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An example of flow in my life

In leadership training, we talk about “Flow” as an important state for getting high-results and being motivated. Here is an example of Flow from my own life. As you read it, see if you can spot the key ingredients required to get me in this state of Flow..

 

In 2002 I was living in Brussels. I didn’t have any kids and I was “away from home”. One day, I was thinking about how I could better share my life with people in England. At the time, Facebook probably existed in the US, but it wasn’t part of our daily life like it is today. I wanted to let people know what I was up to, share stories and pictures and have more contact with them. One Saturday afternoon at 2pm, I decided to make a website.

 

Not having a clue about how to make websites, I went to Google and typed in “How to make a website”. I found the site htmlgoodies.com and discovered a set of lessons on how to code a site. I opened up lesson 1:

  • Open notepad
  • Type <html>
  • Write what you want to see on your page
  • (I wrote “Welcome to my webpage)
  • Type </html>
  • Save
  • Open internet explorer and open your “document”

 

What I saw was a blank “internet page” with “Welcome to my webpage” in the top-left corner, font times new roman, size 10. I quietly smiled to myself and moved onto lesson 2, which was about how to make a link. I made a new notepad document with the HREF code for a link and linked it to my first page with the text “Click here”. When I opened my new page, I saw a blue link in the top-left saying “Click here”. I did. It opened my first page. I was very excited.

 

I went on through the lessons: How to change background colour, adjust font, add tables, put in pictures, make frames, add a form for email contact, add buttons… Each time, I slowly learnt something new and watched my pages come to life.

 

I carried on working non-stop from 2pm to 4.30am the next day. I only stopped a couple of times to go the toilet and I had a “dinner” in less than 10 minutes at my desk. By the time I finished, I had my first working website, uploaded via FTP and shared by email with my family. It had a kind of diary in it, some pictures and I had plans to add more later with my new skillset.

 

This is a perfect example of flow for me: I got the best results I could get, I was happy and time flew by.

 

According to positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, this positive state of flow is what everyone wants in life. It is a state of motivation where we feel good and get the best results. If we are under stimulated, we get bored (and bad results) and if things are too much for us, its stressful (with bad results). Flow is the key.

 

To get in flow, you need:

  • A clear goal that has a sense of purpose to you
  • Feedback from the world – you need to be able to see your progress (like I did with my internet pages)
  • The possibility to concentrate fully on your work (no kids!)
  • A balance between the challenge you have and your own competences/resources (note: most people like to be stretched a little)
  • The possibility of growth

 

If you are thinking about how to motivate your people at work, there are lots of practical ideas of what you can do to create or maintain flow. My training participants have been coming up with many ideas. You can see some on this padlet wall and this other wall. Its not difficult to do and the impact on employee results and happiness is enormous.

 

So, go: Get your people in flow!

 

Thanks for reading!

@dan_steer

 

 

5 Tips for Game Design and Learning, from Julie Dirksen

During the Wednesday morning ASTD2013 session with Karl Kapp, we were “sold” on Gamification for learning. Session W306 with Julie Dirksen filled in some of the design gaps.

If, like me, you believe gamification for learning is worth exploring, you might be getting started on your first attempts at game design. When you have your basic idea for a game or how to bring game-mechanics into a learning initiative, what do you need to keep in mind to be successful? What specific game design principles must be followed? Julie Dirksen suggests the following….

 

Feedback mechanisms have to be used well

Dirksen says that to create good learning you need to give extremely frequent feedback, in diverse ways.

EA sports games are designed so you have to make a decision every 1-2 seconds and you get feedback on this every 7-10 seconds. Knowing where you are and how your behaviour has impact on results is important to keep players in flow. Flow is one major reason why gamified learning is more motivating than non-gamified learning.

As your game starts, build in feedback mechanisms that help players to learn how the game works and how they can progress. This approach is also used a lot in video games. The player is taken through simple situations in order to learn the rules of the environment and how to control her actions. When enough feedback has been given to really understand the basic principles, we can throw in something to take them to the next level of the game.

Another important element in giving feedback is to make it seem more “consequential”. This means that the feedback style itself is linked to the context or impact of the behaviour that leads to it. The example given is of a safety/security training: Instead of giving a simple verbal or text-based feedback that says “wrong answer”, players get a big noisy “BOOM!!” sound with a scary message about having just blown up the facility. In this way, the feedback style is linked to the desired learning and the environment in question.

According to Dirksen, these kinds of feedback approaches are far more effective than random badges and points that go no-where.

 

People only give their attention if they want to

When Dirksen asks “How long can you pay attention to something?” the participants of session W306 are careful not to give big numbers. Thinking of our own school experience and what trainers tell us in “Presentation Skills” training, we know it can’t be too long and we answer “about 10 minutes”.

“But it’s not true”, says Dirksen, adding that “some people watch all 3 extended “Lord of the Rings” movies back-to-back at the cinema.”

The fact is that if you give players/learners/spectators what they want, they will give you their attention. In my opinion, the following 3 ideas will help:

 

People respond best to relevant rewards they get now

Dirksen spoke to us about the way rewards should be used in gamified learning.

In much training, participants don’t really realise “what is in it for them” until quite late in the process. And the rewards that are given for learning or game performance (feedback or other rewards) are not given until quite late, maybe only after the game. But psychology and everyday life show many examples of how people focus more on immediate rewards and less on rewards that comes later. The obvious example is of smokers who choose to have un-healthly pleasure now over health (or lack of bad-health) later. The major exception to this basic rule is that if the reward appears to be very high, we will be willing to wait for it. (And the further away the reward is, the bigger it needs to be.)

So unless you have a really good pay-off, bring in game rewards early on.

Rewards also have to be meaningful to the learner. Random badges, points and prizes do not improve game performance over time. Dirksen gave the example of how the inherent reward of the learning itself in a maths class could be better tailored to fit participants by using problems and examples that are related to their own reality. For example, for future entrepreneurs who need maths training, rather than creating a random maths game, you could create a maths-game around the ideas of successfully running a business.

 

This last point reinforces another Dirksen tip: Match game deliverables to desired behaviours and business deliverables

Dirksen showed as a simple game created for call-centre learners who needed to remember not to give away sensitive information to competitors who might call them pretending to be clients. In order to achieve this, they were asked to play a game where different logos floated down the screen and they had to shoot the ones of their competitors. Although the first look might suggest this is fine (it reinforces the idea that competitors are “bad”) Dirksen said it failed on several levels:

  • In reality, call-agents do not see the logos of their competitors when they call. The game did not involve the actual behaviours they should look (or listen!) out for.
  • Most call-agents do not have guns at work 🙂 The winning game behaviour did not match the desired real-life behaviour.
  • The game-behaviour was very aggressive and might encourage call-agents to be aggressive towards any competitors they did encounter in their calls.

 

Challenges must be incremental and in line with the players current competence

If I place my daughters by the tennis court opposite the Williams sisters, not only will they lose, but they will likely find it very stressful and not learn very much. To be effective with gamified learning, challenges must fall within the “flow-zone”…

20130601-203827.jpg

According to Dirksen, much traditionally training falls into the boring side of the chart, not because it is inherently boring, but because of the lack of challenge. Using a gamified approach, we can create challenge, but we must be careful not to go too far too quickly as this can bring stress to the learner. And as competence rises, so must the gamified challenge…

 

Having listened to Dirksen and Kapp at the ASTD2013 ICE, I had the opinion that many elements of my own training could be dramatically improved by the use of game. But even if I don’t want to gamify things, I think it is important to align training with these principles of feedback, attention, reward, deliverables and challenge.

 

 

Burnout: Causes, Symptoms and Positive Action

Burnout is the name given for the “breakdown” associated with the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. It can be considered as the opposite of “flow” and can include a number of different symptoms, although all are related to the temporal inability to manage life properly and a state of extreme exhaustion and dissatisfaction with the status-quo. This post is the result of my own research on and experience with the topic. It gives further information about the meaning of burnout, how to recognise it in yourself and others and what to do about it. There are 4 sections:

  • “Burnout can happen to anyone, for different reasons”
  • “Burnout symptoms differ for everyone”
  • “Immediate action is required”
  • “Burnout is an investment in a brighter future”

 

BURNOUT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE, FOR DIFFERENT REASONS

The most obvious assumption about burnout is that you have to work really hard to get it. Although it may be true that too much hard work (A) leads to burnout (B) this does not imply that (B) must be caused by (A) or that (A) necessarily leads to (B). Like other forms of stress (and potentially depression) the causes of burnout are different for each person, but there are some common factors:

  • Over-focussing on one area of life (work, a specific project, building a house, making babies…) at the expense of others (and at the expense of “balance”) may lead to burnout
  • People who push themselves too much for their own resources, competences and/or preferences (in whatever domain) are more likely to suffer burnout
  • Perfectionism and “other-oriented” people may be particularly prone to burnout as they feel they “must” achieve everything perfectly in order to be “acceptable”
  • Extreme engagement and passion for a project, subject or job at the expense of other things can end in burnout
  • Non-consideration of the connection between specific goals you are working on and their link to personal values, vision and belief may lead to burnout. Being extremely productive does not mean you are working in-line with the “real you”.
  • Read here for other causes of burnout or have a look at this burnout risk self-test and some ideas from mindtools.com on avoiding burnout.

 

Re-reading this list, the “thin-red-line” that holds it all together seems to me to be the idea of “getting lost” in something, losing work-life balance or the feeling of “wholeness” and general life-satisfaction.

 

BURNOUT SYMPTOMS DIFFER FOR EVERYONE

Not everyone reacts to burnout in the same way, but there is of course a standard definition of burnout and a known set of symptoms (read “How to recognise when you are on the road to burnout“). You shouldn’t superficially compare burnout symptoms between different people because each person is individual. But if you suffer from a few of the following symptoms, that should be enough to get you thinking about the possibility of burnout. Hypochondriacs aside, if you’re asking if you’re having a burnout, you probably are or will do soon. Symptoms include:

  • Constant sadness that doesn’t seem linked to any one particular cause
  • Lack of inspiration or sudden disillusionment for the work you had previously been doing with lots of motivation and effort. You can read more about this in the introduction to burnout from mindtools.com.
  • Inability to “get started” on things. This could range from a kind of apathy for “life in general” to one specific moment of literally not being able to get out of your car to go and visit the client you just arrived at.
  • Feeling that things will never get better or that the work will never be done
  • Crying regularly, for “no reason”
  • Finding no pleasure in everyday activities, from spending time with family, to sport or hobbies
  • Anger, sarcasm and other obtuse behaviours
  • Sleeping or eating differently, whether it be 14 hours of sleep a day or 4, loss of appetite or binging
  • Other physical symptoms like headache, anxious heart palpitations, fatigue or dizziness

 

IMMEDIATE ACTION IS REQUIRED

It would be wrong of me to post this piece without underlining the importance of medical attention or the fact that I am not a doctor. If you think you yourself are suffering from burnout, get help. In addition to medical support, here is my list of things to do to help deal with (and accept!) burnout:

  • Stop working. Turn it all off. This is probably the hardest first step for people suffering from burnout. Daring to stop is tough. Many people suffer from “Information Deprivation Disorder“. Believing the world will carry on without you and you’ll be OK is even tougher. If you work for yourself, add to that the false idea that no-one will ever hire you again and you are set to keep on working even when all the signs say stop. You need a leap of faith to make this first step, or an intervention from someone else, or a complete breakdown or putting your back out or…. But it has to happen. Stop.
  • Try and keep things in perspective. This is tough, because prior to burnout you didn’t keep things in perspective and at the start of burnout you just may be crying, miserable and lost. Good “perspective strategies” include speaking with different people you trust and love, writing down any little realisations you might have and a whole lot of trust. If you can remember that human beings tend to live to nearly 100 these days, you might be able to realise that this is only one point in time and things will change, one way or another. As George Harrisson sang: “All things must pass.
  • Do things that please you. This is a tough one. If you are feeling depressed and someone says “Do things that please you” it is likely you won’t have any idea what to do. Nothing pleases you! But if you can think of just one little thing you wanted to do at some point, but didn’t (because you we’re doing too much or working too hard) now is the time to do it. Go surfing. Play your guitar. Read that novel. Get a massage. Watch a movie at 1pm while the kids are out. Lie on the grass and walk in the snow. Not everything needs to have a reason and these previously seemingly irrelevant things that don’t advance your project or career need to have their space too. Start now.
  • …but don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water. If you are burnt-out, you might get to thinking its a good idea to quit your wife, your job, your kids or sell the house. Don’t. Those are big decisions that need to be made with good mental health. Although you might get the idea that the causes of your burnout are all interlinked and therefore one major change will affect everything else, this doesn’t mean that the results will be positive and you are certainly in no state (yet) to implement massive life changes. Slow down!
  • Sleep if you need to. Although at some point you will have to “get up and get on with your life” don’t be too tough on yourself. If you feel you need to sleep, do it. You are exhausted from the rhythm of your life to-date. Take the time to get your breath back.
  • Move a little. Get out for a walk or do sport. Before burnout you were probably doing the same things in the same way all the time. Now you are taking a break from that. Although you may well spend a fair bit of time sleeping or doing nothing, just getting outside for a little fresh air and gentle movement can make a massive difference to your physical state and your mood.
  • Focus on little wins. Going for one little walk or cooking a nice dinner or cleaning a cupboard or whatever you might fancy, success in doing something small is a wonderful thing. But keep it small! Then relax again. One thing at a time. This advice is the same for getting back to work, which we’ll get to in a minute…
  • Find a way to express yourself on the subject. In a certain way, burnout can be seen as the previous non-expression of some part of you that now forces itself to be heard. (If you don’t understand what I mean, read “I think therefore I am. Not.“) This could be any facet of your ego/personality, but whatever it is, it refuses to lay down and let the intense workaholic one-track mind takeover anymore. You need to give that part of you some space. In the film “The Beaver” with Mel Gibson, the main character Walter Black (who is suffering from depression) manages to express another previously-silent “brighter” side of himself by wearing and speaking through a puppet. Although this film is not a lesson in how to deal effectively with burnout and depression, Gibson’s character at first finds a way to say what is on his mind and share with his family and friends. There is no shame in burnout and no reason not to share.
  • Don’t think people are judging you. Mostly, they are not. People understand. And if you are an engaged, highly motivated passionate worker like many burn-out sufferers are, chances are that some of the people you hang around with will have had their own experience with burnout. As for everyone who judges you and thinks bad of you for your burnout: It will be hard to do, but you have to let these people go. They are not helping you and they don’t love you.
  • Get advice, even from non-experts. Don’t try and do everything alone. Many other people have already lived what you arriving during burnout and there are plenty of experts out there, from medical professionals to life-coaches. But there are also friends and family, business acquaintances and random strangers. They might have something useful to say, something that enlightens you a little to your situation, style or options. If you trust these people, why not listen to what they have to say? And let’s face it: If you burnt out already all by yourself, you could probably use a little help from someone else.

 

For more ideas and resources, check out this very complete page from mindtools.com about recovering from burnout. It includes ideas about changing jobs and other things i have also written on like doing a SWOT analysis and creating strategic action.

 

BURNOUT IS AN INVESTMENT IN A BRIGHTER FUTURE

When you buy a nice new car, you tend to look after it. You get it serviced and you keep it clean, topped up on all the right fuels and oils and filters. It runs for years and you continue to love it. If you don’t service it and follow the maintenance instructions, one day you find yourself stuck on the side of the motorway, loaded down with bags and screaming children, no longer able to go on holiday and wishing you had done it differently.

It is easy to go through life at 120km/hour. When you are new to a job, young, fit or successful and healthy it’s easy to give 150%. When you can see the results that that gives and you want to grow even more, it’s easy to just keep going. But if you don’t sharpen the saw and maintain yourself, you will eventually breakdown. With a little luck you will have a burnout. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have a heart attack. Even a Ferrari needs to stop moving from time-to-time.

When you have a burnout, it might feel like the end of the world. its difficult to imagine that things will get better, but actually burnout is the start of something new and better. When you are done with the “immediate actions” noted above, you will start to reflect on what needs to change and how you can get better and stay sharp in the future. The following list of ideas may help you get back to “work” in a healthy and sustainable way:

  • Realise that life is an opportunity to express different sides of yourself, not just one. Even if you are the CEO of the biggest company in the world and you made it all yourself, you are still a father, musician, husband, lover, runner, writer, fun person etc etc as well. Those sides of you need to have room to breathe and flourish. When you are feeling a little better from your burnout, sit down and list the different things you like to do and be and how you will help them to have more space.
  • Make a schedule for a balanced life. At work, you plan time for the activities and projects that have the most importance. That is what they teach you in leadership courses and management classes. The same must be true for “post-burnout you”. If you think it is important for your physical and mental health to do some sport, plan it. If you wish you spent more time eating dinner with the family, plan it. And on the work front, if you hate admin and can only stand to do it one day a week, plan for it one day a week.
  • Focus on little wins at the start. If you go back to work at 150% trying to “fix all the mess you made” you are going about things in the wrong way. Focus on small actions that show small successes and move you in the right direction. If, for example, you find yourself faced with an overflowing inbox, focus for 1 hour on just seeing what is in there. Don’t try and answer or deal with everything, just assess the contents. When that is done, stop. Do something else. Relax again. Even the biggest mountains in the world can be climbed in little steps. Don’t fall back into the old obsessive behaviours from the start…
  • Get a post-burnout buddy. This could be a formal coach or just a good friend. But you need someone to help keep you stay on track. Burnout happens a lot to people who think they are indestructible entrepreneurial self-starters who can do and be anything they want. If you already burnt-out you know that this is not the case. To avoid the risk of just doing it again, find someone with whom you can discuss your plans and promises and who can call you up from time-to-time to see how you are doing.

 

What is important to remember with everything here is that without some realisation and tools, left to your own devices, you burnt out. Now you had the realisation, it is important to implement some new tools, until they turn into new habits…

 

I hope this post helped. Maybe you will realise that you need to take action now for the future, maybe you know someone who is having a burnout and this will help you help them, or maybe you can think about preventative actions for your own organisation.

If you have an experience to share or a reply to any of these ideas, please comment.

 

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Change your relationship with time

In the beginning , man got up with the sun and went to sleep with the sun. The passage of time was measured in days or seasons. Time was spent slowly by hunting, farming and sleeping.

Sometime after, with the invention of clocks I suspect, new measures of time took over: hours, minutes and seconds. The passage of time immediately sped up. The longer time between days and seasons was replaced by the shorter time it takes to download an email, to microwave a potato or to clean the house..

Today, our obsession with time and the way we use it may well be killing us. Many people never stop moving and never stop doing, as if the time they have on Earth must be filled to the very last second. Our relationship with time has gone from non-conscious slow natural living in time to an obsessive fast-paced processed life, dominated by time.

But there are many ways to look at time and no-one way is right. Although our upbringing, culture and evolution may have pushed us in one direction, it is still possible to change our vision of and relationship with time… In this post, I propose 4 visions of time-spending.

 

Being productive

Imagine a couple preparing for a big dinner party. At 5pm, Jennifer starts to peel potatoes. She stops at 6pm. John, her husband, plays guitar from 5 to 5.30, then peels potatoes for 30 minutes. In terms of potato peeling, Jennifer has been twice as productive.

Productivity is one of the preferred measures of time used in many factory environments, including, in the past, call centres. People judge their time-usage in terms of how much time they spend doing “stuff”. Their “performance” is clocked in and out. The most productive person is the one who “performs” the longest.

In my last full-time employment, I knew a very productive girl. She would arrive at 7am and “do stuff” until at least 7pm. She rarely took the time to stop and chat, eat (or breathe) – she just worked, worked, worked. Unfortunately she wasn’t very good at her work, which was in itself not of the greatest importance to the company. But she was productive.

 

Being efficient

Between 5 and 6pm, Jennifer peeled 40 potatoes. Starting 30 minutes later, but finishing at the same time, John also peeled 40 potatoes. John was twice as efficient as Jennifer.

Many (poor) time-managers focus on being efficient. Its all about getting the most amount of stuff done in the smallest amount of time. Systems and processes are created to better multi-task. We text while we drive (!) and swallow the last mouth-fulls of dinner whilst already clearing away the dishes.

In the fitness world, much time has been spent maintaining the body through efficiency (or speed) based programs (in 30 minutes, do as many bicycle kilometres as you can…) but in recent years this has changed considerably to the concept of minimum effective dose: do the minimum required of the right stuff to get the desired result.

 

Create quality, in time

John proudly announced to Jennifer that he had peeled as many potatoes in half the time. At dinner time, all the guests sat down to eat the results. Those on Jennifer’s side of the table said nothing about the potatoes, simply enjoying their meal. On John’s side of the table, there was much discussion about the potatoes, from the fact that there were none left to the fact that each potato was so small. In his “efficiency rush”, John had completely ignored any sense of peeling potatoes well. The potato skins were chopped off in 4 exaggerated slices, leaving a small chip-like result.

Although quality output may seem to go hand-in-hand with time and despite the temptation to associate Jennifer’s potato-peeling time with the good results, quality output is in fact entirely nothing to do with time. When we approach every activity as either a “time-filler” or a race to get things done quickly, quality output is sometimes left aside.

But what is the point of the work anyway, if not about creating good results?

 

Create quality time

While Jennifer and John were concentrating on the evening’s potato requirements, their son William was playing in the garden. As he went up and down the slide, he created nothing. Going in and out of the wood cabin, each time opening and closing the door in a methodical yet meaningless way, he was lost in time and again created nothing.

In some Eastern cultures, the “single-minded” focus on the quality of some activities has a meditation-like focus. The Japanese tea ceremony is certainly not about the amount of time spent drinking tea, the number of cups drunk or the tea itself. When we sit down to read a novel, we tend not to notice the time fly and most adults don’t proudly count the number of pages they have read.

In Pirsig’s book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, the author notes the difference between making quality time on a road-trip (getting there fast) and making quality time (having a good trip). Creating quality time is about being in “flow“, mastering and loving a task, or doing it for its own sake. * The output is in some respects irrelevant.

 

* …according to the Yerkes-Dodson law, it also happens to produce the best output.

 

————–

 

I am writing this post because I have issues with time. For many years, I have been rushing to get “everything” done. After a long working day, I would proudly announce the number of hours worked to anyone who would listen. I would add that I had done “a thousand things” and go to bed satisfied that my time had been well and efficiently spent. And if I should be bothered by any non-quality-output detail, I might even get out of bed to fix it. “Everything” could never be done and certainly not perfectly, but it was my mission to at least give it a shot.

But in reality, I have been wearing myself out. For the last few months (years?), I have lacked focus and lost flow; only thinking about the next objective and a future that never arrives, less in contact with the present moment. Look at my “2012 annual report” and you may realise that I have spent all my time working. And a LOT has been done. Good output too. I have been both productive, efficient and successful.

 

Now it is time to focus on creating quality time. On time well spent: flow and passion inducing, McLovin’ it. Because I’m worth it.

If you feel the need to do the same, I would encourage you (to):

  • Don’t be afraid to go “all-in”
  • Delete as much as possible that doesn’t bring joy to your life
  • Make sure your goals are PERSONAL
  • ..and don’t be afraid to just do nothing!

 

Good luck!

(Time for a walk…)

 

Thanks for reading.

Don’t forget to add your email address on the right to subscribe to this post and free to follow me on Twitter … if you have the time 🙂

 

 

The impact of Dan Steer on your everyday life, by Tim Van Acker

Tim Van Acker followed my Leadership Foundation training at the University of Gent in June last year and apparently I’ve been haunting him ever since 🙂

What follows is a short article Tim wrote to share with other members of my LinkedIn group “Leadership Foundation”, where previous participants and people interested in the topic can share references outside of training. I think some of what you can read here is a great example of getting and staying in Flow – a wonderful story of intrinsic motivation and awesome success, despite drawbacks and a very busy life. As a fellow marathon runner, I know what it takes and Tim has done a great job!

As a side-note, my insurance broker asked me to underline that I can take no responsibility for injuries sustained outside of training with me 🙂 Any further attempts to complete a marathon remain unsanctioned 🙂

 

In June 2011, I followed Dan’s “Leadership Foundation Course” at Ghent University. During one of his classes on prioritizing, Dan stressed out that if something is really important, you just do it. If you don’t do it, it means it isn’t important. This struck me, as I always said to myself “one day, I will run a marathon”. Up to that day, I didn’t run it, it was one of the things on my bucket list, something I wanted to prove to myself but I hadn’t done it yet… Was it really important to me? I didn’t want people to mock me as “the guy that runs a marathon with his mouth but not with his legs”… So, on that very day I made the decision that in 2012 I was going to run a marathon!

 

I had some running experience previously but I never ran further than 15km. In August 2011, I started training 3x a week to run a half marathon. I accomplished this goal in November 2011. It was hard, but I enjoyed the race and achieved my time goal as well. Ok, this was only half the distance I needed to run and winter was coming up which makes training harder… I decided to maintain my level of training throughout winter and spring and use summer to get in shape for the complete marathon.

 

In April 2012, I needed to pick the marathon I was going to run. I felt I needed something big, not a race where only 5 people and 6 horses are watching. So I enrolled for the New York City marathon. This was it, the registration was final, my flights were booked, I had some supporters to join me, now I really had to run the race, no way back… I had my physical condition tested in the University Hospital in Ghent and via a mutual connection, I got in touch with a multiple Belgian marathon champion. My new coach did a test run with me and gave me a schedule for 6 weeks after which I had to do a test over 5km to see how my progress was. We are now August 2012. The schedule consisted of 5 trainings a week: 2 interval training (very fast and exhausting), 1 very long and slow training and 2 recuperation trainings. As I still had my daytime job to do and I’m also involved in a contemporary dance group (for which I have to train 3 evenings a week), I knew I was going to be busy the next couple of months… Some days were quite hectic: getting up at 6h, starting work at 7h, finishing at 18h, going home and eat in a quicky off to dance class, returning home at 22h, suiting up for a run of 1 and ½ hour, taking a shower and going to bed at 1h. But I really wanted this, I wanted to run the marathon, I wanted to prove to myself I could do it, I wanted to be an athlete and I wanted to be able to say “one day, I ran a marathon” instead of “one day, I will run…”.

 

Six weeks later, my coach was happy with my progress and adjusted my training for the next six weeks. He really wanted me to perform at the best of my ability so the training volume increased. In November, I felt ready for it. My physical condition and confidence were peaking, I was going to conquer New York! Until hurricane Sandy arrived… The race was on Sunday 4th of November, we wanted to take a plane on Monday to adjust to the hour difference but Sandy made it impossible to leave… Our flight was rescheduled to Friday. Less recuperation time, but I still felt confident and motivated! We arrived in NY, retrieved my runner’s number… and found out just 15 minutes later that the marathon was cancelled… I have never felt so disappointed as I felt that moment. Three months of training, all for nothing…

 

The next morning I decided that this wasn’t going to stop me: I was going to run a marathon and I was going to run it as soon as possible! The same day, I signed in for the marathon of Valencia which was held 2 weeks later. I contacted my coach and he adjusted my training schedule. Back to the training ground…

 

Two weeks later, after all the training, the disappointment, the new trainings, I was more motivated than ever before. I was going to Valencia and I was going to give it all I’ve got! And so it happened that last Sunday November 18th, I finally did it. I ran the marathon of Valencia in 3h 23min 59sec. I was hoping for a time under 3h 30min and I achieved my goal. During the race, after 32km, I endured a pain I had never witnessed before but I kept going. Pain wasn’t going to stop me, everyone was suffering at that point, I had to succeed. Despite of the pain, I enjoyed the race. The atmosphere was great, especially during the last kilometer. When I entered the “stadium” were the finish line was and I heard the roaring sound of the crowd, my legs felt brand new and I sprinted like reborn to the finish line. I was an experience I will never forget, for that one moment I really felt like an athlete at the Olympics with thousands of people cheering for me. Once I crossed the finish, I was barely able to walk normal and I thought to myself “When did I ever had this stupid idea to run a marathon??!!”. But a couple of hours later, I was thinking “Actually, this was pretty cool, I might do it again one day…”.

 

To conclude, after a course of just one week, Dan Steer controlled my life for almost a year… Thanks Dan, for triggering me to really go for my dreams! I suffered I don’t know how many hours in rain, wind and cold on the road, but I enjoyed every minute of it! And perhaps even more important than finishing the marathon (of which I feel so proud), I now feel like I can accomplish everything I want! It really was an experience I will tell my grandchildren about and I all started one day in a class room at Ghent University with Dan Steer…

 

 

Getting more FLOW (24 more ideas from trainees)

In a previous post, I listed the initiatives that training participants came up with for creating and maintaining more FLOW in the organisation. This post follows-up with 24 more ideas in 5 concrete FLOW  areas …

 

To get more FLOW, be sure everyone has a clear mission

  • Take the time to translate core company objectives/mission into each person’s function, especially when dealing with change or restructuring
  • As an individual, ask questions regularly to better understand how you align to the company vision/mission/values

 

…people need quality feedback if they are going to get in FLOW

  • Recognise and share success stories within the organisation
  • Talk about personal FLOW with own managers in status-updates or other regular meetings
  • Ask for regular feedback on your work

 

Teamwork and communication can help to build “self-worth” and success

  • Implement (or at least discuss) a “code of conduct” with colleagues that respects individuals’ FLOW needs
  • Ask for help from colleagues when you are out of FLOW
  • Inform your colleagues about your “high-energy” moments so that a) they know that that’s a good time for you to be working on most-important tasks; b) they will respect your need for concentration at those times
  • Avoid “indirect communications” – phone-calls and instant messaging in faster and more effective than email (but… see the part on “concentration”)
  • Learn how to say (and hear!) “NO” to (from) colleagues
  • Have time-keepers in meetings in order to help people stick to their personal priorities

 

Boost concentration at key moments

  • Turn-off email pop-ups .. or better still: CHoose when to read them
  • Close the door
  • Find a “quiet room”
  • Use ear plugs 🙂
  • Designate a room for conf-calls, rather than letting everyone on the floor follow the call !
  • Take the time to set priorities well … and stick to them
  • Install home-working possibilities for high-importance/high-concentration task moments
  • Organise office space by function

 

Find your balance between challenge and skills

  • Use job-rotation schemes to avoid bore-out
  • Create a strengths-matrix so that people know where to turn for help on specific topics
  • Hire more people (to avoid burn-out)
  • Decrease workload – outsource what is possible, even within your own organisation; drop useless activities/chores
  • Identify people who are bored and give them more of the work of people who are overloaded

 

Thanks for reading!

 

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Leadership resources from a recent Kluwer training

Having just completed delivery of a 4-day Leadership Training with @KluwerOpleiding (thanks @MiekWouters for the chance to have a small group :-)) I thought I’d share the email stream that built up from me to participants over the 4-days. Loads of references here…

 

References DAY 1

 

Homework / Preparation DAY 2

 

References from DAY 2

 

Homework in preparation for DAY 3

  • Think of a problem you have (professional or personal). This will be used in day 3. You will be asked to state your problem and ask for help…
  • Think of a difficult communication situation or difficult person you have had to deal with (personal or professional)

 

Here are the references from training DAY 3

 

Homework in preparation for DAY 4

  • Prepare a 1 minute presentation of yourself – anything is fine, we just need some data to use for a feedback exercise, so no stress!
  • Please think about additional topics to cover in group coaching session in the afternoon of Day 4

 

References DAY 4

 

Hope this was interesting

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