take control of your Christmas

Christmas - do your eyes sparkle, your mouth grin, and your heart leap when you hear that word?
Or are you like me, and part of you dreads the Christmas season. I try and live in denial that it is coming as long as possible - but this year I attended my first Christmas event in mid-November.   So I had to start thinking about it earlier than I wanted to.  I always want Christmas to be a relaxed happy time of year with some room for spiritual input and reflection.  But instead it seems to sweep me away in a struggle through preparing for events, attending event after event, the year's end, the end of the school term, winding up all those unfinished work tasks and all the other pressures that come at this time of year.  

What about you? How do you feel about Christmas? Do you enjoy it? All of it? Some of it?


In my coaching work this year, I have spent some time exploring discontent. We often overlook our discontent, it makes us uncomfortable.  Discontent can be challenging and confronts us with our own inadequacy and unmet expectations. It can be easier to suppress our discontent than to examine it.

I have found discontent and dissatisfaction are interesting and helpful things to explore.

Discontent is something that we should listen to, it is something that can guide us into new activities and focuses.  Discontent is a  sign that it is time for you to grow, time for you to move, time for you to step up and challenge the status quo.

I have identified three main sources of dissatisfaction, stress or discontent in the lead up to Christmas:

Time Pressures

At this time of year we try to fit more into an already busy schedule, we need to fit in parties, end of year displays, shopping and baking. Our workplaces are often busy and people are stressed and short-tempered.  This creates added stress on our time and adds to the feelings of overwhelm.   

Value Conflicts

If we don’t know our values we may get swept away doing things that others value, that we don’t and we may not realise why we are discontented.  We can also experience conflicts between our own values.  For example, we may value spending time with our extended family, and value creating a relaxed child-friendly experience for our children.  These two values may end up in tension if your extended family want to have a white tablecloth sit down dinner.   Our values may also be in tension with others values, for example, we may value or need simplicity and this may not be in line with our families value of lavish presents.  


Have you ever thought about what your expectations are for this time of year?  Are you expecting yourself to do everything by yourself? Are you expecting a perfect tree and house like you see in a magazine?  Are your expectations realistic? Expectations come from ourselves, from our families and others and from society.  It is good to reflect on what your expectations are and how you may be unconsciously influenced by the expectations created by society or even by our advertising exposure.   


To have a more contented Christmas and to feel more in control of all that is happening at this time of year we can take actions to reduce these three sources of discontent:      


A good first step to take is to identify and articulate your values.  Values are the big abstract statements of things that are important to you, they are the overarching guiding reference points and principles that you live by.  You may find it helpful to spend time reflecting on what you value most at this time of year.  For some people it is spending time with family, for some, it may be getting alone time to recover from workplace stress.  What is it for you?


Once you know your values you can start to overcome some of the time pressures you face by simplifying.  It’s difficult to acknowledge, but we can’t actually do everything!  Knowing your values helps you know what is most important and makes it easier to put down those things that are not in line with your values, and yes that will require creating boundaries (eeek!).  But I believe that you will find it easier to introduce and articulate those boundaries if they are value based.   For me, this means that I need to simplify and reduce doing things (cooking, presents, shopping) as I value having time to be really present with people and I can’t do that if I am focused on creating more things.  


 It will help you feel more in control if you can create realistic expectations of what you can and will do.  Ask why you do things - why make a Christmas cake? Is it the wrong time of year for dried fruit and the oven on for 4 hours?  So where did this expectation to make a Christmas cake come from? Do you really need one?   Even our strengths can lead us astray here.   My strengths of creativity and curiosity lead me to create expectations of doing new crafts, baking and cooking every year.  But I have learnt that this is not the time of year to be adding complexity to my life, so I try and reduce my crafting and baking - there are plenty of other times of the year where there is plenty of space for experimenting but 11 pm on the 24th December is not the time!

Click here for a pdf of questions to help you reflect on your Christmas season.

I wish you all a great year's end, a lovely celebration and some rest and re-creation time.  


4 thoughts about leadership

Here in New Zealand we are in the middle of a general election campaign.  I know that my thoughts have turned to the country, policies and the behaviour of the media and of politicians.  My usual pondering on resilience, well-being and creativity have taken a bit of a back seat.  If you are like me the time you used to spend catching up on blogs is now spent following politicians and the news.  Therefore I won’t add to your information flow with a long post until after the election now.  But all the election coverage and leadership churn has got me thinking about leadership so here are four brief thoughts about leadership, in particular how we are seeing leadership change.


 1)  We no longer have a shared idea of what leadership is and what it should look like.

As I say often, the world has changed and is changing (fast), there are distinct differences in thinking between younger people and older people (or more traditional people) and added to this mix we also have contributions from other cultures.  There are contrasting threads and ideas about what leadership is. Command and control still seems to be a dominant expectation of leaders from older or more traditional thinkers.  This definition of leadership is not so common among younger people who place more importance on the ability of leaders to collaborate, network, be diplomatic and to encourage and support a team towards a shared vision.  

2)    We no longer need leaders who know things. 

In previous eras (industrial era for example) a leader used to be the person who knew things.  They may even have been the only one who knew things or had access to information.  Information was scarce and prized.  We expected leaders to know lots and to know more than their followers.  It seems that although the world has moved on dramatically from the industrial era it has taken a while for the public to grasp how this affects our ideas of leadership.  We are now moving well beyond the knowledge era. We have access to information like it is water flowing from a tap.  A leader can no longer and needs no longer to know everything.  Instead, we need leaders with discernment.  Leaders who know where to get good advice, good credible information and make good sound decisions.  We need leaders who can point to which information is important and to make the implications understandable for us.          

3)    We no longer need solo leaders. 

Previously leadership was seen as a solo task. One lone person where the buck stopped.  There is a slow movement away from this model, an awareness that leadership as a solo task is not good for business or countries or individuals.  Letting one person shoulder the responsibility and vision is too much work, too much weight for one set of shoulders.  We are ready to see the growth of leadership teams, where responsibility and vision creation are shared. This allows for more synergy, creativity and a more healthy work life balance.  

4) We no longer need perfection. 

We say that we want our leaders to be authentic.  We want to know that they are like us - fallible, human.  Yet, on the other hand, we are not quite ready for them to make mistakes, we still want to hold leaders to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.  Now I am not sure whether this has come from the media or the public, or perhaps one section of society.  There is a resistance to the idea that people can grow, develop change, become better at things - there has been a pressure to be perfect, to have all the experience you need right now.  In this rapidly changing world no-one can have everything they need now for the unknown tomorrow - instead, we need leaders who can show they are learners, that can show they can develop and grow and adapt as the world changes.  


What have you noticed about leadership?

How have you seen ideas of leadership changing?



the imposter of imposter syndrome

For many of us, self-doubt pops it's unhelpful chatter into our thoughts more often than we would like.  It can come in many different forms and one that seems to be common at the moment is “the imposter syndrome”, several well-known people like Neil Gaiman and Sheryl Sandburg have talked about its effect on their work.   I spent 6 years studying women in the workplace (although that was a long time ago) and I wondered why I hadn’t come across this ‘syndrome’ before, so I set out to investigate.  

Originally imposter syndrome was called the imposter phenomenon.   The original researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes (in 1978) described a certain cluster of feelings, thoughts and ideas that they had observed in themselves and then studied in other high achieving women.  The women who experienced the imposter phenomenon struggled to develop an internal sense of their intelligence and competence, despite many outward signs of success such as degrees, scholarships and promotions. They were also convinced that someone would eventually reveal that they were not actually as bright or competent as others thought.  The researchers found that Imposter phenomenon was maintained by four key characteristics.  Firstly who experienced it explained their success by outward circumstances that were not in their control such as luck, or a mistake.  They also worked very hard and tended to be perfectionists their hard work when acknowledged often resulted in temporary positive feelings, but did nothing to minimise their doubts. Often these women lacked the confidence to share their real views or opinions (especially when they were disagreeing) so they felt inauthentic.  They also expressed a strong need to be liked by those in authority which easily became an unhelpful loop when those in authority gave them positive feedback about their work as they discounted the feedback because the person giving it liked them. 

This particular cluster of behaviours and thoughts resonated with those reading about it and it became popularised and turned into the “Imposter Syndrome”.  Somehow a phenomenon (defined by Merriam-Webster online as “a fact or event of scientific interest susceptible to scientific description and explanation”) became popularised and hyped up and turned into a syndrome.  Merriam-Webster defines a syndrome as“a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterise a particular abnormality or condition”.  

On one hand, it is positive that it came to our attention because it makes it easier for people to share their struggles.  On the other hand, I feel like taking it from a collection of symptoms that was of interest to researchers and those working with people and turning it into a syndrome grew its weight and importance. 

 Something minor became a big deal. 

People were able to say I suffer from ‘imposter syndrome.” My concern is that a syndrome with all its permanence and solidness has more power over our identities.  The more we get tied up in thinking of ourselves as a sufferer of “imposter syndrome” the harder it becomes to unhook ourselves from the package of emotions and thoughts that we are having. 

The more we identify with it the harder it actually becomes for us to do something about it.  

More recent research suggests that it might be more helpful to talk about imposter episodes, which they found were widely experienced. It is not unusual to have brief times when we feel like an imposter and we can all experience them from time to time.  This doesn’t mean that we suffer from an ongoing syndrome.   Although some may experience more episodes than others and find it more difficult to cope with than others.  Both men and women experience imposter episodes, and evidence to date is inconclusive that this is more common in women than men.  

Talk to your coach, psychologist or professional supervisor to get some support and techniques for coping well with imposter epsiodes when they occur. 


what do you think?

A few incidences of people sharing their opinions in various ways over the last few weeks got me thinking about how and why we express our opinions, and how we feel about doing so.  I am sure you have all noticed similar things.  On the one hand I observed someone arrogantly expressing something inappropriate that they hadn’t fact checked and refusing to back down when it was pointed out that it was wrong.  On the other hand I have observed some quite competent and thoughtful people who feel reluctant or shy of sharing their opinions and views.


I have also observed that those people who are more reserved with sharing what they think tend to be more open.  They are the ones who can see that they may be making assumptions from a position of privilege, they tend to be open to other cultures viewpoints and being challenged and corrected on their assumptions and presuppositions.  The tension between confidence and openness is one that I have struggled with for a long time, even back when I was a PhD student. I didn’t have too much trouble writing and expressing my opinions to the three people who read my PhD, but expressing myself with confidence and surety was a bit harder always at the back of my mind was the idea that perhaps there was some new research in some corner of the library (yeah it was mainly hard copy research in those days!) that I had overlooked.  How can I be confident in my opinion, or even my summaries of research when the world of knowledge is so vast and there is so much to know?

I do enjoy sharing my opinion (and I have lots of them!), but it has stretched my confidence to put them right out there on a blog.  Of course, my blog is not just my opinion, I try to incorporate researched information with stories and application ideas. This week I set out to find our more about why some people are more confident in expressing their opinions than others, why some people are more open to other viewpoints than others and whether there may be a relationship between the two.  Well, that proved to be a bit of a rabbit hole that I have been in for some days!  It proved harder to find anything illuminating than I thought it would, the further I delved the more complex it has all begun to look.

I started with personality factors, trying to discover what elements of personality may have an impact on our willingness to share.  I looked into what is known as the five-factor model of personality, as that is one of the most robust.  People who score high on extroversion (one factor of the five) in this model are likely to feel more comfortable sharing their opinions than those low in extroversion.   In the five-factor model, those people high in extroversion are described as preferring to direct their energy outwards towards others, and this includes the sub -factor or facet of assertiveness.  People high in assertiveness express themselves forcefully and there is a small relationship between having high self-confidence and being high on this extroversion factor.  Well that sounds to me like the people who have no trouble sharing their opinions on everything and anything  

Openness is another of the factors in the five-factor model.  It is the tendency to seek out and enjoy new experiences, it includes intellectual curiosity and being open to new ideas and values.  That sounds like it describes people who are open to having their assumptions challenged and being introduced to new ideas. Openness has also been shown to be associated with the ability to listen well to others.  Identifying these personality factors that may be at play in these scenarios is helpful as a starter but it still doesn’t explain why people with openness would struggle to express their opinions, and why women seem to have a harder time valuing their own opinions and expressing them than men seem to.  

So I kept on digging.  Eventually, I discovered that there is a gender difference in what is called intellectual risk taking.  Men are more likely to take intellectual risks than women.  These means that men are also more likely to guess if they don’t know, whereas women are more likely to say don’t know rather than to make a guess.  Men are also more comfortable just having a stab at areas that they don’t know about.  

Expressing your opinions, putting your ideas out there is intellectual risk taking. Your ideas can be torn apart,  you can be attacked personally,  someone can tell you, you are wrong or disagree with your ideas. Men don't let fear of this risk stop them sharing, but it seems women do.  Also, risk-taking is predominantly seen as masculine behaviour.  So as women and men are socialised men are likely to be praised for taking intellectual risks and women are likely to be punished. The result of this reaction is that men get more chance to practice intellectual risk- taking than women, and they get better at it.  Women in the professional sphere also feel the need to perform to a higher standard than a man so may be reluctant to share their opinions, ideas or research until they are 100% sure of their statements.  A man doesn’t have this added pressure to live up to.  

Gender differences in intellectual risk-taking is a nice explanation of why men happily share any of their opinions with anyone, while women hold back until they feel confident and sure of their theories. 

Although it still doesn’t explain the relationship between confidence to express ideas and openness to others ideas.  I am wondering and I have no evidence to back this up,  if the delayed closure that is caused by the fear of intellectual risk taking, allows more room for further investigation and listening.  But that could probably be the topic of another post or PhD.

For your thoughts:

How do you feel about expressing your opinions?  

What experiences and reactions to your opinions may have caused these feelings?

When and how have you had your presuppositions challenged?

How open are you to others ideas?  

How can you create safe spaces to practice taking intellectual risks?

Using our strengths and gifts for our own self-care

Do you know your own strengths, values and gifts? It is likely that you have come across some discussion of strengths and values in your workplace, as it has become a common focus recently.      Most of the discussion of gifts and strengths, focuses on how we use them to interact with the world, how we put them into practice in our work, lives or parenting.  The wellbeing literature points to an association between the opportunity to use our strengths at work as being associated with greater well-being.  So knowing and using our gifts can be an important step in our self-care to increase and maintain our wellbeing.


After my last post about self-care, I have had various conversations about self-care including my own.  On one level self-care is easy - most of us know the principles and have some ideas of the things that help us be healthy and feel re-energised.  

It is not lack of knowledge that prevents us from taking actions to care for ourselves.    

Other elements are at play that prevents us from prioritising self-care.  Often it can be that we haven’t developed enough self-compassion, we may not value self-care, or prioritise our needs.   

It is much easier to achieve goals that are in line with our values and use our strengths and gifts. Yet most of the discussion around strengths focuses on their outward expression.  A step in becoming better at self-care is to consider turning the best of ourselves inwards.  Self-care may become easier if we find ways to base our practices in what we value, and to mobilise our strengths and gifts in the service of our own well-being and self-care.   

The first step in this is identifying your strengths, values and talents.  A good place to start is with the VIA survey that you can find here.

Then think about your values and how they can underpin your self-care.  For example, if you value honesty taking time, to be honest about how you feel about your work and your energy levels may be an important self-care practice for you. I place a high value on wisdom and I see part of wisdom as caring for myself well.  Self-care will become easier if you take the time to base it in some of your core values.  

Think about how you can turn your gifts and strengths to yourself and your own care.  We often overlook applying strengths and gifts to ourselves.  The most obvious example comes from those I know and work with who have gifts of empathy and compassion. These gifts tend to be mostly focussed outwards, and it takes an intentional attempt at refocussing for them to turn that same level of empathy and compassion to themselves.  Often people who are strong in communication and humour also tend to focus these gifts outwards, intentionally re-focussing these inwards may include journalling to communicate better with yourself, and doing things just for fun to express your humour rather than seeking to be making others laugh.  I am trying to use my strength of curiosity to become more curious about what is going on in my own mind and to spend more time exploring my own emotional reactions to things as a way of increasing my mindfulness.  

Thinking about our strengths and how we can apply them to ourselves, not just others, is a key component of helping us to prioritise and value self-care.  

I have put together a weekly worksheet (also available as a pdf) to help you reflect on how your are and can use your strengths to care for yourself.  At the end of each day reflect on how you used your strengths for others, what you did (or didn’t) do for your own self-care and think about how you could have used this strength to support and re-energise yourself. 

As always I would love to hear how you are using your strengths as a base for self-care.