Tag Archives: self awareness

My daughter and I on a recent trip to Germany. Photo: Thomas Paul

Lets change some lives together…

Lots of people I talk to don’t know what it is I do as a coach, or who I can help. Can I clarify things for you, so you can help me spread the word?

I’m a little nervous about it. I’m not a fan of marketing spiels (and I’m guessing you’re not either). It is important, though, because I can’t help people who don’t know I’m here or what I do. And what I want to do most of all is to help more people. So, here’s the short answer:

I change lives for the better.

Every client I have worked with has left our coaching sessions a changed person, and it gives me so much satisfaction to think of the ripples of positive change that flow out from each of those clients. It’s my small way of changing the world, one person at a time.

“Really?”, you might be thinking. “That’s a big claim…”

Well, the magic of the transformative coaching technique I’m trained in is that it does what it says on the box – it transforms people. You can read my testimonials here and see for yourself the difference it makes. Here’s one client’s words that get right to the guts of it:

“My sessions with Lisa lead to life changing behaviour. In five weeks I went from frustrated and angry to calm and contented, and enjoying my job more fully than I have done for many years.”

As I work with my clients they shift perspective. They understand what is important to them, they see through the blocks that hold them back, and they learn new mindsets. The accountability, motivation and support I provide helps them make changes.

The added special sauce is the confidence and strength that comes from knowing they can rise above their own challenges and break through old limits. I don’t tell my clients what to do. I help them figure it out, and then do it for themselves, which is so much more powerful.

The result is long term, sustainable change.

“Yeah, but”, I hear you thinking, “I’m good. Coaching is not for me.”

Maybe so, but do you recognise yourself, or someone you know, in one of these statements?

  • “I hate my job but I don’t know what to do about it”
  • “I’ve got everything I thought I wanted in life – but why am I not happier?”
  • “My life is so busy – I’m cracking under the pressure.”
  • “I’m turning into a grouch and my family is hating it. It’s not who I want to be.”
  • “I feel frustrated and stuck and want to get back to loving life again.”
  • “I want to take on that next challenge, but something is holding me back.”

Coaching can help anyone who is stuck in their life and ready to fix it.

If that’s you, or someone you know, get in touch to book an assessment with me. No obligation. No cost. We can talk online, by phone or in person (in Rotorua).

Thanks for reading and passing this on.

Lets change some lives together.


Tiny Cass and Lisa Cover

Travel can open the mind, and shrink the ego

I’m back at my desk, at home in Rotorua, and loving getting my brain going again. It’s been wonderful, and challenging at times, to have seven weeks in Europe, much of the time alone with my girl.

The biggest challenges were days when my daughter recognised her introverted needs and demanded a day inside, away from all those people speaking another language. Got to respect a girl who knows what she needs! Even if spending a whole day inside role-playing with Playmobile figures was some kind of hell for me, most days I was all she had as a playmate, friend, mother and teacher.

Its been good for me to try and find joy in the things I usually think of as trials – to get to work re-writing some of my own stories. Anything is possible if we let go of expectations and choose to take delight in what is.

The story that I  found most challenging to let go of was that I need time alone to restore my energy and manage my well-being. While I certainly took off for walks on my own when I could, this wasn’t possible most days when my husband was working, However, I found I could work on finding a sense of calm while in the presence of others.

My natural state is to be highly aware of people around me, and this state of vigilance can become draining, hence my desire for restorative alone time. Developing an off-switch for this vigilance is a challenge, but I’m working on it. It’s kind of like practicing meditation. The big shift is changing my story so the door opens to the possibility of things being different.

So my reality right now is time to work alone or with clients while my daughter is at school. But I know that as I keep working on developing my vigilance off-switch, I can be less dependent on that restorative alone time, and be ready to take on new challenges.

Oh, in case you’re wondering about the pictures, Cass and I had fun exploring this magical playground in Freiburg, Germany. Thankfully the shrinking effect was not permanent. (Photo credits: Cassidy Berndt and Lisa Berndt).


Focus on what’s important: train your mind – like a puppy!

Is your mind anything like mine?

It feels like a constant battle to focus on what’s important, not get distracted by what’s interesting, and filter out the noise.

How do you hold on to that precious mental focus to create more space in your day for what is important? Your email and news feed will always be crammed with interesting things. Your phone will always be begging for your attention. But, you always have the choice of where to put that attention. Practice exercising that choice, and it will get easier to focus.

Its not easy, I know! Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Set your priorities, and keep them front of mind. Make a small space in your day to decide where you want to focus. I like to set my goals for the day, jot down targets to achieve, and then fill in a daily schedule. I then check back in with that through the day to keep myself on track. The biggest benefit I get from this is reducing decision fatigue. Decide once, then just get on with it.
  2. Catch that wandering mind. As you work through your tasks, notice when your mind drifts off to play with something new and shiny. To stop this throwing you off task, instill a little discipline. Our minds are not great at focus. Imagine your mind is like a puppy wanting to play; gently but firmly return it to the task at hand, and eventually it will learn. Still distracted? Check in with how productive you are being. Do you need a short break, a brain-boosting snack, or a drink of water? Or maybe you’ve been focusing too long and need to switch tasks? Learn what your daily rhythms of focus and distraction are and work to those.
  3. Learn to say no, with grace. And I don’t just mean when someone interrupts us with a new demand (although this is important too). We are constantly making micro-decisions as we navigate our day. How good are you at owning your priorities and saying no to distractions when its appropriate? Often we are swayed off task by feelings and sensations such as boredom, fear of missing out, the excitement of novelty. If we are strong in our purpose, and clear about what it takes to achieve it, it is easier to turn down distractions and keep that puppy focused. If a fear of inconveniencing others leads you to undervalue your own priorities and be easily pulled off task, then check in with your sense of self worth. Do you truly value yourself enough to feel you are worthy of putting your needs equal with others?

Best of luck out there as you train your attention, reduce stress and create more space in your day for the important things. As you practice this skill you might notice how much time and energy you expend dealing with the frustration caused by distractions. Time and energy much better spent on your priorities!


Enough is enough: Seven steps to get you out of overwhelm

Last year sucked. You felt like you were running on a treadmill you could never get off: Kids to get to school; work with its endless demands; food to prepare, washing to do, collapse into bed exhausted; wake up and repeat. You’ve lost yourself in there somewhere.

But, hey, it’s a new year and tomorrow is a new day. It’s time to make a change and no one is going to do it for you. Taking responsibility for your own wellbeing is scary – but in the end it’s the path to freedom. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Here’s how:

  1. Set time aside to take stock. I know this sounds counter-intuitive. You’re overloaded. You don’t have time to stop and think about things. Well it’s time to stop using that as an excuse for not looking after yourself. There is always going to be more to do in life than you can fit in. But you’ve only got one life, so spend it on the things that matter to you. Believe me, once you step away you’ll wonder why you thought all those things were so important anyway. Set aside some time and go somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed, or talk to a trusted friend or coach. Ask yourself the hard questions: What is not working in my life right now? In my heart of hearts, what do I really want to do about it? You may not like the answers you come up with, but stick with it – maybe that’s just fear talking.
  2. Look at the big picture. If something is feeling off in your life it’s important to take a step back and look at your life as a whole. Sometimes discontent in one area of your life can show up as problems in another area. Work through the Circle of Life exercise, which can be downloaded from my website here. Is your life in balance? What area is the source of dissatisfaction? What could you do to improve your levels of satisfaction in that area of your life?
  3. What is your why? Not everyone is driven by a particular passion, but if you lack a sense of purpose in life it can feel as if you are just treading water. Take a look back over your life – things that you’ve loved doing and things that you’ve hated. Can you see any pattern? Is there a particular type of activity that you are drawn to? Does this coincide with how you earn your living? If it doesn’t, are there ways you can bring that passion into your work and increase your job satisfaction? Even having a clearer understanding of what drives you can help reduce overwhelm by helping you focus your efforts on things that matter to you.
  4. Check in with your values. What values are fundamental to you? Maybe you value health and wellbeing, balance, or spirituality. Or maybe you need to have ambition, success, or recognition in your life to feel satisfied. If you’re not sure how to identify your values get in touch with me and we can work through it together. Are your values being met by your work or lifestyle? Are there any values that are in conflict? Maybe this is causing stress in your life. Understanding the values that are important to you helps you choose work and a lifestyle that meets your needs. When values are in conflict we may experience a deep sense of discomfort that makes life seem like hard work. Just understanding where that discomfort comes from can make a big difference to your sense of satisfaction in life.
  5. How healthy are your boundaries? If you are constantly pulled around by other people’s demands and you struggle to get your own work done because of it, you may need to look at your boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries and learning how to say no is really important in this day and age where demands are constant and information floods our senses. It can be challenging to assert your own needs in a way that doesn’t come across as aggressive, but it can be done. Think about any relationship where things don’t feel quite right: are you able to balance your own needs with those of the other person? Could you be clearer in asserting your boundaries so interactions don’t leave you feeling drained? Setting boundaries around things like use of social media or TV watching can also help reduce overwhelm. Ask yourself how much of that activity is as actually beneficial to you, and how much is draining. Then find ways to stick to the limits you set yourself.
  6. Get out of the busy trap. Your mind is running so fast that even when you don’t have much on you can’t relax. That’s the busy buzz of a constant adrenaline high. If you don’t give your body and mind time and space to relax and repair you’re on the fast track to burn out. The first few times you stop ‘doing’ and just ‘be’ you’re likely to find it really uncomfortable. That’s OK. Relaxing takes practice if you’re out of the habit. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to do something that helps you wind down. A gentle walk in nature. A hot bath. Or listen to a meditation. There are lots of ways to learn simple mindfulness techniques that will train your brain to focus and relax more easily. You’ll find some of my favourites here on my website.
  7. Make a plan. Now you can see what the problem is, and you’ve got a better idea of which areas of your life need some renovating, so take some time to make a plan. Create a vision for where you want to get to. Plan out the steps you need to take to get you closer to that ideal. Pick a short term goal that is achievable and break it down into action points. How do you keep yourself working towards what you really want in life? Keep your vision current and visible. Celebrate the successes as you make progress. Notice what pushes you off track and deal with it, but don’t punish yourself. It’s OK to adjust goals and plans as you go, and nothing has to be perfect. Consistent, imperfect action will get you there more quickly than procrastinating until you feel fully prepared.

Getting out of overwhelm is not easy, especially if your stress levels are affecting your health. I know: I’ve been there. It’s a downward spiral. To make the change you need to seek support. Once you open up about your struggles you’ll find many of your friends and colleagues have been there too, and many have suffered serious physical or mental health issues as a result.

Don’t let that be you.

I’d love to know if you found this article helpful, if you have a question, or need a hand. Contact me on lisa@lifelab.co.nz, +64 21 1851248, or check out my website www.lifelab.co.nz. If you’re ready for some coaching, get in touch to book in for a free, no obligation assessment.


How’s that goal coming along?

Back in September I wrote a blog post about getting health and fitness habits to stick (read it here if you missed it). As I’ve been learning more about embedding new habits and changing old ones I’ve been testing the ideas out on myself. As I wrote in my last blog, my goal was to comfortably run 3km by November. Hey, look, its November already! You may be wondering how I am going with my goal….

Confession time. I haven’t yet comfortably run 3km, But do you know what I have done? I have a solidly embedded habit of walking every day, and most days I run about a third of the 3km distance of my walk. I don’t feel that I have failed, but I have realised I didn’t select the right goal. I know now that being able to run 3km doesn’t mean much to me. My heart is not in it. I formulated the goal to give myself a boost to get over some resistance I was facing to running more and getting fitter. And that part of it worked! I do feel embarrassed at having stated my goal publicly and not having achieved it. But its given me a reality check on what it really takes to achieve your goals while living true to yourself. To me, its more important to stay in tune with what my body and mind need to stay happy and healthy, than it is to achieve a particular action.

Some of you are probably thinking I should toughen up and stop making excuses. That is a perfectly valid response, and for some that might be the right response. As I said in my previous blog, our minds do throw up any excuse to avoid pain and effort, and sometimes you just need to toughen up. So how do I know that’s not right for me? I know my body and what it needs and I am well practiced at teasing out things my mind is trying to hide behind. I have been using coaching techniques on myself for years and I know how to listen for my inner truth. That is what I do for my clients as a professional coach – help them uncover the truths they are hiding from themselves.

OK, it’s time for a do-over. Imagine I’m a client seeking help from a coach to achieve my goal of running 3 km by November. I’ve seen an ad for LifeLab’s Change for Good coaching package. I’ve got in touch and had a free half-hour assessment, and this package is right for me. We’re into it and discussing my goal. What would I do as a coach to check if it is the right goal? Here’s a transcript of me coaching myself (yes, I know this is getting a bit weird, but hang in there..):

Coach: What goal would you like to work on over the next three months?

Client: I’d like to be able to comfortably run without stopping for 3km by November.

Coach: That’s a very clear and and specific goal – great work formulating that. Before we commit to this and move on to making it happen though, I’d just like to check in to see if we’ve really got the right goal for you. What’s important to you about achieving this goal?

Client: Well, I’ve had back problems for years and have finally found a physio who’s made a difference and we’re really making progress at fixing my posture so I don’t overload the wrong muscles and end up with back pain, as I have been for the past 15 years. Its taken a lot of work but I feel like I’ve made the big changes now and just need to get on and get fitter and stronger. My physio is happy for me to pick up the pace with running, but I feel like my mind is stuck in victim mode and is still afraid of making it worse. So I’m too easy on myself and give up as soon as its hard. I really don’t want to waste the progress I’ve made so I need a bit of a kick in the pants. This goal feels like the sort of push I need.

Coach: I can see you’ve thought this through really well. I can see how that goal could work for you. I wonder, though, what are you really trying to achieve here?

Client: Hmmm, I guess my overall goal is to fix my posture to resolve my back problems.

Coach: And how does being able to run 3km help you towards that goal?

Client: Well it gives me something to focus on that will give me a push. I definitely need to get my mind out of victim mode. But on the other hand, really listening to what my body needs, and doing that, has been really helpful. I’m not so keen on the idea of pushing through discomfort just for the sake of being able to say I can run 3 km. I know from working with the physio that exercising the wrong muscles is going to do more harm than good at this point. So it does feel like a bit of an artificial goal…. I don’t really know how my body is going to react, and if there are going to be any new sticking points that need fixing over the next three months.

Coach: Great awareness there, How might you re-phrase your goal so that it feels more real to you?

Client: …..well…. I guess my overall goal is to improve my posture,… and my immediate goal is to overcome my victim mindset that’s holding me back from working a bit harder…yes, I think that is it. I need to get my exercise routine to the next level to overcome my victim mindset that’s holding me back. I guess the running goal is a tool to help me get there, but I’m not really committed to the running itself. I don’t have an ambition to run more – I’m happy with daily walks and the occasional run to loosen things up.

Coach: That’s great! So how could you re-phrase your three month goal to make it work for you?

Client: I guess I’d like to put a bit more effort into my exercise routine by doing a bit more running, but I don’t want to commit to a particular distance…. how about “By November I will be in the habit of going for a 3km run or walk at least 5 days a week, while supporting the needs of my body as I change my posture.” Yes, I think the bit that wasn’t quite right was aiming to run the whole way. I’m much happier with being able to adjust my amount of running and walking depending on how my body is feeling.

Coach: How does it feel, setting out that new goal?

Client: Hmmm…. I’m not sure its quite there. It feels a bit messy…… Hang on a minute, I’ve already said that my goal is to improve my posture and reduce back pain. That is my goal. Setting this three month goal is a means to get me out of my victim mindset that’s holding me back. So the immediate goal is “to increase the amount of running I do in a week to overcome my limiting mindset and move closer to settling in my improved posture.” Still sounds a bit clunky, but hey, it doesn’t need to be perfect, just needs to do the job.

Coach: Do you think this goal will do the job for you?

Client: yes I do actually. I’m much clearer about what I’m really trying to achieve and what motivates me to get there. I also feel more positive that I can achieve it. Thank you!


Well, enough self-coaching. I could go on for ages. Just so you know, that is legitimately me coaching myself. I had an idea of what the issue was but writing it down like that has been helpful, and has taken away the sneaky sense of guilt that I’d failed my goal.

I hope that insight into the process of working out goals has inspired you to clarify yours. Get in touch if you need a hand!



How to grow a five-year-old


There is so much interesting information around at the moment about our brain’s ability to change at all ages of life. As a mother of a five year old I’m trying to get my head around how best support my daughter to grow into a confident learner. I’ve just been listening to a podcast from Radio New Zealand National’s Nine to Noon programme with parenting commentator Nathan Mikaere-Wallis about what 3-7 year olds need to learn. Fascinating stuff.

Research shows that a child’s belief in their ability to learn is the best predictor of success later in life.

How much they know and if the details are correct is not really important at this age. Cognitive learning, which is a more adult style of learning focusing on content and detail, happens from age 7. So at five, helping my daughter know she is capable of learning something new and encouraging her thinking process, not outcome, is most beneficial.

This lines up with Dr Carol Dweck’s research on mindset. People with a fixed mindset see themselves as having a fixed level of intelligence and focus on protecting their status. This mindset creates learners who avoid challenge for fear of failure. The alternative is having a growth mindset, where someone understands they are able to improve their level of intelligence through effort. Learners with this mindset look for challenge in order to learn more. Mikaere-Wallis suggests that the critical window for developing this mindset is between 3 and 7.

The kicker for parents and teachers is that these mindsets are influenced by how we praise.

So how can we use this knowledge to give our kids the best chance of success? Help our 3-7 year olds see themselves as good learners. Focus on praise for a successful thinking process, not a right or wrong outcome. Encourage imaginative, open-ended play and don’t worry if they haven’t got their facts straight or colour inside the lines. That stuff will come along later.

This is a challenge for me. I know I am, at heart, a fixed mindset learner (although I am now working hard to shift to a growth mindset). For me this means that my model of how to deal with learning and knowledge is firmly based in being correct. Information is right or wrong. All of my scientific training has reinforced this belief. I have in the past looked outside myself for someone else to validate my intelligence by giving me a grade or a ‘well done’ pat on the head. This mindset got me a long way in the knowledge-based world of scientific research, but its not so useful in helping me to think outside the square and be creative as a coach and business owner.

As a mother it is a definite liability. What I’m learning as a mum is that my intuition can be relied upon. That no one else has the answers for how to best support and grow my own child. Experiential learning is necessary. I need to be with my child and learn her rhythms. I need to help her understand how to maximise her strengths and accept and work with her weaknesses.

So my daily challenge is to listen to what I say to Cassidy and learn how to say things that help her recognise her own power to choose to be great in the world. To practice opening my own mind to possibility so I can demonstrate to her that limits only exist inside our own heads. And most of all to help her enjoy being a kid and not to take on the pressure of the structured, performance-driven school system too soon.


Life Coaching – a Path to Authenticity

Authenticity quote

I’ve just about finished an amazing coaching course on Transformative Coaching, taught by Ben Koh MCC (Coach Masters Academy, Singapore), Sarah Devereaux PCC and Jo Lanigan ACC (Empowered Leadership, New Zealand). Our last assignment is a research paper on what coaching is and how it works. My first question, as a well-trained scientist, was do we need to include references? No, its not that kind of research paper. Easy then. I’ll write it for my blog.

So I’ve been pondering this topic for weeks now, and I’ve realised that, for me, coaching is about authenticity.

For me to coach well I need to be connected to who I am so I can be authentically present for the client. For the client, the process of coaching is increasing their self-awareness and teaching them ways of thinking and being that move them closer to authenticity.

“What?” you may well ask… “I thought coaching was all about helping people achieve their goals in life? What’s authenticity got to do with it?” True, the coach does partner with the client in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential (to paraphrase the International Coach Federation definition). But the way this is best achieved is through helping the client connect more deeply with their authentic selves.

OK, so here’s my theory on why this works. Philosophies, religions and spiritual traditions over the centuries have proposed the idea that we all have a number of versions of our self within us. Anyone who pays attention to their inner narrative will have experienced this first hand. At its simplest, there’s the external self we present to others and there is the deeper sense of self that we often struggle to connect to.

The former, let’s call it our ego self, develops in childhood as a way of gaining necessary resources from our parents in the face of sibling competition. This personality might be the attention seeker, the clown, the people pleaser, the perfectionist, or the aggressor. This ego self might have been useful in a competitive family environment, but as we age the habit of behaving this way lingers and may become embedded as our dominant way of being.

The second sense of self I mentioned is what I like to call the true self. It’s the feeling that deep down we know what we need and who we are. In my personal experience it’s the gut feeling that helps me make the right decisions in life. That inner sense of knowing. I believe this true self is always present within us, but is usually overtaken by the ego self in childhood and early adulthood.

To summarise my non-scientific and un-referenced model of selfhood, the ego self dominates the true self during childhood and into adulthood. As we deal with life’s challenges and gain experience toward middle age, our true self comes to the fore more frequently, creating a sense of dissatisfaction. This is due to a disconnect between who we truly want to be and the ego self we present to the world. At heart we all want to be seen and appreciated for who we are and what we bring to the world, yet so often we are afraid to truly show who we are to others for fear of being judged.

This sense of dissatisfaction drives some people to self medicate with addictions and distractions, but for others it inspires them to seek something more meaningful in life.

To me, this is the process of letting go of the dominance of the ego self and learning to let the true self shine through. This is authenticity.

There are a number of skills that help with the development of authenticity, and they are also the skills that a professional coach can help you learn. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are key: noticing your own behaviour and impacts on others, owning up to your weaknesses and taking full responsibility for your own mistakes. A critical requirement of learning these skills without faking it is self-compassion. If you notice you made a mistake, and then punish yourself with self-criticism, you will undermine your sense of self-worth. Feeling good about who you are is fundamental to authenticity.

When you truly value yourself and accept your failings as part of being human, your inner confidence shines through.

We all know people who are well connected with their authentic self. They are confident without being a show-off. They express themselves assertively, placing their own needs on par with the needs of others. They are comfortable in their own skin and don’t need to seek approval. They have mana.

For me as a coach, the more connected I am to my true self, the easier it is to help the true self of my client emerge. And this is what I love about having found this profession of coaching: it requires me to live up to my own inner drive to be more authentic, and to create a business and a lifestyle that supports me in this. I know I’m succeeding when I feel the magic of deep connection during a coaching session.

In doing some research for this blog I came across an article on the five steps to authenticity, by Athena Staik, PhD . These are: a deep understanding of self; a full acceptance of self; unconditional love of self; courageous expression of self; and that love for self and love for others are inseparable. This last one is really important. We are hard-wired to seek connection with those around us (we evolved as a communal species after all), but we often hold ourselves back from being that vulnerable. We fear judgement or rejection of the inner self we don’t really like. Once you truly accept yourself for who you are, vulnerability doesn’t seem so scary after all. When you can be vulnerable with someone you can truly connect.

Through coaching you can learn to tap into this true self and express yourself more authentically. This deepens connection and increases your sense of satisfaction with life. A relationship with the right coach is a training ground to explore your vulnerabilities and experience connection on a deep level. At its best, coaching will help you achieve your goals and maximise your personal and professional potential by teaching you how to live a more authentic life.


Feel the fear and do it anyway


Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about fear and it’s many variations and subtleties. As someone affected by excess anxiety, I’m trying to learn more about what fear means to me, what it feels like, and what it does to my body. I’ve discovered that the key to overcoming fear is to understand it, recognize it as it comes along, and accept it without fighting it. Ride the wave of fear rather than be dragged under, then dissipate the energy of fear so the tension is not stored in your body. That all sounds lovely, but what does this really mean?

How do you feel the fear and do it anyway?

Firstly, lets look at what fear actually is. From an evolutionary perspective its a vital emotion that developed to save our life when confronted by prehistoric dangers. Our senses pick up the danger, our brain interprets this based on our prior knowledge and kicks the fear response into action. This results in a burst of energy, heightened awareness, increased blood-flow to our muscles and reduced blood-flow to non-essential functions such as digestion. This process stimulates parts of our body needed for immediate action, and downgrades parts that are not needed. Great for immediate responses to physical danger, but not so useful in today’s high-pressure world filled with psychological stressors. Repeatedly entering this state of fear, without sufficient recovery time, can lead to chronic stress, digestive problems, food intolerances, adrenal fatigue and emotional burnout.

That’s what happened to me two years ago.

At the time I didn’t understand what was happening, hadn’t heard of adrenal fatigue, and struggled to find support to get me through. As I did more research and observed and experimented myself (my business isn’t called LifeLab for nothing!), the picture became clearer. I’ve since found many others who support my own observations of what works to avoid or manage the effects of chronic fear. I have links to some of these on my Resources page and in my blogs.

What have I discovered? First notice and understand the fear, then practice choosing a different way of being in response to the feeling of fear. Open up to it and let it wash through without responding to it. Accept the presence of fear without judgement. This practice retrains your neural pathways ( ie changes your brain www.nicabm.com) to change the habitual response to fear. Then it gets easier and easier to feel the fear and do it anyway. As I learn to understand and identify the sensation of fear in my mind and my body I get better at understanding cause and effect. I can then adjust my self-management to deal with it appropriately day-by-day, minimizing the long-term effects.

What doesn’t work is to clamp down on fear. or tell yourself off for being afraid, as our culture tends to encourage us to do. This stops the physiological response from dissipating and the tension gets stored in your body. It can also undermine your self confidence, increasing the fear of taking on new challenges and perpetuating the cycle.

I recently came across an interview on SoundsTrue.com with Dr Friedeman Schaub, who beautifully explained the ins and outs of what it means to deal with fear and anxiety, and offers some solutions. What he said resonated with my own observations: you’ve got keep digging until you understand whats at the root of your fear, then make peace with that. If you want to know more, check out his website, The Fear and Anxiety Solution. (Please note, that I am not endorsing his products or services, nor am I benefiting in any way from including this link, but I do agree with his approach).

Why should we all get better at understanding the role fear plays in our lives? Cutting back on the toll chronic stress is taking on our most efficient and productive workers is a biggie. Once I started owing up to my own struggles I realised that these issues were affecting many people around me to a greater or lesser degree.

What are we doing to ourselves, our families and our colleagues by struggling through?

Another huge benefit for me has been learning to be true to who I am, and loving that person enough to share her with the world. I’ve found living more authentically to be hugely satisfying. In finding ways to be more authentic I’ve discovered a new career in coaching, work that fits my interests and skills and which encourages me to keep finding ways to stay true to who I am. By owning up to and dealing with my underlying fears I’ve re-designed my life and found balance and joy. Are you ready to face up to your own fears and come and join me?


Be the observer

Coaching can be a profound experience for many people, as they are given the tools and support to really look themselves in the eye, own up to their strengths and weaknesses and make changes in their life from the inside out. How else can you overcome challenges and really fulfill your own potential?

Just think what you could achieve in life if your self-imposed limits didn’t hold you back from even trying?

I believe we all have the strength inside to achieve this kind of change, but so often we take on board the criticisms and judgements that make us feel we can’t, that we’re not good enough, that we lack some necessary quality. The key to letting go of our limits is to understand that we can separate ourselves from our behaviour and emotions, step back for a bigger view, and choose to do things differently. It’s not easy. It takes courage. But it is possible, and coaching can help.

By becoming the observer of our own behaviour it’s easier to be compassionate with ourselves when we say something stupid, or make a mistake. Mentally step back, notice what just happened, congratulate yourself for being brave enough to get out there and fail, forgive the failure, and try again. Or throw your hands in the air and shout ‘How Fascinating!’, like Ben Zander in my favourite book, The Art of Possibility (Rozamund and Benjamin Zander, Penguin Books, 2000).

Compassion and forgiveness undermine the self-judgement that keeps us small. They give us the courage to own up to our normal, human failings, and see ourselves as worthy and able. Self-judgement is a poisonous contributor to worry and anxiety. Along with rumination (the habit of over-analysing past events and future scenarios), self-judgement turns pressure into stress. Pressure is not the cause of stress, but the way we respond to pressure in our minds triggers emotions and physiological responses that are the symptoms of stress. How do we stop feeling stressed? We change the way we respond to pressure. How? By not getting caught up in rumination, and by practicing self-compassion.

If you’re anything like I used to be, you’ll be thinking: ‘Yeah, right. My mind has a life of its own. It just chatters away and there’s nothing I can do about it, especially when I’m under so much pressure.’

I get it. Luckily there is a massive historical body of knowledge and an increasingly popular modern movement teaching us how to change these mental habits, manage stress and improve how our mind works. It’s called mindfulness, and it can be approached from the lessons of ancient spiritual traditions (such as Buddhism, where the concepts originated over 2000 years ago), or from a secular and scientific perspective with tools such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and the findings of neurobiology. There are even apps to help get you there, such as Headspace.

If you find it tough to get your head around this, how about an analogy:

Your mind is a computer, evolved to run programs that maximise your chance of survival and reproduction. Your nervous system and hormonal systems are extensions of this computer that translate stimulus into action in your body.

To be honest, your operating system is a bit out of date – it was designed before the invention of agriculture. Some of the programs you’re running are not necessarily state-of-the-art either. There’s this one triggered by fear called Fight-or-Flight, which worked really well when you had to run away from sabre-toothed tigers, but is not so great when fear comes from ‘constructive’ criticism, imminent deadlines, or too many emails.

To patch up this error, your highly adaptable mind uses its most powerful program, Critical Analysis, to talk yourself down from the fear response (‘what did I do wrong?’, I shouldn’t respond like that’, ‘it’s not worth getting stressed about it’, and so on). This Self-Talk subroutine can easily get stuck in a loop called Rumination (apologies to any computer programmers out there for abusing the terminology – it’s ok, it’s just an analogy!).

Our minds also have this special feature called Virtual Reality, which is pretty awesome when properly managed. But, as we use Critical Analysis and Rumination on an event, we imagine it happening in full-on technicolour Virtual Reality. Our bodies respond as if it were happening now, triggering the fear response. Staying in this fear zone causes chronic stress, and can lead to burnout.

Mindfulness is an update to the Critical Analysis program that breaks this cycle. Hey, if Google has already upgraded, then it must work, right!