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From Awareness to Action through Self-Coaching

Odds are your organization has sponsored one or more iterations of “diversity training.” It’s a sensitive topic and the impact of the training is often unclear. In many cases, participants are left uncertain how to turn their newly heightened awareness into action.

I’d like to share some thoughts about how organizations can more fully realize the benefits from their investments in DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) training.

Many organizations pursue DEI training with noble intentions around creating workplace cultures where all employees experience psychological safety. They want everyone to feel comfortable being themselves — with no adjustments required to “fit in.” I applaud this pursuit.

The emphasis of such training is often primarily on raising awareness. For example, people are taught to see that implicit bias (I like the term “unintentional bias”) exists in all of us and that bias extends from individuals to the organizational level. They may also start to become aware of ways their own actions and underlying thought patterns may (un)knowingly contribute to the problem. It’s definitely a win!

But it’s only the first step. It doesn’t necessarily lead to taking different actions or creating new habits — real behavioral change. Participants are often left wondering, “how do I go about changing what I am now aware of?”

It turns out that behavior change is a key component of DEI success.* Based on decades of research, Patricia Devine (a psychology professor and the leader of the Prejudice and Intergroup Relations Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison), has determined that “prejudice is a habit that can be broken.”

Self-Coaching Can Help

Shifting entrenched behaviors is difficult — if not impossible — without a roadmap for behavioral change. That’s where an innovative program called Coach Your Self Up comes in.  It teaches participants self-coaching skills, to do the critical “inner” work (on one’s mindset and thought patterns) to make lasting “outer” changes (in behavior). It’s all about behavior change.

Coach Your Self Up may be a perfect partner to DEI training. Now that so many companies have laid the groundwork by raising awareness, I’m excited about the opportunity to help employers provide their employees with self-coaching tools and approaches on “how” to make those individual behavioral changes a reality. It’s not the entire DEI picture, but it’s necessary for a more DEI-forward and self-aware culture.

* For a deeper dive on the importance of behavior change to DEI success, check out this article:  Is This How Discrimination Ends?

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Self-Coaching Gets Everyone Involved

The idea of a coaching culture isn’t new. It’s been a hot topic for many years now, and all evidence points to its continuing adoption by organizations because it leads to higher levels of employee engagement, among other measurable benefits. But officially, the on-the-ground reality hasn’t yet caught up with the big idea.

That’s where an innovative approach called “self-coaching” comes in.

Before diving into that, let’s take a quick look at the state of coaching in organizations.

While more companies are developing coaching cultures, research shows that few can point to a “strong” coaching culture. One reason for this is that most investments are solely focused on leaders and managers. There is little or no coaching-specific training below the manager level — the largest part of the employee population.

The result? A huge gap. Most employees are left behind when it comes to gaining these extraordinarily important workplace….and life…skills.

Admittedly, several forward-thinking companies are experimenting with “scalable” models to make coaching available to employees at all levels. I know firsthand this can work quite well.

Self-coaching is a new impactful approach to further close the gap. By inviting employees at all levels to learn key coaching skills and apply them inwardly, employees can coach themselves anytime, anywhere, and in any situation.

Imagine employees that are more self-sufficient and less dependent on their managers’ ability to coach them. Imagine managers who can more effectively coach employees because they have experienced self-coaching. Imagine the power of having a more self-aware, emotionally intelligent and focused workforce.

Self-coaching also perfectly complements other approaches to scalable coaching — they are able to co-exist within a single organization.

In the coming years, many more companies will embrace the power and cost-effectiveness of self-coaching. A coaching culture needs to include everyone, and learning to become one’s own coach can – and should – be a foundational component.



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Happy New Decade….Or Is It?

I’m super excited to enter this new decade and I have significant aspirations for what could emerge. But wait, is it a new decade?

During the first few weeks of 2020, I found myself not only wishing people a happy new year, but taking it one step further and wishing them a happy new decade.

Some of the reactions were quite enlightening.  A handful of individuals said something like “actually, the new decade starts in 2021.”

At first I had to check myself. Was I wrong here? It’s an interesting point they are raising…does the new decade start this year or next? Then I thought, wait a minute, when people talk about the 1980s, they mean 1980-1989, not 1981-1990…so I am right, they are wrong.

And then…wham…I realized that I had slipped into right-or-wrong thinking. And I also realized that in this instance, it just doesn’t matter.

This is an example of how we all construct our own reality. We do this by creating, (i.e., making up) stories to explain what we perceive or give meaning to our experience. For instance, if I decide this to be the beginning of a new decade, then it is. If somebody else thinks the new decade starts next year, then it does. (By the way, this doesn’t even address the next layer here which is that the idea of a decade is something humans made up in the first place.)  The decade question aside, this is an example of how we assign ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to situations or ideas, even though there is no objective right or wrong.

Rather, we each have our own truth—what I call “small-t truth,”—and that’s ok.

Are there situations in your life where you are entrenched in right-or-wrong thinking?

It may be interesting to reflect on whether any of these situations fall into this category, like the decades example, of “it really doesn’t matter.” If so, can you let go of any concerns you may have about being right in the eyes of the other(s)? Your load will certainly be lighter if you can.

So, whether or not you share my perception that we are launching into a new decade, allow me to look at the decade ahead and set powerful intentions for what I want to bring forward. And hopefully you can see that there’s no need to take offense when I say, “Happy New Decade!”

P.S. After writing this, I did an internet search on this topic and was not surprised to see that many people have weighed in on this. Click here for just one example.

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More and more sources tell us that a growth mindset is preferred over a fixed mindset. Most people I interact with are on board with that idea. However, as I was asked recently, “How do you shift to a growth mindset?”

That’s a great question and here’s my perspective.

In the graphic at the top of this article, you see several generic descriptors of how people with a fixed or growth mindset handle or react to different situations. (This is all based upon Carol Dweck’s foundational work in her book Mindset (2006).)

Just thinking about tackling this macro mindset shift can be overwhelming. That’s why I recommend breaking it down into smaller parts.

Breaking it Down

(1) The first question to ask yourself is which of those areas under “It’s Up to You” (running down the left-hand side of the graphic) do you think you’d most benefit from shifting to a growth mindset? (For example, “Criticism.”)

(2) Once you decide that, identify a relevant specific behavior you can start working on. (For example, maybe you avoid or resist/reject constructive criticism—that’s a behavior you could choose to focus on.)

(3) You can then apply whatever behavior change model you are most comfortable with. (Of course, I’m partial to my self-coaching approach which I encourage you to check out if you’ve not seen it before)

(4) Following the mantra that “small shifts lead to big changes,” you can start making a series of behavioral shifts that accumulate over time. As long as you’re headed in the direction of embodying a growth mindset, it will have more and more impact on your brain, your neural pathways and ultimately, your life!

In my experience, as you start making small shifts to some of these behaviors, there is a spill-over effect that positively impacts other, related behaviors. (For example, as you start to see the value in constructive criticism, you may start proactively seeking more feedback.)

In summary, instead of taking on the seemingly daunting task of “shifting to a growth mindset,” break it down into smaller manageable pieces and start making those small shifts. It’s worth the effort.

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The following is an excerpt from my book, Coach Your Self Up.

As we’ve noted, I believe the best thing you can do to drive your career success is to commit to your ongoing personal development—to deepen your self-awareness in pursuit of becoming a version of yourself that you aspire to be.

You can’t stumble your way in the dark to your best self. You need to turn on the light. (I heard this phrase from a fellow Coach Your Self Up facilitator Pete Small—and I instantly took to it.)

We have known for a long time that self-awareness is important. The phrase “know thyself” dates back to one of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece, Thales of Miletus[1]—around 2,500 years ago!

Businesses recognize the value of self-awareness as evidenced by their investment in leadership development programs and executive coaching engagements—both of which typically emphasize increasing self-awareness.

Coach Your Self Up makes this key aspect of leadership development available more broadly, well beyond the leadership suite. If we know that self-awareness plays such a pivotal part in being a successful leader in the workplace, why not start helping all employees in this arena much earlier in their careers?

There are additional more recent workplace trends that are shining a spotlight on the value of self-awareness. Here are just a few:

  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ) includes self-awareness as a core pillar.
  • Mindfulness places an emphasis on being self-aware in the present moment. (While the concept of mindfulness is thousands of years old, it has only recently begun to become more mainstream.)
  • Conscious Capitalism and other flavors of Conscious Business pay homage to the importance and value of having “conscious” leaders and employees.


You can’t stumble your way in the dark to your best self.

You need to turn on the light.


The realm of self-awareness is enormous. For our work, we will emphasize three primary areas.

The first area is your attention—what you focus on and how well you maintain that focus. You are no doubt aware that your attention is constantly under attack by myriad information streams in our digital era, not to mention the many and various items on your internal “to do” list screaming to be heard. Learning to “take back” your attention—first by “paying attention to your attention,” and then by learning to better harness and direct it—is instrumental to this work.

The second area is your self-limiting behaviors—things that you do (or don’t do) that limit your success. You may be aware of one or more of your self-limiting behaviors (“Omg, I can’t believe I just interrupted again, why can’t I just stop doing that?”), or maybe they live in your blind spot. You will learn how to make sustainable shifts to these behaviors, even those that have been with you for years or even decades.

The third area is your self-limiting stories—thoughts that you have that limit your success. Stories (e.g., assumptions, opinions, conclusions, beliefs) are everywhere and many of us don’t see them. An important part of Coach Your Self Up is helping you to see the sea of stories that you are swimming in and giving you simple ways to bust through stories that are getting in your way.

[1]Richard E. Boyatzis (2007), Interpersonal Aesthetics: Emotional and Social Intelligence Competencies are Wisdom.In Eric H. Kessler (ed.) and James R. Bailey (ed.)Handbook of Organizational and Managerial Wisdom (pp 223-242). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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The following is a direct excerpt from my recently published book, Coach Your Self Up.

Odds are, you have at least one person in your life that you would consider some form of coach. This might be a friend, a colleague, a family member, a boss, etc. And maybe you have been fortunate enough to work with a professional coach in some capacity.

Coaches are helpful in many ways. When I ask people what they see as attributes of a good coach, common responses include:

  • “He encourages me to pursue my goals.”
  • “She helps me to look at different perspectives.”
  • “He cares about me and my well-being.”
  • “She challenges my thinking.”
  • “He helps me find the answers that are already within me.”
  • “She supports me in becoming a better me.”

Of course, there are many other attributes of good coaches, but this is a solid list. And as a professional coach, I believe it is of great value for you to have one or more coaches in your life.

That said, who do you talk to more than anybody else? This is not a trick question, and to the best of my knowledge, the answer is the same for all or almost all of us. We talk to ourselves more than anybody else. (And for those of you hearing that voice inside your head that’s saying, “I don’t know what he’s talking about.” That’s the self-talk I am referring to.)

     You are your most important coach.

This is often an overlooked and hence under-utilized internal resource or capability.

How cool would it be to cultivate an inner coaching voice to bring to some of those conversations you already have with yourself?

To encourage you.

To challenge you.

To help you see different perspectives.

To help you become a better you.

That, in a nutshell, is what Coach Your Self Up is all about.

This is not about replacing the other coaches in your life. The ability to coach one’s self is simply additive to this mix. In fact, while a bit oxymoronic, the most effective self-coaching will involve the support of others.

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In his recent podcast on Embracing a Growth Mindset, Mike Robbins said something that made me shout out loud, “That’s it!!” He said (something like), “When people ask me for advice on career development, I tell them the most powerful thing they can do is to make a commitment to their ongoing personal growth and development….to deepen their own self-awareness.”

I’m fully aligned with Mike on this and have been expressing this sentiment for years, but in a much more roundabout way. I love the clarity and directness of Mike’s wording, and it led me to this idea: Personal development is career development.

The goal of my self-coaching work is to help people tap further into their potential by becoming more self-aware. Deepening one’s self-knowledge is an important aspect of taking ownership of one’s career. That’s what will make learning to be one’s own coach such a potent cornerstone of the next generation of career development.

As this idea (that personal development is career development) is not yet mainstream, personal development is underrepresented in today’s career development mosaic. This gap provides HR and Learning & Development professionals an exciting opportunity to experiment with innovative approaches for bringing personal development into the workplace to support employee career growth. Self-coaching is one innovative approach to consider.

Career Development – Three Pillars

Although a bit simplified, I think that a robust approach to career development has three main pillars. They are (1) Identifying career goals and/or a vision, (2) developing technical/functional skills, and (3) working on behaviors and thought patterns.

1 – Identifying Career Goals and/or a Vision

In order to engage in meaningful career development efforts, it is helpful to set goals and honestly assess where one wants to go. Many organizations have this pillar reasonably well covered and provide career development plans where employees can document their goals and discuss them with their managers.

2 – Developing Technical/Functional Skills

In some organizations, developing technical/functional skills is referred to as working on “the what” of one’s career development (i.e., “what” a person does). This may start with a gap analysis to determine where a person is today vs. her/his stated career goals or vision.

Gaps become the fodder for identifying appropriate development actions. For instance, an individual may need to deepen his skill set with certain platforms or tools. Another individual may need to broaden her understanding of other parts of her department to become more holistic in her thinking and planning. Regardless of the particulars, the main point is for each person to create a plan—and execute on it—to close those skill-based gaps.

3 – Working on Behaviors and Thought Patterns

Some organizations refer to working on behaviors and thought patterns as working on “the how” of one’s career development (i.e., “how” a person gets work done). Tying back to the premise of this article, I see this pillar as personal development, or development of the self.

Of the three pillars, this one often gets the least amount of attention and support within organizations.

I believe this is tied to the still somewhat prevalent idea that personal development is only applicable outside the realm of the workplace. It’s “personal,” hence not “business.” This is an outdated philosophy that needs to be further challenged.

While increasing numbers of organizations are more open to embracing personal development, it may still not get the attention it deserves because (a) modifying behaviors and thought patterns is inherently complex and (b) unlike more measurable or skill/knowledge-based outcomes, personal development may feel squishy and hard to define.

The world continues to change rapidly and it’s time for this type of career development to have its day in the sun. The head of HR at one of my clients said it well, “What could be more important to employees in taking ownership of their careers than learning to see where their behaviors get in their own way… and giving them tools to address that?”(Read more in my February, 2016 blog entitled Self-Coaching – Empowering Employees to Take Ownership of Their Careers.)


The Bottom Line

Personal development is career development.

Personal development is intensely important to one’s professional path regardless of one’s specific career goals.

Other than identifying career goals and/or a career vision, the one thing a person can control is how s/he “shows up” at work. This includes how s/he behaves, how s/he interacts with others, and how s/he manages her/himself, etc. Giving people the chance— and the support—to better understand their blind spots, self-limiting beliefs or stories, for example, may be the most important thing that today’s enlightened organizations can do to help individuals shape their career trajectories.

 For Further Reflection

For individuals: What practices will you commit to in order to learn more about yourself and start making shifts toward being your best, most successful self?

For organizations: What innovative approaches will you experiment with to offer powerful personal development opportunities to your employees to help them take more ownership of their careers and become more successful, not only at work, but in all aspects of their lives?


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I’m excited to share that I’m writing the “Coach Your Self Up” book about my approach to self-coaching. The book format is allowing me to add powerful new content and tools beyond what’s in the classroom program of the same name.
One new tool is a Self-Observation Worksheet designed to help individuals develop and support their self-observation practice.

Why a Self-Observation Worksheet?
First, let me remind you of where self-observation fits into the self-coaching process. Self-coaching is aimed at helping individuals make a sustained behavioral shift around what they perceive to be a self-limiting behavior. Self-observation means paying attention to “what’s going on for you” when you are engaging in the behavior you are trying to shift.

• Instead of trying to make a quick fix, there is great value in first observing your behavior in-depth over time. This allows you to get to the feelings, stories and triggers underlying the behavior. With observation comes understanding. You can then identify an underlying story, and ultimately challenge that story and experiment with acting differently.

Check Out the Worksheet
Assume you have decided to work on shifting a self-limiting behavior (SLB), such as “frequently interrupting others” or “not speaking up in meetings.” Using a worksheet gives you one place to capture and organize all your reflections pertaining to this behavior.
There are two sections delineating the “outer” work (top section) and the “inner” work (bottom section). This is a powerful visual reminder of the importance of doing the inner work to support an outer (behavioral) change. It is also helpful to see what inner forces are supporting the continuation of your current behavior. This may give you more insight into why making this particular change is not easy.

Here are some helpful hints on how to best utilize this tool.
1. Document the self-limiting behavior (SLB) you would like to shift. The worksheet gives you some ideas for selecting a self-limiting behavior to work on.
2. Create a “flipped” aspirational statement. You are more likely to make and sustain a behavioral shift if it is in service of becoming a better you. The worksheet references ideas from the Coach Your Self Up program on how to create a powerful aspirational statement.
3. Use the bottom half of the worksheet to capture key insights from your ongoing self-observation practices. As mentioned above, self-observation means paying attention to “what’s going on for you” when you are engaging in the behavior you want to shift. The form includes some sample questions to consider as you seek to identify the feelings, triggers, and stories that underlie this SLB.
4. As you increase your self-awareness about your SLB, you will get more clarity around any underlying stories. You are then able to challenge these stories and experiment with responding in new ways.

I hope this gives you a good start. In my next post I will share a completed Self-Observation Worksheet to help bring it more fully to life.

For those of you that would like to experiment with this approach, here’s a link to a soft copy of the worksheet that you can use. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback to share.

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We all have pet peeves. There are people or things that “push our buttons.” When our buttons are pushed we tend to become more stressed and agitated. More self-awareness of our triggers, and how they affect us, is important to reducing the corresponding stress.

Triggers Come in Many Forms
Let’s start by looking at some example triggers. I’ve divided them by how they show up: in our bodies, our worlds, and our minds.

Triggers can be felt sensations in your body. Maybe your palms get sweaty when you are nervous about saying something in a meeting. Maybe you get a pit in your stomach when you are presented with something that feels overly risky. It could be that you feel short of breath in certain situations. And some of you may feel your emotions in your body, which can sometimes be a trigger.

Triggers can be in your world, experienced directly via one or more of your five senses. One of the most common triggers is a specific person. You can be triggered by seeing them, hearing their voice, or even just reading their name. Some triggers are more situational. For example, maybe you’re triggered when you hear someone complaining.

Triggers can also be in your mind. You might be triggered by things you perceive as right or wrong, or good or bad. You might believe that an idea won’t work because you’ve tried to do something similar in the past and it didn’t work. When you have these thoughts, you may be triggered to dig in your heels and be less open-minded.

Identifying the Impact of Known Triggers
Let’s look at one of my known triggers to see how it may impact my behavior.

For example, I know that I am triggered by what I consider to be inconsiderate drivers. Drivers that dangerously weave in and out of freeway traffic without their turn signals. Drivers that tailgate. (You may be able to add to this list!)

In this case, I would ask myself, “how do these triggers impact me?” I might know the answer right off, or, if not, I’ll pay attention to myself to collect “data” the next few times I’m triggered behind the wheel. I might notice that I get really angry and yell out loud in my car. I might notice that I carry some of this anger/stress with me to my destination. I might notice that this impacts my mood for some period of time after I’ve gotten out of my car. Etc…

This provides grist for the internal mill. It’s a great time to ask myself challenging questions, such as “is it healthy for me to be taking on stress due to other people’s driving habits? Do I want my mood to be affected in this way and even impact my interactions with other people?” If the answer to one or both of those questions is “no,” I can use my awareness of this trigger to identify counter-measures.

Here are some ideas I can try:
• Taking a deep breath and relaxing each time I’m triggered by another driver.
• Yelling inside my car to let out ..and let go of…the anger energy.
• Checking myself when I arrive at my destination to ensure that I’ve let go of any associated stress or anger and that I’m not carrying that with me as I leave my car.

Identifying Triggers Corresponding to Known Self-Limiting Behaviors
Now let’s work in the opposite direction. When working on altering Self-Limiting Behaviors, it’s helpful to pay attention to identify any triggers that may be associated with the behavior you are trying to shift.

For example, if you are working on interrupting others less often, as you pay attention to your interruption pattern, you may learn that your interruptions are prefaced by (a) a feeling of frustration that the speaker is not getting to her/his point or (b) thinking that the only way for you to get your point across is to interrupt or (c, d, e…)

As you become more familiar with the trigger, this gives you the power to pre-empt your self-limiting behavior. For the example above, when you notice that you are frustrated that the speaker is not getting to her/his point, you can tell yourself something like “ok, this is usually how I feel just before I interrupt.”

Over time, you may then be able to move from just noticing your trigger to experimenting with behaving differently. Maybe your self-narrative changes to “there’s that frustration feeling. Let’s not interrupt this time. Let’s try to let go of this feeling of frustration and just hear the person out.”

Try This Out!
Think about your own life. Choose one thing that you know triggers you and spend some time self-observing and reflecting on how that impacts you and those around you. Start to experiment with tactics (e.g., take some deep breaths) that will help to diminish or eliminate any negative side-effects you experience from this trigger.

Remember, small shifts lead to big changes.

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We are sense-making creatures. Our brains are wired to help us navigate our lives by creating stories to make sense of our world, our day-to-day experiences. Having self-awareness to see when you are telling yourself a story is powerful. Even more powerful is having a simple tool to help you challenge those stories to assess their level of “truthfulness.”

In today’s post (Challenging Your Stories, Part II of II), I’ll provide an example of using the approach that I shared in last month’s blog (Part I).

How We Operate – The Ladder of Inference
In last month’s blog, I highlighted that we each “climb” our own unique Ladder of Inference (inside our heads) which is how we generate our stories (i.e., assumptions, conclusions, beliefs, etc.). This happens so seamlessly that we tend to operate as if our stories are facts, or what I call capital T Truth. In fact, these stories are our truth, with a small t.

A Simple Example
I assume you can relate to this one. You’ve sent an email to somebody (Jack) and did not receive a response. Based on this you know that Jack is mad at you. It’s the Truth. Hence, you act accordingly. You start to avoid Jack in order to ensure you don’t have an unpleasant encounter. After all, he is mad at you.

Challenging Your Stories – An Example
Last month we introduced a set of five questions that can be used to challenge your stories. Let’s apply those five questions to the example above. Your story is ‘that Jack is mad at you’ (because he did not respond to your email). (Below represents a conversation you have with yourself.)

Question #1 – “How do you know that to be true?” (That Jack is mad at you.)
“In the past, when he didn’t respond to some of my other emails, it turned out that he was mad at me.”

Question #2 – “What other valid stories could one create based upon the same observable data?” (Note, the observable data here is that Jack did not respond to your email.)
“Sure, there are lots of reasons why he may not be responding to my emails. He might be super busy with other priorities. Or maybe something difficult is going on in his personal life. Hmmm. I guess I can’t really be certain that he’s mad at me.”
By identifying other possible stories, your brain is loosening its grip on your story about Jack being mad at you. Your brain starts to allow that ‘maybe this isn’t the Truth (with a capital T).’

Question #3 – “How might you act differently if you didn’t believe this story to be true?”
“Firstly, I wouldn’t be trying to avoid Jack. Secondly, I would be more proactive in getting his input either by resending those emails and/or stopping by his desk.”

Question #4 – Do you think it would serve you to act in that way?”
“YES! I need his input to move forward on an important project.”

Question #5 – How will you experiment with acting differently?”
“I’ll just do it. I’ll stop avoiding Jack. If I see him, I will ask him about it. And I will resend the email. Maybe I’ll preface it with a sentence asking if he has the time to get to this by tomorrow, or if not what quick advice might he have for me to push this forward.”

A Powerful Technique
I hope you can see how powerful these questions can be. You can imagine that this self-talk “conversation” only takes a few minutes. Of course, it is not always this easy…but often it is!

Let’s look at this situation from a more distanced viewpoint. You were stuck on some things due to the situation with Jack. If asked why you were stuck you would be likely to say something like “It’s pretty hard to make any progress when Jack is mad at me.” As we’ve shown, it was NOT Jack being mad at you that had you stuck; It was your story that Jack was mad at you that was getting in your way.

Try This Out!
Think about your own current situation. Where do you have assumptions (stories) at play that may be blocking your forward progress? Try challenging one of these stories using the five questions above and see what action / next step emerges to propel you forward.

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If you are interested in finding out more information about Coach Your Self Up, please fill out the form or contact Mike Normant directly at mike@mikenormant.com or 415.713.4680.

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