I remember my kids going through the toddler stage and how frustrating the word “no” was as they practised it, and practised diligently they did – over and over again!


As annoying it is, most of us accept that it is a critical stage in a child’s development and it’s part of the process of learning independence and setting boundaries.  But at some stage after that, this seems to get knocked out of us.  Knocked out so that we fit in, knocked out because we learn that we need to please others and in that process, we sometimes lose the ability to act and live authentically.


We start to say “yes” when we mean “no”.  We need justifications and excuses when we say “no” and tie ourselves up in knots when these justifications sound hollow.


If you can relate to this, then it’s time to revisit this valuable skill that we acquired in toddlerhood.



I believe that it is possible to say “no” gracefully.  The grace comes when you don’t need to accompany the “no” with an excuse.  If you’re thinking…..”it’s not an excuse, I’m giving an explanation“, see What’s the difference between and excuse and an explanation?


One of the keys to avoiding excuses is in how you phrase your “no”.  The words “I can’t…..” or “I won’t be able to….” necessitates a “because……”  which immediately sets you up for an excuse.


Assuming your “no” is for a social engagement, some alternatives include –


“I won’t be attending….”

“I am not attending….”


Resist using “because”.  In most instances, it’s actually unnecessary.  If you disagree and feel compelled to provide a reason, then, how about giving the real one e.g. “I won’t be accepting your invitation to the ballet because I don’t enjoy the ballet very much.”  Anything less than the real reason goes back to being an excuse!


Replace false apologies with genuine ones.  Exchange “I’m sorry I can’t….” with “I’m sorry to disappoint you……


Remember the Dr. Seuss saying….


“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”


The bottom line is, be true to who you are and learn to say “no” when you mean “no”.



Coach Mi @ FB

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Most people relate clutter to mess, to being disorganised or disorderly.


Clutter (Office)

Photo credit – Michael Basial


My definition however, is somewhat broader.  If you are hanging on to something and it really isn’t adding any value to your life, it’s clutter.  If  it serves no purpose, it’s clutter.  And, just because an item has intrinsic value doesn’t excuse it from being clutter.  It’s just clutter in your life.


Beware of clutter hiding behind organisation

Leo Babuta has a wonderful article about clutter –  Decluttering as Zen Meditation.


We hold on to things because we can’t let go of the past.  

We hold on to things because we fear what the future might bring.  


These two phrases really resonate and explains much of the psychology behind why we hang on to things. I was so inspired by the article that I went of a big de-cluttering spree a few months ago.  As a fairly organised person, I thought I did a great job, until yesterday.  I discovered that I had organised clutter.  I had neatly labelled folders and packets of documents tucked away in a corner of my cupboard.  Yes, at the point when I packed them away, I did need them.  They were tax documents after all which needed to kept for 5 years.  That was 10 years ago.  Whoops!  There’s more of the same, all neatly organised.  I can probably justify why I need all these things, but do I really need them?


If like me, you’ve decided that your life can do with less clutter, try asking yourself why you are holding on to a particular item.


I don’t know why I have it.

This is the easiest category to deal with.  Seriously, if you don’t even know why you have it, it should go straight into the discard pile!


I’m keeping this “just in case”.

Many of my things fell into this category.  I went a step further and asked these questions.  Just in case what?


Just in case I need it

When would you need it?


 I don’t know but I might

And what would happen if you didn’t have it when the time came?


I would have to get it.  Buy it.

Would that be so bad?


It just seems like such a waste

And that’s bad because?


OMG.  Did that last question bring up a whole host of issues!  Because I might not have enough money when the time comes.  Because there are starving kids in Africa.  Because I was praised for being good at managing money when I was a kid.  Because waste is bad.  Because I might get into trouble.  All fear based and approval based going far back  into my past.


Most of us have internal conversations that usually reinforce our habits and beliefs, but try having one like the one above and you may be surprised by what you find out about yourself.



Coach Mi @ FB

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  • It can’t be done / I can’t do it
    This is my number one pet hate.  It’s demoralising, dis-empowering and defeatist.  It is such a “final” statement it leaves you no room to move.  No room for imagination, no room for motivation.  It basically translates to “I give up”.  Sometimes it’s a sign of defiance as in “I don’t want to and I’m not even going to try” in which case, using  the “it can’t be done” statement is just a weak excuse, most probably to avoid a potentially difficult conversation that the real statement would bring up.  Earn some respect by braving that difficult conversation.

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” ~ Audrey Hepburn 

  • You should….
    Usually accompanied by a tone that implies the person saying it knows better.   Telling someone they should do something won’t in itself motivate them.  If you are tempted to use these words, consider whether your listener has asked for your advice and whether they are even ready for it.  A variant of the “you should” is the “I should”.  Well, if you should, then just do it.  Lack of action following that statement just makes it an empty promise.

    Photo credit - Penny Mathews


  • If only….
    Spend too much energy on the “if only’s” and you are relinquishing responsibility for events and conditions.  You are effectively saying you don’t have control.  That’s plainly inaccurate.  You do have control if you want it, if not to change the exact details of certain events, then certainly your response to the event and any further actions that you take.

Are you hand-cuffing yourself with these statements, or allowing others to hand cuff you?  

It’s time to do something about it.

Hearing you noticed a sound.

Listening you made an effort to understand that sound and find its meaning.


Yes, there is a distinction and it’s important.  Pay attention because many conversations go awry because of this distinction.


In some circles, listening properly, as I would call it, is referred to as active listening.  In the simplest terms, it means you have understood the message and have retained it, and if you are in a one-to-one conversation, the speaker feels that she or he has been heard and acknowledged.


A few suggestions to improve listening skills:

  • Consciously tell yourself that you are switching on and listening
  • Reduce or eliminate distractions such as mobile phones and background noise from TVs, radios etc.
  • Refrain from jumping to solutions, suggestions or rebuttals
  • Observe the speaker’s body language
  • Re-state what you think you have heard in your own words
While our ears are switched on all the time, our listening skills aren’t.  It takes practice.  If you want to improve communication, reduce conflict and frustration, then start by practising your listening skills.

Abide by the “two ears, one mouth” rule – listen more and talk less!


Coach Mi @ FB

Coach Mi definition

motivation – a strong, persistent desire to act

The word “self” is redundant because there is no other kind of motivation.  All motivation comes from within.  If you are motivated by something external, it’s not motivation, it’s coercion.


Something external – someone or an event can start the process for you and break or drag you out of inertia but it stops there if you have no motivation.  If you are hoping for external motivation, you may be waiting a long time.


Motivation by steve heath, via Flickr

So what can you do if you don’t have any and you want some?  Without going into the why you are lacking  motivation, perhaps one of the fastest short cuts is to fake it.


Pretend you have motivation.  Imagine you were motivated, what would it be like?  How would it feel?  What would you do?  Let your imagination do some work. If you come up with things that you would do if you were motivated, then write that list down.  You now have your “to-do” list.


Now, pick one item on this list and spend 10 minutes doing it.

Yes, I know it’s fake.  The point of this exercise to fool your body and mind into feeling motivated and at the very least get you started.  I’m being your external event.  Now it’s your turn to stay motivated.


p.s. For a longer term fix, you need to identify the why i.e. why lack of motivation is an issue and address the root cause.



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For some reason, negativity seems to be more contagious that positivity.  We seem to be drawn to the negative, the depressing rather than the positive and uplifting.  I was part of a group  feedback session once and noticed that the person receiving the feedback had received three times as much positive feedback than she had negative but couldn’t help herself from hanging on to the negative.


It seems that we are programmed to be more sensitive to negative feedback, so we hear it louder and clearer, but this isn’t necessarily better.  If you want less negativity in your life, then start doing something about it today.

Insanity – doing something over and over again but expecting a different result


Tip #1 – Be conscious

Be conscious about wanting a change.  No more wishy-washiness about your intentions.  Many people say they want to change but subconsciously sabotage themselves.


Tip #2 – Acknowledge the positive role that negativity has played

Negativity has served you at some point in time.  Perhaps it has provided caution when facing risks and the caution paid off.  Perhaps it has been a defence mechanism that has kept you from getting hurt. Strange as it may sound, if you acknowledge the part that negativity has played, it will be easier for you to let it go.


Tip #3 – Eliminate sources of negativity

Stay away from negative people.  If you must interact with them, then stand up to their negativity.  Most of us, for fear of being impolite, just swallow what is served to us.  In the case of negative people, you become the sponge that absorbs their negativity so unless you have a way of purging yourself of the negativity, imagine what this is doing to you!  7 tips to dealing with negative people from Zen Habits has some useful suggestions.


Tip #4 – Re-focus, re-frame, change your thinking

Sometimes negativity comes from events and things rather than people.  I recall a time when I was having battles with the household laundry.  Each time I hung out a load of washing, I would feel a burst of resentment.  It was never-ending.  Interminable.  It seems obvious now that it was just plain stupid to get worked up about something that small and mundane, but I did and it affected my overall mood and my mindset.

I realised eventually that I had the power to do something about it so I chose to re-focus and re-frame.  I looked at my children’s clothes and thought how about much I loved them.  I looked at my husband’s clothes and wondered at the amazing meals he cooks for us daily.  I played some soothing meditation music while I folded the clothes. I am not going to say that I now love the laundry because I don’t but it is no longer a source of negative energy.


Tip #5 – Change your environment

I probably made the laundry story sound a bit too easy but there was more to it.  Positive thinking is good in theory but if you can also change your environment, you give yourself a better chance for making it work. In my example, I hadn’t mentioned that part of the problem was a child who was still wetting his bed, so on top of the extra sheets to wash, there was the interrupted sleep to deal with as well.  I could have waited until he outgrew this stage but clearly, I’m not that zen!!   Solution?  Back into pull-ups.  That small change in my environment halved the laundry, helped me reclaim my sleep and gave the whole “re-framing” process better odds of working.


My example was deliberately chosen for it’s mundane-ness because it’s usually with the small things that you can make the most impact and in changing the small things, you practise new skills and new ways of thinking which you can then apply to bigger things.  Small changes lead to bigger changes.



Coach Mi @ FB

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Coach Mi Definition:

Explanation – A reason for why something happened.  A process to help the listener understand.

Excuse – An attempt at an explanation, but with the aim of absolving self or others from responsibility.

Do you offer explanations or excuses?  To the listener, an excuse usually has a hollowness to it, a lack of believability.  So if you’re not sure whether you are giving an explanation or an excuse, put yourself in the shoes of a listener.


By all means explain, but do take responsibility!



Coach Mi @ FB

If you really believe in this saying, you’d be a masochist.  Think about it.


People use this phrase to push themselves or others through tough times, to motivate and encourage but realistically how can pain motivate?  I think this belief may be the cause of many failures.



I believe that pain can lead to growth but is not necessary for growth.  So it’s completely counter-productive to think of pain and gain in the same sentence.  Thinking of troubles and pain will only flatten and de-motivate you, stopping you in your tracks.  Instead, think of the smoothest and most rewarding path to achieving your goals.


Question some of the beliefs that you have carried around with you (like this “no pain, no gain” belief) and ask if they are having a positive impact right now.  If they aren’t, shed them.



Coach Mi @ FB

Some of you might wonder how I could follow the Brain that Changes Itself with something as fluffy as this.  Well, sometimes it pays to be open-minded.  A book like this wouldn’t ordinarily catch my interest because I don’t like stereotypes and I particularly dislike “being” stereotyped but the title “…. and women can’t read maps” was a glaring challenge to me.  Top that off with the marketing claim of “over 6 million copies sold”, I felt obliged to give it a go.


This book tries to justify stereotypes with science.  When I’m feeling generous, I think it does a passable attempt and at other times, I think it fails miserably.  These were the occasions when I wondered why I was wasting my time reading it.


What do you see in this picture?  The young lady with her face turned away or the old woman with her chin tucked in?

Apparently, women are more likely to see the old lady and men the young woman.  This was the first of many generalisations that didn’t work for me.  I saw the young lady.


The other things that didn’t resonate were:

  • Women have a wider peripheral vision – I have lousy peripheral vision
  • Men offering solutions instead of listening – I’ve been frustrated by many women who’ve done exactly that
  • Men using language like “never”, “none”, “absolutely” – again, I’ve often heard these words from women (myself included!)
  • Women can’t read maps without turning it around – I can very easily read a map without turning it around


There was a test in the book that was supposed to help determine how male or how female your brain was.  As with many of my experiments, I recruited my husband to do the test.  It seems most males score between 0-180 and females between 150-300.  My husband scored 150 and I scored 140.  With this sort of result, it would be easy to conclude that I have a “male” brain hence my lack of resonance with the examples in the book.  However, there were many female traits that did describe me including:

  • Having poor hand/eye co-ordination and therefore not excelling at sports – Computer games were included as an example but this didn’t apply to me
  • Not being able to find “north” – Very true!
  • Being emotional –   This was particularly difficult in corporate life.  Very un-CEO-like!
  • Needing to talk to process thoughts.


I finished the book but must admit that I had to skim parts to get through it.  This book will work for those who relate to the examples given but it didn’t work for me.  While “understanding” why you are different is a key component to better communication, I would have liked to see more about how to bridge these differences.  There’s no point knowing and understanding you are different if you still can’t get your message across!


If you are really interested in why people and not just those of the opposite gender are different to you, I highly recommend an exploration into the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI).  The MBTI is a personality test that does a far better job in explaining differences and is particularly useful when like myself, you don’t fall into a “stereotype”.  As a personal interest area, I intend to write a bit more about the MBTI in future posts.



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I am old enough to remember a time before emails, sms, Facebook, Twitter etc. and something has been bothering me for a while. It’s to do with our manners.

I remember as a child waiting weeks for letters from pen pals but these days, flurries of emails are exchanged in a matter of minutes.  Everything travels so fast today, it’s hard to imagine that waiting for a response used to be the norm.  So my question is this – since we can send our communications faster, is it reasonable to expect a response faster as well?

I used to think that when messages were left on the phone, people would return calls on the same day if they could.  If they didn’t return your call, it was either because they were away or something terrible had happened.  Lately, this doesn’t seem to be the rule anymore.  People decide whether the call was important and make a decision about whether they will fit in to their busy schedules and in that decision is an implicit judgment about how important you are to them.

What rules then apply to communications such as email?  If you have a desk job, someone who sends you an email knows that in all likelihood, you’ve received their email.  If you have a Blackberry or iPhone, you’ve almost definitely got the email.  How do you make a decision about when to respond?

So much junk floats around online that it seems we may be finding it harder to discern what should be important from what’s not.



Have you used any of the following excuses for not returning calls and emails?

“I meant to respond, but didn’t get round to it”

“I’ve been really busy”

“I didn’t get your message”


TIP #1 – If you aren’t able to respond to emails within 24 hours, acknowledge the email so that the sender knows you’ve received it and set expectations about when you will get back to them.  A simple “Thanks.  I will look into it and get back to you” will take mere seconds.

Without doubt, some of these excuses are genuine but as more and more of our lives move online, our activities are also getting more transparent.  So when you tell someone that you were too busy to return their call or email, consider that they may know you weren’t too busy to post a Facebook update!

I think this issue has implications not just for our personal lives but how we conduct ourselves in work and in business.  It has implications for credibility, trust and reliability so think carefully about whether these things matter to you.


TIP #2 – Consider using an autoresponder if necessary

So what do you think?  Have our manners gone down the toilet or have the rules changed?


Coach Mi @ FB