Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Winning Mindset

I've recently completed The Winning Mindset, a digital coaching programme from Jeremy Snape, ex England cricketer and now sports psychologist. Here's my reflections on the programme.

Jeremy contacted me out of the blue and asked me to participate in the programme and give him some feedback on it, given my interest in all things performance and motivation, and the links between doing so in both sports and business. I jumped at the chance and have really enjoyed the whole 30 day programme.

The programme itself is easy to follow and take part in. Its a 5 minute video clip each day from a famous world-class sportsperson, followed by some analysis from Jeremy, and some links to related material and more videos along with worksheets to complete if you want to embed the learning.

The allure of learning from world-class sports people is obviously what sells the programme, and I have to say the insights are worth it - at least from my perspective given my aforementioned interests.

So what did I get from it?

A lot of the early days were standard coaching stuff about goal-setting. That doesn't make them any less valuable, and for many people they'd have been exceptionally useful, but for me it was going over old ground to a degree. Interesting stuff, but not new. There were insights about envisioning your "World Cup moment" and how you can break down this vision into short and long term goals before fully defining what it is you want to achieve.

This process was quite helpful as at that time I was reflecting quite a lot about what I wanted from my life and career and being prompted to go through this thought process did help me get a lot of clarity about what I wanted in the future and some of the steps I needed to take to get there.

It was also useful to get a reminder of some simple concepts like finding three things you do each day that move you towards your goal, and making sure you do those things first whilst you have more energy, and don't waste the day doing things that don't move you towards those goals.

Something new AND interesting was the idea of process goals, which I found a great concept to explore - however I found I could apply it far more easily to my triathlon training and other sports than I could my work in business.

There were several insights looking at the concept of Mental Toughness. The speakers had a firm belief that it isn't something innate to us that we are born with, but it is something that is shaped by experience and is therefore a skillset that can be developed. I've found this to be true with my own experiences, and I know that some of the things I've experienced in recent times would have broken me in the past, but I've somehow become tougher.

A few speakers talked about making mistakes and learning from them, something I covered briefly in my last blog. Those with Mental Toughness need to be able to start again, rebuild and acknowledge the factors that made them less successful first time round. They also need to be able to make sacrifices in order to achieve their goals, and this really did make me think. Over my career I've made sacrifices in order to be successful, but they haven't always worked out - and this made me think that some of the choices I've made in the past weren't the right ones, and made me resolve to make better ones next time, and to rebuild accordingly.

A speaker said that true Mental Toughness is about being comfortable with who you are, being humble but also being agile, being brave and knowing when to change direction. Hearing this really made me think.

As I mentioned in the last blog, I really loved the idea of presenting successive drafts of one's own performance and its something I've really taken to heart. I'm 41 now, and although I'm much better at everything than I was aged 21 or 31, I also fully expect to be even better by age 51 and 61. Just watch me. Likewise, I talked briefly about isolating any setbacks in their true context, and that's also something that's really helped me.

The programme encouraged me to think about what I'm proud of - and I came up with a decent sized list. It encouraged me to have confidence in my own ability, something that has been lacking sometimes.

We then looked at what champions do that is different from those who are simply good. One factor was being accountable for your own performance, whether that's good or bad. I reckon I'm good at that in sport, and am improving at that in business too. But a key factor was champions accepting a penalty for not achieving their targets, and that's something I've never considered - but am doing now...

Champions also surround themselves with high performing individuals who can give them feedback and hold them to account. This is really similar to Ian Pettigrew's concept of a Personal Board of Directors which I've shared previously, and is something I've tinkered with on occasion but never really put into practice - but I need to...I just need to decide who my Top 5 are. I tried getting some feedback from people as the programme suggested, but most of those I asked really struggled to give me any.

Another couple of speakers looked at the concept of wellbeing - something I've blogged about a few times. They spoke about being able to switch off and disconnect from work in order to focus on something else important, and vice versa - and these are things I've done well in the past. Its important to schedule downtime into my life and to schedule other things like exercise, family time and of course work. This programme also made me realise that I rarely seem to get a good nights sleep BUT that doesn't seem to be affecting my performance - so how good could I be if I did get a good nights sleep regularly?

Some other useful simple insights were about the importance of preparation. I used to remember something in my teaching days that if you were short of time and had a choice of doing lesson preparation or marking students work, you should always choose preparation every time. There was more to it than that but I've carried that forward into every aspect of my life and work - I always prepare well, it builds confidence and puts deposits into my confidence bank account, and leads to greater results. Similarly, the importance of positive self-talk is not new but the insights gave me some ideas how to use that to structure preparation for important meetings and events, and how to use fear as a motivator.

There were a few speakers talking about the power of visualisation and pre-match preparation, something I do on occasion and it does produce better results, but I only tend to do in sporting situations and it then baffled me why I've never done it in a business situation. So, I promptly did so - and got an amazing result which I'll talk about in due course.

The programme finished by asking us to network and connect with those who we consider the very best in our field, and to talk to them about the secrets of their success. I'm encouraged by this and will seek these people out. If all of a sudden I start asking you questions, you know I consider you one of the very best in your field...

The final insight from the programme asked me to reflect on what are the two or three things I'm currently doing that are delivering the greatest success for me - a version of the Pareto Principle I suppose. I know what these things are now. I know when and where I get a chance to do them, and I know when and where I don't. Its up to me what happens about that though.

So the programme is finished and I've come away from it with a mass of thoughts, ideas and practical tips, many of which I've already begun to put into practice and have begun to generate some interesting and really positive results.

There's more insights now available to me for a period of time and I'll be accessing these as soon as I'm able. I will be able to use all of them in my day to day work with other people, and to help me become even more effective at the various things I do.

I'd like to thank Jeremy for inviting me onto this programme and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in applying the principles of world-class sporting performance into the business world.

Till next time...


PS in other news, my wife, my son and I did a Relay Triathlon on Sunday - obviously I do 7/8 individual triathlons every year but it was their first, aswell as my first relay, and we did amazingly well - we'd all done our own individual preparation effectively, and worked well as a team on the day. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had and made me really proud of my whole family, not just those two but my two daughters who came along to support us too. A real family moment. And we want to do more...

Saturday, 13 May 2017


It's been Mental Health Awareness Week  this past week and it's been hard to escape the mass amounts of publicity raising awareness. I've found it really interesting to read so many examples from both famous people and people I respect in my PLN about their struggles with mental health issues. 

It's made me reflect on my own experiences. I don't think I've ever had any long term mental health issues, although I've certainly had some very short term adverse reactions to events, but I tend to be able to spot when these happen and take steps to deal with it. 

I think I'm more fortunate than others in that respect, but I admire anyone who has the courage to talk about their issues. 

My one episode of any kind of mental health issue came when my first marriage broke down unexpectedly and in very public and extremely difficult circumstances. I know for certain I suffered a depressive episode and struggled with lots of things. I've talked before about how my employer at the time and particularly the Chief Executive supported me wholeheartedly. My judgement was very much impaired, I made lots of bad decisions, my mood was all over the place and I didn't think there was a way to recover. 

But time heals. 


Nowadays I can tell when I'm feeling stressed or coming close to anything like a depressive episode. There are headaches, a feeling of blood rushing round my head, and heart palpitations in extreme cases. I'd have trouble sleeping, or staying asleep and would wake very early with my brain very active. If any two or more of these or other symptoms show themselves, I know I'm getting stressed and I know if I do nothing about it then it would make me ill. 

So I tend to do something about it.

Sometimes it's about doing something physical to expend some energy. I'm lucky enough to be fit and active and I use that to help me in times of stress. It gives me time to think as well, which helps too. 

Sometimes it's about talking or writing. I find both incredibly useful to manage my emotional state. I'm a big believer in the power of counselling and other similar techniques, although I was brought up to think that men shouldn't show emotion as it was a sign of weakness, and I should hide it all away. 

This means I do struggle to show emotion, and do keep it all internal, so talking and writing gives me an outlet. 

Whilst I have times of difficulty nothing has come close to the depressive episode around my divorce, although I know that if I didn't have coping mechanisms I'd be in greater difficulty. 

I also am more aware now of situations that can cause me stress. It's usually when people think something about me that is untrue, or argue with me from a position I can't understand, or when I feel a very strong sense of injustice. These situations create some of the symptoms I've described so I have to try my coping mechanisms. 

An alternative is to avoid these situations altogether but that's not always possible, and another technique is to not let them stress me, but that's easier said than done as well. 

I read an interview in HR Magazine this week with Alastair Campbell  talking about his own mental health issues. He mentally rates each day at its outset according to how he feels it is going to go from what he knows he is doing that day, on a scale of 0-10. He says he is comfortable if his days are no lower than 2 and no higher than 7 but he struggles if he knows days are going either side of those scores. 

I quite like this approach. He's planning ahead, and if he knows he's in for a 2 day, he knows he has to plan out his coping strategies and to be honest on reflection I can see that's what I have been doing, albeit without any scoring mechanism to quantify it. I'll always schedule a run after an event I know may cause me some difficulty, and it does help. Or I'll make sure I make contact with someone I can talk to during the day. 

I've also read about some places, e.g. in France, where companies can't send emails after a certain time and employees can't read emails whilst on holiday. When I first heard about this I didn't think it was workable, but over time I've come to appreciate what a good move it is in terms of mental health and work life balance. 

I blogged here about my experiments with it and I've continued them. When I'm off work for anything more than 24 hours I deactivate my email from my phone and tablet so I'm not disturbed. And I try my best each evening to switch off my work communications and focus on other things like family, and I'm mostly successful in doing so. 

There was once a regional union official who used to send me very abusive emails late at night. He would never send these during the day and in person he was not as nasty either. But he seemed to get a kick out of sending these because he knew the effect it would have on me (a very negative emotional reaction because it hit all the triggers I mention above and I had no available coping mechanisms due to the time of night, and he knew that), and he would also cc in the Chief Executive and as many other union officials as he could, which would further exacerbate my stress reaction and is a part of the reasons why I'm so anti cc. 

These experiences taught me the downsides of using email late at night, and I often encourage managers who do need to complete work and send email themselves late at night to set them to send at 8am. They get their bit done but without the negative impact or intrusion into someone's home life. 

I'm halfway through The Winning Mindset digital coaching programme via ex England cricketer and noted sports psychologist Jeremy Snape and it's really good. Highly recommended. I'll do a longer blog on it when it's finished but a few of the daily coaching episodes have focused on mental health and in particular how to develop mental toughness or resilience. 

It's been interesting to hear from world class athletes and their coaches about how they manage work life balance, how they manage their mental state and how they cope with setbacks or criticism. 

One thing I particularly liked was a top athlete suggesting that you shouldn't view mistakes or bad experiences as something to dwell on, but instead view them as successive drafts of your ever increasing performance. 

Another was to put setbacks and such things in context. Rarely do setbacks affect your entire life, usually just one portion of it and often they're no reflection on your whole self or your direction or anything, they're just one isolated bad incident that is already in the past and therefore it shouldn't affect your sense of self worth. 

Really good stuff and I'm enjoying the coaching programme and have got a lot from it. Watch out for another blog on this soon. 

But I still can't shake the feeling that I'm not supposed to be anything less than strong and focused all the time. That as a man I should never have emotions and certainly shouldn't ever feel like crying. I'm a senior manager too and I still often think that's not what we do. 

Those kinds of views are wrong but they are what I was brought up believing and what many people still do believe. It's only through campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week and the stories shared by those a bit braver than me and those who have gone through tougher times than me that I can even begin to feel it's ok to talk about feeling stressed and being less than my best from time to time. 

In this blog I've tried to explain how I cope with difficult times and how it's been helpful to read others stories and to learn from external sources too. 

I hope that I'm able to help others in doing so. 

Till next time…


Ps in other news, I've had the wetsuit out today and have been open water swimming for the first time since last August when I caught a nasty bug doing so. I felt great except for the first few minutes when I had brain freeze. Glad I'm back in the open water. 

Mental Health Awareness Week