What Prices the Brain

The brain is probably the least talked about subject or organ.  Maybe it conjures up complexities that most people want to avoid due to lack of knowledge, understanding and interest are probably the contributing reasons.  (After all for many it is not an exciting topic.)  Who could blame them?  It was not until fairly recent, as far as science is concerned, that astounding research findings are available about how the brain works.  Even then, there leaves much to be discovered. Continue reading


What Powers Motivation

Motivation has been a key in many self-development theories as old as time but with recent development in other aspects, this age-old phenomenon seems to have lost its lustre.

Either the theory is over used or the low success rate has  led to disappointments.  If one were to use the carrot-and-stick method to motivate without other considerations, it would not be surprising that it failed after some time.  The simple reason is that such method could only have short-term gains, unless you have a mind of a dog…those canines never get tired of responding to stimuli where food is involved.  That in itself is telling.  If the right motivation is applied in a consistent manner, the theory could still work.  May be it is time to update the theory to include other related issues.  Perhaps understanding how the brain works would help. Continue reading

Coaching Conversations in the School Room

In spite of the increasing awareness of Emotional Intelligence and talks of introducing it into schools to develop interpersonal and intrapersonal skills in children, the actual implementation is slow in actualizing.  It is a mammoth task as a stream of people are involved in making it happen; especially the teachers who must recognise  their need to change first before such adoption in schools can be made possible.  Perhaps learning to use coaching conversations is a good start.

So what is coaching conversations and their connection to Emotional Intelligence? Continue reading

Pushing the Envelope

If you limit your choices to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise. ~Robert Fritz

When I read this quote by Robert Fritz, I could not help asking myself if this is what I have been doing – compromising myself.  Have you?  I am not surprised if you do because most of us take the easy way out.  Why push yourself so hard?  Life is to be enjoyed.  But do you get what you want and hope to become?

Is it possible for me to be a good teacher?  Yes, it is but you must acquire the knowledge.  Is it possible for me to be rich?  Yes, you can but you need to learn how to make your money grow.  And so forth…

When you are not pushing against the envelope you are not growing.  Becoming stagnant is worse than death because, whether you realize it or not, life becomes less meaningful, listless and boring without a purpose. Continue reading

From Suffering to Greatness

Almost every great man I read about had at one time or another suffer some personal losses before they become great.  That puts me to wonder what really transpire during the time of suffering that make these people great.  For their greatness is sustainable for many decades and often the rest of their lives.  People like Lee Kuan Yew and Gandhi Mahatma.

Perhaps it is during the time of lost and suffering that people find there is nothing to lose by going deep within themselves to reflect and search for the thing they are made of.  It is perhaps during this time that the greatest insights and passions are revealed because there is no other noise of fear that camouflage and prevent its revelation. Continue reading

Reflecting on Teen Parenting

For the past few months, for some reason or other, I was drawn in the direction of Teen Parenting.  Aside from the programme run by my partner, Dolly Yeo, on parenting in particular on teens, I seem to attract all things relating to teen parenting.

Last week, I was with some friends celebrating a birthday.  The conversation somehow drifted to managing teens and the difficulties that went along with it.

One said, “Teens nowadays would not listen to you.  You tell them one thing and they will do another.  They would listen to friends and others but me.”.  Quite a few agreed.

On the same weekend, I met another ex-colleague and again the conversation was unconsciously steered toward parenting.  You quickly picked up on the self-justification on how different the world is today, parenting is becoming more difficult and there is nothing much you can do about it.  Such is the defeatist attitude. Continue reading

Why the Training and Coaching Connection?

News abuzz on the training scene following the recent Singapore  Budget 2010 – all the talk about boosting productivity through more training.  I am all for training but without the coaching connection, training by itself would not be enough to sustain long-term change to reap the benefits training provides.

I have an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is a professional soft skill trainer  and a trained coach a few days ago.  We were discussing how we could develop programmes that use both training and coaching to enhance their effectiveness.    He is concerned over reports that appear to portray a rather skewed focus on technical training leaving little space for soft skills training, although more recent news started reporting on promoting sales and marketing training even for technical staff.  I applaud that move as they signal a more balanced view.  Nonetheless any spotlight on training is good news for trainers.

I liken technical and soft skills training to IQ and EQ.  A proportionate balanced IQ/EQ has served many successful leaders and entrepreneurs well and a good concoction of technical and soft skills would likewise do more good than harm, forming a more rounded skill sets to meet any challenge.

Training unfortunately, and in particular since the economic crisis, is seen by many as more of a frivolous rather than a valuable undertaking, in spite of all the incentives provided by the government.  I followed with great interest the comments posted on one of the LinkedIn group discussion on the value of training, both of in-house as well as external training programmes.  Some lamented on how some companies still do not recognize the value training brings while others are buoyant about the training future.

It is not surprising that there are such wide ranging views on the effects of training.  I often have conflicting views of training not because I do not believe in training.  On the contrary, I am a strong supporter for continuous learning and training is certainly one of the ways to go except that a better post-training management is called for to enhance the effectiveness.  That, sadly is missing or very under-developed.

I have my fair share of training and I have noticed that a majority goes for training courses for the wrong reasons, i.e. not necessarily to improve their skills and knowledge.  Attending any training for the wrong reason would certainly give raise to negative reports and impressions.  Some genuinely want to improve and see the training provided as God-sent but whatever the intention may be, there will always be some who will return energized and ever ready to try out the new skills only to fall back on old habits after a few weeks, or at best a few months.

This often resulted in companies wary of sending their employees to expensive courses to find out later that there is no significant improvement to speak of.  I can hardly blame them but there is always a flip side of things.  In spite of training having been around for several decades there are very few people who know how to manage post-training measurement and have proper follow through to ensure that the skills and knowledge are applied at the workplace consistently.  Over time, the employees seeing no acknowledgement of their new behaviour return to old habits while management moan about the ineffectiveness of the training.

Workplace Coaching enters the scene as a complement to training.  Often training takes a couple of days or a week or two while a coaching engagement spans over a few months.  This is the first major difference but not the most significant.

Coaching is about applying and internalizing the skills learned.  We all know that breaking a habit is very difficult and with just training alone, old habits will continue to lurk in the background waiting for the weak moments to resurface again.  Coaching is about reinforcing new habits over the old for longer lasting change.  Hence, coaching is training’s perfect partner for true transformation.

Coaching uses positive questioning skills to help coachees explore and make deliberated actions toward attaining their set SMART goals.  By giving them enough time and space and in focusing on solutions using the skills and knowledge learned, coachees are thus able to develop longer lasting and enduring new thinking habits to gain personal breakthroughs.

Increasingly coaching is recognized as an important development tool so much so that some companies send their managers to coaching classes so they may use their new found skills to manage their staff more effectively.  Still there are differences in deploying managers as coaches as opposed to having external coaches just as you would have external trainers instead of internal trainers.

What has become interesting is that the mindset about coaching is starting to change as the awareness of coaching benefits grows.  In the days of old, when one is selected to be coached, he would feel insulted with the thought that only those who performed badly require a coach.  How wrong they were as that is far from the truth.  Today, however, managers hope they would be selected because those left alone would be perceived as being less important or not as valued by the management.  So don’t reject being coached if offered.  You may regret that decision.

You do not need to undergo any training before you are coached.  Coaching can be applied in many different areas for personal development and growth, and workplace coaching touches only just one aspect of one’s life.  If you have not been coached before and would like to try it out, find a coach who is willing to give you a free trial session.  You may be surprised…

The Pursuit of Happiness (II)

If we are barking at the wrong tree when depending on external factors for our true lasting happiness, what could we do to deflect from this erroneous path?

I am not sure if it is a good thing that there are lots of resources on the topic of happiness.  On one hand it is good to know that we are not alone in this journey while on the other it is rather sad to know that there are so many people afflicted by the disease – of not being happy.  I refer unhappiness to being a disease simply because with enough commitment to change, this trend could be reversed.

It is interesting how long people pulse when you ask if they are happy.  At times I wonder which of these could be the real reason for the delay in answer:

  • They have never given it deep thoughts.
  • They are afraid or embarrass to say what they think.
  • They are thinking to form an answer that they think you want to hear.
  • They do not know how to qualify if they are happy or not.
  • …and many others I could not venture to guess.

If there is a long pulse before you get an answer, it could be a telltale sign of an unhappy person.  If you are happy, it will be evident; every expression in your manner, speech and action projects it.

To reset our genetic happiness set point (see also http://wp.me/pJZPk-2h), we need to practise more positive thinking on a regular basis which will then lead us to having more positive emotions.  It is not good enough to start on a transformation programme only to stop after a few days or weeks.  It has got to be a continuous process of self-awareness, self-development and self-appraisal to the point of becoming second nature to you.  The transformation process involves a change in mindset and developing the ability to consciously observe yourself in thoughts and actions moment-by-moment in your everyday life.

Wow, I know it sounds tough and it is tough.  That is why you need to break everything down into achievable chunks to digest and practise.

Here are some suggestive steps you could take:

  1. Read some books or search the web for resources to help you line up the various exercises you could do to help in the transformation process.
  2. Commit to making these changes and set short and long term goals.
  3. Identify the ones that are most comfortable for you.
  4. Prioritize and decide which ones to start with.  Start small with just a couple of exercises that can easily fit into your current lifestyle.
  5. If necessary, get a life coach to help you for a faster and more effective change.
  6. Perform regular evaluations and adjust.
  7. Add on more exercises when you feel right.

It typically takes 21 days of consistent application to form sustainable habits but be kind to yourself if you do not make it on some days.  Being overly hard on yourself can discourage and hinder your progress and, you don’t want that.

If you are not using a coach, you could start a support group comprising people with whom you are comfortable having the same objective – to attain true lasting happiness – as a common goal.  However, you need some very strict rules of engagement in the group to make this a success.  More of this in the next article.

Hope you enjoy this and are able to use some of the suggestions here.

Change Motivation

How often have we set goals for ourselves to find that we either have not started or completed them. We tell ourselves we have to be determined and disciplined but the moment daily activities become overwhelming, we forgot about our goals and once we get off the focus point, it stays unfocused – out of sight, out of mind.

One common issue I have found in the cause of coaching is that most realised they are not that motivated to accomplish anything. Often people are contented with what they have and do not want to disturb their comfort zone which could be due to various reasons. The underlying reason could be fear of failure but is camouflaged by excuses such as no time, don’t have the right training or experience, etc.

Motivation is driven from two angles: internal and external. The majority of us is more reactive than proactive and therefore more reliant on external motivation for change. External motivation usually have a negative connotation and leaves a feeling of helplessness and despair.

For internal motivation to happen, there must be strong desire which often takes place after some serious self-reflection. Self-reflection is not something many do since it is as difficult and scary as change itself because they are afraid to confront their fears. However, being self-aware allows us to feel more in control with our lives. Being more relaxed can lead to positive and creative solutions and help us better manage unanticipated changes.

Change is scary.  Change is hard.  It requires courage, self-knowledge and thinking abilities to overcome the fear of uncertainty and failure.

The question is: Can we stop change? How do we handle changes in our lives? Can we ever be prepared enough?

Someone once shared this with me “The Change that is most certain is change itself”.  There is no escaping change.   The crux of the matter is whether it is a change that is anticipated or not; a change that is welcomed or not; a change that is feared or not, and so forth.  Any change that does not align with personal comfort incite negative emotions.

Whatever the change may be we need to deal with them. We may never be totally prepared but having the right frame of mind and constantly working proactively with the environment can relieve some of the effects of unexpected changes.

Have you ever asked how prepared are you?

Book Review – Your Brain At Work

For those who have taken the ICT (Intensive Coaching Training) with Results Coaching Systems (RCS) would know who David Rock is.  He is the founder of RCS now operating worldwide and the author of several books, including the most recent – Your Brain At Work.

David Rock conducted a workshop in Singapore this November on his latest book, the result of 3 years of hard work and interviews with renown neuro-scientists.  The book is a good read, delivering normally hard-to-understand neuroscience concepts in layman language to help us understand how our brains work and how to capitalize on this knowledge.  This is by no means a full understanding of the brain since there is still a lot of unknowns about this complex organ of ours and neuroscience, is a fairly new field in comparison to all the sciences of today.  However, any small step taken forward is a major discovery to reflect and test on and could be the life-changing event for anyone.

Catching on the neuroscience-interest disease, I have taken steps to follow the works on neuroscience in recent months, reading as much as time allows.  So this book is of utmost interest not only for those neuroscience enthusiast as I but also for any lay person who has an interest in maximizing the use of their brain  at work.

Some of the interesting finds in David Rock’s work are:

  • Conscious thinking takes up a lot of energy, more than we realized and there are some tasks utilizing more energy than others.
  • The conscious working part of the brain is small and therefore limited to a number of things we can do with it at any given time.
  • The brain can only manage one conscious task at a time and multi-tasking slows us down more than concentrating on one task fully at a time.
  • Multi-tasking affects our quality of performance and accuracy.
  • Our brains are very easily distracted by internal and external factors but we could learn to manage and control our thinking processes to maximize the effective use of our brains.
  • Understanding how the brain reacts to various circumstances and how to circumvent the negative occurrences for positive effects.
  • The practice of mindfulness helps in training the brain to better control and use of the whole brain to promote and manage autonomy and certainty.
  • Using the SCARF (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) model to facilitate change and maintain sustainable transformation.
Bottom line is the brain can change according to what thoughts and thinking process you feed your brain with regardless of your age.
If you are inspired to make a big shift in your life – either at home or at work – you may want to start by picking up this book to understand how your brain works.  It may save you a lot of wasted hours and ineffective hard work for a more sustainable and rewarding transformation.  To speed up the process, find yourself a coach to help you in your journey.

Is this what it takes to cultivate Patience?

How often is it said that Patience is a virtue but it is not something that is easily maintained throughout the day. Patience is what I would like to accomplish yet it has not been on the top of my list until in recent months. I have been trying to make a conscious effort to take note of the times that I get frustrated and lose patience. The occasions have reduced significantly partly because I spend more time with myself and therefore can maintain being peaceful and serene. I was rather pleased with myself until…

I have a lot of dealings with old folks, in the past and the present, and they do test your patience. It could not be helped that they get forgetful and repeat things over and over again, sometimes everyday. Now that communication means are so easily available, there is no where to hide without causing some upsets. So you get calls day and night. They have no regard for the number of times they call you or consideration for your availability. Sometimes, I wish I could be firm enough to tell them to back off but I know I won’t.

My parents have an issue with our maid and we are in the process of terminating her services. My father has been picking every single small issue and complains daily. The maid has been working for us for 3 years now and the problems started surfacing some 6 months ago. The complaining started. At first it was weekly or as and when a problem arises then it gets more frequent. Ask what they wanted to get done about it, both my parents have different views and refused to make any decision. So the complaining continues more frequently and intensely.

Talking about complexities of human relationships, this one tops everything else, at least in my experience. When you have misalignment of expectations, sensitiveness, unsubstantiated assumptions and accusations and poor communications where can there be peaceful co-existence? The main problem is old folks are obviously unwilling or not open to reflect and consider changes and maids, generally not angels either, do not see why they need to be accommodative to their employers’ eccentricities.

Being a rather objective person, I tried to put things into perspective but was frequently being accused of taking sides. Rationally, I understand that old folks just wanted to vent their frustrations onto a listening ear but there is only so much one can take and emotionally, on the receiving end, it posts a big problem for me. It gets to me each time in spite of my attempts to brace myself for it. I get frustrated because even with the decision made to let the maid go and while waiting for the maid to depart, I continue to be barraged with past and new misdeeds (I have 2 more weeks before we say goodbye to the maid and it feels like a long wait!).

It gets to the point that I want an escape to somewhere where no phone calls can reach me. I maintain my physical distance by limiting my visits to my parents for fear of getting myself upset unnecessarily. I know it sounded mean but I need to preserve my sanity. These are the times I repeatedly asked myself, “Patience where are you? When will you stay on permanently?“. Meditation helps tremendously until the next phone call comes in. Is this the ultimate test in cultivating patience, I wonder.

The new maid will arrive in 2 weeks. I sincerely hope she would bring on some peace then I can relax and be my peaceful self again.