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The Pioneering Women Of Our Age

Robbie Swale

One of the most powerful insights I have taken from my journey as a coach came from a four-week period around two years ago. Within those few weeks came four coaching sessions which have stayed with me ever since: each with a different client, and each with a powerful emotional charge. These four people were all women, all in their late 20s and 30s, and whilst the things which brought this emotional charge weren’t exactly the same, the common thread struck me deeply. I had never before seen – so clearly and powerfully exposed – the incredible challenge that a modern woman faces at that time in her life.

I thought to myself, after the fourth conversation, What would happen if I could get those four women in a room together? What would be the power of that, for them? It felt important; it felt like the coincidence of these four conversations at once was too much, and that there was some important work to do in bringing women in this situation together. But I didn’t take action. Like so many ideas and creations, it died an early death – or, on this occasion, went into hibernation – when my insecurities left me feeling inadequate or underqualified to bring them together, and when possible collaborators didn’t have the space or time.

But I kept seeing that story. The story of the new generation of pioneering women in the world today. Women of my generation – born, perhaps, between 1980 and 1990, give or take a few years – are following in the footsteps of the women who broke so many glass ceilings and barriers over recent decades. Those women, their foremothers, were pioneers, too. But today, women are pioneering something different. They are pioneering choice. Real choice. For many women – in certain countries, and of certain backgrounds, of course – they have a genuine choice: they have the ability to have a career, any career they choose. They have more equal opportunity than at any time in millennia. They have more power in relationships: the chance to choose, the societal attitudes to be free with who they have relationships with and what kinds of relationships they have. And the choice about family, where societal and familial pressures are different and freer than for generations.

But choice isn’t easy: it brings pressure, and it brings responsibility. I’ve seen the paralysing nature of choice with so many of my clients, men and women. I have felt it myself.

Whilst choice can feel paralysing for anyone – for men and women – and whilst many things are becoming more and more equal, there is one enormous question facing women and not men, and that is the question of Time. And there, there things aren’t equal at all.

Clinical Psychologist Jordan Peterson has spoken about this, seeing it through his client work. “I would say that many women around the age of, I would say, between 28 and 32, have a career-family crisis that they have to deal with.” Peterson told journalist Cathy Newman, in a Channel 4 interview. “And I think that’s partly because of the foreshortened time-frame that women have to contend with. Women have to get the major pieces of their life put together faster than men, which is also partly why men aren’t under so much pressure to grow up! Because for the typical woman, she has to have her career and family in order pretty much by the time she’s 35.”

Faced with this choice, and this foreshortened time-frame, the modern woman can find herself alone, with an absence of the role-models she needs. The role-model she is seeking is a woman who has faced society’s expectation – and her own – that she create and carve out a career. She has balanced that with creating a relationship which enriches her and her life. And she takes her decisions around family from her heart, stepping into and out of family and work as she desires, free of guilt. These role-models don’t exist - or, at least, the ones who have faced these challenges in the modern, ever-changing world are few and far between. But they will exist. That is what the pioneering women of today will become.

Because with true, genuine choice - with freedom - we can create. Create what we really want: outside of the expectations of others, freed up from what our parents, our peers, our teachers, our partners, our colleagues expect of us.

With this freedom, you can create the life of your dreams: not betraying the pioneers of the past by turning down the chance to have a career; not ignoring the unique gifts of your femininity because our work and society doesn’t always appreciate them; not betraying the expectations of yourself and others to be independent of the men in your life; not ignoring the internal drives, when they are there, to motherhood. Embracing those things, embracing the opportunity, and creating from there. This is what the modern woman is pioneering. It is a journey that inspires me, and that touches my heart.

The Neighbours, a Police Car, a Boat and a Helicopter

There’s an old joke about a man whose house is being approached by a great flood. As the floodwater rises, he turns down offers of help from his neighbours, a police car, a boat and a helicopter. They each offer to take him away from his house - to save him - but he tells each one, ‘No thank you. I don’t need your help. God will save me.” The flood water, though, continues to rise, until the poor man drowns. As his spirit arrives in Heaven, he asks God, ‘Where were you, God? Why didn’t you save me?’ To which God replies: ‘I sent your neighbours, a police car, a boat and a helicopter; what more do you want?’

This project, and the idea at its core, feel a little like that to me. After that four-week period, and after I decided I couldn’t create something which brought those women together, I have felt again and again the power and charge of that moment in time which women face. In my own relationship, with a stranger at a party, with coaching clients and friends, in television and film. Then, late last year, in a conversation with my friend Susana, it came up again, and this sense, this sense of these women as pioneers came into a new focus, even clearer. But still I didn’t do anything. I had plenty of good reasons to avoid creating something new. Don't we always? Why me, for a start? What do I have to offer? ‘Well,’ said Susana, ‘I’d far rather speak about these things with you than so many of the people out there doing this work.’ But that wasn’t enough.

Then, earlier this year, my coach at the time, Rich, asked me, ‘What would fascinate you, motivate you and fill you with energy?’ And after a few weeks’ reflection I came back to those women, to bringing them, or women like them – who inspire me so much with their courage, creativity and deep hearts – together. When I shared this, one of the other coaches on the call spoke up. “The thing is, Robbie is the perfect person to do this.” Rich, of course, said, “Why? Tell him why.” And once she had explained, he said ‘Robbie, you need to go back to the recording of this call, transcribe this, and put it on a page on your website.’ And here is what she, Kristen Kosinski, said:

‘Robbie is the perfect person for this. Robbie is a dude, but has such a big heart, is so gentle and so intuitive and approachable. He’s the perfect guy for that – I would have wanted to hear it from a guy who is a guy, but also a guy that felt like I could feel safe with.’

Neighbours, police car, boat, helicopter. But even that wasn’t quite enough. It took me a few months, water still rising, as I got through an illness, and got married. But now here I am, launching a group programme for those amazing, inspiring, courageous pioneering women.

For some people reading this, it won’t resonate, it won’t make sense. It won’t reflect your experience, as either a man or a woman in this period of your life, in this modern world. You might even think what I’m saying is patronising or pretentious or just well wide of the mark. You might not like it at all.

But if it speaks to you. If you are a woman, feeling the challenges of choice and time, who wants to create a career, relationship and family that support each other and enrich you so you are deeply fulfilled as your best, happiest self. If you want someone to hold you to your convictions, to help you find your zone of genius, to live as your best self and to create the life that is calling to you, the life your foremothers have fought for. If this speaks to you, and if you want to do this in the company of the man Kristen describes and the company of other amazing, creative, successful women facing these challenges. If this speaks to you, then let’s talk.

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The Pioneering Women Programme is a group coaching programme for a maximum of six women, who want to create a truly fulfilling life as a modern woman, where career, relationship and family support and enrich each other.

15 Ways to Transform Your Relationship to Time, Get More Done and Feel Better While You Do It

Robbie Swale

It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that every single client I have worked with in my time as a coach has had questions about time. And this shouldn’t surprise us: time does feel, after all, like one of – perhaps in fact the only­ – truly limited resource in the modern world. Once it's gone, it's gone.

This article is my attempt to pull together the most powerful ideas and practical tools I know of to help you transform your relationship to time.

How to Use This Article

This is a long article. I thought about cutting it down or serialising it, but I left it long, because changing how we relate to time and how we get things done is not usually a quick thing. It requires us to slow down, to reflect, in order to create change in our minds and in our lives. If you are willing to give the amount of time it will take to absorb some or all of the ideas I outline here, then I think you will be able to give yourself the time you need to change the way you relate to time management and getting things done.

When I work with clients on questions of time, it almost always works like this: between us we come up with a few ideas that might make a difference to them. Then we test them, and through testing we find the way (for them) that shifting their behaviour transforms their relationship with time, and allows them to create more of the life or work they want, whatever that means to them. This article is designed to work like that, too.

You can use what I have written here in two ways: you can read it from beginning to end and then take a decision on which ideas to apply, taking the ones which fit best with you out into your life. Or, you can skim the headings and read only the parts that most interest you, and then apply them. And I genuinely believe that if you experiment with all fifteen of these ideas, then you will be astounded by the change in both what you accomplish, and how much pressure, anxiety or stress about time you feel while you’re doing it.

I’ve labelled some of the ideas here as ‘Give Yourself a Chance’: we’re humans, we don’t always behave rationally, and sometimes you need a tip or trick or hack to give yourself a chance at making changes and getting things done. That’s what these are for. If you want the quickest fixes here then these are a good place to start, but you might need some of the others to understand exactly why they work.

What I am not willing to let you do is read this article and then not apply anything from it. If you aren’t going to at least experiment with at least one idea contained below, then just stop reading now. You don’t have time to waste. And maybe you never will. If you do want more time, to do more of what you want and be more how you want, you’re going to need to change how you behave. To change how you behave, you’re going to need to slow down: maybe this article is the way to do that.

Our Habits and Relationship to Time Can Be Transformational

I’ve seen all of these ideas make big differences to people: for me, the biggest shifts came when I shifted my relationship to time - by putting myself on a radical diet of not complaining about time (Number 3 on the list) - and when I shifted my relationship to saying 'No' by understanding the importance of opening up possibility for other 'Yes'es (Number 1, supported by Number 2). But I have also seen how the practical can make all the difference: last year, a client went from stressed and frantic one session to calm and creative – starting new projects and taking on new responsibilities – the next, just by applying some of the ‘Give Yourself a Chance’ tactics in this article. Of course it wasn’t ‘just’ that, it was the power and possibility that using these ideas gave him: the power to be in control of his life, and the possibility to create from that place.

So here goes. Here are fifteen ways to shift your relationship with time management, get more done and feel better while you do it. I hope you get as much value from them as I have, and I hope something transformational is waiting for you below...

1)     Saying ‘No’ to Something is Saying ‘Yes’ to Something Else

This is perhaps the most fundamental idea on the list, and I learned it from Confidence and Image Consultant Sarah Cartwright. Every time you say ‘No’ to something you are saying ‘Ýes’ to something else. You may not know what you are saying ‘Yes’ to instead, but you are creating the possibility for something else to happen. ‘No’ creates possibility – that’s not what we’re taught, is it?

This principle is important, because most of us don’t feel good about saying ‘No’. Perhaps it’s fear of missing out, perhaps it’s guilt at letting people down, perhaps it’s something else. But the one real lesson here is that in order to create the life you want, you will sometimes have to say ‘No’, explicitly or implicitly, to yourself or to others. And that’s not a bad thing. It's vital.

The reverse is true, too, of course: each time you say ‘Yes’ to something, you are saying ‘No’ to something else. It’s important to remember this, as you accept invitations to meetings or weddings, as you agree to take on a task or a job or a client. My pride in being someone who is open to opportunities has a dark side: by being the kind of person who says ‘Yes’ to invitations to things on weekends all the time, I (often without thinking) say ‘No’ to all the other things that I might create or do instead, if given the space and opportunity of two days of freedom.

Each time you are struggling with time management and prioritisation, remember this idea. Consider, at least briefly, when you are invited to something or asked to take something on, what your ‘Yes’ is saying ‘No’ to. Maybe it’s time with your family or time alone, maybe it’s the ability to finally finish the work that is most important, or start your business, or work on your novel. Maybe it’s something else, something you haven't even thought of yet. And, if you are struggling to say ‘No’, consider, at least briefly, what possibilities your ‘No’ is a ‘Yes’ to: what is the other commitment, the other - perhaps more important or nourishing - thing, that if you say ‘No’ here, you can make a reality?

2)     Warren Buffet’s ‘Avoid-At-All-Costs’ List

One of my favourite ways to apply Saying ‘No’ to Something is Saying ‘Yes’ to Something Else is with this exercise, courtesy of Warren Buffet, one of the most successful business investors in the world. The story is about Buffet taking some time to support one of his members of staff (the pilot of his private jet) with his career ambitions. Warren has the pilot write a list of the 25 things he would like to achieve in his career, then rank them in order of priority. The top 5 are clearly the most important things to the pilot, and Warren then asks him: what are you going to do about the other 20? The pilot explains the other 20 are still important to him, so he will do them in his spare time, fit them in here or there, and still give them dedication.

‘No,’ Warren says. ‘These now become your ‘Avoid-At-All-Costs’ list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.’ Warren is supporting his pilot, and you, if you complete this same task, with saying 'No' to 20 important things in order to say 'Yes' to 5 even more important things.

The truth is, in life, you can achieve almost anything if you are willing to say ‘No’ enough. Raymond Teller, the famous magician, once said, ‘Sometimes, magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.' Another way to think about this is that magic is what happens when someone is willing to say ‘No’ to almost everything else.

Ryan Giggs is the most decorated player in the history of English football. Famously, at certain points in the season, he would resist even a sliver of butter on his toast because of the effect he would notice on his performance. It is a small thing, but one which gives us an idea of the kind of detail he was willing to go into: saying ‘No’, every day, in big and small ways, in order to say ‘Yes’ to the pace and skill and physical fitness which led him to trophy after trophy, or the stamina to play on when all but a handful of his contemporaries had retired. Elite sportspeople, scientists, entrepreneurs, leaders: they all say ‘No’ to things, sacrifice things many of us never sacrifice. Sometimes they sacrifice things many of us would never want to sacrifice: their families, their relationships, their health. They may have talent, too, but the stories of their cleverer classmates and more talented teammates are almost always there, and part of the difference between those who do things which seem magical and those that don't is their willingness to say ‘No’. 

I played out Warren’s game last year. Some of it was easy: ‘Oh, what a relief – I can say ‘No’ to this, because it’s nowhere near the top 5.’ I just felt better straight away. Others were hard: in the end, it left me including collaborations with some of my favourite people on my ‘Don’t Touch With a Barge Pole’ list (I prefer that name to 'Avoid At All Costs'!). But I knew that if I wanted to create my business in the form that would fulfill me the most, if I wanted to work with more 10/10 clients and make more money, if I wanted to write more and spend more time with my loved ones, I needed to say ‘No’ more. And knowing what I was saying ‘Yes’ to – the top five things on my list – made it so much easier.

If you want, you can read the story of Warren and his pilot in longer form here. The list doesn't have to be about the rest of your career: it can be about this week, month or year. But make sure to make a list. It won't take long, and it might change everything.

3)     A Radical Diet: Stop Complaining About Time   

In his book The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks has a remarkable section entitled Einstein Time. Broadly, the idea is this: we think time is linear, but that is emphatically not our experience of it. For instance, we will wait as an hour creeps by painfully while we are stuck in traffic or given an incredibly dull task by our boss, but also bemoan how a rare weekend with our oldest friends flies by in an instant. There are many useful ideas in Hendricks’ writing about time, but the one that has made the biggest difference to me is experimenting with this: just stop complaining about time. Put yourself on a radical diet for two weeks, as a starting point, where you stop complaining about being late, or being early, or anything else to do with time. At all.

Not only does complaining about time bring time (or our 'lack' of it) into incredible focus, but it constantly undermines our integrity. To make this point, and show some of the problems with the way we talk about time, Hendricks memorably tells a story about a child, coming in to see her or his parent, and saying “Will you come outside and play with me?” The parent says, “I’m sorry, I don’t have time right now.” Imagine for a moment, if instead the child comes in and says “I just put my arm in the fire and my jumper is currently in flames.” Do you think the parent might - just somehow, might – find time then?

Imagine the difference, for that child and for the parent, if the parent told the truth. “I’m sorry, but I’m doing some work which is really important to me, and I need to finish it now. I can play with you when it’s done, or can we make an agreement to play tomorrow?” First, the parent doesn't get the little flash of anxiety: the sense of lack, of time running out. Next, this shows the child respect - I suspect most of them would know, at least subconsciously, that ‘I don’t have time’ is just an excuse - and finally it strengthens the relationship with the child, and our integrity. Each time we tell a lie - even a small one - some of our integrity and energy leaks out. And we use time as an excuse all the time, each time allowing our integrity to leak out of us. Further, perhaps, when not having the easy excuse (or shall we say 'lie'?) about time available to them, the parent will choose more consciously. And maybe sometimes, with that extra consciousness in their choice, they will realise instead that their work is not that important, and that a chance to throw a ball around in the garden is not something to say ‘No’ to.

The truth is, mostly, it wasn’t ‘time’s fault’ or anything or anyone’s fault, it was our choice. By saying ‘No’ to our child, we are saying ‘Yes’ to our work, and by saying ‘Yes’ to our work, we are saying ‘No’ to our child.

When I was first on this diet, the biggest shift for me was on email. So many of my emails used to start with something like “I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you,” or “I’ve been so busy I’ve only just got to this”. Now, none of them do. The only thing in that vein that it sometimes starts with is ‘I’m sorry, I totally forgot to reply to this email’. Otherwise, I have chosen to be doing something else. And if I have chosen to do something different – and the more I think about Saying ‘No’ to Something is Saying ‘Yes’ to Something Else the more conscious these choices become – then I don’t need to apologise. I made the best decision I could. This brings my prioritising into clearer focus, and allows me to make better, more conscious decisions each day.

And here’s the interesting thing: I think I reply to more emails in a more timely fashion now than I used to when I complained and worried about replying too late. Firstly, I don’t waste seconds every time I start an email writing an apologetic sentence. Secondly, and more importantly, I don’t feel guilt every time I open my inbox at all the people I’ve 'let down' by not replying already. This means I don't avoid my inbox, and when I open it I choose the right emails to reply to – the ones which it honestly is important to reply to now – rather than trying (and failing) to reply to all of them 'on time' out of some sense of guilt.

You might be thinking 'but I only apologise when it's warranted', but once you pay attention to this epidemic of energy and emotion being wasted in a constant state of guilty apology, it’s kind of hilarious. Someone once apologised to me for the delay in his reply. It had been around 24 hours. Before that, I had left it SIXTEEN DAYS without replying to him. What did he have to apologise for?

We do this kind of thing everywhere: apologising, complaining and making excuses about time. It’s everywhere in our culture and the language we use, and the thing about language is that it affects how we see reality.

Change your language, change your thoughts. Change your thoughts, change reality.

So now is the time to try. Just catch yourself, when you notice it. It’s easier in writing, so make sure you do it there, but also take it into the way you speak and think. If you can, enlist the help of your partner or colleagues or children, too: get them to catch you. When you slip, don’t just carry on. Stop, and say what you just said again but with no complaint this time. Just the truth.

No more ‘I’m in a rush’, no more ‘I haven’t got time’, no more any of that. Just 'I prioritised something different'.

See what changes.

4)     The Urgent and Important Matrix

Time for another practical exercise to guide you. One of the earliest time management lessons I was taught was the difference between Urgent and Important, via a 2 x 2 matrix. If you’ve never seen this, draw a square with four quadrants. The vertical axis is Urgency and the horizontal axis is Importance. This makes the bottom left quadrant ‘Not Urgent and Unimportant’, the top left ‘Urgent and Unimportant’, the bottom right ‘Important and Not Urgent’ and the top right ‘Urgent and Important’. The aim here, then, is to as far as possible never do things which are in the bottom left ('Not Urgent and Unimportant' - why would you be doing these things?), and as far as possible never let things get into the top right ('Urgent and Important' - this is when things can get stressful and mistakes can happen). Then, as you sit looking at the matrix you start asking yourself, ‘Well what should I be spending my time on?’ and the answer becomes painfully obvious: the bottom right, 'Important and Not Urgent'. Because if you do these important things while they aren’t urgent, they will never get into the top right quadrant.

Of course, things aren’t as simple as this: things don’t necessarily fit neatly or wholly into one of the quadrants, and even within each quadrant things can be flexible and fluid. But it’s a framework for you to use. You might want to plot things on here like a graph. My ex-girlfriend used to write her To Do lists on a grid like this when things were getting frantic. Mainly, I just use it as a mental tool: am I doing this just because it’s urgent? If so, like some of the emails I used to reply to, I should probably stop. But also, when planning my day, week or month, I can ask myself, 'When will I do things which are Important and Not Urgent?'

Because doing those stops you being in the place where the Important AND Urgent quadrant is overflowing: that’s the stressful place, the difficult place, the place when you might start to really drop things.

5)     Email: Everyone Else’s Priorities For You

It’s time for a sad truth: your email inbox is everyone else's priorities for you. They may be very wise and very intelligent people, but even if they are, they don’t know what you know, and they don’t have (only) your best interests at heart. They don’t know what is important for you, right now. You have to rely on yourself for that. The same is true of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, text messages, the post, carrier pigeons, heralds from other kingdoms, all that stuff. They are someone else’s priorities for you. And we don’t remember that most people aren’t very good at knowing what is urgent and what is important for themselves – let alone for us – so we presume that all of the emails are urgent (even when we know that most of the ones we send aren’t).

This is why many productivity experts recommend completing the most important thing for you to do each day before you check your email in the morning. I think that is a fantastic idea: don’t let yourself get sidetracked by other people’s priorities for you. Instead, sit down and do the most important thing you can do that day before someone else’s priorities skew you or blow you off course. This will often be something Important and Not Urgent. It will also often be a strategic thing to do. These things are important, really important. You will notice, especially the first few times you do this, you will be doing things you’ve been meaning to do for months or even years, which may save you money or time forever into the future.

6)     Give Yourself A Chance (I): Prioritise Before You Check Your Inbox

It’s hard, though, in the modern world. There are so many distractions and we feel we are being pulled in so many directions. And sometimes it is hard to hold your nerve on having time at the start of the day (before you check your email) to do something that may take as much as an hour or two. It’s hard even if – like me – you work for yourself. The practice I have adopted is not quite doing the most important thing each day before I check my email, but it is to at least write down what the most important things for me to do each day are before I dive into anything else. I don’t always manage this – when I don’t, I recommit – but when a reminder in my calendar goes off each morning I answer a question: What is in best service of my goals today? I write it down – that’s important – in a document on my phone, and I check what happened the previous day. The side effect of this is that I notice I’m making progress, and that makes me feel better, or I notice why I didn't complete the task, and I learn for the future. But the main thing is that if I don’t take the time (usually less than a minute) to do that, then the world – my inbox, everything else – will get the better of me, and I won’t always get the most important things done that day. Because I’m human.

So if you can't do the most important thing first, at least give yourself a chance by consciously knowing what the most important thing is. This will allow you to create your world, and follow your priorities.

7)     The Number One Way to Get Fewer Emails        

SEND FEWER EMAILS.

That’s it, onto the next one.

Only joking, here’s a bit more context.

If you send an email, someone (some poor person who hasn’t realised emails are everyone else’s priorities for them) will reply to you. Send fewer emails, and you’ll get fewer replies. And more than that, check your email fewer times during the day: then you will send fewer emails and get even fewer in reply. Why is this important? Because we spend a lot of time organising our emails, worrying that we've missed something, and instead we could be doing work that matters.

Here’s what normally happens: you are in your inbox, and someone emails you. If you’re like many of us, you have read some time management thing which says ‘deal with the things that you can do in less than 2 minutes as soon as you see them’ (incidentally, this is a great way to be efficient, but not necessarily effective - see Number 14 for more on that). So you reply. But they’ve read that thing, too, so they reply, and then you reply, and then they reply, and then you reply. Six emails, a couple of minutes or less apart. Two people spending time they would rather be using for something else replying to emails. And no one has checked if it’s an important subject yet.

So call people, if you can, or go to their desks. Want to get fewer emails? Send fewer emails.

8)     Nothing Is An Emergency

But there’s more. One of the reasons we fear to stop checking our email every five minutes – or check it at home when we could be doing something more important or relaxing (like playing in the garden with our daughter or son) – is that we are worried something really important will have happened. Some emergency that, if we don’t get on top of it right away, will lead to disaster.

Of course, what you would really hope would happen is that if there was a real emergency, someone would call you or come to your desk. But if you are always on your email, replying every two minutes, then you are part of the problem: people come to expect you to reply straight away, and by implication to always be on your email. So if they need something promptly, like if something really important has happened, they email you. Which means that by checking your email more regularly you actually make it MORE LIKELY that people will send something really important to you by email. Did you get that? By checking your email all the time, you make it more likely that there will be something important there, which makes it more important to check it more often, which means you send more emails, which makes it EVEN MORE LIKELY THAT THERE WILL BE SOMETHING IMPORTANT THERE. And this means you have to keep checking your email, over and over and over again, more and more regularly until you never leave your inbox and nothing else gets done.

The same thing happens with emails at night: if you reply at night, people will expect you to reply at night, which means they will email you at night, which means you will worry that you’re missing something important at night if you don’t check your email, which means you’ll check at night more, which means you’ll reply at night more, which means they’ll email you at night more.

I’m tired just typing it, let alone how you must feel checking your email every minute of the day and night. Here’s the key thing: unless you’re a doctor or a policeman or in the military, very little is an emergency. (And if you are, I bet your colleagues know to call you or radio you if something serious is going down.) For almost all of us, little or nothing in our work won’t wait an hour between times you check your inbox, or won’t wait until morning.

And, look, sometimes you have to go to the toilet or eat something or you are really sick, leaving your inbox unattended. If a real emergency did happen, wouldn’t it be better if someone called you or came to find you, thereby knowing for sure if you have got the message? The alternative is a risk that something truly important – perhaps even life or death – gets lost amidst forwards, IT tickets, and digest emails whilst, unbeknownst to the person waiting urgently for your reply, you are relieving yourself, or eating a nice sandwich, or curled up in a cold sweat in your bed.

It’s OK to not check your email all the time. Nothing is an emergency.

9)     Give Yourself a Chance (II): Train Your Colleagues

This one is straight from author and podcaster Tim Ferriss, whose book, The Four-Hour Work Week contains many great tips and ideas in this space. You might not quite trust me in Numbers 5 to 8, but this tip from Tim allows you to experiment and train your colleagues not to expect you on email every moment of the day or night. Tim uses (and now I do too) a program called Boomerang to train people who work with him. Boomerang (there's a free version with most of the tools, and it works for Gmail and Outlook among other things) allows you to snooze emails, which then boomerang back to your inbox at a later date. This means you can get it out of your inbox and mind, and come back to it to reply when you think they actually need the reply (by which time things may well have resolved themselves anyway). It also lets you send emails on delay, so you can reply straight away if you want to (perhaps because it's one of the three times in the day you check your email) but have the email arrive later on – say, in two hours’ time, or tomorrow morning – thereby training your colleagues that email is not the best way to get an instant response from you, and also avoiding the six email bounce around described earlier.

It also means that if you do want to check your emails at night (I do sometimes) but you don’t want people to expect you to reply at night, you can write the emails at 10:30pm, but schedule them to send at 10:30am the next day (or after the weekend, or any other time).

Most importantly, it puts you in control.

10) Chunk Your Time and Cut Out Distractions

Why is spending less time checking your email so important? Because if you really want to get things done more effectively then you need to spend more time focused on the things that are important, and less getting distracted. Not only that, but my ex-girlfriend – the same one mentioned above, of Urgent/Important To Do Lists fame – ran a project about meeting effectiveness in her work at Nestle Confectionery a decade ago. Even then, the research was clear that humans need time to switch between tasks: we do different tasks using different parts of our brains, and it’s much more efficient and effective to do similar tasks together. To have one meeting – or one part of the meeting – about creative things, another about numerical things, and so on, rather than dotting around.

This is true for you, too. And you know this. I've seen it time and again with clients who have told me something like, ‘I just need time to get some work done’. [I love the language, here, by the way: people say that all the time. They know that their inbox isn’t real work.] The suggestions they come up with to help with this are always around clearing up distractions – closing doors, turning the phone off, going to a coffee shop, booking a meeting room – so they can focus on one thing at a time. On real work. On what’s important. So cut out the distractions when you need to – do whatever it takes. Close your door, turn your phone off, close your browser, turn off the internet on your computer. There are apps to help with this where you can ban certain websites for yourself between certain times; there’s Airplane mode or Do Not Disturb on your laptop or phone. Do it, whatever it takes. 

Different people work differently: some might get bored and need to switch tasks more often than others. The Pomodoro Technique is about splitting time into 25 minute segments, separated by a short break, and maybe that's what works for you. But clear your diary where you can: sit down for the time you need to do something – be realistic about how long that will take, and then don’t complain if it takes less or more – and do it, without distractions.

11) Do Things *When* They Work Best For You

The author Dan Pink wrote his new book – When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing – because he thinks we have spent a lot of time focusing on How we do things, and on What we do, but not enough on When we do them. Some of his data is stark: most of us are much better at work that requires more of our creative and rational brains in the morning and in the evening than we are in the afternoon. This is born out by plenty of data, including a rather shocking story about standardised testing in Denmark: for each hour later in the day that school students take their tests, they perform worse. And not just a little worse: the equivalent of missing two weeks of school. So think about what you are doing when: creative tasks, writing, important work, do it when you’re at our best. It’s probably the morning, but for the night owls among you it might be between 10pm and 2am. And do administrative tasks, unimportant work (like emails/other people’s to do lists, for example) when you're not at your best – often this is just after lunch. Of course not everyone’s patterns will be the same, but get to understand yours, and then use it when you chunk your tasks.

12) Give Yourself A Chance (III): Make Your To Do List Winnable

There’s a great Tony Robbins quote, which is something like “Humans always overestimate what we can achieve in a day, week or month, but grossly underestimate what we can achieve in a decade.” This is why so many of us never finish our To Do lists: we always overestimate what we can achieve in a day. And this feels terrible - anxious and guilt-ridden - which makes us less effective. So please give yourself a chance: write down things on your to do list – and on your priorities for the day – that are completable. This means you can enjoy the success of completing them, notice your progress towards your bigger goals, and keep your energy in a positive place for the rest of your day, making you more effective. If you only have an hour free from meetings, and you know it’s going to take 3 hours to write your team’s development review notes, don’t put ‘write team’s development review notes’ on your list for that part of the day. Write ‘Spend 30 minutes on team’s development review notes’. Then, if you finish that, and have more time, you can cross it off and write it on again. 'Spend another 30 minutes on team's development review notes.'

Of course, for many of you it will be better to chunk your time into longer periods than that, and get a whole task (or a series of similar tasks) done in one go, but if that’s not possible, give yourself a chance. Make what you write down on your list a task you can complete, make it the actual next step, and make it as tiny a step as possible. Call John, email Alice, spend 10 minutes brainstorming. Not 'Create a vision for the organisation', 'Get a new job' or 'Redo my website'.

Then complete your completable task, celebrate winning, and move on to whatever is next. 

13) Give Yourself A Chance (IV): Change Your Notification Settings

I can’t tell you what a difference it made to my ability to focus, my general level of anxiety, and my worry about time and getting things done, when I turned off all email notifications on my phone. I had already turned off the buzz or sound for email, but they still appeared on my lock screen and at the top of my phone: a little message saying “New email from Tim Ferriss,” or “You have 13 new messages”. I am a person with anxious tendencies, and they were in full flow whenever I checked my phone, even just to find out what time it was, and saw a notification of something I should be dealing with. I switched the notifications from email off, so that they didn't appear on my lock screen or at the top of my phone, and a sense of ease which I hadn't even noticed was missing returned to my life almost immediately. It shouldn’t have made such a difference, but the shift from having them thrown at me (someone else’s priorities) to me going to the Gmail app when I wanted to, was really powerful.

It was so good, that I turned off the notifications from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, and moved the apps off my home screen so there wasn’t a visual reminder either. Now I have to really want to check Twitter: I have to scroll through my apps to find it and press on it. I still do that - and I still sometimes lose 5, 15 or 30 minutes to it - but I do it much less often, and mostly I do it when I choose to. And the sense of pressure, rushing and anxiety is so much less.

Oh, and please, please, PLEASE turn that thing off on Outlook where a preview of every new email pops up in the bottom right hand corner of your screen when it arrives. PLEASE.

14) Efficiency is Not Effectiveness, Busyness is Not a Measure of Success

Being a fast typist is efficient, but it’s no good if what you write doesn’t make sense. And you can be incredibly busy, working 15-hour days, without creating any notable change in the world. You can be super-efficient at clearing your inbox, but if you never do any real work, work that matters, what is the point?

Most people’s dream isn’t to be busier. It’s to be more effective, to be making a bigger contribution while having more time to do the things they love.

Rich Litvin says that when he coaches high performers, his job is to help them feel more and more lazy. This is because as we get closer to our Zone of Genius – the place where we are at our absolute best, doing what we are uniquely suited to do – we are getting more and more and more effective. We are using our strengths, and making our contribution, in the way that only we can. A great coach like Rich helps people identify that Zone of Genius, but not only that. He also helps them slow down and focus on what is important, and suddenly they aren’t wasting all that energy being efficient without being effective, being busy without making progress towards their dreams and goals.

It’s good to be efficient, but it’s far more important to be effective. So slow down: do whatever it takes to trick yourself into stopping for a moment – perhaps at the start of each day ask yourself a powerful question, perhaps hire a coach like Rich Litvin – to make sure you are going in the right direction. Otherwise, you might accidentally spend time and energy on something which doesn’t take you anywhere or – worse – takes you in a direction you don’t even want to travel in. And remember, your dream probably isn’t to be busy. It’s probably to do more things that excite, fascinate and inspire you, in your work and outside it.

15) Big Dreams, Small Steps

'I don’t have time to write a blog' makes me laugh inside these days (I don’t laugh on the outside because that wouldn’t be very polite). It makes me laugh because I used to think that, too. I thought that, but underneath I was feeling a real pull to share my work more widely, to be bigger and more out there in the world. A real pull, and a lot of fear. Then my coach and I came up with an idea: to write for 12 minutes while I was on the train – five times in the next two weeks – then publish the writing without editing it. And then just see what happens. The feedback was good (you can judge the writing for yourself), and it felt great (terrifying, but great). I decided to carry on: once a week I would write something on the train, proof read it once and then publish it. This is almost two years ago now, and there are almost a hundred 12-minute articles. And the confidence and practice and feeling from sharing these regularly opened up more possibilities: other, longer pieces like this one, sharing videos, creating other things. I now have a body of work read and watched by thousands of people, but it started with a small step, and then another, and then another. And then all the minutes add up, and the body of work is there, and I am changed forever by each and every one of those articles, those small steps.

I see this pattern - of knowing the big picture, but needing the small steps to make it happen - everywhere. Recently, after several months of viral illness, I had completely stopped reading non-fiction. Reading non-fiction is important to me: it’s one of the ways I learn about the world and bring new ideas and thoughts and energy to my work. While I was ill, I needed my reading time – over breakfast, lunch and before bed – to switch off, and fiction is the way for me to do that. I get notably more anxious when unwell, and those novels help me connect to myself and keep the gremlins at bay. But as my illness dragged on, and my recovery was slow, I wanted to read more. Unfortunately, ‘I didn’t have the time’.

What this meant was that I wasn’t willing to say ‘No’ to reading fiction before bed, over lunch or over breakfast. What was I willing to say ‘No’ to? Well, I decided I wanted to say ‘No’ to the first 15 minutes of the day being me checking my email. How I said ‘No’ to that, was to say ‘Yes’ to ‘starting my day with something awesome’. One day, after doing this in a few different ways, I saw a new book, The Meaning Revolution by Fred Kofman, sitting on the table. I sat down and read for 15 minutes while I drank my morning coffee. It was awesome. This was about two months ago, and I am now about half way through, all read in 10-15 minute slots at the start of each day. I haven’t read it fast, but I have used the learnings from Fred’s book with more clients than I ever have with a book while I am still reading it, because each day I absorb just a small part, which enters my consciousness in a very different way. I am learning it in detail, and I am inspired. 

We are so often blinded and paralysed by the size of the things which we see before us, the changes that we want for ourselves. Sometimes those are things which would be big to everyone: changing career, starting a business, writing a book, or creating a body of work and sharing it with the world. Sometimes they might seem small to many, but feel big to us, like starting reading non-fiction again. But don’t forget, we grossly underestimate what we can achieve over a long period of time. This is in part at least because we forget that even the biggest things, the biggest projects, the biggest dreams, happen one step at a time.

So dream big. Make the commitment to doing what you want, creating what you want, and then take a small step. And another, and another. You just have to start.

Now Do Something Wonderful

And there we have it. 15 ideas to change your relationship to time, to help you get more done, and to help you feel better - less stressed, less anxious, less guilty, less under pressure - whilst doing it. If you’ve made it this far then congratulations. This article became a lot longer than I thought it would be, and I partly left it long because it amused me that it is a 7,500 word article about time management. I also left it long, because, as I outlined about 7,300 words ago, changing your relationship to time isn't something that can happen overnight. It - mostly - isn't something you can hack. It's something that needs thought, and reflection, and concerted action.

If you have read this far, then I hope this article was one of those opportunities to – as Rich Litvin would say – slow down in order to speed up. And I hope you stay slowed down for just a few more minutes. Take some more time, now, to create change in your life: how will you apply this? Will you make just one change - a small step - and choose the most important idea here, and apply it every day? Will you experiment with several or even all of these ideas, looking for the most leverage?

Or, will you let this opportunity to change the way you work and live slip away? Just another article read, just another few minutes used up. Perhaps efficient, but not effective.

Be effective, instead. Make changes which allow more time and space in your life – and in your head – to be more loving and more kind. To do more good, and more creating. To do something wonderful.

Recommitting Is The Journey

Robbie Swale

ne of the most useful pieces of advice about meditation that I have ever heard came from Tim Ferriss. He explained that the game-changer for him had been when he realised that bringing his attention back to his breath was the rep in the exercise of meditation. Success in training himself to meditate - the sign he is training himself well - is not holding his attention on his breath all the time. It is not when his thoughts are not wondering at all. That is the aim – just like in weight training having the strength to carry large weights (or the muscles that could do that) is the aim. But the rep. The repetition. The repeatable exercise which builds the strength so you can carry those large weights, that’s what you count as you train. The more reps, the more strength. The press up, the bicep curl, the crunch or situp. That’s the rep. That’s how your body learns.

And in training your mind and your attention, it is bringing your attention back which is the repetition which will build your attention and your focus and your mindfulness. Bringing your attention back is the rep.

I tell this story firstly because it may help you if you have a mindfulness practice of some kind. And secondly, because in this article I want to unlock - for you - one of the biggest insights of the last year of my life.

Our Inner Critic Dooms Our Mindfulness

You’re sitting there meditating, perhaps. Or you’ve gone out running to break out of the anxiety you’ve been feeling. Or you’re doing the breathing exercise that your coach is taking you through at the start of your session. Or Headspace is going on in your headphones.

And your mind drifts.

Then, a few seconds (or minutes!) later, you notice. Perhaps the coach or the app or your meditation bell reminds you. Or, perhaps you just notice with a thought. If you’re running, maybe you notice something which brings your mind back to the reason you’re out running. What do you do? Do you calmly put your attention back on your practice or your run, or does your mind go somewhere more like this..?

I was here to stop thinking about this bloody situation at home. I’m such an idiot.

I can’t even keep my head clear, when running, for 15 minutes.

I’ve got an app running and I’m still thinking about that awful thing he said to me.

I’m paying this coach, she’s running this beautiful thing to help me focus and I’m thinking about football!?!?

The inner critic going off. The comparison trap, bringing me thoughts of ‘I bet the other people here have got clear heads’, or ‘I bet my brother can meditate for fucking hours without his mind drifting’.

And of course, none of this brings us more of what we want. It doesn’t bring us calm, or focus, or mindfulness. It doesn’t bring us to the moment. It takes us further away. And this is the beauty of Tim’s insight: if you are the kind of person (like me) who slips into self-blame when in these practices, but who can see that it takes a repeatable exercise to build a muscle, then something shifts. Because you realise: in order to increase my focus, to stay in the moment more, the thing I have to practice is bringing myself back here. If I could already keep my attention just on my breath, or just on my body, then I wouldn’t need the practice.

So all I have to do to spend more time in the present moment, to be more present, is keep bringing my attention back to the present moment. If I do that, then I am succeeding in my practice.

Bringing myself back to the present moment is the rep.

'No need to apologise here. You prioritised something else this time. Do you want to recommit?'

This is one of the rules, or thoughts, or distinctions that Rich Litvin brings into his coaching work. I heard it first months ago, but didn’t understand it until much more recently. He says it when someone apologises for not doing the thing they said they would do, or for not filling in their weekly report. He never chases or criticises for those things, but when someone apologises, this is the frame he brings. No need to apologise here. You prioritised something else this time. Do you want to recommit?

I went to one of Rich’s events in Los Angeles in April. And, on the final coaching call we had before then, just before the end, I shared that I hadn’t put my hand up for coaching in that call, even though I had some things I really needed help with. Rich did his thing, which is to say he offered me a couple of quickfire insights, and then the Hands Up Challenge. The idea of the challenge is this: if you are someone who often doesn’t put their hand up for things, who hangs back - who maybe (like me) safely puts their hand up after four or five hands have already gone up, or when the time is nearly running out, knowing that the chances of being chosen are minimal - if you are like this, then instead, for the period of the challenge, put your hand up at every opportunity, even if you don’t have something to say. Just put it up, and see what happens. This was the challenge Rich set me for the event in LA.

Of course I was quickly able – with help from Rich and then from my fiancée Emma – to see how this really would be fine. Worse case I’ll get lots of coaching from Rich at the event (yay!), and a few people might think ‘Who is that selfish guy putting his hand up?’, but even if they do – who cares?! They’re probably just jealous because they’re scared to put their hands up (this is what is going on for me whenever I think that about people). Or, as Emma pointed out, maybe they’ll be very grateful to hear my questions and coaching. “I’m really interested in what you have to say, and the questions you would have to ask,” she said. ‘And even if I fuck up the questions,’ I thought, ‘I can be pretty confident I won’t be one of those people who just talks for five minutes and doesn’t even ask a question.

And then the event came. On the first evening, there wasn’t much of an opportunity to ask questions. But on the first full day an opportunity came. And a strange thing happened. I knew what I had to do. I just had to raise my hand. I thought, ‘Ok, here goes. It’s time. Put your hand up.’ And then I had a kind of out of body experience. My hand didn’t go up. I was outside myself, looking down, thinking ‘Put your hand up. Go on. It’s time. You said you’d do that.’ But it didn’t happen. My hand stayed firmly down by my side.

And then it happened again, and again, and again. The whole day went past. I didn’t put my hand up once.

I was already finding the event tough. As I described it to my brother via Whatsapp on the first day, it felt much more about being inadequate than being inspired. I was doing the comparison thing on every side: people more successful than me, better networks than me, more money than me, more happy than me, more direction than me. Everywhere I looked I felt inadequate. I was poor, struggling to afford the event - indeed having to borrow money to attend. Nothing was working out quite how I wanted. All these people had already done amazing things in their lives, and I hadn’t done shit. And to top it all off, I was too fucking cowardly and too much of an idiot to put my hand up. What an impossible loser. How can I help clients if I can’t even do this? What was I going to say to Rich on the next call? Or what would I say to the other members of my coaching group, if they even remembered that I had the challenge (because of course why would they pay attention to what was happening for little, lame, insignificant me)? How humiliating.

My inner critic was going crazy. My body was tense. Small talk and smiling was hard. I had three conversations that evening, at the end of the day, which gradually shifted me towards what happened next, and I’m very grateful to Simon, Arvin and Kristen for their help in those moments. I was too embarrassed, I think, to even share the Hands Up Challenge and how it was occupying me in those conversations. But I spoke about some of my other struggles, and things moved for me.

And either late that night, or early the next morning, I realised something.

On the first day, I had prioritised something else. Some long-learned pattern. Possibly from school, where putting your hand up first and almost always being right was pretty much lose-lose when it came to being liked, or accepted, or fitting in. Possibly from earlier life, some pattern learned in childhood of ‘don’t outshine others’. Possibly a much older pattern being short-circuited in the modern era, linking a relatively safe modern situation to a much more dangerous ancient situation, where exposure or being caught out meant – for my ancestors on the plains – death.

And the question came: do I want to recommit?

And in this moment, as I asked that question, I was free. The first day has been hard and unpleasant. Full of self-judgment. That can continue: judge yourself, beat yourself up. Or, you can give up and go home. Or, you can recommit to the challenge. And recommit to the event. You can lose yourself in the failures of the first day, or recommit to making the second and third days as successful as you can.

And you can recommit to putting your hand up. So I did, and so much of my self-judgment just fell away.

And then, another opportunity to put my hand up came. And I was back outside myself, watching my hand by my side. It just didn't go up.

So I thought, ‘It’s ok. Just recommit.

And then another, and another opportunity missed.

It’s ok. Just recommit.

And then another. And this time my hand went up. First, straight away. And Rich called on me. I asked the question, going hot and cold, my voice croaky, sweat on my hands, eyes slightly out of focus, breath short.

And then I’m sitting down. It was an interesting question, one that meant something to me, and led to a connection to the coach I asked the question of later in the weekend.

And then, later there’s another opportunity. And it passes. It’s ok, just recommit. And another. Recommit.

And then I ask another question. And later in the weekend someone comments on how they really valued me asking the questions. And someone else says ‘Ah, we haven’t met yet but I know you because I’ve seen you asking all those questions.

ALL THOSE QUESTIONS?! I only asked two. Imagine if I’d put my hand up eleven or twelve times! But it was a nice moment.

And, amazingly, despite all the failure. Those two questions felt like a great success for me. I had developed the muscle. I had recommitted and recommitted and recommitted. And I had managed two questions. Which is almost certainly two more than I would have managed if I had stayed in self-blame and inadequacy. Perhaps this realisation and that experience was worth the fee and the flights and the hotel alone. Because it showed me the incredible power of that question.

And it made me think. What if recommitting is the rep?

Stories of Recommitting

Since then, I’ve been seeing the story of recommitting everywhere.

I told the story of Tim’s mindfulness insight to a client, last month, struggling with procrastination as they worked on a big project which matters to them. For them, recommitting took the form of sitting back down at their desk, closing Facebook, turning their phone back off. These became the reps, and instead of beating themself up each time they found themself scrolling down their bottomless social media feeds, they were able to recommit, confident that they are working through their procrastination.

I wrote elsewhere recently about my experience at Frank Turner’s Lost Evenings Festival. I was incredibly touched, uplifted and inspired by the amazing creation of this festival. The people, the atmosphere, and of course the music. And I fell into the comparison trap. How can I ever create anything like this? And if I can’t, what’s the point? But Frank’s story isn’t one of setting out to create a festival. It’s one of recommitting. Despite being burned by the end of his first band, he recommitted to music. There must have been tough days as he toured by himself on a train, playing anywhere that would have him. But each day he took a breath and steeled himself for the next one, recommitting. So the only answer, for me, was to recommit to my work.

Brandon Sanderson, whose books I've been rattling through recently, wrote thirteen novels before his first was published. Thirteen. Imagine, after the twelfth, sitting down and thinking. What do I do here after all these rejections? Well, this is what I want to do. So I recommit. I write another.

What’s the secret to marriages that don’t end in divorce? Decide, each day, not to get divorced. Recommit. Each day. After each argument. Each time your spouse does something you don't like. Each time they say something that leaves you hurt. You recommit.

How did I beat my Resistance? How did I build my business? I sat down, each day, and recommitted. No matter what has happened before, I will be here, starting work each day. Even if I don’t know what to do that day, I sit down. I have a business plan, something like: keep having conversations with people. If one doesn't go well, if someone doesn't want to work with me. If I don't feel well, or happy, I have a choice. Stop, now. Or recommit.

I recommit.

Recommitting is the journey

Creating change in our life is hard. In fact, life is hard. There are so many reasons to give up on what we want. On the life we want. Each time we fail to maintain our habit of going to the gym or sticking to our diet, we have a choice. We didn't go to the gym over Christmas, and we ate a lot and drank a lot. So. Is that it? Do we give up now? Or do we recommit? The rep isn't keeping it going forever. It's starting again when we stop.

Each time we say unkind words to our girlfriend or husband, and we are filled with regret. Do we give up, and accept that as who we are? Or do we recommit to being better next time? The rep isn't never being unkind - most of us are far too human to achieve that. The rep is looking at ourselves, and recommitting to being the person we want to be, even when we haven't lived up to our values.

Each time we face disappointment, in our work, in our hobbies, with our friends who let us down and ourselves when we don’t follow through on our ideals? Do we cut our work or our hobbies or our friends or ourselves loose? Do we give up? Or do we recommit?

When we lose something or someone that means the world to us? Do we spiral downwards, trapped by a past which is forever set in stone, unchangeable and immovable? Or do we recommit, to ourselves, to our lives? We only have one. None of us is getting out of here alive, and we don't all get happy endings. Do we dwell, trapped by our inner critic and the past, by our failures or our struggles? Or do we lean, ever outwards, ever onwards, holding to our commitments as best we can, and recommitting when we can’t? We all fail sometimes. We all struggle sometimes. That’s called being human. The measure of us is what we do when we fail, when we struggle. Do we stop? Do we give up on ourselves or what we want, on the people around us, on who we are and who we want to be? Or do we recommit?

An Ode to Greggs (or How Competition and Innovation Make Us Richer Every Day)

Robbie Swale

I don’t remember exactly when I realised quite how important competition - and the innovation that comes with it - are to the way that societies get richer. And I don’t remember exactly when I realised that Greggs showed me this in a stark example. I do, however, remember very clearly when I first started going to Greggs.

I was working in Otley, a small market town in West Yorkshire, and my lunch breaks were important to me. I needed to get out of the community arts centre where I worked and have some time to myself, and I took to visiting one or other of Otley’s charming cafés. This went on for quite a while, probably the first year or so that I worked there, and it was a joyous way to spend lunchtime: in a buzzing café, with a coffee, a bacon and chilli jam panini (or something similar, depending on the café) and a good book. At some point, though, I realised that I just couldn’t afford to do this. I worked in a community charity, so the salary wasn’t high. And I had a commute. And, although I wasn’t extravagant, I wanted my lifestyle to include at least some of the luxuries of being alive in 21st Century Britain: perhaps the theatre, or the pub, or travel, in the UK and abroad. Things needed to give, and I realised that £7 a day on those café lunches was one of them. The cheapest option for me was a Sainsbury’s sandwich: that would save me more than £5 a day, not a small amount when you feel stretched. But I would lose the joy of the ambience, the fresh food and the coffee.

A couple of days later I walked across the market square in Otley and passed Greggs, a staple of (particularly) Northern towns and cities. And on the sign outside they were advertising a meal deal. I may be romanticising the prices seven years on, but I think it was £2 for a sandwich, a packet of crisps and any hot drink. I gave it a try. I found a tasty sandwich in a freshly baked baguette, and a more than passable latte. And a habit was born, which has carried me through those last seven years to the point that I’m now practically on first name terms with the staff in Greggs on the Strand, who greet me with a big smile and often start making me my black coffee (I’m counting calories more than pennies now) while I’m still in the queue.

Greggs made me richer, right from that first meal deal. And in two ways: I saved money, allowing me access to all those other riches of the modern world, but that wasn’t all. I could have saved the same money with a slightly joyless Sainsbury’s sandwich eaten in my car. More than just the money, I was richer because I could continue to eat really tasty food and drink nice coffee, even when I was struggling for money, and if I wanted I could do this surrounded by a buzzing little café. And it isn’t just me who benefitted from this, who was made richer by Greggs, it was and is the thousands of people who have freshly baked sandwiches, pastries, coffee and other goodies as part of their weekly routines.

I didn’t understand all this at the time, but as I learnt more and more about how capitalism and free markets work, my affection for Greggs, its friendly staff and its community values has changed into a respect for one of the great bits of free market magic. Because in the story of Greggs, and high street bakeries and coffee shops, you can see the amazing power of the market: how competition and innovation make us all richer, every day, in ways we don’t even notice.

Here’s what happens: let’s say there are four bakeries in a small town, it could be Otley, or it could be elsewhere. All the bakers are the same, and in this example, let’s say they’re just ‘ok’. If none of the bakers try to improve things, then everyone continues to get ‘ok’ baked goods at roughly the same prices in each. But, if one of them innovates, we suddenly get richer. Let’s say the innovating bakery put a meal deal in: you get your pasty and a cake there for only a tiny bit more money than you get your pasty in the other three. If the quality is good enough, then people like me with a sweet tooth will likely be persuaded, and that will become our bakery of choice. We get richer because we get more (of what we want) for more-or-less the same price. But only if the quality is good enough: if the pasties are bland or the cake is dry, then the balance of the factors which play a part in our choices will be tipped in favour of somewhere else.

So one bakery innovates and suddenly we’re richer. Everyone who takes advantage of their innovation is richer, getting more for less. But with the magic of human creativity, and of the competition in the market (town), we know it doesn’t end there. At least one of the other three bakers is thinking to herself, ‘Ooh, those guys are doing a meal deal, and we’re losing customers. We can’t beat them on price and make ends meet. What can we do? Well, my bread is better than theirs will ever be, and I’m going to make it even better...’ And suddenly we’re richer again: the second baker raises her game; she stops wasting her time with cakes (which perhaps she isn’t great at) and spends it making even more delicious bread, styled in different shapes, sizes and flavours. We can now have great value in a meal deal in one baker, or we can have even more delicious bread in the other. Perhaps the third baker converts their store room into a big seating area with sofas and occasional live music from his daughter and her acoustic guitar, and the fourth one has the best brownies in the county. And before we know it we have four distinct coffee shops, all giving us different benefits, all making us richer through choice, allowing each of us with our different preferences to get even more of what we want. But also through price, because they all know – instinctively or consciously – that price is a big part of our decision on where we go.

There’s one more part of the story: the bakeries that don’t innovate, the ones that stay ‘ok’, or don’t compete on price, they won’t last long. Maybe the fourth one actually can’t make better brownies. If somewhere else nearby offers the same thing for cheaper, and somewhere else nearby offers something much better for the same price or only a little more, then we stop going to the fourth bakery, and the fourth bakery may go out of business. At this there is a very real loss for the people whose businesses or jobs disappear. But for everyone who isn’t directly involved in the most average café in the town, the competition makes them richer. They get things for as cheap as they can in some places, and they get specialists in excellence in others. No one has to suffer a bakery that is just ‘ok’ any more.

On the macro scale the impact is even bigger. One of the cafés hits a sweet spot (a metaphorical one). Let’s say it’s a sweet spot of value vs quality. Perhaps it enables them to have fresh bread baked really well on the premises, with no artificial colours or flavourings, making it is sandwiches infinitely preferable to a pre-packaged supermarket equivalent. But despite this, the sandwiches are good value for money, maybe even cheap. And the business is run well, staff are looked after, and so they enjoy their work and serve the customers with a smile and a chat. The business owner is doing well, and opens another café in another town, and then another, and another. As long as the business is providing something that people want - either competitively priced or of higher quality than anyone else nearby - then people keep coming to it.

And there are benefits to having a big chain: staff can be trained in a particular way, economies of scale are developed, so in fact the café becomes even cheaper. It’s almost impossible for something independent to be cheaper than a chain. For customers, this means that a chain makes us richer. And what of the other cafés? Well, if they are just ‘ok’, then they can’t compete with this chain.

Unless they innovate. Unless their coffee is spectacular (and their prices not too much more). Unless their customer service is fantastic (and their prices not too much more). Unless their location is inspiring, a home from home (and their prices not too much more).

Greggs means there’s no space in the market for bakers or coffee shops that are only ‘ok’. There are no crap bakers left. Why would we go to them when we can get nicer, cheaper things from Greggs? And can you see how brilliant this is for us, for the customers? All that is left is Greggs (and a few other similar chains), and the brilliant bakers and coffee shops. We have a choice between good and cheap (at Greggs) and less cheap and truly brilliant (elsewhere). We are either richer through having better, cheaper sandwiches in Greggs, or richer by having the best coffee the world has ever seen, served by charming baristas in buzzing, rustic coffee shops.

And then the race starts again. I’m not in Greggs in Otley right now. I’m in La Moka on Battersea High Street. There is great coffee, great service, and a wonderful Saturday morning buzz. And my coffee and breakfast muffin cost less than £6, which seems cheap to me for a place like this. All the coffee shops with great coffee, great service and great environments are competing. Driving prices down, innovating more, making me richer again: in choice, in experience and in money. And they’re making you richer, too.

--

This piece was written in February 2017 as a competition entry for a politics and economics website that I have learnt a lot from over the years. Because of the snap General Election, the competition was never judged, but as I reflected recently on the Lost Relics of our Art I realised that it needed to see the light of day.

The Coach's Journey

Robbie Swale

I always know when I'm on the right track, because work becomes easier. I become more productive, too, and I get a very particular feeling in my chest. I've got that feeling now, writing this to launch my new six-month group coaching programme, The Coach's Journey.

The story of the programme really starts around eight months ago, when I wrote an article about my journey to becoming a full-time coach which ended up being read by over 7,000 people, some of whom are reading this now. The response to this was overwhelming and invigorating, and I'm so happy that something I created inspired so many people on their own journeys.

The second part came last summer, as two realisations came to me in quick succession. I wanted to create something for these same people. The conversations I have had with people who were inspired by that article are some of the most exciting and inspiring that I have ever had, amazing people on amazing journeys who - through the article and our conversation - I had unlocked something for. And I wanted to help these people more. And, separately, I wanted to work with groups. Powerful group experiences have been a part of my life throughout my career: from theatre groups and casts before I came to coaching, to working with organisations with to create amazing group learning experiences, including at The Coaching Schoolcoachingpartner and Clore Leadership Programme.

The final piece was when I started working with Rich Litvin on his group programme, The Prosperous Coach Salon. Rich has been an inspiration to me since very early in my coach's journey, through his amazing book and through hearing him do incredible coaching with others when he ran a session on the Coaches Rising Summit, showing me the kind of deep, powerful impact that coaching can create. Taking part in the Salon showed me again the power of being part of a group on a journey together, and also allowed me to learn from a master.

And so here I am. The Coach's Journey is launched. It's for coaches who want to take their business to a new level in 2018, and who want a coach and a group of fellow travelers to support and challenge them on that journey. I ran some test calls last year, and the coaches who came gave me amazing feedback and left me with lists of the insights they'd taken away - this was great for them and is exciting for me.

So...

Are you a coach? If you are, and you want to put a real focus on your coaching and your business this year, then join me on a group coaching call. There are three coming up, on 24th and 31st January and 6th February. This will allow you to experience what powerful group coaching with me is like. The call will help me get to know you, too, and help both of us understand if this is the right programme for you now. There's no sell on the calls; this is about you experiencing something which I think will be powerful for you. It's about me serving you, helping you with something that's challenging you, so that whether or not you want to join me on calls like that for six months, you'll be further along your path. And it's about you connecting to other coaches who are on the journey with you. If, after the call, we both think it might be interesting to talk further, we'll book in some one-on-one time and get into more detail about what difference working together might make for you. You can book a place on the live calls, or let me know you want to speak to me directly, by using the form on this page of my website.

And...

Do you know any coaches? The way the business of coaching works is through people talking to each other. Sometimes it's a coach and a client. Sometimes it's someone talking to a potential client. And I'd like your help with that second one. The Coach's Journey is for people who: 

  • Have been coaching for less than three years and want to make 2018 the year they take their business to a new level.
  • Have already received training in coaching and have coached people, whether paying or for free.
  • Have seen first-hand the magic of coaching, and the amazing things it can create.
  • Love coaching, and want to create a business - doing the work they love - which supports them to live an extraordinary life, whatever that means for them.  

Coaching is about questions, and here's the question for you: Who do you know? Who do you know who fits this, and who might - maybe 'just might' or maybe 'definitely will' - want to make this the year they take their coaching business to a new level, and create the extraordinary life within them? Pass on this article to them. Connect them to me. Have a word, and explain why you think this might be the right thing for them. The invitation to them is the same as it is to you - if you are a coach and this excites you, then join me on one of those calls. And let's see how I can support you. And then let's go from there.

I hope you're excited. I'm excited.

If you want to know more about the practical details, about me, about the programme, or to book to take part in a group coaching call, then read lots more about The Coach's Journey here, or via the link below. And if you have any questions, or want to discuss it more with me, you know where I am. 

Have a wonderful week, and whether or not this programme is for you, make the year ahead something special.

Let’s Create a New World, the World We All Dream Of

Robbie Swale

Here I am. I sit here and wait. I sip a coffee. I open myself to you. And this is what you say. Through me.

There is a god. There is more than just us. There is something out there. Something more than the rational mind. Something more.

It speaks through me, when I let it. It would speak through you, if you let it. It speaks in poems, in stories, in dance. It speaks in music, in paintings, in creation. It has spoken through me in many ways, over the years.

A fourteen line, rhyming poem, to a friend, which ‘expressed more in that poem than twenty emails’. The lyrics to an unfinished song, sent to my love, which told her the story of how she had found and saved me. Which said it in a way that otherwise I could not have said. My creation has never been a thinker’s creation. At that point the magic is gone. My creation has always been through me, not by me. Has always come from somewhere else. Somewhere deep inside. Somewhere definitely outside.

I open myself to you, now, inspiration. I open myself to you, muse. I open myself to you, God, though I don’t believe in you.

Come to me, children, and let’s play. Let’s play in this grand world we live in. Let’s take it on and take it over. Let’s create a new world, the world we all dream of. How do we do that? We open to the creative spirits we are. We allow them out, through the cynicism and the fear, through the doubt and the judgment. We bring love where we go and then everything changes.

When the creative child is released, we are no longer critical. We are no longer tied to ourselves. We are no longer feared. We see our fear for what it is: the thing that allows us to be brave. Because, children, we are brave. It is brave to open ourselves to what we are really capable of. To allow things out from inside us. To allow that there is something inside us. To allow that there is more than us.

That there is a difference between what we see and what we know. What we think and what we know. What we know and what we can know, if we let ourselves.

There is a deep wisdom within us. It will speak, if we can let it. It comes from within us, and it knows. It comes from outside us, from above us, from beneath us, from around us. And it knows.

It will guide us, and it will lead us, and we will lead it, and we will lead you. We will lead you, children, who cannot yet lead yourselves. We will lead you to the place where you can expand, and grow, and contract to your essence, and know why. We will lead you, children, who cannot yet lead yourselves.

We are the brave. We are the creators. We are the children who will never grow up, though we grow old. We are the heroes who lead the charge. The heroes who hold the pass. For though the world is a world of wonders, for though the march of progress and prosperity is a marvel, for though we must bring to all the magic of the world of connection. For all that, we must hold the pass. We must hold it for honour and valour, for love and acceptance, for the strong and the weak, for the smiles and the tears. We must hold it for the chance to hold our child as she smiles. For the chance to hold our parent as he passes. We must hold it for the connection, through which we will guide you into this new world. The new world. The world that doesn’t look back, and doesn’t look forward. The world that embraces all that was, light and dark, for each of us and all of us together. The world which stands up to the darkness with ferocious violence and with love. The world which welcomes the unredeemable to their end, with love. The world which embraces the redeemable and, with love, guides them to you, inspiration. To you, creativity. To you, love.

We must hold the pass. We must smile at strangers. We must offer our help. We must never forget our friends. We must hold the pass.

I sit here, and open myself to you, inspiration. To you, muse. To you, God of Creation, though I don’t believe in you.

And here is what you say:

"You, sitting there, with the sun warming your fingers. Yes, you. You know who I am. You know where I come from. You know I have spoken through all your heroes, in their books, in their songs, in their words of wisdom. I am here and I am real. I am real and I am everywhere. I am here as the feeling rises in your chest and the tears tickle your eyes. I am here in the monologue and the marriage proposal.

I am here in the rational wisdom which guides you here, and guides you there. But I am most here when you release that. When you release your carefully guarded fear, the one you pretend to others and yourself you have broken. When you transcend and include your fear, your Resistance, your former self. When you take him, and care for him, and release him, finally, to allow yourself through. The real you, the beautiful you. The you underneath. The new you.

I am here when you release that little boy, the one in tights in the garden, the one with the shopping basket, the one with the fierce eyes and the quiet sadness. Release him, let him pass on. And release him, let him out now. I am here when you release the tangled teenager, the one with hormones askew, and judgment trapped. The lonely one. The one with elbows everywhere, physically, mentally and emotionally. The lonely one. Release him, let him pass on. And release him, let him out now.

I am here when you release the broken hearted young man. Lonely again, trapped by judgment, tangled disloyalty. The one opening himself to the new possibilities, to new strengths, to new consciousness. Release him, let him pass on. And release him, let him out now.

You, sitting there, the sun warming your fingers. You are bigger than you know. And you are smaller than you know. But then you know this, deep down. Somewhere, you see this paradox. For you can make no difference. And yet, nothing can make a difference except you. And you. And you. And you. You can each make no difference, and yet no one can make a difference but each of you.

So come to me, children. Come to me and live. Come to me, and feel the feeling that you know. You recognise it. You recognise it from childhood, from first love, from last love, from those moments. You know the ones. Remember them. Savour that feeling. Come to me. Feel the Power you have. Feel the Source flowing through you. Feel the sense of magic that is deep within you.

Open yourself to me.

Remember this. Remember that this is the place. The still point. Here, the dance is. Where past and future are gathered. Where angels of the past speak through you, where angels of the future await you. Where, without you, there may be no more angels. You may be the last, unless you speak. Unless you speak with your voice. Unless you speak your truth.

For you can make no difference, and yet no one can speak but you. And you. And you. And each of us can make no difference, yet if none of us speaks there will be no more angels. There will be no more love. The pass will fall. And the hordes will advance.

Open yourself to me.

Stand with me, here. On this hillside. Stand with me, here. In this pass. Stand with me here, in this coffee shop, bus stop, country park, forest at dark. In fear and in inspiration. Here must be the stand. The stand for all we believe in. The stand for a better world. The stand for a better life, for each of you and all of you.

Stand with me, here. In this office. Stand with me, here. On this train. Stand with me here, on this wooden bench, wedding tent, song line, moment in time. In love and in desperation. Here must be the stand. The stand for all you believe in. The stand for all of your world, good and bad. The stand for a life and an impossible dream, for each of you and all of you.

Here. Here is what I say."

--

I can feel the power rising in me. I seek it from outside. I seek it through the chemicals in my blood and the vitamins in my food. But I find it inside, and in the great outside. And this is different. It is rising in me, from somewhere else. As I sit here, and I open myself.

And even as I do this the thoughts rise in my mind. I push them down. I breathe. I look through the glass, over the keyboard. At tyres and vans, at children and clouds. I notice the rush of the chemicals – what if this is just them talking? What if there is no inspiration? There is no power? And yet there is. Because I can’t remember what I have written. Everything has been building to this point. Every 12-minute piece of writing, every fantasy novel. Every coaching session. Every kiss. Every broken relationship. Every song. Every poem. Every conversation. Every email. Every struggle. Every laugh. Every breath taken. In, and out. Every sound heard, every tear shed. Every moment. Leading to this one. All I can do now is release this, this writing, this laughter. This flow of inspiration.

For it must be released, though the fear rises in me. It must be heard. For the pass must be held. The children must play. And we must listen. We must all listen. And we must act. And we must continue acting. Even when the best action is to sit, silently. By ourselves, or at an easel, or at a keyboard, or at a piano. And wait.

Wait for you, inspiration. Wait for you, muse. Wait for you, God, who I do not believe in.

Wait for the Power, wait for the Source, wait for the flow of that feeling which we know, so well, when we listen. So open. And wait. 

--

I feel the flow subsiding now. Or is it the chemicals? Or am I closing myself to you?

Where did this come from? It came from everywhere, and nowhere. It came from everything and nothing. It is the clarity and silence we seek, and it is the roiling storm that we fear.

I open myself, now. And I wait. And I feel love. For the yawning man. For the straining mother. For the woman, at her desk, who is mine and I hers. For the boy, and the teenager, and the young man, and the less young man, now sitting at a keyboard, smiling to himself. You have done well, man and mother, woman and less young man. You have done your best.

So sit, sometimes, and open yourself. You deserve it. 

--

This piece was written in one sitting as part of a practice in opening up to creativity and deeper wisdom, and posted after only minor proofing.

The Three Gateways To A Powerful Coaching Engagement: Getting Unstuck, Growing Confidence And Uncovering Possibility

Robbie Swale

The more and more I have coached people, the more I have started to see patterns emerge in that work. As I reflected on my work for this article, I realised I have seen three of these patterns strengthen into three of the primary effects of powerful coaching. These patterns are the gateways to three changes for my clients:

  • getting unstuck,
  • growing confidence, and
  • developing the sense of what’s possible.

They don’t always happen in that order, and there are plenty of things which happen around them, but these are three of the most important parts of the work I do as a coach, and the most inspiring to watch.

1) Getting Unstuck

My coaching engagements often start with a single session, a gift from me to the client. We do some real work, I serve the client as powerfully as I can, and we decide whether we are going to do more work together. The pattern in early work with clients, especially in this first coaching session, is of meeting people who are feeling very stuck. Usually – but not always – clients come to me because they aren’t able to solve a problem they are facing. They have tried, they have thought about it a lot, but they have not been able to move. They have reached a level they can’t transcend, or a wall they can’t get around or over.

I have come to see the feeling of stuckness here as a lack of agency. This lack of agency, in the worst cases, leads the client to see immovable barriers in front of them, and this can lead to a lack of hope. It’s a sense that this person’s life, and what happens in it, is out of their control and there's no way for them to change it. And as we move through that first session, my role is often to move people out of that state: taking them to the place where they realise or remember that their life iswithin their control. They can affect it. They can create the change they want.

This is about connecting them to the action that they have taken, or the action they can take, to create change. Sometimes it’s about reflecting to them the evidence from their lives as they share it with me. At the end of this first session, clients leave with a sense that they can change things. Often I can literally see the difference in them at the end of the session, and that sense of positivity, of energy, is palpable. And then, once they start to take the actions – actions they design and choose in our work – then they really see the change they can create in their world. And that is the beginning of developing a sense of agency, seeing that they are the protagonist in their story, choosing their own adventure. And there begins (and sometimes even ends, too!) the dissipation of that feeling of stuck.

The more each of us sees that we can affect change, the less hopeless, the more hope-full our life becomes. We can change things for the better.

How to get people unstuck: the power of listening, reflecting the truth and coaching from possibility

I don’t have a single, specific approach which helps me shift clients from that initial state – no one trick or powerful question. But what I see making a difference are three things. The first is listening. Not just any listening, but listening from a place of utmost high regard for the client. We start wherever the client wants to start. I take it at face value: they need to share where they are.

In this space of exploration with high regard, I acknowledge and validate their experience. These two skills are right at the core of my work: acknowledging and reflecting back to clients the truth of their world: the bravery and strength they’ve shown, the challenges and fears they have faced; and validating what they’ve been through as a real, human experience that many others would have found just as challenging, and faced in much the same way. They aren’t stuck because they are stupid or failing in some way; they are stuck because it is human to sometimes not be able to see the wood for the trees or the power they have in their lives. I sometimes share if their experience resonates with my story, or with the stories of other clients. Even without specifically drawing this out – although I often do that – what is more acknowledging and validating than real, deep listening: having someone give you the respect and care of hearing you speak? This is where allowing the client to tell their story, in their way, often in a way they have never told it before, is incredibly powerful and beautiful. Real listening is automatically and deeply validating of a person’s experience. It is something many people haven’t experienced before, or at least haven’t experienced often. What a gift to give.

This becomes even more powerful as we move into a sense of possibility (of which more later). I believe in the clients, I believe in the unique and deep strength, the creativity and wonder in every human being. Being stuck usually involves two sides: a sense of what has happened, what has come before, and how we have got to this point; and a sense that life could be about something more. That something more may be clear to the client or it may be hazy, but for a person to end up sitting with me, they almost always hold at least a hint of what they want to come. Once a client has shared their journey to their meeting with me, I often invite clients to move into a space of exploration around where they want to go to. I have a variety of ways I do this, but perhaps the most powerful part of this is to listen, and to believe. One of our deepest fears in speaking about our dreams and aspirations is that we will be laughed at, that someone will say ‘yes, but…’ or ‘that will never work’, that the until-now hidden dream will be dashed forever. When I listen to those hopes and dreams, I don't laugh at them. I don't say that they're not possible or expose the ways they might not be practical. Because I don’t see them as not possible or not practical. I believe, often more than the client does. I validate and acknowledge what they’ve hidden away, perhaps for a long time: their hopes and dreams. And there continues the shift.

When you are in this state of stuckness, then where you want to get to can feel like an enormous distance away: an impossible cliff to climb. It seems to me that so often, in the place of lack and scarcity in which many of us find ourselves, we always feel like the place we want to get to is a long, long way away. We never remember that it starts with steps. Then we give up because we feel like even those steps are out of our control. And that is what needs to shift first.

An Aside: Does the Work Continue?

One interesting side of this particular pattern – getting people unstuck – is that the people most shifted by this first session are not always the people who want to do more coaching. Sometimes all people need right now is to be unstuck. And away they go. At first this used to stress me out… a lot. I would think, "What?! You’ve just had this amazing shift, from victim to player, from Life Happening To Me to Life Created By Me. What do you mean you don’t want to have more of this? Are you a fool?" Much of that came from my own scarcity mindset – the feeling that creating clients, and growing my business, was out of my control and I needed every last one to say yes. Now, through my own growth and personal development, and of course experience, really made my peace with it. It is actually one of my favourite parts of my work, being able to offer that shift, as a gift, to almost anyone who comes my way. What an amazing thing to be contributing to the world.

2) Growing a Client’s Confidence

For those people who I don’t continue to work with at that point, perhaps having that shift once is all they need. For others, there is more to it. Sometimes they feel they need more help to get them out of the situation they are in, to truly become unstuck. At other times they want more help, to make sure they get to where they want, or get there faster than they could on their own. Sometimes the rush of realising that life is within their control is intoxicating, and they want more and more of that feeling over time. What I see happening with the people who work with me over a longer period is that the sense of hope and agency is grown, embedded and solidified through our work. This, I believe is a growth in confidence. Indeed, perhaps, the definition of confidence is really a deeply held belief that the actions we take will lead, in the end, to the outcomes we desire.

This view of confidence came when I was asked by another coach, "What do you do with people who want to increase their self-confidence?" I thought about that, and then replied, "Well actually pretty much all coaching, if it's done right, grows people’s confidence. It involves reflection followed by action followed by reflection. And that shows people the control they have, which gives them the confidence they need." In coaching, once you follow even the barest definition – find an objective the client wants to get to, reflect on that and create action related to it – people see that they can make changes to themselves and their world, and then they reflect on that, and then they take action again, and then they reflect on that, and then take action again. This is the power of a coaching engagement, and why two coaching sessions is far more valuable than twice the value of one session. Over the course of a coaching engagement – my typical engagements are at least four months long – the client increases the evidence, externally and internally, that the actions they take will lead them towards the outcomes they desire. And over time – an amount of time that varies from person to person – this confidence becomes embodied, and that sense of hope and agency becomes more and more a part of who they are. As Rich Litvin says, ‘Confidence is a result, not a requirement.

So if coaching, as I believe, is a story about belief and confidence and hope versus stuckness and limitation and scarcity, then so far we have two acts: first, showing someone that there is hope in their situation, that they can change things and that these things are possible; and then second, building in them that capacity to embody belief and confidence through action and reflection.

These two together take people a long way. They move them into control of their life, into a sense of confidence and empowerment. But there is one more act to go. And whilst the first two acts include so much bravery on clients’ behalf, and include some of the most inspiring moments of my coaching, it is often in Act Three where the magic happens. Act Three is about the growth of possibility.

3) Uncovering Possibility

Here’s the last part of what I’ve noticed in my work with clients, the last thing that gets developed as they receive coaching from me. They start to truly understand what’s possible.

We humans aren’t very good at that. Perhaps we have been conditioned by society, as Seth Godin might say, not to aim too high. Perhaps we are just deeply scared, as Marianne Williamson might say, of succeeding beyond measure. But whatever the reason, extending a client’s belief in what is possible for them is the final part of this story.

You’re a magician,” said one client. “We’re magicians. It’s magic.” At the start of our engagement, as I do at the start of many engagements, I had asked the client to consider what would have to happen by the end of our work together to make it truly extraordinary. “I’ve been back to our objectives, the extraordinary picture, and it’s all happening,” she said.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, but this client’s reaction made me smile a deep smile. Because there is something really magical about this. This is a picture she had created of what she would want her life to look like, and it felt like it would be truly extraordinary if that happened in four months’ time. And then, because of her creativity and commitment and discipline and general awesomeness – and because of the coaching she received – it had happened.

Here’s how I often get to that point: first, once we’ve decided to work together, the client and I create objectives for our engagement. What does success look like, and how will we know we have got there? This is a sense of what the client would like to happen. A useful model to consider here is The Futures Cone in this NESTA report, which splits the future into Probable Futures, Plausible Futures and Possible Futures. The answers to these initial questions are usually, for the clients, somewhere in the Plausible. Next, I will often push them a step further: “And what would have to happen to make this work extraordinary?” This takes us further away from the Probable, perhaps right to the edge of Plausible. Maybe even into the Possible.

But there’s still further we can go. I learnt through my own coaching the power of stretching a client even further. At the start of my second engagement with my coach, Joel Monk, last autumn, he asked me as part of our intake, ‘And as a bonus question, what’s the impossible goal?’ It took me a few minutes before the answer came to me: ‘It would be to be full-time self-employed by the end of the engagement’. This was something that I hadn’t even realised was my goal until he asked, and something that felt impossible to achieve in only six months. And it would change everything in my life for the better. And here’s the magic: I got there in five months.

I’ve now added that third level to my work with clients, and invite most clients to go there. Now that we have built our objectives in the Plausible. Now we have pushed that to the extraordinary, right at the edge of the Plausible, perhaps even into the Possible. Now, let’s go further: ‘What feels impossible, but if it happened would change everything?

I sat with one of my clients just a few months ago, three quarters of the way through our engagement, reviewing our objectives as we moved into the last quarter. And here’s the thing, not only had all our objectives already been achieved or transcended, but the “impossible” goals had been achieved, too. It can happen. And it’s magical.

Building the Client’s Possibility Muscle

Now I know what some of you are thinking – these three stories are great, but there’s no way this always happens. And you’re right. But here’s the thing: it happens way more often than I thought it would. Way more often than I would have thought possible. I often start sessions by diving into what a client wants to have by the end of the session. And I sometimes follow that up with, ‘And what would have to happen in this session to make it truly extraordinary?’ And these things happen too. Not all the time, but far, far more often that I would have thought.

Why is this important? Because without asking the question, without stretching the client’s possibility muscle, I don’t think these things would ever happen. Often a client doesn’t even know what they really want until I invite them into the space of what is Possible in the session, in the engagement. And even when I do invite them, it’s not always easy to go there. We aren’t used to considering what would be genuinely extraordinary. It’s a muscle we need to develop. Just like a belief that we can affect change in our lives. Once we see it in action, once the extraordinary becomes real before our eyes, once we achieve the ‘impossible’, then we begin to believe. Then our sense of hope and agency multiplies by ten; then our confidence triples. And if it doesn’t happen right here, right now for a client, then ‘all we have done’ is helped someone understand and articulate some of their deepest desires. And that is extraordinary in itself.

What do I do to help this along? Well, first, I ask. I invite them to dance in that space. And then I believe. I believe in the person in front of me: in their creativity, their resourcefulness, their courage, their commitment, their genuine awesomeness. Their ability to achieve the extraordinary, to create what seems impossible to them. This belief comes from three places: it comes from my experience in my own life of creating what seemed impossible to me; it comes from my experience with clients, from stories like the ones above; and it comes because I have decided to believe in good in the world, to believe that amazing things can happen, to believe in a sense of possibility. 

In Conclusion

I am relatively early in my coaching journey – I have only been a practising coach for just over two years – but I believe that these three aspects of coaching: getting people unstuck, creating confidence and uncovering a sense of possibility are at the centre of most great coaching. They are deeply pleasurable and deeply important parts of my own work. They are things which I have seen contribute, for myself and my clients, to a happy life, a life well lived. And if you consider the challenges that the modern world is facing then the results of this work – increased hope, confidence and possibility – take on even greater significance.

Almost every coach reading this will be doing this work with their clients, giving them these gifts of agency, confidence and possibility. Some will be doing this in the ways I have described, but many others will be using their own gifts, tools and techniques. Each individual client will need a slightly different balance to unlock their stuckness or grow their confidence or build their possibility muscle, and each coach will dance with their clients to find the mix of things which support that specific client.

As our experience as coaches grows and develops, our instincts for what clients need develop further, and our ability to unlock these three gateways for more and more people grows. This is the importance of a reflective practice for ourselves, of continued learning and of taking the time to share our experience with others. I’m looking forward to the next phases of my learning, and I hope you are to yours, too.

A Gift For You

If you have read this far, then before you go I would like to invite you to remind yourself of how amazing your coaching really is. Remind yourself what an amazing gift you give to everyone who you are able to help get unstuck. Remind yourself of everyone who you have helped develop an embodied confidence which they almost certainly carry with them today. And remind yourself of each person you have believed in as they shared their dreams with you, each person you have stretched and challenged around what is possible.

And I would like to invite you to continue that work, to stretch what you think is possible, and to help us all make this world the place we know it can be.

This article was originally published on the good coach in October 2017.

How Understanding Your Uniqueness Will Help You Find the Career That is Right For You

Robbie Swale

So many of us fall into our careers, into our work. Not that it’s an accident, often it is the result of months or years of hard work, to get us to a position or into a career that we have decided we want. And then, for the unlucky ones, including me, we wake up one day and realise something isn’t right. Somehow we aren’t as fulfilled as we thought we’d be. The road that is now open in front of us doesn’t look fun, or fulfilling, and the destination at the end of it isn’t as sunny and exciting as we thought it was. In fact, we’re not sure we want to go there at all. And we’re not quite sure how we got here in the first place.

At coachingpartner, we believe that the path to a happy and healthy world – for you and for others – starts with understanding what makes you unique. And perhaps the place where that is most starkly true is in the work that each of us do every day.

I tried several careers in my 20s. In my early 20s, I applied for acting training. I was good. Very good. Good enough to get into several prestigious UK schools, and be on final shortlists for the very best training in the country, some of the best in the world. There are many reasons and stories I can tell about why I didn’t take up those places; it was a difficult and painful decision, telling people I had changed my mind, and leaving behind the last of my childhood dreams. But there is one in particular that stands out. I watched The West Wing. And, ironically, I realised through watching that spectacular piece of art that I wanted my impact to be more tangible than art, I wanted to do more than create art myself. My dreams had shifted: now I wanted to be a real-life Josh Lyman, not the man playing him. I knew this was ironic even then: shows like The West Wing, and performances in theatre and film across the world change people’s lives every day. But I had doubts: was I good enough to be playing Hamlet for the RSC or Will when they finally made a decent movie of His Dark Materials? Would I actually be changing people’s lives? Or would I be boring teenagers in school halls and making elderly people titter at mediocre jokes, just to make ends meet? My suspicion was I was good, but I wasn’t a Ralph Fiennes or a Ben Wishaw, and there were other people – including Ralph and Ben – who were. Other people could do this better than me. And would I enjoy what I was left with?

So I pivoted. Where was I more special? Where was my equivalent of the Josh Lyman role? I decided that the arts was still what I loved, it was what I had spent so much of my life diving into, from theatre to music to literature and beyond. And I could make things happen. And I could do numbers. And I decided that people like me – with a love of the arts, highly numerate, great with people, all that package together – were a rare breed, and that placed me really well to run a theatre or an arts centre. And so that’s what I did for the next five years. Until I gradually realised that I was tired, and unsure. I was worn down. There were so many battles to get the things done that I wanted to, and I wasn’t winning them as easily as I felt I should. And I wasn’t enjoying fighting them. More than this, I knew there were people who loved those battles, and who thrived on many of the things that I was struggling through, full of frustration. And as I looked down the road, suddenly I didn’t want to be running the Southbank Centre or Sheffield Theatres. That wasn’t right, either.

The next few years after that, which in the end led me to train as a coach, were a search for something more. I read a lot about how to find the right career through that period, and I’m going to share with you now what I think was the most useful model I found. It was a Venn diagram, which I think I took from a webinar with Brett Thomas, although there are other similar ones out there. It said that your ‘calling’ is the overlapping point of three circles: What You Are Good At, What You Enjoy, and How You Want to Contribute to the World.

These days I would take this further. For me the questions are:

What is your unique mix of talents?

What do you love doing, so much that you could do it for hours without it feeling like work?

What is the way for you to have the most impact you can, in the way you want to, on the world we live in?

I could see the truth of the Venn diagram in the decisions I had made: was performing in touring theatre shows using all my talents? Would I be having the impact I could elsewhere? And if the answer to those first two questions was ‘no’, would I enjoy that work? Later, I realised something similar about my work running arts organisations: although I was using a much better mix of  my unique talents, in the end I was doing work – day to day – which I didn’t enjoy. I was, and am to this day, so proud of so much of my contribution to making some truly wonderful and amazing things happen, in those roles and subsequently, but I wanted more than that, I wanted something which day to day, minute to minute, I loved doing. And I believed that was possible.

And so my search began, and over the next few years the answers to those questions brought me to coaching. Where my impact could be direct to the people I spoke to, where I would enjoy every minute of sitting with clients, helping them work through their biggest opportunities and challenges, and where my skills with people – which, I realised, in the end were what were exceptional about me – could be used to their fullest. All my fears about changing career (again) revolved around it not working or it taking a decade to happen. But something magical happened: everything shifted very fast. I’ve written about that journey in detail elsewhere, but in short it took me around two years from starting training to being full time, and in my first year of being full time I expect to make more than I ever did in a salaried job. And this is because I understood my unique mix of talents, and found something which I love, and which contributes to the world in a way which makes me excited to get up in the morning. And finding that mix – that area in the middle of the Venn diagram – is powerful and magical for what we can achieve.

One other powerful thing stood out to me as I wrote this piece: how much being highly numerate played a part as I shifted into working as a leader in the arts. As I shifted away from acting, I was telling myself that mathematics and numeracy were core to who I was, and talents that set me apart in the arts world. And I was good at it. I cruised through GCSE and A Level Maths, and studied a BSc in Mathematics at UCL, one of the top courses in the UK. And everyone is so impressed with maths. If you tell people you studied maths at university they say, almost without fail, “wow, maths!”. People are impressed by it, and I was good.

But that isn’t enough. And too much of it came from outside of the core of who I am. I see this with others, too. Society, our friends, our family, our schools and we ourselves place so many pressures and expectations on us. Most of it is done in an incredibly well-meaning way. But at those times when we feel unfulfilled it is almost certain that we are committed to something based on a story which comes from outside of who we really are. Because that is what fulfilment is – it is each of us living and creating from our unique self. In our work – our careers – the first step, is to understand that unique self. And then who knows where it will take us, and how fast.

That is my call to action to you: begin to understand yourself more. If you are feeling the drag right now – if you are feeling unfulfilled, unhappy, run down in your work – then the reason to do this work is obvious. But even if you are not, if things are brilliant now, then it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about yourself, to keep your life in the place you want it to be, or take it even further than you thought possible. Understanding yourself – and what makes you the inspiring, creative, unique person that you are – will take you in all sorts of unexpected directions, and will carry the people in your life there, too.

Here’s my suggestion: carve out a small amount of time, even 15 minutes a week, and devote it to reading, watching, listening or reflecting. You may already have a list of things you want to dive into, but if not, here is some inspiration from the coachingpartner team. Experiment with what is the most interesting to you: for some it will be a TED Talk each week, for others a writing practice, for others, perhaps it is reflecting, creating lists of all the answers to the questions above, creating your own Venn diagram. You may find you enjoy this time so much that you want more, some time every day – perhaps reading over breakfast each morning, or a podcast on the train instead of the usual trawling through Twitter. And if you really love it, find the time to dive further: a workshop, a seminar, a training course. Of course, I think that coaching is a wonderful way to discover more about yourself in an incredibly practical, real-world way.

I think you’ll be surprised by the power of this self-knowledge, as it changes the way you see the world in unexpected ways. And if your aim is to find work that fulfils you, then the starting point is to understand who you truly are.

This article was originally written for coachingpartner, and published on coachingpartner.net in September 2017. 

The Power of Chasing 'No'

Robbie Swale

A few weeks ago I attended the Rich Litvin Intensive in London. Put together by Rich and his wonderful team, it was one part training (in the principles of The Prosperous Coach, the fantastic book he wrote with Steve Chandler), one part conference (but in the awesome ‘160 incredibly inspiring people in the room’ way, not the dull way). I left with a bunch of notes, a bunch of thoughts and insights, and a bunch of fantastic new people in my network, but this story in particular was something I wanted to share.

On the Friday evening, at a drinks reception, I was speaking with Rich and two other coaches. We were talking about the challenges of raising prices, and the fear of rejection, and Rich gave a challenge to Nancy, one of the coaches in the conversation. “Get someone to say 'No' to you between now and the start of the day tomorrow. Even if you have to go into Starbucks and ask for a free coffee, collect a No.” Out of solidarity, I and the other coach in the conversation also accepted the challenge.

Nancy succeeded in collecting a No, and shared that story at the intensive; this is my story of that challenge, which I didn’t share at the time but which felt packed with lessons about business and coaching.

First, although I said I was going to take part in the challenge…....... well… it wasn’t my challenge… and it was someone else’s idea that I should do it as well… and Rich didn’t suggest that I should... So my first instinct was that I wasn’t really going to do it. [Those of you who know my writing should be shouting "RESISTANCE!" at me about now.]

And yet, as I walked past a coffee shop the next morning on the way to the venue and looked in, and there was almost no queue, I stopped walking. It was almost without thought at that stage, but as I did think, I realised I had a decision. Do I engage with this challenge and see what happens, or do I remain a passive participant in this intensive? I don’t have to do it, but would it be interesting to do it? My Resistance was there, too – I’ll get a free coffee at the venue; I don’t need a coffee; it’s not my challenge; I don’t have to do it.

But throughout the first day-and-a-bit of our work at the intensive, and in the lead up to the event, we had been asked about our intentions. Why were we there? What did we want to take away? Who would we need to BE to really take away what we wanted? And for me, I knew that part of what was important was not just sitting at the back watching. It was about taking part. And so as I paused, I realised I had a choice: do I engage or not? I was primed by Rich and the team to get the most I could out of the intensive. And so I walked in.

“Can I have a black Americano please?” This is the easy part.

“Sure. That will be £2.15 please.” Brief pause. Am I really going to say this?

“Could I have it for free?” This was less easy. Although it was made easier because although I find rejection difficult, it isn’t as deep-seated a fear of mine as it used to be. 

Pause, blank look, then... “What?”

“Could I have the coffee for free?”

“Why?” At this stage I’m a little surprised the conversation is even still going on. Why hasn’t she just said ‘No’?

“Someone challenged me to ask for a free coffee.”

Then the very friendly woman sort of shrugged. And closed the till. And smiled at me. And I stammered a bit, confusedly... this isn’t what I had expected. I mumbled something like:

“Oh, is it free? Thanks so much.”

Then I waited in line for the coffee to be made, half expecting her to call me back. I started blushing, feeling hot – I don’t need this free coffee. Should I pay? Should I say I don't want it? Is the woman who makes the coffees going to ‘catch’ me? I half turned back to the woman who served me to offer to pay, but she was serving someone else by then. I genuinely didn’t know what to do.

So I collected the coffee, and walked of the shop.

I didn’t really know what to do, then, either, but as I walked I realised that as I didn’t need the coffee, I could just pass it on. First, I thought that if I walked past someone who had been sleeping rough, I would offer it to them. Then, I thought, what if I don't walk past any rough sleepers? Well, the aim here was to get someone to say no to me; let’s continue with the challenge. So after I didn't walk past any rough sleepers in the first few minutes after leaving the shop, I decided to try to give my free coffee away. And it turned out it was harder than getting a free coffee. I collected eight Nos trying to give away the coffee before someone took it. Here are what they said:

1)     “No thanks, I’ve just had one. But have a nice day.” (Delivered with a massive smile by an incredibly friendly old man with a London accent who had been walking along and talking to himself pretty furiously until I offered him the coffee.)

2)     No. (From a confused looking man. At least that’s what I think he said, he mumbled it and walked past me really fast.)

3)     “What?” (I explain again.) “No, thank you, I don’t drink coffee.” (Young female tourist.)

4)     “No.” (Workman 1.)

5)     “No. I don’t drink coffee. *pause* Well, I do, but only when it’s got lots of milk in it.” (Workman 2.)

6)     “No, thank you.” (A middle-aged mum with her son (late teens/early 20s), delivered with a slightly nervous smile as she sped up slightly, son in tow.)

7)     Silence (Her son, as he is rushed on by.)

8)     “No, mate.” (Backpacker type 1.)

9)     “I’ll take it.” (Backpacker type 2, an Aussie, before…) “It’s cool, yeah?” God knows what he thought I might have put in it.

Why Chasing “No” Works

The centre of the challenge that Rich said for Nancy is that collecting Nos is an excellent strategy for growing your business. Chasing Nos, and celebrating them, gets you stuff. And it’s the stuff you want. Because let’s not lose sight of what happened here: I got given a free coffee (I love coffee), based on the goodness of someone’s heart (I love seeing the good in the world, and I love it when I have nice interactions with strangers). This is the kind of thing which uplifts me (and it does, even telling the story now). And so if getting someone to say ‘No’ to you is your aim, is what you are counting, chasing, celebrating, then when someone says yes to your slightly outrageous request then you are actually slightly disappointed. There are three reasons, I think, why chasing and celebrating Nos works.

1)     It makes it less crushing when people say No to you. That’s the real point here – if I had really needed the coffee, and she had said No, then I would have been gutted. If my life (or mortgage) had depended on giving away the coffee, then each No would have been a knife in the heart. Instead, I was able to enjoy the game: enjoy strangers saying 'No' to me. And when I did get the free coffee, well, great!

2)     The lack of attachment. This probably made it more likely for the woman in the coffee shop to give me the coffee. I didn’t need the coffee, I just wanted it. And if I didn’t get it, I was going to be pleased. I was relaxed. I was smiling. I suspect my relaxed nature here made it easier for her to shrug and say 'Yes'. We could both shrug about the whole thing. If I had needed the coffee, because, say, I had lost my wallet and really needed my caffeine hit because I was a serious addict, then I think she would have thought something like, “I can’t just give it to anyone who hasn’t got money with them.” She would have apologised and said 'No'.

3)     If your aim is to get a No, then when you get a Yes you don’t stop playing. I didn't get a No and then changed the game I was playing (and a good job – I didn’t have enough hands for more free coffees), but I didn’t have to, I could have kept trying for free coffees. If my challenge was to collect 20 Nos in the week, then who knows how much free coffee I would have drunk or given away? Now I don’t need or want more free coffee, but you may need and want more clients. And continuing to chase the Nos when you have had a Yes is what makes the business sustainable.

I Don’t Want That, From You, Right Now.

Here’s the second, and perhaps more surprising lesson that stands out on reflection from the story. The second workman exposed the silent clarification in most if not all the Nos I received when offering the coffee. First, he said, “I don’t drink coffee.” Then he realised he had lied, and qualified it with “I don’t drink black coffee.” How do we know that wasn’t a lie, too? Just one he was more comfortable with. How many of the other people really didn’t want a free coffee? The truth is, these people weren’t necessarily saying “I don’t want a free coffee”, even if that is what they seemed to be saying. They were saying “I don’t want that coffee, from you, now.” (The exception is the first No I received. He seemed to actually tell the truth: 'I don’t want it now, because I’ve just had one.')

So this is another lesson in detachment; this time from the Nos you receive. There are three things they might be saying 'No' to, here: coffee at all, receiving it from me, and receiving it now. Their Nos didn’t make the coffee a bad coffee, or me a bad person. Not that coaching, from you, right now. You can’t know why someone is saying 'No', even when they tell you. They might just be looking out for your feelings. They might just not be very good at saying 'No', or at having what they think will be an uncomfortable conversation – most of us aren’t very good at either. There are many, many possible reasons.

What I am offering to you is this: it could be how you ask, it could be what you’re offering, but in any case, it is really always just about the Now.

If you’re a coach reading this, you probably recognise the feelings and thoughts I’m about to describe. Many in other professions will, too. You give someone a powerful experience. You change their world. You know there’s a good fit; you know you can change their life even more if they commit to working with you, but they say No. And you question yourself for minutes, hours, days, weeks, months. What did I do wrong? Am I a terrible coach after all? Will I have to quit this work and go get a proper job?

It’s not the ones who you didn’t serve powerfully that are painful. It’s the ones who you have served incredibly but who still say 'No'. That’s where it’s tough.

But what if, instead of you being a terrible coach who should quit and go and hide in a cave somewhere (or is that just me?), they just don’t want coaching? It might be nothing to do with the experience you’ve given them. Or what if they just don’t think you’re the best match for them? They may know someone else who has served them even more powerfully. But even in both these cases, the real, true answer – the only one which you can be sure is true – is the final one: they don’t want coaching from you now. If your instincts are good (and you’re a coach, so they probably are) then something special happened with that client. And it could happen again. They have chosen, for now, to go elsewhere. But you served them. And you served them powerfully. They may be back. It is the timing that is wrong, not you.

Find Your Game

So find your game. Find the way you can make whatever makes you worried or uncomfortable into something you can play with. Perhaps it’s getting a No from an unsuspecting coffee shop. Giovanna Capozza told me a story about asking for a pizza in a hairdressers. A client and I designed a challenge to not say anything to other parents in the school playground for 60 seconds after saying hello… no matter what. The discomfort will go down, the fun will go up, and you will learn more than you expected.

The Rest of the Lessons

One of the reasons I wanted to share this story, and some of my thoughts on it, is because the story feels so rich with lessons. You might be able to tell from the article that I'm still working out the lessons as I write, and I'm still not quite sure I've explored or explained them fully. The story is a powerful analogy in particular for coaching and the sales process. So I'd love it if some of you would help pick out some of the other lessons in there, to help me and others, and let me know what you think.

How Art Grows Our Souls

Robbie Swale

I love art. And there are some moments, some particular moments of experiencing art which I love the most.

In those moments, this is what happens: there’s a tingle in my nose, my eyes moisten as tears rise. There’s a feeling in my heart, which doesn’t come often in my life. I open up. I can feel myself physically open up; it’s in my chest, in my heart. I am so vulnerable. Almost more open and vulnerable than at any other time in my life. And it’s wonderful. Wonderful.

I didn’t always know this, but in my adult life, the ability to open me up like this is the common thread through all the art I love the most. What do the works of David Gemmell, Frank Turner, Edgar Degat, Danny McNamara, Alan Ball and Noel Gallagher have in common? The ability to bring tears to my eyes at the sheer beauty and tragedy of humanity.

Once, years ago, I described this feeling to myself as the feeling of my soul growing. That was just what it felt like. All these years later, here is why I think I was right. 

--

Douglas Hofstadter’s book, I Am A Strange Loop, was recommended to me by a psychotherapist, Stefan Walters, who was buying me a coffee and telling me about his life and profession. I was considering whether that profession was right for me, and although I decided in the end it wasn’t, we shared a wonderful discussion of life and humanity. Stefan found out I had studied Maths at university and recommended Hofstadter’s book pretty much thus: “It’s a great book, and you will probably get the impenetrable maths bit in the middle, too!” I didn’t, really, but it was still a great book.

Over a pint, I can try and explain that maths bit to you, if you insist. It’s probably not worth it. It's about Godel and self-referential formulas. It’s hard. But you don't need the maths bit for this article. Hofstadter’s hypothesis is essentially this: I, each of our ‘I’s, our selves, our consciousnesses, our souls, is a feedback loop. It is a sum of all the experience we have. Linked together, looped together, into the unique blend that is at the root of each of us, of each human. It starts with your first experience, and the knowledge of that experience informs your second, until you have a vast loop of interlocking experience, which is the self, the consciousness. The I reading this piece.

And if this doesn’t sound very inspiring – if you think this doesn’t do the depth of the human psyche justice, if you think this is too cold, and not romantic enough, I challenge you to read Hofstadter’s account of the death of his wife and maintain that view. Dougie and his wife parented incredibly collaboratively and incredibly closely. Until her sudden death before her time left him parenting alone. Except, as he parented, he realised that he wasn’t alone. She was still with him. Not just in memory; she was there in the things he said. He knew what she would say in each circumstance. He was able to stand there and say what she would have said. It was in him, but it wasn’t: it was her voice. It was almost separate to him, it was her, still there, speaking and parenting through him. He had so much and so close an experience of his wife that a part of her feedback loop, her consciousness, her soul, was in his. And not a small part. She really did live on in the things he did, and said. She was with him.

It was through this tragedy, and the struggles and writing that he used to deal with it, that Hofstadter came to appreciate this unique way in which the human self develops, and then lives, and then sometimes lives on - even after death - in others.

And that story has stayed with me: it’s powerful. I read the book more than five years ago and don’t need to pick it up to check any of this.

Here’s another of Dougie’s stories. It’s about music. I think you’ll be able to identify. Dougie says music is a powerful way to test how similar our selves, our souls, are to other people’s. He tells a story of a friend, and a discussion on classical music. I can’t remember the piece, but the feeling is familiar: you know it, too. It’s when you find out that someone you speak to loves a piece of music that you love. This is an almost unique feeling. Often it’s accompanied by beer or wine, but there is really very little like sitting across the table from someone, excitedly exclaiming together about exactly how a certain piece of music is truly, genuinely brilliant. And Hofstadter doesn’t say this, but this experience is true for most art. In fact, beyond the feeling described at the start of this piece, I’d say this is perhaps the most wonderful thing about art. That feeling of sharing a love of a piece of art with someone else.

But that’s not the end of Dougie’s story. Because his friend - who he now feels incredibly close to, who after their shared love for the same piece of music now feels a kindred spirit - then shares another piece of music with him. “You know that piece we talked about last week. This is just like that.” But it isn’t. From Dougie’s point of view, it’s dull. It’s uninspiring. He doesn’t like it. And suddenly that connection, that sharing, is gone. They are kindred spirits no more. Hofstadter’s points here and throughout the book are many, but the one I want to draw out of this particular story is that art – and perhaps music in particular – tells us something about the similarities or differences between our spirits, our selves, our souls. Art includes an incredibly complex set of influences – conscious and unconscious – as it is created, developed and shared, and somehow this tells us something stark and clear about the self, the soul, of the person who has created it. And how much we like it, how much we feel it, depends on the closeness and the commonality between us, and the person or people who created it.

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I’ve written elsewhere about how the primary function of – and societal imperative for – art is that it expands our perspectives on the world. It develops us as we consume and take part in it. Here, what I am saying is that in fact it is this expansion of our perspective that is what we feel as we consume or take part in art. It is what we enjoy about art.

Here’s where we are: the ‘I’ in each of us, our consciousness, our soul, is essentially a loop of all our experiences, added together over our lives. We can hold in our selves the souls of others through experiencing their souls and their consciousnesses in our life, especially through knowing them intimately. Art is a direct and complex way of comparing, linking and understanding the feedback loops, the souls, of other people, of sensing commonalities and differences. In this way we learn about the souls of others who share (or don't) our love of a particular piece of art, and about the souls of the artists who created it.

So here is what is happening when I read the tragic heroism in the climax of Ravenheart by David Gemmell. Here is what is happening when I see David and Nate battling through their relationship as brothers, and their loss of their father in Six Feet Under. Here is what is happening when, in the midst of break-up hell, I finally – after almost 20 years of listening to it – realise that Talk Tonight is about lost love. Here is what is happening: my perspective is growing. I am learning about people, about heroism and courage in impossible circumstances, about relationships and brotherly love, about loss, about love lost. I am absorbing the perspective, the courage, the love, the loss, and the lost love that the artists have poured into the work. I am absorbing the experiences and perspectives of Gemmell, of Ball, of Gallagher. I am taking some of their consciousness, their selves, and absorbing it into mine.

And that feeling, the tingling in my nose, the moisture in my eyes, the openness and the vulnerability. That feeling is there. And it turns out I was right. It is the feeling of my perspective growing, my feedback loop expanding, my soul growing.

And isn’t that a wonderful thing?

How I Became A Full-Time Coach Less Than Two Years After Starting My Training

Robbie Swale

I did my first paid coaching session in July 2015, having started my coach training a month earlier. By April 2017, less than two years later, I was a full-time coach. I handed in my notice to my office job almost a year to the day after I finished that training, the amazing Coaching School Foundation Course. And this year, I expect to make more money doing this new career than I have in any of my previous ones.

Now I am not a man who does very well at celebrating his success – although I’m getting better – but even my success-Gremlins can’t deny that this is an awesome achievement, something I am really proud of. And with a grin on my face, I can’t help but think it’s too good an opportunity to write a clickbait-y titled article for me not to – I might never have the chance again! – so here it is. Of course I am standing on the shoulders of many giants to do this, in particular Phil Bolton of the Coaching School, and Rich Litvin and Steve Chandler via The Prosperous Coach, but including many more friends, colleagues, loved ones and coaches. And of course it hasn’t been easy. But it has happened. And I hope that there will be something in here that will help you make your mark on the world, whether you are a coach or not. Let me know.

I am a full-time coach less than two years after starting my training. Here are the SEVEN ways I made that happen(!).

1)     Get Really Good

Firstly, it was important to me from the start to get really good at what I do. That was why I found coaching: I was looking for the work where my natural talents and the things that I enjoy came together, to enable me to do truly great work. So the quality of that work was always important to me. But it became more important as I gradually realised how to make this coaching thing work as a business: you probably can do it by tricks and strategies and Google Adwords, but it’s a hell of a lot easier if you’re just really good at what you do. If you transform people’s lives, they will tell people about your work.

So I chose my training well. I can’t tell you that much about other trainings, but I can tell you that the Coaching School is amazing. I saw it first hand as a student and I’ve recently seen it as an observer on their latest cohort, as the first step towards joining their faculty. I wanted training where I would get exposure to great trainers, learn great content and be supported to grow into myself and be the best coach I could be, and the Coaching School did that and more. The small group learning and focus on people finding their own authentic style was fantastic, and the support outside the modules – coaching, supervision and a wonderful and growing community – has made so much difference. They also provide more support than any other foundation training I’m aware of on how to build your practice, but the most important thing here is that the depth and quality of the training meant that when I started coaching people, I was already doing great work. With the Coaching School’s support, I got better and better. As I say, I don’t know all there is to know about other trainings, but I do know that the more I speak to people about their coaching training, the more glad I am that I chose such a comprehensive, deep and brilliant course.

And once I’d finished the course, I kept learning. Learning can be expensive, but what you are selling is you, and the more learning you have, the more you can offer your clients. And you can find affordable ways to learn, too. I joined free online courses, listened to podcasts, watched videos and read books. I also paid for training, with EvoluteSix and twice with Coaches Rising, whose annual summit I highly recommend.

I also kept coaching – I found ways to do this, to keep my hand in, to keep my skills fresh. Some of them are below. But it’s so important to remember that one of the fundamental ways to get better at coaching is to do more coaching. And one of the few ways you can get worse at coaching is to do no coaching. So, as below, don’t let anything stop you.

Supervision has been important, too, to focus and continue my learning and give me the support I need (in a group this only costs us about £20/session each with a great supervisor, Katie Harvey). And last, but so important that it warrants its own heading…

2)     Get A Coach

In fact, I didn’t just get one coach. I took advantage of all the opportunities to get coaching I could find. I said yes when free coaching was offered by different people whose mailing lists I was on. I got coaching as part of my training at the Coaching School, and plenty of my fellow students practised on me as part of that course. I did some swaps with other coaches I knew. But none of that made as much of a difference as the engagements I have done with two professional coaches, Mike Toller and Joel Monk. Two coaching sessions with a coach are so much more than twice as useful as one session, and four sessions or six months of coaching can have real power and massive impact. The free coaching and co-coaching will help, but committing to a long-term coaching engagement is what will make the difference. The power is so much greater over time: when you are investing in yourself financially, when you are committing to change yourself over a period of months. The more you pay, the better the coach is and the more you will wring every last bit of value from it. I used it to improve my coaching: both by including that in my objectives, and learning by observing the coaches I worked with. I used it to stretch myself, to become the person I wanted to be, to release myself from the chains and habits that were holding me back. I used it to break my money issues open, allowing me to sell more coaching for more money. And I used it to drive my business development, way beyond where it could have gone without that.

And look, if you’re worried about paying for coaching, then set one of your objectives with your coach as being increasing your income by more than the fee she or he charges. If that doesn’t happen, get a new coach! But if you choose wisely, it will. There is almost nothing in my life that I have paid for that has had more benefits for me personally and professionally than my coaching. And certainly nothing in my work life.

For my work, it is absolutely vital. Because having a coach will affect your business in so many ways. It will remind you of the magic of coaching, giving you personal stories to tell to potential clients, or at parties, or when your suspicious school friend asks you what the hell coaching really is. It’ll give you confidence in your work, and confidence that coaching is as magical as you think it is. It’ll show you that people can charge a lot more than you do and it’s absolutely bloody worth every penny. In fact, it’s a bargain. And it’ll give you credibility with clients. To borrow from the Prosperous Coach, imagine if a doctor didn’t trust her own medicine to save herself. Would you trust the medicine? Would you take it? Maybe, if you were desperate. But if she tells you how it’s saved her, and how it’s saved her brother and her friends; how she values every time she takes it. Then you’d take it too, and happily.

3)     Invitation and Referral

First things first, this comes with a big hat tip to the Prosperous Coach, which I thoroughly recommend. But even before I read that book, I’d seen the evidence that this is the truth from every full-time coach I had spoken to: a coaching business isn’t built through marketing. It isn’t built through tricks. It’s built through doing great work, and astounding people so that they tell their friends, colleagues, family members and pets about you. That’s when your business grows. Then in the end you have a critical mass of clients referring people to you, and your business drives itself. One of my aims was to build towards that number as quickly as I could. Here is what I did.

  1. I invited two groups of people to do coaching with me. First, were people I know. These were people who had networks away from my own, networks that might be interested in coaching. I was really clear about this. I would say ‘This isn’t because you might become a client, it’s because you might know people who would, and the best way for you to be able to speak to them about coaching is to have experienced it.’
  2. The second group were people I’d love to work with. I just thought about the people I knew, the people I’d met, and thought ‘who would I absolutely love to spend some time coaching?’ Some of these were people who fitted the kind of coaching I thought I wanted to do, and some were just awesome people I knew. Some were awesome people I didn't know (now that was quite stressful). Again, I made it absolutely clear there was no pressure to become a client, but of course if they wanted to then we could talk about that. If they did, then great, there’s a prospective client. If not, then I had more experience of working with the people who I really want to do more work with, and someone extra had done some work with me, and I’d helped to change the world and make someone awesome’s life that little bit better.
  3. I invited anyone who was interested in coaching with me to start with a free, no-strings coaching session. This meant instead of starting with a sales conversation I wasn’t convinced I was very good at, I started with coaching, which I was good at and getting better. And it meant that I got to coach everyone who contacted me. Again, the pool of people I’d worked with got bigger, the diversity of people I’d worked with increased, and I got better at coaching.
  4. I systemised asking for referrals. After each of the above types of coaching session, whether they paid me or not, and whenever I worked with a client, I asked them for referrals. I was explicit: ‘These are the people I’d like to work with, these are the people I do my best work with. Who do you know?’

Of course, this didn’t always work. Not everyone gave me referrals, not everyone I invited for a coaching session took me up on the offer. And if you’re going to offer this to your friends, you have to be prepared for a bunch of them to never reply to your email, which feels slightly odd! But there’s learning in that, too. And overall, I worked with more people, got more coaching hours, and got more people talking about my work. And that’s how I got here.

People will tell you that giving away coaching devalues your work, but I disagree: with boundaries, it is incredibly useful. How can people who have never received coaching know about the value of it, know about the magic? How can they understand what it’s like to walk away from a session with things which have felt impossible for months or years now clearly laid out in their mind? With a greater understanding about themself and more confidence in what they are doing than ever before? How can you expect them to pay money (and particularly serious money) if they haven’t done that? But when they have…

The key, then, is those boundaries: I’m happy to do one free session with anyone, once, as long as they fit into a group of people I’ve already selected (in this case potential clients, friends with interesting networks or who I want to understand my work, and people I’d love to work with). I’m not happy to work with someone for six months for free. In offering these free sessions I am more experienced and more skilled, and the number of people I’ve coached is much higher. And the world is changed, too, one person at a time.

4)     At All Costs, Keep Coaching

Stay coaching. At all costs. Don’t stop. Don’t lose momentum. When I was starting out, this meant: try to do some coaching on every one of my ‘coaching’ days when I was part time, and at the very least coach one person every week. One of my hardest moments came when I hadn’t coached anyone for about six weeks. I’d just negotiated with my employer to go down to three days a week, giving me two days a week for coaching. I’d had about two weeks of this, my clients had all come to an end, and the fear was setting in. And then I did a coaching session with my sister, and the relief I felt was palpable. It opened so much up, answering so many of my Gremlins: why I’m doing this, that I’m good at it, that it helps people. You can’t control who says yes to working with you, but you can control whether you do any coaching at all.

So find the way to keep coaching: do half an hour each way of coaching with someone you trained with; offer to coach your sister, or your dad, for 20 minutes on the phone; find a local co-coaching group. Find a charity who would appreciate your services for free. Do something, anything, to keep coaching.

And don’t let any little thing stop you. I’ve written elsewhere about how dancing with Resistance was the most important lesson I learnt in my first year as a coach. And that is fundamentally true: if you’re getting pulled in all directions by Resistance – with its doubts, fears, and procrastinations – then you’re in trouble. In that article, I talked about some of the ways this gets in the way for people, and some ways to dance with it. Here, in particular, I’m talking about marketing. Marketing - building a website, having a mailing list, creating videos, blogging - can so often be Resistance. It’s insidiousResistance, because it sounds like that stuff will help you run a coaching business. And here’s the thing… it will! But only a tiny bit. And that tiny bit isn’t worth it when it stops you from doing the work you’re here to do. That work is coaching. Don’t stop coaching ‘until your website is ready’. Don’t stop coaching ‘until you have written your About You page’. Don’t stop coaching ‘until you’ve found the right way to post about coaching on LinkedIn or Facebook’. That’s all Resistance. If you click through some of the links in this article, to really successful coaches who have helped me, half of them don’t even have websites, or their websites are pretty rubbish! If you build your business by coaching often and coaching well, then that can’t be Resistance. It can only be you changing the world for the better, one person at a time. 

5)     Everything starts with a conversation

If you got far enough to want to be a coach – even more so, to train to be a coach – you already know you are good with people. You know you can have great conversations. And the better you get at coaching, the better your conversations will become. And here’s the key thing, learnt from friends, colleagues and books I’ve read: pretty much everything starts with a conversation. As a coach, unless you’ve written a best-selling book or been coaching for years, almost no one is going to contact you out of the blue or find you on Google. You need to have conversations. It will help you get better at talking about your work, and more importantly than that: in every conversation there is possibility. I once had a conversation at an event with a woman who, it turned out, had once sold a sofa to Phil from the Coaching School. She introduced me to her boss at the event, who invited me for a coffee when he found out I was a coach. And then his company offered me £2,500 of work in the next eight months. Because she once sold Phil a sofa!

You never know when someone will recommend you for a job, or to a friend as a coach. But you do know that if you have no conversations, and particularly no conversations about coaching, then no one will.

Have coffees and beers with former colleagues to catch up. Meet other coaches you know and speak to them – you never know when they’ll need to refer a client to someone, and maybe they’ll think of you. Be generous, though, don’t be needy. Start from a sense of possibility: that something wonderful will come from this conversation if you let it emerge, and that it doesn’t matter what.

Let’s get it clear: this is networking. This is growing your network. And many people have a serious allergy to networking. But you are a coach. You are great with people. And you can use that skill to grow your network in a way that suits you: through one-on-one conversations. One suggestion is this: contact someone with ‘Here’s where I am at with my work…. I’d love to meet for a coffee to pick your brains/discuss your work/understand more about you/whatever.’ At the conversation, once you’ve had the opportunity to explain more about your work, where you are and why you’re doing it, the question you want to ask is… ‘Who do you know?’ Who do you know who I should speak to? Who do you know that is doing what I’m doing? Who do you know who sounds like these people, who I love working with and changing the lives of? People are generous, just like you. They love to help. By the end of the conversation usually they’ve already mentioned two or three names of people. But if not, ask. And then ask them for an introduction. And have another conversation.

And don’t be shy about adding people on LinkedIn/giving them a card/emailing them if they give you one – at first, my Fear Demon said, ‘What if they think it’s ridiculous that I’m getting in touch with them/adding them/emailing them?’. But then I realised, what’s the worst that can happen? They think I’m ridiculous, delete it and don’t think about me anymore. And in 99% of situations, what I get is an increased network, which takes me one step closer to the critical mass of clients to drive my business by referrals. On which note…

6)     Look For Shortcuts to the Client Critical Mass

Quite soon after I became a part-time coach, coaching two days a week plus evenings, I began to get in touch with coaches I knew or was introduced to, to ask them to sit down for a coffee. Everything starts with a conversation, and these conversations were great – they were very affirming and very educational. There many things I learned from them, but there were two significant areas these coaches had in common. The first was that their business, as described above, was kept going by referrals. There comes a point where when you have worked with enough people, even if they only refer you one client every two years each, that’s enough to make your practice grow. The Client Critical Mass. The second thing is that - to get to that point - each of these people who had become a full-time coach had had something that tipped the balance for them, and took them to that critical mass: something which referred them clients. Phil Bolton, who founded the Coaching School, worked with Escape the City and a couple of other similar organisations (plus spent a couple of years coaching In House honing his craft). Catriona Horley’s work running coach training for emerging leaders made a big difference. Isabel Mortimer had a great link with an incredibly successful coach in her early days, someone who sent clients her way as a show of faith in how brilliant she was (and is).

It’s possible to build just by invitation and referral, but seeing this pattern got me thinking: how can I shortcut to that point? A dozen extra clients over a year from one source would not only make a lot of difference to my income now, but also to the pool of people I had worked with. So I started looking for these opportunities. I contacted several small organisations that I knew, some out of the blue and some by being linked to them, and I kept my eyes peeled. When a fellow Coaching School graduate, James Bianco, mentioned a possible opportunity with Careershifters, an organisation I really admire, I got in touch right away. When I had a conversation with Mike from the Coaching School after I completed their course, I asked to be more involved. When my then Supervisor Vegard mentioned an opportunity to work with his organisation, Coachingpartner, I said yes. When I saw that Isabel, mentioned above, was involved with Graydin, a company who do awesome work training teachers in coaching skills, I asked for an introduction. And there were others, too. Now the truth is, none of the above examples led me to that one shortcut I was after. But they did two things. First, some of them led to some work. A couple of clients here, a couple there. And that, of course, built my client base, and improved my coaching. And second, I became more practised at having conversations with the kind of people who might give me the opportunity that would make all the difference.

All this meant that when the two opportunities came along which have – in the end – been a big part of me moving to full-time coaching, I noticed them. And I was practised at having these conversations. And – after all the coaching I had done, all the learning I had done, all the Resistance I had battled through – I knew that I could do great work for them. And now I am.

7)     Create the Space for Your Work to Grow

I coached while working full-time during my coaching training – for roughly the first six months of my coaching business. During some co-coaching with a brilliant woman called Holly Aston, I realised that I needed to create more space for it, so I found a way to work part-time, giving myself two days a week, plus evenings and weekends, to work on coaching. Without this space and time I couldn’t have done all the things above, and I couldn’t have got where I am this quickly.

I’m a big fan of ‘day jobs’, for coaches, for artists, for career changers, for anyone who needs to experiment. As Liz Gilbert says in her book Big Magic, it’s not fair to put the pressure of all your earning on your art, on your calling. Now ideally this other work is something you enjoy (and I was very lucky to be working with a wonderful team doing great work at the Clore Leadership Programme). But even if it isn’t, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not full-time straight away, and if you have to do some other work some of the time. That’s natural, and it’s important. For most of us, we put enough pressure on ourselves when we’re selling our own time as a coach – with all the doubts that come with that – without adding in a massive pressure to sell in order to pay your rent. Especially when you’re just starting out. But if you’re working full-time, there just isn’t the space to do the work you need to do to grow your business. And here’s another thing: as soon as you are a part-time coach, your credibility with others and your confidence in yourself will rise too.

If you aren’t full-time, and you aren’t trying to find the way to increase the time you have for coaching, then either you’re not that serious about coaching, or you are so wrapped up in Resistance, Gremlins and other Fear Demons that you can’t find your way through. If it’s the former – and you actually don’t want to grow your coaching business – then that is absolutely fine, and what you are doing is wonderful. Keep changing people in whatever way you are, and perhaps at some point you’ll come back to this article, or read something else, and you’ll think ‘now is the time’. If it’s the latter – if you want nothing more than to work as a coach, use those skills that you were put on this planet to use, and change lives every day – then my advice is to get some help. It’s very hard to beat the Resistance and the Gremlins. And it’s almost impossible on your own.

I was never sure I would want to be full-time, I just knew coaching was something I needed more time for. And then, after a year of being part-time, I realised when answering a question from my coach that I wanted to take it to the next level. The tipping point – the point when I realised I could do that, came from two things. It was when – having busted my money issues and raised my prices – I realised I was making more money from my two days of coaching than from my three days in the office. And it was when those two bigger projects appeared on the horizon, that would take me towards the Client Critical Mass and give me more regular income. I knew the only way to have the space to take them would be to stop all other coaching work, or to leave my other job. And then – despite the Gremlins and Fear Demons being very much present – it was time. 

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So there you have it. There are the Seven Ways I Became A Full-Time Coach Less Than Two Years After Starting My Training (ha ha!). I hope it inspires you. I hope you feel a sense of optimism and energy having read it: this is possible. And not just for coaches: it is possible for so many freelancers and entrepreneurs and creators. I am, all of a sudden (and, of course, after a lifetime of graft and searching), a case study in changing careers. But for coaches, in particular, I hope you use even one of these ways and ideas to grow your coaching practice. Everything starts with a step. It starts with you saying, ‘I want to do this’. It starts from doing great work, work that uses your unique blend of skills to their maximum. And then you’re changing the world, one person at a time. Coaching is growing, and the world needs people like you.

The Developmental Case for Art

Robbie Swale

I can remember where I was when, for the first time consciously, I realised why art matters. Not why it is great, not why it is fun, but why it is fundamental to the growth, prosperity and happiness of our society and our word.

It was in the Studio at York Theatre Royal in mid-2012, but we'll get to that.

That year, 2012, I had recently been listening to the amazing (and free) Waking Up the Workplace interview series. I was a year late to the series, despite the fact that one of the three people who created it was my brother. There are many inspiring interviews in the series, which challenged how I think about business and how I think about work, and the series was an early part of the path which led me to the work I do today.

In the middle of Waking Up the Workplace, amongst the more accessible interviews (check out Tony Schwarz and Derek Sivers for easy and inspiring ways in), is a mini-series about adult development. As a newcomer to even the idea of adult development, I got lost in the different academics who had researched it, their different theories and structures, and in the sometimes slightly monotonous delivery. But it stuck with me. I’ve noticed that often the most dense content I read or try to learn about is the content which stays with me the longest. The most difficult things to take in end up being the things which I check my understanding of the world against, and which I talk to others about. For those of you who already know a lot about adult development, forgive the following potted history which will be useful for those who don't. (And for everyone who can, please forgive simplification and any small errors!)

Until relatively recently – about 60 years ago – the widely-held view was that children were just little adults who had a lot to learn. Then Jean Piaget realised that children were more than just adults who didn’t know much, but in fact that as they grew they went through various stages: as children grew up their brains, minds and consciousness developed, and they made meaning out of the world in different ways. Their perceptions changed through various stages, and then reached a point, and were done. At the time, the theory was that the adult mind didn't change. Once you were in early adulthood, about 18-20, you were a full adult, your brain was finished, and you couldn't get any better than that; in fact, you went downhill from there! It was only in the 1980s that a different view began to emerge, and research began in earnest into the field of Adult Development: that in fact adults' minds continue to develop, through further series of stages that are – essentially – the same for everyone. And here's the biggest learning that came to me through those interviews on Waking up the Workplace: that the common thread through all these stages of development – child and adult – is the development of our sense of perspective.

An early shift, for a baby, is when it realises that the toe it puts in its mouth is a part of it. Another is that the large finger it sucks on (perhaps belonging to a parent) isn't a part of it. And later, that there is more than just it and not it, that there are a variety of others in the world. There's a famous experiment by Piaget where children are given a cube with different colours on each side. Children of a certain age can't understand that the person sitting opposite them isn't seeing the same colour they can see, despite having seen the all the different colours on the cube. And then, at a later age, children understand that the other person doesn't necessarily see the same thing they do: they can imagine themselves in that person's shoes, seeing the other side of the cube. Their sense of perspective has developed.

And, as time progresses as an adult, our continuing development gives us a greater and greater sense of perspective. And this isn't a theory which doesn't matter, which is academic and has no place in the real world. A sense of perspective – of what's happening for someone else – is what holds our societies together. While the people on the other side of the battle lines aren't people, while they're just other, then there is no moral question about what sort of war you fight. While the woman in the bar is just an object, then it doesn't matter how you look at her, or speak to her. When she's a person – perhaps a sister, like your sister, or a daughter, like your daughter – then how she is spoken to matters a great deal. While the politicians for the other party are evil bastards looking out for themselves, you can hold up banners about chopping their heads off. When you understand that they're people, doing their best, then even joking about beheading them for their political beliefs is really quite abhorrent.

The sense of perspective, of what it's like to be someone else, is where so many of the great ideas of our age come from. The desire to lift the last 10% of the world population out of extreme poverty and beyond comes because we can imagine what it must be like to live in those conditions. The idea of universal access to education comes from a sense of perspective: it's not about me or you, it's about 'that child over there deserves an education, even if that child is nothing to do with me'.

I've never been to war. I've never been near a war zone. And yet I know that the less war we have in the world the better. Because I can imagine it. I can imagine the trenches in the first world war, and the pain of your child never coming home. I can imagine the bombs going off, and put myself in the shoes of the person on the other side of the world, right now, hiding from explosions, or bullets. And it makes me shudder.

I don't remember the show that I was watching in the Studio in York in 2012. I went there a lot, and watched such a wide range of productions, professional and amateur, new, modern and classic. I remember where I was sitting, though, looking across from the middle row, in the corner, towards the exit, when I realised what was happening right in front of me as the actors spoke and the story unfolded: my sense of perspective was growing. I was seeing – so clearly – things from someone else's point of view. And then someone else's. And then someone else's. With my awareness of adult development raised, I could suddenly almost feel myself developing. And then I could feel the other people in the room, and I thought 'Wow, what a thing this is, where one hundred people sit in a room together, and have their perspectives expanded.' What a privilege to live in a world where this is what we do together.

We learnt in a report by the AHRC last year that art doesn't necessarily do what we say it does. It doesn't necessarily regenerate rundown inner-city areas, or increase attainment in standardised tests, or some of the other common ‘demonstrable outcomes’. But no one can deny that it is valuable. Anyone who loves an artform can tell you it is. People will give different suggestions of the value, for those creating and consuming the art. I have personally felt many of them: the sense of community, the increased self-confidence, the joy in watching or creating. The laughter, the tears.

But in all of these - in the increased confidence, and the sense of community, in the observation and creation, in the laughter and the tears – the underlying change is that our perspectives are growing. You can’t learn the lines for a play without putting yourself that bit more in someone else’s shows. You can’t dance a character, or paint a person, without thinking about them more than you normally would.

No one can listen to Creep without feeling the pain and loneliness of the outsider, the twisting anxiety of love, and whether it will be requited. No one can read Harry Potter without understanding the importance of family, whether biological or the other kinds of families - friendships, brotherhoods and sisterhoods - which are a part of our deepest needs. No one can watch The Wire without leaving with not only a deeper understanding of life in the projects and Baltimore PD, but above all a general sense that there are no 'goodies' or 'baddies', there are just people, living their lives.

We see every day the reasons why increased perspective is necessary. Why seeing things from more people's points of view is important. We see it in everything from the incredible polarisation in modern politics, to the twisting arguments in our intimate relationships, which leave those involved and those around them carrying all manner of scars.

There are many reasons why art is important. There is joy in it, the unbridled joy of dancing with abandon, of being part of a crowd of tens of thousands of people, all singing a sweeping chorus together. Of stepping out onto a stage, or into a recording studio, and letting things out of you.

The joy, the creativity, the relationships that can be built, the skills that are developed. These and many more are reasons why we love art and culture. But the modern imperative for us is that art develops the ability to see alternative perspectives in people like almost nothing else can. It is a fundamental part of the way people make sense of the perspectives of others. And it is the development of our collective consciousness, our collective ability to understand each other, and all that follows from that, which make art not just important, but vital. 

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This article first appeared on LinkedIn, on 19th April 2017. 

Dancing with Resistance: A lesson from my first year as a coach

Robbie Swale

The first year of anything is an incredibly rich learning opportunity. When I reflect now on my first year as a coach, there are so many lessons I learnt. But above all - above the importance of working with great coaches who have my back, above having a supportive community around me, above learning more and more about business development and enrolling clients - was the importance of dancing with my Resistance.

I'm struck, day by day, that my work stands on the shoulders of so many giants. I have a vision board with pictures of many of them, and one of the huge privileges of the modern world is the easy access to the books, videos, podcasts and blogs of so many people of great wisdom. And on the topic of Resistance, I feel particularly privileged.

For my birthday, not long before I first started training as a coach, but before I knew I was going to train, my brother gave me two books, and those books have had a huge impact on my coaching and my coaching business, dealing as they did with the ever-present challenge of our Resistance.

What is Resistance?

Steven Pressfield, as my brother, Ewan Townhead, a writer and coach, poetically puts in his own writing on the subject, is St George in the battle with the dragon of Resistance. In his book, The War of Art, Pressfield dissects and exposes Resistance in all its glory, including – near the beginning – these wonderful sentences:

'There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't and the secret is this: it's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.

What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.'

And:

'Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.'

Resistance is everything that stops you taking those steps towards the life you really want to live. It's the little instinct that takes you to Facebook instead of the work you know you should be doing; it's what leaves the gym membership unused, the paint set in the cupboard and the guitar unplayed; it's what keeps the idea for a new business in your head and not out in the world. It's those words, which you tell yourself, which can stop you doing pretty much anything: "I'm not ready."

I'm getting some Resistance right now, as I write this piece. Here's what it's saying 'Have you planned this piece enough? Is it really going to be useful to other coaches? Are you sure it's not just a vanity exercise for you? Shouldn't you change it more so it gets you more clients? You aren't going to finish it before you need to leave for your meeting, so you might as well stop now.' You see, Resistance is devious. It knows exactly what to say and do to get you to stop. It will tie you in knots to prevent you from taking the steps you need to take, the steps towards the unlived life within you.

Resistance for coaches

In the War of Art is a list of Resistance's Greatest Hits (you can read it on Steven Pressfield's website in an excerpt from the book). And it reads like a list of the topics that coaches are faced with from our clients in every session. But it also reads like a list of the challenges that are faced by coaches: 'the pursuit of a calling', 'the launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise', 'any program of spiritual enhancement', 'education of every kind', 'an enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others', 'the taking of any principled stand'. These are all on the list, and apply to any coach starting their practice. And the chapter ends with this quote:

'In other words, any act which disdains short-term gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any act of these types will elicit Resistance.'

Whether you like it or not, Resistance will be with you on your journey to the unlived life you want.

So what can you do about it?

Awareness

The first step is awareness. I regularly share the online excerpt from the War of Art with clients as a way to bring the language of Resistance into our sessions: this gets it out in the open, it names it. Resistance is there, or at least it is if you are trying to do any of the things on Pressfield's list (and pretty much all clients and all coaches are). And, as marketing guru, general font of wisdom and big Pressfield fan Seth Godin says (his book, The Icarus Deception, was the second book Ewan gave me), Resistance will always be there. As Seth puts beautifully, if you can't get rid of it, you just have to learn to dance with it. 

Dancing with Resistance

You may be thinking – perhaps this is your Resistance – 'If it's not going away, and it's trying to stop me getting the things I deeply want, then surely everything is hopeless.' Luckily, everything is not hopeless. More Pressfield:

'Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel towards pursuing it.'

You can use your Resistance, your fear, as Seth Godin also says, as a compass. You can follow it to what you really want. And if you're feeling it - maybe it's doing its self-doubt bit, 'Am I really a writer?' 'Am I really a coach?' - you're on the right track. So, how does the dance go?

As any professional dancer knows, it starts with discipline, with practice. Pressfield calls this 'turning pro'. We already know how to be a professional, we've all done it at some point or other. It's how we behaved in the jobs we didn't like, the ones which weren't our calling or our heart's desire. We turned up, whatever, and we stayed all day. We don't take it too lightly, but we don't take it too seriously. We get better at it. We have a sense of humour. We accept payment.

And most importantly, any dance involves steps. In the dance with Resistance, these are small steps, but – as with dancing – at some point you have to start. Here's one last beautiful quote from Steven Pressfield:

'Our inspiration is always there, but it's at the moment when we commit to something and make the start that we let inspiration in.'

It feels impossible. You've procrastinated all day. You're scared and you're miserable. And yet. And yet. When you finally take that step, no matter how small, you get that feeling. Everyone reading will recognise it. If you're a coach, it's the little buzz of sending the scary email requesting a referral, or updating your LinkedIn profile to say 'coach' for the first time, or actually approaching the building where you will meet your first paid client. If you aren't, you'll know it from submitting an application for the job you want, emailing the person you want to have coffee with to talk about something that's important to you. Or getting the paint set out of the cupboard and finally putting brush to canvas.

That's inspiration. But you're not done. You need to take another step. It can be as small as you like, as long as you take it. And after that, take another. And another.

Resistance for Coaches and my tips for dancing with it...

Here is the voice of Resistance, speaking to Robbie the Coach, and to the lovely and wonderful coaches I know.

I haven't done enough coaching to work with clients.

I need to finish my website before I start talking to people about my coaching.

I need to learn more about coaching before I'm ready to charge.

Who would pay me to coach them? I've only coached people for free so far.

I'm not ready to talk about my coaching business until I've worked out my niche.

I can't coach this person, what do I know about their work?

No one will ever pay me for this. It's rude to even ask.

I'm not worth this.

It will never work.

I'm really scared.

Read them back, look for the ones that resonate with you, or the ones which you've heard people you know say. Or the similar sentences that your Resistance is saying to you. Look out for the language of Resistance, words like 'enough', 'not ready', 'when it's finished', 'more'.

We all have that voice. Coaching, for most people, is a calling and a dream. It is getting paid to work with people, making a difference, using all those skills which you took for granted but you have found out are special in you. Changing lives, and changing your life. And as a calling and a dream it is so vulnerable to Resistance. So here are three tips to help guide you through the minefield of Resistance as you grow your coaching business. There are plenty more, and I'd love to hear from anyone who has great tips, or great struggles with Resistance.

  • Become aware of Resistance. Maybe this article is all you need. Maybe you also need to read my brother's blog, or the pages on Steven Pressfield's website, or maybe you need to buy yourself The War of Art and The Icarus Deception (or get a family member to give them to you for a forthcoming birthday!). But whatever it takes, make sure you're aware. Make sure you're looking for it.
  • Get a coach. When you're talking about coaching to people, it's almost certain you say something like 'the thing that sets it apart from mentoring, and counselling, and therapy, is that it's always forward looking'. And in that forward momentum is the next small step, which lets the inspiration in. Whoever your coach is, they will help you take those steps, and in those steps you will start to beat resistance. I've been lucky to work with two amazing coaches, Mike Toller and Joel Monk, and both have guided me wonderfully through my Resistance.
  • Launch early. Nothing is ever ready. Ever. Steve Chandler and Rich Litvin say, in their awesome book, The Prosperous Coach: 'Don't wait for 100% readiness. It will never come. When you are 80% ready, go for it.' But 80% is too much. Launch as soon as you can. You can tweak your website tomorrow if you see a problem, or add another page next week, but get it online today. You can tweak your invitation email next time you send it, but send it to someone today. You can coach your next client after you've been on that training course, but you can make a difference to this client right now. And if you aren't, you're not just damaging yourself and your business, you're not helping everyone you could be helping. You can do it. And once you take those steps, maybe the website doesn't need proof reading a fourteenth time, and maybe the email doesn't need to be perfected again, and maybe you will change the life of this person, right here, right now.

Go on. Start. Go out there. Take some steps. Change some lives.

This article was originally written in May 2016, and published on LinkedIn in October 2016.

How Possibility and Optimism Can Change the World

Robbie Swale

The Power of Optimism

Sometime in the middle of last year, I was lying awake, angry and frustrated about an exchange I had had with an old friend. It left me feeling judged, upset, and too furious to sleep. I was mapping out all of the possible responses in my head. But I’d been here before. Caught in the open, not quite sure what I believed; cornered, unsafe. I knew this place, this place of aggression and 'me vs them'; this place of shortness of breath and lack of sleep. And it wasn't where I wanted to be. It wasn't pleasant. So I turned my bedside light on - 'I can't think my way out of this' - and my eyes landed on one of the books next to my bed. It was The Art of Possibility by Ben and Ros Zander. I thought, 'That's an amazing book. There must be something in there that can help me.' And there was. My frustration dissipated, my breathing deepened, and sleep came. That was the first time that I saw so clearly and personally how the practice of possibility can change the way you feel in your own body. There is an opposite to contraction, to being triggered by someone, and it is possibility. And it's in your power. You can choose to step out of it. You can choose to get to sleep.

Even before that night, I was on my way to a worldview based in optimism and possibility. It started in earnest with Matt Ridley's amazing book The Rational Optimist, which showed me that there is a way to look at the modern world and feel a sense of hope and optimism. In the three or four years since I read that book, and when combined with the Zanders' masterpiece, that worldview has become my outlook of choice: on my life, my work, my relationships and the world at large.

This is the apocryphal 'can-do' attitude. It's the post-industrial mindset that renowned author and entrepeneur Seth Godin - one of the fathers of internet marketing, writer of one of the most popular blogs online, and a continually inspirational writer and speaker - is trying to unlock in all of us. It's the Zanders' universe of possibility: full of reinvented assumptions, people who deserve 'A's, and Rule Number Six (which, for those who haven't read the book, is 'Don't take yourself so god damn seriously').

It's not that I didn't possess these qualities before I encountered Ridley and the Zanders, it's that I wasn't aware of the power of them. And that meant I couldn't use them. Really getting to grips with possibility and optimism means all sorts of things, but perhaps the most surprising is from the story of that night: how a sense of possibility has the power to break up and release my frustration, and particularly the contractions I sometimes feel when I am triggered by someone else. Another is how it can remove the fear of sharing and speaking about the things that really matter to me. Including, of course, my work.

By using these practices, and this worldview, I am able to approach far larger parts of my life with a sense of excitement, and far more people with a sense of love.

Possibility and Changing Your Life

This sense of excitement is so important when people are thinking of making a big change in their life. How many ideas are broken on the rocks of a sense of limitation or pessimism? A friend of mine recently told me that of all the people he'd told about his move abroad, I was the only one who seemed genuinely excited. Others were confused about the city he was moving to, or the timing, or what it was really about. They meant well, of course, and loved him greatly, but how did their scepticism or worry help him at this exciting but challenging moment in his life? You may be able to make the changes in your life without someone to help you see the possibility and optimism, but having someone like that definitely helps.

One of the most astounding things for me in my work as a coach has been how quickly that mindset of limitation and lack can be replaced by one of openness and possibility. It happens in different ways.

“I've never really failed,” said one client, about an hour into our first session together.

"You've never really failed.” Reflection is one of the simplest and most powerful coaching tools, one which never ceases to amaze me. And as I said that, I knew something was about to happen.

“Not at anything that I really wanted.”

“You've never failed at anything that you really wanted.”

There was a look of surprise on her face. She couldn't work out if I had said it first or if she had (“You did. All from you.”) But it was more than surprise. We looked at each other. We knew something special had happened. A lightbulb moment. There was suddenly possibility in the air.

That was our first and our last session. Once that magical moment had happened, something had been unlocked for this woman. An award nomination for her blog followed; busyness from the invitations that came with it. She has recently started retraining, a course that we discussed in that session. That moment showed her that everything was within her grasp if she really wanted it. Wow. What possibility. What power she suddenly possessed.

I have seen this with other clients, too, as our coaching pushes them to see things in different ways, and opens up possibilities that they hadn't allowed themselves to truly see. Sometimes, a session focusing on one area of their life – even one which seemed impossibly stuck or complex at the start of the session, like preparing for a conversation with an difficult colleague, or the idea that the relationship they want is unreachable – opens up that area so completely that they barely mention it the next time we meet, so completely is the pressure dissipated and the power back in their hands.

Why Everyone Needs a Coach

This is why my work is so important to me. Gallup recently wrote about why everybody needs a coach. For them, if everyone spent just one hour a year focusing on their strengths, the changes to the world could be extraordinary. For me, it's about something different. What if everyone could see the possibilities that are open to them? What if they understood the unique contribution that only they can make? And what if they understood that they have all they need to make it happen? I believe that reawakening this sense of excitement and possibility is the route to solving so many of the modern world's problems.

Because there isn't a fixed amount of hope in the world. It isn't limited. It isn't a fixed pie that is only available to you if you're a great mystic or some special type of person. It's within your grasp. And one route to more hope is the excitement available to you when you look on things with possibility, the love available to you if you look on the world with optimism.

This is one of the great challenges of our time: to help more people in the world view their life with a sense of possibility, and understand that they have the agency to make happen whatever it is that they really want. That's what my work is about. It's about giving that gift, as often as I can – to my friends before they move to another continent, to my clients when they don't see their inner strength, to people I speak to at a workshop, to a friend-of-a-friend at a party. To myself, when I can't sleep through frustration and contraction. And to you, too, in whatever part of your life you may need a little more possibility, a little more optimism, a little more hope. You can do it.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn, published in August 2016.