Exam Prep

The exam season has started for university students, with schools and colleges not far behind.  I’ve only invigilated 3 exams so far, but already I’ve seen a number of young people stressed out of their heads at a level I struggle to imagine.

A prepared exam hall
Photo by Akshay Chauhan on Unsplash

So. this week I thought I’d reflect on some good exam techniques and some bad ones. Now, I appreciate that what works for one person might not work for another, and that I don’t have diagnosed needs around sensory issues, but I’ve done A LOT of exams in my time, some of them well, some of them badly, and I’ve supported a lot more students through their exams. While what I have to say might not work for all, there might be a gem or two in here.

To be clear, exam prep is not just about revision.  In fact, if you have been paying attention during the year, I would argue that revision is (or should be) the least important aspect.  So, my first tip:

One month before the exam

  1. If you have an entitlement to special arrangements, make sure they have been put in place and you know exactly what they are in plenty of time. Can you have extra time? Access to a PC? Rest breaks? Assistive Tech?  A Scribe/Reader? Make sure you know, and make sure you know how to use them.  If you have a scribe, see if you can meet them in advance. Practise using them. If you don’t practise, you will break them, then they cry, and it’s embarrassing.
  2. Check the rules. If you are not allowed to take a glass bottle into the exam hall, make sure you have a plastic one.  If you haven’t been to the room before, do a dry run – how long will it take you to get there?  What is the backup plan if the traffic is bad?  Arriving late robs you of time and unsettles everybody.
  3. If there are practice papers available, do them – in exam conditions. Send your housemates away, turn the music off, and have a go.  Set yourself a timer and be ruthless with yourself.  You will never replicate exam conditions perfectly, but you can get an idea of what doing 1000 words in an hour feels like. Practice picking your questions, planning them.  Especially if you have essay questions, a skeleton plan is never a waste of time.

The week before the exam:

  1. Your revision should be nearly finished, just a quick refresh of the key points should bring the rest flooding back. At this point, it is more important to eat healthily, sleep well and get lots of fresh air.  If you are normally a night owl and your exam is at 9am, this is your last chance to start moving your body clock round so you don’t feel like a zombie.
  2. If you haven’t been there before, do a dry run of the journey.
    A moving bus, left profile
    Photo by Egor Litvinov on Unsplash

    Go and stand in a set up exam hall. How does it feel? How does it look?  Does it smell odd?  If you have sensory issues you might want to think about how these things might impact on you and take constructive steps now.  Ask for a room change, wear some Vick under your nose.  You’re intelligent; you can help people help you.

  3. This is the point where nerves can start kicking in. There are a number of strategies for this.  I work best with distraction – keep busy, take your mind off it, count your blessings.  All aphorisms, but all work for some people.  You might want to meditate, pray or practice other mindfulness and relaxation techniques.  You can find my alternatives to the traditional ones here

The day before the exam:

  1. Do NOT cram. If you don’t know it by the night before the exam, you aren’t going to be helped by trying to ram it all into your brain at the last minute. All you will do is stress yourself out.  There are exceptions to this rule.  I had a student who knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before an exam, and would set up an all-night study session in the library for anybody who wanted to join her.  Personally, I think this was effective because of the camaraderie and not because of the cramming.  And yes, I did once have to wake her up during an exam I was scribing for.2 poached eggs on toast, on a white plate
  2. Eat sensibly throughout the 24 hours before an exam. For some people appetites can be impacted, but an exam is a marathon, and just like a runner you need some protein and carbs to see you through.  I know those who swear by a fry up the night before an exam, or even on the morning, but that’s a bit full on for me.  I do advocate a poached egg on toast for breakfast on the day of an exam though, or something similarly slow burning.
  3. Pack your bag. ID pens, pencils, specialist equipment if applicable.  Drink (in acceptable container), snack if allowed.  Got 2 exams tomorrow?  Pack a healthy lunch or make sure you have both the time and the money to get one.

The morning of the exam:

  1. Leave plenty of time to get there.
  2. Just because you have special arrangements, be aware that you don’t have to use them. If you have a PC, but are happier on paper (and you can be understood), write on paper.  If you don’t need your rest breaks and it would interrupt your flow, don’t take them.
  3. Remember, invigilators and teaching staff are human, and they are probably a bit nervous too. The computers don’t always behave, there can be issues with paperwork.  They want you to have the best exam experience they can provide you with, while also making sure you stay within the rules.  Cut them a bit of slack – be kind to each other.  There might be 4 of them to look after 200 of you!

An exam does not have to be a bad experience.  If you put the building blocks in place, breathe and keep it in proportion, you will be ok.  And I know, I seem like a smartypants – PhD, member of Mensa.  Exams must be a breeze for me, right?  Wrong.  I did re-sits for my Alevels, and once scored less than 25% on a mock.  I was taking myself far too seriously, putting myself under too much pressure, expecting to do badly, and that’s exactly what showed up.  Your next exam is always the most important exam of your life, but there will be other chances, other ways to show what you can do, so give yourself some wriggle room, and try and find the intellectual adventure.  That is the best exam prep you can do.

To find out more, contact me here

Grazzi Miġnuna

So, my Joyce has a new nickname, thanks to a week in Malta.  It came about while we were on a guided walking tour of M’dina, the ancient capital of the island.  Our lovely guide, Christian was telling us about something completely different, when Joyce noticed a tree growing down a shadowy alley, in almost no soil.  She asked Chris what it was and why on earth it would grow in such an inhospitable environment.  ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘it’s a Bougainvillea’, but in Arabic, it has a nickname, Miġnuna, which means The Crazy One’. 

Now, I know that words like crazy are not good in the 21st century, but when I call Joyce Miġnuna, I’m not thinking about her as crazy, I’m thinking about that Bourgainvillea and how similar it is to Joyce’s life.  She has chosen to live much of her life in the shadows, serving others, growing from strength to strength on very little emotional nourishment.  Very few people appreciate my wife – most take her for granted (including me at times, sorry Miġnuna), and some outright vilify her for her inconvenient habit of loving people and expecting integrity, offering honesty and never flinching from an opportunity to advocate for autistics with average to high IQs, a very under-represented and misunderstood group.  And yet she still blesses the world with the flowers of her labour.  Am I biased? Yes – challenge me on it, I dare you!

Work-life balance

In a world and work where mental wellbeing and work-life balance is a hot topic, our week in Malta pointed out to us that we are excellent at talking the talk, but not so good at walking the walk.  We are so consumed by looking after the wellbeing of our clients, we often forget to look after our own.  The sheer stress of whether we would even get to Malta, what with Covid restrictions, the need to arrange extra cat sitting as Kevin had just had surgery and the fact that we keep our trips secret until after the event for security reasons was unbelievable. So our tiny, unpretentious but beautiful studio apartment at Shamrock Apartments at around £100 for the week was a joy.

There are those who get sniffy about the Bugibba/Qawra area, and in the height of the season it probably is a bit Skegness with sunshine, but we love it.  We walked and we walked and we walked; 50 miles in 7 days. We got the incredibly good value Tallinja Explore Card (approx. £21 for the week to access all buses on both Malta and Gozo) and we just rode and looked out of the window.  Pro-tip – if you are already a stress head miġnuna, don’t hire a car in Malta.  The Maltese are some of the most over- assertive drivers I have ever come across and would rather break their car horns than actually consider slowing down or giving way. The bus is a much more fantastic way to chill out and wind down.

The walking jewel

And then there was Chris.  We may have fallen a little bit in love with Chris, in a protective, mummy/sister way you understand, not the inappropriate way.  I discovered Chris’s walking tours before we left the UK via Airbnb, but he is launching his own website soon.  Now, I’ve done some excellent walking tours in my time, but Chris is on another level.  I’d already established that Chris was native Maltese with a great knowledge before we even booked, but I had no way of knowing of his passion for his country, his humour and his humanity.

Through Covid, Chris’s work has been a bit flat for the last couple of years, so being a constructive kind of guy, he had thrown himself into supporting his community, which in Malta mainly means being quite involved in activities organised by the Catholic parishes.  He told us that he now takes the nuns to the supermarket and helps them in their gardens.

Chris knows everybody – born and brought up in Rabat, his relationship with the nobility of neighbouring M’dina is both endearing and amusing.  While we were on the tour of M’dina, Chris took a phone call from the Arch-something or other of the Diocese.  ‘The Pope’s coming to Malta, Chris, can you drive one of the cars for his entourage please?’  And yet not once did I feel religion pushed down my throat, just the old fashioned Christian love I haven’t experienced in donkey’s years.  We did a second tour with Chris, his Three Cities tour, and we will go and do his Valletta tour when we go back in… well, I’m not going to say, am I, for security reasons!


That’s not to say Malta is perfect.  I’ve already mentioned the erm… eccentric driving, and the Maltese have a strange relationship with their feral cats.  They’re absolutely not strays, no way, they are feral, well looked after by the locals, but wild as they come.  Nobody would dream of attempting to tame one, neuter them, address the number of kittens around the place.  It’s not the Maltese way, and it kind of works.  Pet cats are house cats, and ne’er the twain shall meet.  And I get it, and I sort of like it, it fascinates me, while also knowing it could never happen here, and I’m OK with that.

A different culture

It is good to visit a different culture with a sense of observation, not judgement. It is good to interact with that community, not just use it as a sunbed.  Chris is looking to develop his tours so that they give back to the community, via food tours that showcase independent restauranteurs, through interacting with the church schools a little more to help the children with their English and any number of ways I haven’t heard about yet.  Go to Malta, or go somewhere else new.  Go with the intention of re-charging your batteries, but go with an open heart and an open soul, a sense of observation and learning. Come back restored, ready to engage with your sense of miġnuna to work and play with integrity and love, regardless of the poverty of the soil and light the world might give you in return.

Joyce and I will be starting a Travel Vlog soon, The Wandering Biographers.  Watch this space, or contact us for more details

Podcast Adventures

I enjoy being a guest on Podcasts.  It’s taken me a while to learn to be a good guest.  I used to be very dominating and talk over everybody, which is naturalistic, but very rude. Now I have learned to make lots of non-linguistic verbalisations (that’s encouraging noises to the rest of us) and pause for a moment when people have finished.  This not only makes sure I’m not talking over people, but also gives me a chance to make sure I have understood the question, and therefore answer appropriately.

Microphone and headset
With thanks to Jonathan Farber and UnSplash

My latest guest appearance was released this week, and I have to say how much I appreciate the efforts of the host, Jennifer Van Alstyne, to make something that is useful, informative and enjoyable, as well as giving me a chance to practice.  Jennifer and I don’t know each other very well, we met in an international academic networking THING hosted by another Jennifer, Jennifer Polk, just before Christmas 2020.  I appreciate the other Jennifer for hosting that, too.  It was not a good time in Joyce’s and my lives personally – we were about to walk, completely blindsided, into the worst Christmas of our married lives. We’re still married, its ok, there is a happy ending. The point is, Jennifer (podcast Jennifer) and I just sort of clicked.  I immediately invited her to guest blog for me and she invited me to guest on her podcast.

Being a Good Podcast Guest

I don’t know why I find podcast etiquette hard, it’s the same as job interview etiquette:

  1. Listen to the question.
  2. Think about the question
  3. Answer the question
  4. Shut up

Oh and number 5 should come first really:

5. Do your prep

But I’ve always struggled with number 4, and sometimes with number 1.  I’m always so busy thinking, it is difficult for me to listen, you see.

Showcase Skills

Just like job interviews, podcasts are a great way to showcase your skills and experience.  They have the bonus of a much wider potential audience, however.  As a business person, as an academic, as a Post-grad, as an under-Grad, there are things that you are the expert in.  You may be the world’s best at planning your time, at managing resources, at being the supportive friend.  But how do people know that if you don’t tell them?  There are podcasts  for everything, it seems. Almost every host sometimes struggles for a guest, you never know who will be pleased to hear from you.  You might have that one nugget of wisdom a listener has been needing.

Now, I’m not suggesting you go and start your own podcast – that would be over-egging the pudding.  If you are invited however, take the plunge. It will be much more enjoyable than you think, people will see you in a new light and you might just learn something about yourself – even if it is to finally shut up and listen, like me!

If you’d like to practice my 5 interview rules with a sympathetic skills tutor, or even invite me on to your podcast, contact me here!

Is the language of self-care self-defeating?

‘You should make more time to take care of yourself’ is a comment constantly aimed at Joyce and me.  This always fills me with puzzlement and to an extent, frustration.  I have a Joyce to take care of me and I take care of her. Why do I need to take care of myself?  Nobody is volunteering to take a job off my list while I’m indulging in a bit of self-care, it will still be there when I get back.

We live in a society that values mental health, self-care and me-time and I understand that.  Being quite a self-aware person, I know that much of my attitude is nothing to do with the concepts themselves and everything to do with the language that surrounds them.  I prefer to think about optimising our mental wellbeing, which is something much more positive than avoiding or improving poor mental health (as well as considerably cheaper to the NHS), and the concept of leisure time, which avoids those horrible words self and me.

Old fashioned

I know I’m old-fashioned, but sometimes there is nothing wrong with that.  I was brought up with phrases with ‘there is no I in team’, ‘sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you’.  Now, I know that last one is an outright lie, but it is a rather blunt way of saying that we can control how much power we allow other people to have over us through their attitudes towards us.

I was very involved in Guiding as a child, with mottos like, ‘A Brownie does a good turn every day’ and a Guide Law that instructed us something along the lines of ‘Think of others before oneself at all times.’  Believe me at the time, I knew all ten by heart and took them quite seriously.  I still think the best form of self-care is to do something helpful for somebody else.  The buzz, oh the buzz!

Photo by Giorgio Trovato via Unsplash

I think one of my issues with self-care is that so many activities people suggest as self-care do not appeal to me.  They simply don’t float my boat.  Being a very fast thinker, I have quite a short attention span; more than about 3 minutes of nature sounds drive me to the brink with boredom, unless it is as an aid to study.  Manicures are equally tedious – I talk with my hands, please don’t ask me to keep them still.  A night at the cinema? Covid, and the soundtrack is almost always a bit too loud for me, let alone Joyce.

The Evil word ‘should’

And then there’s that word ‘should’.  As soon as someone tells me that I should be doing it,  self-care becomes another duty to perform. There is more than enough duty in my life already.  Life is about passion, love, excitement and enjoyment.  Well done, ‘should’ people, you’ve just sapped all the joy out of my walk on the beach.  OK, so I have a bad attitude when it comes to the word ‘should’.

So, for those of us who, as soon as they hear the word self, have a nasty tendency to add the suffix, -ish, what language is more constructive for us?  Netflix and Chill has become a codeword for a more sensuous activity, so that’s out.

Another way of framing it

I’ve talked about my love of constructive relaxation before, whether that be painting a wall or listening to a podcast while cleaning out the chickens.  But do we have to dress it up as self-care?  Reading a book for half an hour because you enjoy reading and it helps you sleep is simply part of a sensible night-time routine.

Joyce and I almost always watch 2 programmes’ worth of something fairly undemanding but entertaining between dinner and bedtime.  Is this self-care?  Some would say so, we consider it as the only activity for which we have anything left in the tank.  We sit there in front of the telly, with Kevin the cat walking from lap to lap for cuddles, scritches and burr removal.

A cat sleeps
Not Kevin, photographed by Erik Jan Leusink, via Unsplash

For me this is more redolent of a phrase I picked up from a Uni friend over 20 years ago.  This is not self-care, but ‘gorming out’, a sort of staring into space, or in this case at the TV. The mind wanders, daydreaming other scenarios for the characters on the screen while subconsciously processing the dealings of the day.  I’m not quite sure where the phrase comes from, but the friend who shared it with me was an East Yorkshire girl.  So, next time you are concerned for a friend’s mental wellbeing, please don’t tell them they should look after themselves better.  Perhaps you do them a bigger service by inviting them to join you in a good session of gorming out, however you interpret it.

If you would like some help learning to gorm out in a way that works for you, contact us for an introductory mentoring session here.

Community Values

Back in February, I wrote a blog about the meditative properties of painting the edges when meditation is not your thing.  Today I want to take those feelgood factors one step further, and consider the benefits to all of helping out in your community.

Workers meet for task allocation

Recently Joyce discovered that a local museum, RAF Manston History Museum needed a bit of help.  The museum had closed because of Coronavirus and had taken the opportunity to give it a bit of an overhaul.  The average age of the volunteers there was, at that point, 72, and slow but steady progress was made.  Now that the restrictions are lifted, the race is on to get the place re-opened as soon as possible, but there was the small matter of re-painting all the hangars and raising money for urgent repairs, including the renewal of electrics to deal with.

I’m not sure how many of us gathered to paint, and Joyce and I certainly didn’t put in the greatest number of hours that weekend, but the atmosphere was not the same colour as what went on the walls – Tornado Grey.  No, the atmosphere was bright and bubbly.  The amateurs among us painted up as far as we could reach with rollers and BIG brushes, while the professionals (all giving their time and skills for free) almost literally ran up and down enormous ladders.

Doggo Approved

They painted around and what felt like over us completely safely, with speed and dexterity.  Importantly, complete strangers worked together almost without needing to talk about what the plan was.  The leadership from Jeannene Groombridge was flawless, which is not really surprising when you understand her background in management and  her current role on the Civilian Committee of the local Air Cadets.

Team Effort
Beautiful blockwork

Outside, others swept up the external exhibition area and experts laid new block paving. There were probably many other things going on that I did not see or did not understand.  Meanwhile, lovely ladies and those too young to wield a paint brush made regular circuits with hot and cold drinks, cake, and other delectable items.

Joyce and I left physically exhausted (Joyce really needs to admit that her neck is not fit for painting high any more), but mentally and emotionally energised.  We have committed ourselves to helping out where we can.  In terms of turning up, that can be a challenge when we have such busy business and family lives, but there are other ways we can help.  One is by encouraging you, our clients, visitors and friends to donate to the urgent repair fund here.  I’m also in the early stages of investigating writing an article about downtime on the base when it was operational.

Since we were last onsite, I’ve had chance to reflect on the experience.  I can honestly say I gained mental energy, engaged with the area that is my home in a new way, and found a new sense of community, all in 2 hours.  If you want to explore doing the same, but are a bit shy about it, why not contact us to see how you might get started.

All parts of the community chip in

How Talking About Yourself Helps People Connect With You

Guest Blog Post by Jennifer van Alstyne: How Talking About Yourself Helps People Connect With You

Today I want to share why talking about yourself is a good thing. I’ll share 2 reasons why talking about yourself can help people connect with you:

  • Invites people to connect
  • Helps people feel more open

Hi, I’m Jennifer van Alstyne. I help professors and scientists talk about what they do. It doesn’t matter how smart or accomplished you are. Many people feel talking about themselves is a bad thing. That it’s something you shouldn’t do.

Why do people avoid talking about themselves? Some people feel like they’re drawing too much attention to themselves. They feel like they may ramble or annoy people. Others worry about arrogance. They don’t want to appear narcissistic.

Maybe you feel like what you share will bother people. This past year has been hard for many. Some people worry about talking about themselves when friends are having a difficult time. 

There are many reasons we stop ourselves from

  • Sharing good news
  • Announcing an upcoming event
  • Telling people what’s going on in our lives
  • Asking for help

Have you worried about any of these?

Invite people to connect with you

When you talk about yourself, you invite people to feel more connected with you. If something happens in your life and you don’t share it with anyone, there isn’t a way for people to connect over it. That’s normal, we’re not going to share everything we do. But what about when you want to share something? Like when you have good news.

In order for people to connect over something

  • They have in common
  • They’re curious about
  • They’re confused about

People need some information first. They need to know what happened. People will feel more connected if they understand why it matters to you (why you’re sharing it).

By telling people about yourself, or about something you experience, you invite them to connect with you.

Help people feel more open

Talking about yourself can help people feel more open. That means they’re more likely to share something about themselves. People will also be more likely to

  • Invite further conversation
  • Ask questions
  • Get in touch in the future about the same topic
  • Celebrate with you (because they understand what’s exciting)

When we don’t talk about ourselves, people may not be aware we’re open to talking. And you may miss that they want to talk with you.

Or that they want to celebrate you if you’re sharing good news.

By talking about yourself, even just a little bit, you can help people feel comfortable. You can invite conversation by being open first.

Don’t be afraid to try sharing good news

One of the best ways to practice talking about yourself is sharing good news. You may be anxious about bragging the wrong way. You’re not alone. I used to worry about this too.

But I also didn’t have family to celebrate with me. My parents passed away before I went to college. Accomplishments felt less rewarding when I didn’t have people to share good news with. I think that’s why I started thinking about how to share good news on social media. I was connected with friends and extended family online. It was a way for me to feel cared about because the people I connected with online were people I knew.

What I found was that even people I met one time were happy for me too. When I shared my 1st peer reviewed publication, it wasn’t just my family and friends who celebrated. It was a professor I had, and a former teacher. It was childhood friends, and people I knew in college classes outside of my major area of focus.

My article was about women in Eastward Ho! an early-Jacobean play (1605). It was an obscure topic to the people who engaged with my Facebook post. People celebrated with me because

  • I shared the details, like what my paper was about
  • I let people know how they could read it if they wanted to
  • I told people why it was important to me (why I was excited)

I got a lot of likes on the post and “congratulations” comments. But people also engaged in ways I didn’t expect.

  • I got detailed comments and direct messages that showed people knew what I was excited about and why
  • People who had never read the play I wrote about read my article
  • Someone who was reading the play in their graduate class thousands of miles away read my article and shared it with their class
  • People who were curious and asked questions about my topic

If I assumed people would not

  • Understand what I was talking about
  • Care about it because it was an obscure topic
  • Want to read something they didn’t need to
  • Be curious about my research

I never would have included the detail I did in the post. I had to share more than I was comfortable with. Sharing more invited people to connect with my news in deeper ways.

Don’t be afraid to share good news. Talking about yourself is a good thing, especially when we share the details that help people connect. If you haven’t shared something because you’re worried you won’t get a response – try including the who, what, where, why and when. Tell people the story of why what you’re sharing matters to you.

Get started talking about yourself online with my blog, The Social Academic. Thanks for reading this guest post!

Bio for Jennifer van Alstyne

Jennifer van Alstyne is a communications strategist for professors and researchers. She trains people on how to talk about themselves online as owner of The Academic Designer LLC. Connect with Jennifer on social media @HigherEdPR.

Complementary Character Defects

I’ve been thinking a fair bit recently about the fact that Joyce and I live and work together, partly because we will soon be recording a podcast with Ian and Tracey Earl to talk about this very thing.  Then, last week, I was talking to a new business acquaintance of mine, Glenys Chatterley of EBN Networks, and she said that she and her partner had ‘complementary character defects’ and I immediately asked her if I could steal the phrase.  So here we are.

There are many challenges and joys to marriage or long-term cohabiting life, and there are a surprising number of us who choose not only to live together and raise a family together, but to earn our money together.  For Joyce and me, this just sort of happened.  There is a story, but I don’t want to pre-empt the podcast.


I won’t say it is without its bad moments, but we’ve never had a row about the business.  Parsnips, yes.  Business, no.  The joys far outweigh the downsides.  Joyce is imaginative, a people person, she loves to talk, to advise, to stretch people.  I am task oriented; I don’t like risks.  She thinks it is easier to beg forgiveness than seek permission, I want my permission slips in triplicate.  We both love to serve people and if we can make them laugh along the way, that’s a bonus.

My character defects are countered by hers.  You could say that she is impetuous, and I am sensible, or you could say that I am fearful, and she is brave.  Whichever way you couch it, her character strengths are my defects and vice versa.  There are many couples like this, but they don’t always see the differences as a good thing, they try and make the other more like themselves, but that is like buying your dream house, knocking it down, building a block of flats and then wondering why it is not your dream house any more.  Somewhere along the line, the point has been missed.

Egg shells
Photo by Elle Hughes on Unsplash

Of course, not everybody can work with their partners for money, some of us do it in our hobbies, and our households, but my question is, do you see their character defects as complementary to your own? The chances are that you compensate for each other in all sorts of ways, like two halves of an eggshell.  Of course, you can fit them together to keep the egg inside safe, but this takes being aware of where the points and recesses are.  Or, you can keep jabbing the sharp bits into each other in the hopes that their pointy bits will break off.

Hopefully this is just a phase, a re-adjustment to some change of circumstances, or simply the dross life can throw at us.  Some couples do this a lot, as they work out how to make life fit, but my suggestion is that the solutions will not lie in where both sets of strengths sit, but in aligning your complementary defects.


If you are jabbing each other, think about contacting us for some mentoring so we can help you fit the shells back together again.

The power of apologising

We all make mistakes
By Chuttersnap on Unsplash

We all make mistakes.  That’s one of the many irritating things that make us human.  Sometimes we make little mistakes.  Sometimes we drop enormous clangers that have major repercussions.  Most mistakes are because of communication issues. Sometimes we compound the mistake by blaming other people, and while that’s not ok, its understandable.  None of us want to feel responsible for making other people’s lives harder. We all want to achieve the feel-good factor, because it makes us feel good too.  Its how we handle it that defines what kind of person you are.

Apologising genuinely.

I messed up big time yesterday, nothing deliberate, but it had major repercussions in the piece of work I was doing and more importantly, it hurt somebody. It made their life harder, made them cross, and I suspect, made them sad.  I only found that last bit out this morning.  I emailed the person concerned, taking note in detail and importantly, I took responsibility for the bits I could have done better.  I also explained where the responsibility lay for the bits that I depend on other people for.  Note, that, I didn’t blame them, I simply explained who was responsible for what.  I offered to reflect on my errors, I was polite, and I pressed send.

Apologising appropriately.

After I pressed send, I still didn’t feel right.  So I rang the person I had hurt and apologised, I took responsibility, I didn’t make excuses.  I literally said, ‘I’m really sorry, I dropped the ball, it is my responsibility’.  That wasn’t the end of the conversation, it was the start of a constructive way back in our working relationship.  Actually, saying the word sorry matters.

Apologising proportionately
Photo by David Holifield on Unsplash

I know several people who say they will never say they are sorry because it is only a word.  These people tend to make grand gestures, buying gifts, doing great acts of penance (often badly) or similarly embarrassing actions.  I find this utterly cringeworthy.  I have trouble believing these people are genuine.  Why is this?  Been there, done that. It’s not about being sorry and making the person you have hurt feel better. It’s about gaining some bizarre sense of nobility.  Yes, sorry is just a word, but words are powerful and sorry is one of the most powerful there is, especially when it is not accompanied by excuses.  A genuine apology can stop a tirade in its track, if it is said with enough depth of truth to be heard.

Moving on

In the day, apologising was often accompanied by an act of contrition or repentance. Sometimes making amends is important, but in general, and in business, correcting our mistakes and putting mechanisms in place to ensure they don’t recur is normally the best course of action.  Off the back of my apology today came one of the most useful and clear sighted conversations I’ve had with this person ever.  Now we need to follow up and do what we said would be more likely to work.

Photo by Anthony Tori on Unsplash

And now we breathe.  We think about what went wrong, we put it right, we move forward and most importantly, we learn.  We learn to do things better.  We learn to take responsibility proportionately.  We learn that thinking rather than reacting is always going to work better.  The measure of a person is not being perfect, its about how we handle the fact that we are flawed.  Finally, we let it go.

If apologising is something you could be better, contact us for some help. And no, I don’t always get it right either.

Don’t, no, DO get me started!

This week we have a guest post from my friend Taz.  It’s not the kind of thing we’d normally go for, but as I can honestly say that she lives what she speaks, I’m delighted to host this post for her.

Don’t DO get me started!

If there’s one thing positive to come out of Covid19 it’s the boom to the online fitness industry meaning that there is a wide range of workouts to choose from.  There’s so much choice from the king of PE Joe Wicks, to Kayla Itsines sculpting that summer ready bikini body.  But how do you choose an online fitness instructor that is right for you?

Choose a live workout:

It takes a lot of discipline to set aside time for a YouTube workout, there’s always something else that will crop up.  By signing up for a live workout you know that you have committed to being in front of the screen at a particular time, it’s harder to get out of!  Live workouts also allow you to connect in real time to the session, and the instructor can see you and provide you with guidance for important adjustments and well-earned praise.  A good workout should always start with around a 10minute warm up and finish with a cool down to protect you from risk of injury.

Workout your workout goal:

What do you want to achieve?  Are you looking to build strength, sculpt muscle, burn fat or a way to switch of and relax?  Set some short, medium and longer term goals, figure out what might stop you from achieving them and find strategies to overcome those barriers. There is always a solution to help keep that motivation in place.

Whatever the goal, you need to enjoy the process!  Whether it’s a strength circuit session, pilates, high intensity interval training, cardio or yoga, you have to think what is right for you and keep your eye on those goals, reminding yourself of what you’ve set out to achieve.  Telling friends and family what you want to achieve also helps to keep you accountable.

The Perfect Workout? 9 Steps to Find the BEST Workout Plan | Nerd Fitness

Combat the confidence:

If you are new to working out, the idea of starting can fill you with dread.  You will worry you’ll make yourself look silly, that you don’t know what you are doing or that you’ll not even be able to keep up with everyone.  The gremlins will creep in.  But the truth of the matter is that a good instructor should help take that away from you by guiding you through the session.  Everyone has had to start somewhere, learn the various movements and are continuously working on improving their own form. You’ll soon realise that everyone is focused on their own workout and very quickly you will feel familiar with your new surrounds, and more importantly, gain fitness.

Gym Anxiety – Fighting the Exercise Fear! – Exercise.co.uk

7 Ways To Overcome Exercise Anxiety (womenshealthmag.com)

Find the time and prioritise:

Your health is the most important and valuable thing you have, and it needs to be prioritised.  If our body is healthy, so will our minds be.  If our mind is healthy, we are happier and achieve more.  It’s an upward spiral of positivity.  So, whatever the barrier whether it be work, children, tiredness that generally takes over, try to make some tweaks to your weekly routine and find an online workout that allows you to do what you can.  Even a couple of short 15 minute sessions throughout the day will help you reach that recommended level of 150minutes of activity a week.

Get active your way – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

What now?

If you are keen to start working out and need a friendly helping hand, do get in touch at taz@tazfit.co.uk and we can do it together.  You won’t look back!

Taz x

Defining the edges – meditation for those who don’t meditate.

I’ve been doing a lot of painting over the last week or so – the wall and ceiling kind, not the Michael Angelo kind.  I’ve painted in 2 colours – pink and black.  Not my choice, but not my living space, so our call to service means we serve, even if we don’t entirely agree with the choices.  The only limit on that is if supporting that choice would put the person or somebody else at risk of physical, mental or emotional harm.

Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

I hate doing the edges, particularly that fiddly bit at the top right-hand corner where three walls meet. Weirdly, I don’t find the top left corner so difficult.  Perhaps it’s because I’m right-handed yet left eye dominant.  This leads to interesting eye patches made out of tissue paper on the shooting or archery range, but that’s a story for another day…

Strangely though, I’m quite good at the edges.  If I can get to the point where I’m not thinking about it too much, the act of edging can take on quite a meditative state, from which I emerge with a peaceful mind. I’ve often, I discover after the event, thought through issues that were bothering me, or simply calmed my brain.

Noisy brain

My brain is a frightfully noisy place.  I have a theory this is linked to my high IQ.  I don’t say this as a brag.  I’m factually in the top 3% of the population, maybe slightly higher, but my emotional intelligence can be rather low. This is not always a great place to be for somebody whose job and study can involve interviewing people from an experiential approach.  Actually, I suspect my emotional intelligence can simply never get my IQ to shut up long enough for the emotional intelligence to come to the fore.

The noise can take any number of formats, the least comfortable always happens at bedtime.  This is when anything up to 3 or 4 songs can layer themselves in my head, in full, glorious orchestration.  There will almost always be a Latin number, Clare Teal’s 2009 rendition of ‘Tea for Two’, with the amazing Christopher Dagley on the drums, and often a rousing hymn from my Church of England/free church heritage. All of these are fantastic pieces or genres, which I love, but not all at once. These aren’t on loop. They are playing over each other, vying for prime position until the sheer cacophonous collage becomes overwhelming. The ONLY way to stop this noise, for me at least, is to listen to the spoken word as a I drift off to sleep.  This situation perplexes and disturbs my wife, who is convinced that my brain never has chance to ‘defrag’.

Finding the quiet
Photo by Le Minh Phuong on Unsplash

Classic meditation works sometimes, but this concept of sitting still and doing something for me strikes me as sinfully indulgent.  This is not an attitude towards mental wellbeing that I endorse by the way, just one I live with. We are all complex beings with flaws. Instead, I have a number of activities that allow my brain to wander into a place of quietness on its own.  These include edging the walls, audio typing for PhD students, heavy digging in the garden and sieving the compost.  The wonderful thing about three out of these four is that they also, so some extent, exercise my body.  They are however, often weather dependent, so I haven’t solved it entirely.

If you have a noisy brain like me, many of the classics – meditation, yoga, pilates and prayer, may work for you, and if they do, that’s fantastic.  If, however, like me, you need a kind of active trance, do let me know what it is. Then we can share with others and understand that whatever works for you, works!