Give yourself time and space (with Roy Marriott)

Decisions – they’re so pervasive in our lives, yet so difficult to make when you’re pushed and pulled in different directions. I’ve been through this countless times and maybe you have too.

That’s why this podcast episode is different: I’m changing roles, from asking questions to answering them, as Roy coaches me through an important decision I have to make.

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Roy Marriott focuses on Coaching Skills Development for Leaders, Managers and Agile Coaches. But he does more than that. He brings on change in ways you don’t expect.

With his experience of over 25 years in coaching, Roy helps people deal with team conflict, underperformance, burnouts and, inherently, decision-making, because that’s where it all starts.

Drawing on experience

The best teachers and coaches are the ones who’ve experienced themselves the challenges they help others cope with. Roy is certainly one of those people.

He went to Cambridge at age 17 and built an incredible career in computer programing, working with BBC, Arm and other tech companies who shaped the tech world as we know it.

However, he had his first burnout at age 20, even though he had the perfect job at HP. That led Roy to take 2 years off.

When he came back, he realized he was much more interested in working with people rather than code, so he went on to study NLP and started working as a life coach in 1993.

Since then, he has spent countless hours guiding people towards making better decisions about their work, relationships and life choices.

Coaching for better decisions

From personal experience, I believe coaching and therapy are two of the best ways to unlock your potential by cultivating self-awareness and staring your biases and preconceptions straight in the face. There’s a longer story here, but I’ll save that for a future episode.

I feel lucky that I got to experience first-hand what it is to be coached by Roy, who has a subtle and powerful way of stimulating change in ways that do not create resistance to change (which is a huge issue we, humans, have a lot more frequently than we’d like to admit).

Mind you, it is not easy and not comfortable to coach or be coached while someone is recording you, so I’m deeply appreciative of Roy’s effort and slightly embarrassed by my own stammering and stuttering. But this episode is not about a flawless discourse. It’s about being true to myself, understanding my priorities and making the best choice based on that.

Enjoy this new podcast episode and the transcript below! This is the first transcript I’m doing for an episode, but more will follow, including for past podcast episodes.

Alternatively, play it in your favorite apps:

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Episode transcript:

Andra:
Welcome, I’m Andra and this is the How Do You Know podcast! In this show, we’ll learn how to make better decisions and open up our view to everything that’s possible. I interview great decision makers to discover how they built and improved their process along the years. I Really hope you find it useful. Let’s dig in!

Andra:
Thank you so much for being so kind and open and for agreeing to be on the How Do You Know? podcast.

Roy:
That’s a pleasure, Andra. Thank you for having me along!

Andra:
It’s, it’s wonderful to have you and I’m really looking forward to learning as much as I can from you. And I hope the people who listen to this episode will do the same. Just as a quick background, let me say what I learned from you while researching for this episode. Your current mission is to help tech leaders make faster progress and engage their people a lot more and kind of keep them in their teams for a longer time. And, obviously, this definitely involves helping these leaders make better and smarter decisions each time. And the fact that you deal with such thorny issues as conflicts and underperformance and burnouts, and also one of the biggest things, resistance to change is a huge reason why I’m so enthusiastic about talking to you and learning more about you. So if you could just give us a quick intro, a quick background of what you’re currently doing, I think that would be very interesting for the people listening to find out.

Roy:
Okay, sure, of course! So my background way, way, way back was I started programming computers when I was a kid and really got enthusiastic about that. Phoned myself at Cambridge University at age 17, studying mathematics and computer science. And while I was an undergraduate, I was building software. I was doing consultancy for organizations like Phillips and the BBC and what’s now Arm, and then I went off and got a job in the research labs at Hewlett Packard. So really straight down the line geek. And then I got ill, I burnt myself out at the age of about 20. So I had started at Hewlett Packard had been in the research labs for just a little while with my perfect job, but it was burning me out. And so that took me on a fairly interesting trajectory. I did get myself better after a couple of years, got back to work after about two years off.

Roy:
But when I came back I was different and I realized I was much more interested in people than I had been and I was much more interested in working with people than working with computers. So one thing led to another and I realized that I was much more interested in the leadership courses I was being sent to than in the work I was doing at day job. So you know, you can see where that’s going. I ended up studying NLP and becoming what we would now call the life coach. Way back, this would be 1993, ’94. When I started doing this. And as part of that trajectory, I also came across something called Solutions Focus, which is an approach to change, an approach to making progress in difficult and stuck situations that’s incredibly helpful, incredibly respectful of people. And in a way I’ve been doing it ever since.

Roy:
You know, that’s still my main “technology” that I find most helpful to the most people. So in 2005 I actually started training other people, training managers and leaders to use Solutions Focus with their teams and all those thorny issues that you mentioned earlier on about team conflict and underperformance and tough decisions and so on. Those are all things that have come out of working with leaders and managers in organizations and really understanding the issues that they’re facing. Seeing how there are so many different issues, like choosing to have the time would be another big one. Having trouble saying no to people, negotiation skills. And I’ve actually ended up developing a whole bunch of different training models around those different things. So I’ve actually got four different time management models that I’ve developed. I’ve got a model on negotiation, a model on delegation and so on and so forth.

Roy:
So you know, that that plays into both training groups and coaching, individual managers. Most recently what I’ve been doing is starting to sort of unite these two sides of my life and going back into the world of tech and working with tech leaders who, you know, of course are people and lead people in a way that I really understand because I’ve got that background in software. It’s fascinating coming back into this world after, you know, a couple of decades away. So that’s my main focus these days. And I think that resistance to change piece that you mentioned is one of the biggest things I see here, that the whole world is changing so incredibly quickly and all of us, we resist that. That’s in the nature of our brains, the nature of our minds. Finding ways to stimulate change that don’t generate resistance in the same way and to the same degree can make a real difference to people and to managers in organizations and to the customers. You know, the whole organization can work more smoothly if everyone in it can be that much more responsive to what’s needed. So that’s the main focus now.

Andra:
Thank you so much for the background and the details! I think it paints a very complex picture of the many difficult challenges that you’re tackling and the in the many ways that you are helping people lead a generally better life, whether it’s at work or in their personal life. I’ve found, and I’ve come across probably all of these challenges myself working in a tech company, in various tech companies actually. I’m working, for example, with entrepreneurs, early-stage entrepreneurs who are just starting out and building something. Just to kind of build on top of what is happening right now, and in terms of change and the pace of life. I think that this entire startup, let’s see, movement or culture talks a lot about innovation and change and disruption and so on and other buzzwords. But at the end of the day, it’s still difficult to find people who align with you, who manage to catch their mental biases, including resistance to change and work on overcoming them. And I think that is key. And I found myself dealing with the same things both in myself and in the people in the team or people in other teams I work with. So, that’s a that’s a huge topic to tackle.

Roy:
Absolutely. And I think as you, as you mentioned that there’s another angle on this as well when you talk about mental biases and, and thank you for that connection to resistance to change. I think that’s a very interesting connection. But the other thing around all this is mindfulness, which is a subject that I’ve been involved in for even longer actually since 1999. I’m practicing personally and it’s something I train and it’s an incredibly valuable tool for catching those mental biases. And, indeed, for making decisions. So your listeners might find this interesting that ,when it comes to an emotional bias and mental bias, we might know the right answer cognitively, but emotionally we might pull in a different direction. And the practice of mindfulness is about observing that process in action and sort of being reflective about our own processes.

Roy:
So there is evidence that it does make us much better at overcoming these biases, seeing these biases. In particular, the sunk cost bias has been researched and I think in terms of decision making, something to bear in mind is that the process of making decisions is both emotional and cognitive. I think a lot of times people think about decision making as being something purely intellectual about weighing numbers up against each other. But really we don’t actually make decisions with cognition. We make them emotionally and when people’s brains are damaged such that the emotion and the thought are disconnected, they become hopeless at making decisions. So again, you know, the practice of mindfulness really helps to bring the thinking, the cognitive and the emotional aspects of ourselves together and more in alignment, so the thinking and the emotions help point us in the right direction.

Andra:
That is an excellent point to make and very kind and a way to phrase things and to frame things. Because I think that framing is also involved in this and they’re all tied to one another. Once you start realizing and spotting them and using them and in your decisions and helping people around you figuring out the same things, you can immediately see the change. And I wanted to ask just a little bit since you mentioned burnout and I think that many people have unfortunately experienced this even if they don’t know how to recognize it as such. And I wanted to ask you how you’ve seen this in practice affect decision making and how maybe someone could catch themselves when they’re trying to make a decision in that context and wait or maybe pause a bit to reflect. Try to make the same decision they’re trying to do to make in from a different stance from, from a different viewpoint.

Roy:
Excellent question. Let’s talk a little bit about the brain because, as you probably know, the brain is multilayered. It’s evolved over Millennia and the. There’s a reptilian brain right at the center as well as at the top of the brainstem to the spinal cord, which is basically a reptilian brain. It’s very, very similar to the brain that’s in a crocodile or a lizard, and then layered on top of that, you’ve got a mammalian brain and then a human brain on top of that. I imagine that you know what you’re listening to is the very familiar with the idea of the fight flight response, which happens very, very quickly in the Amygdala. And this is the reptilian brain, the Amygdala, and that is very much an auto pilot knee jerk response. It’s not a considered response. So the connection: you mentioned burnout. So I think burnout when someone’s completely burnt out, that they’re in no fit place to make a decision and it will take months to years to recover.

Roy:
So I think the more important thing is to think about if someone is overstressed. So a certain amount of stress response as helpful for heightened concentration and focus, but if there’s too much of that, too much stress, too much of that fight-flight response going on, then we stop being able to think clearly and that may explain why that happens. So if you think back in evolutionary time, you’re going back to a time when we were in a very, very physical world. So our cave dwelling ancestors had threats that were things like someone from another tribe with a big club wanting to club them to death. Or it was like a classic thing that someone always says in this point in the presentation:: a saber tooth tiger. Yes. a very, very physical threat. Now if you come across one of those things, you don’t want to stop and reflect.

Roy:
You don’t want to think: “Oh, I wonder where that club was made”. I wonder how heavy it is. I wonder how fast that tiger can run. You know, that is clearly nonsense. You know you have to act before you even know it, You know, there’s a runaway or to fight back, the whole body needs to be in that state of hyper alertness and hyper energy in order to do that. So that’s what the Amygdala, the reptilian fight flight response does. Now in the modern world, threats are much more likely to be cognitive and physical. So even someone who’s threatening to dismiss you from your job, punching them or running away is not gonna help. And a much more common sort of threat is the threat of a deadline or the threat of having too much to do or more risk of losing a big contract or something like that.

Roy:
All of those, they exist in a cognitive world. They don’t, they’re not physical threats that you can run away from physically or you can punch physically however much you want to. So what can happen is that as we get too much of that threat, we get too much of the noradrenaline or norepinephrine? All of those causes, all of those neurochemicals that get us into fight-flight are running around the brain, and they literally switch off your ability to think clearly. And this is the bottom line here. When you are under too much stress, you can’t think clearly. You can’t step back and rationally consider the situation. You can’t, therefore, make good decisions. Your emotions will be in a panic. And when we panic, we’re inevitably incorrectly biased in the short term because, you know, if you’re about to be eaten, you don’t want to be planning tomorrow’s lunch because you’re about to be the tiger’s lunch. You know, it really doesn’t make sense.

Roy:
However, if the threat is that you’re running the risk that you might lose this contract. Absolutely, you want to think clearly. So you really need your prefrontal Cortex, your human brain to be fully engaged. So that means that if you’re experiencing hyper stress, is you’re experiencing too much stress, then don’t make a decision. Don’t make a big decision anyway, unless it’s a physical threat. And that kind of sense. So basically if it’s any normal decision, don’t make it in that state. Take some time out. You basically summarized this in your question: take some time out, give your system time to calm down, time to get into a more reflective space, and then you’ll be in a much better place to have rational emotions, clear thinking, and then a much better place to make a decision.

Andra:
So something very interesting that Roy proposed we do as a very practical exercise in making a decision is that he kindly offered to coach me on a specific decision I’m trying to make and see how that process works. And hopefully for those of you who have never done coaching before, this would be an interesting glimpse into what this kind of experience can bring you, how it can enhance your ability not only to make decisions but to generally improve your way of thinking, of approaching the challenges that you’re dealing with. So my personal challenge here is that I tend to overwork myself a lot. And besides doing the work that I love, because I find it so rewarding and engaging, I also do personal projects such as of course, this podcast which gives me a tremendous enthusiasm and energy, but also things like, for example, volunteering for different events.

Andra:
So for example, I will be at DefCamp, a cybersecurity conference that’s happening in November in Bucharest, Romania this year. I will be moderating that conference and I’ll also be engaged in providing a lot of content to conference goers. But I’ve been also asked to potentially be engaged in a different event, a tech event, and having a similar hosting role there as well. And I’m trying to make a decision whether it would be a good idea to do it or not. Instinctively I would go for it because I’m very excited to be part of new things that challenge me and give me an opportunity to learn from people with diverse backgrounds. But at the same time, Let’s see, my rational mind tells me that that would be too much on my plate. And then I would, that I would risk burning myself out. So I’m your humble subject ready for this experiment.

Roy:
Okay, sure. So let me just summarize what I’ve heard so far, Andra. So I’ve heard that you’ve been asked to engage in a tech event in a similar way to the cybersecurity conference and instinctively you really want to go for it, but rationally you’re thinking you’ve got too much on your plate and there’s a risk of you burning out, is that right?

Andra:
Yes, that is exactly right.

Roy:
Cool. And what you’d like my help with? How can I help you with this?

Andra:
What I believe you could help me with is let’s say setting the context of helping me develop these mental instruments, let’s call them that. I know it sounds very abstract to deal with situations like these, but because I come across them very often and I would need a better way of looking at these decisions when I’m a lot more rational about them and take my time to evaluate the level of involvement because I tend to underestimate how much time and effort it would take me.

Roy:
Hm. Very interesting. So you’d like to develop a sort of in quotes, “mental instrument” that helps you to deal with these kinds of situations better so that you can make more rational decisions, take more time to evaluate them and…

Andra:
And basically have a framework to really, truly evaluate how much time and effort to put into a project like this because I tend to underestimate.

Roy:
Right. Okay. So it’s about becoming more rational about the decision making, taking the time to evaluate it and getting better estimates of how much time it would take and, on that basis, come up with a better decision.

Andra:
Yes. Hopefully. Trying to walk the talk here.

Roy:
Okay. That makes sense. So is it the best for us to focus on this particular decision and see what emerges from that? Or would you prefer to focus more on the instrument in general?

Andra:
I think focusing on the instrument, in general, would be more helpful for people because they would be useful for everyone who’s listening because it would be easier for them to maybe identify their own issues and kind of apply the same things and see if it works for them.

Roy:
Okay. I mean that does assume that they want to develop a mental instrument as well. One thing to say about the process of coaching is that it’s incredibly individual. So inevitably this, whichever way we go, this will be all about you, but we can afterward, we can draw lessons and principles depending on because you know, I’ve got a whole tool kit which I can bring to bear on this, and depending on which tools come out, that will help, people will hear about those tools in here because they’ll hear particular ones. We can explain how they might be able to use it themselves with any luck.

Andra:
That sounds like a wonderful plan!

Roy:
Good. Okay. So, it’s about helping you become more rational, take more time to evaluate and develop better estimates. What else is important for you in this process of making these kinds of decisions?

Andra:
Be a bit more comfortable. Well, lot more comfortable with saying no. That is a big issue for me which has led me to both enjoy wonderful opportunities and learn a lot, but also stretch myself thin sometimes, which has led to things like burnouts and everything that they come with, such as having trouble sleeping, having trouble relaxing and not being able to detach from constantly thinking about these projects either work-related or personal projects.

Roy:
Okay. Okay. So another topic here is being more comfortable saying no.

Andra:
Yes. And I think that’s something that many people deal with.

Roy:
Absolutely. Absolutely. So what else is really important for you in this area?

Andra:
I think it would be important for me to truly understand where I can make an impact and I’m trying to be very candid and very transparent here. I like to do many things because I believe in my ability to work on those things. For example, when it comes to, I dunno, hosting an event, being the host, being able to do, let’s say, my homework, understand what the event is about, understand the audience, try to deliver the best possible experience for them, which is both relevant and entertaining. But sometimes, I think that I tend to be too much of a control freak, basically and maybe it would be an alternative to connect the event organizers to someone who might do at least as good of a job as me or maybe even a better one, and to give someone else a chance to have that experience and learn from those things.

Roy:
Okay, so we’ve got this topic here that is truly understanding where you can make a difference and then this possibility of actually connecting someone else to the event organizers rather than taking it on yourself. Okay. Okay. Interesting. So let’s suppose then that this coaching works really well for you and you do, as a result, managed to develop this mental instrument that gives you all these things. It helps you to become more rational, take more time to evaluate, make better estimates of how much time things are going to take, become more comfortable saying no, understand where you can make an impact and have this option of connecting the event organizers to someone else. What difference would that make?

Andra:
The difference that I hope to make in my mind is to feel comfortable with turning this opportunity down and not regret having done it. So I don’t feel like I’ve missed something. So the fear of missing out is very strong for me in moments like this. And I think that sometimes there are biases my decision making and it pushes me towards putting too much on my plate. And as I mentioned, this not only, I think, affects my productivity levels or it just, it stretches my mind. It makes me stretch myself thin and use all, uses up all of my resources, but it also tends to kind of cloud my focus because I’ve found that’s what happens when you try to do a lot at the same time. Like I’m probably trying to do with this coaching session right now, having just gotten the list of things we’re trying to achieve.

Roy:
Beautifully spotted, but don’t worry, we will focus in a way. This is part of that focusing. So, you know, perhaps a little comment for the listeners here is that we’re deliberately going quite broad here, thinking about the benefits of all these different things you want, so that we can learn to focus in person. You said that if you didn’t get this right, you might end up being stretched too thin. So tell me, what would you like instead of being stretched too thin?

Andra:
I would very much like, and I’m, I’m trying to build towards this to have a bit more time to myself to think. So I’m not constantly engaged in doing, in the now and I find it difficult sometimes to pull myself away and give myself time to think for, let’s say the longer term because. I know that our current environment kind of makes it impossible for us to think truly longterm. Like people used to do, I don’t know, 20 years ago. But I’m sure you probably have a very interesting comment on that. But yes, I would like to kind of, let’s say a win over some time for myself.

Roy:
Yes. We’ll need to come back to two years ago. It is ancient history. Do you feel old? Yes, it’s true. Before we had mobile phones, smart phones, we had more time. Back when I started training leadership, two-day training courses were quite common. In fact, that was the norm. Whereas now it’s much, much harder to get people away from their desks. They feel afraid they’re going to be deluged in so much email when they get back that they don’t want to leave their desk for a minute sometimes.

Andra:
Yeah. Sometimes it happens the same with vacations from what I see. It’s difficult for me, for example, to take a vacation that’s longer than, I don’t know, two or three days. And I know that’s not necessarily a vacation, but it is difficult for the same reason.

Roy:
Exactly. Okay. So instead of being stretched thin, you’d like time to yourself to think. You also mentioned that you wanted to avoid using up all your resources and burning yourself out in that kind of way. So what would you like instead of that?

Andra:
Instead of burning myself out? Well, it would be wonderful if I could use that time to engage in some sort of physical exercise, That would help nurture my body because I tend to read a lot, I do tend to nurture my mind and feed it a lot of information on a lot of wonderful things, but I don’t necessarily do the same for my body. And I know that that kind of neglect can only lead to imbalance and in serious health issues in the future.

Roy:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Great. And you must have mentioned that there is a risk here. If you’re clouding your focus. What would you like instead of a clouded focus?

Andra:
I would like to have less distractions.

Roy:
Okay. And so a bit more about that. Less distractions. What’s that like?

Andra:
To me, less distractions is a Sunday morning where my phone doesn’t a call for my attention, so where there are no notifications and I can read or write and I kind of dedicate about, for example, two hours of my Sunday morning towards writing the newsletter that is attached to this podcast. And that gives me time to reflect and think about some concepts that are very dear to me, that truly have helped me or are currently helping me just live a fuller and more enjoyable, a more balanced life.

Roy:
Okay. So as you said, I mean, you caught yourself beautifully. Putting so many things in your shopping basket for this coaching session. So I really want to sort of celebrate that because I think it’s that kind of awareness of the process that enables change.

Andra:
Thank you for that. I’ve seen this work for myself in the past year, but I think that there’s a lot more potential to this.

Roy:
Oh, absolutely! There always is for all of us, Andra.

Andra:
That is a wonderful outlook that you have on life and you can tell through the way you approach things that you’re making an impact and you’re bringing on change for me right now. And I think that is definitely going to happen for all the people who listen when this episode comes out.

Roy:
That’s good. So what I’ve heard is this. Let me list through the different things you’ve mentioned and I’d like you to just pick the things that seem the most important to focus on right now. So I’m saying yes or no to this decision, saying yes or no to engaging in this tech event, making more rational decisions generally, taking more time to evaluate your decisions, making better estimates of how much time something will take, being more comfortable saying no, have a true understanding where you can make an impact, connecting the event organizers to someone else in a decision like this rather than saying, yes, feeling comfortable turning the opportunity down, letting go of that fear of missing out, having more time to yourself to think, engaging more in physical exercise, and having a fewer distractions. For example, that Sunday morning with no notifications on the phone so you get two hours just to focus on writing the newsletter and reflecting and so on. So out of all of that shopping list, which one thing should we focus on now?

Andra:
The one thing I think would be most valuable is to see how I can become more comfortable with saying no because that’s a big one, in my opinion at least.

Roy:
Absolutely! I will mention mention it now that there’s a book called the Power of a Positive No, which is all about this, and I highly recommend it. It’s by William Ury, if memory serves. There’s also a blog post on my briefmindfulness.com blog right at the beginning of it so I can let you help share that if that’s helpful.

Andra:
Absolutely! We’ll list it in the show notes so everyone has access to them.

Roy:
Great! So being more comfortable saying no, I think probably the best way to do this is to give you a simple… Actually, I’m just going to ask you a question. So based on all of the things that you’ve said so far in this conversation, what ideas do you already have about how to feel more comfortable saying no to an opportunity like this?

Andra:
I think that some of the, let’s say, the tools that I would use for this is 1. to evaluate the sunk costs and do so as rationally as possible. Not make any commitments straight away because I tend to do that, and try to list the things that saying no to this would allow me to do because, I’ve read about this, I haven’t practiced it, I have to be honest about it. I’ve read about how when you add something new to your to do list, take something out so you can maintain a fair balance. So if I would add this to my plate, I would have to give something up and I’m not, I’m definitely not giving up on the time I invest in making this podcast and making the newsletter. I would not like to take time, more time away from my personal life after work and what’s left of it. So I think I would like to use these, I think there were three things to help me be comfortable with saying no.

Roy:
Okay. Those three things – that’s evaluating sunk cost rationally, not making any commitments right away, and the things that saying no to would allow you to do, So supposing you’ve got all that in place… I actually think there’s another thing to in the room here. You’ve already decided to say no, haven’t you?

Andra:
Almost. I think so. Deep down, I think I’ve already decided to say no, but I can’t bring myself to actually send that email.

Roy:
Okay. So if you were completely comfortable saying no, would you just send that email?

Andra:
Yes, I think I would and I think that I wouldn’t take it personally or see it as I’m kind of disappointed in myself that I couldn’t do that, and being a lot more realistic and mature about what I can and cannot do, what I choose to do and what I choose not to do. Realizing that this is a decision and not something that sprung up on me and I’m not forced to do this. I’m not forced to do anything at the end of the day. It is all about choices.

Roy:
So what I’m hearing then is that if you were comfortable saying no, then there would be no question about what your decision would be. So in fact, this isn’t about making a decision. This is about saying no.

Andra:
Yes, I think so. I think that you’ve kind of gotten to the heart of the problem and maybe that asking why five times would have. It’s kind of where you’ve guided me towards in this conversation.

Roy:
So let’s put this on a scale now, for a moment. So 10 on this scale is that you’re completely comfortable saying no, you’re ready just to send that email, you wouldn’t take it personally, you know that you’re making the right choice for yourself. There’s no fear of missing out, there’s no fear of letting anyone else down. That’s a 10. Zero on the scale is that there’s absolutely no way you could possibly say no.. You know you’d rather do anything else in the world than saying. So where about on that scale are you right now?

Andra:
Six leaning towards seven, I guess.

Roy:
What makes it six to seven? What makes it look at least six already?

Andra:
I think what makes it is the emotional attachment that I still have to that event and to, I don’t know, kind of being in the atmosphere, and being with all those people, I still attend the event, but it wouldn’t be quite the same of getting to talk to amazing speakers and all the guests, just having the opportunity to shake their hands and tell them how much I admired them and kind of have that personal interaction with them. So I think that’s one of those Fear Of Missing oOut things that I’m still dealing with.

Roy:
Okay. So one of the things that makes it as high as six or seven already is that you can still attend the event. What else makes it as high as that already?

Andra:
Also, I think the fact that I know the organizers of the event, that I know that they wouldn’t kind of not hold a grudge on me for not being able to do that.

Roy:
Okay. And what else makes it at least a six already?

Andra:
To be honest, I think that those are the biggest two things.

Roy:
I wasn’t asking for the biggest, I was asking for them all! So what makes the smaller thing that already makes it at least a six?

Andra:
There is one other thing that I think is kind of holding me back and I noted that some very kind of selfish reason, but being on being on the stage and being able to talk to people and have a chance to kind of speak your mind or to share a bit of what you know, and getting that sort of attention. And, again, I’m being totally transparent. That is a boost of confidence that I sometimes feel like I need because I’m not necessarily the most self-confident person ever. So that would also kind of play a role in this. And that is it. I promise that is the list.

Roy:
Now that sounds like a reason why you would want to say yes. The self-confidence on the stage thing.

Andra:
Uhm, yes That’s one of the things that’s holding me back. And that’s why I’m not a 10 yet and I’m just at a seven.

Roy:
Okay. Now, that wasn’t my question though. My question was what makes it as high as six already? Now I’m aware that I’m pushing you a bit on this. I keep circling back and let me explain because the first answers that come to mind are answers the are automatic, you know, you’ve already thought about them. But if we spend a little bit more time, and you know, this is one of the things you said you wanted was more time to think. So actually that’s what I think is needed right now as part of making this decision: to think just a little bit more about what makes it as high as six already.

Andra:
So that would be the fact that I’m doing the other event that I mentioned and then I would already get that boost of energy and confidence and that there’s already a similar experience that I’m committed to.

Roy:
Right, right. Okay. And what else?

Andra:
I think that, in the past year, I’ve become a bit more in touch with myself. And I’ve also understood that better, the sunk cost concept, and I think that helps me lean a lot more towards the no and be more comfortable with making this choice.

Roy:
Okay. Okay. And what else?

Andra:
I’m trying to dig deep here. I’m also maybe because for example, the other event that I’ve already committed to is a lot closer to my personal interest at the moment. So the cyber security industry than the other one is, which is a lot broader and a bit more general because I’m now involved in a more complex structure than that specific tech event so that, that would play a part as well.

Roy:
ight. Okay. So, so this event, it’s easier for you to say no to this because it’s less close to your personal interests.

Andra:
Yes. And to my current focus,

Roy:
Right, your current focus. So I think that current focus is a very important thing in making decisions. You know, again, this is a bit of a side comment, but if we’re choosing which to say yes and which to say no to, then knowing what your current focus is makes a big difference. I’m really pleased to hear you mentioning current focus in this context. If you were definitely a seven, what would be different?

Andra:
It would be different the fact that I would feel probably a lot more comfortable. It feels like that’s the tipping point, two words. Okay. I’m definitely doing this. I can live with this choice and not regret anything about it. And your questions actually got me prompted to think that what I could do is talk to people who have attended the event in the past and see what I’ve gotten out of and how that has changed over the years and try to understand from their experience if this would be something worth investing additional time to or not, and see where that takes me and do an objective analysis of the event and see how it’s changed over time and if it fits my needs and see if I feel like I can draw (and I know that sounds a bit selfish) enough value from it so I can then hopefully share these new concepts and ideas, this new experience that I’m accumulating with other people with the others around me.

Roy:
Okay. So let me just reflect something back to you because it sounds like you’re now talking about taking a small step forward, which sounds good, but it’s a step towards making the decision. Whereas before you were saying you had made the decision, it was about learning how to say no, learning feel more comfortable saying no. So just help me understand what shifted there for you.

Andra:
Okay. That is a very good point. So maybe I’m looking to build on top of my conviction and kind of strengthen it. This is a definitive no and I’m not doing this at this current time and kind of looking for social proof that I shouldn’t do this. I think that sometimes rely on that, on some of these kind of choices.

Roy:
Okay. So you’re reiterating that you want to revisit the decision rather than be more comfortable saying no,

Andra:
It does sound like I’m trying to revisit it.

Roy:
And that’s okay. You are quite entitled to do that. I just want to be really sure that is what you want to do in that you’re not just backing off from the discomfort because that’s so easy to do.

Andra:
No, I think that that is kind of a way to sneak out of that discomfort that this gives me. That’s the lizard brain right there.

Roy:
Very interesting. Okay. So you were saying that seven was feeling that it was definitely a decision you could live with.

Andra:
Yes, absolutely.

Roy:
What else would tell you it was a seven? And remember, this is the seven of feeling comfortable saying no.

Andra:
Ah, let’s see! Past experiences where I chose not to engage in something and then, when it got to the point where that project was due or something like that, I had all this time to myself and I looked back and I realized that, had I dived into this project or this engagement, I wouldn’t have had the time to, I don’t know, do the things I like and have that reflection time or spend time with my loved ones, with my friends or do something that fuels me rather than fuel me and the deplete me at the same time. I hope that makes sense.

Roy:
I didn’t quite understand, but it’s not really whether I understand, it is whether you understand. So, so there’s something there that will tell you that you’re at a seven.

Andra:
Yes. It’s something there from past experiences, where I’ve said no and everything was okay and the world didn’t break. And I didn’t have any, I didn’t have any type of regret.

Roy:
Okay. So this is primarily feeling comfortable with saying no in a way to yourself rather than to the other people. Can I just check that that’s…

Andra:
Yes, yes. I think that you’ve phrased this very well, very clearly.

Roy:
So let’s take this into two scales. One is saying no to you and one is saying no to them. So let’s take the first one first. So the same scale. Ten is you feel completely comfortable saying no, zero is there’s no way you could possibly do it. So, first scale, 10 is you feel completely comfortable saying no to yourself about this issue, about going to this tech event, about engaging on the team for this tech event. So on that scale saying no to yourself, where are you?

Andra:
I’m at a five.

Roy:
Okay. And in terms of saying no to the invitation in an email, where are you on that scale?

Andra:
Putting things like this, it makes things much easier. I would be an eight or even almost a nine and sending that email, but a lot more difficult to justify it to myself.

Roy:
Very interesting. So actually this is about saying no to yourself.

Andra:
Yes, yes. I think that’s the heart of the matter right there.

Roy:
Okay. Maybe there’s some other things count, let me just summarize what you’ve already said. So it’s in terms of saying no to yourself, you have already reached the stage of a five and not less because you know how to evaluate the sunk costs rationally, you know, how to list the things saying no would allow you to, to, you know you can still attend the conference, you know they wouldn’t hold a grudge, you’re already going to this other similar event, and you’ve become more in touch and understand you’ve got an understanding of your standing, of these sunk costs, and this event is somewhat outside your current focus. Is there anything else that makes it a five and not less?

Andra:
Nothing comes to mind at the moment. I think that you’ve helped me articulate these things and having them read back to me makes me a lot more comfortable with the entire decision.

Roy:
Okay. So, so how comfortable with the decision are you now?

Andra:
I think I’m very ready to say no and to do that with, let’s see… I don’t know what the antonym for heavy heart is in the moment, but just with a light mood and understanding that I’m not missing out on anything that’s life-changing and that opportunities like these might come, and even making the time, so allowing myself to have the space free from obligations would help me psychologically. And just relaxing and feeling a lot more at ease with myself.

Roy:
Right, right. So what I’m hearing then is that you’re waiting up because obviously there would be benefit in going to this thing and accepting the invitation to support it, but you’re weighing up the benefits from that with the benefits from having the time free to think. So have undistracted time, to engage in physical exercise, to be more relaxed, and be more at ease. And when you weigh those two things up against each other, it seems like, you know pretty clearly that the free time to yourself, etc. is more important.

Andra:
Exactly, yes. Thank you so much for helpIng me get to this point and kind of realize that this is exactly what I’m looking for at this stage in my life because obviously the difference, as you mentioned would be huge depending on the person. For example, if this happened 10 years ago, I would have totally went for everything that I could do, for as much as I could do just to get that experience and learn, and be engaged, and meet people and so on. But at this point in my life, in order to have a significant positive impact both for myself and for the people around me, I need this time. I don’t need another engagement. I just need time for myself, and to have that space.

Roy:
That’s a fascinating reflection. Then, in order to have more impact, you need to have more time

Andra:
Yeah. But maybe not in the sense of conventional wisdom, but talking to people such as yourself and having these questions asked and being able to reflect on them, I think that it gives us such counter-intuitive ways of dealing with what life throws at us and what we choose to make of it.

Roy:
I’m reminded of a classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Andra:
One of my favorites, ever! Sorry for interrupting. I just had to say that is an amazing book!

Roy:
Fantastic! Well, there’s a metaphor in there I’m sure you’re familiar which is sharpening the saw.

Andra:
Please, if you could share just a bit of it, I think it would be very helpful.

Roy:
Of course, So the message is if you imagine a lumberjack who is cutting down trees, cutting down trees, cutting down trees, day after day, day after day, week after week, month after month. And someone says: “Hey, your saw’s getting a bit blunt. You should sharpen it. And his response is: “No, no, no. I’m far too busy! There are far too many trees to cut down to take any time out to sharpen my saw.” What’s going to happen eventually is it’s just going to get more and more blunt, he’s going to get more and more exhausted, he’s going to work more and more slowly and it’s just incredibly wasteful. So the lesson from that story is that we need to take time to maintain our tools and our capacity. Covey talks about it in terms of our production capacity compared to our production. The goose and the golden egg. If you have a goose that lays many golden eggs, if you starve the goose to cut costs, you’re going to stop getting golden eggs. And in this case, you know, I think what you’ve just said to me is that in order for you to keep laying golden eggs, in order for you to keep super sharp and cutting down trees efficiently, you need some time to take some time out to reflect and spend time on yourself, physical exercise, mental spaciousness, and, in a sense, you know, you are here. If there’s no body, if you have no body and no mind, you know, those are your ultimate tools, if you like, to achieve a result. I mean, obviously they’re far more than that, but even in this limited sense, they need maintaining, you need maintaining, and I think what you’ve just done is taken a decision to maintain yourself rather than expend energy, and a realization that that means you’ll be able to deliver more, not less.

Andra:
Thank you so much for rounding this up so nicely and for giving me the opportunity to think about this a lot more than I would have probably done on by myself. And also I noticed that you asked this question that I read about in the coaching habit that I’m trying to apply in my one to ones with my team for example, but it does feel a bit difficult to deal it, which is “And what else?”. I think that that’s a very powerful question. I still find it difficult to kind of sneak it into conversations, but I think that is an exceptionally powerful question that helps you just dig deeper and deeper until you actually get to what matters most, not what you think matters at first.

Roy:
That’s it. It’s all part of creating that mental space. So you were asking me a question earlier about if you’ve got a team on a call and things are starting to get a bit tense and there’s a bit of pressure on how’d you still make sure that people make a good decision? And I think that you’ve just given yourself an answer to that question, which is to create mental space on the call. And, as a coach or a manager, you can do that by slowing things down a little bit, really asking questions that open up the space or even find your way just to create space. Maybe inviting people to write notes themselves for, for maybe 30 seconds or a minute, right? Writing posts as a good Agile trick or of course the online equivalent. And in that creating of reflecting time, you’re allowing the reptilian brain to switch off the fight-flight response, helping people to come back into a rational space, helping people come back into their bodies, which is a whole art. That enables good decision making to happen. Unless you’ve got spotty awareness, you don’t have good emotional awareness, you can’t make good decisions, so that’s the way you, as a coach or a manager, can help to make that happen in a team. By creating that space. Asking “what else?” can be a very, very simple way of doing it. It’s sort of my favorite coaching method.

Andra:
That is excellent advice and I cannot wait to use this with our own situations and you being so, so gracious about creating this very safe space and just refining things until they’re clear and helping me get more clarity. This has been an incredibly wonderful experience!

Roy:
Glad you liked it!

Andra:
Are there any other resources you’d like to share except the books that we already mentioned? Maybe you have something else in mind that you think would help people with decision making in general, or just a particular aspect of it being mindfulness or anything else? I think that people would very much appreciate that.

Roy:
Well, first of all, I’d like to mention my own resources. So there’s the website briefmindfulness.com, which has got a blog and it’s got all sorts of ways. We’ve been talking quite a bit here about letting go of stress and how that enhances performance, counterintuitively. And that’s basically what that website is all about, those free resources, in terms of ways to come out of the excess stress and re-access the zone of peak performance. In terms of the coaching style I’ve been using, it’s called Solutions Focus and I recommend the book called The Solutions Focus by Paul Z. Jackson and Mark McKergow. It’s an excellent book that I could recommend. There’s a long story about it, but essentially I read it in a week and it transformed my career, so I’d highly recommend that to anyone.

Andra:
That sounds like a great list! If anyone in the show would like to get in touch with you, what would be the best way to approach you?

Roy:
Just email me at roy [at] roymarriott.com.

Andra:
Thank you for listening! I hope you’ve enjoyed the episode. You can find links to all the resources we mentioned in the show notes. If you have feedback, please share it in a review on iTunes or any other podcast app you’re using. I want to understand how to make the show better and more useful for everyone involved. You can always reach me on my blog or on Twitter. You can also subscribe to the weekly email I send. It comes packed with great resources focused on, what else?, decision making! Don’t be a stranger, and thanks again for listening.

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2 thoughts on “Give yourself time and space (with Roy Marriott)

  1. Brilliant and authentic episode, Andra and Roy! I think this coaching session you’ve just shared with us is a treasure. I found myself in most of your worries, Andra. Thank you for opening up like that and for having such an insightful guest. I feel lighter now and ready to cut trees! Great idea with this podcast! Good luck with your next ones 🙂

    Reply
    1. Andra Zaharia Post author

      Cannot emphasize enough how thankful I am for your feedback, Oana! If these episodes help in any way, then my mission is achieved.

      I feel lucky to learn from all the guests and thrilled to have the opportunity to share it with more people who might benefit from their wisdom.

      Reply

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