“Self-love is not so vile a sin as self-neglect.”
Girl in a hammock with laptop

Paying Attention to Your Needs

At all times, but especially in times of adversity and stress, it’s vitally important to take the time to look after your own wants, needs and desires. Burn out, fatigue and depression (or if not depression, then certainly ‘low mood’) can very easily creep up on you if you’re not actively looking after your own sense of well-being.

What is self-care?

Raphailia Michael writing in PsychCentral says self-care is, “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health”.

Self-care involves taking time to pay attention to your own sense of well-being and putting your needs first, at least occasionally. Not in a narcissistic way, but in a manner that makes sure you are focusing on your own physical and mental health.

Self-care activities help to reduce anxiety, improve mood and build good relationships. It is a vital component of avoiding fatigue, sickness and burn out.

Self-care actions include:

  • knowing what your limits are
  • finding a way to decompress throughout your day
  • giving some thought to addressing persistent problems
  • committing to changing any difficult work situations that may arise
  • spending time with loved ones
  • getting regular medical check-ups

Attending to the basics

Self-care starts with the obvious 4 core physiological factors:

  1. Breathing properly
  2. Sleeping well
  3. Healthy diet
  4. Regular exercise

If you’ve ever had a bad night’s sleep (and who hasn’t) then you know what tiredness can do to your mood, attitude and decision-making capabilities.

Similarly, Junk Food, Alcohol, Tobacco and all the other things you might (or might not) try from time to time will, in excess, hamper your ability to feel good and get things done.

Ditto exercise; your body was made to move and there is a minimum of effort needed to keep the system in good working order. The category of exercise includes the requirement to maintain a good posture. Poor body alignments, caused by hours spent hunched over a steering wheel, phone or laptop can (over time) cause pain, immobility and low mood, so any tendency to slouch, adopt a ‘text neck’ etc. needs to be actively countered.

Of the 4 core factors the least focused on by most people is the one that’s top of the list – a strong breathing process. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and you will notice that your lower belly rises. This fully oxygenates the whole body and promotes a sense of well-being, boosts energy levels and aids healing. Shallow breathing, on the other hand, causes fatigue and creates a sense of anxiety. As you will be breathing all day, every day, for the rest of your life, the positive impact of a strong breathing process (and the negative impact of a poor one) should not be underestimated.

There are formal breathing systems that you can study e.g. the Ujjayi breath of yoga practitioners, Buddhist Whole Body breathing techniques and the popular Wim Hoff Breathing method, that’s based on Tibetan Tummo Meditation. However, it’s enough for most people just to go on-line and read up on the basic principles for diaphragmatic breathing.

Ten-minute decompression

A key self-care strategy is to take 3 or 4 short breaks each day (of about ten minutes each) to ‘decompress’ and shrug off any stress that’s building up in the body. These micro breaks are (of course) in addition to taking a proper lunch break, one that takes you away from the computer, phone and social media.

These breaks can involve anything that helps you to re-energise yourself; and what works well for one person can be quite different from what works for someone else. The two main things to bear in mind are that (a) you are aiming to ‘de-compress’ and not cram extra activities into the day, (b) find something that works for you and your life style. So Sudoku or stretching, a coffee with your partner or contemplating nature, listening to the radio or reading a poem – the choice is yours!

You might like to know, however, that the research clearly shows that one of the most effective self-care strategies is to meditate daily, as it boosts mental health, sharpens attention and improves relationships. So, consider engaging in daily meditation, of whatever flavour you like, whether that be Mindfulness, Transcendental, Taoist, Vipassana, Zen etc.

Engaging in hobbies and pastimes

Having an interest that is both outside of work and also the immediate home environment, is a very powerful element of a self-care routine. There are thousands of possible options, it’s just a question of each person finding the ‘right’ one for them, be that gardening, horse riding, scuba diving, motor bike riding, yoga, dancing, running, photography, book club, choir, watching or playing team sports etc.

It also makes sense for couples to do a shared activity as a way of strengthening and enhancing their relationship. It’s also important to try new things from time to time, in order to maintain a sense of adventure and avoid boredom. Of course, pastimes don’t have to be expensive or time consuming, simple daily activities work just fine as a self-care activity e.g. hiking, seeing a friend, walking the dog, reading a book, going to the cinema, or out for a meal.

News Hygiene and ‘Digital Sunsets’

Most people are bombarded by emails, digital messages, and social media updates, and that’s very disruptive to a calm, centred mind, consequently it’s vital to take control of your ‘digital footprint’ by…

  1. Adopting good News Hygiene; stop all push notifications and alerts (especially news updates and email notifications). Pick one (or maybe two) trusted news sources and look at them just once a day.
  2. Enforcing a Digital Sunset; pick a time (say) 6.30pm and switch off all emails, and all work communications. Disconnect from social media (Facebook, Instagram etc.) and focus on your home and social life until the following morning.

Gratitude Journaling

Gratitude Journaling (i.e. writing down a list of things that you are grateful for) sounds like one of those things that wouldn’t work to boost self-care, but actually does.

It seems that by taking the time to reflect on what’s going well and/or what you’ve enjoyed and/or appreciated, focuses the mind on the good things in life and boosts optimism. The ‘good’ things can be big e.g. finishing a project, or small e.g. watching a sunset as you drive home from work, a coffee with a friend, a compliment from a work colleague, but they all contribute to building optimism and positivity.

The initial study into this topic by Emmons and McCullough (2003, Counting Blessings Vs. Burdens) asked participants to write down 5 things they were grateful for, once a week for 10 consecutive weeks. The result? An extraordinary 25% boost in happiness reported by the participants as against their pre-journaling rating.

Putting it all together

JournalingYou can be of little help to family and friends, and of little value to an employer, if you are jaded, weary, run down, or washed out. Taking the time to prioritise self-care activities means that you can experience a level of joyfulness and satisfaction in your personal life that’s pleasing and uplifting, while also giving you enough energy to be supportive of others. So, take the time to decompress, enjoy your hobbies, meditate and take a moment each day just to notice something you are grateful for.

So what’s next?

Reflect on how good you are at taking care of yourself – do you need to make any changes?


Read this (long but interesting) article on Self Care 101 by Dr Maria Barratta in Psychology Today


You may be interested in how we can help people achieve more balance with our half-day Emotional Intelligence programme.


If you have someone that you would like to get Executive Coaching, then we’d be happy to help with that as well.


Or gives us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK) or email us at
coaching@boulden.net and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

And finally, remember…

“Self-care is giving the world
the best of you, instead of
what’s left of you!”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Making Working From Home a Positive Experience

“In teamwork silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly”
Man working from home

People working remotely for the first time need a proper induction programme

Working remotely (and especially working from home) requires the acquisition of a specific set of skills if it’s going to be a success for the company and the employee. There are many hazards that await those new to home working (some obvious and some hidden) that can lead to people feeling stressed, uncertain about their duties, and lacking motivation.

This article covers the key messages that Line Mangers should review with their staff when they are new to the experience of home working in order to avoid these potential pitfalls. As the title suggests, it covers guidance on the do’s and don’ts of making working from home a positive experience. At its heart is the concept that new Remote Workers should have a Structured Remote Working Induction/Coaching Programme that helps them to thrive when working virtually.

Naturally, any suggestions need to be tailored to the needs of each specific employee and take account of the corporate culture/procedures, but there are a number of ‘standard’ messages that are worth covering.

The eight key elements involved in developing a Structured Remote Working Induction Programme for a new Remote Worker are:

  1. Making the most of the experience
  2. Dealing with isolation
  3. Getting the set up right
  4. Being red hot on Cyber Security
  5. Transition Rituals
  6. Agreeing House Rules
  7. Time Blocking
  8. Working from home with young children

Let’s look briefly at each of these factors in turn…

Making the most of the experience

Working from home means that workers have to improvise (depending on what’s going on at home) and juggle their work hours accordingly, which can be tricky. However, it also allows people to flex what they are doing to take the maximum advantage of being in the home environment. So, no reason not to take a few minutes off to play with the kids, or put some laundry in the washing machine, or mow the lawn, or have a coffee with your mum, or schedule home deliveries for during the day etc.

So, good managers should encourage staff to consciously think about how to gain from the flexibility that remote working brings e.g. What to do with time gained from not commuting into work? Take an early morning yoga class? Maybe go for a run at the end of the day?

Dealing with isolation

One potential downside of home working is the loss of social contact it brings. This can lead to feelings of isolation and sometimes anxiety.

To counteract this, managers should schedule at least a weekly catch up call with their remote employees (and for the first couple of weeks of remote working those ‘catch up’ calls should probably be daily).

New Home Workers should also be encouraged to schedule daily catch up/check in calls with colleagues to replicate (albeit imperfectly) corridor conversations/ water cooler chats.

In addition, managers should encourage new Home Workers to:

  • Get out of the house at least once a day e.g. walk to the shops, stop and chat to a neighbour.
  • Work outside the home for part of the day e.g. spend some time working from a local coffee shop, networking space, or sitting on a park bench.
  • Think about attending local networking events as a way of building a support network. Or maybe join a local club or association to boost levels of social contact e.g. a book club, a netball team etc. or take a night school class.

Getting the ‘set up’ right

It is easier to work from home if the employee can create a physical space that is conducive to concentration and focus. Managers need to have a conversation with their people about how they are going to handle this aspect of their work.

The ideal thing (obviously) is to have a dedicated ‘office’, a converted spare bedroom or an ‘office shed’ in the garden. People can work on the kitchen table if they have to, but they should be able to put everything away at the end of each working day e.g. have a work cupboard, or a chest/crate that they can put their laptop and papers in. That way staff can make a clear distinction between work time (and work spaces) and home time (and home spaces) as the two things are kept physically separate.

There should also be a discussion about how to follow the appropriate Health and Safety protocols e.g. making sure each staff member has good lighting and a work position that won’t result in RSI or a strained neck etc.

Furthermore, it is also important to make sure that they have the right tools for the job, e.g. an excellent WIFI connection, headset and microphone, an ergonomic chair and (maybe) a separate monitor, plus a table at the right height (and don’t let people work on the sofa or in bed!)

Make a particular point of encouraging each employee to have good posture; it’s very easy to slump or slouch over a laptop or phone, leading to neck, back and shoulder pain. Some managers like to suggest that people go on You Tube and find a set of simple stretches and posture exercises that they can do 3-4 times a day to avoid those physical issues occurring over time.

Being red hot on Cyber Security

Cyber Security is of crucial importance at all times and in all contexts. It is of particular concern, however, when working from home for the first time when best practice procedures may not already be in place. Good security is a matter of following all the standard security protocols, namely:

  • Make sure each employee has a strong password on their Router and any WIFI connections, ensure anti-virus is in place and fully updated, and encryption tools are installed.
  • Check all security software is up to date (privacy tools, add-ons for browsers and other patches need to be checked regularly).
  • Discuss the need to have a back-up strategy and make sure that employees remember to do it

Transition Rituals

A Ritual is a series of actions performed in a set sequence. Rituals can be religious, community, legal or personal in nature.

A Transition Ritual is a highly specific behaviour that is done at the same time every day (or on specific days of the week) in order to psychologically move from one mood, or mode, or type of thinking into another one.

They are particularly important when home working because, surrounded by all the artefacts of a personal life, there is a need to deliberately make the move from ‘home’ mode to ‘work’ mode and back again.

When people don’t use Transition Rituals they often find it hard to get going in the morning and/or let work activities bleed unhelpfully into their personal time in the evening e.g. checking emails over the dinner table. The ‘rituals’ someone chooses (and many people have at least some that they are using already) are a matter of individual preference e.g. some people get dressed in specific ‘work’ clothes, or start the day with a coffee in the garden as a primer for work, or meditate for ten minutes, or pack/ unpack the crate that they keep their laptop and work papers in etc. The main thing is for the manager to explicitly coach employees on developing the ‘Transition Rituals’ that are right for them.

It is worth noting that Rituals can be positive, negative or neutral in their impact. Some ‘negative rituals’ to think about making sure employees avoid when home working include; ‘snacking’, or generally using food-based rewards to punctuate the day; not getting dressed, until late in the day; not going outside for breaks but staying tied to the laptop!

Agreeing House Rules

If an employee lives with house mates or a partner and/or has children, it may be worth suggesting to them that they sit down as a group and agree some ‘House Rules’ for how to share the space together.

The idea is to avoid the irritation that comes from things like people playing loud music, or bursting into the room when you are in the middle of a call with the CEO, or arguments about who is supposed to be looking after the kids. So, one House Rule might be to suggest to older children that they won’t shout at the top of their lungs when they want something, but will quietly walk to the work area and see if you are on a call before talking.

Of course, House Rules, are a two-way process and employees should appreciate that flat mates and family may well have their own thoughts about what some of those rules should be e.g. no work calls after hours, giving your partner/family your undivided attention when you’re not working etc. Naturally, they should be coached to accept any reasonable suggestions from the people they are sharing space with.

Time Blocking

Having a formal work schedule is a key success factor when home working because there are few naturally occurring events to structure the day e.g. there are no colleagues around or commuting etc. to give shape to the day.

Time Blocking is a time management technique that simply involves listing the tasks someone wants to do and then allocating a specific time to do them. Using this system, every minute of the working day is assigned a task e.g.

09.00am – 10.00am Task X
10.00am – 10.30am Task Y
10.30am – 10.45am Coffee Break
10.45am – 11.15am Contingency: deal with unexpected tasks
11.15am – 12.00 am Team Meeting (Zoom conference)

Of course, the schedule can be modified in the face of ‘events’, and some of the estimates of how long it takes to do a task will be wrong; so there may well be a gap between the plan and the actual work done each day, but that is perfectly fine. The aim isn’t to do everything on the list but to provide a ‘shape’ to the day that will maximise productivity.

Consequently, managers should encourage people new to home working to adopt this process.

Working from home with children

Working from home when children are in the house (especially those of pre-school age) can be especially challenging. They will, naturally, demand attention and their needs will have to be attended to. There are, however, some strategies that are commonly used to cope with this situation and the manager should run through these options with employees with young families…

First and foremost (and easily forgotten) is to just enjoy having them around. Take short ‘micro breaks’ from work to play with them and (if they are really young) make the most of any nap times (theirs not yours).

Have a written schedule that balances your family and work commitments (e.g. use the Time Blocking technique).

Agree who will do what and when in terms of child care (i.e. as part of establishing the House Rules).

If you can afford it, hire a babysitter, child minder, or use play groups to let you focus during a set block of time each day e.g. 9am to 1pm. Some lucky people can also get Grandparents involved in the childcare process.

Think about having planned activities to occupy the kids; these will be age dependent of course, but include things like having colouring books, toys, videos and games etc. available for them to play with.

Putting it all together

Helping people who are new to Remote Working (and especially home working) is about making sure that the manager goes through a structured induction/coaching process on the do’s and don’ts of home working. The factors to cover include; making the most of the experience, proactively avoiding the feeling of isolation, Transition Rituals and the Time Blocking technique.

So what’s next?

Reflect on how you are coaching employees who are new to remote working. Are you doing enough to support them? Have you got a structured induction process in place? What changes might you make?


Read this short article on how to avoid employees feeling isolated when they are working from home


Watch… this 10 minute-long video on Time Blocking


Consider signing managers up to our half-day Managing Remote Teams workshop, run either as a face to face session, or as a Virtual Training Event


If you’re a senior executive, maybe a ‘one-to-one’ executive coaching session, or our Remote Coaching Programme, would be a useful option for helping you improve your skills?


Or give us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK)
or email us at coaching@boulden.net and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

And finally, a quote by the Management Consultant and author
Larry English…

“Most anyone can learn to be a great virtual employee. The top skills to learn are setting healthy boundaries between your work life and personal life and building relationships virtually.”

How to Find and Develop Top Performers

“Excellence is an art won by training”
understanding superior performance

Top companies hire great people

What makes someone really good at something? Whether that ‘something’ be leadership, or management, or selling, or music, or maths etc.?
How can the capabilities of top performers be analysed and codified so that they can be taught to others and/or be selected for during a hiring process?
This is a question that’s of concern to anyone who wants an organisation full of high performing people.

There are three aspects to answering this question:

  1. The first part of the answer is about the natural talent someone has
    i.e. the nature vs. nurture debate.
  2. Then training is also clearly a factor in developing top performers.
    This is all about ‘practise making perfect’.
  3. There is also the matter of the specific behaviours that those top
    performers engage in that make them stand out from the crowd.
    There are three methodologies that are of particular interest in this
    field; (i) Behavioural Analysis, (ii) Positive Deviance and (iii) Competency

So, let’s briefly look at the biology of success, the role of training, and we can then explore the three methodologies that can be used to uncover expert behaviours…

Nature vs Nurture

Clearly, part of what leads to elite levels of performance, is an appreciation of the genetic factors involved in getting outstanding results. For example, in the same way that some people grow to be above average height, some are born with the potential for much higher than average IQ, and so can perform better at intellectual tasks than their peers.

Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine shows that elite athletes who excel at endurance sports lack a gene (IL-15R-alpha) that causes muscle fatigue, meaning that they can run for much longer than ‘normal’ people who have the gene.

Also, average eyesight, as measured using the Snellen chart method, is rated as 20/20. Most US professional baseball players, however, have 20/12 vision or better, which means that they can see things at a distance of 20 feet that most people can only see when it is 12 feet away. So, having excellent visual acuity is necessary (though not, of course, sufficient) in order to be able to play major league baseball.

When looking for the most extreme (or elite levels) of performance these biological factors (such as IQ, eyesight, lung capacity, dexterity etc.) should be measured and selected when making hiring decisions, because without them people physically can’t hit the very highest attainment levels.

Practise makes perfect

Part of becoming a top performer is also about the training someone gets. Even with an abundance of natural talent some training is required to reach the highest levels of performance and with the correct coaching many people (not just the ultra-gifted) can reach a very high standard.

So, it has long been established that (what psychologists call) Deliberate Practise, is a vital component to achieving superior results. Deliberate Practise consists of

  • breaking a skill down into a number of tasks
  • being briefed on how to do a specific task
  • attempting to do it
  • getting prompt and informative feedback on how you did
  • repeating the task until it can be done well
  • moving on to the next task in the series

Being able to engage in this process (especially where a complex skill like learning a language, running a P&L account, or playing the violin is concerned) requires a considerable amount of both time and money. So, businesses need to consider (i) who they invest in, and then (ii) having well-structured development programmes to bring out people’s full potential; programmes that focus in on those skills that really mark our higher levels of attainment in a given area.

Three Methodologies for identifying Expert Behaviours

The three methodologies we’ll look at for highlighting ‘what specifically’ experts do that is different from the average person are:

  1. Behavioural Analysis
  2. Positive Deviance
  3. Competency Profiles

Behavioural Analysis; The Difference that makes the Difference

Between 1968 and 1972 a group of researchers (including Neil Rackham and Peter Honey) worked with managers at BOAC (now British Airways) to identify the communication behaviours of expert managers. They developed a coding system, called Behavioural Analysis (BA) to highlight what behaviours managers engaged in during meetings e.g. summarising, asking questions, giving information, supporting others etc. They observed hundreds of meetings within BOAC, collected data and (importantly) also gave the participants feedback on what they noticed so they could alter their behaviour. As part of this work they uncovered behaviours that distinguished the best managers from the rest of the pack. These included the observation that good managers:

  • Check people have understood them (less effective assume they’ve understood them)
  • Go to their boss with proposals (less effective go with problems and difficulties)
  • Set specific objectives (less effective set general objectives and vague standards)

BA and expert negotiation skills

Behavioural Analysis was then extended into a wide range of topics including, selling, negotiation and management of social care teams, and the output was then used to highlight expert behaviours across a range of activities.

For example, as a result of observing some 10,000 real life sales meetings and spotting the difference between good and average sales people the well-known SPIN selling process was created. That same database was also used to identify the behaviours of outstanding negotiators. Some points of interest from that study include the observation that Expert Negotiators:

  • Summarise twice as often as average negotiators.
  • Are much less likely to use ‘irritators’ (phrases that annoy the other person and provoke defend/attack behaviour) than their average counterparts, that is they avoid words like fair, reasonable and generous as in; ‘this is a very fair offer, you should take it’.
  • Are more likely to initially respond to a proposal from the other side with a question, rather than a rejection or immediate counter offer.

Understanding these behaviours, and then activity seeking to observe them as part of role play, or in a real-life meeting, forms the basis for identifying/training/coaching top performers. Thus, BA is an excellent method for developing management, sales, negotiation, problem solving and presentation skills.

The innovative power of Positive Deviance

What to do when faced with a really difficult situation or problem? Especially if you only have a small budget to work with? Well one possible answer is to look for people who have already solved the problem and embrace what’s called Positive Deviance. (Also known as the ‘Bright Spots’ method.)

A light in the darkness

Positive Deviance (PD) is the idea that in a situation where things are going badly there will be very few people who are actually doing OK. These people will be using uncommon strategies or unusual behaviours that help them to succeed when their peers are struggling. So, Positive because they are doing things right, and Deviance because they are engaged in behaviours that most others are not.

The important thing about this is that the PD’s do not have ‘extra resources’ to play with; they have just found a solution that works that others have missed.

Once the PD’s have been identified the challenge becomes one of identifying what specifically they are doing that differs from the norm, and then finding ways of helping others to adopt those practices. And, of course, evaluating the results of the ‘roll out’ programme.

The PD Method was first used in 1990 when the Save the Children charity was asked by the Vietnamese Government to help them address the very high rates of childhood malnutrition in the remote villages of Thanh Hoa province. (At that time more than 65% of all children living in Vietnamese villages were malnourished.) The Save the Children team began their work by identifying poor families who had managed to avoid malnutrition. Next, they analysed the differences between them and their neighbours and found that the PD families collected tiny shrimps, crabs, and fish from paddy fields, and added those to what other food was available, to their children’s meals. These foods were accessible to everyone, but most community members believed they were inappropriate for young children. However, this extra protein was the difference between lack of proper nutrition and (relative) well-being.

A five-stage process

In PD, rather than go through a classical problem-solving process of root cause analysis, generating options etc., the assumption is made that someone within the community or organisation has already found a solution to the issue at hand. The aim of a PD programme is to conduct a strategic search to find and learn from these Positive Deviants. This involves adopting a five-stage process:

  1. Define the problem and the desired outcome.
  2. Determine the presence of Positive Deviants – use data analysis to find the success stories. Be willing to look outside of your own organisation/industry to find them.
  3. Discover the uncommon practices used by the PD’s; what are they doing that’s different from the norm?
  4. Design ways of spreading the knowledge
  5. Disseminate the knowledge (get people using the strategies), measure the results and (hopefully) publicise success.

Competency Profiles and David McClelland

David C McClelland (1917-1998) spent a lifetime in researching human motivation; amongst other achievements he was a professor at Harvard University and founded the consultancy McBer & Company. In 1973 he wrote a paper arguing that traditional academic exams were an ineffective method for predicting whether someone could, or could not, do a job well. Instead, he proposed that ‘competencies’ – should be used to predict job success.

Competences are defined as; “an underlying characteristic of an individual which is causally related to effective or superior performance in a job”.

A competency consists of (i) a label or name, (ii) a description of what’s meant by the label, and (iii) some examples of what people who use that competency do; what are called ‘behavioural indicators.’

These indicators are both positive (good examples, when the competency is done well) and negative (what you see/don’t see when someone does it badly).

For example:

Label: Initiative

Description: Plans work and carries out tasks without detailed instructions

Positive Behavioural Indicators: Makes constructive suggestions; prepares for problems or opportunities in advance; undertakes additional responsibilities; responds to situations as they arise with minimal supervision; creates novel solutions to problems etc.

Negative Behavioural Indicators: Doesn’t make suggestions; doesn’t plan in advance; only does what they are told to do; requires detailed instructions before acting.

The Behavioural Event Interview (BEI)

McClelland developed the Behavioural Event Interview technique as a way of uncovering competency profiles.

The technique involved selecting two samples: people who were rated as outstanding in their jobs and those who were average performers. The two groups of interviewees were then questioned in-depth about the way they did their work, with a focus on specific occasions when things turned out especially well or particularly badly. Transcripts of the interviews (which were up to 3 hours long) were then made and each separate behaviour was noted. These ‘behavioural indicators’ were then clustered together into ‘competencies’ that differentiated the two samples. Finally, a competency model was validated using a fresh group of interviews.

Diplomacy and spotting emotions

McClelland was involved in a project to help the US Information Service recruit diplomats. The researchers found that the best diplomats were very good at divining the feelings of those they spoke to, even when they were given mixed messages. So, if talking with someone who was saying that everything was ‘fine’ in a tone of voice suggested annoyance, they would respond to the emotional component of the message (the anger) and not the surface message (everything is fine).

Having proven that the competency of ‘Reading Emotions’ was important to the work of a diplomat, it could then be screened for as part of the recruitment process.

A Competency Dictionary – looking up the skills you need

In the 1990s McBer researchers Lyle and Signe Spencer wrote and published a Competency Dictionary providing a listing of some 21 competences and 360 behavioural indicators found by the company to be those most commonly uncovered during their research.

This excellent reference book can be used to identify specific behaviours for training and/or hiring purposes, often without the time and expense involved in doing a full Behavioural Event process. The BEI model can then be used to assess new hires and to spot potential as part of internal talent management processes.

Putting it all together

Top performance requires a level of natural talent plus structured training in the format of Deliberate Practise.

In terms of ‘what’ to practise, we have three methodologies to focus those training efforts.

  1. Behavioural Analysis and
  2. Competency Analysis, are two tried and tested methods for (a) uncovering the key skills areas of top performers and (b) providing a training framework for helping people acquire those skills in a structured way.
  3. Positive Deviance is a great tool for spotting key skills when the situation is difficult and solutions are not immediately obvious. It lets us find the behaviours that people can use to transform their circumstances in an otherwise challenging environment.

So what’s next?

Reflect on how well you understand the nature of excellence. Are you doing all you can to identify and develop top performance in your department/company, and, for that matter, in yourself? What changes might you make?


Read this short article on: Approaches to Positive Deviance.


Watch… this five-minute long YouTube interview with Neil Rackham on his research into effective selling and the SPIN sales method.


Consider signing teams up to our Successful Selection Interviewing workshop, to learn how to conduct Behavioural Event Interviews during the recruitments process; run either as a face to face session, or as a Virtual Training Event.


You might also like to know that we run ‘one to one’ executive coaching assignments (both ‘face to face’ and as Remote Coaching options) to help people understand how top performers ‘do what they do’.


Or give us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK) or email us at coaching@boulden.net and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

And finally, a quote by US President Lyndon Johnson about the need to strive for the highest levels of performance…

“The noblest search of today is the search for excellence.”

How to have a fulfilling life

“Would you tell me, please, which way
I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where
you want to get to,” said the Cat…

Success is, ‘the achievement of something you’ve been trying to do’.
From the Latin, successus, to get an outcome.

So, success is simply about working out what you want to do in life and then doing it! This allows for a very wide range of possible positive outcomes; the Buddhist monk, the small business owner, the teacher, the billionaire entrepreneur, can all be successful in their own way and on their own terms.

The first step in living a fulfilling life then is (obviously) to have some sense of what you want to do (i.e. to set some Life Goals) and make sure that reaching those goals will be a source of gratification.

The chosen goals should be something that will generate a sense of fulfilment. Pleasure should arise not just in the getting of the goal, but also the doing of it e.g. the athlete doesn’t only enjoy the race, but also likes training for the race!

From reviewing the literature in this area, my contention is that whatever Life Goals you might select there are three topics that require particular attention if things are going to go well. They are Relationships, Well-being, and Finances.

Thus, the four key elements involved in living a successful life are:

  1. Set Clear Goals
  2. Foster Healthy Relationships
  3. Look After Yourself
  4. Establish Sound Finances

Let’s look briefly at each of these factors in turn…

Set clear goals

A goal is defined as, ‘something you want to achieve, especially when much time and effort is needed to get it.

Goals help us to focus our efforts on what matters most and help us to clearly distinguish between success and failure. Without goals the risk is that we drift aimlessly and whatever effort we put forth it doesn’t result in the kind of gains we might like to achieve.

Of course, most of us will have work goals that are imposed on us by our employer, but for a satisfying life it helps if we also have a set of personal goals to help prioritise and guide our actions. Called ‘Life Goals’, these objectives are based on things that really matter to us and can cover a wide range of potential topics e.g. career, family, finances, health, romantic relationships, friendships, religion, travel, hobbies, activities, sports etc.

Of course, most people will give some attention to most of these topics but to make real progress it is necessary to give special attention to just a few areas. That means making a conscious decision to hone in on just a handful of topics.

One way of doing this is to:

  • Start with Health, Relationships and Finance, plus 2 additional topics that excite you and are a likely source of pleasure to focus on e.g. foreign travel and playing music.
  • Do some research on those 5 topics e.g. if one priority is climbing the corporate ladder it makes sense to find out what are the key success factors in getting promoted etc.
  • Think about what an ambitious but realistic level of attainment might be in each area e.g. you might want to become the Pope but the chances of getting there are limited if you’re not (a) a practising catholic and (b) male. Also, since 1378, no pope has been elected outside the College of Cardinals, so being a cardinal would be helpful.
  • Note down some ideas about what you’d like your life to look like in respect of those 5 topics in (say) 5 or 10 or 15 years from now.
  • Turn the notes into Life Goals, that is, goals that are: long term; written down, in order to create a fixed point of reference and create clarity of expression; reasonably specific and; kept private.
  • As you make choices on what to do on a day-to-day basis, reflect on whether those choices are getting you closer towards, or further away, from those Life Goals E.g. If having a long term ‘Romantic Relationship’ is important, are you getting out and meeting potential partners? (If you want to find a prince/princess you might have to kiss a lot of frogs first!) Are you quickly identifying/avoiding/rejecting any selfish or ‘emotionally unstable’ people that you meet on dates?
  • Be alert for serendipity (happy accidents) or random events, that might spring up unexpectedly that could help you take a step towards your Life Goals.
  • Review the Life Goals on an annual basis and update them as necessary. There is no reason why the definition and the mix of goals can’t change over time as circumstances and your own perceptions alter.

WOOP Goals

Gabrielle Oettingen (Professor of Psychology at New York University) advocates for a four-stage, research based, personal goal setting process she calls WOOP. The system can be used for both short-term personal goals and longer-term, Life Goals.

WOOP stands for: Wish, Outcome, Obstacles, Plan.

The procedure is to start by making notes against each of the four steps and then (for each stage) summarise those notes in just 3-6 words…

  1. Wish – your goal; what you want to achieve?
  2. Outcome – what you’ll gain/feel when you get your Wish
  3. Obstacles – What is it within you that holds you back from getting your Wish? E.g. a bad habit? An emotion? A negative past experience?
  4. Plan – How can you overcome your Obstacle?
    Use the planning format…“If… (obstacle), then I will… (action or thought).”

The key to the system is what psychologists call building Implementation Intentions. That is, anticipating barriers to success and thinking about how to overcome them when (not if) they arise. This helps to build the fortitude and persistence that are necessary to cope with the inevitable setbacks that occur when attempting anything that’s worthwhile.

Foster healthy relationships

Human beings are ‘pack’ animals. In evolutionary terms success in an oftentimes-hostile environment came from co-operation, teamwork and being part of a family, tribe or nation. So, there is a powerful, innate need for mutually supportive relationships.

In good times these relationships are a source of joy and fulfilment.

In bad times the advice, guidance and perspective that family and friends provide are vital to keeping a sense of perspective and ‘switching off’ the potentially damaging reactions to stressful events.

For the overwhelming majority of people, healthy relationships underpin the ability to both get things done and to feel good when doing them. As such it’s important to have clear Life Goals in this area.

One aspect of building good relationships is to be wary of ‘Energy Vampires’…
i.e. people who constantly generate problems, difficulties and angst. The aim is to minimise exposure to those people and consciously seek to spend time with individuals who give you a sense of well-being and provide mutual support. It is common to suggest aiming to have at least five people who you have a very positive, energising relationship with. This is a reminder to avoid the problem of your friendship pool ‘shrinking’ over time as the staying in touch gets crowded out by work commitments and the daily grind of commuting etc.

It’s not what you know it’s who you know

From the work perspective, social networks, as most people know, are a key success factor in business. With a good range of personal contacts, a person can: get support for projects, influence the strategy of their organisation, get promoted, spot issues at an early stage and react to them appropriately, make life in general easier, e.g. by getting a recommendation for a good plumber or baby sitter etc.

Most people have much weaker networks than they realise, and so often they find out about important matters too late in the day to affect the outcome, struggle to get resources allocated to their projects, find that their advice is ignored, miss out on promotion opportunities etc.

Effective networking requires:

  1. Digging the well before you are thirsty! One common mistake with networking is to wait until there is a pressing need before trying to make friends or get back in contact with people. Effective people build relationships before they need them and make sure they understand the agendas of potential allies, co-workers, contacts, etc. well in advance of asking for support on any given issue.
  2. Consciously identifying and connecting with ‘useful’ people, in an authentic and ethical way. This involves (i) helping people out – networking is a two-way street, and (ii) making conscious choices about when and where to network, e.g. explicitly deciding what conferences, exhibitions, breakfast clubs etc. you should attend.
  3. Nourishing the network once it has been built, this means having contact with people in the network at a frequency that can be counted upon e.g. a monthly catch up. In professional networks, the ‘use it or lose it’ principle applies!

Look after yourself

Achieving things involves taking action, and action requires energy, and energy is developed by taking care of your mind and body. So, making a success of your life involves trying to stay in reasonable shape; physically and emotionally.

This starts with the obvious physiological factors – sleep, diet and exercise.

If you’ve ever had a bad night’s sleep (and who hasn’t) then you know what tiredness can do to your mood, attitude and decision-making capabilities. Similarly Junk Food, Alcohol, Tobacco and all the other things you might (or might not) try from time to time will, in excess, hamper your ability to feel good and get things done. Ditto exercise; your body was made to move and there is a minimum of effort needed to keep the system in good working order.

Maintaining a good posture is also an important (but often overlooked) factor in maintaining well-being. Poor body alignments, caused by hours spent hunched over a steering wheel, phone or laptop can (over time) cause pain, immobility and low mood. You can read about seven benefits of good posture here.

Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, has written persuasively of the need to adopt a positive outlook as part of being happy and resilient. Something he calls, Learned Optimism. For him this capacity to be upbeat and avoid low mood has three components:

  1. Permanence – viewing bad things as temporary setbacks that can be overcome in time.
  2. Pervasiveness – compartmentalising bad events so that they don’t ‘bleed’ negative energy into other aspects of your life e.g. work problems don’t impact your social life.
  3. Personalisation – bad things just happen from time to time and the optimist doesn’t take it personally when they do. Of course, they take ownership of any mistakes they make, and take corrective action but they don’t dwell on them.

The Self-Care Philosophy

This sense of ‘looking after yourself’, is formally known in psychology as Self-Care, defined as; “taking time to pay attention to you, not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that ensures that you are being cared for by you.”

In her Psychology Today, article – Self Care 101- Dr Maria Baratta points out that Self-Care is a vital component of avoiding fatigue, sickness and burn out. She then lists 10 aspects of Self-Care including: knowing what your limits are, finding a way to decompress throughout your day and giving some thought to changing a difficult work situation.

Self-Care then, is about consciously finding ways to recharge and re-set your mind so as to avoid burn out and stress. Common strategies include hobbies, be it gardening, horse riding, yoga, dancing, running etc. Restful daily activities e.g. going for walk, seeing a friend, walking the dog, reading a book etc., and then more ’therapeutic options’ to stay in touch with your true nature and to understand your boundaries. This might involve approaches such as meditation of whatever flavour you like – Mindfulness, Transcendental, Taoist, Vipassana, Zen etc. – or maybe some psychological methodology like Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

The main thing is to consciously think about how you are promoting a sense of personal well-being and doing something each and every day that helps build your resilience.

Establish sound finances

Obviously, it is not a requirement for a successful life to prioritise earning money. Many people are very happy living a life based on service to others, or focus their efforts around an activity that they love to do. It is also a truism that money per se doesn’t make you happy, and, as Lennon and McCartney memorably reminded us, ‘money can’t buy you love’.

On the other hand, it’s not easy to be positive, relaxed and energised if you are mired in debt, and can’t afford to pay the rent or the electricity bill. Money problems are a fact of life for many people. For example, 49% of American households live paycheque-to-paycheque, and in the UK research by the Investing and Saving Alliance shows that a third of households have less than £250 in savings. Over 50% have less than £1,500 set aside.

So, some level of financial self-sufficiency is a prerequisite for not being ground down by the need to pay for life’s necessities. While beyond that, some level of affluence in order to do (at least some) of the extra things that help to make life enjoyable, is a definite plus. Consequently, it’s important to have clear Life Goals in this area.

In terms of making ‘big’ money (and by way of a benchmark, to be one of the top 1% of UK earners you need to make £120,000+ a year) there are four main ways of ‘getting rich’. None of the options are easy and only a small number of people will have the appetite, ability and opportunity to pursue them. They are:

  1. Climb the corporate ladder and get to the C suite. At the executive level the rewards come not only from the salary but (very importantly) from share options, bonuses, incentive schemes and company pension contributions. You may like to know that the CEO median total remuneration for AIM listed companies for 2019 was £324,000.
  2. Become a virtuoso in some highly paid area e.g. sports star, surgeon, actor, IT guru.
  3. Start a business. For those with the necessary entrepreneurial flair, building a business from the ground up, whether through spotting a gap in the market, or developing a brand new ‘product’, can lead to great wealth.
  4. Marry into money.

For everyone else (which is almost everyone) establishing sound finances is about balancing spending on the necessities, while investing slowly but steadily for the longer term. The basics of doing this are pretty self-evident, but just for the sake of completeness the main elements are…

Learn a Valuable Skill

Keep that skill current and learn new skills as required. (Like a professional athlete constantly training to improve their race times.) Just to be clear, ‘valuable skills’, in this context, means a skill that can command a premium in the market place. There are rare skills, that are hard to acquire, that deliver great benefits but don’t command a good market rate. Delivering them may be very satisfying, but if they don’t generate enough income to pay the bills, then making ends meet becomes a matter of relying on support from a partner/family member and/or having a second job.

It is also important to note that while a good work ethic is important, many people are willing to work hard, but ‘valuable skills’ are in shorter supply and so command both good remuneration and job security.

Balance income and expenditure

Experts in this area suggest that you don’t spend what you don’t have. Don’t buy things you don’t really need. Don’t try and ‘keep up with the Jones’s’. Do monitor your cashflow and do keep up to date on the best deals for utilities, credit cards, bank accounts, loans, insurance etc.

Save for a rainy day

There will always be unexpected events, and that could be anything from needing to replace a washing machine to being made redundant. The usual advice is to aim, over time, to build up enough cash that you can survive 3 months without working (and a 6-month buffer is better still).

Start retirement planning early

Most retirement plans are highly tax efficient and often involve ‘free’ additional contributions from the employer. Also, the returns accumulate over time, such that even modest investments made very early on can build into something substantial by the time it comes to stop work. To quote Albert Einstein, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… he who doesn’t… pays it.”

Invest for the long term

Once the rainy-day fund is built up it’s time to think about long term investments i.e. using your money to buy an asset that you think has a good probability of generating an acceptable rate of return over time. Many options are available here, from property, to shares, to mutual funds, to making extra contributions to pension plans etc.

Putting it all together

Success comes from thinking about what Life Goals make sense to you and then taking steps to achieve them. It’s unlikely that you can do everything you might want to do; so, focus in on a handful of topics. Pay particular attention to the quality of your relationships, your health and your finances. Things change over time so review and confirm/update/change the goals each year.

So what’s next?

Reflect on how clear your Life Goals are. Are you continually taking small steps that move towards what you most desire? Are you having positive experiences on a regular basis? What changes might you make to how you live your life?


Read this article on the Wheel of Life technique for deciding upon what Life Goals to focus on.


Watch this four-minute long video by on the WOOP goal setting method.


Consider signing teams up to our Practical Time Management workshop, run either as a face to face session, or as a Virtual Training Event – which covers Life Goals, Looking after Yourself, and tools for efficient working.


If you’re a senior executive, maybe a ‘one-to-one’ executive coaching session, or our Remote Coaching Programme, would be a useful option for helping you review your networking skills.


Or give us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK) or email us at coaching@boulden.net and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

And finally, an old adage about making a success of just about anything…

“The secret to getting ahead is
getting started.”