17 January 2018

Better Choices

Wishing to be better at something lies at the heart of most of the conversations I have with people. What they mean by better is always different. For me, better is energy-giving, flourishing, stretching, thriving, making progress one step at a time. Better is healing. Better is about believing you can be – and do – more than you thought. And at the heart of becoming better at anything is the ability to make better choices. That’s what I help people to do.

When I meet any client, step one is finding out what specifically they wish to be better at – and it’s not always straightforward. As we work together and discuss their situation, their strengths, their hopes and ambitions – they often realize that what they actually want to be better at is not what they were thinking when they walked in.

If you were sitting in front of me now, I would ask you, ‘What do you want to be better at?’

If the word better feels scary to you, you’re not alone. For some, it can feel energy-sapping rather than energy- giving – a million miles from flourishing or thriving. For many it smacks of old school reports (‘could do better’) or brings up negative and unhelpful comparisons (‘they do it better than me’). For some, the concept of becoming better at anything demands a level of self-belief or awareness that they perhaps feel they lack, or a level of determination, grit or self-preservation that sounds exhausting when they feel strung out as it is. If you are one of those people, I invite you to step forward and answer this question: How much better dare you be?

In answer to that question, many people I meet start by describing their current reality. For example:

•    Things are tough at the moment.
•    I need to make some decisions.
•    My team/son/daughter is anxious.
•    There is so much going on and I am overstretched.
•    I have three months to sort this out.
•    X is driving me mad.
•    I seem to always be in meetings.
•    I feel bored and underchallenged.

As far as they are concerned, for them to become better, someone or something else has to change first:

•    If he would just listen more . . .
•    If they were to ask me what I thought . . .
•    If she would only stop . . .
•    If I had more time . . .
•    If they got home earlier . . .
•    If I could do more work from home . . .
•    If they would just get on with it . . .
•    If the place wasn’t so . . .
•    If they would just make a decision . . .

However, when they start to connect instead with what they can do – with what they can control – I witness a shift in their motivation to choose to do something different. Once I sense this, we return to the question: ‘What do you want to be better at?’

Here are some common responses:

•    Better at listening.
•    Better at managing my emotions.
•    Better at saying no.
•    Better at switching off.
•    Better at going to bed earlier.
•    Better at spending time with friends/my family.
•    Better at making decisions.
•    Better at being positive.
•    Better at speaking out.
•    Better at saying what I want.
•    Better at looking and feeling confident.
•    Better at concentrating.
•    Better at prioritizing.
•    Better at asking questions.
•    Better at influencing.

Once people can begin to articulate something specific that they can do, take responsibility for and control, a sense of choice begins to take root, and they move from being a spectator to a participant.

The Shed Method

'Better is about believing you can be – and do – more than you thought. And at the heart of becoming better at anything is the ability to make better choices.'

My aim is then to help them build their desire to achieve their ambition by asking more questions:

•    Why is this important to you?
•    When have you done this well in the past?
•    How did you know?
•    What would being better at it feel like? Look like? Sound like?
•    Who would benefit?
•    In what situation(s) do you want to be better at it?
•    How will you know that being better at it was worth it?
•    And finally, how would you currently rate your ability at doing it on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 = very poor and 10 = excellent)?

This last question is important, as it helps clients to mark where they are when they set off, and offers them a simple way of measuring progress as they continue on their journey.

Of course you might already be very good at what you want to be better at, so, for you, better means becoming exceptional. Many people I work with find it hugely energizing to keep learning to be even better.

Recently I was working with a client on a keynote speech to his entire company. He performed really well and the audience feedback was excellent – the average score his speech received was 8.1 out of 10. I sent him the footage. Within an hour he had downloaded it, watched it and sent me a return email saying, ‘Thanks for this. I’m happy with the audience reaction and how I came across. Personally, I would rate my performance at around 7. I’m telling you now that by my next presentation I want to be scoring 9.’ Some people would be happy with an audience rating of 8.1. But, for him, being better meant pushing himself even closer to 10.

So, here’s the question. Where do you want better to take you?

One reason the concept of becoming better can scare us is that it requires us to step out of a place that we recognize and have possibly grown comfortable with. Something that describes us. A label. A few of the most frequent labels I see or hear are:

•    I’m not good with change.
•    I say it how it is.
•    I’m risk-averse.
•    I’m not really a people person.
•    I’m shy.
•    I’m loud.
•    I’m moody.
•    I’m a joker.
•    I’m not creative.
•    I’m sensitive.
•    I tend to overreact.
•    I’m not very resilient.
•    I don’t do ‘vulnerable’.
•    I’m bloody great.

I regularly meet people who carry this kind of label, either one that they’ve chosen for themselves or have been given by others. They wear it believing it is who they are. It limits them. It doesn’t have to.

That’s not to say, of course, that all labels are limiting. Quite often the people who come to me are anxious because they have been given a positive label by someone else and fear they can’t live up to it. They ask me to help them test that assumption. What would it take to believe and accept that label and maximize it? What else might be possible?

Over the years I’ve witnessed students and many clients who felt they couldn’t do something because it wasn’t them. So they didn’t try. I’ve also met many who were courageous enough to have a go, realize they can do it, and flourish once they discover that they can be more than they thought. Having a fixed sense of who we are can hold us back when we want to up our game and be better at something. I regularly witness people who have trapped themselves into a way of thinking that limits their journey before they’ve even embarked on it. Old patterns of thought and action can box us in. They give us a limiting sense of who we can be. When we’re brave enough to try something else – to have a go and learn from the experience – we can often change what we understand to be possible or worth doing, and ultimately who we believe ourselves to be.

Within The SHED Method, I’m inviting you to break away from any limiting labels you might have acquired, to leave them behind you and choose a useful first step to move forward. To train your mind and body to help you define the label you want, and live up to it. 

The Shed Method

'When we’re brave enough to try something else we can often change what we understand to be possible or worth doing, and ultimately who we believe ourselves to be.'

So, standing in a space free of any limiting labels, with a clearer sense (hopefully!) of where you want to get to, I want to ask you the key question again:

•    What do you want to be better at?

If you’re still finding it tricky to answer – which many people do, by the way – try this:

•    Think of a personal achievement. One you feel particularly proud of. Remember your strengths in that achievement and connect to them.

Now . . .

•    Jump forward to a year in the future when you are so much better . . .
•    What does being better look like?
•    What does being better sound like?
•    What does being better feel like?

Write those thoughts down if it helps.

When I ask people to think of something they have already achieved – to connect with their strengths – and from there jump into what the future could be like when they are better, they immediately appear more hopeful and confident, and want to go after it. Revisiting strengths you already have and building on them is a powerful way to develop and grow. In my experience, we all have a lot of them if we really look for them.

So, let’s continue:

•    Why does being better matter to you? To others?
•    When are you currently at your best?
•    In what situations do you feel you want to be better?
•    What gives you energy?
•    What would be at risk if you chose to do nothing?

Finally, make a note of how you would rate yourself on this ‘Be Better Scale’:

I know what success looks like

0 (not at all) ———————————————— 10 (absolutely)

This really matters to me

0 (not at all) ———————————————— 10 (absolutely)

I know the skill I need to be better at

0 (not at all) ———————————————— 10 (absolutely)

I have a way of practising it when I need to

0 (not at all) ———————————————— 10 (absolutely)

I have a way of checking my progress

0 (not at all) ———————————————— 10 (absolutely)

I have others to let me know how I’m doing

0 (not at all) ———————————————— 10 (absolutely)

I make sure I have fun, chill out and switch off

0 (not at all) ———————————————— 10 (absolutely)

I give myself time to reflect on how I’m doing

0 (not at all) ———————————————— 10 (absolutely)

I notice when I am getting better and treat myself

0 (not at all) ———————————————— 10 (absolutely)

Great. Now that you have a sense of where you are starting from, we can head out on your journey to be better. And remember. Getting better can be easier than we think.

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