Criticise or compliment? Get the right balance

In our daily relationships, we typically offer a mix of positive and negative feedback. You might intuitively think that you can balance a critical comment with a positive stroke or compliment. It would be so simple if that harsh comment you made without thinking could be smoothed over with a positive one! Unfortunately, this is one occasion where -1 and +1 don’t equal 0.

Several research studies have shown that the ratio is much higher, possibly as much as 5:1: Just one criticism or sarcastic comment needs five positive strokes to be cancelled out. This ratio has considerable predictive power and applies across a range of relationships, including marriage and the workplace.

The 5:1 ratio was identified by relationship psychologist John Gottman. Gottman studied married couples and found that happy long-term relationships consistently reveal this magic ratio. To test this finding, Gottman and his colleagues observed one 15-minute conversation between 700 newlywed couples. They scored the ratio of positive to negative interactions and made a prediction about whether they would stay married. Ten years later, they checked in with those same couples and found that their predictions of who would get divorced had a 94 per cent accuracy.

Several years later, Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada found a similar pattern in the workplace. Heaphy and Losada studied 60 business teams and identified a Positivity/Negativity Ratio of 3:1. In this context, a positive comment would be something like “I agree with that,” or “That’s a terrific idea”. Negative comments would include “I don’t agree with you” or “We shouldn’t even consider doing that”. Losada’s research focused on performance: The top-performing teams had a ratio of up to 6:1, while poorly performing teams were closer to 1:1. This ratio made more difference than anything else in terms of how well a team performed.

There’s some concern about the accuracy of Heaphy and Losada’s data. Still, given how closely their ratio matches Gottman’s, I think we can take it that the principle is sound.
Whether in a marriage or at work, some negative feedback is valuable: It’s vital to avoid groupthink at work, and constructive criticism can foster emotional growth. But a little criticism goes a long way, so make sure you’re getting the balance right at home and at work.

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The Power of Physical Intelligence

In one of my most popular workshops, I teach people how to use William Bloom’s Endorphin Effect. The body releases endorphins when you’re in pain or stressed; curiously, they’re also released when you experience something pleasurable, like massage, eating or sex. Endorphins play several roles, and there are more than 20 different varieties. These hormones are potent; beta-endorphins, used to relieve stress relief and pain, are more powerful than morphine! The bottom line is that endorphins help relieve pain, reduce stress, enhance well-being, boost confidence and support the immune system.

Over 20 years ago, William Bloom taught me how to boost my endorphins whenever needed. This simple and powerful technique hinges on visualization. I use it almost every day, and it’s been one of the most valuable techniques I’ve ever learnt.

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy”.

Thich Nhat Hanh

I now know that endorphins are just one of many chemical messengers, and they underpin our emotional state and overall performance. Have you heard about how adrenaline works like an accelerator, or how cortisol floods your body when you’re under threat? It’s dopamine that keeps us hooked on social media, and oxytocin is sometimes called the ‘love hormone’. William Bloom taught me how to work with my endorphins. I’m now learning to manage many other chemical messengers using Physical Intelligence.

Physical Intelligence (PI) can help you manage your emotional state, reduce stress, and boost your motivation and confidence. It works by enabling you to manage the cocktail of chemicals that drive behaviour. PI uses various techniques, including visualization, breath work and physical movement. As you can imagine, it’s a fantastic toolkit for Coaching!

The mind and body form a single integrated whole. In fact, everything we feel and do is rooted in the body. Most coaches focus on the mind alone, but Coaching with Physical Intelligence is genuinely holistic. I’m in the final weeks of training in this innovative approach. I’m more confident than ever that the body is the pathway to change; Coaching with Physical Intelligence gives you the map and a compass to guide you to greater strength, freedom, resilience and endurance.

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The Power of Gratitude

I’m always looking for simple and enjoyable ways to improve my wellbeing, and keeping a gratitude journal is a favourite. The easiest way to start is the Three Good Things exercise, which will bring you significant benefits for just 10 minutes a day. Why not try it for a week and see if it makes any difference?’

At the close of every day for the next week, write down three things you’re grateful for that day, briefly explaining why they happened. Writing these three things down is essential: Doing it on your computer or smartphone is OK, but handwritten is better. You can include small, everyday events or important milestones: You might include something as simple as enjoying the sun’s warmth on your face or the smell of freshly ground coffee. Of course, it’s OK to count more than three good things but keep to that as a minimum every day.

The hardest thing about this exercise is remembering to do it, so take a moment to think about a time that will work for you. Some people find writing the three things just before bed helpful: It’s a lovely way to end the day and help put you in a positive frame of mind for sleep.

Gratitude emoji

To give this exercise the best chance of having a positive impact, stick to these guidelines:

“1. Start with a title (e.g.,” Beautiful Day” or”Compliment from my Colleague”).

2. Write down what happened in as much detail as possible: Where were you? What did you do or say? If others were involved, what did they do or say?

3. Take a moment to recall how you felt at the time and how this event made you feel later – including now, as you remember it. You might like to spend a moment or two savouring the memory.

4. Write down what you think caused this event – why did it happen? Even if it’s something as simple as enjoying the sunshine, something or someone enabled you to be out and about on a lovely day.

5. Let your writing flow naturally, and don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Detail is good, but go with whatever comes in the moment.

6. You might find yourself getting drawn into worries or uncomfortable feelings. If that happens, gently bring your mind back to the memory of that joyous event and the good feelings that came with it. This might take some effort at first, but it gets easier with practice and can make a real difference to how you feel.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a simple yet profound practice that can bring significant positive changes in your life. Regularly reflecting on what you’re grateful for will nurture a positive mindset, reduce stress, improve relationships, and enhance your overall emotional wellbeing. So, find a journal, set aside some time each day or week, and start experiencing the transformative power of gratitude.

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Embodied knowing: The wisdom of the body

One of the best ways to solve a problem is to stop thinking about it. That sounds counterintuitive, but it works! If you simply keep ruminating on a problem, it stays in your conscious mind. However, really innovative solutions emerge from below our conscious awareness. This is the mysterious realm of embodied knowing, which I sometimes call the wisdom of the body. In her book, The Extended Mind Annie Murphy Paul writes that the body “can act as a sagacious guide to good decision making … more knowledgable and more judicious than the easily overwhelmed conscious mind”. I’m fascinated by embodied knowing – I even did my PhD on it!

Embodied ways of knowing include intuitions, hunches and the kind of fast thinking that Malcolm Gladwell explores in his book, Blink. He describes an elite group of art historians known in the trade as the ‘fake busters’. They are called in when the authenticity of a work of art is in question. Although they are brilliant at spotting a fake, they can’t say how they can tell: One just said he had a feeling of “intuitive repulsion”. These experts are drawing on embodied knowing. Some of the most successful financial traders draw on embodied intuition. George Soros, who made a fortune from trading, relies a “great deal on animal instincts”. He noticed that when there was some problem that he was consciously missing, he’d start to get a bad back. “I used the onset of acute pain as a signal that there was something wrong in my portfolio”.

Thankfully you don’t have to develop back problems to learn to listen to your embodied knowing, because Eugene Gendlin found a better way. Most of us sometimes get a ‘gut feeling’ about something. You have a sense that things aren’t quite right, but you can’t pin down what’s wrong. For me, it’s often that I’ve forgotten something and my body wisdom is nudging me to remember it. For you, it might be a vague sense that this person you’ve just met isn’t quite what they seem or that there’s something not quite right about a particular situation. This is the same kind of embodied intuition that the ‘fake busters’ and George Soros used.

Although I can’t promise that you’ll become the next George Soros, I can help you access your embodied knowing using the Focusing technique. I introduce Focusing in this video and would be delighted to help you learn this powerful life skill. Contact me to find out more.

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Is your life in balance?

What regrets might you have at the end of your life? Regrets about how time was spent are common: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard; ” “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends”; “ I wish I’d taken better care of myself”. It’s horribly easy to waste time on activities that don’t serve you. Given that time is a limited resource, it’s worth knowing how you’re using it. This Life Balance Pie Chart exercise provides an overview of where your time goes and prompts you to consider if it’s time well spent.

Stage One

Make a list of the 5 or 6 things that are most important to you. What do you most value in your life? What’s essential to your well-being? What nurtures you? What gives meaning to your life? This is a useful exercise in itself, so give it some time. When you’re done, set the list aside. It can be helpful to take a break before you go to Stage Two but it’s not essential.

Stage Two

Identify the half dozen or so areas of your life that take most of your time. These could include work, family time, down time, friends, chores (cooking, cleaning), exercise, sleep, commuting, etc.

Next, draw a circle. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but you can draw around the edge of a plate if that helps. This circle represents the time you have available each week. Divide the circle into segments representing roughly in size the amount of time you currently spend on the main areas of your life. It doesn’t need to be mathematically accurate – you just want an approximate visual representation of how you use your resources. It can be easier to do this using a pencil as you might need to play around with this a bit. It’s easy to over or underestimate how much time you spend on each area and this only becomes apparent when you start to fill in the circle. Once you’ve marked out roughly how you spend your time, sit back and see what you notice. Are there any surprises?

Now go back to the list of the 5 or 6 things that are most important to you. Does the amount of time you actually spend correspond with your list of priorities? For example, what if you identified your family as your highest priority, but they only get a few hours a week? Or you listed health as your number 2 priority, but exercise only gets a thin slice of time? Some things simply have to be done, but there’s probably room for adjustments. Could you cut down on watching TV or use your commuting time more creatively?

You might like to draw a second circle of the same size, similarly divided into segments, but this time representing life as you would like it to be. If there’s a big gap between where you are now and where you’d like to be, The Power of Intention might be useful. Or try some Visualization techniques. If you’d like some support on your journey, get in touch.

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Mutiny! Making sense of self-sabotage

Did I really need to go to the meeting? I’d agreed to go even though it was a long train ride away and I was preparing my notes when that thought came up again. ‘Yes’, my thinking mind said, in a tone like my parents used to use: ‘I agreed to go, so I’m going.’

Twenty minutes later I’m at the station, but the train just left! There’s no way I can get to the meeting now and what follows is a painful phone call of apology. It doesn’t go well and my colleague is really not happy. He’s disappointed and surprised, as this is out of character. But the fact that I’m genuinely mortified wins grudging understanding.

I have a golden rule of screw-ups which I highly recommend. When you mess something up, there are three things you need to do: First, try to fix it; Second, learn from it and third move on. So what did I learn from this particular débâcle?

We like to imagine that our conscious mind is running the show. We have free will, make rational conscious choices and act on them. Maybe those choices don’t work out, but I decided to do it. Sadly that’s largely fantasy and I was reminded of that fact as I stood at the station that day watching my train disappear into the distance.

Our conscious mind is like the Captain of a ship. The Captain navigates the course of the ship and issues orders to the crew. So far, so good. But what if there’s a mutiny? The crew think that the Captain has made a bad decision. Maybe the Second-in-Command has mentioned this disquiet to the Captain, but in any event, the decision stands. The crew now take things into their own hands; it’s mutiny! The ship changes course and the Captain is left powerless.

This is basically what happened to me that day, but there’s a simple strategy that can help avoid this kind of self-sabotage. When there’s something you need to do but really don’t want to do, spend a moment negotiating with the part that’s resisting. Imagine you’re speaking to a child – which in a way you are, as our unconscious is a bit like a kid. First, acknowledge the resistance: ‘I know you don’t want to’. While this simple acknowledgement may be enough, be open to the possibility that there’s some wisdom in the objection: Maybe there’s a good reason why this plan of action is being resisted. The next step is to explore options: ‘If I don’t do this, what would happen?’ Finally, you can offer a bribe: ‘Let’s do this and then get cake!’ (or whatever else it is likely to win over the grumbler). But if you ignore that inner voice, dismiss its concerns and push ahead anyway, don’t be surprised if you can’t find your car keys, forget your wallet or end up missing the train…

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How Technology Can Assist when You’re Working with a Disability

A guest post by Patrick Young

Patrick is from, a blog dedicated to supporting people with disabilities. He asked if he could write a guest post for Exeter Life Coaching about ways people with disabilities can use technology in their career search. This isn’t something I knew much about, but Patrick certainly does and I’m sure his advice is going to be valuable to many who are considering new career options after the tumult of the pandemic.

Finding the right kind of work can be liberating

Securing meaningful employment that can lead to a fulfilling career is one of life’s great pursuits, no matter what your skill set may be. For people whose abilities may vary greatly from the norm, it’s wonderful to know that so many resources are available to assist when on the hunt for that perfect job.

Taking advantage of assistive technology

Technology has helped people all over the world, particularly those who live with disabilities. There are a multitude of apps that you can use right on your mobile phone, designed to address the specific needs of people living with various disabilities. When it comes to finding work, these tools can be indispensable whether you are just starting your job hunt, preparing for an interview, or looking ahead to job advancement. 

P3 Mobile is designed to assist deaf and hard-of-hearing users by connecting them to others via video chat. The free video relay service is an easy-to-use app that can be powered with WiFi or cellular data. In addition to giving you the ability to make VP calls from anywhere, the app also provides text chat, top video quality, and the option to use the app in Spanish. P3 Mobile lets you connect on the go, at home, or anywhere else.

Miracle Modus is a free app that helps individuals living on the autism spectrum deal with sensory overload. Designed and written by a self-identified autistic programmer, Miracle Modus showcases soothing, mathematically inspired designs featuring all the colors of the rainbow. With its interactive components, it’s meant for use when feeling overwhelmed. According to the app’s rave reviews, it’s incredibly helpful for getting one’s day back on track, whether at work or anywhere else. 

Wheelmap is also free. This is an app to help those with mobility difficulties to be aware of accessibility issues at various locations before ever leaving the comfort of home. It’s a great resource for anyone who may need extra planning in getting around. When it’s time for that initial job interview, it can be a great advantage to know in advance where to park, where to enter the building, and the location of any other places you may need to visit during your trip. 

Becoming a freelancer

In this day and age, there are tons of at-home freelance opportunities available which can be ideal for people with disabilities. You can explore freelance job opportunities through online job platforms where potential employers will consider reviews for past work, rates, and how quickly you can complete a job. There are countless jobs available whether you’re a web designer, accountant, web content writer, or virtual assistant.

Using a reliable smartphone

When things are lining up and clients are ready to hire you, the last thing you want is a technological mishap to stand in the way of you and your new career. That’s why it’s so important to have a reliable, updated smartphone that enables you to be available to potential clients or customers when they want to reach out to you. Be sure you’ve got a phone that makes it easy to connect because clients and customers won’t wait

Finding the support you need to accommodate your unique situation can be as simple as using an app on your phone. When you are on the job market, the support offered by these types of apps can give you a big advantage, whatever your abilities may be.

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‘Sticks and stones can break your bones’ and words can really hurt you!

Weeks of lockdown have had a negative impact on most of us and I’m aiming to be especially tolerant of everyone – myself included! I’m pleased to say that seems to be true more generally, but if you’ve had an especially bad time of it you might find yourself more irritable than usual. On average, our levels of anxiety are up and we’ve suffered months of reduced social contact.

Most of our communications these days are via social media and it’s well known that we tend to say things online that we never would face to face. In online therapy this is called the disinhibition effect. The term comes from a 2014 article by psychologist John Suler. He explored several aspects of this effect but the takeaway is that the virtual world is somehow less real than face to face. Maybe you’re anonymous, so think ‘You don’t know me, so why should I care?‘ In many cases you’re invisible to the person you send a message to: ‘You can’t see me so I can say what I like‘. Sometimes there can even be a sense that there isn’t a real person about to get this message. At some level we aren’t quite aware of we can think ‘It’s all in my head’ or ‘It’s just a game’. Suler also noted that there’s a tendency to minimize the status of the other person or to ignore normal social guidelines: In the virtual world those rules don’t apply.

The disinhibition effect can influence any of us and the consequences can be dire. You might like to think of yourself a a fearless keyboard warrior but how will you feel when your online victim comes up to you in the pub after lockdown?

So what do we do about it?

The Persian poet Rumi has a 13th century solution for our very modern dilemma. He wisely advised that before we say something we ask three questions:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it kind?

That might seem like a tough rule to apply to all your online communications and I’m not suggesting that you apply it to every single message. But you’ll know when you need to apply this check list. Are you riled up, tired, snappy or triggered by something someone has written? Go ahead and write you reply – get it out on the page! And then take a breath and check with Rumi’s wisdom before you press that button.

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Know Thyself

I’d guess that the admonition to ‘Know Thyself’ was ancient even before it was inscribed above the entrance to Apollo’s Temple at Delphi. The benefits of understanding yourself better are myriad because personality influences how you perceive the world, what motivates you, your emotional responses and behaviours. What’s more, when you gain understanding of yourself you also deepen your understanding of others.

We might naively think that we all live in the same reality, but in fact people with “different personalities actually experience and perceive the world differently” (Dr. Jordan B. Peterson). That’s pretty extraordinary! It’s not just that we have different tastes or opinions; it’s almost as if we live in different realities.

I recently completed Jordan Peterson’s Discovering Personality course. That’s pretty typical of me; I almost always have at least one training course on the go. But because I completed a Big 5 personality test as part of the course, I now have a richer understanding of why I’m like that. I score very high in openness to experience which means I’m “strikingly interested in learning, and are constantly acquiring new abilities and skills”. As you’d guess, I already knew that, but I now have an independent measure of just how unusual it is.

I’m not going to share my full set of scores – even though my high level of extroversion inclines me to do that! But I will say I found them to be very revealing. I now have a much clearer idea of:

  • why I behave the way I do;
  • why other people respond to me in the way that they do;
  • what my strengths and weaknesses are.

I’ve completed both the Big 5 (B5) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality tests, and have found the former to be the most useful. I’m not going to go into a blow by blow comparison – I’m far too agreeable for that! – but some key points are relevant. First, they measure different things. The MBTI result tells you which one of 16 possible personality types you are, whereas the B5 identifies your key traits as compared with everyone else. So MBTI will give you a summary of your type in a few sentences, whereas B5 will provide an analysis of five key traits and 10 aspects of those traits.

If you and a colleague have both completed the MBTI you can compare your personality types. MBTI works on an either/or model to identify your type: you’ll be an Introvert or an Extrovert. But this is awkward if you don’t fit neatly into either. For example, one free MBTI test I tried gave me a 50/50 blend of Thinking and Feeling, so it’s not clear which type I’d be. I think this is the main problem with MBTI: it claims to sort people into one of 16 types by flipping you into one category or the other. B5 on the other hand will tell you how extrovert you are compared with everyone else. You’ll know, for example, that if there were 100 people in a room, you would be more extroverted than 65 of them.

Because I’ve found it to be so valuable, I suggest to my new Coaching clients that they take the Big 5 personality test. How much of the results they choose to share with me is up to them, but they’ll have got a head start in the quest to ‘Know Thyself’.

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How to keep your New Year Resolutions

Every year people make New Year resolutions but 92% of them will fail (Journal of Clinical Psychology). Maybe it’s time for a different approach. Forget ‘I should’ and embrace ‘I want!’

New Year resolutions are typically something like “I’m going to lose weight”, “I’ll get more organized” or “I’ll save more”. If you’re thinking along those lines, I suggest you take a moment to reflect on why you’ve chosen that goal. Is it because you think you should or because you actually want it? If your resolution is prompted by a ‘should’, then I doubt it’ll last long after the midnight celebrations.

But if you focus on what you want to do rather than on what you think you should do, your chances of success improve hugely. Those with a more Puritan perspective might argue that if you want to do something, then it hardly counts as making a ‘resolution’. Perhaps, but how many of us have seriously considered what we want from life and then done something about getting it?

Aoraki  Mount Cook at sunset

Aoraki (‘Mount Cook’) at sunset

So, what do you really love doing? Grab a piece of paper and write a list of activities that make your life richer. It’s even better if you can use post-it notes, but paper is fine. Keep to three rules:

  1. be concise;
  2. describe activities;
  3. make sure every one is something you really love.

The acid test for this last rule is to imagine you life without it. Check how that thought feels in you body, the felt sense that arises. If you get a sinking feeling in your body, then it qualifies. You might find that what you’ve written isn’t quite ‘it’, so be prepared to dig around. Is there something else behind what you’ve written? Again, let your gut feeling, your felt sense, guide you. If you have listed something that isn’t an activity, modify it. If you want to list something about your love for nature or your kids, think of a related activity. ‘Nature’ might become ‘spending time in nature’; ‘my kids’ could be ‘playing with my kids’.

Once you’re happy with your list, stick the post-it notes or piece of paper somewhere where you’ll see them everyday. Now ask yourself: Are you devoting as much time and energy to each of those activities as they – and you – deserve? The chances are that at least one or two are getting short changed and frankly you’re cheating yourself. So, how can you get to do more of what you love? Use that question to come up with a New Year’s resolution. It may be your best ever!

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