Evolve or Die

    Writers write to make sense of the world.  Often we write to share what we know.  As coaches, we share what we know without directing, we ask questions, whilst allowing space for new thought to appear.  We hope to provide the conditions necessary for our clients to stumble upon realisation – these are known as aha moments.

    As experienced NHS managers, at best we teach not coach, we direct, command and control and our days are more likely to stumble into WTF not Aha moments.  I exaggerate for effect, a little.      

    I’ve spent 30 years working in the NHS, half of which was spent nursing, the latter half in general management.  As a children’s nurse I cared for children of all ages with life limiting disease, yet by far general management is more stressful, more thankless and remains hazardous for those with a morale compass.   

    Why this hamster wheel?  

    Eckhart Tolle may have the answer to this conundrum, about how we can learn to be a successful hamster, one that lives in the Now.  Hamsters are very good at living in the moment, as other animals, they don’t think about the past, the future, or live contemplating their death, or the death and disease of others; they can be conditioned.  The downside of being human is that our gifts become our afflictions.  As the workforce team would say, our strengths become our weakness, we overplay our winning strategy.  Spend too much time thinking about the future (planning) achieve nothing today, spend too much time living day to day, there’ll be no transformation – no aha, just more WTF.  This is important because we’re not hamsters, we’re humans, reportedly the most intelligent life on the planet: good news; we have evolved brain power, if only we would stop relating to hamsters. 

                  Awareness is the greatest agent for change…Evolve or Die

                                       Eckhart Tolle

    ‘Don’t believe everything you hear in your own head,’ says Richard Bandler, the co-founder of Neurolinguistic Programming.  So much of what we think can be categorised as belief versus truth.  The thought experiment exercise I use frequently with coaching clients, what if what you believed, this belief that holds you back wasn’t actually true?   What if our thoughts were actually creating our reality?  That we were creating the conditions we observe?  It’s uncomfortable, transformation that is, leaning up against our zone of comfort, stretching it further than it’s gone before.  If it’s not uncomfortable, it’s not transformation.  


Overwhelm, Underwhelm and Not Giving a £*?@


Overwhelm, Underwhelm and Not Giving a F*?@

When there’s too much to do.

    Not that I feel like writing today, but you can see that I’ve somehow managed to begin.  I’ve written previously about tricking oneself into action and it seems that Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*?@, may agree.  It’s a book I’ve read a few times, what prompted me to flick through his reams of wisdom today I’m not sure; possibly kismet?

‘Don’t just sit there.  Do something.  The answers will follow…Action isn’t just the effect of motivation , it’s also the cause of it.’

    Over time I‘ve realised this, not through reading books about being more productive or books on the paralysis of overthinking, but verified via tried and tested thought experiments. Thinking and acting can occur simultaneously, results are usually variable but surpass the benefits of inertia. 

    Overwhelm is mentioned frequently at work; for frontline staff the reality of demand management can be a stressful experience.  A head full (and handful) of tasks can all feel equally important.  Sometimes I’m much busier in my head than in reality, the art is to notice what’s real and what’s blown up.  I’m reasonably good at getting things done and solving problems only because it’s where I choose to focus my attention.   There are plenty of tasks I’m mediocre at, or quite frankly disinterested in.  I’d like to write fiction and yet my ability to write creatively is directly linked to the time I spend inventing stories — arguably it’s another experiment for another day.

‘Happiness comes from solving problems.  The key word here is ‘solving.’  If you’re avoiding your problems or feel like you don’t have any problems then you’re going to make yourself miserable.  If you feel like you have problems you can’t solve, you will likewise make yourself miserable.  The secret and source is in the solving of problems, not in not having the problems in the first place.’

    Clearly the concept of freewill applies here, we get to choose which problems we want to solve when, even if we don’t believe this, we choose nevertheless.  And how effective we are is determined by how much time and energy we apply to any aspect of work or life.  Much of Manson’s book explores the paradox of being human.   The more we are preoccupied with the overwhelming nature of what is ahead of us, the less inclined we are to set about planning, problem solving, working our way out of our current scenario.    There’s an NLP technique that can help.  Visualise yourself dealing with whatever problem you’re grappling with, the protagonist of your own movie or novel, what would you have them do if you were writing the scene? Play it through using different plot  endings.   When you have the answer that feels right – go do that.

‘Whether you realise it or not you are always choosing what to give a f*?@ about.’

    Choosing badly can become a self-limiting strategy, therefore the ‘do something principle’ can include a number of other associated skills according to Manson;

  • Commitment
  • Saying no
  • Setting boundaries
  • Building trust
  • Making choices 
  • Managing expectations
  • Accepting failure as learning

    My own strategy might involve all of the above, but it most definitely involves making a to-do list.   I get to choose the non-negotiable components of the list for that day, month, year or years.  With consideration these might change, it’s a conscious process and will certainly involve a period of reflection and consultation with those affected.   The key is in the title, TO-DO.  Even a To-Be list involves doing something differently – I might choose to be kinder.  There are people who may disagree with the following quote, believers in the path of least resistance.  And yet, therein lies the paradox of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: 

‘To become truly great at something you have to dedicate shit-tons of time and energy to it…Who you are is defined by what you are willing to struggle for.’

                                                                                                  Mark Manson

Manson, Mark (2016)  The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck   A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.  Harper Collins.

*All quotes by Mark Manson.

Finding Your Voice – Writing Your Way Out Of It by DBC Pierre

For Prisoners Everywhere

Which also means Us 

DBC Pierre 2016

    This blog was going to be about writing. To be exact, what DBC Pierre has to say in his book Release the Bats – Writing Your Way Out Of It.  I’ve read the book numerous times, and the more I read, the more I notice how his wisdom can be applied to almost any venture; but something of interest to me is the act of  finding your voice.

‘I started to write.  It wasn’t a lifelong wish.  I didn’t train for it, didn’t know any writers, editors or publishers.  I just had a strong feeling with nowhere to go… Thankfully it’s a knack you can practise over time.’

‘The Gods of writing weren’t waiting for another impeccable tomb from some learned technician, they were waiting for a shout from the rooftops.  For mine and for yours.’

    The issue of finding your voice comes up regularly in management and leadership, as does the art of active listening.  It seems that one’s voice needs to be heard by people willing to listen.  Like the writing of a Booker award winning novel, it’s a grind: an  artful, stoical and delusional journey demanding fortitude.

‘My feeling was that shout and by isolating it, wrestling it, and building it a cage, I was harnessing the only thing I had to give.  I couldn’t compete with theory or craft, the shout was all I had.  But take note if you mean to write: it was enough.’

    I was inspired to write recently, by Dr Matt Morgan, he’d written a patient story, one of many that had meaning for him.  And yet there are so many humbling experiences to honour.  The children who took their last breath because science wasn’t enough, the children that lived because science won, the children that lived against all the odds; the child that woke up on intensive care and ate six Weetabix in the middle of the night, the teenager who refused to enter the MRI unless I held onto his foot talking him through it, the children who legged it into the lifts causing dignified scuffles around the hospital: as a student, the old man who gave me a pound for looking after him, his crumpled face on its return.  Along with the people who shared these experiences with us, all these people live in our hearts.

    There are two requirements of writing according to DBC Pierre:

  • Something to say
  • Patience to write it  

    Pierre began by writing a page in anger and found he liked it, all it needed was a spark  doused with rocket fuel to keep pushing through. How will you find your voice?


Release The Bats, Writing Your Way Out of It (2016) DBC Pierre, Faber and Faber.

Vernon God Little (2005) DBC Pierre, Faber and Faber

The Call To Adventure 


    Today, typically, I’m writing at a coffee shop, it’s noisy and full of chattering people, there’s an extra buzz belonging to the bank holiday – who doesn’t relish a four day week?  I’ve been churning over something I want to say;  the noise is distracting, I’m arguing with myself, can I write or not, are the conditions good or bad?  Being human I can find a downpour of excuses not to start regardless of reasons to be begin. I’ve started writing anyway. The Procrastination Monkey hangs his head refusing to make eye contact and is swiftly replaced by Perfectionist Monkey  – now you’ve started you’d better make this good, she grins and squeals with mischievous delight;  I choose not to be distracted by my monkey brain, it’s difficult.   Thoughts are formless, we apply meaning to them – or not; I tell them to shut up, a trick I learned, from Richard Bandler.

    I wonder how many times I tell myself that I can’t do something when  I probably can?   It’s a personal call to adventure, I know this from a man called Steve who lives in Arizona, Steve Hardison – The Ultimate Coach.  Steve has a thing about commitment, it’s serious, he’s serious.  You’d think he invented commitment, not just the word, the act.  I asked him once, ‘How do you know what to commit to?’  His swift and concrete reply, ‘You Choose.’   Oh hell, it’s all on me, no excuses.  There are days I wish it weren’t.

Studying creative writing I stumbled upon Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, The Hero’s Journey, more recently modified by Christopher Vogler (1998). The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers.   It’s an essential read for anyone interested in mythology but also personal transformation.  Workforce advisors  tell me that people can’t change, fundamentally they are who they are, you might be able to change their behaviours but not the person, officially people don’t change.  Therein lies the nugget, the insight the ‘old chestnut.’  

    In organisational terms, change is something that can be externally applied, the same truth applies to individuals, we can change peoples’ behaviour by applying a set of principles or rules of engagement, and we uphold these rules or principles usually through policies and procedures – the primary business as usual management methodology.  Transformation, on the other hand, is a process of change from within, true of organisations and people.   Transformation is not a process of learning but one of realisation.  It has a deeper, more sustainable feel about it.  Our role is merely to provide the conditions necessary to catalyse  this deeper more transformative change either in ourselves, our teams or organisations.  

The transformation journey is a call to adventure.  Many, understandably, refuse the call.  Nevertheless, for those who have the courage to set out on this journey, the path is paved with necessary obstacles, some real others illusionary; this journey can often involve a process of letting go – of something familiar, comfortable or predictable.  It’s a very personal experience, and whilst nobody can make the journey for us there will always be mentors, allies and providence to help you along the way.

    ‘We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.’

                                                                 Jospeh Campbell

Vogler, Christopher (1998) The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers.

A Compassionate NHS – Notes on Michael Sheen’s Aneurin Bevan Lecture.

     A week has passed since I listened to Michael Sheen’s lecture, it wasn’t a lecture about the history of the NHS, the one I was expecting. 

     With well informed, insightful rigour the artfully woven narrative plunged deeper, and then deeper still, to reveal the truth at the core of our NHS – Compassion.

     We know, we feel, we hear and see, that this is where its source, its soul, meets ours.  The collective consciousness of our single spirit concealed within a multitude of human forms tricks us but only at the level of consciousness, deep down we know the answer.   It feels good to be reminded to tune out of the  background noise of life, organisational red tape (yes, and the politics) — a mere distraction, a distraction from our purpose, our mission, our commitment to ease the suffering of others.

     There was so much to inspire us from this speech that Nye Bevan himself could be provoked to join the debate.  I scribbled notes furiously into my Moleskin Notebook, reserved sizzlers — and here’s what I heard…

  • Compassion and empathy should form the basis of our decision making.
  • Practice compassion, bit like a muscle that needs exercising.
  • We must travel beyond our own personal borders to show empathy. It takes imaginative transgression to look out of the eyes of another.
  • Exercise your imagination, things aren’t permanent.
  • Nothing about the future is fixed — it can be shaped.
  • Choose to put people back at the heart of the NHS, community and life.
  • Go back to the source of the NHS, what was there?  Tredegarise  (new word for Dr Johnson) the model of care. 
  • We humans are all complex, none of us are ordinary regardless of social status.
  • Develop cooperative models. 
  • Everything takes time, commitment and encouragement.
  • Move beyond silent conformity and use your anger to fuel change.

     And most of all I was blown away by what could have easily come out of a book of NHS good management practice, I believe.

“People who don’t feel listened to and don’t feel they can speak their truth, speak their reality, what’s going on for them —  get frustrated and frustrated energy turns in on itself.

     If people are given the platform to speak and to be listened to and that they can see that things come out of that, then that helps.”

     Bravo Mr Sheen!

     Anyone wondering why they work in the NHS today would be inspired by this, and you can find it on line or the Hay Festival website.

The Aneurin Bevan Lecture – Hay Festival (2017) Michael Sheen


A Life in 5 Chapters by Portia Nelson

Poem shared by Dr Wayne Dyer:
Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter 2.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.
Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.
Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
Chapter 5
I walk down another street.

Listen – It’s Not All About Us.


The subject of active listening keeps cropping up in conversation, mostly with doctors. They keep talking but remain convinced they’re not being heard.

Recently, a colleague and I delivered training for the NHS London Leadership Academy, part of this involved a session called ‘Listening with nothing on your mind.’ The feedback suggested that it was the most popular part of the programme. The exercises we used were insightful.

The challenge for all of us is to listen without interruptions from self-talk and a pre-occupation with the outside world. We are often deeply distracted by our own state of mind. If over thinking is a perfectly normal part of the human condition, how do we improve our listening skills? How do we know when we’re distracted and off track? How do we know that we’re not missing something vital to the future of our business? In healthcare the ability to actively listen is necessary for safe clinical care.

It’s not always as simple as it sounds. Coaches like myself have supervision and many years of training to hone this skill….the art of coaching essentially depends upon deep active listening; this requires awareness. We must manage our tendency to be distracted by ourselves or by others.

Notice when you’re being distracted – try it, today. Notice the difference it makes to your relationships with the people around you and also the quality of your experience.  We may also find that your jobs become much easier, as we learn, that it’s not all about us.

Beyond Healthcare’s Burning Platform


I’ve written recently about the above, and the tendency for NHS managers to refer to the NHS as a burning platform. But there are those who’ve made a career or winning strategy out of fire-fighting, the Red Adair’s of healthcare ( Red was the famous wild well extinguisher).

But fighting fires, whether in work or at home, indicates a habit of reacting to what’s thrown our way, as opposed to the planning of a more satisfying alternative. Individually, this can be difficult to see, we’ve become experts at reacting to what goes on around us, we can’t see any crazy alternatives.

A coach mentor of mine, Steve Chandler talks about creating a Crazy Good future. Most of us dare not plan for good, let alone crazy good; but until we do, we’ll be stuck right where we are — feeling as though we’re on fire with our hand on the water bucket.

What’s your crazy good alternative?


Is Fear the Death of Creativity?

Editing A Blank Page

I haven’t blogged for a while because I’ve been learning to write fiction. Who’d have thought learning to write fiction could be as difficult as learning any other new skill? On some days it’s been rather a slog, and it feels more difficult than it should. As Gene Fowler once said:

    ‘Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.’

It occurred to me more than once, as with any other endeavour, it is the fear of failure that is more likely to grind us to a halt. I learned from the masters, that it is better to write poorly than not write at all.  After all, as Jodi Picoult once said, ‘you can’t edit a blank page.’ 

Leave, Change or Accept

Paula Goode is a Coach, Author and Healthcare Transformation Specialist. Founder of the The Coach Hub at Goodeinsight Ltd (goodeinsight.co.uk)


 “When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness”

            Eckhart Tolle

How do we know what we can change and what we can’t? Who knows? Nevertheless, there are those that will try and others who do not. What appears to make the difference seems to boils down to choice. Leave, change or accept. There’s a current trend emerging, that just accepting suggests we are helpless, having learned to be helpless, so to speak.

In conversation recently someone told me that the problem at hand (or out of hand even) had been around for 35 years, all had tried to solve it without success. There was a sense of inevitability about any attempts to resolve this issue. Noticing that the rules applied to the decision-making resulted in only one outcome (the unhelpful one), two things occurred to me:

“You are confined only by the walls you build yourself”

       Andrew Murphy

“We cannot solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them”


 Martin Seligman, the American Psychologist and expert on positive psychology suggests that helplessness is learned. We become conditioned into believing that we cannot change a seemingly difficult situation. We don’t try, confined by the walls of our imagination. Unconsciously we unwittingly reinforce and sustain this self-created reality.

If Einstein is correct, then creating a different result means finding new ways of thinking. This involves a commitment to change, a commitment to solving the problem, the creation of something new.  Se we leave, change or accept? Either way the choice is yours….

“Never believe a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

            Margaret Mead

Paula Goode is the author of Notes on Nursing a Thought (2014)