Going Too Fast to Say No? How to Strengthen Your Self-Discipline Muscle

Q: You went flat out all week but never completed your critical task.  What happened?

A: You forgot to slow down.

Here is an analogy.  I love mountain biking.  The gnarlier the path the better. But sometimes I get so caught up in negotiating the next rocks and drops that I fly right past the turnoff. I end up lost. Sometimes I have to climb all the way back up.

Have you ever been in the flow like this, where you completely loose track of time?  It feels so good!  You just don’t want it to stop. But what was the cost of having to repair the mistake? Sometimes in hindsight it was totally worth the cost.  But at other times, we are only able to listen to the strongest medicine such as a missed business deal, an accident or a fling that cost the marriage for our self awareness to develop. Often it is the worst costs that force our long-term focus to mature. These are the lessons that change our behaviour.

Impulse Control:  Indulgence is a textbook ADHD symptom.

Some mountain bikers say they are going too fast to prevent a mistake about ten percent of the time.  So far, it has been blind luck that they haven’t been injured.  And they are fine with it.  Being too “in the moment” in the workplace might include forgetting to follow-up on an initiative, getting a parking ticket, or enjoying researching for an article for way too long.

How does one become aware when they have derailed from their task?  When lost in the moment people can become blind to choices we are making.

The solution is to develop the habit of checking if you are present.  But that can only happen when you have decided, and I mean really decided, that the direction you are taking is what you truly want.

I recommend using a reminder device.  An elastic.  An egg timer.  A ring.  A bracelet.  Or post it notes.  Set calendar appointment alarms with questions in the title.  Anything that will cause you to ask yourself: “Am I actually doing what it is that I want to be doing with this time?”

I have found that strengthening our self-discipline muscle means being fine with saying no to indulgences and wanting to say yes to what it is we really need.  Saying no means that you can stay focused on what you really want to say yes to.

Believing in yourself and your vision is a necessity.  But it’s not enough.  You need to make the decision you want it enough to do the work.  This means living like a person who earns it especially when nobody is looking.  Have you ever had a moment when you suddenly become aware of what you are doing e.g. you pulled out of the driveway to the left as if you were going to work, but you needed to go right?  You snapped out of autopilot.  Congratulations!  We can do the same thing just as we slip into an indulgence that might protect us from social threat, or from feeling uncomfortable from effort.  Snap out of your autopilot and into your presence so that you are aware of what choices you are really making.  Once you have decided for yourself the rest is much much easier. A coach can help with this.

If I asked you when you have done this before, you would give me a long list of when you did a great job of snapping back into being present.  You can do this: it is a question of degree and how much you want it.

Self-discipline bootcamps can help you address sudden urges. Or coaching support can help you train your new thinking habits and action reflexes to step up to what you are capable of.

My guess is you already have lots of grit, just look at what you have accomplished so far.  But could you accomplish more if you had better impulse control?  If you managed your focus more effectively, what could you achieve? Evaluate if the cost of indulgences is getting too expensive at this point in your life. If you could do it alone with the tools and support you presently have, you would have done so already.

How to Believe in Your Ability to Succeed

This is Called Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is the belief that one is able to successfully think, behave and feel in a particular situation.  Psychologist Albert Bandura emphasized the silent conclusions we draw about ourselves through the ups and downs of growing up.  These conclusions develop our belief set and adult personality. For example, one may conclude that a success was well earned or may think that it was just a fluke. We also see this when one says that a certain failure is “normal for me and just part of my brand”.  A person’s attitudes, abilities, and cognitive skills are in a way both the product and determinants of our success.

The Role of Self-Efficacy

Virtually all people can identify goals they want to accomplish, things they would like to change, and things they would like to achieve. However, most people also realize that putting these plans into action is not quite so simple. Bandura and others have found that an individual’s self-efficacy plays a major role in the meaning assigned to experiences (“what this event says about me”) and how goals, tasks, and challenges are approached.

People with a strong sense of self-efficacy:

  • View challenging problems as tasks to be mastered
  • Develop deeper interest in the activities in which they participate
  • Form a stronger sense of commitment to their interests and activities
  • Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments

People with a weak sense of self-efficacy:

  • Avoid challenging tasks
  • Believe that difficult tasks and situations are beyond their capabilities
  • Focus on personal failings and negative outcomes
  • Quickly lose confidence in personal abilities

Sources of Self-Efficacy

These beliefs form in early childhood with the wide variety of social experiences, attempted tasks, and outcomes. Luckily, the growth of self-efficacy continues throughout life as people acquire new skills, awareness and understanding.

According to Bandura, there are four major sources of self-efficacy.

1. Mastery Experiences

“The most effective way of developing a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences,” Bandura explained. Performing a task successfully strengthens our sense of self-efficacy. Failing to adequately deal with a challenge can weaken it if we view it as a character flaw, rather than simply a lack of training or effort for example.

2. Social Modeling

Witnessing other people successfully completing a task is another important source of self-efficacy. According to Bandura, “Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises one’s belief in one’s capabilities to master comparable activities and to succeed.”

3. Social Persuasion

Bandura also asserted that people could be persuaded to believe that they have the skills and capabilities to succeed if they have sufficient evidence.  Consider a time when someone said something positive and encouraging that helped you own, focus on and achieve a goal. Getting verbal encouragement from others helps people overcome self-doubt and give their best effort to the task at hand.

4. Psychological Responses

Our emotional reactions to situations play an important role in self-efficacy. Moods, emotional states, physical reactions, and stress levels all impact what a person decides about their abilities in a particular situation. A person who became extremely nervous before speaking in public may come to a conclusion about their incompetence, weakening their self-efficacy in similar future situations.  Importantly, Bandura notes “it is not the specific intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important but rather how they are interpreted.”


By learning how to manage your mindset when facing difficult experiences, you can improve your self-efficacy.

Stanford Professor Carol Dweck categorizes two types of mindsets. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities. http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/

Blog post adapted from: http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/self_efficacy.htm
Bandura, Albert “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change”, 1977.

Is ADHD just another fad?

Could it be ADHD?

Maybe not.  Most people will have some of the patterns described in the Brown Attention Deficit Disorder Scales at some point.   What makes it Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD (or ADD minus the hyperactivity)  is if the degree and frequency is impairing you or not.

Thomas E Brown from Connecticut has clustered together 6 classic areas of impairment*.  These are from the most extreme end and are rarely seen in the workplace.   ADHD absentmindedness and  impulsivity do NOT give you license to be late, hurtful or inappropriate.  It means you need to accept and manage your wiring differences the way somebody with diabetes must accept to pay attention to what they eat.  Even when medicated, pills don’t spell skills.  Alas.


Executive Functions Impaired in ADD/ADHD:

Activation: organizing tasks and materials, estimating time, prioritizing tasks, and getting started on work tasks.

Patients with ADD describe chronic difficulty with excessive procrastination. Often they will put off getting started on a task, even a task they recognize as very important to them, until the very last minute. It is as though they cannot get themselves started until the point where they perceive the task as an acute emergency.

Focus: focusing, sustaining focus, and shifting focus to tasks.

Some describe their difficulty in sustaining focus as similar to trying to listen to the car radio when you drive too far away from the station and the signal begins fading in and out: you get some of it and lose some of it. They say they are distracted easily not only by things that are going on around them, but also by thoughts in their own minds. In addition, focus on reading poses difficulties for many. Words are generally understood as they are read, but often have to be read over and over again in order for the meaning to be fully grasped and remembered.

Effort: regulating alertness, sustaining effort, and processing speed.

Many with ADHD report they can perform short-term projects well, but have much more difficulty with sustained effort over longer periods of time. They also find it difficult to complete tasks on time, especially when required to do expository writing. Many also experience chronic difficulty regulating sleep and alertness. Often they stay up too late because they can’t shut their head off. Once asleep, they often sleep like dead people and have a big problem getting up in the morning.

Emotion: managing frustration and modulating emotions.

Although the medical world (DSM-IV) does not recognize any symptoms related to the management of emotion as an aspect of ADHD, many with this disorder describe chronic difficulties managing frustration, anger, worry, disappointment, desire, and other emotions. They speak as though these emotions take over their thinking much like a computer virus invades a computer, making it impossible for them give attention to anything else. They find it very difficult to get the emotions into perspective, let alone their impact.  It’s a challenge to get on with what needs to be done.

Memory: utilizing working memory and accessing recall.

Very often, people with ADHD will report that they have adequate or exceptional memory for things that happened long ago, but great difficulty in being able to remember where they just put something, what someone just said to them, or what they were about to say. They may describe difficulty holding one or several things “on line” while attending to other tasks. In addition, persons with ADHD often complain that they cannot pull out of memory information they have learned when they need it.

Action: monitoring and regulating self-action.

Many persons with ADHD, even those without problems of hyperactive behavior, report chronic problems in regulating their actions. They often are too impulsive in what they say or do, and in the way they think, jumping too quickly to inaccurate conclusions. Persons with ADHD also report problems in monitoring the context in which they are interacting. They fail to notice when other people are puzzled, or hurt or annoyed by what they have just said or done and thus fail to modify their behavior in response to specific circumstances. Often they also report chronic difficulty in regulating the pace of their actions, in slowing self and/or speeding up as needed for specific tasks.

So given that some elements are genetic and some are socialised (see epigenetics), what can we do about it??  See my next blog post.


Do you recognise any of these behaviours in those you know?

How have you (or they) learn to better manage or make improvements in compromising behaviour patterns?

*Excerpted from http://www.drthomasebrown.com/add-adhd-model/


Resilient Leaders have the K.N.A.C.K.

You’ve taken the leadership training and read the books.  So why haven’t you implemented those things you were so jazzed about?  If it was easy, you’d have a perfect leadership score already.    FACT: Being really busy means you have less time/energy to implement new approaches.

Good news:  you don’t have to keep trying to do it on your own.  Pick a quality you want to express more of and join a peer mentor group with others who are also getting the K.N.A.C.K. of Resilient Leadership.


The K.N.A.C.K. of Resilient Leadership

K-   Knowledge of Human Nature

Resilient leaders must understand why smart people do irrational things, personality type differences and how to inspire, resolve conflict with and motivate them each differently.  Leaders today are simply expected to have solid knowledge of strategy and their industry, and gone are the days of ignoring the emotional side of team leadership.  Do you understand people well enough to give what your team needs from you to perform at their best?  Knowledge of Human Nature is quite learnable.

N-   Non-Reactive

Impulse control and self-management require self-awareness and stable confidence.  Resilient leaders act powerfully when needed and can be spontaneous,  but responses are not driven by their reptilian brain.  Reflexes are often grounded in past experiences and normal fear which may not serve well in an organisational context.  Becoming Non-Reactive is quite learnable.

A-   Action-Oriented

Resilient leaders know when to move fast to take action versus when the ideal action is to stop and reflect.  In either case, the action is chosen and purposeful.  Planning properly and attending to details are essential; worrying about perfection is not.  Does what you do with your time align with your true priorities?  Becoming Action-Oriented doing the right things is quite learnable.

C-   Courageous

Resilient Leaders have the guts to speak the truth and to face reality, be it about their own strengths or shortcomings, a past error, or a situation that is out of control.  Leading sometimes means re-kindling optimism or doing the unpopular thing, and having Intention Deficit Disorder does not serve leaders well.  When faced with a most difficult task, are you clear about the right thing to do so you can manifest your conviction?  Becoming courageous in a new way is quite learnable.

K-   Kindness

Being kind doesn’t mean being a doormat.  Sometimes the kindest thing one can do is to fire somebody.  Keeping a long-term perspective and transparently balancing the needs of all parties is key for Resilient Leaders to nurture trust and loyalty among team members and others.  We can’t give what we don’t have and Resilient Leaders understand that self-empathy is where it all begins.  Can you think of a person who deserves and may blossom with more empathy than you are presently providing?  Becoming more kind is quite learnable.


Know a leader who thinks they don’t have time to become more effective?  Offer them these questions which might help them see if it is worth their time to do something about it yet.


Resilient Leaders are more effective at motivating others when they have a sound grasp of human nature, self-management, take the right kinds of actions and show courage and kindness.    Are you presently giving those you work with the right balance of each?   Whether you are an effective leader (or not) is decided by those you lead, not by you!  So, ask them!

What is one small thing you can do differently starting today, which will make you a more resilient leader?

In your opinion, what else do resilient leaders need?

The challenge of embedding coaching skills in the workplace

Essential Elements of a

Successful Organisational Coaching Skills Program


Summary of an article by Grant and Hartley1 on practical strategies organisations can use to more effectively embed and sustain leadership coaching skills in the workplace following participation by executives and managers in a coaching skills development program.  This scorecard can assist in a go/no go decision on organisational readiness to implement a coaching skill program into the organisational culture and to prioritise factors that contribute to successful leadership development.


In Brief


Global HR leaders are increasingly delivering coaching skills programs in their professional development to facilitate the adoption of coaching competencies.  Research shows that coaching can increase goal attainment, solution-focused thinking, develop greater change readiness and leadership resilience (Grant 2009).  The authors worked with the fifth largest bank in the world (over 52,000 employees), where 3000 leaders completed the ‘Leader as Coach’ program.  The authors found eight key factors which increase the likelihood of successfully embedding coaching skills in the workplace.


The Need


Research has shown that while coaching skills are one of the more powerful leadership competencies, this vital skill comes naturally only to a few (Goleman, 2000).  Worker resilience must be strengthened to protect from burnout and to better handle relentless change and economic pressure to do ever more with less.  Gen Y and Z are demanding a new style of leadership and if their present organisation/manager won’t coach them, they will find somebody else who will.


With increasing demands being placed on workers, organisational leaders must become more competent at engaging, inspiring and listening to their talent than ever before.  A tool is needed to assist the HR decision maker to assess both if a coaching skills program has the required elements to realize a substantive shift in coaching competencies and to asses gaps in present organisational receptivity that can be redressed to assure the investment delivers on the expected changes in organisational culture.


All too often, organisations invest effort and money into developing the coaching skills of their leaders and managers only to find that, despite initial high levels of enthusiasm, they fail to adapt the taught coaching skills to their workplace.



How do we transfer skills mastered in the classroom into the workplace?


Such transfers are difficult enough with technical skills.  It’s even more challenging with highly personal thinking habits such as knowing when to challenge the coachee instead of telling the answer, how to re-create trust, or how to expose unspoken concerns or hopes for example.  Coaching skills are not superficial techniques which can be wedged into any conversation.  Students require time to integrate the skills seamlessly into their own style with repeated, live practice and patience from the organisational perspective.


The tips below are insights gained following completion of the Leader as Coach Program by over 3000 professionals in the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA).  The authors propose that organisational coaching skills programs will more effectively embed the competencies when as many as possible of the following eight factors are implemented.


1.         Proven, evidence-based design

‘Once-and-Done’ style single workshops, minimal hours of practice or where the teacher spends more time talking than the student spends practicing do not support integration of coaching behaviours as well as do longer-term mentoring, feedback and integration of the desired habits (Grant 2012).  The authors found the most success with programs which:

a) Are theoretically grounded and extremely practical

b) Use varied settings to diversify practice conditions

c) Provide cohesive group support ad follow up

d) Supply supervision as skills are progressively embedded

2.         Program content includes live skills, performance and developmental coaching

Formal coaching sessions with explicit goals and a clear beginning and end are rare compared to the more likely in-the-moment coaching opportunities seized in the midst of a busy project.  The program must also address the important distinctions between Skills Coaching (task), Performance Coaching (strategic approach to the work itself, over time), and Developmental Coaching (personal growth such as emotional/social competencies and effective relationships)

3.         Ensure that the program is internally culturally relevant

For a coaching program to be integrated, the authors found it should align explicitly with the specific values/language and unique situations and challenges faced in the client organisation.

4.         Use respected figures internal to the organisation as champions

The role modelling of desired behaviours by leaders is one of the most powerful influencers.  Enthusiastic and consistent messaging about the importance of the program from respected figures (such as the CEO) send a clear signal that the organisation is serious about developing a positive, supportive culture. The value of such overt high-level support cannot be understated.

5.         Use attraction rather than coercion

It is easy these days for people to justify not allocating the time needed for developmental activities. While the temptation is to mandate participation, the authors found that fostering attraction, rather than compelling attendance is a more successful strategy. Develop enthusiastic, influential early adopters in the initial stages and train them to carry their message and experiences to the workforce.

6.         Monitor and evaluate: the Personal Case Study approach

The Personal Case Study approach (Grant, 2013) has the participants write about a leadership issue they are facing, rate how close they are to their goal of solving it and their and level of confidence in dealing with the issue.  Participants re-rate themselves at the end providing data which will answer “Is the program actually working?”.  The authors found a 40% increase in goal progression and a 70% increase in confidence in being able to deal with the issue.

7.         Mobilise a competent HR team

Program success and longevity depend on the HR team’s professionalism and ability to champion this work. HR’s ability to manage the logistics of a complex program while keeping senior managers enthused are key factors in determining the successful implementation of a coaching program (Long, Ismail, & Amin, 2012).This is not an easy task and some organisations may not have the required HR capacity.

So how does one choose and implement a coaching skills program?


Like training for a marathon, strengthening coaching skills can’t be done in one workshop no matter how brilliantly it is designed.  While powerful when done right, accept that coaching skill acquisition will be a slow process (months, not a day or two) and that the outcomes must be followed up and measured.  Otherwise, to be blunt, it is a just another binder on the shelf and a waste of money.


Not all coaching programs can deliver (measured) results, and not all organisations are ready to embrace a leadership culture with a coach approach.  The processes listed in this scorecard normalise and deepen effective leadership competencies (coaching specifically), and strengthen connection, engagement and loyalty to the workplace.





If your organisation is considering a coaching skills program, here are some key factors that will each contribute to increasing the strength, penetration and durability of your program impact.  Each will assist to more effectively transfer the coaching skills from the classroom into workplace leadership activities and habits which drive a healthier, more cohesive and productive organisational culture.


Weak, or not executed = 1                               

  As strong as it can be  = 10

1 Proven, evidence-based coaching program design?Strengths/weaknesses?
2 Content includes skills, performance, and developmental coaching? Strengths/weaknesses?
3 Ensure the program is internally culturally relevant?Strengths/weaknesses?
4 Uses respected figures internal to the organisation as champions? Strengths/weaknesses?
5 Uses attraction rather than coercion? Strengths/weaknesses?
6 Monitors and evaluates: the Personal Case Study approach? Strengths/weaknesses?
7 Mobilises a competent HR team? Strengths/weaknesses?
8 Robust follow up processes? Strengths/weaknesses?





Goleman, D. (2000). Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, March-April, 70 90.


Grant, A. M., Curtayne, L., & Burton, G. (2009). Executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience and workplace well-being: A randomised controlled study. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 396407. doi:10.1080/17439760902992456


Grant, A. M. (2012). Australian coaches’ views on coaching supervision: A study with implications for Australian coach education, training and practice. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 10(2), 1733. Retrieved from http://businessbrookes.ac.uk/commercial/work/iccld/ijebcm/documents/vol10issue2-paper-02.pdf


Grant, A. M. (2013). Can research really inform coaching practice? Paper presented at the International Coach Federation conference, March 2013, Sydney, Australia.


Long, C. S., Ismail, W. K. W., & Amin, S. M. (2012). The role of change agent as mediator in the relationship between HR competencies and organizational performance. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 24, 2019_2033. doi:10.1080/09585192.2012.725080



Sue @wisdomcollective.ca : Inspiring excellence, purpose and learning through your courageous, resilient leadership. Providing individual and group leadership coaching leveraging neuroscience research, powerful accountability to your own objectives and the support of a team to more easily and efficiently attain your goals than on your own.

Are you serving as a leader, or merely acting as one?

Are you serving as leader, or merely acting as one?  

Here are 10 elements to earning the right to lead

 So, do you walk the talk?

Ask yourself how those you lead would answer the following questions about you, from rarely (1) to almost always (10).  Better yet, ask them.  Then discuss it.  Nobody’s perfect, and the questions have nested, unspoken, moving parts to them.  They are designed to start deep conversations.  Not a quick fix it like patching a tire.


My boss:

  1. Builds trust, mutual consistent respect and support for the team. Inspires and motivates us. Can listen. Only interrupts when necessary.
  2. Communicates what’s right and what’s wrong about what’s happening, so that we know where we stand at work. No surprises. We can all answer where we are headed, why, how we are all going to get there and how I personally fit into the picture.
  3. Recognises our strengths and gives us the work we need to stretch us, and is happiest when we are successful and happy. Shows appreciation for kindness as well as performance.
  4. Asks how we think we might do it better and genuinely considers our ideas. Isn’t scared of looking ignorant.
  5. Admits mistakes and can say sorry, authentically. Makes it ok for us to admit our mistakes so that we bring them up sooner. Not fun, but we all learn from and benefit from getting onto a blooper fast, before it grows.
  6. Delivers. When a promise is made, it is treated very seriously. Like appointment times: each one is a promise. Models it, because it is part of being respectful.
  7. Has the guts to set limits and say no in a skilled and informative way which leaves the other’s dignity intact and with a satisfactory understanding of why.
  8. Is trustworthy. Integrity is still there, even when nobody is looking.
  9. Is emotionally resilient and stable and can handle feedback, good and bad. Is working on getting better.
  10. Is smart. Can spell. Stays fit and eats right.

What are your thoughts on leadership?


Inspired by Jack and Suzy Welch and Brent Beshore.