The Coach’s Alphabet: X = eXtraordinary

IMG_1428A therapist once told me that I have an extremely low tolerance for mediocrity and an aversion to people who are not very self-aware. I believe I said something to the effect of, “Doesn’t everybody?” He simply replied, “No.” My chosen vocation is to help people lead extraordinary lives and organizations accomplish extraordinary things, and this guy is telling me most people accept mediocrity and ignorance? I was dumbfounded then, and now after 10+ years of studying and practicing in the field of human and organizational behavior, I am still somewhat baffled by this phenomenon.

DSC01336Extraordinary is defined as being exceptional or magnificent, but if you break down the word itself, it just means extra-ordinary, as in: beyond the usual and expected course, something additional to the basic necessities, or an experience that is a little better than the average or more significant than the normal. This could refer to an amazing adventure-filled vacation in Queensland, New Zealand where bungie jumping originated or it could be meeting a friend you haven’t seen in awhile for a long walk, high tea, or to attend a concert or sporting event; or it could be spending time with someone you see all the time but doing it in a different way. It is possible that you don’t have to do anything new, just expand your capacity to recognize and appreciate the extraordinary things that already exist within your everyday life.

IMG_8420Having lived under the smog covered skies of Los Angeles, CA for over 15 years, I get a little thrill driving through Hartford, CT on a sunny day. It’s as if I’m driving through a scene from The Simpsons as the sky is such a beautiful blue and the clouds look like they were drawn by a fourth grader. On a winter day I marvel at the snow covered river and the monumental task it must be to plow the streets. And if I hit traffic under the bridge I have another opportunity to reflect with wonder and gratitude as I’m generally through it in 4.5 minutes vs the 45 minute delay that was common in LA…these things are extraordinary to me.

IMG_4893When I’m frustrated because my 13 1/2 year old dog walks SO SLOW, I remind myself that at 9 years old he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given a prognosis of 6-24 months. The fact that he is still walking by my side (or a few feet behind me) is extraordinary. And because I’m so sensitive to notice when I receive mediocre customer service or am inconvenienced by the cluelessness of others, when I get a waitress who is both competent and personable or a telephone representative who is articulate, empathetic, and knowledgeable, I find that extraordinary and try to make sure to relay positive feedback to their supervisor which is generally received as something extraordinary.

IMG_0808Remember, experiencing the extraordinary does not require embarking on some new exciting outrageous adventure that takes you far from your “normal” life (although I’ve traveled to New Zealand and highly recommend it).  It could be as simple as revisiting practices and attitudes that were previously commonplace, such as: family dinners, block parties, reading books, and sending handwritten letters. They might not appear to be extraordinary activities, but you’ll be surprised by how extra-ordinary they make you feel.

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The Coach’s Alphabet: W = Wonder

IMG_3267When was the last time you experienced WONDER? When you were able to be with the unknown in a state of astonishment or awe without feeling compelled to find the answer, figure out the solution or resolve the mystery? We live in such a fact-oriented results-driven culture that sometimes we deprive ourselves of the sensation of being astonished by something beyond our control and outside of our intellectual comprehension. Before we had science to explain the rise of the sun, the movement of the tides and the miracle of birth, we had mythic stories and fabled legends to offer explanations to the questions, “Why are we here?,” “How are we connected?” and “To whom are we accountable?” These sacred speculations satisfied our curiosity by igniting our imagination and linking us to realms that did not require physical proof. But now we are smarter, more informed, and better equipped to master our surroundings and influence our destiny. We understand about planetary rotations, reproductive processes, and the scientific relationship between cause and effect.

“Wonder is the opposite to cynicism and boredom.” ~ Rollo May

But what about the things that cannot be explained and quantified?

  • What about our instincts and intuition?
  • What about our dreams and drives?
  • What about coincidences and synchronicity?
  • What about myth, magic and miracles?
  • And what about the anomaly of each and every one of us?

IMG_3270Do you ever sit back in wonder to reflect and admire who you are? Do you marvel at the impact you have had on others who have been witness to, beneficiaries of, and co-conspirators to your thoughts and deeds? Have you taken stock of what you have accomplished in your life…what you have created…what you have overcome. Whether intentionally initiated or spontaneously responded to, do you ever wonder what forces have been pushing you from behind or compelling you forward?

Many of us do not take time to wonder about such things because it seems futile to ponder questions for which there are no concrete answers. Yet there is a gift in not knowing…in appreciating what is and welcoming whatever is next. It takes the burden of being the informed expert off your shoulders and plants the seed of curious novice in your heart.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,  but in the experts’ there are few.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki

There are some people who will read this and feel that such a perspective is cheesy and immaterial…I wonder what possibilities they might miss?



PS – If you wonder what it would be like to work with a coach to forward the action while deepening the learning of your life, please contact me for a complimentary phone session.

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The Coach’s Alphabet: V = Variety

IMG_7730The coach’s alphabet is a tool I use to help my clients reflect upon their values in different ways to expand perspective and increase possibilities. This VARIETY is important because thoughts follow actions and actions lead to accomplishments. If our thoughts are limited, redundant and stale then our actions will be deficient, repetitive and tedious…as a result, our accomplishments will seem insignificant and uninspired.

I believe it was the 18th century English poet William Cowper who originally coined the phrase, “Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.” Ironically, the definition and application of variety in many of our day-to-day lives is quite restrictive. We tend to seek variety outside of ourselves such as in recreational activities, forms of entertainment and types of food. Embracing diversity in these areas is very important as they stimulate the senses, make life interesting and expose us to new experiences. But, what about the variety that exists within? About the different personalities and perspectives we all contain that come out to play at different times in different contexts – sometimes for our benefit and sometimes to our detriment.

IMG_8371As any and every online dating profile will illustrate, sometimes we like to get dressed up and go out on the town for a gourmet meal and great wine and other times we are happy sitting at home on the couch watching a movie, eating take-out and snacking on ice cream directly out of the container. There are weekends where we engage in some outdoor activity that requires physical exertion and others we spend sitting on the sand with a good “bad” book. On occasion we generously allow the confused driver in the next lane to move in front of us and others when we step on the accelerator not willing to surrender our advantage on life’s asphalt highway. And then there are those moments where we remain cool, calm and collected in stressful situations where other times we completely “lose it.”

Human beings have a variety of moods and modes and it is important we learn to recognize and relate to them, not for the sake of controlling them (for that is a futile effort), but for the opportunity to collaborate with them. We are emotional creatures, motivated by the avoidance of pain as well as the pursuit of passion. We desire things that naturally exist in opposition such as stability and adventure, partnership and independence, and thin mints and a thin waist. Our intrinsic variety gives us much of our flavor and yet many of us don’t know how to integrate our inherent spiciness and as a result are unconsciously settling for a life that is bland.

BrookConstancy, consistency, obligation, routine, reliability and stability are necessary ingredients to a satisfying life, but they don’t have to come at the sacrifice of taking bold steps, diving in, leaping off and reflecting deeply…all options available to those of you who are open to savoring the variety of perspectives and possibilities that life has to offer you and you have to offer life.


ps – If you’d like the opportunity to explore a variety of options for adding more spice to your life, please contact me for a complimentary 30-min discovery session via phone or skype.
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The Coach’s Alphabet: U = Understanding

IMG_3116    Transitioning to a New Year is both simple and significant. Simple in that it happens like clockwork without any effort on our part. Significant…well, that is subjective. It depends on what you UNDERSTAND it to mean in your life. As the door to 2013 closes and the one to 2014 opens, I see it as an opportunity to step up to the threshold and meet my old friends Possibility and Potential. Of course, I also recognize that they come with the baggage of Fear and Uncertainty which often contain compartments where Failure and Regret have been packed. But I UNDERSTAND and accept these terms.
There are multiple levels of UNDERSTANDING, the concrete cognitive act of knowing something as a fact or inevitability, the less tangible notion of perception and discernment, and the more emotional interpretation of having appreciation of, or empathy for something. UNDERSTANDING is deepened when we find a way for objective fact and value judgments to work in concert rather than competition.
As we embark on a New Year some people will make resolutions, institute new patterns of behavior and assess their accomplishments of the past year and opportunities for growth on the horizon. Others will just move forward without any particular acknowledgment not wanting to repeat the failed declarations of the past. No one attitude is better than another, but it is hard to ignore such a prime opportunity to take a moment to reflect, examine and UNDERSTAND what is meaningful to you.
IMG_3077 The good news is that if you forget to do it on January 1st or lose momentum a few weeks in, you are free to create rituals of UNDERSTANDING throughout the year – be it the first of every month, when there is a full-moon, on your birthday or anniversary, during a weekly day of rest, when the clock hits 11:11 or through your own regular practice of journaling, meditation or some other activity that stimulates your cognitive and conceptual processes.
I highly encourage my clients to come up with a values-based theme of their own for the coming year. If you’d like help formulating one, contact me for a complimentary discover session. In the meantime I offer a wish that 2014 be a year of UNDERSTANDING, where we all take time to increase our knowledge of, empathy towards and appreciation for ourselves and others.

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The Coach’s Alphabet: T = Truth

IMG_7731     In October’s Good Housekeeping magazine Michael J. Fox was interviewed about his new TV show and the criticism it has received from people who think he shouldn’t be working so hard nor using Parkinson’s Disease as a catalyst for entertainment.  He responded by saying, “You know your situation. Don’t let others project onto you what they think you should be feeling.”
I think this is great advice except for the fact that many of us are too busy and/or too disconnected from our true feelings to really assess our situation. Often it is easier to rely on the expectations of others to guide our choices, determine our definition of success, and take the blame when things go awry.
This installment of The Coach’s Alphabet will be relatively short because it is about truth, and only you know your truth. Only you know what feels aligned to your values, faithful to your purpose, and authentic to how you want to live and who you want to be.
Some people dismiss conversations about authenticity, purpose, and soul as being spiritual malarkey−well, no one uses the word malarkey anymore−but in contemporary times these concepts have been relegated to the self-help aisles of the almost nonexistent book stores and categorized as Oprah-esque jargon that has little relevance to day-to-day life in our modern achievement-oriented capitalist-driven world. Talk about malarkey.
Since being certified as a life coach in 2000, I have worked with all levels of professionals, with IT consultants and corporate & nonprofit executives; with entrepreneurs and engineers; and with people climbing the corporate ladder and people transitioning into retirement; and each-and-every one of them benefited (emotionally and financially) from resetting their compass to their truth, or for the sake of this metaphor, their true north.
Brook     It is a simple process but admittedly, not always easy. It requires you to look at where you are going (we’ll call that the magnetic north) and determine if you are being pulled into that direction by choice or by circumstance; by your passion or someone else’s projection; or due to a conscious decision or as a result of unconscious habit.
The opposite of truth telling isn’t necessarily the telling of a lie, for that requires pro-active intention. For most of us, the deception we fall victim to is more likely due to passive negligence. Maybe we think that if we don’t stop and reflect upon where we are, we won’t have to suffer the feelings of being lost or stuck, nor set our pride aside to stop and ask for directions−even if we only need to stop and ask ourselves.
As one year concludes and another begins, my wish is that you play with the idea that truth is only a perspective, and when you perceive and pursue your own truth, then your personal and professional results will be aligned with your values, faithful to your purpose, and authentic to how you want to live and who you want to be.
Truth is a hard commodity to come by these days, and once you find it its value will continue to increase as you share it with others. If you’d like some assistance in resetting your compass to your true north, please contact me for a complimentary 30-min navigation session via phone or skype.


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The Coach’s Alphabet: S = Stress

IMG_8371We all know about the negative effects of stress on our physical and emotional well-being such as high blood pressure, poor sleep and reactionary mood swings. If you Google ‘stress management’ you’ll find many theories and techniques to alleviate stress such as:

  • The AAA Model – Alter it, Avoid it, Accept it
  • The STOP Method – Stop, Take 3 breaths, Observe what is happening, Proceed with new awareness
  • The S.O.S. Technique – Situational Change, Optimal Self-Care, Support System

And of course, the classic recommendation of Meditation, which, although good advice to be sure, requires a mental acuity and emotional stability that might not be accessible once stress has set in. But this column isn’t about how to control stress, instead we are going to take a more collaborative approach.

Is it possible to see stress, not as an evil entity that interferes with the ‘normal’ process of life, but to understand it as a ‘normal’ and useful part of life? This idea, like so many radical ideas before it, came to me during a mammogram when I asked the technician why the breast had to be constricted so firmly. She explained that the key to an effective mammogram is compression which isolates the breast and equalizes the density of the tissue — allowing for a clearer image and less radiation.

When applying the mammogram metaphor to life, we can see how in the midst of emotional compression (aka: stress), our body releases hormones that:

  • Help us focus on the issue at hand,
  • More efficiently mobilizes our energy,
  • Intensifies our emotions which increases our ability to take in and remember information, and
  • Provides clarity regarding an appropriate solution.

Genetically, the human body was designed to handle and benefit from a certain amount of stress. Of course, evolutionarily speaking, stress management was a little less complicated when our needs were restricted to survival and our response options were limited to fight or flight. Nowadays, our endless options and freedom of choice make life a lot more complicated, stressors much more varied, and frustration and angst seem continual. Although our physiological instincts still push for the quickest way to resolve the stress, our highly developed intellectual brains are inclined to worry about and dwell over the stressor.

IMG_0336I guess the lesson here is to understand that stress in and of itself is not the enemy, at least it shouldn’t launch a long-term campaign that drains you of all of your energy and resources. Maybe the next time you find yourself feeling pressure from all sides, try engaging the mammogram model… Get in, squeeze out the relevant information, and disengage… and if this requires you to bare a breast or two (metaphorically speaking of course) then be willing to examine the situation (be sure to look beneath the surface) and trust your instincts to fight or take flight. A lot of good can come from stress, you just have to remember to stop for a moment so you can get a clear picture.

If you’d like some guidance in getting beneath the surface of your stress, contact me for a complimentary 30-min discovery session via phone or skype.


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Follow this link to read past columns of The Coach’s Alphabet including: Accountability Balance, Choice, Discovery, Energy,  Fun, Grace, Humor, Integrity, Joy, Knowing, Love,  Meaning, Nourish, Opportunity, Passion, Quality & Recognition.

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The Coach’s Alphabet: R = Recognition

Through the Coach’s Alphabet I examine values one letter at a time.  For this installment we look at RECOGNITION, a value that people are often hesitant to admit is important, fearing it signifies narcissism. Yet according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, after our physical safety and survival, feeling important, included and appreciated drive our motivation.

The word recognition has two common meanings, one is to be acknowledged for something, as when you are celebrated at work for your contribution or receive an award for a specific achievement.  With this type of recognition comes a sense of validation and approval from an external source.  We also use the word recognition when we become reacquainted with something that was previously known.  To become re-cognizant, is to be reminded of a person, an experience, a piece of knowledge, or an aspect of ourselves that has been suppressed from conscious awareness.

When I worked as an outplacement consultant I helped hundreds of people who had recently been laid-off find their next job.  We started by making two lists to identify the elements that would make up their “ideal” opportunity.  One list consisted of the more tangible or extrinsic qualities such as the position, salary, benefits package, advancement opportunities, location and size and reputation of the company.  The second list contained the intrinsic or more personal payoffs that would make them feel good about the work and themselves.  I was surprised that most people put ‘feedback’ at the top of their second list…and not just in terms of getting recognition for a job well-done.  Although people said it was nice to receive compliments, most people craved the constructive feedback that made them feel that their supervisor and the organization as a whole recognized and was invested in their ability to grow and to offer increasing value.

When we lose sight of our talents, strengths and ability to meet new challenges we tend to feel so burnt out and run down that all of our energy is used to maintain status quo.  When this happens we are more likely to suppress those talents and strengths and lose our motivation to meet new challenges and thus the cycle perpetuates.

Everyone makes mistakes, has lapses of judgment and experiences failure.  Although it can be embarrassing to be “called out” at such times, it can feel even worse not to have anyone notice or care.  If you are lucky, you have people in your personal and professional lives who have the compassion, strength and skill to “call you forward” or to offer what Marshall Goldsmith of the ‘Leader to Leader Institute’ calls feedforward.  They will not only say, “I expect better of you,” but will stick around to help you learn from the past and create positive change in the future, something I get to do everyday as a coach.

My favorite scene from any book or movie is in Jane Austen’s Emma.  After teasing another woman in public, the title character is privately confronted by Mr. Knightly, “It was badly done, indeed! You, whom she had known from an infant, whom she had seen grow up from a period when her notice was an honour, to have you now, in thoughtless spirits, and the pride of the moment, laugh at her, humble her–and before her niece, too–and before others, many of whom (certainly some,) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her.–This is not pleasant to you, Emma–and it is very far from pleasant to me; but I must, I will,–I will tell you truths while I can.”

Oh, how I long to have someone in my life who would be willing to take on the difficult role of telling me the truths that I need to hear to become the person I am meant to be.  Of course, as I am writing this I am having a hard time picturing myself responding with grace and gratitude in such a situation rather than with an obscene tirade or hand gesture…but literature isn’t necessarily meant to be taken literally, like a good friend or mentor it teaches us the lessons that need to be learned in a way that we are able to embrace them.  (As an aside, I did have a supervisor who pointed out a deterioration in the quality and enthusiasm of my performance…it was one of the most difficult yet most beneficial conversations of my life.  I shaped up, was there for another six-months doing good work before heading back to grad. school and today, I still consider her a friend.)

I agree with my clients as well as management experts Frank M. J. LaFasto and Carl Larson (2001) who connect good feedback with enhanced performance, increased satisfaction and a heightened sense of personal accountability.  Unfortunately, giving and hearing constructive feedback are two of the most difficult skills to teach and even more difficult to learn.  One place to start is to re-cognize the best aspects of your current self and your ambitions for your future self.  The next step is to be grateful for the people in your life who will help you bridge the gap.  If you happen to be motivated to meet a new challenge now, reach out to those people to let them know how much you value their contribution.  That way you give them permission to continue to see who you are and who you are becoming, and at the same time you help them feel re-cognized!

Reflection questions on Recognition:

(1) What have you been recognized for?

(2) What do you long to be recognized for?

(3) How do you express recognition of others?

(4) What are you reluctant to recognize about yourself and/or your life?

(5) Design a ‘Day of Recognition’ for yourself.  What’s on the agenda?

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