Where Are Your Boundaries? 8 Ways to Reduce Overwhelm.

This week is Work/Life Balance Week 2019. Companies may be offering yoga classes or suggesting other ways in which to look after our well being. I love a yoga class, but when it comes for work/life balance, we also need to take personal responsibility to consider where our boundaries lie.

When I speak to busy women they are often struggling with overwhelm. We play so many roles, which carry so many responsibilities and with that a concept of perfection. Over the last few weeks I have had many conversations with exhausted women who feel burnt out because they haven’t put boundaries in place- whether that’s at home, at work, or in relationships. We start to feel resentful when we feel that we’re doing too much or that people are taking advantage of us. But actually, we have a responsibility to create and communicate reasonable boundaries.

When we get overwhelmed we lose the ability to think clearly. We start fire fighting or just focusing on survival. 

We also procrastinate because there is so much to do and we literally don’t know where to start.  

And it’s no surprise that we feel resentful. Society continues to exert a lot of pressure on women from an early age to achieve perfection- from how we look; how we achieve at school and how we parent. 

As children we gained approval from adults through showing certain behaviours: To hurry up; to be good; to be a people pleaser. And this continues to drive our behaviour as adults, until we are aware of them. 

Although women’s participation in the workforce is increasing we continue to carry a disproportionate responsibility for both domestic chores and childcare, not to mention single parent families constituting nearly a quarter of families, in which financial and domestic responsibility may fall solely on the shoulders of one person. 

So it’s very easy to fall into overwhelm and this is often the point at which people come to coaching. They have worked hard to achieve where they are in their career but sometimes find that other keys areas suffer: these are generally relationships with their children, partner or friendships. Alternatively, women manage to keep all the balls in the air from an external perspective but there is a health cost: lack of sleep, exercise, anxiety or dependance on food, caffeine or alcohol to get through. 

So when we are feeling overwhelmed how do we put boundaries in place? 

1 Identify Your Roles and Responsibilities 

Write down all of your roles and the responsibilities associated with each role. Where are you spending your time? What are you ready to let go of? 

2 Track Your Time

Track your time to see where you are spending it. Time management guru Laura Vandekam advocates tracking our time to find out where it is going. This is hugely powerful as we can only measure what we can measure and time, in my opinion, is our most precious resource. See my review of Vandekam’s I know How She Does It here.

3 Identify Your Priorities

Set 3 key priorities- Your Most Important Tasks at the beginning of each day and focus on completing them. 

4 Use the 80/20 Rule

Use the 80/20 rule or the Pareto principle which states that 80% of results come from 20% of people or tasks. Which 20% of the tasks you do are actually the most important? And of all the people in your life, who are in the top 20% and what can you do to really nurture those relationships? 

5 Delegate 

Our kids empty the dishwasher and we we frequently find random items in random places. My eldest has to help with his laundry so when it comes off the lines it’s jumbled, chaotic and has clothes pegs still attached. The kids love to bake or make pancakes and the washing up afterwards is often less than perfect. But I’ll take the imperfection anytime- they are learning to be independent. They don’t need me to do everything. 

The same may apply at work- sometimes you want to be in every meeting or you feel that you have to be responsible for everything- but you are part of a team. You don’t have to do everything. 

6 Lower your standards 

When I went back to work after my second child I knew I couldn’t work or parent at 100% and stay sane. My husband was working as a junior doctor and juggling weekend, night shifts and professional exams and life was full on with two tiny active boys. So I made a promise to myself that I would lower my standards in all areas to 70% and my mantra was Good is good enough. Guess what? No one noticed and I just about stayed sane.  

7 Practice saying NO

Our instinct is to say yes because we want to make people happy or prove that we can do it all. But ultimately a lack of boundaries leads to burn out. So learn to say no, without explanation or apology OR if it’s easier find some ways to cushion the effect of no: Can I get back to you? or I’d love to but…

8 Get control of the tech

This is where we really struggle with boundaries. Our devices are always at hand and the temptation to respond immediately is always there. But we know screens affect our sleep. Do yourself a huge favour and get them out of the bedroom. Create your boundaries around email and work calls. We all need some downtime. 

We are each responsible for protecting our time and energy. No one else will do that for us. Which area of your life needs better boundaries? Which of these tools will you start with? Let us know in the comments below. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed and know it’s time to make a change, don’t continue to flounder. Get in touch by booking a free discovery call here



			

Who is your role model, Mummy?

Two years ago, this brilliant question from my eldest, came, as they do out of the blue and totally stumped me. I stuttered er I’m not sure- let me have a think… who is your role model?

So naturally this has bugged me ever since but raised its head again last week when my son was looking for a footballer’s autobiography to read. A bit of a minefield for a relatively sheltered 10 year old. So the conversation went along these lines- so it’s got to be someone who you can look up to, who has the same values as you- someone who’s a good role model. So Beckham but definitely not Rooney- now my footballing knowledge is not extensive but after a bit he said “Ok mum I get it.”

In coaching when prompting a client to think of a range of possible options, one useful question can be “What would your role model do?” This can be a great question to encourage us to think more widely and more creatively but equally a very challenging question if we’ve lost touch with who our role models are.

Some time ago I was delivering coaching training to a group of teachers and posed this question. One teacher’s response was “ But what if you don’t have a role model?” This was similar to my response when my son first asked this question a couple of years ago, I thought that we as adults need to get better at figuring out who our role models are if we want to encourage our children to follow and emulate their role models.

So which qualities do I look for in a role model?

1 Inspiration
People who are positive and who take action. Deliciously Ella and the Hemsley sisters are on my vision boards, not just because they inspire me to exercise and to eat healthily but because I’m inspired by their positive attitudes, unfailing enthusiasm and passion for the work that they do.

2 Tenacity
I was hugely inspired by Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah in the 2012 Olympics. I was super excited to be running (way behind) Sir Mo at the Great North Run last year. Reading Jessica Ennis’ brilliant autobiography and Chrissie Wellington’s fantastic book A Life without Limits inspired me to push myself do to more and although my attempts at sprint triathlon are miles away from Chrissie Wellington’s Iron Mans, they pushed me to do more than I thought was possible.

Similarly I am inspired by those who overcome adversity, refuse to make excuses and go on to achieve great things. Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou are long standing heroines in my life because they both experienced significant trauma and challenges as children- childhood rape, poverty and racism. Yet they didn’t make excuses and went on to serve and achieve incredible things.

3 Values
I have been very lucky to have great family role models- my mum and my Nanna both set fantastic examples as mothers and grandmothers; they both worked hard and served their communities. The drive to make a difference is without doubt inherited from my mum.

4 Authenticity
I need my role models to be real and relatable. I’ve been very fortunate to have been trained by some incredible coaching experts at The Coaching Academy but the most inspiring for me is an amazing coach and trainer Pam Lidford. Part of the reason I can relate to her is because she came from an education background and exemplifies for me the idea that change is possible.

Shaa Wasmund, entrepreneur and author is hugely inspiring for me also as she is real- she’s a single mum and achieves what she does by taking action and not making excuses.

5 A step or two ahead in their journey
Much as it may serve us to ask What would Beyonce do? sometimes it helps to have a role model who is just a step or two ahead of us in their journey so that the jump that we need to make isn’t quite so huge.
When we’re struggling to achieve our goals, it’s human nature that our brains start to tell us these stories: It’s easy for her because she’s got loads of time/ money/ support but when we look at people who have achieved in spite of challenging circumstances, we can start to put those excuses to one side.

Now I’d love to hear from you…
Who are your role models? Where do you get your inspiration?

To carry on the conversation and join a supportive and inspiring community, please join my FB group here…

The Big Leap

Last week, at forty years old, I left school. 

Yes that’s right I have spent my entire life in a classroom, first as the learner, then as the teacher. 

My younger brother learned to read at the age of two, partly because he’s annoyingly bright but also because I insisted on teaching him and I didn’t let him go until he’d got it right (Sorry James!)

Through my teens and then university I worked on holiday play schemes in the UK and abroad, always playing and teaching. As a teenager I worked for Mencap, teaching younger teens how to play with and care for children with learning difficulties. 

Seven years ago I attended a leadership course and one of the sessions focused on coaching. After a brief introduction, I found myself coaching another teacher, asking her what she wanted to achieve as a result of the programme. When I finished she and the observer stopped and remarked- Wow Sarah you are SO good at this and though it’s not easy to accept a compliment my first thought was- Yes thanks, I am. 

But this wasn’t really surprising: I’d spent my life teaching- asking questions, building confidence and nudging children in the right direction, finding joy in those lightbulb moments when, suddenly, they got it. As my career progressed I coached other teachers, particularly those new to the profession, to set goals, find their strengths and reflect on their developing practice. As an English teacher I had spent years teaching children not just to read and write, but to speak and listen effectively. I hadn’t realised it but I already had the building blocks I needed to become a coach. 

On my return from maternity leave, A level was removed from my allocation: then two years later, GCSE was removed. The frustration I felt drove me to spend my evenings and weekends training and coaching; to listen to podcasts on the school run; to form new networks with coaches and business owners further ahead than me and it’s been a thrilling process. 

At work, I chose to keep my energy high. I covered my work space with positive affirmations and began to coach and teach coaching skills to  students and colleagues. 

I got clear on my values: love, growth and contribution. I came to understand that personal growth, a core value, had been inhibited but instead I focused this energy on personal and business growth. 

The true test is yet to come. I am leaving behind a wonderful community of staff and students. I am venturing into a new space in which I am solely responsible but I do know that we only get one shot. 

Life is too short to stay stuck, to be unhappy or to play small. 

•The Big Leap is taken from a brilliant book by Gay Hendricks

Boris for PM? First he needs a DISC profile…

It needs fixing and quickly but will Boris be the man for the job?

This is not a political post. I am not a Tory voter and I’m 100% with you in despair and frustration at Brexit. 

The DISC personality profile system focuses on the way in which we communicate and interact with others and how this may change when we create a public persona for example, at work and when we are under stress. 

It has four main categories: 

D = Dominant, Driver I = Influencing, Inspiring   S = Steady, Stable C = Correct, Compliant 

D and I characters tend to be fast paced; S and I slow paced. D and C personalities tend to be task focused, where I and S characters are people focused. 

Of course most of us are a blend of character types but understanding our personality style is an excellent way to raise our self awareness and improve our communication with others. In recruitment, this can be invaluable in considering how different team members may perform and interact. 

As far as I am aware Boris hasn’t taken a DISC profile. If he did, I am pretty confident he would be a high I- an Influencer or an Inspirer. He has charisma,  an excellent ability to persuade and, as we will remember from him zip wiring through London, a great propensity for fun. Boris is a people person: he will bring others on board, as demonstrated by his gaining the majority vote of 114 today, which outdid even what his supporters expected. 

A persuasive, fun loving, charismatic personality- so far, so good. But what are the pitfalls?

Personalities who have a high I on the DISC profile have character pitfalls they need to be careful to address. I know; I’m one of them. We high Is have a tendency to over commit, to be overly optimistic on what we can deliver. John Major cautioned today that anyone who promises to deliver Brexit by the October 31st deadline is unduly optimistic. Major, as an S/C, a steady and more cautious character would not appreciate some of Boris’ high I characteristics- a lack of attention to detail and a tendency to overpromise. But Boris, undoubtedly possesses the characteristics that Theresa May lacked: his focus will be on people, where hers was process. 

The characteristics of a D style are forceful, direct and strong willed (think Donald Trump). They are fast paced and task focused. They get things done but sometimes at the cost of personal relationships. S types who are steady and stable and very focused on relationships, can be easily shaken by a D’s abrupt style. 

Whether in a family, a classroom or in the workplace, knowledge of DISC is an excellent way of understanding ourselves, understanding others and how we can communicate and work together more effectively. 

I am a Certified DISC Practitioner and if you would like to know more contact me at coaching@sarahbramall.com

Imposter Syndrome: You’re Not Good Enough and Everyone is About to Find Out…

You’re not supposed to be here.

You’re not good enough.

Everyone is about to find out.

You know that voice right? The one that whispers to you; stops you in your tracks and makes you doubt yourself. 

As a young teacher in 2002, recently appointed and quickly promoted, that voice bothered me a lot. I thought was alone in feeling that way, until one day my colleague turned and looked at me and said: 

“Some days I feel like a fraud; I’m not good enough to be here and one day someone is going to find out.” 

In that moment my heart stopped beating. I couldn’t believe that someone else was experiencing exactly the same thoughts. 

What I didn’t know then, but do know now is that this condition is called Imposter Syndrome and is prevalent among high achievers. Although it affects men as well as women, it appears to be particularly affect women and members of ethnic minority groups, due to the cultural conditioning that may have caused us to feel less than enough. 

Imposter Syndrome was first coined as a term in 1978 by two psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes who studied high achieving young women at Georgia State University. These young women presented with symptoms of anxiety, lack of self confidence, depression and frustration. Clance and Imes found that these young women tended to attribute their success to external factors (I’ve been lucky) rather than intrinsic qualities such as their skills or experience. 

The challenge with Imposter Syndrome is that it doesn’t go away. High profile women like Michelle Obama still experience it, but have learned to manage it. Michelle Obama’s conclusion from sitting around tables with some of the most important people in the world, from NATO to the UN, is that “They’re not that smart.”

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook said that, ‘There are still days when I feel like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.’

Even the great Maya Angelou said,“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh oh they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’”

The bad news is that Imposter Syndrome doesn’t go away. 

The good news is that we can learn to manage it. 

Imposter Syndrome stems from fear, a fear that we are not good enough and that we will be found out. This fear stems from our evolution as human beings. As cave men and cave women we survived as being part of a tribe. When we risk exposing ourselves by stepping outside of our comfort zone, or exposing ourselves to ridicule or rejection, we are fearful. For this reason, public speaking is a major fear for a majority of people. 

Our brains were not designed to make us happy, but to keep us safe. 

We can’t argue with or try to suppress Imposter Syndrome. What we can do is give that negative voice a face and a name. When this voice speaks to us expressing fear or negativity, we need acknowledge it and thank it for trying to keep us safe. 

But, in fact, we know that we aren’t placing ourselves in immediate danger by applying for promotion, delivering a speech or taking on a new role. 

Instead we can take the negative story- “You’re not good enough” and ask “What do I choose to think instead?” Our beliefs are formed of words and stories, repeated over time. We can choose to change our thoughts and change our language to form a new belief that will better serve us. 

When we focus on Imposter Syndrome we are focusing on ourselves: our doubts, insecurities and fears. When we shift our focus from ourselves to others and how we can serve, the story changes. C.S Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” When we shift our focus, we can ask ourselves more empowering questions: “What value do I bring?”; “Who needs my skills?”; “What is my unique contribution?”

In her brilliant TED Talk Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are Amy Cuddy explains how power posing can dramatically shift our confidence by increasing our testosterone (the dominance hormone) and decreasing our cortisol (the stress hormone). And no, we don’t have to power pose in public! But, the habit of altering our body language from powerless to powerful and creating a more empowered and less stress reactive state, can help us step into the person we want to become. 

Using confidence role models, visualising a positive outcome and even creating an alter ego, as Beyonce created Sasha Fierce, can all help take us to from the person we are now to the person we want to become. 

And yes, Imposter Syndrome will rear its ugly head, but when we can shift our thoughts, change our body language and focus on what we have to give, that nasty little voice will no longer have the power to stop us in our tracks. 

It’s Spring…and time to Grow!

It’s the beginning of spring- from now on the days get longer; we have more energy and this is a great time to commit to growth and enriching our lives. 

When I ask my clients to complete the wheel of life, the most challenging area is often personal development. Often when we have children this goes out the window. We may keep up to date with development at work or jump through some hoops to get through our annual appraisal but in terms of our own personal growth often we do very little. 

I was a total GEEK at school. 

I loved learning and I loved reading. 

I worked hard because I had two VERY clever brothers hot on my heels. 

At uni studying for my English degree I devoured books like there was no tomorrow.

I went into teaching because I loved learning and I love helping others learn.

As a teacher, I always chose to learn. When I was first appointed I was asked to teach Media Studies to A level so had to work hard to acquire new knowledge and took a course at the local college. Throughout my career, I committed to learning: both subject knowledge and new pedagogy and this was an real source of joy for me- education has changed rapidly over the years and I have adapted to change with it. 

In my 20s I took a teaching job in the south of Italy. I enrolled in the university and spent the mornings learning Italian, and the afternoons and evenings teaching English. I had the time of my life. 

But when I returned from maternity leave with my 3rd child my learning stalled. Due to my part time status,  I was no longer allowed to teach GCSE or A level. I still loved teaching but my need for learning and growth weren’t being met. I’d had a pregnancy, not a lobotomy and I felt my brain was going to implode. 

Fortunately, I found coaching and this has opened up a whole new world of personal development, psychology and neuroscience. I’m devouring new learning in the way I did as a child. 

Last year I joined the Toastmasters organisation, in order to develop my skills and confidence in public speaking. The Toastmasters curriculum is very structured; you are evaluated on every role you take- from grammarian, to speaker, to evaluator but the level of detail and quality of the feedback is far better than any appraisal I have ever received at work. Not only have I met a wonderful new group of people who have a similar level of commitment to personal development, I have learned a lot from the content and the delivery of their speeches and found a new world of learning there. 

Over the last few years I have attended talks and seminars from others in the personal development and business worlds. Last year I attended Tony Robbins’ immersive four day seminar Unleash the Power Within– which was an incredible learning experience. 

Throughout the last few years I have worked with coaches to help me grow in self- awareness and to help me grow my business. I also have coaching supervision, with a group of other coaches who support me in reflecting on my learning, as well as challenging me to grow and develop. 

We are living at an incredibly exciting time when learning is freely available to us- from almost instant access to books, podcasts and You Tube videos for almost anything you can think of. I still read physical books but I’m incredibly grateful for Audible- when on the school run, folding laundry, preparing meals- I’m learning all the time. 

When my clients come to me, they are ready to make a change. This change requires personal development: mindset work; learning about confidence, resilience or how to find a better work/life balance. Often this also involves a career change, starting a new business or stepping up to the next level at work. This is always about learning and development. 

When we start to focus on what we want instead of what we don’t want, this is really powerful. When we learn, we grow. This builds confidence and motivation and is incredibly inspiring. 

What learning are you ready to commit? What support will you need to make this happen? 

If you have been feeling stuck and are ready to start making changes, book a free discovery call with me and I will help you work out what you really want and support you in taking action to get started. 

Why we’re putting US first

We met nearly 20 years ago- eventually- after MANY mutual friends telling me You should really meet Jon Bramall- he’s a good guy. Of course I totally ignored them but eventually we crossed paths and the rest is history. 

It’s never been just us. The Army dictated our moves from day 1 and I did my utmost to avoid it- I escaped to Italy while Jon was posted at Sandhurst and then Iraq. I kept working and made friends ‘outside the wire’ much to the disapproval of the army wives. In the early years we spent more time apart than together. Jon just made it back from Iraq by the skin of his teeth in time for our wedding and we changed jobs and moved house 10 times in 10 years. 

As a hospital consultant Jon is often working at the weekends and family and friends take it as standard when I show up to events and parties on my own.

But none of this has been a problem- we’ve always been happy and we’ve always taken that happiness for granted.

Until this year.

Whole weeks fly by when the only conversations have been logistical. We’re juggling demanding jobs (Jon is Clinical Director of ITU) with a teaching job, new business, three children, trying to maintain our social life. I’m sure you relate to this. Weekends are some kind of crazy military operation with each of us taking one or two children to a muddy football field in a random location, squeezing in homework, children’s parties and then trying to ensure everyone is fed and clothed. 

It’s exhausting and we find that in the evening when stories are read, dinner is cleared away and with good luck and a following wind we might actually managed a conversation, our 11 year old is right in there- interjecting, asking questions and generally procrastinating over bed time. 

So we’re just about keeping body and soul together (albeit touch and go somedays) but how on earth do we keep our marriage together? 14 years in? With 3 kids? And not inconsiderable pressure for a dog?!

Can WE wait until the kids are older…11 years into the parenting journey and with 15-20 years to go?  No, we can’t. 

Some of our married friends are choosing to go their separate ways. They are better apart, than together and we wish them well. Life is short: go and be happy. 

But that won’t make us happy. We’re sticking with it. 

We decided this year it’s time to start putting us first. 

I’m not alone. When I speak to my clients they often feel overwhelmed by the juggle of work and raising a family. Often health and wellbeing are neglected and there’s a sense of sadness that either their friendships or relationships aren’t quite where they’d like them to be. 

In Becoming Michelle Obama describes how Barack in the early years of their children’s life was  swerving all over the place. He had an optimistic attitude to time keeping which meant that he would say that he was on his way home whereas actually he just had another conversation to finish. Yet she found it hard to criticise him as he was doing important work which was aligned with their shared values. While having children meant that everything had changed for Michelle, Barack had barely missed a beat. She found part time work unsatisfying as she felt that she was juggling two roles and underperforming in both. 

I’m sure this resonates with many of us. 

And it would be very easy to allow our relationship to suffer as a result. 

So this year we’ve made a commitment to each other. To spending time together. Because it can’t wait another 10 years or 20 years. 

Last month we managed to get away to a ski resort- this was work- Jon was attending a conference and I was speaking but after a twelve year break for me we were back on the slopes and having fun. 

We’ve committed to date night even if it’s just the local pub and we’ve put the kids into childcare to free up a day in half term so we can have those conversations we’ve been skirting around and which don’t seem to go so well at 9:30 pm. 

In January we attended a goal mapping workshop and were relieved and delighted to discover that yes we are on the same page- we want to be together; we want to have adventures with the kids and triathlon and being by the sea are shared passions (phew!)

So Valentines day is here and it’s not all roses, chocolates and champagne. No: I’ll take an uninterrupted conversation, good laugh and, ok a bottle of wine with my best friend. 

Presence, not presents

Like many I was horrified by the plastic mass floating in our oceans and highlighted in the Blue Planet series. 

We try to our bit: we recycle, walk when we can and my husband drives an electric car but we realised we needed to do more. 

Last Christmas we had 13 for Christmas dinner with other friends and family members dropping in. We had 5 children; two of whom had birthdays. By the end of the Christmas period the mass of plastic and wrapping was horrendous. 

One of our 2017 goals was to reduce the use of plastic and the use of chemicals. According to this article the average woman puts 515 chemicals on her face each day. This horrified me and the my awareness that my children were also slathering chemicals on themselves prompted me to take action. 

I’ve gone back to the Body Shop- the shop of my youth. They’re not perfect but as far as ethical products go, they do pretty well. My friend introduced me to the Tropic skin care range recently- they have impressive ethical standards- see online shop here. There are things I’m not yet ready to give up like gel nails- this is a work in progress!

We have also gone back to milk delivery- an absolute novelty for the kids who still can’t quite believe the magic of opening the door and finding milk on the doorstep. We’ve found a veg box delivery scheme and managed to reduce our meat consumption significantly- not a problem for me but a big sell to my husband who grew up on a pig farm. I also learned from Deliciously Ella  that fishing trawlers are responsible for ocean plastic and have consequently reduced our family’s consumption of fish also. 

We’re far from perfect and still enjoy a good BBQ or fish and Chips but have definitely made progress in reducing our impact on the environment. 

In the house we’ve substituted chemical based products for Method and Ecover and I can’t say I can see a difference! We’ve managed to last out so far without a tumble dryer but with a family of five that’s not easy!

As for the plastic we’ve been warned that if we continue at this rate they’ll be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2020 so we have committed to small changes such as reusable bags and choosing to not buy products packaged in unnecessary plastic. 

Leading up to Christmas this year, we are encouraging the children to value experiences over things. Without wanting to take the joy out of Christmas we are gently encouraging family and friends to reduce the number of gifts we exchange and instead spend time together. This Christmas I’m hoping for presence, not presents. How about you? 

Talk to Your Teen- Improving Communication and Managing Conflict

Communication is the biggest source of complaint in any organisation and in our families, especially with those of us with teens and tweens, effective communication can be a challenge!

I’ve recently had the privilege of speaking to parents at St George’s School in Harpenden; delivering training to boarding school staff and speaking to parents and teachers at the Happy Children’s conference, sharing some thoughts about how to communicate better with your children or teenagers. 

What our children really want

I asked the children I work with what they wanted from their parents. The younger ones said  more love, time and care. This wasn’t the response I was expecting- I definitely expected the response to involve more tech! Despite our efforts to ensure our children have so many opportunities to do and have so much, what they really want is for us to slow down and spend time talking to them.

The 14 year olds’ responses were slightly different: they want less anger, less conflict and more trust. The teenage years are so challenging because teen brains are changing quickly. The pre-frontal cortex responsible for planning, prioritising and controlling impulses is still developing. Teens want to be treated like adults but their behaviour doesn’t always reflect that and so conflict occurs. So in the midst of the madness we need to model the communication skills we want to see.

How we interact

Transactional Analysis helps us to understand the ego states we all inhabit and how each interaction is a transaction. We can start to recognise which ego state our interaction starts from (adult/ parent or child) and therefore raise our awareness of how our children respond to us for example the question “What’s the time please?” could be met with the adult response “It’s four o’clock” or the critical parent response “You’re always late.” This is a fascinating and complex area- to learn more see Eric Berne’s book The Games People Play. The key message I shared here is that we always have a choice how we respond and if we can train ourselves to stop and press the pause button we can modify our responses to reduce conflict. 

Reducing conflict

Obviously conflict is a real challenge in parent/teen interaction. It’s part of the deal and an important stage that teens go through in finding their identify and redefining the parent/ teen relationship.

Some ways to reduce conflict are:

1 Teaching every member of the family that they can choose their reaction- take a physical step back, take a deep breath and press the pause button. 

“In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose. Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices but we can always choose. We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, our words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles. It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.”Stephen R. Covey

2 Rules Praise Ignore. Possibly the most useful thing I’ve learned in 18 years of teaching,(from Bill Rogers’ work on behaviour management). Establish the RULES and don’t be afraid to introduce a new rule; PRAISE the behaviour you want to see more of; and this is the tricky bit- IGNORE the secondary behaviour. This is really hard because our ego is against us here. If you ask a kid to put their phone away and they don’t want to they will eventually do it but it will be accompanied by eye rolling, huffing, muttering etc. The key is to focus on the main issue and let the secondary behaviour go. Otherwise you get embroiled in conflict about the secondary behaviour which takes the focus away from the main issue: the phone. This is hard and only this week I found myself telling someone off for eye rolling- I am still working on this!

3 Assertive communication. This language is taught to victims of domestic abuse because it works:

I notice that… Describe the behaviour you don’t want

That makes me feel… Explain how this makes you feel. This works because no one can argue with how you are feeling!

I would like you to… Keep it simple and assertive here.

4 Peace begins with me- this is a useful mantra. See Gabby Bernstein explain it here. 

Great Conversations

Gratitude- this is a magic bullet. Rather than focusing on what we don’t want we focus on what we already have. A really powerful tool in developing a positive mindset. There are lots of great gratitude journals out there but by personal favourite is encouraging the family to write their gratitude on a post it, pop it in a Kilner jar then from time to time we pull them out and share our gratitude together. It’s a great way to slow down and be in the moment!

Strengths- encouraging your children to focus on their strengths helps to build confidence and resilience. We are continually asking our children to try new things but to do that it really helps to be clear about what your strengths are and to know that they are not fixed, but can be developed over time. It never fails to amaze me how challenging this question is both for adults and children? What good are your strengths? Make a list and keep adding to it!

Mistakes- it’s very easy for children to look at adults and think we know what we’re doing! They’re not the ones who are learning. Be open, share your mistakes and what you have learned from them. A great mantra in our family is: Mistakes make me stronger. Remind your children that babies fail an average of 200 times before they take their first steps- it’s ok to fail but you have to persevere!

Useful Tools 

The brilliant book The Five Languages of Love is great for unlocking both adult and parent/ child relationships. There is a free online quiz which will help you to ascertain each family member’s preferred love language. 

DISC profiling is a psychometric tool used to help adults interact in the workplace. They also have an excellent profiling tool for children which is done on line, producing a detailed report helping you to understand your child’s character traits, communication style and how they interact with other people. Contact me if you’d like more information. 

Want to know more? Come and join the conversation in my private Facebook group The Happy Mum Hub. 

Book me to speak at your school or organisation by contacting me here.

Enjoy the Little Things…

Enjoy the little things for one day you will look back and realise they were the big things

Robert Brault

diary girl hand journal
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When my children were little I followed a local blogger who had similar aged children and each week she posted the little things that had inspired her that week. This in turn inspired me to do the same and I started to look for moments in the week to capture special memories. And these were little things- reading a story, going for a walk or decorating biscuits. These moments helped me to focus on the joy rather than the exhaustion or frustration that was sometimes part of being full time mum to my two tiny boys. I didn’t realise it at the time but this was the beginning of my gratitude practice, which has developed over time. 

I’ve been a huge fan of Oprah since I was a teenager. I’m fascinated by her wisdom, ability to inspire and her love of learning. Recently I’ve been listening to her book The Wisdom of Sundays in which she has collated some of the most inspiring of interviews from her Super Soul Sunday series. In this book Oprah explains how gratitude has been transformative for her:

Gratitude is its own energy field. When you acknowledge and are grateful for whatever you have it allows more to be drawn to you energy to be drawn to you changes the way you experience life. 

Oprah has kept a gratitude journal for over sixteen years and it’s clear that joy comes to her not from the material things but from the little things: walks in nature and time with friends. 

As part of my morning routine I practice Tony Robbins’ priming routine which encompasses visualisation and gratitude. Back in April I attended Tony Robbins’ event Unleash the Power Within and as a member of an audience of 13 000 people I stood with my hands on my heart, feeling grateful for all that I had and recalling the key moments in my life when I know I have been truly blessed. Repeating this practice every day reminds me at the start of each day what I already have. I may then spend the day striving to achieve but starting my day from a place of gratitude means I start from a positive place of appreciation for all that I have. 

Now gratitude is all well and good during morning meditation or when writing in my gratitude journal but more challenging at other times! I caught myself filling up at the petrol station last week with a car full of hungry tired children, clamouring for more snacks and found myself finding the whole process of ploughing through traffic, queuing for petrol and filling up the tank, quite frankly a real drag. But in that moment I managed to catch myself and turn this around. What did I have to be grateful for here? That I was there to pick my children up from school. That I have my own car and the freedom to go wherever I want. That I can fill the tank without having to worry about whether I can afford the petrol. That in ten minutes the children and I would be home. This change of focus shifted my experience from being a chore to a pleasure. When I went to pay for the petrol the attendant asked what had happened that day to make me so happy. Nothing had happened: I had made a choice. 

At the weekend I did a triathlon. In contrast to the incredible weather we’ve had for months, early on Sunday morning it was grey, cold and very wet. The roads were so flooded with water that the cycling was dangerous and as the roads were so water logged we were forced to cycle in the middle of the road. When I got back to transition I couldn’t feel my hands or feet and struggled to undo my helmet. The run was a mud bath and parts were so slippy we were forced to walk. It was tough but again focusing on gratitude helped me to appreciate what my body could do; the camaraderie of the other competitors; the amazingly positive marshals and in spite of the weather the beauty of the surroundings.

If you like the idea of practising gratitude but you’re not sure where to start, I’d suggest starting with a notebook and pen. Challenge yourself at the beginning and end of each day to write down three things that you are grateful for. Try this for 7 days and see how you feel. If you want something more fancy, my lovely friend and coach Kiki has a beautiful gratitude journal. I’m also a huge fan of the Happiness Planner and have used this for several years. 

If you want to try something different or want to get the family involved try using a gratitude jar. All you need is a Kilner jar and a pack of Post Its. Each time something good happens, write it down and pop it in the jar. You can then pull these out later in the year and share the gratitude with each other. 

What are you grateful for today?

Come and join the conversation in my private Facebook group The Happy Mum Hub 

Positive Mental Health

This week the mental health charity MIND have published the results of their research which shows that half of all employees have suffered with poor mental health and half of those who have suffered with stress, anxiety and low mood are reluctant to discuss it with their employers.

There is still stigma around mental health, particularly in the work place. We fear speaking out and being judged. According to the report, fear, shame and job insecurity are the reasons employees are reluctant to speak out.

In his brilliant book The Whole Brain Child– Daniel Siegal provides an image of mental health as a river: on one bank there is chaos and on the other rigidity. If we veer too close to one bank our mental health is put at risk. This image appeals to me as it suggests that we can take responsibility for creating positive mental health and start to recognise areas in which we are drawn towards the two extremes of chaos and rigidity.

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Image taken from Daniel Siegal The Whole Brain Child

In September and October I’ll be delivering Talk to Your Teen to parents of children and teens about the stigma around mental health and how we can use coaching tools and techniques to improve communication with our children. Boys are particularly vulnerable as they are still consciously and subconsciously given messages such as ‘Big boys don’t cry’, ‘Man up’ etc which mean that when they have a problem it’s very difficult to talk about it. Teach your children it’s ok to express emotion- both positive and negative. Help them to recognise their emotions by naming them. Boys in particular tend to have a very limited range of vocabulary to describe emotions which can limit their self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Talk about your feelings, emotions and mistakes and foster a resilient mindset by encouraging the belief: Mistakes make me stronger. 

We are beginning to realise that we need to look after our mental health in the same way we do our physical health. I like to think of well-being as being like a table with 4 legs. Each of those legs is a supporting pillar. For me those four pillars are:

  • Sleep- we can’t be resilient without sleep. It underpins everything else. See Arianna Huffington’s Thrive and Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep here
  • Exercise outdoors- the release of dopamine, seratonin and endorphins is increased when we exercise outside and we get a dose of Vitamin D which reduces depression.
  • Meditation- I’m a longstanding fan of Headspace. I’ve also heard great things about Calm and a new addition to my morning routine is Tony Robbins’ priming exercise which incorporates gratitude and visualisation too. 
  • Connection- we live in a hyper connected world- which is amazing but sometimes we get overwhelmed and miss the real face to face time with loved ones which we need for our emotional  wellbeing.

The added bonus of course is that many of these things support our physical health!

So what do you need to support your mental health? Is it something you need to give more of your attention?

NB Coaching is not suitable for those suffering with mental health issues. This requires advice from medical professionals who may direct you to other forms of support.