Money conversations and mental rehearsal


Talking about money does not come naturally to me.                                                My first conversation with a client about their  paying of a bill was comical.  There was a pause in the conversation where I knew I should bring it up but somehow, I went shy.

Fortunately, the client broached the subject and I gratefully took the cue.  Since that time, I’ve been practicing money conversations in the mirror and with mental imagery, beating out the cultural attitude ingrained in me that “it’s rude to talk about money…

Role-playing may sound daft to some but in the case of mental practice, studies have shown that this technique combined with physical practice, results in improved skill learning or performance compared to physical or mental practice carried out alone.

The same study shows that mental practice and its positive effects on skill learning becomes less effective after two weeks so it’s time to refresh the visualisation at that time.  Lastly, the more accurately you make your imagery (in terms of time taken to complete the task, environment etc.), the more likely it is to be effective when you actually perform what you’ve been rehearsing.

It’s been great preparation for all things generally, I’d strongly recommend it.  Let me know if it works for you.

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Coach yourself to stay motivated and keep on track!


If you’ve been thinking about a fitness regimen or a personal project but not really got it off the ground, I’ll be speaking at Vision Fitness, Bondi Junction in Sydney on Thursday 2nd September from 6pm.

The subject?  “Coach yourself to stay motivated and keep on track.”

I’ll be talking about the art of goal setting.  This will include how to effectively set goals, consideration of factors that people tend to forget when setting action plans around a new project, how to prepare for the “un-expected” such as obstacles and influences as well how to prepare for the period after the initial goal setting “buzz” wears off.

Come along!  Vision Fitness is offering prizes on the night as well as two free personal training sessions at the Bondi Junction gym for any one attending.

Drop me a line if you have any questions or want to know more.

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Are you addicted to email?


Yesterday, I watched a live debate on ZDNet on the future of email. It was a lively discussion and worth seeing the replay highlights.

John Freeman has been vocal on this subject and recently dedicated a book to the history of communications over the last 4000 years and how email has come to rule our lives.  In Shrinking The World, he describes our response to email as addictive in the same way that gambling is.  Sometimes, you’ll receive a pay out or response, more commonly you won’t. It’s the “maybe this time” thought process that keeps us pressing send and checking our inboxes, in some cases he notes, up to 30 or 40 times an hour.

While addressing issues of email overload with technology solutions is one option, being aware of our emotional and behavioural responses to it is another.

For “email addicts” trying to understand their compulsion, every time someone responds with feedback to something we’ve sent out, we receive reinforcement (it could be negative or positive) for a task done or a thought said.

It’s the unpredictable or variable nature of this feedback and response, that keeps us heading to our inbox.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapists (CBT) refer to it as conditioning, based on theories from founding fathers such as Pavlov and Skinner.

The next time you have the urge to check the inbox, think about whether it’s really necessary or an automatic or conditioned response. Is it acknowledgement or recognition that you’re seeking?

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Questioning the power of positive self-statements


I’ve often wondered about the benefit of repeating self affirmation statements or positive mantras to oneself.  It seems like a superficial, “quick fix” way of addressing personal development issues that may or should be more complex for someone to resolve.

While a statement may act as a cue to help people remember to initiate certain values or behaviours, if they haven’t got the necessary values and skills in place to support that self-affirmation script, how does it help?

There’s never seemed to be any publicly available theory available to support the validity of self-affirmation techniques.  However, recently I’ve come across a paper from Psychological Science published in 2009.  It shows that during studies conducted with students, while the use of positive self statements had some benefit for subjects with high self esteem, it was  det"Positive affirmations and positive self talk"rimental to those with low self esteem.  Their moods and feelings about themselves worsened.

There are various reasons offered for these findings, one of them being that often we’re uncomfortable with feedback or statements that do not sit comfortably with how we already perceive ourselves.  At the same time, if we’re focusing on what or where we want to be and comparing this with our current reality, we remind ourselves that we’re not measuring up to the standard we’re looking for.

My take on self-affirmation statements?   They can support other actions and techniques used by people to create new desired behaviour but they aren’t a solution for personal development.  It’s more effective to address issues head on, put in place actionable plans for change and continually review progress until the goal has been achieved.

What’s  your view?

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What I’ve learnt from students: Making sure a coach understands your outlook


After my experience coaching students from the University of Sydney, it made me question how the outlook of the coach impacts the coaching process and relationship with a client.

The role of the coach is to be non-directional, neutral and to encourage the people they work with to find their own solutions to the issues that they want to focus on.

If you’re working with a coach or being coached, how can you be sure that the coach understands your perspective? That they are not going to influence you in how you set  the goals and steps you take to make them happen?

I think a focus on preparation work, before any goal setting, is essential to ensure that your coach is on the same page as you.

Some of the questions that could be included in an initial preparation session are:

  • What encourages you to set goals in the first place and how do you set these?
  • What motivates you to complete something?
  • Think of a time you achieved something. How did you do it?  What’s your style?
  • How do you like to learn?
  • What do you want from a coach?

By understanding what motivates you and the way you set out to do things, your coach will be able to work with you from your perspective and is less likely to approach the coaching process from their own.

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What I’ve learnt from students (Or watch out Tony Robbins!)


I’ve recently finished a coaching project with a group of undergraduates from the University of Sydney where I was working with them to create and set goals around issues ranging from career progression to time management.

There were three common themes or expressions that they brought up frequently during conversations.

  • One of their greatest fears is “being average”
  • Anything is possible
  • They want to be the best and work with the best

It was an amazing opportunity.  Particularly because over time, by associating with this raw, unchallenged ambition, I remembered that they were right.  Anything was possible and I wanted to be the best too.

Could I be the next Tony Robbins?” Well, yes actually! “Could I create, drive and manage new, challenging projects at work?” I could do that too.

Once we stop being students and get busy in our personal and professional lives, we commonly limit ourselves and others by questioning or setting expectations around the extent of our potential.

While we may say and know what we want to do is possible, it’s only when we believe that it’s possible that we can actually achieve it.

People are motivated in different ways. Often, we’re influenced by others.  The next time you’re trying to convince yourself that you are able to accomplish something, I highly recommend spending some time with someone or a group who believes that they can. For me, it was the best kind of motivation.

Will I be sharing the stage with Tony Robbins in the future?  Maybe and then again, maybe not.  But if I believe I can, it’s more likely to happen.  I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

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“You can never prepare 100%…” Building an orphanage in Botswana


Paul Den Ronden is lecturer in construction studies at the Queensland University of technology. In 2008, he was introduced to someone from the Seven Day Adventist church who told him about project that they were trying to get off the ground — building an orphanage in Thamaga, a village near Gaborone in Botswana, where young children could sleep, live and take classes. After making a trip to the village where he researched the site, met the community and learnt about the social problems in the region as well as the vast number of orphans ( anywhere between 50,000 and 250,000 across the country depending on the source), he worked with a team of students and other volunteers to design and later build an orphanage to house up to 70 children.

To make the project happen, they also took on the fundraising challenge and arranged for donations of building supplies.  After a year of planning, designing and fundraising, Paul took a team of 30 volunteers to Botswana in July 2009 where they built the orphanage complex in just 16 days. Here he talks more about the project and how they did it, despite some considerable obstacles along the way …

How did you get so many volunteers to help you get the orphanage built?

Initially, I talked to my students about it.  They loved the project as they could get involved from the start.  I had a class of about 180 students. As soon as I returned from my first trip there in 2008, I set up a competition where I split the students into groups and tasked them to come up with designs for the orphanage taking into account the needs of the community as well as the use of sustainable and local materials.  Ultimately, anything we constructed would have to ensure that it was easy for locals to manage and maintain once built.  Around 10 entries were shortlisted and we sent these to Botswana for consideration. From those, we came up with a final design as a combination of the best ideas.

It was a tough project with a short timeframe.  How did you make it happen?  Why was it successful?

Good preparation was key and doing the project with the right people.  When making my initial trip to in 2008, I was able to meet the local team and connections, understand the equipment and materials that would be available there, the prices of local hardware.  I also did interviews with the community to understand how they managed projects there as well as get an idea of the materials used. From that point, they continued to feed me information and we had good connections and infrastructure in place.

Before we arrived in July 2009 to start the building process, a lot of preparation was done locally. We wanted to make the project as sustainable and cost effective as possible. Previously, I had visited the Botswana Institute of Technology and spoke to them at length about soil earth blocks, found a company in South Africa that made machines to make these and then found a donor to fund a machine that was sent to the village. Nearly 19,000 earth blocks were laid during the project and several thousand of these had been prepared before our arrival.

Any obstacles?  And how did you overcome these?

One big problem we had was that the big container of building supplies, such as tiles, steel and roof materials as well as our tools we collected through fundraising and shipped over was held at the customs wharf until day nine of the project. When it was released, the axel of the truck delivering broke as it was too heavy! For the first nine days, we had to concentrate on what we could do with the earth blocks, windows and doorframes and then work on the roofing later when the other materials arrived. You can never prepare 100% when you do remote work, there’s always something that goes wrong.  It’s how you handle those problems. You’ve got to come up with solutions to solve them.

How did you handle them?

Flexibility mostly. We all had backgrounds as builders or tradespeople and given our backgrounds, I and the team were aware of what could be done with a lot of different materials. If we couldn’t find something, we looked for alternatives that could do just as good a job. When we finally got our supplies, we had to adapt those anyhow as they were donated and not set to any particular dimensions. From the outset, we knew we would have to be flexible.

Any advice for anyone taking up a project of this kind?

We were successful because of the great attitude of everyone involved. We worked days and nights.  The students were very keen, very dedicated. They were being taught construction so they had a very good idea of what we had to do when we went over there.  That made a big difference.  I believe we shared a core set of values – to look after each other and get the job done. We’ve since produced a number of catalogues and documentaries as well as “how-to” documentation that we have made available to other aid organisations to help them for future projects.

What next?

We’d like to continue to visit the orphanage every year to expand the complex to accommodate up to 150 children eventually as well as continue to make improvements.  This of course depends on funding. We’ve previously raised money from small businesses and activities that we’ve organised such as calendars and charity soccer matches.  Small amounts have all added up! Largely though, donations have come in the form of building supplies.

To this point, volunteers have paid for their own trips and expenses. A smaller group of fourteen volunteers, including myself has just returned after another short trip, completing more specialised tasks such as tiling, doors, showers and plumbing.  We’re about 80% done for the main buildings and we’re expecting children to move in from the middle to end of this year.  I’d like to see the orphans in the centre.  It’s a personal goal of mine.

If you would like to donate funds, supplies or services, please email Paul at p.denronden@qut.edu.au or visit http://botswanaorphanproject.com/ for more information.

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