Jacky Leonard's blog

Archive entries for: Jul-2012

Performing under Pressure - top 10 tips

Categories:  Business Coaching, Life Balance and Wellbeing

"Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.”

Bernard Williams

I was at this year’s school games in May managing the team from Badminton Wales. Around 1600 of the UKs best young sports people took part in 12 sports ranging from athletics to wheelchair basketball over 4 days of intensely fought competition.  At these events my role is to support the players and coaches and deal with all things off court so they have as little of the logistics to worry about as possible.  I consequently spend a great deal of time observing the behaviour of performers during play and in their downtime; their response to winning and losing, their internal and external triggers, their interaction with their peers, tournament staff, team staff and parents.  How some players, team staff and parents thrive on a challenge, others battle to survive and a few crumble under the pressure. You can witness the full range of emotions on a playing field...from elation, frustration, relief, anger deep sadness, sheer joy and everything in between. It's a fascinating mix of human dynamics and shows the best and worst of people...young and older. 

Rudyard Kipling, in his poem If, suggested triumph and disaster be treated the same. A worthy sentiment, but one which is not particularly easy to execute when you've put your heart and soul into your performance.

Even elite athletes aren't immune to stresses, strains and self doubt, where very often it's the mental games you play with yourself that are the fine line between standing on top of the winner’s podium or being one of the also rans.  This year's Wimbledon provided us with some classic examples of how important being mentally tough is in achieving your goals.  You will have witnessed how fortunes can turn in an instant because of an internal trigger, external distraction or interruption.  The seeds of doubt, once sowed can strangle your dreams...if you let them. Of course these challenges are an intrinsic part of the elite sports persons day job. So what lessons can you learn from them that will allow you to meet the demands of your daily challenges? If you're one of those people who lets the stress of a new project, a demanding or critical person, or deadline get to you, how do you continue to perform well, even under pressure? 

Here are my top 10 tips for rising to the challenge and keeping it together when the going gets tough…

  1. Know your stuff! - be technically brilliant in what you do...and continue to hone your skills at every opportunity. Even the most naturally gifted people appreciate the need for continual improvement, particularly if they want to stay ahead of the competition.
  2. Keep your eyes on the prize - be clear about your outcome i.e. what you want to achieve, why you want it, who'll support you and your timescales and make sure those you work with are clear about those things too.
  3. Be prepared - I'm sure you've heard the old adage 'Practice makes perfect.' Well that's not entirely true; practice actually makes permanent, only 'Perfect practice makes perfect.' So the quality of how you prepare is as important as the time you spend preparing. Visualisation and positive pre-play are great preparation tools.
  4. Believe to achieve - raise your right hand in the air and say after me...I believe! Identify and eliminate your limiting beliefs. If you allow them to creep into your psyche they'll gradually eat away at your confidence, erode your self esteem and cripple your progress. Before you begin any challenge you have to believe you can do it, after all nothing is impossible...except perhaps lighting a match on a jelly!
  5. Silence your gremlins - many people beat themselves up verbally e.g. "You'll never be able to do that."  "Remember what happened last time you tried that." “Can I do this job now I’ve taken it on?” etc. Do you speak kindly enough to yourself? Controlling your internal dialogue and replacing any negative thoughts with more positive self talk can be an incredibly empowering tool.
  6. Reflect for success - It may be tough to accept, but you're probably not perfect (there I've said it). You're bound to encounter the odd set back, hurdle or period when things are just not going to plan. Take time to reflect on how you deal with your successes and your failures; it can say a lot about you.
  7. Act as if - sometimes the only way to gain that boost of confidence is to fake it 'til you make it! Acting with confidence can often make you feel that way.
  8. Be a radiator - a positive mental attitude has so many advantages; for a start you'll be a pleasure to be around; people will warm to you and you’ll be able to influence them more effectively. It also helps your brain cells to transmit messages more effectively to its neighbours thus enabling you to create more opportunities.
  9. Get in balance – If you’re someone who believes in everything in moderation…including moderation, you may need to get a lifestyle check up.  Are there things, or people in your life that are being neglected because you’ve not got your life in balance?  The wheel of life is a useful tool to help review your current situation and reflect on those areas that may need your attention.
  10. Make it happen - eventually you've just got to take a risk, stick your neck out and go for it.  Remember...we all make mistakes; it's a natural part of the learning process. The only failure is quitting when things get tough.

Go on then…perform!



Out of your depth?

Categories:  Being on purpose, Life Balance and Wellbeing

“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.  If I were a medical man I would prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.”  This quote from Bertrand Russell seems to indicate that he valued himself higher than his work.

In today’s living and working environments you’ll be confronted with constant changes to your daily routine, which you’ll respond to in a variety of different ways.  The recession, the threat of redundancy, or having to cope with more work because there are fewer staff.  Even seemingly enjoyable events such as going on holiday, meeting new people, or getting married can sometimes be a real worry.  Experience teaches us to cope with these situations, but sometimes it’s easy to feel ‘out of your depth’ and inadequately equipped to deal with events.  The word stress is today often used to describe the suffering we feel from the harmful effects of our own response to a potentially threatening situation. 

A situation that might just be challenging for one person could put another under extreme pressure and lead to an undesirable outcome.  Of course a certain amount of stimulus is necessary to spur you into action, but when the stimulus becomes excessive and starts to get out of hand, or continues over a prolonged period of time, problems can arise.

The way the body reacts to stress has changed little since the days when our ancestors had to fight for survival.  When under stress our bodies produce the hormone adrenaline, which prepares us for immediate action.  This is sometimes called the ‘fight or flight’ response, as you have to face up to the challenge, or make a hasty retreat.  You might have noticed the immediate signs of stress, if you’ve had to make a speech, or go for an interview.  Your heart pounds, you breath faster, your mouth becomes dry and the palms of your hands clammy.  Priority is being given to the areas of the body that need to be brought into play quickest, so you are ready for action.  This primitive response served our ancestors well, but is of less use to us today.  Our daily problems can be difficult to fight and almost impossible to run away from.  So you can literally find yourself ‘stewing in your own juices.’

It’s not always the situation that makes you feel under pressure, very often it’s your reaction to it.  How you view an event is very individual – ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison.’  If the demands made upon you exceed your perceived ability to cope an imbalance occurs.  This in turn can lead to worry, anguish and panic, which will inevitably impact on your performance and eventually prove detrimental to your health.

Your interpretation of an event can activate, or excite you, or place undue and unnecessary strain upon you.  It all depends on how you view the situation and how much input you can cope with before you reach overload.  A lot of stress arises from internal conflict; thoughts such as “Can I do this job now I’ve taken it on?” or “I have to (but I don’t really want to)” express your perceived limitations.  You may have self-doubts, self-denial, but you also have personal choice.  You’ll be continually assessing what people and situations mean to you in order to make sense out of events around you.  By changing your approach to the way you view these situations you can also alter the way you think about them and thereby remove, or reduce the harmful effects of the potential stressor.  Managing your own perception of events can be exhilarating, as it offers you a choice, when quite often in the workplace you may feel you have little control.

Before you begin to interpret an event it’s worth considering the following:

  1. All humans are fallible – so set realistic goals for yourself and others and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  2. It takes two to conflict – so before apportioning any blame remember all parties involved in the conflict will have in some way contributed to fuelling the fire.
  3. You can't change the past – so why try to establish who or what was to blame?  It is more productive to examine your own behaviour and decide what you would do to change it to allow yourself to feel better.

The choice is yours; there is no easy way to beat stress, what works for one person might not help another.  It is up to you to find the method that works best for you and practice using it.  Aim for a balance between work, rest and play and ensure you allocate time for yourself each day.  Have hobbies and interests other than your work.  Physical outlets such as exercise are valuable to calm the body down and release anger; emotional outlets such as talking it out or writing it down are also effective methods of reducing the harmful results of stress.

Check out my next Blog for my 10 top tips on how to perform under pressure.


Categories:  Being on purpose

“Procrastination is the thief of time.”    Edward Young

It was the wonderfully talented Beverly Knight who sang "Shoulda, woulda, coulda means I'm outta time..." and she was so right, dithering doesn't do it!  What it invariably means is "I might...if there's nothing else that interests me and I manage to get around to it."  Personal Development guru, Tony Robbins likes to say that some people “should all over themselves. "Is that you?  Is there a task or project on your to do list that you haven’t yet got around to?  Are there goals you thought you’d like to achieve that you’ve laid to rest?  You should have done something about them…maybe you would have…you even could have…but you haven’t!

So what’s the reason you get around to some ‘stuff’ and neglect others?  And before you try that lame “I haven’t got time” excuse, think again.  We all have 24 hours to play with, so how can you use those precious 86,400 seconds wisely to achieve the things you really want?  Funny how creative the human brain can be in finding diversionary and avoidance tactics, particularly when faced with jobs that may be important, but are also a little unpalatable, difficult, or maybe even boring.

I suggest the first question you can ask yourself is…"How badly do I want to do/have/be this?”  And just as importantly “Would I rather be spending my time on something else?” Whether your task or goal involves:

  • Doing something e.g. finish off your tax returns
  • Being someone or something e.g. a successful business owner
  • Having something e.g. a new company car
  • Or even Going somewhere e.g. a networking meeting

There are going to be some things that you’d rather not be involved in or people you'd prefer not to work with.  Ask yourself “how important are these things, goals or people to me and can I achieve what I want in a different way?” I work with performance and elite athletes; they are some of the most single minded, driven and commited people I know and what they do is an intrinsic part of who they are. You’re more likely to be successful if you are truly committed (even passionate) about something. Remember the old adage “where there’s a will there’s a way” well there’s certainly something in that. Of course, I'm sure you're also aware that where there’s a will there’s a won’t!  

So here are my tips for making those shoulds a must...or better still, a  will...

  • All goals or tasks are a journey and like all trips it's imperative you identify your point of origin and your destination after all "people who aim at nothing, rarely miss the target."
  • Follow the advice of that famous pop quintet The Spice Girls and identify "...what you want, what you REALLY, REALLY WANT."  Your drive to complete an activity, or even start it will be greatly reduced if this is a task someone else wants you to complete, or one you feel you should do rather than one you really want to do.
  • Once you’ve established what you want and that you really, really want it, the next step is to tune in to everyone's favourite radio station...WIIFM (What's in it for me?) to give yourself powerful reasons why you must be/do/have this.  Clarifying the importance of the task and the benefits it will give you, or those closest to you, will align your goal with your values and help give you momentum for completing or achieving it.  
  • As 'pain' is often the catalyst for action it is also worth identifying what might happen if you don't take action towards your goal.  What would the consequences be if you procrastinated, dithered or even failed to follow through? Keep your eye on the prize; focus on your outcome and consider the benefits...and the pain.  Even if you take the wrong turn or fall by the wayside this will provide you with the incentives to pick youself up and get back on track even when the going gets tough.
  • Find a good support network.  There may be people you trust who you want to share your goal and your journey with.  A mentor, peer support, friends, colleagues and family are important travel companions, who can support or sabatage your efforts.  Choose them well.    

The process below will help you consider the challenge of completing it from all angles.

On a scale of 0-10 how important is it that you complete this task, or achieve this goal?

0=it’s not at all important I complete it, to 10=it is extremely important (even imperative) I complete it

  • So what are the reasons you haven’t done it yet?
  • What will happen if you don’t do it?
  • What won’t happen if you don’t do it?
  • What will happen if you do it?
  • What won’t happen if you do it?
  • What would you think or how would you feel if you don’t do it?
  • What would you think or how would you feel if you did do it?
  • What are the reasons for that?

Now list your reasons for really wanting to complete or achieve it and identify the benefits you’ll gain by doing that. By now you’ve hopefully identified a compelling case for why you MUST and WILL take consistent and positive action!  Now revisit your commitment to it.  You’re looking for a 10 here; anything less and you're unlikely to follow through.  

On a scale of 0-10 how committed are you to completing this task/goal?

0=I’m not at all committed to completing it, to 10=I’m fully committed to completing/achieving it.

When you reach the point of MUST, decide what action you’ll need to take to achieve it. Remember to avoid the self sabotage words like try, should, could, might etc.  Instead, use positive statements to describe your next steps.  Then in the words of a very famous sports brand…Just Do it!  

Well, what are you waiting for?

Time flies like the wind…fruit flies like bananas!

Categories:  Being on purpose, Life Balance and Wellbeing

"There’s a myth that time is money. In fact, time is more precious than money. It’s a non-renewable resource. Once you’ve spent it, and if you’ve spent it badly, it’s gone forever."

Neil Fiore: Author, speaker, and trainer on managing business

My apologies for my tardiness!  After a busy, exhausting, but exhilarating few days at this year’s school games I headed off for a well needed break in Turkey with a few of my favourite people.  Since returning home I’ve been gainfully employed doing other ‘stuff’ and as a consequence have neglected my blog.  This will change…I have resolved to pay it far more attention in future and promised to upload a weekly instalment.  It did get me thinking though…always a dangerous thing!

What’s the reason we often fail to follow through with those things we plan, or say we’ll do?  Of course, the easiest excuse (sorry, reason) is time…or lack thereof.  It’s a bit of a lame one though isn’t it?  We all have 24 hours to play with, so why do some people manage themselves better than others; why are some individuals incredibly productive and early for appointments, while others struggle to get things done and are invariably late?  What are the reasons some of us achieve more than others in those precious 86,400 seconds? 

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.

C. S. Lewis

Well let me start by exploding one myth…time is not manageable – you can’t change it, move it or get more of it!  Time doesn’t judge; it has no favourites as it treats us all the same; it is up to you to decide how to manage yourself effectively and use the time available to your best advantage.

So if the management of time is a misnomer; if those seconds are going to tick away regardless of your efforts, all you can hope to do is make the best use of the time you have available by managing yourself efficiently and effectively within the 24 hours you have at your disposal every day.

"One thing you can't recycle is wasted time."


One thing worth keeping in mind when we’re looking at productivity is we all view time differently and what works for one person won’t necessarily be the right option for another.  Here are my top tips for getting the most out of the 86,400… 

  • Use those precious seconds wisely…“Wisdom is to live in the present, plan for the future and profit from the past.”   Anon
  • Be present whenever you’re with someone, or doing something.  If you’ve bothered to be there you should make every effort to make it quality time.  Remember…they call it the present because it’s a gift!
  • Remember the 6 P’s…Prior planning prevents particularly poor performance
  • Learn by your mistakes.  If you’re getting stressed out because you feel you have too much to do and are running round like the proverbial decapitated hen.  Stop!  Then reflect on why and decide what you could do to change it.
  • Find a really good reason for wanting to do whatever it is you’ve planned to do – what’s important to you about getting this done and how will you benefit?  (More on how to avoid the shoulda, woulda, coulda trap in my next Blog)
  • Use the 4D principle – Dump it! Delegate it! Delete it! Or Do it!  Many documents and emails should be labelled "R" for Rubbish!  If you find yourself reading the same document over and over… decide what needs to happen to them and do it! 
  • Manage your meetings.  Consider if attending is the best use of your time (and everybody else’s).  Are there other effective methods of communicating the information?  If you do have them, make sure there’s an agenda and a clear purpose...and make sure you follow through on any action.
  • Make a list of your goals, targets and actions - To do lists are a bit like marmite – you either love them or you hate them.  I sit in the first category; I like them as I find they help clear my head of all the internal clutter.  I also get a real kick and sense of satisfaction when I achieve the things I’ve committed to and get to strike them off my list. 
  • Unless you wear your underpants outside your trousers it pays to prioritise your workload and be realistic about what you can do in the time allocated.  You’ll generally overestimate what you can do in the time available.
  • Take a break.  Yes, we all need some time out, particularly from your PC.  It may surprise you to know that doing this improves your productivity.  Get up and stretch; take a short walk; get some fresh air and take some relaxing deep breaths; do a one minute meditation – click the link to find out more http://www.just-a-minute.org/resource_centre 
  • Get some perspective, identify what’s really important to you and don’t sweat the small stuff!  

 And on that note I’ll let William have the final say…



What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare. 

William Henry Davies