Coaching reflection: Setting your Goals and The Power of Intention

September in the southern hemisphere symbolises the start of spring. Mother Nature guides us in our inner journey by Her marvellous and profound outward displays. It is an invitation to us to slow down in our busyness to notice and reflect. “Spring” as the title suggests, implies springing into action, cultivating and nurturing our growth, just as nature all around us is doing.  Winter is a time of shedding and letting go of old habits and limiting beliefs and thought patterns. This can feel tiring which is why winter is associated with hibernation. Now well-pruned, it is time to allow for new growth in ourselves: spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. How do we consciously use the start of this season to stay in tune with Nature and grow too?

Oscar Wilde once said: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all”.  One of the things that evokes us to “live” versus coasting unconsciously along on the waves of life, is to consciously set our goals. One of the gifts of being human and not a member of the animal or plant kingdom is our ability to do just that.  There are a number of ways to approach goal-setting but two things in particular that I work with my clients on when we do this, is to know your values and your overall purpose in life. To enable inner harmony and happiness, congruence between our goals, values and purpose is imperative. If we set goals that are not truthful to our values, we compromise our inner peace and contentment. For example, a person who highly values having time to reflect and renew but who sets as a goal, the ambition to take a promotion to a highly stressful role which involves long hours and constant business travel based on an inner ego-based motivation of looking good to others, is inadvertently inviting suffering by not being true to themselves.  How many examples of this do we see around us and even more importantly, in ourselves? This is different to someone who values challenge and contribution and therefore covets the promotion because it is in harmony with those inner values.  And that is where the power of intention comes in.

In Sanskrit, there is a term sankalpa which means that all thoughts should be united in one intention, i.e. congruence between our different endeavours with an overall purpose. Setting a clear, pure and congruent intention does for us what sunlight does for a little seedling, which turns itself to grow toward the light. It consciously directs our goals in the direction of our higher purpose. Setting goals can risk us becoming solely focussed on reaching the outcome, sometimes forgetting why we even set the goal to start with and robbing the entire experience of sheer joy. There is wisdom in the ancient Vedic verse “Be not attached to the fruit of your actions”. Rather reflect on what your overall intention is behind your goals. For example, if one of your goals is to start eating more healthily and take up an exercise regime, link this goal to your strategic intention. If that intention is based on what everyone else thinks of you and a feeling of insecurity, this goal is being driven by an impetus that may result in you seeing the goal as a burden. If your intention is to take care of this body and keep it healthy out of gratitude for the service that it provides to you and others on your journey, this may result in a healthier, lighter approach to the goal.

Conversations with God author Neale Donald Walsch points out that there are two underlying emotional motives behind everything we do: love or fear.  I could extend that based on Eastern teachings to read: ego or soul. Bear in mind that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ intention. The point is to become conscious of the link between our intention, goals and the consequences. This consciousness helps us to explore self-knowledge at a deeper level and select an intention that is congruent with who we really are, rather than being driven along by motives that we are not even conscious of. This consciousness enables us to “find the gap” between stimulus and response that leadership expert Stephen Covey refers to, which enables us to use our discernment and inner power of choice.

Having values is one thing. Consciously honouring them in our goals and actions is what brings those values to life. And why do we want to do that?  To answer that I make a few assumptions based on observations of the world around us:

  • Firstly, we as humans wish to be happy.
  • Secondly, integrity is when who we are, what we say, what we think and what we do are all in alignment.
  • Thirdly, integrity brings inner harmony.
  • Fourth, inner harmony brings happiness.

Test this using your own personal experience. From this, we may glimpse the link between purity of intention, goal-setting and happiness.  It is not an easy journey to set goals in a way that involves exploring our intentions truthfully and consciously. My clients are a real inspiration in this regard, living examples that inner evolution and courage go ‘heart in hand’.  May you be aware of your overall life intention and may your goals bring you contentment.     

 

Coaching reflection: The Present of Our Presence

What is the greatest gift that we can give to ourselves, to others and to the world? In the previous blog I wrote about how part of the wonder of Madiba, were his abilities to be deeply present and radiate great humility. We explored the concept of humility in leadership. In this blog, we look at what it means to be present. The topic is an extremely relevant one in the world in which we live today. So relevant, that Time magazine dedicated their cover story to the “The Mindful Revolution” in February 2014 because the ability to be present or “mindful” is becoming such a lost state of being for many us, bombarded as we are by endless digital distraction.

Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh describes presence as the ultimate gift that we can give to another, saying: “The precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers”. And we know this truth experientially for ourselves. Reflect on what it feels like when we speak to someone who isn’t fully “there” with us, engaged in our thoughts, compared with what it feels like when we speak to someone who gives us their complete attention and presence. Often the difference will manifest in our energy levels. We feel happy after being with someone who really listens to us.  When someone gives us their full presence, it is a high sign of acknowledgement and respect. Our presence communicates the message: “You are important to me and I treasure and respect you”. It immediately makes the other person feel valued and they in turn, value you.

Many of my busy executive clients express to me how they wish they had more time to spend with their children. Sometimes, increasing the quantity of time might not always be possible, but perhaps the quality matters far more. And the key ingredient to that quality is our ability to be present. Leaders who have this quality tend to inspire much respect from their followers because what accompanies presence is the deep capacity to listen and connect with another.

So how do we do it?

  • Become present to your Self

Before we can become present for others, we have to learn how to become present to ourselves. A simple practice here is to notice every time your thoughts take you away from connecting to yourself.  Ask yourself: How often and how long does this occur for? In the ancient scriptures, the mind is likened to being akin to a “drunken monkey”, swinging from one thought branch to another. Becoming present to ourselves is an invitation to tame the monkey and to reclaim your inner power by doing so.

  • Cherishing the Breath

A useful taming strategy is to become aware of your breath. While driving, while brushing your teeth, while waiting in a queue or sitting in a boring meeting—any time you feel the monkey mind swinging around wildly disturbing your inner peace, invite your attention to rest on your breathing. Experiencing serenity as you inhale and letting go of stress as you exhale. Just noticing the various movements in your body that occur as this miracle of breathing happens through you. This practice will slow down the thoughts, allowing for a slight gap to happen between them. And in that gap, you will experience what it feels like to become present to yourself.  Many of our elders would continually tell us to “Hold our shoulders back, stop slouching and breathe properly”. Keepers of wisdom they are!

  • Being present for others

As you become more skilful at this practice, bringing yourself to presence more easily and more regularly throughout the day, you will find that your ability to become present for others will improve. It takes our practice to a higher level. What distracts us from listening properly to another and gifting them with our authentic presence, is the mind. A mind that is busy formulating responses and judgements, and thinking about other things, cannot enable presence for another. The next time that you are with your child or friend or partner or business colleague, practice what it feels like to use your breath to let go of the need to think, and to just fully “be” there, listening to them with your full self. Notice the difference in the quality of the connection, your response and the outcome. If you would like to explore this area of self-mastery more deeply, read this wonderful piece by Eckhart Tolle http://www.eckharttolle.com/newsletter/august-2010 on maintaining presence during conversations with others.

Presence is a deep topic and a difficult area of self-mastery. But just this simple practice can start to make a difference.  Deeper practices will follow in more blogs. A wise sage once said that the only reality there ever is, is this present moment. It’s true isn’t it? And it is the quality of this present moment, determined by your presence that determines the quality of the next and the next. And that is how your future unfolds in a way that brings contentment.

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” –Eckhart Tolle

Poppies

Coaching reflection: Leadership and the Consciousness of Humility

In today’s blog we explore the concept of humility. What does it mean to be humble? My first proper experience of humility was when I met Nelson Mandela many years ago when he had just been released. At the time I remember feeling somewhat perplexed as to why world leaders were saying that meeting him was the greatest moment of their lives.  When I met him, I understood.  There we stood, surrounded by his bodyguards and screaming, dancing students. Completely unfazed by any of this, he looked deeply into my eyes, took my hand and with heartfelt sincerity said: “Hello, it is a pleasure to meet you”.  I melted. And hours later, knees shaking, still felt completely melted.  Years later the impact that he had on me, like ripple on a lake, makes me greet all people with the same respect and regard whether they are a cleaner or person of perceived societal  stature due to wealth or role.

In my life journey, I have met many famous leaders ranging from having dinner with Henry Kissinger to shaking hands with Desmond Tutu and engaging with Nicky Oppenheimer. None of these meetings left much impression on me compared with my experience with Madiba. When I reflected on it after to work out how and why a person such as myself who has scant regard for celebrity status, was so utterly undone by this man, it dawned on me that what he possessed, what touched people so much, notwithstanding the greatness of his journey, were two very rare and precious personal attributes. These attributes were a deep sense of presence and humility, rare traits that are not easily found in the worldly context.  He had the ability to be 100% in the moment, connecting with you human spirit to human spirit, beyond roles and ego identities.  It is difficult to do that without the ability to be present and humble.  We will talk about presence in the next blog. Let’s unpack humility.

The Oxford Dictionary defines humility as having little or a low sense of regard for one’s self but I think that could be misleading and risks encouraging a mentality of low self-worth. Sagacious writer C.S Lewis captures the essence of the meaning more accurately, explaining that “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less”.

Humility is often wrongly associated with weakness. And yet look at the magnificent power that Gandhi and Mandela held, garbed in their simple attire with little identification with wealth or fame or status of themselves or others, just absorbed in carrying out their vision to uplift others. Indeed, there was a story that when Mandela met the queen for the first time, he ignored all protocol and warmly said “Hello Elizabeth, how’s the duke?” which she apparently enjoyed! It could be argued that an inherent sense of humility unlocks the ability to lead hearts—a far more sustained and greater form of leadership than that forced through fear or intellectualism.  But humility cannot be acted out. Pretensions are easily dismantled. So how does one go about cultivating authentic humility? There are many ways but I will share one very simple powerful and practical method.

In my MBA Leadership studies a few years ago, my wise professor made us all complete a very profound assignment which I still continue to do every now and again. He asked us to keep a weekly gratitude journal for 10 weeks. In it, we had to write down five things that we were grateful for that week and for each one reflect on how that event or person had impacted on us, and what that would mean in future. It is difficult to describe exactly why this seemingly simple exercise is so powerful until you do it and experience the effect for yourself.  One of the effects that I took away was a dawning realisation on the interconnectedness of everything in this world.  An authentic sense of Ubuntu which means “I am because you are because we are”[1]. There is a piece by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh which captures this very beautifully and poetically:

Clouds in Each Paper–by Thich Nhat Hanh[2]

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud.  Paper and cloud are so close. Let us think of other things, like sunshine. Sunshine is very important because the forest cannot grow without sunshine, and we as humans cannot grow without sunshine. So the logger needs sunshine in order to cut the tree, and the tree needs sunshine in order to be a tree. Therefore, you can see sunshine in this sheet of paper. And if you look more deeply, with the eyes of a Bodhi sattva, with the eyes of those who are awake, you see not only the cloud and the sunshine in it, but that everything is here, the wheat that became the bread for the logger to eat, the logger’s father—everything is in this sheet of paper…This paper is empty of an independent self. Empty, in this sense, means that the paper is full of everything, the entire cosmos. The presence of this tiny sheet of paper proves the presence of the whole cosmos”

In my work, I am very fortunate to encounter many wonderful human beings, many of who never truly have a sense for how wonderful they are and how much light they bring into the world through their humility, kindness, selfless generosity of spirit and simplicity. I am because they are because we are.


 

[1] Nussbaum, B., Palsule, S., & Mkhize, V. (2010). Personal growth, African style. South Africa: Penguin Books.

[2] Kornfield, J. (2002). A Path with Heart. London: Rider Books.

 

How to Maximise your Coaching Journey: Wise Tips from High Performance Clients

Coaching can be expensive. And often we might not be aware of how we can go about really utilising this platform to the best of our ability. When I would go to my personal development facilitator, I was often so conscious of how quickly time goes by and how easy it is to get caught up in telling my story and not really using the session as effectively as I can. We forget why we are there.

In my last blog, I spoke about the power of intention and how this clarity can serve as an effective rudder in ensuring focus and tangible progress on your coaching journey.  That is the first step.  I thought that I would go on to share some observations around how some of my “high performance” clients maximise their coaching journeys —tips that can help us all to really maximise our personal development efforts.

Here are some of the ways in which many of my more swiftly evolving clients operate:

  •       Reflect before a session. They usually have an idea as to what they would like to focus on and we build that into our session.  Sometimes there are sessions where they will confess to having nothing specific and request suggestions from me. This is when we use the session for “strategic stuff” to build on the competencies gained such as putting together a life plan, and it is often very valuable.
  •       Use a journal. Active participation through noting down any insights in a coaching journal or on a tablet or laptop. Writing bridges the gap between our conscious and subconscious minds and is a powerful way to internalise learnings, develop new neural pathways, and focus the mind.
  •       Being clear about the competencies that they wish to develop and tracking their progress. This empowers them to play a role in directing the sessions according to their needs rather than just leaving it all up to the coach. I know that a client is tracking their progress when they mention behavioural change examples that have occurred or describe how practising their homework technique is going for them.
  •       Staying alert and focussed during the session, for example, switching off their phones, listening carefully, thinking deeply, and trying to be 100% present. In the world we live in with its endless distractions, many of us really struggle with knowing how to do this. I’ll do a whole separate blog on this so watch this space.
  •       They think strategically, showing an ability to link an “operational” example that we discuss to a competency that they wish to enhance, i.e., they take their sessions to a higher level than “fire-fighting”. For example, getting upset at a colleague may involve exploring the inner beliefs that led to being offended, questioning the truth of these beliefs, and then examining appropriate inner and outer responses. Taking this operational example to a strategic level, one might then go one to identify a wider competency issue e.g. the tendency to be triggered by the search for success by another and we then go on to exploring this at a deeper level.
  •       Regular sessions. Clients who are erratic with their scheduling make far slower progress. Starting off with at least weekly sessions before we reassess is absolutely essential to laying the groundwork for progress and displaying commitment to the journey by taking care to schedule wisely.
  •       Dropping me a short email sometimes in between sessions to let me know the progress/challenges being experienced around any particularly important endeavour, decision or even around the homework.  These “drop-ins” show me that the client is reflecting on our sessions and guides me on progress.
  •       Ego management. Sometimes we forget why we go for coaching. Every coach has a different philosophy and mine is based on the Anais Nin quote: “We see the world as we are; not as it is”. The implication of this is that I focus on the person and not the problem, or the “other person”. So often in life, we get irritated by others and this is usually the biggest gift that we can get on the journey of self-mastery. Why? Because a deeper exploration of our reactions can reveal our subconscious insecurities and belief systems.  When we complain about others to friends and family members, they sometimes tend to side with us, increasing our sense of righteousness. Coaching can help to provide us with an objective platform to examine these instances and understand ourselves better. When we do this, it enables us to choose our responses with greater emotional intelligence, because we focus on ourselves and not the other person. As Rumi says: “If you are irritated by every little rub, how will you be polished?” As a coach, I may sometimes poke a client a bit to shake up complacency or stuck belief patterns. Remember: Unlocking your growth is what you pay me for. Never forget your intention. Being willing to put down the ego is our biggest asset on the path to growth. As I responded to one client who complained at having to leave his mental corner of comfort: “Do you want a coach or a beanbag?”

And the growth in such clients is tangible and fast. Working with them is like a joyful dance.  It impresses me that even the busiest, most senior executive still takes the time to invest in their journey so proactively. Which leaves little excuse for many of us with fewer responsibilities and less hectic lives. What it really comes down to is then not available time but the amount of love and respect for ourselves, enough to be committed to expressing our highest potential in our journey of life.

In a Nutshell: Own your journey. Coaching is a “co-creative” process. The most effective people are the ones who take responsibility for ensuring that they actively participate in the process of their own growth. Isn’t it true that we tend to invest more energy in those that are prepared to invest in themselves? In the end, it is about using our power of choice.

“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only them think” -Socrates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Coaching Decision: Four Reflections and some good stuff on conquering procrastination!

I remember when I first opened up to the idea of letting someone into my life to take my personal development to the next level. It was 4 years ago. I had been going through a particularly difficult crossroad in my life and still fighting off a persistent nagging feeling that I had a deep purpose and calling to fulfil in this life. What that was I had no idea. All I knew was that I was on a sterling trajectory in the corporate world, a star job as the Strategy assistant to the CEO of Unilever, listed for directorship and absolutely knowing in my heart that I did not have any desire to be a CFO or even a multi-national CEO. Was I lazy; was I unambitious or just doomed to be abnormal? I did not have any answers to anything, only questions. All my life I had been fiercely independent, surrounding myself with self-mastery books and courses, always thinking that opening up to a third party to walk with me on that journey would be a sign of weakness and completely unnecessary.

#Lesson 1: Treat independence with an attitude of healthy balance. An overly ‘independent’ attitude taken to the extreme can hold us back in life. We are fundamentally interdependent and grow through and with each other.

Through the MBA, I met many leaders that I looked up to, highly successful and inspiring beings that were a world apart from the narrow confines of my corporate experience. What a surprise it was for me to learn that they all had a personal coach, and even at times sought therapy to help them to keep healing and growing. Not only were these beings highly-respected, and renowned leaders, but some of them were also leadership experts. It taught me the meaning of humility and helped me to realise that actually, when we are blocked by our egoic patterns, it can be difficult to look into ourselves honestly and clearly.  Great leaders display humility and courage and are not afraid to seek assistance to maximise their growth potential, thereby helping them to lead others more effectively. I started to open up to the idea of investing in a coach and/or therapist to take my personal journey forward with, even if it meant doing so at my own personal cost. In fact, I was more drawn to the idea of leading my journey of personal development and not leaving it in the hands of my company. Having had an awful experience with a corporate coach who did not and could not display independence because he was being paid by, and had been chosen by the company, I decided that I wanted to be able to work with someone I could trust. And so I decided that not only would I have to find a way to go ahead with this if I was serious about my journey, but that my work was to provide accessible and affordable coaching for those like me, that were earnest about developing and growing holistically so as to shine their full potential in this life.  And so my life purpose revealed itself and here we are. The point is that opening up my learning process instead of thinking that I could grow sufficiently in my own little world was the catalyst to my personal change.

#Lesson 2: We grow by investing energy. It is like a law of life. Just as seeds grow by the investment of sunshine, water and nutrients, so too if are to grow, must we be prepared to invest our energies of  time, money, commitment, dedication, open heart, and pure intention so as to receive the fruit of our efforts.

Coaching can be difficult to define because every coach has a different level of spiritual maturity, philosophy, training and life experience, and I have experienced this personally in my own journey having been subject to some rather dubious coaches along the way. So rather than ask the question: Why can coaching be valuable for you, I will ask: Why can having the right independent, experienced personal development facilitator be an asset on your journey of self-mastery? For starters, unlike our friends and family, a good coach will reflect back to you with honesty and integrity, i.e., allow you to see what you need to see, rather than what you want to see. Often our close ones happily encourage us along in our blind spots to the detriment of our ability to develop. Sometimes, a clear intention to develop, and paying for that, can make us more receptive and less sensitive to difficult messages, with constructive clarity on how to work on ourselves.

#Lesson 3: Just as the little seed has to land in the right spot on the earth to receive what it needs to grow into a magnificent tree, make sure that you find the right coach.

How do we do this? Chemistry is a very personal thing and our requirements will vary. My personal checklist (others may have a different view) includes inter alia:

  • Does the person have a high degree of spiritual intelligence (SQ)? Great leadership expert Stephen Covey describes SQ as the axis around which all the other intelligences (mental, physical and emotional) revolve. A high level of SQ will assure you of qualities such as integrity, trust, respect and intuitive wisdom. Note that spiritual understanding is embracing and inclusive, and very different to religious fundamentalism.
  • Does the person have a strong professional qualification e.g. CA, engineer, MBA, doctor, etc.? This tends to demonstrate that such a person is likely to possess a level of discipline, professionalism and experience necessary to have achieved such a qualification. An undisciplined coach is unlikely to assist you to reach your full potential effectively.  Professionally qualified individuals are also usually trained in and subject to, a professional code of ethics in their respective disciplines.
  • Does the person have both a breadth and depth of both business and life experience? Again this gives us an idea as to the personal competencies of the coach such as emotional resilience, open-mindedness to new experiences, intellectual capacity, etc.
  • What coaching training does the person have? Be aware that a coaching certification is not necessarily essential as anyone can “buy” one and still lack the first three qualities because coaching training cannot get you these. My favourite accounting term applies beautifully here: “substance over form”.

Always be guided by your inner wisdom described beautifully by the Sanskrit terms buddhi and vivek, mean higher intellect and discernment.

#Lesson 4: Some seeds just stay seeds forever, some stay as little saplings for a really long time and some grow stronger and develop steadily and quickly. Know yourself and be clear about your intention.

Deciding both whether coaching is for you and, really maximising your journey, requires a clear intention and firm commitment. In deciding whether coaching is for you, ask yourself these questions: What do I want for myself and my life? Am I a plodder or a grower? Am I happy being a seed or do I want to grow and discover my potential, risking discomfort to get there? How serious am I about my development and is my commitment strong enough to invest in myself and prioritise my growth?  Am I prepared to really lead my life versus being driven along? Gandhi said: Be the change you wish to see in the world. Ask: Do I resonate with this philosophy?

The second part to this is around maximising your coaching journey and here clarity of intention plays a huge part. Define the desired outcome and then be prepared to invest in what is realistic to achieving that outcome, i.e., ensure that the frequency and duration of your coaching sessions are commensurate with your desired outcomes and stick to it. Irregularity and a lack of commitment will not grow the seed.  Do the coaching homework. Believe in and be open to the process.  Those that are committed to their coaching journeys and are willing to invest in themselves, gain tangible and swift progress.

Which brings us to the topic of procrastination, something that many of us struggle with. I won’t even attempt to write about it, because the blog links below (shared by a very delightful friend) are just so superb. Enjoy!

And so these are some reflections for this week.  My intention in these blogs is to share insights with you that may be of assistance, opening you up to fully explore the path of leadership and self-mastery, sharing some of my personal experiences, and also useful material that comes my way with you. Have an inspiring week!

“The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”
Albert Einstein

Coaching leaders and teaching yoga in Durban: Reflections from a CA with a difference

Dear all,

What an adventurous year this has been for many of us, not so much outwardly but inwardly too. It is such a privilege and joy to be a part of your life journeys through coaching and yoga and leadership workshops/consulting, sharing your triumphs and sorrows and being inspired by your courage as you walk your paths. Many of you tell me that you are inspired and grateful to me, but few of you may realise just how equally inspired and grateful I am to you as well for your commitment to living your best life despite the challenges that you face, and to unlocking your potential by knowing your true Self and bringing that Light of yourself into the world. The journey of self-love and self-knowledge is possibly the greatest that we will ever take, enabling the true purpose of our lives to flower.

It has been quite a year for me too, having great faith in watching this work take its own shape. I have finally launched my website (thanks to the help and encouragement of my good friend Zaffy—if ever you are looking for a website developer I can highly recommend him!!) which you can now pass on to anyone who you know would benefit. Thank you to many of you for sending such great feedback and testimonials—you will see that I have included this on the website. Thanks especially for your referrals to others—always hugely appreciated by both the new clients and me. Have a look at http://www.nerishamaharaj.com/.

My December will be a time for much inner retreat and reflection, although I will be spending it in Durban and teaching yoga and coaching throughout—sessions with each of you amazing souls is always such a treat that I cannot call it “work”. Or perhaps it is as poet Kahlil Gibran so beautifully puts it, work as “love made visible”. And that is of course, the power of conscious choice that we have to approach everything that we do in life. As we reach the end of another year, may we take time to reflect on how much we have blossomed, the difference we have made to self and others through various ways, and set our intentions for the year ahead.

Wishing you all a beautiful wind down to 2013 and a very joyful and inspiring New Year ahead!

With love,

Nerisha