Everyone’s a writer….

Fountain pen….but not everyone can write. It is easier than ever to publish your own writing whether that’s a blog, a white paper or an e-book, anyone can put themselves forward as an expert. I was recently invited to “become a published author” by submitting chapters to a self-published compilation of stories about women in business. I declined, not least because I am already a published author, but because I know just how much work goes into writing a book and because I didn’t see the opportunity in quite the same way.The Advantage cover - low resolution

For me there is a big difference between self-publishing and writing for a mainstream publisher with a book that is guaranteed to make it onto bookstore shelves. These differences are not just about royalties. My experiences of the publishing world are ones of negotiation – from content to title the publisher decides what ultimately will sell as they have to make money out of my book. The whole writing process is critiqued and shaped by the editorial team. Once drafted, this honing is even more intense. But I enjoy this because I know that the end product will be worth it. If you’re writing for a very specific niche audience then self-publishing is probably the way to go. But if the book is to target a national or international audience it’s extremely difficult to publish it effectively unless you publish it traditionally. And the process is making me a better writer.

réseaux sociauxThe difficulty with self-publishing, blogging, writing e-books and any social media writing is that you don’t necessarily have a reality check in the form of credible feedback – sure, you’ll get opinions about what you are writing and you might be able to measure whether or not people like what you write but you’ll never know if you are a good writer or not. You just won’t.

Traditional publishing may be old school but because they have to be so super-choosy about what they decide to publish in the first place, if you are with a mainstream publisher you can be reasonably sure that you know how to write and can do it reasonably well. In fact well enough that there’s a good chance the book will make money. Now I’m not saying that if you’re published the book will be a best-seller – just like self-publishing those are few and far between – but there’s every chance of a reasonable return on your writing investment and none of the headache of sorting out your own editor, illustrator, copy editor, proof-reader, marketing and distribution channels.

Businessman yellingMost of all though, what I find is that being traditionally published gives me a credible and respected platform to do other things whether that is consultancy, training workshops or writing white papers. I’m improving my writing, selling books and doing work that I love. Herz auf Holz / heart on wooden background

Communication – why we’re worse at it than ever!

Man drowning in a smartphone screen, reaching for a lifebuoy, EPS 8 vector illustration, no transparencies, no meshWe’re not communicating very well. Information overload, diversity and a globalised workplace mean that effective communication skills are more important than ever before because strong relationships are the only currency we have and they are also our competitive advantage. Everything else can be copied and even the skills and knowledge we work so hard to attain at university and through professional development are easily replicated.

We’re getting worse – Because we are operating in such a fast-moving environment we have become more prone to not working well and to communicating less effectively. This has an impact on how our brains process information and how we interpret cues from our environment. How we communicate has changed a lot even in the last 3 – 5 years and will continue to change as the pace of information and technology becomes faster and faster. curved ramp bridge
There is now a body of research that supports the view that we are getting worse at processing information and interpreting environmental cues. Quite often we’re just not aware of these factors and our automated response mechanisms, which means we are not able to override initial reactions, and responses resulting in sub optimal communication skills both in our personal and our work lives. One way to better communication is having a stronger awareness and understanding of how our brain works, how it processes and interprets information and how to rise above our inbuilt automated responses and truly activate our brains⁠ for the better. Making complex decisions and solving problems effectively require a lot of brain energy and so doing this is difficult for any length of time. We need to understand some of the real biological limits on our brain because understanding these is one of the best ways to improve mental performance.

Chinese calligraph as design templates, art elements or body jewellery.

We need to be far more aware of how technology can impede effective communication and how to manage our use of technology so that it enables us to communicate better. We are inundated with information overload⁠ in an unprecedented way. We now live in a world where we are constantly faced with more and more information, on a daily basis, than we can possibly process. It is an over-communicated environment. There are so many unwanted messages bombarding us, that often the ones we want or that are actually important get lost in the noise. The average person can now communicate faster, with more people—without thinking—than ever before and this is only set to increase. Information has become disposable. Much of this information comes at us online but increasingly it is simply everywhere whether at home or at work and whether we are working or wanting to and needing to relax or reflect.

brain - green technology concept / vector illustration / eps10The key? Get to know how our brains work. Understand how to override our automated responses and how to manage our environment. Work smarter and overcome distraction better. It’s the subject of a new book I’m writing!

On rejection

In the last eight months or so, all the proposals I put forward for new consultancy work have been rejected. Yes, every single one. The latest, last week, has prompted me to write this post. Rejection is tough to handle sometimes, no matter how upbeat, resilient and optimistic you might be (and I am). Yet, rejection is the name of the game right now – for many. I am not alone. There are a lot of books and how-to guides telling you how to deal with rejection. Some suggest positive thinking, coping strategies and visualizing for a better tomorrow. Others tell you about serial phases like “denial”, “bargaining”, “acceptance” you’ll inevitably go through when rejected. Most advice on how to deal with rejection tell you that you need to learn from the experience, pick yourself up, move on and bounce back. All wise tips. Continue reading

We don’t need to be busy

curved ramp bridgeIn the six weeks before Easter I decided to give up being “busy”. Busy in the sense of always doing something under the guise of being “productive” and, dare I say it, important.

And I am busy – I have a demanding work schedule, a family, a home to run, a puppy and a choir to manage! Alongside that come all the hallmarks of “busyness” i.e. running around, constant email checking, getting distracted and within that taking digital detoxes and scheduling “me-time”. I decided that I need to think about a different way to manage my work and time to be more productive.

I’ve learned that I need to know the difference between being a workaholic vs. a high performer. The former wants to look more important, but the latter seeks out important work. Knowing the difference can help you and me too to do more in each moment of our day.

Life is made up of hundreds of thousands of moments. Some that move us, others that change us, and some that provoke us to action. Being busy takes us away from those moments. More importantly if we are not in the moment we are not focusing and we are missing opportunities around us. Opportunities are everywhere. They come up in coffee shops, via social media outlets like Twitter, and through mutual connections. When you’re busy, you often miss opportunities because you only see them as distractions, not spaces for you to grow and advance. Enjoy Every Moment Concept

Being busy is also misleading because we confuse motion and action with productivity and progress. We all want to do more with what we have. Unfortunately, we think being busy means we are making strides. 80% of our results come from 20% of our time. If you are able to work out what that 20% looks like (and the actions you take to get there), you can create immeasurable leverage. That means you’ll spend more time doing the things that really drive you toward your goals, and not just “things” to fill space. That also means focusing on what is right in front of you.

Man drowning in a smartphone screen, reaching for a lifebuoy, EPS 8 vector illustration, no transparencies, no meshHow many tabs do you have open right now? Between six and nine might be your average on a good day but that alone damages the brain by 40%. That productivity we so desperately crave is undermined when we do a lot of things at once. That workflow has to stop. It feels great, but it’s terrible for you. I’m even doing it right now!

Instead, try a new workflow. Single-tasking is exactly what it sounds like: doing one task, with no distractions. It may take some time to adopt this new type of workflow, but it will do wonders in the long term.

When you are on holiday delete the email app from your phone. Put an auto respond on and don’t then respond as that tells people you are still available. Use mindfulness to calm your mind and to enable you to rest and reflect. There really is no need to be “always on” – it is our brain that makes this so as well as expectations from others. We all need to learn how to use technology more effectively and manage it as otherwise it manages us! Constantly checking email has an impact on your brain neurons because doing this taps into the reward circuitry of the brain so your brain gets addicted to reacting every time there us a ping in your inbox – social media is the same with its alerts. So switch them off! You will become far more productive and relaxed and more focused.

Lavender teaThe most important thing right now is what is directly in front of you.
So if you’re on holiday be on holiday and enjoy it. If you’re preparing something for work then that is the most important thing. If you’re drinking a cup of tea ditto. And so we move through life moment by moment and everything gets done


Great expectations

TrufflesTo have more satisfaction and equilibrium in our lives we need to learn how our brain deals with expectations and manage ourselves accordingly. Easier said than done though.The brain is finely tuned to expectations, and an expectation that isn’t met, no matter how seemingly unimportant, can sometimes pack a punch.

This is because of the link between dopamine and the reward circuitry in our brain which this fires off when there is a cue in our environment indicating there might be a reward. Unexpected rewards release more dopamine than expected ones. Thus, the surprise bonus at work, even a small one, can positively impact your brain chemistry more than an expected pay rise.

bus lineOn the other hand if you’re expecting a reward and you don’t get it, dopamine levels fall steeply. This feeling is not a pleasant one, it feels a lot like pain. Expecting a pay rise and not getting one can create a funk that lasts for days. However, low levels of unmet expectations are something we all experience constantly: expect the lights to change and find they take a long time and your dopamine levels fall, leaving you feeling frustrated. Expect the service at the bank to be fast but find a long queue, more frustration. Not only does dopamine go down in these instances, you also get a mild threat response, reducing prefrontal functioning for deliberate tasks. If we can understand better how our brain reacts and responds it’s easier to manage our emotions more effectively – this the crux of EQ – emotional intelligence.

brain - green technology concept / vector illustration / eps10Dopamine levels rise when you want something, even something as simple as wanting to cross the road. Put simply, dopamine is central to the toward state, to being open, curious, and interested. You need good levels of dopamine to “hold” an idea in your prefrontal cortex. Positive expectations increase the levels of dopamine in the brain, and these increased levels make you more able to focus.

So the key to all this is to get our dopamine levels right – this is something that we can actually influence if we want to. To create a ‘happy’ life perhaps we should live a life with a good amount of novelty, create opportunities for unexpected rewards, and believe that things are always going to get slightly better.

Managing our expectations is a big part of this. It’s an opportunity to be more proactive in the way we regulate emotions, setting the scene for good performance rather than just sorting out problems when things go wrong. Unmet expectations are one of the important experiences to avoid, as these generate the stronger threat response.

Consciously altering what we expect can have a surprising impact. Imagine you are preparing a proposal for a new work project. If you keep your expectations low, you will either be okay if you don’t win the work, or thrilled if you do. Whereas if you allow yourself to get excited about the contract, you may be heavily disappointed when you don’t win it (and unable to see past the rejection), or only mildly happy if you win it. When you step back and look at all the possible outcomes this way, it makes sense to minimize one’s expectations of positive rewards in most situations. Keeping an even keel about potential wins pays off.

Dopamine word cloudAnother good way to manage dopamine levels is to pay more attention to positive expectations that you know will be met. For example if we have a holiday to look forward to it helps us to stay positive. This may not seem logical but remember it’s about the dopamine!  Choosing to focus on things always getting a little bit better, even with evidence at times to the contrary, helps you maintain good levels of dopamine.

Make time for tea

Lavender teaMost days around 4 pm I make a pot of tea and I sit and reflect. This is in the midst of a busy day as a working mum and I do it even when on business trips in far-flung places. It’s about renewal, reflection, becoming more mindful and finding some space.

Woman with tablet computer in cafe shopMost of the time in our busy lives we refrain from taking this kind of time out during the day. But if we are to perform at high levels we need to be far more aware of not how we manage our time but how we manage our energy levels. No more so than those of you who may be working, studying and juggling family life or other demands on your time. In order to manage our energy we need to become aware of two things: how we spend our personal energy and how we renew it. Personal energy can be split into four categories: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. If we accept that we have “awake cycles” just like we have sleep cycles then the optimum way of doing this is to work in no more than 90-minute sprints and after each sprint change focus entirely in order to restore energy. That can be going for a walk or run, meditating, reading or mindfully drinking a cup of tea.

In this way we can move naturally between spending energy positively (your “performance zone”) and restoring energy in the “renewal zone”. Crucially this way of working and being means you will achieve more in less time! But in reality this is the opposite of what many of us do, myself included. If we have a deadline for an assignment or for work we keep slogging away, no matter what. If you’re a working mum you know you only have a finite time period in which to work so the pressure is even higher. But when we keep going like this rather than working with our natural cycles we are just oscillating between the “performance zone” and the “survival zone” which is where we spend energy negatively. And when the energy dips we reach for coffee, chocolate or distractions through email and Facebook. We sleep badly and feel more anxious. Spend too long in the “survival zone” and you will eventually end up in the “burnout zone”.

The good news is that we do not have to work harder to change our rhythm and regain the energy we so badly need. We can do more, with less.

while learning the woman fell asleep on the table .late at nightTo be truly productive and effective we need to move seamlessly between performance and renewal during the course of a day. This is done through a combination of the 90-minute sprints coupled with seven to eight hours’ sleep, walking, eating healthily and mindfully, drinking plenty of water, being grateful and aware of what is going well, uni-tasking rather than multi-tasking (easier to say than do – but switch off your phone and Internet browser if you’re on a deadline!) and having a sense of purpose.

I’m starting by making time for tea.

It’s in your reflection

Blue silence. Magnificent long exposure landscape with lake view after sunset.Winter can be a contemplative time. January and February can be difficult months sometimes. We can start the year in a blazing determination to fulfil fresh goals and break bad habits. All too often by February it’s not so easy to uphold them.

Making any kind of change in ourselves requires something more long-term though and something we can undertake each day easily.  In short we need to make reflection part of our life day-to-day.

Reflection is an everyday process anyway. We reflect on a range of everyday problems and situations all the time: What went well? What didn’t? Why? How do I feel about it?

We don’t usually follow a formula for this, it just happens as feelings, thoughts and emotions about something gradually ‘surface’. We might choose to do something differently, or not, as a result of reflecting, but reflection is essentially a kind of loose processing of thoughts and feelings about an incident, a meeting, a day – any event or experience at all. We probably do it without even thinking about it.

But what if we did consciously build in reflection time each day? What if we book-ended our days by setting intentions in the morning and reflecting on the day each evening?

Ecriture manuscrite au crayon de bois dans livre en papier recycWhy should we reflect?

1. Reflection helps us to learn from something that perhaps did not go well that day. If we don’t reflect on what might not have gone well we may just repeat negative behaviour or continue to be in reactive mode. Reflection helps us to figure out what went wrong, why that happened, what part we played in that and what we can do different next time.

2. Reflection helps create great ideas. The process of being disciplined enough to reflect moves obstacles out of the way and can make space for emerging ideas and taking action in a different way. If we’re constantly rushing from one thing to another there is very little space for anything creative to emerge. Being still makes space for more ideas.

3. Reflection makes us happier. If we are building in reflection time each day we will also be looking back on things that have gone well and all the things that were right with the day! Reflecting on what went right allows for celebration for  every little success. It allows us to realise how much we have in fact done right, the good things you’ve done in your life. Without reflection, it’s too easy to forget these things, and focus instead on our failures.

4. Reflection gives us perspective. Often we are caught up in the troubles or busy-ness of our daily lives. A mistake or a high-pressure project or something like that can seem like it means all the world. It can overwhelm us sometimes. But if we take a minute to step back, and reflect on these problems, and how in the grand scheme of things they don’t mean all that much, it can calm us down and lower our stress levels. We gain perspective, and that’s a good thing.

How to Make Reflection a Daily Habit

If reflection isn’t something you feel you do enough, consider making it a habit. Here are some suggThe word "HABITS" written in vintage metal letterpress type in a wooden drawer with dividers.estions for doing that:

1. Start a one-sentence journal. There is a popular 5-year diary you can buy which invites you to write one sentence each day. Why not write one sentence each day in a notebook or in your year planner? It will be great to look back on at the end of the year.

2. Focus on doing it at the same time, every day. No exceptions. It is actually much easier to build a habit if you do it every single day!  Even if you don’t start a one-sentence journal, get into the reflection habit by taking just a few minutes at the end of every day to reflect on your day. Journaling helps crystalize those reflections. Either way, whether you write it down or not, make reflection a daily habit. Decide when you will do it, where and for how long. Set a reminder with your phone.

3. Exercise. People who run say that often the best ideas come during their run. If you don’t run or have some other form of daily exercise, consider just taking a walk and using that time for reflection. Make a daily appointment and don’t miss it!

4. Think about your day, your work, your life. In that order. Look back on your day, to think about how various things went and what could be improved. Then  take a look at your work, to see how things are going there. Then step even further back and take a look at your life as a whole. It’s a three-step system that leads to a lot of improvement over time.

Happiness in an inside job - inspirational words on a vintage slate blackboard with a white chalk against burlap canvas


Improvisation: It’s only natural

When we talk about Improvisation, we’ll be turning it into an almost technical term. It will mean something special amongst those of us who are choosing to read about it, write about it, or study or practice it. We’ll develop that meaning of Improvisation with a capital ‘I’.

First, though, let’s examine examples of how the word turns up in everyday conversations – what we can call the natural language use of the word.

If we go shopping with a carefully-prepared list of items to buy, so that we can follow an enticing recipe to offer a meal to our invited dinner guests, we are not improvising.  If someone shows up the next day and we create a lunch on the spot from whatever we can find in the cupboard, then we are improvising a meal (people will say). Both can be satisfactory occasions. While we might enjoy one more than the other, there’s no reason to suppose one to be superior in nature to the other as an event.

If I suspect it’s going to rain, I’ll take an umbrella. That’s planning. If I’m caught in the rain unexpectedly, I might improvise by covering my hair with a plastic bag. Again, no judgement, unless you perhaps pity my lack of foresight or admire my gift of quick-witted invention.

caught in the rainimprovised umbrellaWhen I’m playing tennis, I sometimes find myself in a position relative to the ball that I’d not anticipated, and with luck I can improvise a shot – on a good day, between the legs, Federer-style. “Well improvised!” I hear the commentators say in the imaginary broadcast in my head.

These are examples of improvisation in everyday life and language, rather than in any technical sense that you might hear from a group of players in improvised comedy or consultants specializing in applying improvisation with teams or organisations.

They involve a person making use of what’s immediately available – accessible resources applied in the moment. It seems to be the particular sort of moment when there is no plan or the plan no longer caters for what’s needed in that moment. So in theatre, improvisation is contrasted with scripted theatre, with the script serving as the plan. Similarly in jazz, when improvising musicians depart (deliberately) from the usual sequence of notes in the song.

We improvise unremarked all the time. Conversation is not scripted, but that facet is usually not worth mentioning. Someone was walking and spontaneously went to the left of the person approaching: so what!

Part of what’s impressive about successful improvisations is the creativity that’s apparent in the novel adjustment to the situation, the clever new use of resources (including skills). We notice that good improvisers deal well with uncertainty.

  They don’t get stuck. They experiment, try something new, take a small step to discover what works. They show skills in adapting the available resources to the situation, or in adapting themselves to the circumstances.

The illustrations for this blog were improvised by Angelina Castellini.

When have you been improvising recently? Which of your improvisations are worthy of mention?


First published 13/06/2014

Paul will be hosting our first webinar of the year,USING IMPROVISATION SKILLS IN LIFE AND AT WORK, on Tuesday 2nd February at 1pm:

Have you ever wondered how improvisers manage to produce magical results under pressure? Well, they are using skills that we all have, though we don’t always realise it. In this webinar, we’ll explore what improvisers do to respond in the moment to whatever comes their way, and we’ll learn precisely how we can do this too. Get ready to Embrace Uncertainty, say Yes to new experiences and throw away needless perfectionism. Paul Z Jackson, one of the leaders in applying improvisation for personal and team development, shares the secrets that will unlock your creativity, boost your confidence and add fresh zest to every encounter.


Starter for Seven…

Depressed woman on a bench

Depressed woman on a bench

So here we are – Blue Monday looming. The holidays are well and truly over, New Year’s resolutions have been broken, and you can’t seem to shake your cold. Tired and overwhelmed, or just downright depressed? You’re not alone. Blue Monday — typically the third Monday of the new year — is called the most depressing day on the calendar!

This is apparently calculated through a formula of weather, debt since Christmas, the time since failing our New Year resolutions, low motivational levels and no real desire to take action. The formula is apparently an equation to calculate the most depressing day of the year. Scientists and psychologists say this formula is ‘ludicrous’. Well, whether you go for this formula or not, you can probably identify with the general sentiment this far into January…

Best thing you can do is to take action. Here are seven things you can do to help boost your wellbeing and blast those blues away!

Finger pointing on tablet pc, social media concept1. Connect more. Our sense of wellbeing is closely linked with how we engage and connect with others. Social media is a big part of that too but put that to one side and try face-to-face instead! This week why not go out of your way to talk to someone at work or have lunch with them? At home do something different – play a board game with your kids, plan a special meal or take it in turns to pick a different topic to talk about with your loved ones – you might learn something new about them!

2. Get out and move – probably the best thing you can do in this cold weather is actually get out and be in it! Go for bracing walks, have a walking meeting at work, get out at lunch time and breathe in fresh air. When you wake up stretch, take regular breaks and keep moving – it’s too easy to get very sedentary and sluggish.

3. Strengthen your skills – try something new this year. It could be a brand new skill but it could also just be listening to a new TED talk each day. Habits are actually easier to form if you do them every day so bite-sized chunks of learning are a good idea. Or sign up for one of our free webinars! 

Retro effect and toned image of a woman hand writing a note with a fountain pen on a notebook. Motivational message PRACTICE GRATITUDE as concept for self improvement

4. Start a gratitude diary – probably one of the easiest ways to feel good very quickly. Start by writing down three things and adding three more each day. You’ll be surprised at just how much there is to be happy about and grateful for!

5. Practise mindfulness – yes, it’s a trend and yes it gives you huge benefits. Mindfulness is all about being present – it starts by focusing on your breathing but you can practise mindfulness during everyday actions – being still and present during your commute to work, savouring your cup of coffee and even in the middle of a difficult meeting. Do this regularly and you will become more accepting (and thereby more adaptable) as well as cultivate the number one  skill today – focus!

6. Get organised – if you’re procrastinating or feeling demotivated sort out your schedule and start planning. Break things down into smaller chunks and specific actions that you can actually realistically tick off your to-do list. If you haven’t already pick up a really good time management planner that can help you do that.

Clutter word cloud

Clutter word cloud

7. Clear the clutter – clear your desk and make it and your office the kind of place you really want to work. Know where to find everything and clean up your computer files and inbox while you’re at it. If you can devote a couple of days to this even better, otherwise allocate an hour each day to clutter clearing. At home get rid of clutter room by room – your head will clear, your creativity will soar and your energy will get a big boost!


2016 – the best is yet to come

my 2016 goals list on clipboard and coffee against grunge wood desk

I Choose Happiness Colorful BlocksI do love the promise of a bright new year ahead. Okay, it’s now the middle of January but 2016 still has a great ring to it and all the promise of a fresh start and a chance to do things differently. I don’t believe as such in “resolutions” but I definitely believe in the opportunities that each year brings with it which of course includes taking on board all the learning from the previous one… And so here we are in 2016. Here are a few good things to try:

1. How to make successful choices:

Do your best – whatever you’re doing. Be excellent. Zen says ‘the way you do anything is the way you do everything’ so give it 100%. Even if ultimately you see yourself doing something quite different work-wise, give it your all right now and watch those opportunities unfold. That means being present, focused and attentive.

Don’t let money and security dictate your choices. This may sound really strange during these hard times but actually life changes and circumstances can throw any security you think you have out of the door. Real security now means knowing actually that there is no real security because then you really will live each day to its fullest.

If nothing else, have a digital like, share, tweet and followdetox some time in January! Every time we’re interrupted by an email alert or text, it takes 22 minutes to get back to our original level of focus. So have a digital Sabbath, curtail the time you spend using social media and read emails only in batches.

2. Best routes to happiness:

Look up, look out and smile. It’s a beautiful world and smiling, if you can, really does change the way you might be feeling. Just be open to god things. They are everywhere but most of the time we don’t notice them because the default setting is to look for the opposite or reHappiness is a state of activity, a quote from Aristotle - motivational words on a slate blackboard with chalk and cup of teasist change when it comes.

Do as you would be done by. So simple and so effective and the impact is fairly immediate.


Listen less to others and more to yourself. And trust what you hear. You are usually right!

Do something – any action is often better than none, especially if you’ve been stuck in an unhappy situation. If it’s a mistake you learn so it’s no longer a mistake. If you remain stuck, you learn nothing.

3. Decide how you really want to live

It’s your life. Go your own way. Do less. If you’re exhausted and are juggling too many things, say “no” more. Say “I will do less”. Be authentic – true to yourself and to others. How are you really feeling? What do you really want? Do more of that or more actions to take you there.

Keys to Happiness - Concept on Golden Keychain over Black Wooden Background. Closeup View, Selective Focus, 3D Render. Black and White Image.

Learn not to ignore your emotional state. When it’s sunny people do more. When we’re stressed we get more tunnel-visioned. Our decisions are swayed by our emotions so take note of them. Note your emotional state and remind yourself why you’re feeling the way you are and this way you’ll make better judgements.

Improvise and live in the moment. Mindfulness – doing anything mindfully really does work and makes you calmer and happier.

Happy 2016,

Emma Sue