Upstairs | Coaching for Melbourne's thinking women
Upstairs Coaching is an evidence-based consultancy offering life enhancing strategies for women. Coaching at Upstairs is strongly informed by Positive Psychology: a strengths-based consideration of personal wellbeing is central to Upstairs' collaborative approach to life design.
A few terrific coaching clients have spoken to me recently about the challenges they face when speaking up in meetings.
These women are smart and accomplished and they’re always meticulously prepared. But when they find themselves in front of a group of senior [often male] colleagues who speak effortlessly and with what appears to be unwavering self-confidence, they go silent while their negative self-talk goes into overdrive.
Invariably someone else then pipes up with an idea that they, themselves, were wanting to share. The Talker-upperer then collects the kudos while my client curses her self-doubt and slides deeper into a debilitating confidence-in-meetings slump.
So, what to do?
+ Get in early
It can be helpful to contribute early on in each meeting you attend, with something small and not-at-all-groundbreaking. Then you’ve spoken so you can avoid stressing about being That Weird Silent Person and focus your full attention on the meeting.
+ Do it often
When you speak up just once there is a huge amount of pressure on you to Get It Right and add something hugely profound. Speaking up more often means there’s more opportunity to contribute helpfully so that single interaction isn’t so laden with expectation.
+ Practice a Phrase
It is also a great idea to think of a simple phrase that will help you break into the conversation. Something easy like: I’ve been listening and… or I would also add... or whatever words come naturally, to you. Practice the phrase out loud so that saying it is second nature. Then use it in your next meeting.
+ Find an ally
Speaking up is much easier when there’s someone quietly cheering you on. This option does, of course, depend on who you have around you. But if there’s a colleague who you trust implicitly, it could be worthwhile sharing your vulnerability and your plan of action. Then when you do decide to speak up, you know you’ll feel supported.
It can be very tempting, when you’re in a room full of people who you feel intimidated by, to try and emulate them. But of course, this always ends up inauthentic and awkward and just serves to diminish your confidence even further. It is far more effective to get clear on and embrace your own natural way of being.
+ Track your progress
With this goal [as with any] it’s a great idea to set and track targets. So take note of your expectations for each meeting and document your contributions.
Keep this up until you’re at the point where you’re speaking up easily and often and can hardly even remember what you ever found so challenging.
As a coach, people often speak to me about over-thinking.
They tell me that they just over-analyse everything and they’re sick of it. The over-thinking isn’t helping, it’s making them miserable, but they just can’t seem to stop.
We tend to over-analyse because we are worried and over-analysing can deliver a [false] sense of control [if I’m thinking about it I must be exerting influence over it]. Or because we want to protect ourselves from taking action that feels scary [if I’m thinking about it I’m justified in not yet taking action].
Rather than helping, over-thinking can make you feel rotten and keep you from pursuing positive goals and achieving satisfying change.
The thing most people try to do to stop their brains turning over and over [and over] is tell themselves to: Just Stop Thinking. But Not Thinking is difficult and almost impossible to sustain, long term. It is far more helpful to try a few of the following ideas:
Recognise the behaviour. When you are in the habit of over-analysing everything, you often don’t even realise when you’re doing it. For just a day, try to catch yourself in the act and when you do, rather than judging or berating yourself, just notice. And get curious about what tends to trigger and fuel the rumination.
Choose an alternative. Rather than trying to not over-analyse, which is an Avoidance Goal, it can be much more effective to select an Approach Goal, something to work towards. You could choose to start the day by getting down on paper all the thoughts circling in your brain then put your notes aside and get on with your day.
Be proactive. Instead of just ruminating, choose to act. Write down three things you can actually do to shift the situation, attach an action-date for each then go ahead and do them.
Sometimes when real life doesn’t feel all that great, it can be difficult to know exactly what to change, or even where to start.
If this is you, right now, if you’re stuck, if you know things aren’t how you’d ideally like them to be but you just can’t work out what to shift or how, you might like to try this: a simple [and slightly bleak] activity that is sure to help.
First: write an obituary for the life you’re living now. A short, half-pager is all you need but it is critical that you actually write it down.
Next: write an obituary for the life you would love to live. Again, a half-pager is more than enough but it must be written down.
Put them both aside.
Then: after a couple of days come back to your writing and place the two pieces side by side. Notice the differences between them and write those differences down. [It might be: more travel, reading in the bath, kinder to myself, started a business, created a product that helped people, worked in Brazil].
Finally: beside each difference write three things [one item for this week, one item for this month, one item for the next 90 days] that you could actually do to start making aspects of your ideal life happen. Put completion-dates beside each action, create a feedback mechanism to track your progress and then…get started.
[One note on this activity: for it to be effective, you actually have to do it. Not just read about it on a blog…]
A whole lot of people speak to me about confidence and how to get more of it.
I like Mark Manson’s take on the subject. He suggests confidence isn’t about having everything you need to be perfectly assured [great job, terrific skill set, perfect body & looks, ability to speak publicly, supportive family and friends, eternally positive self-talk, healthy bank balance etc]. Confidence is being absolutely ok with what you potentially lack.
I like the flip.
Particularly because it means that true confidence is available to anyone. Anyone can get to a place where they know they will be absolutely ok, no matter what happens.
It’s not necessarily an easy process but it is possible. And great, evidence-based coaching can help.
When clients come to me, they’re often feeling low, stuck and disheartened. They want positive change and they’re struggling to make it happen.
We work together to get clear on where they want to go. We design a multi-faceted plan to build hope and to focus their striving efforts. And we identify resources [both internal and external] that they can leverage as part of that strategy.
It often surprises people when I then speak about the importance of building in joy and beauty. [But what has joy and beauty got to do with developing my career/creating a business/forging networks/etc? Answer: everything].
We know that positive emotion can enhance creative thinking, which of course, is essential when designing a new approach to life and career. It also delivers an invaluable sense of perspective – bringing us out of our bubble and reminding us that we’re part of something much bigger, more expansive.
Now, friends. I’m talking here about beauty in a very broad sense: clouds shifting, music playing, hands holding, coffee pouring, words describing, kindness lifting, weather changing, smiles breaking, art uplifting, tears falling. I’m talking life, in action.
Some ideas to help you see more beauty:
Put your phone away on the tram and just look out the window
Kneel down and really listen to your kids
Start an instagram account just for capturing beauty [you don’t have to share it with anyone else]
Carry a small notebook and a pencil for ideas/words/pictures that make your brain happy
Head into the kids’ section of the bookshop for a little while, pick up a picture book or two
Sit in the window of a cafe and watch the world go by
Make eye contact as you walk
Sit on a park bench for a while, do nothing
Have a plant beside your bed
Evidence-based coaching that is goal-oriented and helps you achieve big things is terrific. Evidence-based coaching that gets you where you want to go and also: reconnects you with life?
As an evidence-based coach, so many of the women who come to see me are incredibly intelligent, focused, warm, thoughtful and high-achieving. [Oh, and funny. Did I mention funny? Very funny.]
The thing is, many of them reveal to me a strong and often crippling sense of self-doubt. They question themselves and their own accomplishments and feel quite certain that if anyone knew what they were really like [how slow/stupid/uncultured/unkind/thoughtless/anxious/boring/etc] they really are, they would most certainly be caught out.
People come to me for help to overcome this Imposter Syndrome. They’re convinced that if they could only start believing in themselves and in their achievements just a little more, they would be fine.
But I’m not so sure.
I reckon you can tell yourself over and over that you’re good enough and you can even present the evidence [look! A PhD! A book deal! A fancy title! A thriving business!] and still remain skeptical and fearful of being exposed as a huge, great, giant fraud.
I would suggest that overcoming Impostor Syndrome is less about believing in your own accomplishments and more about realising that other people are just as flawed as you are. And knowing that success can sit comfortably with imperfection and failure.
Interested? You might like to try this:
Make a list of all your perceived flaws. [Go on! And please, do write all of this down.] Try to focus particularly on vulnerabilities that other people would never suspect of you.
Now choose someone you really admire. Maybe a boss or a friend or a public figure. And try to imagine insecurities that they feel but never let on about. What fears might they quietly hold? What perceived flaws do they grapple with? What failures might they have experienced and moved beyond?
Recognising that everyone [no matter how capable and self-assured they appear] struggles with shame and doubt and regret and fear serves to normalise your own internal experiences. And knowing that others have succeeded in spite of their burdens allows for the possibility of your own brilliant, encumbered progress.
As a coach, I often work with clients to identify their values and to find ways to live and work in accordance with them.
Values matter. They represent you at your very best and so they offer a Framework For Being that feels real and rich and honest and accessible and deeply satisfying.
Sometimes, operating in alignment with your values is easy: maybe you’re on holiday, spending time with friends and family, listening, playing, reading, running, connecting. But other times it can be really, really challenging: you’re under extreme pressure at work, the kids are sick, you lost the document, you hardly remember that mythical thing called sleep, you’ve received some scary test results and the car just broke down. Again.
Having integrity, being true to who you are and showing up as the person you want to be, is important when it’s easy. It matters every bit as much [perhaps more?] when when the choice to do so is much harder:
You value kindness: so treat yourself gently, even when you make a huge mistake
You value authenticity: so write your own words, even if it would be easier to take theirs
You value time with family: so decide to put your phone away, even when the kids are really driving you crazy
You value honesty: so have that difficult conversation, even when it might leave you feeling vulnerable
You value commitment: so keep working at the relationship, even when it’s a slog
You value courage: so keep visiting them, even though you cry every time you leave
Living by your values takes effort. Most [read: all] of us won’t get it perfect every time. And that’s ok.
Just knowing what your values are, keeping them front of mind so that you can consciously and consistently make choices that align with them is enough. More than enough.
Effective goal-striving doesn’t have to be super complicated.
Of course, things like making sure the goal aligns with your values, ensuring it’s appropriately difficult, chunking it down, building in a system of rewards and reinforcements, creating a feedback mechanism and celebrating achievements are important to think about.
But you know what? Sometimes, all that is needed is a really gentle shift. A really simple solution.
For those big goals that I hear so often in coaching [more time with family, less overwhelm, greater balance, less worry, more connection and better health] small changes can deliver profound change:
Walk to work. Simplify your kids’ lunch boxes. Go to bed just a bit earlier each night. Drink more water. Unplug on the tram. Have dinner together, at the table. Turn off the telly. Make eye contact. Read a book. Reduce extra-curricular activities. Draw. Spend your lunch-time outside. Ask for help. Put your phone in a different room.
Big goal-striving strategies can feel scary and paralysing. But simple solutions feel do-able. The result? You actually do them. And then you begin to achieve.
Struggling to achieve a goal? It can help to try a new approach.
Instead of simply deciding on an end result and just going for it, why not try this two-step strategy:
+ Agency: Boost your belief
In order to achieve a goal, you need to believe you can. This seems obvious, right? But so many people aim for results that don’t actually feel realistic [a job they don’t feel qualified for, a relationship they don’t feel worthy of, a sense of confidence they’ve never experienced].
There are practical steps you can take, to boost belief in your own capacity to achieve:
Recall [and write down] achievements you’ve had in the past. These can be big and small and related or unrelated to the current goal
Make a list of all the resources you have available to you. These can include internal resources such as determination or knowledge and external resources such as time or space or money.
Consider all the people supporting you and make a note of one practical thing that each might be able to do to help
+ Pathways: knowing how
In order to achieve a goal, you also need to know how to get there. Instead of having one single goal-attainment strategy, focus on identifying heaps of different pathways to get you to that desired end-result.
So, for example you were aiming to start a brilliant, evidence-based coaching practice. Instead of just focusing on finishing your Masters degree you could write down a whole lot of steps such as: research the current field; make contacts in the industry; start a blog; secure some media coverage; take on a pro-bono client [making clear that you’re still working towards a qualification]; and develop a website.
Employing a new goal-striving approach is a great idea when you find yourself Seriously Stuck. Maintaining a focus on Agency + Pathways will boost your sense of hope and get you achieving, once again.
Research shows that high performance requires a balance between energy expenditure and energy renewal.
We tend to understand this in relation to physical efforts: top athletes need rest days; gym-goers need a break between sets. But then forget about it in relation to regular life.
Clients come to me saying they’re scheduled to the hilt. They’re working five or six days a week [as well as evenings] and they’re checking their phones constantly. They’re ferrying kids to school, parties and multiple extra-curricular activities. They’re on boards and finishing MBAs and starting businesses. They’re managing renovations, training for physical challenges and planning overseas holidays. They’re also squeezing in time with friends and family [which used to be fun but now feels like just another To Do List item]. They’re doingdoingdoing but they feel they can’t seem to keep up and the wheels are starting to fall off. They’re forgetting appointments, crying for no reason and snapping at their favourite people.
It is obvious [from the outside!] that they need a break. But to them, rest and recovery feels like failure, an unnecessary indulgence, an opportunity for their precariously-balanced life to fall apart.
If that’s you, if you’re constantly doing but your performance is really suffering, why not flip your thinking. Instead of seeing time out as a needless extravagance that will hamper your achievement, consider it an essential performance-enhancing strategy.
Changing the way you see is one of the most effective [and painless] ways to change the way you do.