A journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step. Those ancient sayings always sound so wise don’t they? And when it’s a literal journey, like walking the Camino de Santiago or the Great Wall of China, it’s easy enough to work out what the first step is.
But what if it’s not a literal journey? What if you’re using it as an analogy – the ‘j’ word as they call it on Strictly Come Dancing, or the journey of X Factor contestants? Maybe even then first step isn’t so difficult to work out – accept when the BBC ask you onto Strictly, turn up for the X Factor audition. Sometimes though, the first step isn’t so obvious. Or you find you take a step, but it doesn’t take you in the right direction. You take the first step, but then give up before you reach your goal. (Been there, done that, got the t-shirt – so many times.)
Last year, I started my weight loss journey. Yes, this is one of those things I’ve tried so many times and given up because it got too difficult. This time it’s different. Yes, really. What’s different about it is that I have learned how to overcome setbacks. I’ve learned to keep going, even when the going gets tough, and get back on the diet and exercise horse after Christmas, birthday meals out, felt a bit down so I ate all the food….
I might also be seeing how many cliches I can shoe horn into this post!
Stay with me on this – it might not be obvious how this helps you at work, but I’ll get to it. First, I’d like to share with you what makes the difference this time. My first step was to commit to exercise three times a week for eight weeks. I made this a public pledge on stickk.com. I was doing no exercise at all. I wore a fitbit, and I was averaging 3000 – 4500 steps a day, and doing no other type of exercise. So I didn’t prescribe what type of exercise it had to be – going to the gym for a class, or just a gym session, or even going for a 20 minute walk. All counted, I just had to do three in a week.
Five things made the difference for me
Let’s look at each of these in a little more details
Making a public commitment
Owain Service and Rory Gallagher in their book, Think Small, say that making yourself publicly accountable is one of the foundations of creating good habits successfully. Stickk.com is a great place to do this. You can make a pledge of any kind, and get someone to check up on you. As an added incentive, you can pledge that you will pay a fine if you don’t succeed – a donation to a cause you don’t support, direct to your referee, or to stickk.com itself. I couldn’t even bring myself to pledge a donation to the Conservative Party as an incentive to stick to my pledge, so I went for paying the website. In the event, however, I achieved three sessions for the full eight weeks. But if you feel you need the extra discipline of the threat of your hard earned money going to someone you detest, the option is there!
Making the commitment to myself
The discipline of the pledge helped me without a doubt, but I’d also been reading a lot of things where a commitment to oneself kept coming up. This resonated strongly with me, and I decided I was going to do this, exercise more, for me. It because really important for me to follow through, whereas before, without being very specific, I frequently let myself down.
I didn’t set out to stick to a restrictive diet, do one hour classes three times a week, walk 10,000 steps a day or any other goal that would have been too much. If I did a 20 minute walk, I counted that. Sometimes I did 30, but I was happy if I’d done 20. Or I did a 30 minute class. (Signing up for a class was another way I ensured I was committed. Very useful in the early days.) Three a week was do-able. Five, was more than a challenge, it would have been too hard.
Building on success
Achieving my exercise target gave me such a lift. Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit talks about a cornerstone habit. I always felt that regular exercise would be a cornerstone habit for me. It encourages me to eat more healthy food, and less junk. About four weeks in, I decided to start a low carb plan, and log food in My Fitness Pal. But the cornerstone habit is a bit more significant than that. Just realising that I could succeed in an area of my life I’d always struggled with made me more motivated in other areas. I developed self discipline. Turned down food I wanted really. Left for the gym for early classes, leaving home at 5.40 or 6 am. Went for a walk when it was pouring with rain and I didn’t want to.
I also discovered that My Fitness Pal gives you more calories if you’re more active, so exercise got me more food! In just over nine months, I have lost 3 stone (42 lbs, or 19 kg)
I found that I became more self disciplined with my work projects too. Bonus. And demonstrates the power of the cornerstone habit.
In The 12 week year, Brian P Moran and Michael Lennington, set out a process for measuring your progress. They talk about lead indicators and lag indicators. Lag indicators are the ones we usually focus on with weight loss for example. Have we lost weight on the scales this week? How much? Lead indicators though, help to tell as you’re going along how likely are you to achieve the lag targets. If you need to stick to a plan of 1200 calories to lose 1lb a week (and My Fitness Pal or a Fitbit will work these things out for you) what you need to measure is whether you adhered to the plan.
Moran and Lennington say that 85% implementation rate will usually result in success with the lag indicators. Not a precise science for everything of course, but at least you have measurements to monitor right? You can adjust, if you are monitoring on a weekly basis.
So what’s all this got to do with being happy at work?
These five success factors can all be transferred to any goal you have in life. If you’re not happy at work and you know you need to make a change, where do you start? What’s your first step? Starting small can have a profound effect, so I suggest you start small.
There are seven things you can do today that will help you to be happier at work. They are all simple (though not necessarily easy) and some are very simple indeed.
You can get a download here with more about these seven things.
Make your commitment here. Start small, pick one. Tell me in the comments which one, and how often you will do it.
In her book ‘How to have a great day at work’ Caroline Webb suggests that a technique of improvisational comedy is a good way to give brain friendly feedback. ‘Yes, and….’ instead of ‘Yes, but…’ fosters collaboration and helps bring out the best in others.
Ever since I read this, I’ve been intrigued to learn more about improv. Facebook must have known this, because they kept telling me about a local course, starting soon. I signed up.
I mean, I love my books but some things you can’t learn from a book, you’ve got to get out in the real world, meet real new people and do new things. I thought this would be fun. A little bit out of my comfort zone – I once did a short stand up comedy course, ending with a showcase performance. That was a bit scary, but I rehearsed and knew my routine. Improv – well, that’s a whole different ball game, but I thought it would be fun, so what the hell?
It is not what I expected. I don’t know what I expected, but this wasn’t it. On our second meeting, we were asked to stare into someone’s eyes for two minutes and imagine their life. I knew next to nothing about these people. One guy (they are mostly guys, only one other woman, although the trainer is a young woman) the only thing I know about him is that he’d just been accepted onto a wimp to warrior MMA training programme. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds serious. Another guy, the only thing I knew about him is that he’s autistic and didn’t like the light in the room we were in. And the third guy, I know his name, but that’s about it. But then I eased into it a bit and started making stuff up. Which I think is what we were meant to do.
We also created a soundscape. For those of you who don’t know what that is – and again, I didn’t – it involves sitting in an outward facing circle, in the dark, with our eyes closed, making noises. Mostly copying other people’s noises, but occasionally dropping in a new one. Now, ask me to stand up in front of an audience to speak and I’m good to go. But you want me to sit in the dark, with my eyes closed, amongst strangers, and make funny noises? Seriously? Do I have to?
We also learned the ‘Yes, and…’ technique. Whatever someone said, you had to accept it and build on it. I got involved in drug smuggling in Colombia and found I had an alcohol problem on holiday in the Caribbean. I think there were drugs there too. (We’re new, not sure we had the right idea.)
You might be wondering why I’m telling you all this. Well, even though I’d started out with the knowledge that improv could foster collaboration at work and bring out the best in others I was nevertheless surprised at the life lessons in the first two classes. Here’s a few of the things I learned.
You don’t leave it to someone else, be proactive, participate and remember it’s always your turn. How useful is this at work? Ever work in one of those places (public sector is good at this) where people take the attitude ‘I’m not doing that, it’s not my job’? How much better would it be if everyone had everyone’s back, and just jumped in and did what’s necessary?
They may come out with something completely random or out of character – I mean, do you think I’d actually get involved in drug smuggling? But it’s been said, so work with it, and make the other person look good.
Imagine if everyone at your workplace used this principle, that they always had to make everyone else look good? There wouldn’t be problems of people taking credit for others’ ideas, because everyone would be focusing on making their managers, their team members and their colleagues look good. The level of collaboration would sky rocket, and so would productivity.
I discovered I have a problem letting things go. I’ve never considered myself a control freak. I’m usually the one suggesting other people let it go. Driving for example, and some idiot cuts in front, others get all worked up, honking and swearing at the other driver. I’m the one saying you’re only winding yourself up, let it go.
But when we start to take turns adding bits to a story, I was really frustrated if someone didn’t say what I thought they should. I did not like giving up the control to others or letting go of the outcome.
Autonomy at work is a key driver of motivation, so if you’re a manager finding it difficult to give up control, you’re stifling your team. Like me, you’re going to have to learn to let it go.
I found the exercises helped to develop empathy. Even though I was making it up, I felt empathy for the people whose eyes I sat staring into. And it also made me want to know more about them. It was good to develop some curiosity about someone else, especially if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t naturally consider things from someone else’s perspective. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes at work would get rid of much conflict.
It was a difficult exercise to do, I totally get that this is a bit full on for work, and not everyone would be comfortable throwing themselves into this. But (ah damn, I said ‘but’!) if you can at least stop and consider someone else’s position before reacting, then working relationships will be smoother.
Are you a good listener? An active listener? Too often, we’re not fully listening to what someone else is saying, we’re waiting for our turn to speak.
Feeling heard is a powerful motivator. Disempowered people often feel that their concerns aren’t being heard, and at work this can lead to resentment, which in turn leads to low motivation, and then low productivity. Even just on a practical level, if you’re not listening to problems that others at work are experiencing, you’re also shutting off possible solutions
I’m not suggesting all workplaces introduce courses in improvisational comedy – though that could be fun – but it doesn’t hurt to borrow techniques that can improve your day at work.
What do you think? Is there a particular behaviour you could improve to make things better at work?
I recently delivered a short session on personal branding for a group of young people, on a Fastlaners course run by Uprising. Uprising is a youth charity, and Fastlaners is a short course to help ambitious young people with their careers.
A little bit of a departure for me – while I’ve done plenty of sessions for groups of young people, I’d never done personal branding before. But hey – I could do that.
I found while I was preparing that there’s quite a lot of cross over with stuff I’ve done before, stuff I’d done in the recent series of #abookintwominutes, and things related to confidence and public speaking.
We’re hearing a lot about how millennials (I think they still count as millennials? What have we decided to name the people after millennials?) don’t want to work hard, don’t want to get off their phones, don’t have any loyalty to their employers. In short, they want it all their own way.
I don’t believe this is true. The young people in this group all want to get on in the world, they all want decent jobs. I don’t think they’re that different to most others in this respect. Oh, and I didn’t see one mobile phone in the session I delivered.
On the other hand, I believe setting their own terms is a good thing. Why would they have any loyalty to an employer who doesn’t care about them as employees?
A couple of issues I wasn’t expecting came up, and mainly at the end, when they started asking questions about my background. And I realised I’d missed some opportunities. So here's the advice I gave them, and some I wish I ‘d given them.
I was asked, how do you have enough confidence? We talked about things like, fake it till you make it. Some the group were quieter and said little, others were more vocal. Either is fine, it’s all about your personality.
There are two types of confidence. There is the inner confidence in yourself – maybe self esteem is more accurate. The knowledge that you are worth something and have something to offer. I hope all the young people in the group have this – well, all young people to be honest. If not, seek help. Read books on confidence, change your beliefs about yourself, get professional help such as counselling if necessary.
The second is dependent on the situation. I don’t like driving. I’m confident enough to drive a short way, or even further if it’s a route I know, but not confident to take the motorway to Manchester for example. More on this can be found in this earlier post
There are ways to look and sound more confident, even if you don’t feel it.
One young woman told me how she wanted to find work in fine art and illustration. She had earned a degree in this, and had some relevant voluntary work experience. However, she is looking for work in the retail sector, so she can get some actual work experience on her CV. Whilst I admire her pragmatism, it would be a real pity for her to not pursue her real desire. What I wish I’d suggested is – get out there. Even if you are working in retail, blog, vlog, Instagram, Pinterest, podcast, whatever social media works in your desired field, do something and get out there.
I recently read Crushing It by Gary Vaynerchuk, and he is a big advocate of using social medial for your personal brand, to raise profile. Do this, and when you’re ready to make the transition to your chosen field, you have some assets, a track record, instead of having a standing start. I recommend a read of Crushing It, it’s an uplifting book as well as practical.
I mentioned the Rules of Work by Richard Templar. There is a lot of practical advice in there on how to get on at work, but there were one or two bits I disagreed with. However, fitting in, learn the system and make the most of it is practical advice. Not in a cynical or dishonest way, but fitting in to the workplace culture is a must. If it’s a poor fit for you, do your best while you look for something else. You spend a big chunk of your life at work – if you don’t fit, it leads to a miserable existence. I know, I’ve been there.
I mentioned the job early in my career when I was bullied by a manager, and was asked how to deal with this. Not expecting the question, I don’t think I was very reassuring, and I hope I didn’t create fear around this. Whilst it can happen, it isn’t a certainty in everyone’s career. How to deal with it effectively? This is a lot easier if you have inner confidence (see 1 above).
If it happens – if someone makes aggressive or passive aggressive comments to you, the best way is to deal with it immediately. Let them know you understand what they’re doing, that you expect to be treated with respect and won't play mind games.
If things do get out of hand, go to your HR department or another manager for help. There are resources out there should you find yourself in this situation, and this earlier post gives more details.
Have a clear idea what’s important to you. What are your values, what does work mean for you? Your’re entitled to look for this. Yes, you have to play your part too, but being assertive and confident in what you want out of life and expecting to get it as a reward for everything you put in isn’t too much to ask.
We talked a lot about authenticity and integrity, and examining your values in this way can help you to bring your best self to work.
It was a pleasure to meet you all, and I wish you all the luck in the world in finding work you love. And if any of you do start a blog, vlog, podcast or something else, let me know, I’ll be delighted to share it on.
Confidence is a funny thing. It seems complicated and elusive.
But if we think about it, there are two main types of confidence. There's the confidence we have in ourselves, that intrinsic self belief, or self esteem. Lack of this confidence can seriously cripple us, make us feel we are not worthy of effort or time or even of being loved. I'm not an expert in psychology, so I'm not going to say too much about this. I've got some theories, from reading numerous books, and from developing my own confidence over many years, but this isn't what I want to talk about today.
The other type is confidence to do a particular thing. Drive a car. Cut hair if you're a hairdresser. Balance the books if you're an accountant. You weren't let loose on the road by yourself the first time you got behind the wheel. You didn't start your level 2 NVQ in hairdressing by cutting hair on your first day, and you didn't turn in a full set of management accounts on the first day either. These are all skills you had to learn.
And this is where confidence gets complicated. You might be a bit nervous when you start to learn something new, but if it's something you always wanted to do, or something you've always had a natural flair for, then you're confident that you can master the skill. You might have bad days, when you think it's too hard, but the motivation to succeed gives you the confidence to carry on. But if it's something you believe is just too hard, or you think you don't have a natural ability, sometimes we let that lack of belief get in the way of doing something we really want to do.
Public speaking is one of those things. People tell themselves they're no good at public speaking, or that they don't have the confidence to do it. Or both of those. But public speaking is a skill, just like any other. There are things to learn about what makes a good speaker. Anyone who wants to can learn these things. Yes, some people are naturally better than others, just like some people are naturally better at playing the piano than others. And while the one with the natural talent could be a professional musician, the keen learner can still deliver a perfectly good rendition. So the naturally talented speaker might make a living on stage as a keynote speaker, but anyone can deliver a message so that people will listen.
With the skill side sorted out, the confidence develops. As Dale Carnegie said right at the outset of his seminal book, “the first thing for the beginner in public speaking is to speak”. Experience is the best teacher, and you can't learn to speak without practising. Much like playing the piano or driving a car – hours of practice make a difference.
But the funny thing about public speaking and confidence is, the more confident you become at speaking, the more confident you become as a person. Win-win.
I once read, but can’t remember where now, there are five realms of confidence
Give me information, I want to learn. Put me in a room full of people, I want to talk to them. Ask me to fix the photocopier because the paper jammed, and I want someone else to do it. I‘ve little confidence in my abilities to solve this problem (Luckily I have a son who’s a great fixer.) So think about where you have the most confidence, and where you have less. But don’t be afraid to just do something if you want to, because experience is the best teacher.
I'd love it if you would share how speaking has helped you develop confidence. Please tell your story in the comments below.