Are You Living Life in First Gear? And You Think the Only Solution Is to Rev Harder??

Are You Living Life in First Gear? And You Think the Only Solution Is to Rev Harder??

On our last family holiday in the US we hired a car.

An automatic as is standard with American cars — we Brits normally drive what they call a ‘stick shift’. The first couple of days we were staying in Seattle and drove slowly, getting used to the car, the city streets and driving on the wrong side of the road.

By the third day we’d planned a road trip a couple of hours out of the city and I started to worry.

Whenever I drive this car, it feels like it’s driving along in first gear.

I said.

Which is weird because I thought the whole point of automatics was that they change gear — well — automatically!

As we drove, everyone listened to the sound of the engine.

Yes, my husband agreed, it does sound kinda strained. Are you sure you’re driving it properly?


Human error, right? That’s always the first place we look!


The more I thought about it the more I thought something wasn’t right and that we should take it back to the car rental office before we made the road trip. The last thing I wanted to was drive down the freeway and not be able to shift out of first gear

My son, bless him, decided to review the manual that evening.

Mum, mum,

he called,

look, I think you need to change the setting — you can drive it in manual or you can drive it in automatic!

Well, who knew?

Not me, that’s for sure. Any automatic shift I’ve ever driven has just changed gear without me needing to do anything.

And it strikes me this is a great example of how some of us go through life in the metaphorical equivalent of first gear.

Sure, we can speed up, but only if we rev up really fast. We expend a lot of energy doing it, it feels forced and hard, and it makes a lot of noise, both for us and those around us.

If you don’t know there are gears beyond first, if you don’t know there’s a simple setting change you can make, then you might simply get used to living that way.

And a lot of us live like that — at high rev. If you don’t know what you don’t know then how could you possibly see that ‘automatic’ is even available?

Maybe you’re used to being told that your personal or professional growth is on the other side of ‘hard’, or maybe you’re so used to fighting invisible demons that you think comfortable equals complacent.


Let me assure you it doesn’t!


When we’re in that state where things feel ‘hard’ or it feels as if ‘more’ — more time, more energy, more effort — is the only way to increase our output and get stuff done, then we’re stuck in first gear.

We might call it ‘overwhelm’, we might call it ‘lack of focus’, we might call it ‘over-thinking’, whatever we call it the experience is one where it feels as if our mind is on overdrive.

From this place, we tend only to see a small number of options: it’s rev faster, or it’s throw in the towel and abdicate responsibility. We can’t think clearly because we have too much mental fog in the way.


We don’t see the obvious choice, which is to shift gears; to slow down (the rev counter) to speed up.


Just as a car goes more smoothly the more gears you have available, so you can go through life with a smoother ride, a faster speed, using less energy and making less noise.

You might just find you get to your destination relaxed and refreshed and, rather than being relieved to get out of that noisy, exhausting car, you’re up and ready for even more adventures.

Road trips or otherwise, life’s a smoother ride when you know how the machinery works.

With love,


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We’re Never Done…. and Why That’s Great News!

We’re Never Done…. and Why That’s Great News!

As I look around, I see people everywhere scrabbling to find the perfect solution — the perfect new tech product, the perfect transport solution, the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect partner…

We think there is ‘one thing’; the solution that’s going to solve a single problem every single time it comes up. We want to scale, we want to perfect our systems and structures.

If I could find ‘X’ I’d never have to think about that thing again.

And yet, the truth of life is that we’re never done. There’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ and there’s no such thing as ‘done’. Each of us, and the word around us is in perpetual motion.

I saw this very clearly with a client this week who was asking me about organisational structures and why it seems to be the case that we evolve to ever-more complex and top-heavy structures. He was seeing top-heavy where it looked like flat and agile was a better model, but the general pattern he was observing was that structures and systems evolve for out-dated problems.


We’re great at finding solutions to challenges in the world around us.


What we’re not so great at doing is realising that those solutions are often solving a problem that is already in the past. Or at least, at some point soon, someone will have a new idea to so solve the same, or emerging challenges.

Let’s take a very practical example…

An organisation I work with has designed a way of providing maternal health care that seems to solve most of the problems that exist with the current provision in the country where they are piloting this model.

If only we had the money to roll out the new model,

their CEO told me,

we would be able to improve maternal and child health across all of East Africa.

Yes. That sounds true.


And yet…


The model they’ve developed is a solution to a situation that exists now. It can never be the answer to all possible scenarios in the future. There will always be local differences, demographic changes, technical changes, or new health care trends — good or bad — that will arise in the future.

Rather than being despondent, however, about always chasing somewhere we can never get to, what we often fail to see is the capacity that provides us with these solutions. Within each of us there is an amazing potential for creativity and innovation; for designing and implementing new ideas.


The coming together of minds and means that came up with the new model in the first place.


This is what we have going for us — not the model itself, but out innate creativity and willingness to work together for a common good.

Of course, the East African maternal health model provides a potential shortcut to a solution in new locations, just as my client’s organisational structure provided the solution to some past problem. It’s a place to start, and maybe it’s even something to scale without adjusting.

We shouldn’t lose sight though, even when we do scale, that the solutions don’t come from the structure and the system, the solution comes from the human capacity for new ideas.


‘Perfect’ may not exist, but we humans are about as close to perfect as it’s possible to get.


Look there when you’re facing a challenge because what we have is better than any single model or structure or product — we have the source of all possible solutions.

With love,


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Poverty Isn’t the Problem

Poverty Isn’t the Problem

As I reflect on my recent advanced coach training, one of the highlights was sitting in on our coach running a three-day intensive with one of his clients.

Like any ‘live’ experience you never know how it’s going to go and there’s an element of being ‘in it’ alongside the client, and an element of being ‘above it’, observing and absorbing what’s going on from a professional perspective.

Towards the end of the intensive Ron shared that he grew up as the kid with very little money. His mother, frugal and fair, counted the pennies and often said ‘no’ to his childlike requests for sweets or extras.

Ron’s doing better now, twenty-one years in the air force, retired disabled and building a new career as a fitness trainer and speaker.

Those childhood memories run deep though and he went on to tell our coach that, when he sees a kid in the supermarket whose mum can’t afford the extras, it touches him, and he pays, anonymously, for the shopping, with a few extras for the child.

A very human story of giving back in a way that feels right for Ron. Since they’d spent two days exploring the human experience, and what really moves the needle, our coach offered Ron an observation at the end of this story.

“Maybe it isn’t the gift of the groceries that is where the change is happening between you and the mother and child in the grocery store; maybe it’s the connection that makes the difference, the way that we touch another human at a soul level, not the money in your pocket. That connection can cause a shift in someone that can change the course of their life.”

This impacted Ron, and something inside him unlocked as the truth of it sank in. It’s what had happened to him—he’s connected with something deeper inside him that allowed him to take a different path than most of his peer group.


It’s a Truth I See the World Over


Solving poverty, whether that’s in the projects of Birmingham, Alabama or the townships of the Cape Flats starts with creating an experience of our shared humanity. It starts with showing someone that they are not their circumstances, just as the mother in the supermarket can be touched and can be shown just a glimpse of what’s possible beyond her experience, so this is available to all of us.

Not that poverty isn’t something that we can, and should, solve at a practical level; we have enough resources on the planet that there’s no need for anyone to go hungry, no matter where they live. But food alone is not the answer.

No matter how large or intractable those ‘big’ challenges may look, solutions come from lighting someone up, creating hope, creating choices, and showing them the possibilities beyond the limits we live inside—whether that’s in the form of gang violence, or the form of an ill-fitting corporate straight-jacket; whether it’s not enough food, or too much of the wrong kind of food.


Change is Personal


Until we understand that all change starts with the personal, then anything we do to tackle global challenges is a sticking plaster on a heart attack. Let’s restart the heart and then we can mend the broken leg.

It’s easy to look to a hierarchy of solutions, it’s understandable to see that food and shelter look like they come ahead of love and connection.

Like triage, however, and like the experience that Ron is having when he connects with a single mother in a supermarket, some solutions will be life-changing, and others merely cosmetic.

With love,


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Are You Waiting Until You Get ‘Somewhere’ Before You Do What You Really Want?

Are You Waiting Until You Get ‘Somewhere’ Before You Do What You Really Want?

“Do you think that having more peace of mind would make it easier to make those decisions that look challenging and complex right now?”

“God, yes!”

Earlier this week I was talking with Neil, the CEO of a very busy international development organisation. We’d talked about the content of what he was doing — the complexity of his work situation and the exhaustion he was experiencing with his long working hours, international travel, and multi-cultural working environment.


In This Moment, Life Looked Very Tough


We all know people like Neil — maybe we’ve even been that person at some point in our past. We have such blinkered vision that it can take a physical or mental meltdown to make us realise that what we’re doing isn’t working.

I could see that Neil and I could have talked all week about his ‘challenges’ so, at some point, I simply asked him if he’d be interested in talking about how to find more peace of mind.

He visibly relaxed; he smiled, and I could see that even the idea of it was calming.

You might not call it ‘peace of mind’; you might call it clarity, you might call it ‘being settled’, you might call it flow, or calmness or being stress-free. Whatever your word or phrase, there’s something that you can see as a place to get to that will bring you more ease and joy.


And Yet…


…even as Neil relaxed into the space we were creating, I could see his brain fire up again and remind him of all the things he needed to get done first. He shifted from clarity to confusion in an instant.

I could see that doubt was forming that what we were talking about was even possible.

He was experiencing a sliver of fear that ‘letting go’ might be the start of a slippery slope that ended in indolence and lack of motivation. That somehow daytime TV and endless supplies of biscuits were the only certain thing in his future.

I understood his world view, but I knew it was an illusion — one that was keeping him trapped.


You See to Me, Peace of Mind IS the Path


The route to everything that we want in life comes from the place inside us that is most peaceful. It sometimes looks as if this is somewhere to get to but, trust me, it’s somewhere to come from and it’s the place of the highest leverage in everything we do.

My own experience, and what I see every day with clients is, that when we make decisions, when we lead teams, when we sit down to read a book or go for a walk with our children, being able to be completely, 100% in the room with them, mentally and physically, being able to switch-off, being able to focus and enjoy and be present, is the state of mind that drives both high performance at work, and happiness and joy in our personal relationships.

Who wouldn’t want more of THAT!?

With love,


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Where in Your Life Are You Over-Analysing? (And Why This Is Putting the Egg Before the Chicken…)

Where in Your Life Are You Over-Analysing? (And Why This Is Putting the Egg Before the Chicken…)

You’d think I’d get used to how much ‘stuff’ clients bring with them that has no relevance to them living a good life and achieving what they want to achieve.

But no, I don’t get used to it. I always love helping them see through it to what kind of life is possible for them though.


Like Vera…


Vera’s a new client who sent me a lengthy email a couple of evenings before our first session.

She asked for support with a difficult person at work, and her email outlined the thought process that she was working through to try to make sense of the feelings that were coming up for her, why they were coming, and what they must mean about her that she couldn’t be a bigger and better person.

The next morning, she sent another email asking me to ignore the first one.

“It’s OK,” she said, “I feel better. I got a great email from my boss acknowledging the success we’ve been having with XXX (a complex external project). That made me feel a lot more confident going into the meeting with B.”

Or so it looked to her!

When we spoke, she wanted to look back at that experience and understand what had triggered her, why she’d gone on that downward spiral about her colleague B.


I was more interested in looking at how she was putting the egg before the chicken.


After Vera had slept on it, as is so often the case, the energy of her feelings had dissipated, and she wasn’t caught in her obsession with B.

She already felt better before she got the email from her boss, only she probably didn’t notice it, because it’s much harder to notice an absence of something (her frustration and anger), than it is to notice something that is jumping up and down inside our head.

When she got the email from her boss, it looked as if that was the cause in the shift in her mood. No, that’s not it (egg and chicken…).

What happened was that the mood shifted first, and then she got the email, onto which she projected her newly positive frame of mind.

Had she still been deep in her frustration she could have read the email through frustrated glasses — perhaps been angry about the prior lack of acknowledgement, or at why she was the one who had to lead all the complex projects in her organisations.

Who knows how she might have responded had she been in a different mood, but it doesn’t follow that a compliment always makes us feel good.

What Vera didn’t see at first (until we talked about it) was that all the energy she’d been putting into over-analysing why she felt the way she did about a colleague and how to shift it was only digging her deeper into an illusion that those feelings meant anything.


They felt real, as all feelings do, but they are part of the grand illusion that is the human experience.


We are made to feel; we are made to experience the highs and lows of life; but we aren’t made to take them as seriously as we do.

To live like that is exhausting, and, worst of all, it’s unhelpful.

Our best ideas, our best behaviour comes from the clear space that is the source of all our creativity and performance.

We do better when we have less on our mind.

In Vera’s case, we laughed, as I so often do with my clients.


Because we don’t know what we don’t know. Until we do.


What would your life look like if you expended less energy over-analysing the people and things around you, and more on having fun, implementing great ideas, and spending time with people you love?

Would it feel easier? Lighter?

I suspect you’d achieve more as well!

With love,


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