It’s all in the mind

People who respect themselves and believe they’re capable and competent, smart, kind and reliable, automatically act in those ways. They don’t have to remind themselves to be that way because that’s just how they are. Sadly, the opposite is also true. People who think they’re lazy losers, careless, stupid and undependable automatically act in those ways. That’s what self-esteem is all about.

We can take that one step further and say that with high self-esteem, you’re more able to achieve self-mastery. That’s when you accept responsibility, have the confidence to tackle tough tasks and learn new things, make mistakes and learn from them, look for answers to problems, and act with integrity.

It isn’t about domination or being on top of the pyramid or controlling others. It’s about controlling yourself and having the self-discipline, for example, to choose to say or do something. Or to choose not to say or do something or to say or do it later, at a more suitable time. Self-mastery gives you the wherewithal to keep working at getting better, improving, learning, growing and to always do your best and tackle chores, duties and responsibilities with gusto and pleasure, not with indifference and lethargy.

Self-mastery isn’t about being self-righteous either, because it encompasses compassion and respect for others. Once you’ve mastered yourself, you’re directed from the inside, not the outside. You do things without needing to be reminded to do them.

This linked to the concept of locus of control. When your locus of control is internal, you believe you can control a large part of your life. You’re in charge, so you’re likely to be proactive rather than reactive. When your locus of control is external, you believe other people and events largely control your life, which leads you to sit back and let things happen to you.

Clearly, the most effective leader-managers have high self-esteem, have mastered themselves and have an internal locus of control. How about you?


Act As If

William James, a pioneer of psychology, said ‘Act as if what you do matters. It does’. He also said ‘If you want a quality, act as if you already have it’.

I call that the Act As If principle. There is a third way to apply this principle. When you don’t know what to do or say in a situation, think of someone you know who would know exactly what to do or say. What would they do or say? Mentally step into their shoes and Act As If you’re them. This at least starts you moving in the right direction. It might even produce the precise result you’re after. You then have this new behaviour as part of your repertoire and your self-image grows to include being someone who knows what to do or say in that type of situation.

Some of you may know that I’m a Star Trek fan tragic. The late Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr Spock, that super-cool, super-logical fellow with the pointy ears, said that playing Spock had a huge effect on him and his thought processes. Playing Spock, he learned so much about rational, logical thought that it re-shaped his life.

By Acting As If he were logical and rational, he became logical and rational. Acting As If you are the character or the person with the characteristics you want to adopt gives you energy and inspiration and builds the behaviour and memory patters that last you your entire life when you do it often enough. Acting becomes reality with repetition. We become what we do.

I’m not saying don’t be authentic. I’m saying keep improving your authentic self and Acting As If is one way to do that.

The ‘Five Fs’ of communication

March has shaped up to be the merry month of communication. In that spirit, let’s talk about the ‘five Fs’ of communication that you need to be aware of when gathering or giving information: Facts, Fantasy, Feelings, Fiction and Folklore.

We all know what facts are. They’re beyond doubt. They are known and can be proven to be true.

Fantasy is opinions, other people’s and our own. A lot of us are guilty of presenting our opinions as facts. This doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable – they can be; they can also lead us astray and muddy the waters. When listening to someone’s point of view, mentally separate their opinions from facts. And don’t present your own fantasies (opinions) as if they are provable facts; when you’re stating an opinion, let people know it’s your opinion.

We often overlook feelings, but they have a place in organisations; after all, organisations are made up of people and people have feelings. There are three kinds of feelings. The first is intuition – hunches and ‘gut feelings’. They can give us a lot of information and insight; in fact, I think a lot of us could benefit from learning to tune into our hunches and ‘little voices’ more because they’re often our subconscious talking to us.

The second type of feelings is emotions. People’s emotions, can also provide important information. Tune into whether someone is happy, sad, angry, motivated or uneasy and be clear on how you’re feeling, too.

The third type of feelings to take into account is feelings of the ego kind, although these are far less helpful than intuition or emotions. When you’ve seen someone backed into a corner and forced to save face, you’ve seen unhelpful ego feelings at work.

Fiction is incorrect statements or misconceptions, often presented as facts.

Folklore is what we know as hearsay, gossip or the rumour mill. While it doesn’t hurt to be ‘tuned in’, most folklore, as you probably know, is fantasy or fiction and should be treated as such. Listen to it, but don’t spread it!

Many an expensive and embarrassing decision has been made by treating fantasy, feelings, fiction and folklore as facts and many a conflict has flared for the same reason. To complicate matters, some people excel at spin – twisting the truth to make it more palatable or describing something negative in a positive way. The same people often have an articulate style and can make fantasy, fiction and folklore sound more plausible than they really are.

Listen for substance, not spin or style:

  • Fact: Is this an indisputable fact that everyone would accept?
  • Fantasy: Is this someone’s opinion?
  • Feelings: Is this someone’s intuition, emotion or ego?
  • Fiction: Is this doubtful or questionable?
  • Folklore: Is this hearsay, gossip or rumour?

Conversational frames

Framing your messages is a great habit to develop. Last week, we talked about prefacing your messages with a WIFM, What’s In it for Me? A WIFM is a way to frame your communications.

All you need to do is think about what you want from the conversation and how you want it to proceed. Then summarise your aim as a frame.

Here are some examples of framing statements:

  • Sam, I need to speak with you about the presentation of next week’s report; do you have some time now?
  • Sandy, would you mind running through how I should do this? I’ve only done it once and I want to make sure I get it right.
  • I’m running really late; would you give me a hand with this please?
  • Gill, can I ask you something?



Conversational frames function just like frames of a painting. A frame encloses a painting and draws attention to its subject. So does a conversational frame; it encloses our communication and draws attention to the subject. Conversational frames let people know what to expect and what to listen for, saving time and confusion. They guide our discussion towards our goal. They make people less likely to ‘mis-hear’ us and their minds less likely to wander.
In conversations, as in the rest of life, good and quickly seldom meet. Rather than rush into a conversation, pause and think it through first and introduce it with a friendly frame.  


Why don’t they LISTEN?!

Towards the end of last year, a leader-manager, let’s call him Stanley, complained that however many times he gave an instruction and whatever format he put it in, no one paid any attention.

He was doing two things right: repetition and using multiple channels. Both help a message sink and and stay there. So what was he doing wrong?

We chatted for a while and four important elements of communication seemed to be missing from many of his messages.

  1. He didn’t give people a reason to listen – the tried and true WIFM, What’s In it For Me?
  2. He worded his messages in a way that meant something to him, but sadly, didn’t resonate with most of his team members.


  3. He focused more on problems and what was wrong than on solutions.
  4. His messages came across as orders rather than suggestions or helpful information.

The fact that Stanley is ‘old school’ and most of his team members were born in the 1980s and later didn’t help.

Stanley decided to make a belated New Year’s Resolution. He drew up the following checklist and committed to reviewing his important messages against it before speaking or putting them in writing.

___ Have I provided a reason to listen?

___ Have I used language and examples that my team can relate to?

___ Is my message positive?

___ Is my message helpful?

Quick, easy and powerful. Does it work? I caught up with Stanley the other day, and he says it does!

One little word

I bet your job contains tasks you don’t enjoy. Some of them, you may even dislike. You still need to do them, though; there’s no choice about that. But you do have a choice about how you tackle them.

You can approach them with an ‘I have to’ attitude or you can approach them with an ‘I want to’ attitude. One little word makes a huge difference.

The first choice, ‘I have to’, means you’ll do those tasks half-heartedly, resenting every moment and getting them over with as soon as possible. The ‘I have to’ approach won’t help you do a good job or take any pleasure from doing it or completing it. That choice makes you miserable.

The other choice is to change the ‘I have to’ into a ‘I want to’. That one little word shifts your approach. It makes those dreary duties more agreeable and helps you not only do them better but take some pride in the results. In fact, that one little word can make you twice as productive.

What? You truly don’t want to clear your in tray, wade through those reports or knuckle down to study? You can always find a reason to want to. It might only be to ‘get it over and done with’ or so your heart doesn’t sink every time you see your in tray out of the corner of your eye. It might be so you can feel proud when you pass that exam.

Replacing ‘I have to’ with ‘I want to’ helps you attack those irksome chores with a positive outlook and feel some satisfaction in doing them well.

The next time you have a tedious task to do, say ‘I want to’ do this. Add a ‘so that’ or ‘because’ to so you know why you want to do it. Knowing your purpose gives that task meaning.

Five weird ways to study better and remember more

It’s time to get back into the study habit. Here are six science-backed ways to study better and remember more.

  1. Realise you’ll be tested on the material. According to a recent study, when people expect to be tested, their recall improves by 40 to 75 per cent.
  2. Eat a handful of walnuts every day. A large study strongly suggests that whatever your age, ethnicity or gender, eating walnuts improves your thinking.
  3. Drink tea. Research has found that this can improve working memory, which you use to hang onto bits of verbal, visual or other information while you think them through. Tea also improves your attention.
  4. Workout with weights just before studying. According to this study, one workout with weights can immediately boost your long-term memory by 20 per cent.
  5. Be open to experience and be conscientious. A large meta-analysis shows that this is four times more important than your IQ in predicting academic success. When you’re open to experience, you’re more likely to be imaginative, sensitive to your feelings and intellectually curious. When you’re conscientious, you’re going to be disciplined, dutiful and good at planning ahead – all important study habits. You put in not just more effort, but more concentrated effort. Being open to experience and being conscientious are both skills you can build.