty. In the outermost circle, you can have up to 150 casual acquaintances.
In a work situation, you can convert the inner three circles to your confidants, your counsel, and your connections. Consider these lists as investments. Ask yourself: Who do you always run new ideas by? Who helps you refine your presentations? Who do you trust when you talk about your true feelings about your job?
It’s a good idea to write down your answers to these questions. You’ll start to see lists building up, but as you do, keep in mind that you don’t want everyone on them to be the same type of person. You want your cheerleaders, sure, but you also want constructive criticism that makes your work better. Include people who have differing points of view, maybe even from outside your industry or company, as well as those who work with you, who can understand your specific situations and sympathize with your thoughts about them.
Once you’ve built these connections, it’s important to maintain them. The authors suggest a couple of different ways to do this. One is by doing a 5-minute favor. This could be any small but highly effective thing you do that really impacts the other person, like writing a LinkedIn review or sending them a podcast or article they might be interested in. You can scale this concept up, too: Give something of value to a whole lot of people by writing a newsletter or hosting a weekly lunch-and-learn.
Relationships in your personal life aren’t without friction, and the same holds true for professional ones. When conflict happens, as hard as it is, it’s important to have “courageous conversations” that can lead you to reconciliation. Empathy is important. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes by offering to do parts of their job, perhaps while they’re on vacation.
Consider your personality type. Are you a conflict activator or an avoider? In the face of a disagreement, some people are fine with immediately having a conversation about it, while others shelve an uncomfortable topic for later. With different techniques, you get the best from both types of people. For example, when you hold a meeting, give everyone five minutes at the start to share their opinion or appoint a neutral facilitator. For those who are uncomfortable with direct conflict, suggest making pro and con lists, or ask everyone to share their thoughts ahead of time via email.
Understanding your purpose can help guide your progression.
Let’s talk about progression and purpose, two factors that are vital for a truly satisfactory work life.
Progression used to mean working long hours and sacrificing family time for a series of promotions until you found yourself in an important corner office with an assistant outside. But now, progression can come in many ways. Status isn’t as important as finding the unique fit that works for you. It’s important to set your own pace and not be trapped by traditional ways of thinking. The authors of You Coach You, Helen Tupper and Sara Ellis, share some great examples of ways they progressed in their careers.
Sarah Ellis went the volunteer route. She started a group called Inspire, which raised money to help young employees at the company who were starting out from disadvantaged backgrounds. Helen Tupper took the education route. While working at Capital One, she researched and pitched additional learning to her managers. Not only did she earn additional qualifications, she passed along what she learned through the courses to her team, adding value to the whole enterprise.
These types of sideways moves can lead to great progression through that squiggly career path we talked about at the beginning of this chapter. As well as volunteering and education, consider doing projects in other departments, mentoring others, doing a job swap, or shadowing someone in another position, or even creating a new role.
Because here’s what drives progression: purpose. Maybe you worry that you’re just putting in days at work without a real purpose or direction; that kind of anxiety is totally normal! But you should understand that purpose in itself isn’t an achievable goal because the finish line is always moving. It’s more of a direction.
To get at your purpose, ask yourself questions. For example, who inspires you? What are your passions? What do you want to learn? How do you want to change the world? The answers to these questions can help guide you towards your purpose.
Now observe your workday and pick out meaningful moments. Why are those moments meaningful? How can you create more like them? And where do you have an impact on others?
Now look for overlap between your answers to the first and second sets of questions and you can start to get an idea of how you’re achieving your purpose and where you can grow. Ask yourself what the purpose of your organization is. Does your purpose fit that of your employer?
Perhaps most importantly, ask how much of yourself you bring to work every day. Do you bring the person who’s ready to learn and grow and bring all aspects of themself to the table? By following the suggestions in this summary and learning how to build the right mindset and skill set, you can coach yourself to a unique, personal success that suits you, your purpose, and your workplace.
Coaching doesn’t have to be an expensive, out-of-reach thing that you wish you could have. Self-coaching using specific steps within certain actionable areas can help guide you with purpose. Keeping an open mind about the meaning of progression and success will help you discover better ways to a fully realized career.
Here’s one more thing you can do, too: Start having Switch-off Sundays.
Working around the clock doesn’t lead to career progression – it just burns you out. And with your smart devices keeping you plugged in all week long, it can be hard to truly unplug. These days, the only way to do that might be to literally turn off your phone on Sundays. It might sound radical, but doing this, even just for a few hours to start with, can result in a dramatically more energized and productive Monday morning.
About the author
Helen Tupper has held leadership roles at Microsoft, Virgin, and BP and is now CEO of Amazing If. Her love of learning has led her to study at Henley, Cranfield, and Cass Business School. Helen is a trustee for the Working Families charity, a Fellow of The RSA, and lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband and two children.
Sarah Ellis has led marketing and corporate responsibility teams for Barclays and Sainsbury’s, before becoming Managing Director of a creative agency.
They are the authors of The Squiggly Career.
Career and Success, Education, School, Teaching, Leadership, Coaching, Internships, Teacher and Student Mentoring, Job Resumes
Table of Contents
You Coach You
How to get the most from this book.
Chapter 1: How to Coach Yourself
Develop the mindset, skillset and toolkit you need to coach yourself.
Chapter 2: Resilience
Assess your current levels of resilience and how you can build your reserves every day. Identify how you can move from adversity to action when things don’t go to plan.
Chapter 3: Time
Explore how you can take control of your time and improve the quality of your work. Move beyond busy and find the right work–life fit for you.
Chapter 4: Self-belief
Discover how to build your self-belief. Understand how to respond to setbacks and develop the confidence to move into your courage zone.
Chapter 5: Relationships
Identify the relationships you need at work and how to invest in your career community. Learn how to fix friction and repair relationships that have become difficult.
Chapter 6: Progression
Understand what progression means to you. Explore different progression possibilities and how to make them happen.
Chapter 7: Purpose
Explore what gives you a sense of direction in your career. Understand how to maximize the meaning you get from the work that you do.
Chapter 8: Advice from All Areas
Feel inspired by words of wisdom from Olympians, campaigners, creators, teachers and many more who have shared their best piece of career advice with us for everyone to learn from.
The End is the Beginning
Our careers are all a work-in-progress, there is no ‘end’. A reminder to put your energy and effort into what you can control: you. And why we should all share what we know so everyone can succeed.
THE SUNDAY TIMES BUSINESS BESTSELLER, January 2022
‘What I love about this book is that it gives us the tools to guide ourselves and know that change and our true value is within us all’ Mary Portas
Our careers are full of potential and possibilities, uncertainty and change. There is no such thing as a straight line to success and there are times when we get stuck, face obstacles, feel frustrated or want to explore new opportunities. In these moments the best place to start is by coaching yourself. No one can solve your problems better than you can, and learning to coach yourself will accelerate your self-awareness and help you take control of your career.
In You Coach You, you’ll learn the mindset, skillset and toolkit you need to coach yourself. You’ll discover practical support on some of the most common coaching challenges including:
- Exploring your progression possibilities and making them happen
- Building your resilience reserves and turning adversity into action
- Moving beyond busy to time well spent and finding the right work-life fit for you
- Building the beliefs that help you succeed and overcoming setbacks
- Creating the connections you need for your career and fixing friction in difficult relationships
- Developing a sense of direction and a purpose that is motivating and meaningful for you
Packed with ideas for action and insightful tools, this practical book will help you to get unstuck, and increase your confidence in and control over your career.
If you enjoyed reading this, check out The Squiggly Career, Helen and Sarah’s Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling guide to supercharging your confidence, playing to your strengths and setting yourself up for success.
A practical guide giving you the skills and confidence to overcome career challenges on your own.
Are you at a standstill in your career? Do you feel like you aren’t where you thought you’d be by this point, or have you already got to where you wanted and realized it isn’t bringing you joy?
The most successful people have always benefited from professional coaching and now, in You Coach You, the UK’s leading career experts Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper will give you the knowledge and tools to coach yourself. Inside you’ll learn how to get unstuck and rediscover your love of work, build boundaries and productive relationships, cultivate resilience, and identify and achieve your career goals.
Packed with practical exercises, tools, and advice from inspiring people, this book will help you find motivation and achieve everything you’ve ever wanted in your career.
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“This great book provides tools, ideas and inspiration to help readers seize opportunities and face new challenges. A must-read for everyone who wants to pro-actively seize their career” – Professor Lynda Gratton, bestselling author of The 100-Year Life
“This is the most useful and relevant book you could buy for your career right now. No one does career development better than Helen and Sarah” – Bruce Daisley, author of The Joy of Work
“This book will benefit everyone, whether you’re just getting started in your career or are the most experienced person in the room. Sarah and Helen always have a sixth sense for exactly what people need in their careers. If you’re looking for a book that makes exploring your potential and finding your way through career challenges practical and enjoyable, You Coach You is the answer” – Kanya King CBE, founder and CEO, MOBO Group
“What I love about this book is that it gives us the tools to guide ourselves and know that change and our true value is within us all” – Mary Portas, founder and executive creative director, Portas
“In a world of endless career advice, Sarah and Helen are the real deal. They help people put themselves back in the centre of their own lives in a truly empowering and reassuring way” – Emma Gannon, bestselling author of The Multi-Hyphen Method
“We all need this book in our lives. Helen and Sarah will help you when things get tough and find the happiness in our work that we all deserve” – Holly Tucker MBE, founder, Notonthehighstreet
“You Coach You has taught me that, although a lack of confidence is endemic, it’s possible to coach yourself out of this fixed mindset. I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for more than an inspiration Instagram quote to open up their way of thinking” – Eleanor Wilson, community manager, Netflix
“You Coach You is an opportunity to refocus on yourself and prioritize the unlocking of your potential. Read it to become more of who you really are, then read it again to become more of who you are capable of being, in all your Squiggly greatness!” – Amy Brann, neuroscience expert and founder of Synaptic Potential
“You Coach You will help you understand what’s holding you back and make sure you get to where you need to be. It’s a life-changer” – Dr. Grace Lordan, author of Think Big
“Sarah and Helen have a way to get right to the point and help the reader do what is needed to navigate the squiggly parts of a successful career. This is truly what self help is all about. Finding your own path instead of waiting to be helped” – Mo Gawdat,host of Slo Mo podcast, author Solve for Happy
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis are the founders of Amazing If, a company with an ambiti; on to make careers better for everyone. They work with brands across the world, including Levi’s, Vodafone, Unilever and Visa, to design and deliver practical learning experiences which help everyone confidently navigate and take ownership of their careers. Together they also co-host the UK’s number one careers podcast, Squiggly Careers, and their TEDx talk, ‘The best career path isn’t always a straight line’, has over one million views. Their first book, The Squiggly Career, was a Sunday Times number one business bestseller.
Prior to Amazing If, Sarah and Helen’s careers included leadership roles at Virgin, Microsoft, Barclays and Sainsbury’s. Helen is a trustee for the charity Working Families and Sarah is co-chair of the Mayor of London Workspace Advisory Board.
YOU COACH YOU
‘This great book provides tools, ideas and inspiration to help readers seize opportunities and face new challenges. A must-read for everyone who wants to proactively seize their career’ Professor Lynda Gratton, bestselling author of The 100-Year Life
‘This is the most useful and relevant book you could buy for your career right now. No one does career development better than Helen and Sarah’ Bruce Daisley, author of The Joy of Work
‘This book will benefit everyone, whether you’re just getting started in your career or are the most experienced person in the room. Sarah and Helen always have a sixth sense for exactly what people need in their careers. If you’re looking for a book that makes exploring your potential and finding your way through career challenges practical and enjoyable, You Coach You is the answer’ Kanya King CBE, founder and CEO, MOBO Group
‘What I love about this book is that it gives us the tools to guide ourselves, and to know that change and true value are within us all’ Mary Portas, founder and executive creative director, Portas
‘In a world of endless career advice, Sarah and Helen are the real deal. They help people put themselves back in the centre of their own lives in a truly empowering and reassuring way’ Emma Gannon, bestselling author of The Multi-Hyphen Method
‘We all need this book in our lives. Helen and Sarah will help you when things get tough and find the happiness in our work that we all deserve’ Holly Tucker MBE, founder, notonthehighstreet.com
‘You Coach You has taught me that, although a lack of confidence is endemic, it’s possible to coach yourself out of this fixed mindset. I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for more than an inspirational Instagram quote to open up their way of thinking’ Eleanor Wilson, community manager, Netflix
‘You Coach You is an opportunity to refocus on yourself and prioritize the unlocking of your potential. Read it to become more of who you really are, then read it again to become more of who you are capable of being, in all your squiggly greatness!’ Amy Brann, neuroscience expert and founder of Synaptic Potential
‘You Coach You will help you understand what’s holding you back and make sure you get to where you need to be. It’s a life-changer’ Dr Grace Lordan, author of Think Big
‘Sarah and Helen have a way to get right to the point and help the reader do what is needed to navigate the squiggly parts of a successful career. This is truly what self-help is all about. Finding your own path instead of waiting to be helped’ Mo Gawdat, host of Slo Mo podcast and author of Solve for Happy
‘Another practical and informed career manual from Sarah and Helen, rich in wisdom and good advice on taking personal control of your career development’ Cilla Snowball DBE
For our readers.
Thank you for choosing to spend your time with us.
We hope this book helps you whenever you need support in your career.
You Coach You
We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own to-do lists. – MICHELLE OBAMA
How would you describe your career so far? ‘Change’, ‘uncertainty’, ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘busy’ are the consistent themes we hear from people in our career development workshops. Our careers are complicated, and there’s a lot that we don’t know and can’t control. The hundred-year-old concept of a career ladder, where progress is predictable and we follow in other people’s footsteps, feels outdated. Ladder-like careers no longer reflect our experiences or our aspirations. Instead, we all now have ‘squiggly careers’. You will have probably already had some squiggles of your own, whether that’s moving between industries or functions or perhaps changing from being employed to working as a freelancer or starting your own business. Squiggly careers give us the opportunity to explore different possibilities, define our own success and do meaningful work that matters to us. But navigating a squiggly career isn’t easy. There are lots of unknowns that can leave us feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Our careers don’t come with an instruction manual and at times we can feel lost, unsure where to start and in need of some support to spark our thinking.
Coaching helps us to squiggle with success
When work feels more knotty than squiggly, coaching will help you to get unstuck and to explore opportunities for the future that you find intriguing today. Coaching yourself increases the ownership and control you have in your work life and means you can design a career as individual and brilliant as you are. However, over the past few years we have frequently found ourselves grappling with what we refer to as the ‘coaching catch-22’.
If you’re interested in career development, you’re probably already familiar with the idea of coaching as a way of navigating the challenges and conundrums you face at work. Perhaps you are one of the fortunate few who has had a coach and experienced the benefits first-hand. We’d guess that everyone reading this book would appreciate the chance to spend one-to-one time with a career coach, and there is no shortage of coaches to fill that need. But the cost of coaching is an insurmountable barrier for most of us. Research published in the Harvard Business Review found that the average hourly cost of coaching in the USA is five hundred dollars.1 Most people will rarely, if ever, have access to a coach during their career.
Democratizing career coaching
In 2013 we founded our business, Amazing If, with a mission to make careers better for everyone. Through our podcast, workshops and our book The Squiggly Career we share practical ideas and actions to help people succeed in their careers. During 2020 over 500,000 people, all over the world, read, watched or listened to our work in some way. In our experience, people care about their careers and are excited about the prospect of ‘squiggliness’. The people we meet are prepared to do the hard work involved in personal development but need some support with the knowledge and know-how to work through the inevitable career challenges we all experience. It’s not about searching for a ‘quick fix’ but finding the clarity that comes from coaching and the confidence to take action.
We want to challenge the closed coaching model by sharing ideas, tools and techniques that will help you learn to coach yourself. We are both qualified coaches and believe that anyone with the right mindset and motivation can practise self-coaching to overcome challenges and make positive change. We hope this book will increase the confidence and control you have over your career and give you the chance to support other people along the way too.
The power of career conversations
One good conversation can shift the direction of change for ever. – LINDA LAMBERT
This book is not intended to be a substitute for discussing your career with other people. Career conversations are helpful in all sorts of ways. Other people can provide you with perspectives you hadn’t considered, support you to uncover new solutions and leave you feeling inspired to take action. These conversations could be with your manager, mentors, your work best friend, a previous colleague or someone in your family. We hope You Coach You becomes your place of preparation before your career conversations. There might be times when you can make lots of progress by yourself using the techniques and ideas we share in this book. Or maybe you’ll get half-way there and can then use your awareness and insights to make your career conversations more useful and meaningful. This book might even encourage a community of like-minded learners to have career conversations together.
How to make the most of this book
In Chapter 1, ‘How to Coach Yourself’, we’ll cover:
Coaching mindset and skillset
We start Chapter 1 by focusing on how to develop the mindset and skillset that will support you to coach yourself through any career challenge. In mindset we’ll discuss growth and fixed mindset magnets, thinking vs doing preferences and the challenge of ‘critic creep’. In skillset we explore how to improve your self-awareness and accelerate your ability to listen to yourself and ask insightful questions. We recommend reading this chapter first. It will help you to get to grips with the most important principles of taking a coaching approach to your career challenges, and you’ll be able to start developing your coaching mindset and skillset straight away.
You Coach You toolkit
Following coaching mindset and skillset we introduce you to our You Coach You toolkit, which includes thinking traps, positive prompts, coach yourself questions, ideas for action and our ‘COACH’ framework. These tools are designed to provide a consistent way of approaching any career challenge and you’ll spot them in every chapter. Familiarizing yourself with each of these concepts and practising using them for your coaching challenges will help you to make the most of your time spent reading this book.
My coaching challenge right now
We know that you might be reading this book with an immediate career challenge in mind. In the final part of the first chapter, we have outlined the most common coaching challenges and suggested the chapters that would be most useful for you to read now and next.
You take control
In Chapters 2 to 7 we focus on how to coach yourself through the most common career challenges:
Resilience: how you respond when things don’t go to plan.
Time: how you take control of your time at work.
Self-belief: how you build the beliefs that help you succeed.
Relationships: how you create the connections you need for your career.
Progression: how you move forward with momentum.
Purpose: how you develop a sense of direction and do meaningful work.
These are the coaching topics that people in our community most often come to us for support on. Whether you have an immediate challenge or not, we think it’s helpful for everyone to coach themselves through these areas, regardless of experience or industry.
Each chapter follows the same structure. We begin by describing why we think each topic is an important area to coach yourself on. We then outline common thinking traps and give examples of how you can turn these into positive prompts. The rest of the chapter then focuses on how to coach yourself.
Each chapter is divided into two parts:
Part 1 is designed to put you on the front foot so you can invest and improve in each area continually. For example, in Part 1 of our resilience chapter you can coach yourself on how to develop your resilience reserves even if you’re not experiencing a tough time at the moment.
Part 2 focuses on how you can overcome challenges you’re experiencing in the here and now. If you’re reading this book thinking I need help now, this is where you’ll find the support you need. For example, in Part 2 of our resilience chapter if you’re experiencing adversity in your career today, we will help you to coach yourself on how to work through your challenge and begin making progress straight away.
Each chapter has three closing sections:
Ask our expert. We’ve asked someone we admire and have learnt from to provide our readers with their perspective on each topic. For example, Dan Cable, London Business School professor, shares his insights on finding your purpose and Elizabeth Uviebinené, author of Slay in Your Lane, gives us her perspective on building your self-belief.
COACH. This is a framework to help you work through your coaching challenges. It will support you to bring together your insights and ideas into one place.
Summary. Each chapter ends with a summary of the key coaching concepts, tools and questions. This will give you an at-a-glance reminder of what we’ve just covered and is something you can keep coming back to.
Advice from all areas
Our final chapter is called ‘Advice from All Areas’. In this chapter we have asked people from all walks of life to share their career (and often life) advice, specifically for this book. Each of them has kindly offered their words of wisdom for us all to learn from. With contributors ranging from ex-England footballer Ian Wright to entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox, there is no shortage of inspiration. We can promise even five minutes spent in this chapter will leave you feeling uplifted and give you the feel-good factor we all need from time to time to become re-energized.
Reaping the rewards of your reading
The more you scribble, the more it sticks
We like seeing copies of our books looking a bit scruffy as it shows us that our work is being used and our words are useful. By making notes in this book, you’ll increase the likelihood of remembering what you’re learning now, for the future. The minute you start writing in this book as well as reading it, you start to make it your own. Scribbling will help ideas and insights stick in your mind and we give you full permission to make this the most scrawled-in book on your shelf.
Just keep coaching
Learning to coach yourself is not something you tick off your to-do list. It’s a skill you practise, and, like any skill, the more you practise the better you get. We have repeated the exercises in this book thousands of times, for ourselves and in our workshops. We don’t stand still in our careers, and as our experiences change so do the insights and the actions that you will uncover as part of your coaching approach. We recommend coming back to the exercises and tools in this book regularly to continue your development and uncover new opportunities to grow your skills.
Beyond the book
It will come to you when you are least expecting it, while shaving or bathing, or most often when you are half awake in the morning. – JAMES YOUNG
Coaching yourself doesn’t start and end with reading or listening to this book. Our breakthrough insights and ideas sometimes happen when we least expect them: in the shower, when we’re out for a walk or waiting for the bus. To make the most of this book we’d recommend being intentional about making space for these moments as part of your coaching approach. You might choose to create a ritual of reading part or all of a chapter at home, followed by some time spent in a local coffee shop to continue your reflections in new surroundings. Or maybe you read the book at the same time as a friend and after you’ve both completed an exercise you do a ‘walk and talk’ (in person or over the phone) together to chat about what you learnt.
Join the You Coach You community
As you work through the book, we’d love to hear about your progress and your experiences during your coaching journey. As well as our books, we create a lot of free resources full of practical tools and advice including:
Squiggly Careers podcast
We host a weekly podcast that has over 250 episodes covering every career topic you can think of, from how to make your strengths show up and stand out, to generalist vs specialist careers and how to build your self-belief.
@AmazingIf – Instagram
This is the place to go if you’re looking for free career tools, tips, advice and the occasional glimpse into the behind-the-scenes reality of running a small and growing business!
If you have any feedback or questions, send us an email. We’d love to hear your success stories and any ideas on what you need that we’ve not included or could be improved.
This is where you can download templates to support your coaching reflections and conversations. You’ll also be able to join live learning sessions if you’d like some further support with your career development.
We want you to be your best
There will be times when coaching yourself is hard work. When you wish for an easy answer or someone else who could tell you what to do. But, as the saying goes, nothing worth doing is easy, and committing to coaching yourself is investing in your career, now and in the future. As you’re reading, remember we are by your side, supporting and cheering you on every step of the way. One of the best parts of writing a book is getting to know our readers, so please get in touch and let us know how you’re doing. We hope you enjoy You Coach You, and that it supports you in your coaching and career journey.
Sarah and Helen
All you do is look
At a page in this book
Because that’s where we always will be.
No book ever ends
When it’s full of your friends.
ROALD DAHL, ‘THE GIRAFFE, AND THE PELLY AND ME’
Coaching isn’t therapy, it’s product development with you as the product. – FAST COMPANY
How to Coach Yourself
What is coaching yourself?
Coaching is often described as a way of achieving an ‘un’ of some description, for example unlocking potential, uncovering opportunities, or getting unstuck from problems. Coaching is a skill, and skills can be learnt and practised by everyone. We define coaching yourself as:
The skill of asking yourself questions to improve self-awareness and prompt positive action.
Your ability to coach yourself isn’t determined by the level you’ve reached in your career, or how many years of experience you have. What matters much more is the time and effort you dedicate to continually improving your coaching skills. There is no such thing as the ‘perfect coach’ and we’re confident that everyone reading this book will make lots of positive progress by trying out and applying the ideas that we share.
There are three areas that are useful to spend some time developing as you begin coaching yourself:
- Your coaching mindset.
- Your coaching skillset.
- Your coaching toolkit.
In the rest of this chapter, we’ll discuss each in turn, along with some actions you can take to improve your coaching ability. At the end of the chapter, we share some common career coaching challenges and the relevant chapters of the book we’d suggest you start with to coach yourself through them.
Coach yourself: mindset
Coaching yourself starts with managing your mindset. If you don’t get your mindset right it’s a bit like making a false start in a race: you might make some initial progress only to have to return to the beginning. In this section we explore three areas that will help you to understand your mindset: mindset magnets, thinkers and doers, and critic creep. For each area we also share actions to support you to manage your mindset as you work through your coaching challenges.
Becoming is better than being. – CAROL DWECK
Coaching yourself is usually prompted by the motivation to make a change of some sort; it might be getting promoted, improving the relationship with your manager or something more general like looking for purpose in the work that you do. Coaching challenges are often knotty, messy and complicated. There will be times where you feel frustrated and as though you can’t take action because the barriers are just too big. Everyone feels this way at some point in a coaching process, but it’s critical that you don’t lose confidence in your abilities or even risk giving up altogether.
We all have what researcher Carol Dweck describes as growth and fixed mindsets. When we’re in growth mindset we believe in our ability to improve, even if we haven‰?t achieved something yet. In the challenging moments, we tell ourselves I don’t know how to do this, but I believe I can learn. When we’re in a fixed mindset we limit our potential and replace ‘not yet’ with ‘not possible’. We start to believe that I can’t do this or this won’t ever work for me and our coaching progress can stall.
There are certain coaching situations that can act as a magnet for your fixed mindset. When you don’t feel you have control over your context, don’t believe you have the confidence to take action or think you haven’t got the competence to work through your challenges, your mindset starts to work against you. Look at the diagram below. Do any of these fixed mindset magnets feel familiar for you?
Mindset action 1: moving your mindset from fixed to growth
When you feel the pull of a fixed mindset you can consciously counteract it by recognizing moments of growth. This helps you to appreciate how you have successfully worked through challenges before and increases your confidence that you can do the same again. You will already have lots of growth mindset moments every week, you probably just don’t ‘label’ them in that way. Take a moment now to write down and recognize a few of your growth mindset moments over the past few months:
Growth mindset magnet questions
In the past few months …
When have I felt in control at work?
When have I felt confident in my job?
When have I done something that has stretched my competence and skills?
When you are working through coaching challenges it is inevitable that you will fall into a fixed mindset from time to time. When you notice the pull of a fixed mindset magnet there are two immediate actions you can take:
- Re-ask yourself the questions above as this is a useful reminder that you are already spending some time in a growth mindset. Answering these questions will help you to feel positive and increase your confidence that you can move from fixed to growth.
- Reframe your fixed mindset magnet by adding the word ‘yet’ onto the end of your thought. For example, I can’t see a solution becomes I can’t see a solution yet. This small tweak will prompt you to see your challenge as something to explore and learn from rather than a barrier that can’t be overcome.
Thinkers and doers
Coaching yourself successfully results in both improved self-awareness and positive action. That means that you need to be a thinker and a doer at different points in the coaching process. Most of us have a natural preference towards thinking or doing, though all of us use a bit of both in our jobs.
Understanding the positives and the pitfalls of your natural style will improve your coaching and prevent you from limiting your learning or getting in your own way. For example, Sarah is a natural thinker so she is brilliant at pausing for thought but can also dwell on an idea for too long before taking action. Helen is much more of a doer, so is great at experimenting with actions quickly, but gets frustrated if her progress stalls or slows down.
In the table that follows, we’ve outlined the positive characteristics of each style, alongside the pitfalls and some ideas for how you can ‘try on’ the other approach. This is not designed to be a personality profile or to put you in a ‘box’. We want you to be aware of your natural coaching style and how you can move between and benefit from both approaches as and when you need them.
|Coaching positives||Coaching positives|
|Enjoy exploring ideas from different angles
Are comfortable to ‘press pause’ and sit with a problem
Are happy spending time thinking
|Are open to experimenting quickly
Enjoy taking action
Value progress over perfection
|Coaching Pitfalls:||Coaching Pitfalls:|
|Progress stalls in pursuit of perfection
Nothing changes as no action taken
Thoughts can become confused, lack clarity
|Learning is something to be ticked off a to-do list
Find reflecting frustrating
Start lots of different things but don’t always complete them
|Prevent coaching pitfalls by:||Prevent coaching pitfalls by:|
|Future first. Ask yourself: what do I want to be true in one month’s time that isn’t true today? This will help you to identify actions in the here and now.
Action-its. Get three Post-it notes, write one action on each and stick them somewhere visible. Even better if you tell someone your actions.
Doer shoes. Who do you know who is a doer? What would they do in this situation?
|Daily ten-minute mind-map. Set a ten-minute timer on your phone and write down all the thoughts that come into your head on your coaching challenge.
Opposite opinion. For each of your coaching challenges consider what the opposite opinion to yours might sound like – what would that person think, say, do?
Thinker shoes. Who do you know who is a thinker? How would they approach this situation?
Mindset action 2: your coaching preference and pitfalls
Note down your reflections on your thinker versus doer coaching style, what your pitfalls might be and how you could prevent them.
My coaching preference is (thinker or doer?):
My coaching pitfalls might be:
I could prevent this by:
One of the things that can get in the way of coaching yourself is when your inner critic takes control. Your inner critic is the voice inside your head that tells you that you’re not ‘enough’ in some way. There are some examples on the next page of what your critic might sound like. We all have an inner critic, and it’s fuelled by what’s called our negativity bias. This is our tendency to pay more attention to, remember and dwell on the things we don’t do well rather than our positive characteristics.
What does your inner critic sound like?
Mindset action 3: tune into your coach and calm your critic
The more we listen to our inner critic the louder and more powerful it becomes. And it’s a vicious cycle – the further your inner critic creeps in, the more control it has. It prevents us from both seeing ourselves clearly and taking positive action to make progress. Next, we share two actions – be your own best friend and self-supporting statements – that you can take to turn down the volume whenever your inner critic gets too loud (and if this is a particular challenge for you, the chapter on self-belief will be useful).
Be your own best friend
Talk to yourself in the same way your best friend would. We can be our own worst critics and guilty of putting ourselves under unrealistic pressure we would never expect of anyone else. Take a minute to write down the names of three friends who support you.
What is it about what these people say and how they say it that you find supportive? Perhaps they don’t judge you, or help you see things clearly, or make time for you when you need it. When you’re facing a coaching challenge keep these friends front of mind, so you can imagine what they’d say and listen to their supportive voices.
Self-supporting statements are positive reminders from your inner coach on what you can achieve. They motivate you to keep going even when it’s tough and leave you feeling in control, upbeat and energized. They also directly challenge negative and unhelpful thoughts you might have about yourself (quietening your inner critic). When we use self-supporting statements that are personal to us and repeat them regularly, they boost our self-esteem.2
Mindset action 4: my self-supporting statements
Below we’ve shared some examples of self-supporting statements that relate to each of the chapters in the book. Highlight any that feel particularly relevant for you. Write your own self-supporting statements, as it’s important that the words feel right to you and are in your voice rather than ours. It’s a good idea to write these statements in a place where you’ll see them every day, maybe Post-its on a wall, or even as your laptop screensaver.
Asking for the help that I need is a sign of strength
Increasing my impact matters more than increasing my output
I build my belief by being the best version of me
I surround myself with people who want me to succeed
I’m squiggling in a way that works for me
It’s more important to make progress than to be perfect
Coach yourself: skillset
Now that we’ve spent some time exploring your coaching mindset, we’ll move on to your coaching skillset. Your mindset and skillset go hand in hand as you develop your coaching abilities.
There are three critical coaching skills that are important for every coaching challenge:
Coach yourself skill 1: self-awareness
Self-awareness is the most important skill to be successful in the twenty-first century at work.
Researcher Tasha Eurich suggests that on average only around 10–15 per cent of people are self-aware.3 This sounds like a low number but it’s less surprising when you appreciate how Eurich and her team define self-awareness. They suggest there are two types of self-awareness: internal and external. Internal self-awareness is knowing our strengths, values, passions and aspirations and understanding our thoughts and feelings. External self-awareness is understanding how other people see us. For example, do you know what other people think your strengths are? Both types of awareness have significant benefits. Internal awareness increases job and relationship satisfaction and decreases anxiety and stress, while external awareness improves empathy and the ability to understand other people’s perspectives. Eurich and her team also found that the two types of awareness are unrelated. Having high levels of internal awareness doesn’t increase the likelihood you will have high external awareness and vice versa, so it’s rare to find someone who has all-round high awareness levels.
Self-awareness = how clearly we see ourselves + understanding how other people see us
Proactively improving our self-awareness means we are better able to coach ourselves, plus we benefit from all the other upsides that Eurich found in her research. In every chapter of this book we share lots of ways you can improve your self-awareness, and below and opposite we share two more specific ideas – press pause and feedback friends – so you can get started straight away.
Self-awareness action 1: press pause
We don’t get much practice at pressing pause as part of our working lives. We feel too busy with actions and tasks to take the time to stop and pause for thought during the day. And though we can blame technology, managers and work overload for getting in the way, many people find pressing pause uncomfortable. As Kate Murphy, author of You’re Not Listening, says: a hesitation or pause is seen as unbearably awkward and something to actively avoid. But pressing pause, however lightly, gives us the opportunity to understand ourselves, learn more and maybe even surprise ourselves.
Finding time to press pause might sound impossible, but in reality you only need to find a short moment in a day where you can stop and ask yourself a coaching question such as:
- When did I have a positive impact in that meeting?
- What part of my day did I enjoy the most and why?
- Why do I feel uncomfortable when I talk to that person?
- Where do I feel most helpful in my job?
- When have I been at my best this week?
Asking one of these questions every day will significantly improve your internal self-awareness. It’s also useful to be specific about where and when you’re most likely to be able to press pause during your days. For Sarah this is when she goes on solo walks, and for Helen it’s when she’s making lunch.
Self-awareness action 2: feedback friends
As you begin coaching yourself consider: who are my feedback friends? This is a small group of trusted people who know you well and who will be honest. This could be a mixture of people you work with today, people you’ve worked with previously, or even friends and family. The job specification of a feedback friend who will support your self-awareness looks something like this:
Feedback friend: job specification
- Supportive, on your side and wants you to succeed.
- Doesn’t shy away from giving difficult feedback.
- Cares about you personally and can challenge you directly.
- Understands your world at work.
As an example, one of our feedback friends is the writer and podcaster Bruce Daisley. Bruce is unwaveringly direct in his feedback, and it’s usually also delivered via WhatsApp. When we shared an early version of our TEDx talk his first response was This is a bit DULL. You are interesting. This is NOT. This feedback improved our self-awareness as it gave us insights we couldn’t see for ourselves. We had worked hard on that version of our talk and felt positive about what we had created, so initially Bruce’s feedback was a surprise, and we felt shocked and disappointed. However, when we revisited the talk we realized he was right. Somewhere along the way we had lost our personality in what we had written. Bruce is unflinching in his feedback and though at times that can be hard to hear, he’s our number one feedback friend because there’s never any doubt that he’s on our side and wants us to succeed.
Write down three people who are already, or you think could be, your feedback friends. This is a good reminder to include these people as part of your coaching process and remember to thank them along the way too. Feedback friends are a rare combination of your biggest supporters who are also brave enough to tell you the truth, so look after them well!
Coach yourself skill 2: listening to yourself
When you listen, you learn. You absorb like a sponge and your life becomes so much better. – STEVEN SPIELBERG
How would you rate your listening skills on a scale of 1 (useless) to 10 (excellent)? In our workshops most people give themselves a score of 7 and above, though research has found that listening is a skill where we often overestimate our ability.4 For example, Professor Ralph Nichols found that after a short talk most people missed at least half of what was said.5 We think we’re listening when in fact we’re waiting to speak or distracted by something else that’s happening at work. The same thing happens when we listen to ourselves. We don’t finish our thoughts before we move on to the next one, or we assume we know the right answer without fully exploring all the options. Practising listening to yourself (and to other people) is critical to your coaching success.
Listening to yourself action 1: interruption insight
In our conversations we frequently interrupt each other and on average we experience at least ten interruptions a day.6 We have become used to both interrupting and being interrupted. If you want to see just how frequently both of these behaviours happen, try keeping an interruption tally in a few different meetings. We interrupt for a range of reasons, both negative (to show power or undermine) and positive (to show support and enthusiasm). Interruptions are very rarely useful as they almost always disrupt our attention. Our brains find it difficult to switch attention between tasks and this results in a division of our efforts, which reduces the quality of our thinking. These interruptions will get in the way of exploring your thoughts and uncovering new areas of awareness that can lead to those ‘a-ha’ insights we sometimes need to move forward.
As you begin coaching yourself watch out for when you are most likely to interrupt yourself. We’ve outlined some of the most common self-interruptions people experience below; highlight any that seem familiar to you and then make a note of the one that’s most likely to have a negative impact on your coaching approach.
- I jump around between different thoughts and ideas frequently.
- When I’ve been thinking about something for a while, I get bored and prefer to move on to something else.
- I guess what the answer should be without exploring lots of options.
- If I draw a blank, I’d rather move on and answer an easier question.
- I get easily distracted by my devices.
Listening to yourself action 2: dive deeper
We need to find practical ways to stay focused on our current challenge rather than moving on too quickly. Think of this as the difference between snorkelling in the sea, where you swim across the surface of the water, and scuba diving into the unknown. In every coaching challenge there will be moments where it’s useful to do some scuba diving.
Scuba diving is how you discover the hidden treasure.
Diving below the surface is when we uncover new insights about ourselves.
To help you take the plunge, there are three different types of question that will support you in diving deeper.
Deep: focus on facts
These questions help you to gather data. They give you objective insight into a situation and sound like Who said what? and What happened today?
Deeper: focus on feelings
These questions are about your responses. They help you to understand your emotions and sound like How did it make me feel? and What reaction did this trigger?
Deepest: focus on fears
These questions can be difficult to confront. They get to the core of what’s most important to you and they sound like Why did this situation upset me? or Why does their opinion matter so much?
What depth of questions do you feel most comfortable with today? Deep, deeper or deepest?
Highlight which of the questions below you want to remember to include as part of your coaching approach (this might be the one you’d be least likely to ask yourself).
Facts: How would I describe my challenge to someone using only facts?
Feelings: What emotions am I feeling about my challenge?
Fears: What am I afraid might happen if I take action?
If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask … for once I knew the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes. – ALBERT EINSTEIN
Coach yourself skill 3: questioning
This book is full of questions to help you coach yourself. However, even better than the questions we ask you are the ones that you ask yourself. The best coaching questions are personal to you, so there is no prescribed list that you need to stick to. Before we share two questioning techniques, there are some principles to asking good questions that are a useful place to start.
The 3 Os of a coach yourself question: open, one at a time and ownership
Good coaching questions can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. Open questions start with who, what, where, when, why or how. If you spot yourself asking a closed question like Am I committed to taking this action? it’s easy to re-ask yourself the same question in an open way: What would increase my commitment to taking this action?
2. One at a time
The problem with asking too many questions at once is that our brains get overloaded and we can’t remember them all, let alone answer them properly. In this situation what typically happens is the last question asked gets answered and the others get lost. As part of coaching yourself you will be asking yourself lots of questions that build on each other, but you will improve the quality of your insights if you ask one question at a time. One at a time questioning helps you to generate more options and actions as part of your coaching approach. We’ve included an example coaching challenge here to show how this works in practice.
Example coaching challenge: You didn’t get a promotion and you’re not sure about how to progress in the future.
Your coaching questions are all about ‘I’, for example: how might I …, what could I …, where will I … Your coaching challenges will often involve other people, but your focus should stay on what you can control and the actions you can take. If you find yourself blaming other people or factors when you’re coaching yourself it’s a signal you need to refocus on what you can control. When you become aware of a lack of ownership in your coaching approach a good way to refocus back on yourself is to ask an ‘I’ question that only you have the answer to. This could be What will I do next? or What have I learnt? or What do I feel? The best person to come up with solutions to your challenges is you, and by improving your self-awareness and identifying your own actions you will be much more motivated and committed to making change happen.
Asking yourself questions action 1: investigator and explorer questions
There will be times in the coaching process where you’re not making progress. Maybe everything feels overwhelming or too complicated to figure out. Or perhaps you can see your situation clearly but feel stuck. We think of this as being unable to see the wood for the trees, or being stuck in the mud. If you feel like this at any point, try using one of the questioning techniques below, either to get some perspective or to start moving forward again.
Can’t see the wood for the trees? Be an investigator
When we become overwhelmed by a situation it is often because it is emotional or complicated or both. Our feelings start to take over and can turn reflection into rumination and action into anxiety. At this stage we don’t need to worry about understanding everything and everyone involved in the big picture, instead we need to investigate the details that matter to us. Imagine yourself as an investigator of your situation, rather than the person experiencing it first-hand. Looking at a situation in this way will help you to be objective. You will understand the facts and can then decide what to do next. Useful investigator coaching questions include:
- What are the facts of my current situation?
- Who else is directly involved in my situation?
- When do I need to make decisions?
Stuck in the mud? Be an explorer
Sometimes you might feel like you have run out of options and you start to think I can’t change this or I’m stuck here. At times like this, wearing the hat of a curious explorer is useful. You care more about all the possibilities and directions you could go in, rather than worrying about how you’ll get there. Useful explorer questions include:
- Imagine if (the barrier that’s getting in your way) wasn’t there, what would I do?
- What’s the most ambitious action I could take?
- How can I explore options that I might have previously discounted?
- Asking yourself questions action 2: the five connected whys
Asking yourself five different but connected ‘why’ questions will help you get to the root cause of a coaching challenge. Each ‘why’ question builds on the previous one and the insights from your answers will mean you put your efforts into the actions that will make the most difference. The example below shows how this works in practice (we’ve kept this short and simple; your answers are likely to be longer).
The five connected whys: example
Why 1: Why am I feeling unmotivated? Answer: My work isn’t very interesting.
Why 2: Why is my work not very interesting? Answer: I’m not using my strengths.
Why 3: Why am I not using my strengths? Answer: I’m in a new team and they don’t know me very well or what I’ve done before.
Why 4: Why don’t my team know what I’ve done before? Answer: I haven’t shared my previous experience or examples of the type of work I’ve done in the past.
Why 5: Why haven’t I shared my previous experiences? Answer: I don’t know the best place to talk about it and I don’t want to feel like I’m ‘showing off’ in some way.
- Have a conversation with my manager about using one of our team meetings as an opportunity for everyone in the team to share an example of their previous experience.
- In next 121 with my manager discuss how I could use one of my strengths more frequently to support our team objectives.
- Write a self-supporting statement to challenge my fear of showing off.
In this example asking the five connected ‘why’ questions uncovers different options and opportunities to take action. It doesn’t mean the first answer is necessarily wrong, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. This example also shows that overcoming coaching challenges often involves both your mindset (feeling confident about your strengths) and your skillset (using your strengths to support your team).
Now you’ve spent some time developing your coaching mindset and skillset, we’re going to finish the chapter by sharing our You Coach You toolkit. You’ll find these tools in every chapter, so it’s worth spending some time getting to know what they are and how they work, so you can use them to overcome your coaching challenges.
You Coach You toolkit
There are four You Coach You tools that you will find in every chapter. The You Coach You toolkit is designed to support you with any coaching challenge, so we hope this will be helpful beyond the areas we focus on in this book. We’ve summarized each tool on the next page so you can get a feel for what to expect and look out for in each chapter.
Thinking traps and positive prompts
Thinking traps are assumptions and beliefs we have that get in the way of moving forward. You can identify your thinking traps by noticing when your thoughts sound negative in some way (about either yourself or others). When we get caught in one of these traps, we can only see one solution or perhaps no solution to the problem we’re trying to solve. The word ‘trap’ sums up how hard it can be to escape these unhelpful thoughts and they leave us feeling deflated, defensive and defeated (or even all three).
Positive prompts are how we reframe thinking traps in a way that is useful to support our coaching challenge. It might mean looking at a problem from a different perspective or viewing constraints as an opportunity to think creatively. In every chapter we share five common thinking traps for each topic and give you examples of how you can change these into positive prompts (and there are some below to bring this to life). We will also encourage you to identify your own thinking traps and practise turning them into positive prompts.
From thinking traps to positive prompts
Thinking trap: My manager is holding me back.
Positive prompt: Who else could support me in my career?
Thinking trap: There are no opportunities to progress here.
Positive prompt: How can I take control of what I want to learn?
Thinking trap: I’m not good enough for that job.
Positive prompt: What successes have I had in the last twelve months?
Coach yourself questions
As you go through every chapter, we will ask you lots of coach yourself questions. These are all open, one at a time, ownership questions which are designed to help you get unstuck and make progress. They are the questions we’d be asking you if we were in a room (or Zoom!) together. Just like the thinking traps and positive prompts, don’t feel restricted to answering only the questions we ask you. As you practise coaching yourself you will find yourself coming up with your own list of ‘go-to’ coaching questions and there are blank pages at the back of the book if you need somewhere to jot these down.
Ideas for action
Our number one measure of success for You Coach You is whether reading this book helps you to take positive action. You have chosen our book for a reason, whether you’re motivated to explore your potential or have a specific problem you’d like to address. Our ideas for action are suggestions for you to experiment with, adapt or use to spark new ideas rather than a to-do list. Coaching yourself is about identifying and committing to the actions that are most relevant and useful for you, and only you will know what they are.
COACH is a framework we have developed to bring together and structure your thoughts and ideas into one place (it’s also a valuable tool for preparing for any career conversations you have). An important part of coaching yourself is exploring different directions, experimenting with various options and trying on new perspectives you haven’t considered before.
COACH will help you with the ‘so what?’ of all your hard work. It brings together all your threads of thinking into one place, giving you clarity and confidence on where you are today and what you are going to do next.
COACH is an acronym that stands for:
For each area of COACH we’ve outlined the purpose of each part of the framework and the sorts of questions that are useful to ask yourself (and you can add more to this as you start to practise coaching yourself).
At the end of every chapter, you will find a blank COACH template so you can scribble down thoughts as you work through your challenge. When we’re presented with a framework like COACH the temptation is to view it as something to be ‘filled out’ and completed in one go. In our experience COACH is most useful when you use it continually as you progress through a chapter, maybe completing one or two sections at a time. You can also revisit sections of COACH as you have new insights and ideas. We’ve added some spare templates at the back of the book, and you can download as many as you’d like for free at www.amazingif.com.
Common coaching challenges
We know that some readers of this book will have particularly pressing career challenges that they want to work through first. To help with this we’ve summarized opposite the coaching challenges we hear most frequently and recommended which chapter to start with and then where to explore next to learn more.
If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.
How you respond when things don’t go to plan
Resilience: why coach yourself
Everyone experiences adversity during their career no matter what industry you’re in, the level you’ve reached or how much experience you have.
We don’t need to wait for the tough times to build our resilience. We can proactively develop the skills that will help us to respond to different types of adversity, from everyday moments of stress to the unexpected challenges that come our way.
There’s no such thing as a straight line to success
You can’t predict or control every aspect of your career, but you can be 100 per cent certain that there will be times where unexpected events throw you off course. Where you feel like your career is knotty rather than squiggly. Waiting for adversity to happen to us before thinking about our resilience is a risky and reactive strategy. Whereas continually and consistently developing your resilience is helpful in two ways: first, you will be better equipped to deal with the day-to-day challenges you experience in your job and, second, you will have resilience reserves ready for when you need them.
The result of the ongoing actions you take to build your resilience so it’s there when you need it.
Adversity comes in many forms
We often associate the need to be resilient with particularly tough moments in our careers. Maybe we’re made redundant unexpectedly or we find ourselves in a toxic work environment. Resilience is absolutely what we need to help us in the very hard times, though what we miss, or maybe underappreciate, is that developing resilience also helps us to navigate our everyday more successfully. In an average week at work most of us experience changing priorities, unexpected actions, new problems to solve and difficult people to deal with. When you develop your resilience, you will be able to adapt to all types of adversity, whether it’s a ‘tough day at the office’ when a project is derailed, or the moment your hopes for the year are thrown out of the window by a company restructure. It might be helpful to think of this as your ‘resilience range’, how well you are able to adapt to adversity whatever form it may take.
Your ability to adapt to all types of adversity, from small moments of everyday frustration to significant change.
Resilience is commonly described as the ability to ‘bounce back’, but we find this description can be an unhelpful, and potentially limiting, starting point if you are coaching yourself through a tough challenge. The words we use when we coach ourselves matter. They inform, influence and impact our perspective and actions, so we should choose them carefully. As philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein put it: The limits of my language are the limits of my world. In a difficult situation it is almost never realistic to go ‘back’ to where you were before. Framing our objective as ‘bouncing back’ also puts pressure on us to cope and say I’m fine, even if you’re not. An important part of developing resilience is having the confidence to know it’s OK to not be OK and to be able to ask for the help that we need. Though bouncing back is not usually meant literally, we recommend that when you are coaching yourself on resilience it is more useful to focus on the future and how you can make positive progress.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.
Thinking traps and positive prompts
Thinking traps are a useful way to identify any assumptions you have that could get in the way of being open and optimistic in your coaching approach.
I can’t see a way out of my current situation.
This situation feels unfair and out of my control.
No one understands what I’m experiencing.
I’m not a ‘tough’ person.
I wish things were the way they were before.
Reframing your thinking traps as positive prompts will unlock your assumptions and give you the ability to explore options and possibilities as you coach yourself.
From: I can’t see a way out of my current situation.
To: What can I learn from someone who has been in a similar position?
From: This situation feels unfair and out of my control.
To: What are three ‘I can’ actions that would feel useful to me and are in my control? For example, I can have a conversation with a previous manager, I can update my LinkedIn profile, I can list all my successes over the past twelve months.
From: No one understands what I’m experiencing.
To: How can I share my experience in a way that will help people understand me more?
From: I’m not a ‘tough’ person.
To: How could I use my strengths (empathy, listening, sensitivity etc.) in a way that will help me move forward?
From: I wish things were the way they were before.
To: What am I grateful for at the moment?
How to coach yourself on resilience
This section of the chapter will help you to coach yourself when things don’t go to plan. We want to support you to build your resilience every day, so it’s there when you need it, and to give you the tools to overcome adversity in the moment.
In Part 1 we’ll cover:
How to assess your resilience today, where you have strengths and where you have gaps.
The actions you can take to build your resilience reserves.
In Part 2 we’ll focus on:
How to use an adversity audit to understand the facts of your situation.
How to ensure your resilience reactions work for you and not against you.
How to apply mental time-travel techniques to reflect on the past, imagine options for the future and identify actions in the present.
This chapter finishes with our expert, Kajal Odedra, director of Change.org and author of Do Something, sharing her ideas on how we can become more comfortable asking for help and the value of mentors as important challengers and champions.
PART 1: Your resilience rating
There is no definitive checklist that covers every aspect of being resilient, but there are skills you can develop to build your resilience reserves. This exercise will help you to consider which ones you are stronger in, identify the gaps you have and decide the actions you want to take.
Using the scale opposite, give yourself a score between 1 and 10 for each of the following questions.
Success isn’t overnight. It’s when every day you get a little bit better than the day before. It all adds up.
DWAYNE JOHNSON (‘THE ROCK’)
Your resilience rating gives you an idea of how strong your resilience range is at the moment. As a reminder, this is your ability to adapt to all types of adversity, from small moments of everyday frustration to significant change. You can now use your rating to identify what actions to take to build up your reserves (the specific skills that contribute to your resilience range). On the following pages we share ideas for action and some coach yourself questions for each area of the rating to support your coaching process.
Resilience reserves 1: optimism
Optimists aren’t idiots. They do better in life – live longer, healthier, more successful lives – for the simple reason that they don’t ignore problems or give up easily.
Optimism feels like a personality trait, but as positive psychologist Martin Seligman has proved in his research, it is something that we can all learn to have more of.
Seligman identified three Ps (we call them the 3 Ps of pessimism) that can get in your way of being optimistic.
The 3 Ps of pessimism
Personal = my fault (I blame myself)
Pervasive = my life (nothing is going well at the moment)
Permanent = my future (I can’t imagine things ever getting better)
Which of the 3 Ps of pessimism feels most familiar to you?
We all respond to adversity differently, and no one is (or needs to be) positive all the time. Understanding how adversity impacts your optimism means you can take the right actions to make positive progress. We have suggested an idea for action for each of the 3 Ps so you can try out the one that feels most relevant for you.
Idea for action – personal: fault to feedback
Fixating on your faults doesn’t help you to move forward. We all make mistakes, and no one is perfect. Sometimes other people can see our situation more clearly than we can. Asking for feedback from people who understand your experience will help you to gain perspective, forgive yourself and focus on the future. This can be as simple as describing your situation to someone and asking, What’s your perspective?
Idea for action – pervasive: the domino effect
Write down all the different dominoes in your life at the moment, for example your family, your work projects, your interests. For each of your dominoes note one thing that’s working well in each area, for example: kids are happy at school, range of interesting clients, making time to do spin classes. By doing this we appreciate that most of our dominoes are still standing, even if one has momentarily toppled over.
Idea for action – permanent: 1 per cent better
Start each day by writing down how you can make today 1 per cent better than yesterday. This will help you to identify small and specific ways, which are sometimes described as ‘tiny nudges’, to improve. Some examples of what this might look like: read one page of a book I’ve been meaning to start; take a 30 min. lunchbreak; do a 10 min. yoga class on YouTube.
CY? What actions can I experiment with if I notice my pessimism P is holding me back?
Resilience reserves 2: asking for help
You don’t have to know all the answers and you don’t have to pretend that you do.
In our workshops asking for help is typically the area of the resilience rating where people score themselves lowest. It seems that we would much rather help ourselves or, worse, stay stuck than burden people with our worries.
CY? How do I feel when I’m asked for help?
However, when people are asked for help they usually feel flattered, useful, trusted and respected, which are all very positive emotions. While it might feel hard, asking for help is not something we need to apologize for or feel embarrassed about.
Idea for action: 10× help
When we ask for help, we often limit ourselves to approaching only one person. This limits our learning, because the more help you receive, the more you will gain. As the investment bank Stifel’s European President Eithne O’Leary shared with us, No one has a monopoly on wisdom.
Imagine if we, to borrow a phrase from the world of innovation, ‘10×’d the help that we received. Using the table on the next page write down one career question you’re curious about or stuck on at the moment. It could be anything from How do I move into a new industry? to How can I improve my gravitas in meetings? Now write down the names of ten people who could help you. Ten might sound like a daunting number but it will encourage you to seek help from different places and people. It could mean reconnecting with someone you’ve worked with previously or making a new connection or having a chat with your manager (or hopefully all three).
The coach yourself questions below will support you to be specific about the help that you need. Answering these questions will make the practical part of asking for help easier as you will be clear about exactly what you’re asking for and why.
CY? What help would be useful for me at the moment?
CY? Who could I ask for the help that I need?
CY? Why are they the right people to ask?
Resilience reserves 3: successes
When we take the time to notice the things that go right – it means we’re getting a lot of little rewards throughout the day.
When things aren’t going to plan the risk of critic creep is higher. If we listen to the stories our inner critic tells us, we start to believe that we don’t have any successes, or that our successes are insignificant, especially compared with other people’s. The best way to get your inner coach back in charge is to start consciously spotting your successes, particularly the small ones that we all take for granted.
Idea for action: very small successes
This is one of our most popular exercises because it’s easy and insightful. At the end of every day (including weekends) write down one very small success you have achieved during the past twenty-four hours. Your successes can come from any part of your life: work (updated my LinkedIn profile summary) to health (did 20 mins of boxing) to family (persuaded my toddler to eat his peas!).
To get the most from this exercise follow these three ‘R’ steps:
Recognize: think about one very small success you’ve had today.
Record: write down your very small success in the same place each day.
Reflect: look back at your past successes and consider what you can learn from them.
It’s particularly important that you note down your very small successes, because identifying positive moments with written words feels much more valuable than when they live in our heads as thoughts or feelings. If you’re like Helen, who enjoys routines and journaling, this might be an exercise that you commit to every day. Or you might be like Sarah, who comes back to this exercise every time she finds her inner critic creeping in.
CY? How could I start reflecting on my successes in a way that works for me?
Resilience reserves 4: support system
Anything is possible when you have the right people around to support you.
Your support system is made up of the people who will help you through adversity. This is likely to be a mix of family, friends and work colleagues, past and present. When things don’t go to plan it’s useful to have a range of people supporting you. We all need people who support us unconditionally, and we also need people who are going to question, challenge, inspire and empathize with us. One thing to watch out for is creating an echo chamber – a support system where everyone agrees with you. You don’t need to agree with someone to find their perspective useful. Sarah frequently disagrees with one of her mentors and yet she always finds his advice thought-provoking and valuable.
Idea for action: resilience role models
As we discussed at the start of this chapter, everyone experiences adversity. Consider who your resilience role models are and how you could learn from them. People can be role models for different reasons, and we’ve included a few examples below to get you started.
Context: Someone to learn from who has worked in a different environment from you. For example, if you’re in a big company, someone who has only ever worked for themselves.
Stage: Someone at a different stage in their career from you, perhaps someone just starting out or who has retired.
Experience: Someone who has had different experiences that aren’t familiar to you. For example, our friends Tom and James at The Tempest Two take on death-defying personal challenges (like climbing El Capitan) which require an incredible amount of resilience and which we can learn from even if we don’t plan to start scaling sheer cliffs anytime soon!
CY? What role/s are missing from my support system at the moment?
Resilience reserves 5: rest and recovery
If you get tired learn to rest, not to quit.
Our response to adversity is sometimes to do more. We go into overdrive hoping that by working longer and harder we will get through to the other side. This approach doesn’t make us more resilient, it’s how we burn out. Even when we stop officially working that doesn’t necessarily mean we are recovering. Researchers Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan found that for most of us stopping does not equal recovering, and the lack of recovery is what holds back our ability to be resilient and successful.7 We all recognize the feeling of work occupying our headspace when we’re having dinner with our partner or trying to sleep at night.
Idea for action: active rest
Alex Pang argues in his book Rest that the more we invest in deliberate and active rest the more productive we are. Active rest might sound like a contradiction, but the idea is to find activities that give your brain a rest from work by making you fully absorbed and present in something else. As Pang points out, there are lots of benefits to active rest as it helps us to ‘recover from the stresses and exhaustion of the day, allows new experience and lessons to settle in your memory, and gives your subconscious mind space to keep working’. Your active rest activities are personal to you, and it’s useful to reflect on how you make this part of your days and weeks at the moment. We asked some of our friends and followers on Instagram what active rest looks like for them and we’ve shared some examples to show how varied these activities can be; it might inspire some ideas for you too.
CY? What are my active rest activities?
CY? How can I make active rest part of my working week?
Resilience reserves 6: the world outside work
You don’t need to make your life your job. I think you have to make time for yourself so that work doesn’t become the end-all be-all.
Work is a big part of who we are, and a significant part of our identity is wrapped up in the work that we do. The challenge is when work becomes all we are, leaving no time for hobbies or people outside work. Psychologists use the term ‘enmeshment’ to describe the condition where our boundaries become so blurred that our individual identities lose importance.8 If you become so enmeshed in your work that you are your work you are vulnerable to burnout, career crisis and losing your personality independent of the work that you do.
Idea for action: simple pleasures to make you smile
This idea is inspired by Neil Pasricha’s blog 1000 Awesome Things. Neil started his blog in 2008 at a point in his life where he was overcoming significant adversity after his marriage broke down and his best friend took his own life. He published one awesome thing every weekday for 1,000 days and they ranged from sleeping in new bed sheets to eating food you loved as a kid (you can read the list at www.1000awesomethings.com).
In the space on the next page, write down five simple pleasures that make you smile, ideally all things that are free or very low cost. Some of Sarah’s are coffee, visiting National Trust gardens and reading fiction, while Helen loves cooking, a long bath and poetry podcasts. Next jot down whether you feel you are nurturing or neglecting each simple pleasure at the moment.
This exercise gives you a quick view of whether you’re nurturing or neglecting your world outside work at the moment. It might remind you that there’s one thing you love that you’ve not done for a while or make you aware that work is dominating an unhealthy amount of your time at the moment.
CY? What areas of my life, outside work, do I want to prioritize to help me stay positive?
PART 2: How to move from adversity to action
There is no room for facts, when our minds are occupied by fear.
We all react to adversity in different ways depending on both the type of person that we are and the nature of the adversity we’re facing. A useful place to start when things don’t go to plan is to complete an adversity audit. An audit will help you to quickly understand the facts of your challenge. This is intended to be a short exercise that will take no more than five or ten minutes, and we’ve included an example below to show you how this works in practice.
The adversity audit will help you to get clarity and be concise about the facts of the situation you’re facing. In moments of adversity, we feel out of control and fearful about where we are in our careers and what’s going to happen next. At this time, it’s easy to forget or avoid the facts of your situation. You might not agree with or like those facts, but you need to be aware of them before you can figure out what action to take. We’re now going to explore how you can coach yourself on your reaction to adversity before focusing on turning your awareness into action.
Your reactions to adversity will be influenced, to at least some extent, by whether you identify as more of a thinker or doer. Thinkers will react with a desire to understand and the questions in your mind are likely to start with why: why did this happen? Doers’ reactions are more motivated by action and their questions will start with what: what can I do next? Alongside your adversity audit note down your thoughts on the following coach yourself questions. It might be useful to read through the table that follows them first to support your reflections.
CY? What are my first reactions to this situation?
CY? How might these reactions work for me?
CY? How might these reactions work against me?
CY? What can I learn from people who respond to adversity in a different way from me?
Building bridges from adversity to action
Now you can use your awareness about your current adversity to focus on what actions you want to take. We’re going to explore two different exercises, both of which require some ‘mental time-travel’. Time-travelling techniques are a useful part of your coaching approach, particularly when your present isn’t that appealing. We’ll start by reflecting on the past so you can learn from what’s worked for you before. Then we will explore how imagining your future can inspire action in the present.
Time travel is always more magical somehow when you go into the past. Travelling into the future is something you do, every day. You’re just not going to get very far. So, I rather like the past travel.
Reflecting on past experiences is helpful in three ways:
Remembering examples of overcoming adversity in the past gives us confidence that we can do the same again in the present.
Recalling previous adversity helps us to spot things that we are grateful for in the present and boosts our positivity.
Identifying how you overcame challenges helps you to consider what actions will be useful for you now.
Start by describing three examples where you have overcome adversity in the past. Aim to include different types of adversity so you can learn from the range of experiences you’ve had in your career so far (Sarah’s examples include: not getting promoted and being at risk of redundancy, a project I was passionate about being cancelled and being on maternity leave, and Helen’s: juggling work and study, a difficult manager and leading people through organizational change).
CY? What examples do I have of overcoming adversity (of any type) in the past?
CY? For each example, what actions did I take that helped me to make positive progress?
CY? What did I learn from each example that could be useful for me now?
Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.
You probably already have in mind at least one version of the future that is more positive than where you are today. Use the space on page 65 to jot down a few different versions of the future that you find motivating.
The past should be our teacher, not our master.
To help prompt your imagining consider:
What’s the best possible future you can imagine?
What is a dream that feels too difficult because you don’t know how to get there?
What ambitions have you had before that you could bring back to life?
Who are you inspired by?
Wishful thinking vs What next?
Imagining different futures is fun but the hard part is where to go next. Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at New York University who has been studying human motivation for over twenty years, shares that, though imagining future possibilities is important, it’s only effective if we also acknowledge the obstacles that could arise along the way, so we can find ways to overcome them.9 This process of considering both possibilities and problems is referred to as ‘mental contrasting’. The exercise below is designed to help you move from wishful thinking to a realistic idea for what you can do next. You can repeat this mental contrasting exercise several times to generate a list of realistic actions that you can take to help you to overcome adversity.
We want to finish this chapter with a reminder that there is no ideal way to overcome adversity, no one gets it right all the time and everyone experiences obstacles in their career, even Michael Jordan: ‘Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.’
Ask our expert: Kajal Odedra, director of Change.org and author of Do Something
As humans we’re wired to help each other.
As Helen Keller said: ‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.’
Coaching question: I know I should ask for help but I’m worried people will judge me if I do and think that I should be able to help myself. What should I do?
Expert answer: I, too, find it hard to ask for help. But whenever I have plucked up the courage to do it, I’ve always been so relieved that I did.
As humans we’re wired to help each other
We all want to be asked to help. Think about the times when someone asked you to help them – you were probably flattered, honoured to be the person they turned to. We’re social creatures who want purpose, and scientific research has found that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex (!). Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain – and it’s pleasurable. We get scared to ask for help because it makes us seem vulnerable and we worry it will make us look like we don’t know everything. But the truth is, nobody knows everything and we all need help along the way. The smartest people are the ones that know what they don’t know and seek out the information they need.
Stress can build below the surface
As a campaigner, my work can feel lonely at times. Even if you have a great community of supporters and loving friends and family, you are still the person having to make decisions and push the campaign forward. Part of the stress comes from doubting yourself, not knowing if you’re making the right decisions or going in the right direction. Even if you’re not conscious of this doubt, it may still be there under the surface. This low-level stress can build, and in the worst cases, make you unwell. That’s what happened to me, and the moment I realized that the source of it was the heavy burden I was carrying, I looked for a mentor. A mentor is someone who can advise and guide you. They can provide you with support through their own experience and networks. They are there to challenge you in a supportive way in order for you to grow. And most importantly, they can act as your cheerleader, someone who has the expertise and authority to tell you when you’re on the right path.
Asking for help
To find your mentor, think about the people out there who are either doing similar work to you, but have more experience, or are just people you respect and admire. And ask them! Be very specific and clear on what you want out of the relationship, for example that you would like to meet them once a month for an hour to run campaign ideas past them. The worst-case scenario is that they are too busy or feel unable to take on a mentee at this time, but at least you’ve made the connection and they may be able to offer help in other ways later down the line. It’s a flattering request for any potential mentor to be asked to help someone because of their experience or authority, so don’t be scared to approach them; remember that you’re giving them a compliment!
And once you have your mentor, make sure you do the heavy lifting. The mentor is giving you their time and wisdom; you need to be proactive in setting dates and coming to meetings with questions and topics you want to discuss. You will get out of it as much as you put in. A mentor is a great way of getting the support that you need without feeling like you need to pluck up courage to keep asking questions by creating a formal relationship with someone the expectation is that you will be asking for help every time you meet, which will lower the pressure. We’re all a bit scared to ask for help, but we need to remind ourselves that nothing great is achieved by a single person.
You COACH You
You can use the COACH tool to bring together your thoughts and reflections from this chapter and apply them to the specific career challenge you might be facing at the moment. Taking the time to bring your insights together using COACH will help you to be clear about your actions, increase your confidence and spot the support you need. The more you practise using COACH, the more you’ll find yourself using it for lots of different challenges both at work and in your career.
Clarity – what is your coaching challenge?
Options – what options could you explore?
Action – what actions will you take?
Confidence – how confident are you about taking those actions?
Help – what help do you need to overcome your challenge?
Whatever your life brings you, respond with creation. This is the engine of resilience
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
J. R. R. TOLKIEN
How you take control of your time at work
Time: why coach yourself
We are all so busy being busy that it can get in the way of making sure our time at work is well spent. Coaching yourself will help you to move beyond busy and increase the quality of the work that you do.
Our work–life boundaries are increasingly blurry and aspiring to a perfect balance is unrealistic and out of kilter with our lives today. Our energy is better spent understanding the choices we can make about how we spend our time and finding our own work–life fit.
Moving beyond busy
Beware the barrenness of a busy life.
We have all got used to answering the question How’s work at the moment? in the same way: Busy. Busyness has become the accepted, and even aspired to, state of work. ‘Busy-bragging’ even influences our perceptions of status (of both ourselves and others). A recent study found that when looking at two different social media posts, one from someone who was busy-bragging and another from someone talking about their leisure time, people believe the busy person has a higher status.10 Having a busy and action-packed life has become a badge of honour and a sign of success.
But being busy is not the same as spending time well. Busyness leads to something that behavioural researchers refer to as ‘tunnelling’. Tunnelling occurs when we can focus only on the immediate and low-impact tasks that are in front of us. This reduces the quality of our work (our IQ actually drops in this state) and leads to something called ‘the time scarcity trap’. This is when we’re in constant firefighting mode, which means we can’t do the strategic thinking that would keep us out of the tunnel in the first place. In summary, when we’re stressed and feeling pressed for time … our attention and cognitive bandwidth narrow as if we’re in a tunnel.11 Moving beyond busy is how we increase our satisfaction and feeling of ‘a job well done’ at work. As Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, says: Do less, do better, know why.
Finding work–life fit
Time management is a misnomer, the challenge is to manage ourselves.
The boundaries between work and the rest of our lives have become increasingly blurred over the past few years. Technology has given us the freedom to work anywhere, and at the same time has created an always-on culture. As Tiffany Jenkins writes in New Philosopher magazine, we don’t clock off when we are off the clock.
The default description of work–life ‘balance’ feels outdated and doesn’t reflect the role work plays in our lives today. But the challenge of how work fits in with the rest of our lives remains, and we are more at risk of burning out in our careers now than ever before. The World Health Organization suggests there are three symptoms of burnout:12
Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
Increased disconnection from your job or feeling negative about your career.
If this feels familiar, you’re not alone. A study by Gallup found that two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job,13 and this negatively impacts our confidence, our performance and our health (burnt-out employees are 63 per cent more likely to take a sick day).
Instead of aspiring for ‘balance’, perhaps a more useful way of describing our aspiration is work–life fit. The ability to fit the different parts of our lives together in a way that works for us. This is also sometimes described as work–life flexibility and its appeal is so strong for millennials (who represent the largest generation in work today) that most would be willing to relocate to another country and be paid less in order to find it.14
Your time at work: well spent or wasted?
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.
‘Time’ is the most used noun in the English language, which shows just how much it’s on our minds. The average person spends over 90,000 hours of their life at work,15 and as we’re working for longer and retiring later that number is likely to increase. We all have the same amount of time in each day and you can’t buy or make more of it. Consider what you spend most of your time doing at work. Meetings and emails typically spring to mind first. On an average day we receive over 120 emails16 and spend over half of our working week in meetings, which is an increase of over 130 per cent, or thirteen hours a week, from the 1960s.17 Two-thirds of us say we don’t have time to do our jobs and end up wasting 50 per cent of our time on things that either don’t help us to get the job done or don’t make us feel good about our efforts.18
Time management myths
There is a vital difference between managing time and managing work: work is infinite; time is finite. The key question to ask yourself is not ‘what am I going to do?’ but ‘how am I going to spend my time?’
As you begin to consider what time well spent means to you, it’s useful to address some time management myths that can get in our way.
Myth 1: there’s an app for that
With all the technology we have at our disposal there must be something out there that can solve our time management challenges. A quick search in the Apple app store will offer you thousands of apps promising to do just that. While these tools can be helpful, they are unlikely to transform how you spend your time. Coaching yourself to take control of your time is challenging and the answers that you uncover will be unique to you.
Myth 2: more is what matters
Time management can feel like a search for ways to increase our output. We get up earlier, listen to podcasts at double speed and multitask in meetings. However, when output is the number one measure of how you manage your time, you’ll never be satisfied (just exhausted!). We need to shift our focus from outputs to outcomes. If outputs are doing more work, outcomes are doing better work.
Myth 3: the secret to success
We’re fascinated by how other people spend their time. This is partly because it’s fun to get a window into other people’s worlds and partly because we hope to copy their ‘secrets’ to success. We listen to the CEO who reads a different book each week and think That’s what I need to start doing. A ‘day in the life’ interview with a successful entrepreneur prompts us to ask Why don’t I meditate for an hour every morning? These small glimpses into other people’s lives, often at their best, leave us feeling like we forgot to follow the magic formula. But there is no ‘cut and paste’ approach to spending your time well because we’re all different and what matters is finding out what works for you.
Thinking traps and positive prompts
Thinking traps are a useful way to identify any assumptions you have that could get in the way of being open and optimistic in your coaching approach.
I have no control of how my time is spent at work.
My days are full of back-to-back meetings.
There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get my work done.
Other people manage their time much better than I do.
I don’t get to spend time on the things that are most important to me.
Reframing your thinking traps as positive prompts will unlock your assumptions and give you the ability to explore options and possibilities as you coach yourself.
From: I have no control of how my time is spent at work.
To: What helps me to feel in control in the other areas of my life?
From: My days are full of back-to-back meetings.
To: How can I contribute to a conversation or project without being involved in every meeting?
From: There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get my work done.
To: How could I work with my manager to reprioritize my work?
From: Other people manage their time much better than I do.
To: What would other people admire about how I manage my time at the moment?
From: I don’t get to spend time on the things that are most important to me.
To: How could I share what’s important to me with people who have an influence on how I spend my time?
How to spend your time well
This section of the book will help you to coach yourself on spending your time well. In Part 1 we focus on how you spend your time today and how to improve the quality of the work that you do in the time that you have. By the end of Part 1 you’ll know:
What time well spent means for you.
How to make time trade-offs.
How to find your flow.
How to stop distractions getting in your way.
In Part 2 we move on to work–life fit and explore how you can take more control of the time that you have. You’ll work out:
What work–life fit looks like for you at the moment.
How to fit the different parts of your life together.
How to respond when your work–life fit feels out of your control.
We finish this chapter with ten time-management tactics for you to try out and advice from our expert, author Graham Allcott, on how to stop meetings dominating your day.
PART 1: How do you feel about your time?
Before you focus on the practical aspects of how you spend your time today it’s useful to get some perspective by exploring how you feel about your time today.
Begin by selecting how in control of your time you feel today on the scale below.
Now work your way through each of the following coach yourself questions.
CY? If I imagine my time as a person, how would I describe that person (for example, are they calm and collected, frantic and stressed, efficient and focused)?
CY? When does it feel like time is flying by for me?
CY? When does time feel like it’s dragging for me?
CY? How do I feel about my relationship with my time today?
To add to your awareness, highlight the statements below that feel true for you. We’ve left some circles blank for any feelings that might be missing.
How do you feel about your time at work?
How we feel about our time at work is always changing and we all have weeks where we feel overwhelmed or out of control. We’d suggest that you consider how you feel about your time at work most often. Which feelings are familiar and frequent? Before we move on to the next section jot down some thoughts on the coach yourself question below to reflect on how you want to feel about your time at work and try describing what time well spent means to you.
CY? How do I want to feel about my time at work?
Time well spent at work means
Now that you have some perspective on your time, we’re going to move on to some practical tools to help you understand what you spend your time on today and decide what trade-offs and trade-ups you want to make happen.
Your task:time ratio
The purpose of this exercise is to help you quickly get a view of how you spend your time today and where you might want to make changes. The aim is not to have a 100 per cent accurate, minute-by-minute view, though there are apps like Toggl or myhours.com which will help you do that if you’d like to give them a try.
Step 1: Start by thinking about the different tasks you do at work and roughly what percentage of your time you spend on them at the moment.
Step 2: Now convert your table into a pie chart using the first circle opposite, so you can visualize how you’re spending your time at work today.
Step 3: Use the second pie-chart circle to visualize what your ideal task:time ratio would look like.
Step 4: Use the table below to summarize which activities you would like to spend more time on, which you’d like to decrease and which you’re happy to stay the same.
A common mistake when trying to change how we spend our time is to forget or ignore the choices involved in making that change happen. If you want to increase the time you spend on one activity you always have two choices: to decrease the time you spend on something else or to work longer hours to add that activity into your day. The second choice is rarely preferable or sustainable so it’s more helpful to focus your efforts on becoming skilled at making ‘time trade-offs’. One way to do that is by using a technique called if/then sequence statements.
If/then sequence statements
Our time trade-offs always involve choices and consequences, and if/then sequence statements help you to work out what these might be, for both you and other people, so you can identify what actions you need to take. There is no exact number of if/then sequence statements you need to work through; we would suggest you keep going until you’ve identified what action you are going to take next. We’ve included a couple of examples below to show how this works in practice and then a blank template so you can have a go for yourself.
IF: I want to spend more time presenting
THEN: I need to spend less time co-ordinating team meetings.
IF: I want to spend less time co-ordinating team meetings
THEN: I need support from my manager to make that happen.
IF: I want to get support from my manager
THEN: I need to work out who else could help me with co-ordinating team meetings.
IF: I want help with co-ordinating team meetings
THEN: I need to consider who would benefit from the experience and skills gained from team meetings.
MY ACTION: Chat to one of my colleagues who has joined the team recently about whether they’d be interested in working with me to support team meetings.
IF: I want to spend more time learning a new skill at work
THEN: I need to spend less time on the work I’m already doing.
IF: I want to spend less time on the work I’m already doing
THEN: I need to figure out what tasks I can stop or delay.
IF: I want to figure out what tasks I can stop or delay
THEN: I need to do a review of everything I spend time on and work out what’s most important.
IF: I want to do a review of everything I spend time on and work out what’s most important
THEN: I need to spend thirty minutes on a Friday reviewing my week so I can spot opportunities to reprioritize my time.
MY ACTION: Complete an audit of how I spend my time at the moment and identify what task/s I could stop that would give me a minimum of one hour a week to start learning a new skill.
Do first things first – and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.
If trade-offs are about changing how you spend your time, trade-ups are about improving the quality of the time you spend on the work that you do. In the next section we share three common time drains:
Failing to find your flow.
Managing other people’s monkeys.
Letting distractions get in the way of making progress.
We have all experienced each of these time drains, though maybe there’s one that particularly stands out for you right now. We’ll explore each time drain in turn to help you identify what actions you can take to trade-up the quality of your time at work.
Time drain 1: failing to find your flow
Understanding and applying the idea of ‘flow’ to our work increases creativity, productivity and happiness. If you know what flow looks like for you and are proactive about finding your flow more frequently you will improve your return on time invested at work. In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. It feels challenging but enjoyable for us, we are ‘in the zone’ and fully absorbed and immersed in what we’re working on, so much so that time can pass by unnoticed. The aim isn’t to spend all our time in flow, as this feels unrealistic when our jobs make lots of different demands on our days. However, if we’re spending all our time in the other energy states described in the diagram on the next page we risk becoming bored, limiting our learning or getting stressed.
My energy states
Consider what your energy states are at work today and number each one to show where you spend the most/least time (where 1 = most and 4 = least).
To increase the amount of time you are spending in flow at work, there are three areas you can focus on:
Feeding your flow.
Minimizing flow foes.
Finding your flow friends.
1. Feeding your flow
We are more likely to find flow at work when we have a clear goal, are doing challenging work, receive frequent feedback and feel a sense of satisfaction about the work we’ve done. You can consciously feed your own flow by taking actions to make sure each of these four areas is in place for the work that you do. Below we’ve described some of the conditions that help to create flow alongside some coach yourself questions and ideas for action to support you to find more flow.
Creating the conditions of flow
Working on a project or task that you are invested in and that feels important to you. You know why you’re doing the work you’re doing.
CY? What is one goal I am motivated to work towards in the next three months?
Idea for action: make your goal unmissable
You are most likely to lose sight of your goal when you’re in the middle of a project or task, which can then slow down or even stop your flow. A useful way to keep your goal front of mind is to make it impossible to ignore. This means writing your goal down somewhere where you can’t avoid seeing it before starting work, for example at the top of every page in your notebook or the first slide on a presentation.
The work you’re doing uses your skills and feels stretching. We describe this type of work as feeling ‘doable but difficult’.
CY? How can I use my skills to make progress towards my goal?
Idea for action: help your brain to breathe
Challenging work can at times feel more difficult than doable. Particularly at the start of a project you might find yourself struggling, feeling frustrated and maybe even consider stopping. Though this feels like the opposite of flow, you should feel reassured this is part of the process of finding flow. When you reach this stage the best thing you can do is take a short break and do something to get your body moving in a gentle way, for example going for a walk, doing some gardening or even breathing exercises. During these types of activities our brains release a chemical called nitric oxide, which relieves stress, creates a sense of calm and generally helps us to feel good. Giving yourself and your brain a break will increase your chances of finding flow when you return to your work.
You receive regular feedback that gives you a sense of how you’re progressing. Frequent feedback keeps us focused and motivated.
CY? Who can I ask for feedback so I know I’m on the right track to meet my goal?
Idea for action: ask for www + ebi feedback
One of the most simple and straightforward ways we’ve discovered of asking for frequent feedback is using what’s working well and even-better-if questions. For example, if you’re working on a project with three other people, then at the end of every week you could agree to all share one idea for an ‘even better if’ for the next week. You can also ask these questions to yourself so you are taking control of your continual improvement.
This is the satisfaction and enjoyment you get from a job well done. It means recognizing your progress and what you’ve learnt along the way.
CY? What does a job well done look like for my goal?
Idea for action: pride postcard
To recognize what you’ve learnt and achieved from a project or task it can be nice to create something tangible (there’s a reason most of us still love a certificate or a medal!). Pride postcards are a way of writing a few short sentences to reflect on and celebrate your successes. If you are working on a goal as part of a team you could even send pride postcards to each other when you achieve your goal. We’ve given an example of a simple ‘pride postcard’ template below and you can get much more creative by designing your own digital postcard templates for free using the Canva platform.
One of the other areas that contributes to finding flow is giving all your attention and concentration to the work you’re doing. We cover distraction downfalls and how to stop them getting in your way as the third area